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In A Golden Vial

And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.” ~ (Rev 5:8 KJV)

Growing up in the Catholic Church, I used to believe that the term “saints” encompassed a specific group of people that met certain criteria of godliness, miracles, and being dead, and were subsequently canonized by the pope. I have since come to realize that God’s miracles are not bound by the lives of a chosen few. As His children, we are given an inheritance, an authority to call on His power during our stewardship in this world. Believers, as God’s people, are saints. There are other translations of this verse that even use the phrase “God’s people” instead. We are saints. I am a saint.

And when I pray, God holds the words precious. Precious. He holds my communion precious. Now, when I first read this, I thought “vial of odours” meant perfume. Vials hold liquid, right? I thought my prayers were like a sweet-smelling perfume to the Lord. It’s a lovely thought.

As it turns out, it’s even better than that. I read a few other translations which instead of “odours” say “incense”. Perfume in the bible was valuable and could even comprise an inheritance. But sweet incense was in another league altogether. It was used in the tabernacle on the altar of incense and was for sacred use only. It was so precious that God didn’t allow any personal use of it at all.

That is what our prayers comprise. That is what adorns the throne room in golden vials. Too precious to use on earth, too valuable to be used for anything other than God Himself, this is what our prayers to Him become – so highly does He value them.

That is beautiful. That is amazing and humbling. And it’s also convicting. How many times have I prayed in a hurry, prayed while multitasking, prayed for mundane or worthless things? How often have I prayed for selfish things? How often has my prayer life been focused on myself and not the Kingdom? All I could think about after reading this verse was a back room full of my selfish and rushed prayers that were not sweet-smelling at all, but instead were stinking up the place.

Granted, a large part of my prayer life, especially lately, has been focused on Jesus Himself – more intimacy with Him, more of His heart and less of mine, just more of Him. After reading this verse I was pretty glad of that! But the major cry of my heart today is still this:

I want a prayer life that reflects the value God places on it.

Then the more I meditated on this verse, the more I realized something. It doesn’t talk about a back room of hidden-away, less-than-perfect prayers. There’s no hidden shelf labelled “Rebekah A’s stank pile”. There’s a golden vial of incense, held safe in the hands of the elders.

That’s what mercy is. That’s what grace is. That’s who God is.

He deserves every second of time that I have. He deserves every ounce of my energy. He’s GOD – He deserves every bit of passion in my heart. Sometimes I give it to Him, and He counts it precious. Sometimes I give Him the dregs, the tired leftovers after the world has had first dibs. He counts it precious. His love is steadfast no matter what, and to me that’s miraculous and mind-blowing.

So I encourage you to bask in that mercy today. Don’t be judged by it, be encouraged. Encouraged that no matter what your prayer life is looking like these days, it’s never too late to reconnect. God has been cherishing it all along. So let’s tune our hearts to His and place a golden vial in our own hearts – one that cannot be filled but for Him. Let’s count it precious. Let’s have prayer lives that SHOW how much we value His presence.

Ever awed by His tender grace, I pray deeper communion over you today. I pray your heart beat just a little bit closer in time with His. May He fill your mouth with prayers that move mountains. And may His golden vials be ever filled with your sweet-smelling words.

~Rebekah A

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Freedom from Harassment

For the past two years I have been dealing with blatant sexual harassment from a co-worker. It started when this man asked me out on a date. He was a pastor of a denomination similar to mine and had always been very friendly with me. Although not well known by the English speakers in my company, he was highly respected among the Hispanic employees (He is Latin American) and I was intrigued by him. I agreed to the date.

We had a nice time and I readily agreed to a second date. I began to wonder if it might be God’s plan for us to partner together for the work of the Kingdom. I wanted him to be the one, but I couldn’t shake this feeling in the pit of my stomach that something just wasn’t right. It was after the fourth date that I found out that he is married! He never wore a ring and had never mentioned a wife so I really had no idea. This was not even a case of him being separated, he is a fully married man! Obviously, that was the end for me.

