Posted by: Jenny Meaders | January 1, 2011

Embracing God’s Path

In recent years I’ve begun scaling back my habit of making New Year’s Resolutions.  I’ve found that I have a tendency to be overly ambitious in my goal setting which predictably leaves me feeling discouraged the following New Year’s Eve, if not sooner.  I’m learning to be a little more reasonable with my ambitions.  Last year, my goal was to simplify my life by avoiding the “dollar aisle” at mega marts.  My theory was, “The less junk I buy, the less mess I have at home.”  I fared pretty well with that goal, and that success made me happy!

In contemplating a resolution for the coming year I decided to consider something a little more “spiritual.”   Recently I’ve been noticing a few old friendships in my life fading away; not because of any bad experiences, but simply a fork in the road leading us on different paths.  Two of these relationships were women that I had truly admired for a long time and often tried to be like.  But I came to realize the Lord was asking me to stop looking at their lives for guidance because that was not the path He was leading me down.  It is not because the path they are on is bad in any way, but simply that is not the path God desires for me.  This understanding led me to my New Year’s Resolution for 2011, “I will fully embrace the path God has for me.”

I don’t know about you but I am a pretty visual person, so I like to imagine the things God is telling me.  So, in this case I started picturing myself walking down a dirt road holding hands with God.  I could see that by trying to stay connected to people on a different path I was pulling against God, dragging my feet, looking behind me all the time and asking a lot of nagging questions.  That is not how God wants us to go down this path.  It reminded me of a hiking trip I took this past summer.

My brother and I had the opportunity to go hiking at Amicalola Falls in northern Georgia this summer.  We had just finished leading worship at a Youth Camp and decided to hike up to the waterfall before making the drive back home.  We hiked from the bottom of the falls to the top.  Much of the hike was up a staircase but it was a pretty steep incline over a short distance.  We were exhausted when we got to the top.  We took some time to rest and eat before heading back down.  My brother suggested we take a different trail down the mountain, one that did not have any stairs but went through the surrounding woods.  I was hesitant because I’m not very surefooted going downhill.  A few years back, I fell and hurt my ankle while on a downhill climb and I’ve been a fraidy cat ever since.  But, rather than admit my fears and ask that we take the stairs I agreed to the trail hike, grudgingly.  The entire hike down I was nervous, I complained, I walked ridiculously slow and I am confident I sucked all the fun out of the hike for my brother.  I was not fully embracing this path.  I was walking it, but not embracing it.

I believe that God is calling all of us to not just walk the path with Him but to fully embrace it with joy and peace and confidence.  We might be afraid because of the people we are leaving behind, because of bad experiences from the past or fears about the future, but we can admit all that to God and ask Him to help us enjoy the things that are coming along the way.   I really love the Message translation of Romans 12:1-2

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.”

Our journey with God will be so much more pleasant, for both of us, if we fully embrace what He is doing.  Truly, that is the best thing we can do for Him and, I believe, a worthy New Year’s Resolution.

Posted by: Jenny Meaders | December 19, 2010

What child is this?

Cue cello drone in minor key.

“What child is this, who lay to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping?

Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherd’s watch are keeping.

Strings crescendo transitioning into a  major key.

This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing.

Haste, haste to bring him laud!  The Babe, the Son of Mary.”

This is my favorite Christmas song!  It’s been sung by many artists, performed in different ways, and every arrangement is my favorite!  I was recently listening to a bluegrass group called “The Isaacs” singing this song and I was suddenly overwhelmed with this desire:  “I want my life to answer this question.”

Around Christmas time you will undoubtedly see many people dressed as Santa Claus.  They are in the mall with children on their knee, on the street corners ringing bells and on the television sliding down chimneys and flying a sleigh.  It can be hard for children to know which one is the “real” Santa.  As children get older, questions like, “How can he be in so many places at once?” and “Why does this Santa look different from that one?”,  usually lead to the fading of their faith and the final conclusion, “There is no Santa Claus.”  I believe this same process sometimes comes to those seeking to discover the “real” Jesus.

