Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Relocating Blog

I am switching blog hosts, you can check out my new blog at jclayjacobson.com.

In Jesus' Name and for His glory,

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tradition, Innovation, and Renovation

   It seems that the trend for the last couple of decades has been for churches to try and chase culture. Every minister has felt the pressure to be on the cutting edge. There are the latest strategies, newest outreach techniques, and the most "relevant" modes of ministry. The pull of innovation and chasing original ideas can be taxing. At the same time, many ministers have also felt the pull of tradition. Congregants and leadership cling to old practices and non-essentials simply because "this is the way we have always done things." These sacred cows become an obstacle and a source of divisiveness. More often than not one of these tensions wins and there is little compromise. There is both a place for innovation and tradition within ministry. Innovation allows the church to clearly communicate the gospel to current culture. Tradition establishes clear boundaries so that we are not carried off by the culture and begin to compromise the essentials of the faith as outlined in Scripture.

  My wife watches a show, "Rehab Addict." It is about this lady who restores old homes. She has a great appreciation for the care, quality construction, and history that has gone into these houses. Where ever possible she tries to reclaim, re-purpose, and restore these homes bringing them into the modern area without losing their rich history. The thought hit me the other day that this is a good philosophical approach to have in ministering to an established church. Most established churches in our country are in decline and are in serious need of revitalization. A good philosophy to have going in is one of a renovation. In a renovation of this sort we must restore, reclaim, re-purpose, place and remove (I sincerely apologize for the alliteration).

Restore- Restoration requires a love and appreciate for what something was and is. The heart beat of any pastor should be a love for not only possibilities of what might be, our what we think it should be, but loving a church for the things that it already is. It is easier to fault a church for what it is not, instead of loving what Christ has already built. No church is perfect. But if we truly believe that it is Christ who builds the church (Matt. 16:18), then we must appreciate the work that He has already accomplished before we seek Him to further His work through us.

Reclaim- This approach recognizes that we do not have to reinvent the wheel. There are many great practices, disciplines, and ministry approaches that have been utilized through the rich history of the universal church. For one reason or another some practices that were great tools or biblically mandated means of ministry have fallen out use. By reclaiming we can connect a local church to older traditions and richer history. In doing so, a church can see themselves as part of a larger plan God has designed through the ages to create for Himself a people. There are more faithful and more intelligent men who have walked before us who provide us with a treasure trove of resources, if we are humble enough to read and learn.

Re-purpose- Somethings that a church does may not be necessarily bad, just misapplied, unfocused, ineffectively carried out, or poorly executed. They don't know why they do a particular thing, but are set on doing it. Sometimes the best approach to take is to reteach the purpose of a particular practice or program, retrain, and tweak it so that it now operates efficiently, with a level of excellence, and with a clear since of mission and purpose.

Replace- There are other situations where things simply need to be replaced with an updated model or strategy. The old one is outdated that it is no longer accomplishing what it was designed to do. The key is determining whether or not the original need for which this was implemented still exists. If so and it is too far gone to be re-purposed, then it needs to be replaced.

Remove- There are situations where certain programs, practices, values, and convictions must be thrown out. Sometimes this is because the church has moved away from Scripture and there are now things that are done or held in contrary to Scripture. Other times the program or practice is rooted in a particular bygone era and no longer serves its original purpose. The need for a particular practice may no longer exist. This approach must only be done with love after reviewing the remaining approaches and finding no other alternative.

Hope this may helpful.

In His name and for His glory,

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

An Open Letter for Unity in the SBC by a Young, Restless, and Reformed Minister

An Open Letter for Unity in the SBC
by a Young, Reformed, and Restless Minister

    There has been much buzz in the virtual world concerning the newest confessional document promoted by my non-Calvinist brothers. There have been many great responses to this document. Some were rightly cautioning fellow Calvinists (Reformed) to be respectful and gracious such as this response here. Whether you agree with this document or its criticisms, I believe we must strive for greater unity within our denomination despite our differences. Regardless of our disagreements, we have much common ground.
     I am well aware that there are resources available for many within our convention to obtain an understanding about us Young, Restless and Reformed. Unfortunately, there is still much confusion concerning who we are and what we desire within the Southern Baptist Convention. There are 5 things that every non-Calvinist should know about us and 5 suggestions to my fellow Young, Restless and Reformed brethren to keep in mind in order to work towards unity within our denomination. Yes, they are grouped in five points... typical Calvinist.

