True Religion – More than Justice

[Adapted from Session 3 of the 2014 Theme Material]


We all love a story in which the dark and ugly turns glorious and good. A story where a creature so hideous no one dared look on it turns into a handsome prince, the cowardly lion takes courage and protects others, Cinderella rises from the mop bucket to become queen and rule kindly, Pinocchio turns into a real boy, Scrooge becomes generous . . . they become everything they never thought they could be – transformed.


As humans we love stories of transformation where a person is not just improved but made new. The story of mankind that God is writing does not end with justice but with transformation.


Micah 6:8 was written to people in need of transformation. Though the book’s tone is one of judgment, the theme of restoration cannot be missed. The God of all creation sees and cares about the most vulnerable and weak. He cares enough to warn his own people that they are also vulnerable and weak. He urges them and we are urged to be humble, to love mercy and to be just. That is, in fact, required by God.


Maybe the simplest way to increase humility and mercy is to intentionally grow in justice. While only God can transform he has clearly stated what he requires from us. Justice is:

  • Straight Forward: In Isaiah 1 and Micah 5 there are basic commands: stop doing bad and selfish things and do good. Take care of the weak, lift up the poor, free the oppressed and feed the hungry.
  • A Way of Life: God wants justice – not in fits and starts or here and there. God wants justice to permeate, penetrate and restore people. He wants justice to refresh the weary, to ease the thirst of the downtrodden. God wants justice to wash away injustice. He wants it to soak in and nourish our relationship with one another. Like a never-ending river, God wants justice to flow day and night
  • Us, Not “Us and Them”: Unfortunately, we often take on a rescuers mentality, but the people we serve are able to teach us much about life and they bear the image of Almighty God. They are to be valued and their skills, gifts and abilities understood to better the community. See
  • Using the chainsaw first and then, maybe, the tweezers: We have to confront the beam in our own eye (Luke 6:42). Jesus’ admonition has an almost instant humbling effect reminding us we are in need of transformation.


Our culture of consumerism and greed set us up as “haves and have-nots”. This attitude must not be transferred into our pursuit of a just life. In fact, justice in not what we eagerly await but transformation by God’s grace and Christ’s work. The gospel brings us the opportunity, desire and power to adhere to God’s requirements of humility, mercy and just living.


As mortals we are, by God’s grace and through the work of Christ, being moved from darkness into his light. He is causing us to take courage and teaching us to rule kindly in his kingdom. Part of us must love those stories of transformation and truly find fulfillment in helping others because we long to see God’s complete work in our own lives and world.


For real life stories of how the Gospel is transforming lives around the world be sure to check out World Renew’s website at


Faces of ThereforeGo – Marc Hoogstad and Garrett Hovland

Marc Hoogstad

Q. Where could we find you at 10:00 AM on a Saturday morning?

A. At home, finishing my third cup of coffee, and ending our family Saturday morning ritual of pancakes with peanut butter and real Canadian maple syrup.

Q. What’s your favorite place to meet with students, and why?

A. Pizza Hut. It’s fun to see what “All You Can Eat” really means to teens. Especially for the younger guys. “What do you mean, you’re full? You’ve only eaten two slices! Eat, boy!”

Q. What do you do to stay relevant to youth?

A. Hang out with them. And drop youth lingo like “wiggity-wack” as much as possible. The kids dig it, and they think I’m groovy.

Q. What resource has inspired you for ministry lately?

A. Messy Spirituality, by Mike Yaconelli. I read it annually.

Q. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for a youth group fundraiser?

A. The “non-event” fundraiser. Sell real tickets for a fake dinner that won’t happen, to not be scheduled on a fictitious day (February 30, for example). No commitment from the ticket buyers to attend.

Garrett Hovland

Q. Where could we find you at 10:00 AM on a Saturday morning?

A. I love being outside, so working on a project outside the house, in the barn, or taking care of our animals.

Q. What do you do to stay relevant to youth?

A. I think one of the best ways to stay relevant to youth is to listen to them. Listen to what they talk about, what they like, dislike, etc. This gives you a great view into their world!

Q. I never leave for youth group without my ____________________.

A. Bible and my wife!

Q. What do you do in your free time?

A. I enjoy going for a run, taking walks with my wife, playing any kind of sport and reading a good book.

Q. Where would you like to travel someday?

A. Someday I would like to travel to New Zealand and explore the countryside and see all the different farms.

Q. What is one website that you visit every day?

A. I like checking the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding to keep up to date on what’s going on in the youth ministry world.

Finding My Own Faith

I grew up in a tumultuous home. My family was lower class, and I was the middle child of a somewhat recovered alcoholic father and a mother who was trying to piece together what her newfound faith in God meant for her and for her household. As a child and well into my teen years, my mother’s journey toward God was a hodgepodge of regurgitated televangelists’ theology. Our family bounced from church to church, receiving offerings of extreme grace one Sunday and being pelted with hell-fire-and-brimstone the next.

