Exoduses and Pentecosts

My powers of interpretation

They come round each year and, although I did not grow up with a ‘church calendar’, I always value the focus they bring. I think there were also a few prophetic words surrounding Passover and Pentecost this year. I am pretty convinced, on the basis of Scripture, that whenever a new paradigm is coming that 1) there is prophetic revelation concerning it and 2) we normally MISS the outworking as our interpretation has an algorithm that was put in place based on PAST data. (Not a good way to assess future events… but no big deal as we are in biblical company when we do this… just important that we continue to be open.)

Of course if I make the statement that our interpretation is often awry and I am about to make an interpretation all readers will instantly pick up that I am the one exception. If you picked that up then continue to read…!!!!!

I have already hinted at the content of this post in previous posts but I will try and put it out here in clearer form. There are two Exoduses in Scripture. One that took the people out from the exploitation of Imperial rule to travel to a ‘Promised Land’. The 10 commandments (words) can best be understood as 10 instructions that totally undermine the way of life that they had been subjected to in Egypt, setting them up to be a free people. Off they trot… but not all goes well. A king come along, starts humble, next one with some major faults at least is ‘after God’s own heart’, next one Mr Wisdom who subjects the people to an Egyptian-style regime, kingdom divides, king for the north ‘comes up from Egypt’ establishing two golden calves! Freedom?

Not surprisingly the second Exodus is in Jerusalem (Lk. 9:31… the word ‘Exodus’ is used). There has to be a release from the bondage of Jerusalem to travel to the world that was promised (Rom. 4:13, written by a Jew). Here we are having celebrated the ‘passover’. But which Exodus has it been? My interpretation – and remember you are only reading this cos mine is correct – is that the passover in the midst of the lockdown in 2020 marked an Exodus from Jerusalem.

And Pentecost? Could there be something in the following sequence? Last day of 19th Century and we have the first occurrence of speaking in tongues in our ‘modern’ world (from there the movement goes to the West Coast and Azusa Street). 60 years later Dennis Bennet (of ‘Nine O’Clock in the Morning’ fame) on April 3, 1960 announced from the pulpit that he had been baptised in the Holy Spirit. That marked for many the beginnings of an era when the experience of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian community was felt outside of ‘pentecostal’ settings.

1900… 1960… + 60 years = 2020.

Probably coincidental, but I have a terrible habit of making what is coincidental significant. I like that – I deeply suspect God quite likes it too. If we make it significant probably he gets on board to do something with the coincidence.

Now given that interpretations are far from fallible, and often downright unhelpful, I submit the above.

But I leave with ‘passover’ will be significant and ‘pentecost’ will be unprecedented in 2020 (or words to that effect) all come together to say although the interpretations were very suspect, there was a distinct before and after. Now that is worth pursuing even if we do so with blinkers on.

Pentecost: how far off?

What will it mean for us? The promise is for those ‘afar off’. Peter prophesied it, probably had some measure of expectation, but the fulfilment was way beyond what he anticipated. The ‘afar off’ were of course the Gentiles. I have covered some of this material elsewhere so will not write extensively this time round.

Peter’s life was about to change the day he went on the roof top to pray before dinner. Three times (3 times!!) he had a vision and 3 times he responded holding his ground, the ground that he had stood on because he had followed the ways of God. He moves from the vision to the front door to be confronted by three people (3 persons!) on his doorstep. They came speaking of supernatural encounters that an ‘afar off’ person had had: an angelic visitation with an address and the name of who he should contact. Role reversal! The apostle had an encounter that left him needing to be re-educated, Cornelius has the ‘high’ level encounter.

Peter has to make the journey, literally, culturally, emotionally and spiritually. He comes through because he is willing to have a major conversion. Cornelius too needs a conversion, but in the context it seems that was fairly small.

I consider that in every wave of the Spirit there are three phases, or at least there could be three phases. The promise is for ‘you’ is where it begins; the promise is generational… and dependent on how we respond to the generational promise, it can also be for those who are afar off. The promise is not as simple as ‘and then the afar off will come to you’, to embrace that third aspect we have to be willing to undergo conversions and to go on a journey. To stand our ground and say ‘never have I’ might be OK as a starting point, but we have to be open to being taught. That re-learning process will only come as we walk the path.

Some strange reports lie ahead. Ones that do fit in the categories we have pre-determined. Such is the promise of Pentecost.

