A New Year, a Clean Page
Thinking ahead to 2020 with Elizabeth Rice Handford
If you'd made as many new year's resolutions as I have, and the seen the dismal results of some of them, you might be tempted to be cynical about New Year's Resolutions. But I'm not.
When our children were young, their father made New Year's Eve memorable. Every child got to choose their favorite snack that night, which let to some interesting indigestible combinations (Think fried shrimp, banana pudding, spicy tacos, and maybe egg rolls). Then we'd build a fire in the fire place, and take the Bibles we used especially for family devotions. Walt would have us turn to a Scripture he'd chosen for the evening, and ask the children how they might use it in their relationship with God.
Then he'd give us pads of paper and a sharpened pencil. "Think about some of the things this last year that you felt didn't
turn out well, things you'd like to change. Ask Jesus to forgive you for the stuff you did wrong. Write it down, but don't show it to anyone." Then he'd say, "Let's tear out that page, and throw in in the fire. It's gone, forgiven, and forgotten by God." And we'd watch as the papers scrawled with our failures curled in the flames, crumpled, and disappeared.
"Now," Daddy would say, "That's gone. Forever. Now, on your clean sheet of paper, let's write down things we want God to help us do better this year. You don't have to show it to anybody, but if you want to talk to Mother or me about it, we're here."
O.K., I confess, I haven't always been successful in my new year's resolutions. Sometimes the same resolution appeared several years in a row before I got that area of my life under control. But looking back, resolutions have helped me to make some significant decisions for good in my life.
When I was probably ten years old, my big sister said to me, "Libby, you keep lying. You are a liar, and you are always will be a liar!" I was devastated. Was I really doomed to lie all my life? I talked to God about it, and He promised to help me. Years later, when I reminded my sister of her assessment, she indignantly denied it. "No, Libby! You've always told the truth!" She had forgotten! And thank God, when we confess our sin to Him, He forgives it and forgets it, too!
So New Year's resolutions can be a real incentive for change and accomplishment. Why not talk to the Lord about areas of failure in your life, take His forgiveness and His cleansing, and throw that record into the fire, to be forgotten forever?
Then set some new goals, some fresh paths to pursue in this new year. Be sure they are "do-able," rather than something you can't possibly reach within the year. Sure, include things like diet and exercise, but also think about important and significant goals, things that will bless others into eternity. Show your goals to the Lord, and claim His help. The year 2020 can be truly fruitful for yourself and those you love.
The Apostle Paul wrote, in Philippians 3:13,14:
No, dear friends, I am still not all I should be,
but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing:
Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,
I strain to reach the end of the race and
receive the prize for which God,
through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.
The Half-Opened Christmas Gift
A Conversation with Elizabeth Rice Handford
How carefully Daddy wrapped the gift He'd bought for His little boy. The gift itself had been messy and dirty and bloody, and He'd had to clean it thoroughly to make it beautiful for the child. It was a gift He'd planned to give the child even before he was born, and it involved the most harrowing kind of grief and pain for his Big Brother. Now it was time to give His young son the most precious gift a man could give.
The kid was excited about his Christmas gifts, of course, and when his Father handed that precious gift to the son, he opened it eagerly. But when he caught a glimpse of the gift inside, he put the lid back on and hastily turned to open his other gifts. Maybe he would get an electronic game, and that would make all the gang really jealous!
Silly child. Heart-broken Father. Why would anyone turn down a gift so costly, so fraught with love and pain, so essential for life itself?
But that's the way too many people respond to the most wonderful Christmas gift ever conceived and given. God gave us His Son, His beloved Son, born in a human body, born to die to take the horrible guilt and stain of sin from ours souls. We notice the gift-in fact, we celebrate it every year. But too often we open the gift, glance at it, and then are distracted by too many other joys and pleasures of life, and never once embrace the gift and treasure it. Yet accepting that marvelous gift brings eternal happiness, eternal peace with God, life itself.
Isaiah 9:6 describes that first Christmas this way:
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Prince of Peace.
The child was born. He took His first breath in a barn. But He was also the Son who was given, the eternal God Himself. Why wouldn't we hug that precious gift of God to our hearts, and thank Him forever for the gift of eternal salvation? Why shouldn't Jesus the be heart of our celebration this Christmas?
