The World's a Mess, But What Can I Do?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
Forgive me for bringing up an unhappy topic on this bright and beautiful day. But I have something on my heart that may be troubling you as well.
Newspaper headlines: Another multi-million-dollar embezzlement by a trusted lawyer. Another awful terrorist slaughter in an African village. An unthinkable hate-filled assault against Muslims in New Zealand. An unthinkable hate-filled assault against Christians in Sri Lanca. Casual talk by a governor about a mother and doctor discussing a new-born's life or death while keeping it "comfortable." Suicides by heart-broken survivors of a school shooting. A spate of unethical, unmourned college admission bribes.
O.K., I admit it: this world is in terrible shape, and I feel absolutely helpless to change anything!
Perhaps it isn't any worse than what it was when the Romans ruled the world in the time of Christ. The hills surrounding Jerusalem were completely denuded of trees, they say, because the Romans had cut down all of them to erect crosses on which to crucify thousands of people. But I'm still heart-broken about my world.
Maybe things aren't any worse than when God looked down on His beautiful world in the time of Noah, more than 2,000 years before Jesus came. Genesis 6:5,6 says about that wicked time, "Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." But I grieve because I can't fix my world.
This wounded world is in terrible shape and desperately needs help. What can I possibly do to fix it? I'm "just" a woman. I'm getting old. I can't afford to buy a full-page ad in the Greenville News, let alone the New York Times, to fix things, and if I could, I'd have no idea what to say!
Is that a cop-out? Yes. It's a cop-out. God didn't put me here to change the whole world. He put me here to let Him use me where I am, not in a spectacular way, but day by day just doing what He tells me to do. The beauty of it is that He says He'll help me obey Him and do whatever it is He wants me to do! The Apostle Paul said it this way, in Philippians 2:13,15:
For God is working in you, giving you
the desire to obey Him
and the power to do what pleases Him . . . .
You are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God
in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people.
Let your lives shine brightly before them.
O.K., I understand. Yes, this "dark world is full of crooked and perverse people." But-
But! I'm not "just" a woman. I'm a child of God. I have a task to do for the Lord Jesus today. It doesn't depend on my smarts, my resources, my position. What I do might not be spectacular, and I may not even know how He's using me. My success depends simply on my letting Him do His will in my life today. Maybe you need that assurance as well.
Who Made This?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Handford
"Mama, it's Daddy's birthday today?" five-year-old Amanda asked. Mother nodded.
"I want to make him a birthday cake."
"Good. I'll help you."
The tedious measuring of the ingredients, the earnest stirring of the batter, the slow waiting for the baking cake to rise in the oven, and the inept smearing on of the frosting were finally done when Daddy walked in the door that evening.
"WooHoo! Now that's a birthday cake," he said. "Mother, did you make it?" Mother shook her head.
"Son Michal, did you bake this cake?" Michal shook his head.
"Well, somebody made this cake. Amanda, did you make this beautiful cake?"
Amanda answered him by throwing herself into his arms and giving him sweet, moist kisses.
An architect looks at a newly-built house. He sees how carefully it fits into the landscape. He notes the neat layout of the rooms, drawn to fit the exact needs of a growing family. He likes the craftsmanship and the beauty of the exterior. He asks, "Who designed this house?"
An engineer, waiting to board his plane, surveys the aircraft on the tarmac. He notes the sleek, aerodynamic lines formed to give the exact lift required for that amount of weight. He sees the huge jet engines with exactly the amount of thrust needed to lift it into the air. And he speculates, "Who built it? Airbus? Or Boeing?"
A high school student looks at his smart phone. Imagine all the stuff that he holds in his hand-access to almost any place in the world, a cloud of information awaiting the touch of his finger, a calculator, a translator into foreign languages, and even, when he needs them, his family. "Someday," he dreams, "I'm going to invent something even better than what Steve Jobs invented!"
A biologist looks at the human body. He studies the intricacies of the design of the eye. He marvels at the coordination of sinew and muscle, nerve, heart and lungs. He knows he has just begun to plumb the depths of that astonishing body, that years and years of scientific research have only deepened the mystery of how the human body functions so perfectly.
But some biologists, surveying that remarkably designed and complex body, then say, "Wow! Imagine! Through millions of years that body evolved all by itself from primordial soup!"
Why? Doesn't a design always indicate a designer?
O LORD, our Lord, the majesty of your name fills the earth!
Your glory is higher than the heavens. . . .
