Pastor Joe’s been recommending Jim Cymbala’s new book Storm for a few weeks now. I finished it the other night, and I too recommend it to you as a good overview of the current church situation in the West, and a fresh call to the kinds of things we’re pursuing together (here at CC Philly) on Sunday nights. In the book Cymbala shares this story from his childhood, which found particularly inspiring:
For a boy who spent summers playing on a hot concrete playgrounds and finding shade in the shadows of the surrounding Brooklyn apartment buildings, nothing was more exciting than a visit to the country. Each summer I would spend a few weeks with my cousins in Milford, Connecticut. This is where Uncle Ed and Aunt May lived. Driving up the gravel road that led to their house on the hill felt as foreign to me as the Northwest Passage. As much as I enjoyed myself, the whole experience was so different from what i knew growing up in Brooklyn.
At Night I slept on a cot in their spacious garage. We didn’t have garages where I lived in Brooklyn. I also wasn’t used to the smell of fresh country air and the feeling of the early morning dew when I walked barefoot on the grass. The rash I developed after playing gin the vast wooded areas that surrounded their property was completely foreign to me. How was i supposed to know what poison ivy is? It wasn’t a problem on the cement pavement of Parkside Avenue in Brooklyn.
However, I was used to going to church on Sunday, and my aunt and uncle took mew faithfully to their small church in Milford. There they sang some of the same hymns, an offering was collected, and a sermon was preached, just as at parents’ church.
One Sunday night there was a very special service in that little church. I can’t recall the sermon preached, but toward the end of the meeting the alter area was opened for the people to come forward to worship, sing, and pray. Sitting in the pew, I couldn’t see what was happening, but suddenly I felt something that seemed to fill the room. Even my ornery little heart knew something unusual was taking place, and though it was real.
After a few minutes, I whispered to my Aunt May, who sat in the pew next to me, “What’s happening?”
“Oh, Jimmy, that’s the presence of the Lord,” she said. “Sometimes he comes quietly; sometimes he stirs us to praise out loud. It’s never the same, but what you’re feeling is the presence of God.”
As soon as she said it, I knew that what she was saying was true, No one could manufacture or whip up what I was sensing. Though I couldn’t use my five senses to touch him, God’s presence was palpably real in that moment. Time seemed to stop while I basked in the sweetness of Jesus and the greatness of God.
I was young at the time, but decades later as I write these words, I vividly remember that Holy Spirit-filled moment.
This story has stayed in my mind since I read it. I want to pray for this to be more and more of a normal experience for us, whether we’re speaking about church gatherings or personal devotional time–and even the rest of our daily lives. I want my family, my wife and my kids, to experience this together in prayer and worship. And I want more and more of us to gather on Sunday nights to join what (honestly) we’re already beginning to experience together. Will you consider coming? (Hint: you can join most of the young adults who come on the right side of the sanctuary, if you’re looking at Pastor Joe.) Hope to see you soon.