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Leighton’s First Sermon (Video)

By | Odd Places, Videos | No Comments

Leighton’s ministry of preaching has spanned many decades and taken him all over the world many times over. But there’s a first time for everything, right?

In this delightful video, part of the “Odd Places and Peculiar People” series, Leighton tells the story of his first sermon, years ago. Pictures of the actual church in Pardoville are below!

 

Billy’s Cross (Leighton Ford)

By | Poetry | No Comments

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

Friends and Last Meals (Leighton Ford)

By | Reflections/Essays | No Comments

This morning I read the passage in Luke 22 where Jesus eats his final Passover meal.

He told his disciples that he had longed to eat that meal with them before his passion and suffering.

Who would I want to eat with, if it was my last meal?

Who would you want to eat with, if it was yours?

How can you let them know what they mean to you?

And .. can you imagine that Jesus wants to eat with you?

The Evangelist’s Bait

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The cross is vital to our preaching, for it is here that Jesus Christ becomes either the stone of stumbling or the rock of salvation. It is in the cross that man’s sinful pride faces its ultimate test. The atonement is crucial, because it strikes at the very heart of sin – not what a person does but what he or she is, her egocentricity, his demand to own his own life and to be ultimately for his own decisions.

Whatever other responsibilities a person may bear for their own life, there is one we cannot bear – the responsibility for our sin and guilt against God. That, another must bear for us.

James Denney once said that that cross is like the barb on the fisherman’s hook. He told of a friend who had lost his bait while fishing, without catching anything. When he pulled his line in he found that the bait had broken off, so that the fish had taken the bait but escaped.

So, said Denney, “The condemnation of our sins in Christ upon His cross is the barb on the hook. If you leave that out of your Gospel, I do not deny that your bait will be taken, but you will not catch men. You will not create in sinful human hearts that attitude to Christ which created the New Testament. You will not annihilate pride, and make Christ the Alpha and Omega in man’s redemption”.

Leighton Ford

Adapted from The Christian Persuader.

The Color of Beauty (Leighton Ford)

By | Reflections and Readings | No Comments

When we moved to our home twenty five years ago we brought with us and transplanted this azalea bush which on spring days lights up our back yard.

Here are John O’Donohue’s words on the color of beauty:

“Colour is the language of light; it adorns the earth with its beauty.

“Light is the great unnoticed force of transfiguration in the world: it literally alters everything it touches.

“The intense passion of the first artist glows forth in the rich colours of creation. In this sense, colour is the visual Eucharist of things.”

Leighton Ford

I Am An Immigrant (Leighton Ford)

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I am an immigrant.  A documented one. And a grateful one.

When I was in high school my future brother-in-law Billy Graham came to speak in my home town in Canada. He recommended that I apply to his alma mater, Wheaton College in Illinois.

Once accepted I applied for a student visa. Instead I got a green card to be a permanent resident. The Immigration Service was more than generous!

Later this immigrant married a North Carolina girl and moved to Charlotte. On a special day, in a large hall on the north side, I raised my hand to pledge allegiance to my new country. I was and am proud to be a US citizen.

Immigration is a controversial topic now. Who should or should not be admitted? How should they be vetted? Of course we need clear and humane laws. But in the controversy we may miss a larger issue: what does it mean to be an immigrant? And aren’t we all immigrants?

Migration is an ongoing part of creation.  The birds in our back yard are migratory birds, moving north and south with the seasons.

Human history is the story of great migrant movements. Streams of human population flowed from Africa north and west and east into Europe and Asia.  Our first nations migrated across a land bridge from Asia into North America. Native Americans had to absorb religious refugees and traders from Europe who came here seeking freedom and fortune.

Migrations have brought conflicts but also have been enriching.  The respected historian William McNeill writes “that the principal factor promoting historically significant social change is contact with strangers possessing new and unfamiliar skills.” Our time is no different, except the contacts and conflicts are now global.

