Archive for March, 2010

THE REAL YOU!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

It was just another one of what I call ‘silly surveys’. You see ‘em in magazines all the time. You know, they give you ten questions and, judging by your answers, you look at the bottom of the page to find out what kind of person you are. In other words, someone who needs to get a life says that if you tell us what you like and what you don’t like and if you get eight out of ten questions right, we’ll tell you what kind of life you’re having and even what kind of personality you have.

The Route 4 translation of my response to those kinds of things is usually one word – hogwash!  But this one came down the electronic dirt road and landed smack dab in the middle of my inbox. Which I must say is a world away from our ‘inbox’ back home on the farm.

Back then, the inbox was the big wooden box that we put stove wood in every night so Mother wouldn’t have to go out to the woodshed before cooking two pans of cathead biscuits every morning. That was the original purpose for the woodshed. Only later would it become a ‘popular’ gatherin’ place for the game called ‘Lessons of Life.’

Here’s an idea for you survey takers. Tell me how many times a day you were taken to the woodshed when you were growing up, and I’ll tell you exactly what kind of personality you have. Never been to the woodshed, or wouldn’t know what one looked like if it dropped out of the sky into your backyard? Ladies and gentlemen, let’s bow our heads and pray.

Anyway, back to the main road. This latest test of my IQ involved the electronic version of the old television show, Family Feud. But, unlike the tv show, where I could just sit back and guess out loud, this new-fangled Wii version of The Feud gives you two eye blinks or about 13 seconds to think of an answer, find your cursor and type in your answer using some sort of hand-held remote control device from Star Wars.

I have a hard enough time with a keyboard that doesn’t move, much less one that flies all over the screen. And if you can’t think of all six parts of a car that make a noise, for instance, in the allotted time, you get the big red ‘X.’ Do you know how embarrassing it is to be outsmarted by your nine-year-old granddaughter? Not to mention her 35-year-old dad who knew some secret way to get extra time on the 13-second clock.

I guess I should stick to the old-fashioned surveys where the questions are in front of me to study for a while before I answer. It just proves that we all have different gifts and abilities, different likes and dislikes.

One of those magazine surveys caught my eye a while back. I guess it was the title, ‘THE REAL YOU!’  And it had some of the silliest questions you’ve ever heard, the answers to which I could find “the real me.”

Question numero uno: Do you like your corn flakes soggy or crispy? Now right away I’m in trouble on the first question. I don’t eat corn flakes. I figure if we don’t use corn for flakes, we’d have more hot and buttered corn-on-the-cob. But what about my frosted mini wheats and raisin bran? If they sit there long enough to soak up all the milk, then it’s mush. And babies or people who’ve had their teeth pulled eat that kind of stuff. I’ll take mine while they’re still crispy, please.

Second question: Do you like chocolate or vanilla ice cream? The problem? They didn’t give me a choice of either butter pecan or homemade peach. So what am I supposed to say? If I don’t pick chocolate or vanilla, does that mean I flunk the test and they can’t find the “real me?”

Third question: Do you prefer a mattress that’s firm or soft? Pretty straight forward. I slept on one for eighteen years that was so soft it threw me and my brother Ollie to the middle of the bed. Skinny one wound up on the bottom. Guess who that was. Not a good night’s rest. My answer, definitely firm.

Fourth and final question: Are you a morning or night person? Well, this is just me, but I’m partial to the whole day. If I say morning, does that mean I’m not a person at night? Or if I say I’m a morning person, do I turn into a frog at night?

So I’ve answered one out of four on the silly survey. My score is 25. According to the explanation of scores at the bottom of the page, if you score less than 75, you’re supposed to order a 12-disc collection of ‘Thoughts of Highly Intelligent People.’ At a cost of only $399.95. Payable in four monthly installments of $100 each.

I think I’ll write to the company and tell ‘em that I put cheese, butter, and sugar in my grits. And my brother Wade puts salt on a sweet and juicy watermelon. That ought to keep the highly intelligent folks in committee meetings for a couple of years at least!

But wouldn’t it be a dull world if we all liked the same thing? The truth is,  God wired us all different. That doesn’t mean we’re not special. In fact, when you were born, it was a Special Delivery. It says so right there in His word. I don’t need to order anybody’s 12-disc collection. All I have to do is study my Bible. We were all ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14), because He created us in His own image (Genesis 1:27).

And just because we don’t all like the same thing doesn’t mean that we’re not part of the Real Deal. Which is the Body of Christ. Paul lays it out pretty simple in Romans 12:4-8. Our physical body has many members. Toes, arms, legs, feet, eyes, noses, ears, etc., etc. Just imagine what we’d look like if our body was all noses and feet. Not a pretty sight!

By the same token, we who are in Christ make up one body. Even with all our differences. And, by the grace of God, He has given us all different abilities, talents, and gifts. In the body of Christ, some of us are meant to be legs, others feet, still others eyes and ears and so on. We all make up the same body, but a foot can’t be an arm. And a nose can’t be an ear. And so forth and so on.

As Paul puts it, for the body of Christ to ‘stay off crutches’ and perform at maximum efficiency, each part must do what it was designed to do. Legs, you get together with feet and ankles and take us walking. Ears and eyes, yawl keep us from pulling in front of a fast-moving freight train. Arms and hands and hearts, yawl help us love each other.

In the kingdom of God, it might be preaching, teaching, serving, giving, encouraging, leading, or showing mercy wrapped up in a cheerful attitude. If each one of us isn’t doing what we’re wired to do, the whole body suffers. And if we try to do something that our hard drive can’t handle, we’ll know it right away.

So, if you’re the world champion Wii player, or if you always ace those surveys, I thank God for you.

If it was left up to me, the body of Christ would be on life support!

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ROUND-UP TO THE RESCUE!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

These first warm sunny days of Spring can only mean one thing. It’s time to get the garden ready. Isn’t it amazing to see how many weeds, briars, wild onions, and crabgrass can take over that garden spot in the time between Fall harvest and Spring plantin’? It would be foolish to just go out there and throw some seeds on the ground and expect to have sweet juicy watermelons, maters, corn, and butterbeans.

So in the Spring, you just gotta hitch up the ol’ mule to the turn plow and go to work. All the weeds and wild onions and other stuff need to be turned under and the dirt needs to breathe. At least, that’s what Daddy used to tell us back home on the farm. And judging by the way Ollie and Wade and me worked that mule and turn plow, Daddy might have just as well said last rites over our garden.

Plantin’ a garden is hard work. Something country boys like us had a hard time acceptin’. After the dirt is turned over and breathin’ again, then you have to take a drag harrow and get rid of all the rocks and clods. Then it’s time to spread the fertilizer. You can’t expect sweet cantaloupes without fertilizer to make ‘em grow. Then you gotta drag and smooth the whole garden again before changing the turn plow to a smaller blade and lay off some nice straight rows. After all that, then you’re ready to plant some seed.    

