February 27, 2018

Star Wars, Frozen and More Come to Walt Disney Studios Paris!

Running out the door, but this is absolutely wonderful news! Walt Disney Studios Paris is the most miserable of parks with the poorest theming in all the kingdoms. But that's about to change!  Catch all the details at Disney and More
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 26, 2018

The Be Our Guest Conundrum

Decisions, decisions, and more decisions. It's no longer an easy and spontaneous thing to plan a Walt Disney World vacation! And it's really too bad. As I mentioned in an earlier post, My Booking Nightmare, it's often a mess and not as much fun as the whole part of trip preparation should be. 

Imagineering Concept art of the Beauty and the Beast mini-land.

Our trip is prior to the big July change, when the restaurant changes to a prix fixe three-course dinner. Happy about that! I really don't want to pay those new prices for a theme park dinner quality food regardless of what should be stunning atmosphere. 

As many others have said, including my good friend and co-blogger Len Yokoyama in his Magic Kingdom trip report, Be Our Guest tends to serve mediocre food at best. Unfortunately, this creates a "one and done" end result, even for a fan like me who counts Beauty and the Beast as his favorite Disney animated film ever.

Taking an objective look at it all, I see three options:

Breakfast- The highlight here seems to be the fact that if you book first thing in the morning, you get to walk down Main Street through an empty Magic Kingdom. Going through the castle into the New Fantasyland and out to the bridge to the restaurant with no one around sounds pretty cool. Is it worth $25 a head for breakfast pastries, pancakes, and other cheap to make items? Tough call. 

Lunch- Cheaper (for now) than breakfast or dinner and a chance to get out of the Florida heat in the middle of the day. Two strong plusses, I'd say. I just love the moonlight at midday atmosphere of places like Disneyland's landmark Blue Bayou and Epcot's San Angel Restaurant at World Showcase's Mexico pavilion. It's a special kind of Disney magic few places can match.

Dinner- Would you want to spend your hard earned money eating dinner here? It's the only meal of the day that Beast comes out, making it a character meal of sorts. (And it also eliminates having to do another one.) It sure would be fun to be in New Fantasyland at night upon leaving. But, oh the prices for theme park food!

What choice would you make and why?

(Top photo copyright Len Yokoyama. Art copyright The Walt Disney Company)

February 24, 2018

Little Bakers

This is a pretty fun way to spend a very cold afternoon together, wouldn't you say?

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

February 23, 2018

Sparkling Tomorrowland

Long before the overhaul of Tomorrowland in 1967, the Land of the Future in Walt Disney's original Magic Kingdom was still pretty spectacular. Even without Star Wars characters!

Working with designers he later dubbed Imagineers, (engineers and artists working together to dream and design), Walt knew definitely he wanted a future that was both foretelling and friendly. It had to be welcoming as well as awe inspiring. Where would he go for great ideas? The amazing John Hench, of course. Working with Colin Campbell, the perfect piece was crafted as a starting place to bring it all to life.

Look at the brilliant colors and artistic touches on this piece! Water's flowing, palm trees are swaying, and a fully enclosed track of the future Peoplemover punctuates the skyline. It truly was a great big beautiful tomorrow- and only at Disneyland!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 22, 2018

Tropical Hideaway Restaurant Coming to Disneyland

It's not the return of my beloved Tahitian Terrace, but the remains of Aladdin's Oasis will be transformed into the brand new Tropical Hideaway! The new "traders market" area is said to also involve "flavors" in addition to new sights and sounds. It's about time something takes over what was a waste of space and in a theme that didn't fit in with the surrounding area.

This could be a good second choice plan for Disneyland's very cramped Adventureland - if and only if- the stellar Polynesian restaurant never returns. Let's face it. It probably never will. This sounds a lot like an outdoor version of Walt Disney World's Skipper's Canteen over at the Magic Kingdom. Minus the evening show featuring the tropical dances of the islands and other musical entertainment. California does have great weather, so an evening meal on the patio along the rivers of the Jungle Cruise could be great.

