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Archive for August, 2011

Serving The Song

I’ve played guitar for quite a few church services or worship settings over the years and, so, I’ve played under different leaders, with countless variations of a band setup, along with playing in a few different genres. Coming into contact with so many people and styles and personalities has been fun and educational, to say the least. But what is the one dominant theme that spanned everything, one overarching rule to live by? No one ever said it out loud but I think I walked away learning that no matter what, no matter what you play or how you play, you always serve the song.

Of course, I’m intentionally bypassing the spiritual side of the matter when talking about worship music and focusing more on the musical portion when I say this.

With playing guitar, serving the song means playing whatever it is that brings the song to life or, more importantly, not playing whatever it is that detracts from the song. Some guitarists have a tendency to overplay during some songs. We listen only to ourselves and we cram tunes with as many licks or effects-ridden chords as possible because we want every song to be guitar driven or we just want to appear more impressive. I tend to fall in the latter category.

When I overplay these days, it’s mostly out of fun or because I think it’s what the song needs. But it wasn’t long ago that I would play too much because I was insecure and wanted people to think I was good. In doing that, however, I was hurting the songs we were playing. The songs didn’t breathe naturally, vocals weren’t highlighted, it was just noise. And who benefited? No one, really. I felt like I proved my skills to an imaginary judge in the crowd but the flow of worship was surely hindered. I learned that sometimes less is more, sometimes I had to stop playing to better serve the musical situation.

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And I see this creep in other areas, especially in a church setting. If I’m provided an opportunity to speak or share a word, I often have to bypass my instinct to pull out heavy content that I think will highlight my education or show off some esoteric knowledge I have on a subject. Who benefits from that? My ego? Great! Now the congregation can go home and mull on that for the week and see how their spiritual lives go. Yes, Lord!

It’s silly. We have to follow God’s leading. And maybe that involves talking to your congregation about the Gospel, the plain truth of God’s love for humanity in the form of Jesus Christ, a story that’s been repeated to us ad nauseam. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that truth. And when that time comes we might have to refrain from telling the entire Gospel narrative in Greek because we know it’ll turn a few heads and instead tell it as simply as possible so more people can grasp the truth at hand.

I’m not saying I have sworn off speaking of heavy issues in church. I believe in challenging myself and the congregation to go deeper into our faith and explore Scripture more thoroughly. I am saying that I shouldn’t do those things for the sole purpose of promoting my own imaginary awesomeness, which is my motivation a lot of the time.

I see more and more speakers incorporate scholarly information in sermons and messages (and do so incorrectly) because they try to sound über-intelligent to their audience. It hurts the cause! I promise you it does!

I remember a Greek professor once telling our class that there’s usually little need to ever incorporate Greek in a sermon when speaking to a typical church audience. He stated that the amount of Greek a person uses from the pulpit is inversely proportional to the amount of Greek he actually knows. Over the years I’ve found that to be quite accurate.

Use your tools, your knowledge, your skills to craft a message and then distill it down to a substance your audience can handle. I don’t need to show off to them, I don’t need to prove myself to them – I need to communicate a message clearly to them so they can walk away with a firmer grasp of the truth.

I can learn scales, learn obscure chord inversions and build up speed to my playing but I shouldn’t use all of those things in every song I play just to prove to everyone I can do it. Don’t make noise; make music. Let it breathe. Let it flow naturally. Don’t get in the way.

Serve the song.

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So Very Kind

I sit here basking in the warm warming warmth of the love I’ve felt the past few days from all of the kind birthday wishes I’ve received. If ever I considered feeling sorry for myself for whatever came up in life, I’d have to tell that voice to shut itself up by reminding it how overwhelmingly blessed I am to have so many wonderful people in my world.

For example, the kids at church surprised me last week with a gift-and-tasty-taco-filled party. I can’t adequately describe my fondness for these folks. This affection goes beyond saying thanks for throwing a lovely party that was both heartfelt and delicious. The party was merely the latest expression of their collective awesomeness. In their company I’m constantly challenged, filled with faith, lifted up from disappointment, overtaken with laughter, or combinations of any of the above. I really can’t say enough about them.

And while that may be enough to fill my heart, they’re just one example of the great people placed in my life. Seriously. I may not get to talk to all of these priceless friends as often as I’d like – I know for sure I don’t see them as often as I’d like – but I’m impacted by their goodness still.

So thank you. Thank you for the loving texts, gifts, phone calls, cards, and email. But beyond that, thank you for your presence in my life. I swear to you, you make me better.

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3. The more we are united to You and become inwardly simple, the more we can, and effortlessly too, understand sublime things about You, for we receive light and understanding from above.

He who has a pure, simple, and constant spirit is not distracted by the many things he does, because he does all for the honor of God and endeavors to remain inwardly free of all seeking of himself. What greater hindrance or annoyance is there than our heart’s uncontrolled passions?

The good and devout person first inwardly plans the works that he will outwardly do, and does not allow himself to be drawn by any unworthy inclination, but, on the contrary, he accomplishes these works in accordance with the dictates of right reason.

No one undergoes a stronger struggle than the man who tries to subdue himself. This should be our chief employment: strive to overcome ourselves and gain such a mastery that we daily grow stronger and better.

4. All perfection in this life has some imperfection mixed with it, and all speculative thought involves a certain amount of fuzziness. A humble knowledge of yourself is a surer way to God than any deep scientific inquiry.

Neither learning in general nor knowledge of even simple things ought to be condemned, since they are something good in themselves and ordained by God; but a good conscience and a virtuous life are always to be preferred. Because many people spend more time and effort in becoming educated than in living properly, it happens that many, therefore, go astray and bear little or no fruit.

