John Williams – Creativity and Hard Work.

Personal Growth

Through the end of May and the first part of June I traveled quite a bit. My wife and I racked up Over 5000 miles, crossing 13 states, spending nights in 9 hotel and dorm rooms. The trek took us on a journey to Boston on a church trip, and then Jennifer and I went to Birmingham for a convention. There is more to share about both journeys, but I want to focus on one take-away from the Boston trip.

Fruits of Labor

While our group explored the Freedom Trail, Concord, and Plymouth, one outstanding encounter happened at a Friday night concert at The Boston Pops. They were hosting a John Williams tribute night. That’s right the John Williams music that is the movie soundtrack of my childhood – Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Close Encounters, and many more!

Boston Pops Conductor, Keith Lockhart, was a joy to watch as he conducted these all too familiar tunes under the flash of the movie screen above him. I was in awe as these musicians, pros, the best likely in the world at their craft seemingly played with ease the scores that evoke so much emotion. The music swelled and flowed and carried us all along for a grand ride through these iconic films. My wife mentioned that at times she felt so absorbed in the moment to forget that the music was being performed in our presence.

Certainly the conductor and musicians are quite arguably the best. But, the music did not “just happen.” We were experiencing something that had taken countless hours to create.

Focused Creativity

The Pops conductor would lead the orchestra through incredible sweeping pieces, and then take time in between songs to describe details from that particular piece. But, even better, he would segue to Williams himself in video interviews describing his process behind the scenes. Williams shared how tunes and notes were chosen, to his special relationship with writers and directors. He gave so many incredible stories that were a real thrill to hear.

But one thing struck me. One thing has been a major takeaway.

Get to Work

With easy online access to Williams’ talent and creativity, which is immense (just google it), he shared about his own work ethic. Williams, 87 years young, shared that even now, he has a robust routine. It consists of him working 6 days a week (likely 6.5) and involves working in a studio with his favorite pianos, writing out scores of music. From early in the morning, until the evening, he stays focused on the hard work of writing. He mentioned he takes a break for a lunch and a walk mid-day.

You see, I believe many like to assume that, “Oh, he’s just talented,” or “It is easy for him to write like that,” and that is an error. A serious error. There is no doubt this man has been given much in creativity and ability. But, it is nothing without his drive to put pen to paper, or pencil to score in this case. John Williams truly displays creativity coupled with hard work. He quipped in the video dialogue that what has taken him hours on end to dream, create and write out – it takes the brilliant musicians who receive it only moments to play it!

All Thrust No Vector, OR Focus

From this experience, I am encouraged by the coupling of creativity and work ethic. I have a dear friend who is a veteran pilot and current airline captain. He mentioned that through his years he has come across many a young pilot who are “all thrust and no vector.” Meaning, you can have passion, zeal, creativity deluxe, but if there is no channel like a river bed, or no trajectory for a million dollar jet, that energy may never be captured or even released, or worse crashed.

Through this encounter with the heart and mind of John Williams, I am encouraged by two things: that age is relative, and that harnessing creativity takes hard work. I believe we have all been given unique skills, abilities and creativity. Are you working at your creative side and production or simply hoping something just happens?

If you are ever in Boston, definitely go to The Pops – you will be glad you did! Until we return, I do hope to purchase/download this gem that was mentioned at the concert: (Affilitate link used) “Lights, Camera…Music, Six Decades of John Williams.”

Recommended Church Assessment

Discipleship, Leader Resources, Personal Growth

It is just about time for my annual check-up at the doctor. I know, not real fun stuff to blog about. But attempting to eat right and trying to exercise is only one part of being healthy. Check-ups, wellness checks, and assessments are part of a healthy journey. I can think I am fine, but it helps to know to what degree I am okay.

Have you ever wondered how healthy your church is? Would you know how people in your church rate their own spiritual growth and health? What would the results of some key metrics tell you about their personal maturation, relationship with God and others, heart for the Gospel, their own worship of God individually and corporately? You see, it is one thing to guess how we are doing. It is entirely another to actually investigate it.

