THE REST OF THE STORY

Beep … beep … beep … beep …

Ring … ring … ring …

BEEEEEP BEEEEEP BEEEEEP

“I’m sorry. I didn’t understand your response. Please select one of the following options.”

Technology. I can’t live without it. Most of the time, it seems, I can’t live with it. But cell phones, iPads, and Wi-Fi are only the surface of planet stress. Inside me, things are melting and molten.

Last September, Marilyn and I spent a few days with our Navy son, his wife, and their two little boys who celebrated their birthdays the same week. They live in military housing in Virginia Beach. Suddenly our quiet Saturday was interrupted by fierce whacking and thumping. And it wasn’t hurricane Hermine.

“What is that?!” I asked. “A navy helicopter?”

“No, it’s just our washing machine upstairs,” my son answered.

WHACK … WHACK … THUMP … THUMP

And then there’s Lancaster County, Amish country in southeastern Pennsylvania. Hanging outside tidy farm homes is freshly washed clothing flapping in the autumn breeze. People who live remarkably simple lives survive somehow without washers and dryers. They do laundry the ancient way: by hand. It’s simple clothing, too. Bland, we’d say. And modest.

As I write this, Marilyn and I are returning to Phoenix from two days at Disneyland with our kids and grandkids. It’s exhilarating, exhausting, and expensive. It’s the UnHappiest Place on Earth, where we stood in one 90-minute line after another, and I saw countless children crying. I heard one mother yelling at her little girl, “Shut up!”

Not like Lancaster County. We drove there after church to spend a couple days in Amish paradise. Providentially, the sermon we heard in our kids’ little Baptist church in Norfolk was from Pastor Todd’s text on Jeremiah 6:16.

This is what the LORD says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”

Riding the historic Strasburg steam railroad slow and easy on a sparkling September day through verdant fields of Amish corn and tobacco, I had to reflect on this ancient passage about ancient Amish ways. No technology. No stress. And likely no anti-depressants. Yeah, I take those.

screen-shot-2016-11-10-at-3-31-14-pmLancaster County, Pennsylvania

I heard a news report a few years ago that doctors had found an ancient way to treat depression: spend a year working on a dairy farm in Minnesota. I didn’t have time for that, so I chose to take medication.

Look at the text in Jeremiah one more time. Right now say no to all the distractions. Turn off your phone! Or put it under a pillow in a closet. Take a deep breath and read this slowly and softly to yourself.

This is what the LORD says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”
This is what God says.

The passage in Jeremiah calls us back to the ancient ways, not Amish ways exactly, but Jesus’ ways. He is the way, the truth and the life, the One who offers us a kind of peace the world will never give us. Jesus calls us out of our crowded, stressful lives, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

“Come to me,” he says, which implies we can choose not to come. Every moment of every day is a crossroads, an invitation, a choice to come to Jesus or do life your way. It’s the ancient present human story of two trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Doing life God’s way or my way.

“Enter through the narrow gate,” Jesus said. “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14).

Back to the passage in Matthew 11, Jesus says it this way, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (vs 29-30).

Be gentle? Be humble? What?! Like Donald Trump? No, never!

Like Jesus? Yes, always. “Learn from me,” he says, “and you will find rest for your souls.” It’s the rest of the story. It’s what our souls long for, that deep inner peace no matter what happens around us.

Yet the Jesus way is so counterintuitive, especially when you feel trampled. Or during an historically hostile presidential election. Everybody’s screaming. Nobody wants to let it go and trust God, and many Christians I know spend more time watching the news than reading their Bibles.

But Jeremiah tells us to “ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”

I’ve spent my life preaching about grace and rest. My mantra has been Jesus plus nothing. For me, it’s not just about theology, and it’s certainly not been an excuse to live like the devil. It’s been a life saver for my troubled soul.

Yesterday at Disneyland, I was so stressed just trying to find where to park. So I said to myself, “Be still, oh my soul,” and as we walked to the shuttle bus at the other end of the ginormous parking out, I started singing an old chorus with a melody I think was written by a nun in a convent. It has one simple line:

The joy of the Lord is my strength
The joy of the Lord is my strength
The joy of the Lord is my strength
The joy of the Lord is my strength

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The Mother of All Oxymorons: Born-Again Catholics

Or maybe not…

Portions of Los Angeles were ablaze. Victim of a brutal beating, Rodney King cried out with a quivering voice, “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?”

Three years later In July 1995, he was arrested by Alhambra, California, police for hitting his wife with his car and knocking her to the ground.

So, Rodney, why can’t you get along with your wife?

Why is our world ravaged by war? Why do church people take each other to court? Drag their children through a hateful divorce?

Why will some of you, after you read this article, decide never again to read anything Gary Kinnaman writes?

It’s ridiculously simple: everyone is profoundly self-centered, and even the most insecure human being, deep down inside, believes they are right and others are wrong. And sometimes you are so right and the other person is so wrong, you just have t’ kill ‘em.

Like Jesus.

They’re nailing him to the cross. A crude hammer is striking rusty spikes. Above the banging and the clamor of the crowd, we hear another quivering voice, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NASB).

Whoever does that? Forgives the people who are crucifying them?! Man, it’s gotta be a God-thing!

