The Attempt: Day 12

In our show, Acts 12 is where we start building towards the climax of the story of Peter and Abbie and the disciples who turned their world upside down. It’s got sad parts to it.  There’s another martyr for the Lord, James son of Zebedee; and two best friends, John and Peter, have to part company. Yeah, some sad stuff.

It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.

Our sons of thunder are Byron Word and Melvin Tunstall.


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Byron is an extraordinary talent and friend from Atlanta. Melvin is on Broadway now in “Beautiful”. As James and John… brothers, apostles, eyewitnesses to Jesus these two are going to inspire us all. Their chemistry is explosive.

But these guys aren’t just actors. They’re disciples and that makes all the more real the things they say and do.

I wish we’d had time to add King Herod to the show, but I’m afraid I’ve been so obsessed with “Hamilton” it would have come across a lot like stealing… I can just see a King George type character. Or maybe more of that Keith Watson “Nero” laugh… Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 12.42.55 AM


3 When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.

5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

8 Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.

11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”

12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”

15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”

16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.

As sad as the death of James is, the miraculous escape from prison is one of the funniest stories in the bible to me. Peter must think that the promise Jesus made to him at his reinstatement is about to come true. He must think that his time has come; and what does he do? He sleeps. So soundly the angel had to strike him on the side to wake him up. He’s outside before he realizes it’s not a dream.

He then goes to where the disciples are praying for him, the home of John Mark. What do you think they’re praying for? Peter? Wouldn’t you be? Please Lord free our brother?

So it’s funny to me that the response when he knocks on the door the girl answering it is so excited she runs back without opening it, and everyone thinks it’s his ghost; oh no, they killed Peter!

You know, we wrote this show 30 years ago and had every kind of music in it we could cram in; the show was 4 hours long. This version is much shorter, but we’ve tried to pack just as much into it. And since you’re family I don’t mind being really open with you.

I’d never been a fan of musical theatre. I’ve always loved movies. And music, I’ve always loved music. But as a kid, unless it was an Elvis Presley movie, I didn’t like for people to be talking and then break out in song. Now, I loved “Jesus Christ Superstar” but for some reason I put that in a whole different category; it just wasn’t anything like “Hello Dolly”, you know?

Then, in 1985, I saw “Les Miserables” in London. We sat as high up and in back of that theatre as was possible. But within minutes of the opening, Colm Wilkenson had my heart and head and soul down on the stage with him. I’d never been so sucked into another world and inspired as when I saw that show.

Not long after that I told Sherwin that if he’d move to New York we’d write a musical. Wah lah.

My favorite art form was always cinema. Don’t get me wrong, if I could do what I wanted all the time, I’d live on a stage. I love to entertain. But if I want to be entertained, cinema combines all the art forms I enjoy the most. Musical theatre was just the most practical and available art we had in the church in New York. We had so many triple threat talents in the New York church in those days; and musical theater and church go so hand in hand in my mind; doing a musical just seemed like a good idea. And after being inspired by Jean Valjean, I knew the story I wanted to tell and who I wanted to do it with.

Since that time I’ve changed a lot. I still love movies, but let’s just say “Rambo” isn’t my favorite anymore. And truth is, musical theater has jumped way ahead of cinema for me. The power of live theatre combined with the thrill of sharing it with an audience and the audience sharing with the actors and one another all at the same time… it’s a unique thing. Music is a unique thing. Think about how everyone likes music. Good people, bad people. Everybody plays tunes on their way to church or on their way to rob a bank. God made us to like music; no wonder there’s so much mention in the bible of angel choirs and heavenly hosts singing: God loves music.

Music inspires me, and since I’m being open, and a lot of you know it already, I’m a total “Hamilton” nut. And one of the things I took note of was when Miranda mentioned in an interview that his nearly three hour long musical would have been 7 hours long if not for hip hop; he said without rap he’d have never been able to cram so much information into a show in such a short amount of time.

That quote rattled around in my old head for days. I went to bed one night thinking about it and woke up with a start 4 hours later: I know what to do!

I’d been wrestling with how to start act 2. We rewrote the end of act 1, the song that had been “Legend in My Time”, and made it more “When I Die”. The song was a song we wrote in 1994. It wasn’t in the original show, and it was so powerful and became a favorite for so many. But it was pretty dark and I wanted it to end in a way that would bring people to their feet. Don’t get me wrong, I remember our beloved Tim Blevins as Claudius and he got a standing ovation every time he sang that song. But I wanted something that would make Christians jump to their feet saying “yeah! yeah!” Something to make a juxtaposition between the as yet unyielding Claudius, and disciples who are ready to die for the Lord. Something that finds us screaming  “Amen” before we even know it. It’s dangerous to talk like this before it’s past the opening night test, but I’m so confident in our cast and in the Lord, if He wants this to move people in an out of this world way, and I’m still on codeine so… but in my not so humble opinion the this song builds up to such a huge end of act 1, I began to fret over how to open act 2. And I didn’t want to make the show longer. I was afraid to write new stuff instead of edited old stuff, but I knew we didn’t have as strong an opening to the second part of the show as we needed.

