Thursday, February 15, 2018

Is It of God?

When I was a freshman in college, I heard a missionary speak. He challenged us to considered ourselves called to fulltime ministry unless God specifically told us otherwise. Growing up in a missionary family, I had always considered the possibility of becoming a missionary, but that night, I prayed, "Lord, I'm willing. Use the circumstances of my life to lead me into Your will for my life."

A few months later, my hometown of Seward, Alaska, was nearly destroyed in the Great Alaska Earthquake on Good Friday 1964 that registered 9.2, the strongest earthquake to ever hit North America in recorded history.

Destruction after 1964 earthquake in Seward, Alaska
Courtesy NOAA


My summer job was gone. I had no money to return to college. But God used that circumstance to lead me to a new college, where I received a scholarship and met my husband. We eventually entered fulltime ministry. We have pastored churches in New York State for 40 years now, including planting a new church. (To read the full story of God's direction in my life through that earthquake, see In a Matter of Minutes Parts 1-5.)
Many times over the years in our pastorates, people would say to us, "God told me____." Sometimes, the "messages" made us scratch our heads and wonder if God was confused. Of course, it wasn't God who was mixed up!

As Christians, we want to do God's will. But how can we recognize His voice? How does God guide us along the best pathway for our lives?

Many Christians determine God's will by inner feelings or impressions--fleeting or subtle emotions that lead us to accept a job, move, or get married. But are such impressions valid expressions of God's will?

John Wesley (1703-1791), the English revivalist and founder of Methodism, wrote: Do not hastily ascribe things to God. Do not easily suppose dreams, voices, impressions, visions, or revelations to be from God. They may be from Him. They may be from nature. They may be from the Devil. Therefore, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be from God.

 Feelings and impressions come from three main sources:
  1. God through the Holy Spirit
  2. Satan, the devil, who is the "father of all lies"
  3. Our own human spirit, but our perceptions can be influenced by our health or fatigue, our level of confidence, our humanness. We can easily talk ourselves into what we want.
That is why 1 John 4:1 tells us

In fact, in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, the Apostle Paul admonishes us to test everything. So many voices speak to us claiming to be God or the way to truth. Many charismatic "false prophets" have led their flocks astray because the people did not "test the spirits." It is our responsibility to test everything, including our feelings and impressions, and even what our pastors and religious leaders preach, as the Bereans did when Paul preached the gospel to them (see Acts 17:10-12).

How can we distinguish between God's voice and the devil's lies? Here are four tests:
  1. Is it in harmony with Scriptures? Since God never changes, guidance from God will never contradict His Word. And it will never come from messengers forbidden in His Word, such as fortunetellers or astrologists. We must study the entire counsel of God, not just "proof texts."
  2. Is it right? Impressions from God will always conform to universal principles of morality and decency. They will not depreciate human life and dignity, family integrity, or traditional Christian values.
  3. Is it providential? God will open and close doors through circumstances and events, as He did in my life, and sometimes even through divine intervention.
  4. Is it reasonable? Is it consistent with my abilities, gifts, character, and situation in life? Will it contribute to the Kingdom of God?
Next time you hear a sermon or someone says, "God told me___," apply these tests honestly and prayerfully, and you will not be led astray.

Share an experience you've had in which God has opened or closed doors in your life.


My books tell stories of God's guidance. Check them out at www.annaleeconti.com.








Thursday, February 8, 2018

Parable of the Aspens

This winter, terrible blizzards in our northern states have frequently been in the news. One especially caught my attention: in early December 2017, a snowfall of 10 inches per hour (among the most rapid rates of snowfall ever recorded anywhere) in Thompson Pass on the Richardson Highway to Valdez, Alaska (where Bob and I got married). Buried in 20 feet of snow, the road to Valdez was closed for nearly a week.

