In Numbers, God’s people are told that in order to obey the law, they are to make all kinds of sacrifices to God. But they can’t.
They are told to make grain, oil and and wine sacrifices and offerings, but they don’t have any of that.
They’re in the desert.
And there’s no Desert Costco where they can get it. But Numbers also envisions a future where they will be able to obey. The promised land.
We, too, are told to obey and can’t. But scripture envisions a future where we can, too.
We don’t have to stay no-growth stuck. Israel was stuck with just manna. But someday they would enter Canaan and have the ability to obey.
Despite their failures and sin.
In the same way, we’re able to obey. Because we have a sacrifice that allows us to. Jesus.
Hopefully, more and more each day, our failure and sin turns to loving obedience as we grow in our love for the ultimate sacrifice.
The gospel takes us on this journey from having to obey to wanting to obey.
And obedience is the gateway drug.
We may not even want to at the time, but after we do- we’re like wow, that was pretty cool. And then we act shocked and surprised that God really does know what’s best for us… and our heart changes a little more.
Truth is, we spend most of our time praying that God will give us what we really want- and its not Him.
We only go to God to get:
hitting our fighting weight
for our to kid make the travel team
finally getting some money in our savings account
or my most favorite muscle car ever (yes, I got it- pictured above:)
Tune to the right channel- THEN, check your content…
In order for the thing we want not to become an idol we seek after more than God, make sure you have an open channel to God.
Then pray for the things HE wants us to be a part of: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Along with gospel principles such as mercy, grace and justice. Pray what’s in scripture.
Yes, really! Pray for those things by name, and things going on in your life where you can apply them. What God wants for us, what he wants us to be praying for, is right in His Word.
Every time you do this, even when you’re not feeling it, you are fighting the idolatry in your heart. The Holy Spirit will actually redirect the desires of your heart away from the whatever it is that you really want- to you really wanting more of God.
Here are some things we ask our small groups to consider at my church every summer break:
Has your group been together for several years? AND
Is your group too big?
Answer yes to either of these- and you may be unintentionally hanging the “closed” sign on your front door.
Your “closed” to new members for two reasons:
unofficially: nobody wants to be the new kid on the block OR
officially: they are simply too big numerically, so there is no room at the inn.
The problem: exclusivity
The solution: plant a new group
Allow the leader you have trained to lead your group. Then you and one another experienced member leave and plant a new one. It can be the same night, the same place, the same everything- just mostly new members. Then…
Exclusive becomes inclusive:
Yes, people will not want to get out of their comfort zone. But when we don’t, we exclude. And the gospel is never exclusive- in fact, exclusion is the opposite of the gospel.
Christ didn’t die to keep people out- he died to bring them in.
So we make a sacrifice of our own comfort and exclusivity to include those who have not experienced what we have experienced in community. We bring them in.
Jesus gives us a risky new way of Being Human. How do we do it? How do we live this new way? The difference is in who is keeping you. Someone is always keeping us. We’re either keeping ourselves or someone else is. 1 John 5:18 says:
the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.
Who is the One “born of God”? Jesus.
When we keep ourselves, we base our worth on how well we do what the world expects of us. How well we keep all the balls in the air.
But when Jesus keeps us- the pressure comes off. What he did for me- accepting me even though my kids aren’t perfect and I didn’t get the job I wanted. That freeing.
Being “Born of God” gives us a whole new way to begin to be human in the way that God originally designed us. We gain a new understanding of both ourselves and Jesus that changes our hearts. And because its Jesus who keeps us, we can take the risks associated with this new way of living.
Sometimes, we get nervous about whether or not to get involved in something.
Because there is always the risk of failure.
We expect a lot from ourselves.
And we live by the mantra: risk versus reward.
But what if there really wasn’t a risk? What if we’ve been dreaming risk up as an excuse not to try something? Or to put pressure on ourselves to ensure high performance?
In the ministry that I’m involved in, I always worry that people won’t join, that the ministry will be a failure. But guess what: even if they don’t, its not on me. It’s hard to break the performance based model we are accustomed to- but the gospel says Christ performed for us already and our acceptance is based on that- so whether or not what your involved with performs well or feels like failure when it doesn’t perform well- is no longer the issue.
So what that does is frees us up to take base-jumping level risks.
Since the outcome really isn’t on you, you’re free to be faithful.
Now I’m free to risk spectacular failure for the Kingdom- because worldly performance benchmarks (i.e. how good a pastor I am) are no longer the basis for my acceptance.
Now, you’ll get no argument from me that churches are primarily Word Ministry based. Practically, para-church organizations are better equipped to serve communities. But every church should have a couple of gateway programs that do community outreach as part of their discipleship program.
A couple of years ago, the church I attend started a community service program called Send Seventy, modeled after Jesus sending the disciples out in pairs. Send Seventy was designed to get people out into their neighborhoods to serve. It platformed out of our Life Group ministry- so that people could go together and support one another as they tried something new. Hopefully, three things would happen:
Together, people could overcome their trepidation to try something new.
Once they tried it, service would become something they wanted to do, rather than a burden or just another thing on the to-do list. (Enter sanctifying Holy Spirit:)
They’d be motivated to find a place that fit them and continue serving.
Gateway programs like this are important in combatting community service lethargy. Many people, myself included, shy away from service because its new and intimidating not to know anyone or what to do- we’re uncomfortable. A gateway service program called Salt and Light is run by our church at a local homeless shelter ministry. It’s led and supported by a regular and dedicated leadership team from the church, but with plenty of room for people to get out of their pews and try it out.
Church community service programs should be designed to introduce people to service so that they can find their own service home and routines in their own contexts, neighborhoods and comfort zones.
Did Send Seventy work? Well, it worked for me. I’ve shared my struggles with serving and new routines and busy-ness. But after a few tries (and few bad fits), I found a place in my neighborhood where I feel comfortable, know the people and can serve regularly.
I hate serving. I love serving. You could say I have a love/hate relationship with serving. I hate getting started because its inconvenient. It takes me out of my game. I don’t know anybody there. I don’t know what to do or how to do it. So my default setting is usually: “don’t I do enough already?” Then, after the guilt sets in, the evil twin of, “I don’t do enough.”
These are the two places from which Christians should never serve. Because frankly, you could never “do enough” or not “do enough.” Christ already did everything. The first is born of pride the second guilt. If we’re “doing enough,” we’re taking credit for doing something that we think should cause God to love us more. And when we’re not “doing enough” we think God loves us less. Both attitudes are opposite sides of the sanctification by works coin. God won’t love you more for doing more and he won’t love you less for dong less. But precisely because he loves us unconditionally like that- we should love him back- in obedience.
So rather than looking at service opportunities from the “works” binary, simply try to obey… for obedience sake. Simple obedience is the gateway drug to sanctification. Now surely there will be valid times when you can’t or shouldn’t. But simple obedience gets us over the reluctance hump. Once you try it, figure it out, meet the people, serving becomes something you want to do rather than have to do. That’s a heart being sanctified.