Archive for category Devotionals

JOY FOR THE JOURNEY, #8, FRUIT BASKET

You won’t find it at the top of this year’s Most Wanted Gift List. You didn’t see a lot of bally-hoo on the boob tube that caused normal-thinking adults to throw common sense out the window and go stand in line for hours in the wee hours of a cold winter Friday morning. And then trample little children and slow-moving seniors like the famous running of the bulls when they finally opened the doors.

No, it’s not the latest electronic gadget with a gazillion gigabytes of memory. And I don’t believe you can use it to send a message, or see each other’s face while you’re talking to somebody on the other side of the world. 

But there it was. In the produce department at the grocery store. All neatly wrapped in a nice basket. Tied up with a pretty bow. Under a bright florescent light. No lines. No limit. Help yourself. A gift guaranteed to turn on a mega-watt smile. Sorta like the heart smile you get when you gaze at a beautiful manger scene.

Beyond these delicious apples and oranges and grapes and bananas, though, I remembered the story of a man who once gave away a different kind of basket. His was filled with rotten fruit. Apples of anger. Tangerines of terror. Oranges of outrageous behavior. Dispensing beatings like bunches of bananas.

Until one day when a bright Light turned his basket upside down. In fact, the Light was so bright, it blinded him for three days. Plenty of time to think about the rotten fruit in his basket.

After that day on that dusty dirt road, he began to give out baskets filled with a different kind of fruit. His name was even changed. As a new man in more than just his name, Paul vowed never again to burden folks with rotten fruit; just to bless them with the sweet tasting Fruit of the Spirit:  

Galatians 5:22-23 (NKJV)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

Now, there’s a message that CAN be sent around the world. Without the help of the internet. One fruit basket at a time.

WHAT KIND OF FRUIT IS IN YOUR BASKET?

 

 

 

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JOY FOR THE JOURNEY, #7, TAKE A KNEE

True to his orthopedic training, the good doc explained it in easily understood terms, “you’re having some pain when you bend your knee because that little cushion called cartilage between the bones in your knee joint is almost gone. And because of your age (I knew that was coming) the wear and tear that your knees have taken over the years, that little cushion on the inside is gone. And you need a cushion on the outside to get on your knees, right?

You know, knees are funny-looking things. They take all that abuse…bending, squatting, sitting, standing, jumping…and I’d be willing to bet that you’ve never said, ‘Oh, I’m so thankful for my knees.’

But just let one of ’em start giving you trouble. Like that sound of milk-over-cereal – snap, crackle, pop – when you do manage to take a knee. That’s when you come up with brilliant thoughts like – ‘OK, what else can I do while I’m down here?’ 

In my extensive (?) research on knees, I think I’ve stumbled across something … the cause of stiff knees. With much respect to doc’s medical training and skill, there’s another explanation. Stiff knees are caused by stiff necks.

Now that’s probably not going to be accepted for publication in any journal of medical discoveries that you’ll ever read.

Spiritually speaking, though, when we become stiff-necked (mule-headed stubborn), we have trouble bending our knees (bowing to anything or anybody). That’s not a wild idea after a sleepless night.

Actually, it came from studying a little figurine that’s one of two year-round Christmas ‘decorations’ (the other one is the little drummer boy) at our house. 

So before you schedule that total knee replacement surgery, let’s all try a little therapy on our stiff necks. In that little figurine, there are some eye-opening and heart warming  revelations.

First, Santa is OLD! And he’s enjoyed a few too many cookies and fruit cakes. But he had no trouble at all getting down on both knees beside the manger of Baby Jesus.

And speaking of eyes, look at Santa’s eyes – wide open in amazement and awe. And hands clasped in reverence and respect. Something tells me he wasn’t the least bit worried about knee pain or calling his elves to help him get back up. 

Another thing – I don’t see that big ol’ bag of presents for all good little boys and girls slung over Santa’s back. I’m thinking he knows his sack of stuff can’t hold a candle to the One true gift – the greatest Gift the world has ever known – that his eyes are gazing on right there in front of him. 

Also, can you see the look of joy on the face of baby Jesus?  We all love giving gifts that make people happy but nothing we could ever give can compare with John 3:16, the Gift of Love that brought Jesus to the manger.

