Sermon- Stillness (Psalm 46)

Sermon Series Seeking God 1110 x 624

Sermon Series: Seeking God
Message 5 of 5: Stillness
Scriptures: Psalm 46
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 2/23/2020 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida. Click Here for a video of the entire contemporary worship service, including the message.

From Screens to Stillness: Challenge of the Screens, a selection from Becky Eldredge’s terrific blog
Our world drastically changed on January 9, 2007. What happened on this date? Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, stood at a press conference and announced that Apple had reinvented the phone. He said it had software for everything, the world’s best media player, the world’s best telephone, and the world’s best way to get on the web, and in addition to that, it had a camera.

Just a few months prior to this announcement in January 2007, Facebook opened its doors to all above the age of thirteen in September 2006. Later in 2007, Twitter began. Google launched the Android phone in 2007 as well. Amazon came out with the Kindle. Mobile traffic drastically increased- 100,000% from 2007 to 2014.

So much changed in a short amount of time about how we communicate, how we interact, and how we go about building relationships. An article I read once in Forbes magazine stated that on average we get 121 emails a day, and we check our phones every twelve minutes. That’s over 80 times a day! The article said that for every interruption it takes us fifteen minutes to refocus. Our brains are exhausted from continually pulling in and out of focus all day….

While there is a gift to technology, the advent of the handheld screen is impacting our bodies, our health, our creativity, our mental health, and so much more. As I follow business literature I am seeing more and more being written about the value of pausing, of silence, and of being still. Every time I read a new book or article about this, I chuckle. The “medicine” they are offering people is the tried and true contemplative prayer practices our Christian faith has lauded for hundreds of years. It’s the medicine people taught me these past two decades, and I passionately want to share with others. I believe people are longing to live a different way and to have tools to help them combat the busyness and embrace the gift of stillness and silence.

I believe this, too. In the midst of trouble, stress, need, and a big pile of work, my last instinct is to be still. God invites me to cultivate stillness as my first instinct.

I’m learning how to do this and I hope you are learning right along with me. Since we began this sermon series, I established a new morning rhythm of Sacred Reading, Scripture, and Stillness. Already it’s making a huge difference.

I am different on the days I practice my morning rhythm than when I don’t. It’s simple. It’s classically Christian. It is Biblical and available for all of us.

Psalm 46:10-11
“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge

Definition of Contemplative Prayer by Becky Eldredge, From Screens to Stillness: Embracing Silence and Stillness in the Day-to-Day
Contemplative prayer in the Christian tradition is about being still and silent with someone-God. We do not enter silence, stillness, and solitude alone. We go to be with someone.

For me, stillness is about recognizing the presence of God who is already there. This is what makes our practice of stillness different than practices outside the Christian tradition. Other practices seek answers within a person’s own self or seek to connect to larger energies or “universe.”

We seek the person and presence of God. We become still enough to realize the Lord of Hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is not angry or distant but is our refuge.

Jennifer Gehman’s Testimony. Find Jenny at www.jennygehman.com
I’m part of an online group of Christian authors know as Bookwifery. We meet for an hour on Fridays to encourage one another, resource one another and pray for one another.

Jenny and her family have been praying about a major life change for her family- moving to a new city and a new job. Her word for the year is SOAR, yet all she could visualize was an eagle protecting its young. The wings folded over, wrapped around.

It makes sense. She cares for an adult child with special needs. She also has a strong hospitality calling, so she’s constantly welcoming people into her home.

She kept going to God in stillness. The Holy Host as she describes God. This past week this is what she heard- SOAR, Sweetheart, open and rise.

Do you hear the invitation in that? The affirmation. Not condemnation or mocking. An invitation to a new adventure, a new perspective, a bigger picture. They have decided to move and take on the new job.

There are a zillion questions yet to be answered, yet as she told the story her face lit up. She was almost giggling giddy. We all felt the lift, the soar of it.

It all came from stillness. This is for all of us.

Psalm 46
God’s Defense of His City and People. To the leader. Of the Korahites. According to Alamoth. A Song.

1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

Selah-(See-lah), it’s like breath. We’re not sure exactly what it means, but we suspect it means “stop and listen.” Stop and listen to the instruments? Stop and listen in the silence? Whatever it was, it was “stop and listen to God and let this promise sink in.”

