Walking the line between nerd and cool.


Fish or Fishing

One of the things I love about Dona Trautwein, our administrative assistant, is that she’s always insisting I teach her to fish. You’ve probably heard the phrase before:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

One of my unwritten job duties is fixing computers. It’s one way I use the gifts God has given me for technology to help others. Dona will often have a question about something and rather than just getting it fixed (which, by the way, is way faster in the short-run than teaching, though much worse in the long-run), she insists I teach her what I’m doing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes it just needs to be fixed and I do it, but if it’s anything she remotely has a chance of needing to know again in the next year or two, I try to accommodate her and teach instead of just giving. She’s actually learned quite a bit since she’s been here. It’s fun teaching her because she wants to learn.

One of the things that Dona and I both do regularly is put together the worship PowerPoint slides. Dona works on Traditional and I do the Contemporary. The other day, I was watching her work on the slides when she duplicated a slide without using the mouse. As it turns out, Control-D will duplicate a slide, and I never would have discovered it if Dona hadn’t taught me. You might know this quote too:

I’ve been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now *I* am the master.

That was Darth Vader to Obi-Wan. Hrmm… I hope she’s not Darth Vader in disguise…


Life in Death

We start a new sermon series this week title Pain Killer. It’s a series about bringing our pain to Jesus. This week we look at the pain of loss. The front cover of the announcements this week follows.

Death is ever-present. From the moment we’re born, we are moving closer and closer towards death. Babies who warm hearts with their giggles and smiles are moving towards death. Preschoolers, despite their wild play, laughter and energy, are moving towards death. Teens, adults, seniors—we’re all inching closer to death every day of our lives.

Death seems so final. On the one hand, we know that there is life in Jesus for those who trust completely in Him. We’ve heard Jesus’ words to Martha before:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

And yet, believing and dealing with the pain of loss are two completely different things. Death seems so final because it’s the end of our time with our loved one. There’s life to come, yes, but we’re still stuck with the stark reality that we will never see our beloved child, wife, husband, mother or father again here on earth. Jesus, the very Son of God, wept at the loss of His friend Lazarus—and Jesus even knew He would raise his friend from the dead!

So how do we cope with the pain of loss? The pain so deep and sharp that it threatens to overwhelm us and pull us under the waterline, drowning in it. We bring it to Jesus, the one who understands our pain. The one who understands and walks through the pain with us. The one who understands and brings life through death. The one who is life.

Other Writings: Devotions on Jesus

A while back, I wrote an article for thESource, an online publication for youth workers about technology in ministry. There was a recent call out for writers again, so I decided to write a series of devotions about Jesus. The original topic I had been given was about prophecies fulfilled. They gave me a list of 7-10 prophecies to choose from and were looking for four devotions.

The devotions are now published on thESource. For quick reference, they are:

It was an interesting writing experience. Some of the options seemed almost impossible to write about—Called a Nazarene? What spiritual significance could that possibly have in my life?!—while others were fairly straight forward. The most difficult ones ended up being the most fun to write though, as I had to do some serious thinking about them before putting ink to paper… Or fingers to keyboard anyway.

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?

Anatomy of a Worship Slide

I read an article today about projecting content (lyrics, readings, etc.) during worship. It had some tips to help projected content be more helpful for worshipers. I was pleased to see that our system passes the test for all of their tips, but the article got me thinking about what we’re doing with projection.

One of the first things I did when I switched into my current position was overhaul the projection system. At the time, we only projected lyrics to songs and each song was made up of an entirely different set of images, with little consistency from slide to slide. While I liked the additional art involved in the old style, I often felt that it was more distracting than helpful. Text would start at different positions on the screen, which makes it harder to track when flipping through multiple slides in the presentation. More problematic was that the design time it took to make each song was too high to sustain, especially once we started to project the entire service and move away from paper bulletins.

So I set to work designing a new system for projection. My guiding principles were:

