Well, good morning, Eastside. How are y’all? Good. Oh, you are more awake than the 9:30 Service. All right, we’re already off to a good start. Well, first, I just want to say that my name is Carla Perry, and I get the honor of being one of the leaders around here. And this past week, I got a little bit of laryngitis because I like to talk a lot. So, it’s not a good thing for me to have laryngitis because I don’t rest my voice well.
Today, we are going to begin a four-week sermon series about the story of Jonah. And most of the time, since I’ve been speaking here at Eastside, I have talked to you all about things that are in my wheelhouse. Things and topics such as getting into a life group, finding a community where you’re known and loved, and giving you all kinds of encouragement. “All the feels” as the teenagers would say today.
But today, I’m giving you a story about Jonah. And that is a story about obedience. And obedience is not an easy story to deliver, and it’s also not an easy story to hear. So, I ask that you would prayerfully lean in and listen today to what the Lord has for you. I pray that you would know that the story of Jonah is relevant for you. It is not just relevant for your spouse or your neighbor or your friend, but God has something that He wants to say to you, today.
So how many of you all know the story of Jonah? Anybody? All right, yeah, a lot of people do. A lot of people, including myself, think about Jonah as this cute kid story. You know, Jonah didn’t do what God wanted him to do. He got thrown overboard, and he got swallowed by a whale, and it’s all cute. And Jonah made it out and all the things. But like I said, it is a story of obedience. So, I want you to listen today, and we find out right off the bat in Jonah One, that God does not mess around. So, look with me at verse one.
It says, “The Lord gave this message to Jonah, son of Amittai. ‘He said, Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh and announce my judgment against it because I’ve seen how wicked its people are.'” Now look, back again, at that. In verse one, the Lord gave this message to Jonah and God said, “Get up and go”. He left no room for ambiguity, no room for confusion. He was very clear that he wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh. And as a matter of fact, all throughout history, we learned that God is a speaking God, and I want you to take that away from this verse. God is a God that loves to speak to his children. He wants to show you himself. He wants to reveal himself and his purpose for you. And he does that throughout history, through prophets, through his word, through the voice of the Holy Spirit, through circumstances.
And as a matter of fact, I can remember that a couple of years after I became a Christ follower, I was kind of confused. I didn’t really have anyone walking with me, showing me exactly what I needed to do. I was going to church, going on Sundays, doing all the things I thought I needed to do. And then I joined this life group. My life group leader at the time says, “Well, Carla, you know…”
I asked him, I said, “You keep talking about this listening to the Holy Spirit.”
And he says, “Well, Carla, are you listening?” Remember, I like to talk. So he said, “Are you listening for the voice of God?” It was in that moment that God began to reveal to me, through my life group leader at that time, that I needed to be in a relationship where I was actually talking to God, reading His Word, praying, and then listening for what he wanted to share with me.
See, when you speak to God, you can not remain unchanged. When God speaks to you, you have a decision to make. You can either be on mission with God, or you can ignore his word. And we learn from Jonah that God will ask you to do things that you do not want to do.
Friends being obedient to God, it is not easy. God will ask you to do things that stretch you, and you will have a choice. You can either do what God is asking you to do and be obedient, or you can do what Jonah did and say, “I’m out.”
Look at this next virus in Jonah 1:3, it says. “But Jonah got up. He went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found his ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.” Why was Jonah heading to Tarshish? Why did he want to escape the Lord? Because God was asking Jonah to do something He did not want to do. He’s going to ask you to do something that you don’t want to do. And most of the time, the reason that you and I tell God no is because we think we know better than God. It’s real comical, isn’t it?
Do you all know who the smartest person in the world is? I’m talking about the person who has the world figured out. They don’t need any advice. They don’t need any help. If we would just give them the Wi-Fi password, they would have conquered the world by now. Any parents of teenagers in here? Yeah. Yeah, I’ve had almost another one. I’ve had two. I get it. And, so anyway, so sometimes I think that’s how God sees us. Sometimes I think God is trying to show us one way, but we believe that we know better than God.
And so I’m going to explain to you all why Jonah ran from God. When I first read this story many years ago, I thought, why didn’t he just go? I mean, he’s a prophet. Like, just go do what God tells you to do, Jonah. But I’m going to share with you why Jonah ran. He was scared, and I believe most of us would have been to.
