Category: Reflections/ Messages (Page 2 of 15)

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 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

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)

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