Reflections and Readings

BASS LAKE – The progress of a painting

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I’m sometimes asked about how I develop my paintings. Here is an example, my new painting of Bass Lake, near Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

We’ve had a number of retreats near here and on a fall afternoon, when all the trees were blazing. I took a walk around the lake with a friend. As I saw the fog creeping down the hill around Moses Cone Manor. I was captivated.

So here’s the painting based on some photos. I took – the first an earlier version. Then a  second version underway. And finally the third completed this week. At least I think it’s finished! I guess as an artist I must sauy that I think it’s finished!

In any case, I hope you enjoy seeing this. It was a joy for me to do the painting.


P.S.: I am often asked how long it takes to do a painting. In this case about fourteen hours over a number of weeks. I guess it must be like that for the way the Lord develops his “image” in us. It doesn’t happen overnight. So he must be very patient until we are finished! I’m glad he doesn’t give up.

My Next Book Coming Out!

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I have just received the good word that InterVarsity Press, publishers of several of my books, will publish my new book sometime in the middle of next year.  Following is a reflection on the writing!



Early on a July morning I was sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of an old mountain house in the hills of Virginia, coffee in hand.

It is a perfectly clear July morning, and a place of calm and quiet.

Across the old road a few cattle are grazing. Otherwise there was no sign of life, not even a car passing.

It is a contented moment. And I have a sense of completeness.

And with good reason. I am at the very end of my book The Voice of Our Calling, and my publisher InterVarsity Press is set to publish next year! So this is a moment of completion.

And Windy Ridge is a fitting place to be.

It was at another Virginia spot, Bell’s Ridge, a couple of hours north, that I literally “got off the fence” and started to write this book.

I was at a writers retreat at the Bellfry, a retreat house built by friends. After lunch one day, I strolled into the woods and sat on an old wooden fence. Suddenly the fence began to shake – and so did the ground around. It felt like an earthquake – and it was!  An earthquake centered eighty miles away was shaking the state. I quickly dismounted!

For several years I had been pondering about writing this book, and always got stuck or diverted. So it seemed that God was shaking me a bit, saying “Time to get off the fence and start writing.” I did!

Now, several years later, I sit in the quiet of Windy Ridge with this sense of completeness.

The words of one of my favorite poems – May Sarton’s Now I Become Myself – come to me as I muse.

Sarton wrote of the years in which she had run madly, wearing other people’s faces, with a sense of the shortness of life. At last she came to a time when everything seemed to fuse together – her work and loves, her times, her face – all becoming part of a poem, made and rooted in love.

Remembering her words, I also recalled Paul’s writing that we are God’s “workmanship” – literally, his poiema, his poetry – prepared beforehand to be “our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:10).

As Charles William wrote, God is a poet, and the “lines of our lives” are the lines of his poetry.

It has been years since Sarton’s words first spoke to my own condition. I repeat them to myself with a sense of gratefulness.

For me they signal more than a sense of personal fulfillment. I add to them the other words of Paul, that we are “complete in Christ “ – receiving the gift of God’s fullness in him.

I think back to the years past – the times of being a storyteller (of His story), a friend (to His people), an artist (of His beauty) – and sense how they have fused together.

In these autumn years I discovered an affinity with the ancient Celts who had such a distinctive way of loving God and following Christ, through beauty and ballads, birds and other creatures, song and dance, water and hills.  All of God’s gracious gifts were fused, pictured in the distinctive Celtic cords, where many strands were woven into one.

As I have written this I have also realized how the many voices I have heard have been gathered into One. The Voice of the Shepherd, who calls me by name.




