Four Years and Counting/Make Me More (double feature)

This week marks the fourth anniversary of writing for my website. It has been an exciting journey to meet people from all over the world. I wanted to take this opportunity say thank you.

•Thank you to anyone who has taken time to read my articles.

•Thank you to those who have become site followers.

•Thank you to those who have shared how an article has impacted you.

•Thank you to those who have given me words of encouragement.

•Thank you to those who have purchased my book.

I am grateful to all of you for being a part of my life. I truly appreciate your support.

Below, you will find the first article I ever posted. Its words still ring true. This is what still pours from my heart.


Make Me More

Do you ever feel like you are not enough?  Do you want to be more?  I suppose we all might likely answer yes to this question, as I do not think I have ever met anyone who has said, “I wish I was less.”  Why is it that we want to be more? Why do we think that we are not enough just as we are?

We want to be more because that is how we were created to be.  We long for more. We search for more.  We ask for more.  We yearn for more.

We have hearts that are on a quest.  Hearts that search and long for something else that they do not yet have.  That something that we do not yet have is eternity.  God has placed a longing in our hearts for it.  A longing for a life that is full and vibrant and beautiful.

So, how do we reconcile the reality of what is and the reality of what could be? How do we get to this place of eternity where the longing will be fulfilled?  The answer is really quite simple.  We place our longing into the hands of God and we take into our hands what He offers in return for that longing.  He offers salvation first.  If we choose to accept that gift, our hands can then become so full that they overflow.

The gift of salvation opens the door to blessings unimaginable because it is the key.

Salvation is given to you when you give your faith and trust to God.  When you realize that there is a door between you and God, a separation that needs to be removed so that you can be together with Him, that is when your hand is about to grasp the key.

Jesus is the key–the key to eternal life.  He is the perfect Son of God who became a perfect sacrifice for you.  He lived a sinless life on this earth and died a painful death on the cross to become the key that opens the door to eternal life.  Each of us is separated from God by our wrongdoings and imperfections.  Jesus came to die on the cross to forgive us of those wrongdoings and make us perfect through His righteousness.  Your belief in His death to atone for these wrongs, and your request that He forgive you of yours, will cleanse you of them and permit you to enter through the door.

And then, there is more.  Salvation through Jesus gives you eternal life, but you also have the opportunity to have abundant life.  Into your hands–into your life, heart, mind, soul, and relationships–can come love, joy, peace, strength, ability, patience, kindness, and so much more.  You can be transformed in how you live–how you act, think, feel, relate.  You can be more.  More because of the gifts that will be placed into your hands.  More because you will have things that you never had before.  Things that cannot be measured.  Things that cannot be priced.  Things that are not tangible.  The “more” will be things that are immeasurable: like the grace of God that covers all sin, a peace that passes all understanding, a joy that is present even when there is no cause for happiness, and a supernatural ability to endure.

And then we, when we have “more,” can be made more.  We can be made into beautiful representations of the love of God, the strength of God, the passion of God.  He is able to do above and beyond all that we ask, think, or imagine.

As for me and myself, I say: “Make me more!”

I want to glow like I have never glowed before.  I want to shine like a star in the heavens.  I want to go in the strength of the Lord God.  I want to do what I have never been able to do before.  I want to tread a path that follows in the footsteps of Jesus.  I want to think like He thinks, feel like He feels, love like He loves.

Yes, God, make me more.


NOTES

© “Four Years and Counting,” Francee Strain, July 10, 2021

© “Make Me More,” Francee Strain, July 8, 2017, revised May 25, 2019

© All photos Francee Strain. This mountain bluebird photo was my first website background photo. The peony time-lapse photos accompanied the “Make Me More” article.

Eyes Forward

If you noticed my blog article was nonexistent last weekend, here’s why: my property was on fire, along with multiple others in the neighborhood.  Strong winds blew a tree onto some power lines running across the rural acreage here, and a fire ignited.  The fire then spread to the prairie grasses and other trees across the vicinity while the winds continued to blow strongly.  Our family and some neighbors were fighting the flames and dealing with all of the chaos of the situation until enough fire crews arrived to render aid.  When we called it a night, my brain was too exhausted to think.  Praise God, we are all safe, and no homes were lost. 

Prior to the fire, I had been putting a few thoughts together for this article, but the fire adjusted my line of thought and my vision.  I had to keep my eyes forward, with my heart looking to God to help us through whatever the outcome would be.  I could not look at my past experiences with fires, nor be concerned about those that might come tomorrow.  I was in the moment, and that is where I had to live.  Yet, God took me to a place I had not been before.  While flames were inches from my face, God’s presence was closer.  The wave of fear that threatened to drown me at the outset became waves of His peace washing over me.  Panic became purpose.  Chaos was overruled by calm.  The humanly impossible was swallowed up by the power of God.  And then after the smoke began to recede and the scorched earth made its appearance, the magnitude of what He carried us through became ever more apparent.

