On the road again!

Looks like the pandemic has given me permission to make campus visits again. Last week – three days in Kansas to see Jake, George and Mark. This week, St. Louis, with Josh, Linda and my other George. Later this week – Iowa, Chad, Tom and Kevin. Why do we do this? Can’t you just supervise people via zoom sessions and call it good?

Showing up matters. In these next few posts I’ll give you a glimpse into my staff members’ worlds, the opportunity for ministry they embody in their work and some of how they are impacting their campuses for the kingdom. In this post, I give you George Gardner.

George and Sharon live in Manhattan, KS and work with graduate students primarily through the avenue of International Students. George was an engineer in a former life before God called him to ministry. His style of doing ministry is to connect with students through bicycles, then bring them into community rich in friendship and bible study.

My visit to Manhattan was my first opportunity to join George and Sharon at Bike Nite – their weekly bicycle repair outreach at a ministry house across the street from the grad student housing on K-State’s campus. I loved what I experienced! You would too!

Students need transportation. Students need friendship. George and his team create the perfect storm of welcome, serving and networking. George has a team of volunteers from his church who show up shortly after George’s truck and trailer arrive. They assemble into work-stations on the lawn. Then, as if called supernaturally by the Holy Spirit bike-piper, internationals come from every direction with or without bikes.

Think about what it would take to reach out to Vidya if we were to engage her in her home country. Yet, Vidya and her family have done all the work to get her to this country, into a PhD program here in one of our communities. Vidya showed up last week requesting a bike – she didn’t have one. George and Sharon took down her name and request, introduced her to others and told her to come back this week and they’d have something for her.

Meanwhile George retreats to his magical bike repair garage at home. Using parts from hundreds (literally) of bike carcasses assembles at least three options for Vidya to choose from when we arrived. Vidya was the first student to show up at 5:58pm last Friday. It was a beautiful thing to see her pick out her new best friend (a used Trek mountain bike).

Vidya also met Dileep (another student from India) as well as Ashlyn – an American student volunteer in another ministry George is partnered with. Sharon invited Vidya to the brunch and bible study that meets in their home on Saturdays.

Presence. In a word, presence is why supervisor’s show up when and where staff do ministry. We get to see connection happening. Connection between our staff and their people. Connection between those who are present and the community they are forging. Connection between Christians and non-Christians. I don’t get to see all that in a zoom session. On site I get to see so much more I can affirm our staff for. I get to see staff using their gifts and personalities first hand.

Pray for Vidya. Pray for her to stay safe on that bike as she travels from her dorm to her Chemistry lab every day. Pray for her friendships with Christians on campus. Pray for those friends to share their faith with her. Pray for Vidya to attend George’s Brunch and Bible (Sharon is as good with food as George is with bikes). Pray for her to see Jesus and keep coming back for more.

More on my travels in coming posts. Thanks for your prayers for me!

Release – Psalm 25

Stuck. Trapped. Isolated. Caged. Frozen. Cancelled. Powerless. Hung-up. Hooked. Snagged. Paralyzed. Confined. Broke. Going nowhere. Shut-down. Off-line.

In your opinion, what word(s) have I left out above? I’m sure I missed something you would have included.

When God renews his people, sometimes he just has to get them moving again. People get stuck for all kinds of reasons, but being trapped in one place, going nowhere isn’t what God wants. And its a good thing because we absolutely hate it ourselves. We all abhor the claustrophobia of something pinning us in place.

When was the last time you realized you were going nowhere? Physically, we can get shut down with sickness or injury. More often it seems we lock-up emotionally. We manage to look busy on the outside, but on the inside we’re impaled, writhing in bitterness, confusion or pain.

Try this.

In Psalm 25, David struggles with immobility of his own making as well as being pinned down by enemies from the outside. What follows is a list of things internal and external that can power us down. Rank them in the order of personal familiarity. Give a #1 to the top antagonist then descend to the one that threatens you the least. The order I’ve put them in is totally random.

