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

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:

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.

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.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Giving Thanks and Meaning It

This week we take a break from our regular routines to gather with those whom we love to celebrate Thanksgiving. It's a wonderful time full of fond memories, but not always full of thanks, if we're honest. Times are tough and it's when things aren't going as we planned or how we would like them to that it is most difficult to give thanks to God and mean it.

How do we thank Him for the loss of a loved one, for a lay off notice, for a child who keeps making poor choices or for a spouse who has been unfaithful? How do we thank him for illness, unkind remarks supposed friends have made about us or for lost opportunities?

The answer is: by faith. Being able to thank Him for His goodness, for His faithfulness, for His love, for His promise to walk with us through it all, can be the shelter in a storm.

First Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to give thanks in all circumstances because this is God's will for us. He doesn't expect us to be happy about all of our circumstances, or even to understand why they happen all the time, but He does want us to rely on the hope and joy we have in Jesus to get us through them. Sometimes we just have to say, "Thank you for being God. I don't get it, but you're in control" and let that be sufficient. It's when we need to reason, or demand an explanation, or justify our acts that we find it most difficult to say thanks.

These thoughts aren't trite and come from years of struggling with trying to give thanks through the tough times. When we moved to Connecticut eight and a half years ago, we were excited about the new chapter starting in our lives. Things didn't go as we planned, however, and instead we began what I now think of as the desert period in my life. The losses and heartbreak over the past few years have been numerous and weighty and are too complicated to try to list here. Suffice it to say that I haven't always been the most thankful person. When I was at my lowest, God specifically showed me that verse in Thessalonians and it made all the difference.

So this Thanksgiving, I'm giving thanks for the hard times, simply because He's God and He's asked me to. Those times have helped shape me into who I am: a person giving thanks this year for my health; a home; two healthy, really nice, bright kids; a supportive husband who has a job; enough food to eat; best friends Ron, Donna, Bern, Torry, Muriel and Carolyn who've been such an important part of my life for so many years and who bless me in so many ways; countless other close friends and ministry partners; mentor and friend Retta Blaney who continues to amaze me with her generosity and the thrill of working in and writing about theater, which has brought me a fabulous new friend and editor, Andy Propst.

May your Thanksgiving be truly blessed and full of thanks.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Understudies Needed; Be Prepared to Go On

Saw a great show last night called "At This Performance," where standbys and understudies for Broadway roles are given a chance to star. They get to sing personal favorites, classics from their shows and tell anecdotes about life on the stage.

Understudies and standbys learn the role someone else is playing and only perform it if the lead is sick or unable to go on for some reason. They may have an opportunity to play a role many times, or never. They just have to wait nearby (literally -- if they don't play another role in the show they are required to be within short walking distance of the theater from call time until curtain each night) and be ready to perform.

When these folks do get the call, sometimes it's in the middle of a show, with just a few minutes for costumes and makeup. Some times they're called before they've even had chance to rehearse on stage with the rest of the cast. Talk about a step of faith!

That got me to thinking how in many ways, we're all in either lead or standby roles when it comes to sharing our faith. Some of us have "starring" roles. We're up in the pulpit preaching on Sunday morning, or leading worship or speaking to groups in ministry. Many of us are standbys, however, who may be called upon at a moment's notice, at our workplace, in the doctor's office, at school, at the family gathering this Thanksgiving, etc., when we weren't thinking we'd have to "go on."

Suddenly in the middle of a conversation, a door opens for being able to share our faith and we get "the call." Personally, I've had this happen in one-on-one conversations as well as with whole rooms full of people, and it can feel like a cue has been given and the spotlight has swung over to illuminate you. Hopefully we know the "lines" and can share with someone how we came to know Jesus. A standby isn't much help, if when called, he or she can't perform.

There's a joke a friend once told me about an actor getting his big break: a role on Broadway, with just one line. The only problem was that he had to go on immediately. There was no time for rehearsal, for the play had already started and he'd have to go on mid-performance. The stage manager would cue him to go on stage at the appropriate time and he was to say, "Lo! The cannons roar!"

All the way to the theater the actor repeated the line, delighted that he had to memorize only one and reveling in the excitement of being able to say it from the boards of a Broadway stage. This was his big chance. He'd been waiting for this moment all of his life.

"Lo! The cannons roar!" he practiced. "Lo! The cannons roar! Lo! The cannons roar!"

He got to the theater where he was whisked into costume and led to the stage manager who said, "You're on" and the actor walked on stage. Just then a tremendous explosion ripped through the theater and as the actor hit his mark he said, "What the heck was that?"

Make no mistake about it. If you're an understudy, you'd better be prepared to go on and have some idea of what to say. It will happen when you least expect it, probably in a way you've never fully rehearsed, but also never while the lead performer is on stage.

Just as being prepared to go on when needed is important, so is knowing when not to say the lines. It wouldn't work for the standby to run on to the stage, push the lead out of the way and say the lines instead. That would interrupt the flow of the play and cause some terrible moments of awkwardness and embarrassment (not to mention the firing of the understudy).

Have you ever been around someone who seems to manipulate the conversation to be able to bring God into it (more often so they feel like a star than because they care about the person with whom they're sharing) or a person who feels they're "called" to be some sort of voice of God to people they've just barely met?

It's uncomfortable, not only for the people targeted, but for other Christians who might have been developing a relationship that would have given them the right cue for knowing when it would be appropriate to discuss God. Be prepared to go on when you're called by the Master. There's no question that he wants you to share Him with others, but make sure the cue to speak is coming from Him and not your ego. And don't upstage anyone.

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1Peter 3:15 NIV)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It's Crunch Time

Most church worship and drama teams have entered one of their busiest seasons as rehearsals for the annual Christmas pageant, Christmas outreach, children's Christmas musical, Christmas Eve service or other Christmas event are under way.
It's a fun and frenzied time and sometimes it's easy to get lost in the details of what we're doing and forget why we're doing it.
What's the focus of your effort this Christmas? Is it to honor and thank God for the birth of His Son? Is it about telling those in your church and community about that Son and how knowing Him can change their lives?
Or could your Christmas event be about something else, like not being able to drop a tradition you've done for years, getting large numbers of people in the seats so you look successful, offering the biggest and best Christmas event in your community so people will think your church is "cool", having a chance to show off your talent and have people praise you or taking advantage of a chance to take in extra donations and ease that end-of-year deficit?
Most of us would hope our motivation would be found in the first scenarios, but if the truth were told, many churches would find themselves falling into the second.
Stop right now to offer your Christmas event to the Lord for His glory. Ask for the Spirit to guide you in all of the details. A word of advice: your event is not perfect and it's never too late for divine intervention. Don't be afraid to step out in faith. Don't settle for anything less than what you can do for Him and His Kingdom.
"It is written: 'I believed; therefore I have spoken.' With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God." (2Cor. 4:13-15 NIV)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Learning From Chicago's Goodman Theatre

