Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Gospel According to Peanuts

How A Charlie Brown Christmas almost didn’t happen

Few headlines about network television make me giddy. Fewer still make me hopeful that all is good in the world. But back in August of 2010, I read the following headline from the media pages with great excitement: “Charlie Brown Is Here to Stay: ABC Picks Up ‘Peanuts’ Specials Through 2015.” The first of these to be made, the famous Christmas special, was an instant classic when it was created by Charles Schulz on a shoestring budget back in 1965, and thanks to some smart television executives, it will be around for at least another five years for all of us to see and enjoy. 

What people don’t know is that the Christmas special almost didn’t happen, because some not-so-smart television executives almost didn’t let it air. You see, Charles Schulz had some ideas that challenged the way of thinking of those executives 46 years ago, and one of them had to do with the inclusion in his Christmas cartoon of a reading from the King James Bible’s version of the Gospel of Luke.
The more things change, the more things stay the same.

As far back as 1965 — just a few years before Time magazine asked “Is God Dead?” — CBS executives thought a Bible reading might turn off a nation populated with Christians. And during a Christmas special, no less! Ah, the perils of living on an island in the northeast called Manhattan.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” was a groundbreaking program in so many ways, as we learned watching the great PBS American Masters series on Charles Schulz, known by his friends and colleagues as “Sparky.” It was based on the comic strip Peanuts, and was produced and directed by former Warner Brothers animator Bill Melendez, who also supplied the voice for Snoopy.

We learned in that PBS special that the cartoon happened by mere serendipity.

“We got a call from Coca-Cola,” remembered Melendez. “And they said, ‘Have you and Mr. Schulz ever considered doing a Christmas show with the characters?’ and I immediately said ‘Yes.’ And it was Wednesday and they said, ‘If you can send us an outline by Monday, we might be interested in it.’ So I called Sparky on the phone and told him I’d just sold ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ and he said, ‘What’s that?’ and I said, ‘It’s something you’ve got to write tomorrow.’” 

We learned in that American Masters series that Schulz had some ideas of his own for the Christmas special, ideas that didn’t make the network suits very happy. First and foremost, there was no laugh track, something unimaginable in that era of television. Schulz thought that the audience should be able to enjoy the show at its own pace, without being cued when to laugh. CBS created a version of the show with a laugh track added, just in case Schulz changed his mind. Luckily, he didn’t.

The second big battle was waged over voiceovers. The network executives were not happy that the Schulz’s team had chosen to use children to do the voice acting, rather than employing adults. Indeed, in this remarkable world created by Charles Schulz, we never hear the voice of an adult.

The executives also had a problem with the jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. They thought the music would not work well for a children’s program, and that it distracted from the general tone. They wanted something more . . . well . . . young.

Last but not least, the executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. The network orthodoxy of the time assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Bible.

There was a standoff of sorts, but Schulz did not back down, and because of the tight production schedule and CBS’s prior promotion, the network executives aired the special as Schulz intended it. But they were certain they had a flop on their hands.

“They were freaking out about something so overtly religious in a Christmas special,” explained Melendez. “They basically wrote it off, like, hey, this is just isn’t going to be interesting to anyone, and it’s just going to be like a big tax write-off.”

Melendez himself was somewhat hesitant about the reading from Luke. “I was leery of the religion that came into it, and I was right away opposed to it. But Sparky just assumed what he had to say was important to somebody.”

Which is why Charles Schulz was Charles Schulz. He knew that the Luke reading by Linus was the heart and soul of the story.

As Charlie Brown sinks into a state of despair trying to find the true meaning of Christmas, Linus quietly saves the day. He walks to center of the stage where the Peanuts characters have gathered, and under a narrow spotlight, quotes the second chapter of the Gospel According to Luke, verses 8 through 14:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.
“ . . . And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown,” Linus concluded.

The scene lasted 51 seconds. When Linus finished up, Charlie Brown realized he did not have to let commercialism ruin his Christmas. With a sense of inspiration and purpose, he picked up his fragile tree and walked out of the auditorium, intending to take it home to decorate and show all who cared to see how it would work in the school play.

