Goats, Screens, and Silence



Speaker 1 (00:00):
Our scripture reading today is going to come from the book of Psalms, Psalm 16, hear the word of the Lord. Keep me safe. My God, for any of you, I take refuge. I say to the Lord, you are my Lord. Apart from you, I have no good thing. I save the holy people who are in the land. They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight. Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more. I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods or take up their names on my lips. Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup. You make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen from me in pleasant places. Surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord who counsels me even at night with my heart. Even at night, my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord with him at my right hand. I will not be shaken. Therefore, my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices. My body also will rest secure because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful ones see decay. You make known to me the path of life. You will fill me with joy in your presence with eternal pleasures at your right hand. This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God, 

Speaker 2 (01:22):
Step get to you, girl, step. 

Speaker 3 (01:43):
Well, good morning everyone. Good morning. How are we today? My name is Jonathan and I get to be a pastor here at Journey, and I'm excited today because we are starting a new emphasis for our Sunday morning gatherings from now until the day of Pentecost, which who knows? If you can tell me what day the day of Pentecost is, I will give you a dollar. Anybody. It's on a Sunday. We know that, right? It is actually the same day of Memorial Day weekend this year. So from now until the end of May, we will be in a series that we are calling step by step, and it is talking about an apprenticeship in love with Jesus, an apprenticeship in love with Jesus. And part of this series is that we are going to kind of be doing a book study together. All right, raise your hand if you like book studies. 

Speaker 3 (02:45):
Maybe a few of us. So we have purchased a copy of this book that I am holding in my hands for each family. We have one per family, and the title of this book is Being with God, being with God. This is by a pastor, I think maybe in South Carolina or North Carolina, one of the Carolinas. But this book is one of my newest favorite, one of my favorite new books. It's pretty recently released. And it makes what at times can be a complicated subject, very accessible and user friendly. And it's talking about, the book is talking about just simply being with God as the title suggests, but it's talking about prayer being silent and still before the Lord as the scriptures instruct us to. There's collection of old wisdom and some new perspective, and we want to offer this to each family for you to read. 

Speaker 3 (03:49):
Along with the series, we have kind of grouped it. The nice thing about this book is that the chapters are really short, so you can read it like a chapter takes maybe 10 minutes to read. So it's very easy to read. It's very user friendly. I could share, if you're interested, if this book doesn't challenge you enough, I could share some books with you that'll make you want to pull your toenails out as you're reading them because there are so boring. This book is not that. It's an exciting book on contemplative prayer, and I think that you will enjoy it and it will greatly benefit you if you read this along with our sermon series this season of Easter into Pentecost. So today we are going to open by talking about trying to give an explanation for what do we mean when we're talking about being with God? What does that mean for us to be with God? In order for us to set our minds and attention to the Holy Spirit, invite us to pray this prayer with me this morning. Prepare our hearts, oh God, to accept your word, silence in us any voice but your own, that in hearing we may also trust in your ways through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Speaker 3 (05:17):
So I have a goal in life. I have several goals in life, but at least one goal that I wanted to share with you this morning, and that is one of my goals in life, is to be able to complete a marathon in under four hours. Under four hours. I sort of happened into running. It was not by any sort of real desire on my own. I needed to get outside. And we lived in Ohio at the time, and it was in the middle of, and it was freezing cold and the next day was freezing cold. And the day after that was freezing cold and I was tired of breathing, canned, stale inside the house or inside a building air. I needed to be outside and I needed to be outside for a period of time, kind of like a plant needing some sun. That's how I was feeling. 

Speaker 3 (06:17):
And I needed to just get out of being inside. And so I was looking through different activities that I could do because if you've just go sit in a chair outside, you'll get cold, your feet will go numb and then you got to go back inside and it kind of defeats the purpose. So I decided what I could do is I could start running, it would be very good for me, it would be good for me to get exercise, it would be good for me to get the fresh air. And so I started running and I never really wanted to run any sort of race. I was just running for exercise and running for fresh air. And then my friend Aaron came along and he said, Hey, I signed up to run a marathon. And I said, well, congratulations. That's great for you. I'm, I'm real happy for you. 

