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haven in uncertain waters

“Some . . . were merchants . . .
They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
    in their peril their courage melted away. . .
    they were at their wits’ end.

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he brought them out of their distress . . .
 They were glad when it grew calm,
    and he guided them to their desired haven.
 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (Psalm 107:23-31).

The stock market plummeted today, while a bike builder announced his discovery of an eighteenth-century treasure. Gold coins sank into oblivion, failing to sustain the European seamen who once hoped in them. Today’s merchants sail turbulent waves of NASDAQ. DOW, and S&P riches. We venture into uncertain markets with a dubious eye on storms threatening a crash.

Shipwrecks remain inevitable. What rises must fall. Investors and businesses stake their livelihood upon determining when. Financial stability sways before us as a tempting foundation for security. The churning waters of business remain incapable of tethering an anchor for hope. Those who trust in money doom themselves to sink to the depths like an iron-banded chest.

In the midst of life’s uncertainty, God listens. He knows our need. Our inability to meet it on our own. He’s not waiting for us to disclose our situation, but to ask for His support. The instant an outcry rises from the heart, God shows up.

Sometimes His intervention isn’t what we thought we wanted. God doesn’t concern Himself with meeting our expectations. By nature, He exceeds them every time. Whether or not we recognize the amplitude of his work at first glance.

The Lord brings us through hardship and adversity. Not always around it. And not necessarily into material wealth. Christ affords us passage to wealth exceeding all earthly treasure. Regardless of swirling circumstances, our hope finds an anchor in solid Rock instead of the waters. Eternal life in heaven glows from the horizon with a glory eclipsing the sun. Despite the present seas, we fix our eyes on His peace sustaining us. And we’re glad when we grow calm.

Our Father guides us to His perfect haven, even before we understand our deep longing for it. While culture insists our well-being rests in a lifestyle money can buy, mortality and its trappings bear an expiration date. This temporary life, whether comfortable or not, will end. Eternity dawns with incomparable delight for those who cry out to the Lord and anchor themselves in His security. Then, real life begins. No dark waters. No instability. No. More. Devastation.

Whatever our seastorm rescue looks like today, let’s give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful presence forever with us and eternally blessing us.

prison

“Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
    prisoners suffering . . .
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,
    and broke away their chains.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds . . .
for he breaks down gates of bronze
    and cuts through bars of iron” (Psalm 107:10-16).

My dad volunteers his time to guide incarcerated people toward transformation. He visits the jail at least once a week, and courthouse staff know him by name. Those who complete the Transformations Program have such a marginal rate of reoffending, judges recommend and celebrate their work. Dad often expresses the immeasurable rewards he experiences through guiding those lost souls to a renewed life. Their freedom extends beyond the removal of bars. Liberty defines their healthy lifestyle, a victorious state of the soul.

Bars and cell walls make some types of imprisonment clear. Whether or not the bars can be touched, other strongholds bind the soul with tenacious chains. Destructive thought cycles. Emotional quicksand. Toxic relationship patterns. We can step inside various spiritual strongholds and feel unable to escape on our own.

All the while, the One Who loves us most stands at the cell door. He extends the key in His nail-scarred hand. Our first step to freedom is reaching out in prayer to accept His help.

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Transformations graduates won’t testify to an effortless escape. Anyone with a life story of empancipation recognizes the journey’s challenges. Spiritual freedom requires us to change, which proves an intense challenge to habit-captives. Though we face tough work, Jesus Christ takes on the heaviest lifting. Soul liberation remains impossible without God’s power.

As the psalmist proclaims, the Lord never ignores a heartfelt cry submitted to Him. When we lay ourselves out in surrender, acknowledging our need for Christ’s transforming power, He shows up. Every time. Regardless of the circumstances, which might not change, Jesus renews, sustains, and frees each soul to the extent of its surrender to Him. The deep chains fall away, and His children celebrate inner victory.

What’s holding you hostage today? Will you consider praying to surrender all before the One Who waits to set you free forever?
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wasteland

“Some wandered in desert wastelands,
    . . . hungry and thirsty,
    and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord . . .
    and he delivered them . . .
 Let them give thanks to the Lord  . . .
 for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalm 107:4-9).

