Archive for November, 2009

KNOCK, KNOCK!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Attention, husbands of the world! Raise your hand if this has ever happened to you. You’re in deep thought and heavy concentration. Maybe it’s about what’s coming up at work this week. Or your mind is occupied with the how-to’s and the wherefore’s of a particular project. Or maybe it’s something real important, like the two-minute warning and your team is behind by a couple of points.

Then out of left field, you hear these words. ‘You haven’t heard a single word I’ve said, have you?’ Your mind springs into action and you come up with this reply. Yes, dear, I heard every word you said. Then why didn’t you answer me, she says. And you reply, what you said was so important, I was just trying to decide the best way to respond. She’s not buying it, though. Even when you admit to a certain degree of loss of hearing lately. That’s when you get this diagnosis. ‘You’re not hard of hearing. You have selective hearing. You hear what you think is important.’ OK, guys, you can put your hands down.

Is it just me, or does it seem like the sense of hearing is under attack by the noises of the world? Back in the day, as we old folks say, you could hear sounds on the farm that brought a smile to your face. Birds singing, crickets chirping, doves cooing, tree frogs tuning up their bass voices for their nightly performance. How long has it been since you heard church bells on Sunday morning. Or a babblin’ brook, a cracklin’ fire, or the cluckin’ of a mother hen?

There were also some sounds that you didn’t want to hear. Like that pesky rooster making his daily announcement. We had one ol’ bird back at Route 4 that, I swear, would start crowing about midnight and not shut up till the sun was high in the sky. And for the last couple of hours, his crowing was so hoarse, it was hilarious!

And then there were those times that we earned a trip to the woodshed by not paying attention. That’s when Daddy would say, “Boy, you must be deaf. Did you not hear what I said?” That’s another one of those questions that got us deeper in trouble if we tried to answer with something like, “Could you repeat the question?” Or when a smart-alec brother would say, “Tell him again, Daddy. I think it went in one ear and out the other.” And that usually brought out the anatomy proportion statement – “The Good Lord gave you two ears and one mouth.”

But, these days it seems like the sounds of traffic jams, jet airplanes, boom boxes, and jackhammers threaten to drown out the more significant sounds in our lives. I heard it said somewhere that words whispered in your ears have more impact that those shouted in your face.

So, here’s the question of the day. What are we listening to? Is it the whisper of a still, small voice? Or is it the deafening roar of a freight-train? In 1 Corinthians 2:9, Paul talks about the sweet sound of the angelic choir when he says we’ve never heard what God has prepared for those who love Him.

And in Revelation 3:20, we hear these words. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.” The key is remembering that the door has a handle on our side only. Jesus will never knock down the door. We must grab the handle and let Him in while He’s still knocking. As Priscilla Owens wrote in her beautiful song set to music by William Kirkpatrick, “We have heard the joyful sound, Jesus Saves, Jesus Saves!”

Satan would be happy if we all developed a complete loss of hearing. That’s why his ‘noise’ is heard in our world today in so many different ways. But there’s Good News. Even for those of us in God’s family who might have been deafened by the ‘roar of the lion.’ God is not hard of hearing. He doesn’t need a hearing aid. He has promised to hear our prayer and heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:13-14).

But first we have to hear Him knocking at the door. Could He be trying to get our attention today? He told Solomon that even in times when He withholds the rain, or sends locusts to devour the land or a plague among His people who are called by His name, He will still hear, forgive, and heal if, and only if, we take the first step.

Look around us in our world today. Do we see any ‘droughts, locusts, and plagues?’ They may have a different name, but they’re here. They may be  disguised as soaring crime rates, historical unemployment rates and job losses, high prices, evil hearts, broken homes, corruption, greed, and graft at every turn. The droughts, locusts, and plagues are still with us today.

But His promise to Solomon still stands today. It was written in red. He’s still willing to do His part. The question becomes – will we do our part? Which is to ‘humble ourselves, pray and seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways.’

We have no way of knowing just how much longer He’ll be knocking at our door. We hear it, and His knock seems to grow louder and louder with each passing day. But are we really listening?

Or is it going in one ear and out the other?

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TOUCH THE TURKEY

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

The Annual Rite of the Deep-Fried Turkey has reminded me of another one of the seven senses. This one is the sense of touch. Before the ol’ bird makes it to the dinner table, there’s a lot of prep time. If you get a frozen one, it takes about two weeks to thaw it out. And once he’s soft and succulent, the countdown begins. That’s at least 24 hours before TE (turkey eatin’) Day.

The first step is the ‘wash and rinse’ cycle. No dirty birds allowed. That gobbler would be amazed at how clean he becomes before he turns golden brown in the boiling peanut oil. But let’s don’t get ahead of ourselves. Before the golden brown stage, and prior to the MOM (Moment of Marinade), while he’s still raw, white, and slick, there’s one little activity in the TCP (Turkey Cooking Process) that I’ve never been able to get Helen to participate in. It involves the sense of touch. 

No matter how much I beg, plead, invite, coerce, bribe, or threaten, there is absolutely no way I’ve ever been able to get her to stick her hand up inside that gobbler and pull out the ‘giblet’ bag. I don’t believe she’d put her hand in there if she knew that she could pull out a hundred dollar bill along with the giblets! 

I tell her that new experiences would broaden her horizon. She tells me that she’s perfectly happy with her horizon just the way it is. I try every year. And every year the same result. All I hear is the closing and locking of the bedroom door. And she won’t come out until her taste buds are tingled by the aroma of the afore-mentioned hot peanut oil bath.

But I can’t complain. There are some things that I’d rather not touch, too. Growing up on the farm, I’d run like a deer when one of my brothers (the names are omitted to protect the guilty!) pulled a slick and slimy, wart-producing,  green frog out of the pocket of his overall britches and tried to hand it to me!

That thing would never be in my pocket in the first place. Frogs like to hop from lily pad to lily pad down at Granny Martin’s fish pond. And I’d never seen him put one in his pocket and bring it to the house! But that didn’t stop my brothers from trying. No matter how many times they were ‘rewarded’ with a trip to the woodshed.

