Going Rogue

IMG_6199 (1)I couldn’t help but notice this morning that a tulip has gone rogue.

Instead of being like all of the other blooms in this beautiful bouquet Terry brought home earlier this week, this tulip has a mind of it’s own and insists on doing it’s own thing.

It makes me smile because it’s  a great reminder that we as Christians are supposed to do the same thing—we’ve been set apart to do God’s “thing” in this world and if we focus on Jesus instead of being distracted by the world, the same thing is bound to happen to us—we’ll go rogue!

That’s because as believers in Christ, we have been set apart for a higher purpose.

God Has Set Us Apart to Show His Glory  

The moment we put our faith and trust in him, asking him to be our savior and lord, we are transformed. I like the way the NLT version of the Bible translates II Corinthians 5:17:

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

Think about it.  When we become believers, we symbolically leave darkness to dwell in the kingdom of light. From that moment on, we are strangers to the world we left behind. Everything about us changes—especially the way we think and act—and that brings glory to God.

Set Apart to Live Our Purpose

We’re also set apart to live the purpose God created us to do on this earth. Jeremiah knew that when he said:

“The Lord gave me this message. ‘I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.’” Jeremiah 1:4-5 (NLT)

Continue reading Jeremiah 1 and you’ll see that Jeremiah, then a young ruler of 21, understood that God’s call on his life included promises. God not only promised to give him the words to speak, He said he would perform them. He also promised that he would make Jeremiah like a fortified city that couldn’t be captured so that he wouldn’t be overcome by the people. Jeremiah understood that he could walk with confidence because God not only set him apart for his purpose, he would walk with him every step of the way!

Just like Jeremiah, God knew us before he formed us in our mothers’ wombs. Before we were born, God set us apart for a higher purpose. The moment we accept and trust in Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we begin to live and fulfill that purpose.

Set Apart to Be Holy

Finally, being set apart also means we’re also we’re called to be holy; fully consecrated to our Abba Father.  Contrary to what a lot of people believe today, it is totally possible to be authentic and holy at the same time, but only if we’re fully consecrated to God.

What does that mean? Simply that we give ourselves to God; become “a living sacrifice,” as Paul says in Romans 12:1. Although it’s a term often used to denote the role of ministry or missionary personnel, the consecration spoken of in throughout the New Testament applies to all who follows Christ. The truth of the matter is we cannot become spiritually mature without fully consecrating ourselves to the Lord.

“And so, dear brothers and sisters,[a] I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable.”   Romans 12:1 (NLT)

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When we know and understand who we are in Christ and who He is in us,  we can walk in the purpose to which we’ve been called and set apart and live a holy life that brings glory and honor to God. We were made for a mission. God has a plan and purpose for each and every one of us. Isn’t it time we went rogue from the rest of the world?

 

 

Disappointment: 4 Steps in Overcoming the Letdowns of Life

spilled milkLife has felt an awful lot like a roller coaster ride these days. Chances are, you’ve experienced the same sort of thing. One day life feels as fresh and full of hope as a beautiful spring day. You go to bed and wake up—and boy, have things changed. Before you know it, a conversation or email plunges you to the pits of despair. There’s spilled milk everywhere!

All of a sudden, what you thought was steadfast hope and faith collides with an unexpected reality check leaving behind disappointment big enough to knock you down.

A natural optimist, I generally see the good in people or in situations. But I’ll be the first to admit just how quickly my positivity is overtaken by a depressive spirit. Sometimes it takes every ounce of spiritual maturity I have to climb out of the deep places that disappointments take me.

Disappointment leads to hurt. Hurt leads quickly to anger and anger to bitterness. By that time I’m fighting to find a sliver of forgiveness in the deepest crevice of my heart.

If not for a strong belief that God can bring good from the worst situations, it could be overwhelming. Thank God we have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight that comes because God has rushed in and proven that he is bigger than any disappointment that has ever come our way.

Rarely is God the one who pulls the rug out from under us. I’m not saying he can’t or won’t ever do that, but it seems to me that God occasionally allows a “big picture” view when it comes to taking care of us. I don’t mean that as an existential statement saying God does not care and isn’t intricately involved in every aspect of our lives, because I know he is. I simply mean I believe there are times when he allows injustice or disappointment to happen in our lives for the sake and benefits of what he can and will do in the big picture if we trust him and move forward with confidence.

