Don’t be Afraid to Try!

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Does the past ever haunt you? Do you ever wish you could go back and do something differently? Every baseball season I am haunted by something that I did, or actually didn’t do when I was 12. Many springs ago, I was a Little League baseball player. It was my first year of organized baseball, while my peers had been playing for years. I had never played fastball before, and those 11 and 12-year-old pitchers threw fastballs by me so fast, that, to me, I might as well have been facing Nolan Ryan! While I did manage to get on base a few times by walking, my career hit total equals 1.

Funny thing is, while my parents came to most all my games, they missed the one game where I got a hit. When I hit that ball into right field, my teammates jumped off the bench and started celebrating like we had won the World Series. The other team was looking over at them, trying to figure out what the big deal was. I told the first baseman it was my first hit. Turns out my only hit.

Eventually I made it to third base, and what happens next, or didn’t happen, is what has haunted me ever since. While I was on third base, the batter squared to bunt. The infield came way in towards home, allowing me to take a gigantic lead off of third base. The pitch landed in the catcher’s mitt. The catcher slowly and carelessly tossed the ball back to the pitcher. That is when I thought, hey, I have such a huge lead off third base already, and the catcher is throwing the ball back to the pitcher so slowly, that if I break for home as soon as the catcher releases the ball, I can steal home before the pitcher throws it back! I waited for my chance. Sure enough the next pitch lands in the catcher’s mitt and the catcher repeats his same slow, careless toss back to the pitcher. However I did not break for home. Instead I thought, wait a minute. The coach is not telling me to run, and if I do get out I will look like an idiot in front of everyone. So I never tried to steal home plate. I was afraid to fail, so I never tried. Now, whenever I see Carl Crawford or B.J. Upton steal home plate, I think to myself, I could have done that too if I had just tried. Looking back now, I am sure I could have made it easily. Only my fear of failure kept me back.

I learned a lesson from standing on third base on that spring afternoon so long ago. Go ahead and try! Even if you don’t make it, at least you will know, instead of wondering about it for the rest of your life, like I have. Many people are afraid to knock on a door to tell somebody about Jesus.

When I was 15 years old, I learned my lesson from when I was 12, and I went door to door in my neighborhood, asking people if they wanted to study the Bible. Many said “no.” At least now I knew, instead of wondering if they did for the rest of my life. One family said “yes” and later accepted my invitation to come with my family to church! Many people tell me they are afraid to give a Bible study to a friend, because they may not be able to answer a question. I tell them, just do what I do. Say, “I don’t know.” The people won’t kill you for not knowing, and you can research it later, and come back with the answer.

A story infinitely sadder than my baseball story happened while I was a Bible worker in West Texas. An elderly married couple in my church told me that another husband and wife, their friends for many decades, had both died. They sadly told me they had never tried to share Jesus with them because they were afraid they would lose their friendship if they saw how “religious” they were! They were more afraid of losing a friend in this life, than they were of losing them eternally.

Friends, don’t be afraid of sharing Jesus. Like all things, you will meet with failure but also much success. Jesus tells us in Matthew 24:14, that the gospel will be preached in all the world before He returns. Every time we invite someone to Jesus, regardless if they accept or reject the invitation, it is still one invitation, one decision closer to Jesus returning. Let’s remember too, that if someone rejects us, it is okay. We are an opportunity, but not their only opportunity. Go ahead and try. That is better than spending the rest of your life wondering what might have been.

When Michael Jordan, a famous basketball player tried to play baseball with the Chicago White Sox, the world laughed at him. He did not make it, but his words have always stayed with me. “I am not afraid of failing. I am afraid of not trying.” If that is true in sports, it is infinitely more true in evangelism! Don’t let the past haunt you. Go ahead and try!

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

“I Will Allure her…and Speak Comfort to her.”

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay Area.

Monday’s section of this week’s lesson asks,

 Why is how we say something as important as, or even more important than, what we say? How do you react to this statement: “Truth is truth, and people need to take it or leave it”? What’s wrong with this true statement?

