Author: Karl (Page 1 of 45)

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Thunder and Lightning

In English we prefer the ordering of certain words in doublets, for example, salt and pepper not pepper and salt; ham and eggs, heads or tails, shoes and socks, good and bad, up and down, in and out, and so on. It is the same with thunder and lightning, although the latter precedes the former in actual fact.

What is it about thunder and lightning that makes them so awe-inspiring and sometimes shocks us, especially when they occur almost simultaneously? We don’t equate thunder with God speaking, but In the Bible, we have instances of God answering in thunder (for example, after Moses speaks, in Exodus 19.19). In 1 Samuel 2.10 we read that “those who oppose the Lord will be broken. The Most High will thunder from heaven.” And in Job 37.4: “After that comes the sound of his roar; he thunders with his majestic voice. When his voice resounds, he holds nothing back.” God’s voice is very loud at times—like thunder!

I don’t know anyone named thunder, but the disciples James and John were nicknamed “the sons of thunder,” so they probably had loud voices. We all know people like that.

God is in charge of both the thunder and the lightning: In Job 38.35 God asks Job if he can command the lightning to flash and in Acts 9.3 Saul’s conversion is accompanied by a light flashing from the sky. Lightning is used figuratively to describe swiftness, brightness, God’s judgment, Christ’s return, and Satan’s fall from heaven. Thunder and lightning are different sides of the same coin, portraying God’s power and majesty 

The Kewa people in Papua New Guinea and with whom we lived for many years, commonly said “the mountains are shaking” for thunder and “fire has struck” for lightning—such times were wonderful to behold. And in Greek literature Zeus was the god of lightning and Athena the god of thunderbolts. The two words are personified as gods in the mythology of the Slavs, Norse, Finnish, Japanese, India groups and in Islam. Every culture has legends that in some manner account for thunder and lightning.

I have always been fascinated by lightning and thunder and all of us have heard stories of people struck by lightning. In Florida more people are struck by lightning than any other state, but nine out of ten will live to tell the story.

The odds of getting struck by lightning in any given year are about 1 in 300,000. Although most people survive, “the electrical discharge leaves some of them with a mark, called the Lichtenberg figure” and it will save them the expense of a tattoo.

According to the same article on the Internet, when the lightning enters the body, “it short-circuits the small electrical signals that run the heart, lungs, and nervous system, which can lead to cardiac arrest, seizures, brain injury, spinal cord damage, and amnesia […], it can bore holes in your retina and cause cataracts, a clouding of the lenses.”

In short, don’t get hit by lightning or it will ruin your day. It not only ruined their day, it killed two men working on our center in Papua New Guinea in 1958. The men were digging a ditch and were suddenly struck by lightning. We administered first aid and cardio pulmonary resuscitation, but could not revive them. I still recall the smell of their burned flesh.

On a brighter note, imagine now the quickness and brightness of the Lord’s return, which is compared to lightning or “In the twinkling of an eye,” as one version puts it. It doesn’t matter if it’s the twinkling, blink or wink of the eye (as other versions translate the phrase), it will be a split second and surprise us.

It pays then to “be ready,” to be alert and recognize that God is not going to send out a news flash about his return. There will be signs—perhaps there already are—but most people will not pay attention to them. Listen to this advice and warning:

“The day of the Lord is surely coming, as unexpectedly as a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the heavenly bodies will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be burned up. And so since everything around us is going to melt away, what holy, godly lives we should be living! You should look forward to that day and hurry it along—the day when God will set the heavens on fire, and the heavenly bodies will melt and disappear in flames. But we are looking forward to God’s promise of new heavens and a new earth afterwards, where there will be only goodness.”  2 Peter 3:10-13.

The next time you see flashes of lightning and hear peals of thunder, pause for a moment and think of the Lord’s return. We need the reminder.

Karl and Joice Franklin
Waiting for the flash of light

Relics and Things like That

Come along with me to Heaven for an imaginary visit: it is now the “year” 2050 and I have been here many “years,” although we don’t count “years” in heaven. However, I will use the term as a reference point for mere “earthlings.”

I have been watching—whenever I am off-duty from polishing harps and repairing clanging cymbals—some of the churches down there in Waco. One is of particular interest: The DaySpring Church, near Lake Waco. Yes, the lake is still there, although difficult to make out clearly from Heaven because of dead fish, rotting boats and fishermen, and mountains of discarded HEB plastic bags. 

About the “year” 2035, an unusual phenomenon occurred at DaySpring: a small cigar-shaped box was place in the narthex, just underneath a large painting of an oak tree. Inside the box was the right and left big toe knuckles of two former pastors, with their names engraved on the box and part of Romans 10:15 “How beautiful are the feet of those….” The names of the pastors are difficult to read but look like Saint Erickson and Saint Burlikson. However, it is not our heavenly intention to draw attention or lend homage to any person (or relic) down there.

