Going Dark

“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38)

I got baptized the other day. I thought about this passage leading up to the event. Let me back up a bit more—three days or so. I have a friend and my friend and I were scheduled to hang as is our weekly wont. I hadn’t seen him in about a week-and-a-half and I was totes looking forward to it. Dylan had been gone to Texas (the state of my birth) with his wife Carissa a week prior and I missed them much. But alas, he texted me in the morning and said he had come down with what she had on the trip and was unable to make it, furthering the time in between the last time we’d fellowshipped and also shoring up the already short interstice between now and the time he and his wife were moving to Texas for good. And so I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I didn’t really have any pressing thing and even though I’d already bought some morning coffee, I felt led to go across town to a different (and new) coffee shop to get another. What can I say? I like my morning Americano. I walk in and order and then step aside to the bar to await my cup. Feeling a somewhat playful mood overtake me, I elect to crane my neck around the pillar to see who happens to sit so studious behind their laptop. Lo and behold, it’s one of my friends, Jeremy, a worship leader from a local church. And so I lean back around and grab my now ready coffee and doctor it up. After all this, after my coffee is perfect, I approach Jeremy and bring him up to the surface. He tells me through the conversation that God had had me on his heart not five minutes before I accosted him. This would have been prior to the aforementioned “playful mood” and around the time that I walked in. It would account for the time it took for him to—like, seven seconds—focus in on me as I stood by his table waiting for him to say “Hi.” back. And so we talked for about an hour. One of the things that stood out in our conversation was “baptism”. I had mentioned some of those things I felt I hadn’t yet accomplished in my life. Thirty seems old to me—a definite watershed. But to anyone looking on and who themselves is over a certain age, thirty’s still “young”. But baptism. It hadn’t yet happened for me. I mean, doesn’t Jesus say it needs to be done? Simple as that, right? Okay then. Thousands of years of debate (and nearly as many denominations) as to the why and the how and even the need at all does nothing to silence this simplest of commands.

Pregnant pause

“Nicodemus saith unto Him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:4-5)

The next day at work I ran into Trevor, the worship leader of the church I currently attend. I started going back there after having met a woman who teaches at the church’s preschool. It felt like something new in spite of still knowing so many of the people I saw in the sanctuary. Trevor was hanging out with Shawn, the church’s youth pastor. I asked Trevor if they did baptisms on Saturdays—as I am unable to attend on Sunday mornings due to work—and he said sure. Shawn pointed out that I’d need to schedule it at least a day in advance but that it could be done. He also said that he’d be out of town for two weeks after the coming Saturday and if I wanted him to do it, again, I’d need to schedule it. Then the subtle procrastination began to set in.

“Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts 8:35-37, emphasis mine)

When the eunuch asks “what doth hinder me to be baptized”, he seems to be expressing a deep desire to want to get it done. Not so much to get it out of the way but to be obedient. I can tell you that while I always knew the day would come, I wondered why I never felt the inward compelling to do so. I’d have to say that it was because the Lord knew it wasn’t the right time. Some people get sprinkled with water at their christening and then call it good for the rest of their life. Others are baptized as children with eyes—maybe not wide open—but open enough. And then there are those (I would say I fall into this category) who endeavor to walk with the Lord throughout their day and for whatever reason just never got around to doing it. There’s a different story for everyone and no one can say that any of them is wrong. It’s so highly personal as to be between God and them and yet it’s something done (as I heard repeated ad nauseam throughout this event) “as an outward sign of inward devotion”—something done for everyone to see.

“Nicodemus answered and said unto Him, How can these things be?” (John 3:9)

I love the exasperation in Nicodemus’ voice. Having just heard a bunch of stuff that ran counter to everything he’d ever known, all he can manage is “I don’t understand.” That’s okay. You don’t really have to understand it to get it done.

The night of the event, I walk down the center aisle before the service to meet with Shawn and to find out the order of operations. I see Shawn on stage milling about with several members of the band and also Pastor Kevin. Shawn tells me that he and Kevin had been talking and as I knew Kevin better, it would be better if he were the one to perform the baptism. Okay. So I go change into my swim trunks and sit in the first pew while the service starts. After the first song, I was told, we’d exit through to the side of the sanctuary. Kevin and I make our way around back and through this little, inconspicuous door and up a tiny staircase that opens onto a baptismal tank filled with warm water. He and I talk for a bit, discussing all of the events I’ve encountered since attending the church nearly five years ago. Divorce, hospital visits, graduation. Many things under the sun. The first song ends and the second one begins. Our conversation comes to a close and I wade in. There’s a large window looking out on the sanctuary filled with people. Kevin asks me the essentials: “Do I love Jesus with all my heart and do I know He’s my Lord and Savior?” “Yes. Yes absolutely.” I answer. The lights are hot and the crowd looks on intently. I lay my arms across my chest and he says “I hereby baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost”. He lays me down gently and for a brief moment—my eyes are closed—everything is dark and silent. The water rushes in to my ears and it’s like I’m in a womb awaiting birth. He then grabs me by the wrist and pulls me up. The crowd erupts and I give a little sheepish wave. It’s is finished.

