He said: “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.”
One of the most famous Bible stories for children is Jonah and the Whale. To refresh your memory, God had called upon Jonah to preach to the sinners in the wicked city of Nineveh. But Jonah was opposed and fled by boat to Tarshish. His journey was interrupted by a great storm. The sailors onboard blamed Jonah for their peril, threw him overboard, and he was swallowed by a great fish.
Over the years, I’ve encountered people who doubt the voracity of this story. They say there’s no way a man could survive such an ordeal. But to dismiss the story as fantasy is to miss an important spiritual lesson.
Jonah ran away from his God-given responsibility. He disobeyed God’s command, which is how and why he ended up in a life threatening predicament. He brought it on himself.
When we allow our relationship to God to become distant and embrace sinful behavior, like Jonah, we are running from God. Since God loves us, He may allow circumstances into our lives to get our attention, a divine reminder of our responsibilities as born again believers.
If you’re a parent of a teen or adult, how do you feel when they engage in harmful or destructive behavior? Despite your efforts at teaching and warning them about negative consequences for making bad choices, they reject your concern and angrily accuse you of meddling in their business. It grieves your heart, right?
When Christians sin, we grieve the Holy Spirit. “… do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30)
Besides grieving the Spirit, we quench the Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 5:19) Put another way, engaging in prolonged ungodly behavior thwarts God’s work in us. No flame. No fire. Our prayers fall on deaf ears. We lose access to divine guidance and help.
Today, it’s an increasingly common occurrence for family and friends to stage an intervention to help a loved one seek help for an addiction. Likewise, God intervenes, as he did with Jonah, to set his children back on the path of righteousness. His chastening is an act of love. “… the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Hebrew 12:6)
When God disciplines those he loves, He stands ready to receive and restore us from our rebellious ways.
Jonah did exactly what God wanted. He called out in “distress” to the Lord. Put another way, Jonah prayed fervently. We get the gist of his plea in chapter 2 at verse 7, “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you…”
Here we get a perfect picture of what it means to repent. Jonah confessed his sin and changed directions. He stopped running away from God, changed course, and turned back toward God.
And the most beautiful words anyone could ever hear came in response. “He answered me.”
Pardon the unintentional pun, but Jonah had hit bottom. “From deep in the realm of the dead, I called for help, and you listened to my cry.”
So, what happened when Jonah got his act together and obeyed God? Well, he carried God’s message of judgement to Nineveh, that city of 120,000 people would be destroyed in forty days. Here’s the good part. The people repented and God relented.
Then Jonah pouted because he was angry with God for sparing their lives. Talk about a prophet with a bad attitude. God had an answer for that too. But that’s a story for another time.
Where are you in your walk with God? Are you living for Him, seeking to learn his expectations and endeavoring to follow His master plan? If not, why put it off? Why risk grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit? I think you’ll agree, we need all the help we can get to live in this cruel world. Is it time to send up your Distress Signal to God?
For more on this topic, check out this article: When Your Spirit is Willing but Your Flesh is Weak
Reprinted from The Forever Notebook, Book 2 (April – June) Get your copy here: Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In 2008 we were hit with a global financial crisis. Many people saw their retirement savings wiped out seemingly overnight. What followed was a severe economic decline marked by record unemployment, home foreclosures, and a radical decline in the standard of living. Financial institutions and systems in which we had placed our trust were unable to deliver on our expectations and their promises.
No matter how hard man works at accumulating wealth and storing up treasures he will never be completely safe. In an imperfect world replete with self-indulgence, hunger for power, and greed, we will always be vulnerable to loss.
Jesus talked about the fragility of earthly treasures and how easily they can be lost. He pointed to the natural forces of this world “where moth and rust…destroy.” Our generation will long remember the devastating loss resulting from a hurricane named Katrina. Jesus then talked about our vulnerability to the wickedness of man “where thieves… break in and steal.”
I can’t imagine that anyone among us has not suffered at least some loss from the recent financial crisis. It has certainly had an impact on me. I just had a flashback to $4 per gallon gasoline — and filing for unemployment.
Surely things can get better and hopefully they will. However, Jesus’ message is that there will never be a time on this earth in which your treasures will be completely safe. The security of your earthly treasure is uncertain.
Jesus offers something far better than accumulated earthly wealth. His instruction to us is to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” We are to treasure the things of God over the things of man.
Jesus is not telling us that we shouldn’t have a comfortable life on this earth or enjoy some of the nice things that this world has to offer. But He is warning us that earthly treasures should not be our heart’s desire. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
What is it that you truly treasure? What matters most to you? Where is your heart?
When you focus on heavenly treasures you grow in Christ. You become more like Him and see things from His perspective. When you encounter crisis situations on this earth you are better equipped to handle them because you know you have divine help and direction. Your hope is not in things but in God. He enables you to rise above your earthly crisis where there is hope, promise, and exciting possibilities.
