Which Do YOU Prefer? Onions Or The Promise?

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“Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”

Numbers 13:3-4 (NLT)

I have to admit and give credit to where credit is due.  Today’s Kingdom Musings are inspired by something I read this morning from another fellow blogger Matthew Winters.  Though we have never met, we are connected because we shared a dark journey through an identical situation-a pastor who experiences divorce first hand.  I encourage you to read his blog Does Anyone Take Risks Anymore?  Thanks Matthew for unclogging my mind to write in this blog again.

As with all Scripture, one needs to know the context of a passage in order to understand it and apply it to our lives.  God has been leading the Hebrews to the Promised Land through His chosen leader Moses.  Besides always providing for their physical needs, God has been visibly present with them.  In the daytime it was in the pillar of cloud and at nighttime it was in the pillar of fire.  Both evidences of His presence was clear and undeniable.

Even after a lot of grumbling and complaining, they are at the very edge of the land that God promised first to Abraham and now to them.  Can you imagine the people redeemed by God’s grace, mercy and love actually grumbling and complaining?  Aren’t you glad that people today redeemed by God’s grace, mercy and love never grumble or complain?  Yes, I’m being sarcastic, one of my many gifts.  To understand this passage we need to know what led up to it.  In Numbers 13:1-2 (NLT) we read:

The Lord now said to Moses,  “Send out men to explore the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the Israelites.  Send one leader from each of the twelve ancestral tribes.” (emphasis mine)

They were to called out by God catch a glimpse of what HE was about to do.  The inhabitants were formidable, but for God who spoke light into the darkness, it would be a walk in the park.  Remember, HE is giving HIS personal guarantee that they would occupy the land and HE would give it to them.  But when these explorers came back they acted in a very human manner-there was a Majority Report and a Minority Report.  The Majority Report saw the risks and responded to the risks:  “It just can’t be done!  Before we even try, we are already whipped!”  Remember that this report is given in the light of God’s Personal Guarantee:  the land I am giving to the Israelites.  It’s a report given by those who have been witnessing God’s faithfulness.

The Minority Report saw THE SAME RISKS and said, “Look, people, if God said HE will give us this land, let’s consider this a done deal.  We don’t know exactly how He is going to pull this off, but that’s not my job.  The fact is we were never called out to determine success or failure.  We were called out to catch a wonderful glimpse of what God guaranteed HE would provide for us.”  So, the people went with the minority report, right?  WRONG!

People who had been faithfully provided food and water along the way, witnessed God delivering them in battle, AND who had witnessed the Faithful Presence of Cloud by Day and Fire by Night, want to go back to Egypt and back to slavery.  Where did this come from?  Well, it wasn’t a spur of the moment decision.  They had already given a clue to where they heart and mind was at before they arrived at the edge of risk.  It is seen in Numbers 11:4-6 (NLT)

Then the foreign rabble who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!”

Rather than enjoying the faithfulness of God, they wanted onions.  The price of the onions was to go back to slavery.  The modern parallel is clear, at least to me.  Today’s people of God, the church, are facing the same moment:  Do we take the risk of going into God’s Promise or do we go maintain the status quo?  The challenge for the Body of Christ here in the United States is do we keep on doing church work as normal or dare we take the risk of becoming involved in the work of the Kingdom of God?  Congregations that have plateaued or declining are doing so for one of two reasons:  Either their community is dying out, or they are more concerned with preserving the institution of their choice rather than doing the work of the Kingdom of God.  There is an alternative to the slavery of decline.

There are congregations that are thriving and making new disciples.  These are the congregations that have made Kingdom Work more important than church work.  The promise of God is not to have a land of beautiful church buildings and wonderful church programs, but to put in the middle of the territory of the Enemy the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.  This is our Promised Land-for the Kingdom of God to reach, touch and transform lives, homes, communities and nations.  For this to happen we must be willing to take risks.  And herein lies the problem.

When taking risks, there is the potential to fall flat on our faces.  I see a lot of good people who mistakenly believe that failure is fatal.  So to avoid becoming a fatality, they seek the comfort of the familiar because in the familiar, they live in the false illusion that they do have some type of control over their lives.  And this false illusion makes them feel more comfortable than taking the risk of trusting the Guarantee of God!  Comfort rules over risks for the Kingdom.

