Forgiveness Is Freedom

FORGIVENESS IS FREEDOM

Have you ever noticed that the words GIVE and GIVEN are in the middle of forgiveness? I guess I never really thought about it. Until today. And now, that which has been seen cannot be unseen. 

ForGIVEness is a noun, and as such, it is a thing. It is something you can give, and it is something that can be given to you—whether you choose to receive it or not. Isn’t that interesting?

Psychologists have long contended that the offer of forGIVEness benefits the person giving it regardless of the recipient’s reaction. Why? Rarely do the people we need to forgive have a clue how much harm they have inflicted or the extent of the pain they have caused. Can I get a witness?!

ForGIVEness is not about fighting for justice or holding the offender accountable—that’s completely different. ForGIVEness is an attitude of the heart. It’s about us and our willingness to trust God’s sovereignty: Do we trust God enough to forGIVE someone for hurting us? Our family? Our friends? Our pastor? Our animals? Our possessions? Our bank accounts?

Click here to continue reading my devotional at “Rooted at the Throne” hosted by Rachael Carman. 

Life Is Like a Box of Puzzle Pieces

Life is like a box of puzzle pieces

Are you someone who enjoys assembling jigsaw puzzles? If so, do you top out at 500 pieces, or are you a glutton for punishment preferring 1000+? I’m not a jigsaw fanatic, but I enjoy working on a good puzzle every now and then. My favorite moment in the puzzling process occurs when I finally locate a piece that has been eluding me, setting off a string of easy matches.

Image result for thomas moran grand canyon with rainbow
Pretty sure this is the one we bought.

My mother-in-law loves “puzzling,” and has framed a couple of the more beautiful puzzles she’s completed over the years. When we were at the Grand Canyon a few years ago, we purchased a stunning 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle for her as a souvenir. The image was an artist’s rendering of a view from the South Rim overlooking the Canyon at sunset. It was gorgeous! If you close your eyes, you can probably imagine what it looked like; however, I seriously doubt that you would attempt this puzzle without the box right in front of you. Most puzzlers refer to the picture on the box repeatedly to make sure they are headed in the right direction.

So, what if I were to tell you that life is more like a box of puzzle pieces than a box of chocolates? It is. Not only do you “never know what you’re gonna get,” but neither will one bite help you figure it out! You just have to live it. One funky-cut piece at a time. 

Click here to continue reading this
devotional reflection on GOD’S PROVISION at
Rooted at the Throne” hosted by Rachael Carman. 

He Himself Is Our Peace

He Himself Is Our Peace

As I was contemplating the topic of peace, I decided to share a spiritual discipline versus writing a typical blog post. When you practice this discipline, you can experience God’s peace in your life. Right now.

A Meditation on Peace

What follows is a guided meditation on Scripture based on the Christian spiritual discipline of contemplative prayer (a.k.a. meditation). In his classic book on spiritual disciplines, A Celebration of Discipline, renowned and well-regarded Christian author, teacher, and former pastor, Richard Foster observes:

"In contemporary society our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in 'muchness' and 'manyness,' he will rest satisfied."

One way we can “disengage” from the pressures of the world is with contemplative prayer or Christian meditation. Foster states that words used in Scripture “to convey the idea of meditation” occur more than fifty times—and that’s just in the Old Testament! Foster continues:

"These words have various meanings: listening to God's word, reflecting on God's works, rehearsing God's deeds, ruminating on God's law, and more. In each case there is stress upon changed behavior as a result of our encounter with the living God. Repentance and obedience are essential features in any biblical understanding of meditation."

As followers of Christ, we don’t practice meditation for the sake of clearing our minds or relaxation (although relaxation may be a happy outcome just the same). Instead, we meditate on Scripture and the Lord’s promises in order to bring about repentance in our lives, so that restoration replaces resistance and rebellion; obedience overrides resentment.

"Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)

This devotional will walk you through a Scripture-based meditation that centers on Jesus Christ as our source of peace. As you participate in this contemplative prayer, you will focus your thoughts on your relationship with the Lord by coordinating your breathing (inhale/hold/exhale) with a very simple physical action (palms up/palms down). As you exhale, you will confess your sins.