Standing in the burn zone now is overwhelming.  The magnitude of what was at stake cannot be denied.  The reality of the rescue is readily realized.  And there is beauty.  And wonder.  And awe.  And overwhelming gratitude at the goodness of God.  Praise continues to flow from my heart and lips.  My remodeled landscape is a blatant reminder that God is with me.  He was there in the flames, and He is here in the aftermath.  He sent what I needed when I needed it, and I know He always will.  The eyes of my heart have the vision of His. 

What fires of life are you facing right now?  Are you looking at them with the eyes of your head or the eyes of your heart?  Are you caught up in what your physical eyes can see or in what your spiritual eyes know?  Are you looking to yourself or to others to aid your circumstances, or are you looking to God?  He is good, and He does what is good.  He is worthy to be praised at all times and in all circumstances.  His ways and thoughts are higher than ours.  His love for us is deeper than we could ever comprehend.  Faith in His salvation will be our salvation.  No matter the storm that rages, He is the Master who speaks, “Peace, be still.”  Jesus conquered the power of sin and death to save your soul, and if you accept His gift of eternal life, the things of this temporal life grow dim.  Eyes that look beyond the now to the eternal purposes of God find life, and hope, and peace.

Eyes that look forward see life is not just about waking up, eating three meals a day, going to work for a shift, and filling the evenings with family and recreation.  These eyes don’t focus on the mundane or the chaotic.  They don’t look inside themselves for answers.  They don’t focus on the pain, the past, the addiction, the fear, the comparison, the discontent, the regret.  They look forward.  They look to God.  He created us for a purpose.  He gave His Son to save us.  He has a plan for our lives and a desire to commune with us.  He will do amazing things in us and through us, if we look to Him.  He will watch over and care for His own.  His eyes and heart will be with them.  And beyond the now, those who have placed their faith in Jesus will see more than what their hearts know; they will see Him, face to face.  We have this to look forward to. 

NOTES

©Text and photo Francee Strain, June 13, 2021.  This photo was taken of a salsify plant in the burn zone the day after the fire.

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

Losing and Winning

We have lost so much this year—and are concerned we will lose even more.  We are worried about losing via the elections, losing our jobs, losing our health, and losing our freedoms.  The reality is, pandemic or not, we lose all sorts of things in life.  At any time, we can lose money, homes, jobs, loved ones, health, quality of life, and sometimes even life itself.   Life can be very scary and very sad.  It can be so difficult to get through each day and to keep on keeping on.  How can we?  Why would we want to? 

I want to encourage you that life can also be good.  We might find all sorts of good things: happiness, the loves of our lives, the perfect jobs, and sometimes even our car keys.  And think of all the blessings we still have!  But there is something even greater than these available for us to find, the thing that matters most of all: the salvation of our eternal souls.  Jesus gave the treasure of His life, poured out on the cross, to provide that salvation for all who would believe.  Have you ever gathered that treasure to yourself?  He offers it freely to you. 

And when you have secured your eternal life, your earthly life can be filled with the treasures of peace, joy, hope, and love.  And no matter what you lose on earth, these treasures will always remain.

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5b NKJV

©Text and photo Francee Strain, October 31, 2020

Some text adapted from Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 63-4.

What’s in a Name?

What’s your name?  How many times do we hear that question asked over the course of a lifetime? 

Our names are composed of a word or words by which we are known, addressed, and referred to.  Those names indicate a mark in the world of who we are.  Our names identify us to set us apart from other people.  Signing an important document with our names testifies to who we are. With our own hand, we make a mark on paper to testify that the name placed there represents us as an individual.  But we are more than just names.  Things go deeper. 

My name is Francee.  My name is a combination of parts taken from the first names of my mother and father.  My first name is rare, and only once have I ever encountered someone by the same name and with the same spelling.   I saw a similar name on some merchandise as a few years before I was born there was a doll by the same name, albeit with a different spelling.  I moved on through childhood not thinking too much about my name other than feeling weird because no one else had my name.  

While a name testifies to the identity of who we are, there may be an attachment to the name to offer further details.  If we carry the same name as a parent, the name “Junior” or “The Second” may be added on.  There might be an indicator preceding our name to indicate marital status.  If we are certified with a degree or operate within a particular career, there may be an assortment of letters after our last name to signify this.  We may also possess various names which never get written onto paper.  We may be called mom, boss, brother, teacher, friend, or customer number 53.  But all of these particular names and titles only touch on part of who we are.  These names are about how we relate with other people.  But what about the deeper part of each of us?  What about our souls?

