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You Can Run…but God
Jonah 1-2
Skip Heitzig

Jonah 1 (NKJV™)
1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me."
3 But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
4 But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.
5 Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.
6 So the captain came to him, and said to him, "What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish."
7 And they said to one another, "Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us." So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.
8 Then they said to him, "Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?"
9 So he said to them, "I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land."
10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, "Why have you done this?" For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.
11 Then they said to him, "What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?"--for the sea was growing more tempestuous.
12 And he said to them, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me."
13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them.
14 Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, "We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man's life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You."
15 So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.
16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.
17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Jonah 2 (NKJV™)
1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish's belly.
2 And he said: "I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. "Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice.
3 For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.
4 Then I said, 'I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.'
5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head.
6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God.
7 "When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple.
8 "Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy.
9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD."
10 So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

New King James Version®, Copyright © 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved.

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...but God

I’ll bet you played hide-and-seek as a kid (or as a parent with your kids). After a while, you get really creative in finding places to hide. But can you imagine actually trying to hide from God? This is the story of a prophet of God who found out that you can run but you can’t hide. As Jonah runs from the call of God, God pursues him. In this scene we discover three principles every one of us should remember.

All of us experience times of desperation, but as James Montgomery Boice said, "If you understand those two words, 'But God,' they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely." In this series, Skip Heitzig explores the "but God" moments of David, Jonah, Moses, and other biblical figures, encouraging us to let the Lord turn our personal periods into pivot points.

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Outline

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  1. God’s Call Doesn’t Guarantee Our Success

  2. Knowing Truth Doesn’t Mean Doing Truth

  3. Your Willfulness Won’t Stop God’s Will

Study Guide

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Connect Recap Notes: Sunday, May 27, 2018
Speaker: Skip Heitzig
Teaching: "You Can Run…but God"
Text: Jonah 1-2

Path

I'll bet you played hide-and-seek as a kid (or as a parent with your kids). After a while, you get really creative in finding places to hide. But can you imagine actually trying to hide from God? This is the story of a prophet of God who found out that you can run but you can't hide. As Jonah runs from the call of God, God pursues him. In this scene we discover three principles every one of us should remember.
  1. God's Call Doesn't Guarantee Our Success
  2. Knowing Truth Doesn't Mean Doing Truth
  3. Your Willfulness Won't Stop God's Will
Points

God's Call Doesn't Guarantee Our Success
  • In the Bible, the words "but God" appear forty-five times, and "but the Lord" another sixty times. These words consistently usher in great change.
  • The book of Jonah shows that God is active in the affairs of the world.
  • Jonah was a man who ran from God, but God ran after him. Jonah ran in three phases: from God, to God, and with God.
  • Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, 550 miles northeast of Jerusalem. Tarshish was on the southwest coast of Spain. Jonah went as far away as he could from where God asked him to go.
  • God had placed a calling on Jonah's life and saved him for a purpose.
  • Jonah demonstrated that everyone has a possible next step: growth, service, a mission. A Christian without a ministry is a contradiction.
  • For those who haven't heard God calling, it may not be that He is not speaking but that we may not be listening.
  • Why did Jonah run? Possibilities include:
    • The path was too difficult. For one prophet to speak to a whole nation was intimidating.
    • It was too dangerous. Nineveh was known for its brutality.
    • It would work. This was the real reason. Jonah knew that God wanted to forgive, so he ran from God because he hated the people who God loved.
  • Probe: Can you relate to Jonah? Do you have a story in which you ran from God, then to God, and ultimately with God? Share what God showed you along that journey. What kept you from embracing God's calling (fear, danger, difficulty, distaste for the mission, etc.)? What characteristics of God drew you back to Him?
Knowing Truth Doesn't Mean Doing Truth
  • Jonah was a prophet who knew God's will and knew God's Word.
  • Jonah's words were bathed in the Bible but Jonah's actions were bathed in self.
  • Exposure to Scripture is no guarantee of a godly life; knowing truth is not the same as doing or living the truth.
  • Study can challenge us intellectually, but it will never bless us spiritually unless we do what we know and put principles into practice.
  • Sometimes we don't believe what we say we believe; our practical theology can be disconnected from our prescribed theology. Prescribed theology says Jesus is Lord but our lives show He is Lord via our actions. Unless our practice matches the prescription, we're running from God.
  • Probe: Why is it important that our actions match our words, thereby putting feet on our faith? Read James 2:14-26. What did James mean when he said, "Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (v. 17)? Consider this: Works can't save us but they are a measure of our faithfulness.
Your Willfulness Won't Stop God's Will
  • If God wanted Nineveh reached, it would be reached whether by Jonah or someone else.
  • Many of us would say Jonah disqualified himself, but God is in the business of using unlikely people.
  • If a still, small voice doesn't work, God may use a storm.
  • God speaks to some people simply, and they comply. Others are strong-willed and God uses more extreme measures, as Proverbs 15:10 states: "Harsh discipline is for him who forsakes the way."
  • Probe: Sometimes failure is a great teacher. Have you ever been chastised by God for a failure? If so, what were the circumstances and how did God correct you? What did you learn through the process?
Practice

Connect Up: The story of Jonah contains many attributes (characteristics) of God. Here are a few to discuss:
  • Omniscience (a non-moral attribute): God is everywhere. God knew the thoughts and actions of Jonah.
  • Justice and mercy (moral attributes): God seeks justice, but does so through mercy.
  • Love (a moral attribute): God demonstrates His love by loving a group that is unlovable.
  • Omnipotence (non-moral attribute): God has the power to change a person (Jonah) and a populace (Nineveh).
What other attributes of God are found in the story of Jonah? Find and download a list of God's attributes here.1

Connect In: What can the story of Jonah teach the church today? For instance, how does Jonah teach us to love the unlovable? Who are the unlovable in our world today (terrorists, murderers, politicians, people with different beliefs, etc.)?

