Surprising Rest

God delights in blessing us when we least expect it...

Last time we talked about Thanksgiving in July.

This week we’re talking Christmas! It’s my favorite time of year, mainly because I love trying to sneak up on my family with a surprise that will generate joy and laughter.

Lauren and I decided awhile back that material gifts should form a small part of our giving at Christmas or any other time of year. We would rather invest in making memories together in special places than in buying another bauble that will wind up in someone’s garage sale.

We can’t afford the big trips very often – once every couple of years fits our budget fairly well. And we make it count.

North Carolina reminded me that you can’t box up sweet memories like so many truffles. They will not grow cobwebby. They will never get shoved up in the attic alongside Nick’s old ninja swords. Memories – the really good ones – last!

So we all flew to Jillian’s Cabin on the Tuckasegee and it was perfect. There wasn’t one square inch of memory space that we didn’t cram with laughter, and singing, and joy.

And yet…

That wasn’t enough to satisfy the Lord. He granted me two really special surprises. I’ll tell you one this time around, and then fill you in on the other one in a week or two.

We hiked up to Clingman’s Dome, which is the highest Rangers’ lookout in the Smoky Mountains. Absolutely stunning views! I was there 43 years ago with my sweetheart, Lauren. We were engaged at the time, and we hiked up to the Dome before dawn.

It wasn’t the beautifully smooth path that welcomes visitors today, but a rough walk through a good bit of forest – in pitch darkness! The station had been abandoned for a while and we had to jump up to a ladder that hung off the observation deck and climb up together.

It was worth it.

Back in 74, we watched the world being created to the east with slow “smoke” rising from the dense forest. Glitter spangled the velvet-black sky to the west until the slow dawn swallowed up all the stars.

I don’t remember much of our conversation, but one thing I recall vividly:

“Someday,” I said, “we are going to bring our children here.”

Not only did we bring our three grown kids, but I was able to bring my grandson, Evan, as well!

As an extra added blessing – this was the surprise – it was the one day of the year when the Great Smokies National Park commissioned a photographer to take free portraits of families on the Dome! So, we were able to get a large-format photograph taken by a professional photographer (“Vincent” – great name for an artist with a camera) in the very spot where Lauren and I were sitting 43 years before, promising to bring our family there one day!

I stood alone for a moment after the picture, and I felt His pleasure. His delight in blessing us.

Sneak up on someone you love today. Surprise that special person with a blessing.

And wish them a Merry Christmas!

Thanksgiving in July

Leaves on the Tuckasegee

I’m sitting out on a screened-in porch near Cherokee, North Carolina, enjoying a mid-morning cup o’ Joe. Every couple of years we take a family vacation – Rosalyn, Evan, Gabe, Nick, Lauren and I.

Lauren plans the whole excursion – she finds the place, and works out all the possible fun things we can do together. This year, we had a dear friend, Jillian, offer us her beautiful cabin here on the Tuckasegee River.

Nick is reading in the hammock, Gabe is reading on the long couch, Evan is playing with his trucks, Lauren is in the living room reading her McCullough novel, 1776. Now, Ollie (Ros) is reading a Bernstein Bears book to Evan (he dropped his truck at the promise of a book). Hmm – seems to be a pattern here.

I am one thankful PoP! Give me my family and I could be in Dallas, or Dubai, or here in Tarheel Country. Heaven, it turns out, is portable. Who knew?

Early birds serenade us.

Leaves, newly detached, cascade lazily from the trees in the early morning light to land silently, inauspiciously on the river.

The river – always there, always changing – transports those leafy frigates and barky barges on a lazy green ribbon threading its course through the banked trees, headed west-ish to tie in with the Oconaluftee and then on to join the mighty Mississippi.

But ultimately, place doesn’t matter. Family matters. And, when it comes to thanksgiving, the calendar is also irrelevant. We don’t need to wait until the end of November to express a thankful heart. Many of us have blessings in abundance in the people we love and who love us back every day of the year.

But even if you haven’t been blessed with a loving family, there is still cause for thanksgiving. The same God who made the Tuckasegee and every leaf that cruises along its surface, made you as well.