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
    God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

8 Come, behold the works of the Lord;
    see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Three times the Psalmist reminds us that God is our refuge and strength. (Psalm 46:1, 7, and 11) Our Deliverer. Our Savior.⁠

Three times the Psalmist reminds us God is near. A very present help- well proved.⁠

Knowing this we can be still and know God is God⁠
I AM, exalted among the nations⁠
I AM, exalted in the earth (Psalm 46:10)⁠

Knowing this we can be still⁠
⁠There’s no need to self-medicate with busyness and distraction
There’s no need to hustle for our self-worth or salvation
⁠There’s no need to fear our dependence on God
⁠There’s no need to fear what might come up in the stillness

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Knowing this about God brings us to stillness and brings us stillness.

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

A Bible Reading Plan for Lent, based on the Gospel of Matthew

brown book page

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Lent is a season of preparation leading to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter. It’s forty days long, not counting Sundays since every Sunday is a little Easter.

Many people give up something for Lent. (dessert, alcohol, bread, smoking, candy, meat, cursing, gambling, etc.) They fast a certain food or habit in remembrance of Jesus’ forty-day fast at the beginning of his ministry. Some folks use this fast to jumpstart a permanent fast of an unhealthy habit.

Other folks choose to start a holy or wholesome habit for Lent. (prayer, charitable giving, service to others, stillness, sabbath, fasting, regular worship attendance, etc.)

If you aren’t already reading scripture on a regular basis, I encourage you to chose this holy habit for Lent with the hopes it will become a regular part of your life.

Below you’ll find a Bible Reading Plan for Lent based on the Gospel of Matthew. It contains 30 Lenten readings (5 per week for 6 weeks starting on the first Sunday of Lent) plus 10 Easter readings about Jesus’ post-resurrection encounters. (5 per week for 2 weeks). These readings fit nicely in a two-month grouping.

I hope the reading plan is helpful for you. I’d love to hear how you’re using it. – Lisa <><

PS- If you don’t own a Bible, or need a translation of the Bible which is easy to read, consider using Bible Gateway. This is a free website and app with many excellent translations. (I like NRSV and The Voice) Click Here for a video demonstrating the site.

CLICK HERE for a PDF of the reading plan suitable for printing. 

Use these prompts as you read each Scripture.
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.

CONNECTION: What connections do you see to other scriptures? To your own experience or current situation? To the character or promises of God?

ACTION: What is God inviting you to say or do? How will your life be different because of this scripture?

PRAY: Talk to God about what you just experienced or anything else on your heart.

Week 1 of Lent: March 1 – March 7

  • Matthew 1
  • Matthew 2
  • Matthew 3
  • Matthew 4
  • Matthew 5

Week 2 of Lent: March 8 – March 14

  • Matthew 6
  • Matthew 7
  • Matthew 8
  • Matthew 9
  • Matthew 10

Week 3 of Lent: March 15 – March 21

  • Matthew 11
  • Matthew 12
  • Matthew 13
  • Matthew 14
  • Matthew 15

Week 4 of Lent: March 22 – March 28

  • Matthew 16
  • Matthew 17
  • Matthew 18
  • Matthew 19
  • Matthew 20

Week 5 of Lent: March 29 –  April 4

  • Matthew 21
  • Matthew 22
  • Matthew 23
  • Matthew 24
  • Matthew 25

Holy Week: April 5 – April 11

  • Matthew 26:1-35
  • Matthew 26:36-56
  • Matthew 26:57-75
  • Matthew 27:1-31
  • Matthew 27:32-66

Week 1 of Easter: April 12 – April 18

  • John 20:1-18
  • John 20:19-31
  • John 21:1-14
  • John 21:15-25
  • Mark 16

Week 2 of Easter: April 19 – April 25

  • Luke 24:1-12
  • Luke 24:13-35
  • Luke 24:36-53
  • Matthew 28:1-10
  • Matthew 28:11-20

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A Bible Reading Plan for Lent, based on the Gospel of Matthew
© 2020 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work with proper attribution. (by Lisa Degrenia http://www.revlisad.com) Please leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Sermon- Self Reflection (2 Corinthians 3)

Sermon Series Seeking God 1110 x 624

Sermon Series: Seeking God
Message 4 of 5: Self Reflection
Scriptures: 2 Corinthians 13:5; Lamentations 3:40-41; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 2/2/2020 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida. Click Here for a video of the entire traditional worship service, including the message.

I have absolutely no control over the middle of my day. Every day is different. The unplanned and unexpected happen regularly. The only part of my day I have any possibility of anchoring is the beginning and end of my day, the bookends.

What I’m starting to do, and invite you to do, is to anchor, to ground the bookends of our day with spiritual practices that keep us connected to God.

I need these practices so that when the unexpected happens, troubles or joys, I’m ready for it spiritually.