Physical Location

Scriptural meditation and prayer are gifts God gave us to center our attention on Him and experience His peace in the midst of life’s turmoils, no matter where we are physically. In other words, you can meditate anywhere, but a quiet place would be best. You can do this while laying in bed, sitting at the kitchen table, or even holding a baby. You can do this in the waiting room at a hospital, in the break room at work, or in a recliner by the pool.

This is a simple, portable spiritual discipline! For example, King David meditated in the middle of the night while he was laying awake in bed:

“When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches. Because You have been my help, Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.” Psalm 63:6-7 (NKJV)

Intentional Breathing

Breathing. It’s not something we tend to think about, is it? Since we’ve been inhaling and exhaling our whole lives, the thought of intentional breathing might seem silly. But it’s not. Intentional breathing is a way for us to control our bodies and quiet our minds for the purpose of focusing on the Lord and the truths in His Word.

Box Breathing & Prayer

Box breathing, also known as square breathing or four-square breathing, is a simple yet effective breathing technique that helps promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve focus. It involves inhaling, holding the breath, exhaling, and holding the breath again, all for equal counts of time. The pattern of breath resembles the shape of a square or a box, hence the name.

To practice box breathing, follow these steps:

  1. Find a comfortable sitting position or lie down, ensuring your body is relaxed but your spine is straight.
  2. Begin by exhaling fully through your mouth, releasing any tension or stale air.
  3. Inhale gently through your nose to a slow count of four. As you breathe in, focus on filling your abdomen, then your lower chest, and finally your upper chest, allowing your lungs to expand fully.
  4. Once you’ve completed the inhalation, hold your breath for the same count of four. Keep your body relaxed and your mind focused on the present moment.
  5. Exhale slowly and steadily through your mouth for another count of four, emptying your lungs completely.
  6. After exhaling, pause and hold your breath for the final count of four. Maintain stillness and a sense of calm.
  7. Repeat the cycle by inhaling again for four counts, and continue the pattern for several rounds or until you feel more relaxed and centered.
  8. As you practice box breathing, try to maintain a steady and even rhythm, keeping your breaths smooth and controlled. It’s essential to listen to your body and adjust the breath counts to a pace that feels comfortable for you. If counting to four feels challenging, you can start with a shorter count and gradually increase it over time.

Box breathing can be done at any time of the day whenever you feel the need to reset, calm your mind, or regain focus. It’s especially useful during stressful situations, before important events, or as part of a regular mindfulness or meditation practice.

Remember, the key to box breathing is to cultivate a relaxed and intentional breathing pattern, allowing it to guide you into a state of balance and tranquility.

Here’s a video that provides both a visual to help you with this exercise as well as gorgeous scenery and beautiful music to enhance your experience. 

Palms Up & Palms Down

Whether you’re lying down, sitting, or standing, you can intentionally position the palms of your hands facing up (palms up) to symbolize your willingness to receive the Lord’s gift of peace (or anything from Him, for that matter).

When you purposefully turn your palms face down (palms down), you are symbolizing your desire to let go of anything standing in the way of your relationship with Him. With a simple turning of the hands, you can physically position yourself both to receive peace from the Lord and to let go of distractions and obstacles.

Fellowship thru Contemplative Prayer

Since our theme this month is “peace,” what follows is a meditation on peace—a fruit of the Spirit. We will begin with a “breath prayer”—one word or a short phrase that can be said within one breath. The breath prayer is one way we can stay in touch with the Lord throughout the day. In other words, don’t make the mistake of thinking that prayer is limited to your “quiet time” or time of meditation. You can utter a breath prayer at any time throughout the day to remind yourself not only what you’re giving up, but also what God is doing in your life.

I have written a few “breath prayers” to help you get started (see below), but you don’t have to use my words! As Richard Foster says,

“Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word…it involves no hidden mysteries, no secret mantras, no mental gymnastics, no esoteric flights into the cosmic consciousness. The truth of the matter is that the great God of the universe, the Creator of all things desires our fellowship.”

That just rocks my world! God wants fellowship with US!

