Along Right Paths

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Along Right Paths

Lord, let me hear You whisper
And recognize Your voice,
For I am at the crossroads
And need to make a choice.
There are so many pathways,
But only one is right.
Point me in Your way, Lord,
I’ll let You be my light.
Allow the path to shine
And illuminate with You,
As Your presence goes before me
And shows me what to do.
May each step I take be grounded
in the knowledge that You care,
And that I can have confidence
Because You’re always there.
No road is too long or hard
When it’s you who leads the way.
I’ll follow Your footsteps, Lord,
On the path I walk this day.

…He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Psalm 23:3

Nancy Janiga

It’s the little things

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Christmas is over but there’s still remnants left.  There’s a bag of crumpled wrapping paper tucked behind a stool in my living room.  The lights still twinkle on my decorated tree and there’s a few cookie crumbs on a plate sitting next to me on my dining room table.

My fingers click away on my laptop amid all the signs of the Holiday and my thoughts drift back to when my living room was full of chatter and laughter just days before.

Family gathered around our decorated home on Christmas to share a meal, share gifts and share memories of years past.  Lots of the memories hang from the branches of our Christmas tree.  It’s always fun to look at the ornaments and recall the memory attached to each one.  And finally we shared an indoor snowball fight with a pail of forty synthetic snowballs.

I think the best purchase, hands down, that I made this year was that pail of indoor snowballs.  They actually feel like the real deal minus the cold.  I grabbed one and threw it at my son.  Startled he sat back in his chair, smiled and said, “What?  Are those snowballs?”  Then came the laughter while snowballs, being tossed at one another, filled our living room.

In those moments, watching, listening, observing nothing was wrong and all was right in the world.

A few days before Christmas, I was making my mom’s traditional date nut bread–a recipe that she handed down to me.  As I mixed the batter, I watched a couple of neighbor boys, through my kitchen window, playing catch in the street.  As they threw the ball their dog ran along side it trying catch it in his mouth.  The sun was shining, it was 45 degrees and they didn’t have jackets on.  It’s unusual in this area to have such mild temps at this time of year.  What’s even more unusual is seeing kids running and playing outside at anytime of the year in this electronic age.

As I watched the game outside and prepared the nut bread, my thoughts went back in time–a time that seemed a little simpler–with my mom baking the bread and the streets filled with kids throughout the neighborhood and usually in the snow at this time of year.  Being inside the house for too long, wasn’t that common back then for kids.

Then I burst into song.  A song that I wouldn’t ordinarily think of.  I can’t carry a tune and you won’t catch me singing out loud in front of you but alone I’ll belt out anything…

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you.

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world.

Louis Armstrong ©1967

…and I think to myself it’s a wonderful world… and I hummed it for the rest of the day.

The hum carried on through Christmas and there was nothing wrong in my world.

But we all know there is something wrong.  We read the headlines, listen to the news, hear the stories, hear the cries, see the suffering, hearts get broken, tears flow…

We’d like it to stop.  We’d like to see peace on earth and good will toward men.

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Christmas began in the manger but it didn’t end there.  When we put away Christmas, let’s not put away Jesus.  That’s where hope starts.  That’s where love begins.  That’s where joy originates and that’s where peace flows.

Among the chaos of the world, that little child in the little manger brought us God. And He brought us the potential, through our dependence on Him, to have peace on earth and extend good will toward men and women.  It can only begin one heart at a time.

May we embrace it.  Embrace Him.  And in the midst of it all find joy in the little things in life–like those blessings mentioned in the song, “It’s a wonderful world” because the little pockets of joy that we find in the chaos of life are really the big things.

Written by Nancy Janiga @2014

No Lists, Just Love

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He’s making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice, Santa Claus is coming to town…

Most of us have heard those familiar words many times.  The nice get a gift and the naughty, well…they don’t get anything or, if they’re lucky, they get a lump of coal.

As my husband and I were traveling down the expressway last week, my eyes caught a sign outside of a church facing the cars that were driving by.

 SANTA ISN’T THE ONLY ONE MAKING A LIST!

“What?!?  Did I read that right?  Santa isn’t the only one making a list!  That’s the message the church is communicating to those passing by,” I told my husband.

On our next drive down that same expressway yesterday, I stayed alert watching for the sign.  I read it carefully thinking that maybe I was mistaken the first time but I wasn’t.  There in bold letters fastened to the large sign of the church were the words:

SANTA ISN’T THE ONLY ONE MAKING A LIST!

