June 20, 2018

Disney Buys 21st Century Fox

The deal is complete. Fox accepts Disney's purchase offer, and what this will mean in all areas of Disney is yet to be seen. But you can be sure theme park fans are curious. Seems like Marvel and Star Wars are now not the only big dogs in the House of Mouse. Stay tuned.

June 19, 2018

From Pixar Pier Back to Bargain Basement Imagineering

With the opening of Pixar Pier on its way this weekend, I thought it might be fun to take a look at two pieces of concept art which show the original plan for Paradise Pier

Imagineer Tim Delaney was the artist behind this poorly conceived California Adventure project. Tim's a gifted man, but when the suits order "fast, cheap, and similar to Six Flags", if you want a job, you do what's told. 

It's just a piece of the Bargain Basement Imagineering that made Disney's second Anaheim park clearly second class. That popular blog series by that name can be found here- and then the rebirth came.

Finally under Robert Iger's forced hand, the artists were told to go for it and bring Disney class and attention to detail to the park. Imagineering a New Dream tells that story. Go here- and enjoy.

(Yes, Part Two of our Disney World After a Decade comes later in the week...)

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

The Fireman's Prayer

Last Sunday, we attended the graduating class of firefighters. I'll paraphrase what the speaker said, and then I'll give you the full text of the traditional Fireman's Prayer

"Billy Graham once wrote: “It might surprise you to learn that the person in the Bible who spoke the most about Hell's reality was Jesus. He repeatedly warned us not to take it lightly: ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell’ (Matthew 10:28).

I think about how you firefighters must understand more about Hell than those of us who don’t jump into the flames to save others! Thank you for being willing to risk your lives for our benefit! May you always go into each fight knowing Jesus cares, is watching, and has offered us the perfect example in how to lay down our lives for others."

Let me end this with a look at the Fireman’s Prayer:

When I am called to duty, God, Whenever flames may rage…
Give me the strength to save some life whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child before its too late.
Or save an older person from the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout 
And quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me
To guard my every neighbor and protect their property.
And if according to your will, I have to lose my life
Please bless with your protecting hand my children and my wife."

Thank you to all the brave men and women who serve communities all over the world!

June 16, 2018

In Perspective

Coming back next week with post two in my series of Disney World After a Decade Away. I'm still busy piecing it together. Beginning a busy week after a restful vacation is not always an easy thing to do. Yet, I founds myself satisfied to be back at the grind, finding much enjoyment in my work and the gift of being able to do something I loved. My times of quiet reflection, prayer and study in the Bible truly refreshed me. God is very good in so many ways- even if certain events cause me to temporarily think differently for awhile. More to come...

June 14, 2018

Oriental Land Company Makes Me Cancel My Plans Once Again

The Oriental Land Company has once again put an end to my plans to finally visit Tokyo Disney Resort. I'd been carefully, mentally, patiently, looking at an opportunity to go when the Beauty and the Beast mini-land made its debut at Tokyo Disneyland. Now, the announcement of their new addition to Tokyo Disney Sea will make me delay my plans for even a few more years. Why? 

Can't wait to experience the lantern scene myself.

I just love Tangled. It's my second favorite animated film after Beast. There's certainly no more beautiful animation art in any Disney film than the lantern scene. The attraction itself should be amazing. And finally Rapunzel's tower leads to a real ride and not just to a couple of restrooms!

C'mon everybody...

Plus I can't wait to see what they do with Peter Pan and a whole new Neverland. It's a very charming yet thrilling piece of property at Disneyland Paris, but my bet is this next generation version takes it even further. 

Yo Ho!

An early rumor even suggests Shanghai Disneyland's Pirates technology could be used here. No matter. This expansion will further cement Tokyo's place as the primary leader in the Disney world.

I bet this attraction is a genuine E Ticket!

Frozen land should proves itself interesting on a grander scale than what the Imagineers were allowed to do when they brought the film into Epcot's Norway pavilion. (More on that next post on our trip.)

The choice of where to stay will now be more difficult.

I'll still writing the next chapter post about our Disney World trip. yet, even my wife had to ask this morning upon hearing the expansion news, "Why does Tokyo seem to do things so much better?" Wise woman.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

June 11, 2018

Disney World After A Decade Away: Day One - Animal Kingdom

As promised, I want to give all the Insights readers reflections on my first trip to Walt Disney World in almost ten years. Certainly for a Disney blogger and particularly a lover of the theme parks (and all their corresponding concept art), this gap of a decade must seem like a serious crime punishable by certain death. Perhaps after reading a few posts / trip reports, you'll pardon me. I hope so! 

