PREACHING A SERIES ON OUR PENTECOSTAL DISTINCTIVE

Missing from Pentecostal pulpits

It is not uncommon for Pentecostal churches to shelve preaching on Pentecostal distinctives as they seek relevance with a contemporary audience. Addressing felt relational, emotional and felt needs of church members take priority over church’s distinctives. This can happen because the Pentecostal doctrine of baptism of the Holy Spirit can be an offence to today’s young adults. Yet it must be talked about or we will lose our heritage, our identity and one of God’s greatest gift to his church and his greatest resource to reaching the world for Christ.

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

I announced and planned a series on the Holy Spirit. I initially planned something that began with the works that the Holy Spirit would do according to the teaching of Jesus in John 14-16, and then talk about the Baptism of the Spirit, and finally a session on Speaking in Tongues.

However, as I proceeded to prepare, with the Lord’s influence, it began to be (1) The Baptism of the Holy Spirit, covering the five incidents in Acts when the Spirit was poured out as initiation experiences/encounters. After feedback from members, newbies and mature ones, I slowed down and stayed with Acts 2 the Day of Pentecost and drew most of my observations and conclusions from Acts chapter 2, after painting a picture of what happened there, giving the Bible background of the passage. I also brought in two persons, one of mature age, and another younger person to share their experiences of being baptized with the Holy Spirit and how the gift of tongues had blessed them.

At the end I gave an invitation for prayer for fresh anointings and healings, and invited those who wanted to be filled with the Spirit to meet at the conference room after the service. Three adults in their 50’s showed up. After giving them a briefing, several of us laid hands and prayed for them to be filled and remarkably they were granted the gift of tongues within fifteen minutes, and we spent the rest of the time praying, prophesying, anointing with oil, and singing in tongues for another 20 minutes or more.

My Cry and Prayer

It was a blessed time and gratifying. My only disappointment was that not many of the younger age group were there desiring and thirsting for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. I am praying that God would stir the hearts of people who had been content with what they have experienced of the Christian life thus far, with a holy discontent that wants more, indeed ALL of what God promised and intended for His people. May we have a people with hearts aflame for the passion of His name.

I wonder if it is the same with the church you worship in. Do they preach about their distinctive? How often?

Ash Wednesday and Lent for a Pentecostal church

Ash Wednesday was on Wednesday 6 March 2019. It marked the beginning of Lent – a period of 40 days of preparation for Good Friday and Easter.
The church tradition is that this period of 40 days, similar to Jesus 40 days of fasting, is for soul care – taking time to slow down, reflect, pray, fast and repent. The period of seeking God would lead to personal revival and ascend with a church celebration of Christ’s resurrection power in Easter.

As a Pentecostal I am not used to observing Lent. It was Trinity Theological College that exposed me to this. It took a long time for me to appreciate the values of having a rhythm to the church year. Observing Lent, Good Friday and Easter, and Pentecost are good practices that embeds the centrality of Christ in the church’s worship and plans. May I encourage you to do some of the following as the Lord leads:

PRAY
Give a half day to God in reflection and prayer.
Pray for unsaved family members, friends, neighbours and colleagues.
Pray in tongues for 15 minutes each day for a whole week.
Meditate on the passages of the last week of Jesus and use them as a springboard of prayer.
FAST
Skip a meal and use that time to humble yourself before God, acknowledging your shortcomings, powerlessness and need of Him.
Go vegetarian for a week and give up sweet stuff.
Fast from negative words and complaining and gossiping.
Fast from social media for a whole day.
REPENT
Seek forgiveness and forgive where necessary.
Speak kind and appreciative words to family members.
Repent from worrying and entrust specifically your burdens to God.
Visit and honour your aged parents or grandparents.
Listen to someone’s story without judging, or interrupting or offering solutions.
Pay attention to those who may need your help.

Have a meaningful, reviving, enlightening Lent. How would you like to use Lent for your own soul-care?

