New Year's Resolutions, the Same Old Me-
But the Same Faithful God!
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
Our darling Ruth was our first baby girl. She came to live with us when she was three months old, and with her sweet smile, her blond curls, and her confiding expression, she wound herself around her father's tender heart with a love that never changed throughout his long life.
When they crossed the street, Walt didn't trust her to hold onto his hand. He took her little hand in his strong one, so that there was no danger of her falling or darting in front of a car. She might trip and stumble, but her safety depended on her Daddy's loving, watching strength.
I need to remember that. Because every new year's eve since I was a teenager, I have taken a humiliating look back over the past year's failures. I'd made a solemn promise to do better in the new year. And then comes the haunting realization, five or six days later (if that long!) that I'd already slipped back into the same old patterns!
Yes, of course, some things have changed with maturity. I do make my bed every morning. I do have better control of my tongue, if not my emotions. I am more faithful about reading God's Word, if not always heeding it. But every new year's eve reminds me again that I don't measure up to my own standards, let alone God's.
And that's why Psalm 37:23-35 is so precious:
The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD,
And He delights in his way.
Though he fall,
he shall not be utterly cast down;
For the LORD upholds him with His hand.
I have been young, and now am old;
Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken.
This promise is to some one who is "good," good only because forgiven by God's grace.
This good person's steps are "ordered" by the Lord. Other translations use words like established, directed, made firm. God, an attentive father, watches over the child all the time.
Does He ever get bored or tired of tending the child? No! He thoroughly enjoys every minute of it and smiles to Himself with the joys of Fatherhood.
Does the child ever make mistakes? Oh yes, sometimes the child stumbles and wanders off the path. But-! The Lord is holding her hand. Her hands aren't very strong, but when she stumbles, she's still all right, because her Daddy's hands are strong.
How long will that sweet protection of the Heavenly Father be given to His child? Forever. No matter how old his little girl gets, she's still his little girl. "I have been young, and now I am old, but I have not seen the righteous forsaken!"
That's why 2018 is going to be different: yes, it will. Not because I'm good, or strong, or smart, but because my Heavenly Father is going to hold my hand every minute, every day, every week of the new year.
The year 2018 can be different for you, too. The Father promised it.
Daniel Celebrates Christmas 600 Years Early
A Word of Good News from Elizabeth Rice Handford
Everybody knows the exciting Bible story of brave Daniel being thrown to the lions because he wouldn't give up worshiping God. That happened when he was an old man. But his early life is just as exciting-like when he celebrated Christmas 600 years before it actually happened!
When Daniel was a teenager, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, conquered Jerusalem and took hostages, including Daniel and his three friends, back to Babylon on the Euphrates River in what is now Iraq.
Daniel grew up to be such a dependable, steadfast young man, so committed to his God that God told him what King Nebuchadnezzar's mysterious dream meant. Nebuchadnezzar was delighted, he made Daniel his right-hand man. When Darius, King of the Medes, conquered Babylon, he too saw what a capable, honest man Daniel was, and so he promoted him in his government.
In that first year of Darius's reign, Daniel read the prophecies that Jeremiah, still back in Israel, had written. Jeremiah prophesied that the Jews captivity would last for 70 years as punishment for their many sins. As Daniel read this, he was heart-broken, ashamed because his people-God's people!-had been so bad and unfaithful. He asked God to please forgive him and the wickedness of his people. He enumerated all the ways God's people had failed: lying, stealing, committing adultery, even murdering their babies to sacrifice to their idols. It was a terrible list of failures, and Daniel could hardly express his shame and dismay.
While he was still praying, the angel Gabriel-how that angel loved sharing good news!-came to give Daniel wonderful news. "Just as soon as you started praying," he told Daniel, "God set out to answer your prayers!"
How did God's answer to Daniel's prayer? God would command Cyrus, who would become the new Persian King, to send the Jewish prisoners back home. Furthermore, said the Angel Gabriel, exactly 490 years later Jesus would come "to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness" (Daniel 9:24).
