Archive for August, 2009

WILD ONIONS

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Have you ever gone to the refrigerator, poured yourself a big tall glass of cold milk, and chug-a-lugged about half of it before you stopped to catch your breath? And then the smell of rotten eggs burns its way through your nostrils and into your brain? Right about here is where Helen, my very observant and loving wife, asks sweetly, “Did you check the expiration date?” And just like that, before you could snap your fingers, the book of my memory falls open to one of its many dog-eared pages! 

Growing up as a lint-head from the mill-hill, especially next door to the company store, expiration dates might have been important to her. But back home at Route 4, we never had to worry about or even know about expiration dates. In a family of twelve, no food product ever stayed around our house long enough to go bad!

Molded loaf bread? What’s loaf bread? The only bread we knew about was either cat-head biscuits or a pone of cornbread from Mother’s black skillet. My buddy Herb Woodall likes to talk about hard times when his mother had to stretch the meat loaf by adding extra bread to the hamburger meat. I didn’t know what hamburger meat was until I was twenty-one! I wonder how it would taste mixed with cornbread?

Anyway, the only milk we knew about had about two inches of cream on top and was kept in a gallon jug in the Frigidaire, the only electrical appliance in our house. Before we got that marvelous piece of machinery, Daddy used to talk about how wonderful it would be to have one. And he’d always say, “we’ll get one when our ship comes in.” One night at the supper table, I interrupted him by asking how our ship was going to make it up Coneross Creek to our farm on Route 4. Out at the woodshed, I learned why children should be seen and not heard!

 And Daddy would say at suppertime, “Kids, just think how lucky you are tonight. Those starving kids in India don’t have a Frigidaire to keep their milk cold!” I didn’t want to send my cold milk to them, but, boy, I sure would like to have shipped off a couple of boxes of that slick and slimy boiled okra that Daddy and Wade loved so much. Wade would hold it up in front of his mouth, bite it off at the stem and then let it ooze down his throat! He’d do that ‘cause he knew suppertime would be over for me, and he wanted my last piece of buttered cornbread! I think Mother always knew I fed all my boiled okra to the dogs through the knot holes in the floor under the kitchen table!

 How in the world did I get down this side road talking about boiled okra when I started with expiration dates? Anyway, the only way milk got thrown out at Route 4 was when Ol’ Bessie got into a mess of wild onions out in the pasture behind the barn. That’s when the hogs became the beneficiary of her daily output.

I can get an upset stomach even now when my lawn mower runs over wild onions while I’m mowing the grass!

But back at Route 4, when the milk reeked of wild onions it would absolutely ruin a good mess of cornbread and pinto beans. For those occasions, Mother always kept a box of powdered milk in the cupboard. Do they still make powdered milk? Anyway, Mother would mix it with some of that cold well water that I had to draw every day and bring to the house, and, voila, cold milk for supper.

Except for the time Wade got caught eating the powdered milk straight from the box. That’s right, it’s now out in the open after all these years! On one of those wild-onion days, Mother went to the kitchen to get the powdered milk box from the cupboard. And there stood Wade with white stuff running out of his mouth! It scared our poor Mother so bad, I think she hollered loud enough for the people on our ship coming up Coneross Creek to hear her. One of the few times I ever heard Mother raise her voice! She thought her number 5 child had gone mad. The rest of the family was upset, too. Our cornbread that night had something poured over it that looked like you rinsed out a glass after drinking milk.

But every thing that goes through the check out line at the store now has an expiration date. Use it before it goes out of date. Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly ‘frisky,’ I’ll tell Helen that it’s a good thing that I don’t have an expiration date stamped on my forehead. At my age, she would have thrown me out a long time ago! See how I spent so much time at the ‘shed’ in my younger days?

But, in reality, we all do have an expiration date even though it’s not stamped on our forehead. David wrote about it in Psalm 139:16. All of our days were numbered in God’s family album before even one of them came to be. What a comforting thought that is. God knew me before I knew me. Even before Daddy and Mother knew their number four child, God knew I’d be spending a bunch of time early on at the woodshed.

Could it be that He numbered all our days before even the first one came to be because He has a specific purpose for all our days? I like the message I saw on the sign at Hopewell Baptist Church the other day – “if you have a pulse, you have a purpose.” No matter how many days we’ve been here, or how many more days we’ll be here, God has a purpose for every single one of them. If we’re feeling unfulfilled, fancy word for empty, wouldn’t today be a good day to start fulfilling our purpose for being here? And might it start with us pouring the sweetness of Jesus into the milk jug of someone else’s life?

Without Him, their milk will always taste like wild onions.