Clearing 20 feet of snow from Thompson Pass
Courtesy of www.adn.com/alaska-news/weather/2017/12/08/
My Grandpa Personeus shoveling snow in Valdez
Valdez, a town of about 4,000, is no stranger to big snow dumps. Sitting in a cove on Prince William Sound, it is considered the snowiest town in the United States, averaging 300 inches per year. Thompson Pass, at 2,678 feet above sea level, is the snowiest reporting station in the nation, getting between 600 to 900 inches per year.

Due to lake-effect snow, blizzards are common occurrences in New York State (where I  now live) too. But the Blizzard of 1996 lives in my memory. It began to snow in the Mid-Hudson Valley on the first Sunday of January as Bob and I candidated to be called as pastors of Phillipstown Assembly of God.near Cold Spring, NY. We were elected in a business meeting after the morning service.

As soon as the vote was announced, we all dashed to our cars and plowed through rapidly deepening snow to get home, where we were snowed in for several days. After the snowfall of about two feet, the weather suddenly warmed up. It rained--hard, accompanied by strong winds, melting much of the snow very quickly.

Outside our apartment's balcony, several tall aspens lay uprooted, one narrowly missing our apartment in its fall. Driving down the road from our apartment, we were surprised to see that an entire forest of tall aspens on one hillside had been laid out flat all in the same direction, as though a huge hand had swept over them and pushed them down.

Aspens on a hillside in fall
Courtesy US Forest Service
Why were the aspens uprooted, while many other tall trees still stood?

While aspens grow tall quickly, they have a shallow though interconnected root system. The snow and rain loosened the soil, and the strong wind easily toppled them because their roots did not grown down deep enough to hold them upright.

The aspens teach us a spiritual lesson. In addition to providing nourishment, roots provide trees with stability. When roots rot or are too shallow, a tree becomes prey to disease and weather. The aspens appeared to be tall and sturdy, but their heart-shaped leaves waving cheerily in the breeze were deceptive. When the rains and winds came, they fell.

Paul wrote to the Colossians admonishing them to
Courtesy Google.com
In corporate worship, Bible study, and prayer, we grow spiritually. Christ's teachings nourish our souls and strengthen us so we can stand firm and tall in the storms and adversities of life.

Jesus told a parable about a man who built his house on the rock, and another one who built his on the sand. When the storms came and beat upon the houses, the one built on the rock stood firm, but the one on the sand had a great fall. 

Growing up in coastal Alaska, I often observed trees growing out of great cliffs. Though buffeted by even hurricane-force winds, they stood tall and strong. When a tree's roots grow into a rock, the tree is more stable. Jesus is the Rock on which we need to build our lives.

What do you need to do today to let the roots of your life "grow down into Him"?



Thursday, February 1, 2018

Guest Blog:Truths I Learned from Fiction


An Author Spotlight and my guest blog, "Truths I learned from Fiction," just went live today.


The interview includes how I began writing and where I got my inspiration for my books. 

To read the blog, click here:

https://allbettsareoff.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/annalee-conti-author-spotlight/.

Read and leave a comment on the "allbetsareoff" site to be entered in a drawing for one Kindle e-book from my Alaskan Waters Trilogy (your choice of Book 1, 2, or 3).



Thursday, January 25, 2018

Guilty!

“You’re guilty!”

“You’re a failure!”

“You’ve done it again!”

“These accusations were not audible charges leveled by a stern judge, a thundering preacher, or an angry parent. They are the self-criticisms and condemnations deep in the soul of every man...”

Those words on the back of a small paperback book, Guilt and Freedom, leaped out at me. That’s how I believed God viewed me.

When I was 5 years old, I’d invited Jesus into my life to be my personal Savior. I knew God loved me, but I didn’t understand then just how much He enjoys His relationship with us as His children.

During my early years, my parents operated a children’s home. As their eldest child, I can’t count
how many times I heard my mother say, “AnnaLee, you’ve got to set a good example for the other children.” That was a heavy load for a young girl to carry. Later, as a P.K. (pastor’s kid), it was, “Set a good example for the church kids.”

