Archive for October, 2009

YARD SALES AND LANDFILLS

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

It’s almost comical. This fascination in our world today with a phenomenon called a yard sale. Something that was once thought to be useful and necessary now relegated to the yard sale. Those just-gotta-have, can’t-get-along-without enamel ducks and swans, for example, that once stood proud and tall on the table beside the front door greeting visitors.

Or junior’s size 2-Toddler pants, so cute with teddy bears and snap-up legs and matching shirt. They were ‘just darling’ in 1977. Or the daughter’s little lime-green and pink tutu with matching tiara and princess wand. Slowly disintegrating in a box in the attic for over 40 years now. 

Or grandma’s collection of porcelain roosters, along with a framed cross stitch announcement that “it takes a lot of scratch to feed us chickens,” and the basket of plastic eggs inscribed with the life-changing inspirational message – “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”  I’d like to see the plastic hen that laid those plastic eggs!

All bought at a price, some even on the ‘lay-awake’ plan. That’s where you make a down payment and then lay awake at night wondering how you’re going to pay for it. But the price was paid and you took them into your heart and home. Only to be boxed up and sold at the yard sale for a fraction of their original cost! How much for the complete set of six matching Donald Duck sippy cups? Well, let’s see. We paid 39.95 for the set – they’re yours for only fifty cents.

I’ve been wondering lately why we never had a yard sale back home at Route 4. Goodness knows, there was enough ‘stuff’ to have a big one. Like one I’ve heard about out west somewhere that stretches along a roadside for hundreds of miles! I’ve concluded that there are at least a couple of reasons why farm folks never had yard sales. You might think of many more. If so, I’d like to hear them.

But in our family of nine-on-the-farm, plus Mother and Daddy and Grandma, I just don’t ever remember anything outliving its usefulness. Tear your shirt going under the barbed wire fence? Mother sewed it up and you kept on wearing it! You should have known better, anyway! And I’d be called a tattle-tale if I said that shirt really got torn when Oliver held the barbed wire strands apart for me to go through, and then dropped them when I was half-way across!

Or so what if the seat of your ‘designer’ jeans was worn thin from too many trips to the woodshed? Mother patched them up with some ‘TLC’ thread and made you feel better. And now it’s hip to wear ‘em with holes, even some in strategic places that come close to being what Mother used to call shameful and indecent.

But in those days, everything had its purpose. And it didn’t seem to lose its usefulness. It was merely handed down from oldest to youngest on the stair-steps of growing up in the fifties. We even saved the rock salt from churning homemade ice cream in the summer to spread on icy back porch steps in the winter time. You just didn’t throw anything away. And you know what? We had never heard of something called a landfill, that garbage mountain that grows higher and higher every day! If it won’t sell at the yard sale, just take it to the crusher-compactor at the land fill.

But when I think about how things, once bought at a price and thought to be of value, lose that value and wind up on a yard sale table, I remember Jesus’ words about salt. That’s right salt. One day He was giving His disciples another lesson at the shed. He told them that they (we) are supposed to be like salt (Matthew 5:13). Adding flavor and tastiness. Making a difference in the lives of others because of Who they see in us. And He didn’t say that they (we) will be the salt of the earth. He said you (we) are the salt of the earth. Today. Right now.

And if we lose our ‘saltiness,’ our zest, if you will, for adding the missing ingredient in the recipe of life, the saltiness cannot be added back. It no longer can be used to add flavor at the kitchen table. Those un-salted saltine crackers just don’t take the place of the real thing. The only thing salt without flavor is good for is to be thrown out on the back porch steps and trampled on by all who pass by, most in search of the treasure we once had.

So enjoy your yard sale. Have fun looking for the bargains and searching for that ‘little treasure’ that you can take home and make valuable again. But don’t be surprised if you don’t find it. I’ve never seen anything at a yard sale that I’d die for! In spite of the popular expression that something is ‘just to die for!’

See, that’s exactly what Jesus did. He left the treasure of Heaven for the trash of the earth. And when the landfill of life got so big, He gave His very own life to save the garbage and make it useful again. The next time you see someone depressed and sad and down on themselves, could even be that person you see in the mirror, tell ‘em Jesus died for you, and that the greatest treasure the world has ever known is absolutely FREE FOR THE ASKING!

It was the most  horrible, painful death ever recorded in history. You wanna know why? This is just me talking, but I believe it was because He thought, and still thinks today, that what He was dying for was and is valuable. After all, his Father made it and God makes no junk. So that makes it worth keeping.

No yard sale signs to stick up by the road. No throwaways in the garage. Every thing is brand new. Bought and paid for by the spilled blood of Jesus Christ that day on a hill called Calvary.

I am SO happy there won’t be any yard sales in Heaven!

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THE DRIFTERS

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

The memory is a funny thing. Take, for instance, how you remember where you were when something dramatic happened. If you were born back then, you probably remember exactly where you were when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

Or maybe it’s an old saying that the grownups used when you were a young pup. That’s one right there. Slipped up on me. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the folks back home at Route 4 talk about us youngun’s being ‘just a bunch of young pups.’ And when we were all spic ‘n span and ready for church on Sunday morning, I can still hear Mother say, “Now that’s a sight for sore eyes.”

Or what they said when they heard some good news. Like when we got home from school on Report Card day. The conversation might go something like this. ‘Well, boy, give me the good news. Daddy, I got a hundred on Spellin’ and Readin,’ a 98 on Writin’, and a 91 on “Jogaphy.” You know that was a long time ago ‘cause teachers still gave exact number grades back then. Not the letter grades of today that cover a wide range of grades.

And Daddy would say, ‘Now that’s music to my ears.’  Now he couldn’t carry a tune in a water bucket. But he said my report card was music! And it was music he wanted to hear. Until he asked me what grade I got on Conduct! And then he became my travel agent – another trip to the woodshed!

And speaking of music, my friends David and Jim and myself were enjoying a cup of java the other day, and not even thinking about music. But then the store’s intercom started playing old time rock ‘n roll, or beach music, to some folks. Beach music doesn’t do much for me. Could be because the only beach we knew about back at Route 4 was the sand bar on Coneross Creek.

