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Have You Forgotten Someone?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this one thing against you: You have forsaken your first love.” Revelation 2:1-4

Image result for Church of Mary at EphesusChapter 2 opens with a letter to the church in Ephesus. It is the first of seven letters–one to each of the seven churches of Proconsular Asia, the Roman province which is modern day Turkey. Ephesus was the capital of the province and an important port city.

In Greek grammar, the two phrases sandwiching the preposition of could be read either way. So the opening could either read to the angel of the church in Ephesus as is commonly translated, or it could read to the church of the angel in Ephesus. Again, it could be either to the Ephesian church’s angel or to the angel’s church in Ephesus. The second translation seems the more likely of the two in human terms, though it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the seven churches were entertaining angels unaware [Hebrews 13:2].

The letter then follows with a description of Jesus taken from His Revelation 1 description. Interestingly, each of the seven church letters open in this same format, but they each contain a different portion of this description, one specifically suited to the particular church’s needs.

So to the church in Ephesus, Jesus’ priestly, kingly and godly nature was re-emphasized [Revelation 1:12-13].

Then, Jesus told them that He knows all about them–their deeds, hard work and perseverance. This was an active church, full of ministry, missions and mercy.

Jesus told them that He knew they’d kept wicked men out from among them and tested false apostles just as they ought. This church was fighting the good fight, staving off heresies and cultural/idolatrous influences.

Jesus told them that He knew they’d persevered, tirelessly enduring hardships for His name’s sake. This church had withstood tests of intensifying persecution in their Roman state.

By all human measures, Ephesus was walking the walk.

But Jesus needed them to know that they were missing one very important piece of the Christian puzzle–Christ. They’d forgotten their love for Him. Not unlike the 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 reminder that without love–specifically without Love [Jesus Himself; 1 John 4:8; John 15:9]–they’d gained nothing. They were doing ministry, preserving the knowledge of God, and enduring hardship in vain. All this while Jesus was walking among them [2:1].

How about you? Do you work tirelessly to advance the gospel? Do you avoid sinful influence? Do you suffer for the name of Jesus? And in all this, have you forgotten Someone very important in your Christian walk? Or are you walking daily with Jesus who is walking right here with you?

Alive and Active

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze in a glowing furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was shining like the sun in all its brilliance.” Revelation 1:12-16

Image result for thracian long swordNow that John has set the stage, he begins to reveal how his vision unfolded. At first he turns to see the owner of the voice that told him to write to the seven churches of Asia Minor. The first thing he sees are golden lampstands, a well-known tabernacle/temple furnishing among the Jews, not unlike people-height menorahs.

Walking or standing in among these candle-less lamps is someone he describes to be like a son of man. Now Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man about eighty-five times in the gospels, while He let others recognize Him as and call Him the Son of God. The Jews were familiar with the Daniel 7:13 prophecy about the son of man quoted in Revelation 1:7, so it’s likely Jesus was proclaiming to them that he was, in fact, the fulfillment of this prophecy.

But the title Son of Man also shows that this person speaking to John had human form. A human form that was dressed in the full-length robe of the high priests and kingly golden sash. A human form that also bore resemblance to the Daniel 7:9 description of God–clothing white as snow, hair white as wool, flaming throne.

As we’ll learn later, the seven stars represent the angels of the seven churches to which John is writing [Revelation 1:20]. And isn’t it comforting, knowing the persecution these Christians faced, that Jesus held their angels in his almighty hand? That he himself walked among the churches?

Not only that, but as he did so, a double-edged sword–likely a long Thracian sword symbolizing divine judgment–came from his mouth. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that, the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing… And John 1 describes Jesus as that word of God. That word that we hide in our hearts that we might not sin against God [Psalm 119:11], because the word judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart [Hebrews 4:12].

Is the word of God alive and active in your life today? Do you hide God’s word in your heart, allowing it to penetrate your thoughts and attitudes in all things?

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?

Sacred

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” Genesis 9:5-6

Image result for protect life + imageOur lives are sacred. If it were not so, sin would only be towards God. But God loves each of us so much [John 3:16], that He calls us not to sin against one another and, moreover, not to take any one’s life.

We are not gods, but we are made in God’s image. We can love God with all that we are, and we can sin against Him. But we can also love our fellow humans as ourselves, and we can sin against them. Do you see how tightly God patterned us after Himself?

