Baptism Sunday

2017 Messages

On this Baptism service we hear Paula's story of how God freed her from financial debt and grew her as a disciple. Todd reminds us that we all have a debt that we could never pay against God, but that God offers us forgiveness and freedom. We also hear Michael's story, in which, faithful people were obedient to share. Their actions affected his life which is now affecting the lives of others. In the same way, we should see our actions of faithful obedience as farther reaching than we could ever know.

Todd WagnerMay 21, 2017

We are going to celebrate today that he (God) made him (Jesus), who knew no sin, to become sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him. We had a full room in here last night doing the exact same thing, and we'll do it again this morning. Several hundred folks are going to celebrate the fact that they're well aware that there's nothing they could ever do to make themselves acceptable in God's sight.

I think sometimes when people think about what's going on at churches, they go, "I can't go there. My life isn't all together. I don't have a life that is worthy of claiming to have a relationship with God." Here's what I want to let you know. The church of Jesus is the only organization in the world where the only requirement for membership is that you say, "I'm an idiot. I'm a sinner." That's really it.

You have to be somebody who realizes that you, left to yourself, will do a way that doesn't lead to life but leads to death, and all you have to do is say, "I'm in a world of hurt, not just in the way I make my way through this life but certainly when I stand before the God who creates life and holds men into account because we are his." The only requirement to be a member of the church of Jesus Christ is that you say, "I am a sinner, and I want the grace of God to be applied to me."

I don't know if you think the church is filled with perfect people or not. We are here to tell you it's not. Titus 3:3 says, "For we also once were foolish ourselves…" Listen to this description. "…disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another." Oh my. Then there's this little word in verse 4: but. "But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy…"

It doesn't say "by the washing of baptism," because baptism doesn't save anybody. Baptism is an act you go through where you say, "I want to give you a visual picture for what has happened to me in the spiritual realm." "…by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit…" That's what you're going to see a visual picture of today. We have a number of friends we want to introduce you to, and I want you to meet the very first one.

Paula is one of the many who are going to encourage us. We have a couple of friends, and you'll see why they're coming up here alongside with her in just a moment. Paula, way to go. This is fun for us to do. I met early this morning with all of the folks who are going to go through the baptism process with us today and just told them, "Hey, you're the message. Every week we do a pastors' conference in here, and it's your turn to preach." So, Paula, go to preaching.

Paula Sandoval: I'm Paula. I'm actually from Holland, Michigan, born and raised. Came out as a believer. When I was 7 years old, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. As I continued on as an adult, kind of on this roller-coaster ride of the ins and outs, I never knew God in a relationship. I knew of him, but I didn't have a relationship with him, so my life turned to just doing what my flesh wanted to do and not being obedient.

I fell on hard times, lost my position, was staying on couches. Finally, I got a position and met a friend, Christina, who invited me out to church. I would say, "Yeah, I'm going to go out next weekend. That's fine. Yeah, I'll be there," and never went. Christina relentlessly continued talking with me. She said, "You're going to church tonight with me, and we're going to The Porch. I'm going to drive you there, and we're going to eat, and we're going to go back."

So here we are at church, and I'm sitting there with my arms folded, like, "I don't really want to be here, but I'm tired of her nagging me." Tuesdays became Sundays. Sundays became membership. I remember going to GroupLink to get in a community, and there was a lady. Her name was Shauna Johnson.

I never knew this lady before in my life. She was the door greeter, and we just connected, and she started sharing her life with me. I don't know how she got my number or how I gave her my number, but it happened. Till this day, she still texts me Scripture. Till this day, she prays for me, and it's just amazing what I've been able to gain just from allowing Christ to soften my heart, because I was full of anger. I was full of hurt.

The first class I took was a finance class, because I needed to get out of debt. By God's grace and mercy, I was able to get a side contract, and I used that money to pay off my debt. In my Community Group, my friend Esella and I got really, really close, and we said, "You know, we need a class." I said, "Yes, I need to get with God. I need to stop fooling around and be in a relationship. I need to be discipled." That class happened to be Equipped Disciple 1. That's a very, very powerful class, and if you just let God in, boy, he will change you.

I met Bill, and Esella and my other friend Cami from Community Group and I all decided to take this class together, and God began just changing my heart, changing my thoughts, changing the way I saw things, and bringing people in my life to shepherd me…Bill, Christina, my Community Group, people at the front door just sharing their life with me and encouraging me. It was so amazing. I give all the praise, honor, and glory to God for saving me, for loving me, and for healing me.

