“Flame of God” by Amy Carmichael

I first read this poem when I was in college and thought it amazing. Amy Carmichael is my own personal hero and I delight in her many writings. She was a gifted woman who sought to serve God with what she had and where she was. Her own perplexity at why He made her a certain way encourages me beyond what I can say. God has a purpose for us and He reveals that to us in His due time. We might not understand what purpose something has for our lives and our future, but God does not waste a gift. Only we do. Are you grateful for the gifts that may not even seem like a gift?

Anyway, I love this poem. She’s asking God to not let her shy away from the challenge that she may face – to stand bold for Him and to even pursue the hard tasks. She even asks to be spent completely in His glory. I can only attempt the same.

———————

From prayer that asks that I may be
Sheltered from winds that beat on Thee,
From fearing when I should aspire,
From faltering when I should climb higher
From silken self, O Captain, free
Thy soldier who would follow Thee.

From subtle love of softening things,
From easy choices, weakenings,
(Not thus are spirits fortified,
Not this way went the Crucified)
From all that dims Thy Calvary
O Lamb of God, deliver me.

Give me the love that leads the way,
The faith that nothing can dismay
The hope no disappointments tire,
The passion that will burn like fire;
Let me not sink to be a clod;
Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God

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Pipes and Prayer

Clean drinking water...not self-evident for ev...

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We have recently had the great city of Hamilton doing work on the city water lines and the attachments leading up to our office building. This is throughout the downtown area, but it feels like they have dug up the same patch of asphalt about 3 times now to do something and then fill it in again. They informed us one day that our water would be shut off for the duration of the morning and then we’d be able to use the restrooms/faucets/fountains again later. The foreman came in to the building soon after it was restored and proceeded to open one of our larger sink faucets to clear out any gunk and air which may now be in the pipes. Have you ever seen the kind of junk that comes out of pipes that have just been worked on? He then ordered us to go through the building to do the same.

Now, the neat thing about getting your pipes worked on isn’t just the cool, splattering sounds and spurts of water with air blasting from the faucet. No, I think the neatest thing is that at some point, if all goes accordingly, the water clears up, the bubbles diminish, and you see the crystal clear stream of refreshment.  Everyone take a nice sigh with me. *siiiigh* I’m not a huge fan of drinking water, but I know how good for you it is and if I’m really thirsty, nothing will suffice but a cool glass of water.

In Sunday School this weekend, we were talking about times we have been disappointed with God.  We don’t understand why He allowed something to happen or He doesn’t behave the way we expected Him to.  This can (and within reason rightly so) lead to sadness, anger – God doesn’t ask us not to feel anything.  We have emotions and we will react to events in our lives; the difference is that God wants us to bring them to Him.  He calls us to pour out our hearts to Him when we feel we are in the depths of despair.  Sadness, anger, unfairness – these emotions can lead to bitterness if they are not addressed and God promises an amazing thing when we bring our concerns to Him.

He takes them and turns them into praise to Him.  I don’t know how He does it.  There are so many times when I have been so upset with God, for whatever big or small reason, and I go to Him fully intending to give Him the biggest “talking to” of my life.  I start with a great show of accusation and tears, but then my heart starts to soften, my tone changes and now as my breath is slowing down, I notice what it is I’m saying to Him:

“God, You are good. Though I don’t understand You or Your ways, I know that You have promised to always love me and to guide me in the best path possible.  Even when things look dark or seem unfair, You are still there with me.  You love my heart, stained though it is, and You are concerned about the things that concern me.  You are writing my story, which is like no one else’s, and it is one of Your precious ποιημα, Your workmanship. (Eph 2:10) Thank You, Lord, for Your kindness, Your hope and Your love. Let me pour it out to others.”

It always amazes me. It’s not as though God says, “Pour out your heart to me – all the ugliness – I can take it, but then you’re going to be left with nothing.”  No, He is the Source of hope, the Giver of life, the Lover of our souls.  He will not just leave us emptied, but will come behind us and replace our pain with joy and peace.  (Romans 8:26) Just like the water in the pipes, let out and spurting and dirty then suddenly clean and clear, God refines our hearts and our prayers to bring Him glory and to renew our fellowship with Him.  There’s a reason why He referred to Himself as the Living Water.  His Spirit, residing in us, brings new life and healing when sin and the cares of the world make it necessary to replace faulty equipment in our hearts – lies we have been taught and have either blindly or willingly chosen to believe.  It’s a painful process, the refining, but boy, the outcome is delicious.

