Cymbala calls for ‘pure gospel’ at Alabama Evangelism Conferencecomment (1)
March 6, 2014
By Jennifer Davis Rash
Writing a news article describing the closing service of the Feb. 24–25 Alabama Baptist State Evangelism Conference could never do the experience justice. While only the 1,550-plus onsite participants will ever truly understand the impact of being present that night, the nearly 100 online viewers likely also managed to walk away with a strong sense of what took place.
Pastors who preach with the alliteration method might pull out powerful, piercing, poignant and painful as descriptors of the finale to the event held at Eastmont Baptist Church, Montgomery. Basically it would have been difficult to find a person present who would not agree the Holy Spirit engulfed the sanctuary and, for a little more than two hours, moved methodically and individually throughout the crowd.
From the opening Gaither Vocal Band-style hymn sing led by Guy Penrod — most noted for his long, silver hair and role with the Gaithers — to the raw, blunt challenge of Jim Cymbala — pastor of New York’s Brooklyn Tabernacle, author and former college basketball player — time stood still.
Eyes across the room welled with tears throughout the night, at different times and for different reasons. Shouts of “Amen” and “Preach it, brother” — as well as a few old-time, Holy Ghost-driven cries aloud — echoed off and on.
Some were taken back to specific life-changing moments as the words of “The Old Rugged Cross,” “He’s Watching Me,” “Nothing But the Blood” and “He Hideth My Soul” transformed their surroundings. Others dealt with current struggles, hurts and difficulties as Penrod’s delivery of “He Is Able” and “The Old Rugged Cross Made the Difference” stirred the crowd, ending with a rousing, extended standing ovation.
“Life can be difficult,” Penrod said. “There are challenges, failures ... children ... but no matter what the future might look like, know we are salt and light and we have been filled with the Holy Spirit and are called to minister with the love of Jesus in us.”
Cymbala picked up on Penrod’s mention of difficult situations and spent a few minutes at the end of the service focusing on prodigal children, drawing the crowd in even closer as hundreds flooded the altar to pray and be prayed for regarding their heartache over loved ones.
The night closed with a second extended standing ovation “with cheers like at a football game,” Cymbala said after leading the group in “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.”
However, before the final prayer Cymbala was anything but gentle as he challenged Alabama Baptists and others present to return to a purity of the gospel.
Starting with Acts 1 and pointing to Acts 8, 10 and 13 as well as 1 Corinthians 2:4 throughout his sermon, Cymbala said the life of the believer is not about trivial matters but about spreading the Good News.
The last thing Jesus said on earth — “ ... you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and
Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” Acts 1:8 — demonstrated what was heaviest on His heart, Cymbala said. “He didn’t talk about trivial things.”
He did not command for believers to sing praise choruses instead of hymns or vice versa, Cymbala said.
“He didn’t even say to study the Bible, even though we need to. ... He said the most important thing is to go throughout the world and spread the Good News ‘that I’m alive.’
“We live in America and the Christian church is shrinking in America faster than you can imagine,” Cymbala noted. “It is what it is. We live in a dark world. America is a Gentile nation. It is all around us.
“The hope is not in the White House, the president, Republicans or Democrats,” he said. “The only hope is in the Good News of Jesus Christ.
“A nation can’t be better ... than the people who live in it. Unless we change the people, we can’t change anything,” Cymbala said. “And the only instrument to change people is the gospel of Jesus Christ. ... There has to be an act of God.”
But reaching people with the gospel is not about church growth because focusing on church growth can lead to a dilution of the gospel, he explained. “We’ve got people in evangelical churches not living any differently than people in the world. There’s no difference and the root of that is the cursed pride we get in us about who is running how many.
“It’s not about the how many but the ‘who’ many,” he said, noting the quality of the believers’ lives is more important than the quantity of people in the pews. “The only way people are going to be converted is if we preach the gospel.”
But Cymbala cautioned Alabama Baptists to not assume they know the gospel. Start by studying every sermon in the Book of Acts where evangelism is accomplished and notice what was preached there and what has been added in sermons today, he said.
“There’s no join-the-church gospel, no join-the-denomination gospel, no black gospel, no white southern gospel,” Cymbala said. “We’ve added all this junk and it has diluted the true message of ‘For God so loved the world ... ’ (John 3:16).
“We are not preaching the same thing Paul and Peter preached. We are preaching what we have accumulated growing up. If I preach what they preach, then I will see the same results they do.”
Pointing out that many Christians end up glorifying the beliefs they developed as they grew up in church, Cymbala asked, “If you make that the standard, how are you going to grow?”
Psalm 119 says, “Teach me, show,” he said, but “most of us read the Bible looking for ammunition for what we already believe.”
“We are not supposed to be fighting culture wars,” he said. “There is no improvement on what Jesus gave the disciples to do.”
And there is no improvement on the power of the Holy Spirit, he explained.
“The Word talks a lot about the Holy Spirit,” Cymbala said. “I’m not talking about emotionalism or fanaticism, but ... how is our light going to shine unless the Holy Spirit is beaming us up?
“The only thing God can do on earth now is through the Holy Spirit. We need the Spirit,” he said, noting the disciples were not really changed until Jesus left and the Spirit came.
And while the power of the Holy Spirit and the presentation of a pure gospel are vital, they are not enough without a true love of people, he concluded.
“We can’t effectively witness unless we love the people we talk to,” he said. “I can’t effectively witness if I’m not filled with the same love that sent Jesus to the cross.
“Jesus died for everyone. How can I reject anyone that Christ died for?”
Cymbala said the depth of God’s love came sharply into focus for him when the horrible stench of a homeless man standing before him during an invitation service turned his heart to assume he wanted money.
“I don’t want your money,” the man said as he slapped Cymbala’s hand away. “I want this Jesus you talked about.”
“Today he is one of the finest Christians I know, and I was going to dismiss him with a $5 bill,” Cymbala said. “God spoke to me that day — ‘If you don’t love this smell, then I can’t use you. You are disqualified because the whole world smells like this to Me.’”