Thursday, December 31, 2009

'In the Company of Strangers' Gets NY Screening



Our friend Dave Tippett passed along this opportunity:
"In the Company of Strangers", an award-winning independent feature film, will screen in New York City as part of the NewFilmmakers series Winter Fest 2010.

The feature film debut from writer/producer/director Thomas Hofbauer will be shown at the Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Ave. at 2nd Street in NYC Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010 at 8:15 pm. Tickets are $6. The film contains mature language and some violence, Tom warns.

It tells the story of a young man who reaches a critical juncture in his life. Does he follow the mob - his friends since childhood - and join blindly in the persecution of a group of people based solely on their sexual orientation or does he move to a more enlightened life? When Brian Nowicki (Ben Perry) is arrested for his participation in a gay-bashing crime, he is sentenced to 600 hours of community service at an AIDS hospice. The hospice director (Timothy Wayne) gently nudges Brian toward an understanding of tolerance and compassion. While there, Brian attempts to reconcile a dying man (Scott Hopkins) with his estranged son (Val Tasso).

"In the Company of Strangers" has won the top award at five film festivals. For more information, visit http://www.inthecompanyofstrangers.com/.

Ring in the New Year on Wall Street

Ring in the new year -- literally with a ringing of the bells at midnight, celebrating 2010 at Trinity Wall Street Church.

The bells will ring from midnight to 1 pm on Friday, Jan. 1 at the church at Broadway and Wall Street in New York City. There will be another special ringing on Jan. 6 from 7 to 7:30 pm as well. For more information contact Anne Damassa at 212.602.0706 or adamassa@trinitywallstreet.org.

More about the Trinity Ringers and the change-ringing bells is available at http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/music/bells. Read my reflections about hearing these beautiful bells last fall near the anniversary of Sept. 11 here.

You Can Attend Chonda Pierce Taping


For those of you in or near Murfreesboro, TN, check out this opportunity to be in the audience for the taping of Christian Comedian Chonda Pierce's new DVD.

Pierce is taping a live show for her new DVD, "Did I Say That Out Loud?" on Monday, Jan. 18 at 7 pm in All Nations Sanctuary, World Outreach Church, 1921 New Salem Road
Highway 99, Murfreesboro.

Tickets for this taping are $5 and may be purchased at:
WOC weekend worship services, WOC church office or online at http://www.wochurchstore.org/.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Savior Has Been Born to You; He is Christ the Lord


In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

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 NIV)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009 Annual Letter

(To receive a copy of our 2009 Highlights Newsletter, email us at masterworkproductions@yahoo.com.)

December, 2009

Dear Friend of Masterworks,
If the $20 in your pocket could be the price for introducing someone to Jesus and making an eternal difference in his or her life, would you give it away?

You probably just answered, “of course.” I thought that was my answer too, until I recently had the opportunity. I was out Christmas shopping, getting a few last items for my kids. Christmas for us will be pretty lean this year. In the Yarger household, we have been hit with a decrease in income while taxes, medical bills and insurance premiums and deductibles have soared. We’re scraping to get by every month, like so many of you.

So the $20 in my pocket had not come there easily, and suddenly I was presented with an opportunity to donate $20 to help a family in need. Isn’t it funny for those of us who walk each day with the Lord to find that his plan isn’t always the one we had in mind? I knew the Lord wanted me to donate that $20, yet, I confess, my reaction was selfish. Without that $20, I wouldn’t be able to provide two more small packages for my kids and I wanted to hold on to it.

Fortunately, God understands my humanity. He was quick to remind me of a wonderful book I read this year by Bruce Wilkinson in which he describes how God presents us with opportunities to be involved in miracles every day, but how we often don’t see them, or pass on them. Convicted, and knowing my kids well enough to know that both would choose to help a needy family over going to the movies (the $20 would have provided gift certificates to the theater), I made the donation. I apologized to the Lord for thinking any part of what he had provided was mine to control and I was really glad that some day I wouldn’t have to try to explain to him why it was more important for my kids to go to a movie than to help others in need.

When you receive this letter, you too are being asked to part with a little of what God has given you to continue his work reaching out to people through the arts. The ministry of Masterworks continues to amaze me. In an economy which has seen other organizations shut their doors and which threatens others, especially those dependent on grants and government funding, God continues to open doors for us and has expanded our field of harvest. Check out the 2009 Highlights newsletter included with this letter to see some of what God has done.

Have you enjoyed music and drama during services or special programs at your church this year? Chances are good that those leading and involved in the ministry or hired for special performances have benefited from a ministry like Masterworks (perhaps Masterworks itself) through workshops to help them learn how to use their gifts and lead for the Lord.

Wish your church had an exciting music or drama program that you’d feel comfortable inviting friends to? Masterworks helps with that too, with day-long workshops by professionals in the field, with teaching tailored to meet each team exactly where it’s at.

Wishing your church could reach out to your community with professional programs with a message that leaves attendees wanting to know more and coming to your church to find it? Bring in one of our excellent performers for services or a special event.

In addition, Masterworks provides the nation’s only reviewing service for Broadway and NY theater with an added Christian perspective. Thousands of Christians read the reviews to decide which shows to see, which are appropriate for kids, and which might spark conversations with unchurched friends, whether the shows are in New York or running at your local theater.

Masterworks also supports two funds providing for actors in need and has adopted Compassionart as a partner for our events, whereby a portion of our proceeds will go directly helping impoverished children worldwide.

So you really can make a difference with your tax deductible donation. The only question is will you part with some of the money God has given you to make it happen? We’re dedicated to equipping and supporting Christians in the arts and to being the face, hands and feet of Jesus to those who don’t know him in the theater community. Please seize this opportunity to join God in his work.

We wish you a blessed and joyous Christmas. May you enjoy and share the gift of God’s son in 2010.

In His Service,



Lauren Yarger
Executive Director/Producer
And the Board of Directors at Masterwork Productions, Inc.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Vote for the Christian Singer You'd Like to See in a Movie

We're working on a project and are collecting opinions on which top Christian singers would be big box office draw if they starred in a regular Hollywood movie.

Who would get you to buy a ticket? Are there other singers, who aren't on the Christian charts, but who are Christians who would make you want to see the movie?

Take our poll at right, or email us with your thoughts at masterworkproductions@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

EAG Invites You to Carols & Lessons Christmas Service

Join the Episcopal Actors' Guild Monday for what has become a beloved holiday tradition, the annual Lessons & Carols Service, which features beautiful readings, a sing-a-long of holiday tunes, and fellowship.
The service, held at 7 pm at Church of the Transfiguration, 1 E. 29th St., NYC, will include music by The Transfiguration Camerata, led by Claudia Dumschat.

For more information, contact EAG at 212-685-2927 or matt@actorsguild.org

If you would like to help make this season bright for actors in need, the EAG's Annual Giving Campaign is under way. The organization helps members of the acting community who are in need.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays – Are People Really Offended?

By Lauren Yarger
When I made a purchase at a local store yesterday, the clerk wished me happy holidays. I thanked him and wished him the same, but according to news articles and to opponents of political correctness, I suppose I should have been offended.

Store clerks are being instructed to wish "happy holidays" instead of “Merry Christmas” to avoid offending those who might not celebrate that holiday. Some stores have eliminated Christmas music and banned bell-ringing representatives of the Salvation Army from entrances because these reminders that most of us celebrate Christmas apparently can’t be tolerated by those who don’t.