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Pentecost: two paths

The promise is for you, and for your children. A promise for the future and for the generations to come. Every generation has a responsibility to and for the future. We are of course linked to the past and so each generation comes with choices as to what should continue and what will no longer serve the journey, but with a key choice as to how to relate to the generation to come. I am sure there are some good parents out there, I certainly do not think I excelled at that, but in my cluelessness tried to maintain a relationship and an encouragement for them to be who they need to be. Any success in that is down to them not me for sure. Familiar generations is important, and spiritual generations likewise.

I entitled this post as ‘two paths’ because I consider there are two ways in which any current generation can relate to the next. Both paths seem to extend life (and at times I consider this to be in a literal sense) to the current generation. The first is to verbally value the generation to come and to give them a focus and a profile but… and there is a but, but to do so because of mixed motives. I am not saying the motives are all bad, but they also include the motivation that every movement needs the energy of the younger, and in reality they are profiled with the knowledge that they are needed to bring life into ‘the house’. The result is that the younger generation gain kudos through association, but fundamentally their life is feeding and extending the life of the former generation. The result is that former generation continues, but the next generation never reach their true destiny.

The other path is where the former generation truly release the next generation, making their wisdom available but do not demand conformity. Such a pathway threatens the current shapes and existence, is risky, but is the path that has to be bravely embraced. In doing so ‘life works in them’ but when one gives, something also returns.

In the former path, life is taken; in the second pathway life is given – and received. The former works from control and conformity, the second with release and relationship.

This whole aspect is an increasing challenge to likes of me – what was my date of birth again? I entitle this blog ‘3Generations’ so am consciously embracing the need of generations together; I had a dream that my future was dependent on how I aligned to Gayle – not how she aligned to me. I have, though, lived much of my life with a platform provided, hence am weak relationally, and not well equipped to input to a younger generation. In realising that, I have been privilege to make phone calls and to contact people who have been (past tense) the next generation after mine and make apology for any aspect where I had deliberately or inadvertently seen them as life-givers, rather than be a life-giver to them.

If, however, I truly imbibe a pentecostal spirit, this promise is for me and for a connection to the next generation. There is life on offer, and I for one want to grab that as part of the promise of pentecost. And maybe if I can set out some shape for the next 30 years…

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Pentecost: a recalibration

Pentecost was a great festival for Israel, one in which they celebrated the giving of the law which shaped their whole life, not just spiritually, but socially. This is what gave them identity. Internally the debated the interpretation of the law but those who lived by it were included as part of ‘Israel’. They were led by the law. Post-Pentecost those who were the children of God were those who were led by the Spirit (Ro. 8:14).

The events in Jerusalem that first Pentecost were deeply challenging to the Jews who had gathered. Looking forward as they were to the ‘age to come’ marked by the two-fold marker of resurrection and the tangible presence of the Spirit of God, it is not surprising that many simply said ‘these are drunk’. The alternative had too many implications. God-activity always presents us with implications!!

The sting was that the One crucified and therefore a criminal or rebel in the eyes of Rome, but a blasphemer or cursed by God in the eyes of the Jew, had been exalted by God and now was the one doing what the God of Israel promised he would do, that he would pour out on them from on high the Spirit (Is. 32:15). Whether those listening made the jump that this human Jesus raised from the dead was God or not is a mute point, but those who came to faith in Jesus certainly understood that he was in a different category to Moses. Moses had gone up on a high mountain and come down with the law; Jesus had gone up on high and from there poured out the Spirit. On the day that Moses came down there was carnage in the camp and 3000 people died; on the day that the Spirit came down 3000 went through the waters of baptism. Another level all together. This was not a little more of the same, but had serious implications for how they as Israel had been shaped (and shaped by God) for the previous centuries.

Following Jesus was not mildly controversial. It was nuts!

Following Jesus challenges how we have previously thought. There is a revaluation of everything. The law the greatest gift from heaven is totally recalibrated by Pentecost. The law could no longer shape the future, nor define who is ‘in’.