Overall, I must say this sounds like a solid replacement for dining that the suits removed decades ago. Should some great Imagineers are involved, there's a chance this could even be pretty good. Add in some cool curios, good food, maybe some island drinks, and a great vibe- well, I could almost forgive the suits closing the Terrace. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Walt Disney and Billy Graham

Here's a couple of great photographs of two amazing men: Billy Graham and Walt Disney. Two icons of their worlds. 

I cannot get these thoughts out of my head, so I’d like to share them with you.

Like I think Walt was, Billy was faithful to what God would have him do, decade after decade. Always preaching the Gospel and investing into the lives of others. This included many presidents and world leaders because that was also the opportunity and platform God gave him.  He finished well because Billy did what God asked him to do.

By all accounts, you couldn't be around Billy without hearing the truth about Jesus Christ and His Mission to die on the cross for the sins of all who would believe in Him and then to be risen again to life to prove He was God in the flesh- proving His words that He is the only way to eternal life in heaven with the Father. (“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me". John 14:6) I would bet Walt himself had the message shared with him by hanging around with Reverend Graham. But that's Billy.

What has God asked YOU to do? 

As followers of Jesus Christ, we may not be called to the same things as Billy, and we won’t be held accountable to do what Billy did. Instead we are called to be obedient to share with others exactly where He has placed us.  Each person is given an area and a group of people to reach with the Gospel and to serve in love.  (2 Corinthians 10) What platform and opportunities has God given you?

I wrestle with that at times, staying faithful to the call when times are hard. Don’t you? When we step out, it can be scary.  Friends and family who don’t understand our decision may even criticize us.  Yet, that doesn’t change our mission to be agents of Our Heavenly Father wherever we are placed.

If we love Him, we will do what He commands, responding in words and action to both the Great Commandment (Love One Another) and the Great Commission (Go out into your world and Share What Jesus Has Accomplished through His Death and Resurrection). John 14 tells us:  “15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

Each of us is empowered by God with gifts to do the work He has called us to, so go forth in His strength. He is with us!

So, again, I ask you what I’m asking myself today, “What has God asked YOU to do?”

Our lives may not be as lengthy as Billy’s, but let’s commit together to live them out in a way that brings Him honor and glory, drawing others to Him!

(Photos may have copyright limitations.)

February 21, 2018

Goodbye for Now, Billy Graham

"America's Pastor" Billy Graham has passed at age 99. It's a sad day for American Christians and many around the world, but he is resting in the arms of Jesus. I love this quote from him, 

"Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”

That said, what's far more important is that he focused on the message of Jesus Christ and him alone. For years, he has been faithful to proclaim that Jesus is the only way to God, the only way to eternal rest in heaven, and that the ways of man and any other religion are useless. 

Billy never swayed from calling sin for what it was and reminding people that Jesus' death on the cross was the only payment for our sin, moving us from a place of shame to a place of honor as part of God's family. All because of God's great love for the human race, Jesus was straightforward and plain about it. (See the book of John chapter 14.) Billy never forgot that. It was due to God's love Jesus was sent and His death and resurrection only proved He was who he said he was.

Here's Billy's final prayer for the world given on his 99th birthday last November:

""I've been praying that we might have a spiritual awakening," Graham said. "I think that becomes possible only as individuals surrender their lives afresh and anew to Christ."

There's a reason why American Presidents during his lifetime requested an audience with him to provide prayer and counsel. The man was not perfect, but he was wise, focused, and attempted to live a life of integrity. I, for one, will miss his influence on our nation and its leaders.

Carpenters Revisited: A Fresh Look at Carpenters (the Tan Album)

How do you follow up a smash hit album and two monster singles? If there was a disc to follow up "Close to You" that could prove Karen and Richard were more than just a fluke, "Carpenters" aka the "Tan album", was just the one to do it. And it did, but anyone who was paying close attention could see that trouble might already be stirring on the horizon. Although Richard is quick to say that the duo had been preparing for success for years, sometimes the reality can be a bit different than what is imagined in the minds of fans. This disc reflects those truths- including a record label that wasn't paying too much attention in the wake of all that success.

A beautiful and gentle first single from the collection to come.

Had this been decades later, as became the custom throughout the industry, A&M Records would have milked the breakthrough album for at least two more singles. A third one was considered, but the release of the popular movie Lovers and Other Strangers in the summer of 1970 put an end to that thought. Badly needing a break, Richard happened to be out viewing the movie, and his attention was captured by the tune written by two founding members of the group Bread. Back into the studio our duo went, and their version was released mid January of 1971.

