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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?

Life Is Not A Screenplay

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.’ He also said, ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend Japheth’s territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.” Genesis 9:24-27

Image result for Cinematic TechniquesOn an individual level, Ham behaved sinfully. He could have repented and apologized to his father. He could have confessed before his son Canaan that his actions were wrong. And perhaps he did do some or all of these things. Scripture doesn’t say. However, even when we are sorry, actions always carry natural consequences. And one of the natural consequences of sin is coming under a curse [Genesis 3:14 & 17]. By curse, I don’t mean some magical incantation, rather an almost prophetic utterance of the wrong that will befall someone.

Canaan was cursed to become a slave to his own family, while his uncles–Shem and Japheth–received blessings for their righteous choices. Looking ahead, we learn that Canaan became the father of the: Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, Arvadites, Zemarites, and Hamathites [Genesis 10:16-18].

The Canaanites–aka descendants of Canaan–became the inhabitants of the Promised Land [Genesis 15:18-21]. The five clans in bold, are repeatedly mentioned in scripture as the people that the Israelites–descendants of Shem–needed to drive from the land in order to take possession of it [Exodus 3:8, 17; 12:5; 23:23; et al]. However, the Israelites were not faithful to drive out all of the Canaanite peoples. Some did in fact become their slaves, others were killed or driven out, and a small remnant were left alive and later intermarried [contrary to God’s command].

But history was not written by God in advance as a screenplay for us to walk through. Despite the pronouncement of the curse, Canaan could have repented and raised his children in the fear and admonition of the Lord as his grandfather Noah had done. Imagine how different scripture and world history would be if that had been the case. If each generation faithfully passed on and received, not just the truth of God, but the desire to enter into a personal relationship with Him.

Many generations later, a Canaanite descendant would choose to revere God, to make the kind of righteous choice that her ancestors Canaan and Ham did not. And God brought Rahab back into His blessing, made her a member of his own family by her faith [Joshua 6:25; Matthew 1:5]. God is not willing that any should perish [2 Peter 3:9], but each one is allowed to choose all the same.

We are all descended from sinners, but like Shem, Japheth and Rahab, we can also all make righteous choices by faith. Despite your sin, God is not willing that you should perish, but what do you choose? Do you choose to read books/magazines, or watch TV shows/movies that gratify the desires of your body? Or do you choose righteousness–to save those pleasures for the time and place in life for which God has designed them?

Make a Righteous Choice

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.” Genesis 9:22-23

Image result for hands over eyesThis is one of those incidents in scripture that set up a lot of future conflict on the earth. Because scripture specifically mentions Canaan repeatedly in this narrative–though not as the perpetrator–he certainly had some significance in what was happening, though what exactly we’re not told.

His father Ham made a sinful choice. He happened onto the scene of his father–Noah’s–shame, but he could have chosen 1) to avert his eyes, 2) to get his father a covering, and 3) to keep the incident a secret for his father’s sake. Instead, Ham turns indecency into a crass joke. He laughs and encourages his brothers to share in his lewd humor, “Hey guys, check out the old man! Can you believe it?”

Shem and Japheth would not be so persuaded though. They knew that the drunken nakedness was not for their eyes, and that their brother’s irreverence was equally as wrong. So they made a righteous choice–to do the exact three things that Ham chose not to do.

Ephesians 5:3-5 warns that, “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

In his sermon on the mount, Jesus spoke to the root of the full blown sins condemned in the law [Matthew 5]. He condemned: anger, the seed of murder; lust, the seed of adultery; and vanity oaths in God’s name, the seed of substituting self for God; et al. Complicit with his father Ham, Canaan was guilty of the seed of sexual immorality, impurity and coarse joking. This father-son duo, according to Ephesians, were idolaters. They valued the temporary pleasure that exploiting Noah brought them more than the holiness that God requires.

