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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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Spirituality

Words Fail Me

I talk… a lot. So much, in fact, that I get tired of hearing my own voice; even in my head. In that rare quiet moment – when I’m not praising, scolding, cajoling, singing to or explaining something to my three-year-old, she is downright confused. “Mommy,” she’ll say, “Why are you not talking?” So when Crystal suggested that we blog on the nature of words, I was game. It’s a subject I think about frequently, but never with very much direction.

I have a difficult time separating my thoughts and feelings from the words I use to express them; but I know they are separate because I often find that the words don’t accurately represent my thoughts and feelings.

I love words. I love to write and read and speak. Sometimes, though, I wonder if there isn’t a better way. They can make us so lazy! Babies can’t speak, but parents know to hold them tightly when they cry, to soothe, feed, change. We become attuned to those needs. But I miss (or ignore) those cues in my adult interactions. I might know something is bothering my husband, but if he says nothing is wrong, I leave it alone. I don’t attend to him as I should.

And of course, while words can build people up, show our hearts and be wonderful tools, they can also get us into loads of trouble. We don’t have great impulse control, we humans. The Bible is full of admonitions against idle or evil talk. James 3:1-12 is quite a passionate disparagement of such talk. And Romans 8:26: “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words…” (Forgive me if I overuse this verse. It always speaks to me. So to speak. :))

But another story also came to mind. Genesis 11 gives us the confusing account of the Tower of Babel, wherein God recognizes that the people have united and are creating incredible things.

Genesis 11:6-8: And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

Huh. Seems awfully anti-progress. I don’t believe that God fears any threat from us, or even that we can pose a threat (other than perhaps grieving or angering him), so was He in fact protecting people from the detrimental actions they might take? Was it to keep us from hurting ourselves? How many scifi movies are there about very, very smart people making decisions that are ethically questionable or just downright scary? God’s unwillingness for Adam and Eve to know and understand certain things seems like it might stem from a similar concern. I know this isn’t exactly the same thing, but I wonder if our inability to communicate effectively with language could make us a lesser threat to ourselves. It seems counterintuitive that good communication could be a bad thing, but it is an interesting idea to explore. I know that I want the Spirit to continue to “intercede” for me. I never want be so cocky about my skill and sufficiency and mental clarity that I no longer seek His help.

Even if our confused brains and words are somehow a good thing, I don’t think incorporating a little more silence would cancel out any of that positivity :). In fact, I think it could augment it, giving us greater opportunity to notice His presence and seek His will.

Sigh. I’ve just reread this, and I’m arguing my own points. Ah, well. What do you think?

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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!

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Revelation: How many of us really want the truth?

I really wanted to tackle Revelation like a hard-hitting journalist. I was going to dig in and get specific. And then I got intimidated, so now I’m going to intimate more like Oprah. I tried to be witty, there, but I’m not making an excuse for my laziness. Anyway, here goes…

I’ve had dreams before that leave a sort of… halo, for lack of a better word, for hours. They might have been disturbing or just too strange to comprehend. Knowing how a brief, vague dream can affect me, I can only imagine how John’s revelation must have made him feel. I’m not sure my sanity could stand up to such a vision. Revelation always frightened me. It’s gory. It’s violent. It’s weird. And I can also sympathize with the skeptics, here. Be honest – what would you make of someone saying these kinds of things today? If Revelation doesn’t frighten you, it’s maybe because you don’t take it seriously or literally or because you’ve learned to read it without emotion. I’m all for objectivity, but I think it can lead to a disconnectedness sometimes. I know I use this coping mechanism and occasionally find myself disturbingly unmoved by… well… something moving.

Anyway, here’s the thing about fear: I’d rather know what I have to fear than have some abstract, dark shadow looming overhead. one of the messages I hear in this book is that while it is true that some of us will live painful lives and die painful deaths, the circumstances of this life will only have power over our next if we let them. Maybe that sounds like that disconnected coping I was talking about earlier, but I’m not trying to minimize anyone’s suffering. In a bad moment, maybe that promise doesn’t feel like comfort. How many of us can really look past this current life to find the comfort promised in the next? I hope I can when I’m facing something terrible. Revelation does end in a beautiful and comforting way, but it’s pretty hard to see past all the long-term pain and suffering and oppression. Still, we live with all of those things now. I’m not sure we’ll recognize these prophecies when we see them. I’m not even going to guess about how they might appear to us. What I don’t doubt is the intensity and importance of Revelation’s call to live righteously. Whether I understand or can reconcile these things and no matter what my fate, I believe that I should live as lovingly, honestly, faithfully as possible.

All that being said, there are some things I struggle with in Revelation. I can accept the truly awful things written about the world, the fantastic, odd things that will come to pass, but some of the things that it seems to say about God are harder for me to accept.  “…the great wine press of the wrath of God…” (Revelation 16:19) sounds horrifying. Is all that blood really necessary? Also, in 21:15 we’re told that Christ will rule with a “rod of iron.” My discomfort on this one stems, I suspect, from my feeling that people should not hold that kind of power… that it’s corrupting. But of course, we’re not talking about human nature here. I think it challenges our trust. How willing are we to be ruled? It also challenges us to reconcile obedience and freedom.

