Category Archives: Christian faith

You Don’t Need To Survive

Fifteen years ago, in Paradise, CA —yes, that ill-fated town that later suffered a catastrophic fire— I heard a sermon that shocked and challenged me.

It was entitled: “You Don’t Need to Survive.”

The pastor spoke of our need to let everything go in the knowledge that Christ has given all for us, and we have been bought with a price. Christ, having purchased our souls, we should ready ourselves to do the same.

He spoke about missionaries in hostile countries, of lay people and pastors in countries where Christ is the enemy of the government, of businessmen and women working in companies that celebrate the acquisition of wealth even to the extent of disregarding powerless people.

Our pastor said that in the light of all that we have gained through faith in Christ, the loss of our physical lives is virtually nothing in comparison.

“You don’t need to survive” is antithetical to our instinctual drive to survive. Yet, the pastor repeated this phrase over and over within the body of his sermon.

But the survival  instinct, in faith-filled believers, and in extraordinary times, must be subjugated in order to fulfill a higher purpose than mere physical survival.

And when I say that I was shocked at the pastor’s message, it’s not because I had never considered the reality of Christians dying for their faith. It was the phrase: “you don’t need…”

“You don’t need.”

What? Of course I need to survive. I mean, isn’t it the most basic need? It shows itself from the beginning, at a newborn’s first cry, at the sucking of its fist, the startle reflex, the toddler’s first attempt at deceiving its parents to avoid discipline, clinging to Mama at seeing a strange, new face.

Our Creator God put that instinct inside each of us.

But the apostle Paul said: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:18 NIV)

And the apostle Peter said: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” (1 Pet. 4:12)

According to these great apostles, being willing to suffer for identifying with Christ and His Word—even to the point of death— is the mark of the true believer.

Many Christians are aware of how our nation is becoming increasingly hostile toward people of faith. If this trend continues (and I believe it will) how will we as believers navigate this strange new world? Will we simply melt into the new fabric, or will we hold to our integrity and our orthodoxy?

The price may be great. Already, some teachers, professors, and others have lost their jobs for daring to disagree with the present correct stance.

We will all have to determine what is a hill to choose to die on. Will we keep silent when our HR departments instruct us to agree with bad and harmful beliefs?

Will we teachers teach new but false histories, sciences, philosophies, sociologies? Or will it be a personal hill on which to choose our own professional  death?

Will we leave a church that harps on and on about social issues but ignores preaching the soul-saving gospel? Are we willing to leave old friends and fun fellowship for the sake of clinging to right doctrine?

The other day I read an article about the church in China, how the communist government is very concerned by its rapid growth. What to do? I wanted to write a letter to the Chinese government and tell them how to make the church die: “Leave the church alone, give them tax benefits, approve their message, their work. Then watch them, in their newfound freedom, begin to tear each other apart, argue about doctrine, watch churches split, watch its members grow lukewarm and ineffectual in the face of all this luxurious freedom. Sirs, the way to destroy the church is by leaving them alone!”

I predict that, in the coming years, we western believers will face the same kind of snuffing out, disappearing, persecution that our Chinese brothers and sisters face. Are we willing to “not survive?”

Something to think about.

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9: 24 NIV)

 

 

Embrace Your Elements

We’re in the process of making a transition from the wet, but beautiful northwest  to cold and windy southeast Wyoming.

Each year, in the state of Washington, I geared up (literally) for the onslaught of constant rain and dark during the fall and winter and spring days. It seemed as if as soon as October arrived, so did the gloomy weather.

Now, before the covid lockdowns this wasn’t much of a problem. I’d just load up my backpack with writing supplies and my laptop and head on over to my favorite coffee places. I’d sit by the fire, with my laptop, enjoying its warmth as I occasionally gazed outside to watch the boats glide by in the harbor. 

I found ways to enjoy the rain. And sometimes there’s something kind of romantic and mysterious about the cloudy weather that lends itself to imagining all kinds of potential stories to be stored away for future writing days.

