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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?

Foreshadowing the Fish

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons who themselves had sons after the flood. The sons of Japheth…The sons of Javan [Japheth’s son]: Elishah, Tarshish, the Kittites and the Rodanites. (From these the maritime peoples spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with its own language.” Genesis 10:1-2a & 4-5

Image result for open fish mouth + imageAs an already established Genesis pattern, chapter 10 gives us a zoomed out understanding of where the post-flood nations came from. It tells us from which of Noah’s sons the people groups hailed and which regions of the world they generally settled.

However, just like the specific details of the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2, these settlement divisions and the notation of their separate languages will be more fully explained in a zoomed in story in chapter 11.

We’ll start with a look at one of the notables in Japheth’s line. If you notice, many of the descendant names in the Genesis 10 Table of Nations passage also double as town/city names in many biblical passages. That’s because often times, as in the case of the City of Enoch [Genesis 4:17], the town/city was named for the first or an important family member who settled it.

Do you see a familiar person/town name in Japheth’s line? His grandson Tarshish is listed as one of the many maritime dwellings–or seaport cities. Where do you know that name from? While Tarshish is mentioned 18 times in the Bible, it is most commonly associated with the story of Jonah.

Tarshish is believed to have been located near the Strait of Gibraltar, a narrow spit of Mediterranean Sea that stretches between Spain and North Africa to the Atlantic Ocean.

A few verses from now we’ll see that Nineveh was descended from Ham [Genesis 10:11]. Jonah, on the other hand, was an Israelite–a descendant of Shem. So all three brothers’ descendants are present in this story.

Japheth’s territory was extended all across the Mediterranean [Genesis 9:27]. Shem was blessed as the Chosen People of the One True God [Genesis 9:26]. But in the story of Jonah, God is reaching through the generationally handed down sins of Ham’s line. He sends the son of Shem to preach repentance to the sons of Ham, but that son of Shem runs to the tents of Japheth. Crazy, right?!

Each Bible story and piece of world history is often connected in ways that we never even think to consider. One of Satan’s greatest lies is to make believers doubt the continuity of the Bible. However, as an aspiring author myself who has written a handful of novel manuscripts, I can tell you that it is remarkably difficult for one human author writing for a focused period of time to author a story that has no plot or character inconsistencies. Let alone for about 40 men over a period of about 1,500 years to write an amazingly consistent plot and character. And these men were separated not only by time, but often geography as well. And the Bible is still the longest, most richly layered and consistent stories in all of history!

It can only be a God thing.

And it’s not fiction. The Bible is truth. It’s the history of the world in its purest sense. As Christians, we do ourselves and the world around us a disservice when we do not intimately know God’s Word, His truth, His story. For without such an understanding, how could we ever be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have within us [1 Peter 3:15]? Or–like Jonah–how would we understand God’s heart to share His good news with the world?

Life Is Not A Screenplay

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.’ He also said, ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend Japheth’s territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.” Genesis 9:24-27

Image result for Cinematic TechniquesOn an individual level, Ham behaved sinfully. He could have repented and apologized to his father. He could have confessed before his son Canaan that his actions were wrong. And perhaps he did do some or all of these things. Scripture doesn’t say. However, even when we are sorry, actions always carry natural consequences. And one of the natural consequences of sin is coming under a curse [Genesis 3:14 & 17]. By curse, I don’t mean some magical incantation, rather an almost prophetic utterance of the wrong that will befall someone.

Canaan was cursed to become a slave to his own family, while his uncles–Shem and Japheth–received blessings for their righteous choices. Looking ahead, we learn that Canaan became the father of the: Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, Arvadites, Zemarites, and Hamathites [Genesis 10:16-18].

The Canaanites–aka descendants of Canaan–became the inhabitants of the Promised Land [Genesis 15:18-21]. The five clans in bold, are repeatedly mentioned in scripture as the people that the Israelites–descendants of Shem–needed to drive from the land in order to take possession of it [Exodus 3:8, 17; 12:5; 23:23; et al]. However, the Israelites were not faithful to drive out all of the Canaanite peoples. Some did in fact become their slaves, others were killed or driven out, and a small remnant were left alive and later intermarried [contrary to God’s command].

But history was not written by God in advance as a screenplay for us to walk through. Despite the pronouncement of the curse, Canaan could have repented and raised his children in the fear and admonition of the Lord as his grandfather Noah had done. Imagine how different scripture and world history would be if that had been the case. If each generation faithfully passed on and received, not just the truth of God, but the desire to enter into a personal relationship with Him.