When CBS executives saw the final product, they were horrified. They believed the special would be a complete flop. CBS programmers were equally pessimistic, informing the production team, “We will, of course, air it next week, but I’m afraid we won’t be ordering any more.”

The half-hour special aired on Thursday, December 9, 1965, preempting The Munsters and following Gilligan’s Island. To the surprise of the executives, 50 percent of the televisions in the United States tuned in to the first broadcast. The cartoon was a critical and commercial hit; it won an Emmy and a Peabody award.
Linus’s recitation was hailed by critic Harriet Van Horne of the New York World-Telegram, who wrote, “Linus’ reading of the story of the Nativity was, quite simply, the dramatic highlight of the season.”

A Charlie Brown Christmas is equaled only perhaps by the 1966 How the Grinch Stole Christmas! in its popularity among young and old alike. Thank God the Grinch-like executives at CBS chose to air the special back in 1965 despite their misgivings. If it had been left to their gut instincts, we would have had one less national treasure to cherish come Christmas time.

— Lee Habeeb is the vice president of content at Salem Radio Network, which syndicates Bill Bennett, Mike Gallagher, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt. He lives in Oxford, Miss., with his wife, Valerie, and daughter Reagan.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Singing Bowl

Read: Deuteronomy 4:32-40

We therefore ought to . . . become fellow workers for the truth. —3 John 1:8

Artist and scientist Michael Flynn designed a singing bowl for display in ArtPrize, an international art competition held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The bowl requires no electricity but it does require something that is in short supply: cooperation.

As I observed people trying to make the bowl sing, I was surprised that none of them bothered to read the directions about rocking it gently. Instead, impatient to make music, they kept trying their own ideas. After a few minutes they walked away frustrated and disappointed, as if the bowl was defective.

How many times, I wonder, do we become frustrated that life isn’t working the way we think it should? We keep trying ways that seem right, but things keep turning out wrong. Instead of following God’s Word, we continue trying to find our own way.

The singing bowl reminds us that we can’t expect life to go well if we ignore the instructions of the Designer (Deut. 4:40). Failing to obey divides us from one another and separates us from God. To fulfill His plan for the world and make the way of salvation known (Ps. 67:2), we need to follow His instructions about living and working peacefully together. When life doesn’t go well, it may be that we’ve stopped following God’s plan.

Sure it takes a lot of courage to put things in God’s hands,
To give ourselves completely, our lives, our hopes, our plans;
To follow where He leads us and make His will our own;
But all it takes is foolishness to go the way alone! —Kline

Life is a beautiful song that God is teaching us to play.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Left Behind vs. Left Overs

Thanksgiving Pardon

Read: 1 John 1:1-10

The blood of Jesus Christ [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin. —1 John 1:7

Each year at the end of November, the President of the United States issues an official pardon for the National Thanksgiving Turkey. During this lighthearted ceremony, one president remarked: “Our guest of honor looks a little nervous. Nobody’s told him yet that I’m going to give him a pardon.” The poor turkey had a good reason to be uneasy—without an acquittal, he was doomed to be Thanksgiving dinner.

We are in a similar situation when it comes to our sin. Without God’s pardon, we’re on our way to certain demise. This condition is a direct result of our own wrongdoing. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). However, we can be set free from this death sentence because God’s Son bore our sin in His body on the cross, “that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24). First John 1:7 tells us that Jesus’ blood “cleanses us from all sin.”

We can accept God’s pardon for our sin and receive eternal life when we confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead (Rom. 10:9). Today, consider how you will respond to God’s offer of forgiveness.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide.
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow—
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside! —Chisholm

Through faith in Christ,
we receive God’s pardon and escape sin’s penalty.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When God Cleans House

READ: Jonah 1

Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. —Ephesians 4:31

God did some fall housecleaning this week. He sent a mighty wind through our neighborhood that made the trees tremble and shake loose their dead branches. When it finished, I had a mess to clean up.

