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Leighton Ford Ministries

Making the Most of the Worst of Times

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What is a “Christian Response” to COVID?  My longtime friend and Lausanne colleague, the Indian theologian Saphir Athyal, says that our current crisis is an opportunity toward becoming humans as God intended us to be . . . reconnected in mutual justice and selfless love to the Almighty and to one another.  When you have a few moments, I invite you to read his recent article, which, in some ways, is the best “Christian response” I’ve seen. – Leighton Ford

The whole world is a battleground! We are all under a siege! With the present swift exponential increase of Covid-19 throughout all the countries, where we are headed to this time, no one knows. Thick dark clouds covering the whole world and every nation. Suppressed anxiety and fear on most faces. Global lockdown and economic disaster. Doctors and medical personnel on the frontline of this war working overtime with alarming shortage of staff and medical equipment risking their own lives. A vaccine and an effective medicine for this and their use worldwide, not in view in the immediate future. Data and statistics of people getting sick and dying showing rapidly increasing numbers every minute.

LIVING WITH QUESTIONS UNANSWERED

This is not a time to blame God, any nation, any government, or any scientist.  We are in it all together as the human race. This ‘enemy virus’ does not know any boundaries in terms of nations, race, gender, culture, age and social status. Our usual concept of power, the power of wealth, military, titles and positions, all are bowed down to the dust before this puny little organism of coronavirus. We are forced to submit to the truth of Ps 144:4, “Man is like a mere breath; His days are like a passing shadow”. 

Where is God when we need him the most? If he is all powerful how can he stand aside and do nothing? Has he abandoned the worldhis world, his people? We should not be presumptuous to try to explain what God is doing or not doing. Sickness, pandemics, deaths and tragedies that we experience in this shattered world are the outcome of the misuse by humankind of God’s precious gift of freedom of will. Yet, he stands with us in our miseries, and he helps us to make some good come out of it all.

 

CORONAVIRUS AND SIN – AN ALMOST PERFECT MATCH

There are significant contrasts, but some of the similarities are noted below. Though tempted to elaborate on each, I will not do so to keep this article short.

  1. The covert, secretive and stealthy way of both, in spreading from person to person
  2. The source of both is alienation of humanity from God. His will for us is our wholeness and goodness.
  3. Both attack the vital organs. The virus attacks the lungs, and sin attacks heart, mind and the whole person.
  4. Shelter from both is in keeping a safe distance. Social distancing. “Flee from evil” (Paul)
  5. Both no respecter of any boundariesnational, gender, age and status, thus leveling all. 
  6. The Virus needs a living cell to live and replicate. Sin is not abstract; needs a living person.
  7. The sheer power of both the virus and sin on people
  8. Facing the fact of the problem and its seriousness is the first step toward a cure. In virus, transparency and truth to people, and in sin, confession to God and to those sinned-against are necessary.
  9. Even when conquered, both sticks around. Virus mutates and comes back in another form. So also, does our sinful nature unless it is overcome by the power of the gospel of Christ.

IS THERE A BRIGHT SIDE TO THIS DARKNESS?

Some good results have come out of this crisis.

 

  1. WHO says that air pollution kills 4.6 million people globally each yearin China 1.3 million and in India 1.2 million. As industries, factories, and travel by air, train and private vehicles are curtailed, if not stopped, for a few months now, the atmosphere is significantly cleaner. So, one may say (insensitive to the loved ones of the many thousands who died) that Covid-19 is saving the lives of many times more people than those who die of it? 
  2. Countries with the largest economies boast of their power with a spirit of arrogance that in wealth, military and scientific knowledge lie their strength and greatness. With heavy global economic disaster and impending recession, maybe they will be more accommodative of countries with weaker economies.
  3. Nations are learning in a new way how we are all interdependent and interconnected, and how we need one another. They know that they have to put aside geopolitical squabbles if they have to work together to develop medicines and vaccine for this, and save as many lives as possible. So also, the need for humane cooperation to make life on earth more livable.
  4. The spirit of godlessness, irreligion, secularism and immorality has been on rapid increase in the world. Deriding faith in God as unscientific and foolish is common and in vogue. Could it be that because of this crisis, a lot of people in times of helplessness, agony and anxiety seek some power beyond them and turn to God

Also, with the closing down of places of worship, many have come to realize that religiosity and rituals are in themselves no substitute for true spirituality.