Nevertheless, we must be truthful: upon entering the sanctuary, parishioners are allowed (some would say encouraged) to touch the box or bow slightly before it. It was not done by everyone—indeed, some people were inwardly exasperated that the box was in the narthex and not in the chapel, where other relics and trinkets were kept. 

For in the chapel was one of St. Sid’s shoes, the right one, which he always used to tap out his offertory pieces on the piano. Also, hanging on the wall was the wand that one of the music directors had used to direct the choir. It was made of ivory and is said to have been carved with great precision by the former owners of the “Silos.” I should also mention the canes and walkers that had once been used by an ancient and well-respected members of the congregation. These hung on the wall of the chapel, where once a cross had been. Just why this was done is not clear, even to us in Heaven, but it seems that the cane represented Leviticus 27:32, where every tenth animal passed under the shepherd’s rod and the walker symbolized the chariots that were submerged in the Red Sea.

To the right was a large glass enclosed diorama of various ancient, but sacred items: the ukulele once played by St Dale of Baroon, a hymn book opened to page 368 (or 563, the pages were faded and there were arguments about it every Sunday), a microphone, once spoken into by the head of the Baptist Convention, a King James Bible (autographed by President George Bush of Crawford, Texas), a pressed bluebonnet (planted by Lady Bird) and a piece of sod from the original parking lot.

The people still drank coffee, especially on Sunday mornings, and a large wooden carved coffee mug, gifted originally by a St. Harvison, who once held the record for the most cups (mugs) of coffee consumed during a Sunday sermon.

Near the children’s Sunday school rooms—and there seemed to be dozens of them—was a collection of pencils that St. Joel had used in his sketches. Children were encouraged to draw with them and at least one such child had become a famous artist. However, the pencils were not magical, simply inspirational.

All the pieces in the chapel were well-preserved and taken to the baptismal pool once a year for a ceremonial cleansing—a simple yet sacred act.

Within the sanctuary the “Seven Stations of the Cross” had been replaced by “The Seven Seasons of Texas,” with pictures of bluebonnets, football teams and pizza parlors.

I also noticed the “Bell Tower,” a modest edifice that of course had a bell in it, but also had inscribed the names of all the parishioners who had died. There were so many names that it was now difficult to hear the bell ring. Some of the names were larger than others, but I was assured that it had nothing to do with the amount of their regular tithes or offerings.

Near the entrance to the Church on Renewal Road was a flashing neon sign that said, “No parking near the oak trees,” “Go Bears,” and “Please give way to the handicapped.”

I was quite amazed at what I had seen and decided to question some of the former church members. I quickly found a wise person, a former Church Council member it turned out, and asked: Is DaySpring still a Baptist church? If so, why do they have relics and assorted religious stuff? Don’t they know what the Bible says about idols?

The wise person—a venerated Texan—spoke slowly and with a decided drawl. “Way-all,” he said, “We Babdists had some larnin’ to do, so we invited some of those Katlicks for a meetin’ or two. They showed us that it ain’t rong to look at such things and remember such other things.” 

We don’t argue in Heaven and we certainly don’t discuss relics and things, (or one’s logic) so I let it go at that. But I will be keeping my eye on that part of Waco in the future. Lots of things start out as simple stories and become part of major religious lore.

Even Baptists can leave the narrow Renewal Way.

April, 2019
Upon hearing a Bible study discussion about relics

Side-by-Side: Faith and Doubt

There are many English body part idioms that occur as doublets: for example, eye-to-eye (confrontation), face-to-face (communication), back-to-back (home runs), hand-to-hand (combat), and so on. Many show intimacies, like heart-to-heart, although I would like to consider one that can be more neutral: side-by-side. For example, it is possible to sit side-by-side with someone and not even know the person, as in a sports event. But if something special happens in the game, you will probably acknowledge your new neighbor. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, suggests that friends most often sit side-by-side; on the other hand, lovers sit face-to-face. 

There are occasions when doubt and faith sit side-by-side and interfere with each other. I remember, for example, that as a young man I prayed regularly, in faith, for my father, but then watched his lifestyle and doubts crept (or ran) into my mind. I had trouble keeping the doubts from overcoming my faith. I have learned slowly, I think, that it is not unnatural or unspiritual to have the two side by side. However, now with COVID-19 doubt and faith seem to impede one other. This is not as unusual as we might think.

Consider the apostle Thomas, who is called the “doubter.” However, Thomas had faith enough to follow Jesus as a disciple and we read in John 11:16 that he was ready to go with Jesus to visit Lazarus and die there. He also acknowledged (in John 14:1-6) his need for instruction from Jesus. With Thomas, like many, faith and doubt were side-by-side.