Assessment Tool: Transformational Church

In 2018 the ministry staff at my home church began exploring a way to assess our spiritual health and maturity. We wanted to find a tool that would help us dive into some key metrics of overall spiritual health. One of the lead staff found Transformational Church Assessment Tool. By the developers’ own admission, they know no assessment is flawless. However, it is powerful and incredibly well-rounded in its exploration of key areas of growth and maturity.

Personal Impact

This tool is being used by our church to seek out how we are really doing as a group/body (confidential individual results). We wanted to get past some overly simplistic metrics like “how many attend.” It also has another powerful component. I am now readily aware of how I am doing personally. The assessment explored areas of maturity in my life about my personal discipleship, sharing the Gospel, private and corporate worship, giving, my gifts and serving others. But here’s another bonus. Many of you are likely aware of the “Hawthorne Effect.” I do not mean to refer to this effect being used in some manipulative way. The reality is I am now more conscious and aware of what I would call “accountability.” What was unknown in my life or a guess before is now known.

Church Impact

We have developed this year’s entire Theme around being aware of our growth and pursuit of following Jesus. In college I had a class called “Concepts in Fitness.” We had to do a pre-test and post-test that involved max sit-ups, push-ups, mile run time, etc. Part of the grade was to track improvement of our health through the semester by the post-test. Hence, that is our goal this year: at the end of 2019 our church is more aware of our strength level of our discipleship and key areas of improvement. And more importantly, our goal individually. We are challenging each other to grow in key areas. I want to and need to grow in key areas. Areas that I am now aware of clearly. We are providing resources to enhance growth in those aspects of discipleship, and encouraging each other in the journey!

Please share any insights you’ve discovered on a path such as this. For you!

GiANT TV Leadership Development on the Go!

Leader Resources, Personal Growth

Do you ever wish you could experience leadership development anytime, anywhere? A few years back I had the opportunity to walk through leadership development and growth with GiANT Worldwide. I learned the value of the lifelong journey of growing and improving as a leader. GiANT provided concepts and delivery options for me to explore change and challenge in my own life.

There are variety of ways to experience GiANT’s leadership tools as they describe and offer on their website, from books to personal encounters. But, I want to share something exciting that is new and particularly unique.

GiANT TV

The incredible tools, concepts and insights I have experienced with GiANT can now be experienced anywhere, anytime and on the go through GiANT TV.

If you use the following link, you will be able to experience GiANTtv free for one month! Check it out and enjoy the journey!

GiANT TV free for one month!

For more information about GiANT Worldwide click here.

Change

Discipleship, Leader Resources, Personal Growth

Change is rapid. This past spring, a group of my buddies and I headed out to Arkansas to kayak Mulberry Creek. The scenery is incredible, the river is a beautiful blue and the kayaking a thrill. The guys on the trip made the trip a blast, and we did not hurt for great laughs and amazing food! One of the guys, Kevin, was our fearless leader. He knew the area well. But more importantly, he had been on the river and knew its twist and bends, and dangerous spots. The journey was a thrill and enjoyable, but it had plenty of moments that took insight and care. There were changes at every corner.

Change can be risky

As I floated the river, I couldn’t help but consider the thrill, but also the peril that could be involved in change. We have been in a transition at the church where I currently serve. Our Pastor of 15 years left for another great ministry leadership position. That meant we embarked on a journey in search of a new Senior Pastor. Here are some resources that have made this journey successful.

A Key Guide

Ready for change

One resource came in the form of a person. Having someone come and lead the organization/staff through a time to consider change and all that it means was a blessing. One of our friends in ministry is a leader and consultant with our state church convention, Brett Selby. We invited him to a day retreat at a facility in the Oklahoma River Parks area. He helped us process some early days of change – changes that at that time were happening more about our former pastor leaving. But, he also helped us consider what it will be like now, with a new pastor coming. He recommended the book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges.

A Key Book

A journey that I have been on is with another resource, the book, Leading Major Change in Your Ministry by Jeff Iorg. This book chronicles Dr. Iorg’s victories and challenges as he has helped churches, denominational entities, and a seminary to make changes. The seminary changed its name, and moved its entire campus to a new region! Dr. Iorg uses frank but respectful anecdotes from his journey, key biblical passages and clear instruction in the best ways to lead a group through change.

