Monday, June 30, 2014

Friendships, Flexibility and Fellowship

Proverbs 18:24. "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."

It may seem strange that I would be typing on a worship blog about friendship; however, that's just what I feel God has led me to do. We've just finished up a very successful week at our church. We held our annual VBS. It was a great week, but I must tell you this director is exhausted. In order to pull off our VBS, we have to make some sizable changes to our Reach Center. Chairs, tables, stage equipment, keyboards, risers, mic stands etc...all have to be moved around or relocated. The Sunday morning worship time has to be adjusted to accommodate the decorations on the stage. Sunday morning the fellows in this picture led us in worship.
They had to completely change up the set because we had our VBS decor all over the stage. Their flexibility and friendship mean so much to us. They do this every year without complaining. The beauty of it is that the worship experience is just as wonderful. God has blessed these men with amazing talents and skills. They were able to lead us to fellowship with God even without the full stage experience. I am so thankful for these friends and their willingness to support another "arm" of our church.

Romans 12: 4-5 "For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not have all of the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another."

Our praise team (including the audio technicians) is a special group of believers. We have created a bond of friendship that I feel is unique and different.

Proverbs 17:17 "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."

It seems that over the past several years that this is the kind of friendship we have built with each other. Countless times this week (and in VBS past) I have come to the tech team at the last minute with updates and changes. I'm always greeted with a smile and given whatever help I need. In good times and bad, we are here for each other. We pray for one another and lift each other up. When I have a prayer need, these friends are the first I think of to help me lift the burden to the Lord. It's that close relationship that I believe allows us to lead others to Him during worship services. We have a positive and caring relationship with each other. I believe this contributes to the way God uses us on Sunday mornings during worship. We relate to one another as we sing and come together as a team with a common purpose. It is truly the desire of our team to bring others to a worship experience with Him. Our fellowship with each other and our Savior leads us to commune with Him in a very special way. Feeling......blessed!


Monday, June 23, 2014

Shine Your Light...

A couple weeks ago, a lady came to me after a Sunday Morning Service and said the sweetest thing.  She said, “I just want you to know that you glow when you are up on stage.  I can just feel the presence of The Lord flowing through you as you help lead worship.  Don’t let them take that away from you at App because the sincerity is truly a gift.”

At the time, this comment just seemed like a sweet compliment, but the more I weighed into it, the more flattered I was to receive it.  You see, I have been performing for people since I was able to walk.  The cheesier I was, the more likely the judges were to love me, and that was what mattered.  Everything was about how I presented myself; how I looked, how I dressed, how I danced... you get the picture.  As I have grown, I have realized that the outside really doesn’t matter as much as people would have you believe.  What really matters is what God looks at, and that is our hearts.  

In the past two years, I have been faced with a terrible battle.  Losing my capability to dance has really been difficult for me.  But, facing this battle has made me want to pursue my other talents so much more.  Leading others in worship has become my new passion.  I have decided that I am no longer performing for any earthly judge, but I am pouring out my praise to my Heavenly Father.  I am constantly finding myself in a “worship state of mind.”  I am always singing some kind of song to praise God.  Sometimes when I cannot find words to pray, I begin to sing because it just feels so natural to me.  My heart is filled with praise for our God and with the desire to lead others to be filled with His praise.

In Joshua chapter 24, verse 14 reads, “Therefore, fear The Lord and worship Him in sincerity and truth.”  In my worship, I want to be sincere.  I want Jesus to be able to see right through my heart and see that it is filled with praises for Him.  I want others to be able to see that light in me too.  I know that sometimes it is tough to be the shining light in this dim and dark world, but we know that through Christ we can conquer all.  

This week I pray that we can shine bright in this world, and be able to reveal to others what is truly in our hearts.  


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Let Go...Relax

Today I want to talk about letting go and just relaxing.  It's so easy to forget about least for me it is.  I often get so caught up in what I'm doing in worship, such as guitar parts, patches, sounds, everyone else, etc., that I often just forget to worship.  It's not that I don't want to or don't intend do, there is just so much else going on that it's easy to forget about worshiping.  With that said, I have found it awfully hard to lead people in worship when you aren't even doing it yourself.  

This past Sunday, our worship set and scheduling called for me to play acoustic guitar.  If you go to MPBC, you know that isn't something that happens much.  I look forward to it because it's almost like I get to take a breath and chill out a little more.  No effects pedal to worry about, no complicated lead riffs, no worrying about specific sounds, no chord inversions to think about and well, everything else that comes with playing lead electric guitar.  I also like acoustic guitar because it's so much easier for me to hear and feel the next chord when I'm not playing inversions past the 12th fret, so I'm not having to just stare at the fret board.  I can just close my eyes if I want or look out into the congregation.  

While playing during our worship set last Sunday I realized something that had almost became an unfamiliar feeling...I was relaxed.  No looking back and forth between a pedal board and a fret board or making sure my tap-delay was in sync; I was just relaxed.  I have to say, being relaxed in the presence of God is the most peaceful feeling I could ever imagine.  It made me realize that I myself needed to be in worship before I can expect to lead other people in worship. More importantly, it reminded me how rejuvenating it is to be in His presence.  I was able to focus on Him and nothing else. 

