Gratitude vs. Grumblitude, 2022 edition

Happy Thanksgiving! Or is it? What is the attitude of our hearts? Are we exhibiting gratitude or grumblitude? What exudes from our beings? Sweetness or sourness? Compliment or complaint?

Sometimes, we lose perspective on what is important, and we come down with a case of the grumbles. I hear it in the voices around me. I hear it coming out of my own mouth. “I wish my house….” “I wish I had a….” “I wish I could ____, but no, I am stuck with _____ instead.”

So, how can we quell the flow of such unthankful thoughts coming from our hearts, minds, and mouths? We change our perspectives and take in new things so that we can in turn pour them out.

God reigns in the kingdom of men. It is He who holds our very breaths. What a magnificent thought!

What can we see, touch, hear, feel, taste, and do? Perhaps some of our limbs and senses do not function correctly or very well, but we do still have some amount of function.

Have we eaten? Slept under a roof? Worn clothes? Experienced warmth? Had joy at some point in our lives? I know I have.

So, the fact that my car is eighteen years old and dented (by a pole in the parking garage that shouldn’t have been in my way 😊), and it’s buried under years of country dust because I cannot lift the hose and brush to clean it, should still be a cause for gratitude.

The fact that my couch reached the age of seventeen years old, was worn, sagging, had shot springs, and had a piece of wood frame jutting out should not have been a source of grumbling.

The fact that I live in a smaller home which needs repairs and landscaping, rather than living in my dream Victorian mansion with park-like gardens, should not faze the attitude of my heart.

The fact that I play a piano I bought out of the want ads rather than play the concert grand I saw at the music store (which cost more than my home, by the way) humbles my heart because God miraculously gifted me with a beautiful instrument and the gift of music.

In all of these places, I have been blessed. In all of these places, God has come near. In all of these places, I have wept with others, rejoiced with others, and listened to their hearts, as they have done for me.

God has drawn near in other places, as well, with possessions I have only held temporarily. A value menu sandwich filled the stomach of a homeless man instead of mine while we sat together on the curb in sub-freezing December temperatures. But there, while I sat next to him with my tummy grumbling, I was filled with gratitude. His tummy was now full and grateful. I heard his heart. I looked into his eyes. And I knew what mattered that day—not my sandwich, not my needs, not my collection of money to be spent on little things for myself that day or set aside for bigger things someday down the road—it was our hearts that mattered. What mattered was eternal, and God gave us both a perspective to see as He sees. This man heard about the love that Jesus has for him, that had searched him out even in his lowest of places. It was a holy moment as God drew near. He heard both of our hearts. For this moment, I will ever be grateful.

Yes, for all these things, and much more, I will express gratitude rather than grumblitude. I am humbled by the grace of God that has searched me out even in my lowest of places.

So, whether you join me in my well-used car, on my well-used couch, in my well-used home, on a freezing concrete curb, or just through the words on this page, I pray you will hear how much God loves you and that His grace is searching for you.

Welcome to grace and gratitude.


NOTES

©Revised text and photo Francee Strain, November 23, 2022. Original article posted November 28, 2019 and reposted November 20, 2020.

All the Days Ahead

The world seems like it is unraveling. Many things are happening that cause fear and trepidation. But God is still very much on the throne. Although perhaps unseen by human eyes, His mighty hand is at work. He holds today in His hands, and He holds the future, too. He has not forgotten us, nor has He abandoned us. A perfect plan is in motion with each piece and part being placed at just the right moment. There are no accidents. There are no coincidences. Delays allow us to arrive right on time. Detours direct us to where we need to be. Just the right number of moments lead to a bigger moment. Sometimes, we need to be reminded of this. For me, the reminder came through moose, a milkshake, and a medical diagnosis. These separate moments all converged into a perfect moment.

World events have been very disheartening. I have felt pain in my heart and had tears course down my cheeks. My personal life has resulted in the same. But last week, my heart was lifted as moment after moment connected into one big reminder that God is with me today and will be through all the days ahead.

