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Faithlife

Coming To Our Census

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" Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.” So the king said to Joab and the army commanders with him, “Go throughout the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba and enroll the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are.” But Joab replied to the king, “May the Lord your God multiply the troops a hundred times over, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king want to do such a thing? The king’s word, however, overruled Joab and the army commanders; so they left the presence of the king to enroll the fighting men of Israel. After crossing the Jordan, they camped near Aroer, south of the town in the gorge, and then went through Gad and on to Jazer. They went to Gilead and the region of Tahtim Hodshi, and on to Dan Jaan and around toward Sidon. Then they went toward the fortress of Tyre and all the towns of the Hivites and Canaanites. Finally, they went on to Beersheba in the Negev of Judah. After they had gone through the entire land, they came back to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. Joab reported the number of the fighting men to the king: In Israel there were eight hundred thousand able-bodied men who could handle a sword, and in Judah five hundred thousand. David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” Before David got up the next morning, the word of the Lord had come to Gad the prophet, David’s seer: “Go and tell David, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.’ ” So Gad went to David and said to him, “Shall there come upon you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.” David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men." (2 Samuel 24:1-14, NIV) [1]

Amazingly enough, the Holy scriptures give this man one of the most complementary titles in their entire repertoire – when it comes to men.  He is remembered as a “man after God’s own heart”.  A shepherd boy at heart who killed a giant, was compelled to lead a nation and seemed to lose himself periodically throughout most of the rest of his life.  Through David’s extremely human and flawed life, I have found encouragement to think that perhaps I too might become a man after God’s heart.

1 Samuel 24 gives us a picture of the last active portion of David’s life.  1 Kings picks up the story with a bedridden king and records David’s death in the 10th verse of the second chapter and his son Solomon leading the nation.

The story that we want to consider this morning is an odd one.  It tells of an erratic order that David gives, one meant to gather information.  We can only speculate as to the reason.

David orders a census to be taken.

"So the king said to Joab and the army commanders with him, “Go throughout the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba and enroll the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are.”" (2 Samuel 24:2, NIV) [2]

David was not merely concerned with how many people there were in the nation but how many fighting men there were in the nation.

We learn later that this was confusing to some and displeasing to God.

" Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel." (1 Chronicles 21:1, NIV) [3]

1 Chronicles 21 clearly identifies Satan as the motivator of this action.  2 Samuel 24 suggests that it was God’s anger against Israel that drove it.

Joab, the commander of David’s army was perplexed by the order but compliant and carried out David’s wishes.

"But Joab replied to the king, “May the Lord your God multiply the troops a hundred times over, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king want to do such a thing?”" (2 Samuel 24:3, NIV) [4]

It took him 9 months and twenty days to complete the census and then he returned with the count.

"After they had gone through the entire land, they came back to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. Joab reported the number of the fighting men to the king: In Israel there were eight hundred thousand able-bodied men who could handle a sword, and in Judah five hundred thousand." (2 Samuel 24:8-9, NIV) [5]

1.3 million able-bodied fighting at David’s disposal.  Now that’s an army and should bring him some comfort – one would think.

"David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.”" (2 Samuel 24:10, NIV) [6]

So the numbers did nothing for him – simply reminded him that he had displeased God.  And for a “man after God’s own heart” there is no greater displeasure, no greater  pain than disappointing God.  Really pain that comes from incredible love.  It seems that people who love God sometimes disappoint Him and that hurts.

Why did he do it?  Why were the numbers so important?  2 Samuel 21 gives us some insight.

