Archive for February, 2010

WHERE HAVE ALL MY HEROES GONE?

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

I’d like to cast my vote for the Bumper Snicker of the week. I had to LOL when I saw it on the rear bumper of the car stopped in front of me. It was a warning printed in big bold letters, “You don’t scare me, I have children!” And that’s scary enough by itself, right?

Just listening to ‘em talk is enough to scare the bejebees out of you. But kids are kids and you just hope and pray you’ve trained ‘em right. What is that old saying – ‘true justice is when your kids have kids of their own that act just like they did.’

Have you ever watched a little girl and little boy playing ‘dress up’ where they each put on some of their mommie’s and daddy’s clothes and shoes? Nine times out of ten, they’ll re-act true-to-life situations that they have witnessed at home with their own little eyeballs! How scary is that!

But I saw something on the ‘tube’ the other night that’s even scarier. And it involved grownups that should have known better. I wanted to see what all the hullabaloo was about on this show called The American Idol. I have seen and heard a bunch of folks talking about it. They plan their week around it. They can’t wait to get home from work on whatever night it comes on. They even send text messages to vote on who they want to be ‘the next idol.’

Phyllis Diller’s line comes to mind right here. “Can we talk?” Now, I know this is television, and I’m no stranger to this make-believe ‘land of Oz.’ I see young people going on stage in front of the whole nation, sometimes in a way that would embarrass their mommas to death. For what? A chance at stardom? Their own 15 minutes of fame where today’s hot idol is tomorrow’s icy igloo?

Ok, so they didn’t have heroes like we did when we were growing up? Like Bobby Richardson, a fellow South Carolinian. Bobby made some great plays while wearing the famous Yankee pinstripe uniform. But as great as his athletic talent was, he has even greater strength of character. A true American hero.

And, you know what, I still miss seeing the impeccably dressed Tom Landry walk the sidelines for the Cowboys. And how many hounds tooth hats do you still see in the stands at Alabama football games? True American heroes that live their lives in such a way that kids can imitate.

I’ve always heard that the strength of the tree can be judged by the strength of the storm. And it’s in the spotlight of that truth that I have to get a burr out from under my saddle about this so-called idol tv show.

I heard one of the judges on that show call a contestant a name that caused us farm boys many trips to the woodshed back home at Route 4. Thank the Lord for remote controls. It didn’t take me 30 seconds to change channels to Andy and Opie after I heard this so-called judge use the ‘stupid’ word. It’s a good thing for my behind that my folks aren’t around to even see me write that word!

But here was this ‘puffed-up-like-a rice-krispie’ judge using that word on national television after a kid had just done her very best in an effort to grab the brass ring. What was he thinking anyway? Who died and left him in charge? Remember the kids’ game we used to play called ‘Simon Says?’ Guess what, I never liked it. ‘Cause sometimes what comes out of Simon’s mouth is not fit to go into the ears and hearts of kids.

I have some friends who are real-life judges. They see kids (and could I say adults, too) put themselves in embarrassing situations. But they don’t tear young people down and scar them for life like this so-called television judge did. I’ve seen real judges on their knees in front of boys. Building them up and encouraging them. And teaching good morals in youngsters’ Sunday School classes. In my book, they qualify for hero status.

I hope and pray this tv judge has his ducks in a row when he steps up to the bench of the Almighty Judge. I hope before that happens, somebody will share 1 Corinthians 13:11 with him. And he can put away his childish ways.

The real American Idols are the Mommas and Daddys and Grandmas and Grandpas and Jesus-filled preachers and teachers who lay the foundations that kids can stand on. I wish somebody would come up with a tv show to spotlight what these people do. Maybe they could call it the Great American Hero. I don’t do text votes for anything, but I’d limber up my arthritic fingers if that kind of show ever came across my tv screen.

Those are the people that kids, of any age, can imitate. When the apostle Paul was writing to the church at Ephesus, he gave us instructions on who we should imitate. Be imitators of Jesus (Ephesians 5:1-2). Since He loves us enough to die for us, shouldn’t we love Him enough to live for Him? And if you love somebody with the love of Christ, you don’t call ‘em that ‘s’ word!

‘Cause one day, sooner or later, we’re all goin’ to have to stand before the Judge. And, could I say, it won’t be a panel of judges. Just One. And He’s the true Idol of the World.

Paul makes us a guarantee in Ephesians 5:4-5. Anybody that comes before the Judgment Seat of Christ with ‘any of these things that are out of place’ is just worshipping a false idol. And that won’t get you a ticket to the Big Show. And like the BSOTW (bumper sticker of the week) says, no matter how much you huff and puff, you can’t scare Him. He’s got children.

Can I get an big Amen on that?

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BLAME IT ON RACHEL RAY

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

It was really a simple question that my bride asked when she walked into the study the other day. No cause for great pondering or meditation. But it did turn the switch key that opened the gate for a nice stroll down my dirt road memory lane. Not that we ever had one of those fancy-smancy automatic power gates that you see these days. Nope, back home at Route 4, Seneca, South Carolina, our gates were simply old rusted-out metal headboards that Mother didn’t want her babies sleeping on anymore. ‘Cause, don’t you know, when that boy is teethin’, he’ll chew on anything he can reach and pull up to.

Pardon the little side road there. If you’ll remind me, we’ll reminisce about gates and headboards on another visit. Today’s stroll down memory lane, ignited by Helen’s question, ended at the ol’ farmhouse where I walked right into the kitchen.

You see, sweet thang had sashayed right into our study with a little jar in her hand. In the bottom of the jar was about one-finger’s worth of chicken broth. When she saw the deer-in-the-headlights look on my face, she quickly explained. “I saw Rachel Ray fix this mouth-waterin’ new chicken recipe, and she said to use a splash of chicken broth. How much do you think a splash is?”

