I’m beginning to like Texas.
Driving westbound on Highway 290 early on a Sunday morning, I saw the light glimmer in the rocky hills with goats, sheep, and cattle in the distance. This was my first time visiting Fredericksburg, Texas and I was told it would be a pleasant drive. The coolness of early spring air gave expectancy to an unseasonably warm afternoon. Yes, it was going to be a pleasant drive, but not without surprises.
I didn’t expect to drive through Johnson City, a small town that makes no mistake to any visitor that this was the birth place of Lyndon B. Johnson. I didn’t expect to come across almost a dozen wineries beckoning visitors to come and tour their facility and taste its wares. You mentally reserved a perfect place to come back and spend a day visiting the countryside and tasting the variety of wines. I didn’t expect a large museum dedicated to the war in the Pacific and proclaiming Admiral Nimitz as a locally grown hero.
Upon arriving in Fredericksburg, it was already starting to bustle with its boutiques, cafes and shops on what would be a busy Sunday afternoon. I had come to visit Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church to join them in worship and share about the work of Truth in Love Ministry. I was greeting warmly by its members and appreciated my time with them.
The work of Truth in Love Ministry is to share how Christians can speak the truth in love to those souls who are following a different gospel of Mormonism. Biblical Christianity is all about what Christ has already done for us. Faith receives all the benefits of free and full forgiveness that Christ won for us on the cross. By his substitution, we are declared perfect and righteous. The gospel of Mormonism teaches that Christ has paid our debt and we are obligated to pay him back through our works and attitudes. They teach that we earn forgiveness through out obedience to gospel principles and a difficult process of repentance. If there was a John 3:16 to Mormonism it would be 2 Nephi 25:23 from the Book of Mormon which states, “For we know it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do.” Mormonism is all about what we can do to earn God’s favor and biblical Christianity is all about what has already been done. Speaking the truth in love includes understanding the differences, the language and culture of Mormonism, and treating those who have an earnest desire to know God with both love and respect.
After Fredericksburg, I drove back to the Austin airport to pick up board members for a retreat at a ranch outside Killeen. Nestled within 280 acres, Robert and Karen have built up a place for men and youth groups to come for a time of reflection on God’s Word, His creation, and some fun. It was here that we asked God for guidance and strength to craft a vision to bring as many people to heaven as possible.
Before leaving Austin, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit with my friends at Cross and Crown Lutheran Church in Georgetown, Texas. A forty-five minute drive north of Austin, Georgetown is right off of I-35. When you arrive in communities outside of the city, you are surprised by the amount of deer. Driving through a neighborhood, you saw deer grazing on front lawns as if they were Christmas ornaments. It was a joy to be greeted with enthusiasm and great interest from the members at Cross and Crown. Due to the growing presence of Mormonism throughout Texas, there were many questions. However, in sharing the truths of God’s Word, many people don’t know where to start. After every presentation, I encourage each person in attendance to remember one simple phrase that will plant the seeds of God’s Word in the heart of Mormons. You can say, “I’m already perfect in Christ.” This statement succinctly separates the teachings of Mormonism with the orthodox truths of the Bible. Plus, it can provide a way to share what Christ has already done for us.
Two elderly gentlemen were sipping coffee while sitting at the table towards the back of a room. I had just finished giving a presentation at their beautiful church situated on top of hill overlooking a bay outside Bremerton, WA. Judging by their appearance and weathered faces, I could tell that these men could tell a good story. The blue Scandinavian sweater displayed a proud heritage and the fact that I was in the Puget Sound area of Washington, I placed a large bet with myself that there must be some good fishing stories. I decided to meander over and offer my gift of time and a listening ear. As a result, I won a bet with myself. And the prize was a good story that brought a pleasant laugh.
Any fishing boat that braved the winter seas outside of Alaska will experience harrowing storms. Only the courageous would come back to brave the elements. This elderly gentlemen who lived in Poulsbo, WA once worked with a man who was considered fearless. In fact, he was so fearless that he had to replace his fishing crew every season. Nobody wanted to go with him. Shortly after an appendix operation and in need of money, he decided to sign on. Several weeks into the fishing voyage, a huge winter storm came upon them. Many of the boats headed to port, but not this guy. Braving the elements, he gently guided the large steering wheel while large waves crashed over the bow. While many seasoned fisherman were gripped with fear, the crusty old seaman casually remarked to my friend in a thick Norwegian accent, “It looks a little lumpy out there.”
My friend admitted that he didn’t last the voyage. He was dropped off at the nearest port in Alaska… and he wasn’t alone. Several other crewmen followed. They had enough of a fearless captain who would brave any storm.
The more I try to make sense of my Christian faith the more I come to realize that is less “I am” and more “He is.” Storms in life do that. They make us realize that we are really not in total control and storms will happen whether we like it or not. It’s just a matter of how we will respond.
