My friend Matthew and his young daughter went to Target to shop. They were walking around the store when Matthew got distracted. Minutes passed and suddenly he sensed something wasn’t right. Turning around, he couldn’t find his daughter. She was missing from his presence; she wasn’t near his side. His heart was pounding and with deep concern he began to look for her. He ramped up his search by notifying the store manager and other store workers to help him find his daughter. Time went by, one minute became two, and two became ten. To Matthew it felt like an eternity. His daughter was indeed lost.

    As his sense of loss was turning to hopelessness he noticed movement in a clothes rack. This is when he saw her peeking out from where she was hiding. He dropped to his knees and called her by name. She came running into his arms. She had been lost and away from his presence, but now she had been found. She was back in his arms.
    When he asked her why she hadn’t come out of hiding when he called her name, she said she was afraid. She was afraid she would be in trouble. She assumed he’d be angry. Matthew embraced her, told her he loved her, he wasn’t angry, and he was just so grateful he found her.

    This is really a great picture of God’s love for humanity. People are away from God’s presence. They are hiding, covering themselves up. They are afraid to come into His presence. The reason they are afraid…they believe a lie. A lie which tells them God is not a loving Father. He is an angry Father. Therefore, if they turn toward an angry God, He will give them what they know they deserve…judgement and punishment. 

    This is not true! At the core of His being He is love. He offers salvation as a gift to those who turn toward Him. 

    He is always willing to receive those who come to Him at any time. He is not willing any should perish. He takes no delight in the death of those who do not know Him. He offers His relational connection by grace, the grace is found in His Son Jesus. He sent His only Son to illustrate, explain and reveal the love of the Father’s love toward the people who are away from His presence, lost. He is the God of the last chance.

    My father in law was a bartender. When my wife was quite young, he left his wife and five children for his wife’s best friend. Pattie’s mom wept for three days and then began the long process of recovery. 

    Time went on and his new wife met Jesus and her life changed. More years went by and then suddenly my father in law was diagnosed with cancer and given weeks to live. His wife threw caution to the wind and began to speak to him about eternal issues, specifically about where he was going to spend eternity. Her urgent appeal made sense to him and he asked her what he needed to do. She told him to get on his knees, to ask God for forgiveness and invite Jesus into his life. He listened intently and responded by moving himself from the bed to the floor. When he got on his knees he prayed for forgiveness and asked Jesus to come into his life. He was a new man when he got back up. A week later he was baptized. A couple of weeks later he passed away into a new eternity.

This is the love of the Father. Pattie’s dad wasn’t condemned for the terrible things he had done. When he turned toward the Father he was forgiven and was welcomed into the arms of His savior.
    Jesus asked the woman caught in adultery,
    “Where are your accusers?” John 8 NLT
    There were none; He freely forgave her told her to go and sin no more and restored her hope.
    On the cross, He breathed His last, saying,
    “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, NIV)

    In the parable of the prodigal son the father was continually looking, waiting, and longing for the return of his lost son. When his son finally came to his senses he began his journey home, while he was still a long way off, the father saw him approaching and ran toward his son. He embraced him, welcomed him home, threw a party restoring him to all which was his and more.

    This is a picture of the heart of the Father. He is continually looking for the people who are away from His presence. He longs for them to come home, to come back into His presence, to stop hiding in fear, and to be restored to all He has for them. The love of God removes all fear. 

    The people we meet desperately need to know and experience the Father’s love. They need to hear they can come to the Father through Jesus and be welcomed.

Azman … Radical Response

My friend Azman, from Belfast Vineyard Church, coined the phrase radical response. It’s a good phrase that encourages us to press outward.

Excerpt from Go.Sow.

Develop a life committed to radical response.
    As you go, serve, share,
and pray, you will continue to grow. If you decide to begin to share God’s love—untrained—you will soon find yourself—trained. Every step we take to encourage someone enables us to grow in our ability to share our lives with others more freely and effectively.
    Make plans.
    Be determined to talk to and serve your neighbors.     

    Practically love the people you work with.
    When you receive a God prompt, radically respond, and obey and do what you think Jesus would have you to do.
    There will always be reasons why you and I choose not to respond. Our feelings aren’t up. We are tired. It is cold. It’s raining. It’s snowing. It’s too hot. It’s inconvenient. We are insecure. We feel awkward. My kids are too noisy. However, as we make a choice to act on what we value and believe, our no-go, not sharing today, attitude will melt away.
    As I walk through life there are times when I don’t want to be bothered; when I want to hide and keep to myself.
    I’ve discovered it’s in those very moments God often shows up. My weak moments are often the times of His greatest breakthrough; the moments of greatest healing, or the time the greatest touch of saving grace is released. One thing is sure, as I chose to respond, I always learn something from the experience which further equips me for my next encounter.

