Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Gift from the Heart

Some of today's top Christian worship artists will donate the revenues from songs written at a special retreat next month to help relieve suffering worldwide.

Michael W. Smith, Chris Tomlin, Steven Curtis Chapman, Darlene Zschech, Matt and Beth Redman, Tim Hughes, Paul Baloche, Israel Houghton, Graham Kendrick, Andy Park, Stu Garrard and Martin Smith from Delirious? are participating in the retreat sponsored by Compassionart in Perthshire, Scotland Jan. 7 – 11. 2008. The songwriters’ goal is to collectively write 10-12 songs with 100 percent of the proceeds derived from the songs going directly to charity. One half of the monies will go to the songwriters’ charity of choice, and the other 50 percent will go to a charitable project agreed upon by all the songwriters involved.

“Over the last few years I have had the privilege of traveling to some of the poorest parts of the world and seeing first hand the plight of humanity,” said Martin Smith, Delirious?, Compassionart's founder who is organizing the retreat along with his wife, Anna. “As a song writer and a person with a microphone I made a promise to try and do something about it. What better than to call on my friends and do something together. To be people that can make a change rather than just singing about it.”

“They have all waived their rights to see something historic happen: the music business coming together for something great, greater than any individual could achieve,” Smith said.

Please keep these artists and the retreat in your prayers. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What Difference Does it Make?

'Tis the season of church Christmas events. There are pageants, children's musicals, live nativities, candlelight services, living Christmas trees, cantatas, Bethlehem recreations, full Broadway-style musicals and even Radio City Music Hall clones, all designed to attract people to church during December. And churches are right to be outreach minded at this time of the year when people who normally don't attend church might actually want to come.

Don't fall into the trap, however, of measuring whether or not your event is successful by counting numbers. Too often I hear pastors and worship team leaders talking about how many people attend an event (or church services, for that matter) and assuming that large numbers imply their "work for the Lord" has been accomplished. Several have reported Christmas outreach events that attract thousands, yet, it's almost impossible to measure whether attending the event made any difference in bringing the attendees closer to a relationship with God. Few outreach events include any type of follow up. The people come, we record the numbers and hope we see increased attendance in subsequent Sunday services.

Where some follow up has been reported, the results are thought provoking. At one church with about 2,000 in attendance each Sunday, a yearly Christmas outreach event which attracts thousands results in weekly attendance increase of no more than five persons. Another church bringing in more than 4,000 for an annual Christmas event has an average of 25 people attending adult Sunday school classes on a weekly basis. Another had about 1,000 at an outreach event-- but most of them were regular attenders.

The reality is that many Christmas events become social traditions. In some communities a particular event may be the "cool" and popular place to be seen. Some feel that attending an event at Christmas time makes up for not attending church during the year and somehow earns them points toward heaven. People have tons of reasons for attending, but the real question is what difference does it make?

My challenge to church leaders and worship teams evaluating this year's efforts is to look beyond the numbers. Don't be lulled into a sense of accomplishment if your numbers are large. Find out what impact it had for Christ in the lives of those attending and in the lives of those involved in presenting it. Also, if your event drew just a few, or smaller numbers than for which you were hoping, don't be lulled into a sense of failure. Evaluate the impact. If only one person attended, but that heart was changed, your event was a success. If 5,000 attended your event and then went out to finish their Christmas shopping, look for ways to make a more personal impact next year.

The personal invite, the event, the difference:
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I ever did." So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."
(John 4:39-40 NIV)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Holiday News & Reviews in Christian Arts

Noelle, a film from the folks who brought us "One Night With the King" opens this Friday in selected theaters nationwide. Haven't been able to preview it, but here's the synopsis:
Father Jonathan Keene - a cold, impatient priest arrives in a tiny fishing village the week before Christmas to do what he does best: shut down a dying parish. But things take an unexpected turn as he becomes entangled in the various lives of the village's eccentric characters, including their beautiful librarian, the childlike priest he is displacing, and the magical experience of Mrs. Worthington's legendary Christmas Party, where everyone is welcome and anything is possible.
The film, written, directed and starring David Wall, is a testament to the tenacious work necessary to get films with wholesome Christian messages made in today's market. View the trailer above.

Visit Masterwork Productions at http://www.shoutlife.com/masterworks on Shoutlife, a safe and clean alternative to social networking. There are a number of Christian artists and performers represented on the site.

Looking for some great gift ideas for Christmas? Let me suggest two terrific books: "The Case for the Real Jesus" by Lee Strobel and "Home to Holly Springs" by Jan Karon. Strobel's latest in his apologetic series of excellent books takes six of today's most popular arguments against Christianity and Jesus' true identity and methodically examines them. The former atheist turned Christian after trying to disprove the claims in the bible lays out each argument, then shows that they don't stand up after thorough investigation. Every Christian needs to read this book.

"Home to Holly Springs" is the first of Karon's "Father Tim" novels which follow her popular Mitford series of novels which bring to life the delightful characters of Mitford, NC and their devoted and faithful Episcopal priest Father Timothy Kavanagh. I treasure the Mitford novels, not only because they're just a delight to read, but because of the wonderful, steadfast and inspiring faith of Father Timothy. God has used these books and Father Tim to inspire me in my own personal relationship with Lord a number of times. The Father Tim novels leave Mitford and focus on Father Timothy, which can only be encouraging reading.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Come As You Are; Leave Changed

"Come as you are" has become the trendy phrase used by churches to indicate that all are welcome at services. It means that you can wear jeans, that the music probably will be contemporary and that you might even get to sip a Starbucks during the sermon. In effect, the experience at a "come as you are church" usually is geared at attracting people who might not otherwise be interested in attending a church service. Perhaps they had a bad experience and were hurt in a church. Maybe they just found church boring or not connected to what was happening in their lives. Maybe they had made choices not pleasing to God and no longer felt welcome in church.

Ultimately the "come as you are" churches are hoping to be appealing, fresh and innovative to attract these folks and for the most part, this is a good thing. Church should be a place that's open to everyone and the worship service should reflect that welcome. After all, if church were only for people living perfect lives, every sanctuary would be empty on Sunday morning.

Where many churches seem to be falling short (and selling God short) these days, however, is that they are afraid to tell it like it is-- that the "way we are" probably is not the way God wants us and that we might not get to do and have everything we want if we want to be His.

Jesus loves us all just as we are, but the reason for his coming and for his death for us on the cross was so that we could be transformed. We are welcome in His house, in His arms and in His kingdom right now, right where we are. But we can't get there by remaining in sin. We need to experience a change of heart that recognizes the hopelessness of "as we are" and desires the lifechanging redemption Christ offers us.

Once we receive His gift, once we enter into that personal relationship, we start a continual process of transformation and growth that never allows us to stay as we are, but which, through the power of the Holy Spirit, changes us each day, each week, each month, each year to be more like Jesus.

Jesus never said "come as you are" and stay that way (for example, He didn't condemn the woman caught in adultery, offering her love and forgiveness, but told her to stop sinning from that point on), and neither should our churches. Too many are afraid of causing offence, of seeing attendance, finances or popularity decline if the truth is preached. I love the slogan of a friend's new church: "Come As You Are; Leave Different." What a great idea. Our church services should be inviting and exciting and relevant but should send us away changed able to make a difference for the Kingdom.

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."
(Romans 12:2 NIV)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Give Thanks, No Matter What

Thanksgiving with its turkey, travel, football games and family get togethers gives us a chance to stop and reflect on the things for which we are grateful. Stopping to thank God for our blessings is a good thing and I'm glad there is a holiday set aside for doing this.

