Archive for April, 2011

SPIT IT OUT!

Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

Have you ever read something, and then rubbed your eyes in disbelief? Even to the point of going back and re-reading it? Did that really say what I think it said? That’s exactly what happened to me the other day. And when I ‘splain it to you, you’re gonna think I’m making it up. But my hand on the Bible, this is true.

It landed smack-dab in the middle of my Inbox, courtesy of the good folks at the Anderson Independent-Mail newspaper’s website. The headline on the article said, “South Carolina senators name collards state vegetable.”
Do what? Come again? Well, I read the headline again. Same result. After my Route 4, Seneca, SC mind recovered from shock, I read the short news article under the headline.

It seems that the esteemed (or steamed, pardon the pun) members of this law-making group in Columbia decided to name collard greens as the state’s official vegetable by a vote of 30-12. I told you you’d think I was making it up. Wrong. I made myself a copy of this story just in case.

I try to keep up with things, but I didn’t even know that we didn’t have a state vegetable. Or needed one for that matter. Was it a slow day in the senate? Did they not have enough on their mind already with jobs and the economy and education and budget shortfalls and other important stuff like that?

Or, as I suspect, were they just sittin’ around the State House cafeteria at lunch one day and decided to have some fun? Had they ingested fried chicken, mashed taters and gravy, mac and cheese, rolls, and corn-on-the-cob for the umpteenth day in a row? And someone suggested that there ought to be something on the menu to help make them more regular? And I’m not talkin’ about attendance here, folks.

How would you have liked to listen in on their discussion and debate of this issue? One senator wondered out loud why collards deserved such a high honor, and not something that folks actually cared for. Like green beans cooked in fat back with a streak of lean. Another senator spoke up and said it needed to be a leafy vegetable, and green beans didn’t qualify. Out of order, sir. Sit down and eat your collard greens!

You want to know what I find most interesting about this whole deal? Thank you for asking. It was the vote. We have 46 people in that room under the capitol dome charged with the responsibility of enacting important legislation. And the vote was 30-12. Did 4 people abstain from voting because of a conflict of interest? Maybe they’re in cahoots as silent partners in one of those roadside, u-pick-em collard stands. And what were those 12 nay-sayers holding out for? Poke salad, maybe or cabbage?

I say all that to say this. I sure am thankful for those 30 senators who voted for collard greens. Not that I’m a big fan of ‘em. Or of their cousin, the slightly more popular turnip greens. Just another way to mess up a good pone of cornbread by pouring that pot liquor all over it. But my heart swells up so much, I feel like drivin’ to Columbia to express my eternal gratitude to those 30 folks who voted for collard greens. If they had voted for slick and slimy boiled okra, me and my mill-hill bride would have had to start looking at houses across the state line!

I still have nightmares of Daddy showing us boys back home how to hold that pod of nastiness up about head-high, bite it off at the stem, and let it ooze down our throats. I can say I did it twice – my first and last time all at once. I just wanted to spit it out right there on the kitchen table. But, of course, that would have earned me another merit badge at the woodshed.

And speaking of gettin’ rid of something that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, check out this story in Rev. 3:15-16. God was about to take some folks to His ‘woodshed’ for puttin’ such a bad taste in His mouth. He told the folks at Laodicea that He knew all about them, and He was about ready to spit them out of His mouth. They weren’t hot and they weren’t cold. He told them He wished they were one or the other. But they were just lukewarm. Sorta like that boiled okra back home after it’s cooled off enough not to burn your throat. I’d rather chew the bark off a chinaberry tree!

With that in mind, I have to ask myself, “Self, does my life taste like boiled okra in the mouth of Jesus?” Now, you might be a fan of that stuff. And if you are, I’ll pray for you. But try to think of the nastiest, slimiest, gaggin’ stuff that would make you spit it out the second it touched your taste buds. And then ask yourself the same question, “Does my life leave that kind of taste in Jesus’ mouth?” This is just me talking, but it sure seems like many people in the world today are running a huge risk of being spit out of the mouth of God come judgment day.

And if that happens, the place where they would go would leave such a bad taste in their mouth, they couldn’t wash it out with Mother’s Octagon soap.

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DIAL 9 TO GET OUT!

Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

In this age of revolutionary technological advances, I’m continually amazed at how long it takes me sometimes to get to talk to a ‘live’ person on the other end of my call. For example, here’s what I heard the other day when I placed a call.

