Category: Reflections/ Messages (Page 1 of 15)

Keeping Stuff

The etymology of ‘stuff’ goes back to Middle English, where it denoted material for making clothes. Now more often it refers to keeping clothes, or almost anything.

Do you have a lot of “stuff”? Stuff can refer to scattered objects (“Pick that stuff up off the floor”), a consumed object (“He used to drink but now he is off the stuff”), subject matter (“The teacher really knows her stuff”), idle talk (“Don’t give me any of that stuff”), what a baseball pitcher does (“He has a lot of good stuff on the ball). We can make stuff into a verb as well: “to stuff someone’s head with facts, to stuff something into a bag,”; or even “ to have a stuffed-up head” (or nose).

Most houses and garages have a lot of stuff. It is hard to classify stuff, but you know it when you have it. Many people spend their lives trying to get more stuff and then worry about places to store and protect it. They keep their stuff in closets, cupboards, barrels, drums, crates, sheds and rented buildings. You may hear people saying:

  •  I need someplace to keep (put/store) my stuff
  •  We have accumulated a lot of stuff over the years. (Other words: amassed, collected, gathered, piled up, stored, or even hoarded.)
  •  We are still unpacking some of our stuff.
  •  We have got to get rid of some of our stuff.

Have you ever had to clean up someone else’s stuff? In 1983 we had to “break up” the house where Joice’s mother had lived for over 50 years, so she had a lot of stuff in it. We put a huge pile of it in the front lawn for the Salvation Army to pick up—we didn’t want the stuff.

However, once we have a lot of stuff, we may want to protect it because we get very attached to our stuff. In Mt. 6.25ff Jesus said that we should not be worried about food and drink and clothes, i.e. about stuff. He also said that the seeds sown among thorns were like the worries about life and riches and other kinds of stuff that crowd into our lives and choke out the message. He warned us in Mt. 6.19 not to store up riches for ourselves and be like the rich fool who had so much stuff that he decided to build bigger storage places so that he could store up more of his things, his stuff.

Anthropologists have observed and written about the cargo cults in Papua New Guinea and other places. The cargo is goods (or stuff) carried by ship, aircraft, or vehicles and is anything that could be imagined. Sometimes it led to a millennium mentality because the stuff was supposed to come in the future from an outside source. It could be accessed by having some special relationship with departed ancestors and often involved the use of ritual language. This included spells, magic and prayers that would help the stuff appear.

I once read a book by Paul Little called “How to give away your faith.” Let me suggest another title: “How to give away your stuff.” Which is the more difficult? And do we give our faith or our stuff only to those whom we like? Do we expect something in return? Further, and by analogy, do we store up our faith, like stuff? Do we always keep some in reserve in case we may need it?

Sometimes when I have gone by houses, I have seen signs like “Keep off the premises”, “Beware of the dog” or “No trespassing.” Is our attitude about stuff like that? 

One thing that may make others unwelcome is the stuff in our house: we may want to protect it at all costs—stickers in the window warn others and signs on the street inform them about the “neighborhood watch.”

What kind of stuff do we have that needs protection? People, like homes, are influenced by what is kept in them. In the spring of the year, there is (or used to be) housekeeping rites. Rugs were beaten, floors were scrubbed, windows were washed, and stuff was discarded. In the South (mainly) there were annual revivals where similar sorts of soul cleansings were supposed to take place. In either instance, the house or the soul, there is undoubtedly a need to get rid of some stuff, even if it has been around for a long time.

We all know the saying “You can’t take it with you,” but we have adhered more to “We can store it somewhere.” At least we must have thought that when we moved to Waco from Dallas. We had accumulated a lot, including free stuff found in the mission furniture and “boutique” buildings. Although we gave away loads of stuff, we then moved the rest to our present smaller town house here in Waco. However, there was still too much—our garage was stuffed with stuff. We ended up giving 20 boxes of books to a local high school and van loads of other things to a church sale. What a relief—we could park the car in the garage!

