Archive for November, 2009

A ROYAL PAIN

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Check your shoes on the back porch. That was one of the first woodshed lessons we learned early on back home on the farm. And the Route 4 reasoning for that lesson at the shed was that we tend to leave behind what we step in. Back then on the farm, as in life today, it’s simply impossible to avoid ‘steppin’ in stuff.’ It’s all around us. And, with all deference to Tiny Tim, you just can’t ‘tip-toe-through-the-tulips’ around the barnyard. If you catch my drift! Even more important to watch your step if you’re barefooted.

But Mother simply would not allow the stuff that we stepped in to follow us into the house. Now, I’m not talking about messing up some of that rich, plush shag carpet. And that stuff is about as old and out of date as I am! No, at best, the floor in Mother’s kitchen had a piece or two of cracked and curled linoleum. And when the cold winter wind whipped through the cracks in the floor, that linoleum floated like a magic carpet ride at the county fair. Even still, we always knew that we’d better be careful about what followed us into the house.

Especially if we had been cleaning out the chicken house. That job was no walk in the park. But, watch this – what the chickens left behind fertilized the dirt in the garden that gave us fresh ‘maters, butterbeans, squash, corn-on-the-cob and, yes, even the despised okra. I say despised. I don’t hate okra. You can’t hate something that God made. But He made rattlesnakes, too, and you won’t see me foolin’ around with them. He also gave me enough gumption to know when something’s good for me. Better turn around right here before I get too far down this side road!

The question I have to ask that guy that stares at me in my bathroom mirror is this. What am I leaving behind? What’s going to follow me when I leave the room, so to speak? Is it something beautiful and beneficial to others. Or is it something that’s rude and crude, and better to be washed down the drain and forgotten? In plain English, am I a pleasure or a royal pain? What we leave behind, I would suggest, is directly proportional to what we allow to come in up front. If Mother had allowed her six boys to tromp into the kitchen at supper time with goodness-knows-what on our feet, there would have been a monumental mess. And it was always us boys. And rightfully so. Our sisters never let anything ‘squish up’ between their dainty toes!

But buying into what follows us being kinfolks to what goes into us becomes a little easier when we consider the words that David wrote toward the end of Psalm 23, and, quoting him now, ‘surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.’  For a long time I thought that sounded a little bit like braggin’. And then I was convinced. It is braggin’. But it’s not braggin’ on the sheep. It’s braggin’ on the Shepherd. What I think David meant was this. Because of all the love and care and attention and forgiveness (even when we ‘step in a mess’) that the Good Shepherd pours out of His life into mine, it just stands to reason that, if His goodness and mercy follows me all the days of my life, and it does, then I ought to be sure that it doesn’t stop with me .’ In Route 4 language, if the good stuff is flowing TO me, it oughta be flowing THROUGH me.

My Granddaddy Hayne Martin, a great American hero, at least in my mind, built a fish pond by hand after he was too old to plow a mule. It was my good fortune to carry him iced tea and water twice a day for many days. And the first thing I saw him do was dig a deep ditch. When I surmised as to how that wasn’t going to be a very big fish pond, he said, ‘Boy, that’s just the spillway. If you don’t have a spillway, the fish will die.”  It was many years after Granny Martin was gone to glory that I realized that life is a lot like that fish pond. Clear, cold, and fresh water can come in, but if there’s no outlet, ‘the fish will die.’

So then, the question I have to ask the guy in the mirror is this – how far am I willing to go to overlook the smelly barnyard habits of others and be a ‘spillway’ for that goodness and mercy that the Good Shepherd has sent my way to flow into their lives, too. Does the Good Shepherd have a smile on His face when He looks at this little sheep’s life? Is He satisfied that what He bled and died for was worth all His suffering?

Rulers and yardsticks are good for measuring short stuff, but it takes a 50-foot tape to measure the big things. Which one does God need to use when He measures how much of His goodness and mercy that surely (without a doubt!) follows me, also follows others. If you’re thinking it might be  possible for the sheep to bless the Shepherd, you got that right!

Somebody a whole lot smarter than me once said, ‘our life is a gift from God; what we do with it is our gift to God.’

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DRINKING FROM THE SAUCER

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

It doesn’t take a lot of effort on my part to crank up my old truck these days. Not the one parked out back that’s seen its better day. But the one that fires on every cylinder as soon as someone or something steps on the starter, and speeds me back to Route 4.

It happened again this morning as I tightened the lid on my stainless steel ‘sippy cup’ (a.k.a. coffee mug). As I began to enjoy this creamy white, artificially-sweet liquid spread its blessing of warmth through my body, I’m back at the kitchen table of the ol’ farmhouse.

I can see so vividly the picture of Mother finally getting’ a chance to sit down at the breakfast table and enjoy her cup of hot tea. But only after umpteen-dozen up-and-down movements to be sure her brood was well ‘fed and watered.’

From all around the table, one little chick after another, sending our Mother hen scurrying around the kitchen serving up our every request. Another cat head biscuit, please. More butter and jam, please. And could I please have another hunk of that red-pepper hot homemade sausage and some more red-eye gravy?

One lesson that was quickly learned at the woodshed and with instant  recall was that if we didn’t say please, mam, and thank you, mam, yes, mam, and no, mam, the only thing we got was a sour-looking stare from Daddy’s end of the table to go with our growling stomach. Funny how the brain works – the memory is crystal clear when the stomach is empty.

But in those Camelot days of stumped toes, garden hoes, and swimmin’ holes (whoever heard of a pool?), there was no such thing as a mug. With a little hole in the top to sip your hot tea. As a boy of eight or nine, you really began to grow up when you learned the art of the cup and saucer.

And Mother taught us so well. When she could finally pour her own cup of tea, sit down, and enjoy it, she’d fix it just right with real cow’s milk (powdered only when ol’ Bessie was on the blink!), and a couple of teaspoons of Dixie Crystals. Then she would pour it from her cup into her saucer, blow on it just a bit to test the temperature, and then drink it from the saucer with her steady right hand.

And even before the skinny little kid could handle a full saucer of hot tea by himself, Mother would blow on hers to cool it, and then pour some from her saucer into his. Some Madison Avenue types would have us believe that “nothin’ says lovin’ like something from the oven.” To a grammar school farm boy, nothin’ from the oven says lovin’ like drinkin’ from Mother’s saucer.  

And many were the times that this farm boy’s flannel shirt carried the evidence of a brother’s elbow bump just as the saucer was mid-way between the table and his mouth. Purely un-intentional, of course! A  ridiculous picture has just flashed into my noggin.

Can’t you just imagine the morning rush hour traffic where every driver has their cup in one hand and their saucer in the other hand! Why, Helen thinks she can’t ride in, much less drive a car if it doesn’t have a minimum of four cup holders. And remember those plastic things that used to hang on your car door?