Many generations later, a Canaanite descendant would choose to revere God, to make the kind of righteous choice that her ancestors Canaan and Ham did not. And God brought Rahab back into His blessing, made her a member of his own family by her faith [Joshua 6:25; Matthew 1:5]. God is not willing that any should perish [2 Peter 3:9], but each one is allowed to choose all the same.

We are all descended from sinners, but like Shem, Japheth and Rahab, we can also all make righteous choices by faith. Despite your sin, God is not willing that you should perish, but what do you choose? Do you choose to read books/magazines, or watch TV shows/movies that gratify the desires of your body? Or do you choose righteousness–to save those pleasures for the time and place in life for which God has designed them?

An Unfinished Work

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. [Ham was the father of Canaan.] These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth. Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.” Genesis 9:18-21

Image result for vineyard + imageHere we see a point of view shift. The flood narrative to this point has been focused on Noah, but now God shifts the lens to include Noah’s sons–Shem, Ham and Japheth. Noah had no other children. So these three men and their wives repopulated the post-flood earth.

Shem means name or renown. Ham may mean hot, heat, warm, or brown. And Japheth means may he expand.

And in this shift, the author also mentions Ham’s son, Canaan; a name which has several possible meanings: flat, low, merchant, trader, or that humbles and subdues. From this we can infer that Canaan was already born by the time of the incident to follow.

Though we know that Noah had sufficient time to plant a vineyard, cultivate it through grape production, harvest grapes, press them and ferment them into wine, we don’t know exactly how long after the flood this event takes place or how old Canaan was at the time.

The sons and grandson’s name meanings may or may not have any story significance here, however their mention leads up to a small but important narrative.

Now, God does not mention His thoughts on the fact that Noah ended up drunk on homemade wine. We know that God chose to save Noah from the flood because he was favored for being upright [righteous; Genesis 6:9] in the sight of the Lord.

Upright does not mean perfect or sinless. And the Bible certainly warns against drunkenness [Galatians 5:21; 1 Peter 4:3; et al.]. Hebrews 11:7 tells us that Noah became an heir of righteousness because of his faith, but in this post-flood account Noah is described as a man of the soil.

Interesting.

The last person to be described as such in scripture was Cain [Genesis 4:2], though we know that Adam himself was charged with working the ground for his food [Genesis 3:17]. And we know that both men were identified as sinners.

All of this shows us that we can know for certain that the ground was still under the curse of sin and that Noah–like Adam and Cain before him–was still a sinner saved by grace, as were his sons. He allowed himself to become drunk, and, in this drunken state, slept naked in his tent. This is reminiscent of the three verses in Genesis 4 devoted to Lamech McCain in that it shows us that–after all of the destruction and devastation of the flood–there is still sin in the world. The work of redemption was not finished. And as was the case with Abraham [Galatians 3:6], it seems that Noah was credited as righteous because of his faith, not that his own righteousness was enough to save him from sin.

Just because we accept Christ in our lives, doesn’t mean that our sin nature instantly disappears. But when we allow Christ to be Lord of our hearts, we begin to become more like Him. Where God is, sin cannot be also.

Have you asked Jesus to be Lord of your life? Do you put Him first in all your ways? Will you allow Him to show you any sin that may be harbored in your heart so that He can root it out and you can become more like Him?

Assumption and Addition

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.” Genesis 3:2-3

Image result for monitor lizard with fruitWhile Satan clouded God’s command with a doubt-raising misquote, Eve furthers her own beguiling by 1) assuming the serpent’s intent and 2) adding to God’s Word.

Immediately, Eve understands that Satan is opposing her Creator God. And the serpent not only questions God’s Words, but His provision, goodness, kindness, justice and wisdom–all ultimately undermining His sovereignty. In short, Satan draws all of the attributes of God into question with his question.

And Eve takes up God’s defense.

Unfortunately, in her fervor to explain, she also adds to God’s Word. Inadvertently or intentionally we don’t know.

We only know that Eve–as Satan did a moment before her–misquotes God by adding more to what He said than what He actually said. Though Eve clearly knew the consequence for disobeying the command, God hadn’t told her and Adam not to touch the tree, just not to eat of it.

But doesn’t she sound confident? Sure of herself? So while Eve hadn’t sinned yet, she certainly was exercising her freewill precariously.