I think it’s safe to say that our sense of touch is as delicate as the wings of a butterfly. That’s true, not only in a physical sense, but also in the spiritual sense. I’m thinking of the touch of the itty-bitty hand of a newborn baby wrapping around one of your fingers. Or a friend’s hand taking yours in comfort during difficult times. Or that moment in a wedding when the bride and groom take turns placing that band of gold on each other’s hand.

We all touch each other’s lives in so many ways every day. Some known and some unknown. Sometimes it’s just a smile or a handshake that brightens the day. Maybe a kind word or a hand-written note or a phone call. Goodness knows, we’ve been touched so many times by your responses to our daily trips to the woodshed!

How many of us can remember with clarity the touch of special teachers, preachers, parents, grandparents, friends, and others whose touch left an indelible print on our lives? And that touch can be as gracious and tender as my Grandma Martin insisting that this country boy read her Bible to her from cover to cover, including the maps! Or it can be a tough and painful, but still a teaching touch, like those many trips to the woodshed! Like a life-long friend, who took a class or two at Woodshed University, remarked to us the other day, isn’t it a shame that, for the most part, that ‘old schoolhouse’ no longer exists today.

But as ambassadors for Christ, we are duty-bound to keep on touchin’. Even when the ‘touchee’ is like that frozen turkey. Sometimes the ‘thawing’ process won’t happen overnight. And even when the thaw is complete, we still need to tenderize the subject by injecting the life-changing ‘marinade’ of the Joy of Jesus. And what goes into that marinade is the way that we treat others by what we say, think, and do. As Jesus himself said, “By this the world will know that you are Mine.”

Many times it’s more than doctors and medicine that bring about healing in our lives. In Matthew’s gospel, we see the saving touch of the hand of Jesus when Peter got out of the boat and went walking on the water toward Jesus (Matthew 14:29-31). And a couple of verses later (Matthew 14:35-36), we see the healing touch of the Savior, “people brought all their sick to Him and begged Him to let the sick just TOUCH the edge of His cloak, and ALL who TOUCHED Him were healed.”

And who can forget Jesus’ healing of the man with leprosy (Mark 1:41). “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man….and immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.”

I love that old song that Bill Gaither wrote almost fifty years ago. You might have heard it a time or two. He touched me, O, He touched me, and, O, the joy that floods my soul; something happened and now I know, He touched me and made me whole.

Through the power of the One who touched our lives, you and I have the ability, in Thanks-living for His touch, to reach out and touch others. But here’s the rub.

Sometimes we gotta be willing to ‘stick our hand in the frozen turkeys’ of the world!

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BLACK FRIDAY

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Before we get to the shed today, I have an addition to yesterday’s “List of Things to Be Thankful For.” I had it in my thoughts, but my senior citizen brain forgot to transfer it to the list. And then it hit me like a brick between the eyes when so many of you shared your lists with me. And, by the way, I encourage you to continue to send your lists. Putting it in writing, I’ve found, helps to move it to the front of my brain.

While reading all of your ‘thankful lists,’ I felt compelled in my spirit to be sure that you know how much I appreciate each and every one of you who ‘go to the shed’ with us every day. Everybody needs somebody. And writers need readers. We all need to carve out some time from our busy schedules to share and encourage each other. I thank the Lord for giving me this privilege and this vehicle. And I thank you for being ‘Barnabas.’

When I opened my email-bag this morning, the first thing I saw literally shouted this message, ‘BLACK FRIDAY IS FINALLY HERE!’ I wanted to back up from my computer and say, ‘Whoa, Mule!’ Is that good or bad? Has something happened that I don’t know about? And then I woke up!

It’s THE shopping event of the year! The day when folks start forming lines in the dark about six hours before sun-up. In search of the real-deal, must-have, hottest items of the year. Right about here, I think, is a good time to take a little side road and make a confession.

I don’t think there’s anything at any price on any aisle in any department in any store in the world that’s going to make me get in a line at midnight in near-freezing temperatures. And work my way toward the front door as that line stretches all the way around the store, out the parking lot, and down the street.

All because the store ad proclaims that Black Friday prices have been slashed fifty percent. And that store only has ten of those “what-you-call-it, hicky-doodles.” And my life will be forevermore miserable if I don’t get one of those ten. After the first ten people get in the store, what are the rest of the hundreds and hundreds of folks in line going to do? Are they there just to drink hot chocolate with their friends in the middle of a ten-acre asphalt parking lot at midnight?

In my warped thinking I can imagine the supervisor of the ‘hicky-doodle’ production line giving these instructions. “OK, workers, this year we’re only going to make ten hicky-doodles. And after we’ve made ten of them, we’re closing up shop and going home for the holidays.” I wonder if all the stores will be open on Saturday. And next week. And next month. And will the hicky-doodle factory miraculously open back up and make a few more hicky-doodles?

That kind of thought process back home on the farm would always win us an all-expenses paid trip to the woodshed. And with the trip, came these instructions. “Boys, use your head for something besides a hat rack.” For example, standing in the middle of the garden one day, leaning on my hoe handle, thinking, instead of hoeing crab grass, I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. So I asked Daddy. “We have to hoe the crab grass every time it comes up. Why don’t we just wait till it’s all come up? That way we can just hoe the garden one time a year.” Well, I don’t have to tell you what he did with my hoe handle!

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re scratching your head and wondering what in the world does hoeing crab grass in the garden have to do with Black Friday? You logged on to www-dot-blackfriday-dot-com, and you didn’t see anything about a brand-new hoe handle selling for seventy-five percent off. But only ten of them at this price. And only between the hours of three o’clock and five o’clock in the morning on the day after Thanksgiving!

But here’s the catch. As human beings, we’re conditioned to ‘seek and search.’ After all, it’s the hottest gift of the year, right? So what if I have to suffer a little bit. If I endure the freezing temperature and the walking around the parking lot at midnight, I can get one at way-below regular price. If it was free, I probably wouldn’t think twice about it. Wouldn’t be worth having if they’re givin’ it away.

But, as daylight approaches on this Friday morning, I say ‘go for it!’ If that kind of thing makes you happy, more power to you. Knock yourself out and have a ball. I’ll be warm and cozy and I’ll watch you and your friends in line on the six o’clock news.

