Freedom at Alcatraz

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Philemon 1:4-16
New International Version (NIV)
Thanksgiving and Prayer

4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Paul’s Plea for Onesimus

8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus,[a] who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

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“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” — Nelson Mandela

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” — Nelson Mandela (Long Walk to Freedom)

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As my wife and I were touring the federal prison on Alcatraz island in San Francisco Bay we were left with some unforgettable images. As our tour boat pulled into the dock, we could see why this now-closed maximum-security federal prison was known as “The Rock.”

Later, inside the legendary Big House, we stared at shafts of light coming through heavily barred windows. Then we saw row after row of cagelike cells that housed well-known inmates such as Al Capone and Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz.”

But another image made a deeper impression. Stepping into an empty cell, we saw the name “Jesus” scrawled on a wall. In another, a bible lay on a shelf. Together they quietly spoke of the greatest of all freedoms. Paul knew such liberty while waiting to be executed. Regarding himself as a”prisoner of Christ,” he used his incarceration to help other inmates discover what it means to be an eternally forgiven, dearly loved member of God’s family (Philemon 1:10).

Barred windows and doors represent one kind of confinement. Physical paralysis, inescapable poverty, and prolonged unemployment, being disenfranchised are others. Perhaps you endure another. None are to be desired–yet who would trade “imprisonment” with Christ for life “on the outside” without Him?

My heart and soul imprisoned lay,
Not knowing Christ the Lord;
But since the day He set me free,
We live in one accord.

To be under Christ’s control is to have true freedom….

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