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THAT’S GOTTA HURT!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Have you been to one of those big box stores lately? This time of the year exasperated parents can be found loading up a couple of carts with clothes, school supplies, electronic gadgets, and other so-called back to school “must-haves?” I go there sometimes just to watch. Now, you might say that could be classified as cruel and unusual punishment, but it helps my memory.

 For instance, the other day I saw a Mother who was obviously at the end of her rope. With three ‘little darlings’ that appeared to be of grammar school age bombarding her with ‘I need this and this and this,’ and ‘Mom, I just have to have this one!’ and ‘Mom, all my friends have one of these,’ and ‘Mom, if you don’t buy me one of these, I just won’t go back to school.’ And Mom’s reply was, ‘Honey, I’ve told you three times and I’m not going to tell you again.’ I didn’t even hear her finish the sentence. Already, my memory switch had kicked into reverse and was racing backwards in time faster than a two-horse wagon out of control on Snow Creek Hill. Just how many times does she have to say no?

What ever happened to discipline? And manners!  And obeying parents? My buddy, Morgan Pritchard, and I were discussing things like this in the hall before Sunday School the other day. Morgan said he still cringes when he sees someone wearing a hat in the house! He said he’d like to run up to them and shout, “didn’t your Momma teach you not to wear a hat in the house?” Well, sadly Morgan, ol’ buddy, I’m afraid that one is way down the list when it comes to matters of discipline. It’s my thinking that we’ve lost the way to the woodshed!

I remember one time back home at Route 4 when Daddy had us boys all in a huddle at the ‘shed.’ For some unknown reason, the door to the smokehouse had been left open the night before.  Whoever was the last one out had not taken the time to secure the latch, and the guilty party chose to remain anonymous. Well, Daddy just issued a blanket statement. “If you don’t admit who did it, I’ll just whip every one of you and then I’ll know I’ve got the right one.” Well, brother, that’s all it took. George, Ollie, Wade, Eddie, and Wendell, and anyone else close by started singing like the Return Baptist Church choir on Sunday morning! I never had a chance. And as Daddy pulled off his belt, and he could whip that thing off in a flash, he said the magic words, “Son, this is going to hurt me more than it is you.”

My little 12-year-old brain sprang into motion! And here’s what it shoved out of my mouth, “Well, if that’s so, why don’t we just trade places and I won’t hurt you!” There was an extra chair at the supper table for about a month after that cause you-know-who was eating from the standing position!

 But, you know, the things that kids get away with these days never ceases to amaze me! When parents speak to their children, many times I hear responses like ‘Huh?’ or ‘What?’ And don’t get me started on this one that shows complete disrespect – ‘Whatever!

Back home at Route 4, whenever Daddy said, “Son, close that door, were you raised in a barn,’’ there were always at least two boys, sometimes three, jumping towards the open door! I still think it’s respectful of children to use words like yes, sir, and no, sir, and yes, mam, and no, mam. And how about some please, and may I, and thank you? And I don’t think it matters how old children are – eight or sixty-eight.

The Apostle Paul is one of my favorite people in the Bible. Maybe it’s because he was headed down the wrong road before he got knocked off his donkey by a blinding light! (Paul wrote a bunch of books in the Bible and even he had to spend some time at the woodshed!). Anyway, in his book of Ephesians, Paul tells children to obey your parents in the Lord ‘cause it’s the right thing to do. And also because it’s a commandment with a promise, “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy a long life” (Eph. 6:1-3).

But whippings (discipline) are painful, right? And I think most parents will agree right here – the pain is shared by both parties in the whippings. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say ‘don’t you just love a good whipping!’ No, they’re painful. But there are a couple of woodshed lessons here for mature Christians. First, God disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12:6). And it’s for our own good (Hebrews 12:10-11), producing ‘a harvest of righteousness and peace.’

So, if you’ve been spending a lot of time lately at God’s Woodshed waitin’ for the Harvest , just remember the words of my sweet Mother as she applied the hickory switch that we deserved to our backside, “you’re going to appreciate this when you grow up.”

Mother, are we grown up yet?

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TREASURES IN GLASS JARS

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

 Whenever the pages of the calendar flip over to the ‘dog days’ of August with its sweltering temperatures and shirt-soaking humidity, my memory hops on the old pickup truck and takes me back down the dirt road to Route 4.

 After a hard day’s work on the farm and a light supper of Mother’s taste-bud tempting, black-skillet corn bread, soaked with cow’s butter that we had churned ourselves, and drenched with Ol’ Bessie’s milk, the scene shifts to the front porch of the old farm house. In the 50’s of course, there was no such thing as central air conditioning that pulls us inside our houses these days. So, the coolest place around in that time between twilight and ‘dark-thirty’ was the front porch. It was high enough off the ground to catch whatever breeze might be passing through.