Oh, dear, no one is going to be able to follow this wandering-brain post. Ah, well. Read Crystal’s most recent post, instead. It is as cohesive as mine isn’t and very challenging. 😊

Spirituality · Uncategorized

Biblical Marriage and Alienating Language

Yesterday, a few members of the men’s group at our church stood up to speak to the congregation about a study they recently completed. They were enthusiastic about it and, between the reading and fellowship, reported improvements in their romantic, parenting and work relationships. One of the things they talked about was following the biblical model for marriage; a partnership in which the husband takes a leadership role and the wife takes a more submissive role. Raise your hand if you read the last part of that sentence and started feeling irate, or at least uncomfortable. Yeah… me, too. I’ve thought this through before, and the idea of submission always stops me cold. Now, they did make a very important distinction yesterday, saying that submission is not for a man to impose; rather, it’s a gift that a woman can choose to give. Still, I was hearing that word louder than all the others. I’m still not entirely comfortable with this issue, but I do have a few thoughts. Before I dive in, please understand that I am not giving advice and am only exploring how it might affect a committed, loving couple who have mutual respect for one another.

What does the word “submissive” conjure for people? A submissive dog is one who pees whenever it is afraid or excited. A submissive woman might bow her head and quietly endure abuse. This is not a trait that ANY woman wants to embody, so I think we have to get past the loaded nature of the word and discover what’s really intended.

So, how else can we understand what this means? We do use “submit” in other contexts. A student might, for example, submit an assignment to a teacher. This is a voluntary action. The student gives their work to someone whose opinion they value (ideally 🙂 ) to read it and weigh it. The Vice President advises the President, but doesn’t have the same authority and we don’t call him submissive. I think in marriage it means choosing someone you love and trust completely to consider your family’s best interests. It means offering your opinions and support and allowing him to make decisions (heavy responsibility). It means gracefully refusing to be an obstacle. And here’s the other thing: If I choose to empower my husband to make decisions, that doesn’t mean that he can’t submit to me in return. He may decide that what I want is the best thing, even if it isn’t what he wants. I chose to marry someone I trust and we do run into situations sometimes where I really want something and he really doesn’t. Is it a good thing for me to push and push until he caves? Not usually. 🙂 OK, that’s never actually worked well for me. It damages the relationship. In instances where he’s wanted something that I really don’t want, he almost always respects my wishes. 

The sad fact is that women are still subverted in negative ways all the time. Feminism is such a big part of the culture that I grew up in. Any whiff of “inequality” sends us scurrying in the opposite direction, but honestly, that isn’t at issue, here. We aren’t talking about stripping power or rights from women – we’re talking about a completely voluntary way to structure a personal relationship.

Any comments? I know it’s a touchy issue…

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Some Light Spring Reading

Flowers are blooming, birds are chirping, the grass is this vivid, oh-so-alive color and I’m reading… about fire and pestilence and death. Welcome! 🙂 Crystal and I are currently reading and blogging through Revelation. I never know quite what to make of this particular book and am looking forward to her insights (no pressure, friend). 

I’m not going to go point by point through my notes because we’d be here a very long time. Actually, in the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t make any because I’m trying to read for big picture. A few details did catch me this time through, though, so I’ll give you two detail paragraphs and then a broader impressions paragraph.

First, the first few chapters are devoted to specific churches, addressing their merits and failures and urging them to be true. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I never recognized that those letters are not, fact, addressed to the churches but to the angels of the churches. That made me wonder if the promises of reward for doing well in each letter were intended for the people of the churches or the angels.

The other big thing was the war in heaven referenced in Revelation 12:7. This access that the devil seems to have to heaven is curious to me. I remember having similar questions while reading Job. And if he can get up there, can he affect or tempt the people who reside there? The idea of violence in heaven is so contrary to the heaven in my head.

The overall reflection this reading led me to might seem off-topic. I’m going to ramble here and I apologize. Reading Revelation got me thinking about what happens when we write something down. The thing we’re writing about often becomes… romanticized or diluted. I mean, I could write about a terrible, flat time in my life with words that would make it sound almost appealing. Words add drama and color. We read about wars, for example, and we get political background, read some personal stories and maybe those words give an impression of purpose and energy and drama. But I wonder. If our current situation is any indication, I’d say wartimes are, in fact, full of anxiety, depression, struggling to find purpose and just the usual busyness of day-to-day living. Other times, the full impact and pain could never be adequately expressed. When I’ve done something wrong, giving the thing words takes away some of the sting. I’m not bragging, by the way. It’s a form of justification that can be really dangerous. After all that, what I’m really wondering is whether the events detailed in Revelation will seem as dramatic and recognizable and all-consuming when they happen. How will people handle it? I think there’s an idea out there that everything will stop when the apocalypse begins to unfold. But people will still go to sleep and wake up. They’ll still eat and get dressed and worry about their kids. 

What will it be like?  

Prophets Project · Uncategorized

Prophets Project – Ezekiel 36-48

Wow. Some weird stuff this week. I struggled to make sense of much of this most recent reading and am really looking forward to my pow wow with my study partner later tonight. I may have another entry coming, but in the meantime, here’s a brief reflection on Ezekiel 36:33: “Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse  you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt.” A cross reference pointed me to Isaiah 58:12: “And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”

My aforementioned study partner, Crystal, actually brought this restoration-of-ruins theme to my attention some time ago and I feel like it’s worth thinking about. Now, I don’t know exactly when in our world’s sequence of events this will happen, but it is fascinating to me to think that something humanity created could be worthy of God’s special attention and promises. Maybe this promise is specifically designed to encourage the people and isn’t really a reflection on the greatness of those structures or the people who made them, but I’m not sure it matters. In this fallen and discouraging world, this strikes me as a reassuring reminder that people can do awesome things. That sounds simple and obvious, but I think we often focus on our unworthiness and on the detrimental things we’ve introduced into God’s creation. We are unworthy, but when we forget that we can please God, that he created us with incredible capacity and values our contributions… well, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

And now my three-year-old is climbing all over me, pushing keys and telling me to “Stop typing right now!”, so I suppose I’ll sign off here. But I hope this encourages you, as it did me, to keep your chin up. 🙂