Like many families, ours has long standing traditions that we have established for the Christmas season. It all begins the weekend after Thanksgiving, the decorations come out, trees go up and the outside of our home notifies passers by that a family of bon-a-fide Christmas lovers lives there. With a constant chorus of Christmas music as our backdrop, we take the kids for their annual Christmas picture, see Santa at the mall, watch a different Christmas movie or T.V "special" every night, build a gingerbread house, drive around to see the lights, watch the kids perform in various Christmas plays, programs and pageants, help the little ones wrap their gifts they bought at their school's Santa Shop, mail Christmas cards and we wrap it up on Christmas eve by composing a poem or song about our family's year before putting out the cookies, milk and reindeer food.
This year my wife and I got a special treat. For some reason our timing was off; the trees did not go up on time and the rain delayed decorating outside. We decided to take our own holiday picture like we did when the kids were little, we skipped the mall Santa not wanting to go through the "production" that that simple joy has become and we simply had more obligations than past years with dance, Scouts, basketball and a litany of other things that pop up.
Then as only a 15 year old girl can do, our eldest asked, "What? So were not celebrating Christmas this year?" "We didn't get our picture taken, we haven't seen Santa, we don't have the downstairs tree up, the outside looks pathetic, you haven't taken me shopping so I can get gifts for the family, I guess it's not important."
It would have been easy for me to say, "She doesn't get it." "Doesn't get what we are up against, doesn't get how busy we are, doesn't get how tired we are." But in reality, it was me who did not get it. Here was a 15 year old girl, asking why we are not observing our Christmas traditions. I wouldn't think she would care about sitting for a picture with her brothers and sister "who annoy her", much less going to see Santa. Oh how wrong I was. It's not the act that she cares about, it is the fact that this is what we do as a family, it is our tradition and that means everything to her.
Then it hit me, she has only done these things once a year for 14 years. It only took a few times of doing these things to engrain beliefs that are important to her, only 14 times! I am encouraged that if she has only seen and done something for such a short period of time then maybe the values we hold dear will have the same impact when lived out 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
During Jesus' earthly ministry, he showed over and over the error in blindly following religious traditions. The tradition or act itself means nothing and often takes us away from the intended purpose. But like our daughter showed, it's our attitude, our heart and our desire to live the real meaning of what the tradition represents that's important.
Have a Blessed and Merry Christmas Season!
Enrich your Christmas Season by joining us on Saturday December 15 from 6:30-8:00pm as we sing Good Ole Fashioned Christmas Carols. Our special musical guests will be the Wallis Maricle Worship Singers and I guarantee that you will be blessed by the experience. Join us after singing for some light refreshments of Christmas Cookies! Don't miss this chance to be blessed this Christmas!
As we enter the season when the consumerism express begins to churn at full speed, I spend a lot of time dwelling on my favorite portion, at this point in my life, of the Tao Te Ching: "I have just three things to teach; Simplicity, Patience, Compassion. These are your greatest treasures" - Lao Tzu.
This past week, these three words have run around and around in my head, simplicity, patience, compassion. I love the concept of simplicity and embrace it in all that do. It is the simplicity of Thanksgiving that attracts me to it. The gathering of family and friends for a time of food, fun and conversation. A time for kids to hear stories from and about their parents, grandparents and if they are so blessed, great grandparents. A time to put down the screens and talk to someone face to face. Hear not only their words, but the inflection of their speech, see the emotion in their eyes and on their face. Touch someone with a hug and a kiss, connect with heart, mind, body and soul with your kin. There is no worry about buying a gift for everyone there, you are the gift! Your presence, your time, your being fully in the moment; listening, talking and most of all, feeling. There is no need to worry if you spent enough on this or that. There is no feeling bad because someone gave you a gift and you did not have one for them. There is no going into debt to show others you love them. There is no rushing here to there, running so fast that you miss the meaning of the holiday. Simplicity.
Patience. I have given a lot of thought to this word and how to embody it in my life. I have marveled at the patience of my mentors and wondered why I fall so woefully short. What I currently believe about becoming more patient goes back to simplicity. When my minds is uncluttered, I am more patient. When I don't overburden my mind with useless thoughts or too many commitments or when I am purposeful about what I take into my mind; I have a completely different result then when I do the opposite. Perhaps the most profound lesson I learned was through my sons playing soccer last fall. They were both almost brand new to the game and did not fully understand positions and a team approach. I found I got upset and impatient watching them not perform and execute as I thought they should. Then I asked them, "Are you having fun? Yes! That is all that counts." My expectations for the development of their skills was not their expectations. They are the ones playing, not me, and they were having fun. I just need to relax and enjoy them having fun.
