Archive for December, 2009

GET THE MESSAGE?

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

As I look at some of the things happening in the world today, I’m reminded of the story about the Three Little Pigs, the nursery rhyme from way back in the 1800’s by James O. Halliwell-Phillips, and later published by Joseph Jacobs.

You know the story. Three little brothers sent out into the world to seek their fame and fortune. The first one built his house out of straw. Then the “Big Bad Wolf” came along and huffed and puffed till he blew it down. The second little pig built his house out of sticks. Same result. The ol’ wolf just wouldn’t let the boys alone, always chasing ‘em, ready to throw ‘em into a pot of boilin’ water and have ‘em for supper.

But even though their houses were blown down, the first two little pigs managed to escape and run to the third little pig’s house. He was the smart one. He had built his house out of bricks. But that didn’t stop the big bad wolf from trying.

“Little pig, little pig, let me come in,” said the wolf. “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin,” replied little pig number three. That really got the ol’ wolf steamed! “Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down.”  We know what happened. The big bad wolf huffed and puffed till he was cross-eyed and blue in the face. But he was no match for the little pig’s house made out of bricks.

So, right about here, you’re scratching your head and wondering out loud. What in the world does the story of the Three Little Pigs have to do with Christmas? Please hear me out before you send for the straight-jacket.

Is there anything in the world that you’re afraid of this Christmas? Don’t have a job to go to tomorrow? Worried about your health? How ‘bout the economy? Too much month left over at the end of your money? Pulling your hair out over high prices and what Christmas gift shopping is doing to the family budget? Did you rush out to the store for milk and bread at the first hint of the s-word? Only to find the shelves empty? Maybe it’s the fear of what’s ahead for your children and grandchildren that keeps you awake at night. 

If this isn’t your first trip with us to the woodshed, you’ve read about the ‘monsters’ that used to chase us around the farm back home at Route 4. My older brothers took special delight in catching us younguns out in the yard after dark chasing lightnin’ bugs. Perfect opoortunity to scare them right out of their Osh Kosh overalls.

Ollie in particular loved to jump out from behind a tree holding a flashlight under his chin. It made him look just like the devil. And made me set a new land speed record for the forty yard dash to the house. After that had happened several times, Daddy put a stop to it once and for all one dark and scary night.

Ollie had stepped out from his hiding place growling like a mad grizzly bear. Once again, this skinny little country kid was frozen in his tracks. At that exact moment, Daddy stepped out from behind another tree behind Ollie. And with a voice that thundered off the hills and valleys, he called Ollie’s name. All three of his names. One by one. Ollie came right out of his brogans and threw the flashlight up in the trees as he passed me on the way to the house. There were many other ‘monsters’ in our life on the farm, but that “flashlight devil” was gone for good!

What’s that got to do with Christmas? Thank you for asking. This is just me talking, but I believe the Message of Christmas is this. Don’t be afraid. I’ve heard it said that those words appear in the Bible 365 times. One for every day of the year! And it was on that holy night so long ago that He sent His only Son into our dark and scary world. Now I’ll be humming John Dwight’s song all day long and half the night.

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of the dear Savior’s birth; long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn! Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices! O night divine! O night when Christ was born! O night divine! O night divine!

The shepherds were watching their flocks and getting’ ready to bed down for the night. Monsters were lurking in the dark. But at that precise moment, the angel of the Lord stepped right out in front of them and scared them silly with that bright light. But the angel said, “Fear not.” (Luke 2:10). And just like that, our Heavenly Father had put all the ‘big bad wolves’ of the world on the run.

Do you hear the big bad wolf huffing and puffing outside your door? Maybe he’s been there before and you turned him away. But you’re afraid he’ll be back again. And you don’t know if your house will stand up again or not. There are oodles and oodles of scary things in the world as we know it this Christmas. But if we choose to build a strong house, with Jesus as the foundation, that ol’ wolf can huff and puff till his lungs collapse. But he won’t get in.

Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin!

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CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

I think I’ve seen bigger and brighter Christmas light displays this year than ever before. And, goodness knows, if there’s ever been a time when the world needs more light, it’s this Christmas of 2009. I applaud the creativity of the folks who must surely have spent their Summer stringing lights on every twig and limb of every tree in their yard. And their neighbors’ yards.

I’ve seen more inflatable Frostys, Rudolphs, and Santas than I care to remember. They sure do look funny in the daylight when they’re all flat in a pile in the front yard. And how ‘bout that electrical reindeer family that’s all lit up like skeletons, and eatin’ grass out there in the front yard. At least, I think that’s what they must be doin’. Their heads are movin’ up and down. They’ve become so elaborate and widespread that you have to drive through somebody’s front yard to see it all.

I’m a little embarrassed by the magnitude of it all. Our poor little wooden Rudolph got blown over on the porch by some high winds the other day and broke his antler. Not once, but twice! And now he’s in three pieces out in the garage while the super glue dries.

I don’t know about you, but back home at Route 4, if somebody was driving through our front yard after dark, they better have a pretty good reason for being there. See, we never had miles and miles of strings of lights, and blow-up Frostys and Rudolphs, and the like for people to come see. And there are a couple or three reasons why you never saw any of these modern displays back home on the farm. 

