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Jonah | Swallowing The Story | Jonah 4:6-11 | Week 6

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JONAH: Swallowing the Story    Jonah 4:5-11 

We’re jumping into Jonah 4, if you have your Bible, you can flip there, swipe there, click there, however you want to get there this morning.  It’s the final message in the series of Jonah as we continue to journey towards the cross and the resurrection.  We’ve been utilizing this book of Jonah to lead us to Easter.  We’ve been saying, throughout this series, that part of our goal has been to rescue Jonah from Veggie Tales and the flannel board.  We often view this as a kids’ story.   If you’ve been coming over the last few weeks, I hope you realize, by this point, this is certainly applicable to kids, but it’s no kids’ story, is it?  There’s a lot of depth, and a lot of beauty, and a lot of subtlety and nuance, and sort of hints and winks and nods in the book of Jonah.  It’s intended for adults.

The story of Jonah is the story of a resentful prophet who encounters a relentless God.  In week one, we said Jonah could be split in half.  The first half of Jonah gives us one message and the second half of Jonah builds on that and gives us another message.  In the first half of Jonah, Jonah shows us what it’s like to run from God through outright, willful disobedience, doesn’t he?  Jonah is a prophet of God and gets a call from God.  He’s told to go and preach against Nineveh, that their wickedness has risen up before God. God’s calling him to go to Nineveh, which is about 500 plus miles east of where he was.  Jonah hops on a ship and heads to Tarshish.  Jonah is outright disobedient and saying to God, “God, I know what you’ve asked me to do, but thanks but no thanks.”  You’ll remember that we were wondering throughout the entire first few chapters of Jonah, why is Jonah running, and the narrator strings us along and doesn’t give us the answer until we get to chapter 4.  Jonah said to God, “I knew it! I knew you were slow to anger.  I knew you’re merciful and abounding in steadfast love.  I knew it! My worst nightmare’s come true.  That’s what you’re like.”  In his disobedience, we see that God pursued Jonah through a storm, through a fish that vomited him out onto dry ground.

That’s one way to run from God, but there’s another way to run from God also.  You can run from God outside the walls of the church, say no thank you, God, I’ll do things my way.  Or you can run from God inside the walls of the church.  You can run from Him by saying, okay, God, here’s the deal.  If I do all the right things, and if I accomplish all the right religious duties, then you and I will be good, right?  And if we’re good that means you have to do what I say you should do.  For Jonah, in his disobedience he ran, but in his obedience he was running also.  We’re going to see that God doesn’t let him get off that easily.  He continues to pursue Jonah even in that disobedience—in the church, religious disobedience.  But instead of sending a fish and a storm, this time he sends a story.

Reminded me of a story I heard a while back about a guy by the name of Kyle MacDonald.  He did this experiment.  You may have done a similar experiment in Youth Group, called “Bigger, Better.”  You start with something small and go door-to-door in a neighborhood and you ask them….hey, I’ve got this pen, do you have anything bigger, better?  You get whatever they give you that’s bigger or better.  Eventually, we’ve had people come back with couches and washing machines and stuff like that.  Kyle MacDonald tried the same thing online.  He started with a red paperclip.  He traded that red paperclip for a fish pen, eventually, a year later, he traded a role in a movie, which someone had given him, for a house!  BIGGER.  BETTER.

Here’s the thing with “Bigger, Better.”  Whatever you’re trading you have to give up.  You can’t hold onto both. You can’t say I want the house AND the movie role.  You’ve got to give one up, in order to receive the bigger and the better.  I’m convinced that there are some things that you and I are holding onto this morning that Jesus says I’ve got something bigger and better for you.  I’ve got something that would transform your life, if you would receive it.  It’s the very same thing he wants Jonah to wrap his heart and his mind around.  I’ve got something bigger, better, but in order to get you to move in that direction, you’re going to have to open your hands.  In order to get Jonah to open his hands, God sends him a story.

Jonah 4.  We’re picking up in verse 5 and I’m going to read this entire section because it’s all one thought.  It’s one movement, it’s one story that God is going to tell through Jonah’s life.  He’s going to invite him into a situation.  Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there.  He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.  Now the Lord God appointed a plant {You’re going to see throughout this passage of Scripture, God’s going to appoint a plant, a worm, a wind, and He’s going to appoint a point.  He wants to make a point with Jonah.  He’s been appointing things all throughout the book of Jonah.  God appointed Jonah to go and share his message.  God appointed a wind that came up and a storm that raged.  God appointed a fish.  God’s been appointing all throughout the book of Jonah, and we’re going to see him continue to do that as he tells a story through Jonah’s life.}  …and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort.  So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.  But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered.  When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint.  And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”  But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”  And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”  {Ryan’s version was Jonah said, “You better be believe it!  I’m ticked off!}  And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night.  And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from the left, and also much cattle?”

So turn the page and keep going.  How many of you did?  Wait, what???  That’s the ending??  God giving a shout out to cattle?  That’s the ending.  That’s the point.  Remember we said back when we started the series that there’s a lot of debate as to whether or not Jonah is intended to be read as history or whether Jonah’s intended to be read as parable.  What we said at that point is that you can choose either way to read Jonah, but don’t miss this….don’t miss the fact that Jonah is clearly intended to be read as prophetic.  It throws the ball back in our court to say okay, what are we going to do with this story?  How are we going to wrestle with the Prophet Jonah?  What are we going to do with some of the things we hold onto that are just maybe a little bit too small?  What do we do with this invitation God gives us…..I’ve got something bigger and I’ve got something better.

What was too small for Jonah was the lens through which he viewed the world.  The way that he saw the story that God was telling.  The way that he saw the grace that God had.  The way that he saw the love that God had for the people around him.  For Jonah, and maybe for you and for me…..we’ve grown up in a context, haven’t we?  We’ve grown up and have had a certain view of life, probably for a lot of our life.  We were born into a certain family.  We were born with certain privileges.  We were born with certain things to our name.  Maybe we had two parents at home, maybe we didn’t, but we were all born with a set of circumstances {listen to me here} that shaped the way that we see the world around us.  Jonah was too.  What God is not so gently saying to Jonah is the perspective you have on the world, Jonah, is not quite accurate.  Ours might not be either, right?  Our perspective might be…I’ve worked hard for everything that I’ve had and people around me should work hard too.  If you’re suffering and you’re down a little bit, it’s because you’re not working hard enough.  Why can’t you be a little bit more like me?!  So we look at the world and it’s everybody’s fault if they’re not as good as we are.

Jonah looks at Nineveh and he sees people that are unlike him, completely unlike him.  Different god.  Different approach to life.  He can’t seem to step into a Ninevite’s shoes and walk a mile in them to see where they’re coming from.  He can’t imagine their upbringing.  He can’t imagine what their life might have been like.  He can’t imagine getting fed pagan religion from day one.  Will you look up at me for just a moment?  I’m pretty passionate about this.  I think it’s easy to look at people and come up with a story as to why they’re not in the same place that we are.  Whether it’s in their beliefs or in their economic situation.  You name it.  A ton of different ways.  What if we started to adopt this view:  If I had grown up the way they’d grown up, if I’d had the experiences they had, if I’d walked through the things they’d walked through, I’d probably do and believe exactly what they do and believe.  But what if we started there?

Jonah can’t start there, so God has to come and has to tell him a story.  The story is meant to make Jonah as uncomfortable as we might be right now.  It’s meant to paint him a picture of the very last thing that Jonah wants to see, and it’s this one big word….and the word is….are you ready for it?….t’s what this entire section is all about….the word is…..grace.  Jonah, your calling as a prophet?  Grace.  Jonah, your placement in Israel?  Grace.  Jonah, that storm that came?  Grace.  Jonah, the fish that swallowed you?  Grace.  Jonah, the second chance that you got?  Grace.  Jonah, the way I treated you in your disobedience?  Grace.  Jonah, the way that I love you?  Grace.  Jonah, the very breath that you just took?  Grace.  It’s ALL grace.  It’s all grace, from top to bottom.  I love the way that Dallas Willard said it: “Grace is God acting in our lives to accomplish what we cannot do on our own.”

Oftentimes we think that grace is simply what saves us and what gets us in the door of Christianity, but the truth of the matter is, friends, is that grace is the very thing that carries us the entire way.  Jonah can’t see it.  It’s often hard for us to see it too, because we have to admit that there are things that we cannot do on our own.  A lot of us assume that God’s grace is inactive in our lives, because we assume we’re way better than we actually are.  We think it’s us.  Lean in.  We forget that every good and perfect thing in our life is a gift from God. (James 1:17) EVERYTHING.

Jonah is blind to God’s blessing.  Here’s the truth of the matter, friends, you and I…whatever we end up putting into our life….the story we tell ourselves, is the story we tell.  Whatever we put into our lives eventually comes out of our life.  My mom used to have this saying that drove me crazy, because she wanted me to get rid of some music that she didn’t think aligned with the way of Jesus, and she was probably right.  Her saying was, “Garbage in, garbage out.”  I’d go, “Oh, I hate that, Mom, stop it!”  Garbage in, garbage out.  {Ryan used a gumball machine to illustrate.}  Gratitude in, gratitude out.  The narrative that I’ve got to perform in order to be loved…..so you start projecting on everyone around you.  I’ve made it on my own…..make it on your own.  I’m forgiven….forgive.  I’ve been given grace….I give grace.  You want to know what’s going in?  Look at what’s going out.  What God wants to say to Jonah is Jonah, if you (we) accept grace personally—and you should, because it’s all around you, it’s the very breath you took—-we must be willing to extend it universally.

Jesus tells a story of this king, this master, who has a servant that owes him $6 billion. (From Matthew 18:23-35)  The servant is unable to pay the master, imagine that?  The master comes to him and says, “I’m going to forgive all the debt that you owe me.  Go in peace.”  That same servant has a servant of his own, who owes him $12,000.  Which is more—$6 billion or $12,000?  The servant says to his servant, “If you can’t pay me back, you’re going to jail.  In fact, you’re going to jail until you’re able to pay me every last dime.”  Jesus tells this story and the punchline is this:  Then his master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant!  I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”  To get what you receive, you’ve got to be willing to give.

God is pressing on Jonah’s life about some ways that he’s out of line, about some ways that he doesn’t love justice and mercy and faithfulness—the very three things that Jesus would say, centuries later, are the weightier things of the law. (Mt. 23:23)  Jonah’s not there.  Jonah doesn’t love it.  So God starts to tell him this story, and he wants to give him a bigger and better….hey, Jonah, let me put something bigger, better in your life so that something bigger and better can come out of your life.  Let’s dig in just a little bit to see what that looks like in this passage.

Jonah 4:5 — Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city {There’s a subtle wink and nod from the narrator.  When we read east of the city, we’re probably intended to think oh, east of Eden, right?   East of paradise.  Jonah’s walked from the west, all the way through the city.  He’s east of the city, but not just geographically, but spiritually also.  He’s a little off.  A lot of bit off.}  and made a booth for himself there.  He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.  Question:  What’s he hoping becomes of the city?  Have you ever gotten early to a fireworks show and put down your blanket and got out your cooler and popcorn and you just waited?  That’s what Jonah’s doing.  He’s waiting for the same thing……fireworks!  He wants a front row seat for Nineveh getting absolutely demolished.  He wanted the same thing that the disciples suggested to Jesus after they walked through a Samaritan town.  The Samaritan town didn’t accept Jesus, didn’t invite him in.  The disciples said to him, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”  {They’re just echoing Elijah, right?  They’re going biblical on the city.  Jonah wants to see some Sodom and Gomorrah action.}  But he turned and rebuked them.  And they went on to another village. (Luke 9:51-56)   He’s like, boys, come on, that’s not our way.  That’s not who we are.  That’s not what we do.  What if we started to trust that our flourishing, your flourishing, is connected to the successof others, not to their demise.

Jonah has this narrative in his head, a really small narrative, a really tired narrative.  If my enemy loses, then I win.  There’s two ways for me to go up a few rungs on the ladder.   One is to actually go up a few rungs on the ladder; the other is for the person in front of me to slip back a little.  That’s what he believes and that’s what starts to come out of his life.  What if we started to have a different, better story?  What if we started to, along with the Apostle Paul, say, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood…” {Do you have an enemy?  Absolutely!  Yes, you do.  The powers of spiritual darkness that are very present in our world. But look up at me for just a second.  You have never laid eyes on a human enemy.  EVER!  At least according to the Scriptures.  You can decide if you want to be a disciple of the way of Jesus or not, but if you’re a disciple, you do not wrestle against flesh and blood.}  …but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)  

So, if we can get ahold of grace…..if that’s the story that gets in us and the story that eventually starts to get out of us, how might that free us from looking at people as the enemy and somebody to be jumped over, rather than saying, oh, I want your success?  How does that work?  Here’s the thing:  Grace puts us all in the same boat, doesn’t it?  The only entrance into the kingdom of God is a place of need, it’s a place of dependency.  No one beats their chest into the kingdom.  No!  We come saying: Lord, I need you, oh, I need You // Every hour I need You // My one defense, my righteousness // Oh God, how I need you.

What if we also had in our mind…..what if grace freed us to believe that if God is for us, who can be against us?  AND, if God is for us, who can we be against?  What if it was both?  What if those were two sides to the same coin?  If we accept grace for ourselves, we’ve got to be willing to give it to other people.  We’ve already said, “I didn’t get what I deserved, so why then should I want other people to get what they deserve?”  It doesn’t work that way.  If we accept grace personally, we must extend it universally.

I love the way this came out in the darkest of situations in June of 2015.  There was a man named Dylann Roof, a white supremacist filled with hate, who walked into an all-black church prayer meeting.  They welcomed him with opened arms.  He proceeded to shoot and kill nine of the congregation members.  It was shocking!  But what was more shocking was what followed.  You may have heard the story.  At his trial, family member after family member stood up and said, “We forgive you.  You’ve taken something dear to us, but we forgive you.”  One person was quoted—a sister of one of the people that was killed—as saying, “I acknowledge that I am very angry, but we have no room for hating, so we have to forgive.  I pray God for your soul.”  Forgiveness in, forgiveness out.

Our situation may not be that dire.  It may be.  You may have been abused.  You may have been taken advantage of and you’re just holding on to how can I get back at that person.   I can tell you, the way that that person keeps getting back at you is by you holding onto it.  What if grace started to free us?  What if grace started to free us from thinking how we could get back at that neighbor that just parks in front of our yard, every single time.  What if grace started to free us from thinking about how we could just edge that person along in the line at Starbucks or Solid Grounds…..Order a little bit quicker, please Jesus, right?  Did you just see the menu when you got up to the front?  What if grace started to free us from thinking about revenge for that ex that broke our heart and shoved it in our face?

What if our flourishing was connected to the success of others, rather than the demise?  I’ll tell you what would happen.  A scarcity mindset—there’s only so much to go around?  Gone!  Competition mindset?  Gone!  Comparison mindset?  Gone!  You know what starts to awaken in us when we receive this kind of grace?  We become people who are just passionate, ubiquitous encouragers.  I love that Teresa, in our Communications Team, put out this little picture on Instagram that said, “Take the next 60 seconds to pray for someone going through a tough time.”  Man, that hit me at exactly the right moment.  I looked at that and knew the person.  What if we became those kinds of encouragers?  Where we didn’t celebrate other people’s mishaps, and other people’s sin, and the way other people took a step back, but we actually came alongside and said, “My success is actually tied to yours; we’re in the same boat.”  If you get better, so do I.  So do WE.  I think Us vs. Them is pretty tired, don’t you?  What if this week you made it a point to encourage people?

Here’s how the story goes on (Jonah 4:6-9):  Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. {So Jonah’s like, hey, God, finally we’re on the same page.  God, finally you’re on my page!  I’m uncomfortable and you’ve appointed something to take away the discomfort.  Thank you!  Finally being all Yahweh-ish for me, right?} So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.  But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered.  When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind,  {God is breaking Jonah down physically, so that his eyes start to open spiritually.  He’s getting him to this place where he’s going to be willing to finally, finally, finally hear Yahweh.}  and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint.  And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”  But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”  {Does this sound familiar: Do you do well to be angry?  Last week, we talked about our misconceptions about who God is, that picture of God we have in our mind that often isn’t totally accurate or totally right.  Last week was about how Jonah was wrong about God, this week is about how Jonah is wrong about everyone around him.  But God’s question is still the same.  It’s pastoral.  It’s a counselor coming alongside him…..Jonah, how’s that working out for you?}  And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”  And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night.

How long did Jonah have the plant?  One day, essentially.  God’s saying to him:  Hey, Jonah, you’ve developed a co-dependent relationship on this plant.  You have an affection for this plant.  In one day.  There’s all these people, Jonah, that you can’t seem to gain an affection for.  Jonah, you knew that plant for one day, but how long, Jonah, have I known Nineveh?!  Jonah, let’s talk about what you did to make that plant grow.  Tell me about how you tilled the ground.  Tell me about how you put fertilizer on it.  Tell me about how you planted the seed.  Tell me about how you watered it.  Tell me about how you caused it to grow, Jonah, I’ll wait.  A lot of people wrestle with this plant growing up overnight.  It was Miracle-Gro, okay?  Jonah, tell me what you did.  Oh!  Nothing!  Jonah, tell me why that plant was so important to you.  It was hot, and it helped.

You can imagine God maybe saying to Jonah, okay, Jonah, now I get it.  The way that we determine whether or not something has value, is whether or not it’s beneficial to you.  Is that right?  Is that the way you want me to run the universe, Jonah?  If it has value to ME, then I keep it around, if not, the fire reigns down.  Jonah, is that how we should live?  Jonah, is that how we should do?  Jonah, even your own reasoning breaks down.  God says to him, like, hey, Jonah, that plant….you grew to love that plant in ONE day.  How much more valuable are animals than plants?  What about the cows?  And then….how much more valuable than the animals are the crown jewel of my creation?  God sort of pins him in.  Jonah’s affection is tied to productivity, it’s tied utility, it’s tied to being beneficial.  I think he probably thinks that about God, too, right?  What we put in—I’m beneficial if I produce—is what we get out.

I think God, not so subtly, wants to say to Jonah, what if….what if, Jonah….what if, South Fellowship, we affirm that the valueof people is based on inherent worth, not personal benefit.  What if the way that we viewed the world, the parts of it that we love and the parts of it that we lament, the people we agree with and the people we disagree with…..what if we had the truth in the back of our mind—that Jesus is life and his invitation to us is to hold out that life to every single person because you have never met somebody who doesn’t carry the image of God on their life!  Can you imagine Jonah going, “I’ve got a question about THIS.  Even Nineveh?  Even brutal Nineveh?  Even violent Nineveh?  Even socially unjust Nineveh?  Even they have worth to you, Yahweh? This is what I was worried about.”  You can just imagine God saying back to Jonah, “Even them.”