Reflections on the Planning

I love and hate that God asks us to do things that are way outside of our comfort zone.  My pastor has mentioned often that he is a huge introvert and really doesn’t like getting up in front of people.  But God called him to be a pastor and he’s an amazing one!  For me, I can’t stand planning things.  Even planning a get together with friends drives me nuts!  I would much rather someone else make all the decisions and let me know where I need to be when and what I’m supposed to do.  And yet, inevitably, I will feel God say to me, “Sarah, I think you could plan such and such.  You know, I really want you to plan such and such.  It would be great for you if you would plan such and such.”  And I start down the fairly stressful path of planning an event. 

I don’t do this often.  It’s really God who has to convince me that it’s something I need to do.  But He did so back in November of last year.  If you can’t tell, something that weighs heavy on my heart is the atrocity of human trafficking.  I’ve been in exposure and awareness mode for the last few years – learning as much as I can, attending various events, getting connected with others who are concerned about it as well.  But, as I helped out with a Fall shopping day for Stop Traffick Fashion, I really began to feel like it was something our church needed as well. 

And I cringed.  I would have preferred to tell the ladies in my church about it and then they plan it.  I would even have consented to talking about it in front of the church (another thing I’m not a huge fan of doing), but with the words coming out of my mouth, the task was placed in my hands.  Our WMU leader was really excited about the idea, because she had been reading a couple of articles recently about human trafficking in the church women’s literature.  God was in this.  I’m not saying that I did it all – by no means – Brenda Heckman and Julie Johnson (Christmas tablecloths and all *wink) and Amy Jones and Jo Collas…they are some amazing ladies.  I’m so grateful to have them as role models to learn from, especially in regards to unity of kindred women and…the dreaded – hospitality. 

I am not practiced in hospitality at all.  I can’t remember what all is needed to make people feel comfortable.  For me, I go to an event to learn something and to network…and I assume everyone else is there for the same reason.  Shocking, but that’s not really the case.  Thankfully, the ladies mentioned above organized the food and decorating and there wasn’t much for me to do on that part besides being a grunt and moving tables and chairs. 

My primary task was organizing speakers and getting the word out to the community.  I may not have done the last part as well – and really the first part, I’m thinking went exactly as it should have gone, but nothing like I planned.  I was anticipating having a speaker share at each hour something in regards to human trafficking.  Emily would share about Stop Traffick Fashion and Hagar International.  I would talk about the Christian responsibility and upcoming events in the community.  And the one I was most excited about, a Hamilton Police Officer would come and share about human trafficking in our community, state and nation. 

It was awkward trying to figure out how we were going to stop everything and have everyone listen to a speaker for all of 5-10 mins and then go on their way with eating and shopping.  The only really solid group of “fresh” people was right between 10:30 and 11:15.  So, I asked for Officer Collins to share with everyone what she had been researching.  And it was great!

I wasn’t surprised that, as a local police officer, there wouldn’t be much experience with human trafficking.  I would be surprised if even the local sheriff’s department had any experience with human trafficking.  Our wonderful local sheriff isn’t that keen on the rights of illegals – no matter what condition they are in.  So, I wasn’t surprised when she shared that she got wide eyes and remarks of disbelief or discredit from fellow officers when commenting that human trafficking may be an issue in Butler County, OH.  She talked about not finding much information within the department to go off of, so she began to broaden her scope to the state of Ohio and then to the US.  She was surprised to find that Toledo is #4 in Top Cities of Human Trafficking.  Ohio is #7 in the US for human trafficking.  It’s an issue in every city (which would include Fairfield and Hamilton…”every” being an all-inclusive term).

I think that about 50 people came to the event.  Most of them bought something from STF.  But what I’m most excited is how God brought me to a job where I would meet this police officer, who I could then coordinate with and share a concern and a need in our community with.  And that she would then become interested in the issue and maybe work on spreading it to the rest of the department. 

I don’t know what this means for Butler County.  I don’t know if we’re on the edge of something starting or if it will take a few more years for anything to get going.  I don’t know what my part will be or if I will even have a part in it.  But I know that I am available to God – even if it involves more planning – that I will keep going until He stops me. 

