A Heap of Empty Words (Matthew 6)

Matthew 6:7-8
Jesus said, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

You are there in the midst of my prattle
and my hiding

Thank you for your patient presence
Thank you for calling me again to what is deeper and true

Forgive me for defaulting to well-worn words
Empty language borrowed from ritual or even scripture
Help me come to you honest and real
nothing veiled, nothing hidden
Help me come to you present and fresh
new every morning

Matthew 6:9-10
Jesus said, “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Glory to You, Heavenly One
Abba, Maker, Creator
I long for your kingdom, the fullness of your grace and victory

The longing is a sign of you in me
Abide more and more, so I not only long but look and see
Abide forever, so I not only long but pray and speak and act
Full-filling your words
now mine

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A Heap of Empty Words © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

A Prayer Inspired by the Beatitudes (Matthew 5)

beatitudes 3

Matthew 5:1-12 NRSV
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus,
We receive your blessings and pray for the Holy Spirit to make them real in our lives.

Renew a right spirit within us, a poor spirit, a spirit which knows our deep need of your grace and deliverance. Free us from trying to save ourselves. Free us for the fullness of your kingdom.

Soften our hard hearts with the gift of tears. Help us mourn our brokenness and the brokenness of our world. Help us feel it fully. Help us welcome the refreshment of your comfort and share it well with others.

Generous Savior, you fill each person with gifts, talents, and strength. Open us to meekness, that we may gladly surrender them to your authority and discipline. In our hands, they are often weapons. With you, they are refined for your glory and the common good.

Bread of Life, sour every false and destructive appetite, that we may hunger and thirst for righteousness alone- a right relationship with you, a right relationship with others, a right relationship with ourselves, a right relationship with your creation.

We bless you and honor you for your unending mercy, a flood of grace, pouring out and spilling over. Make us mercy-full. May all people know you like this.

Suffering One, break our hearts as yours is broken. In the breaking, create in us clean hearts, pure hearts, undivided hearts. Our deepest desire is to see you at work in us and all around us and to one day see you face to face.

In your grace, please don’t stop with our hearts. Re-Birth us fully in the breaking and creating. Named your beloved, your children, forever.

Make us
One with you and each other
One in your great work of peace
One in your words and ways
One in commitment to reconciliation and righteousness
One in the face of falsehood
One in the bloody bonds of persecution
One in your joy
One in your promises
One on earth and one in heaven
Amen

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A Prayer Inspired by the Beatitudes © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Holy Spirit, Stopping the Flow (Acts 8)

Sermon Series spirit filled 1110 x 624

Sermon Series: Spirit Filled
Message 2 of 5: Stopping the Flow
Scripture: Acts 8:9-24
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 6/16/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Romans 5:5
Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Last week we read the story of Pentecost. (Acts 2) Over and over again it talked about pouring and filling and pouring and filling. Romans 5:5 is another scripture which talks about the Holy Spirit being poured into our lives.

These scriptures draw us to a very important question: Why do you want a relationship with God? Has your why changed over the years?

Some would say, “It’s the right thing to do.” Others would say, “I was raised this way. I was carried into the church in the arms of my family. I’ve always had a relationship with God.”

When I first started pursuing a relationship with God, I was 15 years old and I didn’t want to burn in hell. I was scared to death and scared of death. I’d seen a TV show about the end of the world. There wasn’t an adult around to tell me this was opinion, not necessarily fact. The idea of “turn or burn” was reinforced at the neighborhood church I began attending.

Over time my why has changed. Instead of being a fearful slave of God, it changed into a relationship of grace, love, and hope. I’m eternally grateful for that.

The “why” of us wanting to have a relationship with God is really important because it colors everything.

  • How we see God and understand God
  • How we read scripture
  • How we look at serving, grace, hope, and eternal life

It’s important to check our motivations from time to time. Our motivation can be like a faucet. It can direct the flow of the Holy Spirit in our life. If our motivation is twisted in the wrong way, it can turn off the flow of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we’re reading a cautionary tale. The scriptures are full of examples to follow and examples to avoid. This is one to avoid.

