Sermon Delivered on Sunday, October 11: Hope Chapel, Salvation Army, Las Vegas, NV
I have been living in Las Vegas now for two years. I have struggled with homelessness and overcome it. I created a charity with the help of my now husband called Caridad in 2010.
The slogan of Caridad is “Humanizing the Homeless.” After working in homeless services I was burnt out. In 2013 I spent most of my time in prayer complaining to God about moving me to Las Vegas, the desert away from my beloved beach home in San Diego. I can remember stating to my husband that the only way for me to be happy was to take a, “Monthly trip back home.”
Much like the Israelites in the desert I cried out to God for leading me away from what I thought was the promise Land. Then on January 1, 2014 I woke up and began my devotions. I prayed and I felt God say to me, “Get over yourself. Get over yourself and go back into homeless services.” Immediately I felt re-energized.
A friend called to have me meet her. She was in town visiting a good friend of hers. I was so excited I couldn’t stop talking about how God had laid a plan on my heart for ending homelessness in Las Vegas. She was so excited she had me go back to her friend’s house where she was staying, it was a man by the name of Tony Hsieh, and he is the CEO of Zappos. He loved my ideas and he created a job or me at his investment fund called Downtown Project at the Downtown Rangers.
I was given the freedom to build a homeless outreach program. I did this, but faced some serious opposition from community leaders, homeless service providers, and the lawyers for Downtown Project. (I think I stressed out legal with my Wild West run into the streets and save the people approach. We didn’t have the right kind of insurance for that.)
I ran into barriers all along the way. Eventually I gained the trust and respect of the homeless services providers and government leaders. But my leadership at Downtown Project was not impressed and told me to back off when I was appointed Southern Nevada’s regional lead to the federal government. Again, I cried out to God. I remembered Caridad, my precious charity I started in San Diego.
“God,” I prayed, “I guess it wasn’t meant to be. If there is any way you can continue my work I started in San Diego with Caridad please let me do it here in Las Vegas and get paid for it. I can’t work here anymore.” I prayed. I also prayed that I would be able to find a job so I could work but bring Caridad to Las Vegas.
In December 2014, I got a meeting request with Downtown Project Leadership. Tony Hsieh had instructed them to donate to my charity, Caridad, so it could move to Las Vegas. On January 1, 2015 my prayer of being a leader of Caridad and having it in Las Vegas became the reality as I started officially working on the charity I had started in San Diego. Friends, be careful if God calls you, especially when he asks you to go out and lead. It is a huge blessing, but it is never as advertised.
I want to switch gears. Please if you have Bible open up to Jonah. I will be walking through this book tonight.
Jonah was a prophet. What do you think it means to be a prophet?
1. To make known to men the laws of God.
2. To call the people back to obedience to God’s laws.
3. To warn them of Divine judgment upon sin, both personal and national.
4. To foretell future events which God had willed.
5. To foretell the coming of the Messiah, the Savior.
What town or area do you think of in the US when you think of a city full of smart people? How about the most beautiful city in the US with gardens and fountains? Last, what city do you think people associate with the most fun? Now put all three of them together and that would be the equivalent of Nineveh.
Nineveh is located in what modern day Mosul, Iraq. Nineveh was a beautiful city and respected for how grand it was. But it was also home to the goddess Ishtar, goddess of love, procreation, and of war. It was a powerful city and people from all around knew about it and its greatness and how wonderful the people were in Nineveh.
Jonah was a prophet of God. He had devoted his life to listening to God and leading the people back to him and instructing them of God’s ways. We don’t know anything about Jonah prior to the calling we see here in the book on Jonah, but we do know he wasn’t happy about his calling.
I was a youth pastor for 13 years and I to make the pre-teens and teens giggle I would point out what I called “Big buts” in the Bible. God wants to use us but we always throw up a big “But God.” This has been going on for years between God and his chosen ones.
In Jonah Verse 1:2, God instructs Jonah to “Go and preach to Nineveh,” because God says, “its wickedness has come up before me.” The Living Bible version of this says, “It smells to highest heaven.”
Jonah replies to God like a big overgrown baby. Plain and simple he didn’t like Assyrians, they were proud and had idols. He was a leader but wanted to put boundaries on his calling, so he ran away in verse 3. He goes so far as to get on the nearest boat and doesn’t go to Nineveh that is only 500 miles from his hometown of Jerusalem. Instead Jonah goes and gets a ticket to ride to Tarshish that is the opposite direction and 2,500 miles away.
Verses 4-11 a horrible storm comes up on the boat. Jonah God’s prophet is blissfully sleeping below. This always makes me giggle. Jonah is having the best sleep of his life as the crew is preparing to die. Do you think he is smug and thinks he got away from God while he sleeps?
When the crew finally wakes him up he fesses up that he is running from God. The crew doesn’t even believe in the same God as Jonah and they know this is bad. Verse 10 they say, “What have you done?” In an era of social media I think this would have been posted on Facebook “WTF” with at least 3 exclamation points and a couple of question marks and a frowny face.
