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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?

Fear Rightly. Breathe Life. Live Golden.

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” Revelation 1:17-20

Image result for gold lampstandSeeing the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, in His heavenly appearance compelled John to fall prone before Him. It’s that awestruck, worshipful response so natural to the heart that fears the Lord. But Jesus reminds John that fear of the Lord does not mean that we have to be afraid. Fear of the Lord is reverencing God for who He is, giving Him His rightful place as Lord of our lives and Creator of all. When we do this, we have nothing to fear from our loving Heavenly Father.

Jesus , further, proclaimed himself to be the First and the Last, just as He called Himself the Alpha and the Omega in 1:8, emphasizing His eternality in this passage.

He is the Living One. The one with God at the beginning through whom all things were made [John 1:1-3], One with the breath of life that was breathed into humankind in Adam. The One through whom all are made alive again [1 Corinthians 15:22], reversing the Adamic curse through which all died. The One who conquered death [1 Corinthians 15:57], hell and the grave [Revelation 1:18] to restore eternal life to those who believe in Him [John 3:16].

Therefore, because of who Jesus is, John was commanded to write down the God-given vision of present and future things. Only God is able to know such things. And the validity of a prophesy is known only when it does or doesn’t come to pass. So Jesus–as the author of life–orients the reader to some key symbolism in John’s vision. The stars [angels] and lampstands [churches].

I love knowing that the lampstands, representing the seven churches of Asia Minor, are golden. Gold is refined in a fire and purified in order to be formed into the tabernacle/ temple instruments. It took 75 pounds of gold to make the tabernacle lampstands and their accessories alone to God’s specifications [Exodus 25:39], and they stood, burning in front of the Most Holy Place [2 Chronicles 4:20]. But God tested the hearts of the churches in His refining fire, burning away the impurities, purifying them [Proverbs 17:3]. Yet, as we are about to read, even then at the time of John’s writing they were not perfect.

Likewise, God regards each of us as more precious than gold and He is testing our hearts, refining us day by day to become more like Him. We do not need to be afraid of Him or this process, but in faith to reverence Him as the One True God and Lord of our lives.

What is your response to God? Do you recognize Him when you see Him at work? Do you allow His word to work in your life? Have you given him the reins as Lord of your heart?

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?

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?

Counterfeit

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Genesis 1:26

Image result for God's presenceHoly, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty Who was and is and is to come [Revelation 4:8]. Holy is our Creator God Who made all things good and Who made us in His own image.

How could any counterfeit ever prevail in the hearts of His Creation?

Yet in the days of Abraham, the world was entrenched in child sacrifice. They offered their children to the flames of stone idols–to Baal and Molech–while indecent acts consummated counterfeit worship.

God called Abraham to  demonstrate to the world that their child sacrifice was a counterfeit to His holy purpose–the sanctity of human life. He stayed the knife, providing a substitutionary sacrifice, not just for Isaac, but for everyone of all time.

In the days of Moses, God commanded His chosen people, “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below,” [Exodus 20:4]. Yet that is exactly what happened throughout the history of judges, priests, prophets and kings. Counterfeit images made by human hands stood in the place of God in hearts and homes.

Yet even the rocks will cry out to God and no other [Luke 19:40] for who He is, and the idols hewn by human hands fell on their faces before the only true God [1 Samuel 5:30].

In the days of Mary and Joseph, the world espoused pantheons of Greek and Roman gods who used human beings as nothing more than toys to be discarded when their pleasure was had.

God called Mary to demonstrate to the world that His love for us was pure. His intention was not to use His Creation for His own pleasure, but to love us in such a way that we delight in one another. By a holy overshadowing, He demonstrated that the Greek and Roman pantheons were a perverted counterfeit to Who He is.

In our day, idols abound–gods created in the image of sinful man. Counterfeits to the truth that we were created in the image of a Holy God.

Do you live in such a way that His image shines undimmed and undiminished to those around you?

Seed of Faith or Spore of Doubt?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land: but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.” Hebrews 11:29-30

Image result for tree and mushroomIt’s not often that we read about the Israelites’ corporate faith, but here the writer of Hebrews–as inspired by God–commends their faith. By absolute certainty in what they hoped for, but couldn’t see, the Israelites walked through the parted Red Sea.