But as you try to get the circulation back in your frozen toes, let’s all remember that, on a Black Friday over two thousand years ago, we were given the greatest Gift the world has ever known, or will ever know. And the One who have us that Gift endured a lot more suffering than standing in line in the dark for a bargain price. In fact, Jesus paid the ultimate price, His own life, so that you and I and everyone in the world can have that Gift for FREE!

What if, after you’ve stood in line for hours in the cold, you make it to the check-out with your dear prize, and, as you pull out the plastic, the clerk says, “It’s free. The person in front of you paid for it.” Would you not be amazed and astonished. And so very thankful. And you just couldn’t wait to tell all your friends about it. You’d be running out the store, hollerin’ and screamin’. Mine was free! Mine was free! Hallelujah! Mine was free!

So as we’re all seekin’ and searchin’, let’s look for the Best first. Hiding in our hearts the words of our Lord in Matthew 6:33. Seek ye FIRST His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

After that Black Friday a long time ago, the Son rose on the third day and has been the Light of the world ever since. What you and I must do is scream and holler and shout if we have to, but let’s be sure to tell those who don’t know – the most wonderful Gift they’ll ever have is absolutely free, but it didn’t come without a price. But the price has already been paid. And it’s not limited to the first ten people.

Whosoever will may come!

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WHAT’S UNDER YOUR ROOF?

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Thanksgiving. The giving of thanks. I wonder how many times today folks will sit down to partake of a feast and ‘dive right in’ without giving thanks to the Giver of all good and wonderful gifts. And might I suggest, it doesn’t matter if it’s a baloney sandwich at the kitchen table, or a family reunion with ‘forty-leven’ different casseroles and a turkey the size of New Hampshire.

Back home on the farm at Route 4, there was never a question of whether we would eat in the kitchen or in the dining room. One and the same. Unless we had been sent to the back porch to finish our dinner because we reached for a drumstick before Daddy said ‘Amen.”

I always wondered how Oliver and Wade would already be gnawing on theirs when I opened my eyes. So I decided to watch ‘em one day while Daddy was giving thanks. Ah, ha! I caught ‘em! But then, when I told on ‘em for not bowing their heads and closing their eyes, Daddy looked at me and said, ‘Well, Mr. Detective, how do you know that they didn’t close their eyes?’ Welcome to the woodshed!

You know those red neon “OPEN” signs that you see flashing in the windows of many stores today? Didn’t need one at the shed. ALWAYS open for business, 24/7, 365! And not being grateful would earn you a front row seat. In fact, there wasn’t even a door at the shed. If it had one, it would have been one of those revolving kinds.

But every trip to the shed always came with this prediction – ‘Boy, someday you’re gonna thank me for this!’ Yeah, sure, I thought. I’ll be thankful when I can sit down again with only minimum pain and agony.

And you should have heard some of the things our folks could be thankful for. Dear Lord, we thank you that the cows didn’t get out today and eat up everything in the garden. Dear Lord, we thank you for the rain today, even though we had to move the hogs to higher ground to keep them from drowning. On that one, I always wondered why He didn’t teach ‘em how to swim. I guess He just wanted to teach me that there would be days when I find myself knee-deep in the muck and mire of life.

And there were many other prayers of thanksgiving. Dear Lord, we thank you that the well didn’t go dry during all the hot weather. Dear Lord, we thank you for not sending the boll weevils and the pine beetles to visit our farm this year. Dear Lord, we thank you for plenty of firewood to keep us warm and stove wood to cook our food. And there were many times when the only thing that was cooked in the wood burning stove was a big ol’ pone of cornbread.

And if you ever took leave of your senses and thought about complaining out loud, you got this sermon-at-the-shed. ‘Boy, you just better be glad that you’ve got a roof over your head.’ Now, it had more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese, but what was under that rusty tin roof was what I’ve come to be thankful for. And do you find it just a little amazin’ that a lot of folks today, me included, find comfort in the sound of rain on a tin roof?

With that thought in mind, me and my bathroom mirror buddy decided to make a list of things ‘under our roof’ today that we can be thankful for. And if you make a list of the things under your roof that you’re thankful for, I’d be thankful if you took time to share them with me. And I think it’ll put a smile on God’s face when He sees your list. So, ready or not, here I come.

All time number one, today and forevermore – I’m thankful that God loved a little ol’ skinny, dirt-road country boy so much that He sent His own Boy to die on a rugged old cross. And when Jesus and me meet face-to-face, we’ll have gold dust between our toes instead of red dirt.

And while I’m on the subject of love, I’m so thankful that God created and sent to me a woman who loves me almost as much as He does. Even when my feet stink from tromping through life’s muck and mire. The two things that keep me out of the ditch and in the middle of the road are, number one, His love and what I can do to pay Him back. And secondly, her love and what I can do to pay her back.

And I’m thankful that He saw fit to give us two wonderful children and three precious grands to love like there’s no tomorrow.

I’m thankful for being born in the United States of America, ‘one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’  

I’m thankful for grandparents and parents who taught us by example that tough love always outlasts tough times. And even when their backs were against the wall, it meant that their faces were turned toward us. I’m thankful for those other eight brothers and sisters and the threads each one sowed into the fabric of our life.  

I’m thankful for fifty-year friends, yesterday friends, and tomorrow friends.

I’m thankful for a Bible-believin’, Jesus preachin’, blood-washed church, pastor, staff, choir, orchestra, and Sunday School class. And all the others that are cut out of the same piece of cloth.

I’m thankful for being taught that what goes into our stomach is not nearly as important as what comes out of our heart.

But since we’re on that subject, I’m thankful for fried apple pies, homemade ice cream, blackberry cobbler, cathead biscuits, sawmill gravy, corn-on-the-cob, skillet-cooked cornbread, and chocolate cake.

And, Dear Lord, I’m so thankful that I could hug your neck ‘cause I don’t have to eat boiled okra. That makes me so thankful, I’m about to have a spell. I feel like David when he wrote Psalm 100.

It’s only five verses but so very appropriate for today. So all together, let’s read out loud. “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs. Know ye that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Thanks-giving lasts for a day; Thanks-living lasts for a lifetime.