Jonah tells the crew to throw him over the boat in verse 12. (Suicide by Crew?) He doesn’t die, the storm does stop, but God still has a plan. God sends a great fish to swallow him in verse 17. It says he stayed in the belly for 3 days and nights.
Jonah sat there in the belly of the fish, it must have been dark, maybe warm or cold. He prayed. In Jonah 2, verses 1-9, he cries out for help from God. He breaks down and agrees to go and preach to those God has called him to save. Jonah again offers himself as a leader wholeheartedly to God. Even though he doesn’t love the terms God has laid out for him.
Do you think it was gross inside of that fish? Do you think the fish the big fish was eating came in? What if water came in occasionally from the sea? Fish have enzymes to break down food. Jonah wasn’t injured but do you think it bleached his hair and skin? He had nothing to do but pray.
God heard Jonah’s prayer and in verse 10 it says in the NIV version, “The Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” God has called Jonah to leadership, Jonah has accepted the call, and here we see the author of Jonah is also showing us that God is still the God over all creation with his command to the fish. The fish puked Jonah out right where God wanted Jonah to be on dry land closer to Nineveh.
I imagine a crazy bleached, fish puke covered Jonah stumbling on the beach. God says, “Let’s try this again.” Verse 3:2 God tells Jonah to “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
This time Jonah didn’t give God a “Yeah but I don’t want to.” Jonah in verse 3 it says he, “obeyed.”
Do you think he washed up first? Or do you think he just went running into Nineveh? Maybe he was scared because of what he had been through in the ocean. Jonah went for 3 days preaching to all of the city. The people of the city believed. Jonah’s message from God went all the way up to the king. The king instructed the people to repent in verses 8-9.
God heard the cries of the Ninevites and in verse 10 he agreed to not destroy the city. What do you think was Jonah’s reaction? Do you think he stayed on as a leader of God to try and instruct and help the people? Did he start a First Church of Nineveh with Sunday school for the kiddos? How about a Torah university to help the people understand God’s laws and teachings for their lives?
Nope, Jonah was mad. Verse 4:1 it says “Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.” In 4:1-4 he whines and basically says, “But, God this is why I didn’t want to go there. This is why I tried to go 2,500 miles to Tarshish, because I can’t stand those people. Just kill me, kill me know.” Jonah was a jerky leader.
Again Jonah stomps off and pouts. He found a little safe space to sit in, laid out some comfy leaves for cushion, plopped down and crossed his arms either waiting to die or for the city of Nineveh to be destroyed. God was still in control and he created a vine to shade Jonah from the sun. Jonah looked up quite pleased with the shade and sat there satisfied, much like the sleep he had in the boat.
But similar to the turbulent waters, the satisfaction was short lived. God sent a worm to kill the vine. It died and there Jonah sat in the desert sun with nothing to cover him. Have any of you ever sat outside in summer time on a one of those toasty Las Vegas summer days that are over 100? Have you ever done this without shade, food, or water? If so what was it like? The Bible says that Jonah wanted to die in verse 8.
If Jonah was a book today it would be called, “I wanted to be a leader for God, but I wanted it my way; so God gave me a smack down.”
God says in Verse 10, Jonah you are a jerk, “Do you have any right to be angry about the vine?”
Jonah says to God, the God of heaven and earth, the God that he has agreed to serve, “Yep, I do. I’m so mad I want to die.” (Jonah sounds like a disobedient child throwing a tantrum.)
God reminds Jonah in a subtle way that he has done nothing. Even the growth of the vine was all God. On a bigger scale God says in Verse 11, “Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people,” They are so bad off they can’t tell their “Right from their left.” God explains that he is worried about their lives and the city.
We pray for God to help us. We pray for deliver from things and circumstances. Honestly I have prayed for house and riches at times, but I found out God isn’t a genie God. He only grants what we need.
I prayed for leadership and to help homeless with Caridad. I prayed, “But, God, I don’t like politics or meetings.” God has shown me that despite what I want, part of ending homelessness means that I have to sit through a million meetings. Sometimes I sit face to face with politicians from the local level on up to the feds, do tons of paperwork, and even face oppression from people that don’t like me or are jealous of Caridad success. There are days I want to give up and I cry out, “But, God why did you call me to this. I just want to help homeless people.”
You know what he says, “Get over yourself. I called you because I gifted you with strength. Anyone else would have crumbled long ago. Remember you can change lives both indoors and outdoors.”
Today Caridad has 3 staff members. Just this week I prayed, “But, God I don’t know how I can afford to continue paying staff.” God told me to step aside and that day I got a call for a contract that would cover one month of payroll from an unexpected source.
Have you chosen to devote your life to following God? How about leadership? Has God gifted you to lead and help those around you? Are you being a jerk like Jonah? Are you getting mad at the world for little stuff, when God wants you to calm down, listen to him, and trust him to do the rest?
Don’t make God sit you down in the sun or swallow you up with a fish, I’m using this a metaphor for a life altering event to get your attention. What is standing between you and God that is keeping you from being great? Or even worse, what is it that you are letting stand in the way of someone else discovering their greatness in God?