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08-04-2013 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

The last few weeks we’ve been looking at the stories of several key people in the Bible.

We’ve see how God uses all different kinds of personality types — Martha’s and Mary’s and Peter’s and Moses’s. God puts us all together so that our strengths and weaknesses balance each other out.

Your special abilities, spiritual gifts, and talents compensate for my short-comings and deficiencies — and vice versa. That’s why we need to grow in our understanding and our use of spiritual gifts.

So, we’ve called this series “G.R.O.W.” — Gifts Revitalize Our Work.

It’s summer, and many have been away on vacation, traveling, at the cabin, so I suspect only a few have heard all the messages. (In fact, I missed the last two messages, given by Fred and Jeff.) But if you’d like to catch some of what you’ve missed, those teachings are on the church website. Check it out.

Today we’re going to wrap this series up by looking at the OT prophet, Jonah — the reluctant missionary. Just because we’re finishing this series on gifts, though, doesn’t mean we’re abandoning the idea. We want to continue the focus; we want it to flavor everything we do around here.

We want gift-based ministries in our church, where our programs and work rely on God’s call and his enabling gifts. We don’t want church programs based merely on human ideas or human effort.

With God’s help we must walk the walk — and not just talk the talk. They say guilt is a great motivator, but we need workers and volunteers stirred by God’s love and passion — people with God’s heart for kids, babies, their parents, the sick and the shut-ins, and a whole lot more more.

In September Wendy Berthelsen, a pastor, author, teacher (and a friend of Brenda Roger’s) will conduct a seminar here at the Tab called “Custom Designed” to teach us more about God’s extraordinary call to us ordinary people. Mark the date on your calendars!

But today we study Jonah. Most know the story about the guy who was swallowed by a huge fish. God gave Jonah an assignment, but Jonah ran from God. God had a plan for Jonah, but Jonah ran from it.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGSUjuSBt1A] Some of you are old enough to remember the old TV series, Mission Impossible (long before the movie series). Or maybe you’ve seen some reruns. Each episode started off with the secret agent receiving instructions on tape about a critical assignment: “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” And then at the end of the tape, the agent would hear: “This tape will self-destruct in 10 seconds.”

So Jonah was given a mission. It wasn’t an impossible mission, but Jonah didn’t like it. He didn’t want to do it. So Jonah chose not to accept his mission.

Jonah 1:1-3. 1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” 3 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.

Do you know why Jonah ran away from God — away from God’s call? Because Jonah didn’t like God’s idea. He didn’t like the idea of warning the people of Nineveh.

Nineveh was the capital of Assyria — Israel’s enemy. Jonah hated the people of Nineveh; he despised them. Not only were they foreigners (non-Jews — not God’s chosen people) but they were wicked, diabolical people — the terrorists of Jonah’s day. In a world where armies often cut off feet, lips, or tongues of those they defeated or staked victims to the ground for days to die a slow, agonizing death or even flayed them alive, the Assyrians became “the masters of brutality.”  “The Worst Ways to Die: Torture Practices of the Ancient World” by Matthias Schulz in Der Spiegel (May 15, 2009)http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/the-worst-ways-to-die-torture-practices-of-the-ancient-world-a-625172.html and http://www.bible-history.com/old-testament/the_assyrians.html

So Jonah didn’t want to warn them; he wanted to punish them for their crimes. And he bristled at the idea that somehow God cared for these evil, horrible sinners!

Besides, Jonah was afraid that if he warned them, one of two things could happen (and neither was desirable): (1) They might get mad — and skin him alive (literally!) or (2) (even worse) they might repent and change their ways. God might let them off the hook!

Either way, this mission seemed like a “lose-lose” proposition to Jonah, so he ran! He wanted no part of this affair. He ran from God and from God’s plan. He chose not to accept the mission, and he ran away in the opposite direction to try to hide from God and from God’s call.

Have you ever run away from a call? The phone rings, but you’re busy. You don’t want to be interrupted, so what do you do? You check the ID. “Oh, it’s…” You know what HE wants, so you let the call go to voice mail. I wonder if we ever do that to God? Let it go to voice mail?

Or your wife “calls” you to some home project. You’d planned to tinker in the garage, but she gets the bright idea that today would be a good day to…take down all the curtains and valances and haul them to the cleaners.

Or your parents give you an assignment. When I was a teen, my Dad (I’m convinced) used to lie awake at night dreaming up things for me to do. I never got to sleep in on Saturday morning. Well…once I slept in when my folks were away on a trip.

It’s one thing to avoid a call from someone else, but what about God’s call? I suppose most of us have at one time or another acted like Jonah: God calls us to do something…but we don’t want to do it…so we run away from the assignment — we run away from God.

Why do we sometimes act like Jonah and run from God’s call?

1. We’re afraid we’ll blow it — that we’ll mess up. Afraid to trust God. Afraid to fail. Nobody wants to be a failure! A loser.

When I lived in the big city, I saw some of the “prophets of doom” on the streets. You know the type — holding signs (“The End is Coming”), handing out diatribes, shouting judgments on the passers-by.

Having seen them and the response that they got, I can really identify with Jonah. Who wants to be categorized with that kind of person? They just don’t know the first thing about getting along with people. Who wants to be rejected? Who wants to be called names? Who wants to be a loser?

Question: Are we going to trust God (and obey)? Or are we only going to say we trust God? Do you believe God will not lead you where his grace cannot keep you? Do you believe that when God calls, he also equips. Do you believe that when God equips, he also empowers? Spiritual gifts.

2. We’re afraid it will cost us — that we’ll have to sacrifice. That we’ll have to give up favorite things to follow God’s call…

“I wanted to make a fortune, not work for peanuts in Uganda.” Jonah thought: “This might cost me my life! They could kill me!”