First of all, if you were coming down the dirt road to our place in late December, you better be very careful and stay in the ruts that the mail man had made. If you didn’t, Daddy would have to hitch up the mule to pull you out of the ditch while us boys lined up across the back of your car and pushed with all our might. And wound up covered in red mud spewed up by your tires!

Secondly, there was no grass for the electrical reindeer skeletons to graze on in our front yard. Let’s just think about this for a minute. Every Spring and Summer, most of us suburbanites plow up our yards, plant grass seed, throw on the 10-10-10 fertilizer, and drag out the hose pipes to water it all. And then we crank up our cranky lawn mowers and ride around mowing down what came up! And then we bag and mulch our trimmings and leaves!

Life at Route 4 was so much simpler. We had a brush broom for the leaves in the front yard. We put fertilizer on the grass in the pasture. For the cows to eat ‘cause they gave us our milk and butter. And the only thing that was mowed was hay in the field to feed the cows in the winter.

The next thing contributing to the absence of Christmas displays in our front yard was the question of where to hang the lights. I just can’t picture how they’d look in the chinaberry tree. We did have a cedar tree down by the mailbox, but we’d never heard of outdoor, all-weather, hundred-foot extension cords. And if we had, where would we have plugged them in?

But in all the displays I’ve seen this year, there seems to be more nativity scenes. They all have the little weather proof camels and plastic shepherds. Some folks have even found enough of the afore-mentioned extension cords to hang a 40-watt light bulb over the manger to represent the star of the east. And that’s good.

Back home on the farm we had the makings of a real live nativity scene. At least we had the donkeys (mules) and cows and the feeding trough. And I suppose us boys could have sneaked enough of Mother’s quilts out of the house to dress up like shepherds. Although somebody probably would have made fun of his brothers for dressing up like that. And then a fight would have started. And then the whole kit and caboodle would wind up at the woodshed!

I know you must be wonderin’ where I’m going with all this ramblin’ about Christmas lights and displays and so forth. Stay with me here for another minute. God didn’t need any extension cords and light bulbs for that first Nativity Scene. Even though He had all the power in the world to plug ‘em into if He had wanted to.

No, He chose to appear in the darkness of that stable that night wrapped in the flesh of the Baby Jesus. And the donkeys didn’t mind that He was using their feeding trough for His bed. And the Light that shone around that simple stable was more radiant than anything that could be produced by all the nuclear power plants in the world today!

Let’s all stand and turn to page 170 in our hymn books. It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold; Peace on the earth, goodwill to men, from heaven’s all gracious King; the world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing. It’s hard to even type Edmund Sears’ words on my keyboard without singing them out loud. Sometime during this Christmas, let’s all sing that carol at least once. We should be shoutin’ it from the roof tops!

So, plug in your drop cords. String the lights all over creation. Shine the spot lights on your nativity scenes. It’s OK to celebrate the joy of Jesus that still lights up every human heart that will let Him come in. As long as we remember that it’s not the lights in our front yard, but the Light in our heart that counts.

When the baby Jesus grew up, He told the people (and us), “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12). That’s a Christmas light display worthy of a drive through.

Is the Light on in your stable?

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HOW SWEET IT IS!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

What is it about Christmas that makes me want to eat every piece of candy I see? I challenge you just to walk down the candy aisle at any store and resist the urge. Seems like that two-pound bag of Christmas-colored M& M’s just jumped right off the shelf and into my buggy. I tried to dodge it but I didn’t want to run into the heels of that sweet little old lady in front of me. Who, by the way, had her buggy running over with chocolate truffles and bon-bons.

And did you know you can order M & M’s with words of love printed on them? I’ve even heard that you can get ‘em with pictures! Looks to me like the heat-transfer process would melt those goodies ‘in your hand instead of in your mouth.’ And, I didn’t say this, but there’s a story going around about certain female friends (with certain shades of hair color) who eat too many M & M’s in their frustration over trying to put ‘em in alphabetical order!

What’s your favorite Christmas candy? Some folks like those jellied orange slices. And they’re not bad. If you don’t mind spending the rest of the day picking it off your teeth. And how ‘bout those chocolate covered cherries? I can’t prove this, but I’ll bet Noah’s family had ‘em on the ark. And then you have the Christmas-colored musical chocolate kisses. At least, they’re musical on that tv commercial.

But back to the main road before my one-track mind gets sidetracked! My friend Darryl and I got started talking about our favorite boyhood candy the other day as we each munched on four or five pieces of that soft, round peppermint candy that melts in your mouth. No licking required. Oh, how I wish these little treats had been available back home at Route 4! As I let that fluff of sweetness dissolve in my mouth, a video of Christmases past flickered onto the screen of my mind.

Candy was not readily available to our bunch of farm boys back then. How many times were we told that it would rot your teeth and spoil your supper? Why, I didn’t even hear about candied carrots till a few years ago. I might still be on the farm if Reese’s peanut butter cups had been invented then! And did you know some cafes, ‘scuse me, restaurants are judged by what kind of mint they give you when you walk out the door?

