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Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire: What Happens When God's Spirit Invades the Heart of His People

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Overview

The Times Are Urgent God Is on the Move Now Is the Moment to ask God to ignite his fire in your soul Pastor Jim Cymbala believes that Jesus wants to renew his people---to call us back from spiritual dead ends, apathy, and lukewarm religion. Cymbala knows the difference firsthand. Thirty-five years ago his own church, the Brooklyn Tabernacle, was a struggling congregation of twenty. Then they began to pray God began to move street-hardened lives by the hundreds were changed by the love of Christ and today they are more than ten thousand strong. The story of what happened to this broken-down church in one of America s toughest neighborhoods points the way to new spiritual vitality in the church and in your own life. Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire shows what the Holy Spirit can do when believers get serious about prayer and the gospel. As this compelling book reveals, God moves in life-changing ways when we set aside our own agendas, take him at his word, and listen for his voice."

Details

  • SKU: 9780310251538
  • UPC: 025986251536
  • SKU10: 0310251532
  • Title: Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire: What Happens When God's Spirit Invades the Heart of His People
  • Qty Remaining Online: 59
  • Publisher: Zondervan Publishing Company
  • Date Published: Mar 2003
  • Pages: 208
  • Weight lbs: 0.50
  • Dimensions: 8.05" L x 5.39" W x 0.56" H
  • Features: Table of Contents, Price on Product, Bibliography
  • Themes: Theometrics | Evangelical; Geographic Orientation | New York; Cultural Region | Mid-Atlantic; Cultural Region | Northeast U.S.;
  • Category: CHRISTIAN LIVING
  • Subject: Christian Life - General
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Chapter Excerpt


Chapter One

The Amateurs

I was struggling toward the climax of my none-too-polished sermon that Sunday night back in 1972 when disaster struck. It was both pathetic and laughable all at once.

The Brooklyn Tabernacle-this woeful church that my father-in-law had coaxed me into pastoring-consisted of a shabby two-story building in the middle of a downtown block on Atlantic Avenue. The sanctuary could hold fewer than two hundred people-not that we required anywhere near that much capacity. The ceiling was low, the walls needed paint, the windows were dingy, and the bare wood floor hadn't been sealed in years. But there was no money for such improvements, let alone a luxury such as air-conditioning.

Carol, my faithful wife, was doing her best at the organ to create a worshipful atmosphere as I moved into my invitation, calling the fifteen or so people before me to maybe, just possibly, respond to the point of my message. Someone shifted on a pew to my left, probably not out of conviction as much as weariness, wondering when this young preacher would finally let everybody go home.

C-r-r-a-a-ck!

The pew split and collapsed, dumping five people onto the floor. Gasps and a few groans filled the air. My infant daughter probably thought it was the most exciting moment of her church life so far. I stopped preaching to give the people time to pick themselves up off the floor and replace their lost dignity. All I could think to do was to nervously suggest that they move to another pew that seemed more stable as I tried to finish the meeting.

In fact, this kind of mishap perfectly portrayed my early days in ministry. I didn't know what I was doing. I had not attended Bible college or seminary. I had grown up in Brooklyn in a Ukrainian-Polish family, going to church on Sundays with my parents but never dreaming of becoming a minister.

Basketball was my love, all through high school and then at the U.S. Naval Academy, where I broke the plebe scoring record my first year. Late that year I hurt my back and had to resign from the navy. I resumed college on a full athletic scholarship at the University of Rhode Island, where I was a starter on the basketball team for three years. In my senior year I was captain of the team; we won the Yankee Conference championship and played in the NCAA tournament.

My major was sociology. By then I had begun dating Carol Hutchins, daughter of the man who was my pastor back in junior high and high school. Carol was a gifted organist and pianist even though she had never been formally trained to read or write music. We were married in January 1969 and settled down in a Brooklyn apartment, both getting jobs in the hectic business world of Manhattan. Like many newlyweds, we didn't have a lot of long-term goals; we were just paying bills and enjoying the weekends.

However, Carol's father, the Reverend Clair Hutchins, had been giving me books that piqued my desire for spiritual things. He was more than a local pastor; he made frequent trips overseas to preach evangelistic crusades and teach other pastors. In the States he was the unofficial overseer of a few small, independent churches. By early 1971 he was seriously suggesting that perhaps God wanted us in full-time Christian service.

"There's a church in Newark that needs a pastor," he commented one day. "They're precious people. Why don't you think about quitting your job and stepping out in faith to see what God will do?"

