Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

It’s that time of the year again. The signs are everywhere. No, I’m not talking about the stores being filled with kids in the morning hours when we chronologically- challenged citizens (old folks!) like to get our shopping done. That’s a sure sign that school is out for the summer. And speaking of summer time, how can it not be ‘official’ when the ol’ thermometer hanging on the back porch hovers close to triple digits?

Yep, you guessed it. It’s vacation time. Tell tale signs are empty pews at church. And travel trailers being drug up and down our highways with a couple of bicycles tied to the back bumper. And the pickups pullin’ ‘em are runnin’ hot, and gettin’ about 4 miles to each four-dollar gallon of gas. It seems like vacation is all folks are talking about these days as they head to the mountains to camp beside a cool creek. Or to the beach to walk across the blister-burnin’ sand to sink their toes in the salt water of the ocean. I once saw a guy on the beach wearin’ combat boots and knee socks with his Ber-moody shorts, and Hawaiian pineapple shirt. Probably the smartest guy out there!

But, hey, it’s vacation time. It’s what we work 50 weeks for during the year. And dad-gummit, it don’t matter if it’s 108 degrees in the shade during our pre-determined week off, we’re going on vacation! So pack up the sun block and beach towels and flip-flops. Throw the lawn chairs, the charcoal, and the grill in the back of the pickup. We’re hittin’ the road.

Take our long-time friends, the Alewines, for example. Last night, my mill-hill bride punches speed dial on her cell phone, and, to her amazement, Julie answers on the first ring. Mill hill and cell phone – sounds like a contradiction – just sayin’. Before I slide off into a ditch of trouble on that side road, let me move on. Anyway, my MHB asks Julie if she and Jim would like to join us for some cornbread and milk, or other equally delicious supper that you don’t order while shoutin’ at a squawk box, and get it shoved out the window to you after you drive around to the first window.

Declining our offer of supper time fellowship, Julie surmised that it would be mostly impossible since, at that very moment, they were 23 miles from Panama City, Florida. Which was about 700 miles, give or take a few, from where my MHB had punched her speed dial. We should have known. It’s vacation time. The Alewines, like millions of other people, have hit the open road.

Funny how a couple of words can trigger a flood of memories. Or, in my case, not even a trickle. When I try to connect vacation time with growing up back home at Route 4, Seneca, SC, my memory projector shows only a white light on the wall. Nil. Nada. Nothing. There are no slides in the memory carousel about vacation time because there was no such thing.

Can you just imagine loadin’ up a family of twelve, in and on Daddy’s pulpwood truck and headin’ for the beach or the mountains? Or to the amusement park to see a couple of over-sized mouses, a flop-eared dog, and their silly friend? Let’s get real here, folks. Just how goofy can you get? Summer time on the farm meant three things – work, work, and more work! Hoeing the garden, plowin’ the corn, picking the maters, squash, and cutting the dreaded okra. Vacation? Unheard of. Except one place. Church.

It was the only vacation time, the only non-working time, we ever knew. A couple of hours in the morning for a week, and usually the first week that school was out for the summer. Oh, how I loved Vacation Bible School. Probably for the wrong reason, at first, just because it got us out of work for a little while.

I especially liked our VBS recess at Return Baptist Church. Chocolate chip cookies and grape Kool-Aid were my favorites. Nothing like that back home on the farm. And that’s why I almost got expelled from VBS one time for stuffing a couple of extra chocolate chips in the pockets of my short britches. But I repented. And they forgave me. After I promised Carl’s daddy, Preacher S. T. Dickson, that I would memorize the Ten Commandments.

But in a world goin’ downhill with the pedal to the metal, I think there are just too many distractions in today’s world for kids. And mommas and daddies, too. This is just me, but I believe there’s so much competition for our time these days that the folks who run VBS have started coming up with themes to get kids’ attention. One time it was a jungle theme. And then there was an out-of-this-world space trip theme for VBS. And one year VBS was even about the ever-popular amusement park.

This year I’ve seen VBS signs all over the place about something called Panda-mania. I have no idea what that’s all about. Don’t get me wrong. Get the kids to VBS any way you can. Promise ‘em double chocolate chip cookies and all the grape Kool-Aid their little tummies can hold. Just get ‘em there. And then start filling their little heads and hearts with stories and songs and the afore-mentioned Commandments.

In fact, God listed those commands in the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy. And then in Deut. 6:7, He told Moses to tell the Israelites (and us) to impress them on your children. He goes on to give us strict orders – you know that’s what impress means – to talk about them when we sittin’ around the house, and when we’re walking down the road. Of course, nobody walks down the road anymore, so I think it would be okay if we talk about God’s Rules with our kids while we’re riding down the road on vacation.

That means turning off the X-Y-Z boxes, the Ipods, the satellite radios, and the portable DVD movie players. He also mentions two other good times. When we go to bed at night and when we get up in the morning. I just wonder how many kids these days have been taught to say their prayers when they go to bed. And what if every child memorized Psalm 118:24, and said it out loud when they get up every morning. But Hold on. You let me get started down another side road. Back to the main road.

