Welcome to the official website of Ann Spangler

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.
Free 7-Day Devotional on Wicked Women of the Bible
Wicked Women of the Bible Reading Plan

Who's Your Daddy?

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.

Why We Should Be Optimists

An image of a person standing on a sandbar over a calm lake, with the colors of the sunset reflected in the water.

If you were going to climb Mount Everest, would you pick a guide who had already completed the climb or someone who had read a lot of books about it? If it were my life on the line, I’d go for the guy who had actually succeeded in making the climb. That’s why I place great stock in the words of the apostle Paul.  Why? Because by his own account he experienced imprisonment, whipping, beating, stoning, shipwreck, hunger, nakedness, and persecution in his commitment to live for Christ.

Despite these hardships and more to come, Paul’s writings are bursting with optimism about the future.

Despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39).

He proclaims that anyone who belongs to Christ can look forward not simply to winning a few battles but to experiencing “overwhelming victory.” The odds, as Paul sees it, are completely in his favor—and ours.

Note that Paul prefaces this promise with the phrase “despite all these things.” Just prior to the passage above, he speaks of the long list of troubles and calamities he faced. But Christ had already been so faithful to Paul in the midst of these challenges that he had no doubt about the future.

Why not join me today in taking Paul as your guide, memorizing this passage from the book of Romans? Hide it in your heart and let it strengthen you so that when calamity threatens, you will remember that nothing in heaven or on earth can ever separate you from God’s love.

How to Deal with Negative Thoughts

a woman sits, looking out a window, thinking

Ever try not thinking a particular thought? The harder you try, the likelier you are to think it. I appreciate the way one woman deals with her propensity to think in negative ways:

“My negative thoughts are like impatient toddlers jumping up and down and screaming, ‘Look at me, look at me.’ Jesus and I take the negative ‘toddler thoughts’ and send them to time-out so we can focus on the good thoughts. Sometimes they don’t obey. They get up out of the chair and once again scream for attention. Then Jesus and I take those thoughts back to the time-out chair, but this time we tie them up!” 1

Though no analogy is perfect (I am sure, for instance, that she isn’t advocating tying children to time-out chairs), we can extend the comparison in helpful ways. For instance, whenever our “toddler thoughts” scream for attention, we can simply distract them or redirect them, calling to mind specific instances of God’s faithfulness and his promises, and thanking him for gifts we have already received. Distraction works because if we fill our minds with positive thoughts, there is no room for negative ones.

Of course, I am not advocating that we ignore every negative thought. Sometimes we need to pay attention to them so we can solve problems. But most of us know the difference between problem solving and merely rehearsing doubts, complaints, and negativity, which only corrode our faith and rob us of the peace God promises.

  1. Linda Dillow, Calm My Anxious Heart (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2007), 32–33.

The Anxiety Monster

A woman's fist is shown , heading towards the viewer

Have you ever watched a boxer dancing around the ring, throwing punches at no one in particular? He’s using a training technique called shadowboxing—sparring with an imaginary opponent. Now imagine that same boxer, but with a bizarre twist. While he’s in the ring alone, his head thrusts backward again and again, as though someone were punching him in the face. But there’s no one else around. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

As strange as that scenario seems, it’s an image of what can happen to us when we start sparring with imaginary ills. Our anxiety turns us into human punching bags, battered by thoughts not about what is, but about what might be. I might never get married. I might lose my job. My husband might leave me. My child might not graduate. My plane might crash. The economy might collapse. My mother might die. I might not have enough money to retire.

There are plenty of places in Scripture that tell us not to be anxious but to place our trust in God, who alone is our peace. One example is 1 Peter 5:7, which gives us a clear directive:

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”

The next time you feel anxiety rising inside you like mercury in a thermometer, let it be the signal that you need to spend some time with God. Have a conversation with him. Tell him you want to focus on him rather than on all the what-ifs that assail you. Begin by praising and thanking him. Then lift up the people and situations that are troubling you. As you pray, imagine that God is in the room, which, of course, he is. Rest in his presence. If you make a habit of spending time with God daily, you will find that your anxiety will gradually be displaced by God’s peace.

 

 

Spread the Peace!

the image shows in older woman's hands tying a string around a young person's wrist

Hailing from a town called Freedom, Pennsylvania, it’s perhaps no coincidence that Linda Banks is concerned about a lack of freedom elsewhere in the world. On a visit to Pune, India, where her daughter and son-in-law are serving as missionaries, she met sixteen young girls who had been rescued from local brothels. As a result of her encounter with the Home of Hope, where the girls are living, Linda began praying and educating herself about human trafficking, asking God what she could do to help. The answer came in the form of an organization she founded, called the Praying Aunties Network.

The idea behind Praying Aunties is to connect one “auntie” with one girl. The auntie receives updates on the girl in order to know how to pray for her. She also meets monthly with other praying aunties in her area.

Linda’s group of sixteen women prays for the sixteen girls and the staff members of the Home of Hope in Pune. Because of the problems associated with prostitution, it is not uncommon for rescued girls to return to their former lives. But this has not been the case in Pune, where all sixteen girls have accepted Christ and none have returned to their old way of life.

If you are serious about becoming a person at peace, remember that God gives peace for a purpose. It’s tempting to think that one person can’t make much difference in a world that is filled with conflict. But Linda Banks and her praying friends have already made a world of difference to the young women they’re praying for.

Why not ask God today whether you should join Linda’s network (connecting with them on Facebook is a great way to start) or another similar organization, making an impact one life at a time? Don’t let the sun go down on this day without sincerely asking God to show you how you can spread his peace in the world around you.