And here’s a sign of the times. Have you heard or read the story of ‘java jackets?’ Back about twenty years ago, a man by the name of Jay Sorensen spilled a cup of hot coffee in his lap at the drive-though. One thing led to another and before long he was making these insulated sleeves for our paper cups to keep us burning our hands. ‘Cause we’re in too big a hurry to wait for our cup to cool off. And the most-telling commentary I can think of about our fast-lane life is that his company has now sold over one billion of those java jackets! Meanwhile, back to the main road!

Because the ‘trucks’ of our lives are moving so fast these days, our cups (mugs) are made to prevent their overflowing. Why, I’ve even heard of some folks who would seek legal compensation when their cup overflows and spills all over their lap.

I believe the full bouquet of the flavor of life can only be enjoyed when the cup is overflowin’. Not only into our own laps, but all over everybody we meet on the road of life.

Could I suggest that maybe that’s what David had in mind when he penned Psalm 23:5b? When the grateful and humble sheep realizes that his cup is overflowin’ with the blessings of warmth and love and generosity and the forgiving spirit of the Good Shepherd, he cannot help but let it spill all over the other sheep in the pasture.

Do you know someone whose cup just always seems to be bubblin’ over with smiles and joy and glee? Don’t you just love to get close to them and let some of that spill on you?

That kind of overflow only comes from the realization that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ drank from another kind of cup. The bitter cup of suffering and sorrow that was served up to Him one day on a hill called Calvary. And, as the cup of His very life’s blood overflowed for us, He gave us an example to follow. And had He not done that, our cup would be forever empty.

It’s easy to smile and be happy when the ol’ pulpwood truck is in high gear. But what about when we hit a pothole in the road? Can we still be joyful when we have to take a detour? Who among us can be ‘glad when things are bad?’ When we feel like we’ve come to the end of the paved road and there’s nothing ahead but a muddy mess that we have to pass through, be comforted in the fact that Jesus has ‘been there and done that.’ And has the scars to prove it. And He did it so that our cup would overflow with His blessings, not only for our good, but also for the sake of all the other sheep who aren’t in His pasture yet.

One final thought. Sometimes the greatest blessing that we can ‘spill’ from our cup onto someone else is for them to see how we act when we spill our cup into our own lap. Now, that’s my ‘cup of tea’!

Got a minute? Grab a saucer. I’d love to share it.

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A LITTLE DAB WILL DO YOU

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

I can remember it like it was yesterday (well, maybe last week). It was a rite of passage, I think, from baby-hood to boy-hood. My first ‘store-bought’ haircut. As I sat down in the chair last Saturday morning, the soft whir of Joe’s electrical clippers buzzing in my ears stepped on the starter button of my dirt road memory. This time it was a short trip. Since I arrived at the qualification age for a senior citizen discount, Dennis has told me constantly that they charge more now for finding my hair than they do for cutting it.

But since Dennis was ’in the woods,’ and I don’t mean cutting firewood or stove wood, I was seated in Joe’s chair for the quick trip back to Route 4. Back then, the only time you’d ever find one of us sittin’ in a tree would be when we were hidin’ from Daddy trying to avoid another trip to the woodshed.

While Joe’s expert hands and sharp clippers did their work, I was once again seated in Mother’s ‘high back supper-table chair’ on the back porch of the old farmhouse.  In the years prior to turning twelve, Mother just lined us boys up on the back porch on the designated ‘haircut Saturday afternoon.’ It had to be on Saturday afternoon just before the ritual of the weekly bath. You surely didn’t want to work all week on the farm with those short hairs in your shirt collar.

With a sheet and a safety pin and her trusty but rusty mechanical clippers, Mother took care of Daddy’s instructions to “clean those boys up” with production-line precision. But it wasn’t always a happy time. There was an occasional nick from a dull blade in the clippers. And jumping or squirming around just made her have to twist the sheet tighter around your neck. Hard to sit still, though, with the constant irritation of the short hairs going down your neck combined with a fly, wasp, or yellow jacket buzzing around your head. And, if that wasn’t enough irritation, the constant jeering of ‘cry-baby’ from older brothers made it ‘pert-nigh’ impossible to sit still!

And when the sufferin’ finally ended, Mother would ‘anoint’ our head with a substance that we thought must have surely come from her bottle of rubbing alcohol. Actually, I think it was some of Daddy’s hair tonic. I can’t remember ever buying a bottle of hair tonic, do you? Those early childhood memories of haircut day were filled with fear when we heard Daddy say, “Time to get those ears lowered.” I liked my ears right where they were. I didn’t think they would look good on my neck or shoulders. 

But then about the age of twelve or so, we graduated to going to the barber shop in town. I loved that chair that I could spin like a top till Mr. King or Mr. Moore grabbed the handle and applied the brakes. Much more fun than Mother’s high-back straight chair on the back porch. And after the first couple of store-bought haircuts, it was a proud moment not to have to sit on the wooden board across the seat of the barbershop chair. A reward, I guess, for not spinning the chair. And no irritatin’ flies, ‘wasts’, yellow jackets or teasing from older brothers.

But it was the ‘anointing’ of the head after a store-bought haircut that I remember so well, even now after the hair must first be found before it can be cut. Since the age of about seven or eight, it had been my constant dream and desire to have a flat top haircut. When Daddy finally consented, my thin strands were anointed with that ever-popular flat-top wax. I think the modern-day super glue might be a descendant of that pink stuff! It made my hair stand as stiff and straight as a Marine standing at attention at the Fourth of July Parade!

But as the years passed, the flat top was a bit time consuming and a lot of hard work if you did it right. Sorta like milking cows, and feeding the chickens. You just gotta do it every day. That stiff-bristle brush that I used a hundred or so times a day made my head so sore, I just decided to let my hair grow out. I gave the flat-top a good try for two or three years. Much longer than I wanted to just listening to Daddy – ‘make up your mind, boy, you got three more jars of that pink stuff.’ I think it cost a quarter a jar or something like that, but we didn’t even consider the thought of wasting it.

I think I even bribed Wade or Eddie to use some of it, but when the stiff-as-a-board stuff was all used up, it was on to the smooth and creamy ‘a little dab will do you’ Brylcream. Oh, how suave and debonair it looked with a duck-tail haircut and your shirt collar turned up slightly in the back! You want to guess how long that look lasted after we got back to the farm? Just let your imagination take you down that side road!

My trip back to Route 4 ended suddenly when Joe splashed some of that high-alcohol content on the back of my neck after he had shaved the short hairs. My goodness, I didn’t know they still made that stuff!

