People from across The Church of England in Lancashire have been participating in our first ever online conference #HomeGrown: Hearts on fire with love for you.
Our Blackburn Diocese online conference featured a number of live YouTube sessions over two days (October 13 and 14); as well as Zoom-based seminars and live online prayer.
In the first main YouTube session, Bishop Julian gave a talk on the topic ‘’God and Fire’.
You can watch the full talk here via this link directly to the YouTube recording (watch from 57m 08s).
And you can click this link to go to the general YouTube site and catch up on, or watch again, all the other recordings of the live sessions from across the two days of #HomeGrown.
Below you will also find the full text and here is a downloadable pdf version of the talk as well.
1 Kings chapter 18
I love the theme that has been chosen for this online conference, taken from words prayed daily in Morning Prayer: Hearts on fire with love for You
That takes us to what is the greatest need in The Church of England and the Diocese of Blackburn at this time, or the church at any time.
It is in fact a response of obedience to the first great commandment from God that we should love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
Courses, programmes, campaigns, financial investments or recommendations from significant reports will achieve much; but a renewed, refreshed, reinvigorated love for God is the real key to unlock God’s blessing on His church and His world.
Hearts on fire as a phrase conjures up a strange image, but speaks of passion, enthusiasm, commitment and wholeheartedness as disciples.
And it isn’t just in Mission Praise. Some other songs pick up the theme and we look forward to the day when we can sing them together again.
Shine Jesus Shine (Lord the light of Your love is shining) has the chorus 'Blaze Spirit blaze, set our hearts on fire'. Or in the Rend Collective song … 'set our hearts ablaze with hope, like wildfire in our souls', with the chorus, rather dangerous to the ears of the Fire Officer: 'set Your church on fire'; or the song for holiness: Refiner’s fire, purify my heart.
All that language comes from the clear revelation in Scripture that our God is a Consuming Fire - Hebrews 12.8.
He reveals Himself to Moses in a burning bush - Exodus 2.2-3 - to the people of Israel as a pillar of fire - Exodus 13.21 - He sends down fire from heaven to consume sacrifices - 1 Chronicles 21.26/Judges 6.21 - He judges unbelief - 2 Kings 1.10 - by sending fire on the groups of 50 and on Mount Carmel He proves His power - 1 Kings 18.24/28.
And it is to that latter remarkable account I want to draw our attention to this evening; the well-known contest between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal. Because of the dispute with King Ahab over the famine and drought in the land, Elijah is called the troubler of Israel, and in response laid down a challenge.
As we read in 1 Kings 18.20 to 18.24 that was quite a step of faith, leaving Elijah pretty exposed and vulnerable, but his confidence arose out of his close walk with God, and was boosted by his experience of God's blessing through the provision of food brought by the ravens; abundance of oil for the widow of Zarephath and the raising of her son back to life all recorded in the previous chapter.
His faith had grown. He knew His God well enough to trust Him to deliver on the challenge and that He would not fail Him in front of his opponents at that moment of need.
Two points for us to learn; the first shorter, the second longer
1. The ongoing need for God to reveal Himself
The situation in Elijah’s day was such that the people were trying to keep all their options open about the Lord and the Baal idols, without fully committing themselves one way or the other. They are described as limping or wavering between two opinions and unable to decide who was right.
So they practiced a kind of syncretism, a little bit of this and little bit of that, undecided who is really God and content to have it that way. Altars to both.
There's been a constant need through history to our present time for people generally and for the people of God to know and have evidence that the Lord God is God indeed.
It's a need for undeniable and conclusive proof that what we are about in faith is the right path. The Lord is all powerful, with Him nothing is impossible, and so we should not be surprised when the heavenly and the supernatural invades the earthy and natural.
The days of God performing miracles is not passed, but often church can seem like any other human institution, where there is little or no evidence of the supernatural power of God at work.
We need to be more convinced of the faith expressed in Ephesians 3.20.
We are called to live out our Christian faith in a context where there are many other gods and idols in our day; those things, those ideas that have captured hearts and minds, but which enslave. We should seek for that power of God to be manifest, to persuade and convince the world that Jesus is the One to worship and follow.
Every initiative, all Christian service, is a contest, a challenge and a step of faith. Will it deliver/work/achieve? Does it have the blessing of God upon it in such a tangible and visible way that it is evidently the work of God?
