Generation Heroes

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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]?

Have You Forgotten Someone?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this one thing against you: You have forsaken your first love.” Revelation 2:1-4

Image result for Church of Mary at EphesusChapter 2 opens with a letter to the church in Ephesus. It is the first of seven letters–one to each of the seven churches of Proconsular Asia, the Roman province which is modern day Turkey. Ephesus was the capital of the province and an important port city.

In Greek grammar, the two phrases sandwiching the preposition of could be read either way. So the opening could either read to the angel of the church in Ephesus as is commonly translated, or it could read to the church of the angel in Ephesus. Again, it could be either to the Ephesian church’s angel or to the angel’s church in Ephesus. The second translation seems the more likely of the two in human terms, though it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the seven churches were entertaining angels unaware [Hebrews 13:2].

The letter then follows with a description of Jesus taken from His Revelation 1 description. Interestingly, each of the seven church letters open in this same format, but they each contain a different portion of this description, one specifically suited to the particular church’s needs.

So to the church in Ephesus, Jesus’ priestly, kingly and godly nature was re-emphasized [Revelation 1:12-13].

Then, Jesus told them that He knows all about them–their deeds, hard work and perseverance. This was an active church, full of ministry, missions and mercy.

Jesus told them that He knew they’d kept wicked men out from among them and tested false apostles just as they ought. This church was fighting the good fight, staving off heresies and cultural/idolatrous influences.

Jesus told them that He knew they’d persevered, tirelessly enduring hardships for His name’s sake. This church had withstood tests of intensifying persecution in their Roman state.

By all human measures, Ephesus was walking the walk.

But Jesus needed them to know that they were missing one very important piece of the Christian puzzle–Christ. They’d forgotten their love for Him. Not unlike the 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 reminder that without love–specifically without Love [Jesus Himself; 1 John 4:8; John 15:9]–they’d gained nothing. They were doing ministry, preserving the knowledge of God, and enduring hardship in vain. All this while Jesus was walking among them [2:1].

How about you? Do you work tirelessly to advance the gospel? Do you avoid sinful influence? Do you suffer for the name of Jesus? And in all this, have you forgotten Someone very important in your Christian walk? Or are you walking daily with Jesus who is walking right here with you?

Fear Rightly. Breathe Life. Live Golden.

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” Revelation 1:17-20

Image result for gold lampstandSeeing the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, in His heavenly appearance compelled John to fall prone before Him. It’s that awestruck, worshipful response so natural to the heart that fears the Lord. But Jesus reminds John that fear of the Lord does not mean that we have to be afraid. Fear of the Lord is reverencing God for who He is, giving Him His rightful place as Lord of our lives and Creator of all. When we do this, we have nothing to fear from our loving Heavenly Father.

Jesus , further, proclaimed himself to be the First and the Last, just as He called Himself the Alpha and the Omega in 1:8, emphasizing His eternality in this passage.

He is the Living One. The one with God at the beginning through whom all things were made [John 1:1-3], One with the breath of life that was breathed into humankind in Adam. The One through whom all are made alive again [1 Corinthians 15:22], reversing the Adamic curse through which all died. The One who conquered death [1 Corinthians 15:57], hell and the grave [Revelation 1:18] to restore eternal life to those who believe in Him [John 3:16].

Therefore, because of who Jesus is, John was commanded to write down the God-given vision of present and future things. Only God is able to know such things. And the validity of a prophesy is known only when it does or doesn’t come to pass. So Jesus–as the author of life–orients the reader to some key symbolism in John’s vision. The stars [angels] and lampstands [churches].

I love knowing that the lampstands, representing the seven churches of Asia Minor, are golden. Gold is refined in a fire and purified in order to be formed into the tabernacle/ temple instruments. It took 75 pounds of gold to make the tabernacle lampstands and their accessories alone to God’s specifications [Exodus 25:39], and they stood, burning in front of the Most Holy Place [2 Chronicles 4:20]. But God tested the hearts of the churches in His refining fire, burning away the impurities, purifying them [Proverbs 17:3]. Yet, as we are about to read, even then at the time of John’s writing they were not perfect.

