Like Chipped and Broken Shells

I was recently on one of Florida’s beaches enjoying the sound of the waves and talking with the Lord. As I walked along the shore I was looking for some nice shells (our bathrooms are beach themed). There were thousands—perhaps millions—of different shells of different sizes, designs, and colors. 

Along the beach there were collections of shells lying together having been washed up by the tides. While still maintaining some of their natural beauty, many of the shells had chips or holes. Some shells were broken in half, left ignored and forgotten. 

I couldn’t help but think of the similarities between these shells and people. How many of us have lost some of our luster? How many of us are chipped, ridden with holes, or just plain broken—swept up and left to be forgotten? Yet we are not completely void of our natural beauty. Furthermore, we are redeemable! For this reason Christ died for us.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. ~ Ephesians 1:7

It is true that sin, guilt, shame, and failure can break us. Furthermore, some fall and will never recapture what they once had. Consequences are a reality. Folly, pride, and rebellion come with a price. Still, if we were good and pristine, then we wouldn’t need a Savior. However, none of us is truly good or pristine. 

Friend, I don’t know your story, but maybe you feel like one of those broken shells. Maybe you’ve been dealt a difficult hand. Perhaps you’ve made some poor choices that caused you to lose it all. Maybe you once walked with the Lord but fell away, and now you think He has no place for you. Or maybe you struggle with a besetting sin and just feel as if the devil is always going to have the upper hand. Friend, you are simply a prayer away from the loving presence of God.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. ~ Romans 10:13

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. ~ 1 John 1:9

How tragic when persons come to a point when they feel they have absolutely nothing worthwhile to give. Strangely, in our brokenness we sometimes have more to give—because of grace. Brokenness can, indeed, remain as worthless brokenness. However, in Christ one’s brokenness can be redemptive. Brokenness can develop compassion and empathy. Grace can guide a person to give a warm smile, a word of encouragement, or needed truth in the right time. Brokenness can develop humility that is willing to associate with the lowly and to help the downtrodden. And if brokenness does not leave one embittered, genuine love can begin to grow in a world where love is so needed.

Friend, perhaps you recognize you are like a chipped, broken, and hole-ridden shell. It might be difficult to see, but there still remains a measure of dignity and image of God. In and through Christ, these can be renewed. In Christ, no man or woman remains like a chipped and broken shell. 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:17-18

20 Ways to Improve Your Happiness

We live in a time—despite all the advancements—when so many feel lonely, angry, anxious, and depressed. Many people are simply not happy, let alone joyful. I admit, I have experienced bouts of depression. The following list, although won’t cure a person of unhappiness, are of great help in maintaining a measure of happiness. 