I’m really curious to know how many of these highly offended people really exist. Most Jewish folks I know respond with an unoffended “and Happy Chanukah” when greeted with a “Merry Christmas.” I doubt the numbers of offended atheists are very high, because I used to be a pretty committed and vocal atheist and I can tell you, someone wishing me a merry Christmas wasn’t a threat to my beliefs, nor an infringement upon them.

My atheist family celebrated Christmas, though the religious part about the birth of a savoir didn’t enter in to our festivities. When we were little, we decorated a tree, waited for Santa and –horror of horrors—sang Christmas songs in the school concert. My mother, one of the most committed atheists I ever knew and who would have closed the school down over something like mandatory prayer, came to the concerts and proudly watched as I sang “Winds Through the Olive Trees” and other songs mentioning Jesus and never felt the need to insist the school ban them, because singing them didn’t mean I had to believe them. They simply were tradition. Now schools refuse to include them, and in a way, force Christian children to participate in a celebration of secular holidays. Is this really so different?

When we were older, the holiday was an opportunity to give and receive gifts, enjoy good food and spend time with people we loved. We got the holiday off from school and work (and in one of my school districts with a large Jewish population, we got those holidays off too). I didn’t feel the need to protest and insist that everyone go to school or work on those days just because I didn’t believe in their religious significance.

Sometimes on Christmas, I even attended midnight mass services with friends because it was something they traditionally did (and I suspect attending had more to do with tradition and obligation than with any real desire to worship the Savior). Going to church didn’t threaten my belief system. I didn’t participate in what I considered “brainwashed” rituals of kneeling, crossing one’s self or taking of the bread and cup and actually used the experiences to fuel ammunition for the religious debates I often found myself winning with people who considered themselves Christians.

So if someone wished me a “merry Christmas” back in those days, I would have said “thank you; same to you.” My reaction would not have been one of offense, or one which assumed that by wishing me a merry Christmas what you actually were saying was, “I am wishing you a merry Christmas instead of a happy holiday because I am a jerk and want to try to force my religion on you.”

It’s the “forced” part that would have and did result in protest from this devout atheist. When saying “The Pledge of Allegiance” in school, I always stopped and refused to recite “one nation under God,” because I didn’t believe it was. If I had been called to give testimony in a court of law, I would have refused to place my hand on a bible and to swear to tell the truth “so help me God.” My high school offered a bible course as an English class and I did an independent study rather than take it. Later, a labor union agreement required me to attest to a belief in God. Having these religious things thrust upon me as a matter of normal course offended me as they infringed on my right not to follow Christianity and I took action to avoid them and spoke in favor of changing them.

Someone’s wishing me the happiness of a holiday that I didn’t celebrate for the same reasons they did, however just didn’t get the activist in me riled. Singing Christmas songs or hearing them played in stores during the shopping season didn’t offend me. If the town government decided to play Christmas carols at government meetings, I would have protested, but stores, where the majority of people are Christmas shopping? No. The stores are privately owned and they should be able to decorate and play music as they wish. If some aspect of the shopping experience really offends, you always have the option of not shopping at that store and letting the store owner know why.

So again, I have to wonder just how many people, even if they are die-hard atheists, are so offended by a merry Christmas wish. I can tell you I feel the same amount of offense now, as a Christian, being wished a happy holiday as I did as an atheist being wished a merry Christmas -- none. I assume the person is wishing me the happiness of the season, not that they are actually saying, “I am wishing you a happy holiday instead of a merry Christmas because I don’t believe in Christ and feel my rights will be violated if I say or hear the word Christmas.”

I’ll give the benefit of the doubt, but if that’s really what you mean by “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” then I feel sorry for you. The most important thing to you is not promoting the separation of church and state or your atheist or other-God beliefs. You obviously think our constitution protects you and your beliefs while keeping others from expressing theirs. This attitude of thinking you are right and that you need to protect yourself and others from exposure to contrary beliefs probably is the same argument you use to describe Christians and why you don’t like them. The same tolerance you demand from us is something you should offer yourself when we express our beliefs, and a little Christmas spirit might be just what you need to help you do this.

So to those of you who celebrate Dec. 25 as the birth of our Lord and Savior, Merry Christmas. To My Jewish friends, I wish you happy Chanukah and to those who follow atheism or other religions, I wish you love, happiness and peace this holiday season. And I promise not to be offended when you wish me the same.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving to All of Our Readers

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:18)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Song DISCovery Plans One-Day Songwriting Conferences

Worship Leader will host two Song DISCovery in the Round: One-Day Songwriting Conferences next year. The first will be in San Antonio, TX, at Community Bible Church Jan. 28 and the second will be in Nashville at Grace Chapel on April 22.

These one-day events will consist of workshops, song panels, networking opportunities, hands on training, critiquing from industry pros and well-know songwriters and will conclude with a night of worship (which will include four songs from conference attendees). San Antonio’s outstanding stable of teachers and worship leaders consists of Tommy Walker, Laura Story, Glen Packiam, Randy Phillips, Jennie Riddle, and Lenny LeBlanc.

For more information, click here.

Barbour Schedules Holiday Concerts in NY, LA

Broadway star James Barbour (Tale of Two Cities) will repeat last season’s sold-out holiday engagement at Sardi's with Holiday Concert 2009 in both New York and Los Angeles.

The New York concerts will begin on Friday, Dec. 11 at Bill’s 1890 Restaurant & Café, 57 E. 54th Street, between Park and Madison, and will continue through Saturday, Dec. 19 with musical direction by opera’s revered Constantine Kitsopoulos.

The evening will feature a musically inspired reading of Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem “The Night Before Christmas” which the scholar/philanthropist wrote for his nine children in 1822 while they lived at 57 East 54th St., the building which now houses the café.

New York tickets may be purchased at a http://www.smarttix.com/ or by calling 212-868-4444. Evening performances are at 7:30 with a matinee at 3 pm on Saturday, Dec. 19.

The Los Angeles schedule will offer one concert only on Monday, Dec. 21
7 pm at The Colony Theatre, 555 N. 3rd St., Burbank, CA with musical direction by multiple Grammy Award nominated composer, producer, songwriter, arranger and rock impresario Peter Wolf.

LA tickets may be purchased at www.ColonyTheatre.org or by calling 818-558-7000 (Ext. 15)

Both concerts are being produced by Treehouse Entertainment Inc. and
Roberta Nusim for TMA (Theatrical Marketing Associates) and will feature special guest appearances by Broadway and Hollywood luminaries to be announced in the coming weeks.

For a review of Barbour's 2008 holiday concert at Sardi's in New York, click here.

Redeemer Arts News

Monday, November 30, 7:00PM
Ripley-Grier Studios, 520 Eighth Ave. (at 36th St.)
Studio 17A

Bring a monologue, scene, audition piece, or work in progress to workshop or show at the Novemmber gathering of Redeemer presbyterian's actors' group 7 pm Monday, Nov. 30 at Ripley-Grier Studios, 520 Eighth Ave. (at 36th St.)
Studio 17A .

Enjoy fellowship and fun with other actors as we explore the meaning of our work. Dinner will be provided. RSVP to actors@redeemer.com. Questions? Contact Kenyon Adams at kenyon@redeemer.com or(212) 808-4460 x1344

Also, save the date for an InterArts Advent celebration 7 pm Friday, Dec. 11 at the Redeemer offices, 1359 Broadway, 4th Floor (at 36th St.)

The Actors, Dancers and Filmmakers Groups will fellowship together. The evening will include special music, art, reflections, food, and fellowship in celebration of our Savior's birth. No RSVP required.