I was in the barber shop the other day getting’ my ears lowered when my mind went wanderin’ back down the dirt road to Route 4. And it was something Clint said that made me turn off the main road. As he was leavin’, Clint turned to ask Dennis if he wanted him to come over and plow up his garden.

But his garden wasn’t ready to plow, according to Dennis, because he had spread a load of compost from the chicken house on his garden during the winter. And now his garden was overrun with every kind of wild weed known to exist in North American soil. The chickens must have been fed a steady diet of wild onions and ragweed and dandelion seed. He had to get control back of his garden before he could get it ready to plow or plant. The only remedy, according to Dennis, was to zap ‘em with Round-Up.

Gardens are a lot like our hearts. Actually, our hearts are God’s garden. And we’re supposed to be working it, and tending it, and taking care of it. But if we leave the garden and run off to the woods or the swimmin’ hole chasin’ silly pleasures and leave His garden un-attended, Satan will sneak in while we’re not looking and plant some thorns and thistles. And, like Dennis’ garden, the only alternative we have then is to zap ‘em with God’s ‘Round-Up.’

What does His weed-killer look like? Glad you asked. You mix together equal portions of intensive daily Bible study, a regular quiet time, prayer, praise and worship, and you’re ready to take on anything the devil will try to get growin’ in your heart.

After all, when the seed (God’s word) is planted in good soil, there’ll be a bountiful harvest (Luke 8:8). Good soil is the heart that accepts the seed (hears the word) and wraps its heart and life around it, keeping it watered and weeded, and by hangin’ on and endurin’ the storms that always hit the garden, produce that hundred-fold crop of blessings (Luke 8:15).

Yep, it’s a lot of hard work gettin’ a garden ready to plant. Even more hard work to be sure the briars and weeds don’t get a toehold while the tender young seeds are being prepared to present us the good stuff at harvest, like corn-on-the-cob, fresh maters and squash. But you know what, I never sat down to a feast like that and regretted the hard work.

Does the dirt in your garden (heart) need to breathe? Are there some wild onions and dandelions that need to be zapped? These first warm sunny days of Spring provide the perfect opportunity for us all to check our gardens. Need some help?

Round-Up to the rescue!

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A NEW SUPPLY OF STICKY NOTES!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Do you ever make notes to yourself? You know, those little squares of yellow sticky scrap paper that we write on so that we don’t forget something important? Around our house, we have them stuck everywhere. Right now I’m looking at a couple on the computer monitor. They’re also on the fridge and on the bathroom mirror. And I have them all over the dash in my car. Just little mental, string-around-the-finger reminders of things that I don’t want to forget. Stuck in places that I’ll most likely see at least once a day. Like phone numbers, doctors’ appointments, grocery lists and passwords. Oh, don’t let me go down that side road. I have more passwords than Carter has little liver pills. Can’t possibly remember them all!

Why is it, you think, that we’ve created a whole industry dedicated to our bad memory? I can remember the aroma of Mother’s cornbread settlin’ over the kitchen at supper time like the morning dew on the grass in the pasture. And that’s been almost 60 years ago. But I can’t remember a phone number or appointment that I made three days ago. I don’t remember ever seein’ any sticky notes around the ol’ farmhouse back home at Route 4. Or in the hall of the barn where we spent a lot of time doing morning and nighttime chores. Were they there and I just don’t remember seein’ them?

I guess the experts would chalk it up to diminished capacity due to advancing age. My Route 4 translation of that is trying to put a ten-gallon load in a five-gallon bucket. I’ve even heard about people who have phenomenal memories. They can remember what they ate for breakfast on the 14th day of April in 1963. Or what the weather was like on the opening day of baseball in 1978. I wonder if folks like that have ever forgotten where they put their glasses or their keys. Maybe not.

But I don’t know if that’s a blessing or a curse. Looking back down the dirt road of life, I’m thankful at times that the Lord has given us the blessing of forgetfulness. And I think it truly is a blessing to be able to let some things just slide right on down the river like a piece of driftwood floatin’ down Coneross Creek. Forget the bad, remember the good. That’s what I’m talkin’ about! But that brings up an interesting question that’s been bouncin’ around in the sawdust between my ears lately.

How can we keep from forgettin’ something good? And I have a perfect example. In one of our recent visits to the woodshed, we were recallin’ the memory of crumblin’ up Mother’s hot cornbread in a tall glass of ice cold buttermilk and eatin’ it with a spoon. Before the cornbread could get cold. Man, oh, man, I am so thankful I can still remember that.

And, judgin’ from my email inbox, many of you have not forgotten those sweet times, either. Betty from West Union remembers, without a sticky note, times when you didn’t need a menu at the supper table. It was cornbread and milk. And nothing else. And she was glad to get it! Cindy from Seneca remembers cornbread and buttermilk, but loves the Bread of Life even more. And my boyhood buddy, Ralph from Return, asked a question that I’ve wondered many times. How in the world, Ralph said, could anybody turn up their nose at buttermilk, but still bite the stem off boiled okra and let it ooze down their throat like mud between your barefoot toes after a summer rain? Amen, Ralph, Amen. And a thousand times, Amen!

And Jim from Florida, by way of Route 3, Westminster, still likes to drown his cornbread in a Mason jar full of buttermilk. And grab a spoon while the cornbread is still warm! But it was Jim who reminded me of somethin’ about cornbread that I hope I never completely forget. In a word, cracklin. As in cracklin cornbread. Take me to the woodshed! How in the world could I have forgotten about that farm boys’ delight!  If you put a bowl of crackling cornbread with buttermilk alongside a bowl of homemade peach ice cream and told me to pick one, I’d be in trouble. I’d have to do some quick thinkin’ to figure out a way to have both of ‘em! Thanks, Jim, for that reminder. Gotta get to the store today and get a new supply of sticky notes. If I can remember to do it! Some things you just never want to forget.

I believe everybody ought to have plenty of sticky notes on hand ‘cause we’re just human beings. And human beings just plain ‘blow it’ sometimes! Even Moses, that tablet-totin’ man of God, could have used ‘em. Before this day is over, grab your Bible and add Deuteronomy, Chapter 8 to your daily Bible readin’. This is just me, but I think it speaks to the heart of the problems that we have in the world today, both as individuals and as a nation.

Moses had been leadin’ the Israelites as they wandered around in the desert for forty years after God brought ‘em out of Egypt. Now that was the most forgetful bunch of folks I have ever heard about! Here they were, free from hard-time slavery down in Egypt, let out of jail with a trail guide sent by the Lord to lead them to the Promised Land. If he could have, Moses would have put a sticky note on every cactus in the desert!

