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Promised to the Victorious

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 some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” Revelation 2:17

Image result for name engraved in white marbleThis is the third church so far to whom Christ has commanded the people to hear Him, His Spirit’s words to them. And for the third time, He promises something to the one who is victorious. Victory played a big part in the Greco-Roman culture with arenas and wars. To the victor went the spoils and great honor. But what God can give us is far greater than any earthly reward for victory.

So how can a Christian be victorious? To the Ephesians Jesus commanded them to restore their first love, to put Him first again. In this way, they would be victorious and gain access to the true tree of life. To the Church in Smyrna Jesus commended their faith and commanded them to be faithful even to death. In this way, they would be victorious and gain protection from the second death. To Pergamum He commands repentance from compromise. In this way, they would be victorious and gain miraculous provision–hidden manna–and an invitation to a divine party.

In this time period, when the Caesars would hold banquets, they sent out invitations–white marble with the invitees name engraved on it. How much more should we desire to receive an invitation from Christ to the divine banquet in heaven.

Each of these commands and promises are essentially the same, yet personalized to the cities’ challenge. All were commanded to get/keep their relationship with Jesus Christ right. And all were promised eternity for doing so.

What has Jesus commanded you to right in your life? Check your relationship with Him carefully and tend to those needy areas. If you are victorious in holding to your faith in Christ, then just like the seven churches of Revelation, you too will receive eternal life.

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.

Gold State Warriors Dominate the Reigning Champions, Cleveland Cavaliers

by Jimmy Sileo

Image result for basketballIn this year’s NBA Championship, we are quite possibly witnessing the greatest team ever assembled. But are they? Watching the way this team plays is beautiful–their smooth ball movement and their feisty defense is a rough to score on as an A-League Champion Bible Quizzer. In the same way, God is currently building His team. Want in?

In game one, the Warriors convincingly beat last year’s champs by twenty-one points. Game two wasn’t any better as KD, Steph and crew ran away with it and easily won by nineteen. The beat down was so severe that Cleveland’s coach pulled the starters with eight minutes left on the clock to preserve their worn-down bodies for the next game. Even the best player in the world, Lebron “King” James, couldn’t will his team back into the game no matter how hard he tried.

So how can this be? The answer is unity and unselfishness. The Warriors’ unselfish play and ball movement kept the Cavs honest. That means, no one ball hogs. They pass the ball around to all five players until someone can take a wide-open shot. Dominating the ball, or “hero ball,” as some put it, does not happen. No one is bigger than the team. They play like a unit on offense and especially defense. If one defender needs help, another rotates, aiding in his defense, sometimes even giving up his body to take a charge. And that’s hard to do when the 6’8″, 230 pound Lebron-James-freight-train is coming full steam to the hole. These four future hall-of-famers are giving up self [pride, fame, money, stats, minutes] for the sake of the team, and tat is exactly how we are to be if we chose to be disciples on Jesus’ team. Naturally, this goes against our grain and is hard to do , but the coming glory is far better than anything we can receive on earth.

Like the Warriors’ play, God sacrificed it all. He risked His reputation, His word, and His only son for the sake of the team’s ultimate goal. He knew He had to make a way [the cross] for His team to reach the podium [heaven] to lift the Championship Trophy [Crown of Glory].

When Jesus revealed to his disciples that he was the Messiah, he asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?”

Peter said, “You are the son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you for this was not revealed to you by man but by my Father in heaven…and on this rock, I will build my church [team] and the gates of hell [all forces opposed to Christ and his kingdom] will not overcome it,” [Matthew 16:16-18].

Shortly later he said to the team, “Whoever want to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross [total commitment] and follow me…For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done,” [Matthew 16:24 & 27].

When we put our selfish desires aside, totally commit to God’s plan, value unity other believers, and tell others about Him, then we can proudly say we are a part of the greatest team ever.

Enter False Religion

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ So the Lord scattered them from there over all the whole earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel–because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:5-9

Image result for chichen itza mayan ruinsThe Tower of Babel construction is known as a ziggurat. Ziggurats–also known as step-pyramids–can be found on five of the seven continents. These towers were built in many cultures as a temple to worship the heavens, that is the sun, moon and stars rather than the One True God.