Questions? Contact Kenyon Adams at kenyon@redeemer.com or (212) 808-4460 x1344

Friday, November 20, 2009

Book Review: ‘Touched by a Vampire’ by Beth Felker Jones

A Helpful Guide through the 'Twilight' Series
By Lauren Yarger
Beth Felker-Jones’ guide through the ‘Twilight’ series, "Touched by a Vampire: Discovering the Hidden Messages in the Twilight Saga" (Multnomah Books ,October 2009) is just that: a great guide.

Jones is a knowledgeable source for those who want to know more about the books without having to read them, and a facilitator for fans who want to read the novels with a biblical context. It comes just in time, too, as the blockbuster movie sequel “New Moon” opens in theaters this weekend.

Jones, an assistant professor of theology at Wheaton College, takes an even-handed look at the novels by Stephenie Meyer in the run-away best seller Twilight Saga series for young adults. Telling the story of the romance between human teenager Bella and vampire Edward, the four books, “Twilight,” “New Moon,” Eclipse,” and “Breaking Dawn” have been a source of controversy for Christians. One the one hand, some Christian mothers have given thumbs up to the books because Meyer (a Mormon) has the characters refrain from having sex before they are married. On the other hand, they are stories about vampires and the occult.

Jones, in a non-preachy way, gives us all the information we need to know to make an informed choice about whether this is something we want our kids reading or not, and how to address some of the issues and circumstances in the Twilight world from a biblical reference. I would have loved a book like this for the Harry Potter series which was all the range when my kids were still young enough to have their mother involved in the book-selection process.

Besides giving an excellent overview of what the series is about and the main points of interest and themes, the book includes chapters on the specific topics that come up in the series, each concluded with questions to prompt thought about what Christians should and shouldn’t embrace in the story. In addition, a book-by-book discussion series is included for each novel in the series and an online leader’s guide allows easy use in a bible study or book discussion group.

Jones also includes come information on the Mormon themes present in the books. I found it to be one of the most thorough, thoughtful and helpful guidebooks of this type I have read.

Buy it here.

--Lauren Yarger
A free reviewer's copy of this book was provided by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Book Notes: ‘Thirsty’ by Tracey Bateman

Family struggles and everyday hardships aren’t usually topics that many (especially me) want to spend their free time reading about, but Tracey Bateman’s novel “Thirsty,” (WaterBrook Press, October 2009) is interesting as it brings to light struggles that so many families face.

Alcoholism plays a huge part in this story and the reader soon finds out that “thirsty” has a much greater meaning.

For Nina Parker, the steps toward recovery from her addiction are smaller than those she must take as she faces her ex-husband, Hunt, with little hope of making amends, and tries to rebuild a relationship with her angry teenage daughter, Meagan. In the process, she returns to her hometown in Missouri where she catches the attention of someone–or something dark and menacing.

Bateman crafts her characters very well and you can feel the turmoil evolve as their different personalities clash throughout the book. It’s a slow read at first but the further you get, the richer the story becomes. You learn of the Parkers’ past and seeing how Nina has matured has the reader rooting for a comeback.

For anyone who has struggled or is struggling with an addiction of any kind, this story brings to light that it really isn’t a walk in the park to change your life. It takes hard work and determination, and doing things you really don’t want to do.

“Thirsty” was not the story I was expecting, namely some sort of Christian alternative to the “Twilight” series books. Instead, this story is a breath of fresh air. Other then the previously mentioned slow start, the story is heartfelt and entertaining for readers.

Buy the book here.

--Brian Yarger

Brian Yarger is a freelance artist living outside of Hartford, CT. His favorite genre of book is fiction with a supernatural twist. A free reviewer's copy of this book was provided by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Entries Sought for Short Film Contest

The HOSFU Short Film Contest is now open for entries. Short Film Contest prizes will be awarded at the 2010 Gideon Media Arts Conference & Film Festival banquet, held at the LifeWay conference center in Ridgecrest, NC on June 7, 2010.

Short films which are 5-30 minutes in length, including credits, will be accepted through April 1, 2010. Ten semifinalists for each award category will be announced on May 1, 2010.

There will be four prize packages awarded for Best Short Film, Runner Up Short Film, Best Actor and Best Actress. All prize packages include the following:

1) A cash award (up to $400, depending on the category)
2) Free tuition to the Gideon Media Arts Conference & Film Festival 2011 ($315.00 value)
3) A one-on-one meal with a Gideon faculty member of choice, at the 2011 conference (priceless)

To receive any award, the entrant must be registered for the 2010 Gideon Media Arts Conference & Film Festival as a full access student, by May 15, 2010. For details on the prize packages, please click here.

The contest is sponsored by HOSFU, (an acronym which stands for "His Only Son For Us"), a company dedicated to promoting Christ through the film industry. “HOSFU is blessed to be sponsoring this year’s Short Film Contest at the Gideon 2010,” says HOSFU CEO Eric Highland. “The Gideon, sponsored by LifeWay, is one of the top Christian media events of the year and is truly a don’t-miss event. We fully anticipate a high level of quality submissions from independent filmmakers, to make this year’s Short Film Contest the best that the Gideon has ever seen.”

For complete Rules and Regulations, judging criteria, details on prize packages and the entry form, visit http://hosfu.com/.

Registration Open for Festival of Faith and Writing

Online registration for the 2010 Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College is open.

The festival, on the Grand Rapids, MI campus, will be held April 15-17 and allows participants to discuss, celebrate and explore the ways in which faith is represented in literature and how it plays out in our world today.

Among the authors scheduled to be at the conference are playwright Arlene Hutton, screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi and journalist Tim Stafford. Novelist Wally Lamb will be the featured speaker at the festival's evening plenary session April 15.

To register, click here. Information is provided through frequently asked questions here. For additional information, contact ffw@calvin.edu.

Attendees have the opportunity to submit a manuscript for review by editors attending the conference. They may be submitted online beginning in January.

Enjoy an Evening of Song with Larry Woodard

The Episcopal Actors' Guild presents an Evening of Song with acclaimed voice and musical performer Larry Woodard 7 pm Thursday, Nov. 19 at Guild Hall, the Little Church, 1 E. 29th St., NYC.

Woodard has played at the White House, at the United Nations and to audiences across the globe.

A suggested donation of $10 will benefit the guild's Emergency Aid & Relief Program.
Wine and refreshments will be served. Space is very limited. RSVP to matt@actorsguild.org or 212-685-2927.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Book Review: 'Finding the Groove' by Robert Gelinas


By Jerry Starks
“Finding the Groove” by Robert Gelinas (Zondervan, 2009) is a deep and multi-faceted exploration of the Christian life and jazz. The subtitle entices you with another clue about where Gelinas is heading: “composing a jazz-shaped faith.”

This intrigued me on two levels, because I had assumed that jazz wasn’t really composed– it was more improvised. That also seems to be many people’s style of life– improvisation more than planning. As I read further, I became very engrossed in his thoughtful observations about jazz and Christianity.

Gelinas is not a musician; he is a pastor and a jazz theologian. He explains that jazz is bigger than just music: it can be an entire lifestyle (not just the improvisational aspect), and a very Christian lifestyle at that. “Christian” not just by putting different labels on things but by using patterns and behaviors developed in jazz music when we interact with God and with our fellow humans. Even the history and development of jazz should ring with familiarity in Christian ears. Jazz was developed by African-Americans: people not free living in a free land—just as we were all born slaves of sin living in a fallen world. Yet even in the midst of deep segregation, jazz became a meeting ground where races could actually enjoy the same thing at the same time in the same place—just as in Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor slave.

Three cornerstones of jazz form a framework for Gelinas’ exploration. They are syncopation, improvisation, and call-and-response. He explains how each works in jazz music, then gives examples of how they can work outside of music, often giving examples from Scripture.

