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First Trinity

Victory in Surrender

I’m not really big on giving things up for Lent. I understand the practice, and can even see value in it, it’s just never really been for me. This week we start, as we start our journey to Easter, we start a new series about giving up. Read on for the front page of this week’s announcements as you prepare for the sermon this weekend.

There are times when wars end in a stalemate, where both sides just decide to stop fighting, but more often they end when one side surrenders. Generally speaking, you don’t want to be on the side that surrenders, because surrendering means defeat. It means the victor gets to impose their will on yours. But in God’s upside-down view of things, surrendering is actually the path to victory.

For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Romans 7:22-23

There is a war waging inside us. It’s a war between our own sinful nature and the Spirit of God. The Spirit is calling for our complete surrender. No terms. No demands. But total surrender. And in return, the Spirit offers freedom. It is only through surrendering to God that we can win the war raging in our body. Paradoxically, surrender leads to victory.

This week we start a new series about surrendering, about Giving Up those things in our lives that keep us from God. Check inside for a complete list of what we’re called to give up. This Lent, we walk with Jesus towards Golgotha, the hill on which He would surrender His very life to win our freedom. This Lent, we give up more than chocolate, TV or some other bad habit. This Lent, we heed the Spirit’s call to wave the white flag. This Lent, we surrender and experience true freedom in the process.


The Loving Father

We wrap up our Pain Killer series this weekend talking about the Pain of Rejection. As I reflect on this pain, I’m reminded of the pain God experiences when we reject Him, and how he continually takes us back. Read on for the front page of this week’s announcements as you prepare for the sermon this weekend.

Nobody likes to be rejected. Whether it’s applying for a job and not getting it or asking a girl or guy out on a date, only to get the cold shoulder. Rejection hurts. After several rejections, it’s easy to just give up and not try anymore. How many times can I hear the word “no” and still keep going? Eventually, it’s just easier to give up and not risk rejection.

Have you ever considered how God feels about rejection? He calls us to Himself, to trust Him more than anything else, yet we continually reject Him. Jesus lamented this on His way into Jerusalem:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Matthew 23:37

God is continually inviting us into His loving arms and we are continually turning our backs on Him. But He is a loving God. Unlike us, He doesn’t get tired of inviting. He doesn’t give up on us because we continually reject Him. He keeps inviting us, drawing us back to Him. And when we do return, He’s waiting with open arms. In the parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15, we see a picture of the Father’s love for us. When the son finally decides to return to the father, we hear of the father’s great love:

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Luke 15:20

As you struggle with the pain of rejection, maybe it’s time to return to your loving Father. He’s waiting for you, with open arms, ready to forgive all the times you’ve rejected Him.

Embedding the Word

One of the things we learned from our Spiritual Life Survey (results here) is the importance of embedding God’s Word everywhere we can. Sue approached me with a project a while back for posters that would have the books of the Bible on them to hang in the classrooms at First Trinity. We also wanted a matching bookmark to accompany them. Here’s what we came up with:

(Note: iStockPhoto sample images used here. Actual copy does not have the watermark.)

We went with white text on black to improve readability from a distance, but I also liked the contrast of mostly black/white with a splash of color on each. Both the plan and the water convey life, which connects nicely with God’s Word being our primary source of life. The green and blue colors are also reminiscent of our logo, which has a leaf-like shape with green on top and blue on the bottom.

We’re currently in the bidding process to get the posters and bookmarks made and hope to have them available by Spring, assuming the cost is right.

The Dream of Being a Spectator

You may recall I mentioned a few weeks ago about a new feature in our weekly announcement sheet at First Trinity. Sue suggested I cross-post the articles to my blog. If you want the full context, you can download our announcements sheet.

It’s late August in Buffalo. We’ve just had a beautiful, sunny day, and I’m just arriving at the baseball stadium to watch a game with some friends. There are familiar sounds of people cheering. Smells of popcorn, hot dogs and peanuts. Scorebook in hand, I’m engrossed in the game, soaking it all in.

