Archive for October, 2009

UMPTEEN-TRILLION!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

“Umpteen-trillion.” I haven’t thought about that in a long time. But that number (if it really is a number) ran to the front of my senior citizen mind early this morning. Stepping out on the back porch (some call it a deck) along about ‘milking time,’ I stepped right smack-dab into the middle of a heavenly art show.

I had a front-row seat and I didn’t need my bifocals to enjoy the show. And the chill running up my back was not caused by the mid-October temperature hovering only a handful of degrees above freezing. It was the awesome magnitude of what I was privileged to witness. There must have been an umpteen trillion diamonds spread across the black velvet of the pre-dawn sky!

There’s that number again. It caused many astrological arguments back home at Route 4 as we stood in the middle of the barnyard trying to count the stars. If I said umpteen trillion, that automatically meant that Ollie would say, “You’re wrong. I think it’s at least a thousand-billion.’ Then Wade or Eddie, sometimes Wendell,  would chime in with, “You’re both wrong. I think it’s at least a hundred-million-billion.”

Country boys dealt in BIG numbers. With imaginations to match! Without street lights or city lights or the halogen glow from the nearest shopping center, we could stand there in the barnyard till daylight wiped the sky clean and we still couldn’t come up with a number that came within smelling distance of what were seeing.

And if this scientific discussion had not ended by the time we made it back to the house for breakfast, Mother would have the last word. Without raising her voice. “Stop arguing and eat your oatmeal. I believe you boys would argue with a fence post if it would talk back to you.” Did she ever hit that nail on the head!

This is just me talking now, but I think the word star is overly used in today’s world. Instead of describing the majesty of God’s creation, we use terms like gold stars; seeing stars; the star of the show; I’ll give you the moon and stars; or it’s a five-star hotel. Why did they have to stop with five stars when they built that hotel? Why couldn’t they call it an umpteen-trillion star hotel. I might be inclined to check it out if they thought that much of it!

And do you ever listen to what people argue about? Sometimes before it’s over, they’ve forgotten what they were arguing about. Mother was right. Even in our world today, we still find folks who will argue with a fence post if it will talk back to them. Why, I even ‘channel-surfed’ across a tv show the other night where the host showed two people on split-screen, and all they were doing was arguing about goodness-knows what!

The next time the remote stopped, it was on a so-called court show. You know, ‘Judge Sally’ or ‘Judge Rufus’ or something like that. The judge sits in the black robe listening to two people supposedly suing each other over a fifty-cent bag of popcorn, or something equally ridiculous! And, boy howdy, do they ever argue! And they call it reality television. They’re half-right – it’s barnyard reality.

I think there must have been some Christians back in Paul’s day who liked to argue. When he wrote a letter to his friends who lived at Route 4, Philippi, Paul told them that they needed to stop arguing and instead, shine like stars “in a crooked and deprave generation” (Philippians 2:14-16). Hello! Exactly what generation was he referring to? Could that mess up a few twenty-first century shoe shines?

Standing there shivering on the back porch (deck) this morning, I just wondered – wouldn’t this old world be a much brighter place if everybody would stop arguing like silly farm boys and shine like the stars I was seeing. Someday the REAL JUDGE will put an end to all arguments! And then He’ll start counting His ‘stars.’

He’s the only One I know who can count to umpteen-trillion!

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WHAT’S ON YOUR LABEL?

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Are you a label-reader? It seems like we all spend a bunch of time these days reading labels. Food, medicine, and clothes are just a few of the labels that I find myself paying attention to these days.

Before that bag of frozen peas goes into the buggy at the grocery store, you have to know all about the sodium, transfat, cholesterol, fat grams, calories, etc., etc., etc. And for good reason. Food ingredients are important to our health, especially if your age is anywhere north of forty years! Gotta read the labels!

What’s in the medicine is important, too. Especially the side effects. What good does it do me if what I take cures my hiccups but makes my world spin like a top every time I get up out of my recliner? And is it the original medicine or the generic form? Gotta read the labels!

And what kind of materials should I look for in my shirts. Is it polyester, cotton, rayon or what? And what country were those shirts made in? Some fabrics can cause an itch and a rash or maybe worse, don’t you know? And do I dry clean or machine wash? Cold water or hot? High heat, low heat or no heat? Gotta read the labels!

This is just me talking, but I think all this attention to what’s on the label is the brainchild of one of those Management and Marketing think-tanks somewhere up north. You know what the commercials say – out of the same five doctors who test and review every product known to man, it’s always four who agree that such-and-such tooth paste will make your teeth as bright as the headlights on an eighteen-wheeler!  I just wonder if they’re all dentists. And what’s the one lone ranger on the panel thinking about? Gotta read those labels!

I guess our modern-day obsession with labels is a product of the pre-packaged, pasteurized, cellophane-wrapped world we live in today. I promise you – back home at Route 4, we were never concerned about labels. Well, almost, anyway. We did pay attention to the certain labels. Like ‘Watermelon Rind Preserves, Summer, 1951.’ Or ‘Pole Beans and Squash,’ 1955.’ Or ‘Mother’s Special Vegetable Soup, 1953.’ Those were labels that really told a story.

And if you had the job of writing on these labels, Heaven help you if you used sloppy handwriting! If Daddy couldn’t tell from the label what he was about to put into his cat-head biscuits dripping with cow’s butter – well, let’s just say that you wouldn’t need labels or directions on your way to the woodshed for another lesson! If the label said blackberry jam, there would be big, big trouble if it actually was Mother’s chow-chow relish that Daddy put in his biscuits!

So, yes labels are important. Not only labels on things, but also labels on people. And, most of the time, these labels are easy to read. They’ll tell you exactly ‘what’s on the inside.’ Take the label, for example, on good ol’ Barnabas (Acts 11:24), “he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.” And because of his label, Barnabas the Encourager was chosen to go to Antioch where gobs of people (Route 4 translation) were brought to the Lord.

