I Just Don’t Want To

Sermon Text – 02.03.2019
[Jonah 1:1-4, 15-17]
           Today is the first week of February, five weeks into the new year. Quick show of hands, how many of you made a New Year’s Resolution? I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something about the start of a new year that gives us a fresh resolve, a new urgency and inspiration to live up to our goals, become a better version of who we are. We promise ourselves, I’m going to work out, eat right, do devotions every day, attend church every Sunday, give 10% of my income, and love everyone who comes into my sphere of influence. And it’s a beautiful thing, but the strength and brilliance of New Year’s Resolutions is matched only by the speed in which they disappear from our minds and ultimately from our lives. We set goals, but after the glamour and glitter fades away – we realize that goals take hard work. It’s much easier to say something, than it is to actually live up to it. I know personally, Sara and I have set some goals – we want to eat right and exercise – which is tough in these winter months. And I’ll tell you, the first week always goes great. We make all these big plans – we’re going to do this, and only eat this. And then the second week comes – ugh, I don’t want to do that. And now, five weeks into the new year – my favorite moment is when my wife looks me in the eye and tells me my three favorite words, “Let’s get ice-cream.”
          Today is the start of a new sermon series called the Jonah Files. For the month of February, we are going to take an in-depth look at the story of Jonah to see what it can show us – what nuggets of wisdom are hidden in the text. Today we’re going to be talking about goals, accomplishments, the hidden potential within each of us – and how to make that potential a reality in our lives. And God willing, how to actually accomplish the goals we set out to accomplish.  


          And so we jump into our story for today. And many of us know the story of Jonah and the whale – but before we get started, we need to understand what a prophet is. Way back, when God first appointed a king of Israel, it was a new class of leadership, but with that role he created another position – the prophet. The prophet’s job was to be the voice of God to the people. When the king went corrupt, not if, but when the king went corrupt – the prophet was the one God sent to smack him upside the head, put him back on the right path. When King David screwed up with the whole Bathsheba thing, remember that story? – stealing another man’s wife, murdering him to cover it up, all that stuff, the prophet Nathan was the one God sent to straighten David out.  And so the end of the old testament is all about the prophets – the famous one’s everybody’s heard of – like Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the not-so-famous ones that nobody can pronounce like Habakkuk and Zephaniah. And their role was to be the voice of God to the people. Unfortunately, that usually meant their job was to tell people when they were screwing up. To point out sin, and urge people to change their ways and come back to God. Not always, but a lot of the time – their job was to deliver bad news or warnings with the hope that people would change their ways. It was considered an extremely high honor to be a prophet of God – but it’s not really a fun job. Anybody want to sign up to be the guy who has to deliver bad news to everyone? I feel like it’s the same as working in the baggage claim office of the airport. Every person who comes in there looking for lost luggage is already angry at you.
          And so we get started and we open on our boy Jonah. Jonah is a prophet. And it says, [read verse 1-2]. Pretty straightforward. Nineveh is a city that has been doing some bad stuff, and you need to go tell them that they are living in sin. I’m about to go all fire and brimstone on that city, and you need to warn them – get them to stop screwing up their lives and to start being good. And I love the next line because it’s so matter of fact, [read 3a]. We’re on verse three, and already Jonah is running away. “I don’t wanna go to Ninevah and tell them to stop living in sin. That doesn’t sound like fun. That’s not positive and encouraging klove. It seems a little judgy, actually – um, and that seems unpleasant for me – so Tarshish.” But God wasn’t done with Jonah. You’re probably familiar with the rest of the story. He hops on a boat, headed in the wrong direction, and so God sends a storm. And the storm is so powerful that the sailors are afraid the boat is going to break into pieces. They figure out it’s Jonah’s fault, and so they toss him overboard. To be fair, they do feel bad about it, it was his idea but either way he ends up in the water. [read v17]. And that’s the end of chapter one.