  1. Be grateful. Many of us have far more than we realize, and sadly, we live in a day when many feel they are “entitled” to having things. However, the reality is we are to work and contribute to society. Furthermore, the world is unfair. Some have more, whether money and/or opportunities. Still, many of us have more than others. Learn to be grateful for the job, schooling, food, health, etc. you do have.
  2. Help others. It is true that some people suffer more than others, but no one goes through life without experiencing some form of pain, loneliness, loss, heartache, fear, etc. Take time to visit the lonely at an elderly care center, minister to the poor at a food shelter, or help out at a youth program. You just might find that as you help others, you are helped in return.
  3. Forgive. Perhaps nothing else impales one’s own soul as a sword than that of bitterness and the refusal to forgive. Strangely, forgiveness has little to do with perpetrators but with the wounded. One does not forgive for the sake of the offender but for one’s own sake. To forgive is not that the offender is set free, but allowing one’s own self to heal and be set free. If you refuse to forgive, the one you’ll torment is yourself. Your bitterness and unhappiness will only deepen and tighten until you are willing to forgive.
  4. Appreciate the “little” things. Take the time to “smell the roses.” There are many blessings we receive that have no monetary value but can so enrich our lives if we take the time to appreciate them. For example, a cup of coffee in the morning, a warm shower, shared laughter with a friend, an encouraging word, a warm smile from a stranger, a door held open as a kind gesture, the love of dog, a beautiful morning, etc. Appreciating the “little” things will do wonders.
  5. Don’t surrender to fear. Each of us experience fear from time to time; however, there are those who are afraid every day. They trust no one, they’re afraid of catching Covid, they’re afraid of the future, they’re afraid of running out of money, they’re afraid of dying, etc. Such fears torment them daily. So tormented are they of what could, but unlikely will, happen that they can’t enjoy the present. Jesus tells us, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:33-34).
  6. Smile and laugh more. There are those who take life so seriously they’ve forgotten how to laugh. There are some Christians who seem to think it’s a sin to laugh and find enjoyment. Granted, there is a time to weep and a time to be serious. But there are also times to laugh and experience festivity. Enjoy the laughter and silliness of friends, the birth of a child, marriages of friends, and baptisms of others. These, too, are gifts from God to be received with thanksgiving.
  7. Extend and receive kindness and respect. One of my pet peeves os people who have no problem treating others like dirt but expect to be treated with respect. Learn to treat others with kindness and respect. So what if they’re a doctor or janitor, a man or woman, an adult or child, black or white, rich or poor, religious or non-religious? Treat everyone as persons who are created in the likeness of their Creator. For that is what each of us is, nothing more and certainly nothing less.
  8. Learn to be content. This is a difficult one that takes time—learning to be content no matter one’s situation. The apostle Paul writes, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13).
  9. Trust God’s promises. The Bible does not promise things will always go our way, but tells us to expect difficult times. After all, we live in a fallen world. Still, for the redeemed who truly love God, He gives this promise: “for those who love God all things work together for good, good day for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
  10. Delight in God. The psalmist doesn’t deny the the fact that the wicked often prosper, etc, but he also warns against being envious of them for their time of judgment will come. Instead, he says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). The things our hearts truly long for the things of this world cannot satisfy.
  11. Let go of your hurts (don’t live as a victim). There are some who forever nurse their hurts and hardships, constantly blaming others for their misery. This is not to say the hurts or past injustices are not real, but persons refuse to move on, to heal, to stop blaming. Instead, they live life as a victim rather than striving to become a conqueror. To do so requires work, but it can be done. Having a victim mentality will only perpetuate unhappiness.
  12. Stop criticizing yourself. Learn to accept yourself. Stop calling yourself stupid, ugly, clumsy, worthless, and unlovable. Each of us have faults and weaknesses, but we also have strengths and skills uniquely given by God. Paul says we are like members of a body, some applauded others hidden, some attractive some less attractive—but each is vital. (see 1 Cor. 12:12-26). Excel as the person God created you to be.
  13. Let go of the past. There are those who are so stuck in the past they cannot enjoy the present. For some, it’s because of abuse, while for others it’s because the past was their glory days. Let go of the past. No, you might not ever forget it, but learn to be present in the present. Glory in the blessings of the moment. Allow yourself to heal. Become someone’s hero today, even if you don’t hear an applause.
  14. Don’t let regrets define your future. Many of us have regrets and have done things we’re now ashamed of. Much of life is learned through trials, errors, and hard knocks. But these should help us to learn, grow, and improve. No, we’re not who or what we had hoped to be or hope to become. Paul, writes, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
  15. Understand that you are not a mistake. No matter your situation, failures, guilt, or shame, you are no accident. In Christ, there is complete redemption for those who genuinely desire it and receive it by faith. The psalmist writes, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps. 139:13). And we read in Acts, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us” (17:26-27). We find our greatest joy when we know Him and understand our purpose and being.
  16. Don’t be so easily offended by differing opinions. Some people allow their whole worlds to be unraveled because others have differing views and opinions. Why? And just because someone disagrees doesn’t make them a bigot, xenophobe, or any other kind of (?)-phobe. Even if they are, so what? So many are busy starting fires or adding fuel to them. Again, why? While there is a time to speak up, there is also a time to hold your peace. Knowing the difference requires wisdom. There is a peace that can come when one minds his own business and allows others to have a completely different view.
  17. Quit complaining. Most people complain from time to time, but some people complain all the time, like a Goldilocks who never finds a “just right.” The weather is either too hot or too cold. The atmosphere in a restaurant is too loud, the food is either over or undercooked, the waitress is too slow, the menu is too expensive, etc. There is always something to diminish the beauty of anything. Complainers lack both gratitude and appreciation. Complainers miss the 97% of positivity because they are fixated on the 3% negativity. If you want to improve your happiness, quit complaining about everything. 
  18. Get some sunlight. There are numerous benefits of sunlight, but one is it helps boost the body’s release of serotonin, which helps a person’s mood.
  19. Exercise. This should be a no-brained, but exercise is good for a person physically and mentally. It doesn’t need to be strenuous, just going out for a walk and getting some fresh air is good for the spirit.
  20. Turn off the news and social media. Last but not least, for goodness’ sake, turn off the news and social media. Rarely are politicians honest, and celebrities are not the gods and goddesses they think themselves to be. Furthermore, not everyone is fighting like piranhas in a frenzy. Not everyone is a criminal. Most people’s lives are not picture perfect, and there is still a lot of beauty and kindness in the world. 

