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.
The most frequently asked question since our return home from Israel has been, “What was your favorite part?” That is nearly impossible to answer. There were too many wonderful experiences and highlights, each of them meaningful for different reasons.
I can say for certain that it was my “trip of a lifetime” and that it impacted me in multiple ways. I am most thankful for three of those ways:
It strengthened my faith in the Word.
No doubt about it, the places and people we read about in the Bible are REAL. Archaeologists continue to uncover locations, discover documents, and learn about practices that prove the truth of God’s Word.
For example, the Bible mentions a place called “Sha’arayim,” which means “two gates” (Josh. 15:36; 1 Sam. 17:52; 1 Chron. 4:31). Scoffers declared this unlikely as no Judaean city ever had more than one gate, according to archaeological discoveries. But in 2007, an entire fortified city was unearthed having, not one, but two major gates. It overlooks the Elah Valley, confirming the Bible’s mention of it in the account of David and Goliath.
I knew the Bible was accurate and reliable. But it is so faith-building to have that truth confirmed by walking through the MANY “proofs” that populate the land of Israel!
It enhanced my understanding.
David took refuge in “the stronghold” (1 Sam. 22:3,4). Masada (which means “stronghold”) was a city that sat atop a steep hill out in the middle of an arid wilderness, overlooking the Dead Sea. It’s location made it easy to see approaching enemies. It had a “snake path” up the side that could handle only two people wide at a time. It was impressive! Scholars believe that this was David’s stronghold. Now when I read about it, I will be able to see it.
In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge…Be to me a rock of strength, a stronghold to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress.
And when I read about David hiding in caves in Adullam (1 Sam. 22:1-4), I will be able to see it. I understand how easy it was to do that in a land dotted with large, hidden caves. Adullam means “refuge.”
When I read about Jesus praying at Gethsemane (Matt. 26), I will be able to picture Him among the twisted trunks of the olive trees. I can now see exactly where He pleaded with His Father.
There are so many accounts that have come alive in my mind! I can add extra senses (sight, sounds, smells, touch….) to my understanding.
It engaged my heart.
You don’t have to go to Israel to be touched by the love stories in the Word.
(How can you read about God’s call to Abraham to take his son and offer him, and then God’s deliverance and provision when He rewarded Abraham’s obedient faith without being moved?)
But I had the opportunity to go to Beersheba. It’s in the middle of the Negev desert. It’s where Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech and planted a tamarisk tree (Gen. 21), where he sent Hagar into the wilderness, and where he went to live after God said, “Because you have not withheld your son, your only son, I will greatly bless you….” (Gen. 22). I looked all around me and imagined the account playing out in front of my eyes.
I had the opportunity to visit the two proposed sites of the Garden Tomb. While at the first one, I read John’s gospel account of the empty tomb. I looked at the rock tomb in front of me and read of Mary standing there weeping, of Jesus approaching her and calling her by name, and of her declaration to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”
There were so many emotional moments as we walked through the land of Israel. I imagine part of that had to do with stepping away from the distractions of the world and immersing myself in the unfolding story of God’s redemption and love. My heart was revived.
I pray that I will remember that I don’t have to go to Israel to do that. I can still shut out the world’s distractions and immerse myself in the beautiful and powerful message of God’s love.
I wish I were better with words. I’m going to try to convey what’s filling my heart but I know the words will fall short.
For the past six days I have been in Israel with my husband and our dear friends, John and Carla Moore. The experience has far exceeded my expectations. I’ve visited Beersheba where Abraham lived and probably received the call to offer up his son. I’ve stood in the very valley in which David ran to meet Goliath (and even pulled five smooth stones from the same brook he did). I’ve explored the impressive sites of Masada and Megiddo. I’ve seen the wildernesses and the Shephelah. And so much more.
I knew I’d love it all. I can already tell that I will never read my Bible the same again. I knew I’d learn more about geography, archaeology, and history. What I wasn’t expecting was the soul-searching that would accompany it.
I’ve been impressed with the courage, bravery, faith, and trust of God’s people in harsh environments or overwhelming odds. Would I be brave in the same situation? Would I trust God when I couldn’t see my way through? It’s been good, so good, to hold my heart up for examination.
But today was something special. Today we went to the Sea. We hiked up a path to the top of Mount Arbel. There were sheer cliffs along the way. When we crested the top and took in the view of the Sea of Galilee and its northern shore, it was as if all the noises around me faded away and I could only hear my own breathing. My heartbeat slowed as it dawned on me what I was actually viewing.
Up to this point, we’ve visited places where great men and women of God have lived out their faith. Today we came to the place where the Son of God lived out His faith so He could walk with us through ours. I saw the towns where He taught in the synagogues. I saw the shoreline where He called His disciples and where He would later have breakfast with them. I stared at the waves on which He walked and imagined the storms that He calmed. Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount here. He healed here.
As the four of us took it all in, John led us in a verse of “How Great Thou Art.” Then he prayed a beautiful, heartfelt prayer of praise. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps Jesus prayed in the very same spot when He would go up on the mount by Himself. Jesus. My Jesus. Today, and the next couple of days, I am walking where He walked.
So many things happened by the Sea on the Sea in the life of Christ. The same sea is surrounded by bustling and thriving towns today. The same sea is filled with boats.
I am walking where He walked and in awe of that fact. But what would He want me to see here? The Sea? As impressive as it all is–the cliffs, mountains, villages, and the blue, blue water–there are people all around the Sea who still need to see Jesus in their midst.
Only one place on earth is where Jesus walked but every place on earth is where He wants us to go and tell others about Him.