Treasure a godly character, a life devoted to His service your relationship with Christ, His instruction, and God’s enormous love for you that required the gift of Jesus’ life. Treasure His provision, protection, power, grace, and mercy. And treasure your accumulated wealth in Jesus Christ.
Set your heart and your mind on eternal heavenly treasures that can never be lost, destroyed, or stolen. Accumulate and hold onto real wealth by putting your heart into living your life for God.
For more on this topic, check out this article: Great Is Your Reward in Heaven
Reprinted from The Forever Notebook, Book 1 (January – March) Get your copy here: Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.
Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good….
My son called me a few days ago and told me about an unusual situation that he had encountered. He said that when he had returned to his office, after getting his auto gas tank filled, he noticed that he was only charged $4.00 for 17 gallons of gas. “What do you think I should do?” he asked. Without hesitation I told him that he should make the gas station aware of the mistake and pay the right amount. He said, “I’m one step ahead of you.”
We don’t hear much about “right and wrong” anymore. Some say there is no such thing as moral absolutes. It’s an outmoded concept and no longer valid. Right and wrong are defined by the individual. What I perceive to be right may not be right for you. What you perceive to be wrong may not be wrong for me. You choose what works for you.
Today we are ruled by what feels good as opposed to what is good. Right is defined by that which makes us feel good — not by what is good. You can do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.
When there is no right and wrong, there is no conscience. Conscience is that onboard mechanism created by God to help us keep our behavior in check. The absence of conscience removes those uncomfortable feelings of guilt where our mind tells us that we have done something wrong in thought, word, or deed. We don’t want anything that makes us feel bad.
I have heard many parents say their children lack a conscience. No form of punishment or reprimand produces the guilt that results in corrected behavior. Today’s culture has invalidated a strong sense of right and wrong. Moral boundaries have been eradicated.
So what happened? What has caused this shift in the way we determine what is right and wrong?
I believe that answer comes down to where our culture has placed God. We haven’t eliminated God, but we have minimized His role in our lives. We have taken Him off the throne and placed ourselves there. And we approach God with an “I’ll call you when I need you” mentality. Since we define right and wrong, we really only need Him when we are in trouble or want something.
In today’s scripture we see God’s desire for moral boundaries in our lives. “Seek good, not evil… Hate evil, love good…” God never intended for us to be the captain of our own ship making the decisions on what is right and what is wrong. The “good” that we are to “seek” is right and wrong as defined by Him.
Jesus died not only for your sins but also for your guilt. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t experience guilt when you violate His directives. Those feelings of guilt are to be used as a motivator for correcting the wrongful behavior. God gave you guilt to help you….not destroy you.
When you sin ask for His forgiveness. He is faithful to forgive. And remember that nothing removes guilt faster than corrected behavior. If you’ve wronged someone — mend the fence. If you’ve done something that you should not have done — then do what you can to correct it. Put out your fires while they are small and manageable.
Let God set your moral compass. Allow Him to establish the boundaries of right and wrong. “Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is.”
For more on this topic, check out this article: With Christian Freedom Comes Responsibility
Reprinted from The Forever Notebook, Book 1 (January – March) Get your copy here: Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.
… no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me, declares the LORD.
I’m not a Pentecostal, but I appreciate their wide-open faith. We Baptists are sometimes guilty of driving with the brake on. I have never been one to believe that any denomination is doctrinally infallible. We’re all doing our best to interpret the mind of the God whose ways are not our ways and thoughts not our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9) We can all benefit by loving one another and celebrating the Christ we have in common.
That said, I want to share a passage of scripture (Isaiah 54:17) that first made an impression on me through the ministry of a Pentecostal TV preacher.
This happened long before the sound Biblical training I gained at Southeastern Bible College and Samford University. Southeastern taught me what to believe, and Samford challenged me to think about it.
As I have often said, experience helps us confirm the reality of God’s word. When we believe His promises and see positive results, then we can be assured we have interpreted the meaning correctly. In Romans 12:2, Paul puts it this way: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
We renew our minds by believing and applying the truth in God’s word to our behavior and through acts of faith. As a consequence we discern His will which is “good, pleasing and perfect…”
It’s during the crisis situations of our lives we learn the most about God. In those times we are like little birds forced out of the nest by their mothers. “You’re ready to fly. Now get out there and do it.”
We should definitely approach the Bible studiously and academically, but at some point the Word must be internalized experientially. That’s when we learn what we really believe. There’s nothing like on-the-job training for refining and growing our faith.
A common Christian prayer is for maturity in the faith. And then when trouble blindsides us, we wonder why.
Just as we grow stronger physically through exercise, so it is with spiritual development. Heavier weights, more repetition, longer workouts, and better nutrition build us up. Of course, spiritual nutrition is time spent in the Word and on your knees before God.