By Guest Blogger Nancy Beach
I went to see the first play of the season at Chicago's Goodman Theatre Wednesday night with a group of friends. Turn of the Century is a brand new musical crafted by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, the team who created the wildly successful hit, Jersey Boys. Tommy Tune was the director, and the cast features film and stage actor Jeff Daniels. So this sounds like a theatrical dream team, especially when combined with the outstanding design work which always makes a visit to the Goodman worth the price of a ticket.
And yet...with all that talent and money, the show still needs a lot of work. It was a highly creative storyline, woven with outstanding music from the past century. But our group was not raving about how captivated we were. In fact, what we talked about most was the performance of the lead actress, Rachel York, who truly knocked our socks off as a singer. But if this show is intended to go next to Broadway, I would guess some rewrites will be required.

Here is my point for those of us who create Sunday morning experiences using the arts. No matter how much time, talent, and prayer we invest in our work, we don't get to hit the grand slam every time. It seems to be the nature of artistic endeavors - some works astound us with how powerful and beautiful and moving they turn out to be. Other times, with the same amount of effort, we come up feeling a little flat and disappointed. When I see this phenomenon in professional theatre and film, I do take an odd sort of comfort in the comparison to the highs and lows of weekly ministry. Some Sundays or Christmases or Easters I am overly optimistic about how transcendent a service could be...and then surprised by the apparent lack of enthusiasm I see in the congregation. Other times, my surprise goes the other way and I am delighted by a glorious moment I did not predict or plan for.

So we just keep showing up, giving it the best we have, praying for the anointing of the Spirit, and never knowing for sure what the results will be. We can either be frustrated by the apparent randomness of it all, or choose to be faithful and thankful no matter what the outcome. I hope to keep making the second choice...creating, praying, trusting, and leaving the outcome to God.

Nancy Beach is executive vice president for the Arts at the Willow Creek Association. Read her arts blog at http://www.towardwonder.com/bloghome.asp

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Few Days of Rest

I'm taking a few days off this week prior to the staged reading of our new dinner theater "Getaway to Chipaway" which will be presented in Hinesburg, VT next Saturday, Nov. 8.
What a great bunch of people! It's so nice to come together with talented folks who enjoy using their gifts for the Lord. If you're interested in attending, please call 802-879-7182 to check on seating availability.

More next week!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

CT Church Offers 'Choices'

Choices, a family oriented program featuring storyteller George Sarris, internationally known mime Dan Cosette and interpretive dancer Katherine Sarris will be presented Nov. 14 at Calvary Church, 498 White Plains Rd., Trumbull, CT. For more information, and to see a video promo, go to http://www.worldsgreateststories.com/choices.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Damien Performance Tonight

Damien, a one-man play written by Aldyth Morris and starring Casey Groves will be presented tonight at 7:30 at St. Joseph's Church,
371 Sixth Ave, New York

It is based on the true story of a missionary priest who risked his life to care for the outcast on the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i. The performance is sponsored by NYU. For information, call 212-741-1274.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Surround Yourself With Godly and Talented People

What a treat is was to have worship leader Rory Noland here in Connecticut this weekend for a Worshiping Artist Retreat. Worship leaders and artists from New England got to network and find out about the ministries of other Christian artists in the area while focusing on God and worship. What a way to spend a Saturday! For more information about Rory, go to http://www.heartoftheartist.org.

We're looking forward to another opportunity to serve with artists at the staged reading of our new dinner theater "Getaway to Chipaway," a story with original music about three families who find friendship and some answers to jumping life's hurdles when they vacation at a family camp.

The reading will take place Saturday, Nov. 8 at Community Alliance Church in Hinesburg, VT. If you're interested in presenting this outreach dinner theater at your church and would like a perusal copy after available after Dec. 1, contact us at masterworkproductions@yahoo.com.

Here are some other exciting things taking place in Christian Arts:
-- Max McLean's Screwtape Letters has been extended through Nov. 23 at the Mercury theater in Chicago. For tickets or more information call 773.325.1700

-- Jason Hatley, pastor of worship arts at the Journey Church in New York offers a free webinar on how to overcome the Top 3 challenges that Worship Leaders face, including:
1. How to develop a personal growth plan to ensure leadership and effectiveness at the highest level
2. How to Maximize the Pastor / Worship Pastor Relationship
3. How to plan life-transforming worship services every week
For information contact cristina@churchleaderinsights.com

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How to Overcome Discouragement

Discouragement is in the air. Last week we had two postings on encouragement and they seem to have hit home with many of you. Maybe it's the election season or the financial chaos on Wall Street (or in your own bill paying file). Maybe it's feeling like you can't connect at church or wondering whether you're on the right career track. Whatever causes you to stumble into discouragement can be counteracted. Encouragement is the cure for discouragement, but sometimes, when your eyes are fixed on what's got you down, it's hard to see other things that could distract you and allow a refocus.
Here's some practical advice from Pastor Rick Warren on how to fight discouragement:

Don’t Quit

"You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay.” Hebrews 10:36-37 (NIV)

If you’re discouraged because of God’s delay in answering your prayers, understand the delay is NOT a denial. Just because the answer or the miracle hasn’t come – yet – that doesn’t mean God isn’t going to answer or that he’s forgotten you or that he doesn’t care about you. It simply means “not yet!”

Spiritual maturity is knowing the difference between “no” and “not yet,” between a denial and a delay. The Bible tells us, “He who is coming will come and will not delay” (Hebrews 10:37 NIV).

The delay may be a test of your patience. Anybody can be patient once. And, anybody can be patient twice. And, just about anybody can be patient three times. So God tests you patience over and over and over.

Why? To see how patient you are?

No, he does it to show you how patient you are. So you’ll know what’s inside of you, and you’ll be able to know your level of commitment. God tests you so that you can know he is faithful, even if the answers you seek are delayed.

If you’re discouraged, turn it around by remembering God teaches you patience during delay. Ask him to transform your discouragement into patience.

You may be going through difficult times right now and feel like dropping off the planet. You’re discouraged because the situation you face seems unmanageable, unreasonable, or unfair.

It may seem unbearable and inside you’re basically saying, “God, I can’t take it anymore. I just can’t take it anymore!”

But you can.

You can stay with it longer because God is with you. He’ll enable you to press on. Remember, you are never a failure until you quit.