Looking at the Billboard sales charts and listening to the radio at the time, the Carpenters were very easy to find in the top ranks of both. Merry Christmas Darling, their first Christmas hit, was released on November 20, 1970 (after taking one whole week to record and mix etc.) and instantly became a classic. For the sales charts ending January 2, just a couple of months later, We've Only Just Begun was still in the Top 30. Essentially, this meant Karen's voice was just everywhere on the radio. It was great for the fans, but it also meant the duo was rarely resting and always at work. This pattern of constantly being in the studio or out touring would last for many years. In the long term, this was much to their detriment.

With Jose Feliciano circa 1975

Coming so quickly after two smash songs, when the new single hit the radio, it hit big- but nothing like the two releases that followed where each was stronger than the one that came before. Yet, For All We Know was set apart by the instantly iconic opening notes, and Richard's tender arrangement was once again a perfect setting for Karen's golden voice. The beautiful woodwind opening played by Earle Dumler, however, was not the first choice by Richard. He had something unexpected in mind.

Musician Jose Feliciano was a fan of the Carpenters, and after running into them in a local restaurant, expressed to Richard that he'd love to be on one of their recordings. It all came together very quickly, but upon hearing of the news, Feliciano's short sighted manager demanded his client's work on the acoustic guitar be erased. Sadly, it was- and for good. It would have made a great alternate take for a boxed set. This unfortunate episode perhaps negatively flavored Richard's view of working with other artists on future recordings.

Of course, once I heard For All We Know on the radio, like everyone else smitten by this new romantic sound, I had to have it. By this point in time, visits to my local record store in Garden Grove became a weekly event. Every week, I took off on my bike for the fairly short ride just blocks away. I bet the owners got sick of me as I asked for the newest release by the duo everytime I walked in! At least the older couple who owned it knew I had good taste. 

That was my first clue I was out of step.

Although it was the third single in a row by the duo to hit a "gold" level of sales, eventually, For All We Know topped out at Number Three on the charts in the middle of March. This disappointed Karen and Richard and their record company but not nearly as much as the disappointing chart action from the two singles that followed. Not in artistry, however, as they would be considered among the duo's best recordings. 

Rainy Days and Mondays did in fact get me down.

In previous reviews, particularly this series where I take a fresh look at their music, I've shared that the Carpenters and their music have had a huge impact on my life, including forming my view on romance and love. But it went even deeper.

Moving around as often as I did, making new friends was not an easy thing to do. An ongoing sense of loneliness and melancholy started to take root in my life. I didn't even see it coming. The next single became something I "owned" to a large degree. Rainy Days and Mondays seemed to put my feelings into one single song. The lyrics by Paul Williams coupled with the reading by my now favorite vocalist was too much to resist. 

It's a testament to the power of the recording and the popularity of the duo that Rainy Days would be an early summer hit. The powerful but decidedly downbeat hit was huge- but it too also just missed out at the top spot of the Hot 100. Being Number Two had to do. For quite a few weeks it seemed no one could beat the powerful Carole King double A sided single of It's Too Late / I Feel the Earth Move. The singer songwriter's smash also kept The Rolling Stones' epic Brown Sugar from the top, so at least Karen and Richard were in very respectable company.

I loved the flip side of the Rainy Days single!
The artistic touches of using the picture logo in two different colors was just cool!

When their eponymously named album was released at about the time Rainy Days hit its peak, I found that the next song to be a clear hit was the opener of Side Two- the powerful Leon Russell penned Superstar, the thematic and stylistic antithesis to Close to You, We've Only Just Begun, and For All We Know.

Beginning with the deep opening notes of one of Richard's finest goosebump inducing arrangements, the song is instantly iconic. Karen effortlessly delivers a richly shaded vocal performance, one to build a career- and a reputation- upon. There's no light to be found here! In fact, after this song, other singers began to be compared to her, making Karen the new gold standard of voices in the music industry. 

