How Does God Feel About Our Pain?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Handford
The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah experienced what our dear country has been going through with COVID-19. Jerusalem was surrounded by powerful enemies. People were sick, hungry, without work and without hope. In Lamentations chapter 3, Jeremiah writes:
God has filled me with bitterness.
He has given me a cup of deep sorrow to drink.
He has made me grind my teeth on gravel. He has rolled me in the dust.
Peace has been stripped away, and I have forgotten what prosperity is.
I cry out, "My splendor is gone!
Everything I had hoped for from the LORD is lost!"
The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.
But in that darkness, God brought to Jeremiah's mind what he'd experienced in the past, so he says to himself:
Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:
The unfailing love of the LORD never ends!
By His mercies we have been kept from complete destruction.
Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each day.
I say to myself, "The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in Him!"
What will Jeremiah do when the future looks so bleak? He'll keep earnestly praying for God's help:
The LORD is wonderfully good
to those who wait for Him and seek him.
So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the LORD.
And it is good for the young to submit to the yoke of God's discipline.
Let them sit alone in silence beneath the Lord's demands. . . .
So Jeremiah accepts God's loving discipline, as a father lovingly (and reluctantly) disciplines his children when they misbehave:
For the Lord does not abandon anyone forever.
Though He brings grief,
He also shows compassion according to the greatness of His unfailing love.
For He does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow.*
Shouldn't Jeremiah's response be our response in this time of national grief and uncertainty?
* A footnote from Hebrews 12:5-9:
And have you entirely forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you, His children? He said, "My child, don't ignore it when the Lord disciplines you, and don't be discouraged when He corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes those He accepts as his children."
As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as His own children. Whoever heard of a child who was never disciplined?
If God doesn't discipline you as He does all of His children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really His children after all. Since we respect our earthly fathers who disciplined us, should we not all the more cheerfully submit to the discipline of our heavenly Father and live forever?
Can Any Good Come from the COVID-19?
A Word of Encourgement from Elizabeth Handford
Any good? From the virus that has disrupted our lives so greatly? With all the people who've been sickened by it? Loved ones lost in death? Jobs lost, and no income to take care of the family? Loneliness and fear in old people cooped up at home and distraught by the news? Medical personnel worked to the limit of their strength and endurance? Civic leaders, burdened with the fate of thousands of people, scrabbling to find facilities, medicines, safety gear, and personnel to carry the load?
Even so, yes! There are sweet evidences of God's grace.
In my neighborhood, as in hundreds of neighborhoods across the country, a concentrated effort has been made to make sure our elderly and handicapped neighbors are taken care of. It hasn't been just casual question of "need anything?" Their help has been specific and thoughtful.
Because our church services have been interrupted, suddenly Christians have come to see how precious the days were when we could meet to sing together, share each other's burdens, and worship God together. Yes, many churches are streaming their services, but the personal participation has been lost, and we had come to treasure it.
Because our grocery shelves are suddenly empty and the usual bug-killing products scarce, we have become aware of how gracious God has been to us, day after day, year after year, to have access to stores whose shelves were full, and we could purchase anything our budget permitted.
Because so many have been suddenly laid off, not because of their incompetence, we have come to see how privileged Americans were to have steady jobs and income.
We'd almost come to believe that we Americans, perhaps more than anyone else in the world, were entitled to good health, ample resources, steady job and income, and a stable, democratic government that anticipated every crisis with well-planned solutions.
But God said, in Psalm 127:1:
Unless the LORD builds a house,
the work of the builders is useless.
Unless the LORD protects a city,
guarding it with sentries will do no good.
Our safety and well-being have never depended on the actions of our government, nor on the assiduity of our precautions against germs. Our great God is in control. If you have felt guilty that perhaps God was punishing you for some sin, then make it right with Him, take His forgiveness, and then keep on trusting Him.
He wants to give us His grace and strength and peace in this deep and troubling trial. How do I know that? Because in the very next verse, after He told us He was the only One who could protect a city, God says this (Psalm 127:2):
It is useless for you to work so hard
from early morning until late at night,
anxiously working for food to eat;
for God gives rest to his loved ones.
In this time of anxiety, may you find that your God, your Heavenly Father, is right there with you. He is the Sovereign Ruler over all the universe. He is managing all the circumstances. He will give you the wisdom, strength, and comfort you need. He loves you so much He went through the agony of giving His only Son Jesus to redeem you from sin and make you ready for Heaven. He certainly can, and will, be with you in this dark time. You can trust Him-not just for eternity, but for today.
The Corona Virus: What Is God Telling Us?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Handford
A year ago we'd have found it hard to believe that a virus so virulent that would spread across the world in three months;
that international flights would be closed, the stock market would fluctuate in historic proportions, that schools and manufacturing plants would close, or even that March Madness would be cancelled!
The reality is that our world faces an unknown threat. Has God sent this disease to punish us? Can He protect us, or are we doomed?
The simple answer? Yes, God does love us, all of us. God so loved the world! says John 3:16. He created us so He could shower us with His treasures. And, yes, He yearns for us to listen to Him and submit to Him. It may be that He has sent this virus in His infinite love to remind us that He is still in control and that we desperately need His constant presence in our lives.
This morning as I read in my Bible this prayer of King David's, I asked God to act on our behalf in this crisis-not just for you and me, but for every human being on earth.