Yes, in less than 500 years from the day King Cyrus told the Jews they could go home, Gabriel explained to Daniel, Jesus would be born. He would live and die to make atonement for the sins of the whole world. Anyone could come to Jesus, find forgiveness for sin, and live with God forever.
That promise, by the way, is how the wise men knew when to start looking for Jesus.
And that promise made it so Daniel could celebrate Christmas even before Jesus was born. All the prayers Daniel had prayed, asking for forgiveness, so long, so often-God had heard them and would answer them. God would keep His promise by sending Jesus to save the world. Imagine how glad Daniel was to hear that good news!
Not long after that, wicked men became jealous of Daniel's authority and tricked King Dairus into throwing him to the lions. But they got their "comeuppance." The lions didn't touch Daniel, but when the irate king threw them to the lions, it was a different story.
Christmas reminds us that God loves us, even in our sin. He made a way so that Jesus would take our punishment for us. That's why Daniel-and we!-can celebrate Christmas.
Christmas is the good news that, no matter whether you're a slave or a king, whether you're a child or an old person, whether you're smart or dumb, rich or poor, pretty good or terribly bad, Jesus came to save you. Because of Jesus, we can be forgiven for every sin, become a child of God, and live with Him forever. Oh, yes, ring the bells! Celebrate Christmas! Celebrate it early, and celebrate it late! Jesus Christ has come to save us from our sins!
An Odd Kind of Christmas Story
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
You'll think this an odd kind of Christmas story, and it is. I tell it only because I am so anxious that no one - no one! - miss out on receiving God's precious Christmas gift.
It was the week before Christmas in Illinois, on a Sunday night, and our family was headed for the church Christmas service. It was already dark, that time of year and that far north. As Walt turned a corner, our headlights picked out a car halfway up a neighbor's driveway. The driver - and we saw immediately it was a stranger, not our neighbor - had his car door open and he was leaning out, seeming to be looking for something underneath his car.
Walt drove down the road for a bit, and then stopped the car, and turned around. "I'm going back. There was something about that man I'm uneasy about." He pulled into the driveway behind the car, and called, "Sir, are you in trouble? Can I help you?"
The driver lurched out of his car, and we could see that, yes, the man was in terrible trouble. He had been stabbed in the stomach with a knife, and the knife was still in the wound. "Let me get help for you," Walt said. "Tell me who to call."
The man handed Walt his wallet, and then struggled blindly into the deep snow into the field next door, seemingly trying to get away from him.
I ran to the neighbor's house and borrowed the phone to call EMS. I found his parents' phone number in his wallet and called them.
"Whatever you do," his mother said quickly, "don't call the police. We'll come and get him."
"I'm sorry," I said. "He's terribly hurt. I've already called the EMS."
Shortly the police came, and then an ambulance. The men pulled out a stretcher and started after the wounded man. Already he was halfway across that field, laboring in the deep snow, stumbling in the drifts, somehow mindlessly determined they not catch him.
We watched anxiously as the rescue people chased him far across the darkened fields, also climbing over fences and stumbling in the deep snow, doing their best to reach him and bring him to safety.
His parents drove up. There was nothing more we could do, and the church family was waiting for their pastor to arrive, so we drove away. We never heard the outcome. Our last glimpse that night was of a man, perhaps mortally wounded, staggering through the deep snow drifts, desperately running away from the only help that could save him.
Christmas is the time when we celebrate the coming of the Lord Jesus, who is Life, who is Love, who is Forgiveness. This world is full of human beings mortally wounded by their sin. Christ came to earth to redeem them, to save them, to bring them to Heaven. Why would anybody stagger away into that black darkness, rather than come to Him for forgiveness and healing? He's God's indescribably marvelous Christmas gift to us sinners. Why would anyone want to turn Him away?
For God made Christ, who never sinned,
to be the offering for our sin,
so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:21