But not David. That joker’s face lit up like a roman candle against the night sky on the Fourth of July. He knew who was singin’ and he could sing along with ‘em. He knew the words, too. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t get ‘Up On The Roof’ out of my head! But not only did he remember the words, he could tell you what the name of the singer was. And what really blew my mind – see, there’s another old expression. They just pop up like morning’ glories.

Anyway, ol’ David, this former North Carolina country boy (really he was a city slicker, but he remembers visiting the farm where his grandparents lived!) even knew the name of the record label for most of the songs coming through the speaker. He must have spun a bunch of plastic back in his days as a DJ on the radio!

And right now I can’t even remember what some of the songs were. But, for some unexplained reason, I do remember names of groups. Some of today’s groups are pretty weird. I mean, why on earth would you want to be grateful to be dead? Or rotten mushrooms? Or two left eyes? Or smashed pumpkins? But those that used to sing the good stuff that David knew all the words to were people like Percy Sledge. And The Temptations. And The Drifters. And too many more for me to remember!

But that started me thinking about drifters. I remember seeing people waiting at the bus station back when we had a bus station. Some were travelers. They had luggage and stuff. Others were what Daddy called drifters. They aren’t going anywhere. Just driftin’ along through life. They were made by the same God that made you and me. But, somewhere along the way, they just started driftin’ away.

Sorta like the float on my fishing line on a windy day without a lead sinker. Still hooked to my rod ‘n reel, but just driftin’ down the creek. And more times than not, it gets tangled up in the brush near the bank of the creek. And then I have to go in and rescue it.

I bet the Lord feels like that about you and me sometimes. We sorta just start driftin’ down the creek. Not stayin’ in touch with Him on a regular basis. Or goin’ to see Him at His house. Just driftin’ down the creek of life. And then we get tangled up. And then He has to wade out into the deep water and untangle our lines – and our lives!

Moses had that problem with some of God’s people way back yonder a long time ago. About fourteen hundred years before Jesus was born, Moses was trying to get God’s people into the Promised Land. But some of ‘em were just driftin’ down the Jordan River. Moses tried to tell ‘em they were headed for the Dead Sea. But you think they would listen to him? Nope, they just kept on driftin’ away. Till he finally got a belly-full of it.

And then, being a leader and God’s servant, hint…hint….hint, Moses gave ‘em some straight-talk advice from his heart (Deuteronomy 30:2-4). He told the drifters that if they would just turn to God and obey Him with all their heart and soul, and do what God wrote on Moses’ tablets, then God would jump into whatever creek they were in and bring them back to safety. And here’s the good part. It doesn’t matter one iota to God what we’ve done to cause us to drift away, or how far down the creek we’ve drifted to. All we have to do is ask Him.

Is there hope for all of us drifters in America today before we reach the Dead Sea? Yep, sure is! America is you and me. One on one. All we have to do is just tie up our line. And then reach out and grab another drifter’s line and help him tie up. And then he can help another drifter tie up. And another. Then another. And before we know it, all us drifters will have an anchor. You might be able to sing a heavenly tune, but if you’re not anchored to the Rock of Ages, you’re drifting away and headin’ for trouble.  

I don’t know an A-sharp from a B-flat, but that’s music to my ears!

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WASHPOTS AND PANSIES

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

One of my favorite flowers in the world is also one of the smallest. Pansies are so small they would almost seem to be delicate. But the opposite is true of these hearty little beauties. I’ve seen ‘em keep right on blooming through freezing rain and snow. And to me at least, pansies almost look like they’re smiling and excited! There’s a lesson right there for all of us. Be like a pansy. Excited about brightening up somebody’s day.

And pansies aren’t the biggest or the most exotic flower in the world. But, come what may, they just keep on keepin’ on. They just steadfastly endure and persevere, sometimes in not-so-pleasant conditions. They just keep on being what they alone can be. And doing what they were created to do.  

Ridin’ down the road the other day, a rainbow of color caught my eye. It was a huge assortment of pansies. In the brief flash of a glance, I saw colors that deserved a second look. Blues, yellows, whites, purples – you name it, they were all there. But it wasn’t so much the flowers as it was their container that scooped up my attention and hauled me back home to Route 4.

Like swatches of paint on the palette of the Master Artist, these pansies were adorning an old black wash pot! Now, we never had any pansies back home on the farm. Nor any other kind of ornamental flowers, for that matter. Anything that had a blossom better be producing something that was edible by either human beings or animals. Come to think of it, there wasn’t a whole lot of decoration at all around the old farmhouse. Unless you consider the chinaberry tree in the front yard.

But one thing we did have was a black iron wash pot. It was an essential piece of equipment on wash day for removing red dirt and green stains. From clothes and bodies. And here’s something from the woodshed ‘tablet of truth.’ You absolutely cannot work the soil without getting soiled. You can’t plow in the dirt without getting’ dirty. That’s not in the Farmer’s Almanac, but it’s the truth anyway.

I remember one hot summer day when we had one of those ‘passing showers.’ While it was passing, we decided to ‘catch and recycle’ the rain water. So we dammed up the ditch in front of the house, and when the sun came back out, we were splashing around in our very own swimming pool! By the time Daddy caught our little act, his only words were ‘you’re so dirty your own mother won’t recognize you!’

But that’s a side road. Back to the black iron wash pot. It was what was inside the wash pot that made it so essential on wash day – boilin’ hot water. To start off with, we’d usually find some old tin cans for the three little short legs on the wash pot to sit in. Then we’d get some strips of heart-pine kindlin’ wood and some dry oak firewood and build a fire under the pot. While the fire was catchin’, we’d draw water as fast as we could, pour it in a bucket and run to the wash pot. You didn’t want the fire to get too hot before the wash pot was full of water. Or you got to take a side trip to the woodshed. So, we took turns – four or five of us drawin’ and totin’.  

And, if we timed it right, the fire was just getting’ started about the time the water got to the top of the wash pot. Then, it was time to turn up the heat! Here’s another entry on the farmboy’s Tablet of Truth.  Red dirt ain’t a-coming out in cold water! Not good English, but true nevertheless. The so-called automatic washers in our homes today operate just fine with cold water. They’re ‘automatic’ as long as I separate the colors, load the clothes, pour in some Tide, and turn on the water. But not many people in today’s world come to wash day with tubs full of OshKosh overalls for nine kids that have been plowing in the dirt and playing in their red-dirt swimming ditch!