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WHAT’S THAT SMELL?

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Marin

In our visit to the ‘shed’ yesterday, we discussed the sense of taste, which I personally believe is one of the strongest of the seven senses.  The memory of something that tastes either good or bad can be so strong that just saying or even thinking about something associated with that taste brings it out of the memory and into the mouth. After all, how many times have you thought of something and said, “I can just taste it right now?”

The topic of the lesson in our woodshed class today involves another of the seven senses, smell. Many times smell is closely associated with taste. If I can’t get it past my nose, I’m probably not going to be able to get it in my mouth.

Of course, there were those times back home on the farm where we just had to put a clothes pin on our nose, and put a severe test on the ol’ taste buds, or go to bed hungry. Hence, my lifetime disdain for boiled okra, turnip greens, raw oysters, etc. I’ll grab a cold biscuit and head for the ‘mater patch if I smell any of that stuff cooking in the kitchen!

Am I safe in saying that there are some smells that you probably run from, also? Take scrambled eggs, for example. Helen’s gag reflex meter goes off the chart when I’m in the kitchen scrambling eggs and making omelets. Before I’m even finished, she’s trying to run the aroma (and me!) out of the house with a can of Lysol.

And just the other day my tennis shoes (ok, sneakers – I don’t play tennis any more!) got wet in the rain. I’ll admit. They were a little ‘gamey’ the next morning. But it was more than a little embarrassing when she called out the bloodhounds to help her find where I had left them the night before. I should have just scrambled some eggs for breakfast. That would have made her forget about my smelly shoes! And after a long day of yard work, she makes me strip to my ‘skivvies’ on the back porch. Thank the Lord for all those trees in the back yard!

Is it not comical how we humans use terms like aroma and fragrance if we’re describing the smell of flowers and perfume. But you just let my feet sweat a little in my sneakers, and you-know-who starts using words like stink, and reek, and cow patty, and septic tank, and skunk! Back home at Route 4, we never had to worry about the septic tank. Don’t have to worry about overflow when you don’t have runnin’ water.  But just pray that the wind doesn’t blow uphill from down behind the smokehouse!

And just the other day I was watching a football game. The announcer was describing the outcome of the game. One of the teams had failed to score, and he said, and I quote, ‘they got skunked.’ And on the post-game interview, the coach of the skunked team confirmed it. The first words out of his mouth were ‘We really stunk it up out there today.’ I wanted to call in and suggest that he change the name on their jerseys to POLECATS.

But there are some wonderful smells, too. Like the freshness of an April shower. Or new hay in the barn. Or a little baby after a bath. Or a cake in the oven. Or a ripe watermelon when you first cut it open. And you always can tell what your neighbor’s grilling when the breeze blows toward your house.

I think we all can agree on this. When it comes to our sense of smell, there are aromas. And there are odors. Some things make our mouth water. Others make our eyes water. Send me your list and we’ll compare notes. And while you’re doing that, let’s all consider this question. How do our lives smell to those around us?

And I’m not just talking about smelly shoes and sweaty work clothes. How ‘bout ‘stinkin’ thinkin’? And gutter talk like profanity and vulgarity. Or attitudes and actions that make us smell like a stopped-up sewer.  Like gossip, hate, holding grudges, an unforgiving spirit, jealousy, and envy just to mention a few. That stuff gets all over us like white on rice.

My buddy in the bathroom mirror and I have to talk every day. He always wants to know if people feel like reaching for a can of spiritual air freshener when I leave the room. And I confess, there’s just so much of that stuff in the world we live in, sometimes, at best, I let a little of it get on me. It’s like we used to say back home at Route 4. Don’t go barefooted in the barnyard. If you follow the herd (crowd), you just might step in something that smells bad.

But, wait, there’s Good News! Our lives should not make people hold their noses. There is a way for us to avoid smelling like my sweaty sneakers. What if our lives ‘smelled’ like the rose petals that the flower girls drop at a wedding? That’s the aroma and fragrance that we leave behind us if Jesus is at home in us.

Paul smelled like the donkey he was riding on going down to Damascus that day. But God found him and cleaned him up and Paul became a sweet smell in God’s nostrils for the rest of his life. In fact, in his second letter to the Christians at Corinth, Paul thanked God for using him to spread the ‘fragrance of Jesus’ everywhere he went (2 Corinthians 2: 14-16).

We, too, used to smell like something rotten before we’re saved by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. But now it is our responsibility to spread His aroma, the fragrance of life, I believe Paul calls it. And we can use it to ‘wash the feet of all we meet’ on the dirt road of life. So, what fragrance am I wearing today?

Is it freshly baked bread from the oven or ‘eau de sweaty sneakers?

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WOULD YOU LIKE A TASTE?

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Have you ever stopped to think about just how amazing is this ‘thing’ in our head called a brain? All those cells and molecules, membranes and blood vessels, electrical impulses, and so on and so forth. And then you have all the senses. Like feeling, hearing, seeing, tasting, etc. And the brain is sorta like the switchboard that takes all the calls from the rest of your body that’s physically involved in all the senses. Biology and anatomy were never my favorite subjects in school. So let me see if I can get to where I’m going here.

For instance, if I put my hand on Mother’s red-hot wood cook stove back home on the farm, my hand would send a signal to my brain. And my brain would take the call and transfer it to my voice box. The message – scream and holler, bawl and squawl and run up the wall!!

Or when you see the woodshed ‘schoolhouse’ just ahead and your name is carved on the desk, the brain immediately tells the seat-of-your britches ‘this can’t be a pleasant experience.’

Or when you tell your brother ‘you don’t have enough sense to get in out of the rain,’ or call him a really bad word, like dumb or moron, and you fit that category ‘cause you said it loud enough for Mother to hear you – that’s when the brain reminds you how it tastes to have your mouth washed out with soap. Now that’ll leave a taste in your mouth that the brain won’t let you forget!