In over 45 years, no one, not Bette Midler, not Rita Coolidge, not Luther Vandross, can do this song like Karen. The recording is made even stronger by Richard's wise restraint. His stark, straight-forward arrangement contributes powerfully to a landmark recording, by any measurement and in any decade. 
The 45 single debut of the magnificent Carpenters logo.
Another defining moment in their career.

Upon first listen, the label executives just knew they had a big hit on their hands. The bigger question was how would they market it?

This time, A&M would fight fire with fire. Not only was this a groundbreaking hit, the single also had the distinction of a flip side with a recording not found on the new album, the title track to the popular film Bless the Beasts and Children. The brilliant one-two punch gave it momentum, moving the single from its #49 debut to Number 17 in one week. Superstar kept moving up the charts, but once again the Carpenters were denied their place at the top by a double A sided release. This time it was Maggie May / Reason to Believe by Rod Stewart at the end of October. What would it take to get back to Number 1? The next single, but that's a different story for the A Song For You album review.

Without argument, Superstar ranks among the best of the duos recordings, and it sounds as contemporary now as the time of its recording. Even music industry types and Rock and Roll lovers who didn't necessarily like their style had to appreciate the artistry of the duo behind it. To this day, it is often listed as one of the the Carpenters finest accomplishments.

Looking at today's artists, I maintain that Adele or her producers had to have one day heard Karen's vocal on the dark, moody, totally mesmerizing Superstar as an oldie playing on the radio. They must have taken notice of the arrangement and production of it as well. I can clearly hear the recording's impact on Adele's instantly also iconic recordings, arrangements, and vocal style. 

The inspiration. 

After discussing the three hit singles from this Grammy award winning album, I think it's time to stop and talk about the duo's image and how this album affected it. In a word, disaster. The problem continued downhill from here on out, never recovering.

The suits were partially to blame, but so was our duo, as they intentionally or unknowingly picked a fight with their Rock and Roll peers, dividing the community of fans as well, all out as if they were forcing them to choose sides. Things seemed to get worse over the years with each additional interview, fluctuating from seeming to look for a fight with their peers (boasting how many hits they've had in spite of being rejected by their harder rocking musical contemporaries) to referencing their success in ways very few music lovers could relate (comparisons to Fred and Adele Astaire).

A much better photo could have been found inside that envelope.

As for me, it was not an easy time to be a fan of Karen and Richard. Sure, there was an abundance of new recordings all the time, but it was not a cool thing for a guy to admit he loved Karen's voice when Janis Joplin and hard rock was more what was expected. (For the record, I was a big fan of Rock and Roll, with Free's All Right Now and the Rolling Stones Brown Sugar finding its place in my collection next to my beloved Motown records.) I'm sure my love for Karen's voice further divided me out from friends my age, although it sure made my grandparents happy. 

That should have been my second clue there was a problem.

The duo's image was the Achille's Heel in their career, contributing to some serious problems in their personal and professional lives. It's well known in the music industry that it was considered an embarrassment to work for the label that brought Karen and Richard to the radio, in spite of all that money and all the awards to come. But back to the Tan album.

                                     That statement is debatable at best.

Let's begin with the positives. There's much to appreciate about this album from an artistic standpoint. The elegant Carpenters logo designed by Craig Braun and Associates is front and center, making its first album appearance. The envelop style presentation was unique and lovely, subtly communicating the duo was worth something special. It's only upon opening the flap that the real trouble begins. 

The final choice. My Funny Valentine?
What were the suits thinking?

Richard has often reminded interviewers that he absolutely hated the cover photo of the Close to You album. Actually, I find the Tan album photograph, found inside the envelope, so much worse. Karen and Richard come across as sugary sweet, with their bangs perfectly coiffed, everything airbrushed to studio perfection. It all makes them look like lovers instead of serious artists. (And what is it with that see through shirt, Richard?) Where was Herb Alpert in this? What about Sherwin Bash their manager? Was no one looking out for them long term? There are other indicators that the answer to these questions is "No".

Two great photos of Karen.
More in keeping what would have been a better choice in presentation.
The Tan album was released May 31st, and in my mind, it was worth not skipping over the songs I'd already heard so that I might listen to the disc as a thoughtful collection of songs. Sure, Rainy Days and Mondays was a surprise, but could the rest of the music on the disc counteract their sugary image? 

