ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–My daughter is married. Mrs. Christi Watson. Now, that just sounds weird. But wonderfully weird.
I helped conduct my daughter’s ceremony Aug. 12. She married Matt Watson, the wonderful young man who we have prayed for since Christi was born 20 years ago. Walking her down the aisle was an experience I will never forget. It only lasts a minute or two but it seems to encapsulate time –- all the experiences that led us this far. I knew that would be a special moment but I didn’t anticipate what it would be like to look into the faces of family and dear friends as I walked down the aisle of New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga., where I served as pastor for almost nine years.
Through my tears I saw their love and felt them sharing our joy. I wanted to stop by each one of them and thank them for all the times they encouraged me, all the times they showed Jesus to my daughter, all the times they shared the adventure of mission and life following Jesus with me. It struck me that with all its faults and fumbles, this thing called the church is still the most beautiful, wondrous force on this earth. Jesus founded it. Jesus made her His bride. And so on Aug. 12 there were two beautiful brides in the worship center that day.
I am not sure if as a pastor I took the opportunity often enough to thank the churches I served for putting up with me and allowing me the great privilege of serving them, of proclaiming God’s wonderful Word to them, and of leading them on mission to bring the Good News to everyone we possibly could. Let me take that opportunity now. Thanks to the churches I have been blessed to serve as pastor -– Hay Valley Baptist, Sand Flat Baptist, Northrich Baptist and Coggin Avenue Baptist, all in Texas. And most of all, to New Hope Baptist -– I love you and am so excited about your future.
As I pronounced Matt and Christi husband and wife and felt the awesome bond of love in the body of Christ, I wished every seeker could have been there to see it, to experience it, to sense the power, the beauty, the mystery, and the authentic community that are found in the body of Christ. How I pray that all of our gatherings will become like this. Whether it is Sunday worship, a Sunday School class or a church basketball game, shouldn’t our gatherings be full of the most contagious joy that can be found anywhere?
In anything you do in your church, try asking these questions: Who is it for? And if an unbeliever came, would they be in awe of the love and acceptance they would experience? Most of what we do in our churches is really for us, isn’t it? If we are to be real followers of Jesus, that must change. He told us that he leaves the 99 who are doing fine to go find the one who is lost. If we are to follow him, we must go there where He is, always seeking and loving the lost. And when we find them, and they actually come with us to the place where we worship, God forbid that they don’t encounter the authentic love of God. Let’s bring them to the wedding every week!
A couple that I led to the Lord came to Christi’s wedding. Afterward, the wife said, “This is what we want for our lives, and for our daughter. You gave her a mother and father who stayed together and all these people who love her. We want that, too.” The whole world wants that. Most of them have just never really seen it in a way that was compelling. They need to see Jesus. And we can show them.
Someone asked me today if I have “gotten over” the wedding yet. Don’t plan to. I want to remember for the rest of my life the sheer wonder and joy of that day that only Jesus could have put together. I want to remember that most people don’t know that joy yet. And I want to make evangelism good news again –- so they can. Why don’t we do it together -– and remember that the greatest wedding supper of them all is not far away?
John Avant is vice president for evangelization at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.