The Forefront

Another Easter holiday has passed, and we have moved on to the next thing, bypassing it on the calendar and moving toward tomorrow.  But did we focus on the significance of the day, the true meaning and the ramifications it has for our lives?  Has the day which was in the forefront of our minds and activities now become an afterthought?

Day after day passes by on the calendar as our lives, too, pass. Do we focus on the significance of each day and the ramifications for how we live it?  We only have this day to live—and really, only this moment.  At any moment our lives could end.  What do we have to show for them?  Have we lived well?  And most importantly, have we prepared for the eternity that is yet to be lived?  Our decisions today make all the difference, and the timing matters.  We cannot relive and redo the past, and we cannot guarantee we will even make it through the rest of this day.  Thus, there are important things to be considered.  Taking our days and our lives for granted can put us in a precarious situation where we have procrastinated about the most important decision that can ever be made: where we will spend eternity. What has become an afterthought needs to be brought to the forefront. 

I have been reflecting on a post I wrote in 2019 entitled “Three Crosses” in order to bring the afterthought of Easter back to the forefront of my mind.  I am posting it here for you to read and reflect upon as well.

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.”1 On which side of the cross will you stand?  What choice will you make while you have this moment of time?2


NOTES

©Text and photo Francee Strain, April 11, 2021. 

1 Luke 23:43 taken from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.

2 “Three Crosses” text and photo originally posted by Francee Strain, April 19, 2019.

Easter—The Preparation, the Purpose, and the Promise

(Repost of a series originally published in April 2020)

Part 1: The Preparation

Are you preparing for Easter? Most people I know are doing so. Of course, things may look a bit different this year, but preparations are still underway. There is a bit of hustle and bustle, planning and buying, hoping and anticipating. But beyond the calendar and the events, is there a deeper preparation taking place? Are people preparing their hearts? Are you? Am I?

Why would we do this? Why take the time to prepare our hearts for Easter?  Well, think of the gravity of the situation. Think of what Easter is really all about.

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.
• He gave up the company of His Father so He could die alone, covered in our sins that the Father could not look upon.

As He labored for His very breath, He labored for our very souls.

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, but life abundant and life eternal.

Easter was not a random event.  It was not comprised of random circumstances. It was not set into motion by random people.  Easter was very much planned and was an act of the heart.

God prepared for Easter: He sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. God readied His heart with love and offered us a relationship with Himself.

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)

Jesus prepared for Easter: He surrendered to death on the cross in order to save souls. Jesus readied His heart with grace and offered His life in the stead of ours.

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

(John 10:10b NKJV)

How will we prepare for Easter?  Will we ready our hearts for God’s great plans for them?  Will we give our very hearts to God?

For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

(Romans 10:13 NKJV)

Part 2: The Purpose

When the fullness of time was come, God sent His Son Jesus to be the savior of the world. When the preparations were finished, the purpose was revealed.

As Jesus lived His life, He prepared to fulfill that purpose. He showed the people who God was—He said that anyone who saw Him was seeing God, as He was the perfect representation of God. Jesus was God in the flesh. He told them there is more beyond this life. He traveled, spoke, taught, and healed. He listened, prayed, explained, and performed miracles. But why? Why did He come? To be a good teacher, a good motivational speaker, to stir things up, to inspect and condemn the law breakers, to wow the crowds, to show off His magnificent abilities and command of power? No. He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Who are “the lost,” and why are they lost? Lost from where?

From the foundation of the world, a plan was made: to deliver people from the bondage of sin, the power of death, and an eternity separated from God. But from the beginning of humankind, people chose rebellion, to go against God’s desires, to live lives of imperfection, to taste the pleasure of sin for a season, and to do things to their own detriment. They wandered away like lost sheep. And like a good shepherd, what God wanted, and still wants during all of this unpleasant behavior on our parts, is for us to come back—to be with Him, to choose things that are good for us, to know freedom, to be released from pain, to have abundant life, and ultimately to have eternal life in His presence. He came to bring our hearts back to Him.

When did the purpose get fulfilled? On Good Friday. Was it just another day in history, or was it history in the making? How could something so horrible be so good? What was the purpose of this day?

The intersection of the preparation and the execution of the purpose occurred. Purpose can be defined as the reason for something, the cause, the underlying factor. The reason for Good Friday was that it was the way, the plan, God’s will. It was to make a way to establish a relationship between God and man that would never end. Purpose can also be defined as intent. There was purpose in Jesus’s fulfilling of the purpose. He was moving with intent, motivation, drive, and passion. Jesus set His face to head to Jerusalem where His crucifixion would take place. Good Friday was the intersection of purpose and purpose, where the reason met with the motivation.

