The presence of God, faithfulness, “tribal culture,” and revival

I just know, as I embark upon this post, that words are just going to fall short.  There’s no way to convey — at least, no way for me, in all my writing inadequacies, to convey — the depth of reality of what I sense is happening, and about to happen.

I have been a part of the same church, Vineyard Christian Fellowship Phoenix, since 1994, when I married my husband.  I’d been a part of the Vineyard (VCF North Phoenix, and VCF New Orleans) since 1990, when I was introduced to it by a co-worker at McDonald’s.  From the beginning, it just fit.  I’d grown up in a highly Pentecostal church which, while it had its good points… well, it was like I didn’t know what I’d been missing, didn’t know what I was longing for, until my first night at VCF North Phoenix.

When I married, I thought it would be hard to leave VCF North Phoenix.  I was very involved there:  I was on the worship team, and I was trusted enough that I was the volunteer janitor that cleaned the pastor’s offices every week, promoted from cleaning the bathrooms.  🙂  At VCFNP, Pastor Brian Anderson had (and still has, bless him) more of a teacher‘s style of delivering his message.  At VCF Phoenix, which I was marrying into, Pastor Dennis Bourns has more of a preaching style, more fiery and less cerebral than Brian’s.  I didn’t like it as much as Brian’s style.  It was a bit hard to adjust, at first. 

But, what drew me into VCF Phoenix was relationship — friendship.  As the date of my wedding approached, I realized that although I’d invested nearly five years into VCFNP, and had a good relationship with the staff and various leaders, I didn’t really have any deep friendships there.  It was weird to think that, upon my marriage, I could just walk away with a friendly wave, pretty much, with nothing but memories of good teachings from Brian.  From the beginning, I felt much more a comraderie of friendship and mutual service with the people at VCF Phoenix.

Nearly 14 years later, I feel the same, but even deeper.  I have served and been served, I have cried, encouraged, been encouraged, been instructed, and more than that, experienced the presence of the Holy Spririt every time we have met.  Some churches are dry;  mine is not so.  In fact, for some who leave, it’s just too intense.  God is there.  And, I think I’ve written about this before, but I think that one of the reasons that our church remains fairly small (300-350 people) is that Pastor Dennis actually expects people to be involved, both in service, and when ministry time comes — every week — he encourages people to be either giving or receiving.  In other words, it’s not a church where you could feel comfortable if all you wanted was a seat, weekly, in the back of the church, and to never be talked to, and never have anything expected of you.   

Anyways, the longer I’m there, the more I’m impacted by the faithfulness of the leadership.  There’s a core of people who have been there for even longer than I have, and they’re all Godly, faithful people whom I just want to see prosper.  Well, I don’t know if “prosper” is the right word, but I don’t know what is.  I love them.  I want to see their prayers answered.  I want their aches to be healed.  I want the cries of their hearts to be heard by God, and for Him to turn His face towards them.  There’s such a pureness of Christianity among the people with whom I serve, a lack of ungodly motivations.  There’s no desire for personal gain — like wealth or personal notriety — among the pastors and leaders.  It makes me just want to root for them.

More than anything, though, I just want the fire of God to come down and inhabit our church services.  I want the palpable presence of God.  I want to see the lost come to the Father.  I want to see the sick healed.  I want to see the empowering presence of God drive out the enemy and his plans, and for those who come to our church to see the purposes of God fulfilled in their lives, and to no longer be under the squashing thumb of the enemy, who has too long kept us ineffective and discouraged.  I want our prayers to be heard and answered.  I want worship to be…  what’s the word?  Where it just takes off.  Transcendental, maybe.  Worship that completely transports us to into the Holy of Holies, and we come face to face with our God and Father and King, and are simultaneously humbled and exalted.

I have felt like we’re on the verge of this for… five years or so.  At a church leadership retreat, I got a vision of a guy standing on the edge of a high cliff, with views out to infinity, and him on the very precipice, leaning out, and the only thing that kept him from falling was a strong wind.  Can you picture it?  Leaning maybe 30* from upright, arms back, hair flying, eyes closed, completely trusting in the wind that supports, just shy of taking off.

That picture has filled my thoughts and prayers on many occasions since.  I just want our church to take flight.  I’ve felt like we’ve been on the verge, and it’s been a good place to be, because at least we’re close, but more and more and more, I want to see the fulfillment of it, and no longer simply be on the verge.

Last week, Pastors Dennis and Doug went to Lakeland, Florida, to check out the revival that’s going on down there.  The style of ministry is TONS different than what goes on at our church, and it was an adjustment for them.  But, they did adjust because the presence and power of God was undeniable.  I loved Doug’s report:

I had this picture of me celebrating Christmas with another family, not my own! I remember feeling awkward and a bit out of place because they had personal traditions and expressions that were simply different than mine. Then i realized we were there for the same purpose, to “celebrate Jesus” and to “exchange gifts” and not to abandon our tribal culture. God has deposited wonderful and rich culture into us and has given us a great inheritance.