Now this question comes from a lady who owns a collection of probably a hundred or more recipe books. If the WMU at your church sold one to raise funds for a new organ, we own it. If Good Housekeeping put their seal on one, we own it. She even brought home one the other day that was a compilation of recipes from a bunch of master chefs – third graders down at the local elementary school! In fact, it was so ‘cute,’ she bought two of ‘em!

Goin’ on 50 years now, I’ve learned to pay attention to every word that comes out of her mouth. Hey, I might have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night! So, after careful consideration, I replied astutely, ‘Yeah, honey, that looks about like a splash to me.’ Happy with her confirmation, she departs to the kitchen to pour her ‘splash’ of broth into her Rachel Ray recipe.

And I find myself standin’ beside the kitchen table back home where Mother is mixin’ up one of her famous thirteen layer cakes. I got lucky and called dibs on lickin’ her mixing bowl before any of my brothers got there. Wade, I think, was next, so he got to lick the spoon. Not much of a consolation prize. Lickin’ the spoon was quick. One and done. But when you called dibs on the mixin’ bowl, the other brothers could only stand there with envious drool runnin’ down their chins as you slowly run your forefinger all the way around the bowl several times. And each time comin’ up with a mouthful of that sweet cake batter. Lookin’ back, I can’t decide which was sweeter – each delicious finger full of batter, or the pained look on their faces! Forgive me, Lord, for torturin’ those boys.

But in all her mixin’ and cooking, I don’t recall ever seein’ Mother consult a recipe book. Or a cookin’ show on tv. (Ooops, I better not go down that road!) Not one single time. Come to think of it, I don’t think she even owned a recipe book. Probably why Estelle paid attention and wrote down every ingredient in Mother’s thirteen-layer homemade coconut cake with a wash tub full of ambrosia on the side.

But, you know, we’re all cookin’ something. And have you noticed some of the ‘cakes that are comin’ of the oven’ out there in the real world? You would think that their recipe calls for equal portions of greed, jealousy, selfishness and hate. Throw in a dash of pride and a splash of arrogance. Dump in a cup of bad attitude and a pinch of revenge. Sprinkle in a stream of cuss words. And don’t take time to let it simmer. Just bake it as fast as you can with a thousand-degree temper.

Is it any wonder that many relationships ‘taste’ sour? Have you ever burned the cake and tried to cover it up with smooth, sweet icing? Once you get past the frosting, you still wind up with a bad taste in your mouth.

But James, the brother of Jesus, offers us a recipe for a ‘heavenly’ tastin’ cake. Just listen as he describes the ingredients. Purity, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, impartial, sincere, and with some good fruit mixed in (James 3:17). I’ll take a hunk of that  cake and a tall glass of iced tea any day of the week! Wouldn’t the world ‘taste’ better if everybody was bakin’ that kind of cake?

I got dibs on lickin’ the mixin’ bowl!

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HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Busy schedules that revolve around multi-tasking, cell phones, pagers, PDA’s, GPS’s, the world wide web, blackberries, droids, googles, electronic books with your face on ‘em, or whatever your particular ball-and-chain might be, have created multiple problems. I noticed with interest the other day where a nearby city council passed an ordinance banning texting while driving on the streets of their fair city. That might be a good idea. But that’s not for me to decide. I’m looking at a much bigger problem out there on the information highway.

This is just me, and you have the right to agree or disagree with me, but I believe this Wireless Electronic Age has caused the extinction of something akin to the demise of dinosaurs from the earth. I call it the Death of Day-Dreamin’. When was the last time you let day-dreamin’ carry you to a far-away land. Now, I’m not talkin’ about the kind of day-dreamin’ that certain classmates of mine regularly got caught up in during Senior English at ol’ SHS while Miss Barron was conjugatin’ a verb. Or when Miss Beatty was teachin’ future doctors how to write prescriptions in Latin. The names have been omitted to protect the guilty. But if I strung ‘em all together, it would sound like a New York law firm.

No, the kind of day-dreamin’ I’m talking about inspired you to reach beyond yourself and achieve greatness. Do I have an example? Thanks for asking! Back home on the farm at Route 4, Seneca, South Carolina, a country boy of ten could lean on his hoe handle in the middle of the garden and imagine himself strapped into the pilot’s seat of that jet airplane leavin’ its vapor trail across the blue horizon.

But you had to be careful who you told your day dreams to. Because a big brother who’s havin’ to chop the weeds and crab grass that you missed might not be so impressed by your lofty ambitions. His response would range anywhere from “get off your hoe handle and get back to work,” to “Yeah, when pigs fly.” Well, if you’ve spent any time at all around a farm, you know that pigs don’t fly.

And another thing. If you’ve ever had the ‘privilege’ of workin’ the garden with a stubborn mule, you know that the devil can get in your mouth and make you say words that aren’t in your Sunday School lesson. Daddy used to say that you just have to get a mule’s attention. And he did. With a 2-by-4 across the mule’s nose. I shudder to think what that mule would say if he could talk.

But we know that pigs don’t fly and mules don’t talk. Or do they? If God wanted them to, they could. He’s God. He can do anything He wants to do. And there just might be a lesson in there somewhere for us folks caught up in a world where hoein’ gardens, feedin’ pigs, and plowin’ mules is as common as seein’ Tyrannosaur Rex joggin’ around our cul-de-sac.

There’s at least one time in the Bible that God had to make a donkey talk to save a man’s life. It’s found in the Book of Numbers, Chapter 22. I’m not goin’ to steal your joy by tellin’ you the whole story. You’ll be fascinated and blessed if you read it for yourself. But let me hit just a couple of highlights.