But it was not the end. Not for him. Not by a long shot.

He refused to accept that I was no longer interested in him. He refused to back down. He would not leave me alone. He would beg me to give him a chance. He would come to my office and tell me the explicit things he fantasized about doing with me. He would tell me that I was in his heart and mind. He would plead with me to have sex with him “just one time. Just one time, por favor.”

Suddenly the man who had always seemed so friendly became aggressive and frightening. It didn’t matter how many times I said no, he wouldn’t stop. He began purposely trying to intimidate me. He would block my exit from my office. He would follow me into the women’s restroom. He would be waiting at my car when I tried to leave for the day. If I wrote all of the things he said and did over the last two years, you would be amazed (and perhaps judgmental) about the fact that I did not do more to stop it. For a while I was paralyzed by it. It was scary to me. I didn’t know how to handle it.

I determined in my heart that I didn’t want to be the reason that this man lost his job. He has a family to support. I kept praying that God would have mercy on him and grant him a heart of repentance. I prayed that he would get a revelation of God that would change his behavior. When things didn’t seem to change I began to pray that God would get this man away from me. I didn’t really care how it happened; I just wanted it to happen. I prayed he would repent and leave me alone. When it seemed he wasn’t going to do that I prayed he would transfer to another location in our company. When that didn’t happen I prayed he would find another job or quit. I just kept praying for God to get him away from me.

It took a while, but eventually I began to see things differently. God helped me to fight the battle spiritually. He helped me to recognize that this man is under the influence of Satan and he needs deliverance. He never changed his behavior, but the effect it had on me changed. I stopped being afraid. I stopped letting it linger in my mind. I just kept giving it to God. Somewhere along the way, the peace of God began to replace the negative thoughts and feelings I had. I began to focus all my prayers on his soul. He is a man who is spiritually in a very dangerous place.

Yesterday I got notice that this man is being laid off. Finally, he will be away from me. I pray that he is able to find another job quickly, but I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I feel relief. I find it interesting that it wasn’t until I found peace in the situation that the answer to my prayer came. I’m not saying that he is being laid off because of my prayers, but it is an answer to my prayer. I could have had him fired a long time ago, but I didn’t want to be personally responsible for him losing his income.

I have mixed feelings about this. I rejoice in my deliverance, but I grieve for his continued bondage. I pray that he does not become a problem for someone else. May God have mercy on his soul.

Have you ever experienced something like this in your walk with God?

In His Love,
Rebekah L.

Guest Post: Anna Robinson “Is following Jesus just about being nice?”

Editor’s Note: Our weekly guest spot is our effort to help our reading community connect with each other. Thank you Anna for this great post reminding us of what following Jesus is all about! 

Being nice is something I think us Brits are very good at. We form orderly queues, we don’t like to offend, and we say “sorry” a lot. And sometimes we transfer that into what it means to be a Christian, so that our external expression of being a follower of Jesus is just simply that we are “nice”.

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(image source http://goo.gl/l5jkHW)

Strange, really, because anyone who’s ever looked seriously at the Jesus in the bible would not simply describe him as “nice”. And as we’re called to imitate Him I wonder why we’ve ended up with all this nice-ness.

Was Jesus encouraging? Yes.

Was He kind? Yes.

Was He Compassionate? Yes.

But He wasn’t just those things. He spoke with authority. He operated supernaturally. He loved radically. He challenged his disciples, the Pharisees and the crowds. He spoke to the heart of people. His words were divisive.

We often assume that to love someone is simply to be “nice” to them. But Jesus gives us a much bigger picture of what it really means to love. It’s easy to imagine the Pharisees squirming at some of the challenge that He brought to them – I’m guessing it didn’t feel that “nice”. And yet we know He wholeheartedly loved the Pharisees, just as He loves us.

And then there’s the Rich Young Man in Mark 10. The text says that Jesus looked at him “and felt genuine love for him”. This was a sincere conversation of love. But Jesus loved the man too much to leave him unchallenged. The Rich Young Man genuinely wanted to know what he needed to inherit eternal life. And Jesus gave it to him straight. He didn’t skirt around the issue, trying to be “nice”. Jesus challenged the young man to sell all he had and then follow Him.

