Every now and then I get caught up in the what-if’s. This afternoon was just such an occasion. I was worrying about something to the point that Neal asked me what was wrong. I unloaded my fears. “What if this happens….what if this doesn’t happen…?” Neal listened and reminded me that God is in control. I said, “I know but what if…..?” And I proceeded to try to get him to understand all my reasons for being concerned. He finally said,
“Even if the very worst scenario happens, God will be by your side and I’ll be on your other side.”
Okay, that was powerful. How comforting to know that, no matter what, God will never leave me and neither will my husband. That truth helped me take a deep breath and let go of the useless worrying. I thank God for His promise to always be with me (Heb. 13:5). I thank God for Neal’s wisdom and his commitment to caring for me. I know that next time my “anxieties multiply within me” (Psa. 94:19), I will recall the peace-giving image of God and Neal flanking either side of me.
I wonder how many others need those words said to them? I can think of individuals I know who are hurting and could probably use the reminder that they’re not alone. May I never get so caught up in my own little world that I neglect to comfort those around me. That’s part of the purpose of the church, right (Heb. 10:24-25)? I love knowing that I could go to another Christian with my fears or failures and be reminded of God’s faithfulness and their love. May I ever strive to be that Christian for others, too. I may not be able to solve problems or make the pain go away, but I can certainly hug more, pray more, and remind more that “God will be by your side and I’ll be on your other side.”
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another…1 Pet. 4:8.
HOME SWEET HOME. Those three simple words engage the senses. They conjure up images of loved ones, the home place, your childhood tree swing. Perhaps you associate it with the smell of apple pie, your favorite birthday meal, or your mother’s perfume. Or maybe you can close your eyes and hear your father whistling while he’s working on the car. We want to fill our own homes with that same sense of belonging and rightness, so we intentionally create good memories for our own families: laughter around the dinner table, nightly devotionals, loving touches, and sweet traditions. Home is synonymous with comfort and security. When we’re away from it, we long for it. Not every earthly home is ideal, but many would agree that “there’s no place like home.”
Thank God for the home He provides for His family! He must want us to enjoy that same sense of love and security because He gives us a home to enjoy now and one to look forward to in eternity. When I close my eyes and think of my church family, I can’t help but recall warm hugs, precious memories, dear songs, and loving support. No matter where we live, we have a home made up of Christian family. What a blessing! I can’t imagine trying to get through this life without it. Jesus promises a heavenly home with our Father (John 14:1-3). This one will be big enough to accommodate all of our loved ones. There will be no goodbyes or sad memories (Rev. 21:3-4). It will be the ultimate Home Sweet Home.
As dear as home is, some choose to walk away from it. Whatever the reason for it (indifference, rebellion, sin), the absence is keenly felt by the Father and family. I ran across a song recently called, “You Can Always Come Home.” It is based on the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. In that passage, Jesus tells a parable of a young man who chose to leave home to experience the world. He lived wildly and recklessly. He cared not for his reputation or his family name. But his new lifestyle brought no satisfaction. The thrill was short-lived as he found himself broken and alone. That’s when he thought of home and his wayward heart longed to return. This passage never gets old for me. My breath catches every time I read of his father running to meet him. His father didn’t say, “You made your bed; now you have to lie in it.” He didn’t say, “What do you have to say for yourself?!” He most certainly didn’t say, “I don’t know you,” or “You’re no son of mine.” Instead, every action on his part said, “Welcome home, my son.”
I have loved ones who have wandered away. I pray they will long for home and make the journey back, regardless of time or distance. As the song pleads, “Remember, you can always come home.”
My own heart has struggled with seasons of waywardness. May I always be drawn to the real love and security offered by my Father. May HOME remain my favorite place to be.
For those of you who don’t know, Higher Ground Encampment is a free Bible camp for teen girls in Sedalia, CO. It began in 2009 and is sponsored by the Bear Valley church of Christ.
For those of you who are already familiar with Higher Ground, I wanted to share a couple of things that are new:
Higher Ground is under new directorship. Beginning last year, Christy Swackhamer, mother of three girls and a diligent student of the Word, took over as director. She did a great job and will continue to do so. This year, Melody Sawyers, mother of three boys and the most hospitable woman you’ll ever meet, will begin serving as a co-director. Teri Autrey and I will still be involved. We are both serving as counselors this year and I will continue to teach Bible-marking.
Higher Ground will be held earlier in the year. Typically we’ve had camp in late July/ early August. The dates for this year are June 24th-30th. We are already accepting applications and Christy tells me they are rolling in!
