Extra-Ordinary

The Magnificat
Luke 1.46-55

Choosing Teams
As kids, to play softball or kickball or whatever team sport, we would choose captains and those captains would then alternate back and forth, taking turns, choosing team members. “Pick me, pick me.” Back and forth, choosing the best, the strongest, the most talented, the fastest, the most popular. No one wanted to be last.

And some of you know what it felt like to be chosen last: you were the smallest, weakest, uncoordinated, you couldn’t hit the ball, or the ball hit you once and you now you didn’t want anything to do with that ball.

The story of the birth of Christ is also includes the story of mother Mary, a young woman maybe 13 years of age, who was engaged to be married, and is chosen to be the mother of the Messiah.

This is the story of God choosing the lowly, the poor, the humble; of God choosing the ordinary and doing the extraordinary. Of God choosing the least suspecting, the least deserving. Of God choosing the person we would choose last, if we were captain and choosing a winning team.

The Apostle Paul describes who we were when God chose us.
1 Corinthians 1.26-29

God takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary.

Root: ordinary
Prefix: extra
God is the extra in this equation. It is his choosing, his power that makes the ordinary extraordinary.

"Humility is not trying to be humble; it’s not trying to be little; humility is just seeing God as he is; pride is seeing ourselves as we are not." -Louie Giglio

As we grow in our understanding of the greatness of God and the vastness of his power, we see ourselves for who we really are.

The Apostle Paul’s downward spiral:
1 Corinthians 15.9 (written in AD 59)
I am the least of the apostles
Ephesians 3.8 (written in AD 63)
I am the very least of all the saints
1 Timothy 1.15 (written in AD 64)
I am the foremost of sinners

Paul was a gifted preacher and missionary, and he was full of energy and determination, but as the years pass, Paul thinks of himself less and less, so his praise and adoration for the God who wonderfully saved him rises.

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself; but thinking of yourself less." -Rick Warren

Worship is thinking about God, concentrating on God, who he is and what he has done.

Matthew 19.16-30 The Rich Young Ruler
After Jesus’ encounter with the rich, young ruler:
27Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?"
30But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

Matthew 20.20-28
The mother of James and John asks Jesus, "Can my sons sit one at your right, one at your left?"
Jesus repsonds to them, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

According to tradition ten of the twelve disciple died a martyr’s death; and John was persecuted  severely.

1 Samuel 16.1-13
After Saul’s death, the prophet-priest Samuel goes to Jesse’s house to anoint a new king. When Samuel sees Eliab he knows for sure this must be God’s chosen one. He looks like a king!
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

With God, it’s not deserving to be chosen, it’s about being willing to serve; it’s not about getting a reward, it’s about giving. It’s not about what we see with our human eyes; it’s about what God sees,  it’s all about the heart.

Looking at Mary once again,
Earlier in Luke 1 when the angel Gabriel appears and tells her she is going to bear the Christ child, her only response is:
"I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said."

Her response is a humble act of submission.
Whatever you want God, here I am. Do with me as you please. I am at your service.

We too, do not earn the right to be chosen. But God says, "I choose you."
May we, as ordinary people, offer our whole selves, to the God who can do extraordinary things through us.

Good Stewards are Grateful

Today, we are finally going to get to talk about the word that’s been on my heart for nearly a year – the word is grateful. Good stewards are grateful! I truly believe that gratitude is one of the most important things anyone can ever learn. You show me a person who has learned to be grateful (truly grateful to God), and I’ll show you a person who is growing more wise/mature.

What are you thankful for?
This Thursday, we celebrate Thanksgiving …

Story: We’re getting a divorce …

An elderly man in Phoenix calls his son in NY and says, “I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing; 45 years of misery is enough!”

“Pop, what are you talking about?”

“We can’t stand the sight of each other any longer. We’re sick of each other, and I’m sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Chicago and tell her.” Then he hangs up.

Frantically, the son calls his sister, who explodes on the phone. “Like heck they’re getting divorced. I’ll take care of this.”

She calls Phoenix immediately, and screams at the old man, “You are NOT getting divorced. Don’t do a single thing until I get there. I’m calling my brother back, and we’ll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don’t do a thing, do you hear me?”

The old man hangs up his phone and turns to his wife. “Okay, they’re coming home for Thanksgiving and paying their own fares!”

Luke 17.11–16

Gratitude is a response to God’s gifts

Perhaps that’s why we hear people thanking God during music award ceremonies or during sporting events – people are grateful for the gifts that God has given them.