Recently I was at an event that was led by some of the Team Pastors of Grace Church located in the Cape Coral and Fort Myers area of Florida.  One of their pastor’s, Wes Olds said, “Don’t be afraid to fail.  In fact, do what we do.  Fail early, fail often, and fail forward.”  What he meant was that we need to be willing to learn from our mistakes and then move forward.  Some of our best learning, especially in the realm of the Kingdom of God, happens through our failures.  The problems arise hard and fast when we do not learn from our failures.  Remember this:  your failures, whether in the form of sin or in the form of trying to be faithful to our Kingdom God, never disqualifies you from God picking you up, dusting off your knees and telling you, “OK, get back out there!  I still believe in you!”

So here’s what I would like to ask you to do.  Answer this question:

Which do you prefer?  Onions or The Promised Land?

Your answer is clearly revealed in how you feel about the risks of stepping into a future where success lies entirely in the Hands of The Faithful God, the hands that were nailed to a Cross, and a future that is never controlled by our hands.  I personally know what it is like to walk into a future unknown by me.  But I go ahead and walk into this future because I have chosen to hold the Hand, the ONLY Hand, that knows exactly how this future will turn out.  My unknown future is only an illusion when I realize that God is in control of my life and my future; a future filled with His Promise.  I love a good onion, especially with beans and cornbread, but I am choosing to let go of the onions of predictability and comfort and enter into an adventure with the One who redeemed me and calls me to catch a glimpse of what HE is about to do!  Save the onions for hamburgers-go against the odds and remember that the Guarantee is given by the Faithful God!

Remember, love God with all your heart; love others the way God loves you; and make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Randy Burbank, a Kingdom Pastor…

HOW DO YOU SEE THE BIBLE?

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I started to title this “How Do You Read The Bible” but something, actually Someone, prompted me to change that word “read” to “see”.  I think this change came about because it is how we SEE the Bible that we READ the Bible.  Among the many things that has created conflict and chaos within the Body of Christ, the Bible, particularly how one sees the Bible, ranks near if not at the very top of that list.

We all bring a perspective, a point of view to everything we think, say or even read.  This perspective brings an influence into our lives especially as we read something, and even more so as we read the Bible.  For centuries people have debated the meaning of The Book and as a result, many today blindly accept these interpretations as immovable facts.  For example, many believe that a leader in the church, be they called elder or pastor, is someone who has never been divorced.  To back up their assertion they quote Paul in Titus 1:5-6 (KJV)—“5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: 6 if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.”

Where does it say “He cannot be divorced.”?  Other work on translating the Greek phrase in verse 6 like this:  “An elder must live a blameless life. He must be faithful to his wife.” (NLT)  Instead of meaning “He can’t be divorced” could it not mean that he should not be a polygamist or have a mistress?  But most of my fellow disciples would disagree with me, and why?  Because we’ve always been taught way.  I hear someone already thinking, “Now hold your horses, Preacher!  Jesus said (Matthew 5:30-32) 31 You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’ 32 But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.’  What about that verse?”

But what if the context of His words was their “Law”?  This is in the middle of a section where Jesus has been challenging their view of the Law.  Their Law wasn’t just the tablets Moses brought down from Sinai, but centuries of their interpretations, 613 laws to be exact.  Jesus was using their “Law” to show how inconsistent and how far off the mark they were from God’s heart.  Could it be that what Jesus meant was “Look, divorce was never a part of God’s design and you cannot justify it legally.”  What if Jesus was simply saying, “Divorce is a sin, but through God’s mercy and grace all sin can be forgiven”?  And what does God do with the memory of our sin?  Try this:  “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12 NLT) and “I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.” (Isaiah 43:25 NLT)

Since divorce was never a part of God’s intended design, what should I do?  How can I respond to both the rule of God and His forgiveness of my sin?  I can stop doing that thing that was wrong, as in this discussion and in my own life, I should never divorce again.  And in fact, that is exactly what I am doing.  My wife Debbie and I have a prenuptial agreement to never divorce.  If I try to run she shoots me and if she tries to run, I shoot her.  OK, folks, don’t get your panties in a wad.  That’s a joke.  What we are saying is that we will treat each other like we should—as God’s gift to each other.

