Nothing So Treasured As Hearing God Speak
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
The story seems to belong to a far-distant time and place, perhaps in the days when the Lord Jesus walked on earth. It's the story of leper so crippled by his disease that he had no feeling in the stumps of his hands, and even more crippling, he was blind. But it is a true story, and it happened in America, just a few years ago.
Neil White narrates the story in his book, In the Sanctuary of the Outcasts.
Neil was an ambitious and apparently successful magazine publisher. But he got into serious financial difficulty and was eventually convicted of check-kiting. He was sentenced for a year in a federal prison housed in the buildings which also housed quarantined lepers in Carville, Louisiana. [As a footnote, in the hundred years the Carville Leprosarium was open, more than 5,000 leprosy patients were cared for, and some 1,000 are buried there.]
In spite of the barriers between the prisoners and the patients, Neil was able to establish deep friendships with them because he worked in the cafeteria. This story about those friendships is heart-searching and challenging (and you'll need a filter for the R-rated language of some of the prisoners.)
Neil White tells of his year-long journey from self-centeredness and ambition to a deep awareness of his own spiritual needs. He began to seek spiritual help, and so attended services with the patients in a small chapel on the grounds.
One patient especially grabbed his attention. The man was obviously devout. He prayed when the priest led the prayers, and he earnestly clutched his open Bible with his deformed hands when the Scriptures were read. But he licked the pages again and again with his tongue. Neil couldn't help but wonder. Why? Why would a man do such a disgusting thing to the Book he so obviously revered?
The answer? The man was blind, so he could not read the precious Word of God he loved so much. Someone with deep compassion gave him a Braille Bible. Now he held in his hands the very Word of God. But he still could not read it. Leprosy had destroyed the nerves in his hands so he could not feel the raised dots on the page. But he hungered so deeply to hear God speak to him, that he found a way: he read the Braille dots with his tongue.
Neil White and a leper/patient friend
I have in my library at home probably several dozens of copies of the Scriptures. I have worn-out leather-bound Bibles with yellowed pages crumbling from age and use. I have study Bibles, some with two or three different versions printed on a page, still fresh and unmarked. I have a precious, small Bible I keep in my purse because I never know when I might need to hear the voice of my Wonderful Savior telling me what to do. But this blind, broken man's commitment to treasure God's voice humbles me. I have no impediments to reading God's Word, except my own indifference and carelessness.
The prophet Jeremiah said,
"Your words were found, and I did eat them,
And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart;
For I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts." Jeremiah 15:16
Why don't I treasure God's Word like that?
What a Great Fire a Little Match Kindled!
A Word of Caution from Elizabeth Rice Handford
Last weekend I was driving on I-85 toward Atlanta, when the highway became shrouded with a smoky haze. I'd read about the wildfire on Pinnacle Mountain, north of our home in Greenville, but hadn't guessed that it could still affect me, miles away. I'd had an uncomfortable episode with asthma a few weeks before, so when my eyes began to prickle and my breath shorten, I switched the automobile air intake to recirculate. My symptoms disappeared, in spite of another hour's drive on a smoke-shrouded highway.
Pinnacle Mountain, SC wildfire © abccolumbia.com
It was an easy solution for me, but not so easy for more than a hundred fire-fighters still struggling to contain the fire over 5,000 acres of drought-dry, mountainous forests. It has become the largest wildfire in upstate South Carolina in 40 years, but it sprang from a small, inocuous campfire on a mountain trail.
This morning that fire came to mind when I read this sobering reminder in James 3:5-10:
The tongue is a little member and boasts great things.
See how great a forest a little fire kindles!
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity.
The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body,
and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea,
is tamed and has been tamed by mankind.
But no man can tame the tongue.
It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
With it we bless our God and Father,
and with it we curse men, who have been made in the image of God.
Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.
My brethren, these things ought not to be so!
The Pinnacle Mountain wildfire was accidentally caused by an ordinary campfire by innocent people enjoying our beautiful autumn weather, but it caused serious disruption in the lives of people evacuated from the area, agricultural losses, business interruptions, and threatened wild life.
How much more terrible it is when a malicious person spouts irresponsible criticism of others. Incredibly, the Scripture say, our speech can be like a wildfire, defiling everyone it comes in contact with! Imagine-it is "set on fire by hell." How could a parent speak words of love to a child and then spout cutting words of criticism? How could a follower of Christ talk sweet words of love to a fellow church member, and then cut them into shreds by foul gossip shortly after? How could an employee exude good-will toward fellow-employees and immediately after say such damaging, irresponsible words that could damage their careers?
"My brethren"-[and we could add, "my sisters"] "These things ought not to be so!"
