It has been a while since I last posted, for which I am truly sorry! The last 6 weeks have been hectic with large events, moving house, and right in the middle a trip to visit Bethel Church in Redding, California. This has been a hugely privileged time in which I have learnt a lot and God has done much in me. I’m still processing all that’s happened and thought I would share some of that with you.
We were in Redding for 10 days and we packed a lot in! We were in about 6 services across the two weekend, went to the healing rooms, received some ‘Sozo’ ministry, attended a 3 day ‘Leaders Advance’ conference, and spent time with some incredible people.
Why did we go? About 5 years ago I came across Bill Johnson, the Senior Pastor of Bethel, at a conference in the UK. Not just his teaching, but the way that God moved in me during that conference made a lasting impression. Unbeknown to me at the time, my current vicar was at the same conference and was similarly impacted. Since then we have learnt a lot from the leadership of Bethel and have found their church to carry the same heart and vision as we do here in Loughton.
What heart and vision? To develop a culture as a church family that expects and makes room for God to move and carrying on moving – a culture that fosters revival. There are numerous examples in history (both ancient and recent) of God moving powerfully in a community or nation that sees that place transformed, but all too often these last for a number of years and then stop as, through familiarity, people try to take control. We want to be a people who will not stifle, control or restrict a move of God, people whom He can trust.
Bethel have travelled the journey for about 20 years longer than we have. We went to see the culture, to be inspired, to catch what cannot simply be taught, and above all to meet with God in a fresh way.
So what did we see? There is an incredible sense of the presence of God and a seeming never ending stream of instances where He has done something incredible. At every gathering stories were shared of miraculous healings, provision, people finding Jesus, or other incredible things. These weren’t stories from ‘the good old days’ but from that week, day or even that meeting. If ‘revival’ describes a move of God that brings transformation, miracles and turns hearts to Him (and I’m aware this is a much debated definition!), then revival has begun in Redding. Yet rather than being an abnormal occurence running against the grain of the church’s life, or even an overflow of their ministry and actions, it is a desired reality that the church is shaping itself around and seeking to cultivate and press into.
One beautiful moment was at a baptism service on the final night. A middle-aged woman became a Christian during the service, went up to be baptised, and in the baptism tank began to see in colour for the first time in her life! She was healed, not by a ‘big name’ intensely praying, but by her Father God who simply poured out His love on her in response to her coming to Him. The look on her face will happily remain with me for a long time!
I could (and may well) write a host of posts about this next question, but I’m going to point to some headlines right now: what did we learn?
- The foundational, all encompassing distinctive mark and focus of the culture at Bethel is a confidence in and desire to reciprocate and experience the love of God. This is not a community of people trying to hype things up, force something to happen, or make a name for themselves. This is a community of people convinced that Father God loves them, enjoys them and wants to bless them and His world. There is an overwhelming confidence in the goodness of God.
- Flowing from this is an expectancy that God will move and a desire to love others. Although intercession takes place and miracles are happening, there is no attitude of ‘we’ll prove that our God is better than yours’ or ‘we’ll demonstrate just how wrong you are about everything you believe’. Rather the attitude is ‘God loves you, has made you incredible, and we want you to realise just how good both you and He are’.
- The natural consequences of this kind of view are wonderful to experience:
- There is great joy as people enjoy God and one another!
- There is a desire to encourage, build up and celebrate one another. I didn’t hear a single word of complaint about anything in all the time I was there. Rather, I continuously encountered people wanting to encourage me, share a prophetic word, or just enjoy time with me.
- In this place of love, there is still room to mourn together in the tough situations, but this comes with and brings hope because God is with us in every moment and He is always good.
There is far more I could write. What I’ve put here I haven’t doctored for readers who may have a totally different belief system than me. I’m well aware things I take for granted may seem crazy to others. But I wanted to share things from my perspective, as I see them. I would love to hear your comments and reflections!