Canon J. John is a member of our LFM Point Group, and a gifted evangelist in the UK. Here are some of his thoughts about arriving at his 60th birthday.
There’s no point in denying that I’m about to reach a particular milestone on 2nd June. Now there are different views about reaching sixty. Some people see it as being no more than some insignificant crossing of which brings little change, while others see sixty as marking your entrance into some unfamiliar territory of the ‘senior years’.
Inevitably I have been reflecting on reaching sixty and have decided that my attitude can be summed up in terms of what I accept, reject and expect.
First, what do I accept? Well I accept that, although welcome, the cards, candles and celebrations are indeed reminders of my mortality. When we are young we all consider our lives to be unlimited; any end lies safely out of sight beyond the horizon. However, when you reach sixty you realise there are more years behind you than there are ahead. And although we have made progress (after all, a century ago you probably were dead!), being sixty does mean that you have to start thinking about mortality. Here, of course, one of the perks of being a Christian is that not only can I look at this life’s ending without flinching, I can see beyond it.
Ed Stetzer at Christianity Today recently interviewed Lon Allison, who is a senior member of my Point Group and chair of the Leighton Ford Ministries board. I encourage you to read it.
Ed: Not too long ago you were diagnosed with an aggressive liver cancer and have been receiving treatment. How has this impacted your faith and the way you view God?
Lon: I really didn’t know how my faith would be impacted by the news of a terminal cancer. My wife Marie, our children, and I had never faced something like this. I can now say five months into the journey that my faith is stronger than before my diagnosis about 90% of the time.
I have clung to two truths to sustain me. First is the sovereignty of God: “The Lord has established his throne in heaven. His Kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19). The second great truth is his love for me and my family: “And I pray that you being rooted and established in love, may have power…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:17-19).
The sovereignty of God means he has authority over this situation. He has allowed this cancer to strike me. He can cure it in a nanosecond, or allow it to grow within me. He is in charge, and I deeply desire he be glorified through it.
Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,
The seething holy city of my heart,
The saviour comes. But will I welcome him?
Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;
They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,
And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find
The challenge, the reversal he is bringing
Changes their tune. I know what lies behind
The surface flourish that so quickly fades;
Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,
The hardness of the heart, its barricades,
And at the core, the dreadful emptiness
Of a perverted temple. Jesus come
Break my resistance and make me your home.
From Sounding The Seasons by Malcolm Guite, Canterbury Press. Used with the poet’s permission.
Our last visit with Billy at his mountain home was around Christmas time. Jeanie and our Debbie and I, and his daughter Gigi, joined hands and sang one of his favorite crusade songs: “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine, O what a foretaste of glory divine.”
At 99, eyesight and hearing mostly gone, he was only dimly aware we were there. Then as we left Jeanie leaned over and said, “Billy Frank, we’re going now. I’d like to take you to Charlotte with me.” There was a long pause and then he breathed the two words he spoke to us that day: “Oh, my.”
Now he has come home to Charlotte – at least the earthly part of him has – to rest in the red Carolina soil, next to Ruth, five miles from the farm where he grew up.
Hundreds of admirers lined up on roads and highways and overpasses along the route of the motorcade that brought his body here from Montreat. They waited for hours, with Bibles and signs and flags to wave a goodbye.
Coming after the recent silent years, when he was away from public view, almost, it seemed, forgotten, this eruption of care and thanks and attention from around the world, touched Jeanie and me so deeply.
His simple casket, made of plywood by life prisoners at Angola Prison in Louisiana, was carried gently into the Library. There the family, from Jeanie down to the youngest grandchildren, gathered around, and his pastor offered a prayer.
As we stood quietly talking, I saw the large cross shaped window over the entrance reflected on the casket.
It was a powerful symbol, the cross over the casket, light shining over death, servanthood over self.
He preached that the way of the cross leads home. Now it has led him to his eternal home, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
An excerpt from Lloyd Ogilvie’s ‘The Bush Is Still Burning’:
In Trinity Church, Boston, there is a remarkable statue of Phillips Brooks by Saint-Gaudens. The spiritual giant stands at a pulpit with an open Bible. Behind him stands Jesus with his hand on the preacher’s shoulder. The reason for Brooks’ greatness is preserved for posterity.
In a letter to a friend he wrote “All experience comes to be more and more the pressure of Christ’s life upon ours. I cannot tell how personal this grows to me. He is here. He knows me and I know Him. It is no figure of speech; it is the realest thing in the world”.
December 1, 2017 at 9:58am:
Thirty-six years ago yesterday I stopped saying “It just isn’t convenient right now to be completely committed to Christ.” And I gave my whole self to trusting Christ while at the funeral of a most amazing 21 year old UNC student who made a difference everywhere he was on campus.