I’ve said all this (and it’s been a lot) to come back to my original question:  How Do We See The Bible?  What is our perspective when it comes to the Sacred Writ?  What I am about to say, I am not asking you to agree with it, but hopefully you will do some deep self-examination to discover your own perspective in how you read the Bible.  My perspective is rather simple; I call it The Genesis 3 Perspective.  And here is how it works.

For the first 2 chapters in Genesis, everything is really clear.  God created us to live in a relationship with Him, and in this relationship, to participate with Him in what He has just created.  Everything was, as they say in that Liberty Mutual® commercial, “PERFECT!”  There was no fear and no shame at all.  It is all so very simple, live in relationship with God and join Him in the unfolding of creation.  In other words, to start discovering all that God put in place for our enjoyment.

We don’t know exactly how long this lasted, but Genesis 3 happens.  In case you forgot, Genesis 3 is the story of The Fall.  Now that we have messed it up by using the precious gift of free will for our own self-will, how does God respond?  He seeks the fallen in order to restore us back to our original and intended design.  I have come to understand that the rest of the Bible, from Genesis 3 all the way to Revelation 22, is the story of God redeeming us and helping us find our way back to our original design and His intended purpose.  In fact, Revelation 22 is God’s promise and assurance that a moment will come when the process of restoration becomes complete.

For me, this means I cannot afford to take one single passage out of context, nor place a single story outside the Main Story of Scripture, which is God seeking to restore us to our original purpose and His intended design.  This is how I see the Bible, and because this is how I see the Bible, it is how I read the Bible.  There has been so much, too much controversy over how people see the Bible.  I think it is at the root of our current controversy in the United Methodist Church around human sexuality.  Some want to point out the abomination of same gender sex and others want to say that the Bible is wrong because it doesn’t match up with how one feels and that Jesus said all we have to do is love.

Listen people, we are all messed up inside.  All of us are born with the genetic predisposition to some sin.  Think about a toddler who doesn’t want to share their toys with another toddler.  Often they cry out, “Mine!  Mine!  Mine!”  Where did that come from?  And where do disasters and diseases come from?  The act of Adam and Eve brought all of this into God’s creation, including whatever preference of sin that exists inside each and every one of us.

But remember the rest of Genesis 3:  What is God’s response?  He wants to redeem us from our sin, and He also wants to restore us to our original design.  Listen again from this Genesis 3 Perspective to Luke 19:1-10 (The Message):

1-4 Then Jesus entered and walked through Jericho.  There was a man there, his name Zacchaeus, the head tax man and quite rich.  He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way—he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowd.  So he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by.

5-7 When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down.  Today is my day to be a guest in your home.”  Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him.  Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?”

Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned.  He stammered apologetically, “Master, I give away half my income to the poor—and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages.”

9-10 Jesus said, “Today is salvation day in this home!  Here he is:  Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.”

When viewed from the Genesis 3 Perspective, this encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus has only one purpose.  To redeem Zacchaeus from his sin and to restore Zacchaeus to his original purpose and God’s intended design.  Greed, power, in short, selfishness, was consuming and destroying Zach and Jesus knew it.  So what does Jesus do?  He invades Zach’s space by inviting Himself to his home.  And Zach’s response?  “I’m going to stop doing what I’ve been doing and start living the way God designed me to live.”  And notice, it’s a life that is centered around others, not self.

The Bible doesn’t exist to prove our views, and truth be known, one can twist any verse in the Bible to justify their view.  How?  Because we tend to read the Bible to justify ourselves rather than to discover the God who loves us so deeply that He and He alone, will justify us in order to restore us to our original purpose and His intended design.  At the risk of sounding like Nick Saban (like that would be a horrible thing), this is a process.

We think we are instantly justified when we can take a few verses (maybe many verses) out of the context of God seeking to redeem and restore us to our original purpose and His intended design to prove our point.  I want to encourage you to “retool” the way you read the Bible by changing the way you see the Bible.  See the Bible for what it is:  the mission of God to redeem and restore us and how we should respond to this extraordinary mercy and grace from God.