Great book on change

Of the four churches I have served in since Seminary in the 1990’s, 3 have had Senior Pastor changes. Much of what I had experienced in the past was very good and healthy, but these additional resources and insights from Brett, and these two books have helped put into words what I have experienced. These resources have also helped me explore and expand areas that I know need growth and attention in my leadership development.

What resources have you used as you have experienced change?

Staff Retreats – Part 2

Leader Resources

In a follow-up to the previous post on some simple goals for staff retreats, I thought I would share some of my favorite locations.  An attempt is made at the retreats to connect the location with the main thrust of the day, the theme.  Sometimes the theme of the day centers on personal growth, sometimes on team development, and sometimes on a task like planning for the next year. The location of Quartz Mountain was the focus of Staff Retreats – Part 1, here are some more of my favorites!

Roman Nose State Park – This place has been a repeat favorite! This place that sits just west of Oklahoma City has a great facility with ease in rooming and meeting space, combined with cool places to explore. Meal options are good and the meeting space looks out over the lakes and scenery!

The Home Garage –  This one was tops because it was so simple but so cool.  One of our member’s residence has a significant car garage.  First, this man and his family love the Lord and the church.  Second,  he’s a great guy and a gifted mechanic (hobby).  He can make current cars even cooler, and does custom work from chops to resto-mods on classic cars and motorcycles.

After a few sessions to focus on the theme and talk about how we keep things up to date and running best, we had some projects.  We used the garage to literally do maintenance on one of our Widow’s cars – changing the oil, washing it and detailing the inside.  Then it was time to turn our attention to the good-ol’ Church Bus, and it got the same attention! 

Our Church DNA is simple.  We Gather in Worship and Small Groups, are Built Up and Sent Out.  While open to creativity and change, in the end, we tend to take what we have and make it run well – almost like taking something old and restoring it, making it even better today and for the future!  And that is exactly what we talked about that day.  How can we stay fresh and running all out!  Our theme was restoring a classic.  Everyone got a garage button-up shirt with name and Church logo sewn on, and a red garage rag to put in our office as a reminder to keep things running! 

Jacob’s Ladder Camp, located just outside of Oklahoma City by about 40 minutes, is a great place to feel like you have made it out of the “city” but not so far that you feel worn out from a long road trip. The campus has a dual purpose of a great Christian encampment, and also a boys ranch. It is a place like many Christian camps where you can sense that the Lord is often at work in peoples hearts.

Falls Creek – Our state convention has an incredible convention center located in the heart of the Arbuckle Mountains.  For many of us on staff, Falls Creeks holds a dear spot as a place where many of us have made life-changing decisions.  I did a bit of a time-warp to the past for us as a staff with a camp-like feel of a retreat.  Camp cabin, outdoor devotions, throwback camp t-shirt, and even a camp style staff picture for everyone’s office. 

Union Train Station – Some years ago, as QSBC was on the verge of experiencing some dramatic change, we took some time to tag base as a staff with the things that will not change about what we do and who we are as a church. Point being, this formerly bustling train station is no longer used for that purpose. How will we press on in the years ahead with the simple and clear mandates that have always guided the church – what are the most important things we should be doing?

Finish Line Tower and Chesapeake Boathouse – Just south of OKC’s Bricktown is the Oklahoma Riversports complex. This gem of a spot is an incredible place to gather as a team as there are great places to meet, with more than ample access to great trails along the river. The staff who assisted with my last outing to the Finish Line Tower was amazing, from giving direction about the facility and catering, to meeting early for access and help with any setup I needed. Top notch! We were able to talk about finishing well and teamwork.

OBU – The staff took a journey to Shawnee, America to the campus of Oklahoma Baptist University. This beautiful campus lends itself to good walks for time with the Lord. We utilized the campus Athletic Facilitiy called the RAWC, to explore our own “strengths” individually and as a team. Good day for sure!