          One more point before we move on. Some scholars and critics get all in a huff about whether this story is historically true. It says big fish, so a lot of people say “Whale.” And people get into these extremely heated debates about whether it’s physically possible for a whale to swallow a human whole, or for a human to survive for three whole days. So just, real quick, my response to that whole conversation is – “it doesn’t matter.” It doesn’t change what we learn from the text. When we get into those arguments we have lost track of why we read those stories. First, with God – all things are possible. So yeah, this could have really happened. Personally yes – I believe this actually happened. Seems unlikely and probably required a miracle or two – but that’s what I believe. If I got to heaven, and God said, no it’s just a story to teach you something, I’m not going to argue with God. It doesn’t change anything for our purposes here today. So there – we’ve dealt with the “historical accuracy problem” that isn’t really a problem.

          Now, coming out of this story there’s a simplistic interpretation that goes like this, “Do what you’re told, or God will send a giant whale to eat you.” And there is an element of that in the text. But there was something else I felt when I was working through it this past week. It’s not just about running away from a God who is everywhere. The good news that I found this week is that God encourages us. God is our loving Father – who knows what’s best for us. He watches over his children. Here’s an example. My son Amos, will be 8 months this month and he’s still working out how crawling works. He’s moving, but not always in the direction he wants. Now as a father, watching my son with love there are two types of encouragement. Part of me just wants to pick him and bear hug him and never let him go, to comfort and help him. Usually when he tries to crawl, it’s because he wants something. There’s a toy or dog or something just out of reach that he’s trying to get to. And I watch him struggle for a while, and I take my pictures to post on the internet for family and friends, but eventually I just want to go over and move him. I see where he is and I see where he’s trying to go – and I could easily just scoot him over. I’m big and strong – it’s not hard for me to just *scoot.* But if I do that every time, he’ll never learn how to walk. The loving thing to do is to let him figure it out. To challenge him to make the next step. The role of a prophet is to encourage, to challenge and comfort people so that they can live a better life.
          And if God takes the time to encourage us in one way or another, then it must mean that we are designed to be encouraged. As human beings we are a gloriously unfinished product. With our loving Father looking on as we struggle and work to figure out how to move forward – we find that we are designed to grow. We spend so much time developing children, in their hearts and minds, because we are watching them physically develop and grow right in front of us. Yet, somehow along the way, we got into our heads this silly little notion that being all grown physically, means we are all grown up mentally and spiritually too. That just because we are all done developing on the outside, we have convinced ourselves that we are all done developing on the inside too. How arrogant can we be to think that we are a finished product? Nothing could be further from the truth. As a child, yes, but also as adults God is always encouraging us to grow – because he designed us with that spark of life, an unlimited potential for further growth in all the areas that matter – love, forgiveness, grace, and joy. There is always a deeper level.