Many people talk about Jesus, describe Jesus, even claim to hear from Jesus.  But for those who have never met Jesus the questions arise, “How can Jesus be in so many places at once?” and “Why does this Jesus look different from that one?”  Sadly, many people come to the conclusion that just like Santa, “There is no Jesus.”  I want to change that!  I want to fan the flame of hope and help people believe, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Jesus Christ.”

I can’t change the fact that there are many portraits of Jesus in the world, but I can commit to painting a most truthful one with they way I live my life.  The things I do, not only the words I say, daily answer the question, “What child is this?”  In his book, Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell compares our faith to a painting that displays our understanding of Christ and His message.  He admits there is a problem,

“The problem isn’t Jesus; the problem is what comes with Jesus.  For many people the word Christian conjures up all sorts of images that have nothing to do with Who Jesus is and how He taught us to live.  This must change.”

Just as children reason away their faith in Santa because of what they see or hear that brings doubt, our portrait of Christ can either strengthen or diminish another’s ability to believe and follow Jesus.  We must realize that Jesus is more than a list of rules, more than religious activities.  As Bell puts it, “The way of Jesus is not about religion; it’s about reality.  And God is the ultimate reality.  There is nothing more beyond God.”*

Jesus came to show us God the Father and to make a way for our adoption, our acceptance by Him.  As followers of Jesus we are called to do the same for others.  With the sad sounds of a cello playing in a minor key, the world is asking, “What child is this?  What God is this?  What Jesus is this?”  Will our lives, with the crescendo of a key change give the answer, “This, this is Christ the King!” and secure others’ faith in Him forever?

I believe it’s a good question to ask at Christmas and all year round.

Velvet Elvis:  Repainting the Christian Faith, Rob Bell.  copyright 2005.  pg. 12, 21.

Posted by: Jenny Meaders | November 5, 2010

The business of busyness – putting work before worship

For all the technological advances that have given us more time and energy for other things, we sure are busy people!  I imagine that people who live without our modern conveniences would look at our cars, washers and microwaves and ask, “so what do you do all day?”  It is a good question to ask, “what DO we do all day?”  For most of us, whatever we do, it keeps us busy. This question however, prompts us to examine our actions as well as our motives.  This leads us to more questions like:  “Why are we so busy?  Does it have to be this way?” and “Am I really doing what God wants?”

“Better to have one handful with quietness than two handfuls with hard work and chasing the wind.” Ecclesiastes 4:6 (NLT)

I think this verse helps us think a little more carefully about the difference between what we need and what we want.  It also comes with a warning that sometimes having more stuff means having less peace.

So, sometimes we are busy because we are working for more stuff, but I think we can also be busy trying to acquire praise or recognition from our peers.  Sometimes we live beyond our means by devoting too much of our time to “keeping up with the Jones’.”  Instead of learning another language or taking a cooking class because its what we really want to do, sometimes we do these things because deep down we want to impress.  I have found it very difficult to discern between what I enjoy doing for myself and what I enjoy doing for the praise I get from others.  Only God can reveal our true motives.

Turning to the familiar story of Mary and Martha, we see poor, overworked Martha.  She was trying to fix a meal worthy of her most special guest, and exasperated she appeals to Jesus for some help.  “I’m doing all this for you,” I’m sure she was thinking, “Can’t you at least make my sister come help me.”  How many times have we felt like we were doing something for the Lord and it’s as if He’s not even paying attention, offering us no help at all.  How many times do we stop to consider, “Maybe He’s not helping me because this isn’t what He wants me to be doing right now?”  I’m sure Martha had good intentions but she was not exactly in tune with the desires of her friend.  It’s a little bit like giving someone a gift that you think they need instead of something they really want.

We have to be careful not to let our work come before our worship.  Even the work that we may be doing for the Lord can’t take the place of being alone, quiet and intimate with Christ.  After all, intimacy with His people, is the thing God desires most.

