Generation Heroes

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Becoming a Generation Hero

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” Hebrews 11:1-2

Image result for Hebrews 11 + image

Remembering that all truth is God’s truth, why not go to God’s Word for the definition of faith? After all, our salvation is through faith alone by grace alone, so it is critical that we understand what God views as faith.

Being sure and certain.

Being absolutely convinced.

Of what we hope for and do not see.

We hope for the return of Jesus and the resurrection of our eternal souls…we hope for life after death. We do not see people being resurrected and ascending into heaven, we do not see Jesus’ glorified body [although, there were those who did], and we do not see heaven–the New Jerusalem where we will spend eternity.

But we believe. We are absolutely convinced that each of these exist. We have faith that we will see God because we have accepted His Son Jesus as Lord of our lives.

Now the ancients–biblical heroes–were commended for their faith. Hebrews 11 records how these believers took action in their generation because of their absolute certainty in God. And the writer of Hebrews, as inspired by God, encourages each of us to be the Hero of Faith in our Generation.

Why? What can we do that Noah and Abraham and David and many others didn’t?

We can touch people that they never knew.

God wants to reach our world today. He wants to work through faithful believers to perform miracles, to spread the gospel and to bring the people of our generation into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Will you allow that someone to be you?

You see, even when you are absolutely certain that God exists, walking by faith is a choice.

Will you choose to be a Generation Hero?

Holding to Truth

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’ To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations–that one will, ‘rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’–just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star. Whoever has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 2:24-29

Image result for Teen Holding BibleHere we learn a little more about this so-called Jezebel in the Thyatiran church. Her teachings appear to be similar to a later Gnosticism teaching that espoused experiencing the deep evil of Satan in order to know how to defeat him. This false prophetess, however, likely used the phrase deep secrets to lead fellow church members to believe that she had a more intimate knowledge of God  and His will for the church, one that said that they didn’t have to alienate themselves from local civic and commercial life even though much of these happenings occurred in the pagan temples in conjunction with reprehensible acts.

It was a tantalizing teaching. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have the blessings and eternal security of Jesus, but also be free to make a livelihood and maybe even rise to a position of influence? It’s not that Jesus was against either of these things. On the contrary, He the scriptures say much about working as unto the Lord and providing for the needs of self, family and even others. Scriptures also encourage us to be an influential light wherever God plants us.

But not if it means compromise. Not if it means being a Christian in name only and participating in godless cultural practices in order to attain local civic and commercial success.

Jesus recognizes that the believers at Thyatira already had the truth. He encourages them just to hold onto this truth, without wavering under the social pressures. And if they were victorious in this, clinging to God’s will in all things, He would give them authority over nations and the morning star. The authority quote refers back to Psalms 2:8-9. A Psalm of David. A picture of Jesus establishing his reign over every nation, even those who oppose Him–His enemies. The morning star also refers to Jesus [Revelation 22:16]. So God promises all those who hold faithfully to the truth–uncompromised–that they will have Jesus, salvation. Righteousness. Eternal life.

Today, we have received this same truth that the Thyatiran Christians had. The Bible is God’s Holy Word. But the world is still asking us to compromise. Go to church, but then hang out with your buddies wherever they go and whatever they do as well. Read the Bible, but then also imbibe any and all media without worry about God’s view of the contents. Love Jesus, but be your own God–do whatever feels good and right to you. The temptations can be subtle, but the consequences will not be.

Do you know the truth of God’s Word? Are you standing daily on His righteous commands?

An All-Anticipating Fairy-Godmother?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” Revelation 2:19-23

Image result for wrapped in paddingLike Ephesus, the church at Thyatira had a lot going for it. But also like Ephesus, there was one major problem–Thyatira allowed a false prophetess among them, one of the things that Ephesus did right.

Jesus calls this false prophetess Jezebel–not likely her real name, and certainly not a compliment. The wickedest Israelite queen in their entire history, Jezebel ordered the killings of every prophet in Israel [1 Kings 18:4]. Her husband, King Ahab, did more to rouse God’s anger than every king before him [1 Kings 16:33].

This so called Thyatiran Jezebel taught the church that it was well and good to participate in the local pagan temples, which involved sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols as an expression of worship to the false gods. Apparently, God was patient with this woman, and He gave her opportunities to change her ways. Perhaps He sent people to try to set her straight. Perhaps He allowed the natural consequences of sin to manifest in her life in hopes that she would return to Him.

But she refused God. And just like every one who refuses the Creator of the Universe, they give themselves over to the destruction of sin and death, both of which are replete with suffering [James 1:15; Romans 1:21]. Even in this, God is mercifully patient, still allowing those who followed this prophetess the opportunity to repent.

Though some may say that because He said He would strike her children dead that He is anything but a good and loving God. Consider this: Jezebel was luring God’s children to die eternally. And God ends this portion of scripture saying that He would repay each according to their deeds. Jezebel herself was luring her own children to die eternally.