A couple of years ago I had two youths come up to the platform where I was preaching. I asked one if he liked mints. He said, “yes.” So I reached in my pocket and handed him a couple of mints. He thanked me. I then asked the next youth if he liked mints. “Of course,” he said. I then reached in my pocket and threw a couple of mints towards him which he dodged and they fell on the floor. I told him, “Well there you go. You can have them!” He looked at me disgusted and walked away. 

Of course both young men were in on the illustration and knew what I was going to do. And, yes, I politely handed the second youth some nice mints after our little skit was over. The point was that often people do not accept truth because of the way it is presented. One of my favorite authors encourages us to present the cross of Christ along with every truth that we  present. 

The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption,—the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers. –Ellen White, Gospel Workers, Page 315. 

When we see the Sabbath in light of the cross, we see Jesus resting in the tomb after doing all the work to redeem us, just as He rested after creating us. We see our Savior telling us to rest from our works as we trust in His grace to save us. 

When we see the punishment of the wicked in light of the cross, we see Jesus dying on the cross so that those who believe in Him may not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16. Notice the opposite of eternal life is perishing and not everlasting torment in hell. We see the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life. Romans 6:23. Again the wages of sin is not everlasting torment in hell. It is death. In the light of the cross we see Jesus crying out “my God, my God why have You forsaken me?” We see Jesus tasting the punishment of the wicked for us, so we can taste His free gift of eternal life. 

When we see the cleansing of the sanctuary in light of the cross, we see how the love flowing from the cross saves us from the penalty and power of sin in our daily lives. Instead of working for our own salvation, we see how Jesus intercedes and works to free us from condemnation and from the addictions that rob us of our joy. See Psalm 51:8-12

When we present truth in light of the cross, we present the truth as it is in Jesus. Instead of seeing a God who wants to be worshiped because of His ego, we see a God who wants us to worship Him because He is the only God who loves us enough to die for us. In pagan religion, the humans sacrifice themselves to get the gods to accept them, but in Christianity God sacrifices Himself to get the people to accept Him. This is why we are to have no other gods before us. Because no other gods will love us the way God does. When we present the truth as it is in Jesus, we see the same love that is at the center of the cross is the same love at the center of the law. See Romans 13:8-10

This is the same love that God used in the Old Testament to win the hearts of rebellious Israel. 

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, Will bring her into the wilderness, And speak comfort to her. Hosea 2;14 NKJV 

God does not seek to win our hearts with a take-it or leave-it attitude. He allures us and speaks words of comfort to our broken sin-weary hearts. Too often God’s people have been like Peter, who, for zeal of protecting Truth, took his sword and cut off someone’s ear. He was actually aiming for his head and missed! This is not how Jesus protected Truth. Jesus healed (comforted) the man’s ear. In Hosea 2:14 God shares Truth by making it alluring and comforting to us. He does not make it alluring and comforting by watering it down. Rather He comforts us by sharing a Gospel and love that is powerful enough to save us from the sins that discomforts our peace and safety. See Romans 1:16

Jesus sends us on the same mission of peace He shared with us. It is the same mission of peace He shared in Hosea 2:14

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” John 20:21 NKJV

A Special Plea for my Bible Worker Fund

Bill

First, I would like to thank you all for supporting my ministry these last four years that my ministry has been 100% reliant on financial contributions from people like yourself. God has used people like you to provide for my ministry, and more and more opportunities for sharing the gospel are presenting themselves all the time. However in recent months many have  become unable to continue contributing for understandable reasons. Monthly contributions have been consistently lower lately while opportunities to share the gospel still flourish. I pray those who are giving can continue, and God will provide new contributors so that my ministry will not need to break stride. Again, thank you for your prayers and support! Contributions can be sent to the Plant City SDA Church, P.O. Box 5379 Plant City Fl 33563. Please mark checks “Bible Worker Fund.”

Below is a special appeal letter from Pastor Mark Swaisgood. Thank you for taking the time to pray and consider this ministry.

