This week I went into the old sanctuary at Watkinsville First Baptist Church to work on a talk I was giving at a Men and Boy’s Retreat. As I sat in the sanctuary I reflected on how special this very sanctuary had been to my wife and me – memories of a pew, a baptistery, an aisle, and an altar. Let’s start with the pew.
In the fall of 1979 I arrived at the University of Georgia as a college freshman. I was a brand new Christian with an intense hunger to grow. Through the influence of my brother, I got involved with Campus Crusade for Christ and Watkinsville First Baptist Church. Sunday after Sunday I sat in the same pew soaking in the Word of God as Brother Charles Stewart preached.
This week I walk over to the very pew I used to sit in and had tons of memories – memories of great worship, Charles’ anointed series on Romans, the college Sunday School class, and special speakers like Leonard Ravenhill and Jack Taylor who came to minister. I grew so much sitting (and kneeling) in that pew!
Now, let’s go to the baptistery.
Being raised Lutheran, I had only known about infant baptism … until I got to Watkinsville First Baptist. I don’t remember who it was, but someone challenged me to look up every verse in the Bible on baptism. I love challenges like this – to get into the Word and not just believe something based on tradition or upbringing. So, I did look up every verse on baptism, and I concluded that baptism should take place after (and not before) a person receives Christ. Even though it went against my upbringing and tradition, I had to be obedient to Jesus. Therefore, I was baptized in the baptistery at the front of the sanctuary at Watkinsville First Baptist Church in 1981.
I can distinctly remember the week after I was baptized. The presence of God was so strong on my life. I walked across campus at the University of Georgia and experienced abhorrence for sin. This had not been true before my baptism. The sense of God’s activity in my life was so strong that I wondered if I had been saved before my baptism. I felt God say, “Oh no, you were saved; I am just honoring your obedience.”
The next special place in the sanctuary is the aisle.
During my sophomore year I began dating a girl named Laura. She had five roommates. Each of these roommates was saved … except one – Dede. You probably know where this is going, don’t you? The Christian girls were often praying for and sharing the Gospel with Dede. But she was a pretty hard nut to crack. However, God’s Spirit got through to her.
One weekend I went home to see my parents. I remember Laura calling me with excitement on Sunday afternoon to tell me that Dede had “walked the aisle” that morning at Watkinsville First Baptist Church. Walking the aisle is a southern expression for coming forward to indicate a decision to receive Christ. Dede had indeed gotten saved that day! To make a long story short, Dede began to grow in her faith and we eventually started dating. That leads us to the final part of that sanctuary that is special to me: the altar, or front platform.
Soon after Dede and I started dating, God called me to be the College Pastor at a church in Minnesota. Therefore, our dating relationship had to survive a 1000 mile separation. And survive it did, because in the fall of 1985, at the altar of Watkinsville First Baptist Church, we were joined in holy matrimony.
Now you see why I say I have come full circle in being one of the pastors at this special church? It’s pretty cool to think that 30 years ago God knew full well the college freshman sitting in that pew would one day be an associate pastor at this church. “God determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27).
As one of the pastors at Watkinsville First Baptist Church, it is now my sincere desire and prayer to be used by God to help others experience some of what I have experienced in this special place, whether that be in a pew, a baptistery, an aisle, an altar, a coffee shop, a living room, or somewhere else.