Sitting at the stop light, I was waiting for the light to turn green. My knee was bouncing as it does when I’m a bit anxious or restless, and this time, it was because I was running a bit late for my appointment. The person next to me also seemed to be gripping their wheel in anticipation. In short time, the cross traffic was stopped, and there was nobody in either of the left turn lanes. I knew it was almost go-time.
The light switched from red to green. I released the clutch as I pressed down on the accelerator. The RPM’s went up and... I didn’t move an inch. The vehicle next to me drove away in unrealized victory, and the car behind me gave a tap on the horn. The problem? I wasn’t engaged. The stick-shift was in neutral. Sheepishly, I let the RPM’s come down and I drove away.
Sadly, I have experienced worship services much like this. But it didn’t have to do with the service itself. It had to do with me. Everyone around me is praising God in song, and I’m stuck in neutral. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a personal problem. I allow the concerns of my obligations, or my criticisms of style, or the materials in my hands, or my wandering thoughts to keep me in neutral.
God wants to draw us into the privilege of praise. He wants us to experience the blessing of being engaged in worshipping Him in song.
Interestingly, there is a passage which indicates that the presence of God is manifest in the intentional act of our worship.
“But You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel.” Psalm 22:3 (NKJV)
Some scholars also translate it this way “You are holy, inhabiting the praises of Israel.”
God is present in a special way when we praise Him!
If you could experience God in a powerful way, would you want that experience? If you could do something to engage God in worship, would you want to?
I have noticed that when I put all of my concerns and anything vying for my attention away, and intentionally will myself to engage in worship (regardless of “style”) I experience a blessing. I don’t think this blessing has to do with my vocal chords, or hitting the right notes, or with the instruments being played, or whether I’m standing or sitting. I believe it has to do with being engaged in giving my creator praise. Have you ever experienced that blessing?
Jesus says to the woman of Samaria, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him.” - John 4:23
Oh man. God is seekinga people who are worshipping Him in spirit and truth. And it seems, that when we seek God as He seeks us, we experience Him in a powerful way.
Worshipping in Spirit has to do with engagement. Engaging God with all of our beings. It has to do with allowing His Holy Spirit to move us into worshipping Him.
Worshipping in Truth has to do with His truth, His word, being the guide in our lives. It has to do with worshipping Him as He is revealed to be in His word.
Spirit and truth. Paul brings this out in two different areas as well.
Worship in Spirit:
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,
addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart...” - Ephesians 5:18-19
Worship in Truth:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” - Colossians 3:16
Paul, Jesus, and the rest of scripture seem to encourage us in the privilege of praise.
What would our experience be like if we all engaged in worship, and took intentional steps to keep ourselves out of “neutral?”
Have you experienced a blessing when engaged in worship through song? Let me know by commenting below!
- Pastor Nate
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Here are the notes for the message I shared on 9/1/18. The message starts with the video below:
Before I was an actual Christian, I was in a dark place. I filled my mind with angry music, smoked a pack of cigarettes every day, and would drink alcohol and smoke pot regularly. I was without purpose, and all of my relationships were shallow.
I remember meeting pastor Dan George and pastor Luke Porter for the first time. My mom invited me to meet the pastors of the Hood View church and I was bracing myself to be judged. But I wasn’t. They showed genuine interest in me and my life. They didn’t bat an eye at my vices, but showed me Jesus in their speech and actions. They showed me agape love.
I started attending, but I didn’t look very Adventist. I didn’t have dressy clothes. For me casual church was every day. But the people of the church, though somewhat dressy themselves and definitely composed of many professionals, didn’t bat an eye at my appearance, or my social awkwardness having not been a part of a church community ever. They showed me agape love. The church had a culture of connection.
This was a season of life where God became very real to me. Partially through personal spiritual experiences in prayer and worship, partially through voracious personal Bible study. and partially through this community showing me Jesus through their lives.
This community loved me to the baptismal waters at the Clackamas river. They didn’t just love me to those waters, they loved me through them. They showed me genuine interest. Agape love. They had a culture of connection.
