Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Costliest Christmas Gift Is Free



Recently, I came across this photo of my son opening a gift on his second Christmas. I love how this snapshot captures how much  he enjoyed the unwrapping perhaps even more than the gift itself.

The next year, his Christmas gift came in a big box. After opening it, he ignored the gift and  played contentedly for hours crawling through that box, pushing it around, and sitting in it until he exhausted himself and fell asleep in it. In those early years, an empty box would have been gift enough.

Now, he has five children of his own. His two youngest will graduate from high in the spring. I don't think any of them would appreciate an empty box this year! They've grown up.

As we approach Christmas, we often get so caught up with decorating the tree, baking goodies for our Christmas celebrations, and the difficult task of finding just the right gifts for friends and family that we forget the real reason for  the season--God's Gift to us of His Son, Jesus. Emmanuel, God with us!

God's Gift didn't come in any fancy wrapping paper. No, He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger where spotless, newborn lambs were prepared for the Temple sacrifices.

God couldn't go to a mall to find just the right gift. He gave Himself that we might have everlasting life.  

God's Gift didn't come in any fancy wrapping paper. No, He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger where spotless, newborn lambs were prepared for the Temple sacrifices.

God couldn't go to a mall to find just the right gift. He gave Himself that we might have everlasting life. All the money in the world couldn't pay for such a costly Gift as the one God freely gives to us.

The only caroling that Christmas was the angels singing to the shepherds out on a cold hillside watching sheep at night under the stars, inviting them to come and worship.

And the only traveling that Christmas was not in jetliners or cars, but on camels' backs as the Wise Men followed a star  to come and worship the Christ Child.

There was no gaily decorated tree--only a shadow of a rugged cross, for He came to die to save His people from their sins.

No bells rang out the joyful news, but in the streets of Bethlehem, the shepherds proclaimed His birth to all who would listen.

The only baby shower was Herod's slaughter of all the innocent babies in Bethlehem, but God warned Joseph to  take the young child and his mother and flee before the soldiers arrived.

Courtesy Google.com

How sad God's heart must feel to see His children more enthralled with the wrappings and traditions of the season than with His most precious Gift itself! This Christmas, let's not be like toddlers who are more interested in the wrappings of a gift. Instead, let's keep our focus on the Gift--Jesus. Let's  give ourselves to Him in worship and be His hands and His feet in this sorrowful world.

"Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Winter Snows

As a child I lived near Lena Point in Juneau, Alaska, 1949-1954.

Instead of the 4-8 inches forecast, we had a 14.5-inch snowfall on November 15, 2018; others places had more. We had a scary ride home that day.. When we left home at 3:45 p.m. for a 4:15 appointment with my podiatrist, a few tiny scattered flakes were falling, but Bob had experience driving in snow. We thought we would be home before it grew too deep. Our trip there took the expected 20 minutes. 

When we left the doctor's at 5:00 p.m., though, the snow was coming down fast and furiously, with 2-3 inches already on the ground. In nearly whiteout conditions on Route 9, it took a nerve-wracking 45 minutes to get within a mile of our house. A long line of traffic ahead of us on Business Route 52 to go up and over the hill to our mobile home park was blocked--both lanes, and snow was building up on our windshield. The wipers could scarcely keep up. We were able negotiate a turn and pulled in to the 84 Diner. Snow was well above our ankles. We ate a nice dinner in a warm, dry place and decided to try to get home. It took 15 minutes to clean off the car. Bob couldn't keep ahead of the falling snow. Police still blocked the road! 

We tried Old Glenham Road, but the snow was so deep people were getting stuck there too. Again we turned around. We thought we'd have to try to get a room at the Quality Inn. Lo and behold, we discovered that Route 52 was now open, so we headed up the hill toward home. In our park our road had been plowed, but a huge berm we knew we couldn't navigate filled our driveway. It was too much for Bob to shovel out.

Just then, the plow came by and cleared the berm away. The snow was at least 8 inches in our driveway, but we were able to get the car out of the street but that was all. We waded through the snow to our steps. Bob grabbed the shovel he'd left on the porch and cleared a narrow path up the steps. By then our hair, clothes, and shoes were caked with snow, but we'd made it into our house! 

Bob was so grateful to be home that he raised his hands and thanked the Lord over and over for preparing each step of the way. Bob had an appointment early the next morning too, but after our experience the night before, he decided it wasn't worth trying to dig out--he'd reschedule.
Thompson Pass on the way to Valdez, Alaska, gets the second highest snowfall in the world
Do you enjoy snow or dread it? Many people in New York are snowbirds. They go south for the winter to avoid the snow. The Arctic tern, though, is the migration champion of the world. Every winter they fly 11,000 miles to escape frigid temperatures. Or do they? The coldest weather               ever recorded on earth, -127 degrees, was noted at Antarctica's South Pole in August 1960.

