Observations from the Stairs

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If you ever attended the Grace Family Church Van Dyke Campus, you most likely saw me standing at the main staircase in the lobby.  I get a lot of playful jabs about “Stand on this dot,” “These tiles have your footprints,” and “Are you holding up the stairs?”

Honestly, it is a great compliment.  When we opened the sanctuary in 2006, I was very intentional in the last days of construction to find the best place for me to stand.  I wanted a place that gave me easy access to the sanctuary, high visibility for people coming in and the ability to have a pulse of what was happening on campus.  This spot afforded me a great amount of “wins” in each of these areas.

I see a lot.  Which prompts me to write Round Two of Observations from the Stairs:

  • With a strong tint in our foyer glass, many people use the walk up time to check out their hair and appearance.  Looking good folks!
  • I am continuously amazed at our volunteers.  Greeting, shaking hands and just smiling makes a huge difference when coming to church.  Thank you all of our Blue Shirt Teams on all of our campuses – you make an impact.
  • If you wear a tie, you are more than likely a guest.  Thanks for joining us for the day!
  • So many people say “Hi” or “Hello” back when you greet them.  It is interesting when someone doesn’t.  It is like a far away land is calling them and they just stare off  in the distance.
  • Kids love to climb stairs.  I am good with that as long as someone is with them.
  • Yes, you can get sunburned in the lobby if the blinds are up and the sun in your sight line.  I tell people it makes me look like an angel.
  • Two most popular questions – “Where is the bathroom?”  and “Is this the sanctuary?”
  • People are thirsty…many bring drinks with them to service.  I am all for it (since I usually have a bottle of water with me.)  The part that is hard for me to stomach is Diet Coke at 9:15am…wow.
  • Our Preschool ministry is tremendous – I can see parents coming with their kids across the courtyard and those volunteers and staff are always so welcoming and smiling.  Love that!
  • Grateful for Scottie and Sheryl – two regular volunteers who show up and sit in our lobby ready to help those watching from the lobby.  You rock!
  • Love the new configuration of the Buddy Brew Coffee area – more central and efficient.
  • Appreciate the parents who bring their children to the lobby when their child gets noisy or antsy during service.  Please have a free coffee or tea on me…it really makes a difference for those in the sanctuary.
  • It is a staff “secret” that me being that consistent in one spot is actually allows any of them to have a first place to look for me.
  • Yes, I watch the service on the Lobby TV when I do announcements in a service so I know when to come back in.
  • If you stand with me long enough at the stairs, I will ask you to help me greet people arriving for service.
  • I have seen some very talented fathers carrying a diaper bag, the baby in a carrier and smiling the whole way into the lobby…way to go Dads!
  • And finally…when no one is in the lobby…usually before everyone arrives…the area by the stairs is a great place to sing…know your best song and belt it out!

 

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Moving Through the Mundane – Tanisha Taylor

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Have you ever had moments when you’re explaining something and at the end of sharing, a big light bulb goes off?  I have. I learned something about myself last week which I am still processing.  In my small group, we are reading Soar by TD Jakes. One of the first conversations we had was to remember what it’s like for you to fly on a plane.  As I began to share my planning experience, it hits me; I start well but I don’t keep the momentum going and when it is time to end, I scramble. Scrambling causes me to finish mediocre. A lot of mistakes are made, and when I look back in hindsight, I see all the things I should have done better. In the past, I could not have figured it out why I scrambled to finish until that moment.
In taking time to reflect on my flight plan, I looked back on many examples where I started strong and didn’t finish the way I would have preferred. I remember the 1st day of school. I purchased all my books, pens, pencils, 1st day of school outfit, had an early morning breakfast, and said a prayer, starting the 1st day a proud student. However, mid-semester life takes over, and the demands of the classes begin to take a toll. Hanging out seems way more appealing causing me to get distracted and make mistakes. I start to tell myself “I’ll complete the assignment tomorrow,” and  “I’ll have the time later,” or I just don’t feel like it and then it’s too late, forcing me to pull all-nighters to stay afloat.
The older I get, the more I realize the need for a greater share of discipline. The mundane – life’s repetitiveness is usually long and time-consuming. It requires continuous checks and tweaks but is vital to finishing well. I am learning it’s a challenge to do the mundane things in life. Keeping a consistent study schedule isn’t exciting, especially if I do not like school. Going to work every day and being present can become a bore if I don’t feel like I am being challenged. Waking up and having time with God every day, is not always appealing even though I know it important. Having to choose to eat healthy vs Pepsi and Buffalo Wings – Buffalo wings all day long!
 
