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The Leadership Dance

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Leadership, like life, has its seasons.

And seasons have their moods . . . winter often grayer . . . spring livelier . . . summer flourishing . . . autumn flaming and aging.

So, as leaders, we are called to pursue our calling in the different seasons of our lives, and the varying stages of our ministries.

Sometimes as leaders we feel we are plodding—as if wearing snowshoes and tiredly shifting on a step at a time—trying not to give up.

At other times we sense we are racing—as if skating across a frozen river or down the Rideau Canal—almost out of breath—exhilarated but almost in danger of losing our balance.

Leadership also is affected not only by pace, but by the shifting light of the seasons.

Light it has been said has two opposites: darkness, and heaviness.

Leadership has its dark side. It can also be very heavy, and burdensome.

Yet Jesus promised to his disciples a burden that is “light”—because he shares it with us.

We must shun (like the devil) leadership “lite”—following the latest leadership fashions.

But we should seek (like Jesus!) leadership “light”—leading like, with, and to Jesus.

Years ago I read, in a piece by Vern Eller that the “image of God” can be conceived of as a dance—a dance with God as the lead partner, we the ones who sense his movement and go with his lead.

“Trinitarian” theology helps us to live our lives and practice our leadership shaped not just by the norms of our cultures or the shape of our personalities or the demands of our institutional seasons, but in the rhythm of the Triune God—whose timing is unpredictable, but never too early or too late, always “just in time.”

So as disciples, leaders in our families and churches and society, may we listen and join in to the Voice that calls – “May I have this dance”!

Leighton Ford
Charlotte, North Carolina

Foreword to book by Sharon Tam

Solitude and Leadership

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“If you want others to follow, be along with your own thoughts.”

This is from a talk given at the US Military academy at West Point by William Deresiewicz of Yale. As I read I was struck that this is something church leaders – caught up often in “frenzied busyness” – need to heed.

Here are some of his provocative statements – unusual to present to future military leaders.

  • “Leadership is what you are here to leaven …”
  • “Solitude is what you have the least of here …”
  • “And yet I submit to you that solitude is one of the most important necessities of true leadership”
  • “Multi-tasking … is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think.”
  • “Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it.”

His whole speech is worth absorbing.

Google the title (above) and his name and you can find it.

Then get alone, read it, and think about it!

Leighton Ford

I have been at Selma: a Valentine’s Day Reflection

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A few days ago I was in Selma, Alabama. Or at least felt as if I had been.

A retired pastor friend and I went to see Selma, the movie about the marches Martin Luther King, Jr. led from Selma to Montgomery in March of 1965.

It was a powerful depiction of what led to the marches, demanding voting rights for all people, and especially black people in Alabama. The conscience of the nation had been stirred by the death of four young girls when their church was bombed, and the vicious earlier beatings of non-violent protesters.

David Oyelowo, the British actor who plays King, gives a strong performance. He depicts the growth of King’s vision, and the violent opposition from white racists. He shows his internal struggles with other civil rights leaders, and the worries of his wife about what all this was doing to their children. There are hints of his own fears and flaws.

None of that stopped him. Those fears and doubts he overcame. The march from Selma to Montgomery did take place. And a voting act was passed by Congress.

When we left the movie my pastor friend and I could hardly speak. He sighed, “I wish I had not been so blind back then.”

Later in 1965 I was in Montgomery for a Billy Graham crusade. Tens of thousands, black and white sat together, another pointer to reconciliation.

On the Sunday morning I was assigned to preach at a local church. After the service I was appalled to learn that a young African-American airman, soon to go to Viet Nam, came to that church that morning and was turned away. The ushers claimed he was coming not to worship but to protest, which was not true.

I made a public statement that I would never preach in a segregated church, found the name of the airman, and had a friend who was going to Viet Nam deliver a letter of apology to him.
The new law opened voting booths. Clearly they didn’t open all the church doors. But they had an effect. I have since been back to that church, and their policies have changed – late in the game, but now open to all people.

What moved me about Selma was not only the film, but how it started for David Oyelowo – as a whisper. When he first read the script he felt God tell him that he was going to play this role. “That may sound odd to people who aren’t people of faith,” he says, “but I knew that deeply in my spirit. It kept me going.”
Several years ago, David felt led to call Lee Daniels, the director of the film The Butler, who at the time was scheduled to direct Selma. The day before Daniels was to attend an Academy Awards ceremony, David offered to pray for hm. “I need that,” said Daniels, and later told a friend, “I have found my Dr. King.”

David Oyelowo also found a calling, beyond the movie. One of the byproducts of the film is an initiative called “Hand in Hand.” Black and white churches watch the film together then talk about reconciliation.

Why these thoughts on Valentine’s Day? Because the day is named for St. Valentinus, a Roman priest executed in 269 because of his stand for Christian marriage, which was forbidden by the emperor. His final note, it is said, was to a young blind woman, signed “From your Valentine,” – the forgotten inspiration behind our romantic notes.

