Sharon Smith Leaman

The Stewardship of What Is

As Christians, because we believe God greatly values the inner life of man, it’s a little easier to make peace with the physical peaks we face. Our aging bodies are calling cards from heaven to remind us of Who awaits us. But, lately, it’s the looming peaks in my inward life have caught me off guard. It seems as if some of me is fading away. My mind is slower. What I thought were inward strengths are not so strong.

Years ago, I wrote an article entitled, “You Don’t Peak with Jesus.”  I wrote it in the thick of our homeschooling days, as I was learning how to teach my children how to be curious.  My point was that in God’s created world, we never “peak” at knowing all there is to know because our Maker is infinite and He has put eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Writing that article helped me evaluate our little homeschool less with academic standards and more with a sense of wonder and curiosity. In those full days of home life, we sowed and sowed, and in my heart, I was expectant in the potential.
Potential is a powerful motivator. When we’re young, we set out with a vision to refine what God has given us. It’s a natural inclination: He planted this seed-vision in man when He told Adam to take dominion over the earth. It’s the same principle found in Jesus’ parable of the talents. We are to be active stewards, investing and developing our gifts according to the measure of grace He gives.  Sowing in the early years was much like sprinkling a bag of mixed wildflower seeds on fallowed ground (some with abandon!) and waiting to see what would take root. As a young woman, wife, and mother, the expectation of what could be was the excitement in our life’s adventure.
Skip ahead a few years.  Now, my homeschooling adventure is almost complete. God will complete His work in my children as He promises. Their lives still teem with potential. But what about mine?  While the premise, “You Don’t Peak with Jesus” is still true, lately I find myself on some mountains with the sun behind me rather in front. And it’s a strange, disorienting feeling.
It’s not like I didn’t see it coming. Time has an unforgiving nature, applied to us all because of Adam’s choice.  Just one look in the mirror or a brisk walk reminds me of his folly. Scripture, always honest with me, confirms what I experience: we are “outwardly wasting away.” While our bodies have value, they are only “jars of clay” holding the inward treasure of knowing Christ and His grace (2 Corinthians 4). For us women, the scriptures specifically remind us that “beauty is fleeting” and to adorn ourselves instead with the unfading inward beauty of meekness and a quiet spirit (Proverbs 31, 1 Peter 3).
As Christians, because we believe God greatly values the inner life of man, it’s a little easier to make peace with the physical peaks we face. Our aging bodies are calling cards from heaven to remind us of Who awaits us. But, lately, it’s the looming peaks in my inward life have caught me off guard. It seems as if some of me is fading away. My mind is slower. What I thought were inward strengths are not so strong. My motivations pulse weaker. Perhaps some skills are as honed as they will ever be. Perhaps some dreams will never be real. What I have stewarded as Potential has moved into the realm of What Is.  As I cross into this realm, it is as if I’m tottering on the fulcrum between young men’s visions and old men’s dreams.  I’m off kilter, trying to find my balance.
Thankfully, Scriptures refer to man’s soul as the imperishable inner part of who we are, not those things that are unseen in us. God values our inward soul so much that He came as Emmanuel and He sacrificed His physical body as an exchange for our hearts through forgiveness of His shed blood. His command to “keep your heart…for from it flow the springs of life” is a command to steward that for which He gave His life (Proverbs 4:23). So, the ultimate stewardship we have, regardless of age, ability or season, is to steward our souls with all vigilance.  Other stewardships come and go.
As I seek my balance in these middle years, I remind myself that the principle “We Don’t Peak with Jesus” is still true. My soul will never peak. My body, yes. My mind, yes. And at some point, everything else. But not my soul. The one constant stewardship throughout every season is to “keep my heart” and be loyal to the One who has brought me thus far. The beautiful paradox in the command to “keep my heart” is that the keeping of my heart is not a stewardship of Potential. My heart is wholly, eternally and irrevocably hidden in Christ’s complete and perfect stewardship of What Is.