When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers-
the moon and the stars You have set in place-
What are mortals that you should think of us mere humans,
that You should care for us?
For you made us only a little lower than the angels,
and you crowned us with glory and honor. Psalm 8:1-5
The Cross Tells Its Own Story
A Word of Thankfulness from Elizabeth Handford
In a little church in Ruthwell, Scotland, stands an ancient stone cross, more than a thousand years old. Figures are carved into the cross, but along the edges a poem is inscribed in a runic scrip unintelligible to me. (It's the only ancient manuscript I know of that was carved not only in stone, but also burned into leather, and transcribed on parchment.) The poem is called "The Dream of the Rood." (Rood means cross.) It's as if the tree that was used to make the cross Jesus died on is telling its own story of that terrible day Jesus was nailed to it. It reads, in part:
Then saw I mankind's Lord
come with great courage when He would mount on me.
Then dared I not against the Lord's word
bend or break, when I saw earth's fields shake. All fiends!
I could have felled, but I stood fast.
The young Hero stripped Himself - He, God Almighty -
strong and stout-minded. He mounted high gallows,
bold before many, when He would loose mankind.
I shook when that Man clasped me. I dared, still, not bow to earth,
fall to earth's fields, but had to stand fast.
Rood was I reared. I lifted a mighty King,
Lord of the heavens, I dared not to bend. . . .
May He be friend to me
who here on earth earlier died
on that gallows-tree for mankind's sins.
He loosed us and life gave, a heavenly home.
Hope was renewed with glory and gladness.
Translation © 1982, Jonathan A. Glenn
"Mankind's Lord came with great courage." "He mounted high gallows, bold!" "He died on that gallows-tree for mankind's sins." This wonderful emphasis of Christ's purposefulness in dying for us makes me especially eager to celebrate His resurrection this Sunday! Jesus came into the world on purpose to die. He dreaded the pain and shame that awaited Him, of course, because He was very human as well as God. Jesus said, "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!" (Luke 12:50).
But underneath that dread was a joy that helped Him to endure the crucifixion: the joy that every human being who trusted Him for forgiveness and salvation would be redeemed forever. Hebrews 12:2 says,
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith;
who for the joy that was set before Him
endured the cross, despising the shame,
And is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
May you, my dear friend, find great joy in this Easter season, because Jesus died for your sins, and then was raised from the dead to give you salvation and everlasting life.
Burdened by a Cancelled Debt?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Handford
Bankrupt! It has a terrifying sound, and for someone facing bankruptcy, it is terrifying. A dear friend of mine faced it after the severe 2008 recession. The court ruling on his bankruptcy petition was simple and complete: he was no longer obligated to pay for any of those outstanding debts; he could never, ever, be charged with one of them again.
But this man was an honorable man. He had contracted those debts honestly. He pledged to pay them back, whether they'd been expunged or not. So he did. It took years of work, at great personal deprivation, but he paid back every penny of his cancelled debts.
This incident came to mind on Sunday, when our church family sang Charles Wesley's wonderful hymn, "Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer's praise." The second verse starts out,
He breaks the power of cancelled sin.
He sets the prisoner free.
Can a sin that has already been "cancelled," forgiven, keep us in bondage? God's Word says our sins were erased, expunged from the books, when we trusted Jesus who died to pay for them. Our debt was paid.. We acknowledged our spiritually bankrupt lives. He wrote "paid in full" across the awful record. The debt was cancelled.
You'd think, wouldn't you, with that kind of guarantee, we'd just say "Thank you, dear Jesus," and not call it to mind again. But sometimes that isn't what happens. We let the "power of cancelled sin" overwhelm us. A sudden, mortifying memory comes to mind of past failures: a bad judgment made, a responsibility muffed, a friend hurt. Guilt comes washing over us, and we am paralyzed by it. How can we come into the presence of a holy God when we feel so guilty? Our delight in our relationship with the Heavenly Father can be buried under mounds of shame. But God erased the debt from our record in Heaven. Why shouldn't we erase it from our memories and hearts? Too often we don't. The only answer? The unmistakably plain promises of God:
I have blotted out, like a thick cloud,
your transgressions, And like a cloud, your sins.
Return to Me, for I have redeemed you. (Isaiah 44:22)
For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness,
and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. (Hebrews 8:12)
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:10-12)
May God help us to take Him at His Word, and not stay in bondage to our cancelled, forgiven sins!