Aloft Bricktown – Located in downtown OKC at Bricktown you’ll find Aloft and this hip spot had a great meeting room that has panoramic views of Bricktown and even better OKC’s Skyline. On the Skyline side there is also an outdoor terrace that is quite stunning.

Thanks for checking out some of my favorite spots to recharge and focus with our ministry team. Take a moment to share some of your top spots, it would be great to hear!

Top goals for staff retreats

Leader Resources

For some, the phrase “staff retreat” conjures up images of a group going to a great location, but being locked up for hours looking through minutia of the calendar, or focused on a particular department’s health or strategies.  Even the word itself has some negative connotations with “retreat” commonly known as falling back in some type of defeat.  For our staff my hope is anything but what I’ve described above.  My prayer is we are able to get away to the hillside if you will, to breathe, to reflect; yes, to rest.

There are three main goals I have for our staff retreats:

  1.  Relationships – As a church ministry staff we do not work one day a week, Sundays, as many like to joke.  Another notion is that we chat and drink coffee all day when we are in the office.  The reality is, I share office space with a group where it is common for us pass each other in the halls as we are about the work.  I actually am sad to confess this, but it is true.  There is a hustle to ministry, and much of that work is focused with energy to those we serve and are trying to reach.  The work is not focused inward, on the team.  To have a time to focus only on our relationships as a team is not only a challenge, but a blessing and precious commodity when we get it.  At our retreats, how do we focus on relationships?  Time – I designate a large chunk of the schedule for unstructured, non-agenda driven time with one another.  Sometimes an activity is planned, but often not – and it yields time to connect in ways I could not have planned in the first place.  We recently experienced ample time to talk at our meals, and a staff member described this aspect as such a good, laughter filled time of connection.

2. Rest – Another objective is to create space, margin, time to rest.  I will do a future post on some of my favorite locations for retreats.  But the location is important.  Get away, make it feel like a break.  Our recent retreat to Quartz Mountain State Park was perfect in that it was far enough of a drive to feel a disconnect, but not too far to be road weary.  And the main box it checked was the scenery.  If you have not been to this gem in Southwest Oklahoma, plan a day trip.  Rest removes us from the constant drum beat, it refreshes the soul.  It calibrates us to understand that we are not so important that we cannot rest.  It reminds us of how small we are and how big God is when we see and breathe in His creation.  Jesus frequently stepped aside, alone or with the disciples, to talk to the Father.  He implored His disciples to get to a solitary place and rest. And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.)” Mark 6:31 NASB/biblegateway

3. Responsibility – One thing about rest though, it seems sweeter when you feel like you have or are accomplishing something.  As I plan the agenda, I like to focus on one thing that will be a takeaway of completion.  What is our task?  What are we here to do?  This particular retreat’s task was to introduce and solidify our 2019 theme and settle the action steps for the first half of the year.  Confession: did we walk through a calendar?  Yes.  We do want to insure that all have had opportunity to hear the “big pieces” ahead and to be able to avoid overlap or ministry conflicts with one another.  But, I did try to limit this time and held it off for one of the final meeting times.

Bottom line, I walked away from this retreat with a deepened friendship with our staff.  We prayed, we laughed, we were stirred and challenged.  We tackled a task together.  I sat by myself and reflected on the Lord; I wandered about a bit in His incredible handiwork.  Thank you God.

60th Anniversary – Key Marriage Success Factor

Marriage and Family

Over the summer, my parents celebrated 60 years of marriage.  Congrats Mom and Dad!  1958 was a little while back!  I am so happy for them.  My family gathered for a fun time to let them know how thankful we are for them and this testament to their love and commitment.  I am mindful of the truth of the Bible as it says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” Proverbs 18:22

There is no question that milestones like these, ones that really stand out, should drive us to step back and ask questions.  How did they do this?  I am simply trying to live to be 60, let alone be married for 60.  Are they really happy?  Are they simply just driven, or have an extra measure of grit?  Are they really in love?  How do you even describe love at a 60th anniversary?

