The 7th Floor: The Forest City Church Origin Story

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What you hold in your hands is our storybook.

This book aims to highlight the values of Forest City Church, share the stories of the people in our community, and provide additional discipleship tools for all who read it. We hope that after you walk through this book, you are clear on what our church is about, what it means to be a part of a seventh-floor community, and how you can create seventh-floor experiences daily in your own life.

What you hold in your hands is our storybook, and while our story is still being written, we hope that by the end of this experience, you will find yourself healed, inspired, and forever changed having been an active, fully engaged, and contributing member of our community.

EDITORIAL Editor Ebony R. Gaines ebony.gaines@forestcitychurch.com Copyeditor Melissa Cunningham melissa.cunningham@forestcitychurch.com Writers Eric J. Parks T.J. Addington Ebony R. Gaines ART Art Direction Ariana S. Ford Chad Burgess Charmon Pittman Senior Designer Aaron Campbell with Camby Designs https://www.cambydesigns.com Graphic Designer Beka Kumar https://www.cambydesigns.com Photography Corbyn Tyson CONTENT CONTRIBUTORS Features Carrington Gaines Lauren Scott Jerome Cosby Ade Villatoro Chad Burgess Melissa Burgess Instagram @forestcitychurchrockford @forestcitychurchelgin

HOW To

Use it

This book is meant to ignite you to engage with our community. It includes in-depth theological studies to aid in discipling you through key topics and principles that guide our church. We encourage you to not only read the stories and devotionals but to take full advantage of the additional resources provided, such as the reflection sections, video interviews on our website, and audio versions of the devotionals.

You can get started by Registering Your Book! Simply scan the QR code below and fill out the form! This will ensure you have access to all of the resources attached to this study, and don't miss out on any updates or additions we may add down the line. Trust us, you do not want to miss anything!

WHAT WE BELIEVE

Forest City Church empowers people to live the cruciform life and professes the Nicene Creed as our statement of Faith. In the fourth century, Christians came together to create the Nicene Creed around what truly united them as believers. For almost 20 centuries, this declaration has been both a confession of worship and a covenant to embody what anchors us in Jesus. It is more than an intellectual checklist of doctrine but a definitive statement that forms us as the people of God and draws us together into the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

NICENE CREED

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through Him, all things were made. For us and for our salvation, He came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit, He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made man. For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered death and was buried. On the third day, He rose again in accordance with the scriptures; He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son1, and with the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic2 and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

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1. Early versions of the Nicene Creed do not contain the phrase “and the Son.” 2. Or “universal.”

A LIFE ANCHORED IN JESUS HAS NOTHING TO PROVE, NOTHING TO LOSE, AND NOTHING TO HIDE

THE GENESIS OF THE 7TH FLOOR

In April 2020, during the height of the pandemic, I felt God calling our family back to Rockford to be a part of Heartland Community Church. This time not as the youth pastor but as the lead pastor. The challenge was that our second son, Graham, was finishing his junior year in high school. And moving him during his senior year seemed impossible for our family.

So, we decided I would commute from Colorado to Rockford for the 2020-2021 school year. I dreaded the thought of being on that many airplanes, and I especially hated the idea of living in hotels for a year (I love the room service, but that is about it). So I set out to find an

apartment in Rockford to live in for the following year. I had heard about a new development in downtown Rockford, the Talcott building. It was perfect, brand new, and within weeks I was home in unit 704.

I believed God was up to something unique, and I did all I could to find some people who could see what I saw about my city and my new church. Carrington Gaines, Ebony Gaines, and Charmon Pittman felt God calling them to Rockford. And by July 2021, they were all moving from Atlanta and needed a place to live. My new building, the Talcott, was perfect, and wouldn't you know, the entire floor I had moved onto was

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empty. Within months the once bare 7th floor was filled with new friends looking to see God move in our new community. Lauren, Ari, and Steve soon followed, moving into the building which became our home.

For the next 12 months, we did a lot of life together. With my family back in Colorado, this floor became my home. We ate meals, celebrated birthdays, went on walks, and even had a few movie nights together. We cried, laughed, encouraged one another, and dreamt about this church we believed in. We became a family! And to our surprise, our new family kept growing. We started inviting people over to our floor regularly. And it wasn't just the people who lived at the Talcott that began showing up; it was all kinds of people. Turning up for dinner, late-night hangouts, or just to say hello. People seemed to be on the 7th floor all the time, sharing stories and actively participating in each other's lives.

I will be honest; I don't think I thought much of it until a friend showed up sometime in February 2021. We had planned a little get-together to celebrate a birthday, and more than a few people showed up. As people trickled in, I realized I didn't know many of them. So I asked a friend who they were, and she said, "Oh, those are just some friends of mine from around town; I thought you knew them."

Sitting on the window sill, my friend James pointed this out when he asked innocently, "Parker, look around. All these people…where else in the world is this happening?" "What do you mean?" I asked. He said, "A room filled with black, brown and white, people, young and old, rich and poor, eating a meal together. I mean, bro… This is special, my guy". He was right.

It was a great night, but as people left, one of our friends said something that has stayed with me ever since. "You know, I feel like I have finally found my people." And that's when it hit me; this is what God had in mind from the beginning. On the 7th floor… something was happening,

and it didn't stop happening. This little group of believers living on the 7th floor of the Talcott became a church.…it became our church…Forest City Church. Of course, there wasn't a 7th floor in the bible, but when you read the book of Acts, the description of the early church sure sounds a lot like what we experienced together on the 7th floor…

Acts 2:41-47 (MSG)

"They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers. Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person's need was met.

They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People, in general, liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved."

The truth is, now I want the whole of Rockford, Elgin, and the surrounding areas to experience the 7th floor because I believe this is what Jesus had in mind when he thought up the local church. A place of healing, of growth. A safe place to love and be loved. A place where you are celebrated for who you are and loved despite all your flaws. And a place where God is glorified and uplifted in our gatherings and conversations. I believe that this is what our church and cities are to be… the 7th floor, EVERYWHERE…FOR ANYONE & EVERYONE. May it be so, in Jesus' name.

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CONT ENTS WHAT IS THE 7TH FLOOR? // ACTS 13, THE ORIGINAL 7th Floor 14 // THEIR - STORY: CHAD AND MELISSA BURGESS 20 Creating Space for Life Changing Community Through Radical Hospitality DEVOTIONAL WEEK ONE // DAY 1: “A vision of wholeness” 26 // DAY 2: “We can’t become whole…Alone” 28 // DAY 3: “ANYONE AND EVERYONE” 30 // HER - STORY: ADE VILLATORO 32 Finding Radical Acceptance and Fulfillment Through Community // DAY 4: “EVERYBODY MATTERS” 36 // DAY 5: “MAKING TIME” 38 // DAY 6: “RADICAL HOSPITALITY” 40 // DAY 7: “WHERE ACCEPTANCE AND GRACE MEET” 42 // Behind the Music: The Making of the “Seventh Floor” 44 DEVOTIONAL WEEK TWO // DAY 8: “OVERFLOWING ACCEPTANCE ” 48 // DAY 9: “RECLAIMING OUR TABLES” 50 // DAY 10: “THE POWER OF YOUR TABLE” 52 // HIS - STORY: JEROME COSBY 54 Finding Community In Unexpected Places // DAY 11: “BEAUTIFUL DIVERSITY” 56 // DAY 12: “RECONCILIATION AND UNITY” 58 // DAY 13: “JESUS AND THE GOSPEL ABOVE ALL ELSE” 60 // DAY 14: “LET’S SET A NEW OLD KIND OF TABLE… TOGETHER” 62 // A LETTER FROM THE EDITOR 64

THE

WHAT IS THE 7TH FLOOR?

"Seventh-Floor" is a culture of radical hospitality. What is radical hospitality?

FLOOR

Radical hospitality can be defined as the practice of putting extraordinary effort and emphasis on making people feel welcome. When we practice radical hospitality, Ryan Dunn says, "We let go of a need to shape people into our own image. We extend radical hospitality when we include people within a community without an expectation that they will fully conform to it. We may even concede some of our community identity to be more hospitable to those we welcome. Radical hospitality sends a message beyond: 'you are welcome to join us.' It says, 'We see you and want to join you, wherever you are.' In short, radical hospitality doesn't just ask, 'do you want to be with us?' It says, 'how can we be with you?'"