I can trace the starting moment to about two weeks ago. I went through two bouts of seasonal illness back-to-back, and when added to my chronic illnesses, I was housebound for twelve days. The things I wanted and needed to do were not accomplished. Appointments and plans were canceled. Essential errands went undone. But on that thirteenth day, I thought perhaps I would make an attempt to head into town and get some essential things done even though I was not fully recovered. Well, my health continued to be uncooperative until 3:00 in the afternoon. When I thought there was somewhat of a lull in symptoms, I gathered up the things I needed to take with me and stepped out onto my porch, locking the door behind me. As I turned away from the door and began to head to my car, I found myself looking at a large moose in the neighbor’s yard behind my garage. I froze in place, overcome by awe and fear. She was a beautiful creature, but would she tolerate my presence or charge me? And then her baby came on the scene, which jeopardized my life even further. I gingerly went back into the house and got my camera. I cautiously took a few photos, and then I began sending messages to family members and neighbors to move through the area with caution. I continued to observe the two moose exhibiting fascinating behavior. Suddenly, a male mule deer strolled right past the two moose. And shortly thereafter, a female deer approached them. It was incredible to see all of these animals together in one location. My camera finger got busy, and then it got even busier as a second baby moose arrived. God gave me such a special treat in viewing these beautiful creatures. After several more minutes passed, I hoped the mother moose had decided I was not a threat because I needed to get to my car and be on my way. She graciously allowed me to drive past her.

As I did a few errands that afternoon, now thirty minutes behind schedule, I had the opportunity to express gratitude to those who provided service to me at each business. As I was heading home, I stopped at a gas station and went inside. When I finished in there and was heading toward the exit, I felt prompted to veer to the right and enter the restaurant area of the station. There were three customers dining, and I felt I was supposed to approach one of them. I began a conversation and offered to purchase dessert for this person. A chocolate milkshake was the dessert of choice. For the sake of privacy, I will not share the details of the conversation here, but when I offered prayer at the close of our conversation, this person broke down crying, carrying heavy burdens. We chatted a few more moments, and then I prayed over this person. We parted ways with words of God’s blessing to one another. On the drive home, my heart ached for this person who was experiencing so much pain—and not from just one traumatic life event, but three. I hoped God’s love, comfort, and encouragement would be felt on that person’s drive home with each sip of the milkshake and each remembrance of the conversation and prayer.

By the time I arrived home, I knew I needed to return to that restaurant and speak to the employee who had prepared the milkshake. It was the dinner hour when I arrived at the restaurant the second time, but there was no one dining in there. As a result, I was able to carry on a conversation with the employee and discover the heavy burden on that person’s heart for a family member who was in the hospital with a new life-threatening diagnosis.

Only God could have orchestrated the events of my day with such timed precision. The delays of illness, the delays of wildlife, and the delays while conducting business in the course of my errands, all resulted in absolute perfect timing where God could reach down and speak to the hearts of the people I encountered. But there was another heart He spoke to as well: mine. He reminded me that even though my life seems to be going awry and I have absolutely no control over it, it is very well orchestrated by His loving hands. God is very active in the details of our lives, and He does all things well and within His perfect timing.

Take heart. Keep the faith. Run the race. Today, and in all the days ahead.


The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;

For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.1

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, And He delights in his way.2

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.3

You are my God, and I will praise You;
You are my God, I will exalt You.

Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.4


NOTES

1 Psalm 23:1–6

2 Psalm 37:23

3 James 1:17

4 Psalm 118:28–29

Scriptures taken from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, November 20, 2022. The photo is of the second baby moose.

The Cares of This World, Round 2

I wrote the following article more than a year ago, but when I reread it the other day, I could completely relate to what I had written then. It is because I am in a similar place in life again—trial after trial, in my own life and the lives of others surrounding me. There are times when it seems we keep the facial tissue manufacturers in business because we cry so many tears. This is one of those times.  And the solution and truths I state about where I find my help and hope are still completely true and are known with even more certainty than a year ago.

(Repost)

Sometimes, the cares of this world are just too much—too much to think about, too much to handle, too much to bear. Their heaviness can weigh on our hearts and minds until our spirits are downcast and we can barely lift our heads. 

