“Is this the big fat Baptist preacher?” More often than not, this was how the chairman of deacons at the church I served in Virginia would begin each of our telephone conversations. Now, I did not take offense at this affectionate name, for indeed truth is somewhat of a defense. But Bill calling me a “big fat Baptist preacher” would immediately bring to mind pots and kettles and the color black! Sometimes I miss that playful banter that took place in the hills and hollers of Grundy, nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia.
Although the scales at my weekly weigh-in for our church staff’s version of “The Biggest Loser” scream out that I’m fat, I often don’t view myself as fat or “that” out of shape. Of course, my eleven year old son, wearing his “skinny jeans,” lets me know that good, ol dad may not be as slim and svelte as he once was. However, as good at denial as some of us are who may not possess the ideal BMI, there always seems to be that singular event which slaps us in the face with the reality that we won’t be running a marathon any time soon. For me, that event was Baptisms this past Sunday morning.
On Sunday, I had scheduled baptisms for two of our students who had recently made spiritual decisions at Falls Creek Baptist Camp in Oklahoma. Both young men wanted to publicly profess Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord by following Him in believer’s baptism by immersion. Having baptized two other young people the week before, this was certainly a great way to start the worship service.
Five minutes before the baptismal service was to begin, only one of the young men was present and ready to go. No word from the other baptismal candidate. Maybe he had to work or was unable to make it to church. No problem I thought. We’ll press forward with one baptism and hopefully re-schedule the other one for the following week. After taking off my shoes, changing shirts (mine tend to get wet when baptizing), and donning my waders, I stepped down into the waist-deep water, followed by the young man who would be immersed as an outward sign and symbol of the inward transformation that had already taken place in his life.
After the congregation finished singing the first verse of “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus,” I baptized this young follower of Christ as a public profession of his faith. After a time of praise and celebration, the young man and I retreated into the baptismal changing room, both sopping wet. Not thirty seconds after pulling off my waders, the door to the changing room flew open and in ran the other baptismal candidate, the one who I thought was a no-show. “Is it too late to be baptized?” he asked excitedly. Not one to turn down a request to follow Christ’s command to be baptized, I assured the young man that we would make it happen. After sending a message to our Worship Pastor to continue with the service, I thought that I would have time to get back into my waders and re-enter the baptismal pool in a timely manner.
Boy, was I wrong. Before I knew it, the congregation had started singing the second verse of “I Have Decided.” Uh oh! Man, I better get moving fast. Scrambling to get back into the water with the baptismal candidate in tow, we had a second immersion in as many minutes. Praise and celebration ensued and we again exited the water, more sopping wet than the first time.
Now, it was time to get dressed and head back into the sanctuary in time to welcome the folks who had come that morning. As quickly as I could, I changed clothes and walked out onto the stage as the opening song was ending. I stepped up to the pulpit to offer a word of welcome and it hit me. I was out of breath. If you’ve ever been in that situation, you don’t want people to realize just how out of breath you are. And so I covered by talking slowly and deliberately. Maybe no one would notice that I was struggling for air.
As I finished the welcome and everyone began to greet one another, I turned away from the congregation and began to take deep breaths. Boy, I thought, was I out of shape or what? Here I was, fresh off of two baptisms, and it was all I could do to breathe. But, it was at that moment that I realized, whether I like it or not, that I really am a big fat Baptist preacher. For the record, I don’t like it, but sometimes the truth hurts.