As soon as the call was answered, I said ‘Hello?’ and started talking. Silly me. Shows my age. After a brief pause, someone started talking on the other end. “Please be advised that this call may be recorded for training purposes.” OK, I thought, I’ll be polite. And then the ‘Voice’ said, “If you know your party’s extension, you may dial it at any time during this call. Or for a complete listing of all company personnel by last name, please press one-nine.”

Since I didn’t know my party’s extension, and I didn’t want to hear the last name of every person who worked there, she had me hooked, so the Voice continued. “Please listen closely to the following menu as our options have recently changed.” I looked around for a camera. How could she tell that I wasn’t hanging on her every word?

And another thing – what menu? Did I dial a wrong number and get a restaurant by mistake? And while I’m asking no one in particular, what happened to the lady with the nice voice who for many years had answered my calls with, “Good Morning, Sir, how may I direct your call?” Did she fail her training?

Now it’s time for the Voice to go through the menu like a waitress reciting the specials of the day. “Press one for English. Press 2 for the sales department. Press 3 to check on a recent order. Press 4 to place a new order. Press 5 and enter your tracking number to trace your shipment. Press 6 to be transferred to technical support. Press 7 to be transferred to administration. For our office hours and address, press 8.”

By now, I’ve long since forgotten the purpose of my call. That was about the time that I heard the Voice say, “To hear these options again, press 9.” Yeah, hold your breath, lady, till I press 9. And as I was looking for the panic button to push, I heard her say, “To end this call, press ‘pound’ or hang up now.” As I stared at my phone in complete disbelief, I heard a dial tone and a different Voice, “If you’d like to make a call……” And that’s why I had to go shopping for a new telephone!

Can you just imagine having to go through a menu like that with one of the old rotary dial phones like we used to have? Of course, back home at Route 4, Seneca, SC, I can remember when we got our first big black rotary dial phone. And, by show of hands, how many of you can remember being on a six-family party line?

I could never remember if we were 2 longs and a short or 2 shorts and a long. So, I’d make a bee-line for that thing every time it rang. Oh, the fun we would have on those things when Mother and Daddy weren’t watching or listening! And most of the other five families were kin to us, so when they caught us listenin’ on the line, they’d say things that we’d go blabber-mouthin’ all over the community.

And it was great stuff, too. I’m talking big headlines… like Lane Morgan gettin’ caught skinny dippin’ in Coneross Creek….or like Ray Nix gettin’ hitched to that sweet Williams girl. What did she see in him, anyway? Or like Thomas Bramlett and brother Oliver gettin’ caught speedin’ in their souped-up jalopies. I think they were doing 60 or something like that right down through the middle of Oakway.

I couldn’t swear to this with my hand on the Bible, but I think Mother and Daddy (and maybe some of our aunts and uncles, too!) secretly listened in on the party line when us kids were totin’ stove wood or drawin’ water or milkin’ Ol’ Bessie. What makes me believe that? Thanks for asking.

Have you ever been caught doing something or being somewhere you weren’t supposed to be doing or being? And your folks already knew about it before you got home? Yep, you guessed it. The ol’ party-line phone system. “Hello, Woodshed. Yeah, it’s me again, back for another visit, no hidin’ place down here!”

I guess all this was rumblin’ around in my noggin the other day when I left my cell phone in the front seat of my car. I asked the perky young, 20-something receptionist if I could use the phone. Her reply of “No problem, mister,” as she was checking out my lack of hair, should have tipped me off. ‘Cause when I asked her another question, it just completely caused a short-circuit in her hard drive. And all I said was, “Do I need to dial 9 to get out?”

The look on her face told me she thought I was a pre-historic dinosaur from another planet. She jumped up, ran over to another person’s desk where I saw her pointin’ back at me. And they BOTH laughed out loud!

We probably won’t ever have to ‘dial 9 to get out’ again from our phones. But there is still and will always be a time to use that phrase. And it just happens to be the 9th Psalm. David gives us some very good advice about ‘getting out.’ Out of what, you say? How ‘bout gettin’ out of loneliness, fear, anxiety, sickness, depression, doubt, danger? David knew his share of all those situations, and his advice in the first 9 verses of Psalm 9 can be a life-line for us to call out to God for His help when we’re in similar circumstances.