Holy Week: contemplative and charismatic

The theme of our Holy Week was The Gethsemane Journey. Can the Pentecostal and contemplative blend? Why not? Although  the practices of the Pentecostal and the contemplative seem to be incompatible opposites they actually enrich and deepen each other! I saw this in our experience of Holy Week 2017. I handed the planning to our young pastoral staff: Ethel, Tom and Sarah. I told them the parameters was that we share with the church different practices of prayer both contemplative and charismatic. This was what they came up with.

Monday: Lectio Divina

Tuesday: Praying the Psalms

Wednesday: Prophetic prayer

Thursday: Intercessory prayer

Each evening would begin with time for people to be still and wait on God in silence with background instrumentals played over the speakers. Then there would be brief explanations of the prayer practice we would be doing. Followed by an hour for people to actually enter into the practice of prayer. The last segment would be a partaking of Holy Communion.

The worship hall would be made conducive with dim lights, devotional  instrumental music (except of the last evening when we had a live band), and the hall would be cleared of the usual auditorium seating so people could sit anywhere on the floor or chairs along the edges.

Personally I enjoyed each and every evening of Holy Week. It was no chore. The Lord was present each night to impart different insights and experiences. The first night a Scripture portion lighted up and shifted my posture towards a ministry matter. The second night I felt I was crying out to the Lord on behalf of the sick. The third night, I composed and sent prophetic prayers and words to three friends. The last night, I had to facilitate the intercession evening. However I enjoyed the soaking session with the live worship band. Whether contemplative or charismatic practices are used the common element is the presence and power of God.

Some of the participants who attended the Holy Week wrote about their experiences in this article in our church website: Holy Week: The Gethsemane Journey.

The whole Lent and Holy Week can possibly be a seasonal “curriculum” for personal and church renewal. How does your church use this season for God’s glory? Share with the readers what your church has done.

Pentecostals and Charismatics: the main difference

Pentecost: come Holy Spirit
Pentecostals and charismatics carried along by Spirit

“In 2011, there were an estimated 584 million Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians worldwide. They made up 8.5 percent of the world’s population and 27 percent of all Christians. There were 279 million Pentecostals and over 300 million Charismatics. Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity is second in size only to the Roman Catholic Church.” (Source: David Barrett, “Christian World Communions: Five Overviews of Global Christianity, AD 1800-2025,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Volume 33, No. 1, January 2009, 31.)

Pentecostals are Christians who believe that the gifts of the Spirit described in the New Testament like the gift of tongues, healing, and casting out demons, are available and expected to be experienced by God’s people today. Our worship is characterized by lively responses to a palpable sense of God’s presence. We are so named after what happened to the disciples on the Day of Pentecost (read Acts 2) and our insistence that the essence of such experiences are to be normative for today.

Charismatics are believers who originally worship in mainline churches such as Methodists, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. They had Pentecostal experiences and hold almost similar beliefs and practices as Pentecostals, but continue to attend and serve in their traditional churches.

Admittedly, there is considerable overlap in usage of both terms and such strict definitions have become porous and interchangeable in the recent decade or two. Who cares anyway? Probably the theologian and the researcher.

Reminder: 8 June is Pentecost Sunday.

Neglected Pentecost

Pentecost: come Holy Spirit
Pentecost: come Holy Spirit

Why do we neglect Pentecost? We celebrate Good Friday and Easter, and even Palm Sunday. We have Lent but do we have “Pent”? The mainline churches have the church calender and lectionary that give at least a nodding acknowledgement to Pentecost Sunday. The shame is that it is the independent and Pentecostal churches that ignore this important opportunity to shed light on the vital and vitalizing ministry of the Holy Spirit, and to rejoice and give thanks for their precious heritage. I plead guilty. Perhaps we need to start a “Pent” – 10 days of waiting expectantly and praying for the Spirit’s empowering. Here are 10 suggestions:

