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Alive and Active

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze in a glowing furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was shining like the sun in all its brilliance.” Revelation 1:12-16

Image result for thracian long swordNow that John has set the stage, he begins to reveal how his vision unfolded. At first he turns to see the owner of the voice that told him to write to the seven churches of Asia Minor. The first thing he sees are golden lampstands, a well-known tabernacle/temple furnishing among the Jews, not unlike people-height menorahs.

Walking or standing in among these candle-less lamps is someone he describes to be like a son of man. Now Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man about eighty-five times in the gospels, while He let others recognize Him as and call Him the Son of God. The Jews were familiar with the Daniel 7:13 prophecy about the son of man quoted in Revelation 1:7, so it’s likely Jesus was proclaiming to them that he was, in fact, the fulfillment of this prophecy.

But the title Son of Man also shows that this person speaking to John had human form. A human form that was dressed in the full-length robe of the high priests and kingly golden sash. A human form that also bore resemblance to the Daniel 7:9 description of God–clothing white as snow, hair white as wool, flaming throne.

As we’ll learn later, the seven stars represent the angels of the seven churches to which John is writing [Revelation 1:20]. And isn’t it comforting, knowing the persecution these Christians faced, that Jesus held their angels in his almighty hand? That he himself walked among the churches?

Not only that, but as he did so, a double-edged sword–likely a long Thracian sword symbolizing divine judgment–came from his mouth. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that, the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing… And John 1 describes Jesus as that word of God. That word that we hide in our hearts that we might not sin against God [Psalm 119:11], because the word judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart [Hebrews 4:12].

Is the word of God alive and active in your life today? Do you hide God’s word in your heart, allowing it to penetrate your thoughts and attitudes in all things?

Brick and Tar Vengeance

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone and tar for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:3-4

Image result for sunbaked bricksLook at all of the rich tiebacks in these few verses. Under the direction of Nimrod [Genesis 10:10; Josephus Antiquities], the people consorted to build a city and tower. Not just any tower, but one built of bricks not stone.

Why would scripture mention a detail like that? Well, it’s possible that this is the first time in history that human beings made bricks to use in construction. More importantly, is to know why the people under Nimrod’s command wanted to build the tower.

According to secular historian, Josephus, Nimrod excited the people to an affront and contempt of God. He was a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded people not to credit God or give Him glory for any joy they had in life, but to believe that they could be happy in and of themselves from their own courage. Nimrod also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power.

More than that, Nimrod was in God’s face about the flood. He swore to revenge himself on God, if He ever drowned the world again. So Nimrod planned to build a tower too high for the waters to reach as a means of avenging himself on God for the previous destruction.

Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower. It was built of burnt brick, cemented together with mortar, made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water. Did you catch it? Nimrod and the people were building a waterproof tower that they could climb to safety in case God chose to flood them out again for doing it.

But why not stone? Simple. God created stone, and they didn’t want to show any reliance on Him. They wanted to create their own materials and build for themselves to show God that they didn’t need Him. Not only that, but they repeated the attitude of Cain [Genesis 4:17]. While God wanted people to split up and stop influencing each other to do wrong and mistreating one another, Nimrod said, Hey, let’s do it our way. Let’s build a city and stay together.

Remember Satan’s lie to the angel and to Adam and Eve in the garden? You can be like God–in other words, you can be your own God? He hasn’t changed his tune over the course of human history. We see it cropping back up here within a few generations after the flood to such an extreme level that Nimrod is inciting the whole earth against their Creator.

What’s in your heart? What about the influences in your life? Is there anything telling you to do it your way, for yourself and all by yourself? Trust God. Bring this thing under submission to Him and watch the blessing that this releases in your life. Know that those who stand opposed to God will–like Cain and Nimrod–stand judgment before God and confess that He alone is Lord [Romans 14:11]. But, oh, the grief they will bear for the sins they cherished in this life. Do not be like them. Be blessed.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers [Psalms 1:1].

As One Standing in the Gap

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in His heart: ‘Never again will curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:21-22

Image result for ropes course spotterGod can smell. Did you know that? He enjoys savoring the scent of fire-grilled meat that waft heavenward just as much as we might enjoy driving by a local barbecue pit with the windows down. When we please God–as we were intended to do from our Creation [1:26]–He remembers [8:1] us, that is He keeps us in mind as worthy of consideration.

Makes sense. Our relationship must always be a two-way street. We remember God, that is we keep Him in mind as worthy of our consideration by pleasing Him, and He remembers us. He remembers us and forgets–puts out of His mind–our sins, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.

God prays for our hearts. Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever [Deuteronomy 5:29]! Because we were created to love God with our whole heart et al and to love our fellow human beings just like we love ourselves. But the natural inclination of our heart, our human tendency, is evil–morally wrong or profoundly immoral.

But here, Noah stands in the gap. Because of Noah’s faithful and righteous remembrance of God, God promises that no human being ever after–until the end of the earth [Revelation 6:14; Matthew 24:35; 1 John 2:17]–will have to endure total world destruction.

