Archive for December, 2009

BE CAREFUL OUT THERE!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

From my earliest childhood memories, I can recall the times when my older brothers took particular delight in scaring us ‘young-uns’ half-to-death with elaborate stories about the monsters that lived in the swamp down by the edge of Coneross Creek that ran by our farm. They talked about jack-rabbits as big as dogs. They said that the buzzards and hawks that lived in the trees in the swamp were big enough to swoop down and pick up little kids like me with their razor-sharp claws. And take us back to their nests and feed us to their baby buzzards.

But the one thing that kept me away from the creek till I was about fourteen was when my brothers talked about the snakes. As big as a man’s arms and as long as a pine tree is tall. They even told a tale about when Daddy tried to kill one with an ax. They said its fangs went for Daddy’s arm, but missed and sank into the ax handle.  And the ax handle swelled up so big that Daddy took it to the sawmill and got enough lumber to build a corn crib, a new addition to the barn, and a new two-seater outhouse!

I always thought they were stretching the truth just a little bit. I think he got just enough wood to add another room on to the woodshed. And that’s exactly where I thought my brothers ought to spend some time for telling those tall tales. But if there’s anything that I despise more than boiled okra, it’s snakes! Can’t stand the thought of ‘em, much less the sight of ‘em. Even the rubber kind give me the heebie-jeebies!

But along about the age of twelve or thirteen, I decided to follow Daddy’s advice. “Use your head for something besides a hat rack,” he said about a million times. So one day I cautiously slipped off down toward the creek while my brothers weren’t watching. I was real careful. The short hairs on the back of my head were standing at attention. It was summertime so I was barefooted. All the better to run fast if one of those snakes or a hungry buzzard came after me

But my reasoning was that if the swamp beside the creek was such a scary place, why did they like going down there so much? And why did they not want me there? After I had crept through the edge of the swamp, I found myself standing on the creek bank. And then I knew the answers to all my questions.

Right there in front of my eyes! My brothers were having so much fun. Swinging on vines like Tarzan out over the creek and dropping into their favorite swimmin’ hole. Or backing up about fifty feet to get a runnin’ head start before jumpin’ into the creek. They just didn’t want their little brother taggin’ along with them. I even think some of their older friends from Route 4 had joined my brothers. But I’ll omit the names to protect the guilty.

Seeing most of their clothes left on the creek bank, my first thought was to sneak in carefully and move their clothes over to another bush. The one with all the poison oak on it! But that would have been mean. So, being a good junior detective, I just decided to go back to the house and report the findings of my investigation. They were supposed to be hoeing the garden, so Daddy was surprised to hear my news.

The trip from the swimmin’ hole to the woodshed was one that my brothers would not soon forget! And the next time they planned an outing to the creek bank, they were very careful to include me.

I think about being careful around the creek every time I read about Moses and the Israelites. They were standing on the edge of the Jordan River getting’ ready to cross over into the Promised Land. And they were a bunch of scaredy cats! Moses told ‘em about the giants that lived over there. And how they’ve probably have to clear the land and grow some stuff to eat. In short, they were going to have to work hard once they got to their new place.

And here we are standing on the edge of a brand new year. There may even be some monsters and other scary stuff on the other side. But we can’t turn around and go back. So what are we going to do? For the answer to that question, let’s look at what Moses told his folks in the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy. Four times He used the word ‘be careful.’  

This is just me talking, but I believe Moses was delivering a ‘woodshed warning’ to God’s people. And it just might be good for us to review it today as we get ready to jump off the ‘creek bank’ into a brand new year. In verses 1-2, Moses told ‘em they better clean out their ears and listen to what he was about to tell ‘em  if they knew what was good for ‘em (Route 4 translation).

Like Daddy always said, “If you boys will just do what I tell you to do, you’ll live long lives and be happy!” Being obedient to God’s commandments, according to Moses, would be very important in their new land. In verse 6, he told ‘em that it would show how smart they were if they kept God’s laws very carefully.

In verse 9 and again in verses 15-20, he told the Israelites to be careful and watch yourselves and to remember where you’re coming from and what you’ve seen as God has brought you out of Egypt. And to teach their children and grandchildren how He brought ‘em through to this point.

And then in verses 21-24, Moses talked about how foolish it would be for the people to make God mad by forgetting (be careful not to forget, v. 23) where they had come from and to start making idols and worshipping things made out of rocks or wood that can’t see or hear or eat or smell (v. 28) instead of Him.

And then in verse 29, Moses had some parting instructions that we would do well to remember as we make the leap into a brand new year with more uncertainty than most folks have known in their lifetime. “But if you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you look for Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

If we’re careful to remember those words, that ‘swamp’ out there that we standing on the edge of won’t be half as scary as my older brothers used to try to make me believe.

Who knows, there might even be some ‘skinny-dippin’ days ahead for us!