  • We could encourage members to take extended time to pray in silence every day for 10 days until Pentecost Sunday.
  • Or encourage that members follow a 10 days reading plan that include all the relevant Scriptures in Old and New Testament about the coming person and work of the Spirit.
  • Be on the alert to the Spirit’s prompting to share the good news of grace to anyoneHhe directs during this period.
  • Be sensitive to give a prophetic word of encouragement, comfort and strengthening to someone who is weary and burdened.
  • Meet with other Christians in school, homes or workplace to pray with during the 10 days.
  • Reflect on your spiritual gift and how it has developed and how it has been deployed. What is God doing through your grace-gift?
  • Exalt Jesus in worship because that’s what the Spirit came to do. Use the gift of tongues, spiritual songs and hymns.
  • Pray for 10 nationalities living or working in Singapore: Vietnamese, Chinese and Indian nationals, Thais, Myanmese, Indonesians, Malaysians, Bangladeshis, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Taiwanese, and whoever else.
  • If you are a pastor, how about preaching a sermons series on the Holy Spirit and open the altar for prayer at the end.
  • Write a personal letter to the Holy Spirit appreciating Him for his faithful help and presence in your life.

Speaking in tongues: a personal reflection

And they spake with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance…

Tongues respectable and acceptable

The gift of speaking in tongues is no longer the hot potato subject it was in the 1970’s when the charismatic movement influenced the Anglican and Methodist and Lutheran denominations.  The gift of tongues has become a respectable and an acceptable practice usually encouraged in private devotions, but controlled in public services. Since the outpouring of the Spirit at Azusa Street, Los Angeles in 1906, when God chose the instrument of an one-eyed, unlearned, Afro-American to unleash his floods of blessing upon the world, the Pentecostal Charismatic movement has grown internationally and has to date been embraced by about 600 million people. The setting and circumstances of the birth of this 20th century spiritual movement is so like the way God chose a  manger in Bethlehem and two teenage parents to be the instruments of the incarnation.

Day of Pentecost and community

I celebrated Pentecost on 19 May together with AFCE 2013 leaders/participants from different nationalities, denominations and theological persuasions. We used a liturgy and broke bread together. Babel was the giving of tongues to confuse, separate, disperse, and divide so that the human race would not in unison rebel against God and incur greater wrath. Pentecost was the giving of tongues to unite, rally, and bring together people of every tribe, and tongue, and mind and immerse them into a spiritual unity and relationships that are a sign of the community that is Trinity. It comes not from His wrath but from His sheer grace. Pentecost celebrations should always hint of that breaking down of walls and barriers and barbed wires.

Beautiful language of love

The gift of tongues is a gift often regarded as the lowest of spiritual gifts. Like Paul the apostle, I thank God I speak in tongues, and find in it a wonderful language of praise and worship and prayer. So beautiful is this language and so blessed is the experience, that  I would have to think that Paul wasn’t just hypothetically calling tongues the language of angels, but thought it to be a real possibility. Over the years I have heard and experienced for myself the many benefits of praying or praising in tongues. Some of these have become church legends. So also the horror stories of tongues being of the evil spirits. I have heard a fair share of those stories too. However, being a story teller myself, I know at times exaggeration,  leaving important information out or interpretation of facts because of personal bias, is not an uncommon thing. So I prefer to go with what Paul in 1 Corinthians claimed to be the benefits and purpose of tongues.

  • Tongues is a form of prayer and praise – a love language for us to use in speaking to God. It takes us beyond praying and praising with our understanding into the unfamiliar territory of spirit functions and expressions. “For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him, howbeit in spirit he speaketh mysteries”(verse 2). “For if I PRAY in an unknown tongue, my spirit PRAYETH, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will PRAY with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will SING with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else when thou shalt BLESS with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest? For thou verily GIVEST THANKS WELL, but the other is not edified”(verses 15-17 emphases mine).
  • When we pray or praise God in tongues, it edifies (Greek, oikodomeo) builds us up spiritually. “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself…” (verse4).

