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Grafted In

What Does It Mean to Be “Grafted In”?

I recently attended a workshop to learn how to graft new branches onto an existing Bonsai tree. In this case, it was to graft branches from a Shimpaku onto a Personi Juniper. In the process I was reminded of Paul’s words to the Christians in Rome when he speaks to the Gentiles as being united to Christ. He told them that they had been “grafted into the nourishing root”, meaning they were now intimately connected to Jesus.

So, if in fact we have been grafted into a relationship with Christ, what lessons are there from grafting that caused Paul to use this illustration?

The first one came to mind with the first action I had to take toward the plant that would receive the graft. It required taking an extremely sharp straight-razor and cutting a deep wound into the tree. I had to cut through the bark and cambium and into the heartwood of the tree. I couldn’t help but think of the wounding what Christ had to go through prior to and on the Cross in order for me to have forgiveness and a new life. When the instructor said you need to cut to the heartwood I could only picture the spear cutting to the heart of Jesus Christ.

In order to receive me as one to be connected with Him, Jesus was willing to be deeply wounded beyond what I can comprehend.

The second step dealt with the piece of Shimpaku branch that was to be grafted into the cut on the Personi. I had to select a small branch and cut it from its original tree. If it was going to be a successful grafting it had to be completely removed from where it previously received it’s nourishment and support. You cannot keep a connection between the old plant and the new plant. It just doesn’t work. It is impossible. The piece to be grafted will surely wither and die if it tries to remain connected to both Shimpaku and Personi. When it comes to following Christ, trying to hang on to what we have trusted in for support and nourishment in the past will not work. Jesus put it simply, give up everything and follow Him. When he bid Peter to step out of the boat, he was bidding him to give up everything his experience told him to rely on for support and trust only in his connection with Jesus. Peter couldn’t cling to both. He couldn’t hold onto the boat and walk on water with Jesus. James and John could not follow Him and stay on the shore with their nets. Matthew couldn’t be a disciple and stay sitting in his tax collector’s booth. And neither can I. Neither can you.

Being grafted into a relationship with Jesus Christ means being cut off from all that you would cling to for safety and trusting only His word as you follow behind Him on a path that only He can really see.

There was another aspect of the grafting that struck me. In order for the newly grafted branch to take, it needs a clean, solid, tight connection to the life giving nourishment of the receiving plant. The vascular system of the graft can only bond with the vascular system of the receiving plant if it is intimately and tightly connected. Jesus made the point in John 15 that we must abide in Him if we are to have real life. He makes the point that he is the vine and we are the branches and apart from Him we can do nothing. Apart from the nourishment of the receiving plant, the graft can do nothing and it will in fact wither and die.

If we are going to grow strong in Christ we must absolutely be bonded to Him in such a way that our life’s nourishment, what feeds us and strengthens us, is His life giving Spirit.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is famously quoted as saying, “When Jesus calls a man to follow Him, He bids him to come and die.” Recently I read that quote in the context in which he wrote it in “Cost of Discipleship.” What Bonhoeffer was pointing to was the cutting off of the branch to be grafted from what had nourished and sustained it before. He is saying that all that you cling to, other than Christ, must be cut off from you. That such a life must be dead and, in fact, you must die to that life and find your life only in Christ. Bonhoeffer points out that for some they may await death as a martyr for Christ. For others not. But the dying he speaks of is not the future dying that may mean martyrdom, but the dying to yourself, and to all you cling to instead of Christ. This is a daily dying. It is a moment by moment reminding that only in Christ am I secure, only in Christ can I find safety, only in Christ is there truly life. Everything else is a counterfeit that seeks to interfere with the deep intimate bond that a well grafted branch must have.

 

Old Testament

Appreciating The Past: Our Personal History and The Old Testament

Although humans are all uniquely designed, we have a commonality which connects us as one people. One of these traits is our unique ability to have had and remember a past. Regardless of what your specific past consists of, the past molds us into who we become. The past teaches us how to correct personal issues, grow from heartache, and reminisce over precious memories. The past is crucial in understanding the future we desire. For some of you, the past if filled with regret; however, I want to give you a hope that can only come from Jesus. Our past has been covered and stamped with a new identity when we enter into a relationship with him. We are all new creatures because of the relationship and His perfect redemption for all of us.

