Tuesday, September 29, 2015

When you're in the fire

My friend, Lynn, has lead several Bible classes I’ve been in. She always says she’s a facilitator, not a teacher.

But I’m not convinced.

I help her with a children’s class where I sit in a small chair with the children around a table. She tells the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and the children who have been restless in their seats grow quiet. We get to the part where these guys are about to get it for not bowing down to that golden idol Nebuchadnezzar has built. This story is getting good, and Lynn tells it well.

“The furnace is so hot, that the men who threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fiery furnace died from the heat.”

I feel a little flushed thinking about that furnace. These Jews would rather die than bow down to the golden statue. Such courage! I find myself wondering what happens next even though I know the story, but I think about those lines from that old hymn, “I love to tell the story to those who know it best, seem hungering and thirsting to see it like the rest.” I’m just like the kids and can’t wait to hear what happens. The kids lean in. I do, too.

“So in a moment, Nebuchadnezzar jumps up as he looks inside that furnace and says, ‘Didn’t we throw three men in the furnace, but I see four walking around, and the fourth looks like an angel.’”

Woo, hoo. God sent an angel to protect Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. I needed to hear that, cause I feel as if there have been some flames licking at my heels lately.

Lynn smiles and continues, “And when they pulled Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego out of that furnace, their clothes didn’t even smell like smoke.”

Didn’t even smell like smoke? That means I can come through the fire, and there won’t even be any evidence I’ve been in it. I knew that, but sometimes, I forget what God has done. I need to hear the stories again.

We hand out figures of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego for the kids to color. I move the figures around on the table. Three men and an angel made it through the fire. God never left them alone. Not for one moment.

So, Lord, I pray that when the flames are hot, I’ll remember you’ll never leave me alone, either.

Maybe friend, you needed to hear that today, too.

And Lynn, thanks for being my teacher.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Casting your vote

To those who receive my email feed, last week's post had formatting issues which did not show up in the edit screen or the preview screen, just in the email version. I'm a technological Neanderthal, so I have no explanation for this. My apologies.

A lot going on in the political arena these days, and we're thinking of who we might cast our vote for in the election next year, but there's another kind of voting we might want to think about.

A few years back as a finalist in a screenplay competition at the Gideon Media Arts Conference, part of my award was to have a private audience with producer Ken Wales. I also had the opportunity to take several of his classes. At the time, he had recently seen the release of his incredible film, Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce. But he had a host of other projects under his belt including Revenge of the Pink Panther, Christy, and Cagney and Lacey.

In my time with him, I learned so many interesting facts― he had been best man at Julie Andrew’s wedding to producer Blake Edwards (Ken’s dad had performed the ceremony). Walt Disney himself had written a check to sponsor Ken’s way to film school, and Ken Wales was on the set working with Edwards during the shooting of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In fact, he had so many interesting stories to tell, a large group of us was up until the wee hours of the morning listening to him.

Ken Wales, producer of Captive
 But the thing that struck me most about Ken Wales was the commitment he’d made to make films to the glory of God. I asked him about his next project and he told me he was on his way to Atlanta after the conference to start interviews for a new film project about the courthouse shooter in Atlanta.

Brian Bird, scriptwriter for Captive
A few years later, I would have a class with Brian Bird, also a committed Christian, who had just produced in conjunction with director Michael Landon one of Beverly Lewis’ stories, The Shunning, but had also completed many other projects including episodes of the television series Touched by an Angel.

Here on the heels of the successful War Room, I am happy to tell you that after many years of work, the project Ken Wales told me about so many years ago now entitled, Captive, has just released. Brian Bird wrote the script, and it looks like people are responding positively to the film as lines are wrapping around movie theatres to get in.

Dr. Ted Baehr
I love it. It’s a day that people like Dr. Ted Baehr of Movieguide have worked passionately toward for decades. Beher is responsible for the establishment of the Kairos Prize for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays for which, amazingly, I was also a finalist. Lest you think I'm bragging, I have an overwhelming sense that these awards I've won have hardly anything to do with me, and mostly have to do with God and the long, laborious work of others like Dr. Baehr. The Kairos Prize enables Christian screenwriters to get a start on their careers.

I consider it one of my highest privileges to just have rubbed shoulders with people like Ken Wales, Brian Bird, and Ted Beher. May their tribe increase.

They have served to inspire and help me and so many others more than I can ever say. I have a picture of Ken Wales and me on the wall behind my writing desk, and when I see it, I’m reminded of the calling we have on our lives as Christian writers. One of the things I learned from Ken Wales is the perseverance and commitment it takes to see a project to completion, because I heard him tell of several undertakings he’d had which fell apart after years of work, and yet Ken never gave up. He picked up the pieces and kept going, and because of that, with God’s help, he’s given us his extraordinary films.