Fear clinches her stomach. Emptiness rises like bile to burn in her chest. She staggers through weeks and months as if trudging across endless sand dunes. Daily stress rises to sear her skin like desert sun rays. As she parts her lips, the dry world of her wasteland burns into her throat. With a gasping plea, she at last musters a simple prayer. Help me, Lord.

The blaze persists. Dunes still overwhelm the view. Yet, her escape has begun.

She wriggles outstretched fingers toward the sand-walled horizon, anticipating mist from an unseen waterfall. With a dry, cracked hand, she picks up a branch for a staff. Peace floods into her spirit, soothing away the thirst of emptiness and fear. Her pace quickens. She might not sprint, but she now marches. To the streams she knows from within her. Where answered prayers have begun to lead her onward.

Ever felt lost in the wasteland? Hunger and thirst roil from physical needs, spiritual angst, or both. From health problems or financial devastation to inner storms of depression and stress, life can leave us feeling stranded in a desert-like existence. When despair overwhelms us, we recognize our inability to escape on our own strength. We can either succumb to its ravages or cry to the Lord for help.

A heartfelt prayer, no matter how simple or weak, vaults to heaven. God hears. And the escape begins.

The wasteland will not vanish in a moment, but you will gain resources to sustain you. Peace and hope nourish the soul, equipping you to march toward something beyond your view. A fresh draft of God-supplied faith empowers you to take the next steps. The cross beam becomes a staff to steady you on the way to fulfilled hope. God’s answer to your prayer for rescue has come, even as you await the answer of full deliverance.

Our miraculous answer to prayer is thriving, not only after our deliverance from the wasteland, but also during the journey of our escape.

What’s your miraculous answer to prayer today?

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Untitled design (1)

“Suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

Magical characters reach from movie screens and beckon me into their world. Theme parks offer fresh visits to childlike wonder. Incredible masterpieces fill museum halls and garden paths. I relish each chance to drink in the inspiration of imagination.

The Father molded each of us in His image. He crafted unique works of art, kissing individual personalities with a different spritz of His creative sparkle. In a delightful chat with a 72 year old Christ-sister yesterday, we explored our different means of reflecting God’s ingenuity. When I shared my work as a writer, she first defined herself as devoid of creativity. Yet, as we talked, her amazing talents with children shone (along with other strengths) as brilliant examples of imaginative gifts. The Lord engineered our differences to glimmer in harmonizing shades as part of His glorious design.

Imagination inspires, motivates, uplifts–a fantastic blessing. My coaching and writing professions require consistent supply of this priceless resource. I cannot inspire unless I drink copious doses of inspiration. My incessant thirst deems me ever thankful for each sip of creative fuel.

While magnificent, imagination fails to bless us as an end unto itself. Creativity must encourage the soul to seek something greater. Inspiration toward anything less than true hope leaves us empty. Our sparkling kisses of ingenuity must reflect the Father’s love to others. Each imaginative work which honors His touch will transform others’ souls.

In the midst of a bleak, discouraging world, we need splashes of inspiration more than ever. God designed us to “poke holes in the darkness until light bleeds through,” as Margaret Feinberg so eloquently put it. Hope must radiate from the edges of all our creative endeavors. Imagination glimmers with us on earth for a season, a beautiful tool to point others toward eternal hope.

What creative works will God use from your spiritual and natural gifts to offer hope? Comment and share with all of us, so we can inspire one another to persevere in His work of providing hope.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Refugees abandon homes in pursuit of it. Defendants empty bank accounts to negotiate it. Acquisition offers empty promises of it. Anesthesia poisons the flesh with temporary illusions of it. A mother of toddlers looks for it in the bathroom.

Peace lingers in the desperate pleas of souls worldwide. From those enduring brutal oppression to those overwhelmed with daily stress, a valid strain proves critical within each experience. Humanity cries for an end to war with one another, heart-breaking circumstances, and ourselves. We struggle to cope and survive. A greater need pervades and exceeds all others. And it has already been offered to us at the grantor’s expense.

No change of address. No attorney fees. Debt-free and without side-effects. Not even confined to the powder room.

