That is what we are here to celebrate today. It's what we talk about every week, but it is so appropriate that we celebrate it today. What you're going to walk into today… If you're a guest, this is a very different day at Watermark. We once a year encourage our friends who haven't done what we celebrate all year long and encourage people to do all year long as it happens, but once a year we stop and say, "Hey, if this has not yet happened…"
What? This first step of obedience, this first moment when you declare to others, "Hey, something changed in my life. What changed was my understanding of who God is. He's somebody who loves me. I'm chosen by him through the recipient of grace. I'm not forsaken; I'm forgiven, and I am who he says I am."
All of us saw things that flashed up on that screen before the fire consumed it that made us go, "Wow. My life is marked by laziness, by lust, by materialism, by idolatry, by adultery, by debauchery." If not in deed, certainly in thought in so many ways. We think we are the sum of our deeds and our actions. That's what the world tells us, but the Scriptures say something else.
The Scripture says God loves us, and what we really are is people who are held captive by sin. We're not defined by our sin; we are captive to it. There's one who hates us. We have given ourselves to a liar who has stolen from us what God intends to have mark us, which is children made in his image, glorious people who walk with him.
By the kindness of God, a number of us in this room, many of us, thousands of us, have come to understand that God loves his children and rescues them from sin and death, that he made provision for them through his Son, that we would be chosen by him to come out of darkness into light, to acknowledge all of those things are true about us but to also acknowledge something else that is true.
In the middle of human history, God put a stake in the ground in the form of a cross, and he put his Son on it, the perfect Lamb of God who died for our sins that we might be forgiven, that an eternal, holy, perfect God would give himself for us, not so we could add to it our own good works but so we might just fall before the cross, fall before our King, express the truth about God, and just accept his provision for us.
We are saved, the Scripture says, by grace through faith alone, not as a result of works so that no man should boast. As you saw in that video, there's new life that comes from that understanding, and we now believe we are God's workmanship. We are created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. So that's what we're doing here. We're spurring each other on to good works.
Nothing we would do do we believe could ever earn God's love for us, but we, because of God's love for us, are walking differently. Our lives have changed. What you're about to see is a group of people who will stand before you and talk about a spiritual reality through a very physical picture. The spiritual reality is found in Romans, chapter 6, verses 3-4. Paul is not talking about water baptism here. He's talking about identifying with Christ by faith.
**"Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus…"** He's writing to believers. **"…have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life** [the Father has for us] **."**
This is the picture. People are going to stand before you today and simply say, "Count me as somebody who trusts that Christ died for me, and count me as somebody who understands that because the wages of sin have been met death has lost its sting, and the resurrection power which brought Christ from the grave is now the ability God has given me to walk in newness of life." It starts with a change of mind that leads to a change in behavior through God's gracious provision in his Son.
So that's the deal here. Baptism doesn't save. Our good works don't save. Jesus saves. This is what makes Christianity unique from every other world system. Christianity is "It is finished" or "It is done." Religion is, "What are you doing so God will love you?" We are chosen, not forsaken. We are who he says we are: forgiven and made pure in his sight.
What I want you to do is hear from a couple of friends up here, and then we're going to break out and hear from everybody who is going to get baptized today in smaller groups. We encourage you to go in just a second to where those folks you know are or just jump into any group and listen to story after story of people who have come to understand what I just talked about this morning.
I want you to hear a couple of stories that are symbolic of the truth we're all going to celebrate. Shelby is going to share a little bit about her journey to coming to understand the truth we already sang this morning. Shelby, why don't you share with everybody a little bit how you came to understand the truth we already sung about and watched in that video.
**Shelby:** Growing up, I felt like I could never do anything or prove anything to put myself in God's holy kingdom. I was actually raised in the Catholic Church. My parents (my mom is here today) encouraged us to go to church, be active in the church. Some of my best memories are of her standing up in Mass and reciting Scripture. As I progressed through high school, I was involved in youth group, but I felt like I really wasn't understanding what God was teaching me.
When I went off to college, I transitioned over to a new town, and I no longer had that support of that church or those friends, really, and I stopped attending Mass. I no longer really read my Bible. I still prayed occasionally, but I never really chose to develop my relationship with Christ. In 2012, I moved up here to Dallas, and my sin struggles of depression and anxiety kept me from trying a new church. There was always a new excuse. "Oh, that one is too small. That one is too big. I didn't like that guy. I'm by myself." There was excuse after excuse after excuse.
