This year we have been reveling in the Word of God to us from Romans. We began the year at Romans 2:11 and reached Romans 5:11 in December. It was the close of the 1900's and that called for a focus on "Jesus, the Same Yesterday, Today and Forever." With that great word from Hebrews 13:8, we ended the preaching year. But the actual year was ended with our New Year's Eve communion service, followed by an all-night prayer meeting to welcome the year 2000 and all that signifies.
Some Kinds of Growth
I am aware that we are not where we should be in many areas. For example, to mention only four: 1) we do not have a satisfactory system in place for knowing the spiritual health and whereabouts of all our covenant members so that hundreds are still on our rolls who are not fulfilling their covenant commitments; 2) hundreds of our people do not participate in small groups; 3) we are not much more ethnically or racially diverse than we were a year ago; 4) our fruitfulness in seeing people converted to Christ has a long way to go. There were 29 baptisms and 89 professions of faith through our church that we know about (not counting the fruit of our missionaries). This is precious fruit. But proportionally, it is small.
Nevertheless, in his mercy, God is not an all-or-nothing God. He has blessed us in significant ways. For example, our giving was 19% more than the year before a total of $2,251,000.00 which included about 30% for missions beyond the ministries among our own people. There was also the growth in our Wednesday Connection. We don't count people on Wednesday nights, but the increase was significant over 1998. Most obvious perhaps is the growth on Sunday morning—because we feel it!
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This growth has caused the elders and staff to plan a three-month trial run of three Sunday morning services beginning March 5. Then we will assess and make our plan accordingly for the fall.
I want to personally and publicly thank God for the faithful ministry of Mitch Pearson, Rod Takata, Tim Tomlinson, Randy Westlund, and Jeff Jakobitz who have completed their terms. Mitch was the kind of chariman that gave us great confidence and kept us praying and trusting God and not ourselves. I am thankful that Mitch is willing to move onto the Desiring God Ministries Board now that he is off the Council of Elders for a season.
Multi-layered Pastoral Leadership
I am going to keep my report short because most of the things that I would love to celebrate are being written about by the pastors who oversee those areas. So be sure you look at all the other reports. It is a great joy to me to share in this partnership of pastors and elders. I love this team and count it one of the highest honors and joys of my life to be a part of it.
My writing leave in 1999 was devoted to completing A Godward Life, Book II. I also completed the first draft of an "Affirmation of Faith" for The Bethlehem Institute. During the summer I completed the revisions for a new edition of The Pleasures of God, and I prepared the first in a series to be called The Swans are Not Silent, which will be composed of my biographical messages from the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors. The "Swans" are the great voices of church history, but you will have to read the first book to see why I use that term. Again I give public thanks to God for you all, and especially the elders, for giving me a writing leave each year. It is a very precious gift that I receive with wonder at God's grace to me.
I became a grandfather in 1999. Mildred Amia Piper was born to Karsten and Shelly in May. Karsten moved with his family to Worthington, MN to teach English and Composition at Minnesota West Community and Technical College. Benjamin continues at Moody Bible Institute (when he isn't dropping out of school to go to Turkey or Romania for three months). He is preparing for missions. Abraham has been studying guitar building and repair at Red Wing Community College and commuting home on the weekends. That is a one year program and he is undecided about what comes after that. Barnabas turned 16, writes for the church youth newspaper, and played football at South High School. Talitha is four and becomes more and more helpful all the time.
My father had two serious surgeries in 1999, and I was with him in the hospital for four of those difficult days. I thank you for letting me minister to him in this way. God has been good so that he is home doing well.
As I write Noël is in the United Arab Emirates with a team from BBC. I wrote her a note to read on the airplane which said: "I will miss you, and my gladness that you are the kind of person who wants to go makes me miss you the more." If you can see the paradox in that note, you will understand some of the joy I have in being married to Noël. We celebrated 31 years of marriage a few weeks ago—almost two-thirds of it at Bethlehem.
It is a mercy that God called me to this church. I love you and feel more entwined in your faith and life than ever. May God continue to weave a fabric of love that will not be rent by death.