Welcome everyone! So glad that you are with us today. What a great day to be here. Last week was an incredible Sunday here at Hope City. I don’t know if you were here for this or not, but we had a helicopter come in and drop 10,000 eggs. What an awesome day. In fact, I loved meeting so many new people last week. I talked with a teacher from this school actually, it was their first time here for church, but clearly not their first time here, and they were telling me how our teams transform this into a great space for church! So cool.
One of my favorite stories was of this little boy who was all excited and geared up to go out and get those Easter Eggs, but was mesmerized by the Helicopter when it came through and hovered over the field. What a fun moment! So much excitement on the field… Thanks for being here today, if Easter was your first Sunday here and you’ve come back we are so glad you are here. We are kicking off a brand-new series today called Big Fish. It’s an incredible time of the year right now to get out and get fishing here in Sarasota!
Sarasota is a fishing paradise (Gavin at Sunset Fishing). I asked some of my friends to share their fishing photo’s with me, and check these out…
Pic 1: I love seeing Dad’s fishing with their kids… Check these out.
Pic 2: My boy Richard Lee caught this Mahi Mahi in Cabo…
Pic 3: But not to be shown up check out what our Worship Leader caught- Matt you know that is bait, right?
HAHAHAHA… (that was good, right?) We want to see your pictures of your fish! Text us your Big Fish Picture with your story to 941-404-5508!
Anyone who knows me, knows that I love spearfishing. I love getting under the water and chasing some fish. There are so many things that I love about that. I love the exercise, I love the things I get to see, I love how manly I feel when I roll up and there is people fishing on the beach and I wade into the water, with a knife strapped to my calf and a spear gun in my hand. I feel like Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson standing next to Kevin Hart… We’re both trying to do the same thing, but one just feels manlier… 😉 But one of the best things I love about Spear Fishing is that everything I do is underwater… which means that I tend to be the only one there. Which means, that I get to tell some of the most amazing fish stories… And no one can prove me wrong!
It’s amazing! Like this one time…
Nah, I’ll spare you the details. I’ll just leave this one right there… (picture of me with lots of fish)
Today we are going to dive into the biggest fish story of all time. We’re going to be spending 4 weeks in the story of Jonah. He is the Old Testament Prophet who gets swallowed by a fish.
Some of you hear that and immediately are checking out… You’re like no way bro. that’s impossible. I hear you. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? Mostly because I never want to think that it could happen to me. I would be turning and running the other way as quick as I could from this situation. But this is where Jonah finds himself.
Did you know that in 1933 a sulfur bottom whale was caught off the coast of cape cod it was 100 ft long and had a mouth over 10 foot wide. A man who was unfortunate enough to be swallowed could take refuge in any one of the whales stomach chambers, or the large cranial cavities which measure 7 feet high, 7ft wide and 14 ft. long. More than big enough for a man to hide safely inside.
Jonah was a preacher who God called out of his comfort zone for a special mission. And Jonah ran in the other direction. He was like, “No way, God, that’s crazy, I’m not doing that, no way, no how.”
My guess is that Jonah’s story and our story intersect in more ways than just our love for filet of fish. J
The book of Jonah is on page 645 on the bible’s around you. If you’re new here feel free to take that Bible home with you, that’s what it’s there for. In fact, throughout the next four weeks, I want to encourage you to read the book of Jonah every week. It is only 48 verses long. That’s only 7 verses a day. Or you could read the book of Jonah every day! If you are a follower of Jesus, or you’re trying to figure out what it means to be a follower of Jesus, reading your Bible is one of the foundational ways you can grow in your relationship with Christ.
Now, whether you would say you are a Bible reader, or not, many of are familiar with the basics of Jonah’s story. We all know it as a Big Fish story. A guy named Jonah runs from God and gets on this boat… and then he’s swallowed by a whale named Destiny… who has a friend with echo location, which helps reconnect Jonah with his parents…
No, that’s a different Kids story! That’s the whale from Finding Dory.
Actually, Jonah is NOT a kids’ story. It’s a historical account that’s recorded in Scripture by God to teach us some important lessons about ourselves—what it’s like to face our fears, why we run from God sometimes. And how we can find our way back if we’re lost or drifting spiritually.
