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Leadership

Was Jesus A Visionary? (Leighton)

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Some visionaries are entrepreneurs. Some years ago my friend Tom Cousins, one of the major developers in the city of Atlanta bought the rights to develop above the hundreds of sprawling acres of railroad yards in downtown. He took me to see the place and described his plan for a huge complex of hotels, office buildings, parking decks and a great stadium which would rise in that empty space. In the transformation of that great city, his vision became a reality.

Yet we never read of Jesus having grand schemes and designs like that. Vision is not used in the Bible in our sense of an entrepreneurial “visionary”. In the Scriptures, the word vision is commonly used of an ecstatic experience in which people deeply aware of God’s presence receive a special word from him.

These visions come to people waking and sleeping, at night and during the day, in dreams, through angels. People from all walks of life – kings, farmers and housewives – all had visions.

Visions abounded during times of spiritual revival in Israel but in periods of spiritual decline there was a marked absence of vision. And this decline extended from God’s people through the whole society. “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18 – “perish” here refers to casting off moral restraint. The blindness of society reflect religion without reality, the loss of spiritual vision.

As far as the biblical record shows us, Jesus was not a visionary in the ecstatic sense.

Yet Jesus has inspired more visions – in artists, composers, architects, leaders – than anyone who has ever lived. Without entrepreneurial plans or ecstatic experiences, Jesus stands all by himself as the transformational leader.

He was able to create, articulate, and communicate a compelling vision which changed what people thought and talked about and dreamed of. Today, Jesus’ vision leads his followers to transcend self-interest and enables us to see ourselves and our world in whole new ways, ways that penetrate to the heart of things and bring about the highest order of change.

 

Adapted from Transforming Leadership (1991, InterVarsity Press)

What Are ‘Friends On The Journey’?

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Canada Island
Barry Whatley of Quebec was part of the team we sent to meet with senior Indian leaders about the value of mentoring communities.
I asked him what gifts God has blessed him with in working with leaders, and like how he responded:
I can offer
a listening ear
a timely word
an expansive imagination
What a concise and excellent way to describe what we do as friends on the journey!
Leighton Ford

The Road to Leadership

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The Road to Leadership

So now, the first debates are upon us, and the road to White House is crowded with presidential hopefuls. It’s a road that will be long, tenuous, and likely at times vicious.

With so many candidates, facing such huge challenges, and with such partisan rivalry, who will be chosen? Who is truly qualified to lead us in times like these?

This search for leadership draws my mind back to the biblical story of Joseph in Egypt around 2000 B.C. Egypt was a world power, but Pharoah, the ruler, was troubled by dreams of cows rising out of the Nile River, some fat, some scrawny. None of his wise men could tell him what these dreams meant.

Then he heard about a young Jew, held in prison, accused (falsely) of attempted rape, who could interpret dreams. Pharaoh called for him, and Joseph told him that he could not explain the dreams, but God could. Then he told Pharaoh that the dreams forecast seven years of bumper crops, followed by seven years of famine.

“God will bring this about,” Joseph told the king, and advised him to appoint a wise man, a kind of economic czar, to build reserves against the famine to come.

Pharaoh asked his advisors, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the Spirit of God?” Then turning to Joseph told him, “You shall be in charge of Egypt, second only to me.”

Imagine! An ex-prisoner, only thirty years old, Joseph was able to change the direction of the nation, to bring about the restraint and self-sacrifice needed to save Egypt and the world of that time.

He came from a dysfunctional family. His father had in his own youth been a scoundrel and liar. His older brothers had turned on him and sold him to slave traders. They in turn sold him to Potiphar, captain of the royal guard who put Joseph in charge of his household. Potiphar’s wife was besotted with the handsome young Jew and asked him to lie with her. When he refused she accused him of rape and he was tossed into prison. There he interpreted the dreams of the fellow prisoner who told Pharaoh about him.

Can you imagine how his story would go viral today: Accused Sex Offender Becomes Second Most Powerful Man in the World!

And this man was the answer to Pharaoh’s question: “Where can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the Spirit of God?”

I wish every presidential candidate would read NewYorkTimes columnist David Brooks’ The Road to Character. Brooks profiles leaders, all flawed, yet who through struggle and adversity built strong inner character, and deepened their souls. “These,” he suggests, “are the people we are looking for.”

And that makes me think of Joseph. What set him apart were the qualities of character – a sense of destiny, an unshakeable integrity, a resilience that kept him going through adversity.

During the predicted great famine the brothers who sold him down the river came to Egypt desperate for food. When they found their “lost” brother was in charge they panicked. But Joseph told them “It was not you who sent me here, but God … You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Where did this conviction come from, if not the sense that God was with him through the hard times? As David Brooks writes, “Suffering simultaneously reminds us of our finitude and pushes us to see life in the wider possible connections, which is where holiness dwells.”

I know we can’t peer into the souls of the presidential candidates. But I want to sense that they have peered into their own souls, have learned to know their limitations through their mistakes, have found resilience in their own hard times, and that they give God life-service, not lip-service.

Joseph’s story is not just about a remarkable young man. It tells us that God can prepare and raise up leaders in the most unexpected ways.

God may have another surprise for us. Let’s pray so!

 

 

 

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

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!

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

 

Success – Billy Graham at Ninety Six

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At a recent dinner party our host posed a question to discuss over the meal: what are you hoping for?

Most responses were predictable: peace in the world, health for our families. One younger guest said, “I hope that at the end of my life I can know that I have made a difference, some worthwhile contribution to the world.” We then had a fascinating discussion of success, and significance.

That table talk was still in my mind this week when Jeanie and I drove up to visit her brother Billy, who turned ninety-six yesterday at his Montreat home.