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FIRST STAR!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Have you ever tried to count how many stars you can see? It was one of our favorite pastimes growing up on the farm. It’s hard to play that game today. Too many lower lights blocking our line of sight. Street lights, night lights, security lights, parking lot lights, huge billboard lights. These are all man-made lights. Coming home the other night, as we topped a hill overlooking town, Helen said, “It looks like a big city, doesn’t it?” I’ve heard pilots say that once they’re airborne and the ground lights have faded, the stars in the sky are as brilliant as sparkling diamonds.

But back home on Route 4, Seneca, South Carolina, there were no streets, just a dirt road. And no parking lots or billboards. So on a clear night, it seemed as though we could see a gazillion stars sparkling in the sky. But the game couldn’t start till somebody saw the first star. And since I liked to be first, I’d jump off the front porch, pointing to the twilight sky, and holler “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight.”  Sometimes Ollie or Wade, maybe Eddie or Wendell would accuse me of pointing at a lightnin’ bug. And sometimes they’d be right. But by the time the argument was settled, everybody really could see the first star.

Scientists say that with a good set of eyes, you can see about 5,000 stars. And some learned person has estimated that there are about 10 stars in the sky for every grain of sand on the earth. I’m not smart enough to count that high, but our country boy ‘rithmetic really got a good workout as the brothers tried to see how far we could count.

First, you start off counting by ones, then by fives and tens. When somebody gets more than you, it’s time to start counting by hundreds. I always liked to keep things lively, so I’d count by the millions. Before you knew it, somebody would challenge me. ‘You’re cheatin’. You can’t count by millions.’ And then I’d reply, ‘Oh yes, I can. Look out there over the pasture. I see 14-billion right there.’ No, you can’t. Yes, I can. If there were more than two children in your family, you know where this is headin’. Straight to the woodshed!

I always think about those games of First Star when I read Matthew’s account of how the out-of-town Wise Men came to Jerusalem looking for Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12). When they stopped to ask for directions (Helen says that’s why they’re called wise men!), they said they had come to worship the One who has been born King of the Jews because they had seen His star in the East.    

Well, that upset ol’ King Herod and all his smart people. They found out that Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem, so Herod sent the Wise Men on their way to that blessed little town. He told them to find Jesus and report back to him so he could worship Jesus, too. That was a big fat lie!

But the Wise Men didn’t get that name for nothing. They took off down the road. And the ‘star light, star bright, first star they had seen in the night’ led them and their camels right up to the house where they saw Mary and her two-year-old boy named Jesus.

I get a country boy grin on my face when I read verse 10. When the Wise Men saw the star stop over Jesus’ house, they were overjoyed! I used to feel a little bit like that when I hollered ‘first star I see tonight.’ But I can not imagine how the Magi must have felt in their hearts. But I do know what they did.  They bowed down and worshipped Jesus (verse 11) and gave Him some nice gifts. In fact, Matthew called them treasures. Jesus didn’t ask for their treasures. They gave them to Him because they were so happy to see Him! I wonder today if we’re that happy.

Once again, for the umpteenth time, we read a few days ago about the birth of the Babe in Bethlehem. And now, as our road of life heads down that super highway toward a new year, we also know what Jesus did for us thirty-three years after that night in the manger at Bethlehem.

That alone should be enough to make wise people out of all of us. Their hearts were filled to the brim and runnin’ over just from seein’ Him! How much more should we be grateful and worshipful for what He did for us that afternoon on Golgotha’s Hill. For that, He desires, deserves, and demands our best.

We might be runnin’ short on the gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but He only asks for something a lot more valuable. Our heart. Where a man’s heart is, there also will be his treasure. As my friend, Bob Carnes, and I were discussing yesterday, we don’t know what the new year holds, but we do know who’s holding the new year. Matthew’s account says the Wise Men took a different road home after they had seen Jesus (verse 12). Could it be time for you and me to take a different road home to Him in 2010?

Right about here would be a good place for us all to sing out loud the chorus of the song about those Wise Men of old, written a long time ago by John H. Hopkins, Jr., but still so very appropriate today. Hum it if you don’t know the words.

O, Star of wonder, Star of night, Star with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect Light.

And that ain’t no lightnin’ bug!

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WHAT DID YOU GET FOR CHRISTMAS?

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

The tv commercial blared out a question that just hung there in my mind like laundry on a clothes line. Didn’t get what you wanted for Christmas? Come in today and buy it for yourself!

So I decided to see if everybody was happy with their gifts. The line at the refund and exchange counter snaked back and forth like a kids ride at Disney World. There was a sign posted about half way through the line that said ’45 minutes from here.’ One lady said she’d stand there all day if she had to. Just so she could exchange the 48-piece socket and wrench set that her hubby had given her for Christmas! That was all the proof that I needed.

Some folks just don’t get it. A gift is a gift because it comes from the heart of the giver. That’s why it’s called a gift. And that’s why it’s so heart-warming to see folks who DO get it. Who are really, really appreciative of their gifts. And many times, it’s the children who show us the way to properly express appreciation.

