I’ve been baptizing people for over 32 years. I’m sure I could find the number if I wanted to dig it out, but I know that number is near 1,000 and probably more. Some of those baptisms stand out.
It’s a powerful moment to stand over the deathbed of eleventh-hour converts to Christ, pour water over them, announcing the words, “Buried with Christ in baptism, raised to walk in a brand new life.” That’s been my privilege a number of times over the decades. And though these folks don’t have long to live on earth, baptism declares that death loses and life wins. Baptism declares that just as Jesus was raised from the dead, His followers will also be raised to life eternal. That’s a powerful promise no matter when you are baptized; it’s more powerful yet when the beady, bloodshot eyes of Death are staring you in the face.
Baptizing hardened sinners is a thrill too. I’m talking about those folks who arched their backs and dug in their heels when it came to God. I’m talking about folks who at one point in their lives said, “There is no God!” And folks who said, “Some people need God, but I don’t.” And folks who said, “God is not going to tell me what to do.” When people like this come to Christ after years of being loved and prayed for by the church, well, their baptism deepens the faith of believers and stirs shouts of joy to our holy, loving God who is slow to anger, full of mercy, and gives people time to repent. It’s pretty special to baptize folks like this.
But, you know, maybe the baptisms that have meant the most to me (and it may sound kind of selfish) have been the baptisms of my children and my oldest two grandchildren. I’m thinking about that because this past Sunday I had the high privilege of baptizing my eight-year-old granddaughter, Reese. In spite of having a great pastor Reese loves dearly, she asked me to perform the baptism. She and her family are part of a church plant called the Journey Campus of Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Their church meets in the Student Union at Arkansas State University. Needless to say, there is no baptistery, so they bring in a cattle trough, fill it with warm water, have the candidates sit in the water, and then baptize them accordingly. It’s pretty cool. And it’s even cooler when my granddaughter Reese is the one in the water.
I suppose the thing that touches me most deeply is seeing God’s word and promises come true before my eyes. I’ve been praying through the Psalms for several months now, and one phrase that keeps showing up along the way is this one: “Your faithfulness continues through all generations” (Ps. 119:90). I don’t think I had the same kind of appreciation for that in my younger years than I do as a man who’s got fifty-six years behind him. Baptizing my children should have brought that home to me, but it really didn’t. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I was an on-duty parent and busy with those responsibilities on top of everything else. The busy-ness of life can lead parents to miss the deep sacredness of certain moments in the lives of our children. Even though we’re present, we don’t always lay hold of the full meaning of it.
But it’s different when you’re a grandparent. In some ways it’s even more satisfying to see your adult children raising their children to be followers of Christ. And what makes that even better is that for our adult children following Jesus and commitment to His church is not a convenience thing or ritual thing; it’s a life thing. It’s deep with them. It’s not just something they do; it’s who they are … and now who they are training their children to be. And they couldn’t’ do that nearly as well if they hadn’t wisely chose life-partners who share the same love and devotion to Christ and His church.
“Your faithfulness continues through all generations.” I’m grateful that when I look back, I’ve been on the receiving end of that faithfulness through the faith of parents and grandparents. And I’m grateful that now I’m seeing that faithfulness worked out into the future through my children and grandchildren. And here’s the deal: this didn’t come about because my parents or my wife and I were such great Christians. We’ve got our flaws and inconsistencies like everyone else. No, it’s not because we are good but because God is great, not because we did everything right but because God does all things well, not because we were special but because God is faithful—faithful to His word, faithful to His promises, faithful to His people. “Your faithfulness continues through all generations.”
I’m just sorry it took me almost fifty-seven years to appreciate that.
P.S. The Journey Campus asks all who are baptized to share their story via video just prior to their baptism. Here's a link to Reese's video.