It reminds me that God did not send a card to tell us he loves us. He sent his Son to die for us, and to inspire us to love as he loved.

Toward the end of Selma a government official pleads with King not to march in the open, to ride in a closed car. King pauses, then says “Today is not about what I want. It is about what God wants.”

Many of us may wish we had been at Selma fifty years ago. But there are many Selmas in our world, many roads to Montgomery, many reconciliations, in many areas of our lives, that still need to happen. I wonder what God wants from us today, beyond the flowers and candy for those we love?

Which roads, I wonder, is God asking you and me to walk?

Leighton Ford
February 14, 2015

He rose and followed … that was all

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L Jack Dain memorial remarks

Remarks by Leighton Ford at the Thanksgiving Service for A. Jack Dain, May 20, 2003
at St. Michael’s Chester Square, London

There was a sense of command about Arthur Jack Dain, a quality that all who knew and worked with him gladly recognize.

Early last November a phone call came from Janet Dain to say that she thought her father might not last the weekend, for he was sinking. I flew that night to England for a memorable last visit with him. He requested me to join with Bishop Reid in speaking at this thanksgiving service. I promised I would come, and with a twinkle in his eyes he warned: AIf you don’t, there will be an earthquake!

Whether as military officer, missionary executive, churchman, bishop, or chair of so many councils and organizations worldwide, leadership was his role.

Are leaders born or made? In Jack Dain’s case that perennial debate gives way to another question: what made him the leader he was?

The key is in the title of his memoirs: I Rose and Followed, That Was All …, words taken from a chorus he learned as a young man. Jack Dain became a leader by following the Greatest Leader. Like the centurion who came to Jesus he too was a Aman under orders. And that made his leadership attractive.

Jack Dain was providentially shaped for leadership. In a God-fearing Wolverhampton home he learned early the Scriptures which later he would expound so compellingly. He was not without mischief … his parents had to remove him from a Bible class for tieing together the pigtails of the vicar’s daughter! Yet he also recalled a band of blind Chinese Christian musicians whose song Must I Go and Empty-handed? remained with him as a lifelong challenge to witness.

The call of the seas also was a call from the Lord. Joining the Merchant Navy as an apprentice seaman he sailed to thirty countries – surely a time when the seeds of a global ministry were planted. Once in New York Harbor he risked his life by diving into the water in an unsuccessful attempt to save a sailor who had fallen into the dock. It was also during his naval days that he made a personal commitment to Christ in Calcutta, and was called to missionary service at a meeting in Liverpool’s Town Hall.

So, like those first fishermen by the sea of Galilee, Jack Dain, having traveled the oceans of the
world, heard the call of his Lord, and Arose and followed – that was all.

But the all was to result in a life that would be tremendously varied, fascinating, and influential!

After a short pre-war missionary stint in India (during which he fell in love with and married a Scottish
lass named Edith Stuart – romantically enough while they were watching fireworks celebrating the
coronation of King George VI!) – he went into military service, surely one of the few who ever served

as an officer both in the Indian Army and Navy! Interestingly enough, given current events, he fought
in Iraq, leading Gurkha troops to occupy Basra!

Following the war Jack was recruited by the ecumenical pioneer Dr. J. W. Oldham, for a year-long
position with the Christian Frontier Council, a remarkable group of lay leaders, who met to encourage
each other in their public lives. Jack recalled that Dr. Oldham interviewed him over lunch at the
Athenaeun Club. When Oldham, who was very deaf, asked what kind of Christian he was Jack had to
reply in a loud voice: AI am an evangelical Christian! Eyebrows were raised all over that sedate dining
room!

This exposure, though brief, to leaders from varied walks of life, and many different strands of the
church was a bridge to Jack Dain’s lifelong passion for evangelical cooperation … a commitment
we here today honor … recognizing that he Arose and followed … that was all.

His following led him to three additional areas of his service: his leadership in the World Evangelical
Fellowship; his long association with Billy Graham; and his significant role in the Lausanne movement.

From its early years he was involved with the World Evangelical Fellowship because, as he recalled AI
had a passion for real fellowship … to preach and believe in and work for the unity of all believers
against the things that divided. So when the World Evangelical Fellowship was constituted in the
Netherlands in 1951 Jack Dain was present. Indeed he and John Stott were sitting together when Stott
opened his Bible to Philippians and read out Paul=s words that were to become the watchwords of
WEF: the furtherance, the defense, and the fellowship of the gospel. Stott dictated them, and Dain
wrote them down. AHe was the head, I the hands as he put it.

Jack Dain became the Honorary Overseas Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance, and with John Stott
the Honorary Co-Secretary of the WEF.

Again, he Arose and followed … that was all.

That sense of partnership in the gospel led to another association. He was involved in inviting Billy
Graham to Harringay in 1954, and organized the counselling for the Wembley Stadium crusade the
following year.

During the Wembley week Jack met with Billy to advise on a possible visit to India. He took a white
paper napkin, drew a map of India and marked the cities he suggested as strategic for the visit. He then
accompanied the team for what he described as Aan important milestone in the life and witness
of the whole Christian Church in India.