I was recently reminded of the story of the Prodigal Son. Most of us are intrigued and can relate to the son who asked his father for his inheritance and partied it away. But, what about the son who stayed and was consistent and faithful to his father? Which one was a greater challenge?  How much fortitude did it take for the son to stay with his father and be faithful in his routine of life? Although he may not have lived an exciting life with stories of drunkness, he finished strong.
Where am I now with this new understanding of myself? I am working on tweaking my flight plan and finding the tools to stay engaged in the mundane parts of the flight because scrambling to finish is not exciting anymore. What about you? What does your flight plan in life look like? Where are you getting stuck in achieving your goals? Where are you at your best? What would be the next three steps to improve?  Who knew understanding my flying experience could reveal so much about how I move through life.

I Am God’s Foe

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“When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me
You have been so, so good to me” – Cory Asbury, Reckless Love

I heard the song Reckless for the first time during the GFC Beautiful Ministry’s Found Conference for women.  Even as I peered through camera 2 and the sound pretty muffled because of the control booth headphones I was wearing, I could tell this song was special.  It is declarative of God’s love and how He will do “whatever it takes” to find me in my “lostness.”

The lyric above is nestled into one of the verses.  It isn’t song over and over like the chorus. (Which is truly an awesome piece of music – it can be sung quietly or like an anthem proclaiming the truth.) This little lyric has been working on me lately.

When I accepted Christ, I became one of God’s adopted children.  I recognize and reciprocate the love that God has for me back then and today.  I know God has a purpose for me.  I know that his plans for me a for my good…even when I don’t know why certain things happen.  I love that I have a heavenly Father that loved me enough that Jesus would come and be my Savior to my sin and life’s messiness.

So, why is that lyric working me over?  I am God’s foe.  I am human.  I am not without sin.  The Bible says that I am made in God’s image and that He loves me.  Yet,  I have a human nature that is marred by sin and God cannot love sin.  Accepting Christ does not change that.  I still battle against sin in my words, thoughts and actions.  The enemy has a job to do – to rob, kill and destroy.  The Bible says in Revelations 12, “For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth–the one who accuses them before our God day and night.”  The struggle with sin is real but then you also have the devil reminding you of all the times you fail.

Look at the heroes of the Bible.  They were not void of their human nature.  Outside of Jesus, each one has challenges in these same areas.  Even Paul, who wrote a majority of the New Testament struggled.  He wrote in Romans 7:22-25, “ I love God’s law with all my heart.  But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.  Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The reason the lyric is resonating with me is that even in a relationship with Christ, God is still fighting for those areas of struggle.  The power of the cross that brings salvation is the same power that brings freedom through the resurrection of Christ.  Where as God loves me, He cannot love my sin.  He made a way for me to live without it.  In surrendering all the areas of my life to God, He can truly bring freedom.  I continue to pursue relationship and freedom.

Maybe that is you today.  You are living without a relationship with God or you have one and you are in a battle for a certain area of victory.  

The answer is Jesus Christ.  No longer a foe…now a Savior and Conqueror.

Tension is Good

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“I just want to know how you do it.  How do you listen to all the conversations and see the it all from the 30,000 foot level?  After watching an amazing video by Andy Stanley, “The Upside of Tension,” my assistant, Tanisha, wanted to know how do you keep a healthy tension of moving the church forward, while maintaining value for the numerous individuals.

I want to empower and support everyone while executing the vision of the church in the most efficient, productive manner possible.  I have a lot of wins in these areas…and failures.  Since both exist in the vortex of growth and progress in relationship with people and feelings, the tension never ends.

I told her that I totally agree with Andy Stanley – Tension is good.  A rubber band laying on a table is ineffective and it doesn’t serve its purpose.  But when tension is placed on it, it fulfills its purpose, it brings things together and it has the potential to propel objects forward.  If I can do my job effectively, than it is not eliminating tension.  Rather, it is harnessing the potential of it to be a catalyst for growth.