The first one would have been what he said in verse 2 as he cautioned them to remember that God had been with them everywhere they had gone for those 40 years. And there were times when they were humbled and tested. God just wanted to see what they were made of to see if they could remember to keep His commandments when they got to the Promised Land. Does that sound familiar to you and me? Sometimes when we’re walkin’ in the valley of the shadow, the devil gets happy when we start thinkin’ that God has forgotten where we live. Check your shoe shine. Mine just got scuffed up.

Moses must have felt like he was trying to herd a bunch of cats. Every time he thought they were going in the right direction, they’d wander off somewhere else. Check out verse 4. Another sticky note from Moses. He told ‘em they didn’t even need a J. C. Penny or Sears and Roebuck out there in the desert ‘cause they wore the same clothes for 40 years! I can just imagine they had a dire need for some Tide or Shout-it-Out, but their clothes never wore out. And they didn’t need any of those motorized shopping carts with a seat and a basket like we see at the store. Their feet never swelled up the whole time they were walking around in the desert! That’s a miracle right there by itself.

Check out verses 10-18 for several more Moses sticky notes. He told ‘em that when they had their belly full in the Promised Land, be sure to praise the Lord for all the good stuff and don’t forget about Him by failing to remember His commandments. Have we been blessed with so much abundance that we get the big-head and forget about Who provides every good thing in life?

More sticky notes, please. If we’re not careful, gettin’ satisfied and sassy will open the door of our heart and let pride walk right in. And when we get proud, we start forgettin’ about Who got us through the dark days and nights while we were in that ‘dry and thirsty land’ filled with snakes and scorpions and a multitude of other bad stuff.

Moses probably would have written DANGER and BEWARE on his sticky notes found in verses 19-20. He told ‘em (and us) if they ever forget God, they’d be history. And like all the nations (individuals and countries) before our time that forgot about God and were destroyed, the same thing will happen to you and me and our nation if we don’t obey the Lord our God.

Do you have one more sticky note? Make it one of those big ones. And let’s all write H-O-P on it and stick it up everywhere we go. Humility. Obedience. Praise. A reminder to thank the Lord for all He has done, is doing, and will do for us. I’m all out of sticky notes now, so I’m going to HOP on over to the store and pick up a new supply. There’s one more reminder that I need to stick up on my mirror, my monitor, and my mind.

Without the Bread of Life, we’re just burnt toast!   

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CORNBREAD AND CROISSANTS

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Funny how a simple question can open up a whole new can of worms, isn’t it? It all started as I was taking a pone of golden-brown cornbread out of the oven the other night. Cooked in a black iron skillet, of course.  Sorta like the miniature version of the one Mother used back home at Route 4. So I asked my mill-hill bride how she wanted hers. And that’s how the conversation got started.

No secret how I like mine. Sliced open and lathered in I-can’t-believe it’s-butter as soon as it comes out of the oven. With a tall glass of ice cold buttermilk on the side.  And to make the meal complete, a big bowl of hot pinto beans. Minus the pintos, I have been known to just crumble my bread into the tall glass of buttermilk and eat it with a spoon. Lip-smacking delicious!

Most of the time, my mill-hill bride likes hers without the butter. Just crumble it up in a bowl, no less, and pour some sweet milk over it. So we have ‘half-and-half’ cornbread at our house, half buttered and half not buttered. So I carefully wrapped the leftovers for another day in that clingy, see-through stuff. I like that sticky wrapping paper. It’s a miracle for those of us who can’t remember what they had for supper last night!

Back home on the farm, we had only two kinds of paper for wrapping food. Tin foil and wax paper. And that was only to cover the fried chicken or cat head biscuits that Mother was carrying to church for dinner on the ground after preaching. I don’t thing baggies had been invented yet. Didn’t need ‘em anyhow, ‘cause leftovers hadn’t been invented yet either.

The only time I ever saw anything ‘saved’ from one meal to the next was Sunday dinner. And that was because Daddy put the fear of God in any of us who even thought about taking the last cat head or last piece of chicken on the plate. “You better save something for supper, if you know what’s good for you. Your Mother is not going to fire up the stove on Sunday afternoon.”

My friend Darryl Addison and I were talking about that recently. Mother had two kinds of table cloths for that long kitchen table. One was heavy duty with a slick surface. It was always on the table. But on Sundays, she broke out another one that looked like a bed sheet. With it she just covered the food left on the table.

Then along about three or four o’clock, when we heard the snoring from the front room, we knew it was time for a sneak, uh, I mean a snack. You learned to be quiet as a church mouse and quick on the grab. Reach under the bed sheet table cloth, grab the first thing you touch, tip toe to the door, and very carefully let the screen door close. If it slams and wakes up the folks from their Sunday afternoon nap, you’re the winner of a guaranteed trip to the woodshed!

Oh, my goodness, I’m so far down this dusty side road, I can hardly see the main road. Anyway, back to my plain cornbread-eatin’ mill-hill bride. A couple of nights later, it was time once again for a cornbread-and-milk supper. And, it’s just as good two days later, even served cold out of the fridge.

That is, unless you pour cold milk on cold butter on cold cornbread! It was just the sweet way she mentioned ‘those lumps of cold butter in my bowl’ that got my attention.  Lord, help me not to make that mistake again anytime soon!

But all was forgiven when I brought home some tasty croissants for her favorite sandwich, chicken salad with grapes. Just saying that word makes this ol’ country boy giggle. Croissants. A fellow could get his mouth washed out with Octagon soap for sayin’ stuff like that!

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m amazed when I think about how many different kinds of bread there are in the world today. Take loaf bread, for example. So many choices just in that one category. First, you have the standard white bread, and then you have the healthy wheat loaf. Then some marketing genius came up with white-wheat. Not to mention pumpernickel, rye, raisin ‘n cinnamon, and on and on. Is it just me, or does anybody else just love to smell hot buttered toast coming out of the toaster?

And then you have the modern-day version of cat heads. We call ‘em ‘bust-open biscuits.’ Grab a can and smack it against the edge of the kitchen counter and bust it open. That’s how you get to those little dollops of doughy delight. Too bad it takes about four of ‘em to equal one cat head.

But, you know, bread is a lot like people. Lots of different kinds in this ol’ world. While it’s no secret that I’m partial to hot, golden-brown, butter-dripping cornbread, you might be in love with those flaky, gobble-up-a-handful bust-open biscuits. Or somebody else is croissant crazy.  

While there are many different kinds of bread (and people), there’s only one Bread Maker. He’s the Bread of Life (John 6:35), and He loves every single one of his creations equally. He’s never made a ‘biscuit’ that He didn’t love. And while we might be covered in everything from syrup to saw mill gravy, His love and forgiveness will soften the crust on a three-day-old croissant. In fact, there’s only one kind of bread that won’t be found in His Kitchen.