In verse 1, David remembers to praise the Lord and tell others of all the wonderful things that God has already done in our lives. Much more good stuff in between, and in verse 9, he talks about a ‘refuge and a stronghold in times of trouble.’ Wonderful scripture. Read all 9 verses. Memorize them. Print it out and put it on the refrigerator door.

And the next time you don’t know who to call, just remember – “Dial 9 to get out!”

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EASTER MONDAY!

Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

Whenever there was a ‘scrap’ between any of us boys back home, and the little ‘tattle-tale’ went running to Mother, the first question out of her mouth was, “What happened?” I think it was her God-given patience and long-suffering that allowed her to listen to both sides of any squabble involving her six boys and three girls.

She would patiently listen to the evidence presented by both sides before presenting her ruling. Unless it was the fourth or fifth time that we’d been in front of her on the same day. On those occasions, we’d hear, “Boys, you are trying my patience.” And we surely must have done that so many times in which she never said anything.

But most of the time, it was that gentle ‘what happened’ question that allowed us some cooling off time. But the first thing she always had to do was settle the argument of who goes first in presenting his case. That was easy. All she had to do was just mention the possibility of turning the matter over to the ‘Court of the Woodshed’ with ‘Judge’ Daddy presiding. That would calm down a couple of farm boys quicker than a bucket of water on a campfire!

Like the time that I ‘borrowed’ Daddy’s good hammer from his tool box and proceeded to straighten some rusty, bent nails on a big rock. See, we had this old red-wagon frame that the bed had long since rusted out. We devised a plan to take a couple of those old, almost straight nails and nail the planks together and tie this rustic seat to the frame and wheels of the wagon. Then we could all take turns riding down the hill towards Coneross Creek.

Well, the plan got side-tracked before we ever took our first ride down the hill. Wade was holding the rusty, crooked nails while I used the aforementioned hammer to straighten them. About the time I took my first swing, Oliver ‘goosed’ me in the ribs. That caused me to swing the aforementioned hammer too hard. I proceeded to miss the crooked nail, hit Wade’s finger, and break the hammer handle on the rock all with one swing! You can just imagine the scene in Mother’s ‘lower courtroom.’

But, once again, she was successful in settling the case out of court, and it was back to the drawing board on the wagon ride. Sometime the next day we were finally able to get the nails straightened (with a backup hammer), nail the two planks together and, with the help of some hay-balin’ twine, tie ‘em to the wheels and head for the hill.

Ollie, being the oldest and biggest of this farm-boy construction trio, had to have the first ride. In retrospect, that was probably his first mistake. Since it was his jab in my ribs that caused our appearance on Mother’s docket the day before, I persuaded Wade to help me give Ollie a launch from the top of the hill.

When he was settled on our newly constructed, two-board seat, and holding on to another piece of hay-balin’ twine, we didn’t wait for his countdown. We just pushed as hard as we could. The next thing we knew the wheels were coming off about half-way down the hill and going toward the East, while Ollie and the rest of the wagon were headed West.

When he had chased us all the way back to Mother’s ‘courtroom,’ her first words were, “What happened?” I just blamed it on the wheels coming off. But we all still had to apologize and say we were sorry and forgive each other.

On this Monday after Easter, I’m just wondering if Jesus’ disciples also must have been thinkin’ the ‘wheels had come off.’ It’s a great story. Check it out in Luke 24:9-12. The two Mary’s and the other women who had gone to the tomb of Jesus, only to find it empty, had been scared half-to-death by a couple of angels who reminded them what Jesus had told them about what was going to happen while He was still with them in Galilee.

When the women got their wits back and reported to the Eleven and told them what the angels had said, these eleven guys who had been eyewitness to Jesus’ miracles, did not believe the women. In fact, they thought it was so much nonsense! But Peter had to see for himself. He got up and ran to see the empty tomb, but even seein’ was not believin’ for ol’ Peter. In the last part of verse 12, we read that Peter ‘went away wondering what had happened.’

Of course, we know that Peter later found forgiveness from our Lord, and found out what had happened when Jesus said, “Go tell my disciples, AND PETER.” So, what he and the other disciples first thought was bad news, turned out to be the best ‘Good News’ the world has ever heard. It was as simple as 2 plus 2 equals 4. Like the sign I saw out front of a country church, “2 nails plus 2 pieces of wood = 4-giveness.’

Good little piece of math to remember next time we think the wheels have come off!