My son Reid loves to build these magnet towers, so he puts a number of magnets together.  He’ll stack them on our coffee table, then he’ll stand back and admire his work.  Luckily, this only happens every day.  One of his siblings will walk by and “accidentally” nudge the coffee table, and it just goes down.  I look at it and go, “It’s just some magnets.”  It’s just a Nineveh.  Who cares?  He does.  Why?  Because he built it.  He’s invested in it.  God’s looking at Jonah going, “I’m invested in it.”  Oh yeah, they don’t know their right hand from their left.  They are wrong.  They’re sinful.  They’re evil.  I have judged them.  I’m calling them to repentance.  I want them to let go of their violence, but in the midst of all of that, I love them and I’m for them.  What if when we embrace the kingdom of God, we realize that we have to get on board with what God views as his most valuable possession?  You know what that is?  People.  It’s His inheritance.  It’s who He gave his Son for, that we’ll celebrate next week.

What Jonah missed is that Israel wasn’t loved more than others, they were chosen to hold the love of God out to others!  Read Genesis 12.  It’s the story of God from the very beginning.  No one….no one….look up at me for a moment, friends…..NO ONE is expendable!  You’ve never laid eyes on a mere mortal, according to C.S. Lewis.  This should affect the way that we view the world.  It should affect the way that we view abortion.  It should affect the way that we view health care.  It should affect the way that we view immigration.  It should affect the way that we view education.  Because those just aren’t policies, there are people that are attached to those.  People are important to God.  If our relationship with Jesus doesn’t change our relationship with other people, can I just gently press on you and suggest that maybe, just maybe, we just don’t have a relationship with Jesus.

I don’t know what it looks like for you this week.  Maybe it looks like slowing down a little bit.  Maybe that’s your practice.  Maybe a practice for this week to affirm the value of all people is to look people in the eye—people that annoy you, people that are too slow for you, people that are in your way.  Maybe it’s to make a really awkward phone call, or text message, or an awkward visit to your neighbor to invite him to come to Resurrection Sunday with you.  It’s going to be a celebration.  You don’t want to miss it, and you don’t want them to miss it either.  I don’t know what it looks like for you, but will you ask Jesus, because I think he might have some ideas.

And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?   It ends and we go, man, God loves him some cattle!  Not a vegetarian evidently.  Should I not pity, should I not have compassion for Nineveh?  It’s like God was saying, I was only doing for Nineveh what you insisted what was right to do for the plant!  Like, Jonah, be consistent.  They don’t know their right hand from their left is similar to when the people are nailing the nails into Jesus’s hand and his prayer is:  Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)  They aren’t innocent, they’re ignorant.

In week one, I suggested that this book, the arch of this book, is compassionate irony.  That’s the point.  In verse 8, listen to what Jonah says:  It is better for me to die than to live.  I think, ironically, he’s right.  He’s right.  But what Jonah needs to die to is his pride.  What Jonah needs to die to is his privilege.  What Jonah needs to die to is his particularism.  What Jonah needs to die to is his perspective.  Jonah, it’s all grace and your view is way too small.  That’s what Jonah needs to die to.  Maybe, just maybe, that’s what we need to die to also.  Embracing God’s will……when we pray “Thy kingdom come, YOUR. WILL. BE. DONE…..that means we embody God’s compassion.

Yeah, this wasn’t a journey that ended with Jonah, was it?  It’s a journey that presses on us.  It’s a journey that Jesus called people to live out at every turn.  He got in trouble with hanging out with the Ninevite types, didn’t he?  And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  {Those are the people we’re trying to avoid.  That’s Nineveh!}  But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’  {Compassion, that we would look at the world differently.} For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Matthew 9:11-13)   Let’s go learn what that means.  Let’s swallow that story and let’s let it get out of us.

Jonah | Swallowing The Story | Jonah 4:6-11 | Week 62020-08-20T16:46:06-06:00

Jonah | God in Mind | Jonah 4:1-4 | Week 5

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JONAH: God in Mind     Jonah 4:1-4                      (2nd service)

This is our fifth Sunday in a series that we’re doing on the book of Jonah, that’s guiding us through the Lenten season.  Jonah’s a short little book in the minor prophets; he’s minor, not because he’s unimportant, but because he’s short.  The book is short.  It’s significant but it’s only four chapters, and it packs a punch. 

Let me share with you a little nugget from the Paulson household.  Most weekends, my kids will ask to all spend the night in a room together and to do a sleepover.  Most of the time, Kelly and I say no because we want to remain sane, but there are moments of weakness and we’ll let them sleep in the same room together.  A few times, we walk by the door and sort of listen.  They play this game, “I have an animal in my mind….”  The game is that one of them thinks of an animal and the other two ask yes or no questions and try to guess what the animal is.  I thought, in light of what we’re going to be talking about this morning, that it would be fun to play that game together.  I have an animal in my mind and I would like you to ask yes or no questions to try to identify said animal.  Will it fit in a bread box?  I could fit it in a bread box.  Does it have a tail?  It does have a tail.  Does it say meow?  It does say meow, especially when you…..{Ryan makes kicking motion with his foot}.  Any guesses?  A cat.  Yes, it is a cat.  

An animal in my mind. Lean in for a moment.  You have a God in your mind.  You have a picture of what you think God is like.  For some of you, it’s a sort of large, bearded grandfatherly-type man.  Very kind and welcoming and soft-spoken.  For others of you, he may still have that beard, but he’s a little bit angrier.  He’s the “get off my lawn” God, the grand Torino God.  Little bit on edge.  For some of you, it’s just a big question mark.  You’re going, I don’t know what that God is like.  For some of you, it’s I don’t think that God exists.  Wherever you’re at in your spiritual journey, I just want you to know that you’re welcome here.  If your view of God is a big question mark, you’re welcome here.  If your view of God is a blank slate and an I don’t know or I don’t even think he exists, but this is what we do, we come to church, I am so glad that you are here, and I am so glad that you’re here today.  You’re going to get to see sort of the behind scenes that even people in the Scriptures struggle with their view of God.  They struggle with this question—What is God like?  

A.W. Tozer famously wrote in his book Knowledge of the Holy:  “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  That picture you have, that view you have, of what God is like is the most important think about you.  He goes on to argue that it drives everything we do, it drives the way we treat people in relationships, it drives the way that we live in the world. The view of God that you have is the most important thing about you.  So the question isn’t whether or not you have a picture of God in your mind, the question is, is the picture accurate?  You have a picture of God in your mind.  And JONAH has a picture of God in his mind as well.  

Remember, when we started this journey five weeks ago….Jonah, chapter one….Jonah is a prophet of God and he prophesied in roughly the eighth century.  There were other prophets in Israel at that time as well—Hosea and Amos were a couple of them.  Hosea and Amos were very critical about the way that Israel, specifically the king, Jeroboam II, was using his militaristic might and power to expand the empire.  They had unkind things to say about his reign and about his use of power.  Jonah, however, did not.  Jonah thought, “As long as Israel flourishes, it’s good!  Use whatever means necessary to get the job done.”  The word of the Lord came to Jonah (chapter 1):  The wickedness of Nineveh has risen up to me, God said, I want you, Jonah, to go to Nineveh to preach against it.  Nineveh—this place of pain, this place of bloodshed.  Jonah says thanks, but no thanks.  No! He hops on a boat and heads to Tarshish, a tropical paradise.  Instead of going and journeying into the pain, Jonah runs toward pleasure.  Don’t you wish the book of Jonah applied to us today?  

The author of Jonah is sort of stringing the reader along.  Remember, Jonah is brilliant Hebrew literature.  If you were to read through it, start to finish, one of the things you’d recognize is there’s this haunting question through chapters one through three:  Why in the world is Jonah running?  What’s his deal?  He’s a prophet of God and yet he feels compelled to run from God.  Why? is the big question all throughout the pages of Jonah.  UNTIL you get to chapter four.  The curtain’s pulled back a little bit and we get to see why Jonah is on the run.

Jonah 4.  But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, {The Hebrew could be translated:  In Jonah’s mind, it was exceedingly evil.}  and he was angry.   {What was evil?  What was Jonah angry about?  You have to go back to chapter three to find out.  Jonah’s angry because God offered mercy, not judgment, to the Ninevites.  And it ticked Jonah off.  Listen to what he says.}   And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country?  {God, didn’t I tell you I thought this was the way it might play out?}  That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.  Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”  And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”   

This is the first time in this whole book that Jonah and God have a direct conversation.  It’s the first time they sort of sit down and start to talk.  What do we find?  Jonah had a picture of God in his mind.  Just like you do.  And he was absolutely destroyed to find out that his picture of God was right.  He says, “I knew it.  I knew it!” I knew that you were gracious.  I knew that you were merciful.  I knew that you were slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.  I KNEW IT!  And that’s why I didn’t want to go to Nineveh in the first place.  I had this sneaking suspicion that this was the way this was going to turn out.  I tried to save us from this predicament, God. You wouldn’t let me save us and now look at the position we’re in!  You’ve got to show grace TO THEM!  Jonah’s view of God is being shaken because it’s being refined.  Jonah is seeing the real God and the real God is disappointing to Jonah.  

Jonah isn’t the first person in the Scriptures to wrestle with this.  You read through the Torah and you see Moses’ interaction with God, and he’ll say things like, “If this is the way that you intend to treat me, kill me now.” (Numbers 11)  Or you can read through Job. (Job 7:20) Job looks at God and says, “Do I have a target on my back?  What’s the deal?”  David will write in Psalm 13:  How long, O Lord, will you forget me?  Are you going to be silent forever?  They’re all in this spot—Jonah and Moses and David and Job—of going this isn’t the picture I wanted to have, or this isn’t the picture that I had, and now I’m left with this….this is the way that the world actually worked out.  This is the way things happened and now I’m left to wrestle with what do I do with that fractured view of God?  The truth of the matter is, friends, disappointment in God doesn’t reveal a failure of God, it reveals a faulty view of God. What’s crumbling around Jonah is not Jonah’s faith in God.  What’s crumbling around Jonah is Jonah’s view of God.  It’s his picture of what he hoped God was actually like and it’s crumbling beneath him and it’s falling apart.  He’s an Israelite prophet and he’s going, I’m not sure I like the picture of what’s actually true, and I don’t know what to do with that.  

My guess is at some point in your life, whether you’re a follower of Jesus or not, you’ve had a picture of God that you found out maybe wasn’t quite as realistic, or quite as true, or quite as accurate as you hoped it was. I have some friends that are reading through the Scriptures, doing a one year read through the Bible, and they just made it through Joshua.  There’s this cognitive dissonance going on like, God, I didn’t really realize that this was what you were like.  You seemed different.  Hey, it’s the Bible that’s shaking their view of God!  Some of you….maybe you went to the museum or picked up a science book and you started to read and you went, I’m not sure if that view of what might be true and what might be real and the view that I have from the Scriptures….I’m not sure what to do with that.  I’m not sure how those fit together, and it just sort of launched you into this season of going God, that view, that picture that I had of you in my mind, maybe there’s some parts of it that I need to let go of.  What do I do with that?  Maybe some of you….it’s just been LIFE.  You were told, as a Christian in college, that if you date and you’re pure in your relationship and you do everything right, you’re promised that your marriage is going to be pure bliss from day one.  Maybe it doesn’t work out like that for some people, or maybe God doesn’t promise that.  Maybe your view was hey God, if we’re faithful, you will be faithful to heal, you’ll be faithful to restore, you’ll be faithful to make this all right.  God, if we run our business in a way that honors you, you will bless it financially and you’ll make everything turn out right.  Or maybe your view of God was hey, you’re the type of God that will always tell me exactly what to do every single time.  And then sometimes God seems silent.  What do you do then?  Or maybe you had this view in your mind of God that he would protect you from hardship, that he’d protect you from pain, that he’d protect you from suffering, that he’d protect you from abuse.  And He didn’t!  You were left holding the pieces, saying God, I don’t know what to do with you now, because I thought for sure you were the kind of God that showed up in situations like that.   

The reality is that the fact that evil, and suffering, and abuse exists in the world does not mean that God doesn’t exist.  What it means is that there is no God who always prevents suffering, evil, and abuse.  THAT God doesn’t exist.  But it doesn’t mean that no God exists.  It means that we have to go back and wrestle with what in the world do we do with reality?  What do we do with life?  Because the spiritual life is distinctly grounded in reality, not fantasy.  It’s about taking God as he is, or not taking God at all.  Sometimes what’s false and untrue has to die a really, really painful, really difficult death in order for what’s true to actually start to emerge.  To hold on to what’s true of God, what’s untrue of God has to die, and when it does that is painful, isn’t it?  If you’ve ever walked through a season where God isn’t who you hoped he was or he turned out to be different than you thought, you know letting go of that view hurts.  it hurts.  

There’s a word for that that’s thrown around a lot now….it’s called deconstruction.  I’m not passionate about deconstruction, to be honest with you.  I’m actually more passionate about reconstruction.  I think THAT’S where the good stuff is.  We can let go of some things.  We might need to.  But what can we hold onto?  We’re all left in this spot where God is disappointing, or we FEEL like God’s failed us, or we KNOW we have to reimagine what God is like.  We’re all left with these three choices:  Will I continue to hold on to what I thought was true and what I hoped was true, even though I know in the back of my mind it’s not now?  Will I walk away altogether?  And say God, if you’re not like that—if you don’t always heal, if you don’t always bless, if you don’t always do this—than I’m out completely.  I know so many people who have walked away from their faith because they feel like God failed them.  What I want to say to you is it’s not God failing you, it’s your view of God that’s faulty that’s being revealed.  Or….will I incorporate what I now know of God into my view of him?  Will I let the false God die so I can embrace what’s actually true?  

This is where Jonah’s at.  This is Jonah’s journey in chapter 4.  He’s going to be our prophetic guide on our journey as well.  We want to wrestle with this question:  What do we do when it seems like God is disappointing and how do we start to move forward?  Jonah 4:2 — And prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was yet in my country?  That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.  What’s Jonah doing?  Jonah’s quoting Scripture.  Jonah is taking what he’s heard about God, read about God, studied about God, as a Hebrew prophet, and he’s parroting back to God….God, I had this sneaking suspicion this was true because I’d read it somewhere.  Where had I read it?  It’s in there somewhere.  Oh right, Exodus 34:6 says the exact same thing.  It’s one of the most important Scriptures in the entire Bible.  It’s THE place where God reveals God’s self.  Where God says this is what I’m like.  You can count on it.

The Israelites had just been led out of slavery in Egypt.  They’d been there for four hundred years.  They go into the wilderness.  Moses has this encounter with God and Moses asks him, “Show me your face.”  Show me what you’re like.  And God says, “I’ll tell you my name.”  Wait, what??  Face??  Name??  What’s going on here?  What’s the deal, God?  Why??  Have you ever thought about this: Why does God need a name?  Isn’t “God” good enough?  Not if you’re coming out of Egypt and you’ve been surrounded by a number of pagan deities.  If you were to go back to Pharaoh and say, “God sent me,” Pharaoh would probably respond by saying, “Which god?”  So this is the place where God sets himself apart from every other god, and says this is what I’m like.  The Lord passed before Moses and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord…”  Do you know that when you read that name LORD, in your translation of the Bible, usually when the translators are translating the name “Yahweh,” they capitalize LORD—all four letters.  When you read LORD and it’s in all caps, it’s Yahweh.  It’s a name.  So what God says is Yahweh, Yahweh and El or an Elohim that’s different or set apart, that’s completely other from the other gods.  What God does in giving Moses a name is that he makes himself personal.  He says listen, I’m not that interested in you just calling me God, as a title, I actually want relationship with you.  I have a name.  Call me Yahweh. 

Think about it, it would be strange if I called my wife “wife,” wouldn’t it?  Hey, wife, how you doing today?  Wife, how are the kiddos?  Wife, how was work?  No, no, no, no, we have a relationship, therefore, I call her Kelly, or babe, or, if we’ve been watching a lot of Seinfeld, I call her Shmoopy.  Yeah, because it’s personal.  

Yahweh’s distinguishing himself from the other gods.  He’s making himself personal, and look at these words:  merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.  He’s making himself look ridiculously good!  It’s as though God wants to say to Moses—then all these other authors…..thirty-two times this passage is quoted throughout the Bible.  It’s the most quoted passage in the Bible by the Bible.  You know who it sounds a lot like?  Jesus.   But Jonah can’t see it.  He can’t see it because of his own hypocrisy.  He can’t see it because he doesn’t recognize that that’s the kind of God he needs.  He needs God to be gracious and merciful.  If God were vindictive and angry, my guess is a disobedient prophet might be at the front of the line to receive his wrath.  

But Jonah can’t get there.  Jonah’s struggling with this view of God because THIS type of God Jonah can’t control.  Jonah can’t say to that God, “Here’s my agenda; if you could execute on it that would be wonderful.”  Remember how we hate them?  Remember how they’re wrong?  Remember how you’re on our side only and not theirs?  Remember that?  He can’t say that to that God.  Jonah wishes that God were way more like him.  As Voltaire famously quipped: “In the beginning God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.”  Certainly Jonah falls in line with that!  

But I think Jonah also has a valid concern.  How is God suppose to be good to the promises he’s made to Israel and merciful to Nineveh?  It just doesn’t fit.  It’s the same thing people struggled with in regard to Jesus.  Jesus, how can you be the Messiah, and how can you bring the kingdom of God, like you say you’re bringing, if the empire of Rome continues to flourish?  How can both be true?  What the author of Jonah is leading the reader to see is something that maybe Jonah can’t see, but we can.  In order for Jonah to move forward in his spiritual journey, in order for Jonah to continue to walk with God in any sort of way, he cannot walk around those questions, he cannot ignore them, he cannot pick up the rug and sweep them under the rug and hope that they go away.  In order for Jonah to continue to move forward, he has to hit those questions head on.  What Jonah prophetically shows us is that honest doubt is oftentimes the gateway to deeper faith.  