Finally, and if you don’t remember anything else you’ve read here, don’t miss this! The arms of baby Jesus, even in the lowly manger, are outstretched. And 33 years later, His mighty arms were still outstretched as He hung on that old rugged cross.

He came to earth in a simple wooden cow-feeding trough. Covered in swaddling clothes. He left the earth on an ugly wooden cross. Covered in His own blood. It’s been 2017 years and still His arms are outstretched. That thought alone should be enough to bring us to our knees.

Someday, maybe soon, everybody in the world left standing, even those with stiff necks, will take a knee.     

 

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JOY FOR THE JOURNEY, #6, NOT MICROWAVE SAFE

Some internet messages are easily recognizable as pure scams. And without being judgmental, can I just say the scumbags that send them. But this one seemed for real. After all, it was from my son. I know he would not be involved in a shady internet scam. He had a real need. He was trying to help a buddy. I was so proud of him.

“One of the guys I work with,” he said, “wants to surprise his wife by making Thanksgiving dinner for her.” Such a noble young man! He explained further, “I’m trying to help but we’re clueless.” “Sure, son, what can I do to help,” I quickly typed on the world wide web.

His reply was immediate. “How many minutes does it take to microwave a 25-lb turkey?” With flying fingers,  I logged on to that source of world wide information that has answers to any question you could ever ask. Rule of thumb, said Mr. Google, 10 minutes per pound, but only for a 10-12 pound bird. And then you’d need a microwave-safe bag, spices, basting brush, meat thermometer, etc., etc., etc. And even with all that, microwave is not the recommended way of cooking a turkey. And besides, if that bird isn’t completely thawed, your kitchen will orbit the earth like the Hubble telescope. 

Dad’s recommendation to his very helpful and thoughtful son – get a deep fryer and a gallon of peanut oil. “But Dad,” came his impassioned reply, “he needs it fast because his wife will be home in about an hour!”

Recommendation #2: Go to the jewelry store right now, buy her some bling-bling, and take her out to her favorite expensive restaurant. And pray they have turkey and dressing and all the trimmings on the menu. Trust me, he’ll come out way ahead financially when compared to the possible costs of a new kitchen and other related medical bills.

With his “Thanks, Dad,” I was confident that I had done my fatherly duty. Only days later did I learn that he and all his other buddies at work were ROFL. I think that’s www.talk for rolling on the floor laughing! How horrible! Just another scam. Upwardly mobile young adults playing tricks on their unsuspecting and loving old senior citizen parents! Oh, did I mention – our newly revised last will and testament should be ready in a few days. 

And speaking of prayer – sometimes I think we put our prayers in the microwave and expect God to answer them in a minute and thirty seconds. Remember OLD Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke? When the angel Gabriel told him that his wife was going to have a baby he was dumbfounded. How can this be, he said? We’ve prayed and prayed and prayed for many years when we COULD have had a baby. But now we’re old and CAN’T have one. But our prayers were never answered, so we just gave up and quit praying.

Can’t you just hear Gabriel saying, “God has heard your prayers and He just wants to be sure y’all can handle a BIG BLESSING.” In His timing, everything is right. But sometimes it takes a little longer for Him to check out our maturity in the faith. In other words, we may be like that 25-pound turkey. It’s just not microwave safe; it’ll take a bit longer time to see if we’re ‘done.’ And God can’t be rushed.

Prayers always work, sometimes pray-ers don’t.   

 

 

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JOY FOR THE JOURNEY, #5, CHRISTMAS STRESS

It’s here folks. You can already see it and feel it. Just walk into that big box store and you’ll see it, too. That is, if you make it inside the store. First, you have to avoid the run away shopping carts that play bumper cars with your front door.

Then you try to find a good parking space in the ten acre parking lot. And hold the hands of your small children as you approach the traffic jam around the three or four handicapped spaces.

But you run the obstacle course and make it to the front of the store. There you see people going in through the Exit door. And coming out through the Enter door. Why do they have those doors marked, anyway? Nobody pays attention.