Don’t quit. Resist discouragement and finish the race God has set before you.

© 2008 Purpose Driven Life. All rights reserved. Used here with permission.

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers.
For a free subscription to The Purpose Driven Life Daily Devotional via email, go to

Thursday, October 16, 2008

NY Times Article Explores Conservative Theater

There's a great article in the New York Times discussing the dearth of a conservative voice in theater and quoting Christian in Theatre Arts Director Dale Savidge and "The Hiding Place" star Jeanette Clift George, director of the A.D. players in Houston. See it at http://www.nyttimes.com/2008/10/15/theater/15thea.html?8dpc

Some More Thought on Encouragement

Chuck Neighbors, an actor with a blessed performing arts ministry, Master's Image Productions, based in Oregon, had these inspired words about encouragement this week:

I believe what I am doing is my "calling" both professionally and spiritually speaking. But sometimes I wonder... I wonder "is what I am doing really making a difference?" I think thoughts like: "If I stopped doing this tomorrow, would anybody notice (other than my wife, of course)?" You even start to question the calling... "Did I get it right? What if it wasn't God's voice I heard back then? What if...."

I know the questions are not unique to my profession--I am sure we all have those moments in life.

The other day I arrived home after yet another weekend of travel to find these words in my email inbox:

"I attended a recent performance of your adaptation of In His Steps in 29 Palms, California. I have to tell you that I didn't quite know what to expect when they told me that there would be a performance on Sunday. I didn't know if it would be cheesy, unprofessional, outdated, or just impractical. But I must say that I was not only impressed, but inspired. It was done very well and you definitely got your point across. If In His Steps was that life-changing for me, I can't help but think what it and your other presentations might do for others."

This was just what I needed to hear. When you travel, perform, and then leave--you often miss seeing the fruits of your labor. Don't underestimate the impact your words of encouragement can have on the lives of those around you! Your words could be just what they need to hear!

Find out more about Chuck and his performing associates at http://www.mastersimage.com/

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tale of Two Cities Joins Fight Against Poverty

The cast of Tale of Broadway's Two Cities (see the review here: http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/2008/09/review-tale-of-two-cities.html) will perform in an event titled "Stand Up Against Poverty and for the Millennium Development Goals" this Friday at 11am on the lawn near the peace bell at the UN Secretariat Building, 42nd Street and First Avenue, New York City

The UN Headquarters event is co-organized by the UN Department of Public Information and the Millennium Campaign. Further information is available on the campaign website: http://www.standagainstpoverty.org/

Take Action Against Poverty

Today is blog action day, where participating blogs have posts on poverty. We'd like you to think about fighting poverty by supporting Compassionart, a group of Christian artists who got together last January to write songs for a CD to help fight poverty. 11 songwriters, including Paul Baloche, Chris Tomlin, Matt Redmond, Darlene Zschech, Israel Houghton, Michael W. Smith and Stephen Curtis Chapman waived rights to the songs on the CD which is due out on November. For more information about Compassionart, the retreat which started the project the artists involvedor howtosupport this minisry, go to http://www.compassionart.co.uk/

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fight Discouragement with Encouragement

If you're feeling down and discouraged in your recent efforts or ministry, take heart. There is much to be encouraged about. Sometimes the trick is taking our eyes off of our own situations, abilities or failings and focusing on what others are doing. And there are lots of exciting things taking place in the world of Christian arts!

Right here in Connecticut we're getting excited about the life changing and spirit building that will take place at Masterworks' Worshiping Artist Retreat, 9am to 4 pm Saturday, Oct. 25 in Avon, CT as "Heart of the Artist" worship leader Rory Noland teaches on
• Growing as a Private Worshiper
• Encountering God’s Character
• How God’s Character Shapes our Character
• Personalizing the Attributes of God
• Learning From Ancient Worship Leaders
If you're in New England, don't miss this chance to learn from the former leader of worship at Willow Creek right here in your area. Register at http://masterworkproductions.homestead.com/rory.html

If you're in New York next month, here are a couple of uplifting events:
The Episcopal Actors’ Guild of America, a New York City-based charity for people in the performing arts (of which I am a proud member), is holding its 85th Annual Memorial Service at 4 pm Sunday, Nov. 9 to celebrates the lives of performing arts professionals who have passed away during the 2007-2008 year at the Little Church Around the Corner, 1 E. 29th St.

The memorial address: "Humor and the Dignity of Actors", will be given by Mart Hulswit (Yes, you might recognize him. Among other things, he starred for 12 years as Dr. Ed Bauer on “Guiding Light”)
Both the service and reception following are free and open to the public.

The Blue Hill Troupe presents Into the Woods for the benefit
of Inwood House, an internationally recognized leader and innovator in
youth development, teen pregnancy prevention, and family support serving
nearly 5,000 young people in New York City and New Jersey.
November 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 15 at 7:30 p.m.
November 9, 15 at 2:00 p.m.
Dicapo Opera Theatre, 184 East 76th St., NY between 3rd and Lexington Avenues.
Information is available at https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/73572 or by calling 866-811-4111.
Two additional events will be offered:
A Children's Backstage Tour Sunday, Nov. 9, at 1 pm, prior to the matinee performance. Perfect for kids ages 6-12, members of the cast and crew will share some of the story, some of the music, and demonstrate some of the backstage workings that create the onstage magic. A small snack
will be provided. All are welcome! No additional charge.
A Q&A with original Broadway cast Members
Wednesday, Nov. 12, 6:15pm, free for ticket holders.

If you're a Christian working in any type of arts, check out the Christians in Theatre Arts annual conference coming up next June 15-20 in Orlando. The theme is Citizen Artist: Theater Serving Community and it's shaping up to be one of the most exciting conferences yet. Theater impact projects will give you an opportunity to serve the Orlando community while conference performances and presentations will equip and inspire you. Look for more information about this exciting conference later on this blog. Check out becoming a CITA member at http://cita.org.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Want Wisdom? Here's Some

What should we do to protect our investments in the midst of the current Stock Market crisis? Whom should we vote for in the coming elections? Should our church start a construction project or add another service? How can I counsel a friend in trouble?