If you want to take a step of maturity, however, give thanks in and for everything. And "everything" means not only for the blessings and the things that make us happy, but for the losses, the disappointments, the aggravations, the hurts and the things that send us to our knees.

It often is in the dark times, those moments we don't understand, where we question God. We don't hesitate to give thanks when something good comes our way, but we feel hurt and angry with God when he allows hardship or uncomfortable circumstances. We pray for the trial to pass. We pray for change. We pray to be delivered.

Obedience is to follow God's word, however. "Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thes. 5:16 NIV) Give thanks on faith alone, trusting and believing that God never gives us a command we can't follow. "Thank you, Father, for I am grateful for your love, for your sacrifice, for your care and compassion."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

WORSHIP: How Do You Spell It?

Worship is all about you, God.
You are:
W
Wise, offering to guide us if we'll only ask; Worthy of all praise; Wonderful counselor
O
Omniscient, nothing surprises you; On high seated at the eternal throne; the Only way
R
Resurrected, the grave could not hold you; Righteous, all your ways are correct; Redeemer who purchased us at great cost
S
Savior, whose death gave me life; Shepherd, caretaker of His flock; Son of Man, Messiah
H
Holy Spirit to guide me; Hope, a never-ending certainty of faith; Honor
I
Inspiration, Immortal, the I Am
P
Praiseworthy at all times; Powerful, in control of every situation; Prince of Peace
You are all these things, Lord, and I WORSHIP you.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Sing to the Lord a New Song

Worship leaders everywhere are busy selecting, writing and practicing songs this week for the worship service next Sunday. Hopefully there is some connection between the songs we'll sing and the message that will be preached (although sometimes, unfortunately, selections can be made based on what the band members who are available this week already know...). Maybe there is come coordination between songs that work with drama sketches or dance interpretation. At any rate, a lot of thought goes into selecting the songs sung to the Lord during worship services.

Let's take a moment, however, to think about the songs we are singing to the Lord during the week when it's not about worshiping in the sanctuary, but when it's personal worship between us and the Lord. I realized last year that I needed to change my tune. I was singing songs like, "This is Too Difficult, Lord!" and "No One Appreciates the Effort I'm Making." I can imagine He's heard some other familiar tunes out there from worship leaders too, like "I Want Fame," "She/He is Too Difficult to Work With," and the old favorite "Addicted to Approval."

Just like the lyrics of our most popular songs, these phrases and words can become stuck in our minds and if we repeat them often enough, they can become quite annoying. So this year, I promised God I would sing Him a new song so He wouldn't get annoyed with hearing my voice. Now I give some thought to the personal songs I'll be singing as I go through my week and and I'm offering selections like "Thank You, Lord," "Praise You for What You Have Done," "I'm Trying, and With Your Help, it Will Happen!" and "I Forgive That Hurt."

I want there to be a connection between the songs I'm singing and the message I'll have for people as I walk through my week.
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.

Sing to the LORD, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.

Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples (Psalm 96:1-3 NIV)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Are You Ready for Your Video Closeup?

Several contests recently were held to honor folks on church video teams who put together videos to promote their churches, highlight sermon topics or get the congregation thinking about subjects. Video is a regular part of many worship services and, it seems, our lives as we view video images in one form or another throughout most of the day.
What if this Sunday, God suddenly caused the thoughts of your mind and the ponderings of your heart to grace the screen in the worship service? What would that video look like? Would it include any thoughts about Him, about His greatness, about how thankful you are for what He has given you? Would the clips from your heart reveal love for your family, concern for those who don't know Him, compassion for those who are hungry and forgotten? Or would the movie star you, walking through the week thinking about what you have to get done, about the hurts you have suffered, about how your days are filled with just about everything but God?
As water reflects a face,
so a man's heart reflects the man. (Proverbs 27:19 NIV)

What are people reading on your face?
To edit your video, meditate on His word. Here are some great verses (the Psalms, the Message) for those of us in the arts (share with us others that are soecial to you). Let them be the scenes that play on your video:
"What a beautiful thing, God to give thanks, to sing an anthem to you, the High God! To announce your love each daybreak, sing your faithful presence all through the night." 92:1-2

"Come let us shout praises to God, raise the roof for the Rock who saved us; Let's march into his presence singing praises, lifting the rafters with our hymns" 95: 1-2

"Thank God! Pray to him by name! Tell everyone you meet what he has done! Sing Him songs, belt out hymns,translate His wonders into music. Honor His holy name with Hallelujah! you who seek God. Live a happy life." 105:1-2


News: Jeff Lisenby's CD "A Spy in Tortuga" featuring a creative mix of accordian and jazz (yes, that's accordian and jazz together)is generating a buzz during this year's Grammy voting. Jeff's one of the nicest Christian artists you'll ever meet (he was a pianist for one of our touring shows). If you're a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS), make sure you give this CD a listen. I loved it. You can listen to selections from the CD on itunes or cdbaby.com

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Deborah Kerr: Thoughts to Share and Remember


Hollywood legend Deborah Kerr passed away last week at the age of 86. What has that got to do with thoughts on being a Christian in the arts? Well, everything, actually. I wouldn't be heading up a Christian performing arts organization or enjoying a ministry with Christians in the arts without the influence Deborah Kerr had on my life.
I "met" her when I was 7. Our elementary school presented "The King & I" as its Spring musical and my second-grade class was cast as the children of the King. It was my first exposure to the world of the theater and I've never been the same since. My enthusiasm must have been noticed by my teacher as I was assigned one of three speaking parts given to the "Siamese" children. Near the end, when Mrs. Anna is preparing to leave Siam, I was to deliver the incredibly moving line, "Please do not go away."
Finally the week of performances arrived and before a packed auditorium, I awaited my cue to get up from my cross-legged sitting position stage right center, walk up to Mrs. Anna, step out from behind her billowing dress, hit my mark and give my heart-wrenching plea for her not to leave us. My moment came and I delivered my line to uproarious laughter from the audience. I returned to my seat bewildered. "I must be a really talented actress." I thought, because I hadn't realized that line was supposed to be funny. Later I was told that my costume, hiked up to my waist to accommodate the cross-legged sitting position, had remained there when I appeared at center stage and that my line was delivered with my underwear displayed for all the audience and the court at Siam to see.
This curbed my enthusiasm for a stage career, but not for the "The King & I" and when I discovered that a movie had been made of the musical, I begged to be able to stay up and watch it when it was shown on television. And there I met Deborah Kerr, who starred as Anna in the film. I was in awe. I never had seen anyone so beautiful. She looked like a Dresden figurine to me and I wanted to be just like her. After that, I watched any movie in which she appeared. Some are among my all-time favorites, like "An Affair to Remember," with Cary Grant. I can't tell you how many times I have seen that movie, but it makes me cry every time.
One year, I found that "An Affair to Remember" was due to air on a Saturday afternoon and I begged my father to let me watch it instead of some sporting event (this was back in the days when households had only one television set and video options hadn’t been invented yet). “Why do you want to watch that again?” he asked. “You become an emotional mess every time.”
“I won’t,“ I declared. “I’ve seen it often enough that I can watch it without crying, now, I promise!”
He relented and we watched happily together—until the part where Cary brings Deborah his grandmother’s shawl.
For some reason, that's the moment that my emotions become unglued. I start to well up. It builds when Cary sees the portrait on the wall (if you don't know what I'm talking about, you obviously are not a fellow "Affair" lover) and the dam bursts when she says, "Don't look at me like that."
Well, there I sat with my father trying to hide the emotional dam that was about to burst. "I can't let a tear fall, " I struggled with myself. "I promised!" When Deborah said, "Don't look at me like that..." suddenly I was struck by a box of tissues my father had tossed across the room. The impact unleashed my emotions in one tremendous cry and I sobbed harder than I've ever sobbed in my life. And I don't remember my father ever laughing harder than while watching this spectacle.
At any rate, Deborah Kerr has been a part of my life for many years. And even though she had no idea who I was, she influenced me and I loved her. Every report I ever read about her was positive, from people in the industry saying she was one of the easiest stars to work with to fans reporting how gracious she was.
Her career sparked in me a love for theater, Rodgers & Hammerstein, great old films, how stars related to their fans, and the performing arts in general. Now those things have come together in a ministry that serves the Kingdom. Over all, she brought many hours of happiness to my life. What a wonderful legacy for Ms. Kerr and an inspiration to those of us in the arts who can be used in the same way to influence people, whether or not we know it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