And I’m guessing Zacchaeus nearly fell out of the tree when Jesus asked if he could visit his house. Nobody “nice” or respectable would want to spend time with a man like Zacchaeus, as the crowds around at the time inferred.  But as Zacchaeus was confronted with the love and holiness of Jesus he saw himself for who he really was, and it led him straight to repentance.

And He doesn’t skirt around the issue with us either. Jesus wants His followers to be more than just “nice”. He wants spirit-filled sons & daughters, friends, servants who will respond to both the challenge and invitation that he brings.  And He wants us to overflow with that kind of double-edged love that He has poured into us. As followers of Jesus we have the same spirit of God living in us that raised Jesus from the dead. (Romans 8:11). It’s more than just nice.

And the extravagant, overwhelming, death-defeating love that Christ demonstrated when, for all of us – “nice” or not – he went to the cross and bled and died is so much more than nice. It’s astonishing, breathtaking, outrageous, life-changing, challenging, full-of-grace-and-power love.

Sometimes we have to unpick how our culture affects our faith, so that we’re able to stand back and see with fresh eyes who our Jesus really is, and how He really calls us to live.

Let’s let this love change us – we’re called to be so much more than “nice”.

The Robinsons are a lovely bunch from Sheffield, UK. They love God and are passionate about showing and sharing Jesus to the community and helping others do the same. They lead 3dm Europe and they’re part of the Order of Mission – a relational network of missional leaders. To learn more about the Robinson Family check out their blog at: The Robinsons today!

Choose this Day

“…choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” –Joshua 24:15

As many of you know, I have a friend that lives in Taiwan. For the last couple of weeks he has been on a business trip to China. The beginning of his trip was fraught with difficulties. He is under incredible pressure to succeed by his company. In addition, he has been battling many personal temptations and sin has been lying at the door just waiting to trip him up.

Recently in prayer, God asked him a question. The question was, “Do you want to be like your father or like your Father? You see, many of the struggles and temptations my friend is facing are the very sins his father has succumbed to. God was asking him whether he would choose to become like his earthly father or like his heavenly Father. Indeed, this is a decision we all must continually make.

When he encountered these temptations in China, rather than fall into secret sin and try to hide them away, he reached out and openly told his pastor, his mentor, and a couple close friends exactly what he was tempted to do. So often we try to face our demons alone. Church, we need to learn to lean on each other during our trials! Had he tried to face this alone, he almost certainly would have failed. But with the love, support, and prayers of those close to him, he found the strength to stand for Christ!

His decision to stand for the Lord has resulted in something amazing! At a business meeting in Shanghai, he told his co-workers that he could not do some of the things they were doing because he is a Christian. After the meeting, one of his co-workers told him that he is actually a Christian also, but he had never told the group because he didn’t want to stand out. While Christianity is rapidly growing in China, it is still a tiny minority of the population, and if you think it’s difficult standing out in the United States, it is much more difficult in a place like China that values the group over the individual.

My friend’s Christian co-worker invited him to attend church with him. It is a government registered church so my friend knew that doctrinally some things would not line up with what he believes, but he decided that getting to worship with other Christians would be good for him. After the church service he and another member of the church were invited back to his co-worker’s house for lunch. During lunch, it was revealed that neither his co-worker nor the other church member had ever been baptized. In fact, they felt that baptism was something done in biblical times, but was not something to be practiced in modern times.

I know even amongst our readers there are differing opinions on this, but my friend went through all the Scriptures in the bible that admonish new believers to be baptized. He pointed out that there aren’t any Scriptures that would indicate that we should stop baptizing people. Before long the two church members were feeling convicted and having an intense discussion about what they should do. Meanwhile my friend contacted his pastor back in Taiwan to get some advice on how to handle the situation. His pastor recommended that my friend suggest they all pray together and then if they indicated they wanted to be baptized they should do it without hesitation. He pointed out that the government church would not baptize them so to help them be obedient to the Word, my friend should just do it himself.