And, listen, this is far from an exhaustive training on contemplative prayer (a.k.a. Christian meditation). If this is something you find fruitful, then by all means, do additional research. I’ve recommended a few resources for spiritual discipline on my website which you can find on the Resources Page.

Footwear of Faith

Footwear of Faith
Marikina City Footwear Museum
A very small portion of the Imelda Marcos Shoe Collection

How many pairs of shoes do you personally own? Does your family jokingly refer to you as “Imelda”? Or are you a one-pair wonder who sees little point in owning more than one functional, comfortable pair of shoes? I, myself, am much closer to the one-pair wonder than Imelda Marcos (who owned more than 3000 pairs of shoes).

I tend to have one pair of shoes for every occasion: I wear flip-flops everyday🩴; tennis shoes for the gym 👟; ankle boots with my dress pants 👢; sandals in the summer 👡; heels for special occasions 👠; and winter boots when it’s cold outside❄️. Oh, I almost forgot: I also have an old pair of those “special” Sketchers® that never did firm or tone anything saggy. Oh well!

You might be wondering, “Why all this talk about shoes? I thought this was a devotional!” True. True.

Well, shoes have soles, too! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!😂 )

The truth is, as I prayed about this month’s theme of faith, God brought to my mind a few common idioms about faith, and they all involved feet! A person takes a step of faith; another is walking in faith; while someone else just book a leap of faith. Apparently, faith requires moving your proverbial feet.

Before we start selecting shoes for the journey, let’s first define what faith is and is not. In the New Testament, “faith” is an action word. And while we can easily translate the Greek noun pistis as “faith,” the English language has no way to accurately translate its verb form, pisteuein, which literally means “to faith.”

Most of the time, pisteuein is translated “to believe” which implies mere mental assent; however, it’s meaning is more complex than that. Pisteuein is an action-imperative verb which contains the concept of trust embodied in obedient action.

Just let that sink in for a moment. “Faithing” is not merely believing in something or someone: “Faithing” is demonstrating trust in something or someone through obedient action. Unfortunately, there’s no such word as “faithing” in English. Therefore, it’s our responsibility to ensure that we keep this full definition of faith in mind when we read the Bible. We must remember that faith is not something you merely possess, it’s something you do. You exercise your faith through your actions. 

Understanding the meaning of pisteuein can enrich your understanding of familiar Bible passages and shed new light on them. For example, John 3:16 is typically translated “whosoever believes in Him,” but it would be better translated “all the faithing-in-Him ones.” It’s so much more than mental ascent.

Let me ask you this: Have you ever known someone (or been the person) to request prayer repeatedly for guidance on a particularly difficult decision, but the decision is never translated into action? This is indicative of a lack of faith.

In other words, merely praying without taking action is akin to buying a pair of shoes and never wearing them. It becomes a wasted opportunity and a constant reminder of what could have been. Shoes are meant to be worn, just as steps of faith are meant to be taken, not pondered forever.

When we pray about something, God will reveal next steps. He WANTS us to know His will. As Daniel 2:28 says, “There is a God in Heaven who reveals mysteries.”  He desires for us both to know His will AND to demonstrate our faith through action AND to trust His sovereignty. 

I can pray about a decision all I want; I can discuss it; I can tell everyone about it—none of this requires faith. I exercise faith when I make the decision and take the corresponding action.

3 Types of Joy

3 Types of Joy

I’d like to tell you a story: Three friends, Reggie, Nguyen, and Jim, met for lunch at the golf course ⛳, and each one was full of joy.

Reggie, after slightly puffing out his chest, exclaimed, “Well, guys, I “hate” to rub it in, but my team made it to the Final Four …AND my company gave us tickets to the playoffs!” He leaned back in his chair, placing his hands behind his head, and challenged anyone to top that! 

Nguyen replied, “Jealous. Not jealous. That’s cool, man! But…I have some pretty good news of my own: My wife told me this morning: ‘We’re having a baby!’ 👶🏽🍼 I can’t believe it! I’m gonna be a dad!”  He was beaming and smiling from ear to ear. 

“Congratulations, man!” Jim chimed in, “That’s fantastic! When is she due?”

