"If You Don't Know Where You Are Going . . . "
Planing for the New Year with Elizabeth Rice Handford
"You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going," Yogi Berra famously said, "because you might not get there."
Underneath the convoluted idea, as with many of Yogi's odd quotes, there's an essential truth. How will you know when you've arrived, if you
didn't know where you were going when you started out?
I remember one New Year's Day when I said to myself, "Libby, enough of this lolly-gagging around. You don't accomplish anything because you aren't organized well enough." I figured if I assigned a certain day for certain weekly tasks, I could be productive every day. So I took a calendar, filled the whole first two weeks with one thing I would accomplish that morning, and another I'd do that afternoon. I felt really good about it. No more feeling guilty for things I'd left undone!
But three weeks into the new year, I happened across that scribbled sheet of new year's resolutions. To my embarrassment, I had not done one single thing of the new tasks I'd so lightly embraced at the beginning of the year! But as I thought about it, I came to see where I'd gone wrong.
I had overestimated how quickly I could fulfill those new tasks. It was unrealistic to assume I could complete certain important task in a single morning. If I am to do well what God wants me to do, I'll need time to plan and pray and wait for His direction, to think and test, and then to thoughtfully handle the job.
I had underestimated how serious and time-consuming were the life-time commitments I had already made. I had not taken into account the unprogrammable minutes consumed in getting the children to school, to games, to music lessons, and, less predictable, urgent trips to the doctor and dentist, parent/teach conferences, daily meals and laundry, school lunches. I could console myself by saying, "I do spend quality time with my children"- but quality can't be squeezed into hurried, manic schedules. If I was to be the "help-mete" my dear husband deserved, it could not be with the emotional discards left over from my projects. Whatever new resolutions I made would have to be tempered by vows I'd made to God when I married and had children.
Nor could I give less than my best to my employer and the people I served at Interim. My job could not be done well without my wholehearted and vigorous enthusiasm for my daily work
I had presumed that my body was like a well-oiled machine that if I kept my courage up I could depend on its running at top speed indefinitely. I'd forgotten Jesus' sweet invitation, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matt. 11:28-30).
Psalm 103:13,14 says, "As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust." Any new year's resolution I make that ignores my humanity will inevitably fail.
I forgot that what God really wants from me is not my work, but my love and obedience. When the Pharisees asked Jesus, "What can we do to do the works of God?" Jesus answered, "Believe on Him that sent me" (John 6:39). I can't earn God's favor by desperately filling my days with unremitting work. I already have His favor. He is pleased when I trust Him to show me each day what He has in mind for me to do.
And that's my new year's resolution for 2019.
Imagine Being Able to See Our Invisible God!
A Word of Wonder from Elizabeth Rice Handford
When the ancient Greeks started guessing what God might look like, they came up with very human gods, just like themselves. Their gods were quarrelsome, lustful, hateful, jealous, vengeful. But the Greeks weren't the only ones who imagined that God as a very flawed human being.
You've seen pictures of pagan idols, haven't you, and aren't you still surprised by how hideous and horrible they are? Human beings have a difficult time trying to imagine what God must be like. Why? Because, as 1 Timothy 1:17 says,
"The King eternal, immortal, invisible."
Human beings can't see God because He is invisible. We live in the universe He created, so we can see His handiwork in nature, and we know He certainly exists and that He is immeasurably powerful. But that's all creation tells us about our invisible God. So how can we know what He is really like?
We can't, unless that eternal, immortal, invisible God reveals Himself. And that's what makes the Christmas story so deeply moving, so precious. Christmas isn't a myth about a sweet little baby that was born in a barn under difficult circumstances, and so "Ho, ho, ho, let's celebrate Christmas!"
Oh, no. Christmas is the incredible story of an infinite God who wants us to know Him intimately, to show us His genuine love, to understand how merciful He is to the human beings He created with such care.