Let’s read Jonah’s story. Jonah 1, starting at verse 1.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Ninevah and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” Jonah 1:1-2
A little background about Ninevah just to set the scene. Ninevah was no Naples, you know the town just south of us. Ninevah was no quaint little town set on the sea with cutesy little ice cream shops, picturesque palm trees, and loads of retirees. NO! Ninevah was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. And Ninevites were brutal, wicked people. Sounds like North Port… I’m just kidding… We love you North Port…
They were notorious for their cruelty. Assyria was the sworn enemy of Israel. The Hebrews, God’s people just hated the Ninevites. They prayed for their destruction. But in verse 1, it says, “the wickedness of the Ninevites” came to God’s attention—and He gave a word to Jonah.
Jonah being, a prophet, or a preacher, was a guy hand-picked by God to speak His message to the people.
IN fact, the name Jonah s significant. In Hebrew, Jonah means, “Dove”—or peaceful one. SO the message is that God wanted to bring peace to this violent city. To a godless people, people who wanted nothing to do with the God of the Bible.
And God says: Jonah, I want you to go to them. I want you to reach out with my message of Love and Forgiveness to the Ninevites. One of the first things Jonah teaches us about being in a relationship with the living God is that
God will often ask you to do things you don’t want to do.
If you are taking notes this morning, that is one of the first things we learn from Jonah’s story. And it’s important because your God given assignment in life may be different than a Hebrew prophet from 3,000 years ago. I get that. But truth be told: There’s a bit of Jonah in all of us.
See we all like the idea of God speaking to us! That’s why we pray, God show me what to do with my career. Help me know how to handle my kids. Lord will you show me how to love my wife. We like the idea of God speaking to us through His word, His Spirit, and through other believers.
But what happens when God tells you something you don’t want to hear? Or asks you to do something you don’t want to do?
This got real for me in 2015. I could sense God leading me to leave my job in NJ… I was a Campus Pastor at a great church, leading an incredible staff team… And I said to my wife Tiffany, I think God is calling us to move to Florida. We had a decision to make. Would we be willing to move 1200 miles away from home, from friends, from family and follow God’s leading in our life? What do we do?
Well if you’re Jonah, you run! Look back at Jonah’s story.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah… “Go to… Ninevah and preach against it…”
3But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and saild for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Jonah 1:1-3
Jonah was a man on the run! A prophet who won’t preach. God calls him out of his comfort zone and says, “Go Here” and he says, “No thanks! I’m going there.”
See a lot of people think that being a Christian means you live a safe, predictable, perfect little religious life. The truth is that a life of Authentic faith is largely about what happens when God calls you out of your comfort zone… to follow Him into a situation where the outcome is unkown. Or in Jonah’s case… Downright Dangerous!
See there’s a reason Jonah ran the other way when God told him to go to Ninevah.
The Ninevites were legendary for their cruelty and violence. They were the original terrorists of the middle east. Not just terror, but torture.
Check this out: Whenever the Assyrian Army conquered a city, they would decapitate their enemies and pile their heads into a pyramid right in front of the city gates. It was their calling card.
If there were any survivors, they would skin them alive. Bury them in the sand up to their necks. Then drive a stake through their tongues so that they would go crazy as they were dying of thirst in the desert.
And then all through the night, they’d make them listen to “Staying Alive” by the Beegees to torture them. J
I’m just kidding about that last part, but the rest of it is historically accurate.
And the word of the Lord came to Jonah—I want you to go to Ninevah, the capital city! Do you know where Ninevah is on a map? It’s modern day Iraq. It is the city of Mosul on the eastern bank of the Tigris River.
Do you understand why Jonah ran? He’s like, nuh uh… I don’t think so Lord. I’m not going there! I’m gonna go way over here…
This is the equivalent of God telling you to pack up your belongings, and move your family around the word to be a missionary to ISIS. Wrap yourself in an American Flag, take your Bible, your moleskin journal and your soap box, and set up shop on the corner in Iran.
GOD you must be nuts!
In the spiritual journey of every believer, the “word of the Lord” will come to you and you’ll hear God saying, “this is where I want you to GO.” Or here’s what I want you to DO…” At some point in time God is going to ask you to GO & DO. And you may reply, “Thanks God… but no thanks!”
Has God ever asked you to GO & DO something that seems totally crazy? Not just impractical, but ill advised. Maybe even downright dangerous?
It may be something you fear. Or an area of your life that you’re like—God, you can have anything, I’ll obey you no matter what. Just don’t ask me to do THIS ONE THING!
Maybe somone’s wronged you or hurt you deeply, and the word of the Lord comes to you and says, “I want you to forgive them”. GO & DO. I want you to reach out and to forgive your ex as I’ve forgiven you! And that’s scary.