5 Things Every Non-Calvinist Should Know about the Young, Restless, and Reformed in the SBC

1. We are committed to the inerrancy of Scripture. 
      We are the product of a biblical renaissance. Many of us have come to our convictions not through reading John Calvin, but by submitting to the authority of Scripture and allowing it to shape our thinking rather than the reverse. Many of us within SBC circles have done this in institutional environments (mine was Southwestern) that stress the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. I am grateful to the leaders within our convention who worked faithfully to promote the authority and inerrancy of the Word of God. This foundation has created a commitment among young aspiring ministers to seek out strong exegetical preaching and do likewise. We love the Bible and seek to have a biblical theology and worldview, not to adopt some flawed man's system.

2. We are committed to evangelism.
     Please do not let a stereotypical understanding of our theology color your view of what we believe. It is not the theology of Calvinism that leads to the decline of missions. One could use the same argument of trajectory in the history of Calvinism and apply it to the history of Arminian theology. It would produce the same end result. Over time many within the Arminian tradition turned towards universalism. Whether you are an Arminian, a Calvinist, or something in between, what undermines missions is a low view of the gospel and of the Bible. Sin is the underlying problem, not the doctrine of election. Calvinism rightly understood always leads toward evangelism and missions. Non-Calvinists brothers, we stand beside you in your commitment to evangelism and missions. Though you may disagree with Calvinism, please strive to understand its theology from its own proponents rather than its caricature before you question its commitment to evangelism.

3. We are not an organized movement.
     Those who are Young, Restless and Reformed are not like our parent's or our grandparent's generation. For good or for ill we are post-modern. We are not doggedly committed to any institution or organization. We are passionate about ideals and truth. Yes, there are organizations like Desiring God, Acts29, Together For the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, and The Founders Ministry with which many of us affiliate with for the sake of camaraderie, while remaining in the SBC. Not one of these organizations or the individuals within them speak for us as a whole and it is a mistake to assume otherwise. This is a grassroots movement that is larger than our own denomination. It does not originate with a particular person or ministry. We like to network, not organize with aspirations for some kind of takeover. Our cause is Christ, not denominationalism. While our denominational distinctives are important to us, they are not primary. We are looking to a place to belong where we are made to feel welcome. We desire a place where we can unite around a common cause, "the proclamation of Christ crucified." Community is a high priority for young people today. Though the discussion taking place in our convention is not intended to create disunity, the tone of the conversation should be guarded with love. As is typical of our generation, we are not going to fight for place in an organization. We vote with our feet. If made to feel unwelcome we will simply leave quietly and find somewhere else where we are welcome. This is not a threat but a generational characteristic (for good or bad) that should be understood by our elders.

4. We are not the enemy (a.k.a. the next threat on the horizon for the SBC).
       We are not the next big threat to the Southern Baptist Convention. Our theology, rightly understood, does not undermine evangelism and missions. If there are those who misunderstand it and try to use it to excuse their abandonment of evangelism and missions, we would stand with our non-Calvinist brothers in rejecting, rebuking, and correcting such unbiblical thinking. To consider our movement as the next big threat is a dire mistake. Right now there are other movements outside and inside our denomination threatening to undermine our commitment to biblical truths that Calvinist and non-Calvinist hold in common. The social gospel, after a century of slumber, has now resurfaced in popularity to threaten the definition of the gospel, evangelism, and missions. Arm-in-arm with this movement, a post-modern liberalism is growing in its influence on young people within evangelical churches. Both were birthed from pragmatism which reduced the Scriptures to a self-help book replacing its message of the Good News with "good advice." This post-modern liberalism and social gospel are a reaction to this pragmatism. They seek to find something meaningful and bigger than ourselves in the church and in Scripture, but they do so through Gnostic means. This liberalism teaches people to look inward at their experiences and trust their intuition even if it is contrary to what is clearly taught in Scripture. The social gospel appeals to those who have rejected their parents' faith which they saw as hypocritical. They seek to do something to change the world instead of just talking about it. These movements value action, but devalue biblical doctrine. Then there is the insider movement which, in my opinion, is beginning to threaten a biblical view of cross-cultural missions within our own denomination. On top of all of this, our society has increasingly become hostile to our social views and who knows how long they will tolerate our rejection of their values. There are so many threats to a biblical, gospel-centered, mission focused Christianity. Please do not cut off your nose to spite yourself. We need you, non-Calvinist to stand beside us in defense of the gospel and we wish to stand beside you. 