Anyway, we considered it pure joy at Christmas time back then when Mother and Daddy came home from the A & P with a box of those long, straight, hard peppermint sticks. And there were times when we had to share one stick. To this day, I still don’t like those red and white sticks. I’ve been to the woodshed on account of them.

Here’s how it happened. The first brother would lick one end of it down to the middle. Then the second brother would lick the other end up to where the first brother had stopped. Guess who got the all-white, slightly used, wet and sticky peppermint stick? And guess who threw in the dirt for the ants to tote off? Maybe that’s where the phrase “somebody licked the red off my candy” originated.

But then somebody came up with the brilliant idea of the red and white candy cane. Make ‘em smaller, bend the end, and pack ‘em individually in cellophane. We’ve all heard the story of how they were invented. And it is a wonderful story. It makes the rounds every year at Christmas time. It would do us all good to read it and share it before we open presents around the tree.

I’m told that a candy maker in Indiana wanted to invent a candy that could be used as a witness to Jesus. And according to legend, the crook on the end is supposed to represent a shepherd’s staff. Just like the staff of the Good Shepherd that He uses to reach down into the ditches of life and pull His little lambs to safety. Also, if you hold it the right way, the bent end of the candy cane looks like a ‘J’ for Jesus.

It has three small red stripes representing the stripes of the skin-tearing whip lashes that Jesus took for you and me. And the large red stripe stands for His blood that He gave for us. Its hardness stands for His strength. And the white color represents His pure, spotless, and sinless nature.

I can just imagine the excitement of those shepherds. When they had seen Jesus, they went back to their jobs ‘glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen’ (Luke 2:20). Wouldn’t they have just loved to have had some of those crooked little candy canes to pass out along their way.

So, as much as I like those soft, round, melt-in-your-mouth fluffs of peppermint, I’ll be carrying some little candy canes in my pocket when you see me this Christmas. And I hope and pray the little J-shaped goodies will remind us all of the Real Reason for the Season. The baby Jesus who loved us from His cradle to His cross and still loves us today with His crown in glory.

Have a candy cane. I promise it will leave a sweet taste in your mouth.

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HOME FOR CHRISTMAS

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

A friend asked me the other day if we would be going home for Christmas. And, as usual, I ‘opened mouth before engaging brain.’ I replied, ‘No, we ARE home for Christmas.’ But, the more I thought about it, the more the fog began to lift from the ol’ brain. And, as it lifted, I could clearly see the picture of Christmases past. Living in other places early on in our marriage, we’d pack up the jalopy with kids, presents, clothes, food, and other Christmas goodies. Bringin’ Christmas with us, it was ‘over the hill and through the dale to Grandmother’s house we go.’

Have you ever thought about how quickly a generation passes? Now we are ‘Grandma’s house.’ That same little boy and girl that used to sleep in the back seat with a fruit cake for a pillow will now pack up their offspring, presents, food, etc. and make the trip to Mimi and Poppa’s house for Christmas.

And, in the blink of an eye, if the Lord tarries, another generation will pass. The only two words I can ever recall from Miss Beaty’s Latin I Class come to mind right here. Tempus Fugit. Time indeed does fly. These same three wonderful grandchildren of ours will repeat the ‘going home for Christmas’ process. Except then, they’ll be making the trip home for Christmas to their parents’ houses. And we’ll be the old folks, too feeble to travel, waitin’ for an afternoon visit, with a pair of socks and a handkerchief under the tree for each of the great-grands.

Now before you reach for that hanky, or tissue, please allow me to plow a furrow and plant a seed or two right here. Whoa, back the mule up. Side road, please. I don’t think we ever had one single solitary tissue  while growing up at Route 4. Raising nine kids on a farm, around all kinds of animals and every germ known to science, and even some that weren’t known yet, a couple or three of us always seemed to have ‘runny noses.’ To have had enough tissues for those cold winters would have hastened the extinction of trees from planet Earth.

But back to the main road. I remember an old expression that the hanky-and-sock folks used when we were growing up. And it wasn’t until I’m about ready for membership in that society that I think I have a handle on what they meant when they said, ‘Wherever you go, there you are.’ Do what? Yeah, I know, you’re thinking the same thing I did all those years. But put this in your Christmas stocking and leave it hanging on the mantle for a few years. No matter where you go, when you get there, that’s where you are!

Before the children and grandchildren take a vote on having me committed, consider this. If Christmas is in your heart, no matter where you are, you’re home for Christmas. Let’s see if I can plow a straight row. Way back in 1944, Bing Crosby had a gold record with a tune called ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas.’ Anyone under 40, raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of Bing Crosby. With our country knee-deep in the muck and mire of WWII, this tune tugged on the collective heart strings of America.

It went something like this. I’ll be home for Christmas, you can plan on me. Please have some snow and mistletoe, and presents on the tree. Christmas Eve will find me where the lovelight gleams; I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams. Because they were fightin’ a war on the other side of the world, our soldiers and their families knew that they would be home for Christmas only in their dreams. Home for Christmas that year was in their hearts, wherever they were.