Connect Out: What can Jonah teach us about God's heart to seek and save the lost? Furthermore, what can the story teach us about our own heart regarding the unsaved? What is our role in reaching the world for Christ, both proclaiming—and showing—God's love and mercy?

1Kay Arthur, Precept Ministries International, "Attributes of God," December 15, 2016, https://www.precept.org/resources/attributes-of-god/, accessed 05/27/18.

Detailed Notes

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  1. Introduction
    1. The phrase "but God" appears forty-five times in the Bible, and "but the Lord" another sixty times
    2. These words consistently usher in great change
    3. No matter who you are, what you've done, or how you've failed, God can make things different for you going forward
    4. God is active in the affairs of this world
  2. God's Call Doesn't Guarantee Our Success
    1. Jonah's is the story of a man who ran from God and the God who ran after the man—a prodigal prophet and a pursuing God
      1. Jonah ran in three phases: from God, to God, and with God
      2. That can be our testimony, too
    2. God called Jonah to Nineveh
      1. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria
      2. 550 miles northeast of Jerusalem, where Jonah was in Israel
    3. Jonah sailed to Tarshish instead
      1. The southwest coast of Spain
      2. Jonah went as far away as he could to avoid God's calling
    4. God has placed a calling on every believer's life (see 1 Corinthians 1:26; Ephesians 4:1)
    5. Jonah did eventually go to Nineveh, and with great success (see Jonah 3)
      1. A lot of time was wasted; a lot of pain was endured
      2. The text mentions Jonah went down three times, and Jonah also went down spiritually, away from God's will
      3. When you go your own way, you never get to the destination but you pay the fare (see Jonah 1:3); when you go God's way, you always get to the destination and God pays the fare
    6. Why did Jonah run?
      1. It was too difficult a journey and too difficult a task for a Hebrew prophet to speak to Ninevites
      2. It was too dangerous; Nineveh was known for its brutality (see Jonah 1:2)
      3. It was too disdainful (see Jonah 3:10-4:3)
        1. Jonah knew God's message would work, that God would forgive the Ninevites
        2. Jonah was angry, bitter, and racist; he preferred bitterness to forgiveness
      4. Can anyone flee from God's presence? (see Psalm 139:7-10)
  3. Knowing Truth Doesn't Mean Doing Truth
    1. Jonah knew the will of God; Jonah knew the Word of God
    2. Jonah's words were bathed in Bible truth, but Jonah's actions were bathed in bitter self-will
    3. Exposure to Scripture is no guarantee of a godly life
      1. John 13:17
      2. The joy is in the doing, not in the knowing (see Luke 6:46)
    4. Sometimes we don't believe what we believe
      1. Our prescribed theology says, "Jesus is Lord"
      2. Our practical theology says, "I am lord when His lordship conflicts with my desire"
  4. Your Willfulness Won't Stop God's Will
    1. Jonah went to Nineveh
    2. If God wanted Nineveh reached, it would be reached whether by Jonah or someone else (see Esther 4:14)
    3. God is in the business of using the most unlikely people (see 1 Corinthians 1:27)
  5. Closing
    1. If God's still, small voice won't work with you, you may want to buy storm insurance
    2. Jacob wrestled with the Lord all night long and ended up with a limp for the rest of his life (see Genesis 32:24-32)
    3. God demonstrates severe mercy as well as "harsh discipline" (Proverbs 15:10)
    4. The quicker you listen to and obey God's call, the better off and happier you'll be
Figures referenced: Ashurbanipal, Adolf Hitler, Tiglath-Pileser

Cross references: Genesis 32:24-32; Esther 4:14; Psalm 139:7-10; Proverbs 15:10; Jonah 1-2; 3:1-4:3; Luke 6:46; John 13:17; 1 Corinthians 1:26-27; Ephesians 4:1

Transcript

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You Can Run…but God - Jonah 1-2 - Skip Heitzig

[MUSIC PLAYING]

[TYPING]

Would you please turn in your Bibles to the book of Jonah in the Old Testament? Jonah is one of the minor prophets. A very short book, only 48 verses. We're not going to even read all of them, just a few of them. Jonah. If it's hard to find one-- and I would encourage you follow along-- just find the biggest book in the Old Testament-- that's Isaiah-- and go right past Jeremiah, past Lamentation, passed Ezekiel, past Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, bam. You're right there. There's Jonah. You found it.