I am not saying I have it all figured out and that my understanding of the Sacred Writ is 100% accurate.  What I am saying is that because I now read this wonderful Book from the Genesis 3 perspective I am discovering that some of what I learned about the Bible is wrong.  I have also learned that much I feel about the Bible is also wrong.  Nearly 2,000 years of listening to what others have said about the Bible has tainted us, perhaps even more than our own preference of sin, and blinded us to what God really wants.

And what God really wants is seen in His response to Adam and Eve.  Yes, there were consequences to their wrong exercise of their free will as it is with ours.  But remember that God is also there to redeem and take them on a journey to full restoration of their original purpose and His intended design.  I believe that the Bible, though penned and re-penned by human hands, is preserved for us to discover the God of redemption and restoration.  I believe that even though human minds and hearts determined this Canon for us, I also believe that my God is big enough to make sure that this Canon accurately tells the story of His desire for us to be redeemed and restored to Eden.  If your god can’t do that, could it be you are serving a way too weak god?

I furthermore believe that because this Canon is the story of God’s search to redeem and restore us, it is completely sufficient for faith, life and order.  The Bible has authority over me because it is the story of God’s search to redeem and restore me.  Do I absolutely understand everything about the Bible?  Who are you kidding?  Do I agree with everything I currently understand about the Bible?  No, but I am on a journey with Him who has both a purpose and design that comes out of Eden to become the person created for Eden.  Am I there yet?  Emphatically and absolutely NO!  How do I get there?  I go back to the Book, the one Book that God has persevered for me so that I can fully become who He made me to be.

I leave you with these words of John Wesley, whom God used to help redeem and restore a culture in a time of spiritual blindness:

“I have thought, I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing,—the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. For this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri. Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone; only God is here. In His presence I open, I read His book; for this end, to find the way to heaven. Is there a doubt concerning the meaning of what I read? Does anything appear dark or intricate? I lift up my heart to the Father of Lights:—“Lord, is it not Thy word, ‘if any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God?’ Thou givest liberally, and upbraidest not. Thou hast said, ‘if any be willing to do Thy will, he shall know.’ I am willing to do, let me know Thy will.” I then search after and consider parallel passages of Scripture, “comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” I meditate thereon with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable. If any doubt still remains, I consult those who are experienced in the things of God: and then the writings whereby, being dead, they yet speak. And what I thus learn, that I teach.”

He has heard your grumbling against HIM

Some very good words–most of us never realize that our grumbling is first against God–long before it is about others or our circumstances!

Beholding Him Ministries

exodus-16-8Exodus 16
6So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt,7and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because He has heard your grumbling against Him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?”8Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when He gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because He has heard your grumbling against Him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”

SSSssssooooo how many times have I had to preach this to myself? SSSsssssoooo if my faith recognizes God to be Sovereign, God to be in control, God to be “He who is blessed and the only…

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Programs, Missions, or Vision? Where Do We Start? What Do We Do? How Do We Do It? Part 5

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7 Reasons Why Vision Always Works

I could keep on going with this series of posts but I said it would have 5 parts, and I will be faithful to that promise.  And another reason is that the Spirit said it’s time to move on to other fields of thought.  Hopefully by now we have seen the folly of trying to bring vitality and sustainable growth to the local body of Christ through church programs.  Right now I’m thinking about Elisha, in particular, when a king thought he had Elisha surrounded and just as good as captured.

In 2 Kings 6 we read that the king of Aram was at war with Israel, but they weren’t doing so good.  Whatever plan or strategy they tried, Israel was always ready.  He thought he had a traitor on staff but it turns out it was God giving Vision to Elisha.  The logical thing was for this king to find where Elisha was at, surround that place and capture this pesky prophet.  He did and that morning one of Elisha’s young students went outside, saw the army of Aram and naturally panicked.  But look now only at Elisha’s words, but notice his calmness in verses 16-17 (from The Message):

He said, “Don’t worry about it—there are more on our side than on their side.”  Then Elisha prayed, “O God, open his eyes and let him see.”  The eyes of the young man were opened and he saw. A wonder! The whole mountainside full of horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha!

Allow me now to share with you why I am totally convinced why Vision trumps everything else when it comes to the vitality and sustainable growth of the local Body of Christ.

