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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?

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.

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.

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?

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?

Doing Just As

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark–you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of [every kind of] living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and them. Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” Genesis 6:17-22

Image result for holding wooden malletDid you catch that? In God’s conversation with Himself, He determines to wipe out the whole Creation. Then, after finding hope in humanity through the person of Noah, He tells Noah that He is going to destroy the world, but at first He doesn’t tell Noah how He intends to do it. He just tells Noah to build an ark according to very precise specifications.

After Noah listens to all of the details that He needs to carry out, then God tells him why. “I’m going to send a flood.” Did Noah even know what a flood was? His water experience may have been limited to streams watering the earth as in the days of Eden and, surely, the water cycle was functional from this time since there was groundwater, sunlight and darkness to warm and cool the air. But if there were pre-flood rains, it seems likely that they were pretty tame.

Speculation aside, God wanted to establish–to create and set in motion–a covenant with Noah. A covenant is a relational commitment agreement between God and His people. It’s not just an if-then–if you enter the ark, then I will save you. If you follow my instructions, then you and your household will be saved. Though these things clearly resulted.

It was a deeply seeded relationship commitment. If you live by faith–absolute certainty in what you hope for but cannot see–here on this earth, then you will be saved from condemnation with the world, you will find life everlasting.

And Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

He didn’t deviate or debate, deliberate or dissent, doubt or distrust. He just did. That deep-seeded commitment by faith.

What is your relationship commitment to God? Will you face condemnation with the sinful world? Or do you live by faith for the eternal life to come? Are you doing just as God commands you in all things?

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?