July 2020 Devotionals

July 27, 2020


It Is What It Is
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford

Walt and I were on a cruise ship in the North Sea headed for St. Petersburg. Russia,

 nine years ago when a terrible storm hit during the middle of the night. The ship shuddered with the force of the monster waves. The pounding of debris against the hull of the ship was terrifying. I remember thinking, "I can't stand this. Any minute now I'm gonna scream."


And the Lord seemed to say, "No, Libby. You can stand this. You can stand it for as long as I send it. You don't have to enjoy it, but you do have to endure it. I'm still in control."

The storm did last, a long, long time. It wasn't until dawn came and we docked in the Copenhagen harbor that the storm subsided. I had endured it because I had to: it was what it was. But God was still in control.


As the whole world reels both with COVID-19 and terrible civil unrest, I am reminded of the gentle message God gave me that night: this is what it is; you must endure it. We struggle for normalcy. We long for life to be routine, ordinary, safe. We want our lives back again.


But it doesn't look like that is going to happen soon. The virus isn't likely to fade away in the next few months. Discord among vocal factions doesn't seem to be lessening. We face a perilous future. We bear a national debt so great that the interest alone each year is more than our whole country produces in a year's income. Our faces are masked, hiding whatever smile we might feel. Our children are deprived of warm, face-to-face encounters with their teachers. Families are hungry and face eviction because jobs have disappeared. Worst of all, our country fractured by terrible, seemingly unfixable animosity.

It's not unlike what King David faced in his country when he wrote:


The foundations of law and order have collapsed.

What can the righteous do?" Psalm 11:3 (nlt)


What can the righteous do? What can ordinary people do, people who work hard, who love their families, who wish their neighbors well, who want to do right. Should they just retreat from life? Yield to hopelessness? Post angry arguments on social media? Or settle down to endure, confident in what God promises in His Word?
David answered his own question, "What can the righteous do?" with this:

But the LORD is in his holy Temple; 
the LORD still rules from heaven. 
He watches everything closely, 
examining everyone on earth.
The LORD examines both the righteous and the wicked
Psalm 11:4,5 (nlt)


"May God help us to accept this reality for what it is, to endure until He releases us, to reflect God's love to others who also must endure, and to live patiently and hopefully "until the morning breaks and the shadows flee away" (Song of Sol. 4:6).


More on that sweet truth in our next conversation?


July 20, 2020


Is Faith "Believing What You Know Ain't So"?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford



Mark Twain's story about Huckleberry Finn and the runaway slave Jim is one of my favorites. It's such an eloquent plea against the abomination of slavery. Huck believes he will go to Hell because he refuses to betray Jim "like a good Christian should." He says, "O.K. I'll go to Hell, but I won't rat on Jim."


But most of Twain's writings don't end so happily. His view of Christians and Christianity is very dark. Christians are consistently portrayed as venal, hypocrites, fools. Some things he wrote were so blasphemous, he forbad their release for a hundred years. He claimed to believe that the Bible had a thousand lies in it. So he wrote:
"Faith is believing what you know ain't so."


"Believing what you know ain't so"? Not likely! Faith is believing the evidence God has plainly given, as Hebrews 11:1,3 (nlt) says,

What is faith?
It is the confident assurance that
what we hope for is going to happen.
It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.
By faith we understand
that the entire universe was formed at God's command,
that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.


A Christian's faith is not built on vain hope; it is built on strong, irrefutable evidence that there is an infinite God and that He is infinitely powerful. Romans 1:18-20 puts it this way: "Sinful, wicked people . . . push the truth away from themselves. For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see His invisible qualities-His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God."


Yes, our faith in God is built on obvious truth. The astronomer sees His power in a billion ummeasured galaxies. The ophthalmologist sees His hand in the miracle of the human eye. The microbiologist sees His wisdom in a million tiny organisms.


Stephen Hawking, an eloquent and vocal atheist, wrote a book on "The Grand Design." In it he vehemently denies there is a God. But Webster's definition of design is: "deliberate purposive planning." Why couldn't Hawking understand, brilliant scientist that he was, that a design requires a Designer?