And God’s promises are faithful and true [2 Corinthians 1:20]. So when the scientists and the news reports predict asteroids or comets colliding with earth, the polar ice caps melting and flooding the earth, the sun running out of fuel or exploding or whatever, we don’t have to be afraid. They’re wrong and God’s right. He promised that we will always have planting and harvesting so we can self-sustain, cold and heat and summer and winter so the earth can rest and then live again, and day and night so that our bodies–especially our eyes–can fully rest. If Jesus is the Lord of our life, we don’t need to fear human predictions, we just need to trust and obey God.

We don’t make animal sacrifices since the death of Christ, but we can still be a pleasing aroma to Him. Our prayers are like a fragrant incense [Psalm 141:2; Revelation 8:4]. And we can live as one standing in the gap, just like Noah did for us, reminding God of how very good His Creation was and is. Remembering our love for Him as He remembers His love for us.

How often do you pray? Do you daily fill up God’s nostrils with the perfume of prayer? Do you live as one standing in the gap? In other words, by your life, does God remember in you the goodness of His Creation and hold back the floodgates of heaven’s wrath once more?

Mastering the Crouching Tiger

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:5b-7

Image result for crouching tiger

In the human struggle with sin, this is one of those verses that I keep coming back to.

Cain was offended that God didn’t accept his offering–as if behaving like a spoiled child would make God accept the unacceptable after all. He got angry and he pouted. So God talks to Cain and asks him the same pointed kind of questions that He asked his father in the Garden of Eden.

Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? But God already knew the answer to these, because God knew Cain’s heart [Psalm139:1; Jeremiah 17:10; Luke 16:15; Acts 1:24; Romans 8:27; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; Revelation 2:23]. So again, God asked these questions so that Cain would consider the answers very seriously–why was he angry? Why was he pouting?

Had Cain thought it all the way through, he may have realized that it was because of the effects of sin in his life. He didn’t choose to be born with a sin nature, but the fallen nature was as much a part of him as it was the ground he worked and it was causing him to think, behave, react, and choose wrongfully toward God and his fellow man [aka his little brother Abel].

The third question is the sticker though, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” Think about it Cain. If you choose to do right–to learn from your honest mistake–then you won’t feel jealous of your brother because you’ll both be accepted by me, God. Then you won’t feel angry at me, because there won’t be a conflict between us. Then you won’t feel depressed or discouraged because when you do what is right you are accepted–and everyone, even Cain, wants to be accepted.

But the most important take away from these verses and this story is Genesis 4:7b, “But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door…” A crouching tiger, waiting to pounce on its prey. Sin has stalked you all the way to your house where you feel most safe and it’s lying in wait for you outside your own front door, the entrance to your home. And that sin that you think is no big deal? It is hungry to devour you.

But YOU must master IT.

Plain and simple. Despite being born with a sin nature and into a fallen world, it is our choice to recognize sin and flee from it or not. It is ours to master or to allow it to consume us.

Just like Cain, we have all been born with this sin nature, and the Holy Spirit speaks to us, convicting our hearts of that which would become sin to us, that which threatens to destroy our lives both physically and spiritually.

Do you believe that you can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, master the sin that threatens to devour you? Do you hear God’s voice? How is He leading you to overcome?

From the Student Question Board: How Does God Knit Babies Together?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. And she again bare his brother Abel.” Genesis 4:1-2a KJV

Image result for unborn baby + imageFor the sake of our younger students, I used the KJV here and have paraphrased the question asked, “How does God make babies since babies come from human parents?” A reasonable question.

First of all, without doubt babies come from both God and human parents. God set every system in the cosmos in motion from the Creation of the world, including the reproductive system of human beings and the marriage relationship, within whose confines He intended babies to come. So God is in the baby business largely because He established it.

However, just as plants reproduce according to the natural order God created and the earth continues in its orbit around the sun while the moon orbits the earth itself, creating tides and weather patterns in perpetuity, parents produce offspring according to God’s natural design. That is to say that God created the process and is intimately aware of every cell of every human being, but that He allows the natural processes He created to continue to function without divine intervention.

Still Eve recognizes that this process wasn’t possible if not for the Creator God [Genesis 4:1]. And King David [Psalm 139:13] and Job [Job 10:11] both attribute their lives to God’s sovereignty as well.

The popular Psalm 139:13 is often quoted to say, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” This appears to give God a more active process in the Creation of each individual child. And while each of us is God’s handiwork, God only created one man and one woman in the beginning and gave them–and their descendants after them–the ability to bring forth more human beings. Here the King James Version stays closer to the original Hebrew which says, “For you have possessed my reins, you have covered me in my mother’s womb,”[Psalm 139:13]. This original version makes it much more clear in English that God maintains the reproductive processes, not that He creates each individual as he did Adam and Eve.

But that is not to say that God never intervenes in this process. Certainly God answers the prayers of His people. And pregnant mothers and fathers often call out–as they should–to God for His protection or healing of an unborn life. Many times God answers with a happy, healthy delivery for mother and child. But there are also times when it seems that God has not heard, or not answered, or not cared, because the outcome is less than happy and healthy. In these times we have to remember that the effects of sin are still at work deteriorating our physical bodies and our physical world.