Please don’t burn the toast!

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WHO YOU GONNA CALL

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

I’ve never really been what you might call a big fan of the tv show “Lost.” But I know some folks who are, and if you’re one of them, I have some great news for you. In case you haven’t heard, those people stranded on that island are going to be rescued! Yes, I’m told this will be the last season for “Lost.” Someone’s going to come and save them. And it’ll happen just before summer re-runs begin.

But since I heard that news, I’ve been wondering just who it is that will finally (thank Goodness!) come to save them? Since they’re lost on that remote island on the other side of the world, whoever rescues them will probably get there in an airplane.

What if the rescue plane goes down on another remote island? That’s why we shouldn’t be too surprised if they keep the rescuers’ identity a secret. In true ‘who shot JR’ fashion, they could come back next season with ‘Still Lost,’ or Lost II. And this same show could keep going till it has more roman numerals than the Super Bowl.

You think that’s a far-fetched idea? According to my ‘reliable sources,’ there are some soap operas that have been on tv since folks my age were in short britches. And, could I say, they’re ‘bout as ‘lost’ as the people stranded on that island.

I won’t call any names, but I know some folks who have worn out a pickup truck load of VCR’s just taping those make-believe doctors and nurses walking up and down the halls of that hospital. When they were young, they’d get very restless if the VCR ate the tape. And they’d be so sad if someone’s completely innocent hubby taped a ball game over the home movie of what all her children were up to.

Anyway, back to “Lost’ island. Who do you think will come to rescue them? Will it be one of our boyhood ‘funny book’ heroes? I think they call ‘em comic books today. I’ve even heard some of them are worth a bunch of money to funny book collectors. We would be wealthy today if Mother hadn’t rolled up our funny books to swat flies. Or the behinds of some misbehavin’ country boys.

And if we didn’t goof off while we were supposed to be pickin’ cotton, our folks would let us ride to town with them on Saturday morning. While they were gettin’ groceries at the A & P, we’d be down the street at the dime store browsing through the funny book rack.

Nothin’ better than turnin’ on the radio and hearing The Lone Ranger shout “Hi-Yo Silver, Away,” as he and Tonto rode off to rescue somebody,  while I’m readin’ the latest issue of The Lone Ranger Rides Again. And tradin’ funny books was another game. You couldn’t let your brothers read your new Cisco Kid and Pancho funny book ‘cause then they wouldn’t trade with you. So we had funny books hid all over the house, the barn, and, yes, even the woodshed!

There were other action heroes, too. Even before Superman became a famous movie star and Lynda Carter became famous playing Superwoman on tv. Watchin’ the recent winter Olympics from Canada, I saw the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (without their mounts), and, for some reason, I remembered Sgt. Preston and his dog, Yukon King. Now, what was his horse’s name?

Of course, Lindsay Carter and Lee Majors ‘hooked up’ while performing daring rescues as The Bionic Woman and the Six Million Dollar Man. I can also remember not that long ago that our son, Jeff, loved his Spider Man pj’s so much because they had little Velcro patches for him to stick to the wall like his hero. Now, I know I’m gonna be in trouble.

But can you remember Batman and Robin showing up in their Batmobile just in time to rescue somebody in a pickle? And who can ever forget when the movies came callin’ with the Ghostbusters to save the world?

Seems like super heroes have always been around to save folks from their imaginary perils. And is it just me, or does it seem like the world has never needed savin’ more than it does right now? Where real every-day lives too closely resemble those of the cast on the ‘Lost?’

The real tragedy here is that it’s not just actors playing their roles on television. It’s real people out there in a real world who seem to be just wanderin’ around lost, without a clue as to who they can call on to rescue them. The same thing happened when Jesus was traveling around all over the country preaching the Good News and healin’ and savin’ people (Matthew 9:35-36).

When He saw how helpless they were, He had compassion on them, because they looked like sheep that had lost their shepherd. With so many temptations, the sheep are going astray in our world by the millions.

But the good news is that the Savior is still waitin’. And He’s the only one that can rescue us. We can’t do it, but we can point the way to the One who can. But we have to make the call. This world is in desperate need of some operators who can place the call. Remember that old song, “Operator, Operator?” Too many people who might have once had the number wrote it on the wall and now they can’t find it.

And speaking of songs, there was once a talented and gifted lady who turned tragedy into triumph. After being accidentally blinded at an early age, Frances Jane Crosby wrote over a thousand hymns and songs. We know her as Fanny Crosby. And in one of my favorites, she urges us as Christians to tell lost people who they can call to be saved.

The second verse of ‘Rescue the Perishing’ speaks to our world today. It goes something like this. “Tho’ they are slighting Him, still He is waiting, waiting the penitent child to receive; plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently; He will forgive if they only believe.” And then the chorus that we don’t hear nearly enough anymore, “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying; Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.”

You think there’s going to be a party when the ‘Lost’ get rescued on the series finale? It can’t hold a candle to the celebration in Heaven when even one lost sheep (soul) is saved. Luke 15:5-6 talks about the Good Shepherd puttin’ that little lost lamb on His broad shoulders and goin’ to the house. And when He gets there, He calls all his friends and neighbors and invites them to the party.

Are you in a mess right now? Or know somebody who thinks they’re hopeless and helpless? The Lone Ranger is dead and won’t be ridin’ again. Batman and Robin, Superman and the Ghostbusters have all lost their super powers. They don’t even have funny books about ‘em anymore. But there is one Book about One Super Action Hero that has stood the test of time. His name is Jesus and His book is the B-I-B-L-E.

As my grandson, Kirby, wrote in an email the other day, BIBLE stands for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Oh, how true! Even now, two thousand years after our Hero left this earth, His Book is still rescuing lost people. If they’ll only believe. But how can they believe in what they haven’t heard?

You have the number. Who you gonna call?

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THE OLD MAN’S NEW CLOTHES

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Time to let the cat out of the bag. I’ll just go ahead and admit it. And deal with it later. What’s my long-kept secret? This might come as a complete surprise and shock to you. I don’t like to shop. There, I’ve said it and now I feel a whole lot better. And it’s the gospel truth.

If you’ve been to the woodshed with me before today, you’ve shared some of my horror and fright stories about shopping. Especially in those stores where you’re apt to get hit by a fork lift if you’re not careful. No, I didn’t say that that I don’t shop; it’s just that I don’t like it when I do.

When sweet thang makes me a list, I’ll go to the store. I call it sacrificial love. If she needs a bottle of oregano or 2 cloves of garlic or maybe 3 sprigs of dill for her latest culinary ‘surprise’, I’ll sacrifice my dignity and go stand in the spice aisle at the store, and take a chance on gettin’ hit by some 16-year-old practicing for the Daytona 500 on his fork lift.