We took along a signed copy of the new book by Grant Wacker, distinguished professor of American church history at Duke Divinity School.

“Why does Billy Graham matter?” asks Wacker, and offers a thorough assessment of his place in twentieth century America. He details the sixty plus years of ministry: the millions upon millions who heard his voice; his friendships with so many presidents; the twenty-eight times he was on the cover of major magazines. He certainly was a “success” in public influence and recognition.

What interests me is the title. Wacker could have made it about Billy Graham as preacher, evangelist, world leader, most admired figure. Instead he calls it America’s Pastor, because, of the thousands of letters which poured in to him, most were about people’s personal hurts and needs – broken marriages, wayward children, loneliness.

As Jeanie handled the book to her brother the irony was that with his failing eyesight he could barely see the cover. I gazed at him sitting up, white hair flowing back, blue eyes faded, barely able to hear his sister’s soft voice. As he held the book, and slowly thanked us for our birthday greetings, his voice was so different from the thunder and quick words of earlier years.

But his wit is still there! “How old are you?” he asked Jeanie, and when she told him said, “How did you get there so quick?”

In those minutes I realized Grant Wacker has the title right. Billy Graham is evangelist to the world, but pastor to many, and to our family Billy Frank the caring brother and uncle.

It was Billy who broke the news to our son Kevin that his older brother Sandy had died unexpectedly during surgery. He was at Mayo Clinic when our daughter Debbie went for tests on breast cancer (now long gone). He waited for her at the end of a long hall, hugged her, prayed for her. She later said, “Uncle Billy, for me that was the best sermon you ever preached. It was not you speaking from a platform, but you in your wheel chair, waiting for me in my fear.”

On one of our recent visits I realized he could not hear my words so I sang for him – some old hymns. “Keep singing” he said. “Sing more.”

He was not much of a singer himself. His soloist George Beverly Shea said Billy had a malady – no melody! But he and Billy’s music leader Cliff Barrows often had him join them in a fun version of “This Little Light of Mine.” He was allocated only one note. When they got to “Hide it under a bushel?” he would exclaim: “No!”

“Billy, do you remember that?” I asked. He nodded. So I sang and when I got to “hide it under a bushel?” I paused, and, very softly, he breathed, “No.”

Of all the words that he spoke and millions heard, that one quiet “no” tells me that any one of us can let our light shine.

Billy touched the world in ways very few can. He touched individuals in ways any of us can.

At ninety-six, doesn’t that count as success?

Leighton Ford

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Arrow vision

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A Brief Personal and Ministry History

Leighton Ford

My own call to the ministry of evangelism began when I was very young. From the outset of my life in this ministry I was encouraged and guided by significant mentors.

When I was fourteen, a man named Evon Hedley came to my home cit in Canada. Of medium height and well dressed he looked like a salesman or executive. What he was promoting, however, was our starting a chapter of the Canadian Youth Fellowship, the forerunner of Youth for Christ. That night Evon appointed me as president, assuming because I was tall that I was several years older. He must have wondered afterward if he made a great mistake appointing such a youngster! But he stayed close to me, guided me, encouraged me, sometimes scolded me a bit, sent traveling speakers our way, and included me in leadership gatherings. Well into his 90s Evon is continuing to mentor younger men.

A tall southern evangelist with a thundering voice came to preach at one of our rallies: Billy Graham. I was disappointed that only one young girl came forward seeking assurance of her relationship to Christ. Afterward he put an arm around me and promised to pray for me. He later told his sister in North Carolina about a young man in Canada. So he also became a matchmaker, and later my brother-in-law as Jeanie and I married.

After my seminary years Billy invited me to join his evangelistic team for several months. Those months stretched into thirty years as an associate evangelist preaching around the world. His mentoring was largely two-fold, allowing me to watch closely and learn from his own style of evangelistic communication, and also opening doors of ministry for me and providing encouragement.

My third most significant mentor was also like a spiritual father to me, Bishop Jack Dain, a former missionary and a senior bishop of the Anglican diocese in Sydney, Australia. Bishop Dain was the first executive chair of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. When in my mid-forties I succeeded him in that role he showed his servant spirit by insisting that he serve as my assistant at Lausanne gatherings, even embarrassing me at times by insisting on carrying my suitcase – he a man twenty years my senior! From Jack I gleaned the wisdom of one who had been through much, learned through much, and prayed through much. When I later went through some dark times he became my advocate and a strong rock to lean on.

Evon and Billy and Jack were concerned for me and not just their own agendas. They cared for me as Paul did Timothy, the protege of whom Paul wrote that he had “a genuine interest in your welfare” (Philippians 2: 20,21). So, remembering what Paul was to him and these mentors were to me, I have wanted to have the mind-set of Timothy: caring for others.

A Refocused Sense of Calling

Over three decades I had the privilege of preaching in many countries, and often to large crowds. But at the same time my great joy, along with seeing people come to faith in Christ, was to meet and encourage younger men and women, to be a friend to them, and to see them emerge into their own calling as leaders.

About the time I turned fifty the arc of my calling changed. In part this came from a realization that a major leadership shift was taking place throughout the Christian world. Leaders who emerged after the Second World War were getting older. A new generation was coming on the scene with fresh new visions.

Jeanie and I also went through a grievous loss, when our son Sandy died during heart surgery at the age of twenty-one. A young man with a heart for God, Sandy was a leader for Christ at his university. His death touched his peers deeply.