Like Sarah-Parker, our nine-year-old, going on eighteen, granddaughter. Her Dad gave her a cookbook from the Princess and The Frog collection for Christmas. She absolutely loved it! So much so that she just showered him with hugs and kisses. I think her joy was Jeff’s best Christmas gift. Even so, his face lit up like the Christmas tree when he unwrapped one of his favorite books and a gift card from his favorite coffee shop.

And our grandsons, Kirby and Casey, had hugs all around for Mimi and Poppa when they unwrapped their gift cards and cash. Their mother, our daughter Kim, shed tears of joy when she opened the box containing her Kneeling Santa. I don’t think any of these gifts will be showing up at the refund counter.  

But the long line at the store was all the proof I needed that some people really aren’t happy with their gifts. And secretly, I guess, some people are envious and jealous of the gifts that other people get. But let’s play a little game that Kirby and Casey loved to play before they were all grown up and attached to their I-Pods and Touch Phones.

The name of the game was ‘Poppa, What If?’ Their creative little imaginations would come up with some of the wildest scenes you’ve ever heard. “Poppa, what if that bird in the tree up there weighed four thousand pounds and had scissors on the end of its wings?”  Or how ‘bout this one? “Poppa, what if everybody in the world had a bald head and looked like you?” Sometimes, if you give your imagination a long enough plow line, it will run away from you!

But if you think those are wild examples, I’ve got a ‘what if’ that will blow your mind! What if everybody in the house unwrapped the same gift on Christmas morning? Now, that happened on a couple of occasions back home at Route 4. Too many trips to the woodshed resulted in three or four boys all getting the same thing for Christmas – a lump of coal and some hickory switches! That said, however, the scene around the Christmas tree would be very dull and boring if we all got the same gift. The kids and grandkids would look funny walking around in workout clothes like mine. And some of us would draw flies if we all wore Mimi’s new perfume!

The same is true with spiritual gifts. God loves variety. That’s why He made every single one of us different. And special. And He didn’t give everyone the same gift. It was according to his Amazing Grace and His divine plan for our lives that we all have different gifts (Romans 12:6). And no one person got all His gifts, either. If you had them all, you wouldn’t need anyone else. He created us to depend on each other and help each other and lift each other up with the different gifts that He has given us.

That way, the only one who gets the praise is Him. Every gift He has given us is not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of the whole body of Christ. So, if we don’t use the gift He has given us, then everybody gets cheated. And since I only bring my one gift to the party, I can’t do a lot of bragging.

Didn’t get the gift you thought you wanted? It just might be something that I could really use. And when it helps me, that’s your real gift!

Just don’t look for me in the refund line.

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THAT’S GOTTA HURT!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

After getting’ home from church last night, I once again began my ‘test-pilot’ routine. I quickly went through the checklist. A good pilot always goes through his checklist before every flight. Being a test-pilot for Lazy-Boy is no different. Warm blanket, plenty of snacks, remote control. We’re ready for take-off. Sometimes known as kick-off in the world of college football.

Climbing into the seat of my favorite ‘space craft,’ I gave the joy-stick control one quick maneuver. Feet up. Head back. And away we go! Off to the Land of Dreams. I was a little woozy from the high-altitude flight. It wasn’t very long before the auto-pilot kicked in.  Somewhere over Nashville, Tennessee, I think, towards the end of the first quarter as my Clemson Tigers met the Kentucky Wildcats in the Music City Bowl.

Is it just me, or does it seem to you also that the best sleep we get is in the recliner before we go to bed? Anyway, sometime later, there was enough oxygen left in the cabin to rouse me to a semi-conscious state at half-time. Thank goodness, the auto-pilot was still engaged. All the yada-yada-yada quickly sent me flying away again!

I woke up at the end of the ‘flight’ just in time to watch it happen. The Water Bucket Bath. If you’ve watched more than two or three football games, you’ve seen it happen. Just a few seconds before the final whistle, the winning coach is ‘occupied’ by two or three of his players while the ‘bucket brigade’ sneaks up behind him. And deposits the icy contents of the bucket on the head coach’s head! Whoever came up with that idea must have been dropped on his head while he was a baby!

Actually that happened a lot to a bunch of farm boys growing up at Route 4. And it was a lot of fun. Most of the time it was about 98 degrees or somewhere close to that. And it usually happened on a late Saturday afternoon. When it was absolutely necessary before getting’ ready for Sunday School the next morning!

But watchin’ that happen to Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney last night was painful! With the clock rushing toward midnight, the thermometer hovering around the freezing mark, and a cold wind blowing through the Tennessee hills, why did Dabo seem to be wearing spring-loaded shoes? Why was he jumpin’ and shoutin’ and smilin’ from ear to ear?

This is just me talking now, ‘cause I’ve never had that kind of bucket bath in those conditions. But I think it was because of a little, three-letter word. JOY! It was the beginning of a much-awaited and longed-for victory celebration for the coach and the team.

