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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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God Is Not A Shouter

God Is Not A Shouter

An image of people rushing. God Is Not A Shouter

We live in a house with four floors of living and office space. Though running up and down stairs is great for the body, sometimes the body just doesn’t want to be bothered with them. So instead we shout up the stairs: “Time for homework.” “Mom, I’m leaving.” “Dinner is ready.” “Can I take the dog for a walk?” You get the idea. Without an intercom, my children and I sometimes resort to hollering at each other in order to communicate.

But God rarely hollers. Take prayer. When is the last time God shouted at you to sit down and pray right now—or else?

Even though prayer is essential to living a vital Christian faith, it may also be the first thing to slip from your schedule. Everything else seems more urgent. The children are late for school. Your spouse is sick. The toilet overflowed again. Your boss wants that report right now. And it’s only eight o’clock in the morning. In the midst of a hectic life, how can you drop everything and pray? One thing you can do is learn how to pray continually, as Paul advised, saying,

Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18).

Even if you don’t have time to sit down and pray for a half hour each morning, you can pray on the go: “Lord, please heal my husband.” “Let me be your servant today.” “Give me wisdom for handling that report.” “Thank you for blue skies and a family that loves me.” Simple prayers can help orient you to the Father who loves you rather than to your troubles. Once the clamor finally subsides, consider what you can do to streamline your life so you can find time to read God’s Word and listen for his voice. More

 

Repairing the World

An image of the world half submerged in water. Repairing the World.

We know that Jesus was a Jew, but how often do we reflect on the fact that our own faith springs from Jewish roots? Even a little familiarity with Judaism can yield rich insights. Take the Hebrew phrase tikkun olam, a rabbinic concept that has been around since at least the second century. It can be translated “repairing the world.” But how does one go about repairing the world?

The Jewish people speak of being called “to perfect the world under God’s sovereignty.” Looking at their contributions to history, you would have to admit they have gone some way toward doing that. Many of the big ideas on which our own culture is founded are Jewish ideas—the sanctity of human life, absolute morality, the equality of all persons before the law, and many more.

“We were the people,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, “who were born in slavery to teach the world the meaning of freedom. We were the people who suffered homelessness to teach humanity the importance of every people having a home. We were the people who were the quintessential strangers to teach humanity that ‘Thou shall not oppress the stranger’ (Exodus 23:9). We were the people who walked through the valley of the shadow of death to teach humanity the sanctity of life. We were the people who were always small but yet survived to teach the world a people does not survive by might nor by strength but by My spirit, says G-d (Zechariah 4:6).”*

In terms of the Jewish duty to “repair the world,” Sacks goes on to say that in our relativistic age, we must “teach people once again to hear the objective ‘Thou shalt’ and ‘Thou shalt not.’”* And we must, he says, also teach them that shalom is found in God himself, the mighty one who is able to turn an enemy into a friend.

As Christians, we, too, are called to be repairers of the world, believing that our efforts will not be in vain but will come to fruition when Christ comes again. More

* Jonathan Sacks, “Tikkun Olam: Orthodoxy’s Responsibility to Perfect G-d’s World” (address to the Orthodox Union West Coast Convention, December 1997).

Tasting the Peace God Promises

An image of two doves and a heart.My children and I recently attended a church in which a photo of a lion and a lamb sitting peacefully together was projected onto a large screen at the front. Of course, the image had been Photoshopped, because no self-respecting lamb would be crazy enough to cozy up to a lion. But this image, which on the face of things seems absurd, captures one of God’s greatest promises, when he will, he says, create peace between natural enemies, between those who eat and those who get eaten, between the haves and have-nots of this world.

As I looked at the image, I thought about my children, who had recently been fighting. What would life be like if they were always at peace? And what about their schools? What if there were no distinction between the “cool” kids and everybody else? Or what about their city? What if the folks from the “good” neighborhoods started partying with the folks from the “bad” neighborhoods? What if we all became friends? What would life feel like then?

And what about me? What about my own internal divisions? What would it be like to always be at peace with myself? No self-doubt, no recrimination, no regret, no saying one thing and doing another. My life would be peaceful because it would always align with God’s ways.

For that matter, what would the whole world be like if it were perfectly at peace? God has promised to create a world we can barely imagine, a new heaven and a new earth. But imagine it we should. And long for it and pray for it as well. While we are doing that, let us continue to find joy in the peace that is already ours by virtue of what Christ has done for us. More

Financial Peace

A woman appears fractured and fearful.

Every time the Dow Jones Industrial Average falls off a cliff, investors panic, wondering where to take refuge in uncertain times. (When are they ever certain?) The last time, I remember sending up a prayer, asking the Lord to watch over my savings. No doubt millions of similar prayers ascended to his throne along with mine.