Do you think for a skinny minute that Barnabas would have been picked for such an important job if he had not had a good label? After all, it was in this place where the disciples were first called Christians. And right there in the middle of the disciples and all the new converts was The Encourager! Would he have been sent on this mission if his label had read ‘bad attitude, sour-face, gutter-mouth, wet blanket, irreverent, selfish, un-kind, un-forgiving, and good-for-nothing?’

No, Barnabas was the right man for the right job at the right time because he was careful about what people saw in him when they read his label. And so it is with you and me.

First, we have to be careful about the labels we put on others. And, secondly, we have to be equally careful about what we put on our own label. What does our label say about what’s on the inside? Kind, generous, patient, loving, sharing, forgiving, and self-controlled? Or does our label say ‘extreme care and handling recommended?’

Reminds me of the story about two guys discussing the terms of endearment they used for their wives. The first fellow said he always called his wife honey, sweet dumplings, sugar-baby, etc. and etc. To which the second fellow sadly replies, “I just call mine Gunsmoke! I think she brushes her teeth with dynamite ‘cause every time she opens her mouth, there’s an explosion.”

Barnabas, on the other hand, encouraged them to stay true to the Lord with all their hearts (v. 23), and had a great impact on the lives of a great number of people.

What’s in a label? Just everything!

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MUDDY FOOTPRINTS

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

The leaves around our house are beginning to change their ‘clothes.’ Soon the spring and summer greens will be replaced by the brilliant reds and yellows of Fall. The morning air seems to be a little crisper with temperatures dipping into the fifties, forties, and soon into the thirties. I even saw some television footage this weekend of an October surprise up North – the first big snowfall of the year.

Without fail, this time of the year always makes me start singing, well OK, I’m just humming, that old John Denver tune, ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads.’ Before you can say “throw another log on the fire,” I’m knee-deep in the mud and snow and slushy mess that winter weather always delivered to Route 4.

Weather always played an important part of every decision you made growing up on a dirt road farm in the fifties. A spring shower or a summer frog-strangling gully-washer always brought a sigh of relief. That meant you ran as fast as your skinny legs would carry you toward the hall of the old barn. If you were one of the lucky ones that were just hoeing the garden, you made it to the barn first.

But if it happened to be your day to be an ‘Agricultural Engineer,’ you had to bring ol’ Plug, the mule, and the turn plow, the plow lines, and all the attendant farm equipment. One of Daddy’s cardinal rules was that you never ever left your tools out in the rain.

On the other hand, however, you didn’t quit working when you felt the first drop of rain. Could be just a passing shower! He usually waited till the animals started gathering in two’s and headin’ for the barn door before he’d let us knock off! So, by the time you ‘made it to the dry,’ where your brothers stood giggling and teasing, you looked like you had just come up out of the swimming hole down at Coneross Creek fully clothed.

But you couldn’t stay mad very long. There was just something special, and memorable to this day, about the sound of the rain on the tin roof of the barn combined with the smell of fresh hay in the barn loft, and a brief pause from the labor of the farm! And many times, a country boy would get his prayer answered – “Lord, please don’t let the rain let up until it’s up to the mule’s belly!” Be careful what you pray for.

Of all the seasons, though, winter took the heaviest toll on farm folks. Spring was nice. Lots of work to do. And Summer’s heat was tough, but you always had the creek, homemade ice cream, and ice-cold watermelons left in the branch all day. Fall made the folks a little bit anxious, knowing what was coming. And then, winter hit you upside the head like a two-by-four. Sometimes it seemed like you could stack the ol’ double fireplace full of wood on both sides, and feel nothing but cold air. Tough to heat the house when icy blasts were coming through the cracks and knot holes in the floor.

Many a winter night has seen Mother and Daddy taking turns getting up every couple of hours to stoke the fire. And on the most brutally cold mornings, the first thing you heard was Daddy’s voice – “OK, boys, who left the dipper in the water bucket?” Nothing but solid ice! And that was before you stepped outside the house.

I remember one year when the farm was covered with snow for an entire month. Maybe it was March of 1959 or ‘60, I’m not sure. But even years before that, when the cold rain and snow of winter turned our red-dirt farm into a quagmire, it was hard even for grownups to walk outside. And a ten-year-old skinny kid in hand-me-down brogans with cardboard covering the ‘sole-holes’ just didn’t stand much of a chance.

You just prayed for longer legs in the dark and cold of those pre-dawn hours to be able to follow in the footprints Daddy had already made in front of you in the snow and mud on the way to the barn to feed the animals. In times like that, we even had to wake up the roosters! Then it was a race to see which one of us could get our chores done the quickest! That was when we really wanted to work! And for good reason.

The first one back to the house had the best seat in front of the fireplace. And just like the hall of the barn in a summer rain, you just don’t forget the warmth of a roaring fireplace on a cold winter morning.

But if you forgot to stop on the back porch long enough to clean the muddy mess off your boots, you soon lost your place in front of the fireplace when Mother’s voice rose ever so slightly with “who left their muddy footprints in the kitchen?” That brought on another round of the game that my country brothers seemed to always be ready to play at the drop of a hat – “Point The Finger at Freeman!” 

That was the only time I can ever recall that Daddy listened to a ‘committee.’ And when the vote was 5 to 1, as it usually was, everybody moved up in front of the fireplace while I went to clean up the muddy footprints. The old saying – the best of times and the worst of times – comes to mind.

And can I just say right here, Thank God for wiring up our brains to remember the good times, and wash away the bad times like those gully-washing rains across the front yard of our memory.

And speaking of muddy footprints, it’s hard to think about them without recalling something that I think it was Max Lucado who said. ‘Faith leaves footprints for others to follow.’ If you ever walked in the muck and mud of a farm winter, I hope you’ll file away that little saying in the Rolodex of your memory. Not a single one of us would be where we are today had there not been footprints left for us by somebody else!

