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Reflections and Readings

The Caring Voice

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His public voice was widely heard and stirring. What was not overheard, but what I most fondly remember, is the caring private voice.

I remember his breaking voice, choking back tears, as he spoke at the funeral of our son Sandy, who died during heart surgery when he was twenty-one.

There was his caring voice to our younger son Kevin who that week-end was at a Young Life gathering in the mountains. Billy was the one who drove to tell Kevin that his brother had died, took him home for the night, and drove him to Charlotte

Many years later there was the tender voice of an uncle to our Debbie, who had a recurrence of breast cancer and was at Mayo Clinic for tests, dreading that the disease might have spread. Unknown to her Billy was there for a check-up. When she went for her next test he was waiting for her at the end of a long hall. She saw an old man in a wheel chair. Then she recognized her uncle, and threw herself into his arms. Billy, for whom tears never came easily, cried with her, prayed, and held her.

Later at his home, sitting on his bed, she said, “Uncle Billy, I have heard you preach to big crowds. But as far as I am concerned that was the best sermon you ever preached. It was not you on a platform speaking to a crowd, but both of us in our weakness, me so afraid, and you in a wheel chair with no one to observe.”

One Year Ago Today

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At 7:45 am, a year ago today, my phone rang.  It was a reporter asking, “Is it true?” He was asking whether Billy had died.  I told him I would check, called Billy’s oldest daughter Gigi, and she confirmed it was so, that he had gone home to the Lord a little earlier that morning.
On the day we celebrated his life and laid him to rest at the Billy Graham Library I took the photo below.
I was standing at the end of the casket, and realized that a cross was shining across the casket, reflected from the cross-shaped window over the entrance to the library.
It was so fitting –  since BIlly had preached about the cross of Jesus all his ministry, in every part of the world. And had quoted many times Paul’s words, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Today Jeanie and I remember our dear Billy and what he meant to us and so many across the years.
And also we are reminded to Lift High the Cross!

A Fond Farewell to a Good Man

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Note: Michael and I were friends, though living far apart. He met with our Point Group in the UK and encouraged us all, and that I owe to him my/our partnership and friendship with J. John, who follows in Michael’s steps and tracks in following Jesus and making Jesus known!

 

The rich and extraordinarily fruitful earthly life of my friend Michael Green came to a close this week. Michael led a life that was so innovative, varied and dynamic that it’s hard to summarise what he did. He was – often at the same time – vicar, evangelist, writer and theologian.

Michael served the church faithfully in many roles since the beginning of the 1950s. One curious observation of longevity is that you can end up outliving not only your contemporaries but also your achievements. Something of this applies here. Throughout his ministry Michael played a significant part in shaping what is modern evangelicalism in the UK. Yet precisely because many of the battles he heroically fought occurred so long ago, there are many today who are unaware of the role Michael played in creating a culture that they now take for granted.

Particularly important was the way that, in two key areas, Michael was able to dispel prejudices. One was the belief, widely held until into the 70s, that you couldn’t be a scholar and an evangelical, and certainly not one who was passionate for evangelism. Michael had an extraordinarily sharp mind and accumulated academic honours – indeed, had he chosen to be purely a scholar he could have been a professor in any of the great universities – but he remained openly and enthusiastically committed to sharing the good news of Jesus. The second widespread preconception was that the only people who believed that the Holy Spirit might be a powerful and active force in the world today were those who were uneducated and knew no theology. Yet by giving early and outspoken support for the Charismatic Movement when it emerged onto the global scene in the 1960s, Michael demonstrated that to believe in the Holy Spirit did not demand that you ignored theology. The fact that today we take it for granted that you can be spiritual and scholarly and clever andcharismatic owes much to his labours.

Two aspects of Michael Green’s personality particularly struck me. The first of these was his wisdom. As the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30) teaches us, many people are given gifts but not everybody puts them to best use, but Michael did. Although he could have written as a scholar for scholars, Michael preferred to communicate his wisdom to the many, rather than to the few. He wrote more than fifty books, all of them readable and all distinguished by the way that he wore his great learning lightly. Even what is possibly his masterwork, Evangelism in the Early Church, keeps ‘the common touch’.

There was wisdom, too, in the way Michael observed the way both the world and the church were going. Despite being someone who was very much at home in the ancient world, Michael kept a careful watch on emerging challenges for the church and responded rapidly to them. So, for example, when in 1977 the now almost entirely forgotten book The Myth of God Incarnate was printed amid much publicity, Michael immediately organised the writing and publication of a scholarly riposte with such speed that The Truth of God Incarnate was on sale a mere six weeks later. Yet if he could see immediate threats, Michael also looked to the long-term. Indeed one common theme in his varied career was a concern for building the church of the future. Whether in teaching or training Michael realised that one of the most profitable things he could do was to invest in the lives of future generations.

So Michael was a profoundly wise man. Yet wisdom on its own can be a sterile gift; after all the very word academic can be used as an insult. Yet one of the things that made my friend so remarkable and so valuable was that his wisdom was coupled with passion. He had a hunger for God and, at the same time, for men and women to come to know Christ. He loved sharing the faith and had a remarkable enthusiasm for evangelism that age did not dim. His passion for witness put him at odds with those who preferred their Christianity to be neither shaken nor stirred but he didn’t care.