When I speak in tongues

When I speak in tongues I keep my mind on the Lord since I am speaking to him. As I do so, it heightens my consciousness of his presence with me at the time of prayer. Though I do not understand what I am praying or praising, I trust that I am praying from the heart, the spirit. I am expressing my innermost needs, feelings, and cry.  I trust the Spirit is helping me to express my deepest fears and longings, the feelings of the mystery that is deeply me. Sometimes I have a sense of what is it my prayer in tongues may be, but I cannot be certain. Its a life of faith. I trust that He has heard me and will work all things for His good and glory through my life and situation. This release from always depending on my understanding is restful and gives me an abiding peace. We rely too much on our own understanding and our sense knowledge, on what we see and feel and hear. It is nature’s way. However, God’s way is for us to trust even when we do not understand. To rely more on him and his life and light, and less on our acquired knowledge of good and evil. The gift of tongues introduces us to such a way of life. Father, I trust You even though I don’t understand with my mind. God wants to restore us to the place of child like trust lost by our ancestors Adam and Eve.

The gift of tongues has been a precious, beautiful gift that has helped me greatly in my spiritual journey and my ministry as a pastor. It began in 1973 when Jesus baptized me in his Spirit and I spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave me utterance. What a glorious unforgettable night it was! Its been 40 years and this precious least of all gifts is still a treasure chest that opens to many of his other blessings. Thank you Lord!

Contemplative prayer in a Pentecostal church

sitting before the cross

Worship hall rearranged

The chairs were removed from the worship hall for the Holy Week of Contemplative Prayer. A wooden cross had a  robe wrapped around its outstretched arms. Around the neck, was a crown of thorns ingeniously made from rose branches and toothpicks twisted together. A large candle, and a porcelain blue cup and plate bought from Israel, were laid on an Ikea coffee table with a beautiful the crown of thorns and the robetablecloth. At the sides of the hall were three tables and chairs set aside for faith expressions: artwork materials, soft clay, and card making materials. The lights were dimmed on all four nights of the arrival of contemplative prayer in a Pentecostal church.

Holy Week theme

Holy Week as we all know starts on Palm Sunday and culminates on Easter Sunday. In the lead up to Good Friday and a Easter Sunday Baptism we created an inviting environment for God-chasers to contemplate the death of Christ. The theme this time were the 7 words of Jesus from the cross. It built up on Good Friday with 7  sermonettes on the same theme interspersed with music, silence and worship. Then the climax was an Easter celebratory service followed by a baptism in the East Coast – a most fitting end with all the church people having a picnic and food galore at the beach.

Contemplative prayer: what it looked like

Each evening of the Holy Week of Contemplative Prayer began at 8pm and ended at 10pm though people were free to leave earlier at 9.30pm. The evenings were led by a facilitator whojournalling and other expressions guided the participants through the silence, the lectio divina, the journaling, and the holy communion. Instrumental music and silence were used and it needed no live music. On each evening,  a scripture passage that captured the words of Jesus on the cross were read three times, and minimum comments were made, so that the participants can receive the word of the Lord.

journalling with art: why have you forsaken me?Complementary to retreats

The attendance was encouraging. To make a retreat require annual leave, giving up weekends, and money. Though such contemplative nights cannot be compared with the sheer vastness of undistracted time devoted to attending to the Lord in a retreat, it is a good complement, as it is grounded in everyday life. Unlike in a retreat, the participant does his daily activities as usual and comes to the place of quiet prayer with some effort, and leaves to go home to rest and then to work/school the next day. The ordinary day becomes the space for “retreat”. A regular daily rhythm of prayer and reflection may take shape in the midst of ordinary living. This is something that cannot happen in a retreat. As many as half of the 20-30 participants came everyeucharist night. Some of them wanted it to be a more regular affair. Most were blessed and helped by the guided times of silent prayer in a community context.

Contemplative and Pentecostal?

It may be regarded as rather odd that the contemplative and charismatic can flow together like streams that join together to water the people of God. How can something so “Catholic” be found in something more known for  noisy meetings and emotionalism  and evangelical fervour? But why shouldn’t the waters mix together in a heady, bubbly oxegenated mix?  Weren’t the early Christians contemplative Pentecostals? Both of these stereotypes of ancient spiritual practices being “Catholic” (and therefore suspect) and Pentecostals being boisterous and uneducated spiritual drunks do not belong to the 21st century. They are baggages that should have been left behind in the last century. We need a spiritual humility, one that discerns what is good in other traditions, acknowledges them as God’s gifts, and adapt them for use in one’s own tradition.