Todd: Here's why I want Christina and Bill up here. One of the loudest applauses was when she said, "I got out of debt." When we have people who are in financial bondage, sometimes over six figures… I'm not talking about house collateralized debt. I'm talking about just personal discretionary credit card debt and college loans and things like that. When somebody gets out from underneath that burden, we're like, "That's amazing."

Let me just tell you why we're celebrating the way we are today, why we throw an all-day party. Because there's a bigger debt that all of us have. It's infinite and eternal. There's no amount of work, no amount of gracious provision from friends, no amount of random default we can go to. We can't just declare bankruptcy and hope it goes away. We are all indebted to God.

There's a parable Jesus tells in Matthew 18 about a guy who had a debt that was astronomical in scope and was forgiven, and then because, frankly, he didn't forgive a much, much, much smaller debt of somebody else, Jesus rebuked him, because it was evidence that because he didn't forgive others he himself had never experienced forgiveness. He knew about the forgiving master; he just didn't experience it, because when you experience it, you are forgiving toward others. It brings about transformation.

Paula, one of the things you shared is that, as best you could understand, when you were a little girl you said, "Hey, God, I want you to forgive me," but then there was a lot of life lived between 7 and… When did Christina hook up with you in Dallas and invite you?

Paula: I was probably about 37 or 38.

Todd: So 30 years there of not living like a person who understood what you were forgiven from. It took, like you said, a loss of a job, homelessness, and being at the very bottom of life to where you began to look up again to that loving Master. Christina, what's so great… Did you guys know each other? How did you meet?

Christina: At work. That's how I started. Just the environment of us going through things, we just started coming to Tuesdays.

Todd: Christina just said, "Come on. I know a place where you can hear a little bit about what's happening." Here's the thing. This analogy I've never used here. I'm probably going to use it a lot in the next couple of years. We are mammals; we are not reptiles. Here's what I mean by that. This week I was reading an article about a guy who caught a 16-foot python in the Everglades. They cut it open, and there were 70 eggs inside of there.

Reptiles have a ton of eggs that they throw out hoping a few of them can survive. Mammals conceive one fetus, maybe two. They care for it. They cherish it. They cultivate it. They desire to see it be brought to maturity and life. We're not just a bunch of reptiles who are throwing out a bunch of eggs and hope people have some experience where a few of you survive in the Christian walk. God wants us to give birth to and cultivate an individual life that grows to be the full measure of man or woman.

That's where Bill jumped in. If you wonder why your life is floundering, it's because you're not spending time with the Master who loves you, who got you out of debt. Bill and a score of others here… We have a class. We call it, as simply as we can, Equipped Disciple. If you want to learn more of God, go to Equipped Disciple. Paula and Bill, you guys have been hanging out now for a couple of years. So there's a group of six to eight in Equipped Disciple 1?

Bill: Could be up to 12.

Todd: Up to 12 folks, where you want to begin to learn how to have a personal, abiding relationship with Christ. Give them a quick 30 seconds about Equipped Disciple, Bill.

Bill: Well, it's a great ministry. We train men and women how to read and study the Bible and share their faith. It's three 11-week classes. It covers very basic and ends up where in the ED-2 you have to spend four hours with God and share your faith in four minutes or less, and then the last course you really refine on how to share your faith and go out and do it consistently. It's a great ministry. Paula was very faithful. It requires an hour and a half to two hours of homework a week, and then you have to memorize your verses. She was very faithful in doing all that. The whole ED team, Brother Bill and all the team, were very proud of what she did.

Todd: Now the goal is that Paula cycles back and takes her own groups through. The things which she has learned in the presence of many witnesses, she'll entrust to faithful folks. Is there a Paula at your office, like Christina said, "Come and see" to you, that you've been doing that with other folks, saying…

Paula: Absolutely. I happen to work in a college environment. It gives me plenty of opportunity to share my faith and find other faith believers out there, so it has just been great. As a matter of fact, my position is faith-based, a nonprofit organization. So God has really truly blessed me in a position to share my faith, and I'm very, very thankful for that.

Todd: That's awesome. This is a gal who is out of debt, not financially but that infinite debt that we could never pay back. God just said, "It's paid in full. It is finished. Tetelestai. My perfect Son, the Lamb of God… Your shame has been laid on his shoulders." If you're here and you still think you have to be perfect to come to God, you can't.