By now your nerves are shot, your hair’s a mess, and you’re sweating like it’s the fourth of July. One more thing to frazzle your last nerve – no shopping carts. And the youngster whose job it is to bring in the strays with that automatic round up machine is taking a smoke break. Your stress meter is off the chart.

Hold on. Here comes the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. There it is…just sitting there as you pull out your shopping list. An innocent-looking little sign. A friendly reminder from store management that you only have 25 days until Christmas.

Now you’re in full panic mode. What if they run out of the latest craze in those digital doom-a-flatchies with twin electronic controls that Junior is screaming for in your good ear.

One innocent looking little sign silently screaming its message to your brain. Advertising to create urgency. Buy NOW and avoid the last minute rush!

Walking away, this thought occurs. I wonder what it would take to create the same urgency to find the greatest Gift the world has ever known. And it’s not up there on the top shelf where you can’t reach it unless you’re 6-foot-5. It’s wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

The best part? It’s absolutely FREE! There was a cost but it’s already been paid in full.

Do you really have 25 days left till Christmas? Not even the angels in Heaven know the answer to that question. So why not go ahead and make that the first thing to mark off your list. I promise you – the rest of your shopping will be stress free. 

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JOY FOR THE JOURNEY,#4, SEEING IS BELIEVING

A friend said one time that on his last visit to the eye doctor, he decided to play a trick on the doctor. When doc asked him to read something on the eye chart, he would say, “What eye chart?” And then the doc said, “The one on that wall right over there.” To which my friend would say, “What wall?”

And just before the doc called the office of Assistance For The Blind, he would say, “Just kidding, Doc!” I’ll admit, that’s not the way it usually goes on a routine annual eyesight check up. Usually doc will say, Read the bottom line. OK, try line 7. No problem, how about line 5. Can’t see that one? OK, starting at the bottom, just tell me the first line you CAN see. 

How about your hearing? Have you found yourself turning your head to hear with your ‘good ear’? Or asking, “What was that you said?” Maybe it’s time for some audio assistance. Or maybe you’ve visited your cardiologist so often that terms life A-Fib, stints, and by-pass (and I’m not talking about the road around town to dodge downtown traffic) have become household terms.    

The longer God allows us to walk His earth, the more frequently our fearfully and wonderfully-made physical bodies require regular visits with our family doctor. Excuse me, in the new age lingo, I’m supposed to say Primary Care Physician. 

However, there’s something that we haven’t seen even if our eyesight is 20-20; something that we have not heard even if we can hear a pin drop from 400 miles away; and something we can’t even imagine … something that’s never entered into any person’s heart and mind … something we don’t have the ‘foggiest idea’ about … something we don’t have a clue about … like how good that little round piece of dough with a hole in the middle tastes when the hot now light is on before we’ve ever tasted it.  

With that in mind, we can begin to wrap our mind around the idea of Heaven, although we’ll never fully understand what God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9) until we see it for real.  

How’s your vision? Is it time for a visit to the Eye Doctor?

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JOY FOR THE JOURNEY, #3, WAKE-UP CALL

The red light on the phone in the hotel room blinked incessantly. But since we were just checking in, it couldn’t be for us. And in the business of checking in and settling in, the blinking red light captured no more of our attention. But through the night, though we were asleep, it constantly called for attention.

Seeing it still sending out its message when morning came, we sought an answer from the front desk. “No, Sir, you don’t have any messages. We don’t know why the light is still blinking. We think someone before you must have not answered their wake-up call. 

What would you do if you checked your Caller ID on your next incoming call and saw this message? Would it be a wake-up call? Would you hit the green Accept button immediately? Or would you just let it go to voice mail? Or maybe send one of those ‘too busy to talk right now’ or ‘can I call you later’ messages?

This scenario most likely won’t ever play out on your hand held device. But it very well could happen, and often does happen, if the ‘ears of our heart’ are listening for and accepting all calls from this Caller. Is He calling you right now? Our Savior stands with outstretched arms, constantly sending out this message, “Whosoever will may come.” (John 3:16)

Excuse me, your phone is ringing. Don’t you need to take that call?

 

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JOY FOR THE JOURNEY, #2, BLACK FRIDAY

NO SUCH THING AS BLACK FRIDAY!

