Shall we gather at the river?

By Bo Wagner - Contributing Columnist

I suppose most pastors do not have cigarettes in their office. I currently do. I do not apologize for that, in fact, I am thrilled by it. Please allow me to explain.

For several years now our church has been fulfilling a burden to reach the homeless with the gospel of Jesus Christ and the hope that he can give them both in eternity and in this life as well.

It has been one of the most rewarding things we have ever done. We have seen men saved, baptized, and joining the church. We have also seen some of them get back on their feet and, where we were giving them a ride to church, they now drive to church each and every service on their own. One in particular is now returning the favor; he himself goes out and picks up homeless folks and brings them to church in his own vehicle.

At an activity recently, he brought two gentlemen that have been coming to church here for several months now. One of those wonderful men told me how God has changed his life dramatically since he got saved just nine months ago.

“He took it all from me!” he said excitedly. “The drugs, the liquor, even the hooch!” Then he said, “the only vice I have left is the cigarettes, and I’m down to just a few a day on them.”

Smiling from ear to ear, he capped it off with, “Pastor, will you baptize me in the river? I want to be baptized just like Jesus was.”

The old hymn began to flow through my heart. “Shall we gather at the river, where bright angel feet have trod, with its crystal tide forever, flowing by the throne of God…”

I explained to this excited gentleman that the waters of the river were not in any way “spiritually superior” to the waters of a baptistery. He was well aware of that, he assured me, but he still wanted to be baptized in a river if it was possible.

It just so happens I have access to a river.

He and I hugged and laughed and rejoiced over what God has done in his life. We made plans for him to join the church, and to be baptized in the river near my house. You know, when God allowed us to move there, this possibility never occurred to me. It was my oldest daughter, on the way home, who laughingly said, “Baptist pastor. River. What exactly did you expect, dad?”

The hymn continued in my thoughts. “Soon we’ll reach the shining river, soon our pilgrimage will cease; soon our happy hearts will quiver with the melody of peace…”

And so we shall soon gather at the river. We will do as millions before us have done, and symbolize the fact that an old life has died and a new one in Christ has begun. Old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new.

And how new? What does salvation do for a person? Make your way back with me momentarily to a pack of cigarettes in my office…

Near the end of the night our dear saved brother who is now eagerly awaiting baptism came to me holding his hand out and smiling as he did. “Take them, preacher. I don’t want them anymore.”

“Yes we’ll gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river, gather with the Saints at the river that flows by the throne of God.”

And so I have cigarettes in my office. And for all I know they may be here for quite a while. Each time I look at them they bring a smile to my face thinking of just how drastically being saved by the blood of Christ can change a life.

By Bo Wagner

Contributing Columnist

Bo Wagner is pastor of the Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, N.C., a widely traveled evangelist, and the author of several books. Dr. Wagner can be contacted by email at [email protected]

Bo Wagner is pastor of the Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, N.C., a widely traveled evangelist, and the author of several books. Dr. Wagner can be contacted by email at [email protected]