News and Reviews in the World of Christian Performing Arts

Halloween and how or whether Christians should observe it has been getting a lot of play on the internet this week. Christian comedian Robert G. Lee offers some interesting thoughts at
http://christianmusic.about.com/od/specialreports/a/aargleehallow.htm

Another Christian comedian, Anita Renfroe, appears on Good Morning America today. Her "Total Momsense" song of things mothers say to their kids set to the William Tell Overture has been making the rounds on the internet and led to the Good Morning America gig as well as interviews on Inside Edition, Dr. Phil and the CBS Early Show among others. Click on the video link at right to view this clip.

Lillenas (publisher of some of the best Christian drama and music) has announced some changes for its Drama Arts Conference. The drama conference no longer will be combined with the music arts conference and will be held in April instead of February as it had been in the past. Save the dates of April 24-26. The conference will be held in the Kansas City area. For more details as they become available, check this blog or sign up for email updates at info@lillenasdrama.com.

Today is Blog Action Day for the Environment. Let's take a moment to remember the environment in our prayers. God did put it in our care.

Paul Kuritz, an acting and directing professor at Bates College, has written a book with an interesting perspective. "The Fiery Serpent" (Pleasant Word 2007) examines theater and film making from a Christian perspective. The author's first prayer as a newly converted follower of the Lord was "Dear God, please don't make me a born-again evangelical Christian." God declined and one of the results is this book. Some might be intimidated by its erudite nature (he quotes Aristotle and delves into the laws of thermodynamics) but the investigation of the nature and art of movies and plays is well worth the read.

Mr. Kuritz creates the image of God as a playwright and director and offers the stories of the bible as evidence of God's flare for the dramatic. We come to see that all of the creative process isn't really all that new, but a recreation of the internal conflict within man to choose to follow good instead of evil. And in the end, it's all for God's glory. There's some great practical advice for Christian artists like: "In making a play or a film, the theater artist encounters many people giving him instructions, making demands on him, planning his days, requesting compliance, issuing orders, presenting temptations, and rationalizing and justifying all sorts of things. For the Christian, all of these human messages must be filtered through the cross of Christ and found consistent with life in the kingdom of God. To order the book online go to http://www.pleasantwordbooks.com

Due to the wonderful response we're receiving to this blog, we're considering expanding it to two posts each week, one for news and reviews and the other for inspiration and devotion for artists. We'd like to hear from you on what you'd find helpful. What topics would you like addressed? Which day would be most helpful for you to receive the devotional posting, Thursday or Friday? Please send your comments to masterworkproductions@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Truth About Celebrity: Someone is Always Watching

Are you a celebrity? In the performing arts world, that's usually an easy question to answer. If you have fans paying to come see you perform or to buy your CDs, videos, etc., you're probably a celebrity. In the Christian performing arts world, it's a little harder to define and you might be a celebrity without even knowing it. (Tom Curley's recent article "I'm With the Worship Team" gives great insight into how the band model can influence worship teams and how there needs to be a distinction between privilege and service. (Read the article at http://www.verticalmusic.com.)

If you're in the arts, there is one thing you can be sure of, whether you've attained "celebrity" status or not: people are watching you and will be influenced by your example.

I worked for years in the secular performing arts world and enjoyed meeting and working with many famous people. Overall, I formed the opinion that, with a few exceptions, the most famous stars were the nicest and most considerate and those who wanted to be stars (the ones who were just starting out or just beginning to get a taste of fame) were the most demanding and hardest to handle. One singer, who believe me, you never have heard of, seemed to think I was her personal slave and walked around bellowing "hot water, hot water!" which was her command that I should bring her tea (and stir it for her) so her marvelous (at least in her opinion) voice could be nurtured.

When you're around celebrity regularly, it loses its ability to awe you because you come to realize that these people, no matter how famous or adored, still are people. It really comes down to their character--what kind of people are they and how do they conduct themselves?

I recently read an article in a national periodical by a famous artist. He and his wife both have achieved fame in the secular and Christian markets. I was excited to see him featured so prominently in a secular publication, hoping he would have an opportunity to share his faith with fans who might not hear it anywhere else. Instead I was a rather disappointed as he justified beginning his relationship with his current wife while both still were married to former spouses by saying that "when two people click, there's not much you can do about it."

I don't know the details of their relationships and don't presume to judge them for divorcing, but I do have a problem with telling people that it's OK to get involved with someone else while you're married because God himself tells us that's wrong and if you feel yourself becoming attracted to someone who is married, you certainly can and should do something about it. But people who don't know the Lord will read that and take it as permission from a Christian they admire that they can pursue adulterous relationships. What a lost opportunity to use celebrity for God's glory.

One exception to my "don't get excited any more" about celebrities is actor John Cullum. I have loved his rich baritone voice since I first saw him in "Shenandoah" on Broadway more years ago than I'd care to admit. I recently saw him in "110 in the Shade" and literally swooned (well, as much as it is possible for a middle-aged married woman to swoon). Let's just say he's the only person I ever have waited at the stage door for, and it was well worth the experience. During a longer run of a musical in which he starred, Mr. Cullum consistently stepped out of the stage door after every performance and greeted fans, signed autographs, chatted with mothers telling tales of their sons who want to be Broadway stars and in general, was just a very nice man. I've known others, with less stature and who haven't had people waiting at the stage door for half the number of years Mr. Cullum has, who blow by their fans without even a quick hello.

Again, it comes down to character and if you're a Christian in that situation, it comes down to Christ's character too, because your actions reflect on Him and your ability to witness through Him.

If you lead worship, do you greet people after the service and take an opportunity to get to know them? Or do you brush past saying "I'm with the band?" I was told about one church who hired a new worship pastor and Washington, DC itself couldn't hold a candle to the politics that went on as people lobbied to be on the worship team. They showered him with gifts, dinners and compliments because being on the worship team holds such prestigious celebrity at this church.

