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Running from God

From the series You Were Made for More

What do you know about the story of Jonah? I mean you remember something about a big fish, a storm, and a city called Nineveh. In this message, we begin our series called “You Were Made for More: Facing the ‘Jonah’ in All of Us.” For the next several programs, Chip and his son Ryan team up to study the book of Jonah, and reveal what we can learn from his life. Don’t miss how we can shift our lives to the more God has for us, as we continue our study of the book of Jonah.

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Message Transcript

When I was sixteen, I was driving our family car. It was a four-door Subaru. Not real cool, but got you from point A to point B. Not real fast, either, which is a great thing for a sixteen-year-old driving. My older brother who was in college at the time, he had what I thought was a much cooler car. It was a Nissan Datsun. Yeah, it was the year that they kind of merged. And it was a 1981, like, fire orange hatchback.

And so, I remember the day, he was home from break, he had driven the car up, and we are switching cars. Now, the only problem is the Subaru was an automatic and the Nissan Datsun was a, you know, manual, a stick shift. And I had never driven a stick before.

And this is the interaction that we had. This is the way brothers do it, by the way. Is we are out there, I hand him the keys and I’m like, “Oh, hey, man. I don’t know how to drive a stick. And he literally tosses me the keys, I catch them, and he says, “It’s easy! You just put your foot on the clutch down,” for those who don’t know, a stick, there are three pedals and not just two.

“You put your foot on the clutch and put it into gear and then you just kind of go opposite, like this! You’re good!” That was the extent of the training that I had in how to drive a stick shift. Now, today if you have something that’s a, you know, today you just have little buttons, right? But back then, you had three pedals, you had a gear box and the stick shift and all these sort of things.

And so, here I am spending months trying to learn how to drive a stick shift. And this is how it went for me. I remember getting it into gear finally, getting it going, and then all of a sudden, you know, I tried to get it out of, you know, into first and moving and it would go, Grrr, grrr, grrr, gungh, gungh. And it would completely shut down.

Now, how embarrassing is that as a sixteen-year-old? These were the days obviously then you could drive your friends around. They stopped that for good reason as well. But I’m in the car with my friends, we’re at the stoplight and trying to go and go, Grrr, grrr, grrr, gah! And completely stall out, cars honking behind you, frustrated.

And then, like, when you do shift, you ever done this before? Those who have driven? How, many, by the way, how many have driven a stick shift? Fantastic.

And if you don’t get the clutch all the way in, you do something called grinding the gears and you get it, Grrrrrrrrrr! And it’s like, Grrr, guh. And you’re just ruining the gears there. And so, I spent months trying to figure this out. Broken, you know, stalled out, Grrr, grrr, grrr, guh. Grrrrr! I finally realized the way that I could get out of first, especially with friends in the car, was to gun it.

And so, that’s what I did. And I’d get at the stoplight and I would just gun the gas and peel out at every stop sign, every stop light, and at sixteen, you can kind of act like you did that on purpose. And I’m like, “Yeah! Look at this car! Woooo!” The reality is I couldn’t do anything else. That was – I had no other option.

Now, here’s the reality. Here’s the reality is often, here’s how we feel in life is like we just thrown the keys to life and there’s no instruction manual, there’s no way. Hey, you go figure it out. And we’re trying to shift through life and figure things and you kind of have it and you’re like, Grrr, grrr, guh! And some of you feel stalled out in life, don’t you?

Or maybe you’re making some different shifts and there are decisions and you just feel like you’re grinding the gears of life where you’re just stuck in one gear, but you have to go faster and faster and you just can’t change it. Or you’re just going, “Okay, the only way I know to do this is to gun it.”

And we live in this space of trying to navigate life and here’s what I know to be true inside of all of us, that there is this deep sense in our soul that knows and understands there’s more to life than what we are currently experiencing.

