Sermon- Virtual Faith (Matthew 2)

Sermon Series Seeking God 1110 x 624

Sermon Series: Seeking God
Message 1 of 5: Virtual Reality
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12, 16
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 1/12/2020 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida. Click Here for a video of the entire worship service, including the message.

Virtual Reality Experiences

  • The Void at Disney Springs You wear a visor/headset and a vest which immerses you in a Star Wars virtual reality experience. I struggled with it.  My family had to help me walk across “a narrow bridge over flowing lava.” I knew it wasn’t real, but what I saw and felt told my body it was real.
  • Waking up from a dream sweating and your heart pounding. It feels real, but it isn’t.
  • The Aeronauts, an Amazon Prime movie. The true story of a hot air balloon pilot and scientist who in 1862 reach 36,000 ft. It’s an exciting story of courage, beautifully filmed. I found myself dizzy and nauseous from the heights and drops. It felt so real, but it wasn’t. It had the appearance of being real.

We can have the appearance of faith, but it not be real. It’s a Virtual Faith. When you watch something on TV or read a book, it’s at a distance. The same can be true for our faith.

How can we have a real, in the flesh experience of faith and of God?

Matthew 2:1-12, 16
1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road…

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.

Herod’s Virtual Faith
Herod is frightened and surprised by the news of a newborn King of the Jews. Herod wants to stay in power. A virtual faith keeps us in charge, not God.

Herod is uniformed. He had to ask where the Messiah was to be born. He did not know the scriptures for himself. He had others to do that religious stuff for him.

Herod lies and schemes. He has no intention of paying homage to Jesus. No intention of offering gifts or bowing down. No intention of seeing Jesus for himself.

Herod wants to stay in charge and at a distance so he eliminates the threat. His reaction to the news of Jesus is deadly. He sends troops 4 miles down the road to Bethlehem to kill all the children aged two and under. He commits genocide in his own country. Virtual faith is deadly.

The Wise Ones Experience Jesus for Themselves
The Wise Ones were looking for signs, see a sign, and follow the sign of the star in faith. Look, see, act. Once they arrive, they remain open to the leading of God.

The Wise Ones come to see the newborn King for themselves. They could have sent the gifts or a message via a servant. They could have stayed at a distance but instead come themselves.

This choice to experience Jesus themselves caused them to travel a great distance at great expense. It took a great amount of time and put them at great risk. Making the choice to experience Jesus interrupted their lives. It became their primary focus and mission.

What are we doing in order to experience Jesus for ourselves? 

In Jesus’ presence, they pay him homage. They kneel in worship and offer their gifts. They’re joyful to be in the presence of the King. They leave for home a different way and I suspect as different people. Everything they experienced was worth it.

Experiencing Jesus is for us as well. Real, living faith. This is where we find faith powerful and meaningful and transformational.

It is so easy to watch worship from the pew or on a screen or listen to a podcast, to stay at a distance. Or you can engage in worship for yourself.

It is so easy to read a devotional, another person’s testimony or encounter with God in prayer or scripture reading, to stay at a distance. Their witness doesn’t take the place of your own experience. Have your own encounter with Jesus through prayer and scripture reading.

Simple Timeless Spiritual Practices to experience Jesus for Yourself 

  1. CHOOSE a Bible Reading Plan. Click Here if you need a great one!
  2. ATTENTION: Read or listen to the Scripture. What word, phrase or verse captures your attention? Underline it or copy it onto a piece of paper.
  3. CONNECTION: What connections do you see to other scriptures? To your own experience or current situation? To the character or promises of God?
  4. ACTION: What is God inviting you to say or do? How will your life be different because of this scripture?
  5. PRAY: Have a conversation with God about what you just experienced.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing more timeless spiritual practices to help you experience God for yourself.

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Sermon- Virtual Reality © 2020 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Get in the Game- Reading God’s Word for Yourself

football players in blue jersey lined under grey white cloudy sky during sunset

Photo by Binyamin Mellish on Pexels.com

It’s time for the big game. How are you going to experience it? Are you going to…

  • Skip it and read about it the next day online?
  • Have someone tell you about it?
  • Watch it on TV?
  • Purchase tickets so you can watch it live from the stands?

What would it be like to actually suit up and get in the game?