Of course, we can’t completely get rid of all our stuff and live like John the Baptist, eating locusts and honey and avoiding shopping at Walmart. But we can adopt an attitude that excludes the accumulation of “stuff.” At least I think so—now if I can only find that stuff I am looking for in my closet!

Karl and Joice Franklin
With more stuffing than a turkey

As a Last Resort

This year there have been terrible fires raging in California and Oregon, with thousands of firefighters working to save buildings and people. Whole towns have been destroyed by the fires and despite all attempts at containing them, the fires continue. 

I recently read that “as a last resort” the fire officials had contacted Native Americans to ask them how they traditionally contained fires. Of course, they did not have arsonists, negligent campers and power grids to contend with. Nevertheless, Native Americans lived with fires started by lightning and had traditional methods of containing them.

According to various sources on the Internet, “indigenous peoples have long set low-intensity fires to manage eco-cultural resources and reduce the buildup of fuels – flammable trees, grasses and brush – that cause larger, hotter and more dangerous fires, like the ones that have burned across the West in recent years.” The Native Americans halted the spread of severe fires by controlled burns, much like the “prescribed burns” that agencies now use. This is somewhat in opposition to well-meaning environmentalists that insist that all flora and fauna must continue in a pre-colonial (and imaginary) state.

Instead, government and local agencies now recognize the help Native Americans can provide and most collaborate with them for actions that have an ecosystem component of restoration and therefore promote collective survival.

But why was this a last resort? Mainly because officials have long believed they had the scientific brains and mechanisms to accomplish anything “we set our mind to.” Why ask the people who have lived in and off the land for thousands of years? Such is often the arrogance of our Western mind.

Another example: Picture a bridge built somewhere that now stands like a steel skeleton over an abandoned riverbed. (We have seen them!) Perhaps the engineers never bothered to consult with the natives, who could tell them the direction to which the river was likely to shift following a major flood. Instead, the engineers will now try to move the river back to flow under the bridge!

We Christians are often like that: caught in a desperate situation, as a last resort, we pray. It may not occur to pray before we were distressed, but now—as a last resort—we pray, and we pray “hard.”

Many people come to God as a last resort: they have tried alcohol, drugs, and countless diversions and, finally, they repent, relent and find God. Some do it from other forms of desperation: divorce, cancer, loss of job, frustration or simply seeking God—it doesn’t matter what. It is finally an act of admission that “I can’t do it, I need help.”

As a last resort, a teenager may seek advice from a parent; a sick person who hates doctors will go and see one; a Baptist church goer will sit in the front row (claiming it is to hear better); a brother will settle things with a sibling; and so on—we all know what it is to do things as “a last resort.”

During this pandemic governments have ordered the wearing of masks and social distancing, but for some this is only done as a last resort. Some bars and restaurants and business places were also closed for a time but are now open again. They will close again only as a last resort!

Fortunately, God doesn’t act like that: Jesus wasn’t sent as a last resort to help us. He has been ready since the beginning of time. He is the firstborn and our go-to for every need, although we often don’t treat him that way! Here are some examples of last resorts in the book of Matthew:

  • The Devil when he took Jesus to show him the kingdoms of the world (4:8-9)
  • The Roman officer who had a sick servant (8:5-13)
  • The woman who touched Jesus’ cloak (9:20-22)
  • Two blind men (9: 27-31; 20:29-34)
  • The messengers from John the Baptist (11:7-10)
  • Feeding 5000 men (14:13-21)
  • A Canaanite woman (15:22-28)
  • A boy with a demon (17:14-20)
  • The rich young man (19:16-22)
  • The parable of the ten girls (25:1-13)
  • Judas repents and returns his 30 silver coins (27:3-6)

The opposite of a last resort is a first choice. For Christians, prayer, reading God’s word, communicating and fellowshipping with believers and witnessing to unbelievers should be our primary concerns, not our after-thoughts and last resorts.

