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Ann Spangler's sensitivity to the ever-changing spiritual and cultural climate in which we live has enabled her to address themes of profound interest to many readers. Enter for a Chance to Win a Free Book!

Treasures Out of Darkness

shiny gold coinsIf you know your biblical history, you will remember that Isaiah lived in Jerusalem and played a prophetic role from 742 to 686 BC. One of the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah warned of the suffering that would ensue if God’s people failed to repent. But he also foretold a time when their suffering would end and they would enjoy the Lord’s blessings.

This passage from Isaiah pictures the Jewish people returning from exile, not as a raggedy band of beat-up captives, but as wealthy people escorted home on ships. I like to think that this is a picture of how God works through our own hard times. We don’t come through them defeated and dejected but with treasures in hand, because God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love him (see Romans 8:28). And everything includes our suffering.

This principle also appears in Exodus, when the Israelites were set free after years of captivity. After the last of the plagues, the Egyptians couldn’t wait to get rid of their former slaves, loading them down with silver and gold. Instead of running away from Egypt like a dejected band of captives, God’s people left like a victorious army, plundering the people who had seemed so strong and who had afflicted them for four hundred years (see Exodus 12:31-36).

What suffering are you enduring right now? Ask God to bring you out with treasures of wisdom and faith, so that like the Israelites, you can attest to his faithful love.  More

(Image courtesy of novitas at freeimages.com)


Confronting Evil

SHadow of a person reaching towards heavenPeace doesn’t come from pretending there’s no such thing as evil. Even though it can never destroy the soul of someone who belongs to God, evil can do plenty of damage in this world. Have you ever been somewhere and sensed the presence of evil? Charles Stanley tells of traveling with a group from his church to do mission work in Haiti. While there, he had an experience that frightened him.

He and others were watching a man perform a dance. “As he danced and whirled his machete in our direction,” Stanley says, “I suddenly felt a horrible presence of evil all around us. Momentarily, I was filled with fear for my physical safety and the safety of the people with me. My immediate response to this fear was anger, and out of that anger I began to pray and intercede for our safety.

“This fear,” he explains, “was rooted in the spirit realm. It was a fear I’ve come to recognize as a fear that any Christian should feel in the face of pure evil. Why do I say it is a good thing to feel fear of evil? Because that fear can and should drive you to pray, to trust God to deliver you from the power of evil, and to get as far away from evil as possible.”1

Both fear and anger can be helpful emotions, especially if they motivate us to work against and pray against evil. At times, fear is like the gauge on a thermostat, registering the spiritual temperature around us.  More

1. Charles Stanley, Finding Peace: God’s Promise of a Life Free from Regret, Anxiety, and Fear (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 193–94.

(Image courtesy of CathyK at freeimages.com)


Crazy Love?

Crazy Love“That’s insane!”

That thought has repeatedly run through my mind as certain social barriers are collapsing in our nation. Though individual freedom has always been a foundational value of our society, freedom un-tethered from responsibility seems to be the new norm.

In fact we are undergoing a period of rapid un-tethering. We are un-tethering ourselves from history, proclaiming certain kinds of behaviors good that have for thousands of years been considered immoral or maladaptive. We are un-tethering ourselves from biology, locating our identity entirely in our minds without reference to our bodies. It doesn’t matter whether my body appears to be male or female. Thanks to medical technology and psychological trends I can become whatever sex I want to be.

Where will all this un-tethering lead? One likely result is that our sense of community will continue to unravel. It will be harder to create healthy families, churches, and work environments. People will hide what they think out of fear of being labeled and rejected. Civil discourse will continue to decline and healthy community will be become rare. But without healthy communities, human beings cannot flourish.

In the midst of rapid cultural decline, which many are hailing as cultural advance, how should Christians respond?

The first temptation is to condemn those who disagree with us. The second is to go into hiding, hoping that things will blow over if we just keep our heads down and stay quiet. The third is to circle the wagons and try to isolate ourselves from the increasing toxicity of our culture.

