Turn our will to only the best

To help us receive the best
Over the good, turn our will
To whatever best brings You praise.
That is, the end for which You created us;
And the saving of our soul.
 
And only give us, and please give us
Whatever best brings You praise
And aids the saving of our soul.
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Awakening

From valleys of dry bones
Comes prophetic vision
That sees new flesh
Covering the slain
Four winds blowing
Healing barren wombs
Restoring forgotten soldiers
Raising up fallen seek like
A ready army running on their feet

Springing up before all nations
A harvest of righteousness that
Heals the land with peace.

Dreaming. Book review

“Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broke-winged bird

That cannot fly”

By Langston Hughes

 

As I’ve been reflecting on the meaning of dreams and visions, I was recently recommended this little book (104 pages) titled Dreaming (Barbara A. Holmes [Fortress Press, 2012]).  I just read it all in one sitting.  Holmes comes from an African-American Pentecostal background.  Still remembered from the time of slavery, her family history is steeped with centuries old stories , practices, and perceptions into the true enchanted nature of reality— that grants her salient insights into the role of dreaming within the biblical witness, and should have within Christian life.  Yet even more, in a good transdisciplinary manner, Holmes effectively complements the relevant biblical themes with insights retrieved from the past few decades of dream research, particularly attending to implications emerging from studies on the body-mind interface.

I want to highlight two themes I find especially helpful.  Working from the biblical narratives, firs is Holmes’ portrayal of God as one “who dreams,” we dream as creatures “made in God’s image” (p. 43).  In some mysterious way, dreams function as some kind of sacred time and space, where God speaks within our sleep (p. 50).

Second to note, and building on the first theme, is the prophetic-ethical role Holmes perceives into the divine purpose of dreams.  Somehow, the experience of dreaming communally connects us with universal aspirations and hopes towards flourishing, especially connecting us with those of whom these aspirations have suffered under experiences of social deprivation, marginalisation, and oppression (pp. 79-92; “’I have a dream’; prophetic reveries and the hope of a reconciled future”).

Some relevant quotes:

“Dreaming is important in social and political contexts because it offers communities the opportunity to think outside of the box, to engage possibilities for creative resolutions that seem impossible to the waking mind.  Examples about of ordinary people thrust into leadership who ‘dreamed’ impossible dreams of moral flourishing an societal transformation” (p. 80).

“Dreams link us to the worlds beyond our sight. Indigenous cultures knew this and formed cultural realities that included seen and unseen realities.  To turn to ancestral knowledge about dreaming is not cultural tourism.  It is a lost thread of a history that allowed us to sit around open fires on one continent or another, contemplate the stars, and share our dreams” (p. 90).

“When it seems that the state has enforced its imperial power upon the weak, the dreamer stands before the powers that be and declares a new order. . . . Dreamers can voice the hopes of the community, the desire for justice, and the deepest desires for an unseen vision of the future” (p. 91).

https://www.amazon.com/Dreaming-Compass-Christian-Explorations-Living/dp/0800698908

 

Thwarted dreams

Thwarted dreams filled with thwarted efforts, feel like miscarriages. They are dilapidating. They weary our will, and mock the hope we confess and proclaim.

Come Holy Spirit, Lord, Giver of Life—
In valleys of dead bones
Let us hear rattling bones
And smell the scent of flesh restored.
Germinate fallen seed
Heal barren wombs
Let prophesies come to pass
With more than enough in the way of Jesus
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In the Lord we have an altar

In the Lord we have an altar

A refuge that warms our heart

Like a homely hearth that brightly burns.

 

Come to the altar of God.

Come and receive from His heart.

With lives open wide

To His gifts falling down

Oh come, to the altar of God.

 

Come receive at the altar of God.

Come and receive new vision and dreams.

With lives open wide to His kingdom of love

Oh come, to the altar of God.

 

Come to the altar of God.

Come and receive hope from above.

With lives open wide

To His love coming down

Oh come, to the altar of God.

Throughout Scripture and Christian traditions, altar is a constant image.  There are also subtle themes and artworks, which depict God’s heart as an altar.  When described as a homely hearth, we have here a helpful symbol of a sacred place that helps us negotiate experiences of loss, closed doors, and dashed hopes.