And – even more amazing – He loves us. All of the many millions and billions of us. He loves each of us as if we were his only child. Despite our raggedy character and our splintered families, and the multitude of wounds we all bear. Still, He loves us and waits patiently for us to fall into his arms – For God so loved the world.,. (John 3:16).

But unlike the leaf that has no will, you need to decide to detach yourself from the branch that holds you, tethers you to the great tree that is world-rooted and holds all the leaves that have ever been and that ever will be.

From the time you budded, you think the world tree is all there is and you are grateful for the life the tree has provided. Then, a heavenly breeze turns you to consider the river and a longing fills your heart. By faith, you sever that bond, you die – and by God’s grace, you are reborn in the great river.

So give thanks daily – for where you have come from. For where you are going. For the One who loves you and waits for you at the end of the river.

Taking Time to Love

You can't rush the good stuff...

I’m sitting out on a deck near Suquamish, Washington, a few miles northwest of Seattle.

It’s 5:50 a.m., and a grey squirrel is chattering at me. You can see a sailboat cutting across the cloud-mirrored lake.

The sunrise washes everything in a fresh light that slowly wakens the forest around us. There are so many birds singing and chirping, I’ve stopped counting because, at 15, they started to overlap and blend.

It’s July 10. I just checked my weather app — It will reach 93 degrees this afternoon in Garland, where we live.

Here in the Suquamish forest — it may hit 68 by 5:00 p.m.

This is our time to breathe after a time of ministry, for which we had been preparing for several months. Lauren and I try to schedule a time to relax following a major ministry “push.”  It refreshes us, and reminds us of our need for the Lord. We can’t do this on our own.

Plus, it’s beautiful. And symphonic (those birds!). And it provides time to reflect.

I was performing some of my characters on this just-completed tour. One of them, the Apostle Paul, comments on his immediate post-conversion experience: “I had so much to learn. And I did. But learning isn’t wisdom. Wisdom takes time.”

We can’t rush the things that are important. There’s no shortcut to wisdom. Wisdom requires trial and error. Success and failure.

The good news is, wisdom requires no talent at all. Anyone can acquire wisdom (James 1:5). But it isn’t automatic. Wisdom requires discipline — twin disciplines, in fact. We must fear the Lord, and we must obey Him.

Oh yes – and we need to keep doing it.

That’s where most of us come off the rails. Not that we don’t make an attempt. We do — but it’s the blasted inconsistency of our daily walk. The frustrating regularity of our failures. The halting, incremental growth of fruit on our spiritual vine, which denies us the adrenal rush we crave.

And we want to give up the quest for something more immediately satisfying – like our favorite TV show!

But the essence of faithfulness is sticking with it — trusting that God’s timetable for our growth is not measured in days or weeks, or even in years. It’s measured in decades. Do a little character study of some of the great ones listed in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11. Not one of them enjoyed a meteoric rise to spiritual maturity.

Like the forest around me, it takes a long time to grow a beautiful life.

When you’ve stuck with it for a while, something unexpected happens — you start developing a love for God and for your neighbor that goes deeper than pleasure and that doesn’t rely on circumstance. It begins to take on the character of the One who loves.

There’s a whiff of unconditionality about it.

And that takes time.

Wherever you are, you have all the time there is. It just depends on how you invest it.

Did I mention that there’s no TV here?

Brevity

Living Between the Frames

 

Top Hat is one of my favorite Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies. The heavenly elegance of their dance, the fluid, dancing-on-air genius of these two artists was captured for us on 35mm film back in 1935. Well, most of their dancing was captured. Not all of it.

Film is shot at 24 frames per second (fps). That means you see 24 discrete images every second when you’re looking at Top Hat or most other films. What you aren’t consciously seeing is the 24 tiny seams between those images. Our minds simply fill in the small gaps to make the motion appear to be seamless. 24 fps may appear to correspond to reality, but, at a running time of 101 minutes (like Top Hat), your eye is actually stitching together roughly 145,440 discrete frames.

Each frame is illuminated with a small burst of light lasting for around 40 milliseconds. When the frame rate of a movie is too low (think of the old silent movies that were shot at 18 fps), your mind will no longer see the movie as fluid. It will appear to jump.

