Strong to the Core 2

It is a new year. New resolutions. New realizations: some of the same old same old found its way into my new year last year, and I expect the same will happen again this year—unless I go on the offense.

I find myself with this priority at the top of my resolution list: I am going to work on strengthening my core. Those flabby parts and over-sized sections that ought not to be there—the ones from the distant past that keep showing up, along with the new ones I tacked on in 2018—those are my focus. The weakness that resides within me—I am going to replace it with strength. I have a great personal trainer lined up for the task, and I have a willing spirit. Ready. Set. Go to Jesus.

Yes, I am going to be trained by Jesus. I need to work on the core of my spirit. The neglect of the previous years has caused me to grow flabby. Unwanted things like frustration, disappointment, prayerlessness, despair, and fear have grown in size. As I have neglected to deal with these problems, not removing them and replacing them with better things like love, forgiveness, hope, patience, joy, and boldness, I have grown weak.

I am my own worst enemy. If I do not wake up early enough to go to the gym before heading out the door to work, the slippery slope of neglect begins, because often by the end of the workday and the home tasks, I am too tired. I tell myself I will try and do better tomorrow, but tomorrow usually never finds me doing so. Change takes desire and commitment, time and attention, a want-to and a know-how. I want to. He knows how. So, let’s do this!

I look to my trainer, and I ask Him what I need to do. He tells me to approach Him and watch what He does, and then follow His example. I come to Him, trusting in His perfect knowledge and unfailing skill. He is kind, loving, and patient. He forgives me when I fail. He walks right along beside me, offering encouragement and further instructions. I take a step forward, and then another, and then another. And before I know it, I realize this is what I was made to do, and I am becoming who I was made to be.

My focus changes. My tone changes. My ability changes. I mature as I remain teachable. Soon, I have a passion for rising up to begin my day by being infused with strength. When my day comes to an end, I look forward to more of His presence beside me tomorrow. I close my eyes in sleep, and I know in my core that I am strong because of the strength that has been placed within me by the hand of God.

“[T]hat He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:16-21 (NKJV)

© Francee Strain, January 2, 2019

Resolved to Trust

“Resolve to come when you hear Him call. Trust Him with your life, with all that you are.”

… We can come, resolving to trust. There will always be areas where our resolve will be strong and other areas where it will be weak, but this should make no difference or cause any delay in coming to God. We need Him in all areas, and thus, we should make our coming soon, and make it quick. Acting will strengthen our trust, while inaction will weaken it. We can ask Him to increase our faith and to help us with any unbelief that we have. We should be resolved to come to Him for His strength–strength to add to our weakness and more strength to add to our existing strength. We can come even if we are a solitary number. We can stand even if we stand alone. We should be willing to pay the ultimate price for Him because He paid the ultimate price for us. We should come like sheep to the shepherd; they come because they are called by a voice that they know and trust. Resolve to come when you hear Him call. Trust Him with your life, with all that you are.

… It is wise to have a heart that listens for God’s voice so that even during times when life seems dead and dark, it will still be able to hear Him. It is also wise to have a responsive heart that is quick to come when God calls it. We need to have the understanding that a delayed response can fill the void with excuses, and before we know it, we might find ourselves disobedient and ignoring His calls. Life and light are there within our grasp; we just need to come forth to receive them. This is wisdom.

We can come to Him whether we know much about Him or little. We can come with whatever amount of spiritual understanding we have. We can come with our searching and ask Him to reveal Himself to us. We can ask Him to make His will known to us. We can come with our confusion and questioning, our bewilderment and asking “Why me?” He gives wisdom liberally to all who ask for it (James 1:5).

God is a big God who allows us to come to Him no matter what our statuses are. We do not have to be a king to gain the attention of the King. We do not have to be perfect to approach the perfect God. We do not have to be a giant of the faith to approach the One who is the source of all faith. We can come no matter the amount of our faith, even if it is as small as a mustard seed. He wants us to be seekers who find Him for the first time. Thereafter, He wants us to be people who continually seek His face. He is there to be found.

