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Mormons only leave the church for the following reasons...
Lack of faith
Apostasy (deceived by anti-Mormon content)
At least, this is the teaching within the church. It is a clear warning to members.
Also, this teaching states... those who leave the church become captive to Satan's influence.
Point being, exiting the Mormon faith is negative. There is no good reason to leave the faith. Nothing of greater eternal value can be found outside the "One True Church".
Danielle and I agreed with this, emphatically. We had no desire to leave the faith. Yet we did.
Why? Simply put, the amazing pursuit of Jesus Christ after our souls.
As we look back, we can see the Lord working to capture our attention and affection for a long time.
While it was happening, we had no idea. In fact, some of these pursuits were less than positive at the moment. As truth was revealed, it pushed up against our conviction; that hurts. Our usual response was to double down on our belief system.
For Danielle, the Mormon faith offered everything she could have dreamed of. She appeared to have it all together. But deep inside was a self-hatred that showed up in her early teens. It manifested in several negative behaviors - mostly minor and private. Most dramatically was a twenty-year battle with an eating disorder. Anxiety and depression were seasonal characters in her life. Church counsel suggested she read more scripture, pray more, serve faithfully, attend the temple regularly, and "take walks". Her inner issues never left regardless of her effort.
For me, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was God's original, New Testament church (which had been lost), restored to the earth. Beyond that, it was an upgraded church, having the "fullness of the gospel" instituted for the last days. I strived to be a valiant priesthood holder. I was learned in the Mormon doctrine, regularly having teaching and leadership responsibilities; often getting affirmation from church members. We were devoted.
However, like Danielle, I had my battles, small and large. Pornography had become my greatest vise. While I justified my level of activity as "less severe" than others, it plagued me for seasons of my youth and adulthood.
We had both believed the LDS church to be the "one true church", the Book of Mormon to be the word of God, Joseph Smith a true prophet - operating under exclusive priesthood authority, and so on. We believed that our marriage was eternal and our children were "sealed" to us for1 "time and all of eternity". I was ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood. I served a Mormon mission in New Zealand; an incredible experience in many respects. We were tithe-paying Latter-day Saints.
Our life as Mormon, on many levels, was great. At least to the extent that we could appreciate "great"; it's relative really.
But our journey is not simple. It was not quick either.
To begin... I had a radical encounter with Jesus Christ at age 19. I was at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, UT. Before this moment I had experienced plenty of judicial guilt - feeling bad for behaving badly.
This night was different. I felt something way deeper than guilt.
I realized that not only had I behaved badly, but I was bad. That is, the core of my being, on its own, was selfish and broken. My flesh, left to itself, was devoid of obedience and righteousness. This reality dropped like a load of bricks. I felt shame and observed my depravity for the first time. I had no grid for this - Mormon doctrine does not recognize the depravity of man. It hit me... on my own, I deserve nothing.
It had become clear that nothing I could do of my own strength could rescue me.
It was painful. It drove me to cry out from a place of desperation, begging for forgiveness!
Pleading in the name of Jesus Christ.
I had considered Him to be my Savior but this was the first time I was reaching out in desperation for my eternal soul.
In hindsight, it was the first time I realized I needed Jesus as Lord (Ruler and King) of my life. It was not merely a plead for forgiveness but submission of my soul.
It's was 11 p.m. I jump out of my dorm bunk bed. Headed to the bathroom down the hall. Turned the corner and saw myself in the mirror. It was the first time I'd truly seen who I was; a broken and selfish kid - my outward appearance and performance meant nothing in the eternal scheme.
I collapse to the floor in a fetal heap. Tears and snot streaming in shame as the weight of my life's sins seemed to sit on my back.
Then it happened. He showed up in mercy and grace!
The tangible presence of Jesus Christ was on my back. Instantly the weight was gone.
Next, I felt His arms wrap around me. The Bible refers to His "healing wings" (Malachi 4:2). I promise you they are.
Lastly, the mercy and grace of Jesus flooded through my back and into my heart, and in an instant, I knew that the God of the universe loved me and forgave me and it was not because of anything I'd done, but because I acknowledge Him above everything else, including myself, as my rescuer.
The shame turned to joy! It was incredible.
A problem... the next morning, I had no way to separate my encounter with the Lord from my Mormon religion. I was saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9). But all I knew (had learned) was that my performance was crucial in my standing before God. I was still in bondage of legalism (a modern version of the old covenant). I still believed in false authority, scripture, and practices.
I remained in this tension for over fifteen years.
We could tell you dozens of stories of how the Lord pursued us. But here is the crux. The Holy Spirit chased down our hearts and our minds. In time, our souls were thirsty for truth and a right relationship with God.
Danielle's heart, her emotional center, was desperate to be cherished the way Heavenly Father was captivated by Eve in the garden of Eden. Her identity as the Mormon woman who tried to have it all together was not helping.
My mind had wrestled over doctrine and theology for years. It had all boiled down to two questions for me; "is grace free?", and "what does grace accomplish?"
