A Conversation with Elizabeth Rice Handford
I Claim to Be a Follower of Jesus-
So Should That Affect How I Respond to COVID-19?
SHORT ANSWER: Absolutely!
LONGER ANSWER: Absolutely, for four reasons (and maybe a dozen more, but we'll stop at four!)
Every human being on earth, from every era of history, was created in the image of God Himself. "God so loved the world," you may have heard as a child, "that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life." Every life is so very precious to Jesus that He was willing to die so that anyone, without exception, could be forgiven for sin and accepted in Heaven. If I can trust my holy God with my eternal destiny (and I can), surely I can trust Him in this time of deep trouble with COVID-19.
Jesus wants us to be as concerned and compassionate as He is for human beings at risk and in need, whoever they are. He said: "The Spirit of the Lord . . . has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed" (Luke 4:18,19). Because I am a follower of Christ, I too have an obligation to care for the vulnerable.
If I disagree with other followers of Jesus about certain non-biblical matters, i must be as loving and kind as He. I have been broken-hearted at the conflict among Christians about the wearing of masks during COVID-19.
In the church at Corinth, a terrible dispute arose over something as silly as which meat market you ought to shop at! The Apostle Paul said, in First Corinthians 8:12,13 "You are sinning against Christ when you sin against other Christians by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong. If what I eat is going to make another Christian sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live." Some day, perhaps soon, scientists will be able to tell us what methods of combating the virus are truly most helpful. Meanwhile, we have an obligation not to put others at risk even if we think the danger overstated.
And as a Christian, I must obey those in authority. As you read this passage from Romans 13, remember that when God recorded this, Nero was the wicked Roman emperor in authority:
"Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there. All governments have been placed in power by God. So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow. . . . The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong. So you must obey the government for two reasons: to keep from being punished and to keep a clear conscience" (Romans 13:1-5).
Authorities, being human beings, are not always good nor honest. But, then too, not all human beings are good and honest. That's why we need policemen. But that's also why we Christians, the "governed," have a serious obligation to ensure that those in authority meticulously obey the laws themselves.
Meanwhile, dear fellow believer, may the peace that comes from Christ alone comfort you in these dark and troubled times. Your God is faithful, and you will come through this strengthened and enriched. He has promised you that.
The Masked Bandit? No, It's Just Mom
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
I'm really tired of this mask routine. I'm trying my best to keep the protocols regarding COVID-19. I'm washing my hands, wiping down surfaces regularly, staying six feet away from people at the grocery store. I'm trying to remember not to hug the people I love, and I'm anxious for church to begin again. I know you are trying to handle this trouble well, too.
I use a mask regularly, and I'm grateful for its protection. But the package boasts, "SOFT AND EASY TO BREATHE THROUGH." On whom did they test their masks? My little dachshund Schatzi? Maybe so. She has the instinct to burrow deep into blankets and seems never to need to come up for air. But not I.
Here's my real problem. I have trouble having a normal conversation through masks. That's partly because I depend on reading your lips to compensate for my hearing loss. But more, I want to see the twinkle in your eye, the shape of your smile, your reaching-out body-language, your eagerness to talk. It's as if, because we must speak through masks, we've lost transparency in our relationship. How can I tell if you are really bored with what I'm saying? What if you disagree with something I said, but I don't realize it? How will I know if I've missed your tears?
That's why John, the beloved disciple, wrote his friends: "Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full" (2 John 1:12).
Face to face. Heart to heart. Joy complete. I treasure that transparency. I don't want to hide myself behind a facade of friendliness, saying the right thing, doing the right thing, but not revealing my heart to you. Psalm 15 says it this way:
Who may worship in your sanctuary, LORD?
Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?
Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right,
speaking the truth from sincere hearts.
Those who refuse to slander others or harm their neighbors
or speak evil of their friends. . . .
Those who keep their promises even when it hurts. . . .
Such people will stand firm forever.
You will say, of course, that the deep need we mortals have for understanding and transparency in relationships is impossible. It can never be fully satisfied, since we are so very mortal and human. St. Augustine reminds us that the holes in our hearts can't be satisfied with anything less than God Himself:
"You have made us for yourself, O Lord,
and our hearts are restless until they rest in You."
So that's what I'm hanging onto during the COVID-19 crisis. Until we arrive in the presence of the Lord Jesus, there will always be some barriers in our relationships with others.
Meanwhile, I'll keep wearing my mask. Just remember, I really am smiling at you even when you can't see it.
Washing Dirty Feet
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Handford
I remember putting my seven little children to bed one evening, noticing that one of them had really, really smelly feet. Somehow I had not corralled him properly to get them clean. So I dumped him back in the bathtub, gave special attention to his ten
little pink toes, and hustled him back into his pajamas and so to bed. Did I find the task distasteful? No. That child is precious to me, every square inch of him, dirty feet and all.
So why, then, do I find at times other chores in my life so distasteful though equally needed? I know they are necessary, but they make me feel as if I'm unimportant, just a cog in the machinery of life. You may sometimes feel the same way. Perhaps all you do all day is to tote up numbers, or tag and bag clothes brought in for dry cleaning, or clean restrooms, or fry hamburgers. You do it because it's your job, but you'll have to do it over again tomorrow. And likely, no one will even notice! Even in middle and upper management there are repetitive tasks that can't be delegated, and must be done, but they seem to have so little value.
