Pastor Torres, complete with wetsuit, baptizing me in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Best day of my life.
It was June 6, 1996.
Five days ago was June 6, 2011.
Fifteen years ago, right now, seems like a long time. But time being the funny thing it is, it somehow, simultaneously and yet not contradictorily, seems like just yesterday. Fifteen years ago I was baptized. I remember it perfectly.
I remember what I wore. I remember the temperature of the water. I remember the smooth rocks on the river bottom and the mud squishing between my toes. I remember the singing of the assembled saints. I remember Mary’s smile. I remember the pastor wore a wetsuit. I remember thinking that was weird. I remember being afraid yet deeply satisfied, anxious and yet at peace.
I distinctly remember thinking more about the future than the past.
And, really, that’s how a baptism should be. It’s about what will be more than what was. Because though every baptized saint has a past, every baptized sinner has a future.
Paul certainly appreciated the beauty and promise of the future. Being a reformed murderer can do that to a man. He wrote, “Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Phil. 3:13).
Peter, too, knew something about the very human need for a fresh start. But perhaps better than anyone, he also also understood conversion is both immediate and involved—immediate in the sense of the instantaneousness of the declaration of justification, and involved in the sense of the ongoing process of becoming what you have been declared to be. Redemption happens in a moment and yet takes a lifetime. Peter penned that baptism was, “not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God” (1Pet. 3:21). Both are there: immediate and involved.
On June 6, 1996, I made what singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson calls, “the good confession.”
Admittedly, I’ve not experienced the complete “removal of the filth of the flesh.”
But neither, by God’s grace, have I looked back.
Because though every baptized saint has a past, every baptized sinner has a future.
Apart from August 16, 1972, my date of birth, no other single day has effected the direction, purpose, texture, and landscape of my life more than June 6, 1996. Without this day, I am a completely different person. I am not the David Asscherick I know today, but some other David Asscherick.
But here I am, a product of June 6, 1996 and a child of God by faith. If life’s days are rated higher and lower based on the outcome of the decisions made that day, then June 6, 1996 was the very best day of my life. And looking back fifteen years later, I am utterly satisfied with that evaluation.
No wonder it’s called being “born again.”
It’s the perfect metaphor. It’s more than mere language. It’s language communicating an underlying and beautiful reality that language, really, cannot even begin to contain. Language is a vehicle, but sometimes the payload is too heavy. A life-changing encounter with the Almighty is one such occasion. When, on November 3, 1654, Blaise Pascal encountered the Almighty in his now well known “Night of Fire”, nearly all he could write was: “FIRE”. That’s it, FIRE. That’s what happens to language when you encounter God, it starts to dry up.
Fifteen years later, what a ride it’s been! Who could’ve guessed it? No one but God. Truly, truth is stranger than fiction.
And better too.
So here I am, June 11, 2011. I’m still a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. I’m now a minister. I run a mission training school. I travel the world telling two stories: Jesus’ story and my story. The former is the best story, the latter is, well, my story. And, God be praised, the story isn’t finished yet.
I guess this makes me a teenager—a fifteen year-old! God knows, I feel closer to fifteen than 38! Teenagers often don’t know much. But what they do know, they know well. Here’s a snapshot, in mostly chronological order, of what I’ve learned. Fifteen for fifteen, if you will. We’ll do part 1 now, and part 2 in a few days. Here we go:
1. I Was Loved into the Truth
Yes, I read The Great Controversy, but without the backdrop of genuine and loving people placing that book in my hands, I almost certainly wouldn’t be where I am today. Tom and Mary Bernt and Joshua Marcoe befriended me, talked to me, tolerated me, and loved me. They did so in the context of a vegan restaurant, but any context will do. Most people need to feel some degree of belonging before they’ll commit to believing. This was undoubtedly the case with me. Without living epistles (2Cor. 3:2, 3) which can model the truth and show real love, our message is lifeless. Teaching is very important, but loving even more so.
