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Food for thought

I Can’t Breathe

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“I can’t breathe.”
“I can’t breathe.”
who moaned?
a black man
head locked by a boot
under a police car
in Minneapolis.

“I can’t breathe.”
“I can’t breathe.”
who couldn’t even breathe that?
a Jew man,
hands locked by nails
suffocating on a Roman cross
outside Jerusalem

that’s what crucifixion does.

George didn’t pretend to be Jesus.
Jesus did intend to die for George
and all the Georges of the world.
I wonder, was he there,
trying to breathe for George
or breathe out with him?

Oh, dear Jesus,
please breathe your breath
on us again,
for all those suffocating
in sin,
or sorrow,
in sickness
or servitude,
or slavery.
breathe out your pentecostal fire
on all flesh
black brown
yellow red white
burn out our hatreds,
our silences,
our forgettings,
before we all burn,
before we all die.

-Leighton Ford, Pentecost 2020

 

“Breathe on us, breath of God.”

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?

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

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

What a Day That Will Be

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As I was working out at the YMCA of Greater Charlotte​ last Monday, I watched on television as The Kansas City Chiefs​ arrived home to a hero’s welcome after winning the Super Bowl.

The first one off the plane carried the Lombardi Trophy.  And then one after the other, each player walking down to the crowd waiting to receive them with tremendous applause . . . back home, the victors!

Then I thought of the LORD’s servants in many parts of the world who in their unknown, unpublicized ways have had their own “wins” for the LORD . . . and what it will be like when they arrive in His glorious presence and are able to come before Him and hold out the symbols of those small triumphs and say, “LORD, we did this for You, by Your strength, and we give these triumphs back to You.”

What a day that will be!

 

-Leighton Ford, February 2020

The Light of Christ

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I heard a fascinating discussion about darkness in a broadcast shortly before Christmas.

One participant raised a question that keeps coming back to me. “We should ask whether it is the dark of the tomb, or the dark of the womb?”

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, Christmas comes at the darkest time of the year. And Christmas 2019 seemed to be a dark time for many, with political conflict and for many personally a time of illness and loss.

So it was when Jesus was born – the world in darkness pining.

Yet John could write of the Word becoming flesh . . . “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out.”

In Christ, the dark is not a dead end. Not the dark of the tomb. It is the dark of the womb – the dark of a baby in the dimness of mother’s womb waiting for the light of new life!

As Jesus described childbirth, a women has pain “because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish, because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now, but I will see you again” (John 16:21-22).

So darkness does not have the last word! The light of Christ does!

 

-Leighton Ford, February 2020

 

The Politics of Jesus

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The Christmas season this year comes in the middle of a political season.  I very rarely comment on politics, but sometimes the Scripture I read seems to be so pertinent in offering a Christ-centered perspective on politics that I just have to pick it up.

So it was this morning when my daily devotional readings were two passages about the humility of Jesus our Lord.

Luke 2:4-7 is about Jesus being born in the most humble of circumstances, coming to a peasant family and a simple young woman, born not in a palace but in a manger.

Philippians 2:5-7 tells us that this same Jesus came as a servant, humbling himself even to death on a cross.

There is very little humility I have sensed so far among the various candidates.  There’s a lot more bragging of who is the best and brightest, and a lot of cutting down or even almost demonizing of the others.

Just politics?

Yes, but not the politics of Jesus.

We have all fallen short of the glory of God, and so I’m hoping and praying for someone who will show a modicum of genuine humility, of being willing to admit their own limitations (!!) and at least to listen to others.

Not Saved

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The summer is over

the harvest is past

and we are not saved

        Jeremiah

I wake this early August morning

thinking it is time to ready

and order our work for the coming fall

I wake this morning also to news

of bloody carnage.

a tale of two dazed cities

and one bewildered country

first the settlers killed the Indians

and the Indians killed the settlers

now the nationalists kill the browns

and before long the browns

may kill the whites

when will it end?

what difference will

our puny efforts make

to stop the horror

the bloody bullets?

the only way

is a way of peace,

to end the hateful

unnamed civil war

 

The summer is over.

The harvest is past

Why are we not saved?

 

I wrote the above, then listened on my phone to the app Pray-As-You-Go

The scripture for this morning is the story of Jesus praying in the hills while the disciples are almost swamped by a violent storm on the lake, of Jesus appearing, and Peter asking to come to him on the troubled water.

How Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the waves and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the rough and heavy winds he became frightened, and beginning to sink cried out, “Lord save me!”

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him saying to him, “You have little faith. Why did you doubt?” And held him until he was safe and the storm ceased.

Then the other disciples worshiped him saying, “Truly, you are the son of God.”

It was truly a word for today. Reminding me that, although the “prince of the power of the air” invades troubled young minds through the internet, he has no authority over the destiny of those who follow the Prince of Peace.