And thinkin’ about all the young couples that’ll be packing up and headin’ home for Christmas, I can’t help but think about that young couple from Nazareth. In Galilee, not in Pennsylvania. They had to pack up and take a trip of about 80 miles to a little town called Bethlehem. In Judea, not in Georgia. Now, all you ladies, send me an email and let me know what you would be thinking if your husband told you that you would be riding a donkey for 80 miles. In your ninth month of pregnancy!

No Am-Track, no holiday flights and airports and traffic jams to contend with. Just a donkey and eighty miles and a soon-to-be mother. Weary, worn-out, and worried, Joseph and Mary made it to the Downtown Bethlehem Inn. Turned away by the innkeeper’s no vacancy sign, their first Christmas was not at home back in Nazareth, but in the darkness of that stable in Bethlehem. But they brought Christmas with them.

And from the Light there in that feeding trough, the whole world was set aglow by God’s precious Gift. “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19), because she really was home for Christmas.

And now, two thousand and nine years later, with that same Gift in our hearts, we’ll be home for Christmas, too, wherever we are, no matter how rough the trip.

Are you packed yet?

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JUST PLAY ON YOUR DRUM!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Some radio stations began playing Christmas music 24/7 even before Thanksgiving this year. I can’t prove it, but I have a hunch they might have been trying to get us into the Christmas spirit even earlier than usual. Their move might have been commercially motivated. But I like to think that hearing our favorite Christmas songs might inspire some hope in our hearts. For some, this Christmas will be the toughest they’ve ever known.

Our men and women in the military are fighting wars in places we’ve only seen on geography class globes. And while they’re over there, we here at home are fighting fear and terror caused by spiraling crime rates, massive unemployment, record numbers of businesses and stores closing up shop, and shocking moral decay.  

But even with all that going on around us, I still love to listen to those wonderful Christmas songs. Now, it wouldn’t bother me too much if Alvin, the chipmunk, was with Grandma when she ‘got run over by a reindeer.’  

But I get blessed down to my socks when I hear the likes of Hark The Herald Angels Sing, O Little Town of Bethlehem, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Silent Night, O Come, All Ye Faithful, Away In a Manger, and Little Drummer Boy. That’s right. Little Drummer Boy. Recorded by the unlikely duo of Bing Crosby and David Bowie in 1958.

Have you ever really listened to the words of Little Drummer Boy? I mean, in the midst of all those “pa rum pum pum pum’s,” there’s a very tender story. If it won’t tug at your heart strings, your violin might be broken. Or, as we used to say back home at Route 4, if that don’t light your fire, your wood is probably too wet to burn!

Let me see if I can summarize it for you. Thanks to Miss Baron’s Senior English Class almost 50 years ago, I still like to let that word roll right off my lips just like she taught us. But back to the main road.

The Little Drummer Boy saw Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddlin’ clothes and lying in the animals’ feeding trough. And he began to tell Jesus that he was just a poor boy, too, and didn’t have a gift that was fit to give to the King. And then he had an idea! There was a gift he could give Jesus that nobody else could give.

When he asked if he could play for Jesus on his drum, Mary nodded yes. So while the ox and the lamb kept time, the Little Drummer Boy played the best he had ever played. Didn’t miss a note. And when he was finished, Baby Jesus smiled at the Little Drummer Boy and his drum.

I have to admit something right here. I can’t carry a tune in a water bucket. Much less on a drum. But, in my heart of hearts, I believe that the best gift we could possibly give King Jesus this Christmas would be the same gift that the Little Drummer Boy gave to Baby Jesus. Our very best. That’s all He asks. Just give Him our very best. With whatever gift He has entrusted to us (1 Peter 4:10).  It really is a gift fit for a King. And nobody else but us can give it.  I think that would make King Jesus smile just like Baby Jesus did when the drum solo ended.

If the radio stations intended to get me singing along with the Christmas music, they have succeeded. Don’t worry. I do my part to combat noise pollution. I’ll keep my car windows rolled up! But, I hope I hear Little Drummer Boy a thousand times this Christmas! Because every time I hear about that little fellow’s gift, I can’t help but remember the Gift that God gave me, His very best. (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Everybody together now – pa rum pum pum pum; pa rum pump um pum!

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GIGGLE BOXES AND FUNNY BONES

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Helen came home from a meeting the other night and said everybody there had their giggle boxes turned over. And it was one of the best meetings they had had in some time. What does a giggle box look like? And what’s inside of it? And where do we get one?

Have you ever tried to stop laughing when something strikes your funny bone? And it’s contagious, too. It’ll spread around the room like a grass fire on a windy day. Others will begin to giggle for no apparent reason – just because you’re laughing.

Somewhere back there in the far reaches of my memory, we had a real giggle box. It was just a little cube-shaped box. Not very impressive on the outside. But if you turned it over, picked it up, dropped it, or even got close to it, that thing started sounding off with about five minutes of belly laughs. You couldn’t help but have a smile on your face when you heard it. And believe me, there were many times back home on the farm when we needed a good laugh.