“Thank God for his gift that is too wonderful for words!” (2 Corinthians 9.15)

Gratitude starts in the heart

How can you know if you are grateful? [Words/Actions]

“The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”
You may recall in the story how the Grinch enters all the homes by way of their chimneys disguised as Santa Clause. He takes all the presents and ornaments, decorations and stockings, and even all their food. He drags his loot up to his mountain and then looks down upon Whoville, waiting to hear their cries and wailings as they wake up on Christmas morning. What he hears surprises him. Up from the town of the Whos comes a joyful Christmas carol. They’re sgining! “Why?” the Grinch asks. It’s because, he learns, that Christmas resides not in things but in the heart which is thankful. He could take their stuff, but he couldn’t steal their gratitude!

“Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do.” (1 Thessalonians 5.18)

Everyone can be grateful
Gratitude is an attitude, and our attitude is a choice! There’s a scientist who has made the news in the past because of his belief that certain people are inclined to be certain ways. For example, a while back, he said there was a “gay gene” – certain people are inclined to be gay, and they can’t help it. Recently, he has claimed that there is a “god gene” – some people are more inclined to be religious than others. Well, I don’t believe that either of those genes exists, and I also do not believe that there is a “gratitude gene,” that would cause some people to be grateful and others to be ungrateful. It just doesn’t exist!

Philippians 4.10–13

Now, that doesn’t mean that developing gratitude is easy work – many times it’s not! It doesn’t come naturally.

We must guard against ungratefulness!
Andrew Carnegie, the multimillionaire, left $1 million for one of his relatives, who in return cursed Carnegie thoroughly because he had left $365 million to public charities and had cut him off with just one measly million.

“The careless soul receives the Father’s gifts as if it were a way things had of dropping into his hand…yet he is ever complaining, as if someone were accountable for the problems which meet him at every turn. For the good that comes to him, he gives no thanks—who is there to thank? At the disappointments that befall him he grumbles—there must be someone to blame!” (George MacDonald)

Real gratitude is a habit

The rest of the story …

Luke 17.17–19

Too often Christians do not develop this habit. Rather they become ungrateful! They begin to think in terms of ownership and rights, that they somehow deserve God’s gifts as payment for their good lives! Sometimes the “insiders” don’t get it.

But sometimes, the “outsiders” do, as in the case of this Samaritan leper. The other nine (presumably all Israelites) didn’t return to thank Jesus for healing; perhaps they believed that because they were Jews, God’s chosen people, that they somehow deserved it or earned it (we don’t know). But whatever they thought, it wasn’t gratitude!

But the Samaritan, the “outsider” got it. His heart was filled with gratitude, and he returned to give thanks to God!

Daniel …
“Daniel heard about the law, but when he returned home, he went upstairs and prayed in front of the window that faced Jerusalem. In the same way that he had always done, he knelt down in prayer three times a day, giving thanks to God.” (Daniel 6.10)

“And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3.17)

Gratitude is a response to God’s gifts. People who are grateful know they have been given so much more than they deserve! Their hearts are filled with gratitude, and thankfulness flows out of their hearts. They realize it’s a choice they have to constantly make, because the natural thing is to be ungrateful! And as a result of their daily decisions to be grateful, they develop the habit of gratitude!

“[A]lways give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Ephesians 5.20)

Good Stewards are Generous

What’s the difference between people who are generous and people who are not (givers and misers)?

  • Generous people give of their time, talents, and treasures, regardless of how much they have.
  • Generous people overcome fear
  • Generous people know, “It’s not about me!” They value other people.

“No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.” (Calvin Coolidge)

Jesus once told a story in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10.30–35

Be grateful for what you have! You’ll be more likely to be generous.

Charles Feeney’s Generosity …
In January of 1997 a mystery was solved that had baffled people for nearly a decade. Someone was giving away millions of dollars! The recipients didn’t know why the gifts came or how to ask for more. But still the money drizzled in, to universities, hospitals and service groups around the globe, paid in cashier’s checks and accompanied by word that the giver wished to remain anonymous.

The giver, it turns out, was Charles Feeney, a 66 year-old businessman from New Jersey. Forbes magazine had listed Feeney, the owner of a duty-free shop conglomerate, as one of the 400 richest Americans. But then it was discovered that Feeney’s wealth was only 1% of what Forbes thought it was. How could they be so far off in their projections? For years, Feeney had quietly been giving it away. Over $4 billion in all. Feeney is known as a “shabby:” dresser who flies coach, wears a $5 watch and doesn’t even own a house or a car.