In his memoirs he recalls the final night scene at Pallamcotta where he stood on the platform,
beside Bishop Leslie Newbigin. Together they watched as the hundreds of people responding were brought into a large area, divided by men and women into groups of ten … (sitting) in small circles with one counsellor in the middle together with a kerosene lamp and a large open Bible.

Those events began a lifelong friendship with Billy Graham and involvement in his ministry. He
chaired the crusade in Sydney, and his personal influence helped to bring about remarkable
inter-church cooperation. Through his leadership innovations also were made in the crusade set up –
including announcements that those brought by friends were not expected to give to the offering (a
bold step given the million dollar plus budget), and a follow-up scheme so effective that a year later
eighty per cent of the Anglicans who went forward were involved in their local churches.

Bishop Dain also served for many years as chairman of the Graham Association in Australia, and often
brought Bible studies at the Graham team meetings.

As Billy Graham said in a recent conversation: “Jack Dain is one of the greatest Christians I ever met … one of the best counselors I ever had.”

I dare say that was because he Arose and followed … that was all.

In the early 70’s that trusted relationship also brought Jack Dain into one of his most significant
responsibilities: the executive chairmanship of Lausanne 74 which brought more than 2600
participants to Switzerland in the summer of 1974 for a congress described by Time magazine as
perhaps the most influential gathering of evangelical Christians ever to assemble.

Whether that was journalistic overstatement or not, the Lausanne Congress, the Lausanne Covenant,
and the work of the Lausanne Continuation Committee, gave a strong impetus to evangelical
cooperation and changed the conversations about world missions.

One of the lasting images of Lausanne 74 for many of us was the photo of Billy Graham and Jack
Dain together signing the historic Lausanne Covenant. It is a fitting memory, for without Billy
Graham=s vision, organizational base and funding the Congress would never have been held.
Likewise, without Jack Dain’s expert and strong chairmanship, the Congress would never have come
together as it did.

It was my privilege, as a relatively young man, to serve as chairman of the Program Committee, and as
a member of the international planning committee. It was a diverse group with strong opinions! I was
exposed there to Jack’s incomparable executive leadership – an amazing ability to grasp a mass of
detail while never forgetting the big picture … an equally impressive capacity to keep up
correspondence … great wisdom in dealing with strong personalities and prickly issues … a sense of
dependence on God that brought a prayerful focus to all we did … knowledge of people and churches
and issues all over the world.

As a younger man what impressed me, however, was his genuineness and integrity as our leader. He
could stand for what he felt was right, but always with respect for others. I recall a heated debate as
to whether there should be a major session on the Holy Spirit and world evangelism. Some wer
very afraid the topic would divide the congress. Others, including myself and program director Paul

Little were quite convinced otherwise. Jack, as an elder statesman, strongly supported us younger
men, and a well-received session concerning the Holy Spirit was on the agenda.

Similarly when the Lausanne Continuation Committee first met in Mexico City to plan its future
course, there was a strong disagreement. Some wanted the committee to focus on evangelism in a
narrower sense. Others felt that the mandate of the Congress and the Covenant was to further the
whole biblical mission of the church, in which evangelism is primary.

The debate was heated, the feelings strong. The Lausanne movement could have foundered at
that point, if it had not been for the strength of resolve shown by Bishop Dain, among others. He
said that if the committee were to retreat from the Congress mandate he would not be able to
continue as chairman. It was a difficult stand for him to take, because at that point he was differing
to some extent with his beloved friend Billy Graham. Later Billy himself graciously agreed with the
majority decision to opt for the wider view.. Jack after wrote to Billy to assure him of his loyalty. In
reply Billy wrote, ANothing could ever come between us. I hope we can be next-door neighbors in
heaven!@

To Jack Dain the chairing of the Congress and its aftermath was the Acrowning experience@ of his
own long ministry. Within three months of the Congress invitations had come to him to speak at post-
Lausanne follow-ups in thirty to forty countries. As never before Lausanne put him on the world
scene. His place as a world statesman for the cause of Christ and the gospel was clear.

Just as clear were his hopes and prayer for the church as he expressed them to me last fall:

– a longing for the church to be biblically based, and fed on the Word of God
– for its leaders to be concerned for majority issues, not minority one
– and to be concerned for the wider good, not narrow groupings

So we thank God today for Jack Dain, a leader who Arose and followed …that was all.

Jack loved his Lord above all, and the work of ministry. But he also loved his friends and family. He
was a man=s man, and could hold his own on world affairs or Wimbledon! He was also a woman=s
man. He was as interested in talking to my wife Jeanie about her interests and family as in talking to
me about ministry! The six women closest to his heart -Edith, his beloved wife for forty-seven years,
and their four daughters, Sheila, Maureen, Alison, and Janet, and Hester his second wife who shared
with him such blessed and happy later years his beloved second wife Hester – made his life complete!
He could not have been the man he was without the love and support from both Edith and Hester.