Being a spectator is a lot of fun. It’s relaxing. It’s casual. It’s easy. But I never dreamt of being a spectator. As a kid, I always imagined myself as the star athlete, the one that others come to watch. The one that makes the big play and wins the game. The hero. But the spectator? Nope.

Being a spectator is fine, but how much more exciting it is to be the doer. To be the one on the field, playing. You know God designed us to be doers, not spectators.

Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. Genesis 2:15

God designed us to serve. Not to be spectators, but to get in the game. Not seated, but serving. Jesus showed us the example we were to follow:

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

God has a ministry in store for you, one that only you are able to accomplish. It’s the reason He saved us from our sin, “for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) Maybe He’s calling you to serve prisoners through Kairos, or reach out to young adults through Lutheran Campus Ministries. Maybe you want to become a Homebound Visitor, being a friend to those who can’t get out on their own. Maybe you’d like to be one of our Haiti Missionaries next year. Come hear what they did at the sharing event and seek God’s advice on whether He’s calling you to Haiti next year. Where is God moving you to serve?

Worship Planning Process

On an email list I participate in for DCEs, someone recently sent an email looking for ideas on themes to use in Worship for Lent. I thought it might be helpful to document our worship planning process as a resource for others working in this area. Here are some of the things we do as part of creating a meaningful worship experience each weekend at First Trinity:

We’re much smarter and creative together. Myself, Pastor Chuck (Senior Pastor), Sue Brese (Traditional Worship Director) and Jubal Myer (Contemporary Worship Director) meet twice a month usually to brainstorm ideas. I lead the meeting and we spend time:

  • Picking Series Themes: We look at what other churches are doing online. Life Church and David Choate at Table Rock Fellowship have been big inspirations for us in particular. We brainstorm ideas as we browse through what they’ve done. Sometimes we use their concepts and create our own sermon titles/artwork, other times we use most of their concepts/titles. Life Church grants the rights to their artwork, so we end up using a lot of it. David’s material is more brainstorm fodder for us. We try to pay attention to the rhythm of the year and pick topics that apply. For example, our current series for the start of the new year is titled MOVE and focuses on becoming more spiritually fit at a time when people are making New Year’s resolutions.
  • Refining Sermon Titles/Themes: Pastor usually has in his mind what he wants to talk about, but we refine it with him and settle on three readings for the service/sermon to be based around. We also come up with some main ideas to help plan the worship service without having a complete sermon outline to work from.
  • Refine Artwork Concepts: I usually pitch multiple concepts to the group and we talk about them. Later I develop samples using images from iStockPhoto.com or other “Open Source” sources that we’re legally allowed to use. These are circulated among staff in the building and further refined before settling on a final graphic for the series. This gets used as a title slide, the background for the Bible verses in worship, on our sermon outlines if possible and on the website as a promotion on the front page and a banner on the series page, linked from our “Listen” section.

In addition to this group, we also bring together a larger group of staff before and after the Christmas and Lent/Easter seasons to talk about the theme and get all our ducks in a row. This process includes:

  • Brainstorming: We review notes from the previous year and decide what elements we want to keep and what new things we want to try this year. This might include new altar decoration ideas, new traffic flow patterns (like adding a Communion station to the loft for Easter Sunday) and the scheduling/training of volunteers.
  • Deadlines: During the busy seasons, we have a lot more going on and need to allow more time for bulletin production and distribution of music/scripts/etc. This means more deadlines to ensure everything gets done. We set deadlines for finding and training volunteers. Deadlines for getting content to Dona for print layout. Deadlines for sermon outlines. If it needs to get done, it gets a deadline date.
  • Review: Afterwards, we meet to review the season that was. We debrief what went right and what could be improved next year. Our awesome office manager Kathy Figini records all this and starts the process again the following year. If we had any new ideas to try for the following year, or things we should do away with, we record them so we’ll remember later.