As suggested, my friend had the three of them pray together. After prayer, the two men both agreed that they wanted to be baptized! My friend took them back to the hotel where he is staying and baptized them in the name of Jesus in the hotel pool!

One of the things that strikes me as so amazing about this entire interaction is how it would not have happened if my friend had chosen to be like his father rather than his Father. He was under extreme temptation and had he given into it, he never would have had reason to let his coworkers know that he is can’t do certain things, so therefore he never would have found out this other co-worker was a Christian, and the co-worker would never have invited him to his church and therefore would not have been baptized.

Every decision we make either for Christ or for the satisfaction of our own flesh, has consequences. When we stand for Christ, He can make miracles happen in our midst! When we follow Him and do His will, we can witness the expanding of the Kingdom of God before our very eyes!

Will you be like your earthly father or like your heavenly Father? Choose this day whom ye will serve.

In His Love,
Rebekah L.

The Fear of the Lord

The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant. –Psalm 25:14

There is a critical aspect to our relationship with God that is severely lacking in many churches and individual believers today. It is the fear of the Lord. We cannot truly have a right relationship with God until we have a reverent fear of Him. This fear is not a terror that He will hurt us, rather it is a respect for the awesomeness, the power, and the authority that He has in our lives. We don’t ever want to be in a position where we are not one of His. We don’t ever want to be outside of our Father’s presence!

When we have a true reverence for the Lord, it changes the way we interact with Him, with our brothers and sisters in the Lord, and with the world. The Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). When we come to Him with a proper sense of awe, He will reveal the secrets of covenant relationship with Him. It is only when we come to understand the awesomeness of who He is that we can begin to love Him with all our heart, soul, and might (Deuteronomy 6:5). Why is this? It is because you can only love someone to the extent that you know them. Knowledge of God begins with a proper fear of God (Proverbs 1:7). The more we reverence the Lord, the more we know Him, and the more we can love Him. There is no greater transforming power than the power of Love. It was love that kept Jesus on the cross at Calvary. And is that love which transforms our interactions with God and His people!

The Bible says that the “fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to turn one away from the snares of death” (Proverbs 14:27). It is the fear of the Lord that kept Joseph from sinning when he was tempted by Potiphar’s wife. He had been discarded by his brothers, sold into slavery and taken to a foreign land. Surely, in such a lonely and discouraging state many others would have fallen to the temptation, but Joseph had a proper fear of the Lord (Genesis 39:9). He did not allow his present situation to determine his actions; instead it was his fear of a Holy God that dictated his behavior. In the Bible, those that God called His friends were those who trembled at His Word and presence and were quick to obey, no matter the cost. In other words those who were close enough to God to be called His friends were those who had a reverent fear of Him!

We cannot serve two masters. Either we will fear God or we will fear the people. If we believe God and rely on His Holy Word the choice is simple. The Bible declares that “the fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe” (Proverbs 29:25). Compare that with the rewards of fearing God. When we fear God we begin the process to knowledge (Proverbs 1:7), wisdom (Proverbs 9:10), and sonship (2 Corinthians 6:18-7:1). Fearing God also brings numerous blessings such as guidance (Psalm 25:12), compassion (Psalm 103:13) and the promise to be happy and fed (Psalm 128:2)! He also promises us long life (Proverbs 10:27) and protection for us (Psalm 115:11) as well as our children (Deuteronomy 5:29).

A proper fear of the Lord changes our relationship to God because it allows us to have a relationship with Him as He intended. It reminds us to remain obedient to Him and it helps to keep us pure and holy before Him. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)!

In His Love,

Rebekah L.

Perspective

Tonight I am in a fog. Why? Well, ultimately it’s because God is doing some great things in the church I came from before I moved here, and He is doing some great things in me. He has completely lit a fire under me and I don’t want it to ever go out. Don’t worry, I’ll explain the fog part later.