Jesus was moved with purpose to fulfill the purpose for which He came. He could not be swayed or stopped—although plenty of opportunities were provided for Him to cease. He pressed on—in spite of betrayal, temptation, abandonment, and the coming separation from His Father. He could have stopped at any point along the course of His life. He could have declined to go through with His baptism and subsequent entrance into public ministry. He could have given in to temptation. He could have stopped preaching and teaching at any point along the way. He could have made himself scarce. He could have fled from the leaders in Jerusalem who wanted Him dead. He could have skipped going to the Passover meal where Judas was given permission to proceed with his evil plan. And after the Passover meal, He could have gone somewhere besides the garden where He knew the soldiers would come to arrest Him under Judas’s direction. And during His prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, He could have said, “My will be done, God, not Yours.” He could have put up a fight at any point along the process: while being arrested, being falsely accused, receiving a mock trial, being condemned to death, being beaten, or even while being crucified. He could have called for the armies of angels He commanded in heaven to come to His rescue. The evildoers could have been wiped out with fire or Old Testament-like plagues. He had the power to take lives, as He is the one who holds each breath. But, He did none of these things to prevent His death. His surrender was great because His love and the purpose for which He came to this earth was greater. No one took His life from Him, He laid it down willingly. The purpose was fulfilled with purpose.

His death on the cross atoned for the sin of all humankind. Jesus went to the cross, not for His sins (He was perfect and had none), but for ours; not for His benefit (there is no benefit to torture and death), but for ours. His death served to redeem us, to purchase our salvation, to give us His righteousness so that we could come into God’s holy presence. All of this was offered freely, willingly, to any and all who will receive it.

Jesus held the power to lay down His life or keep it, but He chose to die rather than live without us. There was no other way, no other reason. He loved us to the death. Can we come to that same point? Can we return our passion to Him with the same intensity as He gave His to us?

This is a decision each of us has to make–no one else can make it for us, no one else can choose Him for us, and no one else is responsible to do this but us. So many say that they are following God. They give lip service. They point out a list of good deeds. They compare themselves and elevate themselves above those who are worse behaved than they are. But there is none righteous, no not one. We are all separated from God because of our sin. We cannot be in His presence without the covering atonement of Jesus’s blood. Jesus came to be the mediator between God and man. He victoriously did away with the penalty of sin by dying as a substitution for us. Jesus endured the cross and finished His race (Hebrews 12:2). He atoned, rescued, and redeemed. He provided us a way to escape eternal separation from Him. He removed the barriers that separated us from God. He bridged the gap between us and God. He paid the debt of sin we owed but could never pay. He exchanged His righteousness for our unrighteousness. Forgiveness was freely poured out. The crucifixion wasn’t to change a day in history, it was to change the future and rid us of the history of our sinful pasts, presents, and futures. He came to offer us the opportunity to be with Him forever. He gave us access to God, His power, and His kingdom. This was the purpose for Jesus’s life and death and why He lived with such purpose—to fulfill His purpose.

The purpose for Good Friday was a good purpose—to give eternal life to whoever would receive it. Jesus seeks the hearts of individuals and stands at the door of each heart and knocks. The way we can know eternal life is to answer that door and come to know Jesus Christ, to believe in what He did on the cross, to accept the life He offers to us now. The sacrifice was made once, but the offer remains open for all who live now, with an opportunity to receive it.

One particular day, I purposed to accept what He offered me, and my purpose now is to live out my remaining days with Him and for Him. What is your purpose? Are you living your life on purpose and with eternal purpose? Are you pursuing a relationship with God? He calls to us in love, with arms wide open to receive us. We have this moment now so that we can have Him beyond the now.

The purpose (the reason) and the purpose (the motivation) were the same. They intersected on Good Friday, and the point of their intersection is named you, me, us.

Part 3: The Promise

When it comes to Jesus, a promise made is a promise kept. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done.” He did not just pay lip service to God, He followed through with His actions. The purpose for which preparation had been made was accomplished. He gave His life on the cross to open up a way to eternity with God, and there are so many things subsequently promised, I could fill pages and pages. I will mention a few:

The Promise of Resurrection
The cross is empty and so is the tomb. Jesus promised He would rise from the dead on the third day, and He did! There were witnesses. He walked with them, talked with them, ate with them, and then bade them farewell. He said He must return to Heaven for another time of preparation—to go prepare a place for His followers so He can come back and take them there. He gave the promise of His return and said that every eye will see Him, coming on the clouds of glory. He is drawing all people to Himself by His action on the cross, waiting for the signal from His Father that once again the fulness of time has been reached, and it is time to return for His own. Time will pass away into eternity. Every knee will bow. The perishable will become imperishable. Mortality will be swallowed up in immortality. Death will be swallowed up in victory, with its sting gone, along with its power to hold us in the grave. Jesus was just the beginning of those who will be resurrected!

