Saturday, October 24, 2009

En Vivo #7, #8, and #9 – “Living the Telenovela”, Parts 1, 2, and 3: RELATIONSHIPS

[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.]

So for the last three weeks we went with a soap opera theme. It didn’t run very deep – basically we did soap opera-ish things with our video sketches and announcement videos and other than that it was a fun way to package three talks about the human relationships with which we all struggle. It broke down like this:

Relationships with Friends – Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Relationships with Family – Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Relationships with Boyfriends/Girlfriends – Tuesday, October 20, 2009

With regard to the first two talks, I’m not even going to summarize them. Instead I’m going to recommend that you lot on to the web site of Mountain Christian Church and listen to a series they recently did called “WE”. There you’ll find the same principles that we basically repackaged for our students, especially the talks on conflict and family - plus a lot more! It’s a really great series that – like every other Mountain sermon series I’ve ever listened to – I highly recommend for anyone to check out. Very helpful, truthful, fun, and inspiring stuff. And by the way, I don’t feel bad about “copying” my friends at mountain because 1. all of the best ministers I know operate under the "There's nothing new under the sun" policy, 2. I know they don’t mind, 3. one of the main reasons they don’t mind is that we are actually an extension of the ministry of Mountain and all of the other fine churches that support El Pozo and its staff members, and 4. any time I use an outline or idea from some other preacher, by the time it gets delivered on a Tuesday night in Puebla, it always changes so much and had better be something quite different than how I found it in order to be “incarnate” in this particular community at that particular time. But anyway, major thanks to those guys and gals up in Mary land for the “WE” series and for putting that stuff on the Internet so that people around the world can benefit.

That said, I will, however, break down the third talk of our series for you. Last Tuesday was a great night. Attendance was about 85, which has been normal this semester. Our Tuesday numbers are FINALLY creeping back up, and one of the main reasons, I think, has been our staff’s conscious and intentional decision to give these students more “meat”. After two years of giving largely what I considered to be "milk" - and not growing in spite of always having tons of first-timers - we have been preaching a little longer and a little deeper than we've done in the past, but the students have been loving it. They are being challenged, filled, and moved. It’s fun to see and hear stories of how Christ is using the En Vivo talks to guide our community and to change lives and nudge individuals toward baby steps of faith.

So last Tuesday night we laughed a lot as we broached the ever-relevant topic of “NOVIAZGO” – a.k.a. boyfriend/girlfriend/romantic/dating relationships. We started out by viewing this hilarious video, which I found on YouTube. The “seduction” part got the loudest laugh, and I later referenced the “ideal partner” part when talking about being a servant.

After that little video, I started out by telling the story of how Erin cried the first time I ever talked to her. True story. I won’t go into it here, but ask me later. The first time I ever spoke to Erin, she burst into tears before even saying a word! Just goes to show you that even the roughest beginnings can turn into something beautiful with God’s help! And after that fun intro, we were off into the lesson.

I began with a few words about marriage, because, as I mentioned, although the talk was about noviazgo and not marriage, the topic of marriage would naturally come up for a variety of reasons, including:
* We want to study all of God’s word and should be careful deciding which parts of it are relevant for us and which parts aren’t.
* Although just about everyone in attendance was single, most of them were probably open to or considering marriage someday.
* Many of them come from broken homes / divorced parents and have warped views of marriage.
* The married members of the El Pozo staff consider the first and most important part of our ministry to be “the ministry of marriage” – that is, more important than any of the other things we do for them is that we model Christian marriage for them.
* And last but not least, if they are in a dating relationship and it is not at least heading in the direction of marriage, then WHY ARE THEY IN IT? Here I challenged them to admit that many of their relationships are just mutual using of each other, and they need to at least be up front about that. They should also remember that sin has consequences (something we talked about in the previous weeks).
I also took the opportunity here to mention that one of the little known, yet very important (and often enjoyable) parts of a campus minister’s job is seeking out and DESTROYING unhealthy relationships. Fair warning and full disclosure and all of that – if you are in a crappy relationship, I might just try to destroy it in the name of Jesus. Ha! (Actually, it works more like this: We help people grow closer to God; they begin to understand His will and trust Him with more of their lives; bad relationships fall apart as a result.)