Do you enjoy this kind of celebrity in your church? If so, do you encourage a lobbying effort of the best of the best to win your favor or do you use it for God's glory? Take time to get to know the people who look up to you; find out what gifts they have to offer; pray about how you can develop those gifts and build their relationship with Christ. You'll set the example and it will be seen. Because remember, someone is always watching.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Making Worship a True Experience

When we think about going to church to worship, what comes to mind? For many of us, images of praise teams or choirs singing, musicians playing, people praying, videos rolling and handclapping and dancing come to mind. All of those may be part of a worship service, and if prayerfully planned by those leading the worship ministry at church, can be effective elements to enhance worship, but they are not worship in themselves.
Worship, by definition, is bowing down, feeling and expressing deep love and closeness for God. The church part, is simply a bunch of Christians doing that together. Without meeting God on that personal level, attending a worship service can be a lot like attending a great party. You can enjoy the music, mingle with a bunch of friends, but never see the host giving the party through all the noise and crowd. (I have attended a couple of services where the music or other elements of worship were great, but I wondered where God was in the service).
Before you go to church this Sunday, make a promise to meet Jesus there. If you're responsible for leading worship, make a promise to make Jesus so visible in all that takes place that the people in your church can't help but see and be drawn to him.
There is a great resource available to worship leaders to help make this happen. It's Rory Noland's newest book "The Worshiping Artist" (Zondervan 2007). The author of "The Heart of the Artist" comes through with another excellent resource to help worship directors and teams lead others in worship.
The book is divided into three essential parts:
"Worshiping in Secret" and the need for continued personal worship all week, not just on Sunday

"Worshiping in Truth" making sure we know who God really is and what it is to make everything come together to worship him

"Learning from Ancient Worship Leaders" some history for what we tend to think of as a modern tradition.

There are terrific questions for group discussion and some personal action steps.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

News in Christian Performing Arts



We're excited to announce that Emmy-nominated author and humorist Martha Bolton has joined the roster of performers represented by Masterwork Productions. Martha Bolton has written comedy for such performers as Bob Hope, Phyllis Diller, Ann Jillian, Jeff Allen, Mark Lowry, Fritz Coleman, and more. A speaker and author of over 50 books, Martha is also the Cafeteria Lady for Brio magazine. She also is the author of numerous sketch and monologue books used by church drama teams everywhere!

Comedian Torry Martin recently was interviewed on Focus on the Family's podcast about the creation of character Wooten Bassett for "Adventures in Odyssey." To hear the podcast, go to
http://focusonthefamily.edgeboss.net/download/focusonthefamily/aio/podcast/aiopodcast27.mp3

For more information about Martha, Torry and the performing arts ministry of Masterwork Productions, go to our newly updated web page at www.masterworkproductions.org

What if someone told you that they believe the Gospel of Philip is as credible as the Gospel of Luke and that the entire bible can't be trusted because the church made errors about which books to include in the bible? What if someone wanted proof that the bones recently found in burial boxes didn't belong to Jesus? What if someone says they believe in the nice parts about Jesus, his love, compassion, willingness to accept social outcasts, but don't believe He would condemn anyone and that God wouldn't really send anyone to hell. Or what if a person believes Jesus was a good person, but not God and that other leaders and religions are just as helpful at bringing a person to salvation?

Are you prepared to share truth about those questions? In the performing arts world, it's likely that you've already encountered many people who share one or more of those beliefs, and if you haven't studied some of these issues, you might have questions yourself. There is a great new tool that can help Christians understand these arguments and clear up misunderstandings with the truth. It's Lee Strobel's new book, The Case for the Real Jesus:A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ.
In "The Case for the Real Jesus," Lee Strobel gives us a reference book for all of the most popular attacks being embraced by today's post-modern culture when it comes to the Christian faith and who Jesus really is.
He meticulously examines six challenges to the traditional view of Jesus and shows them all to be unsubstantiated by evidence and research methods and often fueled by guesswork and personal opinion or motivation.
Very helpful are the "For Further Investigation" sections at the end of each section which provide resources for further study on each topic.
I have placed this book on my shelf next to the bible, the concordance and the bible dictionary as a major reference resource. It's wonderful to have so much information on such a variety of common attacks so handy in one book. -- Lauren Yarger, Executive Director, Masterwork Productions, Inc.
See the video below to hear Lee speaking about an interactive broadcast about the subject next Sunday, Sept. 30 or go to http://www.leestrobel.com/videoserver/video.php?clip=strobelP1002

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Kathy Griffin on "De" Ceived List; Our Response Should Be Love

Comedian Kathy Griffin certainly triggered a lot of controversy this week when she spoke to Jesus after accepting her Emmy Award for Outstanding Reality Program. And if you missed it, she didn't thank Him like so many do at awards programs (see the May 15 posting on this blog for thoughts on another awards program). Instead, Ms. Griffin said that "a lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus." She then held up her Emmy, make an off-color remark about Christ and said, "This award is my god now!"

Christians and Christian groups were outraged. The remarks were censored during the broadcast of the awards show Sunday.

I guess what is most surprising to me is that Christians seem surprised that someone who doesn't know the Lord would think they are in a position to comment about Him and even mock Him and take full credit for their accomplishments. That's human nature, however, and people have been doing this for centuries. In a field where "fresh" is so important, Ms. Griffin might be surprised to find out her thoughts aren't very new.

King Nebuchadnezzar, for instance, uttered this claim:

"Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of majesty?" (Dan. 4:29 NIV)

Later, this:

The governor's soldiers in Jerusalem "Stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on His head. They put a staff in His right hand and knelt in front of Him and mocked Him. 'Hail the King of the Jews!' they said." (Matt. 27: 28 NIV)

Was Jesus offended by Ms. Griffin's remarks? Yes, I think He was. And as Christians, it's OK for us not to be OK with such comments. But I believe Jesus feels a greater sadness that Ms. Griffin doesn't know Him. She also was quoted as saying this about Jesus: "I don't know what I ever did to him, I just think he doesn't like me that much..."

Jesus' response:

"Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."

My prayer for Ms. Griffin is that she will discover that Jesus does like her, in fact that He loves her so much, He died to erase the debt of everything she's ever "done to Him," including insulting Him at the awards ceremony. I pray that Christians in the arts community who know her will love her and take the opportunity to share the real Christ with her. I pray that she'll enter into a saving personal relationship with her Savior. And I pray she'll win another Emmy, if not for "My Life on the D List," then for another show so she'll have an opportunity to share a changed heart with millions of viewers and bring Him the glory.



Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembering September 11 in a Way That Will Make a Difference

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. It's been a long process of recovering from that day and the grief that it brought to my life. God has been faithful and
I will sing of your strength,
in the morning I will sing of your love;
for you are my fortress,
my refuge in times of trouble.(Ps. 59:16).
What is a lingering sadness is the knowledge that some of those who lost their lives that day didn't know God. In the performing arts world, we often hesitate about sharing our faith for fear of making ourselves stand out or of offending someone. How often do we think, "I'll wait until tomorrow, or next week, or when these people who are hostile toward Christianity are not around" to share our personal relationship with Jesus? How many of us thought those thoughts about someone who lost his life on 9/11?
We need to be ready to witness whenever and wherever God provides an opportunity, because there might not be another chance. And the consequences are eternal.
Rick Warren recently posted an excellent teaching on sharing your testimony on the daily devotionals from Purpose Driven Life (used here below with permission). Read it through and then ask God to bring to mind the people to whom He would have you be His messenger (and if you're int he arts, there will be at least one! This is a big missions field.)
Put your faith into action and make a difference for the kingdom.