Sandy was a very good long distance runner. Once, as he was leading in a mile race his legs gave out and he fell forty yards short of the finish line. He got up, ran on, and fell again. Finally, pulling up to his knees, he crawled across the finish line, and won. The local paper showed him sprawled on the track with the headline, “Prep Runner Lays Heart on the Line.” That determination showed in his heart for God – a passion to press on to know the Lord. So our loss brought to Jeanie and me a strong desire to help other young leaders to run their race for Christ.

Later I remember asking a bishop in Australia who their future bishops might be. He thought a moment, then said, “I can think of a lot of blokes in their thirties, but not many in their forties and fifties.” Some business and political leaders told me the same thing.

It seems there was a whole new generation being raised up, not to be manager of their elders’ visions, but to pursue fresh visions God was giving to them.

Around that time I was leading a meeting of the Lausanne Committee in Oslo, Norway. We were seriously considering convening a second Lausanne congress on world evangelization. But there were a number of problems and the way ahead was not clear.

I suggested we suspend our discussion and spend an hour in prayer asking for guidance. As we prayed Clive Calver, then head of the Evangelical Alliance in England, quoted these words from Isaiah: “Do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18,19)

Those words were an “arrow” to my heart. Jeanie and I had been looking for a word from Scripture to confirm the next phase of our calling.

The previous years of evangelism had been fruitful and blessed. But, difficult as it was after many years to leave Billy’s organization, we realized that in our lives one chapter was flowing into another.

  • Chapter one had been as a preaching evangelist worldwide.
  • Chapter two involved drawing evangelism and mission leaders together in cooperation as chair of the Lausanne movement.
  • This new chapter was one of identifying and developing emerging leaders.

Helping young leaders to lead like Jesus

In 1986 we founded Leighton Ford Ministries (LFM) to identify and develop and bring together emerging leaders in evangelism around the world.

We sought counsel from a leadership specialist who had also written on this generational shift. He asked: can you put in one sentence what it is you want to do?

After a moment of reflection these words came to me:

to help young leaders to lead more like Jesus, for Jesus, and to Jesus.

That became the distinctive tagline of Leighton Ford Ministries (with the later addition “and to be led more by Jesus.”)

The Arrow Vision

Around the same time I was asked to speak at the Duke University Divinity School. After my chapel talk there was a time for questions.

“How have you seen Billy Graham change across the years?” someone asked. There had been a series of articles in a publication in which religious leaders related how their minds had changed.

I had not previously been asked that question about my brother-in-law. I stammered a few phrases, and then, again suddenly, the image of an arrow came to mind.

“I think Billy Graham has been like an arrowhead,” I said. “His mission and message are like the point of an arrow – sharp, and clear. Wherever he speaks, whatever the occasion, he is sure to make the gospel clear.

“At the same time he has grown broader like the base of an arrowhead. Across the years I have watched him grow in his understanding of the gospel – how the good news relates to racism, to concern for poverty, for cooperation among Christians, for peace between nations.”

The more I reflected on that metaphor, the more apt it seemed. Some leaders as they age grow broader but flatter. They are exposed to more, they know more, but they lose the sharp, cutting edge of their vision. Others become very, very narrow. They have one theme, one idea. They repeat it constantly until, like strumming on one string, it becomes very tiresome. The best leaders, though, are like arrowheads: they keep that sharp edge of their vision and they grow broader – and like the shaft of an arrowhead, they go deeper.

God’s description of His servant as “a polished arrow” (Isaiah 49:2) also became a formative image of my thinking. Young leaders are to be polished like arrowheads. These arrowheads are not to be mass produced, but hand shaped through personalized attention.

The arrow also becomes a symbol of leadership development. We wished to help young leaders sharpen their vision – like the point of the arrow – and to understand clearly God’s call to them. As Jesus in many ways would ask his disciples, “What do you see?” I developed the habit of asking young potential leaders, “What is your vision?” If the person was not sure, I would say, “If you did have one, what would it be?”

The base of the arrow also has significance: shaping their values. As Jesus would ask his disciples, “Where is your heart?” we need to see that the leader’s vision is carried forward only with solid Christ-like values.

Finally, we were called to help young leaders by sharing their ventures. Like the shaft that helps the arrow fly forward, we need to encourage young leaders to act on the visions God gives. Jesus was constantly pushing his disciples beyond their depth and comfort zones, saying, “Where is your faith?” He also made them venture out. So our task was not to recruit young leaders for our cause and visions, but to stand with them and behind them – to invest “spiritual risk capital” so to speak, and give them a chance to go for the ventures God has put into their hearts.

Sharpening vision. Shaping values. Sharing ventures. This summed up our leadership development process.

From a compelling vision to a realistic practice

When we began Leighton Ford Ministries we had this somewhat unfocused sense of being called to help raise a new generation. But how? We had to feel our way.

I began to keep what I called my “GGTW” list of “guys and gals to watch” – men and women whom I had met and been impressed with their heart for evangelism, and potential for leadership.

Some of them had received scholarships through the Sandy Ford Fund, a fund begun in honor of Sandy to help younger leaders prepare for ministry. Others I met through our ongoing evangelism ministry.

I began to take some of them with me as I traveled, and invited others to come to visit for a day to help sharpen and encourage their own vision. We also began to teach evangelism leadership seminars at various theological schools, and to hold forums for evangelists and church planters.

These were rewarding and worthwhile as “one off” events. But still we were feeling our way.

The voice through a storm

Then God spoke through a storm.

On September 22, 1989, Hurricane Hugo, blasted through our home city of Charlotte like a runaway tractor trailer. One of the most savage storms ever to assault the US mainland, it left a trail of deaths and devastation that cost millions of dollars.