  1. Now we get to enjoy the small and simple things in life, so also, the ordinary things which in busy lives we missed. We eat simpler food which we learn as what is only necessary, cherish our environment, talk to neighbors over the fence, and appreciate colors, flowers and birds around. Now we do things such as, remembering highlights of old days, enjoying old photos and files, dreaming of our future and may be making definite goals, and learning new things about the use of internet, mobile, Zoom platform, and online business (as the world because of Covid-19 becomes more a virtual world.)
  2. There have been several other collateral gains amidst losses. True, people go through serious adverse effects such as, the loss of jobs and livelihood of millions; growth in domestic violence as rise in the percentage of distress calls indicate; many prisoners being released by which there is an increase in thefts and crimes; and a surge of misinformation, fake news and pornography through internet. And others.

 

Yet, there have been several notable gains. Parties for weddings and anniversaries that normally had very large number of guests have become much smaller and wiser. With the absence of household helps all family members learn to do some chores at home—our women would like this good thing to continue. Drinking habit of many had stopped as liquor shops are closedfor their sake and of their families, we hope many of them will live free from drinking. People are learning to curtail unnecessary expenses as money is in short supply. Many volunteers have joy and satisfaction of selflessly helping those in dire needs, inspiring us to be more altruistic and follow their example.

Also, there have been improved hygiene with all the hand washing, baths and better restroom etiquette; quitting the general habits of licking finger as we turn pages of newspaper or currency notes; preference of Namasthe greeting over shaking hands; and significantly, much cleaner air and atmosphere everywhere.

As a new world order is emerging post-Covid, we earnestly hope a better world will develop from all this chaos we go through now in spite of the weakening globalization (except for this global virus), rising populist nationalism and declining democracy globally.

 

MANAGING THIS CRISIS FOR OUR GAIN

It is adversities that make life truly richer and not riches and comforts. Suffering can produce good benefits. For most of us we are living in the worst of times. We need to find the best way to make the most of it. We should not waste this crisis.

With “stay-at-home” orders when weekdays and weekends look alike, office and home are merged, Sundays and the other days of the week are identical, and with no strict schedule to follow, what do we do with all the time at hand?

Being driven in life with ‘the urgent’ we failed much too long to understand what is truly ‘the important’. What are some of ‘the important’ things?

  1. Time to be honest before God—alone in his presence. Our integritythe coherence between our real inner self and our appearance before others, our claims and our inner fears, our masks/attires and the real persons they cover. Let us take time to reconnect with ourselves, each one asking, “Who am I who is the real me when nobody is looking except my Lord”.
  2. Time to understand what is true religion. When opportunities of corporate worship are closed, we need to hear again, “Where two or three are gathered together I am in their midst”. Let us make no mistake, it is corporate worship that strengthens and sustains our faith, that is, provided that faith is there. 

Without inner religion, religion becomes “opium of people”. Christian faith is primarily an inner reality without which corporate worship and outward rituals become a cop-out and escapism from the challenges of a personal bond with God through Christ—”a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:5). Do we shelter ourselves from our spiritual vacuum by joining a crowd of worshippers? 