Radical hospitality is overflowing with acceptance, filled with generous grace, and is beautifully diverse around the person of Jesus Christ. All are welcome and safe, no matter how broken. All are appreciated and honored

regardless of ethnicity, generation, background, or beliefs. All are invited to a long table where grace and love are the languages, and the magnetic love of Jesus is displayed in practical and meaningful ways. We intentionally invite the outsider and the marginalized to come to the table and community as Jesus did. The seventhfloor is a place where you have nothing to prove, nothing to lose, and nothing to hide; you never leave unseen, and healing and wholeness come to the hurting and wounded. The seventh-floor should be a micro reflection of heaven on earth with all its awe and wonder because Jesus is there with His people.

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7TH

vision

ACTS 13, THE ORIGINAL 7TH FLOOR

One of the most amazing truths of the Gospel is that it was for all people, not simply the Jews. The message was clear; the Messiah was coming for everyone. The words of Jesus made this clear in His conversation with Nicodemus:

"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him."

(John 3:16-17)

The early church was initially made up of Jews who believed in Jesus. But very quickly, the Gospel message started to spread far and wide. Great persecution came on the believers, and the persecuted church in Jerusalem was forced to scatter (Acts 8), bringing the Gospel along with it. People like the Ethiopian in Acts 8 heard the good news and accepted Christ. Then there was Saul's conversion in Acts 9. In Acts 10,

Cornelius the centurion called for Peter to ask about Jesus, and Peter had a vision from God that the Gospel was for all, not just for some. He said to this Gentile leader, "I now realized how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right." (Acts 10:34-35)

This cascading impact of the Gospel culminates in Acts 13, where the church sent out its first two official missionaries, Barnabas and Saul. Churches were planted in each city they visited with congregations made up of Jews and Gentiles. The people of God were not only the Jews anymore but all who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. As Paul preached in Antioch, "Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent."

(Acts 13:26)

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FLOOR

original

The Roman world was very divided. Jews and Gentiles did not interact. Slaves were everywhere, and the class system was extensive. The rich took advantage of the poor. The same racial rivalries we see in the modern world were everywhere as people from across the Roman empire coalesced in the large cities around trade and commerce. The divisions between male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile were massive.

Into this fractured and divisive milieu came the Gospel of Jesus. Which leveled the differences between all people through His death on the cross. His Gospel was a Gospel of forgiveness, freedom, love, and transformation for everyone, no matter who you were. It started with a visit to the cross where lives were surrendered to Him, and as Christ's followers, they now joined a new family; the family of God. In this family, the old distinctions of race, ethnicity, gender, social status, slave and free no longer mattered. Instead, they were sons and daughters of the King and, therefore, brothers and sisters of one another. In this way, the Gospel and the resulting church were the most subversive and transformational force the world had ever seen. And the sign that no one could ignore was the way that the Gospel knit together a crowd that could never have been together outside the work of the Holy Spirit.

In fact, in His prayer for us in John 17, before His death, Jesus had said that the very proof that He was the Son of God would be shown when the world saw His people in complete unity. "Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:23)." This is what the Gospel did. It brought together people who had never been one and made them One. It erased animosities, prejudices, and social distinctions to create a new people of God who all

“For he himself is our peace...”

come by way of the cross and whose fellow brothers and sisters are those who believe.

In a crucial passage in Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul lays out the theology behind these new people of God.

"Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (which is done in the body by human hands) — remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in His flesh the law with its commands and regulations.

“In this family, the old distinctions of race, ethnicity, gender, social status, slave and free no longer mattered.”

fellow citizens with God’s people

His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him, we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of His household, built on the

foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him, the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him, you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit."

Two things happen at the cross. First, we find peace with God, and second, we find peace with one another. The vertical dimension of the Gospel brings us into a right relationship with God, and the horizontal dimension brings us into a right relationship with our fellow believers.

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The church is not the church Jesus intended unless it intentionally embraces all people! Unless it demonstrates the unity of the body of Christ where all come to the cross as equals and learn to love one another as He loved us. Reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel. That is why Forest City Church makes reconciliation and unity a central part of everything we do. This is the Gospel. This is the way of the cross. This is Jesus. This is the most subversive thing we can do in a divided world. This is why we will be a place of long tables and low walls and intentionally invite to the table - into our homes and our lives - people who are different from us and allow the Holy Spirit to make us One. It is what He does. A Gospel without reconciliation is not the Gospel of Jesus. If our churches do not look like the communities they exist in, we have failed the Gospel call; therefore, we will not compromise on this value.

When we pray the Lord's prayer, we pray, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." That is a subversive prayer. Here is a picture of heaven from Revelation 7:9-10. "After this, I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. "

This is a beautiful picture of what we will experience in heaven one day. Forest City Church wants to see that happen today in our communities and cities because it is the heart of the Gospel. We are a church for anyone and everyone, a church of long tables and low walls where all come by way of the cross into a new family. A diverse family. A united family. A loving family. A missional family intent on bringing the next person to the table.

We are a church for anyone and everyone, a church of long tables and low walls

Their-Story: Chad and Melissa Burgess

Creating Space for Life Changing Community Through Radical Hospitality

One of our core values here at Forest City Church is "Radical Hospitality." And I thought who better to sit down with than Chad and Melissa Burgess, nicknamed by me (Ebony Gaines) the "Hospitality King and Queen!"

Together Chad and Melissa own the revered candle company "Craft & Foster," which produces the candles and fragrances that many across the country love. And as they do so often for many others, they graciously opened their home to the camera crew and me. We sat with them to talk about the seventh-floor and get their perspective on what makes hospitality radical. Here is what they had to say.

Q: All right. So when you hear the word community, what comes to mind?

Chad: A place to belong. A safe and inviting place where you can really bring who you are, where you are, past aside.

Mel: Yeah. I kind of think of community as a way of life. I think it's really important for everyone to have people they can count on. I think of it like the people who walked the Earth with Jesus. They got together, and they took care of one another. I think that there's something significant about that. They were a community. And I think it changes everything in a person's life, having people who see them and who want to take care of one another.

Chad: Yeah. I think to that point, it's being seen. It's being heard and celebrated.

Q: What does the seventh-floor mean to you and your family?

Mel: The seventh-floor means everything to us. Chad and I had come out of a season of life where we weren't going to church anymore, you know? Both of us have backgrounds in ministry, and I think we hadn't been to church in probably four years. We tried out a lot of churches in San Diego, and then we moved here to Rockford.

I kind of had written off the idea of finding our people and living life with people. Then we came to Forest City. I think it took like six months for Chad to convince me to come. And I walked into the building, and my soul felt at home, something I hadn't felt in a long time.

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And then we started hanging out with everyone, and it was just like a safe place to come with our brokenness and our past. And I didn't have to force myself into hanging out with everyone or be someone I wasn't. I could bring all my junk to the table and sit next to somebody who had their life together.

Or maybe they didn't, you know? It was all of us kind of sifting through life. It saved us in every type of way. It saved our marriage, saved our family.

Chad: Saved my life.

Mel: Saved our souls. Yeah.

Q: How do you guys create space in your life for seventh-floor community to happen?

Chad: We create space by living lives that are open and available. You look at Jesus, and all throughout Scripture, you see him on a journey. But He always takes these pit stops to engage and empower people where they're at. He lived a life that was open 24/7. And He was interested in people, who they were, their stories, and where they came from.

And I think that's a practical way to represent the seventhfloor. It's a lifestyle. It's not a destination. It's not a place. It's a people. And I think we can't really reflect God's kingdom without the seventh-floor.

Q: When you guys hear the phrase radical hospitality, what does that mean to you?

Chad: It’s Melissa’s language.

Mel: Yeah, When I think of radical hospitality, I think of the dinner table, which doesn't sound radical, but I think something happens when you invite people into your home with no agenda other than to be together. Walls come down at the table when you're sharing a meal and learning about people's lives.

