Thursday, March 15, 2018

Watch Out for Little Foxes!

Little foxes are so cute you wonder how they can do any damage, yet Solomon warns us that it is the little foxes that spoil the vines:

Catch for us the foxes, 
the little foxes that
ruin the vineyards.
Song of Solomon 2:15, NIV

Some years ago, Robert A. Cook, then president of the National Religious Broadcasters, wrote something that recently caught my attention: "We tend to think of our lives as being shaped by great decisions such as, for example, where shall I study, whom shall I marry, what job shall I have, what house or business property shall I buy, shall I divorce or tough it through an unpleasant marriage, shall I throw my child out because he is on drugs and steals from me, or shall I keep him at home and hope?"

Of course, all of those decisions are very important and will certainly affect the outcome of our lives. But we make hundreds of other decisions in life that turn out to be more important in terms of our life-long direction. Our real character and our final destiny are determined by the routine decisions we make every day of our lives.

Like the "little foxes that ruin the tender grapes," our seemingly insignificant daily decisions can derail even our best intentions. Some things we do without making a conscious choice. For example, we intend to check our email and get hooked playing a game. Precious time is wasted on something of no real lasting value.

We become what we repeatedly do.
--Sean Covey

I remember watching a demonstration of how habits are formed. The presenter wrapped one thread around the clasped hands of another. He easily broke the ties. Then the present wrapped many threads around the clasped hands until the person was no longer able to break the strands. A habit had been formed. Habits may be either good or bad, but they all begin with doing it the first time. Good habits require us to be intentional, whereas we can easily fall into bad habits, which, apart from the grace of God, can be difficult to break.

Here is a checklist to help us evaluate our day-to-day choices:
  • Do I observe small courtesies, such as please, thank you, and what is your opinion? 
  • Do I tell the truth (all of it) in love?
  • Do I take the time to really listen to the other person, whether it be spouse, child, employer, employee, client, neighbor, or friend?
  • Do I let Christ monitor my thoughts and daydreams, or do I allow my mind to become the garbage dump of suppressed emotions, lust, rage, malice, and covetousness?
  • Do I pray every day about everything?
  • Do I really put Christ first in my daily life, or is my dedication a facade which is shown periodically in church?
  • Do I ask for and receive God's help when I am on the verge of losing my temper, or do I go ahead and blow my top regardless of who gets hurt?
  • Do I, in the final analysis, have God and His will on my mind during my workday, or do I take a merely secular approach to living?
  • Do I treat family and coworkers in a manner that demonstrates to them that Christ is real to me in my life?
  • Do I use my money and my job as a ministry and exercise stewardship, or am I only interested in getting and keeping all I can? What do my daily calendar and checkbook say about my actual choices in these matters?

When I was growing up in Sunday school, we used to sing a little chorus that sums it up well:

Dig them out; get them gone; 
all the little bunnies in the field of corn:
jealousy, envy, malice, and pride, 
all the other sins that in the heart abide.

What seems small and unimportant here counts really big for eternity. Are we living with eternity's values in view? What do our daily decisions say about whom we are really serving? Let's get rid of those "little foxes" that spoil the vines.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Flattery or Frankness?

When I hear flattery, I recall a favorite childhood memory of my father entertaining us by dramatically reciting Aesop's fable, "The Fox and the Crow," in French. Even though we didn't speak or understand French, his expressions and hand gestures made us understand every word

A crow who had stolen a piece of cheese was flying toward the top of a tree, where she hoped to enjoy it, when a fox spotted her. The wily fox came up with a plan to get that piece of cheese for his own supper.

The fox sat under the tree and in his most polite tones said, "Good day, Mistress Crow! How well you look today! Your wings are so glossy, and your breast is the breast of an eagle. And your claws--I beg your pardon--your talons are as strong as steel. I have not heard your voice, but I'm certain it must surpass that of any other bird just as your beauty does."

The vain crow believed every word the fox had spoken. She waggled her tail and flapped her wings in pleasure. She especially liked what the fox said about her voice because sometimes she had been told that her caw sounded a bit rusty.

Intending to surprise the fox with her beautiful song, she opened her beak wide. Down dropped the cheese into the clutches of the wily fox. As he walked away, licking his chops, he said to the silly crow, "The next time someone praises your beauty, be sure to hold your tongue."

The moral of this story, of course, is that flatterers are not to be trusted. And that is why, in the long run, frankness is appreciated more than flattery.

The Book of Proverbs has a lot to say about flattery:

"In the end, people appreciate honest criticism far more than flattery" (Proverbs 28:13, NLT).

"A lying tongue hates its victims, and flattery causes ruin" (Proverbs 26:28, NLT).

"Wounds from a friend are better than many kisses from an enemy" (Proverbs 27:6, NLT).

Nobody really likes criticism. It can "wound" us and make us angry. We may feel that we are being attacked personally and are being rejected, instead of just our ideas or actions.

Billy Graham was once asked how he handled criticism. He responded to the effect that he handled it the same way he reacted to praise. He evaluated it to extract the truth and ignored the rest.

Initially, flattery makes us feel good, but it can also be our downfall, just as the vain crow discovered.
This humorous fable can help us appreciate constructive criticism and grow by it but become immune to the vanity that flattery can cause.

