Have you ever had a turning point moment in your life? One of those moments where it seems like everything hangs in the balance, and your life could go in two very different directions depending on what happens?
Just over 500 years ago, a guy named Martin had one of those very moments. Depending on what he said on one moment, his life could have taken two very different directions. You see, Martin was a very big part of the Roman Catholic church. He was a monk in fact, and had devoted his life to the church. But under the direction of his mentor, Martin did a radical thing that very few people did then - he read the Bible.
Back in that time, most people couldn’t read and didn’t even own a Bible; and, the church encouraged people to *not* read the Bible, but instead only listen to their teaching. The problem with this is that the church wasn’t teaching the Bible accurately. The church was telling people that they needed to earn their way into heaven by giving money to the church. I’m sure you can see how this was very selfish of the church - they were getting rich off of people’s ignorance!
So when Martin read his Bible and discovered that God’s grace and salvation is really free, that was an earth-shattering event in his life! He discovered in Romans 1:17 that, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” We cannot earn righteousness by paying money to the church, but instead it is a free gift of God that we “earn” only by having faith in Him! This was a complete game-changer for Martin.
In response to this new-found truth, Martin started writing. A lot! One of the things he wrote was a list of 95 things he believed the church was doing wrong, and he posted them publicly on October 31, 1517. Unfortunately, the church didn’t like the idea of a guy like Martin taking away their income. So they got mad at him and called him in front of the emperor to recant (or deny) all of the stuff he had written.
In April of 1521, Martin Luther stood in front of the emperor Charles V (who ruled basically all of Europe) and he was asked to publicly deny all of what he had written, saying it was all a mistake. Fortunately for us, Martin did not deny any of it! Instead, he told the emperor that he cannot go against what the Scriptures say and against God. The emperor called him a mad man.
Because of Martin’s conviction, we today need to believe what the Bible says. We can look at God’s Word for ourselves, and we don’t have to rely on just what the church says - since the church can make mistakes too, just as Martin found out. In response to Martin’s step of faith, we believe the Bible before all other authorities. If not for Martin’s (and others’) work in the Protestant Reformation of the 1500’s, we can know the Truth of God’s Word for ourselves. We can all have the free gift of grace and salvation from God, without having to earn it in any way.
This turning point that happened in Martin Luther’s life gives us the freedom to believe the Bible and have faith in God to receive His grace and salvation. If you have not had a turning point in your life where you have devoted your life to God, now is the time to have your own personal reformation! You too can experience the same freedom that Martin, and countless other Christians because of him, experience every day.
What happens when you mix flour, sugar, eggs, butter, chocolate chips, (and some other ingredients) together and bake them? You get chocolate chip cookies! When you’re eating your fresh-baked cookies, you can pick out some of the ingredients, like the chocolate chips. But most of the other ingredients are indistinguishable - can you tell what part of the egg you ate? Or how much flour was in that particular bite? I sure can’t tell those things, and I think the cookies are better because of it!
Syncretism is applying that chocolate chip cookie example to the church. Simply put, syncretism is a blending together various aspects of multiple religions into one, or simply adapting ideas of other religions into your own. The word itself is made up of two parts in the Greek. “Syn” means together or with, and “krasis” means blending or mixing.
In chocolate chip cookies, all of the ingredients blend together well to make a delicious finished product. In syncretism, however, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes the views that are blending together are contradictory. For example, as Roman Catholicism spread into Africa, many of the tribes’ indigenous practices were assimilated into the religious practices.
A modern day, and more local, example of syncretism is when churches embrace elements of the culture to become more relevant to the people they are trying to reach. One way some churches do this is by bringing in the technology of the culture. There are churches that encourage the people to tweet on Twitter during the worship service; this is an example of syncretism, because it is combining an element of the culture with practices that are traditionally religious.
A more serious example of syncretism is when idol worship, in the form of idolizing money, or famous people, or anything of that sort, is brought into the church. We know from Exodus 20:3 and Matthew 6:24 that God must be our only God; we cannot serve both God and money. Unfortunately, this emphasis on money (or other idols) is all too common in our churches today. Sometimes, like the eggs and flour in a chocolate chip cookie, the elements that have been borrowed from the culture are so well mixed in that we don’t even notice them anymore.
Syncretism itself is not inherently good or bad; its goodness (or lack thereof) is determined by the effect that the new element has on the religious body and whether or not it draws away from the Truth of the Bible. A person posting on Twitter during a worship service does not go against the Truth as making money the main point of the church does. While it is important that the church not stay locked in ancient traditions that will push people away from hearing the Gospel message, we must be careful to not embrace the sinful aspects of the culture. The idea of syncretism can serve as a warning for the church and all who follow Jesus - be sure that what you are doing lines up with the Truth of the Bible.
Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:16 & 17
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the person of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
This is the “fancy theological word” for perhaps the most perplexing concept, both for Christians and non-Christians alike - why is there evil in the world, if God is so loving? If God is good and He created the world, how can we reconcile the presence of evil and suffering in the world? That is definitely a paradox!
Many theologians (people who study God for a living) have studied and wrestled with this very question. Irenaeus, who lived in the 2nd century A.D., said that the reason for evil in the world is that humans have free will. Free will means that God does not control us as humans; we can make our own choices, whether for good or bad. Suffering is the result of human actions, not God’s actions. Irenaeus believed that God could stop evil, but He doesn’t because that would take away our free will.
Alvin Plantinga is a modern-day 20th century theologian who has also wrestled with theodicy. Plantinga asserts that free will is important, because if we were forced to do good, God could not be gracious to us. The freedom to choose goodness (or evil) allows us to experience the wonder and love of grace and forgiveness. If everything in the world was forced to be good, we could not truly experience God’s grace.
