Failing health brings the assurance that one journey here on earth ended successfully in the glory of heaven.
Mark H. Schewe
“My mom is failing.”
That’s what crossed my mind as I ran around the house throwing things into a carry-on bag. It was Ash Wednesday. I had been working at church late in the morning, and my dad called from Wisconsin with news of my mom. She was not doing well.
They had traveled together to the Twin Cities to visit my sister and her family. But the visit was interrupted by a hospital visit. She had a heart attack three days before my dad’s call. The heart attack hadn’t seemed serious; she even walked into the emergency room to tell them about her chest tightness. After they whisked her into surgery and performed a triple bypass, the doctor reported that everything went very well.
But it had become clear early in the week that her heart was badly damaged. As she recovered from the surgery, her body showed signs that other systems were beginning to shut down. They hadn’t been able to remove life support. By that Wednesday morning, her condition grew worse. As I talked to my dad, it dawned on me that I needed to get on the next available flight to be with them both. After all, she was failing.
For some reason, a travel website allowed me to book a flight that left in one hour. After a hurried conversation with an elder at church so that he could cover the Ash Wednesday service, I sped home. I grabbed clothes and jammed them in a bag. My wife rushed me to the airport where I rushed through security and sprinted to the gate. The last four people were standing in line to scan their boarding passes. Made it!
I sat morosely on my first flight, sweating from the workout. This flight was a short one, just over an hour. As I sat there with conflicting emotions about my mom failing, I heard a voice in the seat behind me say to the gentleman next to her, “Hi, I’m a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Do you belong to a church?” Despite my emotional state at the moment, I couldn’t help but hear the conversation. The man was polite but guarded, and the conversation wasn’t going anywhere.
Then it occurred to me: I have to open the door. I wondered how to begin a conversation to share Jesus.
I’ve seen the evangelism campaign from our WELS ministry called Truth in Love Ministry (TILM). We need to open the door—have a conversation about the gospel with these Mormon missionaries who are far from home. And I actually had an open seat next to me.
But now? As my thoughts about my mom failing were churning? Shouldn’t I just try to process my own concerns and what I feared was happening miles away?
But I knew. I knew that the Lord had put me in a situation where I could “open the seat” on that flight and share the good news. In fact, I was compelled to make something good come out of a trip that I did not want to be taking.
I turned around, said hello, and mentioned that I had heard her introduce herself as a Latter-day Saint. I asked if she could come up to answer a couple questions when she was done with her conversation. She was willing. After she moved up, we talked. She shared that she was 20 years old and had been away for quite a while on her mission trip. Now she was headed home.
I asked her what Mormons believe and what I would have to know to go to heaven.
“You have to perfect yourself,” she answered. “You have to be holy and perfect. Just as Jesus perfected himself to go live with the heavenly Father, we must do the same.”
I don’t remember all the ins and outs of that conversation, but I repeatedly pointed to our inability to perfect ourselves on our own and the need for a Savior to give us holiness and perfection. I pulled out some of the clearest passages I could remember. I wanted to be so clear about how salvation is a gift of God, not by works. I asked about some of the other teachings of Mormonism that are not in line with Scripture. But after that, our conversation waned and the flight landed. It had been a respectful, yet honest, conversation, probably the most pointed discussion I’ve ever had with a Mormon.
And then it occurred to me. My mom was not failing. Yes, her flesh and heart were failing (cf. Psalm 73:26), and her days were numbered unless a miracle happened. But what was her situation? Peter wrote in his first epistle: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8,9).
My mom was winning. Because of the season of Lent, which was beginning that very day, and because of the events of Easter, she was going to receive the crown of life. She knew Jesus and served him throughout her life. Now she was going to receive the end result of her faith—the salvation of her soul. She was going to meet the Lord whom she had known so well throughout her life—the same Lord she had shared with me, my sisters, her grandchildren, and with her extended family in so many ways during her 79 years.
Failing? The ones who ultimately fail are those who reject the robe of righteousness won by the Savior and resolve to stand before God on their own merits. My mom was not failing at all. Three days later, she received that crown of life and now sees her Savior face to face in glory.
My trip was not a “failure” either, as I was able to share the gospel with that young lady. God used me as a witness to share the truth she needed to know. Has she forgotten about our conversation and the Bible verses I shared? Or do those verses from the living, active Word of God still linger in her memory from time to time? I pray that the Holy Spirit enlightens her to understand how we “win,” that she might know the perfection we have as a gift.
Failing? Christ’s grace and perfection make us winners forever, victors in heaven where we will rejoice with my mother and all the saints in glory everlasting.
Mark Schewe is pastor at St. Peter, Clovis, California.
Learn more about Truth in Love Ministry at tilm.org.
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Author: Mark H. Schewe
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019
Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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