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Evangelism and Youth

Guy Swenson presented, at the Lake Tahoe LifeResource Ministries Feast in 2009, Evangelism and Youth, a powerful example showing how to fire up young people for Jesus Christ.

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I once had an employee who hated the work that she did. Everyday she had to drag herself out of bed to go to work. She dreaded going to work. She felt like she didn’t get anything out of it. She looked for excuses not to show up. How many people do you know that feel the same way about going to church? How many people do you know that feel the same way about their faith. It’s something they know they should do. It’s something they know they have to do, but it’s not something that they wake up in the morning excited about doing.

In our church history, we’ve done a number of things very well. We’ve understood things in some areas very well. But we’ve also had a gap in what we were taught – and I can speak from personal experience – what I’ve been taught. And that gap has sapped life and excitement and vitality out of us. It’s like we’ve been running, running and running, but we haven’t had all of our batteries.

What I want to talk with all of you about this morning is something that – for those of you who are doing it, I think you will agree – for those of you who haven’t done it, or are just beginning – you’ll experience and see something in your faith and your life that is transforming – that will bring excitement, and a sense of purpose, and a vitality and a spiritual kind of a glowing that isn’t forced – that isn’t phony – but is genuine and it springs from the heart and the Spirit of God working in our lives. And I think we should ask questions about ourselves as individual Christians in our congregations.

I think we should ask things like, “Is what I feel I am doing important? Am I doing something important in my life? Do I get excited about and do I like what I’m doing? Is there a sense of meaning and purpose? Do I feel connected with other people and a valuable part of their lives? Do I feel like God and Jesus are pleased with who I am becoming and what I am doing with my life?”

Now, a lot of times, we don’t think about those things, but there are times in our lives where those questions kind of leap up. God does not want us to feel embarrassed, or ashamed or guilty. He doesn’t want us to feel that what we’re doing in our Christian lives is done purely out of a sense of duty. We shouldn’t dread – we should not feel like we’re doing something that we’re forced to do – but rather our Christian lives – individually and collectively, as congregations – they should be filled with some excitement – a sense of purpose and value.

We can be thankful that God gives us salvation. And I want to be right up front with that. God grants us salvation. It’s a gift. Now that we have salvation – those who have made a covenant with Jesus Christ, those who have submitted themselves and given their lives over to Jesus – now that we have salvation – that we’re on the path that God has set – is there something else for us to do? And this is where, I think, not just Christians of our background, but this is really something that people who are following Christ really struggle with.

It’s like God has given this great gift…now what do I do? And if you think about it, it’s almost like God is an enormously wealthy parent, and one of the choices we have is to live off His inheritance, and just take the money that He gives us. In other words, God gives us salvation…let’s just enjoy that. But that’s not the way God is. God doesn’t teach us to be takers. He teaches us to be givers. And I don’t think God wants us leaching off of His bounty. Instead, I think that God wants us to invest along side Him. And by investing, we have our time, our talents, God’s gifts that He gives us, our resources, our effort, our creativity.

What I want to talk with you about today is the concept that we own something that God has given us. And many of us have never taken the keys, and put them in the door and unlocked what it is that God offers. It’s interesting in this idea of investing along side God…in the book of Isaiah, chapter 65, and verse 22 – breaking into the thought here – it says:

Isa. 65:22 – No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as in the days of a tree, so will it be in the days of My people – My chosen ones – who long enjoy the works of their hands.

Remember we said, “Salvation is a gift.” When God gives us this gift, what is it that He wants us to do? There’s a principle: If you don’t work, you don’t eat. In 2 Thessalonians 3, and verse 10, it says:

2 Thess. 3:10 – For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: If a man will not work, he shall not eat. And why would it be different for Christians? Did God create us to be saved and then sit on the bench and live off the work of others?