And ‘muck and mud’ situations are not just an encounter of farm boys lost in the fifties. Ever see anybody whose wagon is ‘bogged down to the axle’ in your world today? Don’t answer that. It might even be the person staring back at you from your bathroom mirror. Or someone in the desk or office or car beside you. Or a neighbor or friend down the street. 

When the trials, troubles, and temptations of the world have us ‘up to our eyeballs in alligators,’ here’s something that I highly recommend to start ‘draining the swamp.’

It’s the ‘by faith’ chapter of Hebrews 11. “By faith Abel; by faith Enoch; by faith Noah; by faith Abraham; by faith Isaac; by faith Jacob; by faith Joseph; by faith Moses; and on and on the Scripture goes, pointing out the footprints left for us to follow. And these ‘Fathers of our Faith’ didn’t exactly have it made in the shade on Easy Street.

Read about how they were jeered, flogged, put in prison in chains, stoned to death, sawed in two, even murdered with a sword. But Chapter 11 ends with words of warmth and comfort and promise, much like that old farmhouse fireplace on a cold winter morning. Verses 39 and 40 tell us that those who left footprints for us to follow were rewarded (‘commended’) for their faith.

But ‘we ain’t seen nothing yet’ compared to what God has in store for us when we all get together with Him!  Boy, oh boy! That makes me want to get my chores done first and get the best seat in front of the fireplace! Before that happens, though, I have to ask myself a big, big question.

In the muck and mud (evil) of this world, in my Monday through Saturday plowin’, plantin’, and pickin’, am I leaving any footprints for others to follow?

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ROTTEN EGGS

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

You’d think it would be a simple thing for a grown man to do. I had my instructions. Pick up a dozen eggs on your way home. OK, I’m standing in front of the egg counter at the grocery store. Do you know how many different kinds and sizes of eggs there are?

You have your basic one dozen large eggs. But you also have to decide if you brown or white eggs. And do you want a dozen eggs or 18 eggs? Maybe you should get extra large eggs. Or double yolk eggs? How about medium or small eggs? One thing I didn’t see, though, were rooster eggs. (If I have to explain that, you must be a cousin from the city).

Anyway, just like that, a simple little thing like picking up a dozen eggs stepped on the starter of my old, dilapidated mental pickup truck. After a couple of double-clutches in granny-low gear, we shifted right through low and second, then to high gear and, before I could stick my arm out the window and give a left-hand turn signal, I was standing right smack-dab in the middle of the chicken house back home on the farm.

Many times Mother would say, as she was mixing up the cornbread for supper, “Son, run down to the hen house and get me a couple of eggs.” And she liked the regular eggs, as we called them. Not the bantam chicken eggs that looked like bird eggs. For her country cooking, Mother always preferred the Domineckers or the Rhode Island Reds.

A little side road here, if you please. Did you ever know anyone who acted like a bantam rooster? Struttin’ around with a squawk here and a squawk there acting like he was the king of barnyard?  But guess who’s always sitting on the fence telling us with his deep bass voice that it was time to get up? It was the ‘Big Boy Rooster.’

But back to the main road. I don’t know how it happened. But it seemed like it was always my job to feed and water the chickens, gather the eggs, clean out the chicken house, etc., etc., etc. I guess that’s why I wound up with raising chickens and eggs as my 4-H Club project. I already had tons of experience! Lots of jobs to do around the chicken house, too.

And I guess I should mention that there are a few ‘chicken-house rules’ that you don’t ever want to forget. First, it is highly important that you wear shoes and watch where you step when you’re in the chicken house. Also a pretty good rule to remember as you walk down the dirt road of life, too.

Chicken House Rule Number Two – you don’t mess with a settin’ hen. Come to think of it, that’s another good rule for life if you know anybody who has a settin’ hen personality. After a couple of peck-mark bruises on his skinny arms, a country boy learns to avoid the settin’ hens. And it happens every day in ‘chicken-house’ offices and jobs around the world!

But, I always liked the ‘happy hens.’ You could almost see ‘em smile as they clucked and went about eatin’ their laying mash and layin’ the eggs for Mother’s sweet-tastin’ cornbread.

Rule number three – don’t ever leave the door to the chicken house un-latched! There’s always a fox trying to get into the hen house. And at two o’clock in the morning, a fox in the hen-house will wake up everybody in the farmhouse! You can think of some real nice, Sunday-School words for that old fox while you and Daddy are at the woodshed discussing the un-latched chicken house door!

And Chicken-House Rule Number Four – and this one will come back to haunt you if you forget it. Make sure you gather ALL the eggs, or “cackle-berries” as Daddy used to call ‘em. Why is that rule so important? Glad you asked! A good egg left out in the heat all by itself will soon turn rotten.  

Pay attention now – is there anything that smells worse than a rotten egg? You can get in too big a hurry gathering eggs and miss a couple in the corner hidden under some straw. Or ‘little miss bashful Hen-rietta’ is still sitting on hers. You leave a couple of good eggs laying around in the heat of the chicken house for a couple of days and watch what happens. You’ll open the latch one morning and never want to eat your scrambled eggs again!

People are a lot like eggs. You have your basic good eggs. Folks who always seem to go about their jobs just smilin’ and cluckin’ and blessin’ all the other chickens they meet. Then you have the ‘rotten eggs.’ They’ve been laying around in the ‘heat of the hen-house’ so long they’ve begun to smell.

Then they start acting like rotten eggs with their stinkin’-thinkin.’ And it just gets all over every little chick in the chicken house. And what happens when you find a rotten egg? You just gotta put a clothes pin on your nose and get that rascal out of there. Throw it as far away as you can get it.