I am sure they will be understanding if I say that Jack was also a father to me. He had no son, and in a sense I think we adopted each other when Edith in her last illness asked me to help take care of Jack when she was gone. It has been one of my greatest joys to have had that closer relationship for these many years. And so today I carry in my heart today both the pang of loss … of knowing I will not hear him say “Every blessing” at the close of each phone call … but also the joy and gratitude for having known him.

When I visited with him late last year, after we had discussed his international ministry I asked what
had brought him the greatest joy in ministry. Without hesitation he answered, “My pastoral work as a
bishop in Sydney. When I became a bishop I made a commitment to visit the home of all the clergy in
my area once a year, and to have a meal with them.” That was 107 parishes!

And when I asked his greatest regret he said, AI wish I could have done even more pastorally, in the spiritual care of my clergy.

Imagine, I thought: here is a man of global influence and understanding. He had the ability to be a
high-ranking military man or diplomat. Yet his greatest joy was to be a pastor to clergy! That says
something of the servant nature of his leadership … the kind of shepherd he was.

Before I left for the airport that last morning I walked through the village of Lindfield to say goodbye to
Jack and Hester goodbye. Along the path I opened my Bible to the reading of the day, which was
Ezekiel=s scathing description of the kind of shepherds who live off the sheep, not for them. AWoe to
the shepherds who only take care of themselves@ the Lord said. AI am against the shepherds and will
hold them accountable …I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. (See Ezekiel 34:1ff).

As I pondered those words on my walk to Jack and Hester=s house I came across a sign near the close
where they lived, which said ALeading to Green Meadows. And in my heart I said AThank you, Lord,
for Jack, a shepherd, a true pastor, who has led so many to the green meadows of their spiritual home,
and who will now soon be there himself!

We had a final goodbye at his bedside. I read those words from Ezekiel, and added Jesus= own words
about the good shepherd from John 10. When I came to the place where Jesus said, AI have other
sheep which are not of this sheep fold … Jack broke in, and murmured:

Them also I must bring.

There was the voice of the true shepherd, the missionary, the bishop with a heart to lead like Jesus and
to Jesus!

Then, in a final touch, as I was reading he looked at his watch and said, ATime to go to the airport!
He was Jack all the way. Still commanding! Still caring! And still leading on!

He rose and followed – that was all! And that has been enough!

But in the green meadows of God there is more still to come!

Is It Success If …

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If I get Glory but God doesn’t
Success is to Magnify the Lord

If I do God’s work but not in His way?
Success is doing God’s work in God’s way

If I preach the gospel but don’t live it
Success is being, not just doing

If I have no one to share it with
Success is having people to share it with

If I can see only my success and have no interest in others
Success is when I can be as excited about your success (or disappointed at your failure) as my own

If I am so identified with my “work” or “ministry” that I have no other interests
Success is both in intensity and in wholeness

If I make it hard for those who come after
Success is measured by long term integrity, not immediate reputation
If I hurt the reputation of the Lord
Success is “making the teaching about God our Savior attractive”

If I don’t prepare others to carry on
Success is building men, not movements or monuments

If I do not know how to step aside gracefully
Success is sometimes in winning, and sometimes in cheering

If I dissipate the success
Success is not just getting up to speed, but maintaining momentum

If I start well but don’t finish well
Success is in burning on

Holy Stillness

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Old men should be still and still moving.
Here or there does not matter.”
T. S. Eliot

Eliot’s paradoxical turn of phrase – to be “still and still moving” – certainly fits me, both because of this time of life, and certainly at this time of year.

In early January I hit a wall, mentally exhausted, emotionally and physically drained.

It was catch up time after the pressures of the past five months, from the death of my wife’s brother Melvin in late August, through the recurrence of our daughter Debbie’s breast cancer, and the weeks and weeks of anxiety and chemo that followed, along with all the usual demands and opportunities of the ministry.

Then came Christmas. We tried to tone down the rush this year, but even so the season took its toll, bringing both good and bad stress. Our 18-month old granddaughter Anabel came for four days with Kevin and her mother Caroline, and brought with her both absolute delight and perpetual motion. There is no need for nuclear power plants when Anabel is around! She generates non-stop energy! Debbie had another chemo treatment the Monday before Christmas with side effects that hit hardest on Christmas Day, and even though she was able to take part in family events they were all tinged with the awareness of her vulnerability.

With the New Year came the annual retreat of our Sandy Ford Fellows, twenty-five seminary student leaders who receive scholarships from the Fund and come together here once a year. As always it was a joyous and rewarding time, four and a half days full of conversation and teaching and worship and simply being together. And immediately after that was a board meeting of Gordon Conwell Seminary and the dedication of its new Charlotte building to Jeanie’s parents, Frank and Morrow Graham. Jeanie’s loving and humorous remarks were the highlight!

But by that week-end I knew I was running on fumes. The next week I was supposed to head for Seattle for another board meeting retreat, this time with World Vision. I love World Vision – the vision itself, and the people. But I dreaded the thought of getting on a plane and heading to the west coast. My mind it seemed could not hold onto another thought.