No matter what the question, we desire one thing in being able to answer it: wisdom. We want to know not only what is right in a situation, but how to act with discernment and insight. Interestingly, God, the giver of all wisdom, wants us to have it too (in fact the word wisdom appears more than 200 times in the bible.) He doesn’t allow situations to occur without providing the wisdom to handle them.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5 NIV)

In my life, I find that God sends me wisdom every day. Spend time in God’s word, surround yourself with godly people, spend your time doing things for God’s glory and suddenly you’ll find a lot of wisdom coming your way. Here are some gems God sent me just this week:

• From my friend Dr. Synesio Lyra, Jr., a minister and seminary professor in Florida, writing about faith: “Faith in people will often disappoint us; faith in things can easily deceive us; faith in institutions will normally fail us. Even faith in faith is inadequate! But faith in God will never leave any life puzzle without an answer; it always yields the surest and best possible solution, regardless of the magnitude of any existential situation. (Read the full posting at http://tofillalittlespace.voxtropolis.com).

• From composer Bill Cooper in a song about hope: “However lost, you can be found; however silent, there’s a sound; however floundering, you are bound for something greater other than who you are” (more about Bill at http://masterworkproductions.homestead.com/workshops.html)

• From my pastor Jay Abramson speaking on how to pray like Nehemiah: “Have you ever thought that perhaps the reason God is continuing to allow this chaos to continue in our financial markets might be because he’s trying to remind us where real peace comes from: not our credit cards, not our mortgages, not our 401 Ks; real peace, the thing we really need, comes from him. If we honestly ask him to supply our needs, he’ll do it. He guarantees he will meet our need (hear the full sermon at http://www.valleycommunity.cc/297363.ihtml)

• From a character talking about the realities of suffering and sacrifice in Christ’s life in “Passion Play” by Sarah Ruhl: “Nobody really wants to be Christ; they only want to admire him from a distance.”

• From R. F. Koustas speaking about John 8: 1-11 in his book “Reflections of an American Idiot:” “I sometimes wonder what Jesus silently wrote in the sand. Maybe it was the individual sins of the men gathered around to stone the woman. I like that explanation. If I were there, I would have had no choice but to leave also. God seems to always find innovative ways to convict us of sin. He’s just like that.” (Find out more about this book, winner of "Best Book of the Year" in the category of Religion at the 2008 Premier Book Awards, at http://www.amazon.com/reflections-American-Idiot-R-F-Koustas/dp/1600343821/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1215049728&sr=8-1)

• From Rick Warren, writing about how to start over after failure: “Failure forces you to be more creative as you look for new ways to accomplish something. It prevents arrogance and egotism. If everything you did was a stunning success, no one could live with you! Failure also causes you to re-evaluate what’s important in life. It’s one way God gets you to reflect on the direction of your life.” (Read the full devotion at http://www.purposedrivenlife.com/en-US/FreeTools/devotional/archivedDevos/DevoArchive.htm)

Want wisdom? Just ask. The Lord has plenty of it to offer, probably through someone you know.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Concert at St. Bartholomew's Church, New York

GloriƦ Dei Cantores (Singers to the Glory of God), will perform Gregorian chant, Anglican psalmody, early English polyphony (Byrd, Tallis, Dering), Russian Orthodox liturgical music (Chesnokov, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff), contemporary American anthems (Adler, Rorem, Sowerby), and "Messe Solennelle" by French composer Jean Langlais Tuesday, Oct. 7 at St. Bartholomew's Church Park Avenue at 51st Street,
New York

Concert: 7:30pm
Lecture: 6:45 pm

Call: 212-378-0248 www.gdcchoir.org

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Importance of Being Earnestly Mentored

The first time I was mentored, it happened without warning. The Lord simply placed the most Godly woman on the planet in my life, allowed us to become bosom friends and, voila.

It occurred to me one day that Muriel was my mentor as well as my friend when a mentoring program began at church. Eager to find a mature Christian woman who could help guide me along in my Christian walk as a wife, mother and in ministry, I read through the program's information. A picture of what a mentor would look like began to form in my mind and the face was Muriel's. I already had my mentor. Her children rise up and call her blessed. The eyes of her husband of more than 60 years still sparkle with delight whenever she walks into the room and she already offered great counsel on personal and ministry issues.

I returned the information to the program director and never looked back. Muriel knit her heart with mine and I'm the stronger for it. Since then, I have recognized several more mentors divinely placed in my life and each has been a blessing.

Most recently he's using my good friend Retta, who has been encouraging me in my theater reviewing. I'd been receiving prompting from the Lord that I should review theater, but I wasn't convinced it was such a great idea or how to start. Meeting Retta at a show, she suddenly started talking about how I should be reviewing. Coincidence? I think not.

"Start right now," she encouraged. "Review this show." So I pulled out a pad and pen and began one of the most exciting, fulfilling parts of my journey with the Lord yet.

He keeps opening doors, doors that should have been stuck shut for years, usually with Retta there along the way to hold them open. If something exciting happens, she's standing there cheering. If there's disappointment, she has an encouraging word, provides helpful information and redirects me to focus on the Lord. I hope that in some small way he'll allow me to return the favor.

The prayer of a mentor:
"I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe." (Ephesians 1: 17-19 NIV)

Friday, September 19, 2008

New Reviews Posted

Reviews of "Refuge of Lies" and "The Tempest" are posted at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Prayer. Politics and Pretzels

Recently I had the privilege of joining a group of journalists covering religion beats for a Religious Newswriters Association seminar on how to find faith angles in news stories. Specific attention was given to the presidential race, to popular culture and to covering Pennsylvania (where the seminar took place, thus the "pretzel" part of the title).

Funny, but it doesn't seem like you have to look very far these days to find a religious angle -- usually a negative one -- being played in the press. It's fortunate that we have some well trained journalists dedicated to covering the issues in an unbiased way. The possibilities for writing about religion don't stop in print or broadcast media either. According to information given by presenter Marcia Z. Nelson, nearly one in five of the books read in 2003 dealt with religion or spirituality. Just browse in your local bookstore and you'll see a wide range of topics and suggested ways to find fulfillment through religious experience.

For those of you who are Christian writers, the time has never been more ripe for sharing your gift to help spread the word, clear up confusion and help people sift through the reams of misinformation being written. In some cases, the motive is to discredit Christianity. Some other works are written by people who seem well intentioned, but whose thoughts don't spring from the eternal waters of Christ. Pray about how God would have you use your talent and make a difference.
"But when you proclaim His truth in everyday speech, you're letting others in on the truth so that they can grow and be strong and experience His presence with you." (1 Corinthians 14:3 THE MESSAGE)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Theater Touches Us; Honors God

At right, Adam Jacobs singing "Nothing There to Love" from the new musical "Amazing Grace: The True Story." (Photo courtesy of Retta Blaney)

Theater gives us a sense of human action, changes people on the inside and is a necessity, rather than an option.
Those were some of the thoughts conveyed in a reading by actor Boyd Gaines at the 11th annual Broadway Blessing last night at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York under the direction of Retta Blaney.
Theater, the art of storytelling and it's value, goes right to the heart of the artists using their gifts in the church as well as those who gathered to ask God's blessing on the new season and to give thanks for their gifts in the arts.
God's ability to gift and to use the product of that gift to touch hearts was evident in the offerings which included dance, song, readings and prayers. The song "Nothing There to Love" by Christopher Smith from "Amazing Grace: The True Story," a show in development with hopes of making it to Broadway, is about as close to perfection as I have heard in a long time. Isn't it exciting when you just know God wrote the notes or the words of a work we produce?
Find your gift. Give thanks for it. Use it to the glory of God.

Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and glory are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come into his courts.
Worship the LORD in the splendor of his [a] holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns."
The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;
They will sing before the LORD, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his truth.
(Psalm 96 NIV)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Threads Theater Premieres "Pearl Merchant"

Threads Theater Company, a new company sprung from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, presents the premier of "The Pearl Merchant" by Brie Walker Sept 23-Oct 4 at The Space theater, 300 W. 43rd St. The Equity showcase cast includes Erin Layton, Bryan Taylor and Nehassaiu deGannes. Direction is by Misti B. Wills.

The play centers around Hannah (Layton), a painter and teacher who is unable to bear a child and wants to adopt an orphan from her preschool classroom. Through a series of unexpected events, Hannah's assumptions about God, marriage, and race are confronted and challenged.

Threads Theater Company exists to tell stories that start inclusive conversations about faith. For more information, go to http://www.threadstheatercompany.org.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

39 Steps Contest

Do you think that you look like Alfred Hitchcock? If you don't, do you know
someone (a relative, co-worker, baby, pet) who looks like Alfred? The
Broadway company of Alfred Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps" believes that Hitchcock
lives in all of us. In celebration of Hitchcock Month (Sept 2008) Alfred
Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps" is holding a look-a-like contest. For more information, go to

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Screwtape Heads for Chicago

Max McLean's performance as C.S. Lewis' Screwtape begins a Chicago run Oct. 2. The show has played to critical acclaim off Broadway and in Washington, DC. For more information visit www.ScrewtapeOnStage.com

Monday, August 25, 2008

Exciting Happenings!

Masterwork Productions will sponsor two regional events in New England this fall. The first is a networking/training time for worship and music leaders from 10 am to 3 pm on Saturday, Oct. 4 at the Burlington, Williston Church of the Nazarene in Williston, VT.

A representative of LifeWay Publishing will be on hand for a time of training and an opportunity to sample some of the latest product available. Bring a bag lunch, get to know some others in ministry in this area. Cost is $28 and each attendee will receive free materials, a chance to win some door prizes and a $20 credit toward a $50 purchase. Don't miss an opportunity to equip yourself and build your resources right here in New England!

Masterworks will fly Rory Noland in to conduct a "Heart of the Artist" retreat from 9am to 4pm Saturday, Oct. 25 at Valley Community Baptist Church in Avon, CT. Bring your whole team and anyone else from your church who sings, plays an instrument, is involved with drama or writes for a time of worship and learning with one of the nation's foremost worship leaders. The investment will yield eternal dividends for you and your congregation. The cost? Only $40 (includes lunch).

For more information or to register for these programs, email masterworkproductions@yahoo.com. Also, if you're located in New England, but not close enough to attend and would like to see either of these events in your area, let us know!

We're also excited to present a stage reading of our new dinner theater this fall at Community Alliance Church in Hinesburg, VT this fall. More details coming soon. Fall looks exciting, doesn't it?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Talking With God and Getting Some Answers

By Lauren Yarger
Every so often I realize that my times of prayer have been heavy on the "I" side. I feel this way; I'd like to see these things happen; I'd like an answer about something (and usually I want this right now and I want the answer to be this....).

Expressing these feelings is part of communicating with God. Because He desires a relationship with us on a personal level, it's OK to express our feelings, hopes and desires and even our disappointments. That's how we communicate with friends.

Have you ever been in a conversation, though, that is one-sided? It can be frustrating. Sometimes it's because the person is lonely and needs to talk. Sometimes it's a unique situation and there a major issue happening and it is all about that person this time. Too often, it's because self importance has crept in and somehow the dominant speaker feels that what he or she has to say is the most important thing.

I find that when I start to wonder why I haven't heard from God, it's usually because I haven't given Him a chance to speak. The last time that happened, I spent a long time with the Lord, just listening for His voice. I was amazed at the how much he had to say when I gave Him half a chance. I started recording the insights in a notebook. Here are a few gems from that day:

• Spending time thinking, worrying and reasoning takes away from time I could hear Him speaking.
• Spending time wishing for what I don’t have keeps me from spending time appreciating what I do have.
• He will always show me a way out.
• He always parts the storm clouds and shines through.
• If I spend my time being busy and going at high speed, I’ll rush right past Him and end up going nowhere fast.
• He is a rock and a foundation.

This really wasn't a private conversation. All of this is in His word where you can hear from Him too. So the next time you are upset, worried, disappointed or looking for answers, be still, know He is God and ask Him to speak. He will.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Asking for God's Blessing

"If you're a Christian and believe God is in control, then why do you need to ask for His help?"

And so began a long reflective discussion with my son about free will, the inability to be perfect no matter how much we'd like to be or sometimes think we are, and in the end, standing before God like everyone else who would be lost without Jesus, but being able to say you tried your best to serve Him because you loved Him. It really comes down to the trying. God loves it when we serve Him because we want to, not because we're forced to. My children's hugs bring untold joy when they are spontaneous, an expression of the love in their hearts, instead of a response to a prompt from me: "Come give me a hug."

So it is with God, and one of my favorite events where performing artists take some time to honor Him with their talents and stop to ask His blessing on what they are doing is coming up: The Broadway Blessing.

If you're in the New York area, I hope you'll mark your calendar for this expression of love 7 pm Monday, Sept. 8 at St. John the Divine Cathedral, 1047 Amsterdam Ave. at 12th Street. Lynn Redgrave and Boyd Gaines will be among the performers participating. My mentor and friend Retta Blaney directs the event. The event, in its 11th year, is free and reservations are not necessary.

The evening will begin with a lively dance number featuring dozens of performers from the internationally recognized Project Dance. Gaines, the four-time Tony Award-winning stage, film and television actor, will perform and Redgrave will offer a theatre reflection. Also taking the stage will be The Essentials, a New York-based company that collaboratively creates innovative theatre. (The Essentials’ a cappella comedy Perfect Harmony is running at the Clurman Theatre.)