We are off in a few days time in our ‘furgoneta’ which we have renamed as ‘el furgo de San Lorenzo’ (never sure if shortening furgoneta to furgo allows me to use the masculine definite article or not… and as if that is the only Spanish language question I have!!). San Lorenzo was martyred on August 10th 258AD in Rome. He upset the powers, was told that he had to bring the wealth of the church to the Emperor as he had not been a good boy in his criticisms of the Imperial power. He did just that, bringing in the poor, the beggars, the blind and those despised by power, saying in fulfilment of the Emperor’s request he was bringing God’s treasures to him. He had a way of valuing people which if Imperial power had adopted his means of valuation would have recalibrated the Empire. They did not adopt it and instead roasted him at the stake. We have tracked with this saint (August 10th is an important date) and as we drive through Spain travelling this time to the birth place of Franco (which is also the birth place of the founder of the Spanish socialist party) we will be calling for a recalibration to flow through the land. We cannot calibrate things by the right or left wing of politics. Both wings, particularly when they move to the extremes, simply view people as there to serve the system. Jesus refused to serve the system, but came as servant to all. San Lorenzo seemed to follow. I hope we can do more than drive a furgo with a logo on it. I hope we have some measure of authenticity in our lives that will produce a little result in the land.

Pentecost recalibrates everything. Pentecostal people have to do so likewise. Maybe it is time to renounce all other ideologies and flags? I certainly think San Lorenzo would encourage us to, and I suspect he is echoing what we read in Acts 2.

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Pentecost: margins

There has been a clear message of who is to be placed first coming out of certain quarters. Of course there can be wisdom in such advice – the airline message always says put on your own oxygen mask first then help others, otherwise there will not be a lot of helping that will be done! That though is a little different to setting ourselves to be first so that we will always be first and in the controlling seat. In Pentecost we note the expected follow on from something that was set in motion at the Last Supper. In that meal Jesus indicated there would be a huge shift of the mode of his presence. No longer centred on him, for he decentralised his presence. With his ‘all of you take, eat and drink’ his presence was going with the disciples. There are centres where God can be found and people can be refreshed but we have to be careful not to relate in such a way that we never discover what he wants us to discover – that every time I fall out of bed I fall into his presence. He is where I am, I do not have to find him. Pentecost re-enforces this. There is no hierarchy – Peter first, then James and John, then… and finally the 120. No pecking order, no one there to claim a monopoly.

It would seem that the real gifting of the apostolic and prophetic is to make visible the non-hierarchical nature of the body, further marked by the foundational (unseen) nature of those gifts whose task is to equip the body. In the Acts 2 Scripture Peter looks to Joel 2 to explain what is happening and in doing so there is such an emphasis on the margins. The gift is to all, not for the elite, is a theme, but it goes further when the ‘all’ that is explicated there is the complete opposite of ‘all, especially the important ones’. He picks out who the all are represented by (Acts 2:17,18):

  • sons and daughters
  • young
  • old
  • slaves
  • women slaves

The sons and daughters are important as it indicates the ongoing, not one-off, nature of a pentecostal experience, and I will come again to this aspect in a future post. Then though we have the extremities of the ages with the reference to the young and the old. The young who are not yet mature nor ready, the old who have missed their time. The young will see visions – relating to the future and pulling it in, while the old will dream dreams – those whose mouths were filled with laughter as they realised there is still life and fulfilments.

Slaves – the bottom of the class structure, and to double underline this he adds that this includes the women slaves.

It seems we are left with all doubts cast aside that the emphasis of the outpouring of the Spirit is focused on those occupying the margins in society. There is an inclusiveness in what God does, but we could even suggest there is a bias in where the Spirit will be found. Like water finding the low point. Trickle down is a hugely dubious perspective in the realm of economics (maybe trickle down as far as is beneficial until the power position is threatened?) but in Spirit presence terms this is not something that is backed up by Pentecost. There is a huge disturbance to the hierarchical ‘norms’ of society. Many years ago I read an article by Jurgen Moltmann challenging Pentecostal churches that if they did not advocate for an egalitarian approach for men and women then in what sense were they pentecostal? I appreciate for some there are difficult Scriptures to consider but his overall point remains. Pentecost was marked by a radical equalisation (and Azusa Street of 1906 was marked in the same way).

Quoting the author of this post (!!) pentecost pushes us to the multiplicity of the small and richness of diversity. No one is devalued; people are met where they are; the small is elevated; God is found at the margins. This is so revolutionary and is a challenge to the visionaries who often seem to advocate that success is found in following a centralised vision. Pentecost certainly does not start with ‘let’s get the top x% and change things from there’, but the focus is on the ‘not many mighty, nor wise, nor..’ nor male, nor white, nor wealthy. Maybe in the light of those last categories we might be needing another pentecostal outpouring – or maybe better to re-align ourselves to Pentecost.

