Category Archives: Ministry and Evangelism

Preach the Gospel at ALL times.

My dad had a poster on the wall of his 11th grade apologetics Bible classroom. It was a quote from a prominent figure in Christian history, St. Francis of Assisi, and it read,

“Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”

I happened to think that was pretty darn clever of this saint guy, I committed it to my junior high memory and cited it as my “favorite quote” whenever asked for the next few years. As I understand the quote, Christians should act like a Christian and allow their pure, Christlike lifestyle to be the testimony that draws nonbelievers to Christ.

I have always been told by the Christians in my life who seemed to want to encourage me that the direct result of being a good person will be my friends asking me what’s “different” about me, thus swinging the door of opportunity open wide to share the Gospel, pray with them on the spot, and ship them off to Africa to do missions work. And all you had to do, especially in a place like San Diego, was hold open the door for a handicapped person or carry a little old lady’s groceries across the street instead of dealing drugs at the local middle school, and you were deemed a saint. Those magical interactions with nonbelievers never actually happened to me, but you’d think it’s the easiest thing in the world by the way other Christians talked.

But then I moved to Utah.

Suddenly, I am surrounded by charity volunteers, faithful church potluck attendees, and young adults who all go on two-year missions trips. Being a Christlike human being tends to get lost in the sea of good religious behavior around here, and “preaching the Gospel” with your actions will simply make people admire your apparent devout LDS convictions. Because Mormons truly believe that they belong to just another “Christian denomination,” it consistenly takes me a case of totally humble Christ-speaking-through-me conversation to even establish the fact that I hail from a different religion and worship a different God. How am I supposed to tell them “Jesus loves you” when they already have a version of Jesus in their religion whom they believe loves them too?

Our time is too short to spend loving people and being a good person if people never understand Who makes us that way. I won’t deny St. Francis – As irrelevant as it is to the truth of the Gospel, people tend to disregard everything someone has to say if their actions don’t speak as loud as their words. But if your actions are going to say something, let your words say it too! You can treat AIDS in Africa, you can hand out water to homeless people, and you can counsel pregnant teenagers to your heart’s content, and it will undoubtedly glorify the Lord because He has said that whatever we do for the least of these, we do as unto him. But listen: People need healing for their spiritual sickness as much as they need physical help! It drives me crazy when Christian teams do something wonderful like building homes in China, then leave without uttering the name of Jesus Christ once. We are called to heal the spiritual sickness and fill the spiritual hunger within people! What good does it do to make someone’s life more comfortable on this earth when, once they die, they will suffer eternally? This is of too grave importance to simply put on the back burner. Your life – words, thoughts, and actions – should revolve around Christ and Him crucified to the point where it is apparent to others.

Preach the Gospel at all times with your words and your actions.

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A Response.

Recently, I posted on my Tumblr blog about the upcoming US presidential election and its effects on Christianity and Mormonism. I received one response which I would like to address because it raises some very common and important objections to what I said. I’m thankful that people are thinking about what I write, as it makes for what I consider enjoyable conversations. In the true spirit of my dad (who’s a blogger who receives criticism all the time – like here) I’d like to systematically respond to each of her statements one-on-one. Her writing is in bold, mine is regular.

So what do you mean by Christian? By the definition, they absolutely are.

In my post, I reminded Christians to clarify what someone says when they say they are a Christian by asking them what they mean – I love that she turns it back on me. (I’m normally a very sarcastic person, but I assure you I’m being a hundred percent genuine throughout this entire post.) It’s only fair that I share the burden of proof in any of these topics.

A Christian believes in one God from all eternity to all eternity (Isaiah 44:6-8, Psalm 90:2), whose Son is Jesus Christ – God in the flesh, the second part of the Trinity, and the Savior of the world (Matthew 1:21; Titus 2:13). While on earth, he was fully God and fully man. Because of His death on the cross, man must simply believe in His name (nothing else; John 1:12) and he will be granted eternal life and deliverance from damnation (John 3:16). From this belief should be an outpouring of gratitude, manifested in good works, but it does not affect someone’s salvation (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 11:6; Galatians 2:21).

Now, let’s take this a step further. If Mormons can be considered Christians, can Christians be considered Mormons? If I was a Mormon, I would have to believe that Joseph Smith was a true prophet and that the Book of Mormon is Scripture – yet I don’t. Why do LDS missionaries show up at my door if I’m one of them? Because I’m not. So by definition, I would claim that Mormons are absolutely not Christian.

It does not make its members miserable, and you have no basis on this idea.

