Unbound–Part 2 of 3

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A glorious day came and went long ago. We were not there to witness it with our own eyes, but we can witness it with our hearts. Our eyes of faith can be opened. Our eyes can be unbound from disbelief, disillusionment, and distraction. A direct and intentional focus on an event that changed history will result in a direct and intentional focus on an event that will change the future.

Jesus, the Son of God, was crucified on a cross to pay the price of each and every sin that would ever be committed by all of humankind. He took the penalty that was ours. His back received the stripes of a beating. His head wore a crown of thorns. He was separated from God the Father while the work of redemption was being done. And finally, Jesus cried out, “It is finished.” The debt we owed but could never pay was paid. The forgiveness we could never earn was freely poured out. This day changed history. But then…

There came another day. The third day. “The Bible tells us about some women who were grieving because Jesus had just been crucified on the cross. They were headed to His grave to prepare His body for burial, but instead they encountered an angel who invited them to “Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matt. 28:6). This was an invitation to a past tense event, to see the place where His body had been. Jesus was no longer there because He had risen—He is risen! Talk about a cure for their grief! Talk about a cure for ours!” *

Jesus was unbound from the graveclothes. He was unbound from the sting of death. He was unbound from the tomb. Do our eyes of faith behold Him? Do our hearts hear His voice calling out to us in love? Do we let this day change our future? Do we accept what He did for us, and do we accept that He lives, ready to prepare a place for those who will believe? His resurrection day was a glorious day, and ours can be, too. Choosing Jesus as our Savior will unbind us from our sin and shame. We will no longer have to bear these burdens because He bore them for us and purchased our redemption. The yoke of bondage was broken when He burst forth from the tomb!

And there will be one more day that is glorious. This will be the day when all who have chosen Jesus as their Savior experience His resurrection power for themselves.  He will gather all His own to be with Him forever.  No longer will death have dominion, for eternal life will triumph. Jesus’s payment nearly 2,000 years ago will be valid on that day for all those who asked God to accept the payment on their behalf. 

So, what about the now while we await that glorious day? We can choose to open wide our eyes of faith and see the Deliverer who unbinds hearts. This faith brings freedom. This faith leaves us unbound. We can be free indeed because He is risen indeed!

“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36 NKJV).

 

* Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 65.

Photography by Francee Strain

Three Crosses

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There were three crosses, and upon each one an important decision was made. On the cross in the middle, hung Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He willingly chose to offer up his life as a sacrifice to pay for our sins and give us an opportunity to spend eternity with Him. On either side of Him hung a man who was facing the end of his life and was about to pass into eternity. They each had time to make a choice. One chose at that moment to reject who Jesus was and what was being offered to him—salvation and eternal life. The other chose to believe and asked Jesus to save him. To this man Jesus said, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.”* On which side of the cross will you stand? What choice will you make while you have this moment of time?

*Luke 23:43 (NKJV)
Francee Strain, April 19, 2019

Easter Preparations

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Dress.  Check.  Shoes.  Check.  Basket.  Check.  Candy.  Check.  It is all there, and I am ready to shop for dinner rolls.  Easter preparations are well underway.  Why do I do these things?  It’s Easter!  It’s tradition.  I like candy.  And bread.  But what about my heart?  Have I prepared it for Easter?  Why would I?

Why do we take the time to prepare our hearts for Easter?  Think of the gravity of the situation.  Think of the weight of our sins.  Think of that weight being placed upon the sinless shoulders of Jesus Christ.  Think of the things Jesus gave up for us.  He left His throne room to hang on a cross.  He set aside His crown as King of all the universe to wear a crown of thorns.  He set aside His vestments as Lord of all Lords to be stripped and beaten, mocked and humiliated, tortured and killed.  As He labored for His very breath, He labored for our very souls.  He gave up the company of His Father so He could die alone, covered in our sins that the Father could not look upon.  Yes, Jesus gave up much so that we could have much.  He gave up His very life so we could have life.  And not just any life.  Life abundant and life eternal.

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (John 10:10b NKJV)

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 NKJV)

Unbound

Part 1 of a 3-part series:

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Six days before the Passover Feast—the last meal Jesus would have before His crucifixion—He paid a visit to his friend Lazarus and sat down to have supper with him. This was not the first time Jesus had come to visit Lazarus. As a matter of fact, they shared quite a history together. At one point, Jesus had offered Lazarus a most extraordinary invitation…

“Lazarus was not doing anything when his invitation arrived. He was getting nowhere in life. Actually, He was dead! But despite that he no longer lived and breathed, he received an invitation. This was a most extraordinary invitation, and it did not come in the mail! It was personally delivered by Jesus Himself.

