1. Numbers Madness
- “Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are.” (1 Chronicles 21:2b)
The ads boast and brag, “Over 1,000,000 sold!” From software to books, from cars to music, numbers matter to the world. And when a true Christian’s belief challenges someone, the retort is that “no one else believes this.” Indeed, if I had a dollar for every time someone said, “Well, no one else sees it that way,” I would be a very wealthy man.
McDonald’s restaurants boast of the number of hamburgers they sell. Under the golden arches a statement boldly proclaims “billions served.” This sinful desire to boast of numbers reflects in the church today. Like psychiatrists who make up names for illnesses, I call it the McDonald’s Factor.
Boasting as the world marks a church ripe for judgment. God will judge the madmen in His sanctuary. All who boast in the way the world does will face the full fury of God’s punishment. Not every McDonalds continues to post their numbers sold but the church latched onto counting and built upon the sin.
2. Mcnumbers Factors
In 1988, when I first preached on this mental illness in the church, we gave away free sermon tapes on this topic. In order to make the point we went to several McDonalds in our town and requested cheeseburger wrappers. Each restaurant kindly gave us some of the yellow paper wrappers. We then cut them up into four sections and wrapped each tape to look like a cheeseburger. Needless to say, this was a great way to make the point, until the district McDonalds office in our town got wind of it. They didn’t like their sin revealed anymore than the church. We received a rather nasty letter, not only from the local office, but also from the world headquarters for McDonalds in New York City. They sent a letter back from their lawyers demanding we no longer use their name and materials. It seems the district manager had forwarded all of our materials, including the sermon tape to the big wigs in New York. God used this to preach the gospel all the way to the top. It would have made a very interesting court case, but we submitted to their request and renamed the sermon “The McNumbers Factor.”
Again, what the world does, boasting of billions served, the church embraces with a full, sinful heart. Because of this love for the flesh and its way, fools now preach from the pulpits. As a church, we must realize that if we act like the world, then something is drastically wrong.
A church’s desire to talk of how many they save or serve in the Lord comes straight from the heart of Satan. It is pride displayed in all kinds of false humility. It is insanity about what we have done and will do in the Lord. What started out as little attendance boards and gold stars has grown to full-blown insanity. For this reason, the scripture below declares that such boasting “comes not from the Father but from the world.”
- Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. (1 John 2:15–16)
3. God’s Anger
When God becomes angry at the pride in the church, He allows Satan to rise up against us. In Scripture, this judgment began in two different ways.
- Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1)
- 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.” (2 Samuel 24:1)
One states that “the anger of the Lord burned against Israel” while the other declares “Satan rose up.” Both are true. Israel became proud and God’s angered began to burn as He saw what hid in the heart of each Israelite. God planned to bring in the light the things that smoldered in their hearts. So too, in the last days God sends a “Powerful Delusion” involving miracles performed by Satan in order to cause our sin to surface so that we might repent or be judged.
The great idol loved in the church today is numbers. God’s Word, Jesus’ name, and calls of revival are used in order to increase attendance. The church loves increased membership, making it the sign of a growing church. This golden calf allows all manner of sins to come flooding into the church.
The church has forgotten the hard lessons David learned. His command to go and count ended in the death of 70,000 Israelites. Now there is a number to remember. Indeed, it would end with God standing over Jerusalem to “destroy” it. The seemingly benign command to just see “how many there are” is a grievous sin in the eyes of the Lord, for it is the pride of man rearing its ugly head.
- 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. (2 Samuel 24:1–4)
It is a sad time in a church when God must use Satan to discipline His saints. When we cannot be cleansed by Scripture alone, or convicted by God’s watchmen, God resorts to using Satan through the Powerful Delusion. The only problem is, for most it will not end the way it did for David. How little conviction of sin the church feels today about counting. Woe unto them that do not see this as discipline but as a blessing. One has to wonder if any real conviction remains. Where are the men who will stand up in churches and ministries to declare counting “repulsive” in the Lord? Who feels what God feels?
- But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king’s command was repulsive to him. (1 Chronicles 21:6)
Many defend counting by retorting that God recorded that 3,000 people were added to the church at Pentecost. They use the blessing of God as a license to sin, and twist the Scriptures to fit their own selfish ends. The recording of 3,000 saved at Pentecost declared God’s mercy. For what the Law took away, mercy restored. At the coming of the Law, 3,000 died. God’s Pentecost demonstrates restoration at the coming of His Spirit. In both places of Scripture, the wording matches.
- The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. (Exodus 32:28)
- Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:41)
The hundred and twenty mentioned in Acts 1:15 points to the weakness of man. Of how small the church was and how large it would become in one day, by the power of God, not by the power of man’s advertising. It is a count done by the hand of God which points to the weakness of man. Not a group of leaders presumptuously claiming a successful evangelic campaign. Let us be sure of one thing, the desire to count in the church is a vile sin before the Lord. Indeed, the Old Testament records David’s lesson so that we might not do what they did.