My mother was a wonderful, loving mother, but she was a multi-talented perfectionist. Everything I did, she would tell me how to do it better. I began to feel that I could never please her. Soon, I began to expect perfection of myself too, but I couldn’t please myself either.

In my childish understanding, I believed that God expected me to be perfect too—to act like a mature Christian even though I was still a child. I believed I must never feel anger and jealousy because they were sins. It wasn’t until years later that I understood that they are God-given emotions to be harnessed for our well-being. “Be angry and sin not,” Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:26.

No matter how hard I tried to be perfectly good, I made mistakes. I was cranky. I fought with my sister. I got jealous. I complained about chores. I would ask God to forgive me, but I imagined Him checking His records and scolding, “You’ve done it again? I’ll forgive you this time. Just don’t ever do it again.” Then I’d fail again.

Well into adulthood, I carried a lot of guilt on my shoulders.

When I became a mother, I really enjoyed watching my son grow and learn to sit up, to walk, to talk, to feed himself. Oh, he fell down many times as he learned to walk. He’d cry. Did I scold him when he fell down? Of course not! I picked him up, hugged him, kissed his boo-boos, and encourage him to try again. When he learned something new, I was very proud of his progress. Even though he wasn’t doing anything perfectly, I enjoyed my son.

Around that time, I discovered that little book entitled Guilt and Freedom, by Dr. Bruce Narramore and Bill Counts. As I read it, I came to understand God in a whole new way that set me free. God knows we are human. As our Heavenly Father, He not only loves His children, He enjoys us just as  we enjoy ours. God is even more patient with us as we learn and grow. When we are trying to obey Him but make mistakes, He is quick to forgive us when we repent (turn our backs on sin), confess it, and ask His forgiveness.

When we humans forgive, we still remember the injury. But God is not like us in that respect. When we confess our sins, God not only forgives us, but our sins are covered by the blood of Jesus and  erased from God’s sight, never to be remembered against us again (Isaiah 43:25). Our sins are expunged from the record. The slate is wiped clean. We enjoy freedom from guilt and have fellowship with God.

God enjoys our journey with Him.

Like the song says, “I am a friend of God; He calls me “Friend.” That thought overwhelms me. My Creator thinks of me as His friend!

For more than 65 years I’ve been walking with Him, and He’s never disappointed me.

At times my walk was like a child taking his first steps, but God has never kicked me when I was down. He always reaches out His hand and lifts me up.
  • He’s been with me through times of confusion, trouble, sorrow. 
  • He gives me peace and joy that nothing can take away.
  • As I read and study His love letters to me in the Bible, He gives me direction for my life and guidance for every problem.
  • When I have failed Him, He’s been faithful to forgive the moment I repent and call out to Him for forgiveness and help.
As a young girl, I learned a chorus that went, “Take the whole world, but give me Jesus.” I still say that because as long as I cling to Jesus as my Friend, I have everything I need:
  • Jesus assures me of salvation from sin. 
  • Jesus makes beauty out of our brokenness.
  • Jesus provides me with love and a sense of belonging—I’m a child of God and a member of His Family.
  • The God who sees even the tiny sparrow fall and knows the very number of hairs on my head is able to supply all my needs according to His inexhaustible supply.
  • God enables me to live a life that pleases Him.
  • As I walk with Him, He changes my “want to” and satisfies the longings and desires of my changed heart.
My life hasn’t been perfect. No one’s is. I’ve had my share of sorrows, difficulties, and failures, as well as successes and joys. But God has been with me through it all. He’s brought good out of the bad:

God carried me when as a college freshman in 1964 I heard that my hometown of Seward, Alaska, was on fire and the whole town had been wiped off the face of the map in a 9.2 earthquake, the strongest ever to hit North America. For a week I didn't know if I still had a family. 