When God invited David to seek His face, David decided that his heart would do so (see Ps. 27:8). We do not need to know everything today; we just have to trust that He has our best in mind. We can find a resting place for our bodies, minds, souls, and faith in the safety of His hands. We can place the details of our lives in His capable hands. We can place the recesses of our vulnerable hearts in His loving hands. We can place our trust in Him because of His unfailing hands. He never fails, never breaks His promises, and will never let go of us.

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 115-116.

Immanuel

Immanuel. God with us. This is one of His names, one of His amazing
characteristics, and one of His precious promises. He has said that He will
never leave us, nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). When our hearts are heavy and
our spirits are wounded, Immanuel. When our minds swirl and whirl in
chaos and questions, Immanuel. When nothing makes sense and all hope
seems lost, Immanuel. Storms rage. Dreams die. Immanuel. People leave.
People die. Immanuel. Homes are lost. Possessions ravaged. Immanuel.
Days are long. Nights are longer. Immanuel. Pits are deep. Scars are
deeper. Immanuel. No one even understands our pain and the depths
of it. Immanuel. In this name, there is hope and there is rest. Immanuel.
Comfort can be found in knowing that we are not alone in what we are
facing. We can rest, assured of His promise to always be with us. And
because God always keeps His promises, we can cling to this name for all
we are worth. Immanuel. When we are lost, we can find Him: Immanuel.

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 65-66.

Tranquil Thoughts

It is important to take time for reflection and gratitude, to think about who we are and why we are here. But we should not just stop to smell the roses—we should take time to think about them and their magnificent beauty. If we allow our thoughts to continue on to who created the roses, we will enter into thoughts of wonder and praise. Little coffee breaks for the mind, little time-outs, and little mental vacations will do much for us, because it is in these moments that we will meet Him there. Note the magnificence of His manifold works, which were made in His wisdom (see Pss. 104, 147). He made the sun, moon, and stars and calls them by name. He also made us and knows our names! He created the earth and everything in it. He maintains His creation for all of His creatures—on land, in the sea, and in the air. He is great and is clothed with honor and majesty. His glory endures forever. Truly, He is too wonderful to comprehend, but we should surely try!

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Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 189.

Photo by Francee Strain

Carry Me

When the road is long, carry me.

 

When I’m not strong, carry me.

 

When all is wrong, carry me.

 

Carry me on the road that is short to You.

 

Carry me in strong arms that will pull me through.

 

Carry me in the way that is right and true.

 

Carry me straight to You.

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Copyright text and photo,  Francee Strain November 2017

“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.”  Isaiah 41:10 (NKJV)

 

A Change of Heart

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Who likes change? Anyone? Anyone?! I do—if it is a certain type, that is. I like heart change.

There was a time when I needed to have a change of heart. I was so burned out, worn out, stressed out, stretched out, and flat laid out that my heart had become a stone. I was still living and breathing, yet I was cold and dead and numb. But I came across the words of scripture in Ezekiel 36:26 (KJV) which say, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” I began to cry out for God to change my heart. And He did. But not in the way I ever imagined, nor in the way I hoped things would go. I had some open-heart surgery, spiritually speaking. Everything was laid out before God; nothing was hidden from Him. Yes, He saw into the depths of my heart, and what He saw there was not pretty. God had changed my heart once before, from a spiritually dead one to a fully alive one at the point of my salvation, but now I needed some remodeling. At times I still do. So, He went to work in ways only He could, and before I knew it, I had a heart of flesh again.

Back then, it was definitely time for a change, but sometimes still today it is, too. Sometimes I need a change of attitude. Sometimes I need a change of direction. Sometimes I need a change in my motivational level where I have the fortitude and the gumption to keep on keeping on when every cell in my body cries out that it wants to quit. I need to be changed into the image of Christ, to move from my present state into an ever-changing one—one that becomes more and more like Him. This is the essence of growth.

I follow His lead, I follow His example, I follow His commandments—even if all of these require change—change in my thoughts, my hopes, and my dreams; change in how I live life and how I do my routine; change in where I go and how I spend my resources; change in my perspective and change in my priorities.

I have a change of heart when my broken heart becomes a healed heart. I remember His promises, and they soothe my pain. I receive His forgiveness, and He makes me whole. I release the anger and the bitterness, and the gaping hole they left is stitched back together with His divine comfort.

