Before Jay Baker met Jesus, he was a risk-taker.
Now, as a Jesus follower and associate pastor of New Grace Baptist Church in the tiny Northeast Florida town of Florahome, he still takes the occasional risk—but only when the Holy Spirit gives him the go-ahead.
Jay’s redemption story illustrates the lengths the Lord will go to in order to save us from our tendency toward self-destruction. I had the privilege of hearing him tell his story firsthand one rainy Tuesday morning when I visited New Grace, and I was encouraged.
I hope it encourages you, too.
Jay began a years long love affair with alcohol at the young age of 13. He describes himself and his older brothers and cousin as “rowdy rednecks” who loved fighting and causing trouble and—most of all—drinking.
His hard-living and rebellious ways kept him far from God, even though his mother occasionally went to church. By the age of 16, Jay already had served time in a juvenile detention facility. That was also the age he fathered a child and quit school—for the second time.
Jay’s life revolved around alcohol—when he could drink it and how he would get it. In order to subsidize his habit, Jay lied about his age and Social Security number on a job application for a position in construction. At 16 he was making money and drinking every chance he got.
“I was a full-blown alcoholic by the time I was 18,” Jay admitted. “I worked and drank every day that I could.”
One day, Jay started drinking before he got off work. So by the time he got behind the wheel with two friends and his cousin he was significantly impaired. Jay took a corner too fast and flipped his truck, killing his cousin and injuring one other passenger.
A prison sentence that should have had him in jail for the next 25 years was negotiated down to three years in prison and two years of house arrest.
Faced with these circumstances, Jay said his pride still kept him from calling on God. And yet God’s grace was keeping him out of prison as he continued going to bars and drinking—even on house arrest.
Then his mother started following Jesus, and that really changing her life. She asked Jay if she could take his daughter to church with her. Jay grudgingly allowed it. When his daughter came home one day saying she got “saved,” Jay wouldn’t allow her to be baptized.
After a serious medical diagnosis, his mother realized she had some spiritual housekeeping to do and wanted to be baptized. She invited Jay to come to the service, but he refused. When his wife mentioned to him that he might regret not going when his mother died, he finally relented.
It was the decision that changed his life.
“The Holy Spirit started working on me the minute I pulled into the parking lot,” he said.
Jay told me that service was the first time he had ever truly heard that someone had paid for his sin. While he was still unsure about it, he said the sinner’s prayer during the invitation.
“I believed it, but I didn’t think it would really work for a scoundrel like me,” he said.
Though Jay did everything he could to avoid making contact with the pastor, he stopped to shake his hand at the end of the service. The pastor also wanted to talk. He asked Jay if he was saved, and having just said the sinner’s prayer Jay told him he was.
Then the pastor asked him where he would spend eternity when he died. Jay didn’t believe he would go to heaven, but didn’t want to admit it to the pastor. The pastor’s next question stopped him cold: “Where are you leading your family?
Jay’s answer? “Straight to hell.”
That day, Jay said he felt convicted about his rebellious ways and immediately stopped drinking and smoking. He confirmed his profession of faith at the evening service and followed the Lord’s example in baptism soon after.
Within the year—after trying to deny it—Jay surrendered to the call to preach.
Aren’t you glad that we can never stray too far from God? Let Jay’s story be a reminder of how good the Father is to us that he leaves the 99 to go in search of the one.
Nicole Kalil is the Jacksonville-based reporter for the Florida Baptist Witness, the official news source of the Florida Baptist State Convention. She can be reached by phone at 904.596.3169 or via email at nicole.kalil@goFBW.com