Speaker 3 (06:57):
And he said, but I need somebody to help to train with me. I said, okay, well I'll not sure how far I can run, but I'll try and we'll see how it goes. And so we started running and we ran maybe six miles and we ran eight miles and we ran 10 miles, 12 miles, 13 miles, got all the way up. Two, one time we ran 22 miles and this was two or three weeks before he was scheduled to run his marathon. And he said to me, you've been training with me, you've been doing all the things that I have done up until this point, so why don't you just go and run the race with me? And so I did and I enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun. It was very slow. It was like four and a half hours. And so then I got this kind of feeling where I really wanted to do better and make running more of a habit for myself, started doing some research into proper running and nutrition and all of this kind of stuff. 

Speaker 3 (07:50):
And then I sort of set my targets on a four hour marathon run. And so the next time I trained and I went for it, and I got maybe down to four 15 and the next time I got down to maybe four 10 and I could never get close enough to where the actual four hour time was within possibility for me. And then I came across this article in a magazine. It was a runner's World magazine and the article was titled Slow Down, slow Down. And so I began reading that and what the writer of the article was saying is that part of running is being outside, being in tune with your body, being in tune with nature, and you need to slow down enough to notice that and that slowing down and pacing yourself during the race will actually help you accomplish your goals. 

Speaker 3 (08:50):
And so I did that. I started to slow down and run steadily. Whenev, if you've ever run in a race before, there's all these people around you and they start the clock and everybody just takes off a herd of cattle running through the corral and I, it's everybody's just running so fast and you get caught up in the moment and there's music going and everybody's excited and you're just running and running and running and you don't even know how fast you're running. But for me, that would always make me exhausted. And so I would get to a point to where I could finally slow down and I was already tired as if I had run double or triple the amount that I actually had. And so I would run out of the energy and so I decided that I was going to slow down while running to pay attention to be aware of what is going on all around me and sort of form this sort of cocoon of solitude in the midst of all of this other noise that was going on around me. 

Speaker 3 (09:56):
That's what we're talking about when we talk about being with God. We're talking about being able to be still and silent before God in the midst of all of the other things that are going on in our lives. And this really is an invitation to a journey. It's invitation. It's an invitation to journeying with Jesus and the point of prayer. The point of contemplative prayer is for us to be able to enter into an apprenticeship with Jesus where Jesus teaches and shows us the way of his kingdom. And so that's what we're going to be focusing on during this series called step by Step. So last week for Easter, we looked at Matthew chapter 22 where Jesus was asked a question. The question he was asked was, what is the greatest commandment? All right, what is the greatest commandment? Jesus responded to this question by saying, Jeremy, I don't have any sort of control over here. 

Speaker 3 (11:14):
For some reason, I'm not sure what's happening, but here's what Jesus said to this question. What is the greatest commandment? He said, love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all of your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second Jesus says is it love your neighbor as yourself. All of the law of the prophets hang on these two commandments. So what we talked about last week is that Jesus is suggesting here that all that was spoken about God before Jesus, and as we see it today, all that has been spoken about God since Jesus, if it doesn't line up with these two things, love the Lord of God with your heart, soul, and love your neighbor as yourself, then it is out of alignment with the kingdom of God. It doesn't fit. It's like puzzle pieces that will not go together. 

Speaker 3 (12:17):
Now, as an individual and as a community, as a church, it is easy if you are honest and willing to actually ask hard questions. It is easy to measure how well you are doing at loving your neighbor, right? Because it's a physical thing that you can see if someone ignores their neighbor or is rude to their neighbor or doesn't help their neighbor, we can see that and understand that and measure that. We can look at our resources and how we're spending them and investing them, and are we doing that for our neighbor or is it just about us? Is it just about ourselves? We can measure that pretty easily, but when it comes to the love God part, that's a little bit more difficult for us to put measurements or words around. That's a little bit more difficult for us to define. And depending on what your experience is in the church, there are all kinds of things that we look at that say, this is how you love God. 

