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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.
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Regrets

Regrets

an image of a person who has pulled their feet out of the mud

I have sometimes heard people say that they have no regrets. But I don’t believe them. Every life has its share of regrets arising from bad decisions, lost opportunities, mistakes, and sins. There are some things we should regret. In fact, regret can serve as a wise instructor, preventing us from making the same mistakes over and over.

But sometimes we get stuck in our regrets, unable to experience God’s peace because we cannot get free of them. What then? Charles Stanley tells the story of a young woman who felt called to become a missionary in Southeast Asia. Instead of pursuing her calling, she married a man who felt no such call. For the next twenty-five years, the woman was mired in her regrets. When she was forty-eight, she told her husband how she felt. A generous man, he encouraged her to undertake a short-term mission, promising to support her in it for up to twelve months.

But all of the woman’s efforts to forge an alliance with a missionary organization failed. Finally she decided to fly to Southeast Asia and look for a missionary who might welcome her help. After four months, she returned home, dejected and in ill health. A wise pastor told her the truth: “That boat sailed. God may have called you nearly thirty years ago to serve Him in Southeast Asia. What you need to ask yourself is this: ‘What is God calling me to do right now?’”1

If you have made decisions or done things that you regret, don’t let your regrets continue to block God’s peace. Instead, take each one to the Lord, asking for forgiveness. Then ask God what he wants you to do right now. Remember that he is both powerful and creative, still able to bring your life—even after many failings—into perfect alignment with his purposes.

  1. Charles Stanley, Finding Peace: God’s Promise of a Life Free from Regret, Anxiety, and Fear (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 109.

Loving Creation

A chicken stands on a cat which stands on a dog which stands on a donkey

I come from a dog-loving, cat-loving, snake-loving, monkey-loving, fish-loving, lizard-loving, turtle-loving, bird-loving family. At one time or another during my childhood, we had at least one such pet in our home. Whenever we felt the need for a new one, my siblings and I had only to find a way of luring my mother into a pet store and then showing her the latest fascinating animal. Once she even let us have a South American tortoise that dined on bananas.

I’ve since come to regret keeping some of those animals in captivity. But my experience with so many different animals convinces me of at least one thing: most animals have more feelings and intelligence than we think. Why do we miss this? I fear that for some among us, it’s because admitting their capabilities would make it harder to exploit them.

But God calls us to be stewards of his creation. We are to take care of, not take advantage of, the creatures he has made. I’m not arguing that we should all become vegetarians, but I am saying that we have to treat other creatures with respect, sparing them unnecessary suffering whenever possible.

I love the story about Francis of Assisi and his encounter with a ravenous wolf that had been terrorizing a city in Italy. According to the story, Francis ordered the wolf to stop eating people and promised that, in return, the people of the town would feed him. According to the legend, the wolf complied, as did the people of the city, and there was never another incident. Sound preposterous? What if God had enabled Francis to perform such a miracle in order to offer us a glimpse of his original intention for how human beings should interact with other animals?

After all, Isaiah prophesied that wolves, lambs, lions, and venomous snakes would one day live together peaceably, without harm. As stewards of creation, let’s ask God to show us how to take proper responsibility for the beautiful world he has made.

 

Don’t Let Fear Rule Your Relationships

a little boy puts his hands over his eyes so he can't see what he's afraid of

My oldest daughter, a lover of reptiles, has yet to meet a snake she dislikes. She finds them fascinating, perhaps because they are so different from human beings. But it’s that very difference that makes many of us afraid of them. By contrast, my youngest wants nothing to do with any kind of reptile, especially snakes. That’s why I was surprised to see her handling Katie’s pet snake the other night. For a few minutes, Luci managed to master her fear, tentatively holding the snake in her hands and then letting it crawl up and down her arms.

I was glad to see her feeling more comfortable around the snake. But my pleasant thoughts were soon interrupted by a little yelp. As I turned my head to see what was going on, I saw the snake flying through the air. It seems Luci had gotten so comfortable with her new friend that she made the mistake of squeezing him inside the crook of her arm. In a panic, the snake, who had never bitten anyone before, must have given her a little nip. Terrified, Luci gave out a yell and sent him flying. Fortunately, the snake survived his short flight, and I was able to retrieve him before he had a chance to slither away in a panic, never to be seen again.