Agape love is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. And where there is agape love, there is human connection. People loving other people in spite of their struggles, pains, and vices. People loving other people even when it’s inconvenient. People loving people even when they don’t have to.
And if we are honest with ourselves, with the depths of our hearts, this is what we desire. To be loved. To find connection. To be able to let our guards down, and share the real person we are with others, and trust that we won’t be hurt, judged, condemned, or alienated.
I recall hearing a story which made me cringe. The son of a member was visiting the church for the first time in a long while. He was a prodigal. He was a lot like me when I first came to the church. Before the church service he was in the corner of the parking lot smoking a cigarette. The problem was, there was an unspoken rule in that church culture. There, you see the church had a culture of correctness. You do not smoke in the church parking lot. But he was visiting. How could he know? Somehow he should have known.
The head deacon and one of the elders saw him and made their way across the parking lot with something in hand. As the man was minding his own business, they approached, greeting him with these words “You do not smoke in the church parking lot.” Following that warm welcome, the head deacon produced a spray bottle from the kitchen, and promptly extinguished the man’s cigarette triumphantly. The church was shocked to hear that the man wasn’t coming in for the church service, and drove away.
How could this story have been different, if their’s was a culture of connection? Perhaps they would have seen the man across the parking lot, and be overcome with an urge to go show him love. Perhaps they would have crossed the parking lot with smiles and gratitude that God sent them someone with whom they could share his son. Perhaps they would have approached him and introduced themselves, welcoming the man to church. Perhaps they wouldn’t have even bat an eye at the cigarette, perhaps they wouldn’t have mentioned it at all. Perhaps the man would have been surprised at their acceptance of him, and joined them at services that day. Perhaps he would have heard the gospel. Perhaps through the message and through the love he experienced his heart would have been melted and become open to the Holy Spirit. Perhaps he would now know Jesus because of their unselfish, unconditional love.
Agape love. This is the sort of love Jesus spoke of when he said:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." - John 13:34-35
Jesus makes it clear that the Christian community has a culture of connection. It is one that loves one another well. And that this is the mark of a true disciple.
People often say that the opposite of love is hate. The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference. I heard a quote regarding Christian life which challenged me recently: "We are not called to tolerate people. We are called to love people."
Again, this love is experienced and practiced through human connection.
"Love is the basis of godliness. Whatever the profession, no man has pure love to God unless he has unselfish love for his brother. But we can never come into possession of this spirit by trying to love others. What is needed is the love of Christ in the heart. When self is merged in Christ, love springs forth spontaneously. The completeness of Christian character is attained when the impulse to help and bless others springs constantly from within—when the sunshine of heaven fills the heart and is revealed in the countenance."
~ Ellen G. White, Christ's Object Lessons pg. 384
What is needed, is the love of Christ in the heart. Does God love us? He is love. Even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! What an amazing thought, to think that God saw our sinful condition and recklessly, unselfishly, unconditionally, came to us in human form, in Jesus. He showed us his love and proved his love through taking our place on the cross. In Him, by faith, we have grace, righteousness, forgiveness, and peace!
And he wants us to reciprocate that love in the church.
See in Acts 2 how the early church was a place of Agape love.
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." - Acts 2:42-47
Agape love was their lifestyle. And it was contagious! Notice the culture here. Not only were they connecting with Jesus, they were connecting with people, and connecting people with Jesus. They were centered around the gospel and love. If the gospel was their bread, love was the butter.
I remember during the season of my early Christian journey, I received an invitation by a man named Len Berlein. Len was a part of a ministry called Caleb corps, which founded the ministry to the homeless in O’Bryant square, downtown Portland.I joined Len one day and was able to see that the church was truly the body of Christ. They were his hands and feet, serving people even though they didn’t have to. I wanted to be like that.
A culture of connection is contagious.
Natural Church Development programming brings out the biblical and practical principles of a healthy, growing, church. They have this to say regarding Loving Relationships:
“Loving Relationships are the heart of a healthy, growing church. Practical demonstration of love builds authentic Christian community and brings people into God’s Kingdom.
