I’ve just returned from a trip to Southern California. It was an unexpected dream come true. I was able to visit family and friends that I have missed since my last visit. It worked out for me to spend a few days at Laguna beach with one of my best buddies in the world. We try to take a yearly retreat but we didn’t firmly expect would happen this year since we both have very young babies. During our time we saw dolphins and surfers playing in the waves. We enjoyed some volleyball, basketball, and great restaurants. We listened to part of an audiobook, spent unhurried time with the Lord, saw some old friends, and made some new ones. We marveled at the sun setting over the distant Catalina Island and the expansive Pacific. Pictures just don’t do it justice.
But the best portion of the trip was the Sabbath at 1000 Steps Beach. There I was reunited with a young man I first met six years earlier. We had done some Bible studies and, over Indian food, we had multiple lengthy conversations around his questions about God. He grew up in the church and has a very invested family but he had never made the faith his own. He hadn’t yet made the choice to give God his life through the important step of baptism in which we repent of living for ourselves and choose to live a new life in Christ through faith in His grace. I got the impression that he was resistant because he thought he needed to be more perfect. I brought it up to him and he understood theologically that he didn’t have to have it all together but somehow he couldn’t shake the feeling. He let me know that if he ever decide to get baptized he would reach out to me because he’d want me to be the one to do it.
Four years later, he texted me this: Pastor Nick, I’m ready for baptism. I haven’t forgotten my promise to you. The time has come. Let’s figure out the logistics and get this done.
What a gift. I had moved on, following God’s call to pastor at Chapel Oaks but God was still faithfully pastoring this beloved young man. God used community service hours that were required for his graduation from Southern to open his eyes. This young man hadn’t done much community service but in serving for just a few days on a non-religious medical mission trip to a third-world country he experienced a whole different kind of fulfillment than he had ever experienced and realized that he didn’t have to be perfect for God to work through him to make a difference. He also never thought of himself as a kid person, but he later accepted his twin sister’s invitation to serve alongside her in an orphanage across the sea. At the end of five weeks there he found he loves kids, at least kids from that country, and he was once again fulfilled like never before as he found himself needing to rely on Jesus constantly to be and do all that the kids needed. What words didn’t convey effectively in Bible study, experience did. Jesus doesn’t need us to be perfect to be His and follow Him, He needs us to be willing, willing to let Him lead.
I am reminded of the story in Mark 9 where Jesus was returning to his disciples from a visit with His Father, Moses and Elijah on the top of a mountain where he was transfigured into His bright, white, glorious appearance before Peter, James, and John’s faces. Jesus and the three found the other nine disciples in a pickle where they couldn’t cast a demon out of a man’s son. Jesus asked that the boy would be brought to him and he was and as soon as he came before Jesus the boy went into a convulsion and foamed at the mouth. We’ll pick up the story in verse 21 where it Mark writes, “Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
I love that prayer that makes all the difference in our relationship with Jesus and our experience in this world. We can pray with the father of the boy who was healed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” We may not feel we have enough faith, that we aren’t good enough but God will meet us in our willingness and take us the rest of the way.
When I think of sitting on the beach listening to my young friend share through tears his testimony of how God brought him to the decision of baptism as he was taught to be willing, I can’t help but wonder what He will do in you and me as we rest not on our own merits or understanding but on God’s infinite love and ability. There is nothing too hard for our God and there is no problem He isn’t willing to join us in and provide just what is needed according to His unlimited love and wisdom. May my young friend’s memorable story and the first baptism I’ve performed in a wetsuit in the midst of ocean waves ever remind me to pray with great anticipation of what God will do, Lord I believe, help my unbelief. - Pastor Nick