Sandy was even kind enough to stop between class one day and say yes to my request to talk about faith. Sandy was someone who only peripherally knew me through a mutual friend. He suggested we talk after Thanksgiving break but Sandy passed from Time to Eternity the day after Thanksgiving and we were never able to talk.
But at his funeral on November 30 in Charlotte (I skipped class to make the two hour drive to the service all alone) with over a thousand in attendance, Billy Graham (Sandy’s uncle) stood and said “Sandy knew that to live is Christ and to die is gain.” In an instant, I knew, I wanted to live, really live.
In that moment I surrendered and all the arguments of inconvenience melted away. Something about knowing Life captured my heart and in that moment I said, “Lord, if you will let me live, Sandy’s death will not be in vain. Christ’s death will not be in vain. And I will live each moment for You.”
Never have I looked back and questioned, “Was it worth it?” Eternity secure, life abundant now, understanding though, at times, and in excruciatingly trying circumstances, I know each moment of my life has been sifted through the hands of my loving heavenly Father who says “I know the plans I have for you and they are good plans. Trust Me.”
I remember the evening just a few days after Sandy died, I knocked on a (soon to be) friend’s door and said, “You don’t know me but Sandy was your best friend. Please tell me about him.” And he told me about Sandy and more about Christ and introduced me to a new world of hope and real joy. I learned to study the Word and that God is good.
I began to trust His plan for this lost and dying world to know Him and that He wanted to use me to tell this story of redemption. And I did… here and in the Philippines broadcasting the message of Hope behind the then Iron Curtain of communist countries. And then life through the decades of walking with Him…
God gave me my dear husband who is always pointing us to Christ and all these years later, we find, he is a gifted writer, writing a daily email to family and friends each morning before most are awake, entitled, “A Little More Like Jesus.” It challenges me each day to ask God, “How do I look today? I want to look a little more like Jesus.”
Sandy looked like Jesus. My friend who shared Sandy’s story looked like Jesus, the friends who taught me and encouraged me at UNC looked like Jesus and God in His mercy sent me a husband who looks more like his Savior everyday.
“O Lord, Thou didst strike my heart with Your Word and I loved Thee.” May the Word of God on the written page or in the life of a believer cause each of us to long to look a little more like Jesus and not waste another minute saying it’s just not convenient now.
The enemy says “There’s no hurry.” I say, “Life, abundant life, is waiting. Don’t settle for the life this old worn out world offers. Run to Him.
Read the news. Our generation sewed the wind. We are reaping the whirlwind. There is so much more to life than what we see and surmise with our finite minds. Choose Christ. Choose Life. “For me to live is Christ. To die is gain.” Thanks be to God
Frances Knott George
November 27th marks the 36th anniversary of Sandy Ford’s passing. Through his amazing, short life on earth, he influenced an incredible number of people. Through Leighton’s loving retelling of his son’s life, Sandy has influenced countless more.
Have you ever read Sandy: A Heart For God? If not, this is a great opportunity to not only read a book but also to meet a young man you will never forget, a young man who ran his race for God with uncommon determination and impact. It is a book you will cherish and will want to pass on to the young men and women in your life.
It is available through both Amazon and InterVarsity Press.
Click here to purchase the Kindle edition for $5.99.
One of the most popular features of the recent reissue of Leighton’s classic Good News Is For Sharing is the personal stories told about some friends of Leighton and Leighton Ford Ministries. Over the next week, we’ll be sharing those stories here as well as some details about the folks listed only by first name in the book!
First up is Zack Eswine.
“I am at Panera with a friend with a who worships Zeus and harkens back to the pagan gods of Olympus.
This conversation is in light of a handful of conversations over the past few months. I give thanks that my friend now believes that 1) Jesus actually existed, 2) the Bible is a historically reliable document, and 3) Jesus’ teachings are compelling.
My friend has not put his faith in Jesus as his lord and savior yet. However, I use the metaphor of being on the road with Jesus, traveling with him where he walks, and watching and listening to him.
My friend says that he would like to take that much of a step. He’d like to actively pursue Jesus as he is in the gospels and in history.
I thought this was a huge step. I trust and pray that this will lead to the next step – actual faith in the Lord as his savior.”
Zack Eswine serves as Lead Pastor for Riverside Church and as Director for Homiletics at Covenant Theological Seminary.
Zack’s most recent books include Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Struggle with Depression and The Imperfect Pastor which received Christianity Today’s Book of the Year Award in Leadership/Pastoral Ministry.
Zack and his wife Jessica cultivate life and family in Webster Groves, Missouri.