Side Note: There is nothing wrong with magic. The problem is Simon’s heart, not that he’s a magician.

Read Acts 8:9-24the story of Simon the Sorcerer

Simon the Magician desired a relationship with God so God could be a means to an end. Jesus was a Divine Santa Claus to give him everything on his wish list. The Holy Spirit, a Cosmic Insider to hook him up with power, fame, and social status.

Jesus santa claus

Am I like Simon? Simon’s story is a cautionary tale – full of wrong motivations. When we come across a story like this it’s important for us to pause, hold up a mirror, and ask, “Am I like Simon?” What’s my motivation for desiring a relationship with God? Why do I want the Holy Spirit?

It matters. It matters a great deal.  It can be the difference between the Holy Spirit flowing in our lives and the turning off of the Spirit of God.

  • Wrong Motivation: Draw Attention to Yourself
  • Right Motivation: Draw Attention to God

Acts 8:9b-10, Simon likes showing-off. He is hungry for attention and fame.   
[Simon boasted] saying that he was someone great. 10 All of them, from the least to the greatest, listened to him eagerly, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.”

Acts 8:12-13, Philip draws attention to God
12 But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed. After being baptized, he stayed constantly with Philip and was amazed when he saw the signs and great miracles that took place.

Phillip is filled with the Holy Spirit to proclaim the good news and perform real signs and wonders, not magical illusions. Lives are being transformed and he keeps pointing them to Jesus. He does nothing for personal gain or status. He’s like Vanna on Wheel of Fortune, he points to the Word, constantly pointing people to Jesus.

Matthew 5:16
Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

We let our light shine so others say, “Look what God is doing! Yay God!”

Example: Trinity Director of Traditional Music, LaTerry Butler, always replying to a compliment with, “Thanks be to God… Glory to God… Blessed be the Name…”

  • Wrong Motivation: Be THE Leader (Not be a leader. Phillip, Peter, and John are all leaders.) Who is sitting on the throne of your heart?
  • Right Motivation: Follow Jesus

Acts 8:10, 11 both report the crowds listened eagerly to Simon. The people followed him and treated him like a god. Simon did not correct them. He liked it.

God is my co-pilot. No, God is the pilot.

  • Wrong Motivation: Build up Myself
  • Right Motivation: Build Up Others

Acts 8:18-20, Simon wants to buy God’s power for his own benefit
18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!”

Mercedes Benz by Janis Joplin, Bob Neuwirth, Michael Mcclure
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends. Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends. So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV? Dialing For Dollars is trying to find me. I wait for delivery each day until three. So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV?

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town? I’m counting on you, Lord, please don’t let me down. Prove that you love me and buy the next round. Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town?

James 4:3  
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

1 Corinthians 12:7  
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

What are we to do? Phillip, Peter, and John model it for us. They are always following Jesus and always pointing to Jesus. Jesus is the leader and forgiver of their lives, their Lord and Savior.

Peters speaks the truth in love to Simon. Your heart is wrong! You need to repent. You need to turn away from this and turn towards God.

Simon says, “Pray for me.” (Acts 8:24) Simon is open to change and that’s the good news for all of us.

God keeps reaching out to us again and again and again. To create in us a clean heart, to renew in us a right spirit, to restore to us the joy of our salvation, and place in us a willing spirit.

It is a journey. We can turn and learn and become the people we were meant to be.

There’s good news in the awakening. There’s good news in realizing I haven’t given that over to God yet. There’s time to do it.

Why do you want a relationship with God? Who’s sitting on the throne of your heart? How can you more and more point to Jesus?

Psalm 51:10-12
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

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Holy Spirit, Pour Out Your Power © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Reflection Questions to Help You Write a Christian Testimony

speak witness good news

John 4:39
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.”

If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, you have a testimony. Yes, you!

Never dismiss or underestimate the power of sharing your encounters with the One True Living God. People remember and are moved to action by stories, especially true personal stories, far more often than by facts or debate.

Stories open us up and make deep connections. Our brains are literally different when someone is telling us a story. 

Your story, your witness, your testimony needs to be heard. Don’t worry if you don’t have a dramatic testimony. Your authentic voice and experience are enough. Like the little boy’s loaves and fishes, offer Jesus what you have and watch him make abundantly more than you could ask or imagine.