"I'm not qualified," I protested. "Me, a minister? I have no idea how to be a pastor."

He said, "When God calls someone, that's all that really matters. Don't let yourself be afraid."

And before I knew it, there I was, in my late twenties, trying to lead a tiny, all-black church in one of the most difficult mission fields in urban America. Weekdays found me spending hours in the systematic study of God's Word while on Sundays I was "learning " how to convey that Word to people. Carol's musical ability made up for some of my mistakes, and the people were kind enough to pay us a modest salary.

My parents gave us a down payment for a home, and we moved to New Jersey. Somehow we made it through that first year.

Double Duty

Then one day my father-in-law called from Florida, where he lived, and asked a favor. Would I please go preach four Sunday nights over at the multiracial Brooklyn Tabernacle, another church he supervised? Things had hit an all-time low there, he said. I agreed, little suspecting that this step would forever change my life.

The minute I walked in, I could sense that this church had big problems. The young pastor was discouraged. The meeting began on a hesitant note with just a handful of people. Several more walked in late. The worship style bordered on chaotic; there was little sense of direction. The pastor noticed that a certain man was present-an occasional visitor to the church who sang and accompanied himself on the guitar-and asked him on the spot to come up and render a solo. The man sort of smiled and said no.

"Really, I'm serious," the pastor pleaded. "We'd love to have you sing for us." The man kept resisting. It was terribly awkward. Finally the pastor gave up and continued with congregational singing.

I also remember a woman in the small audience who took it upon herself to lead out with a praise chorus now and then, jumping into the middle of whatever the pastor was trying to lead.

It was certainly odd, but it wasn't my problem. After all, I was just there to help out temporarily. (The thought that I, at that stage of my development as a minister, could help anyone showed how desperate things had become.)

I preached, and then drove home.

After the second week's service, the pastor stunned me by saying, "I've decided to resign from this church and move out of state. Would you please notify your father-in-law?"

I nodded and said little. When I called that week with the news, the question quickly arose as to whether the church should even stay open.

Some years earlier, my mother-in-law had met with other women who were interceding for God to establish a congregation in downtown Brooklyn that would touch people for his glory. That was how this church had actually started-but now all seemed hopeless.

As we discussed what to do, I mentioned something that the pastor had told me. He was sure one of the ushers was helping himself to the offering plate, because the cash never quite seemed to match the amounts written on people's tithing envelopes. No wonder the church's checking account held less than ten dollars.

My father-in-law wasn't ready to give up. "I don't know-I'm not sure God is finished with that place quite yet," he said. "It's a needy part of the city. Let's not throw in the towel too quickly."

"Well, Clair, what are you going to do when the other pastor leaves?" asked his wife, who was listening on their other phone. "I mean, in two weeks ."

His voice suddenly brightened. "Jim, how about if you pastor both churches for the time being? Just give it a chance and see if it might turn around?" He wasn't kidding; he really meant it.

I didn't know what to say. One thing I was sure of: I didn't have any magic cure-all for what ailed the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Still, my father-in-law's concern was genuine, so I went along with the plan.

Now, instead of being an amateur in one congregation, I could double my pleasure. For the next year, this was my Sunday schedule:

9:00 a.m. Leave home in New Jersey and drive alone to Brooklyn.

10:00 a.m. Conduct the morning service by myself.

11:30 a.m. Race back across Manhattan and through the Holland Tunnel to the Newark church, where Carol and the others would have already begun the noon service. Preach the sermon.

Late afternoon: Take Carol and the baby to McDonald's, then head back to Brooklyn for the evening service there.

Late evening: Drive back home to New Jersey, exhausted and usually discouraged.

Vagrants would wander in occasionally during the meetings in Brookyn. The attendance dropped to fewer than twenty people because a number of folks quickly decided I was "too regimented " and elected to go elsewhere.

Sunday mornings without Carol were especially difficult. The pianist had mastered only one chorus, "Oh, How I Love Jesus." We sang it every week, sometimes more than once. All other selections led to stumbling and discords. This did not exactly seem like a church on the move.

I shall never forget that first Sunday morning offering: $85. The church's monthly mortgage payment was $232,not to mention the utility bills or having anything left over for a pastoral salary.

When the first mortgage payment rolled around at the end of the month, the checking account showed something like $160 in hand. We were going to default right off the bat. How soon would it take to lose the building and be tossed out into the street? That Monday, my day off, I remember praying, "Lord, you have to help me. I don't know much-but I do know that we have to pay this mortgage."