And even as painful as it seemed to have the bitterly cold contents of the bucket running down his back under his collar, it would have taken a brick mason three days to get the smile off Dabo’s face!

Pain and joy. An apt description of a celebration that occurred over two thousand years ago. We’ve just celebrated the birth of Jesus on that cold Bethlehem night so long ago. Think about Mary’s pain. A scared teenage girl giving birth in a barn. A long way from home with nobody but Joseph and the animals around her. The angels were singing to the shepherds out in the fields, but Mary was enduring a natural childbirth of the Supernatural Baby there in the stable. No anesthesia. No spinal block. No pain medication of any kind. Only you ladies can fully appreciate Mary’s pain.

But when she held that Bundle of Joy in her arms, wrapped in strips of cloth, again you ladies can also appreciate the joy that must have raced through her veins to replace her pain. After all, the angel had promised that her baby would be called ‘the Son of the Most High,’ (Luke 1:32).

Thirty-three years later, Mary’s joy would again turn to excruciating pain as she watched her Son being beaten, whipped, spat upon, and nailed to that old rugged cross, with a spear thrust into His side and His life blood running to the ground. But He endured that death by crucifixion without pain medication of any form for one reason. He left the glory of Heaven to come to the garbage of earth to make a way for you and me to join Him in celebration when the game is over.

And what a day that will be! I think there’s going to be a lot of jumpin’ and shoutin’. But I don’t think there’ll be any ice water bucket baths. He has promised that there’ll be no more pain at His Victory Party.

I wouldn’t miss it for the world!

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THE GIFT

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Did you ever receive a gift that was marked “Don’t Open Till Christmas?” Back home at Route 4, I think all the gifts under our tree always had that tag. And it was probably a good idea given our impatient nature! But, I always thought that was a cruel trick. I mean, it was torture to a ten-year-old farm boy to see a box with your name on it, but you couldn’t open it till the time was right. And no matter how much we picked it up, shook it, or smelled of it, we’d still be guessing as to its contents.  

Some of us even resorted to beggin’ and pleadin’. ‘But, Mother, what if it’s something that I can use to help you around the house? Or something that will help me do my chores better?’ What a silly-willy idea that was! I would have known right away by the shape of the gift if it had been a new chopping ax with a shiny and sharp blade. Or a new ‘desk’ for learning my lessons better at the woodshed.

We’d even play ‘what-if’ games trying to guess what was in each other’s box. That long-awaited and hoped-for Red Ryder bb gun. Or maybe a shiny new Red Wagon. The reasoning here was that I could haul more stove wood than I could tote if I had a Red Wagon. Or maybe it was a new pair of Red Camel work boots to replace the ones with cardboard in the soles that were worn-out and passed down the ‘brother line.’ Or maybe a new Schwinn bicycle that actually had fenders and handle bar grips and a chain that didn’t break every time you rode it.

And no matter how much we begged Mother for just a hint or a clue, she’d always say very sweetly, “Son, a surprise wouldn’t be a surprise if you already know what it is.” Wish I had a nickel for every time I heard that.

Looking back down the dirt road of my memory, I’ve concluded that the “Do Not Open Till Christmas” tag was not a cruel trick. Instead, I believe it was a way of keeping hope alive. In the coldest, darkest, bleakest days of winter on a farm in the 50’s, you just couldn’t look at or shake a box with that tag without thinking ‘I hope it’s this or I hope it’s that.’ In this insta-matic, automatic, traumatic world we live in today, I don’t see that tag much anymore. But hope does indeed spring eternal in a box marked ‘Don’t Open Till Christmas.’ And it is that very hope that sustains us in our darkest hour until we can open the Gift of Life!  

That having been said, you can imagine my surprise when the brown truck unloaded a box at our house the other day marked with these words in big red letters – PERISHABLE! OPEN IMMEDIATELY! And we did exactly as instructed. Country boys and girls don’t have to be called twice to come to supper!

Some wonderful friends had sent us a chocolate-filled, pecan-topped, caramel-laced pound cake from Savannah, Georgia! I am so glad that the box wasn’t marked ‘Don’t Open Till Christmas!’ The aroma alone would have driven us from our home! That would have been classified as cruel and inhumane. When it’s finished, I’ll probably lick the box it came in!

But as I enjoy another slice (OK, another HUNK) of this delight with my woodshed coffee this morning, I’m reminded of a couple more things to be thankful for. First, for Christian friends who practice so very well the God-given gift of generosity. And secondly, for gifts that can be opened immediately to bless the lives of others.

Let’s play a little game of ‘What If.’ What if the brown truck pulled up to your place and unloaded a box with your name on it. No ribbons and bows and pretty paper. Just a plain box. And this box is so big that the guy in brown had to use hand trucks to roll it in. And before he sped away, what if the guy in brown told you that inside this box is a very special gift. What if it’s something that you can use to be a difference-maker? To touch and change lives wherever and whenever you share it. What if you were given this kind of gift? Would you share it?