Unfeigned, practical love has a divinely generated magnetic power far more effective than evangelistic programs which depend almost entirely on verbal communication. People do not want to hear us talk about love, they want to experience how Christian love really works.”
And that is our challenge. To live out love.
When people visit our church, do they meet you and find a culture of correction, or a culture of connection? Some of us feel connected to one another, but I fear that some of us are not. There are people who are not attending church, who feel disconnected. Do you know who they are? What can you do about it?
The Fuller institute has produced a book called “Growing Young,” which looks at biblical principles and the practical principles found in churches who are growing with young people. There are 6 principles of these growing churches (which we could look at another time), but one stands out to me. For todays young people, warm is the new cool. Warm is the new cool. And this should be obvious. People appreciate cultures of connection. Where genuinely loving relationships are present. To foster connection, we need to be good listeners, and ask good questions. We need to care about others, and back up that care with connection. And this connection needs to be ongoing.
In other words, a culture of continual connection is contagious.
How will you allow God to use you to connect with others?
Questions for consideration:
1- What are some practical ways in which you have experienced agape love?
2- How can we connect with people in this busy and technologically advanced age?
3- What are some practical ideas on how can the church stay connected with one another? How can we keep from disconnecting from people?
4- What is one thing you will do this week to connect with someone you haven’t in a while?
Have you ever felt powerless?
A few years ago I was traveling down I-205 southbound in my Subaru Forester, thinking all was right in the world. I began to hear a strange clapping noise coming from my vehicle. Thinking I ran over some plastic or something like that I continued along my way, committed to checking it our when I stopped in Tigard. As I was going over the Abernathy bridge between Oregon City and West Linn, I suddenly noticed my RPMs drop on my tachometer. I hit the gas but there was nothing. My car began to slow and I was in the fast lane. I had no accelerative control of my vehicle, so all I could do was put on my hazards, put the car in neutral, and coast. Fortunately, I was able to take the first West Linn exit, and coast to the intersection to a green light. I turned right, then right again into a gas station parking lot where I used the last bit of my car’s momentum to pull into a parking spot. To make the long story short, I was unaware that I had lost oil. A lot of oil. Because of this my engine seized up into a solid hunk of metal. The engine was no good.
Does this sound a bit like a metaphor for life? Sometimes I feel like I’m traveling without power. Do you? I want to be a good, kind person, but sometimes to my shame I’m indifferent. I want to love well, create good things, and connect with people, but sometimes I have so little to offer.
Jesus was aware of our natural, selfish and weak-natured modus operandi and met that challenge with a promise.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” - John 14:16-17
You see, we don’t have to struggle through life in our own strength, because we have a Helper. The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not just a principle in a book, another way of saying try hard, or a long lost fable. The Holy Spirit is real, and available to us today. Now.
After my engine seized, I had a choice to make. The choice was expensive, and required the help of generous friends and family. Through their help, I was able to purchase a new engine. And that’s the very thing us believers need. A new engine.
When Jesus was resurrected, and before He went to heaven, He offered another promise to His disciples:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." - Acts 1:8
In order to be effective in their witness for Him, they needed Holy Spirit power. In order for them to not give up, or become indifferent, they needed Holy Spirit power. In order for the disciples to represent Christ well in their communities, in their country, and the world, they needed Holy Spirit power.
For you and for me, the need is the same. We are incapable of becoming authentic witnesses of Christ without Holy Spirit power. We are unable to obey and live for Him, unless we are willing to receive Holy Spirit power. Consider now, another picture and promise written by Ellen White:
"Those who consecrate body, soul, and spirit to God, will constantly receive a new endowment of physical, mental, and spiritual power. The inexhaustible supplies of heaven are at their command. Christ gives them the breath of His own Spirit, the life of His own life. The Holy Spirit puts forth His highest energies to work in heart and mind. The grace of God enlarges and multiplies their faculties, and every perfection of the divine nature comes to their assistance in the work of saving souls. Through co-operation with Christ, they are made complete in Him, and in their human weakness they are enabled to do the deeds of Omnipotence." ~ Ellen G. White- Gospel Workers p. 112
I want that kind of power in my life. Power which glorifies God, and makes me an effective agent of His grace. How about you?