Miss Dayton
    I wanted to head home from a service after praying and encouraging people. I was tired, and felt somewhat drained.
    While I was heading toward the exit I walked past a young lady receiving prayer. I did notice the people praying for her. In an instant, I knew she wasn’t receiving what she was looking for. The people praying were praying, but I instinctively knew they were not connecting her to the heart of the Father. I did know she was hungry for something more.
    I stopped, turned around, and joined the people praying. I placed my hand gently on her back. I then began to declare and release the Father’s love. She started to weep and gently shake. After a few moments I asked her, “Do you worship in your home?” She said, “Yes, I often sing from my heart and worship.” I gently stated, “I’ve seen you walking in your home and worshiping. The Father wants you to know He loves your worship, and He finds your expression of worship very precious.” She wept. Several other words of encouragement followed. A few moments later I thanked her for allowing me to pray and headed home.

    Months passed. I went to a planning meeting for Hope Over Heroin. At the end of the meeting I gathered my notes and began to walk toward the door. A young lady stopped me and said, “Hey I want to thank you. You changed my life.” 

    I was stunned. I asked, “Really? When did that happen? How did I change your life? I’m not sure I know you. How do I know you?”

    She mentioned when she was a new believer, she didn’t know anything about words of knowledge, or the gifts of the Spirit. She was very desperate to know the Father’s love.
    One Sunday she was receiving prayer at one of our meetings and I walked up and began to encourage her. She told me when I placed my hand on her back she was suddenly overwhelmed with the love of the Father and she began to weep and experience waves of His love. 

    She also mentioned she knew I didn’t know anything about her, yet I had mentioned several things about her life and her relationship with Jesus. As a result she did experience the Father’s love. She then knew the Father loved her and had a plan for her life. 

    Here is the kicker. She was the girl I was walking past. She later won Miss Dayton, and was now praying, and encouraging others. She was flowing in the gifts of the Spirit. She was also using her position as Miss Dayton to further the Good News of the Kingdom.
    I was totally blown away. I thought to myself, “You just never know what a simple obedient response to the Holy Spirit will do to change a persons life. Even when you don’t feel like it.”
    This weekend she came to one of our services and thanked me again and gave me permission to share her story.

Go. Sow. Excerpt. Help the Backward Missionaries.


 This years royalties go to the Backward Missionaries. Purchase your copy on CreateSpace.com or on Amazon.com and help them serve in Costa Rica.

Book excerpt.

     It is possible to live out of the overflow. Personal time with Jesus, private worship and prayer, and waiting in His presence are often the key investments we make as we keep our love for Jesus alive. As we position our selves to lean toward Him, He in turn, invests in us. As we draw near to Him, He draws near to us. His promises are true.

     It’s a time investment that I am choosing to make toward Him. As a by product of this time I’m often refreshed as I experience His grace and His love as He leans toward me. I’m then able to pass on what I have received.

    Over time I’ve noticed a change in my heart, and I’ve noticed that I have an increased awareness of His presence in my day. I’m not fully where I want to be but I am pursuing.

    I’ve also noticed an amazing by product of my time leaning in, my steps are often so ordered that I bump into just the right person, at the right time and when I pray for a person they are amazingly touched and impacted by God’s Spirit. 

    I don’t press in for these things to happen. They just happen. I think it is similar to going to the gym. I go to the gym because I like to work out. As a result of going to the gym over a period of time I gain strength, I have better health and I am less stressed. It’s a by product of positioning myself.

   One lady, after a simple spoken command, was healed of seventeen kidney stones. She had one kidney and she had a ninety percent chance of dying if operated on. Three days after we prayed for her she went back to the hospital. They discovered the stones were no longer there. All seventeen had vanished! She didn’t have a UTI, or any other issues. She was totally healed! I was amazed! It was one of our first major miracles.

   My advice is to find a personal well where you can refill your fountain, a place where the Holy Spirit is moving.

    You may want to take some time off to go a location where a well is flowing. There are hot spots all over the world where the Spirit is moving. Why not take a field trip? Go, worship, receive prayer and learn from others who are pursuing more.

     In order for you to receive, seek to return to your first love. Position yourself to go there, to your well, to your place, wherever your place my be—with a hunger and thirst for more. Spend time in worship; rest in His Presence. Lean into the Holy Spirit. Make room for Him. It’s what is most important.