That night, as the center of the hurricane passed, Jeanie and I retreated to the center of our house, and lay holding each other for hours in the middle of the den on the ground floor, hoping the house would not crash in on us. As morning came we peered out at and saw only minor damage to our house. But in our yard we counted twenty-seven trees that had been knocked down. It looked as if it a giant wielding a huge ax had lumbered down our block-long street chopping most of the trees off fifteen feet above the ground.

At 9 a.m. that morning two friends came to our front door, briefcases in hand. They had arrived the night before to take part in a strategic planning session for our fledgling Leighton Ford Ministries. To get to the house they had to wade through branches, tree limbs, and leaves that covered every square foot of our yard. Not an inch of grass could be seen,

Since the hurricane left us with no power or light we aborted our future planning session. I remembered, wryly, the old saw about “the best-laid plans of mice and men” going for naught.

Yet it seemed God had another strategic planning session of his own in mind. The storm that uprooted us reminded me how frail we humans really are when nature howls. As God in effect said to Job, after reminding him of the uncontrollable power of nature, “What do you know?” But there was another voice after the storm.

A few days after Hugo I headed up to a friend’s cabin at a nearby lake to spend a solitary day of prayer and planning.

I spent a long time thinking about the new call I had sensed. In my journal that day I wrote that we wanted “to contribute to a significant advance in the cause of Christ worldwide.”

Three years into the new Leighton Ford Ministries we were still running on two tracks – evangelism, and leadership development. We were trying to discern our central focus. Hugo helped us to get on the main track – to develop leaders called to the task of evangelism.

I questioned myself that day:

What is the vision? What is a “significant advance?

I reviewed the programs we had started, and then I wrote,

I see that I have started to become a programmer and a fund-raiser. Some of this is needed. But I have lost in the last year some of the heart to invest in people. Jesus saw people. Sometimes crowds. Often individuals.

How will we achieve a “significant advance”? Programs and conferences will come and go. People will grow (or diminish) and pass on to others (or not).

The programs and funds are necessary tasks. But I need to start by looking prayerfully until I see the people.

As I waited it seemed that I heard a quiet voice saying,

If you want to make a difference in the world, it will happen not by multiplying programs, but by investing in people.

I read though my GGTW list of “Guys and Gals to Watch” – and that day by the lake wrote down from that list a “first core” – a dozen names of younger leaders from around the world in whom I could invest, and who in turn could mentor others.

Within two years some of them, with a few others, formed what became the original Arrow Group (later to be called the Point Group, like the point of the arrow) – the core of our mentoring groups of younger leaders who meet with me each year. Most of them have since emerged into key positions of leadership in their areas of the world, and most have also started their own leadership mentoring groups.

Hurricane Hugo interrupted our planning session. But as it shook up our street and our plans it also opened me to listen in a deep way to “the voice after the storm.”

Now, looking back, I can understand more clearly how Hugo helped us to get on the main track. That quiet voice was calling us to a new ministry to help younger leaders to lead more like Jesus, and more to him.

Vision and Values

The vision that came after Hugo still needed to be fleshed out. What were the values we wanted to pass on? What would be the marks of leading like Jesus?

Not long after Hugo I was in Toronto, meeting with the Canadian board of our new ministry, and excitedly sharing with them this new vision. They shared my enthusiasm, but then one of them stumped me.

“Tell me,” he said, “what are the values that you want to pass on?”

I was caught short, and a bit embarrassed. While I had a general notion of what leadership development involved I had clearly not thought this through. I stammered out a few general thoughts, but his question stayed with me.

The next day Jeanie and I joined a friend for a cruise across Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls. As I lay that afternoon on the front of his boat I said a silent prayer, asking the Lord for wisdom, and clarity.

Then again that voice. Words came to me, formed in my mind. I knew they were not just my thoughts. They came through me, in my mind, but also from beyond me, words that summed up the values to pass on. They became that day a prayer for emerging leaders who would:

    • Have a heart for God
    • Love their neighbors and their families
    • Lead and serve like Jesus
    • Be able to communicate the gospel effectively, with passion, thoughtfulness, creativity, and integrity
    • Live humane and holy lives which will make the gospel attractive
    • Be aware of their world, alert to their generation
    • Act compassionately for the lost and the needy
    • Be kingdom-seekers, not empire builders
    • Long for the unity of God’s people
    • Learn to pray the work

It was almost as if these words were dictated to me as I lay on the front of the boat. I wrote them down exactly as above, and later added some appropriate Scriptural passages.

Those values became in years ahead the framework for our mentoring ministry, and expanded to become the goal and the heart of our leadership formation – to help develop leaders who would be like arrowheads – sharp in vision, like the point of an arrow, broad in knowledge and wisdom, like its breadth, and deep in spirit, like its shaft – our “arrow” vision.

I repeated this vision often to the men and women who entered that program. And at their graduation I would go to each one, lay hands of blessing on their head, call them by name, and say quietly to each one of those phrases

“Ken, be a kingdom seeker …”
“Elizabeth, lead and serve like Jesus …”
“Chris, communicate the gospel with creativity and integrity …”
“Alison, pray the work …”

After the storm, that still voice brought a new focus,

On the lake, it brought clarity to our mission.

And then, as if sensing that my hesitant heart might need confirmation, another signal seemed to come.

As our boat was returning in late afternoon from Niagara Falls to Toronto, I again lay on the front of the boat, reflecting on our trip, and the insights that had come.

My eyes were drawn to the sky.

There was a cloud. Shaped, so it seemed to me, like an arrow, an arrow which intersected what looked like a dove.

Was I seeing things? Hearing things?

Yes, indeed.

