Thanks to the Bethlehem Staff

Bethlehem Staff Lunch

The following is a lightly edited transcript

I’m glad that I can spend the rest of my life thanking you. And so, I relieved my pressure last night by reminding myself, I can write these guys emails until I’m dead! I have 20 things I’m thankful for. You’ll be forgiving so that we can go another 10 minutes or so, because love covers a multitude of sins as it has for 33 years. I don’t have to do it all today, which would be impossible. First, I want to say that these things that have been said are especially significant right now, because they’re also true of Jason, which should give us just a great sense of continuity, hope, and joy, and a sense of “John who?”

1. Thank you for letting Noël be Noël.

You have supported her as she has supported me. There never have been any pressures or expectations that seemed oppressive or forced, and that was true from day one. Noël had never been a pastor’s wife and did not want to be a pastor’s wife when she married me. And so, when a man gets called somewhere, God has to do a work to call a woman as well. And he did. And you made that really easy for her, for which I’ve always been thankful.

2. Thank you for several thousand worship services where I have met Christ in healing and soul-satisfying ways.

I’m talking about Sunday morning services, mainly. I thank many of you for worshiping at my side. There are few things more precious to me than the camaraderie of worship, when brothers stand beside each other and lift their voices in great truth to their common King and Savior. I remember the first time I saw Ken beat his chest as we were worshiping. I had never seen anybody do it before. I thought, “What’s he doing? Does he have heartburn?” He just needs to say a little more with his hands about what’s going on in his heart. I remember the first time Tom Stellar ever raised his hands in a worship service. I said to myself, “Tom’s a two-hander!”

Those times on Sunday mornings and Saturday nights have functioned as uniting comrades together down the row. I couldn’t see anybody else except the others in the front row, and maybe the choir every now and then. But as we’re worshiping, I’m seeing when their hearts and voices and hands are being engaged. It has called me back from silly distractions more times than you know. That’s one of the functions of corporate worship. If you see another person truly engaged, you say, “Well, I’m just not engaged because I’m thinking about their engagement,” and that gets you back on track. It’s just so glorious. God has done more in my life in corporate worship than I can begin to estimate. And I mean for fathering, husbanding, evangelism, missions, and everything else. So Chuck, Dan, Jason and the others, you’ve really powerfully ministered to me.

3. Thank you for not stealing from the church, committing adultery, abusing your wives, plagiarizing, or in any other way bringing reproach on the name of our Savior.

If you think you’ve benefited from me not stumbling into anything, I’ll tell you, it would be easier for 30 others to do it than for me, because there’s just 30 of you. And none of you has ever brought reproach upon this church, or undermined my calling or each other’s.

4. Thank you for a stream of affectionate notes.

It is a wonderful thing to be appreciated. It is more wonderful to be loved.

Love one another with brotherly affection (Romans 12:10)

So I’m going to say it to you again now to you in my absence: Love one another with brotherly affection. There are all kinds of loves—enemy love is not brotherly affection, though you should love your enemies. Loving people you don’t like in the church is also a good thing. But the best thing amongst saints is when they look into each other’s eyes and feel deep affection for each other. And that’s where we all want to go. It’s where we want to be. It’s hard when it’s not happening. That’s what you’ve given to me, so many of you—a steady stream of these kinds of things.

5. Thank you for enduring my flaws and putting the best face on my overstatements, which have been infinitely many.

I’m sure I have sinned with my mouth, but love covers a multitude of sins. I have flourished here because you let me be spontaneous rather than having to walk on eggshells. It’s a sad thing to only operate in places where you must be careful. I just decided I’m not going to be careful, and therefore, you have had to be forgiving. And that’s been a sweet thing for me. I have apologized enough to let you know that I’m aware of my stupidity, at times, but in general you’ve just let it go. I’m especially thinking about the pastoral staff. You’ve just let it go and said, “Well, that’s just the way John says things.” That’s made me able to relax. And if I have blown it more often than I know I’ve blown it, which I’m sure I have, thank you for your forgiveness.