As a result of that earthquake, 95 percent of the industrial area had been obliterated. I had no way to earn money that summer to go back to college. At the last minute, God provided a scholarship that covered my entire college education. I couldn’t go back to the college of my choice, but at my new school I met my husband.

God protected us when my husband and I, married less than 2 months, were flooded out of our home in the record-breaking flood of the Chena River in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1967.

When my husband shipped out for a year’s tour in the Vietnam War the day before our second wedding anniversary, God comforted us in the lonely hours and preserved our lives. My husband came home safe, the only officer in his advisory unit to come back alive. And I wasn't killed in a serious car accident while he was at war.

When we wanted to start a family and I couldn’t get pregnant, we prayed desperately for a child. In His perfect time, God gave us a son—our only child.

When my beloved foster sister died of cancer, leaving two young children behind, I didn’t get the answer to my prayers that I wanted, but God walked through that valley of the shadow of death with us. Even though I don’t understand all of God’s ways, I still believe God is good.

Through times of financial crisis, God supplied our needs, not necessarily our wants, but we never went hungry or homeless. God’s been with me through three serious car accidents, numerous injuries, surgeries, and health problems. Through sorrow and emotional hurts, God was there to comfort me. He’s taught me that my disappointments are really His appointments.

In spite of my mistakes, God has never walked away from me. When I failed, He always reached out His loving hand and lifted me up. Having a Friend who will “never leave me nor forsake me” has kept me from giving up on myself. 

Today, I can tell you that for 65 years I’ve walked with God, and I’ve found His promises are true. He is a faithful Friend. That’s the wonder of it all—that God, my Creator, walks with me through all my messes, restores me, guides me, and even calls me His friend!

Annie Johnson Flint, twice orphaned and afflicted with crippling arthritis in early adulthood penned this poem with crooked fingers and swollen joints. It been a favorite of mine since my teen years: 

What God Has Promised

God has not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God has not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

God has not promised we shall not know
Toil and temptation, troubles and woe;
He has not told us we shall not bear
Many a burden, many a care.

But God has promised strength for the day
Rest for the laborer, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing kindness, undying love.

Such a Friend! I recommend this Friend to you.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Unsung Hero of Durer's "Praying Hands"

On my wall hangs a carved wooden plaque of Durer's famed "Praying Hands." The ink and pencil sketch on which it is modeled was originally drawn by Albrecht Durer, the greatest German artist of his day. During his life, from 1471 to 1528, he brought a new realism to painting and engraving.

Durer's self-portrait and his "Praying Hands"
Courtesy Google.com
A little known story (whether fable or true is debated) behind Durer's "Praying Hands" tells of the sacrifice of another young man. About 1490, Durer was a struggling painter, working hard to attend classes, but his artistic progress was impeded by having to earn a living for himself.

The other man, an aspiring engraver, came up with a plan. They would toss a coin. The loser would go to work to support both of them so the other could concentrate on his studies. When the winner became successful, he would support the other in his artistic studies. Albrecht won the coin toss.

Albrecht Durer studied under the major artists in the great cities of Europe. His talent soon became apparent in his depictions of the religious scenes he painted. Soon his work was in great demand by churches and monarchs across Europe.

When after four years Albrecht returned to Germany to afford the other man the same opportunity, he discovered that his benefactor had paid dearly for his support. Having worked at hard labor in the mines, his hands were no longer able to hold the delicate instruments for engraving and woodcuts.

Later, while working on the figure of a disciple in prayer for a larger project, Durer used the other man's hands as his model. Of the hundreds of Durer's beautiful masterpieces, this simple image of praying hands is the best known.

Without the love, labor, and sacrifice of the other young man, Durer could not have succeeded.

Likewise, it takes all of us doing our part in the Kingdom of God for God's work to succeed. Some of us are called to do the creative parts; others are called to labor to be able to give to support it. Some preach the gospel. Others work to support their efforts financially and prayerfully. Both are essential. Together, we can do more for Christ than any of us can do alone.

