Contentment for Christmas

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Christmas has become retail’s favorite holiday. Celebrations, decorations, and Christmas carols accompany mass spending, often to the point of debt. According to a Forbes article published in 2016, “Parents are predicted to spend $495 per child this year, which is nearly $100 more than they spent last year.”1

With Christmas spending rising year by year, we have drifted far from simple Christmases. Despite out of control spending habits today, America was built on the foundation of simplicity.

In the book Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder recounts what she and her sister, Mary, each received for Christmas one year: a tin cup, a candy cane, a heart shaped cake, and a penny. This would be a very disappointing Christmas morning in today’s world, but both Mary and Laura were left speechless with joy. Previously, they had been sharing a tin cup, so having their very own was a real treat. I own at least four reusable water bottles and innumerable coffee mugs, yet I have never thought twice about how privileged I am.

Simple Christmas gifts remained the norm for decades to come. In the book To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus, the father, purchases an air rifle for each of his children, named Scout and Jem. That was it. Jem and Scout were, like Mary and Laura, positively overjoyed. Thus, the 1930’s proved to be no different from the 1800’s.

The old fashioned gift giving philosophy still lives on in unique individuals today. For instance, my Grandma French is always careful to fulfill a need with both her presents and her presence. Several years ago my sisters and I were spending the day at my grandparents’ home. I was using one of grandma’s pens and commented how much I liked it. Sure enough, for Christmas I received an identical pen. The fact that she remembered that miniscule fact makes me feel treasured, even though the gift was not of a high financial value.

People used to be purposeful with their gifts. Gifts were meant to fulfill a practical function. Now, we aim for quantity instead of quality, hoping that the combined glory of the gifts will make the receiver happy.

However, the more we receive, the less happy we seem to become.

Yes, gifts are a great avenue to show our love and appreciation for one another, but perhaps we have caved to obligation. If we do not purchase extravagant gifts, then we feel as though we have failed in proving our love. History shows that love certainly is not proved just through gifts. Laura, Mary, Jem, and Scout, as well as many others all felt their family’s love through the time spent together, whether at work or play.

In some instances, material gifts are more of a burden than a blessing. Perhaps a more meaningful gift would be writing someone a letter of encouragement to let them know how much they mean to you. Or maybe you could arrange a time to go to lunch or spend time together. Love is shown in our daily actions, not in a once a year gift spree.

Our culture of extravagant gift giving has also fostered an attitude of entitlement. If we do not receive what we asked for, if we are not wowed by the gifts under the tree, we feel short changed somehow. The commercials we see on television and the ads in stores strive to convince us that our lives our incomplete without the latest products and gizmos. If that was not enough, our social media feeds show families enjoying the perfect gifts. That leads us to naturally believe that we deserve the same treatment. In reality, any gift we receive is a blessing beyond belief.

1 Timothy 6:8 says, “And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” Anything that our family or friends give us beyond food, clothing, and shelter is a bonus, not something we are deserving of or entitled to. Perhaps the best gift Christmas can give is a change of perspective, an attitude of gratefulness. We can use this season to realize that many do not receive any gifts for Christmas, thus developing appreciation for the abundance we have. Our relationship with God and attitude of gratitude are the best assets in life. As 1 Timothy 6:6 says, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain.”

We know that the greatest gift of Christmas is Jesus Himself. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Whether we have a little or a lot, we can be satisfied because the Creator of the Universe has given His Presence to constantly abide with us. Christmas is when we received God’s presence ever abiding with us. Outshining any material possession, we have a permanent present: God’s peace and forgiveness.  And that is a solid reason to be content.

 

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Trouble in Jamestown-Lesson 2 IEW Advanced U.S. History

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This lesson also focused on outlining and note taking. Strong verbs, quality adjectives, and -ly adverbs were also reviewed.