Testimony of the Death of Hal Stanton
The death of the faithful is not a tragedy. It’s, of course, sad and we grieve. We love and we miss Hal.

But Hal was ready. He had conversations the days before his death that were full of peace, hope, gratitude, and love. His wife Margot was ready. This doesn’t diminish the sadness or grieving. We have the sadness and grieving while we are also anchored in the promises and hope of heaven. It can be both at the same time.

Hal’s kids were ready. While we were gathered around his hospital bed last night, we sang his favorite hymn, we spoke to him and held his hand, we prayed, and it was peace. We were all moving forward together in the light, love, and presence of God.

I want to be ready. I want to be ready to serve and love and have a good word from God. And I want to be ready when its time to go home to heaven. By the grace and power of Almighty God, we can be.

If I had to start from absolute scratch with spiritual practices, what would be the first three I would want to know, practice and teach? These timeless three create a sacred rhythm in our lives: Scripture, Stillness, and Self Reflection.

Scripture
We all need a scripture reading plan to read the Word of God for ourselves. In reading the Word of God we begin to know what’s God’s voice and what isn’t. We get grounded in the promises of God and the character of God. We’re strengthened by the stories of God’s people.

Click Here for a great reading plan for beginners
Click Here for a plan that covers the entire Bible

Stillness
Stop and spend time with God no agenda. We come simply, openly, honestly, just as we are. Our world is busy, full, and loud. I need stillness to remember- Be still and know that I am God and that I’m not God.

Click Here for last week’s message on stillness

Self-Reflection
Start your day with Scripture Reading and Silence. End your day by reflecting on it with God

All of these practices, including self-reflection, are rooted in Scripture.
2 Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?…

The presence of God is with us and in us and through us.

Lamentations 3:40-41
Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands to God in heaven.

2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

The practices of scripture, stillness, and self-reflection bring us freedom. All of us can have unveiled faces before God. We can take off the mask and be real and honest. These practices bring transformation in our lives- we are made new, we are healed, we are forgiven, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

These practices are not only rooted in scripture but are also practiced throughout the history of God’s people. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), the founder of the Jesuits, wrote a set of reflection questions. They’re wonderful. They’re known as The Examen and are still used today.

John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of Methodism, wrote 22 questions. John’s an overachiever and a little compulsive. These questions are also wonderful and still used today.

Our set of 8 questions are a mixture of questions from many sources. They have the essence of Ignatius’ Examen and Wesley’s questions.

Self Reflection is a new practice for me. I start my day with scripture and stillness and end my day with self-reflection. Bookends. This is the sacred rhythm I’m trying out. Find the sacred rhythm that works for you.

When I did the self-reflection questions right before bed, I found I was way too tired. So I moved the practice to the end of my workday to help me transition from work to home.

Here’s what I noticed since using the self-reflection questions
It helps me decompress from the day.
It keeps me awake and alive in the Holy Spirit.
It helps me to be more intentional- eyes to see, ears to hear

I also noticed the longer I keep to the practice, the richer it becomes. It started off simple, even superficial. But as the days passed, I began to trust myself more so I could be more honest with myself. I also began to trust I could be more and more honest with God.

Let’s walk through the questions.

1. What happened today?
Make a quick bullet list or write a narrative

2. Glory Sighting: Where did you see evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in others? In and through you?
This helps us not gloss over God’s presence. We practice seeing God, praising God, and testifying to it.

3. What did you read/hear/learn?
Christians are lifelong learners. Jesus was a teacher. We are students. We are disciples.

4. What are you thankful for?
Gratitude opens us to the joy of the Lord which is our strength.

5. How are you feeling emotionally?
Be honest and seek Christ’s perspective

6. Where did you miss a Spirit-led opportunity of loving God, others, and yourself?
This is a lovely way of saying, “Where did you blow it today? Where did you embarrass the family of God?” 

We need a point of confession. There’s something about writing it down which relieves the burden of guilt (real or false). I’m not trying to hide it from God or take care of it in my own strength. There’s an old phrase, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” God please heal me, forgive me, and help me.

7. What are you asking the Holy Spirit to do in you and through you?
This is the question of mission, purpose, and call. God help me fulfill your plan for me.

8. What will you do tomorrow to be more available to the movement of the Holy Spirit?
This is intention and action. By doing it late in the day, you already have the intention for the next day.