Do you have another example? Thank you for asking! If you’ve planted some okra seed in your backyard garden, I can ride by your place and my brain automatically flips on a flashing red warning light! See, it records all the millions and millions of things I’ve tasted in my lifetime. And it files all those tastes in mental manilla folders with tabs that say things like YUCK! There aren’t many items in that folder, but slick and slimy boiled okra jumps out of the folder and ‘stands on top of my filing cabinet’ hollerin’ RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN!

‘Slick and slimy’ had a friend on top of the filing cabinet the other day when Helen and I were having dinner after church with our good friend, Brenda Gastley. Of course, as with any conversation, I try to get in a good word or two for cornbread. But you would not believe what Brenda said. And since you wouldn’t believe it, I’ll go ahead and tell you. She said that she liked to cook some turnip greens and pour the ‘pot liquor’ all over her hot cornbread! I had to grab the phone out of my brain’s hands. It was already dialing 911!

See how amazin’ the brain is? It never lets you forget the things that leave a taste in your mouth – good or bad. I saw a sign on the side of the road the other day that said ‘join us on Monday nights for all you can eat crab legs.’ That’s when my brain starts hollerin’ yes, yes, yes! Go get your wife – she’s gonna love it, too! By the way, in the almost fifty years we’ve been ‘ridin’ around together,’ that’s the only thing my brain can pull out of the file that says ‘don’t get into a crab-leg eatin’ contest with your wife.’ Once again, the amazin’ brain never forgets.

As you’ve already figured out, there are hundreds and hundreds of files in my ‘good taste folder.’ Let me see how quick I can make you drool on your donut. Homemade ice cream, blackberry cobbler, hot buttered cornbread cooked in a cast-iron skillet, cathead biscuits with sawmill gravy and home-grown sausage, a platter full of corn-on-the-cob with a tub of cow’s butter sittin’ beside it, coconut cake with juice running out the side and drowned in ambrosia, my mother-in-law’s hot-out-of-the-oven pound cake, fried apple pies with a golden brown crust. I better stop right there before all this ‘moisture’ shorts out my keyboard!

But you get the message. The amazin’ brain just never lets you forget what you’ve tasted. And once you’ve tasted the good, you don’t ever want to go back to the bad. Do you think I would ever turn down even a half of a fried apple pie for fifty pounds of boiled okra? Would I give up even a teaspoon of ambrosia for a two-horse wagon load of turnip greens and rutabagas? Check your mail. My brain’s sending you a telegram!

The Apostle Peter talks about something that tastes SOOOO good, you’ll never ever want to be without it once you’ve tasted it (1 Peter 2:3). In the first couple of verses preceding, he talks about how newborn babies crave pure milk. He didn’t mention strained carrots and green beans, but babies seem to like that stuff, too. When they’re not spewin’ it out all over you.

But, let me see a show of hands. Everybody who’d rather have a little jar of green mush called English peas tonight for supper instead of a juicy, two-inch thick T-bone steak, raise your hand. That’s what I thought. Not a single hand was raised!

And you know what the difference is? It’s something called ‘growin’ up.’ The things we liked and were good for us when we were babies just don’t hold much appeal for us when we grow up. But we consume the baby food anyway so that we CAN grow up and taste the good stuff. And once we’ve ‘tasted how good God is,’ as Peter says, the brain won’t ever let us forget.

But here’s something else the amazin’ brain does. Every time that guy in my bathroom mirror starts ‘acting like a baby’ in everyday life – you know how babies act – selfish, greedy, spiteful, pitchin’ a fit when we don’t get our way – well, when that happens, the brain sends the guy in the mirror a message – “Boy, what’s it gonna be today –  baby food or chocolate cake?” Then I remember the taste – yellow on the inside with creamy chocolate frosting on the outside. Washed down with a tall glass of ice cold 100-percent milk.

I can just taste it right now!

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GOT MILK?

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

It was a simple request. Pick up some milk on your way home. You’d think it would be easy for a grown man to check that item off his to-do list, wouldn’t you? Now, I know you’re not supposed to answer a question with another question, but have you ever stood in front of the dairy case at your favorite store and considered the choices?

First, you have several different companies to choose from. But once you’ve made that decision, then comes the hard part. You gotta pick a category. Sweet milk, buttermilk, or chocolate milk? OK, that wasn’t so hard.

A tall, ice-cold glass of buttermilk and a hot pone of golden-brown cornbread dripping with cow’s butter. Oh, boy, stop droolin’ and find me a fruit jar! Buttermilk and cornbread go together like molasses and hot cakes. But buttermilk and corn flakes – well, you see what I mean? To make the right milk choice, first you have to choose which meal you’re getting’ it for.

How ‘bout chocolate milk? A quart of that smooth, cold, brown liquid and a pack of Lorna Doone shortbread cookies are perfect companions for the three-hour game of the week on tv. In my mind’s eye, I can still see Mother mixing up the dough for her cathead biscuits in her large wooden mixing bowl. I wonder where that thing is now? Anyway, I can’t focus my Route 4 mental Kodak Brownie camera on that mixing bowl and imagine Mother using chocolate milk for the morning catheads and sawmill gravy.

And skim milk? That’s like rinsing out your glass after you’ve had the real thing! Again, I can’t picture Mother ever using skim milk to bake her thirteen-layer coconut and lemon cakes for the holidays. Even a double helping of ambrosia couldn’t cover the taste of skim milk. The only time we farm boys and girls ever heard the word ‘skim’ was when Mother was told us what to do with the three-inch layer of pure cream that formed overnight on the top of a gallon jug of ol’ Bessie’s finest in the  ‘frigidaire.’

OK, we’ve narrowed the choices. It’s gotta be the old standard sweet milk. But, you know what? I don’t believe a registered, blue-tick bloodhound could have sniffed out a jug of sweet milk in that dairy case. Somebody decided to start calling it whole milk! That way, they could make a section in the dairy case for people who only want a jug, ‘scuse me, a carton of ‘mixed milk.’ If that carton only has one-percent or two-percent milk, what’s in the other 98 or 99-percent? Until you find the answer to that question, I guess you just go with half-and-half. At least, it’s fifty percent of something!

And just before my shins are rammed by a kid driving a grocery buggy that looks like his favorite Nascar, my eyes land on something called Lactaid. And right beside it were cartons of Silk and Soy! What’s a cornbread-fed country boy to do when he’s craving a tall glass of the real thing?

