Who Watches the One in Charge?
A conversation with Elizabeth Rice Handford
One morning, when I was a Christian school principal, I learned something about myself I didn't like. A teacher brought a girl into the school office. It wasn't the first time her teacher had complained of her insubordination, and I looked at the child with impatience.
Usually I hated disciplining other people's children. I didn't enjoy punishing my own dear seven, and I most certainly didn't like disciplining someone else's child.
But that morning, for one awful moment, ooking into the face of that frightened little girl, I realized I was enjoying the power of my position over her. She was afraid of me, and I was glad.
Then, thank God, I was ashamed. I saw the child again as God's precious gift, to be cherished and nurtured, not intimidated and wounded. I put my arms around her and held her close. She and I would find a way, God willing, to work through the temptations she was facing.
Nearly 2000 years ago a Roman writer, Juvenal, asked, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" Who will watch the watchman? Why does the watchman need to be watched? Because history proves that when a ruler has absolute power, he will abuse it. The pages of history are stained with the bloody acts of people who had uncontrolled power.
An Englishman named Lord Acton wrote, in 1887, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
That's why, at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787, the men drafting the constitution for our brand new nation, America, determined not to let anyone in leadership have absolute power. How did they manage that? By what they called "checks and balances." We would have a three different authorities with power: a President of the United States, a Congress (with a Senate and a House of Representatives) and a Supreme Court. Each has distinct powers, and they are accountable to each other. Their power is "balanced" by the "checks" of the others. None of the three would have absolute authority over American citizens. "Someone," Juvenal wrote, "must watch the watchman!"
So why did I share this uncomfortable memory of mine with you? For two reasons.
You may be in a position of authority where you are tempted to use it unfairly. Parents have enormous power to wrong a child. A boss can take advantage of an employee's vulnerability. A civil authority can intimidate a frightened citizen. A spiritual leader can use his authority to bully someone in his care. When that happens, God is displeased.
Moreover I saw under the sun: In the place of judgment, Wickedness was there.
And in the place of righteousness, Iniquity was there.
I said in my heart, ‘God shall judge the righteous and the wicked,
For there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.'" Eccl. 3:16,17
The second reason I share this humiliating story is that you may be enduring difficult times under an unjust authority. I want to remind you that God is still on His omnipotent throne. He is still in charge. He sees the unjustness of your situation, and He will vindicate you in His good time. So endure. God is with you.
Little Is Much When God Is in It
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
It's almost a fairy tale, the love story of Kittie Jenneth and Fred Suffield. She had a lovely contralto voice and in the 1900's was training for the concert stage in busy New York City. Kittie took a train from NYC headed for Ottawa. At that same time Fred was in his cabin in the Canadian wilderness, hunkered down to wait out a terrific snow storm.
A frantic knocking at his door that night revealed a man desperate and cold. He'd come from a train stalled by the blizzard, and now the passengers were about to
freeze to death. He'd risked his life to try to find help, and saw Fred's lighted cabin.
Immediately Fred grabbed a lantern, and escorted all of the passengers to his small cabin for refuge until help could come. Kittie was one of his grateful guests. She wrote him a thank-you letter. He responded, she wrote back, he wrote back, and you can guess the rest of that story!
In Ottowa, after they married, they heard the Gospel in A. J. Shea's church. They gave their lives to serve the Lord Jesus. They began an itinerant preaching ministry, going from community to community, she singing and playing the piano, and he preaching. They invited Pastor Shea's young son to come with them for a week's meeting to help in the services. But when he stood to sing, his voice cracked, and, in tears, he vowed he'd never sing again.
"The trouble is," said Kittie quietly, "the song was pitched too high for your voice. Let me play it for you in a lower key." She smiled and he sang-and that young man kept on singing for the rest of his life, until he died when he was 104 years old. You've heard of him: George Beverly Shea, who,in the Billy Grtaham crusades, sang before more people than anyone else ever had.
At a celebration of Beverly Shea's 90th birthday, life, he sang:
Does the place you're called to labor seem too small and little known?
It is great if God is in it, and He'll not forget His own.
Little is much when God is in it! Labor not for wealth or fame.
There's a crown-and you can win it, if you go in Jesus' Name.
People were puzzled. Why would Shea chose such an unfamiliar song? Why? Because Kittie Suffield wrote it! Kittie was the unknown, unacclaimed person who, at a critical time in Shea's life, helped him make a decision that not only altered his life, but brought the Gospel to millions.
Kittie is so unknown, I can't even find a picture of her. I've told you all that seems to be known about her, except that she is buried next to Fred in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles. How eloquently her life demonstrates the truth of the song she wrote: "Little is much when God is in it." Wherever God has put you, whatever job you must do, no matter your seeming success or failures, if you do it in obedience to Him, your task is essential to His kingdom.