A prayer

Lord, you spoke to your prophets in many ways. Elijah heard the sound of your still, small voice after a great storm. You gave to Isaiah the vision of a “way through the sea …a new thing.” Through him you called your servants to be “polished arrows”, and not to settle for “too small a thing.” Thank you for your voice after the storm, and on the waters. And help me, and all your servants, to keep listening. Amen.

 

Note: (I later wrote these values down, and added appropriate passages from Scripture).

 Have a heart for God
(Deuteronomy 6, Psalm 73, Matthew 22:37, Acts 13:22)

Love their neighbors and their families
(Deuteronomy 6, Luke 10:22ff, Acts 13:22)

Lead and serve like Jesus
(Mark 10:42-45, John 13:13-17)

Be able to communicate the gospel effectively, with passion, thoughtfulness, creativity, and integrity
(2 Corinthians 2:17, 3:5-6, Ephesians 6:19,20, 2 Timothy 4:5, Philemon 6)

Live humane and holy lives which will make the gospel attractive
(Matthew 5:16, 1Timothy 4:12, Titus 2:6-8,14, 1 Peter 2:12)

Be aware of their world, alert to their generation (Acts 13:36)

Act compassionately for the lost and the needy
(Ephesians 5:15-18)

Be kingdom-seekers, not empire builders
(Matthew 6:33, Philippians 2:3-5f, 2:20,21)

Long for the unity of God’s people
(John 17, Philippians 1:27, 2:1-2, Ephesians 4:3-5)

Learn to pray the work
(Matthew 9:35, Colossians 4:12)

 

Postscript – an appreciation

Based on this vision and these values, the Leighton Ford Ministries team established the Arrow Leadership Program, with the first Arrow cohort coming together in 1991. When the time came for transition to new leadership , Carson Pue, who himself was an Arrow graduate , and who with Brenda had launched Arrow in Canada, was chosen as the new president. I am deeply grateful to Carson for carrying on the Arrow vision and with his team developing it so fully. As God has guided in the expansion of Arrow around the world I am also thankful for outstanding leaders who have pursued this vision in their own countries. (Leighton Ford)

 

Note

Leighton Ford continues actively in ministry, with a focus on spiritual direction and mentoring of leaders in evangelism and missions. His current misson statement is: to be

“an artist of the soul and a friend on the journey.” At the website below, you will find his descriptive booklet The Mentoring Community. His widely used Transforming Leadership is available from InterVarsityPress (USA). Sandy: A Heart for God, the story of his son, is also available through IVP as a print-on demand book.

 

Leighton Ford Ministries

into@leightonfordministries.org

www.leightonfordministries.org

Charlotte, North Carolina USA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Five-finger exercise

By | Evangelism, Leadership | No Comments

Meditation and Memories on the Holy Spirit

 Our son-in-law Craig is a fine physician, a devoted husband and father, and a very bright graduate of Duke and Chapel Hill. But – like any of us – he does suffer occasional mental lapses! Three years ago he was playing a pick-up game of basketball with his son and a friend. He forgot his age, thought he was about twenty again, and went all out. A hard pass hit and bent a finger but he refused to stop, determined to show these young bucks he could play through the pain. So he kept on – until he tore the ACL in his knee!

At first it seemed the ACL injury was the most serious. But then he found out he had actually broken the middle finger on his surgical hand. Craig is an ob/gyn doctor and if he couldn’t regain full use of his surgical hand he would never be able to do surgery or deliver babies.

The knee surgery went well, and an experienced hand surgeon repaired the finger. But the really worrisome result was that the end of his finger was still not quite right, with limited flexibility. With intensive therapy across the months he did regain the use of that finger and could practice again. But I don’t think until then I had fully realized the importance of our fingers.

As I write, I stop and gaze at the fingers on both hands and think how many things I do with them each day by habit. I type, eat, brush my teeth, hold my wife’s hand, paint from time to time, open doors, start the car, hold the steering wheel – all without thinking.

(Take a moment now to pause in your reading to look at each finger – and say thanks!)

How striking then that Jesus used the “finger” as a metaphor to describe the Spirit of God. When he drove a demon out of a deaf-mute man, Luke records, the serious religious leaders accused him of doing so by Beelzebul, the ruler of demons. Jesus retorted , “If I cast out evil by evil then evil is a house divided against itself … But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (Luke 11:20).

In the parallel passage in Matthew Jesus says he drove out this demon “by the Spirit of God” (Matthew 12:25). Clearly the Spirit of God is in some sense also the finger of God – a vivid image of God’s kingdom at work through Jesus – and the Holy Spirit.

Thomas Merton saw Christ as “not simply the tip of the little finger of the Godhead, moving in the world, easily withdrawn … God has acted and given Himself totally, without division, in the Incarnation. He has become not only one of us but even our very selves.” (1)

 Just as Jesus was the personal appearance of the Godhead in the flesh, so the Spirit is the personal appearance of Jesus in our flesh – in the body of Christ in this world. This is why I wince whenever someone speaks of the Spirit as “it.”

The Holy Spirit is not an “it” – some vague vapor, a kind of spiritual influence or energy. He is, Jesus said, “another Advocate” whom the Father would send, one as real as Jesus himself – the living, teaching, guiding, spiritually breathing presence of God with God’s people. So the apostles can also speak and write of the “love” of the Spirit, the “mind” of the Spirit, the “guiding” of the Spirit, the “comfort” of the Spirit – all personal attributes.

Luke begins his second book with a reminder that in his first one he wrote of “all that Jesus did and taught,” implying that now he records Jesus continues to do and teach. So the title should really not be The Acts of the Apostles, but The Acts of the Risen Christ by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles.

