A Gospel Message

To the readers of this blog: this is a draft of a letter we intend to mail to homes in our area if they are not home after two visits during our door-to-door canvassing efforts or if they have a “no soliciting” sign on their door. As a matter of policy, we do not knock on doors when they post “no soliciting” as we desire to respect the private property of those we would engage in gospel witness. The following letter will be mailed to their home instead.

I am asking you the reader to give me some feedback on this letter. Do you believe the gospel is presented clearly in the letter? Do you believe the letter to be engaging enough that people will read it? Do you think that a reader could understand the gospel enough from this letter to come to faith in Jesus Christ? What could be improved in the letter? What do you like, and what would you do differently? This is an invitation to engage with what I am doing. I would enjoy any feedback and appreciate your help. Just remember that I have tissue-paper-thin skin, so don’t poke too hard or I might wilt into a corner curled in the fetal position sucking my thumb.

Just kidding about the thin skin (in case you don’t have an ear for sarcasm. Thank you for any help you can offer.

Dear Neighbor,

Greetings!  Since we didn’t get the chance to meet you while visiting your neighborhood, we thought we would drop you a friendly line to say “hello” and introduce our church to you.  Berean Baptist Church was founded close to 65 years ago.  Our church is located across from Grandview Park on Jackson Avenue in Ogden.  We would be honored if you would visit one of our services.  Our church exists to praise and worship our great God and to show His glory to our neighbors.

We try to keep things simple in our services.  We sing Psalms and hymns, emphasize worship, and open the Bible together, desiring to receive His Word and know Him.  We visit neighborhoods throughout our area, hoping to share the gospel’s good news with our neighbors.  Maybe you have heard the gospel before now, but if you haven’t, will you please consider this message of hope?

The gospel is good news for bad people.  In fact, it is our badness that makes the gospel so good.  You may not like this way of introducing the gospel, but it makes no sense to call it “good news” if it doesn’t address something terrible.  When the Bible speaks of humanity, it doesn’t speak of us as if we were “basically good” people who are just down on our luck.  The Psalmist said that God looked down from heaven to see if there were any “good” people who understood and sought after God.  God concluded that “every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Psalm 53:3).  This is not the only place where the Bible draws this conclusion about the human race.  Consider what Paul says in Romans 1:8, for example.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

“Wrath” might seem like a harsh word.  Many believe that wrath is inappropriate for a loving God.  Yet, the Bible uses the word “wrath” several times to describe God’s response to sinful people (Matthew 3:7; Mark 3:5; Luke 3:7; John 3:36; Romans 2:5, 8; 3:5; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22; Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6; I Thessalonians 1:10; Hebrews 3:11; Revelation 6:16-17). 

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God concluded that there was “not a just man upon the earth that doeth good and sinneth not” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).   He stresses the fact that He responds to our sin with wrath.  Rather than dispute this, we would be wise to ask why God responds to our sins this way and to see what can be done about His wrath.

God’s wrath against sin tells us that sin is not a small thing, a little mistake.  The fact that we look at it this way is part of the problem.  The wrath of God tells us that sin is horrible.  And no wonder when God has filled the earth with good things.  By our sin, we have said that what God has provided is not good or not good enough, that we can’t be satisfied with what He has given – we want what God has forbidden.  This is why all sin is an insult to God. 

We “sin” whenever we disregard God’s moral law – either by doing what it forbids or refusing to do what it requires.  Unfortunately, people often live without regard for God’s moral law.  God does not take this lightly.

Because we tend to be more concerned with pleasing self than pleasing God, and because we aren’t all that concerned about what God thinks of what we do, the Bible tells us that we are “alienated” from God – that is, we are separated from Him.  Sin causes a rift between God and us.  We desperately need to be reconciled to God.  But how can we be reconciled? 

This is where the “good news” of the gospel comes in.  Yes, God responds to our sin with wrath, but God has also provided a way for Him to appease His own wrath without pouring out that wrath on sinners.  And this is how: God sent His Son Jesus to take our sins on Himself, and the wrath of God against our sins, so that God might be just in punishing sin and at the same time justify (pardon and acquit) sinners.

