Dear Citylife – Letter to Congregation from Pastor Um (5/13/20)

Dear Citylife,

I am sure that many of you have been following the updates from Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh as they unveiled to us the 4 Phase Re-opening Plan. As we enter into the summer months, we can see that we have made some progress with the flattening of the curve and with the decrease in new cases. However, please continue to respect the advisory for social distancing and do wear your masks and facial coverings. Let’s continue to be good neighbors by being careful even as we enter into this new re-opening phase.

At the same time, even though we are making progress, some of you are still struggling to deal with the reality that you (or your children) will have to finish out your spring semesters at home. We are entering into summer with completely different expectations since we no longer have our normal freedoms such as having the ability to go on holiday, or going outside and enjoying the outdoors, or even sending our children to summer camps. A lot of the joys that we have experienced in past summers! While we continue to press forward and grapple with the uncertainties of what the fall might bring, our character is seriously being tested as we spend a lot of time with our roommates or family members in close proximity.

The combination of not being able to freely go wherever we would like to go and being somewhat quarantined is a bad mixture that can provoke the worst parts of our inner character. Even though we have an opportunity to utilize the extra time we have with our family to play or to spend time reading Scripture and praying, we still battle with the reality of compromised personal space. I’d like for us to look to Galatians 5:22-23 for this week’s word of  challenge and encouragement.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

One of the purposes of the Holy Spirit’s work in us is to change our character so that we will become more like Jesus (Romans 8:29, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son”; Ephesians 4:13, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”). We do know that the Spirit, after his regenerating work to convert us, often times does his operative work more gradually rather than instantaneously. In other words, there is a process to our spiritual growth and Christian sanctification.

I am sure that as you look at the list of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 you might be saying to yourself, “On any given moment in a given day under quarantine, I have not born any of these fruits! If anything, it has been the opposite! My patience has been tested by my roommates, spouse, or children. My joy has been sapped by the hopelessness of this crisis.”

Let me define what some of these various fruits represent, what the opposites would be, and potential counterfeits (summary of a Citylife Bible study on Christian character from Michael Keller):

–   Love can be defined as a fruit that resolves to meet the needs of others as opposed to being occupied with self-interest. A disguised counterfeit of true love is when you help others because you profit from “loving” them in some way.

–   Joy can be defined as a fruit where you delight in the beauty and the work of God. The opposite of joy would be hopelessness and despair. A disguised, fake version of joy is when you either seem happy because you’ve received some sort of benefit/blessing or when you experience momentary joy because of favorable circumstances.

–   Peace can be defined as finding complete rest in the un-surpassing wisdom of God. The opposite would be anxiety and worry. A counterfeit to peace, which is not real peace but appears like it, is when somebody is apathetic (not hostile) and is simply being “chill.” However, he/she does not ultimately care.

I’ll end with this last description of patience. It is a fruit that is able to endure hardship and adversity without becoming angry or losing hope. A counterfeit version would be emotional detachment that wants to just “grit it out.” It seems like you are persevering and being understanding but you just end up having a superiority complex that says you will not let little things bother you.

What we need to realize here is that Apostle Paul refers to a list of fruits but then talks about the list as one collective “fruit” of the Spirit! The reason why he says that is because he realizes that all the different fruits need to be working together in a unifying way as one collective fruit as the Spirit applies the gospel into our hearts. It’s not as though we say, “I am temperamentally wired one way so I can credit that to the Spirit, but the other ones aren’t me!” We can’t say, “I’m ok with peace or patience, but humility or self-control aren’t for me!”

A real, Spirit-produced fruit needs to be a collective, unifying collection of Christian growth and character. For example, some people are temperamentally sweet, which looks like gentleness, but are not bold and courageous. They lack faithfulness. Again, that’s just the description of their temperament but not necessarily a real, Spirit-produced fruit. Real peace is dependent upon humility, real self-control is dependent upon joy, real gentleness is dependent upon love, etc.

How can we find hope and where can we turn to in order for us to grow so that we aren’t being angry, impatient, rough, unforgiving, out of control, overly anxious and insecure? Where do we find hope for these things? If Apostle Paul is simply listing common moral virtues which we need to obey and embrace without any power source that can change us, then we are utterly hopeless to be able to live up to these expectations. Only when we see Jesus’ dying patience, forgiveness, self-emptying, kindness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control for us, then this crucifying love of Jesus can actually change our hearts from the inside-out. I am sure all of you want to be more kind and not unkind, patient and not impatient. I do too!

We need to get to a point where we can know and taste this transforming love of God so that our hearts will rejoice by saying, “God is for me! Who can be against me?” Until we get to that point, we will never be able to experience this real, Spirit-produced fruit in our character.

“Gifts, talents and abilities are excellent things but they are not things which are inherent in the nature like true grace and holiness. They are, as it were, precious jewels which a man carries about him but true grace in the heart is the preciousness of the heart by which the soul itself has become a precious jewel. The Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters but he did not communicate himself to the waters. When the Spirit, by his ordinary influences, bestows saving grace, he imparts himself to the soul. Thus grace, as it were, is the holy nature of the Spirit of God imparted to the soul.” – Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits

What this means is only when the gospel of Jesus becomes the greatest object of our affection because he is the source of our joy/hope/meaning/worth, will we be motivated by grace to have self-control to fight against drivenness, selfishness, bitterness, and superiority over others. In other words, no one can simply change through one’s own will-power. We will always be controlled by our heart’s supreme affection and love. My prayer for all of us is that we would seek Jesus to ask for his Spirit to bestow upon us his rescuing, life-changing grace by imparting himself into our souls so that the interiority of our hearts will wear the fruitful garment of Jesus’ loving, gentle, self-controlling, kind, forgiving peaceful, good and faithful nature. 

I would like to encourage all of you to speak with a friend from church and ask each other about your Christian character and growth. Ask questions such as, “do you think I am growing in the area of being a kinder person? Have you noticed if I have been more joyful and patient or less anxious and more peaceful?”

As Apostle Paul says, let us walk by the Spirit and not gratify the desires of our flesh because we know that we are people who have been set free (Galatians 5:16). We live our lives not by our competencies and gifts but by true gospel virtue and fruitful character.

Tonight is our weekly “Wednesdays with Pastor Um” session at 7:00 p.m. Look back at the latest Citylife News email, subscribe to our weekly Newsletter here or join our Citylife Social FB group to find the meeting login info.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20),

Pastor Um