This would have been encouraging and enlightening by itself, but Gelinas keeps on going. He discusses jazz greats in many areas of life, such as John Coltrane, a saxophonist, Langston Hughes, a poet, Ralph Ellison, a novelist, Martin Luther King, Jr., a preacher. Each of them was influenced by jazz, and each made significant contributions to America. The depth and scope of Gelinas’ understanding of jazz and American culture is deeply satisfying.

Chapter headings include “Creative Tension,” “Life in Concert,” “Finding Your Voice,” and “Developing Your Ear.” All of them have a musical basis, but all of them go far beyond that art form the just like jazz cannot be restricted to a concert hall: it gets into all of life. In the same way, insists Gelinas, the love of Jesus should break out of our familiar constructs and pulse with life, causing others to stop and listen. One way of doing that is to compose and live a jazz-shaped faith.

You can purchase this book here.

Jerry Starks is associate director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. and has numerous acting and directing credits in both secular and Christian productions. He resides in Essex Junction, VT where he is active in the arts ministry at his church.

Book Notes: God's Cycle of Music by Mark Paulson

There are many ways to look at God’s amazing relationship with humans: people with different talents, interests, and backgrounds see different aspects of God more clearly. It enriches us when we try to see from another person’s perspective. “God’s Cycle of Music: A Musician’s Explanation of God’s Purpose and Meaning for Our Lives” (Hope Publishing House, 2009) is a look at God’s redemption from the viewpoint of Mark Paulson, a professional pianist and piano teacher in New Jersey..

Some of Paulson’s analogies are expected: it’s almost automatic to cast God as the Composer of the music of life. Yet several of his analogies delightfully caught me off guard. I had never thought of the Holy Spirit as a Conductor, or Jesus as an Agent. In a compact style, Paulson brings up images for several aspects of the Christian experience; then allows us to expand and develop those images, creating our own variations on .the theme. For example, he suggests comparing spiritual disciplines like prayer and fasting to practicing scales and etudes. He spins off a list of nine disciplines, gives a paragraph or two on each one for a starter, then encourages your imagination to expand and apply the idea.

Occasionally an analogy gets weak and seems overshadowed by more familiar, non-musical expressions. Any metaphor can only be stretched so far before breaks down, but before that point the metaphor enriches and expands the mind and the heart that considers it. “God’s Cycle of Music” is well worth reading and then building upon. You can purchase the book here.
-- Jerry Starks

Redeemer's November Gathering for Actors Set

Actors can gather for the monthly meeting at Redeemer Prsbyterian in New York 7pm Monday, Nov. 30 at Ripley-Grier Studios, 520 8th Ave. (at 36th Street), Studio 17A

Bring a monologue, scene, audition piece, or work in progress to workshop or show. No judgment! Come enjoy fellowship and fun with other actors as we explore the meaning of our work. Dinner is provided.

RSVP to actors@redeemer.com. Questions? Contact Kenyon Adams at kenyon@redeemer.com or (212) 808-4460 x1344.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Kiss That Worships

This week we bring you a guest blog post on worship from Jerry D. Scott, senior pastor of Washington Assembly of God Church in Washington, NJ. Read more of Pastor Scott's messages on his blog, "Coffeebreak with the Word" at http://jerryscott.blogspot.com.

The Kiss That Worships
By Jerry D. Scott
A Christian for my entire life, I have attended a lot of church services! Some have included worship, many have not! Sometimes the obvious focus is to entertain the audience, with a circus-like atmosphere of performing acts. Sometimes the service is more like a family reunion, the focus being on meeting the people who are present. Sometimes I’m puzzled why anyone shows up since the whole thing is pointless, wandering through a ritual that goes nowhere. And, sometimes worship really happens. The people gathered are purposefully focused on the Person and Presence of Almighty God, challenged by His Word, and left in awe. Now, that’s church!

This Fall, I am leading a Bible Study group through the book of the Revelation. Chapters 4 and 5 are John’s vision of the Throne Room. While the language is sometimes strange to my mind, the overall message is about worship. While meditating on those chapters, I have found myself in tears repeatedly – partially from awe, partially from longing for a more consistently authentic worship in my life. Read an excerpt.

"The Lamb (Jesus Christ) stepped forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. And when he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.

And they sang a new song with these words: “You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. … And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang: “Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.” And the four living beings said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped the Lamb." (Revelation 5:6-9, 13-16, NLT)

Modern worship is frequently evaluated only by the experience of the worshipper.

• Was the band good?
• Did they sing songs I liked?
• Did I feel ‘blessed’?
• Were warm and fuzzy emotions stirred?

Those are all fine things, but they are not what worship is about. Authentic worship must have an upward focus. It focused on offering to Jesus the same adoration that is shown to Him in heaven! Imagine the Elders of that scene getting up from their faces and high-fiving one another saying, “I feel so blessed right now!” No way. They were not even thinking of themselves. They desired only to pour out their love to the Lamb, to give Him praise because He is worthy!

Worship is about creating awareness, but not self awareness. It is always about being more aware of God’s Presence, and as we are awed by Him, increasingly submitted to His will. If worship does not do that, it is misfocused at best, a profanity at worst! Jesus taught, "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24, NIV) The word that is translated as ‘worship’ is “proskuneo.” {pros•koo•neh•o} which means “to kiss the hand in token of reverence.” (Strong’s)

Disciple, have you leaned forward in worship to kiss the hand of God?
Have you taken your eyes off yourself, your circumstances, your needs to come to Him, just to offer up the adoration of your worship?
Remember, worship is first an attitude, then an action. An unsubmitted, self-willed Christian will not ‘worship in spirit and truth’ even though she may sing the right words and go through the motions of ‘worship.’ The heart must bow first, the will be submitted, and then worship will become worthy of its focus.

Lord, teach us to be worshippers, not just singers.
Bend our wills to Yours, draw our minds and hearts to You.
Our days are frequently a mad rush during which we forget
You and Your majesty, consumed by the things of ‘now.’
Forgive us for loving our lives so much that we fail to ‘kiss Your hand.’

Now, Lord, I join with all Creation to say:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!”

_________________

To bow and to kiss,
To pour forth our love,
The perfume of our adoration.
To wash with our tears
The feet that were bruised,
To bless and to serve and to gaze on.

To bow and to kiss,
To pour forth our love,
The perfume of our adoration.
To press to our lips,
The hands that were pierced,
To bless and to serve and to gaze on.

To bow and to kiss,
To pour forth our love,
The perfume of our adoration.
To reach up and touch,
The brow that was torn,
To bless and to serve and to gaze on.

Jesus, my Savior!
My life and my love!
You are my treasure,
My gift from above!

To Bow And To Kiss
© 2002 Life Unto Life Music
Andrea C. Hunter
Jeremy Michael Riddle

CCLI License No. 810055

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Socrates in the City, Max McLean, Episcopal Actors News

Socrates in the City
Owen Gingerich, professor emeritus of astronomy and of the history of science at Harvard University and senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory will speak on the the topic "Dare a Scientist Believe in Design?" at the next meeting of Socrates in the City.

The event, hosted by Eric Metaxas, will be held 7 pm at The Union Club, 69th Street and Park Avenue. A Wine & Cheese Reception will be held from 6:30-7 pm and Professor Gingerich will sign copies of his books at 8:30 pm.

Registration is required. Cost is $35 before Nov. 6, then prices increase. The club requires appropriate attire for attendees, including jacket and tie for men.

