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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.

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.

Attention to Detail

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Sons were also born to Shem, whose older brother was Japheth; Shem was the ancestor of all the sons of Eber… Two sons were born to Eber: One was named Peleg, because in his time the earth was divided; his brother was named Joktan.” Genesis 10:21 & 25

Image result for caucasoid negroid mongoloidSo names–from Shem we get the term Semitic which refers to the language group that descended from Shem’s line. Still in use today are: Arabic [most prevalent], Maltese, Modern Hebrew, the Ethiopian languages of Ahmaric, Tigrinya and Tigre, as well as several dialects of Aramaic. However, we more often hear the term anti-Semitic used today, when talking about hate-crimes toward Jews.

The term Semitic was first coined in the 1770s–along with Hamitic and Japhetic–to denote the races of people descended from each of the three sons of Noah. Not surprisingly, when scientists initially tried classifying human races in the 1790s from a biological diversity understanding, they concluded that there were only three races: Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid. That is not to say that these were ancestored by Noah’s three sons, but just interesting that God said three sons and science originally said three racial divisions.

It’s also not surprising that after Charles Darwin’s work, THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, was published in 1859 and widely accepted in 1870, that new essays surfaced proposing additional biological race classifications–devoid of a biblical witness.

From Eber we get the term Hebrew that is descended from Eber. Eber being denoted as a prominent descendant of Shem and also the notable father of two sons. Interestingly, his son Peleg is known only for his tie to world history chronology, but his other son Joktan is the one listed as having a line of descendants of his own.

In Peleg’s day the earth was divided. Some Christians surmise that this might be biblical evidence for Pangea. It’s possible that God is telling us here that the continents were broken apart during Peleg’s day. Maybe as a continuation of post flood tectonic plate movement. It’s also possible that this mention ties Peleg chronologically to the Nimrod and Tower of Babel accounts, since there is no way to really line up the Shem, Ham and Japheth genealogies to know who lived at the same time as who else. Especially since we’re not given any lifespans in this list.

Most importantly from these scriptures and others like them, is that we learn to take the time to read through them and consider why God included them in His account. Often times when reading the Bible, it’s tempting to skip over tedious genealogies and random factoids attached to people that seem otherwise unimportant to the more exciting and well-known stories of scripture. However, when we do, we can miss a lot of the vital information that helps to explain why and how all of the stories are important.

Many people think of Christians as narrow-minded and ignorant [aka uneducated in this context]. However, as Christians, we know that we possess the truth. It is our responsibility to be able to know the hope of which we speak, and to be able to answer the questions of those who seek to know God often times by directing them to specific answers in scripture.

Are you a scholar of God’s Word? Are you able to give an account for the hope that you have within you? To what extent?

Slavery

by Bridget Sileo

“Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.” Romans 6:16-18

Image result for farm handSlavery–in our American mind, it evokes the image of people being taken forcibly from their homelands and forced to work in deplorable conditions or face terrible punishments or even death. The New Testament uses slavery as a metaphor in many different places, but is this what it means? Are we helpless victims of the master we serve, whether it is Christ or sin? Or could the writers have had something different in mind?

In the culture in which the New Testament was written, it was not uncommon for people to have indentured servants, who would voluntarily enlist as a servant to another person or household for a period of time in exchange for room and board because that person could not survive otherwise. I believe the writers of the New Testament had something more like this scenario in mind when they describe us as slaves.

Romans 6:16-18 tell us that we have a choice. We can choose to live in sin’s house and eat its food, which seems attractive at first, but will lead to death. We can choose to live in God’s house and do as He tells us. This both puts responsibility on us and comforts us.

The choice is ours, but in this illustration we can’t see ourselves as a slave who is unable to break free from sin. We choose which master we want to serve. Sin doesn’t have us in chains that we can’t escape from. God has already broken the chains of sin in our lives. We must choose to shake them off and walk away from them in obedience to God.

Which house will you choose? Whom will you serve?

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?

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?