The Bible is full of immigrant stories.  Abraham is called to leave home and go to an unknown land. Joseph is sold to slave traders to captivity in Egypt where he became a powerful leader.  The people of Israeli escape Egypt to settle in the Holy Land. A Moabite woman Ruth marries a Jewish man. When he dies she could have returned home but in famous words she says to her mother-in-law Naomi, “Your people shall be my people.” Jews taken in captivity to Babylon, are told by God to seek the peace of the city where they would now live.

And, significantly for us Christians, the parents of Jesus are refugees who take their infant son to Egypt to escape being killed by the paranoid King Herod.

The Bible could almost be named “The Book of the Great Migrations”!

The apostle Paul saw the hand of God in these movements. Addressing the philosophers in Athens he said that God allotted the times and boundaries and movements of the nations “so that they would search for God … and find him.”

And that is happening here. When I met with student Christian leaders at the Harvard Club most of them were Asian-Americans. One of the largest churches in New York City started with immigrants from Nigeria. Koreans make up one of the largest student groups at Charlotte’s own Gordon-Conwell Seminary. One Assembly of God district in the southeast has more churches than many national denominations!

Ed Stetzer, an astute observer of religion trends, notes that “predominantly white churches are declining. Yet Pew Research tells us that white churches are greying while growing churches are browning— in part because of the influx of immigrants.”

I hope my fellow Christian believers will see immigration not through a lens of fear, but through the eyes of faith: as an opportunity to welcome and serve.

Recently my wife Jeanie and I were on a crowded elevator in a Florida hotel with another guest whose name tag read “Donald Graham, Co-Founder THE DREAM, US”

“That’s a good name,” Jeanie said, “I’m a Graham too.” He asked where from and when she said North Carolina he asked if she knew the Rev. Billy Graham.

“He’s my brother,” she said. He broke out into smile, gave her a huge hug, and said, “I’m so honored to meet you. He’s a wonderful man.”

“What’s THE DREAM?” I asked. He explained it is a national scholarship fund for DREAMers, immigrant young people, building the American dream one student at a time.

“I think my brother would like that,” Jeanie said.

I think so too. And I want to live, not haunted by fears, but as hopeful for God’s dream for the dreamers, and for all of us.

 

This article appeared originally in the Charlotte Observer, April 1, 2017

You Are God’s Poem (Leighton Ford)

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This morning my Scripture reading included Ephesians 2:10 – that in Christ we are God’s “workmanship” – literally, God’s poem (Gk. poiema).
I was also reading in O’Donohue’s Beauty that a poet
wants to “write the poem that has not yet been written.”
And that a true poem “could not be other than it is.
 Its self and form are one.”
So I write this:
The Poem Not Yet Written
My painting coach Sally is also a poet.
She says she always begins with just one word.
So I will begin with just two words.
   “Not yet.”
But wait.
It is still being written.
Leighton Ford

A Fear Of Witnessing? A New Book from Lon Allison (Leighton Ford)

By | Evangelism | No Comments

Years ago when I first decided I wanted to learn to paint I took a course called  The Fear of Drawing.

I had a wonderful teacher named Nancy who knew most of us beginners were a bit apprehensive. I was. I had never done anything except doodle.

But that course – and Nancy’s encouragement – got me started on a journey as an artist that still continues.

I thought of that when I read my friend Lon Allison’s new book ImPossible. What we may think is impossible God can make possible through our real lives.

His book could  be called “The Fear of Witnessing” – about sharing our faith with others.

I have read books about evangelism as a “lifestyle.” This is about evangelism as a “lifestory.”

It’s how Lon and his wife Marie learned a lifestyle – prayer/care/share-  that has brought so many into the Great Story of God.

Here’s what Lon writes:

“Being a witness of God’s story – a story that provides a solution for every sorrow and sin – is a cool but rather gravitas sort of assignment. I can get overwhelmed by it. But then I try to remember that God doesn’t make mistakes and that He does His best work in us when we admit we can’t do it. That weakness opens the portal to power, as His Spirit takes the leader on the witness project.”

And also

“To witness is to cooperate with God and others to lovingly bring people, one step at a time, closer to Jesus Christ.”

That speaks to me.  I believe it will help many.

Get a copy. It’s readable and interesting. You can order it here.

And it may for turn a fear of witnessing into a lifestory  for you too.

 

Leighton Ford