How we engage the big game can be a metaphor for our life. Are we going to sit on the sidelines or watch it from afar or step out on the field and engage?

I’ll be honest. The idea of suiting up for a football game is absolutely terrifying to me. I am a wee little person and not in the best of shape.

Then it hits me. How many times have I said that about engaging life itself?

  • I’m not built to do that.
  • I’m not a professional.
  • I’m not trained. I don’t know what I’m doing.
  • I’m too old. I’m too young. I’m too frail. I’m too busy…
  • I don’t want to risk embarrassing myself.
  • I don’t want to hurt the efforts of the team.

The one that usually pops into my mind is, “I don’t want to get hurt.” Engagement goes hand in hand with risk.

We can sit on the sidelines of life. We can also sit on the sidelines of engaging God.

It’s easy to pick a devotional and read it, listen to a podcast, or say “Amen,” at the end of someone’s prayer. It’s easy to watch the preacher preaching, the teacher teaching, the worship musicians singing and playing their instruments for the glory of God. Thanks to online streaming, we don’t even have to change out of our PJ’s.

At their best, these beloved Christian practices draw us into the presence of God. Yet, so often, we are merely observing someone else’s encounter with God. We’re on the sidelines.

There’s nothing which can replace our own encounter with God.

As the old saying goes, “God doesn’t have grandchildren.” Our faith, our engagement must be our own.

You know this. It’s one thing to watch a couple marry. It’s another to be the bride or the groom.

The beauty of this life is encountering God ourselves. The miracle of it all is the Creator of the Universe, our Lord and Savior, wanting us and wanting us in the game.

There are so many ways this can happen. One of the primary ways is through reading the Word of God for yourself.  

There were years and years and years in my own Christian walk where I faithfully read devotion books. Devotion books are great. You read an inspiring testimony. You learn something new. But, they’re someone else’s encounter with God and God’s Word. They’re the view from the sidelines.

My faith changed radically when I started engaging the Word of God for myself. When I suited up and stepped onto the field and sought an encounter with God.

What do you need to read God’s Word for Yourself?

1. You need a plan. Click here for my post on the best Bible reading plan.

2. You need a designated place and time to read. Set an appointment with yourself and God and keep it.

3. You need a Bible Buddy, someone who is also reading the Scriptures. There’s a reason why Weight Watchers and AA works. Never underestimate the power of support and accountability.

4. Discover which type of engagement best works for you- listening to the scripture via an audio Bible, highlighting passages as you read, memorizing scripture, doodling or creating art based on what you read, etc.

I’m a writer, so journaling helps me engage God through God’s Word. My favorite Bible Journaling pattern is SOAP. The SOAP Method for keeping a spiritual journal is practiced by thousands of Christians. It was developed by Wayne Cordeiro, pastor New Hope Christian Fellowship in Hawaii.

S = Scripture
Read the Bible passage for the day. Copy the verse which catches your attention word for word into your journal.

O = Observation

  • What does this passage tell us about God?
  • Our world?
  • Ourselves?

A = Application
How will your life be different today because of what you have read?

  • Lessons to be learned
  • Examples to be followed or avoided
  • Promises to be claimed and enjoyed
  • A character trait of God revealed
  • Deeds to start, continue, or stop

P = Prayer
Include themes from your reading in your prayer time. I like to pray a keyword or theme from the passage over my prayer list. I keep my prayer list in the back of my journal.

I’d love to hear how you’re getting in the game. Leave a comment to encourage and inspire others. – Lisa <><

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Get in the Game- Reading God’s Word for Yourself © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Please leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

 

Why This Plan is the Best Bible Reading Plan

I’ve spent years looking for the perfect Bible reading plan.

  1. Not too much reading per day, not too little
  2. Easy enough for a beginner, challenging enough for a seasoned saint
  3. Five days per week so you can catch up if you miss a day or two.

The search did not bear fruit; it only delayed me reading the Bible at all. (Excellence is a virtue. Perfectionism is its evil, twisted shadow-side.)

Here’s the truth- There is no perfect reading plan.

The important thing is to just read, to intentionally and regularly seek God through God’s Word.

It’s essential. This is how we learn what God’s voice sounds like, who God is, who we are, and what God desires for us. This is how we hear God speak into our lives day after day after day.

So, let’s get reading. 

