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Reflections/Essays

Am I Wasting My Time? (Steve Hayner)

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Steve Hayner was a devoted servant of the Lord, president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and of Columbia Theological Seminary. I knew him as friend and fellow board member of World Vision.

Joy in the Journey, by Steve and his wife Sharol, published posthumously, is a classic, their mutual musings in the course of his illness and death.

He always signed his letters, “Joyfully.”

I will always remember his smile.

Leighton

 Recently I’ve been plagued by questions about how I am using my time.  Knowing that my time on this earth is limited is a strong motivation to use the days I have left to the fullest.  Some days, of course, I have little choice because I don’t feel well enough to do much.  There are natural, health-related limitations. But on the days that I feel relatively good, I do have options.  I look back some days and wonder whether I have been as faithful as I could be in how I have used my time.  Have I accomplished enough?  Should I have written more email messages or made more phone calls? Should I have been willing to see more people or worked on more projects that are on my list of possibilities?

I wonder some days how God regards my time.  I’m sure that just being busy isn’t the right criterion.  Yesterday I was taking a little rest and found myself wondering whether resting was the right thing to be doing when I actually felt good enough to do more.

As I said before, discerning and pursuing God’s “call” for any particular day seems to be an important goal.  But discernment isn’t easy.  Sometimes giving myself to little things, or simply to periods of thoughtful reflection may be more important than my activists spirit will approve.

Internally I find that I am developing questions to help me in my discernment.  They include, for example: 1) Is this activity something where my joy intersects with my perception of what brings joy to God? 2) Am I living into this activity with gratitude for the opportunity given to me? 3) Am I able to receive the time before me as a gift, or does it actually feel like a waste or a burden? 4) Does this activity play into old patterns of procrastination on the one hand or overwork on the other? 5) How does this activity express love – for God, for each other, and for God’s work in the world?

Woven into this whole process of discernment for me must be a clear perception of grace, otherwise all of this fuss does little more than encourage me to worry.  If there is no joy in my life, then I am not listening to God’s voice but only to my own perfectionism.  I truly believe that “joy is the business of heaven.”  C. S. Lewis made this important point in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (1964).  Lewis pointed out that it is far too easy for us to assume that only the very serious things of life are approved by God.  But in God’s economy, where so much is upside down, even things that look frivolous, unimportant, wasteful, or playful can be important when they are attached to the joy found in the heart of God’s character.

So the real question about my day is not “how productive was it?” but rather “how much joy did my activity bring, and how much love and gratitude did it express?”

Steve Hayner

A Commencement Address (Steve Johnson)

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Steve Johnson has been pastor, mentor, church planter, and member of LFM’s Point Group. Recently he had the opportunity to speak at his son’s college graduation. This is what he said…

I was asked by the President of Bethel University to speak at their commencement. I told him no because my son was going to be one of the graduates. He asked me to talk to my son and ask him if he would mind. I did and he thought it would be awesome.

This is a simple outline of what I shared.

I acknowledged how everyone looked the same and yet they took different classes, have different majors but even though today they looked the same with cap and gown, their parents, family and friends could pick them out of the hundreds graduating this year. Each are unique and the parents and loved ones are proud. I told them that I was just like the other parents and I have a special graduate today, my son David.

I looked at my son and told said those in attendance that the message I was about to share I would share with him privately if I didn’t have this opportunity. I invited those in attendance to listen in on a father/ son talk.

My points were very simple … I used physical posture to share my father/ son advice

1) Reach High – You have achieved a lot by graduating and following your dreams … I believe in you.
2) Reach Wide – Be inclusive. Build deep and meaningful relationships with all people.
3) Reach Low – Don’t walk by people in lowly positions and not notice them. Leave a legacy of being a man who lifted people up. Making a difference in this world begins with you helping one person.
4) Reach Deep – You have been raised in a family of faith and you have made a commitment of your life to Christ, but that is just the beginning of the wonderful journey ahead. God wants to use you to represent Him in this world

Mothers’ Day – In Baltimore And Beyond

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Toya Graham is “the Baltimore mom” who during the recent protests saw her teen-age son on the street with a rock in his hand. She ran after him, grabbed him by the hood, shook him as fiercely as a mother bear cuffing her cub. Later she said, “I just lost it.”

