Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV
I'm not one to settle on favorites, but baptizing someone into Jesus Christ could very well be one of the most thrilling experiences in life. You can argue with me about your mountaintops, cliff jumps, sky dives, or extreme sports. But suspend judgment until you have a front row seat to someone's public confession of their entire surrender to Jesus. Now that is literally awesome. Whether in rivers, oceans, lakes, or built-in baptistries, it never gets old (especially if the built-in baptistry has its own heater!) Last week, I had the privilege of baptizing two brothers in Christ, and while the act itself was amazing, what added to the rush and joy of it all was the journey that led up to it, especially for my friend Dave. Though he shared his story only in broad, summary strokes, I heard two dynamics at work in Dave's life that have deeply inspired me.
GOD USES PEOPLE
I first met Dave at our church nearly two months after it launched a year and a half ago. He was invited by Justin, a co-worker of Dave's and a new church-goer himself. Justin was just six months into a series of Bible studies at the time, exploring faith in a God who really is love. In a conversation at work, Justin overheard Dave's cynical perspective on life and love and encouraged him to consider a different reality, a biblical reality defined by a God who isn't selfish at heart but absolutely others-centered and self-giving. It was enough to spark intrigue, and Dave showed up at our new church the next Sabbath...and the next, and the next. Well, you get the picture.
In a matter of weeks, Dave went from skeptic to seeker to student of the Word. The rest of the journey wasn't all roses, but it's a journey that has persisted and matured and continues to move in an upward, heavenward trajectory. When Dave got up to share his testimony last week before being baptized, it only took a brief sentence, "Justin invited me to church...," for me to be reminded of how one interaction can impact someone's eternity. It may sound elementary, but I hope you read it with deep significance:
God uses people to reach people.
What is more, God uses ordinary people to reach people. Justin wasn't a preaching evangelist or seasoned missionary. He was Dave's co-worker. Justin didn't have seminary training, didn't have long years of ministry experience, didn't have a thorough knowledge of Bible prophecy let alone the order of books in the Bible. But what light he had, he was eager to share. If God uses people to reach people, who will He use you and I to reach today?
GOD GIVES PURPOSE
When I met Dave a year and a half ago, he had just moved to the area trying to rebuild a life that he felt was falling apart. We started studying the Bible together to seek answers to some of his deep questions. After accepting the mind-blowing reality that God actually is our loving Creator who has good intentions for us, the burning question on Dave's heart was: What is God’s plan for me? What’s my purpose? Why would God bring me here?
I don't remember exactly what I said in response to Dave's questions, but I do remember listening intently with a smile. Not trying to be condescending or cliché, I remember trying to assure him that he'd discover the answer to his questions as he continued to study and deepen a real relationship with God. It sure didn't feel like a satisfactory answer at the time, but fast forward to last weekend, and I realize that maybe there was more wisdom in that response than I thought. As he shared his testimony last week, he referenced that conversation about purpose and confessed: "I’ve found my purpose. It’s in living for God, and living for others, not myself."
I think we all naturally want to move toward a defined goal. We tend to operate better when we understand our destination and also the route we're taking to get there. It's in the uncertainty that we begin to feel uncomfortable. It's when we aren't able to gauge progress that we feel useless, even hopeless. In Jeremiah's day, God's people were faced with an uncertain future and fuzzy purpose, and God spoke profound hope to them and any of us in similar shoes:
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:11-13, NIV
Have you ever looked closely at the progression of thought in this passage? First, God assures us that HE knows the good plans He has for us (v. 11). Since HE knows those plans for us, our natural response is to call to Him in prayer about those plans (v. 12). In all our praying and asking about those plans, God says that the journey will eventually elevate into not just praying about plans but seeking the Plan-giver (v. 13).
The great assurance to an uncertain, purposeless people is that in all our seeking we will find God Himself. Plans or no plans, our great find is relationship with God.
Dave wanted to know the why and how and what for of his life journey just like all of us. But the satisfaction comes not so much in finding the answers to the why and how and what for. The satisfaction comes in knowing the One who gives us the why, how, and what for.
And all this wrapped up in the experience of baptism. It's not just the water that makes us new. It's the surrender. Now that's something to get excited about! May we all experience the thrill of being made new. Let's be the kind of people God can use to reach people. Let's be hopeful in the God who doesn't just know the plans but who fills our lives with purpose when we know Him.