Surprising Rest Part 2

The Blessing of the Overflowing Cup

The last time out, I said I would reveal the second surprise the Lord had in store for us.

As a reminder, the first delight was our visit to Clingman’s Dome where Lauren and I had watched the sunrise over the Great Smokies 43 years ago.

The second surprise caught me even more off guard, and I found myself “drinking out of the saucer.”

Back in 1974 – the same year we visited Clingman’s Dome – I was acting in Unto These Hills, the regional play written by Kermit Hunter. The theater is situated in Cherokee, North Carolina. On our recent vacation to Jillian’s Cabin, we were nearest Whittier, N.C.

Cherokee was 5 miles up highway 19!

Unto These Hills was in the middle of its summer run. The production had just returned to the original version of the play, after having abandoned it for other adaptations that didn’t work as well as Kermit’s original script – which I had acted in 43 years ago!

I took my family (Evan’s favorite part was the Eagle Dance — see the pic above), and we met Dustin Wolfe, who did a fine job playing John Ross (the part I had played back in 1974), along with several of the other cast members: Addison Debter, (a great Will Thomas), Lori Sanders who pretty much reincarnated the late and wonderful Martha Nell Hardy as Mrs. Perkins (that voice!), and Kaki Clements who will break your heart as Wilani.

The set had undergone major improvements since my day. I’ll always remember standing stage right, high on a rocky outcropping back on August 8, 1974. We were in the middle of a short scene when they stopped the show with the following:

“Ladies and gentlemen, your attention, please.
President Richard Nixon has just announced his resignation
from the office of President of the United States. Thank you.”

I wish I could remember who had the next line, following a stunned pause, but it’s a blur. I’m sure that, given the nature of the scene, it had something to do with the need for Andrew Jackson’s government in Washington to keep its word and help the Cherokee Nation – President Jackson had been duplicitous, so say the least, though I’m sure he insisted that he was not a crook.

Hmm.

And then there was the title of the play: Unto These Hills is an allusion to the first line of Psalm 121.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
 My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. (KJV)

The Lord is the one in Whom we place our trust. Neither the Cherokee, nor we, dare place our trust in any, save the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the God of the individual pilgrim as much as He is the God of His people. He has promised never to leave us, never to forsake us (Hebrews 13:5)

And…

He will always surprise us with His grace.

When we least expect it.

When our cup is already running over.

And we are drinking out of the saucer.

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.

Breathe!

Relax and smile. It's done. Get some Ben & Jerry's!

Rosalyn & Evan

OK, so you voted. Or not. Either way, it’s a done deal.

No recounts. No more debates. Time to sit by an autumn fire and enjoy a good book — or a short blog by your old buddy here.

Just the other day Evan was reading a poem titled, I Must Remember from Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein. By the way, he’s 3, so “reading” is a relative term — the relative in this case being his mom, our daughter, Rosalyn.

The poem has a picture of a very fat man that really made an impression on Evan. He stared at the picture and then at his mom and said, “His tummy is so big!”

“Yes,” Rosalyn said, “it is.”

Evan looked down. “And my tummy is little.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Littlewunstu!” Evan said.

“Littlewunstu? What’s that?” Ros asked.

“Littlewunstu from from the Jesus song.”

“What Jesus song”

Evan starts to sing:

Jesus loves me, this I know.
For the Bible tells me so.
Littlewunstu Him belong…”

Then he stopped and smiled.

So did Mommy, and Lolly, and PoP!

It’s nice to be reminded during these days of political sturm und drang that God is in control after the last ballot is cast.

That peace can be our portion as we trust in Him with childlike faith.

And that Littlewunsto Him belong.

OK, time for the Ben & Jerry’s. Try Everything But Th… 

It won’t leave you with a little tummy, but it’ll start you singing!

What Not to Fear

Taming the fear monster...

 

“To him who is in fear everything rustles.” Sophocles

I didn’t mean to be the fear monster to Rosalyn. It was supposed to be just a game. Rosalyn — then 4 1/2 — wanted to play hide and seek. We played often, and Ollie (my pet name for Ros) loved to be the “seeker.”

She would count to 10 and then I would hear, “Ok, Daddy, here I come!” And I would whisper loudly, “Oh, I hope Ollie doesn’t find me here in the closet in her bedroom!” But this time, I thought, I’ll string things out a little. So when I heard her say, “OK, Daddy, here I come!” I stayed quiet.

“Daaadyyy!” followed by a little laugh.

I tucked myself back into the shadows of our darkened dining room.

“Daddy!?”

Hmm. Maybe a little tension in her voice. No laugh this time.

“Daddy?” Small voice. Scared.