The richest 1% of Americans give only 2% of their annual gross income to charity. And yet Charles Feeney managed to give away 99% of all he had without anyone knowing. (All above info on Charles Feeney from www.time.com)

Value other people! Help others.

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” (John Bunyan)

“One person is generous and yet grows more wealthy, but another withholds more than he ought and comes to poverty. A generous person will be enriched, and the one who provides water for others will himself be satisfied.” (Proverbs 11.24-25)

“Every Sunday each of you make an offering and put it in safekeeping. Be as generous as you can.” (1 Corinthians 16.2)

Where’s your heart?

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6.24).

“If you want to be in charge of your heart, don’t allow possessions to take charge of you.” (John Maxwell)

“Money is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. If it gets on top and you get under it, you will become its slave. (E. Stanley Jones)

Develop the habit of giving and become a giver!

John D. Rockefeller is an example of the benefits of giving. He achieved what our culture calls success. Rockefeller had amassed more wealth than he could ever spend.

By the time Rockefeller was 53 his life was a wreck. Throughout his business career he said, “I never placed my head upon the pillow at night without reminding myself that my success might only be temporary.” He was the richest man in the world and yet he was miserable in every sense of the word. He was sick physically, mentally, and emotionally. There was no humor, balance, or joy in his life.

“I have made millions, but they have not brought me happiness.” (John D. Rockefeller)

Then a transformation occurred. He determined to become a giver rather than an accumulator. He began to give his millions away. He founded the Rockefeller Foundation, dedicated to fighting disease and ignorance around the world. He lived to be 98 years old and was a happy man in those years because of his new and revitalized definition of success.

“Just the very act of letting go of money, or some other treasure, does something within us. It destroys the demon greed.” (Richard Foster)

It’s not the amount; it’s the heart!

Luke 21.1–4

“Giving is the highest level of living.” (John Maxwell)

“You can’t out-give God!”
Disciples do what their leaders do. We are disciples of Jesus, so as disciples, we strive to do what Jesus does; to live as Jesus lives. I believe that means our lives should be marked by obedience and imitation – we obey the words of Jesus and we imitate his life!

And when you look at the way Jesus gave, you know there’s no limits to what he gave – he gave everything!

And it wasn’t just his death on the cross, it started long before that. It started when he left heaven and become one of us. The Scriptures say that Jesus “emptied himself.” He gave everything away so that he could give us eternal life! And later, the Scriptures say that Jesus endured the suffering of the cross, because he knew it would be worth it.

Our motives must be the same – we want to be generous so that others may come to know Christ and do life with us, now and for eternity!

2 Corinthians 9.6–11

Three kinds of Givers …

  • Some one has said, there are three kinds of givers — the flint, the sponge and the honeycomb.
  • To get anything out of a flint you must hammer it. And then you get only chips and sparks.
  • To get water out of a sponge you must squeeze it, and the more you use pressure, the more you will get.
  • But the honeycomb just overflows with its own sweetness.

Which kind of giver are you?

Good Stewards are Godly

What is stewardship?
The Bible calls us “stewards” (trustees), which means that we have been entrusted with God’s gifts; we are expected to be responsible and take good care of God’s gifts. This includes: time, talents, and treasures!

Get Your Priorities Right – Put God First
Having right priorities is about wanting what God wants. The good news is that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and the Good Shepherd provides for the needs of his flock.

“While I may not get the fleeting things I want, I am getting everything God wants for me.” (Ben Lerner)

Click here to read Matthew 6.19–34

Check Your Motives – Worship God
“Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. (Proverbs 3.9–10)

2 Corinthians 9.6–14

Giving is Worship …

Romans 12.1–2
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? 2Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.

That’s worship!

It seems to me that a lot of people see giving as a way of supporting the church — like country club dues. My theology of giving (i.e. tithes and offerings, “stewardship”) is that it is not primarily about supporting the church — it’s about worship.

OT Sacrificial System
While some of the OT sacrifices supported the priesthood, the best part was supposed to be burned. Not used, not “spent wisely” — it was an act of worship before God. The essence of worship is surrendering ownership and authority entirely to God over something that means something to you.