The Imitation of Christ, Book I, Chapter 3

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Wait

[I’m stealing this straight from the blog of Ms. Sheryl Thomas]

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WAIT
by: Russell Kelfer

Desperately, helplessly, longingly, I cried;

Quietly, patiently, lovingly, God replied.

I plead and I wept for a clue to my fate…

and the Master so gently said,”Wait.”

“Wait? you say wait?” my indignant reply.

“Lord, I need answers, I need to know why!”

Is Your hand shortened? Or have You not heard?

By faith I have asked, and I’m claiming Your Word.

My future and all to which I relate

hangs in the balance and You tell me to Wait?”

I’m needing a ‘yes’, a go-ahead sign.

Or even a ‘no,’ to which I’ll resign.

You promised, dear Lord, that if we believe,

We need but to ask, and we shall receive.

Lord, I’ve been asking, and this is my cry:

I’m weary of asking! I need a reply.

Then quietly, softly, I learned of my fate

as my Master replied again, “Wait.”

So I slumped in my chair, defeated and taut,

and grumbled to God, “So, I’m waiting…for what?”

He seemed then to kneel, and His eyes met with mine…

and He tenderly said, “I could give you a sign.

I could shake the heavens and darken the sun.

I could raise the dead and cause mountains to run.

I could give all you seek and pleased you would be.

You’d have what you want, but you wouldn’t know Me.

You’d not know the depth of My love for each saint.

You’d not know the power that I give to the faint.

You’d not learn to see through clouds of despair;

you’d not learn to trust just by knowing I’m there.

You’d not know the joy of resting in Me

when darkness and silence are all you can see.

You’d never experience the fullness of love

when the peace of My spirit descends like a dove,

You would know that I give, and I save, for a start,

But you’d not know the depth of the beat of My heart.

The glow of My comfort late into the night,

the faith that I give when you walk without sight.

The depth that’s beyond getting just what you ask

From an infinite God who makes what you have last.

You’d never know should your pain quickly flee,

what it means that My grace is sufficient for thee.

Yes, your dearest dreams overnight would come true,

but oh, the loss if I lost what I’m doing in you.

So, be silent, my child, and in time you will see

that the greatest of gifts is to truly know Me.

And though oft My answers seem terribly late,

My most precious answer of all is still “WAIT”.

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As if we needed more reasons to be a fan of Anderson Cooper, here he is giggling like a little kid while reporting a ridiculous story.

It makes me smile.

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Happy is the individual whom Truth instructs, not by means of obscure figures and fleeting words, but as it truly is in itself.

Our way of thinking and perceiving often misleads us and teaches us very little. What is there in arguing about obscure and recondite matters, when our ignorance of such things will not be in question on the Day of Judgment? It is utter absurdity for us to neglect the things that are useful and necessary, and needlessly occupy ourselves with those that are merely curious and perhaps harmful. We have eyes, but we do not see.

2. Why should we concern ourselves with such philosophical words and genera and species? He whom the eternal Word teaches is set free from a multitude of theories. From this one Word all things come into being; all things speak this one Word, and this Word, who is the beginning, also speaks to us. Without this Word no one can understand or judge correctly. He for whom all things are in the One, and who refers all things to the One, and sees all things in the One, can remain steadfast in heart and abide in God’s peace.

O God my Truth, make me one with You in eternal love. Often I become weary with reading and hearing many things. You are all that I want and desire. Let all teachers be mute and all creation keep silence before You. Speak to me, You, and You alone.

The Imitation of Christ, Book I, Chapter 3


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I’m up way too late but I’m feeling pretty good. It’s such a rush for me when technology finally cooperates with my vision and helps me to execute a task at hand.

I’m doing some tracking today with my OneAmongMany guys and gal – nothing too complex, just something simple to help someone else know what we might sound like. We’re meeting at my church because that’s the only place we have access to drums that we can play as loud and as long as we like. I ideally wanted to have a recording that was just a step beyond a mix straight off the board at church – that’s usually never satisfying to me. I thought as a compromise, I could get the board mix and a room mix, both with my Zoom H4n, and track the essential components (i.e., vocals, whatever else I had room for) on my RME Fireface.

I take it back – I ideally would have liked to track each part of the band individually as they played together live (time constraints are keeping us from tracking each part separately) just so we could have a better time mixing. That notion was scrapped pretty early on because I only have eight inputs on my Fireface and I think our tracking needs exceed that. I hadn’t found that ultra-cheap/mint-condition Digimax on Craigslist yet so the additional eight tracks that would have come with that unit is nonexistent.

But then today happened. I remembered I still had an old Fostex VF-16, a 16 track digital multitrack recorder that I’ve had for years now. This was what I first learned to record with and I spent hours upon hours figuring out how to record, edit and mix all on this one unit with a 3 inch LCD screen. I managed to track quite a bit with it over the past 10 years and I believe I have a ton of recordings of friends, more talented than I, singing and playing that I can’t wait to listen to again.

Well, I found it again today and, after I blew all the dust off, I booted her up. After fumbling through menus for a bit I found my footing. With the VF-16 running into my Fireface via ADAT, I have eight more channels I can record with today that I didn’t have an hour ago. I didn’t even know that was possible with this thing! Granted, the preamps on the Fostex aren’t the greatest, it’s still nice to have additional inputs at my disposal.

Now, it’s just a matter of everything working again in a few hours when I set up at church.

Sorry for the boring gear talk this morning. I’ll try and keep down the noise.

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