From my hiding place I see her stop in the hallway, right in front of the open dining room door. She paused, took a shaky breath and – I’m not making this up – bowed her head and folded her hands, and prayed in a little whisper: “Dear God – please help me find my Daddy.”

Ollie found her Daddy pretty fast. And then everything was fine. She was smiling, and she gave me a big hug.

She wasn’t fearful if her daddy was with her. Of course, I hadn’t been absent. I was there all along, but Ollie felt like I wasn’t there.

Sometimes I feel like my heavenly Father isn’t there. Or that He doesn’t care. Fear has a way of inducing grace-amnesia. In the middle of a fear-invoking crisis we forget that God loves us and that He is always with us (Matthew 28: 20).

But on this day 15 years ago, a lot of people felt like God had blinked. On 9-12, 2001 people felt alone. Someone had left the door unlocked and some bad people had come into our house. And they had hurt us.

But then, in the persons of our nation’s pastors, God stepped out of the shadows to remind us of those things that we need not fear. Here are just a few from His book of promises to encourage you:

Things not to fear:

Natural disasters: Mark 6:49-52

The World in Chaos: Luke 21:9

Public opinion when following God’s will: Matthew 1:20

Leaving everything behind to follow Jesus: Luke 5:10

Having run out of time for a miracle: Mark 5:36 (this is my favorite)

Those who can kill you: Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:5

Philippians 4:6,7 sums it up pretty well. Christians need not fear anything. And here’s the amazing thing. This isn’t an option – it’s a command!  “Christians, listen up. Do not be afraid. Of anything! Instead get your head up and look to your heavenly Father. Talk to Him and be thankful that he’s there to hear you!”

Feeling fearful? Call out to your heavenly Father, and you know what you get? It’s the opposite of fear, and it’s bound up in one of the titles for the Lord Jesus—

“The Prince of Peace.”

Guest Blog: Dr. Sandra Glahn

Part 4 in the 4-Part Series on Writing

Here’s part 4 in the 4-part series on writing.

Dr. Sandra Glahn

Dr. Sandra Glahn

WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES ME ABOUT FICTION

By Sandra Glahn

Most of what I’ve learned about fiction I’ve learned from the Bible. That’s not to say I think the Bible is myth. Rather, the way Moses, Jesus, and its other storytellers craft their narratives has taught me a lot about fiction. Here’s a sampling:

Use limited point-of-view to capitalize on reader identification. Did Bathsheba flirt with David? Bat her eyelashes? Seduce him? There’s a reason the author does not answer such questions. We’re supposed to see the story completely from David’s point of view. And David is 100 percent responsible for his choices, no matter what Bathsheba’s doing.

Use setting to communicate something greater than the place itself. I’m not saying a writer must make the setting exotic. Rather, use the setting almost as you would do a character. Where is Jezebel when she kills the owner of the vineyard she covets? In Jezreel. Where is Jezebel more than seventeen years later when dogs snarf her up? Back in Jezreel. Where is Peter when he denies the Lord three times? By a charcoal fire. Where is Peter when Jesus gives him three chances to declare his love? By a charcoal fire.

Give the “good guys” weaknesses. Nobody’s perfect, so use imperfections to make characters believable. Peter is spirited but impulsive—just ask Malchus. Consider what’s often called “The Faith Chapter.” It lists heroes of the faith. Yet with only a few exceptions, Hebrews 11 could just as easily be called “The Foul-Up Chapter.” There we find murderers, adulterers, liars, and hookers. Despite their flaws, however, they have one thing in common: faith. Moses is humble, but he has an anger management problem.

The foundation for the western canon of literature, the Bible is filled with narratives written by some of the best storytellers and communicators the world has ever known. Studying its pages can make us better writers.

False Positive

 

Since we’re on the topic of fiction  – another from the best selling author, Cutrer and Glahn.

What others are saying about False Positive.

“Dr. Cutrer Sandra Glahn have produced another real page turner. Once I got started, I could not put it down.”

“Do you like medical thrillers? Do you like books with good character development, entertaining plot twists, and believable villains? Do you enjoy a book that makes you think? False Positive delivers in all of these areas. A touching story with an intelligent exploration into the ethical dilemmas facing us all, whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, you will be challenged.”

“FALSE POSITIVE is as intriguing as its title suggests! The emotion-packed pages grip and hold the reader with intensity from cover to cover.”

My thanks to Dr. Glahn for her thoughtful blogs over the last 4 weeks! As usual, she has exceeded expectations!

 

 

Simeon: A Promise Kept

Turning the World Right Side Up - One Promise at a Time

Simeon

Simeon

Keeping a promise takes commitment. Believing in a promise takes faith. And the
longer the promise is delayed, the stronger the faith must be – but, as Simeon would
discover, the greater the reward when the promise is fulfilled.