An ol’ scaredy-cat king wanted this guy to put a curse on the Israelites, God’s chosen people. But God told him not to ‘mess with the blessed,’ so to speak. And Balaam listened. But then the ol’ king made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. So he saddled up his donkey and away he went. Pedal to the metal on the wrong dirt road! That made God very unhappy. So He sent the Angel of Death to stand in the middle of the road with a sword in his hand.

But this day-dreamin’ country boy couldn’t see his nose in front of his face. But his donkey did. In fact, the donkey saw the angel three times. And tried to run off the road all three times to save Balaam’s life. But Balaam just beat the donkey every time. Even one time when his foot was crushed between the donkey and a rock wall. Finally, the donkey had enough. Or rather, God had enough. So He made the donkey talk.

Balaam got so mad that he wanted to kill the donkey. But through the talking donkey, God opened Balaam’s eyes. That’s when he saw the angel with the sword. And it scared him silly! He fell to the ground on his face. If it hadn’t been for the talking donkey, the angel would have already killed Balaam. I don’t know about you, but I believe I would’ve been huggin’ that donkey’s neck! I’m tellin’ you, that was one smart donkey!

He offered to turn around and go back, but now that God had Balaam’s attention, he told him to go ahead, but not to open his mouth to speak unless the angel told him to. You just gotta read the whole story!

Does God have to make a donkey talk (or a pig fly!) before we obey Him? As a world, a nation, a state, or an individual person, we would do well to learn from this story. After all, we’re God’s children. And children have to learn to obey. Even if it takes a 2-by-4 across the nose to wake us up, shake us up, and make us see the light.

And that ain’t no day-dream!

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SLOW IS GOOD

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Somebody said the other day that ‘deadlines created four-lane highways.’ Being a dirt road country boy, I just had to mentally pull over to the side of the road and think about that one. Or as Daddy was fond of telling us boys back home on the farm, “Use your head for something besides a hat rack.” I don’t think I ever saw a four-lane road till I was over 25 years old. And, conversely, I believe probably half of the people in the world today have never been on a dirt road.

Life was much slower on a dirt road. If the cows needed to cross over to the other pasture, no problem. If a car did come by, they’d stop and wait. You could stop in the middle of the road and chat with your neighbor while his cows were crossing the road. And never once would you hear the impatient honking of horns from the drivers behind you. Now that I think about it, I don’t know if I ever saw two cars bumper-to-bumper back home at Route 4.

I was a junior in high school when we got our first tv. A black and white oval-shaped thing that sat on a corner table in the front room and had rabbit ears sticking out of it like something from outer space. Mother didn’t like it. So she kept it covered up with a sheet most of the time. Out of sight equals out of mind. Come to think of it, we might ought to institute that practice now. But the sheet came off our tv on Saturday night and the pace of things around the farmhouse picked up considerably.

While she was puttin’ the rooster in the pressure-cooker for Sunday dinner, Daddy was runnin’ us through the Saturday night bath production line and makin’ sure we used plenty of that black liquid polish on our Sunday go-to-meetin’ shoes. The reason for the hustle and bustle was to be ready to take the sheet off the tv and hear Lawrence Welk with his trademark a one and a two.  And when the Lenon Sisters started singing, we knew the only other sound that was to be heard in our house was the fire cracklin’ in the fireplace. And the one time we could always count on Daddy being in a good mood was when JoAnn Castle played the piano.

But deadlines created four-lane highways and we sped right into this world of run, run, run, and hurry, hurry, hurry, and pick up the pace at supersonic speeds. Do you ever notice in your rear-view mirror how impatient folks get if you’re doing the speed limit in the fast lane of traffic on the 4-lane? And if you happen to be too slow in moving over, their blood pressure shoots up, they start with the frettin’ and fumin’, and by the time they get where they’re going, they’re like Daddy’s ol’ pulpwood truck. Boilin’ over like Old Faithful! Because of deadlines, tempers flare and tongues fly. People start acting like they brush their teeth with gun powder. All because we’re in too big a hurry to get where we’re going, so we have to have a four-lane road to get there.

James, the brother of Jesus, has some good instructions for us when it comes to when to be slow and when to be fast. In fact, there’s one quick and two slow’s in James 1:19-20. Quick to listen, slow to talk, and slow to get mad, because everything God wants us to be goes out the window when we get mad. You can tell what a person’s made out of by what it takes to make him or her lose it, blow their cool, go ballistic, or whatever it’s called these days. In fact James goes so far as to say that if somebody thinks they’re religious but can’t control their tongue, their religion is not worth a plug nickel (James 1:26).

So, in a world without dirt roads, what can we do? Slow down, take a deep breath, take a chill pill.  Whatever. Just know that slow is good. It’s OK to be slow. Don’t you know that those two turtles made it to the Big Boat Ride with Noah? And the psalmist wants us to know that God approves of slow, Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). There are two great commands in that short sentence. First, slow down and pull over to the side of your road. And secondly, understand that God made this world and He’s still in control. So it makes no difference if you do 90mph or 40, if He wants you to get there, you’ll get there.

So, the next time you see me pokin’ along in the slow lane, wave at me when you go by. In my mind, I’m on a dirt road waitin’ for the cows to cross over.

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WHO’LL CARRY THE TORCH?

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

I always enjoy watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Especially the part where the torch arrives at the stadium. There are usually several people who carry the torch for short distances around the arena and then hand it off to the next person. All of them have either played a significant role in organizing the games. Or they’re natives of the host country and have brought honor and recognition to their homeland through their achievements in some sport.

And it’s always supposed to be a big surprise who the person is that has the privilege of carrying the torch the final steps before touching it to the huge cauldron. And the firepot holding the actual flame that burns constantly during the games usually sits on top of some kind of elaborate structure. With one touch of the torch, the whole structure seems to instantly burst into flames that travel upward from all directions before reaching the firepot.