The Promise of Heaven
Jesus will keep calling out to the lost until the Father says time is finished. He is not slack concerning His promises—He will come again—but He isn’t willing that any should perish, so He is still giving us time to choose. Whoever calls upon His name will be saved, will be reconciled to God, will no longer be condemned, and will be exempt from His wrath. The forgiven have the promise of heaven. A glorious day is coming when all those who have chosen Jesus as their savior will experience His resurrection power for themselves. He will gather those believers to be with Himself forever. Death will no longer have dominion because eternal life will triumph. He will make all things new. The saved will be given a crown of life, have their tears wiped away, and will get to rest in His presence. They will be His people, and He will be their God. But there is more to the promise than just “heaven someday,” there are promises now for life on earth.

The Promise of Adoption
We who choose Jesus become part of the family of God and receive the promise of His presence. We can never be taken out of His hand, and He will never leave or forsake us. God becomes our Father, and the Holy Spirit is sent to live inside of us. We receive His love poured out into our hearts as He adopts us as sons and daughters. We receive His power and help to live abundant lives. We have access to Him at all times, morning, noon, and night. He gives mercy, joy, peace, and sufficient grace; and there is so much more available to us. The Holy Spirit helps, teaches, guides, comforts, and reminds us. God can supply all our needs in every aspect—physically, spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and mentally–according to His vast riches. But there are sometimes going to be difficulties in life because we live in a broken world with those who do not love us or keep their promises; yet, in spite of our circumstances, nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. And His promises to us will never be broken. They will stand the test of time and eternity. So, while we traverse this life, we can know He will hear our prayers and see every tear we cry, for when we are children of God, we are redeemed, purchased by the very blood of Christ, and have our hearts bound to Him for eternity. He will help us to endure anything we face in this life, and He will safely see us to the next because He has overcome the world.

The Promise of Faithfulness
God is faithful and true and never changes. He is the same always: yesterday, today, and forever. With God, what is said is said, and what is done is done. A promise made is a promise kept. History has proven time and again that God keeps His word. He cannot break covenant with His people any more than day and night and summer and winter can cease. He will finish the work He has begun—the work to have a relationship with us for all eternity.

Jesus came to be the Mediator between us and God. God had a plan, striving toward a purpose—He sent the Savior. Jesus came to fulfill the plan—He died to save us. And now, the offer is open to us—will we accept this great salvation? We were created to be with God forever, and Jesus’s death on the cross opened that up as a possibility for each of us. Now it is our turn to take action to fulfill our portion of the plan—to choose or reject what has been offered to us. We have been given freedom of choice in this area. If we say yes, then total fulfillment of the plan will take place—we will sit down in the kingdom of God and dwell there forever. If we say no, the promise of eternal separation from God will also be fulfilled. God will keep His word and fulfill His promise to give life to those who ask for it. My answer was yes, and I am so excited for what’s ahead.

The Promise of Fulfillment
Every Easter is a beautiful reminder and opportunity to reflect on the depths God went to—the preparation, the purpose, and the promise—in order to show His great love for us.

There are promises for now and promises for later, promises for this life and promises for the next one. Remember, there is more beyond the now, and knowing what is coming in the future can spur us on and give us hope. Things can get pretty tough down here and look pretty bleak, but with the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, we can be encouraged. He is the earnest of the promise, left here with us until Jesus comes to take us home. For now, we have a race to finish; and while we are running our race, He will be at our sides. And someday, when we cross the finish line, He will be there waiting for us. We will see Him face-to-face. He promised.

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1 Cor. 15:57 NKJV)

©Text and photos Francee Strain, April 2, 2021.  Originally posted April 9–11, 2020.

Remember the Way

Thoughts are beginning to turn to Easter-season celebrations.  Events for Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday are scheduled on the calendar.  People are buying eggs, candy, and Easter outfits.  Family gatherings and menus are being discussed.  Traditions are being dusted off.  Yes, we remember the way to do these things year after year, but do we remember THE WAY of Easter?  Do we remember the way of the cross and the suffering of the Savior?  Do we remember the way He left the tomb and brought us great cause for rejoicing?  Do we expectantly remember the way He will return for those who believe in Him?  Sometimes we forget and need to be reminded. 