My body was also showing signs of weariness, as I found out after one of my usual workouts at the Y when my blood pressure registered 84 over 60, the lowest it has ever been.

For Christmas friends had sent us a CD featuring a song “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” which surprisingly became a great hit in England in the early 90s. Surprising, I say, because the English are not exactly fans of religious music of the gospel variety.

Even more surprising is that it consists totally of the raspy voice of an nameless old tramp recorded during the making of a film about homeless people made on the streets of London near Waterloo Station in the early 70s. The audio engineer caught the voices of the street people – some bawling out drunken ditties – including the voice of the old man singing the same words over and over. It was not used in the film but the engineer took it back to his studios and found that his fellow workers were moved to silence and even tears when they heard the rough of the old tramp.

Twenty years later the engineer produced a CD of the song, with the voice of the old man sometimes barely audible, other times made louder, starting and ending in his lone voice, but augmented by other voices and instruments. But always there is the single rough, quavering voice singing the same words over and over

Jesus’ blood never failed me yet,
Never failed me yet,
Jesus blood never failed me yet.
This one thing I know
For he told me so,
Jesus blood never failed met yet
Never failed me yet ….

And on and on it goes – for an astonishing seventy four minutes!

That Sunday I e-mailed the friend who sent me the CD and asked her to pray for me.

Yesterday I listened to the CD “The Blood of Jesus” and that raspy voice of the old
tramp got to me so that I was in tears. I realized it spoke to the “getting old” man
inside of me. No doubt this is in part a time of year thing. I find it difficult to
concentrate in prayer and the smallest demand seems more than I want to respond to!

I almost did not go to church that morning but as we were taking a visitor I did go but left after the sermon. Jeanie pointed out after that I had dressed in a suit coat but an odd pair of pants – a sign of sartorial fatigue!

My friend e-mailed back, encouraging me to take some time without the pressure of being “on deck”, allowing for some emotional space and healing activities. At the same time I read Jesus’ mother’s words (when the wine ran out at the wedding feast) to “do whatever he tells you.” Wise words, which said to me, as I wrote: “do the ordinary things he says today. Not to look for the extraordinary things to do, but to sit quietly for a bit, take a walk, read, make a couple of needed calls only, and get my tooth (a cap had broken off) fixed”!

I did reluctantly (overcoming my over-active conscience!) cancel the trip to the West coast board meeting. And I did take time to sit, to read, to walk, to pray.

In a Weavings article I read a quote from Thomas Merton: “As rays of sun do not set fire to anything by themselves, so God does not touch our souls with the fire without Christ.” As I walked quietly and sat for a long time by a stream in our neighborhood I prayed “May Christ be the magnifying glass through which I see the ordinary today, so that I may have strength to rise above winter moods.” Butternut our cat had followed me into the woods and he and I sat on a rock, gazing at the water and bushes, the rocks and sky, “doing nothing well”!

I took another cue from Alice Fryling’s The Art of Spiritual Listening in which she suggests setting aside time to sit with the verse “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), repeating the verse over and over, leaving off a word or phrase each time. As I did this, spending a minute or two on each phrase, I wrote down the impressions that came to my tired mind and heart.

Be still and know that I am God

You are God, I am not. You are Center. Not my moods, my complaints, my
busyness. Not my desires – physical, emotional, sexual, or spiritual! Transform
them into longing for You.

Be still and know that I am

Make me aware of Your being, in my hands, toenails, teeth. Your light in my
physical reality. Your time runs through the ticking of the clocks. The world is
running on, as I sit, without me! You are as present as – through – beyond –
the sun that gives light today to all I see.

Be still and know

I do not have to read, to know. To run to the computer to know. To talk on the
phone to know. To be at World Vision to know. To talk to a friend, to know.
To read my Bible to know (there may be times to stop reading the Bible for a
time, as I heard my friend Martin say recently). When I am still, my knowing
comes not from without but within, or, more truly, what I see and experience
without is received and illuminated within. Until the light of Christ makes me see.
For that I need to

Be still

Not to move. “O in this single hour I live all of myself, and do not move. I the
pursued, who madly ran, stand still, stand still, and stop the sun” (May Sarton).
“Peace, be still.” “Still, still with Thee.” Why is a “still” so named – a distillery?
Must we be “still” to be “distilled” i.e., purified? “Be still my soul.”

It was when St. Francis lay still behind the convent, ill, eyes unable to see, that
he knew and composed his famous canticle to Brother Sun!

Be still, Leighton. I motion myself with my hands. Stop. Hush. Stay. As I
motioned “stay” to Cocoa our grandson’s dog. I rein myself in.

The clock strikes. Ten. I listen to each stroke.

I discovered I had an extra week today! Somehow my mental calendar had
dropped next week! My life suddenly is a week longer. So – will I run? Or, be still?