And the busyness, it can tend to crowd it out, can’t it? And, yet, there is still that whisper of the soul that says, “There’s more. You have purpose and meaning.” That your life matters. How do you shift? How do we shift to the more we are made for? How do we stop grinding gears and maybe stalled out in life?

Here’s the wonderful reality is that God didn’t just toss us the keys and said, “Figure it out,” in life. He, in fact, went into great detail in His Word to say, “I actually want to help you and coach you and come alongside. I want the very best. I want to help you live into all that I created you to be. And so, I’m not just going to toss, hey, good luck. No, no, no. I’m going to teach you and show you and help guide you.”

I want to actually, first, kind of help give you a background to the entire book of Jonah, since we are spending so much time in it.

And so, if you got your notes, open them up. Let me give you just a backdrop to this book. First, Jonah is the fifth of the Book of Twelve or the Minor Prophets.
And here’s – in the – if you’ve got your Bible, in the Old Testament, or the Hebrew Scriptures, you flip to the end of the Old Testament, what you find is these books of prophecy. And you have Isaiah and Jeremiah. They are Major Prophets. And they are called Major Prophets just because they wrote long books, if you will. And then there are Minor Prophets, and they are called “Minor” because they are just shorter.

And, in fact, it was all condensed in one book. It’s called the Book of Twelve. And so, you would have one scroll that had all twelve of these books and that was – Jonah is the fifth of that book. And it’s unique among the prophetic books as it is primarily narrative. It’s telling the story of Jonah and his call to prophesy to the city of Nineveh.

Now, let’s talk about, who is this Jonah character? He’s Jonah the prophet. When you think of a prophet, a lot of times we think about foretelling the future. And certainly, that was some of the work that prophets did, but primarily what a prophet did was they proclaimed forth the Word of God. They would proclaim forth the very words of God to the people of God in general to call them back to the heart of God and the ways of God. That is what a prophet did.

And Jonah, his name was son – dove – literally, son of Amittai. He was from Gath-hepher in Galilee. Just note that it’s real close to Nazareth. So, he lived in the region, later on, where Jesus grew up as well. He prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam the Second, who was a wicked and evil king. And we see some of his story in 2 Kings 14 where, you know, this is where we get a picture of Jonah and, like, hey, maybe there are some interesting parts about Jonah we want to keep our eye on. Is he prophesied to this evil, wicked king in Israel that the borders were going to be extended and they were, but he had no problem with that and even calling Israel to repentance through that, he’s very happy. “Hey, our borders are being extended,” and it gave him a great life because he is giving this good news.

Well, later on, a contemporary of his, Amos, said, “Yes, the borders are going to be extended, but because of your wickedness, because of the way you have treated people, because of the way you have been unjust to others, they are not going to last and it’s going to actually come back upon you.” And so, Amos and Hosea were contemporaries of the prophet. And God specially, what we will be looking at, is Jonah’s call to preach to Israel’s arch-enemy, the Assyrians. We’ll talk about them in a just a second.

Now, something unique about Jonah is how Jesus identified with Jonah. Now, Jesus quoted and spoke of four different prophets from these books in his earthly ministry. But there was only one prophet that He identified with and that was Jonah. And what He did is He identified Himself with Jonah’s three-day sojourn in the belly of this great fish, as a foreshadowing of His own death, burial, and resurrection.

And let’s be honest, as we start this conversation, isn’t it part of the hang-up, of Jonah and the whale or Jonah and the fish, is Jonah and the fish? You’re like, “Come on. Could that really happen?” In fact, some people are like, “Yeah, it’s probably just an allegory or a made-up story with a point to just try to make this really good, meaningful point.”

Now, there has been several occasions where people actually have been swallowed by a fish and survived. That’s a whole other story for another day. But, here’s what is fascinating.

We are a group of people who gather around a resurrected Savior who died, predicted His death, and was buried, and then rose again from the grave. Okay, so if Jesus rose from the grave, it’s not too big or too big of a jump to think that Jonah could survive a couple days in a whale by God’s grace, in that area.