"My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places"  Isaiah 32:18

So, did I have a massive, life-changing experience on stage? Was I inspired to do something great and go after something I've never thought of before?  Nope.  I just relaxed and rested in the Lord.  

This week, I'll go back over to the electric guitar spot, power on the effects pedal and get in the chord inversion and lead riff mind set again.  But, I'll have a different approach. Before, I subconsciously thought that I needed to sacrifice my worship time to focus on being a more effective guitar player and in turn lead others in worship.  However, I remembered last week that I first must step in to His presence before I can give it to other people.  

So, let go...relax...



Monday, June 9, 2014

My Music Stand

Our church uses Manhasset music stands.  

They are durable, work well, and will last for years.  Most folks use them to, well, hold their music, be it a sheet of music or maybe in a small book.

Mine, however, looks like this: 

Everything you see (and some things you don’t) is crucial for me each Sunday.  Besides playing drums, there are many “moving parts” so to speak that need to fall into place in order to play an effective worship set.  The following will go over the process of what I do (or what Brad does when he plays) each Sunday which will include an explanation of everything you see above, its purpose, and the process of playing songs that doesn’t actually include playing the music itself.  In other words, this has more to do with the technical aspect of playing worship music as opposed to simply playing the notes.

One of the first things hooked to my music stand are these.  Instead of having some sort of monitor speaker pointed towards me, I use these.  They may look like ordinary ear buds, but these are in-ear monitors, and they actually serve two purposes:  They let us monitor the music while cancelling out any unwanted sounds.  If you ever notice any of us wearing these on stage, you’ll see us take at least one of them out if we need to talk to one another. 

This is our Aviom system which is mounted to the post of my music stand.  My in-ear monitors plug into this, and it allows me to turn other members of the team up or down in my monitors.  This is a great device that I’ve wanted to use for years, and I’m happy to be able to use this now.  Most of our instrumentalists currently have one of these, and we are hoping to have the singers use these as well in the future.  It’s quite a different experience playing with this system.  Initially, one can feel rather isolated; however, it can be a very helpful tool.  While everyone in the congregation hears everything, I actually only hear the metronome, the bass, Brad’s vocal, and acoustic guitar.  This can change a little from Sunday to Sunday, but this is primarily the only things that I hear during any given worship service. 

Sorry for the glare of this picture.  Many folks may not know this, but we use a metronome whenever we play live.  All team members you see on stage with in-ear monitors are being fed the metronome “click” through their in-ear monitors.  Part of my job is to adjust the beats per minute (BPMs) before each song.  Basically it works like this:  After glancing at my notes to check the BPMs of the song, I use the jog wheel to adjust the timing, and I either use the START/STOP button or a pedal to start the metronome. 

Beside of my kick drum pedal, there’s a small black box with a big red “X” on it.  This is the foot pedal that starts and stops the metronome.  This comes in really handy when we are doing a song that requires us to slow down at the end.  While it is helpful, it does require a certain amount of coordination that I’ve not quite mastered in every situation, but I’m getting there!

Here is our Worship Planner sheet that we receive each Sunday.  The first thing I do before we practice on Sunday mornings or Wednesday evenings, I find my Worship Planner sheet and I write out the BPMs for each song according to a master list that I have made (I would take a picture of it, but it’s an absolute mess that looks more like Sanskrit than anything else). If there are certain transitions between songs, I’ll circle them if they are noted, or I will write them in (you can see above where Steve prayed at the end of “God Be Lifted High”).  This is really important.  It would be terribly embarrassing to “click in” a song with my sticks whenever someone has started praying.  As mentioned before, I have my in-ear monitors in my ears, so if I don’t have Steve’s microphone feeding into my monitors, I can’t hear him praying; I rely heavily on my notes and my eyes more so than my ears during transitions between songs.

For every song that I’ve learned with our praise team, I have to make myself notes or a “chart” so to speak.  I basically break down each section of the song (e.g. intro, verses, choruses, instrumentals, etc.), and I do my best to describe the pattern that I play.  My charts probably will not make a lot of sense to most, but they help me to remember what I need to do and when I need to do it.  

We learn at least one new song a month, and a current trend in modern worship music (in playing drums anyways) is for drum patterns to change quite a bit from one part of a song to the next.  10-15 years ago, I’d only have to memorize basically one, two, maybe three patterns for each song.  Usually, all verses are played with the exact same pattern, all of the choruses were played with another pattern, and the bridge may or may not vary; there were usually only differences in dynamics more so than the patterns played.  In the chart listed above, I think that I counted eight different patterns that I had to learn…and this is a relatively short song. 

So considering all of these things, this is what my music stand looks like on any typical Sunday.  I have notes on the left, metronome in the middle, the worship planner sheet right, and I’ll actually put song notes on that drum so that I can see them (I usually do this whenever we have fast transitions between each song).  The Aviom system is mounted to the music stand post.

In essence, here is the “order of operations” for playing:

Before service:

1. Find my Worship Planner sheet. 

a. Write down BPMs for each song.

b. Make sure to note transitions between any of the songs.  If none are noted, ask Brad if there are any transitions I should know about.

