Saturday, September 26, 2009

En Vivo #5 – Stay Connected… – Tuesday, September 22, 2009

[The main event of our week here at El Pozo is what we call El Pozo “En Vivo” (which means El Pozo “Live!”), our Tuesday night all-community Bible study. It typically comes complete with preaching, music, videos, skits, free food, the whole deal. After each En Vivo, I hope to blog briefly about the night – what we taught, how it went, etc. Enjoy.]

En Vivo #5 of the semester was our post-Fall-retreat En Vivo, so, since it was a great retreat with a great group of students, many of them new to the El Pozo community, there was a lot of energy on Tuesday night! In fact, before we go any further, how about a few photos from the retreat (at our go-to Fall retreat site, La Malinche)? In particular, these photos are from one of my favorite El Pozo traditions – the team sled races. I don’t know anyone who has ever not enjoyed this event – so fun!!! It's now the culminating event of a larger event - our "Amazing Race-style rally. Sure to be an annual Fall El Pozo tradition.

This is the car of the team that blew everyone away in terms of time in the rally ... but ended up finishing fourth out of five teams. The fact that they had a German on their team proved not to be the engineering advantage that we expected, as they really stunk it up in the races.

This team, which seemed more concerned with enjoying themselves and eating cheetos during the rally than going for the victory, won lots of creativity points with their attempt at building a VW Beetle - which actually performed surprisingly well in the races, propelling them to a third-place finish. The driver is our buddy Bego.

Carter and Emerson get in on the fun.

Group photo of everyone who went on the retreat (minus Heath, who took the photo). Awesome group, awesome retreat! Praise God!

Back to En Vivo: We’re trying to really get back to basics this semester with regard to our teaching (for example Love Squared in week 1), so this week’s teaching theme was Part 1 of a two-part series, based on a saying I’m borrowing from a pastor author in Austin, TX named John Burke:


Part 1 – “Stay Connected…” First of all, we minister to the most “connected” generation of all time. facebook, Twitter, laptops, wireless networks, iPods, iPhones… These guys and gals are almost literally constantly connected to someone, somewhere. So the concept of staying connected to God is something that I think they “get” intuitively. The Scripture for the night was John 15:1-17 – the vine and the branches; Jesus basically says stay connected to me and you’ll produce fruit, but apart from me you can do nothing… It’s a longer text than we usually use for a Tuesday night talk – intentionally so. Awesome stuff! John uses the word “remain” 11 or 12 times in 7 verses – very obvious what’s the main point here. I based the talk around five questions regarding this whole idea of “staying connected” to God’s Spirit. It went something like this:

1) Why is it so difficult to stay connected to God?
And, of course, IT IS! It’s really hard! And it’s easy to identify with Paul’s words in Romans 7:15. So my “answer” to this question came in two parts:
1. Because, according to the Bible, we have an ENEMY. Satan, the Devil – along with his army of minions. There is a very real and powerful being whose sole passion and purpose is to DISconnect us from God. I showed a slide of a cute little cartoon guy in a red Spandex suit and then contrasted it with the vivid description of our real enemy in 1 Peter 5:8. Read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis if you want an amazing description of how our enemy works. I also mentioned here that, though we often make enemies of each other, our real enemy is never another person – as described in Ephesians 6:11-12.
2. Because, according to the Bible, we are SINNERS. We have a sin nature. All of us (Romans 3:23). I love what John Ortberg says about our nature; he says that, apart from a connection with God, our lives tend and drift toward death, darkness, and evil. We do NOT naturally drift into a relationship with God. We don’t tend toward light, life, and truth. So I talked to the students about the importance of being sufficiently humble before a holy God, admitting our sinfulness in order to even begin to have a connection with Him. And I mentioned how, even though staying connected to God is difficult, it’s so very WORTH IT.

2) What can I expect on this path of staying connected to God?
Here we looked at the idea of “pruning”. Jesus says in the text that God “prunes” the branches that aren’t bearing fruit so that they eventually will bear fruit. So, as Christians, we should expect to be PRUNED by God. The difficulty, at least for me, is distinguishing between “temptations” and “tests”, between “disconnecting from God” (fatal, deadly) and “being pruned by God” (difficult but life-giving, good in the long term). I shared some relevant quotes/sayings with the students here: “What doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger.” Or, even better, there’s a Chinese character (I don’t know what it’s called) that’s used for both “crisis” and “opportunity”. Or, even better, “Sometimes radical change requires radical pain” (from pastor/author Wayne Cordeiro). Or, even better, and something our students hear a lot, “God loves you exactly how you are; and He loves you way too much to let you stay that way.” Too many Christian leaders that I know ignore, or at least undervalue, one half or the other of that last statement. The point here is that we all need to be pruned, that there is always room to grow, more to learn, and some way to become even more truly and profoundly connected to God. And I reminded the students of the great promise in Scripture (1 Corinthians 10:13) that God will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we can endure. It comes down to faith, to trusting that God has a plan and it’s better than my plan. The most memorable way I’ve ever heard this taught is like this: Most people, when tough times come (and they WILL come), most people turn to God and ask “WHY?” (“¿POR QUÉ?”). But the Christ-follower, putting his/her trust in God into action (trust in action = faith), instead turns to God and says “WHAT FOR?” (“¿PARA QUÉ?”). What are you trying to teach me? How are you trying to “prune” me? Who are you trying to help through me?