After buzzing through that little preface, we dove straight into what I decided were the four most important pieces of advice I had to give on the topic of dating and relationships, which were:

1. When in doubt, stay SINGLE.
The basic point here was a challenge not to buy into the lie that our culture perpetrates daily on single people, the lie that says if you are not married or dating then you are somehow less of a person. This social pressure is perhaps even stronger in Mexico than in the USA. If you’re single, you’re not complete – that’s garbage! We looked at the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, the example of Mother Teresa and Courtney Wilson and other single friends of mine living lives full of adventure and world-changing passion, and, oh yeah, the example of JESUS and were reminded that, all other things being equal, the Bible actually leans slightly toward being single over being married. God is the ultimate fulfillment, nothing else. [Cool story here – later that night, when everyone was heading downstairs to eat, one of our students came up to me and said, “Nate, you are not going to believe this, but I woke up this morning and all I could think about was ‘Is this all there is? So I just get married and have some kids and that’s all there is to life?’ I was really sad, but your talk was exactly what I needed to hear.” I just smiled and reminded her that it was God, not me, who did the speaking to her heart, and we both remarked just how faithful He is to comfort and guide us when we most need it.]

2. Your boyfriend/girlfriend relationships must be built on a foundation of FRIENDSHIP.
We too often build them on passion, convenience, fear, etc. We are impatient with so many things, including relationships. We need to remember the concept of COMMITMENT (#1 of 3 most important marriage words I gave them during the talk). Here I told the story of one of the best decisions I ever made. Back in the Fall of 1999, it just so happened that Erin and I were both always hanging around the CCF house on Monday afternoons. We began to talk and hang out, along with several other people. We became friends. Then one day we were standing there talking with our friend Anthony and out of the blue he said, “You know, you two would make a good couple.” Uh, awkwaaaaaaaaard. But I got to thinking that he was right. Now normally I would have asked her out the next day. That’s what I had always done in the past. But it just so happened that at that time in my life I had decided to quit stressing about girls / my future spouse / etc. and just trust God with that part of my life. I was “not looking”. Turns out that Erin was in a similar mode, even more strongly so since she had just come out of a three-year relationship that ended badly. So here’s what I did: I said “God, I am going to take two weeks to think and pray about this. If I should, or shouldn’t, ask Erin out, just let me know.” So I did. I waited two weeks. I prayed about it a lot. And at the end of the two weeks, I had a peace about it, the friendship was still growing, and I asked her out. Looking back it seems rather silly, trivial even. Two weeks??? That’s nothing! But it’s an eternity compared to the two seconds I had always taken before. I can tell you that at the time this process was a big deal for me. And I attribute much of the success of our relationship to the fact that it was the natural outgrowth of an already existing friendship.

3. Stop looking for the right one and start BEING the right one.
This is one of my mentor Dr. Donovan’s “Significant Seven” rules to live by, and it’s so very true. The basic concept here is to move from selfishness/self-centeredness toward servanthood/others-centeredness. SERVANT is #2 of 3 most important marriage words. I got some nice oohs and ahs from the crowd when I said that “It’s not about thinking less of yourself, it’s about thinking about yourself less.” Taking the focus off of me me me and my needs and how you’re not meeting them and instead acting like Jesus, who redefined greatness and leadership by taking a towel and washing off his disciples’ stinky feet. Here we looked quickly at several classic Scriptures, especially Ephesians 5 but also Romans 12 (out-do each other in love), Philippians 2:3-4, and Luke 9:24 and that illogical but oh so true concept of having to give up our lives in order to grasp it, to let it go in order to truly live it. I ended this section with a reminder/warning that living this way does not come naturally and will require some discipline, will require some growing and maturing and changing, will require us to let God “prune” us (which is something we talked about in a previous series based in John 15 – abiding in the vine in order to produce fruit and all of that good stuff). I called “Stop looking for the right one and start being the right one” the second-best relationship advice I could ever give them, with the best advice being something that has already been written down for around 2,000 years:

