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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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“’Am I only a God nearby,’
declares the Lord,
‘and not a God far away?
Who can hide in secret places
so that I cannot see them?’”

– Jeremiah 23:23-24

Padlocked journals. Receipts tucked into a sock drawer. Deleted files. Disguised flasks. Shredded evidence. What happens in Sin City . . . behind our doors . . . outside the church . . . when we believe no one is watching us . . . allegedly remains our little secret.

Secrets range from embarrassing moments to treachery, from things we’ve done to those we should have. Some hidden facts seem innocuous, like an emotional struggle we’d rather not share. Other mysteries demand cover because we can bet others won’t help us justify the sin. Murderers feverishly cover their evidence, as do tax evaders, addicts, and adulterers.

Camouflage grants us confidence. We convince ourselves that no one sees, that the matter remains of no consequence at all. A cycle of shame and arrogance flips us between insecurity and justifying our cover.

When my boys were tots, they’d press their hands over their faces and declare, “You can’t see me.”

“Yes, my baby. I can still see you,” I’d assure them. I wanted to see their precious, beloved faces.

“No!” They insisted. “You can’t see me!”

Ah, the myth of our powerful hands. We have yet to outgrow the childish idea that we can cover our eyes and become invisible to our Father. While swirling in shame and pride over our sins, we miss the point of our relationship with Him. He adores our precious souls, and enjoys intimate face-time with us. Especially when our cheeks bear stolen cupcake grime and our noses bleed from playing in areas we shouldn’t have.

I resisted sharing my emotional struggles for years, believing they’d make me appear faithless. I didn’t want others to think less of Jesus because of my weaknesses.

“I see you.” The Lord pried up one of my fingers.

“Yes, I know. You must be very disappointed.” I peeked between my digits to glimpse His gentle, loving smile. “Can’t I just keep hiding anyway? It’s more comfortable here behind my hands.”

“Comfortable isn’t always best.” He tugged my pinky. “In order to see more of Me, you have to come out from hiding behind your hands.”

I gradually opened my palms. Transparency wasn’t a comfortable thing, but I offered a little at a time. I knew it would be a challenge, but I really did want to see more of my Father. Peeling back my hands required me to depend on His hands. And God revealed His presence in more ways than I imagined. Not only did the Lord exchange my frailty for healing, but He also used my story to lift others to see Him more clearly.

I had convinced myself of my power to hide, to avoid the risk of disclosure. The true risk, I discovered, was in keeping my secrets. The myth of locking away reality holds its believer in a dangerous lie. Pride and shame wielded authority over my purpose and identity instead of God’s power and grace. Not only could I have remained outside God’s perfect will, but hiding also withheld healing God intended to pour through my story into others’ lives. Darkness of locked boxes could have defined my life instead of God’s glory.

Maybe you have unconfessed secrets, too. Consider extending your confessions to the Father Who adores you. He transforms the darkest moments of life into a more powerful vessel of freedom than you can imagine. It’s hard to expose your heart, but I guarantee that His freedom and love are more than worth it. So are the lives of those who’ll be blessed in the wake of your new life of trust in Christ.

Will you pray with me, to become more yielded and open as He leads us? Let’s take Christ’s hands and encourage one another to become His vessels, bringing others to see Him a bit more each day.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you. . .

Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be. . . 

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:11-24).

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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).

Several months ago, I discussed a certain tree with my son. Thin clusters of leaves struggled for air between clumps of moss.
“Did it even bloom this spring?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Hope there’s nothing wrong with it. I love the spray of tiny flowers across the lawn when it blooms.”

As summer dawned, my husband yanked the grey shrouds away from its branches. Rain drenched its boughs and trickled into the earth to quench its roots. Sunbeams renewed the once-veiled tresses. Life blushed green throughout the treetop, and buds exploded in celebration. Blooms carpeted our lawn from mid-summer to the season’s twilight. I now gaze on a lush canopy of flowers and leaves to adorn our home, with no end to its productivity in sight.

My soul has seen such inactive seasons. Wintry doldrums appeared where spring called for flowering. Parasitic issues choked my spirit, but I remained impotent to escape them on my own. The Gardener, Owner of my home and life, came to my rescue. Christ helped me remove the hindrances keeping me in an untimely season of lifelessness.

I am now free to drink Living Water and glorious light through my mind and heart down to the roots of my soul. I look forward to a lengthy time of flowering, to carpet the neighborhood and spangle the crosswinds to faraway lands.
For in Christ, blooming season remains limitless.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful…No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing”(John 15:1-5).

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches” (Matthew 13:31-32).

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