February 2017 Devotionals

February 27, 2017


Me and Carolina Yellow Jasmine-and Poison Ivy?
A Silly Parable with an Obvious Moral by Elizabeth Rice Handford


Last week son Paul brought a pretty, bright bird house to put in the back yard by my study window. While he was busy putting it up, I saw a stray vine climbing the foundation stones of our house, and idly pulled at it. I know poison ivy lurks among the shrubbery in the back yard. But this was obviously a trailer from the Carolina Yellow Jasmine Walt planted to cover a latticed arbor. When the vine didn't yield easily, I wrapped it around my arm and yanked hard.

Fast-forward three days: an excruciating case of poison ivy, arms, hands, legs, even face. The doctor gave me medicine, but it didn't seem to help. I was scheduled to play my keyboard for a wedding on Sunday, and no amount of make-up covered the ugly welts on my face. Hopefully, everybody was watching the lovely bride and didn't notice the ugly musician.

All week long, as I slopped on Calamine lotion, I said to Myself: Gimme a break. I didn't know it was poison ivy. I sincerely thought it was jasmine.
Reality check from Myself: Stupid. What difference does that make? You were sincerely wrong. Get over it.

Fast forward five days. Myself, still itching, still scratching, said to Me:

Me: Right! I'm beginning to see a moral in all this

Myself: Good. But you're not even sure how to spell Carolina Yellow Jasmine. Look it up before you spout any more nonsense.


To my astonishment, when I Googled Carolina Yellow Jasmine, I read:

All parts of Carolina Yellow Jasmine contain toxic strychnine-related alkaloids and should not be consumed. The sap may cause skin irritation in sensitive individuals.


Myself, to Me: Hah! It was the jasmine, not poison ivy!

Me, to Myself: So what's the moral to this silly parable?

Myself: Silly? Perhaps not. Perhaps I need, and perhaps you need, a reminder that we must never, ever, substitute sincerity for discernment and truth. It isn't enough to be comfortable with a decision. I must seriously seek out truth. I cannot rely on my emotions. God has promised to help me know the truth, and then give me the courage to act on it.


This week I saw a documentary on the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. It was a nine-hour explosion of incredible power, equal to the blast of more than 32,000 atomic bombs like those that fell on Hiroshima. Fifty-seven people died in the blast.

Their deaths were especially tragic, because every single one of those people had been urgently warned for a week that St. Helen's was about to blow. But those 57 people decided not to evacuate. They felt comfortable and safe where they were. In the years they'd lived there, St. Helen's had never even quivered. They were sincerely content. But they died in the blast.


There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.
Proverbs 14:12

Let this wonderful promise from God conclude my obvious parable:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye. Psalm 32:8



February 20, 2017


I Plead the Fifth Commandment
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford


Janie (not her real name, of course) was 18 years old when she came to live with us. She'd dropped out of school as a freshman to take care of her dying mother. It had been a traumatic experience, and it haunted her especially when she had too much to drink. Her father had abandoned the family for another woman. Janie lived in sordid circumstances and was hopelessly addicted to liquor. We brought her into our home to introduce her to Jesus, and give her a sweet and sure foundation for her life.

Often, when I'd ask her a question about something she'd done, she would respond, "I plead the fifth commandment."

Of course she meant the fifth amendment. I never had the heart to tell her that the fifth commandment was "Honor your father and mother," and it certainly wasn't what she intended, since she was still trying to learn what obedience to authority was all about. Still, to any question she didn't want to answer, she'd blithely respond, "I plead the fifth commandment."

Those of us who lived through the Joseph McCarthy era know all about pleading the fifth amendment. It's that wonderful amendment to the constitution in the Bill of Rights that says an American never has to testify in court against himself. It was claimed by many defendants who had been accused of disloyalty to America, rightly or wrongly. They couldn't claim the fifth's protection, though, if they answered any question whatever. So in court a person under indictment dared not answer even obvious questions. Many people took it as an automatic indication of guilt. But Janie felt she needed protection against an accusation, and pled the fifth!


How sweet it was to show her from the Bible that God Himself has given His Son Jesus to plead for her when she was under indictment for her sin. Hebrews 4:12,13 says,

For the word of God is full of living power.
It is sharper than the sharpest knife,
cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires.
It exposes us for what we really are. Nothing in all creation can hide from him.
Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes.
This is the God to whom we must explain all that we have done.


That's the indictment from God, the One to whom Janie, and all the rest of us, are answerable. We can't plead the fifth amendment; we are incriminated already. But what follows that indictment is so wonderful, so comforting, that from it Janie learned that never again would she have to plead for herself. That Scripture continues:


That is why we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God.
Let us cling to Him and never stop trusting Him.
This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses,
for He faced all of the same temptations we do, yet He did not sin.
So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.
There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it.