And is it possible for you to imagine that two-am feeding when precious little Billy Bob’s screamin’ and hollerin’ can only be stopped by shovin’ a bottle of milk into his open mouth? And while you’re imaginin’, imagine the spittin’ and sputterin’ that little Billy Bob would spew all over your pj’s if you mistakenly put buttermilk in his bottle? Or that one-or-two percent ‘mixed milk’? Be sure to have your video camera ready. You could win ten thousand dollars for that one.

No, little babies need the real deal to grow up and have strong bones and healthy bodies. And, in the same way, we newborn, infant Christians need pure spiritual milk in order to grow up in our relationship with our Savior. And, as the Apostle Peter wrote in his first letter to his friends (1 Peter 2:2), we’re to crave it.

That means to have an intense, burning desire that can only be satisfied with the consumption of the real thing. Webster defines ‘crave’ as a verb that means to long for, or to yearn for. And it doesn’t work if we just see it or hear about it. Any more than seeing a tall glass of the good stuff sittin’ in front of you on the kitchen table will satisfy your desire. Remember before little Billy Bob was born, his Momma sent you to the store at midnight for a jar of dill pickles and a half-gallon carton of rocky-road ice cream?

It’s only when we crave it so much that we grab the glass, turn it up, and don’t stop drinkin’ from it till we see the bottom of the glass, that we’ll benefit (grow up) from drinking pure spiritual milk. And what kind of mindset craves pure spiritual milk? Thank you for asking. I’ll answer that question with this question.

How many of us ‘newborns’ stayed home from church on any recent Sunday morning ‘cause it was raining? As my pastor preaches to us over and over, we don’t have to go to church, we get to go to Sunday School and preachin’. Where we can ‘drink from the cup’ of pure spiritual milk.

Sorry, no sippy cups allowed.

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PURPLE POWER

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Looking at some stains on our driveway, my friend Chris said, “A little Purple Power and a hose pipe ought to take care of them. But you might have to use a pressure washer.” And just like that, my ticket was punched and I heard the conductor holler “All Aboard! Our next stop, Route 4.”

Yessiree, neighbor, stains were as common as cornbread back home on the farm. But, hang that thought on the fig bush. We’ll come back to it in a jiffy. But a stain on the driveway? How do you stain dirt? It’s a stain by itself, I think. A dirt road has a dirt driveway. Pure and simple.

I’ve seen pictures of beautiful long and winding driveways of concrete or asphalt, lined on each side with dogwoods and oak trees and perfectly manicured grass, leading to the country estate of a real estate agent’s dream.

First of all, I guess they had real estate agents and brokers back there in the fifties. But we never heard about them. And besides that, anybody coming down the Route 4 dirt road, axle-deep in red mud after it rained, would fit into one of these three categories. They would be kin to us. Or they would be lost  ‘cause they took the wrong turn back up at the main road. They sure wouldn’t be looking to buy a piece of that rocky, red dirt paradise. Or it would be the mailman.

And even he skipped our place sometimes in the hardest days of winter. But when he did have to come to our mailbox to deliver our new Sears and Roebuck catalog, he’d stop in the driveway at our farmhouse, catch his breath, turn around and try to make it back to the main road. And nobody was worried about any oil leaks from his car staining our driveway! As I said at the top, it’s hard to put a stain on dirt!

But let’s get out of the driveway for a minute and talk about what Chris called Purple Power. Have you ever seen so many ‘miracle’ cleaners? And every one is supposed to work even better than the others. And they have all these “creative” names, like Grease-B-Gone or Ka-Boom! Or about a dozen or so others. I even have a little ‘stick’ with soap inside it that Helen told me to keep in the dash of my car. She said it doesn’t look good when people can look at my shirt and see that I had hot dogs with extra chili, ketchup, and mustard, for dinner.

And whatever happened to the friendly little scrubbin’ bubbles that ate up all the stains on my bath tub like a pac-man video game? And if all these modern miracle cleaners work so well, why do they have to have those screamin’ and hollerin’ pitch men on their television commercials that have forced me to become close friends with the mute button on my remote control?

OK, so now I’ve poured on the purple. What now? According to Chris, just grab the hose pipe and wash your troubles away down the drain. Excuse me, but I just have to take this side road. Get this picture. You’re a ten-year-old, soon to be eighteen, lost-on-a-farm-in-the-fifties, country boy. One of your main jobs is using a long rope with a bucket tied on the end to get water out of a big hole in the ground that you either toted to the house for drinking and cooking, or you ran it down to the barn to water the cows, mules, and chickens. What, pray tell, would you do with a 50-foot piece of rubber tubing?

Hose was what Grandma wore to church on winter Sundays to keep her legs warm. And a pipe was what carried the smoke from Mother’s wood-burning cook stove out the top of the house. Now, why couldn’t I have been smart enough to put those two words together and come up with that long green tube to hook to your spigot and water your flowers?     

Here’s a bonus question – worth ten points. Is water a noun or a verb? If you ‘water’ your lawn or flowers, you spray them good with life-giving moisture, right? Or pour a bucketful around their root system. Then tell me, why did I wind up at the woodshed back home when Daddy told me to go water the animals? I guess I got into trouble for using water as a verb and throwing it all over the mule’s head and back. Instead of using it as a noun, and giving it to him to drink. See, kids, why it’s so important to pay attention in English.

But, anyway, back to the stain that we ‘left hanging on the fig bush’ earlier and the purple power cleaner. Stains come in lots of different colors, especially around the farm. Who can ever forget the sight of Mother scrubbing our overall britches till her fingers bled red? Trying to get out those green reminders of ‘sliding into third’ during the cow pasture baseball game. And, if third base happened to still be ‘fresh,’ well, there’s another shade of green stain. Yep, green was a leading color of farm stains. Then you had black – as in how your fingers looked for a week after picking the blackberries for Mother’s cobblers. I guess if I had had a hose pipe and some purple stuff cleaner, I wouldn’t have had to be teased so much. But an extra helping of cobbler took care of that! And then you had red for a popular color of stains, as in red mud. Like our clothes were covered with when James McKee came home with me after church and we dammed up the ditch beside the road when it rained and we had us a swimming ‘pool.’