Be

When I find myself
as a being before God
as a physical being in a world irradiated by light
as a moving creature, urged on, but able to say “Whoa”, I am not ruled by urges
as a temporal being, living in the I Am Eternal One
reminded by the clock to live here, now
I can be content
with whatever I have

When I am still, “compulsion”(the “busyness” that Hilary of Tours called “a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him”) gives way to “compunction” (being pricked or punctured) when God can break through the many layers with which I protect myself, so that I can heard his Word, and be “poised to listen.”

————————–

Days have past now, since I hit that wall, and since I began to listen daily to those words: “Be still and know that I am God.”

I can see that “stopping” during this month was essential. If I had gone on to Seattle and the rest I would not have slowed down enough to quiet my mind, truly to listen.

And the difference is clear. When I am on automatic I “know” many things very partially.

In a mindful state I “know” a few things quite well.

In true contemplation I “know” one thing at a time deeply.

And the many things fuse into one thing.

The paradox of our modern world is that we know so much about so many things, about “how” things work, but so little about “who” we are as persons, about “why” we are.

And believers are not immune to this dis-ease. We have more and more sources of “Christian” information about the Bible, theology, ethics, history, psychology, and organization – but relatively little time to absorb even a little bit of the “information” so that it will form and transform us.

That is why in our spiritual development programs for young leaders the most valuable times for them have been the in-depth times of unhurried conversations, and some of the most difficult have been the silent contemplative mornings and days by the lake.

It usually takes something “arresting” to stop us in our tracks, to set us on the “second journey” that Susan Howatch describes in her novels about clergy who are so mesmerized by glittering images of religious success; the “downward and inward” journey that Palmer Palmer says is essential to leading from within; the “wall” on the critical journey that Gulich and Hagberg wrote about; or the “series of humiliations” that Thomas Keating says dig through the interior “tells” of our lives, breaking through our “false selves” and making us real.

This stopping and re-starting is not a one-time happening, but an ongoing process that goes on and on in our lives.

So for me again, at the beginning of the year, I have been reminded that in perpetual motion I can mistake the flow of my adrenalin for the moving of the Holy Spirit, can live in the illusion that I am in control, ultimately, of my destiny and even my daily affairs.

I looked back days later, during a snow and ice storm that cancelled all plans for two days, and realized how important it had been to stand still. So that I can ask with fresh intention:

What is Your will today?
You are God.
I hear two clocks ticking. A reminder that in the hours and minutes of this day
You are present – in my time. As I live in Your eternity, and know that
“my times are in Your hand.”

And I can, in Eliot’s words, be still, and still moving on into the fullness of what God has in mind.

NOTE: Please feel free to quote limited portions of this, as long as you attribute to Leighton. If you wish to reproduce or use the entire thing you must secure permission first. To do so contact LFM

A Leaf in the Mailbox – Some Lenten Add-ons

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Recently I was taking a walk at the Cypress retirement center with my friend Neal, a retired pastor. He stooped to pick up a nicely colored leaf, then a bit later tucked it into a mailbox.

“I like leaves,” he said, “but the woman who lives there lost her husband recently. So every time I walk by I leave a leaf to remind her that I am praying for her. She is not forgotten.”

That triggers me to think how small acts of love can play a big part in our Lenten practice.

When I was growing up in Canada Lent was no big deal. We Presbyterians thought only Catholics observed Lent, and had to give up everything fun or delicious. Later I learned that Lent is kept worldwide by many Christians, reflecting the forty days that Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, and reminding us to clean up our lives.

Then another friend, David, a Catholic priest, told me that while he gave up certain things for Lent, it was more important for him to add others. “I call or write notes to people who have meant a lot to me, just to let them know I am grateful.”

David and Neal inspire me to “add on” some acts of caring and loving this year.

I have been sorting through hundreds of old photos from years past, throwing some away, keeping others. So I have chosen some photos of people who once were important in our lives, scanned and emailed them with a note to say I remember them, with much thanks.

‘Tis a gift to do simple things! Our youngest grandson has had a tough year, recovering from a motorcycle accident. But his great desire is to help people. So we have agreed during Lent to look for opportunities to help and report back to each other. I told him of having lunch with a guy who had just lost his job and needed encouragement. He told how he and his roommate saw a man using a walker fall, and no one stopped to help. Ben and his friend stopped their car, jumped out and helped him up. of delivering food (his current job) to a woman at a business, starting to leave then going back to tell her how much he appreciated her warmth and smile. It made her day – and his!

The former UNC basketball center and broadcaster Brad Daugherty spoke at the memorial gathering for Dean Smith of the influence of his late coach. Brad had just finished a broadcast in Boston, and was rushing through a snow storm to his car. A man in the parking lot asked if he could spare some cash. Brad shrugged him off, said he had only a credit card. Then he paused, went back, gave the man several dollars, and as he got into his car imagined he heard Dean Smith say, “That was the right thing to do.”

It was a small act, inspired by a great teacher/coach, who always told his players to do the right thing.

Lent is a time to remember the Greatest Teacher/Leader/Savior, who did the greatest thing of all, by dying for our sins. Yet on the way to the cross he had time to stop and heal one blind man, and to wash his disciples’ dirty feet.