And then the other side of it, just for me and what I read this book, is if Jesus took this as historical, I’m going to take Jesus’ word on it. That’s just my thing. I’m like, if You predicted your own death, burial, and resurrection, and then actually did it, I’m going to be pretty confident on whatever You said and go with what You said on that. So, this is who Jonah is.

Well, who are the Assyrians or the city of Nineveh who he is called to preach against? Well, Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria. The Assyrian Empire was the ancient superpower, located on the east bank of the Tigris River, modern-day Iraq, about five hundred and fifty miles east of Jerusalem.

Now, think about this, imagine this. It had a hundred-foot-high walls, fifty feet thick. And when we think about that thickness, there were also homes and different things built in the city walls, so it wasn’t just like straight stone, fifty feet thick. This is an immense, huge, massive city in the ancient day.

And unfortunately, the Assyrians were renowned, well-known for their cruelty and brutality. In fact, one historian says it this way, “It is as gory and a bloodcurdling history as we know.”

Like, the things that you watch, and I feel like today and whatever kind of TV show, I feel like things have gotten gory and especially brutal. And this makes it look PG. In fact, let me just read just a little bit. Because this is going to set the context for the entire book. One historian writes this, “Records brag of live,” oh, sorry, this is going to be gruesome. I just want to give you a warning. “Records brag of live dismemberment, often leaving one hand attached so they could shake it before the person died. They made parades of heads, requiring friends of the deceased to carry them elevated on poles. They boasted of their practice of stretching live prisoners with ropes so they could be skinned alive. The human skins were then displayed on city walls and on poles. They commissioned pictures of their post-battle tortures where piles of heads, hands, and feet and heads impaled on poles; eight heads to a stake were displayed. They would burn young ones alive.

“This was their common practice and they boasted, their kings wrote, boasting about this. Those who survived the sack of their city were tied in long lines of enslavement and deported to the Assyrian cities to labor on building projects. Tens of thousands in hundreds of cities suffered this fate over the two hundred and fifty years of the Assyrian reign of terror.” This is the city Jonah was called to preach to and what we do know is about fifty years later after Jonah, Assyria then does conquer the northern kingdom
and they suffer this fate.

Now, what is the purpose of Jonah for us? Well, one is it reveals an incredible theme that is woven from the very beginning of Scriptures all the way to the end. And it reveals God’s expansive love and mercy for every single person on the planet, especially those we feel do not deserve mercy.

And then when we see Jonah and his life and his response as the reluctant, as the rebellious, as the anti-hero prophet, it so often acts as a mirror for our lives. As we see it in the Word and we get to see ourselves and how we respond, and it’s a clarion call for us to shift our lives onto God’s purpose for this planet.

So, that’s the history. That’s the foundation. That’s the background of the book of Jonah. Are you ready to dive in?

How do we shift to the more you are made for? If you’ve got your Bibles, would you open up to Jonah chapter 1 and we’ll dive in and begin?

Jonah chapter 1 begins this way, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai.” Like, God came up and said, “I’m speaking to you. I have a call for you. I have something to say.”

And I think we get excited about that, in fact, I was talking with my small group the other night and they were saying, “We so want God to reveal His will, like, in just such clarity. Wouldn’t it be great?” But then this is what God says to Jonah.

“Go to the great city of Nineveh.” I’m sorry, come again? We just talked about what that city is. Go to that city? Um, the arch-enemies of Israel? Assyria, which borders the northern border of Israel? The ones who are constantly encroaching on our territory? You want me to go there? Are you kidding me? And then, “Preach against it,” or literally the text in Hebrew is just “proclaim.” It’s just “speak forth.” It’s just “utter this.”

“Because its wickedness has come up before Me.” And Jonah is going, like, No kidding. Yeah, thank you. About time, God, You caught up with where we are at on this. This is the call of God on Jonah the prophet.

