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.
Sometimes during winter, the chemicals on the road put a light film on my windshield. At night, when I am driving on a dark road alone, I really don’t notice it.
But when an oncoming car shines its headlights onto my windshield, that slight, unnoticeable film makes it almost impossible to see. I had no idea that something that potentially blinding was there until it got illuminated.
God’s Word is the set of headlights that reveals the junk that keeps us from seeing things as they are. Stuff in front of us, on a collision course even, that we might not have even noticed before.
Psalm 119:105 states:
God’s Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
Christian, God is at work, even in your darkest times. But God’s will, the Law He has written in His Word and in our hearts, may become clouded over and difficult for us to see in the middle of it.
Church family helps to hold and aim that lamp as an instrument of God, helping us to see clearly and putting us back on the road. That’s one reason that Life Groups are so important.
True change can only be accomplished if we allow the Holy Spirit to rewrite our code with God’s.
Ezekiel 36:26- I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
Jeremiah 31:33- I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
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.
A small god can manage the list of dos and don’ts that we have posted on the fridge. But only an infinitely big God can dole out grace in the huge amounts that we need every day. We make him small when we limit him to being the genie for our prayer requests.
Compared to what God expects of us as beings created specifically to love, worship and obey him- the most on fired up Christian only taps a minuscule fraction of their potential to live for god. And though I wound him daily with my self serving attitude, my lack of awe of his greatness and grace- he still comes back to me and says, you can do better, I know it because I made you. I know it because I love you like my own Son. We will never understand the depth of what he has done for us through the gospel. If we spent every waking minute of our lives pondering the peaks of gospel off in the distance, we would still never make it past the foothills.
Don’t be paralyzed by shame, but do continue daily repentance. Your salvation isn’t finished with the sinners prayer. But it moves toward the finish line as our hearts melt and change over God’s grace and response to our sin.
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.
Should I serve inside the church or should I serve outside the church? Yes…
This is how as an interrogator, I learned the hard way not to ask compound questions. Did you rob the bank on Monday or did you rob the bank on Tuesday? Yes. So which is it?
If you serve inside the church walls… does that mean you are off the hook outside the walls?
Christians are called to both serve both one another AND the needy, i.e. “the widow, the orphan and the foreigner among you.” When we serve one another inside the walls we are serving by extension the ministry of God’s Word. When we serve outside the walls we are serving the ministry of God’s Work. Both Word and Works are necessary.
There is the danger of thinking that if we usher or work in children’s ministry, that we are absolved of working in the community. As a pastor, spending all my free time inside the walls, I even tried to convince myself that I was off the hook. Nice try.
We only hurt ourselves when we forgo community work because God ordains that kind of service as one of the ways that He changes our heart (i.e. sanctifies us). In short, I hate going, but once I’m there I feel like it was great idea (that’s simple heart change). And while he’s changing our heart, other hearts are changing as we model (and yes even speak about) the gospel.
We are called to be God’s agents in world repair- the Jewish term is Tikkun Olam. I especially love Isaiah for his Two Cities Theme: the city of man vs. the city of God- it’s currently a poor crime ridden ghetto filled with people who abuse each other. But in the end we see its transformation into a Holy City. Even though its not here yet, we are to be part of that transforming process- now.
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.