Adam Jacobs, last seen on Broadway as Marius in the revival of Les Miserables, will sing “Nothing There To Love” from the new musical Amazing Grace: The True Story, which is being produced by Carolyn Rossi Copeland. Opera singer Jerry Curry will sing “I’ll Walk With God,” a song from The Student Prince which he sings on his CD “Generally Singing.”

The annual candle lighting will feature prayers for the new season and its performers, led by Rabbi Jill Hausman from the Actors’ Temple and the Cathedral’s Rev. Canon Tom Miller, canon for liturgy and the arts. The Broadway Blessing Choir will sing show tunes and lead the audience in a sing-along at the end of the service. In addition, the Rev. Mitties DeChamplain will represent St. Clement’s Episcopal Church.

Actor Edward Herrmann had this to say about it before making his second Broadway Blessing appearance: “It’s reassuring to know there are so many people out there you know that believe in God and want to take that part of their life and dedicate it to the theatre because theatre is a very spiritual endeavor."

For more information, call 212-794-6163.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

But I Don't Have Time!

Time flies, or so the saying goes, and it never seems so evident as during the summer when in the blink of an eye, it's August and I always hear myself say, "What happened to July?"

The ephemeral quality of time was brought home to me recently when I was on deadline. At midnight, I decided I needed sleep and after a short rest, I intended to get up, finish the article and send it by the 7 am deadline. At 6:50am, I glanced at the clock, leapt out of bed and completed some of the fastest writing I've ever done. All the while, the clock in the lower right hand corner of my computer whirred away the minutes with a speed I didn't think possible. Life really is that short. The seconds are whizzing by.

Yet the bible is full of assurances that life is full of time. In fact, we have all the time in every day to accomplish everything necessary. It's only when we don't manage our time well, or when we add unnecessary tasks to our schedule that we start to feel as though we need God to add a few hours to the day.

A quick search for the word "time" in the bible brought an abundance of entries. Some phrases seemed to leap out at me:

“in the course of time”
Sometimes we have to wait, but over time, God speaks or the answer becomes clear.
• “at that time”
We want the solution now, but there is an appointed time.
“in the times of trouble”
We don’t want or like them, but troubled times are part of our journey. They’re not a surprise to God who provides instruction and comfort to help us go through them
A number of times
Many references mention specific numbers of times like three times, or seven times, or seventy times seven times. Life is full of repeats. Solutions don’t always happen the first time.
“at all times”
All kinds of times collide to make one giant timeline speeding by on the clocks of our computers. And God has an answer for that too. There’s a time for everything, so give it all to Him.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
(Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 NIV)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

This just in....

In celebration of the one-year anniversary of the release of "A Spy In Tortuga", Jeff Lisenby's jazz accordion CD, Silver Nitrate Music is offering a half price discount on purchases of 2 or more CDs through Jeff's website. Jeff was a painist with Masterwork Production's tour of "Early One Morning."
Go to http://cdbaby.com/cd/lisenbyj to purchase.
Jeff is appearing at various locations including Saturday, Aug.9 at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center gala. For more information, go to Jeff's site at

Summer Reading for Christian Artists

Several books for Christians artists and worship leaders have made their way onto my reading pile.
"Worship Matters" by Bob Kauflin (Sovereign Grace Ministries 2008)
At 300-plus pages, this book by Sovereign's director of worship development and former "GLAD" member seemed a bit cumbersome for a summer read, but I soon discovered that it was well worth the time investment to glean from Kauflin's years of experience in leading worship and training worship leaders.

Kauflin offers insights from his journey in four categories: The Leader, The Task, Healthy Tensions and Right Relationships. He discusses how the Spirit leads, how spoken words and singing compliment each other, how to lead believers to truth and and how to keep the unbeliever in mind among other topics.

It's a thought-provoking and helpful guide whether you've been leading worship for years or whether you're just starting out.

"Quiet Moments for Worship Leaders" by Marty Parks (Beacon Hill Press 2008) is a collection of meditations and prayers on the Psalms. "Does the Christian world really need another devotional book?" asks Parks, artist in residence at Broadmar Baptist Church in Madison, MS. He seems to think so, but I'm not sure that's what he's given us, as most of the entries are first-person thoughts which make the book read more like a personal journal rather than a guide through Psalms to spark our own devotions.

There are a few entries that stand out for worship leaders, however, like "A Word on the Worship Wars" and "Thanksgiving and the Heart of Worship" and at the end of each entry, Sparks includes a prayer and thought for the day that can jumpstart a time of conversation with the Lord.

"Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts" by Steve Turner isn't new (InterVarsity Press 2001)but is a must read for any Christian involved in any art. The book grew out of a lecture given by Turner about serving God with our gifts without being confined in a religious market. A poet and writer, Turner discusses the influence Christians can have on culture and vice versa and what the bible has to say about the arts. He challenges Christians to put their art in perspective to the gospel and Christ's death and resurrection. The book is a prayerful journey for any Christian who's ever struggled with the question of how the be a "Christian artist."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Theater Comes to Life: Literally

Eugene O'Neill describes the setting for "A Long Day's Journey into Night" and suddenly dark wood panelling, a bookshelf under a portrait of William Shakespeare, a round table and chairs with three windows from which you can overlook the water surround me, not because I'm imagining the room as I read, or admiring set work while viewing the play, but because I'm sitting in the room itself, where J Ranelli directs a reading from the classic.
The room, exact in detail as described in the stage directions of the play, is in O'Neill's boyhood home and the reading is the first event in which I'm participating as a fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT.
Ranelli, one of the most skilled directors I've ever worked with, brings O'Neill's words to life as he guides the actors through selected scenes. The idea is for us critics, who review plays, to get a better understand of how a performance comes to be. I get even more than that out of the experience.
Ranelli suggests that the two actors playing Edmund and Jamie go out into the kitchen and enter the room laughing, just as described in the play's stage direction. They do, and the effect is chilling. I feel as though I'm living inside the pages of O'Neill's autobiographical work and expect to hear the melancholic foghorn. I can feel his pain, the frustration of a disfunctional family trying to make it through the day while denying, then trying to deal with the mother's drug addiction.
It's gripping and I realize that this is why I do theater: to move the people watching. To try to touch them with the material in a personal way and, in our case at Masterwork Productions, where our projects carry a message of hope, to offer them something to think about and in some cases, a solution.
The experience leaves me with a strong sense of confirmation and a bag full of directing techniques gleaned from Ranelli's years of experience in theater and television that hopefully will make me a better director, both of theatrical endeavors and of this performing arts organization. He stresses a mentoring relationship between director and actors and I realize that this type of relationship is what brought me here in the first place. Friend and Broadway critic Retta Blaney has encouraged me to pursue writing reviews of Broadway shows from a Christian perspective. A few of those reviews earned me a spot as a follow at the institute and now God has opened the door for mentoring from some of the nation's top critics.
It's amazing how many doors God can open and not surprising that he uses mentors like Retta to turn the door knob.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Yarger Selected for Critics Insitute

Everybody’s a critic, but only the best ones get full ride scholarships to The O’Neill Critics Institute. Lauren Yarger, Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. learned last week that she is one of the best. The prestigious program is the only one of its kind in the country and accepts only a handful of applicants each year. Lauren, who has an extensive journalism background but is new to writing theatre reviews, didn’t think she stood much of a chance of being accepted into the program as it is not for novices, but, when Director Dan Sullivan read a few of her reviews, he asked her if she would like to attend this summer’s Institute – on full scholarship.