Moses Forgets

This week, at one of my ESL classes, we read the story about the people of Israel complaining of their thirst in the wilderness.  This happened at least twice because it’s recorded twice that they complained enough for Moses to ask God to give them some water.  The first time, Moses asks and God says to hit a rock with his staff.  Moses does so and water comes out of the rock to quench the people’s thirst.  The second time, the people complain and Moses asks God for help.  God says to him to take the staff and tell the rock to produce water.  But when Moses goes before the people, he ridicules them and then hits the rock with the staff twice.  Water still comes out, but at a dear price – Aaron and Moses will not be allowed to enter the Promised Land, because they did not believe God and take Him at His Word.

This is one of those stories that I have usually just skipped over.  I love reading about Moses, but this one, for some reason, seems to just register and then I go on to the next thing.  But my student did not.  She had some questions, like:

If Moses had done it once before, then why didn’t he believe it would happen again the way God said it would?*

and

If Moses believed God, then why did He test him again?*

These are great questions!  I love watching a non-believer respond to the Holy Spirit, even if they are just questions, because asking questions are a sign that God is working on them.  I love the promise that God’s Word is living and active – It always does a work when spoken or heard.

The first question, well, how often do we forget what God has done in our lives before?  Moses was the advocate for the people of Israel and he came to God many times to petition for forgiveness for their forgetfulness of God’s love and provision…but he was not exempt himself from forgetting.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to lead people who constantly griped and complained about everything, but that one single action – that one burst of anger and pride – led to him not being able to enter the promised land.  Look at the wording:

“Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?”
Numbers 20:10, ESV

It wasn’t, “Shall God bring out water for you?” but “Shall we…”  God says that because Moses and Aaron did not uphold Him as holy before the people, they will not bring those people into Canaan.  A little later in the chapter, Aaron’s death is recorded and his robe and office of high priest are given to his son, Eleazar.

The second question speaks to God’s nature and not Moses’.  Why does God test those who have, thus far, proven that they follow Him?  Why did God ask Moses to just talk to the rock this time instead of striking it again?  Why did God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac after he had waited for 100 years to have him?

We’ve been talking in church the last couple of Sundays about Great Stories in the Bible and this last week the story was Abraham and this sacrifice.  My pastor spoke about how God did not throw a challenge like that on Abraham right off the bat.  Yes, asking him to leave his family and home to go to some land that he had never heard of was a big challenge, but it was a test comparable to his level of faith. And it’s not like Abraham never failed at a test that God gave him.  God promised him a son in his old age and beyond his wife’s physical ability, and rather than believe the fullness of God’s promise, Abraham cut a corner by sleeping with Sarah’s handmaiden.

God tests us; it continues throughout our lives as believers.  He will give us challenges at various times, but praise God, that He takes into account the level of faith we have at that time.  We may not pass them, but it is not because God has given us a challenge greater than we can handle, but because we are doubting ourselves, doubting Him, or believing a lie (or all of the above).

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV

So, back to the second question, why does God continue to test us?  It’s to grow us and to make us more like His son.  We will not be perfect until He makes us so, and that won’t happen until heaven.  But that doesn’t mean He doesn’t want to start us on that road now.  And the successes in our life, our conquering those tests and moving on, serve as testimony to the lost that our God is a great and mighty God.  That He is concerned with our lives and with our hearts.  That He can change a person from being selfish and in despair to being selfless, a servant, and filled with hope.

And that verse above gives me hope that when I face a challenge to my faith and in my life, God has already gifted me with the strength I need to endure it.  What I have faced before now has only added to, not taken away from, the arsenal in my will to resist the devil and move forward in maturity in Christ.

*paraphrased into English

Day 5 – Love

I think the way people love changes over time.  God’s love stays the same.  God loves me the same as He did when He put my body together.  He loves me the same as when I took my first breath.  The same as when I first sang, “Jesus Loves Me.” The same as when I asked Him into my heart.  The same as when I was obsessed with boy bands.  The same as when my heart was broken and  I was crying for a Father.  The same as when I heard Him call to me from Russia.  The same as when I set foot in China.  The same as when my heart was broken and crying for a lover.  The same as when I shut my ears to Him.  The same as when I opened them again.

My love for Him has changed though.  It’s been childish, inconstant, genuine, self-serving, impatient, joyous, grieving, etc.  But is that then love?  The difference could be that God loves outside of my circumstances and I can’t help but love within them.  But the goal is to do the same.  Can I do that?  I’ve found that with certain things I am able to, but not in everything.  But God’s ability to love me constantly and continually outside of my circumstances is not a sign of His apathy to those circumstances, but a mark of how great His love truly is.