Beginning with the somber but clearly brilliant Rainy Days, there's more than enough of a bluesy edge and serious tone here as to not come across cutesy. Definitely a change in pace from the sweet and hopeful singles before it. Once the harmonica sets the stage, Karen defines the song with her ease up and down the scales while communicating a depth of soul searching well beyond her age. A stunning saxophone solo begins the second half of the recording, with Karen and Richard providing a wall of sound in the background. This arrangement lets Karen's lead vocal command the stage, all the way to a searing finish. A brand new Paul Williams / Roger Nichols / Carpenters masterpiece is born.

Saturday follows it up with a "next chapter in the story" tune that's lightweight, horn-punctuated, bouncy fluff. It's completely in line with the others upbeat pop offerings of the day. Bright, crisp, fun, and totally non-offensive with a pleasant lead vocal by Richard.

Next in the lineup come two of the best cuts on the album, the one that got away Let Me Be the One, and the mesmerizing Hideaway. The former, another outstanding Paul Williams ballad, contained words I unintentionally took to heart over the years: "Come to me when things go wrong...". Whenever I needed a little peace, quiet, or hope, I ran to the record player just to listen to the voice I'd grown to love. It was years before I realized there was a better Voice I needed to hear.  

A plain vanilla ad unbefitting such a landmark record.

The latter song, the beautifully atmospheric (A Place to) Hideaway written by Randy Sparks, further deepened my melancholy image of Karen: "...I run though the mist of the wine. The night and the music remind me instead, the world once was mine..." Very prophetic of what was to come for her just barely over a decade later.

Billboard ad for the earlier Carpenters hit.

Closing with For All We Know, Side One ends, albeit much too quickly. The album as a whole shortchanges the listener with its brevity. This also highlights another important area that A&M executives and the duo's management ignored, but I'll address that after more thoughts on the music.

The opening song choices seem to avoid playing into their image problems or creating conflict- at least on the first side of the disc. The music even seems to suggest Karen and Richard could mix it up by bridging lightweight pop with more serious, rock influenced work. As Side Two opens, certainly Superstar fits the mold, but then the duo throws away what they've accomplished with the next cut, even furthering their battle with the rock world. 

The inclusion of the awful Druscilla Penny was just an unwise choice all around. The duo's management or the label executives should have demanded its removal from the album. Easily the worst song by Richard and John Bettis and actually in their entire repertoire. Vocally, Richard's performance is lacking and only makes the listener want to move on to a song with Karen on lead.  Even worse, the lyrics are a clear mockery of the world of Rock and Roll. The tune comes across as smug, a bit self-righteous, and with a harpsichord hook that seems archaic. Did our artists just want to start a fight? Were the folks in charge of their career intentionally sabotaging them? Why in the world would any of them choose this route? 

           The Billboard magazine ad for the new album.

With just nine months between the release of the Close to You album and this album, something had to give. In this particular instance, sometimes it was the choice of material. One Love is a pleasant enough song, but given the brilliance of the ballads on the first half of the disc, something stronger would have been expected. 

Alright, I'll say it: A Burt Bacharach Medley in any form is a winner. Karen was born to sing his stuff just as much as she was interpreting the work of Richard and John's or Paul Williams, but the inclusion of the medley comes with a few concerns. I'll Never Fall in Love Again when it had just been given the full length treatment several months prior shows once again that no one in their camp was truly paying attention. Richard should have been sent back in the studio to demand that different and previously unused songs were included instead of allowing the duo to repeat themselves. Especially when the album was already short in length. (From the fan feedback given the medley on their 1980 television special, Make It Easy on Yourself  should have been given its own full version recording. Yes, it is that good.)

Another Billboard magazine ad. 
This one for Rainy Days and Mondays.

Including a song by Henry Mancini was a risky move as the duo was already battling an old school image, but it brought a fitting and tender close to the album. Sometimes is one I refer to as "Karen's Thanksgiving Song", and from first listen, I loved it. It reminds modern day listeners how effective Richard and Karen could be without all the gimmicks or excessive arrangements that seemed to plague some of their latter recordings.

Classy. That's all I can say.