I found myself this week sighing in my spirit. The grief was palpable. I was distracted from my tasks of the day as my mind started listing the burdens one by one—mine, his, hers, theirs, ours. The tears welled up and spilled over. “God, please help us; We need your help,” I pleaded. And instantly, He was there, speaking comfort to my soul, reminding me that His shoulders are here to carry the loads, His strong arms are here to lift me up, and His hands are here to hold me close.

We do not need to be anxious about anything.1 God cares about every detail of our lives. We were not made to carry this weight, and definitely not made to carry it alone. If we are focusing on our burdens, it will keep us from focusing on our Source of help, whereas trusting in Him will render perfect peace. 

Scripture tells us to cast all our cares upon Him, for He cares for us.2 We cannot change the past, but He can heal us from it. The present may be completely out of our control, but He is present. And instead of worrying about and dreading the future, thinking “What if ___________happens,” we can replace those thoughts with ones about His character and presence, ones like “He is loving.  He is good.  He is sovereign. He is all-powerful. He is.”  Remembering the truth lifted the weight from me. The problems and pains remained, but healing and strength had come to my heart. A lilt of joy entered in, and I continued the tasks of the day, going in the strength of the LORD God, the One who cares for this world. 


“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.3


NOTES

See Philippians 4:6.

2 See 1 Peter 5:7.

Strain, Francee. “Carry Me.” 2017.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, August 30, 2022. Original article posted July 25, 2021.

The Sparrow Keeper

This is a revised version of an article I posted in 2020. This revised article is also available as a podcast episode on Eternal Purpose Podcast. You may access it via my website podcast page or by visiting Spotify or Anchor.

https://open.spotify.com/show/23NbWtwZBdGkm1LVIpFtu3

https://open.spotify.com/episode/02z8M2t5FddhQGrHvCPsFe?si=V4lTaL_GTAi6qTKM27RojA

https://anchor.fm/francee-strain/episodes/The-Sparrow-Keeper-e1l5ddm


I’m a birdwatcher. I peek out the windows, and I check on the happenings in my yard. Certain birdcalls send me running outdoors to catch the action. At times, you will find me with my mouth agape as I observe spectacular scenes unfolding before me.

Several of my hobbies revolve around wild birds. Some days, I get a finger cramp pressing the shutter button on my camera. I use my photographs in a multitude of ways. I have a feather collection. Bird figurines adorn my tabletops, shelves, fireplace mantel, and piano. There are framed bird prints hanging in various rooms of my house. I have bird identification books and a magazine subscription—this way, I can gaze at other people’s bird photographs and further my bird education at the same time. I’m not sure where my fascination with birds came from. I remember checking out bird guide books from the elementary school, and I sat at my bedroom desk tracing over the photos. Birds of paradise were always my favorite. But after that, I don’t remember too much of anything else related to birds—until several years ago—I acquired a birdbath.  At that point, I moved beyond being a bird watcher—I became a bird keeper.

A keeper is one who has the job not only to watch but also to protect and maintain what or whom is being cared for. Daily, I have taken to caring for the birds. I water them, fill up bird feeders with birdseed, and I cook up batches of hummingbird nectar. I chase away cats that are looking for a feathery meal, and I shoo away deer who believe the bird feeders exist for their benefit. Thus, I have become a sparrow keeper, along with being a keeper to more than thirty-five other types. It brings great joy to my heart to be able to share in the lives of these beautiful creatures.

When we look at sparrows, “beautiful” may not be the first word that comes to our mind.  We’re probably not impressed by their appearance or wowed by their size. We might think they’re a dime a dozen and are nothing in comparison to showy peacocks or powerful birds of prey. But, the Bible says not one sparrow is forgotten by God or falls to the ground without His knowledge. And we humans are told not to fear because we are of more value than many sparrows.1 Think of it!  If God cares for each one of these little creatures, how much more must He care for us?

But, how do we understand this when life seems to be flying out of control in many directions at once, like a flock of birds flushing out of the field? Right now, there’s noise, confusion, scrambling, blurring, fleeing, crying out, and fear. Things are startling us out of our peace and rest, interrupting us as we try to go about our normal lives, causing us to question what is happening and what to do next. We don’t understand the outside forces that are bearing down on us and making our hearts anxious and pounding. But, I want to encourage us not to fear. God’s eyes are on the sparrows, and He is watching over us, too.