When I find what’s on her list, I head straight for the self-checkout line where there’s a woman hidin’ inside a machine just waitin’ to play a little game of 21 questions with me. “Do you have your ID card? How will you pay for your purchase? Do you have any coupons? Do you have anything underneath your buggy?” Just one time I’d love to say, ‘Sure, lady, I’ve got a 50-pound sack of hog chow and 2 bales of hay under my buggy. Will you carry them to the car for me?’

But that would be rude and crude. And if there’s one thing I learned from wearing out the path to the woodshed back home, it doesn’t pay to be rude and crude. Especially to ladies. As in Daddy’s explaining the lesson to me on the way to the ‘shed, ‘I’ll teach you to be rude and crude to your mother.’ So that lady inside the machine at the store benefited greatly from my woodshed experience.

So I get home with my bag of cloves and sprigs and whatever else. Feelin’ pretty good about the whole thing. Then sweet thang comes out with another question. “You didn’t by any chance happen to get me some ground up basil leaves, did you?” Nope, sure didn’t, honey-pie, sugar- dumpling, you didn’t have ground up basil leaves on my list. “Well, I just thought you might have looked around while you were there to see if there was anything else I might need.” Are you beginning to understand why shopping isn’t on my Top 100 List of Things to do on a Rainy Day?

Same thing applies to shopping for new clothes for myself. I’d much rather wear the same old worn-out, faded-out, frayed-around-the-collar shirts and jackets than to go through the humiliation of –and I quote- ‘the ultimate shopping experience.’

Let me see if I can detail that experience in 60 words or less. First, you walk across a ten-acre, asphalt-covered field. At least they have those handy automatic door openers. Small consolation. Then you look up in the ceiling to find a little sign with an arrow pointing to the men’s department. About 2 miles from the front door.

When you make that hike, you find so many racks of clothes out in the aisle that it’s impossible to turn around without knocking something over. I think any kid under the age of 7 could hide in there for a week. I actually saw one kid under a rack of pajamas and warm-ups playing his game boy! His mother was a half-a-day’s walk over in foundations. At least, that’s what they used to call ‘that’ department. I saw a commercial for ‘that’ department on tv the other night. Four or five ladies with so little clothes on, they would have caught pneumonia. It was so obvious they couldn’t find the foundations department either! 

Well, anyway, I find a couple or 3 or 4 things I have to try on. You know the policy. All sales final, no refunds or exchanges after you leave the store. So with an armload of new clothes, I search and find what they call the Fitting Room.

More like a cow stall with half a door and no roof. And don’t make the mistake of asking what the price is. After I interrupted the lady reading her Senior Living magazine, she grabs the bull horn speaker and yells to the whole world, “Price check on men’s size 64 boxers!”

I waited three hours before I felt comfortable about coming out of the cattle stall. I just don’t like to shop! I’d almost rather go straight to the woodshed. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Just don’t send me back to the store!

So it is with a great deal of awe and respect and never-ending love that I joyfully tell you that my afore-mentioned sweet thang took it upon herself last week to go to the store and buy some new clothes for the old man’s birthday.

It was with cunning intelligence, I learned later, that she made and executed her plan. She checked the labels in my old ones for the right size before her shopping trip. Good thing, too, but I still think she would have been cute trying on those size 64 men’s boxers!

My good friend, Paul, the Apostle, has some things to say about new clothes. He had to change clothes himself one day out there on that dirt road to Damascus, so he knows what he’s talking about. The suit of clothes worn by Paul’s well-dressed man or woman, boy or girl can be found in Colossians 3:12-14.

According to Paul, since we are the chosen and dearly loved children of God, we’re supposed to wear clothes that will bring Him honor and make Him proud. Notice that little word ‘since.’ Paul was stating a fact, not a supposition. Not if we are, but since we are God’s chosen and dearly loved. And, can I throw this in right here? How on earth can He be honored by these baggy britches and earrings and purple hair that we see in the world today?

I’m sorry, but if we intend to honor our parents, we’re not going to show up in public looking like something that escaped from the circus. If that’s bad for me to feel that way, pray for me. But isn’t it a good thing that our Heavenly Father loves His children unconditionally?

Even though we might bring a tear to His eye, we’re still His. Like Paul said, we’re God’s chosen and dearly loved children. Therefore (v.12), since we’re His and dearly loved by Him, wouldn’t it be a good thing if we throw away all those old dirty habits, thoughts, expressions, and language that we used to wear before we became His children? And at least just try on the new clothes He’s offering us? After all, He owns the best clothing store in the world.

So, let’s do a little window shopping. Take a look at what the well-dressed child of God is wearing. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Now those are fashions that are never out of style. And the perfect accessories, according to Paul in verse 13, are gettin’ along with each another, and forgiving one another. And holdin’ together this new suit of clothes (verse 14) is the belt of love, an exact duplicate of the perfect love our Father has for each one of us.

So, if I’ve seen you coming into town with your pants on the ground, please forgive me for what I’ve been thinkin’ about you. And let me offer you a new belt to hold your pants up. There’s no question about whether it will fit. God’s belt of love is big enough for everybody. One size fits all. And you wanna know what the best part is?

You don’t have to go to the store to try it on! Hallelujah! Can I get an Amen!

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BIRDHOUSES AND BIRTHDAYS

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

I’ve always liked things that were made by hand. Probably because I’ve never been really good at  making anything with my hands that anyone would recognize. Early on, I was scarred for life by this one particular incident of working with my hands. It was a 4-H project, and we were supposed to build a bird house. Fairly simple task for any farm boy, right? Just look around the barnyard, gather up a few boards, a hand saw, some nails and a hammer. And in a few minutes the blue jays and robins will have a roof over their heads.

Simple enough for anyone who can drive a nail with a hammer. And with as much time as I spent around wood (a.k.a., the woodshed!), I was sure that my birdhouse would win the blue ribbon. Don’t worry about straight lines or squared edges or any of that other stuff on the 4-H instruction sheet. Make it look like a box, drive some nails, put out the ‘For Rent’ sign and watch the bluebirds move in to their new home at Route 4.

But before the little chickadees could sign the lease and unpack their flight bags, all of us in the 4-H Club had to bring our projects in for inspection. So, I even found a used paint can, ‘borrowed’ one of Daddy’s good paint brushes, slapped some whitewash on my feathered friends’ housing project, and started making room on the mantle for the blue ribbon.

Well, Birdhouse Judgment Day arrived. They were all lined up on tables, and every 4-H’er had to stand behind his or her own creation. There I was with my little whitewashed, wobbly, shoebox-looking contraption down at the end of the table. That should have been a clue right there. But then I made the mistake of looking up toward the other end of the table at all the other wonders of construction.