QUICK! What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when I say ‘day after Thanksgiving?’ If you said Black Friday, you’re absolutely wrong.

Hear me out, please, before you say his mind has turned to sweet potato souffle.

I realize it’s good for business and many stores survive these days on what happens during the holiday shopping season beginning the day after Thanksgiving. And some places don’t even wait till the day AFTER Thanksgiving. They crank it up before the turkey and dressing gets cold.

But Black Friday – four o’clock on a cold and dark late November morning? If they can sell that theater-size flat screen television for 99-dollars from four to six am, why couldn’t they do the same from, say, three to five PM?

At least if people are going to run over small children and turn over shopping carts carrying babies, maybe the ambulances could get there a little better in the daylight.

Come to think of it, maybe Black Friday gets its name from the color of the bruises people suffer trying to get to something they don’t need on the day after they were thankful for all they have.

 I submit to you, dear readers, a better name for the day after Thanksgiving, the day before Thanksgiving, and all the OTHER 363 days of the year – are you ready for it? THANKS-LIVING!  And the icing on the pumpkin cake – you don’t have to stand in line on a cold dark morning… WHOSOEVER will may come –  any time, any day, anywhere. Remember, it’s not happy people who are thankful; it’s thankful people who are happy. And this ol’ country boy is happy and thankful that he’s not standing in line. 

HAPPY THANKS-LIVING, EVERYBODY! 

 

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JOY FOR THE JOURNEY, #1, THANK YOU NOTE

A Thanksgiving Day Thank You Note

By Freeman Martin

Author’s Note: This was written several years ago. Since then our Journey has taken us many miles further down the road. When I ran across it today, the pleasant memories of this special lady flooded across the miles of our Journey like the gravy on our Thanksgiving turkey & dressing. I share it in the singular hope that it might add a taste of sweetness like cranberry sauce to your 2017 Thanksgiving Day family gathering. (Psalm 100:4)

In his Thanksgiving message to our church at Rock Springs Baptist, our pastor, Dr. David Gallamore, focused on Psalm 100, one my Grandmother’s favorite Scripture passages. Pastor’s message knocked the rust off a few of my dormant brain cells, and sent me back down that old dirt road to the Woodshed, remembering the impact of a sweet, simple, Southern lady, and a Thank You note to her that we wrote when our first book was being published. I share it again today with the prayer that it might cause a pause for all of us to give thanks for all our blessings. As the guys & girls sing about at church, God really has been so good. Thanksgiving Blessings to you and yours from the old dirt road country boy and his mill hill bride.

Dear Grandma,

In my lifetime, I’ve been negligent in writing so many thank you notes to people who have blessed me with their special gifts. But, as you used to say, this one ‘takes the cake.’ As you no doubt know by now, God has seen fit to orchestrate the release of my first book during the Thanksgiving season. And, since you gave your life on earth to the teaching profession, I must beg you to please excuse my English, but ain’t it wonderful how He works His plan in our lives to bring Him honor and glory.

But before I start chasing rabbits, back to my confession. This thank you note is about sixty years overdue. Boy howdy, my MHB’s (mill hill bride) blood pressure would be off the chart if I did that today! By the way, Grandma, one of my most treasured possessions is a picture of you wearing white gloves at the wedding of this country boy and his mill hill girl back there in ‘64.

Speaking of pictures, there are two of you in Woodshed Wisdom, Vol. 1. In one of them, you’re young and beautiful at age 21. In the other, which I also treasure, you’re even more graceful and beautiful at age 84. I believe the writer of Proverbs might have had you in mind when he wrote about the splendor of gray hair (Prov. 20:29). So, even though I never thanked you as a cotton-haired country boy, this rapidly balding ol’ man sends this heart-felt thank you note.

The memory of you in your rocking chair and me, sittin’ up straight, I might add, in a high back wooden chair on the front porch of your little house on the hill, is as fresh today as the ‘maters and ‘taters we grew and ate back there on the farm at Route 4. And even though I would much rather have been scarin’ some squirrels and rabbits and birds with my slingshot, I knew better than to argue when you said, ‘Go in the house and get The Good Book.’