What Jonah’s discovering is there’s a difference between what he thinks he knows to be true of God and what he actually trusts of God.  Let that sink in for a moment.  What he knows, or thinks he knows, to be true of God and what he actually trusts of God.  We’ve been on this journey, over the last few years, of re-engaging spiritual practices.  One of the reasons we are so passionate about that is that we believe you could memorize the entire Bible and not encounter Jesus.  That twelve inch journey from our head (what we know) to our heart (what we believe) is way longer than twelve inches, isn’t it?  I could tell you about the love of God.  I can preach about the love of God.  I can show it to you in the Scriptures and go, come on, you guys, it’s true, but it only actually changes your life when you hear it, not from me, but when you hear it from God.  You could walk out of here hearing it from and leave unchanged.  Oh but, friend, if you hear the voice of God whisper the goodness and mercy and love……I’ve been following you all the days of your life and you will dwell in my house forever…..if you hear Him say that, that is a game changer!  Dallas Willard once said, “Most of the time when we teach theology, we say, you should believe this whether you believe it or not.”  I know Jonah’s going, I know I should believe this, but I don’t.  What if a more beautiful faith awaits on the other side of your doubt and disappointment with God?  What if wrestling with disappointment is actually the place we meet Jesus most sincerely?  What if we’ve been rejecting the very thing that ushers us into Presence?  I think, a faith that engages doubt, disappointment, pain, and hurt is the only kind of faith worth having.  Because it’s real!  It’s alive.   

Jonah’s on this journey and here’s how it continues.  But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.  (v3)Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.  And he’s not going Pauline ‘to live is Christ, to die is gain’ on us.  He’s going, I’m so upset that this is who you are and this is what you’re like, I would rather DIE and try to get away from your presence than continue to live with THIS view and THIS picture of God in my mind.  I think if we had more text, Jonah would say, “You played me.”  I think Jonah would say, “You let me down.”  I was thinking destruction, You were thinking grace.  I was thinking justice, You were thinking mercy. 

Here’s what God said back to him:  And said, “Do you do well to be angry?”  So gentle.  So loving.  So…..Dr. Phil.  How’s that working out for you, Jonah?  You’re angry.  You’re upset.  Jonah, how’s that going?  Another way you could translate those words is “Jonah, are you justified in your anger?”  Notice that Yahweh doesn’t come alongside of Jonah and say, “How dare you be angry with me! You’re a prophet of God, if you can’t get it, who can?  Get away from me, out of my presence.  If you won’t take me as I actually am, you’re out of here!”  That’s not what he does.  You see God putting his arm around Jonah.  {Look up at me, friends.}  God is not threatened and he’s not offended by Jonah’s disappointment.  He’s not offended by Jonah’s honesty.  And he’s not offended or threatened by yours!  He actually wants to help Jonah walk through it.  Jonah, let’s talk.  Let’s talk about your anger.  Jonah, your anger is preventing you from seeing my grace in your life.  Jonah, your anger, as Paul will write later on to the church in Ephesus (Eph. 4:26-27) ….your anger is creating a space in your soul that’s giving the devil a foothold.  It’s creating a fire of evil in your life that you will never grow beyond, Jonah.  So, Jonah, let’s talk about the anger. Let’s not sweep it under the rug, let’s get it out in the open!   Isn’t this one of the most fascinating verses?  You give the devil a foothold.  So if you want to do spiritual warfare, fight and war against the anger that takes root in your soul.  Forgive people often.  That’s spiritual warfare.  What God is saying to Jonah is Jonah, you can’t move forward.  God knows that unexamined anger will continue to be a roadblock in Jonah’s spiritual development, because you never grow beyond your anger.

Here’s what God knows that Jonah doesn’t yet:  Anger has this power to destroy.  But it also has a unique ability to be a mirror.  Because examined anger is a diagnostic for self-discovery.  It’s where God wants to lead Jonah.  Do you do well to be angry, Jonah?  You may want to write this down: Anger is a terrible end, but it’s a decent guide.  It can shine a light on some things going on in our soul that maybe we wouldn’t see any other way.  You may go, I know I shouldn’t be angry, but what should I do when I’m angry?  That’s a great question! Here’s three things you could do:  1) Identify anger in your body.  I can remember the very first time I was sharing with my Spiritual Director…..Man, this thing this week just got under my skin.  He responded by saying, “Yeah, where’d you feel that in your body?”  Feel it in my body? I felt it in my head because I knew they were wrong!  And I was right!   I stepped back for a moment and went, well, no, actually, I felt it in my chest.  My heart started to beat quicker.  My neck probably got splotchy.  Here’s the truth of the matter, if you can identify where anger typically resides in your body, you can address it before you explode and go, “I’m angry!”  You can examine it.

The next thing you can do is follow your anger to its root.  Figure out what’s really there.  Yesterday, I was walking into our backyard.  We have a sliding glass door then a screen door.  I have done battle with the screen doors in my house.  I hate the screen doors in my house.  Three kids and we used to have a dog, so the screens doors were always getting bent and they never slid the right way.  It drove me bonkers.  It also drove me to go to Home Depot and to buy not one but two screen doors that I tried to replace said broken screen door with and I came up 0-2. Hundreds of dollars thrown down the drain over screen doors.  When we got new windows on our house and it came with a sliding glass door and new screen door, I felt like I’d been introduced to Jesus all over again!  Until yesterday!  First spring day—It’s open.  Wind blowing through.  It’s beautiful.  I start to go into the backyard and I pull the screen door and it goes NOWHERE!  Broken again!  And I lost it!  I kept going boom! boom! with the door.  I turn to Ethan (we were going to go play catch) and said, “I think I’m losing it.”  I had this voice in the back of my head…..Do you do well to be angry?  My answer was yeah, I do! Because this screen door won’t work right!  I was able to step back and ask myself why I was freaking out over a screen door?  I’m freaking out over a screen door because it’s open and I hoped it would be fixed.  God says, “Okay, a little bit deeper.”  I’m freaking out because….because I couldn’t fix it the last time, and I felt like a failure. God said, “Mmhmm, a little bit deeper.”  Lord, I’m guess I’m freaking out because I base a lot of my self-worth and identity on being competent. And I wasn’t.  And in so many ways, I’m not.  I sensed God go, “Yeah, that’s it.”  What if you started to drop that mask of having it altogether?  What if you didn’t need that fig leaf of competence to feel okay?  I said, “Well, I can drop that if you can get me a new screen door.”  {Just kidding.} 

Friends, our surrender is a part of our worship.  To bring the false self, to bring the fig-leaf self to Jesus and to say, “Here’s what I think it is.”  It’s a part of our worship.  What if we surrendered our anger to Jesus, and said, “Now it’s yours. You teach me.”  I love this picture of God that Jonah just latches onto.  You’re abounding in love.  You’re gracious.  You’re merciful.  You’re slow to anger.  Is Jonah right?  He is!  Jonah nails it!  {Look up at me for a moment.}  You were created in the image of THIS God.  You carry His image in your soul.  If you want to walk in the way that God has created you and designed you to walk, you walk in this.  You walk in love.  You walk in forgiveness. You walk in mercy.  You walk knowing that God is ridiculously good to you.  When Jesus comes onto the scene, he starts to address this faulty view of God and here’s what he says:  You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” {Which was part of their tradition; it wasn’t actually in the Bible.  They couldn’t point to a place in Scripture and say, “See, God said hate your enemy.”  You could find a place where He said to love God and love people, but they sort of added onto that…..people that are good to you.}  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.   {When you love your enemies and pray for people who persecute you, you know who you look like?  God.  You’re a chip off the old block.  You’re sons of your Father who’s in heaven.}  For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matt. 5:43-45)   Have you ever noticed that the sun comes up on your neighbor who’s a terrible person and on your neighbor who’s a great person?  Have you noticed that when it rains it hits your neighbor’s yard, who was a jerk to you, and you, who you think is a pretty nice person?  Have you noticed that?  Have you noticed that God is ridiculously, abundantly GOOD all around?  Jesus says, yeah, walk in that way.  Maybe the thing that Jonah misses and maybe the thing that a lot of people missed is that the way of love is actually the pathway to freedom.

But it’s not easy, is it?  It’s way easier to live in the way of revenge.  It’s way easier to cling on to….I want justice in every situation, and I want to see it happen and I want to determine what it looks like.  But you were created in the image of God and that God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting of disaster.  That’s what’s true of God.  It may be disappointing to you.  I hope it’s not.  It’s what’s true of God.  And it’s what’s revealed in Jesus.  

So here’s the invitation this morning:  What if we took all the ways we felt like God disappointed us, or all the doubts that we had, or all the things we wished were a little bit different, what if we took those and instead of sweeping them away we brought them to God?  Because God doesn’t call Jonah to process his pain apart from Him.  Jonah prays!  He invites God into it.  What if we use the way that our anger starts to flare up as a mirror to grow deeper and to recognize who we are and ultimately, who God’s made us to be?  What if we said man, in the midst of all the things we don’t know and all the questions that are left outstanding, what if we said we’ve got this anger and it holds us and it keeps us, and it’s the thing that we continually go back to when the waves start to rise and the wind starts to blow and we just run back to this reality that changes everything: We’re loved.  We’re children of the Most High God.  We may not know everything, but you can know enough.

Here’s what I want to do.  I want to end and create some space.  We’re going to come to the table this morning.  I want to ask you what do you sense Jesus saying to you? What’s his invitation?  Can I share with you what I sensed him saying to me?  I sensed him saying:  Have space for people who are questioning.  I can’t tell you how much I long for us to be the kind of community of faith where we can be okay with welcoming people who say I’m a little bit mad at God and I’m not exactly sure what to do with that.  Or that say in honesty, I can’t reconcile the fact that God didn’t come through for me in this situation.  What if we were a safe space for people; not where we just gave all the answers, but where we met people with presence?  What if we were honest about our own journey and our own questions, and we didn’t distance God from that conversation but included Him?  What if….what if….we said Jesus is our north star and we’re going to pursue him with everything we have?  We have confidence that Jesus said if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.  That Jesus is what God is like.  He’s the exact representation of the glory of God.  May he be our pursuit.  May he be our longing.  May he be the thing that we have in our mind when we think about what God is like.  

As you come to this table this morning—broken body, shed blood—maybe, just maybe, you say yeah, this is what you’re like, God, that you meet us in these elements. That you speak a good word over us.  Your loving, good sacrifice for us and your arms around us.  As you come to the table this morning, get in your mind THIS is what God is like.  

Let’s pray.  Jesus, this morning, we want to say to you that we love you, that we know that you see us and that you love us.  If there’s pieces of the way that we think about you that are wrong would you point them out to us, and would you help us let go of them that we might move forward in a way of freedom, in a way of truth, in a way of life?  Jesus, I pray that you would meet us as we take these elements this morning.  Would you speak a good word, we pray.  In Jesus’s name.  Amen.

Jonah | God in Mind | Jonah 4:1-4 | Week 52020-08-20T16:45:07-06:00

Jonah | House Rules | Jonah 3:1-10 | Week 4

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JONAH: House Rules    Jonah 3:1-10

We’re going to be camping out in Jonah 3 today.  Let me just give you a bird’s-eye view of where we’ve been. The book of Jonah is a story of a portion of the life of Jonah, and you sort of need one step and one phase to build on the other.  Hop online to fill yourself in on the blanks I’ll leave out today.

Jonah is a prophet of God who prophesied in roughly the eighth century BC.  He was a contemporary of Amos and Hosea.  They were both prophesying at the same time.  Amos and Hosea had a hard word for Israel.  They said that Jeroboam II was using his militaristic might and power in order to expand the empire and they were not okay with that.  Jonah, however, was just fine with that.  He wanted to see Israel expand at any extent and in any degree and he was happy with however that happened.  This is the book we have of Jonah’s “prophecy;” in many ways the book is more prophetic than Jonah.  We’re going to see that today as it comes to light.

The first chapter of Jonah, we saw that God gave Jonah a call to go as a prophet to Nineveh, which is almost directly east of where Jonah was.  We see that Jonah goes directly west; he goes and runs from the place of pain and brokenness, in Nineveh, to pleasure and tropics in Tarshish.  Week one, we said it’s often easier to run from God than it is to trust God.  When we run, we get the perception of control.  When we trust, we have to surrender.  Jonah is met in his running with a storm.  The storm is harsh and difficult, but rather than being a punishment for Jonah, the storm is actually God’s pursuit.  God refuses to let Jonah continue to run and continue to be disobedient.  He confronts him and starts to call him home.  Larry Boatright did a wonderful job, last week, teaching on Jonah’s prayer in the belly of a fish.  Larry reminded us that it’s often those moments of rock bottom where we start to be reborn, isn’t it?  Where God starts to save when we feel like we’ve entered the grave.  Today we pick up the story after Jonah is “vomited out upon dry land.”

Big idea of the book of Jonah is that a resentful prophet meets a relentless God.  We’re going to see a piece of God’s relentless nature today.  Verse 1, chapter 3 of Jonah.  No shame using the Table of Contents.  Jonah’s small.  He’s buried in the minor prophets; they’re minor not because they’re unimportant, but because they’re short.  Here we go:  Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, {This is a picture of mercy.} saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”  So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh.  

Jut a quick time out.  Does this sound familiar to anyone?  Arise and go to Nineveh.  This is almost verbatim, what God said to Jonah in chapter 1.  Remember, we said, week one, that Jonah is both prophetic AND poetic.  It’s beautiful in its literature.  There’s this sort of ebb and flow and this rhythm that we’re suppose to see that yes, this is like a rebirth of sorts that Jonah is experiencing.  Instead of saying no, like he did the first time around, Jonah says yes.  Begrudgingly.  Yes.

So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.  Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth.   How many of you have a little note in your Bible, maybe a one, next to “great city?”  If you read the note, a lot of the scholars will say, yeah, Nineveh was a very large city and it took three days to go through it.  Archaeology and archaeological discovery would say that Nineveh was around seven miles in circumference.  Now, unless Jonah is really, really slow, he could make it seven miles in one day, could he not?  A lot of the scholars will say—and I don’t think they’re wrong—that Nineveh was just a large city, which it was by ancient standards, it was also a very influential city.  In an influential city, you had a methodology by which you entered it, especially if you were a prophet.  Day one, you would enter.  Day two, you would be received with hospitality, and day three you would leave.  What we see in Jonah is that he doesn’t have the chance to get all the way into the rhythm of the city of Nineveh before he preaches and before the people start to respond.

Verse 4 — Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey.  And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”   That’s it.  I mean, all this pageantry.  Jonah runs.  Jonah swallowed by a fish.  Jonah’s barfed up on dry land.  Jonah’s finally called to go.  And when he goes, he preaches, in the Hebrew, five words!  Five word sermon!  We’re suppose to go……Jonah….anything else?!  Flip over a few books to the right and look at the prophet Nahum’s prophecy against Nineveh.  That’s how you prophesy against a city!  The entire book is his (Nahum’s) prophecy.  Jonah has FIVE words.  You’re going down!  Scholars have wrestled with this, like, what are we suppose to make of Jonah’s “prophecy?”  It’s fairly lackluster.  It lacks most of what you would assume a prophet of God would deliver.  Who’s the prophecy from?  We don’t know.  What are the people suppose to do?  We don’t know.  What are they on the hook for?  We don’t know.  Five words!  That’s it!

I wrestled with this, and I think we have two options.  First, I think this could be, what we could term, prophetic sabotage.  Jonah’s barfed up onto dry land and he goes, God, you’re going to send me again?  Fine! If we have kids, we know this face, don’t we?  I will do what you say, but I won’t like it, and I will do the minimum requirements.  I’m not going above and beyond.  I will begrudgingly drag my feet, and I will do it….check, it is done, thank you very much, give me credit!    That could be one way of reading it and to be honest with you, I read it that way for most of my time studying this text, until I started to see….I don’t know that the narrative arch of this account demands that we only read it through the lens of Jonah, which I think that reading does.  What if we start to read it through the lens of Nineveh?  What if, instead of this being the worst sermon that was ever preached, which it might have been, we see the greatest repentance ever offered?  The greatest turn ever made.  What if there was way more to Jonah’s sermon, and the Ninevites just said, “We’re in!”  You’re right!  And he’s like, I’ve got four more points about how wrong you are.  We know we’re wrong!  We’re in!  So here’s the takeaway:  If you repent during the introduction of the message, the message will be shorter!  You’re welcome!  So option one is it’s prophetic sabotage, but option two is it’s the Ninevites just going well, yeah, you’re right and we’re wrong!

So here’s my question:  Could that have actually happened?  Could a foreign prophet stumble into the Red Light District of Amsterdam, give a five word “you’re wrong” sermon, drop his mic, walk out, and have the entire district go, “You’re right. We repent and our whole nation repents also.”  Could that actually happen?  Yeah! Yeah, it could.  Let me give you one sort of scenario.  What if Jonah—I’ve read this in a few books and have heard it from a few people—is like bright white because he’s covered in bile from a large fish?  And he walks in and delivers this message, and they’re like, we are scared and we hear you.  I don’t know, that’s an option.

What if….    he Assyrians were spiritual people.  They were not followers of Yahweh, but they were spiritual people.  So a lot of scholars who write about Jonah say well, maybe God was sort of tilling the ground for Nineveh.  Maybe there was an ecstatic sign in the sky.  Maybe there was an eclipse.  Maybe there was a famine.  Maybe they were attacked.  The Assyrians would have attributed all of those to signs from God.  In fact, June 15, 763 B.C. there was an eclipse, around the same time Jonah’s prophesying probably.  So he delivers his message, maybe on the heels of this eclipse, and they go well, sure.  What’s really interesting is if you read through ancient Assyrian texts, when they talk about one of these omens being declared following an eclipse, they mandate mass repentance.  Including the animals, they are called to repent.  In their own texts!  Is it possible?  Sure.

We’ve seen it happen before.  In 1907, there was a Bible conference in North Korea.  The preacher, at this Bible conference, spoke this word over this group of people that the way they’d been treating the Chinese was wrong.  It landed on them with this weight.  Collectively, they said, “You’re right.”  Everyone that was at this conference went home, and the story goes that they started going neighbor to neighbor to neighbor repenting of the wrong that they had done.  It changed the spiritual landscape of that area.  You can look at 1730-1740 in the U.S., in what we would call the Great Awakening.  In our country, for two decades, there was this repentance that led to life.  We saw something like this happen in our own country.  Lean in for a moment.  Anytime revival takes place, repentance always precedes it.  That’s what we saw in the Great Awakening.  That’s what we start to see in this book of Jonah.

Look at the content of this sermon with me.  This really, really short sermon.  Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!  This isn’t the kind of sermon that draws a lot of crowds, is it?   This isn’t the like, you’re a snowflake, you’re unique, you’re amazing, you’re awesome, Jesus loves you.  All those things are true, but this isn’t that sermon, is it?  This is a sermon of what we would call judgment.  Judgment is just simply saying something is right and something is wrong.  We make judgments every single day.  We make judgments when we’re writing…..Do we use the Oxford comma or not?  Please, use the Oxford comma!  Should the National League adopt the designated hitter?  No, absolutely not!  Should you put pineapple on pizza?  NO!  This is a word from the Lord—NO!  And it’s a judgment against everybody that wants to!  Should God have created cats?  NO!!!