But what if there’s a better way–a way to engage the culture lovingly without suppressing or disguising our beliefs? To do so, we have to remember the second great commandment, which is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Disagreements never give us the right to treat others in unloving ways.

We also have to realize that love and agreement are not the same thing. People who are psychologically healthy should be able to disagree without rejecting each other. Even if we are labeled and belittled by those who dislike us, we should not retaliate in kind.

If I am right and our world is getting crazier by the minute, we need to remember that the early church thrived in the Roman Empire in the midst a culture that was far crazier than ours. Though the gospel has important cultural implications, our primary call is to evangelize people not cultures. The culture will change to the extent that more and more people embrace the gospel and live in its power.

The only way to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ in this crazy world, is to ask God to give us the faith and the courage to continually display his crazy love no matter how hard it might become in the months and years ahead.


2 Simple Ways to Stop Worrying

2 waysMost of us realize that worry can be hard to get rid of. How often have you heard the advice to “stop worrying?” If it were that easy to simply stop, most of us would instantly comply.

Sometimes people advise us to pray instead of worry, as though prayer is an automatic antidote. But I am living proof that prayers can simply be worries in disguise.

Corrie ten Boom was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. If anyone had a right to worry, she did. But here’s her take on worry: “Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength—carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

Worry is simply a maladaptive planning tool. It’s also a distorted use of our imagination. Instead of equipping us to face the future, it drains us of the strength we need to deal with the present.

But how can we stop?

Here are 2 practical suggestions that have helped me.

1.  Distract Yourself

Parents know that unhappy toddlers can often be calmed with simple distractions—an interesting toy, an invitation to look at the puppy dog that’s walking by. Try distracting yourself from your worries by thanking God for specific ways in which he’s blessed you. Decide that you will begin and end each day and each time of prayer by thanking God for at least three good things. Doing so will redirect your focus on God and help you to remember how faithful he’s been in the past.

2.  Never Worry Alone

John Ortberg points out that one of the most powerful ways to stop worrying is to disclose our worries to a friend. “The simple act of reassurance from another human being,” he says, can be “a tool of the Spirit to cast out fear.”

Everyone worries. But worry doesn’t need to consume us. I’ve shared a couple of simple strategies that help me to stop worrying. But I know there are many others.

Let me know if you’ve found other practical strategies that have decreased the power of worry in your own life. I’d love to share these with readers.


For Father’s Day

Do something special for your husband on Father’s Day–pray for him. Thanks to Jared Brock, the author of A Year of Living Prayerfully, for this great advice:

A list by Jared Brock: 5 ways to pray for your husband


Confessions of a Prayer Worrier

Black and white photograph of a worried-looking personI’m a prayer junkie. I pray when I hear the wailing of an ambulance, while I’m waiting in line at the grocery store, or when I’m watching the evening news. I have so many people on my prayer list that I can’t possibly pray for them all in one day. I pray so frequently and so habitually that I’ve caught myself praying for fictional characters in a movie. Now that’s embarrassing!

My prayers ramped up big time the moment I became a mother. Years later, as the rapidly aging, single mother of two adopted children, I feel both tremendously blessed and incredibly challenged. Like any mother, I want my teenage girls to launch well, to know that they will reach adulthood as people who can take care of themselves and others. Because both have special needs, I worry about how difficult this might be. What will happen to them when I’m no longer around?

It’s not just children who make me anxious. My list of “things and people to worry about” is a long one, full of dramatic and difficult situations. It pretty well maps my prayer list. I’m sure you have your list, too, and it may be far longer than mine. Like you, I’m not dreaming this stuff up. Our challenges are real and pressing.

The other day while I was praying, I asked God to take away anything that keeps me from experiencing him more deeply. As I prayed, I imagined myself trying to remove a thick rind around my heart. Though I was trying to pull it off, it kept snapping back in place, too strong to yield to my small efforts. What was this thing that had formed a barrier between me and God? As I prayed, it seemed evident that my heart was wrapped up tight in layer upon layer of worry. I had a sense that getting free from its controlling power would be a process rather than an event. I would need to keep coming back to God for help.

