Several years ago, three men on our softball team who were now regularly attending church approached me with a proposition. “Larry, we want to be baptized and join the church,” said Rick, one of the men. The others nodded in agreement with obvious intensity.
“That’s great!” I responded with equal enthusiasm. “I’ll make the arrangements and we can do everything during next week’s worship service.”
“No! You don’t understand,” Rick replied earnestly. “We spent most of our lives hunting and fishing in the woods nearby. We love the outdoors. There is a creek about a mile from our house and we want to be baptized in that creek.”
“Okay,” I said but with less enthusiasm. “You do know that it’s October?”
People from Jerusalem and from every section of Judea and from all over the Jordan Valley went out to the wilderness to hear John the Baptist preach. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. (Matthew 3:5-6)
There is something astonishing and awe-inspiring about a baptism. I can’t really explain it but I know it’s true. Ordinary cares and concerns are temporarily forgotten in the celebration of a momentous human decision blessed by the power and grace of almighty God.
No one illustrated this better than Jesus: After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved son and I am fully pleased with him.” (Matthew 3:16-17)
Three men were making life-changing decisions and our church community was determined to support them in any way possible even if it meant going to a creek in the middle of the woods on a cold October Sunday afternoon.
Yet, on the big day, the sun burned bright as if God himself were smiling on us. Following the Sunday worship service, fifty some folks piled into a caravan of pick-up trucks and four-wheel drive vehicles to drive through the mud and debris to the creek bank. Once there we formed a circle to sing, appropriately enough: “Shall we gather at the river, where bright angel feet have trod, with its crystal tide forever flowing by the throne of God.” We all joined hands to pray and then we were ready.
The water in the creek was so cold; it literally took my breath away. Rick was first to wade in and as he crossed his arms I placed a handkerchief over his nose and gently lowered him into the water solemnly saying, “Rick, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
But in the midst of speaking, my feet started slipping in the mud. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t lift him back up. “Help!” I cried out, imagining the morning news headline: “Baptism leads to Drowning!”
Buck, the next person to be baptized jumped in to bring Rick back to the surface. Taking no more chances, Rick then assisted with Buck and finally together we lowered Rick’s son, Coy into the water.
As we returned to the creek bank, the singing resumed: “Yes, we’ll gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river; gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God.”
Our little gathering at the river became a sacred moment in the lives of three men and a church that supported and loved them. Years later, we still laugh about my mishap and talk about that day as one of the highlights of our church ministry.
I can’t explain it. I only know it to be true. And with Christ you were raised to a new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. (Colossians 2:12)