The Institute is a boot camp for critics. For two weeks in July it runs concurrently with the national Playwrights Conference and the National Music Theater Conference on the O’Neill grounds in Waterford, CT. Fellows experience an intensive writing workshop and turn out a piece of copy nearly every night: a review of the previous night’s show, a description of an individual actor’s performance, and interview with a director. Then the copy is dissected by the group under the direction of a seasoned theater writer or editor. Sullivan, who reviewed theater for the Los Angeles Times for 20 years, said, “It’s a tough two weeks, not a vacation at the beach…For two weeks we live and breathe theater…There’s no other program like it.”

Lauren has been involved in just about every aspect of theater imaginable from writing scripts to producing shows, but critical review is a new endeavor for her.
“God just keeps opening doors!” she said.

Her reviews can be found at http://masterworkproductions.homestead.com/reviews.html
and http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Spirit of Dependence

In the United States, we celebrate the birth of our nation this week, but among the calls for independence by our Founding Fathers was an understanding that a great country could remain great only with a dependence on God. As God calls us to develop our artistic skills, to learn and experience and to become the person He created us to be, He just as fully calls us to dependence on Him and to our functioning as a part of the greater body of the church. Independence with dependence.
Let's celebrate the freedom we enjoy in a nation where we can worship and serve as as artists without fear of persecution. Let's also celebrate a God in whom we can trust and on whom we can depend for everything. I am "in" dependence.

D elighting in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
Psalm 119:15-17

Everpraising you Psalm 84:4

Protected forever Psalm 37:28

ternally blessed and made glad with the joy of your presence Psalm 21:6

New-song singing with a hymn of praise in my mouth Psalm 40:3

Dancing instead of crying Psalm 40:3

Enjoying prosperity, a free nation and a royal inheritance Pslam 106:5

Nightly singing His song of prayer Psalm 42:8

Clinging to the Lord whose right hand upholds me Psalm 63:8

Everlasting to everlasting, you are God! Psalm 90:2

Thursday, June 19, 2008


We're on vacation next week, so the next update of this blog will be on Tuesday, July 1.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Cornucopia of Talent in Christian Arts

God has blessed so many Christians in the arts and I just had the pleasure of fellowshipping with many of them at the Christians in Theatre Arts Conference in Los Angeles. We were moved, challenged, equipped and blessed as we spent three days exploring how to "Take Theatre to the Next Level."
Singer Marcia Whitehead and filmmaker Lauralee Farrer shared Marcia's inspiring journey as an opera singer. We were all moved by her perseverance and the message that "sometimes just pursuing the dream is enough." Find out more at http://laundryandtosca.com/home.html
Keynote speaker Robert Smyth, producing artistic director for the Lamb's Players in San Diego, offered four deceptively simple "secrets" to taking theater to the next level:
• eat well
• exercise regularly
• get out more often
• slow down
In fleshing out the spiritual meaning behind those points, Robert's challenge was to have vision, be bold and to be willing to step out into the darkness, guided by the knowledge and light of what God has done in the past. Check out the Lamb's at http://www.lambsplayers.org/
Also inspiring was a screening of the film "Purple State of Mind" featuring the ongoing friendship and religious discussions between Craig Detweiler and John Marks. The divide between "red" and "blue" state perspectives is examined with humor and passion. Find more at http://www.purplestateofmind.com/
Among numerous other presentations, I was impressed with sketches from writer Michael Leathers. Check out his new website at http://www.rileysdiner.com/
Next year's CITA conference is in Orlando, FL. See you there!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Try a Little Jazz Accordion This Week

I'm at the Christians in Theatre Arts (CITA) Conference in California and am looking forward to telling you next week about the great training, fellowship and performances offered there.

Meanwhile, for those of you in the Nashville area, don't miss the accordion event of the year this Friday, June 13. Yes, I said accordion. As part of ATG's Annual International Accordion Festival, international accordion champion (and Masterwork Productions pianist) Jeff Lisenby will perform tunes from his first solo jazz album A Spy In Tortuga with a full band. The NashVegas Jazz features some of Nashville's A-list session players including Chris Brown, Andy Reiss (of The Time Jumpers), John Vogt, Todd London, Matt Davich and special guest vocalists Jaclyn Brown and
Abby Burke.

The event, beginning at 7:00 is open to the public at the Hotel Preston, 733 Briley Parkway, Nashville. If you can't make it to the show, buy the CD here: http://cdbaby.com/cd/lisenbyj

In other news, Jeff was recently filmed playing the accordion by Mark
Burnett Productions as part of the first episode of CBS's new reality
show "Jingles". Episode will air in late August 2008.

"A Spy In Tortuga" is Jeff's first independent jazz accordion
album, and features several brand-new original compositions by
Jeff, as well as several reinvented jazz standards. The
instrumentation is traditional jazz quartet: bass, drums, guitar...
and accordion. The additional sax, vocalist, keyboards, or
percussion here and there enhance the album well.

"The accordion has been stereotyped for a long time," Jeff said.
"I want people to hear this CD, enjoy it for its diversity, and hear
the accordion as another fine musical instrument, which can be used
in any type of music."

Jeff can be heard on numerous country and Christian recordings and was music director for the Broadway musical "Ring Of Fire". He also was a pianist with Masterwork Productions' touring show "Early One Morning."

Why a jazz album?

"I grew up in Kansas City, MO, where there is a jazz commission, as part of the city government," Jeff said. "Because of that, I grew up hearing many of the great national jazz figures who came to town to play for us -- Count Basie, Monty Alexander, Maynard Fergusson, Bill Evans, Chick Corea. So I've been loving and playing jazz for a long time. I like the freedom to play whatever I want in the improvised sections, and I like the sound of a big band all playing in ensemble."