     One day during a personal time of worship. I heard this question, “Steve, if this was the only thing you did, would it be enough?” I knew this question was asking more than its face value. I paused and said,”I don’t know. I’m so driven. I want it to be enough. Help me enter this rest. Help me to allow You, Jesus to be more than enough.”

Thoughts in the night. The process of change.

Thoughts in the night.

I met with a wonderful group of leaders recently. They are in process. They have been looking at their strengths and weaknesses. They are asking questions. They are also writing, dreaming, re-adjusting beginning to see what could be. They are in transition. In our meeting I mentioned I saw a couple of pictures of where they were in the process: I saw a person who had pulled a bow string back in preparation ready to let an arrow fly.

Another picture: They were like a wave pulling away from shore, building up, gathering energy, getting ready to move forward and release the energy back upon the shore. 

The action of pulling back, zooming out, is a good  and valuable season. They had been meeting together and had written four great thoughts concerning their transition into their new future and destiny.
 Transition and change tips:

Focusing upon who you are becoming… leads people. 
Focusing and reacting to who you are not… drives people.

Focusing on who you are, who you are created to be is so important. Hitting to your strength is often how personal and corporate growth is achieved. Every person, every group is different. We are all unique and gifted. We have strengths and weaknesses. We all have talents and abilities that we must steward. If you are a leading leader you have gifts found in people to steward. (That is another post for another day.)

We all have a unique identity as sons and daughters. Our identity is discovered, developed and deepened in our secret place. We are who our Father tells us we are. We reflect who were are by our words, actions, and attitudes. We are in process.

Change, transition is important. However, strong change and courage to change should flow out of the foundational principle of knowing who you are, whose you are, and who you are called to be. This is true as an individual and as a church.

This thought, “Being secure in who you are and whose you are”, is so important, especially during the process of change, or transition within the context of community.  

Questions to ponder and discuss: 

Who are we? 
What is our strength?
What are we attempting to accomplish? 
Is where we are going, and who we are becoming flow out of who we are?
What is our history, from the perspective of what have we accomplished positively?
What was our initial vision for our city? Is it still relevant? 
How does our community define us? 
Are we still who our community defines us to be? If so, why so? If not, why not?
As leaders have we successfully shifted the language of vision and mission from I, my… to we together
Why are we changing? 
Why are we shifting? 
How are we going to begin change, shift? 
When do we launch the shift?
What’s our process?

Other questions
Does change flow from our confidence of being who we are together(relationship)?
Do our people know their focused purpose? 
Are people secure in their personal identity as an individual, and as a group together?
If you are the main leader do people trust you?

If some of the above questions are not answered the foundation for change is shaky at best, and the road to change will be a difficult one. 

If the questions are not clearly answered and processed over time, (over time is the central thought) on different relational levels (staff, key leaders, key people and your community of faith) there could be trouble ahead.

conversation between two or more people) is Needed 
This is who we are. This is why we are changing. This is what we are changing. This is how we are going to enter into change. This is when we are beginning to implement change.  

These thoughts help the process, especially answering the big Why? question.

I met a pastor from Ireland. People told me he made a major decision when he first arrived. He knew they(his little flock) needed to focus the first five years on becoming who they were, and who they were called to be, then and only then launch new initiatives. He knew and understood the value and the process of change and the importance having something relationally authentic to give away. Now years later they are blessing their city and their world in a big way. They are currently revisiting identity, being brave and having courage to press forward. He took his time and laid a really good foundation.

One great leader said something I’ll never forget, “Never, ever, bring people out of a current vision and mission, unless you have clear understanding of where you want to go and have a process to nurture people into a new season of vision, mission and change.”

Write the vision, make it plain so that the reader may read, embrace the vision, and run with it. Habakkuk 2:2 My paraphrase

Proverbs 29:18 Where there is no vision, the people perish NASB. 

Where there is no clear, prophetic vision, people run in circles, become discouraged, lose heart and become aimless. My paraphrase.

Wise leaders make a plan, and make a plan to make where they are heading, plain. Bowen

Making the vision plain is part of the process. Before the change is launched, wise leaders make a plan, and make a plan to make it plain.

Why does moving into something new take time? Answer: people are involved.
Some people are fast processors… they hear, understand and are ready to shift.

Some people are visual learners… they need to see the big picture, or paint the picture in their imagination of what the change looks like and why.  

Other people are internal processors… they need time hear, to think, reflect, ponder and understand. 

Some people are verbal processors… they need time to talk and be listened to.

Some people just hate change.

The process takes time. Rule of thumb: The greater the change, the longer the process. Our decisions to change, and more importantly, how we enact change does determine our destiny

Thoughts in the night are wonderful to ponder. Hopefully you pay attention to your thoughts in the night. They may be important sign posts for your life.