Anointing the head has been around since Biblical days. David talks about it in the 23rd Psalm in the language of a sheep praising the Shepherd. I highly encourage you to read Phillip Keller’s explanation of ‘anointing’ a sheep’s head with oil in his book, A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23.

The oil on the sheep’s head provided relief from the irritation of the flies and bugs. And the splash of lotion on the head after a hair cut keeps the cowlicks in place for a little while.

But soon the flies and bugs and ‘wild hairs’ are back. It takes a constant application of the ‘anointing’ oil to keep the bugs away. Sounds a lot like life, would you agree?

Just like Daddy had to apply used motor oil to keep the horse flies away from the barn during fly season, we need to daily apply the ‘anointing oil’ of God’s word to our lives to keep away those devil-ish flies of greed, jealousy, anger, unforgiveness, and all their other irritating cousins. Those flies are nothing but distractions that Satan uses to keep us from fulfilling God’s appointed will and purpose for our lives.

And when those ‘flies’ are buzzing around our head, sometimes God will lovingly take us to the woodshed to ‘lower our ears’ and clean us up with His anointing Power. And, like those childhood haircuts, it sometimes will sting. But it feels oh-so-good after He’s cleaned us up.

The cows and mules always jumped and jerked when Daddy grabbed their heads to apply the used motor oil. But without it, their life wasn’t a pleasant experience.

Got any ‘bugs’ in your life today? Maybe it’s time for a hair cut and some ‘anointing oil.’

Who wants to be first?

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SET THE TABLE

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

I don’t know about you, but I’m still having trouble adjusting my senior citizen mind and body to the change in time. Some of my best therapy-and-thinking time is working in the yard, muscle soreness notwithstanding. Especially when my cranky mower will crank and the weed-eater is hungry enough to keep eatin’ when I pull the string. A guy can get a lot done if he has a couple or three good hours of daylight after work every day.

But these days it seems like around three o’clock in the afternoon, the daylight hours begin to run away and hide in the dark. And you find yourself ‘washing up for supper’ before the six o’clock news hits the airwaves. But instead of swallowing the daily dose of bad news, I’ve noticed lately that I’ve come to enjoy piddlin’ around in the kitchen. And I just have to turn my face so she won’t see my silly little grin when Helen has to ask me where I keep the pot holders. Or what did I do with the big frying pan. I do believe she’s beginning to concede this territory to me.

And, if I might modestly admit, I can serve up a mouth-waterin’ bowl of grits. With butter, sugar, and cheese, too, if you like ‘em that way. And my award-winning sweet cornbread will make you wonder what kind of icing I plan to use.

Running back through the dirt roads of my memory, I can trace my love for the kitchen back to the farmhouse at Route 4. On a cold winter night, the warmth of the old wood cook stove combined with the aroma of Mother’s pinto beans and cornbread brought the whole gang running to the kitchen table. And, if you’ll allow me to run down this short side road, I think a lot of modern day problems and headaches could be avoided if families spent more time gathered around the kitchen table.

It’s not so much what’s on the table that’s important, either, as it is the simple act of gatherin’. I read a report the other day that said tv watching is at an all-time high in our country. On the average, Americans spend a hard-to-believe eight hours and twenty-nine minutes per day in front of their television! Some people, I’ve noticed, that still do sit down to the supper table, have a television playing in the kitchen at the same time! And do you believe some of the things they’re showing and talking about these days? It’s enough to make you upchuck your cornbread and milk!

Don’t get me wrong. Television can be wonderful when it’s used for the right reasons. It even keeps a little pone of cornbread on our supper table these days.

But our television has one of modern science’s most wonderful inventions. The DVR. And our DVR has a permanent setting for 10:30pm on Saturday nights. My friend and Sunday School Teacher, Wayne Turner, would have to climb up on his podium and holler to keep me awake if I stayed up that late. Even if it is Saturday night. But with the help of the DVR, I don’t have to miss Bill and Gloria, and crazy Mark Lowry, and all their Gaither Homecoming friends. And, yes, even Ivan Parker, too, JD.

And have you noticed how your favorite teams will sometimes start their games at un-holy times like nine o’clock on Thursday night? I’m sorry. Even if my beloved Clemson Tigers are running down the hill at 9:00pm on ESPN’s Thursday night special, I’ll be checking the inside of my eyelids (usually in my recliner!) with the DVR set to record everything from the first blast of the famous canon to the coaches shaking hands in the middle of the field. Uh-oh, I promised you a short side road. Now I’ve got to turn around and run back to the main road.

In today’s world, there are not many things that you can say with certainty. But here’s one. Even with a memory that’s beginning to fade in the fifty-some odd years since the twelve of us (including Grandma Martin) gathered around our long, oak kitchen table at Route 4, there’s one thing I can tell you for sure. Put it in writing and I’ll sign it. Make me swear on a stack of Bibles and I’ll raise my right hand. There NEVER was a television blasting away during supper time! In fact, forgive me if I’m repeating myself, but the closest television I knew about was at my buddy Manley Johnson’s house on the next farm over from ours. I think Daddy and Mother believed that we could earn enough ‘bonus points’ to get our cards punched at the woodshed on our own without any outside help.

But back to the kitchen table. I was 21 and married before I knew that kitchen tables had more than two chairs. One at each end of the table for the ‘grownups’ and a bench on each side that gave Daddy many opportunities to say, “If you’re too tired to sit up straight, you might as well go on to bed.”

But after washing up for supper, and a quick towel check for thoroughness, I can still hear Mother say, “Time to set the table.” Even when I couldn’t reach all the way across it, setting the table was easy. Spoons and bowls. That’s all we needed. With cornbread and milk, and the occasional pinto beans, you don’t need forks and knives. Just a bowl and a spoon.

But it was around the supper table, where the warmth of the kitchen steamed up the window panes on cold nights like a Norman Rockwell painting, that we were taught lessons of life. Sit up straight. Don’t run in the house. Where are your manners? Don’t interrupt grown ups when they’re talking. Chew your food. Don’t slurp like pigs. Don’t take the last piece of cornbread. Clean up your plate.

And even though the lessons had to be repeated at the woodshed many times to be remembered, the passing of the years has only increased their effectiveness. Without those lessons, and the love, patience, and sacrifice it took to teach them, I think Mother and Daddy knew that their bunch would stand about as much of a chance in the real world as an ice cream cone on a hot July afternoon.

Many of you have written to the shed to tell us that you grew up the same way. Maybe not on a farm. Maybe in a village. Or even on a mill-hill. But, sadly, though, like the dinosaurs we are, I sometimes wonder about the generations that are coming down the road if we don’t ‘set the table’ for them like our parents did for us.