2. Share what you’ve found
Today, Justin White preached in my local church. It was a great sermon. Years ago, I went to Stevens High School in Rapid City, South Dakota with Justin White. He used to wear a 12-inch clock around his neck and rap. Justin White is white. I used to have blue hair and scream into microphones at punk rock “shows.” Justin was a rapper; I was a punker. We walked the halls of Stevens High School together. One day, we’ll walk the streets of gold together.
Now there are four ex-Rapid City punks who are Seventh-day Adventist ministers.
After my conversion, I shared what I’d found (or better, Who’d found me!) with some friends. Some listened, most didn’t. But Nathan Renner did. And he shared with our friend Justin White. And Justin White shared with our friend Christien Hodet. And now there are four ex-Rapid City punks who are Seventh-day Adventist ministers. These people are some of my very best friends in the world. More than this, they are brothers in Christ. My life has been immeasurably enhanced by their presence, commitment, and friendship. We have ministered together, traveled together, prayed together, laughed together, raised families together, played together, and grown together. Each one is still completely sold out to Christ. I’m glad I opened my mouth. I’m living proof that God can use a braying ass.
3. Choose Good Mentors
I’ve had no shortage of good and godly mentors, beginning with the aforementioned Mary and Tom Bernt and Joshua Marcoe. Then there was Louis Torres (the one who wore the wetsuit while baptizing me). Pastor Torres taught me the value of a soul. He taught me how to talk to people about Jesus and how to preach. He took me under his wing and “showed me the ropes.” He made me feel unstoppable and talented and special. He invested in me. And he’s done the very same thing for hundreds of others.
4. Remember, This Is a Marathon Not a Sprint
Tragically, the person who said those very words to me nearly fifteen years ago has left the faith. He was a good preacher, a well-known preacher. Too bad he didn’t practice what he preached. But he was right, and as someone who has recently run a marathon, I can confirm this. A marathon is made up of parts, many parts. It’s not as simple as running 26.2 miles. No, there’s the start and the first half and the mid-mile doldrums and the 18-20 mile “wall” and, at long last, the finish. And each part has sub-parts too. Really, the whole thing is quite complex. And it’s just plain long. It takes time and patience and endurance.
Tragically, the person who said those very words to me nearly fifteen years ago has left the faith.
The Christian experience is exactly like this. Apparently the Holy Spirit thought so: “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). Switching analogies briefly, consider this: If Rome wasn’t built in a day, how much less so the “temple of God… which temple you are” (1Cor. 3:17)? If you think of the race as a sprint, you’ll be in danger of discouragement when things don’t happen fast enough. And I mean all things: your change, the church’s change, your pastor’s change, the world’s change. Basically everything. Unlike my fallen away friend, be ready for a long race with much patience and endurance required. And, I must say, the whole thing—both the spiritual marathon and a literal marathon—is quite enjoyable! Painful at times, yes, but absolutely enjoyable nonetheless.
5. Be a Missionary
You do not have to fly to Papua New Guinea to be a missionary. Yes, PNG needs missionaries for Christ, but so do Pittsburgh and Pueblo. These words changed my life when I read them fourteen years ago: “Every true disciple is born into the kingdom of God as a missionary” (Desire of Ages 195). Notice the choice of words: every, true, missionary. Read that sentence again and again and again and again. Read it and memorize it until it becomes a part of your spiritual DNA. For example, I didn’t have to look up that statement to be sure I had it correct (more on that later). I knew it. It’s become part of who I am; part of me. A missionary is someone who, like Jesus Christ, the archetypal missionary, “seeks and saves that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). We “save” only by pointing and directing people to the Savior, Jesus Christ, of course.
When I teach I love to ask, “Who was the first ever missionary?” The answers vary: the woman at the well, the demoniac of Gadarenes, Abraham, Adam, and others. But the answer is so close that most people miss it: God. God was the first ever missionary. The first lost man was Adam. So who went looking for him to save him? God. The heart of God is a missionary heart. His passion is to bless and better others; too seek and to save the lost. If we are truly—remember our phrase: “every true disciple”—God’s children and followers we will seek to be like him. And He was, and is, a missionary.