Radical hospitality means that anyone could come and sit at your table. They do not have to know the Lord. They don't even have to be looking for the Lord. They could be thinking something entirely on another level than you are. And there's no agenda. That's what's radical about it. It's just “come sit at my table and have some tacos.” Let's chat about how our kids are crazy, work is hard, and laugh.

Continued...

I CA L RDA I CA L

I think that the church sometimes has an agenda. Like I want to transform this person into looking like a Christian, into being this particular type of human. But sometimes, the transformation comes over a simple meal.

Chad: I think Jesus was really good at that. Taking the commonplace, the table, and making it a place of grace, healing, and restoration.

We take the church with us wherever we go. When I go to Starbucks, the church is going because I'm going to Starbucks. We are the church. Embodying that and living that out by making every place you go hospitable is crucial.

Mel: Yeah. I go back to this. It's kind of still being fleshed out in my soul. But this idea of the early church. They had a way of living among each other that changed everyone that came in contact with them. It talks about people being added to their numbers daily.

RDA

And that is because of how they did it and loved one another. I mean, if you want to talk about radical, they sold everything and took care of one another! When's the last time one of us sold a house and took care of our neighbor, or even invited someone over to our dinner table and bought the meal, you know?

So maybe we don't sell homes anymore, but we can bring all of us to the table and invite people into the journey to be loved and cared for. And I think that's radical in today's world.

Chad: I think we tasted the seventh-floor before we even knew what the seventh-floor was years ago back in San Diego. We'd sit at these tables, and you'd have a CEO sitting next to a porn star, who is next to a drug addict, sitting next to a gay and lesbian couple. And it was just this beautiful picture, a mosaic of what I really feel the church is supposed to be.

Just let it be what it's meant to be. It's just meant to be a safe community. And I think that's what we see and hope for.

Q: You both talked about this idea of anyone and everyone being at the table. How important and how reflective of the Bible do you think that is?

Chad: I think it's Kingdom. When we say anyone and everyone, that's who Jesus came for. We put the caveat on His grace and what's acceptable or appropriate. I don't think Jesus ever intended thousands of different denominations because we all have our preferences, pedigrees, opinions, and politics. God doesn't care about any of that.

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He says, come as you are from wherever you are. Meet me in grace; meet me in community. And I think we're just playing church if we're not living out Kingdom. And not just Sunday, or in a small group, but like I said, it's a lifestyle of radical hospitality. It's loving and engaging people right where they are, regardless of whether or not you agree.

I think a lot of people don't like that. And I think if we're going to be the church that we believe we're called to be, it will be messy and controversial. But also a whole lot like Jesus, and if that's what you're about, then come on down.

Mel: Yeah, anyone and everyone, to me, is the most important thing because as Christians, we're supposed to be presenting the gospel to people through the way we live our lives and then inviting people to experience it for themselves. It's not our job to be anybody's Holy Spirit. It's not our job to make people change. Our job is to love one another. And I think the “Big C” church has missed the mark on that a lot in recent times. But that is our way forward.

Anybody can come to the table. That means our tables should be full of people who don't look or think like one another, who grew up differently, who have different lifestyles. It should be like, what Chad said, a mosaic of humans journeying this thing out. And that is inclusive. We're not in an exclusive club. Jesus came for every single soul. And I would hate to have ever shut the door in anyone's face or not given them a seat at the table. It's our job to keep adding leaves to the table.

Q: Talk to me about what happens or what it looks like when you have people over.

Mel: For a long time, we thought about church. When you go to someone's house, you go in for a small group, you're doing a bible study, you're talking about the message on Sunday, you're reading a book, you're doing something that is like this spiritual growth tool or something. But the most beautiful stuff, I think, happens when there isn't a plan.

And I keep saying that, but I just really think that's the core of the seventh-floor. The heartbeat of it obviously has an agenda for everyone to walk away feeling loved and invited in. But the beautiful things happen when we're whipping up tacos in my kitchen, drinking margaritas, and playing games on the porch.

H OS

And that is where organic life happens. It's not forcing someone into answering a question about salvation. All the opportunities come out of it. We get to pray for one another. We get to hear about the struggles and all that stuff. It's just everyday life. That whole idea of living with Jesus and being a Christian invites him into everything we're doing all day long.

And that includes Taco Tuesdays when we're all eating, drinking, and dancing. We have, so many dance parties, you know, and I think that's beautiful. So it's in the everyday moments of life that we're finding him among each other, and we're showing up for each other.

P

AT

H OS P I AT

I

they say it takes a village

Chad: It's just opening your heart, life, and home. Some people hear hospitality and think of Martha Stewart, but you don't need to be a fantastic cook. You don't need to have your house altogether. Let people meet you in the reality of life, whether you have a one-bedroom studio or a six-bedroom home. You don't have to have an amazing charcuterie board. Although we love charcuterie boards!

It just needs to be intentional. I think that's what people feel when they walk in our spaces. We are intentional not to set a stage to ask you three questions but to open our home, our hearts, and our life for honest conversation and engagement that brings hope and life to people.

That's all we're really interested in.

Q: What about your kids? What do you think that this is teaching them?

Mel: I think it's teaching our kids how to live life with people. Everyone's always showing up for a sleepover over here, and our kids want to invite kids to come with us to church and pretty much everything we do. It also teaches our kids that we are not just people for one type of person. They're going to grow up with lots of different cultures around them and lots of people from different walks of life.

And I can already see how it's starting conversations with them about their friends at school. So I think we are teaching them through example how to love people and have open lives. Not to judge a book by its cover and to be available to all humans.

And I think it has also created an environment where our kids feel like they have an extended family because we don't have much. Our kids are surrounded by people who just love and champion them. And it's people coming from every kind of angle. They say it takes a village, and we've got one through "anyone and everyone" and Forest City.

You can check out the video interview by visiting our website at WWW.FORESTCITYCHURCH/7THFLOORSTORYBOOK

a vision of wholeness

"I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of." John 10:10b (MSG)

Have you ever watched a child play make-believe? Isn't it amazing how easy it is for them to believe that anything is possible? For example, you'll rarely catch a child in a game of superheroes objecting to transforming into Thor or Captain Marvel because "it's not possible."

In their minds, it is possible. However, as we get older, many of us lose touch with that sense of wonder and possibility. Even as followers of Jesus, we can become bogged down by the "realities" of life and forget that, in Christ, anything is possible. In fact, if we are honest, most of us don't really believe "we can do all things in Christ." Instead, we say things like, "I am just too much like my father or mother, or not enough at all like Jesus to ever be anything other than what I am." Philippians 4:13 isn't a phrase most people really believe. Instead, we more likely relate to Popeye's catchphrase… "I am what I am, and that's all that I am."

But what if that isn't the way it is supposed to be?

The truth is, you were made in the Creator's image. That's right! You bare the image of our Creator! You may not fully realize this fact, but there is a version of you that is complete and whole, full of life, light, and delight. A version that is powerful, creative, and free! Wholeness is not only possible; it is God's "A" plan for anyone who is a follower of Jesus.

This is the life God wants for you! And it is within your reach! But while it is possible... it is also optional.

You see, we get to choose whether or not we take part in the complete transformative process God wants for us. We can allow the hang-ups and the hurt to have the last word in our lives, or we can believe that the better version of us is on the other side of belief and surrender. There is always more growth, more life, and more light available to you. In Ephesians 2:10, the apostle Paul says, “... we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago."

Over the next 14 days, we will begin the journey toward that version of you. The best version of you.

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DEVOTIONAL DAY 1

vision

wholeness

Your prayer today: "Father, help me believe what you say about me. That I am beautifully and wonderfully made, made on purpose for a purpose. And may you open my eyes to the prospect of wholeness you desire for me this day. In Jesus' name. Amen.

What thoughts are going through your mind? Take some time to write them down and reflect on what you just read!

we can't become whole... alone

Have you ever found yourself doing something you know you had no business doing? So you almost unconsciously find a secret corner or nook to hide in so no one will see you. Almost as if you made up your mind that if anybody caught you messing up, they'd immediately judge you?

I know this scenario all too well. At a young age, I learned to hide to protect myself from any chance of being judged (Erik Parks). Many of you, too, fear allowing people into your mess because “what if they don't like what they see?”