Researchers recently discovered how many light flashes per second the human brain can discern as separate before they look like a steady beam. It turns out that life as we see it day-to-day is a movie running at around 60 frames per second.

Wow! Don’t blink.

But even when viewing a film shot at 24 fps, we miss a lot and forget even more. After three days we will retain about 65% of the visual content of a film, and far less of what we hear. Even at 24 frames per second, which is a little less that 1/2 the 60 fps that are zipping by us in daily life, we fail to register what is actually going on.

In fact, we don’t even have to try to ignore the spaces between the frames in a film or in life. It’s automatic – not to mention, it’s easier to keep up appearances that way.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. – Ferris Bueller

Ferris is right. Too much of my life is a blur. But there’s a lot of life lived out between the frames – in those private interstices where nobody sees except God. It’s in those imperceptible interruptions to our life film where character is truly formed rather than in the brightly illuminated frames that the public sees. That’s where character comes to light.

God puts a high priority on the brief space between the frames. Matthew 6:4 tells us that our giving and our praying should be in secret. Why? Because God, whom we cannot see, resides there, between the frames. And He sees.

Absolutely nothing escapes His penetrating gaze. Good or bad. No matter how brief.

Over the course of our life, let’s make it a goal to pay attention to the quality of life lived in the space between the frames. It will make heaven that much more special.

And speaking of heaven…

 

 

 

Jonah & the Inside Passage…

Learning Real Forgiveness from a Reluctant Prophet

 

I’m getting ready for Alaska.

Dr. Chuck Swindoll and Insight for Living (IFL) have invited me to perform a few characters during the upcoming IFL cruise to Alaska. We’ll be taking the Inside Passage.

The Lord has a way of poking at me through my characters. Maybe you’ve experienced that during your own Bible study. It seems that, whatever character I’m performing (Jonah, in this case), something in that man’s life resonates with issues in my own life. Maybe that’s one reason the Lord chose to record particular experiences in the Bible — the universality of our struggles bind us in a common experience, despite being separated from those characters by thousands of years. We all find ourselves in the same boat, so to speak.

Jonah’s issue was one of forgiveness. He had trouble forgiving his enemies. And, make no mistake, his enemies were real. The Assyrians were the terrorists — the Islamic State  — of his day, and they threatened Israel with their barbaric acts of torture, and their mockery of Israel’s God. The Assyrians habitually flayed their enemies alive, chopped off heads and stacked them in towering mounds, and tore young children from their mothers’ arms, then burned them alive in front of them. To my way of thinking, Jonah had a case.

In the beginning of the story, the Lord sends Jonah to announce judgement against the inhabitants of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, because of their wickedness.  Jonah takes off in the opposite direction toward Tarshish. But God uses a fish to redirect his steps, and he winds up going to Nineveh — albeit reluctantly — with a message of God’s impending judgement: “At the end of 40 days, Nineveh will be overthrown.”  As far as we know, that was the whole sermon. No call to repentance. No hint of possible forgiveness. Just judgement.

And yet…

The Ninevites repented. Weeping. Sackcloth (they even draped their animals in sackcloth)! And, to Jonah’s consternation, God spared them.

The Lord taught Jonah an important lesson. Jonah knew intellectually that the Lord was “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy,” (Jonah 4:2). In fact, that’s the main reason given for his attempted escape to Tarshish. He shuddered at the thought of those hated Assyrians — those terrorists — being spared God’s judgement. It was a far cry from the vengeance Jonah was hoping for. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t the payback they deserved.

But it was grace.

It was God’s gift to the terrorists, once they repented.

You don’t get to real/heart forgiveness by traveling the road of judgement.

Real forgiveness is a journey up the Inside Passage of the heart. Because the Lord doesn’t just want us to forgive our enemies (include the virtual terrorists in your own family who plot to hurt you and your loved ones).

He wants us to love them. Just as he loves us, and loved us — while we were still His enemies (Romans 5:8, 10).

Ask the Lord today to transform your heart. To help you love and forgive your enemies — including the terrorists — from your heart.

 

 

Waking Up Slowly (Again)

A Gentle Reminder

This comes by way of reminder. A few weeks ago I reviewed Dave’s new book, Waking Up Slowly.