A trip to the woodshed was no picnic. And most times it left you looking like someone had ‘licked the red off your candy.’ The red might have been missing from your candy, but it showed up in other places, if you catch my drift. I haven’t thought about this in years, but I remember vividly one Sunday when ‘one of the brothers’ carried our giggle box to church.

Now we had a bunch of country boys, old enough to not have to sit with our parents. Or so we thought. We were all sitting together in the back of the church. And right in the middle of the sermon, our giggle box started making the rounds. You can’t turn those things off once they’re stared. It was worse than that squirrel that Ray Stevens sings about!

As a child, can you remember ever having been grabbed up by your shirt collar and taken out of church? I could see holy fire coming out of Daddy’s eyes as he came down the aisle toward us. And I just knew it would be a long afternoon at the woodshed. The cow pasture baseball game was cancelled due to ‘inclement weather,’ as there, indeed, was a storm brewing on Route 4. The woodshed lesson that day was entitled ‘there’s a time and place for everything.’

I’ve looked on toy aisles in many stores, but I haven’t seen one of those little boxes in decades. Is it just me, or does it seem like the stress and pressures of a world gone haywire has robbed us of the gift of laughter? Do you remember any news reports on televisions about people standing in line at midnight, waiting for the store to open four or five hours later? Just to get a ‘giggle box?’ Not going to happen in today’s world! Do you find something just a little bit wrong when people get knocked down and stomped on by the rush of the crowd when those doors finally open? Just to be ‘among the first ten customers’ to get the latest electronic gadget?

And another thing, while I’m picking this row of cotton. I find it hard to believe that the guy who gave me the one-finger salute because I accidentally pulled out in front of him was actually on his way to buy a gift for someone to show the love that was in his heart!

I saw a little table-top Christmas tree the other day. All decorated with lights and tinsel and ornaments. And beautifully wrapped presents under the tree. But, upon closer examination, I discovered all the boxes were empty! Nada. Nothing. Sure, they were neatly covered with pretty paper and colorful ribbons and bows. But they were empty. Nothing on the inside. Tough times will do that to us, but only if we let it happen. I don’t believe there’s even been a better time for us all to take a close look at what we’re wrapping up inside our gift boxes.

Now, I know it won’t be on everybody’s Christmas list, but wouldn’t it be great if everyone got a ‘giggle box’ for Christmas this year! Can you imagine homes all over the world filled with good old-fashioned belly laughs?

God created laughter for a reason. A little humor here and a little giggle box there. And before we know it, the worries and fears and distractions of everyday living will be replaced by a smile and a chuckle. I have a new friend named Wayne. He loves to laugh. You can’t help but be uplifted when you’re around him. Even if he does tell jokes about my favorite college team!

The gift of God’s only begotten Son is reason enough to put a smile on my face. That Gift is the true Reason For The Season. And it’s a Gift that He has given us the privilege to give to everyone in the world! Just imagine, if you can, the stresses of our daily world being relieved by ‘having your giggle box turned over’ with laughter and joy and smiles spilling out all over anyone close to you. A cheerful heart really is good medicine (Proverbs 17:22) for this sick ol’ world we’re living in today.

Forget the ‘two front teeth.’ All I want for Christmas is a giggle box.

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IT’S A BOY!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Have you been to the greeting card section of your favorite store lately? I guess I spend way too much time there when I need to pick out just the right card. But it’s so much fun to shop for cards since somebody came up with the bright idea to make musical greeting cards. They’ve got ‘em for every occasion, too. Birthdays, anniversaries, getting’ a new job, getting’ engaged, getting’ married, getting’ a divorce.

You name it and they’ve got a card for it. With a song inside. Saw one the other day with a nice greeting on the outside that said, ‘Congratulations on your new house.’ When you opened it, somebody was singing a couple of verses of ‘This Ol’ House.’

Time was, though, when you could pick up a pack of simple cards to send to family and friends announcing the arrival of your newest bundle of joy. ‘It’s A Boy!’ or ‘It’s A Girl!’ was all that the card needed to say. Buy a roll of ten-cent stamps (how long ago was that!), a box of cigars, and you’re all set.

But now they have musical ‘new baby’ cards with a sweet lullaby song inside. I keep expecting to open one up and hear a big burp or the cry of a 2:00am feeding call! What’s next? Cards with fragrances? Like maybe the smell of junior’s recently digested strained peas and carrots?

The ‘Bethlehem New Baby Announcement’ is one that I truly enjoy reading. Over and over. And every time I read it, I get something new from it that just blesses me right down to my socks! And how appropriate is it that a doctor wrote the account of the Birth Announcement that changed the world.

While reading Luke’s words again recently for the umpteenth time, my farm-raised and cornbread-fed brain set in and plowed a few acres around the shepherds (Luke 2:8-20). As soon as I read the first part of verse 8, I found myself turning off the tar-and-gravel and headin’ back down the dirt road to Route 4.