And I think he responds exactly the way we respond. When we experience God’s clarity or God’s Word in an area that we particularly disagree with, or dislike, and don’t want to do. It says, “But” – generally never good, by the way, is the “buts” in Scripture. Some of them are very good, but this one is not.

“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.” Tarshish is, like, exactly opposite. If Assyria and Nineveh is northeast, Tarshish is southwest. We don’t really know exact identity, but it’s somewhere in Spain across the sea.

And he’s going as far away as he possibly can. He heads for Tarshish. “He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. And after paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”

He’s like – God has got a call on his life, He shows up, but he doesn’t like the calling. He doesn’t like the direction. He disagrees with God’s direction in his life to go to a people that he hates and that hate him. And so, what does he do?

He runs the opposite direction and says, “Well, I don’t want to do that. And so, I’m not going to do that. In fact, I’m going to get as far away from there so that You can’t make me do that.” That didn’t work out.

Now, I want to say something that is so obvious, but we have to say it. When we run from God, we shift away from the more we are made for.
I want to say something that is so obvious, but we have to say it. When we run from God, we shift away from the more we are made for.

How do we run from God? I think it’s in the areas where His will doesn’t make sense. I think it’s honestly, most of the time, don’t we have a better plan than God’s? I know You created the universe and all that stuff and it seemed like You had some pretty good Old Testament plans but I’ve got a pretty good plan for my life. I got it from here.

We run from Him when we resist what God has clearly shown us, revealed to us in His Word. When you go, okay, there’s much that when He said, “This is how life is to operate, how life is to work, that He has been so clear on. And we just go, “No, I just, I pick and choose the parts that I like and I don’t like this part, but I like that part.” And it’s when we run from God, when we run from God, we shift away from the more we are made for.

Well, then how do we shift into the more we are made for? Let me give you two things that God has shown us clearly. These are two fundamental shifts we need to make in our lives to live out who God has made you to be and into the person He has created you to be.

The first is simply this shift. The shift to God’s heart for the world. God’s heart for the world. To embrace His heart for the world and the way He sees the entire world around you. John 3:16 is probably one of the most famous verses in the entire world, and even if you don’t go to church, you know this verse. And it says this, “For God so,” help me out, “loved the world.” “For God so loved.” Like, the attitude, the intention, the disposition of the God of the universe is not that He’s against you, out to get you, down on you, but loves you.

And who does He love? The world. Every single person on the planet, regardless of whether you agree with their politics or not, regardless of where they live, regardless of what they are doing, regardless of how they are living, He says, “I love them with an everlasting, passionate, all-consuming love.”

“Whether they are Ninevites or Israelites, I love them. I love them.” And God sees the great heartache and pain of the world and He sends His Son right into the heart of it? Right into the heart for you and for me. “That He gave His one and only Son. That whoever believes, puts the weight of their life on Him, shall not,” and will you say this word with me? “…perish.”

Like, God’s heart is that you would not perish, but have eternal life, or it’s the eternal life, now. Notice that it’s present tense, “have.” It’s the eternal kind of life of peace and joy and hope that begins now in the presence of Jesus, the Spirit deposited inside you, and forever more.

And His heart’s desire is, “I so love you, I so love you, I’m so for you. And there is a sickness of the soul that has separated you called sin from My presence and there’s a direction and intention that that pathway is destruction. And this is My heart for you. My heart is to keep you from harm and to bring you into My family. I love you.” Isn’t it a fascinating thing that God calls this prophet to Nineveh and he runs the opposite way.

You know, I was wrestling this week of, like, why didn’t Jonah want to go to Nineveh? And I think my human, kind of, first reaction is, like, well, Nineveh and you heard who they are, it’s like, “You’re going to die.” You got a word like that, that ain’t good.

But at the end, chapter 4, Jonah tells us. He says, “I knew You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love.” He is quoting Deuteronomy, the very character and nature of God, because he knew that he’s going to Nineveh to proclaim this news. What is he giving them? He’s giving them a warning. He’s giving them a head’s up.

