May I start with an illustration of God's grace? On Sunday night, January 3, 1993 I told Joan to announce to the people that we received $61,000 that morning to meet a $50,000 need for our 1992 expenses. Awesome!
But wrong. I found out later that I had read the financial report incorrectly and had given a number that included all the SPAN and Organ giving, and that we were in fact beneath our need. I felt terrible—both for the shortfall, but mainly for misleading the people. We prayed about this at the staff retreat on January 4 and 5. This morning (January 6) I called Dan at church and found out that in his mail since Sunday he received $19,000 more for our 1992 needs! I wept when I hung up the phone. God has been so kind to us!
This has been the way the year has gone. We have had pain and disappointment and stress, and out of it the Lord has again and again brought growth. It has been a year of stress.
Besides the financial crisis in August when we almost cut salaries, there has been the Bondage Breaker / Victory Over Darkness controversy, the organ controversy, the heartwrenching staff discipline issue, the pressure we feel because of the absence of David Livingston, the death of encouraging, older, praying saints and precious little children, the criticisms for being involved in Bethel's release of a faculty member for endorsing homosexual behavior, in addition to the normal stresses of home and congregational life.
I look back on what we have lived through together and marvel. Several of these things had the potential of tearing a church apart. As I see it now, God has done just the opposite for us. He has humbled us, softened us, and knit us together in some new ways. Not only have all the financial needs been met, but our attendance grew to the largest in the history of the church. The Sunday morning average for the fall was 1097 compared to 1056 in 1991 and 992 in 1990. The ASK classes have been large and 88 people joined the church as compared to 58 in 1991 and 85 in 1990.
It was our first full year in the new sanctuary. God has given us some rich meetings with himself. But the test of the authenticity of those times is what happens in ministry during the week. We have reason to rejoice and repent. God has not given us many clear conversions. I do not know why the blessing is withheld. I search my heart often. I believe that one day the release of that river will come. May God keep us faithful.
This year God has given conception to the Urban Training School. Being pro-life, as I am, that means that the Urban Training School really exists in the womb of this church and will be born next summer with 20 or so students studying and practicing urban ministry. The great Praise Procession with about 1200 people last June was like a prelude to that ongoing ministry.
This year we called Greg Dirnberger to join us on the staff to mobilize young adults. We are still hopeful and excited that this dream will become a reality as God teaches us all some valuable lessons. We have been and are right now still in the process of searching for a Minister for Seniors. Three new Lay Elders were added to the Council as Marty Wade and Dennis Smith ended their terms. Erv Mickelberg, Russ Greg and David Michael joined the Council.
The three focuses for the year have been the sermon series on "Foundations for Full Assurance" and "Called to Rejoice in Suffering" and "What Does it Mean to Be the Church?" The BITC plenary sessions have been devoted to this last topic through the fall. I believe we have made significant progress in grasping the biblical reality of being the church. And we are not done yet. The elders are on the brink of putting in place a pastoral care system and leading the church into a reaffirmation of our covenant commitment to each other.
My personal speaking schedule beyond the Bethlehem flock has included engagements at:
- Hillsdale College, Michigan
- Pastors Conference in Tucson
- Perspectives on the World Christian Movement
- Alliance for Renewal Churches, Ohio
- North Central Bible College Faculty Retreat
- Bethel Seminary Chapel
- The Bolton Conference, Massachusetts
I want to thank the church again for the month-long writing leave you gave me in May to complete the book, Let the Nations Be Glad.!" The Supremacy of God in Missions. It has been accepted by Baker Book House and is scheduled for release August of this year.
On the personal front, these past Advent and New Year's holidays have been the best our family has had in years. The year as a whole had some of the most painful times of our lives with children and marital stresses. But, as with the congregational life, there has been "growth through pain." I feel graced by Noel and my four sons. I have confidence that the God who sustained us in 1992 will refresh us and prosper us in 1993, "that His name may be know upon earth, His saving power among all nations" (Psalm 67:2).
With affection for you all,