July 31, 2017

The Best Haunted Mansion Article Ever

Got to interrupt this regularly scheduled article! This new post on the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland is certainly one of the best, if not the best, I have ever seen! If you are a lover of the attraction and if you appreciate unseen, rare, concept art, go to this article on the Long-Forgotten blog now. Really! Go!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

From the Jungle Cruise to Western River Expedition

One of the first generation of Imagineers, Marc Davis has placed his stamp on many classic beloved attractions at Disneyland and consequently, Walt Disney WorldThis sweet little piece of concept art for the Jungle Cruise reveals how skilled the artist was at conveying emotion and adventure in a fairly simple pen and watercolor piece. 

This investment in the park was one of many that would come to fruition, including the now extinct America Sings. One beloved project did not make it off the drawing boards.

Marc's masterpiece, Western River Expedition, much to his dismay, was never built in Florida's Magic Kingdom. History suggests public outcry over no Pirates of the Caribbean and an extremely overextended budget contributed to its cancellation. Of course part of the overall Thunder Mesa complex did make it to the park much later, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and it became a beloved instant classic. So did a piece of it at EPCOT Center's World of Motion and even a slice showed up decades later in the design of Disneyland Paris

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Cousins Just Wanna Have Fun

Full of love and laughter- all captured here in a Kodak moment! Oh, to be that young and innocent again!

July 30, 2017

A Slice of Disneyland

Bit of a Sunday Special- a nice piece of rarely seen concept art for Walt's original magic kingdom, Disneyland. With the Disneyland railroad and the Mark Twain back in operation, it just seemed like a good time to look back at this vintage / retro rendering of the park  from Imagineering. It's larger than it looks, so make sure you click on it to see it in the biggest size possible.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 28, 2017

Casey Jr. in the USA and France

In the early years of Imagineering Disneyland, gifted artist Bruce Bushman was one of Walt Disney's "go to" guys. Bruce could be counted on for getting just the right look for an attraction. Much of his concept art centered on Fantasyland. This great little piece shows the wonderful Casey Jr. Circus Train station, looking much like it still does today 60+ years later. 

The little train is still a guest favorite! Unknown to many American park fans, little Casey Jr. is actually a family friendly rollercoaster at Disneyland Paris. Instead of an unthemed Goofy's Barnstormer or an elaborate but brief Seven Dwarf's Mine Train, Casey is a fun little ride through the French version of Storybookland

Unfortunately, in Walt Disney World, where it would fit perfectly in the Magic Kingdom's newish Storybook Circus, Casey sits as kind of a watering hole / play and splash area. What wasted potential for the sweet little family favorite!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 27, 2017

The Failure and Relaunch of Mission:Space- and What Could Have Been

Today, Disney officially but not outright acknowledges the failure of Mission: Space in its original incarnation. The plan to duplicate the attraction at Disneyland and at other parks has long fallen by the wayside as the first simulator never really took off with park guests. I've done both versions, and there's a reason many park guests avoid the more intense side.

Epcot has long had and needed an attraction focusing on the space race and travel to other planets. 

Spaceship Earth, part of the original EPCOT Center, once ended with a spectacular finale as riders descended down the track to complete their journey into the sphere. All without the gimmick of putting your cartoon version in it.

Amazing in full size. Click on it!

The original plan for a Space pavilion promised a flight to outer space and not just a simulation. Look at this concept art and dream. Expensive and unbuilt- like many abandoned projects left on the drawing boards.

Looks cool, right?

Even cooler!

But back to present day. By making the "Green" mission now available for smaller children, it is a win-win. A bit of Soarin' in a new format. And it will certainly be needed as the long to be revitalized Universe of Energy aka Ellen's Energy Adventure is closed and put to rest. The more intense "Orange" version will stay the same but with new imagery to drive the story. Although it's not what could have been, I must say I like the plan. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Father and Son

Today is my Dad's birthday, so I thought I'd go back a bit and reflect on what it has meant to be his son. Here's a revealing photo: Father and son together on graduation day. If you look beyond the perms and the ugly orange decor (sorry it's the 70's here), you'll notice one of us is smiling and the other is not. So typical of what is was like in my home.