You ever wonder why you give somebody a head’s up? “Hey, head’s up!” I was playing golf the other day, “Fore!” Look out! Why do you give somebody a head’s up? Well, you give them a head’s up and let them know that harm is coming, destruction is coming, a ball is flying through the air and if you don’t look up, you might get hit in the head with it. And so, I’m going to give you a warning, I’m going to yell it out, because I want to keep you from harm. Head’s up.

And Jonah says, “I don’t want to give them a head’s up, because I’m afraid they’ll listen and repent and they won’t get what they deserve.” Because I was thinking, like, okay, who do I give a head’s up? Who do I say, “Look out”? Who do I let them know, man, “Don’t go down that direction”? Well, certainly people I love. And I was like, well, it’s just people you love. And I started, well, no, it’s more than that. It’s more than just people you love, it’s people I like. Well, no, it’s even more than that. I mean, you see a ball coming out, it’s a total stranger, what are you going to say? “Head’s up! Watch out.”

So, who are the people that you would not say, “Head’s up” or “Look out” to? The people you hate. The people you want to get hurt. Now, chances are you don’t have any Ninevite at your workplace. And these extremes sometimes cause us to miss out on the moment. You know, in Jesus’ day, in the cultural customs of their day when He said, “Love your enemy,” an enemy defined was simply one whom you would not have into your home. All of a sudden, it expands.

And head’s up, there’s heartache coming. I don’t think we do a good job at this, because we live in the world of, like, “You do you and you know what? You’re going to get what you deserve.” Like, when we get God’s heart for the world, He so loved that He gave, He sent. He’s like, “I don’t want any harm. I so love the Ninevites and I know what they are doing is so broken. But I’m going to send you there to give them a head’s up, because I love you. God’s heart.”

And we take this verse so personally and it’s wonderful. And that’s absolutely true, but we have to expand it out to your neighbors, to your co-workers, to your classmates, to that person who posts that just annoys you online, to the person of the opposite political party.

And where we begin to get God’s heart, that He has this everlasting, all-consuming love and He sees that there’s a direction and path that you’re headed. There’s a process of the state of your heart that – perish, destruction, harm is coming – and we can’t help but say we love you. Head’s up.

First fundamental shift is that we have to embrace God’s heart for the world. He’s clear on that.

Secondly, is then respond to God’s calling on your life. God’s calling on your life. And you’re like, “Well, Ryan, I don’t have a calling. You’re a pastor. You have a calling. In fact, you are paid to be good. I’m good for nothing.” No, wait a second, that’s not…right?

That’s for prophets. Notice what Jesus said. Final words to His disciples, we know it as the Great Commission. “And Jesus came to them and said, ‘Therefore, all authority,’” or all authority, “has been given to Me.” By the way, real quick, “all authority,” means Jesus has the final say.

Jesus gets to say and be able to be the one who is like, “Hey, this is what is going to happen.” He’s in charge. He has all power, all authority in heaven and on earth, “It has been given to Me.”

Then He says this, “Therefore, in light of that reality, go. Go and make disciples.” Go and tell people, “Head’s up.” Go and let them know that He loves them with an everlasting love and has done what we could not do [for ourselves].

And you no longer have to work your way to God, but God has worked His way to you and He has done and covered the cross and the pain and the punishment and invites you into the family of God. “Therefore go.” And then when we hear the “go” we’re like, well, “Is it Nineveh?” Five hundred and fifty miles away from home.

It’s interesting, the tense of that word in the Greek, “go” is actually “while you go.” While you go. “Therefore, as you go about your day, make disciples.” Therefore, as you are going to work, make disciples. Therefore, as you go to your school. Therefore, as you go to your CrossFit. Therefore, as you go, you know, to your spin class. As you go to the coffee shop. As you go wherever you go, as you go, that you embrace you are a called one by God, separated out, immensely loved to share and express His love to a hurting and broken world, one in which He died for, He died for you, you experience His grace. And how could you not share that? That is the more.