3) What role does the community play in staying connected to God?
I told the students straight-up: It is extremely difficult, maybe even impossible, to stay connected to God all by myself. Some Christians intentionally or unintentionally teach a “Jesus and me” theology, but when I study the Bible and the world, I see something much more like “Jesus and us”. “From Genesis to Maps” (as my campus minister, Rick Harper, used to say), the Bible is about COMMUNITY. Heck, God even EXISTS in community, through the mystery of what we call the Trinity. God never asks us to walk alone. And while faith in Christ is obviously an intensely personal matter, the importance of community is so obvious that even all of my non-believing friends understand the necessity of the love and support of other people to get through each day in this world we live in. We looked at the John 15 Scripture again and noticed all of the “second person plurals” – most of the “yous” that Jesus uses are directed at the group, not the individual. Again borrowing from John Burke, I pointed out that, in order to “abide in the vine” and help each other do the same, the most important thing that we can do is to create and maintain good spiritual SOIL. Only God can make a plant – or a soul – grow; the part we can and must play is to pay attention to the soil. My in-laws and my Granny have awesome gardens because they know how to dig, cultivate, water, fertilize, and care for plants (vs. mistreat them). In the same way, we must make El Pozo the kind of place where anyone who walks in the door has every chance to grow and flourish and eventually “produce fruit”. Then we sit back and watch, amazed, as God and God alone makes people grow.

4) How can I stay connected?
Enough theory – give me some practical, applicable stuff on the topic! And so, instead of giving our students stuff from conferences or books, I gave them examples from my friends (including some of them) – real people who struggle with faith every day. In the week leading up to the talk, I emailed a couple of dozen people and asked them one simple question: “How do YOU stay connected to God?” Then I just gave the students the list, which included the following:
* start and end each day talking to God
* “decide every day to ‘crawl up on the altar’ and die to myself, asking God to be the King of my life that day” (Donovan)
* prayer – e.g. start every day with the Lord’s Prayer; “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17);
* journal – write out my prayers and thoughts
* read – the Bible, daily
* read – other good stuff
* music – “Christian” or praise music
* music – other stuff, things with “good” lyrics, songs that make you think
* talk ABOUT God – with other believers; “iron sharpens iron…” (Prov. 27:17)
* talk ABOUT God – with non-believers; How often do we talk to our friends about God?
* talk TO God – prayer
* LISTEN to God – the other half of prayer; importance of silence
* attend church – sermon, prayer, music, communion, baptisms, and UNITY with the rest of the Body
* trust – that God has a plan and it’s better than mine
* “think about God a lot” – be involved in godly things that cause me to prepare, be sharp
* think – about how big and amazing God is
* reflect – about what God is doing in my life
* serve – other people; “Our willingness to serve other people is the clearest sign of our level of commitment to Christ and His kingdom. … Go to bed at night knowing that I did some things today that I didn’t have to do, nobody knows I did, and nobody could have paid me to do – all because of my connection with God.” (Huxford)
* get involved – in the lives of other people, people I can serve and see God working in their lives; go deeper relationally
* regular contact with people who display the “fruit of the Spirit” in their lives and who motivate me to be more like them
* solitude – being alone on purpose; How often are any of us actually alone with God?
* nature/creation – e.g. sunrises, the ocean, mountains
* rest/Sabbath/balance/rhythm – daily, weekly, monthly, annual “Sabbaths”; retreat, escape, hit “reset”
* walk – “There’s something about being in motion while I’m talking to my friends that helps a lot, and it’s the same when I converse with God” (Jeremy); exercise, golf, hike
* children
* suffering – We don’t seek it, but suffering definitely draws us closer to God.
* obedience – e.g. John 15:10; Sweat the small stuff!
* fasting – largely ignored but powerful tool
* accountability – same-sex friends with whom one meets regularly to get real and ask the hard questions, etc.
* be a mentor – invest in younger people, keeps you sharp so that you’ll always have something to give
* talks, sermons, interviews, podcasts, etc. that make me think and learn
* travel/experiment different cultures
I encouraged our students to pick one, two, or max three of these things and try to incorporate them little by little into their lives, with the point being not to CAUSE relationship with God (which is a gift), but instead to create SPACES, RHYTHMS, and AWARENESSES in our lives. The so-called spiritual disciplines (or “connection habits”) don’t change a thing about God’s character or presence or love, but they can do a lot to change US.
I illustrated this point with something my dad taught me long ago: When working on a construction site, it’s easy for people to walk by and accidentally disconnect power cords … unless you first tie a knot between the two cords, then connect them. The spiritual disciplines are like that knot; they make it a lot easier to MAINTAIN THE CONNECTION.

5) What’s the point of all this? Why does God want me to stay connected to Him anyway?
The point of staying connected is told to us in verse 11 of the text: That we might have Christ’s joy and that our joy might be complete.
The point of staying connected is that we might be “salt and light” in the world (which was the teaching topic of En Vivo #3). That Christians be people who serve, preserve, help, give flavor, and bring light.
The point of staying connected – and the ulterior motive behind everything God does – is LOVE. God IS love. I told the students about how hard it was to come back after two weeks of paternity leave; how, even thought I really love my job, every minute away from Elsa Lynne right now is really difficult because I just want to be with her all the time; how, as I experience this, I think I’m experiencing a liiiiiitle tiny bit of God’s love for each or us. He wants to spend eternity with YOU and with me and with every one of his beloved creations.

Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” Bible paraphrase translates “remain in me” in John 15 as “make your home in me”. I ended with a few words about how my true home is not a house, a city, a state, etc. – my true home is with Jesus, “in Christ” ... and that’s true for each of us.

After the talk, we had some of the best worship time we've had in years. Thank you so much Courtney (organizer) and Hugo, Moi, and Chuky (musicians)!!!!

Next week we’re going to look at Part 2 “…Fruit happens” – Galatians 5, the “fruit of the Spirit”, the characteristics of a Christ-follower. Stay tuned for a much different format but hopefully equally successful teaching/learning/CONNECTING experience!

Until then, please keep the ministry of El Pozo in your prayers and love God and love each other!

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