I went to the church on Tuesday. Well, maybe someone will send some money out of the blue, I told myself, like what happened so often with George Mueller and his orphanage back in England-he just prayed, and a letter or a visitor would arrive to meet his need.

The mail came that day-and there was nothing but bills and fliers.

Now I was trapped. I went upstairs, sat at my little desk, put my head down, and began to cry. "God," I sobbed, "what can I do? We can't even pay the mortgage." That night was the midweek service, and I knew there wouldn't be more than three or four people attending. The offering would probably be less than ten dollars. How was I going to get through this?

I called out to the Lord for a full hour or so. Eventually, I dried my tears-and a new thought came. Wait a minute! Besides the mail slot in the front door, the church also has a post office box. I'll go across the street and see what's there. Surely God will answer my prayer!

With renewed confidence I walked across the street, crossed the post office lobby, and twirled the knob on the little box. I peered inside .

Nothing.

As I stepped back into the sunshine, trucks roared down Atlantic Avenue. If one had flattened me just then, I wouldn't have felt any lower. Was God abandoning us? Was I doing something that displeased him? I trudged wearily back across the street to the little building.

As I unlocked the door, I was met with another surprise. There on the foyer floor was something that hadn't been there just three minutes earlier: a simple white envelope. No address, no stamp-nothing. Just a white envelope.

With trembling hands I opened it to find . two $50 bills.

I began shouting all by myself in the empty church. "God, you came through! You came through!" We had $$160 in the bank, and with this $100 we could make the mortgage payment. My soul let out a deep "Hallelujah!" What a lesson for a disheartened young pastor!

To this day I don't know where that money came from. I only know it was a sign to me that God was near-and faithful.

Breakdown

The hectic schedule, of course, was wearing us out, and Carol and I soon realized we should cast our lot with one church or the other. Oddly enough, we began to feel drawn to Brooklyn, even though our only salary came from the Newark church. Remarkably, God put it into both our hearts to commit ourselves, for better or worse, to the fledgling Brooklyn Tabernacle. We somehow knew that was where we belonged.

Both of us quickly took second jobs-she in a school cafeteria,I as a junior high basketball coach. We had no health insurance. Somehow we put food on the table and bought gas for the car, but that was about it.

I didn't know whether this was a normal experience in the ministry or not; I had no preconceived ideas from Bible college or seminary by which to judge, because I hadn't been there. We were just blundering along all by ourselves. Even Carol's father didn't offer a lot of advice or perspective; I guess he thought I would learn more in the school of hard knocks. He often told me, "Jim, you're just going to have to find your own way, under God ,of ministering to people."

On one of those Sunday nights early on, I was so depressed by what I saw-and even more by what I felt in my spirit-that I literally could not preach. Five minutes into my sermon, I began choking on the words. Tears filled my eyes. Gloom engulfed me. All I could say to the people was "I'm sorry . I . I can't preach in this atmosphere Something is terribly wrong I don't know what to say-I can't go on Carol, would you play something on the piano, and would the rest of you come to this altar? If we don't see God help us, I don't know" With that, I just quit. It was embarrassing, but I couldn't do anything else.

The people did as I asked. I leaned into the pulpit, my face planted in my hands, and sobbed. Things were quiet at first, but soon the Spirit of God came down upon us. People began to call upon the Lord, their words motivated by a stirring within. "God, help us," we prayed. Carol played the old hymn "I Need Thee, Oh, I Need Thee," and we sang along. A tide of intercession arose.

Suddenly a young usher came running down the center aisle and threw himself on the altar. He began to cry as he prayed.

When I placed my hand on his shoulder, he looked up, the tears streaming down his face as he said, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I won't do it again! Please forgive me." Instantly I realized that he was apologizing for taking money from the offering plate. I stood speechless for a moment, bewildered by his unexpected confession.

It was our first spiritual breakthrough. I had not had to play detective, confront the culprit with his misdeed, or pressure him to confess. Here in a single night, during a season of prayer, Problem Number One (out of seemingly thousands) was solved.

That evening, when I was at my lowest, confounded by obstacles, bewildered by the darkness that surrounded us, unable even to continue preaching, I discovered an astonishing truth: God is attracted to weakness. He can't resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need him. Our weakness, in fact, makes room for his power.

In a parallel vein, people are not put off by honesty, either. I didn't have to keep up a ministerial front. I could just preach God's Word as best I knew and then call the congregation to prayer and worship. The Lord would take over from there.

How I treasure those early humblings. Those experiences showed me that I didn't need to play the preacher.

Continues.

Continues.

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