But I think it is best to simply keep this post focused on one key success factor for marriage.  A key factor that I have seen displayed for my 47 of their 60 years of marriage.  A key factor that to me becomes more precious everyday personally, in my marriage and in ministry.  A key factor that when absent leaves relationship and interactions lacking or worse, deteriorating.  Kindness.  Be kind.

Kindness speaks to others’ needs before my needs.  Kindness speaks to being slow to anger.  Kindness speaks to respect.  Kindness speaks to bold tenderness.  Kindness speaks to being steady – even keeled.  Kindness speaks to care with words and deeds.  Kindness speaks to forgiveness.

The Bible says:

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”  Ephesians 4:32

Kindness defined – “the quality of being warmhearted, considerate, humane, gentle, and sympathetic.” (logos)

I have shared through the years with couples the x-factor to displaying kindness.  Here’s the thing.  You can’t work this up.  You can’t simply try harder at being kind.  It really doesn’t work well.  Sure some people have gentle temperaments etc., I understand.  But, here’s what I have seen.  I have seen mean people have their heart tenderized by the Lord Jesus.  He moves in, takes over.  Simply, He becomes Lord of their life.

It is not normal for people to display “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control.”  It literally involves a take-over, a remodel that reminds you and me that at our best, we are still fixer-uppers.  But a life displaying the fruit of the Spirit shows evidence that He is alive and well in us.

*Disclaimer – Reality Check
Listen, life is hard, people are difficult, plus you don’t always feel good or like everyone all the time.  You will not be perfect, you will need to back up and ask for forgiveness, or pray for a do over.  Sin.  But, the point is, there is a way, there is a path and even a standard that we can at least aspire to.  Am I even trying?  Do I address a problem by focusing on the other person, or on myself?  I read recently, “I am not kind to others because they are, but because I am.”

Mom and Dad, thanks for displaying kindness.  I love you and I thank the Lord for you and I pray he blesses you with many more years filled with joy.

Thanks for hanging out on the blog with me.  I am grateful!  If you desire to dig deeper in your relationship, check out some of these encouraging people:

Dr. Tate Cockrell

Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

Dr. Gary Chapman

Peace!

Bible Study Tools

Discipleship, Personal Growth

Currently I am reading through the book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament.  I’m a guy who’s grown up in church, even been to seminary, and I still have to slow down and think through some really hard to grasp passages.  Ezekiel no doubt is an entire book that takes some extra time and thought – what is this about, who is it written to, what do these visions mean, how does it apply to me?  If it is difficult for a seasoned believer to understand complex Bible passages or books, imagine being a new believer or unchurched?  Wouldn’t it be great to have some tools to help in the journey of understanding God’s Word?  Here are four great tools to get in anyone’s hands to help in understanding the Bible.

The Bible Project.  Just this morning while reading through Ezekiel, I clicked on youtube to this great resource, pulled up the comprehensive flyover of the book and got my bearings on the who, what, when, where of this important writing.  The link I gave here takes you to their actual website.  Simple, clear, and visual, this tool is like a quick map to gain your bearings, and even today I learned new things.

The Bible App.  Thank you LifeChurch for your creation of and investment in this app.  I use it daily, weekly!  From looking up a passage in relatively any translation or even language, to unique Bible studies and reading schedules, this app is the ultimate.  I use it for my daily reading using my favorite format that is reading through the Bible in chronological order.

Understanding the Bible by Max Anders.  The Bible is a library of books in your hands; sections of history and poetry, prophecy and letters.  One thing it is not is a novel.  It does not read in sequence according to years, it is chopped up.  Anders takes the Bible and helps the reader grasp the grand sweep of history through the Bible, how all the books flow from creation to eternity, where and how a minor prophet relates to Moses and the Gospel writers.  This book is a must for new believers or seasoned saints.

Logos.  The new believer to the mature can certainly use Logos and its tools, but this is likely more appropriate for the deep divers, pastors and teachers who rely on the languages behind the Bible translation used and technical commentaries.  It certainly is for the Bible student who is looking to offload a library full of physical books for an even bigger digital library; a library that instantly pulls a search or query from all those books into one click.  It really is incredible and I am grateful for this amazing tool.

There you have it.  Four powerful resources to help anyone get to know the Bible better!

