Producing Fruit: Goodness

Many people aspire to greatness, but how many of us aspire to goodness? As Christians, we know that we cannot be good on our own. While it is true that all of the fruit of the Spirit is nurtured through the working of the Spirit in our lives, goodness, in particular stands out as the one attribute for which we are totally dependent on the Spirit’s work.

As David pointed out in the Psalms, we have no goodness in ourselves: “There is no one who does good, not even one (Psalm 14:3, Psalm 53:3). Jesus expressed the same truth after He was addressed as good teacher: “Why do you call me good? No one is good – except God alone” (Mark 10:17,18). All of our goodness comes from God, who clothes us in salvation and dresses us in righteousness when He saves us (Isaiah 61:10). The progression is worth noting: Our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6); God removes the filthy garments; God clothes us with fine garments (Zechariah 3:3,4).

But it doesn’t end with the garments. After all, no one would want a piece of fruit that’s perfect on the outside but rotten on the inside. Jesus compared hypocrites to whitewashed tombs, “beautiful on the outside but on the inside… full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27). God desires not simply to cover our unrighteousness with His holiness, but to make us righteous through and through, inside and out. As we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, He forms us into “oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3).

When we’re buying a piece of fruit, we examine all of its attributes to determine whether it’s good or bad. We look it over carefully, searching for any discoloration or bruises, we squeeze it, to see whether it’s too soft or too hard, and we may even smell it for signs of rottenness. We will never find a perfect piece of fruit, but we want to make sure that we choose one that’s ripe. In the same way, people examine us closely: How much do we love? How joyful and are we? Are we at peace? In our dealings with others, are we forbearing, kind, and good? Are we faithful? Do we treat others with gentleness, and show self-control? While we cannot hope to be perfect, we should undoubtedly aspire to be mature – in every attribute of the fruit of the Spirit.

As we consider the fruit of the Spirit, let’s make it a point to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, persevering so that we may be “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4).

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22,23, NIV2011).

Otis A. Fortenberry

Producing Fruit: Gentleness

Gentleness. It seems almost out of place in the list of attributes that make up the fruit of the Spirit. Of all the sermons I’ve heard in my lifetime, I don’t remember “gentleness” coming up, except in the middle of a list of the fruit of the Spirit.

Gentleness seems even more out of place when we consider that Paul is the one who is the author of the list. Boldness seems more Paul’s style, as we see in his rebuke to the high priest who commanded him to be smitten (Acts 23:1–5), his parting words to the unbelieving Jews in Rome (Acts 28:23–28), and his words in opposition to Peter’s hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11–14).  But Paul himself gives us a hint of the virtue of gentleness when he speaks of his reputation among the Corinthians: “I, Paul, who am ‘timid’ when face to face with you, but ‘bold’ toward you when away! I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world” (II Corinthians 10:1,2). Paul was definitely bold, when the situation demanded it, but his preferred method of approach was gentleness.

One of my favorite moments in Revelation comes after John weeps and weeps because no one is found worthy to open a scroll, and one of the elders tells him not to worry, because the triumphant Lion of the tribe of Judah is able to open the seals. It’s at that moment that Jesus appears – not as a conquering lion but as a lamb that had been sacrificed (Revelation 5:1–10). How incredibly blessed we are that our Savior comes to us first as “the Lamb who takes away the sins the world” (John 1:29) before he comes as the sovereign Lord who will judge the inhabitants of the earth (Revelation 6:10).

In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21–35), Jesus calls us to this same gentleness, reminding us that, as we have received patient, gentle mercy, we have an obligation to show the same to those around us. Consider this carefully as you go through your day. We have many opportunities to be cruel, harsh, and judgmental (even if only in our thoughts – or our gossipy, hurtful comments to others – and not our actions), but God’s desire is for us to respond in gentleness. Paul puts it this way: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22,23, NIV2011). In this four-part series, we are taking a look at some of the less-commonly discussed attributes in this list. As we seek to move and grow in the Spirit, let us make an effort to excel in every aspect the fruit of the Spirit.

 

Otis A. Fortenberry

Producing Fruit: Faithfulness

In professional sports, there’s a saying that the most important ability is availability.  What this means is that a player who can’t suit up for a game, no matter how talented he or she is, is not as valuable on the day of a game as a player, possibly less talented, who is available.

We see this principle in the Bible as well. God doesn’t look for those who have the most resources or talent to offer, but for those who are the most faithful in applying what they’ve been given.

As an example, in the opening verses of Luke 21, Jesus singled out a widow who put two very small copper coins into the temple treasury, pointing out that she had given more than all of the others. She was faithful with everything that she had, and, although her offering doesn’t seem like much to human eyes, in God’s eyes, it was the most valuable.