The trick to having clean bodies and clothes back home was to keep the fire hot! In fact, Mother liked it boilin’ hot when she dumped in our overalls and ‘other’ items. And after a few minutes of soaking in the boilin’ hot water, she’d stir ‘em for awhile with her big wooden paddle. Said wooden paddle also came in handy for other uses on non-wash days. If you catch my drift! But, if you’re taking notes, write this down. This Route 4 cleansing process only worked if we kept the water hot by keeping the heat turned up under the wash pot. Lukewarm water is not fit for drinking or for washing clothes. Only to be poured out in the hog pen. They’ll wallow in anything!

The effectiveness of boilin’ hot water came to mind recently when my friend and fellow ‘gym-rat,’ the Rev. Johnnie Rogers showed up to work out wearing a t-shirt that said “212 Degrees – Feel the Impact!” After huffing and puffing for awhile, I went to my computer and googled ‘212 Degrees.’ Isn’t my technology amazing! What’s more amazing is that a word that’s not even in Webster’s book is commonplace in our world today. If you’re looking for something – just ‘google’ it. What I found when I googled 212 Degrees was eye-opening and thought-provoking, to say the least. I highly recommend you doing this.

You’ll see a little short inspirational movie and some info on a book by Sam Parker and Mac Anderson. What I learned was that water gets hot at 211 degrees. But it boils at 212 degrees. And that one little degree makes a BIG difference. At home, on the job, in marriage, in serving the Lord, and anything else you care to mention right here. Boilin’ hot water gets a country boy’s overalls clean. It also makes steam. And steam makes a train run.

Even though I couldn’t find the verb ‘google’ in Webster’s book, I did find a word, I think it’s an adjective, in God’s Book that describes this situation. Revelation 3:15-16 might be the only place in the Bible where the word ‘lukewarm’ is mentioned. The Master says in those verses that some of us are neither hot nor cold – just lukewarm. That’s a condition that happens when our ‘fire’ simmers down. Ever try drinking a glass of lukewarm water? You can’t make a cup of hot tea with it, and you can’t enjoy a tall glass of iced tea, either. In verse 16, it says God is about to ‘spit us out of His mouth’ when we become lukewarm.

So, maybe it’s time to turn up the heat. One more little degree of effort in thought and deed can be a difference maker. In our own lives and the lives of others. So many people these days seem like the knobs on their burners are permanently set on simmer. How can we help? Thank you for asking! By turning up the heat of kindness, forgiveness, patience, love, praise, prayer, excitement, enthusiasm, and generosity, just to mention a few ‘washpots’ where that extra degree can be a lighthouse!

As Mother used to say, “If your kettle’s not whistling’, your water’s not boilin’!”

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EIGHT IS ENOUGH

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Do you have a rain gauge at your house? After several rainy days lately, I’ve heard several folks talking about checking their rain gauges to see how much we’ve had. And last night the tv weatherman said we’ve had anywhere from three-fourths of an inch to maybe an inch and a quarter in the last couple of days.

Is it just me or does it seem like attitudes change on rainy days? Seems like I vaguely remember some words to an old song about rainy days and Mondays gettin’ people down. Maybe it would help if we had ‘an attitude gauge’ sittin’ right beside the rain gauge. That way, every time we check the rain gauge, we’d be reminded to check our attitude gauge. The more the rain, the bigger the smile! But that’s just a little side road.

Anyway, a while back we had what the weather prognosticators called a significant rain event. Anywhere from twelve to twenty inches or so fell over parts of our neck of the woods in just a couple of days. Naturally that much rain in that short time caused some damage. Roads were cut in two. Trees were falling across power lines. Schools had to be closed. And some city water systems had to be shut down. I won’t call any names, but I know some ladies in offices around town that were getting’ bothered by not being able to go to the powder room. If you catch my drift!

That took me down the path beyond the smokehouse and the pear tree back home at Route 4. The biggest cause for alarm around the ‘powder room’ on the farm was when somebody used up all the slick pages in the Sears and Roebuck Fall and Winter Catalog. The names are omitted to protect the guilty. 

But back to the main road. When we had the big rain recently, government people came in and set up shop for awhile to help people get back on their feet. I’m thankful for that. And, not to make light of a serious situation, but, mercy sakes alive, some folks were horrified that their favorite cafe (walk-ins and drive-thru) had to close for a few days. No flush – no food, I guess! And I heard about several bridges that were washed out, too.

Our friend Janice reminded me the other day about how she and her sister Sandra used to huddle up together in the back seat, scared silly, when their Daddy, Mr. Ralph Wynn, used to drive across those loose-board kind of bridges we had back home.

We had one across Coneross Creek on our dirt road at Route 4. No side rails and just barely wide enough for one empty pulpwood truck. It’s a good thing we didn’t have one of those big, double-wheel ‘dooley’ trucks that I see these days!

I remember one time in particular when we were on our way back to the farm from haulin’ another load of pulpwood to the woodyard in town. And it was rainin’ cats and dogs! I mean a gully-washing, frog strangler. The creek was already runnin’ over its banks and starting to run across the bridge. Daddy stuck his head through the hole where the back window of the truck used to be and shouted over the roar of the water. “Boys, yawl hurry up now and get off the truck and walk across the bridge.” And then he would creep across the bridge like a snail. I would have felt better if he had driven across in front of us. But I guess the water was rising too fast to wait.

Well, we made it across the bridge even while the muddy water was lapping over the tops of our brogans. And we had to walk all the way up the muddy hill to the house. Daddy couldn’t stop the pulpwood truck to pick us up for fear of slidin’ back down towards the creek. And by the time we made it to the top of the hill, we could see parts of the bridge floating down the creek. At least our ‘bathroom’ was working. And thank goodness, we had upgraded to a two-holer!

Back to our recent rainfall. Some folks even called it the Flood of ’09. When I hear about floods, I can’t help but think about The Flood! See Genesis, chapters 6 though 8 if you want to read about a real flood and the 600-year-old man that God picked to ‘drive the truck’ while the rain was fallin’. Of course, people didn’t even know what rain was when God told Noah to build the Ark. It hadn’t rained in about a hundred years. You talk about a drought! In modern time-talk, just imagine if it hadn’t rained since 1909!

