I have the privilege to wrap up our Solve7 Summer of Love series by sharing some incredible news…
On July 4th, as we celebrated our freedoms, we asked you to help us bring freedom and hope to women in Price Hill living in the hell of modern-day slavery. We made an appeal to you to raise $5,000 for our partner, Weightless Anchor.
The Director of Weightless Anchor, Andrea Holtman, is here today… and Andrea, I’m sorry to inform you we did not raise the $5,000 we were hoping for…
...instead, because of YOUR generosity, we want to bless Weightless Anchor with a gift of $38,000!
If this is your first time here or your first time tuning in, you picked a good day to check us out! This is what we’re all about. Being on mission for the one that doesn’t yet have hope in Jesus. Locally, in our backyards, in our communities, and around the world.
By the way… if we haven’t had a chance to meet yet, my name is Jon and I’m one of the pastors here at Whitewater. Let me be the first to say, Welcome Home.
NOW… I get the privilege to announce that some friends are gonna get baptized today. Decisions are being made today to turn lives around and start a new chapter. Today is an ALL-IN Baptism day. Some friends have already signed up to let us know they’re ready to be baptized. And by the end of today, maybe one of you will end up in the water as well. We’ll see what God is up to today.
Listen, I love these days when we invite people to be baptized because even if only ONE person comes forward to be baptized, that is worthy of celebrating louder than any crowd at a Superbowl or world series. Scripture says ALL of Heaven rejoices when one lost person returns back to God!!
I hope y’all came to celebrate today. We have a lot for which to thank God. Even in the midst of challenges, I’m thanking God. He didn’t have to give me another day, but he did. In all things, give thanks. Even in the midst of persecution, I’m thanking God. Even when things aren’t making any sense, I’m thanking God.
If we’ve still got breath in our lungs, then I guess HE’S not done using us... there must still be some work He wants us to do.
So let’s get to it.
I’m closing out our Summer of Love series talking about how we as Jesus people, are called to Find the Lost and Forgotten.
You ever lose something before? Something important? Your keys… your wallet… your purse… your phone?
After a couple of minutes of not being able to find your keys… you start to get sick to your stomach.
Some of you would start losing your mind if you couldn’t find your phone for a couple of minutes. If that’s you, it may be time to limit your screen time. But that’s for another day.
We’ve all lost things.
Back in the 70s, our family owned a burnt orange AMC Gremlin… anyone remember these cars?
In 1979, I lost my Star Wars Chewbacca action figure and I still believe it is lodged somewhere in my dad’s burnt orange Gremlin. I haven’t forgotten about that.
What’s fascinating to me is there are some things we lose that we immediately forget about... report cards…past due credit card bills…ex-boyfriends.
What would need to happen for us to lose a child and forget about them…?
I’m not talking about running out the door to go to the grocery store, pull out the driveway, start driving, and as you’re rocking out to Aerosmith, you’re halfway to the store, and you think to yourself “I feel like I’m forgetting something." And you realize you left your 2-year-old son alone at home. (May or may not be a true story, don’t tell Kelly.)
I’m not talking about a random memory lapse.
What would need to happen for us to forget about a child?
I think many of us would say, that’s ridiculous. It wouldn’t happen.
According to the latest numbers with UNICEF (the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), right now, today, there are more than 150 million orphans in our world.
More than 20 million children are waiting to be adopted, right now.
Maybe those numbers are too big… let’s focus in.
In the United States, there are over 430K children in our foster care system.
Maybe that’s not close enough to home…
In the Tri-State area, there are 37K children in the foster care system right now.
Let’s get really close…
Of the 16,000 kids in the foster care system in OHIO, 2600 of them are waiting to be adopted. Four hundred of those kids are in Hamilton County.
Four hundred children right in our backyard, that, for lots of different reasons, have been forgotten and neglected.
Why should we be talking about this? I’m so glad you asked.
To be a church that actually reflects the heartbeat of Jesus, caring for the orphan better be at the core of who we are. In the book of James, chapter 1, verse 27, God’s word instructs us with this… "Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you."
Caring for the orphan is kinda a big deal in the eyes of God.
So I want to break this down for us, the church. Four hundred kids in Hamilton County waiting for adoption. Over 600 churches in Hamilton County alone. If just one person or family from every church said, not on my watch… that child won’t be forgotten. Like THAT… there would be no more forgotten kids waiting for their forever home.