My smile was forced. I didn't like him anymore than he liked me, but we had to take this picture to commemorate the event. It'd be easy to chalk it all up to the choices he made a la Harry Chapin's awful Cat's in the Cradle. Or even Cat Stevens' less grating but still piercing Father and Son. But the truth is always more complex than a simple song will describe.

My poor Dad lost his dad at age 13, certainly the wrong time in a young man's life to face such a painful event. His Mom went back to work, leaving he and his younger sister to grieve while she did the best she could providing for the family. Thankfully, a kind and wonderful uncle stepped in and loved on them in place of their father. But of course, it wasn't enough. 

Discovering a time of intimacy with my young mother of 16 - and he was barely 18- resulted in me, an unplanned pregnancy, this threw the family in turmoil. Being raised strict Catholic and also due to the fortunate fact that abortions were not that easy to come by, my mother never chose to abort or run away or be sent away as sometimes was the case. I survived and my parents, young but deeply in love, married shortly before my birth.

All this put my Dad in a difficult place. But he pushed on to provide for his new family. Hard work and success were the ticket of the day- and after many, many years of struggling, working multiple jobs at the same time, and very big lifestyle changes (such as moving to California), my dad finally hit pay dirt around the time I was a Junior in High School. They entered a season of prosperity but the cost was high: He had minimal relationship with me and only slightly more with my sister.

However- as bad of a dad as he was in many ways, he was an excellent husband. It took time for me to see this, and I eventually noticed, learning what it meant to be one. In the larger picture, this served me very well! 

My Mom and Dad. Still married
and still in love after 6 decades together.

At the age of 39, he watched his 19 year old son place his faith in Jesus Christ. The changes in my life were so profound, hope and joy replaced depression, that he soon found himself making the same decision weeks later. His life totally changed as well. From that point on, it was a fresh beginning for both of us! I started to see him and how he lived in an entirely different way. (And I finally understood sacrifice for the sake of your family.) It took time, but now I am happy to say we have a great friendship as two men who love and support each other. Who would have guessed? 

So, Happy Birthday Dad! I love you so much and have so much respect for you! And I thank God for allowing you to be my father and my friend.

July 26, 2017

Art for Hong Kong Disneyland Brings Questions Then Answers

Long, long, ago, I was "gifted" with this piece of concept art for an attraction at the soon to open Hong Kong Disneyland. It never materialized as was the case with major portions of the park.

With it came the questions. What exactly it was for? Was it intended for a hybrid of a couple of attractions that never made it past the drawing boards of the Imagineers? To my eyes, it seemed to be Raging Spirits from Tokyo DisneySea - which in itself is a remix on the Indiana Jones coaster at Disneyland Paris - meets the infamous ferocious Carnatour from Countdown to Extinction/ Dinosaur from Disney's Animal Kingdom?

More questions. Was the attraction scheduled to go into the lush, dense outdoor jungles of Adventureland or was it meant for an indoor weather-proofed warehouse a la Indiana Jones? Maybe a combination like what was originally proposed for the dinosaur area at Animal Kingdom? (Found in my "Disney's Animal Kingdom: A True Life Adventure" series.)

Then reader Randy Savage had an answer. It was part of the original plan for Hong Kong Disneyland in an Adventureland that contained an outdoor attraction with Audio-Animatronic dinosaurs. It is found on the concept art map for the park in the book "More Making the Magic Real". 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 25, 2017

California Imam Asks for Allah to "Annihilate the Jews"

So the leader of the local mosque in California asks Allah to "annihilate the Jews"?  (See article here.) This is unacceptable. This is religious tolerance from the extreme side of Islam? Watch it for yourself below.

I have Muslim friends. They do not act or talk like this. And yet this imam with authority of the local people speaks out in this manner? Where is the ACLU now? Why aren't they protesting hate speech such as this? I do not understand the liberal media's fascination and acceptance of radical Islam. If you look into it yourself, you will not stand behind hate talk such as this or those who do.