5. Some are defensive (a.k.a. "angry Calvinist"). Please take the time to know why.
     We are young men. Young men are easily moved towards anger. In time, as the Spirit through the Word transforms our heart and attitudes, we will grow in patience, love, and grace. I pray that I am not seen as an angry Calvinist. To be fair many are frustrated, upset, defensive, and... well... angry. I have been there. Not that it is right by any means, but our elder non-Calvinists should take time to understand why. At the same time, these young men need to learn to be gracious and loving in their response to critics. They need to realize that most non-Calvinist are not speaking out of combative and dishonest motives. I think clearer and more loving communication on both sides of the issue would go a long way towards unity. If we all would assume the best intentions and motives of our brothers with whom we disagree, then we could talk civilly with one another and accomplish more together despite our differences. Please be gracious to us as we encourage our brothers to do likewise. We love the church, the Word, and the gospel. If we can agree on the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, we can work together.

5 Suggestions to my fellow Young, Restless, and Reformed in the SBC
1. Have integrity concerning where you are theologically.
      It is in vogue to refuse to wear labels. This sounds humble but is actually quite arrogant. If you hold to something, embrace the term that describes the theology to which you hold. Please don't present yourself as above wearing a label.  I can also understand the reluctance to out yourself as a Calvinist not out of cowardice or intentional deceitfulness, but a desire to focus on the common cause we have as Baptist. I have been there and have done this. I must say that if you are looking for a place to serve in ministry it is better to be upfront about your theology. Many churches don't have a clue what you even mean if you said you were Calvinist, so look at it as an opportunity to teach. If the church or lead pastor will not hire you because of your theology, then you would not be satisfied serving there anyway. I am not encouraging Calvinist to wear their theology on their sleeve or to carry the banner of Calvinism higher or as high as their banner for Christ. I am advocating that we are honest and open about where we are theologically. If you get push back, then see it as an opportunity to demonstrate grace in the same manner Christ has shown you grace and to grow in winsome, loving polemics.

2. Be grace filled in your dialogue with non-Calvinists.
    Do not play into the stereotype of the angry Calvinist. If you understand that you were effectually called by God because of no merit of your own, let it humble you. The Doctrines of Grace should move you, as the Spirit drives these biblical realities into your heart, to be gracious with those you disagree with. Let the love of Christ and your love for fellow believers guard your speech, attitude, and actions. Repent and seek to restore relationships with those you have alienated intentionally or unintentionally. Our ministry is one of reconciliation seeing men reconciled to God and in doing so seeing men reconcile with one another. We ought to be about reconciling with our brothers in Christ, especially those with whom we have a common ground in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

3. Please do not throw the baby out with the bath water.
   Just because some folks in the SBC are not with you theologically, it does not mean that they have nothing to offer your ministry. Allow non-Calvinist pastors and leaders to speak wisdom into your life and ministry. Of course  you are going to filter certain theological differences, but realize that there are men who have lived longer and served faithfully in ministry longer than you have been alive. These men do have wisdom to impart to us and we owe men like these our respect. Build relationships with men who are non-Calvinist in ministry. Find ways to work together in missions and evangelism with these pastors.