My good friend Len Yokoyama is a much better photographer as you already know, but I'll include some photographs to go along with my thoughts. After the first day and doing some experimenting, I discovered my new phone actually took much better photographs than my old camera! Certainly a new experience for this traveler.

More than just using a cel phone camera, this trip was full of "firsts".

Full confession: This trip was my first one as a grandfather! My wife and I tagged along (by invitation) with our youngest daughter, her husband, and their two adorable kids- a son six years old and a daughter four years old. This was their second trip as a young family with each of the kids now old enough to ride a few "Big Kid" rides at each park. 

Each trip to Disney is unique, and this one is no exception. My daughter and son-in-law are also "foodies", which meant it took a bit of extra planning and saving to enable us all to eat in some very special locations. My wife and I would normally dine at one or two locations for a special meal, but we have never eaten at so many waiter service spots as we did during this trip. It was great fun- and quite expensive compared to our normal way of traveling. With four adults, we each picked one restaurant that we wanted to dine at, with a couple of last minute or unexpected choices added in along the way. Fortunately, our sweet grandchildren are extremely well behaved and handled themselves better than some adults during each one and a half to two hour meal. Chalk that up to good parenting! 

This was our first time using My Disney Experience with Fast Pass +, Magic Bands, and all that goes with it. My daughter did all the planning for the Fast Pass reservations as we were out of the country for work on the first day everything opened up for us. She did an amazing job getting us all we wanted to see and do.

The Winner's Circle at Saratoga Springs.

Saratoga Springs was our home base as we used a Disney Vacation Club reseller. Another first. It was also our first vacation to the property during the busy Summer season. Certainly, this added its own list of pros and cons. Being that we picked dates after school got out, we also overlapped with Gay Days. Each of these "first time" experiences should give this series of posts a unique perspective. Plus, with this being our first visit in nine and a half years, my experience felt brand new yet familiar in many ways. I'm sure my take on all this will surprise some, delight a few, and make others raise their eyebrows. Such is the life of a blogger.  

With all these caveats in mind, let me begin!

Due to a short delay in our Frontier airlines flight but a very major computer glitch with Magical Express, we arrived at Saratoga Springs at 3:30am! It was not at all the way any of us expected to begin our week at the resort. This did mean quite a big change in our first day schedule. Unfortunately, our original plan meant a 10:00am breakfast at Whispering Canyon Cafe, then continuing on with a late -morning Fast Pass for Na'vi River Journey at Disney's beautiful but seriously undeveloped Animal Kingdom. Given two relatively strong edicts from Disney (1- Financial Penalties for cancelling a meal reservation within 24 hours, and 2- Difficulty in gaining Fast Passes for prime attractions), we decided to soldier on and stick with our original times. 

He walked most all of each day, 
but we were happy to give the guy a break when he needed it!

The way our grandchildren handled the lack of sleep should have been our first clue how they would go with the flow with any other changes. They were tired, as we all were, but never uttered a complaint beyond the initial muttering of waking up. The lure of breakfast at the Wilderness Lodge was enough to get them smiling. Neither child is a wall flower, and both have strong personalities and firm opinions. Yet, they are sweet and kind children with exceptional interpersonal skills for their ages. (Lest you think it's just a grandfather bragging, you'd have to see them in action to get it.) 

Given we all wanted to sleep in as much as we could but not give up these very hard to get reservations, we decided to splurge on a Minnie Van. It was one of the best decisions we made. When you spend as much as you do on a Disney park vacation, you don't complain about $25 if it means getting six people to their destination on time under the atrocious circumstances. 

I loved that my daughter and son-in-law now had their own Disney trip tradition by starting with their first meal at the Whispering Canyon Cafe. (We had taken our kids to the Good Turn restaurant on day one of each trip. It's now called the Garden Grill Room.) 

Where have all the cowboys gone?
Nice details in a now sedate restaurant.

By now, you've probably read about all the changes to the restaurant and the experience. Unfortunately, they are all true. The team tried to make it a fun experience, but the end result was a tasty meal in a very quiet atmosphere. One not worth a future visit.