In other words, we don’t just throw out what God has worked in and through us, as a church.  We don’t just abandon all that He’s taught us, nor abandon our own style.  But, we can still receive from what Todd Bentley is quarterbacking, there in Florida.

This past Sunday, with Dennis & Doug fresh back from their experience in Lakeland, was just phenomenal at church.  We worshiped for nearly an hour.  Dennis gave some of his thoughts, but it wasn’t like a real “sermon.”  Then, there was more worship and ministry, and it was really intense.  All in all, it wasn’t over for a good three hours, and it was the sort of experience where you just wanted to linger, and not have it end.  If we didn’t have kids who were growing increasingly cranky from hunger, we surely would have continued.  🙂 

It’s funny;  I don’t find our church lacking, per se, but it just makes me think of how, really, the Body of Christ is connected, and we all need each other.  Dennis and Doug needed to go to Florida and see what God was doing there, and experience that, and become charged and encouraged… and they needed to bring that back to our own church.  Not so that we can be Lakeland Jr., or Lakeland copycats, but they still, apparently, have something that our church needs, though its “tribal culture” is much different.

I’m hopeful.  I’m looking forward with great expectation to next Sunday, to see what God’s going to do, and how everyone will respond.

If you live in the north part of the Valley of the Sun, you may want to consider come joining us on Sunday at 10:00 a.m..  🙂  It’s the northeast corner of 51st Avenue and Greenway.          


About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on June 19, 2008, in Christianity, Christmas, Friendships, God/Christianity/Church, Memories, Vineyard, Vineyard Phoenix, Worship. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I am glad to hear that your church has been impacted positively by the Lakeland outpouring. We live in Florida and went to check it out and though there is a lot of excess and things that I personally didn’t bear witness to, the Spirit of God was definitely at those meetings.

    I pray that you will all take off and fly…God is doing a new thing, and it is so exciting. 🙂


  2. I have watched Lakeland on GODTV quite a bit, wondered if we should pilgrim down there, havent. I want transformation not just a goosebump. I am more inclined to visit Toronto than Lakeland. I don’t think that all of Lakeland is a goosebump, transformation is lasting and can be given away, a goosebump would dissipate, like some kid camp experience. Your leadership is very mature and can steward what has been imparted. May God bless your church!!!

  3. Awesome, awesome, awesome post!

    My pastor plans a visit to Lakeland as well, it will be wonderful if some of what God is doing there comes back to here to PA. (weird how it happens, just like you described – that Holy Spirit, I tell ya, He’s an intriguing guy…)

    I don’t know how you feel about what happened in Toronto a decade ago, but there are theories (and hopes) that what Vineyard and Toronto was for the Church body (a wonderful “refreshing”), Lakeland could be for the lost (a true revival).

    Sure, it’s a little wierd down in FL right now, but I say, let God’s Kingdom come, any way He sees fit!

  4. Sumi ~ Thanks for your comment! “take off and fly”!! That’s just what I want. (I’m so very sorry about your little girl… I read through a lot of your blog, and, of course, being a mom with three boys and then a little girl, your situation just hit me hard… Peace to you, dear sister in Christ.)

    Lisa ~ Thank you for your comment and your encouragement!!! You’re right — it’s not like goosebumps are bad; I love to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. But, what we’re really looking for is transformation.

    Rob ~ Hey, good to see you again!! Actually, we’ve talked a good deal about our “Toronto” experiences (though we never went, and I don’t think any other church leadership went, our church was really affected by the movement)… in a way, I think it was good preparation for gleaning what’s to be had from Lakeland. I mean, with Toronto, there was a genuine move of God, but I think it became tainted with a lot of… flesh… You know, like some people were genuinely crying out/groaning like childbirth, because God was truly birthing something in them, then others, who just want to “participate” would see that and think, “Well, I should groan loudly, too, next time I’m ministered to!!” and it wouldn’t be real. KWIM? So, we’re aware already that every time there’s a real move of God, there’s also fleshly imitations, and other… open doors for the enemy to try to mock and steal what God is really doing. So, we all just need to be wise and sift out the good from the fake. But, you’re right — my pastor, Dennis, has said something along the lines of, “Well, we do have our own ‘culture,’ but we also need to give room — LOTS of room — if God wants to move in a way that we’re not accustomed to.” IOW, “let God’s Kingdom come, any way He sees fit!”

  1. Pingback: Awesome church service… including refugees from Burundi « Only Sometimes Clever

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