Jonah, chapter one. There was once a farmer who had three sons named Jim, John, and Sam. And they really wanted nothing at all to do with God. People shared with them, shared their faith with them, invited them to church, and it was always a disinterested response. They just really had no time at all for God.

Until one day one of the boys, named Sam, got bit by a snake. In fact, it was a rattlesnake. Doctor was called in to treat him. Then the pastor came in to sort of assess what was going on, and to pray for this situation. So the pastor looked at what was happening and decided to pray a very interesting prayer. He said, "oh wise and righteous Father, we thank Thee that in Thy wisdom Thou did send this rattlesnake to bite Sam.

[LAUGHTER]

He has never been inside the Church. And it's doubtful that he has, in all this time, ever prayed or even acknowledged Thy existence. Now we trust that this experience will be a valuable lesson to him and will lead to his genuine repentance. And now, oh Father, wilt Thou send another rattlesnake to bite Jim and another to bite John, and another really big one to bite the old man?

[GIGGLES]

For years we have done everything we know to get them to turn to Thee, but all in vain. It seems, therefore, that what all of our combined efforts could not do this rattlesnake has done. We thus conclude that the only thing that will do this family any real good is a rattlesnake. So Lord, send us bigger and better rattlesnakes. Amen."

What we have in the book of Jonah is essentially God sending a bigger and better rattlesnake. Though it wasn't a snake, it was a great fish. And some have gotten in the weeds with this and tried to determine that it was a mysticete whale, a catodon macrocephalus. All of that is really irrelevant to the real story of what's happening with Jonah.

But God is getting this profit's attention. And we're in a series-- we call it "but God." You know that by now. And "but God" is a phrase that appears 45 times in scripture. 45 times. It's a game-changing phrase. Another 60 times the phrase "but the Lord." That's what we're going to find in the book of Jonah.

So over 100 times is this idea of "but God" or "but the Lord." And what happens is, everything after those words in the story is radically different because God inserted himself. And the reason this phrase, "but God," is a game changer-- it means that no matter who you are, no matter what you have done, no matter how you may have failed, no matter what problems and issues keep dogging your life, the truth is God can make things different for you from now on. "But God."

This phrase also points to a greater truth. And that truth emerges here in the book of Jonah. And it's the truth that God is active in the affairs of this world. And that's something we tend to forget. Because enough stuff around us happens that seems rather haphazard, it seems random and without meaning, that we can sort of tend to forget that God can change things or that God is even active.

You know, we're not atheists. We're not agnostics. But some of us tend toward deism. And deism is a belief in an absentee God. There may be a God, he may have wound up the world, but he's stepped back from it. He's not really directly involved in the affairs of people.

The Bible, however, portrays a very different view of God. He may be working behind the scenes, but he is working nonetheless.

Now, the book of Jonah is a story about a man who ran from God and a God who ran after the man. It's a story of, what I call, a prodigal prophet. It's really what he was. He was a prophet of God, but he was a prodigal prophet. So it's a story of a prodigal prophet and pursuing God.

Jonah ran from God's will. He ran from God's calling on his life. He ran from his responsibility before God. But God. This last week I had the privilege of being interviewed by Dr. James Dobson for his radio broadcast. And the first question was, tell me your testimony. How did you get saved?

And my testimony is pretty easy, because it's just like yours. The first part of our testimonies are identical. We were running from God. Whatever the circumstances were that made that running-- the details-- is irrelevant. But we were all running from God. Then God's got a hold of our lives. All we, like sheep, have what?

Gone astray.

Gone astray. That's our testimony. I know one guy who even said, my testimony is easy. I ran. God chased. I did all the running. God did all the chasing. But God isn't going to let Jonah go that quickly or that easily. God inserts himself into the situation. And Jonah's testimony-- if I were to give it to you in three little phrases I would put it this way. Jonah ran from God, then Jonah ran to God. And from that point on Jonah ran with God.

And that's the great story that can be our testimony. We run from God, but there is a moment that we go, not good. I'm going to repent. And we do. And when we come to him, from that point on we run with him and our lives take on a meaning and purpose like no other.

Or you could say God said go Jonah said no and God said oh? And you'll see that. Let's look at the beginning of the story. Jonah, chapter 1, verse 1. "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 'arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.' But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, went down into it, to go with him to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up."

Now I'll fill in a little bit of the story. The soldiers panic. They freak out. Nothing works. They get a hold of Jonah. Who are you? They interview him. Jonas says, throw me overboard. So eventually they do. Verse 17.

"Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish"-- whether it was a catodon microcephalus or whatever. It doesn't matter. "Three days and three nights." Chapter 2, verse 1. This is funny. "Then Jonah prayed." "Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish's belly."

What's amazing is Jonah does not pray until now. He's a prayer-less prophet. But now he does. He prays. Chapter 3, verse 1. "Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 'arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.' So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent."

Without reading all the verses-- because you're familiar with the story. We'll look at a few more. But I want to show you tree lessons, three life lessons, three basic lessons from this story of the prodigal prophet. I've written them down in your outline so you can follow along.

First is this. God's call doesn't guarantee our success. God's call does not guarantee our success. Now, notice in verse 1 something. "The word of the Lord came to Jonah." What does that mean? It means God called him. After all, Jonah is what? He's a prophet. So God is calling his prophet. Prophets should speak for God. So the commission-- the call is, go to Nineveh.