July 24, 2017

The Night I Met Karen Carpenter

Long time readers of this blog or those who share on the A&M Corner discussion boards have never really read the story of me meeting my favorite vocalist: Karen Carpenter. Until recently, I never even thought that I hadn't told the story, but in researching for this post, I discovered I shared a bit of it as part of my review of one of their live albums.

The year was 1976, just shortly after the release of the Carpenters'  "A Kind of Hush", a soft and sweet pop confection that wasn't the highlight of their career (perhaps even, sadly, marking the beginning of their less than stellar chart performance in the latter half of the 70s), but it quickly became a sentimental disc for more than a few reasons.  

I was finally of the age to go to Las Vegas, and I knew the duo would be performing at the Riviera Hotel in July. Living only a 5 hour drive away, it wasn't a tough job to convince my sister to go with me. It's a good thing I did as she is the one that got us backstage. But that part of the story comes later.

Reservations booked to stay at the hotel and for two shows. The dinner and late night show the first evening, and the return home on the second. Besides the expected clothing choices I packed, there were two very important pieces I just had to bring: my trusty camera to document it all and a "Cooking for Two" cookbook I had planned to give Miss Carpenter. Just in case.

The opening act.

Looking back now, perhaps the duo and their management in particular had learned a bit from the unfortunate debacle with singer Neil Sedaka the previous year, Karen and Richard's opening act was comedian David Brenner. I do not remember much about him except the fact that his monologue was filthy. Funny, yes, but filthy- and I'm no prude. I grew up on late night television and watched Johnny Carson regularly with my grandmother. Probably I can't recall much as I wasn't there to see him. I could hardly wait for Karen to grace the stage.

Rather than recount the song list, which was remarkably similar to what appeared on Live at The Palladium (reviewed by me here), I'll focus on the evening itself. 

We weren't seated in the best seats, but I bravely tipped for a better one- and much to my surprise, it worked. We had a fairly good view of all the action to come. I could hardly stand it. I have to thank my sister for being so patient with me while I had total geek out moments all night.

Starting with the voiceover announcing Richard and the swell of the opening music, it was time for the real show to begin. He walked out confidently to a good amount of applause, and then he took a modest bow and his place at the piano. As "Flat Baroque" gave way to "Only Yesterday", my heart pounded as I heard Karen's voice while she was offstage. When she walked out on stage, the crowd erupted with applause and even a few hoots and hollers. This lasted who quite awhile, making it pretty clear that in the public's mind, Karen was the star. How hard that must have been for Richard night after night! 

The opening words of "There's a Kind of Hush" came playfully from Karen once we had all quieted down. Her extended phrasing on the words "all over the world" proved she could milk that line for all its worth. It was sensual and enticing, creating an intimacy with the audience and making it feel as if only two people were in the room. This is something Peter Noone from Herman's Hermits would never have been able to pull off. (Love their stuff and their version of "Hush", but c'mon.) What a great way to begin the song! After hearing her sing this song live, I wished she and Richard would have done the same treatment of it on the album version of "Hush". Imagine having two versions- the 45 as it was and the differing "Vegas" arrangement. Had it been 1978 and not 1976, to do this this type of slow start would have been all the range a la Donna Summer's version of Last Dance

Anyway... if any of my close friends or family had ever doubted I was a Carpenters fan before, my sister was there to tell them as of that night, there would never be a doubt. Not only was Karen lovely, she was quite the performer. Regardless of all the great music and showmanship that came after this, I could never really take my eyes off her the rest of the night. Every time I listen to "Palladium", I get that same rush. It's instantly yesterday once more. 

One listen, and I'm back in Vegas...

Following it with a delicate and heartfelt version of "I Need to Be in Love" proved Karen was every bit as gifted in person as she was in the studio. Since this is really isn't an album review, I'll stop here. (But let me say the infamous Grease medley was a lot of fun to watch in person!) 

Between performances, we walked out of the showroom. Then came concert number two- as precisely perfect and an exact copy of the first one. I walked out dazed, so impressed with the talent of my favorite duo. Then the unexpected happened. 

A bit of Grease pre-Olivia and Travolta- and a lot of falsies.

