“Justin, I’m glad you asked me to pray with you, especially today.”
“Yeah, I’m glad you want to.”
Justin and Tom are standing in their own little group, while the others that are also being baptized find friends to huddle with against the chill wind. The Black River is living up to its name today, and its dark water looks anything but inviting to the small gathering of new Christians waiting for the service to begin.
Pastor Mike clears his throat and gives a signal to the song leader to start the music. The chords of a worship tune drift out into the air as the acoustic strums of the guitar vibrate softly.
Justin glances at the paper twisted in his hands; he has written out his testimony of faith. He thinks about the troubles that led him to this day: drugs, alcohol, and hangovers. It had been a hopeless struggle to find peace because his chaotic childhood was born of pain. His parents didn’t want to be together, and the misery they felt was handed down to their children. Home was never a safe haven for him or his brothers, but today he’ll try to begin a new life.
Though he wants to control his emotions, when he looks at his friend Tom, Justin feels a tug at his heart. Tom was the first one to learn about the peace that only Christ could give. He had shared it with Justin right away, but Justin shrugged off the phone calls and visits of his friend. He was angry that Tom thought something as stupid as religion could help him feel that life was worth living in this trashed world. But as time passed, he saw a change in Tom; he was calm and happy, something Tom had never shown in all their party years together. Justin had grown more curious as Tom grew more religious.
“Remember when you came to my apartment, the day after I got wasted at Lindsey and John’s wedding?” he whispers to Tom.
“Yeah. Man, I thought you wouldn’t make it after that one.”
“You and me both. That’s when I decided I’d better listen to you. I wonder what would’ve happened to me if you hadn’t come that day?”
“I’m just glad I did. Something, or Someone, told me to check on you.”
“I gotta be honest, Tom. Part of me still thinks this religion stuff might not turn out in the end. How will I know that God won’t let me down? Dude, this world hasn’t given me much to believe in, y’know.”
“Yeah, but it’s not about religion, its—hey! Lookit that!”
Justin turns toward the water where Tom is pointing. On the slick surface glides a big black snake. It swims smoothly across the river and disappears into the bank on the other side. Tom raises his eyebrows at Justin.
The service proceeds, the other soon-to-be-baptized Christians unaware of the snake in the river. Then, just as Pastor Mike begins reading the scriptures, Justin spots another snake, sliding silently through the water. He nudges Tom and points to the snake. Again, Tom gives Justin a questioning look, his face showing his disbelief at such an uncanny event. Pastor Mike’s voice brings their attention back to the service.
“The fish, a secret sign which early Christians used to identify themselves, is a fitting symbol for us today as we gather by the river to baptize each of you in your new faith. You’re going into the water to be washed clean, then raised up as a new creature in Christ.”
As Pastor Mike turns to motion the first convert to the river’s edge, another snake appears in the middle channel of the shadowy deep water. This time, everyone spots the reptile and watches in astonishment as a large fish suddenly leaps to the surface and begins to devour the snake.
Justin gives his friend an incredulous look, and Tom suddenly bursts into laughter.
“Dude, I can’t think of any better way for God to tell you that He’s in control!”
“Get it? The good fish eating the evil snake?”
“The good fish eating…oh! Wow, man. Cool,” Justin grins back at his friend.
As he watches the others going into the water to be baptized, a feeling of peace settles over Justin’s spirit. He realizes that he’s found a safe haven and Someone, not of this world, that he can trust with his life.
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6:3-4, The Holy Bible, New International Version
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