I had never been so embarrassed in all my 12 years! Why, some of those jokers had built bird hotels and condos! And high rises with penthouse suites! I thought they must have hired architects and building engineers. Every lumber yard in the county was sold out. I can’t say this for sure, but I’ll bet some of ‘em even had hot and cold runnin’ water. They had more conveniences than the farmhouse that we lived in!

Any bird that had ever built a nest in a tree would be out of his gourd not to want to move his family into one of those deals. I looked at them. And then I looked back down at mine. I don’t think even a woodpecker would take a second glance.

As the Birdhouse Judges made their way down the line, they were smiling and laughing and making comments like ‘marvelous, wonderful, very creative, great job, and how interesting.’ And then they came to the end of the line. I had long since pushed the blue-ribbon idea out of my head. All I wanted to do now was find my way to the back door and hightail it out of there!

But the Birdhouse Judges just had to have their say. One of them pointed at my creation and here’s what I heard. “You made that with your very own two little hands, didn’t you, sonny boy?” Whoa, back the mule up, mister, them’s fightin’ words where I come from!

But, for fear of another trip to the woodshed for disrespectin’ grownups, I was able to bite my tongue and not say, “First of all, sir, I ain’t your sonny boy. And second of all, no, I didn’t make that with my very own two little hands. My brothers tied one of my hands behind my back.”

But then, this Birdhouse Judge Lady comes down the line. Her nose is so far in the air, she would have drowned in a shower of rain. She looks down at the table. She looks back up at me. All 3-foot-5-inches of raw bone country boy. And then she drove the final nail in any future plans I might have had to be a builder. “Is this a snake trap or a birdhouse?” Farm boys knew about snakes, and I thought I had just caught one. But I let that thought hurry out the back door of my brain, too.

Maybe you can see how I’ve come to appreciate handmade things in my old age. I think we’ve kept every refrigerator-art picture the kids ever made. And, packed up somewhere in one of those plastic tubs out there in the garage are two sets of their handprints set in plaster of Paris. And what card-carrying grandpa doesn’t love those handmade birthday cards?

So, it was with a great deal of anticipation that I came home from church last Sunday with a gift bag from our good friends, Nell and Mike Woodall. Inside the bag was the birthday present of a country boy’s dreams! Four of the most delicious homemade fried pies I have ever tasted. And believe it or not, I was able to follow the instructions to heat just enough till the crust was crunchy and the peach insides were oozin’ out.

As good as they were, it’s the thought of Nell making them by hand that will leave a sweet taste in my mouth for a long time to come. Some folks are just good at making things with their hands. It’s a gift. And the blessing of being on the receiving end of that gift is something that I’ll remember long after I’ve forgotten about my ill-fated birdhouse project!

Jesus was a carpenter’s son. He knew how to make things with his hands. He also knew and teaches us about sharing our gifts. The Bible says that it brings a smile to God’s face when we share. Don’t forget to do good and share with others for with such things God is pleased (Hebrews 13:16).

We know that all good and perfect gifts come from the Father. So I don’t think it matters to Him if our gift is as ugly as my birdhouse or as sweet as Nell’s fried pies. What matters most is that we share the love He’s given to us through whatever gift He’s entrusted to us. And then we come to Judgment Day, as we all will, it won’t be at all like Birdhouse Judgment Day. We’ll hear those sweet words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come on in.”

I just hope and pray He doesn’t hand me a hammer and some nails.

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FIVE PENNIES

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Our new word for today, class, is RAK. Please pay attention. There will be homework. The word is  pronounced ‘rack,’ as in the waiter’s question to me the other night at the barbecue place. “Sir, would you like a full rack of ribs or a half-rack?” Since I don’t believe in doing anything half-way (another lesson from the woodshed!), and since a full rack of ribs sounds so much better than half a rack, I just smiled. And he got the message!

Back home at Route 4, I also got Daddy’s message, but only after umpteen trips to the woodshed, where he always asked the same question. “Son, when are you going to learn to use your head for something besides a hat rack?” It was only after graduating from the University of the Woodshed that I learned that repetition was his teaching method. I guess that’s why I spent so much time at the ‘shed that I knew how many splinters were on every stick of wood in the whole place!

But a RAK has nothing to do with ribs, although they both bring pleasure and satisfaction. And a RAK has nothing to do with where you hang your clothes, although you’ll hang on to it for a long time after you get one. And a RAK doesn’t cost a penny, although it’s worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox. By the way, do they still keep gold in Fort Knox? I don’t really know, but that’s what farm boys in the 50’s used to think. Since a RAK is so valuable, you probably think it’s OK to collect them, right? Nope, that’s as wrong as ketchup on ice cream! A RAK only becomes valuable when you give it away! So now you’re thinking, enough already. Just what is a RAK? Thank you for asking.

RAK stands for Random Act of Kindness. Can I describe a RAK? Yep, ready or not, here it comes! A Random Act of Kindness has more flavors than Baskin-Robbins. It can be one thing today and tomorrow take a completely different form. Take, for instance, these different kinds of RAK’s. Workin’ down at the soup kitchen helpin’ to feed the hungry. Finding shelter for the homeless on a cold night.

Then, too, a RAK can also be something as small as a warm smile, a firm handshake, a hug, a kind word, or remembering to say thank you. Or maybe slowing down long enough to tell someone ‘you’re lookin’ especially nice today.’ And how ‘bout this one. ‘You’re carryin’ an armload of stuff, let me help you with that.’ That can be a big one. It might not be a real armload of stove wood that your neighbor is totin,’ but you can tell when they’re trying to carry a ten-gallon load in a five-gallon bucket.

Their load might just be so heavy, there’s absolutely no way that they can carry it by themselves.

That’s exactly where I found myself the other day. I had a load I could not carry. Sometimes it’s hard for folks to admit that they need help. But this load was so heavy, I knew without a doubt that I couldn’t handle it by myself. In my case, it was a physical load.

Furniture in the garage that needs to go in the house. Folks, I’m not talking about a what-not or a foot stool. I’m talking solid wood furniture that’s heavy enough to put you in a back brace for life.  If I was still goin’ to be able to walk upright in my remaining years, I had to have some help. I’m not kiddin’. It had to go down the hall. With sharp corners to turn. Watch out for the china cabinet. And try not to scratch the floor or the walls.

Not one, not two, not even three or four pieces, but five pieces of solid wood furniture that would have been a ‘full rack’ for a flat-bed truck! The only way it could have been worse would have been if it had to go upstairs. That would have involved a crane.