In Mark 9:41 Jesus said something so startling, we can hardly believe it's true. But it is! Let this truth give you great joy today as you work today, even if it seems an insignificant, unrewarding task:
For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name,
because you belong to Christ,
Assuredly, I say to you,
he will by no means lose his reward. Mark 9:41
Even in Seeming Chaos, God Is Still in Charge
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
I had just completed my checkride in a little Cessna 150 with the FAA inspector for my private pilot's license, and we were headed back to the Greenville Downtown
I was elated that I'd passed my exam, but still anxious, because GMU is the busiest general aviation airport in the state, and the inspector was still on board who might change his mind if I fouled up this landing!
I radioed the Greenville tower for landing instructions. They were not at all what I expected. I could see planes taking off and landing on runway 1, but the tower gave me instructions to land on runway 19, against the traffic. Suddenly, the radio crackled with other pilots questioning their instructions.
Had I misunderstood? I radioed, "Tower, say again landing instructions. 3601 Victor."
"3601 Victor," answered a new voice, a deep, authoritative voice, speaking slowly and clearly. "Enter downwind for a right base for runway 1."
"I understand right base for runway 1, 3601 Victor."
"Good thinking," said my flight examiner. "You must always challenge conflicting air traffic control instructions."
I didn't tell him I wasn't challenging anything; I just didn't know what to do, and I was grateful that somebody in charge could tell me what to do.
In the chaos created by a wrong instruction, there was a crew chief in the tower in charge. He constantly monitored the situation. He knew exactly where every plane was and what they needed to do to fly safely. He gave calm, clear instructions to a frightened pilot who could understand him and obey.
I confess that I have been very frightened by the chaos in Washington this week. Rebellion against authority, even by people who feel they have a valid complaint, is dangerous and fraught with evil consequence. There seemed to be no quiet, trustworthy, dependable voice of authority anywhere who could bring control and discipline. I was very afraid of what might happen to my dear country.
And then it seemed like I heard a strong, authoritative and tender voice cut through all the noise and static. I could hear God Himself assuring me that He is still in control, and I did nor need to be afraid.
But now, thus says the LORD, who created you . . . .
Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name; You are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire,
You shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you.
For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior . . . .
Since you were precious in My sight, You have been honored,
And I have loved you.
Fear not, for I am with you. Isaiah 43:1-5
Thank God, that in the worst of chaotic times, He is not only faithful and just, He is still Omnipotent God. He is in control. I do not need to be afraid.
January 4, 2021
Same Old New Year's Resolutions?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
Every New Year's Eve my father encouraged us children to make new year's resolutions. And every year, for several years in my childhood, I remember that my first resolution was always "I will not talk to strangers."
Looking back, I used to wonder why in the world I kept making such an odd resolution. Then, recently, I remembered. The year, 1932. Spring. Fort Worth, Texas. The exhibition hall at the Fat Stock Show. Me, not quite five years old.
My father rented a booth in the exhibition hall of the Fat Stock Show to give out free literature about the Gospel, and hopefully, to give Mother and him an
opportunity to talk to people, one on one, about their relationship with Jesus. The hall was a kaleidoscope of fascinating booths with all kinds of intriguing things for sale. My two older sisters and I were given the freedom (I think!) to wander through the place while Mother and Daddy ministered to many people.
It was dusk when I happened to see outside the entrance a man selling popcorn. I went out to investigate, and had an interesting conversation with the popcorn man ‒‒
‒‒until my teenaged Uncle Bill loomed up in the dark. "Jimmy," (my Texas name) "your daddy's been looking all over the place for you. Come quickly!" I couldn't understand my father's intense reaction to my casual conversation with a popcorn man. I didn't know then what dangers could threaten a little child in a wicked world. But I did understand, after his discipline, that I would never, ever again talk to a stranger out in the night away from the protection of my mother and father!
I didn't know the why; I just knew the what. So year after year I made the same resolution.
It may be you find yourself, like me, making the same old New Year's resolutions, sometimes with shame, some times with exasperation. Not knowing the why, we try to deal with the what. And it isn't enough to fix the problem.
Are we are putting a bandaid on the symptom rather than digging down into the real, true, problem, and solving that? Is our impatience with a fellow employee because she deserves it, or do we feel a deep-down anger that we've not received the promotion we'd earned? Do I not lose weight but blame it on my spouse, rather than facing honestly that I don't want to bear the hardship of denying my appetite? Am I unkind to my child because he really did wrong, or because he shatters my self-image of being a perfect parent?
Not until God helps us to face ourselves on the deep-down, intimate heart level with absolute honesty will we be able to change our surface behavior. It's so hard to admit the real need. But resolutions won't help until we resolve to change the basic cause.
Israel's King David prayed,
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends You,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Psalm 139:23.24
And, by the way, in the many years since, I have never again strayed alone into the dark to talk to a strange man selling popcorn!