There are songs that talk about God being a sparrow watcher. And when I think about this concept, I realize He’s not just a sparrow watcher, He’s a sparrow keeper. He’s not simply an observer of what’s taking place in our lives, He is involved in our care. He fulfills the definition of a keeper as He guards and cares for, protects and maintains. As we live our lives in the midst of a difficult and fallen world, He abides, faithful.

Indeed, we are told the very hairs of our heads are numbered.2 God is aware of each of us and is paying attention to the details. From our safe little perches and our huge falls to the ground in this big, overwhelming world that’s fraught with danger, He remains vigilant. When gale force winds, seasons of drought, firestorms, and famine come, He speaks peace. When we are separated from the flock, lost or abandoned, He’s omnipresent. When our feathers get ruffled, when we smack into the window while looking at the reflection of something we think we want, or when we get blown off course in the high winds, He sees. He knows. He remains steadfast. And He is available to help us recover. No one else can meet each need or save our very souls except Him. He has provided Himself, the living water and the bread of life. He guards souls from eternal death and is capable of keeping them in life. He is omnipotent and everlasting.

Yes, God is the world maker, star namer, and soul saver. He is the sparrow watcher and the sparrow keeper. From everlasting to everlasting, He is God.


Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me!
For my soul trusts in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge,
Until these calamities have passed by.

I will cry out to God Most High,
To God who performs all things for me.

He shall send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches the one who would swallow me up. Selah
God shall send forth His mercy and His truth.3


NOTES

1 See Luke 12:6.

2 See Luke 12:7.

3 Psalm 57:1–3

Scriptures taken from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.

©Text and photos Francee Strain, July 12, 2022. Original version posted August 16, 2020.

In the Name of Peace

The following is a repost of an article I wrote in 2020.


We need peace. Peace in our world. Peace in our homes. Peace in our own hearts. We long for peace. We yearn for peace.

When troubles mount, we can feel overwhelmed. Helpless. Hopeless. Sometimes, we want to bury our heads under the covers. Other times, we want to run away. But these actions are not what will solve the problems. These things are not what will fill us with lasting peace.

Lasting peace can only be found in the Prince of Peace, the One who is Everlasting: Jesus. His name is called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.1 Inviting Him into the situation is what will bring peace. Holding Him in our hearts will find Him holding us.

Peace is a matter of the heart. Peace is for hearts that matter. Peace is for you. YOU matter.

~~~~~

Grief can overwhelm us, and at times, we can become lost in it. Our hearts can break and bleed and cry out for relief. Our hearts can burn with questions hotter than Death Valley. “Why?” “Why God?” “Why are those three young boys going to be left without a mother?” “Why did he do that to me?” “Where were You when that was happening?” We can cry so many tears, inside and out, that we become dehydrated. Our throats become dry from crying, from screaming. We wander alone in deserts of pain and sadness, feeling like the vultures are circling overhead, their dark shadows coming for us next. So many unanswered questions. So much hurt. “Why?” “What good is there in all of this?” “What good is going to come out of this?” Our focus wanders from the well of water directly in front of us, to the blur of the heat waves rising from the burning sand all around us, to the pain of the scorching heat, to the howling of the desert wind. Our focus shifts to the pain and away from what can soothe the pain. But there is someone who can help us return from these perplexed states and find healing: God. We can mimic some of the words King David spoke in Psalm 25:16–18, asking for God to “turn” to us and “have mercy” on us because we are “desolate” and “afflicted” (v. 16). When the troubles of our hearts have grown, we can ask that He would see our afflictions and pain and then deliver us. And if we are in a state of grieving because of our sin, we can ask for His forgiveness (vv. 17–18). Calling out to Jesus is a good thing to do because He was acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3). He knows what we are going through.

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.2

~~~~~

Let Him care for your heavy heart. Let Him catch your tears. He knows your pain. He knows your name.

YOU are precious.

YOU matter to Him.

YOU are loved.


NOTES

1 See Isaiah 9:6.

2 Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), pp. 64–6.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, June 17, 2022. Original article posted May 30, 2020.

