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Can We Ever Have Completely Pure Motives? (Leighton Ford)

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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.

 

Leighton Ford

 

From Transforming Leadership (1991, IVP).

There’s Good News Today (Leighton Ford)

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A few days ago I was speaking at a church in the mountains, and asked a question that dated me.

“Does anyone here recognize the name of Gabriel Heatter?”

Quite a few hands went up, which also dated them. Gabriel Heatter was a nationally respected radio newscaster during the dark days of World War II, well known for his signature sign-off: “There’s good news today.”

His name came back to me recently when my wife and I were watching the national news, and it was all so bad that I got up and walked away.

Later I remembered a little story tucked away in the Bible. The Israelis in the city of Samaria were desperate, under siege by an enemy army. Food was running out. Even children were being eaten.

Four leprous men were sitting outside the city, shut out because of their disease. One of them finally said, “We’ll die if we stay here. The worst the enemy can do is kill us. Let’s take a chance and go to their camp and see if they’ll spare us.”

When they got there they were astounded. The enemy camp was deserted! The Lord had sent in the wind the sound of a great army coming and the enemy had fled. The four leprous men started to grab for themselves the food, weapons, treasures left behind. Then one said, “This is wrong. This is a day of good news. If we don’t tell it we will be guilty.” So they ran back to tell what they had found.

They were evangelists those four men! Evangelists in the sense of being good-news-tellers.

I was ordained as an evangelist. Some times I am hesitant at first to be introduced that way, only because “evangelist” is a much misused and abused term. Advocates of any one of many causes are often dubbed evangelists. And some evangelists have given the word a negative connotation.

I am honored to be an evangelist because the word itself, classically and in the Bible, simply means a bearer of the evangel. Five centuries ago William Tyndale, one of the first translators of the English Bible, wrote that the Greek word “signifieth good, merry, and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad, and maketh him sing, dance, and leap for joy.” Nothing to be ashamed of there!

I was ordained years ago to preach the good news of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. That I hope to do as long as I live. I have also decided that I want to notice some everyday good news, and tell about it.

“What good news do you have” I asked a ninety-year old retired pastor who is suffering back pain. “We talk too much about health, not enough about hope,” he said. “Health is blown away like the wind. Hope opens a door to the future.”

Over lunch I asked a young public defender who he was representing last fall when he walked as a peacemaker between the police lines and the protesters. “Just me,” he smiled. “I had friends among the police. I knew many of the protesters. And I knew God wanted me there.”

I know a woman at a local Y who interrupts her morning workout each day to listen to a veteran of two wars, who is recovering from surgery, and just needs someone to talk to.

You and I can hardly avoid the bad news that bombards us 24/7. And we may not be able to stop the violence, cruelty, and the bitter divisions and name-calling on a macro scale. But, as my late friend George Beverly Shea used to sing, “Little is much if God is in it.” Small acts can be good news

So I want to be like those four men outside Samaria who could not keep quiet about what God had done. I plan to look every day for some bits of good news, and to pass it on.

I invite you to join me!

Leighton Ford

Originally published in the Charlotte Observer on July 8, 2017

The ‘Whisper of Things’ (Leighton Ford)

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During a recent installment of her wonderful radio program, On Being, Krista Tippett was interviewing the artist/philosopher Enrique Martinez Celaya.

Ms. Tippett: You use the word “whisper” a lot — do you know that? — in your writing.

Mr. Martínez Celaya: I didn’t know that.

Ms. Tippett: “The whisper of the order of things.” And then you said somewhere, “The whisper is faint, but the best art helps us to hear it.”

Mr. Martínez Celaya: Yeah, I mean I think the reason why I use “whisper” is because maybe — maybe I have little ears.

But it seems that both in science and art and anything — in anything, the truth is not screaming that much. And I think that you have to be attentive, silent enough, be able to look and listen very, very carefully. And even then, you have to be very lucky to hear something. But when you do hear something, it’s transformative. And that order of things, that more stable reality underneath the appearance of things, is life-changing. And I think scientists will say that’s the case, and I think poets, and I think theologists — I mean I think everybody agrees that truth is — requires some suppressing of other things to see it.”

This makes me think of the “still, small voice” of Scripture!

Leighton Ford

Beauty, Song, and St. Patrick’s Day (Leighton Ford)

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I have been reading the book Beauty by the Irish poet-philosopher John O’Donohue.

He writes about the beauty that is in music this way: “Often in the human voice things long lost in the valleys of the mind can unexpectedly surface.”

This made me think about my dear brother-in-law Billy. At 98 years old he is profoundly deaf. He can’t hear me speak because my voice is deep and he can’t hear Jeanie because her voice is soft but I have found that if I sing he can hear.

Some months ago we were with him and as usual he couldn’t hear what was being said so the four of us who were with him decided to sing some of his old crusade songs: “To God Be The Glory”; “My Jesus, I Love Thee”; “Blessed Assurance”.

When we stopped he said, simply, “Sing more”.

So we sang “How Great Thou Art” and when we finished he quietly breathed “Amen”.

I believe that the beauty of music touched the deep beauty of Christ
in his soul.

It led me to think we ought to be more like the Psalmist, singing his great songs of praise and sometimes desolation, and like Paul who encouraged us to sing to one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs the beauty of the Spirit through our voices.

And perhaps on this St. Patrick’s Day we should consider being more like the Celts, whose soulful and haunting music has touched and touches so many souls. In classic Celtic music the melodic line moves up and down the primary chords. Students of music tell us that this is because such a melodic progression makes it easier to sing in harmony – so that the gifts of each can bring richness and beauty to the whole.

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

Two Prayers For Fear-Filled Times

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For our fear-saturated society this prayer of George McDonald is salutary:

Keep me from wrath, let it seem every so right:
My wrath will never work thy righteousness.
Up, up the hill, to the whiter than snow-shine,
Help me to climb, and dwell in pardon’s light.
I must be pure as thou, or ever less
Than thy design of me – therefore incline
My heart to take men’s wrongs as thou tak’st mine.

Another prayer I like of his

Be thou the well by which I lie and rest;
Be thou my tree of life, my garden ground;
Be thou my home, my fire, my chamber blest,
My book of wisdom, loved of all the best;
Oh, by my friend, each day still newer found,
As the eternal days and nights go round!
Nay, nay – thou art my God, in whom all loves are bound!

Leighton Ford