Lately I’ve begun to wonder about how my anxiety might be affecting the way I pray for people. Are my efforts at prayer powered by worry and stress? Have I become more of a “prayer worrier” than a “prayer warrior,” a person who not only works like everything depends on her but prays that way too? How many of my prayers reflect a desire to control outcomes, especially for people close to me? Why do I find it so hard to endure messy situations if that’s what it takes for someone to know Christ? Do I ask God how he wants me to pray and then give him space to answer?

By asking myself these questions, I’m hoping to expose what’s really driving me so that I can find a better way to pray—a way that’s open to the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit. The Apostle Paul urges us to pray about every situation. That means that we should all become prayer junkies. But he also tells us not to be anxious. But if my prayer lists equals my worry list, how can I not be anxious when I pray?

Perhaps the key to dealing with our anxiety comes from what Paul says last, that we are to present our prayers with thanksgiving. Gratitude turns us back to God and away from our problems. Expressing thanks gives us time to calm down and remember who God is.
Giving thanks to God when your heart is smothered in anxiety isn’t an easy thing to do. Our worried thoughts are like little rats running around on a spinning wheel. But if we want to stop the rats from taking over, if we want to become prayer warriors rather than prayer worriers, let’s remember to start every day by thanking God. Let’s start right now.

(Image courtesy of kikis_86 at freeimages.com)


5 Things I Learned from the 12 Steps

FiveYears ago I went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

I was there to support a relative who was trying to get help with her problem drinking. It was one of the holiest experiences in my life. Why? Because I experienced God’s unmistakable presence as broken down people shared with complete honesty about their need for “a power greater than themselves to restore them to sanity.” I wanted to sign up on the spot, not to conquer my problem with alcohol but to know God more deeply by associating with people who had learned the truth of what Paul said, that “when I am weak, then I am strong.”

What I learned in that room of recovering alcoholics has stuck with me. Here are five things that stand out.

  1. God is drawn to people who are completely honest about their weakness and failings.
  2. Even those who look best on the outside are a wreck inside if they don’t surrender to Christ.
  3. All of us—including and perhaps especially me—need Jesus to restore us to sanity and keep us sane.
  4. Even after being a Christian for many years, I am still broken and in radical need of God’s grace every single day of my life.
  5. If I surrender myself to God daily, he will not only strengthen me but will use my brokenness and failures for a good purpose.

Though Alcoholics Anonymous is not an explicitly Christian program, it reinforced my understanding of the gospel—that the end game is not about conquering but about being conquered. It’s about surrendering my life to a God so loving and strong that he can take the wreck that is me and transform it into something beautiful by the power of his presence in my life.

Don’t Bring It In the Boat

A Golden moray eelI love to fish, though I rarely get the chance. On a recent evening while vacationing in Florida, my daughter and I joined several people on a drift boat to try our luck. While others were hauling in yellowtail snappers, I caught a grunt, a bait fish, and an eel—nothing to brag about. The eel gave the most fight, wrapping its body around the line in a frenzied attempt at escape. As soon as the crew realized what I was hauling out of the ocean, they started shouting, “Don’t bring it in the boat! Don’t bring it in the boat!” I assure you I had no intention of hauling that ugly sucker inside the boat. I knew enough about eels to be cautious, realizing their razor-like teeth can inflict severe injuries. The crew simply cut the line, and it was over.

My encounter with that hapless eel made me think of the crew’s warning: Don’t bring it in the boat! What if instead of an eel I had caught something dangerous that looked like a trophy fish? Would I have recognized the risk, or would I have kept reeling in the line?