Nimrod was the first to turn the hearts of people from their understanding of and a personal relationship with their Creator. And with the help of his wife, Semiramis, he propagated the first false religion on the face of the earth.

Because of this blatant disobedience and misuse of God’s name, God confused the languages of human beings. Human beings were made in God’s image [Genesis 1:27], with the ability to plan and create and work together. God acknowledges that if allowed to continue to work together, they could accomplish anything that they could of think of to undertake.

As the people scattered in their separate language groups, each culture shared a few common historical events: Creation, Flood, and the division of languages at the Tower of Babel. Until modern history, most people groups had in fact preserved a variation on these three stories in the forms of myths, legends and religious stories. The existence of ziggurats on five of seven continents itself is a testimony to a shared history and ancestry.

Moreover, this event is very important to the Biblical viewpoint of world history. So important that Babylon is mentioned 315 times in scripture. About 100 of those mentions occur in Jeremiah with the pending captivity.

When Israel, God’s chosen bride, prostitutes herself with the idolatry and false religions of surrounding nations, God relents. He gives Israel exactly what she insisted on out of His will to begin with. He allows Israel to have front row seats and firsthand experiences with the lifestyle that they so earnestly desired in Babylonian captivity in hopes that she will turn her heart once again to Him.

But one day, Babylon will fall. Revelation 19 records how the heavens will rejoice when that day comes, when the season of idolatry and false religion will lay decimated, never again to rise. When glory and honor will belong once again to God alone.

Is there any trace of Babylon in your heart or life? Is there anything that turns your prayer, praise, worship and devotion from the Creator? Allow the Holy Spirit to search your heart and bring such things to light to God’s glory and honor.

Every Tongue Confess

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood. Now the whole earth had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” Genesis 10:32-11:2

Image result for talking mouth close upNow that the historical big picture has been laid out in the table of nations, God zooms into the Nimrod and Tower of Babel portion of the chronology. The flood is done. The brothers and their wives have started their families. Ham’s grandson Nimrod has grown into manhood along with his brothers and cousins–the grandchildren of Shem and Japheth. The whole world expanded eastward, where Nimrod finds the plain of Shinar and begins to build his empire [Genesis 10:10].

At this time, all of Noah’s descendants still shared one language. Everyone on the earth could understand each other. Even their speech–how they used the language–was still in common. They had the same idioms, figures of speech and cultural/historical background to inform their language usage. In fact, Genesis 10 & 11 are the first mentions of language in the Bible, because before that there was no need to define language. There was only one.

It would not remain that way, but we will one day return to God’s intention for our common speech and shared language. However, before that day comes, our languages will only be united in Christ. Daniel 7:14a gives us a sneak peak at this, “He [Jesus, the Son of Man] was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him.” Philippians 2:10-11 and Romans 14:11 concur that every tongue–that is language and literal tongue–will one day confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Not only that, but until our speech is united in heaven, the Holy Spirit enables us to speak in other languages and, thereby, to share the gospel with the world [Acts 2:4-8]. We were meant to speak God’s truth with one another and to understand the same.

Does the Holy Spirit live in you? If you are a Christian, He surely does. Ask Him, therefore, to enable you to share God’s truth with whomever you meet, regardless of whether you personally know their language. And let Him amaze you with His grace.

The Rainbow: Heaven Manifest on Earth

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all the living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” Genesis 9:12-16

Image result for rainbow + imageWedding rings are not themselves a promise, but just a sign of a promise that was made. Whenever a husband and wife see or feel the circle of gold on their finger, they remember the promise that they made to be faithful to one another.

So the rainbow is a sign of God’s faithfulness to His promise.

However, He didn’t just promise human beings, but every living creature whose existence is bound to ours. Adam and Eve were charged with stewarding the animal kingdom [Genesis 1:26]. Noah obeyed the command to receive and tend the animals in the ark [7:2-3]. Likewise, we ought to recognize that our choices and our end are not ours alone. When the earth was destroyed in the flood, it didn’t merely destroy precious habitats, but all animal life–except for those contained in the ark–perished along with sinful mankind.

