I was pretty much a city boy, and growing up in a military officer’s home, I lived in places such as Whidbey Island, Norfolk, Alameda and San Diego. But now, as a new seminary grad, my wife, Lois, and I were in our first church, and I was becoming acquainted with things like pheasant hunting, calf pulling and almond harvesting. To tell you the truth, at the time, I couldn’t tell a pistachio orchard from a walnut orchard from a prune orchard from an almond orchard.
But all that was about to change and, as it did, I learned something very important about the Christian life.
Every time I hurtled down orchard-lined Highway 32 between Orland and Chico in Northern California, I noticed a curious brown line on each tree trunk and would wonder why the trees had those dark lines. The best answer I came up with was, “there must have been a flood here at one time and it discolored the bark on the lower part of the trees.” Wrong.
When I shared my hypothesis with a rancher friend of mine, he laughed out loud and called out to his wife, “Margie, come hear what our pastor just said.” I knew I was about to get a lesson in Agriculture 101. I did.
That mysterious “line” was really the demarcation between two different types of walnuts grafted together to make one tree. The Paradox walnut is used for the root stock, as it has the best root system for absorbing water and nutrients from the soil. The Chandler walnut is used for the scion, the shoot grafted into the root stock when the tree is still young, as it is superior for bearing nuts on its branches.
Clever these ranchers are, getting the best of all possible worlds.
One day I knelt in the dirt on a cherry orchard and watched an arborist carefully grafting some trees. He made a slit in the root stock with the sharp blade of his knife, cutting at an angle through the outer bark into the heart of the young tree. Then with a flick of his wrist he made a similar cut in the scion. He carefully joined the two exposed flaps of the root stock and scion, added some gluey pitch and wrapped them in tape. It was all done in less than one minute. On to the next tree.
“That will never work,” I muttered to myself. “Two pieces of wood held together by glue and tape?” But it did. A few years later, I stood in that same orchard as my friend Bob watched truckloads of his cherries head down Interstate 5 to the Stockton shipyards. Those cherries, the first to ripen in the United States, fetched an amazing price when they landed in Japan within 24 hours.
Grafting: “a horticultural technique whereby tissues of plants are joined so as to continue their growth together.” Defined by Wikipedia. Invented by God. Used by ranchers world-wide.
Three lessons. First, security. If you are a Christian, God has grafted you into Jesus Christ. Through the miracle of repentance and faith, a small slit was cut into your soul and you were joined to Jesus in a living union. His life is now in us. We are “hidden with Christ in God,” (Colossians 3:3) “joined to the Lord” so that we are “one spirit with him.” (1 Corinthians 6:17) Because we are “in Christ” (the Apostle Paul’s favorite description for believers), “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38, 39) We are secure, knowing that in the right hands, grafting works.
Second, expectancy. Farmers expect their grafted trees to produce fruit. So should we. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.” (John 15:7-9) We are expectant, knowing that as we live in trusting, loving dependence on Jesus, we will bear fruit.
Third, humility. God in his mercy has joined us, Gentiles, into the rootstock of his covenant promises to Abraham. That should keep all of us humble. “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. . . .They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.” (Romans 11:17, 18, 20) We are humble, recognizing that God in his mercy has included us in something way beyond what we deserve.
A few weeks ago, I returned to visit friends in Northern California. Traveling down Highway 32 brought back many memories. But when I drove past that old familiar walnut orchard and saw the familiar lines on the trees, I wasn’t wondering if an imaginary flood had made the lines.
Instead, I prayed, “Thank you, Father, for grafting me into your Son”—my heart filled with security, expectancy and humility.
Steve is a College Church missionary with Training Leaders International, teaching and equipping pastors globally. Steve and Lois live in West Chicago and are involved in a variety of ministries at College Church.