John 11:1–44 gives the account. Jesus had been preaching in another town when word arrived that His good friend Lazarus was ill. Jesus did not immediately depart for the city of Bethany in order to heal Lazarus; instead, He remained where He was for two more days, finishing up what He was there to do. When it was in God’s timing, and after the work had been completed in the place where Jesus was, He then traveled to see Lazarus.

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, He was greeted with criticism and the accusation that He was arriving too late because Lazarus had already been dead for four days! Count them—four. Four days of being dead. Four days that passed while Jesus worked and traveled somewhere else. But Jesus did not allow this unwelcoming reception to stop Him from delivering His invitation to Lazarus. He went to the tomb where Lazarus was buried, told people to move the stone away from the mouth of the tomb, and then proceeded with His commanding voice to issue an invitation for Lazarus to live again. Jesus cried out, “Lazarus, come forth” (v. 43), and Lazarus came out of the tomb. Here we get a really good look at what Lazarus was doing in life. He was dead in a tomb, sealed behind a stone, and bound in graveclothes. But extraordinary things happened when Jesus showed up on the scene. First of all, an invitation was given to a dead person. Second, God’s resurrection power was seen. Third, a dead man got back to living his life. If this does not prompt us to come when God calls, I do not know what will!

God extends the same invitation to us that He extended to Lazarus. God is calling us to come out from death unto life—from spiritual death unto spiritual life. This is eternal life: to know Jesus Christ (John 17:3). No matter what stones are trapping us in life, no matter what we are wrapped up in and tied up in, no matter what stench we are covered with, no matter what cold darkness we are surrounded by, no matter how alone and laid out flat we are, no matter what others say about us, no matter how hopeless things look—even if it appears that our best days are behind us—He wants to free us from spiritual bondage and restore us to life and relationships. He wants us to be healthy and vibrant again, breathing and glowing, being and doing, loving and being loved. He wants us to live! He has placed the breath of physical life into us, but He also calls us to live with the breath of the Holy Spirit.

But does it ever seem to us, instead, like God is far away—in some other city or some other universe? Does it seem that He is ignoring both our pleas and the pleas of those who are telling Him we need help? Are we surrounded by people who are lamenting our situations? Do we have people in our lives who are like Mary and Martha, who accuse God of letting us suffer? Do they believe that if He was truly in our lives, things like this would not be happening to us? At one point, my son questioned why he should continue to pray for me when God was not giving me physical healing. Several people who are saddened by my chronic illnesses tell me that these illnesses should not be a part of my life. What do all of us honestly think and feel?

Does it seem like God is taking His time in getting to where we are and responding to our needs? Has it been more than four days—a lot more? Are we wondering whether He will ever come? Do we fear that He is too busy taking care of other things in other places to have any time for us? Do we think it is already too late and that the situation has passed beyond His power to help? Have we resigned ourselves to permanently live in our current states? Have we given up the fight? Have we stopped asking for help? Have we almost ceased to breathe? I have news for us—good news. We can change, although our circumstances remain the same. We can have a full and joyfully abundant life now—despite the pain—because Jesus came to give us that abundant life. It seems improbable, impractical, and impossible, yet it is true. But we have to make the choice to come out of the tomb and get out of those graveclothes. We have to come forth from the  unpleasantness. We have to respond to His call to leave behind the things He wants us to leave behind, and live.”

Excerpt taken from Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 28-30.

Photography by Francee, ©2018

Treasure Seekers

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It is March. People are talking about shamrocks and spring, rainbows and pots of gold found at the end of them. The seeking begins—for a new season, state titles for sports teams, glittery prom dresses, graduation invitations, and destinations for summer vacations. We are looking ahead to the future, searching and searching for something to fill our needs and satisfy us. Someone else is seeking, too—God. He is seeking to know us and love us. He has just what we need and what would satisfy us. And wonderfully, He is not elusive like a pot of gold or some other treasure. He is right there to be found, if only we look.