Sharing Your Life Message
by Rick Warren
God has given you a Life Message to share.
When you became a believer, you also became God’s messenger. God wants to speak to the world through you. Paul said, “We speak the truth before God, as messengers of God.” (2 Corinthians 2:17)
You may feel you don’t have anything to share, but that’s the Devil trying to keep you silent. You have a storehouse of experiences that God wants to use to bring others into his family. The Bible says, “Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony of God in them.” (1 John 5:10)
Your Life Message has four parts to it:

Your testimony: the story of how you began a relationship with Jesus;
Your life lessons: the most important lessons God has taught you;
Your godly passions: the issues God shaped you to care about most;
The Good News: the message of salvation.

Your Life Message includes your testimony. Your testimony is the story of how Christ made a difference in your life. Peter tells us that we were chosen by God “to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you.” (1 Peter 2:9)
This is the essence of witnessing — simply sharing your personal experiences regarding the Lord. In a courtroom, a witness isn’t expected to argue the case, prove the truth, or press for a verdict; that is the job of attorneys. Witnesses simply report what happened to them or what they saw.
Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8) – not “You will be my attorney.” He wants you to share your story with others. Sharing your testimony is an essential part of your mission on earth because it is unique. There is no other story just like yours, so only you can share it. If you don’t share it, it will be lost forever.
You may not be a Bible scholar, but you are the authority on your life, and it’s hard to argue with personal experience. Actually, your personal testimony is more effective than a sermon, because unbelievers see pastors as professional salesmen, but they see you as a “satisfied customer,” so they give you more credibility.
Personal stories also are easier to relate to than principles, and people love to hear them. They capture our attention, and we remember them longer. Unbelievers would probably lose interest if you started quoting theologians, but they have a natural curiosity about experiences they’ve never had. Shared stories build a relational bridge from your heart to theirs – a bridge Jesus can walk across.
Another value of your testimony is that it by-passes intellectual defenses. Many people who won’t accept the authority of the Bible will listen to a humble personal story. That is why on six different occasions Paul used his testimony to share the Gospel instead of quoting Scripture.
The Bible says, “Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, but do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15-16) The best way to “be ready” is to write out your testimony and then memorize the main points.

So what?

Testimony – Divide your testimony into four parts:

·What my life was like before I met Jesus.

·How I realized I needed Jesus.

·How I committed my life to Jesus.

·The difference Jesus has made in my life.

Variations on your testimony – You have a story for every experience in which God has helped you. Once you are comfortable with your basic testimony, make a list of all the problems, circumstances, and crises God has brought you through. Then use one of those situations when it seems relevant. Different situations call for different testimonies.


For more devotionals from Purpose Driven, go to
http://www.purposedrivenlife.com/devotional.aspx

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

News and Reviews in the Christian Arts

This blog now is posted on a Christian newtorking site called Shoutlife as well as here on Blogger every Tuesday. Masterwork Productions will host a live chat for Christian artists every Tuesday from 7 to 8 pm on the site. To check out the site and to join us for the chat in the "Christian Perfoming Artists" group, go to http://shoutlife.com.

I totally enjoyed Anita Renfroe's book "If You Can't Lose It, Decorate It: And Other Hip Alternatives to Dealing With Reality" (NavPress 2007). I was expecting a collection of funny stories after having seen Ms. Renfroe's hysterical act at a conference earlier this year, and there certainly is laugh-out-loud humor throughout the pages of this book. It also includes, however, great insight and practical, Godly advice. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Renfroe at that conference and she was very friendly, down to earth and pleasant. After just a few minutes of conversation, I thought, "We could be good friends."
Those same characteristics are evident in her writing, where you feel like you're out shopping with a friend who's filling you in on what's happening in her life. And she shares insights about things we all talk about with friends: how we look, how we feel about ourselves, raising our familes -- basically, the stuff of life.
The best humor comes in passages where Ms. Renfroe is attempting to explain something serious and diverts to tell us what's really on her mind, like how Suze Orman's teeth are very large and scare her or how she has a love-hate relationship with her cell phone, vacillating between wondering how she ever lived without it to wondering how she can smash it and cause it a horrible death.

I also enjoyed another book, "Conversations at the Girlville Diner: Finding God in Life, Love and Other Daily Specials" by Kim Bolton (authored with Chris Wave). Ms. Bolton is a Christian entertainer who tours the country performing and speaking. The book is a collection of thoughts from humorous to heartbreaking and serves as a great starter for your daily devotion.

Next week I'll be visiting with a number of Christian performers in the Nashville area. God continues to provide opportunities for those of us involved in serving Him through the arts to fellowship together!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Spontaneous Worship

Driving around town yesterday, I spotted a bumper sticker that made me chuckle. It encouraged me to "practice random acts of praise and worship." Then it made me think.
Too often it seems our praise and worship is scheduled. There's nothing wrong with planning. We plan that we'll sing certain songs during service in a certain order, etc., and such planning is necessary if we hope to have the band practiced and get the service done during in enough time to get the next service started, etc. We plan our "quiet times" of worship and praise to fit into our busy daily schedule. Again, nothing wrong with scheduling-- God loves the worship and praise we offer him during these times.
But what about stopping the normal routine simply because we're overcome and can't help but worship and praise. Do we always make sure we are willing to set aside plans or schedules for this?
"I'm singing at the top of my lungs, I'm so full of answered prayers," David tells us in the Psalms.
God loves it when we randomly praise and worship him. It's evidence of a relationship that is active, ongoing and spontaneous. Allow yourself to be open to a schedule interruption that will allow you to do this when you feel led. Don't convince yourself you're too busy to stop and praise him. Try offering a time during worship service for people to offer praises, for example. It can be uplifting and encouraging to hear what God is doing in the lives of those around us.
Lord, I praise you right now for the many works you accomplish through the arts and for the many hearts who seek you in planning worship services. I praise you for talent you have given so that you may be glorified. I thank you for the lost souls who will be in church this Sunday and for the impact you will make on their lives through the worship they experience. You are the master planner. You see the big picture and put everything in place. We praise you for being a God who cares so deeply for his people and we thank you for allowing us to worship you whenever the Spirit moves us! Amen.
There, see, it's easy! I just stopped in the middle of a blog to do it. Go forth and be spontaneous.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

To Be, or Not to Be a "Christian" Artist

More and more Christians involved in the arts world are questioning whether or not they want to be labeled as "Christian." Can't I just be an artist who happens to be a Christian they are asking? A number of objections to being "labeled" have been raised:
The term "Christian" is found to be offensive by many people who do not like the conservative (and often politically "incorrect") viewpoints held by many who are Christian
Some calling themselves Christian have conducted themselves in an unloving or hypocritical manner with which some of us wouldn't want to be associated
An artist labeled as "Christian" probably won't be booked for non-Christian events

