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Hard Rock Heart

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” Revelation 6:15-17

Image result for rock heartDespite the wide spreading insistence to the contrary, when this great earthquake shakes even the heavens, every person of every station of life–whether the most famous and wealthy and powerful or the least known and most impoverished–on the face of the earth will recognize that there is a God in heaven.

And as the mountains and islands are shaking from their foundations, slipping, sliding and moving in ways no human has ever seen or could ever bring to pass, people will actually speak to the rocks instead of even now turning to God. That’s how great the hardness of the human heart, the pride that we can do it for ourselves and never have to face up to our Creator. It’s a lie from the pit of hell.

God offers us love–always has and always will. But love comes with discipline–the positive discipline of a life well lived, forsaking things that hinder or hurt, and the harsh discipline of consequence for disobedience, as even our human legal systems recognize to be necessary. God never stops loving us, but one day earthly time will stop. When it does, every knee will bow and acknowledge that God is God [Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10-11].

The day of the sixth seal is not that end of time day. People will be so bold and arrogant–and yet aware of their sinful ways–that they will try to once again go it alone. Though the rocks themselves cry out to God when people will not [Luke 19:40], the people living on the day of the sixth seal will cry out to the rocks, “Hide us from God!”–just like Adam hid in the garden because of the awareness of his sin against God [Genesis 3:10].

But we can never hide our sins, because God sees even the most hidden things about us. He sees inside our hearts [1 Samuel 16:7; Hebrews 4:12]. Only those who have believed on Jesus, God’s Son, will be free from the guilt and shame of sin [Leviticus 14:13; John 3:16; Hebrews 10:10, 14 & 17; 1 John 3:5]. Only those who have repented their self-as-god ways, acknowledging Jesus as Lord, will find forgiveness for their sins [Acts 2:38, 3:19].

When time stops, where will your faith lie–in God or in yourself-as-god? How hard is your heart? Would you sooner call out to the rocks to hide you or do you gladly bow your knee to your Creator?

Worship that Wholly Recognizes God

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousand upon thousands, and ten thousand time ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever. The four living creatures said, ‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshipped.” Revelation 5:11-14

Image result for host of angelsLook how many angels there are! I’ve read this verse before, but it never really registered how large the heavenly hosts really are. This is a comfort, knowing that angels–besides praising and worshipping God–guard [Psalm 91:1], warn [Genesis 19:15], fight spiritual battles [Matthew 13:41; 2 Thessalonians 1:7] and minister [Hebrews 1:14; Revelation 1:20] on behalf of we who are faithful to God.

Together with the Cherubim and the elders, the angels praise God in His holy, heavenly throne room. They recognize Jesus as being worthy of all the things that Satan tries to deceive us into thinking we ourselves should receive.

Power. How many power hungry people in this world have rejected Christ? Do we fall prey to small power trips in our own lives? Guard against that spirit.

Wealth. All riches are God’s riches. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills [Psalm 50:10], dresses the lilies and cares for every sparrow, and yet He provides for us [Matthew 6:26-31].

Wisdom. God is omniscient–that is all-knowing. He is all wise. He alone judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart, our unspoken motives, because He alone knows them even better than we do ourselves [Hebrews 4:12]! No one can know God’s mind or counsel or instruct Him [Romans 11:34].

Strength. Umm, does this go without saying? God is almighty and omnipotent–that is all-powerful. Strong enough to create everything that ever was, is or will be with His word. Strong enough to hold it all in motion by the same. And that’s just what His word can do! What about the strength in His hands and feet?

Honor and glory. Who do we honor? Who do we glorify? People that amaze us. We give them our best words, our undivided attention, the decoration spaces on our walls, our time and money, and our accolades. But only God is truly worthy of any and all of this adoration, all our honor and all our glory.

Praise. The words of honor and glory that we speak and sing. If only God is worthy of the honor and glory–and without question He is–then only He is worthy to be praised.

The angels recognize it. The cherubim and the elders recognize it. And every creature, man, woman, child, nation and language will recognize it on this day. All of Creation [Genesis 1:27-28; Philippians 2:10; Romans 14:11] will finally confess God for who He alone is.

Ask the Holy Spirit to examine your life. Seek God’s Word to reveal to you where your worship of Him fails to recognize God truly and wholly.

In Due Time

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars–I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the whole earth.” Revelation 3:9-10

Image result for ancient church of philadelphiaThese scriptures are in no way Jesus indictment against Jews. After all, the Israelites were God’s chosen people throughout the Old Testament. Rather, here Jesus is specifically referring to those Jews who denounced Christians to Roman officials. Remember that Christianity initially came out of Judaism and for a time the two of them coexisted, both teaching in the Jewish synagogues. But the sect converted some from Judaism, and brought in some God-fearing Gentiles as well as former pagan worshippers.

Judaism was protected under Roman rule. So when a few of the Jews decided they wanted to separate themselves from the followers of Christ, the Christians became dissenters to the Imperial cult, that is the practice of emperor worship. Not only did this noncompliance mean persecution, but all out prosecution by the Roman legal system.

Jesus encouraged His followers that one day, those who had denounced them would submit–falling at feet was a common Near East act of submission–and thereby acknowledge that Jesus loved the Christians. It’s an interesting assurance since Jesus Himself will be acknowledged as Lord by all [Philippians 2:10; Romans 14:11], then this group will also recognize the truth of the people they denounced. It should remind us of God’s right to avenge and His promise to repay [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19]. The Christians didn’t need to increase the strife of this life by futile retaliation. God would set all to right in due time.

Additionally, Jesus promised that since the Philadelphian Christians would be exempt from a worldwide trial of an undisclosed nature. We have to remember that the book of Revelation is largely prophetic–it records Jesus’ words for things to come. Some things, like the persecution that the churches would face in their culture, came to fruition within in a few decades after the letter circulated. Other things, such as this worldwide trial, have yet to come.

There are some who speculate perhaps this tribulation refers only to what the Christians experienced under the Roman Empire, but notice that this verse specifically says a worldwide trial. Worldwide as in a calamity like Noah’s flood. There have been many local trials of faith. But we have not, in human history since the flood, experienced a worldwide trial of faith.

Do you face persecution–whether great or small–for your faith? Are you enduring patiently, leaving vengeance to the Lord?

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.