Life is filled with trials and pain, but in and through Christ even these can be redeemed and be seeds to later joy. Again, this list is not a cure for unhappiness; however, if you look beyond yourself and put these things into practice, then you will find a measure of genuine happiness and joy. Do these and refuse to be a victim of your own unhappiness.

When Your Blogging Changes, That’s Okay!

If you are a blogger, the chances are high that you love to write. Yet, just as you grow and develop as a writer, which requires change, so it is with blogging. Your passion and goal(s) might not change, but your style and approach might become more refined, focused, or personal.

I write almost out of necessity, as writing is a part of who I am. I write for myself as much as for anyone else. Writing not only helps me vent but also put structure to my thoughts, allowing them to become more concrete rather than abstract. In other words, writing helps me to learn. Writing helps me to learn about myself and the world around me, even as I write about these.

When I first began blogging I wanted to touch on subjects and Scripture passages I feel are often ignored in churches. Later, I went through a period of severe depression, so I wanted to offer words of hope. Since then, my blogging has still changed, although the previous elements are still a part of my writing.

I have also learned from some bloggers I follow. Some are extraordinarily gifted in writing in such a warm, personal style. This is something I hope to become better at doing. I don’t want to simply blabber out facts or opinions, but to communicate in a way the personhood of the reader is touched. Even in a way that if someone has different views than me, they will still feel valued instead of defenses being raised.

The goal of a Christian writer should always be love, while being faithful to truth. This is not always easy, as written words do not convey tones, warmth, or facial expressions. Furthermore, we are living in a time when there is a lot of fear, distrust, division, and uncertainty. These tend to muddy the waters and bring a lot of anger to the surface. Love must take all this into consideration and not let these become stumbling blocks to extending love and respect to persons who are craving these. This is where I am finding myself today, how do I communicate to others through my writings in a way that is personal, while extending hope and encouragement to a society that is really needing these?

Friend, perhaps your blogging has changed or is changing. If so, that’s okay. You might feel silly because of it sometimes, but I doubt others are thinking that. Allow the change, but remember the goal(s) you have in mind. For some, it’s sharing help and expertise in particular areas. For others, the reasons might be different. Regardless, change is not a bad thing. Oftentimes it is a sign of growth, development, and understanding. It might be uncomfortable, but sometimes it’s necessary.

I hope these words may be of encouragement to you, my friend. Blessings to you!

We Are Not Enemies

Pause. Breathe. Listen.

The past year or two have been tough for nearly everyone. There is a lot of frustration, fear, distrust, and uncertainty with legitimate reasons persons feel these. As a result, there is a lot of anger and criticism, but a lack of love, compassion, and understanding. As I’ve come to realize recently, I am not guiltless of these. I’ve posted my share of venting of anger and criticism. Yet, each day I meet or pass people who wear masks and those who don’t; some have been vaccinated while some have not yet done so or refuse to. Many are black, white, brown, etc. Many ha e differing views than me. None of us are enemies in the real sense of the word. Most have no ill-will toward one another. In fact, most have families they love and desire to protect and provide for. Most are just wanting to survive this craziness that surrounds us. 

If you’re reading this, know that you are not alone. Each of us, to some measure, are feeling frustrated, scared, suspicious, and uncertain. We are not enemies, but we need to pause, breathe, and listen to one another. Our feelings have not arisen for no reason. But instead of listening to the talking heads on tv or the blabbering voices on the radio, May we see each other as we are—persons living in chaotic times. May we find that grace can help us to have one another’s backs, eyes to see past the exterior, shoulders for each other to lean and cry on, hands to help each other up, ears to listen to the concerns, arms to hug and hold onto one another, to help each other as we can, and words to instill courage, hope, and comfort to one another.