How we live testifies to who we are.  But what testifies to whose we are?  How are we known, and who knows us at the level of our souls? 

Before the foundation of the world, God had a plan for our lives.  Before we were in our mothers’ wombs, He knew us.  He knew the names by which we would be called, and He knew the people we would become.  And He loved us and reached out to have a relationship with each of us.  He sent His son Jesus to make His Name known.  Jesus took on the name of Savior of the World.  He became the Messiah.  The Redeemer.  The Atonement.  His is the Name above all names.  And there is a future of hope and promise in His Name.  He is the soon and coming King.  And He is everlasting. 

Yes, He knows our names.  Do we know His?  When we respond to His name with our souls, it will change our names—it will change our lives—both now and for all eternity.  If we choose to get to know Him, He will write our names in the Book of Life, and we will dwell with Him forever once our earthly lives end.  But until that day comes, we will also get to have a variety of new names and experience the identity that comes with each one.  We will be known as forgiven, redeemed, beloved, a child of the Most High God, an heir with Christ, and a member of the family of God.  We will be called His own, and nothing will ever pluck us from His hand.

What’s your name?

~~~~~

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11 NKJV)

~~~~~

©Text and photo Francee Strain, October 18, 2020

Make Me More

Do you ever feel like you are not enough?  Do you want to be more?  I suppose we all might likely answer yes to this question, as I do not think I have ever met anyone who has said, “I wish I was less.”  Why is it that we want to be more? Why do we think that we are not enough just as we are?

We want to be more because that is how we were created to be.  We long for more. We search for more.  We ask for more.  We yearn for more.

We have hearts that are on a quest.  Hearts that search and long for something else that they do not yet have.  That something that we do not yet have is eternity.  God has placed a longing in our hearts for it.  A longing for a life that is full and vibrant and beautiful.

So, how do we reconcile the reality of what is and the reality of what could be? How do we get to this place of eternity where the longing will be fulfilled?  The answer is really quite simple.  We place our longing into the hands of God and we take into our hands what He offers in return for that longing.  He offers salvation first.  If we choose to accept that gift, our hands can then become so full that they overflow.

The gift of salvation opens the door to blessings unimaginable because it is the key.

Salvation is given to you when you give your faith and trust to God.  When you realize that there is a door between you and God, a separation that needs to be removed so that you can be together with Him, that is when your hand is about to grasp the key.

Jesus is the key–the key to eternal life.  He is the perfect Son of God who became a perfect sacrifice for you.  He lived a sinless life on this earth and died a painful death on the cross to become the key that opens the door to eternal life.  Each of us is separated from God by our wrongdoings and imperfections.  Jesus came to die on the cross to forgive us of those wrongdoings and make us perfect through His righteousness.  Your belief in His death to atone for these wrongs, and your request that He forgive you of yours, will cleanse you of them and permit you to enter through the door.

And then, there is more.  Salvation through Jesus gives you eternal life, but you also have the opportunity to have abundant life.  Into your hands–into your life, heart, mind, soul, and relationships–can come love, joy, peace, strength, ability, patience, kindness, and so much more.  You can be transformed in how you live–how you act, think, feel, relate.  You can be more.  More because of the gifts that will be placed into your hands.  More because you will have things that you never had before.  Things that cannot be measured.  Things that cannot be priced.  Things that are not tangible.  The “more” will be things that are immeasurable: like the grace of God that covers all sin, a peace that passes all understanding, a joy that is present even when there is no cause for happiness, and a supernatural ability to endure.

And then we, when we have “more,” can be made more.  We can be made into beautiful representations of the love of God, the strength of God, the passion of God.  He is able to do above and beyond all that we ask, think, or imagine.

As for me and myself, I say: “Make me more!”

I want to glow like I have never glowed before.  I want to shine like a star in the heavens.  I want to go in the strength of the Lord God.  I want to do what I have never been able to do before.  I want to tread a path that follows in the footsteps of Jesus.  I want to think like He thinks, feel like He feels, love like He loves.

Yes, God, make me more.

Peony Time-Lapse 1Peony Time-Lapse 10Peony Time-Lapse 13Peony Time-Lapse 15

© Text and peony time-lapse photos, Francee Strain, July 8, 2017, revised May 25, 2019

 

Easter—The Preparation, the Purpose, and the Promise (A Three-part Series)

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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.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, April 10, 2020

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?

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.

***
CHAPTER 6 Lost and Found
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. He asked them of their faith, asked what they wanted and needed, and took time to encourage them. And then the healing came.

… 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.

Originally posted Jan. 7, 2019. Reposted January 6, 2020.
Photo by Francee Strain, January 1, 2020.