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy!
I look to You for protection.
I will hide beneath the shadow of Your wings
until this violent storm is past.
I cry out to God Most High,
to God who will fulfill His purpose for me.
He will send help from heaven to save me, rescuing me. . . .
My God will send forth His unfailing love and faithfulness. . . .
Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens!
May your glory shine over all the earth. . . .
My heart is confident in you, O God;
no wonder I can sing your praises! Psalm 57:1-7
I am not asking God to make Christians immune from the virus. That would be presumptuous and selfish. I am asking that we will be very conscious of our need for Him, that we turn to Him in penitence and gratefulness so that others will see His mercy and grace, and turn to Him also.
If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, then you can trust His good will for you in this crisis, however this situation ends. God will fulfill His purpose for you. And if you haven't yet come to Him, now is the time to turn to Him, and rest in His loving protection. Then you need not fear the future, whatever it brings. In Isaiah 41:10 God promises,
Don't be afraid, for I am with you.
Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you.
I will help you.
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
May God comfort you in this difficult time.
Though I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Handford
A dear friend of mine recently lost her father very unexpectedly. His death brought to mind something God has been teaching me. I'll explain.
In "Pilgrim's Progress," John Bunyan describes a man so burdened by the load of his sin he leaves the City of Destruction
to find salvation. At the cross, his burden of sin miraculously falls off. The rest of the book describes Christian's journey as a pilgrim to the Celestial City. In the last chapter Christian and his companion Hopeful stand on the banks of the perilous River of Death, looking across at the Celestial City. They are desperately afraid because the River is so deep and treacherous. Finally Hopeful wades in, and he shouts to Christian, "I have found the bottom, and it is sound!" So they struggle through the deep water and finally stand on the far shore, at last to be welcomed by the Lord Jesus into the Celestial City. And that's the way I've thought dying would feel.
But I think maybe Bunyan got that last bit wrong. Since Bunyan wrote with his Bible in his hand, much of his allegory is accurate and helpful, but maybe not in this description of Christian's death and entrance into Heaven. Here's why I think so:
Psalm 23:4 says,
Though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will not let His little lambs struggle through the valley of the shadow of death all by themselves. He promised to be with us from the very beginning to the very end of life. The Savior who gave His life on a cruel cross so we could have eternal life will not forsake us at the moment of the most frightening time in a human being's life. He will walk every step with us through the valley of the shadow of death. He promised.
Hebrews 13:5,6 says
For Jesus Himself has said,
"I will never leave you nor forsake you."
So we may boldly say:
"The LORD is my helper; I will not fear."
I find that so comforting at this time of my life. I do not need to fear the future. The Lord Jesus will be with me-He promised He would be. And He will be with you, if you have taken His gift of eternal life.
Read the Last Chapter First?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
I've done it again. My daughter gave me a wonderful novel for Valentine's Day. I started reading it, but 50 pages in, I was
afraid it wasn't going to end well. I flipped to the back of the book to find out. No sense in wasting my time if the story isn't going to turn out right!
It's a bad habit of mine that mystifies my family. If they are reading a book or movie review that has a "Spoiler Alert," they don't read the rest of the review. Knowing how the book or the movie ends would spoil it for them. But not for me.
I want my stories to turn out "right." I want Snow White to wake up to the prince's kiss. I want Cinderella's shoe to fit. I want the Beast to turn into the Prince. I want the sinner forgiven, the broken marriage restored, the prodigal son returned, the elderly father rescued. Why waste the time reading a book that isn't going to turn out right?
I had a college professor who taught us to read the last chapter first. I took a two-week intersession course with the formidable title, "Presuppositions of Christian Thought." I found the teacher exciting and challenging, but the text book troubled me. I couldn't understand where the author was headed.
On the very last day, the professor asked us, "Is the writer of our text an orthodox Christian? Does he believe the Bible is without error?"
He answered his own question, "No. He is not a believer. You can't trust him. You didn't notice it, because he lures you with his beautiful writing. But his reasoning is illogical and unbiblical. That's why, when you are reading a book, you need to read the last chapter first, so you'll know the basic thesis of the writer."
I say, read the last chapter first.
Especially read the last chapter of God's Word. If you are dismayed at the terrible rift among Americans, if you are distressed by the virulence of the coronavirus, if you are fearful for your children's future because of the malevolent character of our nation's enemies, you need the read the last chapter of the Book.
The Book. The Good Book. The Bible. You need to read God's Word all the way through because it describes the human condition, our lives as they are, and what God wants from us. It doesn't mince words. It tells the terrible stories of good men who were tempted and sinned. It relates the stories of families who were fractured. But it offers hope. Here's the way it ends:
The Holy Spirit and the bride say, "Come!"
And let him who hears say, "Come!"
Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes,
let him take the free gift of the water of life. Revelation 22:17
The end of the story? God wonderful plan for the universe will be fulfilled. Everyone who wants Jesus will know Him. Evil is destroyed. Sinners, forgiven by God's grace, are made holy again. Pain and sorrow are banished. God's new heaven and earth will be marvelous beyond our belief. Why don't you read the end of the Book, Revelation chapters 21 and 22? There you'll find how much God loves you, how He longs to give you the treasures of Heaven, if only you will take His gift of salvation.
I've read the last chapter. I know how the story ends. I hope you do, too.