Likewise, God regards each of us as more precious than gold and He is testing our hearts, refining us day by day to become more like Him. We do not need to be afraid of Him or this process, but in faith to reverence Him as the One True God and Lord of our lives.

What is your response to God? Do you recognize Him when you see Him at work? Do you allow His word to work in your life? Have you given him the reins as Lord of your heart?

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?

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.

Heavenly Stakes

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“I, John your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: ‘Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” Revelation 1:9-11

Image result for island of patmosJohn–meaning God is gracious–was exiled to the island of Patmos for missionary activity. So as he writes to the seven churches of Asia Minor [modern day Turkey] he calls himself a companion in suffering and patient endurance because he knows by personal experience what it is to face hardship for the gospel.

However, like many in scripture, he didn’t let his physical trial best his spiritual state. John was in the spirit on the Lord’s Day, the day that all the churches were gathering in Jesus’ name. He couldn’t be there personally, but he could still meet with God. No matter what we face in life, we can always meet with God. He’s already right there with us if we just allow ourselves to commune with Him. And John did.

He’ll introduce the loud, trumpety voice in the next few verses, but for now, it’s important to examine this list of seven churches. They were situated in key cities in the Roman Empire. In fact, each year the Leading Council of Asiarchs met at these cities in rotation–with the exception of Thyatira, which was more centrally located than the seventh Asiarch city of Cyzicus far to the north.

It’s believed that these seven cities may have been postal centers for larger geographic regions in the province. That being said, John circulated the entire book of Revelation to each of the churches, rather than just the piece addressed to each.

Just like John, these churches faced increasing persecution from the Roman government. Emperor Domitian filled the arenas with the Christians he routed out of homes, hidden churches and even catacomb communities. He loosed lions on many of them to entertain the bloodlust of the masses. Others he dipped in hot tar and tied to stakes, then burned them as living lamps to light his games and festivals.

The earthly cost was high, but the heavenly stakes were higher. Jesus warned that we who believe in him would have trouble in this world [John 16:33]. Paul acknowledged that the gospel message was and is a stumbling block to the Jews–the religious–and foolishness to the Greeks–the educated academics of his day [1 Corinthians 1:23]. But praise God, Jesus has also overcome this world [John 16:33]! We can take heart. We can press on to take hold of the prize for which Christ Jesus took hold of us [Philippians 3:14].

Throughout world history, many have faced suffering for the name of Christ. And there is never a guarantee that our lives will be exempt from that path.

I pray that you will never have to endure such opposition from sinful men [Hebrews 12:3], but as Christians, we all have to ask ourselves: What would you do if faced–like John and the Roman Christians–with the choice of denouncing Jesus as Lord or giving your life for Him?

Pray and ask God to help you with this answer. He does not ask us to go this road alone [Hebrews 13:5].

The End of the Law and the Completed Work of Jesus Christ

by Timothy J. Gladson

“By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” Hebrews 8:13

Image result for measuring upI am sometimes troubled with what I hear other Christians believing or preaching. I often see defeated Christians who are worried about what mistakes/sins they engaged in or how they have not prayed enough or read the Bible enough. This is, what I deem, a performance based Christianity that leads to a defeated feeling of never being good enough for God. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 10:4, Christ is the end of the Law, in order to bring righteousness to everyone who believes.

The writer of Hebrews tells us in chapter 8, verse 7, If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. The first covenant was with the Jews and was the Mosaic–as in given through Moses–Law. It’s fault was no one could live the Law perfectly. No one, that is, until Jesus who lived it perfectly on  our behalf and ended that first covenant with his bloodshed on the cross. So our righteousness is not in our actions, but in Jesus Christ as the apostle Paul so beautifully writes in Romans 8:1, Therefore, there is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Hebrews 8:13 says, when He said, ‘a new covenant,’ he has made the first obsolete. Are you resting in the peace and victory of the completed work of Jesus Christ? Or are you striving to be perfect and good enough for God under an old, obsolete covenant?