2. Turn on click track/metronome.

a. Make sure foot pedal is still working and hooked up.

b. Make sure back light stays on.

3. If any songs are relatively new, make sure notes are out and/or easily accessible and easy to find…in the dark (there is NO guarantee that I’ll be able to see anything, so knowing the location of the drum charts is very important.  I may or may not have time to turn on my music stand lights).

4. Make sure the Aviom is working correctly.  Adjust personal mix for who’s playing and singing that day (I don’t put everyone in the mix; I only put enough things in so I don’t get lost in the song).  Make sure the metronome can be heard through the Aviom. 

5. Put at least one stick in the stick holder on the hi-hat stand in case I drop one.

Before EACH song:

1. Get notes ready if needed.

2. Set the BPM on metronome using jog wheel.

3. Cut on the music stand light if needed.

4. Look at Brad.  Wait for the cue.

During EACH song:

1. Hit the little metronome pedal beside of the kick drum pedal.

2. Wait 4 beats, and then click everyone in.

3. If it’s a relatively new song, look at the notes during songs while playing.

4. About a minute or so before the song finishes, glance at the Worship Planner.  Get prepared for the transition between songs (Is it a fast transition or is something going on in between the songs?). 

a. If it’s a fast transition, as soon as last note is hit, stomp the pedal to stop the click, reach over and scroll quickly to the BPMs for the next song.  Double check it.  Look at Brad, and wait for the cue.  Stomp the pedal, and click everyone in.

b. If it’s a slow transition, stomp the pedal, set the BPMs for the next song.  Double check it.  Watch very closely to what’s going on as to not click in too late or too early.  Wait for the cue, stomp the pedal, and click everyone in. 

So, what’s the point of all of this?  First, all of this didn’t happen overnight.  This has been coming to head over a couple of years of planning, researching, and practice!  I can’t begin to describe how incredibly proud I am of our musicians and singers (and an entire choir!) being able to follow along and sing to music that uses a metronome.  I know musicians who have been playing longer than I’ve been alive that can’t play with a metronome, and we have a stage FULL of people with the ability to do so.  I’ve never worked with a group of people who have been so open to change, and it’s an honor and a privilege to serve here at Mount Pleasant.  I’m genuinely excited to see what God will do next at MPBC!


Monday, June 2, 2014

The Battle Belongs to God

I have been reading in Genesis in my Bible lately. I recently read about Abraham and how he and Sarah could not have a child, even though God had promised one to him. Abraham decided to take matters into his own hands and have a child with Sarah's maid, Hagar. I am sure you are familiar with the events. Sarah does end up having a child and the whole thing ends up a mess because Abraham got ahead of God and tried to manipulate circumstances, out of God's will. I am sure he thought he was helping God out. God doesn't need our help. I have to remind myself of that sometimes...a lot.

Because of Abraham "helping God out" and not trusting Him to work it out, he caused the "birth" of a heathen, Jew-hating nation and the bedrock of the Muslim faith. The result of Abraham's actions were very catastrophic but he did not even live on this earth to see the complete unfolding of his bad decision. I wonder if we live to see the complete results of our bad decisions?

I would like to think that I am smarter than Abraham but I am not. I often want to put God aside and fight my own battles and manipulate my own circumstances and make everything "work out." I am slowly learning that I must let God handle certain things that are out of my hands. There is a little "control freak" in all of us, I suppose.

I think of songs we sing in church like "I'm counting on God..." or "I believe, yes, I believe..." We sing, "Not for a moment, did you forsake me..." Here is another of my favorites, "I will walk with you, knowing you'll see me through..."

I then turn around and say to myself, "Well, I had better handle this because God is not helping me here. Where are you God???" Do you think Abraham thought the same thing? I am sure he did.

We can certainly learn from his example there of what NOT to do. Usually, when we try to manipulate God's plans and go ahead of Him the results are disastrous. Because of God's grace, He can take our messes and restore us but the results, ruined relationships and scars are still there from our sin.

Abraham ended up with his son, Isaac, which God had promised him, but it did not change the fact that Ishmael had been born and there were consequences.

2 Chronicles 20:15 says, "And he said, "Listen, all you of Judah...Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed..., for the battle is not yours, but God’s." 

We can do what the Lord requires of us, like be obedient and serve Him but HE must take care of the "impossible" tasks in our lives. We cannot control God's timing and His perfect will.

Proverbs 21:31 says, "The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but deliverance is of the Lord." 

Lastly, One of my favorite people in the Bible is Hezekiah. In 2 Kings we read of where the evil Assyrians come to Jerusalem to lay siege to the city. There are 185,000 of them and they are prepared to torture and murder everyone there. Hezekiah knows that his army is vastly outnumbered and there is NO WAY they can defeat the Assyrians. Hezekiah does not devise a clever battle plan but he prays all night while the Assyrians are camped outside the gates of Jerusalem. When the morning came all 185,000 of the Assyrians were dead in their tents. Hezekiah never raised a sword. 

God took care of it! Always remember....The battle belongs to the Lord! He's got your back. You don't have to run ahead of him. He can handle it.