Some of these ceremonies are quite impressive, very elaborate, and showy. I remember well (surprise!) the opening ceremonies of the Atlanta Olympic Games in the summer of 1996. In fact, many people had a hand in carrying the torch as it passed through our area on its way to Atlanta. As it got close to downtown and the Olympic Stadium, there was a lot of speculation and suspense about the person who would have the honor of touching the torch to the flame.

Some wondered if it would be the former President of the United States from Plains, Georgia. But peanut farming wasn’t recognized as an official sport of the Olympics. So it was with great pomp and circumstance that Cassius Clay, aka Muhammad Ali, stepped into the spotlight holding the torch to light the Olympic Flame. And, of course, with the current games being played in Canada, it wasn’t much of a surprise that hockey great Wayne Gretzky would light the flame.

But it was the flame-lighting ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia that sparked mental images that re-occur whenever I watch any Olympic games. You see, it was while growing up on the farm at Route 4, Seneca, South Carolina, just over a hundred miles north of Atlanta, Georgia, that we were constantly warned that if you play with fire, you’ll get burned. And most times, it was the seat of our britches that got heated up at the woodshed when we disregarded those warnings.

The culprit in most every case was that box of strike-anywhere kitchen matches. A country boy walking around with a couple of them in the back pocket of his overall britches was an accident looking for a place to happen! Just ask brother Wade whose backside found a flint rock as he was slidin’ into third base.

Or the time we almost burned down Daddy’s tobacco curing house trying to keep our homemade cigar lit. It was as big as a baseball bat and we had dipped it in sugar water to hold it together while we passed it around for a choking puff. The ashes from that thing would fill up a wheelbarrow. And burn whatever they touched! Drawing buckets full of water from the well to put out a fire while you feel like throwing up from smoking a cigar is an experience that burns an eternal image into your memory.

But while fire can definitely be dangerous to your health, it also can be a source of much comfort. The only heat in our old farmhouse came from that big double fireplace that kept us from freezin’ to death on those cold winter nights. And the promising aroma of parched peanuts from Mother’s wood-burning cook stove provided incentive for finishing our homework by the time the peanuts were done.

Another comforting aspect of fire is the light that it provides. When the light arrives, it drives the darkness away. That’s exactly what the prophet Isaiah predicted about 700 years before Jesus was born. In Isaiah 9:1-2, he said there won’t be anymore gloom (after the true Light comes) because the people walking in darkness (will) have seen a great light that will shine on everyone living in darkness.

Only a few people will ever have the pleasure of lighting the Olympic flame. And, even so, that flame will be extinguished at the end of the games. However, you and I, as Christians, have the honor and privilege every day of carrying the eternal Torch of Jesus Christ to light the flame that can change hearts and lives forever. As it is written, In Him was (is) life, and that life was (is) the light of men (John 1:4).

Our very talented Minister of Music at Rock Springs Baptist Church sings a song that blesses me all the way down to my socks. It’s called ‘The All-Time, Undisputed Champion of Love.’  The life of Christ is the Gold Medal standard by which we are to model our own behavior. He’s already won the race. And all that our Savior asks is that we grab the torch that He’s given us and pass it on to our fellow runners. And in doing so, we use His light to drive away the dark. An old saying goes like this, ‘you can’t light the way for someone else without shining the light on your own path.’

I can’t ski downhill, run a marathon, or even stand up with ice skates on my feet. But one thing I can do. I can carry the torch that lights the flame.

Is your torch lit?

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GETTIN’ GOOD AT FORGETTIN’

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

When’s the last time you forgot something? Come on, be straight with me. If you’re over 40, can you go 12 hours without forgettin’ somethin’? I ran up on James, my best (and only) brother-in-law in the grocery store the other day. He was just zipping up and down every aisle. And I guess he thought I looked bumfuzzled and bewildered standing there in the middle of the aisle staring into space. And I probably did. So, in a nice and helpful way, he said, ‘Did you forget what you came for?’ I wanted to come up with something cute. But I’ve forgotten how.

There was a time when I would have said, ‘Nope, had it all written in the palm of my hand. But when I went to the restroom and washed my hands, my list went down the drain.’ But, without waitin’ for my answer, which was painfully obvious anyway, James whips this little piece of notepad paper out of his shirt pocket. And, as if he had discovered a cure for the common cold, he proudly proclaimed, ‘That’s why you need one of these!’ 

I was too embarrassed to tell him that his sister, my darling bride, had carefully written me a list. But you wanna take a guess as to where it was? Yep, sticking right there on the front of the fridge where she put it. So I wouldn’t forget it!  So I’ve started using an excuse I heard somebody else use. I got sidetracked and lost my train of thought. I’m beginning to believe that my train not only got sidetracked but, truth be told, was probably derailed a long time ago. In fact, I’ve forgotten how long it’s been since I haven’t forgotten anything.

I can trace my forgettin’ stuff all the way back to growin’ up on the farm. For instance, after an extended session at the woodshed, Daddy would say, “I’ve told you a thousand times not to poke sticks in your little brothers’ eyes. Now, do you think you can remember this till supper time?” I wanted to say, “If I could remember it, I wouldn’t have to eat supper standing up!” But, fortunately, I had learned how to keep from acting like I had just fallen off the turnip truck. So, I just kept my mouth shut on questions like that.

But do you find it just a smidge on the odd side that we spend billions of dollars every year in this country on things to help us remember. And then we forget where we put the things that are supposed to help us remember. Or as my afore-mention darling bride would say, “Honey, would you please look in the trunk of my car and see if you can find my day runner?” Hello! It’s not doing you much good, is it? Don’t worry, I didn’t say that. I just thought it. And you’ll be proud to know that we were able to avoid a small ‘train-wreck’ at the house last night when I was able to restore her address book icon to the screen on her blackberry.

