Thursday, November 30, 2006

Highs and lows

In our house, at family meals, in the evenings, we often go around the table and ask each other what our highs and lows have been that day.

Well this has been a week of highs and lows. One of the highs was leading worship at the evening service tonight. We have a new drummer, Joel, and a new guitarist, David who is also in my men's cell group, and they can seriously play. The band sounded great, and the singers sung their hearts out, and even though the service was packed with so many elements it made it hard to create a good flow, the worship was really wonderful, and I felt like we'd been to the throne room.

Let me just point out that this was nothing to do with me. This was all God.

I've had the kind of week I never want to have again. I finished a book back on Sunday where one of the main characters dies by falling from a high tower. He lands in a crumpled heap on the ground, and then the book records the emotions and experiences of the other characters in dealing with this tragedy, where their whole world has been turned upside down. Well, my Pastor, boss, mentor and friend, Dave, died three months ago in similar circumstances, and as I read this story I nearly burst into tears right there in Cafe Greco. I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach and immediately relived the horror of those moments three months ago all over again. I closed the book and walked up road 9 in a bit of a daze.

Anyhow, this week has been the emotional aftermath of this fresh wave of grief, and I've been a wreck. I have felt low and useless and inadequate and lethargic and demoralised. You may not have noticed, because I'm good at hiding it, and I didn't really realise it fully myself until today.

On top of this we have our Christmas pageant in ten days time and it's a big deal and I'm responsible for it and I had to apologise to three people today for not being on the ball with it. On top of this two of my colleagues are getting married on Saturday, and our girls are bridesmaids, and I'm leading the music in the service. That's why church tonight was such a high, I was leading worship, but I was certainly not doing it in my own strength.

God showed up just when I needed Him most.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Worship Leader Magazine

Hey - I got published!

Got this magazine through the post in a brown paper envelope this morning, turned to page 29, and there I was, looking back at me. Very weird.

I really liked the point that the main article writer was making about "blended worship" not being a musical style or blend of styles, but that it is actually a blend of worshippers from different cultures and nations around the world offering up praise simultaneously. Then there were a series of interviews with worship leaders from different countries - Brazil, Singapore, Nigeria etc and Maadi Community Church, Cairo.

Anyway, go and buy it. I'm in it :-)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Guitar Amp Modelling

Ok, so apart from actual musical instruments, there's some other stuff in the armoury. Electric guitar players use a whole battery of electronics to make the diverse range of offensive noises that we love so much. Here's what I use...

Amp Modellers:

The ingredient that makes playing the electric guitar so much fun is often also it's greatest weakness - yes, I'm talking about volume. Most players will say that they need to turn the amp up loud to get the right tone out of it, and for the most part, that's true. Particularly with tube amplifiers, a decent volume level really lets the vacuum tubes work at their best, and that particularly sweet singing sustain is often only available when the amp is really cranked and the valves are beginning to distort.

This doesn't often go down well in church.

So amp modellers are the church guitarist's best friend. Some engineers have spent far too much time in studios and labs analysing the frequency responses of various classic guitar amps at different settings, have simulated this in software, burned it on a chip and then built a little box to reproduce it when you plug in your guitar. The really good think for us church guitarists is that the manufacturers claim that all of those fantastic tube amp harmonics and that lovely warm tone is available with the volume turned right down, or even with your headphones on. And to a degree they are right; manufacturers such as Line6, Behringer, Boss and SansAmp. They can all be plugged directly into a PA system mixing desk, and routed through the monitors thus eliminating those big, expensive, loud and heavy guitar amps from the platform.

In the real world though, there is always going to be a significant difference between spending thousands of dollars on a Mesa Boogie, and spending $100 on eBay for a little blue box that "faithfully" reproduces the tonal range, not just of the Boogie, but thirty-one other similarly desirable amplifiers too. But you know what? For $100 it sounds amazing. And it's incredibly flexible, and does not break my back when I'm moving it around as it only weighs a kilo or so.

Confession time. I have a Behringer V-Amp, firmware upgraded to V-Amp2. Bought about five years ago on eBay. Yes yes, I know some of you think Behringer has bad business ethics... but I didn't buy it from them. Anyway, it's great, models 32 different amplifiers and 16 different speaker cabinets, and has a selection of effects available too. It's the anchor for everything else in my rig. I control it with a Rolls midi foot pedal that I once again found on eBay about five years ago for something like $40.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Forgive me for I have sinned. Six days without posting. That breaks all the blog rules. Still, never mind, I'm here now. This is such a CRAZY season.

