April 2018 Devotional

April 30, 2018


Still Waiting, Alas, for the Signal to Turn Green
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford



You know exactly how it feels. You have an important appointment. You know the traffic will be really heavy. so you leave early. You arrive barely on time, with your adrenaline surging and resentment in your heart against all the stupid drivers on the road.


That happened to me the other day. I'd allowed extra time to get to my appointment because I knew how snarled the traffic would be at noon. But cars were backed up half a mile at my first traffic light. When the light turned green, only four cars or so could make it through the intersection before the light was maddeningly red again.


Impatient with myself, I say, "I shoulda gone the other way. Too late now."


I inch forward one car length, but the driver behind me is right on my bumper. "Look, mister, I'm moving as fast as I can. Keep your distance, can't you?"


Only three cars got through that green? "Come on, people, move it!"


An automobile on a side road tries to squeeze into the line of traffic in front of me. Very determined she is. "Look, lady, I've been waiting as long as you have. Don't you dare-" But she does dare, and I am still in the same spot when the light changes again.


And then, finally, when the light is green and I am poised to gun it, someone on my right is determined to get through the intersection, though traffic ahead of him is blocked. I wait helplessly through that green light. None of us move.

Well, yes, I did get to my appointment on time. My resentment of the South Carolina highway department, signal-programmers specifically, and pushy, reckless Carolina drivers (not me, Heaven forbid!) lingered for quite a while. It wasn't until later that I realize how badly I had wasted forty minutes that I could have used well.


Ephesians 5:15-17 says,
So be careful how you live,
not as fools but as those who are wise.
Redeeming the time,
because the days are evil.
Don't act thoughtlessly,
but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do.


I couldn't have redeemed the time by reading a book or texting: that wouldn't have been wise. I needed to stay alert, to move when I could, so others were not delayed. I mustn't let myself be distracted from my driving. But I could have talked to the Lord about the burdens on my heart. I could have prayed for my family, my work, my friends. I could have sung a song of thanksgiving. (After all, no one else could hear me.) I could have given that harassed woman a smile, a wave, to signal I would let her in line. She might have been carrying much heavier burdens than I've ever carried. I could have counted my blessings: a dependable car to get me where I needed to go, a comfortable home to return to, a task ahead that would, God willing, honor Him and help someone in need.


"The days are evil:" yes. What do I do in response to this difficult world I live in? "Redeem the time." How will I know how to redeem the time? By "understanding what the Lord wants me to do."

Simple lesson. Profound implications. May God help me to remember them. I have another noon appointment today, and the traffic will be bad. How can I use that time well?



April 23, 2018


Our Earth: "One Strange Rock" and God's Creation!
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford


The March 2018 National Geographic has a beautiful 10-page spread called "Earth: One Strange Rock." Almost always the magazine finds an evolutionary explanation for whatever subject they happen to be handling, so I was very surprised to read this opening to the article:

"Not every planet has what it takes to support life as we know it. Even though eight planets formed in the solar system, Earth is the only one where we know life emerged and thrived. Having the right ingredients coalesce in just the right zone around a calm, warm star seems to be crucial for creating a life-sustaining world.


Notice the critical words, "Crucial for creating a life-sustaining world." This earth is so specifically suited for life, they seem to imply, that it required creation by a Creator who knew exactly what the human beings He would create would need!



The NG graphics depicts 13 things that make life on Earth possible. (Skip this paragraph if it bores you!) Our planet recycles life-friendly carbon over time. We have an ozone layer to block harmful rays. Earth's varied surfaces support many life-forms. Our magnetic field deflects solar tempests. We're at just the right distance from the sun. We're situated safely away from gas giants. The sun is a stable, long-lasting star. We have the right stuff to host a dynamic core, protecting from dangers like solar flares. We have giant planets, like Jupiter, that protect us from afar. Our sun offers protection from galactic debris. Our galactic path steers us clear of hazards, and is "comfortably nestled in a safe harbor." Our location is far from stellar crowds. So concludes the National Geographic.


