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.
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.
And what you want to give me is love,
unconditional, everlasting love.
There have been moments in my own work when I have been preparing to speak to a group. At such times I have found that as I get quiet I also become troubled. The inner voice of God’s Spirit speaks to my conscience and reminds me of pride, or laziness, or impurity, or failure to pray or prepare. At moments like this, all I can say is, “My God, I come before you with mixed motives and an impure heart. I am a sinful man. Forgive me for Christ’s sake. Fill me with your Spirit, and use me just as I am”. Then I stand and speak and minister, confident that only God knows my heart well enough to sort out the pure from the impure. I give him all I know of myself and ask his forgiveness where necessary. If I were to wait until I was one hundred percent sure that my motives were pure I would never speak or serve or minister! I would be completely paralyzed. Only one person was totally devoted to another’s cause, and that was Jesus Christ, my leader. Since he has graciously called me, forgiven me and included me in his family, I seek, however imperfectly, to serve his cause.
From Transforming Leadership (1991, IVP).
We like to make a distinction between our private and public lives and say, “Whatever I do in my private life is no one else’s business”. But anyone trying to live a spiritual life will soon discover that the most personal is the most universal, the most hidden is the most public, and the most solitary is the most communal. What we live in the most intimate places of our beings is not just for ourselves but for all people. That is why our inner lives are gifts for others. That is why our solitude is a gift to our community, and that is why our most secret thoughts affect our common life”
From Nouwen’s Bread For The Journey (1997, HarperCollins)
Jesus came from humble parents. There was little in his lineage or early life to suggest the kind of power his peers found in him. In fact, as one of the ancient prophecies had said, God’s leader would be a “root out of dry ground” (Is 53:2). In years to come the people of his hometown who had known him as a boy would be offended at this background. Whey they saw his miracles or heard his gracious speech they sniffed, “But isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Aren’t these his brothers?”…”We know his family”. That was all that needed to be said by those who dismissed his power.
Jesus’ authority was not something imposed on others, but rather a force he exposed. He was not one to strut around saying great things, pulling off tremendous miracles, demanding attention, even passing judgments (until he felt it necessary, towards the end). Rather, his authority was the exposing of an inner spiritual power that was released little by little – through words, actions, attitudes, and his very presence – until finally his character itself seemed to be as wonderful as his greatest miracle.
Jesus’ strength of character is demonstrated in many dimensions of his personality and experience: in purpose, speech, and balance; in spirit, in suffering, and in dedication.
From Transforming Leadership (1991: InterVarsity Press)