This time of year, we should remember how God completed an important part of His plan in order to have a relationship with us.  Do we remember who God is—that He is God—the creator of all, ruler of all, sustainer of all, and there is none else?  Do we remember who we are—sinful, selfish people who have gone our own way and left Him behind?  Do we remember that God made a way through Jesus to connect us to His heart forever?  This time of year, let’s focus on remembering THE WAY.  Let us remember that Jesus is THE WAY, the truth, and the life.  Let us remember His death on the cross to atone for all of our sins and give salvation to anyone who desires it.  Let’s remember that He loves us and wants to have a relationship with us, every season, every day.  Let’s remember and share the good news of eternal life which awaits all who will place their trust in Him. 

The world around us is shifting sand.  Rules, regulations, and relationships are changing and slipping away, but the truth of God never changes.  We can be easily deluded, deceived, and distracted by the things of the world, but God is surety.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.1  Although people are trying to redraw the blueprints to fit whatever their desires are, there is no variation or shifting shadow with God.2  He is the rock on whom we can build a sure foundation.  He is a secure hope.  He is a solid path.  He is the love that will not let us go.  He is forever.  He is THE WAY. 

Remember THE WAY.  Remember HIM. 


“He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, 

‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’” 

And they remembered His words.3


NOTES

1 Hebrews 13:8

2 James 1:17

3 Luke 24:6–8, taken from the New King James Version, © 1982 by Thomas Nelson

Scripture for further reading—Isaiah 46:9, Lamentations 3:21–25, John 2:22

©Original text and photo Francee Strain, March 28, 2021

The Freedom to Live

We can be in bondage to so many things. We can be beaten down by so many things that we feel trapped and lifeless, whether it is because of self-damaging thoughts, real words coming out of the mouths of others, regrets from our pasts, or patterns of sin within which we find ourselves entangled, for example.  But freedom from bondage is available.  Yes, freedom is possible, even for us.  As long as we are living and breathing, we can be rescued.  Every single thing that renders us captive and powerless can be touched by the freedom of Christ.  Even when our circumstances do not change, we can be changed through the power of His resurrection life within us.

We can take on His mind and have thoughts that are true and beautiful. We can hear the truth of His words permeating to the depths of our souls.  We can be forgiven by Him for our past mistakes. We can be delivered from our current addictions by accessing His help and power. Yes, we can be healed, renewed, and restored to life in the deadest, darkest, coldest, loneliest places.  Consider what this means by looking at an example of the power of Jesus Christ and how he set a man free. 

This is the story of Lazarus, a man who was bound by death but had the freedom to live:

“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 11:144 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.

…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.”1

Jesus is always inviting us to freedom and life.  It is why He died—so that we might live—both now and forever.  We can stand fast in the liberty by which He made us free and not be entangled again by a yoke of bondage.2  If He sets us free, we will be free indeed.


NOTES

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

2 See Galatians 5:1.

3 See John 8:36.

©Original text and photo, Francee Strain, March 20, 2021

Steadfast

(Repost)

Are you weary?  Steady on.

Are you tired?  Don’t quit.

Are you faltering?  Don’t stop.

Are you losing touch?  Reach out.

Do you feel like giving up?  Look up.

Keep on Keeping on.  Steadfast.

Stand firm in the faith, and walk forward in it, too.  Have faith in the Only Begotten Son of God who loves you and gave His life for you.  His love is steadfast.  He spent a night with no sleep, being betrayed, arrested, falsely accused, mocked, and beaten.  And then, He made His way to the cross—for you.  He gave His very life so you would never have to journey on alone.

He holds the hands of those who hold Him in their hearts.  He never leaves His own.  He was faithful unto death, and now He is faithful unto life.  Eternal life awaits those who place their trust in Jesus, the Savior of the world.  There is hope for better days, days with no more pain, sorrow, or tears.

Life is hard.  And tiring.  And painful beyond belief.  But His presence will go with His children, and He will give them rest.  When the earth shakes, and the mountains fall into the sea, our quaking hearts can walk forward unafraid.  Do not fear.  He will hold us fast.  Having our foundation firm in Christ will give us a solid rock upon which to stand.  He never lets go of those who belong to Him.  He is the Creator of all.  He holds all power and knowledge in His hand.  He does not change, faint, grow weary, or close His eyes in sleep.  If you are on His side, He is on your side.

When we keep our eyes steadfast on Him, we will see His glory and His beauty.  He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He is steadfast and faithful.  His mercies are new every morning.  His love is unconditional.  His peace is beyond understanding.  His joy is indescribable.  His grace is freely given to us, undeserved. 

Do not look for other things to fill, comfort, and satisfy you.  Only He can save, and only He can perfectly help.  Set your heart on Him.

Keep your mind stayed on Him.  Do not let it be overtaken by doubt, impurity, lies, and deception.

Set your ears to listen for His voice.

