Yesterday morning was supposed to be fairly simple for a Sunday…church with Shelly, Dad & Cathy, lunch, laundry….my typical get stuff done day. Well, all of those things happened, but one more item was spontaneously added to the list.
I have been attending Rock City Church since November of last year. As a lifelong Christian, I have been through my fair share of churches. I grew up attending a Lutheran church with my family, often attended Sunday mass with my childhood best friend Sarah (she couldn’t sleep over Saturday night unless she went to mass first, so I made it part of the event!), switched to a different Lutheran church where many of my high school friends were in 9th grade and began going to a nondenominational Christian church after college, where many of those same friends had moved to. Needless to say, church has always been an important part of my life and it needs to be a place where my friends and I feel welcome, wanted and safe from judgement.
Rock City not only makes me feel all of those things, but in the 7 short months I have attended, mI have felt more compelled to do the work of Jesus than I ever felt anywhere else. At previous churches, when service opportunities were announced, by intial thought was, “Well, I shoudl probably go, but I don’t wanna go if I don’t know anyone there. Meh, I probably won’t know anyone. I’ll go to the next one.” There is nothing wrong with wanting to serve alongside our close friends and family, but God calls us to do His work whether we are with each and every one of our Facebook friends, a few acquaintances or no one we know at all. I was not able to focus on that fact – I was more worried about if I would have to meet new people, which for me, is something I actually love!
I have not done a lot of service events with Rock City Church, but now, rather than wondering who will be there that I know, I figure, “That sounds cool and like something that really needs to be done – sign me up!” For example, when I first heard about Rock City’s mission trips to San Salvador,my interest was immediately piqued. I had always wanted to go on a mission trip, but for one reason or another, never made it a reality. But when the idea of traveling with Rock City to San Salvador crossed my path, I decided I was going to “pray circles” around whether or not I should go. It didn’t matter to me who else would be going; more likely than not, being that I was so new in the church, I probably would not know anyone on this trip. One prayer led to another and I knew that God was putting the people of San Salvador on my heart for a reason and that I was meant to go.
Not only had my motives behind serving change after joining Rock City, but my relationship with my dad changed as well. I invited Dad and his girlfriend Cathy to join me for a service one weekend. With the loud music, unusual venue (Rock City Church uses movie theaters as their place of worship!), and the fact that it was something new (my dad and I both cling to tradition very tightly), I was sure Dad would come once to be nice and that would be that. Well, I was wrong! Dad and Cathy both LOVED it! They loved the upbeat, heart-pounding music. They loved the cleverness of a movie theater house of worships, and most importantly, they loved the pastor Chad’s message. So they came back the next week with Cathy’s really-not-so-elderly father, John (make sure he knows I put that in print!!). And even John loved the service!
Because Dad and I had begun worshipping together again for the first time since around 2003, God began working in our relationship. Planning for my trip to San salvador brought Dad and I closer. Chad’s weekly messages gave us something to discuss at our weekly dinners. I was trying to refine my ability with my father to be slow to anger and quick to listen. I truly believe Rock City Church has brought out the best in both of us and helped remind us that before getting frustrated with one another (which happens VERY frequently), we need to express ourselves in love. Dad and I have gotten along better in the past 5 months than we have in any of our 29 years together.
This brings me to yesterday’s unexpected event. I woke up early, took care of some things around the house and went to church to meet Shelly. The message was the 2nd of a 2 week series called “The Dip.” Last week’s sermon was the idea that “We all go through it. One way or another. Whether by design or by default. We want to avoid it. Nobody wants to go through it. But there are some things God can only speak to us in The Dip. Find out what to do when you’re in it, and what’s waiting for you on the other side once you go through The Dip.” I should’ve seen what was coming in yesterday’s message – a different kind of “dip.”
It was Baptism Sunday.
The message focused on the fact that God gives us a very simple and straightforward command: “Repent and be baptized.” (Acts 2:38) A water baptism is meant to be our first act of obedience to Christ. He doesn’t say “Repent and convert at least 5 other people.” or “Repent and tithe all your money to the church!” or “Repent and give up all your heathen ways NOW!” No, God says “Repent and be baptized.” So why is water baptism so important to Christians? What does it mean for us? God responds to simple obedience. If we can be trusted to do the little things He asks of us, imagine the big things God can trust us with! We might not understand why God tells us to do something, but He’s God, so we just do it. Take the story In Acts of Philip and the Ethiopian. God told Philip to “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he did. There, he met an Ethiopian who was “on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet.” God then directed Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” So he did. Philip overheard the man reading from Isaiah and asked him if he understood what he was reading. The Ethiopian replied, “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” and invited Philip onto the chariot to sit with him. He showed Philip the passage her was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.” (Isaiah 53:7,8)
Using that piece of scripture, Philip began telling the Ethiopian the good news of Jesus Christ. They traveled along the road together and came upon some water. The Ethiopian asked, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” So they went down to the water and Philip baptized the Ethiopian.