I was wondering if you'd like to know a little bit about my guitar stuff. No? Sorry. It is what I do, after all! So all non-musos can go and have a cup of tea and come back in a while ok?

Acoustic guitar:
Tacoma JK28C. It's a big jumbo acoustic with a cutaway, Koa wood back and sides and a beautiful big sound with even tone across the strings. I bought it at Gruhn's in Nashville in August 1998.

Electric Guitars:
Firstly, the one previously mentioned on this blog. Yamaha Super Flighter SF500. Probably late 1970s. Modified with a Kent Armstrong humbucker bought from eBay in the bridge position.

Secondly, I have a Tokai Goldstar Sound, probably 1984. It is on loan from Tim, Chris Norman's brother. I borrowed it in 1990. So that would be about... sixteen years I suppose. Sorry Tim. It's great, and I'm still using it all the time ok?

Technically it is an exact replica of a 1954 Fender Strat. Except that Tokai substituted a five way pickup selector for the original three way item, and the truss rod is adjustable with a metric allen key instead of a screwdriver. The really cool thing about this guitar is that it changed history.

In the late seventies and early eighties, Fender was going through a really low period. Their guitars were being made poorly, and still priced very high. Tokai shocked them out of this by producing this guitar to a much higher standard than Fender's equivalent, and selling it much cheaper. This provoked Fender to start their Japanese manufacturing facility to compete with Tokai, and to make massive quality improvements in the USA plant to be able to justify the high prices on the guitars being produced there.

Okay, I'm going to bed now. I'll add more to this tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Baptism Cannonball

We're having a baptism service tomorrow. I'd like to see someone try this in our 18 inch deep kiddy baptism pool!

[ht: Jody]

Stop Press

Chelsie (my assistant) actually used these ice breakers in her cell group last night!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Top Ten WORST Cell Group Ice Breakers

10. Share the worst sin you’ve ever committed.

9. If you were God, who would you punish first?

8. Which person in this group do you think needs to find Jesus the most?

7. Which people at your church do you wish would find a different church, and why?

6. If you could erase any verse out of the Bible, which one would it be?

5. Share the juiciest piece of gossip you know so we can pray about it.

4. If you could have anything from your neighbor’s house, what would it be?

3. What’s your favorite of The 10 Commandments to break?

2. If you could change anything about your spouse, what would it be?

1. If you could commit any sin and get away with it, what would it be?

[ht: Carter Moss]

Monday, November 13, 2006

Media Shout, Easy Worship or Song Show Plus?

Now we have the Beast projector running in our services, we are desperate to upgrade from PowerPoint to a dedicated church presentation software package. These three are the front runners so far. We are testing Easy Worship at the moment, and will download the trials of the others, one by one.

Any recommendations?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A story of spilt milk

Every week, my incredible, amazing, beautiful wife, Felicity, goes out to a slum area where there is a very large African refugee community. She and the other three or four in the team distribute clothes and food to some individuals and families, squat down on the rough concrete floors and love them, counsel them, pray for them, share the good news with them and become their friends. Here is what happened last week...

"For two weeks we hadn't got down to the bottom of our milk box supply in the little slum house where we store the food that we give out to the refugee families in our area. The room is in a villagy type street, ground floor, no windows, rough brick; definitely no frills, but it's our team's HQ and we're really fond of it. A flu epidemic, travel and overseas visitors had affected the different members of our small team and none of us had got to the bottom of the pile of milk cartons that normally get shifted out pretty quickly. Others had however.

Small things, some very small and jumpy, others slightly larger and furry. Rats, mice, cockroaches, fleas jumping a foot high, indescribable mini-beasts that scamper with long long feelers and millions of teeming ants had got in under the milk cartons and eaten their way in. The milk had run out of the holed cartons, congealed, and all these creatures where having a feast. We unsuspectingly lifted up the bottom box of milk cartons, interrupting the party, and caused a blind panic of leaping fleas, snapping, scurrying, furry things and various other unidentifiable bugs to scramble away beneath our feet and up my legs.

The smell was appalling. The whole scene was overwhelmingly disgusting. And then we had to clean it up.