Remembering the exercise my first piano teacher gave me I picture the acts of the Holy Spirit as a “five-finger exercise” in which the Spirit

 

  • Beckons
  • Points
  • Writes
  • Grips
  • Works       

   

We beckon with our fingers – and so does the Spirit

“The Spirit and the bride say ‘Come’” (Revelation 22:17)

I take a walk with my dog Wrangler – a very alert and attentive companion – who watches carefully for my signals. I hold out my hand, he holds up his ears. I beckon with my fingers, he comes close to me. And I wonder: am I as attentive to God as Wrangler is to me?

Throughout the story of Acts we see the Spirit beckoning, creating a sense of need, conveying the truth about Jesus, turning people to God one-by-one or in groups, empowering these new converts to lead new lives. He makes the gospel call clear and compelling – what we learned in theology as “effectual calling.” So Peter preaches on Pentecost, the Spirit pricks the hearts of people, and they respond: “What shall we do?” As the old-time evangelist Moody put it, “Peter lifted up Jesus and the Holy Spirit said, ‘Amen!’” Later we see the Holy Spirit – pictured as “the Lord’s hand” –turning a great number of people to God (Acts 11:21).

God’s finger continues to beckon through the centuries. Who called to Augustine in the garden, telling him to “take and read” the words of Paul, but the Spirit? Who touched the aspiring young novelist Frederick Buechner with words of a George Buttrick sermon: “Are you going home for Christmas” – and birthed in him a longing to come home to the cradle where Christ was laid? How did George Herbert’s great poem Love Bade Me Welcome bring Christ to possess a non-practicing French Jewish woman Simone Weil, who would have such a powerful influence on her secular country?

I don’t have to go so far back or away to recall that beckoning finger myself. My adoptive mother was very devout and very troubled. When I was fourteen she left our home and virtually disappeared for months. That summer at a small Christian conference I heard the speaker describe how he began each day: walking, reading a Psalm, praying out loud. Through his words the Spirit spoke to me. I went to the woods early next morning and following his practice. In the words of Scripture God’s presence became real to a lonely young heart. Out of that experience I sensed the call to share what I had found, and to preach as an evangelist.

When I graduated from Columbia Seminary I was considering a call to a church in Missouri. But Billy Graham had come into my life (and his sister!) and he invited me to join his team for a stint. We were part of some of his early “crusades” in Scotland, Canada, New York, and Australia. Tremendous crowds packed stadiums. The events were fairly well organized. But what I most remember is the sense of utter dependence, not on organization and publicity, but on prayer; it was more the rising of a new spiritual wind.

I still remember the figure of Billy Graham prostrate on a floor in prayer, pleading for the Spirit to move people. Seeing him prone felt strange to this reserved Canadian Presbyterian. But it was not a show. It was a heart-felt cry for the finger of the Spirit to beckon people toward Christ.

And I wonder now, in the slow attrition of our mainline churches, and the growth of the “nones” among youth, might the Spirit be beckoning us to heed again that love that first bade us welcome, to a deep and passionate longing for the Spirit to breathe through our preaching and our busy activities and create a holy dissatisfaction, a fresh breath of God?

I have been moved by the recent personal account of ChristianWiman, editor of the esteemed Poetry magazine. Raised in a Southern Baptist culture his faith dissolved in the larger and secular world of college. Then, at age thirty-nine, after three years of a writing drought, he fell in love, was married, then eight months later diagnosed with incurable cancer. He and his wife wandered into a church, he began to write again, and as he recounts, was “finally able to assent to the faith that had long been latent within me.”

Wiman’s desire now is to have a conversation with “an enormous contingent of people out there” who are starved for ways of feeling and articulating their experiences with God. And while what we believe matters, he has come to realize the real question is how.

“How do you answer the burn of being that drives you both deeper into, and utterly out of yourself? What might it mean for your life- and for your death – to acknowledge the insistent, persistent call of God?” (2)

The “burn of being.” Could there be a much better description of that fiery finger that beckons?

We point with our fingers – and so does the Holy Spirit

“Being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went … ” (Acts13:4)

I know it’s not polite to point – my mother told me so. But I also know that pointing is sometimes very important when we need direction.

In recent years my own ministry has been focused on spiritual mentoring with those in ministry leadership, what is traditionally described as “spiritual direction.” My wife does not like the term “spiritual director” because the first person she knew who called herself a “spiritual director” was more like a spiritual dictator!

But the practice – the “art” of spiritual direction – is not about telling someone what they are to do, or where they are to go. Rather it is the art of “holy listening,” listening together for the voice of God’s Spirit. Out of these times of listening to the Word and to each other, we may sense something that has been missed, may point someone (or be pointed) in a certain direction, asking “I wonder if God may be calling you to pay attention in a deeper way to some opportunity, some need, to the voice of your own calling?

”Jesus promised that the Spirit would both remind his followers of his words, and also guide them into all truth. He would be – at the point!

This pointing finger of God comes again and again in the books of Acts. The Spirit points Philip to the Ethiopian treasurer reading Isaiah and wondering who the prophet writes about (Acts 8). He points Ananias to Saul his ex-enemy, now one of God’s chosen (Acts 9). In Acts10 he points Peter to Cornelius, a God-seeking Roman soldier. In Acts 13 he moves Paul and his missionary companions to cross the cultural barrier and carry the gospel to the nations.

It was John Wesley I believe who said that “We should second the motions of the Holy Spirit.” When the Spirit says “I move,” our response should be to second that motion. Where is God working? What doors is the Spirit opening? Where do we find responsive people? Or, where does he point us to a hard place and say, “Stay here. I am not through yet.

”But what about planning? How does our planning relate to the Spirit’s pointing?

