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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?

Cultural Complications

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 the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” Revelation 2:7

Image result for tree of life in ephesusTen times in the New Testament, scripture exhorts people with ears to actually use their ears to hear what God has to say. It seems logical, but it can be oh so complicated. Culture, in particular, can complicate or obscure or distort or distract from or drown out God’s message.

But John offers the Ephesian Christians this encouragement–be victorious in hearing and doing God’s word, and you can have the actual tree of life in an actual paradise of the One True Almighty God.

Because in Ephesus, the Artemesian temple had a, so-called, tree of life in its courtyard. A tree that people would touch believing that it could make them fertile, or well, or live longer, or other blessings to improve the quantity and quality of life as they saw it. Of course, Satan totally counterfeited the concept of The Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden [Genesis 2:9; also mentioned in Revelation 22]. And then he passed it off as a non-Christian cultural affair that possibly left the Ephesian Christians feeling like they would also like free access to such a life-giving tree.

The paradise referred to here is also a cultural shout out to the Ephesians. The Caesars, who were demanding to be worshipped as gods, had huge beautiful palaces with central courtyard gardens that were beyond compare–their own personal paradise. The Ephesian Christians would have known full well that John was telling them that God is higher than any Caesar and His palaces more grand. His Tree of Life would not be found in pagan temples requiring indecency and self-mutilation, but in His very own paradise–that He offered freely to them if they just believe.

Do you hear what God is saying when you read His word? How about when you listen to others expound on God’s word? How about when you pray or praise and worship? If there is ever a time in your daily life that you do not hear God, ask Him to open your ears to His glory and honor in your life.

God’s Promise

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: ‘I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you–the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you–every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Genesis 9:8-11

Image result for covenant agreement + imageCovenant. Agreement. Guarantee. Pledge. Commitment. Contract. God promises Noah and his family, but also all of the creatures on the ark, that He will never again destroy the world in a flood. He will never again wash away sin by a physical deluge.

This speaks so poignantly to the character of God. People find God inconsistent because He sent worldwide destruction through the flood one time and never again. But I for one am glad that I don’t have to worry. That every time the worldwide sin levels rise, they won’t trip the divine deluge trigger. I am so thankful for God’s promise that I can live in peace, by grace through faith, until He comes again and I meet Him in the air.

And the fact that God promises the animals too, that says something about their importance to Him. For while human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation, the animals are no less the work of His hand. Scriptures tell us that not a sparrow falls to the ground that He doesn’t know about [Matthew 10:29].

All life is sacred to God. And He commands us to steward it [Genesis 1:26; Mark 12:31].

Do you value human and animal life as God does? Do you have peace, resting in God’s promises?

Peace With God

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.” Genesis 8:10-12

Image result for olive leafAfter 265 days of life aboard the ark, what’s another 14 days [2 weeks]? On Day 272, the dove came back with a fresh olive leaf! Not bedraggled and waterlogged from flood debris, but freshly picked from a growing tree.

Clearly, God was at work once again. Just as He had prepared the Creation before placing Adam into a perfect garden home, so He ensured that Noah and his family would be able to survive the post-flood earth.

However, if–during the flood–mountains were covered to a depth of 23 feet, then trees were covered to depths of possibly hundreds of feet. The types of waves and riptides produced by a worldwide deluge would be enough to rip most of the trees out of the saturated earth and toss them around like pick-up-sticks. According to the Biblical account, every living thing died in the flood save those on the ark. So forests, fields, jungles, and all the creatures therein–birds, mammals, humans, and reptiles…including dinosaurs–died in the flood.

Do you know that there is evidence of this death toll everywhere? Trees have been found coalified and petrified and coalified [again…as in the same tree crossing through three different geologic layers] standing straight up, though not rooted. Human artifacts have been discovered inside coal. And fossil fuels are termed such because scientists know that they are the pressurized decomposed remains of once living organisms. Only there had to be a whole lot of organisms deceased and squished all at once under an inordinate amount of pressure to form the coal, natural gas, and oil seams that we have today. [Or the organisms had to be a whole lot larger…maybe like dinosaur size?]