As an Alaskan, I missed the snow so much the first year I went "outside" to Seattle for college that for Christmas my grandmother gave me a beautiful photo of snow to hang on my wall. 


Courtesy Google.com
Scientists tell us that every snowflake is unique in design, but each one has six sides.The Bible records the fact that God faithfully sends the rain and snow from heaven in the same way He sends His Word, and it will accomplish all He intends it to. 

Where my father lives, irrigation is essential for fruit and other crops to grow. And irrigation is dependent on winter's snowfall in the surrounding mountains. When you see the winter snow, be reminded of a greater truth as it falls from heaven: God will fulfill His promises. And that"s something to be grateful for.


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Why Thanksgiving?

Courtesy Google.com
As Thanksgiving Day approaches this week, my thoughts have turned to a modern rendition of the old hymn, "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," I have heard on the Sound of Life Radio from time to time. The second verse always catches my attention:

Here I raise my Ebenezer;

Hither by Thy help I come.


It brings back a memory of a time years ago when an elderly Christian lady visited our new church planting in Gloversville, New York. She gave her testimony based on the word, Ebenezer, saying, "Hitherto hath the Lord helped me." 

I'd heard the word and knew the definition, but when I got home, I looked up Ebenezer in my concordance to find the story behind the word and found it in 1 Samuel 7:5-13. 

Samuel had just become judge over the Israelites and had gathered all the people at the town of Mizpah to confess their sins to the Lord and to worship Him. When their enemies, the Philistines, heard that all Israel had gathered in one place, they saw their opportunity to annihilate their enemy. They mobilized their army and advanced on the defenseless Israelites.

Fearfully, the Israelites begged Samuel to plead with the Lord to help them.

Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering when the Philistines arrived to attack Israel. The Lord spoke with such a mighty voice of thunder from heaven that the Philistines were thrown into great confusion. The Israelites soundly defeated them that day. From then on throughout Samuel's judgeship, the Philistines did not invade Israel again.

After their great victory, Samuel took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer (which means "the stone of help"), for he said, "Up to this point the Lord has  helped us!" (1 Samuel 7:12).

In the Psalms and in the New Testament Epistles, we are frequently admonished not to worry in the face of trouble but to make our requests known to God "with thanksgiving" (Philippians 4:6). 

Courtesy Google.com
Have you ever wondered why God tells us to pray with thanksgiving?  Thanksgiving is not only for God's benefit, but for ours too. As we give thanks, we are reminded of what God has done for us in the past, and our faith is strengthened to believe that He'll do it again in our present situation.

What impossible situation are you facing today? Remember the word Ebenezer! Up to this point the Lord has helped us. He's not going to quit helping us now.

This Thanksgiving Day let's thank God for all He has done for us. Not only on Thanksgiving Day, but let's continue to thank Him every day all year long.

Happy Thanksgiving!  



Thursday, November 15, 2018

Blood Is Thicker Than Water

4 Generations of Cousart-Contis at my parents'
60th wedding anniversary in 2004. Mother is gone
now. My dad will be 97 New Year's Day. Each
reunion is precious.
Family reunions can be a time of remembering old times and renewing relationships. During the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, families will gather everywhere to celebrate and reconnect. 

My husband and I have been driving or flying out to Washington State to visit my family nearly every summer since 2000. Since most of my family live there now, we always try to organize a family get-together while we are there,

The saying, "blood is thicker than water," refers to the closest of earthly relationships--the family. As wonderful as families can be, that relationship is fragile and temporary. We often get separated from our loved ones as family members move away (as we did). Families are often broken by misunderstandings or divorce. Ultimately and inevitably, death separates us.

But the Blood of Jesus is even thicker than family ties. God's family will last for eternity. Our spiritual family is a much stronger and a more permanent union than blood relationships.

Some of God's family are already in heaven. Some are still alive here on earth. But one glorious day when Jesus returns, the circle will be unbroken as all of God's family gather around the throne of God forever in one grand, never to broken reunion. As the gospel song says, "What a day of rejoicing that will be!"

Every time you gather together with other believers in a worship service is a spiritual family reunion. The fellowship of believers is a time of remembering God's help in times past, receiving spiritual renewal for the present, and preparing for that great Family Reunion in heaven.

Courtesy Google.com

The writer of the Book of Hebrews (10:25) commands us to "not give up meeting together...but encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching." What day? The day of Christ's return. Every night as we listen to the news, we can see that that Day can't be far off.

When was the last time you attended your spiritual family reunion?