We are not enemies. We are but persons living in difficult times. May we love one another. Together we can get through this, by His grace.

Be of good courage.

Love deeply (even those who have different views).

Help others, knowing they’re wrestling through all this mess too.

And remember that we are not enemies. Blessings to you, my friends.

Many of us are essentially nobodies, sometimes feeling as though we are drifting through life merely existing. We know the sting of rejection, loneliness, failure, and the like. We are either too this or too that, we are told. Yet we are called, chosen, and cherished by the One whose thoughts of us truly matters. We might, indeed, be nobodies. Yet we are significant somebodies to Him who redeemed us.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. ~ 1 Corinthians 1:26

There are times when we have little to give. Yet, if surrendered to God, even our little can go a long way. A warm smile, sincere smile, a kind note, a hug, a conversation over coffee, a listening ear, or an acknowledgment of someone’s existence and worth can go a long way. Society tells us we need “stuff,” but it is the little things that give us purpose and hope.

There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many? ~ John 6:9

Do you feel like giving up? DON’T! You have more fight in you. When you are weak, that is when you are strong! Get up, little fighter! Get up, mighty warrior! For God is your strength!

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~ 2 Cor. 12:9-10

Encourage Your Pastor

One of the sad (but true) jokes in churches is that many families will have roasted pastor for dinner after Sunday’s service. However, the pastor who is genuinely called by God and is trying to lead a congregation in the ways of God has a tremendous responsibility. Furthermore, he does so many things behind the scenes ministering to others most are unaware of. Contrary to popular belief, pastors do far more than “just prepare for sermons and preach.” They serve as counselors and comforters, and many are on-call 24/7.

Pastors are not perfect (although they are to be godly). They have feelings and passions. They experience fear, sadness, discouragement, and anger. Many are husbands and fathers trying to be good In these roles (these are difficult for them too), and often people expect their families to be picture perfect. Dysfunction brings their calling, character, and credibility into question.

Pastors must deal with conviction and accountability to God for how they behave and handle the Word of God. They must deal with their own consciences making them aware of their failures and inadequacies. And pastors have “a target on their backs,”  more so than the average Christian, because if Satan can influence them to fall into gross sin and scandalous activities, then congregations can be divided, confounded, and even faith being shipwrecked of some.

I have read of the following statistics:

  • 97% of pastors have been betrayed, falsely accused, or hurt by their trusted friends.
  • 70% of pastors struggle with depression.
  • 1500 pastors quit each month.
  • 10% will retire as pastors.
  • 80% of pastors feel discouraged.
  • 94% of pastor’s families feel the pressure of ministry.
  • 78% of pastors have no close friends.
  • 90% of pastors report to working 55-75 hours per week.

The primary tasks of a pastor is studying/teaching God’s Word and devoting himself to earnest prayer. Christians can say they “love God’s Word,” but pastors make a lot of people mad when they do truly preach God’s Word!

If you have a godly (albeit imperfect) pastor who strives to be faithful to Jesus Christ, His Word, and the Great Commission; and if he seeks to minister to the congregation and is burdened for the souls of people, then you are truly blessed. The Bible says this of such individuals:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. ~ 1 Timothy 5:17 (ESV)

And,

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. ~ Hebrews 13:17

Do you give honor—even double honor—to your pastor? Or do you nit pick his flaws, give him grief because he did not call you on your birthday, and roast him because he preached against your beloved pet sin(s)? If the latter, how is this of any benefit to you? What gain is there in wounding and making the work difficult of one who loves you? Sadly, often pastors pour themselves out (sometimes at the expense of their families) only to meet with continual resistance, roasting, and betrayal from congregants. 

Do you pray for your pastor’s well being? Have you encouraged your pastor (and his family) lately? A gift, a note of appreciation, and the like could be of great encouragement to him. It might even be that needed spark to help him keep from giving up. Encourage your pastor. He experiences the stresses of life and loss, just as you, all the while putting these aside ad he tried to minister to others. The weight and burdens he carries with him you will never understand. He needs your prayers and encouragement more than you can ever know.

