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Avoiding Complacency

confusedThe year was 1992.

I was on a European concert tour with my college choir.  We were preparing to sing mass at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria.  Our director had pulled some strings and acquired the services of a 20 piece orchestra from the Vienna Symphony to accompany us.  For a sacred music performer, it was the equivalent of the Super Bowl.  However, as we were rehearsing in the early morning hours, I couldn’t help but think “what in the world am I doing here?”  For a country boy from West Virginia, rasied on Fannie Crosby and cornbread, singing Latin to a bunch of Catholics was as foreign as wings on an elephant.

What’s worse, I can only imagine how few Austrians actually understood anything we were singing… save the priest perhaps, and he looked about as disinterested as possible.

Despite this, how many times have we sang a perfectly scriptural song… in English… to a congregation of red-blooded, baseball-watching, apple pie-eating Christians… and came away with the same feeling?  Too often, we “go through the motions”.  Oh not intentionally, but it happens.

I call it the zombie-driving principle.  Have you ever driven for miles and all the sudden thought, “I have no idea how I got here?”  We can do the same in our performance if we’re not careful.

Be on guard.  Develop good habits like praying before each song you sing in front of your church.  Pick out new music whenever possible.  The next time someone compliments your song, and after you say “Praise the Lord” ;-), ask if they have a favorite they’d like to hear someday.  You never know the blessing you can be to someone!

Above all else, let God use you!

And the next time I’m in Austria, I’ll stick with “Amazing Grace”.

Singing at “home”

In my life, I’ve been very blessed to share the gift of song. Starting at the age of 13, God gave me a wonderful opportunity to proclaim his word through music. Looking back, I’m astonished at the wonderful people and amazing places which he has allowed me to share his gift. I am truly humbled.

However, no place has ever been as special to me as singing in my own home church. Making music with family and friends is truly the greatest honor a singer could ever ask for. These are the folks who really know you. Yet, it is this very group that is so difficult to stand in front of sometimes. But with God’s help, (and a few tips from friends), I’ve come up with a few things that help me.  Hopefully, they will be a help to others as well:

  1. Know what you’re singing about - I can’t express this enough. Over the years, I’ve seen so many “professional” singers do their thing, and then I walk away wondering “did they mean anything they sang about?” Technique and ability take a distant 2nd place over really understanding the lyrics. God cannot, and will not, use you if you are simply going through the motions.
  2. Pray - It sounds simple enough, but praying before a song is often the dividing line between a great performance and one that’s just so-so. I make it a point to say a quick prayer before everysong I sing. Typically, I try to do it just as close to the actual performance itself, asking God to put my mind in the right frame. Ask him to make you a blessing, not just help you remember the words or hit the notes.
  3. Forget the audience - This can be a tough one, particularly for those prone to stage fright. But with God’s help, you can do it. Remember you’re singing for God, not at people. Keep him in the forefront of your presentation, and less about you. This is really helpful when you are singing before people you know.
  4. Maintain eye contact - At first glance, this appears to be a direct contrast to the last point, but it’s not. While your mental & spiritual focus should be on God, and him alone, your physical focus should be on your audience. Look them in the eye. Smile. Let them know you care about them. This is key to holding their attention and allowing God to use your song in the way he intended.
  5. Forget “me” - Satan’s greatest weapon against Godly Christian music is the artist himself. “The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.” Don’t ever think you are talented enough to do it without God’s help. Always remember, he alone gives us talents, and he can take them away just as easily. Don’t ever think, “I’m really gonna bless ‘em today”… that’s when you’re most likely to fall flat on your face! (That’s the voice of experience)
  6. Know your role - Unless it is a concert setting, the singer’s only job is to help prepare the hearts of the audience for the word of God. Delivered properly, a song with a godly message can do more to help the preacher than any other thing in a service (aside from the holy spirit). Don’t take this lightly.
  7. Keep it fresh - Too often, those involved in “special music” in their home church tend to get in a serious rut when it comes to preparation. It’s easy to say, “I’ll just sing _____. That’ll be easy.” Don’t take the easy way out. Pray about it. If given enough notice, try to sing something new. Step outside your comfort zone.
  8. Get approval - If you do pick out a new song, be sure to let your music director/minister know about it well before your performance date. You may think your selection is wonderful (and chances are it is), but it’s always best to let those who lead your music ministry in on your plans. That person is solely responsible for the content of the music performed. And above all, don’t be offended if they ask you to pick something else. They may actually like your song, but for whatever reason think it best to go a different route… their job depends on it!
  9. Maintain a list - If you don’t have enough time to learn something new, at least keep a list of songs you feel comfortable doing on short notice. I keep a list on my phone using an organizing app called “Clear”. That way, I always know which songs have been sung recently and helps me avoid repeats.
  10. “Praise the Lord” - Hopefully, God will use you to be a blessing to your congregation. If so, you’re likely to hear about it. “Great job!” “That song was a blessing.” You know what I mean. This is when Satan will work on you the most. Don’t let him do it! Without exception, my response to these phrases is “Praise the Lord” or “Glory to God”, but NEVER “Thank you”. This is not to diminish my gratitude, but has everything to do with keeping the focus on God and not my abilities.

I hope these tips will help you get the most out of the wonderful gift and privilege of singing before your home congregation. I love singing with my friends and helping prepare hearts for the message my pastor has been given. And you will too if you choose to follow these guidelines.

Keep on singin’ for Jesus!!

E-Etiquette

Pet peeves.  We all have them.  We all break them for someone else.  It’s a simple fact, if you hang around enough people, you’re going to tick someone off.  For the most part, I try to live and let live.  We may not see eye to eye on everything, but that’s what makes the world interesting.