That is true whether it is …
Each is a step of faith and a risk, for which we trust the outcome to be from God
Fire from heaven will take a number of forms, and it doesn't matter what, but we long for that clear and obvious sign that God is at work in our midst, that the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.
At the one day Retreat before the ordinations a few weeks ago I turned to 2 Cor 4.7;
We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
The people of Lancashire need to see the power of God at work in changed lives, in transformed communities, strong faith, healthy churches, hearts set on fire with love for God. That is what is needed. Is that our witness?
2. The human channel for God to reveal Himself
In one sense God can and does work in a sovereign way, totally independent of us, but more often than not He chooses to work through people of faith. And that is what we see here.
The scene is set and the prophets of Baal go first and despite their frenzy, the sarcastic taunts of Elijah and their violent self-harming throughout the day, vs 29, there was no response from their Baal idols; no one answered, no one paid attention.
Read 18. 30-39.
Imagine and feel the tension. Who was going to win? It’s a bit like those moments on TV when an announcement of a winner is awaited, there’s a roll on the drums and it seems to last for ages. Which way is it going to go?
Did you notice in vs 38, then the fire of the Lord fell. So what was it that had to be done before God was willing to act? And what is necessary for us to do in order to attract the blessing of God?
The fire fell when:
a) the altar was repaired, vs 30
The proscribed place of sacrifice was in ruins and had to be rebuilt. Calvary, the place of Jesus’ cross, is the place of sacrifice of the new covenant, where God and humankind are invited to meet. When His passion and death lie at the heart of all we are about, at the centre of our worship, when we assemble in repentance and faith at the foot of the cross, then church is ready for God’s blessing.
b) the offering was made, vs 33
The bull was placed on the wood, a complete offering. Jesus was placed on the wood of the cross and bore our sins in His own body on the tree, using the language of the Apostle Peter. He made a full perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world, once and for all, never needing to be repeated and so in the Eucharist the offering that we make in response to His is that of ourselves as living sacrifices to live and work to His praise and glory.
That's the level of commitment He invites us to make.
All for Jesus, all for Jesus
This our song shall ever be
For we have no hope or Saviour,
If we have not hope in Thee.
c) the challenge was increased vs 33-35
Four large jars of water were poured over the offering and the wood; and not just once but three times. Impossible for any usual lighting to take place.
Rarely do we pile difficulties in God’s way to make it more challenging for him. Try our best to make it as easy as possible for God to help us. And I'm not suggesting we stack up the odds but do want us to know that the greater the challenge, the greater the glory that God receives.
That should give us hope in our challenges here in the Diocese; that even what looks unlikely or totally impossible to the human eye is still possible with God.
d) the prayer was spoken vs 36-37
Elijah, a man of like nature to ourselves, prayed. Remembering his forbears and history, he expressed his concern for God’s reputation, let it be known that you are God, a request he repeated, pleading for God to vindicate Himself over the false prophets of Baal.
Elijah is but a servant, not seeking glory for himself. This contest was not about him. Our ministry and service as church is not about us and our personal interests. We are only servants doing our duty; praying Your name be hallowed, Your kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as in heaven.
And after these four steps had been taken do we read, then the fire fell and consumed everything. And as a result, the people fell prostrate and cried, the Lord, He is God.
The conditions had to be right. God will reveal His hand or send His fire; when we are in the place of Elijah with his faith. That is why a deep spiritual renewal is the key to all we are about.
Yes, we say we want to turn the tide, increase our giving, see many come to faith, be a healthy church that transforms the wider community, but are we willing to do what it takes? Do we really want our hearts set on fire with love for God, for the spread of the Gospel?
For that to happen the Church needs a Visitation, not by the Bishop or the Archdeacon, but by the Holy Spirit. My prayer is not for survival, but revival, a movement of the Holy Spirit across the face of Lancashire, an awakening of spiritual life, blowing where He wills, even bringing whole communities to a living faith. Is that our prayer? Lancashire was recently labelled in the news as the Coronavirus county. Why not the County for Christ?
That aspiration is no problem on God’s side and we will see that in the next two talks. He waits patiently to reveal His power and glory and for us to be the kind of channels through whom He can pour His abundant blessing.
Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from God
Samuel Chadwick: Spirit filled souls are ablaze for God. They love with a love that glows. They serve with a faith that kindles. They serve with a devotion that consumes. They hate sin with fierceness that burns. They rejoice with a joy that radiates. Love is perfected in the fire of God.
May it be so in the Diocese of Blackburn.
Ronnie Semley, October 2020