  1. Time for our families. In our earliest years of childhood, family was our only world. And in our last years, our world again becomes just our own families. Take time to cherish and nurture each one’s only real world. If our children and grandchildren grew up never having Sunday church worship, Sunday schools and religious activities, what would their faith be by just observing our lives and listening to our words? Let us ‘reconnect’ with our families, nuclear families and families at large.
  2. Time to deepen our relationship with our Lord and strengthen our faith. This is a time we can obey his words, “Be still and know that I am God. To deepen our relationship with anyone, it takes time to be together: this is very much true in our relationship with our God. We should develop a method of systematic study of God’s word, and not casual reading of it as our usual practice, but carefully listening to its message and knowing God closer. Learning the word of God is primarily by obeying it. Also, we need to spend much time in prayer, praying for the many critical needs relating to this pandemic.
  3. Time to reach out to others who are aching. The comfort that we receive from “the Father of compassion and God of all comforts” can flow through us to those in trouble 

(2 Cor 1:3-4). This is a time to serve others through phones and online, while in a lockdown. Also, there will be opportunities to be of some service to those who cannot move around as we can. There are those who are not working and so without money and means of living. Whatever way we should be God’s instruments of help for others, let us be available to him.

  1. Time to develop courage and hope to face our mortality. Death is an absolutely sure thing in life. The Easter event reminds us that this inevitable enemy should be seen as not having the last word. It appears as a snake, but one without any venom. Christ’s death and resurrection guarantees our resurrection to an indescribably glorious life forever (1 Cor 15).

 

GOD’S POWER, PRESENCE AND PROTECTION

The context of the very familiar Psalm 91 must have been some unusual disaster and pestilence. The metaphor used is of baby birds finding shelter under the wings of their mother bird. God is one who is very present with those who suffer. His protection is promised because of his faithfulness and love. From under his wings we get power to face tragedies. Engulfing the reality of our suffering is the greater reality of the loving presence and protection of God.

The very name of our Lord ‘Immanuel’ assures us that he stands with us in our pains and gives us his peace even when we do not understand what is happening to us and why.

The book of Job does not answer the problem of suffering, but it tells us where to go when we suffer—and have a renewed vision of God eclipsing our crises, and hear his voice. 

Fear is only natural in circumstances of crises. But our faith in our Lord should conquer our fear. Our faith is that the almighty hands of God uphold us. “Underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut 33:27). The hands that created the world to start with, the hands that did marvelous miracles, the hands that stilled the storms in the Galilean sea, the hands that fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, the hands that healed the sick and raised the dead—those hands are around us and under us.

CONCLUSION

We live a broken and messy world. But this is God’s world. What is he up to, we should not be presumptuous to assume. Granted that the mess is created by us, our help should come from outside of us. Finally, are we learning that we cannot play the part of God?

We cannot afford to have a world of power without principles, governance without accountability, knowledge without the wisdom to use it, science without compassion, and relationships without self-sacrifice. When will we learn, if not in this crisis, that life is very fragile, and that a person without God is only an animal that lives, eats, reproduces and dies?

When this pandemic is leveling all of us globally, nationally and locally, we need to learn, how painfully it might be, that finally we are all mere humans, one interdependent people needing every one, small and great, to make our life together possible. 

If we do not relearn this lesson this time, we have ‘wasted’ this crisis and have lost a big chance of becoming humans as God intended us to bereconnected in mutual justice and selfless love to the Almighty and to one another regardless of nationality, gender, religion and class. God has provided a way for this in and through Jesus Christ, if only unconditionally we submit to him as our Savior and owner, and receive his embrace. 

Oh, our Sovereign God! Have mercy on us and help us to totally surrender our lives to you and to obediently respond to your offer of “life in its fullness”. Amen!

 

Dr Saphir Athyal, (Ph.D. cum laude from Princeton) was formerly the Principal of Union Biblical Seminary, Pune; Director of ‘Faith & Development’ with World Vision International; Vice-chairman of the Lausanne Movement; and Founder-Chairman of Asia Theological Association. He is a well-known speaker and author/editor of several books. 

 

 

Back Porch Devotional : Pruning

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Is Jesus using this unique season in our lives to do some pruning?

After all, Jesus said “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2) . . . and the Apostle Paul reminds us that “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). All means all . . . even a pandemic.

