Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.
On January 11, just after I returned from the eight-month leave, I wrote an article for the church called “Why I Am Full of Hope about Bethlehem’s Future.” I said there were about 35 reasons for this hope—actually there are a lot more than that. I gave the first half of that list. This is part two.
But first, some context. Bethlehem Baptist Church turns 140 this summer. She started as an ethnic church plant out of First Baptist Church on the other side of downtown, and became the First Swedish Baptist Church of Minneapolis in 1871. Ulysses Grant was President of the United States. The Civil War had been over for five years. Minnesota was a 13-year-old state.
Wouldn’t you have loved to hear some of the prayers of the 23 charter members as they gathered in a circle and took hands on June 24, 1871, for their first prayer gathering as a church? Did any of them pray for the church of 2011? Did they pray for centuries of faithfulness?
I recall standing in 1996, during the 125th-anniversary celebration, with an old man by a west-facing window of the now-demolished 1914 building. He had been a member of he church in 1950. He said, with much emotion, something like this: “I recall standing at this window in 1950 and praying that God would keep this church faithful to the end of the century. Four more years. He’s going to do it.”
Yes. He did it. Now we are over a decade into the new century. Are you praying for the year 2151? Are you asking God to preserve and empower Bethlehem in biblical faithfulness for another 140 years? I am.
I love being a part of this church. It is Jesus’ church. He loves her. He is her head, her husband. She is his blood-bought bride (Acts 20:28). We elders are household stewards of this family. What a privilege to serve under Christ the people for whom he died!
This family will outlive all biological families. There is no marriage in the resurrection (Luke 20:35). Nuclear family gives way entirely to divine family. Let this sink in. What we are about in growing the family of Bethlehem is eternal.
So as we set our faces to the future and seek God’s mind concerning the long-term growth and health for Bethlehem in the Twin Cities, take heart. God has kept her for 140 years. He will keep her yet. As God has established the downtown and north bases so firmly, may he just as firmly establish the southern garrison for the majesty of his gospel.
Here are the rest of the reasons we may hope that God will do just this:
The southern suburbs exist for the glory of Jesus. “All things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16).
The presence of God in us is greater than obstacles. “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
God loves us and wants us to ask for help. “I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you” (John 16:26–27).
God will strengthen us to do everything we need to do. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
He will provide every need. “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. . . . [He] is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (Philippians 4:19; 2 Corinthians 9:8).
God will create spokesmen from the most unlikely people. “Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, . . . approached Damascus, and suddenly. . . he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’” (Acts 9:1–4).
God is no respecter of persons, but saves all who call on him. “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Romans 10:13).
By his cross Christ triumphs over ethnic strife. “[He] reconcile[d] us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:16).
The elect are already ransomed, and only need to be called. “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
The spread of the gospel is absolutely sure. “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
Human bondage to riches cannot stop God. “How difficult it is for the those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! . . . With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:23, 27).
Jesus turns five loaves into five thousand by a word. “And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them . . . And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men” (Mark 6:41–44).
Even death cannot stop God’s purposes. “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:11).
God has given us armor to survive the battle. “Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13).
Our faith overcomes the world. “This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).
God will finish in us the work he began—forever. “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
Eager to press on with you into this future,