I know. What I’m about to say are a bunch of cliches, but they are true.
“My kids are growing like weeds.”
“I’ve blinked, and they have grown.”
“I need to savor the sweet moments of their early childhood, because they won’t always be this small.”
It’s true. Growth is inevitable. Growth is a natural part of healthy life. But growth happens through intention.
When it comes to growth, there are really two types of goals. Input goals, and output goals.
I want my kids to grow. That is an output goal. That is the aim and desired result.
I need to feed my kids nutritious food and parent them well so that they will grow. That is the input goal. That needs to be in place in order for healthy growth to happen.
When it comes to becoming a healthy, biblical disciple of Jesus, we need a plan for personal spiritual growth.
So do you have a plan for personal spiritual growth?
Are you living that plan in your life?
Is it working well?
Are you actively reading scripture and applying it daily?
If you have answered any of the above questions in the negative—this post is for you.
It is crucial that disciples of Jesus are intentionally growing in Jesus. God’s plan for us is growth. God’s desire for us is maturity.
The goal of discipleship is more than knowledge. It is transformation. It is growth. It is maturity.
The goal of being a disciple is to be like Jesus. To be Christ-like.
As Jesus Himself says, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).
Again, it is crucial that disciples of Jesus are intentionally growing in Jesus. Spiritual growth doesn’t happen by accident. It’s not like I can say “Here you go kids. Eat this candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Don’t brush your teeth.” And then one day say “Oh wow! You are all so healthy and have immaculate cavity-free teeth!” It doesn’t happen that way.
What I want to offer here is a simple—yet effective—tool for personal spiritual growth.
Reap is an acronym, with a principle for each letter of the word “reap.” Now implementing REAP is best done if you have a notebook, journal, or word processor of some sort.
“But I’m just not the journaling type,” you may say. “I don’t like to write,” you may say. That’s ok. I get it. But I want to refer you to the above questions again. “Do you have a personal plan for spiritual growth?” “Is it working well?”
Let’s explore this helpful principle. You’ll need access to a Bible, a way to write things down, and a prayerful attitude to begin.
REAP stands for Read, Examine, Apply, Pray. That’s it. It’s that simple.
Let’s take a closer look:
Read- As you read the Bible, choose a passage, verse, or part of a verse that you want to focus in on. Stick with that scripture for this exercise.
Examine- Here is where you focus on the passage and discover what is being said. Write out what you examine and observe in the passage. What do you see here in the scriptures? What is being said at face value? What might it mean to the original audience? What principles do you find? What is the lesson of the passage? What does it mean for us today?
Apply- Here is where it gets personal. Apply the lesson(s) to your life. The principles you found in the Examine step are now put into your practical life. Write this section out too. In light of what was examined, what do you need to do? Does anything need to change in your life? What would your life look like if you started to apply the scriptures? What are you convicted of? What can you start doing today? What are you doing well? What do you need to repent of?
Pray- We can do nothing apart from Jesus (John 15:5). We need to seek the purposes of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit to live for God. If our obedience is separated from the gospel or from the power of God, it becomes legalism. Works based righteousness. So pray that the Lord would help you to live for Him in light of what you’ve learned. Be specific. He delights in you seeking His will, and will answer your prayers to do His will. You may write out your prayers, or pray them outloud, or both. It’s a powerful thing to look back on our prayers to see how God has answered.
So there you have it. REAP. Read, Examine, Apply, Pray.
This process doesn’t have to be lengthy at all. In fact, I encourage you to start small if you need to. Get used to the concept.
I challenge you to put this technique to work in your daily life. In doing so, you will truly see growth!
If you need an example, check out my previous blog post. It is lengthy, but you can see the principle at work. God bless!
Pastor Nate Hellman has a passion for Jesus and His Mission, and for family. In his free time he enjoys the outdoors, drawing, study, writing, disc golf, home improvement, and especially spending time with his wife Emily and their 4 children.