I’m grateful for my old friends Peter and Paul who faithfully point me to that “better country” still far off and remind me that this life’s temporal downhills are its spiritual assents, where I learn to shed the layers I have relied on for the journey home. The Good Shepherd whispers for me to trust His rod and staff so His comforting presence can steer and steady me as He leads me into new country. So, I step out, more and more by faith and less by sight, trusting more in my Savior’s stewardship of me than in my own—a stewardship that is less tangible but no less expectant, and indeed eternal
Sharon Smith Leaman is a member of New Life in Christ Church (PCA) in Fredericksburg, Va.
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Household Expectations: Be All In

Church life stabilizes our families because it is built on a sure foundation. It is a place where we learn to live with integrity the faith we profess. Being a part of a larger covenant community teaches our children what it looks like to grow in holiness.  It teaches us what love, self-sacrifice, and belonging looks like, beyond the boundaries of our individual homes. 

I love young families in the church.  I love hearing babies cooing and crying, the shuffle of Sunday school papers and forced hushes and whispers.  I love the delight of children as their parents dole out goldfish crackers into little eager hands, some of which invariably get dropped and crushed into the carpet beneath their feet.  To me, left behind crumbs and crayons are a welcome sign of vibrancy in the household of God.  As a mom of four, I appreciate the obstacles they had to overcome just to get inside the church doors, so my heart is glad for their presence.
Another sound I love to hear are the testimonies of young parents who express their desire to raise their children in the church. Outwardly, I cheer these parents on with a genuine smile, and inwardly, I pray that the Church can meet the expectations that are inherent in that good, well-placed desire.  What is at the heart of my prayer for these young families?  I pray because I know something these young, sweet families may not know yet: Church can get hard.
I write that statement with much sadness because I love God’s church.  As a young child, even as an unbeliever at the time, God’s church was a special, reverent place for me; a haven of respite and safety.  Years later, when I came to a saving faith in Christ, my love for His church grew deeper because I had come to know and love the God who dwells there – the One who gave His life to establish it.  Early in our marriage, as we dreamed of what our family life would be like, my husband and I both held strong convictions that being part of a covenant community was a sacrificial act of worship according to Romans 12.  Our family was all in.
As our child-rearing years are coming to a close, my prayer for these young families is not offered with cynicism.  It is offered with hope that as young families start out, they will build their family’s goals with biblical expectations towards the church.  Biblical expectations are essential to understand the relationship between the home and the church so we learn how to live covenantally with our church family.  Often times, the lack of biblical expectations is the source of the disappointments that families experience as they grow up.  We need to look to God’s word to see what God intends for the church and family as the symbiotic, stabilizing relationship it is for family life and the covenant community.
God, in His wisdom and prerogative, gave to the family the primary responsibility of raising a child in the way he should go. But, also in His wisdom and prerogative, He gave us the Church – a free gift, given at the moment of our salvation – which God defines as His household, a blending of redeemed individuals and families whom He is building into a spiritual house, a holy dwelling place for His Spirit.  As in any household, there are expectations.
In Ephesians 2:18-22 we learn about the expectations of His household:
For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
God’s household is a place where we are one people together, built on a sure foundation of Jesus Christ, where the body of Christ to grows in holiness together.  These are essential expectations God sets out for His household.
God chose the imagery of a household to help us think about what a commitment to a local church looks like.  As women, we know what it takes to run a household:  it takes all members, doing their part, to maintain a God-honoring home. It’s a lot of work! Our homes do not run themselves and are far from perfect. They are organic and we adjust our schedules, wallets, and own needs to help each member flourish according to God’s principles. In the same way, God’s household is a place where each family has a place to flourish, to learn and grow, to be valued and included.  We adjust our lives to make room for those in our covenant community. God has an expectation that we are to be a family together, living and growing, working and celebrating, supporting and adjusting so that each living stone has a place and purpose in what He is building among us. Other than our own homes, there is no sweeter place to be than in the company of believers who want to be nurtured and grow in holiness after Christ’s own character.
