~~A book review
In 1972, the Holy Spirit used some unlikely people to relight the flame at the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Pastor Jim Cymbala tells some stories as he unfolds his fresh look at how God desires to grow a church.
Telling the Story
In the opening section of the book, Cymbala tells the history of the Tabernacle and the story of his life, weaving it with Scripture and showing the place prayer has played in both. He communicates…
- His own inability — the ability of a preacher untrained.
- The pre-eminence of prayer and the way it can form a loving, growing community.
- The place great need has in our preparedness to pray, noting that the inner-city churches and people are not alone in their neediness.
- The wonder people experience when they see God’s willingness to answer prayer.
In a particularly moving portion of the book, Cymbala tells the story of his response to his oldest daughter’s season of wandering away from God. Without going into detail, he communicates the struggle he and his wife faced as they watched their daughter make one bad decision after another. Finally, in a time alone with God, Cymbala felt God leading him to simply pray about it. The resolution of this incident is worth the price of the book, so I will not recount it here except to say that it moves the reader to pray.
In Part 2 of the book, Cymbala issues some warnings to Christians concerning distractions that threaten modern churches. Many churches, going through the motions, are like a basketball team whose play is shameful, but whose spirits are high because their focus is not on their mission but on their nice uniforms and other accessories.
He pointedly addresses the problem of wealth without constructive purpose, the positive confession teaching, the foolishness of divisiveness. He notes the biblical model for problem resolution was prayer — not petition of governmental leadership or running and hiding. The apostles simply prayed for boldness.
He asserts that prayer for the empowering of the Spirit is something any church should be doing regularly, regardless of their doctrinal position on the infilling of the Holy Spirit. He lays down a challenge: “Are you and I seeing the results Peter saw? If not, we need to get back to his power source.” Too many churches seem bored with the historical truth of the Bible. They have been tricked by what Cymbala calls The Lure of Novelty.
He speaks clearly and boldly saying “What we have today is the work of ‘technicians’ or ‘revisionists’ or ‘idea men’ who feel the need to innovate, to devise novelties in order to help God’s kingdom along.” He speaks loudly against the popular concept of binding Satan at every corner, giving personal and biblical evidence against this concept. He affirms that the Bible is sufficient to tell us all we need to do and that the early church acts as a model worth following. He even addresses the concept of deliverance ministry, saying, “Deliverance from the dark powers has especially captured our fantasies. While Jesus and the apostles did indeed cast out demons from the unsaved, nowhere do we see this being done for the benefit of Christians. Nowhere do we see Paul saying, ‘You know, you Corinthians have a real mess there. You need to get the elders of the church together, have them go to earnest prayer, and then anoint the church members with oil to cast out the “spirit of gossip” in your church. The folks who are overweight need to have the ‘demon of fat’ cast out of them. The immoral brother who’s living with his stepmother needs to be delivered from the ‘spirit of lust.’ Paul had a more mundane explanation for these problems: They were simply ‘works of the flesh.’ He called for repentance, for dying daily to self — not flamboyant exorcism.”
Too many churches have bought the idea that we need to be slick. Cymbala speaks of this as being tricked by The Lure of Marketing. He speaks of the blindness necessary to believe that church attendance is the measure of a church. While he affirms that God’s plan for the local church has always centered in evangelism, he warns of the danger of what he calls the unbiblical concept of “church growth” saying the Bible commands us not to aim at numbers, but at faithfully proclaiming the message in boldness. He speaks of the danger of being politically correct. The disciples spoke with boldness. Christ did the same — even with the Twelve, once calling Peter Satan. Revival preachers of the past told it like it was. He practices what he preaches by being blunt with people he serves, demonstrating God’s use of such straightforwardness in a story of a couple who were living together, were confronted, and began to live as God would desire.
Too many churches have all the right words and none of the power that should accompany them. Cymbala addresses this in a chapter entitled The Lure of Doctrine without Power. Knowing all the right concepts does not bring people to Christ. Testimonies of changed lives do. He draws on the wisdom of E. M. Bounds when he notes that the finest sermon is lifeless apart from the power of the Spirit. Some church services are pre-organized to death, preventing the Spirit of God from squeezing himself into the program.
In Part 3, Cymbala offers some wisdom for the future. First, he warns us not to become Too Smart for Our Own Good. Using King Asa (2 Chronicles) as a model, he shows the beauty of spiritual cleanup and the tragedy of spiritual pride. Although Asa led a great revival in his youth, in his old age, he made ungodly alliances. While none of us will be exempt from mistakes, we must be open to correction and responsive to rebuke if we are to stay clear of Asa’s model.
As we look to the future, Cymbala indicates a need for Ordinary Heroes. These people are not the Davids and Peters of the Bible. They are people who are often behind the scenes, praying for God’s will to be accomplished and for his work to flourish. Cymbala uses a number of biblical and contemporary examples to encourage us to be and revere these kinds of heroes.
In his conclusion, he notes that pastors are where they are by God’s will. He warns against excuse-making, where a pastor will say, “God just can’t work here!” Pastors have been entrusted with a sacred privilege and must carry that out faithfully regardless of trends. They must recognize that for ministry to be all that God desires it would be it must be saturated in prayer.
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