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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

God's Grace for My Messy Heart

So, I am beginning to understand (after much perplexity), why I just cannot seem to get this Christian life together. After all, I’ve been a Christian now for 39 years. By now, I should have figured it out - you know, “practice makes perfect”, right? WRONG!!!

Camping in the Dirt 

Before I go any further, you must know about a camping trip I went on with my entire family 31 years ago. This story will help both of us (you and I) sort out the spiritual truths I’ll be referring to later in this post.

First, let me set the scene for the camping trip. Our youngest child was 2 years old at the time. My husband and I had four children in tow. Also, camping with us were both of my siblings - my sister, Kate, her husband and their three children and my brother, Richard, his wife and their three children. Our parents also joined us. As an added point of interest, all three of us siblings had daughters born in 1980 who were, all three of them now two years old (or very close to being 2).

We camped up in the mountains, surrounded by beauty. You know the scene - an infinity of pungent pine trees in countless shades of green, a beautiful glassy indigo lake, big billowy white cotton-like clouds. You’ve been there, right? But there was more dirt, more fine brown powdery, yet clingy earth than there was anything else. Dirt was absolutely everywhere - on the ground, in our tents, in the trees hanging over our heads, in our shoes, on our picnic tables, and all too often on us as well.

The three two-year-olds had a blast! Laura, my brother’s daughter, was the oldest. Next in line was our daughter, Bethany, and youngest was my sister’s daughter, Stephanie.

Can you imagine three toddler girls, all dressed in pretty pastels, looking so cute, hanging close to their mommies in this new, unfamiliar and strange place? Well, imagine again. Two of the toddlers did just that. Two of the three barely took a single step away from Mom. Two of the three stayed clean because they didn’t venture out.

But one of the three decided she just had to take in more of the campsite and the mud puddles and, well, more of the dirt. Can you guess which toddler? Of course, it was my munchkin! Bethany was all over the place. As a result, dirt followed her everywhere. Cute, demure little thing - blond hair, blue eyes, button nose, sweet smile, dressed in pink - covered in dirt!

So I gave her a bath, as difficult as that was in a place that had no showers. But scrubbing the dirt off only gave her new opportunity to refashion herself with fresh muck all over again. Off she’d go, tumbling to the ground, and of course, that meant the front and back of her clean clothes, her hands, face and other surrounding body parts were once again gritty and grimy. She reminded me of “Pig Pen”, the Peanuts character that has the “air” of dirt always floating about him whenever he walks. Dirt followed my toddler. It hung like a dark cloud above her. But she had fun, and she also had so many baths!

Bethany and I got to know each other more on that camping trip than in the previous two years since her birth. She was continually in my arms as I scrubbed her clean all over again. She loved to explore and discover and I wanted that for her as well. But I also wanted to her to be clean, though I knew a little dirt wasn’t going to hurt her. After all, we were camping and dirt happens when you camp. It is just so very prolific.

Living Below in This Old Sinful World  

Now that you have that picture of my toddler daughter, you’ll also have a picture of me, here below in this sinful world. Not only am I surrounded by sin (dirt), but I still have a remnant of sin within me - a propensity to sin, buried deep in the recesses of my heart that is inextricable. Though Christ has delivered me from a lifestyle of sin, which I loved, I do still sin. And I sin everyday.
My Sin is Different Now That I Know Christ 

My sin is different now, however. No longer am I running after sin and embracing it. I now run after Christ and embrace Him. No longer do I love my sin. I now hate it and I adore my Savior. I want so much to bring Him glory. I want so much to do His will and be used of Him. I want so much for His love through me to impact others so that they too can know Him and His extravagant grace. And how I long to worship Him!