This is the glory of the cross.  Because at the cross, God met sin with wrath and met men with pardon.  God poured out His wrath on Jesus instead of on us when Jesus died on the cross.  That is why Jesus died such a bloody death, why the cross included such brutality and torture.  And yet, the Bible teaches that God didn’t require Jesus to suffer in our place like some cruel sadist who can only be satisfied with a gory death.  Instead, the Bible says, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.” 

God sent Jesus to the cross so He could provide a way for sin to be punished and sinners to be pardoned.  God satisfied His own wrath because Jesus, who is very God of very God, died in our place. 

God makes this very simple for us.  Suppose we don’t believe in Jesus Christ: in that case, the Bible tells us that “the wrath of God abideth” on us (John 3:36).  But if we turn from our sinful life and embrace Jesus Christ as our Savior, the Bible teaches that Christ’s death on the cross can then be applied to us, that we can be forgiven and pardoned and reconciled to God.  This is good news indeed!

If you recognize the justice in God’s wrath against your sin, you should also see how good God is to provide a way for your sins to be forgiven. 

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: (I Peter 3:18)

This is the good news of the gospel.  God provided a way for sins to be forgiven through the death of Jesus Christ in your place, suffering for your sins and dying your death.

If you have read this and desire to know more about the gospel, we would love to do a Bible study with you.  Please use the contact form at our church website, www.berean-baptist-utah.com, and we will be happy to schedule a time for Bible study with you.

May you be blessed to know God through Jesus Christ!

No Shocker: the LDS Church Supports the “Respect for Marriage” Act

On October 21, 2013, Al Mohler told an audience of faculty and students at Brigham Young, “I do not believe that we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we may go to jail together.”  I say this was bold: the faculty and students at BYU can’t conceive of an eternity where they would be anywhere but heaven.  But mainly bold because Mohler suggested that our shared opposition to homosexuality could land us all in jail. 

At the time, Mohler saw the situation correctly.  A few years before this speech, the LDS church provoked the wrath of homosexuals everywhere by supporting California’s 2008 Prop 8 ban on same-sex mirage.  California passed the gay mirage ban, which the courts later overturned.  And all of this happened several years before the 2015 Obergefell Ruling came from the Supreme Court, making gay mirage a sanctioned event in the U.S. 

When the extent of the LDS church’s involvement in the fight for Prop 8 was made known, the rage and fury of radical homosexuals came in like a storm.  And ever since, the LDS church has been doing penance in surprising (and disappointing) ways.  The collapse has been disheartening, to say the least, and the tension among rank-and-file Mormons is palpable.

So, when the LDS church announced their support for the so-called “Respect for Marriage” Act, the shock many felt was entirely uninformed.  It should surprise nobody.  It fits with the trend in the LDS church ever since the Prop 8 battle.  Perhaps it has been a long time in the making – I don’t think so, but I can understand why some, both in the LDS church and outside of it, might have been blindsided.  But the support for this “Disrespect for Marriage” Act fits with their general personality, political posture, doctrinal commitments, and overall culture.  Allow me to explain.

Personal Reasons

The LDS church puts a very high value on “nice.” It is the one virtue that every member holds dear.  LDS church members are legitimately some of the kindest people you will ever meet.  But it would help if you understood this not so much as a product of natural disposition but as a religious commitment.  Of all the sins one might commit in Utah, being mean ranks among the highest.  In Utah culture especially, we encounter a superficial niceness that cloaks (sometimes very thinly) an inward passive-aggressiveness.  According to a recent study, Utah tops the charts for the most confrontational drivers in the nation. 

This cult of niceness explains why you will see more rainbow flags and trans flags and “hate has no home here” and “Black Lives Matter” signs in Utah than in almost any other place.  I could step out my front door in my Ogden neighborhood and see a half dozen rainbow flags.  And this is not unusual.

This religious commitment to “nice” explains why Donald Trump is so unpopular in our state – even though Donald Trump won Utah quite handily.  It explains why Utah Conservatism is so frustratingly moderate.  It explains why pro-life conservatives in our state legislature routinely vote down pro-life legislation.  The LDS believe they are better “Christians” because they support LGBTQ rights. 