In addition, There will be an hors d'oeuvres and wine VIP Reception with Gingerich from 6:15 pm until 6:55 pm. Attendance at this reception (and which includes the event immediately following) costs $75 before Nov.6 when the price increases. A Socrates in the City Patron's Dinner with Gingerich and other special guests immediately following the event (approx. 9 pm) is open to any persons making a tax-deductible donation of $500 or more. Seating is very limited
For more information and to register, click here.

Max McLean won the Jeff Equity Award for "Best Solo Performance" for his Chicago production of Mark's Gospel. For more information visit http://www.fpatheatre.com/mark


Episcopal Actors' Guild
"Drag in Your Costume" Halloween party 7 pm Thursday, Oct. 29 at Guild Hall, The Little Church, 1 E. 29th St. (5th/Madison), NYC.

Donations benefit EAG's Emergency Aid & Relief Program. Wine & Refreshments Will Be Served. RSVP: matt@actorsguild.org / 212-685-2927.

Get Discounted Broadway Tickets, Support Christian Arts

You can enjoy a Broadway show and support our ministry in Christian arts at the same time.

Through Givenik, Masterwork Productions receives a percentage of the sale every time you purchase a discounted ticket to a Broadway or Off-Broadway show.

Special discounts to the following shows are available. Click here:
Avenue Q
Burn the Floor
Chicago
Fela!
Finan's Rainbow
Fuerza Bruta
Gazillion Bubble Show
Hair
In the Heights
Love, Loss and What I Wore
Mama Mia
Mary Poppins
Memphis
My First Time
Oleanna
Ragtime
Rock of Ages
Shrek
Superior Donuts
The Lion King
The Marvelouos Wonderettes
Phantom of the Opera
Toxic Avenger
Vigil

Also, friends of Masterworks get a special discounted rate on tickets for Altar Boys. Click here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Worship from Psalm 42

A white-tailed deer drinks from the creek;
I want to drink God,
deep draughts of God.
I'm thirsty for God-alive.
I wonder, "Will I ever make it—
arrive and drink in God's presence?"
I'm on a diet of tears—
tears for breakfast, tears for supper.
All day long
people knock at my door,
Pestering,
"Where is this God of yours?"

These are the things I go over and over,
emptying out the pockets of my life.
I was always at the head of the worshiping crowd,
right out in front,
Leading them all,
eager to arrive and worship,
Shouting praises, singing thanksgiving—
celebrating, all of us, God's feast!

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I'll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He's my God.

When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse
everything I know of you,
From Jordan depths to Hermon heights,
including Mount Mizar.
Chaos calls to chaos,
to the tune of whitewater rapids.
Your breaking surf, your thundering breakers
crash and crush me.
Then God promises to love me all day,
sing songs all through the night!
My life is God's prayer.

Sometimes I ask God, my rock-solid God,
"Why did you let me down?
Why am I walking around in tears,
harassed by enemies?"
They're out for the kill, these
tormentors with their obscenities,
Taunting day after day,
"Where is this God of yours?"

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I'll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He's my God.
(THE MESSAGE)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I Was Lost in the Woods, but Now Am Found


By Lauren Yarger
I recently got to revisit the spot where I met the Lord on heavily wooded Deer Isle, Maine where I had been a camp counselor more than 30 years ago. My purpose in going to Les Chalet Francais, as the camp was called, was to teach girls age 5 to 12 French and tennis, but I left with a different and life-changing one: to serve God.

It's hard to explain how a hostile, anti-God, anti-religion, Jesus-was-just-a-hoax believing person can change into a follower of Christ. You sort of have to be there, and if you're in any of the categories I just described, you won't believe it's possible until you are there yourself. It did happen, just not over night. Meeting God at that camp was the result of many months of study (mostly with the intention of disproving his existence) and a major battle of the will (not wills, because God never forces us to believe). I was fighting with myself, unwilling to give up control. Until I finally admitted that maybe I didn't know absolutely everything thing there was to know in the world, and perhaps -- and this was the hardest part --that it was possible I could be wrong about a few things, I really wasn't ready, or able, to see God standing right in front of me.

It's amazing what isolation can do, though. Overwhelmed by the endless solitude and more trees than I ever had seen in my life (I was from the city) I was unable to hide behind the routines and problems of a daily life that kept me so busy they didn't allow me to stop and hear God's voice. Instead, I found myself quite alone one day there at the camp, and quite miserable. I took a good, hard, long look at my life and didn't like what I saw. I realized, reluctantly, that what God offered, through the death of Christ on the cross was what I needed. Suddenly I wasn't alone. God was with me and because I asked him to guide my life, he never has left me since.

Recently I had an opportunity to vacation a couple of hours away and I determined to revisit, for the first time, the place of my spiritual birth. Where better to conduct a mid-life crisis review of my life?

Finding the place would be no easy task, however, as the camp had been sold and divided into residential lots many years ago. The local Chamber of Commerce reported that a number of private homes had been built on the property and other sources said that none of the buildings except a storage shack still stood. So I set off with my map of the area and a prayer for direction. I hadn't driven while I was at the camp, so no landmarks or roads would seem familiar to me.

After arriving at what I thought was a main road that would wind around the camp site, I was greeted by a fork in some pretty deep woods. Taking my best guess, I headed left and soon realized I was driving into someone's private road which dead-ended in front of me. I started to turn around, but when I looked left, I recognized the view. It was the same as it had been all those years ago, except for a few newer trees between me and the bay which stretched out at the bottom of the hill.

I doubted myself for a minute, though, because to see this view, I would have to be just about where the main building for the camp was, and my car was next to an older building that couldn't have been erected after the camp was sold and, after all, a bunch of trees overlooking a bay can look the same from many different vantage points to a city girl. Just then a car pulled up and the property owner politely inquired what I was doing there. I apologized for my Google map, which had promised a through street, but which instead had landed me in her drive, and explained that I was looking for the French camp.

I had found it, she informed me. The main lodge had been converted into a storage barn with an apartment, which is why I didn't recognize it, and a little further down the road, another camp building, the dance studio, had been converted into a residence. As this gracious woman continued to give me some history about the place, we discovered we had been instructors at the camp the same summer. We both only had been there that one summer. Now what are the odds, do you think, that a woman who had been there only at the time when I had met God happened to buy this property and also just happened to be driving home at the exact moment I had arrived to revisit the site? Some 30 years ago, I believed in coincidence and chance. Today I saw an answered prayer and God's handiwork.

My friend invited me to walk around and take photos. As God and I stood in one place, I could see the exact spot where we had met, just a little to our right. Much had changed since that day when I'd gone into the woods alone, but some things never do. I still have to battle with wanting to be in control and it's still hard to admit that I might not be right about everything, but at least now, when I leave behind daily routines and problems to contemplate what I should do with my life, my heavenly father walks into the woods with me.

Monday, October 5, 2009

State Fairs Offer a Taste of the Simple Life We Seem to Have Forgotten (as well as of some strange foods....)

By Lauren Yarger
If life seems a bit too hectic and full of technology, high finance and cut-throat competition, take a trip back in time by attending your state fair. I recently enjoyed a day at The Big E, which serves all five New England States, and while I'm sure it can't compare with the champions in the genre like Iowa's State Fair, the setting for Rodgers & Hammerstein's musical State Fair and my long anticipated destination next August, the Big E has a charm of its own.

The fair is held at the exposition grounds near Springfield, MA, where a number of permanent structures, including colonial buildings for each of the New England states and an ice hockey rink, host various exhibits. I helped out in the arts and crafts area, where it was my duty to make sure no one touched or dumped deep-fried Oreos, corn dogs, smoothies, funnel cakes or any of the other staples of fair food on the exquisite quilts and other knitted and crocheted crafts on display.