If I was in a boat in the middle of a lake and Jesus came walking on the water toward me, what might I do? Would I, like Peter, ask Jesus if I—walking on the water—could meet him? And if Jesus said “Come!” would I have faith to get out of the boat and start walking on the water? Or would I be like Peter, who feeling the wind and seeing the waves, began to doubt—and sink. Jesus saves him and says, “What little faith you have. Why did you doubt?” Considering the scene, I think I would have doubted as well!

On another occasion, a rich young man came to Jesus and inquired what he should do to live forever. Jesus replies that he should keep the commandments that he has just recited. The man replies that he has always kept the commandments, pauses to wonder if that is enough, then asks what else he can do. Jesus suggests that he distribute his wealth to the poor. The man doubts that he can do it and leaves.

Each of the Gospels comment on the doubts of Jesus’ followers following his resurrection: in Matthew we read that the 11 disciples worshiped Jesus when they saw him, but that “some of them doubted” (28:17). It wasn’t just Thomas who doubted: Mark 16:14 says that Jesus scolded the disciples “because they were too stubborn to believe those who had seen him alive.”

When the women who visited Christ’s tomb after the resurrection reported to the disciples about seeing angels and an empty tomb, “the apostles thought that what the women said was nonsense, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:10-11).

Note also the words of Thomas himself in John 20:25: “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Jesus fulfills Thomas’ wish (v27) and tells him “Stop your doubting and believe!”

These instances from the Gospels clearly show that even Jesus’ most intimate friends had doubts about his resurrection and, at first, some of them did not believe that it was really him. It is therefore not surprising to me that some 2000-plus years later there are still doubters. To us, as to Thomas, he says: “Do you believe because you see me? How happy are those who believe without seeing me!” (v29).

What is our own story? Do we have faith that our children (parents, grandparents, etc.) will in turn have faith in God? Is one or more of them so wayward that we doubt it? Do we have faith that God will see us through this pandemic or are some of us beginning to doubt? Our faith may waver like the fans of the Chicago Cubs who waited over a century to see their team in the world series. But it did happen, so keep praying for the Dallas Cowboys!

All of us, when we are honest, admit that at times we have doubted that God is in control of politics, the economy, or even our lives. At such times, we must pray for the gift of faith that God has promised and a certainty that he will give it to us. We must then not let doubt overcome our faith—even if, sometimes, they are side-by-side.

Praying to overcome doubt with faith
Karl and Joice Franklin

What’s in a Name?

Plenty! Think of your names—you probably have three of them: a given name, a middle name and a surname. The last was a genealogical tip of the hat to your forefathers, the middle could be as varied as the imagination of your parents, and your main name—the one you recognize as yourself when somebody calls you—it is usually with you throughout your whole life.

Your three (or more) names are your legal identity, necessary for your birth, marriage and death certificates, driver’s license, passport, tax identification, and much more. You need to protect them from identity theft and make sure you are somehow clearly classified as different from someone else who has the same name.

We know people by their names. But not just people: also, towns, states, countries, mountains, rivers, flora and fauna, storms, products, and “much more.” 

One of our first tasks when we lived among the Kewa people in Papua New Guinea was to learn their names. We soon found out that was not so easy: they had a name they used for official records, as when the government collected taxes from them, but they had names that only certain relatives could use, as well as “secret” names, nicknames and (later) baptismal names. Sometimes the names were laid to rest with the corpse of the person, not to be mentioned again for fear of calling upon their spirit, who now “possessed” the name.

Popes, kings, and other important people often have Roman numerals after their names: like Pope John II, King Richard IV, and RGIII. The latter instance also shows how initials come to stand for the name, such as LBJ and JFK.

Fraternities, clubs and other groups assign insider names to their members. This is also a notorious feature of criminal names, such as Al “Scarface” Capone, Cadillac Frank, Ice Pick Willie, and the Gorilla Murderer. Athletes love unique names too: note World Peace, King James, Teddy Ballgame, Black Mamba, and Yankee Clipper.

When Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers in Genesis 45:3 he says, “I am your brother Joseph,” and despite his Egyptian apparel, they immediately know who he is. Names in Hebrew in the Bible invariable “mean” something, that is they point to an particular event or characteristic of the individual. Peter means “the rock” and Barnabas “the encourager” but the name Satan or the Devil is associated with being the accuser, enemy, murderer, and ruler of darkness—to name just a few of his “nicknames.”

Do you have a nickname, perhaps only one that your spouse calls you? When I was a kid my folks would sometimes call me “angel,” not because I acted like one, but because they wished that I would! My brother Charles was “Chas” and his best friend was “Butch,” which sounds like he should have been a cowboy.

And speaking of cowboys, we probably have all heard (or should I say herd?) of the “Cowboy church.” I visited one near Waxahachie and, driving in, we were welcomed by men and women on horses. The pastor wore a patterned shirt, bandana neck chief, cowboy hat, jeans with a big buckle and cowboy boots. His sermon was punctuated with a number of cowboy and horse idioms. I have learned there is also a Cowboy church somewhere in Waco.