So we’re all familiar with stains we had while we were growing up. But do we carry any stains around with us after we’re supposed to be grown-ups? Let’s look at the evidence. And it’s as plain to see as the mustard and ketchup on my shirt. Or the Nehi grape drink that Helen spilled on my white pants on our first date! I don’t remember what she told me to bring home from the store last night. But I do remember that Nehi grape. And that was about fifty years ago. At the Time-In. Back when they had curb service.

But what are some ‘life stains’ that are so easy to see but so hard to remove? The Apostle Peter carried a stain for awhile. It had something to do with a rooster crowing three times. But it was removed by the greatest miracle stain remover the world has ever known or will ever know. The spilled blood of Jesus Christ. When we allow it to go to work in our lives, it washes away even the toughest, set-in, dried up, permanent stains. Check ‘em out (1 Peter 2:1).

Peter used the word therefore’ at the beginning of this verse. Meaning that since Jesus has given his very life’s blood to create this miracle stain remover, we’re supposed to use it, like a hose pipe on the driveway, to wash away “all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind” from the fabric of our lives.

And what a ‘wonderful washday’ that is when we take off the mustard-stained shirts and grape juice-stained pants and dump them in the life-changing cleansing power of the blood of Jesus. No soaking needed. It goes to work immediately! And that’s what I call a Miracle cleaner, with a capital M, with the color of red.

The Scriptures say that the angels in Heaven throw a party every time even one sin-stained child of God uses this Miracle Cleaner. And there’s a line in Elisha Hoffman’s great old gospel song, “Are You Washed In the Blood,”  that gives us instructions for using this Cleanser. ‘Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin and be washed in the blood of the Lamb.’

Revelation 7:14 shows what our lives look like after that washday. “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

Anybody need a Tide Stick?

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A MESS ON HIS HANDS

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

It’s still hard for this me to remember that I can take a picture with my phone. Can you just imagine the family album we could have had back home on the farm if we could have whipped out the cell phone and taken a picture whenever we wanted to. And speaking of whipping, maybe it’s a good thing that the lessons we were taught at the woodshed aren’t recorded anywhere.

And that’s just the misdeeds that we were caught in red-handed. Or that Mother and Daddy found out about because of some little tattle-tale brother. The names have been omitted on purpose to protect the guilty! Once caught, though, you might as well ‘fess’ up, as Daddy would say, ‘cause he had eye witnesses.

But wait a cotton-pickin’ minute. They are indeed recorded. They just aren’t on film. At least not the kind of film we used to see when Daddy would promise to take us to the picture show in town to see Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and Trigger in 3-D. I always wondered if Trigger could pull a plow like our ol’ plug mule.

But anyway, there are reels and reels of film about growing up at Route 4 stored in this ol’ country boy’s movie library. And it doesn’t take much for something to reach in there, pull out a highlight and pop it into the mental DVD player.    

Such was the case the other day. There on the wall in the restroom at the café (okay, restaurant) was a sign that turned on the projector in the picture show of my mind. Uh-oh, there’s a sideroad. Be back in a shake. After all these years removed from Route 4, I still want somebody to explain to me why they call it a ‘rest-room.’  I promise you, there certainly wasn’t a lot of resting goin’ on in our two-hole facility down behind the woodshed back home on the farm! Daddy could always tell when we ‘really, really, really had to go.’ Or if it was just an excuse to get out of hoeing the garden.

But back to the main road. The sign on the wall in the restroom was printed in letters large enough for the astronauts to see from outer space. And here was it’s message. All employees MUST wash their hands before returning to work! Well, I certainly hope so. Why would they need a sign on the wall to tell ‘em that?

Anyway, as soon as I saw that sign, I started looking for my seat in the Route 4 picture show. I could smell the popcorn. Hope they’ve got a roadrunner cartoon. Beep-Beep, there he goes, down that dirt road toward home. I can still see the picture in my mind.

Mother is standing there at the back door wiping her hands on her apron. She did that a lot. And she didn’t have a sign in the ‘restroom’ telling her to do it, either. But she’s standing there watching us get ready for supper time. And I can still hear her very words. “Boys, WHAT IN THIS WORLD is that mess all over your hands?” Did your folks ever talk in capital letters?

We might have been up to our elbows in axle grease. Or making enough mud pies, with rain water and red dirt, to feed every chicken and cow on the farm! But she never waited for an answer. She just issued this iron-clad declaration. “You’re not coming in my kitchen till I see some clean hands!” Now, you know if you grew up on the farm, there are some messes you could get on your hands that  Octagon soap and Red Devil’s Lye couldn’t get off!

Well, after you had scrubbed so hard till you thought your skin would fall off like a snake’s skin, you just prayed that Mother’s hand inspection would allow you to head for the pone of hot, buttered cornbread already sittin’ there steamin’ hot on the kitchen table.

But that sign on the restroom wall got me to thinking about some of the messes we get on our hands in our world today. Not necessarily stuff that would keep you away from the supper table. But, on the other hand, there might be some ‘mess’ that would keep us away from the feast at God’s table. Maybe some anger, harsh words, grudges, jealousy, hatred, intolerance, greed, or maybe, as Mother used to call it, ‘just plain meaness.’

David brought up the subject of who gets into ‘God’s kitchen’ in Psalm 24:1-4. There’s no question about whose kitchen it is. Just like we knew who was in charge in the farmhouse kitchen, David admitted right up front in verses 1-2, this ‘farm’ and everything on it and everybody who lives here belongs to the Lord. He made it. It’s His. Period. End of the sentence.

Whenever I read those two verses, I automatically start humming “He’s got the whole world in His hands; He’s got everybody here in His hands; He’s got you and me, brother, in His hands; He’s got the tiny little baby in His hands; He’s got the whole world in His hands.” Now, I won’t be able to get that tune out of my head all day long.

But David, who was caught red-handed with a few messes on his hands, got to wondering one day who would be allowed in God’s House. And God gave David the answer to his question in verse 4. He who has clean hands. Bingo! There it is.