Much has been cut off in this season. Does what remain show the love of Jesus, the peace of Jesus, and the joy of Jesus . . . to a world that’s so hungry for those gifts?

New Resource: Lifelong Leadership

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A key element of our ministry has been annual gatherings of potential mentoring leaders, where we have shared, explained, and experienced times of “deep listening” to teach each other in the presence of the Lord. Out of these gatherings, mentoring groups have emerged around the world.

We have always wanted to share this experience with many others.

Today, I am pleased to announce the release of “Lifelong Leadership” by Dr. MaryKate Morse. Along with input from Anne Grizzle, myself, and others on the LFM team, MaryKate has given us a tool that will be of inspiration and value to those who want to develop and encourage the next generation of Kingdom Leaders.

“Lifelong Leadership” is the story and description of our unique model of Whole Life Mentoring, and a comprehensive guide for those who want to launch their own Mentoring Community.

NavPress is offering this new release at a 20% discount, and through May 31st, you can receive an additional 20% off by using discount code “MENTOR20” at NavPress.com.

-Leighton Ford

Encouragement From Dr. Francis Collins

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We are truly in the middle of a global conflict to defeat the #COVID-19 pandemic.

I was encouraged today to hear that Dr. Francis Collins, who leads the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is taking the lead in helping to improve coordination and cooperation (instead of competition) between the thousands of scientists at work in hundreds of trials around the world.

Dr. Collins was the lead scientist in finishing the human genome project. He is highly respected as a scientist and a believer. His book, “The Language of God,” tells the story of his moving from unbelief to faith.

So let’s keep Dr. Collins and his colleagues, and all those in battle, in our prayers for wisdom and skill.

A century ago, the Scottish doctor Sir James Simpson discovered the anesthetic power of chloroform. How much pain has been alleviated because of that discovery!

When he realized what he had found he put his gratitude into these words:

“This day, relenting,
God hath placed within my hand
A wondrous thing.
And God be praised.”

May God give us more wondrous things through the many scientists and doctors, like Francis Collins, who will be winning this war through as persons of faith and work!

-Leighton Ford, April 2020

Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves

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Every day, you and I are being challenged to practice social distancing as absolutely crucial in dealing with this global pandemic.

Jeanie and I are seeking to do that . . . religiously! As Christ followers we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.

A group of doctors are prescribing an additional way not only to defeat the virus but to improve our whole lives. They serve in such prestigious medical centers as Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Case Western Reserve, and Nemours Children’s Health Systems.

Here is a section of their report worth reading and passing around:

“As a society, we may come out ahead in the end of this epidemic, if, instead of social distancing, we instead pursue physical distancing with social connectedness. What if we kept apart physically, but used that new space – in our heads and our hearts and our habitats – to reach out to the most vulnerable and isolated in ways that are physically but not emotionally remote? What if we protected our physical selves while making our non-physical selves more vulnerable to the suffering of others? The current disruptions are a great opportunity if we keep grounded in core principles – such as investing in relationship – as we innovate, rather than letting the superficial conditioning toward greed, anger, and fear take the fore.

“Human connectedness – love – is more contagious than coronavirus.”

As you and I stay home, wear our masks, and stand 6 feet apart . . . what an opportunity to practice what these doctors recommend! – Leighton Ford

Billy’s Cross

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BILLY’S CROSS
A Meditation for his 95th birthday.

The cross!
The cross!
the young preacher cried
to the vast crowds
in the football stadiums of the world.

The cross!
the old man says in his husky voice
sitting next to his dog
on the porch of his log house,
gazing with faded eyes at the blue ridged hills.

The cross!
Above his chair in the kitchen
a small cloth banner … a reminder:
“God forbid that I should glory,
save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

But why?
Why glory in the cross?
Didn’t Jesus on the cross ask “Why?”

I think I know my brother-in-law
well enough to know
why the cross matters to him so
that after these ninety-five years
he makes it his last word.