Jesus was the motivation for Mother Teresa. I once met her in Calcutta. She was a little woman, less than five feet tall, barefoot, with thick glasses, and a bunion on one toe. I asked her how she kept going as she and her sisters helped the hundreds of dying poor.

“We do our work for Jesus, with Jesus, to Jesus,” she said. “And that’s what keeps it simple.”

Simple, yes. Like a leaf in the mailbox. A few dollars given to a hungry man. A word of thanks. Small acts of love and kindness.

As Mother Teresa used to say, “We cannot do great things. We can do small things with great love.”

What could be your “add on” for Lent? Today?

Leighton Ford
March 2015

 

 

 

Competing for Gold – Another Take

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I like to win. My family will tell you I change into a fierce personality on the tennis court. And I like my teams to win.

So, as a Canadian born and bred, when the Canadian women and men’s hockey teams won gold at Sochi I stood and sang “O Canada”!

But then, also being a naturalized American citizen, I cheered as the medals piled up both for the US and Canada – but also for the athletes from any country who stood on the podium to be acclaimed for their speed, strength, and skill.

I also got to pondering: what about those who trained for years but couldn’t make their teams? Or the sole athlete chosen to represent some small country knowing they had no chance to medal? Or those injured early in the competition who had to drop out? What does “competition” mean for them?

“Do you think God made us competitive?” I asked two friends, both pastors, both athletes.

Steve, a cross-country runner believes some people are born more competitive. But he says, at its best competition drives us to conquer a challenge. “It doesn’t have to be rooted in destroying the competition. You need other people to compete with. But you don’t compete just for the fun of it. You compete to win.”

Elizabeth, who lettered in track and field at Stanford has a different take. “Character is not inborn. It is developed through struggle, through success and failure. Most good athletes say they learned more through losing than winning.”

Think of Jeremy Abbott the American figure skater who had a terrible fall and was badly hurt, yet got up and completed his routine to the cheers of the crowd. What did he learn?

What can competition teach us – whether winners or losers?

That was clear at a recent lunch honoring volunteers from the different Charlotte Y branches. Each one said a few choice words. Just before the end Nate, a tall, impressive man spoke.

“You know about the Miracle Field?” he asked. I didn’t then. I have since learned it’s a baseball field at the University Y built so special needs kids can play, on a surface so wheel chairs can move easily. Every child gets to bat. Everyone gets on base. The games end tied so everyone wins. And each one has a “buddy.”

Nate told us about his eight-year old son Anthony, who has played soccer at the University Y for several years, but also has been a “buddy” to Jack, a boy his age who is in the Miracle League.

“Last year,” Nate told us, “the schedules conflicted. So I asked Anthony whether he wanted to keep on with soccer, or be a ‘buddy’ for the Miracle League.”

That’s when big, tall Nate, who played basketball at Penn State, paused, choked up, could hardly finish.

“Anthony chose to be a buddy” he said, wiping at a tear. “To be a buddy to Jack rather than to play soccer himself. I am so proud of him.”

I think we all choked up then.

Last week I went to see the Miracle Field. Paul the director of that Y took me to see the sparkling baseball diamond.

“The Miracle League has all that’s best in sports,” he said. “Loyalty, family, community. Everyone matters. One mother who drives an hour every Saturday to bring her son says, ‘No one ever cheered for my son before.’”

Paul wants parents to consider: would you rather your child be a great athlete? Or a great person?

Of course they can be both. But Nate and Anthony model another way to compete.

I searched my Bible and found these two wise admonitions from Paul on competition worth considering:

The kind to avoid: “Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.”

The kind to pursue: “Outdo one another in showing honor.”

That’s what Anthony and Nate model.

A gold well worth pursuing.

Leighton Ford
February 2014

 

For Butternut … a.k.a Sir B

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 In honor, and in gratitude

Something is missing in our house today,
a prowling feline presence
who came to us fourteen years ago
and staked a claim to his territory,
which extended to only God knows where.
We never knew where he spent his nights,
only that every morning he was sure to turn up
for breakfast, tail raised in regal, golden splendor,
which is why I nicknamed him Sir B.

Our grandson and his father brought him to us
one Christmas on a long drive from Virginia,
he riding most of the way on the dashboard of their car.

On Thursday that same grandson rode with me
on the very short drive to the vets
where Sir B was very quiet, lying low on a padded table,
not at all the personage
who hunted at night and proudly offered his
latest catch to us in the morning.

The vet folk were very kind and gentle.
They left us with him for a while, to stroke
and whisper our care, and a prayer.
Then they did what they needed to do.
He became sleepy.
We left.

Wrangler our Blue Heeler doesn’t realize he’s gone.
The two of them declared a war
from the time Wrangler invaded Sir B’s sovereign turf,
and never came to a truce.
Butternut was smaller, but faster.
Wary of an attack he could streak
like a golden arrow across the street to safety.

He was also canny,
knowing exactly the line of the invisible fence
beyond which his foe would not pass,
and where he could lie in smug disdain.