In addition to the kitchen table with two chairs and two benches, there was something else in the kitchen back home at Route 4. You couldn’t see it or touch it, but you could always feel it. The ‘it’ that I’m talking about was a sense of comfort and safety. Around the kitchen table at supper time, you just knew you were safe from the monsters that hid outside in the dark. The Apostle Peter describes our enemy, the devil, as a roaring lion prowling around looking for somebody to be his supper (1 Peter 5:8).   

I think David might even have had that thought in mind when he wrote the ‘Shepherd’s Psalm.’ Like a sheep praising his Shepherd for “preparing a table before me in the presence of my enemies,” (Psalm 23:5) David, too, realized that it was God who set the table for him. And included in the bountiful feast at God’s table is His protection from the monsters along the roads we travel that want to devour His sheep. Might I add, how in the world can a person feel safe these days in the presence of so much evil without the assurance of safety that’s available for free if we would only gather around His table?

With love, patience, and sacrifice, plus two pieces of wood and some nails, Jesus set the table for His family over two thousand years ago. And there’s no need for chairs or benches at His table.

We come to it on our knees.

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A BIG STICK

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Have you ever stopped to think about sticks and the vital role they play in our lives? That’s right, sticks. Before you think the ol’ country boy has ‘lost his marbles,’ think with me for just a couple of minutes. I was leaning on a knarly, old hand-carved stick the other day that used to belong to Helen’s Dad. It’s strong and sturdy. Gave me a lot of comfort for my tired old back and sore muscles, products of too much liftin’, totin’, and haulin’ associated with the highly publicized and much talked about Yard Sale of a Lifetime. At least, I’m hoping it’s the last one of my lifetime. But just think about the many uses of sticks. There’s the old expression about sticks and stones breaking bones, etc., etc. And didn’t one of the three little pigs build his house out of sticks? Even today I hear builders talking about a stick-built house, meaning one built by hand. And when you playing in the yard with the family puppy, what does he fetch when you throw it?

The other day I found an old flat piece of wood, about two hands square, under the kitchen sink And, yes, it was good for me to be on my knees, but I needed a good walking stick to get up out of the floor. But this flat piece of wood hasn’t seen the light of day for several years. It had holes all over the top of it. I thought the termites had invaded. But then Miss Helen informed me that she puts something called dowel sticks into all those holes. Sounds like those little triangle shaped pieces of wood on some restaurant tables for people who have too much time on their hands. And they’re always missing one peg.

But, no, I’ve been ‘kitchen-educated’ (hey, she caught me in the floor on my knees) about how to transport a hot dish of dumplin’s or boiled okra that you might be carrying to a neighbor. Now, I’m liking these dowel sticks. Anything to help get slick and slimy stuff like dumplin’s and boiled okra out of the house!

Sticks come in all shapes and sizes. Some hand carved. Some highly polished. Some will start an argument. Some will finish an argument. Case in point. Back home at Route 4 we loved finding good looking sticks. Good for the cow pasture baseball game. Or killing rats in the corn crib. Or standing your ground against your big brothers, until one of them said something like, ‘listen, runt, I’ll take that stick away from you and hit you so hard upside the head you’ll have to pull down your socks to brush your teeth.’ That one could really have broken a few bones. And my socks were usually dirty from plowin’ or hoeing the garden, so I sure didn’t want my teeth anywhere near my socks.

And Mother’s cat-head biscuits and golden-brown cornbread were cooked with sticks of stove wood. And who can forget totin’ sticks of firewood into the house so we could hold a blanket to our backside while standing in front of a roaring fireplace before jumpin’ into bed.  

Sticks have their place in politics and education, too. Didn’t one of our presidents talk about ‘speak softly and carry a big stick?’ I wish I paid more attention in U. S. History class. And if you don’t think that sticks have great value in education, you’ve never been a student at “Woodshed University!” From which I graduated summa-cumma-loudy, or something like that.

I think about the days of sticks and stones when I ready the 23rd Psalm, one of my favorite scriptures in all the Bible. I agree with Phillip Keller, the author of “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. By the way, it’s not a new book. Printed in 1970, I think. You might have to check it out of the lie-berry. But it’s well worth the read. Keller wrote that the Scriptures mean so much to farm folks like us because they were originally written for mostly rural folks who knew about dirt and, animals, plowin’, and plantin’, and harvestin’. And sticks, too. Wasn’t it Moses who had a stick that God turned into a snake and back into a stick? And wasn’t it shepherds ‘tending their flocks by night’ who saw the star over the stable where Jesus was born? Every farm boy worth his rake and hoe knows that stables have hay and straw and twigs and sticks.

So when David writes in Psalm 23:4 about the comfort he gets from God’s ‘rod and staff,’ we get it, don’t we? In his book, Keller says that the sheep finds comfort in knowing the Good Shepherd always has his rod and staff at His side. Comfort is not exactly the word that comes to my mind when I remember Daddy’s ‘rod and staff’ back home on the farm. But I thank the Lord for it now! Just like the shepherd pulls wayward, stubborn, inquisitive sheep back to safety, Daddy’s six-foot long (give or take a few inches) leather belt served as his rod and staff to teach us about the ‘straight and narrow.’ Do sheep like it when the shepherd uses his staff to pull them back to the flock? Probably not. But without it, some bear would be having lamb chops for supper!

So, through the teaching of the Good Shepherd, I get it. I understand David’s comfort. I would never presume to add or take anything away from the Scripture, but here’s the Route 4 translation, three words that describe our Good Shepherd’s rod and staff and their use upon our lives. CORRECT, PROTECT, AND DIRECT. 

I’ve never come back from the woodshed with comfort, but now, in hindsight, I think I understand that the comfort David speaks of in his ‘shepherd’s Psalm. It’s the  comfort that comes from understanding that God’s correction is necessary because of our  nature and not His. And that He loves His sheep way too much to let them go astray. Also, His protection saves us from the hurts, harms, and hazards of life; and that His direction guides us every step of the way.

And if we’re going to be thankful for his protection and direction, we also have to be thankful for his correction. We can’t be mule-headed about it, either. Or else it’ll be like the farmer who had a mule that wouldn’t obey a single command, but after the farmer got the mule’s attention, the mule obeyed perfectly every time the farmer spoke to him. The farmer got the mule’s attention with a two-by-four across the nose.

Now, that’s what I call ‘big-stick learnin’

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CLOUD WATCHING

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

If you’ve followed these ramblings, you’ve read about the games farm boys play that often led us down the path to that Institution of Higher Learning known as the Route 4 Woodshed.   One of those games involved ‘punching out’ at work as soon as Daddy turned his back. And before we were ‘sent to the principal’s office,’ we’d lay down on the sunny side of a green grass slope in the pasture and let our imaginations run wild about the shapes of the fluffy, cottony-white clouds floating across the Easter-egg blue sky.