The Call to the Seekers (book excerpt)
He is seeking our hearts and relationships with us. He knows what we need and is able to do miracles to meet our individual needs. Many examples of His individualized care have been recorded throughout history—in the pages of journals, newspapers, biographies, history books, and the Bible. Sometimes, the care has come in the forms of jobs, material goods, miracles of healing, or someone’s arrival at just the right moment. I have seen provision for my family that has ranged from things as large as a house and land to as small as a pair of toddler’s socks, some contact lenses, and a few words on a page. I am quite sure, too, that there are other larger and smaller things of which I may never be made aware. May we be seekers of God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and He in His divine wisdom will provide what we need (Matt. 6:33). May we come to Him as a new pursuit or as the culmination of what we have been searching for all along. Let us not hide from His light and His love. “Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near” (Isa. 55:6 NKJV).

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 57-8.

Photo by Francee Strain

When It Just Doesn’t Quit

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Sometimes, it just doesn’t quit. You know what I’m talking about. The stuff. It just keeps coming at you faster than you can swallow, or even blink. There you are, and there it is. And that, and that, and that too. Overwhelmed. Swamped. Buried. Defeated. Hopeless. Despairing.

The trials compound. The stack of bills mounts. The calendar is crammed to capacity. The seams are about to burst. And you are about to unravel.

The crises become commonplace. The hours fly and crawl at the same time. The supporters grow tired of supporting. And there you are, left all alone with a mess in your hands. And in front of you. And on all sides. Pressing in. Weighing down.

When is this going to stop? Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve all of this? I am so ready to be done. I am past ready.

And then, guess what?  It rains some more.  The straw that broke the camel’s back is joined by more straws. You stare bewildered. You stare blankly. You are staring it in the face.

But then—if your heart belongs to Jesus–a still small voice will come. It will remind you of the words. “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Be still, and know that I am God. I will never leave you nor forsake you.”* What precious words. And these words are truth, spoken straight to your heart from the source of all truth: God Himself, the One who holds the world in His hands, and the One who holds you in His hands.

A few blinks will clear away the haze, and the clarity will dawn. God Himself, the Maker of the universe, is right there beside you. He holds your hand, and He holds your heart. Strength will begin to infuse you. Joy will begin to rise up. Hope will be restored. And you can have a plan. He can be your plan.

The piles will still pile on. The stuff will still keep coming. The pain will still be real. But you will be different. With God on your side, the hopeless heart will become hope-filled.

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13, NKJV)

*From Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 46:10, and Hebrews 13:5 NKJV

Francee Strain, February 14, 2019

Photo by Francee Strain

Consider the Present

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God has invited us in our lifetimes to receive the gift of His salvation, love, and presence. He draws us to Himself through multitudes of ways. He may draw us with words through things such as the Bible, a pastor’s sermon, a song, or a conversation with a believer. He may draw us through the supernatural with things such as miracles, visions, dreams, and signs. He may draw us through creation with beauty so stunning that we are awestruck and our hearts have to worship. He may draw us through the actions of others. He may draw us through gifts or talents that He has given to us or someone else. But no matter which methods He uses to draw us, He draws us with loving-kindness because He has loved us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). His most amazing and sacrificial representation of this love was expressed when Jesus was crucified on the cross. Before Jesus died in such a horrible way He said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32 NKJV). His very death draws us to life. This was His purpose for coming to us: so we could come to Him.

Today is a gift of opportunity to come and speak with God in prayer. We are able to pray at any point in the day to accept the gift that God offers us, but since we do not know what will happen in the next moments of our lives, we should not delay something as important as coming to God. There are no guarantees that we will make it past the morning, until our lunch hours, or through the night. We need to act now, while we still can. We can pray right now to accept His invitation. There is no better time than the present. Today is the day. Will today be your day?

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 86.

The Heart of Wholeness

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My heart can be whole even when it is broken.
There is a supernatural thread to hold it together, an unbreakable thread to bind it.
God, the Omnipotent One, the Healer, holds my heart in His hands.

When life tries to break me, I remain whole.
Whole is healthy, not unhurt.
Whole is strong, not untrembling.
Whole is real, not the absence of reality.
The impossibility becomes possible.
God knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thus, even when I am stretched to the breaking point, I won’t break. He is the Master Weaver.

The things that try to chain me, break me, burn me, trample me, shake me, prevent me, and destroy me are nothing compared to the skill with which He has formed me.
Even when evil surrounds me, the ties that bind my heart to His cannot be severed.
He is the Master of my destiny, of my heart, of my very soul.

Even when I fall down flat, I can lean on Him.
Even when I am at the bottom, I can rise to the top.
Even when I am heavy with pain, my burden can be lightened.