As onlookers oohed and aahed over the crafts, I thought what a joy it is that we still have someplace where people can enjoy the simple things. The quilts don't play music, show videos, wear seductive adornments or worry about being politically correct. They are the beautiful culmination of many hours of God-given talent applied with love.

For me, the trip down memory lane seemed complete with a stop at the only cooking competition at this fair (next year in Iowa, I won't be able to take in all of the food contests because there are just so many, but I really want to win a blue ribbon for pickles). Where better than a state fair to sit back and enjoy folks of all ages, mother-daughter and father-son cooking teams as they create recipes that include sponsor Hidden Valley Ranch in the name and where a pizza takes the grand prize?

"Let's hear it for Mary and her lasagna," the MC said, leading the applause. And I clapped heartily.

A stroll down the avenue took me to a miniature circus museum, a sculpture of cows grazing made out of 600 pounds of butter (at Iowa, I'll see the life-sized butter cow sculpture), the actual car used in the James Bond flick "The Man with the Golden Gun" and the Shinson Band Organ (pictured above) featuring hundreds of handcrafted pipes including a 22-note Glockenspiel. And truth be told, at one point, I could have gone to my left and paid $1 to see the world's tiniest pony, or to my right and paid $1 to see the world's largest horse. Fun doesn't get simpler than this.

Banners in the state buildings delighted me as well. Connecticut's boasted it was home of the "original chocolate-covered bacon," a claim I hardly think anyone would challenge, and for that matter, are there impostor chocolate-covered bacons pretending to be the original? I've lived in Connecticut for nine years now and have never had this delicacy offered to me. In the Vermont building, a state where we lived for 11 years prior to moving here, a banner told me that "what happens in Vermont stays in Vermont," but that nothing ever happens. I laughed out loud at that one.

In the Rhode Island building I ran into Barbara Lesko, whom I had interviewed when she lived in a lighthouse at Nayatt Point in Barrington, RI where we lived for eight years before moving to Vermont (if we live long enough, we might end up residing in each of the New England states.) She'd written a book about her experience and we chatted and shared how we missed living in Barrington (it's really one of the most beautiful places).

All in all, a pleasant, sweet afternoon. It's good to stop in the middle of the rush and enjoy the small pleasures our states have to offer.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Torry Martin Featured Actor on Christian-Movie.com

Our own Torry Martin (seen here among the splendor of his custom designed super-hero office) is this month's featured actor on Christian-Movie.com. Read the article here.
To book him for a performance or workshop, visit http://masterworkproductions.homestead.com/torry.html

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

Lessons Learned from an Edited Life
By Lauren Yarger
Donald Miller isn’t an easy man to get to know. In fact, he doesn’t seem to know himself all that well, which is the premise for his latest book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life" (Thomas Nelson, 2009).

Miller, who catapulted to fame with his best selling “Blue Like Jazz,” found his life had stalled. He was avoiding his publisher and deadlines while pondering the meaning of life when two filmmakers, Steve Taylor and Ben Pearson (“The Second Chance”) contacted Miller about adapting “Blue Like Jazz” into a movie.

The three begin to transform the “Don” of the book into a more film-friendly and easier-to-know character, and in the process, Miller discovers that his life is really, rather boring on the surface. He tries to create scenes for the character by remembering significant moments, and finds he has forgotten a lot and events that he does remember don’t lend themselves to great cinematography. He starts living new stories to create a character, including attempting a reconciliation with the father whom he barely remembers, and ends up writing a new life story.

What seems at first ramblings by a guy who is having trouble finding something worthwhile about his life to report to a God portrayed as impersonal and not inclined to let humans in on what their life’s purpose is anyway, shifts and becomes a rather thoughtful collection of insights into what’s important and how we can shape our lies into better stories.

I particularly enjoyed the format of the book, which follows Miller’s attempts to structure his life like a screenplay. Exposition is followed by chapters breaking down the overall premise driving any story plot: a character who wants something and who overcomes conflict to get it. Being a writer, I could relate to this approach to life and the format made Miller’s experiences and stories far more interesting.

In fiction, characters often take on a life of their own and write a story quite different from the one the author sets out to pen. So it is with life, Miller discovers, as characters write their own stories, despite what God, the author, might have had in mind.

“I told God no again, but he came back to me and asked me if I really believed he could write a better story – and if I did, why didn’t I trust him.”

It’s this kind of deep philosophical thought mixed with dry humor that propels “A Million Miles.” Despite an underlying sadness you can’t help feel comes from the author’s belief that he doesn’t know God as well personally as he’d like to or should, the book is a thoughtful exploration of developing a meaningful life.

You can download some sample chapters here. For more information or to purchase the book, click here.

News in Christian Arts

Variety Show Benefits Actors in Need
The Episcopal Actors' Guild offers the next installment of its popular variety show Yo Pro this Thursday featuring singing from three very talented artists, dances from three unique troupes and performance by two actors. And as always, get ready for the comedic stylings of Karen and Matt!

Oct. 1, 2009
Guild Hall, 1 E. 29th St., NYC
Happy hour at 6 pm, first act at 7.
The $10 suggested donation benefits the actors in need fund.

Featuring:
Rebecca Hicks - Singer (Opera)
Annemarie Rosano - Singer
Dane Aska III - Monologue
Jenny Efremova - Dancer
Mari Meade Montoya - Dancer
Vangeline - Dancer (Butoh)
and many more...

Refreshments will be served. Space is limited. RSVP to 212-685-2927, or matt@actorsguild.org.

Earlybird Deadline Nears for CLASS Christian Writing Conference
Save $50 with a registration for the CLASS Christian Writers Conference by Oct. 15.

The conference (formerly Glorieta) will be held Nov. 4-8 at The Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM and will include a time of spiritual strengthening, professional equipping and fellowship, with keynotes from Alex Kendrick ("Facing the Giants," and "Fireproof") and James Bryan Smith ("Renovare," "The Good," and "Beautiful God").

Workshop leaders include Bucky Rosenbaum, Jerome Daley, DiAnn Mills, Kathy Carlton Willis, Jesse Florea, Terri Blackstock, Len Goss.

To register visit http://www.classeminars.org/ or call 702-882-0638.

Screwtape Tour Doing Well
The Screwtape Letters, presented by Fellowship for the Performing Arts and starring Max McLean as Screwtape, is sold out in San Francisco and is selling well on a national tour following performances in New York and Chicago. Dates and cities include:
Phoenix Oct 30 - Nov 1
Louisville, KY Nov 6 - 7
Ft. Lauderdale, FL Nov 14 - 15
Chattanooga, TN Nov 21 - 22
Washington, DC Dec 16 - Jan 3

For more information, visit http://www.screwtapeonstage.com/.

NOTE THE BRUCE WILKINSON LIVE BROADCAST HAS BEEN POSTPONED
Q & A with Bruce Wilkinson
Join WaterBrook Multnomah publishers for a live broadcast with Bruce Wilkinson, author of "You Were Born for This" read the review here).

DATE: Monday, October 5th, 2009
TIME: 7 pm EST
DESCRIPTION: Part 1/3 - Watch as Bruce explains what would happen if millions of ordinary people walked out each morning expecting God to deliver a miracle through them to a person in need. Then ask your questions and receive answers from Bruce live through the online chat room on www.Livestream.com/WaterBrookMultnomah.

Additional live broadcasts from the top Christian authors on a variety of subjects also are planned. For the schedule, visit http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/livestream.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Greetings from Maine

Greetings from the land of lobsters. This week I'm in Edgecomb, Maine, writing and enjoying a little break. On Wednesday, I'll be heading back to the site of a the former camp where I met God for the first time more than 30 years ago and gave my life to him.

