This past Sunday was Graduate Recognition Sunday. From preschool to masters degree, we recognized and celebrate our many students and the grand things they have accomplished. Then, when it came time for the sermon, I offered the following as a challenge and encouragement. Thanks for reading.
God’s Got You
Do you remember learning how to ride a bike? I actually still do. For whatever reason that particular day is seared in my memory. If you think about it, other than walking, learning to ride a bike is one of the most significant accomplishments a kid can achieve. The reason is freedom. There’s something about being on a bike that brings a sense of freedom few other things allow. As you push the pedals with your own two feet, you are able to power yourself to go anywhere. You don’t have to rely on your parents to get you there—within reason anyway. And when you’re pedaling away, with the air rushing past you, you can feel yourself moving. With every push of your legs, you are moving yourself more and more in some direction. Even if it’s just to the end of the neighborhood, you’ve gotten there. All by yourself.
But learning to ride a bike…that can be scary. The first time you pick both feet up off the ground and place all your trust in those two skinny wheels, the sense of a loss of control is unnerving. Before you even manage to get your feet to the pedals for the first time, you can already feel yourself tipping over. How is this thing supposed to bring any kind of freedom when it’s just going to send you crashing into the ground? Micah got a new bike this past Christmas. It was equipped with training wheels that allowed the bike to lean pretty far to one side or the other before catching it. He got on it once, felt it lean way to one side, and then wouldn’t get back on it again until we made some adjustments to it. And, the odds are, in that learning process, you did indeed crash to the ground a time or three. You may have scraped an elbow or skinned a knee. But you learned. Probably, though, at some point along the way, you learned with help.
That was the case for me. I had been practicing a bit in the driveway when my dad announced that it was time to learn to ride my bike. Our house was about a mile away from my elementary school, and wound all through a pretty safe, quiet neighborhood. We went down to the end of the street, which was also the bottom of a pretty steep hill, and I climbed aboard. With my dad holding the back of my seat, we started to make our way along the sidewalks to the cut through to the back of the school grounds. He jogged slowly along as I wobbled my way there, pushing my little legs and breathing harder and harder. Finally, we got to the school. He jogged behind me up the last hill to the blacktop and without telling me, he let go. All of a sudden, everything clicked. I was riding. Fast. I made one big circle around the smooth square of asphalt after another. It was absolutely exhilarating. I don’t remember going home afterwards, although we did at some point. All I remember is the rush and the freedom of riding, really riding, for the first time.
Graduates, you are in a season of life that’s a little like learning to ride a bike. You are about to leave behind the safety of the proverbial driveway—your parents’ house perhaps—but instead of two little wheels supporting your weight, it’s going to be your own two feet. But, unlike learning to ride a bike, there won’t be somebody actively holding the seat for you anymore. That’s true, right, parents? We hear the stories on occasion nowadays of the parent who calls her student’s college professor to complain about a certain grade or to advocate for more time on a paper. Don’t be that parent. Those are parents who are refusing to let their children grow into functioning adults. They are forcing them to keep life’s training wheels firmly attached. They are creating permanent mooches who don’t know how to function on their own. Those parents are working their own issues out through their kids and doing harm to them that will take years to make right again. When things are happening like they should, though, no one is going to be holding your hand anymore. You are going to find yourself facing more responsibility and expectation than you have yet known. This is the case whether you are going off to college or graduating from there and preparing to enter the real world for the first time.
Can we go ahead and be honest with each other for a second this morning? That’s a scary place to be. It’s exciting to be sure, just like the prospect of being able to ride a bike all by yourself was an exciting one. But in your quiet moments when the activity of the day has cooled to a dull roar and you have some uninterrupted time with your own thoughts, there will be some questions rattling around in your mind. Can I do this? Am I good enough for this? Am I responsible enough for this? What’s going to happen if I blow it? Let me give you some advice: Don’t be afraid of those questions and others like them. Instead, answer them. Even if you don’t like the answers, go ahead and answer them anyway. What those questions will reveal is your starting point for your next journey. And knowing your starting point is really important.
Lisa and I were watching one of the new episodes of Restaurant Impossible on Food Network the other day. A woman called the producers and asked if host Robert Irvine and the crew would come help her figure out how to save her restaurant. She knew the thing was headed down the tubes, but she angrily resisted any questions or probing feedback that suggested she might be the root of the problem. In the beginning she wasn’t willing to even entertain the notion that her weaknesses and inadequacies could be playing a role in her losing more than $20,000 each month. Deep down, she was afraid of the questions. Her fears nearly prevented her from receiving the help she needed to save her business.
If you are afraid of the questions, you’ll find yourself in the same boat. You’ll eventually start holding everyone around you at bay so they don’t accidentally ask a question that forces you to reckon with some point of failure in your life. That won’t do you or them any good. Here’s the truth: There are probably some places where you really aren’t up to the task. You’re going to do some learning and adapting on the fly. You’re going to fall and get some emotional and relational bumps and scrapes. There will be some people who will come alongside you and try to draw you off course. These may be friends or a roommate or an acquaintance or even a professor trying diligently to instill in you a worldview other than the one with which you were raised. That’s all part of the learning process.
