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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?

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 River of Eden

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.” Genesis 2:10-14

Image result for river + imageWho wouldn’t love to know where the Garden of Eden was located? It’s probably every archaeologists’ dream discovery, especially the Christian archaeologist. Wouldn’t such a find prove that the Bible is true once and for all?

But while God could’ve easily opened an Eden-themed park, a Supernatural History Museum–with Himself as curator–to remind every generation of the effects of sin, that wasn’t His intention.

In fact, Man was never allowed to enter the garden again [Genesis 3:24]–not to gawk at it. Not to study it. All men. For all time. So it makes sense that even though there are many theories on where exactly these four rivers that branched off the river of Eden were located, no one has ever been able to find the Garden.

However, textbooks often teach that the first civilizations existed in the Fertile Crescent–a large, curved swath of arable land in the Middle East extending from the Nile up and around to the Persian Gulf. And this crescent just so happens to contain the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, both mentioned in the Genesis 2 account of Eden. However, remember that these rivers were not in Eden, they branched off from the river that flowed from Eden.

So since Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden [Genesis 3:22] it’s plausible that they ended up near one of the four rivers that flowed from Eden–or even settling between two of these rivers.

Were Adam and Eve the progenitors of ancient Mesopotamia? Well, the entire human race come from this one man and one woman, so yes. It was their descendants that archaeologists and anthropologists know today as the Sumers, the Mesopotamians and the Babylonians of the Fertile Crescent, as well as every other people group on the entire planet.

In fact, you and I and every human on the planet for all time all descended from this first man and first woman. We’re all family! God’s family. And one day we will all kneel before our Creator and confess that He alone is Lord [Philippians 2:10-11].

Those who accepted Him in this life will live in a restored Eden through which the River of Life once again flows, but this time from the very throne of God, watering the heavenly city [Revelation 22:1]. And the tree of life will be so enormous that it will stand on both sides of the river, straddling it [22:2]. Man will no longer be forbidden to reach out his hand and eat from the year round crops, because we will live forever with our Creator God exactly as He intended from the beginning.

The location of the first Eden is not as important to us as our location when the second Eden comes. Will you eat from the Tree of Life one day? If Jesus comes back today, would you go to eternal life with Him?

Super Bowl LI: Epic Comeback for Real!

by Jimmy Sileo

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

Image result for American football in grassThese days, when I hear the word epic consistently exaggerated, my eyes roll as naturally as breathing. I once watched a German Shepherd greet a Labrador Retriever outside of a veterinarian’s office by happily sniffing each others’ butts. A young man next to me stated, “Dude, that’s epic!”

The word from that point was already fading out of my vernacular.

However, when thinking about describing this year’s Super Bowl, only one word came to mind. Yes! Epic.

When used as an adjective it means heroic or grand in scale/character or valiant, impressive, and remarkable. I’m not talking about gum, hairstyles, a sports car or an ice cream flavor either. This was the largest comeback in Super Bowl history! And like this amazing game, God wants to do the same in you.

As a Christian, have you ever felt like giving up? Did you ever say to yourself, I’ve had enough of this. I’m not measuring up to what I think I should be like? Feel like quitting? Well, you’re not alone. I have many times.

In these situations, you have to turn to God’s promises and word for the truth. At halftime, the Patriots’ coach did not give a fiery, in-your-face speech, but rather, with no apparent emotion, calmly said, “Do your job. Stay calm. It would take more than twenty-one points to beat the Patriots.”

In life, we may question our faith because we do not perceive growth or see results. Sometimes we feel unused or unworthy to be used by God, or as if everything we’ve been doing is useless. King David tells us to take heart, be strong and wait on the Lord [Psalms 27:14]. He said this at a time when the people of Israel were talking about stoning him to death. He was greatly distressed at that time, but he strengthened himself in the Lord, and we should, too.

Last year, I planted two new trees in my front yard next to my driveway. Knowing what I know about trees, I’m not going to worry if they don’t grow a lot in the first year. I know they may look the same for a few seasons, but that’s alright because there is a greater work happening under the surface of the ground. The root system is developing and progress is happening even though I don’t see it.

Philippians 1:6 says, “And I am certain that God, who began a good work within you, will continue His work until completion.” Now that’s epic.

As we grow in the Lord and get into the Bible, we learn to look at our circumstances through the lenses of God’s promises like a set of spiritual glasses that filters out the world’s perspective. At first you might see a mess, but God sees a message that lifts Jesus up–a testimony for all to see. When we look at life this way we can proudly say, like the Patriots said, “Nobody panicked or got demoralized. It was business as usual in the only overtime game in Super Bowl history. We kept believing. And here we are.”

So, if you are someone like me who can lose sight of the big picture and get caught up in this crazy life, I say look at things through spiritual lenses.

Do you see that God wants good things for you? He sees your potential already achieved even on your worst day! Believe it. Do you perceive it? Keep looking. Something new is on its way just beyond the horizon–maybe even something epic.