I woke up with a start because I knew how to ‘Miranda’ our show.

30 years ago Sherwin and I wrote a piece of music that moves so fast and affords one to pack so many words in the verses that I think it might beat some hip hop works if songs could compete in a foot race.

We took the “Pentecost” music and created a motif  and thus were able to take this chapter of Acts, and a few others, and make what I think is one of the most fun parts of the show. I can’t sing it for you, but here’s what it looks like without the music (the cast can hear it though, huh?)

one 1one 4one 2one 3one 5one 6one 6

This whole story we’re telling, like the book of Acts, is coming from the mind of Luke, in prison. He transports us through no less than 30 years of church history and multiple locales of the Roman Empire, from Jerusalem to Rome. Luke is played by:rob narita

Rob Narita, veteran of stage and screen. Rob was performing on Broadway in “Miss Saigon” about the time he began to follow Jesus. Sometime I’ll ask Rob to share with everyone the story about how he took a stand for his convictions during that point in his career. It’s inspiring.

Luke is telling, or retelling, this story, our show, to his young jail keeper, Theophilus, played by:austin

Austin Hunter, one of our youngest leads and recently accepted into the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama; congrats Austin!

So in just a few short minutes of the opening of Act 2, Luke takes Theophilus through the story of Peter’s miraculous release and Paul’s escape from Damascus.

18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.
Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there. 20 He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; …

These are two coastal towns north of Caesarea… they’re Phoenician or Syrian…?

…they now joined together and sought an audience with him. After securing the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply.

21 On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.”

I’m not convinced he was that good of a speaker. They’re most likely sucking up.

23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.

Pleasant. You don’t have to dig too far to find out some corroborating info on this from Josephus who noted that it took five days for Herod to die. Moral of this story: Give God the glory. Always. Amen.

24 But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.

Meanwhile, Barnabas and Saul, are still on that benevolent mission to Jerusalem. They had gathered money for famine relief for the church in Judea. This next verse indicates they’d visited Jerusalem and met with some disciples, which Paul will write about in the future, mostly in his letter to the Galatians.
25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from  Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.


Let’s pray:

Father in heaven,

We really do thank you and give you all the glory. If it’s your will for our attempt to glorify you through this show of ours, then please use us to do way more than we can ask or imagine. We are facing some big challenges on a lot of fronts, and honestly, so many days are filled with things I worry about; please help me to trust in you and know that if you want this to be glorious for you then I… we… all of us…. are clay in your hands to be used at your pleasure. Mold us and make us into something that will amaze the world;  not amazed at our talents, but amazed at what you’ve done; how you have so loved the world that you gave your son. Use us so that people will remember the Lord long after we are forgotten.

But father, as long as the glory goes to you, please let us be used over and over again with these talents and skills of ours, again and again,  for your good pleasure.

Please see to it that all of the technical aspects of the show go perfectly, professionally, so that there will be no problems with the sound, the lights… that all the tech will enhance the story and not distract.

Please be with the finances so that we will be able to go on and do this again, if it’s your will. Help us have the support of brothers and sisters, and even people we do not know who will find our LIVE STREAM and want to watch it, and be so moved by what they see that, as disciples they are inspired as never before; or as non-believers they begin to search out the story of the Lord and some day become a follower because of our sharing of the story.

Lord please give us good health. Especially be with Sherwin and keep him well, please Lord. And please be with Lisa that her pain would subside and she’d be restored to good health again. Please keep all of our cast and crew well to do your will.

And Lord, again we say, either see in us what you desire to use for your glory, or help us to change. Please bless our desires or help us to alter them. Please bless our attempts, or even magnify them. For your glory;

In the name of the Lord whom we remember, and for whom we wish to turn this world upside down: in the name of Jesus!


slj june 12, 2016


Steve has been a minister for almost 5 decades; and for more than 40 years married to the wife of his youth and partner, Lisa. Steve has spoken in Madison Square Garden. He's swam the Hudson River to raise money for his favorite charity. He’s the writer, producer and director of an award winning short film. He’s an author, speaker, and father whose messages are hilarious, soulful and life changing. When he's not trying to sell, ride or make friends on a motorcycle, you can find him in Portland, Oregon where he is happily serving with the https://portlandchurch.org

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