You know how some books, you read and forget in between the last word and the final period? Waking Up Slowly sticks with youIt will kick start your day like a Chai Tea Latte with a shot of dopamine.

It’s that time of year — you’re feeling a little ragged, a tad draggy — wondering what in the world you’re going to do with the kids when they are home ALL SUMMER LONG, and camp isn’t an option this year.

Pick up Waking Up Slowly, and sip it — maybe a chapter a day. It will last you well into the summer and make you feel like it’s an April morning in (fill in your favorite town, state, country, or planet).

Parable of Little Knife

For Rodney with thanks to Bill Brewer

My dad kept an old whetstone wheel down at his shop on the ranch. It had belonged to my grandfather — Mom’s dad, Lawley Reagan. it looked a lot like the one pictured above. Dad used it to sharpen axes and hatchets and knives before it fell apart sometime in the late fifties. The grit was coarse, but Dad could put a fine edge on just about any tool.

I attended a memorial service on Saturday for a great woman — Cortina Orr. Her radiant joy lightened many a dark day for a host of disciples and friends. Her memorial was held on one of those bright and sunny days typical of north Texas in early May. The cloud of her passing dissipated in the shining hope of resurrection and reunion.

Still, she’s gone for now, and that hurts. So, as I was sitting there listening to one of the finest memorial addresses I’ve ever heard (thanks Bill Brewer), and considering how painful it must be for her husband and my dear friend, Rodney, and for her grown children Ariel and Bradley, this little parable came to mind.

Once upon a time there was a little carving knife, fresh from the forge and eager to be pressed into service. He came from a long line of carvers, with specialty bowl gouges and planes in his lineage — and, of course, a few whittlers from the poor side of town. Together his family had made bowls, and spinning tops, and even some fine furniture. But he was proudest of the nativity sets, carved in fine detail by his father and grandfather. The edge on his father’s blade could shave the whiskers off an olivewood Joseph, and shape wonder in the eyes of a pinewood shepherd on the night of Jesus’s birth.

The little carving knife wanted to be fitted with a rosewood handle immediately, and to get to work on a great piece of art.

His father looked down at him and smiled, though his joy was tempered with the knowledge of what must come first.

“Son,” he said, “you have great dreams, but you have no edge. The master carver can’t use you until you submit to the whetstone wheel.”

The little fellow swallowed hard. He was hoping to avoid the pain of sharpening, but he knew he would remain dull and useless without it.

So he submitted to the hand of the master carver, and he held him against the spinning wheel at just the right angle. Sparks flew! Small bits of dull metal were ground away, and the little carving knife didn’t know if he would be able to stand the pain. Occasionally, the master mercifully added a bit of water to the wheel so the little carving knife wouldn’t overheat and break under the strain.

Finally, it was over. The master carver fitted the little carving knife with a beautiful rosewood handle that his father had carved just for him.

The pain of sharpening had rendered him ready for service — with the knowledge that an occasional light sharpening would be necessary to maintain his keen edge.

We love you, Rodney. The Master Carver has held you to the whetstone recently in Cortina’s passing. He’s giving you a fine edge indeed, my friend.

And by His grace, He will continue to use you to shape lives as you have shaped mine.

 

Celebrating Future Now Conference with Peggy Kim

June 1, 2, 2017 - For Students Interested in PR, Marketing and Making Media Connections in NYC

 

I just got back from New York City. One of the biggest challenges for people moving to NYC who want to work in Media, is meeting people/making contacts.

Enter my friend, Peggy Kim. Peggy is the Founder and President at iStand Media, and one of the media professionals with whom I was visiting while in the city.

The whole time, I was thinking, Ok, Peggy has so many things going on, how am I going to boil down all of this fascinating stuff so that you can get some whiff of who she is?  

But that would be like trying to capture the fragrance of a grand garden in a perfume bottle. A garden comprises a host of fragrances, all of which combine to produce a delightful experience that invites you in. Peggy is a walking garden, as you can see from her LinkedIn page. She specializes in the following areas:

  • Content development
  • Documentary film-making
  • Reality formats
  • Production supervision
  • Programming strategy
  • Talent development
  • Distribution and building partnerships
  • Contract negotiations

Oh yeah, and she happens to be a dynamic Christian. Peggy’s love for the Lord shines through in her compassionate desire to help others, and in her dedication to serving Him with the best she has to give.