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WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

Do you ever wonder where are all the people whom you’ve met in your life? This can be entertaining, to say the least. Just start with the first day you went to school. Can’t remember back that far? Well, flip through the Rolodex of your memory until you come to the first “Oh, yeah, I wonder where they are and what they’re doing now. If you’re over forty, this could take a while.

Now, put on the thinking cap. All the people you ever went to grammar school with. Also high school and college. All the teachers and principals you knew and loved. All the coaches and team mates you had on every peewee, mite, midget, and termite teams in all recreation department sports. Plus junior high and high school teams. And everyone you ever took dance, piano, voice, guitar, or hog-calling lessons with.

Now turn to work. Call up the names of all your fellow workers you ever had on all those part-time jobs. Your bagboy buddies, for example. And then all the bosses and all the managers and all the supervisors of all the various jobs throughout your adult life. See what I mean? Taxing on the brain cells, right? Someone once said that old age is when your supply of brain cells is finally down to a manageable size. Ain’t that just the gospel truth!

Is there a point to this seemingly mind-numbing exercise? Thought you’d never ask. Ask anyone who grew up in the ‘Route 4’ way of life if they remember their friends. I can tell you everyone we ever went skinny-dipping with. And everybody who ever played cow pasture baseball with us. Including those who learned the hard way not to slide into third base! And I don’t have to Google them!

Also our buddies in Sunday School and even VBS. I could even call the names of the ones who got us into trouble in big church after we were old enough not to have to sit with our parents. Yep, seems just like yesterday, but I won’t call any names here. Just be sure to get a copy of the soon-to-be published “Woodshed Wisdom, Vol. 1,” due out about Christmas time. Thanks for not gettin’ up and going to the bathroom during that commercial! But we do remember the folks who walk the ‘dirt roads’ of our lives with us, don’t we?

Anyway, the thought of all this is fresh (like third base!) as my mill-hill bride and I, and many others are preparing for the 50th Anniversary of our high school graduation. Now, stop it already with the old-timers jokes. Although I like the one about the Dead Sea not even being sick yet when we were kids!

But, in discussions about contacting everyone, there’s been an oft-repeated question. Whatever happened to so-and-so and wonder where they are now? And then somebody says, “Just Google their name and find out anything you want to know.” Wouldn’t Miss Barron in senior English have had fun teaching us how to conjugate the verb ‘Google?’

While I’m on that subject, and since it is Easter, I’d like to Google a couple of names from the Bible and see what I can find out. The first one is Pilate. That ol’ governor had three chances to do what was right and he blew them ALL, is spite of what his wife tried to tell him (Matthew 27:19). Hey, guys, it just goes to show us. We should listen to our wives when they have something to say. You’re welcome, girls!

Don’t let this Easter Season pass without reading the account of Jesus’ appearance before Pilate in Luke 23:1-25. It’s a great lesson about Pilate’s back trouble – he had a big yellow streak down the middle –and what happens when we follow the crowd even when we know the crowd is wrong.

You’re right. In the end, Pilate caved in to the herd and ‘stepped in something that he couldn’t wash off.’ What I’d like to know is what happened to Pilate after he rubbed his hands raw trying to wash the blood of Jesus from his hands. And did he ever hear the end of it from his wife for not listening to her advice.

The other name I’d like to Google is Barabbas, the convicted murderer that Pilate set free in order to pacify the mob. Did Barabbas slink away and catch the first donkey out of town? Or did he stay and watch what happened to the Man who took his place on the cross? If so, did he flinch when the soldiers drove the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet? Did he feel the whip when Jesus was beaten and flogged? Did he hold on to his head when they mashed those awful thorns in Jesus’ brow? And did he feel like throwing up when they jabbed that spear into Jesus’ side and the blood and water came spurtin’ out?

I’ll admit, it would be a gruesome story to read, if it wasn’t for the life-changing impact of those 10 little words that Jesus uttered as His life blood ran down the cross to the ground below. And it’s a prayer that could change lives even today if we’ll pray it every time someone does us wrong.

“Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.”

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TGIF??

Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

Some folks have been looking forward to today ever since Monday morning. Thank goodness it’s Friday. The end of the work week. The beginning of the weekend. Yah-Hoo. Let’s have a party and celebrate our two-day freedom. I read somewhere that ‘the experts’ have done studies on such things, and come to the conclusion that productiveness in the workplace will actually start a downhill slide after about the first coffee break this morning. And you might as well forget about accomplishing anything of significance after twelve noon on Friday.