I learned about Jesus at a young age. This foundation of knowledge was important, and along with my mother’s expanding journey, led me to say prayers I think I meant, ask Jesus into my heart (on a regular basis!) and feel the pricks of a guilty conscious when I was sure I was not doing what Jesus would like. During my early teen years I thought this was all there was to faith.

Thank God for my late mother, but thank God also for youth group leaders and the opportunities they gave me to explore my own faith among my peers and among adults who felt called to foster the faith of young people. I would not be who I am today without having had the chance to escape everyday life to a safe place where I could learn to cry out for God in my own way.

If you are a youth leader, take heart. Sometimes the smallest acts of care can change the trajectory of a young person’s life. While on a youth outing, my youth pastor, on a sudden whim of inspiration, gathered every available pot and bucket and turned them upside down for me to drum on as hard as I could. Banging on pots and pans at 13 or 14 to Wes King (showing my age) may not seem like a big deal, but it was the first time I felt like someone had taken the time to see into me, recognize my desires and encourage them. I still play the drums, and I still remember that it was my youth pastor who first took the time to foster my passion and taught me to use my gifts for Christ.

Then there was the camp week where I finally felt the freedom to say that “I just must not feel it as much as the other students” because my emotions and reactions to the week’s teachings and worship were just not like the rest, and I felt so guilty. One dear, elderly lady sat me down and said that I was just trying too hard. Her words finally released me to be myself, because not all faith journeys should look alike. What a release from such simple words. For the first time, I quit overthinking and trying to mimic what other’s faith looked like, and I cried out to God on my own. She probably had no idea what freedom she gave me that day, or that I still hear her words when I feel out of place or am striving too hard to reach God when he is always right by my side.

I needed escape from routine, home and everyday life to discover who I was in Christ. As an adult, I still need that. We are a people made for God’s whispers and shouts. Sometimes we just can’t hear them when we are surrounded by everyday life and all the things we think we’re supposed to be doing.

This is why I work at Youth Unlimited today; students need time and space to begin forging their own journey with Christ. They need to receive care and mentoring from other adult Christians who love them. They need opportunities to get out of their comfort zones and make their faith their own.

Share Your Story

It was 4:00 PM, and I found myself sitting in the Arby’s on South Washington, my heart pounding, my hands shaky and my mouth dry as a cork. For the first time in my life I was inviting a student to begin a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.


If you were raised as I was, sharing your faith story or testimony with someone may be a foreign idea—something only done by missionaries. In 1 Peter 3:15 it says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”


It’s easy to understand why sharing our faith can be a fearful experience. There is risk involved. We could be thought of as a fanatic, or perceived as thinking we are better than others, or accused of being judgmental, and yet Christ desires us to show and share his love to the world—in our case, to students.


Telling others about Jesus does not have to be scary, though. For example, if I asked you to tell me about the time you lost a loved one, or how you coped with being laid off, or how you survived a difficult class in school, I know you could, and I’m guessing you might even highlight how Jesus helped you through it. When we are able to walk alongside those (students) struggling with similar life experiences, there will be natural opportunities to share your story and Jesus’ role in it. In the context of a real, authentic relationship, sharing your life story gives your students (believing or unbelieving) glimpses of hope in a world devoid of hope apart from Jesus Christ.


Back at Arby’s . . . I’ll never forget his quick, yet monotone response: “No thank you.” What Lord? Really? NO? I stepped out in faith, was obedient, and this is what I get—a NO! How could this be? Later that evening I was reminded that I have the opportunity to tell others about Jesus, but he has the responsibility to change hearts. That young man had not said no to me; he had said no to Jesus. Thankfully, Jesus does not always accept our first responses. God had helped me to plant a seed in this young man’s life, and only God could bring that seed of faith to bear fruit in his perfect timing. Even though the student’s response was not the one I had been praying for, it was the most alive I had ever felt as a Christ follower!


This summer as you find yourself on a faith-forming experience like Serve or Live It, ask yourself if God has placed someone in the group that needs to hear about Jesus through your story. My guess is that the answer will be yes! I hope that the articles and information on the following pages will be a blessing to you as you prepare. It’s also my prayer that God will help you discern the Holy Spirit’s whispers this summer, and give you the boldness to step out in faith.


When God blesses you with the opportunity to help someone invite Jesus into their life, here are some Scriptures verses you might find helpful. Start by writing John 3:3,7 in the notes section of your Bible, and then go underline those verses. In the margin near John 3:7, write Romans 3:23, and then go underline that passage as well. Continue this process in order using the following passages: Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, 1 John 1:9, Acts 3:19, John 3:36, John 1:12, and Revelations 3:20. These are basic verses that will help your friend make an informed decision on whether on not to accept Jesus into their life. As you end with Revelation 3:20, “I stand at the door and knock, if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in,” you can ask if they want to invite Christ into their heart.