Thursday, February 26, 2015

Frontiers of Faith

America has always had a frontier. Frontiers have shaped our attitudes. If things didn't work out where we were, we could always go west. Alaska has been called America's "Last Frontier." But where do we go from there? Space challenges us as a new frontier. Men have even walked on the moon. As a frontier, space seems endless, but that frontier is only open to a select few.

One frontier, however, is open to everyone--the frontier of faith. New frontiers of faith open daily to be explored and conquered. This true pioneering experience is available for each one who is not content with the mundane but wants to keep exploring the depths of Christ. You will never run out of frontiers of faith in your lifetime because God is infinite.

Two people who have done more to shape my faith and challenge me to explore the frontiers of my faith were my maternal grandparents, Charles C. and Florence L. Personeus, pioneer Assemblies of God missionaries to Alaska from 1917 to 1982. In the pages of Frontiers of Faith, I want to introduce you to my grandparents, their walk of faith, the lessons they learned, the challenges they faced. Just as these two pioneers of faith challenged me to explore the frontiers of my faith, I hope you will be challenged to do the same.

Available at
I first knew I would write this book when I was working in an editorial capacity at the Assemblies of God Headquarters in Springfield, Missouri, in 1973, while my husband was in Bible college and seminary. My grandparents were visiting us, and Grandma placed a packet in my hands, saying, "Many people have asked me to write our story, but I'm too old to see it through by myself. So I'm placing all my written accounts in your hands to do with as you think best." (Before she died in 1985, I was able to read the rough draft of this book to her and Grandpa.)

Grandma enriched my childhood with her wonderful storytelling, keeping everyone spellbound with her vivid descriptions of their early days in Alaska. As I began to read through her written accounts, I discovered a wealth of material richer than the Alaska-Juneau Gold Mine, which produced over three billion dollars worth of gold at 1980 prices. But how could I best tell their story? I began looking for a recurring theme in the Personeuses' lives. And it wasn't hard to find.

The one thing that stood out in all their experiences was their simple, childlike faith in taking God at His Word, especially in the area of divine healing. At the age of 87, Grandma had written, "I have never taken an aspirin in my life. I have found that prayer works better every time." And she wrote from firsthand experiences of many serious illnesses and injuries. Her statement demonstrates the quality of their faith. It was more than mere words; it was faith in action.

As I studied their accounts of healing and living by faith, I began to see the lessons God had taught them through their experiences. I recognized principles that could perhaps be of help to others who are seeking to walk by faith. Through their stories, I hope to pass on to you some of these principles for exploring and conquering the frontiers of your faith, as I introduce to you two of God's faithful people, who pioneered the Assemblies of God in Alaska, America's "Last Frontier."

In 1917, when the Personeuses first joined the newly formed General Council of the Assemblies of God, Eudorus N. Bell, one of the early leaders, asked, "When you get to Alaska and find it hard, cold, and discouraging, will you stick?"

"We'll stick," they replied.

And "stick" they did. Long after those early leaders had gone on to their eternal reward, the Personeuses ministered faithfully in Alaska for 65 years. In that time they saw the Assemblies of God in Alaska grow from one struggling mission in Juneau to more than 80 churches and missions stations from Ketchikan to Barrow.

--Preface to Frontiers of Faith by AnnaLee Conti c 2002. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lessons from a Snowflake

Snow. What does that word bring to mind?

For many this winter, especially in the Northeast, which has experienced one blizzard after another in rapid succession, snow has meant endless shoveling, power outages, collapsed roofs, pileups on roadways, canceled school, rescheduled appointments, inconvenience. Even though I grew up in Alaska, where the first snow might come in September and stay until April or May, I must confess that even I am growing tired of so much snow this winter. 

I have many 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 appearances later. In the summer it rose in the wee hours of the morning and didn't set until after bedtime.)

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.

My first year of college I attended Seattle Pacific College 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.

So what lessons 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. This year while the Northeast is enduring record snowfalls, the West is experiencing springlike conditions. My dad, who lives in Central Washington, keeps reminding me that if they don't get enough snow this winter, there will be shortages of water for irrigation and high danger of forest fires this summer. 

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).

