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Hagion

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” Revelation 14:12-13

Image result for persecuted churchTwo times the book of Revelation calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints–first during the reign of the antichrist [Revelation 13:10] and now while those who followed and worshipped him are judged.

Hagion–rendered here as saints–appears 39 times in the New Testament. It refers to faithful believers who endure suffering [Acts 26:10; Romans 8:27; 2 Corinthians 9:12], but it is also used as the adjective holy to describe prophets [Luke 1:70; Acts 3:21; 2 Peter 3:2], angels [Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Revelation 14:10] and places [Hebrews 8:2, 9:8, 10:19]. The Holy of Holies from Tabernacle and Temple times is referred to in Hebrews 9:8 as the hagion. This was the inner sanctuary where the high priest would offer the prescribed sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people [Leviticus 16:2; 1 Chronicles 6:49].

The writer of Hebrews recognizes, then, that the saints are the temple of God and indwelled by His Holy Spirit [1 Corinthians 3:16]. To be holy is to be set apart for a special–usually a Godly–purpose. God is holy. Where He is, sin cannot be also [1 John 3:9]. When God lives in our hearts, then sin has to move out. Because He is holy, we too are to become holy–set apart unto Him [1 Peter 1:16].

As God’s saints, we must patiently endure the effects of sin in the world, faithfully holding to Jesus all the while.

Then the voice reminds us that John is seeing a vision. Write to the churches that those who believe on Jesus and die [1 Corinthians 15:12-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:16], they will be extremely joyful–aka blessed. Those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ will find rest from the toil that sin brought through eternal life [Genesis 3:17-19; Matthew 11:28-30], and they will store up for themselves treasures in heaven [Matthew 6:20].

Do you have this hope within you? Do you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and none else? Do you love Him?

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The Fall Reversed in the Greatest Commandments

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Therefore, ‘they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them of springs of living water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:15-17

Image result for lamb leading to waterBible scholars–and often the various church denominations–hold to differing views on which point of the end times the church will be raptured into heaven [1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:17]. There are usually three views of this: pre-tribulation [before all the bad stuff happens], mid-tribulation [sometime during while all the bad stuff happens] and post-tribulation [after all of the bad stuff happens].

Since no one knows the day or the hour that Jesus is coming–not even Jesus Himself [Matthew 24:36]–God doesn’t want us to spend our time debating it [2 Timothy 2:14]. We’re not even supposed to concern ourselves with anything except believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and trusting Him in all things. That does not mean that we won’t experience anything bad in our physical bodies. On the contrary, so long as sin remains and our bodies remain here in the sinful world, we will have trouble [John 16:33]. But our fear is not to be bound up in the physical [Matthew 10:28].

Rather, as we can see here, an innumerable multitude stays faithful through at least the opening of six seals which release increasing hardship on the earth, and then they are standing before God’s throne in His heavenly temple. The temple here signifying the presence of God and the tent, spread out over them, His tabernacle.

The next verses begin to show that God is undoing sin–in the exact reverse that He pronounced the consequences of sin in Genesis 3–and creating everything anew.

In heaven, we will not hunger, thirst or be scorched by sun–a reversal of Adam’s curse [Genesis 3:15-17]. And why will this happen? Because Jesus–the Lamb–will lead us. Having restored the reverence for God in our hearts, we will once again submit to His perfect authority and do the good things that He intended for us from the Creation. When He leads us to the eternal living waters and the banquet tables of heaven, we will follow without exception out of a free will governed by our love for God.

In heaven, we will no longer cry–a reversal of Eve’s curse [Genesis 3:16]. Not because women tend to be more emotional than men, but because the result of her sin was painful childbearing–meaning childrearing, as in broken relationships. Relationship breaks that lead to emotional strife–arguments, hurtful words and actions, betrayed trusts, mistreatment, abuse, oppression…heartbreak on so many levels in every type of relationship–and that escalates even to the point of war and death. All of our imperfect human relationships will be made whole out of a free will governed by our love for our fellow human beings, the way God intended for us from the Creation.