He knows how much he himself needs grace.
When he meets the Lord
he’s not going to puff his chest, stick out his hand
and say, “ I’m Billy Graham, your chief envoy.”
Knowing him he’ll be prostrate, on his face,
Saying “Thank You for your mercy,
for choosing me, a sinner.

But it’s not as if he thinks of the cross only as a ticket to heaven.

He knows that coming to the Cross costs nothing, and everything.
How many times I’ve heard him quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“When Christ calls a man, he calls him to die.”
And Jesus: “Take up your cross and follow me.”
He knows that the Cross offers both free grace
And a call to die daily to self-glory.

Billy is a preacher, not a poet,
but I think he’d agree with a poet who writes,
“I am a Christian because of that moment on the cross
when Jesus, drinking the very dregs of human bitterness,
cries out, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’”

(Christian Wiman)

I have seen him gaze with longing at the picture of
his departed and beloved Ruth, wince at the pain
that runs through his jaw and down his leg.
At the Washington Cathedral after 9/11 he said,
“I don’t know why God allowed this. It’s a mystery.”
But he knows that on the cross God was saying
“I am with you, not beyond you, in suffering.”

There’s more. A Chinese scholar once told me,
“When Billy Graham came to China
he came not with a closed fist, but an open hand.”
That’s because he knows there’s a paradox in the cross
(though he might not call it that).

The cross is both the narrowest gate
and the widest welcome to new life.
The narrowest, for Jesus said, “I am the door, the way.”
The widest because he also said,
“Whoever comes to me I will not turn away.”

That gate is open to all who seek God’s grace
and are willing to receive it,
people of every kind and condition –
liberal, conservative
Tea Party, Occupier
Straight or otherwise
Republican, Democrat, Libertarian
Sarah P and Nancy P
Episcopal, Baptist, Catholic, or “none”
All kinds of sinners and seekers.

In the cross of Christ God throws open the gate of new life and says,
“Welcome. There’s room in my house for you. Come in.
And you’ll be changed into what I created you to be
– a human fully redeemed.”

We can hang a cross round our neck,
gaze at it on a steeple,
but it is far more than an icon.
The cross tells us that life itself, creation itself
is cross-shaped, cruciformed,
the hope of  healing for a broken world.

The cross!
Billy has preached the cross,
successfully.
He also has lived it, or, better
lived by it,
faithfully.

Leighton Ford
November 2013

 

 

Thoughts During the Pandemic – a brief essay from LFM’s Jim Osterhaus

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Dr. Jim Osterhaus is Senior Executive Coach for Leighton Ford Ministries and has authored or co-authored 10 books on leadership

 

Like most of you, I’m basically sheltered in place with my wife at home, catching up on a good deal of reading, and trying to stay in contact with family and friends.

I just got off the phone with Wendy Der, who along with her husband Ivan, lead a ministry of evangelism in Mexico that extends around the world. As we free associated on what is happening, it occurred to me to put down some thoughts that might prove helpful to the mentoring community.

I have done some reading on the Black Death plague in the 14th Century that basically killed a third of Europe, and on the Swine Flu epidemic that swept the world during and shortly after World War I killing between 50 and 100 million people worldwide (more exact estimates are impossible because of faulty data from the developing world). I am struck by the fact that these pandemics triggered a paradigm shift throughout the world. This shift saw the fundamental altering of theories and methodologies by which society saw itself, ran its core institutions, conducted its business, and basically went about its daily living patterns.

Depending on the length and severity of Covid-19, the world may experience the same phenomenon within the next year or two.

David Brooks (columnist for The New York Times) has noted that differing from war crises that tend to drive people together to address a common threat, pandemics tend to drive people apart as they worry about contagion and compete for dwindling resources (e.g. The run on toilet paper). 

It seems to me that this new crisis presents us with two interrelated challenges. On the one hand, we must look inward to see how each of us individually is being affected. On the other hand, we must look to our communities, and in particular our kingdom communities, to see how this crisis is affecting them.

