GET REAL is the title of a book by John Leonard that will be the focus of a seminar coming to our church later in September (Friday night and Saturday morning, Sept 19 and 20). The book is about “evangelism”, but I have found it pointing to a very different understanding of what that means. He regularly punctures our stereotypical images, but then goes on to reconstruct a much more biblical and practical approach. For example, he begins one chapter with, “Friendship evangelism is not biblical!” (Ch. 6) but then goes on to explain what it means to be more than a friend in our relationships. There is a chapter entitled “Party Evangelism” that turns out to be a wonderful presentation of how our churches need to be places where our unbelieving friends can come, be welcomed, and join in the party. So whether or not we consider ourselves to have the “gift” of evangelism we can and should be part of a welcoming and partying church. “A partying church … has low walls. A partying church doesn’t talk about how evil everyone else is, but how bad we all are. … And you hear the call of the gospel offered to all.” (p. 62)
This week I (Steve Smallman) invite you to read a very thoughtful piece on profanity by my friend, Steve Bostrom. Steve served several pastorates before moving to Helena, Montana to be a witness to the local community. I think you will be very challenged by what he wrote in a column in his local paper.
Life is full, isn’t it? Often, in a good way. It’s good to work hard, it’s good to occupy your time and energy with family life, to volunteer hours in the community, to maintain the home God’s given you. But that leaves many of us sleep-deprived and a little the worse for wear. And here’s another side effect of our busy-ness: sometimes we have very little time or mental space to think, to have substantive conversations about important things, to study and consider. And in the absence of deliberate thought and study and dialogue, something happens that is not good: rather than working questions through, we simply absorb other people’s opinions as our own. Our culture shapes us in its own image, without our even being aware of it.
Greetings from sunny Florida (it actually rained all day yesterday, but compared to Philly weather I can’t complain). Once we settled in for a few weeks break, one of my first projects was to read Paul Miller’s latest book, A Loving Life-In a World of Broken Relationships. I confess I did this out of personal loyalty to Paul and appreciation for his ministry, but what I encountered was a powerful and penetrating study of love that affected me deeply. The love Paul writes about is what he calls hesed, which is a Hebrew word speaking of love that grows out of covenantal commitment and loyalty. Paul fills the book with practical and personal examples of the meaning of hesed in marriage situations and personal relationships, which would make the book valuable if that was as far as it went. But the prime example of a loving life is Ruth and her hesed love for her mother-in-law, Naomi, and it is the substantial Bible study of Ruth that lifts the book from excellent to exceptional.
You know that New Life Church is down a pastor or two these days. Some of you have expressed concern for me in our current shorthanded situation–I appreciate it. But I believe that, in God’s providence, the departure of leaders can be a very good opportunity for all of us who remain to grow in our understanding and practice of “doing church” together. This is potentially a good season of reminder to all of us that the church is not an institution but a body of people, and that these people are only infrequently celebrities or even extraordinarily gifted people. We’re mostly painfully ordinary, old and young and middle-aged like me, people with foibles and eccentricities, extroverts and introverts, those who have followed Jesus for fifty years and those who have followed him for six months. And when we talk about “the church” we don’t actually mean a few decision-makers in a smoke-filled room but rather, all of us. What the church does or doesn’t do is what we do or don’t do, individually and together.