That’s exactly the kind of gift we all received on that Christmas morn so long ago in that little town of Bethlehem. Jesus is the one true Gift that keeps on giving. The Gift that deserves to be opened immediately and shared with everyone around us. And the more we share our Gift, the more blessed we become. Blessed to be a blessing. That’s what Christmas is all about.

But the calendar says that Christmas is over. What now? What do we do when the last box has been unwrapped? Having been given the ‘Gift that keeps on giving,’ the Spirit of Christmas doesn’t end here on December 26th. Once Jesus comes to live at our house, He supplies a never-ending bundle of gifts that we can share every day throughout the year. Gifts like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). Gifts as sweet as our Christmas pound cake.

Would you like a slice?

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JOY TO THE WORLD!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

When we send out birthday party invitations, it’s customary to allow plenty of time for folks to make the necessary arrangements to come to the party. But how much time is enough time? Two weeks, a month, maybe six weeks? Surely, two months would be enough time to respond to the invitation, wouldn’t it? Especially if it was going to be a party you really wanted to attend.

But, sadly, the day of the party arrives and everyone who was invited has not responded. Oh, there will be some who show up just out of curiosity. They’ll hang around for a while, then leave before the cake and ice cream are served. But you’ve made all the preparations and when the time is right, the celebration begins. There are favors all around for everyone who responded and accepted the invitation to the party.

Today is Christmas Day. The time we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There’ll be some who celebrate for the wrong reasons. And there’ll be others who don’t come to the party at all. But the invitations were sent out in plenty of time. We can’t use that for an excuse.

In fact, the invitations to the celebration of the birth of Jesus were sent out 700 years in advance! That’s right seven hundred years before the time was right for His celebration, God told the prophet Isaiah to tell the world about it. The world was in darkness. Bad stuff going on everywhere. Oppression on all sides. Sound familiar? But then, God’s big announcement came through His prophet Isaiah. Check it out.

Isaiah 9:1 begins with this word, “Nevertheless.” Meaning that, in spite of all the bad stuff happening in the world at that time, ‘there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.’ That’s what I call Christ-mas Hope. Read on. In verse 2, Isaiah foretold that people would be walking in darkness and would see a great Light; and it would ‘shine on those living in the land of the shadow of death.’

And then Isaiah predicted the joy that the world would know on that day. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” (Isaiah 9:6).

Remember now, this was 700 years before the ‘Miracle in the Manger.’ But even when that day arrived, there were lots of people who missed it. They were so caught up in all the hustle and bustle of the time, they didn’t realize what was happening at the barn. I repeat, does that sound familiar?

Fast forward now, seven hundred years and find the folks who responded immediately to their invitation. It was a Special Delivery. Same Day Service, if you will. The Lord’s messenger told the lowly shepherds that the time was right. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord,” (Luke 2:11). And their RSVP is found in Luke 2:16. They hurried off, right then and there, to find Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus in that first live Nativity Scene.

Jester Hairston penned these words about what the shepherds saw. “Long time ago in Bethlehem, so the Holy Bible says, Mary’s Boy-Child Jesus Christ was born on Christmas Day. Hark now, hear the angels sing, a new King’s born today, and we will live forevermore – because of Christmas Day.”

Now hit the fast forward button again. It’s over two thousand years later. The angel said, ‘in the town of David,’ but what about our town? Is Jesus in our town, too? On our street, in our house, in our hearts? The invitation is still open. But we don’t know for how long. The angel said ‘Today.’ And the shepherds didn’t waste any time responding. They made a bee-line for Bethlehem! And when they saw Jesus, they shared their joy with everyone they met!

Almost three hundred years ago, Isaac Watts put into words what the shepherds must have been felt: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, and Heaven and nature sing, and Heaven and nature sing, and Heaven, and Heaven and nature sing.”

From the Woodshed, Helen and I pray that your hearts and your homes are filled to overflowing on this Christmas morn with the joy, peace, and love that only comes from accepting the Savior’s Special Delivery Invitation. Merry Christ-mas!

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IN PLAIN SIGHT

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

It seems like around our place, no matter how hard we try to keep the Christmas ‘stuff’ in plain sight at the front of the storage shelf, it always gets pushed all the way to the back. I mean, way back there behind tons of other stuff accumulated in the past year. So, it’s grab the step ladder and start climbin’.

While I was diggin’ through that mountain to retrieve all the ornaments, decorations, lights, wrapping paper, bows, and gift bags, from their hiding place, er, storage shelf,  in the garage, several questions were runnin’ through my mind. And, yes, before you say it, they had plenty of runnin’ room!

But the main thought was this. How can we keep a year’s worth of stuff from pushing the Christmas stuff to the back of the shelf? Well, hello! About that time another thought stepped on that one like an elephant stepping on a gnat. And this one has a far deeper impact than just finding our boxes of decorations. 