"Once again there was a battle between the Philistines and Israel. David went down with his men to fight against the Philistines, and he became exhausted. And Ishbi-Benob, one of the descendants of Rapha, whose bronze spearhead weighed three hundred shekels and who was armed with a new sword, said he would kill David. But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to David’s rescue; he struck the Philistine down and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, saying, “Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished.”" (2 Samuel 21:15-17, NIV) [7]

He was no longer battle ready himself – it just was different than it used to be.  Once he skipped the battle for boredom and sleeplessness, which lead to an adulterous relationship with Bath-sheba.  How different his life might have been if he had just gone to battle that day. (2 Samuel 11)

Now he was sidelined, growing old, questioning his place, his usefulness, perhaps beginning to number his own days.  While the knowledge that came from the years should have served him better, he probably became more focused on his diminishing capacities and less aware that his God was ageless and well able to work through aging men as much as he could work through 1.3 million – “able-bodied” men.

David attempted to measure his own strength rather than God’s sufficiency.

Some people say that age is just a number – it may be true but it’s easier to say when the numbers are smaller.

Now this morning, I’d like to take a few minutes and ask you what numbers you turn to in order to try to make yourself feel better.  How do you measure your strength?  Should you?

I watch my man-child strut into the kitchen each morning, . . . measuring.  The numbers that were important first were linear.  He’d walk in to the room put his nose in the air and check to see if today he’d be taller.  One day not too long ago, he announced, “Dad, I believe I am taller than you are.”  I told him, “I believe you are.”  Now the numbers have changed.  They have to do with strength.  His mother maintains that she can still “take him down”.  So far it seems that she is right but there can be tremendous cost in “taking a teenage boy down”.  We can have momentary victory and pain that follows for days.  The pain that comes from pride, at any level, can be excruciating.  Now he flexes at me.  There are flashes of arrogance that are nearly telling him that he can “take me down”.  One of these days he’ll try it.

So what are your numbers?  Are they financial?  That’s a common one, could be money in the bank, a retirement plan, stocks, investments of various kinds.  You monitor them closely – perhaps more closely than you monitor most other things.  Spend more time consulting the paper or the internet than you do the investment that is eternal.  The relationship or the lack of it, that you have with God that will make a difference as to where you spend eternity.  How closely do you monitor that one – how closely do you check the numbers?

" We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him." (Hebrews 2:1-3, NIV)[8]

You see, the human tendency is always to drift away from God.  We don’t naturally drift closer.  You don’t drift closer by bringing your bodies to church every Sunday.

"let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." (Hebrews 10:22, NIV) [9]

You see, your numbers will, in all likelihood create drift between you and God – whatever they are – because they create a false sense of well being.  God does not want you to find inner satisfaction in anything else but His Person.  If you seek to find that primary contentment in any other source than you have ceased to love God and to pursue Him.  It’s not that these other lesser numbers can’t exist – we all have them but they should cause neither extreme contentment nor extreme despair.  They are just numbers.

Churches can be guilty as well.  Pastors can be guilty as well.  I notice the numbers every Sunday.  When I come in some Sundays and the numbers are down, one of the first things that I think is, “Who have I offended?”, “What did I do?”, or even worse, “What didn’t I do?” 

Well meaning people say to me that numbers don’t matter.  I recognize this sometimes to be offered as encouragement, other times as criticism by people who want the church to be about themselves.  They want greater care and attention and become skeptics of church growth.  But as well, they are just numbers.  I believe that this is God’s church and he is the church-builder.  Our job is to be the church.  He will determine how large we are or how large we become.  But the truth is that numbers matter to every one of us.  Numbers going up provoke the reminders that “numbers aren’t everything”.  Well they aren’t unless the numbers go down and the they become something.  It doesn’t matter about new people coming into the church but it seems to matter when people leave.  I have believed that there are times when God moves people from one place to another.  If He is really the commander in chief then he has the right to re-deploy the troops. 

Every once in a while I think more about the numbers coming or going and forget that what God has called me to do is to follow Him closely.  That’s about the essence of the pastoral ministry.  I have to follow closely, listen attentively and act according to what I am being shown by God.  That will place me in favor with some and disfavor with others  but in a place of personal blessing with God.  That’s where I want to be.

And God calls us as a church to walk by faith – not by sight.