So, here I am, Lord, in bad need of a RAK. God must have surely had a smile on His face when Paul came ridin’ down our driveway. Now, if you’ve been to the woodshed with me over twice, you have to know that Paul is in the top two of my favorite Bible guys. So how appropriate was it that my RAK came from Paul. No, it didn’t come from the Apostle Paul ridin’ his donkey on the road to Damascus. But watch this now, stay with me. My RAK came from my new friend, Paul Hammond, who came ridin’ up with his wife Angie. By the way, there was more than one-donkey horsepower in Paul’s good-lookin’ pickup truck. Shoot! I forgot to ask if that thing had a hemi. Doesn’t matter anyway.

Now I had never met Paul. So this RAK actually started when Angie volunteered Paul’s help. I had mumbled something about feelin’ guilty about imposing on their Saturday morning. If she hadn’t voluntarily offered it, I probably wouldn’t have asked for Paul’s help. You know how guys are. And besides, He didn’t know me from Adam’s odd ox.

But Angie said, “If we didn’t want to help, I wouldn’t have offered it.” And that’s exactly what makes a RAK so valuable. Paul agreed to help without ever having laid eyes on me and my heavy wood furniture. Of course, had he known just how heavy it really was, he probably would have had second thoughts. And rightfully so. Paul’s RAK didn’t come without a price. Besides some sore muscles the next day, he also suffered a cut on one of his hands that drew some blood.

Do you see the correlation here? There once was a man named Jesus who paid a price He didn’t owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay. He carried a heavy wooden cross uphill to shed His blood and die for you and me. His muscles weren’t just sore. They were literally ripped from his body, along with his tendons and most of his skin, with a flesh-ripping, bone-tipped ugly whip. It was the ultimate RAK. Doin’ something for us that we couldn’t do for ourselves. Before we had ever met Him!!

So every time we perform a RAK, we’re like runners and bikers who wear reflective clothing at night. We’ll be reflectors of the love of Jesus if we’ll just slow down and keep our ‘feelers’ (antenna) up to notice and be aware of someone who needs a RAK.

Paul, the one with the donkey, not the one with the hemi, had a couple of things to say about being kind. Be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32). And always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else (1 Thessalonians 5:15), whether you know them or not. (The Italics are mine.) RAK’s are also helpful in remembering that whoever is kind to the needy honors God. Those are not my words. They belong to Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived (Proverbs 14:31).

So here’s your homework. Start your day tomorrow by taking five pennies out of your piggy bank or the ash tray in your car and put them in your left pocket. A nickel won’t work. It must be five pennies. And every time you perform a Random Act of Kindness, take one of the pennies out of your left pocket and put it in your right pocket.

At the end of the day, you’ll still have your five pennies, but you will have given away something many times more valuable. Someone you don’t even know just might need your touch to help carry their load. Or someone you do know could be saying, Hey, brother, can you spare a RAK? After all, how much is a penny worth? Just read the words of my old friend Paul the Apostle. Or ask me about my new friend Paul Hammond.

I think he has a pocket full of pennies!

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PUPPIES & PIGS

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

His hair was black as coal and he had tips of white on all four paws. So we named him Tippy.

Real creative, right? Anyway, it seemed to fit. Sort of a fun name, and that’s what Tippy was all about – fun. That Cocker Spaniel puppy loved to romp and tromp through the woods and fields with our bunch of farm boys. Wherever we went and whatever we were doing, or supposed to be doing, Tippy was right there by our side.

Through rain, sleet, or snow, it didn’t matter. I’ve seen him splashing with us in the swimming hole down at Coneross Creek, and I’ve seen him up to his belly in the snow as we headed for the barn to do our chores on a cold winter morning. If you looked up ‘faithful companion’ in the dictionary, you’d probably see Tippy’s picture.

I don’t remember where he came from. I just remember Daddy saying that Tippy was the pick of the litter. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but Tippy won a place in my heart when he learned to eat the boiled okra that we fed him through the knothole in the floor under the kitchen table. I didn’t know that dogs would eat that slick, slimy stuff.

I’ll bet if Kibbles & Bits had a boiled okra flavor, you could set a sack of it down in a ten-acre field and not a dog in the country would come near it. And to tell the truth, Tippy’s city cousins probably would turn up their noses and run from it. Sorta like some of us farm boys did back home at Route 4.

But, since he was the pick of the litter, I guess he was trying to fit in with his new playmates. That’s when I knew that litter was something good if he was the pick of it.

I was a little older the next time I heard that ‘pick of the litter’ phrase. I had chosen to raise pigs as my FFA project, and Daddy told me that the next time our Momma pig had little piglets, I could have the pick of the litter to begin my quest to become a world champ-een future farmer. They just forgot to tell me I’d have to feed and water those little mud-lovers twice a day! I think Tippy tried to help me out by sharing his stash of boiled okra with ‘em, but my pig-farming career ended almost before it began!

Even so, I always thought that litter was something nice since we had the pick of it. But you don’t hear ‘pick of the litter’ much anymore. These days pick up the litter seems to be more appropriate! Have you ever seen so much trash in your life? Even with our man-made trash mountains that we build at the landfill, our highways and byways are still littered with used bottles, cans, bags, greasy hamburger wrappers and empty soft drink cups. We are indeed a society of litter bugs.

Folks don’t give a second thought to tossing their trash by the side of the road creating a mess that others have to come along and clean up. That’s why I’m tipping my ol’ baseball cap today to the folks who participate in the Adopt-A-Highway program. They walk up and down our roadsides picking up other people’s trash. You’ve probably seen those orange bags full of trash. At several locations along the road this weekend, I saw piles of those orange bags, not just one or two every now and then.

It made me wonder for a minute if we’d litter God’s green earth if we still lived in the Garden of Eden. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible speaks of the beauty of the earth. For instance, in Gen. 1:31, ‘God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.’ And in Gen. 2:9, ‘the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.’ How can we possibly bear the thought of littering what was once so beautiful in His eyes?

Now turn over to John’s account of the city that he saw coming down out of Heaven from God. He described the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:16-19) that was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide, 1400 miles long, 1400 miles wide, and 1400 miles high. With 200-feet thick walls made out of jasper. The new city that John saw was made out of pure gold. And even its foundations were decorated with precious jewels. Do you reckon the Adopt-A-Highway folks will have to pick up litter along the Golden Avenue? I don’t think so!

Still in chapter 21 of Revelation, verses 26-27, John says that the glory and honor of the nations will be brought into the New Jerusalem. Nothing impure will be brought in, and no one who does anything shameful and deceitful will be allowed to enter its open gates. This is just me, but I think that shameful part includes making a mess out of what God created to be beautiful.

So I don’t think we’ll be seeing any piles of orange bags full of litter and trash waitin’ for somebody to come by with a truck to haul ‘em off. And I don’t think we’ll see any signs on the Streets of Gold that say ‘$100 fine for littering.’ Those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be so awestruck by its beauty and majesty, the thought of littering won’t even enter our minds.