Disappointments are a part of life. People let you down. Your body fails you. A precious child suffers and dies. Cancer comes back. Friends betray you. Bosses turn on you. Organizations toss you aside. The Stock Market falls. Children make bad decisions. Old habits—thought conquered—return, [insert your disappointment here] , and the list goes on and on …

It doesn’t matter “which” disappointment you’re dealing with now, this one thing holds true: no matter how bad life looks or how let down we feel, hope is always there. In fact, it is the believer’s constant companion—even when you can’t see it, it’s there.

So how do we overcome the letdowns of life? Here are four steps I use to process disappointment and help me move on with life.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
Psalms 34:18

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#1. Grieve
Although I’d like to say I am able to start the process of overcoming disappointments with step two, personal experience has taught me that it is almost impossible to defeat deep disappointment without going through a grieving process of some sort.

Feel your disappointment. It’s okay to be sad and grieve. When things don’t go the way you’ve planned or expected, or when life as you know it is shot down, it’s natural to be sad and even mourn what was or could have been. For some, grieving is a time of quiet reflection; for others, it involves tears and anger. Of course, the trick here is to release the sadness and accept the inevitable without feeding the root of bitterness that can quickly sprout up and flourish.

Pray. How blessed we are as believers to not have to carry the heavy burden of disappointment alone. Scripture teaches us, the load is more easily carried when the yoke is shared with others. We have Abba Father, Spouses, Trusted friends, Life group families; surround yourself by those who love and care for you and share your burden.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

God already knows about your heartache and disappointment, but tell him anyway. He wants you to talk to him. Be honest; speak from the heart. If you’re mad, tell him. (It’s okay—he’s God and he can take it!) If you want to know why, ask him. (Again, it’s okay—he’s God!) More importantly, ask for his wisdom and insight. Be still. Be quiet. Allow him to speak to your heart.

Cast your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
1 Peter 5:7

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#2. Put Things into Perspective
It’s during my times of great disappointment that I’m reminded of Isaiah 55:8-9: “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your thoughts.”

Realize that God knows best. How many times have we railed against circumstances and disappointments only to praise God later for the way things turned out? Though it’s difficult to swallow, there are many times when God will use a very painful disappointment to move us; even if we feel called to be right where we are. It’s okay. He’s faithful. He’s our defender and will go before us. Psalms 59:9 says, “God, my strength, I am looking to You, because God is my Defender.

Other times God will use a disappointment to take us  where he’s been trying to get us to go. And, almost always, God allows it to grow our character and faith.

Be thankful. It might sound tough when you’re reeling from disappointment, but be thankful and look for God’s goodness and graciousness in your life. Sure, it’s easier to wallow in self-pity, but don’t. 1 Thessalonians 5:8 teaches us to, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” Easier said than done, I know, but be intentional about your thankfulness and God will bless your efforts.

Serve others. When someone or something disappointments us, the inclination is to withdraw, turn in and focus on ourself. That’s the easy choice. But it’s not who we are in Christ; We can chose to be driven by what has happened to us or we can push through and live by the principles that guide our lives.

When it’s hard to put things into perspective, that’s the most important time to find the good, grab it with both hands, and celebrate it.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11

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#3. Focus on God’s Purpose for Your Life
Do we serve the God of the universe or not? I mean this is GOD we’re talking about—the one who created the earth. The author of life, purveyor of miracles. essence of resurrection and all things new. Omnipotent, Omniscient, God; Savior of the world! He can do anything. ANYTHING! [Note to self: God is in control!]

Reaffirm your faith. When disappointment takes a nose-dive down into our lives, it often brings a crisis of belief with it. That when our faith has to kick into gear and make a conscious decision of saying “yes, I believe in God’s plan and purpose for my life.” “I trust him with my future.” “I believe he’s got this,’ and he’s looking out for me and one day I’m going to step back and see how God’s perfect plan unfolded in my life.”

Move forward. In the meantime, things may stink but God’s plan for your life and the way he has gifted and shaped you hasn’t changed. Step back and look at where God is at work around you; then move forward. Sometimes we become so focused on “us,” we fail to see where he is directing our path. Even in our pain and suffering, God will use us.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
Romans 8:28

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#4. Adjust Your Life Accordingly
There comes a point when all the wailing and gnashing of teeth subsides and life must continue. Psalms 30:5 says: “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Sometimes it takes a while to get to the “morning,” but eventually, the sun comes up. And when it does, there’s often change involved.

Embrace the change. If you can’t embrace change, go back to step three and review the part about God being in control. This is when we have to pull ourselves from the mire of disappointment and believe what we believe! If we don’t, we run the risk of becoming hostages to our disappointment.

Trust God and have courage. Trust God that you’re going to be able to say, “That was the best thing that could have happened in my life.” Why? Because sometimes God allows disappointments to take us where we otherwise would never have the courage to go!

Let go. The first time I went hang-gliding, I quickly realized it takes a lot more trust to jump off the mountain than to hang in the air. Once you’ve jumped, there’s not much more you can do than just hang on tight and enjoy the ride! We need to let go of “anything” we’re hanging on to tighter than God. The only thing we need to be holding on to IS God. Sometimes that “anything” may be more than just the disappointment—it may be people, places, jobs, homes, health—it may be everything. But, it’s when we let go of everything except God that hope thrives.

Hope Flourishes
This is what I know with all my heart: God has plans for us. They’re plans for good, not disaster; he wants to give us a hope that flourishes. We have a purpose and it doesn’t run or go away because someone or circumstances rocked our world. God will allow us to live out our purpose on this earth.

Even in the midst of great disappointment, God is preparing us for even greater work in the days ahead. Because of that, I’m inspired to make a promise this day—and every single day—to use my life for his good.

No matter what. Come rain or shine.

Billy Graham once said, “Even if we may not understand why God
allows certain things to happen to us, we know he is able to bring
good out of evil and triumph out of suffering.”

He can and he will.

Remember, it’s on the roller coaster of life that we discover the truth of Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.”

We can and we will; because life’s too short to do anything else.

Everyone Has A Story

Everyone has a story.

IMG_1709Although I was born in 1955, mine really started on the day I gave my life to Christ. I was 17 years old and to this day, I still remember that moment of letting go of my willful self and slipping out of the pew to walk down the aisle of the church I had attended most of my life.

It wasn’t a sudden decision.

When the Jesus Movement began sweeping across America in the late sixties, even my hometown of Louisville, KY saw its own mid-western version of religious coolness and I began my on-again, off-again relationship to the church. During my younger teen years, the church was the center of my social circle. There was a skating rink, gymnasium, youth activities and earnest youth ministers who moon lighted as seminary students (or vice-versa!). I attended regularly. I knew how to respond and all the right words to say. I was a good girl; one my parents could be proud of. The problem was that I had a head knowledge of Jesus but I never quite let him into my life.

When I started high school I went to church less. There were other things to do, boyfriends to date and my group of friends expanded to others outside the church. But my best friend, Karen Carter was always a rock in my life. She was the tie that kept me bound to the church. Her life was a constant reminder of my need for Christ and the church. Even when I sat behind her in home room at Durrett High School, it was what I thought about staring at the back of her head. My older brother, Dan was also a huge influence in my life. He sensed my struggle but he never condemned. He only encouraged and prayed for me. I knew this and I loved him even more for it.

Revivals were the hardest. I’d always tuck a little pack of tissues into my pocket because I knew I was going to cry and feel convicted about something. I just wouldn’t allow myself to figure out what it was I felt so badly about. So, I’d sit there feeling miserable. And worried. I might have an accident on the way home and it would be tragic because I didn’t quite have the salvation thing figured out. I remember hearing that Jesus was only going to knock on my heart’s door a few times — and if I didn’t answer, he might never knock again. I even answered a few times, but I wasn’t sure what to say when I saw Jesus standing there, so I’d quietly close the door, asking him to come back later.My father decided that if I was dating, then I had to attend church more. It was easy. Going to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday nights equaled three dates a week. So that’s what I did. I was physically there, but my stubborn heart resisted and stayed away.

I remember hearing a lot about God’s wrath and revenge during those years but not enough about his love or mercy. I watched so-called “Christians” live one way on Sunday and another way during the week. I always told myself, If I ever decide to become a real Christian, I would not live like that — I would be sold out. I’d walk the walk and talk the talk. If …

So here I was sitting in the pew, up front in the third row because I’d rushed into the sanctuary at the last-minute and it was the only place to sit. I’d just graduated from high school a couple of weeks earlier and I was feeling rather smug because I was pretty sure I had the rest of my life figured out. I had plans. Life was out there to be lived and I couldn’t wait to get started with life on my own terms.

But Jesus had other plans. No sooner had the sermon started than he began to speak to me. It was so real and so audible that I actually looked around to see if anyone else was hearing his voice. He spoke clearly and with authority telling me that I stood at a fork in the road of my life. I could either choose to go my way or I could choose to follow him. With great love, he reminded me that he had a plan and purpose for my life. All I had to do was follow. He would forgive my sin. He would turn my stubbornness to determination.

But, today was the day. I needed to make a choice. Go his way or go my way.

As he spoke, for the first time in my life, my heart listened and answered back. “You’re real,” it said. “I can feel you here and I’m not afraid!” I bowed my head, opened the door to my heart, stepped aside and invited Jesus to come in. And he did. To this day, I can recall the moment the holy spirit came to me. It was as if a cloak was gently laid upon my shoulders. I felt the weight of his power and presence immediately.

When the invitation was given, I did not hesitate. I was on a mission. My life was transformed. The holy spirit began guiding my life and choices immediately and I let him. Within two hours, I’d broken off a steady relationship and began exploring what God wanted me to do next. I knew my plans were over. I wanted only his will for my life.

A few weeks later I was traveling across Europe and it was amazing how God used this time to teach me. I met missionaries and other believers along the way and it was not only encouraging but eye-opening. Stretched out on a hillside in southern France with the wind blowing my hair and my face lifted to the heavens, God audibly spoke to me again. “I want your life,” he said. “You have me, Lord,” I spoke back aloud with sincerity in every word. “I want all of your life” he answered. Then silence. Speaking and praying with my pastor upon my return to the United States, I came to realize that God was calling me to ministry. I made a decision in that moment to go anywhere, to do anything, and say anything that he might ask. His purpose for my life was revealed!

Just a few months later, at the University of the Cumberlands where God led me to prepare for the work ahead, I met my partner in ministry and life, Terry Sharp. That was 39 years ago.

We’ve lived a lot of life since then and it has been amazing. There are times I close my eyes and consider what might have been if I’d chosen the other road — my way. There’s a moment of sheer panic. Darkness. But then I’m quickly reminded that I didn’t. I chose God’s way and I’m overwhelmed with gratefulness for his grace on my life. That’s why my life is amazing. Every day!

I’ve served him as a wife and mother to husband, Terry and daughter, Rebekah. I also have a son-in-love, Terrence.

I’ve served him on church staffs and organizations where I’ve walked alongside and learned from some of the most incredible men and women of God.

I’ve been privileged to be a part of innovative practices and strategic missions and God has used them to teach and prepare me for the task he has given me today.

I’ve served him as a missionary to Spain and Brazil where he allowed me to live out and share my faith in a way that I will never forget. I am forever changed because of the relationships and experiences I had serving God overseas. I’ve also discovered that, “Once a missionary, always a missionary.” The place of my assignment has changed but I continue to share my faith and build relationships wherever God directs. Volunteer missions around the globe will always be a part of my life.

I’ve served him with my strengths and spiritual gifts. He made me a leader, a teacher and a communicator and I’ll use those gifts in any way that he asks. I actively mentor young women. I consult with churches to help them find their voice in the area of communications. I’m a writer and a speaker — I serve him with my words, written and spoken, and I’ll continue to do so until he tells me differently.

I’m sold out. I’m always ready to go anywhere, do anything and say whatever he asks — anytime.

My story began 40 years ago on June 10, 1973. As I reflected and celebrated my spiritual birthday yesterday, it occurred to me that my story will go on forever. Eternally. How cool is that?

Everyone has a story and we should share them more often.

What’s your story?

© 2013 Kathy Chapman Sharp

A Woman of Influence

I recently spent time with a lovely friend who lives in another state. Our husbands work for the same organization so I am blessed to see her from time to time.

She is one of those sweet gentle people who is so lovely I cannot even imagine the word “crap” coming from her soft-spoken mouth, much less anything worse. She has an unusual southern name that not only matches the loveliness of her nature, it frames the natural beauty that radiates from her face. And the thing that makes all this bearable and allows her to be so lovable is the fact that it is all very genuine. She is 100% real.

It’s funny, but being around her reminds me of cooking a Holiday turkey. You know what I’m talking about — you smell the loveliness and yearn for the moment when it is placed on the table before you. The tantalizing smell makes your mouth water as you anticipate how delicious and wonderful it is going to be to savor the first bite. You see it and you smell it. And you can hardly stand to wait for the feast to begin because you KNOW how good it is going to be.

That’s how it is with my friend. She is like the sweetness and aroma of heaven and it makes me want it bad because it is real and pure; a simply lovely desire. I don’t say this lightly because i am not the sort of person generally drawn to that sort of thing. I like gritty and authentic. I like telling it like it is and yes I’ve been know to say exactly what I’m feeling without thinking about the outcome. But if I’m brutally honest, I must confess to myself that I want to be like her.

Perhaps it is because I am honest and transparent and sometimes hate being what I am that I’m so drawn to her. I think it must be because she is what i know Jesus is like and because I love Jesus and want to be more like him than anything else in this world. One thing is for sure: the world doesn’t need another crotchety Christian who skirts holiness with the excuse of authenticity.

So I acknowledge she makes me want to be a better person.

She is the soft side of who I want to be. The good found in the middle of bad, the place that calls me to ascribe to being a better person everyday; to being the sweetness and aroma of all that is good and holy in this rough and gritty world.

Being around my friend brings me to my knees. I feel unacceptable. And as weird as it sounds, that’s a good thing because I too easily become complacent and that can be a problem, not only in my life but I suspect in yours as well. We become lazy and hate words like ‘mandate’ because we don’t have the holiness it takes to get the job done. We lose sight. We don’t have the courage and constitution it takes to be like Jesus.

But because of my friend, I know that it is possible. Because she is a constant reminder of all that is lovely and good and holy – all the things we should strive to be when we step out of bed in the morning.

I am not sure anyone ever uses the word “sweet” to describe me but one thing I know is true. I must surround myself with God’s people. I’m talking about the ones I want to emulate. Because if I’m ever going to be more like Jesus, I’ve got to spend time around people who shape me in his image.

© 2011 Kathy Chapman Sharp

Enjoy chapter 29 of Life’s Too Short to Miss the Big Picture (For Women) The Smell of Cheap Perfume

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I once knew a girl from Switzerland named Olivia. Tall and lanky, she was vivacious and outgoing—a beautiful girl who dipped sugar cubes into strong Spanish espresso and popped them between her lips, all the while smiling like she had invented a new way to drink coffee. Of course, Olivia did everything differently and was proud of it. She often entertained us with her latest escapades in broken English while we sat in the little coffee shop just off the Gran Via in Madrid.

The first day I met Olivia at the language school where we were both learning Castellan Spanish, she was wearing a bright green sweater with one of those alligator icons that were so popular in the early eighties. When I saw her the next day, she was wearing it again. In fact, when I said good-bye to Olivia six months later, she was still wearing that blasted green sweater.

Let me explain.

After thirty days or so, the sweater began to smell. “Surely she’ll buy another sweater,” I told myself. “After all, her father is an ambassador, for crying out loud—she can afford it!” But she didn’t, and after the second month, I could smell her in the classroom even though I sat two full rows over.

When month three rolled around, I started avoiding Olivia. She was a sweet girl, but let’s face it—she stunk to high heaven. Like a lot of Europeans, her bathing was sporadic, and when you added that malodorous green sweater to the mix. . . . Well, you understand why I went in the opposite direction when I saw her coming. When I couldn’t gracefully evade her, I’d stop breathing through my nose and try taking in air through my mouth while we conversed. Then, as soon as I could, I’d make a quick getaway.

My luck ran out when a new term started during month four. Not only did Olivia’s sweater get more difficult to bear, but I was assigned the seat next to hers in the afternoon language lab we attended every day. Olivia would put on a headset and prop herself up against the little partition that separated our learning areas, and I’d spend the next hour breathing the pungent air that wafted my way. Conjugating Spanish verbs was never easy, but suddenly it got harder.

Around month five, I’m guessing Olivia became aware of the problem because she started dousing herself and the green sweater with a fairly cheap perfume that you could pick up in any store in Madrid. Now the odorous breezes were rounded out with a bouquet of roses and jasmine. But no matter how much cheap perfume she sprayed on, the smell was never covered. It bled through like a magic marker on porous paper.

During month six, we graduated the term, and I said good-bye to Olivia and her green sweater. I’ll be honest—my nose was glad to see her go.

The other day, Terry and I were talking about our experiences of living in Spain. I laughed out loud when I recalled that green sweater. But later, in my quiet time with God, an arrow of truth pierced my heart so violently, I felt ashamed.