I haven't been back to the area since, so I'm looking forward to reflecting and remembering. I've changed a lot in those three decades, and God no longer is a stranger. I'll blog about it next week when I get back.

Meanwhile, scroll down and read about Randy Alcorn's latest book: "If God is Good," hot off the presses.
-- Lauren Yarger


Book Note: 'If God is Good' by Randy Alcorn


Faith in the Midst of Sufferings and Evil
Summary from the publisher (Multnomah Books, September 2009): Every one of us will experience suffering. Many of us are experiencing it now. As we have seen in recent years, evil is real in our world, present and close to each one of us.

In such difficult times, suffering and evil beg questions about God--Why would an all-good and all-powerful God create a world full of evil and suffering? And then, how can there be a God if suffering and evil exist?

These are ancient questions, but also modern ones as well. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and even former believers like Bart Ehrman answer the question simply: The existence of suffering and evil proves there is no God.

In this captivating new book, best-selling author Randy Alcorn challenges the logic of disbelief, and brings a fresh, realistic, and thoroughly biblical insight to the issues these important questions raise.

Alcorn offers insights from his conversations with men and women whose lives have been torn apart by suffering, and yet whose faith in God burns brighter than ever. He reveals the big picture of who God is and what God is doing in the world–now and forever. And he equips you to share your faith more clearly and genuinely in this world of pain and fear.

As he did in his best-selling book, Heaven, Randy Alcorn delves deep into a profound subject, and through compelling stories, provocative questions and answers, and keen biblical understanding, he brings assurance and hope to all.

Author Bio:
Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspectives Ministries and a bestselling author. His novels include Deadline, Dominion, Edge of Eternity, Lord Foulgrin’s Letters, The Ishbane Conspiracy, and the Gold Medallion winner, Safely Home. He has written eighteen nonfiction books as well, including Heaven, The Treasure Principle, The Purity Principle, and The Grace and Truth Paradox. Randy and his wife, Nanci, live in Oregon and have two married daughters and four grandsons.

For more information or to purchase the book, visit http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9781601421326.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Book Review: 'You Were Born for This' by Bruce Wilkinson


Exciting, Practical Advice for Partnering with God on Miracles
By Lauren Yarger
Bruce Wilkinson describes his newest book “You Were Born for This” (WaterBrook Multnomah, 2009) as his former best seller, “The Prayer of Jabez” “to the miracle power.” While a few passages might bring to mind the prosperity message in “Jabez,” this work, written with David Kopp, who also partnered with Wilkinson on “Jabez,” stands on its own as an exciting, inspiring and practical challenge to Christians.

In “You Were Born for This: 7 Keys to a Life of Predictable Miracles,” Wilkinson takes on the topic of miracles and reveals our somewhat limited thoughts about how they can and do take place and what our part in them might be.

“We live in an era that seems to have reduced much of Christian life to two expectations: what God can do for us, and what we can do for God. But every page of this book has been intended to demonstrate to you a third and profoundly more thrilling expectation: what God can do through us for others.”

Through seven “keys” Wilkinson unlocks obstacles to practical everyday steps for learning how to identify opportunities where God wants to use us to work in the lives of others,

The author uses numerous stories of people who were helped by others who were willing to be of service. There are amazing stories of the author running late for an appointment, having plans changed suddenly or even having an urge for ice cream that turn out to be part of God’s plan, rather than normal circumstances of which we might not even take note.

Most exceptional is Wilkinson’s retelling of receiving spiritual “nudges” while addressing a group of men at a retreat. He singles out a man, puts him on the spot and asks what’s going wrong in his life. The man at first denies any problem and Wilkinson, doubtin himself, returns to the platform to continue his talk where he again receives supernatural urging to go back to the man and confront him again. As you might have guessed, there was a problem and the outcome of Wilkinson’s obedient persistence and the response of the men at the retreat will blow you away.

Just when you’re thinking, “Gosh, it would be fun to hang out with this guy,” you realize that he wants to unleash the same miracle partnering power in you.

It really is an absorbing read and absolutely inspiring. Personally, Wilkinson helped clear up a point I have been struggling with for many years now: just how much control do people, especially those unwilling to answer God’s urging to give of their time, money or other resources for his works, have in preventing God from accomplishing his task. Frankly, I’ve never heard any preaching on the subject, but Wilkinson offers some great insight into biblical passages that address the issue head on:

“The amount of our faith – and actions we take as a result – can either limit or release God to act in a miracle situation.”

If that seems at odds with your vision of an omnipotent God, I’d urge you to read the book. You might just be surprised.

Wilkinson’s use of miraculous stories from the bible, as well as from his personal life, sheds new light on some familiar passages and gives new perspective. You’ll never look at Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch quite the same way again.

Along with instruction for how to be open to God’s plan, Wilkinson offers some practical advice for remaining neutral and non-judgmental while a miracle is taking place and for making sure to give God the credit when it does.

“You were Born for This” will give you a new sense of purpose and a way to pursue it immediately. It all comes down to this:

“We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

SPECIAL OFFER: We have a copy of this book for give away. To enter for a chance to win, email masterworkproductions@yahoo.com with “BORN FOR THIS GIVEAWAY” in the subject line by 8pm Monday, Sept. 21, 2009. In the email, include your name, mailing address and telephone number. A winner will be selected Monday, Sept. 21 at 9pm with the winner's name posted on this blog.

Download the first chapter of the book here . You can share your own stories of miracles here.
For a video link, click here . For more information or to purchase the book, click here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Blessed by the Broadway Blessing

Retta Blaney and Lynn Redgrave

Asking Blessings on the Broadway Season
What a lovely service we enjoyed at last night's 13th annual Broadway Blessing at St. John the Divine cathedral in New York. Masterwork Productions, Inc. was one of the sponsors.

The ecumenical celebration of the new theater season featured thoughts from actress Lynn Redgrave, songs by Broadway's Jean Valjean J. Mark McVey, Carol Hall and Patrice Djerejian accompanied by performers from Project Dance. Casey Groves (below left) gave an excerpt from his one-man performance as Father Damian, the Catholic priest who ministered to lepers, and the Broadway Blessing choir performed medleys of show tunes. Bruce Neswick, director of music at the cathedral, played the organ.
Rabbi Jill Hausman of the Actors' Temple, The Rev. Canon Thomas Miller, canon for liturgy and the arts at the cathedral, and The Rev. Mittles DeChamplain of St. Clements Episcopal Church officiated at the service, offering prayers, thoughts and a special candlelighting which Miller said represented the light that shines out from and on those in the Broadway community. Karen Lehman, (left) Executive Director of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, read psalm 98. Mark McVey and Christopher Smith


McVey sang a beautiful song from Christopher Smith's Broadway bound musical Amazing Grace. Redgrave's reflections on surviving breast cancer were very moving. She thanks God for being here for another performance every time she stands in the wings, she said, because God and her faith are an important part of her survival. She concluded with a heartfelt reading of Psalm 23. The event is produced by founder Retta Blaney.
-- Lauren Yarger

Retta Blaney, Karen Lehman and Masterwork Productions
Executive Director Lauren Yarger


Book Review: Lights, Action, Lily!


A Fun Look at Pre-Teen Drama
By Jerry Starks
Middle school: cliques, social rivalry, and the beginnings of romantic interest. Into this bubbling pot, add a drama activity and you’ve got… “Lights, Action, Lily!” (Zonderkidz 2002). Author Nancy Rue captures many of the issues of pre-teen joy and sorrow in this fun story.