By Moses’ faith, God parted the sea, but if the people failed to believe God they would never have walked through the watery walls. They would have turned back, or been crushed by the Egyptians, or–like the Egyptians–been drowned by the waves.

But despite witnessing God’s awesome power at work, this generation turned from their faith and grumbled against God [Numbers 14:1-4]. Consequently, they passed away in their desert wanderings.

Forty years later, by a renewed corporate faith, the youth from the Red Sea parting  obediently marched around Jericho behind the ark of the covenant. Armed with nothing but trumpets, marching orders and the command to shout on cue, this next generation stormed the gateway city to the Promised Land and saw God deliver it miraculously into their hands.

This generation went in to take hold of the Promised Land, but their faith–and that of the generations after them–eventually gave way too [read Joshua, Judges, Kings, Chronicles, and the prophets].

Without their initial belief, the Israelites would never have seen these two great miracles. But even having seen them, they lost their absolute certainty in what they hoped for, but couldn’t see.

The difficulties of life and the murmurs of others seeded doubt. And just like a tiny mustard seed of faith can grow into a mighty tree that moves mountains, so a tiny spore of doubt can decay the faith of individuals and, eventually, an entire nation.

We must be careful then what we allow to inform our faith–family, friends, feelings, circumstances–or God Himself? Have you surrounded yourself with those who seed faith or spread spores of doubt? Both can take root and grow, but only one to the glory of God.

How about you? Do you tend to be a seed or a spore to those around you?

A Future to Remember

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“It was by faith that Moses commanded the people of Israel to keep the Passover and to sprinkle blood on the doorposts so that the angel of death would not kill their firstborn sons.” Hebrews 11:28 [NLT]

Image result for old red doorToday we know the Passover as the Jewish feast prior to Easter. But the tradition started as the final meal shared by the Hebrew families before their exodus from Egyptian slavery. Leading up to the final plague, Moses faithfully relayed God’s commands to the Israelites.

  1. 1. Ask your Egyptian neighbors for silver and gold…which the Egyptians willingly gave them [Exodus 11:2]. *The kindest plundering of a nation in all of history.*
  2. 2. Change the calendar to make this the first month of your year [Exodus 12:2].
  3. 3. Butcher a perfect [no defect or blemish] one-year old male lamb–either sheep or goat–at twilight and roast it for dinner [Exodus 12:3-6].
  4. 4. Apply the blood drained from this lamb to the door frame of the house–top and sides [Exodus 12:7].
  5. 5. Eat it all–or burn what you can’t finish–with bitter greens and unleavened bread [Exodus 12:8-10].
  6. 6. And eat, ready to run [Exodus 12:11]!

The reward for observing God’s commands down to the letter? Their firstborn sons would be spared when the angel of death passed over Egypt, AND the Egyptians would willingly let them leave.

But Moses relayed these commands in faith–in absolute certainty of what he hoped for, but couldn’t see. He could only trust God that the Egyptians wouldn’t turn and kill the plundering Hebrews themselves. He could only trust God that an obedient feast would keep the angel of death at bay. He could only trust God that Pharaoh would finally let the people go even though he had changed his mind so many times before.

And Moses did trust God. And following his lead, the people trusted God too. As a result of their obedient faith, God did for them exactly as He said He would. They were saved from death and released from their slavery to go on to claim the earthly inheritance promised to Abraham.

This first Passover paints a beautiful picture of our deliverance today. To deliver means to set free from. Moses and the Israelites’ obedient faith set them free from slavery in Egypt, just as our obedient faith will set us free from the slavery of sin and death.

God has invited us to eat a feast with Him as well–in heaven, at the marriage supper of the lamb [Revelation 19:6-9]. But He has not asked us to butcher our own lamb, because He offered His Son, Jesus, as the unblemished lamb for our sins. And we do not have to paint our doorframes with lamb’s blood, but we do have to apply the blood of Jesus to our hearts by asking Him to be Lord of our lives. We can’t take silver and gold with us, but we can lay up treasures in heaven [Matthew 6:19-21]. And God calls us each to live our lives ready at all times for His return [Matthew 25:1-13].

The Passover was meant to be an annual remembrance of the future gift God has for each of us who live by obedient faith.

Is your faith obedient? Do you live daily ready for Jesus’ return? What else is God asking you to do?