Grandma, I know in my heart that had it not been for your insistence that I read to you from The Good Book, there quite possibly might not be a book today with my name on it. You always said you wanted me to read to you from your favorite Book because of your failing eyesight. But, oh, how I realize now that you knew and believed the truth that God’s Word would be a lamp to my feet and a light for my path (Psalm 119:105) to help me see the road ahead long after I no longer walked down that dirt road at Route 4.

Because of your vision, I know that the Bible is the greatest book ever written. I’ve also come to realize that you not only loved His Book, but you lived His Book. And that brought Thanks-living to every day of your life, holiday or not. Even though you were a pauper in the eyes of the world, you were rich in God’s eyes beyond human imagination. And to think that you chose a life of pouring that wealth all over a bunch of unruly farm boys and girls, just humbles my heart and soul today.

In fact, I woke up in the pre-dawn hours of this Thanksgiving morning with a song in my heart. I can’t carry a tune in a water bucket, but one of the memory verses you made me memorize was Psalm 98:1, ‘Sing to the Lord a new song for He has done great and marvelous things.’ You also taught us that the devil likes to make us think about what we don’t have, and there was a lot that we didn’t have back there at Route 4. But what we did have was a grandmother who loved the Lord and lived that ‘attitude of gratitude’ way of life, thankful for the air we breathed, the water we drank, and, even those ‘maters and ‘taters we ate.

Your ‘thanks-living’ way of life became your witness, always telling others how good God had been to you throughout your life. Grandma, that’s a lesson that’s taken me many, many years to learn, but one that I promise to remember in whatever books God allows me to write. Like you always taught us, ‘Whatever you love, you’ll tell others about.’ Yes, even cornbread and milk, but especially the Lord who provides it!

So, Grandma, as I close this long overdue thank you note on this Thanksgiving Day, so many decades removed from your front porch, I’m so thankful that I can still see you leaning back in your rocking chair with your eyes closed and a mega-watt smile lighting up the place as I read to you one of your favorite passages from the Greatest Book ever written:

Psalm 100 King James Version (KJV) 1 Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. 2 Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. 3 Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. 5 For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

Thank you, Lord, for my Grandma.

Emily Henrietta Compton Martin 1884 – 1970

 

 

 

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COLLARDS & HOG JOWLS, PART VI, 1-1-15

Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

Ed. Note: Five years ago today, Jan. 1, 2010, we went to the Woodshed with a childhood memory entitled “Collards and Hog Jowls.” Then and now, it remains one of the most commented upon of all our remembrances of growing up on the farm at Route 4, Seneca, SC, in the 50’s. Each succeeding January 1st, in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and now 2015, we’ve changed the dates a bit, but basically repeated the story. Today is no different. For the 6th consecutive year, that love ‘em or hate ‘em relationship with something that you have to hold your nose to get ‘em in your mouth is the subject of our visit to the ‘shed’ on this first day of 2015.

If you’re a regular reader of the Woodshed, you’ll probably remember that our attention was first drawn to this ‘smelly’ subject of hog jowls and collard greens by our long-time good friends, loyal “Woodshed-ers,” and former school bus rider, Cathy and Randy Williams, as Randy was stinking up not only their whole house, but watering the eyes of all the animals in the woods all over the great northwest of Oconee County.

I haven’t heard from the Williams household this year. Maybe they were told to cease and desist by SPCAN (Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Neighbors). However, confirmation that we should stay the course on this pungent subject has come overnight and today from two different sources. I’m thinking there might have been some kind of conspiracy up there in those northern woods. While there seems to be no dead polecat aroma emanating from the Williams household, possibly due to the aforementioned SPCAN sanctions, I’m told that they’re sending investigators to another site just across the ridge from the Williams.

I’m guessing here, again, but those SPCAN (almost sounds like spit-can!) private eyes were tipped off by a simple social media message (or cry for help) from a computer located in the cabin in the deep northern woods belonging to Pete and Nancy Cumbee. It was such an innocent message – “my whole house stinks” – and one that could have been caused by wandering skunks. Or maybe Easter eggs that were never found. But given the proximity of the Williams site to the Cumbee site, I’m going out on a limb and guessing that the SPCAN detectives didn’t have to follow their noses very far to find the incriminating evidence at the Cumbee Cabin. After all, this ain’t rocket surgery, folks.    On a windy day that smell has been known to burn the paint off houses as far away as 50 miles.