My father-in-law puts it this way: Man measures how much we give, but God measures how much we hold on to. This is true not only of money, but, more important, of our talents, training, ability, and even our time.

In choosing Moses (Exodus 4:10–12), a poor public speaker, Gideon, a man from the smallest family in the smallest tribe (Judges 6:14–16), and Peter and John, ordinary, uneducated men (Acts 4:13), God taught us that he is able to do great things with the small offerings that we faithfully surrender to him. No matter how inexperienced, inept, or untrained we may see ourselves, if we are faithful in offering our gifts back to God, he can do great things with them.

Sometimes, it’s hard to be faithful when we don’t see any results from our labor. Paul reminds us not to “become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Like a farmer toiling faithfully in a field, we have to be faithful even while we’re not able to see any results, knowing that it takes time for the fruit of our labor to come to maturity. We can be faithful because we know that God, who calls us to faithfulness, is himself faithful (I Thessalonians 5:24).

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22,23, NIV2011) In this four-part series, we are taking a look at some of the less-commonly discussed attributes in this list. As we seek to move and grow in the Spirit, let us make an effort to excel in every aspect of the fruit of the Spirit.

Otis A. Fortenberry

Producing Fruit: Forbearance

I’ve learned Galatians 5:22 and 23 in three languages: Seventeenth Century English (King James Version), Late Twentieth Century English (New International Version, 1984), and Early Twenty-first Century English (New International Version, 2011). Each translation uses a different word for the fourth aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. In the KJV, it’s translated “longsuffering,” in NIV1984 “patience,” and in NIV2011 “forbearance.” I’m glad that the translators of the latest release of the New International Version updated the translation from “patience.” Actually, I think that “longsuffering”—a now-outdated term, puts it best: the ability to put up with a lot. The difference between patience and longsuffering? Patience is keeping a smile on your face when you’re stuck on the Schuylkill for four hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Longsuffering or forbearance is maintaining that smile when you’re stuck in traffic—and all the other drivers are honking their horns, shaking their fists, and shouting profanity at you. Paul summarizes this type of forbearance in 1 Corinthians 9:12, “We put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.” As is true of all of the fruit of the Spirit, this level of forbearance is possible only as the result of a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Jesus is our example. He came not only to fulfill the ultimate mission in God’s plan, giving His life as the sacrifice that would take away the sins of the world, but also to live among us. Wherever Jesus went, He endured opposition, constant questioning of His actions and His motives, and the needy around Him who sought His help. In all of this, He endured, humbly and sinlessly. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22, 23, NIV2011). Over the next four weeks, we will take a look at some of the less commonly discussed attributes in this list. As we seek to move and grow in the Spirit, let us make an effort to excel in every aspect of the fruit of the Spirit.

Otis A. Fortenberry

True Freedom

I’m proud to be an American! And, especially this time of year, I’m proud to be a Philadelphian. It’s great to celebrate our country’s birthday in the home of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.

At the same time, I must never lose sight of the fact that I have dual citizenship. My primary, eternal citizenship is in the Kingdom of Heaven, and my primary responsibility is to be an ambassador of that kingdom.

This Independence Day, as we celebrate our freedoms, let us not forget that we are surrounded by people who are in bondage: to sin, to their carnal desires, to fear and hopelessness. What makes their bondage even sadder is that most have no idea that they are bound. They choose to believe what the world tells them, but what the world calls freedom is actually a trap, designed to separate us from our loving God.

At the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he read in the Temple from Isaiah 58:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18,19)

As his earthly ministry drew to a close, he commissioned us to be ambassadors of this same message:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)

Let’s celebrate true freedom by devoting ourselves to sharing God’s Good News with everyone we know!

Otis A. Fortenberry

Who Is My Neighbor?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16)

Earlier this month, the leadership team from our two churches, along with teams from other churches in Pennsylvania and Delaware, attended a conference on church renewal. At one point, the leader shared a challenge from the book, The Art of Neighboring, encouraging us to get to know nine of our neighbors.

It struck me that, living in Philadelphia, we had an advantage over the others there, who lived in suburban and rural areas. I know, from having grown up in small towns, that the distance between two neighboring houses in those towns could easily be equal to the distance between my current house in Philadelphia and nine of my neighbors!

And yet, I had to ask myself: Do I really know my neighbors?

An expert in the Law once asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”, and Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37).  I suggest that we ask ourselves that question in a different context: Who are our neighbors, really?  What are their dreams? What are their needs? How can I show the love of Christ to them?

As Christians, we acknowledge God’s purpose in every area of our lives, and we acknowledge our responsibility to be faithful to that purpose on a daily basis, in our day-to-day lives. We’re familiar with the Great Commission that Jesus gave us, to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel” (Matthew 28:19), but let us not forget the commission that he gave to the man whom he delivered from a legion of demons, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mark 5:19)

How well do you know your neighbors? How well do they know you and how much the Lord has done for you? Let us commit to making the most of every opportunity to share the love and light of Jesus with the world that’s right next door to us.