Their conversation continued for a few minutes until Jim changed the subject: “So, I hate to break the mood, but I need to let y’all know that we finally got the pathology report back yesterday. Turns out, I have prostate cancer. 🎗️ It’s treatable, but it looks like I’ll be practicing my putt at home for a while.” 

📞 HOLD THE PHONE!

You, the reader, might be thinking, “I thought you said all three people were ‘full of joy’! How is that possible when the third man is sharing a cancer diagnosis? I’m sure he was ‘exuding’ something, but there’s no way it could be JOY!”

As a matter of fact, he was full of joy—just a different type than the other two—we’ll look at that in a bit. But first, I want to share with you about a discussion I had with a few friends on my Facebook page. Here’s how that conversation came about:

As I prayed about and contemplated the word JOY for this devotional, I spent some time in the Bible and a few minutes on Google. Did you know there are 19.5 million articles explaining how/why joy is better than happiness?! Good grief! Just so you know, I’ve decided NOT to add to that total. You’re welcome! 

As you might imagine, the answers varied, but not very widely: The overwhelming majority of my Christian and Agnostic friends agreed that it’s possible, although a few dissented. A Buddhist friend affirmed that while choosing joy is attainable, it’s not easy and requires “not just self-discipline, but a willingness to forgo unhealthy attachment to things as they are.” The response that really got my attention, though, was from a friend in Washington state. He commented, “I think I choose optimism and attitude, but ‘joy’ is something I receive.” And just like that, my perspective on joy shifted.

I realized that I had been approaching this subject all wrong—as if joy had only one meaning. What I needed to do was research JOY more thoroughly in order to understand its nuances. Because if joy can be received, then it can also be given. If it can be given and received, then it can also be rejected and disregarded. What IS joy? Where does it come from? Can I generate it by myself, or do I need to find it somewhere else? Or both? Or neither? (Yes, this is how my brain works.) 

As you might imagine, the answers varied, but not very widely: The overwhelming majority of my Christian and Agnostic friends agreed that it’s possible, although a few dissented. A Buddhist friend affirmed that while choosing joy is attainable, it’s not easy and requires “not just self-discipline, but a willingness to forgo unhealthy attachment to things as they are.” The response that really got my attention, though, was from a friend in Washington state. He commented, “I think I choose optimism and attitude, but ‘joy’ is something I receive.” And just like that, my perspective on joy shifted.

I realized that I had been approaching this subject all wrong—as if joy had only one meaning. What I needed to do was research JOY more thoroughly in order to understand its nuances. Because if joy can be received, then it can also be given. If it can be given and received, then it can also be rejected and disregarded. What IS joy? Where does it come from? Can I generate it by myself, or do I need to find it somewhere else? Or both? Or neither? (Yes, this is how my brain works.) 

Dog using computer in nerd glasses

So, I began my “formal” research. And guess what I learned? JOY, one word in English, is expressed with a variety of words in other languages—even in the Bible! I was surprised to find at least ten different root words for joy in the Old Testament (Hebrew) and five different word groups in the New Testament (Greek). Since we English speakers tend to use only one word for joy, it’s simple to suppose why joy is so frequently conflated with cheerfulness, contentment, pride, bliss, hope, and happiness.

Noted psychologist Dr. Robert Plutchik developed a “wheel of emotions” (see image below) to visually describe the relationships of emotions to each other. He first identified eight “primary” emotions: joy, sadness, anger, fear, trust, disgust, surprise, and anticipation. He taught that basic emotions could be expressed at a variety of intensities (like shades of a particular color) and could combine to create even more! Plutchik identified 8 distinct second-level and 25 third-level emotions for a grand total of 33 distinct emotions that comprise JOY. No wonder we struggle to understand it.

Dr. Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

In order to better apprehend joy, imagine a backwards prism (see my diagram below). There’s a full spectrum of second-level emotions shining into the prism (not to mention the third-level behind it), but only one emotion beams out the other side: JOY. That tiny word is pretty complex!

Spectrum of Joy

Joy is neither pre-meditated, nor can it’s time of arrival be controlled. When joy arrives on the scene, “it takes possession of the whole person”1—body, mind, and spirit. This is why “tears of joy” is not an oxymoron: It’s perfectly natural for a person to well-up with tears (i.e., have a visceral reaction) in the midst of a joyous occurence.   