So here's God going, hey Jonah, this is God. I've got a mission for you to go on. But clearly Jonah resisted God's call. Verse 3. Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. Now, let me fill in a little history. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrian Empire was the mortal enemy of the Jews. In fact, will take 10 of the tribes captive eventually. So they hate each other.

Nineveh, the capital, happens to be 550 miles east northeast from where Jonah was in Israel. Tarshish is 2,500 miles west of where he was. It's where the Mediterranean empties into the Atlantic Ocean. It was, from Jonah's vantage point, the farthest you could get away from Nineveh. So it's like Jonah went outside and got his compasses and said, OK, God wants me to go there, which means I'll go there. As far away as I possibly can. Why? To avoid God's calling.

Now, I had a dog like this once.

[LAUGHTER]

He was a Springer Spaniel. Beautiful animal. But either really dumb or just really stubborn, or both. But-- and I'm not making this up. Whenever I would call him to come, you know what he would do? He would go. Here is the owner, the master, calling the dog. But my calling did not guarantee that dog's success. Because every time I'd call, he'd go.

And that got to be dangerous because one day, as a car was going around the street, I could see what could happen. And he didn't have a leash on. And so-- I wasn't thinking. I called him. I should have said go, but I called him. And he went toward the car. And, I kid you not, my dog ran into the car. You've heard of cars running over dogs. That didn't happen. It didn't need to happen. My dog ran into the car. He was just stunned. He was OK. But I should have just stopped right there and renamed that dog Jonah on the spot.

I called him, but my call did not guarantee his success. Which brings me to where I'm going with this. Has God placed a calling on your life? I can answer that. Absolutely yes. God has placed some summons, some calling, some set of directions on your life. He has saved you, but he's saved you for a purpose. And that purpose is his purpose.

Which means every single believer, every single Christian has a calling. Thus, a Christian without a ministry is a contradiction. We're all called to something. Everyone has a next step, a step of spiritual growth, a step towards service or involvement or even mission. And so the question of the moment is, are you resisting that summons, that calling? You have a call.

1 Corinthians, 1. Paul says, "you see your calling, brethren." Ephesians chapter 4, "walk worthy of the calling wherewith he has called you."

Now some of you might be thinking, well, I never heard God call me. I never heard God in an audible voice say, Skip. Of course, he wouldn't say Skip to you. He'd use your name, wouldn't he?

[LAUGHTER]

But maybe you're expecting a sort of a Cecil B. DeMille experience. You know, a Hollywood God speaking dramatic thing. And could it be that the problem isn't God speaking to you, the problem is really you listening for God. Maybe you're going through life, as it were, with your hands over your ears. You've already determined where you're going, and so you just go, not listening for his voice.

Now what we know happens with Jonah is, he eventually does obey. And he does see incredible success. And I mean, incredible. The whole city of Nineveh-- 600,000 lived there at the time-- all of them turned to God. In fact-- and one of the most understated verses perhaps in all of the Bible is chapter 3, verse 5, where it says, "so the people of Nineveh believed God."

Really? You can't give me a little more detail on that incredible event than that? Talk about understated. All of the people in Nineveh believed in God. So he will eventually go. He will eventually see great success. But here's the point. Only after a lot of time is wasted and only after a lot of pain is endured.

I want you to notice something with me. Look at verse 3 a little more closely. "Jonah arose to flee from Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, found a ship going to Tarshish, so he paid the fare and went down into it." Later on it's going to say Jonah went down into the gullet of this creature. Three times the text makes reference to Jonah going down, down, down.

Now, I know that meant literally he was going down from a higher place. But I also see this as a metaphor. He went down spiritually. Now, from a worldly perspective he's going up. Way to go, Jonah. It's a step toward freedom and liberation and upward mobility. You're asserting your self will. You're doing your thing. You're following your passion. But any step away from God's will is going down. He went down, down, down.

Look a little more carefully again. Same verse. "Found a ship going to Tarshish, so he paid the fare." That's a haunting phrase to me. He paid the fare. And we know what that means. He reached into his little prophet pocket, pulled out some change, some money, and he paid the money to buy a ticket to go 2,500 miles west to the southwest coast of Spain. That's where Tarshish was. That's how far away he wanted to go. And he had the money to do. It he paid the fare.

I got a question for you. Did he ever reach his destination? Did he ever make it to Spain? He did not. He made it-- and encountered one of those very common Mediterranean storms that sank Paul's ship later on in the New Testament.

So he paid the fare but he never got to his destination. And here's the principle. When you go your own way you never get to your destination, but you always end up paying the fare. But when you go God's way you always get to the destination, and God will pay the fare. It's an incredible principle. Jonah illustrates the first part of that little statement.

Someone else in the Bible illustrates the second. Moses. Or Moses's mother, named Jochebed. Remember the story of Moses's mother, how she takes a little Mo-- baby Mo--

[LAUGHTER]

And she's going to see him no mo'. Because she puts little Mo in a little basket. Right? A little reed basket, a little boat, and puts it on the Nile River and watches in incredible heartbreak as that little boat floats around the bend. And she thinks, it's over. Lord, I trust him to you. She did it by faith.

