I love Wednesday night small group at Kevin and Amy's house. It's gotten to the point where generally the same crowd shows up each week, and we laugh and joke and pick on each other like old friends but still have some convicting, powerful discussion about God. It's simply beautiful, and I am blessed to be surrounded by that group each week.
Right now, we're doing a walk-through of the book Multiply by Francis Chan, and it's all about how we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, are called to go out and make more disciples who love the Lord and chase after Him with their whole heart. Having read Crazy Love, I knew this would be good, but I'm amazed at how much I loved it and how much gentler this one felt (then again, we only hit Chapter 2, so that could change as we get further into the book).
Tonight's chapter was about the command to go make disciples, The Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20.
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (copied straight from the book, not sure which version/translation it is)
Then, Chan examines each part of the command: go, baptize them, and teach them to obey all that Jesus has commanded. It was the part on baptism that really touched me:
"But the simplest things to understand are often the most difficult to put into practice. Let's start with baptism. In your church setting, baptism may not seem like that big of a deal. Maybe that's why so many Christians today have never been baptized. But in the early days of the church, baptism was huge. Baptism was an unmistakable act that marked a person as a follower of Jesus Christ. As Jesus died and was buried in the earth, so a Christian is plunged beneath the surface of the water. As Jesus emerged from the tomb in a resurrected body, so a Christian comes out of the waters of baptism as a new creation. When first-century Christians took this step of identifying themselves with the death and resurrection of Jesus, they were publicly declaring their allegiance to Christ...Baptism was a declaration that a person's life, identity, and priorities were centered on Jesus and His mission."
I'll tell you the truth: just like my old stance on going to church, I never understood why being baptized was so vital to being a Christian...until it happened to me. And growing up in the Methodist church where they do the infant sprinkling baptisms, as opposed to Baptists who baptize people of any age with full-on immersions, there were questions of how I was supposed to know which one was the "right" way.
But then, April 5th happened. Reading these words from Chan tonight, all the memories of the night I got baptized came flooding back, and I understood what he was talking about because I'd experienced it. I remember taking off my glasses and everything feeling like it was fading away as Brennan dropped me back into the water. I remember opening my eyes as he lifted me back up because I wanted to see everything as I reached the air. I remember putting my glasses back on and getting out of the pool, completely unable to focus on anything but taking one small step at a time on the tile floor and keeping a tight grip on Brennan's hand. I remember the girl coming up and hugging me in the lobby while I was still dripping wet but being completely unable to look her in the eye or say anything in response. I remember everything finally coming back into focus when Brennan and I stepped on the stage, he lifted my arm in the air and the entire room busted out in applause. That was when I remember thinking that my entire life had just changed.
I had heard people say before that they were new people after their baptisms, but it honestly sounded like nonsense until I lived it out. My mind was running in fast-forward for most of the night, and I remember saying that night to Taylor and Bruno and Brennan, and in the days after in emails to friends telling them the incredible story, that I really did feel like a completely new person. That simple act changed the way I saw God, the world, myself and my role in it instantaneously. I realized that all the seemingly-cheesy things I'd heard about baptisms and what they do to your heart were actually true.
Quite possibly my favorite part about the whole thing is the ways in which I see my baptism still making a difference in my life today. I look at my friendship with Taylor and think about how us celebrating that night together was the start of what has become one of my most valued friendships. When I'm feeling angry with God and struggling to let go of it, I remember that night and the pledge I made to be His...forever. The times when I get nervous about sharing my testimony with people, I remember that night and the promise that my baptism was to make my life's priorities focused on Jesus and His mission of bringing more people to know and have a relationship with Him.
That declaration of my love for Christ truly was just the beginning of the most amazing ride I've ever been on. I never could have predicted all the ways that letting go of control and answering God's call to go and get baptized there that night would change my life, but I could not be more thrilled about it.
One of the most vivid pictures I have of that night is telling Brennan through teary eyes to promise me that he would never stop helping people and having him look me right in the eye and say, "I promise. Promise me you'll never forget how you feel right now."
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I remember everything about that night; I don't think that will be a hard promise to keep. :)