But while there won’t necessarily be parents or grandparents to hold your hand anymore, you won’t be alone as you journey. As I was prayerfully considering what to share with you guys this morning, something David wrote in Psalm 34 struck me squarely between the eyes. If I could, I’d like to share it with you. I think it has something pretty powerful to speak into the situation you have ahead of you. Listen to this from Psalm 34: 15: “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry for help. The face of the Lord is set against those who do what is evil, to remove all memory of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit. One who is righteous has many adversities, but the Lord rescues him from them all.”
Now, David wrote this during a pretty dark time in his life. He had been anointed as king of Israel by Samuel, which was great except for the little problem that there was already an anointed king on the throne named Saul. Saul was insanely jealous of David and focused much of the nation’s resources on hunting him down to put him to death. Running out of places to hide in Israel itself, and desperate for some relief from running, David finally heads to Philistia, the land of Israel’s mortal enemies. They knew he was on the run from Saul and the king, Abimelech, was ready to assume the enemy of his enemy was his friend. His advisors were more wary and reminded him of just how many Philistine lives David was responsible for taking. Afraid that he was toast, David played the insanity card and managed to convince the Philistine court he was no threat. Those words I read are part of his cry to God in the midst of this dark season.
And at first glance, maybe these words sound like strange encouragement for a season like this one, but check this out with me. If you’re in the midst of a tough season, but you’re right with God, you can count on His help to navigate through whatever it is you’re facing. If you’re on the cusp of something totally new and a little (or maybe a lot) scary, but you are committed to honoring God’s ways as you go, He’s got your back.
Now, if you’re much of a thinker—and given what I know about you guys, that’s very much the truth—there’s probably a thought nagging a bit at the back of your mind: What if you aren’t right with God? Does He just write you off then? I mean, that’s what it seems like David was saying there in v. 16. I know you’re starting out on the right foot here because I read all your scholarship applications and I know some of you personally. But what if you veer off course a bit? After all, veering off course is par for the course when learning to ride a bike, isn’t it? Well, you need to answer another question honestly: Are you veering off course, or are you steering off course? Those aren’t the same thing. If you’re steering off course you can’t very well count on God’s help as you go, but, like the prodigal son discovered, you can count on God’s mercy when you’re ready to get back on track. Simply veering off course in the learning and growing process, though, just requires course correction, not necessarily repentance.
If you are willing to stick to the path you’re walking now—the path of living, as far as it depends on you, in a right relationship with God and with the people around you—then David’s words here come powerfully to bear in your life. And given the challenges you have waiting before you in the next few months, that’s a very good thing.
Think about this: You’ll have the God of the universe—the God who created the world and everything in it—listening to you when you call to Him. He won’t just listen to you; He’ll respond when you are in need. And listen: If you commit to sticking to the path of righteousness, if you commit to walking through the days ahead of you in ways that honor God first and foremost, you’re going to be in some places of need. Exactly the nature and shape that need takes is going to vary, but you are entering a place where you will begin encountering more and more people who not only believe and behave differently than you, but who will do their absolute best to convince you to abandon your path in favor of theirs. Few things will be off the table. They’ll offer temptation. They’ll demean you. They’ll give you insult and abuse. They’ll grade you differently. They’ll make fun of you. There are times when it’s going to feel a bit like you are trying to learn how to ride a bike with people pulling on the handlebars.
As you weave and wobble, though, if you’ll stay on the bike, you can lean back onto the fact that you are not alone. Your Father has His hand on the seat. And as you push forward, one thrust at a time, He’s going to quietly whisper in your ear some of the most powerful words anyone learning to ride a bike ever hears: I’ve got you. I’ve got you. If you’ll just keep riding, God’s got you.
Now, just because He’s got you doesn’t mean you won’t still lean some. It doesn’t mean you won’t still go over some rough ground. It doesn’t mean there won’t be bumps in the road. It doesn’t mean there won’t still be places where you have to pause for a minute before pressing onward. It means you can’t fall down. As long as you let Him keep His hand on seat, God’s got you. God’s got you. Remember what David said? “One who is righteous has many adversities, but the Lord rescues him from them all.” God’s got you.
When things get scary in the days ahead, God’s got you. When temptations appear in your path—some potent temptations and from seemingly out of nowhere—God’s got you. When professors who not only don’t share your worldview, but think it is wrong to the point of being evil grade you down or embarrass you in front of class or demean your worldview in some way, God’s got you. When you’re feeling lonely and alone and the questions we talked about before are looming larger and larger in the foreground, God’s got you. When scheduling gets tough and relationships get complicated and you can’t seem to make anybody happy, God’s got you. When you’re not sure you are going to be able to put one more foot in front of the other, and you’re ready to just give up and throw in the towel, God’s got you. The only question is: Will you let Him? I hope you will, because His is the path where life will always be found. God’s got you.