Plant City Seventh-day Day Adventist Church

P.O. Box 5379, Plant City, FL  33563(813) 752-4694

April 12, 2019

Dear Ministry Supporters and Future Supporters,

Nearly every day I hear a news report that makes me think that the second coming of Christ is very near.  With this feeling of His nearness in my heart, I also think of our need to get the invitation out for all people on earth to have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.  I believe God’s will is that all would be saved and live eternally with Him (even though we know many will not) when He makes “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1).People everywhere need what Jesus offers, they need to know God’s great love for them, and they need the hope, comfort, and strength that only God’s Holy Spirit can provide us.  You and I need to maintain a living relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, and share His love and words of hope with our family, friends, and neighbors, inviting as many others as we can to have a living, loving, and saving relationship with God because Jesus IS coming again, and it could be very soon, even today.  So, I want to begin this letter by saying thank you to all the people who have so faithfully supported evangelism efforts through their financial contributions to conference pastors (through tithing) and to other gospel workers like Elder Earnhardt (in this case, through his Bible Worker Fund).  If you are, or have been, a financial supporter, THANK YOU.

I also want to share with you a “last days” vision for evangelism(when the laity will finish the work) in the Plant City and Tampa Bay area, as well as around the world.Not long ago the Florida Conference added the Plant City SDA Church to my ministry district, in addition tothe Lakeland SDA Church which I already had. This has brought me into a closer relationship with Elder William Earnhardt, who is currently serving as Plant City SDA Church’s Head Elder andas a Bible Worker in Plant City, Homosassa, and the Tampa Bayarea.Since my time is divided between two churches, I am very thankful to God for Elder Earnhardt’s calling and ministry to the Plant City SDA Church and beyond.  He is providing solid spiritual leadership. With his inspiring, Biblical, Christ-honoring sermons, worship service attendance has increased from just over 20 to almost 50.Our weekly prayer meeting is thriving for both young and old.  I am leading out in our youth studies and William is leading out in our adult studies. The former Plant City pastor letme knowthat Elder Earnhardt baptized 9 people, and he brought 3 more into church membership by profession of faith,in the Plant City SDA Church during the previous 4 years.  In the eight months since I have been the senior pastor at Plant City William has brought growth to God’s kingdom by preaching, facilitating Bible studies and seminars,and conducting baptisms at both Plant City and Homosassa SDA Churches.  This is one way the laity will be used to finish the work of Christ on the earth before He returns.  If you are already a donor, “Thank you.”  If you are not a donor yet, you too can be a partner as you support Elder Earnhardt’s Bible Worker Fund.

Elder Earnhardt has a unique ministry which is fully supported by contributions from people like you around the country.While Plant City members are among his ministry contributors, the Plant City SDA Church does not have the resources within itself to provide for his level of ministry to the area. Everything Elder Earnhardt receives for his Bible Worker ministry is from a Bible Worker Fund, which is maintained by faithful contributors, ordinary people with a vision to reach people for Jesus, people like you.

 

Elder Earnhardt’s Bible Worker Fund is currently being held for him by the Plant City SDA Church and his contributors are from near and far, as his ministry extends around the country. Elder Earnhardt is currently conducting Bible studies, seminars and evangelism training all over Florida, and even in other states through the power of the internet.  You can follow William’s ministry on Facebook, or check out his website at www.inlightofthecross.com.Recently, the Homosassa SDA Church had Elder Earnhardt in their church to baptize 6 precious souls he had been working with.  He also had a recent Week of Prayer in the New Port Richey SDA School, which lead to 15 baptisms.William recalls that over the years hehas performed countless baptisms in Tampa First SDA Church, Tampa Adventist Academy,and other parts of Florida.

Beyond our state’s boarders, Elder Earnhardt has also traveled to Peru, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas to hold evangelism meetings, revivals, and training seminars, which have led to even more baptisms.  Even while he is in Florida, William reaches around the globe with his personal blog ministry, as well as writing for Sabbath School Net. E-mails have come in from as far away as Australia, Peru, Chile, Africa, Canada, etc., sharing how William’s articles and “In Light of the Cross” Study Guides have led people to Jesus.