"The Songs of the Reaper," words and lyrics by William A. Spencer (1886), a hymn I learned years ago, depicts Paul's writings in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9:

The seeds I have scattered in springtime with weeping,
And watered with tears and with dews from on high;
Another may shout when the harvester's reaping
Shall gathered my grain in the "sweet by  and by."

Refrain:
Over and over, yes, deeper and deeper
My heart is pierced through with life's sorrowing cry,
But the tears of the sower and songs of the reaper 
Shall mingle together in joy by and by.

Another may reap what in springtime I've planted,
Another rejoice in the fruit of my pain,
Not knowing my tears when in summer I fainted
While toiling sad-hearted in the sunshine and rain.

The thorns will have choked and the summers' suns blasted
The most of the seed which in springtime I've sown;
But the Lord who has watched while my weary toil lasted
Will give me a harvest for what I have done.

Many a pastor and missionary could sing this song. I could not write books were it not for the support and sacrifice of my husband.

Who has worked or sacrificed so you could succeed? What can you do to enable another to succeed?


Thursday, January 11, 2018

To Judge or Not to Judge

Some years ago, a young boy walked into a drug store and asked to use the telephone. He asked the operator to give him a certain number.

"Hello, Dr. Anderson?" the boy said. "Do you want to hire a boy to shovel snow, cut the grass, and run errands for you?...

"Oh, you already have a boy? Are you completely satisfied with the boy you have?...

"Okay, then, goodbye, doctor."

As the boy thanked the druggist for the use of the phone, the druggist said, "Just a minute, son. If you are looking for work, I could use a boy like you."

"Thank you, sir, but I have a job," the boy replied.

"But didn't I just hear you trying to get a job from Dr. Anderson?"

"No, sir. You see, I'm the boy who is working for Dr. Anderson. I was just checking up on myself."

Courtesy Google.com
When Jesus told us not to judge, He meant we are not to judge others. But He also told us that we would be known by our fruit, saying, "A tree is known by its fruit" (Matthew 12:33b). That means that we are to be fruit inspectors. We need to judge ourselves just as conscientiously as this young boy did.

I've always loved the poem by Robert Burns, "To a Louse," which contains a very important truth.

Courtesy Google.com
In the poem, Burns is sitting in church behind a woman wearing a very large, fancy hat. She is posturing proudly, not knowing that a louse is crawling all over her bonnet. Burns concludes with these words:

O would some Power the gift be given us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us...
(the translation is mine)

How true!

The only way we can check up on our spiritual image is to look into the mirror of God's Word and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal our strengths and weaknesses to us, as this quote points out:

Courtesy Google.com
Did you take some time to examine yourself today?

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Lessons from Snowflakes

It is snowing today. Not just a gentle, quiet snow, but a blustery, cold wind is swirling it wildly. In fact, meteorologists are calling it a "bombogenesis" due to the explosive drop in atmospheric pressure that has dropped more than 24 millibars in the past 24 hours just off the eastern seaboard. Boston expects hurricane force winds. At least, it's not that bad here.
Grayson Blizzard a "bombogenesis" Courtesy Google.com
I had plans for today. My granddaughter is flying back to San Diego tomorrow. Today was our last chance to get together. Because of the snow, I had to settle for a phone conversation. Who knows when I'll see her face-to-face again.

But isn't that life? Many things interrupt our best-laid plans. I was tempted to ask, "Why, God?" There may be no answer to that question. This side of eternity, our duty is to trust that God does all things well.

Having grown up in Alaska, I have many fond (and not so fond!) memories of snow: bundling up in snowsuits to play in the snow, building snowmen and snow forts, making snow angels, tromping through deep snow to search for just the right Christmas tree. 