Though we are not in heaven and have not been made perfect yet, each day we ought to become more and more like Christ [Colossians 1:28], we ought to grow more and more in our love for God and fellow human beings [Matthew 22:36-40; 1 John 4:7-21].

Amazing isn’t it? The culture around us cries out for love for all, but deny the God who is love and who is trying to restore this very thing.

Hard Rock Heart

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” Revelation 6:15-17

Image result for rock heartDespite the wide spreading insistence to the contrary, when this great earthquake shakes even the heavens, every person of every station of life–whether the most famous and wealthy and powerful or the least known and most impoverished–on the face of the earth will recognize that there is a God in heaven.

And as the mountains and islands are shaking from their foundations, slipping, sliding and moving in ways no human has ever seen or could ever bring to pass, people will actually speak to the rocks instead of even now turning to God. That’s how great the hardness of the human heart, the pride that we can do it for ourselves and never have to face up to our Creator. It’s a lie from the pit of hell.

God offers us love–always has and always will. But love comes with discipline–the positive discipline of a life well lived, forsaking things that hinder or hurt, and the harsh discipline of consequence for disobedience, as even our human legal systems recognize to be necessary. God never stops loving us, but one day earthly time will stop. When it does, every knee will bow and acknowledge that God is God [Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10-11].

The day of the sixth seal is not that end of time day. People will be so bold and arrogant–and yet aware of their sinful ways–that they will try to once again go it alone. Though the rocks themselves cry out to God when people will not [Luke 19:40], the people living on the day of the sixth seal will cry out to the rocks, “Hide us from God!”–just like Adam hid in the garden because of the awareness of his sin against God [Genesis 3:10].

But we can never hide our sins, because God sees even the most hidden things about us. He sees inside our hearts [1 Samuel 16:7; Hebrews 4:12]. Only those who have believed on Jesus, God’s Son, will be free from the guilt and shame of sin [Leviticus 14:13; John 3:16; Hebrews 10:10, 14 & 17; 1 John 3:5]. Only those who have repented their self-as-god ways, acknowledging Jesus as Lord, will find forgiveness for their sins [Acts 2:38, 3:19].

When time stops, where will your faith lie–in God or in yourself-as-god? How hard is your heart? Would you sooner call out to the rocks to hide you or do you gladly bow your knee to your Creator?

Have You Forgotten Someone?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this one thing against you: You have forsaken your first love.” Revelation 2:1-4

Image result for Church of Mary at EphesusChapter 2 opens with a letter to the church in Ephesus. It is the first of seven letters–one to each of the seven churches of Proconsular Asia, the Roman province which is modern day Turkey. Ephesus was the capital of the province and an important port city.

In Greek grammar, the two phrases sandwiching the preposition of could be read either way. So the opening could either read to the angel of the church in Ephesus as is commonly translated, or it could read to the church of the angel in Ephesus. Again, it could be either to the Ephesian church’s angel or to the angel’s church in Ephesus. The second translation seems the more likely of the two in human terms, though it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the seven churches were entertaining angels unaware [Hebrews 13:2].

The letter then follows with a description of Jesus taken from His Revelation 1 description. Interestingly, each of the seven church letters open in this same format, but they each contain a different portion of this description, one specifically suited to the particular church’s needs.

So to the church in Ephesus, Jesus’ priestly, kingly and godly nature was re-emphasized [Revelation 1:12-13].

Then, Jesus told them that He knows all about them–their deeds, hard work and perseverance. This was an active church, full of ministry, missions and mercy.

Jesus told them that He knew they’d kept wicked men out from among them and tested false apostles just as they ought. This church was fighting the good fight, staving off heresies and cultural/idolatrous influences.

Jesus told them that He knew they’d persevered, tirelessly enduring hardships for His name’s sake. This church had withstood tests of intensifying persecution in their Roman state.

By all human measures, Ephesus was walking the walk.