Up the Down Escalator
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
My sisters and I were in a strange town for a conference, ready for lunch. Someone suggested a tea room in a big, nearby department store. We'd been told the tea room was on the second floor, but when the escalator spewed us out onto the second floor, we couldn't see it anywhere.
"Must be the third floor," my sister Mary Lloys said, as she stepped over to the up-escalator.
"No, there it is," Joanna cried.
Too bad. Mary Lloys was already rising majestically aloft on the escalator toward the third floor. Oh, dear! Who knew when she could wind her way back down to the second floor so we could-gasp-eat?
But we counted without Mary Lloys's game spirit. She started running down the up-escalator, just as each step rose to meet her. She couldn't hold onto the railing; it was also going up. Laughing as she struggled, she'd gain a step, then lose one. Finally we reached out, hauled her down against the moving stairs, and we headed toward the tea room.
These past few weeks I've felt like I'm on a down escalator, trying to go up. I feel overwhelmed with all the stuff I'm trying to get done. You may feel the same. We just caught our breath after the hectic and worrisome presidential campaign, when Veterans' day was on us, and we tried to honor our heros. We checked that off, gulped air, tried to plan for the Thanksgiving holidays, when suddenly they've started playing Christmas music on the radio!
I'm supposed to be going up, but the escalator is carrying me inexorably down. And when this happens, I get really exhausted. I feel like I'm a failure.
Dr. S. D. Gordon has some sobering words for you and me about this. He says, in his book Quiet Talks on Home Ideals: "Excessive fatigue is a subtle foe, to be earnestly fought. Fight it for character's sake. Fatigue is a terrible demoralizer. Countess temptations are yielded to because the body is all tired out. Many a sadly blighted life turned the down-corner at the point of bodily exhaustion."
How could our earnestness, our commitment to hard work actually be insidious and hurtful? Because we think we are pleasing God by our unremitting, burdened life. But Dr. Gordon says it's dangerous. And it is. "Countless temptations are yielded to because the body is all tired out"!
Listen, instead, to what God says about all our diligence and hard work, trying to earn security for our families, trying to gain His approval:
Unless the LORD builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the LORD guards the city,
The watchman stays awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep. Psalm 127:1,2
The answer? Let the Lord do His part in your life. Let Him help you build. Let Him help you guard. Let Him give you the wisdom and the strength to do what must be done. And then let Him do what only He can do. And get a good night's sleep tonight, resting in His love and His care.
Don't Be Dismayed, Whatever the Election Results
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
No matter how you feel about the presidential election tomorrow, you do not need to feel anxious. I write that sincerely, though I confess that I am overwhelmed with anxiety about the future of this dear country of ours! Like you, I have grieved the terrible divisions among our people this political season has fostered, the loss of great and commons goals for our nation, the sense of grief that our beliefs and values vary so deeply from person to person.
But we have one great reassurance in all this confusion. The great Architect of the universes, the Creator of every human soul, God Himself-our God is still in charge. He controls human affairs. He concerns Himself with every single thing that touches the lives of His creation, and in His wisdom and power, He is going to make things turn out right in the end.
An ancient king found this to be true to his great embarrassment, though he ruled over one of the greatest kingdoms in history. His name is Nebucadnezzar, and his story is fascinating.
He was a wicked, cruel king. God used him, even in his wickedness, to punish the Israelites for worshiping idols. Nebuchadnezzar burned down the holy temple in Jerusalem, took scores of captives, and made the Israeli king watch while he murdered his children. God intentionally used that wicked man to accomplish His purposes.
But Nebuchadnezzar was irrepressibly vain about all his accomplishments. He took personal credit for all he'd done. The prophet Daniel (of lion's den fame) warned him he needed to acknowledge that God was the One who'd given him all that power. "Renounce your sins and start doing right," Daniel said (Daniel 4:28). But the king was too proud to even consider anyone else, least of all God Himself.
So a year after Daniel's warning, Nebuchadnezzar was standing on the rooftop of his palace, enjoying his rooftop gardens, still congratulating himself on how wonderful he was, when, Daniel 4:31-33, tells us,
"While the word was still in the king's mouth, a voice fell from heaven: ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you! And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.' That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar."
For seven years the king did live in the wilderness like an ox. The Scriptures tell us what happened next:
"And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. . . .He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?' Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down" (Daniel 4:34-37).
Even the king of the greatest kingdom on earth must submit to God. And that, dear fellow believer, is why we do not need to dread the outcome of tomorrow's election. There is a God in Heaven, and He does concern Himself with America. He will accomplish His good will in our lives. He can turn the decisions bad people make into good. Thank God it is so.
Now let us pray earnestly for our new president.