So an olive leaf was a great sign! Trees do not grow up over night–at least not without divine intervention. Olive leaves/branches are a symbol of peace, as are doves and doves carrying olive branches. All symbolism has an origin, and we today use these as symbols of peace, because of this moment in history right here when God made peace with man. The man named peace, whose father had prophesied would bring peace to all the earth, received the sign of peace from God.

The earth was almost inhabitable again, but Noah waited one more week to be sure. With worldwide mud, I’m sure he did not want to get stuck, maybe lose a sandal that couldn’t easily be replaced. He also, as Adam in the garden before him, was caretaker for the animals the Lord had sent him. So besides his own well being, Noah remained on the ark until he felt sure that the world was ready to receive back life in the midst of all the death.

And when the dove–that clean bird–did not return, then Noah knew for sure that the life had returned upon the earth.

Sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death [James 1:15]. The world we live in is full of sin growing to its fullest. Our own lives not withstanding. Death abounds. Judgment leading to second death is coming. But where there is death, there are also those ready to receive new life. And just like in Eden and the post-flood world, God is at work, but this time, preparing hearts.

Look at your life through God’s Word and ask yourself, if you had been alive during the days of Noah, would God have chosen you? In the post-flood aftermath we live in 4,000 years later, are you prepared to plant life in the hearts and minds of those God sends your way?

When God Closes the Door

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then the Lord shut him in. For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits…The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.” Genesis 7:16b-21 & 24

Image result for pitching hayIf Noah or his family had any doubt whatsoever that they were obeying the will of God, surely when God Almighty closed the door to the ark once they were all safely inside was sign enough.

But was it sign enough to endure forty days of intense flooding that pushed the ark off the safety of dry land, rocking it–none too gently–as the waters swelled deep enough to cover the highest mountains of Noah’s day under about 23 feet of water?

Looking forward from Noah, the Israelites of the Exodus saw God do many miraculous things, and yet they grumbled against Him all the same, losing their opportunity to settle the Promised Land [Exodus 16:12, 17:1; Numbers 14:2]. Did Noah’s family feel this same frustration and temptation at any time when they were being tossed about in their floating zoo, pitching hay and other vittles to three stories worth of wild animals for a hundred and fifty days [about five months]?

Or did they whole heartedly trust God and just go for the ride of their lives?

More than that, I think it’s fascinating that God describes the ark here as floating on the surface of the water. Remember back in Genesis 1:2b that God’s spirit moved over the surface of the deep, and looking forward to Matthew 14, Jesus physically walked on the water.

God was with that ark, because God was in that ark with His faithful servants.

Everyone who didn’t have the faith to build and board with Noah was judged by the flood water and found wanting [Daniel 5:27]. But those who put their faith–their absolute certainty in what they hoped for but couldn’t see–in God, by His grace–undeserved favor–were saved.

The truth of sin is very real. But salvation by faith alone through grace alone is also a very real truth.

Like Noah, are you building your life in faith alone? Do you recognize God’s grace in your life that allows you to board His ark of salvation? In whom is your faith?

Holding Back the Flood

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The Lord then said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.’ And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.” Genesis 7:1-5

Image result for Holding Hands WaterEver wonder why God gave Noah the command to actually get on the ark–that he so willingly built–one week in advance? A couple reasons probably: 1) After about 100 years building, it was finally time. 2) It was hard. And God coupled this command with a reminder of what He was about to do.

All that time that Noah was building, people had a witness of the judgment to come AND the opportunity to repent. These were his extended family, his sons’ wives families and extended families, his neighbors and their families. His whole community! [Plus people who lived way beyond his community that he’d never even met.]

And God was holding back the flood, giving Noah the opportunity to build and to tell others about God’s plan. God would’ve loved for even one more to turn from their wicked ways and be forgiven [2 Chronicles 7:14]. But no one did. Not one other in his whole generation was found to be righteous.