You're in debt beyond any amount of generosity from friends or life work could ever get you out of. Our goal is to invite you to come to understand that and help you grow to become, then, the man or woman God wants you to be in light of the restoration you have with your infinitely rich, forgiving, gracious Father. God bless you guys. Thank you so much for what you're doing.

What you're going to see is the story of what God is up to here. We don't just come and jump in a room every week and go through what we think are supposed to be a bunch of religious acts. We are people who live in relationship with the living God, not just for a tad, but it has radically changed our lives. We're not churchgoers. We're Christ followers who are the church. We're just here to celebrate the God who, as this next song says, unravels us with the melody of his love that he puts around us.

I want you to think about that song. Who has the arrogance to be able to say that they're a child of God? Not individuals who are building a résumé. Not individuals who are acting in a way that they think is so spectacular that people would go, "You must have a divine Father." Ultimately, that increasingly happens in our lives as we become more like him. We are children of God because, as the Scripture says, "Even to those who believe on my name, I have given them the right to become children of God."

We say that about ourselves not because of "deeds that we have done in righteousness, but according to his mercy, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit." I want you to hear another story, and then you're going to break out in a moment and hear a lot of others, but you need to understand that the reason we're children of God is because other children of God have been faithful to talk about the kindness of the Father and have reminded us of the love we all were created to live in and walk in.

Somebody somewhere was faithful to take the things they heard about God, believe in them, and then, because they are gracious, tell us what they found. That's what the church does. That's what it has always done. So how are you doing, church? Here's a life that was changed because somebody did simply that. Michael has a great last name, Dhalliwal. Michael is originally from California. He moved here. He had a job out of college and was working in an advertising agency. Go from there, brother.

Michael Dhalliwal: I always knew baptism was a public proclamation of my faith, but I didn't think it was going to be this public.

Todd: This is just the beginning.

Michael: Just the beginning. Okay. I was born and raised in San Diego. People ask me all the time, "What are you doing in Dallas?" because San Diego is so beautiful. Just ask God. I'm just along for the ride now, and this journey has taken me here to this moment, to this church. Like I said, growing up in California, not exactly the Bible Belt. I grew up in a home that was very loving (I think people say that a lot), but we didn't go to church very often. The Bible got brought out Christmas Eve and Easter.

I would say it was more of a home that was loving. The idea of God was present. In my freshman year of high school my parents got a divorce. My mom left my dad, and I was devastated. I remember thinking I just got robbed of a family. I held this bitterness in my heart that started to fester, and I wanted nothing to do with my mom. I just cut off communication with her. My dad and my brother and I went to church somewhat regularly after that, and what I was hearing on Sundays wasn't really resonating with me.

I remember thinking, "My sins are not that big. I'm just a teenager." Honestly, thinking of it now, I don't know if I really believed at all at that time. I remember thinking, "I will just become a Christian later on in life. I'll kind of live a little and then kind of hitch my ride to heaven at the last second." That thinking baffles me now. That mindset carried over into college, and for two to three years I didn't attend church at all. Only when I came home for the holidays.

At the end of college I started going a little bit, but I was a slave to porn. I was a slave to drinking and toxic relationships. The world was good enough for me at that point, but I knew God was still pursuing me. I remember I was watching the Super Bowl. I was getting my advertising degree, and I saw a Super Bowl spot for Ram trucks. It was "God Made a Farmer." I was like, "I love this spot. This is what I want to do."

I was like, "Who made this spot?" I typed it in, and it said "The Richards Group, Dallas, Texas." I was like, "Oh man." Not LA. Not New York. I thought, "Well, I like country music. I'll give it a shot. What other clients do they have?" It said, "Chick-fil-A." I was like, "All right, I'm sold. I'm there." I packed up everything, came to Dallas, and I thought, "I'm going to start anew. I'm going to leave the old self behind."

But I wasn't rooted in anything. That was just a thought. Like we say Psalm 1:3. I was not a tree planted next to a stream of water. I didn't know a soul here in Dallas, and I decided to plant my roots in Uptown, the bar scene. I thought, "That's where I'm going to find friends. That's where I'm going to find the girl. That's where I'm going to find life." It was around that time that my dad came to visit me, and we went to Texas Land & Cattle. We were waiting for our table, which was about an hour wait.

Todd: They don't have that in San Diego.

Michael: They do not.

Todd: No bean sprouts and radishes around here. We eat meat.