You see, our pasts have been rewritten with grace.

Jesus understood the importance of the past when He first arrived on earth. While still having the unique perceptive of understanding through the divinity of the Trinity, an innocent baby crying for His mother’s embrace lived life one day at a time like a regular human being. Now, let’s look at in Scripture during a time where Jesus was at the peak of His three year ministry assignment – spreading God’s message for humanity and sharing one of his most famous sermons: the Beatitudes. Shortly after delivering words about how God sees things from a heavenly perceptive, He shared this insight:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)

While Jesus spoke of radical ideas to traditional people who came from different backgrounds, He was specific in one thing that had to remain enact: the past. Jesus wanted to make certain that He clarified who He was and who He was not. He was not a man who came to compromise the past history of a Jewish nation who had believed in the one true God and followed Old Testament Law. He was the One who came to fulfill the promise of the past and eventually include us Gentiles into a new future. He had come to bring an end to the questions that many had contemplated for centuries and others had just started to ask.

Therefore, without truly understanding the Old Testament today, we are much like a person with amnesia trying to recall something that is missing, without a clue as to where to start.

Regardless of your like or dislike for historical events, I would encourage you to take a deep interest in Biblical history. If you are in a season of passionless faith, opening the Old Testament and seeing God’s hand on a history that affects all Christians is not only fascinating, but necessary.  Unfortunately, Christians often skip over the detailed moments given to us in the stories of the Old Testament. embracing primarily the redemption accounted for in the Gospels. While that is certainly important, think about it – most Christians are introduced to Christ in a New Testament context before learning Biblical history and seeing God as a just ruler and Law maker. Part of this is because we are all in need of a Savior and sometimes the word “God” can seem aloof. Yet, God, in the beginning, was the one who walked in the cool of the day with a young couple named Adam and Eve, establishing a relationship with them. He was never meant to be seen distant, He was always a God who wanted to be with His creation.

Often, we want to take hold of grace before truly understanding the order of a logical God. Yet, we can find so much beauty in the past if only we are willing to explore it.

By seeing all aspects of God, we will no longer be as angered by historical events that seem unfair because we will see that our history is laced with disobedience – a time where we were more than unfair to God, not vice versa. If we truly saw the holistic Word, we would be moved to tears before ever pointing a finger. Therefore, my encouragement to all of you is to make a commitment to understanding history, the Jewish culture, and everything in-between – these are God’s chosen people and we were adapted and graphed into this plan. Today is a perfect day to start discovering your past, in Christ, through falling in love with the God of the Old Testament who has fulfilled everything through the New Testament – an incredible series of events set into motion in the very beginning… all the way back in Genesis.

 

John 3:16

A Provocative Look at John 3:16

For years John 3:16 had a seemingly constant presence in American sporting events, especially in the end zones of football games. The ubiquitous man with the rainbow-colored Afro held up his sign for all the world to see, week after week, game after game. Clearly it is the most famous citation of any passage in the Bible.

 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16

My personal love for the passage extends to it being the verse that got me admitted back into The United States after a mission trip many years ago. I had taken a group of high school student into the mountains south of Mexico City for two weeks. By the time we returned my hair was even longer than normal and my full beard was well, full. It didn’t help that I was wearing old jeans and a rough cotton homespun hoodie when the immigration officer asked me what I did for a living. “I’m a pastor” I replied. Silence from the immigration officer as he looked at my hair, my beard, my hoodie and my jeans. At which point I heard, “quote John 3:16″. I did so flawlessly and with a sigh of relief that he didn’t ask for something like 2nd Chronicles 8:12. I rather enjoyed the puzzled look on his face so I let him know I was a youth pastor and all these teenagers behind me were the youth returning from a mission trip. His face lit up with a smile and he said, “that’s wonderful, welcome back kids” and he quickly stamped fourteen more passports and let us through.