You see, Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian empire. And they were awful people. I mean, horrible. Like, if a city knew they were going to be conquered, most of them would commit suicide because they would rather die that way than what was coming for them. They would come in. They would attack a city. They would torture and rape the women. They would torture and kill the children. Then they would take the husbands who were the prisoners of war outside of the city, in the desert. They would skin them alive. Then they would bury them in the sand up to their necks. Like this is real life, guys. Then they would take their tongues out. They would drive a stake through it and leave them to go crazy while they were thirsting to death. I mean, these are savage, ruthless, evil people.
So now, do we have a little bit more grace and a different perspective for Jonah once we know that? I did. So God is going to ask you to do something like Jonah did, like he did with Jonah. And in Jonah’s mind, he had a legitimate reason why he said no to God. So he ran. So maybe some of you, maybe God’s asking you to do something. And you’ve said no. Maybe He’s asked you to forgive someone that has hurt you, hurt someone you love deeply, and you just say, no, God, they don’t deserve it. I’m not. I’m not going there. I want to say something about unforgiveness. It is like drinking poison and expecting that person to die from it. Unforgiveness is no good for your heart.
Now, a lot of you all you’ve heard us talk about beginning your generosity journey around here. We don’t do it because the church needs your money. We do it because God wants to do something in your life. See, it’s already his anyway. And when you’ve entrusted, when God’s entrusted you to do something good with the money, with what He’s blessed you with, and when you give back to him, you receive a blessing that you can’t get any other way. When you say no to God about being generous, you have chosen to miss out on an amazing worship experience with God.
Maybe the Word of the Lord has come to you, and you thought, okay, okay, I know what I’m supposed to do, God, but I am not going to do that right now. I’ll just wait. It just doesn’t fit in my lifestyle in the moment. You need to know that delayed obedience is disobedience. Hear that again, delayed obedience is disobedience. Now, it’s really important for you to understand this because obedience to God’s Word comes with a cost. Disobedience comes with a cost, and obedience does. They both do. But it has been my experience that disobedience is far more expensive, friends.
When God speaks, it’s not always a warm, fuzzy feeling and warm thoughts.
So the first thing we learn from Jonah is God will ask you to do something you don’t want to do. And the second lesson that we learn from the story of Jonah is that you can always find a ship sailing in the other or in the wrong direction. Now, what I mean by this is we all have friends in our life who can talk us into not doing. What the hard decision is. We all have friends in our life or things that can take us away and make it easy for us to make the wrong decision. And let’s look back in Jonah 1:3 because this is exactly what happened to Jonah. It says, “but Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed to Tarshish. He bought a ticket, went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord.” I mean, that’s comical, isn’t it? He thinks he’s going to escape the Lord. So do you remember why? It’s because God told him to go east to Ninevah. And Jonah said, “Heck, no, I’m going west. I’m going to Tarshish, over 3000 miles away.” That’s how far Jonah was trying to go to get away from the Lord. And that is a lot of running, my friends.
Some of you right now. I would bet that you can relate to Jonah, and you may think that you’ve got everybody around you fooled. You may think that no one realizes that you’re running from God. I’m going to tell you something. You can run from God for a moment, but you can’t run forever. God will find you no matter where you go. And you need to understand that that can only last for a season. There is nowhere you can hide. So you may be running. So you may be running from God, and you know it. Or you may be thinking, “Hmm, well, how do I know I’m running from God?” I’m glad you asked.
So these are some signs that I feel like are applicable to us all. Maybe you used to pray, and maybe you heard God speak to you daily. And now you don’t hear His voice anymore in your life. Maybe you felt alive, and the spirit was living inside of you, and when you would open up your Bible, his truths would just leap off of the pages and to your heart. And maybe there was a time that you served in a ministry here at Eastside, and now you’re just choosing to be a spectator. Maybe there is a time you were in a life group, where you were with people in community who helped you feel known and loved, and you were growing in your faith with them and you haven’t been in months.