Audrey French

IEW Advanced US History

8 March 2017

Trouble in Jamestown

After Spain had tremendous success in establishing colonies and discovering riches in the New World, England wanted to participate in this new undertaking. A group of London merchants rendered the funds for two trips to Virginia. Everyone had humongous hopes and dreams for the trip, which included founding a brand new settlement, finding gold, and bartering with the Native Americans. Unfortunately, the first group to actually set foot in Virginia found nothing of the sort. In fact, unlike Spain’s venture in the New World, they discovered a hostile, unpleasant land with unfriendly Indians and no riches to be seen.

Still, the settlers forged ahead and created a settlement in Virginia, which they decided to name Jamestown. Unfortunately, one of Jamestown’s deadliest problems would be completely self-inflicted. All of the food grown and collected by the settlers of Jamestown was placed in a common storehouse. Consequently, many of the apathetic settlers simply refused to work and instead mooched off of the work of others. These people who refused to help grow food were far more interested in hunting down riches than farming! Since few people worked to collect food, the supply quickly diminished to nothing. Thankfully, one of the leaders in Jamestown, John Smith, took control of the issue. He insisted that those who refused to work would be deprived of food. This rule worked well, but John Smith was not able to enforce it for long. A wound inflicted by a gun powder explosion forced him to return to England. The settlers had lost the enforcer of the rule that was keeping them alive, and soon the people of Jamestown were back to a state of starvation. The settlement was in serious peril.

Despite all of these setbacks, the Virginia Company refused to give up on its venture in the New World. As a result, they commissioned even more settlers. Promising these settlers fifty acres in exchange for seven years of work, the Virginia Company managed to convince thousands of England’s poor to complete the journey. More than nine thousand settlers traveled from England to the United States from 1610-1622.  Sadly, these poor adventurers soon became indentured servants. Tobacco growth flourished in Virginia, and the greedy stockholders needed people to tend the crops. The travelers, now indentured servants, were used for this arduous toil. Despite the promises made, only one out of twenty eventually received the land and the freedom that had originally lured them to the New World. Most did not even live to see a better life, as diseases like dysentery and malaria ran rampant, and often the indentured settlers were mistreated to the point of death. All things considered, England’s first venture in the New World was nothing but trouble in Jamestown.

The Cowardly Guard Dog

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Last night, I was blissfully oblivious to my surroundings until my mom burst in, “There’s a police helicopter circling. They are announcing over the PA system that there was an armed robbery at Circle K and the thief is loose in this area!”

I peeked through my closed blinds and spotted two police cars right on our corner. There were more police cars with flashing lights at the end of the street. According to our online neighborhood forum, the police were patrolling the alleys with search dogs.

Our backyard is a cache of hiding places, so we sent our Doberman outside to stand guard. If this crook were to jump our fence, she could surely handle it, right?

Dobermans are notorious for being vicious guard dogs, but our dog missed that memo. We were expecting her to patrol the perimeter of our fence, growling fiercely. Instead, she stood lazily on our patio with a sleepy, confused expression on her face. Instead of protecting her home, she was thinking about going back to bed. Sleepy dog won over patrol dog that night. The moment we let her back inside, she tried to climb into bed with me.

Bella is 65 pounds of pure muscle and teeth. She was born to be a protector, but when thrown into the action, she missed her opportunity. This reminds me of the average Christian today. We may not be pure muscle and teeth, but we have been outfitted with an impressive suit of armor.

Ephesians 6:14-17 says, “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;”

Friends, we are in a war. Not the cacophony of strife and anger in the political and social realms, but a much deeper spiritual one. The strife and anger is only a result of a deep battle and divide. Our actions as individuals are a direct result of what we believe about God. 1 John 3:10 says, “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.”

As children of God, do our actions show our identity in Christ? Or do we, like Bella, cower when the battle arrives at our door?

While most believers scatter at the sight of danger, there are exceptions. In fact, some of God’s kids are proactive in searching for the battle!

