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Raisins of the Spirit

A week or so ago, I heard a passage that never fails to provoke in me simultaneous feelings of peace and longing. Acts 2:44-46: And those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread together with gladness and sincerity of heart.

“…with gladness and sincerity of heart” grabbed me that day, because my own heart was feeling neither. I was tired, irritable and didn’t want to be there. Unfortunately, this has been a common theme for me of late. I’ve been aware for some time that I am not bearing fruit for Christ; raisins, maybe. While I haven’t felt particularly called to a new undertaking, I have absolutely been called to serve in other, perhaps humbler ways, like showing my family and friends love and generosity. They know that I love them, and while I still go through most of the motions of serving them, my heart hasn’t been in it. It feels like a gargantuan effort.

My husband and I are expecting a baby and I’ve recently transitioned to full-time stay-at-home momhood. These are both incredibly joyful things, but I do recognize the part that these major physical and emotional changes probably play in my current feelings. Nonetheless, I stubbornly refuse to relinquish these things to God. I don’t WANT to serve. Well, no; that’s not entirely true: I want to serve me. While I know that serving Him is infinitely more rewarding, it often feels difficult. What I’ve been mulling over is why it feels that way.

I know that I can’t manage gladness and sincerity of heart through plain old willpower. Fruit of the spirit flows from my connection with God. And it does take work to maintain or reestablish relationship. I’ve never been particularly good at that, even in my people relationships. Over and over again, I fall short. I pray often, but seldom with the kind of abandon necessary. What do I mean by that? If you’ve been there, you know. I hold back from God. Get down on my knees and commit to repentance? Hmmm… maybe tomorrow. The passage above is a perfect example. I read about the disciples of the early church selling all their possessions and giving to others and I think, that sounds incredible. I mean, I don’t know that I want to sell everything I own, but I’d like to have that. Honestly, it sounds more like wishful idealism than a real possibility. How sad! Like the rich man who couldn’t quite bring himself to give everything (Luke 18-30), I hoard my demons. Neither have I been stimulating reflection through Bible study or any other study. It is time to put these things right.

God, please forgive me for stumbling again and again. Please grant me the love, humility and courage to seek your will instead of my own. In Christ’s name, Amen.

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Fruit and Good Judgment

Both the New and Old Testaments include sobering, no-nonsense warnings about false prophets and how to avoid them. The one that I suppose I’ve read most often is Matthew 7:15-20.

15“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

I may be absolutely wrong, but I’m not aware of any passage that addresses judging a teaching by its fruit; rather, the teacher is to be judged this way. Is that just semantics, or is this an important distinction?

I’ve recently started reading a book called “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines. Matthew is a gay man who shares the results of his journey to understand scripture as it relates to homosexuality. This is an issue I’ve avoided, because, quite frankly, I’m not sure I like what the Bible says about it. This is not the kind of Christian I want to be, so it’s time to try to understand it better. I’m not sure where this particular book will take me but I want to be open to and objective about both the conservative and liberal arguments.

One of Vine’s opening arguments in favor of homosexuality in a Christian context is that the teachings against homosexual practice have yielded bad fruit. He goes on to address specific passages, but this initial idea intrigued me and I feel like it applies to more than just this issue. I’m trying to test it and having a difficult time. I don’t want to over-paraphrase, but I think it would be fair to say that Vines believes that trying to change or repress homosexuality in an effort to live a faithful Christian life often yields bad fruit: a tortured soul and body. He supports this argument in much greater detail, but I’m going to leave it at that for this post. So… does this hold water?

First, I tried to compare it to other teachings that might yield similar fruit. I think most people can feel pushed to the brink and even over the edge by repressing desires. The question, though, is whether the desire is good. Most would agree that feeling suicidal because you’re desperately trying to resist the urge to hurt another person doesn’t mean you should go ahead and give in. On the other hand, repressing the desire to reach out and help someone in need can drive us crazy, too, and for the most part, we should seek opportunities to do that. The problem is that it seems to me a teaching can yield lots of different fruit, depending on the student and the implementation. But when I looked at passages about fruit, as I mentioned above, it isn’t the teaching at issue, but the teacher: Matthew 7:20: “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” But what are those fruits? Are the fruits of a prophet the teachings themselves or the fruits of those teachings? We know, for example, that a prophet should confess Christ (1 John 4:2) and that the things they say should come to pass (Deut 18:22). Those things alone could be fruits. So could the prophets’ personal traits. Galations 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Presumably, a teacher can be God-honoring and exhibit the fruits of the spirit, but also occasionally perpetuate a bad teaching. We are all sinful.

So, if you made it this far, I would really like to know what you think. Can we judge a teaching by its fruit? Does Vine’s argument work?

Happy Sunday!