Sadly, when we forget the Lord’s chosen imagery of a household together, we can slip into thinking that “going to church” is about meeting our own needs rather than living as an extended family.  Please, beloved, we need to guard ourselves from this consumer-minded thinking!  Unfortunately, I’ve seen families become disappointed in church because particular social needs aren’t met, feelings get hurt, theological pet peeves get bristly, good intentions are misunderstood or any other myriad of reasons. To be sure, some disappointments run deeper. As families struggle within their private walls, when they look to the church for help, for whatever reason, they may become disappointed with the help offered or received.  It is a true grief when a hurting family walks away.
Church disappointments are hard to talk about because we don’t expect them.  We mistake church to be that longed for place where the streets are paved with gold and lined with jewels, instead of a waystation – a home – for needy people who are only there because we admit we’re imperfect and are looking ahead for better country (Hebrews 11:16).  Raising a family in the church is to raise it among other sinners saved by grace, who humbly endeavor to reflect Christ in their imperfections.  We live together to love our God and out of that love, we love our neighbor.  That is our economy as believers, not a product-consumer economy.
It’s easy to slip into this kind of thinking, particularly as parents.  We want the best for our family, which includes a “good experience” within the church.  When that expectation isn’t met, many of us just want to pull anchor and set sail to other seas, thinking we’ll find that elusive safe harbor for our family.  The commitment to “raise the family in the church” isn’t so easy anymore and as our families grow, it can get even tougher and we’re wondering if it all is worth it. Let me say, as a member of a church for 30 years, who has raised her children there, who has been through trials, church splits, and personal hurts for myself and children:  It. Is. Worth. It.
Church life stabilizes our families because it is built on a sure foundation. It is a place where we learn to live with integrity the faith we profess. Being a part of a larger covenant community teaches our children what it looks like to grow in holiness.  It teaches us what love, self-sacrifice, and belonging looks like, beyond the boundaries of our individual homes.  And, gently put, our homes cannot teach everything a child needs to learn about life, no matter how intentional or incredible we are as parents. We need to see other families living by faith, walking the road the Lord has marked for them so that our own hearts are encouraged and strengthened.
So, dear young families, when church gets hard, when it’s not what you expected, when you’re disappointed – we still need you and you need us. Teach your children the reason we gather as God’s people is because it’s all for Him, for His glory.  Teach them the reason we come is not because it’s easy, exuberantly exciting or that everyone’s needs are met all the time. We come because God is there and we need one another as we journey on. Your family’s presence may be just what another family – young or old – needs to live out their own commitments. There is no other place like it on earth.  And somehow, ineffably, when we come together, He dwells with us, shares His splendor much like the sun spreads its sunbeams. In the warmth of His presence, I say: Put down roots. Love your extended family.  Weather each storm.  Grow into holiness. My prayer for you, as you take your vow to raise your family in the church: Be all in.
Sharon Smith Leaman  is a member of New Life in Christ Church (PCA) in Fredericksburg, Va.
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Keeper of Our Lists

The same deposit that God gave to Paul has been given to all His children, regardless of the measure of our belief, persuasion and trust.  He has “set His seal on us.” In our humanity, I believe that we’ll have periods of doubt, regret, unbelief – but God does not share in those.  He is fully confident that He will keep His promise to keep us until we will see Him in all His fullness (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Chronic disease. Depression. Cancer. Self-harm. Anger.  Shallow relationships. Destructive patterns of thinking. It saddens me to write these cares as a list, but they are swirling around my little world right now.  I almost hesitate to list them collectively, as if The List as a whole may somehow diminish the significance of any one of them.  One is enough on its own.
But somehow, by listing them all together, it’s what I need to retreat into a protective cleft hewn from this mountain of hard things and force me to stop and look for perspective.  Reflection and perspective are tricky disciplines.  I can be guilty of “scanning His work in vain” through “blind unbelief” as the hymn writer poetically tells me.[1]  Yet, God-centered self-examination is to soften the soul, not harden it. So I trust God to place me on soft ground for His namesake as I do this hard work.