In case you’ve forgotten verse 8, here’s how it starts. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby.”  Don’t miss this picture. First, you have a bunch of smelly guys badly in need of a hot shower. Let’s face it. They were living in the pasture. Jiffy-Johns had not been invented yet. And I can’t prove this, but I just bet that you wouldn’t have found any cologne or deodorant sticks in their knapsacks. Try to think of the longest time you’ve ever gone without a bath or shower. Yeah, that’s what I thought. Not a pretty picture.

And what were they doing out there in the pasture? Glad you asked. Verse 8(b). “Keeping watch over their flocks at night.” Flocks, as in sheep.  Some of the raunchiest smelling animals God ever created. Trust me. ‘Eau de wet wool’ is not a big seller at the fragrance counter of your local department store. I’m talking about strong stuff here, folks. Strong as a ten-acre field of garlic!

But it was right smack-dab in the middle of this mess that an angel appeared and lit up the hillside with the mega-million watt power of the Glory of God. And scared these old boys half to death! You know what? I have to throw this in right here. There’s never been a mess so big that God can’t step right in the middle of and clean it right up. If you’ve been there, say Amen!

But then the angel said, “Listen up, guys. Don’t be afraid. I’ve got something to tell you that’s gonna knock your socks off. It’s the greatest news the world has ever heard. And it will bring joy to all people. Even a bunch of smelly shepherds without indoor plumbing.” I know. The angel didn’t say that last part. I apologize. That’s my Route 4 translation coming out.

But here’s what jumps off the pages of my Bible. God sent an angel into the messy, smelly, every day working world of the shepherds to make His Holy Birth Announcement. Don’t you just think it was just so right for these guys who were tending their little lambs to be the first ones to hear about the birth of the Lamb of God? Even in our worst times and toughest conditions, God still has a Word for us. If we’ll just listen.

And suddenly, a big choir of angels joined the first one in the pasture with the shepherds. And they all started sing Glory Hallelujah to God in Heaven who brings peace on earth ‘to all upon whom His favor rests.’

Then the angels left and went back to Heaven. Our shepherd buddies must have been lock-jaw speechless! Do you reckon they looked at each other and said, “WOW! Did you see what I just saw?” Do you wonder if they appointed a shepherd’s research and development committee to investigate and report back at their next meeting?

Oh, no, my friends, they grabbed their knapsacks and made a bee-line for Bethlehem! They just HAD to see with their own two eyes this miracle that the Lord had told them about. God could have made his birth announcement to kings and priests. But He chose a lowly bunch of old boys at work. Doing their jobs in a less-than five-star setting.

So they took off in a big hurry and found this new baby boy and His parents. In a setting much like the one they had come from. Peaceful and quiet. Among the animals. And after they saw Him, the shepherds told everybody they ran into about the baby boy. They were so excited they couldn’t keep it to themselves. And people were amazed at what these common, ordinary guys had to say as they shared the good news. Then they made their way back. Praising and glorifying God all along the way. We could well do likewise.

Our little house been blessed by the birth of two children and three grandchildren. The awesome joy and beauty and our love for these miracles is indescribable. The touch of their little hands in ours is unmatched by anything this world has to offer. But nothing on earth compares to the touch of Jesus.

So while we’re singing our favorite Christmas carols, let’s also sing the one Bill Gaither wrote almost fifty years ago. He touched me, O, He touched me, and O, the joy that floods my soul; something happened, and now I know, He touched me and made me whole.

The shepherds needed a shower and got a Savior. That’s a birth announcement worth telling the whole world about.

I’ll meet ‘ya at the greeting card aisle.

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BLUE LIGHTS AT THE MANGER SCENE

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Could the Christmas holidays get any busier? There are parties here and parties there, dinners here and dinners there. Put up the tree, hang the lights, fight the crowds, find a parking place, get the shopping done, wrap the presents, address and mail the cards. And that’s just in your spare time. We still have to go to work.

Life that’s already in the fast lane becomes a blur as we rush at break-neck speed through what should be the most meaningful time of the year. Maybe you’ve heard this little riddle. If FedEx and UPS merged, what would the new company be named? Give up? Their new name would be FED-UP!  Is it any wonder that the folks who know about these kinds of things say that Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year?

One of my pet peeves is to be driving in the left-hand lane on a four-lane highway, obeying the speed limit, and minding my own business. And somebody who didn’t leave home early enough pulls up behind me, blinking his headlights and blowing his horn. Trying to get me to move over and let him go have a wreck or get a ticket.

My back-seat driver in the front seat gets nervous and sweetly suggests that maybe I ought to move over into the slow lane. That’s where slow-pokes like me can just mosey along at 65 miles an hour! I like to read signs, personalized tags, and bumper stickers. Here’s one I wish I had on my bumper – ‘How does my bumper taste?’

I saw another sign the other day that caught my four-lane highway attention and ran me down a dirt road detour. You’ve probably seen one of these signs, too. It tells you the legal speed limit for that road. Let’s just say it’s 55 mph. And then with flashing lights and two-foot high words and numbers, it says Your Speed is 72 mph!  Or maybe worse than that. Tell me you haven’t been there!