Set your voice always determined to praise Him.

He is high and lifted up.  He is the King who sits enthroned forever.  And He has said that we can boldly approach His throne and find grace to help in our time of need.

So, for all of my days, I will be steadfast in Him.

I will endure and continue, unshaken.  I will be confident, strong, sure, and peaceful.  I will continue on course, on task, on focus, on point, onward.  Steady on. Steadfast.

My soul follows hard after You; Your right hand upholds me.*

*See Psalm 63:8 KJV.

For further reading: Psalm 40, Psalm 103, Romans 12:12

©Text and photo Francee Strain, September 20, 2020

Unexpected Gifts

Certain times of year lend themselves to the expectation that we will receive gifts: Christmas, birthdays, Valentine’s Day, graduation, and anniversaries, to name a few.  But sometimes, gifts come at unexpected times—gifts “just because.”  There is a special type of joy that arises with the receipt of gifts, but there is a whole different facet when they happen “just because.”

This past week, I was the recipient of several gifts of the latter kind:

  • Monday, it was evidence of the promise of spring—flower shoots poking through the soil earlier than expected. That evening, I received an unexpected call from a dear friend from church who prayed for me over the phone.
  • Tuesday, it was the arrival of the birds of spring, and to a birdwatcher/photographer, this is exciting.  And then the ears, shoulders, and prayers of a dear friend were made available to help bear my burdens. 
  • Wednesday, it was a follow-up text of encouragement from this same friend, as well as a text from someone I do not hear from very often to say I was being thought of.  
  • Thursday, it was a message in a devotional encouraging me to let God love me daily because, after all, Jesus died to bring love to me.  And as I was reading this, the mailman came to the door and delivered a box filled to the brim with handwritten notecards from a friend and her children, cookies, chocolates, and a bookmark. The day was sunny, and there were heart-shaped clouds above my front yard and some deer in my backyard.  Later that same day, I was given the gift of being employed in a career I love, and then was given the gift of someone’s time, friendship, and a book.  My husband took care of some things my chronic illnesses did not allow me to handle. 
  • Friday, I received a handwritten card tucked into an invoice because the financial secretary felt God wanted her to send me a card of encouragement.  A Bible verse she had written in the card was also in my devotional reading that night!*  My husband again took care of things my chronic illnesses did not allow me to handle. 
  • Saturday morning, I sat reflecting on the significance of what God had poured into my life for several days straight.  It was an overwhelming amount of proof that He loves me and cares about every detail of my life.  He was pouring into my life just out of the goodness and kindness of His heart.  And then the mail arrived.  A dear friend who faithfully encourages and prays for me felt God prompt her to send a card.  The card was filled with a gift of words to lift my heart in the midst of all my health challenges and to encourage me on my journey for Jesus.  And that evening a sweet young friend closed out our conversation by telling me she loved me.

Wow! No ribbons or wrapping paper, but I feel as if I have had day after day of Christmas morning.

Are all weeks like this?  My first tendency would be to say no.  It does not often happen that I am lavished with gifts—well, at least not gifts of this type in this amount.  But if I look deeper and think about what goes on behind the scenes from day to day, there are myriad ways God shows His love for me.  My answer to the question of whether or not all weeks are like this has to be yes.  Yes, even at the darkest of times and in the most difficult of circumstances, God is pouring out blessings into my life.  I may not see them at that particular time or be apt to classify them as blessings, but He is at work and is bringing something good out of my life.

When I think back to my growing-up years, there was quite a bit of pain and struggle.  But with time and maturity removing me from the situations, I see God’s hands all over the place.  For example, the pain of being a military child moving from place to place gave me opportunities I never would have had growing up in the small rural community where I was born.  As much as I disliked the uprooting and the subsequent “new kid” treatment, in each place I also encountered people who significantly touched my life and loved me dearly, although I did not realize it at the time.  One uprooting brought me to a place where the gospel was shared with me, and I gave my life to Jesus.  Another uprooting brought me to a rental home with a piano in it which I learned to play.  I subsequently became a piano teacher, a church pianist, and have played for schools, hospice, and other organizations.  Another uprooting brought me to a place where I developed multiple language skills which have assisted me in ministry and as an author and teacher.  Another uprooting, not due to the military but rather a devastating event in our community, led my family to a new community which is where I met my husband.  Adulthood has featured more pain and struggle: years of challenges, betrayals, disappointments, and emotional scars; years and money poured into an education that did not lead to a job in my field; years that found me in places I never thought I would be.  Yet, these years and experiences have been the very things that have found me in places where I was better able to carry on relationships, parent, teach, minister, and volunteer.  It is truly astounding to see how God has woven the threads into a beautiful gift, and for more than just my benefit. 

