DEAD WOULD 9-22-19
September 22nd, 2019
Throughout this morning’s service we spoke about bearing fruit for Christ, and about dead branches, wood that is cut off and thrown into the fire. So if you looked in your bulletin and noticed the title of this message you probably thought to yourself that it seemed odd that I, being a known member of the grammar police, would have spelled wood W-O-U-L-D instead of W-O-O-D. Perhaps Randy messed up when typing up the bulletin? No, neither Randy nor myself spelled it that way in error. It simply occurred to me that too often the unfruitful branches are the result of ‘woulds’ that have been infected by the ‘but’ virus (and that is spelled with ONE ‘T’!). For example, when a Christian is called upon to bear visible fruit - be through attending church regularly, inviting a friend to church, helping someone in need, contributing to the ministry, or witnessing to an unbeliever – their response begins with the words “I would but…” I would but my job makes it impossible. I would but I’m not very good at that. I would but I’ve made other plans. I would but I like to sleep in on Sunday mornings. I would but I’ve never done that before. And so on and so on. Their ‘woulds’ turns into ‘won’ts’, and their branch bears no fruit.
Our bulletin cover features a tree that is dead on one side, vibrantly alive on the other, and captioned, “Is this tree half-dead or half-alive?” (a spin on the famous glass that is either half-full or half-empty). The underlying question is “Do we focus on the part that is alive or the part that appears to be dead?” And notice I said “appears”… Because what appears to us to be dead is not beyond the life-giving power of our Lord. Remember Lazarus. He was in the tomb for four days when Jesus arrived. His sister even commented on his stench! In John 11:38-40 we read, “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. ‘Take away the stone,’ he said. ‘But, Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’” If Jesus can bring Lazarus back to life after he was dead for four days, I believe he can bring back to life any individual or church or part of the Body of Christ that appears to be spiritually dead. We should not personally give up on any believer or group of believers that have ceased to bear fruit. Instead we should do as Jesus instructed in our first Scripture reading (Luke 13:6-9) and fertilize that which is unfruitful. I’m sure you’ve all heard of “Miracle Gro”? As a gardener I am quite familiar with it. Praying for the unfruitful is like buying a box of Miracle Gro. God hands us the box when we pray for Him to restore life into those who might appear to be dead. Then we mix it with the living water of the Holy Spirit and lovingly apply it with encouraging words and helpful actions. Instead, too often we are eager to do the job of the Master Gardener, our heavenly Father, which is to cut off every branch that bears no fruit, as you heard in our second Scripture reading (John 15:1-8). Only God knows that which is truly dead and can never be restored, as opposed to that which He seeks to bring back to life. Remember, part of the ‘invisible’ fruit of the Spirit (which manifests itself in visible service) is patience.
So let us continue to pray for and encourage the unfruitful branches, all the while remembering that we must be prudent in making sure we ourselves remain fruitful. We need to continually cultivate all of the fruits of the Spirit within ourselves, which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22,23), so that they will outwardly produce seed-bearing fruit through acts of service and self-sacrifice, shining the light of Christ not only within the walls of the church building, but in the community and among those who have yet to hear and accept the Good News of salvation through Jesus.
So the answer to my earlier question, “Do we focus on the part that is alive or the part that appears to be dead?” is BOTH. We need to ensure that the part that is alive stays alive, grows, and bears much fruit, as Jesus said, it “is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:8). And we also need to do all that we can to restore the part that is unfruitful, so that the entire tree once again blossoms, bears fruit, and produces seed.
May the Lord restore life to the branches that have withered, and from our humble offering of fruit raise up an entire orchard where there was once only barren ground, to the glory of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit among us and within us. Amen.
"My Own Little World" (Matthew West) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UywpoHe61sE
"Do Something" (Matthew West) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_RjndG0IX8