Billy’s Gate (Leighton Ford)

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Several years ago Jeanie and I went to visit her brother Billy in his mountain home above Montreat, North Carolina. At that time he was still able to converse. While Jeanie and he had a brother-sister  talk I went outside for a stroll around the house.

I was struck by this old wooden gate standing open in a stone fence, looking out to the far mountains.

It was a powerful symbol.  I thought of Jesus saying he is the gate for his sheep.  That Billy had directed so many through the narrow gate that leads to life. That Ruth had already gone through the gate to the far heavenly hills beyond.

I took some photos, and later painted this original watercolor.

Billy himself has now entered through Jesus the gate, and is with his Lord and his beloved Ruth.

That old wooden gate has since been removed. But the gate to God is still open. And Jesus still says, “I am the gate. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9)

Leighton Ford,

March 2018

Watercolor.  14” x 20”. 2014.


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On The Day Of Billy’s Funeral (Leighton Ford)

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The heavens are telling the glory of God …”
Psalm 19. The Lectionary reading for the day.

I have been thinking much about him these days,

the earthly part of him,

that long, lithe frame,

lying in a pinewood box.


I’ve been picturing him as he was,

standing tall, confident, humble,

with those piercing blue eyes,

those well-groomed hands clutching his Bible,

jabbing them out to make a point,

lifting them up in a gesture that said,

“Come. Come now.”

A distant relative of his, an artist, reflects,

“He looked as if he knew something,

something he had to share.”

He did that.

Now he lies still.


Nearly a hundred years ago

the breath of life came into him,

as later the words of life came through him,

as clear as the whistle of a train

across miles on an early morning,

with a hint of thunder.

Today that breath is all breathed out.

His voice is silent.


In the Psalms for today I read that

“The heavens are declaring the glory of God.”

They are not silent.

Neither are the stones, which Jesus said

would cry out if his disciples didn’t

announce his kingdom.

They will not be silent.

How can we?


I can hear another voice saying

“It’s your turn. Lift up your voice.

A hundred of you, a thousand, a million of you.

Lift up your voice and say,

‘The Lord reigns.’


Lift up your voice and sing,

‘To God be the glory, great things he has done.’”


And could that be his voice I hear, from not far off?

Singing, as he never could before,

with his true and lasting voice:


“Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,

let the earth hear his voice.

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,

let the nations rejoice.

O, come to the Father,

through Jesus the Son,

and give Him the glory,

great things he has done.”


Leighton Ford

March 2, 2018

The Billy I Knew (Leighton Ford)

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In the early days of Youth for Christ all of us young preachers wanted to be like Billy– the star preacher with the stylish double-breasted gabardine suits, the flowery ties, the piercing blue eyes, the stabbing finger, the voice with a touch of Carolina thunder.

When he preached there was such power and passion and when he gave his invitation to come to Jesus always so many came forward. Almost always.

But not when he came to my home town in Canada to speak at our youth rally. The place was packed. His message was powerful. But when he invited people to the front no one moved.

I was so disappointed. We were sure all of our friends would respond. Billy saw my emotion, came over, put his arm around me, and said, “I am going to pray for you and if you stay humble God will use you.”

That night he also pointed me to Wheaton College where I met and fell in love with his sister Jean. On a cold December night in the old, old Calvary Church, he married us – with one slip of the tongue: he said we had exchanged “wings”! And I literally took “wings” as I preached around the world with him for thirty years.

He was as commanding a presence in person as in the pulpit. After one of his crusades he would come to the family home on Park Road. Mother Graham would serve her special Russian tea. And he would captivate us with his stories of where he had been and who he had met.

For years he was named as one of the world’s most admired men. Yet when he namedropped about famous people he’d been with he was like a farm boy in awe of where he had been and who he had met.

Now I think more now of the personal Billy, than the public one. To his family he was son and big brother Billy, and he showed in so many ways that he cared.

Jeanie was stricken with life-threatening polio in the 1940s. Billy and Ruth had just arrived in Chicago for his first pastorate when he learned she was seriously ill. He immediately turned around and made the same long drive back to Charlotte to be with her.

Our Debbie had a recurrence of breast cancer (from which she has fully recovered). At Mayo Clinic in Florida she was walking down a hall toward a test she feared might show the cancer had spread. Ahead she saw an old man sitting in a wheel chair. It was her uncle Billy. He was there for a checkup and had found out exactly where she would be. She ran to him, they hugged and cried, and he prayed. Later at his Montreat home she sat on his bed and said, “Uncle Billy, for me that was the best sermon you ever preached. It wasn’t you on a platform, me in the audience. It was you in a wheelchair. I in my fear. Both of us on the same level, with our needs.”