Speaker 3 (13:14):
Maybe it's reading your Bible a certain amount or coming to church and showing up whenever you're able or some sort of type of posture in worship, whether you're standing or sitting or whether your hands are raised or not, whether you do all of these different things, these disciplines of the church, whether you spend time and tithe and give or where you give of your time or whatever it is, whatever measurement we might we put on it. We have these ways of knowing whether we are doing the things that God has told us to do, but how do we measure that we are actually loving God as Jesus said with our whole self, and that's something that we are going to explore. So part of the problem is that love in general is very hard to define, right? We're going to do a little bit of an exercise this morning, okay? This is audience participation time. So I'm going to ask you to take a minute and think about a definition of love and think about a definition of love and then turn to your neighbor and tell them that definition. Your goal is to define love to your neighbor as if they have no idea what love is. Okay? So take a moment, think about that, and then go ahead and tell your neighbor what is a definition of love? 

Speaker 3 (14:56):
What is the definition of love? It's not really that easy to define, is it? Did everything that your neighbor said make sense? 

Speaker 4 (15:07):

Speaker 3 (15:08):
Selflessness? That's a good description of love, right? Selflessness. So there are different things that we can point to define love, but ultimately words are limited when it comes to helping us understand love. Love is a force that doesn't really have a great definition. It simply requires an experience of love to know what it is. You cannot believe your way into love. 

Speaker 3 (15:48):
You cannot logic your way into love. You cannot read books on love and then all of a sudden love, right? Love is an experience. It is a force. It is something that you are drawn into. You have to get caught up in its flow. That's why we say things like bitten by the love bug or we have a little cherub and a diaper with a bow and arrow that shoots darts of arrows at people, and that's how they fall in love. Love oftentimes is about chance and opportunity and experience. You happen to meet this person and there's something that draws you to them, whether it's their pheromones or their personality or just sort of some general attraction that you have towards that person. And then because of that connection that the two people have, there becomes this experience of love where you are drawn to them differently than you are drawn to everyone else. 

Speaker 3 (16:55):
That's not something that you can manufacture or make happen. It's something that happens to us. And when we find ourselves in that position of love, particularly at the very beginning, your focus on that love is almost insatiable. It cannot be satisfied. It cannot be quenched. You want to spend all of your time with that person. You want to do everything that you can to be next to that person you crave to just feel that person or smell that person or hold that person or touch that person or be next to them. It's like a thing that part of your appetite that cannot be satisfied. We have descriptions about being first in love. We say We want time to just stop right in this moment so that we can just spend all of this time loving each other. Your attention is focused on this person. It's captivated by them. 

Speaker 3 (18:00):
I want you to consider the words of this love song. It says this, if I could just sit with you a while, I need you to hold me moment by moment till forever passes by. That's a nice love song. It sounds sort of like a Aerosmith ballad from the eighties or something, right? This song though is not written about two people that fell in love with each other. This song is a love song to God, right? It's by a band called Mercy Me, and the desire of this song is to just sit with God, to just be with God for God to wrap his arms around us and hold us a while until forever passes by. Now, I remember, I don't remember exactly when it was, but I remember the first time that I heard this song being sung. It was in a church service like this, and it really weirded me out to sing the words to this song. 

Speaker 3 (19:07):
I was like, I don't know about that. That seems a little bit too kind of lovey dovey or whatever it was. Whatever the reason why it didn't sit didn't sound so good to me to sing along, but I was thinking about that this week and how God's love for us is so full and so much and so great that God desires to be with us, like we desire to be with that person or those people that we love. That's how God understands us in contemplative prayer is shifting our focus to be able to spend time just sitting with God and allowing him to wrap his arms around us and form and shape us by his love. That's what time spent in prayer is supposed to foster, is forming us into the image of God. God leverages the time that we spend with him in order to shape us into the way of Jesus. 

