Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin
From my earliest childhood memories, I can recall the times when my older brothers took particular delight in scaring us ‘young-uns’ half-to-death with elaborate stories about the monsters that lived in the swamp down by the edge of Coneross Creek that ran by our farm. They talked about jack-rabbits as big as dogs. They said that the buzzards and hawks that lived in the trees in the swamp were big enough to swoop down and pick up little kids like me with their razor-sharp claws. And take us back to their nests and feed us to their baby buzzards.
But the one thing that kept me away from the creek till I was about fourteen was when my brothers talked about the snakes. As big as a man’s arms and as long as a pine tree is tall. They even told a tale about when Daddy tried to kill one with an ax. They said its fangs went for Daddy’s arm, but missed and sank into the ax handle. And the ax handle swelled up so big that Daddy took it to the sawmill and got enough lumber to build a corn crib, a new addition to the barn, and a new two-seater outhouse!
I always thought they were stretching the truth just a little bit. I think he got just enough wood to add another room on to the woodshed. And that’s exactly where I thought my brothers ought to spend some time for telling those tall tales. But if there’s anything that I despise more than boiled okra, it’s snakes! Can’t stand the thought of ‘em, much less the sight of ‘em. Even the rubber kind give me the heebie-jeebies!
But along about the age of twelve or thirteen, I decided to follow Daddy’s advice. “Use your head for something besides a hat rack,” he said about a million times. So one day I cautiously slipped off down toward the creek while my brothers weren’t watching. I was real careful. The short hairs on the back of my head were standing at attention. It was summertime so I was barefooted. All the better to run fast if one of those snakes or a hungry buzzard came after me
But my reasoning was that if the swamp beside the creek was such a scary place, why did they like going down there so much? And why did they not want me there? After I had crept through the edge of the swamp, I found myself standing on the creek bank. And then I knew the answers to all my questions.
Right there in front of my eyes! My brothers were having so much fun. Swinging on vines like Tarzan out over the creek and dropping into their favorite swimmin’ hole. Or backing up about fifty feet to get a runnin’ head start before jumpin’ into the creek. They just didn’t want their little brother taggin’ along with them. I even think some of their older friends from Route 4 had joined my brothers. But I’ll omit the names to protect the guilty.
Seeing most of their clothes left on the creek bank, my first thought was to sneak in carefully and move their clothes over to another bush. The one with all the poison oak on it! But that would have been mean. So, being a good junior detective, I just decided to go back to the house and report the findings of my investigation. They were supposed to be hoeing the garden, so Daddy was surprised to hear my news.
The trip from the swimmin’ hole to the woodshed was one that my brothers would not soon forget! And the next time they planned an outing to the creek bank, they were very careful to include me.
I think about being careful around the creek every time I read about Moses and the Israelites. They were standing on the edge of the Jordan River getting’ ready to cross over into the Promised Land. And they were a bunch of scaredy cats! Moses told ‘em about the giants that lived over there. And how they’ve probably have to clear the land and grow some stuff to eat. In short, they were going to have to work hard once they got to their new place.
And here we are standing on the edge of a brand new year. There may even be some monsters and other scary stuff on the other side. But we can’t turn around and go back. So what are we going to do? For the answer to that question, let’s look at what Moses told his folks in the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy. Four times He used the word ‘be careful.’
This is just me talking, but I believe Moses was delivering a ‘woodshed warning’ to God’s people. And it just might be good for us to review it today as we get ready to jump off the ‘creek bank’ into a brand new year. In verses 1-2, Moses told ‘em they better clean out their ears and listen to what he was about to tell ‘em if they knew what was good for ‘em (Route 4 translation).
Like Daddy always said, “If you boys will just do what I tell you to do, you’ll live long lives and be happy!” Being obedient to God’s commandments, according to Moses, would be very important in their new land. In verse 6, he told ‘em that it would show how smart they were if they kept God’s laws very carefully.
In verse 9 and again in verses 15-20, he told the Israelites to be careful and watch yourselves and to remember where you’re coming from and what you’ve seen as God has brought you out of Egypt. And to teach their children and grandchildren how He brought ‘em through to this point.
And then in verses 21-24, Moses talked about how foolish it would be for the people to make God mad by forgetting (be careful not to forget, v. 23) where they had come from and to start making idols and worshipping things made out of rocks or wood that can’t see or hear or eat or smell (v. 28) instead of Him.
And then in verse 29, Moses had some parting instructions that we would do well to remember as we make the leap into a brand new year with more uncertainty than most folks have known in their lifetime. “But if you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you look for Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
If we’re careful to remember those words, that ‘swamp’ out there that we standing on the edge of won’t be half as scary as my older brothers used to try to make me believe.
Who knows, there might even be some ‘skinny-dippin’ days ahead for us!

Ed. Note: Originally published Dec. 31, 2009, and maybe even more apppropriate today.