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Thursday, November 13, 2014

"Storm" (Jim Cymbala)

TITLE: Storm: Hearing Jesus for the Times We Live In
AUTHOR: Jim Cymbala
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (208 pages).

The name of the book may suggest it. The picture that accompanies it may show a physical storm approaching. However, the book is more than twisters, tornadoes, or typhoons. Though it began with a story of how Superstorm Sandy affected the author's city of residence, it struck three warning signs for the Church at large. First, the Church is not as large as they thought. Second, not many Christians have been transformed in Christ. Third, there is an alarming decline of biblical literacy. Instead, people mimic the world more than Christ. They buy into fads and trends that are more worldly than biblical. They incorporate modern management techniques to drive Church attendance. Entertainment programs fill worship halls to drive numbers. The message focuses more on relevance rather than preaching the power of the Cross. As the Pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle Jim Cymbala puts it, there is mostly "icing but no cake." He counters the approaching storms with a call to storm heaven with prayer. Like the biblical Hannah who prayed amid her struggles with dark moments, the author shares about his desperate prayers at a time where his Church only numbers at most twenty people; low on funds; located in a broken inner city neighbourhood; and he and his wife needed second jobs to make ends meet. The big spiritual problem facing churches is actually not external but internal: like the lack of prayer. Other problems include the rising social problems in our vicinities. In the story of Avril, Cymbala tells of how God can turn the mess of life into a ministry for life. For God's call is not only for people overseas but also for the poor and vulnerable near our neighbourhoods.

In the area of leadership, in what Cymbala describes as his most difficult chapter to write, he laments the many unbiblical and faulty church leadership models; he criticizes the lukewarm Church; he fears that Christianity in America is on a "nosedive"; and there are lots of data pointing to the decline of Christianity in general. The key question: Do we lead with love or with self-interest? In the area of spirituality, he is afraid that too many Christians have failed to obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit, leading many to live ineffective and powerless spiritual lives. That is why people are easily discouraged. Only God can clean our lens to see clearly.  We read the story of Bethsaida who left the Church during a time of rebellion, felt a burden for women and girls helplessly enslaved into sex trafficking, and how God enabled her to minister there. It is a story of hope that even when people leaves the Church, the Holy Spirit is still able to draw them back. Our role is to point people to Christ. In the area of cultural challenges, our modern challenges are not very different from the Early Church. They had their heresies to fight. We too. Cymbala warns us of the following "skewed gospels":

  • "Join Our Church Gospel" that promotes the Church name above Christ
  • "Special Denomination Gospel" that imposes some man-made organization
  • "Calvinism Gospel" or "Pentecostalism" that aims more at proselytizing
  • "Famous Pastor/Teacher Gospel" that trumpets famous speakers
  • Prosperity/Hyper-Faith; False Radicalism; Church Growth Models; and so on...
These false gospels are not the only threats that make up the storm. Slowly, Cymbala gives us some suggestions on what we can do during the storm. First, we can engage in intercessory prayer. We can stay united as a team and work together. He calls these "storm teams," people who would believe and practise the greatest spiritual weapon: Prayer. Pastors need to pray. The people need to pray. Leaders and people at large needed to be prayed for. Second, we can learn about the old and new covenants. We can understand the Scripture to receive guidance for life. We learn that the Old Testament and the New Testament essentially points to the same message. He critiques the simplistic application of right-wing conservatives all ready to justify war to "take back America." He does not believe that political structures of Republicans, Democrats, Supreme Court, or Congress" can transform the human heart. Only Christ can. Thirdly, there is the promise of the transformative power of the gospel. Cymbala shares the touching story of Mohammed who grew up hating Jews and Christians, but was transformed through the gospel to love the very people he hated. Finally, there is hope for the future when Christ returns. The storms of darkness may assail us. They may even render us helpless in our world. However, the time will come when Christ comes in glory and will blow away these clouds once and for all. What we need are "spiritual readiness," to remember life on earth is temporal; discover the power of prayer; search the Scriptures to learn of how God's Spirit moves; and for all believers and the Church to be Christ-focused, Christ-centered, and Christ-glorifying.

Like a strong wind, I was swept away by the convictions in this book. Filled with laser-like emphasis on Christ, readers will be awakened to the storms that are fast approaching the Church and society. In fact, for some of us, our Church communities may very well be in the midst of one of these storms. Cymbala has given us a way to distinguish the skewed gospels from the true gospel. More importantly, this book is a clarion call to wake up from our spiritual slumber and pray away.

"We are living during a critical hour in the history of Christianity in America. . . . A Holy Spirit renewal with a return to the New Testament as our authoritative guide is the only hope." (Jim Cymbala) 

 Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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