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.

Steadfast

(Repost)

Are you weary?  Steady on.

Are you tired?  Don’t quit.

Are you faltering?  Don’t stop.

Are you losing touch?  Reach out.

Do you feel like giving up?  Look up.

Keep on Keeping on.  Steadfast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Set your ears to listen for His voice.

Set your voice always determined to praise Him.

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

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

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

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

*See Psalm 63:8 KJV.

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

©Text and photo Francee Strain, September 20, 2020

The Advent of Peace—Reading #2

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 (see Isaiah 9:6).  Inviting Him into the situation is what will bring peace. Holding Him in our hearts will find Him holding us.1

He comes in the storm with power and authority.  Creator of all.  Ruler of all.  Sustainer of all.  With a word, He can cause the storm to cease. With a word, He can bring great calm. With a word, He can speak peace. In His presence, there is peace.  As the winds of life howl and the storms rage, He holds us–safely and securely in His almighty hands. As the winds drive the pounding rain, and our hearts pound in fear, He comes. Listen to the power of His words, “Peace. Be still” (Mark 4:39 KJV).

Over and encircling, through and beneath, His presence pervades; and there is peace.  This is our God. The God above all gods. Let us never be shaken.  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7 NKJV).

During this time of upheaval, I want to encourage you.  You can find hope. You can know peace.  Because…you are loved.  God has loved you with an everlasting love, and with lovingkindness He is drawing you to Himself.  Though the earth shakes, and the mountains fall into the sea, He is the Creator and Ruler of all.2 

Place your hand in the hand of the One who can hold you securely.  Place your heart in the hands of the One who gave His very life to save you.  Look up to where there is help.  Look up to where there is redemption.  Look up into the very face of God.3

This is how peace comes.

_________________________________

1 Excerpt from blog post “In the Name of Peace,” Francee Strain, May 30, 2020

2Excerpt from blog post “He Comes in the Storm,” Francee Strain, May 3, 2020

3Excerpt from blog post “Peace to You,” Francee Strain, March 21, 2020

©Text and photo Francee Strain, December 10, 2020


Several articles regarding peace and comfort can be found on my website. A few you might want to access are: “The Victorious Heart,” “Between Seasons,” and “Immanuel.”  You may access these from the search bar on the home page or by accessing the “articles” page from the site menu.  If you are in need of prayer, send me a comment through the contact page.

~Francee


Gratitude vs. Grumblitude

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(Originally posted November 28, 2019)

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_____.”

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 in turn can pour them out.

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

What can I see, touch, hear, feel, taste, and do? Perhaps some of my limbs and senses do not function, but I still have some amount.

Have I eaten? Slept under a roof, even if it belonged to a shelter? Worn clothes? Experienced warmth? Had joy at some point in my life? Yes. Yes, I have.

So, the fact that my car is fifteen years old, dented (that pole in the parking garage should not have been in my way), and 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 is seventeen years old, worn, sagging, has shot springs, and has a piece of wood frame jutting out should not be a source of grumbling.

The fact that I am living in a manufactured 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 a concert grand from the music store (which would have cost more than I paid for 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 tummy 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 of the love that Jesus has for him, that had searched him out even in this lowest of places. It was a holy moment as God drew near. He wept with me and this man. And He rejoiced with me and this man. And 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.

But I have trusted in Your mercy;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.
(Psalm 13:5-6 NKJV)

©Text and photo by Francee Strain, November 28, 2019. Reposted November 20, 2020.

The Sparrow Keeper

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I am a birdwatcher. I peek out the windows to 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 the 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 the house. I have bird identification books and recently had a magazine subscription where I could gaze at other people’s bird photographs and further my bird education. I am not sure where my fascination came from. I remember checking out bird guide books from the elementary school library and sitting at my bedroom desk tracing over the photos. Birds of paradise were my favorites. But after that, I do not remember too much of anything else related to birds—until five years ago, when 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 feeders with birdseed, and cook up batches of hummingbird nectar. I chase away cats looking for a feathery meal and 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 mind.  We probably are not impressed by their appearance or wowed by their size. We might think they are a dime a dozen and are nothing in comparison to the 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.* 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 is 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 anxious hearts pound. But I want to encourage us not to fear. God’s eyes are on the sparrows, and He is watching over us, too.

