So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
Thanks to the Bethlehem Staff
(Pastor John delivered the following on Tuesday, March 26, at his final Staff Lunch gathering as a pastor at Bethlehem.)
I am glad that I can spend the rest of my life saying thank you to God and to the world and to you for his blessings to me over the last 33 years. I don’t have to do it all today. That would be impossible. And I am relieved. I get some comfort that I can send any of you an email of thanks at any time when a memory comes to my mind, and I am flooded with thankfulness. So please know that these twenty thanks are the first fruits of final thanksgiving that I hope I utter till my final breath.
- Thank you for letting Noël be Noël and supporting her as she supported me. There never have been any pressures or expectations that seemed oppressive or forced.
- Thank you for several thousand worship services where I have met Christ in healing and soul-satisfying ways. And thank you for worshiping at my side.
- Thank you for not stealing from the church and for not committing adultery or abusing your wives or plagiarizing or in any other way bringing reproach on the name of our Savior.
- Thank you for a stream of affectionate notes. It is a wonderful thing to be appreciated. It is even more wonderful to be loved. Love one another with brotherly affection. Romans 12:10. Love one another with brotherly affection.
- Thank you for enduring my flaws and putting the best face on my overstatements. I’m sure I have sinned with my mouth. But love covers a multitude of sins, and I have flourished here because you let me be spontaneous rather than having to walk on eggshells.
- Thank you for being graciously and intelligently leadable. There is no unified thrust for growth into the future (and we have had many) without leadership and leadable co-leaders. I am not unaware of the dangers here and don’t claim to have been perfect. But I want you to know that I never have viewed you as yes-men or as cowed, but as biblically and critically leadable leaders.
- Thank you for loving the truths—the realities—of our Elder 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. “The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth ... because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 1:1–2).
- Thank you for praying the Scriptures earnestly with me and for me a thousand times. I have loved praying together as a staff. Hearing another person speak with affection to my Savior is deeply endearing.
- Thank you for singing with passion at every pastors’ prayer and planning retreat. How rare this is in the world. Most of the world sings in groups only when they have had too much to drink. But we have not been drunk with wine but filled with the Holy Spirit.
- Thank you for embodying the spirit of sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, gravity and gladness. You have given thousands of sweet, well-timed, heart-felt, Bible-saturated, creative, humble words of welcome and hope and sympathy and challenge in public settings where I have never needed to be afraid that you would make Christ look silly.
- 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, Baseball evangelism at the Dome, lunch-time staff neighborhood door knocking, multi-ethnic music, ministry fairs, three Sunday morning services in 1985. Saturday night and Sunday night services. Multiple campuses. You have been ready to risk. Fear not, you can only be killed.
- Thank you for being world Christians. For carrying the nations on your heart. For making Bethlehem, in every corner, a Great Commission church. And thank you for loving the ethnic diversity at home implied in the blood-work of Jesus to purchase people form every race and ethnicity and people.
- Thank you for filling in a hundred places where I might have been if I had not been at Passion or TGC or T4G or on writing leave. 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 of times. Thank you for believing in me enough to do that without murmuring for so many years.
- Thank you for doing your jobs with passion and love and excellence, and seeing that this flock is cared for—the babies and the children and the young adults and singles and married and old people and sick and wandering and depressed and weak. “Admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
- Thank you for being a cheerful, efficient, theologically robust, unified support staff. The human organism of that fourth floor is the indispensible inner life of ministry to thousands of people.
- Thank you for meeting all our needs financially and providing health insurance so that when I had cancer surgery I didn’t even feel it financially, and for paying with me into the BGC retirement fund so that along with SS I can press on with ministry dreams without wondering how we will be paid.
- Thank you for caring for my children. When they were little here you loved them and played with them, and when they were older you took them under your wings, and when they were wandering you wept with me. If they see any stumbling blocks in the church, it won’t be your fault.
- Thank you for pursuing so aggressively the peacemaking efforts of these days. This is pleasing to the Lord who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
- Thank you that you have loved the Bible and lived in the Bible and meditated on the Bible and memorized the Bible and spoken the Bible and lived under the Bible as the absolute authority in your life. I cannot overstate the importance of our living under the complete truth and relevance and authority of the Bible. Thank you.
- And finally, thank you for being a God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated staff, who has 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.
Now turn with all your might to the thrilling days to come.
There is no church I would rather be a part of for the next ten years than this one.
That’s why I’ll be here.