I'd like to encourage you, if you are an artist who has a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, not to be confused by the semantics. There are a number of artists out there who do not have that personal relationship, but who don't have any problem promoting themselves in the Christian market because they are "spiritual" and innocently believe that is the same thing as being a Christian. There are some performers I have met who have admitted that they don't have that relationship, but see a potential market in the Christian arts field, so they offer a performance of "clean comedy" or "spiritual songs" in the hopes of generating more revenue. So the label "Christian artist" might not even mean what you think it does to some!
The label "Christian" should be used to indicate the relationship with Jesus and a submission of our life to Him and His will as given to us in Scripture. Churches and Christian venues using the arts for outreach and hiring artists to help in that outreach, more and more want to know where a performer stands before giving them them authority to lead worship. It wouldn't be helpful for the furthering of the gospel, for example, to hire a "spiritual" actor to do a dramatic monologue from the life of Jesus only to have him comment somewhere in the monologue about being married to Mary Magdalene a la "The DaVinci Code".
There always will be Christians who "see the sin and not the sinner" and as a result of this narrow vision, will alienate the lost; there always will be Christians who sin; and Christians always will be persecuted for their beliefs, so all three objections to being labeled a Christian artist come as a result of people being people-- we all mess up.
If we are willing to abandon the label "Christian" for fear of what human associations it might attach to us, however, my fear is that we open ourselves to abandoning it for the heavenly associations it attaches to us as well. If our friend who is following a different religion would be offended, for example, if we shared that Jesus Christ was the only way to heaven and that the leader of their religion couldn't provide that, would we be tempted to abandon Him in favor of being "spiritual" rather than Christian and being more tolerant of another way to preserve the friendship? I believe that possibility is real.
As for me, I stand with Christ. If that means sometimes people throw me into the same category as a televangelist who makes an unwise comment or lifestyle decision, I can always explain that I have a different opinion. If being a Christian means that I sometimes take a stand that's not "politically correct", I'll back it up with the Word of God. If being "Christian" means that I don't get hired somewhere, I'll trust the Lord to provide in some other way.
I find that I can't just be an artist who happens to be a Christian, not if I want to see my art have the most impact possible for His kingdom. For that, I have to lay down all of my life and take up a new identity with Him, not just when it's convenient or beneficial, but always.


Check out a related posting under "Raise Your Hand" on the Willow Creek Arts blog at http://2007artsconferenceblog.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Broadway Talent Gathers to Ask Blessing

One of the highlights of the new Broadway season for Christians in fast approaching: the Broadway Blessing. Producer Retta Blaney brings together stars of Broadway to honor God and ask His blessing on the new season. This year's event will be 7pm Monday, Sept.10 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine 1047 Amsterdam Ave.
Actresses Frances Sternhagen and Marian Seldes are among the performers who will participate in the service which also will include music and dance.
The event is free. You're sure to be blessed as you worship with other believers and honor the biggest star in Broadway: Jesus.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.


For more information, call (212) 794-6163.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Losing Ourselves in Worship

As artists we have been given gifts and talents and as Christians, we offer them back to their creator to worship Him. Many of us use the arts to lead others in worship, in church services or at special events like conferences and retreats.
In all our efforts, we must be diligent to always put God and His purposes first.

It's so easy in this field to allow pride to surface, sometimes without our even noticing. We must never forget the source for any gifts we have received, nor that the use of them during worship must be for Him and only for Him. "Excellence" has become a rallying cry in many churches. And excellence should be our goal when serving the King of Kings. But excellence for its own sake, or to impress worshippers or other churches with what you can do diminishes the focus on God. I have experienced some beautiful worship by some singers or musicians who may not be able to rock me out of the house with the best solo, but who offered the song to Lord and caused me to know that He was in the House and was pleased to be seated in the place of honor.
The best way to make sure you'll remember to put God first while leading worship is to make sure you've put Him first in your heart. If you haven't spent any time with Him in prayer and in His word this week, if you've been so busy working or rehearsing that you haven't noticed or acted to help your neighbor in need, how practical is it to assume that you'll be able to lead others to Him this Sunday?

Worship isn't a performance. It's not even just a congregation getting together to for a service. It's a great celebration of knowing who God is and exultation at being in His presence. As leaders of worship, we should see ourselves as honored guests ushering others into an audience with the Most High. Remember the words of John the Baptist:
"A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him. The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less." (John 3:27-30 NIV)

People should leave worship services saying, "God is great," not "the band was great," or "that soloist was great." Leaders who continuously worship all week long will lose themselves in it-- and God will be all that people see.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Portraits in Faith


This week I'm excited to announce that Masterwork Productions now represents Maggie Wallem Rowe for performances of her three moving portraits of women of faith.
A farmer’s daughter from Illinois, Maggie spent 25 years in ministry in New England with her husband Mike, where she directed women’s ministries for Vision New England. Now a resident of Wheaton, Maggie serves on the staff of a major Christian publishing house as well as a guest communications instructor at Wheaton College.
The performances are original historical reenactments of the lives of great women of the Christian faith including:
Mary, the mother of Jesus
Sarah Pierpont Edwards, wife of preacher Jonathan Edwards
Amy Carmichael, a missionary in India

As a freelance writer, Maggie has contributed to over ten books including What We’ve Learned So Far, the new Zondervan Women’s Devotional Bible, the Thomas Nelson Family Foundations Bible, Chicken Soup for the Christian Woman’s Soul, and Tyndale’s One Year Bible for New Believers.
We're excited to be part of the ministry of this woman of God! To see clips from the performances, visit www.maggierowe.com. To book a performance, contact us at masterworkproductions@yahoo.com.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Worship the Lord in the Splendor of His Holiness

I had the pleasure of worshipping last weekend with Darlene Zschech and the Hillsong Praise Team (from Hillsong Church in Australia) and the only way to describe it was worship with a capital Wow. (Darlene is the author of "Shout to the Lord" and "The Potter's Hand" in case the name isn't ringing a bell.)
How wonderful it is to be part of a worship service where God's presence is so tangible. Each member of the praise team offered his or her voice or instrument in worship to the Lord. Darlene's gifted leadership draws you into his presence, encourages the praise team and offers it all in a shout of praise and thanksgiving to God.
I also attended a concert by the Christian band Delirious? where thousands gathered to sing and worship, praise and be saved. How marvelous to see some 1,700 people give their lives to the Lord (many of them young people -- our next generation of believers) following a message from Joyce Meyer. Praise Him!
And Father, God, I thank you for the hearts of the Christian performers so open to your guidance and filled with love for people. Thank you for the hearts of praise and worship teams all over the world, father. Use them to call us to worship and to use the arts to bring the lost to you.

Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Being in the World, But Not of It

This week I began Beth Moore's bible study on the life of Daniel. She is a gifted teacher and has real skill in interpreting scripture and making it come alive for today. We're looking at Babylon, to which Daniel is taken captive, not only as an ancient city, but as a metaphor for the culture in which we live today.
Babylon was the center of everything. Daniel and the other young men brought in captivity from Judah must have been blown away by all that it had to offer. The king of Babylon's plan was to find the most desirable young men, those of royal or noble breeding, good looking and quick to learn (does this remind you, as it does me, of a young actor arriving in New York or Hollywood and of a typical audition process? so that he could indoctrinate them in to the language, ways and religions of Babylon.
Daniel resolved, however, not to be defiled by food from the king's table not prepared in accordance with Jewish requirements and asked the person in charge whether he and a few of his companions may be given vegetables and water instead.
How often, I wonder are we in the performing arts field, tempted with choice foods from the kingdom of Babylon. The answer, I believe, is every day.
How many of us have felt tempted to take a role that might catapult our career,(or just pay the rent) but which calls for us to appear immodestly, or to use unacceptable language, or to appear in sexually immoral scenes? How many of us interact with friends and coworkers who have adopted lifestyles not pleasing to God, but we are afraid to let them know we stand with Christ because we are afraid they will reject us, label us as "judgmental" or cause difficulties for us as we try to further our careers?
Let's try Daniel's approach and resolve not to be defiled. Suggest another way the line or scene might be played. I have heard many Christian performers share that they have done this and that their suggestions have been met with great enthusiasm and incorporated into the production.
Don't be afraid to let people know you love the lord. If you hide that, you keep from them a large part of who you are and perhaps throw away an opportunity the Lord has created for you to be able to share him with them.
By remaining true to who God wanted him to be, Daniel was able to learn about the culture he was in, to understand how it worked and to be a witness for God in it without letting the culture take control of who he was. You can do the same. Remember, we're aliens in a foreign land, just as Daniel was:
"Friends, this world is not your home, so don't make yourselves cozy in it. Don't indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they'll be won over to God's side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives."
1 Peter 2:11-12 (The Message)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