That’s why Chicken House Rule Number Four is so important!  The good eggs and the bad eggs are a lot like the two baskets of figs that God showed to one of His early prophets in Jeremiah, chapter 24. Only ten verses in that chapter. Worth reading over and over and over again! I can just imagine Jeremiah standing there with two baskets of eggs (figs) in front of him. When the Lord asked him what he saw, Jeremiah didn’t have to form a committee or a task force to come up with the answer. It wasn’t Jerry’s first day at the chicken house. “Why, there are figs (eggs) in each basket. The good ones in one basket and the bad ones that can’t be eaten are in another basket.” The good ones are very good and the bad ones, well, they are ‘an offense to all the kingdoms of the earth and will be destroyed’ (verse 10).

Everywhere we look today we’ll see good figs and bad ones, good eggs and rotten ones. And, sometimes it seems like there’s a lot more in the rotten basket than in the good basket. But just remember what God told Jeremiah to tell us will happen to the bad ones.

Which basket are you in today?

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A ROUND TUIT

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Is there ever a convenient time to clean out your closet? I don’t think so. But it’s one of those jobs that eventually have to be done. The day comes when you can’t put it off any longer. That doesn’t make it any more convenient, though. We can always think of several things that we’d rather be doing and even justify, at least in our own minds, doing something other than what’s staring at us right in our face.

That happened a lot while we were growing up at Route 4. Like when winter was coming, Daddy would say, “Boys, it’s time to sharpen the ax. You don’t want to be out there cutting firewood and stove wood when the snow is on the ground.” And even in the summer heat, it never was convenient to haul hay to the barn. Especially when the bales of hay weighed more than two skinny country boys put together. But tell me you’ve never heard this – “boys, we have to make hay while the sun shines.” I can’t remember ever haulin’ hay when it was less than 95 degrees in the field. Why suffer like that when the ol’ swimmin’ hole down at the creek looked SO inviting? The answer to that question is the same one today as it was when Daddy gave it to us fifty-some-odd years ago – ‘cause I said so.’  

One of the longest days I ever spent ‘learning my lesson’ at the woodshed was when I wanted to wait for a more convenient day to do something Daddy said to do. But I found something more convenient to do, like laying in the pasture on a pretty day and watching those puffy white clouds that looked like all the cows and mules and dogs and cats that I was supposed to be taking care of. Well, when Ollie or Wade, don’t remember which one, said, “That cloud looks just like Daddy.” Except it wasn’t a cloud. It was the real deal in that shadow that I thought covered the whole pasture! And they had a good laugh at my expense.

But when Daddy asked that famous question, “When are you going to learn?” I thought I had the right answer – “When I get around to it.” Well, I’m here to tell you – his size 40 leather belt helped me get around to it in a hurry!

The day comes, though, when you just have to lace up your brogans real tight and understand that life is not about convenience or comfort. It’s about character. Looking through my ‘backward glasses,’ that idea comes into focus a little more clearly.

That day came at our house the other day. The ‘Committee of One’ decided that we needed to knock out a wall between two rooms to give us a little bit more space. I had no problem with her decision. Well, I’ll admit. I had just a tiny, itsy-bitsy problem. On that wall that just had to go, was the one closet I called mine. Or at least, I called half of it mine. Half of it and the other four belonged to the ‘committee.’ And I was OK with that arrangement. Until I was faced with losing my half-closet! That meant I’d have to clean out my stuff that had been accumulating for lo these many years while I was waiting to get around to it.

Then I had what I’ll modestly call a brilliant idea! Recalling those days of yester-year back home on the farm, I went to the store and got me a bunch of boxes. Real sturdy ones. Hold a bunch of stuff. Packed all my stuff in those ‘cardboard concealers,’ and wrapped ‘em up tight with duct tape. Then I pulled out my magic marker and drew a neat round circle on the end of each box. And in the middle of that round circle, I wrote the word ‘TUIT.’ My handwriting is not what it used to be, so when the ‘committee of one’ looked at it, she thought it said TWIT! In complete innocence, she had come up with the perfect description of my little plan!

Anyway, today the wall and the closet are both gone. And out in the garage, there’s a bunch of  boxes, neatly stacked, with a round circle drawn on the end of each one containing the word ‘tuit.’ Mother and Daddy would be proud of their middle child. He’s finally gotten ‘a round tuit!’ It wasn’t convenient, but at least he got around to it.

Folks in the Bible used to look for round tuits, also. The Apostle Paul finally got a round tuit when he was blinded by a bright light and knocked off his donkey one day out there on ‘Route 4, Damascus!’ And later, after he got his sight and his vision back, Paul got into some hot water for preaching about not waiting for a round tuit. A big shot named Felix and his wife Drusilla heard Paul talking about his faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 24:24-25). Felix became a little scaredy cat when he heard Paul preaching about ‘doing what was right and having some self-control.’ What really made ol’ Felix nervous was when he heard Paul talking about the Judgment Day that was ‘a-coming.’ He didn’t think it was a convenient time to put his faith in Jesus as Paul was telling him to do. He wanted to wait till later, when he got ‘a round tuit.’ This is just me talking now. I don’t know if Felix ever got a round to it. I just wonder if he and Drusilla are enjoying the Banquet Table with the Lord.

But here’s a lesson from the shed. While we’re waiting for a convenient time to clean out our spiritual closet, the ‘stuff’ of life will stack up like firewood until it pushes the closet door down. Or worse, somebody comes along and knocks your closet down.

Today is THE day for cleaning out the clutter and making reservations for the Reunion Feast in Glory.

There’ll never be a better time to get a round tuit.

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WINNER OR WHINER?

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Did you get up this morning thinking ‘well, it’s raining again.’ Won’t get much done today. Or did you wake up thinking, ‘What a great day for that new grass – thank you, Lord, for the rain.’ I jokingly asked a friend the other day if they knew where I could find some gopher wood. A couple of years ago, we had a ‘long dry spell,’ as Mother used to call it back home on the farm when it didn’t rain for a while. Or a drought, as some folks call it today.

