By L. Sharp
Lines were wrapped around the ARC Pavilion, which holds a maximum capacity of about 8,000. There were banners with the UC Davis theme: ONE DAVIS, ONE WORLD. The conference was sold out. 10 nations (aside from the U.S.) were represented. There was much emotional excitement in the air as people were waiting with great anticipation to get into the “Jesus Culture” event. About one third of the attendees were 30-40 years of age. The rest were mostly 20 or younger.
Attendees were also given a conference program. The front page said: “ONE ENCOUNTER CHANGES EVERYTHING” and had an intro section written by director of Jesus Culture, Banning Liebscher (former youth pastor at Bethel Church in Redding, CA).
The intro read:
Throughout history there have been momentous gatherings where the people of God came together to seek His Presence, to see Him show up in power and in love. One thing we know: when God shows up everything changes.
In Acts 9, the Apostle Paul has such an encounter on the road to Damascus, God shows up and surrounds Paul in His light, changing his life and forever making history.
We are believing God to come again like that in these next 2 days. We are believing for such an encounter for you. For your friends. For your family. For Sacramento. We have invited some of the most significant church leaders, speakers, and worship leaders to come to Jesus Culture Conference Sacramento.
Our prayer is that everyone would meet God, encounter His love, and live forever changed. That they would in turn live a life to see their city and region transformed through God’s love and power. This is what will bring revival. This is what we are burning for.
The major themes of “burning hearts for Jesus,” “awakening,” “glory,” “burning with passion,” “burning fire,” “revival,” “one voice,” etc. were prevalent throughout the songs of the conference.
Jesus Culture is a “Christian” worship band that began as a younger generation offshoot of Bethel Church’s worship ministry. It has only been in recent years that the Jesus Culture band has exploded in popularity around the world. Though based in Sacramento, the Jesus Culture band tours the world regularly and draws crowds in the tens of thousands, filling arenas around the world. The Jesus Culture band has also recorded many albums and continues to grow exponentially in popularity worldwide. The Jesus Culture Facebook page has over 2 million followers!
Their main draw is their talented young musicians who all grew up in Redding’s Bethel Church spiritual environment, so for them, everything about God is always experienced through the senses. This is seen through the full-on sensory musical experiences provided during each Jesus Culture performance. Also, on occasion, the band leaders may “prophesy,” “declare,” etc. to this young generation and may lead the attendees into “deeper levels of ‘intimacy’ with God” through their musical-leading techniques.
The Jesus Culture band is drawing young people in the California area away from their conservative Bible-teaching churches. They are doing this (as evidenced by their 2015 Sacramento conference) by creating a mentality that “Jesus Culture” is spiritual, experiential, passionate for Jesus, and any conservative Bible-teaching church and its music is “religious,” “unspiritual,” “dead,” and “lacking passion for Jesus.” In September 2014, Banning Liebscher started a Jesus Culture church plant in Sacramento.
Liebscher kicked off the conference with this theme, which permeated the entire conference:
Jesus Culture is all about raising up revivalists, leaders, catalysts . . . In these next 27 hours, God is going to mark things. We believe ONE ENCOUNTER with God will change your lives. I believe God is raising up a generation who is willing to lay themselves down, to exalt Jesus. In the next 27 hours, we are praying that you would be marked, that in 10, 20, 40 years, you would still be marked by what God will do in the next 27 hours. We believe tonight we are here for God, and we are here for God to mark us with His Presence.
The music, combined with flashing colored streamed lights, white blinding lights, and synthesizers brought attendees to a heightened musical-sensory, near mind-altering state. Fog lights were used on occasion to try and create the “sense” of God’s presence in a visual “glory cloud.” There were also rotating circular white or colored lights shone on the walls during some songs (like the hippie days of psychedelic experiences).
The 8,000 attendees embraced it all: lifted up their hands, swayed their bodies to the music, jumped up and down, sang, shouted, and willingly entered into an almost trance-like state at times.