I have a change of heart when I move from being selfish to being generous. I remember it is more blessed to give than receive. I count my blessings and realize all I have comes from His hand. I remember what Jesus gave for me—His life, forgiveness, and eternal life.

I have a change of heart when my restless heart becomes a peaceful one. This happens when I trust His heart, not mine. His ways and timing and thoughts are above mine and perfect. His words “fear not” are not advice or a suggestion, rather they are a command. I am directed to trust Him rather than myself. I am called to focus on the One who has all power and authority. When I listen to Him speak peace over my life, my quivering heart becomes still.

I have a change of heart when I move from having a joyless heart to a joyful one. When I shift my focus to what truly matters, I find joy. This joy is like medicine in my broken life. Heavy circumstances bring heavy hearts, but these hearts can be lightened when they are filled with His hope. Even if the circumstances don’t change, I can. The joy of the Lord becomes my strength.

I have a change of heart when I move from being dissatisfied to content. Rather than trying to skip particular seasons of life, I seek to accomplish God’s purposes in them. Rather than rush through, I realize what I have in Him right now spiritually is more than anything I could ever gain materially. I am learning to be content in whatsoever state I am in.

I have a change of heart when I move from pursuing the desires of my heart to pursuing the desires of His. I pursue Him rather than me. I seek His glory rather than mine. I seek to do His will rather than my own. I focus on the eternal rather than the temporal so that I might leave His love and legacy in the hearts and minds of those I encounter.

Yes, I like change—not for the sake of change itself, but for the end result. For when I draw near to God, He draws near to me. And that changes everything.

 

Text and image copyright Francee Strain, October 24, 2018

To Look Upon Beauty

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They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I would say that beauty is in the eye of the Creator.

God has an eye for beauty, and He knows how to put it on display! His works within the beauty of the natural world are astounding. Who could even begin to imagine such majesty but Him?

Who could fathom the depths of the sea and the height of the heavens? The force of a gale and the gentleness of a baby’s breath? The speed of sound and the slow calculated movements of a sleepy sloth? The bright flash of summer lightning and the cool vastness of moonless winter nights? Beauty. Look upon it.

Has He ever stolen your breath? Has your heart leapt in your chest at the beauty that lay before you? At the magnitude of the size, shape, color, and texture? At the sound that soothes your soul? At the smell that makes you sigh in contentment? Oh, what an amazing God! And to think, we have barely even seen or experienced a portion of all that He has made.

What words come to your mind…stunning, amazing, incredible, miraculous? Do words escape you? They escape me.

Yes, not only has He stolen my breath, He has stolen my vocabulary!

But there is one thing He has not stolen…my heart. I most gladly, freely, and eternally give it to Him. And because of this, one day I will get to look upon ultimate beauty: God Himself.

Francee Strain, revised October 16, 2018

Photo by Francee Strain

Overwhelmed

Do you ever feel overwhelmed?  Too much to do? Too many places to go?  Too many people to see?  Too much laundry?  Too many dishes?  Too many pieces of paperwork to read?  Too much pain–inside and out?

Whew.  Sometimes life is just too much.  Overwhelmed is a state of being, and it is a state of emotion.  We can take the circumstances that surround us and internalize them. The “stuff” of life becomes the emotion of life.  And sometimes it is just too much.

Overwhelmed sums up my status.  It is my circumstances.  It is my emotions.  It is my reality.  But why?  What made it so?

Does it have to be this way?  Does it have to stay this way?

My answer is an overwhelming NO!!!

My being overwhelmed can be overwhelmed by God!  His greatness and His power, His majesty and His authority,  His presence and His involvement can change all that I am and all that I am in the midst of.

Have you ever been overwhelmed by God?  By His goodness, His love, His mercy?

You have…you just may not have known it.

Did you wake up this morning?  Did you see and hear and feel and taste?  Did you see the beauty of His creation all around you?  Did you lay your head on a pillow last night and sleep beneath a blanket of stars?  You have been overwhelmed by God’s goodness.

Did you awaken this morning with an opportunity to know God? To know He loves you?  To know that you have the capability to be forgiven for every wrong thing you have ever done?  You have been overwhelmed by His goodness, AND His love, AND His mercy.

God has been good to us in body and in soul.  Do our minds understand this?