Animals were the most common imagined sightings. That was only natural. We were surrounded by them. My older brothers tended to see nothing but ordinary shapes of cats, dogs, and pigs in the clouds. But I always loved to let my imagination just run wild! I’d see long-necked giraffes eatin’ leaves off the top limbs of tall oak trees. And grizzly bears knee-deep in the Yukon River in Alaska with a paw full of salmon. And an occasional bald eagle with a ten-foot wing span swoopin’ down to scoop up a field rat for his supper.

Aren’t books just absolutely wonderful! As a ten-year-old boy, I had never been anywhere further away from the farmhouse at Route 4 than the A & P Store in town six miles away. The only giraffes, bears, or eagles I had ever seen were in Grandma Martin’s collection of National Geographic magazines. But a kid with any kind of imagination can go anywhere or be anything he wants to be with a good book (with lots of pictures!).

Of course, my wild imagination most times let to wild arguments with the less imaginative cats-dogs-and-pigs crowd. The conversation on the sunny slope usually went something like this. See that dog? He’s huge. Or how ‘bout that cat over there? Then I’d stagger their imagination with a sighting of a cloud that looked like a mother hen with nine little chicks following her. Or an Arabian horse with wings. With a white blaze of lightnin’ on his head. That was just to warm ‘em up for the afore-mentioned giraffes, bears, and eagles! Like I said, the combination of a good book and a vivid imagination can be a beautiful thing to behold! I don’t think I ever lost a cloud-watching contest.

But they’d get mad ‘cause they couldn’t see my bear eatin’ his salmon in Alaska. And then an argument always followed. ‘No you don’t. Yes, I do. You’re crazy. Look out! Here comes that bald eagle with his razor-sharp claws!’ Next thing you know, it’s a full-fledged country boys’ free-for-all on the sunny side of the pasture. And all that hollerin’ gave Daddy the clue he needed about how much ‘work’ we had done! The ensuing trip to the woodshed caused a delay of several days before we could do anything on our backside, much less lie down and look at the clouds. Although we did see some humongous-looking stars while at the shed!

Cloud watching was a two-horse wagon-load of fun on sunny days in the bright sunshine. But at night, the shadows came out. And all the monsters that lived in the shadows contributed to my excellent physical fitness as a farm boy. All that running, you know, is good for you. Especially after you’ve played kick-the-can in the barnyard way too long past dusk. And that’s where the monsters lived – in the emerging shadows of nightfall. And a simple little thing like a flashlight held under a big brother’s chin in the dark could scare a boy right out of his overall britches!

Funny thing, though, about shadows. And the monsters that live in them. They only exist where there is no light. That thought keeps jumpin’ up on a stump and hollerin’ to my brain in the continued study of Psalm 23 (see paragraph 3 above concerning a Good Book!). And the companion book that my buddy Marty McKee told me about that Phillip Keller wrote from his vantage point of a real-life shepherd.

In the first few verses, according to the author, this sheep is braggin’ across the fence to his buddy sheep that doesn’t have a Good Shepherd (like ours). Then he starts talking directly to his Good Shepherd. Maybe he’s so awestruck by the love, protection, care, and guidance of his Good Shepherd that he just has to praise Him by talking straight to Him (verse 4).

Notice that our little sheep doesn’t have a ‘why-me-Lord’ attitude about the valleys he must walk through. And all of us sheep, at some time or another, have to walk through some valleys, right? But that’s a given for our little sheep in the narrative of David’s writing of Psalm 23.

And another thought that jumps out from David’s mind to ours is that we will get through the valley. It will be slow (we’ll walk, not run) but we will get through it. We don’t have to pitch a fit and quit. Just keep on walking. And with God’s help, we will get through it. As my wife taught me so well during the ‘valley of cancer,’ this, too, shall pass!

So, if you’re down in the valley today where the monsters jump out of the shadows and scare the bejeebies out of you, just keep on walking. One step at a time. One day at a time. Just keep on walking. Or, if you’re a scaredy-cat like me, run for your life toward the Light. And, before you know it, you’ll be on the sunny side of the pasture looking up at the fluffy white clouds. Can you see the white stallion with its rider in His robe of white?

It’s easy when you’re readin’ the Good Book!

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OUR BRAG BOOK

 

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Have you ever asked a new parent or grandparent ‘how’s that new baby doing?’ Sometimes even without being asked, they’ll pull out a plastic-covered folder of baby pictures long enough to reach the ground. It’s the basic right and privilege of all new parents and especially grandparents. You know what “they” say about grandchildren, don’t you? They’re God’s reward for showing self-control during the many times you felt like choking your children!

Just kiddin’! Please tell our Kim and Jeff that I was just kiddin’ when you hear them discussing when the time will be right to put me in a home somewhere!

In preparation for the Yard Sale of The Century recently, Helen decided that one particular piece of furniture had to go. It wasn’t especially beautiful. Neither was it an antique. Just a ho-hum, piece of wood with several drawers. And it was showing its age. Been around for quite a while. So it had to go.

Only one problem. It was as heavy as a bank safe! It would take two strong backs, or four old men, to move this thing. But it wasn’t so much the weight of the cabinet itself as it was the eighty-eight thousand (give or take a thousand!) pictures inside this cabinet.

I don’t mean a few cute pictures of the kids. I’m talking about three or four generations of pictures of both our families! I’ll admit, about eighty-seven thousand of them would make an Academy Award slide presentation entitled Country Boy Meets Mill Hill Girl. Why didn’t I have the foresight to buy a few shares of Kodak abut fifty years ago?

But so began Helen’s trip down memory lane that lasted about two weeks until our photo cabinet was completely empty and ready for the yard sale. Now we have about seven or eight plastic tubs, the fifty-gallon size, with snap-on lids, neatly stacked in the garage. Waiting for the chidren and grandchildren to sift through after they’ve decided which one of those homes to put their old folks in.

As I said, it’s a basic right to brag about the arrival of those bundles of joy. But something just doesn’t feel right in that process today. Stay with me here, please. At the afore-mentioned historic gathering of treasure hunters in our driveway, a young man and his dad walked up.

Now we haven’t seen Shane McLane since he was ‘knee-high to a grasshopper.’ And here he was, all grown up. And the first words out of his mouth were, “Let me show you pictures of my new baby boy.” Whoa there, young man! Did this senior citizen hear you say your new baby boy? My memory started jumping generations like a country boy jumping ditches headed to the house at supper time! Even in our advanced years, we can still remember when the new Dad was a new arrival himself!

