Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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