What I’m trying to introduce and expand on is what I know many of you already grasp. And that is that God has not called us to be Christians and to warm a bench until the return of Jesus Christ. Rather, He has called us to do works of service. He has things already planned for us. In Ephesians, chapter 2, and verse 10 – great passage – and if you read from Ephesians [chapter 2] 1 through 10, Paul even talks about by grace you’ve been saved, and that through faith, not of yourselves, lest any man should boast. And on that foundation, he then says this, in verse 10:

Eph. 2:10 – For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works. Did you get that? For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works. Then, Paul says, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Now, if you think about this, if we have been created to do good works, and God has prepared those works in advance, isn’t Paul saying that when we are called – when we are brought into a relationship with Jesus Christ – when we receive salvation as a gift – isn’t it true that God buys us? He buys our past. He buys our sins. He buys who we are. He even buys what we will become. He becomes responsible for us. He owns us. And as our owner – we’re willing bondslaves – we’ve chosen to be a servant of Jesus Christ – God expects us to work. And the cool thing is, He’s already planned things that He wants you and me – individually and collectively – to do. There are good works that He has already planned. The question is, “Have we started on the path to doing those good works?”

In Mark, chapter 13, and verse 34, it says:

Mk. 13:34 – For the Son of man is as a man – now this is Jesus talking about Himself – taking a far journey, who left his house and gave authority to his servants and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch them.

Now this is a parable. But what he is talking about is the Son of man is like this wealthy landowner, who takes a far journey and, it says, he gave authority to his servants and to every man his work. So he gave authority and a task to do in this parable. This is how God thinks. This is how Jesus likened Himself. Is Jesus here today? Well, He’s here in Spirit, but He is resurrected – He’s risen – He is going to return. And He’s given authority – in this parable – to those He left behind. God is an empowering God and He gives to every man work to do.

In Matthew 5, and verse 18, it says:

Mt. 5:18 – Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father, which is in heaven.

God is glorified when He sees us performing the work that He has authorized us to do. Now, what kind of work?

In Acts, chapter 9, you remember the story of Tabitha – whose name is translated Dorcas…. Do you remember what Dorcas did? Anybody remember? She made clothing for whom? People in her community – the widows, the poor. Dorcas devoted her life to helping meet the legitimate needs of the poor, the widows in her area. In Acts, chapter 9, and verse 36, the story is Peter is in Joppa and this woman, who spent her life in service to others died. Peter went, found her, prayed for her, she rose up and she was restored to the community. When she died, there was a great gap in that community. In verse 39, breaking into this story, it says:

Acts 9:39 – Peter went with them, and when he arrived, he was taken upstairs to the room. And all the widows stood around him crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.

Now, if you think about the works that God has prepared, in advance, for those that He loves and those who love Him, for Dorcas, it was clothing the widows. Sitting on the sidelines, or watching from the bleachers, or hearing how the game went from a friend is not the same thing as being on the field. And I know many Christians who feel their lives are empty and they lack meaning. And do you know why? Because they are empty and they lack meaning. If we feel our lives are empty and lack meaning, could it be it is because they are empty and lack meaning. But God did not design us to be empty and to lack meaning. And God did not intend us to be empty and lack meaning. Rather, God wants us engaged in the work He’s doing. He wants us to work alongside Him, as He is doing things in our community, in our congregations, in our families, in our personal lives. And that is where our lives can take on an entirely different dimension.

Now, if we were to talk about things that the Church of God is good at…. We’re good at organizing stuff. I’ll tell you what, pound for pound, Church of God members can hold their own with any other denomination when it comes to organizing stuff. We’re good at that. What else are we good at? We have good understanding of God’s plan of salvation. We have a real passion and a respect for the Bible. We don’t take our teachings from traditions. We don’t take our teachings from pagan philosophies. We don’t feel that we have to merge what we believe with pagan ideals or other religions. Rather, we look to the Bible and we respect God’s word in our lives, in our teachings. And while none of us have everything perfect, that respect for the scripture has given us a structure in which we can live. Sometimes we get off in the little extremes of some doctrine, or some teaching, or some speculation, but at the core, people in this branch of God’s church – in the churches of God – have a deep respect, a deep appreciation, and a good working knowledge of the Bible. We have sound doctrine and sound teachings. We’ve done well in that area.