We have to-do lists, appointment books, and even electronic phone books that fit in our shirt pockets. We read something we want to remember and we use the highlighter. But most times I’ve forgotten where I put the highlighter! And how many different colors of sticky notes do you have in your car, at the office, or at home? I’ve had ‘em stuck on the dash of my car so long, they don’t stick anymore and just fall off and blow away.

Now I’m trying to remember what got me started thinkin’ about forgettin’. Oh, yeah, it was when I saw a guy practicing for the Tour de France on one of our country roads the other day. At least, I thought that’s what he was practicing for. He sure had all the right equipment. From his black tights to his matching gloves, knee pads, elbow protectors, and helmet. And would you believe it if I told you he had a tiny little rear-view mirror attached to his helmet! It looked like one of those little mirrors that my dentist uses to look at my jaw teeth.

And it was one of those bikes that have tires about the size of my little finger. It even had gears that the guy changed so he never had to get off and walk. I’m told the bikes are made out of aluminum or something that’s so light, the riders can pick ‘em with up with their little finger. Sure wish we’d had a bicycle like that back home at Route 4. Especially when it was my turn to push it back up the hill from the creek.

But the most amazin’ thing about this professional bicycle was that it had two rear view mirrors on the handlebars. One on each side. I turned around and looked and there weren’t any more riders following him. But I guess in a big bike race it’s important to look back and see who’s behind you.

This is just me, but I think there are some times when it’s OK to get good at forgettin’ what’s behind us. If that guy on the bike was runnin’ a marathon, I’ll bet he wouldn’t be as concerned about the road behind him as much as he was about the finish line in front of him. And the closer he gets to the line, the harder he tries to reach it. Regardless of what’s behind him.

Paul must have been a runner, because he sure had some words of wisdom about runnin’ this race we call life. When you have a few un-distracted minutes, sit down with Philippians 3:12-14, and give these two verses your undivided attention.

Paul admits right up front that he’s not perfect. Far from it. Just like you and me. He had made some big mistakes in his life. Like torturin’ and killin’ good Christian folks. But after Paul got his eyesight back, he realized how blind he had been. Once God got his attention, Paul had his vision set on one thing. Forget what was behind and press on toward the goal line. Because that’s where the prize was. In front of him, not behind him. And the prize was eternal life in Heaven.

Look at the life-changing words in verse 13. Paul told the brethren that he certainly wasn’t where he wanted to be, but there was one thing that he was doing that helped him run his race. And maybe that one thing Paul was doing can give you and me the freedom to break the chains of the past. And I believe his one thing was a four-parter:

1. He was gettin’ good at forgettin’ what was behind. No rear view mirrors for him. Where we’ve been is not important. Jesus just wants to know where we want to go.

2. He was straining toward what was ahead. Forward focused. When we make mistakes, as we all do every day, just be sure we’re leaning forward.

3. Paul said that he was pressin’ on. Keepin’ the goal in front of us of getting’ to Heaven through righteous living here on earth will help us fight through the doubts, detours, and distractions as we run our race.

4. Focus on the finish. Paul’s only thought was headin’ for the goal line to get the prize that God has reserved for him and all of us through the gift of His only begotten son’s life.

Getting’ good at forgettin’ means we believe with all our heart, mind, body, and soul that yesterday is history; tomorrow is a mystery; but today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present. A gift of 1,440 minutes. If we spend 480 of those minutes sleeping, we’re left with 960. Will we spend most of those worryin’ about the past? Or maybe follow Paul’s advice and get good at forgettin’, which will help us remember that the goal line is never behind us, only ahead of us.

In the race of life, forward progress won’t be found by  lookin’ in our rear view mirror.

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DIRT ROAD OLYMPICS

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Have you been watching any of the Olympic Games? Hard to miss with television’s around-the-clock coverage, isn’t it?  I’ll be the first to admit, I’m cold natured. These old bones just don’t like to move when they’re cold. It probably goes back to growing up on the farm. The cardboard we put over the holes in our shoes wouldn’t keep our feet dry from the house to the barn when we were walking in the snow. No matter how many pairs of long wool socks we wore.

So I don’t particularly care for these winter games. I mean, snow is pretty and fun for the kids to play in and slide the hills and all that. But after about thirty minutes of sub-freezing temperatures, I’m ready for the fireplace and hot chocolate. Just the other day we had a pretty snowfall. Trees and bushes looked like they had been painted with a giant cake frosting brush. I enjoyed it very much. On the inside looking out.

But sweet thang wanted some pictures. So guess who puts on 18 layers of clothes and ventures out in the yard where the wind chill factor has made the mercury disappear from the thermometer? Easy question. But little did I suspect that her intentions were less than honorable. While I was puttin’ on all those mis-matched socks and gloves, she was already hiding outside the door. And as soon as I took my first step into the frozen tundra, I got smacked! Right in the kisser! That’s it. Forget the pictures. I’m going back inside where it’s warm. Why is it that a direct hit with a snowball is always funny, but only to the one who doesn’t have snow meltin’ and runnin’ down her back?

Back to the XXIWinter Olympic Games. I have concluded that the folks who started the Olympics several centuries ago were warm-natured folks just like me. Do the math. If these are just the 21st winter games, and if the Olympics were started by folks who rode in chariots several centuries ago, it just makes plain sense to me. They didn’t like getting’ snowballed any more than I do. After all, have you ever seen any pictures of those old coliseums covered in snow? So they liked their games in the dirt with hot weather and lots of dust.

I was watching some downhill skiers the other night in these winter games up there in Canada. At least, I thought, these folks know how to dress for the cold weather. Unlike Mimi’s favorite ice skaters in their little tutu’s and tights! I was wrapped up in two blankets in my recliner and still got the shivers just watchin’. We actually saw a couple of skaters hit the cold hard ice. Ouch. That’s gotta hurt. I’ll bet they wished they had worn some long-johns when that happened.

