Years ago, several members of our church suggested we join a church softball league. I was concerned. “Church leagues have a reputation for being more softball and less church. Will playing softball be more important than our mission? Does this really help us reach new people for Christ?” Reluctantly, I agreed to be part of the team and quickly discovered that my fears were nonexistent.
The softball was fun, the opposing teams represented other churches which offered numerous opportunities to get to know each other better. We weren’t winning but we were having a good time.
After the first game, three men who occasionally attended our church asked if they could join our team? “Sure!” I answered. “But the rule of the league is that you have to attend church at least twice a month to be eligible. (I love that rule!) They agreed.
At first, they attended more because of the rule but as time passed, something happened. When the season was over, they kept attending. They joined a Bible study and asked a lot of pointed questions about God, the world we live in and how the Bible relates. Soon, they were suggesting ways our church could be in ministry to others in the community.
One Sunday, all three men came forward after worship. “Larry, we want to be baptized,” said 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,” one of the men 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. We want to be baptized there.”
“Okay,” I said but with less enthusiasm. “You do know that it’s October?”
There is something astonishing and awe-inspiring about a baptism. I can’t explain it but 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.” (Matthew 3:16)
Three men were making life-changing decisions and our church community was determined to support them even if it meant going to a creek on a cold October Sunday afternoon. Following Sunday 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.” We all joined hands to pray and then we were ready.
The water in the creek was cold enough to take your breath away. The first man waded in and as he crossed his arms I placed a handkerchief over his nose and gently lowered him into the water. But while holding him, 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!”
Someone quickly jumped in to help. Taking no more chances, he assisted with the others. 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. All because someone encouraged our church to play softball.
Sadly, I almost said “No” to the idea. Many years have come and gone since they committed their lives to Jesus Christ. Over those same years, I’ve watched God work many more miracles in churches and communities. I’ve witnessed numerous transformed lives.
In the midst of every miracle, in every new ministry, in every transformed life… someone spoke up and said, “I have an idea.” You may be tempted to say, “No!” A better response would be to carefully pray and look for a way to say, “Yes!”” You just might be giving God an opportunity to work a miracle in your church, in your community and in someone’s life.