Thursday, January 3, 2019

Scars and Goals

While looking through my files the other day, I came across something my husband, Bob, wrote 20 years ago. It was a beautiful, warm Wednesday in July, and he had taken a chair outside to sit under a tree near one corner of the building that housed the  church we pastored. As he meditated on the Scriptures, his eyes were drawn to the field full of a variety of wildflowers with a very large, symmetrical tree in the center.
April Fools Blizzard of 1997 Courtesy Google.com

His thoughts turned to the tree he was sitting under. Two years previously, it had been severely damaged in the April Fool's Blizzard of 1997. The snow was so wet and heavy that many power lines and trees throughout the Northeast U.S. had come down. Power companies from as far away as Virginia had come to help restore power. In fact, because of roads closed by the storm, my bivocational husband had been stranded for nearly of two days at the Christian radio station where he worked.

A major branch of the tree he was now sitting under had been torn off during that storm, leaving a gaping wound that went clear to the heart of its trunk. When the damaged part was removed, a third of the tree was gone.

Amazingly, when spring came that year, the tree flowered, but the raw wound was still obvious. Two years later, however, my husband would never have known that the tree had suffered such damage if he hadn't seen it himself. If he looked for it, though, he could find the huge scar on the trunk. The scar is enveloped in the beauty of its flowers and leaves.

In only a few days after the blizzard, our church experienced a major storm that nearly destroyed it. The damage to the congregation was considerable. Yet, it survived and became strong again.

Most people have scars in their lives too. Many live in a way that displays their open wounds to the world. People want to avoid them.

Others do not call attention to their wounds. Instead, they have allowed Christ to heal them so their scars become part of their inner beauty that points to the scars Jesus bears in His hands and feet for us. We can share the gospel to great effect by the way we reveal our scars.

Bob suggests that perhaps the purpose of our scars is to understand His scars. The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10 (NKJV):

"That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings." .



Then in verses 12-14, Paul laid out the goal for our lives:

Courtesy Google.com
"Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended, but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

That's my goal for this New Year: that my scars will help me understand how much He suffered for my salvation and that I will continue to press on to maturity in the faith, bringing others with me.









Thursday, December 27, 2018

Change


Hurricane strength Taku winds on Gastineau Channel in Juneau, Alaska, January 2017.
Courtesy Google.com


When I was in third grade walking home one day, the Taku winds picked me up and set me down in a driveway that sloped down from the street. It was full of drifted snow that came above my waist. I struggled to get out and continued walking about four more blocks to my house.

In Alaska where I grew up, we often said, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes." It might snow in May as it did the day we graduated from the University of Alaska. Or the Chinook wind might bring warm temperatures in the middle of January. As one old Tlingit man said to my grandparents, "If he don't rain, he snows." But the sun might break through at any moment.

Many people are like the weather--changeable, fickle, unpredictable. Even the most stable person changes.

Change is inevitable in this life, and we welcome it! Who of us would want to eat the same meal, no matter how delicious, every day?  Who would want to make the same mistake over and over? Thank God, we can learn and mature and become more and more like Christ.

As we approach a new year, one thing we can count on is change. We live in a world that is constantly changing. The America I knew as a child is gone. Sometimes I don't even recognize what we've become.

Some changes have been good. When I first started out writing church school curriculum on assignment in the seventies, I had to write to a strict line count with each line containing a required number of characters. I had to type and retype to get it right. And we had to use carbon paper to make copies. Now, I type once on the computer, edit, and print as many copies as I need. Twenty years ago, I didn't even know how to turn on a computer. Now, I use it, as well as the Internet and social media, with ease.

Cooking and cleaning is much simplified now, but life has become even more complex.

Morality is turned upside down. What I was taught is wrong, society now calls right, and right is now called wrong.

Unlike us, however, God, our Heavenly Father, the One who created the universe, including the stars and the planets and the vast galaxies, does not change. He is not fickle.

Courtesy Google.com
And His Word will not return to Him void. It will accomplish what He intends.

The Psalmist often declared that God was his rock and his refuge. Sometimes, we may feel anxious when we think about the future and the inevitable changes it will bring, but our God is a Rock that never changes.

People are afraid of the future. Many Americans dabble in astrology and spend millions of dollars on personal horoscopes each year to try to figure out their future.  But Christians need not be afraid. We know Who holds tomorrow.

 A line in one of my favorite hymns, Abide with Me, says, "Change and decay in all around I see, O Thou who changest not, abide with me."

Is our trust in the God who never changes, or in the ever changing, unreliable culture of this present age?

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Heaven's Grocery Store

Courtesy Google.com
This week, I received a Christmas card from a friend who included a poem she'd discovered among old family photos. Who wrote it she did not know. I thought you might enjoy it too.



HEAVEN'S GROCERY STORE

I was walking down life's highway a long time ago.
One day I saw a sign that read, Heaven's Grocery Store.

As I got a little closer, the door came open wide,
And when I came to myself, I was standing inside.

I saw a host of angels--they were standing everywhere;
One handed me a basket and said, "My child, shop with care."

First, I got some PATIENCE. LOVE was in the same row.
Farther down was UNDERSTANDING; you need that everywhere you go.

I got a box or two of WISDOM, a bag or two of FAITH;
I just couldn't miss the HOLY SPIRIT for He was all over the place.

I stopped to get some STRENGTH and COURAGE to help me run this race;
By then, my basket was getting full, but I remembered I needed GRACE.

I didn't forget SALVATION, for salvation, that was free;
So I tried to get enough of that to save both you and me.

Then I started up to the counter to pay my grocery bill,
For I thought I had everything to do my Master's will.

As I went up the aisle, I saw PRAYER, and I just had to put that in,
For I knew when I stepped outside, I would run right into sin.

PEACE and JOY were plentiful; they were on the last shelf.
SONGS and PRAISES were hanging near, so I just helped myself.

Then I said to the Angel, "Now, just how much do I owe?"
He just smiled and said, "Just take them everywhere you go."

Again, I smiled at him and said, "Really, how much do I owe?"
He smiled again and said, "My child, Jesus paid your bill a long time ago."

--Anonymous


As you do your Christmas shopping, think of the Great Gift of His Son God gave on that first Christmas so long ago and be sure to receive all He offers you. He paid the bill in full on Calvary.

Courtesy Google.com


















Wishing you a very merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.



Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Christmas I Learned About My Heavenly Father

Instead of writing a new post this week, I'm sharing the guest blog post I wrote that went live Tuesday. Here is the link:

https://allbettsareoff.wordpress.com/2018/12/11/the-christmas-i-learned-about-my-heavenly-father-annalee-conti/ 

Hope you enjoy it!

Looking for Christmas presents? For inspirational reads, take a look at my books at www.annaleeconti.com/books.html




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!