A Checklist Before Departure
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
When I took flying lessons, I learned one of the most important aspects of safe flying is the detailed checklist you go through before you even start the engine: weather forecasts and winds aloft and at your destination; the "walk-around" to check the outside of the plane; in the cockpit to check gauges and controls, communication and navigation radios, weights and balances. Only then do you call out to bystanders, "Clear prop!" and start your engine.
Today I attended the funeral of a woman who knew her departure was imminent and the stakes enormous, so she went through a very careful checklist to prepare for it.
She'd been a school teacher all her life: intelligent, loving, thoughtful, a committed Christian. I met her while she was being treated for cancer. You wouldn't know, from her cheerful conversation, how much pain she'd endured with multiple surgeries, radiation, continuing chemotherapy. We became deep friends as we studied God's Word together.
Recently her oncologist told her the tumors in her brain had returned. There was nothing more that could be done. So she went home to prepare for her soon departure.
I went to see her for what I felt would be the last time. "I have three questions," she said quietly. "I didn't really start living for Jesus until after I lost my husband. I feel like I've wasted so much of my life."
I reminded her of the beautiful parable Jesus told in Matthew chapter 20. The owner of a vineyard had gone to the town square several times during the day to hire more helpers to work in his vineyard. He went the last time, Jesus said, at 5:00 in the afternoon, an hour before the end of the work day. "I'll pay you what you're worth," he promised. When the workers line up to pay, he paid the ones who'd worked only an hour as much as those who had worked the whole day. "God values very much these days you have given Him. He treasures that you served Him, not how long you served."
"But I've never led anyone to Christ."
"Oh, my dear, don't you remember that the Apostle Paul said, ‘Some plant the seed, some water it, and somebody else reaps the fruit'? You've been so faithful living for Jesus, telling people about Him. That's what really counts."
"But one more thing: before I die, I need to confess all my sins, so I can be forgiven of them, and I just can't remember them all."
That was the easiest of her departure checklist for me to check off! I said, "Jesus said, ‘He that believes on me has everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death into life' (John 5:24). You did what Jesus told you to do. You did trust Him. He kept His promise. He forgave every sin, and then He promptly forgot it! When you ask forgiveness now, He checks the record and says, ‘My child, there's absolutely no sin recorded there!'"
Hear what the Lord Jesus says:
As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12).
Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more (Hebrews 8:12).
I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions (Isaiah 44:22).
I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins (Isaiah 43:25).
Checklist for departure? All clear. Not one thing left to be taken care of. The Lord Jesus has taken care of every single item on the checklist. "Clear prop!" Destination? Heaven, and joy with Jesus forever!
Who Has the Most Important Job Around Here?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
Once in a while I get to thinking I'm not very needed for anything. So many of the tasks I do each day seem unimportant. It's then that I remember the tiny stapes bone, the smallest bone in the human body. Then I feel better about the tasks God has assigned me. Sound complicated? It isn't, really.
I can't hear well. It has affected every part of my life. I can't hear what my children say. I hurt people's feelings because I misunderstand them. I dread public meetings because I can't hear, even with my hearing aids turned full volume.
I remember once sitting in chapel at Southside Christian. I thought the principal asked me to go to the piano and play the introduction to the "Hallelujah Chorus." (Our students had just sung it in a Christmas program.) In front of the whole student body, in the very middle of the principal's message, I got up from the audience and went to the piano. But that wasn't at all what the principal had asked.
Don't even ask me about the time I thought my sister said she'd sprayed for fleas, when she had actually sprayed "Fabreeze," an air freshener.
The ENT doctor told me that the little stapes bones in my middle ear (tiniest bone in the boyd) had disintegrated from arthritis. Simply put, the stapes bone conducts the sound waves from the ear drum to the auditory nerve. It was no wonder I couldn't hear. (They're called stapes, because they are shaped like a stirrup.) How could anything so tiny affect a human being's whole life? Believe me, they do!