My sin is different now. My sin is much more inward now rather than outward. (Of course, lest you get the wrong idea, I also sin outwardly. Just ask Robert. No don’t, on second thought!) Now my sin consists mostly of grumbling about some silly thing that has annoyed me; or an attitude toward my husband that is disrespectful (there, I said it); I am ungrateful; and pride rears it’s hideous head every day in my heart. When I am obedient, I congratulate myself - pride. When I worship in song with the saints, my thoughts are elsewhere, not on the Lord. Or, worse, I am thinking how others, hearing me sing, must be so blessed. (Oh! I said that too - so prideful and blasphemous!). Oh, how I hate that! So even my obedience is tainted with sin.

My sin is different now. It seems so much worse than ever before. Shouldn’t I be sinning less and less? I always thought so, but my experience tells me otherwise. So am I not a Christian? These kinds of thoughts can even become sinful when I choose to focus on me, instead of on my redeeming Savior.

My sin Is different now. Though it seems like I sin more than ever, I also confess more than ever and quicker. Quick to sin, quick to confess and be cleansed from all my unrighteousness. Then, clean, like my two-year-old munchkin camper, I go and get dirty again. Ugh!!! It seems like the cleansing I experience is just a new opportunity to get dirty all over again. Oh, may it never be!

But my sin is different now. I no longer make so much of my sin, though I take it seriously. My sin never has the last word. My Savior and his matchless grace always have the last word to my heart. Where sin abounds, God’s grace much more abounds! How that gladdens my soul! I make much over His grace, not over my sin. My sin simply points me all the more to God’s love, patience, mercy, forgiveness, grace and compassion for me. And my love for Him increases daily because of His greater grace.

Sinless Perfection - Not God's Will for His Child

When He saved me, my Heavenly Father could have transformed me in an instant to be sinlessly perfect. But He did not. He allowed that remnant of sin to remain deep down in my heart, never to be extricated by me in this life (or by Him). But why? Because God uses our sin to demonstrate His superfluous grace to us sinners. I keep on discovering how deep and dark my sinful tendencies are, how depraved I really am and how I need the Savior. And that is exactly what God wants so that I can continually be rediscovering His grace toward me - so much more encompassing than my sin, so much more startling than my sin, so much more abounding than my sin. In continuing to come to grips with these two opposing realities - my sin and His grace - God has made it clear that all glory rightfully goes to Him. Without Christ, I literally can do nothing of any eternal value! There will be no bragamonies in heaven.

So What Hope Do I Have of Freedom From Sin?

Oh, I am just a camper here below. God continues to bathe me, clean me, and show His glorious, compassionate face to me in those cleansings. And then I get dirty again. And again my Savior cleanses me. He is so precious. He is so close.

Like Paul said in Romans 7:24–25a: “I am absolutely miserable! Is there anyone who can free me from this body where sin and death reign so supremely? I am thankful to God for the freedom that comes through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One!”

Freedom comes through our Lord Jesus Christ! Freedom from the guilt of sin. How I used to beat myself up over my sin, so depressed because I could not change. But each time I sin, His grace for forgiveness shines and I see Him more clearly. I do not sin because of that, but when I do sin and confess my need for Him, He becomes even more precious to me. Seeing Him in that way, I apprehend more grace and strength by His Spirit to combat my sin. In that “depending” process of leaning on the Everlasting Arms, I am becoming more like Him. He is my hope alone! And He is working my sin together for my good (Christ in me) and for His glory.

2 Corinthians 3:18 says it so well: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” 

Humility, Dependence and Gratitude

So, obedience or the “victorious Christian life” is not what I am focusing on now, or more importantly, that is not what God is focusing on for my sanctification. How proud I would be if, setting my mind to be obedient, I actually was (fat chance!). No, God’s broader desire for me is humility, and a greater and greater sense of my dependence upon Him, and a heart of gratitude. That comes by me beholding my Savior.

Obedience isn’t my focus for when it is, I simply find that it evades me. And if I do somehow manage to obey Him outwardly, I will have a heart full of pride. When, instead, I focus on God’s grace and mercy because I so desperately need it, I see more and more of Jesus and, by His Spirit, I will be more and more transformed into His likeness. Obedience then becomes a byproduct, not something I accomplish because I set my mind on it.