That little interchange between two innocent but fearful creatures made me think about the damage fear can do in our relationships with others, distorting our perceptions and putting us on the defensive simply because people are different from us. Such fears keep us constantly on guard, making it difficult to establish relationships with those who are not like us. Instead of reaching across fences to bring more peace to the world, we shrink back, preferring to confine our relationships to those who look and act like we do.

If we want more peace in our world, we will have to start taking a few risks. Even if we do get “bitten” from time to time, chances are we won’t suffer too much.

Why not decide today to look for ways to forge relationships with people who aren’t just like you? Ask God to show you who to reach out to and how, and then pray that your efforts will produce a little more peace.

 

 

Cherishing Women and Girls

women joyfully blow confetti towards the camera

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Nakusha. She was beautiful and bright, healthy and full of life. But though she looked fine on the outside, she was sad—very sad—on the inside. Nakusha tried everything she could think of to make herself feel better—dancing, joking, smiling, working hard, being helpful, looking beautiful. But nothing helped. She still felt depressed and worthless. And no wonder, because in Hindi, nakusha means “unwanted.”

Incredibly this is a common name for girls all across India. These girls’ families bestow the name, it would seem, in order to express their regret at ever having daughters. A few years ago, 285 girls—all named Nakusha—gathered in central India for a renaming ceremony. Each girl chose a new name. Some picked Vaishalie, which means “prosperous, beautiful, and good.” Others adopted the name of a Bollywood star. One girl called herself Ashmita, which means “rock hard” or “very tough,” perhaps a reflection of what she needed to be in order to survive in a society that devalues women and girls.1

I remember an experience I had in China when I was adopting one of my daughters. An attractive, well-dressed Chinese woman came up to me and asked me point-blank, with a look of complete puzzlement, “You mean you want to adopt a girl?” She couldn’t believe that, given the choice, anyone would prefer a girl to a boy.

How can the world ever be at peace when attitudes like these prevail? As Christians, we know we are all cherished by the Father who loves us. Realizing who we are, let’s stand up for others, linking arms with those who are doing something to elevate the status of women and children throughout the world. Commit today to volunteering your time and money to an organization that is spreading the Good News and improving the lives of the most vulnerable people on earth.

 

  1. Associated Press, “285 Indian Girls Shed ‘Unwanted’ Names,” USA Today, last modified October 23, 2011, accessed May 25, 2017, https://www.yahoo.com/news/285-indian-girls-shed-unwanted-names-122551876.html.

Who’s Your Daddy?

a baby sleeps on her father's chest, snuggled up to his cheek

Walter Mosley is the author of a series of bestselling mystery novels featuring Easy Rawlins, a hard-boiled private investigator living in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. During the course of a recent interview, the sixty-year-old writer touched on the influence of his father, a black man who had grown up in the racially charged South. One day Mosley’s father sat him down and told him about every person he had ever seen die.

“And it was just amazing,” Mosley remarked. “Little children killing each other . . . black people killing white people, white people killing black people . . . people being hung, people dying because there was no protection on their jobs.”

When asked whether his father’s encounter with violence in the segregated South had made Mosley expect the same kind of violence in his own life, he responded,

“Not at all. One of the things my father did was he made me feel extraordinarily safe. He made me feel that ‘I’ve taken care of it. Nothing’s going to happen to you.’ And I always felt like that. Now things did happen. I got stopped by police and they would pull guns on me and do all kinds of things but all through that I was never really worried because my father said, ‘You’re going to be safe,’ and I believed my father. And on the whole it’s been true.”1

Contrast Mosley’s experience of his father’s protective influence with that of Diane Bartholomew, writing from the York Correctional Institute in Connecticut. Bartholomew’s father raped her when she was a young girl and later tried to run over her and her sister with the family car. After his death she described her feelings as she approached his casket:

“Hello, Dad, and good-bye. Good riddance. The others are sad, sobbing. Why? Have they forgotten all the things you did to us? I stand here feeling nothing, unless you count relief.”