Hearts That Don’t Quit

Why is this happening to me? This is not what I had planned for my life. This is not what I signed up for. And this is not where I thought I would be by now. There are castles crumbling all around me. Teardrops are falling relentlessly. There are cold hearts, cold glares, empty words, and unfulfilled promises. There’s brokenness everywhere I look. Brokenness in them … and brokenness in me. Yes, we are broken. And we are brokenhearted.

The brokenness comes because we possess broken hearts. We have stepped out of God’s perfect design and into lives marred by sin. We make, and others make, poor choices. Wrong choices. Hurtful choices. Selfish choices. And now, what can we do?

Oh, my heart is heavy, and it’s broken for the pain I’m seeing. I have cried and cried. I have also cried out to God. And, He has whispered to my heart to take heart and not give up, even in the midst of deep pain, even in the midst of such a broken and messed up world.

We’ve all seen it. A day can start out going in one direction, and within seconds, change to a completely different one. By evening, the landscape has changed, and sometimes it’s become completely unrecognizable. Death and destruction have come, despair and derailment are our new realities, and shattered hopes and dreams lie at our feet. In moments, our lives are forever changed. The despair can be overwhelming. The sense of hopelessness can be suffocating. The darkness closes in. And the pain is unrelenting. Our souls are anguished. They are crushed. They seem beyond repair.  And all we can do is ache. Sometimes, all we can do is curl up in a fetal position and sob. And sob. And sob. Our broken hearts spill out into our teardrops.

And in the midst of all this pain is the search for answers, for peace, for help, for hope. And what hope is there? Sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be any, and we just want to give up the fight. We become too tired to fight any more. And that’s just it. We’re tired because we are fighting. There is another Who can fight for us, with us, on our behalf. When our lives seem to have come to an end, we can grasp the source of Life: God Himself, the One who gives life, the One who is all-powerful. He’s there when we get to the end of our rope and our strength. When we need peace, we can obtain it from the Prince of Peace. When life no longer seems meaningful, He can fill it with His presence and the ability to press on to find the good. There is an eternal purpose for us to find and live throughout the remainder of our days. We never have to be alone, and we never have to just survive and try to make it through the day. Whatever looms over us, God can help us face it and keep moving forward.   

I’ve encountered so many people who are searching, so many who are suicidal, so many who are paralyzed by grief. Times are so difficult, more difficult than they’ve ever been. It’s so understandable why these thoughts and emotions come. Our hearts are slammed, crushed, torn. Everything we thought we knew and could depend on is no more. Our heads are spinning. Our hearts are racing. Our tears are falling. Our nights are sleepless. If you look deeply into eyes and hearts, it will break you. There has to be more. There is more. And all of us, we need to know this. 

Problems don’t magically disappear. Time does not reverse. So, we need to discover a solution and a way to move forward. That solution is God. God will listen to our cries. He will catch our tears. He will hold us in the palm of His hand … if we will let Him. A real and lasting peace is available to us. A comfort like none we have ever known is there for us. He is the ultimate source. He wants to carry us and guide us like a shepherd who lovingly cares for the sheep. He wants to provide a place of rest and meet our needs. He wants us to hear and know His voice. He is the Great Provider, the Great Healer, the Great Comforter. He is I AM.

Since before time began, a call went out to us. Even in the midst of a crowd, God has been seeking our hearts as individuals. God gave an invitation with each of us in mind. From the time that the foundation of the world was laid, Jesus prepared to die for us, for each soul that would ever live. His sacrifice was arranged before we were ever a thought—before a single soul had ever lived. He did this so that we might have eternal life. We have the opportunity to respond to that invitation. We’ve been offered a most amazing gift: eternal life. And until the time of eternity arrives, we’ve also been offered an invitation to move forward with His presence and His power in our lives and have life itself.1

If you are someone who is hurting, grieving, feeling alone right now, know that I see you, and you are loved. And know that God sees you and loves you. If you are someone who is suffering and shattered right now, know there is hope and healing. It’s available. We can cast all our cares on God, because He cares for us. We can seek Him and find Him when we search for Him with all our hearts. He is the sure foundation when the world shakes, the steady Rock where all else is shifting sand, the One who will hold us securely and never let us go. If we choose to become His child by putting our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, we have the promise that He will never let us go. He is the God of the brokenhearted. Psalm 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted [a]nd binds up their wounds.”2

When desolate and dark times come, His light will still shine. When life is cold and bleak, the warmth and comfort of His presence will enfold us. When we feel lost and unsure of which way to go, He will hold our hands and guide our steps. His heart is for us, and He won’t quit. He went so far as to give His Son for our redemption. He has proven how much He loves us and wants to be with us for all time.

