31.0 Baptism, Christian Wedding and the Pursuit of God

by Elizabeth Stephens

We were having a hard time adjusting. The Church was so different from what we were used to as Buddhists. The small Nazarene Church that we attended included congregants who were literally born in the nursery and were now retired.  In many ways, it was a perfect spiritual nursery of sorts for us.

Each Sunday morning, we would sit by a saintly couple in their eighties named Paul and Elizabeth who became our spiritual grandparents. Paul had taught at Pilgrim Bible College in Pasadena (founded in 1921) and both were precious examples to us of kindness and tender loving care. In the  months after our conversion, we must have been invited to believer’s homes at least ten times.

On Sunday evenings, the sanctuary resounded with beautiful hymns echoing through the halls from the upstairs meeting rooms. I later found out that the Vineyard was meeting there. Sundays were full for us. Bible study, followed by the service. On more than one Sunday afternoon, we were invited over to Paul and Elizabeth’s for lunch.  Elizabeth and Paul were so Christ-like in their care for us and our children as well, pulling out a couple of phone books for them to sit on at the table since they did not have high chairs.

Paul gave us a book by A.W. Tozer entitled, Pursuit of God which fueled our desire to prayerfully pursue God. And then another book by John MacArthur on Worship, The Ultimate Priority.  One afternoon James was a bit depressed and I overheard Paul share a meaningful Scripture which gave us both great solace in our anxiety, “Be still and know that I am God.”  We found much encouragement in fellowship with the saints, young and old. We were now family.

 

Pastor Clarence recommended that we get Baptized and redo our marriage vows. Consequently,  we decided to have a Christian wedding, a  re-commitment ceremony and among those we invited were those Buddhists who had originally attended our Buddhist wedding 7 years before.  However,  it wasn’t too much of a surprise when only two Buddhist members showed up because we knew that those who went taiten or quit the faith as we had now done were often shunned. As Buddhists, on Sunday morning we would recite the “Precepts for Youth” at Young Women’s Division meetings and one well known statement resounded in my mind, “we will march over the bodies of our taiten members.”  Radical religious commitment makes for a difficult transition in any faith community.

This was the cover of the invitation drawn by James. As you can tell, we are kneeling at the foot of the cross. Sunday, October 21, 1984. After Church, James and I drove down to the beach with our family where we were to be baptized.

Baptism and Wedding Invitation.

Baptism and Wedding Invitation.

File2498 It was a beautiful October afternoon when Pastor Clarence baptized James and I in the Pacific Ocean.  If you’re in Santa Monica it’s where Pico Boulevard intersects with the Pacific not far from the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium where we used to attend many Buddhist monthly General Meetings. Our group was waiting with towels and encouragement on the sand.

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First we were baptised in the Pacific Ocean that afternoon, and then in the evening we all met at the Church for the renewal of our wedding vows and a celebration dinner.   It was quite a different mix for our second wedding as we had only been Christians for a short while. Of course, the entire church attended, along with a few of our neighbors,  a few Amway distributors who had become our good friends and mentors, two Buddhists who had maintained their friendship with us and two former Buddhists who had become Christians.

Early that evening we all met back at the Church and after prayer,  James gave a short testimony about our recent conversion, which was followed by encouraging words from Tim, who was our sponsor in the Amway business, and Craig who was a Diamond and had not only helped us with our business, but spent time with James sharing the Good News about Jesus.

Tim our Amway sponsor giving a brief message.

Tim our Amway sponsor giving a brief message.

 

Craig an Amway Diamond sharing his testimony and an encouraging message at our wedding.

Craig an Amway Diamond sharing his testimony and an encouraging message at our wedding.

Wendy, who had spent time at L’Abri the Christian retreat center with Francis Schaeffer had happened to walk into the Church  when we were sharing our testimony and decided to attend.   We asked her if she would sing at our second wedding. She beautifully sang, “The Lord’s Prayer.”

File2501Our father Which art in heaven Hallowed be thy name Thy kingdom come Thy will be done on earth As it is in heaven Give us this day our daily bread And forgive us our trespasses As we forgive those who trespass against us And lead us not into temptation But deliver us from evil For thine is the kingdom And the power And the glory, forever, amen

Our re-commitment Ceremony also known as our second wedding was officiated by Pastor Clarence, the pastor who shared the plan of salvation with  James and I. We are eternally grateful to God for the tender counsel and care Clarence and Judy provided as we came into the community of faith.

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James and I taking our first communion after redoing our marriage vows. It was a moving moment for the both of us.

 Reaffirming Our Marriage Vows.

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Our “First Kiss”

After the ceremony, we gathered together in the fellowship hall for potluck dinner. One of our old Buddhist friends was a baker and she graciously made a cake for the celebration. It was an emotion filled day with a lot of new friends and new memories.

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 One of our Buddhist friends who is a baker made the cake for us.

James and I cutting the cake. Eric awaiting a delicious dessert.

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As we continued in our new faith we felt like we wanted to study and do more. Someone suggested two churches in the San Fernando Valley, Church on the Way and Grace Community Church. Since James was reading the book on Worship by MacArthur, he decided to attend a service one Sunday night at Grace Community Church. The Pastor, John MacArthur was preaching through Matthew, line by line. Although we loved the little Nazarene Church in Santa Monica, we were moved by the Holy Spirit and felt a strong sense of calling that compelled us to consider attending Grace. We were hungry to learn the Scriptures and it seemed that God was calling us to a new chapter in our lives.

 

…. A historical note. On this day in history October 21, 1512.

  • Martin Luther joined the theological faculty of the University of Wittenberg.

 

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About James and Elizabeth Stephenshttp://www.worldviews101.comJames and Elizabeth Stephens presently live in Southern California and have been married since 1978. In 1999, James completed his MA in Leadership Development at Fuller School of Intercultural Studies and in 2010 Elizabeth completed an Associate in Science in Business Information Technology at Pasadena City College. They have three children.

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