A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
On an early Monday morning, a young married woman knocked on the parsonage door. When I opened it, she threw herself into my arms and sobbed, "What am I going to do?"
"Come into the kitchen, Laurie, and let me make you a cup of coffee and then you can tell me all about it."
"Yesterday, in church," she said, "I felt God was showing me some things I could do better about in my Christian life. So I told God I would fix them. But then I remembered, growing up, when I would tell my mother I was going to be a better Christian, she would always say, ‘Laurie, you're a rotten kid, and you always will be rotten. You make pious promises to God, and then you break them. You'll never change. You're a rotten kid.' I keep hearing my mother's voice saying that, and I wonder, Libby, if there is really any hope for me to change?"
Laurie's mother labeled her: you're rotten; you'll never change. Laurie was a responsible, caring adult, but her mother's label nearly destroyed her. That morning she ripped the label off.
You took a test, and you were labeled: dyslexic. Is that all you are, dyslexic? A famous actress told how she overcame her dyslexic label: "By accepting it's a learning difference, not a learning disability-and using spell check!"
An Olympic gold-medalist said, "The biggest problem with dyslexic kids is not their perceptual problem. It is their perception of themselves. That was my biggest problem."
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and one of the richest men in the world, was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) as a child. Obviously he did not let the label determine who he was or what he did.
So what label have you let others pin on you? Has that label handicapped you? Why not let God Himself determine your value, your purpose in life? He's the loving One who created you, and who gave you the specific and special gifts He wants you to use to serve Him.
The Apostle Paul uses the human body for an example of this truth:
Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part.
If the foot says, "I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,"
that does not make it any less a part of the body. . . .
But God made our bodies with many parts,
and He has put each part just where He wants it.
1 Corinthians 12:14-18
My friend Laurie did turn off her mother's bitter voice, and pull off the bitter label, and she is becoming the kind of Christian she yearns to be.
What label do you wear? The class clown? The nerd? The blond? The "not-one-of-us"?
Is it time for you to shrug off the label someone carelessly pinned on you? Is it time for you to tear up the label you've put on yourself? Should you, instead, enjoy and use the special gifts God has given you? You are desperately needed, you know, in this needy world, especially when people are so frightened about the pandemic and national unrest.
And, maybe, just maybe, we could do better about carelessly pinning labels on other, too.
Born into theWrong Family?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
I grew up in the godly, loving home of an evangelist/pastor. My father and mother, like their parents, used the Word of God to teach us how to live, and they lived like they taught. They were honorable, dedicated to God, loved us children with passion and wisdom. They had clear expectations, but they were also tender and compassionate.
My five sisters and I have followed in their footsteps. We all married men in ministry, and we have spent our lives serving God with great joy. I have a heritage of godly ancestors.
That isn't true for many of you. You may feel you were born into the wrong family.
One friend said to me, "Libby, you just don't understand why it's so hard for me to be a good Christian. It's easy for you to do right. You were taught from childhood to love God. My mother and father fought like wildcats. Daddy was dishonest in his business, and Mother's punishments were cruel. I try to do right, but it's so hard when I grew up in such awful surroundings."
She was right. I can't imagine the pain and frustration she feels. That kind of inheritance would make it terribly hard to live a consistent, godly life. As I tried to help her, I remembered that part of the ten commandments which says that the sins of fathers who hate God will be "visited" on the children to the third and fourth generations (Exodus 20:4,5). Since God is a holy God, and since He is always fair, I know this has to be balanced by another of His commandments, that "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin" (Deut 24:16). So my friend was not being punished because of her father's sin, but she endured a great loss. Because she grew up in a godless home, she was marked, robbed of the essentials of kindness and care, simple things every human being needs to thrive.
So what could I say to her, this dear child of God wanting to do right, but handicapped by her bad inheritance? I could remind her that Jesus knows exactly what she's going through.
Because God's children are human beings-made of flesh and blood-
Jesus also became flesh and blood by being born in human form.