Family Values

Marriage and Family, Personal Growth

A couple of years back, the Griffin crew headed up to one of our all-time favorite spots, Red River, New Mexico.  It is a great mountain town in the Enchanted Circle of New Mexico.  We have skied there, hiked there, shopped there, fished there and yes, have had intense go-cart and putt-putt golf competitions.  Recently a family who is dear to us headed up that way, and I made mention of two great hikes, one up to Middle Fork Lake and the other to Lost Lake. 

From Lost Lake you can scramble on up to the top of New Mexico, Wheeler Peak.  Both lakes are beautiful, but you have to pick a direction.

In life, knowing your direction is key.  Core Values, that is the direction or vector you choose in life for yourself, your family or for an organization can either be accidental, or they can be thought through and chosen.  Either way, you are definitely headed somewhere.  Wouldn’t it be better to choose your direction?

For my family, there are identified values.  These guide our heading – which by the way, we may not know the ultimate destination or outcome until we get there – but these values set the course.

Here are our Griffin family values:

Lifelong learning

We are committed to the pursuit of learning and stretching ourselves – about God and all He has created, from history, cultures and languages, to the arts, sciences and nature.

Launching pad

Our family is a launching pad, for each of us – to go, explore, build relationships and community, and challenge ourselves through mistakes and success.

Christ-likeness

Our desire is to be like Jesus – to obey His commands to love God and love our neighbors.  To be filled with the Spirit and display the fruit of joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control and most of all, love.

Unconditional love

In a world filled with pain, painful choices, and the pain we may endure or cause, regardless, we are committed to unconditional love and acceptance.  We are committed to a bold love that can say “no”, that challenges, rebukes, corrects, forgives and restores.

Joy

We pray that our home is filled with much joy and laughter!  Life is hard – why make it more difficult by being unkind?  Slow to speak, slow to anger – a gentle answer turns away wrath.  Peace.

 

There you have it.  These values keep us on the path to what I believe will continue to be a very fulfilling and rewarding future.  Which trail will you choose?

Take 5

Leader Resources, Marriage and Family

You are familiar no doubt with the phrase “let’s take five” – to take a five or ten minute break before returning to work.  Most places of occupation have some type of work break through the day.  These short bursts of breaks are effective in many ways, from quick energy boosts to regained focus (coffee doesn’t hurt either).  In an even greater sense, you are likely able to accrue longer periods of time to be away to get some valuable rest and relaxation.

Recently, I traveled with my family to the Florida gulf coast and wow, was it a stunning place!  The combination of miles of powdery white sand and incredible crystal clear waters provide for hues of vivid color that look as if edited with a image filter.  But even more, the beauty of that time, even time in traffic (thanks Alabama) with my family was a huge boost; a massive recharge to my soul.

If you’re like me and serve in ministry, we are awful good at guilt tripping ourselves that this time away is not okay, or a waste or idle.  How could we take a break when there is Kingdom work at hand?  True, there is no off switch on the mandate we are given; but in order to avoid personal burnout, moral failure, and/or the neglect of our families these times are critical.  Thankfully I serve at a church and with a group of ministers who understand the value of the recharge!  Thank you Jesus for your example of going off to the hillside to spend time alone with the Father.

I learned a very valuable and handy concept from one of my good friends about how to think about time and how we invest it.  Jeremie Kubicek penned a book from his insights in dealing with leaders and their management of time called 5 Gears: How to Be Present and Productive When There is Never Enough Time.  And no, we are not talking simply about how to handle your schedule and appointments.  Rather, Jeremie helps us explore our presence behind the schedule – where’s your focus and attention?  He explores and unpacks how to maximize the types of time we have every day, every month, and every year.  He shares these times of focus in the form of gears, like selecting the right gear at the right time in a car.

Which takes me back to family vacation.  Through the concepts of this book, I not only understand the importance of the gears and what gear vacation time is, but how to use this gear/time to the fullest by how I set my mind during it.  I fully engaged the right gear for the right time.  When I returned to work, I returned with my soul energized and refueled with my most important relationships – to God, and to my family – empowered.