Mark 14.1–9

Accept Responsibility – Be a Giver
“Success on any major scale requires you to accept responsibility …. In the final analysis, the one quality that all successful people have is the ability to take on responsibility.” (Michael Korda)

But we have a problem with responsibility …
An inmate at Butte County Jail in CA explained his absence from jail to sheriff’s deputies this way: “I was playing pole vault and I got too close to the wall and I fell over the wall. When I regained my senses, I ran around to try to find a way back in, but being unfamiliar with the area, got lost. Next thing I knew I was in Chico.”

Rights vs. Responsibility
We don’t like to talk much about responsibility. We’d rather talk about rights. Perhaps this is due to our American upbringing. The “Declaration of Independence” states …

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We stop there, and we talk about our rights. But Jefferson didn’t stop there; he went on to talk about the responsibility of government and the responsibility of the people.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

IOW, government is responsible to the people.

Problem with thinking we have rights is that we think the world owes us something. When we carry that into the church, we think God owes us something. I can’t think of anything that God owes us! Forgiveness? Salvation? God doesn’t owe us forgiveness and salvation! They are gifts! And with gifts, come great responsibility!

One day, Jesus was teaching and told a story. Peter asked, “Lord, is this story just for us or for everyone?”

Luke 12.42–48

What is our responsibility?

In the UM Baptismal Covenant, we ask …
“As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?”

Recently, Bishop Jane Allan Middleton’s address at her installation …

Vital ministry will be characterized by:

  • Welcoming and open churches committed to spreading their message of invitation and this should include making a financial commitment to growing. Adam Hamilton at the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City – a church that had no members, that did not exist in 1990 and now 14 years later has 10,000 members – committed 10 percent of its annual budget to evangelism for the first 10 years of their ministry. What percentage of your budget goes to evangelism?
  • A high bar for membership and leadership, which requires weekly attendance, spiritual growth through Disciple and other scripture study, mission engagement and tithing. Come, worship with us. Be a part of our church, participate. But when you decide to join the church and if you are a leader, these are the requirements.
  • Sacrificial commitment individually and corporately to mission, locally and globally. The churches which are truly reaching out in mission are the churches which are alive.

Honoring Those Who’ve Gone Before Us

"All Saints Day is a day of remembrance for the saints, with the NT meaning of all Christian people of every time and place. We celebrate the communion of saints as we remember the dead, both of the Church universal and of our local congregations." (United Methodist Book of Worship)

What is a Saint?
In the Bible, the name “saint” is commonly used to designate a Christian. For example, some of the letters in the NT are addressed to “the saints at such-and-such a location.” Saint literally means “holy one.” Those who follow God have been set apart by God and made holy by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Click here to read Joshua 1.1-9

“The world has changed.” (Opening line of movie, “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” 2001)

Honor the past, but don’t idolize the past!

“Moses my servant is dead!” (KJV)

  • Yes, we remember Moses
  • We honor Moses as a great follower of God, as a great leader
  • We build on what Moses did
  • But we don’t idolize him!
  • We don’t do everything the way Moses did it (e.g. 2 spies vs. 12 spies)

One of my favorite services at Annual Conference is the retirement service where we honor those who have dedicated their lives to serving God and the Church as pastors. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that looks down on age and worships youthfulness! We’re always looking for the new-and-improved. And if it’s old, it has little or no value.

But in some cultures, and certainly, in God’s estimation, age has great value.

  • "Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life." (Proverbs 16.31)
  • "The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old." (Proverbs 20.29)

Be careful with traditions. They can become idols!
I want my successors to build on whatever I accomplish in my ministry. But I don’t want them simply repeating what I did because it may have worked for me and my generation. I want them to have the freedom to totally change everything I did during my life and ministry. They need to have the freedom to contextualize the ministry of Jesus Christ for their generation!

Be careful with buildings and stuff. They can become idols.
I have not been in a building program, but if I am ever in one, I want my successors to NOT be tied to that building. A building should be functional, able to provide for ministry today. Any building we build today will not meet the needs of future ministry!

We do not honor our spiritual ancestors by hanging onto their stuff and repeating their methods, especially if it leads to death! We only honor them if we build on what they did, in the Spirit of Christ!

Learn from the past, but don’t long for the past!

We can’t long for the “good old days.” We tend to romanticize/glorify the past, anyway!

“Saint: a dead sinner revised and edited.” (Ambrose Bierce)

Don’t keep repeating the same mistakes …

“Learn from the mistakes of others—you can never live long enough to make them all yourself.” (John Luther)

When I think about those who have gone before us, I’m not so much interested in their methods as I am interested in their hearts!