1,800 kids in the foster care system in Hamilton County. Over 600 churches in Hamilton County alone. If three people from every church in Hamilton County said, I’ll step up and become a foster parent, three… like THAT, the church of Jesus Christ could care for every child currently in our foster care system.
Like THAT… taken care of.
That’s our job. The church. To care for the orphan. That’s on us.
I wonder if there are three people or three families here at Whitewater that God is prompting to become foster parents? I wonder if there’s one person, one family, that God is inviting to adopt?
If this is you, if God is tugging at your heart, I want to encourage you to reach out to me or one of the staff members here to start the conversation. You can also reach out to one of our partners, FOCUS ON YOUTH (FOCUSONYOUTH.COM).
Multiple staff members and families from Whitewater have partnered with FOCUS ON YOUTH to foster and adopt kids, so we have plenty of folks who are ready to help you take this step.
It’s not a question of whether or not it matters to God, it’s whether or not we’ll respond... to care for the lost and forgotten child.
Isn’t that at the core of everything we’re supposed to do as a follower of Jesus? Isn’t that at the core of the Gospel? To care for the lost son and daughter?
It’s at the core of Jesus’ mission. It’s why he was born. It’s why he died. It’s why he was raised from the dead.
In Luke 19:10, Jesus shares his mission statement, "For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost."
Some of you listening today, know what it’s like to be lost or forgotten. Maybe you grew up not knowing your mom or dad. Maybe you grew up in the foster care system. wondering why someone wouldn’t love you enough to keep you.
If this is you, I just want you to know, you are loved and you matter. You matter to me as your pastor. But more than that, you matter to God. I want you to know you have a heavenly father who loves you with no exceptions.
Maybe for some of you, you know what it’s like to be lost or forgotten, not because you grew up without a family, but because of some life choices that were made along the way. Life choices that left you far from home, far from where you ever wanted to be. Maybe today, you’re just trying to get back some sense of normal. Some sense of belonging and identity. If this is you, please hear me… welcome home.
I want you to know we have a Father in Heaven who is patiently waiting for us to come back home. No matter how far we’ve gone, or how long we’ve been away.
There’s a story in the Bible, Luke 15, for those who want to read it later. Jesus shares a story about what the love of our Father in Heaven is like. In this story, there’s a son who leaves his father’s house and makes lots of unhealthy choices. The son finally has this breakdown, loses everything. And in his desperation, he makes the decision to go back home.
In Luke 15:20, Jesus says, "So the son returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him."
We have a God who loves us, even at our worst. A Father in heaven who sees us, while we’re still a mess… while we still don’t have it all together… while we still reek of marijuana and regret. We have a Father who RUNS towards the lost and forgotten.
We all have stuff in our lives that we feel makes us unlovable. Things in our past or decisions we’ve made… or insecurities we have, stuff that makes us think, "There’s no way my family or friends, let alone God, would love me if they saw how bad this is… how bad I am… how broken I am. I’m too messed up, I’m too broken."
Listen, God will run where we can barely limp. And if we are limping towards Him, He will RUN towards us. There is nothing, nothing that can separate us from the love of God.
I want to share a story with you that I heard a few years ago. This is a true story, about a family who lives a couple of states over in Missouri.
Several years ago, on a normal day in October… in a small town called Richland in Missouri, an 11-year-old, middle school boy, Shawn Hornbeck, hugged his mom and dad and headed out the door to ride his bike to a friend’s house.
That was the last time Shawn’s parents would see their son.
As Shawn was riding his bike to his friend’s house, he got hit by a truck. When the driver got out of the car to apologize, instead of offering to help Shawn, the driver, Michael Delvin, assaulted Shawn and kidnapped him.
Over the next four years, Shawn would be held captive and undergo some of the ugliest physical and sexual abuse you can imagine. His kidnapper had brainwashed him to the point where Shawn no longer tried to escape. In his mind, he felt like if he even tried to escape or tell someone he was abducted, he believed his torture would get worse or he would be killed.
For four years, Shawn’s parents spent their entire life savings and quit their jobs, to focus solely on finding their son. It became a nationwide search, their story and the search for Shawn ended up on different TV shows across America.
The parents set up a website trying to find Shawn, there was a place you could leave comments. One day, Shawn was actually able to get online and found this website his parents made, and he left a message for his parents simply asking “How long will you look for your son, will you ever give up?”