But having survived the worst of that downturn, I feel a bit calmer, determined not to head over the cliff along with all the other lemmings. Looking back at the last panic, it’s clear that all my sleepless nights and anxious days failed to produce even one positive idea or outcome. None of it made my life any better. In fact, it made it much worse. It was only God in his good timing who made things better, helping me to get through.

With the economy feeling uncertain again, I may have a chance for a do-over. How will I respond this time? News analysts say that people are still shell shocked by the last recession, making them more likely to panic and sell everything. But what if you experienced God caring for you and your family despite your losses? Wouldn’t that make you even more likely to trust him this time around?

It’s fine to pray that God will preserve our savings. But while we do that, let’s also pray that, no matter what happens, we will remember this truth: God alone is our rock and our salvation. He is our fortress where we will not be shaken. Whether you’re facing a financial panic or another kind of personal crisis in your life, remember this, and you will not be disappointed. More

Peace Needs a Strong Foundation

A hiker stands on a firm foundation, a mountain.

For peace to flourish, evil must be resisted. But how you resist can make all the difference. Take the temperance movement. Thankfully, not everyone adopted crusader Carrie Nation’s rambunctious methodology. Many others chose peaceful ways to advance the fight against drunkenness and its attendant evils.

Concerned about the women and children who were impoverished by their husbands’ drinking habits, one person chose a more thoughtful approach. Many saloons promoted free lunches for their patrons, counting on the fact that the cost of the food would be more than offset by the resulting alcohol sales. But what they didn’t count on was a woman by the name of Amanda Way, an abolitionist and reformer who hailed from Kansas. Amanda had the temerity to organize poor families, making sure they showed up at the saloon at lunchtime. Taking their seats at the bar, they would eat up all the food.

Face-to-face with a group of hungry women and children, the saloon keepers could no longer ignore the way they were affecting their neighborhoods. Nor could the men who spent their paychecks at the bar enjoy themselves with impunity. Now they at least had to wonder whether they might encounter their own wives and children in the next lunch crew.4

Real peace is built on foundations of justice, and justice can be a costly struggle. As Christians, we are called to pursue it, not to shrink back or ignore the wrongs we see. We can’t fight all the world’s wrongs, of course, but we can do something. Securing the peace by establishing and maintaining justice takes thoughtfulness, persistence, wisdom, courage, generosity, and prayer. If we’re serious about peace, we need to open our hearts to God, asking him what he wants us to do to uphold justice. More

  1. Amanda Way’s story is told in Catherine Whitmire, Practicing Peace (Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2007), 212–13.

Temperance

In honor of the blog post on Temperance, the image is of a burger with at least 18 layers of meat, bread, cheese, toppings, sauce.If chastity is out of fashion, so is its cousin, temperance. If you’re like me, the word temperance conjures visions of the temperance movement in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Though the movement was well intentioned, who can forget hatchet-wielding Carrie Nation, who was repeatedly arrested and fined for her habit of marching into saloons and smashing them up? The resourceful Carrie financed her activities by giving lectures to the public at which she sold souvenir hatchets for twenty-five cents apiece. Believing she was on a holy crusade, she described herself as “a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like.”1

Of course, not everyone appreciated her nonstop barking, as evidenced by the popular barroom slogan: “All Nations Welcome but Carrie.”

Doesn’t sound very peaceful, does it? Of course, that’s not what I mean by temperance. Like chastity, temperance is often mistakenly linked with prudishness and narrow-mindedness. But in reality, temperance is a mark of strength. While chastity involves the ability to control one’s sexual appetite, temperance involves the ability to control one’s appetite for food and drink. Just as lust is the opposite of chastity, gluttony and drunkenness are the opposites of temperance. Who but a strong person is able to control his or her appetite?

Recently I had dinner with family friends. One of the children ordered a meal large enough to feed four big-time wrestlers for four days straight (slight exaggeration). These supersized portions have become the norm at restaurants across the country. What are we to do? Stop going out to eat? Go on yet another diet? Have weight-loss surgery? One thing we can do is to ask God to help us grow in the old-fashioned virtue of temperance, which will produce in us not only greater health but more peace, because we will no longer be slaves to our appetites. More

  1. Keven McQueen, “Carrie Nation: Militant Prohibitionist” in Offbeat Kentuckians: Legends to Lunatics (Kuttawa, KY: McClanahan Publishing House, 2001).

 

The Peace of Chastity

white bedroom, The Peace of ChastityBefore committing his life to Christ, Saint Augustine once famously said, “Give me chastity and continency, only not yet.”1 Though his honesty may surprise us, few of us know what chastity really means. Contrary to popular belief, chastity is not synonymous with abstinence or celibacy. Like courage and kindness, chastity is a virtue. The chaste person is able to take his or her sexual desires and order them according to the demands of love rather than lust, which is chastity’s opposite.