“God did not choose us to “use” us…God created us because He longs to have fellowship with us…to pour His very life into us, to give us an inheritance and a share in His divine nature.  What does God desire?  It is actually very simple.  He wants you.  All of you.”

Jesus welcomed Mary at His feet even though she was a woman.  He welcomes anyone who comes to Him humbly, with a desire to hear what He has to say.  Before we get too busy in the “kitchen” (or at church or at work or at home) we need to first stop in the “living room” for a conversation with the Lord.  It will make the business of being busy a whole lot easier!

Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World.  Joanna Weaver, p.62

Posted by: Jenny Meaders | October 25, 2010

You are with me

It is a difficult thing to be separated from the ones you love.  Most of us experience this at some time or another.  Temporary separations are certainly less difficult than permanent ones.  But whatever the details of the circumstance that leaves you alone…it stinks!

“This stinks!”  That is what I was thinking to myself as I drove away watching my husband, sea bag in tow, shrink in my rear view mirror and disappear into the early morning darkness.  It was time for him to leave…again.  As the tears began to well up in my eyes I remembered a line from a song I had not heard in a while.  The words were simply, “You are with me.”  It seems like a simple thought, “God is with me.” But for me, as I was driving away leaving my best friend behind, those words rescued me from a dark place.

The song God brought to my mind is a summary of the 23rd Psalm.*

Oh Lord, my shepherd be/And beside still waters lead /And among green pastures make me lie/You are with me to the end

In the paths of righteousness/For the glory of Your name/Keep me safe, that I may know always/You are with me to the end

For when the shadows fall/And the night is closing in/You are here, no evil will I fear/You are with me to the end

You are with me/You are with me/You are with me to the end/There’s no other friend and Savior/You are with me to the end

To me, this Psalm describes various situations in our lives and how, as our Shepherd, God takes care of us through every one of them.  Jesus also called Himself, the “Good Shepherd” in John 10 and then pointed out that Satan is a “thief and a robber.”

“The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy…”

Jesus wanted us to know that we have an enemy who is seeking to ruin our lives.  Sadness, loneliness, and depression are just a few of the ways Satan destroys our lives little by little.  But, the verse doesn’t end there,

“…My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10:10 NLT)

Jesus is making it very clear why He came and how His presence should affect our lives.

The purpose of God’s presence is not to bring comfort alone.  God is bigger than just comfort.  He is not limited as we are when helping a friend and all we can do is “be there” to offer a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear.  When God comes to us, He makes all of Himself available to us; all of His love, and wisdom and power and greatness.  God’s presence brings the possibility of change to our feelings and our circumstances!  We don’t have to be victims of the enemy.  We can be trophies of God!

I’ve noticed that it seems to be a common comforting expression to say to someone who is hurting, “God is with you.”  I’ve recently wondered, “How does that really help someone?”  I think the effectiveness of those words is determined by their interpretation.  If we receive those words to only mean, “God can cheer me up” then nothing much will change in our emotions or our situation.  But if we hear those words, and think, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” then God’s power is released to do amazing things. (Romans 8:31)

“Now to Him Who, by the power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]–To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen.”  (Ephesians 3:20-21 AMP).

So whether you find yourself among green pastures or surrounded by shadows I hope you will remember that “God is with you” and His power is at work within you to bring to you a rich and satisfying life!

Can any of you share a time when God’s presence changed your feelings or situation?

* “O Lord My Shepherd Be” by Billy Sommerville Mercy/Vineyard Publishing

Posted by: Jenny Meaders | October 1, 2010

The Lifeboat

It’s a beautiful morning.  I’ve had sufficient sleep, delicious breakfast and life-giving coffee.  I am content.  But I’m sure many of you would agree that when you are lacking one of those things, sleep, food or caffeine, your body is far from content.

On a deeper, soul level,  most of us would agree that we have needs that must be met  in order to feel satisfied and whole.  We all need to feel loved and valued.  It is obvious that we all have this need because everyone is scrambling to find it.  Some people even seem desperate for it by accepting “love” in almost any form no matter how distorted it may be.