Reading the New Testament, I am struck by the fact that the apostle Paul was simultaneously the profound scholar and the passionate evangelist. These two things rarely come together: you tend to get scholars or evangelists. Yet with his combination of wisdom and passion Michael Green was an exception and when I was with him I felt reminded of the great apostle. I doubt there is higher praise.

Keep the Light Shining

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“No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light.” Luke 8:16.

Those words of our Lord were in my daily readings a few days ago. They reminded me of my early calling as an evangelist to proclaim the good news – and now, years later, to keep on!

Then, in my e-mail came the photo below, sent by my friend Norm Rohrer. His son sent it to him for his 90th birthday! Norm (the one next to me) and I and two others, formed this “gospel team” when we were students at Wheaton College. Most weekends we would drive to midwestern towns to sing and play and preach at churches and youth rallies.

A week ago I spoke in Charleston, South Carolina, at the Anglican cathedral, about raising a new generation of leaders to preach the gospel.  Here I am speaking in this next photo!

That evening a man came up to greet me. “I have wanted for fifty-nine years to thank you,” he said. “You spoke in Ocean City, New Jersey, before the Billy Graham crusade in Philadelphia. I was twelve, and I went forward to give my life to Jesus. So tonight I heard you were speaking and I came to say thanks and tell you I have followed him ever since!”

You can imagine how that thrilled me!

And rekindled in me the commitment to keep the fire burning, to “stir up the flame” as Paul exhorted young Timothy to do the work of an evangelist.

May the light keep shining!

On Gratefulness

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“The circle of gratefulness is incomplete until the giver of the gift becomes a receiver: a receiver of thanks. When we give thanks, we give something greater than the gift we received, whatever it was. The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving. In giving gifts we give what we can spare, but in giving thanks we give ourselves. One who says “Thank you” to another really says “We belong together. The bond that unites them frees them from alienation. Does our Society suffer from so much alienation because we fail to cultivate gratefulness?”

From Brother David Steindl-Rast (in Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer book)

A Winter Walk Behind Sharon Church

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Sunday afternoon late
dog Buddy and I took a walk
behind old Sharon church
past the cemetery down
to the open field where
kids cavort and grownups play
a black steel fence
marks the line between
the living and the dead
its vertical bars stiff and sentinel

I stood a long long time peering across
at the cold gray stones
shrouded in a robe of dusk
my feet rooted in the dark sod
around all else was moving
high clouds skidding across the sky
nine deer gracefully entering from the woods
staring and nicely slipping on
buddy running rollicking in the grass
until he settled at my feet

I stood I say
a long long time pondering
until a line from T.S Eliot found me
Old men should be still and still moving
Buddy said “I agree”and I nodded
he got up and we walked on

I have lived a long, long time
it’s time still to move along

Leighton Ford
December 2018

Wrangler

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Five years ago this evening,December 11, 2013, as Jeanie and I returned from dinner with friends, my beloved Australian Cattle Dog Wrangler went under my car and was gone.

He was a Blue Heeler. I rescued him or better he rescued me, and was my friend for ten years. The agony and the hurt of this was almost unbearable. I was heartbroken then, and still miss him terribly.

His green collar still hangs on my bedpost, an attachment always to the dog of a lifetime.

I called him my “spiritual director dog” because he was the most attentive creature I can imagine, and he taught me to pay attention.

In these paintings, and in my book Wrangler My Spiritual Director Dog, I sought to share with others the heart of our friendship.

A Look Inside Places of the Heart

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Leighton Ford’s latest book, Places of the Heart, has been released and is available for purchase. This book makes for a great Christmas gift!

Places of the Heart is Leighton Ford’s latest four-color book and features the author’s imaginative watercolor paintings, poetry, and reflections on a life formed, redeemed, empowered, and directed by God and for God’s glory. Each section has both a painting and a reflection that accompanies it.

Find out more and order at https://leightonfordministries.org/places-of-the-heart/

Tuesday, November 27 – Sandy’s Day

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Early this morning I started to write – “fateful” – day, the day our son died 37 years ago during heart surgery.

Sandy would have been 58 now, and still, I am sure ,handsome, caring, fully striving, making a difference as ever.

And he is that even now in me and his family. And others, like the woman at Great Harvest last week, who I had never met, but who said, as she handed a loaf of bread to me, “I remember Sandy. I never met him. But I knew about him and how God used his life.”

So this is a “faithful” day. He, I’m sure, would have been faithful as he was during his 21 years, faithful as son, friend, follower, leader in Your way.

So I trust You as his Lord and ours to be faithful as You have been, and will be.

Today Jeanie and I thank You for Debbie and Kevin, and their spouses, and for the many sons and daughters in the faith who have been given to Jeanie and to me, like Steve Johnson and Scott Sunquist, who received our first Sandy Ford Scholarships – the first fruit of many who are still running their races for the Lord.

So not a fateful day. Painful still, yes. But also full and fruitful and faithful.