Yet not only did Noah’s righteousness mean that the human race would continue through his family, God also planned to save the seed of the rest of His handiwork as well. Mated pairs of animals came to Noah. God sent them to him two-by-two. And of the animals that God considered clean [Leviticus 11], Noah received seven pairs, while only one pair of the so-called unclean animals was sent.

But scripture does not say that God sent every species. Kind is a broader term, like family. So there were likely two dogs on the ark and from these two dogs descended all the dog breeds we have today. Remember that Eden’s genetics began with every kind of animal [again, possibly only two dogs] which contained the genes for every other possible dog breed [and so on for each other animal kind]. So many of the extinct species, that we read about in science texts today, likely went extinct at the time of the flood because their genetic combination ended.

The same was true of human genetics, so there were possibly many human genetic possibilities that no longer existed after the flood simply because these genes were not present in Noah’s sons and daughters-in-law.

Noah did all he was commanded to do. What a great divine epitaph for your life and mine. You know, not only was Noah the faithful and righteous remnant through which God was establishing the line of Christ, Noah’s story also parallels our world today.

Once again, God is holding back a flood of judgment. Only this time, rather than water, He will come again, opening the seals and pouring out the bowls of His judgment with horse and rider and trumpet blasts. A great spiritual–but very physically real–battle will be fought for the souls of men [Revelation].

And once again, God is holding back, giving us the opportunity to build the witness in our lives and to tell others about God’s plan. He desires for all men to accept His plan of redemption [John 3:16] and escape the fires of hell.

Are you building your witness? Are you telling others of God’s plan of salvation? Does your life speak to both of these even if others choose not to listen to your words?

Finding Favor in God’s Eyes

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that He had made human beings on the earth, and His heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created–and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground–for I regret that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” Genesis 6:5-8

Image result for standing out from the crowdWhat is wickedness? And what is evil? Both are defined–in modern dictionaries–as being morally wrong or profoundly immoral. But in our day, wickedness and evil seem to be used of the darkest, most heinous imaginings of horror films, terrorists and serial killers. People wouldn’t define such acts as just immoral. In fact, immorality is decried as narrow-mindedness, because, by definition, morality means conforming to socially accepted standards of right conduct.

However, when the Creator of the world is the standard of morality, and this Creator is the holy God, then immorality means not conforming to His accepted standard of right conduct. And by His definition in scripture, such godlessness [immorality] is wicked and it is evil.

Every thought of every heart was only godless–immoral, self-serving without regard for God or fellow humankind–all the time. Everyone thought only of themselves. Everyone tore each other down to self-promote, tore each other apart to self-preserve, tore marriage and family apart to self-gratify. The sinful nature of humanity tore and tore and tore at the threads of God’s image in them until they tore Him from the midst of their existence altogether. Until they tore themselves from the very heart of God.

And He was loathe that He’d ever formed the man, Adam, and the woman, Eve, that day. Their descendants had become such a vile stench that God was loathe He’d lent His very own breath of life to our existence. And He was willing to utterly destroy every creature of His creation that could not breathe water in order to remove once and for all, right then and there, the sin that had so corrupted every good thing that He had made.

But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

Do you feel the enormity of that statement? Imagine God’s spirit roving over the face of the whole earth and finding evil heart after evil heart–except for one man and one man alone. The man named peace. The man whose father prophesied the future of the whole world for all time into his life. The man Noah.

A prophesy is not a true prophesy unless it comes to pass. Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord, and God found a way to redeem all that He had made through this one and only moral–righteous, that is right living by God’s standards–man.

Ever since this time, sin has again multiplied itself across the face of the earth in generation after generation, but God has promised to restrain His hand of judgment until the end [Genesis 9:15]. Yet, just as in the days of Noah, God is looking for one faithful, one righteous, one moral according to His ways through which He can work to redeem our world today.

Will that someone be you?