Writer Ronald Rolheiser explains it like this: “To be chaste is to experience people, things, places, entertainment, the phases of one’s life, life’s opportunities, and sex in a way that does not violate them or ourselves. Chastity means to experience things reverently, so that the experience of them leaves both them and ourselves more, not less, integrated.”2 Because each of us has been created in the image of Christ, we should respect and revere ourselves and others. To treat people as objects for our pleasure is to diminish and demean them. And to allow others to treat us that way is to allow ourselves to be degraded.

Under this definition, married couples who are faithful to each other can have sex and be chaste. Single people, on the other hand, are chaste when they abstain from sex because that is appropriate to their state in life. Chastity allows them to treat themselves and others with the dignity and respect that Christ’s love demands.

To put it in simpler terms, chastity is like a governor on an engine that regulates its speed. Without it, the engine could accelerate to the point that it is destroyed. Though chastity might sound odd and old-fashioned in our sex-saturated society, it’s a virtue that will restore God’s peace in our lives. More

 

  1. Augustine, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, trans. Edward B. Pusey (New York: P. F. Collier, 1909), 135.
  1. Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 202.

 

Peace Takes Practice

two women playing doubles tennis

My daughter was playing tennis with friends. I watched as she and another player volleyed. Each was paired with a teammate who had rarely played before. In addition to missing balls, these beginners would make the usual mistakes, hitting at the wrong angle or with too much or too little force. Like many sports, tennis is all about controlling the ball, a skill that increases with practice.

The Christian life is like that sometimes. Many of us come to Christ unpracticed in the virtues that characterize the Lord we love. Then God calls us into the game, asking us to abide by the rules he put into play when he created the universe. At first our attempts to be like Jesus may feel awkward and difficult. Perhaps we’ve developed habits like cursing or feeling sorry for ourselves or telling half-truths or gossiping or giving in to feelings of rage and anger. Sometimes we stumble. But if we pick ourselves up and keep going, God’s Spirit will work in us to unwind these problem behaviors and give us the grace to change. The more we practice the virtues, the more virtuous our lives may become.

As with the beginners in my daughter’s foursome, it can help to be friends with those who are more experienced than we are. Mature Christians can become our mentors, encouraging and showing us what a life of virtue looks like. Ultimately, becoming more like Christ means enjoying more of the shalom he offers—healing, wholeness, and the blessing of good relationships. All are part of the peace he promises. More

Smoked!

smoke curling against a dark background

 

If you’re looking for peace, you might want to think twice about buying a
rental property. I purchased a lovely (or so I thought) piece of real estate
a few years ago. I was certain it would be a good investment. But there was
one problem—my beautifully decorated, upscale condo smelled. The odor
would come and go, and it was hard to pin down exactly where the smell was
coming from. I hired plumbers to check out P-traps and toilet seals, furnace
repair technicians to look for dead animals or improperly installed equipment.
At one point, I was certain I had fixed the problem only to discover
that the smell had returned full force. No amount of household deodorizer
could cover it.

Everything visible had been checked. So the problem, I reasoned, must
be lurking behind walls or beneath the floor. My youngest daughter suggested
with a hint of a smile that perhaps a bad fairy was hiding somewhere,
cutting wind. Hmmm . . . I hadn’t thought of that.

Finally a plumber sent smoke bombs through the pipes and, lo and
behold, smoke started billowing from the walls of the closet in the utility
room. When the closet was ripped out, the plumber found the culprit—a
pipe that had been improperly installed. Amazingly, it had escaped the notice
of the builder and the city inspectors who signed off on the new construction.
For four years it lay hidden behind the walls, spreading a noxious smell
through the vents.

What’s the point of this smelly story? Simply that hidden problems can
steal our peace. When we allow sin and weakness to lurk in our hearts, they
will sooner or later make their presence known. It’s far better to deal with
them openly and honestly. Otherwise, the Lord may need to lob a few smoke
bombs our way in order to reveal the source of the problem so we can finally
face it with his grace. More

 

The Best Antidepressant

A graphic of a Bible protecting a homeRecently a reader contacted me to tell me how one of my books had encouraged her. After reading her note, I was the one who felt encouraged. Despite suffering severe economic hardship, she seemed buoyed by the way God kept speaking to her. She cited Psalm 91:14: “The Lord says, ‘I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.’” Then she went on to cite Psalm 3:3: “You, O Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.” Holding on to this one passage from the Bible, she said, had done more to keep her anxiety at bay than the most powerful antidepressant.

For two years her husband has been without work. Her own income has also been drastically depleted as a result of the recession. Together, they have been barely scraping by. Despite their struggles, she says she is excited to see what God has in store for them not after their trials but through their trials.

Her words buoyed me because I happened to be in a funk, anxious about what was happening in the life of someone I love. She reminded me that God has made a promise we can count on. He will indeed rescue us. He will be a shield around us to protect us from the enemy.

No matter how hard life gets, keep resisting the devil, who will try to bring you down by whispering faithless, fearful words into your ears. Stop listening to him, but keep listening to the Lord, whose Word holds true no matter what or who is pulling you down.  More