That’s my introduction to one of my favorite characters in the Bible. Simeon appears in Luke 2:25-35 as a righteous man, “looking for the restoration of Israel,” (2:25). Luke stresses the faithfulness of God in keeping His promises – to provide a Redeemer for the nation in the person of Jesus Christ, and personally to Simeon to allow him to see that Redeemer before he died (2:26).

The Lord has the big picture (in His promise to the nation) and the small picture (His promise to Simeon) equally in view. There is no distinction in God’s compassionate concern for both. He maintains them in perfect balance.

But I needed a point of view to drive the narrative for my performance – to reveal the unique contribution of this character to the flow of the argument in Luke. I needed to maintain the balance between a creative approach that would give this audience a fresh perspective as well as a true reflection of the A/author’s purpose. I prayed (as I always do in the construction of a character) for the Lord to sanctify my imagination to the glory of His name and His word.

So, I play Simeon as an old man whose besetting problem in his youth was impatience. That’s the factionalized part, but it fits with a pattern I’ve noticed in the Bible. It’s often true in Scripture, that a character flaw – a major weakness – in a person is the very thing used by the Holy Spirit to glorify God. For example, the apostle Paul reminds us that, “God’s power is made perfect in weakness,” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I have Simeon visiting the temple courts daily, looking for God’s promised Deliverer. Simeon remains hopeful, despite what I’m sure appeared to him to be a delay in the fulfillment of God’s promise. The Lord’s promise that Simeon “would not die” before seeing the Messiah” (2:26) along with his own prayer that God allow him to “depart in peace,” underscore a long-held hope – fulfilled in the baby he held and blessed in His arms.

Our perspective on God’s promises is bound up in our humanity. But our hope extends beyond the limitations of our flesh. By God’s grace we can embrace the reality, the sure reality of His promises. Like Simeon, we should cling to the integrity of God’s character, believing with all our hearts that God will keep His promises – that the Lord Jesus Christ will come again, and that He will make all things right.

And when He comes again, it won’t be as a baby, but as a victorious King of Kings who will keep His promise to turn the world right side up.

15,705 Days + 1 (and Counting)

Say "Those Words" Every Day

Lauren

Lauren/a.k.a. “Baby-Doll” I.L.Y.

February 14, 1973 – a special Valentine’s Day for me. I had chosen to say the words on that day because I had never said them before to any girl, and I thought I would never say them again to any other girl.

I was right.

Lauren Kay Ubele and I had been dating for 5 months and 17 days, give or take. I had met her on the first day of class our freshman year at Texas Tech University: August 28, 1972, 7:32 a.m. in the old Ag Hall. Dr. Bill Dean was teaching Mass Comm 101. I entered the hall at 7:30, intent on finding a good seat in what I was sure would be an SRO, 200-seat auditorium. I walked through the double doors and surveyed 198 empty seats. Someone was sitting up on the second row on the left side. Long, black hair as I recall, and I couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl (it was the 70’s).

Then I saw her. Long, light brown hair falling over her shoulders. I walked down the aisle, studly to the max in my blue corduroy bell bottoms, dingo boots, and tie-dyed (purple and orange) shirt, looking around for an empty seat. I paused thoughtfully beside her row (5th back, second seat in), and asked with a wry smile, “Is anyone sitting here?”

Smooth.

She smiled and I was gone – so flummoxed I almost dropped my books. I’ve seen that smile a gazillion times and it still disarms me. Makes me go wobbly. It says, “Sure, you can sit beside me – oh, and by the way, you’re not fooling me, buster!” 17-years old. Blue gingham dress. Moss-green eyes that lock you up and won’t let you go.

I had a list of girls I was dating, phone numbers, etc., all neatly written down in a spiral notebook. So, clueless Romeo that I was, I pulled out the list and asked Lauren if she would mind putting her name and phone number on the list!  If I put that scene in one of my screenplays, the studio would reject it as too unbelievable for public consumption! And do you know the most amazing thing?

She wrote down her name and number!

I had one other date with another girl after that – and only because it was already arranged. It took Lauren a little longer to realize that she was intended by Divine Providence for me and me alone – like 5 months and 17 days. I’m an all-in kind of guy. Once I make up my mind, once I commit, that’s it. No turning back. Lauren’s list of suitors was long, but I was intrepid.

Still, saying those words –  even though I was sure she was the one for me – did not come quickly. Because words matter. Especially those words. When a couple exchanges those words it means commitment. It means you are both all in.

So. On Valentine’s Day, 1973 we spoke those words to each other for the first time. And I’ve repeated them – each time with just a little more appreciation and wonder that she says them back to me – every day since. 43 years. 15,705 days + 1 and counting. Multiply that times 4 or 5 since we repeat them several times a day.

