Last week's (8.20.15) message, "The God Whose Purposes Are Eternal," addressed a powerful analogy that the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to use to illustrate how God used his judgment against unbelieving Israel to bring the Gentile world into the family of God. The analogy he used was that of grafting.
In Romans 11:13-24, Paul illustrates how the faith of the patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob - provided a nourishing root system for the faith of all, Jew and Gentile, who put their faith in Jesus. This olive tree - the most cultivated tree in the Middle East - is symbolic of the family of God past, present, and future.
Paul reminded the Gentiles how God removed the unbelieving branches of the tree. These branches were cut away, and that act of judgment should remind the Gentiles of both the severity and the kindness of God. The Gentiles ability to remain connected to that spiritually nourishing root would require humility, continued obedience, and persistent faith.
The analogy of grafting also provides a powerful picture of how new life is important to a local church body as well. Let's revisit some of the grafting steps and think about how they apply to new life in our church.
1. Removing the unwanted branches. In several places in Scripture, God uses the analogy of a vine or tree to illustrate spiritual life. In nearly every case, there is some warning about God's judgment for disobedience or unbelief, and the need for remaining connected in order to produce fruit.
In the grafting process, the gardener removes branches that are either unfruitful or are producing undesirable fruit. Staying connected to God through Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is essential to producing the kind of fruit that God desires (see John 15:1-17).
““I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” (John 15:1–2, NLT)
Churches need to take serious God's call for believers to produce the fruit of repentance - the fruit of transformation and change. Churches and leadership teams need to address ministries and obstacles that are not effective in facilitating Kingdom life in people.
2. Preparing the existing root stock to receive the graft. There are a number of ways the root stock can be prepared to receive the graft, but in each case, the root stock cannot stay as it is. The bark must be opened and a place must be made for what is new.
Church families need to understand that it is imperative that the host take the lead and primary responsibility for making a place for new families, new people, and new believers. The biblical call for hospitality is key here: open your lives to the outsider, the alien, the one who is on the outside looking in.
“When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13, NLT)
Ask yourself, "How aware am I of new people around me? Do I move toward those who seem disoriented, lost, confused, or in need of help?" Do you make room not only in your church but in your personal life. Some churches are great at being "lobby friendly." Lobby friendly churches do great at handing out coffee and bulletins, but they never bring people into the next layers of their lives. The truly life giving layers are never exposed.
3. Expose the layers of life to one another. For a graft to be effective, the cambium layer of both the existing stock and the graft must be exposed to one another.
Not everyone who attends a local church is a part of the "life-giving" layer of that church. Some are like the inner rings of a tree. They important to the structure, but they do not reflect the growing, incorporating reproducing elements of the church.
For our church to effectively incorporate new life, we need to expose the new life of our church to the healthy, spiritual reproducing people of our congregation.
If this resonates with you, we need you to be involved in our "Connect" ministries. Hospitality, small groups, new believer ministry, funeral dinner teams, are all an essential part of our connect ministry. If your heart is moved by those who feel like they are on the outside looking in, let me encourage you to take a step toward these ministries. Contact Jason Casey or Don Williams at the church office for more information.
4. Bind and seal the graft site. The place where the graft and the root stock come together need to be bound and sealed for protection. Believers must exercise love toward those who are new. Love in this case looks specifically like thinking of the needs of others before we think of our needs (Philippians 2:1-4).
Love that binds and protects looks after the real needs of people. John says that we cannot say we love God and then ignore the real needs of others - especially our brothers and sisters in Christ (1 John 3:16-18).
“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?” (1 John 3:16–17, NLT)
Let's ask ourselves, "What can I do to be more aware of the needs of others? How can I allow the Holy Spirit to open my eyes to the needs of those who feel like an outsider? What steps can I specifically take to meet a need in a new person's life?"
5. Begin to provide life and strength to one another. Interestingly, a root stock is not fed by drawing nutrients from the ground directly to itself. Rather, the root is fed by the nutrients that return to it from the new life in the new branches. Likewise, the new branches require the existing root stock to become the channel of life to them from the ground.
The existing life of a church, those who have been around a while, often do not realize that without new life, the church will eventually die. The changes that are often necessary to ensure the incorporation and development of new life are often resisted by the existing life of a church. Well-established churches that are change resistant are at the greatest risk of decay and death because the very thing they need - new life - they are reticent to embrace.
Likewise, the tendency of the new life is to look at the existing structures much like the Gentiles might have been tempted to look at Judaism. If we ever hear ourselves being dismissive of those who have gone before us in faith, we have ceased to understand that the branches of new life cannot survive without the nourishing established root system.
The key in all of this is that we ask ourselves, "How can I best serve the needs of others?" If the existing structures or the branches of new life ever ask the reverse question first, "How can I make sure I get my needs met?" we will get it wrong every time. The Bible says,
“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” (Philippians 2:3–4, NLT).
Let's work hard to partner with the Holy Spirit who wants to bring new life to the Church. Healthy things naturally grow and they naturally reproduce. Preparing ourselves and actively engaging in partnership with the Spirit's life-grafting work is foundational to our life as followers of Jesus.