These were the longings of our hearts and minds. The soil was being tilled by the Holy Spirit.
Practically speaking, how did the Lord draw us out?
Romans chapters 11 and 12 speaks of jealousy that can well-up in a person when they see the love and favor of God in a believer's life. This is what happened to us.
There was no magic approach which Christians applied to their interaction with us. Danielle and I had relationships with Christians who - here's the secret element - had a TRANSFORMED WORK OF CHRIST IN THEIR LIFE!
Put this way; I'd observed plenty of Christians who were passive, lukewarm, or nominal. Their faith experience did nothing to draw me to the Lord.
But when we encountered followers of Jesus who were marked by surrender, faith, and love - who stood in a position of grace and mercy - who were filled with the Holy Spirit - whose identity was sure in Christ alone. They were transformed - not like everyone else. We got jealous.
Meaning, something in our souls longed for what we observed in them. We didn't realize it at first, in fact, we discounted it for years. We now know it was Christ in them that we desired.
Jesus instructs us to "be a witness", not to "do witnessing". That doesn't mean don't "do" anything. It does mean that you need to be someone that is a literal witness of Christ the Lord. That only happens when He has transformed some area of your life that it is now Him and not you. It looks and smells like redemption. That person is a literal "witness". They simply "be" who they are and the love, power, and presence of God are in them.
Sounds simple. Well in one respect it is. Less of us, more of Christ.
But that equation is anything but simple - it's the result of surrendering our belief/faith to Him above everything else. It's the first great commandment.
It's a heart posture that is exactly the opposite of Satan's - seeking for the glory of God and control his own destiny. A heart posture exactly the opposite of the sin at the fall - to define good and evil for ourselves rather than trusting Father knows what's best for us.
The Lord set up a moment in time when we were finally willing to surrender to Him alone so that He might answer our questions and heart cries.
To a Mormon, "surrender" is a foreign word in the context of the gospel. Ultimately, Danielle and I had come to a point where our convictions and our striving were not settling the ache in our souls. We needed solace. We needed truth.
In short, the Holy Spirit came upon us in a moment of clarity and courage; we prayed the following... "Heavenly Father, we want your absolute truth, no matter what it costs us. In the name of Jesus Christ."
The cost - nothing short of everything we thought we knew to be true and precious; our family and friends, our convictions, the depth of our identity (everything about whom we knew ourselves to be), our marriage, our eternal exaltation, the very lens from which we viewed life (a worldview that was more deeply ingrained then we realized), our standing before God.
The prize - absolute truth! We couldn't escape faith in God. If He's real, then He has absolute truth. And we were just willing enough to admit that we may not have it but trusted He would give it to us as long as we wanted truth above everything else (i.e. see cost above).
It was the scariest and most courageous moment of our lives. I now recognize it was totally spirit-led.
That moment of heart surrender, of faith transfer, changed everything. From the very beginning, all God wanted was a relationship of love and trust in Him above all of creation.
What unfolded next was three months of intense spiritual battles. The light and revelation of the true gospel began to unfold. The Holy Bible started coming to life. Divine appointments with Believers who ministered to us at just the right moment. Prayers welling up in our souls like never before. The veil of lies being wiped from our eyes.
On the flip side, we'd go from moments of glory and light only to experience literal darkness and demonic oppression. Fear would creep into something fierce. Anxiety was a regular guest. Moments of doubting so severe we couldn't think straight. It was no joke.
The battle was real. We had submitted to a new authority, Christ alone, and the old authority wasn't going to let go that easily.
By mid-springtime, the tension began to break, and breathing in full breaths of life (Genesis 2:7) became comfortable. We denounced the Mormon faith and all the peripheral doctrines, theology, rituals, authorities, content, and activity.
In time, we were re-baptized. We had a re-wedding, making new vows with each other and the Lord; the kids included. We found a faith community and dove in deep. We learned to worship a God that was way bigger, better, and accessible than we'd ever appreciated before.
There is so much more to the story, both before and after this point. All we can say is that our relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is on a continual increase. Our personal lives have never experienced more of the fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Our deepest brokenness of self-hatred and failure has undergone constant redemption. Freedom from an eating disorder and anxiety for Danielle. Freedom from sexual addiction for me. Our marriage is more brilliant than we ever could imagine. Our parenting is entirely new. And on and on.
A sanctified life. It's entirely new. It's brilliant. We are blessed, and it has nothing to do with "ideal circumstances". It has everything to do with knowing like never before, at a heart level, the Prince of Peace.
The prayer of "absolute truth, no matter the cost." remains close to the surface of our hearts.
We realize that while in this life we will never walk in a perfect revelation of God but the invitation to discover more of who He really is to us, and who we truly are to Him is the joy of the journey.
Relationship, not Religion, was His original intent. It happens to be His final intent too.
We praise and honor Jesus Christ, the Holy One. The Lamb of God was slain for the sins of the world. All glory to Him, forever, Amen.