While I was composing my first three blogs about my “season” in the desert (Phoenix) I mentioned my encounters with the movements of the Holy Spirit through some of the more miraculous gifting that are rejected by some Protestant conservatives. Ironically I came across this amazing quotation from St. Thomas Aquinas, universally recognized as one of the greatest minds and theologians of the Christian Church. Said Aquinas, in Book 1:
This wonderful conversion of the world to the Christian faith is the clearest witness of the signs given in the past; so that it is not necessary that they should be further repeated, since they appear most clearly in their effect. For it would be truly more wonderful than all signs if the world had been led by simple and humble men to believe such lofty truths, to accomplish such difficult actions, and to have such high hopes. Yet it is also a fact that, even in our own time, God does not cease to work miracles through His saints for the confirmation of the faith.
It took the Catholic Church a few decades to recognize the charismatic movement officially but the DNA of this acceptance can be seen in a quote like this one from the great doctor of the church. It is really those who reject such gifting and expressions who are hard pressed to deny their active presence in the church, at least in my view.
One of the reasons that I went to Phoenix, January 16-20, was to meet my new friend Joseph Tosini (to my right in the photo). Joe was introduced to me by mutual friends in Phoenix but it was the friendship we share with Jeff Gokee, who is a new member of our ACT3 Board, that led t our meeting. Jeff and I met several years ago (2010) shortly after my book, Your Church Is Too Small, was published. He wrote me and the same day I read his email I called him. A deep bond of friendship has grown between us. We love and trust each other profoundly. I cannot imagine what my life would be without my young friend Jeff.
When Jeff was asked by Joe Tosini about his journey into missional-ecumenism he introduced Joe to me. Joe and Jeff were together and called me to talk. I felt good about the call but had no idea what this would mean. I sensed that God was up to something but it was not clear what at the time. Then, just before Christmas, Joe called me on a Saturday. I’ll never forget the day because I was grocery shopping with Anita in a big-box store near home. Joe said, “John, I was praying for you this morning and I believe the Spirit wants you to come to Phoenix next month and stay with me and my wife so we can get to know one another.” I instantly knew that this was an invitation that God wanted me to accept. Because I had made a decision several years ago to make people a priority over events I had time in my schedule to say that I would come. I got back to Joe and said that the middle of the month would be best. Thus I went to Phoenix to spend five days with Joe and Mary Tosini, my new friends who share deeply with me in the love and fellowship of Christ.
Joe, who authored a wonderful book during his years in pastoral ministry, is a rare leader. We are the same age and we’ve shared many similar experiences. We both were caught up in the Jesus Movement and the revival of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Joe was saved as a hippie at the University of California (Berkeley) and then finished college at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri. After a short stint as a youth pastor in the Assemblies of God Joe was led to begin a Friday night Bible study group in Columbia, Missouri. Within weeks students and faculty from the University of Missouri were flocking to Joe’s group and a church was formed. This ministry became a major charismatic church for many years and still exists in Columbia. Joe eventually left that ministry and moved back to New York where he had grown up. He became a businessman, managing some property for his family initially. He is a highly-gifted entrepreneur who eventually developed a company focused on using science to solve problems that alleviate suffering and early death. The scientist who has most impacted Joe’s company was led to Christ by Joe. The investors in the business are all Christians and good friends who share in the vision they have of marketplace and mission.
When Joe was serving in Missouri he met some of the leading pastors and teachers in the global charismatic movement, including more than a few Catholic leaders. He learned, very early on, to embrace missional-ecumenism thus he has been a practitioner for decades. From the center of the marketplace, now through many great friendships, Joe has built a business and a life that touches thousands by focusing on deep friendships with a few. His calling, at least in this particular way, is like my own. Friendships matter more than institutions and programs, which is not to say these are not important. But friendships are the way that I hear God say to me: “seek first his kingdom.”
Jesus expressed very clearly what God taught me:
This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:12-15).
Jesus has called me his “friend.” The most intimate word for relationship that I can think of is “friend.” God has come to us in Jesus Christ to have a relationship with us and to give us a relationship with one another. The word that best describes this relationship is “friend.” If we love we will make real friends and real friends will become the signs and way of the kingdom. Stay close to your true friends, love them and learn to serve them as Jesus did his friends. Spend time with your friends and seek God through them but not by using them but rather by loving and listening. It is here that the kingdom will break into your spirit with power.
So Joe and I wanted to become real friends. That happened in ways I cannot write about but my days in Phoenix was life-transforming. Joe’s friends and my friends will likely become new friends in some way yet to be seen. We will walk together and the power of two and three will be stronger as a result. God will speak to “us” and we will seek to listen to him and obey. Scripture counsels us:
There are persons for companionship, but then there are friends who are more loyal than family (Proverbs 18:24).