The book opens with the school children lining up for their class pictures. Shad, Lily’s personal nemesis, grins at Lily and she scowls at him just as the camera takes her picture. Not a good start to the day.

Bickering in the hallway between Lily and Shad is interrupted by Mrs. Reinhold, the English teacher, who asks Lily to meet her at lunch time. At lunch time, instead of detention Lily is offered the chance to be in a drama competition with a group of other students. They are to do some scenes from Shakespeare, and Lily is thrilled.

When the group meets for the first time, Lily finds all the students are seventh graders, and the only other sixth grader is Shad. Believing he must be there by mistake, she’s shocked that Mrs. Reinhold actually invited him. Horror is added to horror when it turns out that she and Shad are to do a scene from “The Taming of the Shrew” together. She’s appalled, but becomes determined to show him up as a fool.

As the story continues, Lily develops a grudging respect for Shad as an actor, and actually begins to enjoy their scene. Meanwhile, Ashley, who is Shad’s girlfriend, is threatening death and destruction to Lily for coming between her and Shad. Ashley eventually stages a scene of her own where she frames Shad and nearly gets him suspended and therefore unable to participate in the drama competition.

The seventh-grade members of the Shakespeare Club are annoyed at having to put up with the two younger kids. When nobody else came up with a theme to hold all the scenes together, Lily’s idea was glumly accepted and covertly ridiculed.

Against all odds, Shad learns his lines and is magnificent, Lily enjoys working with Shad, and everything looks successful. Then two days before the competition, Lily gets sick, and the doctor says there’s no possibility of her participating in the competition. A tiny bit of comfort is that her friend, Kresha, has been helping her learn lines and is familiar enough with the script that she can stand in for Lily. Even through her dismay, Lily is genuinely happy for Kresha, and happy for Shad being able to compete after all.
Sick and miserable at missing the competition, Lily is startled when the whole drama team comes to her house to celebrate their victory.

Ms. Rue’s characters felt very real to me. She did a good job of portraying pre-teen angst and gently introducing Biblical morality and behavior into the story. In a very deft twist of plot, when Lily sees the picture taken at the beginning of the story, she’s at a place where she recognizes how unattractive she is when she scowls, and decides she needs to change her outlook and behavior. Other positive messages include not being intimidated by bullies, being willing to change your opinion of someone, and the value of friendship. I thought the ending scene when all the members of the Shakespeare Club show enthusiastic approval of Lily and gratitude for her ideas… well, that was the most unrealistic part of the story for me. Success doesn’t always change people from being disdainful to being appreciative. That being said, “Lights, Action, Lily!” is still a good read for young readers.

Buy this book, or other in the Lily series here http://www.christianbook.com/lily-lights-action-nancy-rue/9780310702498/pd/02496?item_code=WW&netp_id=266848&event=ESRCN&view=covers#curr

Jerry Starks is associate director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. and has numerous acting and directing credits in both secular and Christian productions. He resides in Essex Junction, VT where he is active in the arts ministry at his church.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bells Peal Peace Near Site of 911 Ground Zero


By Lauren Yarger
Eight years ago on this date, I didn’t know if it would ever be possible to feel peaceful, or in fact, to feel anything again, after the terrorist attacks that leveled the World Trade Center. Personally, it was the beginning of a long walk through an emotional and spiritual desert in which the Lord was my only oasis (read how God walked with me through the dry years in an article published by ByDesign Ministries by clicking here.)

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Ground Zero, now the site of bustling construction as redevelopment and a memorial are going up. Just around the corner stands historic Trinity Episcopal Church, (you may know it from the movie “National Treasure”) a lovely building with beautiful stained glass windows that stood when the towers came down. It also boasts a new donation of 12 change bells (read the story here) . Last Saturday, members of The North American Guild of Change Ringers had gathered at the church for its annual meeting and at noon, the baffles in the tower were opened. A burst of unfettered joy resounded all through the area.

Sitting on a bench in the adjacent cemetery which holds the resting places of those dead for centuries, with many tombstones so worn with time that they are illegible, I felt a peace I never would have imagined possible in 2001. That day, the world changed. We united, recovered and moved on, but we’ll never again be able to live a day without knowing that everything can change in the blink of an eye.

Except for God, that is, and this thought is what brought such peace last Saturday. The bells pealed and seemed to tone “He is here; yes, he is here!” and the tragic events of September 2001, for the first time, seemed a long time ago.

A burst of applause greeted the first touch. It was like a little slice of heaven, where all that is good and all that is right joins together in harmonious song to shout with joy to the Almighty.

The bells will ring again in a special memorial Friday, Sept. 11, 2009 from 8 to 8:45 am.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Book Review: Fearless by Max Lucado

Simple Answers to Living Without Fear

By Lauren Yarger
“Fearless” by Max Lucado, a timely essay on the complicate process of overcoming life’s many fears, offers good advice, catchy turns of phrase and hope-filled stories and can be summarized in one easy lesson: trust God. That lesson, true and sound as it might be, could ring a little hollow for believers in the throes of severe struggle, or for non believers hoping to find solutions in the book (Thomas Nelson, 2009).

In typical Lucado style, the minister of writing and preaching for Oak Hill Church in San Antonio, TX offers lots of practical advice. There are action plans for controlling fears we encounter. I particularly liked the eight-step and easy-to-remember approach to dealing with worry (each step begins with letters that spell out the acronym PEACEFUL). In addition, Lucado gives good advice about praying for our children, focusing on what God has accomplished, trusting God to use evil for good and remembering that the Holy Spirit walks with us through any trial.

He gives many “Lucadoisms,” those “ah ha” moments that become fuel for status updates on social networking sites like:
• “Nothing can foster courage like a clear grasp of grace. And nothing fosters fear like an ignorance of mercy.”
• “Questions can make hermits of us, driving us into hiding.”
• “Fear feels dreadful. It sucks the life out of the soul, curls us into an embryonic state, and drains us dry of contentment.”
• “Whether or not storms come we cannot choose. But where we stare during a storm, that we can.” (incidentally, I felt that thought could have been edited into better structure)

He tells hopeful stories of faith born out of fear, like the conversion of Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Lucado’s own experiences as he faced heart surgery, but the bottom line always is the same: just have faith.

Arguably, he's right, but practically, this advice won't always bring the comfort intended. When struggling with the fears Lucado highlights like financial ruin, disappointing God, violence, death, insignificance and the unknown, sometimes knowing that we should just trust God is easier than doing it, even if that's what we want to do. Is it helpful to tell the parent sitting at the bedside of a dying child to just "trust God?" It’s like telling an atheist who struggles with the idea of God to “just believe.” Yes, that solution will fix the problem, but does that advice really meet him in the midst of fear and help him know how to do that?

Believers unable to apply the advice to their situations, or unable to view them “from an eternal perspective” might end up feeling like failures, like their inability to just fix everything with some simple theology or scripture means that their faith isn’t strong enough. I suspect also that some non-believers who pick up the book looking for solutions might discard it early on since most of its advice is based in faith or scripture. On page 18, assuming that nonbelievers must be among his readers, Lucado writes “Have you accepted the forgiveness of Christ? If not, do so.” Again, easier said than done.

The simple lessons don’t dismiss the helpful advice which can be found in the book, however, and readers who act on the advice will be able to find comfort and solutions. After all, as Lucado points out, we have only to turn on the television newscast to find something new to fear and actively putting it in perspective is proactive. Particularly helpful is a discussion guide at the end of the book with questions to help readers and small groups examine the fears detailed in each chapter and take practical steps to alleviate then

You can purchase the book here . You can share your own stories here and watch a trailer for the book here.

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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