At God’s altar we find our place;

A home where we belong.

A refuge that warms our heart

Like a homely hearth that brightly burns.

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Preaching the story and symbol of Pentecostal tradition

With help from Wolfgang Vondey’s 2017 book, Pentecostal Theology: Living the Full Gospel (Bloomsbury T&T Clark).

Earlier this month, just before Good Friday, I was invited to preach a three message series for a church camp this coming June. I was given a theme (“Let Your Light Shine”) and asked to come up with something, “inspirational.” On Saturday before Easter, I prayed to God, “Lord, what am I going to do? What would you have me to say? Keep in mind that that the Saturday before Easter is traditionally called, Holy Saturday. And it was surely for me, a Holy Saturday for within an hour’s time, the whole series flashed before me: “Pentecost.” Moreover, what also emerged that hour was a very clear outline, preaching texts, themes and aims, for the whole three nights. That was a real “ah ha” moment; a redemptive, or redeeming insight.

Now I what greatly aided this sudden inspiration was that I had spent several months extensively reviewing and engaging Wolfgang Vondey’s 2017 book, Pentecostal Theology: Living the Full Gospel (Bloomsbury T&T Clark). I have earlier written some reviews on his book (see below for links). In my earlier reviews, I stress the book’s aesthetic qualities, imagery rich yet simple vocabulary, and highly readable and profoundly edifying prose. For these reasons, I also described it as a systematic theology that may richly fund Pentecostal preaching and congregational liturgical leadership with formatively-powerful imageries, symbols, and themes—evocatively calling people to God at the altar of Pentecost.

Now that I have actually started crafting some messages with help from Vondey’s text, it seems to me that some of you may benefit from these practical examples on how his work can function as a powerful resource for structuring messages on core Pentecostal themes. I will thus proceed in two steps. I will begin by presenting the broad outline I have developed, along with the main points of my first two messages. Then in Part Two, I will explain how Vondey’s Pentecostal Theology book funded my sermon preparation.

PART 1: three sermons on “Back to Pentecost”

Introduction to preaching series

Pentecost. Back to Pentecost.

Back to the light that comes from the fires of Pentecost.

Fires that warm the heart / make bright the face / and empower us—

For overcoming / fruit-bearing / victoriously prospering— Christian life.

Yes, let it be our aim for these nights before God

In whom within Himself burns an altar that generates—

Life-giving fires of Pentecost.

Let us come back— to Pentecost.

That’s why Church camp is often called, “retreat”; church retreat.

We cannot advance, without times of “retreat”— to holy ground.

Coming back to the mountains of sacred encounter.

Coming back to the fires of Pentecost

Falling down from the heavenly altar— where burns the loving heart of God.

We’ll be encountering this light, through a journey.

A transforming journey— across three mountains. Three mountain peaks.

Where at each mountain top, we’ll encounter God— at the altar / on holy ground.

A map for the journey:

1st session 2nd session 3rd session
Mountain Horeb Zion/Upper Room Bethany
Text Ex 3.1-5 Acts 1.8; 2.1-4; 17-21 Mt 5.1-3, 16; 28.16-20
Title “Behold the Light” “Receive the Light” “Show Forth the Light”
Main worship

movement

To the altar

Behold

At the altar

Receive

From the altar

Show forth

1st sermon outline (“Behold the Light”; Exodus 3.1-5):

  1. The desert is the place— of God-encounter.
  2. The holiest God-encounters are always— altar calls.
  3. God’s heart is an altar: it generates— Pentecost.
  4. Coming to God’s altar, starts with focused worship.

2nd sermon outline (“Receive the Light”; Acts 1.8; 2.1-4, 17-21)

  1. God’s love.
  2. Visions and dreams.
  3. Boundary-breaking prayer: tongues speech.
  4. Passion for God’s coming kingdom.

3rd sermon outline (“Show Forth the Light”; Mat 5.1-3, 16; 28.16-20)

Not developed yet.

End-camp practical take-away:

Three spiritual formation practices in the key of Pentecostal spirituality

The three messages suggest a practical “take-away,” that participants may practice as a “rhythm” within their ongoing spiritual formation. Each cycle comprises a narrative journey, yet can be also viewed as a spiralling process.