What an overwhelming thought: to think that the God of the universe loves us, wants to be with us, and cares about every detail of our lives.

Overwhelmed.  A state of being and a state of emotion.

My heart is overwhelmed with awe and gratitude.

“Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.”

Psalm 107:1(NKJV)

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Revised version, September 29, 2018 by Francee Strain

Unwrap Life

    Book Excerpt

CHAPTER 4 Elemental Invitations

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?

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.

God is at work in the lives and circumstances of His children even when we do not see it, even when the darkness of the tomb envelops us. Even when we do not see His handiwork or feel His presence, He is there. Nothing is too difficult for Him. Nothing is impossible for Him. He can breathe new life into us and into our circumstances. We need to take some time to look around and see what God is doing in our areas of difficulty. Psalm 66:9 tells us that God holds our souls in life and does not suffer our feet to be moved. We do not have to be removed from the circumstances in order to endure or have hope; He will be our anchor right where we are. We are told to cast all of our cares upon Him because He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). He hears, He sees, and His divine purposes are continuing to be worked even as these circumstances swirl and linger around us. Psalm 69:15–18 says, “Let not the waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me. Hear me, O LORD; for thy loving-kindness is good: turn unto me according to the multitude of thy tender mercies. And hide not thy face from thy servant; for I am in trouble: hear me speedily. Draw nigh unto my soul, and redeem it: deliver me because of mine enemies.” God will give us the strength to live and also endure whatever we encounter while we do. Nothing is dead when God gives it life.

There is freedom when we are unbound from the graveclothes.

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 29-32.

The Ups and Downs of Life

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Life has ups and downs like a roller coaster.  We experience highs and lows.  Emotions can ramp up and wind down.  Weight can fluctuate like a yo-yo.  Blood pressure can rise and fall.  We can feel on top of the world at times and at other times be laid out flat on the valley floor.  Yes, it’s true, there are definitely some ups and downs in life.  But a life with God can hold steadily and peacefully in the middle, simultaneously incorporating the ups and downs.

What do I mean?  Here, let me show you.

 

Up

Look up, God is enthroned in the heavens.  He has all the power.

He is a sun and a shield.  He gives light and covering. He will withhold no good thing from those who walk uprightly.

We can rest under the shadow of the Almighty.  He is over all.  The sun will not smite us by day, nor the moon by night.  He is our protector.

We can come under the cover of His wings.  He will shelter us near to His heart.

Look up at the birds of the air.  He feeds and cares for them, and He will do the same for us.  There is no need for worry.

Lift up your eyes unto the hills from whence comes your help.  Your help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

If we hope in God, we can mount up with wings like eagles, run and not grow weary, walk and not faint.  He is our strength and power.

Prayers rise up to Him into His holy temple and come into His ears.

Can you number the stars above you in the heavens?  He created them and knows each one by name.  And He knows your name.

Jesus was lifted up on the cross to draw all people to Himself.  He loved you so much He died for you.

He gathers up His lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart.

 

Down

Every knee will bow at the name of Jesus.  Recognize His majesty and authority.

He descended into the lower parts of the earth and was raised to life again.  He laid down His physical life so He could raise us up to spiritual life.

Our sins are buried in the depths of the sea.

He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground, and we are worth more than many sparrows.

Why are you downcast, o, my soul?  Put your trust in God.

I will lay me down and sleep, for He alone makes me to dwell in safety.

 

This, then, is what I say to you: when life gets you down, you need only look up!  Look up and live.  And walk steadily on, filled with the peace that passes all understanding.  Know deep down in your soul that you are wrapped up in the love that will never let you go.

“I have set the Lord always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.”  (Psalm 16:8 NKJV)

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[Scripture references: 2 Samuel 22:7, 33; Psalm 4:8, 17:8, 36:7, 42:11, 84:11, 91:1, 121:1, 121:6, 147:4; Isaiah 40:11, 31; Micah 7:19; Matthew 6:26-27, 10:31; John 3:16, 12:32; Romans 8:11; Ephesians 4:9; Philippians 2:10, 4:7; Hebrews 13:5; Revelation 4:2]

 

Copyright of text and photos Francee Strain, August 20, 2018