This past spring, James Lindsey spoke at an event near me, and I had the privilege of meeting him courtesy of Andrew Badger, then-candidate for U.S. Congress.  Though an outsider and somewhat unfamiliar with Utah, Lindsey pegged one crucial fact.  The reason that rank-and-file Mormons are embracing Wokeness, the reason our Governor announced his preferred pronouns, has nothing to do with political agenda and everything to do with the general demeanor of the LDS church.  The LDS church doesn’t want to be divisive or combative.  On the contrary, they want to accommodate people of all faiths and all lifestyles. 

So, their support of the Defense of Marriage Act shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Political Reasons

The LDS church sees compromise as the path to protecting religious liberty.  When our Utah politicians debate the thorny cultural issues of our time, they will inevitably speak of finding a “Utah solution.”  They pride themselves in finding compromises that satisfy both parties in the culture wars. 

Thus, in 2015, our Legislature produced the famed “Utah Compromise,” which granted equal protection to the LGBTQ+ while at the same time protecting religious liberty.  It was a ground-breaking compromise and became the template for similar non-discrimination laws in other conservative states.  The Utah Compromise was brokered and endorsed by the LDS church itself, which is why the LDS church has, for at least the past seven years, actively lobbied for similar legislation at the federal level. 

Continue reading “No Shocker: the LDS Church Supports the “Respect for Marriage” Act”

Glad to be a “Fundamentalist”

I’ll be the first to admit that the term “Fundamentalist” is pretty broad and causes heartburn for many on every part of the theological spectrum. Some embrace Fundamentalism as the counterpart to Evangelicalism. Others reject Fundamentalism as weak and shallow and a major proponent of “Easy-Believism.”  Quite a few Fundamentalists still hold to the historic “fundamentals” as identified by the early proponents of the movement. More than a few reject Fundamentalism because of its ecumenicism. That might strike many readers as strange given the historic “hyper-separatism” of Fundamentalism. Fundamentalism stretches way across the spectrum, and you can find Fundamentalists who embrace beliefs and practices that I reject out of hand. Various taxonomies have been attempted to categorize the potpourri of Fundamentalists one might encounter.

I did some time in the “nut-wing” of Fundamentalism, under the influence of Jack Hyles (primarily). That is not historic Fundamentalism, but it did become a significant player in the 1980s.   Probably the easiest, most recognizable way to categorize Fundamentalism is based on the various Fundamentalist colleges. I won’t attempt to provide a chart here, as I doubt we could reach any actual agreement on it. Besides, it is beyond the scope of this article. The opposite side of the spectrum from the Hyles wing (which includes about a half dozen or so Bible Colleges that still align with the Hyles tradition) is the Bob Jones /Maranatha/Central Seminary wing, which tends to be closer to “classic” Fundamentalism. And in between are colleges like Pensacola and Crown and West Coast. Again, this is not an attempt at a genus and species hierarchy – only recognizing that there is a broad spectrum of “Fundamentalism.”

This article does not mean I embrace all that could be included with broader Fundamentalism. I don’t. There are many “Fundamentalist” churches, as Churchill once said (about prepositions, not Fundies), “up with which we shall not put.” Some I wouldn’t cross the street to attend. And some, to borrow from Spurgeon, I would cross the street in order not to attend. Here’s to you, Tony Hutson.

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I don’t usually call myself a Fundamentalist for a variety of reasons. Perhaps I could write about that in the future. I agree with what my friend Kent Brandenburg wrote on this topic (He has a lot to say on it). However, most outside of my church would tag me as a Fundamentalist. Our church sign has “Fundamental” on it. I didn’t put it there, but it has been twenty years since I became the pastor, and I have never bothered to take it off. The scorn and ridicule heaped on Fundamentalism is also often heaped on me. And it is in that sense that I am here embracing that particular tag. I’m not embarrassed about my fundamentalist roots, and I’ll not be cool-shamed by those who call us cultists, legalists, primitive, and in general, the offscouring of all things.