What we lack – and I can speak from personal experience – and I can say it this way, what I’ve lacked – is that side of our faith that’s a little risky, that’s a little bit on the edge, in the sense that it’s the difference between a boy, who is dating a girl and has a list of all the requirements that he wants from her, and all the things that he’s looking for in a future wife and mother of his children – some boys are like this: they have this checklist, you know…. And a woman is sitting there across the table, enjoying this meal with this young man, and he’s interviewing her. Girls, have you ever been interviewed by a guy? And he’s going through this checklist. The girl may or may not think that this guy has potential, so she may or may not endure this interview – this question and answer [session]. But what she really wants is what? She wants a man who is passionately committed and in love with her. Now, a checklist can be part of it. I mean, you’ve got to know what you’re getting into. And some of you ladies have a little checklist, too – does he have a job? Does he have a job? Does he have a job?! Those are okay. It’s part of having a foundation. Structure is important. That’s what holds the building up. But there’s another aspect to a healthy relationship, isn’t there? And it is passion. It’s excitement. It’s the romance. It’s the relationship side. And that side of our relationships with each other – that part of our life – it doesn’t fit into a box every time. There are unknowns to this. It’s sometimes risky. It’s sometimes dangerous – you’re putting your trust in someone else. They might let you down. But when you have – like in a good family – a monogamous relationship of committed people – in covenant with each other – who respect the laws of God, who treat each other with honor and respect, and who have passion for each other – excitement for each other – you have the makings of what? Of a good marriage, a good family.

God is no different. And where we’ve had a good understanding of the structure side, some of the things that are kind of risky, some of the things that invoke and create passion have been systematically removed from us in past cultures – past church cultures. And when we talk about community evangelism, we’ve got to go into that effort completely equipped.

Now we have certain pieces that are really good. We don’t set those aside. We put on that part of our armor. We use those tools. But it’s not enough. We’ve got to be completely equipped. And to do that, we have to focus on two things. One is our gifts that God has given us, and the second is the concept that God has planned for us to participate in ministry. I’m not saying minister. Okay? I’m not talking about clergy or anything like that. I am talking about the core thing about ministry. And ministry is service. It’s being a servant.

When Jesus was dealing with the disciples, and they were all arguing about who would be the greatest among them, what did He say? Let him who greatest be your servant. In the King James, He uses the term ministry.

So those two things, interestingly, are two of the weakest parts of our Church of God culture. There’s an organization that has a very well-constructed assessment that evaluates organizations – in particular, churches – in eight different characteristics or categories. In the Churches of God, we ran this with three or four different congregations – different parts of the country – different people who were working with us – and the remarkable thing was, the areas where each of the congregations were the weakest were in the areas of gift-oriented ministry. Because in our culture, we were taught not very much about gifts year ago. We’ve learned a lot more since. And the second thing is, ministering was done by somebody else that we paid to do it. Okay?

So the concept that “I have a ministry,” “You have a ministry” – that God has already planned for you to do – and has given gifts – at least one and, maybe, more – to you, that equip you to be able to do that ministry, are foreign concepts for those who have been in the Church of God culture for decades. But it is essential for us to understand so that we can be an effective tool in God’s hands – so we can be an effective coworker with Him. So as He invests in the lives of others, He has hands, and feet, and mouths, and voices to go alongside the work of His Spirit. And those hands, and those feet, and those arms that carry – that’s us!

