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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.

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 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?

Enter False Religion

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ So the Lord scattered them from there over all the whole earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel–because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:5-9

Image result for chichen itza mayan ruinsThe Tower of Babel construction is known as a ziggurat. Ziggurats–also known as step-pyramids–can be found on five of the seven continents. These towers were built in many cultures as a temple to worship the heavens, that is the sun, moon and stars rather than the One True God.

Nimrod was the first to turn the hearts of people from their understanding of and a personal relationship with their Creator. And with the help of his wife, Semiramis, he propagated the first false religion on the face of the earth.

Because of this blatant disobedience and misuse of God’s name, God confused the languages of human beings. Human beings were made in God’s image [Genesis 1:27], with the ability to plan and create and work together. God acknowledges that if allowed to continue to work together, they could accomplish anything that they could of think of to undertake.

As the people scattered in their separate language groups, each culture shared a few common historical events: Creation, Flood, and the division of languages at the Tower of Babel. Until modern history, most people groups had in fact preserved a variation on these three stories in the forms of myths, legends and religious stories. The existence of ziggurats on five of seven continents itself is a testimony to a shared history and ancestry.

Moreover, this event is very important to the Biblical viewpoint of world history. So important that Babylon is mentioned 315 times in scripture. About 100 of those mentions occur in Jeremiah with the pending captivity.

When Israel, God’s chosen bride, prostitutes herself with the idolatry and false religions of surrounding nations, God relents. He gives Israel exactly what she insisted on out of His will to begin with. He allows Israel to have front row seats and firsthand experiences with the lifestyle that they so earnestly desired in Babylonian captivity in hopes that she will turn her heart once again to Him.

But one day, Babylon will fall. Revelation 19 records how the heavens will rejoice when that day comes, when the season of idolatry and false religion will lay decimated, never again to rise. When glory and honor will belong once again to God alone.

Is there any trace of Babylon in your heart or life? Is there anything that turns your prayer, praise, worship and devotion from the Creator? Allow the Holy Spirit to search your heart and bring such things to light to God’s glory and honor.

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].

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?

Slavery

by Bridget Sileo

“Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.” Romans 6:16-18

Image result for farm handSlavery–in our American mind, it evokes the image of people being taken forcibly from their homelands and forced to work in deplorable conditions or face terrible punishments or even death. The New Testament uses slavery as a metaphor in many different places, but is this what it means? Are we helpless victims of the master we serve, whether it is Christ or sin? Or could the writers have had something different in mind?

In the culture in which the New Testament was written, it was not uncommon for people to have indentured servants, who would voluntarily enlist as a servant to another person or household for a period of time in exchange for room and board because that person could not survive otherwise. I believe the writers of the New Testament had something more like this scenario in mind when they describe us as slaves.

Romans 6:16-18 tell us that we have a choice. We can choose to live in sin’s house and eat its food, which seems attractive at first, but will lead to death. We can choose to live in God’s house and do as He tells us. This both puts responsibility on us and comforts us.

The choice is ours, but in this illustration we can’t see ourselves as a slave who is unable to break free from sin. We choose which master we want to serve. Sin doesn’t have us in chains that we can’t escape from. God has already broken the chains of sin in our lives. We must choose to shake them off and walk away from them in obedience to God.

Which house will you choose? Whom will you serve?