What is holding each of us back from begin baptized? Often the simplest commands and the most simple acts of obedience have the deepest significance and yield the greatest results. When God proclaimed that “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” Jesus had just been baptized. All it took for him to please his father, the creator of the universe, was to be baptized; to proclaim in front of everyone that he belonged to God.
I was listening to Chad preach, I wondered, Well, I was baptized as a baby, doesn’t that count?? You’re just talking to the people that have never been baptized at all, right?? WRONG. This is something I have wondered many times before – if someone needs to be re-baptized if their parents did it for them as a baby. As if Chad was reading my mind, he imparted, “If you were baptized as a baby, that says more about your parents’ faith than your own faith.” This actually made sense to me. When Mom and Dad had Uncle Art baptize me, they were proclaiming the church and to God that they would raise me in a Christ-centered home, with Biblical values and teach me to live a Christian life. So yes, that says a lot about their faith and how important it was to their life. And they did all those things. They “made” me go to church each Sunday, they encouraged me to join the youth group and they were at each and every time I earned a place in the church musical chorus, they were there front and center.
But I never announced to the world that I had made a decision to follow Christ and declare myself as his. I truly appreciate that my parents had a very big part in pointing me towards Jesus, but as a person that can (and sometimes to my parents’ chagrin) and has always made my own decisions, He asks me to proclaim it for myself. So yesterday, after Chad gave an amazing and action-inspiring sermon about the importance of water baptism, he invited anyone that wanted to make the decision and announce to the world their dedication to Jesus to head out back where a team of people would meet them. Well, that would be cool, but when I get baptized, I wanna have an outfit prepared, I want to invite my friends and family, I want to have a lunch planned afterwa…wait. Where’s Dad going? “Shelly, did he just walk out there?? We should probably go with him, right? Holy crap!” Shelly and I followed Dad to a room where he was filling out a baptism registration card and getting clothes he could get baptized in so he wouldn’t have to drench his church clothes. “What’re you doing??” Dad asserted, “I was baptized as a baby, but this is important to me and I want to do it now! Plus, it’s better than when they do the winter baptisms in 12-degree weather!” (He had a point, yesterday was a beautiful, sunshiney day!) I stuttered, “Oh! Huh…well, I guess I can’t let you do this alone…hand me a card!”
As a spur of the moment decision, I made the choice to go with my dad and be baptized. I have been doing my best to live a Christ-centered life my entire life. (Some days are notably better than others!) What was holding me back from making it official and declaring to God and to the world that my heart and my soul are His?? Not having a well planned out event or a fashionable outfit? Well, that definitely sounds like something I’d say, and just showed that I wasn’t think with my head on straight! I donned a Rock City Church t-shirt and a pair of workout shorts and headed outside with Dad. We were met by a team of people just waiting to pray with us. They thanked God for moving our hearts and our feet that day and sent us on our way towards the baptismal tubs! Dad and I decided that we were in this together, so we were getting dunked together! We stepped into the giant, horse-trough-turned-baptismal and sat facing each other. Pastor Todd Marrah knelt down beside me while another volunteer knelt next to Dad, and Todd assured us that as soon as we came up from the water, we would be washed clean in the blood of Christ, clean and forgiven from the sins we committed 10 years ago, the sins we committed 5 days ago and the sins we will commit 5 hours from that moment (we’re human…it’s normal to sin on your baptism day!). He asked if we understood and accepted that. Dad and I both said that we did, leaned back into the water and came up refreshed and new.
Oh, did I mention that Dad and I’s few moments of baptism were on the big screen? Oh yeah! Since Rock City holds their services in movie theaters, they live broadcast the baptism into the theater for the rest of the church to watch. I’ve been in there for previous baptism services, and it’s amazing. Every time someone come up from the water, the entire theater rejoices with applause and cheers!
Do I feel differently now that I’ve been baptized? Honestly, no, not really. But I am proud that I got to share the moment with my Dad and now I can go to San Salvador practicing what I preach. I now know, without a doubt, that when Jesus calls me home, my home is with Him in Heaven for eternity. My friends and family know who my heart belongs to, but most importantly, God knows!
I wholeheartedly trust that God has a plan for me, goes before me and has a place ready for me in Heaven. I know that if I trust God enough to follow him, He will allow me to do immeasurably more than I could ever do on my own. Yes, I will falter. But with God at my side, time and time again, He has and He will continue to strengthen my faith.
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
***UPDATE*** You can watch Chad’s sermon HERE! It’s Week 2 of the series.