But God told Noah it was going to rain for 40 days and 40 nights, and Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord because he believed and obeyed every word God spoke. After all, here’s a man who had three sons when he was 500 years old! So Noah did every thing the Lord told him to do (Gen. 7:5). And God didn’t have to tell him ‘when are you going to learn to do what I tell you to do,’ like a bunch of farm boys that I know!

Anyway, Noah took his wife, their 3 sons, and their wives and got on the boat. And then all the animals came two-by-two. Noah didn’t have to go looking for them. God sent them and then He closed the door (Gen.7:15-16). Think about it. Noah’s family of eight and all the animals are on board. Who’s going to shut the door? All Noah had to do was get himself and his family aboard. Sometimes we get upset when God shuts doors in our lives. But, more often than not, it’s probably for our own good!

Anyway, for five months water covered the earth. It was even twenty feet over the tops of the mountains (Gen.7:20). Everything on the face of the earth, man and mammal, crabgrass and kudzu, mosquitoes, snakes, and fire ants, too, were wiped out.

Have you heard about the man in the Netherlands who has built a working replica of Noah’s Ark according to Bible specifications with life size models of the animals? That thing must be awesome! I’d love to see it. Thanks, Gloria and Tommy for sending me the picture.  

But, you know what I like best about the story of Noah’s Ark? Genesis, chapter eight, verse one. With everything that God had going on, total destruction of his creation, He remembered Noah and his family of eight and all the animals with him in the ark. And eventually the rain stopped. The water went down. The sun came out again.

What that tells me is that even the most righteous man on the earth had to endure a big storm. I mean, he had to stay ‘cooped’ up with his family of eight 24/7 for five months! Wife, sons, daughters-in-law. The whole kit and caboodle. And after it was over, there was lots of damage.  Bridges out and everything. Probably some ‘family bridges’ needed to be repaired. But the sun did come out again for Noah and his family. And no matter how big the storm is in your life right now, the sun will come out again for you and your family. But there’s a big IF – if we find favor in the eyes of the Lord!

When our grandchildren were little, they loved to play the ‘what if’ game. It was “Poppa, what if this and what if that? When I see ol’ Noah, I have a question for him, too. What did he do to keep those two woodpeckers occupied for five months on a wooden boat? And I have a “what if” question for all us grownups. What if every family on the face of the earth found favor once again in the eyes of the Lord?

I’m sure you’ve seen the list entitled “Everything I need to know about life, I learned from Noah’s Ark.” This is good enough to fold up and put in your Bible to mark your place in Genesis, chapters six through eight. That’s where we’ll find the real lessons from Noah’s story. But Item Number One on the ‘Everything’ list is good advice. And I offer it here, free of charge, for all of us to remember every time it rains.

Don’t miss the boat!

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WARNING LIGHTS

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

The red lights were flashing. The bells were clanging. And the crossbar lowered in front of each lane of traffic. So there I sat the other day, along with several other cars in each direction, waiting for the train. You couldn’t miss the warnings. Danger ahead. The train was coming. And anytime a train and a car meet, the train always wins.

But as we sat there waiting for the train, with all the warning signals fully operational, no train appeared from either direction. And then something happened that scared the bejeebies out of me and, if truth be told, probably every other driver at that crossing.

An impatient driver obviously decided that the warning signals were lying. Or maybe a bird had flown into whatever mechanism triggered the lights and bells and cross arms. So he decided to ignore all the warnings and drive around the lowered crossbars. I’m thinking, Oh my goodness! What in the world is that guy thinking about? What could possibly be going through his head?

Maybe he’s thinking, why not? Even though he had seen and heard the warning signals, no train was in sight. So go ahead and take a chance. It’s probably just a malfunction, right?

So, with a quick little zig-zag maneuver around the crossbars, he made it safely across to the other side. And then to my complete jaw-dropping shock, the driver behind him decided to be a copy-cat and try the same thing. I guess the second driver thought it would be OK for him since the first guy had made it. And the second guy made it, too. JUST BARELY!

It seemed like just a blink of the eye after the second car completed his little zig-zag around the crossbars that we all heard the ear-shattering blast of the train’s horn as it rounded the curve and came into full view. And as we used to say back home, it was ‘a late freight doing eighty-eight!’

Now the first driver was long gone. But I’m wondering if the second guy might have needed a change of clothes! He had come within an eyelash of destruction by following someone who had ignored all the warnings of danger just down the road and around the curve. But just because they couldn’t see the danger, they thought it probably wasn’t there. What could have been a disaster was avoided, but as we hear all the time, it could have been tragic.

As I watched what seemed like a couple of hundred boxcars roll by, I mentally hopped aboard one of them and took a ride down the rail before jumping off on the dirt road at Route 4. One of the most vivid memories of growing up on the farm is a couple of us boys riding to town with Daddy in his pulpwood truck, hauling another load to the woodyard.

After spending another hot July/August day cuttin’ pulpwood, we had that sticky, pine sap from head to toe. All over our hands and arms and overalls and in our hair, too. But we were going to town! I called shotgun, so I stuck my arm out the window (no glass and no handle to roll it down if there had been a glass) and away we went. Wade had to sit sideways in the middle ‘cause Daddy was fightin’ that gear shift stick in the floor.

That old jalopy strained and groaned under its ‘granny low-gear’ load (“cut down another pine tree, boys, we don’t have a full load yet”). We hadn’t even made it to the end of the dirt road at the tar-and-gravel before I heard Wade say, “Daddy, why is that red light flashing?” Daddy didn’t reply. His face just got tighter and we could hear him gritting his new uppers & lowers. Being the inquisitive young fellow he was, Wade waited about two minutes before he said, “Daddy, that red light is really pretty now!”

About the same time that Daddy said, “Be quiet, boy, can’t you see I’m busy,” the old truck’s radiator did its best imitation of Old Faithful! As we pulled over to the side of the road, all we could see was smoke, steam, and water.

Long story short, Daddy said ‘let that be a warning to you, boys.’ I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that growing up on the farm! Let what be a warning? Don’t ignore the flashing red lights! They can be pretty, as Wade said, but there’s usually danger just ahead if you ignore the warnings.