Yet look directly into the eyes of the crucified Christ and listen to him say softly to you, “I forgive you. So ‘when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins’ (Mark 11:25 NIV).”

Enemies of the cross

Jesus came to make peace with God. For us. It cost him his life, and his death on the cross is the centerpiece of the Christian faith. The cross isn’t just an emblem of the Savior’s sacrifice. It’s also a symbol of our own journey as we follow the Christ of the cross. Jesus said famously, “”Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 NIV, italics mine).

Daily. That word in the verse above just pierced my soul, because daily I’m livin’ for me.

The apostle Paul embraced this when he wrote, “My brothers in Christ Jesus our Lord, my life is one long death.”1

And this: “For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:11-12 NASB).

Yet as my friend Al Ells likes to say, “The church is filled with people who are enemies of the cross.” What does that mean? Simply that people follow their own pursuits and don’t pursue Christ and the cross. Again, Saint Paul writes, “For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19 NIV, italics mine).

It’s the “earthly things” that always get between me and Jesus. Hebrews calls them “everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”2 That would include all the differences between and among us, differences that lead to strife and division, the dividing walls of hostility.4

Can I make this ridiculously simple one more time? Jesus died to reconcile me to God, and Jesus died to reconcile me to others. He died to destroy every dividing wall of hostility. Jesus forgives our sins and ends our divisions. Certainly this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote to the fiercely divided church in Corinth,

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought…. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10,13 NIV)

And what’s Paul’s ridiculously simple solution to the problem? Jesus plus nothing.

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2 NIV, italics mine).

Nothing except Jesus.

Jesus plus nothing.

Diametrically opposed to this affirmation is legalism: Jesus plus something, like circumcision, for example, in Galatians. Jewish Christians insisted that new Gentile Christians (just the men, of course) must be circumcised. Paul stands up to these “Judaizers,” because his hope was built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Jesus plus nothing.

Jesus-plus-something is the tap root of legalism, as Paul writes, “You have become estranged from Christ [Jesus plus circumcision], you who attempt to be justified by law… For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love… This persuasion [Jesus plus circumcision. Jesus plus anything] does not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven [Jesus plus anything] leavens the whole lump” (Galatians 5:4-9 NKJV).

So are Catholics really Christians?

Catholics pray to Mary and believe in Purgatory. Well, you know, the only way you can be saved is Jesus plus not praying to Mary. That’s Jesus plus something. Jesus plus not praying to Mary. And which means that people who believe in salvation by grace alone don’t really believe that, because they believe that praying to Mary trumps grace. If you want to be saved, you have to believe in Jesus, but you can’t pray to Mary. So I guess we are not really saved by grace alone. There are conditions! Yes, you have to believe that Jesus died for your sins, but you can’t pray to Mary. In other words, it is Jesus plus something, Jesus plus not praying to Mary or any other saints!

No, I’m not a Catholic, and I don’t pray to Mary. I believe in salvation by grace alone, which means that if I do something wrong, or I do something that someone thinks is not biblical, God’s grace trumps that. In me. In you. In Catholics. In people who are not Catholic.

I presume most of my readers are not Catholic. So tell me, are you a better person than a Catholic who believes Jesus died on the cross for their sins?

“Oh, wait,” you say, “just believing isn’t enough. You have to believe the right things.

How many right things? All the right things? Most of the right things, like 87%? Or maybe you can believe a few wrong things, but not really wrong things? And not too many wrong things?

Is it really possible for anyone to believe everything exactly and correctly? The Apostle Paul writes about this: “I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.”4 In other words, it’s either Jesus plus nothing or doing everything right without Jesus. Or believe everything exactly correctly.

Hundreds of years before Paul, the ancient writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, “God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV)

And this: “When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labor that is done on earth—people getting no sleep day or night— 17 then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it” (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17 NIV).

Here’s something else that’s ridiculously simple: Either God does it all, or you have to do it all. Grace and human effort are mutually exclusive. Like oil and water. You can’t mix ‘em.

Listen to this,

The doctrinal assertion that justification is by faith and not by works means that justification happens through sharing in the death of Christ… Conversely, to seek justification by works means trying to save yourself through one’s own efforts… Justification by works means that man wants to construct a little immortality of his own. He wants to make of his life a self-sufficient totality. Such an enterprise is always sheer illusion.

This is exactly Paul’s argument in Galatians: “How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:3, NLT)

So do you agree with the statement above that “justification by works” means trying to save yourself through your own efforts? Can you guess who wrote this? Martin Luther? Phillip Yancy? Billy Graham?

No, Joseph Ratzinger. That would be Pope Benedict XVI.5

So even the Catholics believe in justification by faith!

Yeah, but

But what? You think Catholics believe all kinds of other goofy things?

Like you don’t? And like God can’t handle their goofy things but he overlooks yours?

In my view, this is all so wacky. I’m glad it’s the view of God’s Word too: “If I … can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge … but do not have love, I am nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2 NASB). This is to say that, if I believe everything there is to believe and I believe it all accurately, without love, I’m just a lot of loud noise.