However, there are a few things that just set me off.  Holding up traffic in the left turn lane when the light turns green sends me into orbit every time.  But that’s a story for another time.  Today’s topic is E-etiquette.

I understand we’re all busy people.  The pace of the modern world is a blur compared to just 10 years ago.  I get it.  But unfortunately, technology hasn’t invented a way to make human beings more considerate when it comes to communication.

  • We all have time to read the latest headline on ESPN.com, but it takes you two days to reply to my email or text message?  Really?
  • We’ll spend hours on Facebook making sure we know exactly what that person from high school is doing, even though we’ve not seen or heard from them in 20 years.  But when I take the time to ask 3 questions in my email, you somehow manage to only see one… then I’m lucky?
  • I’ve sometimes wondered if it would be possible to write an entire essay using nothing but internet acronymns.  Full disclaimer, I’ve been known to throw around a few “IMO’s” and “LOL’s”, but only in moderation.  But the first time I saw “WIBAMU” (Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!), I thought “enough is enough”.  And texting “wut” instead of “what” is further proof that the dumbing down of America is alive and well.

Now before someone sends me a message where I accidentally typed “set” instead of “sit”, let me say, I know we all slip up from time to time.  That’s to be expected.  However, if you find yourself constantly replying to emails that are a week old, you may just have a problem.  So go ahead and turn yourself in to the E-thorities (see what I did there?).  Chances are, they’ll let you off with a warning.

And remember, when your to busy to check you’re grammer, except the fact that your to busy.  When you’re mispelled words effect the message, than its to late too go back and fix it.

Look out below!

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

Obviously, the person who first uttered that phrase has never sucked a lemon before.  They’re sour.

Recently, I was reminded of an important truth.  God never promised the Christian life would be easy.  I know, this is not really earth shattering news.  But isn’t it interesting how quickly we forget?  How many times have we thought “Man, those Israelites were dumb for building that idol… didn’t they remember the Red sea?”  Yet, when we break a fingernail, we think “Does God still care?”  Of course he does.  It’s us that has been blinded by the circumstances.

All weekend, I wallowed in self pity.  The wife was sick.  Both kids were sick.  The dog was sick.  My car was in the shop, for the second time this month.  My head was pounding with sinus pressure.  I laid awake until 3:00 in the morning.  It was raining.  It was cold.  Consider it a perfect cocktail of calamity.

Then it hit me.

My wife and I were discussing a friend who is suffering from cancer.  Doctors recently told him it’s stage 4.  Now I didn’t stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, but I know enough to know that’s bad.  Suddenly, my problems became a little less problematic.  Soon after, the dog jumped in my lap and began playfully chomping on my shirt sleeve.  Then my boys came downstairs to give me a goodnight hug.  I got up this morning and realized my in-laws had graciously loaned me a car to drive while mine is in the shop.

Hmmm.

I may wake up tomorrow to find that my neighbor has backed over my mailbox… again.  But maybe this time, I’ll remember the Red sea, and that God took care of me then, and he’ll do it again.

I want to be a Squanto

This time of year, our hearts are more tuned to gratitude, probably moreso that any other time of year.  Unfortunately, the world has once again managed to pervert the true spirit of the holiday.  Black Friday, afternoon Football, and traffic jams galore have distracted us all to the point you can barely find the real meaning of Thanksgiving nowadays.

This year, I want to be a Squanto.  Who (or what) is a Squanto, you ask?  Squanto was a Patuxet Indian that lived in late 16th – early 17th century New England.  As a young man, he was captured by Englishman to be sold into European slavery.  I’m sure it must have been a terrifying experience to be put inside a dark, dirty sloop and sailed back to Spain.  By divine providence, Squanto was brought into the custody of local friars, who taught him about Christ and the values of Christianity.  Eventually, he convinced them to allow him to return to his homeland.

Squanto made it to England, where he further learned English and managed to gain employment with a shipbuilder named John Slany.  This relationship allowed him to join two expeditions to the “new world”, and on the 2nd journey, he finally made it to his ancestral lands.  It was there he was introduced to the pilgrims that had landed at Plymouth rock.

The pilgrims had recently reached a crossroad.  Half of their original group had died of disease.  Winter was fast approaching, and they still had not been able to produce enough food to survive.  If God did not provide soon, they had no choice but to return to England and the religious persecution they so dearly wanted to escape.

And now, as if on cue from God himself, the pilgrims were amazed to find a native that not only shared their language, but also shared their God!  What an incredible discovery that must have been!  Squanto taught them how to grow maize and fertilize their crop.  Without his help, the pilgrims surely would have perished.  God is good.  He provided the pilgrims with a modern-day Joseph.

May God help me to use the story of my life to help others in need.  Through the trials of life, I can show others the blessings and deliverance only God can provide.  Between the cranberry sauce and football games, may we find ourselves giving something back to others.  Show your attitude of gratitude.  Do something without being asked.  It may not be maize, but it may just be the thing someone else needs to get them through their day.  And who knows, you may be active enough to make room for one more slice of pumpkin pie…

And so it begins.

Yet another social medium to consume my time and energy.  However, unlike the A-D-D universe that is Twitter, my hope is that this will allow me to expound on some thoughts jumbling around inside my head… hence the name Brainwavz.  That, and the fact more people spell my name “Brain” than “Brian”.  Chances are, many of you have probably made that slip at some point in your life.  I mean, the power company had me listed as “Brain Smith” in their database for nearly a decade!  (I wonder if I have legal recourse to get back some of those fees?  Stupid statute of limitations!)

But I digress (which is likely to happen a LOT here).  Over time, I plan to share a little about myself, a little about things that are happening in my world, and a LOT of random gibberish and general silliness.

ENJOY!!

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