Now, back to our focus text, Isaiah 54:17. Like I said, it took a Pentecostal preacher to get me to sit up and take notice of this powerful scripture. And, yes, I’ve had plentiful opportunities to take God’s promise for test runs.
This passage in Isaiah is prophetic and follows the Second Coming when God protects and vindicates believers. But what about now, can Isaiah 54:17 be taken as a promise for today? That’s brings us back to testing God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will. When my back has been against the wall, when I have found myself in a situation where I need God to protect me and vindicate my cause, I have turned to this passage. And God has always delivered me. Always.
When you are under attack from the enemy or falsely accused – remember this Bible verse. God protects. He is the great vindicator.
There are many scriptures that were intended for specific people in different times and places. Case in point. I have yet to hold out a staff and demand the waters to part.
But there are times of crisis when you desperately need God to intervene. You comb the scriptures and find examples of God helping others in similar situations. Why not you?
“Lord, is this word also for me? I know it was your will in the past. Please make it your will for me now.”
And then you put it to the integrity test. Would doing this cause God to act contrary to His will? Well, certainly not, because He did it before.
Next step, jump out of the nest and fly on faith.
These words have never let me down when challenged by an enemy. The Lord has always protected me, vindicated my cause, and delivered me from those who sought to harm me. Years ago, I memorized the King James version: “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper…” Worked for me. Don’t be afraid to take your foot off the brake pedal and trust God to vindicate your cause.
For more on this topic, check out this article: What You Can Do to Guard Against Satanic Attack
Reprinted from The Forever Notebook, Book 3 (July – September) Get your copy here: Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.
One of the great positives about being a self-publishing author is freedom. Who doesn’t want to be their own boss?
I answered to bosses more years than I care to remember. There were a few along the way who were somewhat tolerable. But autonomy is nice, albeit enormously challenging.
When I wrote my first novel in 2012, I was motivated by a need to get something off my chest. It was therapy. Yes, Fifth Sunday: The Loving Hands Murder is a work of fiction, but it is based on a true story. In it, I shared many of the realities of church life, the stuff that goes on behind the scenes. I would like to believe what I experienced was the exception to the rule, but it’s not.
Truthfully, I came out of the ministry deeply wounded. The related nightmares aren’t as frequent as they once were, but they still pay me an occasional visit.
So I finished the book and submitted my manuscript to CreateSpace and Kindle Publishing. And then I just forgot about it. No promotion. No advertising. Nada. Consequently, as a self publishing author on Amazon, I ranked somewhere near the bottom, or so it seemed. Last I checked, Kindle listed 1,490,599 titles. Somebody had to be last, right?
Fast forward three years to 2015. That’s when the writing bug hit me in a big way and in September I published, In the Valley of Hope: Faith Conquers Fear. And then I was hooked. Followed up with a second novel in the series, Farewell PFC Polk: The End of A Nightmare.
Since then, three more titles.
The Angels Diner Series– Alexandra’s Song and Miracle at Gabriel’s Rock. And Hope of Cherry Blossom Lane.
I tell you all of this because there is so much more to self-publishing than writing books. That’s only part of it.
You’ll quickly learn as a newbie author that you are needy. Need help with writing, formatting the interior and exterior of your book, and submitting your work to electronic and print publishers. Need help learning to use social media and cheap advertising. Oh, yeah. You also need a self publishing author website.
Beware! There are wolves seeking to take advantage of your neediness with promises of miraculous results just for purchasing their proven tools. They’ll even show you how much money they’ve made with their tools of wonder. Rest assured, their profits have come from suckers like you and me who have fallen for their tried and true, time-tested methods.
Wise and knowledgeable counsel is indispensable for mastering the self pub process. The big question: Who can, and who should you trust?
Best advice. Find out what the guys at the top of the self publishing industry are doing, especially those in your genre. Do that.
Everyday, there’s something new in my inbox from online marketers touting the latest and greatest method for climbing the self-pub mountain. But nothing beats hard work, discipline, and consistency.
Early on, I read a blog that has proven helpful for my approach to book sales. To the author, I apologize. Can’t recall your name. But the advice was the best I’ve gotten. In a nutshell, don’t get distracted by stuff. Write. Publish. Run some inexpensive pay-per-click ads on the Kindle site. Price your book low enough to break even until your sales pick up. In the mean time, write another book…and another to build a following.
Speaking of writing additional books…it effects the sales of your previous books. Fifth Sunday is now my second best seller. Keep on writing.
One last thought. If you run across a magic bullet that really works, let me know about it. I’m game for anything tat really works.
Have a great day!
While working on a novel, I collect photos that help me better visualize characters and setting. When the book is completed, I then assemble some of the pics into a story board for a trailer.
Following is the trailer for Hope of Cherry Blossom Lane.