And I still think about that day even now fifty some-odd years later. My car has all kinds of warning lights and gauges. Even the gas gauge has an amber light that begins to glow around a quarter of a tank. And it gets brighter and brighter the closer you get to empty. And if you get dangerously close to empty, it begins to ding-ding-ding. Those lights and gauges were put there by the car’s maker to help us know ahead of time when something is wrong. And ignoring the warnings usually leaves out of gas and on the side of the road.

But what about the road of life? The Apostle Paul knew something about being left on the side of the road. He had ignored warning signs all his life until that bright light knocked him off his donkey and left him blind for three days. But once he got his sight (and his vision back), Paul became a great man of God, warning people about certain destruction (1 Corinthians 10:1-12).

He told them about warnings that had been ignored by the Israelites in the past, and how that displeased God. Even though they had the same spiritual training as Moses, they ‘set their hearts on evil things.’ So much evil, in fact, that Paul says, 23,000 of them died in one day! Others were killed by Satan and his snakes. As Paul says in verse 11, these examples ‘were written down as warnings for us.’ Or, as Daddy used to say, ‘Let that be a lesson to you.’

Even though we’ve been trained to know what is right and what is wrong, we still ignore the crossbars, flashing lights, and clanging bells. We even get away with it sometimes. But, as Paul warns in verse 12, sooner or later we’ll fall if we keep on ignoring the warnings.

The train’s coming – can you hear the engine roar?

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A GOOD SWITCH

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Is it just me and my advancing years, or have you also noticed how some words seem to mean something entirely different today? I find that more and more every day, I have to keep my Webster’s New World Vest Pocket Dictionary close to the vest. And even if you don’t wear a vest anymore, it’s a good idea to keep Webster’s New World close by, like in the pocket of your britches.   

Take the word ‘switch,’ for instance. According to Webster, a switch is ‘a control device for an electrical circuit.’ And that seems to be the most common definition of a switch these days. Something on the wall to turn the lights on or off when we leave the room. Our friendly electricians, James and his son Brian, were showing us the other day why we needed new switches in our house. The wiring in the old ones could become loose over the years and cause a short circuit. But, again according to Webster, that’s only the Number Two definition of a switch.

It’s his Number One definition that we were thoroughly acquainted with growing up at Route 4. And, as we learned from discussing ‘life’s dictionary’ with our adjacent-pew friends Brian and Joyce at church, this kind of switch wasn’t necessarily limited to farm use. Webster defines it as a thin stick for whipping. For example, if you ever heard your Mother say, “Go get me a switch,” you know that she was NOT talking about “a control device for an electrical circuit! More often than not, her switch was a control device for a loose tongue!

Like the time she heard me use what she called ‘awful language.’ One of our Plowboy Band of Brothers, I think it was probably Wade or Ollie, had called me ‘crybaby’ in reference to another trip to the woodshed for a totally different reason. But when Mother heard the words SHUT UP!  explode out of my mouth like a Fourth of July firecracker, she created a few fireworks of her own. “Go get me a switch and don’t take all day,” she said, knowing that I would try to delay the train-wreck that I could see coming.

After I had taken enough time that I thought she would have forgotten about it, I came back to the house with a nice little twig about six inches long and the size of her sewing thread. Wrong move. It took me three or four trips to finally choose the ‘control device’ she thought would do the job. I found out that Mother believed the Bible. Word for word. Cover to cover. Especially Proverbs 23:13, “Don’t withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.” I’ve often wondered why that scripture refers to the male child.  Of course, our baby sisters, Estelle and Anne never did anything to need a ‘woodshed switch!’

I also learned how focused Mother could be. I think they call it multi-tasking these days. By the time she had raised nine kids, she was a pro at multi-tasking.

She’d go about doing everything else around the house, just waiting for me to choose my instrument of instruction. But prolonging the inevitable only made it worse. “You better get me a real switch before your Daddy gets to the house.” I might not have been the sharpest knife in the silverware drawer, but I knew that meant his leather belt instead of her switch! And that would only give the brothers more ammunition! And then it would start all over again.

Hebrews 12:5-6 also talks about boys getting the switch. “My son, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline….because He disciplines those He loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” But, as Daddy used to say, “Son, this is for your own good.” To which I mistakenly replied one time, and one time ONLY, “Why, do I have to be so good?”

But hindsight tells us that it really was for our own good, even though the switch was not a pleasant experience at the time (Hebrews 12:11). How many times have you heard Mother say, ‘this is going to hurt me worse than you,’ and you thought, ‘yeah, sure!’ But I like the second part of verse 11 about the results of being trained by the switch – ‘a harvest of righteousness and peace.’

I can identify with harvest time – corn-on-the-cob, butter beans, fresh maters, sweet cantaloupe, and cold watermelon for desert. That’s harvest time. But the harvest only comes after the seeds have been planted. And while the plants are young and tender, the weeds have to be hoed out of the garden.

Webster also has another definition of switch when used as a noun. Number 3 is a movable section of railroad track. But his Number 4 use of the word switch is a verb – an action word meaning to change. Mother and Daddy believed that their bunch of country bumpkins wouldn’t make it in the real world without some ‘switchings at the shed,’ and we indeed deserved them every time.

It’s also true that none of us will make it to the Great Banquet Table for the Feast that the Father has prepared for all us if we aren’t changed. And if that takes a few switchings, so be it!

Just be sure the switch is big enough to “do some good!”

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HOME IMPROVEMENT STORE

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

It was a simple little chore. Or so I thought. My great adventure started when Helen said, “I can’t see to fix my hair.” Turns out, one of the light bulbs was burned out in our rusty old medicine cabinet with the sliding-mirror doors. It was one of those fancy-in-its-day, two-bulb fixture, all-in-one medicine cabinets with a sliding plastic shade in front of the bulbs. The once-sparkling white shade was now yellowed in its old age. And even with two one-hundred watt bulbs, the bathroom took on a spooky glow. With only one bulb, however, you needed a seeing-eye dog.

So, stop by the store and pick up some light bulbs. No problem, right? Run in, pick up a standard box of 4 and out the door. Wrong!  I never knew there could be so many different kinds of light bulbs.