Peace with God provides hope beyond this heart-wrenching world. While refugees flee torment to dwell as outsiders in poverty, we leave behind a broken mortality and return home to the splendor for which we were created. Jesus, having paid our expenses with His suffering, also serves as our advocate to free us from judgment. We can trust His sufficient payment and negotiation has secured a brilliant future.

Our hope isn’t limited to the future.  Though salvation doesn’t eliminate earthly challenges, peace with God equips us to cope with our current struggles. Acceptance of Christ into our hearts brings His presence into our daily lives. We can neither survive this mortal life nor cope with it on our own. Thanks to Jesus, we don’t have to. His indwelling Spirit offers a constant resource of divine wisdom and strength, awaiting our requests for support.

Paul reminded early Christians of this, since they endured severe trials.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Will you take a moment today and thank God with me for His beautiful gift of peace?

Thank You, Jesus. For Your grace which secures our hope. For Your reliable presence that sustains us with precious, incomparable peace.

“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,  ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation’” (Luke 22:39-46).

On the eve before His crucifixion, Jesus knew each detail of the unprecedented suffering awaiting Him. Jeering pagans would scourge him until near death. The priests who claimed His Father as God would insist they strip and kill Him. He would drag a beam through the dusty streets, as those He suffered to rescue spat upon His battered body. His raw flesh nailed to rough wood, He would hang to suffocate in the blistering sun. And that wasn’t the worst of it. He would also bear the immeasurable weight of every sin from the advent of time until the distant end of all days. Incomparable physical, emotional, and spiritual agony.

Jesus foresaw all this as He poured the Passover wine. Three years of cherished moments with these men culminated in this final message.He ripped the bread and explained its secret meaning to blank stares. In conclusion, He handed the elements to the dear friends who would soon abandon Him.

The scent of roast lamb floated through the streets. Jesus led them beyond the hard-packed roads until the murmurings faded and lush grasses eased their steps. With the steep incline, His legs strained under the added weight of His coming journey. They settled under a favorite cluster of trees in the garden. Gentle breezes lulled His full-bellied companions into repose. Jesus offered a vital exhortation to his too-comfortable students.

“Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”

He surrendered Himself in a crucial prayer. Angels responded to strengthen Him. Christ continued His fervent interaction with the Father. Until—

Every nerve and hair prickled as He recognized this moment. The time had come.

Jesus returned to wake his dozing supporters. Yes, He realized their frailty. But He must impress the concept of crucial prayer. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

Christ’s insistence upon prayer at this moment renders it a crucial matter. The word ‘crucial’ derives its significance from its parent term, crucifixion. Though comprehension eluded the disciples until after the resurrection, we now benefit from Christ’s magnificent teaching delivered on Maundy Thursday. He

  • Forgiveness. He fulfilled the secret meaning of Passover as the Messiah Lamb Who redeems us from the consequences of sin. Despite impending betrayals and our continued undeserving nature, He demonstrated ultimate grace.
  • Service. He modeled the nature of a servant, explaining an additional impact of His coming sacrifice as providing inspiration for selfless living.
  • Submission. He surrendered Himself in prayer to the Father, Who strengthened Him to face unimaginable agony. During His crucial prayer, the Lord sent angelic support.
  • Crucial Prayer. He exhorted His followers to pray against temptation. He knew the trials awaiting them in the coming season. He knows prayer is our essential resource to fortify and equip us foll all that lies ahead.

This Maundy Thursday, as you reflect upon Jesus’ message to the disciples at the Last Supper and Gethsemane, will you join me in committing to a discipline of crucial prayer?

We landed in Manhattan in search of great Christmas cheer. We strode among holiday shoppers and dined beside neighborly locals. Our eyes sparkled in the brilliance of tree lights and glamorous storefronts. Unbeknownst to us, a shadow rolled across the city. In the midst of preparing for the celebration of a Savior, darkness mounted its forces.

In the days before our arrival, hate-mongers stirred protesters to steam through those icy streets. Fists raised, a rally cry rose for murder. Blood thirst escalated and snatched up souls dangling near its edges. A fatal stabbing hit the news. Two officers fell prey to an ambush. Assassinations culminated in paranoia and division. With a stench far weightier than smog, resentment poisoned the air.