So how did our Invisible God make Himself visible? By Himself taking on the form of humanity, being born a tiny baby to a human mother. He was like every newborn, hungry, thirsty, wailing with real tears, needing comfort. But when we look at Jesus, we can know exactly what our loving, invisible God is like.
Here is the Christmas story as told in Hebrews 1:1-3:
In the past God spoke . . .at many times and in various ways,
but in these last days He has spoken to us by his Son, Jesus . . .
The Son is the radiance of God's glory
and the exact representation of His being,
sustaining all things by His powerful word.
After He had provided purification for sins (by dying on the cross)
He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
That baby lying in the manger, Jesus, is "the express image" of God's personhood. When you read about Jesus in the Bible, you can know exactly what God is like. You can know His heart of love, His yearning to bring you to Himself, His longing to meet your every need.
Wherever you find yourself this Christmas, whether with family or friends, or all alone, whether sated or hungry, cold or warm, don't miss out on the one thing that makes this season incredibly beautiful. The Lord Jesus, God Himself, came into a tiny body to redeem you and make you ready for Heaven. Let your vision of God be shaped by the this wonderful picture of Jesus, God Himself come in a human body to save you for eternity.
After that blessed night in the stable-
Nothing Seemed to Change
A Christmas thought by Elizabeth Rice Handford
The shepherds who'd heard Jesus' birth announced by angels eventually had to go back to their flocks. Did they have trouble rounding them all up, since they'd left them untended in their delirious haste to see the Baby?
The wise men, having knelt in worship at the foot of the King of Kings, at some point had to climb back on their camels and begin the three-month trek through the desert back to their homes in the east, warned by angels to go "another way" to miss Jerusalem and its evil king.
The inn keeper welcomed other travelers to his inn. Was he never aware that he'd hosted the Creator of the world in his stable?
A blood-lusting King killed every single baby boy under two years of age in the neighborhood of Bethlehem, all because of a rumor about a star and a Messiah.
Even the Virgin Mary and her husband had to flee in the middle of the night to an alien land, frightened and burdened with the care of the Child who was God Himself. He was the Savior of the world, but barely escaped the Roman sword that night. And one terrible day, not many years hence, He would be nailed to a Roman cross.
So nothing really seemed to change. Jesus was proclaimed to be the Prince of Peace, but people still quarreled and fought. He was the Redeemer, the Scriptures said, but no slaves' shackles were broken. Jesus had come to heal the nations but still, everywhere, there was pestilence and disease. So what did really change, that night that the dear Baby Jesus was born?
What changed? Everything! Human beings, doomed to be cut off from God forever by their sin, would find redemption through His sacrifice. His death on the cross would conquer death. The Lord Jesus was God's promise to the world that He had not forsaken us, that He would cleanse us from our sins and bring us to Heaven.
Could such an eternal upheaval be seen with human eyes? No, because invisible things can't be seen. So we live in hope, not by what we can see. We have hope that what God promised, He will accomplish. We have His written promise that Heaven is coming-but it has not yet come. Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Our faith is based on things we hope for: what we expect, what we live for, not by what we can see.
And so this Christmas, we will live in hope because of the promise God made when Jesus came into the world. The promise has not yet been fulfilled. But it will be! So we live in hope. Hope gives us joy. Not the festivities. Not good health. Not Christmas presents, certainly. Not even the love of precious family. Christmas gives us hope: the promise God made will someday be fulfilled. So-
Now may the God of hope fill you
with all joy and peace in believing,
that you may abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
Hearing the Jesus Story, Again, for the First Time
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
I grew up in a godly Christian home. My earliest memory is of being held in my mother's arms in a church service, as the communion plate was being passed. I reached out a chubby hand for a handful of crackers, and was forced by a firm hand to put them all back!
