I bet it’s pretty rare that a pastor of a church gets baptized. But that’s exactly what is going to happen this Saturday. And I am the pastor getting baptized. Here’s the backstory…
I was born and raised in the Catholic Church. So when I was a baby my mom and dad baptized me at St. Ronald’s in Clinton Township. After growing up in the Catholic faith, I quit the church and gave up on God around the same time I graduated from Fraser High School.
After a five-year sabbatical from God I started attending Kensington Church in Troy. The year was 1996. My spiritual journey went into overdrive. Over the summer of 1998, I like to say that God became real to me in a way that impacted how I lived my life.
As a Catholic, I believed in Jesus. And I knew He died on the cross for my sins. But those were just facts to me. They didn’t really impact how I lived my life. But over the summer of 1998 I realized that Jesus didn’t just die on the cross. He died on the cross for MY sins. And I needed to do something about that. So I dedicated my life to following Jesus. I invited Him to be the Lord of my life. To be my CEO. And I started living differently as a result by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So then about a year later I decided to become a member of Kensington. And one of the requirements for membership involved being baptized.
In the New Testament, Christians were baptized when they crossed the line of faith (see Acts 8:26-40). Baptism was an outward sign of the inward reality that you were a Christian. Baptism wasn’t what made you a Christian no more than a wedding ring is what makes you married. But just like a wedding ring shows the world your heart belongs to someone, baptism shows the world your life belongs to Jesus.
But in saying all of that, there are various church traditions and denominations that do infant baptisms. And baptism wasn’t an issue that Kensington wanted to divide people over. So while they required baptism for membership, they didn’t specify WHEN you needed to be baptized. If you were baptized as a baby, that would “count” so to speak. You COULD get baptized again as an adult. But you didn’t have to be.
So I chose not to.
I became a member at Kensington in 1999 and then several months later I moved to California to go to seminary. While attending the International School of Theology I became an intern at a Baptist church. You can probably guess that Baptists make a big deal about baptism. So I thought about getting baptized while I was there.
But I never did.
Even though this is what Jesus says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” — Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)
Jesus commanded followers to be baptized. That was a step of obedience He wanted people to take. But for me, obedience was optional when it came to baptism. Since I got baptized as a baby. I decided to simply let it slide.
So then the irony of ironies happens. I get hired at Kensington in 2002. And one of my duties is to be in charge of our baptism event! I thought it was pretty hypocritical that I’d be teaching classes on baptism, about the importance of being baptized while I never was baptized myself. But again, Kensington’s policy was your infant baptism was acceptable. So I didn’t think of it as that big of a deal that I was never baptized as an adult.
But every once in a while I felt convicted about not being baptized. So I thought about figuring out a way that I could get baptized without anyone knowing about it. Just to say that I did it.
At one point I saw the movie The Apostle starring Robert Duvall. And he baptized himself in that movie. So I thought about doing that! In secret. In private.
And then I thought the next time we do a baptism event at Stony Creek I’ll just dive in the water and treat that as my baptism. But that felt like being legalistic to me. So thankfully I never followed through with that plan.
Over the past 10 years, every once in a while I would feel a nudge from God to be baptized. But then I felt embarrassed that I never did. After all, I had graduated from seminary. And I was on staff as a pastor at Kensington Church. And I was in charge of our annual baptism event!
Whenever I felt that nudge from God to be baptized, I would ignore it. The feeling would go away and I’d go about my day.
So a few months ago I’m working on my preaching calendar for The Eastside Vineyard, where I figure out which passages I am going to teach on which day, as well as praying about what the application should be for each sermon.
Back in May I preached on the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:13-17. And as I prayed about it I realized the passage is about much more than the baptism of Jesus or about baptism in general.
It’s about obedience.
It’s about obeying God when His commands make sense. And it’s about obeying even when God gives us a command we don’t understand.
Now I didn’t hear a voice from heaven but this is the gist of what I felt God saying to me about that sermon. The fact that I never got baptized as an adult was the perfect illustration.
Because it is an example how American Christians treat the commands of God.
We tend to pick and choose what to obey and what to ignore. We rationalize away the commands we don’t want to obey. We want Jesus to be our Savior but we don’t want Him to be our Lord.
Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. And He didn’t need to be. But He did it anyway. And the reason He gave was this. He told John: “We should do all things that are God’s will.” (Matthew 3:15).
I want The Eastside Vineyard Church to be a church that lives by that verse: “May we do all things that are God’s will.” I want our church to be known for our radical obedience to God. I want to be a church where obedience is not optional.
I have some unfinished business to take care of. So that is why I am getting baptized this Saturday at Stony Creek at part of our church’s first-ever baptism event. I’m about 13 years overdue, but as they say, better late than never.
***Join us this Sunday at The Eastside Vineyard Church. My message is titled “Judge, Jury, & Executioner” as I unpack Matthew 7:1-7. As Mother Teresa once said, “When you judge people you have no time to love them.” And we judge ALL the time. Plus there will be worship led by Megan Pool & Josh Mergos, communion, and an opportunity to receive 1-on-1 prayer. Sunday. September 18th. 6pm. More info at tevchurch.org***