Down here on earth, we’re just like those puppies and pigs back home on the farm. We make messes that somebody has to clean up. Likewise, spiritually we’re nothing but litter and trash. It’s been that way ever since sin entered the Garden of Eden. As my pastor, Dr. David Gallamore has said a hundred times or more, sin will take you further than you want to go, make you stay longer than you want to stay, and make you pay more than you want to pay. And when it’s through with us, sin throws us out on the side of the road.

In fact, sin made such a trashy mess of our lives until, about two thousand years ago, God decided that the only way to make His Creation beautiful again was to send His only Son to walk down our road and pick up the litter. But instead of hauling it away to be destroyed, Jesus picked us up, adopted US instead of the highway, and gave us a new direction.

And what is that new direction? Thanks for asking. Flip back over to the first chapter of Genesis, verse 27, where it all started. So God created man in His own image, both male and female He created them in the image of God. He didn’t make any junk, and even when sin leaves us stained and dirty like roadside litter, we’re still precious in His sight. And if we’ll let Him, He will adopt us, clean us up, and write our name in His Lamb’s Book of Life and, thereby, giving us entry into His New City.

And why does God choose to reclaim and redeem us? Yep, you guessed it.

We’re His pick of the litter!

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DO YOU BELIEVE!!!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

As Yogi Berra once said, ‘It was almost déjà vu all over again.’ The USA Olympic hockey team, in their home blue uniforms, is playing for the gold medal on the last day of the Winter Olympics. Team USA is down 2-1 to the red-clad Canadians with time running out. The fans in blue were chanting ‘U-S-A, U-S-A!’

The announcers couldn’t even hear themselves over the noise of the crowd as they screamed, ‘DO YOU BELIEVE?’ And just before time ran out, USA scored to tie the game at 2-2, and send it into sudden death overtime. Instant bedlam! First team to score wins the gold medal.

Did we dare to believe? Could it be true? Would team USA roll back 30 years to 1980 and pull off another ‘Miracle on Ice?’ Would the boys in blue stand tall on the podium and have gold medals placed around their necks while the Star Spangled Banner was played and Old Glory was raised once again?

ALMOST!!! But not quite. Russia, excuse me, I mean Canada scores first and it’s over. The collective hearts of everyone in blue sank like a rock thrown in the creek. The game is over. We lost. No gold medal this time. Only the bitter taste of silver.

Is it just me, or does the word almost leave an empty taste in your mouth, too? An adverb (thank you again, Miss Barron!) meaning ‘very nearly.’ So close, but yet so far away. And, as we used to say back home on the farm at Route 4, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

If you don’t mind, please take a short trip back with me back down that Route 4 dirt road. A watermelon that was very nearly ripe looked almost like the real deal. But, oh, the taste! It reminds me of the time that George and Oliver convinced me to chomp down on a handful of green persimmons. They were almost ripe, according to the wisdom of my older brothers!

But hope springs eternal, and already they’re saying, ‘just wait till next year.’ And on this cold winter morning, some young 8-year-old straps on his ice skates as Mom or Dad drives him through the pre-dawn hours to the local skatin’ rink. He’ll practice long and hard just hopin’ that someday he’ll really be there, not very nearly there, when the gold medals are passed out.

Ok, OK, I’ll get to my point. Where will you and I be when the gold medal ceremony is held for this real life battle that we face with the forces of evil every day of our lives? In the hockey players’ minds, there’ll be another Olympics in four years. Another chance to go for the gold. But, make no mistake, my friends, our war has only one outcome. And it’s forever. Saved or lost. No second or third place. No silver or bronze medals.

But there’s only one problem. We don’t know how much time is left on the clock. It may be in sudden death overtime already. Why not play this ‘game’ of life like the score is tied and the clock is running out? In my red-letter edition of Matthew 24:36-44, Jesus said that not even the angels in Heaven know the hour or the day.

He will not make an appointment with us before He comes to take His team home. In the days of Noah, people were going about their normal daily activities, even up to the day that Noah went aboard the ark. They knew nothing about what was about to happen.

And so it will be when Jesus announces that the clock has run out. Two men plowin’ their field. Only one of them is ready. One will be taken; the other left. Two women at work in their office. Only one of them is ready. One will be taken, the other left. Three spaces under almost in my Webster’s New World Vest Pocket Dictionary is another adverb, alone. As in ‘with no other.’    

So it just makes plain good sense to me that we should get ready and stay ready (v. 42). After all, if you knew that the game would be over tomorrow, would there be any urgency in gettin’ ready today? Are you almost there? Very nearly ready to live for the One who died for us?

I saw a church sign that said ‘To be almost saved is to be totally lost.’ Yes, the USA hockey players lost their game. But in the game that counts, they, and you and I, can still score and win. We just don’t know how much time is left on the clock.

So what’s our game plan? What plays do we need to run? What do we need to do to secure the victory? That same question was asked a long time ago by the jailer where Paul and Silas, a couple of God’s players, had been locked up after taking a real beating (Acts 16:25-34).

About midnight, the clock ran out. Sound asleep, the jailer had no idea. But God said that anybody who believed could be on His team. So He started recruiting the jailer and his family. In a very unusual way. But first He had to get the jailer’s attention. So He sent an earthquake that shook the prison so hard, the doors flew open and the chains fell off of Paul and Silas and everybody else!

When he woke up, the jailer knew immediately that his team had lost. But just before he was about to kill himself, he thought maybe, just maybe, he could change jerseys and play on the winning team. He needed a miracle or the game was over for him.

One of my favorite gospel groups of all time was The Cathedrals. Some of them are singing in the Heavenly Choir now, but they used to sing a song about winning that says it all. One of the verses goes like this.

We all wanna be winners in the games of life that we play. But, friends, if we’re just sinners, we’ve already lost the race. But listen, Jesus’ blood can take that sin and throw it in the deep blue sea. He can put an end to your last-place living and give you the victory. Then you can sing, “I’ve read the back of the book and we win. No more living in darkness, we’ll be living with Him. There ain’t no need to worry about it if you’re born again. ‘Cause I’ve read the back of the book and we win!”    

So the jailer asked the co-captains of God’s team what he needed to do to be on their team (v. 30). And Paul and Silas called the play that won the gold medal. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you and all your family will be saved” (v.31). Even at that hour of the night, the jailer and all his family were baptized onto a new team, the winning team.

Take your highlighter or pen and draw circles around verse 34. It describes a gold medal miracle unlike any hockey team has ever or will ever experience. And it’s available for you and me, as they say, for a limited time only, because we don’t keep the clock.

‘The jailer was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family.’ 

DO YOU BELIEVE???

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