But somebody picks up that little basket. And it was pharaoh's daughter-- or the handmaids of the daughter. They bring the baby basket to pharaoh's daughter. And she said, wow, this is one of the Hebrews' babies. Well, I'll raise this baby myself in my palace. But she says, I don't want to do all the work, so go to the Hebrews' camp and find a Hebrew mother who can nurse this child for me.

So the handmaids go over and happen to pick out Moses's mother. And pharaoh's daughter says this. "Take this child and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages." Can you imagine somebody saying, I'm going to pay for all the needs for you to raise your baby from childhood to adulthood. You know what it cost to raise a child born in 2015? Apart from college, just to raise a child? $234,000 to raise a single child in today's culture.

So Moses's mother gets to raise Moses, and the Egyptian government pays for it. God is arranging this. So there's the principle. You go your way, you'll never get to your destination and you'll pay the fare. You go God's way, you will get to the destination and God will pay the fare.

But there's a pressing question we have to look at. Why did Jonah run? What is he thinking? I mean, he is a prophet. Right? What's the prophet's job? To speak for God. This is his job description. He becomes the worst missionary in history. God says, go. He says, no.

So why did he do it? Well, there's a few possibilities. Possibility number one. It was too tough. It was too difficult for Jonah. I mean, once you pay the money to get into a boat, you're not responsible. The ship captain is responsible to take you from this point to that point. That's easy. When you walk to Nineveh, 550 miles, you got to go through the desert. It's difficult. It's hard. And then for a Hebrew prophet to speak to Ninevites with a message from an unknown God, probably it's not going to go over very well anyway. So that's just too hard of a task.

By the way, just a little fun fact, FYI. You know who founded the city of Nineveh? A guy by the name of Nimrod. Ever hear that name? Genesis. He was the great-grandson of Noah. He founded the city of Nineveh. The word "Nineveh" means "the residents of nunu," which is an Akkadian word for "fish." So Nineveh means "fishtown." It's fishtown. They were right on the Tigris River.

It's just an interesting fact, because the guy with the greatest fish story is about to go to fishtown.

[LAUGHTER]

A town where they worship a fish God-- a couple of them-- and come up with a message. So that's possibility number one. It's too difficult. I'm not going. Second possibility, it was too dangerous. Too dangerous. Did you know that the Ninevites were famous-- or infamous-- for their brutality? Look at what it says in verse 2. "The Lord says, their wickedness has come up before me." I am taking notice of how wicked this city is and I'm going to do something about it.

There was another prophet that was sent to the Ninevites by the name of Nahum the prophet, who says of Nineveh, "it is a bloody city. A great number of bodies and countless corpses are there." The Ninevites were known for dismembering people, decapitating people, burning people alive. One of their emperors, Ashurbanipal, the grandson of Sennacherib, would take people's lips and tear them off their bodies while they were alive, pull their hands and feet off, and then kill them. Tiglath-Pileser, another of their rulers, flayed his captives alive and then piled up their heads so there were eventually piles of skulls at the gate of the city of Nineveh.

So if you're Jonah and God says, go to Nineveh, you're thinking, no thanks. I want to get ahead in life, not add my head to a pile of a bunch of other people. So two possibilities. It was too difficult, it was too dangerous.

Now, truth is, none of those were the reasons. The real reason that Jonah ran from the Lord isn't because it was too difficult or dangerous, but because it was too disdainful. Now listen to this. He's not going to go there because he knew that his preaching would actually work.

I want you to read it yourself. I want you to see it. Go to chapter 3, verse 10. We're skipping ahead in the story. All the people of Nineveh turn to God, an incredible revival unlike ever seen before. Verse 10, "then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that he said he would bring upon them, and did not do it."

Now, look at Chapter 4, verse 1. Let's see how this prophet-- his preaching just worked. The whole town turns to God. You think he'd be going, yes, yes, hallelujah, praise the Lord. Not this guy.

Verse 1, "but it displeased Jonah exceedingly." What? "And he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord and said"-- now, because it says he was angry I got to do this. He said "ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish." He's saying, this is why I left. "For I know that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Now therefore, oh Lord, please take my life from me." What a pouting, prodigal prophet. Kill me. "For it's better for me to die than to live."

You see, Jonah admits, I knew it. I know you're the kind of God who loves people, and you love to forgive people, and you would love and forgive the people I hate. Jonah was a racist. He was a bigot. He was a bad-attitude prophet, a down-in-the-mouth prophet. You got to be pretty bitter and pretty bad to not want to see people repent and turn to God. That's pretty deep stuff.

Jonah ran from God because he hated the very people God loved. Now, before we get down too much on Jonah-- we should. God does in this story. But let me frame it in more modern times to help you maybe get a better understanding. Let's say it's World War II and the word of the Lord came to a Jewish rabbi in New York City and said, arise, go to Berlin. Speak to add Adolf Hitler and the Nazis this message, and if they turn I will love them and forgive them. I think that Jewish rabbi would probably not go, OK. I think you might read, and the rabbi went and took a boat in Manhattan and went to Hawaii to flee from the presence of the Lord.