I honestly believe that I do have basis on this idea, simply because I go about my daily life among its members. I live in “the Mormon homeland,” as my Californian LDS friends like to call it, just outside of Salt Lake City itself. I daily interact with dozens of LDS people, and what I have learned is this: So many of them are spectacular at putting on a mask of perfection when they are broken inside. I’ll let the Book of Mormon and Seventy Claudio Zivic explain to you why they’re broken from his October 2007 General Conference address: “Nephi taught us clearly what we ought to do. He said, ‘For we know that it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23). I believe that the first thing we have to keep in mind in doing ‘all we can’ is to repent of our sins. We will never be able to reach our divine potential if we remain in our sins” (http://lds.org/general-conference/2007/10/after-all-we-can-do?lang=eng). To reach their divine potential, members of the church must, according to Moroni 10:32, “Deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength,” because… “then is his grace sufficient for you.” I cannot even imagine the pressure of living in a society where grace is only sufficient for me if I lead a fully Godly life.

Another piece of evidence that causes me to believe that the members of the church is a woman I talked to who came out of the church a while back and put her trust in Christ. She told me that the church “tells its members to put on a happy face,” no matter what’s going on inside. That can cause someone to become miserable pretty quickly.

And to prove even further that many LDS members are miserable: Utah residents currently use more antidepressants like Prozac than any other US state’s residents. Utah has been reported by the Mental Health of America organization to be the “most depressed state in the nation.” It has been factually correlated with the fact that about 70% of Utah’s residents are Mormon.

Let me clarify: The simple fact that there are depressed people in the church does not alone make the religion false. It’s a peripheral subject, really, but it simply addresses the point I am trying to make here.


They absolutely do back it up, and in fact they would be happy if you asked them; what difference does it make if you’re wrong?

Once again, thank you for turning the questions back on me! It would be so terribly unfair of me to ask questions without having my own answer for them based on the Bible. If I’m wrong, and Mormonism is right, then in the afterlife I will still have it pretty good, according to many missionaries I have spoken to. Granted, I won’t be allowed into the celestial kingdom, but the terrestrial is still considered heaven and the presence of the Son is there (D&C 76:77).

On the other hand, if I’m right and you’re wrong, there is an eternal, unending, torturous consequence called hell that is the fate for every nonbeliever, which will be eternal separation from God. One of us has to be wrong. Whose side would you rather be on?

How dare you make such an accusation upon any church; at least at LDS churches they teach that you shouldn’t judge anyone based on their beliefs, practices, or opinions. Bishops and general authorities in Utah, on a regular basis, condemn homophobia, even if it is against LDS doctrine.

Since the conversation has the option to get a bit heated right now, I’m going to be careful with how much I say here. Obviously, my original post was not the gentlest way of phrasing things, but I believe it is the truth nonetheless.

I would venture to say that any religion that sends out missionaries with the intent to create converts (my own included) must believe that there is something wrong with the religions they are witnessing to. By definition, that might be considered “judging” based on their beliefs and opinions, but is it necessarily wrong to do so? Jesus said in Matthew 7:13, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.”

If, by “judging” or “accusing” a church, I bring to light the truth and save a soul from destruction, I would rejoice more than if I had kept quiet and allowed for peace. However, I am doing it wrong if I lead you to believe that I am judging unfairly and without good intent, and if that is how it appeared, I apologize.

Also, regarding the homophobia issue, I believe that homosexuality is a sin, just like lying or stealing. To not love someone because of that would be hypocritical; to condone the sin would be wrong.

Since I’m a bit angry, I’ll give you some generalizations about Evangelicals then:

(Once again, my intent was not to stir up anger, as I believe it tends to be unproductive, so I apologize for doing so.)
They’re racist, and homophobic, much like the Westboro Baptist Church.

They’re judgmental.
They hate anyone not like themselves.
They look down on anyone who won’t go to “Heaven” just like them.
They’re ignorant and hateful, like Michelle Bachmann, who is an Evangelical.

And since she already acknowledged that these are generalizations and, for the most part, aren’t true, I’ll just respond with a quote from the camp director I served under at Worldview Academy, Brandon Booth: “I’m a Christian because I’m a hypocrite. If I wasn’t a hypocrite, I wouldn’t need God.” Christians are not perfect, nor have they ever claimed to be. All of the things listed here are wrong; however, as a Christian I know all of these things could easily be part of who I am and I am more grateful to Christ because He loves me unconditionally despite all these things.

And it’s a bit ironic that you’re quoting the Bible, considering that Mormons absolutely and one hundred percent believe that it is the word of God.

Joseph Smith disagreed with you in the Eighth Article of Faith, when he wrote, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God” (emphasis mine). Now, I have to agree with this. However, Joseph Smith believed that the Bible suffered some major errors in the original Hebrew and Greek, and that the Book of Mormon was more correct than the Bible. He even went as far as to make his own translation to correct these mistakes. So I don’t think that a church doctrine-adhering Mormon would believe it is fully the word of God.