For only as a human being could He die, and only by dying
could He break the power of the Devil, who had the power of death. . . .
Therefore, it was necessary for Jesus to be in every respect like us,
His brothers and sisters,
So that He could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God.
He then could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people.
Since He Himself has gone through suffering and temptation,
He is able to help us when we are being tempted. Hebrews 2:14-18
This is an incredible truth. Because Jesus took on Himself a human body, He understands every kind of temptation you and I endure. Your holy God suffered every kind of hardship, so He understands, and can give us the specific help we need. What an incredible encouragement that is in these difficult days of stress and hardship!
It will not be easy for my friend to overcome her poor inheritance. But with God's help, she can. And by doing that, she will break the vicious cycle. She will give her children, and their children, the wonderful inheritance of a godly home!
Remember that sinful fathers burden their children by their sin? In contrast, God promises mercy to a thousand generations of those who love Him! (Exodus 20:5,6). That is the gift, by God's grace that we can give those who come behind us-to a thousand generations! What more could we ask?
Rebuilding a Life with Charred Stones
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
He had really blown it, no doubt about it. He loved his wife. He had three children who adored him and their mother. He was a committed Christian. He certainly had no intention of betraying them. Somehow, he didn't know just how, his casual remarks to his wife's friend had slowly and insidiously turned into something much less casual, more intimate and more tempting. The friendship began to consume his time and emotions. Before long he had become a man so unlike the man he wanted to be that he lost all respect for himself. But his entanglement kept him a prisoner.
Then, suddenly, because God took a hand, the truth slipped out. Everybody knew about the affair. His wife was heart-broken, his children stunned. He was overcome with guilt and shame, aghast at the depths of his betrayal. His wife wanted to forgive him and to rebuild their marriage. Their children desperately wanted their father to be their father again. But he doubted there was any way to repair the terrible damage.
There is a story in the Bible that will help him to understand that his marriage can be
restored, his children comforted, and his self-respect regained. The incident happened when the Israelites returned to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar had torn down the protecting walls of Jerusalem and burned the city. Now the returning Israelites started to rebuild the walls, using the huge, soot-covered stones from the former walls. (Nehemiah chapters three through five tell the story.)
Their enemies made fun of them. "Ha! Building walls with charred stones? Why, it will collapse if a fox just walks on it."
But they were wrong. The Israelites built a wall of those burned stones, and it protected Jerusalem for 400 years. Why? Because even charred stones are useful to God to accomplish His holy will in our lives.
Isaiah 61:1-3 prophesied that the Lord Jesus will come to earth and "console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." When Jesus came, Isaiah promised, He would give penitent people "beauty for ashes." He would help them use the charred stones of their lives to build a sturdy foundation for a new life!
When He started His public ministry, Jesus repeated Isaiah's prophecy.
The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the Gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed.
Luke 4:18,19 (nkjv)
Whatever your loss, however the stones of your life were marred, take comfort today. The Lord Jesus came from Heaven to earth to redeem you, to heal the hurts and griefs, and give you beauty and joy and praise. Yes, the foundations of your life can be restored and sturdy and made whole again, because of Jesus.
Do You Need to Craft a Personal Mission Statement?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
It's fascinating to google the mission statements of familiar companies. These are simple and forthright:
Walt Disney: "Make people happy."
Coca Cola: "Refresh the world."
Walmart: "Save people money so they can live better."
Michelin: "Make Michelin a leader in sustainable mobility."
American Express: "Be the world's most respected service brand."
Publix: "Be the premier quality food retailer in the world."
Some company mission statements are a little more convoluted:
Microsoft: "Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more."
City of Greenville, South Carolina: "Protect and serve the City of Greenville and reduce risk through courage, commitment, compassion, and education."
BMW: "Become the world's leading provider of premium products and premium services for individual mobility."