To read more about my missionary family, check out my book, Frontiers of Faith, the story of Charles C. and Florence L. Personeus, pioneer missionaries to Alaska, "The Last Frontier," 1917-1982, at http://annaleeconti.com/books.html


Also you can take a look at my historical Christian fiction stories, Alaskan Waters Trilogy, there too.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Cost of Discipleship

Jesus calls His disciples--Courtesy Google.com
Last week we learned that in America options are a way of life. But for the Christian discipleship is NOT optional. All Christians are called to be disciples of Christ. Today, I want to look at the cost and the compensation of discipleship.

The Cost of Discipleship

Whenever Jesus called people to become His disciples, He always spelled out the cost of discipleship.
The disciple must be willing to forsake all (Luke 14:26, 33. He must put Christ first. He must bear his cross (v. 27)--crucify himself (put his own desires to death), and follow Jesus (which speaks of obedience).

According to John 15:18-21, the disciple can expect to suffer for Christ. When we become like Jesus, the world that hates Him will hate us.

Part of counting the cost involves asking two pertinent questions: Can I afford to follow Jesus? Can I afford to refuse His demands? In other words, am I willing to pay the price of being a disciple of Christ? Am I willing to pay the price of not following His demands?

Courtesy Google.com
The price tag of not becoming a disciple is very high. First, the kingdom of God suffers. The Church suffers. The world suffers.

Second, not being a disciple of Christ cost you the abundant life Jesus came to bring--peace, joy, hope, power over sin, a life that counts for eternity.

Third, the nondisciple will be cast out.

In Luke 14:34, 35, Jesus referred to salt to illustrate His comments concerning discipleship: "If the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out."

If we claim to be Christians but do not serve the purpose for which we have been called, we will be cast out of the Kingdom.

The Compensation for Discipleship

Jesus, however, not only pointed out the cost of discipleship. He also described the rewards. The
rewards in this life are numerous--a sense of meaning and fulfillment, peace, joy, hope, power over sin, to name a few.

In Mark 10:29, 30, Jesus told His disciples, "There is no one who has left houses and brothers and sisters and father and mother and wife and children and lands, for My sake and the gospel's who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time--houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions--and in the age to come, eternal life."

Florence LeFevre Personeus at 21
My grandmother, Florence Personeus, was disowned and disinherited by her father when she left home at 21 to prepare to be a missionary. She was no longer allowed to visit her mother or other family members in her childhood home. Her father did not even recognize his then white-haired daughter when he saw her 25 years later. Yet, God blessed her with a husband who shared her calling and they joyfully ministered together in Alaska for 65 years.

Lillian Trasher--the Nile Mother
Lillian Trasher broke her engagement a week before the wedding to answer the Lord's call to go to Egypt as a missionary. In so doing, she felt she was giving up her dream of having a dozen children. But God made her "Mama" to more than 8,000 homeless orphans in the land of the Nile.

The disciple is also enlightened by Christ. In John 8:12, Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."

The disciple is guided by the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised, "When He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). We can count on His guidance.

And in eternity the disciple will be acknowledged by Christ. In Matthew 12:50, Jesus promises, "Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother." The disciple will be honored by the Father. John 12:26 promises, "If any man serves Me, him My Father will honor." In 2 Timothy 4:6-8, the apostle Paul described the crown of righteousness the Lord will give to all who have loved His appearing, who finish the race and keep "the faith."

Since the compensations are so great, why do so few become disciples of Christ?

Jesus described several reasons: "The cares of this life," "the deceitfulness of riches," the inordinate attraction of entertainment ("eat, drink, and be merry"). Family, jobs, relaxation are important, but we can become so busy doing good things we neglect our relationship with Jesus--the essence of discipleship.

People make many excuses for not serving the Lord, but they are only excuses. People do what they want to do.

Let's examine our true desires and intentions as reflected in the responses and choices we make each day. Are we truly disciples of Christ? Remember, for the Christian, discipleship is not optional.


You can read more about Florence Personeus in my book, Frontiers of Faith, available at http://annaleeconti.com/books.html.



Thursday, November 1, 2018

Discipleship Is Not Optional

When we bought a new car recently, we found many exciting new options: 4 or 6 cylinder engine, exterior and interior color, keyless entry and ignition, heated seats and mirrors, sunroof or not, push-button seat adjusters on front passenger seat, to name a few. Each option added to the cost, but the benefits of certain options outweighed that.

We chose this ruby flame 2018 Toyota Camry XLE now parked in our driveway.
When we purchased appliances for our home, we discovered another dazzling array of options. Health insurance and life insurance policies, investment plans, vacation packages all offer exciting options. Cable TV offers myriad channels to choose from.

Options are a way of life in America.


Options appear even in church. Many churches today have two or more Sunday worship times. Bible classes, home groups, and Christian service organizations offer a wide range from which to choose.
 
