Monday, April 29, 2013

Book Review - Jesus is His Name

In a culture that is quickly forgetting its rich Christian heritage, Rev. Drzymala writes an easy to read yet comprehensive book explaining who Jesus is. Entitled, Jesus Is His Name, the book starts with various Christophonies in the Old Testament and then moves through the life of Christ as recorded in the four New Testament Gospels. The book helps readers understand who Jesus is from the biblical perspective.

When I recently asked Rev. Drzymala why he wrote this book, he said, "I decided to write the book simply to point people to the person and work of Jesus Christ." He goes on to say "the main point of this book is that Jesus and Jesus alone can save us from our sins."

That kind of exclusiveness is not popular in our postmodern culture. Rev. Drzymala points out that though some modern scholars want to debate the historical Jesus by suggesting that the biblical account is inaccurate, but he refutes that using numerous scriptures. The book then jumps to the end of the New Testament to discuss the return of Christ as predicted in the book of Revelation. Unlike many discussions of the Revelation, Rev. Drzymala does not get into time lines and charts; instead he focuses on who Jesus is throughout that last book of the Bible. Finally, the book closes with an invitation for readers to make a personal commitment to following Christ. Though some readers may be taken aback by such an invitation in book form, what else would one expect from an author who describes himself as "an old fashion Baptist preacher?"

Rev. Drzymala told me in our interview that he was "hoping that unsaved will read the book and find Christ, and that new believers will read it and grow in their faith in Christ." He believes that his "readers will learn more about Jesus and who he is and what His plans are in the future regarding as His return." The book does a great job of dealing with those issues, so I join him in that hope.

I asked Rev. Drzymala if he could add another chapter to the book, what would it be? He replied, "If I added another chapter it would be titled "How will you respond to Jesus?" and would include all the different ways people respond to the Gospel." At the moment, Rev. Drzymala does not plan on writing additional books, but he also adds, "unless the LORD leads me too."

Copies of the book can be purchased at this link:

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Processing the Boston Marathon Bombing - Guest Post by Bruce James

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I’ve lived in New England since 1998 and I have to admit New Englanders are a tough, hardy people.  There’s a certain pride that comes from living in this area.  There is a heritage of independence, a respect for higher education, diversity, and free thinkers not to mention some of the best sports teams in the world. Work hard, better the community, play by the rules, do what you want but do no harm seems to be the general rule.   When bad things happen,  like the shooting in Sandy Hook, CT, and the bombing at the Boston Marathon, folks come together to help each other through the difficult days.  Resilient?  Yes.  And you can count on it that, in response to these tragedies, there will be many hours invested in making things safer and better so in the future the traditions we love will be preserved and the community will remain.
The search for the bombing suspects kept us riveted to the news for days.  An unprecedented city lockdown, a massive manhunt, and the take down and capture of the suspects were epic and the responses from the crowds were naturally those of thanksgiving and relief.   Now Bostonians could lay their loved ones to rest and bring healing to the wounded and grieving.    The day after the arrest, one person interviewed borrowed an insightful line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, “This morning brings a gloomy peace.”
You have to admit that it is “gloomy” and I’m sure we will move on quickly…but not too quickly.  We will get tired of the talking heads and political wrangling.  We will tire of the constant reminders and get back to the better things of life and the dream of peace.  If only these conflicts of life could be limited to the playing field of Fenway or the basketball court of the TD Fleet Center we could all manage them better.
So where does the gospel fit into all of this?    We may want to consider first that there is no story without conflict.  Try as we will, life will never be a place without conflict.  As long as there are humans, you can count on us to hurt and maim one another.   That in itself is a “gloomy” fact.  Both man and nature were jettisoned into chaos when Adam pulled the sin trigger in the Garden of Eden--Act I of the prototype of all stories.  Paradise was overshadowed by darkness, as was that sunshiny day on Boylston Street.   Lives were indelibly marked on both days. Evil slithered away, cowards ran, and heroes rose.  In every great story someone rises to meet the challenge and to confront the chaos caused by evil. In the gospel God sends a Savior--Act II--who confronts and defeats sin by giving His life.  
I love the story of the Forum Restaurant’s staff, located at the epicenter of one of the blasts, who quickly began to assist those maimed by the bomb.  In an interview one of them said, “We were at the wrong place at the wrong time but we did the right thing.”  As believers we may look around our world and say it’s all wrong, it’s not the right time,  but let us by God’s grace do the right thing. Cowards run but heroes arise.  Another classic line I heard regarding how parents can talk to their children about tragedies came from our old friend Fred Rogers, whose video went viral this week as he quoted his mother’s advice, “When bad things happen, look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.”
As we look for closure, it’s a whimsical dream to think there will ever be a time in this life where there will be no evil, no death, sorrow or pain.  Try as we may in this life there is no return to Eden.  But there is the promise. We need to remember the story is not over and the conflict has yet to play itself outFew of us find joy in the battles of life, but in these days while our faith is tested and our characters purged let us remember the promise.  Remember the selfless acts of bravery by those created in the image of God bearing his image as they do the right thing.   As Christ arose victorious over the grave, he left us the promise that in the Father’s time He will bring us into the final act and that glorious day of restoration--Act Three.   In that day when peace is restored and mankind is brought into the fullness for which it was created, there will be no end to the celebration of the Savior, for in that day “the gloom” will be no more.
Bruce James serves as the Evangelism Director for the Baptist Convention of New England, a network of over 300 churches working together to share the love of Christ in their region.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Our Changing Culture and the Ever Present Need for Jesus

