For years, I’ve used a decorative paper towel holder in my kitchen. It looked nice; matched my kitchen theme—roosters—and held my roll of paper towels within arm’s reach.
There was one problem with the holder. It was made for an earlier time, when a roll of paper towels wasn’t as thick as it is today. That meant every time a new roll was placed on the horizontal pole, I had to use one hand to grab a towel and the other to pull it away from the roll and tear it off.
This was frustrating, because when I’m cooking, I don’t always have a free hand to grab a towel. Of course, the problem resolved itself once several towels were removed. Then, the roll would move freely on the holder. After that, I wouldn’t give it another thought.
The other day, I accidentally hit the bottom of the ceramic holder, and a piece of it fell off. I didn’t immediately think about replacing it, because it wasn’t that noticeable, and it didn’t affect the way it worked. Later that day, I was in a Bed, Bath, and Beyond store shopping for another product, and I happened to pass by a shelf of paper towel holders. Several of them had labels describing them as being perfect for today’s extra large rolls.
That was the moment I decided not to put up with the frustration I felt every time I inserted a new roll of paper towels on the ceramic holder, and I used my 20% off coupon and purchased a sleek new modern-looking one.
When I brought it home, I placed a fresh roll of paper towels on it, and presto! problem solved. I’ve had it a week now, and I’ve probably changed the roll three times—I’m very messy in the kitchen—and, every time I install a fresh roll, I ask myself why I didn’t buy a new paper towel holder sooner.
Why did I put up with something that was clearly a problem and had an easy solution?
The answer’s pretty simple. It seemed like a small problem, and I had too many other things to think about, and, after removing a few sheets, I didn’t notice it again until I needed a new roll.
Too often, we treat spiritual problems in the same way. A situation arises; tempers flare, angry words are spoken, lustful thoughts are entertained, gossip is spread, godless choices are made, and then we move on.
However, the sin that caused the problem in the first place remains; it’s never examined, never prayed over or confessed, and the situation happens again. And again.
God’s Word gives us much counsel about dealing with our sin, and one example is found in Psalm 51 where David realizes the only solution to the sorrow he’s experiencing is to confess his sin to God.
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” (Psalm 51:10-12).
Don’t put up with it!
The other day I was standing beside an elevator, having just pushed the Arrow Down button to call the elevator up to the second floor, when an elderly gentleman walked over and pushed the same button again. Then, he turned to me and said, “I know that was useless. The elevator won’t get here any sooner just because two people push it.”
At the grocery store, a little later that day, I tried to sign my name on a credit card scanner. After several attempts to make a semi-legible mark, the clerk waved her hand at me and said, “Oh, honey, forget it. Your signature won’t mean anything on there. That thing is useless.”
My day of useless things ended when I got home and tried to balance my checkbook. No, it wasn’t balancing the checkbook that proved useless. What was useless was pushing the “C” repeatedly on the calculator, clearing out the old amount before adding a new one. Like the gentleman at the elevator, I suddenly realized pressing the “C” a second time was an exercise in futility. The screen always went blank the first time I pushed it.
There’s a fourth useless thing we may be guilty of as well. It’s forgetting to worship our Creator. God reminds us of this in Isaiah 45:7 when He says, “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.”
Failure to acknowledge the God of the Universe, He who created light and darkness, who directs every aspect of our lives, is useless. In the same chapter in Isaiah, God says,” By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return:‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.” (Isaiah 45:23).
As I enjoyed an early morning quiet time on my patio recently, I became captivated by the play of light and dark, shadow and sunlight, across the foliage of my backyard. I had just been reading a devotional about mankind’s universal search for happiness. In the article, C. S. Lewis’ classic, Mere Christianity, is referenced, particularly this quote, “All that we call human history–money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery–is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
After reading this quote, I glanced up from my iPad and saw the patterns the early morning sun was drawing in my garden. Some flowers were in shadow, while others were in sunlight. The flowers highlighted by the sunlight looked “happier” than those flowers residing in the shadows. Why was that? Well, obviously, it was because the “happier” flowers were basking in the sun’s light, while those in the shadow were not receiving the sun’s full benefits..
Although I’m quite certain flowers do not experience human emotions, my garden’s shadows and sunlight illustrated the truth of my devotional reading. We all seek happiness, but as long as we remain in the shadows–substituting other people, pleasures, and pursuits for God in our lives–we will never be truly happy.
“You make known to me the path of life, in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11.
Turn your face toward the Son. Bask in the warmth of His Light today.
Deciding what to name a child can be challenging. I’ve passed the stage of needing to think about naming babies. Instead, I’m faced with what to name a character in a book, and that too can prove challenging.
When a character enters a scene, the person’s name usually pops in my head at the same time. However, before accepting this moniker as the appropriate tag for the person, I do a little research just to make sure it isn’t the name of a celebrity or a politician or some other famous person.
I also want a villain’s name to sound . . . well . . . villainous, and a strong character to have a strong sounding name. Think “Rocky” and you get the picture.
