“The Numbers Game”

Each number IS a person...

And I heard him murmur back…

It’s just a numbers game… it’s always all about the numbers…”

I hear that a lot from church folks and non-church folks all around the country… ‘how many’ this and ‘how many’ that …how few and how fewer… how long does the numbers game go on?

Well, it IS about the numbers…but, let me tell you…this is no game! It’s as real as real can be.  In fact, it may be one of the most important ways… if not THE most important way we gauge and qualify the vital work we do in this thing called, ‘church.’  Really.  Numbers.  God counts and people like us need to pay attention to what God is up to…

Why does God count?  People count!  We matter.  That’s why God counts.  He knows every hair on our heads, the number of days of any one of our lives and knows each and every one of us top to bottom, inside and out… even from our mother’s womb.   And if God counts, we must, too!  So, let’s do it…Count that is… Count as a reflection of the God who desires the fullness of each of our hearts because whether we like it or not every person matters to God…

It’s really not a new thing.  Numbers and counting supposes community… and community is what life is all about. Did you ever think that God just wanted one of us?  One at a time we would come along and we’d never know about anyone else? Count me out of that one as we can’t be in this life all by ourselves.   From the beginning God was into ‘community’ by virtue of his desire the first man not be alone.  Partnership and family; neighbors and friends–that’s what counts in God’s world. And when there is purpose, peace and harmony in those relationships, then there is a certain security and safety that is God-driven.  And as each person benefits, one by one and two by two, we all benefit!

Later as God and Israel get forever linked, God’s own people are called to be a  “light to the nations“… a people called to be the very presence of God showing others the way to God’s love and grace… and not to just one or two or three nations… all of them!   God promised a plethora of blessing… stars in the sky and sands at the ocean style blessing as Israel claimed their role as the ‘city on the hill!’

And God was counting on Israel but as in many cases…both idividuals and collectively, Israel began to count on themselves.  So, over time the prophets got in on the story…especially when little old Israel forgot to let their light shine… and that’s when Isaiah comes along and speaks a word of truth…

“Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior;there is none but me. 22 “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. 23 By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked:Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. 24 They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.’ [Isaiah 45]

Even St. Paul reminded his new church friends in Rome this was critical, putting Isaiah’s words to work…

“For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.11 It is written: ” ‘As surely as I live,’says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’    [Romans 14]

Why did Luke include in his gospel story things like numbers of people on a hillside or fish and loaves and collected baskets of leftovers and how many people got fed if numbers didn’t matter?  Why did he report in the Acts of the Apostles that over 3000 were baptized on Peter’s first big sermon right after being accused of being drunk at nine o’clock in the morning?  Numbers matter and we count people because those numbers are people and people matter…we all count…simply because…we all count!

In the end I lay this ongoing burden on us.  It is a trust that each genertion must tend to.  But, I must give the blame to Jesus.  He says we count and we matter, too!  In Matthew 28 we read…”Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Ok, now I get it… “all the nations“… everyone…we no longer have a choice to be silent… ‘all the nations’ … not this person or that one…not this group or that…not these folks but not those folks… but all persons…all the folks… all the ‘ethnae‘… all the nations…they all matter…

And that’s why we count in church…it’s the way that helps us know how much work has been done and how much more work there is to do… So, here’s my short list… you count…yes… let’s take a look…

  • how many children are being tended to/neglected this year compared to last year?  Any missing?  Who are they?  Where are they?  Do we know why?
  • Do the hurried folks around me believe I think they count?
  • Any single dads or single moms nearby?  Let them know THEY count!
  • When was the last time to called the oldest person you know and thanked them for being faithful and loving those nearby?  Do they know THEY count?
  • Do you know how many children will die today because of no access to nutritious food and clean drinking water?  A:  One child for every beat of your heart.  They count to God, too!
  • How many people do you know who at one time felt they counted and mattered to God but today they don’t?  What will you do to remind them of their importance to God, the church and the world?

Remember… that’s just a short and incomplete list… we can’t do this all by ourselves…

And just for the record…one of these days we won’t have to count anymore at all… that day will be here when every knee has bowed and every tongue confessed that ‘Jesus is Lord” or the day that the Christ returns in glory… for on that day… that will be all that matters…

Keep counting with me… it’s not a game… I count… you count… we can’t do it alone…God is counting on us…



About briangigee

Loves life; lives love! Bud and Doris' eldest son. Descendant of 'refiners' and 'reformers.' Husband to Margo. Father of 5. Grandfather to 4. Brother, uncle, friend and colleague. Working parish pastor. Became a naturalized Texan in February 2013.
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One Response to “The Numbers Game”

  1. Thanks, Brian, for reminding me not to count anyone out! Steve

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