Tuesday, June 27, 2006

How To Keep Your Head On Straight…

Or how to straighten it out if it has gotten crooked. (me)

We live in one crazy, mixed-up world. I think both sides of the political spectrum would agree on that, although each would probably blame the other for this.

I can watch the news on TV. I can listen to the news on the radio. I can read the news in the paper or on the internet. I can let all of the horror stories and all the confusion and all of the contradictions drag me down. I can get as conflicted and confused in my mind as the stories themselves.

I can also be under pressure at work. I can be asked to do something that requires me to learn something new while doing that thing for real and for keeps. I can just be under pressure from within, because, with my bad back and the necessity of taking pain medication, I feel as if I've lost twenty or so points off my IQ. Engineering work is usually detailed and can be very difficult. It's like word problems from your old school days all pumped up and huge on steroids, all day long, day after day. I need all the brain power I can muster. Plus I went to Louisiana public schools ;)

I can succumb to worrying (I come from a long and proud lineage of world-class worriers) although I know it's sinful to do so. Kids. Money. Back Pain.

In the past few years, because of my back, I can count the restful, full night's sleeps I've had on my fingers. I can be operating at a low level due to simply being tired so much of the time.

I can also have other physical issues that my doctors find and are trying to treat, and which have symptoms that add to the levels of stress and uncertainty we all live with. (Yeah. Welcome to middle age there big guy.)

And then.

And then one day, while talking to my Pastor, I can casually be asked if I could definitely be at church this coming Sunday. They are going to (water) baptize a bunch of people. He wants pictures taken. He's gonna be performing the baptisms, so he can't photograph them. He asks if I will.

So I read the 215 page manual for my new camera over the days leading up to Sunday. I don't let it stress me. THIS is FUN. I get my camera set up in the ways to maximize my chances at ending up with most of my photos coming out well.

On Sunday, Lovely wife does all the things that help me wake up. Lights on. Talking to me, etc. I encourage this since I am, when actually asleep, a heavy sleeper.

I get up. Get ready. Gather my camera stuff, Lovely Daughters, and go.

I get to church. I haven't been attending regularly of late. I tend to use the weekends to recover physically so that I can last another week at work. (I know. It ain't right, but that's where I am right now, ok?) People are glad to see me. People shake my hand. People hug me. Despite my size, my life's goal has always been to be invisible. But these are all genuine welcomes and I appreciate it very much.

Being back at church is like putting on a favorite old flannel shirt or something.

Praise and Worship is awesome. Loud. People clapping. Singing. Guitars and drums and keyboards and basses. I get caught up.

Pastor M. preaches about the four baptisms spoken of in the New Testament. Preaches with joy from a heart filled with Jesus. From the perspective of someone with an incredibly deep knowledge.

Our church is relatively small, so we don't have the kind of baptismal thinga-ma-jig (font? fount?) that the Baptist churches I grew up in had. They all had a pulpit, a choir loft, and then a big picture window sized opening behind which all the baptisms occurred.

But this is central Florida. Typically, you can walk out in your yard, barefooted and in shorts, in January. It gets chilly from time to time but that's about it. It's now late June and has been hot for quite a while. Our church's baptismal font is a hot tub (not hooked up though) outside the building. It has been cleaned and prepped for today's baptisms. But still it's outside.

Here's where the heart is.

Water baptism is a public act of obedience. By someone who has become a Christian by confessing that they believe in God. That they believe His Son Jesus came to earth and lived as a man. Was put to death in their place. Was buried and rose again on the third day afterward. That He's alive now and sits at the right hand of God the Father pleading our cases before Him.

Water baptism is a public display by a person, that declares to world that they are identifying themselves with Jesus by mimicking of Jesus's death, burial, and resurrection.

This past Sunday, sixteen (16) people, after our church service, put on shorts and baptismal robes. They walked outside to one side of our church building. They lined up, with most of the congregation staying to watch, and one by one climbed into that tub, with it's cold water, and publicly spoke of their love for Jesus and were then were dunked under the water by Pastor M.

I took pictures. And while they came out great, that's not the point.

This is a church made up of every type of person, from high school drop outs to PhDs. People who are financially rich and people who are one step away from living in their cars (if they have one). We watch while some of these people go outside, with traffic going by on the street a hundred yards away, and while wearing white robes, they get baptized. It is a very, very humbling experience just to watch this.

Then, when they're all done, we have communion right there outside on the patio beside the church. And for this Christian, communion never, ever, ever fails to put the brakes on in my head and cause me to concentrate and make sure my heart and mind are clean before taking part.

All these folks wanted was to just follow Jesus's example of water baptism. All just to be obedient to God's word, The Bible. All this while the world goes crazy around them.

But for a couple of hours, people who are so fired up about Jesus that they will run the risk of ridicule and mockery to spend their Sunday morning in praise, preaching, and an extremely public baptism remind me what things are really important in this life.

This life can be painful, stressful, and hard. I can get so confused and so mentally off track that I don't know which way to turn.

But God can stop my spinning head. He can put my feet back firmly on the ground by allowing me the privilege of seeing some of His servants caught in the act of obeying Him.

I can't stop thinking about it and remembering how I felt as a boy and when I was baptized.

God really did choose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, didn't He? Thanks God for humbling me. Thank you Pastor M. for asking me to take pictures. While I enjoyed the opportunity to use my new camera, that turned out to be by far the least important part of that day.

Hebrews 10:22-25. (22)let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (23)Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (24)And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (25)Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (NIV)


Anonymous said...

Came here yesterday to read of Big Sis, as I chat with her on line. I am one of those crazy Urbanites. Came back today, not sure why, till I read todays entry ! I felt deeply what you were writing about & know what I need to do Sunday. Bless you & thank you. Julie

JAM said...

Thank you. Blogging is wierd. I'm a really private person, yet I'm throwing my thoughts out here for all the world to see. I'm living a blessed life, but I do have my share of turmoil. This past Sunday reminded me of the best way I know of to get and stay grounded. I wish everyone would go to church, but I realistically know that's not going to happen. But if you know in your heart you need to be there, like I did, GO.