And when we understand that and participate in it, it unlocks that other side of our relationship with God. It unlocks the excitement, the passion, the enthusiasm. It unlocks that part of our relationship that God has always wanted us to have – is ready to give us at any time. But He doesn’t do it with us in a way that, if we’re not going to do our part…if we won’t work, we don’t eat. God just does it that way, because that’s how He is most effective in working with us.

Let’s talk about some of the gifts. And I’m not going to use the Romans 12 or 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 terminology. Let me use different terminology – just more practical. In the area of gifts, some people organize. That’s a gift. Now, you could have a talent for doing it, but God will also give a gift to some people for organization. Some labor. They say, “All I can do is just show up and help.” That can be a gift. Some have the capacity to fund. Let me put that in practical terms. You donate money to make things possible. Now, we all have a responsibility to donate and to give of ourselves – our earnings, our money – to God. But some have a gift of doing that. In other words, they have an ability – either in how they can raise funds, or they are well-funded in their business life or their employment – and they have the capacity to fund ministries for others. Some have the capacity to communicate. Some have the passion to pray. Some have the capacity to work miracles. You think, “Well, is that raising the dead?” That’s a big miracle. Getting me out of bed? That’s a smaller miracle, but still, it’s a miracle. And my wife has this gift.

We have objections to ministry. Let me kind of review some of the objections that either I have had, and worked through, or I’ve heard others have. And let’s just be candid. We can be candid in this group.

What about this one? God hasn’t shown me what my ministry is, let alone what my ministries – plural – are. I won’t ask for a show of hands, but just ask yourself, “Do you know what your ministry is?” And if the answer is, “No,” God has one for you that you haven’t discovered. And if the answer is, “Yes,” wonderful! That may be one of your ministries. You may have multiple ministries. But everybody – every Christian – has a ministry or ministries that God has called them to do. You don’t have to be ordained. You don’t have to be a particular gender. You don’t have to have a particular IQ. God’s ministries, oftentimes, are simple. They’re direct. They’re straight forward. But it takes us out of our comfort zone.

Now, how do you find your ministry? Another topic. But if you are open to the idea that God has something planned for you to do, and you ask God to show you what it is that you should be doing, and then listen – shut up and listen – for opportunities. And when you see an opportunity – I mean, you use common sense – but when you see an opportunity, take it, and do it well. And I would be surprised, if, when you finish it, or as you’re finishing it, another opportunity doesn’t present itself – and then, another, and then another, and then another. And you have to follow not a book, not an outline, but you’re following the leading of God’s Holy Spirit. And it will lead you into some interesting places.

Another challenge that people have: “I don’t know how to start a ministry.” Do I have to incorporate? Do I need a board of directors? Time out. It’s simple. Keep it simple. If you don’t know how to start a ministry, that’s a good thing – that you’ve recognized that you don’t know how to do it. There’s always going to be a learning curve anytime you start something new. Here’s a simple solution: Don’t start a ministry. Wait a minute! You’ve just been talking about this. Try to keep it simple. Don’t start a ministry. Join a ministry that’s already going. You don’t have to start something from scratch. People who are engaged in ministry, and they’re really looking to meet the legitimate needs of other people, there’s a commonality – it’s not 100%, but it’s a pretty broad commonality – and it’s simple. They don’t care what you believe – not much – they might care a little bit…. We care a whole bunch about what you believe, but people working in ministry don’t really care what you believe. They don’t care so much where you come from. They don’t care so much what weaknesses you have. What they do care about is, if you show up and help the people they’re trying to help, you’re welcome.

I showed you a bunch of pictures here, as you were going through, and you saw all these kids. We’ve gotten into a ministry – this is not where we started, but kind of where we’ve been led – where we work with between 25 and just shy of 40 kids once a month in a very poor neighborhood. And those kids that you saw – almost all of them – are from this neighborhood. It’s predominantly a Catholic, Hispanic neighborhood. It’s kind of a mix of different people, as you saw. And we teach them the basics about the Bible. We take them for two-and-a-half hours on Sabbath afternoon. We don’t have church services. We go down there and that is our church service. And we teach them. We just went through the days of creation. The next series is going to be superheroes of the Bible. What we’re trying to do is acquaint them with basic Bible knowledge – not just Bible knowledge – basic knowledge about God and about Jesus. (They don’t have it. They simply don’t have it.) That group of kids meets in a food pantry. It’s got two large meetings rooms. And that food pantry is run by Catholics. And the Catholics want us to come in and teach the neighborhood kids basics about the Bible.