I could sing of Your love forever, I could sing of Your love forever…

This isn’t a commentary of my ability or desire to sing to God for all time, but a showing of the greatness of His love.  It would take more than eternity to sing all of it, and I would still need more time. 

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens.  Your faithfulness stretches to the sky.  Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, yeah.  Your justice flows like the ocean’s tide.

Day 4 – God is Sovereign

My favorite places are those where the sky is wide open in front of me.  For my current location, these include Harbin Park, at the top of the hill and the tiny regional airport, parked next to the fence running long-wise to the runway.  There’s something about the vastness of the sky, the length of the ground, being able to see a horizon without any obstructions.  It’s why I love mountains so much and why, yes, even Kansas is my favorite state.  You can see for miles!  Alright, it’s a close tie with Pennsylvania. 😉  Sitting in a place like this, it’s so easy to think about and understand God being sovereign.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding.  Who determined its measurements – surely you know?  Or who stretched the line upon it?  On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” – Job 38:4-7 –

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all these earth! You have set Your glory above the heavens.” – Psalm 8:1 –

And as a thundercloud approaches me…

“The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters.  The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.” – Psalm 29:3-4 –

“When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place,…” – Psalm 8:3 –

But when I think of the little things, back when I descend and the world comes back up around me, is God still sovereign, or am I too small?

“…what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” – Psalm 8:4 –

Is He concerned with me and my issues?

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” – Matthew 10:29-31 –

“…you are of more value than many sparrows.”  I try to make myself too small for God to see at times, and yet He does.  He values me and keeps me in His thoughts.  Even when I don’t keep Him in mine.  And He has the best in mind for me.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declared the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 –

I am at His mercy, like trees to a strong wind.  And yet, God is not just an indeterminate thing, like the wind, not choosing where to go and what to do.  God is in charge of Himself and of what He does.  And His goodness dictates that He do good things. 

I can see far sitting up here on this hill or on a mountains, but I can’t see the future.  god can see further and beyond the future.

I will trust my God, the One who Sees, to handle the direction of my path.

I will trust my God, the One who Creates, to have given me every quality I need to do His will.

I will trust my God, the One who Shapes, to continue working and growing me into what He wants me to be.

I will trust my God, the One who Knows, to only give me what I can handle.

I will trust my God, the One who Provides, to prepare and preserve me through anything I go through.

I will trust my God, the One who Loves, to pour His love out of me when I have none to give.

I will trust my God.
I will trust my God.
I will trust my God.

Day 3 – Schedules and Expectations

Kelly’s Day 3 was about “To-Do Lists” and mine is about schedules. Plans.  Expectations.  As I reflected on the list of things causing me bitterness and why they do so, I found it was because they don’t fit my schedule.  God and I have fought many times on this before.  Or rather, I’ve fought and He’s patiently waited for me to fall in step with Him. 

I don’t always know it either.  I will feel anxious out of no where and I’m sure that on reflection, “schedule” would be at the heart of it.  There are some areas that I am not anxious about planning for.  I’ve let go of my expectations.  One such area is what field God calls me to work in.  I could really care less WHERE I go or what I’m doing when I get there.  What I am concerned about is WHEN.

Ok, so, as I’m thinking about it, the “WHERE” factor is pretty much the only area that I’m not concerned about.  And even my anxiety right now to get away is not so much because I feel it’s time for God to send me somewhere, but more that I just want to get away. 

But let’s throw all the rest aside.  When I was “picky” about where I would serve, if God called me somewhere else, I would fight Him tooth and nail.  God had to hit me upside the heard…in several ways…to get me to agree to go to one such place.  When Japan came up, thankfully, I learned from that mistake and was willing to go, even though I knew nothing about the country and had never had any, ANY desire to go there.  And it was one of the best experiences of my life.

But that trip brought up something I have struggled with before – my expectations of others.  Especially of other believers.  but I am a work in progress, why shouldn’t others be too?

My expectations of how members of the family should be or friends, or boyfriends…whatever “position” someone holds…it reflects an expectation you have for them. 

God is the only One who we can expect to be just like He is described in Scripture and for Him to be exactly like that.  Anyone else has free license to go against your expectations, whether for good or for bad.

So, I’m asking God (not man…) to help me release my faulty expectations and the schedules I make in my mind.  His ways are not my own and I can never expect Him to keep to my own desires and whims.  I can expect Him to be good, to love me, and to be sovereign over all.  And as the meaning of those things trickle down in to my mind, my expectations will fall into line with who He really is and who I really am.