Good food but no longer high on the fun factor.

No games, no ketchup shenanigans, no races, no spontaneity. The only hint of fun came from one very wonderful staff member who, when we asked for a dollop more whipped cream for our grandson's pancakes, proceeded to cover his entire plate with the fluffy stuff, piling it on as big as the smile he saw in return. 

Once we had walked the outside of the lodge, we traveled via resort bus to Animal Kingdom. It was already hot and humid- of course it was this time of year- and the crowds were thick (ditto). Security measures made it take longer than I had ever experienced, but we were able to get into the park in about ten minutes once we reached the gates.

Honestly, I had forgotten what a gorgeous park it was. And I'd forgotten how few attractions were there as well. The first sight of the Tree of Life was just breathtaking. I was finally in Walt Disney World! 

Grandpa and sweet girl. First ride together.

With only about 40 minutes until our Fast Pass time for the boat ride had ended- and this would become a common guessing game of "Could we fit in _____ attraction in time?"- we decided to go to Dinoland U.S.A. to begin with Triceratop Spin, a favorite of my granddaughter. She was delighted, and I was thrilled to be riding with her. As much as these cheap carnival rides are something I hate being added to this park, riding them did help me see the park through a young child's eyes. Something that would be very easy to forget as an adult. The joy and delight on her face was priceless.

The sense of euphoria passed once we traveled toward Pandora to get a ride on the Na'vi River Journey. There's no other way to say it than it was a proverbial mob scene, and this was for the family friendly boat ride and not the main attraction. Had we not had a Fast Pass, it would have been a ninety minute wait for a four minute "D Ticket"(at best) boat ride. Thankfully, we reached our line in time, quickly boarded a reed boat, and off we went.  

The Imagineers clearly noticed guests love the caverns of Pirates of the Caribbean, and they used a newer version of them with lots of water effects to begin the Na'vi cruise. An inviting beginning that quickly removed us from the outside world! The artist's lavish attention to detail was quite incredible. From the male Na'vi watching us at the beginning of the cruise to the cute little creatures jumping from huge suspended lily pad to lily pad, we were happily immersed almost immediately into this environment.  

Without a narration, it was difficult to explain the ride to the little guys, especially when they saw creatures that looked scary. To the adults, it was a clever use of layers of screens and film, but to them, it was menacing. Who was the big blue guy at the beginning and the very weird giant lady at the end? As with many things at the Disney parks, the easy explanation was "It's all make believe". A four and six year old would not understand the nuance of the storyline and its Gaia focused spiritual worldview even if it is a fantasy based story. Make no mistake, it's a pretty obvious, and not always subtle, teaching aspect central to this park. 

Impressive Audio-Animatronic!

From an Imagineering standpoint, I would have appreciated some Audio-Animatronic animals to go with the shaman and even a hunter or two to bring some depth to it all. What was there was incredibly beautiful to look at. Strikingly gorgeous, really! It just got a bit repetitive after the first minute or so. Let's say you can tell where the budget was cut. It should have been more than it was, but given the excellence of the star attraction, as I would discover on our second day at the park, I can give it more of a pass than if it were billed as a major attraction. Looking at the line for the ride, you certainly would think it was one!

I must ask though: What is it about Disney building a new land that is huge but only adding two very short duration attractions to it? There needs to be one more attraction here that is family friendly, somewhat lengthy, and with a high capacity to round it out. At least the similarly sized Cars Land in California Adventure has three attractions to spread out the crowds and other alternatives to the main event. Hopefully, the next few films will be a huge success, and Disney will build additional attractions here. And I hope Disney learns some lessons after the crush of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. 

You have to see if in person to really appreciate it.
The hype is only matched by the actual delivery.

Visually, Pandora itself is a wonder! I found myself staring at those floating mountains just as much as I still do at the Tree of Life! An incredible work of art. Even though Disney really excels at theme park rock work, the star of it all is what is found on the ground. The lovely water features, the plants, the hidden winding paths. It was all here. Everything but wildlife and Na'vi. Everywhere you look, it seems the Imagineers deliver yet another great photo opportunity at every turn and more areas calling to be explored. I could have easily spent a couple of hours here if it was not so crowded.

Layers of depth in design!