Three Postures of Prayer

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Brother Lawrence described how he considered himself “before God, whom I behold as my king.” (The Practice of the Presence of God, Second Letter, pp38-39)

As Subject

the Posture: kneeling, prostrate

“I consider myself as the most wretched of men, full of sores and corruption, and who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King. Touched with a sensible regret, I confess to Him all my wickedness, I ask his forgiveness, I abandon myself in His hands that He may do what He pleases with me. The King, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chastising me, embrace me with love, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the key of His treasures; He converses and delights Himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and thousand ways, and treats me in all respects as His favorite…”

Kneeling or prostrate we pray: “As your Subject, redeem me – and converse with me as friend.”

As Son

the Posture: embracing, leaning, expressing need (Ignatius, the “prayer of embrace”)

“My most useful method is this simple attention, and such a general passionate regard for God, to whom I find myself often attached with greater sweetness and delight than that of an infant at the mother’s breast; so that, if I dare use the expression, I should choose to call this state the bosom of God, for the inexpressible sweetness which I taste and experience there.”

Embracing, leaning we pray: “As your Son, embrace and nurture me.”

As Stone

the Posture: sitting, desiring change and transformation

“As for my set hours of prayer, they are only a continuation of the same exercise. Sometimes I consider myself there as a stone; presenting myself thus before God, I desire Him to form His perfect image in my soul, and make me entirely like Himself.”

Sitting, we pray: “As your Stone, form me into Your image.”

Leaders of Light and Dark

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The light side and the dark side are both there, and over the years these have been at constant war with one another. I have seen the light side far more in evidence than I have the dark, and everyone I know who has worked closely with him agrees: while both are part of the “real” Nixon, the light side is by far the larger part, more central, the one that he himself identifies with.

I read this take on Richard Nixon by one of his key speechwriters, Ray Price in the epilogue of Evan Thomas’ BEING NIXON, A Man Divided.

Reminds me of one of the most unusual definitions of a leader that I came across years ago, from Parker Palmer:<
“A leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to project on other people his or her shadow, or his or her light.”

I have often shared that with younger leaders, reminding them (and myself) every leader, including Biblical characters like David, and except for our Lord,  projects both darkness and light.

A brilliant young Asian leader I admire wrote a paper on leadership for a doctoral course with the late Peter Drucker.   Drucker returned it with a handwritten note: “You know a lot about leadership. But not much about yourself.”
How crucial self-awareness is for leaders. And how painful to allow the light of God’s Spirit to reflect light and also reveal dark places in our lives, that the Light of the World may clearly shine through our lives.

Parable of the Ginger Plant 

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When some friends moved they gave is this lovely plant, which now stands on the patio in our back yard.

Each winter we cut back the growth, and leave the root system in the pot inside. Then in the spring it springs again!

This year we thought we had lost it. Our son in law Craig and daughter Debbie came to work on some plants. Craig at Deb’s instruction dug up quite a few pots with a spade.  But he also spaded and chopped up the roots of the ginger plant – before asking Deb. He was chagrined. We were devastated. No more ginger for us.

But then, in a few weeks, out of the devastation and ruin a few shoots came up and before long the whole plant was there in its glory – even better than ever.

Reminds me of Jesus’ words that the Master Gardener cuts back every branch of the vine so that more and better fruit can appear! (John 15).

I need to look at that ginger plant often, in those less than pleasant times, to remember that God has surprises that come out of some of the most disappointing times!


In Memory and Appreciation for Todd Hahn

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The sudden loss of Todd, who died during his sleep in May, was a shock to all of us who knew him.

Todd grew up in Charlotte but we got to know him best when he and our son Kevin met at UNC-Chapel Hill. Kevin regarded him as a friend and in many ways a brother.

His wit and skill with our website, and his fountain of ideas was so valuable.

He was such a gifted person, as a thinker, and writer. He served the Lord in ministry, starting two churches here in Charlotte. He also worked for some time as a consultant in TAG, Kevin’s consulting group.


I was privileged to know him, mentor him a bit, follow him with interest across the years.  He was aware of the personal challenges he faced, and struggled with across the years.  But his bright mind, smile, warmth will always stay with me. I am thankful to have known him, miss him along with his devoted family and friends, and look forward to our reunion with the Lord.