In danger, I am sheltered.
In damage, I am restored.
In dire consequences, I am relieved.
In my sin-sick state, I am redeemed.

Even when things do not or cannot change, I can.
The heart of wholeness comes in giving Him my whole heart, even when it is not whole.

Though this it is, through this it is.
True it is.
He is.
And I am truly His.
This is the heart of wholeness.

Francee Strain, revised version, February 1, 2019

Photo by Francee Strain

Come Unto Me Ministries

Come Unto Me Ministries is sweet 16 today!!!  What a blessing it has been to have God give me this ministry and to watch Him develop it over the years!!!

Every aspect outlined in the beginning has now come to pass.  Hearts and lives have been touched, especially mine.

I am grateful to those who have supported me in this ministry over the years.  Thank you for pouring into my life, and thus, the lives of others.

May we all come unto Him, and may He receive all the glory!!!

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28 KJV).

 

Photo by Francee Strain

 

Wise Men Still Seek Him

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Many have just passed the season of celebrating Christmas and Three Kings’ Day. Where will thoughts turn for the remainder of the year? What will be celebrated? What will be sought? What gifts will be given and received?

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Chapter 5 Hide and Seek (book excerpt)

I have seen a phrase on Christmas merchandise that says, “Wise men still seek Him.” The foundational reference is to the wise men who were seeking Jesus around the time of His birth, the ones who traveled many miles in order to worship Him and present Him with gifts (see Matt. 2:1–11). The reference for today’s usage of the phrase is that wisdom is indicated if we are spiritually seeking Jesus. We often put great emphasis on this story, focusing our thoughts onto it to see how we might apply the concept to our own lives. What does it mean today for us to seek Him? And will we be wise enough to do it? Will we do it even if it involves much time and great distances? What gifts will we present to Him when we find Him? These are important questions for us to answer, not just at Christmastime, but every day of the year.

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CHAPTER 6 Lost and Found (book excerpt)

We lose all sorts of things in life: money, homes, jobs, loved ones, health, quality of life, and sometimes even life itself. We also find all sorts of things: happiness, the loves of our lives, the perfect jobs, and sometimes even our car keys. But have we ever found the most important thing, the thing that we can never lose: the salvation of our eternal souls?

THE CALL TO THE LOST
There were specific events for which Jesus came to live on earth. He was given an invitation by His Father to be the Savior of the world, and He responded favorably to the invitation. He prepared for the event of saving the world by His first advent: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). During the course of His ministry, Jesus clarified why He came and why He did not come. He came to preach, to call sinners to repentance, and to save lives (see Mark 1:38, 2:17; Luke 9:56). Jesus came into many cities, and He came in with the intent to minister (Mark 10:45).

As Jesus traveled around, He gave people His time, and He gave them Himself. He did not blow through town like a whirlwind, forcing and rushing His way through. While He was going along His way, He focused His time and attention on the people He encountered. He sometimes spent all day healing the crowds although He could have done it in a single moment with a single word. He saw that the crowds were like sheep without a shepherd, and thus, had compassion on them (Mark 6:34). He gave people His personal touch.

The underlying reason why Jesus lived like He did was that He came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He came unto us! He did not come for Himself and His benefit, but for us and our benefit. Jesus offered life and help to the people He encountered during His lifetime on earth, and His offer still stands today. Let the love of Jesus find you, wherever it is that you are in life. Let Him shepherd your wandering heart and lead you safely to your eternal home.

Jesus is not only our Shepherd but also our High Priest, the Mediator between us and God (1 Tim. 2:5). Because He is holy, He was able to victoriously do away with our sin by dying on the cross for us. And because He did this for us and then was resurrected from the dead, we can overcome sin and emerge victorious through His power. His sacrifice gives us access to His Father, His power, and His kingdom. Jesus calls each of us to salvation. The wonderful truth is that the lost sheep (us) can be claimed if they want to be claimed! When we come, we will discover that we are welcomed, loved, and valued. Jesus came for us–will we come to Him?

All of the preparations for us to be found have been made, and the barriers that would separate us from God were removed when they were broken down at the cross. We now need to make our way over to His side, walking past those broken barriers instead of repairing them. A simple yes will do. The fighting in our hearts can stop and we can be at peace, if only we will come. We can stop wandering aimlessly through life like lost sheep. We can instead let Him minister to us, heal us, and save us. That is what He came to do, and we are who He came to find.

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 57, 63-64.

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