I almost missed seeing it as I set the newspaper aside. But something about the picture caught my eye. I picked the paper up and looked at the picture again of the couple that was embracing and realized it was a same sex couple. The article was about love and family and I realized that the editor has chosen a picture of a same sex couple to illustrate the article. It was not an article about same sex marriage, the article did not address that issue at all. It was just a stock picture that was chosen to go with the story.

Twenty years ago, such a picture would have never have been published. Ten years ago, depending on the newspaper, it might have been published in an article about same sex marriage. Even two years ago such a picture would have produced a flurry of letters to the editor, both pro and con. But now, in our rapidly changing culture, it was just a stock picture in a mundane article that did not appear to stir up controversy at all.

Regardless of where a person stands on that particular issue, we can all agree that our culture is changing. Pick about any topic or issue, and it seems that the public opinion is drifting to the left. Things that only twenty years ago would have been unthinkable have no become so common that we almost miss noticing them when they show up in daily life.

How should churches engage such a changing culture?

Some churches have chosen to adopt the culture as their own. Such churches jumped in with both feet and happily accepted the culture's view on such things. They assumed it would swell their ranks with left leaning parishioners. That did not happen. The majority of liberal churches remain in steep decline. Tony Robinson, president of Congregational Leadership Northwest, speaks and writes, nationally and internationally, on religious life and leadership. He concluded:  It may be that relatively comfortable liberals … simply feel little need for religion.

Other churches have adopted more of a fortress mentality. They have withdrawn from public life and huddle in their basement hoping the world will just leave them alone. Recently I had a conversation with the leader of a major fundamentalist religious organization that has taken often this approach. He lamented, "We once had 50,000 people at our events, now we consider 20,000 to be a good year." The fortress mentality is clearly not working either.

Churches that want to remain vibrant must look for ways to engage the culture, without adopting it. Though there may be many ways to do that, it seems that the best way is to focus on the life changing Gospel. When we focus on passing legislation for the community as a whole, or internal regulations for the organizations we serve, we miss the point. The human heart is sinful. It will remain sinful regardless of what the law or the rule book says. The only thing that can change the human heart is the Gospel. As we lift up Jesus and expose men and women, boys and girls, to the Gospel of Christ, they are drawn to Him. As His Spirit enters them, they are transformed. That transformation is far more powerful than all the rules and laws.

It is time to emerge from our holy huddles in the church basement and start engaging our friends and family with the Gospel. Let's talk about Jesus. Let's sing about Jesus. Let's replace those political bumper sticker with ones about Jesus. Let's pack up our t-shirts promoting sports teams and musical groups and start wearing ones that talk about Jesus. It may be counter-cultural, but let's make faith once more about Jesus and just see what happens.

To learn more about how churches can engage the culture, read Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Five Steps for Helping Small Churches Reach a Changing Culture

A seminar presented by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett

For generations small churches have cared for the spiritual needs of our nation. Small churches kept our nation focused on what was really important and our nation was stronger because of it. In the past 20 years our culture has changed and suddenly small churches are no longer having the impact they once had.

Stereotypical Small Communities:
 Everyone knows everyone and there are lots of connections through school, church, and community organizations. Many people are related by blood or marriage to a significant portion of the local population. Small communities often have low levels of racial diversity. Everyone knows the unofficial rules of how to get things done. Often more conservative politically than urban areas. More respectful of religion in general, though not everyone goes to church. Lower crime rate than urban areas. Often have a lower educational level than the national average.

Small communities are rapidly changing:
Though the small stereotypes can still be found, they are increasingly the minority culture. As well educated and politically active families have grown frustrated with urban life, they are increasingly moving to small towns and outlying areas. Sometimes native people who once lived in the area move back with new ideas they learned in the big city. With the advent of technology, people can now live anywhere and keep the same job they used to have to live in the city to get. But it is not just these “outsiders” who are changing the nature of small communities. That same technology has brought the ideas of the world to small communities. Teenagers from smaller communities can now be just as connected and up to date on music, clothing styles and ideological concepts as their urban counterparts. Adults are now being exposed to more progressive ideas and concepts than ever before and some of them are buying into these new ideas.