There’s a big difference, though, between a long dry spell and a real-honest-to-goodness drought. Just ask Noah when you get to Heaven. God told that guy to ‘get up every morning and go to work.’ Regardless of the weather. Can’t you just imagine what was going through Noah’s mind? “Lord, you want me to do what? Build a what? Why? Who needs a boat? It’s going to rain? What is rain?” For a bunch of country boys and girls growing up at Route 4, ‘do what?’ usually earned us some bonus travel time. Like another all-expense-paid trip to the shed!

Can you hear this conversation at the breakfast table along about five o’clock on a rainy morning? OK, boys, since we’ve got a ‘little shower’ this morning, we’ll clean out the stables down at the barn. In Daddy’s point of view, a little shower was anything that didn’t cause Coneross Creek to overflow into the bottoms. But, Daddy, since it’s raining cats and dogs and it’s too wet to plow, why can’t we just sleep late and take the day off? Boy, stop your whining and do what you’re told. Or I’ll show you ‘too wet to plow!’ And, some of you will just have to trust me on this, the water can get very deep around the woodshed. If you catch my drift.

Our sisters didn’t have much to whine about though. Just wash and iron a few clothes and dishes. Bless their hearts, they didn’t have any paper plates. Maybe they had to use a broom once in a while, ‘cause our Electrolux Power Vac-and-Sweep was on back order! A broom was all they needed anyhow. Anything that needed sweeping up would just fall right through the cracks in the floor!

  But we country brothers could whine with the best of them! It was always too hot or too cold; or the mule was too stubborn; or we were too tired; or our feet had blisters! Wade’s favorite was ‘Daddy, I stumped my toe and I can’t get my shoe on.’ And Ollie liked to whine to Daddy about me not pulling my side of the cross-cut saw. You name it, and we probably whined about it. You’d think we had a master’s degree in whining. And Daddy would say, ‘If you’re that tired, you’ll probably be too tired to make it to the supper table.’  

All that whining might have been going through Noah’s mind. But he didn’t complain. Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Gen. 6:8). I liked that old song when I first heard it in VBS at Return Baptist Church. And I still like to hum it on now on rainy days. I don’t know if Noah could carry a tune in a water bucket, but I often wonder if he whistled or hummed or sang a tune while he worked on that big boat. He just got up every morning and went to work. And worked. And worked. And worked. Without power tools. On a boat that was about four-and-a-half stories high and as long as one-and-a-half football fields. Growing a beard and getting’ a suntan!

God said it was going to rain and Noah believed Him and followed God’s orders to a ‘T’ without griping or complaining or whining (Gen.6:22). I think one of Coach Bear Bryant’s favorite expressions could be applied to Noah – ‘All he was, was just a winner!’

I got a wake-up call the other day about whining. A few sore muscles in my back, and neck, and arms, and legs – well, you get the picture! Just before sending out invitations to my pity party, I turned on my email. And I thought it was a wake-up call straight from the portals of Heaven! Someone had sent me a link to a five-minute video of a college basketball player. I can’t remember his name or what college he played for. But I’m going to look it up and watch it again when I get that proverbial ‘round tuit.’ There I go again with the whine – just so busy these days!

But this young man in the video only had one arm. And he was playing college basketball! According to the story, when he was born his umbilical cord was wrapped around his left wrist and cut off the circulation to his arm. His mother was quoted as saying she just prayed that he would live, not grow up to play college basketball. Don’t you know that if anyone ever had a reason to whine, this young man could have gotten away with it?

But God gave him a 6-foot, 8-inch body. And in that body also was the gift of working hard, regardless of the circumstances, without whining. And he’s surprising many opposing players with his God-given talent for the game. He was quoted in the interview saying that other players think he’s good for an easy score. Some question why he’s on the court. Some probably even make fun of him. But they change their tune when he dunks on top of them! Sounds like a modern-day Noah to me.

So, let’s you and I play a little game. Whenever we feel like whining, just put a little ‘Noah-notion in our noggin.’ So what if my arms and legs are sore. They’ll get over it. At least I have two of each! Forgive us, Lord, for forgetting Paul’s advice (Phil. 2:14) to ‘do everything you have for us to do without whining’ (Route 4 translation).

Winner or whiner? I had no shoes and I complained, until I met a man who had no feet.

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PASS THE BUTTER, PLEASE!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Do we really know what’s good for us anymore? My buddy Herb sent me an email the other day about margarine. Supposedly, it was a study from a famous medical school ‘up north,’ as we used to say back home on the farm. According to this article, margarine was not originally intended for consumption by people. I’ll give you three guesses as to what its original purpose was. Give up?

When margarine was invented, again according to this article, it was intended to be used to fatten up turkeys! I have a question. Don’t people eat turkey? Well, anyway, the turkeys didn’t do too well when they were given margarine. In fact, some of them may have passed on. The ‘turkey autopsy’ found out that margarine had some of the same characteristics as plastic and paint!

That’ll make you think twice about your breakfast toast, won’t it? Now that I have your attention, I’ll pass along some of Daddy’s Route 4 advice. Don’t believe nothing you hear, and only half of what you see with your own two eyes!  

My point in this silly little story – how do we know what’s good for us anymore? Mother used to tell her country boys, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay away from that red-hot stove!” But, you know, we farm boys just had a way of disregarding sound advice. Like when Daddy said, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll have the whole garden hoed by the time I get back.” See, our parents believed in miracles way back then. And when he got back and found us in our swimming hole in Coneross creek, it was a very unhealthy situation at the woodshed, if you catch my drift!