He will demand an accounting–a report for all bloodshed. God is just. He will not avert His eyes to allow some to murder, while others are vigilantly watched. “For it is appointed unto every man to die once, and after that to face judgment,” [Hebrews 9:27]. Even animals, here, are required to give God an accounting for their actions. This may mean that there will be animals in heaven as well. Or it may mean that C.S. Lewis’ portrayal of talking animals–in line with the serpent in the Garden–is more accurate than modern humans would imagine.

Either way, there is a third person in the Hebrew that must give an account for bloodshed–a brother. In this new, post-flood Creation, God warns immediately of the repercussions of living as Cain did. And this time, He doesn’t offer a mark of protection but a sentence of capital punishment.

Many people throughout history deny that God exists because of passages like this. They don’t look at the truth that God is protecting all human beings by instituting punishments for crimes. Rather, they look at all of the possible “grey area” scenarios where this punishment would seem a perversion or an extreme. They seat themselves as judge over God Himself and rule this capital punishment–that fits the crime–as unloving, intolerant and unjust. Yet we have these same types of criminal law and consequences throughout U.S. history precisely because it is necessary to ensures that people have to answer for their actions–so that maybe they will think and repent, think again, about their deeds.

Why is this so very important to God? Because He made us in His image. Even for the shed blood of Jesus that He willingly laid down for us, will be demanded an accounting. If we refused His sacrifice, it will be an accounting of judgment. If we accepted, it will be accounting of the deeds born to that faith.

Do you treat all life as sacred? Even those who bother you? Ask God to help you see and love all people through His eyes, so you can truly know what it means that we are made in His image and loved by Him–what it truly means that our life and Christ’s sacrifice are sacred.

The City of Enoch: Part 2

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch.” Genesis 4:17b

Image result for bowing down on kneeHave you ever read over a scripture and the Lord brings it back into your mind throughout the day? After writing the last post, originally named THE CITY OF ENOCH, God kept prodding my heart to reconsider this simple statement that, “Cain was then building a city,” and to write a Part 2 to answer just one question.

Why would Cain do that? Why would Cain build a city?

As a novel writer, motivation–the why people do what they do–is one thing I have to ask of my characters all the time. Why is such an important question when we read history–biblical or secular–watch the news, or interact with others in daily life.

Why? Because, “the Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart,” 1 Samuel 16:7b [NLT]. On first read through, Cain building a city is completely logical. By human standards.

But what does God see in Cain’s heart? Remember what God said would be the result of Cain’s sin? “When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth,” Genesis 4:12. Remember how Cain responded to this truth? “So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence,” Genesis 4:16a.

Cain left God. He didn’t repent. He upheld his faith in his own sinful nature. If God says I’m not going to be able to work the ground, then I’ll find another way to support myself. If God says that I’m going to be a restless wanderer, then I’ll show Him. I’ll build a city. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. I plant myself and my whole family just to prove Him wrong, and they can feed me. I can just see it now. Markets. Kitchens. The works.

And for a time on this earth, Cain may have done just that. He may have believed that he’d actually gotten away with his sin and proved God wrong. But scripture tells us, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” Hebrews 9:27. More than that, “it is written, ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God,” Romans 14:11.

Be assured, Cain died. And Cain will stand judgment as will all humankind. And Cain will also bow his knee before the Creator he walked away from and acknowledge with his mouth that God is in fact God. From that point on the only thing remaining will be whether or not Cain made that confession here on earth. Whether during his lifetime he ever repented and made things right with God. No two ways about it.

Are you trying to live life your own way? Have you ever repented of your sin–truly turned your life back to God? On which side of eternity will you bend your knee before God and confess Him as God?

Distorted Authority and Justice

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering–fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering He did not look with favor.” Genesis 4:2b-5a

Image result for court gavelCain and Abel are literally the first children and brothers on the planet, as in ever [which means they were also the first two people ever to have bellybuttons!] Cain became the first big brother of all human history when Abel was born. In Hebrew, Cain means spear–though it can also mean possession or acquired–and Abel means breath.