Make your plans to see Captive this week (Take note it is definitely for mature audiences). Your ticket is like a vote for Christian filmmaking and makes it possible for more films like its kind to be produced.

"May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands" (Psalm 90:17).

MovieGuide review and interview with Brian Bird HERE.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Lay me a-hold on the greatness of God

A week or so ago, I again visited and photographed the marshes made famous by Sidney Lanier’s poem, “The Marshes of Glynn.”  They are the setting of my book, Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees, which draws in part from this wonderful Lanier quote:

By so many roots as the marsh-grass sends in the sod
 I will heartily lay me a-hold on the greatness of God:
Oh, like to the greatness of God is the greatness within 
The range of the marshes, the liberal marshes of Glynn.



I think of Lanier when I come here―sitting under a tree in Brunswick, Georgia looking across the marshes toward Saint Simons Island, struggling to regain his health while fighting tuberculosis, hoping for the future, all the time writing. Little did he know schoolchildren would still be memorizing his poems more than a hundred years after his death.

Many don’t know he was also considered one of the finest flute players in the world.

Until, just the last few years of his short life, he struggled to achieve his dream of making a living through his writing and music, doing what work he could to make ends meet. According to biographer, Edward Mims, his discouragement at times was almost overwhelming.

He eventually obtained a position with the Peabody orchestra and then a faculty position in the English department with Johns Hopkins University. But he died from tuberculosis at thirty-nine.

I think of him going on and on through health struggles, financial difficulty, and creative discouragement, but still never giving up.

And because he didn’t, he left us a lasting legacy. He is today considered one of the few great American poets.

It’s important to remember stories like Lanier’s when discouragement tries to bring us down, too. Because we don’t know what God might be building through us.

I stood recently for the first time on the steps of the Sidney Lanier Cottage in Macon, Georgia, Lanier’s birthplace. Friends and I had opportunity to tour the cottage. I saw his flute. I read his letters. I remembered again his struggles.


I again drew encouragement. Though he might not have realized it fully in his lifetime, he for all time took hold of the greatness of God.

In our own way, we can, too.

I am in no way a Sidney Lanier, for sure. But, I’m me. And you’re you. And God has a plan for us. If we persevere, don't give up, setting our minds to follow Him, to “lay me a-hold on the greatness of God,” who knows what could happen? Who knows the legacy we might leave behind for His glory?

Only God.

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us” (Ephesians 3:20-21 The Message).

Monday, September 7, 2015

In the Upper Room

If you’re a regular reader, I’m honored today to once more have a devotional in the Upper Room Magazine as well as a post on their blog. I’d love to have you join me here or here.

If you’re coming from the Upper Room, welcome to One Ringing Bell where you’ll find peals of words on faith, living, and writing. Consider checking out the blog posts below, the most popular posts in the right hand column, or any of the almost 600 posts in the archives. I also have two books, Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees and Home to Currahee available here.

Searching for Jesus

My friend Carole has produced an outdoor passion play every summer for 30 years. The entire play hinges on having the right person in the role of Jesus. (read more at the Upper Room).

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Moving Beyond Safe

 We're getting ready to launch this season's first edition of One Old Dawg tomorrow. If you haven't already, please consider visiting the site and signing up to receive it by email. You don't want to miss any of One Old Dawg's mostly true Bulldog lore.
Also, I'm writing for the Upper Room Magazine again on September 7th. I'll also be posting on their blog, as well. I'll have links here along with an amazing detail related to the publication of the piece.
Since we've been focused on getting One Old Dawg up and running, I reached into the archives today. I needed to read this post today, and I hope it inspires you as well.

The first few words of Genesis are, “In the beginning, God created . . .”

We are created in the image of our creator.

Therefore, we create.

Sometimes, when we find ourselves sagging, when we need fresh strength, it’s because we’ve shelved originality in favor of something more safe and predictable—something routine.

My friend, Dolly, sent me a few quotes from a book she’s reading, one I hope to read soon, Creativity, Inc. Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration  by Ed Catmull:

“Originality is fragile and in its first moments, it is often far from pretty. . . awkward and unformed, vulnerable and incomplete. It needs nurturing in time and patience in order to grow.”

“You'll never stumble upon the unexpected if you stick only to the familiar.”

“Don't make ‘safe choices’ in creativity, even if you must in banking, airplanes.”

Today, friends, make some creative choices that take you beyond the mundane, that move you beyond the predictable. Maybe you'll create a new recipe, tool a belt, bead earrings, paint a picture, design a room, or craft a bench.  "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord . . . " (Colossians 3:23).

I made a new blog banner over the weekend. I don’t know if it moves beyond the predictable or not, but it does include that bluebird sketch I did a while back.
I love that painting, and having it in the banner reminds me to press into originality.

Former Disney imaginer, McNair Wilson says, “We should put something into the world every day that wasn’t there before.”

Right there with you friends as we attempt something new and different today for God’s glory.
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