With the advent of the internet, access to pornography and other ungodly pictures and entertainments are more readily available than ever. The simplest most innocent search terms can cause us to accidentally stumble upon things that have no place in the life of a Christian. What do you do when those times come? Do you immediately avert your eyes? Or do you chance a glance, maybe even gawk like Ham? Do you X out of the page? Or do you tell your buddies to come check it out?

Even when we choose to do the right thing–to look away and get rid of the filth–it only takes a second for ungodly images to burn themselves into our minds. If you’ve ever experienced this, you may find yourself battling within. If so, pray. God can and will help those who sincerely seek Him to purge the residue of sin in our hearts and minds to His glory and honor in our lives.

An Unfinished Work

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. [Ham was the father of Canaan.] These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth. Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.” Genesis 9:18-21

Image result for vineyard + imageHere we see a point of view shift. The flood narrative to this point has been focused on Noah, but now God shifts the lens to include Noah’s sons–Shem, Ham and Japheth. Noah had no other children. So these three men and their wives repopulated the post-flood earth.

Shem means name or renown. Ham may mean hot, heat, warm, or brown. And Japheth means may he expand.

And in this shift, the author also mentions Ham’s son, Canaan; a name which has several possible meanings: flat, low, merchant, trader, or that humbles and subdues. From this we can infer that Canaan was already born by the time of the incident to follow.

Though we know that Noah had sufficient time to plant a vineyard, cultivate it through grape production, harvest grapes, press them and ferment them into wine, we don’t know exactly how long after the flood this event takes place or how old Canaan was at the time.

The sons and grandson’s name meanings may or may not have any story significance here, however their mention leads up to a small but important narrative.

Now, God does not mention His thoughts on the fact that Noah ended up drunk on homemade wine. We know that God chose to save Noah from the flood because he was favored for being upright [righteous; Genesis 6:9] in the sight of the Lord.

Upright does not mean perfect or sinless. And the Bible certainly warns against drunkenness [Galatians 5:21; 1 Peter 4:3; et al.]. Hebrews 11:7 tells us that Noah became an heir of righteousness because of his faith, but in this post-flood account Noah is described as a man of the soil.

Interesting.

The last person to be described as such in scripture was Cain [Genesis 4:2], though we know that Adam himself was charged with working the ground for his food [Genesis 3:17]. And we know that both men were identified as sinners.

All of this shows us that we can know for certain that the ground was still under the curse of sin and that Noah–like Adam and Cain before him–was still a sinner saved by grace, as were his sons. He allowed himself to become drunk, and, in this drunken state, slept naked in his tent. This is reminiscent of the three verses in Genesis 4 devoted to Lamech McCain in that it shows us that–after all of the destruction and devastation of the flood–there is still sin in the world. The work of redemption was not finished. And as was the case with Abraham [Galatians 3:6], it seems that Noah was credited as righteous because of his faith, not that his own righteousness was enough to save him from sin.

Just because we accept Christ in our lives, doesn’t mean that our sin nature instantly disappears. But when we allow Christ to be Lord of our hearts, we begin to become more like Him. Where God is, sin cannot be also.

Have you asked Jesus to be Lord of your life? Do you put Him first in all your ways? Will you allow Him to show you any sin that may be harbored in your heart so that He can root it out and you can become more like Him?

God’s Promise

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: ‘I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you–the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you–every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Genesis 9:8-11

Image result for covenant agreement + imageCovenant. Agreement. Guarantee. Pledge. Commitment. Contract. God promises Noah and his family, but also all of the creatures on the ark, that He will never again destroy the world in a flood. He will never again wash away sin by a physical deluge.

This speaks so poignantly to the character of God. People find God inconsistent because He sent worldwide destruction through the flood one time and never again. But I for one am glad that I don’t have to worry. That every time the worldwide sin levels rise, they won’t trip the divine deluge trigger. I am so thankful for God’s promise that I can live in peace, by grace through faith, until He comes again and I meet Him in the air.

And the fact that God promises the animals too, that says something about their importance to Him. For while human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation, the animals are no less the work of His hand. Scriptures tell us that not a sparrow falls to the ground that He doesn’t know about [Matthew 10:29].

