You all are familiar with the “Footprints in the Sand” poem, right? A man has a dream that he was walking along a beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashes scenes from his life, and most of the time there are two sets of footprints. But after the last scene ended, the man looked back on the beach and saw that sometimes there was only one set of footprints, and they happened to coincide with the very lowest and saddest times in his life. The man was understandably upset that it was at THESE dark times that the Lord seemed to abandon him.
The Lord replies to this man, “My precious, precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During those times…. when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
For some of us, this poem is our reality. Some of us at times have been so overwhelmed with these lowest and saddest times that we cannot even take one more step forward, and the only way we make it through each day is to be carried by God.
But at other times, our walk with the Lord may leave behind a different kind of trail in the sand.
I once found an alternative take on the footprints poem in a funny comic on Facebook…. In the first panel, God has his arm around the dreamer and says the familiar words, “…where you see one set of footprints is where I carried you.” But there is an alternative ending, where God points off in the distance and says, “Now, THAT long groove is where I DRAGGED you, kicking and screaming.”
I feel like that a lot. LIke God is dragging me to places where I don't really want to go. I don't like hospitals, but I go to hospital visits a lot. I don't like funeral homes, but I do funerals a lot. I have to will myself to go, I often find myself in my car before I go in asking God to help me get out of the car, I don't want to, but I need to...so I ask "please God, send your Holy Spirit to drag me out of this car and to the place I need to be."
And you know what, that's ok. Jesus said, "the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41) and he understood that even when we want to (like the disciples probably wanted to stay awake that night with him and pray), we often fail or need help.
So I do believe that God sometimes bumps us into places and situations we would not choose to go, but that we must. Out of our comfort zones and into the fight. Moses didn't want to face Pharoah, but God told him to go. Gideon didn't want to lead the army, but God sent him anyway. God has a way of getting us off our rear ends and into the plan one way or another.
So let's go, not kicking or screaming, but willingly. Let's say, "I will go" and not need to be dragged. After all the Lord loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7) and he wasn't just talking about money; our time and energy can be given freely to the Lord...or dragged out. I choose to give it freely.
Jesus does speak on the end times a great deal. In various places throughout his ministry he talks about what those days will be like to his followers. We can get hung up trying to figure out the details, trying to pin down exact dates and places...but I try not to do this because he told us not to. He said several times that "no one knows" and clarified that "not even the angels...nor the son" (Matthew 24:36).
So, if we don't know when...what do we do?
Jesus says to "be ready!"
He tells us several parables about it to prove the point. The parable of the Thief in the Night, the good servant, the lamps burning...are all about being ready. And just like a good boy scout, we must be prepared because Jesus may return at any time.
So how do we stay ready?
1. Make sure you are good with God! Have you given your life to God fully? Are you living for Him fully still?
2. Are you living a life worthy of the calling? Is there unrepentant sin in your life?
3. Are you sharing his love with others? If he came today would there be people in your life who would not go to heaven who you might have shared his message with but did not?
Let's be ready. He may return today...or tomorrow...or in a hundred years. We don't know, but we do know we are called to be ready.
I hope you often notice our Core Values as you come into the church building and take time to read them. Those 5 values help our church leadership stay on focus as we seek to live as faithful followers of Jesus. There are many options of good things we could do as a church, but if we focus on those 5, we will stay focused on what God has called us to do.
But, that doesn't mean we always do those 5 things as well as we want to. For example, one of our 5 is passionate worship. And while Wesleyans are known for many wonderful things, being overly excited in worship isn't one of them. I noticed this especially during our mission trip this summer with the youth. We were with several other churches from around the country and in a very different worship setting than our normal Sunday morning experience...different style of music, lots of dancing, lots of clapping...and it took our kids a bit but eventually they really got into it and had fun. Soon they were dancing, laughing, clapping and crying during worship; really giving their whole hearts to God.
But when we came home, they were struggling to transition back into how our congregation is often more reserved.
There isn't a right or wrong way to worship, I am not saying there is, but I do love when people aren't afraid to show their emotions during worship. We should care only what God thinks and not what other people might think. If you want to clap, clap. if you want to raise your hands, raise them. If you can't sing well, so what? God doesn't care about quality but about the heart.
So we will keep aspiring toward passionate worship. It isn't fully realized yet, but we still value it. We still are seeking toward it becoming true in our church. Maybe someday we will be a church where we feel free to worship with our whole hearts...I hope so; because that's what heaven will be like; and why not get ready now?