I don’t want to forgive them. I don’t want to make things right. It was their fault. They don’t deserve it! Besides—She’s wicked man. My ex is the queen of Ninevah.
This was part of Jonah’s objection. Jonah wasn’t running only because he was afraid his mission would FAIL. He was worried it’d be a success. What would happen if he was to actually GO & DO? See, God had mercy: I want to give them a chance to repent! To Change! That’s why He was sending His prophet.
And Jonah was like, NO WAY! THEY DON’T DESERVE IT! Jonah was a bit of a racist really. He was like, These AWFUL, godless Pagans! They’re beyond hope. They’re savages. He was very self-righteous. And be honest: we think this way sometimes toward- you fill in the blank. Radical Muslims, Angry atheists. Or crazy Uncle Chester.
There is no use talking to them. They are a lost cause. And God says, Yeah, but I still love them. And I want you to carry my message of Hope and Forgiveness to them in hopes they’ll return from their sin and receive my grace.
See, Jonah is a story about SIN and GRACE. Those are two words you’ll find in the Bible a lot.
Here is a really simple definition of Sin. Sin at its core is running from God. But Grace is the chase. It’s God pursuing even the vilest, rudest, most disbelieving people on earth with his radical love.
There’s Sin and there’s Grace. We Run and God Gives Chase!
Jonah wanted Ninevah to be burned to the ground. But God wanted it saved.
Because that’s God’s heart. God’s heart toward those who are far from Him isn’t full of judgement—but of mercy. Maybe today you’re far from God. All your life, you’ve run from religion. You don’t go to church for precisely that reason. It’s full of self-righteous judgmental people—and you think: God isn’t pleased with the life I’ve lived.
Well God has a word for you today! He has been passionately pursuing you in the person of Jesus Christ… and He wants to give you Grace! He longs to heal you from your past and give you a hope and a future. Don’t let imperfect believers like us get in the way of experiencing God’s Grace!
Sin is our nature, but Grace is God’s nature! We run… and He gives CHASE.
That’s the Gospel—the Good news—it’s why Jesus came and died on a cross. His perfect life was payment for our sin—so we get a fresh start. A second chance. And because of that Christians should be the most non-judgemental people in the world! That’s why we have the phrase WELCOME HOME all throughout our church. Because there is no one who isn’t welcome here. There is no one alive today that God doesn’t want to have come home and experience His grace!
But Jonah couldn’t preach about that kind of Grace because he was a stranger to it himself. He didn’t have that kind of love for people outside his tribe. And therefore, refused to offer the very thing that God had offered him.
I wonder what God could be asking you to offer him today. An area where He’s been clear about what He wants you to do… but you’re unwilling because of sin or guilt or shame. Or maybe it’s fear… or maybe you just feel inadequate!
Maybe you’re here today and you’ve felt God telling you to change jobs. To leave your current position because you feel He wants you to invest you life in something different. But it means less money!
Maybe you sense God asking you to be more generous with your money. God may be asking you to loosen the grip on your wallet to use your financial resources to change the world around you. To impact someone else’s financial future.
If you are walking with God, at some point in your journey of faith, He will ask you to do something that you don’t want to do. Something that is outside of your comfort zone.
But know this… These are the moments that define your faith! How you respond to God’s word reveals the authenticity of your faith. Will you listen… then trust… and obey? Or hear His voice and run? Find a ship headed in the opposite direction?
Because the truth is that
You can always find a boat sailing in another direction
That’s the second thing Jonah shows us. You can hear God’s voice and think “I need to do this” but then you bump up against some old friends who are like, “Dude, don’t go that way! Come with us—let’s go back to what we used to do!” If you’re in recovery—you have an addiction—you know what I’m talking about.
I have a friend who just decided to live a sober life. In fact he just posted on facebook… In an effort to live a more Christ like life, I’ve decided to live a sober life. To quit smoking weed, and drinking.
You’ve got to know that in a forum like facebook, there are hundreds of people who could jump on there and convince him otherwise.
Look how it happens with Jonah:
But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish… he found a ship bound for that port… and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
You know where Tarshish is? Southern Spain! It’s 3,000 miles away. In other words God said, I want you to go East to Ninevah and Jonah was like, Peace out… Go WEST YOUNG MAN! Guys that’s like going from Sarasota to LA.
Some of you can relate to this. You may be facing a challenge in your life that’s got you thinking about jumping ship. You can always find a ship to Tarshish. And you can always find friends who will punch your ticket. They will give you the rationalizations to support your tragic choice.