But in Wyoming, dark clouds are rare (yay!) and sunshine is plentiful (big yay), but wind is an almost daily occurrence.

And I don’t mean whimpy wind. I mean WIND. The kind of wind that knocks semis off the interstate, and makes  walking a challenge of strength just to maneuver in a straight line. The kind of wind that screams around building corners and sends clouds of dust powerful and gritty-sharp enough to scalp a hatless man or woman.

I woke up this morning to another windy onslaught and gritted my teeth. Another day of wind? Oh no, God. Please make it stop.

But the wind is not going to stop. This is the way of Wyoming. The high altitude and treeless prairies invite the wind to fill the empty spaces. And the wind obliges, with gusto.

I saw some pronghorn antelope recently. I’m amazed how these creatures survive out in the open range during the cold and wind.

We’re building a nice, big house on acreage where we intend to plant fruit trees and berry bushes and anything else that is able to stay grounded. Everyone around here with land plants wind barriers of bushes and evergreen trees on the north and west of their property to shield their home. Good idea!

So, what’s good about the wind?

  • It cleanses. Not too much air pollution around here!
  • It brings good things like much needed precipitation from the west.
  • It gets my imagination rolling because the wind sounds like music, and music is the brain’s  great motor.
  • It makes me strong. Otherwise I’d blow away!
  • It reminds me of the power of God, and calls me to pray.

The Gospel of Christmas Carols

 

 

My mom was part of an organization that helps young women go to college. One of her duties during the holidays was to find musical talent to perform for their local chapter.

My four brothers and sisters and I were the talent on three different years. None of us danced, and our piano talents weren’t developed enough for us to be effective entertainment.

But we all had good voices, and with my mother’s considerable pianistic talent, we rehearsed and prepared a sweet program, complete with three-part harmony and even solos.

Oh, I wish I had a photo of the five of us standing in front of my grandmother’s grand piano, dressed in our cute Christmas outfits, singing our Christmas carols. Those are
precious memories.

Most precious of all to me as a five-year-old was learning the words to the carols:

“Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the new-born King. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled.”

As a five year old I  wondered, how can a newborn baby be a King? I thought kings were old men with beards and crowns, wearing royal robes.

We sang: “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head. The stars in the sky looked down where He lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”

Wow, this King lay in a manger, not a soft crib in a palace. Why?

I wondered a lot as I learned my carols.

For instance, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and heaven and nature sing.”

How can a heart let Jesus in? Oh, I wanted to know. And so began a quest to find out more about this Lord Jesus and how He can come so close that He can be inside of me.

The beauty of the music touched my soul. Such beauty would have to fit a great and good King.

And the words of the carols created beautiful images in my mind of this baby King. Angels announced him. (He must be very, very important!)

And shepherds left their sheep so they could hurry to Bethlehem to see Him. (Again, He must be way more important than most people.)

Wise men from the east followed a bright star. And when they found the baby Jesus they worshipped Him. How did they know Jesus was Someone to be worshipped? (I wondered this when I was seven, and preparing for our second Christmas performance.)

I mean, we’re supposed to obey a King. But worship Him? Only God gets worship. (Somebody told me this; I can’t remember who.)

So this baby Jesus was more than a king? He must be God?

No one in my family could answer my question. I didn’t have a Bible, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have known where to look in its pages to find the answer.

Jesus is God?

He must be. All those Christmas carols we were learning affirmed my question. And those wonderful words comforted me and let me know that there is a God who knows me, who came to make things right, who is worthy of worship as truly God.

Years passed, and with each Christmas holiday I sang those carols. And each time I did, the truth of the words drew me toward Jesus. I didn’t know Him, but I knew of Him. I wanted to  embrace Him, but there was no one to tell me how.

Finally, as a teen, a Sunday school teacher explained how to turn from all the bad things in me, and invite Jesus into my life.

Whenever I think of how Jesus used Christmas carols to prepare my heart to receive Him, I tremble with the wonder of His love.