4. Matthew 6:33 – But seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Here we talked about how we so often put the cart before the horse. For example, a friend of mine who recently told me he had “everything in place” in his life except the girl, and when he found her, it would all be perfect. For example, so many of my young friends who are trying to fill the “God-shaped hole” with a relationship with another person or with sex and passion. For example, a friend of mine who asked Erin and me a year or so ago why we were married if we didn’t have kids. This is all backwards. First we seek God and turn our lives over to Him, then He blesses us with the other stuff. We talked about how most important marriage word #3 of 3 (but really #1) is … JESUS. Any relationship that works has to be built on him and the stuff he teaches!
To illustrate this point, I shared with the El Pozo community how I proposed to Erin. I did so by painting her a painting. Here it is:

Now I want you to know it’s okay to laugh. Go ahead and make fun of my painting. I am no artist. Or, rather, I’m a sort of closet artist. I definitely have interest, but not much knowledge. Some would say that I have, or had, talent – but if I do or did it has been largely neglected. But Erin is an awesome artist and I knew she would appreciate this. So I painted for her an image of something we learned in a Bible study for couples at CCF. The study was based on the Song of Solomon, taught by a Texas preacher named Tommy Nelson, and there was one part where he described “how to meet your mate” or “how to find your future spouse” or something like that. Erin and I both thought it was beautiful, and as we saw it play out in our courtship and dating relationship, I knew that this was the perfect way to pop the question. So here’s how the metaphor goes – here’s what you do to find your future spouse:

You run hard and fast toward God. (God is represented by the explosion of color on the horizon. How do you paint God???) You run toward Him and keep your eyes on Him. Every now and then, you look to the right and to the left. Perhaps there are others also running toward God. You turn your gaze back toward God and keep running. A little later, you again glance to the right and to the left. Perhaps you see someone running there beside you and you smile and wave. But you keep running toward God. As you run, if this same person seems to always be there running beside you, you do some more smiling and waving and maybe even chit chat – but all the while never ceasing to run toward God. You enjoy running toward God together. You help each other run toward God – straighter, stronger, faster. And so eventually, you just join hands and run together. (Hence the two hands, one of which has a diamond ring on it.)

After sharing this story with the students, and reminding them again that Erin and I are far from perfect and continue to mess up a lot along the way, I expressed nonetheless my desire for this to be the way that each of them come into their romantic relationships if and when that is what God desires for them. In closing we looked a little closer at some of those words in Matthew 6:33:
* Seek FIRST… "First" meaning … FIRST!!!
* ...the KINGDOM of God… God’s kingdom being where God is KING! Where He calls the shots. Therefore the goal being that we become the kind of people who do less and less controlling and grasping and more and more listening and yielding to what our loving Father has already decided for our lives.
* ...and ALL of these things will be given… ALL of these things including who we should date, who we should marry, the blessing of children, what we should study, what our careers should be, etc.

We ended with prayer and sang the first verse of that classing chorus “Seek ye first the kingdom of God / And His righteousness / And all these things shall be added unto you / Alelu, Aleluya”. (All of this in Spanish, of course, but I blog in English.)


Topic two weeks from now, spinning off of the relationships series: SEX. Why two weeks? Because this upcoming week’s “En Vivo” is being planned and executed completely by our student leadership group. So it’s a week off of preaching for me – which might mean I will catch up on my Hebrew class and maybe even get a supporter newsletter done! Thanks for reading and whoever and wherever you are, may these ramblings of mine be a blessing for you and your relationships, too.

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