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Are You a Dead Stick?

The Scripture Readings

  • Epistle Lesson 1 – 1 Peter 3:13-22
  • Epistle Lesson 2 – Ephesians 4:11-16
  • Gospel – John 14:15-21

Meditation: The word of God is the food that makes believers mature and strong. – John MacArthur

On this beautiful day that the Lord has made, I am reminded that sunshine/rain is a very necessary element for the growth of all living things. I heard a story recently from a minister named Dr. Adrian Rogers about an experiment with plants that he performed in his church. He started out with some potted plants and gave one to each department within his church. The first group was told to give their plant water, fertilizer and sunlight. Another gave their plant everything except water. Another withheld sunlight and so on. There was also a control group. Instead of a potted plant, this group was given a potted dead stick and was instructed to give it all three elements necessary for growth.

Well, I’m sure you know what happened. The group with the dead stick showed no signs of life whatsoever and each of the other groups showed a severe lack of health, and little, if any growth, except for the one that gave their plant all three necessary elements. This story illustrates the importance of having a balance in our Christian lives. But if we don’t have one crucial element, all the water, sunshine and fertilizer in the world won’t do any good. That crucial element is life. Not just the life our mothers gave us, we have to be born again, born of water and the spirit. We have to be saved.

My first point today is, “You have to be saved or you’re just a dead stick.”

Are you saved? Are you sure? How do you know? These are actually easy questions for us to answer. In the book of Mark, Jesus himself tells us how with his first words as recorded in that gospel. Reading from chapter 1, verses 14 and 15:

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Remember those words: Repent and believe.

It is said that confession is good for the soul, and my soul needs all the help it can get, so I’m going to confess to you right now, that I sat in these very pews for many years and wasn’t saved. Oh, I was a “good Christian.” Most people here know me and have known me for a long time. Some of you know that I’ve attended this church since I was two years old, I’ve sung in the choir since I was sixteen, I throw an envelope into the plate once in a while and take communion every time it’s offered. But I wasn’t saved. Remember those two things Jesus said, Repent and Believe? I believed, but I hadn’t repented, not really. I held on to my sins and justified them to myself. I compared myself to all manner of despicable people to try and look better; if not in God’s eyes, at least in my own. But the Lord let me know that I wasn’t fooling Him. He knew the real me. He knew I didn’t deserve to be sitting up in the front of the church in the choir or as liturgist. He led me to my knees and He helped me change my mind (which is what the word ‘repent’ means) He helped me see myself as He sees me. He turned my heart and guided me to repent.

A growing Christian isn’t perfect, and I still don’t deserve to be up here in the front of the church, but I know now that God can use all kinds of people to get His message across; even sinners like me.

Jesus said, “Repent and believe…” And this is exactly what it takes to turn us from a dead stick into a growing Christian with a new life. Repent of our sins and believe that Jesus is the son of God and died so that we would not perish, but have everlasting life.

If you only remember one thing from me today, let it be that it is only through Christ that we will be saved and gain eternal life.

Water. Water is mentioned in the first couple verses of Genesis and also in the last couple verses of Revelation. In between these two occurrences, the word appears more than 400 times throughout the Bible. Like the plants in our experiment, we need water.

One night a father sent his son off to bed. A minute later the boy yelled, “Dad! Can you get me a glass of water!?!”

“No. You should have gotten a drink before you got in bed. Now go to sleep!”

Three minutes later the boy yelled “Dad!! Can you PLEASE get me a glass of water?”

“No. You had your chance. Next time you ask I’ll come up there and spank you.”

Five minutes passed.

“Dad! When you come up to spank me can you bring me a glass or water?”

As we read in 1 Peter 3:13-22 today, like the boy in this story we should endure any amount of suffering to get the living water which is Jesus. Without Him we will quickly die. You must know Jesus to live – in this world and, more importantly, in the next.

So who is Jesus? I think the most important thing to remember about Jesus is that Jesus is God. He is God the Son, part of the Trinity along with the God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Three persons, one God. You can spend a lifetime just trying to figure that one out. I recommend you just wrap your mind around this truth as best you can and don’t try to squeeze it any tighter than you have too. If you only have a basic understanding of the Trinity, it is good enough to keep growing in Jesus.