REFLECTION QUESTIONS FOR DIFFERENT TYPES OF TESTIMONIES:

Type #1: Conversion
How did you come to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?

Type #2: Character
What character traits of God and/or promises of God are most meaningful to you? Why?

Type #3: Calling
Where do you join Christ in serving others? Why this place/project? What have you seen God do in you, through you, or in spite of you? How does serving shape your faith?

Type #4: Circumstance
Tell of an important event which shaped and/or strengthened your faith.

Type #5: Commendation
For centuries, the faithful wrote their last will and testament, aka their testimony. What spiritual message would you like to leave your loved ones?

IMPORTANT POINTS FOR ANY TYPE OF TESTIMONY:

1. Pray first and often as you prepare. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you, empower you, and draw the right situation to mind.

2. Focus on Jesus more than any other person or detail of your testimony. Point to Jesus again and again so it is clear who deserves the glory.

3. What scripture speaks to the main point of your testimony? Include it! If you’re having trouble finding one, ask for some help.

4. Speak as you usually speak. There’s no need for formality or fancy church words.

5. Be vulnerable, honest, humble, and real. 

6. Write your testimony down. Be prepared to write several drafts with some time in between each one. The writing process will help you organize and clarify your testimony. Take a breath, it won’t be graded. It doesn’t have to be grammatically perfect.

7. Testimonies include a beginning, a middle, and an ending.

  • The beginning focuses on what life was like before your transforming experience.
  • The middle focuses on your awakening. You awaken to your need of salvation, to God’s presence, to God’s action on your behalf, to God’s healing, to a need or injustice you are to address, etc. What brings you to the moment of decision and action?
  • The ending focuses on God’s action in and through you. Your life is now different, and hopefully the lives of others. How so? Consider including an invitation or call to action as part of your ending.

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Reflection Questions to Help You Write a Christian Testimony
© 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Three Holy Spirit Prayers

the_baptism_of_the_holy_spirit-769x1024

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit by Rebecca Brogan

Holy Spirit, pour out your power
Holy Spirit, pour out your presence
Holy Spirit, pour out your truth
Holy Spirit, pour out your life
Grace upon grace
Strength upon strength
Life upon life

Acts 2:17-18
In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

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Holy Spirit, Holy One
Holy Spirit, Descending Dove
Alight on me that I may know your presence
Anoint me that I may know your call
Fill me that I may know your power
Guide me that I may know your path
Name me that I may know, that I know, that I know who I am
Amen

Matthew 3:16-17
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

+

Holy Spirit, come again as Guiding Fire,
Lighting the way though our wilderness
Come, Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit, come again as Cleansing Fire,
Burning away all that is false and fruitless
Come, Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit, come again as Refining Fire,
Making our words, our ways, and our hearts pure
Come, Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit, come again as Prophetic Fire,
Releasing the Gospel shut up in our bones
Come, Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit, come again as Empowering Fire,
Granting gifts to heal and transform the world
Come, Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit, come again as Unifying Fire,
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Amen

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Three Holy Spirit Prayers © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
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Holy Spirit, Pour Out Your Power (Acts 2)

Sermon Series spirit filled 1110 x 624

Sermon Series: Spirit Filled
Message 1 of 5: Pour Out Your Power
Scripture: Acts 2:1-33
Notes from a message offered Pentecost Sunday, 6/9/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

glass half empty full water

Is the glass half empty or half full?

  • The half-empty response may reveal a pessimist or realist
  • The half-full response may reveal an optimist
  • A response of “it’s both” reveals how can see and accept two opposing truths at the same time

When we only consider the glass and water, we limit our responses. Something more is present than the glass and the water. There’s air. The glass is always full because the air is always there.

When the Bible describes the nature and work of the Holy Spirit, it often uses the image of air. Ruah (Hebrew) and pneuma (Greek) are two of the Bible’s favorite words for Spirit, and they both mean wind and breath.

Holy Spirit’s work is often invisible but very real – like air, like wind, like breath.

