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An All-Anticipating Fairy-Godmother?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” Revelation 2:19-23

Image result for wrapped in paddingLike Ephesus, the church at Thyatira had a lot going for it. But also like Ephesus, there was one major problem–Thyatira allowed a false prophetess among them, one of the things that Ephesus did right.

Jesus calls this false prophetess Jezebel–not likely her real name, and certainly not a compliment. The wickedest Israelite queen in their entire history, Jezebel ordered the killings of every prophet in Israel [1 Kings 18:4]. Her husband, King Ahab, did more to rouse God’s anger than every king before him [1 Kings 16:33].

This so called Thyatiran Jezebel taught the church that it was well and good to participate in the local pagan temples, which involved sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols as an expression of worship to the false gods. Apparently, God was patient with this woman, and He gave her opportunities to change her ways. Perhaps He sent people to try to set her straight. Perhaps He allowed the natural consequences of sin to manifest in her life in hopes that she would return to Him.

But she refused God. And just like every one who refuses the Creator of the Universe, they give themselves over to the destruction of sin and death, both of which are replete with suffering [James 1:15; Romans 1:21]. Even in this, God is mercifully patient, still allowing those who followed this prophetess the opportunity to repent.

Though some may say that because He said He would strike her children dead that He is anything but a good and loving God. Consider this: Jezebel was luring God’s children to die eternally. And God ends this portion of scripture saying that He would repay each according to their deeds. Jezebel herself was luring her own children to die eternally.

Why do we always blame God for allowing us to choose when that is exactly what we as humans want so much? We want to choose. To do whatever we feel like whenever we feel like it. And we want God to be an all anticipating fairy godmother that keeps anything bad from happening to us despite our choices. And if He ever lets us feel the consequences of our choices, then we get indignant. Surely God isn’t really good or loving or actually God if He lets “bad” things happen. This mindset has riddled humanity for too long. Since the Garden actually [Genesis 3:5]–remember the be your own god lie? Except, when we screw it up for ourselves, then we can blame the real God, right?

Is there a Jezebel spirit at work in your life? Someone mixing God’s word with a more culturally appealing teaching? Ask God to give you discernment and the boldness to cling to His truth in an intolerant generation.

From the Student Question Board: How Long Does it Take to Become a Mature Christian?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” Revelation 2:18-19

Image result for forging bronzeIn Greek mythology, Zeus’ son Apollo was called the son of god, and he was the patron god of Thyatira when Alexander the Great founded it as an army garrison. Under Roman rule, Thyatira’s business structure was built around guilds. Much like labor unions today a worker had to be faithful to the guild and the guild would in turn be faithful to protect their job.

But the guilds often celebrated their festivities in the temple to Apollo, sponsoring acts that Christians could not take part in. And if you didn’t participate, your job was as good as gone; you had no way to make a living.

It is to this culture that Jesus proclaims Himself the Son of God–the True Son of the One True God, not like the culturally glorified fictitious Apollo and his father Zeus. Jesus identifies Himself with the bronze smiths and guild laborers in the portrayal of His fiery eyes and burnished feet. Then, He commends the Thyatirans for their works, love, faith, service and perseverance. He commends them for increasing in these things despite the cultural pressures of their city; not easy to do.

So how long does it take to become a mature Christian? The longer the Ephesians served God, the more ritualistic it became. They totally forgot about their love for Him. The longer the Church at Smyrna served God, the more they were slandered and suffered for Him. The longer the Pergamenians served God, the more they compromised. And the longer the Thyatirans served God, the more liars sprang up in their midst, encouraging them to return to their old life.

But this was not true of everyone in these churches. Because becoming a mature Christian is an individual process. No one is perfect, nor will anyone arrive at perfection–completeness–in this life. Everyone is maturing in their Christian walk. [Either that or they are shrinking, but that is a subject for another post.] And everyone matures at a different rate and will finish life at a different level of spiritual maturity than others.

However, we can do certain things to ensure that we are in fact maturing in Christ and that our experiential knowledge of Him develops sooner rather than later: prayer, Bible study, praise and worship, and fellowship with other believers. But even in these things, we must be careful not to fall into the religious pitfalls that the seven churches of Revelation experienced–losing sight of love for Jesus, compromising with culture or flat out turning back to our old way of life while still professing to be a Christian.

In effect, it takes a whole lifetime to become the most mature Christian that you’ll ever be, but it takes only a moment to devote yourself to maturing in Christ and the daily commitment to see it through. Are you on the path to Christian maturity?