There is a fine line between healthy and unhealthy when constant tension is applied.  I am learning that the view from the 30,000 level is challenging.  It is one thing when you make a decision and you say, “I own it.” (Love it when people do this by the way)  Take that same ownership and apply it to an organization where your decision affects over 120 staff people, their families and a congregation of 10,000 people.  Now, the tension is real.

Here are some nuggets I have learned in leading and the tension that comes with it:

  • The “Yes” and “Yes” decision is still a win.  Decisions these days are not right and wrong.  They both are right but you need to choose the “better” of the two.  This tension can be paralyzing or this can encourage you that you are moving forward.
  • You can communicate effectively.  When you make a decision, somebody is going to feel like they should have received better communications.  Sometimes that is justifiable and I need to be better at determining “who needs to know.”  Sometimes, it isn’t in their scope to be brought in.  This tension is always in my viewfinder and is one of my biggest growth tracks to date.
  • Decision making is best supported by collaboration and feedback.  We have tremendously gifted staff and key leaders who speak into the growth of GFC.  Why would I not invite their input, ideas and insights into decisions?  The tension in cultivating collaboration and feedback is challenged by timing and expectations of those providing it.
  • You do have time to listen.  Everyone wants to feel valued. (I know I do!)  Taking time for someone to share their story and thoughts doesn’t slow you down as a leader.  It gives you real time application of what you decision did for that person.  Sometimes it’s a win, sometimes you challenged them and sometimes…well, you just blew it.  The tension always runs that your decision affects real lives and you have to own it.
  • You can do you best.  There is a price tag for being a high level leader.  You pay for it in your relationships, commitments and ownership.  In the end, you do your best and continue to grow.  Every day, I pray that the Holy Spirit would lead me in my thoughts, words and actions.  Because of that, you would think I “succeed” every day.  Far from it.  I still make mistakes – where He is God, I am a fallible human.  The tension is that I want to do the very best I can to lead our church to reach more people for Christ.  At the same time, valueing and empowering people along that journey to grow in their own relationship with Christ.

The tension is me.  The tension never goes away.  The struggle is real.  God continues to grow me.

 

 

What’s Next?

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“What’s next?”

I recently sat with 1,000 men at the GFC Man Event listening to Tony Dungy challenging men in their daily lives.  He shared a story from the night the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl that he played in as one of their defensive backs.  In the celebration after the win, he shared that he was amazed as he heard the first question poised to quarterback, Terry Bradshaw.  “Do you think you can repeat and win the Super Bowl next year?”  As the quiet lingered in the sanctuary, Dungy continued with this – “In the losing team’s locker room, the players were asked, ‘How does it feel to fail?”

What a paradox?  These men have played this game almost all their lives, honed their skills to the highest levels and prepared their minds, bodies and instincts to play in the ultimate of all football games – the Super Bowl.  Yet,  upon the last whistle, the celebration was met with questions of what was next.  The lack of victory was met with the description of failure, even though they bested every team in the league…but one.

They made it to the pinnacle and found the moment fleeting.  What about you and I.  When we reach the highest achievement, how long does it last?  Whether it lifelong goal, a career achievement, a relational peak – how long does it stay with you?   Achievement is amazing – it is tremendous, exhilarating and fulfilling.  Until it fades and the hunger for the next comes.

Life’s defeats are challenging – they bring pain, questions and searching.  You wonder how you are going to get past it.  It stares at you and it leaves you wondering what if?  Over time, the scar is healed, the lesson is learned and the question finally surfaces…what’s next?

The Bible says in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” NLT.  Whereas life has its ups and down, wins and losses and mountain tops and valleys, the love that Christ demonstrated on the cross never changes.   The principles of the Bible are tried and true…they never change.  God’s character and nature…they never change.

I have been a Christian for a long time.  I have enjoyed some tremendous highs in my life – my marriage to my amazing wife, Kristin, my children and their families, and I get to serve at a church that continues to reach the Tampa community with God’s love.  So many great moments.  I have experienced challenges – paths that zigged when I wanted to zag, questions that were left unanswered and expectations left unfulfilled.

In the end, I have learned that God has a plan, purpose and relationship worth pursuing.  Coach Dungy encouraged us to pursue these things that won’t change with life’s highs and lows.    He told us to pursue God daily.  God is who the Bible says He is.  It is in that relationship, we find peace and hope in life’s pinnacles and valleys.  The question now becomes…

“God, what’s next?”