Recently, I was thinking of two songs which talk about God being a sparrow watcher. But the more I thought about this concept, I realized He is not just a sparrow watcher, He is a sparrow keeper. He is 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.** 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 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 is 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.

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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.
(Psalm 57:1-3 NKJV)

*See Luke 12:6
**See Luke 12:7

©Text and photos Francee Strain, August 16, 2020

In the Name of Peace

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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.*  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.**

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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.


*See Isaiah 9:6

**Excerpt taken from 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, May 30, 2020.

 

The Bird-Watcher

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A robin facing the sunrise, Easter 2017

Birds are amazing creatures. My country backyard abounds with them. A birdbath filling is a daily ritual around here. And when the magpies show up, it is a multi-times-a-day ritual!

The details that have been poured into their precious little bodies astounds me. How can I be astounded when I have seen thousands of birds over the years? Because I have newly seen them, because I have paused to see them.

The shape and size of their feathers. The color. The texture. Their little toes and cute little voices–or big toes and big, cacophonous voices. Their busy little schedules they keep at 6:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., and even when I am trying to sleep. Stunning.

And to think at times, I just see a blob of birds and don’t think about the details. But God knows each little bird in that blob, and He knows when each one falls to the ground.* And what’s more, He cares about each bird…and the people watching them.

We look around and see we are a blob of humanity, flitting here and there from thing to thing to thing, keeping busy schedules–even when we are supposed to be asleep. But if we take pause and look closer, we will see exquisite details. Beautiful colors. Small voices and large.

And to think, God looks at each one of us and thinks about the details–and cares about the details. He knows each one of us. He knows when each one of us falls to the ground.

He is the bird-maker and the bird-watcher. And if He cares for each one of these creatures, how much more will He care for us, additional creations of His? And how much more for someone who has become more than just one of His creations, someone who has become one of His children through Jesus’s salvation and who wants His involvement in the details.

If we who are His children pause and look closer, we will see His hand in the details. He knows His children: when we are rising up or sitting down, what we are thinking, all of our ways, all of our words. He is before us and behind us, and His hand is upon us. There is nowhere we can go where we will be out of His presence. His hand leads us and holds us. His light shines around us. He formed us intricately and awesomely, and He continues to think about us. He never leaves our sides. His works are marvelous, and our souls have the opportunity to know it. Have we paused to know it?**

*See Matthew 10:29
**See Psalm 139

©Text and photo, Francee Strain.  Original post, August 30, 2017.  Revised post, May 9, 2020.

He Comes in the Storm

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He comes in the storm with power and authority.
Creator of all.
Ruler of all.
Sustainer of all.

With a word, He can cause the storm to cease. With a word, He can bring great calm. With a word, He can speak peace. In His presence, there is peace.

As the winds of life howl and the storms rage, He holds us–safely and securely in His almighty hands. As the winds drive the pounding rain, and our hearts pound in fear, He comes. Listen to the power of His words, “Peace. Be still.”*

Over and encircling, through and beneath, His presence pervades; and there is peace.

This is our God. The God above all gods. Let us never be shaken.

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“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” **

 

*Quotation taken from Mark 4:39, King James Version, public domain.

**Quotation taken from Philippians 4:6–7, New King James Version, ©1982, Thomas Nelson.

©Original text and photo by Francee Strain, May 3, 2020

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

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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 photo Francee Strain, April 11, 2020

Between Seasons

Hope picture from cell phone Jan. 2020

There is hope of spring while winter still lingers, storms, and swirls.

Winter. Fear can strike the heart as the winds howl and the ground shakes. At times, there are blizzards and chaos. Things cannot be seen clearly, and sometimes they cannot be seen at all. Cold winds blow. Ice freezes in our veins. We don’t know which way to go and which way to turn. Our feet are frozen to the ground in fear.

But then, His voice speaks, and the storms cease.

Rays of light and hope burst in and pervade the heart. Our minds are suddenly at peace. Our heart rates calm. Our breathing slows.

The truth of the matter settles over our situations as His presence enters. He created the world from nothing. In Him all things exist and subsist. Why do we worry about what tomorrow holds? Why are we fretting today? His power is real. His plan is perfect. His peace is available.

So, while we are here between seasons, with difficult days both now and ahead, we can cling to the hope that the Son will break through, and we will pass through from winter into spring.

 

©Text and photo, Francee Strain, February 21, 2020