And might I present further evidence, your honor? Who among us has not looked down at our speedometer at the sight of a police car? It’s an automatic reflex to the mindset that says ‘so much to do and so little time to do it.’ Years ago they outlawed the flashing red lights and went to a pretty blue color on police cars so as not to scare drivers when they’re pulled over. I don’t think Andy and Barney even had any kind of light on their Mayberry police car.

This is just me talking, but maybe they ought to go back red lights on police cars. Let’s face it. They make a statement and you get the message. After all, ambulances still have red lights and for good reason. I, for one, am thankful for that. If I’m ever being transported, as they say, I sure don’t want to be in an ambulance with soft and pretty twinkling blue lights!

But back home at Route 4, you wouldn’t have seen one of those “Your Speed Is” electronic signs on the side of the road. Red mud up to your axle was enough of a speed limit. Or if it was dry and dusty, you’d choke to death because your window was always rolled down. How else could you give that ‘arm straight out’ left turn signal or ‘L-shaped arm’ right turn signal. Now I’m really dating myself. Who rolls windows down or up anymore?

And remember the ‘governors’ they used to put on cars, trucks, and especially school buses? The one I drove in high school would only do 38 miles an hour. Maybe instead of 140 or 160 on speedometers in cars today, there ought to be governors under the hood. I know it won’t happen. We don’t live in Mayberry anymore, but it’s sure nice to think about the slower pace of life back then.

 Next time the roar of a diesel blows you off the interstate, try remembering a summer night on the front porch back home. Listening to the katy-dids and the bull frogs croaking to each other down at the fish pond.

And when that 18-wheeler behind you gives you cardiac arrest with his air horn, pull over to a rest stop and imagine this scene if you can. I can have a good, old-fashioned belly laugh just trying to picture that big rig slipping and sliding down our muddy road back home!

And if your Christmas is so hectic, you actually find yourself thinking that you’ll be glad when it’s over, might I suggest that we all imagine another scene. One that’s so quiet and peaceful you can hear the grass growing. It’s called the Manger Scene. It has a special attraction, I think, to those of us blessed to grow up ‘under the stars and around the animals’ on the farm. And even if you weren’t ‘reared’ that way, you can go there in your mind. That’s one of God’s gifts. But to open that gift, we have to slow down!

The Savior of the world, the Christ-child Jesus, was born in a quiet and peaceful manger. A place where Mary and Joseph could take in every second and appreciate the wonder of it all. As opposed to the hustle and the bustle of the crowd gathered in Bethlehem for the census-taking.

 I can’t prove this, but I believe that it was according to God’s plan for the No Vacancy sign to be hanging outside the Bethlehem Inn. Joseph had not made advance reservations, so there was no room in the inn. And wouldn’t it have been tragic if the noise and the busy-ness of the crowd had over-shadowed the greatest event known to mankind! Instead they had the privacy of their very own ‘birthing room’ right there with the animals in the quiet beauty of the manger (Luke 2:7).

What a sight it would be if every home in the world was a manger scene this Christmas. I mean a real manger scene, not just the one displayed on the lawn with plastic people and donkeys. I’m talking about real people like you and me making a conscious decision to slow down long enough to create a quietness in our ‘stable’ to appreciate the awesome wonder and beauty of that night when God rewrote the history of the world in a little town called Bethlehem.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by, yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in; be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel. Thank you, Phillip Brooks, for those God-inspired words.

There was no room in the inn, but what about our hearts? Will the everlasting search for the presents of Christmas cause us to miss The Presence of Christmas? Let’s slow down, roll down our window, give a right turn signal, and go back down the road to Bethlehem this Christmas.

It’ll be a manger scene we’ll never forget!

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KEEP LOOKING UP!

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

I think that Art Linkletter hit the nail on the head when he said, “Kids say the darnest things.” I heard a story the other day about a kindergarten class setting up their annual manger scene in their classroom. There was Mary and Joseph and all the camels and donkeys. Even some wise men, too. But all of a sudden, one of the little girls started crying like her heart was broken.

Pointing to an empty manger, she sobbed to the teacher, “We can’t find Jesus.” And a little child shall lead them! Eventually, with the teacher’s help, the children were able to sort through several other boxes of decorations until the missing figurine was found. As the little girl carefully placed the doll in the cradle, she joyfully proclaimed, “He’s not lost anymore!”

That reminds me of a child’s game of long ago. Don’t think you’ll find it on any of these new-fangled X-Boxes or Wii games. Whoever invented that one won’t win any spelling bees. But, back home at Route 4, we used to love to play ‘Pin The Tail on The Donkey.’ We’d take one of Daddy’s long wool socks and blindfold one of our brothers. Then we’d spin him around and around like a top. Then hand him the other sock with a thumb tack in it.

And sit back and laugh as he groped around the room trying to find the donkey, or another brother to stick the tack in. The first time I was put under the blindfold and spun around, I was as lost as a billy goat. Just try it for yourself. Take a farmer’s wool sock that’s been around the barnyard and hasn’t seen a wash tub in a month of Sundays. The smell alone was enough to make your head spin. I couldn’t have found that donkey with a navigational system!