We often think that if we can keep people out long enough, they will never figure out that we are not as put together as we appear to be.

The problem is that when we live our lives this way, we miss out on some of the best parts of it. We trap ourselves in a cycle of brokenness

because the truth about human beings is that we can't fully grow into the best versions of ourselves alone. We need other people. We need relationships. And those relationships will only be as strong as we allow them to be. This means our transformation into what God intended us to be is proportional to how much we let people in versus keep people out.

There are 100 references in Scripture to “one another.” For instance, in Romans 12:10, we are told to “be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:16 encourages us to “live in harmony with one another,” and Romans 13:8 to “love one another.” (Romans 15:7) charges us to “accept one another, and “not judge one another” (Romans 14:13).

In Galatians 5:13 we are told to “serve one

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another,” “be kind and compassionate to one another,” (Ephesians 4:32), and “admonish one another” (Colossians 3:16). We could go on and on.

There is no concept of a faith in Scripture that is not in community with other believers. In fact, as we will see, salvation impacts our relationship with God and our relationships with each other. We live, grow, and develop as Christians in community. Therefore, Christianity is not a solo sport but a team sport. The very picture of Jesus and the disciples makes this clear. Life with God was and is a life lived in community. It’s togetherness.

For some of us, togetherness is easy. We grew up in large families, have many friends, or are naturally social creatures. But for others, togetherness does not come as easy. Maybe you

have been hurt by people in the past, you might be introverted by nature, or you might have a more challenging time opening up to others. Whatever the reason, or however you are wired, learning how to engage in meaningful Jesuscentered relationships is key to becoming God's best version of you.

The first step to letting people in is admitting that you need other people.

So here is your prayer for today: Father, open my eyes to my need for other people and make me aware of how I try to keep people out. Help me to see the people around me that you have placed in my life for my growth and development. I pray this in your name, Jesus. Amen.

What thoughts are going through your mind? Take some time to write them down and reflect on what you just read!

A N YO N E

E V E RYO NE

Being a new kid in a new town at a new school is difficult.

I remember my first day in a new school during my sophomore year in high school (Eric Parks)

It is seared in my memory like a bad sunburn. I walked into the lunch room, and it was as if the world had stopped, and everyone just stared at me.

I had no idea what to do or where to go. I just stood there frozen like a deer in headlights.

And then someone finally said, "Hey, you can sit at my table." His name was Ty Thomison, and that little gesture endeared me to him for the rest of my high school career.

Ty made space for me at his table. Can you think of a time when someone made space for you at their table and how that made you feel? Here is the truth. We are all looking for acceptance and love. This world can be harsh, and we all long for someone to invite us to their table and just allow us to be ourselves.

Some might say that some of Jesus' best work was done at a table. And, if we reflect on scripture, I believe the phrase "Anyone and Everyone" is a perfect picture of the table Jesus set. He constantly associated himself with the sick, tax collectors, sinners, and even lepers. It did not matter who you were or what you had done; Jesus pulled out a seat for everyone.

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There are several stories in the Bible where this is evident. For example, Matthew 9:10-11 says, "Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew's house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus' followers. 'What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and misfits?'"

Why does this matter? Well, because too often, Christian circles send a message that you have to first have it all figured out for you to sit at the table. But the truth is, most people sitting with Jesus may not have even known they had something to figure out; they just knew Jesus made space for them and didn't require much in return.

We long to create a church of crooks and misfits. A church for black, brown, white, rich or poor, young or old, gay or straight. Not because it's easy, but rather because Jesus did. All that is required is a desire to sit.

So here is your prayer for today: Father, thank you for those who made space for me at their table. Now help me to make space for others at my table. Help me have the compassion and love that Jesus had and invite people to come and be as we explore Him together. Amen.

What thoughts are going through your mind? Take some time to write them down and reflect on what you just read!

HER-STORY: ADE VILLATORO FINDING RADICAL ACCEPTANCE AND FULFILLMENT THROUGH COMMUNITY

Ade Villatoro has been attending Forest City Church since December 2021. If you have been to our Rockford campus, you may have seen her as she serves weekly on our First Impressions team. Growing up in a Christian home, Ade saw her entire family serving as leaders in the church.

"I've never been used to that type of person that just comes to church and sits. And I'm the type of person that if I'm in, I'm all in, or I'm not in at all. So volunteering comes naturally to me."

But, Ade is much more than just a volunteer! She owns a company called "EARTH," the first sustainable, zero-waste store in Rockford, Illinois.

"The whole idea is that there is nothing that I will sell to you that will create or produce waste in the landfill or ocean. All our products will biodegrade or be compostable, making everything eco-friendly. So your laundry detergent and cleaning product are plant-based, and I have vegan lotion, conditioner, and body products. So, in essence, there's nothing I will sell to you that will harm the earth."

Ade welcomed me into her home to talk about her journey to Forest City Church and how radical acceptance led her to find a life-changing community. We stood in her kitchen while she prepared her meals for the week and started chatting. Here is a look at our conversation.

Q: So when and why did you start this company?

Ade: I created EARTH in February 2022. It was crazy because I was working at Velvet Robot

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Coffee shop in Rockford, and with COVID, we couldn't get enough product in. And at one point, I was like, "Man, we should have a grocery store downtown!" So I brought it up to my friends, who said, "Let's do it." And I was actually serious, you know?! So I started researching, and the more I looked into opening a grocery store, I saw this zero waste idea pop up, and I was like, "What is this?" So I dove deeper and realized, "This is awesome!"

I've always had an environmentally friendly viewpoint and lifestyle. I lived in San Francisco for four years. When I moved back, I was actually in a bit of a culture shock because no one composted or recycled anywhere! And so when I saw this whole zero waste thing, I said to myself, "Oh, I can do this! I don't have to wish for it. I'm just going to do it." So yeah, it's crazy how my dream has become a reality! I still can't believe it. It's so exciting.

Q: How did you get connected with Forest City Church?

Ade: It's funny because I stopped attending church and was looking for a new one. I had gotten out of a devastating breakup. And then, after that, I started dating someone new, which just went haywire. So I was just in this really dark place.

At that point, I was still working at Velvet Robot

Coffee shop, and Chad Burgess, who served as the church's Volunteer Director, kept coming to the coffee shop. So when he'd see me, he'd say, "Oh, I think you would be great for my team!" At first, I was like no way, but he kept coming in and saying, "You know, I think you should come to church Sunday. You should come to say hi."

So eventually, I was like, OK, I'm going to go try it and see what I think about it. At first, it felt weird, but something about the church made me say, "I need to go back again and see how I really feel about it." And then, Charmon Pittman, the Youth Pastor, came to me one day and asked if I was interested in working with the youth. I thought to myself, obviously, God's trying to get me back to church, and I don't know how I feel about this! But I kept going, and there was a sermon taught, and I felt God touching my heart. I felt in my heart, "OK, I can come back; it's a safe place here."

Q: What drew you to engage in seventh-floor community beyond just coming to church on Sundays?

Ade: It was the realness of this community. I've gone to many churches where everyone seems to have to be perfect. They have to be holy, and they have to be the godliest people in the world, you know, especially leadership. Here, everyone is authentic. I appreciate how everyone comes to our level wherever you are.

I was so messed up when I came. I was just emotionally not healthy. I was spiritually super

separated from God. And here, I didn't feel that heaviness of having to be perfect to come to church. I could just come to church as I was, be accepted for who I am and what I was going through, and still be loved and preached to.

And I think I can speak on behalf of many of my friends here; that's huge. We feel seen and heard, but we are also being preached to at the level that we're at. We're being discipled and walked beside as we grow and come out of the darkness we are in. It's so refreshing. I'm like, wow, I can be myself and love Jesus in my messed up space.

She pushes her ground turkey to the side and walks across the kitchen to grab some string beans and tortillas. Then, she began to talk to me about the connections she's made since attending the church.

Ade: Last summer, I was just doing life alone, and that took me to a depressing place where I was just home, not happy. I feel I've found my people for the first time through FCC. The group of guys, I could text them, "I need you right now," and they would drop anything just to be next to me or help me.