Set Free to Worship Without Disturbance  

One day, when I see Him face to face, His glory will permanently cleanse me from all remaining sin. He will wash me whiter - inside and out - than any garment can be bleached in my washing machine. Oh, oh, oh, what a glorious day that will be! No more will the hindrance of sin interrupt worship! No longer will obedience be a struggle. No longer will I sing, “I long to worship Thee”. I will worship without any disturbance to my soul. Never again something I long for, worship will be realized - effortless and glorious when I behold His precious face. What a Savior!!!

But for now I am camping here below, keeping my eyes up, off the dirt and on the beautiful scene of my Savior’s love, grace, mercy, compassion and forgiveness for me at the cross. And oh, what a magnificent view it is!

Posted by Sharon Kaufman

God's Grace for My Messy Heart

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Be Thirsty! Be Satisfied!

Here is a beautiful truth expressed wonderfully by John Piper. Please be encouraged.

"God is a mountain spring, not a watering trough. A mountain spring is self-replenishing. It constantly overflows and supplies others. But a watering trough needs to be filled with a pump or bucket brigade.

If you want to glorify the worth of a watering trough you work hard to keep it full and useful. But if you want to glorify the worth of a spring you do it by getting down on your hands and knees and drinking to your heart’s satisfaction until you have the refreshment and strength to go back down in the valley and tell people what you’ve found.

My hope as a desperate sinner hangs on this biblical truth: that God is the kind of God who will be pleased with the one thing I have to offer — my thirst. That is why the sovereign freedom and self-sufficiency of God are so precious to me: they are the foundation of my hope that God is delighted not by the resourcefulness of bucket brigades, but by the bending down of broken sinners to drink at the fountain of grace."

But what I've found, as I am sure you have too, is that though I am satisfied when I drink, it isn't long before I am thirsty again. So, I come to drink, again and again.

Jesus said that if we embrace Him, He will be a spring of living water and we will never thirst again, which is true. We will have discovered what quenches our thirst - the thirst that made us run after a thousand watering troughs that we found empty and stagnant and that could not come close to satisfying our thirst. 

Now, we no longer thirst like that. We know the One Who satisfies. Yet we remain thirsty for Him, so we drink Him in over and over. We must, for we live in a lowly, barren land. But now we know where that Mountain Spring is and have become springs of water ourselves - Christ overflowing through us - to those around us who are still so desperately thirsty.

"...whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

Posted by Sharon Kaufman

Be Thirsty! Be Satisfied!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Ballad of the Soul

This poem tells the story of a bit of digging that the Lord did in my soul recently. First, a brief history. It is important but should also bring a bit of a smile to your face, as it did mine:

Some weeks ago, my dear husband and I were working in the yard together. I did not like an idea he had concerning an element that we were changing there. So what did I do? I defaulted to the flesh and criticized him. It was so unkind of me. 

Convicted of this immediately, I confessed it. But as I sat the next morning in prayer, the incident came back to my mind. I confessed it again, but what the Lord wanted was for me to see the depth of that "little" sin. So the digging began. 

He revealed that my harsh reaction indicated that the garden was way too important to me. My heart was still tied up with earthly things. Had this not been so, I would have responded kindly to Robert. After all, when things are not important to us, we have no problem letting go of them to prioritize what is eternal.

God opened my eyes to see that I had not yet counted all things loss as Paul had when he wrote in Philippians 3:8: Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ...

The word that Paul used for "rubbish" actually means "dung". I had not yet considered all things to be "dung" in comparison to knowing Jesus. And to show you how appropriate and timely it was for the Lord to convict me of this, I'll let you in on the fact that it was the compost bin that I criticized Robert about - the housing for the compost, which is just a pile, mostly of chicken dung (we keep chickens)! The Lord wanted me to count our garden dung as "dung" (as well as every other created thing) so that I would be freed up to have more intimacy with Christ, one result of which will be to display Him more authentically in my living. 

The Lord not only convicts us, but He does it in such creative ways! 