At the core of the Christian life is the unconditional love of God, agape, for me to be saved and through me to offer a pathway for others to be saved: “A new command I give you: Love (agapao) one another. As I have loved you…. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35 NIV. Italics mine).

So you think you know something? That your understanding of the Bible is more accurate than the understanding of your brothers? Paul would like you to know that “those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2 NIV).

So why can’t we all just get along? Because some of us are just more right than others, and sometime others are so wrong, we have to beat ‘em, like Rodney King. Or kill ‘em, like Catholics and Protestants have done to each other for centuries.

At the very least, if we don’t kill ‘em, we sure can’t eat with ‘em. According to Galatians, St. Peter couldn’t eat with the uncircumcised Christians even though he knew he—and they—were saved by grace alone.

Think about it: Peter knew he had denied Jesus three times in one night, and Jesus still loved him. Forgave him. Restored him.

Of course, denying Jesus three times is not nearly as bad as being uncircumcised! Do you think Peter thought to himself, “At least I repented”?

As for you, is there anything you think about the Bible or God that isn’t exactly correct? Do you even know what part of your thinking isn’t exactly correct?

I like the way the ancient prophet was thinking about himself, about all of us: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly perverse and corrupt and severely, mortally sick! Who can know it [perceive, understand, be acquainted with his own heart and mind]? (Jeremiah 17:9, Amplified Bible). In simple terms, everything I think is distorted in some way by my sin, and even when I do have it right in my head, my behavior is sinful. Like when I’m so right it makes me mad.

So being right becomes more important that being kind.

Can anyone ever get everything right about God? Or maybe, just maybe, is there something about God that transcends human understanding?

Our western culture has placed a premium on being right. Being doctrinely right is more important than serving others, especially people we think are not right. Or the ones we think are really wrong. Like Democrats. Or Republicans. Or Calvinists. Or gay people.

The ultimate question for every person is this: How big is Jesus in your life? Is he Lord of everything? Do you take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ?6

Jesus plus something makes Jesus less than everything. And when your life is about Jesus plus something, the something always becomes bigger than Jesus. It’s what I’ve written about in my newest book Honey, I Just Shrunk Jesus.

Jesus plus something and your marriage

My grandfather did our wedding. Not fully understanding the implications of the passage, Marilyn and I put Colossians 1:15-18 into our marriage vows:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.7

That last line, Jesus supreme in all things, is the master key to everything. For him to be preeminent in my life, in my wife’s life, in our marriage, means that nothing else can push him aside. No difference. No issue. Jesus is the glue that holds us together, and the bridge over every raging river in our relationship.

Anything that takes us down is something that, for one or both of us, has become bigger and stronger that Jesus. Oh yes, we believe in Jesus, but this issue … blah, blah, blah. Yep, it’s the issue that’s ruling your life, not Jesus. And honey, you just shrunk Jesus.

So if there are divisions in the church? I am determined to know nothing else but Jesus Christ and him crucified.8

And if there are problems in your home? “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.9

And you’re having issues with your neighbor? Or the guy in the big black pickup on the freeway? Let your kindness be evident to all, for the Lord is near.10

Don’t you just love this tune by Darlene Zschech?

Jesus at the center of it all
Jesus at the center of it all
From beginning to the end
It will always be, it’s always been You
Jesus, Jesus

Nothing else matters,
Nothing in this world will do
‘Cause Jesus You’re the center,
Everything revolves around You
Jesus You,
At the center of it all,
At the center of it all

Jesus be the center of my life
Jesus be the center of my life
From beginning to the end
It will always be, it’s always been You
Jesus, Jesus

Jesus be the center of Your church
Jesus be the center of Your church
And every knee will bow
And every tongue shall confess You
Jesus, Jesus
Jesus, Jesus,
Jesus, Jesus,
Jesus, Jesus

1 1 Corinthians 15:31, Bible in Basic English
2 Hebrews 12:1 NIV
3 Ephesians 2:14 NIV
4 Galatians 5:3
5 Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (CUA Press, 1988, p. 99)
6 2 Corinthians 10:5
7 Italics mine
8 1 Corinthians 2:2
9 Ephesians 5:21 NIV
10 Philippians 4:5
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A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind

A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind

Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert

(Science Nov 12, 2010, Vol 330 www.sciencemag.org)

[In case you are wondering … or wandering? … I’ve highlighted some remarkable discoveries in this study about what makes us unhappy. It reminds me of this text of scripture: “You will keep the mind that is dependent on you in perfect peace, for it is trusting in you (Isaiah26.3, CSB).” G.K.]

Unlike other animals, human beings spend a lot of time thinking about what is not going on around them, contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or will never happen at all. Indeed, “stimulus-independent thought” or “mind wandering” appears to be the brain’s default mode of operation (1–3). Although this ability is a remarkable evolutionary achievement that allows people to learn, reason, and plan, it may have an emotional cost. Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and “to be here now.” These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Are they right?