I hear them regularly from other family members, and that’s lovely.

But when I hear those words from her – I get wobbly.

Say them to the love of your life today. Every day. Don’t assume he/she knows. Say them.

And start counting.

 

Arts Week at DTS!

Loving to Know

"A Madness Most Discreet" R&J 1.1.170

“A Madness Most Discreet” R&J 1.1.170

It’s Arts Week at DTS!

Our theme for this Arts Week is: A Madness Most Discreet. The phrase comes from Romeo and Juliet 1.1.170. In that scene, Romeo is bemoaning his frustrated love for Rosaline, who has rejected him as a suitor.

Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs,
Being purg’d, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes,
Being vex’d, a sea nourish’d with loving tears.
What is it else? A madness most discreet,
A choking gall, and a preserving sweet.

Romeo & Juliet, 1.1.167-171

Love is a mystery to the befuddled Romeo. It is real, it is consuming, it seems to be self-contradictory, it is frustrating, and satisfying all at once – it is a madness most discreet.

Of course, Romeo’s “love” for Rosaline isn’t love at all, but mere infatuation and youthful lust. Rosaline is quickly forgotten once Romeo meets his star-crossed lover, Juliet. Romeo’s confessor, Friar Lawrence, sums up the youth’s mercurial temperament thus:

So soon forsaken? Young men’s love then lies
Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.

Romeo & Juliet, 2.3.67, 68

Romeo objects to Friar Lawrence’s correction:

ROM.
Thou chidst me oft for loving Rosaline.
FRI. L.
For doting, not for loving, pupil mine..

“Doting” in Shakespeare, denotes one who is foolish, stupid, or weak-minded [cf. The Comedy of Errors, 4.4.42 (Antipholus of Ephesus); Henry 4.2, 4.4.126 (Thomas, Duke of Clarence)] In other words, Romeo’s “love” for Rosaline hadn’t been tempered by any semblance of rational thought. He was a slave to his passions, his feelings. He mistook “loving” (blindly, selfishly) as an end in itself rather than as a way to know and thus truly love Rosaline more deeply. Romeo would have done well to attend our Arts Week at DTS!

This week at Dallas Seminary we are explorers. We are discoverers. We are celebrants.

Under the expert guidance of  our guest lecturer, Dr. Esther Meek, we will explore the questions, “what does it mean to know,” and “what is the relationship between knowing, feeling, and the arts?”

We will discover the feelings that we all share – a longing for knowledge that runs deeper that fact. A longing for love that will last. The music we will hear in these sessions will rekindle those feelings. For the most part the music we hear will not be the music we hear in church. It will be the music we listen to on the way to church. And that’s good, because it will remind us that all of us – Christian and non-Christian – share longings for which we have the answer in Jesus Christ. And we will discover an epistemology – a way of knowing – that will help satisfy those longings.

Finally, we will celebrate the Lord as the Fountainhead of our knowing and the deep Reservoir of our feeling. The God of our intellect, the Master of our heart, the Telos of our longing.

We begin with the basic question, “how do we know?” Do we trust our head, or our heart? We have a tendency to reduce knowledge to a rational construct. We are captives to the scientific method – a way of knowing (called an epistemology) that insists on quantifiable data as the sine qua non of knowledge. Knowledge-as-information. Heady stuff.

Capture it, count it, categorize it, control it – knowledge: the compliant child of my intellect.

But there is so much more to knowing than what we can squeeze onto a 3×5 card or dictate into Evernote.

We know this – at least, intellectually.

We know that knowledge, left to itself, will embalm the heart. Absent the heart, there can be no love. And without love, Paul reminds us, we are little more than walking shadows, infinitely less that we were made to be.

We know that God designed us to think and feel. To teach truth. To Love well.

This morning we want to start fresh – We want to broaden our understanding of how thinking and feeling contribute to a more robust epistemology.

We want to unravel the mystery of what it means to love in order to know.

Arts Week at DTS runs Tuesday, October 20 through Friday, October 23. Dr. Meek will speak in Lamb Auditoreum from 10:40 – 11:20 each morning. Visitors welcome!

Mediterranean Cruise with IFL – Day One: Istanbul

Istanbul is a cornucopia of sounds, colors and people as vivid as anything your imagination can conjur. I love this image of a woman in full Burkah surveying lipstick – which only her husband will ever see applied to her lips! We are on an Insight for Living cruise with Chuck and Cynthia Swindoll and the IFL team.

I perform biblical characters (5 times) and Chuck preaches. Tonight I do Peter, so prayers are appreciated. We are 8 hours ahead of CST (12:00 a.m. Dallas time = 8:a.m. Turkey Time). We need to get on the ship for our Greek Isles tour, so better get hopping!