Song of the Second Fiddle, one of Todd’s books (available on Amazon)

This is one of the best books of those Todd authored.  There are many books on leadership, but not many on followership. This is well worth reading.

His interview in the with Irv Chambers, my own long-time associate and friend, provides a superb model of a true follower of the Lord and servant of others. I miss them both. That chapter is available to read here. 



Evangelism under the cross

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I’ve been thinking a lot about evangelism under the cross.  Not a gospel for success but in suffering. So I was moved by an interview with the late Joe Carter.

How the gospel touched the slaves.

Here’s what he said came together in the lives and the spiritual sensibility of those slaves that connected them so powerfully to the best attributes of Christianity not often practiced:

One thing that occurs to me, if we go back to the cultures of the slaves that came from many different African nations and languages, one thing they had in common was they believed in a supreme deity. But they believed he was very busy and very, very holy, and in order to get to him, you had to go through the ancestors.

It wasn’t very dissimilar to the way Europeans felt with the saints, and so on. When slavery took place — and there was also this concept that you commune with deity with magic, shining songs. If your songs come forth with great fervor, you not only reach deity, but deity comes and possesses you, becomes part of you, and gives you the strength to do whatever you’ve got to do to win your battles, to harvest your crop.

And when people were taken suddenly as slaves, when they were literally kidnapped from their normal lives, whatever those lives were, they were taken away from the land of their ancestors. The spirit of the ancestors couldn’t cross the water. And so, when they were taken on these boats away from their homes, they experienced the most deep desolation possible, because not only were they being removed from their friends and kindred, but they were being removed from their God. And they had no way to get to God, because the ancestors were way back in Africa on the land.

When the slaves heard about this Jesus they were not impressed by the master’s Christianity.

Because they saw all of the brutality, they saw all the hypocrisy, and were the brunt of it. But they heard about this Jesus, this man of sorrow who suffered, and they identified. And then they were told that Jesus is the Son of the High God. “No. Wait, the Son of the High God? We can get to the High God through this guy? And his story sounds like our story? He’s born in terrible circumstances, he’s mistreated. He’s finally abused and killed. My goodness. Maybe He will carry us to the High God.”

The gospel for another kind of slavery

Somebody who’s perfectly free and perfectly rich and perfectly powerful in the world’s terms doesn’t escape from suffering.

And the worst kind of bondage is that which takes place in the inside. When we look back to the slavery days, we were bound, but it was the master who was really the slave. And I think some of us understand that now. But I experience in my own life great strength from telling the stories and looking back, because I see what they went through, and I haven’t experienced anything like what my ancestors did. And I complain about everything.

Joe Carter’s words are worth pondering as we are called to the task of evangelism in a world of suffering … and of empty affluence!

“Reaching One of Life’s Landmarks”

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Canon J. John is a member of our LFM Point Group, and a gifted evangelist in the UK. Here are some of his thoughts about arriving at his 60th birthday.

There’s no point in denying that I’m about to reach a particular milestone on 2nd June. Now there are different views about reaching sixty. Some people see it as being no more than some insignificant crossing of which brings little change, while others see sixty as marking your entrance into some unfamiliar territory of the ‘senior years’.

Inevitably I have been reflecting on reaching sixty and have decided that my attitude can be summed up in terms of what I accept, reject and expect.

First, what do I accept? Well I accept that, although welcome, the cards, candles and celebrations are indeed reminders of my mortality. When we are young we all consider our lives to be unlimited; any end lies safely out of sight beyond the horizon. However, when you reach sixty you realise there are more years behind you than there are ahead. And although we have made progress (after all, a century ago you probably were dead!), being sixty does mean that you have to start thinking about mortality. Here, of course, one of the perks of being a Christian is that not only can I look at this life’s ending without flinching, I can see beyond it.

Read the whole article here.