It stayed that way until 2016 when I met a man, and that guy is actually here today. I invited him. He said, "Hey, do you want to come to The Porch?" Of course, most of you think sometimes it's a restaurant, and it's not. I was like, "Okay, we're going to go to dinner." No, no, no. Immediately, when we came to The Porch, I remember sitting over there and being completely nervous, just overwhelmed, as most people are in this setting when everything is all packed and the music is playing, and just feeling lost.
As we started attending Watermark regularly, I got lost in those messages, you and JP and everybody else here, of finding that salvation in Christ, and not only finding those messages of salvation in Christ, not through works but through grace… I became at war with myself. I was at war with finding my place in such a large church, and truly, the biggest part was not identifying as a Catholic anymore.
Like good love stories go, that guy and I broke up. That night I just felt so lost. I had been in terrible relationships. He was a great guy, but I had been in terrible relationships, terrible bad decisions, and I had already just thrown myself into my career. But in that moment, that night when I got back to my apartment, I just felt this sort of peace.
In my mind all of a sudden I could hear the words, "Good, good, Father," a song I had heard here at service. I just kept whispering it to myself over and over. Eventually, I found that calmness, and I can only credit that to being God and the Holy Spirit coming in with me and just settling my core. A few days later, that Spirit and God's grace is what led me through Watermark by myself for the very first time, and I have not looked back.
**Todd:** Shelby is sharing about every relationship brings about some change in your life. So talk about since you've come to relationship with Jesus. Not a Jesus you need to perform for or to earn his love, but when you really came to understand that Christ died for you. Tell me how that has affected some of the things you struggle with. You mentioned despair and anxiety as being some things that were affecting you. How has your relationship with God begun to bring healing in your life in those areas?
**Shelby:** About two years ago, if you had asked me then the question we always ask, "On a scale of 1 to 10, would you be able to go to heaven?" I was like, "Oh, it's like a 7. Maybe it's a 5." Now I know Jesus Christ died on the cross for me and that through love and God's grace he unconditionally loves me through my past and my future sins. He will always be there for me, and there's nothing I can do to take that away.
I find joy and pride in being able to share that message with my friends. I'm a teacher, so I get to serve in Kaleidoscope as well, and I get to spread that message to such a near and dear population to my heart. I find comfort in God's Word, especially in those moments of despair and anxiety, and my youth group has been so fantastic in reminding me of God's Word and his comfort through that.
**Todd:** I love it. Kaleidoscope is our ministry to individuals and families who have special needs. She actually teaches special-ed classes up north of here and leads with us in our Kaleidoscope ministry. Let me explain to you something Shelby said that I want you to hear. A lot of anxiety and despair. We always say _depression_ is what happens when we think God got something wrong and _anxiety_ is what we feel when we believe God is not going to get it right.
One of the things that can make you anxious is if you believe you can't be right enough long enough. Shelby had been around and raised in a community that talked about, "Hey, this is what it means to be related to God. These are the things you do." There's that sense of, "I don't know if I'm doing enough." Then she came and heard the gospel, which is you _can't_ do enough, when before it was like, "You have to be perfect." Okay, _that'll_ create some anxiety in you.
The reason we ask that question, "Hey, on a scale of 1 to 10, how certain are you that you might go to heaven…?" What we're really asking is "Do you understand the good news? Do you understand the gospel, what the Bible…? Not what Todd, not what Watermark, what the _Bible_ says allows us to be reconciled to God?" If you give an answer anything less than 10 when you say you're going to heaven, you don't know what the Bible says about salvation. So when we ask that question, it's just "Do you know the gospel?"
Shelby came to a place in her life where she realized, "It wasn't about my attendance at a religious service. It wasn't about anything I was going to do. It was about do I understand what Christ has done. I'm chosen. I am who he says I am. I'm forgiven because of what Christ did, not what I did." I had a friend who was here who really struggled with anxiety. Like, off the charts. He couldn't drive.