Now, remember what I said? They really don’t care so much about what you believe? They care about what you can do to help meet the needs of the people they’re trying to serve. And in a poor neighborhood – I mean, this is cyclical poverty – the director of this food pantry…one of her great passions is helping these kids break the cycle of poverty. And how cool is it that kids from a Catholic high school are creating those banners that say, “Camp Outreach is coming back!” and then the date, and translating it into Spanish, so that the Spanish-speaking parents can see it? But they’re opening their doors. They’re creating opportunities. But we started with them, helping them in their food pantry – going there once a month and helping them with their food distribution – helping them one Wednesday night, when the people who were supposed to serve the meal bombed and didn’t come, and we came in and helped. We’ve built a relationship with them. We go into that neighborhood and Julie Malloy, the director, found people for us to work with in our Camp Outreach.

Again, it’s a different perspective. And I appreciate the fact that, when it comes to working with the poor and serving, this lady and this group was a mile ahead of us. And they allowed us to work alongside them and, really, develop an individual ministry – individual in the sense that it’s for our congregation. If you help others achieve a worthwhile goal in service to your community, there’s a good likelihood that that relationship, or another relationship, or something down the line…. Remember, God has a work of service that He’s already planned for you to do, and if we’re not doing a work of service, what does that say about God? It’s not that He hasn’t planned it, it’s that we haven’t shown up. So He’s interested and wants to lead us to where we need to be. And don’t think that simple works of service are not recognized. And I’m not talking about praise, but people see the difference between someone who talks about religion and someone who practices religion – who practices their faith – probably a better word.

Do you want to know one of the largest single groups of people who watch, and observe and value those people who practice their faith? It’s teenagers in your family. Remember when you were a teenager – those of you…we’ve got some young people here. Everybody else is older than a teenager. We survived teenage years, which is always hope for those who are going through teenage years. That’s what my sister told me. She said, “Guy, don’t worry. You won’t always be a teenager.” The hope of my mother. But remember how it was? What was the big thing? Hypocrisy. You see, in adults, people who say one thing and do another. When we talk about practicing the entire faith – not just the doctrine and the teaching side, but the Matthew 25 – I was hungry and you…I was thirsty and you…I was in prison and you…. When we do the entire faith, it brings authenticity. And authenticity is convicting. If we don’t do the entire faith, could we be hypocrites? And if we just do half – you know, we’re there helping people, but discard doctrine – that’s not the best. If we’re strong in doctrine, but we don’t do the works of service…?

God gives us an opportunity to be completely authentic. And so it is that God is anxious for each of us to participate in the works of service in our communities. And it’s through those works of service that God connects us with people in a different way.

Let me just ask you a question. When Jesus went to a town and He wanted to connect with the people, what did He do? Did He send scrolls out to people and say, “Hey, we’re going to have a Bible study?” He went to the poor. And what did He do for the poor? He healed their sick. And He healed the sick of the wealthy. And then He taught people. Think about it. Healing the sick – if you could do healing of the sick, would you be doing a work of service in the lives of other people? Jesus practiced what He preached.

What if you say, “I’m afraid of making a mistake.” I mean, does God know you? Does He know that you never make a mistake? He knows that we all make mistakes. Right? And yet, still, He accepted us in covenant. He accepted responsibility for us. So He knows we’re going to make mistakes. It’s okay to try and then make a mistake. The big mistake is not picking yourself up and then trying again.