Reflect on the pattern of Acts as a response to God’s initiative. God is in charge, and the grand strategy is all his. He is the door-opener and the door-closer. Whenever a closed door is suddenly flung open the early Christians become a rapid response force. When the Spirit says pause, they wait. When the way is made clear, they use whatever tactics would be effective to tell the Story of God to the world.

Perhaps we in the main-line churches, with ageing and declining memberships, can listen even more humbly to our ministry fellows in other groups – in the best of the “seeker churches” and “house churches,” and the immigrant congregations, to those in the Global South where the church grows even under intense persecution. Perhaps from them we will find some “pointers” of the Spirit.

Can we also pay closer attention when the Spirit points us to seekers nearby?

A personal encounter stays with me. In Manchester, England Billy Graham was preaching to a capacity crowd in a huge stadium. Outside was a large jumbo screen where others could watch. I was asked to speak to them briefly with a word of welcome and invite them to listen and respond. As I walked back toward the stadium a well-dressed man approached me. He hadn’t heard my remarks but obviously thought I was part of the Graham group.

“Has Billy Graham written anything for bereaved parents?” he asked. “My twenty year old daughter died a year ago and I do not know where to turn. I need help.

Startled by the “coincidence” I said, “I think I understand. I lost a twenty-one year old son”.

We stood and talked a long time. His name was Gerald, and he was a dentist in the city. I introduced myself and told him of our son, of our ongoing sense of loss, and what our faith in Christ had meant to us. I offered a brief prayer, and we parted.

As I walked back to the stadium it suddenly came to me: why had I not invited him to come in with me? Although he wandered off in the crowds I spotted him.

“Gerald, would you like to go in with me? And if you want to open your life to Christ I will be glad to stand with you.”

He did so want. We went in together. And at the call he and I stood with others in commitment.

A year later at an anniversary celebration for the crusade volunteers the chairman, to whom I had told of my encounter, recounted that story. Three women came up after, and asked, “Bishop, could that have been Gerald Kettle you told about?”

“That’s right,” he said, “Why?”

“Because,” said one, “we were part of a prayer group before the crusade. We prayed for friends who were going through difficult times, that God might touch them with Billy’s message. And Gerald was one we prayed for especially.”

What made Gerald Kettle approach me out of that crowd, knowing neither who I was nor that I had also lost a child? What prompted me to go and find him after we parted? And who led those friends to pray so fervently for him?

What … who … if not the pointing finger of the Spirit?

We write with our fingers .. and so does the Spirit

“You are a letter of Christ … written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God.”   (2 Corinthians 3:3)

My own writing is pretty much of a scrawl. Often I can hardly read it myself. That may be that as a left-hander I learned to write upside down. Even more likely it says, “Whoever wrote this is in too much of a hurry. Slow down … and get clear!” Which makes me wonder: is Christ clearly reflected in my busy life?

We have many programs of evangelism. But the most effective evangelism grows out of who we are in Christ. How does the Spirit deprogram our witnessing? Make us more authentic storytellers? By writing God’s Story – into our lives.

God used his finger to write his personality into the stars, said the Psalmist.

When I consider your heavens,

the work of your fingers …

And on the mountain Moses received God’s law written on tablets of stone.

But what amazing writing God the Spirit does in writing Christ into our lives. As Paul wrote to the disciples at Corinth (whose former lives were anything but Christ-like):

You are a letter from Christ .. written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3).

And what does the Spirit write but the love of Jesus, the joy of Jesus, and the authenticity of Jesus upon our lives? Witnessing then does not mean putting on a spiritual front. It means being honest about who we are – and (as the Quaker Douglas Steere said) “whose we are.”

Paul (remembering Moses’ face shining after he was with God) develops this “writing” image:

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Note Paul’s certainty: “all of usare being transformed.” Really? How often does my face shine? On dark days and in troubled times? But this is not a self-conscious glory, a kind of spiritual smiley-face. The image is of Christ; the transforming agent is the Spirit; the glory is when others see Christ even through our wrinkles and wounds.

My friend Canon Andrew White serves as rector of St. George’s church in the heart of Baghdad. In spite of multiple sclerosis he has gone back and forth from England multiple times. The church has been bombed, members kidnapped, yet the church goes on.

Andrew tells of a visit by Lord Hylton, chairman of their board. The children welcome him like a long lost friend. The service begins in Arabic “Allah hu maana” -“The Lord is here.” The people shout the response: “His Spirit is with us.” There are not enough seats so they stand for hours. They come not just to worship but to get food, clothes, blankets, to meet their friends. A free dental and medical clinic treats vast numbers, most of whom are not Christians. One of the children says, “I learned that Jesus was everything and he would provide our needs and he has made me happy again.”

When Lord Hylton returns to London he writes: “I have been to the church of the future.”

In Baghdad! In probably the most dangerous street in the world – the church of the future! This, says Andrew White, is what church is really about. Not denominations or labels but about the Church Universal. The one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church everywhere, even in the most dangerous place in the world, serving and showing the love of Jesus.

Here, in the streets of Baghdad, the finger of God is writing the likeness of Jesus.

We grip with our fingers … and so does the Spirit

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. (Romans 8:26)

Backsliding is not usually a major worry for Presbyterians. (As the saying goes, Methodists believe in backsliding. Presbyterians don’t. We just practice it!)