As iron sharpens iron, so friends sharpen each other’s faces (Proverbs 27:17)
We reached a united decision to select some delegates and send them to you along with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul (Acts 15:25).
How will my time in Phoenix mark the future of ACT3 Network? I do not know but I can see some patterns forming. I believe the work of unity in Christ’s mission will spread through such friendships and I believe that network just grew exponentially in Phoenix. Phoenix is a place where God has met me again-and-again. It is funny how this works, but in the dreams and visions that I had for over a decade God said he would meet me in a desert and would raise me up from the desert to show his power and love through my life in a deeper and more profound way. Are you with me my friends? I am now quite sure that he is doing what he said to me he would do twenty years ago. I stand amazed, humbled and quite thrilled to follow his leading in 2015.
On Sunday, January 18, I returned to the City of the Lord and attended the 1:30 p.m. Mass, led by the Bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmsted. I met Bishop Olmsted, in April of 2014, over dinner here in Chicago. Let me explain that meeting briefly.
As I’ve indicated I have been to Phoenix many times over the past five years. I had lodged in a downtown guest condominium near Chase Field. Each day I would walk 4-5 miles. I walked early in the morning while the city was quiet and before it would get really, really hot. I walked by St. Mary’s Basilica each morning. I did not know Bishop Olmsted at that time but I prayed for him every day. I prayed for God to pour his blessing upon his servant. I prayed that he would know the grace and power of Christ in leading this growing diocese. Bishop Olmsted came to serve the Diocese of Phoenix eleven years ago following a pretty difficult crisis in the leadership and mission of that diocese. He has been known as a steady, careful and godly leader. I prayed that Bishop Olmsted and I would meet, and by meeting learn to love each other. I also prayed that he would work with some of the young evangelical Protestant leaders of his city. Again, I told no one but Jeff Gokee of these prayers.
In October of 2013 I was invited to share my story of unity with the committee of bishops on ecumenism for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. I would speak to the USCCB committee of bishops in April, 2014, right here in Chicago. I learned that Bishop Olmsted would be at that meeting as a member of the USCCB committee. I sent him a letter and my book, Your Church Is Too Small. I received a response from his secretary. It was kind but not what I had hoped for at the time. I kept praying and the night that I had dinner with the bishops I prayed that God would put me right beside Bishop Olmsted so we could meet and become friends. God answered my prayer and we talked. His heart had been opened warmly since my letter had been sent and he told me of how he had invited evangelicals leaders to his residence for lunch. He served them and opened his heart to them. They did the same and invited him to a meal with their leaders and he went to this gathering. I have to tell you that I was on a super cloud that evening. God was clearly answering my prayer. (This story has so many back stories in it that I cannot say more here but believe me when I say “God did it all.”)
Bishop Olmsted and I agreed to pray for one another and to meet again. I wrote to his secretary two weeks before this recent visit to Phoenix to seek a meeting. His schedule on Monday-Tuesday was not open to another private meeting. I was disappointed but still felt that we would meet, for reasons I cannot explain rationally. When I got to Joe’s home on Friday he told me that we would go to the Mass on Sunday afternoon and I would have an opportunity to visit with Bishop Olmsted. I could not contain my inner excitement about God’s leading and provision. This bishop that I love so deeply, and pray for regularly, would have a few moments to share with me after all. After a lovely Mass, and a really fine sermon, there was a birthday celebration for Bishop Olmsted. When almost everyone had left the room we finally got to talk in private. These precious minutes are deeply etched into my spirit. I urge you to pray with me for Bishop Olmsted. Here is a man who is filled with deep joy and who shares the spirit and vision of Pope Francis. What God is doing in Phoenix is beyond anything I could have imagined a few years ago. This is the grace of God at work in his beloved leaders and people.
On Monday Joe and I met with three young evangelical leaders in Phoenix and then on Tuesday I visited a seminary dean, a college president and three professors of theology. In every case I saw the same hunger and openness to what the Holy Spirit is doing in opening up unity in Christ’s mission, our ACT3 vision.
If you love me and the ACT3 mission I need your prayer. I also need your support. I need for you to share in this with everyone who prays along with me for a John 17 movement of the Spirit. This is a time when God is healing and reconciling members and leaders in the Body of Christ. I believe some of you have a vital part in this movement of the Spirit. This is especially true if you are a marketplace leader. I now plainly sense that this John 17 movement is going to come from the overflowing hearts of many who are not clergy. Clergy will very likely see what God has done and then be called upon to embrace it and help lead it as servants, not as masters.