Special kudos to the landscape architects and their success in integrating real live plants with those of an alien planet. Many smaller details may have gone unnoticed due to our time constraints, but one seemingly minor aspect I did appreciate was that stroller parking areas were positioned in very carefully selected spots to not destroy the overall show. This made a huge impact. Thoughtful Imagineering at its best. 

The Canteen offered fairly priced and delicious food. The main shop was well designed even though it was jam packed. Let me just say I thought the Banshees were overpriced for what they were. On the other hand, T shirts seemed to be a hot item to purchase, but only a few people seemed to even look at the "turn your image into a Na'vi" Barbie dolls. This was one aspect where I thought the need to outdo Harry Potter seemed very obvious. 

We'd return later that night for an evening look, but next was the Finding Nemo Musical, a journey on Kilimanjaro Safaris, and a ride on my favorite Walt Disney World attraction, Expedition: Everest- or so we thought. 

Beautiful details abound here.

Animal Kingdom's gorgeous design includes wide walkways and layers of detail. The park is just huge! (Walking it amounted to just over 8 miles and approximately 20, 000 footsteps on the first day alone.) The lushly themed jungle has only gotten denser and more beautiful than last time I saw it a decade ago. There's one big difference that I believe the Imagineers weren't prepared for: the unexpected abundance of mobility scooters and some extremely large strollers. 

Now, I am in no way a slight person. In fact, by medical standards, I am considered overweight as is a good portion of my extended family. That said, I could not believe the number of extremely large people in the parks- people much, much larger than we are. The difference a mere decade has made in the general health of the population was difficult to realize. And it's not just Americans or those of a particular race. Nor is it just the elderly or those with special needs you could see. We could not believe the number of young people, some not even teenagers but still so large that they were the only person seated in a ride vehicle meant for two or more. Am I making fun of the heavy set or saying they are not wonderful humans? Absolutely not! We are created in the image of God Himself. Yet, my eyes alone tell me our country is in serious trouble if this trend continues. 

From a guest flow standpoint, all this means ride capacity decreases and crowds feel even more dense as fewer people than ever could comfortably inhabit a walking path. Add all this to the beginning of Summer 2018, the flaws inherent with Fast Pass +, and Disney's lack of serious investment in new attractions in the last decade or so, and you can safely say it was not a relaxing week to tour. 

But there was a problem on the Disney side that made all of it seem even worse than ever.

My wife used to work at Disneyland, and unprompted by me, she also noticed something quite alarming: Many times ride vehicles would go out with multitudes of empty seats. At times three and four in a row and not just single rider spots. Although the Disney cast members were very friendly- and a handful outright excellent- we also noticed many of them had a somewhat disjointed approach at serving park visitors, particularly those who worked at ride loading points. All too often, they were busy speaking to each other about personal issues and not really paying attention to getting guests on the attraction. 

Safari expedition.

Of course, the cast was meticulously "in tune" for the two Pandora attractions, but the first location we noticed the problem was on the still enjoyable and very popular Kilimanjaro Safaris. By the time we reached Africa from Na'vi River Journey, it early afternoon. The area around the new walkway between the two lands was very nicely themed. I loved seeing the Lion King show where it belongs. The crowds were beyond thick, the weather as sweltering as expected, and anticipation was high as we entered the line for the safari. As we got within view of the boarding area, it seemed vehicle after vehicle went out with a large number of empty seats. Bad show and even worse customer service.

In a park with so few attractions and even fewer ones that everyone can ride, your company had better be on the top of its game to keep guests happy. Even with multiple day passes, Disney parks are expensive to visit even for a local.  For those traveling from out of state, expenses stack up faster than the pancakes at Whispering Canyon Cafe. We, the paying customer, have every right to expect a world class, top notch experience. Yet, in this manner, Disney fell short in each of the four parks. (The worst was being seated in a Star Tours vehicle with seven empty seats divided between two rows directly behind me- and the standby line was already beyond reasonable. This was an added insult in a park with only four rides- all less than a couple of minutes at best- and a handful of very outdated theater shows. Sorry, but character meet and greets are not a replacement for attractions, and neither are shows.)

Back to our time at Animal Kingdom. The daytime Safari itself was great, although I miss the original cast members from various African countries. "Joe from Brooklyn" just can't create the same experience and feeling of authenticity. This was followed by the sweet and impressive Finding Nemo the Musical, It's Tough to Be a Bug (now playing only at this park) and then a vain attempt to ride Expedition: Everest

As I said, we ate a late lunch at the air conditioned Pandora canteen and walked back by Everest (no luck). It remained down the rest of the day. 