Michael: Amen to that. I ran into Betsy and Paul.

Todd: Come on over here, Betsy and Paul. So he's at Texas Land & Cattle. What night of the week was it?

Michael: Saturday night.

Todd: Saturday night, busy, lots of folks. You were here with your dad, taking him to get a steak, and you guys are also at Texas Land & Cattle. Why don't you take it from there, Paul?

Paul: The wait for a table was long, and there was a table open at the bar, and this father/son group was there. We were on a date night, and I said, "Do we want to do this?" She said, "Yes." So we just got to talking with them and asked them if Michael had a church home and invited him to church. I carry these in my pocket, because I love inviting people to this church. It has been such a blessing in Betsy's and my life that it's just so easy to encourage people to come here.

Todd: Tell them about this card, because not everybody knows about this little bifold.

Michael: Yeah, it's a little pamphlet. It's pretty beat up because Paul carries them around. He said, "Check out this church." So I went the next day. She told me about The Porch, and I thought, "Man, this is a big enough church, I can probably hide in the corner and kind of check the church box for a little while." It was after a few months that I had one foot in Uptown and one foot in the church, which was also not being rooted in anything. Every week was just gospel, gospel. I'm just squirming in my seat with conviction.

One night in particular, I couldn't find anyone to come to The Porch with me, and I was like, "I'm not going by myself," and then something just called me to come. I sat up in that left side corner. JP was preaching on anger, and I thought, "Well, I'm pretty calm. This message is not going to resonate with me at all." He got to Matthew 5:22, and it was talking about anyone who has anger in their heart toward their brother is subject to judgment. I just took the word brother out and replaced it with mother, because at this point in time I had not talked to or seen my mom in seven years.

I just could not get to my truck quickly enough after that service. I was in tears. I didn't want anyone to see me. I went home and wrote a letter to her, and I ended up just sitting on it, not doing anything with it, because I wasn't surrounded with guys who were spurring me along. It was just Satan and me, honestly, and he was winning. "Oh, I won't dig those scars up or do anything." I decided to get plugged in a little bit at church, and I went to a birthday party and met a Jamaican there. He showed up a little late, and we just started talking.

Todd: Jermaine, why don't you tell them what happened there?

Jermaine Harrison: It was a birthday party unlike any other birthday party. I don't even remember whose birthday it was. We were just there. Sorry if you're in the room.

Todd: Were you even invited?

Jermaine: I was invited on Facebook. I was just hanging out with some friends I knew who were there. He had been invited to that party by some friends who are plugged in here, so I started talking to him and started hearing his story. He told me about this adventure over here, and he was like, "Hey, I'm still looking for community." I was like, "I have a Community Group. Come on, let's do it." So I invited him.

The first time was the college football national championship of 2016. That was the first time he came to our Community Group. Our Community Group paused because football was on and it's Texas. So he came over and hung with us that week, and then the next week he didn't come when we were going to have normal group.

So the following week I texted him and said, "Hey, Michael, come on over to group. We're going to have time spent in the Word. We're going to hold each other accountable. We'd love for you to come." He texted me back and goes, "Having never been in a Community Group, what's accountability?" That's what he asked me on the text message.

Todd: By the way, at this moment, would you even say you had a faith yet?

Michael: I was all in at this time, but I remember you talking about community every week. I was like, "Man, Todd is harping on this thing. I don't have this yet." When I got there and these guys were just so transparent and everything, I was like, "Man, this is being fully surrendered and letting everyone know what's going on."

I was trying to put on the mask of, "Hey, I've got it all together" and saying the right things, but about a month into it I was like, "Hey, guys, I have a low in my life that I want to talk about. It's about my mom." I told them everything and said, "Hey, can you guys help me re-craft this letter and send it to her and get it to her by Mother's Day?" We sat down. I read them drafts, and we talked about it and prepared my heart for whatever would happen, and she got it last Mother's Day.

She ended up coming to a service the first time we had a Raise the Mark, and we shared our testimonies that day too, which was pretty overwhelming. Ever since then, just being spurred on by guys who want the best for me and want me to draw closer to Christ. I know that in my life after I started following that, even in the workplace…

I actually became a Lyft driver and went into Uptown on Friday and Saturday nights to evangelize, because I knew I didn't find life out there, and I knew the people in the back seat were just like me, that they're not going to find life there as well. Since then, I've been trying to disciple as many people as I can. My brother is here today. He's getting baptized next weekend.

