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The Pergamum Compromise

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teachings of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teachings of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” Revelation 2:14-16

Image result for pergamumBalaam was an Old Testament diviner who lived near the Euphrates river [Numbers 22:5]. He was neither Israelite nor Moabite, and yet he found himself caught up between these two colliding cultures.

In reading the Numbers account, we see that Balaam’s words are the words that God places in his mouth to bless the Israelites while Balak–King of Moab–has paid Balaam to curse them [Numbers 23:11-12]. He even builds altars and offers bulls and rams like one of God’s own in his divination processes.

But we can see here in Revelation [as well as in 2 Peter 2:15] that beating his donkey was not Balaam’s only wrongdoing. While he may not have cursed Israel with his mouth, he showed Moab’s King, Balak, how to tempt the Israelites into sinning against God. And when they sinned, they came under the curse of those sins.

Likewise, the church in Pergamum was being enticed to sin with the culture around them. They compromised their unswerving faith by also attending pagan temples and participating in pagan worship practices. This eased the cultural strain on their daily life, but in essence, partaking of idol’s food and temple immorality proclaimed their allegiance to the false Greek and Roman gods. Scripture is very clear that you cannot serve two masters [Matthew 6:24].

There were also church members in Pergamum who bought into the ideas of the Nicolaitans. This heretical sect said that body and soul were two separate things. So as long as your soul believed in Jesus, you could do whatever you wanted with your body.

But Jesus condemned these compromises. Either they worshipped Jesus alone. Or they were sensual idolaters. There was no middle ground. No way to do both and still be a follower of Christ.

It’s the same for us today. The world would like us to believe that we can call ourselves Christians and even attend church and read our Bibles, but still behave like the sinners we once were. And there are some Pergamenian-like Christians today who are trying to do just that. Drugs and Jesus. Adultery and Jesus. Greed and Jesus. Tolerance/Mindfulness and Jesus. Etc. But each of these is mutually exclusive. Sure, He can forgive us, but we are not to just keep on sinning in the presence of grace [Romans 6:1].

Are there any compromises in your faith? Any worldly practices or beliefs that stand in stark opposition to the word of God? Any issue that you believe God dislikes, but you do any way to make it easier to fit in with your peers?

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?

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.

Ascribing to Jesus

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits from before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father–to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 1:4-6

Image result for Ruins of EphesusThe apostle John opens with a greeting to the seven churches of Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey. Now the Romans had a Leading Council of Asiarchs that met on a yearly rotation to six of these same influential cities. The seventh–a much more northernly city–John swapped for the centrally located Thyatira. It’s possible that these cities were also the postal centers for seven geographic regions which would have facilitated delivery and dissemination of the Revelation given to him.

Grace is an important greeting. Basically blessing people with more goodness than they deserve. Grace is the crux of God’s gift in the gospel, and the apostles often greeted their readers with that unmerited favor, paying forward what God had done for them. Peace is another powerful spiritual blessing. Especially when the enemy–Satan–is at work to steal, kill and destroy. [John 10:10]. He brings confusion and conflict where God intended peace [John 14:27].

And John doesn’t claim this in and of himself. He passes the grace and peace of the One True, eternal God the father–like the conduit that we’re each meant to be–onto the seven churches. But he also sends these from the seven spirits before God’s throne and from Jesus Christ the son of God. Who are the seven spirits? Revelation 1:20 indicates that these are the angels for each of the seven churches. What a wonderful thing to know that there are ministering spirits who are also contending on our behalf.

Jesus the Messiah is described as being the faithful witness. We can count on his testimony on our behalf if we have believed on Him [John 3:16]. He is described as the firstborn from the dead. Before Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected, no one else had been born again into new life. True, Jesus raised Lazarus and others from the dead, but they had not yet been born again because death still reigned. It is only through Jesus that we can be born again and have eternal life because he conquered death, hell and the grave to make that possible [1 Corinthians 15:57; 2 Timothy 1:20; Revelation 1:18]. He is called the ruler of the kings of the earth, because all authority has been established by him [Matthew 28:18; Romans 13:1] and is subject to him.