Remember the past, but don’t be distracted or derailed by the past!

Click here to read Philippians 3.12–14

How do we honor the past? By moving forward!

  • "Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God." (Jesus in Luke 9.62)
  • "All of these people we have mentioned received God’s approval because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had far better things in mind for us that would also benefit them, for they can’t receive the prize at the end of the race until we finish the race." (Hebrews 11.39–40)

Jonah Goes to Nineveh

[Note: Read part 1, delivered by Joleen: Jonah Goes the Wrong Way]

Click here to read Jonah 3–4

The story of Jonah is such as incredible story!

And, this is one of my favorite lines in the story: “Then the LORD spoke to Jonah a second time …”
Aren’t
you thankful for the second chances? Jonah messed up royally the first
time around; now God is giving him another chance! Have you ever needed
a second chance?

God says: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver
the message of judgment I have given you.” This is followed by another
one of my favorite lines in the story is this one: “This time Jonah
obeyed the LORD’s command and went to Nineveh.” Well, you would too, if
you had just spent 3 days in the belly of a big fish! And Jonah finally
gets it right, sort of.

Jonah goes to Nineveh, “a city so large that it took three days to
see it all.” On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the
crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!”

Message of Judgment
You don’t notice this in English, but
in the original Hebrew, there’s a slight variation. The first time,
God’s message was a threat of impending judgment. But the second time,
along with the message of impending judgment, was a positive element, a
call to repentance! For example, “There are still 40 more days for
repentance …”

Nineveh repents
And amazingly enough, the people of
Nineveh believed God’s message; they fasted and put on sackcloth to
demonstrate their repentance.

The King’s Decree
When the king of Nineveh heard what
Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his
royal robes. He dressed himself in sackcloth and sat on a heap of
ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the
city: “No one, not even the animals, may eat or drink anything at
all. Everyone is required to wear sackcloth and pray earnestly to
God. Everyone must turn from their evil ways and stop all their
violence.”

The people made U-Turn …
The king went on to say: “Who can
tell? Perhaps even yet God will have pity on us and hold back his
fierce anger from destroying us.”

This is amazing! These spiritually confused people believed the
message of this angry, reluctant prophet, and hoped that God would be
gracious and compassionate toward them. And God did. When God saw that
they had put a stop to their evil ways, God had mercy on them and
didn’t carry out the destruction God had threatened.

But there’s a problem. God didn’t get Jonah’s approval: “This change
of plans upset Jonah, and he became very angry.” So he complained to
the LORD about it. And here, toward the end of the story, we finally
discover just why Jonah ran from God: “Didn’t I say before I left home
that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I
knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to get angry
and filled with unfailing love. I knew how easily you could cancel your
plans for destroying these people.”

Nineveh
Jonah is mad because God loves the Ninevites!
Nineveh was the capital of Israel’s archenemy Assyria. They were wicked
and brutal; they hated the Israelites and their God. But they, like all
people, mattered to God. Interestingly, The name, Nineveh was a symbol:
a fish inside a circle.

Jonah said: “Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive
because nothing I predicted is going to happen.” IOW, “I’d rather die
than live with a compassionate God like you!”

But look at what God asked to Jonah: “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”

Well, Jonah ignores the question and goes out “to the east side of
the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see if
anything would happen to the city.”

The Plant
God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there,
and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from
the sun. This eased some of his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful
for the plant.

The Worm
But God also prepared a worm! The next morning at
dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant, so that it soon died
and withered away.

Again, Jonah wants to die! As the sun grew hot, God sent a scorching
east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew
faint and wished to die …
Jonah: “Death is certainly better than this!”
God: “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”
Jonah: “Yes, even angry enough to die!”

What’s wrong with Jonah?
Now, you’re probably thinking,
“Jonah is stupid! Jonah’s angry enough to die because of a little
plant, but he doesn’t care about people? What’s wrong with Jonah?”

And, you’re right. Jonah is stupid. But haven’t you been angry about
dumb stuff before? I have. Sometimes we get so bent out of shape about
so many meaningless, trivial things: things like what we will eat or
what we will wear; churches get caught up in trivial stuff too:
furnishings, ways of worshiping or ministry, etc.

While we get angry about these things, God is concerned about people!