4. Receive criticism well.
     There will always be those who will throw stones. Sometimes criticism is unfounded. More often than not there is a kernel of truth we can take away from criticism to repent of, to guard ourselves against, and to refine our communication. There have been several instances where I found that people had not rejected Calvinism because of its doctrine but because of the attitude of the Calvinist they had meet. I was able to lovingly approach these folks and have a hearing because their criticisms of Calvinists reminded me to watch my words and attitude closely. Some of these very people who were turned off to Calvinism because of Calvinist they had met are now Calvinist today. Others are not but at least they have a proper understanding of Calvinism and respect it despite their difference of theology. Many of the best argued biblical criticisms of Calvinism forced me to reexamine Scripture and re-access my convictions making be more confident in what the Bible teaches. The key in receiving criticism well is not taking it personally. Your identity is not in your theological system, but in Jesus Christ who died for you.

5. Continue in your commitment to evangelism and missions.
     Many non-Calvinist do not travel in our circles. They are not aware of the huge church planting push that has sprung up among our ranks. We must continue to preach the gospel and make disciples locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. The only thing that will silence the criticism of our theology in its regards to missions is action. Honestly, even then there will still be those who refuse to acknowledge reality and will continue to criticize. We must be faithful with what has been entrusted unto us, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This movement is not going away anytime soon. Do not get pulled into the "us" verses "them" mentality. We are one in Christ and our mission as the body of Christ is the same. As long as I am permitted to do so, I want to be united with my fellow SBC churches in supporting the International Mission Board and The North American Mission Board towards the goal of making disciples among every tribe, tongue, and nation. Please continue to do likewise.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Delightful Holiness

I have been trying to work through 1 John in my devotional reading.  Though simplistic in its wording, it is a difficult book to follow the flow of thought. One verse has hung in my mind since I started reading it. "and we are writing these things that our joy may be complete (1:4)."

Over the past week, through various sources, it has become apparent to me that holy living is not the burden that many have made it out to be. Is it an obligation? Yes. Do you or I actually fulfill this obligation ever? No. No matter how hard we try, no matter what methodologies we implement you and I can never be holy of our own efforts.

This is the oddity of the Christian life. We have an impossible standard that we are to recognize fully as such, because it constantly reminds us that only Jesus has done this perfectly. The impossible standard is there to break us and force us to admit we are mess-ups. It forces us to remind ourselves daily that Jesus has given us His perfect holiness. He alone has fulfilled this perfect standard.

When we gratefully wear the robes of Jesus' perfect righteousness, rather than trying to spruce up our own tattered garments, we are dressed to enjoy and delight in holy living. Christ's commands to love others more than ourselves is no longer a burdensome task that leaves us feeling guilty every time we consider our failure to do so. When we are wearing Jesus' perfect love for others instead of trying to muster our own, we are freed to love others because it is not about ME. Otherwise, in trying to love others more than ourselves we still manage to make it all about ourselves.

We must be forced to recognize at every moment of every day that we are inept. In our strength, we can only flail about, clumsily bumbling through life. Jesus' perfect life is our own. His perfection has replaced our imperfection. The standard has already been met. Now we must become what we already are in God's eyes. We must die to our own self-improvement attitudes and die to ourselves, living to Christ. We strive for holy living because it is our delight to do so, not because it is a list of tasks we must fulfill. This is one of the most freeing and refreshing truths a Christian can grasp. I am not sure that I have communicated it well enough to be understood rightly.

The "Christian" self-help mentality is destructive to Christian living. It will either crush you, because you realize you just can't live up to this holy standard (even when the Spirit is presented as a power source), or you will follow whatever steps prescribed, because you are a rule follower, becoming prideful and arrogant. Holy living is only possible in the realization that Jesus alone has done so on our behalf. Now we live for Him in the way that He lived because we are delighted to do it and Jesus is our delight.

So much for clearly laying this all out. It is a big idea that I am struggling to put into my own words, though I am fully aware that many other men have said exactly the same thing with far more precision. John wrote this letter, 1 John, not out of a duty to this church, but because it brought him joy. May we serve the Lord in gladness!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Boring Faith

Countless people I know are bored with their faith. It seems old, tired  and pointless. I would like to point out that a bored faith = and absence of faith. The Christian/biblical concept of faith is the idea that one is placing their trust in  a person, a living person, Jesus. It is NOT belief-ism, believing for the sake of belief, a.k.a. blind faith.