We're all growing and learning together. We include each other in the heaviest parts of our lives, even if it's embarrassing or hard to share. We create memories, you know. I just took the guys to Devil's Lake, which they've never done, and I'm a huge adventuress. And it was enjoyable to see the experience's effects on them. It pushed them to their limits. And that's what we do as a family. We stretch each other. And we also got to bond in that space together.

Q: How do you guys participate in each other’s lives on a day-to-day basis?

Ade: We have a group chat, and we text every morning. The other day, someone wasn't feeling well, so they sent a text saying, "Can you guys pray for me? I'm going to go get tested," and we were all like, "Yeah, of course,

you know, we've got your back." And everyone started sending prayer texts. So I guess we're literally in each other's lives all day, every minute. Just texting each other, you know? It's become a family. And that's what the church is, right?

Q: What advice would you give someone trying to find a seventh-floor community?

Ade: You really have to seek it out. The only way to find your people is to intentionally look for them. Because you may come to church, and I might see you, but if we just walk by each other and don't engage, we miss out on potential community. I can't force anyone to be a part of what we have.

So I would say if you're missing a community and are looking for a new family, get plugged in. Volunteering is a perfect way to get plugged in because you meet many people weekly. And just showing up consistently goes a long way as well. It's kind of like the gym. You can't see a change unless you're being consistent. So you show up, and you do the work. But you're not going to find what you're looking for if you're just sitting in the pews waiting for something to happen.

check out the video

by visiting our website

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You can
interview
WWW.FORESTCITYCHURCH/7THFLOORSTORYBOOK
everybody ma 36 | THE 7TH FLOOR DEVOTIONAL DAY 4

The life of Jesus was a life lived with people and for people. Almost every account of Jesus in the Gospels finds Him with people. The crowds who followed Him, the disciples with whom He lived and ministered, the curious like Nicodemus, the truth-seeking like the Rich Young Ruler, beggars, and those marginalized by society. Where there were needy people, you found Jesus.

Jesus came from the Father “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) to give us His grace (John 1:16) so that we could have a relationship with God (John 1:18). In fact, John 1:14 says that "the Word (Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The original language literally means, “He came to pup tent among us. He came to live with us.”

Many priorities can rule our lives, but the priority of Jesus was always people. He wanted people to hear the Good News of forgiveness, experience the joy of His presence, and know the meaning of a life lived with Him. He invites us to join Him in His kingdom work and use the gifts He gave us for His purposes. He wants to see the marginalized lifted up, the sinner forgiven, the hopeless given hope, and all invited to a rich and meaningful life here and for all eternity.

Jesus came full of two powerful qualities. The first is grace. And, because of that grace, your past does not matter. Your social position does not matter. Your questions, doubts, struggles,

and addictions don't matter. In Jesus, you met one who loves unconditionally, forgives freely, and has called you from your struggles and issues to a life of freedom in Him. His grace covers everything.

Jesus also came full of truth! Satan is the father of lies. He lied to Eve in the Garden, and he lies to us. But into this morass of lies and deception came the Son of God, full of grace and truth. And His truth sets us free and gives us life and abundance of life (John 10:10).

There are many priorities we can build our lives around. If we want to be like Jesus, we will build our lives around Him and the people in our lives who need Him. Our ambitions, achievements, and pursuits will one day vanish. But the lives we impact for Jesus will change everything for them in time and eternity. It all starts when we start to value people as Jesus did. And make Jesus and people our priorities

So here is your prayer for today: Father, free me from the selfishness that causes me to be self-centered. Instead, help me to see those around me as precious and infinitely deserving of your grace. Help me to give space in my life to those around me as Jesus did. Amen.

What thoughts are going through your mind? Take some time to write them down and reflect on what you just read!

making time

"We live in a hectic world. How many of us wish we just had room to stop and breathe? There is always something Fighting for our attention, but Jesus didn 't design us to live that way.”

We live in a hectic world. How many of us wish we just had room to stop and breathe? There is always something fighting for our attention, but Jesus didn't design us to live that way. In fact, if people are our priority, there must be space in our lives to accommodate opportunities to minister to them along the way. Sometimes, being like Jesus is simply being available to people who God brings across our path.

There are many examples of Jesus stopping and taking time to minister to hurting people. For example, take the story of Blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52. "Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city,

a blind man, Bartimaeus ("son of Timaeus"), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he shouted, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!' Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!'

Jesus stopped and said, 'Call him.' So they called to the blind man, 'Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you.' Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 'What do you want

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me to do for you?' Jesus asked him. The blind man said, 'Rabbi, I want to see.' 'Go," said Jesus, 'Your faith has healed you.' Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road."

I love this account because of the contrast between Bartimaeus, who believed in Jesus, the crowds around him who told him to shut up and go away, and Jesus, who called out to Bartimaeus and healed him. How often are we like the crowds who consider someone in need a nuisance or a hassle? After all, we have obligations to keep and things to do. But remember, sometimes, being like Jesus is simply being available to people who God brings across

our path. The crowds were too busy with their own stuff to care about Bartimaeus. But Jesus was never too busy to take time with those who needed Him.

Do we have the margin to be available to those God brings across our path? Seventh-floor culture always takes the time to be with those in need. When was the last time you went out of your way to do just that?

So here is the prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you that you are a God that always takes time to tend to those in need. Help me remove the clutter in my life, so I have time to minister to those you lead my way. In Jesus' name, Amen.

What thoughts are going through your mind? Take some time to write them down and reflect on what you just read!

radical hospitality

Seventh-floor culture is a culture of radical hospitality where extraordinary effort and emphasis are placed on making people feel welcome. It is a hospitality that overflows with acceptance, is filled with generous grace, and is beautifully diverse around the person of Jesus Christ.

When you think about the tables Jesus graced, you see this radical hospitality in action. There was always room for the person who wanted a seat at the table. If they were a marginalized misfit in society's eyes, they were still welcome at the table with Jesus. Even people who were not comfortable with those in authority and the religious figures were at home with Jesus. They didn't have to prove anything to Him. They just needed to want to be with Him.

Most of these people were broken and needy. Yet, in the presence of Jesus, they found generous grace unlike any they had ever experienced. They came as they were, and

He healed their hearts. And it was beautifully diverse. A woman who made her money on the streets, a tax collector, a blind beggar, fishermen, and commonfolk. At Jesus' table, all were welcome. His table cut across social status, reputation, economic circumstances, and all the conventions of society.

At Forest City Church, we say that we are a place with long tables and low walls. We will always put another leaf in the table to welcome a new person in our midst, and we will keep the walls to finding a home here low. Why? Because this is what Jesus did. We want our tables to overflow with acceptance, be filled with generous grace, and be beautifully diverse around the person of Jesus Christ.

So here is the prayer for today: Father, thank you for being a God of radical hospitality. Please help me to create a space where people find a home at my table just as they did yours, in Jesus' name, Amen.

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DEVOTIONAL DAY 6

hospitality

What thoughts are going through your mind? Take some time to write them down and reflect on what you just read!

There is a fantastic account of a dinner with Jesus in Luke 7, where grace and acceptance meet in an extraordinary way. Let's read it together.

"When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, He went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table.

A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind Him at his feet weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, He would know who is touching Him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.' So Jesus answered him, 'Simon, I have something to tell you.' 'Tell me, teacher,' he said.

'Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?' Simon replied, 'I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.' 'You have judged correctly,' Jesus said.

Then He turned toward the woman and said to Simon, 'Do you see this woman?

I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.' Then Jesus said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven.'"

This is a beautiful example of radical hospitality that overflows with acceptance and is filled with generous grace. Simon found it hard to understand, but that is the magic of Jesus' love for people. We are quick to judge those we do not understand, but radical hospitality welcomes the broken and, like Jesus, offers them acceptance and grace. Can you imagine a church that looks like that? This is seventh-floor culture!

So here is your prayer for today: Jesus, thank you for being our ultimate example. Help us to open our hearts to offer acceptance to those we don't understand and shower them with generous grace that brings them nearer to you. In Jesus' name, Amen.

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“Where acceptance and meet.”grace

What thoughts are going through your mind? Take some time to write them down and reflect on what you just read!