The Bible is full of great names for both babies and characters. These are names that have been around for thousands of years, and have quite literally stood the test of time. But, there are many “one time use” names in the Bible as well.
For instance, in the book of Hosea, God instructs a prophet to name his daughter “No Mercy” (Hosea 1:6). The son who came later was named “Not My People” (Hosea 1:9). The Hebrew names Lo-ruhama and Lo-ammi never quite caught on as popular names for offspring, but those names portrayed the message God was endeavoring to send His people at that time.
In the book of Ruth, a widow named Naomi, who also lost two sons, decided she wanted to be called Bitter. The Hebrew word was mara, and she wanted her name changed to Mara because she said, “the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20).
If you wanted a name to reflect how God has dealt with you, what would you call yourself? Mine would be blessed. Just call me Blessed.
During a recent interview about Titus Ray, the main character in my Christian fiction series, I was asked to describe some of his personality traits. By doing so, I came up with some attributes, which point out what Titus is not: He is not an extrovert. He is not a scholar. He is not a family man.
By pinpointing what a person is NOT, a picture emerges about what a person is. The apostle John does this in the Gospel of John. He says, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” John 1:6-8.
Perhaps the most important attribute about John the Baptist was what he was NOT. He wasn’t the Messiah; He wasn’t the Light; He wasn’t our Savior. He had to reiterate this several times during his ministry. Every time he did so, he was able to tell people who he really was. He was a witness sent to point people to the real Savior, Jesus Christ.
There are other examples in Scripture of what people were NOT: Joseph was not an adulterous slave boy. David was not an intimidated shepherd. Daniel was not a cowered exile. Paul was not a timid follower of Christ.
How would you answer this question, “What are you NOT?”
How you answer that question will enable you to see what you are. The NOT realization of what he was helped John to know his role. He wasn’t the Light, but he was to tell about the Light. Perhaps you’re NOT a Sunday School teacher, but you can be a Sunday School member. Perhaps you’re NOT a teacher of the Bible, but you can read the Bible. Perhaps you’re NOT a prayer warrior, but you can pray.
John was sent by God. “There was a man sent from God.” John 1:6.
John was sent by God to be who he was; not someone he was NOT. Discover who you are NOT, and you’ll discover who you are.
There are so many ways to read the Bible. You can read it like great literature, read it for academic purposes, read it to understand a culture, read it to gain a sense of morality, or, of course, read it for a myriad of spiritual reasons—to know GOD, to know His Son, Jesus, to know the working of His Spirit.
I’ve discovered the best way to read the Bible is to make it personal, to view the message of God’s Word as personal, and to understand the words as written for me—personally. How’s that for personal?
The Bible itself encourages this method of Bible study. David, speaking in Psalm 16:11, says, “You make known to me the paths of life.” David has a personal relationship with God. While it’s true the Bible has a message for all people, God intends for that message to be understood and received by each individual.
I read through the Bible every year, and I’ve used a variety of Bible Reading Plans to do this. This year, I plan to use a journaling Bible and to concentrate my note-taking on how a passage speaks to me personally, what personal message God intended for me in the verses, and in what way a particular Scripture can deepen my personal relationship with Him.
How personal can it get? Psalm 139 says it all.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you
When I was putting together a proposal for a Christian literary agent about the first book in my Titus Ray Thriller, One Night in Tehran, one of the questions the agent asked me was “What is the Scriptural basis of the novel?” Because the majority of Christian fiction is either Amish fiction or in the romantic suspense genre, I imagined the Bible verses the agent usually received from authors in those categories was about love or forgiveness or kindness.
My novel is about Titus Ray, a veteran CIA intelligence officer who comes to faith in Christ through a group of Iranian Christians. He is spiritually impoverished, with no religious upbringing and no clue about how to live out his faith while continuing his espionage activities for the U.S. government. However, a verse of Scripture often quoted by Javad, the Iranian who led him to the Lord, is one Titus adopted to help him through difficult times. It’s from Matthew 10:16, where Jesus addresses his disciples before sending them out to announce His coming Kingdom.
Jesus said, “Behold I am sending you out as sheep among wolves, be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.”
When I sent the proposal to the agent, that’s the verse I chose as the Scriptural basis for my series. Since I never heard back from that agent, maybe it wasn’t the best Bible verse to use.
However, I’ve come to appreciate that verse, and, since using it in my novel, I’ve run across a post on that Scripture by John Piper, a present-day theologian and author of the most helpful book I’ve ever read, Desiring God. Here’s the link to that post.
A short paragraph from the article reads, “So, yes, go among wolves and be vulnerable as you preach the gospel, but when they lunge at you, step aside. When they open their mouths, don’t jump in. And not only that, be as innocent as doves. That is, don’t give them any legitimate reason to accuse you of injustice or immorality. Keep your reputation as clean as you can.”
Today, believers wade through a morass of cultural upheavals and political issues, much like helpless sheep wandering among wolves. Yet, Jesus commands His followers to use wisdom and innocence as the primary means of presenting His Kingdom to the world.