If you have a favorite Bible Reading Plan great! Use it!

If not, consider using my favorite plan – the Five Day Bible Reading Plan by the good folks at Lower Lights Publications.

Here’s why I think it’s the best.
1. It’s free.

2. They update the reading schedule dates for each new year, but the reading plan itself stays the same.

3. It’s easy to print and slip it into your Bible or journal. (8.5 X 11, folded in half) You could even paste it into a planner or hole-punch it for your planner.

4. There are boxes to check next to each day’s reading assignment and each week’s assignment. (a built-in habit tracker)

5. You can start anytime during the year.

6. It’s designed with grace. There are weeks when I miss a reading day. If I use a 7-day a week plan I get behind and I get discouraged and I drop out. A 5-day reading plan leaves room to catch up and to rest.

7. It’s flexible. Do all the suggested readings and you’ll read through the entire Bible in a year. Or choose just the Old Testament readings or just the New Testament readings. Or choose the Old or New Testament plus the Psalms.

8. In this plan, you often read straight through an entire book of the Bible. There are some exceptions.

9. Big bonus- you read the Bible in chronological order rather than book order. This opens your eyes to the grand sweep of the Biblical narrative. It’s especially helpful to read the overlapping material in 1 2 Samuel, 1 2 Kings, and 1 2 Chronicles side by side. Plus, you will read one of the Gospels in each quarter of the year.

Well, there you have it, the best Bible reading plan I’ve found. I’d love to hear how it works for you.- Lisa <><

Bonus: Check out Steve Harper’s post entitled A Transforming Use of Scripture for insights on our motivation in approaching the Scriptures and the process God uses through Scripture to make us new.

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Why This Plan is the Best Bible Reading Plan © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Please leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Recommended Resource- Pray As You Go

Followers of Jesus nurture their relationship with God by “doing devotions.” We head to the bookstore, or maybe even our local church, to pick up a guide to read on a daily basis. It’s a great way to build a habit of spending time with God and very helpful for stretching us in our understanding of God’s character and Word.

Here’s where it can be problematic:

  • We’re always reading about someone else’s encounter with God in place of having encounters ourselves. We stay at a distance from God.
  • Our devotions become knowledge-driven or emotion-driven rather than Scripture-driven and encounter-driven. We may find what we read interesting, we may be stirred by the story, but are we receiving it as a call to apply spiritual truth to our life?
  • Our prayer life stays shallow if we only use the prayers of others and never practice praying ourselves.
  • We can become forever dependent on an “expert” rather than trusting God wants to speak to us right now, at whatever point we are in our journey of faith.

So do we dump the devotional books/guides and just read the Scripture? Well… Reading Scripture can be a powerful daily devotion option, especially when you use one of these approaches to give you some structure. “Just me and my Bible” can also be intimidating, confusing, and lonely.

It’s no wonder we struggle.

For many of us, we need something in between. We want to encounter God in a transforming way through the Scriptures, but we also need some guidance. I found this in between, this sweet spot of devotional practice, through a resource called Pray as You Go. 

pray as you goPray As You Go is an audio and written prayer practice offered six days per week via a free website and app by Jesuit Media Initiatives. It is helpful for both Catholics and Protestants because it’s so Scripture driven.

  • Each session begins with a bell or chime followed by music to help you settle into a prayerful frame of mind
  • A Scripture is read
  • Reflection questions based on the Scripture are offered with time for you to respond by simply talking or listening to God
  • The Scripture is read again followed by a closing blessing

The aim of Pray as You Go is to help you to:

  • become more aware of God’s presence in your life
  • listen to and reflect on God’s Word
  • grow in your relationship with God

How I find Pray as You Go helpful 

  • Its peaceful meditative tone is a very different tone than my loud, full, rushed day. I need this time of stillness and contemplation.
  • The questions appeal to my imagination. They open me to explore the Scripture, to listen deeply, to engage it for myself. It is an experience. The questions can also challenge me to look at a passage in a new or deeper way.
  • The open-ended questions help me apply what I’m hearing
  • I feel connected to a community of believers rather than by myself. I especially like the music selections from around the world.
  • It uses texts throughout the Bible so I don’t just read my favorite passages
  • I like to settle into a comfortable chair when I use Pray as You Go. Others use it during their morning commute, on a break during the work day, while out for a walk, etc.
  • After the 10-13 minute devotion, I’m motivated to continue praying or journaling

I’d love to hear from you! 