Was the Tan album a success? Absolutely. In a turn of events that had to be poetic justice in some way, the album was a Grammy winner, containing several of their most loved recordings. The disc also confirmed what many folks were beginning to realize: Karen was a world class singer, a voice for her generation and one that would never be found again. It would take years for people to realize Richard was a genius, but the proof was there for those who looked deeper.

Unfortunately, the Tan album also added to their image problems and contributed to Karen and Richard being labeled "Easy Listening". The song selection seemed to reinforce that idea as on this album they moved away from any of the Jazz and Rock textures that were found on their first two releases. The strong cuts are terrific, but the weak cuts are very weak. They were pressured to put out an album, and it shows. Imagine just how stunning the results would have been if they'd had the chance to slow down, think some things through, and add a couple more songs to the collection.

Promoting the album Down Under.

As it stands, the Tan album is still a terrific listen, representing a young and enthusiastic duo in their prime. The next release a year later, A Song For You, would contain some incredible cuts in a wider variety of styles, making it a fan and critical favorite. Richard would truly show his chops as a songwriter, and Karen would continue to enchant us with that voice. Yet the same album would reveal that the constant touring and non-stop pressure were just beginning to take its toll on them. 
A very special thanks to those folks who constructed The Complete Carpenters Recording Resource, to "Rick- An Ordinary Fool" for so many rare scans, and all my friends on the A&M Corner boards. 

My Original Carpenters album reviews:

My Revisited Fresh Look at the albums:

February 19, 2018

Plan My Walt Disney World Trip

It's been nine years since my last trip to Walt Disney World. Nine years of waiting for something truly special to open, something I just had to see and do. It didn't happen. What did happen instead was the invitation to visit with our daughter and her young family. So, I sent her a list of what I wanted to do.

Magic Kingdom Must Do
Be Our Guest Restaurant
Seven Dwarves Mine Train
Enchanted Tales with Belle
Ariel’s Undersea Adventure

Attractions not at Disneyland:
Hall of Presidents
Mickey’s Philharmagic
Monsters Inc Laugh Floor
Carousel of Progress
Country Bear Jamboree
Swiss Family Treehouse

Plus all the “regulars” ☺

Epcot Must Do
Frozen Ever After
Soarin’ Over the World
New Test Track
Mission: Space (Earth exploration- kid friendly)
Gran Fiesta Tour (Mexico)
Turtle Talk with Crush
Illuminations Night Show

Attractions not elsewhere
Impressions de France
American Adventure
Wonders of China
Land Boat Ride
Spaceship Earth
Seas with Nemo

Plus all the “Future World regulars”

Disney Studios Must Do
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Slinky Dog Coaster  
Alien Saucer Swirl    
Voyage of the Little Mermaid
New Star Tours
Rock N Rollercoaster

Animal Kingdom Must Do
Flight of Passage  
Na’vi River Journey  
Rivers of Light Nighttime show
Kilimanjaro Safari Night

Old Favorites:
Expedition Everest
Festival of Lion King
Finding Nemo Musical
Maharaja Tiger Trail
Gorilla Falls Trail

What would you add to this list? What am I forgetting? What restaurant recommendations do you have? And why? Please help me get the most out of this trip.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 17, 2018

Helping "The View" Ladies Hear God's Voice

In the often ridiculous world of television, the ladies from The View are among the most misinformed when it comes to a Christian worldview as described in the Bible. So, I'd like to help Joy Behar, Sunny Hostin, Sherry Shephard and the others through a brief Biblical discourse as to why Christians can and should be able to hear God's voice. I hope they really do want to hear Him.

Let's start here: We won't hear Him if we don't ask to hear Him and stop to listen. Most of the time, we don't bother because we don't really want to hear what He has to say. And we certainly don't want to obey His words. Human nature from the beginning of time is rebellious. 

If you are a Christian, you should expect to hear Him speak. You must realize Jesus speaks to his sheep- and then you have to believe we really can hear Him! Look what Jesus says in John 10:27- “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” 

How can we then evaluate what we think we hear Him say? How do we know it's really Him and not just our own voice? There's three main ways and they will all work together in unison.