When I began to ask him about what he believed, he basically didn't believe he was good enough, and he didn't believe he was right with God. I told him, "Well, you're not crazy. You _ought_ to be scared to death to drive, because when you drive things happen. Accidents happen, and you might die. You're the only person in your right mind. Everybody else is just suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. You're living constantly with a sense of judgment looming over you. You _ought_ to be racked with anxiety."
He was like, "Are you supposed to make me feel better? I kind of came in here freaked out, and you're telling me I'm not crazy." I go, "Exactly. You're not crazy." He thought he was, because he was obsessing over coming judgment. Like Shelby, what I said was, "You don't need to obsess over coming judgment; you need to take God's provision for the judgment that is coming and not despair over what you've done or be anxious over what's going to happen but celebrate who Jesus is and what he has done."
Shelby, would you quickly pray for us as we worship again? I want you to pray for us that we would have the peace that Scripture says happens when we trust Christ, and just folks who are struggling with despair about how they've lived or anxiety about whether or not they can be good enough for God. Just pray for us, that we would understand the gospel and that this great chasm that lay between a perfect God and imperfect man has been closed because of what Christ has done. Would you pray that for us?
**Shelby:** Dear Lord, just thank you for this day. Thank you for the people at home who are getting to see our stories. Thank you for my family and my friends who have come out here and managed to keep this as a surprise from my mom. I just thank you for your messages of salvation, and I hope the people in this room have come to know you and seek you with all their heart and, if they haven't already, just find a place in them to open up and find encouragement, find someone who can help lead them.
Especially if they struggle in some of those areas like depression, anxiety, any of those sin struggles we talk about, that they just find solace in your Word and in your comfort and in other believers who can encourage them to fulfill the job you've put us for on this earth. Just thank you again for your Son Jesus Christ and everything he has done for us. In Jesus' name we pray, amen.
**Todd:** Shelby and I are people of a living hope, and the reason we sing is to declare to you that hope and to remind ourselves of the hope we have. Songs aren't something we do to fill time until we get to the message. The message is buried in them, and it is a sweet, sweet sound to our ears. It's what strengthens our hearts. Would you listen if you don't know it, and would you stand and declare it if you do? Let's sing of our living hope.
This is my friend John-Michael, and John has a living hope he wants you to hear about. So John, share your story.
**John-Michael:** My name is John-Michael Ruder. I was born and raised in a small Presbyterian church. My parents baptized me as an infant, which is what they believe, and that was great. I appreciate them wanting me to be part of the faith. I believed most of my entire life that was what got me into heaven. For me growing up, Christianity was basically just knowing the Bible stories and being a generally good person. For me, "good" kept changing.
Once I got into high school, I had pretty much stopped going to church at that point, because I had elevated myself, basically, to be my own god. It was just not any fun. I was living for selfish reasons, and narcissism and pride defined my life. Fast-forward into college. The party scene had evolved into my new god, and I was living for drunkenness, for pornography, for drugs, for promiscuity. Those were the things I was chasing and selfishly following after.
**Todd:** We made a video for you that we showed a second ago.
**John-Michael:** Yeah, all those things. Definitely. I can relate to every single one of them, and I know a lot of people who do as well. Fast-forward a couple of years. I realized that lifestyle wasn't going to get me to reach any of my long-term goals in life. I had the opportunity to move to Dallas. Some friends I knew lived here and offered a couch for me to crash on until I got on my feet, so I took it. I had a good four or five months of living the same lifestyle here in Dallas…new bars, new girls, new parties. I thought I loved it for the longest time.
After a while, some loneliness set in, and I would say I hit my proverbial rock bottom, if you will. I was driving by 635 every day. Growing up in a small church, I was thinking I'd never try this place, but I was at a place of loneliness and almost denial in what I believed, so I put on my suit, as any good Presbyterian boy would do, and walked into Watermark, not knowing what to expect but also not knowing God was going to use that old cigarette-smelling suit to be a blessing.
There are so many people here who loved me well, showed me the Holy Spirit. It just caused me to keep coming back. The more I came back, the more God showed up and taught me about himself, his grace, and most importantly, his Son Jesus and who he was and how I did not have a relationship with him and how I thought I _did_ have a relationship with him.
