Friday, March 11, 2011

Baseball and Baptism

When Steven left practice that day, the thoughts that occupied his mind where generating very deep emotion. They were thoughts that led him to a heartfelt prayer. They were thoughts that led him to weep in the privacy of his truck. In contrast, as I walked home from baseball practice that evening, I’m sure my thoughts were still on baseball or my hopes for supper.

Steven and I were both coaches in the local youth baseball league. We coached different teams, different age groups, on different fields. But with equipment bags over our shoulders and buckets of baseballs in our hands, our paths crossed. Our friendship had been forged from church and baseball, so these types of interactions were common. We’d chat about our players, our practice routines, or the bad umping we experienced the night before. That night’s chat was no different until the end. As Steven turned to walk to his truck, he said, “Hey, I just want you to know that I signed up to get baptized at church.” “Wow, that’s awesome!” I replied. “What’s leading you to this?” He paused with a deep breath and then said fairly quietly, “I just want to be washed clean.” Caught off guard and probably distracted with hunger pangs and thoughts of baseball drills, I said something in response. Honestly, I have no memory of what I said. Steven nodded, said good night, and wandered to his truck. I crossed the street and walked home not thinking much more about our conversation.

Weeks later, I stood in the back of the auditorium watching Steven’s baptism and as he told his story, I learned something new. Apparently, what I said to him that night triggered a very profound event in his life. As he stood in the baptismal tub, he told the story of our conversation. When he told me he wanted to be clean, I shared with him that if he had given his life to Jesus, that if he had received Jesus’ wonderful gift of salvation, he was already clean. Baptism is the outward expression of the cleansing that has happened inside. Steven continued to share that the truth of that statement rocked him to his core. He climbed in his truck and wept because of this new realization of God’s forgiveness. Steven fully gave his life to Christ in that moment. He, for the first time, experienced himself as spiritually clean.

So, how does this happen? How does a simple conversation turn into something so spiritually profound and life changing? Was it because my evangelistic radar was fully in tune to the situation and needs of my friend? No, not in this moment, I regret. Is it because I have reached such a level of spiritual maturity that wisdom just spews from my lips in a subconscious manner? Not even close! So, what happens in moments like these? Here’s my theory:

God knew Steven’s heart, his desires, his struggles, and his questions. He was pursuing a spiritually whole Steven and loved him enough to fill in the gaps in his heart and mind. The Holy Spirit was working on Steven that night and for some reason, the Spirit wanted me to participate in his pursuit of Steven. The words I used with Steven that night were not my own—they couldn’t have been—they were planted in my mind by God. I believe I have no memory of this so I would not be tempted to take credit for God’s work. Pretty cool how God uses things like baseball, friendships, and simple conversations to lead his people to himself. You see, God didn’t need me in his pursuit of Steven. He wanted to me to experience this with him. His was not only a gift to Steven, but a gift to me. I got to reflect the deep heart of Christ to Steven. How cool is that?

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