She was so hurt and frightened by her father that she wanted to make certain he was really dead. “Then,” she says, “I’ll know you can’t hurt us anymore, Dad. Then I’ll know I’m safe.”2

Two different fathers. Two different children. Two completely different ideas of what constitutes safety. However your father made you feel, I pray that you will know God as the Father who keeps you safe.

  1. Walter Mosley, “Mosley’s ‘Last Days’ Restores Memory, but at a Cost,” interview by Terry Gross, Fresh Air, December 6, 2010, transcript and audio, 18:43, NPR, http://www.npr.org/2010/12/06/131848211/mosley-s-last-days-restores-memory-but-at-a-cost.
  2. Diane Bartholomew, “Snapshots of My Early Life,” in Wally Lamb, Couldn’t Keep It to Myself (New York: Harper Perennial, 2003), 332.

For more reflections like this

Is There An Afterlife?

two images appear side by side, of a double rainbow and an on-off button

Since his death, Steve Jobs, cofounder of Apple, has been hailed as a pioneer, a visionary, a creative genius, an American business magnate, and an amazing human being. He was all of those. Diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2003, Jobs decided to forgo conventional treatment in favor of a course of alternative medicine, a decision he later regretted and which doctors say led to his early death at the age of fifty-six.1

Walter Isaacson, Jobs’s official biographer, tells of a fascinating conversation he had with Jobs toward the end of his life:

“I remember sitting in his backyard in his garden one day and he started talking about God. He said, ‘Sometimes I believe in God, sometimes I don’t. I think it’s 50-50 maybe. But ever since I’ve had cancer, I’ve been thinking about it more. And I find myself believing a bit more. I kind of—maybe it’s ’cause I want to believe in an afterlife. That when you die, it doesn’t just all disappear. The wisdom you’ve accumulated. Somehow it lives on, but sometimes I think it’s just like an on-off switch. Click and you’re gone. . . . And that’s why I don’t like putting on-off switches on Apple devices.’”2

Now we know why it can be so hard to find that on-off switch on certain Apple devices! And we know something else as well. As terrible as a terminal diagnosis can be, it affords a person time to reflect on ultimate questions—like whether there is life after death. As Christians, we believe in the existence of an afterlife. Why? Because Christ, our brother, assures us there is one. Furthermore, he has already done the hardest thing possible—dying for us and then being raised from the dead. Because of him, we can face our own death with hope, believing God will restore us to life.

  1. Jon Swaine, “Steve Jobs ‘Regretted Trying to Beat Cancer with Alternative Medicine for So Long,’” The Telegraph, October 21, 2011, accessed May 22, 2017, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/apple/8841347/Steve-Jobs-regretted-trying-to-beat-cancer-with-alternative-medicine-for-so-long.html.
  2. Walter Isaacson, “Steve Jobs: Revelations from a Tech Giant,” interview, 60 Minutes, CBS News, October 23, 2011.

I Doubt It

A boy in a sideways baseball cap looks skeptical

With characteristic humor, John Ortberg says that he is

“skeptical of reports that Elvis is alive and well and working as a short-order cook at Taco Bell. I don’t believe that aliens periodically land on earth and give rides to humans—how come they never seem to land at MIT to give a ride to a physics professor?”1

Similarly, it can be a good idea to doubt when unscrupulous or ignorant preachers make claims that contradict biblical faith: “Send a donation to my ministry and you will be healed.” “God wants you to be rich.” “The world is going to end next month.” With regard to these and other claims, it is not only a good idea to doubt but our duty to do so.

But there is a kind of doubt that is never advisable—doubting God and his clear promises. Entertaining such doubts can wreak havoc in our lives, sapping the energy and confidence God wants to give us. Still, most of us go through times when we find it hard to believe. Even Abraham, the father of our faith, had seasons of doubt. As Ortberg points out,

“This great paragon of faith in the Old Testament is not doubt-free. Abraham laughs in disbelief. He lies about his wife, placing her in jeopardy to save his skin. He sleeps with his wife’s servant because he wants to father a child at any cost. He gets a lot wrong. But he gets one thing right: He just keeps going. . . . Even when he doesn’t fully understand, Abraham obeys God.”2

And that’s the key. Even when we doubt, we need to obey God. That’s the only way to become the people God calls us to be.