My second confirmation, ironically, came in another social media message. And would you believe – this one from someone I’ve known since the day she was born. Yep, our #1 and only daughter Kim was quoted as saying she hopes there’s something to that old superstition that ‘whatever you do on the first day of the year, you’ll be doing all year long.’ Wonder where in the world she could have heard such foolish thinking. But since she and a friend are lolly-gagging down the road toward the beach, I can only guess that she hopes she can be lolly-gagging down the road toward the beach every day of the New Year. And why does that not surprise me? That girl would live at the beach if she could. But, of course, modern gurus say that parents are responsible for training the minds of our babies, so I guess we shouldn’t have let her play in her sand box every day of her life. Anyway, her brother Jeff would probably beg to differ with her, especially since he’s spending the day ‘0n the clock’ as opposed to her lolly-gagging.

I just don’t buy into this ‘first day of the year’ hogwash anyway. So, to Randy and Pete and all you other stink-eaters who have to put a clothes pin on your nose to get something past your lips hoping all the while that eatin’ something akin to road kill will bring you good luck, I have a news flash for you. A stomach pump is real. And it’s bad luck. Why in the name of Sam Hill do you think that stuff only grows once a year? Call it Woodshed math or old-age head-scratching, but I can still put two and two together and come up with four.

But I have a confession. Take a deep breath. Here it comes. If I had any inkling of an idea in this well-worn dirt road country boy brain that what my MHB (mill hill bride) and I are doing on the first day of 2015 would continue for the other 364 days, I would tell Randy and Pete to load up a two-horse wagon of that stinking stuff and bring it to me ASAP. I’d hold my breath as long as possible and dive into the mess head first ‘cause I surely hope and pray that this old-timey flu-induced quarantine and accompanying heavy antibiotic fog are gone before the first full moon.  After all, the neighbors are beginning to wonder why our friends are throwing food under the garage door and running away!    

Now, with a few date changes, herewith is COLLARD GREENS AND HOG JOWLS, PART VI, Jan 1, 2015.

It was just a little wooden sign about two feet high by the side of the road. But it might as well have been one of those double-decker lighted billboards. It was in the shape of an arrow pointing down a dirt road. And painted in red on the sign was one word. Collards. Funny thing about words. You see or hear the right word at the right time, and before you can say ‘hog jowls and black-eyed peas,” you’re in another time and another place.

Every New Year’s Day since I was old enough to eat cornbread without gettin’ strangled, that’s what we had for dinner (the noon meal) back home at Route 4. Black-eyed peas, hog jowls, and collards. And if we turned up our noses at this ‘finger-lickin’ feast, we’d get Daddy’s standard speech. Something about coins and greenbacks and good luck. But a farm boy can only take so much ‘yuck.’ So, one New Year’s Day, I got brave. Or just plumb dumb. On hindsight, it might well have been the latter.

I think it was Jan. 1, 1955. There probably were a lot of problems in the world back then. But the only problem this country boy could think about was how he was goin’ to be able to digest this stuff that the catfish down in Coneross Creek could smell when Mother fired up the kitchen stove. The problem was that we didn’t just have it on January first. Daddy could grow collards on that red dirt farm where kudzu wouldn’t even grow. And if he thought that two rows would be enough, he’d plant half an acre. “Just to be on the safe side,” he’d say. And I’d pray, “Lord, please let the worms and rabbits eat every bit of that stuff.” But it didn’t work. Wrong kind of prayer!

So, collards and hog jowls made regular appearances at our table. Maybe that’s why on that particular New Year’s Day, I should have been eatin’ instead of thinkin’. As Daddy looked down both benches at the kitchen table and saw nothing but facial expressions that resembled pretzels, he goes into that speech for the umpteenth time about how we needed all the good luck and coins and folding money we could get. And he emphasized every single word by pointing his fork at each and every one of those pretzel faces!

When he stopped long enough to get another mouthful of collards, I should have done likewise. But I just couldn’t help myself. “Daddy,” I said, “if that good luck story was true, we’d be rich by now.” You could have heard a pin drop in that kitchen. Except for Mother choking on her collards. And Daddy gettin’ up out of his chair like he had been shot out of a rocket.

