Each year my reports should be getting shorter. The reason is that staff members write reports on areas of ministry that were once covered only in my report. What you don't see here, look for in the other reports. That's a cause of great gratitude for me. I love the staff and elders of this church. I thank God for them. I am surrounded by precious friends and comrades in a great cause.
That cause is spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. This has been the mission plumb line of our church for almost ten years now. Every year it means more to me and I feel more deeply satisfied with it. It is energizing and guiding. It stirs up passion and steers me on a clear path. Spread. Passion. Supremacy. God. All. Joy. Peoples. Christ. Every word is explosive to me. I rejoice that we have not departed from this mission.
Traveling for the Mission
I did my best to take that message to other places in 2004. For example:
|Grace Church Perspectives||Roseville, MN||1/19/2004|
|NRB National Convention||Charlotte, NC||2/17/2004|
|Mount Vernon Nazarene University||Mount Vernon, OH||3/31/2004|
|Westminster Seminary||Escondido, CA||5/29/2004|
|Crossway ESV Banquet||Dallas, TX||6/24/2004|
|The Cove||Asheville, NC||7/30/2004|
|Straight Up Conference||Rolling Meadows, IL||10/19/2004|
|New Covenant Church||Anderson, SC||11/1/2004|
|Acts 29 Church Planting Network||Seattle, WA||11/8/2004|
|Care First Pregnancy Center||Chicago, IL||11/15/2004|
Radionet for the Mission
In my calling to "spread" this passion for God's supremacy, another crucial event of 2004 was the beginning of radio-or as we like to call it, radionet. The program, Desiring God, started in February and airs five days a week on about 75 stations now. Bob Allen, the partner who provides the introductions, exits, and the interviews, lives in Tennessee and flies here every couple of months or so to do the recordings with me. We have received some heart-stirring stories of God's grace through the program. Thank you for praying and giving. It is a very expensive ministry. We air locally at 7:35 in the morning on KKMS 980 am, and at 11:00 in the morning on KTIS am.
Expository Preaching for the Mission
In the pulpit here at Bethlehem we moved slowly from Romans 11:13 to 12:12. The shift was dramatic from chapter 11 to chapter 12. "I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God. . . ." On the basis of six years of mighty mercy purchased and applied by Christ, I now appeal to you: live radical lives of mercy. We are steadily moving through this practical mercy in order to spread a passion for God's supremacy through Christ.
Writing for the Mission
Part of the elders' strategy of spreading a passion for the supremacy of God is to commission and enable me to write books. The writing leave in April yielded the new title, When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy. The books Life as a Vapor and A God-Entranced Vision of All Things also came out in 2004. I thank you all and the elders for trusting me with a month away each year to write. Most of the rest of the year is filled with the more immediate demands of the ministry. It is a great privilege to have one month a year of uninterrupted writing time.
The Passion Phenomenon took us all off guard in the spring of 2004. We distributed about 1.3 million copies of The Passion of Jesus Christ: Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die at Easter time, as churches and individual people ordered cases to give away through outreach efforts in connection with Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ. We are still hearing amazing stories. For example, word comes just now from Moldova that a 50-part radio program has been developed from the fifty chapters of the book.
Racial Diversity and Harmony for the Mission
God's supremacy shines brighter in the minds of Christ-exalting racial diversity and harmony. Therefore, our burden to grow in the area of racial harmony remained. The focus on justice and racial diversity in February was followed by several efforts. The staff devoted one staff meeting discussion time per month to working on the definition of racism. At this point we are most close to the following definition borrowed from the PCA: "Racism is an explicit or implicit belief or practice that qualitatively distinguishes or values one race over other races." This has many roots and many fruits. A definition is not the end of the discussion, but the beginning of clarity. Besides the staff discussions there were the monthly Racial Harmony Round Tables on Saturday in the fall. Then there was the Every Tongue and Tribe Choir which gave a new feel to the Sunday mornings downtown. The personal growth of those who read and pray and hang out together is untold.
The Growth Strategy for the Mission: TCT
Treasuring Christ Together was refined and made official by action of the church. This strategy advances and manages our growth (e.g., Sunday morning attendance average in 2000 was 1,957; in 2004 it was 2,959). TCT consists of three parts: spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ by 1) multiplying campuses, 2) planting churches, and 3) the global diaconate. 10% of every dollar given to TCT goes to church planting, and 10% goes to the Global Diaconate, the ministry of mercy to the poorest of the poor especially in times of crisis around the world. The North Campus was purchased and the construction begun. Kenny Stokes was relieved of his Urban pastor duties with the arrival of interim urban coordinator, Benjamin Piper. This freed Kenny to work fulltime on TCT.
Mission Foundations at Home
In my extended family, this was the year my father's last remaining brother died, Uncle Elmer. Now my father has outlived two wives and two brothers. He is the only one of his generation left. He moved into an assisted living place in Anderson, SC, which was a huge change, and he is handling it well. Benjamin and Melissa and Abraham and Molly made us grandparents again in 2004 (though Ben's baby is still in the womb till about mid-February, 2005). Abraham started working at Desiring God. Ben is the interim coordinator for urban ministries at Bethlehem. Karsten still teaches English at the state college in Worthington, MN. Barnabas finished his Wheaton courses and started a job in sales at Crossway Books in Wheaton, Illinois. Talitha is in third grade in the one-student Piper Academy lead by teacher/principal Noël, who also happens to make a great wife and mother.
I remain a very happy pastor and husband and father. I love you. It is an honor to serve you and help you spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.