God just used men at Watermark to love me, mentor me, and disciple me. I jumped into Community Group. That was the first time in my life I had ever had real community. The relationships I had previously that I thought were community were just shallow, empty, and we were just chasing after the party.
Fast-forward a couple of years. I get married to an unbelievable woman. We met playing Watermark softball, actually. So for all you single people out there, jump into the sports ministry. God has really opened my eyes to who he is, who his Son is. Just like we were saying earlier in Ephesians, what I thought was a faith, that knowing the Bible stories was good enough… It's not.
It wasn't about what we're doing or what we're not doing. It's just about who Jesus is and what he did on the cross for us and how that was enough, and that covered all of the sins of the lifestyle I had been living. Once I accepted and believed in that truth and started turning my life toward him, it became a lot easier. My eyes were opened. My heart got opened.
The guy on the street I used to see begging for money was no longer looking like a drain on society but more of a friend who needed help. The girl at the bar didn't look like somebody who I wanted to exploit anymore; she looked like a sister in Christ. That friend who I used to get blackout drunk with was now a friend who needed a Savior as badly as I did. So I'm just forever grateful to God for showing me these truths and for this place.
**Todd:** You said three amazing things I want to go back and tap on. You talked about the fact that your parents, when you were young, christened you, or within the Presbyterian faith, they baptized you as a child. I want you to talk about the fact that what you're doing today is not an assault on your parents' faith. What _is_ it? What would you say that is?
**John-Michael:** It's my own decision, which is what we're called to. If you're baptized as a child… That's not a decision I made; that was a decision they made for me. I think the Scripture is very clear that we have to have our own faith, and it took me a long time to realize that.
**Todd:** In fact, you talked about the fact… This is the second thing you said. "I was familiar with the Bible stories, and I was told something happened to me when I was a child that almost gave me a false assurance." This is the problem with infant baptism. Some people are holding on to what happened to them. Maybe out of love, a parent desperately wants that child to experience the covenant of grace, so they said, "I baptized you."
Well, the Bible makes it very clear that men aren't born of God by the will of the flesh (in other words, because _we_ want to). It's not because of blood (in other words, because you are descendant from another Christian) or by the will of man (not because somebody else wants you to come to faith). You're born because of God. He chose you and elected you and draws you back, often because of parents who cared for you and loved you and prayed for you.
There was a day that John-Michael began to own his faith. This is John, chapter 1, verses 12-13: **"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood…"** Not because Daddy was a believer. **"…nor of the will of the flesh…"** Not because _they_ wanted to, but it's grace. Not even because of the will of men, because Mama or Dad or I or the friend who invited him wanted to.
This is the third thing he said I want you to hear. John-Michael said, "I had a friend who invested in me and invited me to come where I could hear the gospel. I wasn't a project to him; I was a friend who he loved." The same way he said, "My view of women at the bar has changed. My view of drunk buddies has changed. They're not a project I need to convert; they're people I need to love."
The last thing that's so great about John-Michael is that he is now not a guy who's just kind of skating by grace. That's not what people who respond to grace do. He's involved now not just in seeing that guy on the street corner as somebody who is a scourge on society; he leads a ministry here called 2ndSaturday. Tell everybody what 2ndSaturday is real quick.
**John-Michael:** 2ndSaturday is a great organization. Todd Fields is a great friend of mine and started this. We serve down in South and West Dallas, serving senior, low-income, and disabled people once a month on second Saturdays. We also have a second ministry called 2S Industries, where we're grabbing guys who are from those neighborhoods and have been to prison in the past. We're grabbing them fresh out of prison and trying to help them turn their lives around and be leaders in that community instead of being a terror to that community as they were before.
**Todd:** Todd is a member here and just saw a need, an opportunity. John-Michael just says, "I want to jump in." On the second Saturday of every month, members of our body go and work with senior, disabled, and under-resourced people to care for them, rebuild their house, do maintenance in their house, and then we disciple individuals who can't get employed in other places. 2ndSaturday hires them, works alongside folks like John-Michael, tells them about Jesus while we do the work of Jesus.
