I wrote the first draft of this article on the last day of 2000 with a few hours left in the century and the millennium. Then I went to celebrate my 21st New Year's Eve communion service with the people of Bethlehem. That morning I had finished reading the Bible through again. And that evening, the last day of the year, I received a call from Paul Johnson, the financial secretary - one of those remarkable phone calls that caused me to weep with a sense of unworthiness and joy.
I had told the people that last day of the year in the morning worship services, "Today we need $146,000 to meet all our budget expenses." Paul told me on the phone, "They gave $155,000 this morning." The tears came and I went downstairs and put my arm around Noel and said, "I need to stand beside someone and thank the Lord." So we prayed together and thanked the risen Christ to whom we have given our lives.
Now it is time to say it more publicly,
Thanks be to God - to God - that such generosity was put into the hearts of the people of Bethlehem! O Lord, thank you, thank you, for your kindness to us, your patience with us, your mercy toward us. We are but unworthy servants. We have only done what was our duty. There is no merit here. There is no deserving of this bounty. You have been gracious. That is our life - your grace. O Lord, we love you. You! Not your gifts but you. Whom have we in heaven but you and on earth there is nothing we desire besides you. Yes, we longed for your help to meet our budget need. Yes, we long to send missionaries, and teach children, and preach the Word, and evangelize the high-rises, and care for the sick and dying, and heal marriages, and stand for the glorious truth of your Word. But only as it mediates more of you. More of you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for coming to us in your gifts and making Yourself known to us. As the heavens are high above the earth. So great is your steadfast love toward those who fear you.
Now I am writing the final draft of this article from Shalom House, three hours north of the Twin Cities. My heart is turning from thanking toward hoping and dreaming. With this kind of merciful blessing from the Lord in 2000, should we not be mightily encouraged to pray earnestly, with high expectation that the remaining $2.7 million would be pledged for Education for Exultation? (Over $100,000 came in for E4E in the last week of the year!) I believe we are on the brink of seeing the missing pieces of "Growing without Growing" and Education for Exultation come together so that very soon we will see the bigger picture of Bethlehem's future for the next ten years.
Would you please renew your prayers that the elders would be spiritually discerning and full of faith in these crucial days? May God grant that all the pieces of the puzzle for our 1) future building plans and 2) debt-free funding and 3) church planting and 4) covenant member care design all fall into place in the next three months. Pray that we would see what has been hidden up till now. There are some missing pieces in the plan. But they are about to be found. Pray.
I love being here with you. I dedicate myself afresh tonight to spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples,