Life Reflection...

I got up early today, made some wonderful Nicaraguan coffee, returned some emails, and then I went and sat on my porch for a little while.  I must be getting old because the thought of sitting on a porch is a little exciting to me.  That hasn't always been the case.  

I have noticed that the older that I become (currently I'm tracking what it's like to be 40 very closely...I'll share my assessment of this at a later time) the more I like to reflect on things...sitting on a porch.  As I sat on the porch this morning, I was thinking about my life and where I was about one year ago.  Life moves awfully fast sometimes.  Last year at this time, I was living in Georgia, running my business and preparing to make a visit to Valley, Alabama to explore the possibility of moving here and moving my ministry to Fairfax First Baptist Church.  I knew that God was doing something, but as usual, I was fighting Him on every front.  I didn't want to leave my home in Georgia, I didn't want to leave my friends and I certainly didn't want to leave my family.  God had other plans.  Although I miss my family terribly, my move to Valley has been on of the best things that I have ever done.  God was moving everything in my life...and regardless of my initial doubts, the move was certainly for the best.  Left to my own devices, I'm quite sure that my life would be a complete mess.  Thankfully, I have a God who looks out for me and often drags me, kicking and screaming, into the beauty and perfection of His will.  My final thoughts while sitting on my porch this morning were...'Life goes by so quickly, but God is so good!'

Life can be quick...  
Just as the poster states above, our life is available for 'a limited time only.'  Making the best of our days should be a priority, because our days are fleeting fast.  Regardless of whether or not we choose to embrace that last statement...it's the truth.  We should come to terms with the truth and adjust our lives accordingly.  

Strangely, the time we are allotted in our lives isn't such a big issue until we come to a full realization of that fact that time has one very ominous constraint...it's called death.  Wow, this post just took a morbid turn for the worst!  Maybe I should just end here and we'll all go out and start window-shopping for deals on grave markers?  Consequently, death is a constraint on time...a big one.  When we realize that the second hand on a clock is representative of a moment that we can never again regain, we may evaluate our life, and what we have left of it, much differently...

William Faulkner once said:

'Clocks slay time...
time is dead as long 
as it is being clicked 
off by little wheels; 
only when the clock 
stops does time 
come to life.'

That's the 'you don't appreciate what you have until it's gone syndrome.'  Faulkner's statement is absolutely true.  If you've ever lost someone...whether you lose them to death, or they move, or maybe it's a relationship that didn't work out...often times, we don't realize how much someone meant to us until we come to the stark realization of the absence of their presence.  So it goes with time and again with life...it's fleeting and every moment should be cherished, appreciated for it's immense value and utilized for something constructive and beneficial. No moment should be wasted...ever.  But how should we use our moments?  That's the real question...

God, in the book of Ephesians, gives us some insight into how we should utilize the fleeting moments in our life...
'Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 
and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up 
for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.'
Ephesians 5:1-2
Basing our life on God's example is a great start in the process of not wasting our time here on earth.  Basing it on being a representative of His love in our life is a formula to be assured that our life will make a difference and that we will leave our world a much better place than we found it.  We are dearly loved by our God as His children and it's His desire that we spread that love around in our life, our words, and our actions.  It's His desire that we spread that love to a world that is in desperate need and even to people who don't desire that love.  It should be our life's purpose to be the hands and feet of Jesus to our world through the time He has allotted for us to live our life here on earth.

As the moments of my life click by, I am becoming much more aware of the things that really make a difference.  I see more clearly what is important and I tend to invest my life, my time and my talents in those things.  A little age even clarifies the people in my life that are important and those that I should probably keep at an arms-length.  Everyday God seeks to redefine my vision and focus it even more clearly than the day before.  When my vision is clarified, the purpose of my life becomes more clear.  When my focus is clear, I don't waste the seconds that lead to minutes that lead to hours, etc...  

I want to serve God through loving Jesus with my life, my words and my actions.  I want to be clear that my life is making a difference in this world to someone other than me.  I want to leave a mark on the Kingdom of God with the life that I have been blessed with.  It's not my desire to waste the precious gifts of life simply on pleasing me and satisfying my desires.  God has much greater plans for our days if we will allow Him to be Lord of All.  
So, as the second hand ticks by so quickly, I pray...
Lord, please use the moments of my life to glorify 
and magnify Yourself through my actions.  
Please help me to make the love of God the guiding 
principal in my life.  Help me to realize that I can't change 
the whole world, but I can change mine. 

And help me to live my life for You in a manner that is bold 
and courageous...without fear!
Help me to make the most of my days and make Your
will obvious to one who is so often ignorant of Your will.
Be my God...be Lord of All in my life.  
The statement to the left only applies to people who don't have a personal relationship with Jesus.  People who know the Lord live in victory daily.......

O.K., I can't even continue with that statement.  The sarcasm is so thick it's too heavy to even type!  Let me just start this way...


People have many, many stories.  Stories help to define our life...who we are...where we've been...and in large part they will even dictate where we are going.  The stories of our past consume a large part of our present-day.  They mold not only our thoughts, but they tend to mold our actions...and our actions strongly manipulate our present and our future.  So, the stories we tell are important...

You should know that I am not referring to the stories of your uncle setting a cat on fire with a 4th of July sparkler and a gallon of gasoline. (***Disclaimer: The aforementioned is not a suggestion, is against the law, and, as it turns out, is really bad for the cat.***) No, I am referring to the story of your life as seen through your words and actions...or, more properly defined: The Story Your Life Tells About Your Heart.

For many people, that story is one of love, passion, kindness, gentleness, and everything that is good in the world.  There are people who live out their lives in an aura of Christ-likeness that astounds me.  Their hearts are always seeking the best out of every bad situation and, if there is no 'best' to be found, their very presence brings out goodness and comfort that is palpable.  They are optimistic.  They are happy when others succeed.  They are quick with a kind word, a pat on the back, a hug, or a kiss...even to those whose actions do not dictate them suitable for such graciousness.  These are the people with a life-story worth listening too.  These are people who are successful even when circumstances are beyond tough.  These are people who are worth following simply because they bring out the best in every situation and in everyone whose life is graced to be in contact with theirs.   

Then there are those who tell their life-story from a standpoint of anger, bitterness, and often...even hatred.  Sadly, many of these people claim to know, love and follow Jesus...the Author of Abundant Life!  Many of these people are pastors, small-group leaders, deacons and men and women that hold a position which should be trusted and respected...but...
be very careful to whom you submit your trust and respect!  

What does their life-story tell you?  What is it screaming to you from deep inside their heart?  Do their actions match-up with their Christ-like teachings or do their actions reveal that their teaching may just, in actuality, be 'Christian-rhetoric?' Wisdom is not found in what we know, wisdom is found in what we practice. 

Many Christians wonder why God doesn't appear to bless their efforts?  They wonder why they always seem to struggle?  I don't know the answer to every situation where this is concerned, but I can assure you that many times it's because those Christians are telling their life-story from a standpoint of bitterness, ill-will and hurt feelings...and they are telling it through the mouthpiece of their own ministry...their life.  There's one word for this: BAD!  

Christians have feelings just like everyone else.  Despite their best efforts to 'talk a good game' about the love and restorative power of Christ, their hearts are still easily filled with bitterness over even the smallest of things.  When we live our life through bitterness and contempt, we displace the power of God in our actions.  You can't be bitter towards someone and not be exposed!  Your actions and your tongue will shed a very clear light on the ill-feelings that are hidden deep within your heart.  The really sad part is that there are Christians who, in uncanny ignorance, are bold enough to spout this bitterness through, in and around their own ministry...claiming life in Christ, but practicing 'life in contempt.'  They use a position of trust and turn it into a soap-box to dispel their own insecurities and pass their bitterness off to others.  And then, they complain about God not blessing and growing their ministry or producing the fruit that only Jesus can bring about in their own life.  Jesus does not reward bitterness and He doesn't reward personal agendas cast forth under the guise of Christ-like guidance in ministry...in spite of how highly esteemed the caster views their opinion.  This is the life-story of someone with a very, very small life.  Small, empty stories equate to small, empty lives.

For those whose life-story seems to revolve around bitterness towards others, let me take a moment to reference several things that God's Word has to say regarding this issue...

Watch What You Say
'Do not let unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as, in Christ, God forgave you.'
Ephesians 4: 29, 31-32

Negative comments travel quite quickly among the human race...even faster through churches!  Unwholesome conversation spreads through Christians like fire consumes a dry forest. Be careful what you say and to whom you say it.  God's Words tells us that we need to speak things that 'benefit those who listen.'  Spreading our own brand of bitterness and slandering other Christians doesn't benefit anyone.  If you don't have anything good to say about someone...then simply exercise your right to close your mouth and breathe through your nose.  The people around you will be better off for it and your bitter conversation will not make you look foolish to others...who probably see through it anyway.  Sometimes silence is a powerful partner to someone struggling to personify the illusion of commonsense.  For those struggling with bitterness...I would also recommend it!

Bitterness, When Manifested, Will Destroy Friendships
'A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.' 
Proverbs 16:28 

People who are bitter almost always attempt to drag others into their bitterness.  They are so consumed that they tender no regard to splitting up friendships.  They become the authors of dissension and unrest among those they interact with.  God will not bless this behavior, nor will He allow it.  For those attempting to destroy friendships and slander the innocent through a life-story of bitterness, the light at the end of the tunnel...is a train.  

And finally...

Bitterness Can Not Co-Exist In A Mind Fixated With Goodness
'Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise...LET YOUR MIND DWELL ON THESE THINGS!'
Philippians 4:8

We make no forward progress in our life or our walk with God when we concentrate on things that are not praiseworthy.  If we are bitter towards someone in our life, it's a good thing to realize that their life is probably not affected by our feelings.  Their life goes on...whereas our bitterness towards them consumes and often puts a halt to ours.  Don't allow bitterness and contempt into your heart and suffer the consequences that inevitably follow...dwelling on things that are not praiseworthy. It's a waste of time. More often than not, no one cares but you!  Fill your heart with the things of God and the ministry He so desperately wants you to engage in.  When we engage in bitterness, our life story becomes one of small-minded misery and not large-minded ministry!  Stop fixating on people, things and circumstances that you cannot control.  We need to realize that bitterness is not a problem with someone else...it's a problem within us.  If we're bitter, if we hate, if we gossip, if we slander, if we cause dissension and unrest....then we are the problem!

So, what story is our life telling?  Is it sad and small?  Does it revolve around bitterness and insecurity?  Does it reflect itself in our personal ministry or the testimony of our words and actions?  Are we purposely trying to hurt others through our own bitterness?  Are we willing to slander or lie about someone in attempts to justify our own insecurities? Our life-story should be one that reflects the love, compassion and the trusted provision of our wonderful Lord who empowers His Will in those who are willing to step from behind the walls of insecurity, pride, or maybe even arrogance and a bitter spirit.  There is life in Christ...new life!  When we allow Christ to lead, our life-story will become large!  When our life-story is large...our life will be large...and God will receive the glory due Him in the life that He has given us!  What is your story, my friends?
Yeah, that's right...
Not only do real men pray...they pray sincerely, they pray with passion and conviction and they pray often.  Real men pray because they have an understanding of the greatness of a Mighty God and an even better understanding of their weaknesses.  They pray because they know they can't face the world alone.  They pray because they love the Lord and they seek to honor Him in their lives...and they pray because....don't miss this..... 

.....real men pray because they love their wives!
I am single and I have been single now for 40 years.  But, guess what....I pray for my wife!  No, I'm not crazy! (at least it's never been clinically diagnosed). I truly believe that God has someone in this world for me and I have earnestly prayed for her, whoever and wherever she may be, for about the last decade.  I pray for her protection, her health, her walk with Jesus....and I pray for her daily.  I also pray that God would send her to me when it's His time...not in my time schedule.  He's obviously been in no particular hurry recently but that doesn't bother me at all....I want His best and only His best!  His best is worth waiting for...another 40 years if that's His will.  And as I pray for her...I also pray for me. I pray for me to be prepared to accept the gift of my wife from my wonderful God.  I pray that I will be the husband that God intends.  I pray that I will honor my wife with my walk with Jesus.  I pray because I want to be God's man and God's best in her life!  I can't do that without prayer...

Yesterday I was engaged in a conversation with a gentleman who was divorced...for the 3rd time in 7 years.  He is a Christian man and His walk with God has become a little cloudy as a result of 3 failed marriages, financial strain and friends who rush him off to bars to find the solace that everyone falsely believes lies in the bottom of a bottle.  This gentleman is again, single, hurt, broken, 'church-less' and 'prayer-less.'  He blames himself for the divorces, but he's holding his relationship with God hostage to his guilt.  This gentleman not only needs prayers from others....he, himself, needs to start praying and praying passionately for God to mend his life and his last marriage.  This is the man's desire, to return to his last wife and be the man that God intended him to be all the way back at wife #1.  Only God, time and prayer will mend this broken home...but it all begins with prayer.
Men's hearts should be broken for the things that create happy, stable and Godly homes.  They should not only be the providers....they should be leaders in the area of prayer!  Strife between spouses does not grow because their kids painted the living room wall with permanent marker.  That certainly causes some grief, but 'strife' between a husband and wife grows when God is not at the center of their relationship.

But what is the root cause of God losing His rightful place at the center of life, relationships and in marriage?.....it's a lack of daily communication with Him!  Distractions brought about by life, work, family, sports, and even church can pull our prayer life further down our priority list until one day we find ourselves only listening to others pray.  Men, we're easily distracted anyway....well, aren't we?  Sadly, God has called man to be the spiritual leaders of their home....you know...man, the easily distracted ones!?  

Men want to lead, they want to be respected and they want to do what is right for their family.  Consequently, it's impossible to be effective in any of these things until Jesus is the center of your life, your mind and your passions!  

Real men pray!  They pray because they are flawed creatures who need help daily.  They pray because they love their family and they understand that their wife and children are gifts from a Mighty God who has allowed those blessing in their life.  They pray because they understand that for any relationship to grow, including a relationship with God, communication is required.  They pray for direction and conviction.  They pray for safety for themselves and their family.  They pray for provision and opportunity.  Yes, real men pray.....

Men who don't seek God through prayer are not real men.  They are not the Godly men that are referenced time and time again in God's Word.  They are not men after God's own heart.  Men who do not pray and plug into communication with Almighty God daily will most certainly 'drift' this way and that.  They are unanchored, uncertain and unprepared to be real men....men of integrity and character, loving husbands and fathers, respected leaders...men of renown in the Kingdom of God.

I would challenge every man who reads this to pray daily and seek God with passion! I would challenge every woman who reads this to pray for her husband daily. Lift him up to God and pray for him to be the man God wants him to be....not the man you desire, but the man that God desires! Prayer is a powerful thing....it is unequalled in every respect and it's importance is irreplaceable.  Real men pray!

Time passes by me in a very rapid fashion.  I don't know if you notice that, but I will be 40 years old tomorrow.  Where in the world did that time go?  I'm still trying to decide the answer to that question as yet another day rolls along...

When I was younger, so much was different than it is today.  In my childhood years the economy was great, gas and food prices were much more affordable, the United States was a strong country and the 'American Dream' was swinging in full force.  Americans had great jobs, the housing market was booming and all was well.  Our country was loved by our allies and feared by our enemies.  America was the epitome of all that was right in our world.  When the flag was flying...there was respect for it and there was trust in the values, morals and power that it represented.  In the years since, something much different has happened....
The American Flag no longer stands for the same freedoms that it once represented to our forefathers.  Where it once stood for freedom, liberty and justice...I believe it is now, in the eyes of some, a beacon of entitlement.  It represents the colors of a nation that is growing a new class of citizenry...a class that is dependent on the government for their livelihood.  

The American Flag is no longer symbolic of a Christian nation.  No, instead it is being diluted down to simply a piece of cloth that flies above our statehouses...it's original mean lost to time, political correctness and the folly of the foolish transactions that our Congress makes on behalf of the American people.  I love America, I love our flag...but my trust in our countries values, leadership and, in fact, our future has been all but lost.  

As I get older, it is all the more apparent to me that, truly, the only place I can firmly embed my trust is in my wonderful Lord.  Everything else is weak and profoundly temporary.  My God is everlasting, unchanging, all-powerful and magnificent!  While the world around me burns down...God is stable and His power is supreme.  While other countries burn our flag, kill our diplomats and plan violence against us...God promises us peace and protection only found in Him.  This peace and protection can not be achieved through wars waged for the cause of justice, retaliation or defense.  It can not be achieved by negotiations, appeasement  or 'purchased friendships.'  It can not be voted on or brought about by the legislation of man.  This peace can only found in one place....in the shadow of the Mighty Cross of our Lord....

I love my country, but my hope does not lie in America and it's perceived values and strength. My hope lies only in my God.  While my trust in America diminishes, my trust in God Almighty grows daily.  I consider myself a patriot of our great nation, but my patriotic feelings are representative of a much different America.  They are a reflection of America at its founding...a free and noble nation with a passion God and for what is just, true and right...an America where men fought and died under the shadow of our flag for honor, liberty and freedom.  That America is quickly passing away....but God remains.  He is trustworthy, unfailing and forever in control....  My trust will remain completely grounded in my God.

Are you willing to trust God when things get tough...even if He chooses to not change your circumstance?  It's a good question, no?  Bad circumstances can do more than shake-up your life or your finances or your relationships...bad circumstances can shake your faith in our loving God to the very core.  Bad circumstances can gut your heart and your passion and leave you unsure of the next step.  The older I get, the more I realize that the next step is always, without a doubt, a step towards God.  Only He knows the answers and only He can bring peace to a troubled soul.

Not to long ago, when things got tough in my life, I would pray for God to alter the circumstances that were causing my confusion and unrest.  I would pray for Him to reach down from heaven and change exactly what I felt needed changing so that I could continue on in my life in comfort and peace.  I would claim His power over my situation...but I was only willing to acknowledge that He really answered my prayers if He answered them my way.  I was desperately looking for Jesus on my own terms...not His.  Consequently, I missed Him a lot.  I'm a little thick-headed.  It took me years to come to the realization that Jesus doesn't answer to me...who knew?  It took me years to realize that He just simply loves me too much to give me 'my way' when 'His way' is superior.

Years later I have come to realize that bad things happen and they happen because He has, in fact, allowed them to happen.  (Nothing happens outside of God's permission!)  It's a common fact that a lot of people blame God when bad things occur...and they should...He allowed them!  The bigger issue is 'why?'  Our God is not bored...He doesn't allow bad things to occur in our lives so He can pass some time away in heaven and be amused watching us struggle.  No, God allows bad things into our lives to teach us, to grow us in His perfect mercy and grace...and He allows bad things to occur in our life to redirect our attention back to Him.  Years later I have also realized that God doesn't always change the circumstances that trouble me.  More often than not...He changes me...

As human beings, our thought-processes are very, very short-sighted.  We think in the moment, for the moment and through the difficulties of the moment.  We become engulfed in our struggles and let them dictate our faith and our actions.  We give our circumstances power that they do not deserve while our faith suffers on the sidelines.  This is not God's plan for success!

Let's look at a verse...II Corinthians 4:17-18 says:

'For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory 

that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on 
what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.'

God is telling us pretty directly to not focus on the problems.  Although we can see, hear and often touch the difficulty...He's advising us to not let it distract our vision or our faith!  Our problems will come and go...they tend to do that.  When you solve one, other's will follow.  However, God does not change.  His love for you is without end and His plans for you are spectacular!  But guess what...we won't find God's eternal plan for our life focusing on things that are temporary!  We only find God's plan while focusing on God, Himself!  When we take our eyes off of the problem and begin to take a step towards God, He will begin to show us why this situation is in our life in the first place!  At that point we begin to learn something new about God, ourself and our circumstance.  At that point...and not until that point...God can begin to redefine us through the adversity.

In my life I've seen God use cancer, heart disease, loss of jobs, bankruptcy, death of family members, etc...to create a paradigm shift in the lives of His children.  God can use anything He allows for the good of His Kingdom...if we will direct our focus to Him.  

Folks, we serve a mighty, mighty God!  We serve a God who does not wish us harm!  We serve a God who has such incredible plans for us that we can not even imagine!  Things will inevitably not always go our way.  There will be tough time times...there will be rain...there will be moments of great sadness, but all the while God is still in control.  Will we accept the good from our Lord and not the bad?  He's the same unchanging God through it all!  

When trouble comes, fix your eyes on God, the Author and the Finisher of our Faith!  Don't let temporal circumstances distract you from eternal glory.  Allow God to use troubles to refocus your attention and 'tweak' and refine your walk with Him.  Just as steel is tempered within fire, so is our faith.  Troubles are opportunities to grow in Christ...don't miss those opportunities....
I just returned from a fantastic week in the beautiful country of Nicaragua.  From August 12-18, I took a group from our church in Valley, AL to Matagalpa, Nicaragua to participate in a week filled with missions projects...a trip that will surely alter their lives as my past trips have altered mine.  We had a wonderful week filled with activities that challenge your heart, mind and soul. We delivered food to families that had nothing to eat.  We made some upgrades to a new home for a family of 7 who, less that 3 months ago, didn't even have a home.  They lived in a pitiful shelter constructed of sticks and wrapped in plastic....dirt floors, no beds, no doors...  Now they live in a concrete home with a concrete floor that has beds...and even doors that lock. We delivered school supplies to children who, for the first time in the life, are learning to read and write their own language.  And, we delivered something that can't be checked in a bag at the airport....compassion and love.

I was in Nicaragua in April of this year and I met one of the most beautiful children that I have ever seen.  Her name is Celena....and she has completely stolen my heart!  She didn't steal a piece....she took it all!  Celena is probably around 3 years old with big, beautiful brown eyes that seem to have the power to make you forget about the poverty she lives in and focuses your attention solely on the uniquely beautiful little girl that God created her to be when He made her.  She's the most beautiful child that I have ever seen....living in the worst poverty that Nicaragua has to offer.

cCelena and her family are being helped by our mission organization, The Hope Project International.  They are in much better shape than they were just one year ago.  The Hope Project has built them a new home, helped her brother receive a much needed surgery to his nose so that he can breath normally, provided them with food and healthcare, bought them a gas stove to cook on, and shown them love and compassion that they probably haven't experienced outside of their own family.  So, they are on our radar and we are assisting them in every way that we can afford to help.  However, there's still the reality that they live in stark poverty, they drink unclean water, their meals are far from nutritious, they have no dental care of any kind and...well, I could go on, but you get the picture.

When I returned from Nicaragua 10 days ago, Celena and her family were on my mind.  They were on my mind as I walked into my air-conditioned home, as I drank clean water and ate healthy, clean and nutritious meals.  They were on my mind as I washed and folded my overabundance of clothing and slept in my big, comfortable and clean bed.  They stay on my mind as I look around my house at wide screen T.V.'s, DVD players, nice furniture, a closet full of shoes, a refrigerator full of food and drinks, and luxuries that I do not need...nor deserve for that matter.  All the while, little Celena lives day-to-day, not yet old enough to be concerned with the one question that has a good chance of plaguing her future....'how will I survive?'  There's a certain beauty in the naiveté of a child....but there's also a gripping heartache that accompanies it when you know that child will, at some point, come to an understanding of their situation.  

I entitled this blog: The Beauty Hidden Inside of the Poverty.  As I reflect on my mission trip experiences in the past, what I find is this....if there is any beauty inside of me, the poverty of children around the world has brought that beauty to the surface.  As God has blessed me with opportunities to travel the world and stand in the midst of those in tremendous need, I am finding compassion and love inside of my heart that I was unsure I possessed.  With every passing trip I take, my life is changed just that much more.  As God reveals to me the beauty hidden inside of the poverty in places like Nicaragua, I begin to understand what God sees in me....a beauty hidden deep inside of the poverty of self-centered living, self-indugence, greed, and addiction to comforts that I do not need.  When God looks at me, He sees Celena.  God sees someone who, without His help, His compassion, and His love would be lost in a world without hope.  He sees the beauty hidden within the poverty of my life and the lives of all of His children.

I'm leaving this Friday to go back to Nicaragua and I will see Celena.  I will have another opportunity to hold this precious child and look into her beautiful eyes.  I'll have another opportunity to meet some of her physical needs for healthcare, food, dental care....but more importantly, I'll have an opportunity to show her love and affection from someone who genuinely cares about her life, her well-being and her future.  I can't wait to see her!  And, I can't help but acknowledge that God feels the same way about us.  He can't wait to see us....hear from us....hold us in His arms.  You see, you and I ultimately have the same needs as Celena.  We are helpless in our life, lost in our own special kind of poverty that only God can address.  We are all....'beauty hidden inside of poverty.'

Well, here I am again in intense mental preparation for yet another experience of traversing the international terminal of Hartsfield International Airport...(a feat in itself)......outbound to Managua, Nicaragua.  I love to travel, I love mission work....but I loathe the process of dealing with airports and the TSA.  I guess no one cares what I loathe....I know the TSA certainly does not care.  They already have several tubes of my favorite toothpaste, some peanut butter and a couple of bottles of very dangerous spring water that I was trying to smuggle through unknowingly.  It's funny how those bottles of water will just jump into your bag.  It's even more humorous how alarming they must be under the TSA scanner....or so I deduce from the reactions of those 'agents' who run to my carry-on bag as if they had spotted something of real importance....like non-travel-sized nail clippers. But I'm really not complaining.  They are just doing their job and catching me as I push the rules a little.  However, I do think it's an atrocity to throw away an unopened jar of peanut butter....

I'm leaving this coming Sunday evening for Nicaragua.  I'm taking a mission team from my church, Fairfax First Baptist, to spend a week in a country that will touch their heart in ways they don't even realize is possible.  I'm looking forward to watching what God does in their life through this trip.  I remember my first international mission trip like it was yesterday...and I'm fairly certain that it will always be that crisp in my mind.  That trip was to Haiti.....which I would very kindly call 'The Heart of the Beast.'  When you travel from the U.S., and then step off of the plane in Port Au Prince, Haiti, you have most certainly entered a different world.  The surroundings, the people, the smell of Haiti (which detergent is really inadequate to remove) all create a memory that not only lasts, but that you can smell and even taste a little for a few months after you leave.  I've been back to Haiti many times since that first trip....but it was during that first trip that God began a work in my life....a passion to travel where most people will not to be the 'hands and feet of Jesus' outside of the air conditioned palaces that most Christians call their church.

It was through that trip to Haiti that I first met Farrell Burton.  Farrell is an ugly man who is not very enjoyable to be around.....oh, wait.....maybe I shouldn't go in that direction!  Actually, I just write that because I know that he will read this at some point....so, just know I'm only kidding about him not being enjoyable.

I don't have many heros in my life, but I would have to say that Farrell Burton is one of my very few heros.  Farrell has a passion for Christ and he has a passion for working to share the love of Jesus with people too far away for most traditional churches to reach (for most that's less than one foot outside of the front door of the sanctuary....but whose keeping score?).  When I first met Farrell, he was traveling to Haiti with me.  While we were there, he shared with me that he was praying about moving to Haiti.  If you've never been to Haiti, you could not even begin to understand what kind of commitment that would require.  Years later, God has grown our friendship, my involvement in this ministry, and God has moved Farrell full-time to Matagalpa, Nicaragua where he is our in-country coordinator and missionary.  Farrell left behind a great job, great friends, family and the comforts of life in the United States to pursue the passion that God has placed in his heart....and God is bringing success to this ministryFarrell has poured his heart into ministering to the people of Nicaragua.  He is helping to provide food to the hungry, building houses for those without shelter, reuniting street children with their families, digging fresh water wells to facilitate clean drinking water where there has been none, teaching the illiterate to read and write, and leading the lost to salvation in Jesus Christ.  Farrell is being used by God to provide hope where hope could not be found.  

There's power in Hope...  
There's power in the look on a child's face when they learn to read and write their own language.  There's power in digging a well that will water crops and provide clean drinking water to an entire community.  There's power in reaching into the heart of a community of people so destitute that their livelihood centers around an all-day process of collecting enough plastic bottles from a landfill to sell for barely enough money to eat for one day and sharing God's love, some food and a little compassion....providing hope where there seems to be no hope.  This same landfill is an everyday hang-out for children (as young as 9 or 10) to get high 'huffing' paint.  This landfill is one of the most stark examples of how poverty fuels the absolute worst in the human condition.  It is heartbreaking to see young children killing themselves....all because they have no hope.  I've been there, I've seen it....and it breaks my heart.  It also breaks the heart of Jesus.  My friend, Farrell, is right in the middle of this situation everyday helping to change the lives of those who have fallen into hopelessness.  Farrell is 'leaving a mark' for Jesus in country and with a people who desperately need Christ.  It humbles me to be involved with this ministry.....The Hope Project International.

If you have read this blog and would like to find out more about The Hope Project, please contact me.  I would love to tell you more about the ways that you can assist us with helping to provide hope to the people of Nicaragua.....moreover, I would love to take you there so you can see it first hand.  It doesn't take a lot to make a huge difference.....

If you would like to see some pictures of my trip earlier this year, please click on this link....
Nica/April 2012.  On this trip we were digging a fresh water well.....providing hope!  

Farrell loves the Lord....the Lord loves Farrell....and I love them both!  It's a great pleasure of my life to serve with this ministry, with Farrell Burton and Steve Horne (Executive Director of The Hope Project) and with those who will commit from their time and their finances to support this work in Nicaragua.  Again, if you would like more information about how you can get involved, please contact me directly @ 770.313.2747 or by email at keithabeatty@gmail.com.  Please keep our mission team in your prayers next week as my mission team from Fairfax First Baptist Church will be in Nicaragua seeking to serve our Lord in whatever fashion He presents before us!  Pray that we will 'leave a mark' for Christ on those we meet and that their lives will leave a mark on us as well.  There's hope in Jesus Christ....and we intend on sharing that hope!

There's a lesson hidden somewhere deep in the words to the left....don't you think?  It's a very profound message at that....one that certainly should not be overlooked.  Consequently, it is often overlooked completely....and it's often overlooked by me personally. 

What is it about the sin in our own life that seems to be so elusive to our judgement when the sins of others are so easy for us to detect? Why is it that we can justify our wrongs but get the shovel out to bury someone else who is perpetrating the same sins that we seem to embrace?  How often do we lean towards the practice of hypocrisy when passing our extreme judgement on the 'speck of sawdust' in the eyes of others while we pretend to not see the 'plank' embedded in our own eye?'  Of course, I'm referring to the parable found in the writings of Luke 6....a relevant message that addresses our seemingly inescapable need to compensate for our own sin by pointing out the sins of others....as if we were qualified to pass judgement on anyone?  Let he who has no sin cast the first stone....but man, can we throw some stones!

There's a verse in Romans (3:23) that we all probably know by heart....but we need to take its message to heart.

'....for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.'

Indeed, whether you take that message to heart or choose to just overlook its blunt assessment of the sin-condition of mankind, you are, in fact, a sinner....just like me.  I love to read any book the Apostle Paul penned....and I specifically like Romans.  Paul doesn't pull any punches....ever!  He's bold in his statements about the sin nature of mankind.  Let's examine just how bold he is in herding us all into the same pen....a pen specifically designed for sinners who need the grace and mercy of Jesus....

'What shall we conclude then?  Are we any better?  
Not at all!  We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles 
alike are all under sin.  As it is written...
There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, 

no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; 
there is no one who does good, not even one.  
Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.
The poison of vipers is on their lips.  Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.  

Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, 
and the way of peace they do not know.  
There is no fear of God before their eyes.'
Romans 3:9-18

Well now, that's a cheery little message about the state of mankind....isn't it?  As bleak as that sounds, it's the truth.  The truth is seldom pretty, but understanding and coming to terms with it is essential to moving forward with your life in Christ.  I could write a book on just the few verses written above, but we just don't have the time....my blogs are already lengthy, so we'll just hit on a few points and you can get back to doing what you really want to do....checking status updates on Facebook....

Know this....when Paul is talking about people with 'throats that are open graves' and 'lips coated with the poison of vipers' and 'feet that are in a rush to shed blood'....he's referring to you and I.  He's also referring to himself.  When the Bible uses the term 'Jews and Gentiles' it's a broad, all-encompassing stroke that lumps everyone into, yet again...the same pen.  We are all sinners!  Our sin nature wants to lead us into the activities stated so eloquently in Romans 3:9-18.  Only the power of a Mighty God in our life can combat a powerful sin-nature that is entrenched so deep in our soul....

When we compensate for our own sins by trying to point out the sins of others, are we not swiftly running to shed blood?  If we can open a wound in someone else's life by exposing their sin....then our own sins might be diminished in our eyes.  It's the old 'I know I did this, but look what they did!' line of thinking.  We can always find justification for how we choose to live our life....even if it is contradictory to the instruction found in God's Word.  It's almost as if we believe that we can 'readjust' Biblical truth about our own sin if we can find a bigger, badder sin in someone else's life.  It's important to know that when the day finally arrives when we are standing before Almighty God and we're in the process of giving an account for how we spent our life....the things we did, the words we said, the thoughts we had....there will be no time allotted to point our finger at the other people in line behind us.  God will have none of that!  We are responsible for how we chose to live our life, just as other's are responsible for the choices that they make.  They are not our judge and, guess what....we are not their judge.  We love to judge others, but our time would be much better spent in determinative judgement on our own thoughts, words and actions.  We should stop trying to find the sawdust in the eye of our brother and begin to look for a crowbar to pry the log out of our own eye.

Lastly, Paul says that their mouths (our mouths) are 'full of bitterness' and 'the way of peace we do not know.'  When we travel through life pointing out flaws that we perceive in others, then it is safe to assume that we have a problem of perspective.  We're not seeing others through the eyes of Jesus.  We're not acknowledging that those we are judging are God's creation.  We are making a choice to seek out their problems instead of accepting the fact that we share the same sins that they struggle with. People who seek to find problems are bitter and they certainly don't appreciate even a little bit of peace.  In fact, they enjoy immense amounts of unrest.  You will find that which you seek.  If you seek out good, I guarantee that you will find at least some good in everyone.  If you seek out peace, even if those around you cause unrest, you will find some peace.

In Romans, Paul has identified the ugly side-effects of our sin nature and how those side effects manifest themselves in our life.  The good news is that as ugly as the truth about our sin can be.....our sin can be forgiven....our sin-nature can be tamed....and God, showing incredible mercy, loves us through it all!  God isn't shocked by our sin.  He created us.  He knows our weaknesses and our flaws.  Moreover, Jesus Christ claimed us through His purposeful death on the Cross of Calvary to be 'Sinners Saved By Grace.'  Choose salvation, choose to seek out good in those around you, choose to view others through a Godly perspective.

I'm going to leave you with the words to the song: 'Sinner Saved By Grace.'  We are all sinners, we all need to be saved by grace....and we serve a God with grace and mercy large enough to do the job....

