Friday, November 26, 2010

The Town of Thanks

Nancy: It's a parable of sorts, kind of an allegory.

This story was written by a friend of mine who actually wrote it as something for families to read aloud together. The story is called The Town of Thanks, and I think you will agree with me that it is a very appropriate story for this time of year.

Leslie: "Across the Sea of Imagination, in a time long ago, there was a delightful little village nestled in the mountains, right in the heart of The Kingdom. A sign on the outskirts of the village notified travelers that they were entering the Town of Thanks.

"The air in the Town of Thanks was fresh and clean. Children played excitedly in the park—that is, when they weren't busy learning the family trade from their parents.

"It was important for the children to learn their trade well. For the Town of Thanks was renowned for its superb craftsmanship and exquisite artistry. Visitors traveled from near and far across The Kingdom to purchase wares from the legendary town. Some even came from outside The Kingdom.

"The merchants of the Town of Thanks had a reputation for unusual attention to detail. The Wood Carver fashioned his pieces with great care and accuracy. The Weaver labored diligently over his loom, and his fabrics were woven using only the finest of threads. And every morning the Baker made fresh loaves of bread, using recipes known only to his family.

"There was no denying the extraordinary quality of the goods produced in the Town of Thanks. But the greatest distinctive, that unique charm that set this town apart from every other, was the signature displayed on every product that was sold—a simple, 'Thank You.' The inscription was etched into each piece of the Wood Carver's work; it was embroidered on the edge of every bolt of the Weaver's cloth; it was even stenciled on each bag of the Baker's bread.

"At every town meeting, without fail, the village elders would remind the townspeople, 'Our workmanship would mean nothing without those who buy our goods and provide our livelihood. We must always remember to express our appreciation to every customer.'

"It was a joy to shop in the Town of Thanks. Nowhere else could the citizens of The Kingdom purchase such fine merchandise, and nowhere did they feel any more warmly welcomed. Those who visited the Town of Thanks were always eager to return.

"Though generally crowded with shoppers, there was something peaceful and inviting about the streets. The craftsmen who tended their stores were always so friendly and were never too busy to answer customers' questions or help them find just what they were looking for.

"The Wood Carver (ever so humble) was quick to inform visitors of other products available in the town, and would nearly blush with gratitude over each purchase of his own work. The Weaver (busy and diligent in his labor) could always find time to visit with his customers and make them feel appreciated. And The Baker (so tender and warm in spirit) would always give hope and encouragement to any who entered his store.

"And so it continued from one generation to another, this rich heritage was passed on. But in time, yes, in time, things changed—not all at once, but slowly, almost imperceptibly.

"According to one wise man, the change began when business was booming, and people became so busy that they forgot to say 'thank you.' By and by, they began to consider the inscription an unnecessary expense.

"Before anyone realized what had happened, the Town of Thanks had ceased to be thankful. And when gratitude left, other things, ugly things, took its place.

"The shopkeepers no longer waited within their stores, content to help those who stopped in. Now they would gaze out their windows or stand on the sidewalk, waiting for the shoppers, looking for the shoppers, expecting the shoppers.

"If a shopper would arrive but purchased less than expected, the owner was annoyed. And if a prospective buyer went to a neighboring shop to make his purchase, the owner's heart would grow hot with jealousy. Those were sad days in the Town of Thanks. This town which once had so much, now wanted more.

"In time, word of the change traveled back to the King of The Kingdom. He knew the town's longtime reputation, and he knew what was needed to restore thankfulness. But would the people be able to see their need? And then, would they want to change?

"One day an elderly man wearing threadbare clothes and carrying an empty bag on his shoulder entered town. The Wood Carver eyed the prospective customer with interest, until he caught sight of the Old Man's shriveled purse. When the Old Man walked into his store, the Wood Carver remained outside, looking for more promising customers. A few moments later the Wood Carver spied the Old Man examining an especially lovely carving in the window. 'Be careful with that, Old Man. My products are expensive,' he said with pride.

"Slowly, the Old Man loosened his purse (no longer shriveled, but bulging with coins) and emptied it onto the table before the Wood Carver. Speechless for a moment, the Wood Carver soon found himself humbly shaking the Old Man's hand. 'Thank you, sir, for buying my product. I didn't expect that.' The Old Man smiled, placed the carving in his bag, and walked across the street to see the Weaver.

"The Weaver looked up from his work to see the Old Man slowly approach and enter his store. 'I don't have time for him,' the Weaver muttered to himself. 'I need some real shoppers who can afford my workmanship.' A moment or so later, the Old Man selected a bolt of fine, woven silk from the shelf and headed toward the Weaver. 'That's my best fabric, Old Man, and I don't want to get it dirty,' the Weaver said sharply.

"Deliberately, as before, the Old Man pulled from his vest a beautifully jeweled timepiece and placed it into the Weaver's hands. At that moment, time and the demands of a busy workday ceased to be important to the Weaver. It was as though the love of the world paled next to what he saw in that precious timepiece. He thanked the Old Man over and over for buying his product. The Old Man simply smiled, placed his purchase in his bag with the carving, and walked next door to see the Baker.

"Concerned and worried over many things, the Baker scarcely noticed his aged customer. Carefully, the Old Man selected a loaf of bread and placed his payment into the hand of the Baker. Their eyes met for a moment. The Baker knew the price being paid was far too great. He wanted to push it away, but then he understood that it had to be, and he received the payment with gratitude. Tears welled up in his eyes and began to overflow—tears of joy, for hope had returned to his heart. 'Thank you, Old Man, for coming to town today, and thank you for buying my goods.'

"The Old Man left town, wearied from his shopping. The items in the bag were now his; he had paid for them—an exquisite carving, a piece of fine silk, and a freshly baked loaf of bread.

"But the Old man saw his purchases differently.

"From the Wood Carver he had bought the sculpture of pride and left the payment of humility.

"From the Weaver, he had purchased impatience which had blossomed full from the love of this world. In exchange, he had given a vision to live for things of timeless value.

"And from the Baker's heart he had taken discouragement and despair, and left in their place unquenchable hope.

"The bag of goods grew heavy on the Old Man's shoulder as he stumbled up the path that led out of the valley. After days of travel, he finally approached his home. The drawbridge was lowered to allow him to enter the castle. As he made his way past the guards and attendants, each bowed low in respect before him.

"The bag he carried—filled with pride, love of this world, and despair—was taken down to the dungeon, where it would never see the light of day again.

"Finally, having returned to the palace, His mission fulfilled, He took His seat on the throne. As he did so, his eyes fell upon an object standing in the corner. Used only once, but always to be remembered, was a blood-stained, rugged cross.

"Thank You, Your majesty. Thank You."1

Nancy: Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift. God has given us so much, hasn't He? And not the least of which; in fact, the greatest of which is the Lord Jesus—the salvation that He has given us through Christ represented by that cross.

Of course you realize as we were listening to this story that the Old Man, the one who was really the King, is a picture of God Himself who came to visit this earth in the form of Jesus Christ.

And as we reflect on what He has done for us, I wonder if you don't need, as did those characters in this story—the Wood Carver and the Weaver and the Baker—they needed a great exchange.

But they had to be willing to give up those negative things that they had developed over the process of time as a result of an unthankful heart.

What is the exchange that perhaps you need in your heart, in your home today? Is there pride? Is there impatience? Is there discouragement? Is there bitterness?

If so, are you willing to give up those things to the Master, to the King? Just to hand them over to Him and say, "Lord, I don't want to live with those things any longer."

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