We make judgments every single day about a myriad of different things.  Kelly and I were checking into different hotels during our time in Costa Rica.  Every single one of them handed us a list of rules, a list of judgments, if you will, when we checked in.  Things we were and were not allowed to do.  They all had different rules.  Some of the rules were sort of humorous, like:  You’re not allowed to flush your toilet paper.  That wasn’t all that humorous actually.  One was make sure that the screen door that leads out to your patio or balcony remains locked at all times, because the monkeys are smart enough to get in the doors and they’ll come in and eat your food if you don’t lock it.  I’m like…..Unlock, let’s see this go down!  Here’s what we didn’t do:  We didn’t look at the rules, read them, and say this:  What in the world gives YOU the right to tell ME what to do?!  You know why?  Because it’s not my hotel.  They are allowed to tell me what to do, what I’m allowed to do while I’m there because they own the hotel!  It’s theirs!  Whoever owns the space gets to make the determination about what’s right and what’s wrong.  Since God designed the house, he gets to decide on the rules.

I can say that I really want my car to run on diesel.  I can go over and fill up my 2008 Honda Pilot with diesel over at the gas station.  I can fill it up and get in it and what’s going to happen?  I didn’t know either, but it’s not good probably, right?  It’s not going to run, is it?  I can say my car should run on diesel, but the reality is that I didn’t design my car and I don’t get to decide.  It runs on unleaded, thank you, Mr. Honda.  I don’t get to decide that.

When God pronounces a judgment—this is right, this is wrong—against Nineveh, he does so as the owner of the house. He gets to decide what’s right because he designed it.  Whoever designs gets to decide.  Here’s what he decides, verse 8.  Nineveh gets it.  What are they being judged for?  They’re evil and their violence.  Their wickedness, that we talked about in week one, and violence could be social injustice, the way that they treat their neighbor.  The way that they take advantage of the people around them.  God looks at them and says, “My law is love and my gospel is peace.  Those are my house rules.  You’re not living by my house rules, and you are wrong!”  That’s the content of Jonah’s sermon.

We hear a word of judgment—that’s what this is—and immediately we’re taken aback a bit.  We may start to get a little bit fidgety.  We may start to think, “This is why I walked away from the church.”  Or, these are the types of sermons I’m glad I didn’t invite anybody to come to.  Or maybe, I can’t believe I invited them to come….TODAY.  I started to think about judgment and I think if I wouldn’t have written my outline on a plane and had had a few more days, I think this may have been my main idea:  God’s judgment is not the problem, it’s actually the solution.  The thing that makes us go, “Oh, I’m not sure I like that about God,” is the very thing that we want God to be.  It’s the very thing that we go—if we actually take time to think about it and process it—oh whew!  Oh whew!

But it comes at us and it feels harsh.  Let me show you from Jonah 3:9; here’s what the Ninevites say:  Who knows? God may turn and relent {Repent may be a more accurate translation.} and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.   We don’t love those verses, do we?  They make us feel pretty uncomfortable.  I guess I’ll speak first person, “They make me pretty uncomfortable.”  Here’s the question, right?  We talk a lot about a God of love…..Your love won’t leave me here.  All the earth will praise your name.  You’re amazing!  Every breath….yeah, all that.  So is God a God of love or is God a God of judgment?  Is Jesus what God is like or is God fiercely angry at the wickedness and injustice and evil that he saw in Nineveh?  Which one is it?

One of the major objections I’ve heard from friends and people that I’ve interacted with about God when they find out that I’m a pastor at a Christian church is how can you believe in a God that’s so judgmental?  Is that really what Jesus was like?

In 2009, there was an atheist group in Great Britain that pooled money and ran an ad campaign that appeared on, roughly, 1000 buses around Britain.  Their ad said:  There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.  Like, Jonah 3:9….This angry God?  Probably not there.  So stop worrying and enjoy your life.  Think of all the implications that this little tag line says.  One, if there is a God, you should be worried.  If there is a God, you’re probably going to have a pretty hard time enjoying your life.  If there isn’t a God, things would be so much better.  They looked at it and went man, if God is indeed a God of judgment, we don’t need him and he probably doesn’t exist anyway, so let’s not live under the weight of THAT.  Let’s walk in life.

I think it was January 31st, this year, this story broke.  The Houston Chronicle revealed that over the last few decades that there had been massive, massive abuse within the Catholic Church.  Priests taking advantage of kids, primarily young boys.  Love or judgment?  As Protestants, we don’t get off the hook, you guys.  They also revealed that within the Southern Baptist Church, over the course of twenty years, over 700 kids had come forward to say, “Me too!”  So is the loving thing for God to do is to say, “Oh well, what a bummer?”  I know that a lot of you guys have walked that road, so the question is more personal for us.  What do we do with that?  Does God look at that and just go what a bummer?  Would you look at that, as a parent, and go, what a bummer?

The truth of the matter is, friends, God is love, God has always been love.  Jesus is what God is like.  He reveals God in all of His fullness, but God’s judgment does not conflict with his love, it actually reveals his love.  The most unloving thing that God could do is turn a blind eye to hurt and pain in the fracture of his creation and the good shalom that he designed us to live in.  So as Elie Wiesel says: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”  Please hear me.  God is not indifferent.  He’s not indifferent.  He’s fiercely, ferociously, lovingly for his creation.  When God speaks against Nineveh, he’s doing it because he loves Nineveh, and he loves the people Nineveh is abusing.  He loves them both and knows it would be the worse thing for the Ninevites to go on living in the hell that they’re creating, so he calls them out.  And he knows that it would be terrible for the people on the other end of the spear to continue to experience that as well.  God can’t ignore sin.  That would be the most unloving thing he could do.  He judges it because he loves.  {Look up at me.}  You WANT a God who judges.

Jesus made this interesting statement, as he’s walking to the cross, listen to what he says.  John records this for us in John 12:31-33.  We did a whole sermon on this text last year, in our “Four Days That Changed the World” series.  If you want to hop online and watch it, I think it’s “Thursday.”  Here’s what it says:  Now is the time for judgment on this world; {He’s talking about the cross.  The cross is God’s judgment.}  now the prince of this world will be driven out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.  He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.  So God’s judgment has both this confrontational dynamic to it AND comforting dynamic to it.  It confronts, in that it drives out evil.  It comforts, in it draws in people.  That’s what God’s judgment does; it’s two sides to the same coin.  Driving out evil.  Drawing in people.  Love and justice.  Same coin, two sides.

We can go, oh man, I’m really grateful God judges the Ninevites, and I’m really grateful God judges the devil, the enemy.  I’m grateful he drives him out, them out, their evil out.  But God doesn’t just judge the other.  God judges you.  God judges me.  It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love us.  He judges us because he loves us.  Like a surgeon coming in with a knife, saying this is going to hurt a little bit, but I want to kill the thing that’s killing you. So his judgment both hurts and it heals.  But it doesn’t conflict with his love, friends.  Please put that false dichotomy, that infantile thinking out of your mind.  God’s love is actually revealed in his judgment, it does NOT conflict with it.

Jonah 3:5-9.  And the people of Nineveh believed God.  They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.  The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything.  Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God.  Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.  Who knows?  God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

Does anyone else wonder what it looks like for a cow to cry out to God?  Mooo, I was wrong.  It was non-fat milk, I admit it.  I don’t know.  I don’t know what the cows are on the hook for either.  It’s intended to be something that sort of pushes up against us a little bit, and ironically, makes this really, really deep point.  The fracture of sin goes all the way to the very fabric and fiber of creation.  So even the cows go, we’re wrong.  We’re all a part of it.  No one is off the hook.  So notice the Ninevites don’t just say, oh yeah, we’ve got to pray this prayer so that we can be accepted by God.  They go and start putting on sackcloth and ashes, and they change because they know that repentance that doesn’t involve change isn’t repentance.  It’s not just a cognitive thing for them, it’s a daily, it’s a life thing for them.  The reality, friends, is that God’s judgment does not only call something wrong—it does that.  He makes a judgment: this is right, this is wrong.  But it intends to bring about repentance.  {Slide: God’s judgment doesn’t only call something wrong, it intends to bring about repentance.} That’s always, always, ALWAYS His goal.

When Jesus steps onto the scene, the very first sermon, or message, that Matthew records him giving is this: Repent,  {Turn!  You’re going one direction.  You think one thing.  Turn!}  for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 4:17)   What’s really interesting is that Matthew doesn’t say this is the first sermon Jesus preached.  What Matthew says is this is what Jesus began to preach and never stopped.  This was his message.  Repent!  Imbedded within this message is two things: one, it’s this declaration.  Hey, Humanity, you’ve been wrong.  You’ve been wrong about your injustices.  Just go on and read The Sermon on the Mount.  Humanity, which follows this declaration repent, you’ve been wrong about holding onto your anger.  You’ve been wrong to continue to hate your enemies.  You’ve been wrong to live in the way of lust rather than in the way of love.  You have been wrong to live judging and pronouncing condemnation on the people around you.  You. Have. Been. Wrong.  It’s a declaration.

And there’s an invitation: Repent!  Turn!  The kingdom of heaven is here.  It’s here.  God doesn’t just call something wrong, he wants to make it right.  The question is: Do we want God’s right?  Do we want the house rules?  Do we want to play by our own rules?  No, my anger’s justified. The way that I spend my money, that’s justified.  What I do with my sexuality, that’s justified.  God, I’ll take your house rules for the majority of my life, but for these portions of my life, I’m playing by MY house rules.  Do we want His house rules?  There are some who think that God’s house rules—his law is love, his gospel is peace—are like a straitjacket.  I want to tell you, this may be the best news you hear all day, if you view God’s law of love as a straitjacket, the most loving, beautiful news I could announce to you is you’re wrong.  You’re wrong!  Our addictions are a straitjacket.  Our anger’s a straitjacket.  Clinging to vain idols, that’s a straitjacket.  Our false selves that we need to protect at every turn…that’s a straitjacket.  The invitation to Jesus is an invitation to life, and life abundant, and life full.

Here’s what the people do.  I’m praying that God would stir something in us, that we would do the same.  Three things that they do.  One, the Ninevites look at the fracture of shalom their sin has caused and they’re sorrowful over it.  There’s this covering of sackcloth and ashes.  When you walked in, you got a string of sackcloth.  Pull that out.  The reason the king covers himself with sackcloth and sits down in ashes is because it doesn’t feel good.  That’s the point.  When you cover yourself in it, you remember.  You remember the wrong.  You remember the hurt.  It’s not comfortable.  Lulu Lemon’s not coming out with a sackcloth line.  H&M doesn’t have a spring “Sackcloth is Here!”  It’s just not going to happen.  There’s a reason for that.  It’s uncomfortable.  Maybe you tie that around your wrist and you enter into this man, God, help me to see the way my anger…  Help me to see the way that my lust…  Help me see the way that my addiction to preserving me…  Help me see the way that having to get the last word has actually fractured the good shalom that you wanted to create in my life.  Help me see it.

For the Ninevites, there’s this intentional turning.  They don’t just keep walking in the same direction.  When we talk about spiritual practices, it’s us saying God, we believe that you’re right, and we want to partner with your spirit’s work in our life to walk in more freedom.  I love the way that David G. Benner put it:  “Spiritual transformation does not result from fixing our problems.  It results from turning to God in the midst of them and meeting God as we are. {Your love will not leave me here.  It’ll meet me here, but it won’t leave me here.}  Turning to God is the core of prayer.  Turning to God in our sin and shame is the heart of spiritual transformation.”

So there’s this sorrow, not condemnation, but sorrow over the way that their sin has impacted their world, and there’s an intentional turning from it.  Then there’s this third step.  Verse 10 — When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented…  There’s this interesting dynamic in the Hebrew.  There’s this word shubthat’s used over and over again in the Hebrew.  It’s the word repent.  It just means to be walking one direction and to turn the other direction.  What the Ninevites say is maybe if we shub, God’ll shub.  What verse 10 says is God shubbed!  This verse 10 is the death of the platonic, unmoved mover, uninterested God.  It’s God saying I’m not some static person in the sky that doesn’t care what’s going on down there.  It’s a God who says I’m involved, I’m intertwined, I’m interacting, and I respond to you.

What we see is that God’s judgment isn’t intended to terminate at condemnation, but to lead us to mercy.  Some of you need to hear that again.  When God looks at you and says that’s wrong, that’s off, His goal is not that you would be condemned.  His goal is actually that you would be healed.  Mercy and grace are the very things we know, deep down, our soul longs for.  They’re the things that we know our soul absolutely needs, but you never find mercy and grace if you don’t first accept the reality that we need it.  Nobody finds mercy and grace if they don’t think they need it.  We first MUST accept God’s judgment of us that there are places in our life that we are wrong, that we would then be led to his abundant, beautiful, good mercy.

There’s this king in this passage that just echoes of a better king.  Look at this.  This king, all throughout verses six through 9…..the king removes his robe—the sign of royalty.  He lays it aside.  The king humbles himself and puts on sackcloth.  It was accepting and owning the wrong that the Ninevites had done.  He lowers himself into the ashes and the dirt.  He sheds his robe.  He takes on the sin of the nation.  And he’s lowered into the dirt.  Come on, who does this remind us of? (Phil. 2:6-11) The He…being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; rather, he made himself nothing {He shed his robe.} by taking the very nature of a servant….he became obedient to death.  Yeah, he was clothed in sackcloth and ashes.  Carrying the sin of humanity.  Not just death, but death on a cross.  ….so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…..and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.    Yeah, he goes down into the ashes and into the direct and he comes up with new life in his hands.  That’s the good news of the gospel, that this king is the foreshadowing of Jesus.  Jesus is God’s judgment.  To accept Jesus is to accept judgment and mercy and grace all in one.  We are wrong, and we are loved, and we are redeemed, and we are led, and we are indwelled with the spirit, that we can start to let go of the evil and the violence and the hells that are in us.  And to be led to the life that Jesus has purchased for us.

Is judgment a bad thing?  No, it’s actually the revelation of love.  It’s the call to repentance.  It’s the invitation to mercy.  Friends, can I just encourage you with three things?  Will you decide whose house you live in?  Is this God’s world, is this your world?  Do you want God’s kingdom or do you want your kingdom?  Just be honest.  He knows.  Whose house do you live in?

Then, will you ask a very dangerous question that Jesus…..my experience has been, He answers it.  Ask Jesus where you’re wrong.  My tendency is to be okay with God judging people like the Ninevites, but less okay with God judging me.  I have a tendency to blame others, or deny, or explain away, or reason away, but in this, as we sort of process and land the plane here, as Jesus starts to reveal, man, there’s some things in your life that are just off.  The way that you’re spending your money, it’s off.  The way that you’re interacting in that relationship, it’s off.  The things that you value, they’re off.  Your hate, your hypocrisy, your pride….it’s off.  As Jesus said, those are the types of things that create a hell on the inside, and he came to get the hell out of us.  Come on!  Ask him where you’re wrong.  May the weight of his words hit us like they hit the Ninevites.  Jonah needs to be pursued by a storm, swallowed by a fish, vomited up on dry land for him to say yes to God.  I think the book wants to ask us: What’s it going to take for you to say I’ll let the words of God hit me in the same way?  Do I need the fish?  Do I need the storm?  Do I need the pageantry, or will I just let the word of Jesus rest on me?

Finally, as your pastor, can I just encourage you, repent, the kingdom of God is at hand.  It’s just one turn away.  This is the beauty of the cross. This is the hope of redemption.  You don’t need to run through and jump through a bunch of hoops and do a bunch of things, it’s a simple turn.  What you see is that the loving arms of God have already turned to you.  My guess would be, that for every single one of us, we can think of somebody that needs to hear this message.  May I gently suggest to you that that somebody is actually you.  That the somebody is me.  And that there are some areas that Jesus wants to judge so that he might free us to move forward.

I want to give you a few minutes to sit with your sackcloth.  Maybe just run it through your hands.  Or you can stick it in your Bible and use it as a bookmark, as a reminder.  As you hold it, maybe just ask Jesus…..Jesus, where am I wrong, where am I off?  Typically, when we ask that, the picture we get of God is God sitting on the other side of the table with a ledger, going glad you asked.  His eyes are a little bit angry.  What if you asked Jesus, Jesus, where am I off?  And you envision him…. instead of across the table, taking his arm around you and going, “Brian, I’m glad you asked.  Let’s talk.”

Jonah | House Rules | Jonah 3:1-10 | Week 42020-08-20T16:43:33-06:00

Jonah | Belly of a Fish | Jonah 2:1-10 | Week 3

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JONAH: Belly of a Fish    Jonah 2:1-10    Pastor Larry Boatright      (1st service)

We’ve been in a series in the last few weeks going through the book of Jonah.  Jonah is the fifth of the minor prophets.  He prophesied in the latter half of the eighth century BC, so a long time.  Jonah is unique because it’s mostly a narrative; he’s not making big proclamations and all these sorts of things, it’s telling us an interesting story.  Hosea and Amos were also prophets at the same time, and in all three of those books there’s this running theme of God showing God’s mercy to other nations.  God calls Jonah to go share this good news of this mercy with the Ninevites. The Ninevites were bad people.  They were often brutal, they disregarded human life and all these sorts of things.  The whole book is really about God’s extravagant mercy.

Jonah was disgusted at the idea that God would show mercy to people that Jonah felt didn’t deserve it.  So, when God calls Jonah, he runs.  He pays the fare to get on this ship, and as he gets on the ship, he goes down into the belly of the ship and he falls asleep.  God sends a huge storm, and the sailors realize that it was because of Jonah that this storm was happening, so they were freaking out and woke him up.  Ironically, the sailors, who didn’t know the God of Jonah, acted more in line with God than Jonah did.  They asked him to appeal to the Lord, his God.  He didn’t.  He was in full-on rebellion, so he suffers the consequences of running.  He was tossed overboard and sinks to the bottom of the sea.  You know the story.  Here’s the thing that’s so ironic, God does for Jonah what God wanted to do for the Ninevites through Jonah.  Pretty wild, huh?  So, just as Ryan shared a few weeks ago, we see a resentful prophet meeting a relentless God.  That’s the story of Jonah.

In chapter one, we see a series of five downs:  He goes downto Joppa.  He goes downinto the boat.  He goes downinto the water.  He goes downto the bottom of the sea, and ultimately, he goes downinto the belly of the fish.  As I thought about that, I realized that sometimes life feels like that, doesn’t it?  It’s just down…..and then down…..and then down…..and one hard thing after another happens.  For Jonah, it was an act of rebellion that led to this series of downs.  It’s interesting because in this pattern of Jonah, we see what seems like a pattern, in the Old Testament, for Israel, where God calls, there’s disobedience, it leads to exile, and eventually repentance and restoration.  We’re going to see all this play out in this book.