 And it was in this Norman Rockwell-ish setting that our younger brothers, Wade, Eddie, and Wendell would be found running all over the yard chasing lightning bugs and June bugs. They would pilfer through Mother’s sewing box for some thread to tie to the legs of the June bugs and scare the bejeebies out of Estelle by holding the thread and letting the June bug fly around her head. Or they would get the ice pick from the kitchen and punch holes in the lid of a mayonnaise jar so the lightning bugs could breathe and then watch them glow after dark. With those boys, it’s a wonder there weren’t more ice-pick accidents!

 But back to the front porch and the work to be done – some of us would be shelling butterbeans and taking the hulls to the cows. That was my favorite- it got me off the front porch to chase some lightning bugs! Others would be breaking and stringing green beans. Mother was good at that. And Daddy and Ollie liked to shuck the corn. All this was in preparation for one of my most vivid memories of summer time back home on the farm – canning days.

 The sight of Mother working over that red-hot, wood-burning cook stove in the middle of August is forever captured on the hard drive of my memory. Rivers of sweat (not just perspiration) would be running down her head, face, neck, and back as she worked that pressure-cooker. I mean a real, honest-to-goodness pressure-cooker from which I think some jobs today get their name. Come to think of it, Mother was using that big ol’ pot in a pressure-cooker environment!

 You see, there was no running to the store every day to pick up a few groceries. During canning time, Mother was, in reality, re-stocking the grocery store that would feed her family during the cold winter months to follow. She would be canning jars and jars of green beans, okra, tomatoes, butterbeans, corn, and even peaches, too. Whenever Daddy planted anything, he always planted enough to eat when it was fresh and enough also to ‘put up’ for long, cold, winter days. And the sight of row after row after row of Mason jars lining the shelves of the smokehouse brings a smile to my face even now!

 But back in that August kitchen, Mother would show us boys how help her by cutting the corn off the cob before she canned it. (The empty cobs served as ammunition later as we were supposed to be taking them to the hogs!) And the sight of her face and head and glasses covered with corn juice splatter is a picture I’ll not soon forget. And all the while she’d be sweetly singing “Jesus Loves Me” or “What A Friend We Have in Jesus” or maybe “When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder.” I think that when we all sit down to the big Reunion Feast in Glory, Mother will have already opened a few of her treasures in glass jars.

 Which brings me to the words of the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 4: 6-7) when he was writing to his friends at the church in Corinth. He talks about the Light, which is the Love of His Son Jesus, that God made to shine in our hearts, yours and mine, to give us a glimpse of what it will be like to see the face of Jesus in Glory. This treasure, according to Paul, is carried around by us in ‘jars of clay,’ these old bodies that will soon be gone. Sorta like the biggest diamond in the world wrapped up in a used fertilizer sack! And this is all according to God’s plan, so that we and everyone in the world will know that it’s by His power and might and mercy and majesty and not by anything that we could ever do by ourselves to make it to Heaven.

 The compelling question we all should consider every time we look at the person in the mirror is this – is that Light shining brightly in our jars of clay? Has someone put a dimmer switch on it, or maybe is the bulb burned out?

 The light in a refrigerator only burns when the door is open. Let’s resolve today to open the door of our hearts and let the Light of Jesus spread all over those around us – like the corn juice that used to splatter all over Mother as she packed those treasures in glass jars!

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FAMILY REUNION

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

 I saw some kids playing in their yard the other day. They seemed to be happy and carefree – running and jumping and playing games on their well-manicured green lawn. I conjectured that it was their daddy firing up the barbecue grill while their mother was spreading a table cloth over a cement picnic table.

 It made me think about an old country song that I haven’t heard in a long, long time. If memory serves me correctly, John Denver sang it and the name of it was “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and boy, did it ever do just that! I turned my car around and headed down that country road toward home at Route 4 and the way of life we once knew. As I crossed the bridge over Coneross Creek, I could see again those skinny-dipping days of summers long relegated to our memory.

 Up the hill from the creek, our old barn still stands there right beside the dirt road in my mind. At some time recently, it has enjoyed a fresh coat of paint and some much-need repairs. And in the pasture behind the old barn, I can see somebody slidin’  in to third base. The well-house sits silently now, and the woodshed has been converted to other uses. I have many thoughts. I feel sorry for folks today who never knew, and will never know, the joys of growing up like that.