God reminded me of the times I refused to take off the green sweater of my old life. When it started getting stinky, I just doused myself in cheap grace. You know, the kind that ignores the fact that Christ went to the cross and why he went and what really happened there. The same cheap grace that downplays the need for regret, remorse, and life-change and then has the nerve to loudly complain that life as a Christian should be easier and require less commitment on my part.
Yeah, that’s the cheap grace I’m talking about. When things started getting stinkier, I’d just dab a little more cheap grace behind the ears and march boldly into God’s holy sanctuary, where my reeking assumptions cheapened the very sacrifices Jesus laid on the altar for me.

“How do you stand me, Lord?” I cried. “How can you stand to be around me?”

Several years ago, Scott Chapman coined the phrase “practical atheism.” He defines it as believing that God exists while behaving as if he does not. In other words, it’s a faith that’s so far removed from a person’s everyday life that it makes no real, practical difference in the way he or she lives.

I think practical atheists wear green sweaters and cheap grace.

No matter how much I said I believed and doused myself in cheap grace, it didn’t begin to cover the stench of what I wouldn’t let go. I don’t want to wear this cheap grace anymore. I can’t stand the smell of myself.

I’ve been reading a book my friend Jon Walker wrote called Costly Grace. The book affirms the truth I have known for a long time in my heart. Costly grace is pricey—it costs us everything we have, but it’s worth it. Costly grace compels us to take off our stinky green sweaters and bathe ourselves in the forgiveness that makes us clean and sweet-smelling. It requires obedience that results in a change of habits and thoughts, a new outlook, and even a change to the way we “do” relationships.
Real grace brings transformation to our lives. And there’s no need for cheap perfume when we’re taking a bath in that.

Life Note: Living out real grace isn’t easy, but life’s too short to settle for cheap grace. Every time we put it on, we lower the standard of the Gospel. If we give up our lives to Christ, he gives real life back. There’s no need for cheap grace because the stinky old life doesn’t exist anymore. When Christ lives in us, we really do change.

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” (Gal. 2:20–21 NLT)

© 2011 Kathy Chapman Sharp

Chet’s Quik Stop

I was already running late when I exited the interstate to continue my journey down the winding country road. I was on my way to spend the weekend teaching on servant leadership at a retreat center, and the last strong rays of sunshine shimmered through the trees, temporarily blinding me as they rushed to finish their work before stealing away and turning the sky to blue velvet dusk. The falling leaves reminded me that summer was long gone and wouldn’t be back for a while.
In my rush to get out of Nashville and miss the afternoon traffic, I’d decided to gas up somewhere down the road. Now, glancing at the gas gauge, I realized I’d be running on fumes if I didn’t stop soon.
Around the bend was Chet’s Quik Stop. I turned in and pulled up to the gas pumps, reading the handmade signs taped to them. “Come inside if you need a receipt,” it said. “No problem,” I thought, as I pulled up to the regular pump. “I don’t need a receipt, just gas.” But after trying to swipe my credit card twice, I realized there was more than a receipt problem. I’d actually have to go inside and pay. With precious minutes ticking away, I sighed with annoyance, grabbed my purse, and headed into the dilapidated mini-mart that also moonlighted as a restaurant.
As I made my way around the small lime green car parked directly in front of the door, the odor of old grease hit me. It hung so densely in the air, I knew I would come out smelling like the hot wings and pizza Chet advertised on the tired old sign out front.
I got in line at the checkout counter behind an enormous woman purchasing several bottles of Mountain Dew. Her head had been recently shaved, and her ill-fitting clothes were sloppy and smelly. Pulling out handfuls of change from her pockets, she clumsily counted out the nickels and dimes with her fat, puffy fingers while attempting to engage the disinterested clerk in conversation. Her stab at witty small talk made me cringe. Full of improper grammar and word usage, her loud, unruly words—like her person—were coarse, repulsive, and offensive.
It was obvious she wasn’t in a hurry. “Come on, people,” I thought to myself. “I’ve got places to go and people to see.” Folding my arms tightly, it was all I could do to keep from heaving a sigh out loud. I tapped my foot; frustrated with the turn my day had taken. I tried to think happy thoughts, but when my eyes landed on the three large rolls of fat where her neck should have been, I became mesmerized by a huge boil at the base of her skull. Even though her hair had started growing back, it wasn’t long enough to cover the festering sore nestled between the giant folds of fat.
Oblivious of my presence, she finally finished paying and—in one sweeping motion—picked up her plastic bags, turned her massive body, and headed straight for the door all the while spouting a string of curse words rude enough to make a sailor blush. Had I not been quick in stepping back, she would have plowed me down. As it was, she met my gaze. I felt her thick contempt for me, the city slicker, as she glanced down at my leather boots and well-planned outfit. The sneer on her face dared me to speak.
In that moment, I knew I had two choices on how I could react to the hate pouring from her eyes.
I could play her game and reply with a cold, disdainful look that said, “What a bothersome creature you are. Please get your obese, mouthy self out of my way.”
Or, I could be like Jesus.
In an instant, I knew there was no choice.
Compelled by a sense of overwhelming kindness, I returned her candid stare. Love that could only come from God coursed through me; in that moment, I was able to reach out my hand, touch her arm, and say, “I’m so sorry. Please excuse me.” Then I gave her a big, sweet smile. Not just any smile. I’m talking about the ones I usually reserve for new babies or special friends.
And I meant it.
We stared at each other for at least ten seconds. Then, lumbering around me, sneer intact, she pushed through the door.
When I came back out, she was still sitting in the little lime green car in front of the door. She was fidgeting with two small American flags—like the ones you wave at parades—that were pushed in the dashboard vase, and I got the feeling she was waiting for me to come out. I was right.
I looked at her, and her fleshy face broke into a smile. At first it was shaky, like a kid who’s riding her bike for the first time without training wheels. But then it turned into a genuine, honest-to-goodness smile. Raising her hand, she waved good-bye, and the little green car pulled out of the parking lot and drove away.

