Monthly Archives

July 2016

How Does The Church ‘Win’? (Leighton Ford)

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So, the first half ends. The team drags off to the locker room defeated, demoralized, beaten.

But when the second half begins, we see a different team. Suddenly they’re playing together with a new spirit. They huddle, slap each other on the back, and take the line. They’re off the ball with split second timing, there is no hesitation, they know where they’re going. Each player carries out his assignment and soon they score a touchdown, then another and another.

When the game ends, they’ve won!

After the game we ask the coach, “What happened at halftime to change the team?”

“We were sitting here beaten, he says, “and suddenly a kind of presence seemed to come over us. I started talking to the players, pointing out their mistakes and mine, being honest, everyone started talking. Nobody blamed the others. We took a good look at ourselves. Then someone recalled that the Great Coach, the one who invented the game, also wrote the Master Game Plan. Wouldn’t it make sense to see what he said?”

“We remembered how he literally gave himself to get the game started and to teach the first team everything he knew. So we got out the Game Plan and reviewed it and each player learned about himself and his place on the team, about pulling together and learning to sacrifice, knowing the aim of the game and using the proper equipment he designed”.

“Suddenly we were up! Motivated! Ready to go! It was if the Great Coach was with us, as if his Spirit somehow got inside us. We can’t take the credit. It goes to him!”

We figure the coach was right. We’d seen a beaten team become a great team. It had to be something beyond themselves.

The church of Jesus Christ triumphs not because it’s a super-church made up of super-people with a super-strategy but because it faithfully obeys the Savior, Jesus Christ, the head of the church.

 

Adapted from Good News is For Sharing by Leighton Ford (1977, David C. Cook)

Maybe You Are God’s Foolishness! (Leighton Ford)

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I was with a group of young pastors, talking about our calls to ministry, our longings, doubts, desires, fears.
One of them, a fine handsome young man from the islands, spoke up with a kind of grimace on his face.
“Why would God choose me?” he wondered, “I am so changeable. So up. So down. So weak and sinful and inadquate. I me?”
I ventured a few thoughts, nothing very helpful.
Then suddenly i said (without any thought really) “Well, you are God’s foolishness.”
He looked stunned. Then he laughed. And I laughed. And we all laughed.
Because we are all the foolishness of God. That he uses people like you and me. And that his foolishness, as Paul wrote, is also his wisdom. The wisdom of the cross. The wisdom of God using our weaknesses and foolishnesses to work out his plan.
Whew. I knew more than I said, truly.
Leighton Ford

A More Centered Heart (Leighton Ford)

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This article appeared in The Charlotte Observer on July 23, 2016.

This summer for me has included a good bit of looking back, including a trip to my native Canada with my daughter and two grandchildren, and rummaging through a pile of old books.

One I came across was the Quaker Thomas Kelly’s classic A Testament of Devotion, that my mother gave me for my 27th birthday.

As I reread his chapter on “The Simplification of Life” I was struck by his opening words:

“The problem we face today needs very little time for its statement. Our lives in a modern city grow too complex and overcrowded … Even the necessary obligations we feel we must meet grow overnight … The times for the deeps of the silences of the heart seem few.”

Each of us, wrote Kelly, tends to be “not a single self, but a whole committee of selves” each loudly demanding more time.

He wrote that in 1941. How much more complex and pressured our lives are today with instant communication and increasing demands and deadlines in our lives, personal and professional.

A young Charlotte lawyer brought a briefcase of work home and sighed, “I can’t ever catch up.” His young daughter said, “Daddy, why don’t you join a slower group”!

That sounds like an attractive option! But is the problem the speed and complexity of the world around us? Or, as Kelly wrote is it that “we are not skilled in the inner life, where the real roots of our problem lie”?

Unless we move to some desert or mountain retreat we will be hard pressed to find a less complex world. What we can seek is a more centered heart.

Some years ago I was feeling totally overwhelmed. So I went away for a day to the lake to think and get organized. I wrote down everything I had to do. When I looked at all I’d written I was overwhelmed. I realized that what I needed was not just better time management, but a more centered life.

I remembered meeting Mother Teresa in Calcutta and asking how she kept going with all the dying people she cared for. She answered, “We do our work for Jesus, with Jesus, to Jesus. That’s what keeps it simple.”

She could have been echoing the words of the apostle Paul. Out of his own demanding life he wrote of “the simplicity that is in Christ” or, as it can also be translated, “the simplicity that is toward Christ.”

That day by the lake I put aside my schedule, went out and walked in a circle around a big tree, and prayed, “Lord, I can’t solve all my problems or schedule all my work. But I want to take time to direct all my thoughts, tasks, responsibilities toward you – and let you bring simplicity out of my complexity.”

Now, many years later, I try to stop in the middle of a morning and ask: why am I doing whatever I am doing? Is it “for Jesus, with Jesus, to Jesus”?

Mother Teresa, Paul, Thomas Kelly – all said it well. The one who said  – and lived it – best was our Lord Jesus. His life was simple – utter devotion his Father’s call. His words were simple – simply profound. His call is simple – simply radical. “Follow me.”

His words are still simply true for us in our complex lives.

“Seek first the kingdom. The rest will be added.” Simple enough.

 

Leighton Ford

 

Love God, Love The World (Thomas Merton)

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“Christianity should make us ‘more visibly human’ – passionately concerned with all the good that wants to grow in the world and that cannot grow without our concern.