Hebrews 4:14-16

Because Jesus made Himself Janie's lawyer and pled for her before the court of justice, Janie was given every right to come boldly to God's holy throne. She received mercy and grace every single time she needed it. She never again had to plead the fifth commandment, or the fifth amendment, either!




February 13, 2017


A Valentine Better Than Love Letters in the Sand

A Reminder of God's Enduring Love from Elizabeth Rice Handford


Our family of nine was on vacation on a beach in Florida. Each of us had found a favorite thing to do. One was reading under the umbrella, letting sand trickle through her fingers. Two of them scoured the beach for shells and yelled with triumph when they found a bit of mother-of-pearl from a conch shell. The twins were building a Disney-style sand castle. The two oldest were out in deep, riding the big waves into shore on Styrofoam boards.

But my dear husband was a little way down the beach, working at something, dragging his feet in the sand. Then he called me. "Libby, come quick!"

Why the hurry? I came, and there I saw, carved in the sand, "Walt loves Libby." Aw, how sweet! But before I could run back to get my camera, the incoming tide was already nibbling at the tops of the letters. My love letter in the sand was disappearing, washed out by irresistible waves. It's a good thing I knew Walt still loved me even when his love letter in the sand disappeared forever in the depths of the ocean!

Your God has sent you a love letter, and thank God, it can never be washed away. One time a man was feeling forsaken by God. (I have sometimes felt that way, haven't you?) He said, "The Lord has forgotten me." But God heard his cry, and knew his deep need, so He answered back:


I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands!

Isaiah 49:13-16


Your name, your name, is engraved on the palm of God's hand. Engraved-not written in sand, to be washed away by the tide. Not written with a magic marker that might be scrubbed off. Not a tattoo, even, because a tattoo can be removed. When you trusted Jesus as your Savior, when you became God's child, your name was written indelibly on His hand. With every gift Christ bestows on you, He sees your name written on His hand, and He is reminded about how much He loves you-as if He needed a reminder! The hand that bears your name and gives so much to you, so generously-that hand still bears the scars made by nails driven into His hand when He died for you.

Just in case you have misgivings about this promise, Jesus repeats it in John 10:28,29:

And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;
neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.
My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all;
and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand.


Oh, yes, your valentine from your loving Heavenly Father is not a love letter written in the sand. It is engraved for eternity on the palm of His hand!



February 6, 2017


Broken Bones and Broken Hearts
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford


It was an exciting first for me, to travel half-way around the world, all by myself, to see a dear missionary friend in Guam. Only problem was that one night, in the dark, I stumbled over a rock and broke my hand.

The orthopedic doctor offered me a choice for the color of my elbow-to-fingertip cast: a neon lime green or a Pepto-Bismol-ish pink. I chose the pink. Funny how suddenly small things became impossible to do with one hand: taking off a jar lid, buttoning a button, tying a shoe lace. (In Guam, every one leaves their shoes at the door, but my shoes had laces, impossible to tie with one hand.)

On the long flights home, flight attendants helped stow my bag, tear open my condiments, adjust my seat. When we landed at Los Angeles, a young man sitting behind me walked back to where my bag was stowed and lifted it down. "I'll help you to the terminal," he said.
Surprised, I asked, "How did you know which was mine?"

He smiled. "Lady, it's very hard to miss a woman wearing a bright pink cast."

I came home feeling like Americans were kindly, good people.


But then I thought about those other people on the 747 with me. None of them were wearing casts, as far as I knew. But no doubt many of them had deeper hurts than my broken hand. They wore no flags, so no one would know they had a broken heart, a deep wound, a terrible loss. So, of course, none of us offered to help them.

When you think of young David, maybe a little cocky, saying to King Saul: "Yes, I can kill that Giant Goliath for you with my sling and five little stones. Just let me at him!"

But seven years later that young man was a fugitive, hiding in a cave. He'd had to pretend to be crazy to keep the King of Gath from killing him. His wife Michal had rejected him. And the king, his father-in-law, was scouring the mountains, searching for him to kill him. That's the frightened David who wept:

In the way in which I walk they have secretly set a snare for me.
Look on my right hand and see,
For there is no one who acknowledges me;
Refuge has failed me; No one cares for my soul.
Psalm 142:3,4


How often do I pass by someone who feels just as abandoned, just as hopeless? They may be too shy to reveal their heartache, but if I were sensitive, if I showed I cared, wouldn't they open their heart to me so I could give them a word to comfort their heart? Or am I, too often, so engrossed in doing "my thing," that I don't notice their need? Rather than listening to them, do I wait impatiently for them to quit talking so I can talk about me?

Jesus loves me, this I know-yes, oh yes! I know Jesus loves me. But He loves the needy, the suffering, the lonely, the wounded, the forsaken, just as much as He loves me. Shouldn't I offer them His love, His mercy, His forgiveness just as surely?


And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another,
just as God in Christ forgave you.
Therefore be imitators of God as dear children, and walk in love,
as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us.
Ephesians 4:32, 5:1,2