“If you want a gift, you better be good, because Santa is making a list and checking it twice and he’s gonna find out who is naughty and nice,” many parents sing the song and retell the story year after year.

It’s all in fun and I don’t think there’s one kid, that I know of anyway, that has been harmed or traumatized by the story of Santa.

But the message on the church sign?  I’m not so sure about that one.

Is that the message that they want the world to accept?  The message that God is making a list of all our wrongs and that we better be good or He won’t love us?  Is their message saying that we have to perform, do good works, clean up our act, obey the rules, or else?

I know there are thousands of good churches that communicate truth with love and I attend one.  I’m not implying that I know exactly the motive behind the sign but the perception comes across as God is making a list so if you’re naughty you better watch out!

We can shut ourselves up inside brick structures to make us feel safe.  We can hide behind programs, methods, procedures to puff ourselves up and think we’re secure because we’re us inside and not them outside.

We can point out the wrongs in others, forgetting who we are (or who we once were) and erect barricades of false security, we can have rules that make us harsh judges or we can have LOVE.

There in the manger on that quiet night long ago LOVE was born.  When we were the naughtiest LOVE came for us.  Jesus was born to die that we may live.  He took our punishment so we wouldn’t have to.

He knew our list of wrongs, all too well, and left His throne of glory and came down to rescue us.

We receive the gift; the greatest gift when we deserve it the least–we don’t have to be good enough to receive it.  All we have to do is accept it.

That’s the beauty of the gift.  God wipes our list clean in one swift stroke and writes across it PAID IN FULL.  Then slowly but surely we’re transformed in a way that rules could never accomplish. 

When we have LOVE, know LOVE, and extend LOVE our pointing fingers will come down.  Then the greatest gift of Christmas, who wrapped himself in love and is LOVE, can keep on giving…

Written by Nancy Janiga ©2014

Grace~It’s All About Grace

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The words slid off my tongue like butter from a knife.

Smooth, slick words rolled out of my mouth and into my listener’s ears.

If only I had caught my words that morning and took them captive while they were still a thought.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Restless, agitated, mulling over my words, trying to convince myself that I spoke ‘truth in love’ was how I spent the next few days.  My soul felt like a clogged channel and I was looking for ways to unclog it.  The truth is–I couldn’t do that myself.

Around the same time, I was meeting with a group of women studying a book titled, “Seeking Him–experiencing the joy of personal revival” and what an eye-opening, wow inducing, all-encompassing truth encounter that was!

I rested one morning in the chapter on having a clear conscience and dealing with offenses toward others.  Emmanuel ~ God’s astonishing grace with me, was pointing out, teaching, empowering and challenging me to live out the gospel.

I may have failed to live it out just days before but I could begin again.  It’s what we do after we make a mess that really matters.

Acknowledging the messiness before God was liberating.  His grace ushered in peace, but my peace, wasn’t enough.  I had to bring peace into the relationship with the woman, that I had offended.  I needed to apologize.

With an invitation to a party in hand (that I knew she would be attending too) I planned my move.

I was hoping my words would slide off my tongue like butter (this time too) but I envisioned them more like peanut butter sticking to the roof of my mouth as I tried to force out an apology.  I wanted her to understand the motive behind the words; defend myself and I kept rehearsing how I’d say it.

But none of that mattered on the day we met.  I said a prayer while walking into the event and courage and power flowed through my once clogged soul and I simply said, “I want to apologize for what I said, it was uncalled for, will you forgive me?”   She smiled, “Wow I appreciate that.  Yes I forgive you.”

We sat at the same table, enjoying the party together, with the air cleared of everything but GRACE.

Grace.  It’s all about grace.

God wrapped Himself in grace on that first Christmas, over 2000 years ago, and the gift of grace keeps on giving.

It’s grace that meets us in the middle of relationships and helps us speak the simple words “Will you forgive me?” And it’s grace that allows the response, “Yes I forgive you.”

It’s not enough for me to accept His gift of grace, I need to extend it.  Freely I have received so I can freely give.  There isn’t another way to live the life of faith except through grace.

When we first believed it was by grace; living our faith daily is grace upon grace, upon grace, upon grace…it’s all about grace.

Is there someone who needs the gift of grace from you this Christmas?

Written by: Nancy Janiga ©2014

Are you wearing your new clothes today?

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I’m grateful and deeply humbled to lead you to Fullfill Magazine for today’s post.  They chose an article that I wrote titled “New Clothes” for their on-line publication.   You can read my article at  http://issuu.com/fullfill/docs/exits_fallwinter14_final/24?e=1170081/10192276

If you are new to pens and journals, you are welcome to look through my archived posts and for those of you who visit me often here–THANK YOU for your support, encouragement and many kind words–I love and appreciate all of you!