Laboratory experiments have revealed a great deal about the cognitive and neural bases of mind wandering (3–7), but little about its emotional consequences in everyday life. The most reliable method for investigating real-world emotion is experience sampling, which involves contacting people as they engage in their everyday activities and asking them to report their thoughts, feelings, and actions at that moment. Unfortunately, collecting real-time reports from large numbers of people as they go about their daily lives is so cumbersome and expensive that experience sampling has rarely been used to investigate the relationship between mind wandering and happiness and has always been limited to very small samples (8,9).We solved this problem by developing a Web application for the iPhone, which we used to create an unusually large database of real-time reports of thoughts, feelings, and actions of a broad range of people as they went about their daily activities. The application contacts participants through their iPhones at random moments during their waking hours, presents them with questions, and records their answers to a database at www.trackyourhappiness.org. The database currently contains nearly a quarter of a million samples from about 5000 people from 83 different countries who range in age from 18 to 88 and who collectively represent every one of 86 major occupational categories.

To find out how often people’s minds wander, what topics they wander to, and how those wanderings affect their happiness, we analyzed samples from 2250 adults (58.8% male, 73.9% residing in the United States, mean age of 34 years) who were randomly assigned to answer a happiness question (“How are you feeling right now?”) answered on a continuous sliding scale from very bad (0) to very good (100), an activity question (“What are you doing right now?”) answered by endorsing one or more of 22 activities adapted from the day reconstruction method (10,11), and a mind-wandering question (“Are you thinking about something other than what you’re currently doing?”) answered with one of four options: no; yes, something pleas- ant; yes, something neutral; or yes, something un- pleasant. Our analyses revealed three facts.

First, people’s minds wandered frequently, regardless of what they were doing. Mind wandering occurred in 46.9% of the samples and in at least 30% of the samples taken during every activity except making love. The frequency of mind wandering in our real-world sample was considerably higher than is typically seen in laboratory experiments. Surprisingly, the nature of people’s activities had only a modest impact on whether their minds wandered and had almost no impact on the pleasantness of the topics to which their minds wandered (12).

Second, multilevel regression revealed that people were less happy when their minds were wandering than when they were not, and this was true during all activities, including the least enjoyable. Although people’s minds were more likely to wander to pleasant topics (42.5% of samples) than to unpleasant topics (26.5% of samples) or neutral topics (31% of samples), people were no happier when thinking about pleasant topics than about their current activity (b = –0.52, not significant) and were considerably un- happier when thinking about neutral topics (b = –7.2, P < 0.001) or unpleasant topics (b = –23.9, P < 0.001) than about their current activity (Fig. 1, bottom). Although negative moods are known to cause mind wandering (13), time-lag analyses strongly suggested that mind wandering in our sample was generally the cause, and not merely the consequence, of unhappiness (12).

Third, what people were thinking was a better predictor of their happiness than was what they were doing. The nature of people’s activities explained 4.6% of the within-person variance in happiness and 3.2% of the between-person variance in happiness, but mind wandering explained 10.8% of within-person variance in happiness and 17.7% of between-person variance in happiness. The variance explained by mind wandering was largely independent of the variance explained by the nature of activities, suggesting that the two were in- dependent influences on happiness.

In conclusion, a human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.

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What the heck is SPIRITUAL MATURITY?

What the heck is
SPIRITUAL MATURITY?

I’ve been doin’ this ministry thing for decades. I’m a mature adult, but am I a mature Christian? What does that mean? What is spiritual maturity? I think it’s an oxymoron, and I want to tell you why.

What spiritual maturity isn’t

I’ve identified five popular Christian things that are not evidence of spiritual maturity:

1. Spiritual gifts. You’d think that people who are spiritually sensitive or spiritually gifted would certainly be mature Christians. After all, don’t we know that God doesn’t use idiots? Or people who smoke and drink? You have to be somebody special for God to use you in special ways, right?

2. One or several seminary degrees, or years teaching the Bible. Don’t we all admire people who can open the Word and take us deep into the mind of God? I have two seminary degrees, I’ve preached countless sermons, and I was a contributor to the Thomas Nelson Spirit-Filled Life Study Bible, specifically writing the study notes for the Book of Acts. I’ve written not a few books, too, but some times I’ve heard this voice in my head: Grow up!

3. Faith like Oral Roberts. We all know people who seem to have the capacity to believe God for great things. To pray for amazing miracles. There’s a cloud of faith witnesses in Hebrews 11. Consider them! And then think about yourself, how spiritually wimpy you feel. Maybe because you are. Don’t you know that if your prayers aren’t answered with some regularity, you must not be everything God wants you to be? Where’s your faith, sister? Brother?

4. Making huge personal sacrifices. Surely this gets God’s attention! For many years I taught for Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in their Discipleship Training Schools, DTS as they call it. I frequented their University of the Nations in Kona, Hawaii, an invitation I never had to pray hard about. At that location, they offered the “Crossroads” DTS for mature adults who were considering a midlife transition into ministry and mission. I was humbled by the sacrifices those families made, like literally living with three children on the old, rusty Mercy Ship Anastasis.

Or a pastor friend who grew up in a grass hut in the jungle in Africa. Or the people we met in the Frontiers candidate training, young families pledging their lives to serve in unreached Muslim communities in some of the most remote places on earth.

I feel ashamed when I’m with people like that. Yes, leading a large church was painfully difficult at times, but to take my family to someplace where we may just disappear? Well, I’m not up for that.