I’m standing there in front of the bulb display at the home improvement store. There must have been about an acre of ‘em! Round bulbs, long bulbs, short bulbs, fluorescent bulbs, some that looked like candles, others that looked like flames. And the colors – blue, white, yellow, clear – you name it. And then do I want 40 or 60 watts? And how ‘bout that new, energy-saving, ten-year, pig-tail shaped, curly light bulb? Will it really last ten years?

And before I could say ‘one hundred watts of daylight brilliance,’ I found myself at the kitchen table back home at Route 4. Above the table there was always that long string with the washer on the end. And it was connected to that single, 40-watt light bulb up there in that fourteen-foot ceiling. No multiple-bulb chandelier. No on-off switch by the door that glowed in the dark. No dimmer switch. Just a string and a washer. And you always knew where it was. You could grab that washer and a piece of hot, buttered cornbread in the same motion of the hand!

Funny thing, though, I don’t recall ever yanking on that string, be it morning or night, when it didn’t cast its 40-watt glow over the kitchen table. Even though a lightning bug had more candle-power, I guess I just assumed that we had a light bulb that lasted forever. I never thought about having to do my homework like Abe Lincoln. I had heard about him studying by the light of that lantern. But, man, we had it made. We had that string and washer, and all we had to do was yank on it. And I can hear Daddy right now, “Be careful, boy, don’t break that string,” or “Hurry up and finish your supper, clean up the dishes, wipe off the table, and get your homework.”

See, it was always a given back home at Route 4 – homework was always done at the kitchen table. After all, where else would we do it? The hayloft in the barn? The smokehouse or the outhouse? None of them had a 40-watt light bulb with a string and washer. And besides that, in the ‘country bath room’ with the crescent moon on the door, you just didn’t spend a lot of time! If you catch my drift!    

But back to the kitchen table. As the MK of the family (middle kid), it was always my job to wipe off the table. Even before I could reach all the way across that eight-foot, solid oak, family-gathering place. But growing up on the farm, you learn to improvise. I could stand up on one bench with the dish rag in my hand, and with a single motion, run all the way down that bench, jump down, run over to the other bench, jump up and run down it, and have that table clean enough to eat off of before the dishwater got cold. Dishwashers? Yeah, Mother had nine of ‘em built in, no electricity required.

Pardon me for running down that side road. Back to the home improvement store and decisions that I had to make. How many, what kind, what shape, what color, what power light bulbs do I get? And then it dawned on me. The light bulb went off in my head, pardon the pun. As Daddy would say, “Boy, use your head for something besides a hat rack.”

On my way down to Aisle 48 or whatever in the home improvement store, I remembered seeing a lighting fixture display somewhere around Aisle 34. And all the fixtures had light bulbs in them and it was lit up like an airport runway! When I got back to Aisle 34, the thought struck me. This is a lot more fun here where everything is so bright. I can read the fine print without my bifocals. That old bulb display on Aisle 48 was so dark and dreary anyway! Then, the neatest thing happened on Aisle 34. I saw a little red button with a sign that said ‘Press here if you need help.’ Hallelujah! I pressed where it said ‘here!’

And no sooner than I took my finger off that red button, a phantom voice immediately rang out through the store, “Any associate, help needed in the lighting fixtures.” And just to be sure the voice was heard, the message was repeated, “Any associate, help needed in the lighting fixtures.” I looked around to see who was watching me. Didn’t see a soul. But somebody must have been watching. Because The Phantom of This Opera shouted again, “All associates, help needed in the lighting fixtures!”

That time they came running! And they found me with a little sideways grin on my face. I knew right away they didn’t grow up at Route 4. I started to say, ’You wouldn’t last till dinner time working on the farm if you didn’t come the first time you were called!’ However, my better judgment prevailed. Good judgment is the result of way too many bad judgments. And it would have been another bad judgment to have hurt the guy’s feelings if I intended to ask for his help.

Long story short. I shared my problem. Rusty old medicine cabinet. One bulb burned out. Yellowed old plastic shade. Dark bathroom. Wife with crooked lipstick.

I was immediately glad that I had not insulted this associate. He’s a good guy, I thought, as I heard him say to himself, ‘Thank You, Lord.’ And when I got to the checkout, I discovered why he was giving thanks. God had sent someone to him who would make his sales quota for the day!

But it was worth it. Old rusty medicine cabinets gone. Two new bathroom light fixtures with enough daylight to keep baby chicks warm. And a happy wife with straight lipstick. How much more blessed can a country boy expect to be!

And it was all because that associate showed me a fixture with the light turned on. And now when I look in our new mirror with the brightness of four new bulbs shining down on it, I have to think – ‘Lord, is there somebody that I need to shine your Light on today?’ You know, friends, the world is full of people whose light bulb has gone out. Look to your right, then look to your left. Chances are pretty good that one of those two people needs a new light fixture with brand new bulbs in their life.

Psalm 119:105 comes to mind right here. “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a lamp for my path.” Or, as a country poet once wrote, “If you hold the lantern for me, the better you’ll be able to see.” And Jesus gave these instructions to His ‘associates,’ YOU are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16), so let your light shine.

Have you been to the ‘Home Improvement Store’ lately?

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BARBECUED GOAT

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Walking out on the back porch the other day reminded me that winter is just around the corner. A few leaves were floating across the yard on a cool breeze. Others still on the trees were beginning to change color. I guess it’s time cover up the old grill and all my barbecuing utensils. We’ll probably use it a couple of times during the nicer days of fall, but cooking out, for the most part, is a spring and summer activity around our house. Why heat your house and then go stand outside on the porch when the cold wind is howling around the corner of the house? I guess we’re just a bit spoiled, probably a little like everybody else these days.

As I tightened the cover around the grill, I smiled just a bit remembering our last cook out. Family and friends were gathered on the porch for ‘out back burgers.’ And that’s not something cooked up by Crocodile Dundee. I had the burgers ready with all the secret ingredients. The grill was hot and folks were hungry. And then the fire went out. Literally. The burgers had just started to smell good when the gas ran out.

Favorite (only!) brother-in-law James said, “Come on. Hop in my Jeep and I’ll run you to the store for a new tank of propane.” Long story short. New tank of gas. Burgers cooked. Everybody happy. Remembering that summer day as I checked all the Velcro straps on the barbie cover this week, I added a few more frequent flyer memory miles. Back to Route 4.