Before I was five years old, I had asked Jesus to be my Savior. I was very confident that He'd answered my childish prayer, though big sister Grace said she didn't think my prayer had worked. You were supposed to cry when you asked Jesus to forgive you, and I had smiled. She had no idea how relieved and happy I was that Jesus and I were at last friends. I had a lot of bad things on my conscience!
So from infancy I have heard the wonderful story that God loved His whole world so very much that He gave His Son, His own dear, beloved Son, to die on the cross, so that we could have forgiveness of sin and enjoy the delights of heaven forever. I don't think I've ever been bored by the story. I am always awed when I think about it, that God would love me so much He would make such a terrible sacrifice for my sake.
But last Sunday something happened that brought it all back to me in its vivid freshness, alsmost as if I'd never heard it before.
I sat down in my usual spot in the church auditorium. I introduced myself to the young couple sitting behind me. They seemed a little nervous, so I asked them if this was their first visit. "Yes."
"And how did you find us?"
"Your web site."
"I'm not going to give you a sales pitch for the church," I said, smiling, "but I promise you that you will hear God's Word today and you will be blessed and encouraged by it."
The young man looked at me with eyes full of yearning. "I hope so. We really need it."
The service opened with wonderful music celebrating God's overwhelming love for us, with its promise of joy and peace no matter how difficult the path of life. The message was simple and understandable, filled with many clear Bible verses to reinforce what was being taught. I sat there, listening to every word through the ears of the young couple behind me. Oh, did you hear that? Just think! That's how much God loves you! And here's another comforting proof-!
At the end of the service, I sat for a moment, overwhelmed with the sweet story of salvation and redemption, because I'd heard it through the ears of someone who might never have heard the story before.
Here's what that dear blind woman, Fanny Crosby, wrote:
Tell me the story of Jesus, Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story most precious, Sweetest that ever was heard . . .
Love in that story so tender, Clearer than ever I see,
Stay, let me weep while you whisper, "Love paid the ransom for me" . . .
Tell me the story most precious, Sweetest that ever was heard!
I can't tell you how the story of this young couple ends, because they were gone by the time I turned to talk to them after the service. But they did hear "that story most precious," that Jesus loves them. It's a story that never grows old, thank God!
Enough Is Enough Already!
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
Thanksgiving . . . #Black Friday. . . #Cyber Monday. . . #Giving Tuesday. I'm afraid that tomorrow may turn out to be #Bankrupt Day.
Did you have a lovely Thanksgiving? Our family enjoyed it: a celebration of God's great love for us. I hope that was true for you, wherever you found yourself that day.
But after Thanksgiving came Black Friday. Why black Friday? They say the Philadelphia police labeled it that in 1966 when it brought "massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing."
The statistics are daunting. Kimberly Amadeo says. "Since 2010, Black Friday violence has resulted in 10 deaths and 111 injuries. The worst Black Friday occurred in 2008 when a man was trampled to death. Despite being 6'5" and 270 pounds, an employee died of asphyxiation when crowds stampeded into the store. At least 2,000 people broke down the doors, trapping the worker in a vestibule where he suffocated. Eleven other shoppers were also injured, including a pregnant woman."
A riot on Friday after giving thanks to God on Thursday? A frantic day of buying stuff because it's a bargain, and elbowing everybody else out of the way? People pushing people to gain a pitifully small advantage to buy a gift for someone who might not need it, and which will perhaps be obsolete, or lost, or stolen within a few short years?
Enough is enough already! Surely there must be a better way! There is:
Don't be selfish;
don't live to make a good impression on others.
Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself.
Don't think only about your own affairs,
but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing.
Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Philippians 2:3-5
And what was the attitude of the dear Lord Jesus?
Though He was God,
He did not demand and cling to His rights as God.
He made Himself nothing;
He took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form.
And in human form He obediently humbled himself even further
by dying a criminal's death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-9
Hooray for Christmas gifts, yes, because through them we express our love for others. But how wonderful to buy with an attitude of humility and joy-and thoughtfulness for others who also want to express their love with gifts.