Behind the Music: The Making of the “Seventh-floor”

Forest City worship is one of the many gifts God has blessed our church to be able to experience week in and week out. And the team was able to record their very first album, “The 7th Floor EP,” this past December, which is set to release in late 2022!

I sat down with Carrington Gaines and Lauren Scott, the writers of the title track “Seventhfloor,” to pick their brains on the making of and inspiration behind the song. Check out what they had to say!

Q: You two wrote a song called “The Seventhfloor.” What inspired you to write it?

Lauren: Gosh, what inspired us to write it? Around that time, we used the language "seventh-floor" a lot to describe our community. And if you don't know the story, this really organic community was born at the Talcott building, where many of us live. And it started because our friend and Pastor, Eric, lived in the building, and then as more of us moved to Rockford, he invited us to move into the building with him. So before you know it, almost the entire 7th floor was just us friends doing life together.

Carrington: Yeah. Us forming this family in the middle of 2020 when the world was going crazy birthed this song, basically.

Lauren: And we got to invite people from our church and friends from our community. And what made it the seventh-floor was that these apartments were flooded with people who didn't look alike, who politically checked different boxes, who came from different backgrounds, yet were all breaking bread together.

A family was formed on the seventh-floor, so we kept referring to it as that. And then I woke up in the middle of the night one time, and I just started fiddling with the guitar. And I thought to myself, this is either really corny or it's special. And so the next day, I came into Carrington’s office and had him listen to it.

Carrington: Yeah. She came in with the idea kind of baked. And I was like, "All right, you got some really good language. You have some OK melodies in here. I think this could actually be something." I was really drawn to this line, "The storm that almost took us out." Once I heard that line, I was like, we got to write this song. So we really knocked it out in about maybe an hour.

Lauren: Yeah. And we had so many friends joining this community who had all been through tough things. And so, we would always say it felt like we saved each other. It felt as if we didn't have this moment where God stopped us, brought us all to the same place, and used each other to heal one another; we would not be where we are.

So even that line, "The storm that almost took us out strangely, brought us all together." It was like, man, that thing that happened in all of our lives, that should have been the end, it was the means by which we all got to meet. Parks came to Nashville with us, and we played the song for him, and he literally wept at the table. So we were like, “OK, we got something.”

And then we played it for a new friend, we had just met her that day in Nashville, and she got really emotional when she heard it and said, "Man, I think I want a seventh-floor." And it clicked for us because we didn't want it to feel like this exclusionary language where you had to be there to get it or experience it at that moment to feel like you were a part of it. And to have strangers be like, “Oh, man, I want a seventh-floor,” we realized we were just giving language to something I think we all want, which is community.

Q: What are the key components that make seventh-floor community work?

Carrington: I think what makes the seventhfloor work is unity and diversity, which comes with uncomfortable conversations. You can't have one without the other in seventh-floor community. You have to have diversity of perspectives, and you have to have very uncomfortable conversations.

There will be moments where you wrestle through some of your own ideals and prejudice. You may have to wrestle inwardly with somebody that may not look like you or think like you so you can get to this place of unity. I think that's what makes the seventh-floor so unique. You have people from all walks of life, old, young, black, Asian, and white. But it doesn't matter where you are; you can dump everything at this table, and nobody will walk away because of offense or discomfort. We come to this place, and we engage in relationships in such a way that you don't have any choice but to find unity because no one gives up on each other.

We might disagree, but we find love, relationship, and connection through that disagreement. It wasn’t normal, especially in the climate of 2020, when racial tension was on a rampage. We have a community that said, "We know what we're dealing with, and this is our answer. Our answer was the seventh-floor.”

Lauren: I think another way that we make seventh-floor happen is by intentionally choosing relationships that challenge us. Because I think what culture often says is the people you keep close to your chest are the people who really are the most like you, who think the way you think, who get your perspective. And I even noticed that while embracing this idea of the seventh-floor, I've had many people sit at my table who said things that were triggering or I disagreed with.

Seventh-floor is really hard and holy work. It's easy to kick it with the people who get you,

who agree with you, who align with you. I don't have to explain things to them. But when you decide, no, I want to be at a table that looks the way heaven will look. That means sacrifice. So we're all trying to embrace that.

Q: Can you talk about the table that Jesus set? Why is it important to have communities where people are diverse and have different points of view and that be the standard?

Carrington: Because that's the Kingdom. The seventh-floor is important because of what Jesus said the Kingdom of God was. It's all people of all tongues and tribes coming together. Not to assimilate and do the "I don't see color thing." No, we do see color! I'm black, you're white, you're Asian, you're African. There is beauty in that, and I want to experience your color so that I can celebrate it.

I want to celebrate the fullness of who you are as a person and everything you carry. And you saw Jesus do that countless times, whether you were a prostitute, a fisherman, or a tax collector. He was the son of God, but He said, no, I'm still going to come to your house, and I'm not even going to ask you to conform to my way. I want to know you so you can get to know me. And if I rub off on you, Amen. So that's what we hope the seventh-floor does. It's a place that is centered on the person of Jesus. Not just hanging to hang. But we believe Jesus started at a table and ended at a table. And we think that if we model the table He set to the best of our ability, the world can be better for it. Seventhfloor communities as a church model can be transformative to what we see the church as today.

Q: From your perspective, as worship leaders on the stage, how important is it for you to model and engage in seventh-floor community?

Lauren: The stage can be challenging because we feel that distance between us and people. And we don't want it to ever feel that way, so we're always trying to close that gap. So as people who have been entrusted with

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a platform we're grateful for, the most important thing we get to do is sit and have coffee with a worship leader. Have them over at the house. It's that time when we just get to hang out, play games, fellowship, eat together and spend time. Those are the holiest moments for us.

And if COVID taught us anything, it's that the future is not gathering in this one place these few times and living out of that experience. The future is getting in homes for your friend who's depressed and showing up and having communion and worshiping together. The future is getting people together who love each other and want to walk through life together.

It's not programs or agendas. It's worship, community, bread breaking, everywhere, anywhere, all the time. And so, as people on the platform, I think that has to be the mindset.

Carrington: And that's what's so beautiful about what we're doing here. We put just as much emphasis and intentionality behind what we do on Sunday mornings as on Thursday night. The seventh-floor is like our secret sauce because many people can do Sundays well. But people in church spaces, for some reason, don't know how to do life together. And that's how we started to understand the importance of this thing because someone can weep during service, but we started seeing it in our little seventh-floor hangs. Two people would get caught up in a corner, and the next thing you know, one person is tearing and snot running, and they're praying.

And it's like, "Oh, wait. So God can move just as much, if not even more, in these moments when we get away, and we're just doing life together?" Yes! Because transformation continues then.

On a Sunday, transformation can happen in a moment. But the thing is, it continues when you're a part of a God-centered community that does life together. It doesn't become this one great experience you had, and now you're groping and trying to find where that next moment is? In seventh-floor community, it literally can happen every day.

Q: What do you want this song, “Seventh Floor,” to be for people?

Carrington: We want everyone to have this desire for community fulfilled. Even as a church/ organization. That's why we believe in the seventh-floor as a church model. So having this song is just us saying that this is the picture of the Kingdom we're painting. We hope that this will inspire you to go and find what it is that's yours.

Lauren: Yeah. We want it to be an altar, like a moment, a memorial for what God did. And inspiration for people to know that you too can experience it anywhere and everywhere.

You can check out the video interview by visiting our website www.forestcitychurch/7thfloorstorybook

Our nation seems to know little about how to be accepting of people not like us. Think of the political divides that can separate families. Or the racial tensions that keep cities divided by attitudes, relationships, and even rivers. I am sure that each of us has personal stories of those who have judged us, didn't accept us, marginalized us, and treated us as less than they should have. And unfortunately, we may have even done the same to others.

Often, our attitude can be, “If you live up to my expectations, I will accept you.” But, this reverses the order of Jesus, who came full of grace (first) and then truth. What drew people to Jesus was His tremendous acceptance of each individual: His love, mercy, and nonjudgmental attitude. He was always willing and ready to share the truth, but it was only in the context of overflowing acceptance and love. Grace always comes before truth. Overflowing acceptance of others is the key to living like Jesus.