1. The Bible- the ultimate authority for Christians. If it seems to be full of contradictions to you, you haven't studied it enough.
"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path". (Psalm 119:105)

God speaks most commonly through His Word. The personal voice of Jesus to us will never contradict the Scripture.  What is He saying to you as you read His Word?

2.  Prayer- God desires a personal relationship with us, and He does speak to those who follow Him. But we have to ask for his guidance. "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him." (James 1:5)

God reveals His will for us as we ask Him. What is He saying to you as you pray? What are you consistently hearing from Him?  It takes time. We must wait for Him. His voice will not always be immediate.

3.  The Wise Counsel of Others- Real wisdom man gives never contradicts the Bible.  "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice." (Proverbs 12:15)

Seek prayer and wisdom from those you trust know God and have an established record of being obedient to Him. Are they praying for you? Do they share scripture to support what they are saying?   Even imperfect people can have God’s wise counsel for you.  

9 "Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place." (I Samuel 3:9)

What about circumstances? Circumstances should never be the sole source of our decision making! It can be the most dangerous one upon which to base our decisions. 

1- It causes us to rely on what we see and what we can deduce from human wisdom and practicality. (Read 1 Corinthians 3:18- “The wisdom of the world is foolishness in God’s sight.”)
2- This kind of reasoning can draw us away from seeking God for direction, making us dependent on ourselves or someone else as the source.
3- Circumstances are easily manipulated .

How should we view circumstances? As opportunities!  God allows us to be placed in circumstances that are difficult and beyond our control.

This is not to discourage us but instead to:
o Display his power
o Help us learn to rely on Him
o Conform us into the image of Christ
o Draw others to Him

Think of the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11. Even at the request of his sisters Mary and Martha, Jesus delays going to heal him. He dies; the sisters are hurt- thinking Jesus doesn’t care about them.

Yet when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, he gives them something better than just knowledge He can heal the sick.  Jesus proves to them He conquers death and is above all of our life’s circumstances- a much greater gift!

So ------ As you are seeking God for direction, He will answer you if you are submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, believing He alone is the payment for your sins and that He rose from the dead, proving He is God in the flesh!

In all these things, remember Believers have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16)

God also speaks through dreams and visions as well as that still small voice you hear as you wait in prayer. But that's for another post. Therefore, if you see multiple pieces of this evaluation come together in unity, chances are pretty good that you have heard God clearly.

One last question to ask yourself: An important measuring tool- Who gets the glory if you are obedient to what you’ve heard God say? This is perhaps the best indicator of all.

Jesus is speaking, and He is calling everyone to a relationship of love with Him. He doesn't want to see anyone perish for eternity in their sins, but He also knows not everyone will respond. 

Jesus says "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me." (John 14:6) This isn't because He hates people. It's because He desires to make it simple and clear.

Joy, Sunny, and especially Sherry, whose last name is probably a testimony in and of itself, research it for yourself. Or you can choose to believe your own thoughts and the voices of the world. That's been happening since time began. You can read all about it in the New Testament in Romans Chapter One. 

February 16, 2018

New Entrance Art for Disney World's Toy Story Mania

If you've wondered what the Imagineers will do to retheme the new entrance for Disney Hollywood Studios Toy Story (Midway) Mania at the all new Toy Story Land, wait no more. Take a look at what it will be. Fits in perfectly with the new land and the two new coming attractions on June 30. The Studios, and most all of the parks are getting something new in the years to come. Some, like the Tron Lightcycles will majorly change the face of the parks they inhabit. Others, like the new Los Angeles based side street at the Studios, will barely be noticeable. One thing's for certain- finally Disney is investing big time in Florida. Thank you Universal and Harry Potter for bringing the competition. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 15, 2018

Death and More Death

As is my habit, I often write blog posts well ahead of their actual publishing. Be it to celebrate a holiday or commemorate a particular date, I try to anticipate what is coming up and write accordingly. 

No one can prepare me for all these mass shootings. Coming from Colorado, the home of Columbine, my heart particularly grieves at the announcement of each tragedy. Of course, I pray, but we also have a very real personal responsibility. 

It's past time for our lawmakers of all political parties to get off their rear ends, and bring a stop to all the available military grade weapons. These are not used for legitimate purposes and those allowed for purchase without extreme background checks. Our amazing law enforcement officials can only do so much. 