For a lot of us, we experience a set of downs and we didn’t do anything wrong.  We’re not running from God and sometimes we feel like we have our back against the wall.  Whether it’s because we’re running from God or just that life is taking us down a different path, we can all relate to the way that Jonah must have felt as he was at the bottom of a series of downs.  We’ve all experienced feeling scared, and being confused, and unsure of what to do, and feeling like we’ve hit rock bottom, and stuck, and like we’re trapped in the belly of a fish.  Who’s with me?  We’ve been there.   Interestingly, this is the sort of the human experience that Jesus modeled for us —- death, burial, and resurrection.  We’re going to see that is the pattern in Jonah as well.  He neared death, he entered the belly of the fish, and then he came back to dry land.

Today, I want to talk to those of you who feel like you’re stuck in the belly of the fish, whatever that is for you.  Whether it’s because you’re running from God and you’re facing the consequences of that, or you simply can’t explain why, but life, right now, just feels like a series of down, down, down.  And I also want to talk to those of us who’ve experienced a low, a belly of the fish moment in life where you felt like all was lost, and you’ve lived to tell about it.  So let’s dive into Jonah’s experience in the belly of the fish, and I want to see what we can learn and how it applies to our own belly of the fish moment.

I invite you to turn with me to Jonah and we’re going to start in chapter 1, verse 17, because it sets up the story. In the Hebrew Scriptures, verse 17 of our Bible is verse 1 in chapter 2.  Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.  I love the language here…..the Lord providedthis fish and God instructed the fish to swallow him.  That’s really, really important.

The Scriptures say he was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, it doesn’t always literally mean three days and three nights, it just means it was a long time, but not too long.  I can’t but remember the Scripture Ryan pointed out last week, Matthew 12:40.  This is Jesus talking:  For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  Think about that:  Three days and three nights in the belly of this fish.  Imagine how Jonah must have felt.  It was dark.  It was musty.  It smelled like bad sushi.  He was probably confused and asking himself, “Am I dead?”  I’m sure for a while it really did feel like his death.  How much worse could it be?  He had the series of five downs and there was now place that he could go.  His goal was to get as far away from God as possible, and I’m sure, never in a million years, that he imagined that that place would be in the belly of a fish.  Maybe, for him, it felt like the end of the road, the worst case scenario.  It would be easy to look at this and go well, this is just the punishment you got from God for being in rebellion and running from God.  But here’s what we know to be true:  The fish was his salvation, not his punishment.  Chew on that for a moment.  The belly of a whale….well, it was God’s provision for his salvation.  I think it’s interesting that the heart of the earth, a tomb, a cave, was God’s provision for ours.  Isn’t that cool?

Jonah was an unrepentant prophet who wanted to get as far away from God as he possibly could, and in the process of doing so, he actually found himself protected by God.  He tried to run as far as he could and he fell right into the hands, the loving, protective hands of God.  I think this is true for us that often what feels like our grave is what God uses to save us.  Maybe you’ve experienced this.  You’ve been in a dead-end job and you’re going nowhere.  Or maybe you’ve had a loss of identity, or maybe even a loss of everything, and it feels like punishment.  I would ask:  What if, in that dark moment, that impossible situation, that God has us positioned in such a way that we can grow and become who God created us to be.  What if, instead of being restricted by our circumstances, God’s using them to push us in a direction we otherwise never would have gone?  I’m not so naive as to not realize that it’s really hard, when you’re in the belly of the fish, to think, well, maybe God’s using this for good.  It’s not all that easy.  But what if?

So Jonah, three days in silence, in confusion, and then slowly realizing, “Wait a second, I must be alive.”  As we’ll see from Jonah’s prayers, in a just a moment, he came to understand that he was alive.  And he came to realize that, instead of this moment being punishment for him, being in the belly of the fish, as restricted as it was, was actually the safest place he could be.

Let’s pick it up in Jonah 2:1 — From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.   Interesting language here.  The Lord hisGod; it’s personal at this point.  In chapter 1, the captain of the boat said, “Pray to the Lord yourGod,” and Jonah did not do that, and we see the consequences of this.  Jonah responds and prays personally to the Lord his God.  He found himself in a situation where he realized that God had saved him.  He realized that he was alive and he wasn’t dead.  He had nowhere to go, and at this point where he was at the bottom, he chose to talk to God.

Before we get into the prayer, I just want to point out an interesting observation, for those of us that are Bible nerds.  What he does in his prayer is quote a bunch of psalms.  I want to point out that Jonah is borrowing some words.  I have to be honest that as I studied this it frustrated me.  I think that every time you come to the Scriptures, if you’re honest, you’re trying to see how it speaks to you.  Am I right?  This is neat and this is cool and I want to learn about this, but what does this have to say to me?  It frustrated me that in this moment, Jonah didn’t use his own words.  I’m not seeing him saying what he feels.  I had to ask the question: Is his heart tender?  Is he pliable?  Does he want to hear from God or is he just going through the motions?  But here’s the truth: Sometimes when we’re at rock bottom, we struggle to find our words.  Sometimes when our back’s against the wall, we have nothing left to give.

I’ll tell you, as someone who’s been a pastor for over twenty years, I’ve spent a lot of time in the hospital with people who were going through unspeakable tragedies.  I cannot tell you the pressure that I feel when I walk into a room and someone’s hooked up to a ventilator or received a bad diagnosis or whatever it might be, and the pressure I feel to say some magic string of words that makes it all better.  But I’ve learned this to be true, sometimes the best thing to say is I’m so sorry and I’m here with you.

Listen, if you feel like you’re in the belly of the whale, today, sometimes we need to borrow words from those who’ve gone before us and that’s okay.  There’s a little prayer book called The Book of Common Prayerand it’s filled with prayers, and I’ve used that for weddings and funerals and all kinds of things.  On Sundays, I read what’s called the ‘collect,’ which is just the prayer, that someone wrote.  Sometimes I borrow that and speak it verbatim.  It’s amazing, because someone who’s gone before me has these words.  Sometimes that’s all we have.

Jonah knew the psalms—-surprise, it’s Israel’s prayer book.  These psalms were written by people.  One of the things I love about the psalms is it shows the full range of human emotions.  People who are mad, scared, frustrated, exuberant—all those things all at once.  I wonder if Jonah leaned into the words of those who’d gone on before him.  Words he was taught his entire life.  He was at rock bottom and had nothing left to give.

One more thing that we’ll see is that these aren’t psalms of lament, they could have been.  These are actually psalms of thanksgiving.  It’s not exactly what I would imagine I would use when my back was against a whale….I mean, a wall.  See what I did there?

Verse 2 — He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.  From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.”   For the beginning of his prayer, he acknowledged his predicament and God’s provision, and he sort of summarized what happened.  He was found and distressed and God answered.  He uses real poetic language here:  He says he was deep in the realm of the dead.  That’s a way of saying as good as dead.  He asked for help and the Lord heard his cry.  The language shifts from telling us about him, to him talking directly to God–You heard my cry.

Verses 3-6:  You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.  I said, “I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.”  The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.  To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever.  But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.  

Here Jonah gives a couple of examples of how bad he had it in this moment.  The first one was the water was swirling and the waves were breaking.  If you’ve never been to the ocean or have been pounded on by the ocean, breakers are these big waves that pour over the top of you….over and over again.  We used to live in Tampa, right on the Gulf of Mexico, and you really didn’t get the BIG waves, unless there was a bad storm.  If you ever went to the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, sometimes they’re big, unruly, scary waves, aren’t they?  They’re not something to brush off; they can be dangerous and scary.  Years ago, my family and I went to a waterpark where they had a wave pool.  Technology created these artificial waves and you could get in and bob around; it was really fun.  I don’t know if the machine was broken, or what happened, but these waves were like EPIC waves….BAM!  They’d nail you!  My youngest son was wearing a life jacket and he was just bobbing, but I did not have a life jacket.  I started noticing these waves were getting bigger and bigger and BIGGER and pounding on me and I lost my footing.  Now I have nothing to connect me to the bottom of this thing, and I had wave after wave after wave hitting me.  I could not get my head above water! {Shows scary water picture} Seriously, I thought I was going to drown.  I felt like nobody was looking at me.  I knew my son would be okay because he had a life jacket on.  The waves just kept crashing over me.  I don’t know how, but eventually I was able to get out from under the waves.  When I got to the edge of the pool, I was completely and totally exhausted.

It’s a precarious place to be when the breakers are hitting us.  But in the midst of that, Jonah expresses confidence that he’ll look again at God’s holy temple.  He could only do this by staying in this place of praise and remembering that God has shown mercy before, and that God will again show mercy.

In the second part of this, he talks about how the waters threatened him and surrounded him, that he’d sunk so low and that seaweed was wrapped around his head.  He’s really saying he sank as low as he could go.  Even still, he praised God that God had brought him up from the pit.  I have to be honest and say that this really challenged me.  When my back’s against the wall, when I’m in the belly of my fish, it’s easy for me to cry out to God and to complain and to ask for help, and I can do that really well.  But then when I’m out of it and things are better and I get out of the pool, I often forget to stop and take inventory about what happened in my heart and in my life and to thank God for bringing me out of it.

Let’s look at verse 7:  When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.    This is the rock bottom moment.  I want you to pay attention to that language….when my life was ebbingaway.  He found himself nearing death, barely alive, crying out to God.  Have you ever felt that way?  Have you ever felt a moment where you just wanted to say, “I don’t know if I can take this anymore,” “I don’t know if I have anything left to give,” “I just don’t see how I can survive this?”  In that moment, we see that Jonah remembered God and lifted his prayers to God.  There’s a quote I ran across recently that says this:  “So far, you’ve survived 100% of your worst days….You’re doing great!”  It’s kind of funny but it’s really a great reminder.  If you’re stuck, it’s a great reminder that you’ve survived all the hard things that have happened to you in your life.  God has saved before and God will save again.

Maybe, for some of us in the room, we’re at a place where our backs are against the wall and we have nothing left to give, but to cry out to God.  We think that crying is not spiritual, it’s not healthy, it’s being a wimp.  I beg to differ.  I think crying is natural.  I love what the great author, Charlotte Bronte, says:  “Crying does not indicate that you are weak.  Since birth, it has always been a sign that you are alive.”  I have friends that had a baby this week, and I went into the hospital.  I went into the wrong part of the hospital; I went into the birthing place.  From the very first room that was there, I heard a kid screaming its little head off.  This is what babies do when they’re first born, but it’s a really good thing to hear that sound, isn’t it?  It’s life to be heard!  Crying is good.

Look at verse 8: Those who cling to worthless idols turn away form God’s love for them.  It’s really interesting language, because I think for most of us, we would think well, I don’t cling to worthless idols, so I don’t know how to relate to this.  But I can tell you as a pastor, I’ve spent a lot of time with people whose life is ebbing away—from cancer, or disease, or some sort of thing—and I’ve never one time, in twenty-two years of ministry, seen someone, as they were nearing death, cling to their stuff.  Not once.  I’ve never seen them holding that thing that they’ve loved so much.  Instead, it’s always like family—They’re clinging to family.  To friends.  To happy memories.  And for many, faith in God and this hope that there’s something more than this thing, this dot, at the end of our lives.

For Jonah, he had this realization that God was his only hope.  Those worthless idols—the things that many people might cling to and pray that in the moment when his back was in the belly of a fish, those things would do nothing for him.  For us, maybe when things are hard, we buy stuff, or we drink too much, or we sleep around, or we numb ourselves, or hurt ourselves, or, like Jonah, we run away.  Listen, in the end, you know this to be true: those things always leave us empty. And sometimes they leave us worse off than where we found ourselves to begin with.  Jonah shows us that when we find ourselves in the belly of the fish, we should remember that God is our only hope.  Not things.  Not money.  Not possessions.  But God.

Look at verse 9:  But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you.  What I have vowed I will make good.  I will say, “Salvation comes from the Lord.”   I think it’s interesting that at the end of this he’s overwhelmed with gratitude and his response to all of this, pouring his soul out, even though he borrowed the words from others, was gratitude and action.  Shoutsof grateful praise.  He said I will sacrifice to you, and he acknowledged that salvation comes from the Lord.  I’ll be honest, that last part is very hard for me, because I’m very independent.  I don’t want to have to depend on anybody for anything.  I feel like, no matter what the situation, that I should be able to figure it out.  But listen, if that’s you, maybe a practice for those of us that are uber independent types is a practice of gratitude and acknowledgment that salvation comes from God alone, and not from our own hand.  It’s a lot of pressure, friends, to put salvation from any situation on your hands.  It’s a measure of faith to say, “I’m just going to trust that God’s going to do what God’s going to do here and provide and take care.”

That finishes Jonah’s prayer. Finally, we’ll look at verse 10:  And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. {Who’s ready for lunch?}  At God’s command, the fish spit him out.  He wasn’t really necessarily at a better place than when he first started, but he was at least back on dry land.  I don’t want to skip too far ahead in this, but in the next couple of verses, we see the pattern change.  Instead of calling and disobedience, we see calling and obedience.  Look at Jonah 3:1-3a — Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. 

There’s a lot to learn here about thanksgiving, and borrowing words when we don’t have them, and remembering that God is our true salvation, but I’ll be honest with you, sometimes writing a sermon comes fairly easily, sometimes it comes harder.  One of the reasons it’s a struggle sometimes is I always want to feel I’m personally connected to it in some way, that I can see myself in the story.  I think if we’re honest, we’d look at this passage and go, boy, if I went through everything that Jonah went through, I would be pouring my heart out to God.  In a way, he did, we did see that.  But I was frustrated with this and it was really hard.  Why, Larry, why was it so hard? I’m so glad you asked me this question!  It’s because I don’t see a major transformation or repentance here.  I mean the big BOOM transformation or repentance.  At no point in the story do I see Jonah say, “Yeah, you’re right and I was wrong.”  I looked at this; I read, I prayed, I agonized over this, I had conversations with people.  I was looking for the BOOM moment, that moment of repentance, this big moment of transformation.  For those of us who feel like our back is against the wall—I can promise you, if you’re back has ever been against the wall—you want the BOOM moment where you get out of all of it, don’t you?  We want it to all be better like that.

As I meditated on this, my frustration subsided and I started leaning in and going what is this saying?!  Then I thought about the way God moves in my own life and in the lives of almost everybody that I know and here’s what I remembered:  Transformation most often comes through small little changes, not massive explosions.  There are people that come to faith in Christ and it’s BOOM!  Overnight, they are a completely different person.  We probably all know somebody like that; it wasn’t like that for me.  Most people that I know, even when they met Jesus, it was a process that they followed.  It took time.  That’s completely and totally normal.  All too often, we want transformation to be BANG and then it all gets better, but that’s rarely how it works.

My friend and I like to joke about winning the lottery and how amazing it would be.  Well, here’s what I would do….  You find yourself at the end of a 30-minute conversation that’s just ridiculous.  At this point, you have four islands you own.  You’ve bought Jurassic Park; you got rid of all the dinosaurs.  You helicoptered over….   All these sort of things in the land of fairytales.  All these things we want, but here’s the truth: Growth and rescue doesn’t happen like that.  If you’re in debt, you probably don’t get out of debt overnight.  It’s over time.  I realize that I can have the things that I want, that God is always pulling me forward, but to get what I want I have to develop and invest in habits over time.  It’s a consistent investment over time that brings growth and transformation.

I’ve been reading this amazing book called Atomic Habits.  If you’re a reader, you’ve got to get this book.  It’s pretty amazing.  Listen to what the author says:  “A slight change in your daily habits can guide your life to a very different destination.  Making a choice that is one percent better or one percent worse seems insignificant in the moment, but over the span of moments that make up a lifetime, these choices determine the difference between who you are and who you could be.”  All too often, when our back is against the wall and we don’t see the big, miraculous salvation right in front of us, we want to give up.  The author shows this chart that’s interesting, and he talks about what we think should happen gets better consistently over time.  But really, with a consistent investment, with practices that we put in, there’s a dip, which he calls the “Valley of Despair.”  there’s a huge upturn, but most of us give up before we ever get there.  I think that’s true when it comes to our faith as well.  Consistent investment into our faith, our relationship with Jesus, over time, when our back hits the wall, we wait and eventually we see God show up.

With Jonah, his transformation was subtle, but it was there.  I see it in his words, his actions, his attitude.  He emulated others with his words.  He committed to doing something, and he went when God called his again.  I know you’re asking, “What is the path of transformation that we should take in the belly of the fish?”  I want to walk us through some steps we can take when we feel like our back is against the belly of the fish.  I encourage you to write these six things down and to chew on these things and to see what God may have you do with these things.  The first is:  Put practices in place, ahead of time when things are good, that will sustain us when they’re not.  This is why we talk so much about spiritual practices.  They’re a necessary and critical step in our formation.  This is why recovery groups have steps they take, a process they can put in place to guide them and have a path to follow when things get tough.  Jonah had obviously spent time with the Scriptures well before he was in a bind.  So don’t wait until your back is against the wall and then try to figure how to walk out of it.  Start NOW with practices that give you something to draw from when the going gets hard.  Root yourself in the Scriptures.  Drink from that regularly.  Connect with God.  Meditate.  Pray.  Go for a walk.  Do things to posture yourself to hear from God, so when you need it, it’s there.

The second one is:  Choose gratitude.  It’s easy to praise when things are going well; it takes courage and faith to praise when all seems lost.  I think it’s true that thanksgiving orients us to the reality that God has moved before and will move again.  Even in the moment, if you’re not feeling it, call upon what you’ve known from the past and utter praise and thanksgiving to orient you to the fact that God WILL move again.

Number three:  Remember that God is our only hope.  Not our stuff, not all those things, but God alone.

Number four:  There’s nothing non-spiritual about borrowing words from those who’ve gone before us.  Sometimes you don’t have the words to say, just borrow them.

Number five:  Commit to taking a step.  Just do something.  Jonah said I will fulfill my vow.  He made a commitment.

Number six: Obey when God says go.  I don’t know whether it’s going to be in a minute after you pray, or in a year, or in ten years, but at some point God will give you ‘here’s your next step.’  The fish may spit you out of its mouth.  I don’t know how it works for you, everyone’s different, but when you hear it, have the courage to take that step and obey when God says go.