As I sit in that cleft, I am drawn to Paul’s last words to his dear Timothy.  Paul was in prison, awaiting his execution.  He had been arrested and sentenced to die because of his faith in and preaching about the Lord Jesus Christ.  That jail cell was his cleft of perspective.  His List included:  loneliness, abandonment, betrayal, and extreme physical suffering, not to mention the mental suffering of waiting for death at the hands of a capricious, viciously evil emperor.  Surely, it was an intense season of reflection and perspective.
However, as I read Paul’s words to Timothy, it is clear that Paul saw more than a desolate cell in the haze of his suffering. In his final days of reflection and perspective, he was confident, immovable, assured in Christ.  Paul, whose inspired parting words still send sound waves through the ages, declared to Timothy, “I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded, that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed to Him against that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).
I wonder: What was it about Paul that enabled him to be so confident as he reflected on The List of his life? As a woman, I think of the verse in Proverbs 31:25 which says, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the days to come.” How then, can I learn to view my List with strength and dignity, with the confidence of a Paul?  How do I cultivate confidence during my mid-life, when my list of sorrows seem to only get heavier?
He Knew Whom to Believe
Paul’s confidence is not in what he believed, but in whom he believed.  His doctrine, apologetics, and Christian worldview – the “whats” of his belief – were not his Savior, but the very real, incarnate, ever present Almighty God.  He says, “I know whom I have believed.”  Looking only to “the what” leaves me bereft as I ponder: Why cancer? Why chronic, debilitating disease? Why depression? Being able to articulate the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and man’s sin puts borders around the pain, but it doesn’t sit with you in the crevice and console the heart as does the familiarity of Jesus’ presence.  Only Jesus’ presence truly satisfies.  Paul drew his confidence from the very real, ever faithful, intimate presence of his living Savior he had come to know through suffering side by side with Him through the Lists of his life.  He says this,
“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 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:8-10).
He knew Jesus as his Lord, not just as The Lord. He knew Jesus was faithful to him.  He knew Jesus was true to him.  His List was a proving ground for knowing his Savior. My heart resonates with Paul’s: I want to know Him and be found in Him, not lost in the bewilderment of my List.  For me, growing in Christ in my mid-life means pushing through the informing “what” to look for Him, the Incarnate Whom I am to know.
Cultivating an intimate relationship with the Living Savior is a whole other discipline which is foreign and just a bit foolish in this material world.  It requires an “other worldly” adjustment. The adjustment takes my relationship with Jesus beyond my intellect and imagination and sits me with Him in quiet expectation that He will meet with me and be near to my soul. This adjustment requires me to tune my spirit to Him in a child-like faith, respond to Him in honest prayer, and listen for His still small voice.  It is indeed a strange and uncomfortable posture for someone who looks for the tangible and rational.  But, God is a Spirit, and true worshippers must worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24).  So, as strange as this discipline may seem, this spiritual tuning is central to knowing the Lord and we should not be ashamed of it and we should encourage it, as long as it is grounded and guided by God’s revealed word.
How do we tune our spirit to His as we lay in our beds, unable to sleep because of our Lists?  We do what Jesus did:  We go to our heavenly Father in prayer.  We tune our hearts to believe in the character of our God and how His character is sufficient for each care.  Is it sin or sickness?  He is the Great Physician (Mark 2:17). Is it depression? He has borne our griefs (Isaiah 53:4).  Is it loneliness?  He is the God who sees us (Genesis 16:13).  Is it a wayward loved one?  He leaves the ninety-nine (Luke 15:3-7). Is it fear of death? He leads us through the valley of its shadow (Psalm 23).  In all these things, we counsel ourselves to put our faith in God (Psalm 42:5).  This is what it means to “preach the gospel to yourself every day.”[2] Belief opens the door of the soul and welcomes us into the entryway of intimacy with, not just knowledge of, our Savior.
He Was Persuaded
When my husband and I took our marriage vows 29 years ago, I gave a reason for my willingness to marry and submit to him: I was persuaded he loved me. Over the course of our friendship, dating, and engagement, he had proven his love and commitment, so much so that I was willing to commit my life to him until my death.  I was persuaded that whatever was to be in our future, he would be true to his vow, not to me, but to the Lord. I could trust and submit to that kind of man.