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Pentecost: no towers here

So many OT themes come together in Acts 2 and one very obvious one is that of the tower of Babel (which then becomes the theological seedbed for an understanding of Babylon – the imperial power that is the antithesis of the New Jerusalem). Genesis 10 expresses the flow of fallenness: ‘make a name for ourselves’, ‘build a city / society’, ‘from here we conquer everything’…

There is such an irony in that chapter. A tower is being built, God the all-seeing one has difficulty in seeing it!

The Lord came down to see…

The tower was designed to be visible even in the heavens, and the one with 20/20 vision has to come down to see it!! Apparently it was not really that impressive and could not be seen from up there. Babel is not a threat to God at any level. It is however a threat to humanity fulfilling its destiny. Destiny is in the heart of humanity, but the direction and effect of the pursuit of its fulfilment is what becomes problematic.

Unity, working together enhanced by linguistic unity was going to be problematic in that context so a restriction is placed on it. Evil can never reach an absolute fullness, that is reserved for righteousness and the One who embodies righteousness. Pentecost is a crazy reversal of Babel. Unity is present, co-labouring together receives the seal of approval. Not only does each one speak but there is the wonder of universal understanding. In the same way that a restriction is placed on Babel’s future a release is given to those of a pentecostal spirit – and by that I mean those who have been touched by Pentecost so that they are not looking to ‘make a name for ourselves’, nor ‘seeking to build a city’, nor ‘looking to conquer everything’. Maybe that might be why we have never seen the full release indicated by Pentecost?

In contrast to building a tower, a city from here to there, we read the New Jerusalem comes down to where we are, it comes from the throne of God. It is not something we build, nor can build. We can help prepare both the ground where it can land and the materials that make it what it is, but build it we cannot do. Pentecost is not a promise of receiving ‘a conquer all’ blessing. It does involve the subduing of the powers that tempt the fulfilment of destiny by a self-promotion path, and certainly involves an authority over the works of the devil but not over people.

The path to Pentecost begins in the subsequent chapter of Genesis. Leave and walk. Leave security, do not bow to familiarity, wander and God will show – even though the sight of what is shown will be partial. That was the pathway prepared, and one that Israel travelled on both with great difficulty and also deviated from. Jesus walked the same pathway, leaving ‘his country’, ‘his father’s household’. We cannot walk the path he walked (his work is finished) but as the Father sent him, so in the same way he sends us, so the pathway cannot be so different and we now have a work to complete. Security and familiarity will not always be our companions on that pathway.

To the hidden ones, the humble ones there is such an implicit promise. If the restriction at Babel was so that they could no longer do whatever they propose, Pentecost is an invitation to abandon all tower building and release imagination about what the future will look like. I wonder if God does not have a vision for the future other than he wants to fulfil our vision of the future. Could be wrong (don’t jump on me – just a perspective!). Could be wrong but I think more right than a hard line predetermined plan. If so a tad frightening but it comes with a huge invitation to all tower abandoning, non-identifiable, meandering pentecostals.

A little postscript: I am not in the habit of dedicating a post to someone, but as Steve and Kathy Lowton have been with us while writing this post I will make an exception as they have taught us a lot about walking away from tower building.

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Pentecost: let’s speak

‘They all spoke’ and if there is a creational pattern we can also look at what God spoke into in Genesis as there is a pattern there. Creation has two issues, namely it is without form and it is empty. For three days God deals with the issue of the formlessness, he puts in boundaries so that there is shape, then for three days he fills the shapes he has prepared. Given the creational background to Pentecost this pattern is something we would be advised to follow.

The first aspect then is to create a shape in a hostile environment. When we do this we should not be expecting great success! The powers (institutional and heavenly) are hostile to the plan of God. The heavenly powers hostile by nature and the institutional ones hostile by default as they are hijacked by spiritual powers. If we enter those spaces assuming all we need to do is fill them we should not be surprised if at times we are overcome. Simply sticking the name ‘Christian’ or ‘kingdom’ to it will not make the difference. I have heard too many times (and also from Christians) ‘that’s the way it works’ when referring, for example, to business practices where an unfair offer is placed on the table and that is used to manipulate a deal. Really? A kingdom approach? I appreciate that we work from where we are to something more redemptive and there is compromise in the kingdom as we engage the powers, but there is redemptive compromise and there is being sold out to unethical and dehumanising practices.

What kind of shapes should we be pressing for in politics, medicine, health, education, farming / animal walfare etc.? In the current political realm it seems we have moved beyond simple lying, through denial to the predominant culture of denialism (Denialism what drives people to reject the truth.) The battle to enter that arena as a redemptive politician is enormous. Coming at things from a bias of prayer is there a pushing back in the spirit so that the spirit of denial does not take root? If we, the body of Christ, are responsible for the world we live in what world are we complicit in allowing to take place? The examples can be expanded to cover all the bases of our society.

