Giving Away the Love of God
Carol and I have been in public ministry together for over thirty years now, as of the time of this writing. The word "together" is very important to us because we see our work as a joint ministry in which we are equal partners.
One can put a thousand to flight, but two, ten thousand. (Deuteronomy 32:30) We encourage, challenge, and constructively criticize each other without the element of competition entering into our relationship, and often defer to each other’s gifts and abilities. When God gives one of us a leading for pursuing the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we will welcome it. Of course we don’t always agree, but we recognize that preserving our unity in the Spirit is fundamentally important for the effectiveness of our ministry. In this sense too, we have tried to model a God-directed working relationship for our colleagues and younger leaders in general, first in Toronto and then through the Partners [and Friends] in Harvest network throughout the world.
The shaping of our lives is a constant source of amazement to us both. I was converted in 1955 at a Billy Graham crusade at the age of 14. Carol’s conversion came about in the 70's, at a time of personal anguish and turmoil in her life. Her husband, a childhood sweetheart, had deserted her for another woman and one evening, while in her bathroom, she began hearing a voice speaking to her. She assumed it to be that of her former husband, but a search of the house found no one. That voice started and stopped five times, and Carol wondered if she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. After a lengthy time, however, the voice started repeating the words of Psalm 23, with its sublime encouragement to those who are truly following God in faith and hope. She realized that the voice speaking scripture to her directly was none other than Jesus, the Son of God and Saviour of the world. At that moment, she understood that Jesus loved her extravagantly and unreservedly. He had come to her and found her, forgiving her sins and entering into her heart. This stunning revelation is as powerful and vibrant to her today as it was all those years ago.
"Character is every bit as important as giftedness."
Carol and I were married in June of 1979. A year later, we took a one-month mission trip to Indonesia in 1980 that changed our lives forever. We were ruined by the love of those wonderful people over there, and made a decision to go into ministry. We planted our first church, called Jubilee Christian Ministries, in June 1981, in Stratford, Ontario, some ninety miles west of Toronto. It was simply wonderful to see the lives of young people, drug addicts and others whose lives were often dysfunctional and broken, restored by the love, acceptance and forgiveness of Jesus. For Carol and I, evangelism has always been at the forefront of our vision and ministry. Subsequently, in May 1988, we established a second church in Toronto, then known as the Toronto Airport Vineyard. We spent a great deal of time ministering to men and women who needed counseling and inner healing. As we focused on trying to help people, the emphasis drifted more and more into "getting bad things out" instead of "getting good things in". We were, of course, seeing good fruit as we taught on the Father’s love, and the importance of forgiveness and inner healing, but we were longing to see more significant breakthrough in the lives of our people. Our solution for helping people centred on deliverance and healing life’s hurts, instead of receiving more of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power as a primary emphasis. A visit to the Argentina revival—where among other things, we were prayed for by Claudio Freidzon—radically changed our perspective and thinking. We returned to Toronto with heighted expectations that God would do something fresh and creative in our church. Immediately, we were informed by a friend that Randy Clark had recently received a powerful impartation of the Holy Spirit. We knew of Randy and his church is St Louis, MO, and immediately invited him to come to Toronto. We were desperate to see the presence of the Holy Spirit released among us.
January 20th 1994 is forged indelibly in our minds. As is well-known, on that day the Holy Spirit visited our church in tumultuous power, transforming our personal lives and the life of our church. The events of that day, as Randy Clark led what appeared to us as a perfectly conventional and normal occasional, gave rise to what commentators soon dubbed "The Toronto Blessing". We prefer to call it "The Father’s Blessing". Very soon we came to realize that we don’t have the Holy Spirit, He has us. Quite simply, we felt as if we were being swept downstream in a wonderful river of life. In the beginning we were all like excited children just enjoying the river of God, and we learned that the Holy Spirit always exalts and always works within the boundaries of the scriptures. Incidentally, by the end of the first few weeks of the outpouring we had seen more men and women converted than in all the previous years of our ministry.
"God is looking not for silky external skills, but for right attitudes of heart and mind that are consistent with the teaching of the Bible."
Carol and I were surprised and delighted by the powerful demonstration of the Holy Spirit that day. He fell upon us in a biblical Acts chapter 2 visitation. We continue to be amazed that the Holy Spirit uses us to take the values of "The Father’s Blessing" around the world. Great giftedness through the Spirit began to spread like fire. Yet "giftedness" is never an endorsement of Christian character. We hold tenaciously to the view that character is every bit as important as giftedness. Jesus carried the greatest giftedness with perfect character. This continues to be our life message. “The Great Commandment first, and then the Great Commission." We are to be anointed men and women of God, bearing much fruit because of the power of the Spirit, but yet at the same time, we carry and share these things with Christ-like character. We stress the need for "good fruit" in the lives of Christian men and women (Galatians 5:22-23): God is looking not for silky external skills, but for right attitudes of heart and mind that are consistent with the teaching of the Bible.
The Father’s Blessing is not essentially about physical manifestations, even though they are often dramatic and powerful. Rather it is about what Dr. Margaret Poloma called "the illuminative love of God". By this she meant human beings encountering a God of love who empowers them to share what they have been given; and this is why, quite deliberately, a banner at Catch The Fire Toronto (formerly Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship) declares that the purpose of our church is to "walk in God’s love and give it away to Toronto, and the world".
The acronym "FIRE" is an apt summary of our core values:
F is for the Father’s love that is unconditional and revealed to us through Jesus Christ, both through the Word and through supernatural encounters.
I is for the privilege of intimacy with God so we can enjoy His Presence and hear His voice.
R is for the renewal and restoration of the heart and soul that has its source in the cleansing and power of the Holy Spirit, the healing of life’s hurts, a process that involves forgiveness and a deep work of freedom and grace.
E stands for extending the Kingdom of God whereby we are equipped, empowered and enabled by the Holy Spirit to bring God’s loving Kingdom to earth.
"God is so redemptive and resourceful; He knows how to restore and rebuild hurting broken people."
It is now over sixteen years since the Holy Spirit fell on our church, its leaders, members and visitors. Over four million visitors have attended. We are now five times the size of our 1994 church and have multiple campuses spread around the city. Carol and I have travelled to many different countries in the world. We have seen lives changed permanently by the grace and love of God. We have witnessed many miraculous healings, physically, spiritually and mentally. We have observed marriages restored and reinvigorated—many of them church leaders—and marvelled at the transformation of churches and church life. In all our travels we have emphasised that in the body of Christ, Spirit-filled ministry is not the preserve of the professionals: it is to equip all the saints for what the Bible calls "works of service". There have been disappointments and sadness of course, not the least being when leaders have failed in significant ways. But even there, God is so redemptive and resourceful; He knows how to restore and rebuild hurting broken people.
Through it all, we have been conscious of the amazing Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the consistent, unfailing and overwhelming love of God, and the wonderful fellowship, friendship, power and presence of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14). We want to continue sharing and giving this away for as long as He gives us breath.