If she is not “mother of the year” she certainly has been mother of the news cycle. Her maternal slaps went viral across the country, bringing both cheers and jeers for her “mom attack.” I certainly would not have wanted to be that son! And I have always regretted the one time I slapped one of my sons in anger.

At Harris Teeter last week I asked Mary, who was checking me out, what she made of Toya. “If it had been my mother,” she said, “I would have gotten more. Toya probably wanted to save her son from jail.”

Certainly the protective instinct of mothers matters. Colin Powell tells about growing up in the Bronx. “It was the ‘auntie network’ that kept us out of trouble. We knew our mommas were watching us from their windows.”
All of us who have known our moms know they were not perfect. But they also had less than perfect mothers. As Charlie Brown said in Peanuts, “Lucy, parents had parents.”

I had two mothers. The first I knew was my adoptive mother Olive, who with my dad ran a jewelry store. When I was fifty I met my other mother, Dorothy, the unmarried daughter of a stern Presbyterian minister and his wife, who gave birth to me at seventeen.

Both were troubled through their lives by fears and suspicions. Yet I owe them both much. Dorothy gave me life. Olive taught me faith.

The mothers portrayed in the Bible were a mixed lot (as the fathers most certainly were). Some were called “blessed” by their children. Others caused huge family problems by their cunning and grasping.

Yet the Bible also celebrates motherhood. Here’s language the prophet Isaiah used for God: “As a mother comforts her child so I will comfort you.” Jesus pictured his relation to the people of Jerusalem as a mother bird. “How often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”

Today many of us will have good reasons to be thankful for mothers, those past, those present. I certainly have for my Jeanie. She was both mother and father to our three children across the many times when I was away in ministry.

But this year, in addition to the cards, flowers, and words of love in our own families, how about reaching out to mothers around the world? Nearly 150,000 Syrian mothers are the sole caregivers for their refugee families, facing daily conflict and often without food to put on the table for their children. Then there are the mothers in earthquake devastated Nepal.

A gift for them through our churches, and agencies like World Vision and Samaritans Purse, will bring help to their children and hope to their souls. The mothers of Nigeria, whose daughters have been stolen away can also be blessed by our prayers.

Perhaps this story out of Baltimore can help us to recognize our mothers this year with less sentiment, more honest realism, but no less love and appreciation. And with that a determination to join with them to bring justice and healing to our own homes and neighborhoods.

Leighton Ford

Friends and Last Meals (Leighton Ford)

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This morning I read the passage in Luke 22 where Jesus eats his final Passover meal.

He told his disciples that he had longed to eat that meal with them before his passion and suffering.

Who would I want to eat with, if it was my last meal?

Who would you want to eat with, if it was yours?

How can you let them know what they mean to you?

And .. can you imagine that Jesus wants to eat with you?

The Evangelist’s Bait

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The cross is vital to our preaching, for it is here that Jesus Christ becomes either the stone of stumbling or the rock of salvation. It is in the cross that man’s sinful pride faces its ultimate test. The atonement is crucial, because it strikes at the very heart of sin – not what a person does but what he or she is, her egocentricity, his demand to own his own life and to be ultimately for his own decisions.

Whatever other responsibilities a person may bear for their own life, there is one we cannot bear – the responsibility for our sin and guilt against God. That, another must bear for us.

James Denney once said that that cross is like the barb on the fisherman’s hook. He told of a friend who had lost his bait while fishing, without catching anything. When he pulled his line in he found that the bait had broken off, so that the fish had taken the bait but escaped.

So, said Denney, “The condemnation of our sins in Christ upon His cross is the barb on the hook. If you leave that out of your Gospel, I do not deny that your bait will be taken, but you will not catch men. You will not create in sinful human hearts that attitude to Christ which created the New Testament. You will not annihilate pride, and make Christ the Alpha and Omega in man’s redemption”.