I was thinking about being healthy the other day while I was walking past the freezer section in the grocery store. I noticed a whole section of ‘suppers-in-a-box’ called Healthy Choice. What a great name! I sure wouldn’t eat something if it was named ‘Un-Healthy Choice, would you? Back home on the farm, we never had suppers-in-a-box. But we did have dinners in a bag. A couple of sausage biscuits and a baked sweet potato that we carried to the field in a Dixie Crystals sugar bag. Of course, back then we exercised (worked like a rented mule!). And that, I think, might have kept us healthy even when our cornbread had cow’s butter running out the side. Didn’t matter what that medical school up north had to say ‘bout cow’s butter!     

But what if that triple cheeseburger with chili fries and super-size belly-washer you had yesterday came with a warning to your health? ‘Eat one of these every day, be a test pilot for Lay-Z-Boy, and go sit in the waiting room at the doctor’s office with all the other sick people? We sure wouldn’t go there if we were healthy, now would we? But the key that unlocks that door is a four-letter word called W-O-R-K. And that’s not the call letters for the local radio station.

Being physically healthy takes a lot of hard work, especially if we’ve been around a while. And not many of us ‘eat the good stuff we grow’ anymore. Hot, buttered, corn-on-the-cob and cat-head biscuits lost in saw-mill gravy never hurt me when I was walking six miles one way to see my ‘sweet thang.’ Thus we have this health problem created by the so-called good life. No, not the sweet thang – the absence of the walking twelve miles round-trip to see her!

And, in much the same way, we develop a spiritual heath problem when we become slack in our work. A sign in the front yard of a church I saw recently carried a great message – ‘Exercise Your Faith, Walk With The Lord Daily.’ What does that spiritual good-health exercise look like? Thank you for asking. It is regular and intense study of God’s instruction manual for good health (The Bible). It’s also a private, regular, sustained prayer life. Talking with and listening to God when He talks. Not the country boy’s prayer – ‘Please, Lord, don’t let Daddy find out about those two C’s on my report card.’ Good spiritual health also involves regular, active, and attentive  worship. A preacher was asked one time if the crying baby disturbed him. “No,” he answered, “I’d rather hear the cry of a baby than the snore of a saint!”

Then we all need to work up a ‘spiritual sweat’ on the spiritual treadmill and elliptical with barbells called love, forgiveness, generosity, patience, kindness, joy, and peace, just to name a few to get started with at Jesus’ Gym.

Jesus had a first cousin that He loved named John (John 13:23). Side road please. Here a little spiritual workout. Name as many cousins (relatives) as you can in thirty seconds that you’ve told lately that you love them. Back to the main road. John, the fisherman who wrote Revelation and the Gospel of John, was writing to his dear friend Gaius one day. He probably hadn’t seen Gaius in a while. So John wrote him a letter and told him that he was praying that Gaius was enjoying good health, that he was getting’ along OK, and that his soul was getting a good workout, too (3 John:2).

Here’s a little ‘what if’ for you. What if someone (cousin or not) prayed that your physical health would match your spiritual health? Call 9-1-1 – send an ambulance! Get me to the ER! I might need life support! But here’s the good news. The Doctor is in. And His name is Dr. Jesus! And His prescription for good health is simple. Just come see Him everyday and follow His advice!

Pass the butter, please.

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HAPPY DAYS

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

My friend Jim asked me the other day if I had Mother’s recipe for persimmon pie. I had to admit that my only experience with persimmons while growing up at Route 4 was not something you’d put in a pie. In fact, biting into a green persimmon would make your face look like a twist-a-flex watch band.

My introduction to green persimmons came from George and Oliver back home on the farm. Since they were older than me, I thought they had been enjoying this farm treat for a long time. I should have known something was up when they stood back and encouraged (dared) me to eat a handful. Could I just say that if green persimmons and boiled okra were the only two things left in the world to eat, I wouldn’t last very long!

Green persimmons became associated with what seemed like our daily visits to the woodshed. After the lesson of the day at the shed, Daddy would say something like, “Now, Boy, you better straighten up and fly right.” And the non-woodshed brothers would tease with something like ‘you look like you had green persimmons for breakfast.’

But, you know, we all meet people every day who look like they’ve been eating green persimmons for breakfast for a month. Like they’ve forgotten how to make a smile. Or maybe there’s just not anything in their life to be happy about.

I saw a sign a while back. It said ‘Happy Hour, 5-6pm.’ Not long after that, the 5 was changed to a 4. I guess they decided that it would take more than one hour to make some folks happy. They must have been serving green persimmons for appetizers!

This is just me talking now, but I think that the sign itself is sad. Is life so bad that we have to designate one hour out of the day to be happy? Is there a sign that says ‘Un-Happy Hour’ for the other 23 hours of the day? Was the sad sign telling people that they have to wait till 5pm to be happy?

Do you remember the old television show with Richie and the Fonz? Just hearing the theme song from that show was enough to put a smile on your face. Wouldn’t it be a better world if we went to work with a smile on our face, whistlin’ and singin’ a tune like that? As David wrote in Psalm 68:3, ‘let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; let them be happy and joyful.’ And in Proverbs 15:13, we read ‘a happy heart makes the face cheerful.’

Maybe it’s this hamster-world that we live in these days – in mad pursuit of things and stuff. Or letting fear and terror create corn-row furrows in our brow. Do you know anyone that always seems like they have an ear-to-ear smile across their face? Do you think they are exempt from day-to-day cares, concerns, or calamities? Of course not. Chances are, they’ve just decided that ‘Jesus Joy’ tastes better than green persimmons.

Our friend Melanie is that kind of person. To see her, you’d think she’s having hot buttered cornbread and homemade ice cream for supper every day of her life! Sure, we all have ‘green persimmon and boiled okra’ days. But the key here is not what goes into our stomach, but what comes out of our heart.

The writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes sounds like he spent his whole life on the hamster wheel – always running and getting nowhere. And only at the end of his life did he decide that there is “nothing better for man than to be happy and to do good while he lives; and finding satisfaction in his life’s work is truly a gift of God” (Eccl. 3:12-13).