In his book, Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller proposes a “Lifeboat Theory” that illustrates and explains this quest for love.  Because of man’s first act of disobedience toward God we’ve all been separated from God like castaways in a lifeboat struggling to survive.  In this lifeboat, not only are we struggling to have our physical needs met, we’ve also created an “invisible hierarchy” (p.94) to determine value, success, and acceptance to satisfy our need for love.  We’ve appointed a “jury of peers” (p.111) to replace God and their verdict determines our fate in this lifeboat:  accepted or rejected.  This means our “love” towards one another must be conditional and self-benefiting.  It’s all about looking out for number one.

But many of us have been rescued from this lifeboat.  We’ve heard the good news that Jesus came to restore our relationship with God and take us back to the Garden.  Outside of this man-made lifeboat we find the love and acceptance we need in the words and ways of our Creator and Father.  Filled and satisfied with this life-giving love we are equipped to return to the lifeboat to help rescue those who are seeking a way out.

There is an enemy, however, and he is the master of the lifeboat.  When we return to help others escape there will be a battle.  The enemy tempts us to get involved in this value system and sadly, many times, we as believers fall right into the trap of comparing ourselves to others and seeking the approval of a peer to satisfy our need for love.  Religion, specifically, “Christianity” becomes, “an identity in the lifeboat by which we compare ourselves to others.”  This, as Miller puts it is, “entirely inappropriate” (p.113).

Recently, my brother and I were discussing this lifeboat theory and how we’ve seen some Christians act pride fully and without love in order to prove the “rightness” of their faith to others.  We agreed that as Christians, we should be so secure in our relationship with God and His acceptance that no measure of disagreement within the lifeboat can evoke pride, unlove or any other foolishness from us.  My brother went on to praise his pastor, John Darnell, for being a wonderful example of this:  a man who is passionate and firm in his faith, yet always striving to be loving, patient and humble.  I am so encouraged by leaders who are setting an example of humility for us to follow.  I believe it is better for us to unite ourselves with those who are sharing God’s truth in love, not pride.

The apostle Paul addressed this issue when writing to the Christians at the church in Corinth.  Some people were complaining about the methods of his ministry and were competing for who should get the credit for the good works being done.  Paul’s instructions would help them change their focus and get back to doing the work that truly pleases God and accomplishes His will for His Kingdom.  I think all of us, at one time or another need these same instructions to keep us focused on our true goal while here in the lifeboat.

“The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6 Message)

Let’s help each other stay “full and focused” with reminders of God’s love, acts of kindness and humility.  Let’s use the tools we’ve been given to help rescue those who are seeking a way out of the lifeboat.  And as Paul said, “If you want to brag, then brag about the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 10:17 CEV)

Posted by: Jenny Meaders | September 21, 2010

Now and Later

Does anyone remember the candy called, “Now and Later?”*  I know I loved them as a kid!  I suppose the name came from the fact that it took both now and later to finish the endlessly chewy things.  There was definitely no way to eat them in a hurry.  (Now I suppose I should have a nifty segue here to relate this paragraph to the next, but unfortunately I do not.  However, if you continue reading I think you will see how this nostalgic confection pertains to the following thoughts).

Recently, my husband and I went on a vacation to Virginia to visit some of his family members.  We broadened our experience by getting off the major highways and driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, windows down, singing along with all of our favorite Bluegrass songs.  Though I love the instruments, the harmonies and that twangy sound, I have to admit, the words are a bit depressing.  Typically, the lyrics focus on problems now and heaven later.  So after steeping ourselves in messages like, “I am a man of constant sorrows” and “In the sweet by and by” on the way to Virginia, we decided to listen to a more uplifting book on tape while driving the less scenic interstates home.