And that's why the stapes bone comes to mind when I wonder if I am doing anything significant for God. The Lord Jesus says He has given every single one of us a task, an important task that no one but ourselves can accomplish. There are no unimportant people or unimportant jobs in the family of God. He has given each of us the job He designed us for. Here's how First Corinthians 12:12-22 puts it:
The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up only one body.
So it is with the body of Christ.
Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free.
But we have all been baptized into Christ's body by one Spirit,
and we have all received the same Spirit.
Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part.
If the foot says, "I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,"
that does not make it any less a part of the body.
And if the ear says, "I am not part of the body because I am only an ear and not an eye,"
would that make it any less a part of the body?
Suppose the whole body were an eye-then how would you hear?
Or if your whole body were just one big ear, how could you smell anything?
But God made our bodies with many parts,
and He has put each part just where He wants it.
What a strange thing a body would be if it had only one part!
Yes, there are many parts, but only one body.
The eye can never say to the hand, "I don't need you."
The head can't say to the feet, "I don't need you."
In fact, some of the parts that seem weakest and least important
are really the most necessary.
That settles it, doesn't it? Each of us has a unique task to do for God today, right where we are! There are no unimportant people or unimportant jobs in the sight of our loving Heavenly Father.
God's Creation Can't Help But Praise Him!
A Word of Praise with Elizabeth Rice Handford
This morning's Bible reading in First Chronicles 16:31-34 was so remarkable, I was taken aback. "Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; And let them say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns.' Let the sea roar, and all its fullness; Let the field rejoice, and all that is in it. Then the trees of the woods shall rejoice before the LORD, For He is coming to judge the earth."
In my surprise I should have remembered Job 36:7, "The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." And Psalm 65:13: "The valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing." And the very last line of the book of Psalms says, "Let every thing that has breath praise the LORD" (Psalm 150:6).
So I wondered. Can skies really "rejoice"? Can the earth itself actually "be glad"? Can the stars truly sing? Can a field of corn really shout for joy?
For that matter, does my little daschund Schatzi, who certainly does "have breath," actually praise the Lord?
I think maybe she does. Sometimes she asks with great urgency to go outside. But once out, she often forgets her urgency. She stands completely still for a moment or two, her head lifted, oblivious to her surroundings. I wonder if maybe she's praising the Lord.
I watch the little gray finch who rents the birdhouse outside my window. He sometimes flies in and out, busily feeding his squawking family. Sometimes he perches quietly on the roof of his house and sings with all his heart. The little bird breathes, and he seems to praise the Lord.
I look back on a memorable morning drive across the Alps by way of the Brennan Pass, seeing a Swiss farmer let his calves out of the stable in the stone foundation of his house. They pranced out, leaping and cavorting. They seemed to be thanking God for the new day.
I remember watching two of our horses, united after a year's separation, nickering when they first glimpsed each other, and then racing, circling the pasture together, again and again. Were they were thanking God they were together?
Have you seen dolphins dancing in the surf, leaping in elegant movements over and over again? I wonder if maybe they also praise God as they play.
I remember standing in an Iowa field of corn in July, the stalks higher than my head, hearing them rustle in the wind. They had no voice, but they honored their Creator just by their rustle.
Why does the whole creation rejoice? Psalm 96:11-13 tells us why:
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness;
Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the LORD.
For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth.
He shall judge the world with righteousness, And the people with His truth.
One wonderful day the Lord Jesus will return and reclaim His marred creation. So we can thank Him and praise Him today, along with His beautiful creation, as we await that promised day of deliverance.
Things That Matter Most
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
She's fought cancer for four years now. Her doctors have tried everything. Surgeries. Continuing bouts of chemotherapy and radiation. New drug trials. This week her oncologist said to her, "Your latest x-rays show you have three new brain tumors. We've done our best, Laura." (That's not her name, of course.) "There's nothing more we can try. I'm so sorry. It's time to call in hospice."
Laura is an ardent Christian. She knew that at some point she would hear those words; she was not taken by surprised. But naturally, her heart turned to the things that matter most in life. So when I went to see her, she asked me about several things that troubled her.