 And then I say out loud to the only other person in my car, “Thank You, Jesus!” Thank you for allowing me to grow up in that place and for what it taught me. Thank you for all the memories and even those trips to the woodshed. West Virginia was ‘almost Heaven’ in John Denver’s song. I don’t think I’ve ever been to West Virginia, but I can’t imagine that it could be any closer to Heaven in my memory that South Carolina farm!

 But back to the main road! Seeing that bunch of kids playing in their yard carried me back to our family reunions at Uncle Tack and Aunt Lallie Vee’s house. There were, I think, thirteen children in the Brown family. My Mother, Uncle Tack, and Aunt Valeria Nix were ones that lived on Route 4. Then there other Brown brothers and sisters that had moved away, but always came back to Route 4 for the family reunions.  I can still remember all those cousins from far and near playing in and around Uncle Tack’s barn and pasture. And there always had to be the mandatory ball game, either football or baseball, or sometimes both. But the vivid picture that pops up when I hit rewind button in my mind is all that FOOD!

 Now, I’m told that cousins Kathryn and Ethelyn had worked little fingers to the bone cleaning and sprucing up the whole place! There were saw horses all over the front yard with boards on them to hold all the casseroles. I guess the girls had a hand in that, too, because Uncle Tack didn’t have a bunch of boys like my Daddy did to get the work done. Uncle Tack just had those two pretty girls, but he believed in working and woodsheds, too, just like Daddy did! So, just in case I never said it then, girls, thanks for all the work you did to make reunions happen.

 Back to the food. What a feast! Multiple dishes of corn on the cob, green beans, butter beans, fried okra and squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers, too, and all fresh from somebody’s garden. Nobody had to go to the produce stand for this feast! And the chicken population definitely took a hit around reunion time! It didn’t come in a bucket from the colonel’s place, either.  And then there was macaroni and cheese, homemade biscuits, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie, coconut cake, chocolate cake. And not just a little bit, either. This feast was spread out as far as a skinny little nine-year-old boy could see. And no diets to worry about, either. Hard work took care of any caloric overload!

 With all due respect to John Denver and West Virginia, there was no place I’d rather be that a family reunion at Route 4!

Except, of course, that huge Family Reunion that will take place when we all get to Heaven. Not almost Heaven, as in the song.

 Jesus told a story one day (Matthew 22:1-10) about Heaven being like a feast that a king had prepared. He invited a bunch of people to come but they were all too busy. He even sent them a second invitation to come to the banquet. He had fixed the best of everything for the feast and all they had to do was accept his invitation. But, sadly, they let their second chance pass by also, and never knew what they missed till it was too late.

 Our Lord is making plans right now for a big reunion over there. Some of our family members have gone on ahead of us to help Him. And we’re all invited! God sent the first invitation over two thousand years ago. And He’s still inviting us today. He’s even told us we can bring everybody we know to the feast. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world!

 Take me home, country roads, to the place I belong!

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FRIED APPLE PIES

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

 I think it’s sad, in a way, that there aren’t many dirt roads left in the world. The way of life was different growing up on a dirt road….simpler and somewhat slower than the speed of today’s ‘interstate world.’ You didn’t get in a hurry on a dirt road, especially if it had rained recently. Meeting a fellow dirt-road traveler sometimes meant you’d have to slow down, pull to the side to let them pass. And you’d always throw up your hand in a friendly wave to your neighbor.

 And if your neighbor had pulled over to the side too far and slid off into the ditch, you always stopped to help push or pull them out of trouble. Whew, there’s at least a couple of Sunday morning sermons right there in that sentence, but let me move on down this dirt road today!

 I believe the invention of the asphalt paving system helped to speed us into the world we live in today and the extinction of the dirt-road way of life. Now, don’t get me wrong. Life back home at Route 4 wasn’t always sunny skies and apple pies. Now look what I’ve gone and done. Just the mention of apple pies and I’m back on the farm. While fellowshipping (is that a real word?) after Sunday night preaching recently with friends Chris and Carol Ann Gardner, Carol Ann wondered aloud if there was any store in the world today that made those mouth-watering, be-kind-to-your-Mother, fried apple pies.

 Sadly, Carol Ann, I don’t think so. Fried apple pies were a casualty of paved roads. It takes a lot of time and hard work to produce that warm, right-out-of-the-oven, golden-brown delight. First, you had to pick the apples. Then peel them and core them and slice them. Then, I’d have to climb up on the roof of the house or the barn and spread the sliced apples out on a sheet on the tin roof to cure in the hot sunshine!  Brothers Wade and Ollie and sisters Estelle and Anne surely loved to eat ‘em, but they were usually nowhere to be found when the work was to be done!