There’s some things you can do now and you can do when you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom, so I just want to leave you with this question:  What about you?  We talked a lot about Jonah.  We looked at Jonah’s story and Jonah’s life.  We looked at this moment that’s scary, and we realize that we find ourselves in similar situations and if you haven’t yet, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you will.  That’s how life works.  I want you to reflect on this and I’m going to put the slide back up on the six things you can do.  For some of us, your step is to stop running from God.  The best time to stop a series of downs that are coming from running from God is the moment you realize you’re doing it.  The second best time is NOW.  Chances are, if you’re running from God, you realize it and you know you should stop but you haven’t.  Choose now.  Stop running from God.  I just want to remind you that God is patient.  God is compassionate.  God is slow to anger.  God is abounding in love.  I want to remind you of the beautiful poetic part of this story that God ended up doing for Jonah what he wanted to use Jonah to do for the Ninevites.  That was to show His unwavering compassion and mercy.  If you’re telling yourself this lie that God’s through with you, that what you’ve done is so bad that God can’t forgive you, it’s time to stop running and come home.  If you’re running, stop and allow yourself to, as Jonah did, experience the lavish mercy and the grace of God.  And take these steps to get back on the right track.

For others in this room, maybe you aren’t running from God, but you feel like you’re in the belly of the fish right now.  I want to encourage you to follow these steps and allow God to do his work in you, and you do yours.  Invest now into the things that will allow God to lead you out of the belly of the fish.

For those of us in this room who’ve been in the belly of the fish and we’ve lived to tell about it, I just want to challenge you and encourage you to come alongside others who are struggling and encourage them, and support them.  Give them words to say and remind them that they’re going to get through it, because you personally experienced it yourself.

So my question for you is what’s your next step?  Maybe you need to put some practices in place in your life.  Just little practices and consistently pour into those over time.  Maybe it’s choosing gratitude.  Maybe it’s remembering that God is your only hope.  Maybe it’s borrowing words from another.  Maybe it’s committing to take another step.  For all of us, maybe it’s go when God says go.  I don’t know what it is for you, but my prayer is that you’d run into the loving arms of God, and that your rock bottom would be the launch pad for something spectacular in your life.  Let’s pray.

Lord, every person in this room knows what it feels like to be at rock bottom at some point.  I think we can look into the story of Jonah that you provided for us and see ourselves in it.  I love that about your Scriptures, how we can look and learn about other people who’ve gone before us, but we also see what you’ve done in their lives and that can build faith in our own lives.  So Lord, I just thank you that you’re good, even when it’s scary.  Even when our back is against the wall, we can trust that you are up to good things.  Lord, you’ve given us some steps to take and I just pray that those listening would take that to heart.  That they would meditate and reflect on your goodness and who you are.  That they’d remember that you love them, that your desire is to show mercy, and that even when their back feels against the wall, that you’ve not left them, you’ve not forsaken them, that you’re constantly wooing us.  So give us wisdom into the steps that we should take.  Lord, my prayer is that as we respond in that wisdom, we’d have the courage just to obey and to follow hard after you.  We ask all these things in the strong and powerful, the merciful, the loving, kind words of Jesus.  And together this church said….Amen.

Jonah | Belly of a Fish | Jonah 2:1-10 | Week 32020-08-20T16:42:01-06:00

Jonah | Prophetic Pagans | Jonah 1:4-17 | Week 2

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JONAH: Life on the Run    Jonah 1:1-3

Over the next six weeks, we’re going to have the chance to journey with Jonah, to allow Jonah to be our guide through the Lenten season.   Our guide to the cross.  Our guide to the resurrection.  Metaphorically speaking, we’re going to take Jonah’s hand and we’re going to go for a little bit of a walk.  My guess is, even if you’re not a follower of Jesus and you’re here today, even if you don’t know much about the Bible, you’ve heard about Jonah.  Turns out the story about a person getting eaten by a fish and living for three days in its belly is ubiquitous.  News about that travels.  My guess is you have an opinion about the book of Jonah.

I can remember being a college pastor and walking onto a college campus in southern California, and having someone come up to me.  We started a conversation about life, and faith, and Jesus, and it was almost like they hit pause and said, “You don’t really believe in the whole Jonah story, do you?”  How do you answer somebody who has no interest in faith, has no background in faith or maybe stepped away from faith?  What do you say?  Here’s what I said, “Well, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth died, and was buried in the earth for three days, and walked out of the grave, so I guess believing that somebody survived in the belly of a fish isn’t any harder than that.”   My goal was let me get to Jesus as quick as I can.

Over the last few months, I’ve been studying this book of Jonah trying to prepare for this series we’re doing.  My guess is you might have a few questions, like, Ryan, how should we read this book?  What should we do with this ancient text?  That’s a great question.  There’s really three things people have done with Jonah over the years.  The first is that people have read Jonah as history.  That’s actually the most common way to read Jonah throughout the history of the church.  People will argue that in Matthew 12, Jesus seemed to view Jonah as history.  To that I say I think you can read the text that way, although I don’t think you need to.  I don’t think it’s the fail-safe, although if Jesus believed that Jonah was a historical event, that what we read about is history, I’m with Jesus!  It’s what the early church fathers thought.  Almost every single one of them would have affirmed that Jonah should be read as history, as narrative—St. Jerome, St. Cyril, Theophilus.

There’s another way to read the book of Jonah also.  It’s to read it as parable.  Underneath that big banner of reading it as parable, there’s really two streams.  One that I think is good and you can read it that way if you want to, and the other, I would say, I don’t think you should read it that way.  Let me start with the ‘I don’t think you should read it that way.’  Under parable, some people read Jonah as parable because they go I just can’t believe that somebody would get swallowed by a fish, live for three days, get spit onto dry land and be okay.  That’s what most people think, right?  Here’s what happens, if we go I can’t believe that happened, therefore I have to read it a different way, what else do we have to do that with in the Scriptures?  Do we do that with the Red Sea?  It couldn’t have split.  Do we do that with Jesus walking out of the grave?  Just metaphor, couldn’t happen.  Here’s the truth of the matter, there’s a number of things that have happened that are hard for you to believe have happened.  I think that’s a pretty weak lens for you to live your life through—if I didn’t see it then I don’t believe it could happen.  Let me give you an example.  My wife and I watched a movie called “Free Solo” this weekend.  It’s about this young man who free-climbs the face of El Capitan.  Three thousand vertical feet of glass-like granite that this man climbs up……without a rope!  If you were to stand in Yosemite Valley and look at El Capitan and I were to tell you, “Hey, somebody climbed that without any ropes,” my guess is, if you didn’t know the story, you’d go, impossible!  Couldn’t have happened.  Until you found out it happened!  There’s a documentary and I’d encourage you to watch it, it’s fascinating!  I don’t think it’s any way to live and I don’t think it’s any way to view Jonah—if I can’t imagine it happening, I can’t believe it, therefore, it didn’t happen.

There’s another stream, there are some people who read Jonah as parable, not because they don’t think it could happen, but because that’s what they think the literature of Jonah actually suggests, as far as the way you should read it.  You read it and it’s not just that a man gets eaten by a fish, it’s that cows repent in sackcloth and ashes.  And there’s all sorts of hyperbole all over the book, which there is.  Whether you like it or not, there’s a lot of hyperbole.  A tree sprouts up and grows overnight and then dies.  Some people read it and go, I’m not sure if it’s suppose to be taken literally.  I think it’s more of a parable.  I think it’s more of a story.  Before you go well, if it’s a story than it doesn’t have anything to say to us really.  If it didn’t really happen…..if really happening is the thing that makes it important, to that I just say to you, did we say that at all when we talked about the parable of the Prodigal Son?  No, the important part of the prodigal isn’t that it happened, it’s that it happens.  People who read Jonah that way, that’s what they would say about the book of Jonah.  I think you could read it either way, to be quite honest with you.

Here’s what I think is true about Jonah—I think you can MISS the point of Jonah, reading it as parable or history.  I think you can GET the point of Jonah by reading it as parable or history.  Because it’s not primarily parable OR history.  What section of books is Jonah in?  The minor prophets.  Before we read Jonah as history and before we read Jonah as parable, we need to read Jonah as prophetic.  We need to read Jonah asking the question, God, our lives are open to you, what do you want to say to us, through your prophet Jonah, through his story, through his actions?  God, what do you want to say to us?  Before we talk about if it’s history, if it’s parable…..God, it’s prophetic.  We believe that.  What do you want to say to us through your prophet Jonah? Yeah, it’s important because it happens.  Before we try to dissect Jonah and pin it down, maybe we should just pause for a moment, and posture our hearts to be prepared to be pinned down by it.

It’s less about what genre it falls in.  It’s prophetic.  There’s a message to the book of Jonah, and if I could summarize the message in one line, it would be this: A resentful prophet encounters a relentless God.  That’s what Jonah is all about.  A resentful prophet who encounters a relentless God.  It’s about a prophet who says “no,” and a God who says I won’t let go.  How many of you are grateful that this book is in the Scriptures, if this is what it’s about?  I am!  Because my heart is prone to wander, prone to leave the God I love.  So, Jesus, today, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.  That’s in me!  My guess is that that’s in you, to some degree, as well.  This is great news!  Jonah is great news for people that often tell God “no.”

At the onset of this series, let me give you a few themes from this book, as far as the way we should read it.  I don’t want you to miss, as we read through this book over the next few weeks, that it is absolutely beautiful, genius, Hebrew literature.  It’s genius.  The way that the book is mapped out.  The way that the first half mirrors the second half.  The way that the narrator withholds this punch line; you have no idea why Jonah is running from God until chapter 4.  The narrator is inviting you in deeper, deeper, deeper….until BOOM! he sucker punches you in chapter 4 and you find out why.  It’s brilliant!

But it’s also funny.  There are portions of Jonah that the original audience would have chuckled at.  Now, a language later, a few thousand years, a different culture, some of it’s lost on us, and I’m going to do my best over the next few weeks to just tell you where you should laugh.  Some would say Jonah is funny, but it’s also this “compassionate irony,” as one author calls it.  Another suggests that it’s sort of satire.  We’re suppose to chuckle a little bit.

Maybe more than any of those, Jonah shows us something about what it means to be human.  That we are sometimes frail and often fickle.  That we are often wrong when it feels like we’re 100% right.  That we often hear God right, but think of God wrong.  That we want mercy and grace for ourselves, but judgment and wrath for others.  We are Jonah.  So, before we throw stones at Jonah for being one of the worst prophets ever, which he might have been, we’re going to try to see Jonah in the mirror, and ask Jesus what can we learn from this ancient prophet, from this ancient book, that feels so weighty and so modern?

Will you turn to Jonah 1:1-3?  Jonah is in the minor prophets that are not minor because they’re less important, they’re minor because they’re shorter.  Let me give you a little bit of background.  Jonah is different than the other minor prophetic books.  It suggests maybe we should read it a little bit differently.  Jonah has no reference to a king.  So no reference to “this is the time that I’m writing” and you can place me in a timeline and here’s when I wrote.  No reference to a king.  And no reference to an oracle that comes from God.  Certainly there’s a word from God, but there’s no oracle from God.  It’s very different from the other prophetic books that are in our Scriptures.

Starting in verse 1 of chapter 1, let’s dive into Jonah, we’re going to have a whale of a time!  Don’t encourage me!  The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: {Which, by the way, means truth.}  “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”  But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.  He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port.  After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.  Three short verses, but they frame the entire book for us.  Let me tell you about the plan, the people, and the prophet.

Here’s the plan:  Jonah, I want you to go and I want you to preach against Nineveh.  I want you to go and deliver a message.  It’s wickedness has come up before me.  If you’re a student of the Scriptures, that’s sort of an echo from a passage we’ve read before — It’s wickedness has come up before me.  Do you remember where?  Genesis 6:5.  It’s Noah.  The wickedness of the people has risen up to me, therefore I’m going to destroy, I’m going to wipe them out.  I’m bad at keeping a secret, so I’m going to tell you why Jonah’s running from God. You’re not going to find out until chapter 4, but we need to talk about it now because it’s important.  Jonah doesn’t actually think God’s going to do that .  He has this sneaking suspicion, Jonah does, that God is slow to anger, that he’s compassionate, that he’s abounding in love, and that he’s forgiving.  Here’s what Jonah’s worried about.  Jonah is worried that God is like Jesus.  Jonah is right!  So we see this “its wickedness has come up before me.”  In Genesis, it’s destroy them.  In Jonah, it’s preach against them.  In Jesus, it’s forgive them.  Jonah is not sure he likes the plan.

The people he’s going to—these Ninevites.  Nineveh is the capital of Assyria, at the time.  Ninevites were known for being a brutal people.  They did things to the people they captured.  They tortured them.  They decapitated them.  They dismembered people.  And they were proud of it all.  They flaunted it all.  In fact, if you were defeated by the Ninevites, they would put it in your face by….if you were a man and you were at war, they would cut off your head, put it on a pole, give it to your kids and have them parade your head through their victory parade.  They would lop off peoples legs, both of them, and their left arm; they would leave the right arm and right hand in tack so when the victory parade happened, you could shake the hand of the victors before you bled out and died.  I can see where Jonah’s coming from.  Nineveh would have been called a “Terrorist State.”

Is Jonah racist?  He might be.  But maybe he just thinks he knows right and wrong, and he certainly would have identified the Ninevites as wrong.  As evil.  Maybe he just thinks, “God, you know what’s wrong and that’s wrong, and you fall on the side of right, therefore, God, you are against the Ninevites.”  He probably assumes that his hatred for the Ninevites is not only justified by God, but shared by God.  When he finds out he’s wrong, his house of cards starts to crumble rapidly.  Jonah may not be a racist, but he certainly is nationalistic.  Which means he might be a lot easier for us to relate to than some dude who got swallowed by a fish.  He loves him some Israel, and he believes God is for Israel.  Is God for Israel?  Yes.  Is God for Nineveh?  Yes.  God’s for humanity.  He so desperately wants to see Israel flourish that he has this line of thinking—God, I don’t like those people.  They’re not part of our tribe, therefore, I’m pretty sure you don’t like those people either!  Which is a dangerous line of thinking, because whoever we fill in the blank with—I don’t like that group and God, I’m pretty sure you don’t like them either—you do realize you are somebody’s fill-in-the-blank.  God, I’m sure you don’t like them because of whatever.  Your name, our name, a follower of Jesus…..that goes in that fill-in-the-blank.  Man, it’s so easy to feel justified in hatred because somebody’s not part of our group.  And to think, God, you’re only for this one little sliver.  That’s how cycle of violence and retributive justice continue over and over and over again, and maybe the prophetic word of Jonah is that’s tired.  There’s a better way, as we lead to the cross.  There’s a better way!  This prophet Jonah shows us that way.

If you think Jonah was just parable, I’d encourage you to wrestle a little bit with the reality that Jonah was a prophet.  He served in Israel.  Let me show you the other passage that references this same Jonah we’re talking about.  Speaking of Jeroboam. (2 Kings 14:25)   He was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel  {Jeroboam II was the king of Israel under Jonah’s prophetic reign.}  from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea, in accordance with the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.  Here’s the thing—There were other prophets who were prophesying during Jonah’s time and during the reign of Jeroboam II.  Amos.  Hosea.  Amos and Hosea were looking at the way that Jeroboam operated.  The way that he used militaristic power to expand the borders of their empire.  The way that he destroyed people in their wake.  The way that he would go to any extent to make Israel great.  Jonah was the lone voice that said, “I support him.”  Hosea and Amos were going, “Jeroboam, you’re off. God is not for this.”  You read through their books, they are very, very critical of Jeroboam’s reign.  Jonah, not so much.  Jonah wanted to see Israel flourish….at any cost!

So it starts to make sense, doesn’t it?  The word of the Lord comes to Jonah son of Amittai, go preach against Nineveh, and he has a sneaking suspicion in the back of his head, like, God, you might just forgive them, and that can’t happen.  So what does he do?  He runs.  He finds himself in Joppa.  Instead of going to Nineveh, which is almost directly east, he goes to Tarshish, which is almost directly west.  And we’re supposed to go hahaha.  But more than that, we’re suppose to think about the reality that runningfrom God is often easier than trustingGod.

Even as followers of the way of Jesus, friends, let’s come to terms this morning, let’s loosen the halo just a little bit, to say that there’s a runner inside of each one of us.  There are ways that when we hear the way of Jesus, we’d rather run the other way.  We’d rather run the other way than forgive our enemies and pray for those that persecute us, and let go of our anger and our lust and our hatred.  Some days we would just rather run the other way, wouldn’t we?  I would say that there’s a little bit of Forrest Gump inside each one of us.  Three years, two months, fourteen days, sixteen hours, Forrest Gump spent running across America back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  I went back and watched this scene (research!).  It starts out by him saying, “I don’t know exactly why I was running, I just started running. I felt like running.”  At the end of his run, he said this, “I was running because sometimes you have to put the past behind you before you can move into the future.”  I thought, oh, I know some runners like that.  The American cartoonist, James Thurber, said it like this: “All human beings should try to learn, before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.”

Here’s part of what’s in our souls, friends, is that when we run, we get to live under the perception of control.  And it’s just that, it’s a perception.  But we get to hold onto this sort of fantasy that I’m actually in control of the way everything goes, so I’m going to run the other way.  But when I step into the way of Jesus, and I listen to him, I have to trust and I have to surrender, and there are moments when that grates against everything in me.  Yes?  It grated against Jonah.

Maybe our running looks a little bit like this:  Instead of failing, we won’t even try.  That’s a form of running.  Instead of facing our hurt, maybe we just shut our heart down.  That’s a form of running.  Instead of getting wounded, I’ll get offended, because that’s an easier emotion to deal with.  Or maybe I’ll get angry.  Instead of embracing calling, maybe I’ll just settle for comfort.  Instead of taking risks, I’ll just embrace routine.  Instead of engaging with the people around me with a sort of relational depth where we actually share life, I’m just going to entertain myself.  And amuse myself to death, as Neil Postman writes.  We. Are. Runners.  We’re Jonah.

It’s interesting, if you were to read through the book of Jonah—and I’d encourage you to do that at some point—here’s what you’ll find.  Jonah runs in two different and distinct ways.  The first two chapters, Jonah is running in outright disobedience.  He’s like God, the heck with you, Tarshish is calling my name.  But in chapters 3 and 4, Jonah is also on the run.  Don’t mistake his going to Nineveh to say he’s not running from God anymore.  Jonah is on the run in the second half of the book through religion.  That’s how he’s running then.  The first half of the book is rebellion.  The second half of the book, he runs through religion.  God, I’m going to go through the motions.  God, I’m going to do it because you told me to do it, but my heart’s not in it at all.  For us as followers of Jesus, we come to church—maybe you come every single week—it might be one of the ways you run from God.  To just feel a little bit better.  To go, yeah, that’s in me, but never do anything about it.  We can run through rebellion or we can run through religion, but either way, we’re trying to avoid the One who is chasing us down.  Eugene Peterson says—and I think he’s right—that Jonah is far more attractive in his outright disobedience than he is in his begrudging obedience to God.  He’s way more attractive in chapters one and two than he is in three and four.