God bless her- my sister had the guts to ask the security guard if we could meet Karen and Richard backstage. He left, and we waited. As thrilled as I was to see Karen and Richard in concert, I would never expect I would get to meet them. Returning with an affirmative answer, we followed him backstage. I just panicked inside. What if my favorite singer was rude or uninterested? I'd be heartbroken.

As it turned out, thankfully, my fears were unfounded. Karen was down to earth and friendly. I noticed how small and thin she was, but she did not look unhealthy. I remember thinking she was much prettier in person, beautiful really, more than any photograph could capture. 

We spoke briefly with her, Karen asking if we enjoyed the show and me thanking her for the music. I was surprisingly untongue-tied. I remember sharing my favorite songs with her, mentioning "I Need to Be in Love" and "Solitaire".  She smiled politely, and said she was glad I enjoyed it. I handed her the gift, and she thanked me. It seemed as if she was genuinely touched by my generosity and thoughtfulness. But in comparison, what could I give the woman who gave me so many hours of listening pleasure?  

Bummer of the night? I had no film left in my camera as I has used all my shots for the evening's performances! After a few more words with Karen, we walked by Richard, who was sitting in a room. He briefly waved and then returned to business matters- and the many women who were waiting around him. My sister and I were then escorted out to the hallway from which we entered. 

I was dazed, surprised, and oddly affected. Perhaps at peace knowing my favorite vocalist was a lovely and kind, real live woman. The most important piece of the night would come a year later when Karen would be used to introduce me to Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

(Top photo copyright Andre Csillag / Rex Features)

Microchipping People in Wisconsin

Planting microchips under the skin of people? Already happening at this Wisconsin company. Three Square Market has plans. And they won't be the last. 

USA Today reports:

"Welcome to the future? 
A Wisconsin technology company is offering its employees microchip implants that can be used to scan into the building and purchase food at work. Whether or not to get a chip is up to the employee to decide.
Three Square Market, a company that provides technology for break-room or micro markets, has over 50 employees who plan to have the devices implanted, KSTP-TV reported. The tiny chip, which uses RFID technology or Radio-Frequency Identification, can be implanted between the thumb and forefinger "within seconds," according to a statement from the company.
"It's the next thing that's inevitably going to happen, and we want to be a part of it," Three Square Market Chief Executive Officer Todd Westby told the station. 
The company, which is based in River Falls, Wisc., envisions the rice-sized micro chip allowing employees to easily pay for items, access the building and their computers all with a scan of their hand. 
"We foresee the use of RFID technology to drive everything from making purchases in our office break room market, opening doors, use of copy machines, logging into our office computers, unlocking phones, sharing business cards, storing medical/health information, and used as payment at other RFID terminals," Westby said in a company statement. "Eventually, this technology will become standardized allowing you to use this as your passport, public transit, all purchasing opportunities, etc." 
And while microchipping employees may sound like something out of a horror film, the company is partnering with Swedish company BioHax International, which already has many "chipped" employees. 
Employees are not required to get the microchips, and Westby told the station there is no GPS tracking. "
Planting microchips under the skin of people (already happening, see below) screams a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.  Is this the beginning of the infamous "Mark of the Beast" foretold by the Apostle John in Revelation 13: 11-18?

"The Beast out of the Earth
11 Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. 14 Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.

18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666."

Makes perfect sense to me that this type of technology would first be marketed and used for good. But then, everything used for good can also be used for evil. 

July 21, 2017

An Evening in Disneyland Paris

Dreaming tonight of a visit to Disneyland Paris! Right now, its only in my dreams...

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Quick Visit to Amsterdam

As someone who has to travel for a portion of my job, there are times it is a drag- and there are times when I am surprised by the unexpected opportunities that come my way. Such was this trip! 

God took what was an unfortunate schedule and turned it into a brief but delightful layover in Amsterdam. I had never been to the Netherlands before, so a several hour layover gave me just enough time to sample a very small taste of the city. 

Central Train Station and the loading dock for a canalboat tour.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect although I knew a bit about the city from my own reading, guidebooks, and an occasional look at it from travel programs on television. Flying over the city in preparation for landing gave me my first look at the numerous canals and waterways. Something very charming and different was waiting to be discovered!