Think of it this way. Imagine that you were given every luxury you could imagine, from a gorgeous house to the nicest sports car to the latest electronic device to a million dollars in your bank account, and then someone gave you a $20 bill. How special would that $20 bill be? If I had a million dollars, another $20 wouldn’t be very special to me. But, if you lived in a cardboard box in a back alley and were struggling each day just to survive on meager food and someone gave you a $20 bill, how special would that be? It’s definitely a matter of perspective.
Similarly, if the world was perfect and we were all forced to do good all of the time, how special would it be that we are forgiven and loved by God? Not at all, because there would be no need for forgiveness! Things like a random act of kindness from a stranger would have no meaning because it would be the way everyone is. But, because we do live with evil in the world, it is like receiving a $20 bill when you are struggling to live - that’s how God’s grace is to us in this evil world, though of course God’s grace is a much bigger gift than a $20 bill!
Evil is in the world because God has given humans the great gift of free will. We can choose how we live our lives, and because of that one choice we can make is to accept God’s gift of grace, which is so much more special to us because of the evil world we live in.
Power. The world seems to revolve around it, doesn’t it? There’s political power, power in relationships, the power of physical strength, and even electrical power that all make the world go around. I can think of so many cartoons I watched as a kid that were all about power - usually super powers, and the powers of good versus the powers of evil. What makes us humans so fascinated with power?
It is part of our human nature to be hungry for power. The first humans on earth, Adam and Eve, were hungry for the power of knowing good and evil as only God did. They were so hungry for that power, in fact, that their sinful act thrust all of humanity into a downward spiral of sin that we’re all still stuck in. It is our human nature to want to have power, whatever kind of power that may be.
As much as we humans may always want to have more power, we will never be all powerful. Only God is all powerful, and that is our word this week - omnipotence. Omnipotence means that God is able to do all things, as long as it does not conflict with His divine will - more on that later. God’s power is limited only by His own nature, and not by anything outside of Him.
A guy named Job in the Old Testament of the Bible discovered God’s power the hard way. God allowed Satan to ruin Job’s life in disastrous ways, but yet Job held onto his faith in God. Toward the end of this situation in Job’s life, he tells God: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2) Even when Job was powerless to make his earthly life better, he recognized God as omnipotent.
Jesus confirmed this omnipotence in Matthew 19:26 when he said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
However, throughout history, even the great minds who study theology (the study of God) have wrestled with God’s omnipotence. Thomas Aquinas, a theologian who lived in the 13th century, pondered the potential limitations of God’s power as this question: “Can God create a square triangle?” If God really can do anything, he could create a square triangle. But, God’s power is limited by the laws of the universe that He created; a triangle simply can’t be square. Aquinas said, “If it is said that God is omnipotent because he can do everything possible to his power, the understanding of omnipotence is circular, doing nothing more than saying that God is omnipotent because he can do everything that he can do.”
Even if we can’t fully wrap our minds around what great theologians like Thomas Aquinas wrestled with, we can be confident that God has way more power than any human being and that can give us comfort knowing that He is in control of everything.
As humans, we desire power. God is and has all the power in the entire universe and beyond. Therefore, doesn’t it logically follow that we should desire God?
Because of our sinful nature as humans, we desire to be omnipotent as God is. This is evidenced today by the fact that basically every cartoon, movie, novel, etc is about a some character desiring or achieving more power, and the consequences that causes. In a perfect world, we would desire God and his omnipotence with all our might.
It is our challenge as those who follow Christ to not desire power for ourselves, but rather to be content with God’s omnipotence and to worship Him because He is almighty and all powerful.
Who is the smartest person you know? I’m sure everyone has one of those people in their lives who just seems to know everything - and I mean everything, from the latest sports scores, to random trivia, maybe even to math and science. I know a few such people, and their knowledge always seems to amaze me.
Even if that person seems so infinitely smart, guess what - there’s always someone smarter! And no, I’m not talking about Albert Einstein or any other certified genius like him. I’m talking about God.
The word of the week this week is omniscience. Omniscience is a characteristic of God that means that God knows everything! He knows all things, all events, and all circumstances in a perfect way. A few weeks ago we studied the word omnipresence, which means that God is in all places at all times. Omniscience goes hand in hand with omnipresence. Because God is present in all places and at all times, He also knows everything from all times!
How do we know that God is omniscient? Hebrews 4:13 (NIV) tells us,
"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes to him whom we must give account."
In the original Greek of that passage, it actually says that everything is laid bare and is naked to God’s eyes!
How does it make you feel when you realize that everything you have ever said, done, or even thought is as plain as nakedness in God’s eyes? At first, that makes me a little uncomfortable and squirmy! There are definitely things in my life that I’m ashamed of and don’t want other people to know, much less the God of the universe!
On the other hand, it can be very comforting that God is omniscient and knows every detail about each one of us. When I have a problem in life and I take it to God, I don’t need to reiterate every detail of it to Him as I would if I were telling a friend who is unfamiliar with it. I still tell God about it, but I can have confidence that He truly understands and knows what is going on.
Along with that, God knows everything in all times - which means He also knows what will happen to me in the future! He has plans for my life that He knows will prosper me and will not harm me, and He is able to give me hope and a future (see Jeremiah 29:11-12). Because He knows what will happen - though He does not control it the outcome of events - we can have confidence that all things will work together for the good of those who love Him.
As we saw with omnipresence recently, the fact that God is omniscient causes us some concern, but it is also a comfort. God is a God of paradoxes to our human mind, but we can be thankful that He is still a perfect God who has our best interest at heart if we choose to follow Him with our lives.