Todd: Who's sitting next to your brother?

Michael: My mom. She broke her ribs yesterday, but she still made it. She's a trooper.

Todd: So listen. He's carrying that little Watermark bifold that we hand out. Just like Christina invited Paula, and the Muncy on a date night saw this young man with a dad, engaged him, and said, "Do you have a place where you're connecting spiritually?" and the answer was "No," because he didn't have a real spiritual connection other than… Like he said, "It was just the Enemy and me, and the Enemy was winning."

That led to him coming here, and that led to him finding his faith and not being a kid who was around a Christian environment or professing but beginning to possess a relationship with God by faith. That led him to be at a birthday party, where another guy said, "Hey, you're at Watermark with me. Let's go. You need some men who can spur you on," which led to him not just being a guy who was reconciled with God, but because he's reconciled with God, reconciling to his mother, reaching out to his brother, and having his brother reconciled with God. Amazing.

I use these all the time. It's a simple way for me to say, "Come and see. Don't come to church. Come and be with the church as we're gathered so you can hear more of the God who is re-gathering us to him." Michael, way to go. Muncys, way to go. Jermaine, way to go. Brother, I'm proud of you. Thank you for sharing your story.

We're on mission here, and there are people all over the city. I love what Michael said. "I actually became a Lyft driver just so I could go drive around the area where I could give people lifts from one spot to the next. They're looking for the same life I was, and I found it. I may as well share with them." That's amazing. You never know what you're going to do that's going to lead to a life change.

You never know what a little faithfulness will do. You never know where your story of building into somebody is going to build into somebody else's. You never know what just saying, "Hey, we're on a date night, but there's a dad and his young son. Let's just sit with them, and let's invite them to come and see if they want to know more about the grace that has affected our lives…"

Ryan, come here, bro. You're getting baptized next week? I want to show you something. I wasn't going to do this. I just went and asked Michael Ryan's name. This is what has been going on since day one. God in his kindness came and rescued us. He made disciples and said, "My Spirit is going to dwell in you, and the works that I've done, even greater works than these will you do."

Somebody was faithful to be faithful to somebody else, who was faithful to somebody else, who was faithful to somebody else, until somebody was at Texas Land & Cattle and invited a father and a son to come hang out with them, who then invited him to come and grow and be discipled, who then invited him to reconcile with his mom, and then invited him to help his brother be reconciled with the God he was reconciled with.

Bro, I have no idea what God is going to do with you, but you watch how this story goes. Go kick that first block for me, Ryan. That's your job today. You don't know what one little act will do until all of a sudden it just starts to move a little bit, and then all of a sudden it hits this wall and there's this massive response that goes from it that literally affects generations of people.

Think about all the debt that has been forgiven on this stage, and you think about the amazing grace we're in the middle of. If you're here and you have some dead faith, some old church experience, or you just have some said knowledge of God but are not abiding with him… When I was standing here next to Brittany watching her sing… Didn't you want to hear her story? I did. No, I'm not going to do that to you. But you can look in the Watermark News and see where Brittany is sharing it.

When you're up here singing, "I ran out of a grave," don't you want to go tell me the grave you ran out of? You need to know something. There are people in graves all over Dallas who want to know there's a way to run out of them, and that's what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to tell them. It doesn't take much. It just takes saying, "Come and see." Not church, but where the church gathers. Then come and see my life and what God has done with my life. I'm not wrapped in grave clothes. "Take them off," Jesus said.

Knowing about God and knowing the story does not change your life. Walking with the living God does. That's why when you come to a place where you really understand who Jesus is… That's why we want you, like Paula, to get involved and become equipped as a disciple to abide with Jesus. It's why Jermaine said to Michael, "Come on, let's go." That's why Michael is investing in Ryan. You think about the generations that are going to be affected by the faithful church. Not the dead, weak, "go to church and go back to your own business" church but the living church.

Seventeen years ago, we grabbed a song that was around at the time. It's really kind of our doxology. We don't sing it enough, but it captures our heart when we said, "We're going to be the church in this city." We want one pure and holy passion. We want one magnificent obsession. That isn't that we would do something big and noticed but that we would run hard and follow after our King.

So we're just going to sing that song. You need to know it if you don't. Then out of this we're going to break off into all of those rooms, and for the next 45 minutes you're going to hear a bunch of people talk about the grave they ran out of and the one who called them out. Then we're going to celebrate all day.