  1. Readability is job 1. Moving to a paperless worship service meant the slides had to be readable above all else. After researching online, white text on darker backgrounds would result in the highest readability we could obtain. After our new projection system was installed, I invited some of our older members to do a readability test for font sizes to determine a minimum font size. Our standard is 32pt Calibri, 4 points above the minimum depth. Stand/Sit rubrics, Scripture references and service notes are 28pt.
  2. We can’t abandon the art. White text on black is the most readable combination, but I’m not sure it’s the best solution if we want to draw people into worship. Artwork and content are locked in a complex dance routine. After some trial designs, i decided to reserve the top 80% of the slide for content, and let the artwork reside in the bottom 20%.
  3. Design tells our story. Our three core story statements would influence the design so that the slides emphasize and reinforce who we believe God has called us to be at First Trinity. The primary story statement that I chose to focus on with the slide design was “Rooted and Relevant.” We have deep historical roots, but relevant expressions of faith. The primary font on the slides is Exocet Heavy, an “old” looking font based on ancient Greek and Roman design. Behind it sits the King & Queen, a more modern script, but with hints of old England calligraphy. The text show what part of the service we’re currently in, and matches the single page Order of Service that people receive in worship. The background has a rock texture applied to it, a nod to the solid foundation of God’s Word that our worship is based on.
  4. Icons and color amplify the mood. Behind the fonts sit black graphics with a soft light filter to allow the background to show through. The images are meant to help reinforce and teach what the various parts of the service are all about. They are subtle clues to the purpose of this section of the service. Times of song and celebration include people in celebratory poses. Prayer has a person on bowed down on their knees before God, illustrating our humble hearts in prayer. The Agnus Dei (Latin for “Lamb of God”) has a lamb in the background, a reminder of the perfect sacrifice of Christ. Confession and Absolution have a hill with three crosses, a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for us. When possible, I chose traditional, liturgical colors. Confession/Absolution are purple, the color for Lent, a season of repentance. Scripture, Creeds and Baptism are blue, the color of life-giving water. The Lord’s Supper is brown, the color of a rich loaf of bread, fresh from the oven. Sometimes there wasn’t an obvious color, so I just chose something that worked.
  5. Sustainability and Speed. The slides have to be easy to create once in PowerPoint. With the use of master slides and formatting in PowerPoint, I’m able to convert the contemporary service (4-5 pages of printed text) into PowerPoint in under 45 minutes (assuming I get that long without distractions). Because verbiage changes from week-to-week, very few slides are reused. The design had to accommodate this.

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.

Chuck Norris and the Karate Kid: Mastering Spiritual Disciplines

When reflecting on my favorite part laptop cover from the Jesus Loves Nerds post I wrote yesterday, I decided that my runner-up for best tidbit on the laptop cover was a joke about Chuck Norris. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Chuck Norris jokes or not. It’s a common internet meme and popular culture phenomenon. Here are a few to give you a taste:

  • Fear of spiders is arachnophobia, fear of tight spaces is claustrophobia, fear of Chuck Norris is called Logic.
  • When Alexander Bell invented the telephone, he had 3 missed calls from Chuck Norris.
  • Chuck Norris has already been to Mars. That’s why there’s no signs of life.
  • Chuck Norris can win a game of Connect Four in only three moves.
  • Some people wear Superman pajamas. Superman wears Chuck Norris pajamas.

Some of the jokes are really funny. Nearly every Chuck Norris joke makes me chuckle. But there’s a problem with these jokes and Hollywood films like the Karate Kid (and so many others). We laugh about Chuck Norris’ super powers. We cheer for Daniel Russo when he wins the All Valley Karate Championship. But Chuck Norris doesn’t really have super powers (though he is super cool). And Daniel Russo never would have won that karate championship. You can’t train for a few weeks or even months and beat kids that have been training their whole life.

While writing that post, I came across a blog post about why Chuck Norris jokes are dangerous. The author writes:

Unfortunately, I think a lot of us believe that we should instantly be great at something when we first try it. Or if not instantly, we should, in a matter of weeks, begin mastering the skills. Instead, Malcolm Gladwell argues in his (excellent) book Outliers that true mastery takes about 10,000 hours. TEN. THOUSAND. HOURS.

10,000 hours. That’s a lot of time. It’s almost 14 months actually. Later in the article, she referenced an article by David Wong (How the Karate Kid Ruined the Modern World) that talks about “Effort Shock.” The relevant portion of the article:

We have a vague idea in our head of the “price” of certain accomplishments, how difficult it should be to get a degree, or succeed at a job, or stay in shape, or raise a kid, or build a house. And that vague idea is almost always catastrophically wrong.

Guess what? Mastering spiritual disciplines like Prayer, Giving, Serving and Reading the Bible are hard work. It’s going to take a while. And you’ll probably have “Effort Shock” once you get into it. In fact, you’ve probably already experienced it. Maybe you thought reading the Bible or praying would be easier than it is. But it’s not. It’s hard work. It’s a long, slow journey, not a quick fix.There are distractions, pitfalls, obstacles. The devil will do everything he can to stop us from mastering the spiritual disciplines.

Thankfully, we’re not working alone at it. God Himself is with us.