- This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:7)
4. David’s Repentance
Let every church everywhere repent and not do what they did, for the command to count is “evil in the sight of God” and He will punish for it. Let all who have counted say with David,
- Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” (1 Chronicles 21:8)
Let the godly “beg” the Lord to take away the stain of this guilt. Let them pray and repent so their garments are spotless when they enter the gates to stand before the Lord. To be sure, God must punish people who commit such a sin, for their pride must be broken. Yet, He will forgive if we repent. Be wise like David and seek out God’s seers. Choose to fall into the hands of the Lord as His seers point out the sin that blinds you. Seek out men who will show you no favoritism and can help you repent. Don’t play the old self-righteous game of saying, “Oh, I prayed about it and God forgave me. He said it was ok.” Get the heart of David and learn what constitutes godly sorrow.
- The Lord said to Gad, 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, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Take your choice: three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the Lord—days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord ravaging every part of Israel.’ Now then, decide how I should answer the one who sent me.” David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.” (1 Chronicles 21:9–13)
This is no normal sin. Let conviction burn within every ministry, church, and individual who has ever counted. For all who have known what their left hand is doing, deep repentance will be demanded. Let preachers and elders fall face down before the Lord in sackcloth. For the angel of the Lord stands above your church to strike it. The presence of God comes to a church that talks of numbers, but He is there to destroy. How many worship leaders declare the truth when they declare, “The presence of the Lord is in this place.” They are just too dull to see that God is there to judge, not to bless. The Powerful Delusion hovers over your congregation while the leadership commits great sins in the name of the Lord. Let each leader take it personally upon themselves to repent openly before the whole congregation. To say with David, “These are but sheep.” May each man take upon himself the full weight of this sin.
- So the Lord sent a plague on Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead. And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But as the angel was doing so, the Lord saw it and was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell facedown. David said to God, “Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? O Lord my God, let your hand fall upon me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people.” Then the angel of the Lord ordered Gad to tell David to go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. So David went up in obedience to the word that Gad had spoken in the name of the Lord. (1 Chronicles 21:14–19)
One of the great leaders in this sin today is the publishing industry. It sets the trends in the church. Indeed the numbers insanity is even on the back of children’s books. Woe unto us because we cause little ones to stumble. Better to have a millstone tied around our neck than to infect them with the spiritual illness of insanity. The absurdity in such insanity is that it is not needed. I personally enjoy reading a certain series of children’s books because the stories are straight forward, clean, and to the point, and I am over 45 years old. But this publisher boasts more than 55 million sold on the back cover! What an unnecessary claim. People would buy them because of their quality without such a bold statement. But we love our insanity as much as we love the story of Jesus. This demonstrates the Powerful Delusion in its child-like simplicity. If we play the “numbers sold” game, then the best selling worldly novel must also be of God, and so must the largest religion in the world. But we know the truth, that the number of books sold does not mean the Lord blesses it. They advertise this way to motivate people to buy the book and to brag about themselves. How powerful this delusion is that from the most lofty of ministry, to the smallest of children’s books, insanity runs rampant.
Let all return in obedience to God, and understand that when counting happens, each person must pay a price. Each individual in the church who permits themselves to be counted should “pay” to the Lord “a ransom for his life at the time he is counted.” In other words, each Christian should have a full understanding of the seriousness and danger of counting members in the name of the Lord. At that very moment of counting the ransom must be paid. Each church member must see the pride in themselves that desires to be counted and be part of a growing ministry or movement.
- Then the Lord said to Moses, “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them. (Exodus 30:11–12)
May we all be like the first church, growing and living in the fear of the Lord, and not count because of holy fear of God. David, whose heart we sing about, felt “afraid” of the Lord’s sword and could not even pray to the Lord. For this sin of counting not only exalts our ego and pride, but it also causes the angel of the Lord to raise the sword against us.
- But David could not go before it to inquire of God, because he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the Lord. (1 Chronicles 21:30)
Let men and women who love God pay the price of repentance today. For if we want to be sane in Jesus, then the price must be paid in full. Let the godly who have committed this sin “insist on paying the full price” of repentance. We must fully repent of the love of numbers and remove the leaders from the pulpits and off the committees who will not repent. Let us instead rejoice in whatever fruit God allows in our lives as Habakkuk 3:17–18 states:
- Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Habakkuk 3:17–18)
We must give thanks just as fully whether we have large numbers or no one in our churches.
6. Chasing Jesus Away
Be sure of this, any church that commits the sin of counting drives Jesus away. All the miracles, joy, and movements of the Holy Spirit reveal nothing more than the Powerful Delusion doing its deadly work. For counting causes Jesus to leave us, and if Jesus has “left” He is not in our miracles. Or if the miracles came from Him, He will renounce the churches that do not repent. As the Scripture below shows us, Jesus leaves a counting church.