Life without God at the center is meaningless and purposeless. That leads to a lifestyle where we have to declare that one hour of the day will be set aside to be happy. That reminds me of those nickel blow-pops we used to get at Junior Stephens’ country store. If you lick ‘em long enough, you get to the center. And there you find the gum with which you can blow bubbles all day long!

A life with Jesus Christ at the Center enables us to withstand the green persimmon times of our lives, to be thankful for the life He has given us, the time He has given us to ‘bloom on the farm where He has planted us,’ In short, to enjoy all His good gifts to the fullest. Or, as our preacher said recently, “If you’re happy, why don’t you let your face know about it, ‘cause it hasn’t found out yet!” The cheerful heart has a continual feast (Proverbs 15:15).

And it ain’t green persimmons and boiled okra!

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FILL ‘ER UP!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Don’t you just love modern conveniences? I do. I enjoy being able to get hot water out of a spigot in the shower instead of having to draw it out of the well and build a fire to heat it up for that infamous Saturday night bath. And how about holding your glass in front of the Frigidaire and filling it up with ice and water? Truly amazing!

And how ‘bout the hose pipe? A little grin ran across the face of my memory the other day when I saw a lady watering her flowers with a hose pipe. Back home at Route 4, there was no such thing. Didn’t need a hose pipe to water the garden. In the first place, it would have made our work on the farm much harder trying to pour a bucket of well water into the end of that hose pipe! And secondly, we would have needed about two miles of hose pipe to run all the way to the watermelons and cantaloupes, anyway.

A little further down the road from the flower lady, I just had to LOL, as the kids say in their texting! Side road, please. Why do we have to abbreviate everything in the English language?  Miss Barron taught us in high school English that words are powerful. What’s so powerful about LOL?

Anyway, I indeed laughed out loud when I saw somebody’s sprinkler system automatically watering their pretty green, manicured lawn. I mean, that thing was spraying water so far, it was watering the tar-and-gravel road in front of the place. And, to my jaw-dropping amazement, it was spraying at top speed even in the rain! That just takes the cake!

And another joyful modern convenience is this new toy that Helen has. It’s a little black box clipped on the sun visor in her car. And when she comes down the driveway, she lifts just one finger, pushes a button on this box and the garage door magically opens for her. Once inside, she repeats the one-finger operation and the door closes behind her. God bless whoever invented that little box!

Of course, back home at Route 4, the only garage we knew about was where they replaced the engine in Daddy’s pulpwood truck when Oliver blew it up by running it hot after the radiator hose busted. But I stood up for him on that one. There wasn’t a hose pipe to be found anywhere out there in the woods!

Can’t help but wonder how life on the farm would have been if Daddy had had one of those little boxes clipped on the sun visor of that pulpwood truck. Then when he came down the dirt road toward the house, he could just push that button and the door to the smokehouse would have closed automatically. That would certainly have saved me from an extended woodshed experience for leaving the latch open on that smokehouse door one night, and giving the dogs free access to the hams curing inside!

Modern conveniences – we do enjoy them, right? But there’s one thing that flies around inside the head of this ol’ card-carrying senior citizen country boy like gnats around ripe bananas. Pray tell me, what is convenient about the ladies having to get out of their car in all kinds of weather, mess up their hands, and maybe their clothes, too, and pump gas into their car? BTW, there I go again, by the way, why do I have to go inside to get my receipt when I’m at the pay-at-the-pump ‘in-convenient’ store? We live in a jet-speed world, that’s for sure.

I do miss pulling up to the pump and hearing the ding-dong of the bell when I drive over the long black rubber hose. And the man at the filling station runs out when he hears the bell and cheerfully asks, “FILL ‘ER UP,SIR?”  I guess the price of gas abolished that question. But even back then, most people just said, ‘No thanks, give me two dollars worth.’ Of course, that was when you could get more than one  gallon for two dollars.

I still remember my first teen-age country boy’s part-time job. I mean one where you got paid with real coins and maybe a ‘George’ or two greenback piece of paper. I’d get up on Saturday morning even before the roosters woke up. Still had to do my chores. And then I’d walk up the dirt road to meet Mr. Oscar Graham at the main road. Mr. Oscar had a Sinclair filling station at the corner of North First and Fairplay Streets in town, and he let me ride to town with him and work there on Saturdays.

 It was my job to run out there and ask “Fill ‘er Up, Maam?” with a smile on my face when I heard the ding-dong bell. One time I felt like smacking a little kid when he got out of his Mom’s car and started jumping up and down on that bell-ringing hose pipe!

But as I was pumping my own the other day, I started thinking that Mr. Oscar’s place was appropriately named – a filling station! He always had a smile and a little joke or two to make his customers feel better! This is just me talking, but I think folks enjoyed coming to Mr. O’s filling station.

Of course, we would fill up your tank with gas, your motor with Quaker State, and even your tires with free air. It was a full-service filling station. Even for the lady who came in to Mr. Oscar’s once a month and asked me to change the air in her tires! Said something about making them last longer with fresh air in ‘em. But I did it, and even washed her windshield, too, because it was a filling station.

And then this thought jumped right out of the clear blue sky and landed on my frontal lobe. What if we, I mean you and me and him and her, and everyone in the world, were ‘human filling stations?’  Say what?

Can you just imagine what a stress-reliever it would be if we filled up those lives that ‘pull in to our filling station’ every day with things like – I’m SO glad to see you; you’ve been in my thoughts and prayers lately; how have you and family been getting’ along; is there anything I can do for you; I sure would like for you and the missus to go to church with us next Sunday; or why don’t you bring the wife and kids and come over to the house for supper this Saturday night.

Don’t you know if we took the time to do those things, we’d be pumping more than gas into their tanks? And this is just me again, but I see bunches of folks every day whose gas tank of life is on “E.”