Yet he had one dog-like trait.
The neighbors marveled, and so did we
that when we went for a walk in the schoolyard
Butternut would tag along.

Last Sunday we took a different path
through a neighbor’s yard, down their driveway
to the woods and by a stream.
We were surprised when he followed us there,
trotting behind, catching up
in spite of an open, bleeding wound
(a sign on his paw of other creeping ills
which could not be fixed).

He had never walked that route with us before
(although Wrangler had, many times).
I wonder, smart intuitive cat that he was, whether
he knew it was time to take a final jaunt,
perhaps to show us his nighttime haunts,
or, even better, to go where Wrangler had gone,
a preview of that coming age and space
where they and we and all God’s creatures
made new, will finally walk together.

Leighton Ford
October 26, 2013

 

 

Five Most Powerful Words in Scripture

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By Don Meyer

ROSEMONT, IL (February 8, 2002) – Using what he considers five of the most powerful words in scripture, world-renowned author and speaker Leighton Ford challenged his listeners to seek a deeper and more meaningful relationship with God.

Ford, president of Leighton Ford Ministries, addressed a capacity audience of pastors attending the 2002 Midwinter Pastors Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church in this Chicago suburb.

“If you could ask Jesus for one thing, what would it be?” Ford asked. The answer is to be found in the example provided by the band of disciples who followed Jesus. They asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

“Perhaps they asked him that because they often saw him in prayer,” Ford mused in searching for the reasons behind their request. “Perhaps they wanted a simple ritual. Perhaps it came out of a sense of their own inadequacies.

“Jesus said that the most important thing is not what you do, but to whom you belong,” Ford continued. “They were still apprentices, learning from the master.”

The gospel of Luke suggests that prayer was the lifeblood of the early Christian church. “When they needed encouragement, they prayed,” Ford observed. “When they needed direction, they prayed. When they needed wisdom, they prayed.”

Ford shared three key observations taken from the prayer that Jesus taught the disciples to pray. First, Jesus gave the disciples a pattern for prayer.

“There are only 37 words in the Lord’s Prayer in the original Greek,” Ford noted. “God is not so impressed with the number of words, but rather in how simply and direct we can be. He wants us to tell him how our hearts really feel.”

Ford stressed the importance of the image of God as our father that the prayer reflects. “In Christ we have the very same relationship to God as Jesus had,” he said. “God says that you (we) are the very best son I could have – in Christ.” We have a giving, forgiving and guiding father who keeps us safe – a powerful father.”

Jesus gave the disciples the language of prayer, Ford said, stressing the importance of teaching our own children the familiar prayers at an early age, so that the practice of prayer “becomes a part of us.”

The Lord’s Prayer also provides a pattern for prayer, a word picture of the kind of prayer we are to practice – spontaneous and passionate.

“Ask, seek, knock and you will find,” Ford said in quoting the passage where a late-night visitor in scripture seeks bread from a neighbor to feed an expected guest. The visitor persistently knocks at the door late at night, refusing to give up until the sleepy owner inside lights a light, opens the door and hands the neighbor several loaves of bread.

“When is the last time you knocked at a midnight door?” Ford asked his audience. “Was it the midnight door of a son or daughter so involved in destructive behavior that you cannot change them? Was it the midnight door of a friend with cancer? Or the midnight door of kids with AIDS in Africa? What do you say at midnight?

“We all know the mystery and pain of unanswered prayers,” he continued. “Why should we go on asking, seeking and knocking? Jesus is not suggesting that (persistence) because God . . . doesn’t want to be bothered. The parable is not one of comparison, but one of contrast. Prayer can become a defining point in our lives. The disciples believed that being taught to pray was key for them, too.”

Jesus calls us to be a people of prayer, Ford believes, “to become askers, seekers, knockers. How can we become pray – ers? Ford continued. “Why not start with the Lord’s Prayer. He shared Mother Theresa’s formula for prayer – what he called the bookend prayers. At the beginning of the day, she would count on the fingers of one hand these five words: “He did this for me.” At the end of the day, she would count with the other hand: “I did what for him?”

One can engage in prayer at any time of the day – throughout each day, Ford suggested. At the start of a committee meeting. While sitting at a traffic light – “that’s a great time for prayer!” Quoting Dallas Willard, Ford argued we are too busy in our lives and need to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry.”

“Use small chunks of time for prayer,” he recommends. “Instead of trying to cram three more things during the few minutes before your next meeting, pray and prepare instead,” he advised. Before falling to sleep, ask where you have seen God today, also asking where you may have missed him and failed to join him in his work.

“The point is this: How can we become people of prayer?” Ford stressed.

Jesus not only provided the disciples a pattern for prayer and a picture of what a life of prayer is like, he also provided a promise for those faithful in prayer, Ford observed in drawing his message to a close.

“If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to children, how much more will your heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him,” Ford said in quoting a familiar passage. “Seek to be in the places where the Holy Spirit lives. Ask him to teach us how to pray. And may we hear him saying at the midnight doors of our lives, how much more will the heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”