If you could see what I once was
If you could go with me
Back to where I started from
Then I know you would see
The miracle of love that took me
In its sweet embrace
And made me what I am today
A sinner saved by grace

I'm just a sinner saved by grace
When I stood condemned to death
He took my place
So now I live and breathe in freedom
With each breath of life I take
Loved and forgiven
I'm back with the living
And I'm just a sinner saved by grace

How could I boast of anything
I'd ever seen or done?
How could I dare to claim as mine
The victories God has won
Where would I be had God not brought me
Gently to this place?
I'm here to say I'm nothing but
A sinner saved by grace

I'm just a sinner saved by grace
When I stood condemned to death
He took my place
So now I live and breathe in freedom
With each breath of life I take
Loved and forgiven
I'm back with the living
And I'm just a sinner saved by grace
Before I even begin, let me apologize to those of you who have called, texted and sent me semi-nasty emails regarding the fact that I haven't posted a blog since July 22....I'm sorry!  However, I'm thrilled that you read them....and that you miss them when I don't have the opportunity to post anything.  I'm also thrilled that I have received some emails from people that I don't even know who are following my blog.  Thank you all for reading and I will certainly try to do better in the future!  By the way....I love feedback!  If you read something that was meaningful to you, or something that you would like to comment on....please send me some email at keithabeatty@gmail.com.  

Now, apologies behind me.....on to the post.... 

I find the poster to the left funny.  We can attribute that fact to my sense of humor which can be a bit 'sketchy' at times. We can also attribute that to the fact that I can totally relate to the feelings of which it speaks.... 

God surrounds me with wonderful people in my life.  It seems that He has always done so, and for that fact, I am immeasurably thankful....in large part because I probably would be in prison if surrounded by people who were 'less than' wonderful.  I would probably be in prison along with YOU....the reader....who may be unjustly judging that last comment!  Let's just be completely transparent for a second and admit that we've all had moments where the thought of strangling someone (just a little) has entered our minds.  People are diverse and found within that diversity are those who bring with them some...let's call it 'grief.'  They are scattered among the wonderful people in our life and they stand our like a neon sign.  Or, maybe they stand our like the tornado siren that goes off about a block away from my apartment. They are normally loud, obnoxious, and they test the patience of even the most compassionate of souls.  We all have them in our life and they are there for a reason.  God knows what He's doing when He places them directly in our path and He's watching to see how we respond to them....those 'difficult people' that He created and that He loves....just as much as He loves you and I....

Let's begin with the most obvious of lessons that can be learned from dealing with difficult people....DON'T BE LIKE THEM!  

When someone irritates me, if I just take a moment to think about why, I often (and regrettably) find that they do so because we have similar personalities. Now wait!!....before you completely and totally disregard that as foolishness....think about it!  I don't have the time to develop that thought completely, but people who have like personalities often rub each other the wrong way.  Example....If two people are friends and both are outspoken or opinionated, their personalities will, on occasion, collided to some degree....correct??  You better believe that's correct, and they won't just collide to 'some degree'....there will probably be a point where those two personalities collide like two battleships bumping hulls in the open ocean.  If you have trouble believing that....WAKE UP!!!....and, by the way, while you were napping, it's been discovered that the earth is not flat after all....who knew??

Here's my point....before we allow someone to irritate us, we should probably examine ourselves to see if we are, in any way, part of that problem.  If you're honest with yourself, you might be shocked to find that you possess a lot of the same personality traits of those who grind away at your patience.  I'm often disappointed to discover that as a fact in my own life.  However, once discovered, that fact can be educational....and education is a powerful thing!  Difficult people should reveal to us that which we do not want to be!  If we're frustrated with someone, let our first action be the determination of why...and if we may be part of the problem.  O.K....enough psychology and inward examination....let's see what God says about dealing with difficult people....

This verse is a little tough for me to swallow at times, but it is the first one that comes to my mind because of the challenge it personally places on my life....

'Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 
If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay," says the Lord. 

Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; 
for in doing so you will heap coals of fire on his head."
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.'

Romans 12: 17-21

I can not even begin to express to you in words how much that verse contradicts my initial reaction when faced with someone who is perpetrating some form of 'evil' in my life.  My initial reaction, if you remember from the previous paragraph, is the 'strangle-just-a-little' technique.  Although I know that performing it would always make me feel better and would probably do the offender some good as well....it's ultimately not a 'God-Approved' manner of conflict resolution.  God, believe it or not, is not 'anti-vengeance' in regard to those who behave badly....not at all.  Rather, He chooses to take full responsibility for all the vengeance that should be handed down to those who do evil to others.  There will be judgement, but it is wholly reserved for the only One who is able to judge.  If we choose to take vengeance into our own hands, then His vengeance will be poured out onto our lack of will and determination to follow this very straightforward command in Romans 12.  

Instead of plotting our revenge on the evil-doer, God instructs us to do what?  Well, He says to do the exact opposite of our will, as well as the exact opposite response that the evil-doer expects to see in us....SHOW SOME KINDNESS! 

A little kindness goes a long way in our pursuit of Christlikeness, and oddly enough, it also goes along way in 'heaping burning coals' on the head of your 'difficult person.'  Does anyone else find that as funny as I do? (Again with the sketchy sense of humor)  God wants us to treat everyone well all the time....even those intent on treating us poorly.  When we do so, we please our God and we displease those who are intent on making our life difficult.  Can you say...'WIN-WIN?'  Don't ever believe that God doesn't have a sense of humor.....

Being Christlike with difficult people and obeying God's commands will always bring about fulfillment (and justice) in God's way.....which is light-years better than we could bring about on our own.  Be kind to those who persecute and irritate you.  Place your feelings towards them in God's very capable hands and let His Will transform your 'initial reactions' into 'Godly-responses.'  Leave the judgement to The Judge....and show kindness to those who persecute you.

Let's look at one more verse....and we might as well look at one that challenges me as much as the verses in Romans 12.  (I feel like I'm holding my own head in the fire)

'He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding 
is of a calm spirit. Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; 
when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.'
Proverbs 17:27-28

Oh, that verse is more than a little painful.  Do you know what God is saying here in regard to dealing with difficult people?  Let me translate it in todays language.  Are you ready?  God is saying....