Why do we always blame God for allowing us to choose when that is exactly what we as humans want so much? We want to choose. To do whatever we feel like whenever we feel like it. And we want God to be an all anticipating fairy godmother that keeps anything bad from happening to us despite our choices. And if He ever lets us feel the consequences of our choices, then we get indignant. Surely God isn’t really good or loving or actually God if He lets “bad” things happen. This mindset has riddled humanity for too long. Since the Garden actually [Genesis 3:5]–remember the be your own god lie? Except, when we screw it up for ourselves, then we can blame the real God, right?

Is there a Jezebel spirit at work in your life? Someone mixing God’s word with a more culturally appealing teaching? Ask God to give you discernment and the boldness to cling to His truth in an intolerant generation.

From the Student Question Board: How Long Does it Take to Become a Mature Christian?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” Revelation 2:18-19

Image result for forging bronzeIn Greek mythology, Zeus’ son Apollo was called the son of god, and he was the patron god of Thyatira when Alexander the Great founded it as an army garrison. Under Roman rule, Thyatira’s business structure was built around guilds. Much like labor unions today a worker had to be faithful to the guild and the guild would in turn be faithful to protect their job.

But the guilds often celebrated their festivities in the temple to Apollo, sponsoring acts that Christians could not take part in. And if you didn’t participate, your job was as good as gone; you had no way to make a living.

It is to this culture that Jesus proclaims Himself the Son of God–the True Son of the One True God, not like the culturally glorified fictitious Apollo and his father Zeus. Jesus identifies Himself with the bronze smiths and guild laborers in the portrayal of His fiery eyes and burnished feet. Then, He commends the Thyatirans for their works, love, faith, service and perseverance. He commends them for increasing in these things despite the cultural pressures of their city; not easy to do.

So how long does it take to become a mature Christian? The longer the Ephesians served God, the more ritualistic it became. They totally forgot about their love for Him. The longer the Church at Smyrna served God, the more they were slandered and suffered for Him. The longer the Pergamenians served God, the more they compromised. And the longer the Thyatirans served God, the more liars sprang up in their midst, encouraging them to return to their old life.

But this was not true of everyone in these churches. Because becoming a mature Christian is an individual process. No one is perfect, nor will anyone arrive at perfection–completeness–in this life. Everyone is maturing in their Christian walk. [Either that or they are shrinking, but that is a subject for another post.] And everyone matures at a different rate and will finish life at a different level of spiritual maturity than others.

However, we can do certain things to ensure that we are in fact maturing in Christ and that our experiential knowledge of Him develops sooner rather than later: prayer, Bible study, praise and worship, and fellowship with other believers. But even in these things, we must be careful not to fall into the religious pitfalls that the seven churches of Revelation experienced–losing sight of love for Jesus, compromising with culture or flat out turning back to our old way of life while still professing to be a Christian.

In effect, it takes a whole lifetime to become the most mature Christian that you’ll ever be, but it takes only a moment to devote yourself to maturing in Christ and the daily commitment to see it through. Are you on the path to Christian maturity?

Promised to the Victorious

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Whoever has  ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” Revelation 2:17

Image result for name engraved in white marbleThis is the third church so far to whom Christ has commanded the people to hear Him, His Spirit’s words to them. And for the third time, He promises something to the one who is victorious. Victory played a big part in the Greco-Roman culture with arenas and wars. To the victor went the spoils and great honor. But what God can give us is far greater than any earthly reward for victory.

So how can a Christian be victorious? To the Ephesians Jesus commanded them to restore their first love, to put Him first again. In this way, they would be victorious and gain access to the true tree of life. To the Church in Smyrna Jesus commended their faith and commanded them to be faithful even to death. In this way, they would be victorious and gain protection from the second death. To Pergamum He commands repentance from compromise. In this way, they would be victorious and gain miraculous provision–hidden manna–and an invitation to a divine party.

In this time period, when the Caesars would hold banquets, they sent out invitations–white marble with the invitees name engraved on it. How much more should we desire to receive an invitation from Christ to the divine banquet in heaven.

Each of these commands and promises are essentially the same, yet personalized to the cities’ challenge. All were commanded to get/keep their relationship with Jesus Christ right. And all were promised eternity for doing so.

What has Jesus commanded you to right in your life? Check your relationship with Him carefully and tend to those needy areas. If you are victorious in holding to your faith in Christ, then just like the seven churches of Revelation, you too will receive eternal life.

The Pergamum Compromise

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teachings of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teachings of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” Revelation 2:14-16

Image result for pergamumBalaam was an Old Testament diviner who lived near the Euphrates river [Numbers 22:5]. He was neither Israelite nor Moabite, and yet he found himself caught up between these two colliding cultures.

In reading the Numbers account, we see that Balaam’s words are the words that God places in his mouth to bless the Israelites while Balak–King of Moab–has paid Balaam to curse them [Numbers 23:11-12]. He even builds altars and offers bulls and rams like one of God’s own in his divination processes.

But we can see here in Revelation [as well as in 2 Peter 2:15] that beating his donkey was not Balaam’s only wrongdoing. While he may not have cursed Israel with his mouth, he showed Moab’s King, Balak, how to tempt the Israelites into sinning against God. And when they sinned, they came under the curse of those sins.