That’s what John Wesley taught us: “You have nothing to do but to save souls!” (John Wesley)

We’ve got to get our priorities right. Maybe you’re angry because
you don’t understand God’s ways; maybe God keeps changing the
direction, and you don’t like it. Maybe some of you are angry because
people don’t come to church like they used to.

The world is constantly changing, and it’s passing us by. A few
decades ago, all you had to do was open the doors, and people would
come. But now, it doesn’t work that way. Now we have to go to them; we
have to build relationships with people and reach out to reach people
wherever they are, and we have to them God’s Story. BTW, that’s the way
Jesus and the early Christ-followers did it!

From thejesusplan.com …

  • Less than 1% of those who come to Christ do so as a result of an evangelistic crusade.
  • No more than 4% say they are influenced by local church programs or worship services.
  • Fully 80% come to faith “because a friend or family member cared for me until I accepted Christ.”

God said to Jonah …
“You feel sorry about the plant, though you
did nothing to put it there. And a plant is only, at best, short lived.
But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness,
not to mention all the animals.”

This great story ends with a question …
It’s the only book in
the Bible that ends with a question. It ends with the most challenging,
heart-penetrating question. It had to have penetrated Jonah’s heart; it
penetrates my heart, and I hope it penetrate your heart too.

“Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

Jonah’s Courage
There’s one thing I love about Jonah – his
courage. To go right into the heart of your archenemy and tell them
they have forty days till their city is going to be overthrown – that
takes courage!

I want that kind of courage – to proclaim God’s Word, to follow God,
and lead people wherever God leads. That kind of life requires courage!

But Jonah was missing something – compassion!
Compassion
is a requirement, along with courage. You can’t just have one or the
other; you’ve got to have both! If we are to ever understand God, we
need to understand this about God: God is irrationally, passionately in
love with all people.

So, God leaves us with this question …

“Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
It’s a
question that’s supposed to make us think. It’s supposed to challenge
us. It’s supposed to disturb us! How does it disturb you? Shouldn’t we
be compassionate toward the spiritually confused people who live among
us — in our neighborhoods, communities, valley, and our world.

Shouldn’t we be compassionate for all people — our friends,
strangers, people at the margins of society, and people we don’t get
along with.

Shouldn’t we allow God to reach spiritually confused people through us?

U-Turns …
The story of Jonah is a great story. It’s full
of so many u-turns. In this story, everybody and everything – sailors,
the captain, the weather, the fish, the Ninevites, the plant, and the
worm – everything and everyone obeys God, except Jonah! Now, we don’t
know the end of the story. What don’t know what happened after that
penetrating question that God asked Jonah. I hope Jonah made another
u-turn.

“Repent”
But I’m more concerned about the u-turns that need to be made here today! To repent means to make a u-turn, to return to God.

Jonah Goes the Wrong Way

The Story
A group of sailors are changed forever because of their encounter with Jonah, a person who was going the wrong way, a person who was running from God.

This story finds a group of who are preparing to take their merchant ship to Spain, probably on an expedition of international trade. A Hebrew named Jonah, who is fleeing from God, comes down from Jerusalem to join them. Jonah travels down to Joppa, a Palestinian seaport town, and probably already feels like he has escaped God, for in this town he is very unlikely to run into any other God-worshipers or Israelites. He buys a ticket and down into the ship he goes, again confident he will be the only Israelite. Jonah proceeds down into the hold below the deck and down he lays falling into a sound sleep.

As the sailors take off to sea, such a great storm arises that it threatens to tear the ship apart. The sailors are afraid! They cry aloud, each praying to their own god, as they throw their cargo overboard attempting to lighten the ship… doing everything they can to increase their chances of survival.

The captain goes below deck and frantically arouses Jonah from his deep sleep, “How can you sleep at a time like this! What’s a matter with you! Get up and start praying to your god! Shout loudly to your god and maybe he’ll hear and save us from death.”

As the storm worsens the sailors cast lots, probably each choosing a small stone. Jonah gets the colored stone, the only one of its kind, and the sailors begin throwing questions at him in rapid succession, wanting to quickly find out the cause of the storm.

Jonah responds, as if with pride, “I am a Hebrew! And I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

Well, this frightens the sailors all the more, because they are on the sea and they really want to be on dry land right now!

The sailors then basically ask Jonah, “What have you done to make the Lord this angry and to put all of our lives in danger!”

They continue asking, “What should we do to you so that the sea might calm down for us?” Jonah, taking responsibility says to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea to make the sea quiet down, because I know it’s my fault you are in this severe storm.”