Obviously, this Earth was created by Someone who designed this "Strange Rock" for our comfort and protection.

But I'm especially interested in one aspect of this NG story, because of a Scripture I read this morning. Psalm 89:37 tells us that God's promises are "as eternal as the moon, my faithful witness in the sky!"


The moon a faithful witness to God? How? The Geographic says, "We have a big moon to stabilize our axial wobble. Earth is tilted 2 degrees with respect to the sun. . . It might vary as much as 20 degrees without the moon's stabilizing pull." That exact tilt, stabilized by the moon, gives us the seasons God promised in Genesis 8:22: "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease."


Yes, this "strange rock" shouts out God's awesome power and glory. Psalm 19:1-3 says:

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard."


But there's one more facet of this truth that is especially comforting. In Acts 14:17, the Apostle Paul said, "The living God . . . never left them without evidence of Himself and His goodness. For instance, He sends you rain and good crops and gives you food and joyful hearts." This Scripture assures us that not only can we see God in His perfectly-designed universe, but we can see Him in His constant provision for our every need!


I'm going to remember that when next comes the full moon. It is a faithful witness of God's faithfulness, as it follows its ordained path around the Earth, the planet God created in His faithful love especially for us.



April 16, 2018


Income-Tax Day Woes - and Joys?

A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford


It's done! I hit the e-file button sending my 1040 form to the IRS, and I received an e-mail saying it was accepted. Did income-tax day have its woes? Yes. Usually I get a refund. This year I had to add to my estimated payments. But income-tax day joy? Yes, I did feel joy. Here's why:

United States citizens pay fewer taxes by far than most of the 33 economically-developed countries of the world. Only four countries pay less: Ireland, Turkey, Chile, and Mexico. I can't imagine choosing any of them as my homeland!


But there's another reason I felt joy when filing my income tax.


Last night I received a phone call that a beloved niece was in the emergency room, needing immediate and expensive diagnostic tests and expert medical attention. Thank God she is receiving them. When I did the math, I found that $1,512 of my tax payment will go to U.S. health agencies that will help to make sure she and others like her receive the health care they need.


Dear friends of mine are home after serving 50 years with great deprivation on the mission field. They are now living frugally on their social security. Recently he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. I did the math: $1,361 of the money I sent to the IRS will help them and other social security recipients.


This week an army veteran came to see me who is suffering badly from PTSD. My quick math says $216 of my tax payment will go to help needy veterans like him.


This week I received a phone call from a desperate woman living in another state. Her husband is threatening to divorce her. She's the mother of five small children and has no family near. I am so very glad I could assure her that the law will protect her, and, if need be, provide food stamps and subsidized housing. That's where $216 of my tax payment will go.

Last night I slept through the night, unmolested by enemies of the USA, because men and women in the armed services kept watch. That security will be paid for, in part, by $875 of my tax dollars.


You might protest that there is great waste in some government programs, that some in high administrative positions and elected officials are lax and venal, that spending 3 trillion dollars each year when we do not have it is financially irresponsible. And I agree. We have an enormous obligation to elect trust-worthy people to every office in this dear country of ours. But that doesn't remove my responsibility to pay my taxes.

Here's what God says:


Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. . . .
For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.
Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing.
Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

Romans 13:1-7 (this was written when Nero was emperor of Roman!)


Yes, income-tax day has its woes and its joys, but mostly joys. Thank God for America!


April 9. 2018


Me First
A confession of sorts by Libby Handford


If you have children, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about: the exasperation you feel when you've planned an exciting adventure and they all cry, "Me first!" That excitement dissolves into a melee of howls and tears because every child wants to be first.


How can children be so selfish, so self-centered, that they can't even think to be kind to a younger child? Sadly, "Me first" seems to be ingrained in the human heart.

We expect selfishness in children, but we hope that we grown-ups have learned to think of the welfare of others before we consider their own interests.


A pastor of our acquaintance once announced his text for his Sunday sermon:

"Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit,
but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.
Let each of you look out not only for his own interests,
but also for the interests of others"
(Philippians 2:3,4 nkjv).