Speaker 3 (20:29):
Earlier Jeremy was talking about the fruits of the spirit. The way we learn the fruits of the spirit is not by reading that the fruit of the spirit, what the fruit of the spirit are. It's not by knowing them and being able to recite them. That's not how we learn the of the spirit. The way we learn the fruit of the spirit is to sit with the one who is the fruit of the spirit and allow ourselves to be transformed into those fruits. I want to read verse of scripture from Micah six, eight. It's a pretty familiar one, but I want to focus on one word in this scripture, and you might be able to even pick that word out before we get to it. And also it's blue on the screen. So there's that. He has shown you immortal what is good, right? What is good is not hidden from you. 

Speaker 3 (21:30):
What is good is not hard to see or locate. It's not hidden in a bunch of laws or rules or regulations or anything like that. God has shown you what to do and what does the Lord require of you to act justly to love, mercy, and let's read that last part together and to walk humbly with your God, right? Doesn't say to your God, doesn't say towards your God. It doesn't say walk according to how your God instructed you. It says the Word with your God. Walk humbly with your God. In other words, God is with you walking with you. God is not telling you to go do something and then sending you on your merry way. No, God is with you. And so that with is what we are going to focus on. Now, I have been very fortunate in my life to have some great mentors, people who have invested in me, people who have cared for me, people who root for me, who cheer me on, people who had more experience than me, both as a pastor and went back in my construction days, one of my, a person who worked for my company, who took me under his wing and showed me the things of what to do and what not to do. 

Speaker 3 (23:13):
I have had very good fortune to have such great mentors, people to be able to learn under, to apprentice under people, to grow into my own and to bloom from the information that they have blessed me with. What I want to help us understand today is that for those of us who choose to follow the way of Jesus, we can just sort of believe the teachings of Jesus or believe the Bible, and then we can spend the rest of our lives having those beliefs reinforced, 
Speaker 3 (24:00):
Or we can enter into a deeper journey where Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is our mentor and moves from just knowing about God to actually understanding God in our body, in our lives, through the things that we do. Now, for some of us today, thinking about learning from Jesus, talking about Jesus being your mentor or apprentice, and you're under an apprenticeship with Jesus, walking with Jesus or walking with God, that might sound a little strange. And if you're hearing me talk about contemplative prayer and sitting in silence, spending time just simply being, that sounds a little bit strange, maybe even possibly a word for strange that might be in your mind is that's a little absurd. It's a little out there right now. I want to invite you just for a second to think about a goat and think about a goat, the animal, right? Whenever I think about a goat, I think of the Andy Griffith episode where the goat eats dynamite. Remember that one? Think about a goat, not a goat eating dynamite, but just a regular goat. What's the goat doing? Where is the goat? What's going on around the goat? Okay, you have that image in your mind. Does the image in your mind look like this? 

Speaker 3 (25:38):
No. Right? How many of you thought of a goat in a tree? Anybody? No. Okay. Now, this actually is not an edited or photoshopped picture. It is real. These goats climb trees. Now, looking at that picture that is absurd to us. That does not seem normal. Goats don't belong in trees. Maybe birds, maybe squirrels, something like that. Maybe a cat, but not a goat. But these goats in Morocco, they have learned to climb trees. And the reason why they climb trees is because there's a fruit in this tree, a nut that they eat. And actually it's called argon, that they partially digest this nut and they excrete it out and people come and collect it and take the oil and put it in your makeup and beauty products as a part of that process. But the reason why you have such nice beauty products, if they contain this oil from this nut is because these goats have learned to climb trees. 