But let’s not be lulled into a shallow view of John 3:16.

It is far more than a cliché at sporting events or an easy ticket back into The United States. It is one of the most profound statements in the Bible. The first thing to notice about this verse, and something that most people miss, is that Jesus is the one who says this. These are not the words of a narrator telling us something about Jesus. These are the words of Jesus himself telling us something profound about himself, his mission, and his Father. Recognizing that little bit of information gives a much deeper and personal meaning to the words.

Think if it this way, in this short sentence Jesus is making it abundantly clear that he came into the world for one purpose. His mission was to come and die in order to open the door to eternal life for anyone who would put their trust in him. That is really what he means when he says “whoever believes in him”. Belief from a biblical point of view is all about trust. Putting your faith in Jesus is about trusting him, trusting that he is in fact God come in the flesh, that he is the savior, that he did rise from the dead, and that he will fulfill his promise to give eternal life to all who believe in him.

Certainly the message that God loves the world is a comforting one. But don’t stop there.

Don’t breathe a deep sigh of relief as if that somehow this makes everything perfect and safe. That God loves the world is not a particularly provocative statement in our day. Most people only think of God in terms of his being loving. What is really provocative is the exclusionary nature of the second part of the verse. Jesus does not say that he came to give his life and the result would be that no one in the world would perish but that everyone would have eternal life. Rather he says that anyone who believes, trusts in him, would not perish but have eternal life. That is not something that most people find comforting in our day. Most people skip right passed that part of Jesus declaration. It is just too discomforting to ponder the implications. If eternal life is given only to those who trust Jesus, then it is not given to those who do not trust him. In the western world that is one of the worst possible things a person could say and believe. It is considered intolerant beyond measure. The theology of our day in the west is that all roads to God are equally valid. Pick whichever road feels best to you. It will eventually get you to God and be sure that along the way you never dare to tell someone else they are on the wrong road.

But it is Jesus himself who says that only those who trust and believe in him, who truly follow him, will have eternal life. He makes that clear in John 3:16 and in numerous other verses where he separates those who follow him and welcomes them to eternal life and those who don’t who he consigns to condemnation. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, is also the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who will one day return to this world he died for and he will bring with him his judgment. Consider what Jesus says just two verses later in John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. Those are certainly words to shake us out of our spiritual doldrums and ask if we are truly trusting and following Jesus or if we are taking false hope in “For God so loved the world”.

The love God has for you must be combined with the reality that God is also just and that eventually, one way or another, sin must be judged and condemned.

This is where the most provocative piece of this verse comes in. God so loved the world that he came into the world through the incarnation of Jesus and willingly went to the cross in order to pay the price for your sin. That is what is contained in the seemingly innocuous words “gave His only Son”.  The Father gave His only son over to the hands of wicked men so they would torture him to death. That death was the price to be paid for sin and rebellion against God. God made that clear to Adam and Eve from the start. Jesus paid the price of that death so that those who do believe would be assured that they will truly live for eternity. You and I have sinned against God and deserve whatever punishment comes our way. Yet in His love, the Father has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him. The resurrection of Jesus from the grave and his ascension to the Father’s right hand validate his death and vindicate him before his accusers. They are also part of the assurance his followers have that they too will be raised up on the last day.

One final thought for those who are already followers of Jesus: this verse should motivate you to love your neighbor with a reckless abandon.

It should move you to sacrifice for them so that they would experience the love of God and turn to follow Jesus. It should motivate you with the realization that they may not be on the right road and the road they are on may lead to perdition. Do not rest in the comfort of knowing that God loves the world without owning the truth that not all the world loves God and that you are an ambassador on His behalf, calling people to their only true hope, to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

 

Depression

Christianity and Depression – Part Four: Living as an Introvert

I’m an introvert.  It’s no secret, and, to those who have spent thirty seconds around me, it’s no surprise.  I can’t say that my introversion informs my depression any more than I could say another’s extroversion informs their excitement.  While your personality and your mental health are mutually exclusive to a certain degree, I have found, in my years of participation in Christian community, that, just as we have a long way to go making room for our depressed brothers and sisters, so too do we have a long way to go in making the Church a kind of place where introverts can connect.