I want to encourage you that if your heart belongs to Jesus, you can trust Him with it.  Even though you may not see or understand what He is doing, He has a perfect plan for your life.  Evil will be turned to good, whether your eyes ever see it or not.  There is so much more happening of which we will never even be aware.  If you allow it, your relationship with Him can reach a place it never would without the difficulties. You can be made stronger.  Your testimony can touch the lives of others and encourage them.  These are some gifts you can expect.  God will complete the good work He has started in your life. 


Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights,

with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. 

James 1:17


*My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)

©Original text and photo Francee Strain, March 7, 2021

Scripture taken from the New King James Version, © 1982, Thomas Nelson.

Author’s note: All of the gifts I received this past week, and the very meeting of the people who gave them, came after I passed through trials.  I did not know any of these gifts would be given, but God did.  And He knew just when my heart would need them.

The Persevering Heart (Part 3 of 3 in “The Runner” Series)

“Mrs. Strain?  This is So and So’s doctor’s office.  I am calling to let you know that we found something on the ultrasound indicating something may be wrong with the baby.  It is something with the spine.  It could be spina bifida.  You will need to come in again in a few days and have another ultrasound performed.”  Not exactly words a pregnant mother wants to hear to start off her week, nor are they words a pregnant mother wants to hear ever, on any day of the week.  My reaction?  Fear gripped my heart.  Tears spilled down my cheeks.  And then…I prayed.  And then I asked others to join me in praying.  I’d already been through a high-risk pregnancy two years prior—a risk to both me and my baby.  Many people had prayed, and my miracle baby girl was born safely and was healthy.  And now, for days, many prayed again, and when that next ultrasound was performed, a perfect spine showed on the screen.  And five months later, a perfect little boy joined our family.

“Mrs. Strain, I’ll be right back.”  The pediatrician left the exam room while I kept my nine-month-old son laying on the exam table.  The doctor was gone for what seemed like an eternity, and when he came back, he was not alone.  Two other doctors followed.  Talk about fear gripping a mother’s heart.  The pediatrician instructed the doctors to examine my son and perform certain motions with his legs.  They did so, and all left the room.  What is going on?!  The pediatrician returned presently and informed me that he believed my son had a neurological disorder, and we were being referred to a specialist.

“Mr. and Mrs. Strain, your son may never walk.  He has a genetic muscle disease.”  What?!  I had always joked that I wanted my son to be a musician like me rather than an athlete like his father.  And now?  All I wanted was for him to be an athlete.  A mother’s mind races at times like these.  The chest tightens.  The tears spill.  And the fears come.  “Mr. and Mrs. Strain, we will put him into some physical therapy and see what happens.  There are one of ten possible diseases he has.  Do you want to do invasive testing now or just wait and see if he deteriorates?”  We opted to wait on testing for a bit and see what would happen with some therapy.  And people prayed.

“Mrs. Strain, your son is late in reaching physical milestones.”  (He had sat up late, didn’t crawl other than army crawl, and he wasn’t standing or trying to walk yet.)  “If we have some custom braces made for his feet and ankles, that may help him.”  And so, off to the orthopedist we went, and then back to therapy, and all the while, people prayed.  The therapist said most children with my son’s condition do not progress—they give up and sit there.  Well, this is when things got good.  My son walked, threw balls, and climbed on things. 

“Mrs. Strain, your son will lag behind other children physically, but it looks like he will be able to do things okay as long as he keeps building muscle strength.  Eventually, that strength will offset the disease, and people may not even know he has it. He will have to wear the braces until early elementary school when he’ll eventually have enough muscle strength to compensate for the disease.  After that, he will always need something in his shoes for shaping and support.”  Eventually, we did not have to go to neurology appointments or therapy anymore, just the orthopedist and podiatrist.

And then, my son ran.  And he has not stopped running since.  And people prayed, and have not stopped praying since.  My son ran around the house with his sister and out in the yard with the dogs.  He is the one who led the way in new physical endeavors.  And in second grade, he began his athletic career (after he’d had some piano lessons!). 

In second grade, he completed a 5K and got 2nd place.  He competed in other races while in elementary school and even placed first.  He built a collection of ribbons, medals, race tags, and participation t-shirts.  In 7th grade, he played football in the fall and ran track in the spring.

And then in 8th grade, my son, whom we were told might never walk, became a long-distance runner on the cross country team.  In high school, he trained by running over ten miles at a time.  Who can do stuff like this except God!