The queue of Kali River Rapids.

Later on, after checking Everest once again, we settled on a ride down the Kali River Rapids. The queue is more beautiful than the ride itself. It was a fun but scary experience for our four year old granddaughter, and it was over all too quickly for the rest of us. 

The adults and our grandson rode Dinosaur- still a much lesser name than Countdown to Extinction - but a great attraction. Our cute granddaughter was tall enough to go back in time, but she wisely backed out.  Other than the beginning of time travel needing some help and a few minor effects seeming to be out of service, the ride is as thrilling and outright scary as ever! The attraction earned a tentative thumbs up from my grandson. 

Does the ride need Indiana Jones? Probably not, but the resort does! What the land does need is a sweet simple dark ride showing dinosaurs to younger kids without the extreme thrill factor. Think Disneyland's Primeval World without the constant menace. Kids of all ages love dinos, and to not have realistic looking ones available for them is a big mistake on the part of the Company. 

While my daughter, son-in-law and their kids went home, my wife and I decided to stay and see Pandora at night right after taking an early evening safari. We skipped Rivers of Light to make this happen, but we were not in the least bit disappointed. 

Again, photos do not do the place justice.

If AvatarPandora is impressive during the day, it is even more so once the sun sets! We easily spent 30 minutes or so taking more photographs and just walking around exploring the new land. I thought the subtle lighting actually worked well, playing off the entire mystery of the land and seemed to make the sound effects hidden just beyond the vegetation all the more enticing. The place just screams atmosphere! 

"It's a New World" - sing along now!

We were rewarded with a 15 minute wait for our second ride on the river journey, which my wife correctly dubbed "The New Age It's a Small World". It was still a beautiful if slightly short experience, and walking off the ride into the Pandora evening made for a visually stunning and effortless transition back into the "real" world of the film come to life. 


Given we had arrived at the Walt Disney World resort at 3:30am, we chose to depart shortly after our second boat ride in Pandora. We were happily exhausted. I mean, c'mon, we're at Disney World! It was a good first day. Everyone seemed pleased with it overall, and in spite of the obstacles, we all kept cool heads and grateful hearts. 

End of the night  celebration.

We had lots of adventures ahead. The next day would be one I was especially waiting for. A day at Epcot - my favorite parkand I couldn't wait. 

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

June 10, 2018

Looking at Disney World Differently

Just returned a few days ago from a week-long trip to Walt Disney World, my first in almost a decade. Boy, did I see many, many changes! 

I have tons of stories to tell and photos galore. Let's just say I will never look at the Vacation Kingdom of the World in the same way. "Day One" post hits tomorrow.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

June 8, 2018

Pencil Sketch of EPCOT Center's El Rio del Tiempo

From Imagineer Clem Hall, a great pencil sketch for Mexico's classic - and sorely missed- El Rio del Tiempo. When EPCOT Center opened, the countries of World Showcase celebrated their individual cultures and not the Disney character stories that took place in them. This distinction gave the park a fascinating, educational based feel, entertaining guests but also expanding their horizons. 

It was a wonderful plan and could have been maintained had the suits updated attractions with the latest technologies and newest travelogues. But it was not to be. Soon, World Showcase will not only be the home of Frozen Ever After and The Three Caballeros in the Gran Fiesta Tour. Coming soon is Ratatouille and Mary Poppins. More after that without a doubt. If they can shove Guardians of the Galaxy into the park, anything goes. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Sad Look at Karen Carpenter

A very, very, rare and sad photograph of Karen Carpenter. Many folks have commented that she was not in any shape to be promoting her solo disc a few years earlier, but it's clear from this photograph that the beloved singer was in equally bad shape and shouldn't have been on the road to promote their last release before her death, Made in America

A&M Records and Richard Carpenter were no doubt without an idea how to help Karen as she wasted away. She may be gone, but her golden voice lives on forever. I hope a whole new generation discovers the duo's music when Carpenters 50th Anniversary is celebrated next year.

(Photographer unknown.)