Walt retired from our church in Greenville after 31 years of unstinting service. He needed to step down. He was old, and he'd served God faithfully, but he was distraught for fear he would have no way to serve God anymore! Then Ray and Charyl Schroeder asked us to come and work for them at Interim Health Care as chaplains for their patients and employees.
Walt and I eagerly accepted the offer because their mission statement, "To honor God through the enrichment of human life" fitted so perfectly the mission statement he and I had chosen when we first committed our lives to each other.
It was dusk that long-ago evening as we stood under the tall elms in the yard of my parent's home. Walt said, "Libby, I'd like for us to choose a Scripture to guide our lives together. How would you feel about our using Psalm 34:3?
O magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt His name together.
We had it engraved inside our wedding rings, and what a protection and safety it was to us through 66 years of marriage. A disagreement lurked between us. How should I respond? Yield, so that God would be magnified. A tantalyzing and financially profitable job only distantly related to ministry was offered to Walt. It was enticing, but he turned it down. It didn't fit in with our mission to "exalt His name together." How often that simple mission statement kept us focused on what God had called us to do! How it shaped the ways we dealt with people, fisciplined our children, handled our money, spent our leisure time. There was safety and comfort in knowing what we had pledged God we'd do.
Has it occurred to you that it would be helpful to have a clear, concise mission statement of your own for your life? Your family? Your job? Even your avocations, your hobbies? How illuminating you would find it to articulate your God-given purpose in life, to choose goals and set boundaries, and then to check every new decision in the light of what you've already chosen!
Why not think about it?
Have Pity, Oh My Friends, Have Pity!
A continuation of last week's conversation
with Elizabeth Rice Handford
I have been surprised this week with my preoccupation with my own personal set of troubles. Last week we talked together about the need to endure with patience the havoc the pandemic has caused in our lives and the lives of others all over the world.
But as we talked last week, I felt a compelling urgency to stop focusing on my problems and instead, reach out to others in truly bitter circumstances. So many are suffering, not knowing how much God loves them. I determined last week to stop focusing on me and share with others the grace God offers so freely.
I wasn't sure how to do that well, since I couldn't do it face to face. I wrote several letters to people I thought needed special grace from God. I made several telephone calls to ask how I could help. But on Wednesday, during a thunderstorm, lightning struck directly overhead. I still had power, but the internet and phones were out, and the sprinkler system started running and stayed running even when I switched it off.
There wasn't a simple fix. It was not a matter of flipping breakers back on. Modem, router, phones, and irrigation system control box all were evidently permanently damaged.
So what did I focus on this week, rather than the eternally important task of telling people about Jesus? Me! Me and my small unimportant problems! I almost cried when the electrician came to assess the damage. And I, who have always thought it ridiculous to brag on how old you were, asked the electrician to have pity on me because I was 93 years old, and I didn't know what to do!
And all the time, while I focused on my small problems, all around me people were grieving truly serious losses. A dear friend lost her husband to COVID19 last week. Another received a life-threatening diagnosis from her doctor. Everywhere around me people struggle just to put food on the table and pay their bills. And too many of them still haven't heard that God loves them.
I am reminded of Job, the man overwhelmed by loss-all his children killed by a tornado, all of his possessions destroyed, a disloyal, bitter wife, and "friends" who callously accused him of hypocrisy and sin.
In Job 19:21, the Scriptures tells us that when Job's friends surrounded him with accusations, Job cried out,
"Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends,
For the hand of God has struck me!"
So many people today feel that same sense of loss and hopelessness, that God Himself is angry with them. If ever believers in Christ ought to feel pity and reach out to suffering people, we certainly ought to do it now, especially when so many are feeling their need of God.
As I said, I felt at a loss to know how to do it, hampered by severe restrictions because of COVID19. But if we keep looking for ways to comfort people, God will open the way for us to do it.
Would you like to know the very next thing Job said, after he asked his friends for pity?
He found comfort in his blessed God. Job 19: 25-27 tells us:
For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
These are the promises God has given us to share with others, in pity and in hope.