Our indifference to the real values in the world justifies our petty attraction to its false values, when we forget the…Kingdom of God in the world.

Those who love the world in its wrong sense love it for themselves, exploit it for themselves.

Those who truly love it, develop it, work in it for God, that God may reveal Himself in it.”

Thomas Merton

From Turning Toward The World – The Journals of Thomas Merton 1960-1963 (1996, HarperCollins)

Do I Have A Right To Be Here?

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World-class runner Harold Abrahams, a friend and rival of Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire fame, explained his desperate attempts to win the hundred-yard Olympic sprint by saying, ‘I have just ten seconds to justify my existence!’.

Whew! I hear that and wonder how long I will keep trying to ‘justify my existence.’ How often have I woken up in the morning thinking, What do I have to do today to prove I deserve my place in the world? Or ever more desperately, How long do I have to live to justify my existence? What more do I have to accomplish?

Why do I need to justify my existence in the first place? After all I didn’t create myself. I didn’t ask to be born. I didn’t choose where I would grow up or what gifts and opportunities I would have. Since God made me, gave me life, and allotted my times and the places where I would love, I certainly don’t need to justify my existence to him. I do want to seek him, find him, understand what he wants and live responsibly before him. But my existence is already justified by the very fact of my existence. Just the fact that I am is a sign of God’s enduring love.

Leighton Ford

Adapted from The Attentive Life (2008, InterVarsity Press)

Our Inward Winters (Parker Palmer)

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Yesterday in parts of North Carolina, the heat index was 107 degrees Fahrenheit! Therefore, it seemed like the perfect time to recall Parker Palmer’s meditation on the season of Winter and its implications for the spiritual life – particularly how it offers us a time to recognize and step into the things we fear. This excerpt is taken from his book Let Your Life Speak, which Leighton has recommended to many over the years.

“In the Upper Midwest, newcomers often receive a classic piece of wintertime advice: ‘The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out in them.’ Here, people spend good money on warm clothing so that they can get outdoors and avoid the ‘cabin fever’ that comes from huddling fearfully by the fire during the hard-frozen months. If you live here long you learn that a daily walk into the winter world will fortify the spirit by taking you boldly to the very heart of the season you fear.

Our inward winters take many forms – failure, betrayal, depression, death. But everyone one of them, in my experience, yields to the same advice: ‘The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them’. Until we enter boldly into the fears we most want to avoid, these fears will dominate our lives. But when we walk directly into them – protected from frostbite by the warm garb of friendship of inner discipline or spiritual guidance – we can learn what they have to teach us. Then we discover once again that the cycle of seasons is trustworthy and life-giving, even in the most dismaying season of all.”

A Prayer For Worship (Elizabeth Archer Klein)

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Friend of Leighton and pastor Elizabeth Archer Klein crafted this prayer for her congregation the week after the terrible events in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas, for Sunday, July 10, 2016. It is a good prayer for any broken time.
Lord,
We are a broken people in a Nation filled with pain and division.
The news has relentlessly shown us black men being killed,
and police officers gunned down.
Our constant access to horrific images
has pierced our hearts and souls in terrible ways.
We deeply regret everything
we have done to contribute to these divisions
And everything we have not done to repair them.
But there is something in this nightmare that reminds us
that we who were blind, are seeing new truths.
We can no longer pretend that racism isn’t harming all of us.
Our nausea speaks that we are ready to change.
We no longer want to live in a world
where things like this can happen.
We need you.
We need you to be our Father,
to teach us and show us a path forward.
We need you to be our Savior, to fix all those things in us
that would be ruled by fear, or hate, or false arrogance.
We need you to be our Mother,
to hold us, and whisper it will be ok,
and things can get better.
We need your Spirit to mend the brokenness
and shine a light in so many dark places.
We sit here, remembering what you have promised.
You have said that you are the bright morning Star.
You are the Alpha, and the Omega.
You are our Shepherd.
You lead us to still waters.
You fill our cups to overflowing.
Your Word and Holy people throughout the Centuries
have shown us,
In the name of the Christ,
there is neither Jew or Greek,
slave or free,
male or female,
Black or White,
Asian or Islander,
Native or Hispanic,
or any other difference.
We are ALL one in you.
We are all ONE in you.
We are all one in YOU.
You have already made us one.
What you have put together, we cannot divide.
Give us the power to act like it,
though the broken looking glass of our world
has thrown a million shards into our fragile minds and hearts.
Pour out your power, O Lord.
We are waiting.
We are pleading.
We are ready.
Amen.

A Treasure Uncovered, On A Monday Morning (Leighton)

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I was going through some piles of stuff in my office/study and came across two or three books I had forgotten I had.

One is Diary of an Old Soul, a daily anthology of quotes from George MacDonald. And they are a treasure.

Sunday I was in a poor mood.  Not sure whether it was the hot and humid weather, summer cabin fever, lack of exercise, or a severe illness in a family member. But my mood was ‘poor me’.

Then Monday morning I read this from Macdonald.

Well mayst thou then work on indocile hearts

By small successes, disappointments small;

By nature, weather, failure, or sore fall;

By shame, anxiety, bitterness and smarts;

By loneliness, by weary loss of zest;

The rags, the husks, the swine, the hunger-quest.

Drive home the wanderer to the Father’s breast!

 

That suited my mood. My loss of zest.

No wonder C. S. Lewis thought that MacDonald seemed closer than any other writer to the Spirit of Christ.

He certainly spoke to me and I am grateful today.

 

Leighton Ford

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