June 6, 2018

Japan 2017 Trip Report - Part Five

I apologize for the longer than anticipated installment of my Japan trip. After blazing though the first part featuring Disneysea, I admit to hitting a writer's roadblock when discussing Tokyo Disneyland! Possibly due to similarities to the USA parks, I found it hard to talk about things that haven't been discussed a million times before. Nonetheless, I'm heading out for a week's vacation and wanted to get at least one installment done before I leave. I'll probably pepper this post with a bit more photos than usual, so pardon me for the imbalance of words to pictures.

The first thing that will hit you as you enter into TDL is the roof over World Bazaar (Japan's version of Main Street USA)! It's a serious aberration that breaks the illusion so carefully crafted in the American parks. I understand it was done as a means of dealing with Tokyo weather, but the cost is high. World Bazaar never really recovers from having a ceiling, feeling more like an indoor shopping mall than a stroll down a small town. Once you get over the initial shock, the theming and attention to details on Main Street still retains the high standard set by the Japan parks. There's an abundant amount of Disney performers and cast members here, more so than other areas. It's always a little jarring to watch a performance with cast members speaking in Japanese, but the level of exuberance and energy makes up for the language barrier.

Cast members here are super friendly and helpful, but I would not say that it's a big leap over the states. I was scolded a bit more this time around for not understanding their photography rules better, but that's part of their jobs.  

Christmas decorations are a little more pronounced here as opposed to TDS. The obligatory Christmas Tree stands majestically near the entrance, grabbing a large amount of attention and selfies. Even after park closing, I found it hard to photograph the tree without any people in the shots. I should have taken multiple exposures and manually remove them in post, but I actually don't mind it as it gives a better size perspective. 

The roof definitely has a visual impact on photos, but I do like the texture it gives to the sky (and with Tokyo being overcast much of the time, this can be a good thing). The above image of the cast member holding the "walk" sign reminds me of how the Japanese will initiate a "fast walk/close to running" movement as they enter the parks. The internal struggle between following Japan social rules v.s. the need to get to their destination of choice as fast as possible is quite amusing. In America, guests will pretty much run full tilt, disregarding pleas of safety from cast members...LOL!

Main street stores have the same attention to detail one expects, but there seems to be a little something "extra" when it comes to the window displays. Can't quite put my finger on it, but I sense a little more pride and personal touch coming from the artists and set designers. 

One of my favorite places to eat at World Bazaar is the Center Street Coffee House. I found it quite by accident during my first visit in 2002 (internet wasn't quite up to snuff and info on TDL was very difficult to find). My first meal there was for breakfast and I had ordered a set menu consisting of a Mickey waffle, eggs, and a yogurt. After taking a bite, I immediately wanted to order an extra yogurt...never having tasted something so creamy, smooth, and delicious. I called over the waitress and asked her for another serving, followed by a look of bewilderment on her face. She could not understand someone wanting to order an extra of something on the menu and ended up asking another waitress, who called the manager, and proceeded to have a mini conference. After much debate, they informed me that they would have to charge me extra. Totally embarrassed by all the fuss, I smiled and said "Wakarimasu" (I understand in English). I've made it a point to always eat at Center Street whenever I visit, but I now stick to the menu and abolish any thoughts of special orders!

All photographs copyright 2018 by Len Yokoyama

To be continued...

Flying Time

There's a reason why the old adage is used. Time really does go by very, very quickly! And God is good. Absolutely.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

June 5, 2018


Jesus often comes in a manner we don’t expect. The people of his day looked for and wanted the Savior to come in a way they would easily understand. As with us, their preconceived ideas flavored their vision.

The 12 Disciples of Jesus soon discovered that He was not:
1- A Political Ruler:  Some were looking for a new political empire- because they were oppressed. They wanted a King to free them.
2- A New Set of Rules to Follow:  The Pharisees and Sadducees had trained people to expect a religious system of laws- because they desired to be holy but didn't understand God's grace and goodness.
3- An Intellectual Exercise: Greeks often expected a great philosopher- because they wanted one more option to tickle their minds.  
4- A Lifestyle:  People thought they could believe the right way but go on living the life they already were living. Very common train of thought, one the Apostle Paul had to address in his letter to the church in Corinth.

Comparing people of that time to people today, it’s very easy to see where we are alike.

In practice versus what we say we believe:
We sometimes live as if the right political party in power will bring God’s Kingdom.
We sometimes live as if following the Law will gain us entry into Heaven.
We sometimes live as if Christianity is one more philosophy to be considered.
We sometimes live as if Christianity is a lifestyle that will fulfill us without requiring anything from us.