Lessons In the Dark (Failure Does Not Have to Be Definitive)

There are times when a person must go through times of darkness. The reasons vary, but sometimes darkness comes as a result of immense failure. Such was the case for the man of God Samson.

Before he was even conceived Samson was ordained to be a deliverer for the people of Israel. By the Spirit of God he was granted incredible strength and valor. His life was to be holy and consecrated to the Lord. Yet, when we read the account of Samson in the book of Judges, we read of a man who squandered his privileges (even having sex with a prostitute [see Jud. 16:1]), and who took his abilities for granted. This squandering eventually cost him dearly.

Samson later falls in love with the woman Delilah. The lords of the Philistines convinced her to seduce Samson and find where his strength came from. After three failed attempts, Delilah pouted and reasoned, “How can you say you love me if you are not willing to tell me your secret?” Being beguiled by the woman, Samson shares his heart and what was not to be revealed. After he falls asleep, Delilah cut Samson’s hair and the Philistines rush in to subdue him. We then read the dreadful words,

And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him. ~ Judges 16:20 (ESV)

For so long Samson took his privileges, anointing, and victories for granted he was oblivious to the fact the Lord departed from him. He was to experience such profoundly humiliating defeat. After rushing on him, the Philistines gouged out Samson’s eyes, put him in shackles, and imprisoned him at the grinding mill.

Samson was alone in the darkness of his blindness, yet it was here that he had time to reflect, grieve, confess, and listen. He was learning hard lessons of squandered privileges, of pride, of immorality, etc. Yet, among all these lessons he would also learn of God’s grace and faithfulness. God would yet hear Samson’s prayer and grant him a major victory. Centuries later he would be named among people of faith:

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions. ~ Hebrews 11:32-33

Perhaps you have tasted the bitterness of failure and experiencing its painful consequences. May you take courage in the Lord and find some peace in His promises. Due to your folly, may you listen to the instructions of the Holy Spirit and gain some wisdom.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. ~ Proverbs 1:7

Your failures do not have to define your identity or your future. Consequences might be devastating, but they do not need to demolish hope if you will be still in your darkness. Turn to Christ, and listen to His Spirit. Confess your sin(s), admit your guilt, and own up to your failures. There can still be mighty victories won through Him.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. ~ 1 John 1:9

My enemies, don’t be glad because of my troubles! I may have fallen, but I will get up; I may be sitting in the dark, but the Lord is my light. I have sinned against the Lord. And so I must endure his anger, until he comes to my defense. But I know that I will see him making things right for me and leading me to the light. ~ Micah 7:8-9 (CEV)

The Present—His Presence

We are living in uncertain times. What is going on in government? What is going to happen to the economy? What is going to happen in our lifetime, and what is the world going to be like for our children and grandchildren? One commodity that seems to be dwindling for many is hope.

One of the gems within the Christmas/Gospel message is God’s presence among people. It is important to understand Jesus’ highest position. We are told He is the Alpha and the Omega (First and the Last), and Lord of lords and King of kings (see Rev. 1:8; 17:14). In John’s Gospel we are told Jesus is the Word, who was with God and is God, who took on flesh and “dwelt among us” (see John 1:1-5, 14). Furthermore, Paul tells us that in doing so, Jesus “emptied himself” (see Phil. 2:7).

In Matthew’s Gospel we are told one of the names of Jesus is Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (see Matt. 1:23). He did not come to dwell among the elite or to live in the lap of luxury. He was born in poverty, grew among the average Joe, and associated with the hurting and outcast.

Although Jesus has ascended, He promises His continual presence through His Holy Spirit (see John 14:15-17). Note, the passage says that He will abide with us forever.

Perhaps you are facing some challenging circumstances (e.g., loneliness, illness, financial issues, marital problems, etc.), and God feels a million miles away. Maybe you are thinking He has abandoned you. My prayer for you this Christmas season is that you will remember the Word (Jesus) “dwelt among us” and continues to dwell within His people. 

There are some who feel they are “too far gone,” but Jesus, His grace, and His presence are given as gifts to all who are willing to receive them by faith. If you have not already, may you receive these gifts this Christmas season.