We need Jesus every day, just like we need water every day. But think of all the ways we get our water. Not too many of us drink plain old water anymore. The world has taken pure water and changed it around to suit the tastes of our culture. We mix it with all kinds of artificial flavorings, artificial sweeteners and artificial bubbles. We add caffeine, sugar, coloring and even alcohol to make our water taste different – presumably to make it taste better. But the most important part is still the water.

Some people try to do the same thing to Jesus. More and more these days, we will hear about a Jesus that has been diluted with all manner of artificial additives – again, presumably to make Him more palatable. My friends, it may be just as important to know who Jesus isn’t, as it is to know who Jesus is.

So I have a caution for everyone here this morning: BEWARE of people, churches, books or anything that tries to get you to believe in a Jesus that is less than the true, pure, undiluted Jesus that we read about in The Bible. Anything less is poisoned water to the growing Christian. (Now, this is very important, and I’m going to spend a little more time on this than on the other aspects of our plant analogy because of what we heard today in Ephesians 4:14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.)

You see, people you know, people you trust, even people you love can do this in many different ways. Sometimes they don’t even realize they’re doing it. But here’s a tip to help you spot this poisoned water – Now listen closely – If the Jesus or God you’re hearing about seems a little one-dimensional – this is probably not the true Jesus or the true God of the Bible.

For example, a couple weeks ago, one of the youth group kids asked me a question that one of his schoolmates had asked him. “How can an all-loving God allow pain and suffering?” Good question, isn’t it? Yeah, that’s the kind of thing you hear in the youth class. Tough, thoughtful questions.

Remember my caution about one-dimensionality. If you accept the question as presented, your answer will probably be something like, “Well, there sure is a lot of human suffering in the world, so I guess God isn’t all-loving after all” – and now you don’t have God at all anymore. You’ve turned God into something less than what he is, a god that is all wrath and no love.

The opposite side of this coin is the person who wants to think of God as love and leave it at that while neglecting His equally important qualities such as perfect justice and holiness. Certainly, God is love, but to say so and stop right there is like saying that the Pacific Ocean contains one hundred gallons of water. It is a true statement, but it is far from the whole truth and it hardly tells the whole story.

This often comes from a person who might say, “God is love and God loves me just the way I am.” Yes, God certainly does love you and there’s nothing you can do to change that. But the question I am forced to ask myself when I start focusing on God’s infinite love and grace while ignoring his holiness and hatred of sin is this: How is my sinful behavior showing my love for God?

The Gospel is not about justifying ourselves and our sinful actions, the Gospel is about denying ourselves, turning from our sin, taking up our cross and accepting the justification that can only come from Christ.

My dear friends please don’t fall into this trap. Get to know the God who is, accept Him as He is and you will know the one, true God. And the God of The Bible will never fail to have mercy on those who honestly repent, and believe in His son, Jesus, and follow His commandments.

So, our first lesson was you have to be saved or you’re just a dead stick and the second is to Know Jesus, the real, holy, loving and wrathful Jesus, God the Son, the giver of pure living water.

Our third lesson involves fertilizer.

Now I really need to be careful with this comparison. I almost got myself into trouble a couple weeks ago. All our gardeners and farmers know what I mean. Let me tell you a story…

I am blessed to spend my weekdays working at a business owned by a Christian. Every Wednesday the president of the company hosts a bible study meeting in his office. Right after one of our meetings a couple weeks ago, I commented to Terry, our study leader, “You really piled on the fertilizer today…” He looked at me kind of funny, so I quickly added, “…and water and sunlight too. I meant fertilizer as in plant food.” I think using the words “piled on” is where I went wrong.

A great definition of the fertilizer I’m thinking about is from Pastor John MacArthur who said, “The word of God is the food that makes believers mature and strong.”

Our third lesson, quite simply is to develop an insatiable appetite for this food: for the word of God. Deuteronomy 8:3 says: “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Anyone can drink water. We don’t need to have an appetite to drink water. But we do need to have an appetite for the word of God. The apostle Paul in the Third Chapter of First Corinthians used the metaphor of an infant drinking milk and an adult eating solid food. We need to get to know Jesus, but not just superficially, like we’re drinking milk. We need some solid food if we’re going to be a growing Christian.