I think this is the essence of Christmas, at least for me. That God looked down from heaven and loved this little un-churched girl in Rio Vista, California, and made a way through music to teach her and draw her to Him.

Oh, thank You, thank You, thank You, Lord Jesus!

Loss

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This December, I have been juggling two emotions: one of happy expectation for Christmas and the new year, of celebrations with friends and family, of worshiping the newborn King in word and deed, and in beginnings, and hope for hard and rewarding work in the coming seasons.

The other emotion is grief and the process of handling memories. My mother passed away on Thanksgiving, just a few weeks away from her ninety-fourth birthday

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Jun 21, 1947. My mom and dad, flanked by Jay and Frances Reed, mom’s parents.

 

It is a bitter-sweet process. Just last week I stood at my mother’s open casket and grieved over words left unsaid. I grieved over the relationship we should have had. But I thank the Lord that I was able to say many times this year, “I love you, Mother.”

And I was able to place my hand on hers and whisper, though my sobs, “I forgive you.”

 

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My mother was an irregular person: musically gifted, filled with passion, ambitious for her children, but lacking a filter on her mouth or the ability to empathize. Her words could be a balm at surprising times. But all too often, her words cut and bludgeoned.

In the last few years, the Lord helped me to see my mother as a hurting soul and to view her with His eyes of compassion.

She wanted the best for us, but she didn’t know how to nurture us with gentleness and affirmation.

She did excel in a couple of things: She read to us each day and stressed the importance of using the English language well.

She taught us piano and made sure our practice was perfect. I am eternally grateful that she was an exacting taskmaster, because I have grown into a good pianist, which gave me a marketable skill as a music teacher.

She accompanied me on the piano when I sang all over the San Francisco bay area. I couldn’t have had a more dedicated and musical accompanist than Mother.

Her sensitive and artistic soul influenced us to see beauty in music, in art, in nature, in the human form, in architecture and literature.

Joanne Nicolaisen, my mother. By the grace of God, I am what I am partly because of her. Thank you, Mother, for the good memories. I miss your piano playing. I miss your passion. I miss you terribly.

 

 

Healthy Habits

One of the perks of being retired—well, retired from teaching, but not from writing—is that I can take as little or as much time as I want, or need, to read scripture every day.

Here’s my routine: make coffee, have my eggs and bacon, take my supplements, clean up, go to my favorite chair…

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and open my Bible. (My spot is on the couch underneath the painting.)

I like to read large portions of scripture, out loud, with as much expression as possible. I think both seeing and hearing the words helps me concentrate on what I’m reading. And the added expressive reading requires that I correctly comprehend the meaning of the text.

The other day, I read all of Ephesians and was impressed by these thoughts:

  • God prepared certain good works for me to do. (That’s you, too.) Verse 2:10
  • God is able to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.”3: 20 I keep forgetting this.
  • We—not the pastors, nor the missionaries, nor the professionals—are the ones who do the work of ministry to others, both in the church and outside the church. We! Not someone else. 4:11,12

Of course, there is so much more to Ephesians, but these are the texts that stood out in my mind on this particular reading.

The other benefit of reading the entire book (especially one of the letters) is that I keep in mind the over-arching theme and see the main points all in the same reading.

Right now, I’m in the middle of 1Timothy. When I get through Revelation, I’ll start all over again at the beginning.

Do you have routines, too? I’d love to hear.

And one more thing: with Thanksgiving coming up, and Black Friday right afterward, my publisher, Anaiah Press is going to offer a sale on all the books they’ve released in the past two years. That means that my book, High Country Dilemma, will also be on sale starting on Black Friday and continuing through the weekend.

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If you like contemporary romance, set in the Colorado Rockies, you’ll love this book. A lovely girl and a hunky firefighter team up to perform in the annual melodrama in an old refurbished opera house. Lots of sweet romance with a redemptive message of God’s love and faithfulness. Safe for teen readers, too.

Stay tuned for more information on this sale.

Have a great day!

Dena