How can we keep the Christ of Christ-mas from being pushed to the back of the ‘shelf’ by twelve months of all that other ‘stuff’ that the world dumps into the garage of our minds?

And then I saw the Light! I did. I really did. I saw the answer right there in front of my eyes. IT was something that used to be in plain sight in our house every day of the year. But IT had become misplaced by all the packing and un-packing around our place. I even thought that IT might have been sold at the YSOTC (yard sale of the century).

But, Praise The Lord! There IT was. Helen had found IT and IT was back in its rightful place. Right there in front of our eyes where we can see IT every day! And, I promise you, IT won’t get packed up and pushed to the back of the shelf after Christmas this year!

IT is something so small that I can hold IT in the palm of my hand. But, more importantly, the meaning of IT is so big that I need to keep IT in my mind all the time. What is IT? I thought you’d never ask!

IT is just a little figurine that shows Santa Claus on his knees. Why is he on his knees? The answer to that question is as big as a mountain. And, this is just me talking, but I believe IT is the answer to all of the world’s problems. And here IT is!

Santa is on his knees reverently admiring and adoring the baby Jesus in His manger. Telling all who will listen that Santa Claus is not the most important part of Christmas. It’s the Baby lying on the hay in the animals’ feed trough that can save the world, not Santa Claus.

So, I have a suggestion. Actually it’s two suggestions. First, don’t let Christmas pass without hearing these words. “and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in swaddlin’ clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

My second suggestion is that we make ‘room’ for Jesus in our hearts and our lives by keeping Him on the ‘front shelf’ of our minds every day of the year. How can we do that? Our little ‘kneeling Santa’ figurine does it for me. Maybe there’s some Christ-mas ornament that you can leave out all year that will be a daily reminder to keep Christ in Christ-mas. Or maybe you can find a plaque or cross-stitch with Luke’s words to hang on your wall. Or how ‘bout a picture frame for your desk with these words….

          Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head; the stars in the sky looked down where He lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

          The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes. I love thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky and stay by my side until morning is nigh.

          Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay close by me forever, and love me, I pray. Bless all the dear children in thy tender care, and fit us for heaven, to live with thee there.

I pray that not a single one of us can get that song out of our head for the next 365 days.

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WHO STARTED IT?

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

I did a little walking and watching yesterday. Normally, I get started looking for gifts on Christmas Eve. To you that might not sound like the action of a sane individual. But I like to watch people and how they react under pressure. You can always tell who has the real

Christmas spirit and who just got their last nerve stepped on in the gift-wrapping line.

There was the lady who jerked the coat out of another lady’s hand, claiming she saw it first. She definitely was a card-carrying member of the ‘last-nerve’ club. And the other lady was applying for membership when she called for store security! There were some tense moments before security arrived. These ladies definitely were not in the mood to sing Christmas carols.

My friend Michael would call this situation a skirmish. Back home at Route 4, we called it a knock-down, drag-out, free-for-all. I remember one time in particular. It happened at dinner time (the noon hour) while we were pickin’ cotton. That day Mother had packed some baked sweet taters in our ‘Dixie Crystals’ to-go bags. Sometimes the peelin’s would slide right off. Other times you really had to work at it before enjoyin’ this cotton-patch delight.

Well, my brother Wade had one of those taters that the peelin’ just zipped right off. Oliver was having such a hard time peelin’ his tater, he wound up droppin’ it in the dirt. We hadn’t heard about the five-second rule, so Ollie had to think fast. Just as Wade opened his mouth to insert his cotton-patch delight, Ollie hollered, “Look at the size of that airplane!”

What would you do? Exactly. Farm boys don’t get to see many airplanes, so every one of us turned to look at the phantom airplane. And while our attention was diverted, Ollie grabbed the tater out of Wade’s hand and swallowed it whole! I don’t need to go any further. You know what happened. Not exactly WWIII. But close to it.

Before security (Daddy) could get there, they must have knocked down about ten rows of cotton. And the first words out of Daddy’s mouth were, “OK, who started it?” He couldn’t get a straight answer from any of us. So he whipped off that black leather belt and ‘rang the bell’ for school to start and every one of us had another lesson at the woodshed.

The movie projector in my mind flickered and the sound of the film flappin’  at the end of the movie brought me from the cotton patch back to the ladies in the coat department. The security guard’s first question was, “OK, who started it?”

I thought about offering my eye-witness testimony. But that thought didn’t last long. Supper was waitin’ and somebody might get my tater. It did get me to thinkin’, though, about all the stress created by the gift-giving season. I think I could have eased that tension in the coat department if I could have introduced the ladies to our Christmas friend Leon. Leon always puts a smile on people’s faces. You can’t meet Leon, the Christmas angel, without smilin’.

We met Leon quite by accident one year. Helen and her sorority girls were exchanging Christmas gifts. And, according to the Legend of Leon, when Sandra opened her gift, the look on her face was one of puzzlement and bewilderment. When all the other girls had stopped oohing and aahing over their gifts, they noticed that Sandra was still studying these four beautifully decorated wooden letters in her gift box.