How Does This Impact Small Churches?
The influx of new people and ideas is rapidly transforming the mindset in most communities into a more postmodern way of thinking. Postmodernism is the idea that individuals have both the intelligence and the right to decide for themselves what truth is without any objective standards. Postmoderns decide what truth is based on individual experiences and relationships. They do not recognize absolute truth. However, many postmodern people are actually interested in learning about spirituality, they just want to do it on their own terms. To learn more about how to reach postmodern people, consider reading, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church.

Though we do not have to give up our biblical values to reach postmoderns, we may have to change some of our man-made traditions. Many churches will struggle with giving up their man-made traditions, but for the sake of the Kingdom, we must. The challenge will be in praying through what is a man-made tradition that we can let go of and what is a biblical mandate which we must retain no matter what.

Five Suggestions for How Small Churches Can Impact Changing Communities:
1. Embrace technology
2. Embrace bivocationalism and lay ministry
3. Embrace racial diversity
4. Use church buildings as much as possible
5. Get outside the walls of the church into the community

1. Embrace technology
Postmodern people are more “virtual” than ever before. That means they often socialize via technology more than in person. Churches must discover how to use Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, blogs, websites and other technological innovations. People no longer look in the “yellow pages.” Many people are less open to a home visit.

Embrace technology in public worship services without losing the sacred aspect of church. Invest in a projector and screen but also learn to light a candle and say the Lord’s Prayer or quote Psalm 23. Merging technology with ancient liturgy appeals to postmoderns, because they like to “experience” different things. This is particularly effective when we explain the meaning behind the rituals.
2. Embrace bivocationalism and lay ministry
Funding for small churches is going to be diminished in the future for a variety of reasons. Therefore, to have sustainable churches we must accept the reality of bivocational ministry and lay ministry. Most churches will not be able to afford multiple-staff members. Lay ministers are going to have to fill roles we used to pay people to fill. Churches that do not have high levels of commitment might not even be able to afford to pay their pastor a livable wage, therefore he may have to work another job in addition to the church. We may not like using lay ministers or having bivocational pastors, but it is a growing reality in many small churches.

The great challenge of bivocational ministry is burn out. The key to helping bivocational ministers avoid burn out is to help them learn the art of delegation. Pastormust train lay people to accept the duties that the pastor delegates to them. Consider the book, DevelopingLeadership Teams in the Bivocational Church
God NEVER intended for the pastor to do all the ministry on his own. Shared leadership is the biblical model –  Acts 13:1-3, 2 Timothy 2:1-2

3. Embrace racial diversity
Some churches may resist reaching out to people of other races, but this is essential, especially if we want to reach a younger audience. Do not misunderstand, there are places where “ethnic” churches are essential because of language barriers. But the “second generation” will not have those barriers.

4. Use church buildings as much as possible
Many buildings only get used two or three days a week. Is this  good stewardship of the facility? Many unchurched people see a church building as the place where weddings, funerals, family reunions, 50th anniversary receptions, Boy Scout troops, AA meetings, etc., are held. When a church lets the public use the building for such a things, the public begins to think of it as “their” church. Postmodern people want to “belong” before they “believe.” This does not mean they want to join the church organizationally, it means they want to feel a part of the group relationally. Providing a building and appropriate ceremonies for postmodern people to participate in is very important to helping them feel like they belong.

Make sure the building looks good from the road. Make sure the sign is easy to read and has the main service times and phone number prominently displayed. Most postmodern people do not care about the church’s denominational affiliation, or the pastor’s name, or highly religious descriptive phrases. That does not mean those things are not important, it just means they do not care.

5. Get outside the walls of the church into the community
Practice the faith outside the building that is preached inside through involvement in community organizations and activities that address community needs. Show Christian love through compassion ministries to the hungry, homeless and hurting. This is what postmodern people think Christians are supposed to do, so do it! Recover personal evangelism through sharing our own difficulties in life and how our faith gives us hope instead of just giving a religious sales pitch. Consider using Malachi: Finding Hope in the Midst of Adversity.

Work hard to let the community know anyone is welcome to attend any church services or activities regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof.

Small communities are changing rapidly and churches are going to have to adapt to those changes. Those adaptations include:
1. Embracing technology
2. Embracing bivocationalism and lay ministry
3. Embracing racial diversity
4. Using church buildings as much as possible
5. Getting outside the walls of the church into the community