So, take heart, and let His love speak to your heart. His heart is for you.  

Take heart, and don’t quit.


NOTES

1 Adapted from Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 4.

2 Scripture taken from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.

Parts of this article are adapted from three other articles I wrote entitled “The God of the Brokenhearted,” “Take Heart,” and “Don’t Quit.”

©Text and photo Francee Strain, May 25, 2022

Easter—The Preparation, the Purpose, and the Promise

The following is a repost of an article I wrote in 2020. It is also available for you to listen to on my new podcast. Please visit “Eternal Purpose Podcast” on Anchor or Spotify or visit the podcast page on my website.

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 11, 2022. Originally posted April 9–11, 2020 and reposted April 2, 2021.

Names and Numbers

“What’s your name? Tell me a little bit about yourself.” This might be how a conversation with a stranger begins. Someone’s name gives significance to their presence. It brings acknowledgement and recognition. But sometimes, it feels like we are a number, and no one cares what our name is. Sometimes, we become a case number, or a record number, or a file number. Sometimes we are a telephone number, representative of someone who can bring a profit to the caller.

How do we feel at times like these, when we are “just a number” rather than a name? Do we sigh in resignation; or do we go to the opposite extreme, striving and laboring to make our names known and prove we have significance, perhaps even pushing into the realm of trying to become famous? 

What do we do when being “just a number” causes our hearts to hurt?  The times when we feel alone in a crowd? The times when everyone used to know who we were, but now those days are long past? Times when we feel washed up, dried up, and put up on the shelf?  I can imagine what we do, because I know how it feels.

Or what about the times when we look up into the night sky, scanning the universe, and we feel so small and insignificant? The times when we wonder how our lives could matter amidst such a vast expanse. I can imagine, because I know how that feels. We can begin to question who we are and why we are even here. We question whether anyone really sees us and if our lives actually matter.

I can tell you that they do. We are not just one number among many. We have a name. A significant name.

One night, “I looked out the window before heading to bed and found I was looking at a sky full of stars, a sky packed with stars—stars as far as the eye could see. It was a cloudless night, and no one had their porch lights on. I stepped out onto the back lawn, overcome with awe and wonder. My heart leapt in worship. And then, God spoke to my heart from the vast, cool expanse. He was reaching out to talk with me, and my heart reached back. He reminded me that He has named every star and knows my name, too.”1

The heavens declare the glory of God;

And the firmament shows His handiwork. 

Day unto day utters speech,

And night unto night reveals knowledge. 

There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard. 

Their line has gone out through all the earth,

And their words to the end of the world.2

How blessed we are that the God of all the universe has created such beauty for us to behold. And how wonderful it is to know that the stars were all named and put into place with His perfect knowledge and plan. But if we stop here—at this head knowledge—our hearts will miss out on something: this God of everything wants us to know His name. He wants us to understand He has made us and placed us here, and He wants to have a relationship with us. He reveals Himself; He shows us who He is. Will we recognize Him? Will we search out the path that leads us to Him rather than wandering down another which leads to a fruitless end?3

The God who created it all, the God who knows it all, also created us and knows us. From before time began, from before we were ever a thought in a human mind, God had thought of us, and He knew our names. And not only did He know our names, He knew why He was creating us, what purpose we would fulfill in this life: to be a part of His magnificent design and purpose. 