But before we can develop an appetite for this food, we have to realize that we are hungry. After all, if we’re not hungry, why would we seek out food? Likewise, if we’re satisfied with our life, why would we seek out Jesus?

I believe that everyone is hungry for a greater knowledge of God; sometimes they just don’t know it. We Americans are a satiated people. We have food, clothing and shelter in excess. We are warm in the winter and cool in the summer. With the Internet, we have access to knowledge that none of us could even imagine just twenty years ago. Many of us own enough clothing that we could wear a different shirt everyday for a month and not ever have to do laundry, but clothes do not satisfy. We may have a home, a three-car garage, a barn, a couple of sheds, maybe even a vacation home, but we’re still not satisfied. The feeling that drives us to want more is God’s Holy Spirit, but He isn’t driving us to a life of consumerism, but rather toward knowledge of God. That’s what we’re really hungry for. We are not just hungry, but starving for a deeper knowledge of God. But we’re so stuffed with the stuff of this world; most of us don’t even realize how empty we really are.

So how can we develop an insatiable appetite? Maybe we just feel a little bit hungry. We get filled up every Sunday with a 15 minute sermon and don’t get hungry again for a week or more. The key – is desire. We need to desire to know God’s word more than we desire the earthly things that do not last.

And right here is where we begin – The Bible. We begin to have a deeper longing to know God’s word when we open the Bible and read and meditate on His word. Unlike the food we consume, the more of God’s food we eat, the hungrier we get. And only more and more of the word of God will satisfy us.

Our final lesson today, from Dr. Rogers’ plant experiment, is that sunlight represents time.

Let’s take a look at how we Americans, spend our time.

If you work 42 hrs a week, you spend about 25 percent of your time working. If you sleep seven hours a night, you spend about 30 percent of your time sleeping. Do you watch about three hours of television every day? (Most Americans average about five hours!) That’s 12 percent watching TV. If you add up the time you spend eating every day, about an hour, you spend about 4 percent of your time eating. And for those who come to church every single Sunday, all year long, we “good Christians” spend about one half of one percent of our time learning God’s word in church. Eight times less than the time we spend eating and 24 times less than we spend watching TV.

The question that comes to my mind when looking at these numbers is this: How much time do I spend outside these walls getting to know the Lord? Confession time again… Until rather recently, my answer was, “None.”

None. My friends, this is like withholding sunlight. We can’t take our plant out of the closet for one hour on Sundays and expect it to grow and thrive. We eat every day, we drink water every day and we need to read God’s word every day. And just as importantly, don’t forget this; we need to pray every day.

How important is Jesus in your life? Is He more important than what you eat and drink? Is He more important than a good night’s sleep? Is He more important than your job? Your family? Your bank account? Your favorite TV show?

If Jesus is worth more than these, why do we invest so little time learning about Him and learning to follow His commandments? I’m going to give you the secret to having the time to become a growing Christian, but you’re probably not going to like it. I didn’t like it at first either. Turn off the TV and listen to WCRF for half an hour. Instead of picking up a snack, pick up and read the Bible. Get up early or stay up late and read your devotional. Shut off the computer and pray.

Deny yourself something that you REALLY DON’T NEED and take up something that is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.

To be a growing Christian, we have to be saved or we’re just a dead stick. We have to repent and believe.

To be a growing Christian, we have to know Jesus, the living water. We have to know who He is and perhaps just as importantly, who He isn’t

To be a growing Christian, we have to develop an appetite for the word of God. We do so by reading God’s word and letting the desire to know God grow within us.

And finally, we have to make time for God. Time in His word; time in prayer; time in meditation, today, tomorrow, next week, next month, and for the rest of our earthly lives.

Let us all spend some time in prayer right now, shall we?

Heavenly father, we sit here before you like saplings in the springtime. We have a lot of potential to grow, and we know that only you know what we need. Please, Lord, give us the water, the food and the time we need to grow closer to you; even as our savior, Jesus, gave us His very life so we could live eternally in His heavenly kingdom. We pray this in Jesus’ holy name. Amen.

(c) 2008-2010 David J. Miller
This sermon was presented on April 27, 2008 at Mt. Zwingli Church in Wadsworth, Ohio