5. Being on fire for God. My exec pastor and I, in line at a buffet, were talkin’ church. A vibrant young woman ahead of us turned around and asked, “Are you guys born-again Christians?!” I couldn’t resist responding, “Is there any other kind?” Of course this pushed her evangelism button. So I held up my hand in the stop position and said, “Yes, we are born-again Christians, and I’m a pastor.” She told me proudly that she was in a church that was “on fire for God.” When I heard that, I felt a twinge of failure. “I’m a pastor of a big church,” I thought, “but in front of me is a true child of God.”

So don’t you kinda look up to others when they have spiritual gifts, or deep knowledge of the Bible, or amazing faith, or make extraordinary sacrifices for God and others, or have boundless passion? And haven’t you ever felt a little less of yourself when you see those things in others? Or question your own walk with God?

But spiritual maturity is not about all these wonderful spiritual things. In other words, maturity isn’t about being spiritual, whatever that may be. Christian maturity is about only one thing: love. Check out what St. Paul writes in the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. Right there in the opening verses he lists five wonderful things that are not the full measure of any man or woman. Actually, it’s where I got my list of the Big Five above, good things that wither in the heat of the One Big Thing:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels [spiritual gifts], but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [I’m just makin’ a lot of noise.] And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge [two seminary degrees and/or decades of being a Bible expert], and if I have all faith [like Oral Roberts or Kenneth Copeland] so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have [making huge personal sacrifices for God and others], and if I deliver up my body to be burned [yeah, on fire for God!], but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

So what is love? Glad you asked. Paul goes on:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

I read that and, gulp, it sure isn’t me a lot of the time. And I’ve been helping people understand God’s word for decades. Someone said to me recently, “It’s not what you know. It’s what you love.” And Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. I don’t do that very well, either.

The grand finale in verse 8 (ESV): “Love never ends.” I take this to mean “love has no limits.” Like God in Christ. What about God in you?

And now for the maturity part right there in the love chapter: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). What are childish ways? Anything that doesn’t fit in verse 4-7.

So how do we become mature? How does love become our supreme virtue? It’s painfully simple: When life strips away our self-trust and self-importance, and we become fully immersed in our relationship with God. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Ponder that. Please ponder that.

And James says this about becoming mature: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

Maturity in Christ is not so much about what we gain, but what we lose: “What good will it be,” Jesus tells us, “for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matthew 16:26) The Greek term for “soul” here is psyche, that would be everything about you and in you which defines you and is important to you. Like spiritual gifts, supreme knowledge, fantastic faith, sacrificial service, boundless passion. And what other things can you think of?

All of these things are good and helpful, but if they dent my relationship with Jesus, they’re nothin’.

So what is Christian maturity? Let me suggest a few thoughts.

1. Maturity is relating and responding to people and circumstances just like Jesus. How many of us have mastered that one?

2. Maturity is emotional intelligence. What’s that? Allow me to drift away from being “spiritual” and share a couple things from the Harvard Business Review.

When asked to define the ideal leader [or a gifted, mature person?], many would emphasize traits such as intelligence, toughness, determination, and vision—the qualities traditionally associated with leadership. Such skills and smarts are necessary but insufficient qualities for the leader. Often left off the list are softer, more personal qualities [love? Fruit of the Spirit?]—but they are also essential. Although a certain degree of analytical and technical skill is a minimum requirement for success, studies indicate that emotional intelligence may be the key attribute that distinguishes outstanding performers from those who are merely adequate.

Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman first brought the term “emotional intelligence” to a wide audience with his 1995 book of the same name… In his research at nearly 200 large, global companies, Goleman found that truly effective leaders are distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence. Without it, a person can have first-class training, an incisive mind, and an endless supply of good ideas, but he still won’t be a great leader.
[Here are the] five components of emotional intelligence that allow individuals to recognize, connect with, and learn from their own and other people’s mental states:
• Self-awareness
• Self-regulation
• Motivation (defined as “a passion for work that goes beyond money and status”)
• Empathy for others
• Social skills, such as proficiency in managing relationships and building networks

There’s a famous Bible passage about emotional intelligence: 1 Corinthians 13!

3. Immaturity is acting like a toddler. There’s a Bible passage for that, too, also in 1 Corinthians. Paul writes, “Brothers and sisters [who are feuding with one another], I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly [sarkikos, that is, fleshly, carnal)—mere infants in Christ… You are still worldly. [Why would Paul says this?] For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

4. Maturity is getting along with others—and loving and forgiving them when they can’t get along with you. Bear with me as I repeat myself: Love has no limits. Is God’s love limited? Is God’s love in you for others limited by things in you that hide God’s love? Paul makes this clear in his second letter to the Corinthians.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

The last phrase takes my breath away. When I read it, I have to fall to my knees: as though God were making his appeal through us. Me, letting you see the relentless love of God? When I feel like having you arrested and serving a life sentence? Or worse? Never forget that Jesus prayed for the people who were nailing him to the cross: “Father, forgive them.” Think about it. That prayer was for you and me, too.

5. Christian maturity is this: Love God with everything in you—and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. What’s that called? The Great Commandment! What’s the key word in the Great Commandment? Love! Faith, hope, love; the greatest of these is love.