Having courage doesn’t mean we have no fear. It just means we move beyond it. Similarly, having faith doesn’t mean we are free from doubt; it just means we do what God wants us to do in the face of those doubts. We may get a lot wrong. But let’s get this one thing right, realizing that obedience is not only the path to faith but also the path to peace.

  1. John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 215.
  2. Ibid., 215–16.

Persisting

An image of a hot pepper and some hot pepper sauce on a spoon.

When my younger daughter was thirteen, she happily ate a variety of foods. Cheese, bologna, tortillas, stir-fry, broccoli, chicken, rice, salami, shrimp, pickles, peppers—you name it, and she ate it. But she drew the line when it came to spinach, scrunching up her face and looking for an opportunity to dump it into the disposal when she thought I wasn’t looking. Then one night she decided to spice up this odious vegetable with a little hot sauce. The combination was so successful that she surprised me by asking for seconds!

Why am I telling you about my daughter’s conversion to spinach? Only because it illustrates the power of persistence. It took repeated tries for Luci to discover the breakthrough that would make eating spinach delightful. It can be like that in our search for peace. We have to keep persevering, especially when it comes to turning away from our natural desires and staying faithful to the teachings of Christ. Jesus says:

“If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also.” (Luke 6:29)

“Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:44)

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)

“Don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’” (Matthew 6:31)

“I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen.” (Matthew 21:21)

When it comes to God’s peace, Jesus asks so much, but he also delivers so much. Let’s continue to follow him, trusting that as we do, he will work even deeper levels of shalom into our lives.

Stay in the Game

An image of a female basketball player in a crowd of opponents, about to take a shot.I remember when my daughter played on a basketball team for the first time. I loved going to her games, though I had to tread carefully whenever I did. Not wanting to be embarrassed by an overly enthusiastic mother, Luci thought it would be best if I just sat quietly while watching the game. I did my best to behave, though every so often I couldn’t keep myself from poking one of the mothers sitting beside me, asking her to cheer Luci on since I wasn’t allowed to.

Over the course of the season, a couple of the girls struggled with their shooting. In the last couple of games, the coach did everything he could to make sure they had a chance to get the ball. During the final minute of the last game, something magical happened. That’s when one of the girls experienced her Rocky Balboa moment. She was surrounded by a swarm of defenders, when suddenly, above the crowd of gangly girls, the ball arced up, rising high and then swishing straight into the hoop. That shot, her first successful one of the year, clinched the game! If she hadn’t kept playing, hadn’t kept trying, she never would have experienced the thrill of achieving that unforgettable shot.

It’s the same with us. We may not think of ourselves as giants of the faith, as people who can stand strong in difficult times. Perhaps we have already given in to doubt on more than one occasion. But God says don’t give up. Stay in the game. Keep believing, keep hoping, keep trying. Persevere and watch what God will do with your life.

 

 

What the Struggle Looks Like

An image of 11 lit candles stuck in the sand.

It’s fine, you might say, to tell me not to worry, but how exactly do I do that? Here’s how Linda Dillow handled the struggle when her teenager was going through a tumultuous time.

“I remember lying in bed many nights, thinking, Did I make the right decision? How do I stop this child from heading down the path of foolishness? I would pray through Philippians 4:6-9 but find my mind worrying again. It was as if my mind was stuck in worry mode.

“I would pray, ‘Lord, here I am again. I was just here ten minutes ago but it didn’t take: I’m still worrying instead of possessing Your peace.’ Again I would pray through my part and God’s part in Philippians 4. Then I would start worrying again. At that point I would sit up, force my body out from under the warm covers, and go to my desk. With pen and paper in hand, I would list all the positive things the Lord had accomplished in my teenager’s life in the past year. Then I’d pray over the list and thank Him that He had been at work and was still at work in her life. I’d shut off the light and go back to my cozy comforter, this time to a peaceful sleep.”1

If you want God’s peace to characterize your life, remember that peace is organic—it’s a fruit of the Spirit. Like all living things, it grows—not according to your timetable, but according to God’s. Jesus isn’t discouraged by the fact that you have to keep coming back to him every ten minutes for the peace you seek. Doing so will simply keep you connected, allowing the Holy Spirit to accomplish his will in your life.

  1. Linda Dillow, Calm My Anxious Heart (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2007), 31–32.