I’ve been wondering, lately, where we’ll go next.
Just a few weeks ago we celebrated the 10th anniversary of our Family Life Center – 10 years of that two-story facility serving our church and the community. But not just that; we celebrated the full payoff of the $800,000 loan we took out to build the Family Life Center.
Many of our members seriously wondered if they’d live to see it paid off. Maybe that’s why, in our budgeting meeting this past week, we actually looked forward to the “mortgage payment” line item… so we could write a big, fat “0” in that box.
When we burned the note on September 17th, we talked about how we’d pass this blessing on – use what we’ve accomplished to even better serve God and serve others. And I feel that potential. With the debt paid, there’s a whole world of options open to us. We can move on to the next big thing that God is calling us to do!
…Except I’m not quite sure what that is.
In some ways, that’s not really a problem. God isn’t always calling us to a capital campaign; there isn’t enough land for that, and none of us would want to go through that again anytime soon, anyway. Neither does this mean we have nothing planned for the future. Rebecca (our Director of Youth and Facilities) is building our student ministries and exploring new ways to use that debt-free Family Life Center. This week I had a great meeting with a church member about some new small group opportunities for 2018. The missions committee that started meeting this year is beginning to form some great plans. There are exciting things to come, no doubt.
Those things are different, though, than something like paying off a loan. A big goal like that can be like a motivational compass, pointing the way and keeping us on course. As the pastor – the one charged with leading this congregation – my job gets a little trickier without an obvious compass like that.
What are we supposed to do next? What does the future hold for Andrews United Methodist Church?
I can tell you today that I know exactly what the future holds. The answer comes from Moses… and former Appalachian State football coach Jerry Moore.
First, from Moses.
Where we’re picking up in Exodus 33, Israel has been at Sinai for a while. 40 days, actually – long enough to get themselves in trouble with a golden calf, and probably long enough to feel kind of settled around the base of that mountain. But this isn’t where they’re to stay; God tells them it’s time to get up and go to the land God had promised to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
“But I will not go among you,” God says. “Or else I would consume you, you stiff-necked people, you” (Exod 33:3).
(Did I mention that the golden calf just happened?)
The people mourn. The allure of the promised land doesn’t overshadow the fact that God isn’t going with them. Moses revisits this with God. “You’ve told me to lead the people to the promised land,” he says (my paraphrase). “But I don’t know who’s going with me. You’ve called me by name and told me you favor me. Well then, God, favor me – and remember that this whole nation is your people, too.”
Moses seems to have convinced God, because the plan changes: “My presence will go with you,” God says. “And I will give you rest.”
Now listen to Moses’ very-important response: “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.”
That’s a bold statement, really. It’s putting the promised land on the line. It’s saying, “I’d rather not have land for ourselves at all – I’d rather stay here, in the wilderness, camping out forever – if it means we’d be without you.”
The sure thing Moses wants for Israel’s future isn’t land and international recognition… but God.
Now: Jerry Moore.
Jerry Moore was the head football coach at Appalachian State from 1989 to 2012. What might make him noteworthy beyond the Mountaineer fan club are his three back to back to back NCAA Division I championship wins (2005, 2006, and 2007) and an upset victory over Michigan in 2007.
Coach Moore came and spoke at an Andrews High School dinner this August. Having attended all three championships with my ASU-alumni husband, I was pretty pumped to meet him and hear what he had to say. And he had some great football-coach quotable lines, like:
“You won’t be remembered by what you do. You’ll be remembered by what you overcome.”
“Always do more than is expected.”
“Are you committed, or just interested?”
He also talked about the prayers he’d say with his players. He began each season with prayer, and for the last 15 seasons that prayer ended with something like this:
“God, let us use all the talents and ability we’ve got to glorify you; if you’re not right in the center of it I pray that this season would be a failure.”
That’s a pretty bold prayer for a coach, especially a winning coach like Jerry Moore (his overall record is 242-134-2). As a competitive person the risk in this prayer hits home for me – to lay your own success down at God’s feet, to say that the sure thing you want most for the future isn’t a “W” but God’s presence with you.
What Jerry Moore wanted most for Appalachian’s future wasn’t championship wins, but God’s presence.
And what Moses wanted most for Isarel’s future wasn’t the promised land, but God’s presence.
As we look to the future of our church – as I wonder what our plans should be in 2018 and beyond – these two men are a reminder of the prayer we, too, need to be saying.
“God, let us use all the talents and ability we’ve got to glorify you; if you’re not right in the center of it I pray that it would be a failure.”
This is true for our church – we must pray not for staff or money or facilities, not for programs or worship attendance, but above all for God to be in our midst.
This is equally true for each of us. Some of you have plans for the future, hopes you are nurturing. Others of you may be wondering what in the world comes next. Either way, your prayer should be the same: God be with me.
Not knowing what the future holds can be scary. But if we know that God will be there, it matters little what twists and turns lie ahead.
God, let us use everything we’ve got to glorify you.
God, if you’re not going with us, don’t send us at all.
God, if you’re not in the midst of it, let it be a failure.