So we try to play it safe. Question: What are you willing to give up for God? Jesus said if you try to protect yourself — your own life and interests — you’ll end up losing it. But if you give up your life for my sake, then you’ll find real life. (Matt 16:25)

We think God’s call is going to cost us (and it will). But ironically, it will also cost us something to run from God’s call.

Let me ask you a question: Does God say (like Mission Impossible), Your mission, should you choose to accept it Is there a choice when it comes to God’s plan for our lives?

Well…yes and no. YES, you can choose to run away from God’s plan. Jonah certainly did. You can try to avoid God’s call.

But NO, you can’t run from God without paying a price. If you choose to go your way instead of God’s way, there will be consequences!

Jonah ran away — and Jonah had to pay a price.

It’s dangerous to deliberately run from God’s plan. It’s okay to argue with God — to talk over the issues. (Sometimes it’s a healthy thing to do.) But it’s risky to decide in the end that your ideas are better than God’s ideas!

When Jonah ran from God, he paid a price. A huge storm swept over the sea, the seasoned sailors thought they were going down, and they each started praying to whatever god they knew. The more gods, the better, they thought, so when the captain found Jonah in the hold, sleeping, he told him to pray.

Of course, Jonah didn’t want to pray. He was trying to get away from God, not pray to God. But as the storm got worse and they threw the cargo over to lighten the ship, Jonah’s story came out: He told them he was running from the God who made the dry land and the sea.

“What were you thinking?” the sailors asked him (1:10). “That was a dumb thing to do! Now because you, we’re all going to die.”

If you run from God, you can expect trouble. You will encounter storms. Of course, there will be challenges and difficulties in going God’s way too. But if you’re trying to play it safe, the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.

If God wants you on the front lines of the battle, you’re safer there than you ever could be back in the bunker, away from the bombs and the bullets.

If God wants you on the mission field — where there are poisonous black mambas and malaria-infested mosquitoes and corrupt border officials or even bomb-toting terrorists — you’re safer there than you’d be in your nice, comfortable, secure home in Cloquet, Minnesota.

Jonah knew he was the problem, that God was after him — not the sailors. So he told them to throw him overboard…and reluctantly, in the end, that’s what they did.

Jonah 1:15-17. 15 Then [the sailors] they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. 17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

And that’s when Jonah began to think seriously about his situation. You see, up till then, Jonah thought he had a better idea. And that’s another reason why we run from God’s call.

3. We afraid God’s plan is flawed; we don’t like it…we think we know better.

Are you kidding me, God? That’s a crazy idea! Jonah: “They don’t deserve grace. They shouldn’t be forgiven! They should be punished!”

Jonah thought punishing the Ninevites was better than forgiving them. He thought Tarshish was a better plan than Nineveh. He thought sailing west was better than hiking east.

How often do we think we have a pretty good idea — that our strategy is better than God’s plan.

Question: Are you ready to surrender your ideas and schemes and finally submit them to God?

Sometimes God calls us to do something we don’t understand. Or something we think we understand and don’t approve of. It’s hard. For Jonah, God’s call irritated him.

Question: Do you need to understand everything in order to obey? Is your personal comfort a factor in answering God’s call?

Great accomplishments are seldom accidental: they require work, discipline, commitment…we may need to step out of our comfort zone!

Jonah thought he had it all figured out, but after a day or two in the belly of the fish, Jonah had a change of heart.

Jonah 2:1,5,9-10. 1 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. “…5 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head… 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.’” 10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Sometimes it’s not until we get ourselves in deep water that we begin to think more clearly. There’s nothing like being swallowed alive to bring your actions into focus. When you’re swallowed by your troubles and come to the end of yourself, when you have absolutely no way out, that’s when you can finally begin to see the utter futility of your situation.

Have you come to the end of yourself? Or are you still trying to call the shots in your life? If you’re overwhelmed with storms and the consequences of doing your own thing, of being in control, of thinking you know better than God, then God can do something with you.

After Jonah was puked up on land, he changed his ways. When God called him a second time to go to Nineveh, he didn’t argue with God any more. He didn’t run the opposite direction. This time Jonah obeyed.

But there’s at least one more reason why we might run from God’s call.

4. We’re afraid we’ll look bad. We’re afraid of what people might think — concerned about our reputation.

Jonah still had to deal with this issue, even after he went to Nineveh. His message to the city was direct, maybe even confrontational. He didn’t seem to care about building relationships. I think he didn’t really care if they listened to him.

His message was an “in-your-face” kind of message: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4) I think he actually wanted them to reject the message. I think he wanted them punished.

Jonah was a reluctant missionary, right up to the end. He obeyed God and answered the call, but he still hoped the people of Nineveh would get what they deserved.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, Jonah conducted one of the most successful evangelistic crusades in history — perhaps as many as 300- to 400,000 people repented of their sins and turned to God, from the lowest servant to the king! Jonah’s ministry succeeded beyond his wildest expectations.

And it ticked him off!

Jonah 3:10-4:3. 10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. 1 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah seemed bothered that their repentance made him seem like a false prophet — the judgment he predicted didn’t happen.

In the end, your call and your gifts are not about you — what you want or what makes you feel good. It’s not about your reputation or your standing in the eyes of others. In the end, it’s not about you.

In the end, it’s all about God’s purpose. God’s plan. God’s call.

We all have a different call from God. And I can’t tell you what your “Nineveh” might be. All I can say is when God calls you to Nineveh, don’t run away to “Tarshish.” Don’t run from God’s call.

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”  Don’t be afraid! Trust God. Go to “Nineveh.”