Nonetheless, Jonah is a prejudiced prophet who prefers bitterness to forgiveness. You know some people actually like to live in bitterness? It's comfortable to them. It's their home. They've made a bed out of it. But here's the problem with bitterness. It blinds you from truth. I want you to know that.

Jonah-- again, what is Jonah again? He's a what?

Prophet.

He's a prophet. Jonah is a prophet. So Jonah should have known better. It says Jonah went to flee from what? The presence of the--

Lord.

Lord. Can a prophet do that? Can anyone do-- is that possible? Can you get to any place on Earth where God is not omnipresent? And wouldn't, of all people on the earth, a prophet know that? Oh yes. He knew that. In fact, Jonah knew the scripture very well. I'm going to prove that to you in a moment.

But by the time Jonah lived, David had lived. And David had written the psalms, and they were part of Jewish liturgy, temple liturgy already. One of the psalms is Psalm 139. It's familiar. David said, where can I go from your spirit? Or, where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend into heaven you are there. If I make my bed in hell, behold, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, behold, even there your hand will hold me.

Jonah should have known that. He did know that. But blindness is on Jonah's heart because of bitterness. So God's call doesn't guarantee our success.

Here's the second life lesson. Knowing truth doesn't mean doing truth. Knowing truth doesn't mean doing truth. You see chapter 2, verse 1? "Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish's belly." Now I'm not going to read what follows, but there's a prayer that follows, a nine-verse prayer.

And when you read the prayer you discover something. You discover that Jonah knew the will of God. Jonah knew the word of God. Because in that prayer there are no less than 11 references to Old Testament texts-- nine from psalms, one from Lamentations, 1 from Job-- all embedded in this prayer. He knew that stuff. He prayed that. He prayed that prayer in the belly of a sea monster.

Now when people pray in a crisis they don't pull out a little thing in their pocket, a little written-down typed-up prayer and go, hold on, and pray and pray some flowery prayer. When people are in a crisis they pray spontaneously, extemporaneously. Whatever comes out is what's inside. And that's my point. This was inside Jonah.

And here's the greater point. Exposure to scripture does not guarantee a godly life. Knowing truth is not the same as doing truth. Jonah's words are bathed in Bible truth. Jonah's works are bathed in bitter self-will. One author said, "if you know the words of the Bible but don't take them to heart, it is practical atheism." To run from God is to be digested in the belly of your own pride.

You remember the night of the Passover. We just celebrated communion moments ago. After the supper Jesus did something very uncomfortable for those friends of his. He got up, put a towel around him, got a basin of water and what did he do? He washed their feet.

And after he washed their feet he said, I've done this as an example so that you'll do it. And then he said this. "If you know these things, happy are you if you do them." Did you get that? He didn't say, if you know these things, happy are you if you know these things. He didn't say, if you know these things, happy are you if you underline and memorize them. If you know these things, happy are you if you preach them. He said, if you do these things. The joy is not in the knowing. The joy is in the doing what you know.

So we can study a passage of scripture that can stir us emotionally or challenge us intellectually, but it will never bless us spiritually unless we do what we know. Jesus said, why do you call me Lord when you don't do what I tell you to do? It's a good question, isn't it? It's a fair question. Lord. Why do you keep calling me Lord? You don't do anything I ask. Why do you use the title "Lord"?

I think you and I ought to think of the Bible as an accurate map that tells us how to get to a good destination. But the map itself doesn't have the power to transport you to that destination any more than a GPS if you put in your coordinates, and then you just sort of sit there with your arms folded and go, OK. It's been an hour. How come I'm not there? Because you got to go where you're told to go. You got to do what you know to do.

See, sometimes we, as believers, have a problem. And here's the problem. Let's see if you agree. We don't really believe what we believe. We have two forms of theology. We have a prescribed theology, but then we have a practical theology. Our prescribed theology is, Jesus is Lord. Right? We say, Jesus is my Lord.

But our practical theology says, no, Jesus isn't Lord. You're Lord. Because if Jesus is Lord, why are you sleeping around? If Jesus is Lord, why did you leave your husband? If Jesus is Lord, why did you leave ditch your wife? If Jesus is Lord, why do you swear like a sailor? If Jesus is Lord, why do you keep cheating? At what point does the "Lord" portion really take root?

What we mean sometimes when we say Jesus is Lord is, Jesus is Lord as long as it doesn't conflict with my desire. But when it does, I'm taking over. That's what we really mean. So let me tell you this. If Jesus Christ is your Lord on Sunday but not the rest of the week, then he's only one-seventh Lord. Is he really Lord? I don't think so.

I've always liked the story of the goat who was in the jungle. Always wanted to be a lion. And he actually thought that if he could walk like lions walk and talk like lions talk and go where lions go, he would be a lion. So he practiced. He practiced. Imagine a goat walking majestically. And he would swish that little stubby goat tail and pretend it was some majestic fur-lined lion's tail. And he actually thought he was doing it.

Then he practiced his voice. And he tried to turn that pitiful little bleat, [BLEATING] into a deep, ferocious roar. [BLEATING DEEPLY]

[LAUGHTER]

And he convinced himself that he was walking and talking like a lion. Then he thought, I've got this nailed. I now just need to go where lions go. So the next day at lunchtime he went where lions went. End of story. End of goat.

