Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Sometimes I can’t remember for an hour three things that Helen asked me to pick up at the store on my way home from work, but yet I can remember something that was said or an event that happened on the farm over fifty years ago. Case in point. There were nine children in our Route 4, dirt-road family. In the order of succession, I was number four. Right smack-dab in the middle. I’ve often thought about starting a club called MK’s. The only requirement for membership in my club would be that you had to be an MK – a middle kid. 

In case you’re wondering, life is tough on a middle kid. On one hand, you’ve got the older ones above you who consider you too small, too weak, too dumb to be in their ‘circle.’ They find it easy to put the blame on the middle kid ‘cause he’s still trying to figure out what happened when trouble jumps up. On the other hand, you’ve got the younger siblings who think you’re too strong, too big, too old to be in their clubhouse. Blame it on the middle kid. He’s tough. He can take the punishment. So life is a constant balancing act for a middle kid. You’re always walking a fine line. And to get off course in either direction can cause calamity. Sorta like that famous game of cow pasture baseball or football. If you run out of bounds, you’re up close and personal with the barbed wire fence. Get too close to it and you’re gonna get snagged!

One particular free-for-all where brotherly love took the day off stands out in my memory. All the details are a little hazy, but I do remember how it started. It was just one of those endless ‘rasslin’ matches that a bunch of boys get into at times when they have too much time on their hands. At least, that’s what Daddy thought. So he tried to make sure that there was always more work to do than we could get done.

But when you’re in the middle of a ten-acre field of cotton and everybody’s lunch bag is in the shade over at the side of the field, the temptation is just too great. You come up with some kind of flimsy excuse to get away from the work, like you left your gloves at the house. So you head back to get them and when you’re out of sight, you just veer over toward the ‘lunch counter’ in the shade by the side of the cotton field and help yourself!   I’ll just let your imagination take over right here. Can’t you just picture the scene when dinner time is called and everybody finds out that a ‘little rat’ has helped himself to everybody’s baked sweet potato and sausage biscuits that Mother had packed in those empty Dixie Crystals sugar bags! 

It’s not a pretty sight – a lot of pushing and shoving and swinging fists and name calling! My excuse was always motivated by the fact that I was a middle kid. I mean, if the older ones were going to blame you and the younger ones were also going to point fingers at you when something went wrong, well, if you’re going to get blamed for it, you might as well go ahead and do it! But back to the cotton-patch ‘rasslin’ match! Tempers flare. Words are exchanged. Name-calling goes into high gear.  And before you say ‘here comes Daddy,’ somebody’s shirt gets torn. Somebody gets shoved. Somebody shoves back and it becomes a ten-round prize fight!

But sure enough, the ref (Daddy) arrives on the scene. He wasn’t wearing a black and white striped shirt. It was flannel. But the fighters were the ones that had the stripes when this was over. But, here’s where a particular word or phrase gets permanently burned into your hard drive. Before the blame game can even get into high gear, these words find their way into your memory never to leave. “Boys, there’s absolutely no excuse for this kind of behavior!” Bet you’ve never heard that, have you? Well, with six boys and three girls, there’s no excuse in the book that wasn’t used. But Daddy always came back with that statement. ‘No excuse for that kind of behavior.’

I think the Lord must also look at His children sometimes and say to Himself, ‘there’s absolutely no excuse for that kind of behavior!’ Yes, His children – the King’s Kids can sometimes act like a bunch of farm boys in a cotton-patch free-for-all, anything-goes rasslin’ match. Why did I shake my fist at that slow driver? Why did I ‘set down’ on my horn when that guy (or gal) pulled out in front of me? Why did I let the devil get into my mouth and make me say those unkind words? Why am I selfish and unforgiving? Impatient, grouchy, unfaithful? It’s true. I have absolutely no excuse for that kind of behavior.

One of my favorite writers, the Apostle Paul had some words to say about brotherly love. Even though I don’t know his last name, I like ol’ Paul because he was a bad guy turned good guy. He had no excuses after the Lord brought his behavior to his attention that day on the road to Damascus. So, after he got his sight back, Paul began to preach and to practice what he preached. In Romans 12:9-19, Paul talks about putting our brothers (and sisters) above ourselves, having joy in our hearts and a smile on our face, being patient, and sharing with those in need. And here’s one that us farm-raised, middle kids could never get right. It just jumps right off the page. In verse 19, Paul words ring as loud as a fire engine at three o’clock in the morning! Don’t take revenge!

Paul was saved to serve. And so are we! So what’s your excuse? Moses stuttered. Thomas had doubts. Peter had a hot temper. Timothy was shy. Naomi was a widow. John the Baptist wore animal skins and ate locusts. Abraham was old. Martha worried too much. The Scripture is full of people like this who had all kinds of excuses for their behavior. But when they met the Master, they had no excuse. And realizing that, they became some of God’s most faithful and effective servants.

 Saved to serve? Absolutely! No excuses!