So how do we do this? How do I do this? With great difficulty, because I do not want to die to myself and hide my life in Christ. Yet, through the years, some scriptures have taken the edge off my carnality. Please read them slowly and answer this question: What is God saying to me about my relationship with him and others? What should I be confessing to God and asking for his forgiveness and cleansing? What are some things God is telling me to do? To do differently?

• Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).

• For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

• I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20)

• The Spirit however, produces in human life fruits such as these: love [yep, here’s where it all starts), joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, fidelity, tolerance and self-control—and no law exists against any of them. Those who belong to Christ have crucified their old nature with all that it loved and lusted for. If our lives are centered in the Spirit, let us be guided by the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25 – J.B. Phillips).

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Greater Phoenix and Arizona Catholic/Evangelical Bridges

Greater Phoenix and Arizona Catholic/Evangelical Bridges
Presented during Movement Day NYC
October 20, 2016

Personal Background

For decades I have been passionately engaged in bridge-building and collaboration in Phoenix and Arizona. My personal pilgrimage is based on an essential understanding of the gospel as St. Paul expresses it in the context of division in the church in Corinth: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Simply stated, this is Jesus plus nothing. He died not only to reconcile us to God, but to one another, and those two outcomes of the Cross are inseparable.

St. Paul writes, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2:14-16).

As Pope Francis stated recently in a meeting which I was privileged to attend, “We must make Jesus Christ our center, not the church.” We have our differences, but if we share faith in Christ, we can’t allow our distinctives to become reasons for division.

Events and Activities

Late 1990s. I preached a series of messages on what Evangelicals can learn from Catholics and what Catholics can learn from each other. Perhaps half of the people in my congregation were from a Catholic background. (I never called them “former” Catholics.) Most of their families were divided: Catholic family members were offended and angry their loved ones were no longer attending mass, and Catholic-background folks in my congregation wanted their Catholic family members to be “born-again.”

For my message on what we can learn from Catholics, I invited the local monsignor to do a video for us to answer the question. After the service, my wife said, “I want to go to his church.”

My purpose in this teaching series was to bring down the dividing walls of misunderstanding and hostility. As my dear friend in Phoenix, Auxiliary Bishop E. Nevares loves to say, “Can we just pray together?”

2000. We formed an interconfessional team (Catholics, Mainline, Evangelicals) to plan and implement a citywide celebration of the 2000-year history of Christianity. About 35,000 attended the event at our baseball stadium. I served on the planning team, which met at the diocesan center.

2010. Our new Phoenix Bishop Olmstead asked me and another friend to present him with a list of a dozen or so key evangelical pastors and leaders which the Bishop invited to a luncheon at the Diocesan Center. He told us that mainline churches have a point person, as do the Mormons. (We have three Mormon temples in Phoenix.) But no one person speaks for Evangelicals. The meeting was a first for many, maybe most of the people in room. The bishop’s purpose was to call us together around our shared concerns about religious liberty, life, and family and he shared his remarkable faith journey.

2013-Present. I’ve been told that, at the time or our lunch meeting with Bishop Olmstead, he was more interested in shared activism than in deep and personal fellowship. That changed dramatically three years ago. A dear friend and colleague, Joe Tosini, who has residences in Phoenix and Long Island, reconnected with his Italian friends Giovanni Traettino, a Pentecostal pastor, and Mateo Calisi, appointed by St. John Paul II to lead the Charismatic Movement in the Catholic Church. (It’s estimated that there are 150 million Catholics who have had a deep personal experience with the Holy Spirit.)

For a decade or more, Giovanni and Matteo have been leading Catholic/Evangelical reconciliation meetings around the globe, perhaps most notably in Latin America, where Giovanni became personal friends with Cardinal Bergoglio, who became Pope Francis. Early in 2014, these two Italian brothers, at Joe Tosini’s invitation, visited Phoenix, where we held several small reconciliation meetings and launched our John 17 Movement (www.john17movement.com). Pope Francis sent us a personal letter encouraging our unity efforts, and both Bishops Olmstead and Nevares participated in all those meetings. When I expressed my deep gratitude to Bishop O, he replied, “It’s providential I’m here. I was supposed to be Rome this week, but those meetings were cancelled!”

Subsequently, we’ve held multiple John 17 worship and prayer events, as well as leadership luncheons. Most notably, we had a grand event a year ago May on Pentecost Sunday at the Phoenix Convention Center. Again, both Bishops spoke, over 2000 attended, and Pope Francis sent us a personal video greeting.

