Saturday, March 20, 2010

You Count

I mailed in our 2010 U.S. Census form today. When the government starts adding up the number of citizens that live in the good old USA, Dayna and I will be in the count. Even though I’m only 53 years old, this is the sixth time I’ve been counted in a census. I may just be 1 out of over 200 million, but it’s nice to count for something.

Anyway, this whole census thing stirred me to thinking about numbers and counting. I remember when I got my Social Security card. I had just finished fifth-grade as I recall. I got a summer job as a busboy at a restaurant and before they could start paying me my $1.25 an hour, they had to have a Social Security number. Seems the government wanted some of my buck and a quarter—a harsh awakening for a working-class little kid with dollar signs in his eyes. So I got my card and with the card my number. I’ve had it ever since. I’m not supposed to lose it. I’m not supposed to give it out to just anybody who asks. And if it gets in the wrong hands, it could create real trouble for me. Why? It’s just a number, right? Well, it’s not just any number; it’s my number. That’s how the government knows me. That’s how I transact business in a variety of venues. If somebody steals my number, the authorities don’t call it number theft; they call it identity theft. In many ways, that number is me. “So take care of the number,” we’re told. “Guard and protect the number.”

But that’s just one of many numbers I’ve been across the years. When I played football I was a jersey number. In college I was a student ID number. Since I turned 16 I’ve been a driver’s license number. To my insurance companies I’m a policy number. To my bank I’m an account number. If I were in the military, I’d be a serial number. And in this difficult economy, do you know someone who’s counted among the number of unemployed we hear tallied up week by week on the news? Numbers, numbers everywhere. People gripe about this sometimes. “I’m not a person anymore,” they moan. “I’m just a number.” I wonder if we’re being a bit too sensitive about this. You are who you are. Your various numbers are just a way of counting, identifying, and keeping track.

You might find it a bit surprising that even God seems to be into numbers himself. Just read the Old Testament. In Genesis, when there wasn’t much of anything yet to count, over and over God tells people and animals to “multiply and increase in number.” When Abraham was praying for Sodom and Gomorrah, he said, “Lord, if you can find as few as 10 righteous people in Sodom, would you spare the city?” And God said, “Yes, if I can find 10 I will spare the city.” Well, God couldn’t find even 10. So He must have been counting. That’s Genesis, and when we get to the book of Numbers (that’s right, Numbers), God really gets into counting, telling Israel’s leaders to count the various tribes, count the priests, count this, count that. He wants numbers.

And that doesn’t change in the New Testament either. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, is loaded with numbers: 7 beatitudes, 7 churches, 7 seals, trumpets, and bowls. Then there’s the 144,000, the 3.5 years, and the evil number 666. Lots and lots of numbers. And in the gospels, Jesus gets in on the act. Apparently, God really likes sparrows because Jesus said God knows when even one of them bites the dust. Doesn’t matter whether it flies into a window, gets pounced on by a cat, becomes grill-fodder for a speeding car, succumbs to bird flu, or just dies of old age, God knows when a sparrow falls—which means He must keep track, keep count, of His little feathered friends. Then right on the heels of that teaching, Jesus says, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore, do not fear, you are worth more than many sparrows” (Mt. 6:30-31). I know guys who make that hair numbering easy on God. I know others whose heads are so full of hair that guessing their number would be as hard as guessing how many gumballs are in five-gallon jug. Yet God doesn’t have to guess; He knows. He numbers them. You’d think God would have better things to do with His time than number our hairs, but our great God is the ultimate multi-tasker so it’s no sweat off His back to keep track of even the number of hairs on our head.

So God is into numbers, I guess. But my suspicion is that it’s not so much about God’s love of numbers as it is about God’s love of people—and not just people in general, but people in particular—people like you and me, people with names and faces and a particular number of hairs on our heads. God loves us. Perhaps numbering us is just one of the ways He keeps track of us. I don’t think God knows me as #18,987,692; He knows me as John. He knows your name too. And if you’re in Christ, He will see to it that you spend eternity with Him someday. He keeps track of you. Jesus pretty much said just that: “And this is the will of him of sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up on the last day” (Jn. 6:39). That’s a comforting thought, isn’t it? You may be just 1 of more than a billion people in God’s census, but God knows you well and loves you much. You are numbered but you are more than a number. You are you, and you are God’s, and you count. You really count.

You know what that makes me want to do? It makes me want to give thanks to God and praise His name! What love! What care! What a ONE-derful God!


  1. Much better than my census post. Very insightful.

  2. Thank You Pastor John for the insight. I must admit; I have had a resentment about filling out the census. I have had it sitting on my counter for about a week now. Each time I look at that envelope - I feel a little envaded personally; as though "they aren't entitled to know my personal business".... but that is a wrong attitude. I appreciate you bringing Biblical truths ; to everyday present situations. My hubby and I are moving soon to Shreveport, and we will miss First Baptist. I am so happy though, that we will be able to tune in by web, and to read your post often ! God Bless You, and see you in the morning !

  3. Not more insightful, Kathy, just a different take. Sorry to hear you are moving to Shreveport, Lori. We'll miss you and Marcus. Glad to have you while you're here.

  4. Hey John! This is totally random and you may not remember me... but you baptized me at 1st Baptist Church of Greenwood. My parents are Ed and Rhonda Powell? Regardless... we have missed you over the years... I just happened to come across your blog! Hope this comment finds you and your family doing well.

  5. Of course I remember you, Ralene. Looks like your married now. How are your parents and Ashley? Nice to hear from you. Thanks for checking out the blog.