On the way to the woodshed I was privileged to hear his other speech about how we should be thankful for having a roof over our head and food on the table. I didn’t interrupt this speech, but I’m thinkin’ that I really was thankful. So very thankful, in fact, that we didn’t have any boiled okra on the table.

So, today is Jan. 1, 2015. But before we get too deep into twenty-fifteen, let’s take a quick look at how we did in twenty-14. We chewed on a bunch of problems, didn’t we? This world is in a mess. And I’m not talking about a ‘mess of collard greens,’ either. Seems like everybody you run into these days is in a ‘stew’ over something or the other. Like Mother used to say when we’d complain about something, “If it’s not one thing, it’s half-a-dozen.” But the current heartaches, hurts, and hunger are very real and seem to be reaching epidemic proportions.

What’s the answer? I don’t know what it is. But I do know where we can look. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask Him to give us our ‘daily bread.’ And we readily accept the bread that feeds our physical needs. But what about the Bread of Life? This just me, but I believe that way too many folks in the world today, some of ‘em in high places, have twisted their faces and turned up their noses at the Bread of Life – God’s Holy Word.

We get choked by chewing on problems instead of potential. While we could be getting daily nourishment for the soul by ingesting and digesting daily doses of His Word. Everybody I know would love to get rid of bad memories and tough circumstances that the world has seen in 2014. Don’t raise your hand, but I wonder how many people in the free world will actually read the Bible every single day of the New Year beginning today. Talk about a New Year’s resolution! There’s one that could change the world if we’d just stick to it. Call it a r-e-v-o-l-u-t-i-o-n, not a resolution were the instructions from my pastor Rev. David Gallamore in a recent sermon.

In the first chapter of Proverbs this morning, I found some bad news and some good news that I had not seen and/or heard before. First the bad news. Just when we think we’ve heard and seen all the evil that the devil can produce, something else happens to further convince us of the depravity of mankind.

Proverbs 1:29-33, New International Version (NIV)

29 since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD.
30 Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke,
31 they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them;

Some preachers in some churches don’t use the word ‘revival’ much anymore. Back home at Return Baptist Church, you could always count on at least two Revivals a year – one in the Spring and another one in the Fall. And they lasted for seven days, I might add.

God is a gentleman. He won’t stay where He’s not wanted. And in this great nation founded on His principles, we used to want Him in our family, in our schools, and at work and play. And if there’s ever to be any hope for a return to the America we once knew, that hope goes by the name of R-E-V-I-V-A-L. And that’s the promise we find in the last verse of Proverbs, chapter 1:

33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”

Life doesn’t come all wrapped up in pretty paper with bows and ribbons, but every day is still a gift from God. How we choose to use it for His honor, glory and pleasure will determine whether or not we leave a stench in His nostrils like three-day-old collards and hog jowls.

God, please bless America in twenty-fifteen! Give us enough good ol’ horse sense to know that true revival starts in the heart of the one we see in our mirror, so that we, your people, don’t continue to be mule-headed stubborn.

Even if it comes to eatin’ a mess of collards and hog jowls.

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FIREWORKS, FLAGS, & FREEDOM

Before July fades into August, followed by frost and freeze warnings from the weather man (excuse me, weather person), followed by jingle bells and ho-ho-ho, here are a few thoughts, questions and wonderings about our most recent Independence Day Celebration. Do you ever wonder if those folks who put their ‘John Hancock’ on our country’s Declaration of Independence back there almost 240 years ago had a few firecrackers that they could shoot to celebrate this freedom that those 13 colonies had declared? 

Did they have any barbecue and homemade ice cream? And maybe some flag-waving patriotic music? And a little gospel preaching by a pastor wearing a straw hat and standing on a trailer? And did they have the presentation of the colors by the Color Guard with the Pledge of Allegiance to our nation’s flag, the Pledge of Allegiance to the Christian Flag, and the Pledge of Allegiance to God’s holy, inspired, infallible, inerrant Word? Followed by the most awesome display of fireworks lighting up the night sky that could be seen from two counties away? The short hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention for three days!

