by Jeff Lucas on November 29, 2021
Odd things happen when people are baptised by full immersion. I know a minister who wore fisherman’s waders so that he wouldn’t have to change clothing for the event. The waders leaked, and he became one waterlogged pastor, which was awkward. Another hapless besuited leader delegated the actual baptising to one of his team but popped onto the platform to provide a benediction at the end of the service, and then stepped back into the tank. Oh, dear.
My own baptism was something of a fiasco. One was expected to share a testimony prior to the dunking, so I decided to write and perform a song, a huge mistake. Enjoined in a duet with a friend, we tortured the fixed-grinned congregation with seven awful verses. Then, when submerged, I kicked my legs up in the air, sending a miniature tidal wave to the front pew, where a group of elderly ladies became like soaked, blue-rinsed drowned rats.
But my most recent baptismal experience was epically aquatic. Visiting the Holy Land during one of our annual tours, there were 32 members of our group who wanted to be baptised in the River Jordan. The site is allegedly the place where Jesus was baptised by John. We’re not precious about these things on our tours; ours are not ‘wow, Moses had a cappuccino here’ expeditions. Nevertheless, being baptized in the same vicinity as Jesus is special. And challenging.
At the baptismal site, the Jordan River is just about 10 metres wide, at most, and the border between Israel and the nation of Jordan is a rope right in the centre of the river. On each bank, Jordanian and Israeli border guards usually stand, machine guns in hand.
All was going well until our friend Gerry waded into the water. My wife Kay and I gulped. He’s a tall chap, and the river current was strong, so this might take a little extra effort. We meant to ease him back into the water slowly, carefully. But in his enthusiasm, he threw himself backwards, emigrating in the process. For a moment his head was in the nation of Jordan, his nether regions in Israel. The guards moved closer. This could create an international incident.
But I didn’t immediately see those guards, because I was totally underwater, thrown by his sudden backflip. Flailing around, I surfaced to witness our compassionate group laughing hysterically at the sight of our mass immersion.
And why did this happen? Simple. Kay and I had not planted our feet firmly on the river bed, and thus we were vulnerable. We were not standing securely.
Just standing doesn’t seem too exciting. The activists’ mantra mocks the apparent inactivity or even sloth of standing with a call to perpetual motion: don’t just stand there, do something.
But sometimes just standing is all we’re called to do, because there’s nothing else to be done. We’ve come to an impassable junction and tried all the useful things. We’ve prayed, consulted, worked, and planned. We’ve even exhausted a few useless options too, like fretting and worrying. And now we’ve bashed into the concrete wall of our own limitations, and all we can do is stand in trust.
But we’re also called to stand firm when spiritual warfare rages. Writing to some battle-weary believers in Ephesus, Paul encouraged them to clothe themselves, not with leaky waders, but with the full armour of God, and stand firm even on what he called, ‘the evil day’.
And we have to stand solidly on what is true. It was Paul again who told those endlessly wobbly souls in Corinth, famous for their doctrinal vacillations, to stand squarely on the truth that Christ is raised from the dead, and know that because of that wondrous Easter dawn, death is dead to us too.
Come to think of it, the writers of the New Testament are rather fond of calling us to adopt a solid, steadfast posture of standing. ‘Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees’ says the writer to the Hebrews (12:12).
So here are a few words of advice. Today, don’t back off. Plant your feet solidly on what you believe. Don’t be intimidated by uncertainty, and don’t be swept away by it. If you’re planning a baptism in the Jordan river sometime, pack a waterproof passport.
If battle is raging, doubt torments, or you’ve slammed into the wall of your own powerlessness, don’t just do something, stand there.
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