Sekai no Hikari: Light of the World

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden…In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

Roots, Leaves, and Grace

This Thanksgiving, I want to talk about grace. I promise it will tie into Thanksgiving, so keep reading.

Grace has had a long history, and I almost don’t know where to begin because the history of grace begins with – well, God. God had his plan of grace all ready to go before we were even created. But for the sake of time, I will start with Israel. (pre-Christ)

Israel had a lot of issues. They were complainers, and they had a painfully short attention span. They kept going to other gods, even after God had proven himself time and time again. So what does God do?

He gives them grace.

This grace isn’t permanent, but he promises them that, one day, he would “put [his] law on their minds and write it on their hearts”, and that his grace would be permanent. But the key thing to understand about this pre-Christ time period is that grace was not expected. It was special, and it certainly did not happen among people. Grace was something that God only sometimes gave.

Fast forward to the first century, when a backwater Jewish radical hung on a Roman cross, and the earth shook with the suffering of God. At that moment, grace became permanent. And three days later, all was revealed to the few faithful, who had until that moment lived in a society of justice. Over the next few centuries, these followers of Jesus brought grace into a society lacking it, and turned Western civilization from a ruthless, warring group of tribes into a transformed people, bound by grace.

Fast forward again, to the Age of Reason. People begin to wonder why we need God for grace, why we can’t just all get along. And the process that began then has continued through this very day: the elimination of justice from society. Now we have people that believe Hitler should not be held accountable for his actions because his moral code thought it was okay to kill millions. (Trust me, I know some people that think this.)

Now here’s where it’s going to get a little theological. I believe that love is like a tree. Picture a tree. It can be evergreen, deciduous, whatever. Just a tree.

Now picture the roots. They’re ugly, and they can get annoying, sure, but they’re essential to the tree’s survival. They provide water and minerals that are necessary for the tree to perform photosynthesis. I believe these roots are like justice.

Now picture the branches and leaves. They’re quite pleasant to look at, right? They also serve an important function. They provide energy by doing the photosynthesis and collecting the sunlight needed to initiate the process. I believe these leaves are like grace.

Now remember that Bible verse? “I am the vine, you are the branches”? So Jesus is the tree, and we are the grafted-on branches. Therefore, we are called to be engines of grace in God’s world, and God will take care of the justice. We were grafted onto the tree of love by God’s grace, and now we are called to be his hands and feet in the world – God’s grace-giving leaves, nourishing the tree of love.

But what happens if we cut ourselves off from the tree? We lose the water we so desperately need to do our job, and we can’t do it anymore. I believe these cut-off branches are like the people who try to eliminate justice from the equation. By cutting themselves off from justice, they are cutting themselves off from God, who is just by nature. I believe this is what modern society is doing.

As an aside, the people who try to take over God’s job and judge everyone are like leaves who have tried to collect their own water. In the end, they end up collecting neither water nor sunlight, just as the cut-off branches, in trying to collect sunlight without water, collect neither.

I think the reason that there are so many of these “cut-off branch” people these days is because we have lost our gratitude at the grace we have been given. The roots are no longer the starting point, and people take the leaves for granted. This Thanksgiving, I charge all believers to, first and foremost, thank God for his grace. Remember the height from which you have fallen, and remember the way God provided you to get back up. Never lose your awe and wonder at what God has done.

 

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The Victory

God: “Where, O death, is your victory?”

Us: “I’m a loser.”

God: “Where, O death, is your sting?”

Us: “How can I ever be valuable if I don’t achieve success?”

God: “I give you the victory through Jesus Christ.”

Us: “But how? I’m not perfect.”

        This is a dialogue that appears all too frequently in my mind, and I am writing this to myself as much as to anyone else. 1 Corinthians 15: 55-57 is my all time, ultimate favorite verse. It has to do with specific events in my life’s journey, but also, it has to do with my competitive drive.

        I love to win. In fact, I feel bad when I don’t, and recently, I lost a competition for what seemed to be the umpteenth time. In the midst of my major discouragement, though, I thought of this verse. “He gives us the victory…” Now this most certainly does not mean that we will win everything. But the neat thing about this verse is that God doesn’t just win the victory and we reap the rewards. He actually credits the victory to us, in the same way that the righteousness of Christ is credited to us.

        So when life’s defeats have gotten you down, remember that YOU have won the ultimate victory over death. Humans have sought immortality for centuries and failed, but because of Jesus, you have achieved it. And you are not doomed to live out immortality with evil inside you, dragging you down. No, every minute of your life can be filled with light and love, because of Jesus. You haven’t just tasted victory, you’ve swallowed it whole. Victory is yours.

 

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