In my own life, God sometimes works in a similar way. He will send or allow stormy circumstances that shake loose the “lifeless branches” I’ve been refusing to release. Sometimes it’s something that once was good, like an area of ministry, but is no longer bearing fruit. More often it’s something that’s not good, like a bad habit I’ve slid into or a stubborn attitude that prevents new growth.

The Old Testament prophet Jonah discovered what can happen when one refuses to get rid of a stubborn attitude. His hatred for the Ninevites was stronger than his love for God, so God sent a great storm that landed Jonah in a giant fish (Jonah 1:4,17). God preserved the reluctant prophet in that unlikely place and gave him a second chance to obey (2:10; 3:1-3).

The lifeless limbs in my yard caused me to think of attitudes that God expects me to dispose of. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians lists some of them: bitterness, anger, and evil speech (4:31). When God shakes things up, we need to get rid of what He shakes loose. —Julie Ackerman Link

Lord, give me a listening heart and help me
to cooperate with You when You
point out changes that need to be made in my life.
I want to honor You and please You. Amen.

Christ’s cleansing power can remove the most stubborn stain of sin.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Saturday, November 19, 2011

5 Reasons NOT to use an Evangelist

Here are 5 reasons NOT to utilize evangelists in your church:

  1. You do not believe your church needs spiritual encouragement.
  2. You are satisfied with the overall growth of your church.
  3. All of your church members are passionate in their personal evangelism.
  4. You are convinced that evangelists are not biblical.
  5. You fear the influx of new souls into the Kingdom and your local church.
For more information about the ministries of the James Croft Evangelistic Association visit our website.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Open Dates and JOY Boxes

Unfortunately, this is the time of year when my preaching schedule slows to a crawl.  I currently have several open dates on my preaching calendar through the end of this year and the first three weeks of 2012.  A list of these dates are available on my ministry calendar viewable at this link.  I am always ready to serve our Lord's Church through preaching, teaching, and special programs for all ages.  Please let me know if I may serve your church or group.

I am currently preparing updated information about our annual JOY Box ministry for nursing home residents in Baker and Columbia Counties.  I'm praying we will be able to provide each nursing home resident with a box of JOY in January.

You are invited to participate by filling a plastic shoebox with small gift items including shampoo, body wash, puzzle book, magnifying glass, socks, etc.  James Croft Evangelistic Association will place a Gospel tract in each box to share the JOY of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  All YOU have to do is prepare and designate boxes for male or female residents.  Unisex boxes are also acceptable.  Print and place a JOY Box Submission Form in each box.  If possible, please include a $2.00 donation for each box to assist with program expenses.  In the past we have received boxes and donations from churches of various denominations, individuals, businesses, school clubs and organizations.

The JCEA website offers full details of the ministry including suggested box contents, drop-off locations, box submission form and a video explaining how you can participate.

I hope you join us in sharing a little JOY!!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tebow's Jesus Jersey Causing A Stir

Fans of Denver Broncos' quarterback Tim Tebow have created custom jerseys that feature the name 'Jesus' displayed above Tebow's number, according to KTVQ.

While some say the shirts are simply a way to honor the proudly Christian player, others are speaking out against the divine comparison.

"It's making Tebow out to be a god instead of an athlete," one person told a Christian media outlet. "I'm happy he's a Christian and isn't afraid to demonstrate that, but for fans to hold him up in such high regard, perhaps comparing him to Jesus, is going too far."

But in a recent post on Cafe Mom's "The Stir," blogger Jacqueline Burtargues that the shirts are harmless:

    "I know Tim Tebow fans are loyal with a capital ... who am I kidding, they're LOYAL in all caps. So I guess if you're a true Tebow supporter, altering the jersey of the NFL quarterback for the Broncos to read "Jesus" instead of "Tebow," wouldn't seem over-the-top. Particularly since the QB is so emphatically Christian..."

Read more of this story on Church Report.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Thank You! Thank You!