As the sign on the restroom wall said, we MUST have clean hands before were allowed in the kitchen, or anywhere else in God’s house.

And while we’re cleaning up our hands, there are some other areas that might need scrubbing, like our heart, our soul, and our mouth. Sorta makes me wonder if God ever looks at ‘this whole world in His hands’ and wonders how we could make such a mess. 

But wait, there’s a Good News reel at the end of this picture show. God has enough Octagon soap and hot water (His Word) to clean up the dirtiest hands in the world! And, like Mother standing at the farmhouse door, God is standing at Heaven’s door saying, “When you get that mess off your hands, you can come on in.”

Here’s your sign!

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HOME SWEET HOME!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

There used to be a sign that greeted everyone at the city limits of Thomson, Georgia. It spoke volumes with its simple message – ‘if you lived in Thomson, you’d be home now.’ I think that message alluded to what makes a house a home. Just what is it, anyhow, that makes a house feel like home?

Take the street where you live, for instance. And it seems like everybody lives on a street in a subdivision these days. Not so back home at Route 4. We had never heard the word ‘subdivision,’ but if we had, it must have something to do with ‘rithmetic. And every house didn’t have a 911 house number. See, it’s called a house number, not a home number. Mr. Bill Hunnicutt, our mail carrier, knew where the Martin gang lived on Route 4.

Ours was the only home on our dirt road after you turned off the main road at the Gibson’s house. There it is, right there. The Gibson’s house. Home to the Gibson’s, but just another house to the Martin’s. And on your street, you probably visit your neighbors’ houses from time to time, but you always go back home.

And what is it the announcer always seems to say these days when a football player reaches the end one – “He took it to the house!” Didn’t say he took it home. That would imply that the runner left the stadium and took the football home with him!

And I just have to take this little side road for a minute. You know all those gyrations and that chest-bumping and jumping that you see when somebody scores? What are they so excited about? Coach Danny Ford used to tell his Clemson Tigers, “Boys, when you score a touchdown, act like you’ve been there before.” But back to the main road.

You don’t need directions to find your way home. Even husbands who won’t stop to ask for directions when they’re lost, know how to get back home. I think it probably was one of those guys who invented the GPS or nav-system, or whatever those things that sit on the dash in your car and give you directions. I’ve heard that some of those things even have a female voice telling you where to turn. How ironic is that? A guy won’t listen to his wife sittin’ right there in the seat beside him. But he’ll pay a hundred bucks to listen to a stranger in a box on his dash tell where to go!

I remember like it was yesterday when we would get off the school bus up at the main road (near the Gibson’s house). Then while we were walking down that dirt road toward home, one of us would always say, ‘I just can’t wait till I get out of school, get me a job, and move away from here.’ Yeah, right! Little did we know it then, but John Denver had the right idea when he sang ‘take me home, country roads.’

Helen used to have a little cross stitch ornament that said ‘it takes a whole lot of living to make a house a home.’ If you had enough cross stitch thread, you could add ‘and a lot of loving and giving and forgiving, too.’

And remember what your folks used to tell your aunts and uncles and cousins when they came to see you? ‘Yawl come on in and make yourselves at home.’ Boy howdy, would they ever!

Fifty-some-odd years of looking at Route 4 in my rear view mirror has confirmed that it’s the living and loving; the laughing and crying; the woodshed and the supper table; the bitter cold of winter; and the scorching heat of summer; the barnyard and the backyard; it’s all these experiences rolled up together that make a house a home. Even now as I write, the feeling of home wells up inside me. Maybe we could sum it up by saying it wasn’t the house itself, but what was inside the house that made it home.

That ol’ farmhouse never had a coat of paint. No insulation. Torn screens and broken window panes and a tin roof without gutters. Can’t recall ever having to clean out gutters! No running water or inside bathroom. No little box on the wall that you dial up or down to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

But we always knew we could jump out of bed every morning, grab our britches and shoes, and head for the warmth of Mother’s red-hot wood cook stove in the kitchen. Or stand on the hearth wrapped in a warm blanket just before going to bed in a room with no heat! There’s a verse in Stuart Hamblen’s old gospel song that says it all – ‘this old house was home and shelter as we fought the storms of life.’ 

I think that’s what David had in mind as he penned the last line in his ‘Shepherd’s Poem,’ Psalm 23. Thanks to an enlightening look at this psalm by Phillip Keller’s book, ‘A Shepherd’s Look At Psalm 23,’ (and thanks to my friend Rev. Marty McKee’s pointing me to it), we can see how David writing from the viewpoint of a sheep just makes perfectly good sense.

The sheep starts off by braggin’ about how wonderful his Good Shepherd is. He enjoys green pastures and quiet waters, safety and comfort, a bountiful table, and a cup that runs over into his saucer! Why on earth would this sheep even think about leavin’ home when he’s living the blessed life under the care of the Good Shepherd! You’re right. He wouldn’t. That’s why he ends this beautiful scripture with the awesome declaration that “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever!”

Most times when we hear the term ‘house of the Lord,’ we think of the church building or place where we worship, right? But could I suggest that the house of the Lord could also be the home where Jesus lives and reigns and ‘makes Himself at home’ in our heart? He is the front door, the only way to get in is through Him.

Every day of our lives, we rub elbows with ‘homeless’ people. Oh, they may have a house on a street somewhere that they go to at night. But have we told them by our talk, and more importantly, showed them by our walk, about the “green, green grass of home.”

If Jesus is at home in my heart, others will see and want to experience that at-home comfort and contentment that made David say he couldn’t imagine ever living anywhere else. And one last thought today. If what happens to us in life is not nearly as important as how we handle what happens to us, then I think we’re walking down that familiar dirt road toward home! And even more important, we can ask our friends to go home with us, like we used to do after church on Sunday morning.

There’s another song, I think Theressa Ruppert wrote it, that says ‘some call it Heaven, I call it home.’ With all He’s done for us, we can say nothing less than ‘I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’ And when we allow Him to take up full-time residence in our heart, we can truly say ‘Home, Sweet Home!’

Where’s home for you today? If it’s not where you want it to be, God allows U-turns on the road of life.

Can I get you a change-of-address card?  

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