 And after the apples were dried, Mother mixed her magic and some flat-bread dough that she let me roll out with her big rolling pin, drop some of those sugary apples onto several pieces of the dough, fold them in half, and slide them in the oven. Making fried apple pies back at Route 4 taught us a lot about patience, too. You just can’t rush them out of the oven. Gotta wait till they’re just right…even when the aroma can draw hungry boys from across twenty acres of woods and fields!

 But back to the main road! The loss of the dirt-road way of life washed over me like Coneross Creek after a heavy rain as I waited in a line of cars the other day at a road paving project! The single overriding thought (and my senior citizen brain can’t handle too many at one time!) while the hot asphalt was put down and packed, was about rules. You see, I, and several other drivers, stopped where the flagman held up his red flag. We had seen those ‘flagman ahead’ warning signs for several hundred feet in front of the project. And, as you approach, there’s only one lane of traffic. So, a flagman on each side of the project controls the traffic with his 2-sided ‘stop’ and ‘slow’ sign.

 Just suppose that we ignored the flagman’s rules and went speeding ahead. I’m on a tight schedule and I don’t have time for this delay…..I wonder how long this will take – sound familiar? Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, probably never saw any ‘flagman ahead’ signs in his travels around the Holy Land. But his advice (Proverbs 1:30-33) about listening to instructions (rules) is just as appropriate for you and me today. 

 Yes, growing up on the farm had lots of rules. And, if you heard but didn’t heed, and chose to break one, it meant another trip to the woodshed. Rules like….Be polite. Don’t talk back. Listen to me. Clean your plate. Help your brother. Don’t waste. Put it back where you got it when you’re done. And here’s a “doozy” – don’t let me catch you leaving tools out in the weather at night.

 Dirt roads and life on the farm may be gone forever, but God still has rules for our road of life. Even if when it seems like we’re doing 70 on the interstate. Like the ‘flagman ahead’, He has red flags (the scriptures) to guide us around dangerous situations if we’ll just slow down. Like Daddy always told us, ‘things will be a lot nicer around here if you’ll just listen to me.’  

 Besides, somebody might just come along and offer you a fried apple pie!

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COW PASTURE BASEBALL

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

 I heard something again the other day that sent me tripping back down the dirt road of my memories to life at Route 4. Our son, Jeff, was talking about something called the Fantasy League Baseball Draft. Don’t ask me what that’s about, ‘cause I think there’s a computer involved somehow!

Anyway, I landed right smack-dab in the middle of the pasture behind our barn on a Sunday afternoon. Sundays were always my favorite days back home on the farm. Reason number one, there would be no farm work on Sundays. Reason number two, we’d go to church and see all our friends down at Return Baptist. They were called ‘buddies’ back then. And all during Sunday School and preaching (forgive us, Lord!), we’d be plotting our strategy, we called it choosin’ up sides, for one of the most important events in the life of a bunch of farm boys – Sunday afternoon baseball games in the pasture behind the barn. Or, as it was known on Route 4, Cow Pasture Baseball.

 I’ve never played Fantasy League Baseball (FLB), but I can’t imagine it could come within a country mile of the fun we had playing Cow Pasture Baseball (CPB). It all started with which buddy was coming home with us after church. Most times, it was James McKee coming home with me. And Lane Morgan (the Olympic diver!) would come home with Ollie. And maybe Preacher Dickson would let Carl come home with Wade.

 Then after the last drumstick had been stripped clean and the last drop of sawmill gravy had been sopped up out of Mother’s gravy bowl with one of her scratch biscuits, we’d change out of our Sunday church clothes and head for the pasture behind the barn. And others would join us. Sometimes Ralph Nix would drop by. Manley Johnson would come across Johnson’s Branch to our place. Thomas Bramlett and his brother Earl would join our CPB game when Thomas wasn’t off somewhere on a Sunday afternoon date. And most of the time, all of them would bring some other buddies with them. I can’t recall when we didn’t have plenty of players and a few subs, too.

 The object of CPB was very simple – hit it as far as you can and run as hard as you can! For the fleet-footed farm boys, home runs were no problem. We had an expression for guys like Lane as he ran the bases – it was called “pickin’ em up and puttin’ em down!” For those of us known to have less than Olympic speed, everybody in the pasture would holler ‘Slide, Slide, Slide’ about the time we got to third base.

 Herein lies the crisis of Cow Pasture Baseball. Equipment was almost non-existent. Oh, we’d normally be able to come up with an old baseball of some sort with the cover half torn off. And most any kind of a round, wood stick would be the bat. And that’s about it. Bases? Those were strategically located areas provided by our cows earlier in the week. Most of the time early enough to be dry enough to count as touching the base if you barely touched the edge! You have to let your imagination fill in the details here!