This Morning With the Lord in Prayer - A Ballad of the Soul

This morning with the Lord in prayer,
My soul was laid before Him there.
His tenderness brought to my mind
Some words I'd spoken - so unkind.

So I confessed my need for grace
And asked the Savior to replace
My harshness with His tender ways
So Christ would reign and Him be praised

With sin confessed, God then revealed
A problem that had been concealed
From my poor dull and careless heart.
"Please show me, Lord. Your light impart."

Then light He gave and to me showed
My treasure was still here below,
In this dark realm with things unworthy;
Not Christ above and His great mercy.

Just then Paul's words came to my head.
He yearned for Christ and this he said,
"The loss of all things I've sustained
So more of Christ will be my gain,"

On this I thought with new conviction.
And then I saw a ghastly vision - 
A life the opposite of Paul's:
No sacrifice for Christ at all!

No sacrifice for Him, I fear
Is not more earthly things revered,
But less of Christ and more of me...
If "things" I crave and to them cling. 

Oh dreadful thought, from me depart! 
Not more of my poor wandering heart.
No! Less of me, so often failing.
More of Christ, His grace availing.

More of Christ, my refuge here.
More of Christ, my heart to cheer. 
More of Jesus, precious friend;
More of Him to apprehend.

More of Christ, who loves the rebel;
Less of me, may I not wrestle
Against His grace so full and free.
Just give me Christ, my heart's one plea.

He is my joy, my strength, my song.
He paid my ransom. I belong
To Him, the One who loves my soul.
The Lamb, who died to make me whole.

If not for Jesus, life would be
Hopeless, heartless, dismal, bleak.
Sin would reign in days so grim.
My heart would follow every whim.

But give me Christ! His mind within;
And I will be much more like Him.
For He transforms my heart's desire.
His love is my consuming fire.

So let it all be sacrificed,
Since this will gain me more of Christ.
Yes, loss of all things, just like Paul;
My soul, with Jesus, be enthralled!

Yet this, my sacrifice is naught,
Compared to Christ's, with blood He bought
My forgiveness on the Cross.
Yes, it is nil, what I count loss.

So! Idols from my soul depart!
Please, more of Thee, Oh, Christ impart.
It's You I want, You are my life.
And death is gain, much more of Christ!

Posted by Sharon Kaufman

A Ballad of the Soul

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Living Water

The Story in Brief

This morning I read, again, the account of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well when she came to draw water (John 4:3-42). You know the story (if you don't, read it now). She was a Samaritan. The Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans. They were the result of intermarriage between the Hebrew people and Gentiles. And now, centuries later, they were still considered impure, to put it mildly.

So hated were the Samaritans that normally Jews would not go through Samaria to get to Galilee. Though it was out of the way, they would go around Samaria to avoid these people, which made for a much longer trip. So it was unusual to see a Jew in Samaria.

But Jesus made a point of traveling through Samaria on His way to Galilee. He had an appointment there that only He knew about. So He and His disciples stopped on the outskirts of town by the well. The disciples left to go into town to find something to eat while Jesus remained at the well, waiting for the one He had come there to see.
Rembrandt's rendering of the Samaritan woman meeting Jesus at the well.  

As He sat, wearied from the journey, a woman approached the well. It was late in the day to be drawing water, but because of her tarnished reputation, she avoided being there with other women from her city. Ashamed, she did not want to risk confrontation.

When she arrived at the well, Jesus asked her to give Him a drink. She was surprised that He spoke to her, Him being a Jew and a man at that. It was unheard of for Jews to speak to Samaritans, but it was even more unheard of for a man to speak to a woman publicly.

The conversation continued and Jesus revealed Himself to her as the long-awaited Messiah. They talked about worship, "living water" and her life. Well, Jesus talked about her life. She was surprised again when he laid out her biography to her, having never met her before. She had been married five times and now lived with a man that she was not married to. He knew everything about her. He knows everything about all of us. He is omniscient. There is nothing that He does not know.

After Jesus revealed Himself to her, she left Him to run into town to tell others that she had met the Messiah and she invited them all to come and see for themselves.