Here’s the truth of the matter, friends,—and lean in for a moment—running from God and running from pain is ALWAYS running from reality.  I don’t know if you ever realized how unsuccessful you are in trying to avoid reality.  But it just finds us at every turn, doesn’t it?  You sneak around a corner and you’re like, “Aahhh! Reality! You’re there!”  So Jonah’s this invitation to recognize the way that God works and the way that the human soul often works.  Let me point out a few things, this morning, out of Jonah 1:3, that we find out from Jonah’s life.  But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.  He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port.

I spent some time imagining that scene this week.  Jonah’s heading from his home and going “down.”  You’re going to find out that that theme “down” is going to continue all throughout the first chapter of this book.  Jonah goes down to Joppa.  Jonah is going to go down into the ship.  He’s going to go down into the base of the ship.  He’s going to go down into the ocean.  It’s like the narrator wants you to know ‘it’s about to go DOWN!’

Jonah walks down and gets to Joppa and the picture is like that there’s just a ship ready to roll.  He doesn’t have to wait, he makes a decision, and it’s there.  It’s like it was waiting for him.  It’s like Genesis 4:7 says:  …sin is crouching at your door….  It’s right there.  It desires to have you, but you must rule over it.  Here’s what Jonah teaches us — There’s always a ship headed for Tarshish.  Disobedience will always be an option, therefore, obedience must be a conscience choice.  Amen.

It’s interesting because Tarshish and Nineveh are opposites in every way.  We’ve already established that geographically they’re opposites, but Nineveh is this terrorist state that is filled with blood that is absolutely brutal, and dominated by people who use their creativity to figure out ways to kill people in more painful ways.  Tarshish, however, is Hawaii.  Tarshish is a paradise.  Tarshish is where the rich people went to get away from it all, to have a luau and sip on a mai tai.  That’s Tarshish.  Jonah, as much as he maybe gets wrong, he gets this right.  Where does Jonah try to flee TO in order to get away from the presence of God?  If you were to lay it out and you were to say, “Hey, where is God more present?”  In a tropical paradise where you can put your beach towel out and soak up the sun?  82 degrees every day.  Crashing surf.  Great service.  OR….in a terrorist state where people are losing their lives and people are coming up with creative ways to kill people?  Where’s God more present?  Jonah says I’m running away from the presence of God….He’s in Nineveh, I’m going to Tarshish.  Jonah knows what we often forget.  We often forget that we meet God in the pain.  We often forget that we meet God in the struggle, in those dark corners.  In those things that we’d rather ignore, and the places that we’d more like to forget.  Those are often the places we meet God.  Yet we use pleasure, we use Tarshish—we have a number of Tarshii in our life—in order to escape Nineveh.  But Nineveh’s often the very place where we meet God.

Two times, in this very first section, Jonah says I am going to get away from the Lord, I’m fleeing from the  presence of the Lord.  Question: Is that actually possible?  No!  What he’s finding out is what the psalmist wrote: Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)   Jonah’s version of this is, “I can’t get away from you! Selah!”  The truth of the matter is, friends, is that temptation, and sin, and running don’t actually distance us from God, they simply prevent us from being able to enjoy his presence.  So Jonah shows us what human freedom looks like at work.  You do know that God will never force you to make a decision you don’t want to make, right?    As C.S. Lewis says:  “God created things which have free will.  That means creatures which can go either wrong or right.  Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot.  If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad.  And free will is what has made evil possible.  Why, then, did God give them free will?  Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”  There’s always a ship headed to Tarshish, and you can choose it.  I hope you don’t, but God won’t prevent you from doing so.

Second—But Jonah ran away from the Lord….  I’m guessing Jonah has a decent home.  He supported the king, that’s how to get rich.  I’m guessing Jonah had some good friends.  So, why not just say no?  Go to Nineveh! No!  I’m staying here.  But that’s not what Jonah does.  Jonah says no, I won’t go to Nineveh, I’m going to Tarshish.  Jonah is pointing out a truth to you and I that we would do well to allow to sink into our souls this morning.  He’s showing us that there’s no such thing as neutrality.  When you hear the call of God, you can’t just stay where you’re are.  It’s either a yes or a no.  It’s either a Nineveh or a Tarshish.  But there is no in between.  There’s no such thing as neutrality when it comes to God’s call.  We often live under the guise of neutrality.  Even in a marriage—well, it’s just cold, it’s not getting any worse or any better.  It’s changing.  It’s going one direction in a dead-end job…..well, I’m just putting in my time.  You’re life is moving.  It’s always moving.  There’s no such thing as neutrality.  Maybe today you just pause and ask Jesus, “What’s one thing I’m under the false assumption that is in neutral in my life?”

Finally it says: After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.  There’s this nuance in the Hebrew that almost every scholar points out.  What could be being said is that Jonah paid the fare for the entire ship.  As if to say, what’s it going to take?  Get me there as quick as we can.  I don’t know if that’s right; there’s a number of other sailors, as we’ll see, that are on the ship.  There’s some cargo that they’re taking, so we know that somebody else has a vested interested in this ship making it to Tarshish.  We’re not exactly sure, but here’s what we do know:  There is always a cost to running.

One of the costs is it’s exhausting.  If we’re on the run, either from God or from pain or from our history, you name it, it is exhausting.  You just watch the movie The Fugitiveand by the end of it you feel like you’ve had an entire workout, don’t you?  Harrison Ford, just turn yourself in because I don’t think I can handle this.  That’s the same thing that happens to the human soul while we’re on the run and we refuse to acknowledge reality in our life.  It is exhausting!  We’re running against the wind, as the old song says.

But it’s also unproductive.  Jonah pays all this money.  He spends all this time.  He goes through all these efforts, and where does he end up?  Right where he left.  It’s treadmill living.  We’ve got to put in three miles today.  Eight-and-a-half minute miles.  And when I got off that treadmill I was exactly where I was standing beforehand.  That’s what addiction does, it’s running.  Eventually you end up right where you left.  It’s what happens when we pacify our pain, instead of actually confronting it.  Will you look up at me for just a moment? You need to know that your running has cost you something.  It always does.  It might have cost you a level of intimacy in a marriage or in a friendship.  It might have cost you time or energy or resources.  But please hear me, whatever you are running from today, you will eventually have to deal with.  So maybe we let Jonah read us.  If I’m going to have to deal with it someday, God, then maybe today’s the day.  Because the truth is running is a great way to escape, but it’s no way to live!

What if today, instead of running from God, instead of running FROM reality, we just started to run towards Him instead of away from Him.  What might that look like?  What might that journey, that downward journey this Lenten season, as we walk towards the cross and the resurrection, what might that journey look like this year?  Here’s what it might look like as we use Jonah’s life to read ours.  What if we started to pursue awareness?  What if we started to take that question seriously?  All human beings should try to learn, before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.  What if we started to say…..what if we said this week….you just write it in a journal somewhere and you take and picture of it and you process it with some time with God…..I run from _________, to ____________, because ____________.  Maybe we use adventure to run or addiction to run.  Maybe we use religiosity to run or we use rebellion to run.  Maybe we choose pleasure to run, or we choose pain to run.  Maybe we choose pride.  Maybe we choose pornography.  There’s a lot of different ways that we run.  So it may sound something like this:  I run from pain, to drugs or alcohol, because I don’t want to deal with reality.  I run from intimacy, to entertainment, because I fear being known.  I run from my calling, to security, because I’m afraid of failing.  Hypothetically, something like that.

I printed out a handout for you, it’s the Prayer of Examen.  It’s an ancient prayer guiding us to this place where we let God read us a little bit.  I’ve had this realization, maybe a year ago, that as evangelicals we’re typically really good at teaching people how to read the Bible and not as good at teaching people how to let the Bible read them.  We’re good at learning about God, but we’re not the best at learning from God, just sort of opening our hands to say God, what do you want to say?  This is an ancient prayer practice that helps you position yourself to hear from God.  Maybe this Lenten season you say each night before I go to bed, I’m going to embrace this prayer practice.  If it’s helpful, use it, if not, use it as a coaster, I don’t care.

Second, choose repentance.  Once God brings up some things we’re running from, sometimes our natural tendency is to say I couldn’t let that go, it’s such a part of me.  Would you allow your imagine to run a little bit more free and say God, give me a vision for what this looks like, to live in a different way, and then God, I’m going to choose that way.  I’m going to choose You!  I’m going to choose your way, your heart, your path, the path of life.  Repentance, it’s a beautiful word.  It means there’s a platform to be honest and there’s a pathway home.  Choose repentance.

Seek healing.  This is why we have Celebrate Recovery that meets here Tuesday nights at 6:30.  It’s why we have the support groups we have—-Grief Share, Divorce Care, a pornography group that meets.  It’s why we do those things, you guys, because when we come to Jesus, we are made new, but we move a lot of old furniture into a new house.  As a church, we are passionate about helping you walk in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, and oftentimes that means healing.  Did you know everywhere you read, in the New Testament, the word ‘salvation,’ you could translate the word ‘healing?’  Jesus is for your healing.

Awareness.  Repentance. Healing. Finally, we say back to Jesus, “Where you are calling I will follow.”  Don’t miss that Jonah’s running from God’s call on his life.  We might be running from God’s call on ours, to live in his way with his heart.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to journey with Jonah.  But remember, as you start to see just how bad of a prophet he is, let’s not throw stones at him.  I think he has something to teach us.  To teach us about ourselves, to teach us about God.  Things to teach us about what it means to be human.  Let’s not throw stones at Jonah.  Let’s try to see him in the mirror.  Friends, may we become the kinds of people who, instead of running away from God, we run to him.  Let’s pray.

Before you go running out of here, maybe ask the Spirit, “What’s one thing, Spirit, that you want to drive home? One thing you want me to walk away with?”  Have I been choosing Tarshish?  Have I been running from my pain?  Have I been going to pleasure instead of just trying to sit in reality, as painful as it is?  Jesus, are there ways that we’ve lied to ourselves into thinking that we’re in neutral?  God, show us afresh what our running, what our sin, what our disobedience has cost us.  As scary as that is to pray, Jesus, and as scary as it may be to see, Lord, we want to be found in this discontent in anything less than you have for us.  I think the way forward is actually seeing some of the ways that we’ve said no so that we can choose yes.  Jesus, today, thank you for not saying no to us.  Jesus, thank you for not writing us off when we run.  Jesus, thank you for being faster than us and for chasing us down.  Would you remind us of that throughout this whole series, we pray.  In Jesus’s name.  And all God’s people said…..Amen.

Jonah | Prophetic Pagans | Jonah 1:4-17 | Week 22020-08-20T16:40:43-06:00

Jonah | Life on the Run | Jonah 1:1-3 | Week 1

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JONAH: Life on the Run    Jonah 1:1-3                     (2nd Service)

Over the next six weeks, we’re going to have the chance to journey with Jonah, to allow Jonah to be our guide through the Lenten season.   Our guide to the cross.  Our guide to the resurrection.  Metaphorically speaking, we’re going to take Jonah’s hand and we’re going to go for a little bit of a walk.  My guess is, even if you’re not a follower of Jesus and you’re here today, even if you don’t know much about the Bible, you’ve heard about Jonah.  Turns out the story about a person getting eaten by a fish and living for three days in its belly is ubiquitous.  News about that travels.  My guess is you have an opinion about the book of Jonah.

I can remember being a college pastor and walking onto a college campus in southern California, and having someone come up to me.  We started a conversation about life, and faith, and Jesus, and it was almost like they hit pause and said, “You don’t really believe in the whole Jonah story, do you?”  How do you answer somebody who has no interest in faith, has no background in faith or maybe stepped away from faith?  What do you say?  Here’s what I said, “Well, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth died, and was buried in the earth for three days, and walked out of the grave, so I guess believing that somebody survived in the belly of a fish isn’t any harder than that.”   My goal was let me get to Jesus as quick as I can.

Over the last few months, I’ve been studying this book of Jonah trying to prepare for this series we’re doing.  My guess is you might have a few questions, like, Ryan, how should we read this book?  What should we do with this ancient text?  That’s a great question.  There’s really three things people have done with Jonah over the years.  The first is that people have read Jonah as history.  That’s actually the most common way to read Jonah throughout the history of the church.  People will argue that in Matthew 12, Jesus seemed to view Jonah as history.  To that I say I think you can read the text that way, although I don’t think you need to.  I don’t think it’s the fail-safe, although if Jesus believed that Jonah was a historical event, that what we read about is history, I’m with Jesus!  It’s what the early church fathers thought.  Almost every single one of them would have affirmed that Jonah should be read as history, as narrative—St. Jerome, St. Cyril, Theophilus.

There’s another way to read the book of Jonah also.  It’s to read it as parable.  Underneath that big banner of reading it as parable, there’s really two streams.  One that I think is good and you can read it that way if you want to, and the other, I would say, I don’t think you should read it that way.  Let me start with the ‘I don’t think you should read it that way.’  Under parable, some people read Jonah as parable because they go I just can’t believe that somebody would get swallowed by a fish, live for three days, get spit onto dry land and be okay.  That’s what most people think, right?  Here’s what happens, if we go I can’t believe that happened, therefore I have to read it a different way, what else do we have to do that with in the Scriptures?  Do we do that with the Red Sea?  It couldn’t have split.  Do we do that with Jesus walking out of the grave?  Just metaphor, couldn’t happen.  Here’s the truth of the matter, there’s a number of things that have happened that are hard for you to believe have happened.  I think that’s a pretty weak lens for you to live your life through—if I didn’t see it then I don’t believe it could happen.  Let me give you an example.  My wife and I watched a movie called “Free Solo” this weekend.  It’s about this young man who free-climbs the face of El Capitan.  Three thousand vertical feet of glass-like granite that this man climbs up……without a rope!  If you were to stand in Yosemite Valley and look at El Capitan and I were to tell you, “Hey, somebody climbed that without any ropes,” my guess is, if you didn’t know the story, you’d go, impossible!  Couldn’t have happened.  Until you found out it happened!  There’s a documentary and I’d encourage you to watch it, it’s fascinating!  I don’t think it’s any way to live and I don’t think it’s any way to view Jonah—if I can’t imagine it happening, I can’t believe it, therefore, it didn’t happen.

There’s another stream, there are some people who read Jonah as parable, not because they don’t think it could happen, but because that’s what they think the literature of Jonah actually suggests, as far as the way you should read it.  You read it and it’s not just that a man gets eaten by a fish, it’s that cows repent in sackcloth and ashes.  And there’s all sorts of hyperbole all over the book, which there is.  Whether you like it or not, there’s a lot of hyperbole.  A tree sprouts up and grows overnight and then dies.  Some people read it and go, I’m not sure if it’s suppose to be taken literally.  I think it’s more of a parable.  I think it’s more of a story.  Before you go well, if it’s a story than it doesn’t have anything to say to us really.  If it didn’t really happen…..if really happening is the thing that makes it important, to that I just say to you, did we say that at all when we talked about the parable of the Prodigal Son?  No, the important part of the prodigal isn’t that it happened, it’s that it happens.  People who read Jonah that way, that’s what they would say about the book of Jonah.  I think you could read it either way, to be quite honest with you.

Here’s what I think is true about Jonah—I think you can MISS the point of Jonah, reading it as parable or history.  I think you can GET the point of Jonah by reading it as parable or history.  Because it’s not primarily parable OR history.  What section of books is Jonah in?  The minor prophets.  Before we read Jonah as history and before we read Jonah as parable, we need to read Jonah as prophetic.  We need to read Jonah asking the question, God, our lives are open to you, what do you want to say to us, through your prophet Jonah, through his story, through his actions?  God, what do you want to say to us?  Before we talk about if it’s history, if it’s parable…..God, it’s prophetic.  We believe that.  What do you want to say to us through your prophet Jonah? Yeah, it’s important because it happens.  Before we try to dissect Jonah and pin it down, maybe we should just pause for a moment, and posture our hearts to be prepared to be pinned down by it.

It’s less about what genre it falls in.  It’s prophetic.  There’s a message to the book of Jonah, and if I could summarize the message in one line, it would be this: A resentful prophet encounters a relentless God.  That’s what Jonah is all about.  A resentful prophet who encounters a relentless God.  It’s about a prophet who says “no,” and a God who says I won’t let go.  How many of you are grateful that this book is in the Scriptures, if this is what it’s about?  I am!  Because my heart is prone to wander, prone to leave the God I love.  So, Jesus, today, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.  That’s in me!  My guess is that that’s in you, to some degree, as well.  This is great news!  Jonah is great news for people that often tell God “no.”

At the onset of this series, let me give you a few themes from this book, as far as the way we should read it.  I don’t want you to miss, as we read through this book over the next few weeks, that it is absolutely beautiful, genius, Hebrew literature.  It’s genius.  The way that the book is mapped out.  The way that the first half mirrors the second half.  The way that the narrator withholds this punch line; you have no idea why Jonah is running from God until chapter 4.  The narrator is inviting you in deeper, deeper, deeper….until BOOM! he sucker punches you in chapter 4 and you find out why.  It’s brilliant!

But it’s also funny.  There are portions of Jonah that the original audience would have chuckled at.  Now, a language later, a few thousand years, a different culture, some of it’s lost on us, and I’m going to do my best over the next few weeks to just tell you where you should laugh.  Some would say Jonah is funny, but it’s also this “compassionate irony,” as one author calls it.  Another suggests that it’s sort of satire.  We’re suppose to chuckle a little bit.

Maybe more than any of those, Jonah shows us something about what it means to be human.  That we are sometimes frail and often fickle.  That we are often wrong when it feels like we’re 100% right.  That we often hear God right, but think of God wrong.  That we want mercy and grace for ourselves, but judgment and wrath for others.  We are Jonah.  So, before we throw stones at Jonah for being one of the worst prophets ever, which he might have been, we’re going to try to see Jonah in the mirror, and ask Jesus what can we learn from this ancient prophet, from this ancient book, that feels so weighty and so modern?

Will you turn to Jonah 1:1-3?  Jonah is in the minor prophets that are not minor because they’re less important, they’re minor because they’re shorter.  Let me give you a little bit of background.  Jonah is different than the other minor prophetic books.  It suggests maybe we should read it a little bit differently.  Jonah has no reference to a king.  So no reference to “this is the time that I’m writing” and you can place me in a timeline and here’s when I wrote.  No reference to a king.  And no reference to an oracle that comes from God.  Certainly there’s a word from God, but there’s no oracle from God.  It’s very different from the other prophetic books that are in our Scriptures.