It sure isn't the life you envisioned when they handed you your diploma. They call it "midlife crisis" but it can happen in any time, at any task, under any circumstance. And I suspect that millionaires are as susceptible as ditch-diggers.
I heard Dr. Bob Jones Sr. years ago say something like this: "If you know Christ as your Savior, you serve Him as much washing dishes as singing in the choir. Taking out the garbage is as Christian as teaching a Sunday school class. The Christian life is not divided into the secular and the sacred. Everything in life is sacred for a Christian. Every dish is a burning bush. Even the nursury floor is holy ground. Wherever you find yourself, you are God's temple and you can glorify Him there."
What a comfort that was to me when I was a young and exhausted mother! And how comforting it should be to all of us when the ordinary tasks of life seem unimportant.
The Lord Jesus Himself is our holy example in this. On the very last night before He was crucified, He took off His robe, tied a towel around His waist, brought a pail of water into the room, and began to wash the dirty, smelly feet of the disciples. It was a filthy task, one usually assigned to the lowest slave in a household, and totally inappropriate for Jesus Christ, Creator of Heaven and earth, the One who flung the starts into space!
Peter, a disciple, thought it most degrading, and told Him in no uncertain tones not to be absurd! But Jesus answered,
You call me Master and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet,
you also ought to wash one another's feet.
For I have given you an example,
that you should do as I have done to you.
Most assuredly, I say to you,
a servant is not greater than his master;
nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.
If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
So, whatever the task you must do today, repetitive and boring as it might seem, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus. Jesus was, and is, Eternal God, but He gladly washed smelly feet with love and humility. And so can we.
We Must Protect the Weak
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
In December of last year (2019) I walked through the Dachau Concentration Camp,
the first of Hitler's infamous death camps, and I wept. Six million Jews and 1 ½ million children were murdered in the holocaust by Hitler's regime, many of them in this terrible place.
Elie Wiesel, a 15-year-old, survived one of those death camps and became a brilliant and eloquent writer, professor, and political activist. His citation for the Nobel Peace Prize noted his struggle "to come to terms with his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler's death camps" and lauded his "practical work in the cause of peace."
Wiesel had a stern warning we must take seriously in these troubled times.
Neutrality helps the oppressor, ever the victim.
Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
The murderer Cain asked, "Am I my brother's keeper?" and the answer is "Yes." We have an obligation from God to protect the weak and the helpless. This is what God says in Proverbs 24:11,12 :
Deliver those who are drawn toward death,
And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, "Surely we did not know this,"
Does not He who weighs the hearts consider it?
He who keeps your soul, does He not know it?
And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?
God weighs our hearts. He knows whether or not we have acted when we knew someone was being tormented.
But justice has a two-edged sword. American laws protect equally the rights of every citizen. So as we "deliver those drawn toward death," we must not rob others of their rights. Surely we can find a way to do it right, within the law. Passing new laws will not fix the problem. Our hearts must be changed, and God must do it. In His great mercy, He must give us a love and respect for each other.
This is what God wants, as He describes it in Galatians 3:26-28: "So you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ have been made like Him. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all Christians-you are one in Christ Jesus."
This respect, this love, this oneness of heart is what I yearn for all of us in this time of unprecedented hatred and wrong. I pray that God will give it to us, every one.
"I Cannot Unread the Book of Matthew"
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
David Brooks is a New York Times columnist, a practicing Jew. In 2013, when he began to write a book on "The Road to Character," he hired a research assistant who
was a Christian. She told him, "You cannot earn your way into a state of grace-this denies grace's power, and subverts its very definition."
Curious, he began to read the Gospel of Matthew. His heart warmed to the gospel of grace. Wondering what this might mean in his spiritual journey, Brooks wrote, "I cannot unread the book of Matthew."
I'm not sure where Brooks stands in his spiritual journey right now. (He says himself that he doesn't know.) But I am struck by his acute observation: once you have been heard and understood truth, you can never go back and pretend ignorance. Brooks seems to understand that God revealed Himself to him as he read the Gospel of Matthew. Now he was responsible to act on what he had come to know. He could not "unread" the Gospel of Matthew.
There's a warning in this, as well. If we heard the truth, and turned away from it, we might not be able to understand any further revelation. That's the gist of John's Gospel chapter 12. "Because they would not listen when they could hear, then they could not hear." An accountability, a reckoning, comes with hearing the truth. Rejecting the truth does not make it untrue. But rejecting truth makes us vulnerable to falsehood.
But what a comfort it is to know that, if I really listen, then I will know the truth, and I will know what God wants me to do. That's what God promises in Psalm 32:8 (niv):
I will instruct you and teach you
in the way you should go;
I will counsel you
and watch over you.
I can't imagine a more comforting reality than to know that my Creator/God, my Heavenly Father, promises to be with me every step of the way. He will show me what I am to do, and He will keep His loving watch over me.
In these difficult days of COVID19, what a consolation this is! God has guaranteed us His wisdom, His guidance, the assurance of His presence, no matter what lies ahead, if we will just listen, and obey.