Transformed by a Story: Jesus, Baptism, and a Paint-by-Numbers Masterpiece

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Every leader in the local church is called to be a part of transformation, but we often give little thought to what facilitates that transformation. One of the greatest tools we have at our disposal is the transformative power of story.

There’s a painting that hangs in my office that means the world to me. It will never even be mistaken for a Thomas Kinkade, let alone a copy of a master like Renoir or Van Gogh. Some visitors to my office might even question my taste in art altogether. Without a story, it’s just a paint-by-number.

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Many times we encounter objects that we take for granted because they are not part of a bigger story. Water is part of our daily lives. We use it to rinse our toothbrush and take showers in the morning. We use it to water our lawns. It takes something extraordinary to transform ordinary objects like water or the painting on my wall  into something significant and meaningful. Often, the story of that object can make all the difference.

When we use water for baptism, whatever else happens, God graciously allows us to enter into his story. In the baptism liturgy of the United Methodist Church we pray a payer of thanksgiving over the water that recalls the Spirit weeping across the waters of creation in the first verses of Genesis. We remember Noah being saved on an ark through water. We celebrate the incredible salvation of God’s people as they moved out of Egypt to freedom through the waters of the Red Sea and the entry of Israel into the promised land through the Jordan.

Ordinary water is transformed by becoming part of the big story of creation and redemption. We are transformed because our stories become part of God’s story. For the baptized, no matter what happens to you for the rest of your life, baptism will never fail to be a part of your story. That is the grace of God. We are transformed by the true story of Creation and Redemption and marked by the ordinary water that has been transformed by a much bigger story.

When Jesus was baptized it became obvious that Jesus is the key player in this incredible, true story. The heavens opened, the Spirit of God came down like a dove, and God’s voice responded, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus certainly wasn’t being baptized in response to his own sins, because he was sinless (2 Cor. 5:21; Hebrews 4:15). Instead, he was identifying with his extended family Israel, and ultimately the entire world. God says, this is the one you’ve been waiting for. This is the one I have chosen by which to incorporate you into the incredible story of redemption that is older than time! Jesus’ baptism identifies him clearly as God’s chosen Son. He is the one who would lead all who trust in him out of slavery to sin and death by his faithfulness and willingness to carry out the Father’s will.

The painting on my wall, like the water used for baptism, is ordinary until you learn the bigger story. My father was diagnosed with lung cancer when I was just beginning middle school. Over the rest of his life, he struggled off and on with this devastating disease. Toward the end of his life, he couldn’t go outside much or do the things he loved most – tinkering on engines, hunting, and fishing. Even though he had never been remotely artistic, he began to do paint-by-number paintings as a hobby and to pass the hours between treatments and doctor’s appointments. By the end of his life, he had painted one for everyone in our immediate family. Because I was responding to God’s call to be a pastor, he lovingly chose and painted this church for me.

Every time I share that story with people, it transforms the painting. Because of this bigger story, this paint-by-number image is a masterpiece. I believe that’s what happens when we share the story of God at work in our lives. When you share the true story of God’s faithfulness and how you have been incorporated into that story, it changes everything. Nothing is ordinary once it has been touched with the true story of creation, redemption, and salvation.

What stories have changed your life? How can telling “God’s true story” change the situations you encounter day by day? Imagine a world where God’s story is the defining measure of who you are. Imagine a world where your congregation is defined more by God’s story than the stories of the world. No matter how plain our lives, our situations, or our contexts for ministry may seem on the surface, their true beauty can be found by their place in the incredibly beautiful story of God.

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Dr. Matt Judkins is the Senior Pastor at McAlester First UMC in McAlester Oklahoma, where he is an Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. He has a Doctorate of Ministry with an emphasis on Discipleship and Congregational Development from Drew University. Matt and his wife, Nanci, live in McAlester, OK with their three children, Emma, Caleb, and Blake.

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