I first became acquainted with William at Camp Kulaqua, our beautiful Florida Conference summer camp and church retreat facilities, where I have worked for several years with our academy young people, as the guest pastor for Outdoor Education. Elder Earnhardt has mentoreda number of young people over the years, at Tampa Adventist Academy and Gulf Coast SDA School, who he brought to Camp Kulaqua for Outdoor Ed. That is how we got acquainted.  When I recently began pastoring in Plant City, I learned that William’s Bible Worker Fund had been supporting him four years so far.  William relies on monthly supporters and one-time contributors alike. William has also sought part-time employment in other types of work to supplement his income.However, it has come to my attention that in recent months the funds received for each month are not enough to cover his hours of work for each month and the Bible Worker Fund is being depleted faster than it is being replenished. Meanwhile,William‘s ministry is flourishing, with opportunities for even more and more Bible studies, revivals and seminars.  With so many people in our area and around the globe coming to Christ, and growing in Christ, throughhis ministry, and with the time of Christ’s coming getting closer every day, it would be sad to see his Bible Worker Fund become unable to continue to support his ministry in the months ahead.

You Can HelpFirst, I ask you to pray for Elder Earnhardt and his ministry, that God will continue to direct his path and provide for him and his ministry’s needs.Second,I ask you to either keep supporting William, or consider supporting his ministry with either a one-time donation, or, even more importantly, on-going monthly contributions.Third, please share this letter and invitation to become a supporter of the work of the laity, like William, who we are told will finish the work in the last days before Christ’s return.As the Holy Spirit leads, please send your tax-deductible contributions payable to Plant City SDA Church, P.O. Box 5379, Plant City, FL 33563.  Indicate on your check that this is for the “Bible Worker Fund.” I thank you, I know William thanks you, and, most of all, the many people William consistently reaches for Jesus will thank you in heaven.

In Christ’s Service,

Pastor Mark Swaisgood

Twenty Things I’ve Learned in Twenty Years of Bible Work

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

While I became a literature evangelist in 1990, it just occurred to me, that it has now been 20 years since I first became a Bible Worker in the Owasso-Claremore district of the Oklahoma Seventh-day Adventist Conference in 1993. A lot of water has passed under the bridge and through the baptisteries since then, and over time I would like to share some of my experiences over the last twenty years. Tonight, I would like to begin with a list of twenty things I have learned in twenty years of Bible Work. Please enjoy.

Twenty Things I’ve Learned in Twenty Years

 1. Don’t take it personally when people love you. That’s right when they love you. After leaving a district in Oklahoma, I went to work in a three church district in the Fort Worth-West Texas area. Everyone loved and supported me so much I started thinking I was a good Bible Worker. Fact is I was very inexperienced and was making mistakes left and right. After a few years I finally woke up and realized, these people don’t love me because I am good Bible Worker, they love me because they are kindhearted loving people. They were so good they could love anybody. Even me.  Lesson learned: Just because people love you, it doesn’t mean you are good.

2. Ask people if they like to read out loud before you ask them to read a Bible verse. You would not believe how many adults can’t read well or at all. Don’t embarrass them.

3. Don’t assume people know where the books of the Bible are. You may know where to find Main Street in your hometown, but that’s because you grew up there.

4. Try to keep your Bible Studies just under an hour. Even less for kids and teens. Leave them wanting more, instead of just wanting you to leave. If they keep asking questions, that’s fine. You can stay longer.

5. Don’t send people on a guilt trip for missing or cancelling a Bible study. When they call and say “we are just too tired” tell them to get plenty of rest, have a good week and you will see them next week.

6. Be flexible. I am a Bible Worker. That means I teach the Bible and encourage my Bible students to search the Scriptures and do their lessons. At the same time I have learned that I also have to be prepared to not give a Bible study. A while back I was studying with a lady who would meet me after work and talk about her work problems, before I would finally stop her and begin the study. One week we met and I decided I was just going to listen and not say a word until she quit talking. About an hour later she stopped talking. I had a prayer and she went home happy. Another time I was studying with a married couple who had toddlers and a lot of stress. After several weeks of studies, I told them the next week when I came by, instead of having a Bible Study I would be taking them out to eat at the local Mexican Restaurant, nothing fancy. They got grandma to babysit and when I picked them up they were all dressed up like we were going someplace ritzy. I don’t know how long it had been since they had a night out, but it turned out to mean more to them than I imagined.