We are probably familiar with the account of Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. The account is found in John 4. Jesus was in Samaria on purpose. Most Jews walked around Samaria, but Jesus chose to walk through Samaria because He was always about people. On that journey, He sat down at a well and asked a Samaritan woman for a drink. Jesus uses an ordinary conversation to bring her into a discussion regarding living water (spiritual things).

48 | THE 7TH FLOOR DEVOTIONAL DAY 8

The conversation here is interesting. The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water so I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water." He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back." "I have no husband," she replied. Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true." "Sir," the woman said, "I can see you are a prophet."

Notice that there was no condemnation in Jesus' words. On the contrary, He was "matter of fact" without judgment, and she took no offense. She recognized that He must be a prophet, and she returned to her village and said, "Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. Can this be the Messiah?"

The result was that "Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman's testimony. So when the Samaritans came to Him, they urged

Him to stay with them, and He stayed two days. And because of His words, many more became believers."

Think about this. Would any of this have happened if Jesus had not led with grace and overflowing acceptance? Not a chance. When we follow the example of Jesus in our relationships, people are attracted to us. Many people don't respond to Jesus because they don't like the judgmental and insensitive attitudes of those who call themselves Christ followers. Seventh-floor culture takes its cues from Jesus, who came full of grace and truth and showed overflowing acceptance to those who came across His path.

So here is your prayer for today: Lord, thank you for your overflowing acceptance and love. Please teach me how to accept and honor all people as your image bearers. In Jesus' name. Amen.

What thoughts are going through your mind? Take some time to write them down and reflect on what you just read!

Reclaiming Our Tables

Food and the table figured prominently in the life of Jesus. There is something special about inviting people into our homes for a meal. It is different from a cup of coffee at Starbucks because in your home, around your table, surrounded by your family, there is an intimacy shared that can not be obtained from a meal elsewhere. It is an invitation into your life.

In many parts of the world, there is nothing more central than a meal together. I have had meals in the Middle East, for instance, that start at 9:00pm and finish at 2:00am (T.J Addington). During that time, there is great food, loud laughter, major disagreements and debates, more food, more laughter, times of levity, and times of serious conversation.

Read the Gospels, and you find Jesus at dinner parties regularly. He knew many of the most significant conversations happened in someone's home. In fact, Jesus was regularly criticized by the company He kept at the table.

Hospitality is a lost art in some circles. We can be private and insular, focused on our own lives. But Jesus taught a new way: a way of radical hospitality. And who was there? Friends and

strangers. Those who He wanted to spend time with and those who wanted to spend time with Him. Here is the God of the universe breaking bread and drinking wine with those many despised in society.

Why? Because in that intimate setting, the things of life get talked about. We realize that the struggles of others are our struggles as well. We also have the opportunity to develop deeper relationships which lead to deeper conversations.

How intentional are you in inviting people to your table? Not just close friends and family but others that you meet? No one who comes will ever forget your gracious hospitality. And, it may well open opportunities for eternal conversations. So, become a person of the table as Jesus was, and your life will be more prosperous as you enrich others.

Here is your prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for your word. I pray that you would transform my heart and mind so that I might be a person of the table, opening my life and home to all those you send my way. In Jesus' name. Amen.

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DEVOTIONAL DAY 9

What thoughts are going through your mind? Take some time to write them down and reflect on what you just read!

The power of your table

DEVOTIONAL DAY 10

Where does radical hospitality start? It starts around dozens of tables in dozens of homes as we invite friends, neighbors, co-workers, and others to the simple ritual of a meal together. Nothing fancy. Simply a gathering of friends and strangers around a table where Jesus and conversation are the common themes.

You may not realize this, but your table has power! When you invite someone into your home, you invite them into your life. The table is an intimate place where the opportunity to share and open your heart is more natural than elsewhere. Your home is part of who you are and to share food is to share the essence of life. And, because an invitation to your table is an invitation to your life, it is also an invitation to Jesus because He is part of your life.

Jesus knew this, which is why many of His most intimate conversations were at the table. In fact, at the table, you can speak with remarkable candor because that is what one does at home. And the table is not a place of hurry but of rest and slow pace. The Middle East, where Jesus lived, is a place of long dinners with laughter, sometimes raised voices around things of conviction, and an invitation for all to be who they are.

The table is an invitation to a place of honesty and acceptance.

Everyone has a unique story; few places are better suited to hear those stories than the table. Growing up in Hong Kong, we had strangers at our table three to four times a week (T.J Addington), and the magic of those meals was terrific. Once on a plane as an adult, the lady sitting next to me saw my name on something and asked if I was related to Dr. Gordon Addington. I said, yes, he is my father. She said, my husband, Cory, spent Christmas with you in 1965 when he was in the service, and he will never forget that Christmas. That is the power of the table. It can be the power of YOUR table!

If you want to see lives changed - including your own, invite people to your table just as Jesus did. You will be amazed at what happens.

Here is your prayer for today: Dear God, thank you for the power of my table. I ask that you would lead me in opening my life to all those I encounter with the hopes of them seeing your goodness through me. In Jesus' name. Amen.

What thoughts are going through your mind? Take some time to write them down and reflect on what you just read!

His-Story: Jerome Cosby

Finding Community In Unexpected Places You can check out the video interview by visiting our website WWW.FORESTCITYCHURCH/7THFLOORSTORYBOOK

As I stepped off the elevator into the LANOR studio space, I was stunned at the beautiful graffiti-splattered walls and the colossal shirt printer stationed in the middle of the room. Forest City’s Creative Director, Corbyn Tyson, and founder of LANOR Co., Jerome Cosby, greeted me as I walked in and gazed about. Jerome, or “Rome” as his friends call him, serves on our volunteer team at the Rockford campus. Still, he is most likely known for his clothing brand LANOR, which rocks the backs of many throughout the city!

Q: What were the deciding factors behind your wanting to be a part of this seventh-floor community?

Rome: Diversity was one of the deciding factors for sure. Through Forest City, I stepped into rooms with many different types of people, and none of them were segregated. I've always wanted to be a part of a community like that. And the other deciding factor was the life-giving conversations I was having with the people here. I always leave inspired when I'm around people from the church.

Rome founded LANOR Co. as a clothing brand that brings a modern take on vintage luxury garments. He was born in Chicago but deeply considers himself a Rockfordian, having lived in Rockford for most of his life. Rome has been attending our church for over a year and agreed to let me get his take on the seventh-floor and radical diversity. Here is what he had to say about it.

Q: Tell me about your journey to FCC. What led you to this church specifically?

Rome: I got connected through Charmon and Carrington, actually. One night, I met them at a mutual friend's house, and they were cool. They liked the “Death to Ego” line we created for LANOR, and they were letting everyone know about it. So I started coming around, and when I started meeting people from the church, I thought everybody was very welcoming.

But one day, I was working at Velvet Robot downtown, and Chad Burgess came in, and we ended up having this long conversation. By the end, we'd decided to start a whole little men's devotional group. And it was my first time ever doing that, so I was excited. So in a way, I would say that community led me here.

Community has always been a part of who I am, but it took me a while to find one like this. It's like a family. We connect, have each other's backs when needed, and are committed to growing together. I am proud to be a part of other people's journeys and to allow them to be a part of mine.

Q: One of our value's here at Forest City Church is "radical acceptance." What does that phrase mean to you?

Rome: I think radical acceptance is just understanding that despite the differences you and someone else may have, we are all the same in one way. We all draw blood the same; we all wake up the same. And I feel like if you sit down and get to know somebody, you can look past all the differences and see God in them. Radical acceptance is being open and allowing people into your space, regardless of your initial thought about them. You are always willing to change your mind about them.

Q: What advice would you give someone trying to find a seventh-floor community?

Rome: I would say that they have to "Be the community" first. Once you present your space as a communal space, I feel you will attract the right people. You put out the energy you're trying to receive back. And you do that by being good to people and treating people how you want to be treated. Being a person that is willing to help when somebody needs it.

"I always say I am a fashion designer rather than a clothing designer because I aspire to one day have a huge fashion house."

Beautiful Diversity

We live in an increasingly polarized world. We are divided by everything from tribes, politics, race, social groups, and even our football teams.