 

Found

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I knew I was in trouble in the first 15 seconds.

Kristin asked me to watch the video produced for the GFC Beautiful Conference.  The theme was “Found.”  On the video, a group of amazing ladies shared a challenge in their life.  These weren’t simple.  These were tough, gritty challenges that causes you to ask, “Where are you God?”  With courage and grace, each lady shared their scar and how God found them in the journey.  I knew most of the ladies but when it started with my assistant, Tanisha, I could feel the tears welling up.  Each story was compelling – these smart, talented ladies realized they couldn’t do it on their own and allowed God to be part of their journey.  Gutsy video. (If you want to see it, it is on the GFC Beautiful Facebook page under Conference Video.)

Flash forward to the conference itself.  For the second year in a row, I was the cameraman on Camera 2.  (It’s the straight on camera directly in front of the speaker.) I was in the perfect spot to see all that was going on in the services and sessions.  What an amazing two days for the ladies there!  Lisa Harper was an excellent speaker.  Her humor and ability to connect with the crowd was off the chart.  Yet, her ability to bring God’s Word and truth into life application is truly a God-given gift.  She ministered powerfully.  Sharon Tubbs continues to be one of my favorites.  Speaking for the second year – wow, she also has the gift of leading and teaching. The worship was a wonderful, intimate time with God.  All the other aspects were tremendous – the Pew, breakouts, and the couch talk.  We have some very gifted ladies in our church.

Being on the camera brought some challenges.  You can’t react on camera.  At least overtly.  When Lisa shared about going through double menopause, my camera visibly shook because I was so surprised.  And then I said, “Oh God, please tell me that isn’t a possibility.”  The problem with that was that I had head phones on and didn’t hear that I said it out loud.  Well, the ladies around heard me say it and gave me a hard time afterwards.  The biggest challenge was when Taylor in leading a song, shared about her miscarriage last year.  My reading glasses filled up with tears and it took me a while to see again through the viewer.

A lot of great people worked hard to make this year’s conference a tremendous event.  It is always humbling to see the food services, maintenance team and all the men who gave up time to serve.  And our tech and video team.  I am amazed at how much happens behind the scenes to put on live production.  Thank you everyone!

 

Lives were changed, relationships formed and the lost were found.

What a win!

The Key to Being Real

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Be real.

Recently, I sat in a meeting discussing the values that are the foundation to Grace Family Church.  One of the is “Be Real.” It is actually one that I truly appreciate about our church and our leadership.

As long as I have known Pastor Craig, he has modeled this value.  He was leading this group through the discussion.  When he got to this point, he asked, “What are things we do that will help us to be real?”  As the answers poured forth, I was impressed to see how our diverse staff in age, gender, ethnicity and backgrounds came up with excellent characteristics of “realness.”  One thought came to my mind…

Be Consistent.

Think about it.  When you are real, you consistently respond in the same way on a regular basis.  The foundation of Grace has not changed in the last 24 years.  Our mission is to lead people in a growing relationship with God.  We want to reach the lost, serve others, provide community, be generous, develop the next generation and be real.  Have we always achieved excellence over the years?  Not always, but we have a lot more “wins” than losses. We have used those challenges to help us grow in each one.  These values have not changed.  Their methods and application have over the years, but the core of those values have not.

Wouldn’t that be true for each of us.  The Lord has blessed each of us with our own personality, gifts and talents.  He doesn’t ask us to be like anyone else.  He doesn’t ask us to be something we are not.  Instead, he asks us to do two things – (my paraphrase) – Love God and Love People.

How consistent are you in this?  Do you love God in the good and the bad?  When he blesses you and when he throws a curveball into your life?  When things are clear and when you have more questions than answers?

What about loving others?  Do you value others that are “above” you as much as those who are “below” you?  Are you generous to help others even if they may not be able to give back?  Do you act one way with a group of people and different to others?

I look at the two previous paragraphs and I take a deep breath.  Sometime, I do this well.  I consistently demonstrate my love for God and others.  Other times, I fail.  But when I do, I have a choice.  Either I go in a new direction or I get back on the same trail and try again.  I choose to get back on the horse…I own my stuff, ask for forgiveness (or extend it to others) and I grow.

It isn’t flashy and spectactular – It’s real.