It was the year of biggest transition since I have been here. Transitions can be stressful and divisive. But the grace of God has been at work to give us unity and gladness and hope in 1991. I stand back and marvel at the spirit of this church. I thank God for you all!
I thank God for Roger Fast and the building committee that he quietly and masterfully led. What a work they completed! They were like the Kingdom of God—quietly, unobtrusively, powerfully bringing new reality into being for the glory of Christ. It was the year we moved into the new sanctuary. What a gift! I love worshipping there with you. May the Truth and the Spirit never depart from it.
It was a year of transition in governance structure. The elders worked hard all year seeking God's design for ministry. A Ministry Manual is emerging that will provide for a good blend of stability and flexibility. A Vision Statement on Children and Children's Ministry was essentially completed and will, we hope, be presented to the church in February, 1992.
It was a year of new ventures in ministry. The Praise Procession on June 23 took our breath away. The staff devoted two hours a day in prayer for the week preceding that event. We sought the Lord for 600 brave souls to sing the praises of God through the streets of Elliot Park and Phillips neighborhoods. The amazed police told us the number was 1,000. There have been few moments in the life of our church more exhilarating and freeing than that Sunday afternoon.
Another new venture in ministry has been the prayer teams after the Sunday morning services. I get reports from these teams about visitors and members who find love and hope as they pray together. Our longing is that the spirit of praying for each other's needs will become like the air we breathe. It will be happening all the time and in all places.
Another new venture has been the sessions on Wednesday evening called Ministry through Teaching and Spiritual Gifts. These take place when there is no BITC. We teach for 30 minutes and then seek the Lord's presence and power as we wait on him to stir up whatever gifts would minister to the needs of the people present that night. This is part of our desire to obey 1 Corinthians 14:1, "Earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy." God has touched some people in remarkable ways.
Another new joy was the combined service with Bethesda Baptist, our neighbors down the street. What a great service that was on January 20. We plan to be with them again for a spirituals concert in June of 1992.
In 1991 were published The Pleasures of God and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood as well as the paper back version of my dissertation Love Your Enemies. This is significant for Bethlehem because so much of what we long for and stand for is expressed in these books. They are a way of holding up the vision of God we love for others to see and for us to savor more and more. I thank God for your willingness to let me write. Otherwise I might pop.
It was a year of modest and steady growth in attendance at worship. Our attendance was up 8% over 1990. The giving was equally encouraging. See the Financial reports in this Annual Report for the details. It was the year Ben and I biked across Minnesota and even did a "century" in under 6 hours.
I wrote to all the Bethlehem "alumni" a few days ago: It was a good year and a hard year. I doubt that there will ever be another kind. "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom" (Acts 14:22). "Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ" (2 Timothy 2:3). "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all" (Psalm 34:19). I have been delivered and I fully expect that "The Lord will rescue me from every evil and save me for his heavenly kingdom" (2 Timothy 4:18).
Most of you have tasted heartache. We have lost little children. We have lost great older saints. We have lost men in the prime of their lives. We agonized with unchanged imperfections. How long, O Lord! How long? And we have seen the all sufficient glory and goodness of our Friend and King, Jesus. May he give us strength and hope to press on and dream and pray and work and love and sing and shine.
Noël and I and the boys love being here. It is an utterly incalculable privilege to be a pastor in this church, and to raise our sons in this atmosphere. I love you.