My photos are certainly not the quality of those by my friend and fellow blogger Len Yokoyama, but they at at least give you a small picture of what can be found just moments from the main train station, Central Station, about 15 minutes from the airport.

Exiting the train station very, very early on a Monday morning, I wandered out about 6-7 blocks into the city. The architecture of the buildings caught me off guard by how uniquely different they are compared to other parts of Europe. Quite a beautiful mix of styles and colors! Some structures tilted slightly due to normal wear and change of the water levels in the canals over the years. The old cobblestone walkways varied as well, making sure I had to watch where I was walking. 

The Salvation Army building.

Amsterdam, like any big city, provides home to a variety of people and landmarks, most co-existing peacefully even among a variety of philosophies, cultures and lifestyles. The century old beautiful Salvation Army building, above, exists just minutes away from this more recently erected small statue (below) that is an ode to the prostitutes found throughout the city. 

Small statue honoring the city's sex workers. 

I had purposely chosen to avoid the infamous Red Light District, so I was surprised to come across this piece of art on the other side of town. Such is the mix of services and landmarks found side by side in the city. During my walk, it was not uncommon to find a charming cafe next to a "coffee" shop, next to a souvenir shop, next to a small cultural building of interest, next to a sex shop displaying the latest clothing in latex and leather as well as the newest sex toys for sale. 

Charming cafes everywhere!

Unfortunately, the canal tours were later in the day, way past the time I would need to be at the airport for my connecting flights. The Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House were also not open, nor were they even close to where I was able to walk. Even if I could have, I doubt either would be available last minute in the high season of Summer. Perhaps next time.

Inside the airport's main terminal.

By the time I began to head back to the airport, the city seemed to come to life. I came across a large group of bicyclists heading deeper into the city, men in large trucks gathering trash, and most surprisingly, a car emerging onto one of the side streets via an underground automobile elevator that brought the vehicle up to street level from some parking garage below. Fascinating stuff!

If my wife and I have an opportunity for another trip to Europe, I'll certainly suggest we add a few days in Amsterdam. It would be hard to give up time in our beloved Paris to do so, but I was a bit fascinated by this city of canals and contradictions. 

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

July 20, 2017

Paddling Upstream

 "You're going upstream against the current. Keep going. Don't stop. Jesus is behind you, and He is pleased. Ahead of you, there's a big tree where you'll see lots of fruit soon." 

These were the words of a friend who recently came by on July 12 and wanted to pray for me. What a refreshing word from God! 

May I be able to continue on this very unique path. By God's strength, anything is possible (Philippians 4:13). May God be honored in this journey. 

"If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen."  I Peter 4:11

July 17, 2017

EPCOT's Other World Showcase

As Epcot transitions into Magic Kingdom 2.0, it seems as if Animal Kingdom will become the new World Showcase with its emphasis on natural environments and culturally based food and music. (Or in the case of Pandora, the Otherworld Showcase.) Yet, us long time fans of the original EPCOT Center know it was not supposed to play out that way. The archives of Imagineering are studded with concept art for new countries waiting to be added.

How many, you say? Israel, Equatorial Africa, Russia, Switzerland, Venezuela, Spain and the Philippines were all ready to go each at various levels of development. Philippines? Yes, that beautiful Southeast Asian country made up of over 7,000 islands was once on the books- and here is the concept art to show it. 

Looking closely at this piece, some unique elements are easily seen, but did you notice the Epcot guests upstairs in the second level? There are not too many pavilions in which you can go upstairs unless it is to dine in one of the many restaurants. 

Not much more is known about what was planned for the Philippine showcase, but certainly this addition would have brought a nice change of pace from the other more familiar Asian nations represented. Truth is, in all these years since opening, almost any new country added to Epcot would have been a plus. That long list of potential additions would have easily made Epcot a three day park. So much for the past. Change is coming, and like it or not, it's long overdue.

(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 10, 2017

We are the Reason Epcot is Changing

Here are the hard, cold facts: EPCOT Center ceased to exist years ago, and Epcot as we know it is about to change again. 