I’m almost positive those so-called experts didn’t drive down that dirt road to our farm back home at Route 4, Seneca, SC, and include my Daddy’s opinion in their survey. If they had, he would have told them that the arrival of Friday around our house meant that there was only one more full day in the work week before the Sunday ‘drug’ problem had to be dealt with.

Yeah, I know. You’re a paragraph ahead of me here. Most kids I grew up with had that same ‘drug’ problem. We got drug to church every time the doors were open. Twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday. And twice a year, it was every night of the week during those seven-day Spring and Fall revivals.

But today, this Friday carries a much heavier meaning than just the end of the work week. As I write in the pre-dawn hours of this Good Friday morning, it seems a bit darker than usual. Probably because of the clouds and rain. That might put a damper on that TFIG feeling. But most folks will still be a little giddy at work, if they’re even at work today. They won’t let the darkness of the sky ruin their plans for the weekend. In fact, most of the world will go about their day today with a ‘business as usual’ attitude.

I don’t know about you, but dark is a downer for me. In fact, my mill hill bride and I both are just a wee bit happier when we can be in the house at night at least by dark-thirty. Maybe it’s just because we’re ‘chronologically challenged.’ Don’t call us old. Or maybe I can just trace it back home to the farm. Buddy, when it got dark there, it was DARK. No amber-glow of street lights. No backyard security lights that come on automatically at dusky dark. No beacons to light up the night sky. Just darkness everywhere. Why, you could stand ten feet outside Mother’s 40-watt kitchen light, and it would be so dark, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. And sometimes you imagined seeing hands that weren’t your hands in front of your face.

And speaking of darkness on this Good Friday morning, there’s a question that keeps bouncing off the walls inside my brain like a racquet ball. When Jesus was hanging on the cross from noon to three o’clock (Matthew 27:45), darkness came over all the land.
And a lot other bad stuff happened in the dark that Friday. The curtain of the temple tore in two from top to bottom. There was an earthquake that split the rocks open. And many holy people who had been graveyard dead and buried came out of their tombs (Matthew 27:51-53).

So, with all that going on, how in the name of Sam Hill, can we call it Good Friday? Assuming that ‘good’ makes us ‘happy,’ it’s as hard as a flint rock for me to imagine anything good or happy about a day known for darkness and sadness. Even in a world seemingly obsessed with the pursuit of personal happiness, how can we be happy and celebrate such tragedy?

On this side of Calvary, we already know the answer to that question because it’s an open book test. The Bible is like a parachute. It works best when it’s open! And when we open it to Luke 23:34, we can begin to understand, in some small way, the overwhelming magnitude of Jesus’ unconditional love and forgiveness for you and me. A love so amazing that He would allow Himself to be brutally murdered, even though He had done nothing wrong. And He even had to pay that steep price for my sin in advance, before I ever knew Him.

I can still hear Jake Hess singing that great gospel song written by Ronald Payne and Ronnie Hinson, “When He Was On The Cross, I Was On His Mind.” One of the verses goes like this – sing along if you remember – “No one ever cared for me like Jesus, there’s no other friend so kind as He; no one else could take my sin and darkness from me; Oh, how much He cares for me.”

He had me (and you) on His mind while He was on the cross. That is, indeed, enough reason for me to be happy.

Turn on every light in the house! Let’s celebrate! It’s GOOD FRIDAY!

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TASTE BUDS

Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

What’s your earliest recollection of taste? When you put something in your mouth and you knew immediately that it was either very, very wonderful. Or it was the most horrible, spew-it-out-of-your-mouth experience you’ve ever encountered.

For me, it occurred very early in life back home on the farm. And it wasn’t the sweetness of ice cold watermelons cooling in Johnson’s branch all day. Or fresh maters and taters straight out of the garden. Or Mother’s hot, buttered biscuits with a sweet cantaloupe that I had grown personally.

No, those tastes are numerous and would come later and forever be stored in the hard drive of my memory bank. To be called up at will and enjoyed over and over all my life whenever I wanted to ‘savor the flavor.’ Want proof? OK, don’t raise your hands, but how many times have you said, “I can just taste it now?”

But in another folder in my mental memory is a taste that also won’t soon be forgotten, and, hopefully, never experienced again. It’s the memory of being tricked by my older brothers into eatin’ a green persimmon. “Come on, just taste it,” they said, “You’ll be amazed by the flavor.”