When they asked her what was wrong, she replied, “What does L-E-O-N  have to do with Christmas?” After the laughter had died down, she realized that the letters of her beautiful NOEL table decoration had shifted in transit to spell something entirely different.

But every Christmas since then, LEON  has made an annual appearance at our house. And we always have a smile when we see him. And for the rest of the day, at least, we’re humming “Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, born is the King of Israel.”

Amidst all the stress of the gift giving season, I think it might help us all to come up with an answer to the question of “OK, who started it?” I didn’t volunteer any information back home at Route 4. And I didn’t say anything as the ladies ‘skirmished’ in the coat department. But I’d like to offer this for consideration. God started it all. Do what?

That’s right, God started this gift giving. But somehow, we’ve gotten it all wrong. In all the gift-buyers traffic yesterday, I saw a three-car fender-bender. The drivers were standing out in the street screamin’ and pointin’ fingers at each other. And, I’ll just bet they weren’t discussing their favorite Christmas gifts!

In a world gone crazy with the frantic search for, and the buying and selling of ‘that perfect Christmas gift,’ is it possible that we’ve lost sight of GOD’S PERFECT GIFT? The first Noel (Christmas gift), the angel did say, was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay. And when they had seen Him (Luke 2:17-18), ‘they spread the word about this Child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.’ The gift of the shepherds was to tell folks about Jesus. What a novel idea!

This is just me talking, but I believe that when God started this gift-giving thing, maybe He meant for us to receive His Gift, unwrap it and open it up in our lives, and then give it away. Without temper tantrums and pitchin’ fits. Simply watch in amazement as lives are changed! There’s no stress and anxiety when we give that Gift. Just smiles all around.

Especially when Leon shows up!

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HERE’S YOUR SIGN!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Sometimes I think I have ten thumbs instead of two. And the time that reminds me most of that fact is, you guessed it, wrapping Christmas presents. What is it that makes the simplest little job so hard? I can use the same scissors, the same tape, the same paper, ribbons, and bows. But yet the presents that I wrap are the ones that Helen likes to ‘be on bottom and behind the tree’ when she takes pictures of the fully-dressed tree.

If the presents that I wrap were art, they’d be abstract. You have to look at ‘em and say, ‘what is that and where in the world did it come from?’ For some unknown reason, that whole process of fold-and-crease just escapes me. I usually wind up with a wad of paper on each end that resembles a two-day old baby diaper.

So I use about half a roll of scotch tape. And it seems like every time I cut a piece of tape, it automatically doubles back and wraps around my finger. And if I try to double up a piece of tape to make last year’s bows stick on this year’s presents, I become hopeless and hapless.

Sometimes if I cut the wrapping paper too short, I’ll even graft a piece of similar paper onto one end. That works much better, though, if I use solid color paper. Those floral, zig-zag patterns are impossible to match. With them, my gifts look like they’ve been delivered by plastic surgeons.

And when we quit bringing groceries home in brown paper bags, my job got a little harder. But since I discovered colored duct tape, at least I can stay in the same color scheme. Even still, though, the grand kids can look at the tree and say, “Poppa wrapped this one and Poppa wrapped that one.”

It used to bother me a lot, but not anymore. When arthritis came to visit and never left my knuckles and fingers, I accepted the fact that I would never master the art of gift wrapping. And then one day, the Lord parted the sea of misery in my mind when it comes to ugly packages. It took away all my mental anguish and made my gift wrapping a breeze. What was this startling revelation? Thank you for asking.

I realized that at the end of the day everybody’s gift wrapping paper looks the same. No matter how beautiful the bows and how symmetrical the folds and creases are, they’re all wadded up together with my misfits when I’m stuffing them into a big trash bag.

Now, I know that some of you will say, “It’s all about the presentation.” But just try telling that to a child. Their present might look like a float in the Christmas parade. But give it to ‘em and watch ‘em rip, tear, and pull the paper apart and throw it on the floor. It’s what’s inside that’s important to them.

Maybe we need to become more like a little child. Now where have I heard that before? Oh, yes, now I remember. I’ve heard that from the One who was the all-time and still greatest Christmas Gift the world has ever known. And the most precious Gift you and I could ever give or receive.

God didn’t send His only Son to be born in a penthouse suite with linen sheets. No, the Savior of the world was born in a barn! With all the animals and their “b.o.”

Growing up on the farm, I can tell you from personal experience, mules and donkeys and cows and sheep don’t take showers! And, as we used to say back home at Route 4, they don’t clean up after themselves, either. If you’ve ever gone into a stable after dark to fill up the feeding trough, you better step lightly and carefully. If you catch my drift!

And it was in this exact same kind of situation that Jesus Christ made His entry into the world. Don’t you know God could have chosen the finest birthing suite in Bethlehem General Hospital if He had wanted to? He’s God. He can do anything He wants to.