Rumors and ignorant remarks such as that are not “out of love.” They’re out of hate. Maybe you should not only open your ears but open your mind. I’m not asking you to convert. I’m asking that you listen.

Cynthia, I hope you feel that I have listened to you and that I am genuinely not trying to spread rumors or hatred – simply the truth. If not, than I have not acted as a Christian should.

In Christ,

Carissa


So two LDS sister missionaries walked into my house…

It would be so legit if they had any idea whose house they were actually in. You know, one of those anti-Mormon houses filled with witchcraft symbols and burning Book of Mormons strewn throughout the living room. (More like tennis balls and laundry… you get the picture.) But they don’t have a clue, which creates a beautiful opportunity.

When the two missionaries rang our doorbell, I was home with my sister Janelle, so we invited the two college-aged girls inside and gave them glasses of water, then our dogs got their luscious golden fur all over their pretty skirts. We spoke a little bit about Mormonism – after they invited us to a Polynesian fireside choir event, they gave us their testimony and how the Book of Mormon has changed their lives and the lives of so many others, and I told them how the Bible has changed my life and so many others… Nothing deep and intellectual, just our individual rehearsed spiels.

But after a little bit of small talk, we established that they’re going to come by and talk with us at length tomorrow evening! If I could explain my excitement… it would be gushing all over this page. The opportunity to speak truth into the lives of these incredible people doesn’t often just fall into my lap this easily, but man, I love it when it does! Such a God thing… like you have no idea. His hand is evident in every moment that Janelle and I spent talking to these girls.

I would really appreciate your prayer for this meeting – I was so compelled by compassion and Christlike love for them as I was talking to them. I can tell that they are both passionate and intelligent, but they are so hopelessly lost and it broke my heart simply to talk to them. My heart was simply overflowing with a desire to tell them how beautiful grace is. They need it ever so desperately!

Please pray for boldness, because I know that this is one of the situations in life where the most loving thing in the world that I can do for them is to tell them the truth, if only to get them studying deeper in the true Word of God. But also, pray that I’m constantly reminded that nothing I can do or say will change their minds; the Holy Spirit is the one who is going to work in their hearts and I need to trust Him fully. When engaged in this kind of conversation, it is so easy to fall into the trap of either letting them go on and on without explaining to them what the Biblical truth is, or scaring them away with intimidating debate. All I really need, however, is the words of the Holy Spirit to be my words. This is something I struggle with so often. The control freak in me wants to take the reins from God, get out there, and conquer the world for Jesus all by myself. But in reality, what am I? I am a broken vessel who needs Him just as much as the people I’m talking to. Please pray that no matter how hard it is, I’m reminded that constantly tomorrow as Janelle and I pray and prepare and as we’re talking to them.

That’s all I have to say. All of this simply goes to say, please pray for us tomorrow. For all the male missionaries I’ve talked with, I’ve never gotten the chance to talk to female missionaries before, but I’m very excited to get do so… as long as the Holy Spirit guides my words.

Worldview Academy

It’s that moment when you open your mouth to explain the Gospel to six 15-year-old girls and you hear yourself saying words that you know are not your own.

It’s turning to the student next to you in lecture to look her in the eyes and realize that she is the image of the Creator.

It’s discussing God’s sovereignty and how one can love hurting people who need a Savior with a teenager while eating cafeteria French fries.

It’s the soreness of jumping up and down in a red t-shirt and khaki shorts and hauling luggage up stairs for hours on end that shows students how to follow Christ’s example of servant leadership.

It’s standing back and watching eleven girls from every walk of life exchanging ideas about the nature of God and man, laughing together, working hard together to exhibit servant leadership, and developing unbreakable friendships.

It’s singing “Father I Adore You” in a round upon realizing that the dorm stairwell has fabulous acoustics, despite the fact that you can’t actually sing well.

It’s the deliriousness of staying up too late to finish obligations and getting up too early to cheerfully knock on doors and sing “Good morning.”

It’s making an utter fool of yourself for the Lord and finding all kinds of new ways to embarrass yourself with every moment onstage in front of entire classrooms filled with students.

It’s hugging a stranger on the street of downtown Waco after a 14-year-old boy single-handedly explains the Gospel to her and prays a life-changing prayer with her.

It’s a note from a student on your pillow on the last night of camp thanking you for living as a Christ-like example all week.

It’s the bonds between staffers that go so much deeper than arms wrapped around each other in sweaty, loving group hugs.

