If we were playing Jeopardy!, then this story would fall under the category, “Situations that make you want to swear to the point of being disqualified from ministry…”
Answer: “Delivery scheduled for the Thursday before your church plant’s first baptism. A signature is required for delivery…but we didn’t tell you that. We politely leave a post-it note on the door when no one is signs for the package on Thursday. Delivery is now scheduled for Friday: the final shipping day before your church plant’s first baptism. We arrive to make the delivery on Friday. Three men are ready to sign for the package (in blood, if need be). The package weighs 115 pounds. ‘No problem!’ say the three strong men in unison. But we claim that we are not allowed to let the three strong men help with the package. We drive off…WITH the package. We plan to deliver the package on Monday…the day AFTER your church plant’s first baptism. You spend countless hours (on your one day off) trying to coordinate with our national and regional customer service departments. You are facing the prospect of driving hours through the night to retrieve the package from a regional distribution center (on your one day off). The regional folks are helpful and send your phone number to a delivery driver, who says that he will call you to coordinate an after-hours delivery! Awesome! Except that he never does. You go to bed scrambling on how to recover from this major set-back…only to wake up and discover that the package was indeed delivered – no signature required, after all.”
Correct response: “What is ordering an inflatable baptistery from the internet?”
And yes – this is a true story.
During the twilight hours of Friday evening, I felt nothing besides frustration and despair as this saga of futility unfolded. But in the calm hours of Saturday afternoon (during which our inflatable hot tub – aka, baptistery – was being filled up with water), and in the waning hours of Sunday evening (at which point, we had indeed conducted a really special baptism service), my perspective had changed dramatically.
Yes – the fiasco surrounding the botched delivery of our baptistery was a little painful. But compared to the other sacrifices which made the occasion of ordering a baptistery necessary, it was really only a light and momentary affliction (2 Corinthians 4:17).
To begin with, there’s the ultimate story of sacrifice – THE story behind ALL water-baptisms. God the Son – Jesus Christ – emptied himself, took on human flesh, walked the earth without sinning, and selflessly served sinners to the point of shedding his own blood (Philippians 2:5-8). Because the death and resurrection of Jesus satisfies the righteous demands of God the Father, those who were once dead in sin can receive THE baptism to which water-baptism points: the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the washing of regeneration and renewal by which we are justified by God’s grace and made heirs of the eternal life Christ alone deserves (Titus 3:4-7).
Then, there’s the unending number of sacrifices which made this particular baptism possible. Families have moved across state lines in order to help plant this church. Families have given up the opportunity for their kids to be in an established children’s ministry in order to help plant this church. People regularly come early and stay late to set-up and clean-up our worship gatherings. People regularly give sacrificially of their financial resources. Likewise, individuals and churches all across the nation sacrificially support Autumn Ridge Community Church through prayers, through financial generosity, and even through sending teams of people to support our ministry efforts.
All of this is done with the hope of seeing more North Georgians respond to the gospel in saving faith. This particular baptism represents the first harvest from these seeds of sacrifice. The man our church baptized on Sunday is named Connor Threlkeld. Connor is the first person (I know of) who has come to saving faith in Jesus through the people of Autumn Ridge Community Church.
Objectively, our entire church family is thrilled for Connor. We give God the glory for choosing Connor in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), and for drawing him into repentance and faith through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Subjectively, our joy is increased all the more as we consider the sacrifices that God has used to make this moment possible. As I watched our church family praying over Connor before his baptism, as I heard the sound of our people singing “The Doxology” in celebration of Connor’s baptism, and as I witnessed the joy in the faces of Connor’s family members that have been praying for his salvation for years – I realized something profound.
These scenes are not sweet despite the sacrifices which made them possible. They are sweet because of the sacrifices which made them possible. As Sally Lloyd-Jones writes in The Jesus Storybook Bible, God’s New Heaven and New Earth will be all the more wonderful “for once having been so sad” (page 348). In the same way, the joys of this weekend’s baptism – joys which, in many ways, foreshadow those that are coming in the New Heaven and the New Earth – are enjoyed all the more in light of the sacrifices made by the people involved.
To those who are watching Autumn Ridge Community Church from afar: please continue to pray for us. There are more people which God wants to reach through our church family, which means that there are more sacrifices that God will call our people to make.
And to the Autumn Ridge family: be of good courage! Your sacrifices matter. And they are worthwhile. Any momentary affliction which we may face is not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us in Christ (Romans 8:18): here and now as more people grow close to the Lord, and for eternity as we all enjoy Him forever!