God holds back His return out of love for His creation. But He will not hold it back forever [6:3].

At this point, it’s imperative to draw a distinction between mythology and the Bible. Myths use fictional stories to explain natural phenomena to a culture that didn’t understand the scientific truth. The Bible, however, teaches scientific truths behind natural phenomena and explains how these truths testify to the Almighty God.

Take the rainbow for example. Mythologies would offer an explanation such as this:

A beautiful maiden, favored of the gods, received suitors from near and far. Each brought a precious stone from their homeland and laid it at her feet. They would know whose heart she had chosen by whose stone she wore around her neck on the day of the great feast. But the maiden could not choose. Instead she made her necklace of every stone. The suitors became jealous of one another waiting for a decision and began to war with one another, but the gods admired the maiden’s loving wisdom. So when the war came to her palace gates, the gods whisked her safely into the air. Her necklace fell away behind her. To this day, her many stoned necklace appears on the warring clouds of storms, as a rainbow.

But notice how God says that He set His rainbow in the skies. Revelation describes the throne room of heaven, and God is, in fact, encircled by a rainbow that shone like an emerald [4:3], and the New Jerusalem’s foundation is inlaid with ascending layers of precious stones coming in every color of the rainbow [21:19-20].

Being surrounded Himself by rainbows, God knows full well how they form. He allowed this piece of His heavenly throne room to manifest itself on earth, and He says that the rainbow will appear in the clouds–not that He sends each one, but that He set in motion the science behind the natural processes that give us rainbows…air, water and light.

And the purpose of this rainbow is to remind Him that even though sin brews like a storm on the earth, He promised never to destroy the entire earth in floodwaters again. Local floods will happen, but there will always be a refuge of dry ground.

Do you believe that God is faithful to keep His promises? Do you know the promises that He has made to us in scripture? Become a students of God’s Word so that you can stand in faith.

Beginning Again

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry. Then God said to Noah, ‘Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you–the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground–so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number.” Genesis 8:13-17

Image result for grand canyonRemember that the flood began on the seventh day of the second month of Noah’s six hundredth year [7:11]. Now almost one year later–happy birthday Noah–and, by the way, look at how the water’s dried up!

But notice who opens the ark’s door. Noah. God shut him in [7:16] before the flood, but Noah opens the door after. So Noah could move this door after all. Was it because of compassion that Noah didn’t close the ark door beforehand? Was he trying to wait until the last possible moment and then some to see if someone would respond to his hundred year message now that the rain proved true?

And God was no less compassionate. He sent Noah and company into the ark one whole week before the floods began [7:4]. He even held the door open when the rains and flooding first began. But when it was clear that no one would turn their hearts to Him short of facing the end of their lives, God closed the door.

You see, that’s the rub of freewill. God is not willing that any of us should come to Him under threat or compulsion. Only those who entered the ark freely of their own accord were saved. Only those who lived by faith received God’s grace.

Eleven months later the earth’s surface was dry, and we know that there were at least olive trees growing again [8:11]. Nearly two months later–a full year and twenty seven days, or almost thirteen months!–God spoke to Noah again. This time to tell him that the earth was finally dry enough to inhabit again.

He also told Noah to send every one of the animals from the ark back into the earth. At that point, Noah and his family were still vegetarian [at least for seven more verses; 9:2], but it may have been tempting to hold on to some of the beasts of burden or the messenger doves. Who knows culturally exactly what Noah was accustomed to for “modern convenience” in his day. But no Noah, don’t keep any of the animals in the ark, and you come out too. It’s time to start anew. Let the creatures multiply as I created them to do. And mankind also.

When we are a new creation in Christ, God calls us to come out of the cleansing flood that washes away our sin. He prepares our hearts to start anew. And one day, the flood of end times will judge the world once more. We will escape this judgment only in the ark of Christ. After the end comes, we will once again start anew, but this time with a new heaven and a new earth [Revelation 21:1] and a new heavenly body [2 Corinthians 5:1-3].

Have you been made a new creature in Christ? Have you been washed in His cleansing flood?