The character invasion of recent years is now the suits' plan for its future, be it Ratatouille in France, Coco in Mexico, or even more Disney film characters in Future World to go alongside Nemo in the Living Seas. The two true unique characters designed specifically for the park, most interestingly, Dreamfinder and Figment, are being left to rot in the now embarrassing Journey into Imagination with Figment. 

Fans are blaming the suits at the Walt Disney Company for this change, and in many ways, they would be correct in doing so. Always responsible to shareholders of the company to turn a profit, they must act to ensure that should grow much larger year after year. Guest experiences are now added in ways that are designed to extract cash from the buying public, from the lowest end customer who can afford a single day at the theme park of their choice to those on the other end of the spectrum, rich guests needing the ill-advised cabanas in the Magic Kingdom (thankfully now long gone) or the $15k meal at Disneyland in the former Disney Gallery space. 

Satisfying investors is the new bottom line of the last 40 years or so. Altruism no longer exists, at least in the corporate world, unless its to gain favor in the minds of consumers. Granted, Walt Disney himself ran a company as well and had to account for his sound business practices to brother Roy, but he kept the satisfaction of the guest foremost in his mind. Certainly, a respected form of altruism.

Still, the business folk are not the only reason change is coming to Florida's second Disney theme park. In addition to the changes in corporate America, I assert that we primarily have ourselves to blame. 

Yes, it is our fault Epcot is changing. Why? As a people, we've changed. We've wandered from the original vision which was established for the park as inscribed on the dedication plaque:

To all who come to this place of Joy, Hope and Friendship - Welcome.
EPCOT is inspired by Walt Disney's 
creative vision. 
Here, human achievements are celebrated through imagination, wonders of enterprise  and concepts 
of a future that promises new 
and exciting benefits for all.
May EPCOT Center entertain, inform and inspire
 and above all, 
may it instill a new sense of belief and pride 
in man's ability to shape a world
that offers hope to people everywhere.

The EPCOT Center that opened in 1982 was built to educate, inform, and inspire and instill pride in man's ability to shape a hopeful world. What was the inspiration? The wonders of this incredible world. Wonders of exploring not only what could be designed by the most gifted of human minds (Transportation, Energy, Communication) but also of those designed by an even bigger creator, worlds created by one infinite in wisdom and power (The Living Seas, The Land, The Wonders of Life, Space). An exciting world awaiting exploration laid out by the Ultimate Imagineer. A world also given to us to nurture and steward.

Now, bear with me here. Especially those of you who have not explored any world of faith or who have and have rejected the thought of a Creator. (I'm not going into that argument. I'm sticking with my original point that it is because of us that the park must change, so please keep reading.) Here's the logic:

The Disney suits follow the dollar. That's their job. It's what we pay them to do. Yet the changes at Epcot all begin with us. Every time we enter the parks, buy merchandise, or view the latest slice of filmed or live entertainment, we are telling the suits at Disney what we want and how much of it we want. When we stopping buying, they rethink their approach and their products. It really is that simple. And what do we want now? We want to be entertained. 

By and large, we no longer want to be the investors in our world and contributors to making it better. We just want to consume. We have looked away from our intended purpose which began with God in stewarding His beautiful creation. Boy, lest you think I'm pointing fingers, I want you to know I struggle with this! It's way easier to kick back and relax than it is to work hard to make a difference. It goes even deeper.

Since you and I have moved away from giving God the credit for His creation and/or accepting the roles He gave us, we instead look to man for fulfillment and answers. We're no longer fascinated by the fact we can have 1- Infinite worlds to explore, 2- An opportunity for a relationship with the Infinite Creator God, and finally, 3- a responsibility to positively impact the world we live in. This covers the gamut from caring for creation to protecting the rights of the most vulnerable of people. We have shifted our focus, so business has shifted their focus in order to make a profit from us.

We humans (park guests and the Imagineers that create attractions) have moved from being inspired by God's creation and the gifts He has given mankind. Instead, we rely on broken and selfish people to fill us and make us happy. Eventually, this brings us to a place of discouragement and general hopelessness when our plans fail or when the people we look to let us down. 

It's even more of a downward spiral when it comes to purchasing products.  The goal of the advertising agency is to get us to buy and keep buying. Isn't this the true goal of marketing? To make us unhappy without the product they are selling? Then to also make sure that we are never thankful for what we do have, keeping us prone to buy more. It's a vicious cycle.

