Encouraging Myself

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It’s been a long week. I’m not sure why I am feeling overwhelmed right now, life has been going along as usual. Maybe it’s just because I’m human; I’m frail. I just…grow weary sometimes. My first mental reaction to such feelings is to quit. Quit homeschooling, quit blogging, quit friendships – basically, I feel like just quitting all the stuff except actual survival skills. You know, food, water, clothes.

However, I reasoned with myself and decided that perhaps I was overreacting to want to just throw in the towel. I got up and took one step and then another. I read my Bible, even though my faith was weak that it would help me. But what happened was like that story, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, one thing led to another. Reading my Bible made me think of someone else who was discouraged, and had every right to be so: David. I looked up the verse that came to mind. 1 Samuel 30:6 says, “And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God. And then he prayed. Sounded like a plan. Reading the word of God and praying  made me think of praising God. Praising God made me think of singing. Singing made me think of the great hymns of praise that have been written over the years. One of my favorites is “Come Thou Fount” by Robert Robinson, written in 1757. Our church just completed singing the hymns in the hymnbook in order. When we came to this one, our song leader shared that the version in our hymnbook is not the original version. There were more verses, and they were arranged differently. The actual song has a reference to God’s sovereign grace – in 1757! This was encouraging to my heart because so many friends and even some family members look at us sovereign grace BAPTISTS as being protestants or worse – heretics. I certainly can’t fight them, nor do I wish to, but I admit that it gets old being called names by adults.

Thinking about this hymn made me look up the original words and read them again. That encouraged me. My heart is prone to wander, I am truly, as the hymn says, “prone to leave the God I love”. But my salvation is not fixed upon my human heart or mind or even my own faith. My salvation, my faith, begins and ends with the God of all creation! He holds me, He loves me, He keeps me. Even if my father and mother forsake me, the Lord has promised to take me up. (Psalm 27:10). If the entire world should turn against me, the God of the universe will never do that. What more do I need?

Yes, I started out overwhelmed and discouraged, but I ended up thrilled and happy. What made the switch? The Lord of heaven.

Here are the original words to that lovely hymn, if you would also like a little encouragement this morning: (And who can resist singing them in your mind as you read them? Both the words and tune are beautiful.)

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothèd then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Oh yes, the “realms of endless day”! Maybe I will go today? But if not, that is fine. To live is Christ, to die is gain. (Phil. 1:21)

With love,

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The King Would Be Proud

Queen Elizabeth and father.

Queen Elizabeth and her father.

I’ve mentioned my friend, Elna, recently, as well as her blog. Several months ago, Elna shared a documentary about Queen Elizabeth that was quite fascinating. My entire family has a great admiration for all things British, and this piece on the Queen at 90 did not disappoint. I wish I could link to it, but unfortunately, it seems to have been removed since I viewed it in April.

The documentary included some never-before-seen footage of the Queen as a baby, a young woman, and then as Queen – both public and private moments. At first glance, being the queen appears wonderful. But, as we are all aware, drama knows no boundary- just look at the Prince of Wales and Princess Diana. I do admire the Queen. She has been strong and stable, and has tried to lead by example.

Two things leaped out at me when I watched this. The first was a comment that Queen Elizabeth’s becoming the longest reigning monarch meant more to the world than it did to her. She became Queen in 1952 at age 21, following her father’s death. Her sudden ascendancy to the throne was because of sudden loss. I believe she would trade her history-making status to have had her father longer.

The second thing that struck me was a statement made at the end of the documentary. At the conclusion, Her Majesty’s loved ones are asked to say happy birthday. Each person says loving things, but my favorite one was made by an elderly cousin of the Queen who had grown up with Her Majesty. She wished her a very happy birthday and wanted her to know that “the king would be proud.” The words got my attention. Of course, this lady was speaking of King George VI. What kind words to give to woman who has been without her father for 64 years! This sentiment made me think of my own father, and then of my King, the King of Kings.

