“Revive the Fire that Has Grown So Dim”.
The Theological Concept.
“But I have this against you, that you have left your first love … remember from where you have fallen and repent” – (Revelation 2:1-7 NASB). Since reading the “Preach the Word” book – and in particular Greg Haslam’s outstanding chapter; “Recovering Your Cutting Edge”, a theme that is not often spoken of has been burning on my heart. Greg Haslam wrote it thus;
“In response to the prophet’s cry, Elisha asked “Where did it fall?”, and in the same way each one of us needs to go back to the place where we lost our cutting edge” (p597).
This is not the first time that I have heard this concept. Greg's predecessor, Dr R T Kendall, in his excellent book "The Sensitivity of the Spirit", wrote of Mary and Joseph having to "go back" to Jerusalem to find the boy Jesus Christ. Dr Kendall suggested that if we too may lose the active Presence of the Holy Spirit and must return to the place where we lost Him - if not physically then spiritually.
The Personal Testimony.
Taking these two factors into account, I went on a small spiritual pilgrimidge of my own - looking at past journals that I used to keep. I felt that the last time I enjoyed the Presence of God in strong measure was at Stoneleigh Bible Week 2000. I had just returned from working for 6 months at the Children's Hospital in Dublin - this was a time of profound solitary fellowship with God. Stoneleigh Bible Week was the first Newfrontiers conference that I had been to, and it was an absolute mountain-top experience. It was the closest I had ever come to seeing the coming together of Word (Reformed Doctrine) and Spirit (Charismatic Experience). I found new heroes of the faith in Terry Virgo, David Holden and David Devenish. And above all I never have quite got over the experience of worshipping God with 12, 000 other worshippers. So what went wrong? I have argued previously that going back to the National Agricultural Showground at Stoneleigh would not be particularly beneficial. So instead I have re-visited the Bible Week material and worship itself and what I learnt and experienced there - or rather what I should have learnt and experienced.
The Negative Disclaimer.
This journey is not arguing that one should "go back" in one's Christian life. The Bible speaks of going from "glory to glory". As I understand it, God takes his children ever onwards and never backwards. However the text from Revelation 2 speaks of remembering from where one has fallen. Mary and Joseph found Jesus where they left Him. And the axe head fell into the river and stayed where it was. It is my understanding that when God's children backslide, He doesn't move on in His divine plan for them but remains where He is in gracious forebearance. When His children do repent and obey His voice, often (to my surprise) they find Him where He was.
The Vison Lost and Re-found!
1. Founded on the Cross.
This may come as a surprise to certain quarters, given my past issues with SGM, but my first experience with SGM was through C J Mahaney at Stoneleigh 2000 and was an amazingly positive event. So much so that I tracked down SGM (or PDI as was) and read their website from cover to cover. Mahaney intrigued me by his passionate worship of God there on the platform. Something was different about this man and I suspected that it wasn't entirely due to his being American. His first sermon on the second night was onthe 13 lepers and the 1 who returned. For the first time I realised in that sermon that the Cross of Christ has a great deal more to do with my everyday life than purely getting me "in" to the Kingdom of God. Everything bar everything is founded on Christ's vicarious death for a sinner life myself. I must never move on from that simple fact - that it starts and finishes with the Cross of Christ. For that I am grateful to Mahaney.
2. Fired by the Spirit.
Mention Newfrontiers and very often someone would mention "Grace" and "Holy Spirit" in relation to them. The Stoneleigh Bible Week meetings were powerfully visited by the Spirit of God. I have never seen the gifts of the Holy Spirit manifested so powerfully as from that platform. Terry Virgo brought a prophecy on the 1st night that I still have to this day inscribed in the front cover of my Bible.
"As you come on your hands and knees, ground that you would have thought was outside your sphere that you were disqualified to get near, I've cleared the ground for you" says the Lord. "I've cleared it for you so that you can dance now. You can dance on holy ground. I've cleared the ground for you! I've provided grounds that are level and clear and steady. Even as I came to My servant Isaiah, undone and ruined by the revelation of My purity, undone forever, I've provided him a burning coal - clensing and purging so that he could be in the holy place. Iw ant you to know that I have provided for you, my sons and my daughters out of My love. You will never stamp the ground to make it level, you will never clear the grounds of thorns and weeds. I have cleared the ground for you.
You are free to dance now because of my eternal grace to you, my kindness and my celebration over you. I celebrate in My finished work. I celebrate in embracing My sons and daughters running home. I invite and welcome the prodigal into dancing ground. I draw back the man whose head is hung low with a sense of inadequacy and failure and say, "This is dancing ground! This is dancing ground!". This, My son, was dead, he is alive again! He was lost and now is found. This is dancing ground! I welcome you into My heart and into My Presence as mercy and a gift to you", says the Lord.
"Out of My heart of love and out of My full embrace, I don't want you to come timidly. I don't want you to come wondering, can I accumulate enough worth, can I demonstrate enough merit that I am allowed in? I tell you, I have cleared the ground by My blood. Only there will you find fullness of mercy and because it is fullness, it is not simply ground to kneel upon but it is ground to dance upon for your welcome is complete. The ground is clear! Come My sons and My daughters - I welcome you to this very place. I am full of ambition for you, full of desire to bless you with My love. Full of tenderness and mercy because of the obedience of My Son that frees Me to bless you. Some come dance, rejoice, drink deeply of My love, says the Lord. Enter in, enter in to the mercy of God. The joy and favour and everlasting love of your God, says the Lord".
It was not just through the gifts of the Spirit but through the preaching of the Word that the Spirit of God brooded so powerfully. On his first night Terry Virgo preached so powerfully from Isaiah on the "breaking out" of the Coming King and quite what His coming to earth meant. He then tied it in with the "breaking out" of the Come and Present Spirit. I have always been raised as a classic Lloyd-Jonesian in my understanding of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, but it was so encouraging to hear Terry remind us not to get confused in our dealing with this vital inheritance for the saints. It was incredibly exciting to see this in practice as hundreds flocked forward to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit for the first time. We truly "saw and heard". Oh the vision MUST be fired by an active Holy Spirit.
3. Follower to the Nations.
To be quite honest I have never thought of myself as an evangelist and the idea of "doing" evangelism scared me silly. But at Stoneleigh Bible Week something changed dramatically in my understanding. For me the anthem of the week was the mighty Hillsongs song; "You Said".
"You said, ask and You will receive whatever You need,
You said pray and I'll hear from heaven and I'll heal your land.
You said Your glory will fill the earth like water the sea,
You said lift up Your eyes - the harvest is here! The kingdom is here! You said;
Ask and I'll give the nations to You, Oh Lord,
That's the cry of my heart! Distant shores and the islands will see Your light
As it rises on us".
I had heard this before through Dr Ern Baxter - but for the first time, a living preacher - Terry - was standing before me and painting a beautiful and exhilarating picture of the People of God going to the nations. And I was sitting among a congregation who were not just ready to go, but were already going. Newfrontiers - a people on the move? Absolutely - and I realised that was what we have been saved for. That was what the Cross was about! That is why the Spirit has been given! So that the Great Comission can be fulfilled. It's all there in Scripture - I just didn't see it properly.
So ... there it is. The vision I haven't seen properly for six years. I feel like I'm back in Jerusalem. I feel like the axe head is floating miraculously. What I have to do now - is to take it - seize it and go with it.