This morning in one of our church services we planned on a woman getting baptized whose life has changed over the past year through Jesus Christ. She spoke (as did her husband) of the many, many years she spent skeptical about God, as she's highly intelligent and has seen religious sales pitches for what they are. But rather than throw a period at the end of that conclusion she decided to stay on a journey, and about a year ago began to check out who we are as a church. Along the way, she realized you don't have to turn your brain off to be a Christian, and how you can combine faith and reason together without excluding the other.
So we celebrated that journey today through baptism - something that the Bible teaches is intended for people who "get it" and want to celebrate out loud the inner change God has brought into their lives. It's more than a tradition or something to be forced upon another, but is truly an individual embracing the idea in community that he/she wants to say "yes" to Jesus in every area of his/her life. By taking part in the tangible action of immersing yourself under and coming up again, you identify with the death and resurrection of Jesus.
First off, this rocked.
As her husband put it, "This is perhaps an even greater day for us than our wedding day." Or as she put it, "I'm doing this on the eve of my 40th birthday. Just as the Israelites walked the desert for 40 years, this is the end of me walking in mine." There was a bedrock conviction that she has arrived to that spoke to so many in the room.
And so once we celebrated with these guys, I then asked if there was anyone else who wanted to respond today to God through baptism. It's a question we often ask, because there are those who grow through planning and others who grow through spontaneous decision. It's never arm twisting or manipulation... just a simple ask. "Is there anyone else here today who wants to respond to God through baptism?"
That's when I heard a young voice from the back of the room say, "I would."
I knew that voice.
My eyes confirmed what my heart was already thumping about as I looked over and saw my oldest son, Joshua, making his way down the aisle of chairs toward where I was in the pool we'd set up.
But what they don't know is what I do know. I know that in my heart I've prepared myself (as best as I can) for my kids to one day make decisions I don't agree with... decisions on any level... and still not withhold my love for them, even if I don't like my choices. I also know that just as I needed to come to faith in God, so did they need the room to choose to engage in that journey as well.
I am likewise aware of the questions my son has asked over the past few years... questions that many adults I know are afraid to articulate. The kind of questions that the woman I mentioned wrestled with as well, moving from agnostic to Christ-follower. The kind of questions that we've talked about, and pursued answers to, and looked up sources inside and outside Christianity on. I assumed by the caliber of what he'd been asking that it might be a long, long curve before I'd ever see him take part in what he did today.
I looked at him and could barely talk... be it as a pastor nor as a dad. And as I choked back tears of joy, he choked back some of his own. We remembered (through words broken up only by our almost-crying-lump-in-our-throats) how when he was younger he'd taken his first huge step of faith with Jesus, and how this was another huge step. I asked him if he understood what baptism meant, and he told me - "It's remembering when I go under that Jesus died for me, and when I come up that Jesus rose for me. And I want to enjoy that."
Afterward, I changed some plans so we could go eat lunch together and celebrate... Joshua chose Chinese food (woo-hoo!). We invited my mom to come with who happened to ask Joshua during lunch, "Can I ask you a question? How do you feel after having done that?" He answered, "Everything feels like it's a better place... and I feel lighter now. This is really a good day."
I'd have to agree with him. In fact, after the baptism I went into a side room to change out of my wet clothes and started crying all over again. I even dropped to my knees, full of extreme gratitude to God for what He had just done and had been doing in my son's life. Then I arrived to the restaurant earlier than my family and as I waited there for them, I felt like I could have cried right there at the table just thinking about how awesome an experience we'd just had together. And later when I came home and logged into Facebook, we were all blessed to read notes from others who were there... notes like this one:
A new prospective on baptism for me... I think your reaction today over Joshua was is the same one God has every time one of his children are baptized. How proud and happy he must be when we commit our lives to him. I often forget that he is watching us and right there with us with tears in his eyes. That was an awesome moment to have been able to be witness to. Congratulations, Joshua!
So since I've said more here than I originally intended, I'm going to publish this and then try to take a little break from writing anything else for a day or so. Somehow it just seems more appropriate to take some time to be speechless and in awe of a miracle when it happens.
That's what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we're going in our new grace-sovereign country.Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin's every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ's sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. (Romans 6:3-9, MSG)