But it wasn’t so much the announcement itself that caused my initial shock. And the baby is indeed precious. Good thing he doesn’t favor his grandpa Tim. It was the “brag book” that Shane used to show the baby’s pictures. When he said, “Here, look at my new son,” he handed Helen his cell phone! She didn’t say anything. But I knew what she was thinking. “Why is somebody callin’ me on your phone?”

Baby pictures on a cell phone. Who woulda thunk it? File that one under ‘just when you think you’ve seen it all.’

And just one more startling example of this electronic brag-book age. Back in May, Marie Whiten, one of my co-workers, received a Mother’s Day card from her daughter and son-in-law. Inside the card were two pictures. One of the daughter and her husband. Nice touch on Mother’s Day. But there was another photo that Marie couldn’t quite figure out. Then her daughter called to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day AND a happy GRANDMOTHER’S DAY! The second photo in the card was a sonogram of Marie’s soon-to-be first grandchild! Absolutely mind bogglin’!

We didn’t have phones with cameras back home on the farm. Come to think of it, we didn’t even have cameras! When our prize calf won first place at the cow judging contest, we had to ask Mr. John Moore from the paper to come out and take a picture of it! And while he was there, Daddy asked him to take a picture of the whole family. Just imagine Mother’s predicament. Having to get all nine kids cleaned up, wearing our Sunday, go-to-church clothes on Saturday, and standing still in the same place, side-by-side, for a picture. Bless her heart! Mr. Moore should have just taken the family picture at the woodshed. That’s where most of us spent the day, anyway!

But braggin’ just comes second nature to all of us. When we’re proud of something or someone, we want to tell everybody about it. The method that we use, be it pages in the photo album or gigabytes of electronic storage on phones and computers, is not that important.

Right about here, you’re wonderin’, ‘where in the world is he going with this?’

It’s my way of telling you about a new book I’m readin’. And I want to thank my good friend, Rev. Marty McKee, for introducing it to me. The title is A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23, by Phillip Keller. If you haven’t read it, I high recommend that you get it today. It would also make a wonderful gift for any occasion.

Marty got my attention when he preached a sermon in just a few short words recently. Way to go, Marty! In his remarks, Marty pointed out something wonderful from his research on Keller’s book about the 23rd Psalm. The fact that the author is a modern day shepherd makes it even more meaningful. He actually owned about thirty sheep at one time in his life.

But, thanks to Marty, I’m studying the 23rd Psalm in a new light. He pointed out how enlightening it is to view this inspiring Scripture from a sheep’s point of view. The first few verses are like one sheep braggin’ to another (Psalm 23:1-3). A kind of sheep’s brag book, if you will. “The Lord is MY Shepherd! And He’s such a good Shepherd, too, that I don’t have to want for a single thing. He takes me out in beautiful green pastures and lets me lie down to rest. And when I’m thirsty, my Good Shepherd leads me alongside quiet waters for times of refreshing and renewal. He even keeps me on the path of safety, and I praise His name for that. He’s such a good shepherd that I just had  to tell you about Him.”

In the following verses, the sheep talks to his Shepherd. And then Psalm 23 closes with the sheep promising to stay with The Good Shepherd ‘all the days of his life.’ We’ll look at those in future visits to the shed. Stay tuned. But in the meantime, take out the sheep’s  ‘Brag Book’ and show it to all your loved ones.

It’s the one with Holy Bible on the front cover. Thanks, Marty!

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YEAST ROLLS & BUTTERFLIES

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

It’s been almost fifty years since this country boy sat in Miss Barron’s Senior English Class. But I can still hear her soft voice encouraging us to ‘pay attention, now, class.’ The reason I remember her words so well is that back home on the farm, we heard those words at least a hundred times a day. Or so it seemed. And from a voice that boomed a few levels higher than  thunder. Side road – is that where the modern day kids came up with the term boom box?

In Miss Barron’s class it was so easy to be distracted. That’s why I could never have a window seat – too easily distracted. Too many things outside the window competing for my attention. Like the beautiful butterflies of Spring. So I found my seat on the side near the wall.

But I could call some names of my schoolboy buddies who sat near the window and daydreamed their way through Senior English. I could call their names, but I won’t. They know who they are, and they’re still my friends today.

Well, OK, just one name. Marshall Buchanan was one of my bus driving buddies. Like a lot of us, it was tough for Marshall to concentrate while Miss Barron was conjugatin’ verbs and nouns and pronouns and adjectives. I mean, give us a little break here. Her class was fifth period. Right after lunch (dinner, for me), and way too many yeast rolls.

Who remembers those yeast rolls? They have caused many a youngster to miss important lessons. In fourth period, just before lunch, it was the aroma of those yeast rolls rolling down the halls and through every classroom. And in fifth period, just after the consumption of said yeast rolls, it was nap time. And that was time well spent for Marshall and several others.

But, we always envied the ‘brainy’ girls like Linda Sorrells and Martha Butts in the front row. It was obvious that they were not distracted at all by the aroma and the taste of those yeast rolls. I say obvious because they always had the answers to Miss Barron’s questions when most of us didn’t even hear the questions!

That’s why I think Daddy’s voice sounded like a jet breaking the sound barrier with another one of those questions that earned me a trip to the woodshed if I was foolish enough to answer him.

“Boy, are you paying attention to what I’m telling you?” And while I was trying to decide if it was worth learning a lesson that Miss Barron never taught, Daddy would answer his own question. Don’t you just love it when people do that? Anyway, he would say, “No, you’re not paying attention. You’re chasing butterflies again, aren’t you?” Another question that I had to bite my tongue till it bled to keep from answering!

But I loved butterflies then and I still do now (same with yeast rolls!). So many beautiful colors. And they just seem to be so carefree and happy and not having to pay attention to anything. Light as a whisper and flying around from one thing to another. I’ve never seen a butterfly smile and I’ve never heard one singing a happy tune. But watch the face of a child, a child of any age I  might add, light up at the sight of one, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Have you ever seen a butterfly stay in one place very long? Helen and I spent an entire afternoon one time just watching and being enchanted at the butterfly garden in Georgia. One of my favorite pictures is of a multi-colored beauty that took a liking to her bright green blouse and decided to rest there for a few brief moments.

I took a liking to butterflies even more when I heard the ‘Butterfly Story.’ I didn’t know it back there on the farm. I just knew they were so beautiful to watch and I could always be distracted when they came around. I think butterflies are like people. You don’t ever know how beautiful they’re going to be until they come out of their cocoon. Inside that cocoon, he’s just an old wooly caterpillar. But he pushes and pushes and works and works till one day he breaks out of his cocoon and becomes a beautiful butterfly. But if he lost hope and gave up and didn’t work at it, he’d never break out of his cocoon.

That’s a priceless woodshed lesson right there. Be nice to caterpillars. And don’t give up. There are so many distractions in our world today that would keep us from becoming the beautiful butterfly that God made us to be. Even though it might seem like you’re always pushing and pushing against that cocoon and it’s never going to let you out.

