What’s The Deal With Baptism?

DSC_0496When I was 9 years old, I was a buck toothed lanky girl who stood at least a full head and shoulders taller than my peers, and although I felt incredibly awkward in my own skin and didn’t really have an understanding of who I was, I knew my Jesus and boy, did I loved Him. Sunday after Sunday, I sat in one of the 30 fabric covered pews flanked by floor-to-ceiling multi-colored stain glass windows with my mom and dad sitting strategically intertwined between my two siblings and I. I could predict church as well as Johnny Carson could predict the answers to clues in sealed envelopes. Church was not mysterious. It was predictable. I knew church. I knew the pastor’s sing-song rhythm so well, that I could practically count down the seconds and number of syllables until his inflection and seemingly calculated rise in tone began before he would slam his fist onto the pulpit. Echoing in the rafters and reverberating in our ears long after, that thud sent an urgency through our bones, guilting us to action, “less you be damned to hell”. It was a place that scared the bejeezus outta me (is that a bit sacrilegious here?) and at the same time felt entirely sacred. The only explanation I have to explain this seemingly oxymoron experience is to say that I felt the Lord’s presence in the face of legalism.

There were unspoken expectations and it seemed everyone played along. It was Sunday- Funday! I probably shouldn’t say that because wearing itchy wool skirts and pretending I liked being there wasn’t fun. If I can take an inch of liberty here, I would say, I bet it is actually Sunday-Funday for Satan. He loves when we put on those masks and act as if we’re OK. He loves when we compare our wool skirt to the pretty petite girl’s across the aisle. He loves when we sing songs about “oh how we love Jesus” and yet have just cursed Him the night before. I bet that sly little smile pulls at the corner of his mouth and a gleeful giggle escapes. We may be fooling the other wool skirt wearing chicks, but we’re not foolin’ anyone else, especially ourselves. That phrase, “fake it until you make it”, does not, absolutely does not apply here. I faked it. I faked it for the first 20 years of my life. And when I was 9, I started to realize that there were expectations of me that expanded beyond my outward appearance. And so I was baptized.

I remember checking the box on the envelope that I usually disassembled each week in order to have more space for drawing. I put it in the offering plate and that was that. A few weeks later I was baptized in front of the church with several other kids my age. My pastor asked me two questions prior: “Do you know Jesus as your Savior?” And “Would you be willing to sit on your knees once inside the baptismal so I can reach you?” (See, even at 9 I was taller than our pastor). My answer to both was “Yes”. I remember entering the baptismal and feeling absolutely elated. I swear they trucked in salt water because never have I buoyed that much. I tried to kneel, but I kept floating. The pastor managed and I was immersed “by the powers vested in [him] in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost”. Baptism done. That’s all it was. And I thought nothing more of it for many years.

I have attended church my entire life so I have had the honor of witnessing hundreds of people profess their faith publically in baptism. The idea of baptism always stirred at my heart and when my own daughter asked to be baptized when she, too, was 9, I felt the weighty, albeit, honorable task of making sure she understood what it symbolized. When I was in her same position I believed two things about baptism and honestly, I do not know where these ideas came from. First, that it was something you had to do if you genuinely believed in the Lord, and secondly, that it was a washing of the spirit, performed to obtain a clean slate. What I did before the age of 9 that I felt needed a clean slate is beyond me!

As my faith continued to be cultivated, the more I learned to love, love my Jesus and the more I felt compelled to understand His beautiful Truths for myself. I leaned that those two ideas I had at 9 were not so far off the mark, but there was so much more to it and it had nothing to do with me. Romans 6:3-10 became pivotal verses for me as I dissected each with a ferocious hunger. Though I could easily write in more depth about my discovery, I will simply say that baptism is ALL about Jesus, not about us. It is an emblem of Christ’s burial; signifying death to sin’s rule over our lives, to our unbelief, rebellion, idolatry, etc. and His resurrection; signifying a new life of faith, submission, and unfathomable, gracious, and sacrificial love. It’s a sign of belonging, of union with Christ in His suffering, but also in His glory. This is what we are declaring when we are baptized! Doesn’t this just give you gooseies?!!!  Don’t misunderstand me here, I am not saying that baptism unites us with Christ—FAITH units us with Christ! Broken down so eloquently by author, John Piper, we understand that: “…we show this faith, we say this faith, and signify this faith, and symbolize this faith with the act of baptism.” If we believe, we publically proclaim it through baptism. He died and rose so that we might have life—and life to the full (John 10:10). When we rise from the water, it is symbolic of the covenant we have made with Christ. (It is not the covenant itself, just as a wedding ring does not make us married. It’s a symbol).

You see, when I was 9, I made baptism about me, not Jesus. I didn’t know better. And a couple years ago, that weighed so heavily on my heart that I desired  to be re-baptized with all the understanding and genuine love I have for Christ now. So, in a horse trough at a very special ranch (Raven Rock Ranch), where I had felt increasingly close to the Lord and witnessed His glory more times than I can count, I was baptized. I desired to be baptized with the imagery of Christ’s brutal suffering and His un-surpassing desire to give me (and you) life. Kneeling in the trough filled with water warmed by the afternoon’s sun, I closed my eyes and felt my heart pierced with a pain I’ve never experienced before; and as I was about to be lowered, my eyes filled with tears for Him, for God’s Son. I cannot fully comprehend that sacrifice. I cannot understand that level of love. I had the honor of my husband and our good friend, Tim to stand by myside and together slowly lower my body until it was fully covered by the refreshing, life-giving water of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirt– Whom I know witnessed this act of outward expression of my faith for them. A second or two passed before I broke the surface of the water and felt the warmth of the sun shine upon my face. I raised my hands toward the Son, giving thanks for the life He gave on my behalf and the life I now have because of Him. I am a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). My daughters stood just outside the trough and witnessed what can only be described as one of the most meaningful events of my life.

Water. I love water; everything about it, but especially nourishing and life-giving, thirst-quenching attributes. I can’t help but to think of Rev. 21:6, which says, “He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. To him who is thirsty I will give drink without cost from the spring of the water of life”. Without a doubt, Christ is the merciful Living Water that brings the dead to life though His amazing grace!