It’s every moment that I wouldn’t trade for the world that has has humbled me to the point of utter realization of two facts: I am nothing. He is everything. None of the awesome moments at camp were my doing. Not a single one of them. The Holy Spirit was at work while I simply allowed myself to be the broken vessel. As Michelle Rees would say, “You have just been used.” And I believe that I have.

Hands On Love Experiment.

They call it HOLE for short.

They get together in downtown Salt Lake City, bundled up against the frigid weather. They fill their arms with bagels, water, fruit, and warm clothes, and they disperse onto the street.

They then go out and simply serve people.

Homeless people come in all shapes and sizes, you know. They wear flip flops in ten degree weather, roll their own cigarettes, sometimes are missing a leg, and always have a story. A story that they love telling to a group of incredible young adults who honestly love listening to them.

Not all of them are druggies, drunk, or mental. In fact, most of them aren’t. That was one of the first realizations that I was struck with. These people, though dirty and ragged, are not out here by their own desire to be homeless and sad.

They have lost more than you or I could ever imagine losing. Mothers have lost young daughters, sons have lost mothers and sisters,  and wives have lost husbands and children  to accidents, fires, finances… If your heart doesn’t break while listening to some of the stories they have to tell, nothing will break it.

I’ll never forget Gary’s words as he told us about his siblings dying of drug overdoses and his mother passing away. He said, “I’m telling you this – my life story – because you will listen. You guys genuinely seem like you want to listen, and no one’s ever done that before.”

Wow. To be the person who listens to someone when no one else will… who helps them and cares for them when no one else does… Isn’t that what Jesus called has called us to do? Isn’t that how he set his example? He didn’t serve the rich people, the classy people with beautifully furnished homes and plenty of money. He loved on beggars, cripples, and straight-up sinners. And I’m all about following his example.

All these people want is little warmth and a lot of love. They’re just as deserving of it as anyone else.

What absolutely got to me was watching Peggy’s grin, missing teeth and all, after she received a Bible with her name engraved on it, which was given to her by some of the people who run HOLE a few weeks before I got to Utah. She jokingly scolded the cameraman, “Don’t you tell nobody that I cried,” but you could just tell it meant the whole world to her.

This Christmas vacation filled me with an overwhelming burden for people who are so in need, so hopeless, and so desperate. They are crying out for help in their own way, but it’s not like they have a means by which they can express their voices. Unless, of course, you’re willing to listen.

James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

I’d say HOLE is doing a pretty good job.

One in the morning is as good a time as any.

The backyard of this huge, old house at night is tranquil and peaceful. The breeze is warm and soft as it wraps around my bare arms. Unlike earlier today, it’s not annoying… just peaceful. Comforting. Stepping out onto the porch transforms my surroundings into a different world. I slip out of the stale silence of the house within the French doors and shut the doors behind me quietly as I enter a place so empty and calm that really, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if Jesus himself showed up. Just showed up and stood there. You know… if he actually did that. I wouldn’t mind. I don’t even think he would have to say anything, really. Together we would just watch the moon rising. I love to watch it as it peeks through the thick clouds. Its light causes the outer edges of the thick, flat clouds that spread across the horizon to glow. Huh… well, at least these clouds have a silver lining.

As we were standing there, I would tell Jesus that this was one of my favorite parts of his creation. He would say, “What is, dearest?” I would realize that he already knows, but I would tell him anyway. I would tell him that the sky is my favorite. I would assure him quickly that, of course, he did make some wonderful things on the earth. But whenever I really want to see the best part of what He has done, I just look to the sky. The full moon shining in my bedroom and illuminating everything with a dull, dim light. The clouds on which this brilliant moon casts light as far as it can reach.

An idea catches in my brain as I look away from my laptop screen and glance at the moon. I try to write it out, but I can’t capture the thought. It slowly brightens in my mind until I understand what it means.

I think a little more before I start to write again. My brain flashes through a million ideas at once.

The moon is huge. Well, considering the rest of the cosmos, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s only a third of the size of the earth. But to me, a single being that is significantly less than one third of the size of the earth, it’s pretty big. And compared to those clouds that are passing in front of it and obscuring it… heck, those looming clouds don’t even stand a chance. A metaphor dawns on me. Why are these puny little clouds (puny, of course, in the grand scheme of things) trying to block the immensity and the brightness of the moon? Who do they think they are? No matter what they do, I can still see the moon. It is brightly and clearly shining, no matter what. And even when the clouds cover it completely, its light still glows on the outer edges.

I glance over at the temple in the distance.

Hm.

I don’t try to dissect this metaphor. I don’t really want to. I just want to reflect. That’s all. Tonight is a good night for reflecting.