          Let me ask you – have you ever set a goal and then failed?  Why did you fail? What happened? What got in your way? And that thing you’re thinking of right now – how is that not just an excuse? There are three main obstacles that I’ve found that keep us from accomplishment. Three hurdles we need to find a way past in order to achieve. First – Rationalizing. Rationalizing is the twisting of the logic of your life in order to feel like we have the results we want. When we first feel that push, that urge to improve some area of our lives, to do better in some way – rationalizing is usually the first response. How do you know if you’re rationalizing? When you feel like you have accomplished something, but actually have changed nothing. We twist logic, change our goals – so we don’t actually have to DO anything.  I want to be a better parent – well, I do pretty well already. Rationalizing is comfort pushed into compulsion, way too far. Rationalizing is when we lie to ourselves to avoid doing the hard work. We hear that voice that says, “you can improve” and then we hear that comforting, selfish voice that responds says, “you’re already perfect, no need to improve.”
          The second hurdle, worse than rationalizing is apathy. Apathy is where you just don’t care enough to think about it. Rationalizers at least make up an excuse, even if it’s a bad one. Apathetic people just don’t care, they don’t try. This is so much harder to work with. But let me help you here – not thinking about something, doesn’t make it go away. You throw litter on the ground, and say, “Oh, I didn’t even think about it.” Guess what? There’s still litter on the ground that needs to be dealt with. Apathy is a function of laziness. You don’t want to do something, so you convince yourself you don’t care. The third and final hurdle we deal with is filtered mob mentality. We filter the voices around us so that we hear what we want to hear to create a cult of personality. In social media they call it the echo chamber. You assume everyone agrees with you, because you’re only listening to the voices you like. If you ever find yourself thinking or uttering the phrase, “Everyone thinks that…” I need you to understand that you are living in a fantasy world. We live in the most divisive and polarized societal structure to date. As a group we can’t even agree on the color of snow. “Everyone” doesn’t think anything. What you mean when you say that is, “everyone I’m choosing to listen to thinks that…”
          What we find with these hurdles is that the common feature is you. If you want to find the reason you have failed to meet your goals – to find the real source of all your problems, you only need to look in the mirror. At some point we need to be honest – to look at the things we know are good for us, like vegetables and say I just don’t want to. I know I should, I know it’s what best for me – but I just don’t want to. But Pastor JJ that’s so mean – why would you say something like that? I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, I’m trying to combat one of our cultural norms. A lot of self-help groups and books and such will tell you that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. But I’m here to tell you this morning that trying to accomplish your goals through sheer force of will is not the path laid down for us by God. If anything, the story of scripture teaches us again and again to be suspicious of personal effort, and to rely instead on God.  The greatest obstacle in your own sanctification, in your own spiritual growth is the glorification of the self. Rationalizing, apathy and the filtering of mob mentality – these are the ways we keep ourselves from getting anything done.

          And yet – there is hope. God encourages us, and he does not expect us to do this all on our own. For example, God knows that we rationalize. He knows how good we are at lying to ourselves and convincing ourselves not to grow – and so he gave us scripture. The bible is a constant in your life. By twisting your intellect in rationalizing you can justify anything you want based on the logic you feel like following in that one moment. But scripture is a bedrock, a solid foundation. I’m not talking about legalism, but the better you know scripture – the better you know the book that God gave us as a guide through this life – the easier it is for you to realize when you are rationalizing. Read your bible, or get an audiobook, join a study – whatever it takes. When you keep the truth right in front of you – it’s harder to lie to yourself. Second, God knows we grow apathetic. God knows that sometimes we grow exhausted and we just don’t care anymore, and so on top of scripture, on top of his Word, God gives us the Holy Spirit. If you’re struggling to care, when you know you should care – or if you have someone in your life who doesn’t care, but needs to start caring – pray for the Holy Spirit to set your soul on fire. Third and finally, the mob mentality bit. God is well aware of the filters we use in our world to convince ourselves that our side is the best side, the smartest side, the moral-righteous “side” – and so he created a community where we hold one another accountable. We call it church. In the family of God, we comfort one another when life is hard – but we also challenge one another when we fall off the path. Church should be a response to mob mentality. And I think we’re getting there in this church. We have lots of different opinions – and I like that. If we all agreed all the time, that would create a very dangerous environment. We need one another to grow, we need to be different. We are all different, and that’s a very good thing. What’s interesting is that while all the problems seem to start in here (tap chest), all the solutions come from God. If I believed you could do it yourself, I’d quit my job and become a motivational speaker. But I don’t. I know we all have that moment when we look at what’s good for us, and we say – I just don’t want to. So stop trying to do it all yourself, lean on God – the great encourager, the perfecter of our lives. In scripture, in prayer, with the Holy Spirit, and here in this place – find God and follow God.


          We are designed to grow, to mature and become more like Jesus in our lives. We set goals, but we also create obstacles that keep us from getting anything done. Thankfully, like he did with the prophets of old, God has given us a way to overcome. And so I’ll leave you with this – May you dream big, set incredible goals. May you avoid the obstacles, overcome the hurdles in front of you. May you lean on God to make those goals happen. Amen.                                                                       

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