On Branding

When I think of branding, I think of branding cattle in cowboy movies. I heard a story that goes something like this: two (Texas) cowboys were talking about their ranches and cattle. Cowboy Slim asked Jake what the name of his ranch was. Jake answered, “Circle, it makes it easy for branding.” Jake then asked Slim, “what’s the name of yours?” Slim replied, “Bar-X king slippery willow way.” “Wow,” said Jake, “you must have a lot of cattle.” “Well,” said Slim, “not really, we actually lose a lot of them in branding.”

That is one kind of branding but there is another that is more interesting: it is the branding of merchandise and ideas. Our oldest grandson, Wesley Franklin, and his family live in Bendigo, Victoria, Australia. He is a graphic artist who does sophisticated lettering, murals, logos and Web design. However, his main contribution (with another man who lives in Darwin) is an online business that does “branding.” Their website (studio 164a.com) advertises how they can develop a brand identity to represent a logo design, stationery, signage, social media graphics, websites and other things. Their Charitable website specializes in development, fundraising, crowdfunding and training.

A business, church, even a person, may display a brand that associates the public with their product so that it is “lodged” in the public’s memory. For example, when you see “golden arches,” you may taste (or feel nauseous) at the thought of hamburgers and fries. The little green gecko reminds you of Geico Insurance, and the apple with a bite prompts you to think of a certain computer and electronics company. Brands that are recognized world-wide include Starbucks, FedEx, Coca-Cola, Nike, Mercedes and Mickey Mouse.

Think also of how a symbol indicates an idea or relationship to a particular object. A brand uses  symbols to prompt people to go beyond what is known or seen by a link between certain concepts and experiences. Symbols can stand for words, so that a red octagon sign means “STOP”; on maps, lines represent rivers and roads and shading tells us something about terrain. 

The linguistic study of symbols is called semiotics and is quite fascinating and often complex. 

The “fish” symbol, which is based on the Greek word for fish, is a symbol that some Christians brand their car with, although early Christians used it as a secret symbol. Muslims use the “cross and the crescent” for their symbol and Jews use the star of David, which is thought to be symbolic of the shield of David.

The Orthodox Church uses many icons (from the Greek word meaning “image”) to act as intermediaries between worshipers and certain holy people. However, the icons are stylized and meant to be symbolic, rather than literal. Everything represented in the icon is said to have a precise meaning. The icon painters, who were usually monks, followed models from iconographic manuals.

What kind of branding might represent DaySpring church, where the tag line is “sacred, simple”? Perhaps a candle with a halo around it?

But why a candle? I read that “in Christianity the candle is commonly used in worship both for decoration and ambiance, and as a symbol that represents the light of God or, specifically, the light of Christ” (“symbolism of candles,” from the Web, naturally) and that candles are often placed on the altar, usually in pairs.

Candles are significant at DaySpring too and are found in the sanctuary behind and at both sides of the altar. At church in special services they take on more distinctive meanings. For example, Catholic church members often light candles with someone in mind that they intend to pray for. Candles also cast a warm, soft light to encourage a quiet atmosphere.

Halos are symbols of holiness and in paintings adorn the head of Jesus, Mary, angels and the disciples (perhaps excluding Judas). They are supposed to symbolize how God’s holiness is radiating from them.

In churches, both Protestant and Catholic, the cross is a common symbol, although without Christ on it in the former tradition. People also wear it as a sign either that they are a “Christian” or for good luck. Could it be that the bigger the cross that is worn the more likely that person is to be holy?

That is probably more information than you wanted or needed on brands and symbols. But remember that they can be very powerful. On June 17, 2020, Quaker Oats retired its Aunt Jemima brand and logo, after using it for more than 130 years. The company acknowledged the brand could be interpreted as a racial stereotype. And more recently the company Mars, Inc. dropped the name “uncle” from Uncle Ben’s Rice. Uncle was 70 years old.

What, or who, will be next? Someday, even the Golden Arches may collapse.