I would like to thank everyone that has offered your support to the various ministries of James Croft Evangelistic Association.  Our ministries involve many facets that do not include financial compensation, i.e. JOY Boxes, school presentations, nursing home visitationprison services, internet videos, etc.  The only way I am able to dedicate the time and talents to these efforts is through your generous financial donations. I pray the Lord blesses you tremendously for your investment, which may not see returns while on earth, but will certainly be realized in Heaven!

Again, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart and with a sincere appreciation for all you do to further the Kingdom of God!

For more information about the James Croft Evangelistic Association or to financially invest in these ministries visit our website or use the buttons below.

NOTE: The James Croft Evangelistic Association is registered with the IRS as a 501(C)(3) corporation and all donations are tax deductible.

Financial Contributions

To make an investment in one or more of our ministry areas with your credit card or PayPal click the appropriate "Donate" button(s) below.
To make a contribution by check or money order follow 
JCEA Donation
Click this button to make a donation to be used as needed.

JOY Box Donation
Click this button to make a donation to the JCEA  JOY Box Ministry.  Donations will be used to cover expenses in providing shoe box gifts to nursing home residents.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Did You Talk "Trash" Today?

Today, November 15th, is America Recycles Day. This would have been the perfect day to talk a little "trash" and really mean it!!  8-)

America Recycles Day, an initiative of Keep America Beautiful, is the only nationally recognized day and community-driven national awareness event dedicated to promoting and celebrating recycling in the United States.

Since its inception in 1997, communities across the country have participated in America Recycles Day on November 15 to promote environmental citizenship, educate and encourage action. Through America Recycles Day, KAB empowers communities to educate and directly engage their citizens in the act of recycling.

Follow America Recycles Day on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wellborn on Sunday

I will be preaching in supply for Pastor Don Minshew at Wellborn Baptist Church this Sunday, November 20, 2011 at 10:30am and 6pm.  The church is located on East U.S. Highway 90 in Wellborn, Florida.  For more information or directions call the church at (386) 963-2231.

NOTE: For up-to-date information on my preaching schedule visit the schedule page of the JCEA ministry website. If you would like to receive schedule information via e-mail follow this link: Subscribe to James Croft Ministry Opportunities by Email.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

DEAR at Lake Butler Elementary

I read to Celeste Saunder's 2nd grade class at Lake Butler Elementary School on October 26, 2011.  The opportunity was part of Red Ribbon Week at the school and was called DEAR, Drop Everything And Read.  The book I shared was Max Lucado's "You Are Special".  I was surprised when Mrs. Saunders and the class presented me with a hardcover edition of the book.  After completing the book I had a great question & answer time with the students.  This is always exciting, because you never know what they will ask.  I had a great time!!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Halloween Ministry?

I'm always looking for unique opportunities to minister for our Lord.  On October 31st I donned my leprechaun attire and visited a nearby nursing home.  I purchased 80 tiny jack-0-lanterns and went on a reverse trick-or-treating mission giving one to each resident.  The visiting took a little over three hours as I talked with each resident and prayed with several.  The 80 tiny gifts only cost $22, but you would have thought the leprechaun was handing out real gold by many of the reactions.  I think the Lord blessed me more than the recipients.  It was a wonderful visit.

Many of the staff wondered about the location of the leprechaun's gold and were surprised when I produced a "gold" coin for them from my green jack-o-lantern (hey, it matched the hat).  A friend provided me with the gold coins inscribed with a verse of scripture.  The tokens were left over from Vacation Bible School.  One of the residents, looking at my bright green container, said "you picked that one a little early."

Now, I know some may take issue with the idea of even recognizing "Halloween".  I prefer to think by witnessing, sharing scripture, praying and laughing with residents a little "light" illuminated the evening.  In Matthew 5:14-15 Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house."

Nursing home residents - 80
80 small gift items - $22
Time spent visiting - 3 hours
Joy & smiles of residents - PRICELESS!!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Bethel Baptist Today

I am preaching in supply for Pastor Jason Cain at Bethel Baptist Church today.  The services begin 11am and 6pm.  The church is located on CR230A in Starke, Florida.