Media didn’t notify us first. The impact touched us through personal stories as we met people. The woman who sat with us on the plane told us about her son’s overtime demands. Nine to twelve hour shifts with little sleep between them. She shared her worries over her son and daughter, NYPD officers. A young man in the airport told us his friend was stabbed to death over the weekend. The report on television brought him the sad news. We visited mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Sunday morning, where the priest said he learned of the assassination from sorrow-laden officers during the previous night’s event. So many lives burned by evil.

Each word, touch, and gesture ripples out with influence on other lives around it. I’ll risk overstating the obvious with a new and much-needed declaration: We don’t need any more hatred. Our scarred and fear-riddled world needs an infusion of love. The night has raged far too long, and our shuddering souls ache for light.

Let’s invite the Light of the World to shine through and among us. Adopt rally cries of love and peace. Seek healing and unity instead of vengeance. Lower our fists and reach out to clasp hands. Pray for our neighbors until we see enemies as brothers and sisters in God’s family. Sound impossible? Only if we attempt it without God’s strength to make all things new.

The same Christ born into mad King Herod’s kingdom of paranoia and violence remains available to us today. He drew into one family the poor outcasts along with corrupt tax collectors. His teachings about love culminated in one equalizing point–the cross. He rent His body to make way for an otherwise impossible redemption, reconciling us with a holy God.

In Christ, we can reconcile with one another. No gap remains too wide for His outstretched arms to bridge. Even our modern “people walking in darkness” can see a great light. We who know the Light must step up and share it with others. Will you join me in reflecting the ultimate Star this Christmas?

“the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).

“The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).

Snowflakes dove from high clouds, mimicking their northern sisters who had successfully decorated the landscape for Christmas. Tropical breezes dissolved the flurry into tiny droplets. The parched earth embraced the saturated air. Glimmering mist kissed tree trunks, leaves, and noses of all who turned out to receive it. Heaven’s dew returned to bless the pleading world with an affectionate, I mist you…

While setting up Christmas lights today, I squinted to see a silvered version of neighboring homes. Though too fine for my eyes to see, the water’s effect remained undeniable. No matter how I might try to ignore the moisture, it enveloped me. I walked across the glistening lawn to get an extension cord. The yellowed grass squeaked a chorus of praise beneath my soles. Ah, how water revives and transforms our perspective when we feel the need for its quenching power.

The fine mist thickened within an hour. We could no longer ignore the rain’s presence. I prayed over my husband’s footsteps on the slick rooftop and ladder. And marveled at the promises spoken through our tropical flurry. The message of Christmas reigns over the world, despite its attempts to deny the true presence of Living Water.

We could look for Christmas at the mall, on Hollywood screens, or in the platitudes of cheery cards and carols. The marketplace attempts to whet our appetites for celebration, but fails to quench our thirst for life. Many feel estranged and disenchanted from this plasti-perfect requiem to build happy facades with our good fortune. Misfortune seems out of place among ‘the holidays,’ but the Lord crafted Christmas for those with no hope left in the world.

Christ laid aside his royal splendor to take the helpless form of a human infant. Born in a barn. To a homeless and outcast couple. Among people so oppressed and heavily taxed by foreign government that they could barely afford to eat. In a world starved of good news or any word from God. Despair, crippling diseases, and chronic illness ravaged the nation. Corruption infiltrated governments and worship leaders. The parched earth cried out for God’s presence. Jesus poured Himself into the midst of the horror. He starved, endured betrayal, and suffered unfathomable pain. He walked hundreds of country and back-alley miles to offer the quenching presence of God to remain with us forever. He didn’t spare a single drop of His life.

As the world’s thirsty plea for hope rings on today, Jesus still offers the fullness of Himself to slake our deficiencies. He refreshes our dusty flesh-state and revives our souls. Christ descends on us like gentle, yet saturating mist. Even when we fail to notice, His presence envelops us and all our circumstances. Hardships lighten in the silvery mist of eternal hope. Our strength renews, and we no longer feel as if we bear our burdens alone. Unlimited joy seasons the breezes from beyond the horizon, where our destined home holds an eternity free from problems. Heaven awaits as our next step, and the Author of Life promises to walk alongside us on the way there. We can stretch out our arms and sing in the glimmering rain.