But into these divisions comes Jesus and the seventh-floor! Seventh-floor culture is a culture of radical hospitality where there is extraordinary effort and emphasis placed on making people feel welcome - all people. It is hospitality that overflows with acceptance, is filled with generous grace, and is beautifully diverse around the person of Jesus Christ. Why? Because Jesus died to make it possible for us to be at peace with God and at peace with one another.

Look back at the ancient world! They were divided as well; Jews were separated from Gentiles, slaves from free, men from women, and the list goes on. But Jesus came to destroy that animosity and hostility. "His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility." (Ephesians 2:17)

Did you catch what Paul said? The purpose of Jesus was to create in himself one new humanity where peace reigns and hostility is put to death. This is Seventh-floor culture where all are welcome and have a seat at the table no matter their story, ethnicity, social class, or background. A new family rooted in Jesus is created, making us one through the cross.

In His family, diversity is intentionally cultivated because it is in our coming together that you and I are changed. Together, we become greater through Jesus and our relationship. This is our new humanity, our new family that Jesus died for. So, at Forest City Church, we embrace the whole family of God. He cared enough to give His life for that family, so we will spare no effort to make that family a reality. And, we won't be satisfied until our congregations look like the communities we live in: Beautifully diverse.

So here is the prayer for today: Heavenly Father, we pray that our church would reflect the beautiful cities it serves. And that no walls of division would stand to divide your people from one another. In Jesus' name, Amen.

56 | THE 7TH FLOOR
DEVOTIONAL DAY 11

What thoughts are going through your mind? Take some time to write them down and reflect on what you just read!

Reconciliation and unity

Let's be candid. Diversity may be beautiful, but it is not always easy. For example, suppose you come from a large family like I do. In that case, you realize how challenging it can be to navigate all the different perspectives and personalities in your family. Throw in ethnic and cultural differences, and you have a real challenge.

What is the secret to making diversity work in the church? Remember what Paul said in Ephesians 2. In His death, Jesus came to create a new humanity and a new family around the person of Jesus Himself.

This is not about simply being accommodating to those different from us. Instead, it is a willingness to be in a relationship with people and, through the relationship, to be changed along with them into something new, more beautiful than we could have imagined. This is what the Holy Spirit does as He knits us together in relationship and fellowship with other believers who are different from us.

In His High Priestly prayer in John 17: 23, Jesus says that through our unity, the world will know that He was sent by the Father and is one with the Father. The proof of His divinity would be the unity of His people.

This takes work. Paul told the Ephesians what it would take for this "new humanity,” this "new

family" to be successful. "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

One of my life's great blessings has been working with people from over 60 nations (T.J Addington). In that process, I have learned the richness of each of those different cultures and perspectives. Each of those relationships has changed me in some way. That is what Jesus wants for us as we build a new community of beautiful diversity around the person of Jesus Christ.

So here is your prayer for today: Thank you, Jesus, for the blessing of diverse communities and mindsets. Please, equip us for the challenge of intentional diversification. Go before us. In Jesus' name, Amen.

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DEVOTIONAL DAY 12

What thoughts are going through your mind? Take some time to write them down and reflect on what you just read!

Jesus and the Gospel above all else

Remember, seventh-floor culture is a culture of radical hospitality where there is extraordinary effort and emphasis placed on making people feel welcome. It is hospitality that overflows with acceptance, is filled with generous grace, and is beautifully diverse around the person of Jesus Christ.

Why is this so rare today? I suspect it is because we have often substituted less critical issues at the expense of more important ones. Indeed, within the Christian community, we have allowed our politics, for instance, to color our whole worldview. In doing so, we have elevated our political views above our vision for Jesus and the Gospel, dividing us from fellow believers. And the same can be said for cultural issues.

Here is something to consider. Neither Jesus nor Paul said almost anything about politics. Instead, Jesus said much about Himself, the Father, and the Kingdom of God that He ushered in. His focus was on the Gospel and what God was up to in our world. The same was true with Paul. In fact, he was unequivocal that our focus needed to be on what was essential to God's work and not on those things that would divide His people.

If we want to overflow with acceptance, it will mean that we are intentionally open to the views of others. Generous grace means that we will extend understanding and compassion to those who have very different backgrounds and experiences than we have. And a commitment to diversity will always test our ability to be flexible, open, and teachable by those whose story is not ours.

In each of these instances, we have a choice. Do we put our preferences, politics, or worldview first, or do we choose to prioritize the people we are with as Jesus did? His conversations were never around secondary things but always around primary things, namely what it meant to follow Him. He would not get pulled into secondary discussions even with the Pharisees who tried to trip Him up. For Jesus and the New Testament writers, the Gospel and people took precedence over other issues.

Again, Paul's words to us in Ephesians 4:1-6, "I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." These are the essential things. Let's focus on these and allow the other things to sort themselves out as we build a church of radical hospitality.

Our prayer for today: Dear God, thank you for your example through the person of Jesus. We pray today that your Spirit would help us to keep the main things the main things, forever holding peace and unity in the faith as priorities in our lives. In Jesus' name, Amen.

60 | THE 7TH FLOOR DEVOTIONAL DAY 13

What thoughts are going through your mind? Take some time to write them down and reflect on what you just read!

LET’S SET A NEW OLD KIND OF TABLE… TOGETHER

Perhaps you remember family dinners at your grandparents' house like I do. The table was always set with the best silverware and Sunday dishes. It was a long table because we had a lot of people sitting around it. A special time with great food, friendly conversation, and the one "sure" event in our week.

But, although a very fond memory, when we talk about setting a new old kind of table together, it is not about the silverware or the dishes. It is about getting back to the type of radical hospitality that Jesus modeled and called us to, where extraordinary effort and emphasis are placed on making people feel welcome. Where our culture overflows with acceptance, is filled with generous grace, and is beautifully diverse around the person of Jesus Christ. What if we intentionally began to set a new old kind of table like that together?

It is so simple and profound and beautiful, and here is the cool thing: every single one of us can do it! This is not a ministry reserved for those who have some kind of special training. It is what each of us is called and invited to. It is the people of God being the people of God and welcoming others into His family: friends, neighbors; misfits; the marginalized; those like us, and those not like us. It is His new family - beautiful, messy, in process, broken, needy, unique, but all centered around Jesus!

At Forest City Church, we say that we have long tables and low walls. Long tables because we will always put another leaf in the table for the next person that wants to join us. Low walls as we make it easy for people to find their family among us. We won't put up barriers to people coming. Instead, we will introduce them to Jesus and a new family and encourage them and one another in our spiritual journey.

This is an invitation for you to join us in setting new old kinds of tables together. A culture of radical hospitality where anyone and everyone can find a home, a family, and a Savior. A place where Jesus is at the center and His Spirit pervades our relationships. It is where we grow in Him and create a home for the next one who needs a seat at the table. The table is His. We simply set the table.

So here is the prayer for today: God, you have been so good to us all through this time of devotion and learning. Would you never allow us to forget what seventh-floor community is and how we can participate in it. It is your Gospel, and we get to play a part in making radical hospitality normal! Lead us in this transformative journey of building new old kinds of tables centered around your person. In Jesus' name. Amen.

62 | THE 7TH FLOOR
DEVOTIONAL DAY 14

What thoughts are going through your mind? Take some time to write them down and reflect on what you just read!

A LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

OKAY! So you have made it to the end of this book, and your head is probably swarming with content. And you're wondering, "Where do I begin? How do I start to access all that God has for me regarding the seventh-floor?" Or maybe you're asking, "How do I take it a step further?"

If you've made it this far, you know what our church is about (HOPEFULLY) and understand what it means to be a part of a seventh-floor community. The question is… now what?

As an active participant of the seventh-floor, one of the most important things to understand is how to create seventh-floor experiences daily in your life. And as we conclude this book, I want to leave you with some tangible next steps to do just that. These steps might be super easy for some of you and you might even have some of them checked off already! But for others, like me, these might push you to step out of your comfort zone. Nonetheless, these are achievable next steps and the key to your next level in accessing the God-centered community our Father intended us to live in.

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So here we go!

Havens Homes

Hubs

66 | THE 7TH FLOOR

Havens Homes

Hubs

GO. MAKE SPACE.

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