I can’t remember what I did with my glasses that I had an hour ago. But I shall not soon forget the impression that Vacation Bible School, and the teachers and workers, made on a skinny, country boy in short britches. Everybody’s in a hurry these days, so they just call them shorts. VBS always started the same way every morning. Attention. Salute. Pledge. To the American flag, to the Christian flag, and to God’s Holy Word.

And then it was into some wonderful stories from His Word. It was in VBS that I first learned about a little bitty, short guy named Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-6). In fact, little Zack was so short he couldn’t see over the crowd. So he had to climb up in a sycamore tree so he could see this man called Jesus who had just healed a blind man in Zach’s home town of Jericho. Well, lo and behold, Jesus saw little Zack ‘up a tree’ and told him to ‘come down right now ‘cause He was going home with Zach for supper.’

I was spell-bound by that story because I had climbed up in the chinaberry tree in our front yard many times. Trying to see past the end of that dirt road, I guess, or maybe it was trying to see the hungry kids in India that were the reason I was supposed to be thankful for my suppertime cornbread and milk. And many times Mother would step out on the front porch and say, “Come down out of that tree right now, wash your hands, and come to supper.” I don’t climb up any chinaberry trees anymore, but I am still thankful for suppertime cornbread and milk. And for the way my VBS teachers told that story from God’s Holy Word.

I can’t begin to count the number of times in the past 60 years or so that life has had me ‘up a tree,’ so to speak. And this man called Jesus would say, ‘Boy, come down out of that tree. I’d like to come to your house if you’ll let me.” Maybe you’ve had some of those ‘up a tree’ times in your life. If so, maybe you ought to testify. I think everybody at the woodshed would love to hear you praise the Lord for them. If you haven’t ever spent any time up a tree, praise the Lord for that, too. Either way, the woodshed is a great place to praise Him.

There were, and are, many other great stories being taught at VBS. Like the one where Joseph was not very popular with his brothers, so they sold him to some slave traders passing through town. When I came home from VBS and told that story, Daddy had a stiff warning for my brothers not to get any ideas!

Or how ‘bout the baby boy named Moses who started life as a basket case. In my farm boy’s mind, I could just see that basket floatin’ down Coneross Creek past our swimmin’ (skinny dippin’) hole. And then Moses grew up to be chosen by God to lead His people to the Promised Land.

After God chose him, Moses picked two guys named Caleb and Joshua, and sent them, along with some other guys, to scout out the land flowing with milk and honey that God had promised to give to His people. IF they would just listen to Him and obey His rules. But they wouldn’t listen and wound up in God’s woodshed many times. See how fascinated I was by all this? Anyhow, in the Promised Land, they found some grapes that were so BIG that it took two men to carry one bunch of them on a pole (Numbers 13:23). Wow! Maybe it was just me being a farm boy, but I had never seen any grapes that big.

And one of my Top Ten, All-Time Favorite VBS stories is about a little shepherd boy named David (probably wearing short britches, how do you know he wasn’t?) who had a bulls-eye, deadly aim with his slingshot. You just had to grow up on a farm to know how important a slingshot was in a boy’s life. Then you’d know how this VBS story caught and held my attention. I went home that day from VBS and started practicing with my slingshot. However, 99.9 percent of the birds and squirrels on the farm survived my practice. And actually made fun of me. So I switched over to tin cans setting still on the pasture fence.

Then, after VBS recess (cookies and Kool-Aid), it was song time. I never was very good at memorizing words to songs. But these VBS songs came alive in a country boy’s heart and still remain in his memory even now. It’s okay if you sing along with me as you read this.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so; little ones to Him belong, they are weak, but He is strong.

The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me; I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E. (I think Ralph Nix and I had to stay in after Bible School one day for trying to mess up the other kids while they were trying to sing and spell at the same time!)

And this one makes my Top Ten, All-Time Favorite VBS songs. Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the Cross, lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss. It was so much fun to sing that one in VBS ‘cause we’d get to stand up and sit right back down every time we sang those words. Of course, I won’t mention any names, to protect the guilty, but some of us tried to see how high we could jump, instead of just standing up!

Back to Deuteronomy 6:7 – ‘Impress them on your children.’ Boldly and unashamedly, I still say Vacation Bible School is the still the best method available to Mommas and Daddies, even in our world today, to impress upon little boys and girls the life-changing power of following God’s rules.

This is dedicated today to all VBS teachers and workers who could be doing many other things during the first couple of weeks of summer time. But you chose to make a difference – a generational impact – for God’s Kingdom here on earth. Who knows but when there just might be a country boy or girl, or two or three, who’ll still be talking sixty years from now about what you taught them in Vacation Bible School.

And may you be blessed with a Lazy-Boy recliner on the front row of Heaven while Jesus serves you cookies and Kool-Aid.