Your glass is always full. In fact, your cup runneth over. (Psalm 23:5)

Romans 5:5
Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

The story of Pentecost is the story of the Spirit being given to us. All over the world, our Christian brothers and sisters are wearing red, singing of the Spirit, and reading this story.

Pentecost baptism holy spirit by Estella Canziani

Pentecost, a watercolor by Estella Louisa M Canziani (1887-1964)

Acts 2:1-33
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

  • The time is 50 days after Easter. The place is Jerusalem.

2 And suddenly from heaven, there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

  • We are filled with the Holy Spirit to speak, to testify.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound, the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

  • The disciples are empowered by the Holy Spirit with skills beyond their human training and experience.
  • This gift allows those gathered to hear the Gospel in their native language, their heart language.
  • Some witness the disciples’ speaking at Pentecost and they are filled with wonder and openness. Others are trying to explain it in human terms, proclaiming the disciples drunk.
  • The disciples are filled to overflowing. They’ve been praying for 9 days for the gift of the Holy Spirit. They are now filled to speak, filled with passion, filled with enthusiasm, filled with joy, filled with skills beyond their human training and experience.
  • The word enthusiasm comes from the Greek word entheos which means the God within.

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all fleshand your sons and your daughters shall prophesyand your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ 

  • The disciples, prophesy and testify and preach and speak so others may call on the name of the Lord and be saved. Later in this story, 3,000 persons do just that.
  • Now Peter speaks the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ     

22 “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.

  • It was impossible for death and sin and evil to hold Jesus because that power is not the power of Almighty God. The power of God is the greater power of salvation,  forgiveness and new life.
  • Peter points out another Old Testament prophesy fulfilled.

25 For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; 26, therefore, my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoicedmoreover, my flesh will live in hope. 27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. 28 You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

29 “Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’

32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33 Being, therefore, exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear.

Over and over again, pour out, fill up, pour out, fill up… speak. What do we speak? We speak the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Ferris Bueller showerRev. Magrey DeVega quote on breaking the 4th wall from his blog post, This is Where You Come In

We might observe the rest of the Bible from a comfortable distance, but not so in Acts.

We don’t live in Old Testament times when God’s voice was clearly audible in burning bushes.

We don’t live in gospel times, seeing Jesus face to face as the Word made flesh.

When Pentecost happened, God was revealed in spirit and power, in subtlety and strength, just the way we experience God today. And at that precise moment, God the Divine Screenwriter turned toward the camera, peered through the Fourth Wall that separated us from the ancient story and said to us, “This is your story now.”

We are the living embodiment of the ongoing story of Pentecost. It is now a story about us, living into the unfolding work of God’s power.

Examples of the Holy Spirit at work in our midst:

  • Ruth’s testimony at her baptism
  • Pru leading a memorial service
  • 52 persons commissioned or ordained at Annual conference as pastors and ministry leaders who will serve across the state of Florida
  • Over 300 Fresh Expressions of the church across our state. People experimenting to reach new people, in new places, in new ways with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

DSC_0586 (2)

The story of Pentecost breaks the 4th wall and the air comes through, the breath comes through, the wind comes through. That story is our story.

How is the Holy Spirit making the movement of God real and alive in your life? Breath to speak and testify, to serve and love, filled with the Holy Spirit.

Prayer
Come Holy Spirit, Pour Out Your Power
Holy Spirit your unseen work is very real
like air, like wind, like breath
Fill us. Fill us now.
Fill us so our cups runneth over
Fill us with strength and skills far beyond what is human
Fill us with courage
Fill us with boldness to witness and testify
to your victory over sin and death
Fill us with passion
Fill us with enthusiasm
Fill us with joy

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Holy Spirit, Pour Out Your Power © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Make Me Your Love (John 13)

Sacred Heart 3John 13:33-35
Jesus said, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Son of God
Savior
Sacrifice

Your love is Fierce and Forever
Abounding and Intimate
Generous, Goodness, and Grace

Fill me with your Spirit
Make me your love

It is your command
It is your way
It is your gift
It is You and your work

Yes, make me your witness
And yes, make me your will
But first and always, make me your love
Amen

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Make Me Your Love © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.