Now, we get to celebrate a fantastic networking opportunity as Peggy is hosting the Future Now Media & Entertainment Conference in New York City!

My good bud, Kathleen Cooke (Co-Founder and VP of Cooke Pictures) recently sent me an email that provides an introduction to the conference:

This is a great opportunity for your students who are interested in the media in the areas of PR and marketing and for getting their “foot in the door” in NYC. They’ll have a chance to meet and see the inter-workings of the NYC media business and get insightful information on how they can take what they’ve been learning in their classrooms and move into the professional world. This is the first of it’s kind conference that I’ve seen done that gives the students real “boots on the ground” information and allows them to be personally introduced to leading professionals in the industry. I’ll be attending and speaking along with many top leading professionals in the industry.

I believe it’s a significant event you don’t want your students to miss

Here’s a flyer which you can print and distribute as a poster for the conference: FUTURENOW flyer

But here’s the deal – your students have to apply by May 15. There won’t be any walkups.

One more thing – the conference is FREE! All you have to do is pay for transportation, food and lodging.

It’s worth scholarshipping promising student artists who are moving to NYC!

 

Good, Holy Friday

Love Nailed to a Shared Cross

If you’re familiar with the writings of C. S. Lewis, you probably know him as a spinner of the wonderful children’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia.

Or, you may find yourself basking in the glow of his intellectually profound nonfiction work such as, Mere Christianity, or his autobiographical, Surprised by Joy, or his excellent radio address on The Four Loves.

But there is a treat in store for you if you have missed out on Lewis the poet (Don W. King does an outstanding job of exploring this corner of Lewis’s life in C. S. Lewis, Poet: The Legacy of His Poetic Impulse).

One of my favorite Lewis poems captures in just a few verses the essence of Good Friday. I share it with you as a gift and as an invitation to meditate on the depth of God’s love as expressed in the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, on our behalf.

Have a blessed Good Friday.

Love’s as Warm as Tears, by C. S. Lewis

Love’s as warm as tears,
Love is tears:
Pressure within the brain,
Tension at the throat,
Deluge, weeks of rain,
Haystacks afloat,
Featureless seas between
Hedges, where once was green.

Love’s as fierce as fire,
Love is fire:
All sorts–Infernal heat
Clinkered with greed and pride,
Lyric desire, sharp-sweet,
Laughing, even when denied,
And that empyreal flame
Whence all loves came.

Love’s as fresh as spring
Love is spring:
Bird-song in the air,
Cool smells in a wood,
Whispering “Dare! Dare!”
To sap, to blood,
Telling “Ease, safety, rest
Are good; not best.”

Love’s as hard as nails,
Love is nails:
Blunt, thick, hammered through
The medial nerves of One
Who, having made us, knew
The thing He had done,
Seeing (with all that is)
Our cross, and His.

 

Visit the Holy Land Online with Wayne Stiles!

An Exciting New Opportunity to Experience the Land of the Bible

 

I have some great news for you! A good friend of mine, Dr. Wayne Stiles (see handsome mugshot above!), will be hosting an online walkthrough of the Lands of the Bible.

The focus for this series is on Passion Week and the sign-up will be open until April 19, but why wait? Go to this website today and sign up for Wayne’s FREE 3-part series on Passion Week, recorded on site in Jerusalem.

What you’ll see: the key places where Jesus walked and taught during the days leading up to and including His crucifixion and resurrection.

What you’ll hear: teaching from one of my favorite Bible teachers! Wayne delivers more than just information. He gives you lessons for living in light of biblical truth. I’ve been to Israel with Wayne on several occasions, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that God’s blessing rests on this man and his teaching. Don’t miss this opportunity.

If you enjoy the mini-series, as I’m sure you will, you’ll have the opportunity to subscribe to an ongoing video series where you will walk the Bible lands with Wayne.

The URL for the FREE 3-part series: www.passionweektour.com