But Jesus needed them to know that they were missing one very important piece of the Christian puzzle–Christ. They’d forgotten their love for Him. Not unlike the 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 reminder that without love–specifically without Love [Jesus Himself; 1 John 4:8; John 15:9]–they’d gained nothing. They were doing ministry, preserving the knowledge of God, and enduring hardship in vain. All this while Jesus was walking among them [2:1].

How about you? Do you work tirelessly to advance the gospel? Do you avoid sinful influence? Do you suffer for the name of Jesus? And in all this, have you forgotten Someone very important in your Christian walk? Or are you walking daily with Jesus who is walking right here with you?

As One Standing in the Gap

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in His heart: ‘Never again will curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:21-22

Image result for ropes course spotterGod can smell. Did you know that? He enjoys savoring the scent of fire-grilled meat that waft heavenward just as much as we might enjoy driving by a local barbecue pit with the windows down. When we please God–as we were intended to do from our Creation [1:26]–He remembers [8:1] us, that is He keeps us in mind as worthy of consideration.

Makes sense. Our relationship must always be a two-way street. We remember God, that is we keep Him in mind as worthy of our consideration by pleasing Him, and He remembers us. He remembers us and forgets–puts out of His mind–our sins, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.

God prays for our hearts. Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever [Deuteronomy 5:29]! Because we were created to love God with our whole heart et al and to love our fellow human beings just like we love ourselves. But the natural inclination of our heart, our human tendency, is evil–morally wrong or profoundly immoral.

But here, Noah stands in the gap. Because of Noah’s faithful and righteous remembrance of God, God promises that no human being ever after–until the end of the earth [Revelation 6:14; Matthew 24:35; 1 John 2:17]–will have to endure total world destruction.

And God’s promises are faithful and true [2 Corinthians 1:20]. So when the scientists and the news reports predict asteroids or comets colliding with earth, the polar ice caps melting and flooding the earth, the sun running out of fuel or exploding or whatever, we don’t have to be afraid. They’re wrong and God’s right. He promised that we will always have planting and harvesting so we can self-sustain, cold and heat and summer and winter so the earth can rest and then live again, and day and night so that our bodies–especially our eyes–can fully rest. If Jesus is the Lord of our life, we don’t need to fear human predictions, we just need to trust and obey God.

We don’t make animal sacrifices since the death of Christ, but we can still be a pleasing aroma to Him. Our prayers are like a fragrant incense [Psalm 141:2; Revelation 8:4]. And we can live as one standing in the gap, just like Noah did for us, reminding God of how very good His Creation was and is. Remembering our love for Him as He remembers His love for us.

How often do you pray? Do you daily fill up God’s nostrils with the perfume of prayer? Do you live as one standing in the gap? In other words, by your life, does God remember in you the goodness of His Creation and hold back the floodgates of heaven’s wrath once more?

Serving a Holy God

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“After He drove the man out, He placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:24

Image result for couploe lost in wildernessHow gently and lovingly God had set His created man in the garden on Day 6 . Now–we don’t know how long after–God drove his man out of the place He’d created especially for him. Man had left God without a choice.

Now I know that many like to play human mind games with this set up, asking questions like, “Well if there’s nothing that God can’t do, then why couldn’t He fix sin so that Adam and Eve could stay?” or, “Why is God so intolerant? If He’s truly good, then shouldn’t He have just accepted them no matter what?

We have to be so very, very careful to realize that by asking these questions, we are once again accepting Satan’s lie that we can be our own gods. But who are we as finite created beings to sit in judgment on our infinite Creator? We are selfish. He is selfless. We are imperfect. He is perfect. We are sinful. He is sinless. We have fallible understanding of fractured truths. He is all-seeing and all-knowing, and He is wisdom and truth themselves.

But this is not meant to be a cop-out answer. To say that because we are limited therefore we cannot understand God in this matter.