Maybe there is a time that you’ve felt spiritually full and like Jesus was just overflowing out of you. People knew something was different about you. And then the pandemic of 2020 happened. We all went online for church and for everything else because we needed to. And you thought, Hmm, I kind of like this. Eating my waffles, sitting in my jammies, drinking my coffee at home with my family. And you thought, maybe I just will do this when it’s safe to go back. I’ll just stay here. Then one day, you look up, and you go, I think I’m not even going to watch today. I’ve got other things to do. I’ve got better things that I want to do at home. And you stop. You stop watching online. Then you don’t open your Bible. You stop praying. And one day, you look up, and you go, How did I get so far from God? How did I begin to think that isolation is okay and normal? Where is God in all that’s happening around me right now?
Friends, I’ve got news for you. God has not left. He is very present in all of our lives. Some of us are just running from God right now, and we’re not seeking him. See, when we do so by the commands of God, intentionally or even unintentionally, we are running. We are choosing to separate ourselves from Him, and the Word of the Lord will come to you. And it may not be what you want to hear. And when you run, you can always find a boat sailing in the wrong direction. Some of you are on the run right now, so I ask the question, What is it that you are running from?
The third lesson that we learned from Jonah is God will send a storm to grab your attention. How many of you all have had a storm? Grab your attention in your life at some point. Like you’re going this way and you’re not paying attention, and all of a sudden, bam, send in, brings you back over to reality and get you back on track. We’ve all had moments like that. None of us are exempt from the world around us. And when you’re on the run, doing the wrong thing, running from the Lord, God may send a storm to grab your attention. And God uses this storm to show Jonah that he could not outrun his presence. So Jonah was on the run.
Look what it says in verse four, “but the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart.” Now you need to understand that this was a strong, sturdy ship. Like their sailors on it, there’s cargo, and the wind is blowing to, and fro, and the sailors are thinking, what are we going to do? We are scared.
In verse five, it says, “Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.” Do you know what Jonah was doing all this time? Do you think he was out there on the deck helping them to pitch all that cargo off the ship? Well, it tells us in the next verse, but all this time, it says, “Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold. So the captain went down after him, and he said, ‘How can you sleep at a time like this?’ He shouted, ‘Get up and pray to your God. Maybe he will pay attention and spare our lives.'”
So I just want to hit the pause button here for a moment, because I find it ironic that Jonah is on a boat with a bunch of sailors who have zero relationship with God. I mean, it says clearly they all worship other gods than Jonah, and they’re going to Jonah and telling him, “Hey, pray to your God. Maybe he’ll hear us.” I just think it’s ironic how God still uses us, and how he’s using Jonah to reveal himself to other people. And we will see later in the story how he does that.
So the next verse is seven and eight. It says, “Then the crew cast lots to see which of them had offended the gods and caused the terrible storm. When they did this, the lots identified Jonah as the culprit. ‘Why has this awful storm come down on us?’ They demanded. ‘Who are you? What is your nationality? What is your line of work? What country are you from? What? Who are you?’ And Jonah answered, “I am Hebrew, and I worship the Lord that God in Heaven who made the sea and the land.”
You see, friends, the all-in journey is not all about easy coasting through life decisions. We all need to realize that God is going to ask us to do things that we want to do. And Jonah wanted to pick and choose when it was convenient and easy for him to be obedient to God. And sometimes, we just want to say no to God. “That doesn’t fit my plans.” You cannot choose friends, when to be obedient when it’s easy. Jonah said It’s too hard. “I can’t do that.”
So the sailors are freaking out. It’s this huge storm, and they’re trying to figure out what in the world they’re going to do with Jonah. And Jonah finds out that you cannot outrun the presence of God. I love this virus in Jeremiah 23:24 that I came across. “‘Can anyone had from me in a secret place? Am I not everywhere in all the heavens in the earth?'” I love that verse reminds us that God is everywhere. God is saying to us that He is everywhere, from the heavens and the earth, and we cannot escape his presence. And in Jonah 1:12, we read about the exact moment that God, that Jonah realizes God is coming after him.
It says, “Jonah goes, ‘Throw me into the sea, and it will be calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.'” You know, I find it so interesting that Jonah is still running in this sentence, in the statement. Jonah would rather be thrown over the side of the ship and die then tell them to turn back around so he can get to Nineveh. He’s still running from God.