Then the woman left her water jar and went away to the town. And she began telling the people, "Come see a Man Who has told me everything I ever did! Must not this be the Messiah, the Anointed One?" (John 4:28-29)

An Odd Message

In proclaiming this message to the people of her village, this woman was basically saying, "Come see a man who knows what kind of woman I am, who knows how immoral I've been - five ruined marriages and now living with a man I am not married to. Come see this man who knows all about my lifestyle of sin and shame!"

This must have made the townspeople curious. For they immediately left everything they were doing and sprang up to go and see this man who had so graciously confronted her. She was so stunned by the Messiah: His gracious way of revealing His knowledge of her sad life and yet the LOVE He displayed toward her; His winsome heart for her; His offer of water that would satisfy eternally; and His claim to be the Messiah she had waited for. She was so stunned, that she happily announced all of this to those who had previously shunned her for the very sins she was now openly admitting to. It's all so ironic and fascinating and even humorous.

Free, at Last!

She was not crushed that the Messiah knew all about her sin. She did not linger over her guilt, berating herself. She saw Jesus now. She knew in a moment that He loved her like no man ever had. Her eyes were on Him, not on her wasted life. She was not paralyzed in knowing that this compassionate man was completely aware of her deepest, darkest secrets. No!

Rather, she was repentant and joyful. She was humbled and honest. She was ecstatic that she had come face to face with such a Savior as Jesus - kind, offering hope, calling her to be His own, finally quenching her thirst, confronting her with the fact that He knows all about her sin, yet is so generous in grace that she did not feel destroyed. In fact, she was greatly enlivened, filled with wonder and jubilant of heart at the man and the message of hope that He had delivered to her open ears.

Changed in a Moment

She had now been changed in a moment by Jesus. She no longer had self-conceived ideas about God; but suddenly she knew and believed The Word of God made flesh. Transformed, she was no longer a rebel but had become the very worshiper Jesus had just told her that His Father was seeking. She would never again worship the Lord in a place - the mountain. Now worship sprung forth from her innermost being - in spirit and in truth.

Her motivation for living had turned from self-gratification to glorifying Christ. She was suddenly relating happily with the very people who had turned her away for what seemed like an eternity. In fact, without being told, she had begun a one-woman campaign of evangelism to these townfolks. She now witnessed to them of the Messiah.

She was brand new. She was joyful after having been downcast and derided by herself and others for as long as she could remember. She was free! A great burden had been removed from her. She was no longer thirsting for something elusive to her, working in vain for some created thing to quench her fierce longing. She was satisfied completely now in her Creator and Redeemer.

By drinking in the Living Water this woman had become a "spring of water welling up to eternal life"!

Who is Like You, Oh Lord?

Oh, who can do such wonders? Who else can quench the thirst of the sinner but the Living Water? Is it any mystery then why this woman so eagerly ran to the very people who had condemned her, to tell them of this wonderful and long-hoped-for Messiah?

After this, Jesus graciously stayed with these despised people. The result was that they came to love and embrace Him also. How could they not since He had revealed Himself to them? They told the woman, Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.

My Longing and Prayer

Lord Jesus, You cannot be explained. I struggle to understand Your grace - it is so foreign to the human experience. Your love is nothing any of us mortals could ever have imagined on our own. Your mercy is beyond describing.

Thank You for coming to me and revealing Yourself to me, just as You did for this woman so harassed by her sin. You are precious, dear Savior. Oh thank You, Living Water, for quenching my thirsty soul.

Please show me more and more of Yourself day by day. I yearn to have more of You, to love You with a greater heart of love; to serve You with a passion that is fueled by that love. Only You can do this in me. I want to overflow with joy in You so that each day I am renewed by that joy (that only You can give). It is Your joy which so energizes me to do what pleases You, kind Lord - to do Your magnificent will and love You in return.

May it be so, Oh Lord, for this is Your will for me and I thank You.

Posted by Sharon Kaufman

The Living Water