John Eldredge’s warm soothing voice accompanied us home as he read from his book, Waking the Dead.  He was talking about the “abundant life” Jesus promised us in John 10:10.  Over the past few years I’ve been coming to believe that this abundant life is something we can experience not only when we die, but also here on earth.  I believe Mr. Eldredge offers one of the best examples to support this I’ve ever heard.  He compares the promise Jesus is making us to the promise a husband makes to his wife on their wedding day.  To believe the promise of an abundant life is only for our heavenly future, “is like saying when a man marries a woman he is only committing to take care of her when she retires.”  That begs the question, “what about now?”

If you would agree with me that Jesus was promising an abundant life both now on earth and later in heaven, you might also ask the question with me, “What is this abundant life like?”  While writing about what salvation means to me and what changes have come to my life because of it I was making a list of my new identities, “I am a believer, an adopted child of God, the bride of Christ…”  The next thought rolled off my pen onto the paper as naturally as the previous thoughts, then suddenly I wondered, “Wait?  Is that really true?”  I am, “no longer banned from the Garden.”  For quite a while I sat considering what life would be like if we lived with this understanding.  I also considered how difficult it is to believe that it’s even possible to “return to the Garden” in this depraved world.

About to dismiss such craziness as, well, craziness, I suddenly remembered an old song that supported my idea of this kind of redemption.  The 1912 hymn, “In the Garden” by C. Austin Miles describes what its like to be in the presence of God on a daily basis here on earth.

“I come to the Garden alone/while the dew is still on the roses/and the voice I hear/falling on my ear/the Son of God discloses/and He walks with me/and He talks with me/and He tells me I am His own/and the joy we share/as we tarry there/none other has ever known”

I was so happy to know I’m not the only one who has ever thought about our salvation experience as a return to the Garden.  Perhaps it was not such a crazy thought after all.  But, there’s always a “but”.  The third verse of the song echoes many songs and teachings I’ve heard which describe our seeming occasional yet necessary separation from God through problems and pain and suffering in life.

“I’d stay in the Garden with Him/though the night around me be falling/but He bids me go/through the voice of woe/His voice to me is calling”

The idea here is that we can only experience God’s presence some of the time.  Some people believe it will only happen in heaven.  Others believe we can get glimpses of God during good times; times spent “in the garden” or “on the mountain top”.  Now I am not suggesting that our lives can be entirely problem, pain and suffering free.  I am wondering rather, what life would be like if instead of limiting our experiences with God to heaven, or just a few seasons in life or a few moments in the day, we realized God is with us always by His Holy Spirit.  Jesus, before leaving earth and returning to heaven, gave his disciples instructions for teaching, baptizing and making more disciples.  But He ended with one very important point, possibly an often forgotten one, “surely I am with you always.”  (Matthew 28:20)

The thing here that encourages me, and I hope you also, is that we are not alone.  Though problems may come, we aren’t being booted out of the Garden to deal with it alone.  God is not at the finish line in heaven just hoping we’ll find a way to make it on our own.  He’s given us the gift of His presence, all the time.  Even some of the greatest men and women in the Old Testament didn’t have that.  I think it’s time we recognize and enjoy this invitation to return to the Garden.  So, like the endlessly chewy candy, we can experience the abundant life both now and later!

* “Now and Later were first introduced in 1962 with only three flavors by the Phoenix Candy Company. They were designed as an all-year-round candy… One of the original taglines for the candy was “Eat some now, save some for later.” They currently say, “Hard ‘n Fruity Now, Soft ‘n Chewy Later.”  Candy Blog – Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Posted by: Jenny Meaders | September 20, 2010

Hello friends!

This is my first post on my new blog.  Thanks for reading!  I’ve hesitated to start a blog because it seemed to me that blogging was only for the famous, well-versed or politically minded.  I am none of the above.  But I have found myself recently looking for more blogs that offer encouragement and inspiration for my life and my faith.  I am challenged by Hebrews 10:24 which says, “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out” (Message).  I definitely think using this medium for us to encourage one another is an “inventive way” of obeying God’s word.  So, as I share the things that help me, I hope you will offer the same with your comments.  Again, thanks for reading!