And he was human! Over the years he had many health problems, and he could be a bit of a hypochondriac. We joked that if he had a hangnail it could be a major threat! It was I suspect one way a public man could allow himself to be ordinary.

It’s been poignant to see this man who touched the world, spending his days in bed or in a wheelchair, unable to see or hear much. Yet when we stood by him and sang one of his crusade songs his lips would move in time with our song.

Some time ago I asked if, when God calls him home, he would like his sister to say something at his service. “I would be honored,” he slowly replied.

What would he like her to say? He paused, then slowly said, “He tried to do what he thought he should.”

And what was that? In that subdued, aging voice, he said, “Preach the gospel.”

That is the Billy I knew. That is what he did. And that is what he lived.

One Pure White Candle (Leighton Ford)

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The year I turned 50 I met my mother for the first time – that is, my birth mother, Dorothy.

I had known from the age of 12 that I was adopted, and had felt chosen and loved and cared for. So it was not until mid-life, while watching the TV series Roots about the descendants of slaves searching for their origins, that I began to wonder about my birth parents. With the help of a friend in Canada I was able to locate Dorothy, and arrange for us to meet.

On a fall afternoon I drove up to her small house north of Toronto. She was standing outside by a pine tree waiting for me. I went to her, gave her a hug, and we went inside to share our histories.

In her bedroom I saw one white candle, standing in a pool of wax on the floor, and asked what the candle was for. She hesitated a moment, then said, “I burn it for purity.”

As she related her story I understood the candle. The summer she was 16 she fell in love with a handsome engineering student in the city where her father was a pastor. That winter she got pregnant and I was the result, and she gave me up for adoption. Her father had never said a word to her about what had happened. She later married another man, had three sons, but that earlier birth had left its mark – thus the lone candle by her bed.

I thought of that candle as we come to Epiphany on Saturday. For millions of Christians around the world this is the end of the “twelve days of Christmas.” It celebrates the wise men who followed the star across the eastern sky until they found the newborn Jesus, and worshiped him.

The Scripture verse that will be read is from the prophet Isaiah: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Even when darkness covers the earth, wrote the prophet, “the Lord will arise, his glory will appear, nations shall come to your light.”

The Christmas lights have been taken down from our streets and stores and windows and stored away until next December. The busy shopping and feasting is over. The kids are back to school. Business as usual has resumed.

But the real reason for Christmas remains. The miracle is not just that a baby was born to the virgin Mary, but that Christ the Savior has come to light up our hearts, and our world.

Dorothy my birth mother married and had three other sons. She was later divorced and lived much of her life alone. I doubt that any of her neighbors knew of that one small candle that she burned, longing for purity, and perhaps forgiveness. When I spoke of faith she said, “I know God loves me. But on a cold winter day if there’s no one in your life to talk to, have a cup of tea with, it’s very lonely.”

All I could do then was to reach over, and give her a hug, and offer what love I could then and for a few years to come.

A young colleague this week told me of reading how at the very beginning of creation God made two lights – a lesser one (the moon at night) and a grander one (the sun by day.) “I may only be a lesser light,” he said, “But I do want to shine for others.”

As for me, this Epiphany, this year, in a world of darkness and dirtiness and conflict, I want to reflect light of Christ to those who, like the wise men are searching.

To light just one candle, today and every day, for purity, for peace, for simplicity.

Leighton Ford

Good News Is For Sharing – Colin McCartney

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“After a conference in Alberta I was walking across a river in Banff and came across a young man gazing at the beauty of the river while smoking marijuana.

I approached him simply because where he stood was a wonderful view. He had a French accent so I asked him where he was from. When he told me he was from Montreal I told him I was born and lived there as well.

This opened up a common ground as we talked about our beloved city. I then asked him what a good Montrealer like him was doing in Banff.

In between puffs of his weed he told me he was searching for the meaning of life. I said a quiet prayer and told him how I had found the meaning of life.  I shared my story of an accident in which I had broken my neck and could have died. That was my time in which I experienced the meaning of life, as being God’s son whom he loves and is pleased with.

We talked back and forth about God as a loving father not a brooding judge. That led me to speak about God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ and what Jesus did for us. I didn’t ask him to get on his knees and say the prayer right there in the spot but I did tell him that God is crazy about him and has already forgiven him if he would just accept his grace through repentance and trusting Jesus.”