'Hey, this person you're talking to is acting foolishly.  I hear them just like you do.  I can also hear what you're thinking in your own mind and what you're about to say to them.  The very words you're formulating in your mind to speak in anger are as damaging as the words that have been spoken to you.  If you say them, you'll cause even more grief and you will look as ignorant as your 'difficult person'.  My advice to you as your Heavenly Father, your conscience, and your life-coach is to be smart, seek peace and just....SHUT UP!'

Seriously, shut up....just do it!  You will never say anything correctly when your frustrated, mad, annoyed or....when you're trying to belittle someone who is acting foolishly.  Let's be honest....isn't that our real objective when we're confronting the difficult people in our life?  We want to show them how much smarter we are....how much better our idea is....we want to belittle them because we're just tired of how they act....right?  Well, God's instruction to us in Proverbs 17 is to use our words sparingly, to be calm, and to use knowledge and shut our lips!

Being silent is almost always the best course of action when dealing with difficult people.  There are certainly times when we need to speak the truth...and speak it in love, but I think the vast majority of situations that we encounter do not, in any way, require the voicing of our opinions.  This is specifically important when we are frustrated and not calm.  In my life, I have spoken many words in anger.  I am pretty sure that I regret every one of them. The point that I was making in speaking those words was not nearly as important as the damage those words inflicted on the recipients of my frustration, or the damage my words caused to my personal witness as a child of God.  Silence is not a sign of weakness....it's a sign of strength and Godly maturity that we should exercise much more often in our day to day lives.

This post has gotten so long that it needs chapters.....so below are some verses to look up on your own if you choose to do so.  They are relevant to our interactions with those people who bring difficulty into our life.  Be Christlike and heed the instruction of our loving God.  He has the ultimate knowledge of how to deal with difficult people....after all, He created them!
Hebrews 12:14
Matthew 7:12
Proverbs 22:3
Matthew 5:43-48
Proverbs 26:4-5
Proverbs 16:7
Proverbs 15:1
Matthew 5:43-48
Luke 12:58
Philippians 2:3-4
Unwavering Faith....

The thought that God hears our prayers, but often fails to answer them in a timely fashion (based off of our idea of timely) can be frustrating.  It's easy for dark clouds of questioning to form over our life and cause the dilution of the faith that God hears us, cares about our prayers...or, for some, if He even exists at all.

By it's very nature, life inflicts a tremendous toll on our faith.  We worry about everything and have positive control over very little. To add to the pressures that are already weighing on our minds, most of us, including myself, have an issue with a profound lack of patience. I would pray for patience, but I just don't have the patience required to do so!  Sad, but I think it might be true.

God has patience.  As a matter of fact, God has an immense amount of patience.  He's been very patient with me personally....that I will assure you.  I thank God for His patience and His grace everyday.  My lack of patience and my overpowering will to do my own thing my own way frustrates even me....surely it frustrates God?...Right?  Thankfully the answer to that question is...NO.  Galatians 2:21 confirms the fact that....

'I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness 
comes by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.'
Galatians 2:21 (KJV)
God's patience with mankind is epic.  He's patient because He knows when things should happen and how they should happen.  God is also patient because He views His children through the Blood of Jesus. That blood, purposefully shed on the Cross of Calvary, brought about, not only patience, but grace in the eyes of a Mighty God who demanded justice for our sin.  Praise God that justice has met grace.... 

So, God's patience often strains our lack of the same. The side-effect of that strain is weakened faith in our God.  It's almost humorous how short-sighted we human beings can become in the light of a little 'delay' in answered prayer.  We can look around us at all of God's creations....the mountains, the ocean, the universe....the Magnificent Oreo Cookie (God had to have a part in that as well) and we  KNOW that there is a God behind it all.  We have tremendous faith that He is God and He created it all....including us!  But yet, when our patience is tasked to wait for God our faith begins to fail us. Maybe we still believe in God, but do we believe that He hears our prayers?  If we believe that He hears....do we believe that He cares when He doesn't respond in our pre-planned timeline?  There's definitive reasons behind every decision that God makes concerning our prayers.  Whether we deem He's actively at work in what we pray for.....know that He is!
God has an awesome promise for us in one of my favorite verses of scripture....

'For I know the plans I have 
for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

You need to place that verse in context (as you need to do with all scripture) and read the back-story to understand just how immense God's patience can be.  He made that promise to Israel after they had been behaving badly.  God showed incredible patience through their misguided behavior, but He still had wonderful plans for them.

Often, our prayers are not answered because we are behaving badly. Sometimes it's simply not God's timing. Maybe He's building some patience into our walk with Him or....just possibly....could it be that our prayers don't reflect God's best for our life?  If God answered our prayers our way, I would dare to wager that we would always miss out on God's best.  We would settle for what we thought would make us happy and miss the much larger blessings from simply waiting on God's time, God's place and God's best in our life. It's important that we understand that God's patience is exercised for our benefit.  He demonstrated it with Israel just as He demonstrates it with us today. Let the promises of God's Word strengthen your faith as you seek God's timing instead of your own! 

Don't let your timetable dictate the strength of your faith!  When you pray, I assure you that God hears.  When He doesn't answer right away there's a reason.....and that reason is to your benefit.  Trust the timeline of the God who created the air that you breathe, the earth that you live on and the wonderful Child of God that you view in the mirror as you brush your teeth each morning.  He sees all, He knows all and He hears your prayers.  Moreover, He loves you enough to make you wait on His best in your life!  Trust His timing!

    Keith Beatty

    I am an unapologetic Christian as well as 
    an unapologetic Conservative  American. 
    I'm privileged to serve as a Worship and Youth Pastor at a great church in Valley, AL.  I am the son of two incredible parents that I don't deserve.  For that matter, I don't deserve much, but I'm greatly blessed!
    God is good, and I'm just happy to live my life in the shadow of His Endless Mercy and His Wonderful  Grace!


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