It is important to take time for reflection, to think about who we are and why we are here. We are part of the magnificence of His Creation and His purpose. We were made with His wisdom, and our names are known, just as He made the sun, moon, and stars and knows them by name. “And here are some amazing thoughts to treasure: He thought of us with so much love that He gave His life for us. He paid off the debt of our sin. The work of redemption has been done once and for all; we do not have to strive to do it. Jesus made the way for us to have peace with God by dying on the cross in our place.”4

Believing this will give us an additional name: no longer will we just be a creation of God, we will be a child of God. No longer will we be a number, a face in the crowd. We will become one of the members of God’s family. Are you counted among this number? This is a good number to be known by—one of those who has put their faith and trust in Jesus. This is one number I definitely wanted to be known by, so at the age of eight, I made the decision to give my heart to Jesus. 

Becoming a child of God will bring us near to God, and we will be able to call Him Father. This relationship will make all the difference in the world—and in the world to come. He will care for us individually in the midst of the crowd. He will know our hearts like no one else ever will. He will see every tear we ever cry. He will meet our needs. And, there is an enormous number of blessings He wants to pour out upon those who are called by His name. And then, there will be a great celebration someday, when it is time to dwell with Him forever. There will be much rejoicing as believers meet the God of the universe face-to-face—the One who loves them. I will be counted among this number, and I hope you will be too! But, time is limited, and we do not know the number of our days, so please be sure to RSVP to God so that your name can be written in the Book of Life.

“There is joy, life, and peace in knowing this God, the star-creator and the star-namer.”5 And after this life on earth ends, those who have accepted His Son, Jesus, will be able to know Him in eternity, in all His fulness. They will be in the presence of the creator of all, the Name above all names.


NOTES

1 Excerpt taken from “The Star-Namer,” ©Francee Strain, January 6, 2021.  You can find this article posted on my website at https://franceestrain.com.

2 Psalm 19:1–4 taken from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.

3 Adapted from “The Star-Namer,” ©Francee Strain, January 6, 2021.

4 Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 190.

5 Excerpt taken from “The Star-Namer,” ©Francee Strain, January 6, 2021. 

©Text and photo Francee Strain, April 6, 2022

This article is available on my podcast. You can access it via Anchor or Spotify at “Eternal Purpose Podcast.”

Joy to the World

Just over 2,000 years ago, angels brought good news of great joy which was for all people. The Savior of the world had been born!1

Jesus, the bundle of joy, was born to bring a bundle of joy.  He brought joy all throughout His earthly life, and He continues to bring joy today.  When He walked the earth, He brought love, help, hope, and healing to an untold number of people, and when He was resurrected from the dead, He offered eternal life to all who would receive it.  To those who are willing to receive Him, there is joy resulting from having a savior, from having sins forgiven, from being gifted eternal life, from having the help of His Spirit, from having the constancy of His presence, from having His provision, and so much more.  Jesus brings joy to all who give their hearts to Him.  He journeys with them through the good days and bad, giving guidance, strength, comfort, peace, and the assurance of His love. 

And someday, Jesus will bring even more joy when He returns to the earth to gather His own and present them to His Father. In God’s presence, there will be fullness of joy, and at His right hand, there will be pleasures forevermore.2   Joy will be endless in the very presence of Joy.

Joy to the world!  Jesus came for us, and He is coming again!


[W]hom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.3

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.4


NOTES

1 See Luke 2:10–11.

2 See Psalm 16:11.

3 1 Peter 1:8–9

4 John 3:16

Scriptures taken from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, January 2, 2022

Immanuel, Every Day of the Year

For Facebook post Dec. 14, 2019

(Repost of 2019 article)

Here we are in December, counting down the days until Christmas when we will celebrate the birth of Jesus. What a wonderful celebration it will be! But there is much more to it than that–Jesus is for 𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑦 𝑑𝑎𝑦 of the year, not just December 25th. He is for the good days and bad, the joys and sorrows, the mountaintops and valleys. No matter the circumstances, there is cause to celebrate if we are celebrating Him. He is Immanuel, every day of the year.

Aɴᴅ Hᴇ ᴡɪʟʟ ʙᴇ ᴄᴀʟʟᴇᴅ Iᴍᴍᴀɴᴜᴇʟ, ᴡʜɪᴄʜ ᴍᴇᴀɴs Gᴏᴅ ᴡɪᴛʜ ᴜs.
(See Mᴀᴛᴛʜᴇᴡ 1:23)

“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.”

Text and photo by Francee Strain, December 14, 2019.  Reposted December 22, 2021.

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