Our J17 leadership has decided that our only mission is to bring Christians together in worship and prayer, believing that our unity efforts will be a significant factor in building kingdom collaborations for the good of our city and state. Direct and indirect outcomes of our J17 Movement include:

  • AZ127 (www.az127.com), based on James 1:27, is a local church and parish movement to reduce significantly the number of foster children in our state system by getting kids into Christian homes. In the last couple years, AZ127 has place more children in foster care homes than all the other agencies of the state combined. The movement was initially formed and led by three evangelical megachurches, but in the last year, Paul Mulligan, President of Phoenix Catholic Charities, “translated” the AZ127 content into Catholic language, and the diocese has adopted AZ127 as a model for families in their parishes to open their homes to foster kids.
  • For the last eighteen months I’ve been serving as the Phoenix Mobilizer for American Bible Society’s 6-city scripture engagement campaign. Bishop Olmstead has given me his full blessing to spearhead a decade-long Bible engagement movement for the Diocese of Phoenix. Key Catholic priests and parish leaders have come together to develop and implement a plan.
  • The Arizona director of Alpha (http://alphausa.org/), Jad Levi, who also serves on our John 17 Movement advisory team, has had remarkable favor with the diocese. In the next six months, about two dozen of the 93 parishes in the diocese will be launching Alpha as a part of the the New Evangelization to bring Catholics and their friends into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. The website of the USCCB states, “The focus of the New Evangelization calls all Catholics to be evangelized and then go forth to evangelize” (http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/new-evangelization/).
  • Our John 17 Movement has sprouted in NYC, where we held an advent worship event last fall, and in Houston, where the cardinal, bishops, priests and Protestant pastors have been gathering for fellowship and prayer.
  • On June 10, at the invitation of the Vatican, seven prominent evangelical pastors from Phoenix and many others from Portland, Salem, LA, Denver, NYC and Richmond spent two hours with Pope Francis. We worshipped, prayed, and asked him prepared questions. He’s invited us back for similar meetings.
  • Some years ago I launched a fellowship of the pastors of the largest churches in Phoenix. We/they have been meeting regularly now for ore than 10 years. Bill Hybels met with them two years ago and told them he had never seen that level of friendship and collaboration among influential pastor in any city in North America. This week they are gathering for their eighty annual summit. Several of these pastors were with us in Rome and have invited Joe Tosini to the retreat to talk about our extraordinary movement.

We are living in a new day.

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Our Political Challenge

By Mark Buckley, Lead Pastor, Living Streams Church, Phoenix … and a great personal friend

Years ago I learned a simple life lesson. If I want to enjoy my marriage, friends, and coworkers, it is best to be thankful for the blessings they bring, rather than focus on where they fall short. Lately, I’ve been trying to apply that principle to politicians. I’ve been following politics since I watched the first TV debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon on September 26, 1960. They debated the vital issues of the time with civility and insight. These qualities are lacking in some of our candidates and citizens today.

Our nation has faced wars, recessions, and terrorism since 1960. Yet this current election has troubled me more than any election in my life. I love our country and pray for our leaders. Many Americans are ignorant about the political process, our precarious financial situation, and the benefits of free trade. Most Americans no longer read the newspaper, or watch unbiased news programs. They get most of their news from the internet and a single channel on TV, so they lack a balanced perspective.

I don’t think most politicians are crooks. Most of them are gifted people trying to help our nation. However, those who make unrealistic promises will make our problems worse if they get elected. I believe we should limit abortions, control government spending, and support Israel. Yet many of those who advocate these positions are unwilling to make room for refugees who are fleeing from ISIS. Some of those who are fleeing are Christians. If we are unwilling to let 10,000 persecuted people who have been vetted into our country because one of them might be a terrorist, we have fearful and selfish hearts.

Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. He illustrated this command with the parable of the Good Samaritan who helped a robbery victim from another nation. We are not excused from God’s command to love others just because they come from another country. The Bible tells us to welcome strangers who are among us (Hebrews 13:1-2). Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the children of Israel in Egypt, Moses, as well as Jesus, Mary, and Joseph all spent time as refugees in foreign countries. None of them had visas. They all traveled to other nations to escape persecution, famine, or to obey God’s call.

It would be wonderful if everyone had access to higher education and health care. Yet we face a $14,000,000,000,000 federal debt. If deficit spending isn’t decreased, we will have an economic meltdown. We should be concerned with passing on both a good environment and a healthy economy to the next generation. These are not mutually exclusive goals, but both will require significant sacrifices.

America will not be made great by deporting millions of poor people, coercing Mexico to pay for a wall we build, ending free trade, torturing political prisoners, and building a bigger military. Being rich and powerful does not make a nation great. Hard work, abundant natural resources, generosity, and sacrifice have built America. Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people (Proverbs14:34). We have won world wars, but we are now losing a spiritual war for the soul of our nation. Jesus asked, “What good does it do to gain the world if you lose your soul?” We don’t need a bigger share of the world’s riches. We need a revelation of Jesus Christ. If we are disciples of Jesus, we will love God and love our neighbors. Jesus gives us hearts of compassion, courage, and wisdom so we can be a light in a dark world.

May God withhold judgment and have mercy on our nation. Lord, please cleanse and enlighten our hearts. Give us discernment so we choose wise and righteous leaders, who love justice and mercy. May the great resources of America be used to fulfill your will on the earth as it is in Heaven.

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Ministry Update November 2016

Ministry Update
November, 2016

Where do I begin? It’s been months since I updated my friends and ministry partners on my post-Word of Grace kingdom work. So I guess that means I should at least begin with: I’m really sorry!

I also don’t know where to begin because so much has happened in the last many months since you’ve heard from me.