We do not always understand why God allows things to happen as He does, why He intervenes miraculously in some instances and not in others, nor do we need to fully understand in this life. Only to fully trust in Him who can work everything together for the good of those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose [Romans 8:28].

Do you–as did King David and Job–recognize God’s handiwork in your life? Are you committed to living according to God’s design and purposes in all things?

Where Are You?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” Genesis 3:9-10

Image result for hiding in trees“Shh! I think I hear God coming!” Can’t you just hear Adam and Eve whispering and shushing one another like little children who know they’ve done something terribly wrong? Satan was right about this one thing, they would now know–by experience–good and evil. God’s goodness contrasted with the sinful evil that Adam and Eve had invited into the world.

But even though God is omniscient–all-knowing–He calls out to Adam with a very pointed question. It’s not to alert God to Adam’s presence that He asks, “Where are you?” It’s to bring Adam to a place of spiritual understanding about where he now stands–separated from God by his own choosing.

And make no mistake, the evil of sin shatters, first of all, our relationship to God.

How lovingly our Creator had prepared everything at the Creation, adding man as the pinnacle at just the right time. How carefully He endowed man with His own breath and image, forming him by hand as a unique individual among the whole of Creation. Adam was given life to love and be loved by God.

Yet the first effect of sin was for Adam to fear God. “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid…” [Genesis 3:10].

He was afraid because he now understood the holiness of God contrasted to the newly fallen sinfulness of his human nature. He was afraid because he recognized God’s sovereignty and felt the weight of his disobedience, his lawless, guilty and shameful choice to break faith with the One who made him. He was afraid, and he hid.

Six-thousand years later, we find ourselves in the same predicament as Adam. Sin pervades our human nature by virtue of being descended from Adam [Romans 5:12]. God lovingly knits us together in our mother’s womb [Psalm 139:13], maintains the order of the cosmos to graciously provide for our every need, and sends testimony after testimony of Himself in every possible way [Romans 1:20], and yet we humans still disobey Him.

We disobey Him. We hide from Him. We try to say that He doesn’t exist so that we have no God to fear but ourselves.

But just like with Adam, God speaks into every heart, asking one first question, “Where are you?” He asks for two reasons: 1) So we can come to understand our spiritual distance from Him; and 2) So we can choose to do something about it [James 4:8; John 3:16; Matthew 7:78; Isaiah 55: 6-7].

Have you heeded God’s first question to you? Where are you spiritually? And what are you doing about your relationship with Him?

Rest and a Smashed Up Pickup Truck

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Thus the heavens and the earth were created in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.” Genesis 2:1-3

Image result for Totaled Pickup Truck AccidentPhew! Imagine the heavenly sigh of satisfaction when God stepped back to look at His work. More brilliant than any painter or architect, richer than any businessman or ruler, more intricate and assorted than all the treasuries of every kingdom on earth–ever.

God pronounced it all very good. DNA, molecules and atoms, gemstones and sea salt, buffalo grass and sequoia trees, butterflies and dinosaurs, comets and planetary motion, everything–absolutely everything–marvelously created and in perfect order. The one man, Adam, and his wife, the one woman, Eve were not just included in, but were the pinnacle of this perfection and harmonious pronouncement.

Then God rested. Nowhere in scripture does God mention creating anything else that wasn’t spoken into existence or formed in this literal six day Creation. Rather, after resting, God devoted His time and attention to loving His Creation. To loving us.

Seven then becomes the biblical number of completion. Because on this Day God rested. He didn’t speak anything else into existence. Everything that we know in the world today–alive or extinct, abundant or rare–appeared on this earth on Days 1 through 6 of our history. Period.

What He set in motion, remains and will continually remain in motion until that time He makes it inert. The life that He created He values, from the smallest plants [Matthew 6:28-30] and animals [Matthew 10:29] to His very intimate relationship with humankind [1 Samuel 16:7; Psalm139:13; Matthew 10:30; John 14:2-3].

And for the third time in the first week in the literal history of the universe, God blessed–He pronounced goodness and intention for continued goodness over His handiwork. Because that’s what He created us with–goodness. That’s what He created us for–goodness. That’s what He set into perfect motion–goodness. And that was the state of the universe on Day 7–goodness.

And not just goodness by decaying human standards, but God’s own holy goodness.

Again, Satan would like to color these scriptures with doubt. He seeds many with the question, “If God is good, then why…?” By posing the question many overlook his ruse–the accuser is hiding behind his accusation. Turn the doubts on God, and no one will suspect the prince of the air [Ephesians 2:2], that roaring lion who seeks to steal, kill and destroy [1 Peter 5:8].

But God is good. And the world we see today is a broken one, destroyed and decaying under the weight of sin. Think of it this way. If you see a smashed up Toyota truck while you’re driving down the road, would you blame Toyota for making a smashed truck? Of course not! Everyone knows that that’s not the way Toyota made and sold the truck. And neither did God make a smashed up world full of every kind of evil.

Do you believe that God is good? Have you ever questioned God’s goodness because of the state of the world or the people around you? Are you a beacon of God’s goodness to the corroding creation?