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Cultural Complications

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” Revelation 2:7

Image result for tree of life in ephesusTen times in the New Testament, scripture exhorts people with ears to actually use their ears to hear what God has to say. It seems logical, but it can be oh so complicated. Culture, in particular, can complicate or obscure or distort or distract from or drown out God’s message.

But John offers the Ephesian Christians this encouragement–be victorious in hearing and doing God’s word, and you can have the actual tree of life in an actual paradise of the One True Almighty God.

Because in Ephesus, the Artemesian temple had a, so-called, tree of life in its courtyard. A tree that people would touch believing that it could make them fertile, or well, or live longer, or other blessings to improve the quantity and quality of life as they saw it. Of course, Satan totally counterfeited the concept of The Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden [Genesis 2:9; also mentioned in Revelation 22]. And then he passed it off as a non-Christian cultural affair that possibly left the Ephesian Christians feeling like they would also like free access to such a life-giving tree.

The paradise referred to here is also a cultural shout out to the Ephesians. The Caesars, who were demanding to be worshipped as gods, had huge beautiful palaces with central courtyard gardens that were beyond compare–their own personal paradise. The Ephesian Christians would have known full well that John was telling them that God is higher than any Caesar and His palaces more grand. His Tree of Life would not be found in pagan temples requiring indecency and self-mutilation, but in His very own paradise–that He offered freely to them if they just believe.

Do you hear what God is saying when you read His word? How about when you listen to others expound on God’s word? How about when you pray or praise and worship? If there is ever a time in your daily life that you do not hear God, ask Him to open your ears to His glory and honor in your life.

The Lampstand Removed

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Revelation 2:5-6

Image result for Ancient EphesusWithout doubt, Roman life for Ephesian Christians was hard.

To enter the agora, a public market square that served as the center for provisions, business and social life, one had to take a bit of incense and burn a fragrant offering to Caesar, thereby proclaiming him Lord. However, a Christian could not in good conscience make offerings or acknowledge any one other than Jesus Christ as Lord. So, unless they compromised their faith, they were shut out of the heart of their city life.

The temple of Artemis, as well as many other pagan temples, held prominence in Ephesian life. Temple worship and annual festivals were filled with immoral and even self-mutilating acts. But amazingly the temple of Artemis actually served as a financial hub of the city as well, much like a bank, since so much wealth was offered and spent there. So a Christian would not have had access to the financial backing that secular businessmen enjoyed.

A heretical sect, called Nicolaitans, sprang up in this confluence of Christianity and Romanism. They believed that since the body was a physical being and faith was a spiritual thing that they could, therefore, do whatever they wanted to in their body and be unaffected spiritually. God is clear here that this is not right thinking by any means.

Among all of this, and other practices that there is not room to explore here, the Ephesian Christians still behaved in many ways in line with the gospel. However, they’d forgotten their first love. That is, they’d misplaced, lost sight of or just plain let go of the priority to put Jesus Christ first in their lives.

So Jesus called them to repent–to think again or have their thinking renewed/made new. If they didn’t put Jesus back into His rightful place in their lives, they risked their lampstand being removed, their light being ineffective in their generation.

In our day, we are not commanded to worship our president as a god, but as Christians, our beliefs have been shut out of public places: courts, schools, media, and the like. Not only that, but we are regularly asked to denounce our faith in the God of the Bible, because He does not fit with mainstream lifestyles and ideas.

It can be difficult in any culture to keep Jesus as our number one priority, but particularly when this choice segregates us. Yet if we compromise or lose sight of Jesus as Lord of our lives, our light will be ineffective, our generation unreached.

Who or what has first priority in your life? Do you need to repent, that is be transformed by the renewing of your mind [Romans 12:2]?

Ascribing to Jesus

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits from before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father–to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 1:4-6

Image result for Ruins of EphesusThe apostle John opens with a greeting to the seven churches of Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey. Now the Romans had a Leading Council of Asiarchs that met on a yearly rotation to six of these same influential cities. The seventh–a much more northernly city–John swapped for the centrally located Thyatira. It’s possible that these cities were also the postal centers for seven geographic regions which would have facilitated delivery and dissemination of the Revelation given to him.

Grace is an important greeting. Basically blessing people with more goodness than they deserve. Grace is the crux of God’s gift in the gospel, and the apostles often greeted their readers with that unmerited favor, paying forward what God had done for them. Peace is another powerful spiritual blessing. Especially when the enemy–Satan–is at work to steal, kill and destroy. [John 10:10]. He brings confusion and conflict where God intended peace [John 14:27].