Compassion. Jesus spoke about, taught and most importantly lived compassion. I find it very interesting that a book written more than 5,000 years ago focuses on this same topic. What that suggests to me is that compassion is so easily lost or forgotten or explained away in our minds. I am constantly reminded of the saying, No one truly knows the burdens another carries. It is so easy to react to a perceived injustice, unkindness, or snub, than to take a few minutes, breathe in and let it go. And as Jesus said, love those who hate you, bless those who curse you. Simplicity, Patience, Compassion.
The following story is copied from an anonymous author.
A farmer had some puppies he needed to sell. He painted a sign advertising the 4 pups and set about nailing it to a post on the edge of his property. As he was driving the last nail into the post, he felt a tug on his overalls. He looked down into the eyes of a little boy.
"Mister", he said, "I want to buy one of your puppies."
"Well", said the farmer, as he rubbed the sweat off the back of his neck, "These puppies come from fine parents and cost a good deal of money."
The boy dropped his head for a moment. Then reaching deep into his pocket, he pulled out a handful of change and held it up to the farmer.
"I've got thirty-nine cents. Is that enough to take a look?" "Sure" said the farmer. And with that he let out a whistle. "Here Dolly!" he called.
Out from the doghouse and down the ramp ran Dolly followed by four little balls of fur. The little boy pressed his face against the chain link fence. His eyes danced with delight. As the dogs made their way to the fence, the little boy noticed something else stirring inside the doghouse. Slowly another little ball appeared, this one noticeably smaller. Down the ramp it slid. Then in a somewhat awkward manner, the little pup began hobbling toward the others, doing its best to catch up.
"I want that one", the little boy said, pointing to the runt. The farmer knelt down at the boy's side and said, "Son, you don't want that puppy. He will never be able to run and play with you like these other dogs would."
With that the little boy stepped back from the fence, reached down and began rolling up one leg of his trousers. In doing so, he revealed a steel brace running down both sides of his leg attaching itself to a s specially made shoe. Looking back up at the farmer, he said, "You see sir, I don't run too well myself, and he will need someone who understands."
With tears in his eyes, the farmer reached down and picked up the little pup.
I cannot help but think how many times I make the same assumption as the farmer when it comes to my own children. I think I know what they need and will try to steer them to make, what believe is the best decision, rather than trust the Lord and them to make the decision that is best for them and their circumstances. It is amazing to see the wisdom of children in action, just as it is amazing to see the wisdom of our Lord and Savior in action in our lives each and every day. Sometimes we feel like the farmer, like we have the whole thing figured out and we know what is best. But what is amazing is when we realize that we are need to be more like the little boy, with his frailties, compassion, empathy and wisdom, And most importantly, trust that the Lord will give exactly what we need, exactly when we need it.
I have had a lot of occasion to think about community over the past couple of weeks. I grew up in West Deptford and have lived here for almost my entire life. When I was a kid, WD was the quintessential "small town". Our mail man used to deliver mail in his own car, the milkman left the milk on our front porch in an insulated grey box that I thought was there specifically to hold my collection of stones. My Uncle Bob and his long time friend and business partner Charlie Bowers, owned a small garage where they fixed cars. At 10:00am every weekday, that little garage would fill up with people from town for coffee. Guys who worked for the township, guys from the fire companies, police officers, farmers, delivery men, you name it, they were there; drinking coffee, talking, joking and having a good time.
Each December, everyone from the garage would head into the woods for a week of deer hunting and every summer they would fish together. They always looked out for each other and took care of each other. When my uncle got married, he and his wife bought land to build their house. The house was built by guys from town. Anyone who had time after work or on the weekend would show up and lend a hand, and that house is still standing today. Everybody pitched in to help each other no matter what the situation; physical, financial, emotional, there was always someone there to help. That is the West Deptford I know and will always remember.
When my eldest daughter was in eight grade she would tell me that a lot of kids in her grade did not like the town. If that's true, I can't help but think part of it may be that they have not experienced the "community" versus the town. When I was little, the neighbors around our house were all older couples with both the husband and wife retired. I used to spend hours with those old folks; in their homes, in their yards and on their front porches, talking with them. They shared stories, let me help them with projects and let me earn a little money cutting their grass. My one neighbor, Mrs. Leonard, gave me ten Indianhead pennies that I still have. I know most kids today will never have an opportunity to experience that kind of interaction. Not that I am anti-technology, but the childhood I got to have cannot be duplicated by a little glass box no matter how many "friends" or "likes" you have.
And that is what a church is as well, a community of followers of Jesus, who care for one another, are there for one another to help, encourage, lift up and bear one another along. Be bold and dare to be apart of the community.
Boys and girls...tell your parents and grab your lists! Santa will be coming to First Baptist Church of Mantua on Saturday, December 8th from 12 - 2pm. He will have a special treat for every little girl and boy and the church will provide light refreshments. Don't forget to bring your cameras to capture the moment. Come on out and tell Santa what you want for Christmas this year!