That same evening, I gave a presentation in Des Moines, WA. I was sharing about Truth in Love Ministry and how it is our mission to bring as many people as possible to heaven. I visited a couple after the presentation and the wife shared with me that she grew up in Eastern Idaho a number of years ago. It was heavily Mormon. She eventually left the church and became a Christian and relished in God’s promise that she was already perfect in Christ. She utilized the approach of TILM of speaking the truth in love and over the course of many years, used this as a means to share God’s Word with her father. In what seemed like years of futility, she never gave up. Her father was approaching his late eighties and his health was beginning to fail. She received a phone call to come quickly. After a fourteen hour drive, she arrived at her father’s bedside. Once again, she shared the real gospel of Jesus Christ. Her father looked up and confessed that the Jesus his daughter was proclaiming was the true Jesus. Taking a bowl of water beside his table, she baptized her father. Within forty-eight hours, her father was in heaven.
While her husband shared her amazing story, the tears fell freely down her face. The relief, emotion, and joy were too overwhelming to share. This had only taken a place a few short months ago. Miracles do happen. And the Lord utilizes a period of waiting to only deepen our trust and faith in Him.
I love the Puget Sound area of Washington. It’s a unique place with wonderful people. They are certainly an independent lot. They don’t appreciate conformity but grasp a hold of telling their story in their own way. And I appreciate that.
Like the old Norwegian fisherman who fiercely braved the elements, they have a tendency to stare down the storms of life and proclaim casually, “It looks a little lumpy out there.”
There are days where I can use their courage.
The father looks up wistfully from his porch swing. Another argument. Another angry outburst of frustration. It had been eleven years yesterday when his youngest son announced that he had joined the LDS church. And when he came to visit with his young family, he told himself that he would not bring up the subject. He would not confront his son. No, not this time. But the discussion swayed a direction in which he could not help but share his latest thoughts and concerns about Mormonism. His son had responded back in anger. “Why do you hate Mormons?” “Why can’t we just agree to disagree?” Not when eternity is at stake. Not when the eternal consequences are so grim.
A day planned of joyful family time turned grim and tense. The passing brake lights of his son’s minivan had already vanquished into the coming night. His wife was in the back with familiar tears falling upon clasped hands, begging God to please allow her boy to come home. “I wonder,” thought the father, “what he felt like.” The father in Jesus’ parable also waited for his prodigal son to come home. “Lord, I must place this into your hands. I have done all I can. Now, all I can do is wait and pray. Bring my son back to you, Lord. Bring him home.”
There is probably no greater passion, no greater concern than the e-mails and phone calls we receive than from concerned Christian parents who either have a child in the LDS Church or are considering being baptized as a Mormon. Guilt. Anger. Frustration. A myriad of emotions greet parents and family members as they wrestle with this issue. There are many reasons why a child raised in a Christian home would consider joining the LDS church. The theology and focus on family can be attractive. Maybe they were invited to attend an LDS stake house while a teenager. But a common reason occurs when a Christian begins dating a Mormon man or woman. The couple is torn because leaving Mormonism is very difficult. There is intense family pressure to stay in the LDS church. So, the couple is forces to choosing love over church membership which usually ends up with dramatic consequences.
There is no magic formula we provide for parents or family members of Mormons, except hope and a listening ear. There are certainly points and hints we can bring out, but in far too many cases, there comes a point in time when family members stop listening no matter what is said. But there is hope.
We have talked to many ex-Mormons about their long and arduous journey to the Christian faith. A common thread about each of their journey is that a seemingly insignificant event is what starts the ball rolling. Invited by a neighbor, who didn’t know they were Mormon, to a neighborhood Bible study. A little girl inviting to see her sing at her Sunday School Christmas concert. An act of genuine love and kindness with no strings attached. A random comment about our faith in Christ and what he has already done for our salvation. Coming out of Mormonism and into the freedom found only in Christ is a process that includes many sowing of seeds.
Many times we think of outreach or evangelism as a reaping ministry. We think of the trained evangelist blessed with the spiritual gift of evangelism as the only person who can carry out successful outreach ministry. But it goes much more than that. Cross-cultural outreach ministry is predominantly a sowing ministry. God’s Word bring people to faith, but the real heroes are not the ones performing the baptism, but the faithful few whom God used along the way.
My encouragement for you to day is to exercise your faith by prayerfully asking for discernment and to take advantage of opportunities the Lord may be giving you to sow seeds of faith with Mormons. In many ways, our seed plantings are not deliberate and prepared responses, but fruit-filled reactions prompted by the Spirit.
In all that we do and say as professing Christians, you can count on the fact that somebody will be listening and observing. But more importantly, God and his angels will know first the fruit produced by love that prompted many saints in Christ to assist a searching Mormon in their journey to the Christian faith. And when we come heaven, we will know our part when that converted LDS saint will say thank you.
But they will not be the only one.
Perhaps it is that loving father sitting on the porch swing watching his lost son drive away. Maybe that mother with the tear-strewn face who had been praying for years. With outstretched arms, they will welcome you with a heart-felt thanks in the role that God allowed you play in bringing their child to heaven. What a reunion that will be!