One example would be Jonathan and his armor bearer. In 1 Samuel 14, the Israelites were faced with the looming Philistine army. Besides being outnumbered, Jonathan was the only Israelite who had a weapon. 1 Samuel 13:22 says, “So it came about, on the day of the battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people who were with Saul and Jonathan. But they were found with Saul and Jonathan his son.”

Despite the obvious problems, Jonathan was unconcerned by these seemingly impossible to overcome obstacles. He knew who his God was. 1 Samuel 14:6 says, “Then Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will work for us. For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few.”

So they struck out for the enemy camp and soon encountered opposition. Twenty Philistines rushed Jonathan and his armor bearer, and they killed all twenty of them in succession.

This was only the start of the miracle. 1 Samuel 14:15 recounts what happened next, “And there was trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and the raiders also trembled; and the earth quaked, so that it was a very great trembling.”

When the Israelite army finally appeared at the place of battle, they found a fight already ensuing. The befuddled Philistines were locked in full on war with each other!

No man could take credit for this victory, as verse 23 says, “So the Lord saved Israel that day,”

These two men set the victory in motion by their confidence in God. In order to see God work in our lives, we have to take the first step of faith. Jonathan knew how powerful his God was, and then he took definitive action on that belief. If God had not come through, Jonathan and his armor bearer would have died. Standing on faith, they took a risk, and God loves risk-taking faith.

When the terror comes, stand boldly. We are never alone. The same God who saved Israel is constantly with us. And because of that, we can live out our destiny, showing courage rather than cowardice.

Training For Service

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At its core, living our lives for Jesus is exciting. However, the everyday mundane can be boring! Chores, school, and work sometimes seem to be an endless grind. Thankfully, the everyday mundane is actually where we start using our gifts for God’s glory and where God trains us for the future ahead. God waits till we are grounded in Him before choosing us for larger responsibilities. To clarify, God never requires perfection; He requires someone who is willing to learn. We continue to grow in our relationship with God through our whole lives, yet being grounded in Christ is a prerequisite to God entrusting us with increased responsibility.
Here are seven simple things we can do to strengthen ourselves for God’s kingdom.

1)    Work hard wherever you are.

Exciting opportunities can emerge at any time, but first we must be diligent in the everyday mundane tasks. Just look at Gideon. He was hard at work, threshing wheat, when an angel appeared! Gideon proved himself as a hard worker before God called him to lead the Israelite army. When we are diligent and responsible in everything we do, we open ourselves to larger responsibilities. As Jim Elliot once said, “Wherever you are, be all there.”

2)    Learn leadership in everyday situations.

Moses spent forty years of his life living in the desert as a shepherd. The whole time, he was destined to be the deliverer of God’s people. First, he needed to learn leadership, and what better way than to oversee a bunch of sheep! Guarding the flock of sheep was a prerequisite to leading the Israelites through the wilderness. We must be willing to be faithful in the little things (like watching sheep) before we can be faithful in the bigger things. (Luke 16:10)

3)    Build on your victories.

David, like Moses, was another faithful shepherd. While he was stuck in the fields watching sheep, he wisely spent his time growing closer to God. When he found himself staring into the face of a giant, he was already strong and confident in God. During his time protecting the sheep, he had single handedly killed a lion and a bear; thus, he had already seen God at work in his life. Remembering victories from the past gives us the courage and the faith to depend on God for future victories. David was strong in his faith long before he killed his giant.

4)    Live a lifestyle of loyalty.

Practicing loyalty places you in the sweet spot for God to use you. For example, Ruth is in the lineage of Jesus despite the fact she was not even a Hebrew. Because of her faithfulness in serving her mother-in-law Naomi, she ended up in the right place to marry Boaz, thus grafting her into the bloodline of Jesus. When we are consistently loyal, opportunities will arise. God always rewards us for our loyalty, whether on earth or in Heaven

5)    Take a risk on God.