The writer of Psalm 107 has been to God’s Filling Station. He begins in verse 1 with “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His love endures forever.” And then in verse 9, we read “for He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” Now that’s THE real full-service Filling Station. The question facing you and I today is this – what are we pumping into the lives of other people as they drive across our ding-dong bell?

 There’s a world full of thirsty and hungry people out there runnin’ on empty. And, I must confess, some times they must think my filling station is closed because I act like I’ve put one of those plastic bags over my pump handles.

You won’t find a long line at that convenience store!

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THE BENEFITS PACKAGE

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Once a year we get an email from the home office informing us of a specific date at some point in the near future that we need to sign up for, make changes to, or renew our benefits package. It’s called the Open Enrollment period. And if we forget to do it, tough luck, we have to wait until next year.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes the Open Enrollment process threatens to short circuit my mental fuse box. Or as Daddy used to say back home at Route 4, “Son, you’re trying to carry a ten-gallon load in a five-gallon bucket.”

You’ve been there. You know what I’m talking about. First there’s insurance of every kind known to man – life, health, hospitalization, short term disability, long term disability, cancer protection, accidental death and dismemberment, spousal coverage, dependent coverage, workman’s comp, dental, vision, long-term care – the list is endless.

I don’t think a root canal would be this painful. And that reminds me, how much does my dental pay for crowns, caps, root canals, and extractions? And do I need to upgrade my coverage? I think that’s why that duck that I see on those television commercials is about ‘two sandwiches shy of a picnic!’ I know how he feels.

I share his pain when it’s Open Enrollment time for the company benefit package. And once you’ve checked all the right boxes on the first ten pages, then turn to the next six pages and choose your IRA’s and 401-k’s and whatever other mattress you decide to stuff a few coins under to pay the rent once you move to Easy Street.

And once again, I remind you, don’t you dare let that Open Enrollment Cut-Off Date slip by, or it’s off to the human resources department woodshed till the next O.E. period.

Speaking of the shed, I remember one time when I was about 11, maybe 12 years old, I asked Daddy when he was going to start paying me for all the hard work we were doing on the farm. I had heard about kids at school who were getting something from their parents called an allowance. I didn’t know all the details, but some boy said he got paid 50-cents a week to clean up his room.

Unbelievable! In the first place, there wasn’t a room in the ol’ farmhouse that I called ‘my room.’ And in the second place, if Mother or Daddy told any of us to pick up, or clean up, or take out the ashes from the fireplace, or sweep the yard with the brush broom, their instructions never came with a promise of a payday at the end of the week.

Only a ‘payday’ if we didn’t do as we were told! And that ‘benefit package’ was definitely not something you wanted to sign up for. It came with an automatic trip to the woodshed. And you didn’t need a travel agent to make arrangements for that trip!

But just imagine getting paid maybe a nickel for every stick of stove wood we brought in to the house, or maybe a dime for every bucket of water drawn from the well, why we could have paved the dirt road in front of the house if we had that much money!

Anyway, when I brought up the ‘farm boy pay scale’ to Daddy, I could see the veins in his neck stand at attention, and his face started getting red. But to his credit, he calmly listed for me the Route 4 Benefit Package. “Write this down, he said, in your Blue Horse tablet with lined paper. Around here, you get three meals a day. Plus a roof over our head.” That’s it. Take it or leave it. Do as you’re told or meet him at the woodshed. We sure didn’t need a benefits counselor to explain that package!

Speaking of benefits, there was once a little shepherd boy who slept outside with his sheep keeping watch over them. I sure am glad that sleeping out in the pasture with the cows wasn’t part of the job description back home on the farm. But, as we know, David grew up to be king and was greatly used by God, in spite of all his mistakes,  in leading God’s people. I guess he had a lot of time to think when he was a shepherd boy because he wrote some pretty neat stuff when he grew up.

In Psalm 103:2, David reminds himself (and us) to praise the Lord, and don’t forget all His benefits. Then David went on to list the complete ‘Heavenly Benefits Package.’

It includes forgiveness, healing, redemption, love and compassion, a few good things to satisfy our desires, and the renewal of our energy when we work hard at the job of being a child of the King. Now, that benefit package is sweeter than a bowl of hot buttered cornbread and buttermilk!

But that’s not all the benefits that David listed. In verses 8-11, he gets to the good part. It takes a lot to make God mad; He doesn’t hold grudges against us when we ‘fall down on our job’; and His love for us is bigger than the distance between the sky and the ground we walk on.

But the part of this Benefit Package that I can really identify with are two things called Mercy and Grace (see verse 10). Mercy is not getting what we really do deserve. And grace is getting what we really don’t deserve.

Now a country boy from Route 4 can understand those benefits. If we got what we really deserve, we’d spend every day of this life and the life hereafter in the ‘eternal woodshed.’ And His grace means we have a place set for us at the Big Reunion Supper Table in glory. And, by the way, can I throw this in right here? I believe that when we all sit down at that table, I’ll be allowed to just say ‘No Thank You’ when the okra is passed around! And all you okra-lovers can have a second or third helping!

God’s Grace –  getting what we don’t deserve, like Mother saying, ‘OK, kids, have a second helping of sweet potato pie, blackberry cobbler, and coconut cake. There’s enough to go around for everybody.’

Let’s all turn to page 188 in our hymn books. ‘Amazing Grace – how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see. When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing Gods’ praise, than when we first begun.’ Thank you, John Newton, for those inspiring words!

God’s Benefit Package is out of this world. And you can sign up right now. But don’t wait. Sign up today while the offer is on the table. Unlike the benefit package at work, we don’t know when God’s Open Enrollment will close. It could be any day, any time, when we least expect it.

And, I might add, you won’t find His Benefit Package on your email. It comes only by “knee-mail.”

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