He read his text and then said to his congregation, "I have looked out for your interests long enough, and I'm tired of the pressures of the pastorate. Now I am going to look out for my own interests." He had turned the meaning of that Scripture upside-down. He immediately left the ministry and began to pursue a career he hoped would yield him money, lots of money. But he lost something very precious in the exchange, and he was saddened that he could never find it again.


In that same Philippians passage, the Apostle Paul said he was sending his friend Timothy to help them, because


"I have no one like-minded,
who will sincerely care for your state.
For all seek their own,
not the things which are of Christ Jesus"
(Philippians 2:21,22)

I would have told you that I thought I had grown enough in my spiritual life that I do care more for the needs of others than I care about myself.
But the other day my medical doctor told me she was retiring, and my immediate reaction was, "Oh, no, Doctor. Please don't retire! I need you too much!"


And that, dear reader, was as selfish a response as any child who cries "Me first!"


Why shouldn't my elderly and tired doctor retire after the years of faithful and competent service she has given me? Why shouldn't I be content with the able and caring doctor who is taking her place? Why not? Because I am inherently self-centered and I sometimes care more about me than I care about the needs of others. I "seek my own."


Timothy sincerely cared for the needs of others, when everybody else seemed to seek their own interests, "not the things which are of Christ Jesus."

It's a reminder I need (and perhaps you need it, too) in all of my interactions with other people. When a problem arises, I need to look at it from the viewpoint of the others involved. I need to care about their needs more than I care about my own needs. That's true in every part of my life: my work place, my community, my church, and perhaps, especially, with my family.


April 2, 2018


A Hot Day, A Hot Radiator, and Seven Hot Travelers
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford


It shouldn't have been a big deal. I'd often driven alone with the children the 400 miles or so to see my parents. Walt always took great care that my vehicle was in good shape, so I wasn't worried about this trip. Walt and son John couldn't come until after the Sunday services, so they would follow us on Monday.


I say the trip shouldn't have been a big deal, but it was a searing hot day. As I neared Atlanta, I saw the radiator temperature gauge creeping up. I stopped immediately at a service station. The attendant said it just needed water. He waited for the engine to cool and topped it off for me.
Another 50 miles down the road, the gauge went up again. Another stop at a service station. That attendant said the radiator thermostat had been put in wrong, so he inverted it. About 30 miles down the road, another service man said the radiator cap shouldn't have been so tightly screwed on, so he loosened it.


Now, near dusk, the automobile overheating again, and still 150 miles from my destination, I was desperate and near tears. I saw a small, isolated

 Gulf station in a deep valley near the interstate, pulled off, and told the attendant my problem.


Unlike the other service men I'd sought help from, he listened to my story, asked me questions, and seemed to think through the problem before he spoke. I was reassured. It seemed he sincerely cared, that I was not just an unprofitable problem to be gotten rid of as quickly as possible. And I felt he had integrity-he approached the problem with thoughtfulness. "I think I know what's wrong," he said. He settled us in a small waiting area while he back-flushed the radiator and checked for leaks.


Whatever he did, it worked. I drove the rest of the way with no trouble.

(And, as you mechanics who read this will ask, the answer is yes, the engine head was cracked. During that week of vacation, Walt spent great father/son time with his boys, working as "back-yard mechanics," hoisting the old engine from the Buick by a chain hung from a strong tree limb, and installing another engine. Thankfully, we made the trip home without incident.)


That incident happened probably 45 years ago. That small Gulf station has long been obliterated by a ten-lane interstate highway, but I often remember with deep thankfulness the gas station operator who acted with such kindness. I couldn't have paid him enough for what he did for me that dark night.


Douglas Adams says,
To give real service
you must add something
which cannot be bought or measured with money,
And that is sincerity and integrity.


Whatever task it is that we face today, whatever service we may offer, may God help us to do it with real sincerity and integrity. Only then have we done well the job we were hired to do.

"And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ." Colossians 3:23,24