Higher Ground is at a different location. A couple of years ago, the facility we’d been using was put on the market. We had to find other accommodations, which was no easy task since we had to find something reasonable enough for us to continue to offer this camp for free. We now meet at the Roundup Ranch (located right next to our original location). Because it is a much smaller facility, Christy said we can only accept a maximum of 50 girls.
For more information about Higher Ground, and for a link to the online application, click here.
Please join me in praying for this effort, for the staff, and for all the girls who will be a part of it this year. It will be a special week of spiritual growth, fun, and building or renewing friendships.
Last July, Neal and I made a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Israel. We soaked in every minute of it because we knew it was our one shot to experience the very places we read about in the Bible. Little did we know that eight months later we’d be back. Thanks to the surprising offer and generosity of someone, here we are soaking it all in again. Somebody pinch me!
This trip is different, though. 39 of us (mostly from the Bear Valley Bible Institute) are traveling together. These are the people I work with. Now I am traipsing around a foreign country with them and that always changes things. It can either strengthen or strain relationships. Due to the expert diligence of our leaders, John and Carla Moore, this trip has been stress free. They’re taking care of all the details, so all we have to worry about is how to capture all these impressions in our hearts. Without the hassle or confusion that can sometimes happen overseas, no one is wigging out over anything. We’re all relaxed, happy, and well-cared for. Therefore, no strained relationships. Yay!
Experiencing Israel with fellow Christians adds a whole new special layer. I am loving every minute of it. We are praying together when touched by a particular location. We are singing together, and that may end up being my favorite thing about this trip. We’ve sung in the Nazareth church building, on top of Mt. Carmel, on the bus, on Mt. Precipice, etc. Singing always gets me, but to sing with dear ones in the land where Jesus walked….oh man. We’ve had all kinds of conversations together about Bible passages as we pass through the very places where they took place. We’re using all of our senses; we’re seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, and tasting Israel. We’re experiencing this together, and I know these will be priceless memories that we will forever share.
Yesterday, on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, I looked around at the 38 other Christians who are with me. I couldn’t help but pray, “God, I love these people. They are my FAMILY, thanks to the One who walked on this water.”
Perhaps the choices you made over the past year were hard on your heart.
By Kathy Pollard
I know what a stony heart feels like, don’t you?
It’s when I am indifferent to the needs of others.
It’s when I am disengaged in worship week after week.
It’s when I’ve been involved in sin and my conscience is no longer pricked.
It’s when I withhold forgiveness.
It’s when I no longer hunger for the Word.
It’s when I stop thinking souls.
It’s when Calvary doesn’t move me.
It’s when my heart has become divided instead of devoted.
It is an unhappy thing when you know your heart has hardened in any of these areas but you lack the desire or discipline to do anything about it. Perhaps the choices you made over the past year were hard on your heart. Perhaps you can tell you’ve drifted away from God, or you’ve allowed your connection to your church family to grow cold. When that happens, it’s easy to become disheartened, discouraged with yourself, or indifferent in your spiritual walk. Have you ever looked in the mirror and asked, “What’s the matter with me? How did I get here?”
Listen to what God said to His people.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
God gave this beautiful promise to people who had misrepresented His holy name. They weren’t acting like people who belonged to Him. Those who saw them acknowledged their hypocrisy. In modern terms they said, “They call themselves ‘Christians’ but they don’t act like it” (v. 20). Yet God still wanted their heart. He wanted to redeem them and give them His Spirit (v. 27).
This encourages me. There are times when my heart problem is obvious to others. But there are times when only I am aware of the hardening while I continue to go through the motions. Either way, I can know that God still desires to cleanse me and save me (v. 29, 33). God is willing to act on my behalf for my good (notice all the “I will” statements He makes in v. 23-38). This may not be pleasant at first. It may be in the form of exposed sin or an unhappy trial. But I can see how necessary it is to shake me out of my complacency. It reminds me of the song, “Break my heart, dear Lord.” I am thankful for the opportunities God gives me to soften my heart again.
According to an article published in Entrepreneur a couple of months ago, “most people complain once a minute during a typical conversation.” I’ll be paying more attention to my speech to make sure I don’t fall under the category of “most people,” but even if I don’t voice a complaint in my conversations I wonder if I think it? The article goes on to show the negative effects of complaining:
It rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely.
It becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you.
It damages other areas of your brain.
It raises stress levels.
It lowers your immune system.
It’s contagious. Like second hand smoke, it negatively affects those around you.
The article states that the solution to complaining is “to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.” “When you feel like complaining, shift your attention to something you’re grateful for.” Gratitude:
Reduces stress levels
Improves mood, energy, and productivity
I imagine gratitude is also contagious and will positively affect those around you.