Bored faith (at its best) exists because people have an intellectual grasp of what they believe, but have no personal relationship with the person of Jesus. Bored faith sees Jesus as a rock (thanks Jeremy Kingsley). Bored faith treats Jesus as if He is an inanimate object, not as a living person. Bored faith is rooted in the misconception that it fully understands Jesus and Christianity. It fails to see Jesus' infinite value. It fails to understand, or fails in the motivation to grow in understanding to see why Jesus is worth centering one's entire life around Him. A bored faith lies in a lack of love for the Lord, Jesus Christ, because it fails to see Jesus' love.

This is a failure to grasp what He submitted himself to for the sake of His people. It is lacking sight to see what He endured willingly out of love. Boring faith goes on endlessly about what a person should be doing in their life, but never consistently revisits what God has done in Christ for the believer. The truth is we live in light of Jesus' perfection given to us, not out of the obligation of obtaining our own.

Living, genuine, biblical faith thrives in the shadow of the cross and what took place there. It does not move beyond it. Churches are dead, people's spiritual lives are dead not because they are stuck in a bygone era! They are dead because deadness is symptomatic of a failure to passionately cherish Jesus as their greatest joy, thus intentionally existing to glorify God. They are dead because they do not worship (rightly attributing to Jesus His value) in all aspects of their church community which include daily spiritual disciplines, the work week, in the individual homes, in the prayer services, in the Sunday services, and in their programmatic ministries. In everything that a person/church is Christ must be treasured more than anything else. This is vibrant, exciting, and life-changing faith.

I certainly cannot say that I always attribute to Christ His rightful due in a life of daily worship. I have not arrived at some place, which others must be pulled up to. I am an average Christian fighting to keep my faith from going stale. What I know above all else that which prevents my faith from going stale is drinking deeply of Jesus character, person, work in His life death, and resurrection, and His continuing work through the Spirit in my life as I open the Bible. I do not have the silver bullet for to remedy all symptoms for a boring faith, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the heart of a boring faith can only be changed by glorying in, celebrating in, finding our greatest joy in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross, a.k.a. the gospel. Has your faith gone stale?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Palatable Jesus

Conservatives are really good at pointing outside of themselves to liberal theologians and mainline denominations. We are quick to underline the areas they have departed from orthodox biblical faith, but we fail to realize where we have practically done the same. While we might intellectually hold the Bible as our authoritative source of truth, we live as though these truths don't matter. This is why conservative churches are dying in the same manner liberal churches have already declined. We are self-professing conservatives, but by becoming result-oriented we have become liberals in practice.

How can I say this? Conservative, Bible believing evangelicals are just as guilty as liberals of reshaping Jesus into our own image. It is just a different image. The conservative version of Jesus is a Messiah who doesn't have a problem confronting sin. He calls people to holy living. He died to convert people. All of these are not necessarily wrong, just not complete. Our problem is that we have made Jesus so familiar to our conservative sensibilities that He doesn't inspire our hearts towards worship. We forget that the cross saves us, but also confront us with our own ugly sin forcing us to lean totally on Jesus' perfection. We cannot please God on our own strength. We forget that on our best day, the day we witnessed, read our Bible, had our quiet time, fasted etc., on that day our works are dung in the sight of our holy God. We often teach salvation by faith, but teach becoming a mature Christian (sanctification) by step-by-step instructions trusting in a can-do attitude. See all our Christian self-help/church growth sections in our bookstores.

How often do our congregations become so moved by the majesty, power, and glory of Jesus that it falls on its face in the presence of the King. I do not mean a coerced, feelings-oriented manipulation of people, but a realization of the reality of Christ's majesty. Worship is making much of something/someone. Does your congregation make much of Jesus in worship? Or has Jesus become so familiar and common among us, that we are deceived to seek other focuses that make members excited and thrilled? How can we call people to give up everything to submit to a Savior that we find boring?