Paul’s confidence came from being persuaded that Jesus was trustworthy for his eternal future.  It’s truly an amazing turn around for a man who believed that cultivating his own self-righteousness was his path to heaven. Paul, a violent Christian hater, transferred his trust from himself to trust entirely in Jesus’ goodness imputed to him, purchased for him by His death on the cross.  That’s a big step for someone who studied the holiness of God and understood the severity of being wrong about where to put one’s eternal trust.  He was persuaded that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was sufficient for him, and knew his own was not. How does one become persuaded to trust Jesus completely?  How did Paul get there?
Humbling and bewildering as it seems, being persuaded doesn’t start with a desire to be persuaded. It starts in eternity, in the heart of God, for His own glory and purposes, not from anything lovely or attractive in any one of us. “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4). God set His affections on Paul just as He has set His affections on me. How can this be?  I honestly don’t know.  It’s beyond my scope.  But I know that God persuaded me in my college days to put aside my arrogance, to put aside my striving for a goodness that would shake off my shame, to put aside the empty satisfaction of sin, and take up His name and be known as His.  This is His work in me, apart from me. The faith I have is a faith given to me, it is not the product of any formula for living or thinking.  I’m so very grateful that the trustworthiness of His eternal promises is dependent on Him, not my perfection of being fully persuaded in this earthly life.
But, just like in courtship, persuasion grows. Persuasion in belief grows by seeking out God in His word and getting to know Him there.  Recently, I spent many months studying the letter to the Hebrews. Throughout my study, I kept coming back to the question, “How is this text relevant to me, a modern Christian? How do animal sacrifices, the Hebrew temple, or the high priest Melchezedek matter to my List?” I realized that in similar ways, the ancient saints had the same question, “How does God’s 4,000 year old covenant promise of a coming Messiah affect our practical life when all we see is struggle, persecution, captivity, and domination?” The writer of Hebrews gives this answer: We live by faith not by sight. Even as modern Christians, we need to see God’s promises and must welcome them from afar (Hebrews 11:13). Our “afar” is two directional – we look ahead, yes, but we also look back.  Part of our sanctification is being persuaded that our life of faith is connected to a larger whole, a spiritual movement that we cannot see with our eyes, that started way before us, and one that we have been invited to join by our Savior.
Paul’s trust came from seeing, through God’s word, the sweeping epic of God’s revealed story.  Paul was able to grasp the big picture because he was an ardent student of God’s word. He was persuaded through the testimony of the law and the prophets, through the history of God’s dealings with men, and through the life of Jesus which testified to God’s faithfulness to His promises.  His confidence could not have come through casual study that cherry-picked favorite, feel-good verses found in 5 minute, pre-written devotionals, but by meditation on the whole counsel of God over a lifetime.  He saw God’s word wholly, historically, and systematically.  As modern Christians, we grow in the same way: reading, studying, meditating, applying God’s word until we see the big picture.  We grow strong roots when we draw our sustenance from the deep, underground rivers of living water mined out of God’s word instead of thinking a sustaining sustenance comes from nearby surface puddles left over from light, spring rains.
How can we grow to be persuaded that God is trustworthy to transfer everything we hold dear to Him?  It almost seems as if trusting Jesus for our eternal state is easier than trusting Him for our temporal cares. That is a challenging thought.  Jesus has taken care of the “big thing” but we’re still holding on to the rest.  If we can trust Him for the big thing, why not the cares of our Lists?[3]  Perhaps they’ve become too dear to us.  Perhaps we’ve forgotten our heavenly home.  It’s an indication we’ve lost connection with the whole of what God is doing.