Maybe you are lusting after the new boat. If only you had that bigger engine, with a better deck, and more rod holders, you could chase after the big fish! You’re lust for material possessions is actually hampering your ability to enjoy what you already have!
Or maybe you’re lusting after another person. There is a desire in your eyes that is unhealthy. Maybe you’re bored in your marriage and your mind is wandering to another person or place. Divorce has become a thought you think about more often.
You can always find a boat sailing in another direction. You can go to Tarshish, you can change your location, you can change your scenery but that doesn’t mean you’ll have a change of heart. Only God can do that deep work on the interior.
Maybe the word of the Lord has come to you and you’ve thought, “I know what I’m supposed to do… but I don’t want to face it right now. I’ll deal with it later.”
The problem is: Delayed Obedience is really Disobedience.
Parents, can I get an AMEN?
One of the benchmarks of of spiritual maturity is all about LAG TIME. (spreading hands) The time that it takes to HEAR the command of God and then obey it!
The shorter the distance, the more maturity. The longer the lag, the less mature.
Too often I think that the church celebrates the lag. We look at the lag and say, not bad. At least you tried. But the truth is that we should lessen the lag!
When we bump up against the Truth of God (HANDS) I don’t want to, I don’t want to, I don’t want to, I don’t want to… maybe I will… Maybe I won’t. That sounds just as silly as the kid who waits till the last second before obeying God.
See the problem is that if we obey God, we have to disobey ourselves, and it is disobeying ourselves that makes obeying God so hard. We make it all about us! Well what if I were to say to you, that it isn’t about you!
There is always a boat going in another direction, and if you get on board, you may actually miss out on the will of God for your life!
There is a Jonah inside of all of us!
1 year ago last week, my wife Tiffany and I decided to plant this church. We had been praying, and listening to the word of the Lord and felt God calling us to plant a life giving, Christ centered church here in Sarasota. We knew that we were going to call it Hope City Church because we believe that Christ is the Hope for our lives and ultimately for our city! But there were moments in the early days of that decision that Tarshish was looking pretty good. We could have gotten in our mini-van, packed it all in and crashed in my inlaws basement. The struggles of starting a new church, of raising funds, of building teams, of doing all the ground work felt too big sometimes. And we could have easily missed out on one of the most amazing things in our life—Hope City Church. What if we allowed the Lag to Lengthen…
There’s a little bit of Jonah inside all of us, isn’t there?
I don’t know what the situation is for you today. Where God is asking you to leave your comfort zone and TRUST and OBEY. But you do have options. You can RUN FROM God, but here’s the secret YOU CAN NEVER OUTRUN GOD!
You can run from the Lord… but you can never outrun Him. Our nature is sin. But God’s nature is grace… As we run, God gives chase. No matter where you go, God is there waiting to bring you back.
That’s the hook of a big fish story. We just got started, I only told you the first part today. You’ll have to come back next week and bring a friend with you to hear the rest. But this week I want you to think about how this applies to you. Is there an area of your life that God is calling you to obey… But you’ve got lag time? Where could you lessen the Lag?
I know some of you are facing critical decisions right now—in your relationships, careers, and families. And you desperately need the courage to obey.
Anyone facing a decision you need courage to make? I believe Christ can give you that STRENGTH this morning.
In fact, let’s get real today. Some of you are going to leave this room and be tempted to forget everything I just said. God may have been speaking to you and you’re like. Nope. Not today Jesus. J The lag may be in full effect this morning. I want to encourage you to write it down. To name it. There is something powerful about naming it, just calling it out. Inside the program we have put a post it note there for you. I want you guys to click your pen and write it out. It may be a word or a phrase. Where is God asking you to Go or Do this morning?
Maybe He wants you to forgive someone. To face your fear and reach out to extend grace to an enemy. Write down their name, or even just their initials.
Or maybe you’re the one in need of forgiveness. You’re the one on the run. You may have listened today and thought, “He’s talking about me. Who told him my story?” If you think I’m telling your story today, it’s not because I’m a prophet or have psychic powers… it’s because Jonah’s story is everyone’s story! Write it down.
Everyone in this church has run from God at one point in time or another. But you can never outrun God.
God wants to WELCOME YOU HOME. To turn the boat around. It’s never to late. Come home to Grace! In fact, God is here right now, waiting for you today. Waiting to give you a second chance, waiting to redeem your story. Ready to say GO & DO!