What’s keeping you in your cocoon today? The world’s cocoon is full of distractions. Marriage, children, grandchildren, jobs, the economy, bad weather, high gas prices, disease and sickness, wars, poverty and high crime rates, just to mention a few of the more serious ones that cause setbacks along our way. Just remember, though, that a setback is sometimes a set-up for a come-back.

And then, sometimes, we let hobbies and other self-interests distract us from pushing through the wall of our cocoon. Justification says we need our leisure time, right? So we become distracted by games. Golfing, hunting, fishing, rock climbing, leaf-looking, picnics, etc., are all wonderful in themselves. But it’s when we invest too much of our time, talents, and resources in them that we allow them to steal our ‘butterfly potential.’ What’s the harm in keeping the kids out of Sunday School, and taking them on a drive to the mountains to see the beautiful leaves? Well, wouldn’t the leaves still be there after church?

Peter gives us this encouraging ‘recipe’ for breaking through the cocoon of this world and make it to Heaven where we will be happy and as carefree as butterflies (2 Peter 1:3-4). Just like He gave the caterpillar the instinctive knowledge to keep on pushing against his cocoon, God has given us ‘everything we need for life and godliness’ through His divine power. And, Peter goes on to say, God has given us the ‘butterfly promise.’

Peter calls it God’s ‘great and precious promises’ of how beautiful Heaven will be, once we escape the cocoon of this world caused by Satan and his evil distractions. Peter calls it ‘participating in the divine nature.” I just call it Heaven! But we can’t give up. We can’t quit pushing against the cocoon. We have to persevere against distractions till the break-through comes and we become butterflies in God’s Garden. Go plant a ‘butterfly bush’ in someone’s life today and watch them bloom.

Yeast rolls and butterflies. Sounds like Heaven to me. Like Miss Barron used to say, “Pay attention now, class.”

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BECAUSE I SAID SO

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Do you ever find yourself saying things to your children and grandchildren that your parents said to you while you were growing up? It’s uncanny – almost like we’re tape recorders.  As kids growing up, we’d ask our parents questions, and the answers they gave us just didn’t make any sense to us at all back then. But now they make all the sense in the world. Now, I’ll admit, some of the questions we asked probably didn’t make any sense to them either. But now that our brains have switched over from ‘Record’ to ‘Playback,’ their answers seem to be so very clear.

Here’s just an example or two. Growing up at Route 4, a couple of my ‘boyhood buddies’ were Ralph Nix and James McKee. And every time that Ralph and James were getting’ to do something that I wasn’t, I’d go to the higher power and plead my case. “But, Daddy, Ralph and James are playing hooky from school to go down to the swimming hole in Coneross Creek. Why can’t I go with them?” And it never failed – his answer would be, “If Ralph and James decided to jump off a cliff, would you jump, too?”

Now, I’m here to tell you – that one never made any sense to me until I was about thirty years old! We probably jumped a few ditches in our time. Even jumped out of each other’s barn loft a couple of times. But to this day, I don’t remember ever jumping off a cliff, with or without Ralph and James. Of course, when word got back to their folks that I had spilled the beans on their little plan, they became classmates of mine at the Woodshed School of Higher Learning. And I was the recipient of a few clods of red dirt the next time we played cow pasture baseball.

And speaking of the cow pasture, that brings up another brain teaser. One of my least favorite jobs around the farm was cleanin’ out the stables and spreadin’ their contents all over the pasture so the grass would grow and the Ol’ Bessie would be as contented as her famous cousin, Elsie.

And every time Daddy passed out that assignment, I’d try to get out of his hearing range before I muttered, “I’ll bet James and Ralph are not having to shovel this stuff today. When Ollie or Wade would tattle-tale to Daddy what I said, the school bell would start ringing at the Woodshed. And the name of the lesson would be, “If you think the grass is greener on their side of the fence, maybe you need to spend more time fertilizing your own pasture.”

Or maybe you’ve heard and repeated this one a time or two. After being told about a dozen times how deep to plant stuff in the garden (I tried to bury that okra about two feet deep!), the Woodshed Professor would come out with these words, “Do I have to draw you a picture?” Sounds good to me – could we do it over there in the shade of those trees beside the garden!

Or, if he didn’t feel like drawing any pictures that particular day, he’d say, “How many times do I have to tell you?” I figured if we ran the count up to about forty times, he’d postpone plantin’ the garden. I figured right. It was well past supper time, though, before school let out that day at the shed!

Or the time Wade snuck some of Mother’s strike-anywhere kitchen matches out of the kitchen in the back pocket of his overall britches one morning before school. And he completely forgot about them until he was playing recess baseball. That boy would forget to eat dinner if he had a chance to play baseball! And he was pretty good at it, too.

Stepping up to the plate that day, with the forgotten kitchen matches in his back pocket, he took a mighty swing and had himself a clean double. If he had stayed on second, everything would have been OK. But he tried to stretch that double into a triple. The throw came into third and Wade had to slide.

Now, get the picture. Recess baseball was played on red dirt. No grass. Just red dirt and maybe some gravel. When Wade slid into third, I’ll bet Dizzie Dean would have been proud. He was safe by a mile! But then we all smelled something burning! About the same split second that we smelled it, Wade remembered the strike-anywhere kitchen matches that he had snuck out of the house in his back pocket! Those matches proved why they were named ‘strike anywhere.’ He probably set some kind of new speed record that day. Without touching home plate, he ran straight into the boys room in the school house where the only fire extinguisher he could find was the water in the commode! And he didn’t try to slide into it, either!

Sometimes these days, whenever I hear game announcers say that a particular player is ‘red-hot,’ or ‘man, he is on fire today,’ I have another good laugh. And I also remember Mother’s words when she found out. Without raising her voice, her message has rung loud and clear down through the years since we left the dirt road. “Boys, if you play with fire, you’ll get burnt.”

Moses had a few messages, too, that God told him to teach to the Israelites and their children and grandchildren (Deuteronomy 6:1-9). Moses told ‘em that if they were ‘careful to obey’ and keep all of God’s commandments, things would go well and they would enjoy a long life. But when He saw how the Israelites (and us) were living, I wonder if God ever feels like asking, “How many times do I have to tell you,” or “Do I have to draw you a picture?” After all, He only told Moses Ten Rules to tell ‘em. But, you know what? Just like us kids back home on the farm, I think the Israelites thought like a lot of us think today. Maybe what was written on Moses’ tablets were suggestions instead of commandments.

