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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?

Fear Rightly. Breathe Life. Live Golden.

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” Revelation 1:17-20

Image result for gold lampstandSeeing the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, in His heavenly appearance compelled John to fall prone before Him. It’s that awestruck, worshipful response so natural to the heart that fears the Lord. But Jesus reminds John that fear of the Lord does not mean that we have to be afraid. Fear of the Lord is reverencing God for who He is, giving Him His rightful place as Lord of our lives and Creator of all. When we do this, we have nothing to fear from our loving Heavenly Father.

Jesus , further, proclaimed himself to be the First and the Last, just as He called Himself the Alpha and the Omega in 1:8, emphasizing His eternality in this passage.

He is the Living One. The one with God at the beginning through whom all things were made [John 1:1-3], One with the breath of life that was breathed into humankind in Adam. The One through whom all are made alive again [1 Corinthians 15:22], reversing the Adamic curse through which all died. The One who conquered death [1 Corinthians 15:57], hell and the grave [Revelation 1:18] to restore eternal life to those who believe in Him [John 3:16].

Therefore, because of who Jesus is, John was commanded to write down the God-given vision of present and future things. Only God is able to know such things. And the validity of a prophesy is known only when it does or doesn’t come to pass. So Jesus–as the author of life–orients the reader to some key symbolism in John’s vision. The stars [angels] and lampstands [churches].

I love knowing that the lampstands, representing the seven churches of Asia Minor, are golden. Gold is refined in a fire and purified in order to be formed into the tabernacle/ temple instruments. It took 75 pounds of gold to make the tabernacle lampstands and their accessories alone to God’s specifications [Exodus 25:39], and they stood, burning in front of the Most Holy Place [2 Chronicles 4:20]. But God tested the hearts of the churches in His refining fire, burning away the impurities, purifying them [Proverbs 17:3]. Yet, as we are about to read, even then at the time of John’s writing they were not perfect.

Likewise, God regards each of us as more precious than gold and He is testing our hearts, refining us day by day to become more like Him. We do not need to be afraid of Him or this process, but in faith to reverence Him as the One True God and Lord of our lives.

What is your response to God? Do you recognize Him when you see Him at work? Do you allow His word to work in your life? Have you given him the reins as Lord of your heart?

Grateful for God’s Way

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.” Genesis 6:9-13

Image result for Praising GodNotice that in verse 9 God explains to us why Noah found favor in His eyes. He was righteous. In other words, Noah lived according to God’s standard of right or morality. He also walked full of faith, steadfast with His God. The one true God.

As with Lamech [McCain], three sons are recorded in Noah’s family: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And while Methuselah may have been the oldest man who ever lived, Noah–at 500 years old [Genesis 5:32]–takes the prize for oldest first time dad in the Bible.

But Noah’s sons were born into a corrupt world. Corrupt being decay, decomposition, departure from the original or from what is pure and correct, depraved, infected, tainted, wicked, evil. Corrupt, therefore, being the results of the sinful nature rooted in the human heart and lived out in each and every life–with the exception of Noah.

Though Noah was not perfect, he would have had a sin nature like everyone else on the planet, but it was what he chose to do about it that set him apart. And because Noah revered God, his sons are also spared to help replenish the earth after the flood, in hopes that Noah trained up his boys in the way they should go, so that when they were grown they would not depart from the Lord [Proverbs 22:6].

So God confides in Noah. The Almighty speaks with the man–said to have walked with Him–and tells Him exactly what He intends to do. Remember, man was created to commune with God [Genesis 2:18], to have this very intimate relationship that Noah had with Him.

But people find this pronouncement of judgment on Noah’s day to be problematic in their spirits. They ask: How can a loving God destroy people? How can He insist that they only do things His way?

Yet people live in societies that have laws that are upheld by consequencing those who do not obey, and they enjoy the freedom of the safety and prosperity that this type of society creates. In the end, it comes back to the same lie that Satan told Adam and Eve in the Garden and the angels in heaven, “You can be your own God.” People want to choose for themselves which way things should be done.

But is there a God? And if there is a God, and I’m not it, then wouldn’t that Creator God be the one to decide what is right and wrong?

Not to mention, aren’t I grateful that God’s way means that my children will honor me, my husband will not cheat on me, my fellow human beings will not lie to, steal from, be jealous of, or murder me, my boss will give me time off to rest, and that I will not waste my life chasing after godless images that can never provide what I truly need?

Aren’t I grateful that the God who created everything and knows the thoughts and attitudes of the hearts of man, who knows all things, sees all things, and is everywhere present is also good and loving and merciful on my behalf?

Aren’t I grateful that even though there is sin in my life, God made a way to redeem me so that I could have everlasting life with Him?

Didn’t God also give every other human being on this planet the same witness, love and grace? Didn’t they all have the freewill to choose?

Can I really be mad at God for the choices that others make and the consequences those choices bring?

Like Noah, we all have a sin nature. What are you choosing to do about yours?

With All Your Mind

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30

Image result for Looking to heavenThough intellect is a part of our whole heart, our mind is that conscious stream of thought, that which holds our focus and demands our attention. So we are to love [an act of will] God with all of our conscious thought, focus and attention.