If you want to hurt a person deeply, tell them a deceased, or living, parent would be disappointed in them. If you want to sincerely honor a person’s accomplishments, tell them those parents would be proud. As a rowdy child and somewhat of a trouble-maker, I brought my parents much grief. As a born-again adult, I see the debt that I owe. Nothing would give me greater joy on this Earth than bringing honor to the lovely names of Ron and Carolyn Courtney; nothing means more than making all of their heartache worth something.

Likewise, I have a tender and loving Savior, a Good Shepherd who searched for me in the rain and fog, Who found me sunk in the miry clay of sin, and Who lifted me out of it. (Psalm 40:2) He called me to Himself, He washed me of my sin, and He gently guides me today.

I know that in my own merit I could never make my father or my King proud. But through Christ, I can do both.

 I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore. ~ Psalm 86:12

With love,

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Nothing Left

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It was Sunday, October 18, 2015. I sat in my recliner, my coffee beside me, my fuzzy blanket over me, my Bible open with my Sunday school lesson resting on top. I stared at the words, and the words just stared back. I often fight the flesh when it’s time to get out of bed. My mind cries out to parents who are not there, “Just five more minutes!” I fight it, like the rest of the world, and face the day. I have my routine, which rarely varies. But on that day, it was more than just fatigue or lack of sleep…I had nothing left. I couldn’t get my brain into gear; the words on the lesson, and in my Bible, were clear to my vision, but not to my heart. The thought of facing a half dozen, bleary-eyed students (three of whom were my own children), left me feeling desperate. I wondered if my mental frenzy qualified as a “sick day”? Could I just stay home and rest my tired head?

No. Of course not. Like most churches, teachers are few. Oh, I’m sure I could have gotten a substitute, but what could I honestly say was wrong? “I’m worn out today, you take it, k?” or “I’ve got something going on in the old noggin that just isn’t right, so I’m sittin’ this one out. Thanks.” or maybe, “I’m tired today, so I’m gonna stay home.” Thoughts of my mother flashed before my eyes. I watched her go to work and to church with a sinus infection more than once. I saw her soak her hands, which were twisted with Dupuytren’s Contracture , in warm water just so she could get dressed for work. And then she went to work.  One time, she went to the ER on a Sunday morning for a kidney infection, just so she could bring a lady to church with her that morning. You know what? She made it! If I called in sick to Sunday school over some such lame excuse, I think the Lord would tell my mother and she would come find me and set me straight. But she wouldn’t need to, because I could hear her voice in my head. I knew what she would think. And, couldn’t every single church member in America (or the world over) claim fatigue on a Sunday? Yes! We’re all tired. I needed to go; I needed to be there, in all of my inferiority and fallibility and weakness. I had to stand up in front of those students and teach them the Bible. But how?

As I sat in my recliner, letting these emotions wash over me, I knew I was not alone.

“You’re right, Valerie,” Someone said inside of me. “You are not enough, and you never will be, so just give up.”

So I did.

I quit.

And when I quit, that’s when I actually began. I began to stop worrying about the lesson, and my ability (or lack thereof ) to teach it, and I began to say, “Here, Lord. This is what I need to say today. How can I do it? How can a sinner like me teach this? I don’t live this, not all the time. I am nothing.”

But that’s what the Lord likes to do, He likes to use nothings. He is not impressed that you are a woman who never wears pants. He is isn’t bowled over that you do not go to movies or that you never take one single sip of alcohol. He isn’t pleased by your smooth way of speaking the Gospel or of your high music standards or your short hair (men) or long hair (women). He knows that you are a thief (covetousness is sin, even if you don’t steal it), or an adulterer (remember, lustful thinking is adultery). He sees your pride, your vulgarity and your dishonesty (your kids are homeschooled but the state thinks they go to a Christian school, or you speed, or you refuse to pay taxes), your bitterness, your jealously – He sees every single wicked thing in you and in me, and He loves us anyway.

So let me tell you, I have nothing, and I am nothing – unless being a vile, wicked, sinner counts as being something.

