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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.

Freedom, Responsibility and Freewill

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:15-17

Image result for Picking Fruit From a TreeGod never intended His Creation to be robotic. Nowhere is that more obvious than here when we see that God gives Adam both freedom and responsibility in his new home.

Adam was responsible to take care of the garden where he now lived. God made us to work for our own good pleasure. Adam had no family [at first], no house, no need for our basic necessities–i.e. clothes and shelter–and nothing to protect himself from. There was no money to earn, no schoolwork to be done, no scholarships to earn, no jobs to be had and advanced in–nothing but God, Adam himself and the whole of Creation [and God said that this arrangement was very good!]

God knew that there was blessing to be had from the work of one’s own hands. There were also lessons to be learned. Man had work to do to find satisfaction in the gifts that God had given him. Much like a child today who enjoys and takes better care of something that they’ve had to earn for themselves, rather than the same item if it was just handed to them.

And Adam was free to eat from all but one tree. Interestingly, there were two trees that most of us would’ve felt tempted to eat from–the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil [Genesis 2:9]…a.k.a. the tree of certain death. But it is also interesting that God only forbade Adam to eat from one of these–the one that would hurt Adam. Nothing else in the Creation would hurt him. He needed no other warnings or rules to protect himself. And he was allowed to eat freely from the tree of life which would sustain his life for eternity.

But Adam never did [Genesis 3:22].

Because Adam also had choice and the freewill to choose. Would he work the garden as God asked? What would happen if he didn’t work the garden? Did he even want to work the garden or do the things that God asked? Could he find satisfaction in the work and food God had prepared for him? Would he obey the command not to eat from the tree of certain death–but whose name sounded much more appealing?

And God did not interfere with Adam’s choice, even though he’d warned him of the dire consequence. That is the essence of freewill.

Our choice today is exactly the same as Adam’s. The world has been destroyed and continues to decay under the weight of sin. The work has become a curse. And there are a fount of manmade diversions separating our hearts from God. But He has warned us in His Word not to eat from the proverbial tree of the knowledge of good and evil–that is, not to desire what the world desires [1 John 2:15-17]. And He has provided us unlimited free access to the tree of life, Jesus Christ [John 14:6].

Which tree are you choosing each day–life or death?

Love is Golden

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31

Image result for teen teamwork handsIf the two most important things that we do are: 1) to love God with everything about us, and 2) to love others like we love ourselves, then we must know what love is.

God’s definition? 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 contains a well-known list of love’s attributes–patience, kindness, not jealous or boastful or proud, etc. Moreover, Jesus called us to love one another the way He–who is God, who is good, and who is love–loves us [1 John 15:13]. He went on to say that, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

All summed up? Love is the active, self-deferent care for another. It’s the golden rule lived without exception–not out of obligation–but out of genuine concern for every other human being, even those who don’t love us back [Luke 6:31].

How is that even possible? Learn to see people with God’s eyes.

He made everyone, and He loves each of us all the same. There are no favorites with God. In fact, Jesus made it clear that, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” [Matthew 25:40]. So by loving our fellow human, we are loving God Himself.

As a Mom, this has become so clear to me through my children, but you may want to think about this as having two best friends or two pet dogs. In both cases, you love both equally. No favorites, because they are yours. Because you chose them.

But what if one dog turns and tears the other apart. Would you allow it? Would you ignore it? Or would it break your heart to have to punish one and to watch the other one suffer? And if one best friend hated your other best friend? Just think about the grief of having to time-split, and hearing one constantly tearing the other person apart. But you love them both the same.

God feels this constantly as He watches His creation act hatefully one to another–sometimes willfully and other times thoughtlessly. But love is the golden rule on Energizer batteries–it just keeps going and going. Willing even to give one’s own life up for someone else’s sake.

Is there a limit to your love for others? Ask God to bring it to light and then to remove it from your heart. Is there a limit to your love for God? Seek Him until it dissolves in the refining fire of His presence.