But I also saw a guy doing about 80mph going downhill and around some wicked curves with his feet strapped on a couple of wooden planks. And with only a stick in each hand to hold him up. A recipe for disaster. And it happened. One ski got crossed over the other. I couldn’t watch. The crash was not a pretty sight. Goin’ fast downhill can always spell trouble.

That reminded me of the summer games of farm boys back home at Route 4. For lack of a better name, we called ‘em the ‘Dirt Road Olympics.’ You never had to worry about frost bite. Just skinned knees and elbows! And it seemed that our games were always downhill. The course was the dirt road from our barn down to Coneross Creek!

‘Wagon Wheel’ was a good one. We’d take our little rusty red wagon with no tongue to the top of the hill. Then, with the left leg in the wagon, bent at the knee, we’d use our right leg and foot to build up speed before jumpin’ in the wagon for the ride to the bottom of the hill. With only a piece of hay-balin’ twine to guide this rocket! Crossin’ the finish line at the bridge would win you a gold medal. And you would have earned it if you made it that far without one or more of the wagon wheels flyin’ off and sendin’ you crashin’ into the ditch.

But then one of our older brothers, can’t remember if it was George or Ollie, came up with the brilliant idea of ‘The Wagon Train. Real simple, but not all that bright. Just tie the hay-balin’ twine to the wobbly-wheel bicycle. Then one of the “big guys” would ride the bike while Wade and I got the downhill ride of our lives in the wagon! More speed. Bigger crashes. The laws of physics were totally unknown to us. We only had two rules. Close your eyes and pray as hard as you could!

It wasn’t long before The Wagon Train game was discontinued from our Dirt Road Olympics. The beginning of the end was when I opened my eyes just in time to see our wagon pass the bicycle that was pullin’ it. It’s a frightenin’ sight to see what you’re ridin’ in go by what was pullin’ it! But the twine had broken. And the closer we got to the bottom of the hill, the more speed we picked up! With absolutely nothing but the good Lord above guiding this out-of-control missile. But, remember, these were the Summer Games. That made the water in the creek feel good once we landed.

The apostle Paul was familiar with games and races and gold medals. And, remember, he got his start out there on the dirt road to Damascus when he got knocked off his donkey, too. But he learned from that crash and tried to give his friends at Corinth the benefit of his experience (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

In the Olympic Games, there’s only one gold medal even though many people are runnin’. And everybody that’s in the games has been in strict trainin’ all their lives for this one moment. My friend Glen Corley was tellin’ me yesterday about an Olympic athlete that works out for eight hours a day. Sorta made me feel bad when I could only go ten minutes on the treadmill. But they do it all just for the chance to stand on the stage while the national anthem is played and the gold medal is placed around their neck. But even in that ‘one shining moment,’ there’s only one gold medal handed out. Only one person will ever have that thrill. And, as Paul says, it’s a crown that won’t last. 

In contrast, the Christian life also requires strict training for a lifetime. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And there are crashes all along the course. But, unlike the Olympic Games, Paul says we do it to get a crown that will last forever (v.25b)!  But there are a couple of points about our race that I think we sometimes lose sight of.

First, when we crash, the race isn’t over. We have Someone there to pick us up, dust us off, and put us back in the race. Skinned knees and all. And, secondly but most importantly, don’t miss this. Turn over a few pages to Paul’s second letter to his young friend Timothy (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Paul has finished his race. He’s crashed several times, been shipwrecked, beaten, and thrown into prison in chains. And he’s ready for the crown that the Head Judge of all judges will award at the gold medal ceremony. Let’s all let Paul’s words in verse 8(b) sink deeply into our souls – ‘and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.’

This is just me, but I’m hearing Paul say that everyone who stays in training and runs this race to the end wins a gold medal. No matter how many times we go off course and crash. And even when it seems the course is all uphill. There won’t be just one gold medal. But everyone who loves, trusts, and obeys the Lord for the duration of the journey, will stand on the final stage and receive a crown to wear forever! Let’s just keep the faith!

And keep our wagons tied tightly to the One that’s pullin’ us!

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LIGHT YOUR CANDLE

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

We like candles around our house. We like ‘em a lot. There’s just something warm and cozy and peaceful about candles. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a church wedding that didn’t have at least a dozen or so candles burning around the altar. And how ‘bout Valentine’s Day? Raise your hand if you had a romantic candlelight meal. On second thought, guys, don’t raise your hands. Some of us will be in BIG trouble. Well, the restaurant did have a little candle burning in a jar in the middle of the table. Does that count?

I took a candlelit trip down a familiar dirt road the other day. Standing in front of a candle display at the store, I was amazed at how many different kinds of candles they have these days. Every shape and size you can imagine. And you can forget the long straight wedding candle. They’re probably on a shelf back in the stock room somewhere.

These days, the latest thing is a candle in a jar. There’s even one that crackles like a fire in the fireplace. I even saw a ‘flame-less’ candle in a jar. My hand on the Bible. That’s what she said. And sure ‘nuff. I picked it up, looked inside, saw the wick and everything. Except a flame. But it did have a glowing light, get this, under the wick. And two triple-A batteries in the bottom of the jar! Just when you think you’ve seen it all.

Back home on the farm in the 50’s at Route 4, Seneca, South Carolina, there were only a couple of things that we never saw in a jar. Sweet ice tea in July. Or vegetable soup for supper that Mother had canned with ‘maters, beans, and corn from the garden. And, yes, some of that slick and slimy green stuff, too. But I picked it out and fed it to the dogs through the knot hole in the floor under the kitchen table while Daddy was saying the blessing! The lesson at the woodshed that day was about wastin’ your food.