Rev. Colin McCartney is the founder of UrbanPromise Toronto and current President and Founder of Connect Ministries. Rev. McCartney has appeared on Canadian television, radio and national newspapers regarding urban issues. He is an author of two best sellers (“The Beautiful Disappointment” and “Red Letter Revolution”, Castle Quay Publishers), mentor to pastors and business people and is in high demand as a ministry trainer and coach. Colin is also a popular speaker who has spoken to audiences as large as 7,000


Taken from Good News Is For Sharing (Leighton Ford Ministries, Revised Edition, 2017)

Christmas Greetings from India (The Athyals)

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Christmas greetings from Leighton’s friends Saphir & Sakhi Athyal, from India:

Have a great Christmas Season! We wish you an outstanding and fruitful New Year!

Sharing with you a brief reflection on the cost of blessedness:-

People experience God’s blessings in different forms. In the narratives of Jesus’ birth Mary is described as one ‘highly favored’ and ‘blessed’ by God. What did the ‘blessing’ entail in her case?

*A teenage girl with the wonder and embarrassment of getting pregnant ‘out of wedlock’
*Response of her husband saved only by the voice of an angel of the Lord
*If events did not turn out well the possibility of her being stoned to death for adultery
*Delivery of the baby in extremely difficult circumstances, and life in poverty
*Simeon’s words that a sword would pierce her own soul
*Herod seeking to kill the baby, and the long trek to Egypt and life in a foreign land
*Seeing opposition and threat from the official circles throughout the life of Jesus
*Witnessing her own son dying on the cross: knowing that victory was only through suffering

In the early church Mary gets not even a special mention: only one simple passing reference to her (Acts 1:14) in the post-resurrection narratives. Mary’s blessedness was her unique partnership in God’s plan of salvation of humankind. But this plan meant also her suffering. Her blessedness was the grace of God given her to take part in the suffering of Jesus Christ in his redemptive work. So also, it should be to us.

Blessedness and suffering are interlinked in the Beatitudes in Mathew 5. We are to have the same mind as of Christ who emptied himself, was made nothing, and became obedient even to death on the cross. Why it is that “Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12), we do not understand. The degree of God’s blessing is not the measure of all that we can get from him but the degree of all that we give away for his sake.

It seems that discipleship of Christ necessarily involves suffering as if they are two sides of the same coin. None can follow Christ, he said, unless one takes up his cross and follows him. Mary did that. She shows us the path of blessedness she took from the very start. She tells us that a life that begins with “May it be to me as (God says)”, and partnership with him in his work in our world can be costly – but that is the real blessing.

The cross of Christ was not a detached later development. The shadow of the cross loomed over the manger. The efficacy of the cross is the basis for the joy and peace that Christmas event offers.

Please share with us some thought of yours on Christmas.

Yours in the Lord,
Saphir & Sakhi Athyal

A Tribute to Max De Pree (Dr. Nathan Hatch)

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A note from Leighton followed by a tribute from Dr. Nathan Hatch of Wake Forest University:

I met Max DePree when he was chair of the search committee for a seminary president some years ago, and I was asked to serve as an “outside” member of the committee.

What I contributed was very minor. What I learned from watching this wise man lead and chair was major!

I commend to you his books Leadership is an Art, and Leadership Jazz
Most of us are privileged in life to meet a few people who lift our spirit, capture our imagination, and inspire us to become better at what we do and who we are. It is hard to say exactly how exactly they convey this gift, this charisma, but they do and for that we give thanks.

Max DePree was one of those beacons for me. I got to know him just at the time I was making the transition from active teacher and scholar to actual leadership as dean, then, Vice President, then Provost at Notre Dame. I was privileged to get to know Max, and to read his writings at the same time. I talked to Max about Fuller, and, as I joined the Fuller Board, came to experience one of his magnificent legacies in the health and dynamism of this body. I heard him give a seminar on not-for-profit boards to the trustees of Wheaton and I invited him to lead a retreat for leaders at Notre Dame. I took council with him in a time of personal stress and confusion; and found him wise and grace-filled. His advice, in person and imprint, shaped my thinking in powerful ways.

A number of lines from Max remain etched in my mind:

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”

“Leaders don’t inflict pain, they bear pain.”

“Leaders owe a covenant to a corporation or institution.”

“Have we stopped hiring people better than ourselves?”

“Do we have a nose for stale air?”

“When was the last time I called to say thank you.”?

“Leadership is an art, a belief, a condition of the heart more than a set of things to do”

Why was Max’s vision of leadership so powerful? One reason was that there was such congruence between what he said and wrote and how he lived. T. S. Eliot’s once said of Charles Williams: “Some men are less than their works, some are more. Charles Williams cannot be placed in either class.[ He was] the same man in his life and in his writings.” Max was the same in his life and his writings.