 But, when it was a newly made third base, still wet under the top layer of crust, that you slid into when everybody hollered ‘Slide, Slide, Slide,’ you were out of the game. And, it wasn’t the smell of peanuts, popcorn, and cotton candy that we remember most from CPB! If you were slow enough or didn’t hit a home run and had to slide into third, you were out of the game even if you weren’t tagged out with the baseball. Washed up took on a completely different meaning, and it usually occurred in the cool waters of Johnson’s Branch! The woodshed lesson that you learned from CPB was this – sometimes your friends will give you wrong advice just to see you land in a pile of you-know-what!

 That reminds me of the story in the Bible about Job. We really were listening in church. Job had three friends who gave him some bad advice. Job was having a bad time. You might say he had slid right into the middle of the third base of life. The stench was all over him. He had lost everything including family, most of his friends, and his wealth, too. His situation was so horrible that his three buddies advised him to give up on God. Job even started listening to them and decided to have his own little pity party.  

  But then in Chapters 38 – 41 of the Book of Job, God spoke to Job and told him to stand up and put on his “big-boy britches,” as my pastor would say. God took Job to the Woodshed – convinced him that there just might be someone who needs to see how we hold up in our times of trouble. Then, in Chapter 42, God spoke to those three buddies of Job and told them He was mad at them for giving His servant Job such poor advice (be careful who you listen to). Then He told them to go to Job and let Job pray for them. Imagine that – praying for others in the midst of our own life-threatening troubles. God’s prescription for Job’s cure – take your mind off your own troubles by praying for someone else’s troubles!  

 And after Job had taken his medicine (at God’s Woodshed!) and followed God’s prescription – OBEYED – God made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before (Job 42:10). So maybe, just maybe, there’s someone having tough times who needs to see how we’re holding up. In Cow Pasture Baseball, it was always interesting to see who would jump up from his slide into third fighting’ mad at everybody or laughin’ it off. The psalmist said it was good for me to be afflicted (Psalm 119:71).

 So, maybe, just maybe God is watching how we handle the slides into third base that life presents while we’re running the bases. And, maybe, just maybe, there are other players in the game who don’t yet know Him as their Lord and Savior.

 You can learn a lot from Cow Pasture Baseball.

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RABBIT TOBACCO

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

 Remember all the commotion several years ago when the Surgeon General came out with the warning that’s now commonplace and routinely ignored on cigarettes? With all due respect to the government’s doctor (never could figure out how he could be a doctor and a general at the same time), we didn’t need him back home at Route 4. We had ‘General Daddy’ to impress on us boys how hazardous smoking could be to our health!

 Get this picture in your mind. It was one of those beautiful, sunny and warm, but breezy afternoons that make you want to lie on your back in the grass and watch all the fluffy white clouds that look like dogs, giraffes, bears and other assorted animals.

 Now paint into this mental picture three farm boys that were supposed to be digging holes for fence posts and stringing barbed wire. Ollie, Wade, and I decided (I was the middle kid always led astray by others!) to find a warm spot on the back side of the hill out behind the barn and out of sight from the ‘General,’ and spend some time cloud-watching on our backs in a field of sage and broomstraw.

Being the older of the three, Ollie decided to teach Wade and me how to smoke rabbit tobacco. The best way I can describe what happened next is to compare it to the Lake of Eternal Fire that Preacher Dickson used to preach about at Return Baptist! You guessed it. The warm, gentle breeze caught a spark that Wade dropped from his rabbit-tobacco stogie while he was throwing up and gasping for breath.

 Mortal fear gripped our body, mind, and souls as we watched the side of that hill turn into an inferno that we thought would surely consume about a hundred acres of fields and woods! Lucky for us (or maybe not so lucky), ‘General Daddy’ saw the smoke from wherever he was working on the farm.

 Arriving on the scene at the speed of, and with the noise of ten fire trucks, he jerked off his shirt and began to beat the blaze to the ground while telling us in his best Sunday-School words to do the same. In reality, the size of the burned area was probably smaller than our barn loft. But that didn’t stop Daddy from jerking off another part of his attire (that big leather belt!), and proceed to teach a woodshed lesson that still today ranks right up there as one of the all-time most-remembered!

 All this because we farm boys chose to ignore one of Mother’s favorite warnings, “Your chickens will come home to roost at night.” The sure will, and so will our sins. On this trip through life with God as our Guide, do we ever ignore warnings? Just like speed limit signs on the highway for our safety and protection, God has also given us a few “thou shall nots.” 

