Tongues of Fire and Burning Buildings

A Message for Pentecost Eve

It is such a beautiful day. I had a brisk walk this morning, followed by some excellent reading.  Now I am on my front porch (with my little dog), settling in for a time of writing.  The calm, beauty, and serenity of the porch belie the horrors we all witnessed last evening in major cities across our nation.  I admit, I watched too late into the night.  It was and is unsettling.


You are aware of the murder of George Floyd.  Here is something you may not know about the victim whose life was taken at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis.  An article from Christianity Today that was published yesterday contains these opening paragraphs.

The rest of the country knows George Floyd from several minutes of cell phone footage captured during his final hours. But in Houston’s Third Ward, they know Floyd for how he lived for decades—a mentor to a generation of young men and a “person of peace” ushering ministries into the area.

Before moving to Minneapolis for a job opportunity through a Christian work program, the 46-year-old spent almost his entire life in the historically black Third Ward, where he was called “Big Floyd” and regarded as an “OG,” a de-facto community leader and elder statesmen, his ministry partners say.

Floyd spoke of breaking the cycle of violence he saw among young people and used his influence to bring outside ministries to the area to do discipleship and outreach, particularly in the Cuney Homes housing project, locally known as “the Bricks.”

“George Floyd was a person of peace sent from the Lord that helped the gospel go forward in a place that I never lived in,” said Patrick PT Ngwolo, pastor of Resurrection Houston, which held services at Cuney.

We have seen the genuine pain, legitimate protest, and needed calls for justice rise from a concerned community only to be hijacked by violence and anarchy—my heart breaks.  When a business is burned to the ground, everyone suffers the loss, owners, employees, and customers.  I lived in Detroit for several years.  The city had the highest African American employment in the nation.  Then the riots of 1968 devastated the city.  It has never recovered.


Tomorrow is the Day of Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit was given, and the day the church was born.  What a contrast of images;

-“tongues of fire” that symbolize purity contrast with burning businesses and municipal building;

-a miracle of communication such that “each one heard their own language being spoken” juxtapose against shouts, vitriol, and accusations that leave us deaf to one another. 

There is a third symbol revealed on the day of Pentecost in addition to languages and fire.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting (Acts 2:1-2).


Wind” appropriately indicates the Holy Spirit since both the Hebrew and Greek words for “Spirit” can also mean “wind” or “breath.” The image of “wind/spirit” is found at significant moments in God’s plan to restore the earth.

1-When God Began to Create the World

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit [or “breath/wind” of God was hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2).

The culmination of creation was God’s gift of his Image to human beings that we might “rule” the earth as God’s representative, as God’s viceroys.  Through the gift of Pentecost, we may again possess the image of God.  OUR PRAYER:  Lord, teach us how to represent you best.

2-When God Saved Noah from the Flood.

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind [or “breath/spirit] over the earth, and the waters receded (Genesis 8:1).

At the time God saved Noah from the flood, the Lord committed himself to save the world from evil.  The Lord seeks partners to join him in his cosmic project.  The gift of Pentecost is God’s empowerment to join him as partners in redeeming the world.  OUR PRAYER:  Lord, show us your task for us.

3-When God Rescued Israel from Egypt

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night, the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground (Exodus 14:21-22).

God rescued the legacy of Israel, Isaac, and Abraham so that they might be a holy nation and a royal priesthood so that the world would.  Jesus accomplished Israel’s task.  He is the Holy One, the High Priest, and the Royal King of all creation.  The gift of the Spirit prepares us to carry on the mission of Jesus, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:21-22). OUR PRAYER:  Lord, fill us with your Spirit. 

Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart

George Croly (1780-1860)

Spirit of God descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art;
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away.

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear.
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh,
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
O let me seek Thee, and O let me find!

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heaven descended Dove*,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.

                                    *a reference to Pentecost

(EXTRA: Additional places in the Bible where “wind” is a symbol of God’s action: Genesis 2:7; Exodus 19:16; 1Kings 19:11; Ezekiel 1:4; Ezekiel 37:9; John 3:8.)

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