7. Ask your Bible students to do three or four lessons a week, so maybe they will do at least one.

8. Be very punctual and dependable with your appointments, but if you have an appointment tonight with someone who has already stood you up three times in a row, and someone else calls and says they have free tickets to tonight’s game, go to the game. Odds are your appointment was going to fall through anyway. Nothing I hate more than turning down an invite so I can keep an appointment with someone who is going to stand me up. Of course don’t stand them up. Call and reschedule.

9. In the past, a new Bible study student would call and talk my ear off while my dinner grew cold, about his theory of UFOs and Martian invasions. I don’t let that happen anymore. I finally realize the difference between people God has put in my path, and people Satan has put in my path just to distract me from the people God has put in my path.

10. If a woman calls you at 12:30 in the morning, and says, “I would not have called this late, but I just drove by your place, and saw your lights on,” be sure you keep your distance from this woman.

11. Don’t take money from a woman who takes you out to eat, and then tries to slip you $100.00 for gas for your car and ministry. Believe me.  It’s not really for gas or your ministry. I found that out when she called me at 12:30 in the morning when she “just happened to be passing by my place.”  Dodged that bullet. Thank you Jesus!

12. I know you are not going to believe me, but I am going to tell you anyway because it’s the truth. Whenever someone mails in a Bible Study request card, do not call them! Just show up at their house. You will never get an initial Bible study appointment from calling them first. Never. I have been doing this 20 years and I swear it never works! You can call and ask if they want Bible studies, and then just tell them you will drop them by sometime, but if you try to set up an initial visit over the phone it will never work! Never! Let me guess, you are still going to call aren’t you? Okay, don’t be surprised if 20 years later it has never worked.

13. When you get a request for Bible studies 100 miles away, just mail the request to a church in that area. However, if they are 15 miles or so away, go see them yourself, even if it is just outside your area. Don’t mail the card to the church in that area. I hate to say it, but odds are nothing is going to happen with it. Do it yourself so you know it’s been done. If the people are interested and you get a study going, and decide it’s too far away for you to drive, invite someone from that church in the actual area to come with you a couple times, and then they take over the study.

14. Don’t let people send you on guilt trips for not doing tasks they should be doing. You don’t have to do everything that the church needs done. I bet other people go to your church besides just you, so why are you doing all the work? Because no one else will do it? That doesn’t make it your problem. You are not the Savior of the world, so don’t let people lay that responsibility on you.

15. Jesus is your pastor. The first thing I noticed working in a three church district was, I was always where the Lead pastor was not. I felt like I did not have a pastor, until an elderly mentor pointed out to me that psalms 23:1 says the Lord is my pastor. (Shepherd in English, Pastor in Spanish. Same thing.) When Samuel died in the middle of David’s crisis with Saul, David wondered who was going to help him now. In psalms 121 he declared God would be His helper.

16. Write down where you preach each sermon. It’s so embarrassing to preach the same sermon twice in the same church.

17. Be leery of the church member who keeps boasting all the time about being vegan. Like the car salesman who keeps talking about the nice stereo, hoping you will like the stereo so much, that you won’t notice the car has no tires, so the member boasting about their diet is hoping to divert your attention so you won’t notice their porn addiction.

18. Don’t waste so much time trying to make other people interested in the Bible, that you neglect the people who already are interested.

19. Whenever you enter a home, unless you are sure the entire family knows you are there, try to sit with your back to the hallway. Just trust me on this.

20. A good night’s sleep will solve most of your problems. A lot of the things that worry you are not even worth worrying about. They are just little distractions trying to get your mind off the big picture and greater purpose of your ministry. Instead of obsessing over things, keep busy and play a little golf to keep things balanced. The more balanced your routine the less you will find yourself obsessing over things.