Wildest Baptism Story Ever
Several years ago, I attended a pastor’s conference at a large church on the east side of Orlando. During a break, I stopped by an exhibitor’s booth to browse some of the materials they were promoting. There was a polite young man named James who represented this particular vendor and he and I struck up a conversation that went something like this:
James: “So, where are you from?”
Me: “I live here in Central Florida now, but I’m from Kentucky. Where are you from?”
Me: “Really? I moved here from Ohio a couple of years ago. I pastored a church there for 13winters years. What part of Ohio are you from?”
James: “Canton, OH.”
Me: “No way! That’s where I lived and pastored.”
James: “No way! What church were you the pastor of?”
Me: “First Christian Church, Canton, OH.”
When I said that, James’s face turned pale and I could tell he had something he needed to tell me. He said, “I’ve never really told anybody this before…” Heads up: whenever someone starts a sentence like that, you’re about to hear something awful or something amazing…or in this case both.
James continued, “I lived on 25th Street NE in Canton, just a block away from your church building.” I said, “Yeah, I know exactly where that is. Some members of my church lived there.” (Turns out the couple from our church lived right next door to James. This is a wild story, I’m telling you.)
James then told me that when he was in middle school, he was a rebellious kid who often got into trouble. His mom worked at a restaurant up the street from our church building and occasionally he and some of his buddies would walk to see her and get a meal. James told me some days when he walked to see his mom, they would “cut through” our church building. The doors weren’t locked during the daytime and people were constantly coming and going so no one would probably even notice two or three teens passing through the place.
But then James told me that one day he and his buddies went into our church sanctuary. They had some marijuana and James decided it would be cool to tear a page out of one of the Bibles we had in our pews and roll a joint with it. And that’s what he did, and then he and his buddies smoked it in our worship center. I’m not making this up.
After they each had taken a few hits off their New International Version joint, they realized what they were doing and where they were at and they ran out of the building and never came back. James said, “I thought to myself when I got home, ‘I’m going to hell for sure now.’”
Fast forward to when James is in high school. At that point in his life, James connected with another great church in the area and regularly attended their student ministry. One day, James and several other students decided to give their lives to Jesus and be baptized. The problem was their church’s baptistery was undergoing some renovations. So that church reached out to our church and asked if they could use our baptistery for some baptisms, which, of course, we happily agreed to.
James said, “When I got into the baptistery in the building where I rolled a joint out of a page in the Bible, a new wave of terror and guilt washed over me. But then it was like God said to me, ‘I know what you did, and I love you anyway. I forgive you and want you to be with me forever.’” And then something different washed over James as he was baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of his sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I looked at him after he told me this wild baptism story with a look of astonishment and amazement at both the creative power of sin and the compelling grace of God. I’ve never heard a baptism story quite like that.
The new birth of baptism is much like the birth of a baby; no two are exactly alike and no matter how many you’ve witnessed, it never gets old.
This Sunday is Baptism Sunday at both Journey locations. These are always special days as we get to watch several new births into God’s family.
If this is something you’ve never done or you’ve been putting off, maybe because of something terrible from your past, something you don’t think God could possibly forgive you for, something that you’re deeply ashamed of…then please hear what the Lord whispered to James: “I know what you did, and I love you anyway. I forgive you and want you to be with me forever.”
“And, so now, what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized, and wash your sins away calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16)
Loving the baptizing Journey,