And in a perverse kind of way, they were telling the truth.
If you’ve ever tasted a green persimmon, maybe you’ve been fortunate not to think about it for a long time. But the minute you read this, the memory of that taste will turn your mouth wrongside out all over again.

This is just me, but I believe that when God was putting us together and wiring us up and ‘breathin’ the breath of life into our nostrils,’ He put those tiny little thing-a-majigs in our mouths called taste buds. And for good reason.

Just try to imagine life without your taste buds. How in the world would you be able to tell the difference between boiled okra (gag-gag-gag) and coconut cake? Case in point. Ralph Nix, my boyhood buddy and lifelong friend, gets real spiritual when he hears the words ‘boiled okra.’ According to the gospel of Ralph, when it comes to okra, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” Can I get an Amen?

Need further evidence of the power of taste buds? OK, without ‘em, you might just swallow a big bowl of turnip greens thinking it was homemade peach ice cream. Get my point? And for you doubting Thomas’s out there, I have a wheelbarrow load of evidence.

Without taste buds, how would you know if you’re eatin’ chopped liver or hot, buttered cornbread? Pickled pigs feet or cathead biscuits after they’re drowned in sawmill gravy?

Not convinced yet? Without taste buds, you could be gulping down a big swig of cod liver oil, thinking it was sweet ice tea. Or maybe you’re puttin’ down a mess of sardines, thinking it was sweet potato cobbler with a topping of criss-crossed brown dough with sugar on top.

In short, those God-given taste buds allow us to taste something absolutely wonderful, or taste something absolutely putrid, and the ability to know the difference. As my mill-hill bride said last night when I added a different ingredient on her tossed salad, “Something just doesn’t taste right.” And just to make her point, she added, “oooh, this stuff tastes awful.” Her taste buds were working overtime.

Why, you’re asking, has this guy’s mind run off in the ditch beside that dirt road and got stuck on taste? Well, here’s why. First of all, the Holy Spirit said, “Talk about your taste buds.” And I’ve obeyed quite well, haven’t I? And secondly, maybe, just maybe, you’ve tasted some of the world’s green persimmons, thinking that you were supposed to be enjoying grits and red-eye gravy.

OK, class, I see those hands. Application to daily living coming right up. Have you ever been disappointed by someone after believin’ they would be a true friend? Ever been the subject of slander or malicious gossip? Been looking for mouth-waterin’ satisfaction in worldly power, prestige, or position?

Maybe you’ve plowed through the fields of many different jobs, come to the end of that row, and thought, “how did I wind up with such a bad taste in my mouth?” Or could it be that you’ve tasted ‘comparison-itis?’ Looking at your neighbor’s garden, and wondering why you haven’t been blessed with delicious sweet corn and pole beans like he has.

Friends, we need to look no further than the shepherd boy turned psalmist. David was a man after God’s own heart. He even wrote that great twenty-third Psalm that we know and love. But he also knew his share of troubles and trials that he just couldn’t swallow.

Before you go to sleep tonight, please read Psalm 34:1-8. David wrote this while pretending to be insane. I personally think the man’s mind was perfect when he penned these words. I want to dig down real deep right here and plant a flag in verse 8. Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.

Like my brothers told me, “Just taste and you’ll be amazed.” God gave us those taste buds for a reason – to savor the flavor of what we taste in life. Some things are like those green persimmons – a bitter pill to swallow and best if never tasted again.

And then there are things we taste and enjoy when we put our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Like good friends, sunsets, sunrises, full moons, new-born babies, a grand-mother’s kiss, being fed till we’re full from God’s plate – His Holy Word, just to mention a few.

Once we taste His goodness, we’ll be as happy as a squirrel under a hickory nut tree.

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A POT FULL OF PANSIES

Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

Have you had one of those AH-HAH moments lately? You know, where something just clicks in the ol’ noggin, the light bulb comes on, and you just want to shout “YES, I GET IT” as you pump the air with your clenched fist?

I had one of those the other day as I was watering some pansies for a friend who was out of town. My first thought was the awesome beauty of this hearty little flower. They never grow very high, always down on the ground within easy rich of kids and dogs. I’ve even seen pansies bloomin’ while snow was fallin’ all around them.

And I never cease to be awestruck by the richness of their color. These yellows and purples that I was waterin’ looked like blazin’ suns and royal linens. You can almost see them blushing when they realize you’ve discovered their breath-takin’ beauty!

