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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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.

Fig. 1. Mean happiness reported during each activity (top) and while mind wandering to unpleasant topics, neutral topics, pleasant topics or not mind wandering (bottom). Dashed line indicates mean of happiness across all samples. Bubble area indicates the frequency of occurrence. The largest bubble (“not mind wandering”) corresponds to 53.1% of the samples, and the smallest bubble (“praying/worshipping/meditating”) corresponds to 0.1% of the samples.

 

References and Notes
1. M. E. Raichle et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 98, 676
(2001).
2. K. Christoff, A. M. Gordon, J. Smallwood, R. Smith,
J. W. Schooler, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 106, 8719
(2009).
3. R. L. Buckner, J. R. Andrews-Hanna, D. L. Schacter,
Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 1124, 1 (2008).
4. J. Smallwood, J. W. Schooler, Psychol. Bull. 132, 946 (2006).
5. M. F. Mason et al., Science 315, 393 (2007).
6. J. Smallwood, E. Beach, J. W. Schooler, T. C. Handy,
J. Cogn. Neurosci. 20, 458 (2008).
7. R. L. Buckner, D. C. Carroll, Trends Cogn. Sci. 11, 49 (2007).
8. J. C. McVay, M. J. Kane, T. R. Kwapil, Psychon. Bull. Rev.
16, 857 (2009).
9. M. J. Kane et al., Psychol. Sci. 18, 614 (2007).
10. D. Kahneman, A. B. Krueger, D. A. Schkade, N. Schwarz, A. A. Stone, Science 306, 1776 (2004).
11. A.B.Krueger,D.A.Schkade,J.PublicEcon.92,1833(2008).
12. Materials and methods are available as supporting
material on Science Online.
13. J. Smallwood, A. Fitzgerald, L. K. Miles, L. H. Phillips,
Emotion 9, 271 (2009).
14. We thank V. Pitiyanuvath for engineering www.
trackyourhappiness.org and R. Hackman, A. Jenkins,
W. Mendes, A. Oswald, and T. Wilson for helpful comments.
Supporting Online Material
www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/330/6006/932/DC1 Materials and Methods
Table S1
References
18 May 2010; accepted 29 September 2010 10.1126/science.1192439
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.
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Ministry Update

May, 2017

Where do I begin? It’s been months since I updated you, my friends and ministry partners on my post-Word of Grace kingdom work. But I love this Bible verse: “Better late than never” (Hesitations 4.6).

Movement Day Arizona

I spearheaded the launch of this event here in Phoenix. Thousands will be gathering on September 15-16 at Grand Canyon University (http://movementday.com/md-arizona/ ), and this would not happen without the extraordinary leaders of my friend and colleague Billy Thrall, whom we’ve hired as our executive director. This has been made possible by generous matching funds from a philanthropy organization investing in kingdom movements in Phoenix.

I’m in a Movement Day interview on KPXQ 1360 Faith Talk radio with Billy Thrall and Mac Pier, “father” of Movement Day worldwide.

Billy Thrall presenting to our amazing Movement Day leadership community representing the highest profile church and community leaders in Arizona: Central Christian, Hillsong, Scottsdale Bible Church, Christ Church of the Valley, Phoenix Rescue Mission, AZ127, School Connect, Street Light, Catholic Charities, and so many more.

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 mission!

Bible Engagement for Movement Day.  Specifically, my role in Movement Day, as mobilizer for American Bible Society, is to lead the development of scripture and prayer journeys and resources for the event and for each of the two dozen issue-focused tracks.

Bible Engagement for Hispanic churches. Wow. We are moving forward with the first annual Month of the Bible for Spanish language churches, of which there are over 400 in Phoenix. This will happen in September, and we are calling this “Unity and Revival: 28 Days in the Book of Acts.” Pastors will be preaching from Acts, and American Bible Society is helping us design and publish a daily study guide which will also be available in an app that sends everyone a daily reading and devotional from Acts. We have the support of the Southern Baptist Churches, the Church of God, the Wesleyan Church, and the Assemblies of God, as well as many other church networks. We’re also getting calls from Yuma, Tucson, and Prescott! I couldn’t do this with my awesome brothers Jose Gonzales and Hector Torres.

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

Bible Distribution. I’ve become a faucet for new Bibles! I was able to arrange a shipment of 2000 Bibles for adults and kids, in English and Spanish, for a huge foster care event at Encanto Park. That led to another shipment of 3000 Bibles to the Enchanted Island amusement park, also at Encanto and owed by a wonderful Christian couple. Every year, for the three days of Easter weekend, they host a massive egg hunt. Here’s what they wrote to us:

  • When the four pallets of Bibles arrived, we were overwhelmed with the generosity of your ministry. We couldn’t even count the number of mothers who said they have needed a Bible for their children and grandmothers who were so excited about giving a Bible to their grandchildren.
  • An elderly gentleman, when asked if he would like a free Bible, teared up and said, “I now know this is why I came here today. I’ve been needing a Bible.” He then sat down and started reading it. A young girl around eight came up to us and asked if we were giving away books. We told her we were giving away Bibles. She took two children’s Bibles, one for her and one for her sister, and one Bible for her mom. She ran back three times with a different person each time to get a Bible for that person.
  • Another young man was seen walking through the amusement park with a Bible in his hand, not even watching where he was going.  Kraig, the owner, knew God would do an amazing work in this boy’s life and his descendants. Another teen was seen reading her Bible at tables instead of watching the Easter egg hunt. Many employees of the park, most of whom are teenagers, asked us to save them a Bible. They have also begun asking a lot of questions about the Lord.
  • Sunday was so busy we couldn’t open the boxes of Bibles fast enough, over 1000 Bibles were gone in less than 30 minutes, WOW! It is amazing to see how many people here in America do not have Bibles and how excited they were to get one.

John 17 Movement (www.john17movement.com). As you know, I’ve been a voice in the wilderness calling Catholic and non-Catholic followers of Jesus to come together in the unity of the Spirit and bond of peace. In early June, a number of us are returning to Rome to participate in the 50th anniversary Jubilee of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Catholic Church. Most people don’t realize that the “charismatic movement” took a huge leap forward when students and faculty held Pentecostal prayer meetings at Duquesne and Notre Dame universities in 1967. Here is a helpful and fairly brief history of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the last half of the last century: http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-9/worldwide-renewal-charismatic-movement.html

 

Ministry of Reconciliation. Perhaps you’ve read that Hope Christian Church on the campus of ASU has been snarled in controversy, some as a result of their style of ministry, but also as a consequence of the sadly common unwillingness of Christian leaders to come to the table of reconciliation and prayer—to resolve conflict by listening and forgiving. It’s a miracle that, as a result of my urging (not always gently), the key leaders in this “feud” (my word) agreed to submit to mediation led by the stellar ministry Peacemaker Ministries (http://peacemaker.net/). This years-long conflict has caused me no little pain, but I’m so pleased to say that all the key people have made huge progress.

Family News

It’s all good, and we are so grateful.

Easter: David’s family (Ventura), Shari’s family (Denver), Matt’s family (Virginia Beach)

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

 

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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

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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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