Sometimes it’s the everyday, ordinary living that’s the hardest.

While it’s easy to be kind to people we like and those who are like us, it’s harder when we have to make the effort to reach out to the exhausted in life and pull them to their feet by showing kindness with a smile. Sometimes its just easier to judge and be judged than to look for the best in each other.

But life’s too short to be unkind—to anyone. It’s an abuse of power and authority. Meanness is never an option for the Christ-follower; we should go out of our way to be kind. I remember reading somewhere that it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.

It’s true. And I’ve never been more aware of it then when I drove away from Chet’s Quik Stop that day.

“Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out.” (I Thess. 5:15b The Message)

© 2011 Kathy Chapman Sharp

Spiritual Bargain Shopping

There’s a Home Goods store close to the Starbucks where I like to settle into the comfortable leather club chair and work while I sip on a decaf soy latte. Every once in a while, I’ll drive over there when I’m finished and walk through the store to see what bargains I can find on the clearance shelves. Of course, I know when I walk through the door I’m not going to spend more than the ten or twenty dollars I have tucked in my jeans pocket. Like I said, I’m there for the bargains — something pretty I can hug to my chest and feel good about while I’m telling Terry how much money I saved him.

But lately, God’s been teaching me something about my bargains. They don’t have a lot of lasting power. Most of them sit on the mantle or a side table somewhere until I find something prettier and they’re banished to the “bargain cabinet” in the family room that’s full of stuff that will eventually find its way to a donation bag or yard sale. It’s the treasures in my home that have the staying power. The objects that are full of heart and soul and speak of sacrifice and thoughtfulness. The objects that instantly remind me of places I’ve been or the people I love like crazy and those who love me back.

God whispered in my ear this morning that it’s the treasures that have a palpable heartbeat, carved deep with meaning that bring satisfaction to my soul. Next to these, my bargains appear pointless and trivial and I wonder why I bother to waste my time and money on them. He also reminded me that bargain shopping is the wrong approach to my spiritual life as well.

I’m so busted. God knows I don’t want to hold worthless spiritual victories to my chest, but sometimes I do. You know, the ones I can feel good about while reminding him just how much I’ve put myself out for him. And the truth is, they don’t really mean a thing. I knew it when I walked through the door, ready to spend only the paltry offering in my unmotivated, unenthusiastic heart. I knew it then, and I knew it when I set my miserable, meaningless spiritual bargain on his altar and turned my head away in shame.

It’s only when I go for broke – when I give him everything with complete abandonment – that I discover a spiritual treasure that speaks my name, reminding me of how much I love God, but more importantly, just how much more he loved me first. And that my friends, is no waste of time nor money.

” Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list.” Matthew 22: 37-38 (Message)

© 2011 Kathy Chapman Sharp