  • Give Pray as You Go a try. How was the experience?
  • What is your current devotional practice? How is it helpful to you?
  • How have your devotional practices changed as you’ve matured in faith?

May the Lord bless you and bring strength and transformation into your life through your devotional practices. – Lisa <><

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Recommendation- Pray As You Go © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

You Can Read the Bible: Three Approaches

South Sudan Bible Reading by Steve Evans via Wikimedia Commons

South Sudan Bible Reading by Steve Evans via Wikimedia Commons

I. You Can Read the Bible by Steve Harper
One of the biggest mistakes we have made with the Bible is leaving the impression that only scholars can correctly interpret it. Everything is made so layered, nuanced, and complex that many folks instantly feel they lack the “training” and “horsepower” to make it through all the mazes.

So, they either stop trying or they become passive and wait for the “experts” to tell them what’s “right.” But the fact is, the Bible is intended to be understandable! The original languages do contain levels of insight, but their essential meanings are accessible to us all.

Here is a way to make it so in your personal reading and in your conversations with others. Take a passage, read it, and ask:
(1) What is the big idea?
(2) Why is it important?
(3) Where does it presently connect with my life–or–why is it not a part of me?
(4) Should it be part of me? If so, how can I continue (or begin) to put it into practice?

Most Bible passages will “bear fruit” when these questions are applied to them, either in private or in a group. And when you add to your own inductive study the additional resources of concordances, dictionaries, maps, and commentaries, you will find the messages of scripture influencing your life day after day.

II. SOAP
The SOAP Method for keeping a spiritual journal is practiced by thousands of Christians. I first learned of it from Wayne Cordeiro, pastor New Hope Christian Fellowship in Hawaii. For more information on this simple and powerful way of engaging the Word of God, click here for the video on their website.

Here’s a brief summary of the process.
S = Scripture
Read the Bible passage for the day. Copy the verse which catches your attention word for word in your journal.

O = Observation
Write a brief description of what is going on in the passage you read.

A = Application
Write about how your life will be different today because of what you have read.
• Lessons to be learned
• Examples to be followed or avoided
• Promises to be claimed and enjoyed
• A character trait of God revealed

P = Prayer
Write out a prayer for yourself and others based on what you read today.

III. Lectio Divina explained by Whitney R. Simpson in his book Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit
The words Lectio Divina are Latin for “holy reading.”

This ancient prayer practice includes the following steps:
lectio (“to read”)
meditatio (“to reflect”)
oratio (“to respond”)
and contemplatio (“to rest”).

Lectio Divina allows you to listen for God’s activity using scripture and to connect to God through the ancient Word while delving into a particular passage.

The practice of Lectio Divina focuses on formational reading of scripture, as opposed to informational reading. Formational reading invites the text to shape you, while informational reading invites you to understand the text. Though both types of reading can be useful on a spiritual journey, the art of Lectio Divina allows you to interact with God’s Word through meditating on a passage and listening for God’s leading.

My personal journey has been shaped by spending time in the Word using Lectio Divina. Through this practice, I have realized how scripture can speak to my life regardless of what I am facing. Lectio Divina has allowed me to see and hear God in new ways.

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So, let’s get reading. Here are three simple reading plans to get you started. Each will take you through the New Testament in one year. It’s especially helpful to start with the New Testament if you are new to Bible reading.

1. New Testament Reading Plan- Bible order
This plan will take you through the New Testament in the order in which it is printed in the Bible. Easy. Just read straight through.

2. New Testament Reading Plan- event order
This plan will take you through the New Testament in the order in which the events most likely happened. You’ll jump from chapter to chapter in different books in this plan. Is it scholarly perfect, no, but it is helpful for those of us who want a chronological approach to Jesus’ life and the lives of the first believers. (We aren’t getting caught in the perfectionism trap. If this sounds interesting, go for it.)

3. New Testament Reading Plan- mixed
This plan spreads the Gospel readings throughout the year with the other books mixed in between. Even though you skip around the New Testament in this plan, you will read a book at a time.

Click Here for more information on today’s featured image, South Sudan Bible Reading by Steve Evans