Satan’s tactics haven’t changed in the just over 6,000 year history of the Creation. He still attacks by raising doubt. He questions everything about who God is and what He says, pushing us to defend our faith–our absolute certainty in what we hope for, but cannot see. Baiting us to act on our assumptions. Tempting us to speak to our own uncertainties in the Word of God, while leading us to add and subtract from His absolute truth in defense of our faith before others.

Yes, we should always be ready to give an answer for the hope we have within us [1 Peter 3:15], but this should be coupled with divine discernment. Satan could’ve cared less what Eve answered. He was ready to spin anything his way to lead her–and the rest of humanity…aka Adam–astray. And there will be those in our path who are not asking about our faith out of genuine interest. There will be those who ask in order to bait us to defend so that they can offend.

Are you quick to defend your faith to those who raise doubts? Pray for discernment and for God’s Word to be spoken, not your own. Are you daily in God’s Word, preparing yourself to give an answer for the hope that you have?

Did God Really Say?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” Genesis 3:1

Image result for iguana in a treeThe Hebrew word here is most often translated with the broad kind name for serpent, though in two modern translations it is translated into snake and Shining One. Other biblical occurrences modify serpent with fiery, poison, adder, viper and Leviathan. Considering that God made animals according to their kinds on Day 6 [Genesis 1:25], it’s possible that serpent could refer to any number of pre-sin reptilians.

We know for sure that the serpent had legs [Genesis 3:14] and that Eve was not surprised when it spoke to her. Not only that, but this particular serpent was more crafty than–more subtle, more clever, more astute, the most cunning, and the shrewdest of–all the other animals that God created.

Grammatically, for the serpent to be more than [comparative] or the most [superlative], then the other animals also had to be somewhat clever. So it would not surprise me at all if we got to heaven and found out that C.S. Lewis was right to portray his Narnian animals as talking beasts, especially since he paralleled the Bible accounts so closely.

But with what wiles this creature possessed, he chose to raise doubt about God’s spoken Word. “Did God really say?” And with it, he misquotes God, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” Not only that, but he asks someone who didn’t hear it from God directly. God told Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam told Eve. She knew full well not to eat from it, but the wording of the command–well…Satan knew he could cast doubt here.

And Satan’s tactics haven’t changed. He still prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour [1 Peter 5:8]. One of his most tried and true, age-old tactics is to ask a question that raises doubts.

Perhaps you’ve heard that persistent nagging in your mind, Did God really say? Without doubt God’s words were cleverly rehashed after that. But besides the introspective doubt raising business, Satan is also at work in the world at large. Everything from textbooks to Hollywood is asking us as Christians, “Did God really say?” Because if He did, then…

Don’t be deceived by this tactic in any form. This same ancient serpent–aka the great dragon called Satan–is just biding his time until his demise [Revelation 12:9 & 20:2]. He desires to drag as many people with him into the pit of hell as possible.

Do you know God’s Word? Are you standing firm in the knowledge of your faith?

Defend the Faith

by Joseph Strocchia

“Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” Jude 1:3

Image result for stand firm in the faithJude had original intentions to write a letter to a group of fellow believers about their mutual faith and salvation, but he was compelled to encourage them to contend for the faith because there were people in their midst that were preaching a gospel that caused many of them to doubt the true message of Jesus that they had accepted.

It wasn’t just Jude who felt urged by the Holy Spirit to encourage believers to stand firm for what they knew to be true. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 10:5, said,” we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.” Paul also wrote to one of his young assistants, Titus, and encouraged him to “teach what is in accord with sound doctrine,” 2:1, and he informed him that the elders of his church “must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it,” 1:9.

Peter also wrote, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15.

It was important for the contention of the faith then, and it is still important today–especially as it concerns the origins of our world.

As believers in Christ we attest to the truth that God created all that we see and know. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” Genesis 1:1. There are many scoffers and jeerers who attest to the opposite saying, “Billions of years ago nothing exploded into everything and life as we know it has been evolving ever since.”

We must stand firm in our faith that God is Creator of all, but we must do so–as Peter implored–with gentleness and respect. People who oppose God are lost spiritually and their greatest need is Jesus. As believers in Christ, we have what they need and one of our desires should be to show them the genuine love of our Lord and to share with them the reason we have set our hope in Him.

But it’s also just as important that we know what we believe, in Whom we believe, and why we believe it and we should stand ready to defend this against those who would oppose it.

Are you ready to stand firm in your faith against those who would oppose it? Are you also ready to show them the love of Christ as you stand up for your faith? It’s important that we all do both!