And in verse 15 and 16, it says. “Then the sailors picked Jonah up. They threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once. The sailors were awestruck, struck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.” I told you God was going to still work. God sent this storm to get Jonah’s attention.
So my question to you is, what storm is God going to have to send your way to get your attention? What has to happen, to you, for you to go, “okay, God, I get it.” See, I believe that we all keep these schedules. I mean, just open your calendar and look, mine included. We’re so busy, doing so many different things that we do not even stop to hear the voice of God speaking to us. At no point did Jonah ask God for help before He decided to take off.
So the things that we’ve learned from Jonah so far is God will often ask you to do things that you don’t want to do. You can always find a ship sailing in the wrong direction, and God will send a storm to grab your attention. And the last lesson that we learned from Jonah, is Jonah’s worst nightmare is exactly what he needed.
In verse 17, it says, “The Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.” What Jonah would see is his worst possible nightmare, God provided. See some of you right now, you think that you are living in, and maybe you are, in your worst possible nightmare. Financially, you may be like, “I’m done. It’s over. Call the bank, close the business, file the chapter seven, cash in our 401k and and cash in the kids college funds.” Maybe you’re saying, “I hope they don’t turn our electric off this week.” “They’re talking about a recession, and I’m already living paycheck to paycheck. What am I going to do if I get laid off from my job?” and God says, “Okay, now do I have your attention?”
Some of you may be facing a trouble in a relationship, but it just couldn’t get any worse than this. They’re never coming back. My wayward child is lost forever. I can’t forgive them. They’re irredeemable. They are not worth it. Call the divorce attorney. Sign the papers, and God says, “Okay. Do I have your attention?”
Maybe some of you, you’re grieving a death that was so painful, and you’re so broken, and maybe you are not walking through grief in a healthy way, and you’re saying to God, “There is no way that you would put me through this pain. If you really love me, God. You are not righteous. You are not fair. You are not a good, good father. You are against me. I. Am. Out.” And God says, “Okay, do I have your attention?”
Some of you. You’re fighting depression, anxiety, maybe some sort of addiction. And you’re saying, God, why won’t you transform my mind? Why won’t you deliver me and heal me from this affliction? The shackles that I’m chained down with. I’ve done everything that I know to do. I don’t know where else to turn. And God says, “Okay. Do I have your attention?”
This morning as we close, I just want to ask you all to just maybe just put your feet in front of you, sit up, and put your hands in your lap. No one looking around. This is a holy moment, I believe. Whenever I’m doing this, I like to put my palms up as if to receive what it is that the voice of the Holy Spirit is trying to tell me. Take all your distractions out of your mind. Don’t worry about what’s happening at lunch or the kids in E-kids. Don’t worry about the week that is ahead if you, just focus on the presence of God this morning.
What is he asking you to do that you’ve said no to? Where is he speaking to you? That you are not listening? Maybe he’s telling you to join a life group where you can find community and friends. Maybe he’s saying, go join that serve team and use your talents that I’ve given you. Maybe he’s asking you to start your Generosity Journey today. Maybe he’s asking you to trust him with your finances. Is God asking you to invest in the next generation, here at Eastside, through our student ministries. Maybe God is asking you to go on your first mission trip. Is God asking you to forgive someone and begin to reconcile a broken relationship in your life? Is he asking you to stop being stubborn and acknowledge how deeply he loves and cares for you? Is he asking you to acknowledge that he actually knows what is best for you? Maybe he’s asking you to just press into him and stop running like Jonah did and start running toward him.
Now with everyone’s eyes still closed. No one looking around. I just want you to raise your hand up. I would love to pray for you if, in this moment, God has revealed something to you. Or you finally acknowledged where it is He is moving in your life? Would you just raise your hands up? This morning. I just want to pray for you.
“Father. I pray for each of these people this morning. God, I pray, Father, that you would give them courage and boldness. God, it’s not easy saying yes to things that are difficult or that are scary. God help us to remember that we are not in control of our lives. That you are with us no matter where we go. That you are in front of us, behind us, beside us. God, you’re so far ahead of us, paving the way. Father, give us what we need to begin that journey of saying ‘yes’ to you and being obedient to what you’re calling us to. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.”