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Some Thoughts on the Trump Question

I’m writing this in advance of the expected Trump announcement, knowing that things can change rapidly and some of what is said here may be irrelevant after tonight. Whether we are pro-Trump, anti-Trump, wish he would a grip, or think he is the problem in the GOP, we definitely will have to deal with Trump. Someone needs to have a conversation with him. But since I am not a likely candidate, I will take a different tack. We need to have a conversation about Trump. Consider this my humble contribution.

Continue reading “Some Thoughts on the Trump Question”

An Early Christmas Offer

In our house, we start into the Christmas music a little early for some people – maybe even my wife. She would prefer we wait until Thanksgiving, while I, on the other hand, like to break out the ho-ho-ho’s shortly after Labor Day. So, like a good couple, we compromise. October 31st is Opening Day for Jingle Bells, Deck the Halls, Rudolf, and Adeste Fideles. And this year, we have something special to add to the mix. I wrote a book.

It started with my wife. Since the kids were little, we have read a Christmas devotional every night in December. We used the same devotional year after year. Then a few years ago, my wife suggested that a little variety might be in order, so we hunted around and found something different. Actually, several somethings. We read each of them in turn. Then, last year we saw a brand-new December devotional on the market, which we snatched up and put to work.

Since this Christmas tradition blessed our family, we decided to give a devotional to the members of our church. While hunting through the various options, my wife threw out a casual suggestion – as wives are wont to do: “You should write one yourself.” 

Next thing you know, I was waking up early in the morning like a man on a mission. I sat down to see if I had thirty-one ideas for devotional material. Then, I started writing. The fever hit hard. I finished most of the book in December last year, edited as a man possessed, and voila! out came this book of mine, which I boldly present to you for consideration:

Join the Triumph of the Skies!

Christmas acts like a magnifying glass. The hard-hearted turn to Ebenezer Scrooge; family problems take on a new life; financial woes pinch harder; daily chaos turns to tumult. But Christmas offers us a fantastic opportunity to enlarge a few great things. A giving heart has rich opportunities. A generous spirit shows itself in big ways. Delight in Christ will have a feast of fat things. Family life will be richly blessed.

In our home, we always wanted Christmas to magnify what we considered vital to the good health of our home. So we planned many unique features for the Christmas season, mostly dreamed up and executed by my wife. And one of those, as I mentioned, was our annual nightly devotional routine. We had so much fun rehearsing Christ’s glory in Christmas from a Biblical perspective that we can’t wait to get started on it again this year. 

But this year, we wanted to invite you to join the fun. So we have assembled a book of 31 devotionals that cover the Christmas story’s entirety (with maybe an exception or two) – everything from angels to mangers to Bethlehem to Santa Claus to Hallmark movies to Christmas cranks to Simeon and Anna. We didn’t leave Herod out either.

Join the Triumph of the Skies! is available through our publisher at Xulon Press. It is available on Amazon and in a Kindle edition (public immediately). You can find it at Barnes and Noble, which also has an e-book edition. You could get it on Apple iBooks. And you can get it from me. If you ask real nice, I’ll give you a discount and a puppy (just kidding about the discount puppy!). Seriously, I’ll give you a deal. 

Churches and bookstores and anyone who wants to order more than five copies can contact me directly for a bonus discount. I’ll treat you right. 

So, let the buying frenzy begin. Go ahead and stuff some stockings with this book. Give it to your friends and neighbors and relatives. Give it to your local Scrooge and all the Karens on your Christmas list. Buy a case and store it in a dusty place for the next twenty years. Buy it for your good friend Holli Reath. Read it out loud at night, gathered around the Christmas tree. And may it enrich your celebration of Christ this year and many years to come.

What God is Doing in Utah

God has been doing some exciting things in Utah, and I thought I would take a few moments to pass along the good news.  Currently, Utah is one of about five states that are experiencing an explosion of population growth.  Despite the high cost of building, contractors in Utah cannot keep up with the growing demand for housing.  Whereas in other states, real estate may be experiencing a bubble effect, there is a genuine housing shortage in Utah, leading to a massive explosion in housing prices.

