I sat there shivering in the semi darkness of the little room. I was draped in a dripping wet white robe with just my underwear on underneath. The evaporation of the water was sucking away my body heat leaving behind a very cold and wet ten year old boy. Now what?
It had been a fairly nice evening It was the culmination of months of anticipation. I had said the “sinners prayer of salvation” several times over the past year. Each time the preacher got up to speak he made hell even hotter than the last time. I wanted to make sure I was paid up on my hell insurance. When the heads were bowed and the eyes were closed my hand went up. I stretched as high as I could. Can you see me through all these other people? I’m here, the short chubby one! After the umpteenth time of saying the prayer someone got wise to my reappearance and suggested that I should be baptized.
Baptism was a big deal at South Sheridan Baptist Church. They had baptized so many folk that they were expanding their building. The new building on adjacent property was huge compared to the relatively small meeting space. Most of the work was already done on the big building and there was a huge platform with a glass front baptismal tank. The wall behind was beautifully painted with a fall like mountain meadow scene. In this baptismal the preacher actually walked into the tank to do the baptizing. I wanted to be baptized there.
Luck and timing did not work out for me. Once i said I wanted to be baptized I was given a 5 minute class on what it meant to be baptized. “Boy, did you accept Jesus as your personal savior?” “Uh, yes!” “When did you do that?” “Well,” I stammered, “in July, twice in August, and I think I got saved every weekend in September.” No reply, just a few scribbles. Then I was told I would be baptized that next Sunday. Not good. The new building wasn’t to be inhabited for another month or so. “Can’t it wait?” No reply. Bummer!
The baptismal in the old building was much less elaborate. It was an old claw foot bathtub inside a wall with cheap wood paneling surrounding it. When it was time to baptize, two grinning ushers would unlatch the doors hiding it from view and the preacher would come out with a waterproof coat on. Then we were led out one by one, to be dunked in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, amen! I know why the preacher didn’t get into the tank. The water wasn’t heated. Brrr.
After it was over we went back to the private room where we had earlier taken off our street clothes save our underwear and changed into our robes. The robes were long, heavy things in order to protect the modesty of the baptized. The also held a lot of water within the fabric. I sat in that cube that was about four feet square with a curtain pulled in front of the entrance. I waited. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I didn’t know what I was waiting for, but I didn’t want to move or do something that would cause me to miss out on the special part. I figured out that this was a pretty big deal and there had to be more to it than this, a secret handshake or something.. When was someone going to come in and tell me about the wonderful things that were going to happen now that this wonderful thing had happened. Nothing. Now what?
After a long, long time my step dad poked his head in. He came to church to see me baptized. My mom didn’t feel like leaving the house. He asked if I was ready to go. I said I didn’t know. He told me to get dressed and come on, he needed a smoke. I did, and as I walked out I saw that everyone was gone except myself, my dad, and the janitor. No one came. No one helped me understand. I just left. I have to admit I was a little sad.
Looking back I can remember several times in my life of trying to be a Christ Follower where I repeated a similar pattern of commitment, response, and then a sense of abandonment. I have often sat, cold and shivering after the warmth of a particular event wondering the same thing, “what now?” I got saved again in 1977, then again in 1983, then again and again. I volunteered, I led, I jumped through this hoop and that hoop. I became a worship leader, then a youth pastor, then a pastor, then I became the “fallen pastor”. At the end of each stage there was still this blank spot as to what I should do in response to it all. Where do I go from here? What do I do now?
Perhaps I can trace this difficulty all the way back to my childhood. No one in my family ever excelled at follow through. Perhaps it is even a part of my core wiring, imprinted on my by the Master Designer. Why would He do that? I’ll have to ask. Perhaps it is that while I tend to be a strong leader I still have a need to have a strong leader as well. Peers don’t make good leaders for strong leaders. Most of the people I have in my life are peers. The strong leaders I need, the ones that I see, they like me well enough but are too busy being strong leaders.
Another part of this whole pattern may be endemic in the Christian world. We pursue people, convince them, and then we compile our statistics of how many salvation, baptisms, re-dedications or whatever campaign we happen to be on at the time. We make the sale and birth the result, often to abandon the newborn to the wild and letting nature take its course.
I’m getting older now. Not senior citizen old, but it is coming quickly. My hair is mostly gray and when the barometer changes I ache from multiplied youthful indiscretions with my body. My friend Dave, one of those great leaders, told me that he thinks that I still have enough runway left to get this bird in the air. That was two years ago. Maybe I’ve burned that up. I don’t really know for sure.
I somehow think Jesus command to Peter to show his love by feeding lambs, feeding sheep, and tending sheep would indicate that speaking something so all encompassing and life altering as the Gospel of Jesus Christ would naturally come with some a sense of responsibility attached. It requires follow up, Not only does it require follow up but it also may come with a life time commitment. In Ireland the saying goes, “A puppy isn’t just for Christmas.” To think we can alter someone’s life with the overhaul of faith in Christ and just leave people to themselves and the Holy Spirit is to abdicate the role Jesus gave Peter. His admonition came about during the same time period where Jesus commanded his disciples to go into all the world and preach the good news. “You guys go out and gather sheep. Oh, and Peter, be sure to tend my sheep. Feed my lambs, Peter. Feed my sheep, Peter. Okay?”
Have you ever been around a backyard mechanic? My dad was one. Our yard was always filled with half torn down engines, cars with parts missing and missing parts strewn around in great disarray. Each one was a project embarked upon and never completed. Each one eventually ended up being hauled away as junk. Each one, had he stuck with it until the restoration was complete, would have been a prize in anyone’s collection. My commitment to those who I am speaking to is to stay with it until the process is complete. I guess that means we are friends for life. Are you up to the company?