Over the last few years, as my involvement in Christian leadership has expanded, I began to notice a disturbing trend: a trend that boiled down to the formula “church = party.” I lost track of the number of conversations I had with other pastors and well-intentioned church folk on how to make the church more enthusiastic, sociable and X-treme. Quietly I wondered where amid the cacophony I was supposed to fit in.  As an introvert who deals with clinical depression, often the last thing I would choose to be a part of involves such things, and in my reading of Christian history I believe we as the present iteration of the historical Church may even be approaching error wanting to make Christianity more about the party than what it really is:

We are simply to be the community of followers of Jesus Christ who exist for His worship and the expansion of His kingdom.

Therein lies part of the confusion.  Isn’t the idea of Christian worship supposed to elicit exuberance?  Oughtn’t we be endlessly and overly excited by our relationship with Jesus such that we overflow with outward praise?  After all, Paul writing in Philippians 4:4 tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say Rejoice!”  How much clearer could our biblical mandate to party for Jesus be?  I guess introverts like me, and even those dealing with mental health issues, ought to buck up and get with the program.  But notice how Paul follows up that very verse: Philippians 4:5 says “Let your gentle spirit be known to all.  The Lord is near.” How could that be?  How could Paul tell this congregation to rejoice always but then to let their gentleness be that which makes them known?

Could there be room for both the excitement and the seriousness of faith in God through Jesus?  Of course.

I spent the majority of my ministry career, prior to my current appointment, as a contemporary worship leader, leading the party each week, feigning excitement when it didn’t come naturally – it was exhausting.  Over the last year and a half serving on the staff of a liturgical church, we worship through recitation of the Creeds, rote prayers, weekly sacramental communion, kneeling, hymn singing, and I feel refreshed each week that we do.  I argue that we need both of those expressions of worship, and the many more that exist within orthodoxy (charismatic, traditional, blended, etc.), not only because the types of worshiper varies dramatically, but also because the God we worship is infinitely larger than any one form of worship could hope to express.  God is both endlessly exuberant and endlessly somber; infinitely elated and infinitely sorrowful (Isaiah 53:3); immanent and transcendent, and our worship ought to try to at least approximate His vastness, though we could never come close.

I challenge you to consider how much room you make for the seriousness or excitement of Christianity. It is not a bad thing to be an introvert, just as it is not a bad thing to be an extrovert. Weigh your conversations about how exciting things are against your conversations about how deep, meaningful, even silent they could be.  And if you are like me and wary of engaging in Christian community because the specter of a personal element can be off-putting, know that the part of you which is introverted is indeed a part that reflects the image of God, and it is one that the church sorely needs.

 

Grammys

The Dark Side of the Grammys

I must warn you in advance, this is likely not the article you’d expect with a title like ”the dark side of ___.” You see, often our first inclination is to judge, condemn, or point out flaws in something. But, the reality is, whatever your thoughts or opinions were about the 2014 Grammys, there was a “dark side” that few realized and it is something that took place completely outside of the event in downtown Los Angeles. Let me explain:

The Grammys  undoubtedly attempts to push the envelope more and more each year. Whether it is the outfits worn, the speeches gave, or the significance placed on certain, let’s call them controversial, acts, the Grammys thrives on the cultural response to the events of the evening. That response is actually what keeps the Grammys such a popular event. It’s probably not something we’ve considered very much, but if no one bothered to talk about the show after it was over, would it still go on from year to year? Likely not, or at least not anywhere in the relative capacity it is at today. Therefore, to say the show lives or dies on the viral nature of the discussion that comes afterwards wouldn’t be much of a stretch.