The world sends us messages both to attract and to elevate the status of our own minds. Our thoughts, focus, and attention have fallen prey to much media research. Most of us can quote commercials or sing jingles, and buy into sale ads for the many unnecessary–yet desirable–products of today. And who hasn’t heard phrases like Get your mind in the game and Mind over matter? On the one hand, the world would like to control the impulses of the human mind, and on the other, it’s telling us that we can elevate our mind over our condition to overcome anything–essentially, mastering our own mind is the key to becoming our own god.

But the Bible tells us, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect,” [Romans 12:2–NLT]. In another version, don’t conform to these worldly thoughts. Don’t give in to their glittery focal points and attention-sucking beacons.

Rather, fix your conscious focus on God.

He alone is All-Knowing. He alone is Wisdom. He alone is Love. He alone is Good. That is why we can and should, “Trust in the Lord with all [our] heart and lean not on [our] own understanding. In all [our] ways acknowledge Him, and He will make [our] paths straight,” [Proverbs 3:6–ESV]. Yeah, it’s like those crazy trust games where someone gets to direct a blindfolded-somebody-else through an obstacle course, but by faith–absolute certainty in what we hope for, but can’t see–God is the only One truly able to see what will happen if… Who else would you trust to call the shots?

Are your conscious thoughts devoted to God? Are your focus and attention daily fixed on Him alone?

With All Your Heart

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30

Image result for Hands Heart SunsetIn this, the greatest of all commands, we are called to love God first of all with our whole heart. Not the pulsing tissue-vein-and-artery pump that delivers lifeblood to our bodies, but our spiritual heart which nourishes our soul-man with faith, hope and love.

The Bible tells us that our whole heart is a triune spiritual organ made up of our intellect [Genesis 6:5-6, Psalms 19:14, et al], our will [Proverbs 16:9 and 19:21, et al], and our emotion [1 Samuel 2:1, Jeremiah 4:19, et al]. Unfortunately, just like our physical heart, our spiritual heart was damaged when sin entered the world.

Before sin, the central purpose of the human heart was to revere God. But when sin entered the world, this God-centered purpose was replaced with self-centered love.

And in love with ourselves, mankind has lived sinfully ever after.

But there is hope. There is faith. And there is–the greatest of these–love [1 Corinthians 13:13]. We hide God’s Word in our heart so that He, once again, will be centrally revered in our lives. So that we will no longer sin against Him [Psalms 119:11].

And one of those amazing gems of scripture is the understanding that Jesus is that Word of God [John 1:1-4]. When we invite Jesus into our heart, we are asking Him to reign on the throne of our intellect, will and emotion the way God intended at Creation.

As apologist and author, Ravi Zacharias, explains, hope is the supernatural response of our emotion to God. Faith is the supernatural response of our intellect. And love is the supernatural response of our will to Him.

The greatest of these is love [1 Corinthians 13:13]. The most important and the hardest to master is love–the will to act according to God’s purposes both towards God and towards fellow man. It’s no wonder, then, that this is the first response God calls back into willing submission to Him.

For when we do love, when we do seat God on the throne of our will, we become like Him Who Is Love. We call, by example, a self-centered world back to its Creator.

Is Jesus the Lord of your whole heart? Have you hidden His Word in your intellect, allowing it to govern your emotion and your will? Do you live out love for God and fellow man with all your heart?

Closing the Circuit

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.” Hebrews 11:20

Image result for prophecyBy faith–absolute certainty in what he hoped for, but could not see–Abraham’s son Isaac spoke a blessing, a promise of inheritance and a prophetic word over the lives of his twin sons, Jacob and Esau.

Words have power.

As a believer in God–the God who spoke the world into existence–Isaac was not just speaking about the good things he hoped would happen to his son in the future. Isaac’s blessing came from God because it was spoken out of his relationship with God.

And God speaks life. God spoke everything that is into existence. God speaks purpose. “For many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails,” Proverbs 19:21.

As followers of Christ, our words have power too, because they also should flow from our relationship with God. Our words have authority because of our relationship to the author of life from whom all authority comes.

We need to recognize this authority and use our words wisely then. We should not be careless about how we throw our words around and/or away because they carry the very power of God in them.

Words can build up or tear down. Words can be a spring board or a stumbling block to others. James 3:10 warns us that, “Out of the mouth come blessing and cursing”–harmful and hateful words towards others–“My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”

Image result for Simple Electrical Circuit DiagramIn A.W. Tozer’s book THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE HOLY, he says that greatest work we do is to, “pass on undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God we have received,” from those who came before us.

You see, our life is like the conductor in a circuit. If we are connected to God, our power source, then our lives should close the circuit each time we touch another person, letting God’s power flow into them.

God wants to speak life into those around us. He wants to speak purpose and to bless the world we live in. He wants to speak healing and salvation to the nations.

And He has entrusted you and me with the task of standing in the gap and closing the circuit to make that happen.

Are you connected to God your power source today? If so, are you conducting His power through your words to bless the lives around you?