What if you say something that offends somebody? You know, you’re trying to help them, and you say something, and they’re offended by what you say. “I’m sorry. I apologize,” and go help the next person. It’s life. Don’t worry about making mistakes. God’s already expecting you to make a mistake. But He wants us to try.

Now what are ministries? What are some examples of ministries? We’ve handed out to everybody here – do we have enough? We have, what we call, Camp Outreach. And that’s where we’ve learned…. You know, I’ve bought houses. We’ve lived in them. I always rehab them. I have some really rudimentary carpentry skills. In fact, I look at things I used to do – I’ve done in a house before – and I thought, “Boy, I did a really good job on that sheetrock.” And I look at it ten years later, and think, “Boy, who did that sheetrock? Oh, I did.” But, if you have rudimentary skills, and you’re going to help out in a neighborhood, like we are, wonderful! If you want to see how it works, come join us for a Camp Outreach. Spend part of the week with us. We’ll show you what we do. It’s fun. It’s exciting. But it’s not the only minstry.

Those kids that you saw. That’s a ministry. We’re a dozen people in our congregation. Once a month we explode into 40, 45 people when we do this ministry. We have, actually, people from other churches join us, because their churches don’t do ministry, and they identify with what we’re doing. So they work alongside us when we’re working with these kids.

Ministries are all kinds of different things. That children’s ministry was conceived, basically, by three people – Keri and Kelly Seelig and Stephanie Smith. Those three people create crafts. They figure out what they’re going to do. Stephanie does the teaching. The rest of us show up. And I’m common labor. I’m happy to do it. It’s fun. I like it.

Now let me give you some other ideas. Feeding the hungry. Doing a food drive. Taking it to the pantry. Great! Even better, handing it to the people. But you don’t have to start a food pantry. Join them. Be there when they do the distribution. Start getting to know your neighbors.

Helping the poor with clothing. Gathering up clothing. Doing a clothing drive. Donating it to the Goodwill. Take it to some place and then be there when they distribute it.

Teaching kids who are struggling how to read. That’s a ministry. It doesn’t have to always be teaching them about the Bible. It’s helping people with a legitimate need.

Mowing a widow’s lawn. Fixing an elderly person’s plugged up toilet.

You start doing things, and people start hearing about it, and they remember those people who do works of service. Habitat for Humanity in Indiana refers people to us, because Habitat builds new homes and they don’t have anything for fixing people’s homes where they’re broken. And they refer them to Common Ground Ministries. We have trustee’s now – five years ago, it wasn’t this way; it is today – trustees are people in a county or a part of a community, that are designated by the community political structure, to care for the people who are indigent – who have great financial needs – they’ll call us and tell us, “Hey, this lady here needs a toilet.” We bought a toilet and took it to her just a couple weeks ago. Fifty-four bucks. But, you know, for that seventy-eight year old widow, it made a big difference for her to have a toilet in her trailer.

Painting somebody’s room or a house. Teaching young mothers how to cook from scratch. You think, “Well, that’s just what they should have learned at home.” Yeah, probably, but why not help people who don’t know?

Help them – meeting a legitimate need. Now I keep saying legitimate needs and there is a reason. In this food pantry…it was created by Lucious Newsome, a black man who came to Indianapolis when he was about sixty or seventy years old. He felt that God had told him to go to Indianapolis and teach them Yankees how to care for the poor. He was Baptist. He tried to work with the Baptists. None of the Baptists would give him the time of day. Went to other churches. Nobody would help him. Finally, he went to a Catholic church – a parish – and they say, “Yeah, we’ll help you.” For twenty years they helped him feed the poor out of a vacant lot on tables. A few years ago, they finally got this building together. Eventually [he], as a Baptist, converted to Catholicism, because they were the people who were helping meet the legitimate needs. Lucious has a phrase, and I think it’s a great phrase: He was there to help the needy, not the greedy. And you know, we can use the same principle.