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Trees Or Posts?
February 11, 1996

1 CORINTHIANS 3:1-9

Please tell someone sitting near you about your favorite tree, either as a child or currently. My favorite was a tree in our farm yard. It had a swing hanging on one of the limbs. I spent hours swinging on that swing, singing, talking to myself, making up stories, thinking. A favorite time of school was Tree Planting Day. Not only were we excused from class, we enjoyed learning about conservation by planting trees.

When Jews began returning to what was then called Palestine in the early part of the century, they found a wasteland. Over the years, the Turks cut down forests, leaving stumps and desolation. The Jews have done a remarkable job reclaiming the land, draining swamps, growing crops. They began with tree planting. There is an ancient rabbinic saying. When the Messiah comes, everyone must stop whatever they are doing, and run out into the street to greet the Messiah, unless you are planting a tree!

A retired pastor reflected on the congregations he had served. He said, "Every congregation Iíve served can be divided into trees and posts. I call them trees and posts because when you put in a tree it begins to grow; when you stick a post in the ground it begins to rot. Iíve had a delightful time watching trees grow. But it is a sad business watching posts decay." In the spring, back in Minnesota, before we let the cows out of the barn where they had been confined all winter, it was my job to walk through the pasture and push on the fence posts. Some had rotted to the point where a slight push would topple them. Before the cows could be allowed their freedom, the rotten posts had to be replaced.

A tree stretches its roots, reaching for water, reaching for nutrients. A post just sits there, rootless, letting the rain and damp soil turn it into rot. A tree grows, a post decays. A tree reaches for the sun, a post is content in itself, completely self-centered. A tree becomes a thing of beauty, providing shade from the sun and havens for birds; a post loses its strength, loses its color from rotting, and becomes good for nothing but to throw on the trash pile. Some congregations are like trees-- sending their roots deep into the Holy Spirit, growing, becoming things of beauty, and providing havens for people. Some congregations are like posts-- rootless, self-centered, decaying, dying, with no life, no beauty, waiting to be discarded. Congregations which are like posts are not growing. They are past-oriented, looking backward to the good-old-days, and resistant to new ideas, new ministries, and new people.

Some Christians are like trees. Some Christians are like posts. Which are you?

Jeremiah 17:7-8,

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,

whose trust is the Lord.

They shall be like a tree planted by water,

sending out its roots by the stream.

It shall not fear when heat comes,

and its leaves shall stay green;

in the year of drought it is not anxious,

and it does not cease to bear fruit.

Even more poignant is Psalm 92:12-14

The righteous flourish like the palm tree,

and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

They are planted in the house of the Lord;

they flourish in the courts of our God.

In old age they still produce fruit;

they are always green and full of sap!

Youíll know you are like a tree if you are full of sap! If you are trusting and growing in the Lord, your roots are drinking in the water of the Holy Spirit. You are flourishing and producing fruit. Even when heat comes, even when drought comes, even when trouble comes, your leaves stay green and you do not cease to bear fruit. On the other hand, if you are like a post, you are stagnant, self-centered, decaying, and when trouble comes, with even the slightest of pushes, you will topple, and be discarded.

In the Scripture lesson read this morning, Paul uses a different image, but with the same meaning as trees and posts. Paul uses the image of milk and solid food. The Corinthian Christians were in a no-growth pattern, arrested development, a spiritual infantile paralysis. Paul certainly had his hands full with the Corinthian Christians. I am amused by those who tell us we should try to be more like the New Testament church. The Corinthian New Testament Church was full of factions, squabbles, jealousies, and fights! We donít know how many letters Paul wrote or how many visits he made trying to straighten them out.

Quite exasperated, Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 3:1-2) I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready. They had not moved from being people of the flesh to becoming people of the Spirit. On what basis did Paul make this indictment? According to the passage, what convinced Paul they were still mere infants in the faith, and not maturing? Jealousy and quarreling are signs of spiritual immaturity. They were divided into factions. After Paul started the church in Corinth, and moved on to other missions, Apollos became the leader of the church. Then, they divided themselves into Apollos People and Paul People, divisive factions.

Paulís challenge is quite clear. We are either growing in the Lord, maturing in the faith, going on to perfection as John Wesley challenged, or we are not. If you are not going on to perfection, what are you going on to? If you are not growing, you are dying. There is no neutral ground, there is no status quo. It is said that the decline of the Model T Ford began when rival General Motors started to offer models of different trim and color. Henry Ford resisted change. He stubbornly insisted that the Model T was the one best model and people could have any color they wanted as long as it was black. Henry Ford ingeniously gave birth to the mass produced automobile which almost remained too long in its infancy.

A professor who had taught many years was passed over when a new department chairman was appointed. The professor complained to the headmaster who replied, "In reality you havenít had 20 yearsí experience. You have had one yearís experience 20 times over." I had some professors like that. Stagnant, stale, irrelevant, out-of-date, not growing, like posts.

Are you a tree or a post? Are you still drinking spiritual milk, unable to grow and eat solid food? Let me ask some questions for reflection. Think back over the previous year. Compared to one year ago,

Have any of your beliefs changed; do you have any new insights, new discoveries?

Are you reading and studying the Bible more?

Is prayer a greater part of your life? Do you look forward to a time of prayer?

Are the best days of this church (the hey-day) yet to come?

Have you talked about Jesus with anyone?

Are you more tolerant of and more accepting of people who are different from you?

Do you know what are your spiritual gifts?

Do you have a greater sense of peace (less fuss, feverishness, anxiety, intensity, intolerance, pessimism, worry)?

Are you gentler?

Are you stronger (more able to resist temptation, more willing and able to stand up for the mistreated, the disadvantaged)?

Do you love the Lord more?

Are you saved by grace and sanctified by the Holy Spirit?

If you answered No to any of these questions, there is room for growth in your spiritual life.

Would you rather be like a growing tree than a decaying post? Take a challenge this morning. If you are not growing, or if you are dissatisfied with your rate of growth, make a decision this morning to pray and study. We have groups, many of which are listed in the inside of the Portal, and copies are available in the rear of the worship center. We have Sunday School classes for all ages, with three classes for adults. Beginning, February 27, three new classes will be offered on Tuesday evenings at 6:00. Spiritual growth, like physical growth, often occurs in spurts. As children literally grow up overnight, spiritual growth often happens in special events like the Walk to Emmaus, Chrysalis, Marriage Encounter, our all-church retreat, work camp.

Are you a growing tree or a rotting post?

ã 1996 Douglas I. Norris