Paul encourages me to reflect on God’s larger purposes and trust God’s constant historical presence and faithfulness.  A way I can grow to trust Him for my List is to look beyond it and take comfort in the truth that my List is not what God is all about. Yes, He is present here, He cares about the affairs of men. He cares deeply about my personal List.  But He is also about so much more. The Hebrews admitted that “they were aliens and strangers on the earth.”  Growing in confidence comes from seeking what He has revealed through the whole counsel of His word, and to discover His heart for His people globally, historically, systematically.  His heart is here with us, yes, but He is lifting our eyes to trust Him that there is a greater country afar.  What we see on our List only lingers; we are to look up and long for that better country just as the ancients did (Hebrews 11:16).
He Entrusted
There was a time in my youth when I challenged myself, “Live with no regrets!”  I had a fearlessness (more like hubris) that if I brought my very best to whatever I set my mind and hand to, I could avoid sadness and feelings of guilt I saw in many older women. I was determined to not be a sad old lady!  How foolish of me. The idea that we can live with no regrets distorts the reality of sin and our need for a Savior who has come to redeem them. Those “sad old ladies” were closer to understanding the gospel in their reflections than I did in my gumption.
Paul, in his last days, gives us no indication that he became a sad, old man, defeated and cynical.  As he reflected on his List – the unseen sacrifices, the costly investments, the physical sufferings, broken relationships, the unrealized expectations and unanswered prayers– he entrusted them to Jesus in escrow until He made all things new. He acknowledged those earthly realities, but because he knew they were safe with Jesus, he could press on “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…all of us who are mature should take such a view of things” (Philippians 3:13,15). He demonstrated this by spending his final days encouraging, equipping, and admonishing Timothy to “fan into the flame the gift of God which is in you” and to not fear or be ashamed of what lay ahead.
And, yet, here I am, writing these words to try to make sense of The List and at the same time longing for maturity.  As I look at my List, I ask myself dangerous questions like, “What could I have done differently?  Did I truly “do my best” in my most important roles of wife and mother?  Did I love well?  Did I invest wisely in the right things?”  The empty encouragement I often give myself is, “Girl, give yourself grace. Don’t be too hard on yourself.”  But that is not the counsel of the Scriptures.
The counsel of the Scriptures is to confess and repent; believe and trust.  Many women seek and offer easy solace in pithy self-statements, but what a soul needs is an assurance in the beautiful, bloody beams of the cross of Christ.  We confess our regrets and unbelief in God’s goodness because Jesus died to redeem our regrets and unbelief. We confess and repent of our sinfulness because He died to forgive us of our sinfulness.  Jesus condescended to us so we would know how far His love would go. He rose from the dead to prove He is able to do all that He promised.  Our Lists are the representations of why He came.  Therefore, a mature view of our Lists is to humbly accept them and to see them not as representations of regrets or broken pieces that can weigh us down by sadness, but as reminders to cling to Him.  Paul encourages us to embrace our Lists: “For where I am weak, He is strong, for God’s power is made manifest in weakness.  So, I will boast in my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10).”  As a Christian woman, I am to regard my List as a symbol of why He came and a rallying point for me to trust and rest in Him.
But, I can’t mistake or confuse the conclusion here:  Paul’s ability to ultimately trust God with his List did not come from his strength of his belief or the power of a supreme intellect able to understand deep theological arguments, or simply from thinking clearly on days that are hard and overwhelming.  His ability to trust God was because of God’s promise:
“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.  He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). 
The same deposit that God gave to Paul has been given to all His children, regardless of the measure of our belief, persuasion and trust.  He has “set His seal on us.” In our humanity, I believe that we’ll have periods of doubt, regret, unbelief – but God does not share in those.  He is fully confident that He will keep His promise to keep us until we will see Him in all His fullness (1 Corinthians 13:12).   And, if God is fully assured in His own trustworthiness towards us, we can entrust Him with our Lists.  This is what His stewardship of our Lists looks like: King David pens this beautiful lyric: “You number and record my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle—are they not in Your book?” (Psalm 56:8).  He catches, records, and keeps them all. Our heavenly Father is the ultimate steward of our Lists.