When people or products fail to create long term fulfillment, we look for something else or for something within ourselves. We begin idolizing our own capabilities, strengths, and seemingly limitless potential, instead of giving the honor to God who created us and the world we live in. The trade off is emptiness because we often disappoint ourselves. Sometimes that is the worst of all to handle.

Due to our self-focus and our humanism, despair engulfs us as we look around and see man's plans fail. Even men with good solid other-centered goals. Why? Because men desire different things. Even good things can be in conflict with each other because priorities are different from person to person.

Rulers of nations view life differently, some good and some evil. Common people have differing values, so my plans may conflict with your plans. The result of all this tension? We get frustrated, angry, and burned out. Or on a global scale, war replaces peace as men strive to get what they want. Everyday there are new battles being fought in the streets among conflicting groups and ideologies. All this tires our souls and damages our spirits.

Sooner or later, we decide we've had enough. Our desire for comfort becomes the primary focus of our lives, bringing with it increasing desire to just be entertained and taken into worlds different than the one we have (talking Cars, magical princesses, Star Wars, etc). The Walt Disney Company has data compiled over generations telling the suits what we want so they can sell it to us. 

You and I can go into a movie theater after a grueling day, and we can walk out a few hours later feeling happy and fulfilled because we've forgotten our real life situation. Isn't this true? I know it is for me. For some of us, we go even further and decide we want to live there full time. It's why we love the theme parks. It's why a place like EPCOT Center has an incredible fan base from folks that experienced its greatness in the early years. We left the park not only happy but hopeful for that great big beautiful tomorrow. Who wouldn't want to experience that again and again?

The problem with this phony lifestyle of entertainment is It only temporarily satisfies us. So we lavish high praise on what man has created and desire to live in that place, keeping the real world safely, quietly, in the background.  When addicted to it, our entertainment becomes our prison because we trade in a very real and exciting world for one that is imaginary. We trade what's best for what is less than what we can have. 

A constant life of fantasy (or Fantasyland) is good for no one.

"On the Tombstone of America, the inscription will read: They Entertained Themselves To Death." - Leonard Ravenhill

Let that sink in. This quote above, by the renowned English pastor, applies not only to America as a nation but us as individuals. 

Back to Epcot. All our love of and addiction to entertainment and imaginary worlds is why the park is changing.  We're no longer enthralled with science and nature and new discoveries. Nor are we fascinated by the God that created it all- which leaves us looking to ourselves and others. The cycle of emptiness continues as looking to others will never fulfill our human hearts. 

It's probably too late for the direction of Epcot, but not for us. When we honor Him and reflect on who He is and what He has done, our world becomes filled with wonder, joy, thankfulness, and hope. The more we look to God, the more we become who we were intended to be- beautiful and unique individuals all reflecting His glory. With this freedom and true self, we become inspired. We want to go deeper with Him, know more about Him and the world He created. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 6, 2017

Man to Man

It's time for a real man to man conversation. That doesn't mean one that brings us to punches or a shouting match. What it means is it's time to get serious about how we live our lives. It means it's time to lovingly challenge each other to live what we believe. For us who choose to follow Jesus, it means it's time to get serious about the what and whys of our faith and put aside the trappings of this very temporary life.

When we look through the book of Acts, we see how God moved powerfully in calling people to Himself, and we see how He uses new believers to draw others to Him.  They were so excited in the new life and freedom they found in Christ! They had tried living without God, without guidelines, and therefore, without hope. It just didn't bring them peace. Living this way never does.

The new believers in Jesus moved in the gifting and power of His Holy Spirit, with signs and wonders and miracles accompanying their sharing of the Gospel message. As we continue on reading, we discover that when we work through conflict with each other, God’s is glorified, the body is strengthened, and the eternal work of the Kingdom in seeing people come to faith happens again.  

This is so different than the way it works in the world! The difference in the way we live and treat each other is noticed by people to see if God is truly real and working in our lives. They are drawn to Jesus in us. This happens only if they see something different than what they see elsewhere.       

