The renewal that was started in Toronto in 1994 finally made its way to Atlanta in 1995. Julia and I were still at the Atlanta Vineyard. We were leading a small group, having a small group for leaders and then monthly meeting with Tony and Sandy who were over all the small groups. All our small groups were moving in renewal and the Holy Spirit was moving in them with great authority. We were having meetings on Friday and sometimes Saturday nights at either Mark Lawson’s church in Alpharetta or the Atlanta Vineyard. Many special guests were coming in to visit. We had many Vineyard Pastors who had been to Toronto and were bringing in impartation. The meetings were awesome. Worship was great and the messages were good, but the Presence of God was what was drawing everybody in. It seemed that Ministry time took on a life of its on, most nights lasting until well after midnight. In fact, it seemed like the most important stuff seemed to happen after midnight.
These meetings were where Julia and I first met Bud and Cathy. It seemed like they kept turning up for prayer and always wanted more, just like we did. It was at one of these meetings when I was prophesied that my life verse was “Fan into flame” I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was so true. We have always been ones to fan the flames of revival in anyone who would receive. That is still true today. I have such a passion to release His presence anywhere I go. On another night at the Atlanta Vineyard, John Paul Jackson was preaching and the Holy Spirit came in like a visible mist. It was like a fog bank that started in the back of the room and moved slowly forward. As it moved, laughter, spontaneous laughter broke out as the wave passed over. This went on until it reached the platform where John Paul fell out laughing. Needless to say, the organized portion of the meeting ended.
This was the good part. The bad part was that we were under intense criticism from other “religious” groups. The Vineyard as a whole was being called a “cult”. Every conservative religious group was slamming Toronto. I know that Johnny and other Vineyard pastors were concerned. Personally, I didn’t care what was said. I knew what had happened to me and to others. I had seen the fruit and it was good. But for some reason the Vineyard as a whole began to pull back and try to justify what was going on in Toronto. They even wanted John Arnott to “tone things down”. He refused and then there was talk about kicking Toronto out of the Vineyard. I had seen John and Carol Arnott and I had seen John and Carol Wimber. Personally I felt that the Arnotts had the Wimber’s anointing. John Wimber had been sick, fighting throat cancer and other ailments. He was weak and tired of fighting. I could also begin to sense that Johnny Christ was beginning to pull the Atlanta Vineyard back away from the edge that we were on. I was determined top press on and Julia was right there beside me. Tony and Sandy were pressing on. We were with them.
Early in the year, Tony had felt it was getting time to plant a church. He had talked to Johnny and received his blessing. The timing was going to be in mid 1996. But it’s hard to stop an idea when it has been hatched. The more Johnny pulled back, the more Tony and others like myself were wanting to plant. Finally in late summer, Tony announced that they were going to plant a church in Norcross. That was even farther away from our house, and we had been pushing for something closer, but when he announced it, we knew that we would probably go. We loved Johnny and Anne. We had really connected with them. In fact, I was running with Johnny every week and we were going out with them socially. But I knew where God wanted us to go, and so did Julia. When Tony said he was going to plant, I was meeting Johnny the next morning to run. As we talked, he said that he wanted me to come on staff and take Tony’s place with small groups. I think one of the hardest things I have ever had to do was to tell him that we were going with Tony and Sandy.
That next couple of months was devastating. It was really hard to leave, yet we knew that we were supposed to. I had said that I would be there always. Never say never and never say always, except to your spouse. We loved Johnny and Anne; we loved the Atlanta Vineyard. But we loved the Presence of God more. We knew where Tony was going; after the Presence. We could tell that Johnny was pulling back. Our decision, though very hard, was simple. The next step in the Kingdom of God will cost you everything you have gained to date. John Wimber was right. It’s too bad he forgot his own saying.