Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Looking Forward; Looking Back


Another year comes to an end and we make plans and resolutions for the start of the next. While, I don't think it's healthy to fix our attention on things past, because God calls us to continually look forward, it is a good idea from time to time to reflect on what has gone before so that we can be reminded of God's faithfulness. When it's hard to picture the future, some snapshots from the past can give us hope, encouragement and a foundation to be able to trust Him to provide and to be in control.

2008 was an incredible year both professionally and personally. Here are some highlights:

Masterwork Productions:
Produced "Getaway to Chipaway," a musical dinner theater with a message now available for churches to present as an outreach event.

Hosted a successful New England Worshiping Artist Retreat with “Heart of the Artist” author Rory Noland in Connecticut. People are encouraged, renewed and better able to minister to others as a result of attending.

Artists Helping Hand Fund established to provide assistance to Christian artists in financial need. The first gift goes to a performer hit by unexpected medical expenses not covered by insurance.

Comedian and Focus on the Family writer Torry Martin and Emmy-award nominated humorist Martha Bolton perform, teach and speak at various venues and conferences across the country. Masterwork workshops help equip arts leaders at individual churches and at national arts conferences.

How exciting to be part of a ministry that cares for people and bears fruit for the Kingdom.

Personal highlights this year were being named a Fellow at the National Critics Institute and a member of The Outer Critics Circle, the official organization of writers on the New York theatre for out-of-town newspapers, national publications, and other media beyond Broadway. Masterworks' reviews of Broadway and New York theater are the only source for theater reviews with added information from a Christian perspective. Hundreds of people each week use them to decide which shows to see in New York or when they are presented at theaters around the nation. (You can read them at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com.)It's been a real pleasure to be able to serve in a way that combines my passion for writing, theater and sharing God with people.

Whatever 2009 brings, I know it will include new and exciting ways to serve Him and to make Him known. I pray the same for you.
I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.
(Jer: 29:11 THE MESSAGE)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Obama Selects Pastor Warren and Reconciliation

President-Elect Barack Obama has come under fire for selecting Pastor Rick Warren (founding pastor of California's Saddleback Church and author of the Purpose Driven Life books) to give the invocation at his inauguration. The protest comes from people who see Christians as hate-filled opponents of gays following California's Proposition 8 (which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry in California) and see the pastor's participation in the Jan. 20 inauguration as some sort of betrayal of the liberal agenda because Warren publicly has cited the bible's inclusion of homosexuality as a sin.

Is it really betrayal when an incoming president of the United States strives to include the viewpoint and belief of a large number of citizens in the country he serves? Is it really wrong for him to say "there is another opinion and it deserves respect"? Could it be that he simply is leading in the American way which allows for an open exchange of ideas and for people to worship without fear of oppression? I think asking Warren to be a part of the inauguration ceremonies was one way for Mr. Obama to try to bring reconciliation to a nation becoming more polarized by issues of individual rights and religion every day. For more information about this, check out Boston Globe Religion Reporter Michael Paulson's column at http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles_of_faith/2008/12/rick_warren_lov.html

Being a Christian does not mean that you hate homosexuals or that you believe God hates them. Being a Christian means that Jesus comes first and that you follow His will in all things (and that includes loving your neighbor as yourself).

This holiday, before you write someone off as a "hater" and as someone whose opinion should be censored just because they don't agree with you, think about the possibility that YOU are wrong about that. Find the gifts of mercy and compassion this holiday season and let's see whether we can discover some reconciliation under the tree.

Christmas Brings Reconciliation
A devotion By Rick Warren


"Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:13-14 (NIV)

Peace on earth and good will toward men – that’s reconciliation.

What is reconciliation? It’s when a broken relationship is restored. When a boyfriend and girlfriend or a husband and wife get back together, there’s reconciliation. When a father and son restore peace between each other, there’s reconciliation.

Where do you need peace in your life this Christmas? That’s what Christmas is all about – peace on earth, good will toward men. I asked people, “Where would you like to see peace?” These are the answers I got:

· “I’d like to see peace in the broken families.”

· “I’d love to see peace in politics.”

· “With each other.”

· “In my heart.”

· “I’d like to see it at home.”

· “I’d like to see peace in my life.”

· “Peace? Right in this country of ours.”

· “Everywhere!”

Everywhere! Is it realistic to have peace everywhere? Isn’t it just a pipe dream to hope for peace on earth, good will toward men? There will never be peace in the world until there is peace in nations. And there will never be peace in nations until there is peace in communities.

And there will never be peace in communities until there is peace in families. And there will never be peace in families until there is peace in individuals. And there will never be peace in individuals until we invite the Prince of Peace – Jesus – to reign in our hearts.

© 2008 Purpose Driven Life. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
For other devotions from Purpose Driven Life, go to
http://www.purposedrivenlife.com/en-US/FreeTools/devotional/archivedDevos/DevoArchive.htm

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Worship Leader 2008 Praise Award Nominees

Worship Leader Magazine has announced nominees for its 2008 Praise Awards.

Vote for the people and projects that have been meaningful to you and your worshiping community. Winners will be listed in the March/April issue of Worship Leader. Go here to vote.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hope for the Holidays

While Christmas can be one of the most joyous times, many folks find themselves fighting sadness and depression as the holiday approaches. No matter what your circumstance, there is hope.