All life is sacred to God. And He commands us to steward it [Genesis 1:26; Mark 12:31].

Do you value human and animal life as God does? Do you have peace, resting in God’s promises?

When God Closes the Door

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Then the Lord shut him in. For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits…The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.” Genesis 7:16b-21 & 24

Image result for pitching hayIf Noah or his family had any doubt whatsoever that they were obeying the will of God, surely when God Almighty closed the door to the ark once they were all safely inside was sign enough.

But was it sign enough to endure forty days of intense flooding that pushed the ark off the safety of dry land, rocking it–none too gently–as the waters swelled deep enough to cover the highest mountains of Noah’s day under about 23 feet of water?

Looking forward from Noah, the Israelites of the Exodus saw God do many miraculous things, and yet they grumbled against Him all the same, losing their opportunity to settle the Promised Land [Exodus 16:12, 17:1; Numbers 14:2]. Did Noah’s family feel this same frustration and temptation at any time when they were being tossed about in their floating zoo, pitching hay and other vittles to three stories worth of wild animals for a hundred and fifty days [about five months]?

Or did they whole heartedly trust God and just go for the ride of their lives?

More than that, I think it’s fascinating that God describes the ark here as floating on the surface of the water. Remember back in Genesis 1:2b that God’s spirit moved over the surface of the deep, and looking forward to Matthew 14, Jesus physically walked on the water.

God was with that ark, because God was in that ark with His faithful servants.

Everyone who didn’t have the faith to build and board with Noah was judged by the flood water and found wanting [Daniel 5:27]. But those who put their faith–their absolute certainty in what they hoped for but couldn’t see–in God, by His grace–undeserved favor–were saved.

The truth of sin is very real. But salvation by faith alone through grace alone is also a very real truth.

Like Noah, are you building your life in faith alone? Do you recognize God’s grace in your life that allows you to board His ark of salvation? In whom is your faith?

God’s Plan or Yours?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how to are build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits  [450 feet] long, fifty cubits [75 feet] wide and thirty cubits [45 feet] high. Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit [18 inches] high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks.” Genesis 6:14-16

Image result for wood construction + imageWe’ve already seen that God had a very specific plan when He created. And after the Creation fell into sin, He was ready with a very specific plan of redemption. Now, here again, when God tells Noah that He plans to save him, out of all the earth, from the pending destruction, God–not surprisingly–has a very specific plan.

But have you ever thought what might have happened if Noah or his boys got lazy? Or started questioning God’s design?

Cypress, Dad? Are you kidding? Do you realize how far we’re going to have haul that from?

Pitch the whole thing? Inside AND out? Do you know how long that’s going to take?

“What if we shrink those dimensions just a smidge?” Or, “Skip the extra deck and let’s go for one large main room on the other two.” Or, “Let’s leave a bigger space under the roof.” Or maybe, “No space at all.”

It’s laughable because, basically, if they had deviated from God’s plan in anyway, we know that the result would have been disastrous. You don’t hear from God that He’s going to rescue you, receive a specific plan for your escape, and then do your own thing. Not if you want it to work together for your good.

So then, why do we as human beings think that in every other part of our life we can deviate from God’s plan? He gave us His plan for marriage, family, finances, friendship, authority, work and rest, stewardship of the earth, health, citizenship, and–basically–just about every aspect of every area of our private and corporate lives.

And His plan for our earthly life is simple: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength; AND Love your neighbor as yourself [Mark 12:30-31].

His plan for our eternal life is just as specific and just as simple: Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved [Acts 16:31].

So doesn’t it make perfect sense that Satan–who is out to steal, kill and destroy [John 10:10] God’s Creation–would tempt us to become our own god and to deviate from God’s very specific, very simple plan for our life now and for eternity?

Are you listening to God’s Word? Do you know His plan of salvation? Are you doing your own thing in this life in any way hoping that God will work your plan together for your good?