6. Thank you for being graciously and intelligently leadable.

There is no unified thrust for growth into the future, and we’ve had many, without leadership and leadable co-leaders. I’m aware of the dangers here, and I don’t claim to have been perfect, but I want you to know — and I’m thinking now mainly of the pastoral staff — I have never viewed you as yes-men or cowed, but as biblically and critically leadable leaders. I think history will prove that. Leaders walk a fine line between coercion and ineffective leadership. I’ve tried to walk that line and you have made that doable because you have been leadable.

7. Thank you for loving the truths of the Bethlehem affirmation of faith.

This has been the bedrock of our unity and mission, and you have not only affirmed it, but enjoyed it. This has been one of the deep roots of our affection, and it’s part of what I preached on several weeks ago. Second John 1 says:

The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:

That’s a very truth-laden love. Your hearty affirmation of 12 pages of solid, biblical truth is no small ground of our deep affection. The world doesn’t know much about that kind of affection.

8. Thank you for praying the Scriptures earnestly with me.

I have loved praying together as a staff. Hearing another person speak with affection to my Savior is deeply endearing. I don’t know that there’s anything, except maybe that corporate worship togetherness, that is more endearing than to bow together before the same Lord and to hear one another pour out a heart of affection for God. How kindling it is to hear a brother love God out loud in your presence. So thank you for being a Bible-praying staff in my presence.

9. Thank you for singing with passion at every pastor’s prayer and planning.

How rare this is in the world. Most of the world sings in groups only when they’ve had too much to drink, but we have not been drunk with wine; we have been filled with the Holy Spirit. I took clandestine videos of some of our praying circles. I have one at home, and there you all are singing, and I’m going like this with my phone, thinking, “I don’t ever want to forget this.”

10. Thank you for embodying the spirit of sorrowful yet always rejoicing and gravity with gladness.

You have given thousands of sweet, well-timed, heartfelt, Bible-saturated, creative, humble words of welcome, hope, sympathy, and challenge in public settings where I have never needed to be afraid you would make Christ look silly. That’s really amazing because I go to a lot of places where Christ is made to look and sound silly. It’s never happened here.

I’ve never crossed my fingers, “Oh, what’s Tom Stellar going to say in welcoming the people to worship. It’s going to be stupid. He’s going to try to sound like a talk show host or something.” I’m just always relaxed because God has done something among us. We’ve tasted something together. We’re not ever going to go there, it’s just too precious what we’ve tasted. A baby died last week. A daughter died in childbirth. John Swanson will be buried today. Eileen Anderson was buried yesterday. This is all around us. We’re not going to play here. So thank you for letting me relax at that level as well. In other words, it’s been an easy place to be at home.

11. Thank you for being risk-takers.

You have been ready to try dozens of new ventures in ministry and outreach — praise marches, parking lot services, praise in the parks, or baseball evangelism at the dome, which was way before most of your time. I remember Carl Schmulen redesigning Quest for Joy to hand out at the dome after a Twins game, precisely designed for baseball. And I remember getting up after church and walking over with our hands full of tracts and just walking up to people and talking about Jesus. There was another time when the staff decided, probably back in 1984 or 1985, that instead of eating our lunches we would just get up and go knock on doors and come back to tell what happened. We did that for several many months because we just thought, “We have to know this neighborhood.”

Then there were ministry fairs and three Sunday morning services bac in 1985, which was unheard of at this old church. People thought, “How can anybody get up that early on Sunday morning?” Then we had Saturday night services in 1986, and it failed. We never had more than 80 people. And then we tried again at the North campus and it didn’t fail, but we decided that it was lot of energy that we should pour into Sunday morning instead, And then we decided on campuses. We were always thinking, “What can we do next that’s going to do something fresh for God’s glory in the city?” So thank you for being risk-takers. You’ve been ready to take risks. “Fear not, you can only be killed” was the little mantra we had for a while in the late 80s based on Matthew 10:28, which says:

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

12. Thank you for being world Christians.

That is, for carrying the nations on your heart, and for making Bethlehem, in every corner, a Great Commission church. And thank you for loving the ethnic diversity at home, applied in the blood work of Jesus to purchase people from every race and ethnicity.