These sailors are basically good people. They don’t want to kill anybody. And they don’t want to die. And at this point they are afraid they’re going to die whether they throw Jonah over or not. So, first they try digging their oars hard and deep into the stormy waters, trying to head to dry land. But they just cannot. The storm gets even fiercer. So they relent, and throw Jonah overboard.

At this moment the sea becomes calm.

Our wrong turns effect others
How many of you have been tossed around by the storms of life? You’ve
made a wrong turn. OR someone else has made a wrong turn and they’re
riding on the same boat as you are.

It only takes one addict in a household to effect the whole household. One alcoholic, one drug addict, one workaholic: when one consistently chooses work over time with their family, if effects the family, it effects his/her marriage, it effects our kids.

In the math’s and sciences this is called the Butterfly Effect where it is calculated that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can cause a disturbance that continues to amplified and the outcome is unpredictable… perhaps a butterfly flapping it’s wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas.

When we as Christians don’t act like Christians and do things that are opposite of what Christians are to do, it hurts the witness of the Church. When we don’t do what God call us to do, it hurts the witness of the Church.

One person’s actions, the wrong turn of Jonah, effected the lives of many others.

It may be because we or someone else has made a wrong turn, but sometimes God, in his love and compassion, causes the storms of life.

I wouldn’t want to make a wrong turn and there be no turbulence… there would be no signal that anything was wrong! That’s like having a heart attack and there being no pain. The pain is the warning sign. For a pregnant woman, contractions are different kind of warning sign. They mean, you’d better get to the hospital, because the baby is a coming! Most women complain that they are in labor too long. Well, I had a girlfriend who’s labor was so brief she almost didn’t make it to the hospital in time. Pain, serves a purpose. We could be dying… we could be lost at sea… and never know it. But the storm, just like physical pain, is our warning sign. So sometimes there is a very good reason for the storms in life.

What do you do in the storm?
Now if we know there are going to be storms in life, the question becomes, "How do you respond?"

Basically this story gives us two choices: Denial or Action

Denial
You can respond like Jonah and just disappear below deck, out of sight, lay low for a while and hope that the storm passes over. Denying that you’ve done anything to cause the storm.

Action
Or you can respond like the sailors who take action…
They pray; they do what they can to make the situation better. They work together… lightening the load [as we are instructed in the NT to “carry one another burdens.] They try to find the cause of the storm, by asking, “What can we do to make the situation right?” When the sailors cast lots, they are NOT looking for someone to blame… they don’t know Jonah is the one to blame when he comes up with the colored stone. They believe he is the one with the answers; that he can tell them what they need to do to make this storm go away. When the begin questioning him, they don’t ask him what he did; they ask him who he is. They certainly never expect the cure to be Jonah saying, “throw me overboard.” And they even reject that answer at first. Again they don’t want someone to blame, they just want to know how to make the situation right.

One doesn’t ask the question, “What can I do to make the situation right?” without being teachable. Unlike Jonah, the sailors are ready to learn. Jonah already knows more than he’s applying. He’s the one who says “I am a Hebrew! I belong to the high God of heaven, the One enthroned over all creation, the One who made this very sea that is threatening our lives.” But Jonah says “NO” to what he knows. He says, “I don’t want to make it better. I don’t like what God has asked me to do. I’m mad at God right now… and I don’t want to talk to him. I don’t want to change.”

So Jonah, would rather just go to sleep… and sometimes in our unteachable moments we need someone like the captain of the ship, to come and give us a good shaking… and tell us to wake up and start talking to God.

Now remember, Jonah is the “Christian” here. He’s the one who knows God. He’s the one who is to be setting the example. And he is missing the mark. The sailors who don’t know God can see more clearly and are far more teachable than Jonah.

And it is the sailors who are the winners in this story. They are the ones who obey and throw Jonah overboard. They are the ones whose lives are changed. They are the ones who learn to call on the one true God in their time of trouble… and God answers and preserves their lives.

Conclusion
We noted earlier that when we go the wrong way it can negatively effect those around us; but God can also use our wrong turns to positively effect others… Jonah went the wrong way, and God used it for good, revealing himself to the sailors.

And as is the case with Jonah, sometimes when we go the wrong way, God can change our wrong turns into u-turns…

See Randy’s sermon Jonah Goes to Nineveh to read part 2 of this sermon.