One of the most significant developments in the life of Bethlehem in 1993 was the Reaffirmation of our Church Covenant on March 7. We prepared for this Reaffirmation Sunday with five sermons on the meaning and rationale of the Church Covenant. This event on March 7 marked a turn in our church from benign neglect to serious commitment with regard to the Church Covenant.
Since March 7 we have had three Covenant Reaffirmation Sundays. This constitutes a new pattern for admitting members to Bethlehem. On these Sundays candidates for membership, who have attended the ASK class and been interviewed by the Elders and have signed the Covenant, make a public commitment to live with us in covenant, and we affirm our commitment to live with each other in covenant.
Parallel with this renewed focus on living in covenant has been the emerging fruition of four years of labor by the Elders to conceive and implement a plan for all-church oversight and care. The year 1993 marked the beginning of the "district eldership" with the goal of having an elder for each of 17 districts in the metro area assisted by men and women (deacons) who would develop ways of knowing and caring for the widely-dispersed covenant family called Bethlehem.
One covenant act in 1993 stands out because of its pain and unprecedented seriousness. On September 5 the church disciplined one of our members by "handing him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that his spirit might be saved." We are still praying that this awesome act will prove redemptive not only for his spirit in the age to come, but also for his life and family in this age.
In the spring we saw a connection in Philippians 1:27 between the covenant "unity" of the church (which had been on the front burner for several months) and the "fearlessness" of the church in giving clear testimony to the world. So from April 25 to June 20 we focused our attention on the theme of fearlessness and risk-taking and war-time living for the sake of the kingdom. This series of messages was called "The Righteous Are Bold as a Lion." It gave many of us the courage we needed for the bold outreach ministries of the summer.
At the end of the summer we focused our attention for five Sundays on "What Happens When You Die." I refer you to the report of the church clerk to see the names of members who are now "away from the body and at home with the Lord." Who will it be this year? May God prepare us to die well—full of faith that "to depart and be with the Lord is far better"!
In the fall we directed our attention to the book of 1 Peter and what it means to be hope-filled "elected rejected." It has been refreshing and sobering to exult for 12 verses of stunning hope and joy, and then turn to commandments like: "Hope fully in grace." And, "Be holy as I am holy." And, "Conduct yourselves in fear." There is much more for us from God in the rest of this book in 1994.
God brought us some powerful prophetic voices through the year like Moshe Rosen of the Jews for Jesus, Ajith Fernando from Sri Lanka, George Verwer of Operation Mobilization, and Luis Bush with the A.D. 2000 and Beyond Movement. God led us through the month of October praying through the "10/40 Window." He also prepared us to pray for the world in 1994 by putting it in the hearts of over 400 of our households to buy Operation World. I regard this book as one of the great instruments of God to accomplish his purpose in these latter days of darkness and triumph.
It has been wonderful to have David Livingston and Greg Dirnberger back with us in full swing. We have also added three new elders: Paul Floyd, Rod Takata, and Mark Reasoner. I praise God for the spiritual depth and commitment of these partners in ministry.
We celebrated Dean Palermo's tenth anniversary of ministry at Bethlehem; held our first Urban Ministries in the Manse; finished making the "old sanctuary" into a bona fide gym; celebrated Noël's and my 25th wedding anniversary; saw my son Karsten graduate from college, and Ben complete his boot camp in South Carolina. (Way to go guys!)
God put his own exclamation point of grace at the end of the year with about $150,000 in the last week. I believe He wants us to press on. May we say with the psalmist: "I keep the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand I will not be moved." I love you and cherish your partnership and prayer in the greatest work in the world.