As Thomas Boswell, columnist for The Washington Post, said: “Perhaps what is most endangered now is neither our lives nor our jobs nor our savings – though all are in peril – but our internal lives.” He goes on to ask whether, after this pandemic has run its course and the isolation has ceased, will we keep intact all of our best qualities?

When so much of the external world shuts down, we find ourselves left with only ourselves. And for many of us, we have not taken much time to cultivate a rich inner life as a viable default position. That being the case, we find ourselves going ‘stir crazy’ unable to decide how to proceed.

It seems to me that this present situation presents to our kingdom communities a unique opportunity. Called to be salt and light, it now behooves us to begin strategizing how we can move into this very anxious externally focused world in authentic kingdom ways. And as Boswell so aptly states, it is our internal lives that now need to be the target of our strategies.

For the past year, I have been partially retired, retired enough if you will to understand what it’s like to have many of the normal distractions of an active employed life peeled away. And now all of us are finding ourselves in a very similar place, even if we’re 25 years old.

Within our mentoring community, it behooves each of us to begin, or to ramp up, or to continue our diligence in inner life development. A good place to start might be to turn to the experts. Richard Foster and James B. Smith have edited Devotional Classics, a compilation down through the centuries of some of the best in devotional literature. Leighton Ford (A Life of Listening and The Attentive Life) and Ken Shigematsu (Survival Guide for the Soul) have written very useful books along these lines. Added to these are the countless tomes that have been penned through the ages by St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, etc. etc. This will help us get our own houses in order.

As we continue to focus on our inner lives, we need to focus on our kingdom communities. It is these communities that will sustain us going forward in our journeys of faith.

It is obvious there are old ways of gathering together in worship, fellowship, teaching and prayer that are no longer possible, at least in short run. Churches like my own have shifted to online services. Small groups are zooming to maintain continuity.

But as I think about it, there are a myriad of stylized ways of doing community that are currently being altered or discarded, and arguably should be altered or discarded as we confront the fearful post-Christian world.

Crisis presents opportunity, and this pandemic is no exception. And as a kingdom community, I think it is important that we now bring our collective heads together to begin to explore what opportunities God is currently placing before us during this crisis.

I would like this to be the beginning of a conversation for all of us to reflect on the following two questions, and to share with one another what God is and has been telling us as the pandemic unfolds.

First, what are ways that we have existed in the past with ourselves and in our mentoring groups that are simply not possible currently? This question can also apply to all faith communities in which we are currently resident. I think it is critical to first begin to identify all of those behaviors that we have possibly held dear that no longer can be relied upon.

  • Intentional face-to-face connections with people important to us.
  • Partnered kingdom projects within the community.

Second, what adaptions have we made or could make to maintain our continuity within our mentoring community?

  • Zoom calls.
  • Internet community reach outs.

Let’s get our collective heads together, and take this opportunity to possibly explode our old paradigms and expand our thinking. Remember, necessity is the mother of invention. And quite possibly God has given us this opportunity to create new ways of furthering His kingdom.

 

What is God Doing During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

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A friend asked me yesterday what I thought God was doing through the coronavirus pandemic.

I hesitated to come up with an answer, remembering that God told Isaiah “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways (Isaiah 55:8).  He also rebuked Job’s speculations about the reason for his misfortunes, asking, “who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38.2).

So how could anyone be presumptuous enough to try to explain what God is doing?

On reflection, though, I can venture to say that He is reminding us control freaks how little we really do control.

And perhaps He is reminding us to “be still and know that I am God.”

I understand that there are many who desperately need and want to be able to go to work, and I hope they will soon.  And there are over-stressed doctors and nurses who can barely keep going.

But I am also reminded that the French thinker Pascal famously wrote that the cause of many of the world’s problems is that we do not know how to sit still alone in our room for one hour.

For some of us, could it be that the LORD is whispering, “This is a time to be still.  And to listen for My voice while you wait?”

 

-Leighton Ford, March 2020