The praise of Jesus continues. Glory–high renown or honor–be given to Jesus alone because 1) He loves us; 2) He died for us which freed us from the curse of sin; 3) He redeemed our heavenly citizenship which was lost in the Fall of Man. But not just glory. John also ascribes power–dominion, authority over our lives–for all time, to Jesus Christ, and stamps it with Amen–so let it be!

Is Jesus glorified [aka honored] by your life? In other words, do others see how amazing Jesus is when they meet/get to know you? Does Jesus have all authority in your life? Have you submitted everything to Him?

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?

Make a Righteous Choice

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.” Genesis 9:22-23

Image result for hands over eyesThis is one of those incidents in scripture that set up a lot of future conflict on the earth. Because scripture specifically mentions Canaan repeatedly in this narrative–though not as the perpetrator–he certainly had some significance in what was happening, though what exactly we’re not told.

His father Ham made a sinful choice. He happened onto the scene of his father–Noah’s–shame, but he could have chosen 1) to avert his eyes, 2) to get his father a covering, and 3) to keep the incident a secret for his father’s sake. Instead, Ham turns indecency into a crass joke. He laughs and encourages his brothers to share in his lewd humor, “Hey guys, check out the old man! Can you believe it?”

Shem and Japheth would not be so persuaded though. They knew that the drunken nakedness was not for their eyes, and that their brother’s irreverence was equally as wrong. So they made a righteous choice–to do the exact three things that Ham chose not to do.

Ephesians 5:3-5 warns that, “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

In his sermon on the mount, Jesus spoke to the root of the full blown sins condemned in the law [Matthew 5]. He condemned: anger, the seed of murder; lust, the seed of adultery; and vanity oaths in God’s name, the seed of substituting self for God; et al. Complicit with his father Ham, Canaan was guilty of the seed of sexual immorality, impurity and coarse joking. This father-son duo, according to Ephesians, were idolaters. They valued the temporary pleasure that exploiting Noah brought them more than the holiness that God requires.

With the advent of the internet, access to pornography and other ungodly pictures and entertainments are more readily available than ever. The simplest most innocent search terms can cause us to accidentally stumble upon things that have no place in the life of a Christian. What do you do when those times come? Do you immediately avert your eyes? Or do you chance a glance, maybe even gawk like Ham? Do you X out of the page? Or do you tell your buddies to come check it out?

Even when we choose to do the right thing–to look away and get rid of the filth–it only takes a second for ungodly images to burn themselves into our minds. If you’ve ever experienced this, you may find yourself battling within. If so, pray. God can and will help those who sincerely seek Him to purge the residue of sin in our hearts and minds to His glory and honor in our lives.

God’s Promise

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: ‘I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you–the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you–every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Genesis 9:8-11

Image result for covenant agreement + imageCovenant. Agreement. Guarantee. Pledge. Commitment. Contract. God promises Noah and his family, but also all of the creatures on the ark, that He will never again destroy the world in a flood. He will never again wash away sin by a physical deluge.

This speaks so poignantly to the character of God. People find God inconsistent because He sent worldwide destruction through the flood one time and never again. But I for one am glad that I don’t have to worry. That every time the worldwide sin levels rise, they won’t trip the divine deluge trigger. I am so thankful for God’s promise that I can live in peace, by grace through faith, until He comes again and I meet Him in the air.

And the fact that God promises the animals too, that says something about their importance to Him. For while human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation, the animals are no less the work of His hand. Scriptures tell us that not a sparrow falls to the ground that He doesn’t know about [Matthew 10:29].

All life is sacred to God. And He commands us to steward it [Genesis 1:26; Mark 12:31].

Do you value human and animal life as God does? Do you have peace, resting in God’s promises?