An Inside Look at the Spiritual Lives of Actors


I have had the pleasure of getting to know talented journalist and theater critic Retta Blaney over the past couple of years. She's worked for a number of publications and now specializes in writing about theater and religion, and whenever she can, the connection between the two.
Retta is the founder and organizer of the annual "Broadway Blessing" in New York City where performers come together each September to offer a variety of musical and dramatic offerings in a service designed to ask God's blessing on the new Broadway theater season.
Over the years, as a fellow journalist, I've come to respect Retta's skill as an interviewer. I can tell from reading her interviews that she doesn't approach a subject with any preconceived notions or with any agenda to get the subject to say something particular or in a certain way. She lets the person speak in his or her own words and the result is that we, the reader, come away feeling like we know the subject very well.
She's found a niche focusing on what's important to performers in their spiritual lives. Her book "Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life Through the Eyes of Actors" (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2003) is a window into what some actors define as their spiritual life, how it is influenced by their upbringing, peer groups and other factors and how they draw upon it as a support for their career in the performing arts.
Actors including Kristen Chenoweth, Vanessa Williams, Phylicia Rashad, Liam Neeson, Edward Hermann and many others share their perspectives.
It's a good read and offers a lot of insight into the thinking of these actors. For more information on Retta and for information on how to purchase the book, go to her blog at http://uponthesacredstage.blogspot.com/ (you can find the link under "blog roll" to the right on this page.)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Unity on the Worship Team

One of the most common problems I hear about from worship team leaders and members is a lack of ability for members to get along and to come together as one unit to lead worship. Someone is feeling upset because she always used to be the lead vocalist and now she has to share the spotlight with others. Another member is upset because he's a great drummer and wants to do a solo, but the leader feels it takes focus away from the worship. A third member is struggling with feeling the leader is not organized enough or picking the right songs and would like to take control.

This is a common scenario for worship teams because they are comprised of humans, and humans, especially those in the performing arts, have healthy egos and desires for personal edification. The problems is that, while these divisive situations are taking place, they often aren't acknowledged. After all, these are the folks who are supposed to be leading the congregation in worship. It isn't easy to admit that we sometimes want to put ourselves in front of God. Instead, frustrations simmer and gossip is given life.

The good news is that God understands all of this. He knows all of our faults and sins and loves us any way. What he wants is for us to confess our sin and put these types of struggles behind. Then we can put each person's needs ahead of our own and turn our focus on Him and be an example of Christ-like behavior to the congregation.

"For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: 'The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me. ‘For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" Rom. 15:3-6

That says it pretty clearly. Now look at the same verses as translated in The Message:

"That's exactly what Jesus did. He didn't make it easy for himself by avoiding people's troubles, but waded right in and helped out. 'I took on the troubles of the troubled,' is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it's written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we'll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus."

May you reflect on coming together as one team led by one spirit to lead your congregation into fellowship and knowledge of the Lord.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tools for Christian Drama

One of the questions I get asked most often is whether I can recommend a script for use during church services or for special productions. There are a number of good script providers in the Christian/church field and the internet offers endless sites with free scripts, but years of experience have proven that, in most cases, you get the quality you pay for.

If you're looking for professional quality scripts with a lot of variety from which to choose, one source I highly recommend is Lillenas Drama at http://www.nph.com/nphweb/html/ldol/index.jsp
(and no, they don't pay me to do this -- we just offer help and resources for those in the Christian performing arts.)

Lillenas offers top quality authors and a wide selection of scripts on varied and timely topics. You can preview scripts online and download specific scripts or purchase whole collections.

When Ruth Bell Graham passed away last week, for example, many churches wanted to to pay her tribute through drama. Lillenas offers a readers theater adaptation of a story authored by Mrs.. Graham called "Footsteps of a Pilgrim."

If you have other favorite script resources, please send us the information to share with our readers at masterworkproductions@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Be Still and Know He is God

Vacations are wonderful things. We don't take them often enough. It really is crucial for us to take a break from the grind of daily activity and have a chance to do something different, try something just for fun and give our bodies and spirits a chance to rest.
God thought rest was so important, that he commanded that we take a day of rest each week and keep it holy. It wasn't an option or a wise suggestion. It was an order, but how many of us, particularly those of us in the performing arts world, take that commandement to heart? Work and performance schedules make it difficult. Christians who are in Broadway shows, for example, find themselves performing in two shows on a Sunday. Usually Monday is off. Those who use their talents to help lead worship during Sunday (and sometimes Saturday evening) church services, may argue that they are ministering rather than working, and hopefully they are. But most put a lot of work into rehearsing and presenting the work to the best of their ability for the Lord and that's not exactly resting.
We need to find a day, if it can't be Sunday, to rest and to be still and know He is God. If we don't make this a priority, we don't rejuvenate and He's less able to use us in the areas He has called us to serve.
Make it a priority in your life this week-- and every week-- to take a day of rest. We need to spend time with him every day usually before the daily activities begin. But one day a week is His and He wants us to stop working. He wants us to take time to relax, to spend time having fun with family and friends, to reflect on His goodness and to allow our bodies and minds a chance to recharge, so we'll be refreshed for the new work week. God knows what He's talking about! Follow His lead in this and you won't feel overwhelmed and overly tired.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Send Us Your Ideas

We're on vacation. Next post will be June 19. Meanwhile, please send us ideas for topics you'd like to see discussed here or Christian performers you'd like to see highlighted. Email us at masterworkproductions@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Set Apart Theater Series in New York

This week we feature a wonderful series at The Salvation Army's Theatre 315 in New York City. The series offers theatre works that contain the Gospel message. The latest in the series, "Ananais," is written by Hollie Ruthberg and stars Geoffrey Hastings Haberer in the title role. Performances are scheduled for June 1 and 2 at 8:00 pm June 3 at 7:00 pm. For tickets, go to SmartTix.com.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Being a Light in the Dark Theater

Well, it's Spring and in the New York theater world, that means it's awards time. There are a number of organizations that present awards to top shows and performers on and off Broadway culminating in the award of all awards, the Tony. As the theater community gets ready to honor the best of 2007, I'd like to remind Christians in the theater world to remember to honor the best of all eternity: our Lord. The theater community is a missions field for Christians who make their living amidst the greaspaint and the roar of the crowd.

So often at gatherings of theater folks, there seems to be an overwhelming disdain for God, Christians and anyone who might suggest that you can't do whatever you want when you want. And Christians ministering in that world need your prayers to find loving ways to share the need for a saving Lord.

At one of this season's award ceremonies in which a number of honored performers were asked to share a few words, I was surprised to hear how often God came up in the conversation-- even if all of the comments weren't positive (OK, the Lord's name was taken in vain twice, but that's not what I mean). One actor expressed joy at having a role which allows him to speak in favor of evolution and say negative things about those who believe in creation. One spoke proudly of being raised in an atheist home and another was proud of parents who had left the ministry. And one person, given a special award to honor his achievements, reminisced about his start in the theater in middle school and how at the end of the run of their production, all of the participants clung to each other not wanting to part from those with whom they'd shared such comraderie. "Maybe that is God," he said wistfully.