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

John Wesley’s 22 Self-Reflection Questions

selective focus photo of magnifying glass

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Self-reflection was a founding and foundational practice of the early Methodists. John Wesley, Methodism’s main founder, wrote these 22 questions in 1729 for the private devotional use of the Holy Club, a group of Oxford University students who sought to live the fullness of the Christian life they read about in the Bible. These students became the leaders of early Methodism.

It’s amazing how fresh and useful the questions are today, even though they’re almost 300 years old. If you’re considering adding self-reflection questions to your spiritual practices, these questions would be a great choice. They’re timeless and proven. You could use all of them daily or a few each day so you cover all of them over the course of a week. – Lisa <><

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
  3. Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told to me in confidence?
  4. Can I be trusted?
  5. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
  6. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
  7. Did the Bible live in me today?
  8. Do I give it time to speak to me every day?
  9. Am I enjoying prayer?
  10. When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?
  11. Do I pray about the money I spend?
  12. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  13. Do I disobey God in anything?
  14. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  15. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  16. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?
  17. How do I spend my spare time?
  18. Am I proud?
  19. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?
  20. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
  21. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
  22. Is Christ real to me?

Sermon- Quiet Your Soul (Psalm 131)

Sermon Series Seeking God 1110 x 624

Sermon Series: Seeking God
Message 3 of 5: Quiet Your Soul
Scripture: Psalm 131
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 1/26/2020 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida. Click Here for a video of the entire worship service, including the message.

If your brain was an animal, what would it be?
There are times when my brain resembles an animal more than a human.

  • A monkey brain- reacting rather than responding to the new or unexpected
  • A hamster on a wheel brain in constant motion- thinking, planning, working and it won’t stop
  • A squirrel brain- distracted, chasing this thought or feeling then chasing another one
  • A dog brain- grabbing hold of an idea or feeling (like resentment) and it won’t let go

What do we long for? We long for peace of mind.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5)

We long peace of mind, for quietness.
Even something deeper than that, rest for our souls.
The good news is we can have it no matter the season or circumstance.

Matthew 11:28-30
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Let’s hear the testimony of Ruth Haley Barton on how she found rest for her soul. Ruth Haley Barton, author of Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence and the book Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation.

I didn’t have a jar of river water, but Pam was kind enough to loan me her snowglobe. This snowglobe settles in about 10 seconds. In practicing solitude and silence I don’t settle this quickly. It’s a new practice for me. I’m learning.

What I do know is that I need it. The idea that we can be all jumbled up inside and settle into a quietness of the soul is a promise and gift of God. These practices are ancient. They are not new nor new age. We’ve just forgotten them or never been taught them.

Rest for our souls- The Christian Practice of Solitude and Silence. Some refer to it as Christian Contemplation, Contemplative Prayer, or Christian Meditation. I like the word stillness. It sounds more approachable.

What is it? We stop. We stop making demands on God. We stop making demands on ourselves. We leave productivity and accomplishment behind for a time. It’s being rather than doing.

We stop and spend time with God. God is God. God is present and waiting. I belong to God.

Psalm 131- a song of quiet trust. A song of ascents used as folks made their way up the mountain range between Jericho and Jerusalem. They were heading to Jerusalem for worship at the Temple. A song of David, the shepherd king, the man after God’s own heart. (Acts 13:22)

Psalm 131, NRSV
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.

The Psalm is directed to God, as is the Christian practice of Solitude, Silence, and Stillness. Notice how striving and achieving are left behind- my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not too high. I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. 

There is humility. There is dependence, as a child.

We had a preschool party recently. It was baby palooza, so many babies. One of the moms asked if I wanted to hold her baby and I said, “YES!” I had the joy of holding a three-month-old baby Elias, a nugget of love. He came to me and nestled in.

My soul is calmed and quieted like a weaned child with its mother. 

The Christian practice of Solitude, Silence, and Stillness is very different than the practice of Eastern Meditation. In our practice, we are seeking God and stopping. In Eastern practice, I am doing. I am striving for self.  All I need is within me. I can heal myself. I can attain a higher state of consciousness. I empty my mind. I control my breathing. I control my emotions. I control myself. (notice all the I’s)

How to Practice Stillness. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands palms up on your lap. This is a posture of openness and receiving. Set a timer for 5-20 minutes. Take a deep breath. Gaze on God and allow God to gaze on you. As your mind is distracted, center back on gazing at God.

Distracted, by Steve Garnaas Holmes
Sometimes you are distracted by your prayers,
your desires pulling so many ways
like chores, the must, the ought,
the please oh please,
the wouldn’t it be better if.

Forget your prayers
and pay attention to the Beloved,
sit without purpose,
simply gaze,
and be without excuse
beheld.

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