Some things, however, are NOT optional. With the belief that truth is relative that is so prevalent  today, Americans have a tendency to view discipleship as being only for super Christians. But that is not what the Bible says.
 

Discipleship is NOT Optional!


The word disciple occurs 269 times in the New Testament, while the term Christian only three times. The New Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples, and for disciples of Jesus. Perhaps the invitation to become a Christian should be renamed the call to discipleship.
 
The goal of the Great Commission is to "make disciples," not just converts. All the New Testament benefits and promises presuppose the person is a disciple of Christ.

What is a disciple? According to Bible dictionary definitions, a disciple is a person who not only accepts what Christ taught but also practices it.

The Call to Discipleship

The call to discipleship is issued to all. Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9:23).

In Jesus' day, "to take up one's cross" referred to the cruel Roman execution by crucifixion. It meant dying to one's own desires and leaving all to follow Christ. Jesus' disciples left jobs, homes, and families to travel with Him. 

No online courses, no how-to books, no 2-day seminars were available. They had to be with Jesus to learn how to do what He did. They learned by observing Him and then doing what He demonstrated.

Today, we do not have to leave home to follow Jesus around the countryside, yet our priorities and intentions must be the same. The goal of discipleship is to become like Jesus--to seek to rearrange our lives to that end.

What are the requirements for discipleship?

The primary requirement of a disciple is to "seek...first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33), just as Jesus did.

Courtesy Google.com
The Kingdom, which includes our relationship with the King and the King's kids, must become our first priority. Jesus said, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26).

From other Scripture passages we know that Jesus did not intend for us to literally hate our family members. He used a figure of speech called hyperbole, an extreme exaggeration, to make a point. Our love for Jesus must be so high on the continuum that in comparison our love for our families is closer to hate.

Second, becoming like Jesus involves ministering to others as He did. "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister" (Mark 10:45). He came "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). After His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples, "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you" (John 20:21). Jesus left His disciples the responsibility of telling the good news to everyone.

We are all essential to God's plan for the salvation of souls for His kingdom. God has given each of us a ministry of helping others become mature disciples. If someone is not doing his part, all of us suffer and are hindered in our work for Christ.

In my next  blog post I plan to explore the cost and the compensation of discipleship. I hope you'll join me.



Thursday, October 25, 2018

Give Yourself Away

In May 1967, my husband, Bob, graduated from college and received a regular commission as a second lieutenant in the Untied States Army.

Bob (holding his commission) & AnnaLee graduated from University of Alaska, 1967
Bob in Vietnam, 1969
Bob intended to make the Army his career. He gave himself to the Army. We were separated at least half of our first three years of marriage, including a tour in Vietnam. The Army was his life. His emphasis was on his career--on his goals.

In 1973, God called Bob into full-time service in His army. Bob resigned his commission and went to Bible school and seminary to prepare for the ministry. Four years later, we began planting a new church in Gloversville, New York.

Later, Bob observed, "When I was in the Army with the intent of making it my career, my emphasis was on me. I gave myself to the Army. Now that I am serving in Christ's army, the emphasis is on Him. I gave myself to Christ. The important thing is not us giving, but rather to whom we have given ourselves."

We must ask ourselves, "To whom am I giving myself?"

The Apostle Paul said, "For me to live is Christ." Can we say that? Are we truly giving ourselves to Christ?

How do we give ourselves to Christ? Does it entail becoming a pastor or a missionary?

It may, but every Christian is called to give himself or herself  to Christ to do His will. As Christians, we are called to do everything as unto the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Martin Luther
Martin Luther, whom we celebrate this week for setting in motion the Protestant Reformation when he nailed his 95 theses on the cathedral door in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517, pointed out that one did not need to be a monk or a nun to consecrate oneself to God's service. Even the milkmaid can serve God, he declared. Doing everything in obedience to God and to the glory of God is the key.

As we go to our jobs each day, as we care for our families, as we do our daily chores, we can do it all to the glory of God. Even in the mundane chores, we can focus on the truth that "for me to live is Christ" (Philippians 1:21).


I remember as a child singing a chorus, "I'll Do It All for Jesus." Hear it on YouTube.
Here are the lyrics:

In the house and out of doors
Scrubbing pots and sweeping floors,
Washing, ironing, mending too;
These are things that I can do.

I’ll do it all for Jesus,
I’ll do it all for Jesus,
I’ll do it all for Jesus,
For He’s done so much for me.

In the house and out of doors
Chopping wood and doing chores,
Pounding nails or driving screws;
These are things that I can do.

In the schoolroom through the week
Keep me, Lord, both pure and meek;
Doing lessons neatly too;
Hard or easy, help me through.

Let's make that our motto!

Check out my books at www.annaleeconti.com