Karl and Joice Franklin
Branded (we trust) with the cross

The Sparrows

Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows! (Luke 12:2)

There is an obvious point here: as we grow older, there are not as many hairs on our head to count. This misses the point, of course. The metaphor of the hairs on my head refers to the countless ways that God is watching over me. Two other metaphors that show the expanse of God’s knowledge and wisdom are “as numerous as the stars” or “as uncountable as the sand of the sea.” Likewise, the metaphor of the sparrows refers to the way God can oversee and supervise the smallest detail in my life. If he is conscious of little birds like sparrows, he is surely aware of me.

How many stars are there? “The Milky Way’s estimated 100 billion stars results in a large number indeed: 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars, or a “1” with 24 zeros after it.” (From an article by Elizabeth Howell on the Internet, dated May 18, 2017.) And the Milky Way is only one of an estimated 100 billion galaxies. Tired of counting yet?

Some time ago a young bird fell from a tree into our back yard, apparently trying to learn to fly, and hurt its wing or leg. It kept trying to fly away but it could not. Perched in the tree above was its mother, screaming and squawking, encouraging its little one to come to her. It was pitiful to watch: the youngster would flop about and fly a few feet into the air, then crash to the ground. It would not let me near it, and when I did manage to catch it and hold it in my hands, it trembled and I could feel its fear.

Perhaps, like the mother bird, God sees and “feels” it when we are in distress or agony. A great God, yet still interested in the details of my life.

The bird could hear its mother—perhaps even see her—but it couldn’t get to her. Sometimes we may feel that way about God—we are not getting through to him. But, like the mother who is watching and encouraging her hurt offspring, God is watching and encouraging us.

Encouragement from God comes to me most frequently through reading the Bible, his Word. The stories and characters in the Bible become alive as the Spirit of God reveals their truths to me. I understand the story and I interact with the characters. I can also talk to God, even like the little bird trying to talk to its mother.

The mother bird, unlike God, does not have a spirit of herself to send and help its young. It could only watch and squawk and finally it gave up. The little bird was left alone, and it died. I wanted to rescue it, knowing it would die without food and drink. I even tried to give it water, dipping its beak into the bowl, but it was no use. The bird was too frightened to drink or remain still. It wanted to fly away, but it could not.

Sometimes we are too frightened to remain still and let God feed us. We want to get away, to be “free” from the care that God is trying to give us, or from our current problems.

Taking the little bird into my hands was an act of compassion, even though it did not seem so or do any good for the bird in the long run. During the night a predator, probably a feral cat, killed the bird. All I found in the morning was a pile of feathers. The bird had become cat food.

I thought quite a bit about the little event, certainly not an “earth-shaking” one, but still something to ponder.

It was one “sparrow” that no one could save, although a bird veterinarian and sanctuary would probably have tried. They would know how to help, and they would have the means to do so. I didn’t. I too was once like a little sparrow and could not save myself. God alone knows—ultimately—how to rescue us. He sees our difficulty and troubles—our sins—and he has sent Jesus to save us from death.

Of course I will die. Not like the little bird, eaten by a predator, but human bodies, after death, are eaten by the worms. However, my spirit will be set free from the dead body.

I don’t know if a bird has a “spirit,” but I rather doubt it. Nevertheless, there are probably sparrows and all kinds of birds in heaven. Why? Because they are creatures that were part of God’s original creation and, with Adam and Eve in heaven, why not birds and animals?

A new bird appeared to give us joy and hope. We put a hanging basket of flowers near our front door and a Carolina wren decided to make a home in the basket. It carried tiny twigs to the basket and it was fun watching this mother bird prepare a nest where it laid its eggs. In time new birds were born and the cycle started again.

What could be more assuring and joyful than a mother bird preparing a home for its future offspring? The analogy is there: God has prepared a home for us and will be there to meet us—with our newly hatched bodies.

We may even be “winging” it. Who knows exactly what the new body will be like?

Karl and Joice Franklin
Learning from the birds

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

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