I am guilty of making Jesus palatable to my tastes. Conservatives and liberals are guilty of this. Rule followers (typically conservatives) make Jesus to be a pharisee. Rebels (typically liberals) make Jesus to be a rebel. Even post-moderns (folks that don't want to wear a label) reshape Jesus. They don't want Jesus put in a box. He is made so big that He almost cannot be known. The truth is that Jesus is more righteous than any Pharisee and more of a rebel than any boat rocker in today's society. We can know who He is because He has revealed everything we need to know about Himself in Scripture. The problem with all camps is that when we make Jesus out to be like us our faith is not about Jesus, but about ME. When churches do this their focus shifts from the author and perfecter of their faith, to placating the membership. Scripture clearly reveals everything we need to know about Jesus, and testifies that your and my life should be about Him. He is really that important.

Unless conservative, Bible believing evangelicals (even reformed churches) realize that their faith, their lives, their churches are not about us, but ought to be about Christ, we will find ourselves on life support just like the mainline denominations are. Who is worshiped in your church, Jesus or you? Has Jesus been made palatable in your church or in your own life so that He does not move your heart to praise Him? Lord, Jesus forgive us (myself most of all) for making too much of ourselves, and too little of You.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Greater than Death

"The benefactors, those who are given unending, undeserved goodness and unmerited perfection, in Jesus are (and will be) more powerful in life than death itself, which has had power over mankind through Adam." This is my understanding of Rom. 5:17. The result of Jesus' person and work is far greater in its accomplishments than the results of Adam's sin on mankind and creation. This is a phenomenal concept with radical implications. This claim is extraordinary.

Sin damned the race of men. It ravaged a perfect world. Sin crowned as king an alien, destructive enemy of mankind, death, to war against life. Death was given power like none other. It reigns over kings, emperors, dictators, and generals. Excepting Christ, none has mastered this 'master of the world.' It brings the great and powerful low, placing great and small on the same plain before its dark throne. Death reminds us that we are a broken and weak race. Its long terrible arm is inescapable.

And God subjected creation and mankind to this ruler, knowing that He would place himself under its power to restore that which had been broken. He tasted the pitiless, uncaring power of death in order to disarm its power and replace it with a greater power, a power He gives to all that love and trust in His finished work on the cross. He gives us greater gifts, than the ones that were robbed from us by sin. What we lost, we lost so that we could receive that which is greater. What we experience in this life because of sin in the world, we go through in order to glory in the good gifts we have received in Christ. The greatest of these gifts being Himself. Our reign, our rule with Christ begins in this life and is brought into fullness and completeness in the next. We can, each moment of every day, experience the power and fullness of God in this life that is greater in its power than death's own tyranny. Our good gifts are abundant grace and the perfection of Jesus given to us freely in the person of Jesus.

Drink deeply of the concept of abundant grace! Grace is the idea that goodness in being shown to those whom do not deserve it. That's you and me. The term "abundant grace" used in Rom. 5:17 communicates that there is such an abundance of God's goodness shown to you in His Son, Jesus, you will never be able to exhaust this eternal source of grace. You and I can drink our fill beginning in this life and spanning all of eternity. Grace implies that you and I will never deserve it, but regardless it will be shown to those of us who are in Jesus. This means that as Christians we never wear out our welcome with God. We are not required to clean ourselves to receive God's favor, instead we clean ourselves up because of God's favor already has been shown to us. We are simply becoming what God has already made us in His Son. Our appetites will never be ambitious nor ravenous enough to indulge ourselves past what is freely available in Jesus. We may daily drink deeply filling ourselves with the beauty and majesty of God revealed in face of Jesus Christ until we are saturated to our core, yet there in an infinite surplus remaining for us.

The goodness shown in Christ which is unending and undeserved is more powerful than the sin which unqualifies and brings death. Whether we embrace this or not, we Christians are kings and queens of the earth in Christ. We get to experience the power and fullness of life which is greater than what death can steal, because it cannot be stolen by death. Christ has accomplished more than what Adam lost for humanity. If we lose everything in this life but still have Christ, we still have everything.

May your life's ambition be summed up in these words that you might reign in this life:
"It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed but that with full courage now, as always, Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death (Phil. 1:20)."