Starting in verse 1 of chapter 1, let’s dive into Jonah, we’re going to have a whale of a time!  Don’t encourage me!  The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: {Which, by the way, means truth.}  “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”  But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.  He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port.  After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.  Three short verses, but they frame the entire book for us.  Let me tell you about the plan, the people, and the prophet.

Here’s the plan:  Jonah, I want you to go and I want you to preach against Nineveh.  I want you to go and deliver a message.  It’s wickedness has come up before me.  If you’re a student of the Scriptures, that’s sort of an echo from a passage we’ve read before — It’s wickedness has come up before me.  Do you remember where?  Genesis 6:5.  It’s Noah.  The wickedness of the people has risen up to me, therefore I’m going to destroy, I’m going to wipe them out.  I’m bad at keeping a secret, so I’m going to tell you why Jonah’s running from God. You’re not going to find out until chapter 4, but we need to talk about it now because it’s important.  Jonah doesn’t actually think God’s going to do that .  He has this sneaking suspicion, Jonah does, that God is slow to anger, that he’s compassionate, that he’s abounding in love, and that he’s forgiving.  Here’s what Jonah’s worried about.  Jonah is worried that God is like Jesus.  Jonah is right!  So we see this “its wickedness has come up before me.”  In Genesis, it’s destroy them.  In Jonah, it’s preach against them.  In Jesus, it’s forgive them.  Jonah is not sure he likes the plan.

The people he’s going to—these Ninevites.  Nineveh is the capital of Assyria, at the time.  Ninevites were known for being a brutal people.  They did things to the people they captured.  They tortured them.  They decapitated them.  They dismembered people.  And they were proud of it all.  They flaunted it all.  In fact, if you were defeated by the Ninevites, they would put it in your face by….if you were a man and you were at war, they would cut off your head, put it on a pole, give it to your kids and have them parade your head through their victory parade.  They would lop off peoples legs, both of them, and their left arm; they would leave the right arm and right hand in tack so when the victory parade happened, you could shake the hand of the victors before you bled out and died.  I can see where Jonah’s coming from.  Nineveh would have been called a “Terrorist State.”

Is Jonah racist?  He might be.  But maybe he just thinks he knows right and wrong, and he certainly would have identified the Ninevites as wrong.  As evil.  Maybe he just thinks, “God, you know what’s wrong and that’s wrong, and you fall on the side of right, therefore, God, you are against the Ninevites.”  He probably assumes that his hatred for the Ninevites is not only justified by God, but shared by God.  When he finds out he’s wrong, his house of cards starts to crumble rapidly.  Jonah may not be a racist, but he certainly is nationalistic.  Which means he might be a lot easier for us to relate to than some dude who got swallowed by a fish.  He loves him some Israel, and he believes God is for Israel.  Is God for Israel?  Yes.  Is God for Nineveh?  Yes.  God’s for humanity.  He so desperately wants to see Israel flourish that he has this line of thinking—God, I don’t like those people.  They’re not part of our tribe, therefore, I’m pretty sure you don’t like those people either!  Which is a dangerous line of thinking, because whoever we fill in the blank with—I don’t like that group and God, I’m pretty sure you don’t like them either—you do realize you are somebody’s fill-in-the-blank.  God, I’m sure you don’t like them because of whatever.  Your name, our name, a follower of Jesus…..that goes in that fill-in-the-blank.  Man, it’s so easy to feel justified in hatred because somebody’s not part of our group.  And to think, God, you’re only for this one little sliver.  That’s how cycle of violence and retributive justice continue over and over and over again, and maybe the prophetic word of Jonah is that’s tired.  There’s a better way, as we lead to the cross.  There’s a better way!  This prophet Jonah shows us that way.

If you think Jonah was just parable, I’d encourage you to wrestle a little bit with the reality that Jonah was a prophet.  He served in Israel.  Let me show you the other passage that references this same Jonah we’re talking about.  Speaking of Jeroboam. (2 Kings 14:25)   He was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel  {Jeroboam II was the king of Israel under Jonah’s prophetic reign.}  from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea, in accordance with the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.  Here’s the thing—There were other prophets who were prophesying during Jonah’s time and during the reign of Jeroboam II.  Amos.  Hosea.  Amos and Hosea were looking at the way that Jeroboam operated.  The way that he used militaristic power to expand the borders of their empire.  The way that he destroyed people in their wake.  The way that he would go to any extent to make Israel great.  Jonah was the lone voice that said, “I support him.”  Hosea and Amos were going, “Jeroboam, you’re off. God is not for this.”  You read through their books, they are very, very critical of Jeroboam’s reign.  Jonah, not so much.  Jonah wanted to see Israel flourish….at any cost!

So it starts to make sense, doesn’t it?  The word of the Lord comes to Jonah son of Amittai, go preach against Nineveh, and he has a sneaking suspicion in the back of his head, like, God, you might just forgive them, and that can’t happen.  So what does he do?  He runs.  He finds himself in Joppa.  Instead of going to Nineveh, which is almost directly east, he goes to Tarshish, which is almost directly west.  And we’re supposed to go hahaha.  But more than that, we’re suppose to think about the reality that runningfrom God is often easier than trustingGod.

Even as followers of the way of Jesus, friends, let’s come to terms this morning, let’s loosen the halo just a little bit, to say that there’s a runner inside of each one of us.  There are ways that when we hear the way of Jesus, we’d rather run the other way.  We’d rather run the other way than forgive our enemies and pray for those that persecute us, and let go of our anger and our lust and our hatred.  Some days we would just rather run the other way, wouldn’t we?  I would say that there’s a little bit of Forrest Gump inside each one of us.  Three years, two months, fourteen days, sixteen hours, Forrest Gump spent running across America back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  I went back and watched this scene (research!).  It starts out by him saying, “I don’t know exactly why I was running, I just started running. I felt like running.”  At the end of his run, he said this, “I was running because sometimes you have to put the past behind you before you can move into the future.”  I thought, oh, I know some runners like that.  The American cartoonist, James Thurber, said it like this: “All human beings should try to learn, before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.”

Here’s part of what’s in our souls, friends, is that when we run, we get to live under the perception of control.  And it’s just that, it’s a perception.  But we get to hold onto this sort of fantasy that I’m actually in control of the way everything goes, so I’m going to run the other way.  But when I step into the way of Jesus, and I listen to him, I have to trust and I have to surrender, and there are moments when that grates against everything in me.  Yes?  It grated against Jonah.

Maybe our running looks a little bit like this:  Instead of failing, we won’t even try.  That’s a form of running.  Instead of facing our hurt, maybe we just shut our heart down.  That’s a form of running.  Instead of getting wounded, I’ll get offended, because that’s an easier emotion to deal with.  Or maybe I’ll get angry.  Instead of embracing calling, maybe I’ll just settle for comfort.  Instead of taking risks, I’ll just embrace routine.  Instead of engaging with the people around me with a sort of relational depth where we actually share life, I’m just going to entertain myself.  And amuse myself to death, as Neil Postman writes.  We. Are. Runners.  We’re Jonah.

It’s interesting, if you were to read through the book of Jonah—and I’d encourage you to do that at some point—here’s what you’ll find.  Jonah runs in two different and distinct ways.  The first two chapters, Jonah is running in outright disobedience.  He’s like God, the heck with you, Tarshish is calling my name.  But in chapters 3 and 4, Jonah is also on the run.  Don’t mistake his going to Nineveh to say he’s not running from God anymore.  Jonah is on the run in the second half of the book through religion.  That’s how he’s running then.  The first half of the book is rebellion.  The second half of the book, he runs through religion.  God, I’m going to go through the motions.  God, I’m going to do it because you told me to do it, but my heart’s not in it at all.  For us as followers of Jesus, we come to church—maybe you come every single week—it might be one of the ways you run from God.  To just feel a little bit better.  To go, yeah, that’s in me, but never do anything about it.  We can run through rebellion or we can run through religion, but either way, we’re trying to avoid the One who is chasing us down.  Eugene Peterson says—and I think he’s right—that Jonah is far more attractive in his outright disobedience than he is in his begrudging obedience to God.  He’s way more attractive in chapters one and two than he is in three and four.

Here’s the truth of the matter, friends,—and lean in for a moment—running from God and running from pain is ALWAYS running from reality.  I don’t know if you ever realized how unsuccessful you are in trying to avoid reality.  But it just finds us at every turn, doesn’t it?  You sneak around a corner and you’re like, “Aahhh! Reality! You’re there!”  So Jonah’s this invitation to recognize the way that God works and the way that the human soul often works.  Let me point out a few things, this morning, out of Jonah 1:3, that we find out from Jonah’s life.  But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.  He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port.

I spent some time imagining that scene this week.  Jonah’s heading from his home and going “down.”  You’re going to find out that that theme “down” is going to continue all throughout the first chapter of this book.  Jonah goes down to Joppa.  Jonah is going to go down into the ship.  He’s going to go down into the base of the ship.  He’s going to go down into the ocean.  It’s like the narrator wants you to know ‘it’s about to go DOWN!’

Jonah walks down and gets to Joppa and the picture is like that there’s just a ship ready to roll.  He doesn’t have to wait, he makes a decision, and it’s there.  It’s like it was waiting for him.  It’s like Genesis 4:7 says:  …sin is crouching at your door….  It’s right there.  It desires to have you, but you must rule over it.  Here’s what Jonah teaches us — There’s always a ship headed for Tarshish.  Disobedience will always be an option, therefore, obedience must be a conscience choice.  Amen.

It’s interesting because Tarshish and Nineveh are opposites in every way.  We’ve already established that geographically they’re opposites, but Nineveh is this terrorist state that is filled with blood that is absolutely brutal, and dominated by people who use their creativity to figure out ways to kill people in more painful ways.  Tarshish, however, is Hawaii.  Tarshish is a paradise.  Tarshish is where the rich people went to get away from it all, to have a luau and sip on a mai tai.  That’s Tarshish.  Jonah, as much as he maybe gets wrong, he gets this right.  Where does Jonah try to flee TO in order to get away from the presence of God?  If you were to lay it out and you were to say, “Hey, where is God more present?”  In a tropical paradise where you can put your beach towel out and soak up the sun?  82 degrees every day.  Crashing surf.  Great service.  OR….in a terrorist state where people are losing their lives and people are coming up with creative ways to kill people?  Where’s God more present?  Jonah says I’m running away from the presence of God….He’s in Nineveh, I’m going to Tarshish.  Jonah knows what we often forget.  We often forget that we meet God in the pain.  We often forget that we meet God in the struggle, in those dark corners.  In those things that we’d rather ignore, and the places that we’d more like to forget.  Those are often the places we meet God.  Yet we use pleasure, we use Tarshish—we have a number of Tarshii in our life—in order to escape Nineveh.  But Nineveh’s often the very place where we meet God.

Two times, in this very first section, Jonah says I am going to get away from the Lord, I’m fleeing from the  presence of the Lord.  Question: Is that actually possible?  No!  What he’s finding out is what the psalmist wrote: Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)   Jonah’s version of this is, “I can’t get away from you! Selah!”  The truth of the matter is, friends, is that temptation, and sin, and running don’t actually distance us from God, they simply prevent us from being able to enjoy his presence.  So Jonah shows us what human freedom looks like at work.  You do know that God will never force you to make a decision you don’t want to make, right?    As C.S. Lewis says:  “God created things which have free will.  That means creatures which can go either wrong or right.  Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot.  If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad.  And free will is what has made evil possible.  Why, then, did God give them free will?  Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”  There’s always a ship headed to Tarshish, and you can choose it.  I hope you don’t, but God won’t prevent you from doing so.

Second—But Jonah ran away from the Lord….  I’m guessing Jonah has a decent home.  He supported the king, that’s how to get rich.  I’m guessing Jonah had some good friends.  So, why not just say no?  Go to Nineveh! No!  I’m staying here.  But that’s not what Jonah does.  Jonah says no, I won’t go to Nineveh, I’m going to Tarshish.  Jonah is pointing out a truth to you and I that we would do well to allow to sink into our souls this morning.  He’s showing us that there’s no such thing as neutrality.  When you hear the call of God, you can’t just stay where you’re are.  It’s either a yes or a no.  It’s either a Nineveh or a Tarshish.  But there is no in between.  There’s no such thing as neutrality when it comes to God’s call.  We often live under the guise of neutrality.  Even in a marriage—well, it’s just cold, it’s not getting any worse or any better.  It’s changing.  It’s going one direction in a dead-end job…..well, I’m just putting in my time.  You’re life is moving.  It’s always moving.  There’s no such thing as neutrality.  Maybe today you just pause and ask Jesus, “What’s one thing I’m under the false assumption that is in neutral in my life?”

Finally it says: After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.  There’s this nuance in the Hebrew that almost every scholar points out.  What could be being said is that Jonah paid the fare for the entire ship.  As if to say, what’s it going to take?  Get me there as quick as we can.  I don’t know if that’s right; there’s a number of other sailors, as we’ll see, that are on the ship.  There’s some cargo that they’re taking, so we know that somebody else has a vested interested in this ship making it to Tarshish.  We’re not exactly sure, but here’s what we do know:  There is always a cost to running.

One of the costs is it’s exhausting.  If we’re on the run, either from God or from pain or from our history, you name it, it is exhausting.  You just watch the movie The Fugitiveand by the end of it you feel like you’ve had an entire workout, don’t you?  Harrison Ford, just turn yourself in because I don’t think I can handle this.  That’s the same thing that happens to the human soul while we’re on the run and we refuse to acknowledge reality in our life.  It is exhausting!  We’re running against the wind, as the old song says.

But it’s also unproductive.  Jonah pays all this money.  He spends all this time.  He goes through all these efforts, and where does he end up?  Right where he left.  It’s treadmill living.  We’ve got to put in three miles today.  Eight-and-a-half minute miles.  And when I got off that treadmill I was exactly where I was standing beforehand.  That’s what addiction does, it’s running.  Eventually you end up right where you left.  It’s what happens when we pacify our pain, instead of actually confronting it.  Will you look up at me for just a moment? You need to know that your running has cost you something.  It always does.  It might have cost you a level of intimacy in a marriage or in a friendship.  It might have cost you time or energy or resources.  But please hear me, whatever you are running from today, you will eventually have to deal with.  So maybe we let Jonah read us.  If I’m going to have to deal with it someday, God, then maybe today’s the day.  Because the truth is running is a great way to escape, but it’s no way to live!

What if today, instead of running from God, instead of running FROM reality, we just started to run towards Him instead of away from Him.  What might that look like?  What might that journey, that downward journey this Lenten season, as we walk towards the cross and the resurrection, what might that journey look like this year?  Here’s what it might look like as we use Jonah’s life to read ours.  What if we started to pursue awareness?  What if we started to take that question seriously?  All human beings should try to learn, before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.  What if we started to say…..what if we said this week….you just write it in a journal somewhere and you take and picture of it and you process it with some time with God…..I run from _________, to ____________, because ____________.  Maybe we use adventure to run or addiction to run.  Maybe we use religiosity to run or we use rebellion to run.  Maybe we choose pleasure to run, or we choose pain to run.  Maybe we choose pride.  Maybe we choose pornography.  There’s a lot of different ways that we run.  So it may sound something like this:  I run from pain, to drugs or alcohol, because I don’t want to deal with reality.  I run from intimacy, to entertainment, because I fear being known.  I run from my calling, to security, because I’m afraid of failing.  Hypothetically, something like that.

I printed out a handout for you, it’s the Prayer of Examen.  It’s an ancient prayer guiding us to this place where we let God read us a little bit.  I’ve had this realization, maybe a year ago, that as evangelicals we’re typically really good at teaching people how to read the Bible and not as good at teaching people how to let the Bible read them.  We’re good at learning about God, but we’re not the best at learning from God, just sort of opening our hands to say God, what do you want to say?  This is an ancient prayer practice that helps you position yourself to hear from God.  Maybe this Lenten season you say each night before I go to bed, I’m going to embrace this prayer practice.  If it’s helpful, use it, if not, use it as a coaster, I don’t care.

Second, choose repentance.  Once God brings up some things we’re running from, sometimes our natural tendency is to say I couldn’t let that go, it’s such a part of me.  Would you allow your imagine to run a little bit more free and say God, give me a vision for what this looks like, to live in a different way, and then God, I’m going to choose that way.  I’m going to choose You!  I’m going to choose your way, your heart, your path, the path of life.  Repentance, it’s a beautiful word.  It means there’s a platform to be honest and there’s a pathway home.  Choose repentance.

Seek healing.  This is why we have Celebrate Recovery that meets here Tuesday nights at 6:30.  It’s why we have the support groups we have—-Grief Share, Divorce Care, a pornography group that meets.  It’s why we do those things, you guys, because when we come to Jesus, we are made new, but we move a lot of old furniture into a new house.  As a church, we are passionate about helping you walk in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, and oftentimes that means healing.  Did you know everywhere you read, in the New Testament, the word ‘salvation,’ you could translate the word ‘healing?’  Jesus is for your healing.

Awareness.  Repentance. Healing. Finally, we say back to Jesus, “Where you are calling I will follow.”  Don’t miss that Jonah’s running from God’s call on his life.  We might be running from God’s call on ours, to live in his way with his heart.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to journey with Jonah.  But remember, as you start to see just how bad of a prophet he is, let’s not throw stones at him.  I think he has something to teach us.  To teach us about ourselves, to teach us about God.  Things to teach us about what it means to be human.  Let’s not throw stones at Jonah.  Let’s try to see him in the mirror.  Friends, may we become the kinds of people who, instead of running away from God, we run to him.  Let’s pray.

Before you go running out of here, maybe ask the Spirit, “What’s one thing, Spirit, that you want to drive home? One thing you want me to walk away with?”  Have I been choosing Tarshish?  Have I been running from my pain?  Have I been going to pleasure instead of just trying to sit in reality, as painful as it is?  Jesus, are there ways that we’ve lied to ourselves into thinking that we’re in neutral?  God, show us afresh what our running, what our sin, what our disobedience has cost us.  As scary as that is to pray, Jesus, and as scary as it may be to see, Lord, we want to be found in this discontent in anything less than you have for us.  I think the way forward is actually seeing some of the ways that we’ve said no so that we can choose yes.  Jesus, today, thank you for not saying no to us.  Jesus, thank you for not writing us off when we run.  Jesus, thank you for being faster than us and for chasing us down.  Would you remind us of that throughout this whole series, we pray.  In Jesus’s name.  And all God’s people said…..Amen.

Jonah | Life on the Run | Jonah 1:1-3 | Week 12020-08-20T16:39:40-06:00
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