Again, I believe God spoke plainly. He reveals His nature to us through His Creation, His Word and His Son, so that we can understand why He didn’t just immediately fix Adam and Eve’s sin. So that we can understand that it is not God who is intolerant but we who are intolerant of Him. Like spoiled children we can’t tell the difference between being truly loved and having a personal genie, someone who meets all our demands on our terms and on our timelines regardless of what that would do to us in the end. So that we can understand why God was not able to overlook Adam and Eve’s–or anyone else’s–sin.

God drove the man out with a heavy heart. A heart that earnestly prayed, “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” [Deuteronomy 5:29]. Think about it. What if God just turned the other way and said, “Ok, Adam. If that’s the way you want it, then I guess that’s what it’ll be“?

You see, we’re already living in a world that is ruled and devastated by sin. And most human beings find it reprehensible enough that they wrongly blame God for every evil thing they see! Can you imagine what things would be like if God actually condoned the sin that people hold Him responsible for? If we couldn’t reach out to God for goodness? If we couldn’t call on Him for wisdom from on high? If we didn’t have His love protecting each and every one of us from the absolute ravaging effects of sin on our world?

We were created by a holy and loving Creator. Where He is, sin cannot be also [1 John 3:9]. And love often means disciplining the ones we love to keep them from harming themselves or others [Hebrews 12:5-11].

Do you trust God’s love enough to let Him develop you through discipline? Do you understand what it is to serve a Holy God?

Pain and Sorrow

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the woman he said, ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Genesis 3:16

Image result for pregnant bellyEve was the second to act disobediently [the first being the serpent] and the second to receive the consequences for her sinful actions. Right from their creation, God gave Adam and Eve the command to be fruitful and increase in number [Genesis 1:28]. However, God didn’t originally create childbirth to be painful for women. This is a direct result of the Fall.

However, beyond childbearing, the original Hebrew and earlier translations of this scripture indicate that the pain and sorrow would also extend into childrearing, that is raising children.

Again, God originally intended for human families to have perfect, sinless relationships with each other. In this sense, God’s pronouncement of Eve’s consequence is more of a statement of–you dropped it and it broke.

You disobeyed, despising my warning that death would come. The first death is your relationship to Me, your Holy Creator [for where sin is, God cannot be also; 1 John 3:9]. The second death–as a mother–is having sacrificed a right relationship with your children. For all earthly time after, sinful natures have brought mothers sorrow in raising their children.

That is not to say that there is no good. It is just to say that evil was never intended to be present in human relationships.

Beyond the mother-child relationship damage, Eve’s relationship with Adam would now also be strained. There would be tensions over authority. Since God was no longer the Sovereign in Eve and Adam’s hearts [because they’d traded their Godly citizenship], Adam would now rule as Eve’s earthly authority.

Now, the feminists out there might be thinking, “This is so sexist. That’s exactly why I don’t believe in God.”

Well, fast-forward to Galatians 3:28. Here we see that Christ’s redemption–of our Godly citizenship–on the cross restored relational equality. Again, it wasn’t God’s intention for any human to be subservient to another, but the sinful nature is selfish. People sinful-naturally needed an authority hierarchy, because sin dethroned God from their hearts. But Jesus died to set it to right.

Secondly, we have to be very careful not to decide there is no God just because we don’t like what He might have to say. That is Satan’s lie rearing its ugly head in our lives all over again. “You can be like God, knowing…”[Genesis 3:5]. You can decide for yourself. If you don’t like what He says, then whatevs! Just pretend He doesn’t exist, and do your own thing.

As Christians, though, we should be living as one redeemed. Our marriage relationships [whether present or future] should be characterized by mutual love and respect, with Christ ever at the center. And, yes. When we can’t come to an agreement over a decision that can’t be done two ways, Christian wives need to submit to their husband’s final say as the authority. [But hopefully you married him because you love and trust him!]

Is there any part of God’s Word that doesn’t sit well with you? Pray and ask God to soften your heart to Him, to help you to surrender to His omniscient wisdom. Pray and ask God to help you to understand the matter from His perspective.