If we investigated and provided the names for churches, the pages would roll on and on. In Waco alone, I pulled up the names of over 100 and DaySpring was not even listed. Baptist churches are so frequent that in some towns there is often not only a “first Baptist,” but also a “second” or even a “third.” The names of the denominations can give us some clues about their theologies and histories: for example, Lutheran, Presbyterian, St. Louis Catholic, Nazarenes, Seven Day Adventists, Methodists, Pentecostal, and Non-denominational. 

I grew up in Pennsylvania—named after William Penn—near a town called Shickshinny, along the Susquehanna River, both Native American names. There is a long list of Native American named towns in the state, such as Macanaqua, Nanticoke, Aliquippa, Catasauqua, Conshohoken, Junita, and Towanda. In Pennsylvania alone there were Native Americans from the Iroquois, Lenape, Delaware, Susquehanna and Shawnee tribes.

Companies strive to establish their name brands, so we immediately know what to associate with the products of Apple, Kleenex, Nike, Adidas, Lego, Amazon, Skype, Zoom and Google.

After the resurrection, Mary went looking for Jesus, but she mistook him for the gardener and it wasn’t until Jesus called her name that she recognized him. In Isaiah 62:2 and Revelation 3:12 we read that we will be given a “new name,” in addition to those Christians are already known by, such as believer, sheep, priest, brother (and sister), servant friend.

We are not short names that represent Christians—we just need to live up to them.

Karl and Joice Franklin (after Ben, I am told)

Viruses and Sin: Analogies?

We are in the middle of a pandemic—a virus called COVID-19, and it has been cropping up everywhere in the world, like weeds in a lawn. However, and by analogy (metaphor, simile as well), SIN is like the virus in some remarkable ways. Of course, all analogies break down at some point, so this one is hardly exact, but bear with me.

I read that viruses are classified according to the structure of their genome and how they replicate, not simply corresponding to the diseases they cause. There are hundreds of different ones that infect humans, transmitted in various ways: sexually, by blood transfer, mucus, shaking hands, by sweat, puncture from an infected needle, kissing your dog, eating hamburgers at a drive-in, waving at politicians, and so on. Viruses are found worldwide, and some have been latent for a long time while others, like hepatitis or malaria, are chronic.

What about classifying sins? If it is according to the severity of their nature, consider the ten commandments: murder, adultery, stealing, false accusations, and improper desires are listed as major sins. On the other hand, the Roman Catholic church divides sins into two major types: mortal ones and venial ones. If you commit a mortal sin you will go to hell, not heaven, because you have done so with full knowledge and deliberateness. However, when you sin, venial sins are the best kind because you can commit one without thinking about it. In other words, not all sins are equal and, according to the Catholics, and there are ways to get rid of the both kinds.

In the same way, there are serious viruses (we are going through one now with COVID-19) and there are minor ones, such as the common cold. Both are highly contagious and easily spread. Influenza is another virus that is common to humans and it too can be serious.

Some sins are highly contagious as well. Paul said that “What human nature does is quite plain. It shows itself in immoral, filthy, and indecent actions.” He said that “people fight; they become jealous, angry, and ambitious…they are envious, get drunk, have orgies, and do other things like these.” (Galatians 5.19…21). These are common sins and we are well acquainted with them.

However, societies and cultures differ on what actions are immoral, filthy and indecent. For example, sodomy was once considered a crime, but now is legal and at least tolerated in many countries. The same can be said for certain sexual sins, adultery and drunkenness. However, we should remember that there is no one-to-one correspondence between what is “legal” and what is “sinful.”

I read that a virus like COVID-19 does not want to kill you because the virus would die with you. It wants you to be sick and spread the virus to unsuspecting people around you. It is the same way with Satan and sin. He is happy to have sin breed in us, grow and govern our lives, but he would like us to infect others with it as well.

Of course, a disease can be spread intentionally, as some settlers did with smallpox when they gave American Indians infected blankets and other materials. Sin can be spread deliberately too: people can use greed, bribery and corruption to infect our society. Infections can be battled with the proper medicines or they can gradually harm others. Sin can likewise be overcome with prayer and the Spirit of God within us.

Our bodies have a “natural” immunity system to fight infections and viruses, but sometimes the system goes haywire and begins to destroy its own organs and body. There is, however, no natural immunity against sin and an injection of the Spirit is necessary to overcome it.

It seems, then, that many analogies are relevant about viruses and sin. Sometimes severe “lockdowns” and self-isolation may be necessary. We may need to confess our virus to the doctor and our sin to the Savior, but both need to be dealt with.

Karl and Joice Franklin
Thankful there are cures for both viruses and sin

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