As the years have passed, difficult seasons have come for my son, as they do for us all.  He went through years of bullying which included physical injuries.  Challenges came in school and college and come now at his workplace.  But he gets up every morning, and he pushes through.  While our hearts ache along with his, he continues to do the hard things, the right things.  We undergird his life with our persevering prayers and support him with hearts full of persevering love.  And we all persevere in keeping our eyes on God.

Yes, hearts that have persevered in prayer and petitioned God have seen God in His great mercy and grace give my son a persevering heart.

Every day we have to get up and do the hard things, the right things.  But we remember, whether the valleys are dry or they are flooded, whether the sun beats down on our heads relentlessly or we never see it, we can persevere.  The same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us, and we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.*  Because our hearts belong to Him, we can persevere.


I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 3:14 KJV)


*See Romans 8:11, 35, 37–39.

Author’s note: the above conversations with the medical professionals are not direct quotes but rather paraphrased summaries.

And just a fun thing to note: in addition to becoming an athlete, our son also became a musician on several instruments. Our cup overflows, and so do our hearts!

©Francee Strain, February 28, 2021

Photo credit goes to my aunt Cheri. She took this photo of my son while visiting us in April 2014, fifteen years after that first phone call regarding the ultrasound findings.

The Weary Heart (Part 2 of 3 in “The Runner” Series)

…“Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. … I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest”1

The following is excerpted from my book, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose

THE CALL TO THE WEARY

Have you found yourself nearing the end of your energy supply? Are you past that point and already running on empty? Forget the running; are you dragging yourself through, day after day after day? Do you want the world to stop so you can get off it for a while? Do you wish it would all just end? Are you consumed by bitterness? Are you tottering on the edge of a nervous breakdown? Are you feeling joyless and unfulfilled and wondering if there is something wrong with you? Are you wanting to go away somewhere where no one knows who you are? Are you wishing to go to a different church where you can sit and be fed and truly worship rather than run helter-skelter, taking care of everyone else’s needs but your own? Are you wishing you could just start over? Are you wishing you could reinvent yourself? Are you regretting that you ever said yes to this or that? I have had every single one of these thoughts and many more.

Sometimes we find that we are about out of strength and energy and have nothing left in our reserves to fuel us. We feel trapped in never-ending marathons of trials and relationships and often find ourselves wishing to escape the course so we can rest. At times, these wishes are truly a need and not just a want. King David formulated some words thousands of years ago that seem to echo in our hearts and minds today. He said, “Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. … I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest” (Ps. 55:6–8). We all want to run away at times. And we are not the first ones to think like this—we are just the current generation who is doing so.2

We can become so tired that we feel we just cannot take it anymore. We wonder if there is anyone who will allow us to rest, if there is anyone who even calls us to rest. It is easy to feel like this because more often than not, we are told to “get to work” or to do something where work is implied. How many parents tell their children to go do their chores? And what about the honey-do list? Even being asked particular questions calls us to work and not to rest. “Did you get that report done?” “Did you do your homework?” “Did you drop off the dry cleaning?” Even the dentist tells us to do something: schedule our biannual appointments and remember to floss each day. Although these are the frequent words and cares of life, there are actually a few times when we are told to take a break.

Sometimes, people recognize the need for rest and say or do something about it. When friends see our marriages headed for trouble, they might tell us to find babysitters and have date nights. When our health is in trouble, our doctors might tell us to slow down or lower our blood pressures so that we don’t have heart attacks. When we see loved ones headed for burnout, we may encourage them to take some time off. Sometimes, we might even talk to ourselves if we recognize that we have problems. We might tell ourselves that we need to take breathers or take some time to clear our heads. There are times when we are under great deals of pressure, self-inflicted or otherwise, and we know that we need to rest our minds. Some of the pressures imposed on us by ourselves or others are totally unnecessary. We are good at digging holes for ourselves and then making them deeper and wider until there seems to be no way out unless someone comes along to save the day. That someone who can save our days and save every aspect of our lives is Jesus. He tells us to come to Him and rest.3

His provision is great and His provision is all-encompassing. He is our sustenance for life. He is a place where we can rest as we journey. He is a place where we can linger when we are weary. We can draw deeply from the well of His salvation. In His presence, our souls can be rested and replenished, and then we will be able to rise up and go through all the days ahead of us. May coming to Him be elemental to our lives.4

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” 5



Book cover photo WestBow Press, ©2017

Notes

1 Psalm 55:6–8 taken from the King James Version of The Holy Bible, public domain. © Photo Francee Strain, May 2020.

2 Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 40.

3 Ibid., 41.

4 Ibid., 48.

5 Matthew 11:28–30 taken from the New King James Version of The Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, © 1982.

The Runner’s Heart (Part 1 of 3 in “The Runner Series”)

I well remember the burn.  I remember the shin splints.  And I remember the moment I said, “I hate running.” 