But He chose the lowly stable for the arrival of His precious Gift to the world. And He was wrapped in swaddlin’ clothes. That’s strips of cloth. Just rags. Not the most beautifully wrapped gift in the world! That makes me just want to pump both fists and the air and shout Hallelujah! If I could get both feet off the ground at the same time, I’d jump as high as possible!

The angel of the Lord told the shepherds in Luke 2:12, “Here’s your sign.” In Route 4 translation, that means, you’ll know it’s Him when you find Him wrapped in rags and  lying in a feed trough in a stinking stable.

And that is exactly my point. When King Jesus comes into the stinking mess of our lives, we’re never the same again. This Christmas, let’s see how childish we can be, as Mother used to say. ‘Cause kids don’t worry about how a gift is wrapped.

They just can’t wait to get it open.

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THE PERFECT STOCKING STUFFER!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

The sign in the store said ‘The Perfect Stocking Stuffer.’ As I walked past the end of the line, I heard one lady say to no one in particular that she sure hoped it would be worth having her husband out there circling the mall for thirty minutes looking for a parking space.  But the clerk was on top of her game. She had been trained well.

Why, every woman she knew would be absolutely thrilled to find a rhinestone-covered, black-velvet-lined, two-drawer miniature jewelry box in her stocking on Christmas day. Especially when you opened the lid and heard Elvis wailing away with “I’ll Have a Blue Christmas Without You.”

Before my brain would form the words Bah, Humbug, I was on a sleigh-ride back down that dirt road to Route 4. Where the stockings were ‘hung by the chimney with great care,’ according to Clement Moore’s oft-repeated poem.

Back home on the farm, our stockings were not the pretty, fancy kind you see today with your name written in glitter on the top. We didn’t need our names on our stockings. We had already worn them while we plowed the field and hoed the garden and cut the firewood for the roaring fire in the fireplace.

Every one of us had our socks hung on a ten-penny nail beside the chimney. And they were always lined up in order. Oldest to youngest. Everybody knew where your stocking was located. For instance, I always knew that mine was number four. So all I had to do on Christmas morning was make a bee-line straight for number four while everybody else was rubbing the sleepy sand out of their eyes.

But just to be on the safe side, I came up with a way to be sure nobody got my stocking. You never know what kind of shenanigans five brothers can pull on you. So I secretly turned my sock inside out and wrote my initials on the toe. And then turned it back right and hung it back on the nail in its rightful place.

This little plan was necessitated by one particular ‘blue Christmas.’ Mother had been telling all of us for a couple of months that if we ‘behaved ourselves,’ we might find something special in our stockings (socks) on Christmas morning. Behaving ourselves meant only one woodshed trip per day per child.

Well, I had made no secret of the fact that I really wanted one of those pencils that you twisted the end and lead came out. With a full, brand new eraser that nobody had chewed on. Don’t laugh. Back then, we didn’t know a mechanical pencil from a bale of hay. I just knew that I was tired of having to pull out my Barlow pocketknife to sharpen my pencil.

See, one of our favorite things to do on the farm was whittlin’. With a good sharp pocketknife you could have spears and bows and arrows and slingshots, too. Does anybody whittle anymore? Anyway, by the time that I had a good point on my pencil, it was only 2 or 3 inches long. And another continuing education lesson at the woodshed entitled ‘waste not, want not.’ Every chapter and every verse!

So, as you can imagine, my excitement level was at an all-time high that Christmas morn as I ran straight to Stocking Number Four. When ‘what to my wondering eyes did appear?’ Another long yellow number 2 pencil! When all of a sudden, somebody beside me squealed, “Look what I got, everybody!” And there it was. A sparkling blue beautiful mechanical pencil with a box of lead, to boot! To this day, I’ve never found out who switched the stockings. But I’ve narrowed it down to either the number three or number five child in the Martin clan.

But folks, I have to tell you. I got the perfect stocking stuffer yesterday. It was two words.  I like words a lot, but these two will always be special. After Sunday School, my friend Mike Woodall wished me a ‘Merry Christmas.’ Now, I know what you’re thinking. Everybody everywhere is wishing each other a Merry Christmas these days. But Mike’s words stuffed my stocking like a Thanksgiving turkey!

Since his stroke, Mike has had some difficulty with his words. But this time it was different. I could tell he had been practicing these two words like a piano student gettin’ ready for a recital. And ‘Coach’ Nell beamed with pride as Mike, with a grin as wide as the Mississippi River, told everyone who took the time to listen ”Merry Christmas.” With his eyes twinkling with joy, and with a clear and distinct pronunciation of every syllable, Mike preached a sermon in those two words that Billy Graham would have been proud of.

And, like the ‘great company of heavenly host’ (Luke 2: 13-14) praised God for the Gift that He put in Mary’s ‘stocking’ on that midnight clear, I believe that band of angels dedicated one to God yesterday in Mike Woodall’s name.

MERRY CHRISTMAS to you, too, Mike. I love you, brother.

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