Leighton Ford

Adapted from The Christian Persuader.

I Am An Immigrant (Leighton Ford)

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I am an immigrant.  A documented one. And a grateful one.

When I was in high school my future brother-in-law Billy Graham came to speak in my home town in Canada. He recommended that I apply to his alma mater, Wheaton College in Illinois.

Once accepted I applied for a student visa. Instead I got a green card to be a permanent resident. The Immigration Service was more than generous!

Later this immigrant married a North Carolina girl and moved to Charlotte. On a special day, in a large hall on the north side, I raised my hand to pledge allegiance to my new country. I was and am proud to be a US citizen.

Immigration is a controversial topic now. Who should or should not be admitted? How should they be vetted? Of course we need clear and humane laws. But in the controversy we may miss a larger issue: what does it mean to be an immigrant? And aren’t we all immigrants?

Migration is an ongoing part of creation.  The birds in our back yard are migratory birds, moving north and south with the seasons.

Human history is the story of great migrant movements. Streams of human population flowed from Africa north and west and east into Europe and Asia.  Our first nations migrated across a land bridge from Asia into North America. Native Americans had to absorb religious refugees and traders from Europe who came here seeking freedom and fortune.

Migrations have brought conflicts but also have been enriching.  The respected historian William McNeill writes “that the principal factor promoting historically significant social change is contact with strangers possessing new and unfamiliar skills.” Our time is no different, except the contacts and conflicts are now global.

The Bible is full of immigrant stories.  Abraham is called to leave home and go to an unknown land. Joseph is sold to slave traders to captivity in Egypt where he became a powerful leader.  The people of Israeli escape Egypt to settle in the Holy Land. A Moabite woman Ruth marries a Jewish man. When he dies she could have returned home but in famous words she says to her mother-in-law Naomi, “Your people shall be my people.” Jews taken in captivity to Babylon, are told by God to seek the peace of the city where they would now live.

And, significantly for us Christians, the parents of Jesus are refugees who take their infant son to Egypt to escape being killed by the paranoid King Herod.

The Bible could almost be named “The Book of the Great Migrations”!

The apostle Paul saw the hand of God in these movements. Addressing the philosophers in Athens he said that God allotted the times and boundaries and movements of the nations “so that they would search for God … and find him.”

And that is happening here. When I met with student Christian leaders at the Harvard Club most of them were Asian-Americans. One of the largest churches in New York City started with immigrants from Nigeria. Koreans make up one of the largest student groups at Charlotte’s own Gordon-Conwell Seminary. One Assembly of God district in the southeast has more churches than many national denominations!

Ed Stetzer, an astute observer of religion trends, notes that “predominantly white churches are declining. Yet Pew Research tells us that white churches are greying while growing churches are browning— in part because of the influx of immigrants.”

I hope my fellow Christian believers will see immigration not through a lens of fear, but through the eyes of faith: as an opportunity to welcome and serve.

Recently my wife Jeanie and I were on a crowded elevator in a Florida hotel with another guest whose name tag read “Donald Graham, Co-Founder THE DREAM, US”

“That’s a good name,” Jeanie said, “I’m a Graham too.” He asked where from and when she said North Carolina he asked if she knew the Rev. Billy Graham.

“He’s my brother,” she said. He broke out into smile, gave her a huge hug, and said, “I’m so honored to meet you. He’s a wonderful man.”

“What’s THE DREAM?” I asked. He explained it is a national scholarship fund for DREAMers, immigrant young people, building the American dream one student at a time.

“I think my brother would like that,” Jeanie said.

I think so too. And I want to live, not haunted by fears, but as hopeful for God’s dream for the dreamers, and for all of us.

 

This article appeared originally in the Charlotte Observer, April 1, 2017

Watching Nouwen During Lent (Leighton Ford)

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In the last few days I have been listening to a series by the late Henri Nouwen on The Life of the Beloved.

I never met Henri, and he died (quite young) before I might have.

