Outside The Box
It’s hard to believe that fifteen years have passed since a small group of friends and I first visited TACF.
Back then it was a small Vineyard Church meeting in that “warehouse at the end of an airport runway”. When I reflect on those times, I am thankful for the awe-producing moments when God touched me so powerfully increasing my love for Him. More recently there are also memories that bring frustration and sadness. All of these will be a piece of my life known as Toronto.
In reflecting on these times, the Holy Spirit brought a passage from the Psalms to my attention. It can help provide a context for this important spiritual discipline of reflection: “You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where I am.” (Ps. 139:3, NLT 1996)
I believe that our loving Heavenly Father ordains periods of reflection for us to stop, rest and reflect upon the path behind and ahead of us. Reflecting on God’s charted path for me gives me the necessary perspective to walk with Him through the future with wisdom. God knows where we currently are, but the question is, do we?
I recently listened to a tape series by Dallas Willard entitled, “The Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven.” In it he talks about the word “repentance” in a broader way than I had previously understood:
What is the Gospel of the Kingdom of God?
That Kingdom of God is now available to enter and live! “Reconsider your strategy for life.” That’s what “repent” means. It’s a word that refers to “thinking on your own thinking.” The Greek word ‘metanoiete’ means to “reflect on your thinking,” because that’s where your life comes from.
“In Acts 3:19 and 26:20 metanoeo and epistrepho [the two Greek words for repentance] are placed side by side. This shows that the two concepts are related. In these cases metanoeo describes rather the turning from evil, and epistrepho the turning to God.” I realize now that this was my experience when I first came to Toronto in April of 1994.
GOD BREAKS OUT OF MY BOX
In those early days of renewal, John Arnott would often come for breakfast at the hotel after the previous night’s meeting. We would discuss what the Holy Spirit had done the night before to manifest the Kingdom of God in our midst: empowering some, renewing people’s hearts and minds, healing and delivering some from demonic torment.
The Kingdom of Heaven was confronting us in a dynamic way, transforming our experience with God and with one another daily.
Indeed, we were “...giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:12-14, TNIV).
One particular morning before having another breakfast meeting with John Arnott, I had the following vision while I was meditating upon scripture in my hotel room.
I saw a vision of two boxes.
They were sitting side by side. Suddenly, the Lord Jesus sprang out of the first box. On His face was a delightful smile. He spoke to me and said, “I’m coming out of the box you have had me in because of your unbelief.”
This stunned me but pierced me to the heart, for prior to coming to Toronto, I had been saying, “...There’s nothing new under the sun,” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) more out of cynicism than faith.
Then I noticed the next box in the vision. Suddenly I sprang out of the box with a look of wonder mixed with fear. The Spirit said to me, “And I’m taking you out of the box you’ve had yourself in because of your disappointment and weariness. From this point, there is no limit to what the Lord God can do through your life.”
The Apostle Paul’s prayer anchors my experience to Biblical revelation: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:14-19, TNIV).
THE TURNING POINT
Our group changed our flight plans extending our stay so that we could be there for the Sunday service, which happened to be Mother’s Day of 1994. Being a Vineyard pastor, I knew that it was Mother’s Day 1980 when a brother named Lonnie Frisbee came to John Wimber’s church and prayed, “Come Holy Spirit!” for the first time in Wimber’s church. The Holy Spirit came with power, and that one Sunday service altered the course of life for those of us in John Wimber’s church and thousands of others around the world outside of that local fellowship.
Fourteen years later, on Mother’s Day 1994, a small group of friends and I found ourselves in a Sunday service at a small Vineyard church in Toronto, pastored by John and Carol Arnott.
I had already been in Toronto for the previous week assisting the ministry team by “catching” those who were under the Spirit’s influence helping them to make softer landings on the carpet. I also caught the overflow of blessing, too. This experience reinforced a Kingdom value I learned in the Vineyard under the theological teaching of George Ladd and the practical training of John Wimber:
“The Kingdom of God is as much caught as it is taught.”
Through my interactions with John Arnott, I began to learn how better to receive God’s presence. As he shared these scriptures, I saw the need to humble myself. “You must become as a child to see/enter the Kingdom of God.” (Matt. 18: 1-5) “God gives grace to the humble, but resists the proud.” (James 4:5-6) And finally, “Freely you receive (from the Kingdom of God), freely give.” (Matt. 10: 7-8)
On Mother’s Day Sunday morning in 1994 my life changed. In an experience similar to the day of Pentecost, a warm, powerful wind picked up my chair -with me in it- and moved me three rows backward! A fire of love began to burn inside of me so intensely that I began to feel hot from the inside out (Luke 12:49; Acts 2:3). This had personal significance to me being from California’s central coast. Every year we deal with the effects of powerful, hot winds that cause dangerous fire conditions in our area.
Ministry team members who were there began saying, “Bring Carol Arnott to pray for him!” As she prayed for me, I was infused with such love and fire from the Holy Spirit that it was as if I had been plugged into a powerful generator.
Later, to my wife’s delight, a more loving, sensitive and gentle husband returned home, a more tender hearted and patient (still working on this one!) father returned to his children, and a re-energized pastor returned to an expectant flock.
There is so much more to share as I reflect upon what I have expe- rienced from 1994 to the present day. I am grateful for Carol Arnott who tirelessly ministered to thousands including me. I am also grateful for the worship of the Sinnotts, Ruth Fazal and Rob Critchley, and for the humble, faithful, but powerful ministry team, for the godly servants like Betty Richards and Valerie Gillam, and the servant model of leadership that John and Carol Arnott have displayed in such a faithful manner through the years.
I carry heavenly treasures that no one can snatch from me.
But there is a “down side” of this renewal/revival for me. Some of the memories I carry are sadly the result of sorrow and even frustration. I am sad when I think of “those who have turned back from this heavenly fire to the fires of the flesh,” of the marriages that have since broken up, of the churches that have split and the winds of doctrine that some have not recognized as being so different from the wind of God which first blew over us.
Now in January 2009, fifteen years down the path, I carry heavenly treasures that no one can snatch from me, but I also carry earthly sorrows that only our loving God can heal. What God has done through Toronto has been unparalleled in my lifetime.
SEEING THE DIFFERENCE
Last summer, as I prayed about going to Lakeland, the Lord Jesus led me to go. I wanted to seek His face there and stayed for a week. I am still in the midst of reflecting upon the Lakeland meetings and their tragic aftermath.
Two scriptures have come to mind. The first is a somber warning from the prophet Isaiah. The second is a gracious word from the lips of Jesus. “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, But you would have none of it.’” (Isa. 30:15, TNIV)
I believe the Lord led me to Lakeland to see something about Him and about myself. What I saw was a sharp contrast between my experience in Toronto in 1994 and my experience in Lakeland in 2008. In Toronto I encountered a loving, but very powerful presence of the Father’s love. I brought home renewed vision and tender hearted love for people.
In Lakeland the spiritual atmosphere was different. The arduous schedule, the loud meetings, and the anxious striving for revival there wore me out. As I reflected on my experience there, I realize now that what the Father had done for me through what happened in Toronto and the last fifteen years of soaking in His presence had laid in me a foundational Kingdom value:
I cannot strive for God’s love which He downloads freely by His grace.
Throughout the last fifteen years, the Lord had formed His words in me: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matt. 11:28-30, The Message)
I believe God allowed me to see the contrast to affirm that what He has done for me in the past fifteen years has taken root and brought forth fruit. May God give me the grace and the courage to continue to walk in the revelation of His love that I have received and to freely keep giving it away.