A barbecue grill, charcoal or gas, was never a fixture on our back porch. I don’t think we ever had a cookout back home on the farm. Every meal was a ‘cook-in.’ And wood, not gas, was the fuel Mother used in the care and feeding of her nine rambunctious offspring. And you didn’t run out of stove wood. No, siree, not when it was your job to be sure the stove wood box was full. There was no running to the store for more fuel. You just ran to the woodshed, grabbed a quick armful and ran back to the house. Before Daddy found out and you were ‘invited’ back to the woodshed for a different reason! If you catch my drift.

But back to the main road. There are literally thousands of recipes for things to grill. From hamburgers to chicken to steaks to pork chops to seafood. And side items like corn-on-the-cob, still in the shuck. I can hear Daddy now. “Shuck that corn, boy. The cows need those shucks for their roughage.” Funny. I just never gave any thought to being sure the cows were ‘regular!

But a good cookout usually has some delectable side dishes. Like Estelle’s baked beans with pineapple, warming on the side burner. Now, that’s a mind-bender, right there. The side burner, I mean, not Estelle’s beans! Maybe some baked sweet taters, or squash in the grilling basket that looks like you could seine catfish with down at Coneross Creek! But, you know, what? I don’t recall ever seeing a grilling recipe for okra!  Praise the Lord! And please don’t send me any of your favorite okra grilling recipes. That’s one thing I don’t figure on ever firing up the grill to cook!

But I bet there’s one thing you never thought about grilling. It’s called Barbecued Goat! That’s right – barbecued goat. And the recipe is right there in the God’s Holy Cookbook. Look it up. Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31 through 46.

Jesus is talking about having a Great Cookout in all its heavenly glory. And everybody in the world will be invited. I’m talking about a BIG back porch for this one! And then He’ll start separating the people. Some on His right. Others on His left. Like the Good Shepherd that He is, separating the sheep from the goats.

A side road right here, please. Have you ever just really taken a good look at a goat? They look like they have a permanent streak of mean painted all over their faces. I mean, they act like it, too. Most times, anyway, they’re running around heat-buttin’ others, eatin’ tin cans, chewin’ up flowers, and just being a real pain-in-the-party! I’ll never forget one time when a neighbor’s goat got loose and strayed over to our farm. It was wash day and Mother had hung all the bed clothes, overalls, and shirts out on the clothes line in the sunshine. Underwear and socks on the fig bush, too. And guess who was supposed to be keeping the wash up out of the dirt. Yep. You’re right! But I was too busy runnin’ from yellow jackets under the apple tree. Or something. Besides what I was told to do.

Anyway, the old goat started his ‘meal’ with appetizers at the fig bush. Colored or white socks. It didn’t matter to him. They were all delicious. Then he head-butted the plank I had standing under the clothes line to keep it from falling down. And proceeded to the main course with multiple entrees. Have you ever been so hungry you thought you could eat some of everything on the menu? That old goat made himself a sampler platter of denim, flannel, and cotton!

By the time I heard the screams, it was too late. But let me just come to the old goat’s defense. All of the holes in our britches were not caused by him. There were matching holes, mainly in the seat area, caused by some intense activity at the woodshed!

But back to Jesus’ story. He’s got the nice, friendly, smiling, helpful, obedient sheep on His right. And on His left are the head-buttin’, clothes-chewin’, making-life-miserable goats. And then Jesus says to those on His right, ‘Come on in, all you blessed sheep, to the banquet feast that Father has been getting’ ready for you ever since He said “Let there be Light.” (Route 4 translation)!

And then He goes on to describe why the Sheep on the Right have been so blessed. They always had some food and water for other hungry and thirsty sheep they met along the way. They were friendly to sheep that they didn’t know. Could have been dangerous being friendly to strangers, but they took the risk anyway. They set up clothes closets so the sheep that had been ‘sheared’ could stay warm when the cold winds howled around them. Often, they went to check on their sick friends. And they even visited those in prison. And we all know, there are many different kinds of prisons.

And then Jesus told the Sheep on the Right that they punched their meal ticket for the Great Cookout every time they did any of these things for His little brothers.

Then He told the Goats on the Left to get out of His sight. They were toast. Their goose was cooked. They had the same opportunities as the sheep to help Jesus’ little brothers. But they chose their own needs and wants instead of helping others. No cookout feast for the Goats on the Left. Instead, they would spend all eternity just being cooked in a fire that never runs out of gas. Jesus’ message is simple. For all of us who act like old goats at times.

Get Right or Get Left!

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SOPPIN’ AND DUNKIN’

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Some words have to be experienced to be understood. Take, for instance, the word soppin’. If you’ve never been caught in a summer rainstorm between the barn and the house, then you probably don’t get the full meaning of soppin’ wet from head to toe. On the other hand, I never knew what an umbrella was for until I was married.  Umbrellas are for holding over ‘sweet thang’s head walking from the store to the car. And it doesn’t matter if you get soppin’ wet, just as long as she stays dry!

Soppin’ is further described by Webster’s Route 4 cousin as the ‘art of completeness.’ Sweet Thang and I have a friend who keeps asking, “What is a cat-head biscuit?” Well, by her question, it’s obvious that she’s never sopped up the last drop of saw mill gravy with the golden-brown top of a ‘dough-bowl delight!’ What a sheltered life she’s led.

Good to the last drop is a coffee company’s slogan, but back home on the farm, we learned how to sop up the last remnant of gravy on our plate long before we knew that you could grind up some beans that grew on a tree and make something to dunk your catheads in.

Dunkin’ – now there’s another good word. It means to make something soft with a quick ‘dip’ into something wet. Like what you do with hot, buttered cornbread in a tall glass of cold buttermilk. Or if Preacher Dickson dunked you in Snow Creek back home, it meant you had been baptized!

And now I’ve heard that there’s a bunch of stores all over the country where you can go in and dunk a piece of sweet bread into that juice that they make from grinding up those beans that grow on trees. What will they think of next! It’s enough to blow a fuse in a country boy’s electrical box!