Once upon a time, there were some guys who had heard about a baby being born, and wanted to take him some presents. Sorta like the first Baby Shower. So they set out on their donkeys, or camels more likely, to try to find the baby. But the Baby Jesus wasn’t the one that was lost. He was right where He was supposed to be. It was the Wise Men who needed help to find Him.

And they got the help they needed from a Heavenly GPS locator. They were led by the star they had seen in the east. It moved across the sky and stopped over the place where the child was (Matthew 2:9-11). And just like the little kindergarten girl, they were tickled pink when they found Jesus.

Do we believe that a star can move across the sky and lead somebody to Jesus? Of course, we do. Have you ever seen a shootin’ star? God made the stars and hung ‘em in the sky. He can make ‘em move whenever and wherever He wants to. This is just me talking, but I believe that it was according to God’s plan for a star in the sky to lead the Wise Men. That way, they’d have to keep looking up if they were going to find Jesus!

With all the bad stuff happening in the world today, maybe we’ve forgotten how to look up. Loss of jobs and benefits, stores closing up, bad economy, warnings from law enforcement officers on shopping safety. So many things that make us have ‘downcast eyes.’ Maybe the best Christmas gift we could give this year would be a reminder of David’s ‘Keep Looking Up Declaration’ (Psalm 121:1).

The Wise Men kept looking up until they found Jesus and a new direction for their lives. He doesn’t need our gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It belongs to Him already. He just wants our undivided, worshipful hearts. And, even if He leads us down a different road, as He did with the Wise Men (Matthew 2:12), it’s usually for our own good.

Wise men still seek Him!

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AMBER ALERT

Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Once again, modern technology has jumped on this country boy’s little red wagon. I’m impressed by the Amber Alert System that springs into action across the nation when a child is lost. Travelers see the information posted immediately on major highways. Vital information is displayed in bright lights on huge electronic message boards. A child has become separated from loved ones and timing is crucial if they’re to be reunited.

It’s a great system and whoever invented it should be commended. When I see one of those big boards in action, I say a prayer for the lost one and the family. I also like to say a prayer of thanksgiving when I see a silent and dark Amber Alert message board. That means for today, this minute, right now, no child is separated from his or her family.

And in my mind, I turn off that interstate highway and head back down that dirt road toward home at Route 4. We didn’t have any Amber Alert message boards back then for all the world to see. Mainly because all the world wasn’t using that dirt road. But we did have an alert system. I remember very well when modern technology came to Route 4. It was called the party-line telephone. Remember it?

We had a six-party hook-up and everybody had their own number of short and long rings. I don’t know why everybody had a different ring. We only needed one. Whenever the phone rang, everybody picked up anyhow! So whenever Mother or Daddy couldn’t find us, the six-party line sprang into action! There were only so many places the Martin boys could be.

They were either at the Johnson’s place, or the Nix’s place, or the Morgan’s house, or the Brown’s, or the Bramlett’s, or the McKee’s. So the message was spread on the party-line phone, “When you see the Martin boys, tell ‘em they better get to the house right now if they know what’s good for them!”

And it didn’t take but once or twice for us to come to know what’s good for us. I remember one time when Oliver just took his good old easy time and dilly-dallied around before headin’ for the house. I got there first to avoid the ‘firing squad’ at the woodshed. It didn’t work, but the real fireworks exploded in the sky like the Fourth of July when I told Daddy that Oliver said he’d ‘be here as soon as he gets good and ready.’

That day the amber alert went to red alert. The color of Daddy’s face and neck as he sat on the front porch just waitin’ for his Number Two Son to get to the house. He had it coming. I owed him one. Don’t remember what it was for, but I knew and he knew that he had one coming. And then I knew to watch out. I’d have one coming, too. Didn’t know when or where, but it was coming.

In today’s world, though, there are so many ways that parents and kids get separated. What with planes, trains, and cars that take us to big cities with big malls and big crime rates. And the big question on everybody’s mind, ‘Have they found that little girl or that little boy’, becomes the big story on the six o’clock news. And happiness spreads like hot butter when the one that’s been separated is reunited with loved ones.

And, this is just me talking now, but I think that’s the kind of happiness that the Apostle Paul was trying to spread in his letter to the people of the church at Rome (Romans 8:35, 37-39). It was going on sixty years since the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus had separated Him from His earthly followers. We’re living in perilous days, but check out verse 35. Those were tough times, too. Trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness,    danger, and sword.

But we can whip all these things when, not if, they come our way with the help of the One who loved us enough to die and be physically separated from us for a little while. Paul knew. He had been there, done that. He was convicted, convinced, and confident that there is nothing on this earth, in the earth, under the earth, neither death nor life, or angels or demons, anything or anyone that’s ever been or ever will be created, that can separate us from God’s love through Jesus Christ (John 3:16). So, let’s turn on those Amber Alert signs with a message of hope for anyone feeling separated by what’s going on in our world.

Tell ‘em ‘they better get to the House right now if they know what’s good for them.’

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