Where Does Our Help Come From

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1,2)

History tells us that, in the early years after Jesus died and was resurrected, the Jews, in revolt against the Roman Empire, took their stand atop the mountain fortress of Masada. Because of its height and inaccessibility, Masada was thought to be impregnable. However, over the course of a year, the attacking Romans patiently moved tons of stone and compacted earth to form a ramp up to the mountain, by which they laboriously maneuvered a siege tower and battering ram into position, enabling them to overwhelm the Jewish defenders.

Centuries before this chapter in Jewish history, a psalmist, looking out over the lofty, imposing hills of Jerusalem, made the wise and inspired observation that it is not the mountains that protect us, but the maker of the mountains, our God.

Last year was, in many ways, a year of uncertainty and upheaval. Many of the institutions on which people looked as safety nets stumbled or crumbled; many of the great minds and creative thinkers passed away; nations and armies rose and fell. For many of us, on a personal level, 2016 was a year of challenges, setbacks, and grief. And yet, in the midst of it all, we must remember that we have an anchor: Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

As we stand at the dawn of a new year, let us take our eyes off of those illusory things that we may be tempted to put our confidence in: our health, our jobs, our nation’s leaders. We must pray for these, to be sure, but we need not invest our confidence in them. Instead, let us focus that confidence on the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  Our world will change, but our God remains the same.

The Wisdom of Listening

open-door

“Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.” (Proverbs 8:34)

When Solomon was king of Israel, the queen of Sheba traveled to Jerusalem to test his wisdom with many hard questions.

He passed with flying colors.

In her summary of the visit, the queen said, “How happy are your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!” (I Kings 10:8)

She was talking about us!

As Christians, we have direct access to God, the source of Solomon’s wisdom. We don’t have to go on a long journey for glimpses of this wisdom, as the queen did, but, like Solomon’s officials, we have continual access to it.

But, like the queen, there are a couple of things that we have to do.

First of all, we have to seek God’s wisdom; to ask the “many hard questions” that we face on a daily basis. How often do we endure uncertainty and despair rather than simply asking God for direction? James reminds us that, if we need wisdom, we should ask the Father, and it will be given to us. (James 1:5)

The second thing that we need to do is listen. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of having someone who is struggling with a big problem come and tell you all about it in great detail, never stopping to listen for your advice. Or perhaps you’ve encountered someone who is so overwhelmed by his problem that he dismisses any advice that you offer, thinking that there’s no solution.

I sometimes wonder how often I have frustrated God by coming to him when I was distressed and talking non-stop, not letting him get a word in edgewise, even though he knows the way to address my problem all along.

We must never forget that prayer is a conversation with God; an opportunity not only to speak to him but also to hear and learn from him. If we truly understand what prayer is and who God is, our goal in prayer will shift from telling God what’s on our hearts to hearing what’s on his heart.

Imagine sitting in front of a refrigerator, desperately thirsty, but never bothering to open the door and look for something to drink – or opening the door, but only complaining to the pitcher of water inside about how thirsty you are. When we come before God, we’re opening the door to the answer for our need. When we listen to his wisdom, we’re drinking the water that satisfies our thirst.

 

-Otis A. Fortenberry

Power… To Be Witnesses

Aroma

I used to live in an apartment building that had a fast-food restaurant by the ground-floor entrance.  Without very much advertising, the restaurant tempted me every time that I walked into the building.  It was the aroma that attracted me.

This is one way that we, as Christians, are to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission to take the Gospel to the world.  We are to live lives that attract non-believers even before we say a word.  This is something that we can’t do on our own.  Fortunately, Jesus, in Acts 1:8, promised us help in the person of the Holy Spirit, who would give us power to be his witnesses.

When we allow the Holy Spirit to fill our lives, he produces his familiar fruit in us – love, joy, peace, and all the rest, listed in Galatians 5:22 and 23.  His fruit is what makes us attractive to a world that needs hope.  The Bible gives a wonderful example of this attraction in the story of Paul and Silas in prison (Acts 16:16–34). It was the witness of Paul and Silas’ actions, not their words, which moved the jailer to ask, “What must I do to be saved?”

However, the power that we receive from the Holy Spirit is also undeniably verbal. Whenever we see, in both the Old and the New Testaments, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, it is accompanied by speech.  When Christ’s promised outpouring was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost, the believers were immediately empowered by the Holy Spirit, “declaring the wonders of God” in languages understood by the crowds visiting Jerusalem (Acts 2:11).

If we, as a church, are looking for the kind of life that attracts unbelievers and for the power to declare God’s message with boldness, we must seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit – for ourselves individually and for the church as a whole.

-Otis A. Fortenberry