  • The pandemic and its many ripple effects
  • A bad relationship with a lot of painful experiences that go with it
  • Job loss
  • A personal enemy who is seeking to harm, get revenge or block me
  • A sickness or medical condition
  • Not being the right age – too old or too young
  • A job or career that I cannot flourish in but can’t get by without
  • My own poor choices and the fall-out from them
  • An accident that I fear has permanently damaged me
  • An addiction or other self-sabotaging tendency

Of course this isn’t a complete list. Your number one might not even be there. But no one I know ever lives life perpetually upward and onward without at some point getting squashed in place like a bug under someone’s shoe. It may or may not be where you’re at right now, but Psalm 25 has good news for us. By now you know the drill…

Click here for a fresh Psalm 25 Manuscript.

David knew what it was like to get stuck. He mentions at least two kinds of antagonists. Enemies. And sin. But the common denominator is the need for freedom. Notice how the poem is comprised of three stanzas. It begins with hints of David’s predicament, then transitions to a creed-like sketch of God and his resources, and finally a deluge of petition for the last seven verses.

Some questions to help you explore and learn.

Stanza 1 – What David needs (vv 1-7).

1- David right away mentions enemies, shame and defeat. If you know a little about his life, what might he be thinking about?

2- Sin and shame always walk hand in hand. God is Holy, so why is David seeking him so earnestly if he’s convinced of the sin and rebellion of his own ways?

3- What is shame like in your experience? What does it feel like, and what does it make you want to do?

When you are experiencing shame, does the thought of being with God attract you or repel you? Explain.

4- The word PATH or WAY appears multiple times in this psalm. How is David using that idea in Psalm 25 – what does he mean by the term?

Stanza 2 – What the LORD does. (vv 8-15).

5- List everything David says God DOES with people. There are at least seven things. What is David showing us about God?

6 – Notice the repeated emphasis on the LORD teaching and instructing sinners. How can the failure and shame of sin be the starting point of learning and growth in a life of following God?

7 – Verse 14 seems out of place. What is odd about God confiding in sinners (especially in light of David confessing his sin to God)? Have you ever experienced a connection with God like this? How did it impact you?

8 – What does verse 15 say about finding freedom instead of being trapped? What alternative means do we sometimes seek to achieve our own preferred outcomes?

Stanza 3 – What David asks of the LORD (vv 16-22).

9- David lets loose in this section. This is a classic example of petition. David asks for ten things in this stanza. List them. What do you notice?

10- Lets make one more list. Notice the many antagonists implied or stated in David’s petitions. Loneliness, anguish, enemies, etc. List as many as you can.

On your list, put an EX by everything that is an EXTERAL threat to David. Put an IN by everything that is eroding David from the INSIDE out. What common denominators do you notice? Which one or which ones have you in their grip today? Why?

11- Prisoners often talk about what they would do if they could just “get out of this place.” If God were to give you release from any number of your afflictions what could you do with that new-found freedom? Where would you go that you currently can’t get to? How would it feel?

Bookends.

I often mention bookends in teaching the bible. A bookend study is when you look at the opening chapter of a book. Then you skip to the end and look at the closing chapter. Then you ask, “How do the bookends create an appropriate container for the whole story?”

The “bookends” show us the most important thing Psalm 25 teaches about freedom and release. If you read the first couple of verses and the last couple of verses, David begins and ends with a statement about hope. David’s hope is placed squarely on the LORD and no where else. I put my trust in you. (v1) May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, LORD, is in you. (v21).

No matter how much of a mess life became for David, he had the wisdom to burn the bridges to false hopes. David knew he would get nowhere without the LORD taking notice of him and releasing him from every snare. He doesn’t trust his own tricks for getting out of trouble. He doesn’t fight the trap (the more you fight, the deeper the hook is set). He doesn’t seek revenge on his enemies. He petitions the LORD. He hasn’t always known these things – they’ve been hard-fought lessons his whole life long. Psalm 25 is a masterpiece of disciple-making wisdom.

Much of God’s renewal in us is simply this: God getting us to stop fixing our own predicament and come to him. We’ve grossly underestimated the power of sin. We’ve lied to ourselves about just how stuck we are. Psalm 25 helps us stop pretending and start asking God for the freedom only he can give. Consider reading and praying through Psalm 25 once a day for an entire month. Let scripture lead you out of your pride and your pain and into the arms of the LORD who confides in you, longs to be gracious to you, who will guard and protect you, and will forgive and release you!

Till next time.

A few things I found with my colored pencils!