When the 2014 Grammys ended, the corresponding chatter was easy to navigate, especially given social media. This global conversation is where the “dark side” of the Grammys really shines. You see, there were two juxtaposing viewpoints that I personally witnessed both during and afterwards.

  • One was of praise for the performances, the event, and the rather shocking nature of particular moments.
  • The other was outcry – hoards of people condemning, attacking, and lashing out against both the event itself and the people participating.

While it wasn’t very shocking in the moment, in hindsight, it was the nature of the particular crowd attacking that might have been the most shocking of all – the Christian community. I witnessed pastors, teachers, Christian celebrities and more verbally assault the individuals that partook in this event in extremely public ways. It wasn’t even as though it was simply a thought or a utterance in private, people actually took the time to write out hateful thoughts that were meant to read exclusively by the people they influence. This, my friend, is the dark side of the Grammys. In essence, an event aimed completely at making noise has baited millions of Christians into spewing hateful propaganda across the globe all by means of social media.

What kind of example does this set? What does this say to people far from Christ about who Jesus is?

And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)

I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (Matthew 5:44)

As Christians we screw up all the time and we explore this issue not to judge ourselves, after all that is much of the point here. You see, this isn’t meant to rally cry to be more “perfect Christians.” After all, being Christian means knowing you can never be perfect. Instead, what we must remember is that when things outrage you, when things get under your skin, when things seem so far removed from God it is actually an OK thing. Why? It gives us as Christians an opportunity to interject the LOVE of Christ into the conversation.

It allows the opportunity to surprise others with hope. It allows us to shock the world, truly showing what it means to display the grace, mercy, and love that Jesus has shown us.

The dark side of the Grammys is that its controversial nature gives the enemy an opportunity to knock down the message of the Gospel by the very people of the gospel. Therefore, not only do I encourage you to surprise someone with love the next time your first intuition is to lash out, but I encourage you to use this as an opportunity to admit you screwed up – to plainly say to people – I shouldn’t have acted the way I did. I guarantee you if we did that the conversation would change – the conversation would quickly move from what “she was wearing” or what “he did,” to look at how “God is moving.” I’ll be the first to admit, I am by no means perfect and I’ve done quite a bit of this myself – I need God’s constant reminders to always display the love of Jesus over what my flesh would like to say. However, if more of us start doing just that, listening for those gentle reminders, the conversation in this country, in this world, will change. How awesome would it be if instead of waking up to negativity and slander, we arose to people passionately embracing others and people finding the true hope of this world – what a controversy that would be – a story that would undoubtedly change the headlines and show the beautiful opportunity within the dark side of the Grammys.

 

Giving People The Attention They Deserve

Giving People The Attention They Deserve

Have you ever given thought to the notion that while we are so preoccupied with the rapid pace of life, we fail to give the people right in front of us the attention they deserve? I often find myself looking for balance with the day to day grind of tasks (which undoubtedly need to get done) and spending time with someone who just wants to talk (which is where much of our individual growth happens).

I recently read this poem from Jamie Tworkowski which I believe echos the issue:

“You’ll need coffee shops and sunsets and road trips. Airplanes and passports and new songs and old songs, but people more than anything else. You will need other people and you will need to be that other person to someone else, a living breathing screaming invitation to believe better things.”

How do you respond to this? I, personally, was thinking about Jesus and how He interacted with people throughout the gospel and while I didn’t see much account of Him referring to people by name, what I was struck by was the way the gospel writers gave us a sense of how Jesus paused to simply be with people while still working to communicate what we refer to as the gospel today. Look at this one account where he talks with the Samaritan Woman at the well:

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

What strikes you about this passage? It is not unique the amount of time and attention he paid to this woman?

We need to be that other person that Jamie was referring too in her poem mentioned above. We need to be 100% present in each of our conversations. This is how we develop a sense of community. This is where people’s transformational stories take shape. This is where we celebrate, learn, affirm and deepen our own sense of what God is doing. We must look at Jesus’ model and replicate it in our lives – both for the betterment of ourselves and those around us.