[LAUGHTER]

That goat had the right speech. He didn't have the right stuff. And sometimes people think, if I go where Christians go and talk like Christians talk and sing like Christians sing, I am one. Well, then you're lyin'.

[LAUGHTER]

Sorry. I couldn't resist that one.

[LAUGHTER]

God's call doesn't guarantee our success. Knowing truth doesn't mean doing truth. And finally, and we close with this. Your willfulness won't stop God's will. Now, when we're reading this story-- and we just barely get into it. God gives this guy a call, tells him to do a job. And then, verse 3 we read this. "But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord." We might be tempted to say the story's over. It's not going to happen. Until we get to verse 4. See, it says "but Jonah" in verse 3, and it's like God says, you know what? I see your "but Jonah," and I raise it a "but God."

But Jonah fled. "But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea." Verse 17. "Now the Lord prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah." Chapter 3, verse 1. "Now the Lord." The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, says, get to it. Verse 3. "So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh." Yay! [CLAPPING]

[LAUGHTER]

Now, here is the point I want to make. If God wants Nineveh reached, guess what? Nineveh goin' be reached. Whether Jonah does it or if he still digs in his heel, God can use somebody else. And he might. If Nineveh-- if God wants it to be reached, it's going to be reached. That's a principle.

In the book of Esther-- Esther is the queen. Second queen. There's a guy in the court named Haman who has this genocidal scheme to exterminate all of the Jews living in Persia. Esther's uncle Mordecai hears about it, comes to Esther and says, you've got to approach the king. She says, I can't just go into the King anytime. He could kill me. Mordecai says to her, "if you keep quiet at this time, deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place." It's going to happen. "But you and your relatives will die. What's more, who can say but that you have been elevated to the palace for just such a time as this." It's the key verse of that book.

What we see here in the book of Jonah is a case of severe mercy. God wants to be merciful to those Ninevites. And he wants to be merciful to the prophet Jonah. Listen, if I was around back then and I was the guy in charge of picking prophets, I wouldn't pick Jonah at this point. I'd say, God, this guy is disqualified. Let him go. There's plenty of other servants of yours who will say yes immediately. Let him go. Bypass him. He is disqualified.

In fact, I think you'll agree God sure went through a lot of trouble to use Jonah. Right? A wind. A fish. That's the point. God is in the business of using the most unlikely people. It's my life verse, 1 Corinthians, 1, "God has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise."

God won't force you. He respects your choice. But let me put it this way. God has ways of strongly persuading you. I think you'll agree with that. Moses went to Pharaoh and said, thus says the Lord, let my people go. What was Pharaoh's response? Not going to happen. Not letting your people go. I'm pharaoh, you're not. I'm in charge, you're not. Bye.

But God has skills in the fine art of persuasion. After a few plagues, like flies and lice and frogs and darkness and hail and river turning to blood, what does Pharaoh say? OK. Go. So let me put it to you this way. If God's still-small voice to you doesn't work, you may want to buy flood insurance, storm insurance. You know, some people God just speaks to and they automatically go, yes. Samuel was like that. He said, speak, Lord. Your servant hears. They're just ready to obey. Other people are not so much so that way. And so the Lord resorts to stringent methods.

Jacob wrestled with God all night long and walked away the rest of his life limping. Proverbs 15, 10. "Harsh correction is for him who forsakes the way." "Harsh correction is for him or her who forsakes the way." The NSV, the New Skip Version of that verse-- if you want to fight God, he can take you on.

There was a story-- and I close with this-- in a newspaper from the east about a woman driving home one night on the freeway. She was in her car. But she noticed that in the rear-view mirror she could see a semi truck getting uncomfortably close to her car. She sped up only to discover the truck sped up. No matter how fast she went, that truck kept the speed and was close to her, followed her.

She's scared. She pulls off the freeway on an off-ramp, and guess what's behind her? Same truck. She turns on a Main Street in town hoping to slow him down but he runs a red light on that street and stays even closer to her. In panic mode she whips her car into a gas station, jumps out screaming for help. The man jumps out of his truck, runs toward her car, opens the back door to take a man who is hiding in the backseat out. She was running from the wrong guy.

From the vantage point the truck driver could see a man who was in the back seat. He was a would-be rapist waiting for the right opportunity. She was running from him, but he was chasing her not to hurt her, but to save her. And some people run from God because they're scared when God has their best interests at heart. [SIGHS]

I want to tie a bow on this in this sense. Two years ago I had an opportunity to go to Iraq. And I was in the city of Erbil in northern Iraq. I was asked to speak at a church service that night. I said I'd love to do it. And that night the church service midweek was packed. Every chair packed. People standing around the perimeter of the building. I'd never seen a service so jammed.

What was interesting about the service is that the people who were there-- believers-- most of them were not local. Most of them were war refugees, displaced people who had fled from the city of Mosul. Mosul is the modern name for ancient Nineveh. It dawned on me, I'm preaching to Ninevites. And guess what book of the Bible I taught from? The book of Jonah. It was perfect.