And speakin’ of food, some of these candles in a jar smell good enough to eat. With my eyes closed, I was inhalin’ the aroma of watermelon and cotton candy, and wondering if they had a candle in a jar that smelled like cornbread, buttermilk, and pinto beans. I’d take a case of those right now!

I guess I had a glazed look in my eyes. The clerk could probably tell that I was in another time and another place. “Sir, doesn’t this smell just heavenly,” she whispered softy. “It’s our latest fragrance, cranberry apple cinnamon brown sugar with just a hint of coconut.” She could have served it to me with a tablespoon ‘cause my mouth was wide open.

“Or maybe you’d like this one. It’s a winter time favorite.” I drooled as she read the label. “French vanilla frosted pumpkin spice with honey and maple.” What, no pancakes to go with it? But then it suddenly occurred to me. Every jar that she picked up to show me had the candle burning. And the blanket of sweet fragrance covered every single one of my seven senses, or ever how many I’m supposed to have.  

They smelled so wonderfully delicious because the candles were lit. And it wasn’t the size of the light in the jar that mattered. It didn’t have to be a mega-million-watt spotlight. No, it was effective because it was doing what the maker of the candles made it to do. And that was to give everyone around it a pleasant feeling when it was lit. Pretty enough to look at, but you only get the full effect when the candle’s aroma is released by lighting its wick. I would never have been standing there in front of a bunch of jars with the lids still on them. That wouldn’t do a thing for you. And they surely wouldn’t sell very many candles without the open-jar demonstration. You just don’t get the ‘warm fuzzies’ unless the lid is off and the candle is burning.

As my Daddy used to say, “Now ain’t that just the way life is!” If you and I are to be the blessing to those who need a blessing today, we’ve got to do what our Maker created us to do. Let His Light and the sweet fragrance of His unconditional love make those around us want it so bad they can taste it. In the red-letter words of Jesus, recorded in Luke 8:16, our Savior warns against putting our light in a jar and hiding it under the bed. Instead, He instructs us to take the lid off the jar, light our candle and put it out there on display so those coming by can see the Light.

I can’t wait to get back to the candle store. I’ve heard they have a couple of new ones.

Sweet honey suckle and vanilla cupcake.

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A COUNTRY BOY’S VALENTINE

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Raise your hand if you remember when we used to have two tags on our cars. Yes, I see those hands. Thank you. When the state went to the one license plate system, it gave us the freedom to express ourselves. On our front bumpers. Come to think of it, some folks even do that on the official tag on their rear bumper with personalized plates. But they cost extra. And what you’re willing to pay for says a lot about who you are. But that’s a story for another day. We’ll get to the rear bumper another day, but today it’s the front tag.

I like readin’ those things. Some are funny, even downright hysterical. I remember seeing one on the front of a pickup truck that said “I Love G.R.I.T.S.” And I thought, gotta get me one of those! Back home on the farm in the 50’s, we’d have an AYCE Breakfast Bar when Daddy brought home a new 50-pound bag of grits. Those were real grits, not the flavored, individual packs of pop-‘em-in-the-microwave-for-2-minutes kind that we get at the grocery store today with the smilin’ Quaker man on the front of the box.

Oh, no, the real cooked grits would stick to your ribs for most of the day if you had all you can eat. Especially if you threw in a slab of hoop cheese and a spoonful of sugar that doesn’t come in a pink or yellow or blue pack.

But that front tag wasn’t talking about filling up a farm boy’s tummy on a cold winter morning. When I got close enough to real the fine print, it said Girls Raised In The South. And when the pickup passed by, I just had to grin and giggle when I saw the real tag. It was from New York!

Yep, we see all kinds of things on those ‘I red-heart’ tags. Some say I love my truck. And that one was on a VW. Others say I love horses. Or I love cats. Or I love my wife. That’s a good one! I even saw one that said I love my husband. But it was on a bumper sticker on the rear bumper instead of the front. Whoa, buddy. I’m not going down that dirt road!

And there was one that said “I Love Jesus.” It was on the front of the car driven by the lady who sat down on her horn and shook her fist at me when I accidentally pulled out in front of her! I hope there wasn’t a tape recorder runnin’ in her car ‘cause I saw her lips movin’. And I don’t think she was tellin’ me to have a nice day!

We all need to be careful about what kind of tag we have on our front bumper for the whole world to see, don’t you think? And more importantly, what kind of lives we lead for the world to see. Let’s play a little game of what if. When you’re drivin’ down the road today, consider this question. What if they passed a law that every car on the road had to have one of those on-board video cameras like the police have? But, instead of pointing out in front of the car, what if our cameras were focused on the driver’s seat? Would we win a guest appearance on Candid Camera? Or would they use our video as a training film on how to handle road rage?

But amidst all the hullabaloo (my spellchecker is so old, it remembers hullabaloo!) out there in the world today, we take one day a year and just go absolutely ga-ga over love. You guessed it. It’s Valentine’s Day. A lot of people scream, holler, cuss, and pitch fits on their loved ones for 364 days a year. And try to make up for it on one day a year. Hello! What’s wrong with this picture? It’s almost like we’re saying ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. ‘Cause tomorrow I’ll go back to treatin’ you like dirt.’ 

Scientific research (whatever that means!) has come up with some mind-blowing numbers about how much we spend to put band-aids on our guilty consciences. And what we spend it on. It’s estimated that we’ll spend an unbelievable $14.1 BILLION this year on our little honey buns, sweetie pies, sugar dumplin’s, and love muffins. And while I’m on my stump, why do most terms of endearment sound like something that will stop up my arteries and cause my cholesterol to shoot off the chart?