Some years ago I learned about what some call the "greatest transfer of knowledge in human history". This transfer of knowledge started with the Greek philosopher Socrates and include four people you may have heard of; Socrates taught Plato, Plato taught Aristotle and Aristotle taught Alexander the Great. Although I first heard of this relationship many years ago, I often return to these four men to think of the enormity of their connection. Although each of these men were giants in their fields, and were a succession of both student and teacher, they were not carbon copies of each other. They learned from their teacher, but did not feel they had to be just like him. They learned, developed their own ideas and progressed thought further forward.
As far as history knows, Socrates did not write anything down. What is know about him comes from the writings of his star pupil Plato who uses Socrates as the main character and teacher in many of his Dialogues. Despite all of the good that Socrates did for mankind, he was not exactly appreciated by the ancient Greeks. He was charged with the moral corruption of the youth of Athens and impiety. According to Plato, Socrates stood trial, was found guilty and was sentenced to death. His followers encouraged Socrates to flee Athens and many in the city expected him to do just that. However, Socrates refused to make a mockery of the trial. Rather than fleeing his beloved Athens, he drank hemlock, as he was ordered at his sentencing. Socrates remained true to his beliefs in the face of death. Rather than taking the easy way out, he chose to stand on his ideals. The loss to himself did not matter. What mattered was that his students, and all of the people of Athens, saw a man who did what was right no matter how many people said it was wrong.
After Socrates death, Plato opened his school of philosophy, The Academy, It was there that he further developed his own ideas and taught them to others. Aristotle was one of those students who studied with Plato for twenty years before opening his own school, The Lyceum. Alexander the Great was tutored by Aristotle until the age of 16. He became King of Macedon at age 20 and as a result of an incredibly successful military campaign ( in which he was never defeated) created one of the largest empires of the ancient world.
Each man impacted the world in his own way. Each was a student of the one before, learned from them, yet did not feel they had to be a carbon copy of them. So what is my point in all of this? At any given point in your life, you are a link in a transfer of knowledge. At times you are a teacher and at other times a student and quite often, you are both at the same time, learning from those wiser than you and teacher those less experienced than you.
Each of us is gifted in different ways and that gift is just what is needed by someone each and everyday. Perhaps you don't have a gift to be a teacher, no problem. You may have a gift of compassion, patience, humor, empathy, writing, it does not make a difference where your gift lies, by using that gift everyday, you will be transferring what you have to someone else, and that is teaching in its purest form baby.
My mother-in-law was a big believer in the power of words. She felt that if people constantly talk about being sick, they will convince themselves they are sick. If they constantly talk about being weak, or scared or worried, they will talk themselves into being just that. Conversely, if people talk about being happy, powerful and healthy, they will be if they talk like they are. I have found her words to ring true time and time again. I see this in so many people I have contact with on a daily basis. People who whine and complain always have troubles, but the funny thing is, they may not have any more trouble than anyone else; they just talk about it more and build it up in their mind and always seem to have something to complain about.
The Bible talks about the power of the tongue. It is such a small piece of the body, yet it is the hardest thing to control. The tongue has the power to encourage and lift up, or to cut, wound and tear down. The decision to be a blessing to someone or a curse to them is made every time we open our mouths. Sometimes, when anger or frustration get the best of us, we feel justified cutting people down and making them feel bad. But think about that; what ultimate good does it do to purposely make a person feel bad about themselves. And worse yet…we often do this to ourselves. We constantly talk to ourselves throughout the day. While most people are unwilling to sing their own praises, either to themselves or out loud, these same people have no problem criticizing or cursing themselves. We don’t like the way we look, don’t like our hair, are not smart enough, skilled enough, talented enough, our kids aren’t perfect enough, our grass isn’t as green as someone else’s and the list goes on and on. I repeat; what ultimate good does it do to purposely make yourself feel bad? It’s enough that others are more than happy to knock you down, you don’t need to help by knocking yourself down too. Rather than talking about all of the bad things, why not talk about all of the good things? Both originate in our own minds, why not choose to focus on the good rather than the bad?
One of the most enduring lessons I learned from my dad was that silence is OK. When I was growing up, my dad did not waste words. He only said what needed to be said, and more importantly, he never said what didn’t need to be said. My dad understood the principle of blessing and cursing with words. He knew that sometimes the best thing we could say was nothing at all and he followed that principle with himself as well. Like the vast majority of his generation, he worked, provided for his family and endured whatever came his way without fussing or complaining. He focused on what he had, not what he didn’t, and I can honestly say that I have never heard him complain about anything…except maybe me. J So learn from the lessons of some old-timers; speak blessings abundantly, both to others and yourself and sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all.