I was talking this week with Bekah and Kathy about how the sermon series and even individual titles stand out to me more now than they used to. I never could have told you what topics we covered a year ago in worship, but now I can probably rattle off at least half of the themes, if not 70 or 80%. I think the more cohesive theme packages we’ve been developing have helped with retention. Or maybe it’s just because I work so much more with these areas now. Or maybe it’s both.

To First Trinity readers: What would help you connect more with God in worship? What kinds of series would you like to see in the future?

For everyone: What worship planning processes have you used in your church? Or what topics have you seen that really struck you and meaningful? If you have a link to your church’s sermon archive, let me have it.

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Artwork: Contemporary Worship Sign

When I informally poll members at First Trinity about what drew them into this family of faith, I often hear some variation of: “I was driving by and saw the Contemporary Worship sign.” I’m struck by the comment, because it’s really a pretty simple sign, but it really speaks to people who are looking for something different than “traditional” church.

Side note about “Traditional” church: I struggle with this label because I believe what people really mean when speaking negatively about past church experiences and labeling them “traditional” is something akin to “empty rituals that have no meaning to me.” There’s lots of other baggage tied up in that word, but it’s often used negatively by those seeking a more “contemporary” worship style. We call our other services “Traditional”, but Sue Brese does such an excellent job of making them anything but “traditional” in the usual (read: bad) sense. They might use familiar liturgical elements and style, but it’s nothing like the “traditional (bad)” church where I grew up. I prefer “contemporary” worship myself, but I have yet to participate in a traditional service carefully planned and orchestrated by Sue and not felt like it was relevant and speaking to me. But this isn’t about worship styles, it’s about signage!

Here’s our new Contemporary Worship Sign:

Our communications team (Pat Canfield, Cathi Doebler, Carolyn Doster, Heide Edgington, Kathy Figini and Myself) has been working on it for a while. Carolyn did most of the design layout on the various options we looked at. After bringing in a few people for a sort of focus group, we narrowed it to two options, which we then sent to the EMT for a decision.

After much discussion, we felt it was important for this sign to remain as an emphasis for Contemporary worship as most people driving by would look at our building and assume we had Traditional worship available. The photo of the guitar players is certainly modern, but not over the top. I think it manages to convey both a contemporary sound, but also a warm, authentic atmosphere.

The primary content is sized to be between .5 – 1 inch larger than our existing sign, which was already quite readable from the corner. The web address is almost twice as large as the current sign. (Side note 2: Did you even know the existing sign had it? I might have known, but forgot until I went out to measure the letter heights.)

I have a dream to add lighting to the sign, but there’s some cost involved to making that happen and we couldn’t afford it right now. Maybe in the future we’ll be able to get that added. It would increase the effective hours the sign is visible, especially during the winter and the peak holiday shopping season.

Artwork: Change-ing Our World

Tim Hartnett recently circulated a flier for feedback regarding our Change-ing Our World ongoing fundraiser for missions at First Trinity. As I work on communications pieces here, I’ve tried to remember Kem Meyer‘s slogan: Less Clutter. Less Noise. Rather than a wall of text explaining the concept, I wanted to distill down the basics into an easily digestible chunk of information.

I quickly came up with the first two steps. Commit and Collect made sense, but I was struggling with the 3rd. Kathy Figini and Bekah Freed were the only ones in the office to bounce ideas off of, so we went to work. Kathy suggested “Clang!” as an option. We laughed a bit, generated a few more ideas, then I decided to give “Clang!” a go. In the end, I think it works perfectly.

Most of the text is in a light blue, except for a few key phrases in white. We decided to make “Change Our World” in white, but leave off the “-ing” part in the title. It gives the poster an active voice, despite the use of an -ing verb in a subtle way. “Serve others in Jesus’ Name” started on a Crossroads Workcamp flier from several years ago. Bekah kept the emphasis on a recent publicity piece so I decided to carry it over here as well.

This is the poster version of the artwork but there is an almost identically themed version for use as a flier that will be distributed after Christmas.