Movement Day

At this present moment, I’m returning from NYC where I attended—and participated in—a three-day Global Movement Day (www.movementday.com). Three thousand leaders from 100 countries gathered in New York to be instructed and inspired to lead city transformation movements in their cities. We had forty influential leaders from Phoenix attend, because we have made plans for a similar event in September next year. I’m blessed to say I’ve spearheaded this, and recently we received significant funding to move this forward. Billy Thrall, former executive director of HopeFest, is now serving as exec director of Movement Day Arizona, which will be hosted by Grand Canyon University.

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You’ve prayed for us and many of you have given generous financial support to Nothing But Grace, so be encouraged that your sacrifices are not in vain! Your seeds of faith have empowered our ministry to Phoenix and our great state of Arizona.

John 17 Movement (www.john17movement.com)

As you know, I’ve been leading the way to build bridges between evangelical Christians and Catholics. While in New York City this week, I presented at a special dinner with leaders from Manila, Boston, New York and Montreal. Present were two extraordinary leaders: Montreal Bishop Tom Dowd, the second youngest to become Bishop currently in the worldwide Catholic Community, and Lorisa Corrie DeBoer, the Protestant Mother Teresa of the Philippines, who has established seven hundred preschools for underprivileged children, mostly among the thousands of people living in the garbage dumps of Manila (http://www.bgu.edu/lorisa-acorda-de-boer). You can read the report I prepared for this meeting here.

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“Mother Teresa” of the Philippines, Lorisa Corrie DeBoer

screen-shot-2016-11-10-at-3-37-18-pmBishop Tom Dowd

John 17 Leaders Meet with Pope Francis

And perhaps some of you have heard that the leadership of our John 17 Movement got the attention of the Vatican, and Pope Francis invited us to meet with him personally on June 10. About thirty prominent pastor and their wives, seven from Phoenix, were with us for this extraordinary meeting. We were with him for two hours. We worshipped, prayed, and had a conversation about church and theological issues. Pope Francis made it unmistakably clear that he is devoted to Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation. And perhaps most significantly, he stated emphatically that we must center our lives in Jesus, not the church.

Some of you may think, “It’s about time the Pope said something like that!” But hear me out: every Christian, in some way, is as devoted to their church, their form of worship, their doctrines, as they are to Jesus. I was raised Lutheran, and many Lutherans … and Baptists, and Assemblies of God, and Nazarenes, and Bible church people, and … know that there are other Christians out there. But if you’re Lutheran, you kinda believe that God is probably Lutheran. Or Baptist. Or AOG. Or Nazarene. Or Jesus would go to a Bible church. Yes, our distinctives are important, but sometimes they shrink Jesus.

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Praying for Pope Francis and meeting him personally

What makes us unique often becomes a dividing wall of hostility, like Jewish and Gentile Christians in the early church (Acts 15: and Ephesians). In our meeting in Rome, Pope Francis was echoing the words of Paul when he rebuked the divisions in the church in Corinth, “I was determined to know nothing among you than Jesus Christ.” Sounds like me: JESUS PLUS NOTHING

American Bible Society (ABS)

I am so grateful for what has become my primary focus of ministry: leading an effort to transform Greater Phoenix with God’s Word—and that I’m supported by American Bible Society in this task!

According to a Barna study commissioned by ABS, the number of Americans skeptical about the Bible has gone from 10% to over 20% in just the last five years. And the number of Americans engaged in the Bible, that is, hearing it or reading it no less than five times a week, has declined from just over 20% to 17%. So at least according to this study, for the first time in history, there are more Americans antagonistic and skeptical about the Bible as there are actually engaged in the Bible.

And Phoenix, in a list of the 100 largest media markets in American, is number 92 in Bible-mindedness. We’re in the bottom ten, with New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. You read more about these national studies on Americans and the Bible at http://www.americanbible.org/features/state-of-the-bible.

The good news is that about 40% of Americans would like to read the Bible more, including 80% of Catholics! So …

  • I have the blessing of Phoenix Catholic Bishop Thomas Olmstead to spearhead a Bible engagement movement for the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix. I’m working with a prominent Catholic Bible teacher, Kevin Saunders (http://www.arizonabibleclass.com/), to provide on-line content and Bible apps. The door has opened so wide, that in the next six months, as many as 25 of the 93 Catholic parishes in Phoenix will be offering the Alpha Course, which introduces people to the basics of the Christian faith and, specifically, the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our life.
  • I launched a partnership between ABS and Family Bridges (http://familybridgesusa.com) to reach Latino families with the Word of God.
  • I’m working with Young Life Arizona to provide scripture resources and social networking around the Word of God. ABS is currently developing an amazing app for Young Life New York City, which we are hoping to introduce to Arizona.
  • Jose Gonzales (http://www.azchristianlink.com/) and I are developing a plan for annual Month of Bible for Spanish language churches.
  • Jose Gonzales has been the catalyst for an annual Law Enforcement Prayer Breakfast. Early in May we had about 800 attend, for whom ABS prepared a very special 7-day scripture journey for law enforcement people and families.
  • I am partnering with the Arizona Coalition for Military Families (http://arizonacoalition.org/) to bring the Word of God to veterans and active-duty military (http://armedservicesministry.org/). Did you know that one out of ten adults in Phoenix is a veteran? We are working on a plan for churches to serve and mobilize veterans for kingdom work.

Please pray for us—and give as God leads you (http://v2.garykinnaman.com/donate)

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