Sermon- Virtual Faith (Matthew 2)

Sermon Series Seeking God 1110 x 624

Sermon Series: Seeking God
Message 1 of 6: 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.

Learning to Pray- Three P’s for a Richer Prayer Life

Praise Proclaim Promise

The longer I seek God, the more there is to find. It seems I get my head around one aspect of God’s character and another mystery appears. I feel the welcome of God’s tenderness and patience. Then I start discovering the rest of God’s protection and encouragement. Next, it’s learning to walk in God’s strength and guidance.

But what am I to do with God’s transcendent power and holiness and glory.
What am I to do with WOW?

“Wow means we are not dulled to wonder. … Wonder takes our breath away and makes room for new breath. That’s why they call it breathtaking.”
– Anne Lamott in Help, Thanks, Wow

To wonder, to WOW, is to be alive. It’s having eyes to see and hearts to thrill and souls quickening to respond. It’s Isaiah overwhelmed by a vision of God seated on the heavenly throne. (Isaiah 6:1-8). It’s Moses encountering God in a burning bush, a presence so near and divine he must remove his shoes for even the ground is made holy. (Exodus 3:5-6)

WOW is also found in small things, like the tiny toes of a baby or the stillness of a deep blue night, or a belly laugh spewing mashed potatoes across the diner counter.

The “size” of the inspiration doesn’t matter. What matters is how it awakens us. How it connects us to being fully alive. How we pause to acknowledge the One who makes it possible.

Classically, acknowledging God in this way is called praise. It’s often accompanied by proclamation and naming/claiming God’s promises. (3 P’s)

Don’t let the fancy church words intimidate you. Your acknowledgment doesn’t have to be profound or formal. It’s as simple as finishing a sentence.

Finish this sentence. God, you are… 
This is how we praise God. We acknowledge who God is by naming God or an attribute of God. This can come from the scriptures or you can create it yourself.

God, you are the Light of the World. God, you are King of Kings. God, you are mighty. God, you are loving. God, you are near. 

Now finish this sentence. God, you have…
This is how we proclaim God’s power, goodness, and blessing. It’s a form of testimony, of bearing witness. It may be something you read in the scriptures, saw in the news, or heard from a friend. It may be something you witnessed firsthand.

God, you have heard the cry of the needy. God, you have made a way in the wilderness. God, you have brought me healing and hope.

Finish this last sentence. God, you will…
This is how we claim God’s promises. We’ve acknowledged who God is and what God has done. Now we acknowledge that God will continue to be God and will continue to work all things for good. The promises of the scriptures and the testimonies of others are for you and for all.

God, you will never leave me. God, you will hear the cries of my heart. God, you will walk with me all my days, you will raise me to new life now. God, you will lead me home to heaven. 

David Crowder in his book Praise Habit sums it up this way.
Let the knowledge of His transcendence bring us back to life. Let it flow like blood to sleeping limbs, and feel them tingle as they awake in awe. Shake life back into your hands and let them clap of His goodness. Shake life back into your legs and let them carry you running with wind and thunder. Shake life back into your chest and let your heart beat in pounding reverence. Let praise come face to ground, trembling with life and awareness that we are found by a holy God.

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas, dear ones. In the comments, share how you’re finishing these sentences. May these simple sentences bring you fully alive now and all year long. – Lisa <><

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This is the third in a series of posts on Learning to Pray. Click here for the first post, God, Please Help. Click here for the second post, Thank You, God.

Learning to Pray- God, You Are © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
by Lisa Degrenia (www.revlisad.com)
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Learning to Pray- Thank you, God

Thank you god for

Imagine yourself as a little child. You didn’t need to be taught how to ask for help. You were born knowing how. Asking for help was as natural as breathing. We just have to remember to ask.

What wasn’t so natural was saying, “Thank you.” We have to be taught and reminded.

Consider this moving truth about saying, “thank you” by author Ann Voskamp.
“All the brokenness in the world begins with the act of forgetting — forgetting that God is enough, forgetting that what He gives is good enough, forgetting that there is always more than enough to give thanks for.”

Wow! So, learning to pray is actually re-membering. This takes place when we remember to give thanks.

Finish this sentence. Thank you, God, for…
Finish it ten times. Ten thousand times.
Literally, count your blessings.
We re-member by remembering the goodness in our lives.

Now finish this sentence. Thank you, God, for your…
That one extra word shifts our attention to the One who provides every goodness.
We re-remember by remembering the Giver and the gift.

Ann Voskamp continues
“Though we forget, though we’re prone to chronic soul amnesia, You never forget us, You never abandon us, You never give up on us. You have written us, our very names, on the palm of Your hands, written even me right into You — though we forget, You re-member us, You put us & the broken bits & members of us back together again. We are re-membered in You — You who engrave Your love letter to us right into Your skin…. right into Your beating heart.”

Wow again.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear ones. In the comments, share how you’re finishing these sentences. May these simple sentences help you re-member and give thanks all year long. – Lisa <><

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This is the second in a series of posts on Learning to Pray. Click here for the first post, God, please help.