At the end of the first night’s music time, Banning Liebscher concluded with this:
I remember being baptized at age 5. At 17, I encountered Jesus. Everything changed. I met Jesus. I got introduced to revival, where the Holy Spirit gets poured out . . . You will never do this (bring revival) without ENCOUNTERING THIS BURNING, PASSIONATE LOVE for Him. This is not birthed out of obligation or a sense of duty. WE NEED TO HAVE ENCOUNTERED GOD, who passionately loves us, and in response to that revelation, we surrender! I believe we will see revival in cities, in this nation, in the nations! The same spirit that possessed the Reformers, Moravians, and other revivalists will possess you. Lord, I pray You would possess them.
The speakers for the 2 days conference included:
1) JOHN GRAY: according to his own website (www.johngrayworld.com), he currently serves as an Associate Pastor at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas under the leadership of pastor Joel Osteen. In September 2000, while youth pastoring in New, John felt he had found the call of God on his life: to impact youth and young adults with the Word of God through music, comedy, and preaching—all at the same time. John’s talk in a nutshell had 2 main points:
1) John claimed in Matthew 24, ” Jesus said there would be these things (earthquakes, famines, etc.), but before it all goes down, a generation will rise with passion and purpose!”
2) John then went on to “teach” on Mark 2:1-10 (the narrative of the paralytic, whose friends brought him in through the roof, for Jesus to heal him). According to John Gray, the friends of the paralytic were the “they” in the paralytic’s life, because they brought him to Jesus and supported him until he got his healing. The “religious” people who hindered him from coming to Jesus were the “them” in his life. John then said: “You need to identify who the “they” people are in your life, who will bring you to Jesus. Banning, and those in Jesus Culture are my “they.” I need people who can bring me to Jesus. Think about the people in your life . . . Who are the “they” who bring you Jesus? Who are the “them” who prevent/hinder you from coming to Jesus? . . .The “they” are relational and loving. The “them” are religious and judgmental. . . .There is power in having the “they.” There is power in community.”
2) SAM RODRIGUEZ: He is leader of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference representing more than 40,000 churches. He also pastors New Life Christian Worship Center locally in Sacramento. He was announced at the conference as the new Hispanic pastor at the Jesus Culture church plant in Sacramento. In December of 2014, Sam was flown to Washington D.C. to consult with President Obama to discuss Obama’s immigration reform strategy. Rodriguez is also a member of ICAL (International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders) and also part of the NAR [New Apostolic] movement.1 His wife Eva Rodriguez and Sam’s sister were part of Roma Downey’s “Women of the Bible” television 2-hour event in December 2014.
Sam began with this: “Gideon, in Judges 6, went in one chapter, from failure, to surviving, to thriving! He emerged as leader of his people . . . I believe this generation will have an ENCOUNTER WITH GOD. Not known for failure, this generation will be known for its cry for His glory. We are in one of these 3 states:
1) Failure (in Egypt)
2) Surviving (in the desert)
3) Thriving (in the promise)
Sam continued with:
Everyone occupies one of these 3 spaces. Repeat after me: Failure, survive, thrive. Everyone has to go through a process. The idea is not to get stuck. Prophetically I declare that your season of failure is over! You must be defined by the heaven you are headed to, not your past failure. . . .When Gideon in Judges 6 is hiding at the threshing floor, Heaven shows up and says: ‘You are a mighty warrior.’ When you have a legitimate encounter with God, you understand your true identity.
AN ENCOUNTER WITH GOD REVEALS YOUR TRUE IDENTITY . . .
You are defined by God’s spirit inside of you. Raise your hands and say: “I AM that I AM” says that “I am . . .” ( “I am a mighty warrior, I am a chosen generation, etc. . . .”)
The crowd was starting to get louder and more excited as they cheered loudly . . .
Sam then shared a 2006 testimony of the healing and conversion of an 80-year-old Muslim cleric in Pakistan. Sam said, “In the Bush administration, I was invited to speak in Pakistan to a gathering of about 17,000 people.”