I'm so guilty of this all the time! Are you? We often live like a Pharisee tied to the law, but also live like a Sadducee who believed there was no resurrection of the dead- and therefore no judgment.

Eventually, the Disciples of Jesus discovered that He was:
God in the flesh, the perfect and complete payment for their sins.
The One who Desired People from All Nations and Races would know Him.
The Savior and Lord who told them to:
     1- Give Up Everything to follow Him
     2- Think differently than people of the world
     3- Do The Work of His Kingdom at home, nearby, and all over the world

The Commandment and The Mission for all of us. Jesus came to the earth in a manner they didn’t expect- and the Religious Leaders Hated Him. They tried to trap Him. The Pharisees, those who made The Law a burden for the people, questioned Jesus:

Matthew 22:36-40      36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus responds with the the best "Mission Statement" ever recorded.   What God intended to fulfill through Abraham would also happen through them.
    We remember “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”.
    Do we remember “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”? It’s a command, not a request.
   “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Teaching and relationship always follow evangelism.
   “I am with you always.”  Jesus Himself is with us as we go about the Work He’s Given!

And in Acts 1:8- He sends us out in the power of the Holy Spirit!  We don’t have to go out in our own strength!

Point #1-  As Christians, We are “On Mission” Whether We Accept It or Not

There's a Few Lessons to be learned here from the Early Church. “Can you imagine the Disciples task? The whole world was lost following other gods!”

Look at the Book of Acts 15: 1-3. Here's the context of the story:It’s about 50 AD- the new church had established itself, building momentum… and experiencing growing pains. Paul and Barnabas go out, fulfilling Jesus’ Greatest Commandments- Love God and Love Your Neighbor. Acts Chapter 14 ends with Paul and Barnabas at Antioch telling stories of what God accomplished through them and how the Gentiles were coming to faith. In studying the Bible, we discover there’s real people, real believers with real stories. They also share real joys and real trials- even within the church. Examples we can learn from and be challenged by.

Acts 15: 1-3    1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 
2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem  to the apostles and the elders about this question. 
3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.”  

(This is no small feat. Antioch was about 300 miles north of Jerusalem- 15 to 20 days of walking. Tough journey!) What’s happening here?

Gentiles are coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Everyone’s excited- almost. Paul and Barnabas confront those who loved the Jewish rules and regulations more than the freedom Jesus brings!  Were they Racist? Nationalistic? Control Freaks? Or did they just want only a few people to fit into their exclusive club?  How will this get resolved?

Point #2 - Being on Mission is Costly for Both Individuals and the Church

It's always exciting but being "On Mission" comes at a price for both us as people and for the local church. For individuals- first, It means we must die to our gods of comfort, control, and fear. Thankfully, Jesus, the Twelve Disciples, the Apostle Paul and the Early Church wasn't too concerned about their safety and comfort! 
Being on mission also challenges the local church. First, It means we must align our goals, vision, and resources to what God deems of value- not bowing down to tradition or culture. We must Worship God, Equip Believers for the Work of the Ministry, Evangelize and Disciple a Lost World. This means we don’t take on the form of our culture, but we work as God intends to transform it!

Next, the status quo is challenged!  If you’re like me, change is hard! We like to order our lives, run it by a schedule. Meet our obligations and use our free time for chasing after our interests. It brings us the illusion of control- But it can also take our eyes off what God desires for us and where He wants to use us. We like our church in the same way.  We can find ourselves saying “We’ve always done it this way!” or “It’s tradition” – equating old methods with Godliness- when some issues are “Value Neutral”. Pursuit and especially Success in spiritual matters also brings disagreement. Relationships get strained. Paul and Barnabas later part ways in verse 39 over a disagreement about John Mark- another passionate servant of God! In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul has to challenge those who focus on following one person over another- Paul? Apollos? Cephas? (I Corinthians 1). We Believers can insist on what divides the church based on our preferences and biases instead of God’s Word.

