Of Flip-Flops and Grace

The Dan River in Madison, NC

I was baptized by my Papa when I was about nine years old, in a portion of the Dan River.  I vividly remember being a little scared as I stood on the shore, watching the others disappear momentarily beneath the water’s surface. I was also a little grumpy, because my mom was making me wear my flip-flops into the water to protect my feet and I didn’t want to get mud on them. But as soon as I was standing in the water with the strong arms of my wonderful grandfather holding me steady…I was okay. My shoes were forgotten. I was ready to go under the water, to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

I had heard the story of John the Baptist and Jesus many times in Sunday School…it was one of my favorites, maybe because I loved to imagine John out in the wilderness all wild, wearing camel hair, and eating honey and locusts. He sounded like he’d have been a thrilling person to know. And, even then, I liked that Jesus wanted to be baptized by John. That humbleness…His gentleness…His surrender to the Father’s will struck my heart even then.

And now I love the thought of those two miracle babies — one born to the barren, One born to the virgin — grown up and meeting in the river thirty years after John had leapt in his mother’s womb in the presence of the newly pregnant Mary. It gives me chills, still — these two children, foretold by Isaiah…one to declare the coming of the Messiah and One who is the Messiah…coming together in fulfillment of God’s own plan.

Baptism, to me, is an incredible moment in the life of a believer and I love that Jesus began His ministry in this way, at that moment separating Himself from His earthly family and responsibilities to solely focus on His love-mission. And when He was lifted up from the water by John, the Holy Spirit as a dove descended from Heaven onto Jesus and He was commended by His Father.  “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”

For John, this was the moment he’d been waiting for his entire life. The reason he came to the people, baptizing with water, was that the Messiah might be revealed to Israel. He’d been told by God that the man on whom he would see the Spirit come down and remain is he who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. (John 1:29-33) So after Jesus’ baptism, John could say with absolute certainty that He was the Son of God — the Lamb of God — who would take away the sins of the world.

Have you ever wondered why we follow Jesus’ example in baptism? 

Our human bodies are born from a rush of breaking ‘water’. And as Jesus later explained to Nicodemus (John 3), we must be born again to see the Kingdom of God.

Nicodemus pointed out that a man cannot enter his mother’s womb a second time.

I’ve always wondered if Jesus had to hold back a chuckle at Nicodemus’ statement of the obvious before explaining what He’d actually meant.  “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to Spirit.” 

When we are submerged in the water in an act of baptism, we break forth out of the water as a re-born creation. It is a symbol of leaving our old sin-nature behind and starting fresh. We are new-borns, learning from our Father to walk, talk, think, and act like Him.

Just like Jesus’ baptism revealed His identity, so does our baptism reveal to others that we have a new identity — Christ-Follower. 

As human beings, we tend to learn and remember through experience, so I think that the physical act of being immersed in the water is pivotal. It serves as a division between past and present. It is our hearts, of course, that must be baptized in the Living Water to become a new creations in Christ…but just like our forefathers were told to build altars in remembrance of God’s mighty acts, our baptisms can remind us that we have been made new.

Remember the flip-flops my mom made me wear into the river at my own baptism? When I came out of the water, I was missing one.

Over the years, on the days when it felt like I was mired down in my fleshly desires and mistakes, I’ve thought about that flip-flop. I like to think that it’s maybe still stuck somewhere in the bottom of that river: a testimony that I was there, following in His footsteps, and there I left behind the old me.

I am so grateful that Jesus gives our hearts a second chance. He breaks the curse of sin that would hold our earthly bodies. Born through His righteousness, we are free. May we continue, daily, to immerse ourselves in His grace.

If you’re reading this and you’ve been baptized, I’d love to hear about your experience…I hope that you’ll share your moment of re-birth with me in the comments!

Psalm 51 (the Message)

7 Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
      scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
   Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
      set these once-broken bones to dancing.
   Don’t look too close for blemishes,
      give me a clean bill of health.
   God, make a fresh start in me,
      shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life!
  

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