And it dawned on me that Jonah spoke to Ninevites centuries before about the judgment of God. I was able by the grace of God to speak to them about God's love for them and plan for them in spite of the horrific things they had seen, and bring hopefully some sort of comfort and purpose for them. It was a great privilege. All of that to say, whatever God's call on your life is, the quicker you say, "speak, Lord, your servant hears," the better off you'll be. The happier you will be. Happy are you if you do them.

Father, as we close we want to thank you that you even allow us to be part of your great plan upon the earth. We are the body of Christ, hands and feet, mouths, all different parts working together to see your work get done, your kingdom spread, your witness shared.

[SOFT MUSIC PLAYING]

We think of Jonah as a reluctant prophet. We wonder how many others there might be. What is the calling you placed on our life? Not a calling we have imposed or thought we should do, but really what is it you made us for, to fit into the body of Christ and the purpose of God? Help us, Lord. We're yours. In Jesus name, amen.

We hope you enjoyed this message from Skip Heitzig of Calvary Church. How will you put the truths that you learned into action in your life? Let us know. Email us at mystory@calvarynm.church. And just a reminder, you can support this ministry with a financial gift at calvarynm.church/give. Thank you for joining us for this teaching from Calvary Church.

Additional Messages in this Series

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4/1/2018
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Jesus Died...but God
Skip Heitzig
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4/15/2018
completed
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Haters Hate…but God
1 Samuel 23:14-18
Skip Heitzig
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I want to help you today to view the circumstances of your life correctly; I’d like to clear up your spiritual vision. This week and next, we will examine the lives of two well-known characters in Scripture who were attacked by people close to them, but God changed the outcome. Their evil hatred couldn’t stop the great plans that a good God had set in motion. Today, a five-verse pericope gives rich principles that clear up our vision.
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4/22/2018
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Evil Happens…but God
Genesis 50:15-21
Skip Heitzig
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The story of Joseph is one of the Bible’s most compelling tales. And the most gripping feature is the difference between Joseph’s outlook and that of his eleven brothers. After all the intrigue, the ups and downs of Joseph’s life and career, and the years of deception and selfishness by Joseph’s brothers, the finale comes after their father, Jacob, dies. This is one of the Bible’s best but God moments,as forgiveness eclipses failure. Let’s consider Joseph’s brothers as they approach him one last time.
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4/29/2018
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Judgment Is Coming…but God
Genesis 6-8
Skip Heitzig
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The two worst days of the human race are days of destruction. A near total annihilation happened in the distant past and will happen again in the future. Both are directly the result of God’s judgment. Just as certain as the sun will shine tomorrow, judgment is coming eventually—but God has a better alternative. As we examine His past judgment on the earth, we will be able to better understand His future judgment and how we can find purpose in His plans for His world.
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5/6/2018
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We’ve Failed...but God
Nehemiah 9
Skip Heitzig
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Most all of us know that we are not what we should be or could be. Sin has scarred our lives. We are aware of personal failures. The really good news is that we may fail but God forgives. The whole reason for the atoning death of Christ was to provide clemency for transgressions and mercy for our offenses. Nehemiah knew the history of his people, and after gathering them back in the land after the captivity, he prays on their behalf. We learn four vital lessons in this prayer about the human condition and the divine solution.
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6/3/2018
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Families Are Dysfunctional...but God
Genesis 31
Skip Heitzig
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One of the most used (if not overused) terms of our culture is the term dysfunctional. It has become the chic descriptor of flawed and broken people and especially families. Too often this expression is used as an excuse to justify bad behaviors in other people. But this story of Jacob and Laban yields much insight into human behavior as well as divine intervention. Here we discover three levels of relational interaction and family dynamics.
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6/24/2018
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Death Is Certain...but God
Psalm 49
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We have all heard the famous Benjamin Franklin quip, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Given death’s sure nature, why is it that most people try to avoid talking about it? And why do most people place all their energy and stock in this life alone? Death is the enemy of us all (see 1 Corinthians 15:26), and it is the assured fate of us all. But God changes this enemy into a friend and provides confidence to face it.
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7/8/2018
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The Future Looks Uncertain...but God
Daniel 2
Skip Heitzig
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Prognosticators and forecasters abound all around us, from weather reporters to psychics. Even the National Geographic Channel hosts programs about aliens who are trying to tell us poor earthlings a thing or two about the future. And everyone seems amazed that someone as distant as Nostradamus could’ve predicted life in our modern culture—or did he? The future is shrouded in mystery for us all but God specializes in knowing and predicting the future. To what end? What is the purpose of God showing us today what will happen tomorrow?
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7/15/2018
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You Were Dead…but God
Ephesians 2:1-10
Skip Heitzig
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This is the tenth and final study in our series ...but God, and today we get most personal. Rather than considering Joseph, David, Nehemiah, Isaac, or Daniel, we focus on our own story. Four simple phrases describe for us the spiritual journey all believers take through this life on our way to heaven. If you are a believer, all four of these things should happen. Unfortunately, too many stop with the first two and never successfully engage the last two. Let’s look at each one and evaluate how our lives can be lived to the full potential.
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There are 9 additional messages in this series.