Meanwhile, alongside this population explosion, more and more, the LDS church has become mired down in the tensions caused by our country’s social lunacy. As a result, many in our state wonder what course the LDS church will take in the immediate future, as there is such a strong push from so many members of the church to embrace a more tolerant and progressive state

Not surprisingly, the LDS church is quickly losing its iron grip on the spiritual life of our state.  Anecdotally, when my wife and I moved to Utah in 1997, I would estimate that an average of 3 out of every four doors we knocked on were staunchly LDS.  In any given neighborhood, we might encounter one household that was not active members of the LDS church. 

Not so today.  We have faithfully canvassed every part of our area from North to South, from East to West multiple times.  Today when we evangelize a neighborhood, whether in the heart of Ogden or the outskirts of town, in the wealthiest areas, or the newest communities, we do well to encounter more than one faithful member of the LDS church. 

Continue reading “What God is Doing in Utah”

Some Final Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor

We conclude our little series on defrocking the pastor by considering four positive standards that can lead to dismissal if neglected. Our desire is to build our standards for disqualification on defensible ground. I hope this article will offer some guidance towards that end.

What about his reputation?

The Bible gives good reason for this qualification: “lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” 

This qualification is meant primarily for a pastor entering the ministry.  Before calling a pastoral candidate, the church should take some time to review his credit report.  The credit report may have its flaws and shortcomings, but it does provide an objective snapshot of a man’s integrity.  Does he pay his bills?  Does he have excessive debt?  Does he manage his money well?  These things can dramatically impact his ability to minister in the church. 

At the same time, the church shouldn’t be quick to remove the pastor on this basis.  Chances are, the church will have an idea why the pastor might have fallen into financial hardship in the middle of his pastoral ministry.  It could be that his family has faced a health crisis or that they have endured a string of financial setbacks.  In some cases, the pastor has passed on a pay increase for several years running, and things have started to catch up to him. 

This qualification presents another area where the church will need to use discretion.  If the pastor has gotten himself into excessive debt through luxurious living – new cars, expensive vacations, etc. – and now he is on the verge of bankruptcy, I think the church should discuss his finances with him.

In general, the point of disqualification should hover somewhere in the vicinity of bankruptcy, having the car repossessed, or having the house foreclosed.  But even here, I don’t believe there would be a cut-and-dried disqualifier.  If, for example, some hard providence caused the bankruptcy – say, a car accident left the pastor in dire financial straits – I would hope the church would move to support the pastor, not defrock him.

What about his marriage?

The qualification of marital fidelity – that a pastor must be a “one-woman man” – requires more than just the absence of sexual uncleanness.  While this qualification includes negative prohibitions, the point of the qualification is that he must be devoted to his wife.  That is, he must treat his wife with dignity and respect and must love his wife as Christ loved the church, sacrificially giving himself for her.  His marriage must be exemplary, both in public and in private.

Continue reading “Some Final Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor”

More Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor

The list of pastoral qualifications is relatively broad – I believe intentionally.  God wants His churches to be discerning.  For this reason, it is not always possible to identify a strict point at which a pastor would be disqualified based on these standards.  For example, I have no idea when a pastor would be disqualified based on how he practices hospitality (a practice that both Timothy and Titus require).  If the pastor is sometimes reluctant to open his home to guests, is he therefore disqualified?  He isn’t a “lover of hospitality.”  Should the church have a minimum requirement for their pastor, how often he must invite guests to his home?  If the deacons haven’t had dinner at his house in a couple of years, is that grounds for removal?  Hardly. 

Similarly, Titus says that the pastor must not be “self-willed” or “soon angry.”  I know many pastors who would be in serious trouble if their church strictly applied these qualifications.  Their entire ministry is marked by self-will.  They are hot-headed bullies.  These qualifications count every bit as much as the requirement that a pastor be “blameless.” Yet, pastors and churches regularly overlook or ignore these standards.  At what point should a hot-tempered pastor be sacked? That answer may not be so immediately apparent. 