I think they call those stores Dunkin’ Donuts. I picked up on that name real quick when I walked in the door of one of their stores the other night with our Kim, our Number One Daughter. The door handles were double-D’s. In capital letters. Except the one on the left door was a backwards capital D. Back home at Return Grammar School, Miss Pruitt would rap on our knuckles with a ruler if she caught us making our capital D’s backward on our Blue Horse notebook paper!

Anyway, I had an eye-poppin’, fuse blowin’ experience after I grabbed the doors with the Double-D’s. Would you believe they sell holes in that place! I kid you not. When I heard our college-educated daughter order a bag of holes, I almost fainted right out in the floor! Do what? I thought surely this can’t be true – do they actually sell holes in this place? But they do.

And something else that I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes. They also sell thermos bottles to keep your ground-up bean juice hot till you get home. And I’m here to tell you – it was a fancy thermos. Not at all like the one that used to come in my Red Ryder lunch box. This one had a hole in the top to drink from. You don’t even have to take the top of it off to use as a cup.

What I haven’t figured out yet is how you can ‘dunk a hole in a thermos of hot bean juice’ and drive your car at the same time. Why is the name of the store Dunkin’ Donuts when I didn’t see anybody dunkin’ anything? Oh, well, I think I’ll just file that one away under “Old Dogs & New Tricks!”

Somebody told me they saw a sign in a little donut shop somewhere that read ‘As you travel through life, whatever be your goal, keep your eye on the donut, and not on the hole.’ What a great piece of advice in that simple little rhyme! As I go through the donut store of life, what do I have my eyes on? Do I see only the troubles, trials, and tribulations of life? Do I let the bad economy, soaring crime rates, job losses, high prices, and uncertain world conditions prevent me from seeing the sweetness of knowing the One who’s in charge of the donut shop, so to speak?

Please excuse my comparison, but if I focus only on the donut hole and its momentary pleasure, I never get to enjoy the sweetness of the ‘real deal.’ And nothing, not even a whole bag of little sample ‘holes,’ can compare to the big round glazed doughy delight that melts in your mouth after you’ve dunked it in your cup!

Like Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:17, even though our troubles may look like a mountain, they’re just as ‘light and momentary’ as a donut hole, in comparison to what’s waiting for us in Glory! Right about here would be a good place for a big ‘AMEN,’ don’t you think? Paul also has some good advice for us in Philippians 2:13-14. Even though we haven’t made it yet, forget yesterday and press on today toward the goal.

Sounds a lot like the sign in the donut shop – keep your eye on the donut and not the hole!

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LIFETIME GUARANTEE!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

I saw a tall sign the other day that caught my eye. It must have been a couple of hundred feet high. It was one of those with an interchangeable message board. Except this one didn’t change. I think it was programmed to scroll the same message 24/7 in big red letters across its digital piece of sky like an airplane pulling a banner over the beach. I think the astronauts could see this message from outer space!

It was the size of the sign that caught my attention first. But then I read its message that was seen every day by hundreds, maybe thousands, of people speeding by on that busy highway. A ‘sign of the times,’ one might say. Our merry-go-round world is spinning so fast that you have to shout long and loud to be heard in all the clutter and noise.

But the message on the sign by the side of that busy four-lane highway kept bouncing around inside my two-lane, dirt-road brain long after I had passed it. In four-foot high letters, the message had two words – LIFETIME GUARANTEE!

Guarantee is another one of those words that we toss around rather loosely. I can’t think of one single thing that we thought was important back home on the farm that’s still around today. I always thought our children would absolutely flip over flipper hubcaps and fender skirts. Helen thought she’d be wearing saddle oxfords and poodle skirts when the grandkids came to see her.

That’s not to say that there weren’t a couple of things at Route 4 that lasted a long time. But nothing, I’ve come to believe, lasts forever. We had a big old tree stump that we burned and chopped on for years. Even tried to hook a logging chain to Daddy’s pulpwood truck and pull that stump out of the ground. But its roots ran way too deep.

And what about those Osh-Kosh-By-Gosh overalls? They seemed to last forever as they were passed down from brother to brother to brother. Mother would sew up the holes in the pockets and in the knees. And other ‘locations’ would need patching, especially after too many lessons at the woodshed. But they, too, would eventually wear out. And when something would break, tear up, or wear out, the grownups would always say, ‘they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.’

Even the tires that I thought were guaranteed for sixty-thousand miles became tree swings for the grandkids long before they reached their ‘guaranteed age.’ Many products today don’t even carry a guarantee anymore. Some call it a warranty. And it only lasts for six months. But you can pay extra and get the ‘extended warranty.’ But that’s usually only good for a year. And if you read the small print, you’ll most likely see the word ‘limited.’

Not even life itself lasts forever. We’re not even guaranteed our next breath! How’s that for the guarantee of a lifetime! And even if we make it to three-score-and-ten, every living creature will eventually face the expiration of his or her ‘earthly’ lifetime guarantee.

And when that guarantee runs out, what then? What’s important is how we’re running the race before time is called. And as God adds years to our life, let’s pray that He’ll also add life to our years! That’s when it becomes crucial that we have an ‘out-of-this-world guarantee. And we do. It’s called God’s Word. The old folks used to believe that a man’s word was his bond. And rightly so. But, sadly, even that can be broken or forgotten. But God’s Word lasts forever – however long that might be.

 Just before His time on earth ran out, Jesus made a lifetime guarantee to comfort His disciples. And it was a ‘blanket guarantee’ that includes you and me (John 14:1-3). The wording in His guarantee is easy to understand – no fine print. Trust in God – trust in Jesus. He said He’s gone away for awhile to prepare a place for us. And while He’s gone, He’s preparing us for that place. So don’t worry or fret (‘let not your hearts be troubled’) if things don’t last or go our way down here on earth. He promised His disciples, and you and me, that He will come back and take us to that place that He’s preparing so we can all be together. He said He’s coming back – and He’ll be back. I guarantee you that! That’s what I call a LIFETIME-HEREAFTER-GUARANTEE!

And the smartest minds in the world can’t even come close to imagining what that guarantee holds for us. Don’t take my word for it. Check out 1 Corinthians 2:9. ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.’

And it’s all paid for in advance. Jesus wrote the check and signed the guarantee.

AND SIGNED IT IN RED!

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