People are the reason Jesus died for our sins  --- and people are watching Christians to see if we are authentic, real, and most importantly, if our lives have trust been changed. The reality is that we are all dissatisfied with something in our lives. Ultimately, there's the discovery that our emptiness and our hopelessness comes from the bad choices we've made and the destruction it brings. Simply, our sin, our active rebellion against the laws God has put in place, only leads us to death. Death here and death and separation from God for eternity. If you're like me, sometimes it seems as if I am absolutely powerless to due the right thing. 
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”                 (Romans 5:6-8)

Oh, that good news! Real good news! Boy, do I need to hear that. Again and again, if I'm honest with you. I tend to forget as I go about the busyness of my life.

Isn't all so easy and so practical? God makes it this simple because of His great love for the people He created. Jesus doesn't say He is the only way to God because He is being close minded or hated. He says this because He desires to keep it simple and make the way to Him easy to find. It's the enemy of our souls that tries to complicate the matter.

“I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.  When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.  What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   (Romans 6:19-23)

Stop and think right now of who you were and how you lived before you met Jesus. Deep down, at least for me, I could never really reach the place of being joyful. Life dragged me down. The weight of carrying around disappointments and brokenness seemed to be a never ending spiral I could not get free from. The story of God's great love and His mercy drew me to Him. Is it your story?  Our story - and what hope and life we have found - should be what motivates us to keep sharing Jesus. Why?

Not that we live there dwelling in the past, but remembering who we are and who we used to be accomplishes a few very important things in our lives and in how we serve God:
1- It keeps us thankful for what God has done – thankfulness manifests joy which radiates!
2- It keeps us humble, reminding us to feel blessed that God would choose to use us. 
3- It protects us against our ego and pride, thinking more highly of ourselves than we should.
4- It keeps our focus on God’s strength and not our own, God’s gifting to us and not our natural abilities

Will we go out with the message and in this manner? Pastor Michael Petillo says: “True triumph is when we humbly embrace God’s leading into places of weakness where He can show Himself strong. “ The longer I know Jesus, the more I have to depend on Him. Temptation to the old way of life, the temptation to sin never really leaves. (By the way, temptation is only temptation. It's not the same as sin. Jesus was tempted in every way, but He never sinned. Wish someone had told me that years ago!) The place most important to show His control over your life? In your own house.

5- It reminds us to function like brothers and sisters in God's Family instead of thinking like the world.

In the world, power and position are used as a tool to intimidate and manipulate people. Not in God’s kingdom- Here, in our new family, it is used to serve others. As servants of Jesus, we are not above Our Master!  Listen to Jesus’ words: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you” (Luke 22:25-26)

It reminds us we serve a common goal- not creating conflict and competition between different parts of our churches and our lives. 
In the book of James 3:16, we find, "For where jealousy and self-seeking exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice." 

It's as if God knew that even believers in Him would be competitive. I love this quote from Pastor Andy Knuth- “Jesus before Strategies, Prayer before Projects, Faith before Formula.”

6-  It removes the “hard ring” of telling a story that no longer impacts us, keeping it personal.
7- It communicates to non-believers and new believers that our life with Jesus is a journey- and we do not have to meet standards of perfection to be loved or welcomed or used by God AND HIS FAMILY!                  

We are not slaves to having to appear perfect! We are free in Christ Jesus!
I can love and serve and believe in a God like that! Can't you?

Let's look at 1 Timothy 1:12-17. It's the story of the Apostle Paul: 

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.  Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”  

Remember where you came from and what Jesus did for you! And what he is doing now!
• Be thankful
• Be humble
• Focus on God’s strength not our human wisdom and abilities
• Remember we are in a new family with new rules in how we treat each other
• Share god’s love and patience towards us- loving us as we are transformed!
• Invite them into the family of God- and watch long lasting fruit and believers who multiply!

Here's a couple of questions for further reflection:

1- Are you the thinking like the world or like someone in God's family?
2- Which of the following areas are difficult for you?
Lack of thankfulness?
Focusing on my abilities?
The desire to have power, prestige, and status?

Bless you as you press into the things of God for His Glory!