Yet, the laws will only go so far. We are a nation that needs to turn its heart back to Jesus, and in doing so, walk away from the sin that so easily entangles us. May He have mercy on us! We are taking a beating, one killing at a time.

Even Ugly Disney Parks Can Have Great Concept Art

Here's proof that even the ugliest of Disney theme parks can have terrific looking concept art. This time, it's not the Walt Disney Studios Paris - still winner of the titlebut Disney's California Adventure 1.0 and the much aligned Paradise Pier

Given a continually slashed budget and a less than great idea for a theme, Imagineer Tim Delaney did the best he could to portray the Bargain Basement Imagineered park in a positive light. Using dashes of color and plenty of swirling shapes, Tim created a very attractive painting. It's too bad the area of Paradise Pier was more realistically a sign of trying to fool Disney fans into thinking this park was cutting edge work. 

After a solid but not thorough reworking in 2012, this seaside diversion did have much more charm than the original incarnation. Will the transition to Pixar Pier kill that? We'll have to see.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 14, 2018

Beautiful Romance

"Romantic love is blind to everything except what is lovable and lovely..." It's a nice beginning to a beautiful and timeless truth. This quote by Frederick Buechner strikes me for its encouragement and also, surprisingly, its bluntness. Continuing "...but Christ's love see us with terrible clarity and sees us whole. Christ's love so wishes our joy that it is ruthless against everything in us that diminishes our joy. The worst sentence Love can pass is that we behold the suffering which Love has endured for our sake, and that is also our acquittal. The justice and mercy of the judge are ultimately one."

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

February 13, 2018

Inexpensive Impact

"One kind word can warm three winter months."
         Famous Japanese Proverb

Whose world will you warm today?

February 12, 2018

A Brand New Beast

Disney animator Glen Keane will be directing Netflix's upcoming Over the Moon, a tale about a young girl who builds a rockets and takes off on an exciting adventure. He's certainly no stranger to creating memorable characters! Glen was the backbone to many Disney projects (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Tangled). 

For me, the ultimate Keane project was Beast, from the classic Beauty and the Beast, my favorite Disney animated film (which also holds up stunningly well next to the live action release). Not only does the animated film have a huge following, but the whole experience of animating / transforming Beast was a powerful one! This was apparently just as true for his animator.

Glen says,

"This is the moment- this is what I was born for...As I started animating it, for me it's really an expression of my spiritual life. There's a verse in the Bible that says 'If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away and all things have become new...'Because it is really about an inner spiritual transformation that's taking place with the Beast. I saw it as a parable of my life."

Boy, I'm with you, Glen. Perhaps that's why this film strikes such a deep note in me and millions of others! There's a longing in us to be more than what we've been, perhaps to be the best version of ourselves, the version that God created- free from the eternal stain of sin and with new hope for life eternal. This is what Jesus Christ does! 

When our hearts are opened by God to hear His Message of hope, forgiveness, and a fresh life, our heart leaps! When we choose to believe that Jesus died for our sin, paying full price for it, and then was raised from the dead to prove He is God in the flesh- wow! Just wow! New life is birthed in us. The failures and brokenness from the past are now just a part of our eternal journey as we increasingly become who God designed us to be. Make the leap into the Arms of Love- and Beast's transformation will be your own parable as well. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 10, 2018

Beautiful and Deadly

You've got to read this article by the BBC! Chilling, sad, deadly. Regardless of your politics, its' worth a read.

(Art copyright BBC.)

February 9, 2018

Breakfast is Coming!

How can anyone not love Chip and Joanna Gaines? Fun, gracious, generous, and innovative- a couple of folks that seem to have their heads screwed on straight. Their smash show Fixer Upper maybe leaving HGTV at the end of the season, but Magnolia Table is on its way. 

Some Waco residents were understandably not happy that the name of the classic, historic restaurant was changed from The Elite Cafe, but hey guys, they saved the place. That is the important part. 

One day soon, I'm sure we'll take a road trip at Texas to see the ever expanding "Chip and Joanna Land". Can't wait.

(Photograph copyright Chip and Joanna Gaines.)