We must learn to react graciously to criticism and take flattery with a grain of salt. In addition, we need to make sure that our words are always constructive and trustworthy, not full of flattery and deceit. As  Christians, we must learn to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15).

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Soaring with Eagles

As a teenager growing up in Seward, Alaska, I lived at the foot of 3,000-foot Mt. Marathon. Every Fourth of July the town hosted a race from the center of town up that mountain and back. People came from all over the world to compete.

Seward, Alaska, at the foot of Mt. Marathon
Several times I too climbed to the top of that mountain. Not in the race, though! My legs ached, and my lungs screamed for air, but what a vista awaited at the top!

Have you ever noticed that towns are not usually built at the top of mountains? I couldn't stay up there and be of any use to anyone else. I had to go back down to my town.

That mountaintop experience, however, gave me a grand perspective of the setting in which I lived. From sea level, I couldn't see all the mountains that unfolded behind Mt. Marathon and all the ice fields and waterways beyond. My town was only a small part of my very big state.

Ephesians 2:6 tells us that God has saved us by His grace and raised us up with Christ to sit with Him in heavenly places. Why? To give us a bird's eye view of His glorious eternal plans for us and all humankind.

But He doesn't want us to stay on the mountaintop yet. He has work for us to do here. He sends us back down from the mountaintop experience to walk among people to show them the great mercy and grace of God.

Many Christians are like chickens, pecking around in the dirt and never using their wings to rise above the storms of life to gain perspective and renewal of strength. God wants His children to soar like eagles.

Soaring is not hard work. Eagles simply set their wings and allow the very winds that bring the storms to carry them along above the fray.

God wants us to soar with Him and see life from His perspective. Only after we have been refreshed by His Holy Spirit can we come down and run life's race without growing weary and walk among people and not faint.

Are you more like a chicken or an eagle? How can you soar with God and be refreshed spiritually today?

To order the following faith-building stories, see

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Amazing Power of Love

All the discussion this past week about the solution to school shooting reminded me of a story I read years ago in a little magazine entitled, Bits & Pieces. At the time (in the mid-seventies), I worked in the Church School Literature Department at Gospel Publishing House in Springfield, Missouri

According to the piece, a professor at Johns Hopkins University once gave a group of graduate students an assignment to go to the slums and find 200 boys between the ages of 12 and 16, investigate their background and environment, and then predict their chances for the future.

After consulting social statistics, talking to the boys, and compiling much data, the students concluded that 90 percent of those boys would spend some time in jail.

Twenty-five years later, another group of graduate students was given the job of testing the prediction. They went back to the slums and found that some of the boys, now men, were still there, a few had died, and some had moved away, but the students were able to contact 180 of the original 200 boys.

They were amazed to discover that only four of the entire group had ever been sent to jail.

Why was it that these men, who had lived in a breeding place for crime, had such a surprisingly good record? The researchers were continually told, "Well, there was a teacher...."

The researchers pressed further and found that in 75 percent of the cases it was the same woman. The researchers located this teacher, now living in a home for retired teachers.

"How did you exert such a remarkable influence over a group of slum children?" they asked her. "Can you give us any reason why these boys should have remembered you?"

"No, I really can't," she said. Then, thinking back over the years, she mused, more to herself than to her questioners. "I loved those boys...."

O, the amazing power of love!

Those boys had been successful against all odds because of the love of one teacher.

And in life we all can be "more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Roman 8:37).

No matter what our circumstances, we can succeed because of the love of Christ. We can conquer sin and death and temptation and whatever challenges we face. We can conquer through Him who loves us!

Yesterday, with the home going of Billy Graham, the news and social media has come alive with tributes to his life and ministry. The love of Christ for each of us, no matter what we've done, no matter our station in life, was the lifelong message of "America's Pastor."

I don't think it is coincidence that Billy Graham was welcomed home to heaven at this time when America so needs to hear his message again. Even in his death he still speaks.

Here is a poem I wrote in 2009. It holds truth for today too:


On river banks no "alabaster cities gleam"
Because on barren shores no Pilgrim Fathers' dream
Resulted in great sweat and toil
To coax food and shelter from the soil
To establish a fledgling colony,
An experiment in democracy.

No Declaration of Independence
That certain rights are granted us by Providence;
No freedom of worship, speech, or press
In our Constitution were addressed;
No struggle for equality;
No wars to tear down tyranny.

No "shining city upon a hill,"
No vision to the world to spill
That man his own dreams can fulfill
For better or worse, for good or ill;
The world without America's ideal
Would certainly have a much darker feel.

Without a Statue of Liberty
To welcome those in poverty,
Without our inventions in technology
And medical aid to the world's society,
The earth without America's grace
Would be a less hospitable place.

Yet we've somehow lost our way,
And now the news reports each day
The rampant greed and shocking strife
And a less gentle way of life,
Of which I want to have no part,
And that surely saddens my heart.

The only solution I know that is real
Is to return to God with a great zeal.
To repent of all our self-centered ways,
And seek His guidance all of our days.
For then He will hear in heaven, and
He'll forgive and heal our beloved land.

© AnnaLee Conti, 2009

Those of us who call ourselves Christians--may we recommit ourselves to sharing the love of Jesus just as Billy Graham did. Christ is the only answer to our problems. Only He can heal our sin-sick souls and restore us spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Only He can heal our land.

Let us turn from our wicked ways and humble ourselves and pray.

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

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
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
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:

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).