What's Next? Week One: "Experiencing God"


Today we are launching a brand new sermon series entitled "What's Next?"  

As we come to the end of 2020---it's okay, you can sort of cheer out loud at those words... I get it.  2020 has been a dumpster fire of a year.  It's almost over, we'll get through it... 

But as we come to the end of this year we need to face a very hard truth.  We have no idea what the next year is going to bring.  It could be another dumpster fire for all we know.  So how do we find our way forward into what comes next, especially when all of the ways we used to mark and measure success have been burned in the aformentioned dumpster.  

How do we discover purpose and direction in life when everything we used to use as a guide has changed?  That's going to be the focus of this series.  I think it's pretty timely, quite honestly.  Let's step into it together. 

Today we are going to be talking about what it means to experience God even in the middle of chaos, and noise and distractions of all kinds.  

And the verse we are going to be using as our guide is a verse that is typically used to exhort people to find quiet, and peace... to be still... 

But what if that's a bit hard to do?  What if there is all kinds of noise in our life?  And what if the noise is all the news that is competing for our attention?  

There's an old saying that has been bandied about over the decades when it comes to what makes the news cycles, viral videos and the like... If it bleeds, it leads.  In other words, the more sensational and outrageous the news---the more it moves to the front of the line in terms of what gets to the airwaves.  

There is a dark art to keeping people's attention in our current culture, and it is having some devastating results.  We are constantly being bombarded with sensationalism all of the time.  Cable news networks spend considerable energy trying to keep us anxious, afraid, angry and tuned in.  

But what is the long term affect of all of this news and noise?  

Quite simply it's PTSD, acute Stress and even compromised immune systems.  

Dr. Carole Lieberman, who has studied the psychological affects of long term exposure to constant sensational news says this: 

“Most news focuses on scary stuff to get people to tune in. They’ve got to get your attention and keep it, and so they use headlines, stories and images that are the scariest possible to portray an event."

She cites research following the 9/11 attacks which showed that watching repeated news coverage of the event triggered post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in viewers who were not actually present near ground zero.

Another study, published in 2011 in the British Journal of Psychology, found that the ill effects of watching bad news were evident after only 14 minutes, and that bombarding yourself for hours a day is even worse.

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing demonstrated that result. Data taken from telephone surveys found that people who watched more than six hours per day of news covering the bombing had worse acute stress symptoms than those who had actually been present at, or near, the bombing site.

Holly Sawyer, a licensed psychotherapist and addiction specialist in Philadelphia, noted that those who are already struggling with mental health issues should really limit their exposure to news.

“For those who suffer from depression and anxiety, watching the news, especially twenty-four-hour news, can worsen their symptoms. If you’re already feeling hopeless or anxious, the news just increases this feeling.” 

And then she said this: 

“The more stressed a person is, the more their immune system is weakened, so this makes them more vulnerable to catching coronavirus. Therefore, watching round-the-clock news about coronavirus actually makes people more vulnerable to it.”

So what are we to do?  

Here's a clue from the book of 1 Kings in the Hebrew Scripture---a story of how the prophet Elijah was stressed, anxious, fearful, full of dread and on the run.  He tried to find God's presence in the midst of his anxiety by hiding in a cave on Mt. Sinai where he found a whirlwind, and an earthquake instead.  

The story tells us that in the midst of the earthquake and the whirlwind there was what is described as a "sound of sheer silence."  It was then that Elijah knew that God was present.   What does it take to get us to that place of "sheer silence" in the midst of the news and noise? 

Experiencing God is no easy task in this day and age.  But the passage of Scripture that we're taking a look at today offers us some guidance.  And it also helps us to do these very important things taht we'll be coming back to as the main idea for the sermon today:  

Slow Down.  Sit Still.  Stay Open.  

The verse that we are going to be using as our guide today is Psalm 46:10 which reads like this:  

God says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

That's a pretty familiar verse, right?  But we need to understand that this particular line is part of a larger exhortation to the nations.  God is essentially saying to the superpowers, the governments, the kings of the day... Stand still and recognize that you are not God.  

But there is something here for all of us, for sure.  Because each of us would benefit from that Divine advice---to recognize that there is a God and we are not that God. 

First, let's look at the words "Be Still."  These words are literally translated as "Let go, surrender, relax, quiet yourself."  It doesn't necessarily mean "Go somewhere quiet."  After all, it might be impossible in your current circumstances to find space for quiet.  No, this means "quiet yourself." 

Elijah found the sound of sheer silence in the middle of turmoil, and the implication here is that so can we.  The world can be chaos all around us, but we can find quiet within ourselves, stillness within our souls, the ability to shut all of that news and noise out and get centered. 

Second, let's look at the words "And Know."  This is about internalizing or embodying the truth fully.  It's about more than head knowledge.  This is knowledge that you hbe deep within you.  

Again, this isn't about needing to be silent or quiet to experience God.  It's about having a quieted spirit to recognize God anywhere--even in the noise.  

So how do we figure this out.  It goes back to our big idea for today:  Slow Down. Sit Still.  Stay Open. 

First Slow Down:  You don't need to do less---just do what you do well, and slow it all down. 

I guarantee you that if those of us who have gotten used to doing 100 things at once all at 100 mph just slowed down, focused on one (or two) things at a time---and cut out the distractions, we'd find that we are able to accomplish just as much without all of the stress.   Quieting ourselves inside also means giving ourselves a break.   

Second, Sit Still: There is a reason why the fourth commandment gets so much space in the teachings about the ten commandments in Exodus.  We need some Sabbath in our lives, and it can't just be a day off now and then.  Sabbath-keeping is a lifestyle.  It's a necessity.  And in Exodus, God doesn't pull any punches when God says to the people of Israel, "If you don't figure this out, you'll die."  

Sabbath-keeping is a matter of life and death.  Sometimes even in the midst of the chaos of the news and noise around us, we need to hold the Sabbath in our hearts.   And sometimes you just need a day, man.  

Finally, Stay Open: One of the addictive things about constantly being plugged in and tuned in is the illusion that by watching or taking in more and more we will somehow be informed, educated, and eventually can be proved right about all of the things we believe to be true anyway.  

Sadly, most of us live in an echo chamber, so we basically hear what we want to hear.  Most of us have our minds made up and our opinions formed long before we start watching or listening, but we do it in order to be convinced of our rightness.  And the stories of those who stand in opposition to our rightness serve to keep us agitated and angry enough to keep watching.  

If you want to stay open, you need to realize you dont know everything, and that's a positive thing.  

Here's how to begin finding the sound of God's sheer silence in the midst of the news and noise. 

1.  Find a new, less anxious and sensational news provider. 
2.  Limit your exposure---stay off social media. 
3.  Don't watch after 6PM---remember when that used to be a thing?  

Slow Down.  Sit Still.  Stay Open.   

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