But through his writings – and this video series – I feel as I have met him. His face is strong, his voice powerful.

The video series can be found on YouTube – here.

As I see him speaking to a large group  I hear God’s voice – the “first voice” as Nouwen describes it – saying again what I personally need to hear, over and over.

The voice that said to Jesus, “You are my beloved” speaks also to you and me.

These talks have been good for me these Lenten days – they may be for you too!

Leighton Ford

Can The Church Be Revived? (Leighton Ford)

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Can the church be revived? One gazes at the apathy, the division, the jealousy, the materialism and feels like an Ezekiel set in the midst of a valley full of bones. Surely many a pastor has echoed Ezekiel’s sigh “Lord they were very dry”.

“Can these bones live?” asked the Lord. And Ezekiel answered in effect “Only God knows”.

But the Lord God commanded and the prophet spoke his word and the bones came together and the flesh upon the bones. Then the breath of God blew”,,,and they lived and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army” (Ezekiel 37:10).

Is this not how revival will come? With an agonizing awareness of our deadening lack of spiritual power. With an honest confession of our total inability to do anything about it, of the failure of our absurd attempts at artificial respiration…

God’s visitations come at a time of hungering, a time of breaking up, a  time of sowing, a time of resting, and then a time of reaping (Mark 4:26-29).

Adapted from The Christian Persuader

A Lenten Trapeze (Leighton Ford)

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Years ago the Swiss therapist and spiritual guide Paul Tournier caught my attention with a dramatic image comparing life to a trapeze performance in a circus.

The trapeze artist grasps the bar of a swing, launches out, swings back and forth, higher and higher, until at the farthest point he or she lets go, trusting their partner to swing out at just the right time to reach out, clasp arms, and swing them to safety on the other side.

Just imagining such a moment makes my stomach clutch, and my breath catch! It also makes me realize how apt Tournier’s image is for this Lenten season, a time to let go, and reach out.

The Bible is filled with stories of this risky movement. Abraham is called to leave the security of his ancestral home, and to go out by faith to a land he did not know. The disciples of Jesus leave the boats and livelihood and families, saying “We have left all to follow you.”
Jesus himself said, “I have power to lay my life down, and to take it up again.”

Notice how his letting go is tied to the certainty of resurrection.

Paul’s sees himself not as a trapeze performer but a runner. “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what is ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Can you picture yourself, this Lenten season, as the trapeze artist or the runner, “letting go, and reaching out”?

Several years ago I endured what was to me a year of loss: young leaders I have mentored facing life-threatening illnesses; my brother-in-law Billy reaching his 95th birthday but growing weaker; the traumatic death of my dog Wrangler, my close companion for nine years.

“I feel that everything is going away,” I told a friend.” She surprised me by asking, “What time does God’s store close?”

I thought back to my parents’ jewelry store, which closed at 6pm every day except weekends. Then I realized that God’s store does not close! His grace is available 24/7 for every letting go, and every reaching out.

As I look back over my life I remember painful partings, letting go of “attachments” which had seemed absolutely vital, even wondering whether life would be whole again. But God was calling through loss to gain, letting go of the past to enter into God’s future.

Each of us has certain “attachments”, habits or people, or even addictions or possessions which we clutch for security. And each of us is again and again called to “detachment” in order to trust God more.

I suggest two questions to ask as you embark on your Lenten journey.

What do I need to let go?
What unfinished business is there that is holding you back – of hurt, or dreams, or failure, or the normal patterns of the last year? Try holding out your hands, visualize placing those concerns in them, then turn them over and open them, releasing them into God’s care.

To what do I need to reach out? To what new adventure or challenge may God be calling you? Turn your hands upward, open them and lift them, and receive at least a token of God’s grace.

As the Quaker Thomas Kelly wrote,
(God) plucks the world out of our hearts, loosening the chains of attachment. And (God) hurls the world into our hearts, where we and (God) together carry it in infinitely tender love.

So this Lent – let go – reach out – trust God.

Leighton Ford
(From The Charlotte Observer, March 1, 2014)