Twenty-four years ago in my first year at Bethlehem, Joshua 13:1 gave me hope for this old church. “Now Joshua was old and advanced in years, and the Lord said to him, ‘You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess.’”
Bethlehem was 109 years old. There were about 400 in worship. I used to talk about looking out over a “sea of gray hair.” It was a compliment. These were mainly the rugged saints who believed against all odds that there was a future for this old downtown church. I loved them. Some are still with us.
In 2004 it is still true. Bethlehem is old and advanced in years—133 years—and there is very much land to possess. The land is not Mounds View or Minneapolis or Uzbekistan. The land is the unsubdued terrain of human hearts. It is the spiritual wasteland of unbelief. This land is found in every village and every city in the world. Indeed, there are remaining stretches of this land in every human heart, including our own.
When we say that Bethlehem exists to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples, we are not thinking geography first. We are thinking of human hearts. That is where passion happens. Passion does not happen on the ground or in air. It happens when magnificent, life-giving truth floods the wasteland of the human heart. It happens when the flame of dawn turns the darkness of night into broad day fields of joy. Bethlehem exists to advance that flooding and ignite that flame. There is very much of such land yet to possess.
But geography is not irrelevant. Human beings eat and sleep and work and worship on patches of ground. This ground is either rented, borrowed, or owned. Therefore churches must always make decisions about what land to “possess” for meeting together in corporate worship and education: houses, “traditional church buildings,” store fronts, theaters, warehouses, converted business space, etc. And these spaces always have to be somewhere. Location is not an option while we have bodies.
We believe God is leading us to Mounds View for a second campus. Probably the key decision by the Mounds View City Council will happen Monday, April 12. If you get this before then, pray that we would find favor in their eyes. The building is the one shaped like a boomerang behind the McDonalds at the junction of I-35 and Highway 10.
For about a year and a half we believe God has confirmed the “Treasuring Christ Together” Vision of multiplying campuses and planting churches rather than building an ever-larger downtown campus. Our aim is to plant a campus not as an endpoint, but as a spreading base. The North Campus exists to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.
Again the terrain for spreading is mainly the human heart. But some hearts have a proximity to the new spreading base in Mounds View, and we believe proximity heightens accountability. We believe that there will be a special call on the North Campus people for the surrounding communities. May God give us grace and gifts to do all we can to make sure that they see and savor the supremacy of God in Jesus Christ.
But the North Campus will also be a launching pad for missionaries to the nations and partnerships with the urban ministry of Bethlehem downtown. My own sense is that, even though Bethlehem is “old and advanced in years,” God has done for her what he did for Caleb. He was now 85 years old as he faced the prospect of taking the new land of Canaan, and he said, “Behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming” (Joshua 14:10-11). So it is with Bethlehem. She is as strong and young at heart and venturesome as she ever was. I am very glad to be a part of this new dream.
May the Lord grant us grace to possess the land, especially the terrain of unbelieving hearts.