One day, two enemy spies showed up on Rahab’s doorstep. Instead of betraying them, she promptly hid them and helped them escape the city. Her only stipulation was that they would protect her and her family. Without a doubt, hiding enemy spies is extremely risky, but apparently Rahab knew something about the God of the Bible. She was willing to risk her all on God and on the integrity of these two Hebrew spies. Her risk, based on solid information, saved her and her family. Sometimes in our lives we are faced with a choice that seems crazy. However, if we base our decision on God’s truth, then we cannot go wrong. After all, if God is for us, who can be against us?

6)    Utilize your natural gifts.

Queen Esther saved the Jewish people through her direct influence on the Persian king. However, becoming his queen was no simple task! She was called to the palace along with all the other eligible virgins in the land. Despite the disadvantages, Esther shone out. Esther 2:7 describes her as being both, “lovely and beautiful”. Esther used her beauty for God’s glory, and because of her position, she prevented a mass genocide. We must learn to first acknowledge the natural gifts and abilities God has given us and then utilize them for His glory.

7)    Don’t be afraid to ask others for help.  

Nehemiah was a Jewish captive serving in Babylon as the king’s cupbearer. When he heard from a fellow Israelite that the walls of Jerusalem were in extreme disrepair, Nehemiah took decisive action. One of the very first things he did in his quest to rebuild the wall was asking the king (his boss) for supplies. Nehemiah’s boldness was rewarded and he was granted ample supplies. In our goals for God, we must not be afraid to ask others for help and assistance. Just like the king, often times people will be eager to assist, but we have to ask!

Your life is no different from the heroes of the Bible.

Just like everyone featured in the Bible, God has amazing plans for you and me. While we are in the everyday mundane, we must utilize our time effectively to train for use in God’s kingdom. We must learn to depend primarily on God, but also accept that other people will be a part of God’s plans for our lives. Continue to be faithful in your training, and gear up for the exciting life God has for you both now and in the future!

 

The Epic Clash of Mindsets-Lesson 1 IEW Advanced U.S. History

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The adventure begins! Being the first lesson, the essay itself was fairly basic. The main focus was learning how to take notes and outline successfully. The who-which clause was also reviewed.

Audrey French

IEW Advanced US History

February 15, 2017

The Epic Clash of Mindsets

The history of the United States was fascinating and intriguing long before the first European stepped foot in the new world. Hundreds of years ago, nomads, originally from Asia, traveled to America. These people dispersed over this vast new land and then congregated together into small villages. North and South America could boast of having over two thousand different tribes by the late 1,400’s. These tribes were each classified by their own unique culture. However, all of the Indians in North America were united by their basic lifestyle, which was simply living in harmony with the land. The Native Americans were building an entirely different history for America that the Europeans would later rudely hijack.

The behavior of each tribe was largely dependent on what their homeland was like. The Indians who lived in the northern parts of North America would build their homes out of timber, which was readily available. The Indians living on the plains did not have timber available, so they built tepees out of animals hides. These tepees were easy to move around to different locations so that the Indians could follow the buffalo. Using clay, the daring Indians who lived in the southwest parts of the United States built multi-level homes on the sides of cliffs.   Despite their many differences in lifestyle, most Indian groups did have a few common characteristics which united them. Most Indians loved to hunt and fish. Some Indians who lived near the water cleverly built boats that helped them to span the distance between other tribes. All Indians shared a respect for nature – even to the point of considering it to be sacred – which meant they never abused the land for its resources. Despite their differences and likenesses, the people of each tribe skillfully lived in accordance with their homeland’s environment and resources.

When the Europeans came to North America, they drastically changed the future of the Native Americans. Their mindset immediately clashed with that of the Native Americans, which caused an enormous amount of conflict. While the Indians protected the land, the Europeans immediately saw the monetary value and stripped the land of its resources for profit. The Indians and the Europeans continually brawled and battled, which led to many casualties for both groups. However, the depredation laid on the Native Americans by the Europeans was calamitous. The Native Americans were involuntarily forced to leave their land by the newcomers. Even worse, they contracted horrible diseases from the Europeans, to which they had no immunity. European diseases like measles and chicken pox killed thousands of Native Americans. In fact, there were about four to eight million Native Americans in North America before the Europeans came, but by the year 1890, the USA only had a quarter of a million Native Americans left. The Native Americans, who once had bright hopes and peaceful lives on their very own continent, were now facing a much grimmer future due to the clash of their mindsets with that of the new settlers.

