I’m thinking about completing, with an exclamation point, my fan-hood for all things Saintly in the next few days. Yep, I’m going to take it over the top and buy myself one of those personalized, official NFL jerseys that go for a couple of hundred bucks or so. You know the ones, the real deal. The ones that people go crazy over and must be taken into account for in crime statistics as they relate to the inner cities – in a very real way those jerseys have become a form of currency, if you honestly think about it. (You may have to whirl that around in your mind for a minute or two, but I’m trying to be honest here.)
The first step will be to decide which team member I want to personify as I wear my new purchase. I like Drew Brees, but I also like Lance Moore because he’s a little guy like me. Darren Sharper is another one of my favorites. Jeremy Shockey could be the most popular Saint, but I don’t know…
I saw on TV where you could get a random number and put your own name on the back should you choose to do so, and that just might be the route for me to take. A double-zero and ‘Johnson’ on the title bar would be really hip. Or a lineman number since I’m shorter and stockier than I used to be. If I pull it off, I might possibly be mistaken for a real Saint’s player. Maybe I could even fool my own self into believing that I am a Saints star on his day off, going to Wal-Mart or eating at Wow’s. Me signing autographs, saying things like “Um, yeah, I’m Shannon Johnson, number 00 in your programs but number one in your heart. I’m only on the practice squad this year, but just wait till next year!”
I probably couldn't pull that one off – too many Saints jerseys floating around in public these days, and besides, what’s the point? I could never fool myself. I’m too old and not stout enough for the big leagues. I was never actually drafted or signed to a contract, and I never attended training camp. I can’t be a Saints player by merely wearing an official jersey I purchased off the Internet. I’d be a fraud, a fake, and in the end I’d still just be plain ole me.
I was chewing on these thoughts the other day when I came across a flyer stuck in the window of a store at a shopping center. A quick perusal of my surroundings confirmed that most of the cars in the parking lot had that self-same flyer stuck on their windshield. (I hate those things!) The flyer advertised a baptismal service at a well-known, local church, if you can call it that. The bill acknowledged that if you had children that needed to be baptized, then it was hunky-dory to bring them by the church on that particular day and they’d be dunked along with all of the others in attendance. I got the distinct impression there would be no questions asked; it was merely an opportunity to mark a milestone off the list of things to do in one’s spiritual life.
Naturally I was appalled, but not too much so considering the spiritual condition of our world these days. And if I am going to judge here, then it is best for me to give them lots of room. This is in no way schadenfreude on my part. (Look that one up) Maybe they have read the scriptures and do not quite understand them. As a result, salvation for them has possibly morphed into a gift of grace that does not require things like repentance or acceptance, and instead has become nothing more than a simple ceremony; like joining the Beta Club or being accepted into the Jaycees.
Philip met a man with a similar mindset in the book of Acts. He was an Ethiopian eunuch, and Philip found him parked by the side of the road that ran between Jerusalem and Gaza. He was in a chariot (high-dollar vehicle of the time) and was actively reading the scriptures, but was having a difficult time comprehending them. Philip asked, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” and the Ethiopian replied, “How can I, except some man should guide me?” The Bible tells us that taking that cue, Philip ‘opened his mouth and preached unto him Jesus’.
Later as they travelled together, they came to a body of water. Excited about the Gospel Phillip had shared with him along the way, the eunuch asked Phillip what was left to do before he could be baptized. Phillip responded by telling him that he had to believe with all of his heart. The eunuch replied that he believed Jesus Christ to be the Son of G_d, and thus Phillip baptized him. The writer goes on to say that when they came up out of the water, the eunuch went away from that place rejoicing. He was a changed man.
There is much more to salvation than a mere ceremony performed in a tank of water. Baptism alone is not going to get anyone to heaven, or even right with G_d for that matter. Indeed, baptism is a symbol of the work that has been performed in someone’s heart once they accept the gift readily provided to/for them by the amazing work of grace Jesus provided on the cross. A baptismal certificate will make a person no more a Christian than a high-dollar Saints jersey will transform me into an NFL superstar. And I realize those are very strong words coming from me this morning. After all, I’ve been a Baptist since my birth.