There came a time in Mark Twain's life when he desperately needed the faith that he'd so adamantly rejected. In spite of his agnosticism, he had married a devout Christian, Olivia, and he was passionately in love with her. In his autobiography, Twain tells the poignant story of the death Susy, their dearly loved, oldest daughter.
Susy was stricken with spinal meningitis at home while the Twains were in Europe. They received a cablegram telling them about the gravity of her illness. Twain says he begged his wife, "Livy, pray. Oh, Livy, please pray." And she sadly responded, "I can't, Samuel. You've taken that away from me."

A cablegram later told them of Susy's death. Mark Twain suffered her loss without hope. But the evidence was there, and he could have trusted it.




July 13, 2020


Bluebirds of Happiness
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford


The gay little birdhouse on a pole outside my office window is for rent again. A pair of cute little black-capped chickadees rented it this spring, but they've raised their brood and scattered.

Then a small, slate-colored bird with a tinge of pink on its breast showed interest in it. I couldn't identify it, even when I

 googled it. But when her husband came and perched beside her, I realized she was a female bluebird. They moved in and set up housekeeping. Now their little brood has hatched, and I am having the fun of watching mama and papa flit in and out all day long, bringing insects to their noisy babies. 


Bluebirds, I've understood, bring happiness. And now I have a pair of my very own to bring me happiness, right? Didn't Judy Garland sing,

"Someday I'll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me,
where troubles melt like lemon drops way above the chimney tops.
That's where you'll find me-
Somewhere over the rainbow the bluebirds fly.
Birds fly over the rainbow. Why then, oh why can't I?"
© 1939 MGM


So, with those little bluebirds perched outside my window, will my troubles "melt like lemon drops"? Not likely! Rather, I am still overwhelmed by the ravages of COVID-19. I have dear friends in ICU. The terrible civic unrest tormenting my beloved country frightens me. The way we human beings are acting toward each other is a much, much greater curse than any virus. I am afraid of all this pestilence and violence.


And then I hear the Almighty God, my Creator and yours, whispering to me:


"Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters and great trouble,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown!
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.
For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Isaiah 43:-2 (nlt)


God has not promised His children freedom from trouble. He has not promised protection from pain and sorrow. If He knows my name, and He does, then I belong to Him. He is the great King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He has promised that He will be with me every step of this difficult journey. What more can I ask?





July 5, 2020


A Bridge You Will Someday Need to Cross
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford


A friend of mine recently posted a big notice on Facebook: "God Has to Forgive; I Don't!" The poor woman had fled from an abusive husband fifteen years ago. She has raised her children all alone, and she struggled daily to pay the bills and meet the needs of her children. But she has never been able to forgive the betrayer of her love and dreams. It rankles in her heart daily and seems to rob her of all joy.

Thomas Fuller, a 17th century writer, penned,

He that cannot forgive others 
breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; 
For every man has need to be forgiven.


Once in a while a sudden, random memory comes flooding back into my mind of one of the many stupid, careless errors I've made in the past,

 perhaps a hurt I had caused someone I love. When those tormenting thoughts come back to mind, I remind myself that God has forgiven me for it, and, astonishingly, has forgotten it! Wouldn't it be terrible if I'd "broken the bridge" by not forgiving someone else when I would often need to cross the bridge of forgiveness myself?


Actually, my dear Facebook friend was in error when she claimed "God has to forgive sin. I don't." When Jesus taught us how to pray, He included "And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us" (Luke 11:4). Evidently an unforgiving heart is an unforgiven heart.

But there's another element in forgiving someone who has wronged us, and that is, not just to forgive, but to do it with kindness, in gratefulness for God's loving kindness and forgiveness to us. Ephesians 4:31,32 commands,


Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking
be put away from you, with all malice.
And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, 
just as God in Christ forgave you.


Certainly, right now in our beloved country, we are experiencing way too much "bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking." God tells us we must "put away" these ungodly responses, and react with humility and kindness.


This is the kind of forgiveness each one of us needs to extend to every one who has wronged us. Forgiving someone does not say it was unimportant, or that it didn't hurt. Rather, it acknowledges the hurt and forgives it because God has forgiven the hurts we inflicted on others. And He does it because Christ Jesus paid the penalty of our sin for us.

Imagine in these troubled times, how we could change the climate in this country if only each one of us could forgive the wrongs others have done to us, and ask forgiveness for the wrongs we have done to others! Confront the wrong? Yes. But do it with humility, lest we destroy the very fabric of this blessed America. May we forgive, and be forgiven.