Folks, let me encourage you with something. Not the second Saturday, but every single Saturday and Sunday we can invite friends like John-Michael who are discouraged and depressed and trying to figure out there's something worth living for, who see this big building and think all we're doing here is trying to get people to come. We don't care if folks come to Watermark, but God uses the body of Christ that lives in places _like_ Watermark to help John-Michael know where life is, that there's a beautiful name and his name is Jesus and Jesus changes everything. Amen? God bless you.
I asked Shelby to pray. I think it would be helpful for these guys to hear Romans 6. Would you just quote Romans 6 for everybody? No, I'm kidding. We're going to sing one more song that has the truth John-Michael did an amazing job of talking about, and then I'm going to come up and we're going to invite some friends onstage. We're going to sing one song that is one of my favorites. I want you to listen to it. If you're here today and a friend invited you to come and hear their story of life change, you need to know Jesus is the one who changes lives. Let's stand and declare together.
If you're one of our friends who's going to get to share with other people your story of grace in just a second, come on up here. We're going to get to sing our last song in just a second. It's just so fun. I encourage you to pray for these people, to go listen to their stories. If you're here and you don't understand the gospel, the good news that there's nothing to despair about that you've done, nothing to be anxious about going forward if you understand our living hope, we would love to share that with you. In all of the groups you go to there will be people there ready and equipped to encourage you.
Just to let you know this, right now in Plano there are hundreds of folks who are doing the same thing you're doing. In Fort Worth there are hundreds of folks doing the same thing you're doing. In Dallas last night at 4:00 there were hundreds of folks who did the same thing. It's an amazing thing to watch what God is doing in calling his people out of darkness into his marvelous light. That's my story.
By the kindness of God, this community is encouraging me to grow, teaching me his Word, helping me discover, develop, and deploy my gifts for his glory, helping me love the John-Michaels and Shelbys and all of these friends who are out here with the gospel. This is what's really great. Because it's pouring in Fort Worth right now, they moved it out of a park back to where they meet right now on Sunday mornings. It looks like that new facility will be ready for them sometime early September, but they're still in the Ridglea Theater in Fort Worth.
The Ridglea is being rented out for a lot of things. Just a couple of days ago there was a burlesque show, and you could go there and catch the Rocky Horror Show if you wanted to on 5/19, and then Sundays Watermark Church meets there. So inside right now at the Ridglea there are a bunch of folks talking like we're talking about Jesus, and they're going to walk outside and celebrate the same thing we're going to celebrate in just a moment.
That's what Jesus does. He takes what is a horror and feeds the appetites of the flesh, and he says there is joy to come. There's freedom. There's going to be a glorious day when God rolls up all that is evil and makes it right. If God hasn't dealt with your evil, it won't be glorious. So we just wanted to proclaim to you that today is the day of salvation. Today is the day for you to respond to the love of God.
If you have questions about that, every Monday night we have a group of friends who meet here just to answer your questions. You're not going to insult us. We're not going to love you more if you agree with us, but if you really think there are intellectual reasons not to believe in the historicity of Jesus and his finished work on the cross, I'm going to love you enough to tell you you haven't done your work.
Please come Monday nights. It's called Great Questions. It meets right here in one of these little community breakout rooms. Just come and say, "I have questions about this." If something is true, no amount of scrutiny can affect it, and the truth will set you free. It changed my life. Because of that, I'm looking forward to that glorious day. Even though I was buried beneath my shame, I was chosen, not forsaken. Let's sing that together.
I can imagine all the choir of earth, people who have come to understand that… There's going to be a day I'm going to get to sing that to Jesus. "You called my name, and I came running out of that grave." If you're here and you don't know the love of God… Just like he said, "Lazarus, come forth." It's raining out there. You're going to get baptized anyway. You may as well come on. (No, that's not a baptism, lest you're confused.)
I'm just telling you God loves you, and you're chosen, not forsaken. I hope one day you're going to stand before him, like I am, and say, "This is about _you_, what _you_ have done. Because of what you did, it changed me. It changed the way I looked at girls at the bar and guys on the corner and men on the other side of a beer."
There are people you need to go sing before this week if you've been called out of that grave. There are John-Michaels and Shelbys waiting for you to sing to them about the kindness of your King. So let's go, church. Go find one of those names in one of those areas that are all around our campus and go listen to stories of grace, and then we're going to meet out there and eat and celebrate a picture of what Christ has done. God bless you. Have a great week of worship.