I find it interesting that this nonreligious article (based on scientific research) is simply confirming what God has been telling us all along. “Do all things without grumbling or complaining” (Phil. 2:14). Instead, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18; Col. 3:15,17; Eph. 5:20). It doesn’t surprise me that it’s been proven that complaining is bad for our health and gratitude is good for our health. As the saying goes, “When God says, ‘Thou shalt not,’ He’s really saying, ‘Do yourself a favor.'”
The article suggests that, over time, complaining or gratitude can become a way of life. This means my words may reveal more to others than I intended. They reveal my heart and all that I choose to focus on (Luke 6:45; Prov. 4:23). My words affect more than I intended. They affect my own health and even the health of those around me. Complaining or gratitude. This simple, daily choice has great impact.
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
All my life I’ve heard that God is in the restoring business. It’s easy to remind others of this when they are going through despair. If a friend or loved one feels like their world has fallen apart, we tell them, “God can take the broken and make it whole again.” But can He? Is there truth to this assurance?
Can the brokenhearted ever piece their heart back together? Can the betrayed really trust and love again? Can one who has been rejected feel acceptance? Can one who is riddled with guilt ever find peace or feel worthy? Can the grieving ever experience delight and laughter again?
I planted some lovely flowers and then left for a week. The neglected flowers really suffered. They turned gray and scraggly. I was pretty sure they were goners. Then I needed to leave town again. This time, some dear friends offered to take care of our yard. I said, “Don’t worry about the flowers. They’re already doomed.” I think they took that as a challenge. They carefully watered and babied those flowers for two solid weeks. When I got back, the flowers didn’t look great but they were still hanging in there. I really didn’t feel like trying to save them but since my friends had worked so hard at it I felt obligated. So whenever I’d think about it, I’d take the garden hose to them. The past several days have been rainy, which is unusual for sunny Colorado. It hasn’t been a warm summer rain but more of a chilly, gray, depressing rain. Yesterday morning when I walked outside I stopped dead in my tracks. My flowers! I knelt down and looked in wonder at all the new green growth, the sunny yellow blooms, and the buds promising more to come. Not only are they healthy and whole, they are even fuller than before. I smiled so big to see the remarkable change from withered and ugly to vibrant and beautiful.
God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psa. 147:3). Can He really do that? “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation” (Psa. 51:10,12). Oh how I long for that! But will He really do that for me, with all of my weaknesses and failed attempts? YES! He can and He will! God cares way more for you and me than He does for my flowers (Matt. 6:30).
When we’re in the midst of needing that restoration, it becomes a matter of faith. When Jesus used the grass as an example of how He would much more take care of us, He ended with, “You of little faith!” It’s as if He’s saying, “Don’t you believe Me? Don’t you know how much I love you? Trust Me!” I want to. But how? From the living demonstration of my flowers, I think we can learn a couple of things:
Be diligent. My friends were. I think they cared more about my flowers than I did. That motivated me to continue on with the efforts to save the pathetic-looking things. I didn’t really feel like it and certainly didn’t think it’d do much good, but I pressed on anyway. I went through the motions and provided what I knew the flowers needed, even though my heart wasn’t in it.
When in need of restoration, hang on. Don’t give up. Keep doing what you’re supposed to be doing, one day at a time. You may not feel like it but press on anyway. As the saying goes, “Faith it till you make it.” Trust that God can bring something good out of your diligence and that your efforts won’t be in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). Don’t let your hurting or discouraged heart keep you from trying again. Hold fast (Heb. 3:6; 4:14; 10:23).
Rely on God. The days of steady rain provided just what my flowers needed. I couldn’t have given them that. I didn’t really enjoy the soggy weather but now I can see how it was the perfect environment to foster incredible growth.
We know God loves us and wants to be there for us, so why do we continue to rely on ourselves? Why do we keep trying to lean on our own strength? Why do we think we have to see the outcome before we put forth any effort? Trusting in God means even when I don’t see how anything good can come from my circumstances, I will press on and trust Him to do His part. I will remember His promise to provide for me and make me whole again. I will put Him first in my life even when that feels like too much to ask or when it seems hard. Jesus reminds us that our heavenly Father knows exactly what we need. He knows it even before we do. And He longs to give it to us (Matt. 6:32-33).
God really can restore. So be diligent. Take those steps toward healing one day at a time. Rely on God’s strength and His promises to provide exactly what we need. Even when we think we are beyond help, God can create something even stronger and more beautiful than before.