13. Thank you for filling in a hundred places where I might have been if I had not been at Passion, Together for the Gospel, on writing leave, etc.

If I have been able to do anything for the cause of God’s sovereign grace beyond Bethlehem, it is owing to your support and stepping in for me hundreds and hundreds of times. Thank you for believing in me enough to do that without murmuring for so many years. I do not take that for granted.

14. Thank you for doing your jobs with passion and love and excellence.

You have made sure this flock has been cared for. You have cared for the babies, Joyce; and the children, David and Sally; and the young adults, Kempton and the others; and the singles, the married, the old people, the sick people, the wandering people, the depressed people, and the weak people.

Admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all (1 Thess 5:14).

You have shepherded this flock. Thank you.

15. Thank you for being a cheerful, efficient, theologically-robust, unified support staff.

The human organism on that fourth floor is the indispensable inner life of the ministry to thousands of people. It’s been good to be together all the years, Joby.

16. Thank you for meeting all our needs financially and providing health insurance for us so that when I had cancer surgery, I didn’t feel it financially at all.

I think maybe I thought of that because yesterday at Eileen Anderson’s funeral, Jeff Anderson stood up to thank the 300 people who were at the funeral, and he turned to his staff and he said, “My wife has had cancer for four years. She’s had over a hundred chemo-therapy sessions. Thank you for paying for our insurance.”

I mean, that’s what insurance is. Insurance is a community agreeing together to bear extraordinary burden so that one person doesn’t have to bear it on their own. And the fact that you have done that is just phenomenal. You have not muzzled the ox treading out the grain here (1 Tim 5:18), and I thank you for meeting all of our needs and paying into the BGC retirement fund, so that when I decide to go on that, it’ll be enough. I will have social security and the BGC fund. When you put those two together I really don't need that much money, so I’ll be able to give. I’ll be paid by Desiring God for another two years, and then we’ll probably tap into all that stuff if we’re still alive.

17. Thank you for caring for my children.

When they were little, you loved them and played with them. When they were older, you took them under your wings. Dan Lane, when he was a kid, cared for my kid at the International House that Dan owned, dreaming one of those crazy dreams on the university campus that only he will remember. Brad and so many others have invested in my boys and Talitha. And when they were wandering, you wept with me. We’ve cried a lot as a staff. I’m glad we cry easily and I’m glad it’s okay to do that. There are a lot of things worth crying about. If my sons see any stumbling blocks in the church to their faith, it will not be your fault.

18. Thank you for pursuing so aggressively the peace-making efforts of these last days.

This is pleasing to the Lord. It’s an effort. It’s hard work that’s going on in these days. And I am thankful for your leadership, Jason, and the others, to make every effort to work through the present relational difficulties. This is hard, and I’m thankful for every effort being expended.

19. Thank you for loving the Bible.

You have lived in the Bible, meditated on the Bible, memorized the Bible, spoken the Bible, and lived under the absolute authority of the Bible in your life. I cannot overstate the importance of living under the complete truth and relevance and authority of the Bible. Thank you. And I feel it especially strongly because it seems to me that the marriage and homosexuality issue today is one of the most recent, clear, and powerful evidences of how loosely some people have been holding to the Bible.

It’s a litmus test these days of who will decide that it’s just not worth it to be biblical. I heard in your sermon, Jason, how you’re saying a similar thing. May we be a people in the future who have steel in our backbones and tenderness in our hands so that the world will not quite be able to explain a community like this — people who don’t waiver one millimeter in how we understand the nature of human marriage, and yet are able to get their arms around sinners in love.

20. Thank you for being a God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated staff.

You have lived out the central truth of Christian hedonism, that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. God has been good to us. And now turn with all your might to the thrilling days to come. There is no church I would rather be part of for the next 10 years than this one, which is why I will be back.