I honestly don’t know if I will ever be mature enough on this side of heaven to embrace my List with joy.  But I can aim for contentment. I can aim to be more fully persuaded that God has a plan for it. I can aim to more fully entrust my List into the rugged, pierced hands of Jesus.  I can aim to be more confident in His promise that He will keep in a bottle all that I’ve entrusted to Him – my heart, my prayers, my loved ones, my hopes and dreams, my tears, my cares – until that day when He welcomes me home and I see Him face-to-face, and He wipes every tear from my eyes.
Sharon Smith Leaman is a member of New Life in Christ Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Fredericksburg, Va.
[1] Cowper, William. God Moves in a Mysterious Way. 1774.
[2] Bridges, Jerry. The Discipline of Grace : God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs, Colo., Navpress, 2006.
[3] I give credit for this statement to Rev. Douglas Kittredge, my pastor and mentor for 35 years.  He was the founding pastor of New Life in Christ Church, Fredericksburg, Virginia.
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An Approachable Holiness

The challenge for us to be holy is put forth by Christ’s example: Every interaction showed His holiness and His humble loyalty to His Heavenly Father’s will. Every interaction acknowledged our human brokenness. Every interaction pointed us to the remedy of the impending drama of the Cross, when and where He would give us His holiness and make us His own through faith in Him.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16
If we are to be holy, we are to be “set apart” to God. It’s an identity given to us through the covenantal work of providence on our lives, outside of ourselves, through the life-giving, grace-imputed righteousness in Jesus Christ.
There’s lots of theology-rich, truthful words in the above sentence! Yet, how approachable is this description of my own identity in Christ? To get to the point: how do I live my ordinary life with an approachable holiness so that others (and even myself) can see Jesus in me?
As I’ve spent some time in the Gospel of Matthew, it has been refreshing to “reconnect” with Jesus. I’m reminded of His ministry and life on earth, which was raw, dirty, poor, and in a temporal way, quiet. He puzzles me and leaves me in awe at the same time!
Matthew describes for us Jesus’s holiness in His interactions with people while on earth. Jesus’ humility was holy. His wisdom was holy. His compassion was holy. Jesus’s every word, every act, every touch, every motivation was holy. He did not separate Himself from unholy, worldly sinners, but in his humility, he separated to Himself a bunch of ragged, strung out, unholy people and made them holy in Him, by Him, and for Him.
As the “God-Man,” Jesus’ holiness was entirely approachable. Beggars, blind men, “unclean” women, the powerful, the mentally-ill, wriggly and spirited children all approached Jesus. He received them and spoke to their hearts about a Heavenly Father who is jealous for them and can give them life abundant. He tells them that the Kingdom of God is for them – those who are poor, who mourn, are meek, who long for a righteousness they know they cannot give to themselves.
He labeled this cast of characters: “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.” He welcomed this motley crew to be God’s holy or “set apart” people, to receive His forgiveness and righteousness. It’s shocking isn’t it? His holy people are set apart, not because of their self-respectability, but because of their lack of it. He makes them holy through His approachable presence in their messy, unapproachable lives.
Growing in holiness to me is about growing in humility and approachability. But, it’s not just by admitting, “I’m a broken mess! (See how approachable I am?)” When I do this, I miss the point that becoming approachable to others in community is not about flippantly proclaiming my brokenness, but humbly proclaiming what Jesus has done through my brokenness, in spite of my brokenness, and offering that hope to others. He who has made me holy is making me holy through His holy, approachable presence in my broken life.
The challenge for us to be holy is put forth by Christ’s example: Every interaction showed His holiness and His humble loyalty to His Heavenly Father’s will. Every interaction acknowledged our human brokenness. Every interaction pointed us to the remedy of the impending drama of the Cross, when and where He would give us His holiness and make us His own through faith in Him.
I want reflect Jesus’ approachable holiness in my ragged life by being loyal to Him, being humble and hopeful at the foot of the cross. I am thankful for my brothers and sisters in Christ who model this for me in community. I pray that I would be considered one in that number.
Sharon Smith Leaman is a member of New Life in Christ Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Fredericksburg, Va.
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