The season I’m in has been months in the making. There is a very sick little girl that my old church has been praying for, which is perhaps a blog post for another day (a long one). Through a whole variety of things, God has shown us that He has some very specific and miraculous plans for her, and He wants us to stand with Him to carry them out. The time for that to happen is near, and so it is a time to press into God deeply. Nothing less than the purity of His truth and power will suffice.

While we have been waiting on that, God’s been growing us. Through a series of seemingly unconnected visions, dreams, and even random gifts, He has brought us to a season of tearing down high places within our hearts and churches, and again pressing in. And actually, He used me to reveal the connecting thread that brought us into this phase of deep growth in Him, which is awesome. It wasn’t an obvious connection and drew on prior knowledge that I had, that made God’s message clear when it was combined with this stuff that was happening. But I never would have spoken up (because it didn’t seem relevant), if my prayer partner literally the night before hadn’t had a word for me about speaking boldly no matter what I felt. So I listened to the word she delivered, spoke out, and it turned out to be right on the money. God is awesome in the ways He uses us. This is perhaps another long blog post for another day. My boldness has been increasing in leaps and bounds lately, and I’ve spoken out about a lot of things God has told me when I previously might not have had the confidence to do so, but this grew my boldness even more. Yay!

Anyway, the underlying thread of everything is that we are in a season to press into Jesus, to passionately and radically pursue Him. I like the sound of it already.

In an effort to ‘press in’, I have been fasting a bit more regularly. My typical fasting pattern is to abstain from food for a 24-hr period. Since this season seems like it calls for a more prolonged endeavor, I have gotten creative. I am fasting sugar. Detoxing from it, really. I know, I know. It’s a health fad. It’s a trendy kickoff to a trendy diet. Truth be told, I couldn’t care less about the trend. It is also something that my body is currently dependent on, and to me that is all that matters. I want my body to run the way it was created to run and to be dependent on nothing except for Jesus Christ Himself. It’s my physical manifestation of pressing in. The problem with detoxing from sugar is that you go through a mini withdrawal, and you get sort of sick for about a week. I am on Day 2, hence my brain fog. I’m also fairly convinced that someone drove into my bedroom with a Mack truck and ran over me while I slept, and then magically glued my walls back together. How they did it, I will never know, but I am definitely feeling the effects!

It has been interesting, to be spiritually on fire and physically foggy. I am pressing in, which is the whole point, and both reaching and expecting breakthrough. I am grateful for the season, because I am growing in leaps and bounds and am expectant that God will deliver on what He’s told me. I’m even grateful for the fog because it forces me to really focus to hone in on the spirit, and to depend on His help to get even mundane tasks done. I’m mostly grateful that God has given me some perspective on where I’m at, and where He’s headed both with me and the Body as a whole.  I can’t wait to see what He does!

God bless!

~Rebekah A

Two Sisters

In Ezekiel 23 (read it here for NIV or here for KJV), the chapter talks about 2 sisters – Oholah and Oholibah. Oholah is, metaphorically, Samaria, while Oholibah is Jerusalem. Getting deep already, aren’t we?

To summarize the chapter: They weren’t the most well-behaved ladies, and this chapter refers to them repeatedly as harlots. They ‘played the harlot’ in Egypt, getting fondled and caressed even as young girls. They became children of God eventually, but didn’t stay faithful to Him. Instead, they lusted after and gave themselves to all kinds of other men from all different lands. The younger sister is worse than the older, not only lusting after the men who crossed her path but also the ones she saw drawn on the wall. In fact she went out of her way to send for them, based on these pictures, so she could give herself to them too. Naughty, naughty. Eventually, the things and people they lust after turn against them, expose them for the bad girls that they are, and destroy them. Painfully, I might add.