As Living Water transforms our vision, we recognize those withering neighbors who need to hear the songs of heaven’s dew. This Christmas, will you join me in reaching out to offer a sip of refreshing hope to those who thirst? Be part of of the flurry. May Christmas pour Christ’s blessings through you until the world shimmers.

 

“The poor and needy search for water,
    but there is none;
    their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the Lord will answer them;
    I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them” (Isaiah 41:17).

 

“In the time of my favor I will answer you,
    and in the day of salvation I will help you. . .They will neither hunger nor thirst. . .Then you will know that I am the Lord;
    those who hope in me will not be disappointed” (Isaiah 49:8-23).

“Therefore, ‘they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
    nor any scorching heat.
 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes’” (Revelation 7:15-17).

“He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today. . . a Savior has been born to you. . . This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’” (Luke 2:5-12).

“whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

 

“Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty'” (John 6:35).

The world headlines scream with grueling details of torture and slaying of helpless innocents. The nation roils as hateful chants billow across a land erupting with violence. Local newscasts reveal cases of abuse and oppression lurk behind neighboring doors, too. Disease, poverty, and despair buzzes throughout the social media posts and text messages we receive from our loved ones. Misery’s intensifying din bloodies our ears.

Longfellow’s hymn penned during the Civil War echoes into our modern lives with eerie relevance.

“And in despair I bowed my head
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said,
‘For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.’”1

A hundred and fifty years after mothers watched their sons kill one another in battle, we still wring our hands at the horrors around us. The battles differ, but ravage our country with the same merciless fervor. Addiction, cancer, and depression besiege us. Homelessness and trafficking invade our communities. Our backs crumple as endless crises add burdens to our hearts. Another untimely death. Three more terminal diagnoses. Hopeless murmurs swarm. How much more can we take?

None. The weight exceeds the limits of our design. We search for respite to brace ourselves, but the efforts prove futile. Human relationships and man-made attempts at solace fail to sustain our needs. Earth cannot manufacture peace. Our only hope begins with unchaining our hearts from self-reliance. We were not designed to bear increasing burdens, but to carry them to Someone stronger. One Who exchanges them for magnificent peace surpassing any known to the earth or even comprehensible to human thought. The Lord alone grants solace powerful enough to protect and strengthen us.

He wraps us in the wind of His Spirit, insulating us against the chaos. His embrace uplifts our souls, as if suspended among the clouds and renewed with strength to soar. Our hope and breath rise full once more. Christ revives us to bear His life’s peace. His solace compels us to reach out from our solitude and share it.

The pain of the world has not ended, nor are we dull to its groaning. Christ shapes our lives and compassion into His likeness. Anxiety removed, our hearts hold more room for love. With this revitalization, God equips us to glide on His power. Not above the suffering, but into the midst of it. We carry the message of divine peace to this despairing world. For there is no peace from this dark earth, but He sends rays of divine solace into it through us.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

1 I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1864, Available at http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/i/h/iheardtb.htm

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Gravity sucks us to the earth. The weight of our flesh drags us through the grime of this world. We expend all the energy we consume in the effort to sustain ourselves. At the end of the day, we collapse with exhaustion with nothing more to look forward to than another day of survival. Breaking away from the dust attraction seems impossible. In the natural course of survival, tomorrow carries no more hope than today.

Sin imprisons the earth-bound in despair. An ever-loving God extends us a way to rise from captivity. Like all freedom, ours comes at great cost. Christ suffered torture and death to pay our way free from the spiritual forms of both. He rent His body to craft wings for our souls.

We need more than a “thing with feathers” to break the gravitational pull of sin. Christ offers us wings of divine hope, which lift us from the natural pull of our depravity. Why should we live any longer as if our only means of living is a trudging through slime dragging tons of baggage? He invests His Spirit in us to lift our souls away from earthly prisons. No longer mired in addictions, bitterness, or greed. No more snares of fear, rage, or ambivalence.   We have a great deal more to look forward to than these dusty trails, today and in the eternal future. Let us set our focus higher, on things beyond this dirt at our feet. Let’s take wing and live free.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,  because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

in the day of salvation I will help you… to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’
    and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’” (Isaiah 49:8-9)

 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15).