And when I moved out of their presence to keep from staring at them, this ol’ country boy’s mind wandered back to the ‘flowers’ of my youth. Nothing quite so colorful ever grew on the farm back home at Route 4, Seneca, SC. Just bitter weeds and wild onions!

Although the bitter weeds were yellow and the wild onions were green, it was their taste and not their color that creeps into the recesses of my memory, even now, over half-a-century later. Allow me to splainify myself.

Bitter weeds and wild onions grew only in the pasture. We didn’t know what a lawn was. Didn’t even own a lawnmower. Didn’t need one when you swept the front yard with a brush broom. And, of course, Ol’ Bessie, the family milk-giver, munched on bitter weeds and wild onions in the pasture. Therein lies the rub.

Get this picture. After a hard day’s work, you’ve washed your hands on the back porch, pretending to dry them on your britches as you run to the kitchen table where Mother has just taken a big pone of hot cornbread out of the oven! If someone ever put the aroma of hot-buttered cornbread in one of those air fresh’ners that you hang on the rear view mirror in your car, I’d stand in line to buy a case of ‘em!

But, wait a minute – back to the kitchen table. You crumble up a big chunk of that droolin’ delight in your bowl and proceed to drown it with a jug of Ol’ Bessie’s finest un-pasteurized, un-homogenized sweet milk. But hold the phone – stop the presses. The first bite makes you set a new land speed record in getting outside to the back porch for a stomach-pumpin’ upheaval. You know immediately that Ol’ Bessie has snacked on bitter weeds and wild onions. Country boys don’t soon forget such traumatic experiences.

So what’s the connection between the blinding beauty of the pansies and the foul-tasting stench of bitter weeds and wild onions? Glad you asked. It’s one word – worry. Yes, I said worry.

In the red-letter words of the Lord in Matthew 6, Jesus has a little heart-to-heart with us about worry. See, He knows how we humans are prone to worry. And food and clothes are two of the biggies. For instance, have you ever found yourself thinking, ‘what’s for dinner?’ Or, staring into the closet, you ask yourself, ‘what in the world am I going to wear today?’ Jesus also knows how Satan thinks. He knows the ol‘ devil likes to get us worried, anxious, frustrated, and up-tight about things that don’t amount to a hill of beans.

In verses 25-27, Jesus said, “Take a look at the birds of the air.” Ever wonder why He brought up the subject of birds? Could it be that birds don’t worry about jobs, or unemployment, or high gas prices, or non-existent savings accounts, or delayed retirement years? And yet, Jesus said, our Heavenly Father feeds them. What I need to remember, in times as troubling as we live in today, is that Jesus died for ME, not the birds.

And in verses 28-29, He talks about the un-paralleled beauty of flowers like lilies of the field. And pansies, too. I like verse 29. If I have something on my mind that Satan is trying to get me to worry about, all I have to do is look at a pot full of pansies, and think about these words of the Savior. “Not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.”

If He sends someone to fertilize and water the flowers, shouldn’t I have enough gumption (a Route 4 word for faith) to realize that He knows what I need? And will supply my every need according to His never-ending supply of riches. Without me worrying myself sick over it.

There used to be an old song about worry that I haven’t heard in awhile. It had a line that went something like this, “it takes a worried man to sing a worried song.” Got something on your heart and mind that the devil wants you to worry about today? Go get yourself a pot full of pansies and set ‘em on your front porch.

And while you’re at the store, get you a good pair of sun glasses. Like Mother used to say, “Boys, you could go blind staring at the sun.”

Ed. Note: Please join Helen & I today in praising God for His faithfulness. After almost two years of asking Him to lead us to a Christian publisher, we are happy to announce that we’ve signed an author’s contract with Tate Publishing Company of Oklahoma. It was only through God’s grace, mercy, and love that He brought us to a publisher with such a rich Christian heritage. And we give Him all the credit, praise, and glory. Oh, yeah, by the way, look for “Woodshed Wisdom, Vol. 1,” on the shelves of your favorite bookstore around Christmas. What an awesome time to give a gift of love from the ‘shed’ as we’ll be celebrating the greatest gift the world has ever known – the birth of our Savior. Please continue to remember us in your prayers as we seek to follow His will. And thank you from the bottom of our heart for your awesome support of Woodshed Wisdom!

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DEAD TREES!

Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

Question of the day: Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed all the dead trees that have fallen recently along our roads and highways?