December 16, 2019
Christmas Night in the Stable
A Meditation by Elizabeth Handford
We never tire of setting up the ancient and battered Christmas creche made of papier- maché, left from our children's childhood. A lamb has lost a foot, the ox is missing a horn, and the gold on the wise men's gifts has tarnished. No matter. We place the Baby Jesus in the manger, Joseph and Mary hovering over Him, and circle Him with the shepherds, the wise men, and the angel, all in their appointed places. And how we wish we could have been there in that awesome place!
They were real people who knelt that day before the Savior-all of them as different as you can imagine. . . .
The wise men, bent by their study of Scripture through the years, exceedingly wealthy, perhaps begrimed with desert sand, weary from several months' journey across a hostile land, knelt with hearts filled with joy that they had found the One for whom their hearts yearned.
The shepherds were there, some young, some old, some untaught, perhaps struck dumb with astonishment, but they also knelt in awe at the feet of their Savior.
Angels watched in reverence, astonished at the sacrifice the Father and the Son were making.
Joseph stood guard over that precious assembly. Surrogate father, acting by faith in spite of every evidence to the contrary, so tuned to God's voice that he suddenly would move that Mother, that Child, to a foreign land in the middle of the night to save the Child from death.
Mary, trembling with fatigue but in awe of God's incredible mercy, watched over the Baby, perhaps already aware of the sword that would someday pierce her heart.
In that stable, in the presence of the eternal God who is Jesus, those human beings were unconscious of any distinctions among themselves. They were all sinners, all unworthy to stand in God's presence. But God had made very sure each one of them knew that the Savior was born-some through study of the Old Testament Scriptures, some guided by a star, some told by an angelic choir. God makes sure that anyone who wants salvation will hear the Good News. So they all knelt in awe before the One who would one day die on a cross to bring them to God.
But what about the ones who didn't come to the stable? The inn keeper had to have known that Jesus' birth was imminent. Was he so preoccupied with the tinkling of gold coins, the press of business, that he had no time to think of eternity? What about the high priests in Jerusalem? They knew, quickly enough, when King Herod sent for information, exactly where and when Jesus would be born. The prophet Micah had given the place; the unlikely prophet Balaam had foretold the star; the prophet Daniel had predicted the exact time. So why didn't they, the men appointed to intercede with God for mankind, why didn't they hurry to worship the Christ? Did they want a reputation for holiness, but not the humbling admittance of need?
And what about you and me? The Christmas story is not a sweet, sentimental tale. It is life-giving truth. How unutterably sad it would be if we miss the essential point of Christmas. God loved the world-and you and me-so much that He gave His only-begotten Son to pay for our sin, so that whoever believes in Him will have everlasting life.
Meet Joe Parker AKA Santa Claus
A Christmas fantasy by Elizabeth Handford
Scene: the break room of mall employees: Joe Parker, AKA Santa Claus at Jingles Department Store, grumbling to the Santa Claus from Macy's: "Kids! Why did I ever think I could pick up a few easy bucks over the holidays with this job! That stupid little girl spilled her hot chocolate all over me, and why her dumb mother let her get it I can't imagine. I'm not ever going to get the stain out!
"I admit I lost my head and used some language a little girl oughtn't to hear. But I'll have to get another suit. The chocolate still shows. Now there's the mall manager yelling at me to get back to my job. Easy bucks? Ugh!"
Scene: Jingles Department store, the next day, Joe Parker, still AKA Santa, sees the same little girl waiting in line again.
"Yikes! Here she is again, with another styrofoam cup in her hands. Steady, Joe Parker," he said to himself.
"Hello, again, Santa," she said, "Here's some hot chocolate. I promise not to spill it."
Joe, with a syrupy kindness in his voice: "So, little girl, what do you want me to bring you for Christmas?"
"Oh, that's not why I'm here. I don't believe in Santa Claus. I want to say I'm sorry I spilled chocolate on you yesterday."
Joe, a little testy: "If you don't believe in Santa Claus why did you stand in line to talk to me?"