For most of these qualifications, it would be impossible to lay down a minimal standard that a pastor must meet to avoid disqualification.  Again, I believe this to be a design feature of the qualifications.  God didn’t give these lists so we could defrock the pastor.  The list provides a standard that every pastor should strive to meet.  They give the church a benchmark to look for in a pastor.  But God made these qualifications sufficiently broad, leaving room for interpretation.

Two or three of these specific qualifications are relatively straightforward, and grounds for removal would at least be identifiable.  On the negative side, a pastor must not be a “striker” or a “brawler,” he must not be “greedy of filthy lucre,” and he must not be “given to wine.”  On the positive side, he must be “the husband of one wife;” he must “rule well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;” “he must have a good report of them which are without” (all taken from Timothy’s list). 

I intend to discuss a minimal requirement that, if not met, should result in removal.  Not to repeat everything I have said, but individual churches would determine when and how to enforce these standards.  Nor should a church consider these as minimal standards for a pastoral candidate.  A pastor should strive for the highest quality in his everyday life based on Scriptural standards.  What I am discussing here is the minimum expectation which, if not met, should result in the removal of the pastor.  

For the sake of organization, we will consider the negative qualifiers in this post, then consider the positive qualifiers later.  Negatively, a pastor must not be a striker or a brawler, he must not be “money greedy,” and he must not be given to wine. 

What about the pastor’s temper?

Let me preface what I have to say here with a word about the effeminacy of our age.  America has a pandemic of effeminate pastors.  If a backboned man leads your church, then you know that from time to time, he will get a little hot.  Inasmuch as his wrath is motivated by the purity of the church and the honor of God, a church should be grateful that they have such a pastor.

Continue reading “More Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor”

Some Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor

I find it interesting that the Bible never gives a single instance when a sitting pastor was defrocked.  I suppose there could be several explanations for this odd phenomenon.  Perhaps the pastors of that time were cut from a different cloth than pastors in our day.  It could be that there were no pastors who disqualified themselves, and thus nothing to reveal.  Or perhaps, the writers of the New Testament simply chose to ignore specific cases that called for the dismissal of a pastor.

To be clear, we are not arguing that the New Testament has nothing to say about the discipline of a pastor. Paul gave clear instructions for handling such a case. 

Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; (I Timothy 5:1)

Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. (I Timothy 5:19-20)

These verses indicate the possibility that there will be accusations against elders.  Anticipating this, Paul gives direct instruction on how to handle it.  Consider then what we have here.  Paul acknowledges that there may be accusations against an elder.  He admits that the pastor may in fact be in the wrong.  Yet, he does not provide a single example of the dismissal of the pastor.  Are we to take this to mean that no pastor disqualifief himself in the New Testament?

To be honest, I can’t say.  I believe that a pastor can disqualify himself from pastoral ministry, of course.  But the Scriptural emphasis is on the qualifications, not the disqualifications. The point of the qualification passages (I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9)  is not so we will know when to give the pastor the sack.  Paul gives the qualifiers; we imply from his list the disqualifiers.

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With this in mind, we should consider at what point violation of the qualifications of a pastor would require the removal of the pastor.  I have observed that many make assumptions about the point of disqualification, but more than a few of these assumptions are extra-biblical, informed more by tradition than Scripture.  In my mind, an even bigger problem comes from the uneven way these qualifications are applied.      

That said, here are a few points to consider.

Continue reading “Some Thoughts on Defrocking the Pastor”

What God Is Doing in Utah

God has been doing some exciting things in Utah, and I thought I would take a few moments to pass along the good news.  Currently, Utah is one of about five states that are experiencing an explosion of population growth.  Despite the high cost of building, contractors in Utah cannot keep up with the growing demand for housing.  Whereas in other states, real estate may be experiencing a bubble effect, in Utah there is a genuine housing shortage, leading to a massive explosion in housing prices.

Meanwhile, and at the same time as this population explosion, the LDS church is quickly becoming mired down in the tensions caused by our country’s social lunacy.  Many in our state wonder what course the LDS church will take in the immediate future, as there is such a strong push from so many members of the church to embrace a more tolerant and progressive state. 

Continue reading “What God Is Doing in Utah”