 

Milton Hershey-Hard Work, Failure, and Final Success

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Milton Hershey is a pleasant name to any chocolate lover. While most people enjoy the fruits of his labor, they are probably not aware of his rough childhood and the long road of failure he walked before his sweet success.

As a child, Milton’s unhealthy home situation forced him to grow up quickly. His father was lazy and eagerly followed the latest get rich quick schemes. Milton had to fill his father’s shoes by picking up the slack around the family farm.

When Milton was a young teen, his father made him an apprentice with a printer. Luckily for us chocolate lovers, he hated the printing business. Mrs. Hershey was sensitive to her son’s real talents.  She found him a new apprenticeship at a candy store.  Even though it was a challenging job, Milton thrived and soaked up all the tricks his boss could teach him.

The hard work ethic Milton possessed as a teenager propelled him into his career. He completed his candy training by age eighteen and promptly started his own business.

Despite his skill and relentless work ethic, Milton barely got started before his business crashed down around him.  Many sleepless nights of work seemed to be in vain. He started twice more, but his business utterly failed.

A discouraged Milton Hershey took a break from candy making. He traveled to Colorado and discovered a special technique for making caramel while out there.  When he went back to the east coast of the United States he finally struck success in the caramel industry with his special recipe.

Things were looking up, but this was just the beginning.

During this time Milton explored another business venture. Delicious milk chocolate was extremely rare in the 1800’s. It would usually turn out gritty. Milton’s relentless nature drove him to experiment with milk chocolate recipes in hopes of making a smooth, yummy milk chocolate.  Eventually he discovered a successful recipe and was able to sell his caramel business and fully pursue the milk chocolate business.

The rest is history. His business boomed.  He built a whole town around his chocolate factory for all his workers to live in.  He was truly the chocolate king! Thankfully, Milton Hershey remembered his own humble beginnings and provided opportunities for people who were financially disadvantaged. He had a special place in his heart for young boys, who, like him, did not have a stable father figure in their life. Thus, Milton created a home for young boys where they would receive vocational training, education, and loving house parents to teach Biblical values.

He was known for treating his employees with respect and care, striving to create a positive living and work environment. When Milton was constructing the town around his factory, he insisted that each home should have a different design. His orders were disregarded and the builders started to make all the houses the same. Milton forced them to tear down the homes and start over. He wanted his employees to have both a comfortable and unique place to call home. He used his influence and money to treat others well.

 

What can we learn from Milton Hershey’s life?

Many things, but the whole point of this story is not actually about Milton Hershey or chocolate.  It is about a principle that Milton applied early in his life.  Milton took his confectionery training as a teen very seriously.  If he had not started his training and career as a teenager and young adult, he may have never succeeded later in life. Furthermore, Milton needed years of trial and error before he found success. We will need trial and error time too, and the sooner we start the better.

We may or may not accomplish something monumental as a teen, but that is not the real issue.  The training we are receiving now will serve as stepping stones and even bridges for future opportunities.  Being a student is a unique and short lived period in our lives.  Milton Hershey probably never dreamed that his apprenticeship would turn into a whole town for his booming business.  As the Bible puts it, “and let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” – Galatians 6:9

Picture credit: The Famous People

 

 

Facing Evil in America

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In his introduction of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Alfred Kazin writes, “The influence of a great book can have amazing repercussions in the life and mind of a country.” Uncle Tom’s Cabin certainly had some spectacular repercussions – it helped to start the Civil War which ended slavery. Apparently, the author, Mrs. Stowe, always intended to write for a deeper purpose. Kazin says that Mrs. Stowe, “was the first to maintain that in writing it she was less concerned with producing a work of literature than with the urgent need to persuade people through literature that slavery was wholly immoral.” The purpose of this article is to highlight the way Stowe dealt with a major social issue of the day. Her strategies for facing evil are still ones we should be applying today.