"You looked so tired yesterday, I asked Mama if I could buy you some hot chocolate. See, the man put a lid on it for me this time. And I want to tell you about Jesus. When you were mad yesterday, you used some bad words about Him. I thought maybe if I brought you some more chocolate I could tell you about Jesus, and how He loves you, and then you wouldn't be so mad at Him. See, that's what Christmas is all about."
Joe, stuttering with embarrassment: "O.K., kid. Thanks a lot. Now move along. The other children are waiting."
"But you won't forget, will you, dear Santa, that Christmas is because God gave us the Baby Jesus for a present? There's a verse in the Bible-maybe you know it?-John 3:16? It says ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him won't perish but have everlasting life.' Please, Santa, you need Jesus. Take your Christmas present of Jesus, please?"
Joe, hastily turning to the next child in line. "And what do you want me to bring you for Christmas this year?"
Scene: same day, after work hours, in the mall employee breakroom, Joe Parker, still AKA Santa, talking to the Santa from Macy's: "You know, I gotta hand it to her, persistent little cuss. Thought I looked tired. Brought me hot chocolate. I shouldn't have sworn at her. Cute little thing, telling me Jesus loves me. If only it was true! How I wish it was!"
But it is true, dear Joe Parker, and every other harassed and weary human being at this busy Christmas season. Jesus loves you so much that He died to pay for your sins so you could enjoy the miracles of Heaven with Him. That's what Christmas is all about.
For God - the eternal Creator of the universe
Loved the world so very much - including you, dear friend,
That He gave His only Son - giving up Jesus to die was as hard for Him as for Jesus!
That whosoever believes on Him - anyone, every one, but especially you,
Should not perish but have everlasting life - forever with the One who created you!
Is He Just Not Listening, or Can He Simply Not Hear Me?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Handford
I have a friend who has been deaf from birth. His parents didn't even realize it until they sent him to school, and his teacher discovered it. As you can imagine, life has been very hard for him. He was a successful engineer, but he is retired now, and lives a quiet life. "I'm a loner," he confesses. He wears strong hearing aids, but he dreads social contacts since it's so difficult for him to understand people.
Because of my severe hearing loss, I have great compassion for him. When we converse, I try to talk slowly, enunciate clearly, and pitch my voice at his optimal hearing level.
We've had many conversations about what a a relationship with God might look like. We have open, amiable and heart-felt discussions about what the Bible says, what his own religious community teaches, and because he is a scientist, why he doesn't trust what you can't test in a scientist's lab.
But we always come back to the one basic disagreement. He says you just can't know God. I answer, you're right, and that's why God reveals Himself to us in every corner of the universe and in the Bible. But I'm never sure: can he not hear what I am saying? Or is his mind so closed to the story of God's love for us poor human beings that he doesn't want to hear?
One morning over coffee I said, "George"-no, that's not his name-" would you let me start all over with you in this discussion? Would you just sit there and and listen, and let me tell you the Gospel story from the Bible as simply as I know how? And will you listen to it with your heart open?"
And being a courteous man, he said, "Sure."
So I started out at the beginning, as best I could, to tell how the great Creator God had so much love in His heart, He created human being just so He could shower them with all His wonderful and loving gifts. But since He wants our voluntary love, not our robot-programmed rattling off words of love, He gives us the choice or whether or not we will love Him. He knew we would all choose our own, willful way. So He and His Son Jesus covenanted together-even before He created that first man and woman-that Jesus would die to pay for all our wickedness. God could create a whole stunning universe with just a spoken word. But to give us eternal life and fellowship with Him, Jesus would have to take the punishment we deserve for our sins. And that is exactly what He did on the cross.
"So that's why, dear George, Jesus went to the cross, to pay your debt of sin. That's how much God loves you. Can you hear me, George? Do you understand how much God loves you? God loves you!"
George sat upright on the couch, staring, unmoving. Finally he spoke, with tears:
"Nobody ever told me God loves me. Nobody ever told me that!"
He'd been listening, after all. He just couldn't hear. Somehow I hadn't made it plain.
I don't yet know what George will do with the information that God loves him with incomprehensible, yearning love. But at least George finally heard that God is a God of love, not anger, and that He longs to draw him close to His heart.