Speaker 3 (26:48):
Now, I don't know how strange that seems to you, but that's really strange to me, right? I've never seen a goat in a tree. I heard about this. I looked this picture up, and I tried to find the examples of how this thing was doctored and why somebody illustrated these goats into a tree. But no, there are many, many, many pictures of these goats in trees. In fact, if you were from Morocco, if you lived in Morocco and you had witnessed, this wouldn't be strange to you. It would be normal because this is an everyday occurrence for these goats that climb trees. Now, that's an interesting thing for us to note because the difference between absurd and reasonable is what our experience, or what our cultural context tells us is normal. 

Speaker 3 (27:42):
Our cultural norms in our society oftentimes tell us that our worth is in being busy and in what about our lives is hostable to social media. That's where a lot of us get our worth from. I want to say to you today with all the love that I can muster in talking to myself, that's absurd, right? To be dedicated and have our minds occupied constantly by screens. That's absurd. Losing hours of sleep because of anxiousness or stress because of all the busyness or because of all the screens or whatever it is, that's absurd. Not taking care of our bodies and having poor and eating and drinking habits, that's absurd. Keeping up with the Joneses, that's absurd. But yet these absurd things are such a part of our experience that oftentimes we don't even question them. We just go about doing them without ever taking time to stop and to be still. 

Speaker 3 (28:55):
There's a quote from a lady named Kathleen Norris, and if you read this book, you'll see it in the book. It says this, our busyness can't disguise the suspicion that we are being steadily diminished, not so much living as passing time in a desert of our own devising. And this is what we understand as normal in our culture, sitting being with God, contemplating being still being silent. Those are all abnormal sort of absurd things for us to consider. But busyness and noise and being surrounded by these things is what is normal for us. Now, imagine with me for a moment if we shifted that balance in our church, if we adopted walking with Jesus as normal, and these fear and anxiety inducing activities that we participate in, if we began to see these things that are stealing joy and love and peace from our lives, if we began to see them as absurd and as sitting and being with Jesus as normal, what if instead of jumping out of our beds and picking up our phones in order to get our daily dose of anxiety, if we would begin our morning even just for a moment or two in stillness and in silence 
Speaker 3 (30:39):
For the Holy Spirit to begin working from the very first alert breath, we breathe, forming and shaping the fruits of the spirit in our lives, what if that was what we sought to make our normal? Want to close with a couple of scripture verses. This one is from Habak. Anytime you can say or read from haak, it's a good day. But here's what Haak says in Haak two, verse 20, the Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before him. Be silent before him. And then from what we read in Psalm 16 earlier, I bless the Lord who gives me counsel. My heart instructs me because of the council that the Lord gives. 

Speaker 3 (31:49):
The goal of this step by step journey is to learn the art of slowing down and paying attention and being still. And most importantly, remembering that we are loved. That's what prayer is all about. So I'm going to invite us to a next step. And this is up on the screen. You could take a picture of it if you want, but also if you get a copy of this book, you'll find it on page 27. But this is just an inventory to get us started. So the idea real quickly, and again, the instructions are in the book, the idea is to help us determine activities that are restful for us or that produced restlessness in us. And you can do this with any activity, like anything that you're doing, you could stop and say, okay, is that restful or is that restless? But it's just a chart where if you take the what's on the first line there, margin and busyness, and you decide what's more common in your life, creating margin for you to spend time doing the things that you know need to do and want to do and are supposed to do, or is your life more characterized by busyness, right? 

Speaker 3 (33:13):
And you pick one of 'em and you put either a plus one if it's margin and a negative one if it's busyness. And if you don't know or you can't figure out the answer, you just put a zero there, right? And then you total it up. And at the end it's going to tell you whether the practices of your life or the way in which you have constructed your life, if it is more prone to producing a restfulness within you, a peacefulness being content, or if it is causing you to be restless, which other words for restless would be anxious or stressed or fearful, or the things basically that are the opposite of the fruits of the spirit. And so having this tool to help us understand what our normal everyday experience is producing will then help us to know how much time or what we need to be doing in order to change that so that we are operating in life out of a place of peace, of love, of joy, of the presence of God that is with us. If we could just sit a while and be still and know that God is with us.