Three Distinct Types of Joy

So, does everyone experience joy? Yes, but not always in the same way and not necessarily the same types. Scripture presents us with three kinds of joy: Public Joy, Personal Joy, and Pure Joy.

Type #1: Public Joy

PUBLIC JOY is a shared experience with others and fades more quickly than the other two types. For example, you might experience public joy at a Panthers  game—assuming they are your favorite team, and they win. Or maybe you’re at a regional conference with some friends, and one of them  makes a life-changing decision. Or maybe you are cheering at the TV when your favorite team seals their spot in the Final Four  during March Madness. Even though you’re not necessarily in a crowd at the moment, you are enjoying it with people from all over the world. Biblical examples of public joy are seen during annual feasts, communal festivals, and celebrations (cf. Num. 10:10Deut. 16:15). At times—even today—it may be felt in the course of corporate worship (cf. Ezra 3:13). Unfortunately, public joy is temporary—it rises and falls with the live experience. At certain times it will last longer than others, but eventually, public joy fades away. 

Type #2: Personal Joy

PERSONAL JOY is experienced within oneself, but it is not received or felt until something happens. The “something” might be an anticipated milestone (e.g., the arrival of a letter from a publisher accepting your book proposal; the birth of a child; your husband’s promotion at work;  etc.), or it could be a complete surprise (e.g., a soldier surprises her family by coming home unannounced). At that moment—when IT happens—you experience a spontaneous visceral reaction as personal joy “wells up” within you—“tears of joy” may be involved. Or not. How one experiences personal joy has as much to do with a person’s character and values as it does their personality type. When something happens in alignment with your values and hopes, the strong emotional response you have is more than relief, happiness, or even peace: It’s a deep sense of joy that lingers (cf. Luke 1:39-442 Tim. 1:4). Personal joy takes up most of the spectrum. Individuals will find joy in a variety of things or find themselves receiving joy in unexpected moments. Interestingly, what brings one person joy, might trigger sadness in another. Personal joy is, well, personal.

Type #3: Pure Joy

PURE JOY is experienced at the metaphysical level (spiritually). It exists separate from the individual, and might seem elusive, if you don’t know where to find it. Thankfully, Scripture teaches us where to look and how to acquire it (cf. Ps. 16:11; ). Pure joy is the spiritual fruit of a personal relationship with the Lord—rooted in His Word and cultivated by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-26). It’s this relationship that produces in us the ability to face severe circumstances with a sense of deep and abiding joy. Pure joy holds us in place like an anchor in the storm. No longer do we rely on public joy or personal joy to carry us through the tough times: That’s dangerous and way too subjective (Neh. 8:10). Instead, we cling to the promises in His Word (cf. Isa. 40:31Mal. 3:10John 8:36Jas. 1:5), trusting that He will work everything out according to His plans and for His glory (cf. Psa. 139Isa. 46:9-10Jer. 29:11Rom. 8:281 John 4:13). This yields a peace that passes understanding, and pure joy has a place to root and grow. 

Flowers

Tend the Garden of joy

Public Joy, Personal Joy, Pure Joy—each of these was created for our benefit, and they are not mutually exclusive. We can experience them one at a time, or all at once! But if your goal, like mine, is to approach life with Pure Joy (the joy of the LORD), we must discipline ourselves to tend the garden of our hearts. 

We must consistently lop off self-reliance (Rev. 3:15-20), fear (1 John 4:18), and anxiety (1 Peter 5:7); and instead, feed on the Word (2 Tim. 2:15 & 3:16-17); assure proper exposure to the Son (cf. Rom. 10:9-10Jas. 4:7-8); allow pruning to stimulate growth (John 15:2); and enjoy unlimited access to living water (cf. John 7:37-39Rom. 5:4-6Rev. 22:17).     ️

Tend the garden, and Pure Joy will bloom in a full spectrum of color so beautiful that others will want to know how you did it. Then, you share your little secret: It’s all about Him (Matt. 5:15-16

This devotional was initially featured in the ‘Rooted at the Throne’ series, a yearlong collection of devotionals curated by renowned author and speaker Rachael Carman on her previous blog.