"There aren't a lot of jazz accordionists around, but accordion is slowly coming back into style in the United States. We're hearing it on more and more pop albums."

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

It's Time to Take Summer Stock

School's out, or at least it will be soon as summer vacation begins for teachers and students across the nation. Churches often see some sort of vacation schedule in the summer as well and the worship service takes on a different look and feel. Perhaps the choir takes the summer off, the number of services is decreased, the service switches to outside location or guest speakers and artists fill the pulpit while the pastor is on vacation.
A period of rest is good, but use the down time to do summer stock, that is, to take stock of what you're doing and why. When looking at any programming, whether it's a full scale production or the regular Sunday services, the question that has to be answered over and over is "why." Why are we doing this event? Why is this particular song or dramatic element included. Any of the following answers is unacceptable:
• Because that’s what we’ve always done
• Because we ran out of time to plan something else
• Because the same people always are involved
• Because we want to be cool and hip
• Because that’s what all the other churches we want to be like are doing
• Because I like that song
• Because our soloist sounds good singing that song
• Because the musicians didn’t have time to rehearse a new song
Those answers are unacceptable because the only answers that are acceptable are
•Because the Spirit’s leading has chosen this
•Because this will further God’s message
•Because this will allow us to express our love and worship of God
Take some stock this summer and give yourself a report card on the programming you're involved with at church. Ask yourself some questions:
• What are we measuring ourselves against? -- other churches or scripture?
• Are our goals realistic? -- Does video broadcasting to a second "campus" really make sense if you could just hold a second service at the same location?
• Are we learning from our mistakes? -- Are you holding post-event/ post-service evaluations and including input from your congregation?
• Are we actively pursuing knowledge? -- Is your team attending conferences? Are you bringing in people for workshops and retreats to stretch your people to the best of their potential?
• Are we spending time praying and planning according to His purpose? -- Or do you do what’s easiest regardless of relevance or quality?
When you prayerfully take stock, even if your "grade" isn't what you'd like it to be, you'll come away determined and excited for what God has in store for the new season that will begin in September. And remember, the grade you're striving for isn't an A or some other letter to reflect how you're doing. It's a "W" which gives all the glory and honor to Him. Worship.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Are You in the Know?

God is at work in the Christian arts with a number of great opportunities to stay or get in the know through services and training provided by believers experienced in ministering through the arts. Check them out:

Christian in Theatre Arts (CITA) presents is annual summer networking conference June 10-14 at Azusa Pacific University in California. Robert Smyth, Producing Artistic
Director of Lamb’s Players in San Diego will be the keynote speaker. Workshops on a wide range of topics will be available. For more infomration, click in the space: www.cita.org

The International Worship Institute Conference will be held June 30-July 3 in Dallas/Forth Worth. The theme is "Embracing His Presence" and planners this year are doing just that by moving away from the more commercial feel of many larger Christian Conferences.
"Over time, the nature of our gatherings became too market-driven and self-absorbed," said Steve Fry, president. "Now, we feel that the Lord has graciously and lovingly corrected us. So, those returning to the IWI will see some changes. Although we will all receive great ministry from the anointed leaders who guide us, we will be far more focused on the Lord’s Presence than on personalities."
Presenters include Jack Hayford and Ross Parsley among others. For information, click in the space: http://worshipinstitute.com/iwi2008/index.php

The Worship Teleseminar hosted by Kenneth Voritskul is offering another lineup of free online training from some top instructors. Upcoming sessions include:
- How to make the best with less if you're short on talent or people
- How to continue growing as a worship leader over time
- How to build a more committed, united, and passionate worship team
For more information and to sign up for the seminar click in the space: http://worshipteleseminar.com/

If you're a song writer who'd like to see your music spread to the worldwide church or if you're a worship leader looking for ways to blend traditional and contemporary in your service, check out Consuming Worship. They offer worship tools and inspiration at http://www.consumingworship.com

Lillenas Drama and Music Publishing has come great end-of-season sales going on check out the drama and msuci sites by clicking in the space: http://www.lillenas.com

Vote for which upcoming Broadway show you'd like to see reviewed from a Christian perspective at Reflections in the light. Click here: http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Accomplished Artists Are Students

When we’re young and starting out in the arts, we acknowledge that we don’t know everything, that mentors are a godsend and that constant learning is a part of becoming the best actor, director, musician, technician, dancer or singer we can be. As skills (and accolades) increase, however, artists sometimes can lose site of those truths. We stop learning, fear competition and don't take the time to help others starting out.

I was encouraged last week at the Drama League Awards in New York to discover that some very accomplished and honored persons in the theater have not forgotten the importance of gleaning from those with whom they work.

Bartlett Sher, honored for excellence in directing (see list of winners below), spoke of a teacher who had influenced him, said that he and his cast and crew had learned a lot from each other and that “everything is passed on.” Patrick Stewart, star of Macbeth, was cited for serving as the team’s leader who poured into his fellow cast members. All the young actors in the production “want to be him and work with him again,” we were told.

Distinguished Performer winner Patti LuPone honored those who had helped make her performance possible:
Gypsy director Arthur Laurents as a director who allowed the cast to reinvent something that “wasn’t broke”
•the producers for their boldness in restaging a musical that had just been on Broadway five years ago
•the other actors for their ensemble skills

“I’m still a student, “LuPone said, “…awed by what I see on a stage.”

Somehow I think it’s that teachable spirit that allows Ms. LuPone and others like her to reach new heights in their ability to perform. It’s when we feel we have “arrived” and that we’re the one everyone else should be looking to for inspiration that we forget who the Master teacher is and from whom the talent comes in the first place.

Make a new commitment this week to learn from all those God has placed in your circle and to pass on His wisdom to those who view you as mentor.
“You'll only hear true and right words from my mouth;
not one syllable will be twisted or skewed.
You'll recognize this as true—you with open minds;
truth-ready minds will see it at once.
Prefer my life-disciplines over chasing after money,
and God-knowledge over a lucrative career.
For Wisdom is better than all the trappings of wealth;
nothing you could wish for holds a candle to her.” (Proverbs 8:8-11 THE MESSAGE)

Winners of the Drama League Awards:
Distinguished Production of a Play
August: Osage County
Distinguished Production of a Musical
A Catered Affair
Distinguished Revival—Play
Distinguished Revival—MusicalSouth Pacific
Distinguished Performance Award
Patti LuPone, Gypsy
Julia Hansen Award for Excellence in Directing
Bartlett Sher, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Unique Contribution to the Theatre
Ellen Stewart and LaMaMa E.T.C.
Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theatre
Paul Gemignani

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/.

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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