It’s curious to me how Adam and Eve came to name their first child either spear or possession because it would seem that they had no need of either of these words at the time. Remember that all creatures were made vegetarian and it wasn’t until after the flood when man would hunt for food that animals would fear and attack man [Genesis 9:2-3]. So a spear wouldn’t seem all that necessary at the time Cain was born, unless of course the animals were already eating one another as a result of sin destroying their created nature. In which case, when Abel became the first shepherd in world history, he would’ve needed to defend his flocks against some of the planet’s first predators.

Cain, on the other hand, worked the soil, which is exactly what God told Adam would need to be done as a direct result of sin entering the world. The ground would be cursed to produce thorns and thistles, and Adam [and his offspring forever after] would raise their food by working the soil [Genesis 3:17-19].

So why is it then, that God is happy with Abel’s firstborn fat offering and not Cain’s garden produce offering? The Genesis account doesn’t tell us why. As readers, we don’t learn the intent behind the lesson until Hebrews 11. But God’s lesson to Cain is intended to be the primary focus here, not the theology behind it.

Do you see the lesson? God’s truth that we must understand in our own lives? God is our holy Creator. He is sovereign and He is just. We were created in His image. We demand a sovereign authority and justice. But being polluted with sin we’ve distorted justice to fit ourselves as sovereign authority [us as our own god] and cry, “That’s not fair!” [How many of you thought exactly that the first time you read this account? Be honest.]

But Cain is not in trouble here. He’s simply being instructed in what God finds acceptable and what He finds unacceptable. What Cain chooses to do with this instruction shows who is on the throne of his heart–God or Cain. And that is the truth that we all need to understand.

Unfortunately, in the world we live in, when people hear that God is not pleased with their behavior they ignore/deny His existence and they ridicule/persecute anyone who tries to live God’s way.

What do you do when the Holy Spirit shows you something in your life that is unacceptable to a holy God? How are you tuning your ears to the Holy Spirit so that you can be instructed by Him?

Serving a Holy God

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“After He drove the man out, He placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:24

Image result for couploe lost in wildernessHow gently and lovingly God had set His created man in the garden on Day 6 . Now–we don’t know how long after–God drove his man out of the place He’d created especially for him. Man had left God without a choice.

Now I know that many like to play human mind games with this set up, asking questions like, “Well if there’s nothing that God can’t do, then why couldn’t He fix sin so that Adam and Eve could stay?” or, “Why is God so intolerant? If He’s truly good, then shouldn’t He have just accepted them no matter what?

We have to be so very, very careful to realize that by asking these questions, we are once again accepting Satan’s lie that we can be our own gods. But who are we as finite created beings to sit in judgment on our infinite Creator? We are selfish. He is selfless. We are imperfect. He is perfect. We are sinful. He is sinless. We have fallible understanding of fractured truths. He is all-seeing and all-knowing, and He is wisdom and truth themselves.

But this is not meant to be a cop-out answer. To say that because we are limited therefore we cannot understand God in this matter.

Again, I believe God spoke plainly. He reveals His nature to us through His Creation, His Word and His Son, so that we can understand why He didn’t just immediately fix Adam and Eve’s sin. So that we can understand that it is not God who is intolerant but we who are intolerant of Him. Like spoiled children we can’t tell the difference between being truly loved and having a personal genie, someone who meets all our demands on our terms and on our timelines regardless of what that would do to us in the end. So that we can understand why God was not able to overlook Adam and Eve’s–or anyone else’s–sin.

God drove the man out with a heavy heart. A heart that earnestly prayed, “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” [Deuteronomy 5:29]. Think about it. What if God just turned the other way and said, “Ok, Adam. If that’s the way you want it, then I guess that’s what it’ll be“?

You see, we’re already living in a world that is ruled and devastated by sin. And most human beings find it reprehensible enough that they wrongly blame God for every evil thing they see! Can you imagine what things would be like if God actually condoned the sin that people hold Him responsible for? If we couldn’t reach out to God for goodness? If we couldn’t call on Him for wisdom from on high? If we didn’t have His love protecting each and every one of us from the absolute ravaging effects of sin on our world?

We were created by a holy and loving Creator. Where He is, sin cannot be also [1 John 3:9]. And love often means disciplining the ones we love to keep them from harming themselves or others [Hebrews 12:5-11].

Do you trust God’s love enough to let Him develop you through discipline? Do you understand what it is to serve a Holy God?