Charles Spurgeon, great British preacher of the 1800’s writes in The Soul Winner:
“…our grand object is not the revision of opinions, but the regeneration of our natures. We would bring men to Christ and not to our own peculiar views of Christianity. Our first care must be that the sheep should be gathered to the great Shepherd”

Our pride can get in the way! We want recognition; we love status; we want importance. Our sin gets exposed because we don’t get what we want (James 4). Our self-focused Human nature causes us to take our eyes off the good things God is doing. Ultimately, we can miss the blessing God intends.

Our world is changing! In contrast to decades past, North America and Europe are no longer the center of Christianity.

According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, as of November 2017, 41 percent (228M of all 560M) Protestant Christians live in Africa. (That will be 53% by 2050.) More than 2.5 times as many in Europe and almost 4 times as many as in North America.

Asia is number two with almost 100 million. (Mostly found in China and in the underground church.) 86 countries prohibit or restrict Western missionaries. (from Yohannan, Come Let's Reach the World, pg. 31). More Christians have been killed for their faith over the past 100 years than in the previous 19 centuries combined. Every five minutes a Christian is martyred for the faith.   (Source: Christianity Today)

From Barna, the famous Christian research firm:

In 1993, 90% of the people who considered themselves to be followers of Jesus said it was their individual responsibility to share their faith (The Gospel) with the unsaved world.

Twenty five years later, in 2018, the pendulum has swung- now… 29% say it is the job of the paid professionals of the local church to share the Gospel and not their personal responsibility. That's one third of all believers who feel it's not their job to share their faith. This means there’s a noticeable shift from Believers personally sharing Jesus to now inviting friends to church to hear about Him.  But our responsibility to share the Gospel and make disciples hasn’t changed.

Our Resources- If you earn Colorado’s minimum wage, you are now in the Top 3% of the richest people in the world! From a training and resource standpoint, the US has 90% of the world’s pastors, teachers, and ministry leaders… approximately 85% of the world's churches are led by someone with no training.

Let's go to the next segment in Acts 15: 4-12

4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” 6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” 12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

They go back to Jerusalem, tell the stories of all God has done, and encounter the same response.  

Verses 13-21 end with the decision that believers in Jesus Christ are not saved by their works but by faith in Him alone. What can we learn?

Point #3 – We Must Patiently Work Together for the Sake of the Message

Peter reminds the believers of their shortcomings and God’s goodness (verses 10 and 11). Our history may determine our outlook and how we treat others. But how does it square with Scripture? It can be hard to offer Biblical grace when all you’ve been taught is law. The opposite is true as well.

All of us who now believe were unbelievers at some point in time.  (I Corinthians 6:9-11) We need to allow others to grow in their newly found faith as they begin their relationship with Jesus and with the people found in the local church, 

Can you remember what Jesus saved you from and why you deserved Hell? If not, I’d look deep and ask myself if I really am a Disciple of Jesus. If so, remember the lightness of heart and freedom and forgiveness you knew when you first came to Him!  

Point #4 - Obedience to His Call Brings Him Glory – the First Job of a Believer

Those who go out into the world often see God work in powerful ways- and often through them! He never expects us too do spiritual work through human effort alone. His Holy Spirit empowers those people who go out and do the work of God's Kingdom in His name. Being on mission means we are called to die. 

Christianity is Not a Sanitized Version of American Dream! Think about this again-

As Christians, We are "On Mission" Whether We Accept It or Not.
Being on Mission is Costly for Both Individuals and the Church.
We Must Patiently Work Together for the Sake of the Message.
Obedience to His Call Brings Him Glory – the First Job of a Believer.

Last verse to consider-   Colossians 3:1-4  
3 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Jesus often comes to us in a manner in which we don’t expect.

AW Tozer- the famous American preacher from the first half of the 1900’s wrote this – found in a compilation of his sermons called Rut, Rot, or Revival:
“I would say to you who are wondering about the Spirit filled life: If you just want to be happy, and nothing else, you had better steer away from the Spirit filled life. The same Holy Spirit who will give you joy will also allow you to share His burdens and griefs.”

Brothers and Sisters, we were created for His Glory- and His Sons and Daughters come from the ends of the earth!   (Isaiah 43:6-7, Ephesians 1:11-12, I Corinthians 10:31)

Who will work in the fields? Who will evangelize? Who will teach, support, and instruct?

Change is happening in America.  God is also bringing the nations to us- and many people will return to their home countries. We’ve got great opportunities before us, here at home and overseas.

How is Jesus coming to you in a manner you don't expect? The bigger question is "How will you respond?"