I remember one Christmas Day while we lived in Juneau, the capital and largest city in Southeast Alaska, that the snow-covered mountains looked like strawberry ice cream cones. The sun rose mid-morning and set by mid-afternoon that time of year. The days were short, but the twilight lingered before the long night fell. (The sun made up for its brief winter appearances later. In the summer it rose in the wee hours of the morning and didn't set until after bedtime.)
Mt. Juneau Courtesy Google.com
Lots of snow fell during those years in Juneau. But school was never cancelled. We pulled on pants under our dresses, bundled up in coats and scarves, and walked on sidewalks that often weren't shoveled. It was great fun--usually. 

One time, hurricane-force Taku winds that blew off the Taku Glacier picked me up and set me down in waist-deep snow in a driveway that slanted down from the street to the garage door. Getting out was quite a struggle for this third-grader.

Another time instead of walking down many flights of stairs over a big hill to the school building below, we slid over the hill on cardboard. Great fun--until the time I landed at the bottom on a rusty nail sticking out of a board. It punctured my thigh and bloodied my clothes. My teacher had to apply first aid. After that, I was more cautious.

I also remember disrupted trips when mountain passes were closed due to heavy snowfall, many falls on ice and snow that I am paying for the older I get, and my grandfather and father shoveling snow.
Grandpa Personeus shoveling snow in Valdez

My first year of college I attended Seattle Pacific College (now University) in Seattle, Washington. All it did that year was rain. I missed the snow so much that my grandma sent me a large framed photograph of a snowy scene to hang on my wall. 

The mid-May day I graduated with my BA degree from the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, however, it snowed as we lined up in our caps and gowns outside to enter the gymnasium where the ceremonies were held. It didn't last long, though.

So what can we learn from snowflakes?

Wilson A Bentley photographs of snowflakes under a microscope.
He photographed more than 5,000 snowflakes.
A snowflake begins when a tiny dust or pollen particle comes into contact with water vapor high in Earth's atmosphere. Water vapor coats the tiny particle and freezes into a tiny ice crystal from which a snowflake will grow. Dust is not one of my favorite things. It makes me sneeze. I have spent a lot of time trying to keep my house dust free. Snowflakes remind me that even irritants can be God's means of creating something beautiful of my life if I allow Him to.

Since the tiny crystal is heavier than air, it begins to fall toward Earth. As it plunges through humid air, more water vapor freezes onto its surface. The snowflake grows larger and larger. Although all snowflakes have a hexagonal shape, different temperatures and humidity through which each one falls makes each snowflake different. Likewise, God can use all the experiences and trials I go through in my life to further transform me into a unique person He can use for His purposes.

Whether the snowflake will arrive at Earth's surface as snow, sleet, or freezing rain is determined by the temperatures at various levels and at the surface. The snowflake has no control over its response to the temperatures. That is controlled by the laws of nature. But I have a choice how I respond to the hardships that come my way. I can become better or bitter. 

If a lone snowflake falls to the ground, it quickly melts. If the conditions are right, though, the snowflake joins others to pile up into a measurable snowfall. That reminds me that more can be accomplished together than anyone can do alone. Just as we need each other, snow is necessary for agriculture. It prepares the fields for spring planting. Out West, mountain snow is essential for irrigation. If they don't get enough snow during the winter, there will be shortages of water for irrigation and high danger of forest fires in summer. 
Courtesy Google.com
To me, one of the most beautiful sights is winter's dazzling snowy dress. The silence of falling snow reminds me of Christmas, when we celebrate "how silently the wondrous gift" of God's Son was given to a world in darkness. 

The way newly fallen snow covers up the barren, grimy landscape devoid of greenery and leaves recalls to my mind God's words through Isaiah, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (1:18). It reminds me that when I confess my sins, God washes me "whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:7).

In spite of all the snow this winter, I hope you will not be overwhelmed with the work and inconvenience of it but will appreciate the lessons from a snowflake. While the snow may seem unending, we know that spring will come.

What lesson does snow teach you?