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered about the things we haul into our own lives: certain relationships, habits, and ways of thinking. Some of these might not seem so dangerous at first. An innocent flirtation with a married man. A habit of doubting God’s goodness. Taking too much prescription medicine. Patterns of bitterness or complaining. An addiction to buying things. All these can inflict incredible damage, stealing our joy and peace. The best way to avoid damage is to simply cut the line. Don’t even bring it in the boat.

Ask the Lord today if there’s anything you’ve been bringing into your boat that doesn’t belong there. If there is, ask him to give you the grace to cut the line and make an end of it, keeping you out of harm’s way. More

(Image courtesy of Crystl0202 at freeimages.com)


No Prayer, No Peace

A statue of a young girl prayingHave you ever tried brewing coffee without water or driving a car without an engine or working on a computer without a screen? I didn’t think so. Trying to become more peaceful without spending time with God in prayer is the same thing—a logical impossibility. Only regular times of prayer can provide the essential foundation for our search for greater peace.

The reasons for this are obvious. Peace comes from being in vital communion with God, who is the source of all peace. But you can’t be in communion with him if you never talk to him, praise him, listen to him, confide in him, confess to him, or thank him. Just as you wouldn’t (I hope) refuse to talk to your spouse or a close friend, it’s foolish to refrain from talking to God and then pretend that you want to have an intimate relationship with him.

The problem, of course, is that there are so many obstacles to prayer. We are surrounded by people who need us, things we need to do, and things we want to do. Everything seems urgent; many things seem enticing. They all shout for our attention. But God rarely shouts. Instead, he waits patiently, despite the 1,001 things we put before our relationship with him. I’m not trying to send you on a guilt trip but motivating you to make prayer one of your highest priorities. As you pray, resist the temptation to make prayer all about you—your needs, your concerns, your petitions. Of course there is a place for you in prayer, but put praise and thanksgiving and listening first, because these will help you keep God first in your heart.

As you make prayer a more regular part of your life, consider Mark Buchanan’s advice. “Prayer, before it’s talking,” he says, “ought to be listening. Before it’s petition, it should be audition. Before it calls for eloquence, it requires attention. God speaks. We listen. Prayer’s best posture is ears cupped, head tilted toward that Voice.”1 More

1.  Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 190.

(Image courtesy of joejoe77 at freeimages.com)


Give It a Rest

A bench to rest on in a gardenLast night, despite the fact that the temperatures were soaring, my daughter was wearing her favorite pair of winter pajamas. “Honey,” I suggested, “why don’t you change into something cooler? You’re going to be so hot tonight.” It was unsolicited advice that I had offered previously.

Instead of changing into more sensible pajamas, as I had advised, Luci simply rolled her eyes and said, “Mom!” drawing out the word as though it had three syllables. I got the message. Luci is a teenager now. I need to back off and let her make more of her own decisions—like what to wear to bed. She doesn’t need me micromanaging her life, treating her like she’s a toddler.

But old habits die hard, and I find myself slipping back into my controlling mother role more than I should. Of course, the odd thing about being controlling is that it never produces what we long for—an end to our anxiety. Instead, our effort to control things and people simply adds more stress to our relationships. Attempts at control set us up for repeated failures, since no one can completely control their own lives, let alone the lives of others.

Think about it like this. Imagine you’ve just stepped onto an Airbus A380. Instead of trying to force your way into the cockpit so you can fly the plane, you merely proceed down the aisle until you find your seat, believing that the pilot will deliver you safely to your destination. After all, he has the necessary skills to fly the world’s largest airliner. Storming the cockpit would be an act of madness—and suicide.

Similarly, navigating life in this world takes the kind of complex skills that only God possesses. Trying to wrest control of our lives from him would be an act of madness—even suicide. Though God doesn’t want us to be passive spectators, neither does he want us to try to control the things that are best left in his care. If you want to reduce your anxiety, resist the temptation to try to control everything. Recognize it for what it is—a crazy attempt to do the impossible. Instead, ask the Lord to show you how to step back and find rest, knowing he is in control.   More

(Image courtesy of  ColinBroug at freeimages.com)


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