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?

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.

From the Student Question Board: What If I Just Really Don’t Like Someone?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“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 4:7

Image result for not getting alongRemember back to the Garden of Eden when sin entered the world and God let Adam and Eve know what the effects of this would be? Notably, the effects of sin are: guilt, shame, fear of God [as well as separation from God], experiencing both good and evil, spiritual warfare, emotional and interpersonal struggles, pain, sorrow, decay of the physical world and body, and ultimately death.

The answer to the question that was asked–What if I just really don’t like someone?–is sin. How?

The scriptures list many specific sins [i.e. Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:2-4; et al], and, to be sure, these lists contain many things not-to-like. But sin exists in all of our lives [Romans 3:23]. So it is the effects of sin in my life–interpersonal struggles, guilt, shame, experiencing both good and evil, pain and sorrow–that keep me from liking all of my fellow man. And it is also these same effects of sin in their lives that make other people seem unlovely and unlovable to me.

However, we have to  remember that Jesus died to forgive us and to take the effects of sin from our lives. It’s not easy–no one can say that it is easy to learn to behave contrary to our sin nature–but it is possible and commanded by God that we love every other person on the planet just as much as we love ourselves [Mark 12:31].

So what if I just really don’t like someone? First, recognize that this dislike is the result of the sinful nature. Second, don’t try to hide it from God, He already knows anyway. Instead, ask God to help you to love this person. And not the late twentieth-century cop-out kind of love when some people actually said, “I don’t like’em but I love’em with the love of the Lord.” No, when God says to love others, He meant that we need to learn to like them for real–that’s the only way to genuinely love them as God commanded.

Again, it’s not always easy, but it is possible with God’s help. And remember–But by the grace of God, there go I–a more honest old saying that just means, remember that my sin nature makes me just as unlovely and unlovable to other people as they are to me. But God has called them to love me too, despite my faults.

Got a sin nature? [That’s rhetorical. We all do.] But do you recognize that you are a sinner? Ask God to show you the sin in your life, specifically where it pertains to being able to love everyone that He brings across your path. Because if we can’t love the ones He sends our way, how will we ever win them to Christ?

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?

Distorted Authority and Justice

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering–fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering He did not look with favor.” Genesis 4:2b-5a

Image result for court gavelCain and Abel are literally the first children and brothers on the planet, as in ever [which means they were also the first two people ever to have bellybuttons!] Cain became the first big brother of all human history when Abel was born. In Hebrew, Cain means spear–though it can also mean possession or acquired–and Abel means breath.

It’s curious to me how Adam and Eve came to name their first child either spear or possession because it would seem that they had no need of either of these words at the time. Remember that all creatures were made vegetarian and it wasn’t until after the flood when man would hunt for food that animals would fear and attack man [Genesis 9:2-3]. So a spear wouldn’t seem all that necessary at the time Cain was born, unless of course the animals were already eating one another as a result of sin destroying their created nature. In which case, when Abel became the first shepherd in world history, he would’ve needed to defend his flocks against some of the planet’s first predators.

Cain, on the other hand, worked the soil, which is exactly what God told Adam would need to be done as a direct result of sin entering the world. The ground would be cursed to produce thorns and thistles, and Adam [and his offspring forever after] would raise their food by working the soil [Genesis 3:17-19].

So why is it then, that God is happy with Abel’s firstborn fat offering and not Cain’s garden produce offering? The Genesis account doesn’t tell us why. As readers, we don’t learn the intent behind the lesson until Hebrews 11. But God’s lesson to Cain is intended to be the primary focus here, not the theology behind it.

Do you see the lesson? God’s truth that we must understand in our own lives? God is our holy Creator. He is sovereign and He is just. We were created in His image. We demand a sovereign authority and justice. But being polluted with sin we’ve distorted justice to fit ourselves as sovereign authority [us as our own god] and cry, “That’s not fair!” [How many of you thought exactly that the first time you read this account? Be honest.]

But Cain is not in trouble here. He’s simply being instructed in what God finds acceptable and what He finds unacceptable. What Cain chooses to do with this instruction shows who is on the throne of his heart–God or Cain. And that is the truth that we all need to understand.

Unfortunately, in the world we live in, when people hear that God is not pleased with their behavior they ignore/deny His existence and they ridicule/persecute anyone who tries to live God’s way.

What do you do when the Holy Spirit shows you something in your life that is unacceptable to a holy God? How are you tuning your ears to the Holy Spirit so that you can be instructed by Him?