Just the mention of fireworks takes me back down that dirt road to the farm at Route 4. The closest thing to an ‘explosive’ that we ever had were the caps that came with the cap pistol that we boys got one Christmas as a ‘joint’ present. Something about Mother and Daddy’s headaches stemming from the ‘explosion’ of five thousand caps in one afternoon from that single cap pistol is still lodged in the ol’ memory bank.

Another time when Brother Oliver was a teenager, he brought home something that we only knew as “devil-chasers.” You lit the fuse and watched it squirt around all over the barn yard about two feet off the ground. Don’t know if they still make those things or not. But the rest of us brothers said they were appropriately named. Especially after the second or third one that Brother Oliver lit with one of Mother’s kitchen matches caught him in the back of his leg as he was running toward the barn for cover.  Suffice it to say that was the first and last time for devil-chasers down on the farm.

The only other time in our entire childhood that I remember something that lit up the night was when somebody, I think it was Brother George this time, snuck and spent a quarter on a box of sparklers. Well, when he lit one of those sticks and pointed it at Brother Wade, it scared ol’ Wade so bad that he set an Olympic speed record as he ran to the barn, climbed the ladder, and hid in the back of the barn loft. Until I picked up the spent sparkler by the wrong end. Then Wade had a good time laughin’ at me as I stuck three fingers to the bottom of the water bucket at the well.      

Time for one more just-thinkin’-out loud question…Does independence give us the freedom to do as we please, say what we please, go where we please, any time we please? Somebody selling fireworks was asked by a customer the other day, ‘how long is the fuse in that 6-foot firecracker?” And that got me thinkin’. How long is our mental fuse? Or what does it take to make us explode and shoot off at the mouth, potentially hurting anybody close like a cherry bomb going off in your hand?

The lady in the  long line at the big box store was giving the young clerk a piece of her mind, and in fact, she had given away so many pieces that she didn’t have much of a mind left. The customer behind her remarked, ‘she must brush her teeth with gun powder.’ She was completely free to do that, of course, because this is American, land of the free and home of the brave. But as the Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5:13, “don’t use your freedom to indulge in your sinful nature.”

And aren’t you glad that God has a ‘long fuse’? Slow to anger and rich in love is how David described Him in Psalm 145:8. And one more word of advice from the wisest man who ever lived, “Above all else, guard your heart because it is the wellspring of life,” (Proverbs 4:23). I thank God that I was born in America, free to do as I please, but maybe Solomon was saying that we should post an armed guard at the door of our heart, which is our mouth. If we bite somebody’s head off, and they turn around and bite our head off, all we’ve got is two head-less monsters. Yes, in America, we can usually do as we please. But when Jesus comes on our scene, he changes our ‘pleaser’ so that we want to do what pleases Him.

Anyway, back to the fireworks show. My MHB (mill hill bride) and I, plus a few thousand of our closest friends, spread out on the green grass of the hillside below the church, and witnessed our church’s Annual Fourth of July Celebration Spectacular. Excuse me, but I just gotta chase a rabbit down a side road. You remember a story from Vacation Bible School about another hillside where five thousand hungry folks, plus women and children, sat down to eat. Now, granted, they didn’t have barbecue, slaw and baked beans, plus every flavor of homemade ice cream know to mankind for dessert, like we did at church the other day.

Another side road, please… my friend Buddy Jack Seaborn, BJ for short, told me he and his guys spent all day and night before the 4th cooking up about a thousand and six hundred Boston Butt pork roasts! That just short circuits this ol’ DRCB’s (dirt road country boy) hard drive and fries my software when I try to imagine the Miracle of that all-you-can-eat fish sandwich supper that Jesus fed those hungry folks with…and all from a little boy’s lunch bucket that held five little loaves of bread and two little fish. And, get this, there were 12 basketfuls of leftovers, even after all those thousands of people were full as a tick. Those hungry folks on that hillside that day were anything but independent. Actually, they were completely dependent upon the only Person in the whole world who could satisfy their hunger.

Totally dependent on the One who willingly died to give us freedom leads me to wish you ‘Happy Dependence Day.’

Today and every day of the year.

  

        

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