Admittedly, this isn’t the most uplifting chapter, but God spoke out to me about a couple of things. First, these girls started doing sexual things at a young age. The bible mentions them being young girls, and the men of Egypt ‘fondling’ ‘their virginal breasts’. On the one hand, this certainly isn’t demure behavior. On the other, how much control over their environment do young girls have? They may well have been forced to do this. Or perhaps, if they did indeed enjoy it, they enjoyed it only because it was all they knew. But then things changed. They went from living in the darkness to being children of God. Daughters of God. Knowing God, they now knew better. Yet, they didn’t change. They had a chance at redemption and forgiveness, and had they taken that chance this might be a very different chapter. The Bible, after all, is full of redemption stories. But they didn’t. The older sister, Oholah, upon becoming God’s, lusted after new men. The other, Oholibah, lusted after both new men and her past in Egypt.

The message is clear: once you know God, you know better. Yesterday’s events, however traumatic or beyond your control, do not justify today’s sin. Your environment is not and will never be an excuse – not once your environment also includes God (which it already does, thanks to a little something inside of us called the Holy Spirit). Have you made any excuses lately? Justified something to yourself? Said ‘that’s just how I am’ or “that’s how I was raised”?

Then there is all the men they lusted after: idols. False idols. You know the list – money, attention, notoriety, material things. Maybe you lust after them too. And Oholibah lusting after her past life – the life before God entered it. With God is great freedom, but also great responsibility to uphold His standards and righteousness. There is joy in Him, greater than any joy that this earth can provide, but to the casual observer it looks like a lot of rules. To someone who hasn’t experienced Him for themselves, the list of standards is long and the payoff is short. To someone who doesn’t know God, Oholibah’s life before Him probably looks a lot more fun. And that was her line of thinking too. The things of her past that were sinful, were fun for her. And she missed them.

This is why Christianity goes so far beyond saying the words. We can’t just pay lip service to the idea of belonging to God. We need to actually abide with Him – to desire His heart as our own. When a person lives completely led by the Holy Spirit, they can do anything they want. Why? Because their genuine and deep desires line up with the pure and righteous desires God has for us. If you desire things outside of Him, you need to seek Him out a bit more and let Him draw you closer. Oholah and Oholibah clearly failed to do this, ,and so their lusting continued. They remained spiritually immature. They never grew. Growing in God means realizing this: there is a cost to walking with Him and belonging to Him. The cost is great – but so worth paying. And as soon as you pay it, you realize just how “worth it” it is. That IS partly why we call it faith, no?

But Oholah and Oholibah missed the boat entirely when it came to actually growing in God, and so they floundered. Without seeing the Glory and Majesty that were right in front of them, they chased after other things. And random calamity doesn’t befall them. Lightning doesn’t strike them down. What happens is that the things they were chasing turned against them. The men weren’t who they seemed to be at first. They looked better from a distance. Up close they didn’t make the girls any happier or more satisfied than they were before. In fact, they caused a lot of pain and torment for these ladies. Again, the message is clear: these other things just aren’t worth the chase. Where God is eternal, these things don’t stand the test of time. Where God is more beautiful and more miraculous and more faithful and just better the more you get to know Him, these other things don’t even stand up to close scrutiny. Where God is constant and dependable, these other things are fickle and untrustworthy. They just aren’t worth much in comparison to God.

Our walk with God is not meant to ever be stagnant, and so today I ask you to take a deep look at your journey with Him. Where do you stand today? Have you made any spiritual excuses lately? Justified something to yourself? Said ‘that’s just how I am’ or “that’s how I was raised”? Desire anything lately that went beyond God? More money, a better job, a big promotion? A bigger house? Missed your ‘old life’ when you were ‘allowed’ to do other things? Once we’re His we’re always His; sinning and desiring these other things is essentially cheating on Him. So ask Him today – are there areas where you’re cheating? Areas you hold back from Him?

Maybe you do have some of these issues and maybe you don’t. Either way, Ezekiel 23 clearly shows us it’s not worth it. So let Him in today, to examine your heart and show you all the little ways you can deepen your relationship with Him even more. It’s worth any price, and God is just – He’ll never ask more of you than you can pay. So take the plunge!

God bless!

~Rebekah A