The search goes on for four years. Exhausted, emotionally drained, and empty, doubt starts to take hold of Shawn’s parents, and they start to lose hope, they start to believe the thought, “We’re never going to see our son again."
One day, Shawn’s parents are driving down the highway and the dad's cellphone rings. It was a call from the local prosecutor and he asks if they are sitting down. The dad says, "Actually, I’m driving." The prosecutor says, “Why don’t you pull over."
So they do, and the prosecutor continues and says, "I believe we’ve found Shawn." The phone call they had been waiting for, for four years, for 1,460 days, has finally come.
They get the information on where to meet the prosecutor. So the parents go to this police station and they’re waiting there, waiting to see their son. A million thoughts are rushing through their minds… “Is he ok, is he hurt?” They are praying nothing will happen as Shawn is being brought to them and they’re reunited.
The police car pulls up, and out of the car emerges a now 15-year-old Shawn and the family goes crazy. They run to him and there’s this big family hug, jumping up and down, they’re going crazy!
The father later said, ”I never wanted that embrace to end. I wish we could have lived in that hug for the rest of our lives.”
The Hornbecks were reunited, after four terrifying years, filled with the worst pain and doubt, it was now all over, they got their Shawn back!
Now, I want you to think about that story and I want to think about all the family went through in those four years while their son was lost. And I want you to now think about if things ended differently.
What if when the prosecutor calls the parents, they pull over, the prosecutor tells them, we think we found Shawn, but there’s a problem. They say unfortunately, it turns out while he’s been held captive, your son turned into a kleptomaniac, he can’t stop stealing. And we just want to let you know this before you’re reunited.
Do you think it’s possible upon hearing that news, Shawn’s father would say, “Oh, well ya know what, never mind, you tell Shawn he’s not welcome at home anymore, we don’t want him?”
Or maybe they’d say, “You know what, you tell Shawn to clean up his act, and then he can come home.”
Is there any chance you think Shawn’s parents would respond like this after waiting for four years to get him back?
Think about it… four years of wondering if they’re ever going to see their son again, is he still alive… desperate for hope.
What if when the prosecutor called them, he said, “We think we found Shawn, but over the last few years, he’s been doing a lot of drugs…” or…
“We think we found your son, but he’s wrestling with his sexual identity…” or...
“We think we found your son, but we think he got someone pregnant…” or…
“We think we found your son, but he’s been sending a lot of inappropriate pictures to people on Snapchat...” or…
“We think we found your son, but he’s really depressed and he’s been cutting himself a lot.”
Do you think there is ANYTHING the prosecutor could say to Shawn's parents after all they had been through that would make them say, “Nevermind, we don’t want him back????”
NO!! Of course not. They would just say, “What are you talking about?!?! We don’t care about any of that stuff right now. We’ll work through all that later. We just want our Shawn back.”
Listen, somebody needs to hear this today. THERE IS NOTHING, NOTHING… that is gonna stop our Heavenly Father from running to you after you’ve been lost. NOTHING. His love for you is never stopping and unrelenting.
He is desperate to see you again… to wrap his arms around you. He’s ready to RUN to you, with all of your stuff… all the stuff you think disqualifies you from His love. He’s just waiting for you to take a step towards Him.
Maybe you’re hearing this story today, and you’ve never actually taken that step towards Jesus. To turn to him and say, I need you. I’m giving you my life. If this is you, WELCOME HOME. Today we’re going to give you an opportunity to change all of that.
All throughout the New Testament, baptism is the first step believers in Jesus take.
In the book of Acts, people heard the message of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and invitation into new life. They heard this message and they wanted to go ALL-IN with their faith. So they asked Jesus’ disciples, "What do we do?"
Their response: Repent, Turn to God, Be baptized. (Repent is just a fancy religious word that means "to turn.")
When we make the decision to follow Jesus, we make the decision to turn from our old life and choose to turn to God. To make Jesus the Lord and leader of our lives. And then we’re baptized.
In Acts 8, a Jesus-follower named Philip is sharing the gospel story with someone and after hearing the invitation of Jesus, the person says, “Look, here’s water! What’s stopping me from being baptized?”
And right in that moment, they walked down into the water together, and he was baptized.
So, let me ask you the same question… what’s stopping you from being baptized?
