This ministry update is ridiculously overdue. I think maybe a year overdue.
And sorry this is a lengthy report. If you just have time to scan it, look for the red and bold.
I especially want to apologize to our faithful financial partners—and to thank you for your relentless generosity, as you trust that Marilyn and I are being faithful to God’s call on our lives in this season of our life.
In fact, this last year has been deeply difficult and wildly wonderful. I’ll get to the wonderful part in just a bit, but allow me share the downside of the last 15 months. Many of you have likely heard that our son David’s wife Jill has been battling brain cancer since the Spring of 2017.
Jill was experiencing excruciating headaches, and in June, while David was in Colorado on Barna business, Jill drove herself to the emergency room at their local hospital. Within a few hours they determined she had a large brain tumor. She calls it “a lemon in my melon.” Two days later she had surgery to remove the tumor, which was malignant.
Doctors said they got 98% of it, but two weeks after surgery Jill developed a life-threatening infection: bacterial meningitis in her brain. As a result of two additional surgeries, Jill suffered severe short-term memory loss and dementia-like symptoms. Twenty four-hour care for a wife and mom turned their family upside down. Marilyn spent perhaps half of the next six months in California, and I spent a good deal of time alone back home in Gilbert.
Yet by the holidays last year, having recovered from her infection and her mental crisis, Jill was able to begin six weeks of chemo and radiation. The really good news is that several post-treatment MRIs have not found any progress of the cancer, and Jill is living a relatively normal life.
Yes, it’s been by far the most difficult thing all of us have experienced, especially David, as he had to become both dad and mom while continuing to lead his company, the Barna Group. David’s living word from God’s word this last year has been from 2 Corinthians 1:
[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.[/perfectpullquote] Honored to be the keynote commencement speaker for Biola University this year, David spoke about his family’s year of trauma and the power of this passage of Scripture to sustain them.
A new year. 2018. Jill’s life returned to a new normal, and I severely injured my left Achilles. Blew it out. First week of February, in a dark night at a retreat center, I was walking down a sloping lawn to the parking lot. The lawn, though, didn’t end at a sidewalk. It ended at a two-foot wall. I stepped into a black abyss and ended up face down in on the parking lot asphalt. Yeah, OW!
After surgery to repair my completely ruptured Achilles, weeks on a scooter, in a boot, and on crutches, I was able to walk quite well. Well, until my ankle became infected, and I had to return to the hospital for a second surgery mid-May followed by six weeks on PICC line. That’s a semi-permanent IV tube inserted up my arm and into my heart. Twice a day for six weeks I “shot up” saline, Big Bertha antibiotics, and more saline followed by an anticoagulant.
Through it all, the rest of our family has welcomed a parade of rich moments from God and with one another. Our oldest granddaughter Emily finished her freshman year at Cal Berkeley. She loves it, and she’s deeply committed to the excellent Christian community in that secular city.
Dave has grown the Barna group significantly and a year ago released his third book, Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme.
Our daughter Shari has just accepted a promotion from Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, Colorado, where she does academic and career counseling and teaches English as a second language.
Our youngest, Matt, has been in the Navy band for 12 years, the last 8 in Japan and Norfolk, Virginia. He has orders to return to San Diego where he began his Navy music career. We are so happy about that! His wife Kate’s parents are, too. They live just north in Temecula.
It’s been over ten years since we left Word of Grace, now famously Hillsong Phoenix. I’ve had six interim pastor assignments, helping local churches who are between pastors or where the pastor needs a break. In June and July, I preached at Evident Life in Gilbert for Eric Jones, who took a nine-week sabbatical.
Many of you know that I’ve been on the core team of our John 17 Movement. Responding to Jesus’s prayer for us to be one, we’ve seen extraordinary favor reaching out to Catholic brothers and sisters. We’ve prayed and worshiped together, we’ve shared meals together, and we’ve developed genuine Spirit-filled fellowship with Bishops Olmstead and Nevares. Bishop Nevares has shared repeatedly in different contexts that, having spent time in our movement, indeed helping us lead the John 17 Movement, he feels like he’s been born again!
Most remarkably, we (many prominent pastors in Phoenix) have met three times—for extended times—with Pope Francis, who also has a heart to bring Christians together, not just into the Catholic church. We are releasing a new book titled John 17: The Heart of God, with a forward by Pope Francis himself. Many men and women in our movement, myself included, have written their stories, their testimonies of how God has been changing our hearts and bringing us together. Purchase it here.
Most of my time has been has been serving American Bible Society in Phoenix. No, I’m not selling Bibles. I’m the ABS Ministry Mobilizer in Phoenix growing partnerships to get more people in more churches and ministries to engage with Scripture (https://www.phoenix.bible/). To summarize some of my work over the last couple years:
And some people are still asking me if I am enjoying retirement.
And a special word of thanks to our PIT Crew (Personal Intercessory Team) who meet and pray with us about every 4 to 6 weeks: Ed and Linda D’Avola, Scott and Jan Enderle, Hector and Mimi Torres, Kaizer and Deborah Husein.