Likewise, the church in Pergamum was being enticed to sin with the culture around them. They compromised their unswerving faith by also attending pagan temples and participating in pagan worship practices. This eased the cultural strain on their daily life, but in essence, partaking of idol’s food and temple immorality proclaimed their allegiance to the false Greek and Roman gods. Scripture is very clear that you cannot serve two masters [Matthew 6:24].

There were also church members in Pergamum who bought into the ideas of the Nicolaitans. This heretical sect said that body and soul were two separate things. So as long as your soul believed in Jesus, you could do whatever you wanted with your body.

But Jesus condemned these compromises. Either they worshipped Jesus alone. Or they were sensual idolaters. There was no middle ground. No way to do both and still be a follower of Christ.

It’s the same for us today. The world would like us to believe that we can call ourselves Christians and even attend church and read our Bibles, but still behave like the sinners we once were. And there are some Pergamenian-like Christians today who are trying to do just that. Drugs and Jesus. Adultery and Jesus. Greed and Jesus. Tolerance/Mindfulness and Jesus. Etc. But each of these is mutually exclusive. Sure, He can forgive us, but we are not to just keep on sinning in the presence of grace [Romans 6:1].

Are there any compromises in your faith? Any worldly practices or beliefs that stand in stark opposition to the word of God? Any issue that you believe God dislikes, but you do any way to make it easier to fit in with your peers?

Life by the Sword

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live–where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city–where Satan lives.” Revelation 2:12-13

Image result for Satan's Throne PergamumPergamum means citadel in Greek. Once capital of the region, Pergamum became the first site of the Imperial–or Caesar–Cult in the Roman Empire. But the city was home to many pagan temples: Zeus [king of kings and god of gods], Asclepius [healer], Demeter [harvest/provider], Dionysius [pleasure], and Athena [wisdom].

It’s no wonder then that Jesus introduces His words to the Pergamenian Christians by reminding them that He has the sharp, double-edged sword. His words are the judgment that matter. And, knowing where they live, His words–not Satan’s pantheon of Greek and Roman frauds–were the only true judgments on which they were to build their lives.

Because Jesus is the actual King of Kings and Lord of Lords [Revelation 19:16]. Jesus is the divine physician and the healer from whom all healing flows [Exodus 15:26]. Jesus is the Lord of the Harvest and our loving provider [Matthew 9:38; Genesis 22:14]. Jesus is the center of pure pleasure because He came that we might have life more abundantly [John 10:10]. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and in Jesus are all the treasures of wisdom [Proverbs 9:10; Colossians 2:3].

But to proclaim Jesus in Pergamum was to denounce the gods and goddesses, to be basically labeled an atheist and subject oneself to Roman persecution. Pergamum was truly a city where Satan had his throne. But Jesus commends the church here for holding onto His Name. A Name that is above all names [Philippians 2:9], but that sentenced its bearers to suffering and even death.

Tradition holds that Antipas was the first bishop here and that he was martyred–that is killed–for his faith in Jesus. Despite his death, the church at Pergamum held onto Jesus as a child holds firmly to a park merry-go-round that is spinning faster and faster, threatening to throw them off. And Jesus held just as firmly to them–as He does to us–while the world does all it can to loosen our grip on the truth.

These are the positives that Jesus has for Pergamum. In the next few verses, we will learn where this church fell short. But consider what they did right as you consider your own life today.

Do the things of Satan [that is anything that is contrary to God’s will] infuse the cultural context in which you live? Whose judgments matter in your life? On whose words do you build your life? Do you hold onto Jesus’ name even in the face of opposition?

The Crown of Life

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty–yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” Revelation 2:8-11

Image result for Roman Olive CrownUnlike the other churches of Revelation, the church of Smyrna received all accolades and encouragements from Jesus.

To them He calls Himself the First and the Last. And Jesus’ eternality is an important comfort to the Smyrnian Christians. They suffered affliction. They lived in poverty, but they had spiritual wealth that the world around them couldn’t understand. They were lied about by religious phonies. And they were about to experience even more trouble–prison, persecution, and possibly death.

The victor’s crown that Jesus spoke about was the olive wreath worn by champion athletes in Roman arenas. Those from Smyrna knew this cultural allusion well, though as Christians under the reign of Domitian, their only arena games were likely unarmed, deadly bouts with lions.

Jesus tells it like it is. You will suffer. You might even die. But then I–the One True God–will crown you the victor. Greater than any reward that a Caesar, who put himself in the place of God, could ever bestow–Jesus offered life, eternal life, to the faithful Christians who endured.

And after exhorting them to hear Him over the din of the world, He reaffirms that in the victory secured by their faith, the Smyrnian Christians would not experience the sting of second death [1 Corinthians 15:55; Revelation 20:14]. Because Jesus is the First and the Last, the beginning and the end. He was and is and is to come [Revelation 1:8 & 4:8]. His victory over death, hell and the grave is the promised reward to the faithful, and He alone is able to make such a promise.

Jesus is calling us to endure today, much as He did with the church of Smyrna centuries ago. Do you fix your eyes on spiritual abundance over physical wealth? Will you be faithful however far the world pushes you? Can you discern God’s voice over the din? If so, remain faithful. He has a crown of life with your name on it.