The Best Offense

“Peter answered and unto Him, Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended.” (Matthew 26:33)

OFFENSE

It’s a capital “offense”. Get it!? *ahem* Sorry. The above verse would be an example of a “bad offense”. What do you think of when you read the word? What’s the last thing that “offended” you? Assuming you drink milk, was it the whiff you got when you went to get some from the fridge for your cereal the other morning only to find it spoilt? Did it offend your olfactory sensibilities? I have a habit of rating things and I’ll use the word “favorite” or “fave” a lot. It’s a childish thing, I think, but I am learning not to use that word when describing something I detest. Like, “my least favorite ‘rotten’ smell would be potatoes”. More like, “on the list of Smells: Rotten, potatoes is at the bottom.” Granted, I don’t appreciate any on that list (ask me to show it to you if you ever see me). In other words, they all offend me. But rotten potatoes are the worst.

“Great peace have they which love Thy law: and nothing shall offend them.” (Psalm 119:165)

The King James words it “offended” and elsewhere spells it “offence” but the idea contained in this word and in this context is “fall away”. “From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him.” Writes John (6:66). Occasionally, Jesus will come across as someone you don’t even know. And we’re tempted with offense. I appreciate the confidence David expresses by way of rhetorical question in Psalm 139 (verse 7): “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?” God’s never going to let you go. He may need to reorient the way you see Him, a little. And the only way way can come to know God in this fuller way—the fuller way He wants to introduce Himself to you—is to let Him lead us into higher and further realms of life than those to which we’ve become accustomed. Often he uses people or a mixture of circumstances we can’t unravel on our own (often involving and including said people) to show us another side of Him that we didn’t know before (remember: people symbolize Him). My opinion is that by remaining childlike through life and therefore close to Him, we prevent successive revelations of God’s character from appearing hard and jarring. We want to know Him better and better, that’s a given. Peter was most definitely “offended because of [Jesus]”. Jesus said he would be in the very next verse. I suppose when you’re this close to Him, He can tell you direct things relating to your future. The main point is that of remaining close, remaining childlike.

Calling it good

“And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offence of the cross ceased.” (Galatians 5:11, emphasis mine)

So, what Paul is saying here in the above is that because of Jesus’s fulfillment of the Law (see Matthew 5:17) and the ushering in of a state of Grace, those hangers on—the ones who thought they could get to God on their own terms and by their own works—were “offended”. When the Lord has you “preach the cross” or even mention it, there is this abrupt abutment between one worldview that says we must pull ourselves up by our bootstraps–essentially meeting God on our own terms–and the worldview Jesus preached. And whether that opposing worldview is couched in a sort-of religious pharisaism or is merely humanism on its best behavior, it stands diametrically opposed to the way Jesus lived.

The Benefit of Friendship

“A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)

I have a friend. I also have a brother. While my best friend currently resides on the other side of town from I, my brother is living—stationed, really—on the other side of the country. I go to my friend (and he, me) for certain things should they crop up while I will unabashedly spill my guts over the phone to my brother if need be. I’m reminded also of this verse from the Proverbs:

“Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend forsake not; neither go into thy brother’s house in the day of thy calamity: for better is a neighbour that is near than a brother far off.” (Proverbs 27:10, emphasis mine)

Irons in the Fire

“Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17)

There have been several times in the past two-and-a-half years where certain deep issues have arisen and I could only rely on my friend to hold me up as I soldiered through. I certainly shared what I was encountering with my brother but aside from listen (and then pray), he only could do so much from a whole country away. This is understandable. My friend, on the other hand, is seasoned beyond his years (so is my brother) and without him, I wouldn’t be where I am. I’m not ashamed to admit.

When I first met my friend nearly three years ago, I had two months prior seen my brother fly the nest. My brother and I had been homeschooled by our father commensurately and we grew to be more than just brothers, but deep friends. I remember as a child walking through a newly constructed mall in Burbank watching two kids play catch with some little object and wishing I had the same. Not just a brother but a close friend to, not just play catch with, but pal around in general. The dream was realized three or four years later in Oregon. I distinctly recall tossing a tennis ball around in our front yard, harking back to that day in the mall with my mom (or dad, not sure).

Cooling to a Solid

The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me: Thy mercy, O Lord, endures for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands.” (Psalm 139:8, emphasis mine)

The initial remarkable thing about my friend was that he essentially replaced my brother. Not “replaced” but “filled a void”. I find portions of my person that would not have been developed had I never met my friend. I thought I was fine with my circle after my brother’s departure. But what I didn’t know was that my friend and I needed one another to walk through the deep issues both he and I were destined to encounter in the coming couple of years. God used him to “perfect that which concerned me” and I thank the Lord for it. Granted, Jesus is that “friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24b) and He certainly could have walked me through those issues alone, but he chose my friend to be His proxy. This is the Body of Christ in a microcosm.

I knew this early on, but my friend is moving out of state towards the beginning of Autumn. Being the decent person he is, he informed me as soon as the realization bubbled up to the surface. It was his wife’s continuing education that brought them here way back then and it’s their mutual choice to move away. And I couldn’t be happier for them. In between the time he and I met, I have both met scores of other friends (some mutual, some not) and also had healed that wound inside me that kept me kind of closed off from other people. What can I say? He’s a writer and so am I. We both tend to want to be alone. But!

“Can two walk together except
they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3)