"We live by faith, not by sight." (2 Corinthians 5:7, NIV) [10]

One of the numbers that the church has been stuck on for years is the need to measure success b y the numbers of people who walk through the doors.  We measure our outreach by this criterion – how many are “coming in”.  As a matter of faith, I believe that this is one paradigm shift that must take place in order for us to have effective ministry in the future.

I think that we have to believe that we can see people in heaven one day because of the direct ministry of this body – people that we may never meet on this earth.

The Gideon’s have believed this for years.  It is the foundational belief of their ministry.  The Sword of God going out will accomplish His purposes whether or not we see it.  So they place scriptures in every drawer that they can – in every public place to which they have access.  They do this, counting the numbers of dollars as insignificant compared to the cost of winning a soul.  Is it cost efficient, probably not by human standards.  No more than the alabaster box and the costly ointment poured over our Lord.  Is it right?  Absolutely – without question.  What does God say?  What happens in heaven when one six-million dollar soul comes to eternal safety?  Heaven says, it was worth it all and more.  Calvary says that the dollars are anemic compared to the worth of the Son of God whose precious, priceless blood was spilled without reserve for you and me on that terrible wind swept desolate hill so many years ago.

I need you help today as we attempt to begin to see our commission as something that takes place outside of this church.  To believe that people can go to heaven because of the direct ministry of this church – people that you may never meet this side of eternity.

We are beginning with a developing website to take church beyond our walls.  Ultimately it will take us to the place where our Sunday morning services will be cast overe the internet, live.  People on the campus of UNB – any other campus anywhere in the world can log on to our website and watch and listen to what happens here on Sunday mornings.  It will be an interactive experience.  They will have a pop up widow on their monitors that will allow them to ask questions or ask for prayer while the service is happening before their eyes.  And someone will answer them as they ask their questions.  Some of our people on Sunday mornings will sit in this building and interact with people around the world.  This is a growing ministry and a growing opportunity as we are able to make more and more people aware that this is available.

The numbers – about $200.00/mo.  Many churches spend that in advertising – at First Wesleyan – we spend next to nothing.  People have called us the best kept secret in the city.  This is advertising and more with far greater potential.  We go to them – wherever they may be.  It is a global perspective – the idea that we can with God’s blessing, impact the world.  It can conceivably become a ministry to shut-ins as we are able to help the elderly learn to navigate the internet.

I’ll tell you a little story about God’s provision.  (server donation)

You can help us as we begin to sail into new waters – uncharted for us.  They won’t be storm or difficulty free, but navigable. 

On November 18th – 9:00am – 4:00pm, we are experimenting with this technology by conducting potentially and International Day of Prayer.  You’ll log on to our website and hear an audio broadcast of live talk with some of our hosts – I’ll be one – H.C. Wilson may be present as well.  You’ll have a chance to give prayer requests and someone will interact with you as you make those requests.  The interaction will be in some kind of “chat format”.  If you don’t have a computer, go to a friends home who is “on line” and check it out.  The possibilities are limitless for us as we step through these doors.

But you’re going to have to see through the eyes of a sower.  God will produce the results – our job is to sow.  He is the church-builder . . . we are the church.

Some final observations:

V      In the church, it doesn’t matter how many fighting men you have – it matters how many men you have who are fighting.  Not politically correct but this is gender inclusive.  There are probably more women warriors than men and that’s sad on one hand and glorious on another.

V      If God is changeless, the years only bring us to a different form of ministry.  They don’t bring us to “No” ministry.  You can’t coast in the Christian life.  God doesn’t age – He doesn’t change.  If there is breath, there is a soldier.

V      The battle is the Lord’s.  David forgot his words on the battlefield that day as a boy when he faced the defining challenge of his life.

"All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”" (1 Samuel 17:47, NIV) [11]

V      God is self-obligated to  and still honors those who step out in faith.   Churches that are faith-filled are those who are full of and or lead by those who are faith-filled.


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[1]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[4]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[5]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[6]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[7]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[8]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[9]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[10]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[11]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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