 And just like the three country amigos back home, we get in trouble when we ignore His warnings. All too often I’m afraid, we neglect to spend time in daily Bible study, quiet times of talking and listening to God, real worship in His house, and building lasting relationships that please Him by loving, serving, and forgiving.   

The psalmist David (who spent some time at the woodshed!) reminds us (Psalm 19:9-11) that God’s rules are to be taken seriously; by them we are warned; they’re more precious than pure gold and sweeter than honey in the comb; and there’s a great reward if we keep them. In fact, David begins the book of Psalms by telling us that the person is truly blessed who ‘delights and meditates day and night’ on God’s law (Psalm 1:1-3).

And stay away from rabbit tobacco – smoking it can really be hazardous to your health!

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SOCIAL NETWORKING!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

There seems to be a new fad sweeping across the country, and I’ll be the first to admit it’s got me scratching this ol’ Route 4 head. Something called ‘social networking’ is creating more talk than my boyhood friend, Lane Morgan, did when he got caught skinny-dipping in Coneross Creek. When his Daddy, Mr. Odell, found out about his shenanigans, Lane reportedly said that somebody, calling no names here, took his clothes while he was in the creek. Well, that was his story and he’s been sticking to it now for over 50 years!

 But back to the main road – the only time we ever heard the word ‘social’ back home, it had the words ice cream in front of it. And it happened after preaching on Sunday nights in the summer time in the fellowship hall at Return Baptist.

 And since we didn’t have a television on the farm (much less one in every room!), the only thing that resembled a network was when they finally ran the phone line down our dirt road. Oh, what excitement there was on the six-party line network!   Yep, six families hooked up to that black thing with a round dial with numbers from 1 to 0 sitting on the table in the living room.

 And, as Daddy told it, when he heard 2 short rings and 1 long ring, he could pick it up and talk to Uncle Tack or Uncle Steve Nix, or whoever might be on the line. I never could figure out the ‘why’ of that thing. Everybody on that line lived on Route 4 just like us. All we had to do to talk to them was walk up to the main road, or across Johnson’s Branch and sit down on their front porch and talk to them. And besides that, it was not a kids’ toy, according to Daddy, so we had strict orders to stay away from it.

 So, after the new wore off, I think the grown-ups forgot who had what ring tone, so whenever there was any ring, everybody picked it up and talked and/or listened at the same time!  Now that I think about it, that’s probably how the news spread about young Lane Morgan’s afore-mentioned Olympic swimming tryouts!

 How did I every get so far down this side road? Anyway, this modern day social networking involves something called putting your face in somebody’s book. And then you go work on their farm and help them raise some vegetables. And then they come to your farm and help you work and raise your maters and taters. Nobody has to explain that part to me. I understand about plowing the garden, planting the seeds, hoeing the weeds, and such things!

 But I never see anybody outside in anybody’s garden when I’m out and about. The only evidence I see of all this farming is the maters that John Greer left on my front porch last Saturday. Thank you, John. Did any of you help John work on his farm? And when is he going to help you work on your farm? And do you keep up with who’s supposed to be working on your farm by putting their pictures in your book? And who takes the pictures? So many questions – no wonder this country boy is having a hard time understanding it! And I overhead somebody at the church social after preaching Sunday night say, “we need to get you in a tube.” Or at least that’s what it sounded like to me. I’m definitely not going down that side road!

 Nope, don’t understand that book with faces in it. But there IS a book I hope you know about that has NAMES in it. It’s called the Lamb’s Book of Life, and I’m praying that your name is in it. John, the apostle that Jesus loved, wrote about this book of life (Rev. 21:27) after the Romans had shipped off to an island for preaching so much about Jesus. But, according to John, nobody gets to see the Glory of Heaven unless our names are in that book!

 But if our name is in the book when they call the roll up yonder, there’s going to be such a wonderful time up there! In my Route 4 way of thinking, I believe it’ll be something akin to a huge ice cream social in the Fellowship Hall after preaching Sunday night.

 Whatever you do, don’t miss it for the world!

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LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

 It doesn’t take much anymore to trip the ‘Route 4, dirt-road’ switch in my mind. I saw a little sign in somebody’s front yard recently that shouted this message – “This property protected by such-and-such security system.” That reminded me of another sign I once saw on a fence around a business. It said simply, ‘Go ahead. Climb on in. Help yourself. Feed the dogs on your way out.’

 I have to run down a little side road right here. I believe it’s a sad commentary on the world we live in today that we have to lock up everything and live behind security systems and fences and cameras. Helen’s friend Martha once set off the ear-splitting, call-the-police alarm on her security system when she walked in the front-door of her own home and couldn’t remember the code. She possibly could have been talking on her ‘blackberry,’ but I can’t prove that!