Moses even told ‘em how they (we) could teach those commandments to their children (verses 6-9). First of all, Moses said, talk about them when you’re sitting at the supper table. There’s where we have a problem in today’s world. The whole family doesn’t sit down at the supper table like we used to do back home at Route 4. And when we do, the things we talk about don’t exactly deserve to be written on stone tablets.

Moses also told ‘em to talk about these things (commandments) when they were walking down their dirt roads. Problem number two in today’s world. Not enough dirt roads and not enough walking. Maybe that’s why we’ve lost our way to the land ‘flowing with milk and honey.’ And talking  about them when you go to bed at night and get up in the morning will help, too.

He also told ‘em that they ought to tie a string around their fingers as reminders, and to take some paint and write these Ten Rules on their gates and over the doors of their houses. That would serve two purposes. Constant reminders for themselves, and to let all who pass through their gate know Who’s in charge at their house.

I can just hear the Israelites now as Moses was ‘laying down the law’ to them. Like a bunch of country boys, they probably asked Moses a hundred times, ‘Why do we have to do all that?’ And I’ll bet Moses had a good answer.

BECAUSE I TOLD YOU SO!

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PICK UP THAT PENNY

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Have you ever found something you once had, but had long since forgotten about? Like an old photograph or maybe a poem or a letter from someone special? There was a time when you cherished it greatly, carried it around with you, proudly showing it to anybody and everybody. But then time does its ‘marching on’ deal. Is that like the band that marches by in a parade and then is gone? Or is it like Daddy used to tell me back home after another trip to woodshed – “Now, boy, you march right back up to the house and tell your brother you’re sorry you pushed him in the mud hole. And then apologize to your Mother ‘cause she just washed and ironed his Sunday go-to-church clothes.”

What’s a country boy supposed to do? Mud holes are just paybacks for tattle-tales, right? Tell me you’ve never jumped in one just to splash it on a brother, sister, or buddy. Every path has a puddle. Whoa, stop the mule – there’s a woodshed lesson right there! Anyway, back to the main road. Where does time march off to? If anybody knows, please tell me.   

I think time might march for awhile, but here lately, I see it go flying by my window. In the fifty-or-so years since I barely made it our of Miss Judith Beatty’s first-year Latin class, I can only remember two words of Latin – tempus fugit – time flies. And I believe that she hammered home those two words for a reason. For a while back then, we all thought time was just flying around on a happy-go-lucky crop duster. But now I think it has bought a seat on one of those supersonic jets! Boy, oh boy, how did I ever get this far down that muddy side road?  

Anyway, I started talking about finding something that you thought was lost, or something you once valued highly but have not even thought about for years. For the sake of time, ‘cause it’s flying right now, let’s just call these little lost-and-found-treasures unexpected pleasures.   And, again, ‘cause time’s feet got tired from all that marching, let’s just call them UP’s.

I had an UP the other day and it was very unexpected but, oh, so sweet. It happened while we were sorting through some boxes from the attic getting’ ready for that Great American Phenomenon, the Yard Sale of the Century! I have another question right here, and I promise not to march off down this side road too far. But how in the world can you hold on to that much ‘stuff?’ I even found my old bowling ball, complete with bag and shoes. I haven’t bowled in thirty years. I could barely manage to get it down from the attic and out to the yard.

But while sortin’ through almost fifty years of ‘treasures’ (i.e., dust-catchers), and wondering about the speed and altitude of that jet that time was riding on, I had an UP! I wasn’t even looking for it, it found me! It was an old billfold, or wallet, for you city slickers. I had carried it for years. And then just stopped carrying it. For whatever reason, I don’t have the foggiest idea. But inside of this old black, naugahyde-looking piece of fake ‘genuine leather’ were some treasured pictures of our daughter and son, and their Momma and Daddy. I’m talking years and years before Momma and Daddy became known as Mimi and Poppa. Who are those young, good-looking people? I guess they got on that same jet that time took off on!

But also in the back of my old billfold, perfectly preserved in plastic, was a clean, crisp two dollar bill. After I remembered why there were orange Tiger Paws stamped all over Thomas Jefferson’s picture, I turned it over to find an amazing picture. Right here, I’d like to suggest that you go to your bank and ask for a two dollar bill. If you get one, spend some time studying the back of it.

There you’ll find a picture of some people that a lot of folks believe might have been forgotten in the supersonic world we live in today. From Miss Bruce or Miss Plyler’s U.S. History class, I can’t remember which, I think these people are called our ‘Founding Fathers.’ They’re all there in their white curly wigs, short britches, and knee-high socks. Some of them are standing around a table. On the table are some papers and a turkey-feather ink pen. At the top of the picture these words are printed – THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! And under the photo, I see DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, 1776. But right above that line, directly under the photo of these Great Americans, acting as a ‘foundation’ for what’s taking place in the picture, are four of the most important words in the English language – IN GOD WE TRUST.

If those men believed so strongly in the message of those four words that they placed them in the document that established this nation, and printed them on every piece of currency, paper and coin, it’s good enough for me. They were starting something brand new, probably pretty scary times for them.

But as time would march down through the centuries, they put their trust in the One who could and would see them (and us) through the scary times they were in at that time, and the ones they knew would surely be waiting down the road of the this brand new nation.

The name of an old, old television show just popped into my noggin.’ Who Do You Trust? And, as time buckles its seat belt on that jet airplane, this old country boy thinks it’s time for all of us to ask ourselves and each other that same burning question – WHO DO YOU TRUST? I say burning question because our answer determines exactly that.

David had the right answer in Psalm 25:1-3. Just like those men who wrote it with a feather pen, we, as a nation, and as people, ought to write it on the table of our hearts. When we do that, God has promised to hear and heal. After all, He’s been watching over us ever since our forefathers  dipped their pen in the ink well. Though I’m sure He’s been mightily disappointed when we’ve stepped in some mud holes, He’ll forget all about that when we put our trust in Him and Him alone.

Like David said in verse 3, only those who are bad-to-the-bone without any excuse will be put to shame.

And while we’re talking shameful, how many times do we see pennies on sidewalks and parking lots? Most folks think they’re worth nothing and won’t even bend over to pick up a one cent piece. But I’m here to tell you it has great value just because of those Four Famous Words. So, the next time you see a penny on the ground, please pick it up and let it remind you that our trust should never be in people, power, positions, or possessions. I keep a penny in my pocket, away from other coins, simply to remind me every time I reach my hand into my pocket who I am and whose I am.

I saw a really neat little sign on the penny dish beside the convenience store not long ago. It said simply ‘Need a penny? Take a penny. Have a penny. Give a penny.’ If you see the penny dish empty, please drop one in. Someone might just pick it up, read those four important words, and begin to turn their life around with what David and our founding fathers believed in so intensely.

Pennies From Heaven. That’s what I’m talking about!

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