It was track season, my junior year of high school.  The coach was making us run long distances, and to a sprinter, that was awful.  I had been a speedy little kid.  I had won some races and some ribbons (and even a fifty-cent piece).  I had done well in some other races although I did not win.  And then there were some races where I wondered if I should have just stayed home that day.  Yes, my relay teammates may still be upset at me (thirty years later) for accidentally disqualifying us at the district meet (all because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time).  You win some, you lose some.  And some you don’t even qualify in apparently. 

Anyway…there is something else I remember which brings me to this particular article you are presently reading. 

I remember the heart that was needed for running.  Not just a strong heart muscle that could propel a body to the finish line, but the inner heart—the passion, the drive, the mental fortitude, the competitive spirit.  You train, you prepare, and you enter the race.  And then, you run for the prize.  You run in such a way that you may win. 

When you run a race, you know there is an end to it, a finish line; but that end may not be in sight.  There may be twists and turns in the racecourse.  There may be falls and injuries to your body.  There may be high hills and low valleys.  And sometimes, the pain is too much.  Every ounce of your body screams for you to stop, to quit, to give in, to give up.  But it is then that the runner’s heart needs to kick in.  The faith needs to be rekindled.  The mind needs to remember the hope of the finish line.  And then you dig in.  And you dig deeper.  And sometimes you cry tears.  And sometimes you cry words.  And you keep on keeping on.  And suddenly, you crest the hill, round the bend, or enter the last lap, and there it is: what you have been striving for is now within reach.  And then your heart pulls ahead of your body.  You push through to the end, and you hear the words “You did it. Well done.”  For the joy that was set before you, you finished the race.

My brothers and sisters, the Christian race is like this.  Sometimes, we want to just sprint on through to the finish line and cross over into heaven.  We want to avoid the burn and the shin splints, the hills and the tears.  But the reality of life is that it is not a sprint, it is a marathon.  And the course is sometimes filled with difficulties.  Sometimes, we need to dig in for more faith and cry out for more help.  We might want to quit, to give in, to give up.  But remember our example—Jesus.  He did not quit, give in, or give up.  He dug in deep, surrendering His will to the will of the Father.  He pushed through the trials and walked up the hill of Golgotha.  For the joy that was set before Him (eternity with those who would believe in Him), He endured the cross.  He completed the course that was laid out before Him. He crossed the finish line. His race was well done.  His heart for us won the prize of atonement unto eternal life.

And now, He waits to welcome His own into their eternal home, awarding their faith in Him with eternal life.  Press on my brothers and sisters.  We can do this.  Let’s not grow weary.  Have faith.  Long to hear the words “Well done.”  Trust what you cannot see but know in your heart.  Cry out when it hurts.  Cry out for help.  Remember your training.  Hydrate with the Living Water.  Nourish yourself with the Bread of Life.  Be energized by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Remember the joy that is set before you.  Keep the faith.  Stay the course.  Finish the course.

I am cheering you on and praying you through.  See you at the finish line!


Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may obtain it. (1Corinthians 9:24)

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)

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. (Galatians 6:9)

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)


©Original text and photo Francee Strain, February 14, 2021

Scripture verses taken from the New King James Version, © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.

The Victorious Heart

IMG_4425 (2)

(Repost)

Life is a struggle. A battle. An uphill climb.

They say it takes heart, but my heart is weary. It is overloaded with pain and the cares of the world. It strives. It aches. It weeps. I feel like I am losing the battle and losing heart.

What can turn this around? Is there anything that can be done?

YES!

  • I can offer my heart to the Healer of brokenness.
  • I can offer the heart of this warrior to the one who leads the host of heaven.
  • I can place this lost, wandering, confused, and lonely heart into the hands of the One who knows every trail and trial, every battlefield and tear.

Every step of my journey is already seen and known before I have even stepped. Every battle has Someone to come alongside me. Every hopeless moment is waiting to be filled with the God of all hope. And every desolate battle cry (that sounds more like a whisper) can find its voice in I AM–the One who spoke the world into existence.

No longer will my heart lie downtrodden and defeated. No longer will it fold inward in silence. It will rise up in the power of God’s Spirit, and I will press on. For it is not by my might or power, but by His Spirit. He will lead me to victory. I will see it. I will taste it. I will know it. My heart will know it–because my heart knows Him.

This is the heart of victory.

 

©Text and photo, Francee Strain, February 13, 2020.  Reposted February 7, 2021.

Author’s note: This article is one of three featured in a post entitled “The Heart.”   You may access the other two articles individually by searching the archives for “Hearts of Stone” and “Your Heart Can Rest.”