In the introduction his recently published book of sermons, As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” Eugene Petersen writes: “ The Christian life is the lifelong practice of attending to the details of congruence—congruence between ends and means, congruence between what we do and the way we do it, congruence between what is written in Scripture and our living out what is written.” The congruence of Max DePree’s life commands our attention.

Max’s life and advice were also compelling because he envisioned leadership as an art. Talking about it was not in rules and dictums. Preparation for leadership, he wrote, does not come from books. What he offered was elusive hints and suggestions, colorful illustrations, provocative questions and powerful metaphors.

“Why isn’t a college like a symphony of Beethoven?”

“Success is fragile, like a butterfly. We usually crush the life out of it in our efforts to possess it.”

“Leaders and followers are all parts of a circle.”

“In a way, leadership is as delicate as Mozart’s melodies. The music exists and it doesn’t. It is written on the page, but it means nothing until performed and heard. Much of its effect depends on the performer and the listener. The best leaders, like the best music, inspire us to see new possibilities.”

A metaphor does something that the precision of a definition or an explanation doesn’t do: it insists we join the speaker and participate in the creation of fresh meaning. Metaphor activates our imagination.

Max Depree didn’t announce to us how to be a leader. He invited us to explore creatively the difficult and elusive calling of leadership: to build up people and organizations, which he saw as living and organic. Such a task was sacred because it involved the lives of invaluable human beings—“the sacred nature of personal dignity”– and was responsible to build around them institutions that could be havens. “A good family, a good institution, or a good corporation can be a place of healing.” He invites us into this task and expands our thinking about what it will entail. Max sought to infuse human organizations with life and vitality. And that was more like the work of artist or musician than that of a task-oriented or bottom-line manager.

I have suggested that Max was compelling because of the congruence of his life and message and because of his invitation that leaders take up their positions like an artist, with all the sensitivity, creativity, caution and solemnity that befits a holy calling.

A third, and related, reason that Max’s own leadership was so compelling has powerful relevance to our own day. How does someone with firm Christian belief go into the marketplace and lead organizations in all their complexity and diversity. In our own time, orthodox Christians have been much better building their own churches, schools, and not-for-profits than they have in infusing secular organizations, public and private, with salt and light. We are often better at retreating or combatting than in participating.

Max was called to lead a company, once family owned, that in his time became a public company. This drew him naturally into the role of breaking down sacred/secular distinctions. He came to model how a Christian leader speaks, acts, and leads in a secular organization. His deft approach eschewed any easy answer such as bringing a chaplain into the workplace. He was more concerned with the organic culture of the whole organization; and whether it operated in ways that allowed full human flourishing.

The principles that infuse Max’s writings—the responsibility of leaders to followers, the covenants and promises that leaders should show employees, the call to equity, fairness, and non-discrimination, the challenge of giving all people the freedom to expand their knowledge and creativity—these principles are an excellent primer for how to operate in the world with conviction and authenticity. These principles also point to how business can be a worthy calling, one that allows people and communities to flourish.

Max’s winsome approach had appeal far beyond the walls of the church. He demonstrates that the gospel is anything but narrow and crabbed. When graciously applied to human organizations of all kinds, the leaven of faith can bring life and wholeness to the core institutions of our society.

I am grateful that Max sees such promise in all human organizations, businesses, governments, not-for profit agencies, colleges and seminaries. His life and message call us, not to retreat wholesale from the world, however post-Christian it has become. Instead, we are to engage it with humility, longsuffering and patience, and with courage and hope. Max DePree wrote about his own experience at Herman Miller, taking everyone seriously, treating each person with dignity and respect. And he worked to mold Herman Miller into a humane organization. He also challenged not-for-profit organizations like Fuller Seminary to make music like Mozart or Beethoven. What a splendid calling. And what a powerful legacy.

Dr. Nathan Hatch

President, Wake Forest University


Photo cred: Modern Servant Leadership

Reflecting On The Eclipse (Leighton Ford)

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This week almost the entire nation stopped to pay attention to the total eclipse of the sun.

What an amazing spectacle as the power and beauty moved swiftly across the sky and was gone in a few seconds

Why, I wonder, do we not pause to take in the everyday miracles that surround us all the time?

As the poet Denise Levertov wrote, days pass when we forget the quiet mystery …

that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything.
rather than void; and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

What if we took a few moments every day to wonder at this?

We might truly live an attentive life.


Leighton Ford


Photo Credit: NASA

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