I’m told that it’s the combination of rain softening up the ground followed by strong winds that has caused more than the normal number of fallen trees.

I’m not talking about the huge live trees that we see on television that have been uprooted and blown into houses and cars and streets by tornadoes and other natural disasters.

Now you may think my ol’ brain is slippin’ and slidin’ like our old pulpwood truck used to do on that muddy dirt road back home at Route 4 after a six-inch rain.

And with that mental picture, come with me as we study that big ol’ dead pine tree that I saw the other day. It had actually fallen across the paved blacktop road, and some good soul had come along, pulled it out of the road, and thrown it into the ditch.

It was such a sad and grotesque sight! Nothing green and growing about it at all. Just an ugly rotten mess with its limbs (branches, if you’re not from Route 4!) snapped off like chewed up toothpicks. It wasn’t even fit for firewood.

After years of decay, either from neglect or bug infestation or dry weather, it had even lost its root system, leaving it standing there with no useful purpose. Already dead, just waitin’ to fall with the first strong breeze.

By comparison, hop aboard my little red time travel wagon, and go with me back to the barnyard at the ol’ farm where we had a different kind of tree. This was a huge oak tree that stood about halfway between the barn and the house. It was called the “Cow Tree.” Why? Thank you for asking, but to this day, I can not tell you why it was called the Cow Tree. Surely, there were no cows growing on it.

But what a magnificent tree it was! A lot of Route 4 living happened around that big oak. Its limbs (not branches!) were big and strong enough to support the old pulpwood-truck tire swings that were so much fun. I see these jungle-gym, amusement-park kind of playgrounds that kids have in their back yards today, and I just scratch the ol’ bald head. But, hold it. Let’s don’t go chasin’ that rabbit today. Save that story for another day.

Back to the Cow Tree. In addition to the tire swings, its limbs also held what we called chain-falls. Heavy logging chains wrapped around the thickest limb were perfect for changing motors in worn-out trucks and tractors, and for stringing up hogs at hog-killin’ time, too. With the power supplied by three or four skinny country boys pulling on the chains.

No telling how old that tree was. I just know that all of us boys couldn’t hold hands and reach around it. As if we wanted to hold our brothers’ hands, anyway! And it was the site of our night-time scaredy-cat games. The monsters were hiding most times in and around the Cow Tree, just waitin’ to reach out and grab whatever farm boy was late in finishing his chores down at the barn.

And, oh, the shade it gave us on hot summer days! I think the phrase ‘got it made in the shade’ actually referred to the ol’ Cow Tree. And if you had the job of sittin’ on the churn while homemade ice cream was being hand-cranked under that tree, you would need your coat or sweater (the only jacket we knew was yellow and had a stinger).

I think about that big oak every time I see another dead and rotten pine tree brought to the ground by the slightest storm. It doesn’t take much of a storm to bring down a dead tree. And when I see where it’s hit and splattered and pushed to the side of the road, I’m thankful for the big oak Cow Tree and the living that went on around and under it.

Surely Joyce Kilmer must have had the Cow Tree in mind while writing the poem that Miss Barron made us memorize at Seneca High School. With appropriate apologies to Kilmer and Miss Barron, I can only remember the first verse, “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree,” and the last one, “Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.”

I couldn’t swear to it on a stack of Bibles, but I believe the roots of the ol’ Cow Tree ran all the way down the hill to Coneross Creek. Or least over to Johnson’s Branch. I just know that throughout my memory, it was just always green and growing and serving our way of life. Through all the storms of life, the Cow Tree stood tall. Maybe because it had a strong, thrivin’ root system.

What, you might ask, does that kind of root system look like? Please allow me to refer you to the description offered in Psalm 1:3. According to the psalmist, happy is the person who delights in obeying our Lord, living by His Word, and telling others about what He has done. In fact, that person is like a tree, says the psalmist, that’s planted close enough for its roots to run down to the creek where the Living Water supplies juicy-tasting fruit and beautiful green leaves. And times of play, work, and cool rest for tired boys and girls.

Is your tree of life firmly rooted, green and growing and being fed by the River of Life, giving meaning and purpose to those who pass by? Or is it like that ol’ dead pine tree, just waitin’ for any little storm to blow it across power lines and knock somebody’s lights out?

In the decades since leaving the life lived under the protection, shade, and beauty of the Cow Tree back home on the farm, I’ve often heard this question. ‘If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?’ Wanna know my answer to that question?

I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count.

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