Next time it snows, I hope we will not be overwhelmed with the work and inconvenience but will appreciate the lessons from a snowflake. While the snow seems unending this year, we know that spring will come.

What lesson does snow teach you? 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Prescription for Peace Conclusion

In the previous four blogs, we have identified three major roadblocks to finding the peace of God in our lives: guilt, worry, and fear.

We've discovered God's prescription for peace in Philippians 4, It works every time, in every case, if applied moment by moment according to the instructions of our Great Physician:
  • Confess your sins.
  • Trust Jesus.
  • Seek God's Kingdom first (Matt. 6:33).
  • Rejoice in the Lord (v. 4)
  • Don't worry, but pray (v. 6)
  • Keep your mind fixed on Jesus, who will guide you through the storms of life (v. 7,9).
  • Dwell on good, helpful thoughts (v. 8)
  • Replace guilt, worry, and fear with meditation on the Word of God and prayer.
  • Remember we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (v. 13) and
  • God has promised to supply all our needs according to His endless riches (v. 19).
Before we leave this topic, perhaps we need to discuss what the peace of God is NOT. It is not the absence of conflict. Instead, it is a condition of self-assurance unperturbed by the storms of life.

An artist was commissioned to paint a picture depicting peace. When his painting was unveiled, people expected to see an idyllic scene. It was not what they had expected. They gasped.

Stormy Seas Courtesy of
The artist had painted a raging storm on a rocky coast. Dark, racing clouds obscured the sun. Angry waves crashed against jagged cliffs. Violent winds flung spray and spume against the rocks.

In the center of all that mayhem was a tiny cleft in the storm-battered cliff in which sat a tiny bird sheltered from the raging storm all around him.

That is the kind of peace God gives. He is our shelter in the time of storm. He is our rock and our salvation.

"The Lord is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble" (Psalm 46:1). 

"He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him" (Psalm 91:2).

"I am trusting you, O Lord...My future is in your hands." (Psalm 31:14, 15).

Note: Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright c 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Prescription for Peace Part 4, Fear

So far, we've discussed two areas that rob us of peace: guilt and worry. The third factor is fear.

Human beings tend to expect the worst. We fear the unknown, the unexpected, sickness, death, the end of the world, eternity.

Remember when Jesus and His disciples set out in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee? Worn out from preaching and teaching, Jesus promptly fell asleep. A great wind storm swept down over the sea, and the waves threatened to swamp their frail vessel, but Jesus slept on, undisturbed by the raging storm.

Rembrandt painting
"Jesus!" the disciples cried. "Don't you care that we are going to perish?"

Jesus awoke. "Don't be afraid, oh you of little faith!" Then He stretched out His hands and spoke. "Peace, be still!" And the storm ceased.

Fear is a natural human emotion. Fear stimulates the flow of adrenalin, which prepares us for fight or flight. Healthy fear can save our lives in times of danger.

Unhealthy fear, though, can paralyze us and keep us from accomplishing the purposes of God in our lives. Our bodies are not designed for a constant flow of adrenalin. It will raise our blood pressure and trigger anxiety, heart disease, and digestive problems, to name a few of the possible complications.

During World War II, Corrie ten Boom and her family hid Jews from the Nazis. They were caught and thrown into a concentration camp. Only she survived. She told of her childhood fear that her father would die. "How could I stand it?" she asked him tearfully.

"When you go on the train to visit your grandmother, when do I give you the ticket?" he asked her.

"Just before I board the train."

"And God will give you the grace to handle it when that time comes, so don't be afraid."

We don't need to fear death because by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus took the sting out of death and the grave (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

We don't need to fear anything this life throws at us, because Jesus has promised to walk with us through all our trials.

Once when I was afraid about my future, I remembered 1 John 4:18, "Perfect love casts out fear." I must not have perfect love, I thought. Then I heard His voice say to my spirit, "Oh, my child, only My love is perfect. Rest in Me." Trust is the opposite of fear.

And Jesus is coming again to take care of our eternal future. "When all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!" (Luke 21:28). Be not afraid!

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow;
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know, I know, He holds the future,
And life is worth the living just because He lives.
                                  --Bill and Gloria Gaither