Nancy

The Kingdom Comes Through Us

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Have you ever been comforted, known peace, joy, love, faithfulness, goodness, or been sustained in other ways through the Spirit of God?  Have you been touched or helped by God through another person?  God’s grace is manifested in so many unique and surprising ways.

When we are blessed, it’s not to hoard the blessings, or to use them solely for our own comfort or to judge others outside of the faith.  We are blessed to be a blessing, to use the blessings–to become ‘kingdom come’ people.

We can spread the kingdom through a smile, a touch, a meal, friendship, a listening ear, a prayer–it’s meeting the needs of others and showing up when others may have turned away.  It’s being present; being the gift.

Jesus talked about seeing the signs of the kingdom displayed through us and he rarely pointed to big things.  It was more about washing each other’s feet.   (John 13:14).

Through his parables we see that the little things are the ways through which the kingdom is often spread: the yeast in the dough, the mustard seed, etc.  (Matthew 13:31-33).

The kingdom comes to earth through us in little ways and little events.  It’s like offering a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty.  It’s simple, easy, loving ministry.  (Matthew 10:42)

When we are available as a kingdom come person, opportunities will open right in front of us.  The question then becomes, will we take the challenge or walk away?  Will we be the person to offer that cup of cold water to a thirsty person?

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I’m always amazed at the situations that my husband, Bob, and I find ourselves in.  Even when far from home and traveling God goes ahead of us and with us to set up divine appointments.  God’s divine appointments certainly reach further than our own neighborhoods.

Last year while walking down a street in Sarasota, FL, we had one of those encounters.

This story is more about the willingness of my husband to be a kingdom come person than it is about me.  I just tagged along.

Our path intersected with a man.  Someone whose hands were bigger than my forearm and whose height towered over both my husband and me.  He shook our hands and introduced himself.  His name was Roy.  He walked beside us and talked and the more he talked the more we came to realize that he was homeless.

I wanted to turn, say goodbye, and move on.  I convinced myself that just praying for him would be enough.  I kept thinking, what if I was walking down this street alone?   But I wasn’t alone, I was there with Bob and something prevented Bob from turning away.  So we walked side by side with Roy.

We heard his whole heartbreaking story as we strolled down a neighborhood street.  He told us about his mother’s death, alone in the world, no direction, no coping skills, no help, no one, nobody, just this big guy up against the big world.  Alone.

As his story thickened, we learned about his prison stint.  Attempted murder he said but assured us it was just a fight with another man and that he was wrongly charged.  “You know, African-American men get raw deals sometimes,” he said.  When he got out of prison he was homeless and alcohol became a remedy for his pain.

I was thinking that would have been a great time to part ways but Bob asked him if he was hungry.  Roy said yes.

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We walked to a nearby restaurant and offered him a seat on their outside patio.

I talked more with Roy as Bob went inside to find a waiter and all along I kept wondering if those working in the restaurant would even agree to serve this homeless soul.

I asked Roy if he knew anyone else in the area that could help him.  He pointed to a Christian church a few blocks away and said that he had been there before, the pastor was kind to him and that maybe they could help.  I encouraged him to go talk to the pastor again.  He said that he would.

Bob gave the waiter some money and pointed to Roy and said, “Give him something to eat.”   The waiter’s eyes grew wide and said, “But I don’t know what he wants.”   Bob explained that Roy was homeless, hungry and that he’d probably eat anything but the waiter insisted on bringing him a menu.

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A pure expression of surprise came over Roy’s face when the waiter approached the table to serve him.  He placed the menu in front of Roy and said, “What can I get for you sir?”  Roy picked a pizza and water.

The waiter told Bob that most people would not have done what he did for Roy and called Bob a good man.  Bob explained that he was only doing what needed to be done and thanked the waiter for serving Roy.

As I watched the waiter bring Roy the menu, treat him with dignity at the linen covered table and prepare to serve him, I realized that God showed up through two willing men that afternoon–my husband and the waiter.

When we said our goodbyes, Bob told Roy that God loved him and would take care of him.  He said, “I know.”

Roy was ‘the least of these’ and the kingdom came to him that day in a tangible way through my husband and the waiter who didn’t refuse to serve Roy.

It reminds me of Matthew 25 and especially Matthew 25:40:  “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

By being kingdom come people, we not only serve others but we are serving Jesus too.

Written by:  Nancy Janiga©2014