- The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. (John 4:1–3)
Like the Pharisees of old, whenever a doctrinal debate arises, men retort with what they consider important. Nearly every time someone wants to debate with me about Scripture they always jump to the all important questions: “How has your church grown?” and “How many go to your church?” As if how large a church we have would settle the doctrinal concern. Notice in the passage below that an “argument” came up about ceremonial washing between John the Baptist’s disciples and some Jews. But when they approach John, they don’t discuss the doctrine in question. They pounce on the issue of numbers! They appeal to John’s pride by saying, “Jesus is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
- An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” (John 3:25–26)
7. Empty Sheep Pens
Numbers don’t mean a thing. Obedience to God’s Spirit and doing God’s will is all that matters. God may call you to support a missionary, church, or ministry that doesn’t win a single convert for years, but the numbers shouldn’t matter. God looks for faithfulness, not numbers. Faithfulness to His word and will. After all Noah and Jeremiah didn’t win a single convert, but continued to maintain truth. Indeed, Abraham died with a very small “congre-gation” although he had been promised innumerable descendents. But to think such a thought in today’s church is considered insane. Loony folks fill our pulpits, seminaries, and publishing companies today. Not only do the numbers inflame the pride in men, we miss the point that longsuffering is blessed in the Lord’s sight. For the same love that “won a large number of disciples” was also manifested when just “a few men became followers.”
Counting is the opposite of love and therefore God fiercely opposes it. Impersonal governments count, and the anti-Christ will make sure everyone is counted and controlled. Counting uses people while love pours itself out no matter what the number. Love is not self-seeking and counting arises from a self-seeking heart that wants others to know our accomplishments. Like David let us “insist” on paying the “full price” of repentance. How many people fall short when it comes to the matter of repentance. At the first sympPaul of guilt, they pray, claim a promise, yet go on their merry way to hell. There must be a death to the sin and a full measure of repentance, sometimes lasting months.
- But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.” (1 Chronicles 21:24)
Repentance that doesn’t “cost” is “worldly sorrow” and cannot save anyone. Though it is “sorrow,” coming with tears and prayers, it will never cleanse the sinner or lead to a place of forgiveness. “Worldly sorrow” is wasted sorrow over sin that only leaves “regrets” over wasted prayers, tears, and worship.
- Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. (2 Corinthians 7:10–11)
What will it be for us? Lukewarm worldly sorrow that attempts to cleanse itself from sin, or the full measure of hot godly sorrow over sin? Sadly, for many in the church there is no sorrow at all.
The Holy Spirit draws individuals to Jesus in spite of the offense of the cross. In the quest for numbers, the church has removed the offense and replaced it with entertainment, motivational skills and enticements. Jesus declared that when He is “lifted up” He will “draw all men” to Himself.
- But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (John 12:32)
It is the Holy Spirit’s work to draw men, not the responsibility of men. Men are to plant or water, but God gives the harvest. None of the efforts of the man who “plants” or “waters,” and I quote God here, “is anything.”
- I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. (1 Corinthians 3:6–8)
As John the Baptist declared, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.” Sadly, most numbers that fill the pews are a result of men’s efforts, not the Holy Spirit’s work. It is easy to tell this is true because the way someone became a “Christian” was not in spite of the offense of the cross, but through the persuasive words and programs of outreach committees. Many millions who confess Jesus as Lord have a faith that results from “men’s wisdom” that came with “wise” preaching. Only when we have declared the offensive message of Jesus, as He works it through us, can we honestly speak of someone being born by the power of God. Without the offense of the cross present, we are no different than that world that wins converts to their causes, opinions, and beliefs.
Men reject the true offense of the cross for one major reason—they love their ministries more than Christ. All they can see is their ministries. The offense of the cross crucifies a man to such attitudes. Without it we remain helplessly selfish in our work for the gospel of Jesus. We are to “lift up” the offensive cross of Jesus, to “clearly portray” Jesus as crucified. In the desire for greater attendance we justify the removal of the offense by saying, “The message of the cross is offensive, but we are not be offensive.” Such excuses bear no resemblance to Scripture or the life of God’s true preachers. Yes, we can be offensive in our flesh, but we can also err by removing the offense of the cross because it does not suit our purposes, plans, and goals.
- Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. (Galatians 3:1)
We must always “clearly portray[ed]” Jesus “as crucified” in every sermon, work, project, and publication. This is why in all that Paul preached and did he “resolved” always to focus on the offensive cross of Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we must present an offensive cross to each man, woman and child. If this was true for the mother of Jesus, it will be true for everyone else. No one is exempt from the offense of the cross, except false Christians.
3. Numbers Of Madness
- Romans 8:17
- Mark 13:19
- Philippians 2:12
- Acts 4:13
- John 3:27
- 1 Corinthians 2:4
- 1 Corinthians 2:5
- 1 Corinthians 2:2
- Luke 2:35