Hope Hunter is the star character in my new novel, Hope of Cherry Blossom Lane. She was kind enough to speak with me recently and to share some insight into her heartwarming story.
Richard: Thanks for sharing your valuable time with us today.
Hope: My pleasure.
Richard: I’m going to read a sentence from a scene in your story. I would be interested in your thoughts.
Richard: History had repeated itself. Thirty-five years ago, Hope stood at that window, clutching the same stuffed animal.
Hope: Ah, yes. My precious granddaughter, Emma. Up until that moment, I had only considered the influence Grandma Debose had on my life. She used to tell me that anything she ever gave me or did for me was miniscule compared to the blessings I gave her. That morning when I saw Emma standing at the same window where I once stood and holding my old teddy bear, it hit me. When Emma walks into the room my heart lights up. I can be having the worst day ever and she turns my dark clouds into sunshine.
Richard: Your daughter, Jessica, plays a major role in your story.
Hope: If she had only listened to me when I begged her not to marry Chase Miller. That boy was nothing but trouble. She still hasn’t recovered from what he did to her. I doubt she ever will.
Richard: I loved your encounters with the mystery jogger.
Hope: Still can’t believe I did that. But I’m glad I did.
Richard: Speaking of mysteries, your grandmother’s Memory Box was like a window into your family’s past.
Hope: Exactly. I was shocked to learn that Howard Debose was not my grandfather and she had a secret lover.
Richard: His identity is ultimately revealed.
Hope: And a total surprise.
Richard: Tell me about Cherry Blossom Lane.
Hope: Most beautiful place on earth, especially about mid-March when the trees are in bloom. Of course, I’m biased. That’s where I spent my summers as a child and where I met my friend Linda.
Richard: Linda Ware, owner of Ware’s B&B.
Hope: (laughs) I love that girl, but she can get on my last nerve. Still can’t believe how she pushed me into helping with her Save-the-Park campaign.
Richard: When did you decide you wanted a career as an artist?
Hope: When I was five. My grandmother, Henrietta Debose, was an accomplished oil painter. First time I saw her applying paint to a canvas, I was hooked.
Richard: She taught you?
Hope: Right. She was an amazing teacher. She provided the art education I could never have afforded.
Richard: Were your parents supportive?
Hope: Not at all, except for sending me off to my grandmother’s house. But their motivation had nothing to do with art. They just wanted a break from me.
Richard: Because you were mischievous?
Hope: No. Because I was a responsibility they didn’t want. Mother called me her “little surprise.
Richard: When and why did you give up on your dream?
Hope: Gave it up when I was seventeen. That’s when I fell in love with Terrence.
Richard: How did marriage interfere with your art career?
Hope: At first, I suppose it was simply because we couldn’t afford it. He and I took whatever jobs we could find just to survive. But I think the main reason was that Terrence believed all those nightmare stories about starving artists. He said art was a waste of time and that only a few lucky people made it. And we Hunters weren’t the lucky ones.
Richard: What convinced you to rekindle your dream?
Hope: About a year after my divorce, Grandma Debose died and left her estate to me. I never expected it. Skipped right over my daddy, who was the rightful heir. It was like she was saying, “this is your chance, now make the most of it.”
Richard: How did your father take the news?
Hope: He hit the roof. Called me names I would never use on my worst enemy and then threatened to sue me. No way for a father to treat his daughter.
Richard: Definitely. I was amazed at how he got his limp.
Hope: I knew he was capable of insane behavior, but that one blew my mind.
Richard: What do you want people to get from your story?
Hope: Well, entertainment, for sure. There are valuable life lessons to be learned, but most of all I want my readers to be inspired, like my signature on my paintings.
Hope: That’s it.
Richard: Thanks again for being with us today.
Hope: And thanks to everyone who reads my story. Get it at Amazon. Have it your way. Print or eBook.
Do you believe in miracles?
Alexandra Zakharov is thrilled to have her five-year-old son, Danny, back in her life. But then the unthinkable happens when her old nemesis Helel Ben Shazar kidnaps the boy and the only way to get him back is to surrender her soul to the Devil.
As the deadline rapidly approaches for her decision, Alexandra is summoned back to Divinity Falls where she is reunited with the man who abandoned her before the child was born.
Alexandra reluctantly teams with Johnny Hinson, the man she had vowed to hate forever, to battle evil and find their son. Their adventure lands them in the middle of a terrorist plot to destroy the United States of America.
The largest force of terrorists ever to set foot on American soil gather in Pennsylvania’s Hope Valley at the site of the 1779 Miracle at Gabriel’s Rock. According to legend, an angel intervened to protect Hope Valley settlers from an Indian attack and ordered both sides to coexist peacefully. Their reward would be a future of friendship, prosperity, and blessings.
Alexandra and Johnny’s only hope is…a second Miracle at Gabriel’s Rock.