Do you believe in Jesus? Have you placed your trust in Him? If you’ve never made the personal decision to be baptized… what’s stopping you?
I know there are a lot of reasons or excuses why people don’t get baptized.
As I was writing my message, I got this email from our communications team…
In the midst of all the silliness of FB, our Tik Tok is blowing up with positivity and encouragement. People asking if they can or should get baptized. God is pulling a victory on our social media amidst the battles and storms, Amen! Over 23,000 views on our “Should I get baptized Video?” with hundreds of comments and questions…God is working, God is fighting for us.
I love two of the questions in the comments that I happened to see. Emily asks: Do I need to get baptized at all? I’m working on a new relationship with Jesus.
God’s word encourages us to be baptized as a public confession of our faith.
Brittney asks: What if I was baptized as a Catholic as a baby…?
Like Conor shared in the video, one of the most common things people say is they were sprinkled as a baby in the Catholic Church or another church tradition. I know this is the case for a lot of you.
Let me ask you… whose decision was it for you to be baptized that day? Yours? Or your parents or grandparents?
Because here’s what I know…
Nowhere in the Bible do we read about any infants being baptized. Or even instructions given for infants to be baptized.
I’m NOT trying to lessen the importance of your family’s commitment to faith in your life, but I do want to invite you to make a personal decision of faith. Because, there will be a day when we have to stand before God and answer the question, “What did you do with my son Jesus?”
Not what did your mamma do with Jesus? Not what did your grandma do with Jesus? What did YOU do with Jesus?
Making the decision to follow Jesus and be baptized is a personal decision only YOU can make.
Some of you may be hearing this and you’re like, Jon, I’ve heard you say all this before… why are you saying it again?
Here’s why. Because for the ONE person who hasn’t heard me say it before, this is THEIR moment. This is their first time. If you’ve already heard this, I’m inviting you to start praying right now for the Holy Spirit to have its way among us today. That’s your job right now.
For the ONE person listening today who hasn’t been baptized, I just want to encourage you that you don’t have to have everything in your life figured out.
Maybe the thing that is holding you back isn’t that deep… maybe, you just don’t want your clothes to get wet… you’ve got on a cute outfit. We have clothes you can change into.
Maybe you’re like, “Jon, I’m a mess. I need to get my life together before I can be baptized." Look, you don’t get cleaned up to take a bath. You take a bath to get cleaned up.
So here’s the deal, we’re gonna sing a couple more songs and if you’re ready to place your hope in Jesus, during these next songs, I want to invite you to come down front here, and let’s make that decision today.
If you’re watching online, listen… this goes for you, too. Here’s the deal…
If you’re in the greater Cincinnati area and you’re ready to go all-in with your faith and be baptized, go brush your teeth…jump in your car… and David and I, and our team will be waiting here for you today. Seriously.
OR if you’re watching from out of state, (which we know is the case for so many of you) or if you just aren’t comfortable coming onto our campus right now, we respect that and we’ll come to you. We’ve got a plan for that, too. Seriously.
If you’re ONLINE and you’re ready to go All-In, I want you to text: "ALL IN" to 513-466-1424. Our online pastor will connect with you to make this happen!
I know for some of you, you came here today with no intention of being baptized. But all throughout this service, you’ve felt this heaviness in your chest… almost like heat rising. It’s not anxiety, that’s your heart responding to the call of God on your life. I know you weren’t planning on this… but will you respond?
Every week, throughout this series, we have offered a challenge. A way for us to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and grow as disciples of Jesus. Today is no different. I have two asks today, and both are all about being For the ONE… but in a different way today…
My first ask is for us to take care of the lost and forgotten children in Hamilton County.
Is there ONE family… ONE couple… ONE adult… that will step up and say, "I will care for the orphan… I will adopt or foster a forgotten child." If God has been preparing your heart for this, I want to talk to you after service today.
My second ask is for the ONE listening today that was lost, but now is found. The ONE that is ready to make the decision to be baptized. I’m believing there is at least ONE person here today, that is ready to say, today is the day I’m going ALL-IN!
What is Jesus saying to you? How will you respond?
So, I’m going to pray, David’s going to get in the water… we’re gonna sing together. If you’re ready to be baptized, come down front here when I’m done praying or anytime while we’re singing.
If you’re still worried about your hair or what others may think, let me just ask you this… when it comes to the most important decision you could ever make, whose opinion ultimately matters?