And what are these staggerin’ amounts of money spent on? Yep, you aced that question, didn’t you? Cards, flowers, balloons, and candy. And the male-female breakdown shows that 58% of men list flowers as their number ‘sweet-thang’ gift. Cards came in second at 47% and candy was a close third at 44% for men. And what do you ladies buy for your ol’ grouch? Survey said – cards at 62%. Candy was second at 50%. Let him read sweet words while you’re readin’ the life insurance policy! Just kiddin’!! A night out on the town was a distant third at 30%.

It’s all in the name of love, right? But will the love remain after the flowers have died, the balloons lose their air, the cards are in the trash, and the chocolates are all eaten up?

I stand convicted just like most other guys. So this year, for the 47th Valentine we’ve spent together, I’m giving my sweet thang something just a little bit different. It’s called A Country Boy’s Valentine.’  And it goes something like this,

-If I could give a speech like Winston Churchill or John F. Kennedy, or if I could sing like an angel, I would just be making a bunch of noise if I don’t have love.        

If I was as smart as Alfred Einstein, and if my faith was strong enough to put the Blue Ridge Mountains in our back yard, I would still be nothing, zero, nil, nada if I don’t have love.

-If I gave away everything we own to help the poor, or if I walk across burning hot coals, I get no gold star by my name if I don’t have love.

-If I’m impatient and unkind, envious and braggadocios, rude, crude, self-centered, short-fused, and a holder of grudges, I don’t even know the meaning of the word love.

-But if I have a smidgen of an idea about what love is and does, it protects like a warm blanket on a cold night; it’s watered by trust; it lives and grows in the rich soil of hope; and it’s fertilized by hangin’ in and hangin’ on through thick and thin.

-Always, always, always, and always.   

But, you say, that’s not very original at all. And you’re exactly right. It was written many years ago in the original Book of Love. You can find it right there in the Love Chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. And like it says in the 13th verse of Chapter 13, when it’s all said and done, at the end of the day, when it all comes out in the wash, “these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is Love.”

But the question for the man in the mirror, is it a Valentine-kind-of-here-today-and-gone-tomorrow-love? Or is a Love worth dying for? The kind where self dies and love lives? We’ve already been given the best Valentine a person could ever receive. But it’s also the most expensive Valentine ever given. Even more expensive than the 14-billion dollars we’ll spend this year for candy, cards, and flowers.

This Valentine cost Jesus His life’s blood. Because He has a love worth dying for. And He doesn’t mind if we give it over and over and over again. Even after Valentine’s Day has come and gone.

For God so loVed the world, 
        That He g Ave 
                His onL
                BegottE  
                         SoN 
                             That whosoever 
         Believeth In Him
           Should  Not perish,
        But have  Everlasting life.’     John 3:16.

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SIGN OF THE TIMES

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

The message on the bright red digital LED sign was just waiting for me to turn the corner. There must be several hundred cars that turn this corner every day. It’s one of the busiest intersections in this neck of the woods. But it was waiting for me. And when I showed up, it jumped right off the sign and into the front seat beside me.

Cars were whizzing by right and left. Nobody else seemed to notice or care that something had me in a choke-hold. I looked around for help before I realized it was just me and this sign. So, I quickly pulled over, grabbed my notebook and pen to put it in writing. After all, it could just be a figment of my imagination.

So what was the message? Glad you asked. Eggs, 99 cents a dozen. And milk, $2.69 a gallon. That just grabbed my 2010 thinking process around the throat with both hands and started squeezing. And before I got light-headed and dizzy, I noticed that it wasn’t Twenty-Ten anymore. And I wasn’t holding a sign that said ‘Protect our Social Security and Medicare.’

Instead, it was 1960. I could see it plain as day. I still had my flat-top standing at attention with the help of that pink wax. And I was making another malted milk shake behind the soda fountain at Alexander’s Drug Store, South Townville Street, Seneca, South Carolina, just below the picture show.

Hold the phone. Stop the presses. I can hear you thinking out loud. He’s a couple of eggs short of a dozen. What’s so unusual about a sign advertising eggs and milk that could jerk him back fifty years? Actually, nothing at all. Unless you consider that it was in front of the local Walgreen’s. And what really iced my cake was when the sign, up there about a hundred feet in the air, flashed this message. Open 24 Hours!

You’ve heard that there are no guarantees in this world? Well, I’m here to tell you that’s wrong. I can guarantee you that Mr. Harold Alexander and Doc Sammeth both would be absolutely flabbergasted if they could have seen that sign!

First of all, everybody knows that you don’t get eggs and milk from a drug store. Or a pharmacy, as they’re called today. Secondly, the drug store opens at 8 and closes at 6. Monday through Saturday. And thirdly, even by today’s standards, who could possibly need eggs or milk at two o’clock in the morning?

I guess, in reality, it’s a sign of the times. Somebody once said that change is the only thing that stays the same. Had to think about that one. And they’re probably right. Everything changes. Sometimes before you can blink your eyes. I don’t buy that pink hair wax anymore. Nothing up there to stand up, anyway.

And I don’t go to the henhouse back at Route 4 anymore to collect the ‘cackle-berries’ as Mother used to call ‘em. And I don’t have to sit on a three-legged stool in the hall of the barn on a freezin’-cold morning before daylight ‘downloadin’ milk that smells like green onions. For that I can loudly proclaim, “Thank You, Jesus.”

Come to think of it, Jesus REALLY is open 24 hours, too. He never sleeps. He never gets tired. And, in a world where the signs change by the hour, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

And, for over two thousand years, He’s never changed His message. With arms stretching across the world, He’s still saying, “Come, bring your burdens to me and I’ll make your load lighter.” (Matthew 11:28-30).  Goodness knows, everybody could use a lighter load, right?

Hey, maybe we could get ‘em to put that message on their hundred-foot high digital flashing sign at Walgreen’s.

Wouldn’t that be cool!

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