Life practice God encountered as:
1 To the altar / Behold Saviour/Sanctifier
2 At the altar / Receive Spirit Baptiser / Healer
3 From the altar / Show forth Coming King

PART 2: Themes retrieved from Vondey’s Pentecostal Theology book

For a summary of and reviews I have made on Vondey’s book, see the following links:

My earlier blog posting: https://monteleerice.wordpress.com/2017/09/23/review-vondey-wolfgang-pentecostal-theology-living-the-full-gospel-2017

My review at Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies: http://www.apts.edu/aeimages/File/AJPS_PDF/18-1-BR-Monte-Lee-Rice.pdf

Wolfgang Vondey, Pentecostal Theology: Living the Full Gospel (London, UK: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017), in Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 21. No. 1 (February 2018): 98-103.

What I want to specifically mention here, is Vondey’s main thesis, and how he has conceptualised the Pentecostal Fivefold Gospel as a “narrative” of common Pentecostal practices that are commonly performed within a given movement related to a metaphoric place Pentecostals have historically typified as the “altar.”

Vondey’s main thesis is this:

“Pentecost is the core theological symbol of Pentecostal theology, and its theological narrative is the full gospel.” (p. 1). Coupled to this thesis is another major argument Vondey stresses. Namely, that in Pentecostal liturgical life, the notion of “altar” or “altar space,” is a core “metaphor” describing a “ritual space” (p. 5, 40) around which the Fivefold Gospel narrates Pentecostal movement to, at, and from a place of God-encounter, to the world in mission, and back to the altar (pp. 5, 30-31, 55, 84-85, 90, 108-109, 288-289, 292).[1]

Therefore, and this is most important to note, Vondey suggests that in Pentecostalism the Full Gospel actually functions not just or even primarily as a doctrinal confession, but rather as a narrative of common Pentecostal practices that both shape and emerge from the Pentecostal experiences of salvation, sanctification, Spirit baptism, healing, and reign of God, which Pentecostals also experience as increasing eschatological passion for the soon coming of Christ and God’s kingdom in its fullness (pp. 288-294).[2] Hence, Vondey proposes that the Fivefold gospel expresses a narrative movement around the altar that goes like this:

Saviour: To the altar.

Sanctifier: At the altar.

Spirit Baptiser: Through the altar.

Healer: From the altar to the world.

Coming King: Away from the altar in the world.

We must note that Vondey stresses this narrative movement as a heuristic reading, not an absolute structure. Hence, the narrative is a generalised observation, recognising there are diversities to the movement that do not always necessarily follow this scheme or narrated structure. Yet he also asserts that phenomenologically, the narrative broadly describes the ritual life of Pentecostals worldwide. In my three message series, I have condensed Vondey’s narrative into three movements.

To conclude by reiterating my earlier statement, Vondey’s Pentecostal Theology book provides salient resources for funding Pentecostal preaching and congregational liturgical leadership. It does so through formatively-powerful imageries, symbols, and themes— evocatively calling people to God at the altar of Pentecost. I hope my own present work at crafting out a message series that draws deeply from some of Vondey’s main themes, provides a helpful example to other preachers who may benefit from this germane homiletical resource.

Amazon link:
[1] For further clarity to this theme of the “altar” as a metaphor for the Pentecostal ritual space, see also Vondey, “Pentecostal Sacramentality and the Theology of the Altar,” in Scripting Pentecost: A Study of Pentecostals, Worship and Liturgy, eds. Mark J. Cartledge and A.J. Swoboda (New York, NY: Routledge, 2017), 94-107 (98-101).

[2] For further clarity to how the Full Gospel narrates pentecostal “altar”-rooted practices, see Vondey, “Embodied Gospel: The Materiality of Pentecostal Theology,” in Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion: Volume 8: Pentecostals and the Body, eds., Michael Wilkinson and Peter Althouse (The Netherlands, Leiden: Brill, 2017), 102-119 (103).

Pisgah

In the Bible we read about Moses at Mount Pisgah.
This might be Beach Pisgah, where see the boats sail.

But brooding can mean waiting, like the hen over her not yet born; or when the Spirit of God brood over the waters, giving birth to something new.