Sam then shared the dramatic testimony of this Muslim cleric’s healing of blindness and resultant conversion, and Sam concluded with: “AN ENCOUNTER WITH GOD CHANGES YOU!” Sam had the attendees repeat in a mantra-like fashion: “If you know who you are, and what you have, nothing is impossible . . . If you know who you are, and what you have, nothing is impossible . . .” He then pointed to the guy on stage with an axe, getting ready to cut down a wooden pole. Sam explained the wooden pole represents (for the attendees) the Asherah pole in the Judges 6 narrative of Gideon. That Asherah pole reminded Gideon of his past failures. Sam went on to say: “Gideon had an encounter with God, and he learned: 1) Who he was (a mighty warrior) 2) What he had (God’s strength and favor) 3) His purpose (defeat the Midianites) 4) He realized he had to cut down reminders of what the Enemy had built in his life, and use that wooden debris, to fuel the fire that would propel him forward into his destiny of thriving! Sam dramatically set up the guy with axe with this: “So goes the Asherah pole, so goes Sacramento . . . So goes Sacramento, so goes California . . . So goes California, so goes America . . . So goes America, so goes the world!! Here comes your breakthrough!!”
Right then, the guy on stage used his axe and started cutting down the Asherah (wooden) pole. It took about 5 seconds, and then there was loud cheering and a huge uproar from the crowd of 8,000! This was meant to be a “prophetic” act, similar to when the Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah were told by God to do certain acts as prophetic symbols of real future events (e.g. pointing to the future invasion by Babylon, destruction of Jerusalem, etc.)
Sam then said, “I have declared your season of failure is over. We will thrive! No more failures.” Then, the “failure” sign on stage was torn. Then the “survive” sign on stage was torn. On stage, the attendees saw visually a threshed wooden pole with its remnants scattered on stage and one solitary sign remaining: “THRIVE.”
“Your failure season is over. Jesus Culture, get ready to thrive!!” And, with this, great shouts and loud uproars from the crowd ensued. Sam then told the attendees to pray: “Jesus define me. It is You in me. We will build shalom. We will cut down the Asherah pole. We will change the world!”
3) BANNING LIEBSCHER
Scott Thompson (who had spoken earlier in the day and runs Bethel’s School of Supernatural Ministry in Atlanta, GA), spoke quite a bit before Liebscher got up to speak. Here is some of what Scott had to say:
God loves your city, your state, your nation. He wants to bring heaven to earth. He wants fire to fall from heaven. Put a hand on your heart. Let’s pray a dangerous prayer together: “Jesus, here I am. Point heaven into my life. Show off through me, that people would look at my life and glory in my Father. Send me back as a pillar of fire, a fire in my eyes, a fire in my bones, a fire in my belly, that can’t be controlled by my surroundings . . . Jesus, make Your name famous through me . . . We thank You Lord that 2015 is the year heaven is seen on earth.”
Banning Liebscher started the final talk of the conference. Liebscher highlighted four things that needed to be “accessed” with regards to the Holy Spirit in order to experience revival:
1) We need to access the Holy Spirit as the seal of our salvation or as the promise of our salvation
2) We need to access the Holy Spirit as the One who takes, guides, and leads us into experiencing the deeper things of God.
3) We need to access the Holy Spirit’s empowerment that enables us to become like Jesus.
4) We need to access the Holy Spirit’s empowerment that enables us to do the works of Jesus.
He continued with: “You have to access and activate all four of these attributes of the Holy Spirit. God calls us to impossible things, but He doesn’t leave us alone. He gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us to do the impossible. For 20 years I’ve been calling a generation to revival, but we need the Holy Spirit to enable us to become revivalists!”
After a brief alter call, the conference ended. God’s mercy was seen that last night with a good number (several hundred) leaving the conference even before the final talk ended and a larger number leaving even before the final altar call started. Out of the 8,000 attendees, perhaps God will rescue some. One thing is for sure, Jesus Culture is not going away anytime soon, and the band and its conferences are attracting more and more Christian young people around the world . . . Over 2.1 million Facebook followers and growing!