I love a song in our new dinner theater "Getaway to Chipaway" that conveys this thought through Bill Cooper's comforting lyrics:

However lonely, there’s a friend
However endless, there’s an end
However broken, there’s a mend
To get you back onto your feet

However lost, you can be found
However silent, there’s a sound
However floundering, you are bound
For something greater than who you are

However barren, there are trees
However stagnant, there’s a breeze
However prideful; there are knees
That you may find yourself down on

However closed in; there’s a space
However guilty; there is grace
However hungry; there’s a taste
Of what you’ve hungered for all along

© 2008 Masterwork Productions, Inc. (for a demo of the song, email us at masterworkproductions@yahoo.com).

God is always standing right by our side, ready to help and show a way. Take His hand and let Him lead you.

"I'm still in your presence,
but you've taken my hand.
You wisely and tenderly lead me,
and then you bless me.
You're all I want in heaven!
You're all I want on earth!"
(Psalm 73:23-25 THE MESSAGE)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Some Thoughts About Christmas

'Tis the season, obviously, but lately it seems that God is asking me to stop and think seriously about Christmas and how and why we mark it.

I recently read or heard from colleagues about these issues:
• Employers instructing their employees to say "Happy Holidays" instead of Merry Christmas to avoid offending people.
• A church which changed its Christmas program to a "holiday" program for the same reason.
• Hard economic times are causing people to decide not to give Christmas presents to friends.
• A Long Island Walmart employee is trampled to death and police and first responders are unable to get to him as the crowd concentrates on rushing for their bargains.

If Christmas isn't about a time to celebrate the birth of a savior-- Who is the only way we have out of an eternity in hell and the only way to heaven -- and an opportunity to tell other folks about that, then I'm not sure what it is.

Will folks really be offended by someone being friendly and wishing them a Merry Christmas? Then I feel sad for them because their focus obviously is on themselves and their requirement that everyone else go about their day tiptoeing around making sure everything that is said and done will meet with their approval. I would not be offended if someone wished me a Happy Hanukkah. I don't celebrate that holiday, but I would feel glad that someone wished me the happiness of their season and wanted to include me in it. I would not feel the need to go into a lecture about how I'm a Christian and how offensive it is to me that they not keep that in mind when speaking to me....

If a church is afraid to have a "Christmas" program for fear of offending, I have to wonder if they have watered down the message that's preached each week as well. When you start worrying about how many people are coming to church, or whether God's word will offend people, you're not really acting as a church where a group of people gathers to worship, fellowship and serve the Lord. You're a social club where people come to feel good about themselves, gather with others who make them feel good about themselves and serve themselves.

Is Christmas all about gifts? If you're really feeling the pinch economically and can't afford to purchase a gift, does that preclude you from giving gifts that don't have to be bought? How about offering to babysit for a friend so she can go shopping by herself or enjoy a night out with her husband? How about writing a personal note that tells your friends how much they mean to you? How about gathering some photos and putting them together in a scrapbook or box of treasured memories? If Christmas gifts are all about "things" and not about an expression of love, then they're not worth giving. Was a man's life really worth a stampede to save 50 percent off a gift for someone?

We're losing touch with the meaning of the holiday. It's all about Jesus and God's amazing gift. Find ways to make that known this season.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest,and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
(Luke 2: 8-20 NIV)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tim Keller's New Book -- and other news and reviews

Tim Keller's newest book, "The Prodigal God", (2008 Dutton Penguin Group)is a smaller sized package as books go (it's a diminutive 140 pages), but it packs a wallop of thought-provoking message for Christians and non-Christians alike as the renowned pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City examines the parable of the prodigal son.

Plotting the drama as a two-act play, Keller says it's really a tale of two brothers, not just the one who claimed his birthright and takes off to seek pleasure and who is welcomed upon his return. Using insights from plays, movies and his understanding of the bible, Keller rethinks the parable as Act One: "The Lost Younger Brother" and Act 2: "The Lost Elder Brother" and makes a case that most of the people listening to Jesus tell the story fell into one or the other of these categories, just as most of us do today.

The younger brother is motivated, like the tax collectors and sinners who had gathered to hear Jesus, by self discovery and self fulfillment. There was a second group of listeners there, too, though, Luke's account tells us: the Pharisees and teachers of the law, motivated by a sense of control and heavenly payback if they followed the rules, much like the eldest brother. Viewing the story from the perspectives of both of these groups, as well as from the father's, gives great new insight into the parable and understanding of what it means to follow Christ.

Keller writes in a way that appeals to folks who don't believe or who have been turned off by the church or Christians. He's been reaching out to them for years and knows how to communicate without sounding churchy or condescending.
Buy it here:
http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/product?item_no=950790&netp_id=524631&event=ETS



Act One, the organization which teaches Christians about screenwriting and other aspects of the Hollywood business is accepting applications for 2009. A newly designed brochure is available for churches to distribute.
Contact T.J. at TJ@ACTONEPROGRAM.COM

The movie "Fireproof," from the creators of "Face the Giants" and starring Kirk Cameron, still is playing in more than 800 theaters nationwide. It tells the story of a firefighter who goes the extra mile to try to save his marriage. The DVD will be released in January.

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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