But I do have a blessed consolation, and it is this: God is pleased with Christ, and, hallelujah, He is mine. 

And with that in mind, I got up and taught Sunday school.

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

~ 1 Corinthians 15:57

With love,

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He Uses Broken Plates

Have you ever seen that carnival-vaudeville act where the guy has several sticks standing upright with plates spinning on each one? Fast tempo music plays in the background while he frantically goes from stick to stick to stick, twirling each plate, trying to keep them balanced. He even adds plates to sticks as he goes. The crowd holds its collective breath wondering if he will drop a plate.

I just got back from visiting my family in Arkansas. Being home reminded me how different I am. My family is calm, cool, and collected. I’m sort of a mess.They dress right, talk right, and I suppose they even think right. I mean, I know they sin, because we all do, but their sin is invisible to me. I tried to put my best foot forward. I lost a few pounds, had my hair and nails done, and even got my eyebrows waxed. But in the end, I am the person on the inside, and that’s something that I haven’t the power to change.

I wasn’t there long before I realized that I cannot even pretend to have it together. There is no way to deny that my plates are breaking. In fact, it’s already happened! They are broken, and so am I. My plates fell a long time ago, and I sat in the midst of the rubble and wept. There was not enough crazy glue on the planet to fix those plates and make them useful.

Until I met Christ. He stooped down to where I was, lifted me out of that shattered mess, placed balm on my wounds, dried my tears, and then proceeded to put the plates back together, perfectly. I can’t change the inside, but Christ can!

Going home was a reminder that I don’t “fit in” anywhere. As the song says, “this world is not my home, I’m just passing through”. It reminded me that this life isn’t about me – it’s about Him. Because the truth is this: we all have plates breaking. There is no use denying it. Why not just give up? You cannot have Christ’s help until you let Him take over. Stop spinning the plates! Let them fall, let them break, and let Him help.

Yes, my plates are broken. But praise the Lord, He uses broken plates.

The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. ~ Psalm 34:18

With love,

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Better Counsel

I get a little nervous driving around town. This place is much larger than where we lived in Arkansas. Lots of traffic, people darting here and there, it’s enough to stress me out…but then, it doesn’t really take much to stress me out. The other day, I was leaving our church, trying to look both ways up and down a busy avenue, to see where I could “jump in”, when suddenly, I remembered learning to drive. I remembered how my dad would be in the passenger seat, gently  (and sometimes not-so-gently) guiding me around Benton, Arkansas. He helped me see which streets were one way streets and when I could merge onto I-30. He even showed me shortcuts that I use to this day. I recall him saying things like, “Watch that truck.” “Slow down a bit.” “Veer to your right.” And, my favorite, “It’s clear. Go.”

As I was sitting in the driver’s seat, staring at an empty passenger seat, I found myself suddenly wishing that he was there, telling me it was safe to go. Not just safe to pull out onto Gore Boulevard, but to give me advice about everything. I wish I could talk to him. I wish I could ask, “How do I handle these critics, Dad?”  and “What should I tell Lauren and Mitchell as they navigate their teen years?” and “How am I doing as a parent, Dad? Am I being consistent? Careful? Wise?” And then there’s the $64,000 question,Are you disappointed in me?”

As I drove along that day, missing Dad, a comforting thought came to me: I do have a Father sitting beside me, not in the passenger seat, but with me always, through the Holy Spirit. I can – and do – cry out to my Father, asking the very questions I wish I could ask Dad. He answers me through the blessed Word of God, through the preaching of the Gospel, through prayer, and through other believers. Yes, just when I need it, He impresses a fellow Christian to offer a helping hand, a kind word, an invitation for fellowship, or maybe just a smile.

I’ll never again hear Dad’s voice say, “It’s all clear. Go.” But I do hear my Heavenly Father’s voice through His Word; I feel His unseen hand each and every day directing my path. And His counsel is even better than Dad’s.

Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. ~ Psalm 73:24

With love,

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None Is Righteous

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I’ve read Romans several times in my life, but I have to admit that I’ve often read it quickly and without much consideration. It is a rather “wordy” epistle, with many phrases that seem to contradict one another, unless you pause to consider each one within context. I’ve been reading each chapter silently once, then aloud a second time. I am not using any commentaries for extra guidance, I’m just trying to comprehend this book better. I might read a commentary or two at a later date.

As I was reading Romans chapter 3, I was struck with the description of sin in that chapter! I’m sorry to say that I’ve always focused on Romans 3:10 and 23, which are often used in personal evangelism. Those two verses have always been enough to convince me of my sin, but it doesn’t stop there! The Lord gives us a much more graphic image of mankind’s wickedness:

  • All of mankind are sinful – Rom. 3:9
  • None are righteous – Rom. 3:10
  • None understand – Rom. 3:11
  • None seek after God – Rom. 3:11
  • All are gone out of the way – Rom. 3:12
  • All are unprofitable – Rom. 3:12
  • None do good – Rom. 3:12
  • Our throats are as open sepulchres – Rom. 3:13
  • Our tongues are deceitful – Rom. 3:13
  • Our lips are filled with the poison of asps (snakes) – Rom. 3:13
  • Our mouths are full of cursing and bitterness – Rom. 3:14
  • Our feet are swift to shed blood – Rom. 3:15
  • Our ways are destruction and misery – Rom. 3:16
  • We have no peace and no fear of God. – Rom. 3:17-18
  • The purpose of the law was not to save us, but to reveal our sins to us – Rom. 3:19-20

Wow…this was a lot to ponder. If you think that you are “good enough” to get to heaven, I implore you to consider the above passages and read them yourself! The Apostle Paul was describing each and every person on this planet in these verses.

But there is good news! Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost! If you are burdened down with sin and guilt and shame, then cry out to Him, He is your only hope! You cannot trust in self-righteousness, because this passage reveals that no one on Earth is good enough to enter Heaven. You must trust in Christ, and Christ alone.

With love,

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It’s Not Up to Me

Last Monday, I had a goal of giving out five Gospel tracts during the week. I thought this was achievable since I don’t get out and about much. I was excited and hopeful as I began working toward my goal. In fact, I gave out three of them the very day I started! By Wednesday, I had met the goal.

But, then I noticed something: Every time I opened up my Bible, my mind wondered. Some things had happened and I couldn’t stop thinking about those issues. I would have to read a chapter not once, not twice, but three times before I could keep my mind focused on the words. Then, there was my prayer life. Because it took me so long to read my Bible, the kids were all up before I had my prayer time! So, two days last week, I didn’t get to spend my normal time praying.

I felt out of balance and out of whack. “Why can’t I be a witness and be faithful in my Bible reading and prayer time?”

The answer? Because I’m human. I am frail. I can’t possibly do everything right. If you know me in real life, then you’re nodding in agreement at that last sentence.

I went along last week feeling discouraged and defeated. Wasn’t the Lord unhappy with me? I’d allowed petty problems to interfere with my walk with Him. When I seem to have faithful Bible and prayer time, I forget to witness or hand out Gospel tracts! Don’t I have a responsibility to share the Good News? Of course! Someone might die and go to Hell because of my unfaithfulness.

Then it hit me: It’s not up to me. Yes, God uses His people to share the Gospel message through preaching and personal witnessing, but their salvation is not up to me. I don’t have to be a perfect person for them to hear the Gospel. God uses us *despite* our faults and failings. He works through our weakness to bring others to Him. (1 Corinthians 1:21; 2 Corinthians 12:9)

And what about my failure at my devotions? Well, my own salvation is not dependent upon my perfect attendance for “quiet time”. Does it grieve me to miss it? Yes. But I was reminded that when God the Father looks at me, He already sees perfection! He sees Jesus’ righteousness, not Valerie’s. (Isaiah 61:10)

Of course I want to live according to the Scripture – I want to because the Lord has made me “want to”. But I can live in victory each day, even on those days when I mess up, because of Christ.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

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