If we embrace the implications of pentecost I will continue to speak in tongues, exercise the gifts of the Spirit, but will also need to push for something beyond that – or at least some within the body of Christ will need to do so. Into a business / financial culture of profit is the bottom line (and one that is normally aligned to the idolatry of the ‘invisible hand of the market’) what definition do we need to bring as those who embrace a pentecostal paradigm? The bottom line for us believers has to be some level of effort to provide a shape where the majority possible can be helped to see and step toward their destiny. How about a bottom line financially being a response to the question of how many people that we are able to benefit from our services… for free!! Maybe I am pushing it here, but that was an OT stipulation.

If Pentecost is about an imperfect people being empowered by heaven’s perfection so that there can be a transformative agent in the earth, we have a lot of ‘speaking’, of drawing lines in the midst of chaos and mixture. Only once God had drawn the shapes did he begin to fill them. And there is so much need for a filling of the shapes in society. This I understand to be the body of Christ’s responsibility, not a responsibility to fill the shapes but to ensure they are filled.

I am glad that at one level we fail, that is if we set perfection as the level. If however God is not expecting perfection but redemptive signs we have a lot to pull for with optimistic hope.

(Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash).

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Pentecost: wind and speech

There are so many resonances in Scripture to the opening verses of Genesis and Pentecost (Acts 2) is no exception. God is a Creator and there is a continual restoration and healing of creation and the gathering of the material for new creation. Here is a strong resonance:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said… (Gen. 1: 1-3).

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak (Acts 2:1-4).

Wind and speech. Into the formless void came wind and God spoke. That speech brought creation step by step to birth through the process of shape and then fullness. When Pentecost came (in the beginning?) there came wind again from heaven. God is signalling that there is a new level of creation beginning that will both impact this creation and prepare the ‘materials’ for the new creation, when the truly human one, the one who is in the image of the invisible God will be revealed. He, and then the bride will be revealed at the parousia (= presence).

There is a strong resonance, but there is also a difference. In Genesis God spoke, in Acts they spoke. Peter does become the spokesperson as the day progresses but it begins, the foundation of the day, with that they all spoke. There was no recorded order, nor hierarchy, each of them were filled, each of them spoke. Pentecost releases a sound, a corporate sound. In Genesis God’s voice was into the formlessness and emptiness of what was present to him and a process was released. If the body of Christ is to be pentecostal I suggest something similar has to happen. There has to be a voice that speaks into creation, into what is present to the body of Christ. There has to be speech into the formlessness and emptiness of what is apparent.

So what is the body of Christ speaking into at this time? What is the voice that is going forth? There will always be spokespersons but there has to be a foundation that undergirds that of ‘they all spoke’ because they had all been immersed in the Spirit of God. Maybe the only voice being heard is that of the spokespersons and if so are those voices reflecting the diversity that needs to come forth?

God goes where we go (‘even if I make my bed in sheol you will be there’ states this so strongly) and we can so reduce what he wishes to say through the body. If there is a creational dynamic to pentecost then we need to discover the formlessness and emptiness into which we are to speak. The church has to rediscover her voice – the corporate voice that comes through the diversity of those uniquely touched by the Spirit.

I had two experiences in fairly quick succession. I was in a place where I heard the voices of angels communing together. I could not hear a specific word, the volume seemed to rise and fall. I strained my ear and sought to listen, but there was an elusiveness to the sound. Some weeks later I was in an international gathering and the entire gathered people read in their own language the Lord’s Prayer, all at the same time. The sound was identical to the one I had heard previously. The volume went up and down. I thought I could recognise a word, but it was gone as quick as it had come as another person with another language spoke both alongside and over them. I then knew what I had heard before and this time – it was ‘the sound of many waters’. I was hearing the constant flow of water pouring forth from multiple springs. When the angelic and the human speak there will be sounds we try and grasp, but we will never be able to fully hold on to them. The sound is too elusive, too big, too dynamic, too flowing to be harnessed for the source is too diverse, too widespread.

Time to speak. Let there be light, let there be the light of God that enlightens everyone (John 1). Thank God for prophecy, thank God for preaching… but now is the time for the sound of many waters as we speak for example ‘let there be light in the dark place of immigration’. For this we were touched by the Spirit.

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