Learning to Pray- Thank you, God © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Palms Down, Palms Up ― A Prayer of Letting Go

left human hand photo

Photo by Jonas Ferlin on Pexels.com

A few short weeks ago I discovered Kaisa Stenberg-Lee on Instagram. I was immediately struck by her tender spirit and creative, hands-on prayer practices. I’m thrilled to welcome her to the blog today and for you to get to know her and her work through this guest post.

Kaisa is a gifted spiritual director and workshop leader, born in Finland, educated in the Netherlands and Wales, and now serving in Denver, Colorado. Kaisa also enjoys “walking in nature, drinking tea, reading, trying new Korean cooking recipes, biking, embroidering, watercolor painting or whatever other craft my hands have landed on at the time.”

This post was originally written for and published here. Be sure to check out her other writings and prayer resources on her beautiful website, Kutsu CompanionsMay you have a powerful experience with God through this simple practice. – Lisa <><

Palms Down, Palms Up ― A Prayer of Letting Go
This simple prayer is supported by bodily movements that express the inner postures of the heart. I have modified Richard Foster’s “Palms Down, Palms Up” prayer, and added some elements to it. In essence, this prayer helps us to bring our worries to Jesus and express our longings to him.

The Prayer follows four movements:
1. Hands on the stomach for grounding and tuning into our inner center. 2. Hands on the lap, palms facing down as a symbol of releasing and letting go of concerns and worries.

3. Hands on the lap, palms up to signal readiness and desire to receive from God.

4. Hands on the heart to express gratitude.

“Palms Down, Palms Up” Guided Prayer
1. Settle down and sit comfortably on a chair or cushion. Close your eyes. Gently place your hands on your stomach. Take a few deep breaths. Notice how your body moves to the rhythm of your breath. Deepen your breath so that you can feel it fill your chest, stomach and rib cage with air.

Now start paying attention to the whole of your body, your feelings, and thoughts. Do you notice any tension, pain, numbness or tightness in your body? Does anything worry you or make you afraid? What else do you feel? Where can you feel those emotions in your body?

2. Lower your hands to your lap, palms facing down. Let this turning of the hands be a symbol of your wish to turn any worries or concerns that you might have to God. Give the worries to God and say to him in your own words quietly: “I let go of this … frustration/ anger/ fear/ worry/ guilt, or whatever it is that you want to let go off,” and give it to God. Don’t rush this. Keep turning those things over to God as long as they keep coming to your mind. God is near. He is reaching out to take over the carrying of your burdens.

Can you let go of your fears and worries? Can you trust him to carry them for you?

3. Once you have handed over your burdens to God, and your mind has come to a still, turn your palms up as a sign that you are now ready to receive from God.

Relax, and imagine placing your hands, palms up, into God’s caring hands. Feel how you are being held by God. You don’t need to go anywhere or do anything. You are safe. You can fully relax and trust that you will be taken care of, and that you will be provided for. Enjoy the feeling of God holding your hands in his hands, and loving you.

Imagine God gently whispering to you, “(Your name…), what do you want?” Tell him in the quiet of your heart what you desire. What do you want him to do for you?

Wait for His response. You might feel like he has something to say to you too, or that he simply wants you to know that he cares for you and that you are safe with him.

4. Finally, lift your hands to your heart and thank God for being with you and loving you.

Resources:
Seeking the Kingdom, Devotions for the Daily Journey of Faith by Richard Foster
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

Learning to Pray- God, please help

God please help October

God, please help… for many of us, it’s our first prayer, our first time reaching out to God. It comes in the midst of tears or as a whisper in the night or a cry of anguish when we are in way over our heads.

Help, I lost my job
Help, I’m losing my mind
Help my kid to love me again
I’m so lonely, help me
I don’t know what to do, help
Help, I have cancer
Help, she’s going to leave me
This pain is unbearable, help me
Help, I can’t do this
help, I can’t stop doing this
Help, I hate my life

We don’t have to be taught how to ask for help. We’re born knowing how. We know how to cry out for a diaper change, or a bottle, or to be burped. Help! It’s as natural as breathing.

But somewhere along the way we grow up and start taking care of ourselves. We start buying into the myth we can become educated enough, rich enough, powerful enough not to need help.

The truth is we all need help. We will always need help.

Even Jesus asked for help. He often went off alone to pray so we don’t know what he said then. But we do know what he prayed on the Mount of Olives in Gethsemane the night before his death. (Matthew 26) He was vulnerable and honest in asking God for help and asking for help from his companions.

In her wonderful book Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers, Ann Lamott said, “There’s freedom in hitting bottom, in seeing that you won’t be able to save or rescue your daughter, her spouse, his parents, or your career, relief in admitting you’ve reached the place of great unknowing. This is where restoration can begin, because when you’re still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged: the chatter of your mind, the tension of your physiology, all the trunks and wheel-ons you carry from the past. It’s exhausting, crazy-making. Help. Help us walk through this. Help us come through. It is the first great prayer.”

The truth is we all need help. We will always need help. When we know this and accept it, asking for help can again become as natural as breathing. In the asking, we realize God is already there, close as breath.

So let’s learn to pray by re-learning to pray.
It’s not important how you say it.
Just say it – real, raw, honest.
It’s as easy as finishing a sentence-
God, please help…

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Learning to Pray- God, please help © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.