While we cleaned up we found some uneaten cartons that were covered with little bobbily things. So I happily started wiping them off until I realised they were maggots. You know that thing you do when you're a kid and you are forced to eat rice-pudding or whatever is your most-hated food? And the bile rises in your throat and you want to be sick? Well I nearly did that, but forced it down cos I didn't want to lose face in front of my African friends (or add to the mess!!).

Well we gamely sorted out the sheep from the goats, the untouched un-maggoty milk cartons from the bad ones that sank below the line of despair and cleaned up the good ones as best we could, seeing as we had to borrow water in an oil can as we have none in our house. And then one of the guys picked up the rotten, dripping cardboard boxes filled with the cartons of congealed, maggoty super-revolting milk and took them outside to where there was a rubbish heap on the other side of the road. We knew that other rats and roaches; maybe a stray dog or two would enjoy them later on, hopefully much later on...

Fifteen minutes later we noticed a young woman; slim, beautiful, haunted-looking on top of the heap, eagerly collecting up the cartons and stuffing them into a large cracked paint bucket, "No no!" we cried", "Please don't take these, they are bad and dirty. Here, have some good milk, leave those ones - they will make you sick! Look, see, they are not clean..." Laughing she pushed us away, happily gathering up the maggoty milk, oblivious as she waded barefoot, ankle deep through the rubbish. Soon she was joined by an old, old, thin bent-over little lady.

And here's what makes us First-Worlders feel so ashamed of how much we have, and how much we waste; the milk that we had felt wasn't good enough for our poorest-of-the-poor, on-the-bread-line refugee friends, was an amazing find, pure gold in the eyes of these two women."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

My church

So. Maadi Community Church (MCC). A little introduction. We are part of the world wide family of God. We are the body, gathered from all over the world, assembled from more than fifty different nationalities, and with over seventy different denominational affiliations. There are about 1400 of us meeting every weekend spread between four different services. Pastor Dave Petrescue used to say it's a little taste of what heaven might be like, every nation, tribe and tongue worshipping together in unity. A further 1500 of us don't even make it to this campus so we've planted five new church locations this year in their communities around the city. These are mainly displaced people, refugees, asylum seekers, mostly Africans, mostly in great need.

We are a church with cell groups/small groups at our core, people meeting in their homes during the week, learning from each other, studying and worshipping together, praying together, and looking for opportunities to live out their faith in a practical way by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, teaching the uneducated and helping more people to become followers of Christ.

We worship. Three services each weekend are western style worship, energetic, contemporary music blended with hymns and prayer, occasionally formal, sometimes traditional, always real. Our fourth service is African style, and, wow, they absolutely know how to worship. You need to go there.

I have four worship teams that play one weekend each per month. They are great singers and musicians and we're learning together how to lead in such a way so as to not take the attention off God. We must decrease, He must increase. We come from Eritrea, USA, Canada, UK, Egypt, South Africa, Holland, Korea, Uganda, Nigeria, Sudan, Germany, and Congo.

I still can't believe I get to be doing what I do, where I do it, with the people I do it with. God is seriously good.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Kill them all

I've found that pillows are the worlds best weapon against mosquitoes. They have enough momentum and weight to at least stun the mos, if not kill him outright. They forgive inaccurate aim and you don't have to be lightning fast, because they are big enough to kill the mos even after he's seen it coming and has taken off. Surface area is your best friend.

You just have to put up with the bloodstains on your pillow from those who have already taken their last meal. But hey, it's your blood right?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I love Cairo

Let me ask you, would this guy be advertising Pepsi anywhere in the West? I think not.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

It's arrived! (part deux)

Our projector has been dying for quite a while now. Not quite sure what the problem is, but there's a yellow patch in the top left hand corner and the brightness has been much lower than it should be for a long time. Oh yes and it eats bulbs. At $500 each. Not good.

With our situation, church in a tent, with open sides and therefore very high ambient light from that very strong Egyptian sunshine, this just will not do. For the past few months we've been reduced to using white text on a black background, and even then you can't really see it from the back of the tent. Or the front. We certainly can't play any media clips or videos.

Someone very very very kindly donated us the money for a new one, and after much discussion, negotiation and then creative shipping arrangements, it has finally arrived, and it's a beast! A Sanyo PLC-XF60. Just look at the size of it! I've taken a photo next to my guitar just to give you some idea of the dimensions.

6500 lumens means that even for our Africa Live service at 1:30 pm when the sun is at it's strongest, it's plenty bright enough and on our Thursday evening service this week, it was so bright that when we showed slides with a white background, the people in the front row were wincing and putting on their shades.