In fact, the apostle Paul, when he’s writing to Philemon, he said this. And it’s this short little book, it’s a letter to this church leader. And he says, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith so that you’ll have a full understanding of every good thing you have in Christ.” Like, there’s something about this that when we are active in sharing, when we begin to just share what God has done in our life, we experience the more we are made for. It sets your heart afire and you begin to experience Him in unique and profound ways.

I think we run from that. I think we are running from our calling. I think we are running from our calling in our day the same reason, maybe, that Jonah ran. See, he prophesied that Israel would be successful in this campaign and expand their borders. Well, you know what happened to him. He’s a hero. The wealthy, the elite, the noble loved him.

I’m sure he got paid handsomely. He had a very comfortable life. Can you imagine what they would think of him if he went to their arch-enemy and gave them a head’s up? He would be hated, wouldn’t he?

I want to give us just a very simple application “Prayer, care, share” - where you would write down three people that are in your life, in your world who do not know Jesus. And then pray for them every single day for five weeks.

See, we complicate it. Would you write down three names, at least, and pray for them? Would you write, “John 3:16” and then the prayer that I have underneath there.

Heavenly Father, would You give me an opportunity to share with someone in some way about You today?”

When I was a senior in high school, this became a reality. It was the summer before my senior year that God got a hold of my heart. In high school, I wasn’t really walking with Jesus and I was trying to just fit in. I mean, like, I just want to fit in. It was so intimidating, right? I wasn’t popular, I just was trying to hang out with anybody that would hang out with me.

And then over the summer, like, Jesus got a hold of my heart. And there’s something that happens, like, when you encounter Jesus and He gets a hold of your heart, it’s like you’re so excited and you want everyone to experience what you just experienced. You’re like, “This is amazing!” And so, I was sitting in my U.S. Gov class at the beginning of school. Our football coach was teaching it. It was dreadfully boring and there was like, we’re sitting around tables. There’s like, five of us at a table. And so, like, I have this newfound passion and excitement and faith in Jesus. And I turned to Preston.

Now, Preston was the most popular kid in our school. I mean, he knew everybody; everybody knew him. Everybody wanted to be him. He was, like, I mean, so cool and I was so not. And I just turned to him and I said, this is how sophisticated I was at seventeen, “Has anybody told you about Jesus?” Now, mind you, the football coach is lecturing on about something, who knows? “Has anybody told you about Jesus?” And then Preston kind of looks at me and goes, “No.” And I asked, “Can I?” “Sure?”

And I’ve got to believe it was just simply because we were stuck in class and it was boring as all get out and he’s like, “Yeah, why not? I don’t know. This crazy kid sitting next to me, I’ve seen him around, sure.”

And I just began to share how Jesus changed my life. That was as simple as that. At the end of class, you know what he said to me? He’s like, “Could we talk more about this?” I was like, “Yeah.” And he was like, “Could I come over to your house and talk about this?” “Yeah!” “Could I invite some friends?” “Sure?” And all of a sudden, a guy who doesn’t know Jesus started a Bible study at my house to know Jesus.

And I began on a 3x5 card and I wrote down the names of every one of those guys, and I just began to pray for them. Every day I just sat by my bedside table. And I know this isn’t the way it always ends up, because sometimes we are praying for people for years and years and years and eventually God shows up. But I got to see every single person on my 3x5 card come to know Jesus.

Preston was April 24th, 1999. It’s tattooed on his arm. Years later he would get married on that day, because it was so significant in his life. To this day, one of my dear friends. My wife, for my fortieth last year had people share, send in videos to share who were significant in my life. And Preston is on there thanking for a moment that a seventeen-year-old kid just got outside of himself because Jesus had changed his life and couldn’t help but share it in probably the worst way.

And God honors that. He’s like, “That changed my life; thank you.” The entire course of his life. God’s heart for the world He loves. And where we would embrace that God’s calling on our life is the people in your world to just simply begin to love them. It’s the more. It’s the more we are made for.