  • Biblical obedience over political correctness

One of my favorite conversations in the book is between Mr. and Mrs. Bird. Mr. Bird is an exhausted state senator who has worked to pass fugitive slave laws in his Northern state – laws that would make it illegal for anyone to assist an escaping slave. Though against slavery himself, Mr. Bird helped to pass the law in order to make peace between his state and Kentucky, a slave state. Mrs. Bird is described as a meek, gentle woman, but as soon as she hears about this law she flies into a flurry:

“Now, John, I don’t know anything about politics, but I can read my Bible; and there I see that I must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort the desolate; and that Bible I mean to follow.”

“But in cases where your doing so would involve a great public evil – ”

“Obeying God never brings on public evils. I know it can’t. It’s always safest, all around, to do as He bids us.” (Page 90)

Americans face the same choice today: Biblical obedience or political correctness. With issues like abortion, gay marriage, sexuality, and even welfare, Christians must choose to either obey the Bible or follow the mainstream. The Bible is crystal clear on these issues, but many Christians refuse to take a stand because they are scared of the potential backlash.  But as history shows, God’s way is truly the only safe way.

  • Recognize the humanity of those being wronged

In chapter 12, a young man witnesses a slave wife tearfully saying goodbye to her husband who has been sold. The man has some powerful remarks for the slave trader who now owns the man:

“My friend,” he said speaking with thick utterance, “how can you, how dare you, carry on a trade like this? Look at those poor creatures! Here I am, rejoicing in my heart that I am going home to my wife and child; and the same bell which is a signal to carry me onward towards them will part this poor man and his wife forever. Depend upon it, God will bring you into judgment for this.” (Page 141)

This man was a master of empathy. He acknowledged that the slave being carried away had the same feelings as his own. We should carry the same mindset especially when facing social issues. Using abortion as an example, those who are pro-choice argue that the fetus is, “just a clump of cells”. One of our best weapons to counteract this argument is simply acknowledge that a fetus is a human being who can feel pain as early as eight weeks. Regarding the modern day sex trade, we can recognize the suffering and pain of the women and children whose bodies are being sold. Their sexual safety is worth protecting just as much as our own. When we put ourselves in the place of those being abused, we can fight more effectively for them.

  • Doing the right thing means sacrifice.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin introduces us to a community of courageous Quakers who are helping slaves escape to Canada. This operation was quite dangerous and the father in this scene has already been caught once. The family is discussing the potential consequences when one of the fugitive slaves speaks up, expressing his concern for his protectors. The father of the family, Simeon, says, “If we would not meet trouble for a good cause, we were not worthy of our name.” (Page 161)

More often than not, Americans refuse to do the right thing for one of two reasons: the consequences or the inconveniences. Taking a stand for Biblical values will gain you many haters in our world. It might even hurt you financially or land you in jail. If we are not too afraid to voice our convictions, then sometimes our fear of inconvenience causes us to talk instead of act. Taking action on our convictions is often disruptive to our normal lives. In a conversation with his pious Christian cousin from Vermont, St. Clare, a southern man with slaves, admits to her that he actually detests slavery. Despite his strong anti-slavery opinion, he argues that pointing fingers at the problem is easy, but taking action to solve the problem is a whole other matter.

Like Mrs. Stowe, we need to pull our heads out of the sand and face our glaring social issues head on. The Bible is always our authority on social issues. Every other voice will only lead us astray. We must learn to see people – whether they are born yet or not, captive or free – as individuals who God hand crafted and loves dearly. Finally we must take action on our Biblical convictions, because convictions without action are entirely useless. Even when we do find the courage to speak out, we must follow that up with movement. There is still hope in our fight. After all, America managed to abolish slavery. If we can do that, then we can certainly see more victories in present social issues.

Uncle Toms Cabin