And John doesn’t claim this in and of himself. He passes the grace and peace of the One True, eternal God the father–like the conduit that we’re each meant to be–onto the seven churches. But he also sends these from the seven spirits before God’s throne and from Jesus Christ the son of God. Who are the seven spirits? Revelation 1:20 indicates that these are the angels for each of the seven churches. What a wonderful thing to know that there are ministering spirits who are also contending on our behalf.

Jesus the Messiah is described as being the faithful witness. We can count on his testimony on our behalf if we have believed on Him [John 3:16]. He is described as the firstborn from the dead. Before Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected, no one else had been born again into new life. True, Jesus raised Lazarus and others from the dead, but they had not yet been born again because death still reigned. It is only through Jesus that we can be born again and have eternal life because he conquered death, hell and the grave to make that possible [1 Corinthians 15:57; 2 Timothy 1:20; Revelation 1:18]. He is called the ruler of the kings of the earth, because all authority has been established by him [Matthew 28:18; Romans 13:1] and is subject to him.

The praise of Jesus continues. Glory–high renown or honor–be given to Jesus alone because 1) He loves us; 2) He died for us which freed us from the curse of sin; 3) He redeemed our heavenly citizenship which was lost in the Fall of Man. But not just glory. John also ascribes power–dominion, authority over our lives–for all time, to Jesus Christ, and stamps it with Amen–so let it be!

Is Jesus glorified [aka honored] by your life? In other words, do others see how amazing Jesus is when they meet/get to know you? Does Jesus have all authority in your life? Have you submitted everything to Him?

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.

Attention to Detail

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Sons were also born to Shem, whose older brother was Japheth; Shem was the ancestor of all the sons of Eber… Two sons were born to Eber: One was named Peleg, because in his time the earth was divided; his brother was named Joktan.” Genesis 10:21 & 25

Image result for caucasoid negroid mongoloidSo names–from Shem we get the term Semitic which refers to the language group that descended from Shem’s line. Still in use today are: Arabic [most prevalent], Maltese, Modern Hebrew, the Ethiopian languages of Ahmaric, Tigrinya and Tigre, as well as several dialects of Aramaic. However, we more often hear the term anti-Semitic used today, when talking about hate-crimes toward Jews.

The term Semitic was first coined in the 1770s–along with Hamitic and Japhetic–to denote the races of people descended from each of the three sons of Noah. Not surprisingly, when scientists initially tried classifying human races in the 1790s from a biological diversity understanding, they concluded that there were only three races: Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid. That is not to say that these were ancestored by Noah’s three sons, but just interesting that God said three sons and science originally said three racial divisions.

It’s also not surprising that after Charles Darwin’s work, THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, was published in 1859 and widely accepted in 1870, that new essays surfaced proposing additional biological race classifications–devoid of a biblical witness.

From Eber we get the term Hebrew that is descended from Eber. Eber being denoted as a prominent descendant of Shem and also the notable father of two sons. Interestingly, his son Peleg is known only for his tie to world history chronology, but his other son Joktan is the one listed as having a line of descendants of his own.

In Peleg’s day the earth was divided. Some Christians surmise that this might be biblical evidence for Pangea. It’s possible that God is telling us here that the continents were broken apart during Peleg’s day. Maybe as a continuation of post flood tectonic plate movement. It’s also possible that this mention ties Peleg chronologically to the Nimrod and Tower of Babel accounts, since there is no way to really line up the Shem, Ham and Japheth genealogies to know who lived at the same time as who else. Especially since we’re not given any lifespans in this list.

Most importantly from these scriptures and others like them, is that we learn to take the time to read through them and consider why God included them in His account. Often times when reading the Bible, it’s tempting to skip over tedious genealogies and random factoids attached to people that seem otherwise unimportant to the more exciting and well-known stories of scripture. However, when we do, we can miss a lot of the vital information that helps to explain why and how all of the stories are important.

Many people think of Christians as narrow-minded and ignorant [aka uneducated in this context]. However, as Christians, we know that we possess the truth. It is our responsibility to be able to know the hope of which we speak, and to be able to answer the questions of those who seek to know God often times by directing them to specific answers in scripture.

Are you a scholar of God’s Word? Are you able to give an account for the hope that you have within you? To what extent?

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?

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?