Perhaps what might intrigue us is the thought of “falling upward” – the paradoxical title of a recent book by Richard Rohr on a spirituality for the “two halves of life.” Rohr suggests that while early voices give us direction and identity, and keep us safe and going for many years, we may become so used to them that we end up not able to hear the real voice of God. Rohr writes,

There is a deeper voice of God, which you must learn to hear and obey in the second half of life. It will sound an awful lot like the voices of risk, of trust, of surrender … of an intimate stranger, of your deepest self … The true faith journey only begins at this point. (3)

To follow on this “second journey” we need the gripping finger of the Spirit, as much or even more than in the first part of our life’s course. And the good news of the “gripping” finger is that God will not let us go until his work in us is finished.

Our belief in the “perseverance of the saints” is really more about the persistence of God our Savior isn’t it? The Father is determined that the image of the Son will be formed in us (Romans 8:28). The Shepherd-Son promises to give his sheep eternal life and that “No one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). And the Spirit is the down-payment of our legacy of redemption (Ephesians 1:13,14).

The changes redemption brings are sure, but often slow, and very often painful. On this journey we need that gripping finger of the Spirit to hold us steady. So Paul reminds his readers that “the sufferings of this present time” are not worth comparing with “the glory which will be revealed… the revealing of the children of God.” And he holds out the promise that while we wait “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:18f).

As life presses in from without, and hesitancy makes us cowards within, we have this assurance: we may fall but we “fall upward”! The Spirit’s gripping finger is in us, prays for us, and will not let us go until we let go with a great “Yes” to God’s best for our life.

“Be filled with the Spirit,” writes the apostle (Ephesians 5:18). The Spirit is a gift to receive. And that fullness will mean the Spirit filling every part of who God has made us to be.

Back to our son-law Craig. After his finger healed he went back to surgery and delivering babies. Then came another blow. On a summer night last year he was taken to emergency with symptoms that looked like a stroke. How could this be – at fifty-five? As it turned out there was no stroke, but bleeding in a tiny portion of his brain that caused seizures. For some weeks he was out of work and not driving, but then with medication has recovered, and is doing what he most loves: seeing and talking with patients.

Craig’s parents were Presbyterian missionaries in Brazil, where his mother died when he was two. Craig carries within him that same missionary, ministering spirit. “As a doctor, I am a minister in disguise” he likes to say. He prays over new babies, and more than once with a dying person in hospital. Over lunch, after his “fall” he tells me, “I am more rested than in years, without night call,” then adds, “and what I most want is to help other men know what they are missing if they are missing Jesus.”

Craig has fallen – upward!

While Craig’s missionary mother is buried in Brazil there is a grave marker for her in Swannanoa, not far from the long-time Montreat home of another Presbyterian missionary kid – Ruth Graham – Craig’s aunt by marriage.

Ruth’ burial place is at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte. I think that Ruth must have had the “gripping finger” of the Spirit in mind when on her stone she had chiseled these words:

Construction Complete   

Thanks for Your Patience

 

We work with our fingers – and so does the Spirit

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

 And the great work of the Spirit is liberation! Isn’t that how Jesus told of his mission in his own inaugural address in his synagogue in Nazareth?

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the

poor

He has set me to proclaim release

to the captives

and recovery of sight to the

blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s

favor

     (Luke 4:18-19)

 

To set the captives free – from every kind of oppression and captivity that bind – the demons of sin, of addiction, of hatred and violence, of snobbery and exclusiveness, of pride and prejudice – that is the mission of the Lord, and that is the work of the Spirit within us.

And in that miraculous arc of the kingdom come and coming Jesus keeps doing through us what he did on that long ago day when he cast the evil spirit out of that mute and deaf fellow, and when accused of siding with the devil said:

If it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons,

then the kingdom of God has come to you.

Pentecost in Winter

It is winter as I write this meditation about the Spirit, A melancholy sometimes sets in with the dismal darkness of mid-winter.

Perhaps that’s simply my seasonal affective disorder. But it may also be anxiety that sets in with the economic suffering, the political gamesmanship, the shootings and killings here and abroad. It may be the passing on of old friends. It may be that like Wendell Berry I wake at night in despair of what the world will be for our grandchildren, and two little great-ones.

In any case I need to pray now: veni Spiritus! Don’t wait until spring!

And then comes to me Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem about our world – both beautiful and bent.

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God” he exults, then asks, why then do men “not reck his rod?” Generations have “trod and trod” until this earth is “seared with trade, bleared, smeared with toil” and worn down to a bareness. For all this, he knows there lives a “freshness deep down things” so

Though the last lights off the black West went

Oh morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods, with warm breast and with Ah! bright wings. (4)

So now I lift my prayer again:

Come ,Spirit of God.

As you brooded over the first creation,

and in Mary’s womb breathed the new creation in Christ,

breathe a fresh springtime into our hearts.

Beckon us

Point Us

Write in Us

Grip Us

Work Through us

Amen.

 

An after-note

Any metaphor can be stretched too far. Obviously we do many more things with our hands than listed, and the Holy Spirit gestures in many more ways than suggested. And there is a mystery about the ways of the Spirit. “The wind blows where it chooses” said Jesus, of the Spirit. We cannot control him. So how do we interpret his gestures – his beckonings, pointings, writings? He is not controllable but he is predictable in that he comes from the Father and Son, he speaks of the Son, he reminds us of the Son. The sure marks of his presence are the fruit of Christ-likeness in our lives. Absent those we need to “test the spirits” wisely.   

 

End Notes

  1. Merton letter to Dom Jean Leclercq. The School of Charity. The Letters of Thomas Merton on Religious Renewal and Spiritual Direction. Edited by Brother Patrick Hart. (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. 1997)., 85
  2. God Between the Lines. Interview with Christian Wiman in Christianity Today, January/February 2013.
  3. Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2011), 46,48.
  4. Gerard Manley Hopkins, The World is Charged with the Grandeur of God.