The thing that was very clear to me is that God is very much on the minds of those folks, whether they'd like to admit it or not and we Christians who have an opportunity to work in the performing arts with those who don't know Him and who are searching for God, have an obligation and sacred calling to introduce them to Him. A couple of people who spoke at that awards ceremony did mention being blessed in their lives and work. But not one said from whom the blessings came.

Don't be afraid to let people see Christ reflected in you and through you as you sing, act, dance, direct, play your instrument, design lights or sound, usher people to their seats or clean the carpet in a theater. If you are a Christian and you are involved in the performing arts, God is speaking to you. He has placed people in your path who need to know Him. Be the light to show them the way through the darkness that can consume the theater world to what they really need to be blessed.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

From Broadway to India, this Pianist Serves the Lord

We're delighted to have Mary-Mitchell Campbell as a member of the Masterwork Productions team of performers. She is a pianist for our touring musical "Early One Morning," words and music by Ron Melrose, and there isn't a performer who has worked with her who hasn't sung her praises.
Mary-Mitchell, an instructor at the Julliard School, is music director for "Company" playing at the Barrymore Theater on Broadway and has been nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Orchestrations for her work. In her spare time, she helps children in India and Africa.
Get to know Mary-Mitchell better in a feature article by New York theater writer Retta Blaney on her blog at
http://uponthesacredstage.blogspot.com/
(scroll down through some theater reviews to find Mary-Mitchell.)

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Focus on the Audience of One

As you prepare to use your gifts in the performing arts this week, take a few minutes to reflect on the Audience of One, as He should be our focus in all we do.

At rehearsals, guard your tongue. Seek to build up the others in your group. Pray and give all aspects of your talent and performance to Him to use to bring others to Himself. During the performance or worship service, remember that you want people to see Him -- not you.

Reflect on these words from Psalms 95 and have a blessed week!

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.

Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.

For the LORD is the great God,
the great King above all gods.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Rehearsal Needed for Role of Lifetime

Performers understand the concept of practice making perfect. For a major role, an actor will spend a lot of time reading the script, thinking about the character, and rehearsing lines. The goal is to have the character become second nature. The lines, mannerisms and actions all become part of the actor as he brings the character to life according to the vision of the author and director.
A musician will attack a solo performance the same way. Hours and hours of studying the score, memorizing the lyrics, practicing the notes over and over until the music becomes one with the soul.
How interesting it is, that performers who are Christians ofen do not think to apply the same discipline to their relationships with the Lord. Quiet time with the Lord takes a back seat to the hours honing the craft. Bible study and fellowship on Sunday morning are squeezed in between performances, auditions and sleep. And sharing the good news with others God puts in our path often is silenced for fear of offending or relegated to an "improv" routine.
Christians, however, should look at their place in the body of Christ as the role of a lifetime. You'll never be cast in a more important role with more potential to touch people's lives than as a son or daughter of Christ. Prepare for this role. Study the bible, which is your script. Commit passages to memory and be ready to draw on them when those "impov" sharing sessions happen. Spend time each day in prayer and meditation learning from the best director you'll ever have. And let this role become second nature so that all will be able to see the character as written by the creator and directed by the Lord. A standing ovation in heaven will be the reward.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Christians, Churches, Copyrights and Christ

Which of the following statements is true about using lyrics, songs, dramas, and videos for church services and outreach events?
1. Songs may be used if you own the sheet music.
2. Lyrics displayed on a video screen are OK if you don't make paper copies.
3. You can use whatever you need if you don't charge admission.
4. Video clips from movies can be used if the length doesn't exceed 3 minutes.

Answer: None of the above.

Many of you reading this probably thought at least one of those statements was true. Having been in Christian production for many years, I have heard all of these reasons -- and countless others-- given by churches, worship leaders and pastors for why they did not need to seek permission or pay licensing fees for works they used. But the truth is, that if you use anything created by someone else, you must have permission to use it or you are guilty of stealing property. The US copyright laws, with very few and specific exceptions, allow the creator of a work to retain the rights to it. And being ignorant of the law isn't a defense for violating it.

With the exception of music performed live during a regular worship service, any use by a church must be with permission. For example, if your praise team performs a song that's on the top 10 pop chart during your worship service, that's OK under copyright law. If you project the lyrics of that song on a screen or print them in your bulletin, that's not allowed unless you have obtained permission. If you show a video clip or use parts of a video or song to create your own video used during your service or special event, you must have permission from the copyright holders to do that.

The law is complicated, but it's not hard to obtain the permissions necessary for any use. It's amazing to me, however, how many Christians, who normally would abhor lying or stealing, so readily throw these commandments aside when it comes to using copyrighted works for church events.

Masterwork Productions offers a workshop to help churches understand the law and resources for how to obtain permissions. Please contact us for assistance so that you may be the best witness for Christ in your church and community. If you know what the law is, and you know what is right, but choose to do wrong, that is sin.
Lauren Yarger
masterworkproductions@yahoo.com

Friday, April 6, 2007

Christian Artists United to Share the Message of Easter

This weekend will see many special outreaches by churches as we celebrate the ressurection of a Lord and Savior who took upon Himself the sins of the world. Many Christian performers and artists will be using their talents to help communicate that message at services all over the world. When you sing, give a word of thanks for those who wrote and arranged the song, for those who are playing the instruments and for those leading the vocals. When your spirit is touched by the movement of someone interpreting the message in dance, give a word of thanks for the talent they have been given and for the hours of rehearsal they have put in. When your heart is touched by a drama, give a word of thanks for the person who wrote it, for the person who directed it, for those acting in it and for the time given in preparation in collecting costumes, props and memorizing lines. If there are lights illuminating the front area, a microphone allowing you to hear a speaker, a video that inspires you and word lyrics up on a screen so you can sing along, give a word of thanks for the technical crew using their gifts to make it happen.
If a performer is visiting your church this weekend, give thanks for their willingness to travel and offer up a prayer for ther family who was willing to let them go minister instead of being at home with their loved ones on Easter. All of the parts of the body give service, and we specifically give thanks for those memebrs of the body we call Christian artists and performers who make an offering of their talents to make a difference for the Kingdom.
Lauren Yarger
Executive Director
Masterwork Productions

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A COMEDIAN’S CALL

Find out how God uses comedian and author Torry Martin to spread His good news in a feature article in the current Today’s Christian magazine. Check out the link at
http://www.christianitytoday.com/tc/2007/002/5.41.html

For information on how to book Torry at your church or organization, contact us at masterworkproductions@yahoo.com or 860-653-7733

Daily Inspiration

The Blind Side

Read about the real life mom from "The Blind Side."

Lifeway: http://www.lifeway.com/article/?id=169816

Guideposts: http://www.guideposts.com/story/sandra-bullock-blind-side-football?page=0,1

Read Matt Mungle's review of the movie at http://www.buddyhollywood.com/.

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Lauren Yarger, Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

In 2008 she was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater with a Christian perspective for Reflections in the Light (http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/) and is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection. She also is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com

She also reviews books for Publisher's Weekly and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. She formerly was Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp, a national theater web site bsed in New York and a reviewer for American Theater Web.

She also served as Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. and worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

She is a freelance writer and member of the Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and The CT Critics Circle.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger lives with her husband in West Granby, CT and has two adult children.

Copyright Notice

All contents copyright © Lauren Yarger 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact masterworkproductions@yahoo.com.

Scripture from THE MESSAGE Copyright 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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