 Back home at Route 4, doors were rarely closed, much less even locked with dead bolts and chains. And, my goodness, it never entered Daddy’s mind to lock the car when we went to church. His old 1951 Roadmaster, the only thing big enough to haul his brood to church, didn’t need an alarm system. Who would want that thing anyway?

 But back on the main road – the other day, I saw Jimmy Watt, a former protégé of mine in the radio business, giving a traffic report on television. He was talking about cameras on the highways showing this or that or the other wreck or slow-down or whatever. Seems like there are cameras everywhere these days! Cameras on the roads, in the parking lots, in the stores – they’re everywhere, just watching us, trying to catch us doing something we shouldn’t be doing. I once heard it said that character is what we are when we think nobody’s watching.

 Reminds me of the first time I caught my brother Ollie smoking a cigarette and then chewing on pine needles so Daddy wouldn’t smell smoke on his breath! Or the time Wade took some of Mother’s kitchen matches to grammar school one day in his back pocket. Playing recess baseball, he forget about the strike-anywhere fire sticks when he slid into third base and across a little flint rock in the school yard! He was safe at third but out at home when he jumped up, ran inside the school house to the boys’ bathroom to sit in the facility and put out his flaming backside!  

 And, can you just imagine this scene? Adam & Eve were strolling around the Garden one day and spied this juicy, red, delicious apple on a tree in the Garden. This tree had a ‘fence’ around it with a warning sign that said DON’T EAT THIS FRUIT! The Evil voice told them to go ahead and do it – that sign probably wasn’t meant for them anyway. They looked around to see if anybody was watching and then proceeded to help themselves. They just thought nobody was watching. Hauled into God’s court for their little blame-game, their lawyer might have said (in today’s world, anyway!) “Your Honor, can we see the video from the Garden on the date and time at which the accused was alleged to have eaten that apple?”

 What that couple didn’t realize then, and what so many of us today still can’t grasp, is that God has the biggest camera in the world – His eye. He knows everything, even when a little bird falls to the ground! His camera covers all the angles, curves, and detours on the road of life. He knows which way we’re going and coming before we even decide to go. And like a good security system, He’s always on call 24/7 every day of our lives.

 What we don’t get, I think, is this. God’s Heavenly Security System is for our protection, not to catch us slippin’ around and messin’ up! The Instruction Manual for His security system (it says Holy Bible on the front page) says this, “The Lord will keep you from all harm, He will watch over your life, both your coming and your going both now and forevermore” (Psalm 121:7-8). It’s because God is watching that we can feel safe and secure! Pretty good stuff, huh?

 So, when Satan is shootin’ those flaming arrows into our head, trying to fool us into thinking that we could get away with something, or that God might not be watching, just tell him, “Smile, Devil, the camera is rolling!”

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TURN BEFORE YOU BURN!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

 I heard an expression the other day that I hadn’t heard in years – ’ he has a farmer’s tan.’  And, like skipping flat rocks across Coneross Creek, my thoughts went skipping back down Route 4. But, just so the younger generation won’t be misinformed into thinking that a farmer’s tan was something you get in a tanning bed out in the country, please allow me to explain.

 A farmer’s tan was a well-defined brown line on the arms of a man who had spent countless hours working in the fields when it was so hot you could actually see heat waves rising from the ground in the distance. This tan-line as it’s called today stopped at the end of the end of the farmer’s short sleeve shirt. Above the brown line, just pure lily white skin on his arm!

 And speaking of the hot sun, the weatherman is predicting temperatures in the high 90’s this weekend with a heat index making it feel like maybe 101 or 102 degrees if you’re out in the sun.

 So what SPF sun-burn protection do you use when you’re exposed to the sun’s harmful rays? Is it 45, 30, 15, or maybe less than that? Or do you go about your activities in the sun with no protection at all – a dangerous decision that could result in painful burns, blisters, or worse – skin cancer!

 Going through life without seeking God’s protection often produces similar results. The psalmist David offers us spiritual SPF – protection by the Son as opposed to protection from the sun! David’s protection formula involved looking up to God for help. After all, it was He who made the sun, moon, stars, earth, and even Heaven (Psalm 121:1, NIV).

 And then, in one of my favorite psalms, David went on to explain why he looks to God for help and protection. He’s always on call 24/7 watching over us and guarding us because God never goes to sleep. And like that huge oak tree at the edge of a field of cotton on a scorching hot day, God provides shade with the refreshing coolness of a pitcher of ice-cold tea and protection from the sun.

 Protection from the sun by the SON – kinda has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? As I read on the sign at a country church, “We have out-of-this-world Fire Insurance!”

Don’t leave home today without it.

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