1.  It’s Out Of Our Hands And In The Hands Of God

Every problem in every local church can trace its roots to this single issue.  We have put the weight of the world on our shoulders and the solution in our hands.  And often times it is about control–whether it’s the pastor or the indigenous leaders.  For some reason we feel safer if we are in control.  But there will always be challenges to our control that will defeat us.  But there is NO challenge to the rule and authority of God.  Satan tries to bluff us with empty threats.  Doubt me?  Then remember that Cross and remember that empty grave.

2.  It Will Place Us Right In The Middle Of The Enemy’s Territory

When Jesus became one of us, He left His Home Base to storm the territory of the Enemy to take back what was stolen from Him.  What the Enemy took from Him was US!  Jesus stormed in to take back the ones who bear His Image by healing and restoring us back to that image.  God’s Vision is always about His Mission, to restore us from the mess that comes from living in the Enemy’s stolen Kingdom.  It will no longer be enough to supply money and hire staff to do the work that God has called all of us to do.  That work isn’t about calling people sinners and abominations, but helping them be restored by the hands on work of seeking out and helping the least, the last and the lost find the Life they are created to experience.  There are no spectators in God’s Vision, only warriors who storm the gates of hell to take back what was stolen from our Heavenly Father!

3.  It Will Teach Us To Trust God

One of the ways Vision teaches us to trust God is that it gets us out of our comfort zones.  The greatest work of the Enemy isn’t about getting us to hate God.  The Enemy’s greatest work is to get us comfortable.  Maybe you heard about a science experiment about a frog and hot water.  Place a frog in hot water and it will immediately jump out.  Place that same frog in room temperature water and then slowly raise the temperature until it boils, it will stay there until it dies.  Some people think God wants them to be comfortable in life, and that, my friends, is a lie straight from the depths of hell itself.  Only in the battle can we learn how to trust God.  Our trust in God isn’t measured in how we sit in the pew every Sunday, but how we serve our communities Monday through Saturday.

4.  It Will First Change Us Before It Changes Our Culture And Community

The first step to changing our world starts with changing us.  If we are not transformed by the Truth of God’s Grace we cannot expect our communities nor our culture to change.  God does not send us out into this battle unprepared and unequipped.  Soldiers in our military go through extensive training and constant training before they are sent to the battlefield.  Vision is about transforming lives and the very first life that is transformed is our own.  Enough said!

5.  It Will Align Our Priorities

We all said that the local church exists to “save” the lost.  But often our resources are aligned to save the institution.  When Vision is discovered and cast, the question will NOT be “Can we afford to do this?”  The question will always be, “How can we not do it?”  It creates the right hierarchy where people and resources are moving in unison with what God is doing.  In other words, our words and actions match and the Kingdom of God comes on earth as it is in Heaven.

 6.  It Will Bring Vitality To Our “Programs”

Vision redefines “programs” from what we do, to what God IS Doing!  I prefer changing the term from “programs” to “Missions”!  Suddenly all the things we do will not be about preserving us but transforming our communities, and that’s a great thing!  When the focus is on programs (stuff we do) admit it, it’s often a struggle to keep it going and keep it funded.  And that puts a burden on staff, volunteers and resources.  But when Vision is the focus, all the things we do comes alive because we aren’t doing them for us, but for the least, the last and the lost.

7.  It Will Prune The Dead Branches

When the Vision is finally discovered and cast, do not expect 100% buy in and celebration.  I shared last Sunday with the Vision Team that once the Vision is clearly cast and embraced, there will be some who will leave our church because they simply do not like the Vision.  And I also told them that is OK and that we should allow them to leave with grace and dignity and pray that they will find God’s Vision for their life.  I am not saying I want to see people leave.  I would rather that they stay and allow the Vision to work in and through their lives.  But in most churches, there will be those who are more concerned about the institution than they are about The Mission.  When The Mission of God becomes the drive and force, some will leave.  But remember, pruning always leads to greater growth.

So, what other reasons do you see on why The Vision works to bring vitality and sustainable growth?  Please share in the comments section.

And remember…

Love God with all your heart, love others the way Jesus loves you, and make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Randy Burbank, a Kingdom Pastor

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