"I can't remember all my sins so I can confess them and make them right," she said. "What about the sins I can't remember?"
What a joy it was to remind her that when Christ died for her sins, He died for all her sins. When she accepted His gift of forgiveness, the Bible says all her sins were blotted out, "like a thick cloud" (Isaiah 44:22). Hebrews 10:14 says, "Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more." Psalm 103:12 says, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." When she trusted Jesus, He gave her everlasting life, eternal life. As John 5:24 promises, at that very moment she crossed the line from sinner to child of God, and she was safe forever. There are no sins recorded against her in the Book of Life that she need confess.
"But I've never brought somebody else to Jesus."
"Oh, dear Laura, that's not the only way you serve Jesus. The Bible says some people sow the seed of the Gospel, some water the ground to help the seed grow, and some reap the harvest. You haven't had a chance to reap the harvest, but you've certainly sown the seed and watered it! You've shown us the love of Jesus, not just talked about Him."
"But I've lived the Christian life for such a short time. I regret the wasted years I lived for myself instead of Him."
I turned in my Bible to one of my most favorite parables, in Matthew 20. The owner of a vineyard went to the town square early in the morning to hire people to work in his vineyard. He promised them each a day's wage. Several times he again went into town to find more workers, and each time he promised them a fair wage. At five o'clock in the afternoon he went once more to the town square and hired a few more. When it came time to pay the workers, the ones who'd worked only one hour that day were paid a full-day's wage. Why? Because the owner wanted to pay them a full wage! He valued what they had done in the time they had. "And so, dear Laura, the Lord Jesus treasures the time you have served Him. He understands, and He loves you."
Many things in life suddenly become unimportant when eternity looms. Thank God for His trustworthy, clear guidance in His Holy Word when we are compelled to assess the things in life that matter most.
Sometimes I Ask God "Why?"
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
O.K., I'll admit it right away, that sometimes when I ask God "why?" it's really a stupid question with an obvious answer, and I shouldn't have had to ask.
When I was a little girl, our family read aloud a chapter from the Bible every day. We were in the book of Proverbs, and came to Proverbs 14:12: "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." Rather than being struck by the obvious warning in the verse, and probably being a little smart-alecky, I said to God, "How come, God, don't you know good English? ‘End' is a single subject and ‘are' is a plural verb; subject and verb are supposed to agree!"
Later I learned that God gave us His Word in Hebrew and Greek. Somebody had translated that verse into English. Furthermore, I learned about a "compound subject" which takes a plural verb. So much for that silly question.
Several years later, sitting on the front porch at night, looking up at the bright Texas stars, I said to God, "God, you're so big and great, why don't you know how hard it is to be a little girl ten years old with so many problems?"
Then I found Hebrews 4:14-16 in my Bible: "We have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to Him and never stop trusting Him. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same temptations we do, yet He did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it." My question was answered!
Now, sometimes the questions I want answers from God about are not trivial. They visceral, heart-shredding, about undeniable loss. "Oh, dear Lord, why did you take Tim away from us?" Tim was our first-born grandson, an ardent Christian, a committed husband and father of two little girls, an enthusiastic and competent worker. He died two days after his 36th birthday, shortly after a stem-cell transplant for a rare blood disease. We loved him, and suddenly he was gone. Why did God take away such a treasure?
But God knows me very well, and He knew that, even if He told me why He had taken Tim, I would not understand. His wisdom His love, His strength, are all beyond my human understanding. So in answering my "why," He only said,
Oh, what a wonderful God we have!
How great are his riches and wisdom and knowledge!
How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his methods!
So what should I do when my heart is breaking, and I don't understand what God is doing? Here's what King David decided to do:
LORD, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty.
I don't concern myself with matters too great or awesome for me.
But I have stilled and quieted myself, just as a small child is quiet with its mother.
Yes, like a small child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the LORD-now and always. Psalm 131
A baby nestled in his mother's arms doesn't ask questions. His mother holds him, and that's enough. He snuggles, and rests. And that's what the Lord told me to do when I had questions I could not answer: Just trust Him. He is dependable. He i