Author: Karl (Page 1 of 50)

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THROWING IN THE TOWEL

I was once listening to a a sporting event where the broadcaster said something to the effect that at least they weren’t “throwing in the towel” yet. He meant that they hadn’t given up and were still trying. Two other expressions that get across a similar idea are “they hadn’t been taken to the cleaners” or “met their Waterloo.”

Have you ever felt like “throwing in the towel”? It is an idiom that comes from boxing, when a losing fighter’s manager indicated defeat by throwing a towel into the ring. After losing an election, politicians often throw in the towel and try some other kind of career.

If you “take someone to the cleaners” you are swindling them in some way. You are taking advantage of them and relieving them of their money or possessions. Some etymologists suggest the phrase came from dry cleaners who examined the customers clothes for money and kept any they found. It seems more likely that if you take someone to the cleaners, you are the deceiver and robber and not simply the merchant who is cleaning the clothes. Perhaps you are a partner in crime (we all know what that means.) 

The phrase “meeting one’s Waterloo” is a bit more obscure. It refers to the 1815 battle outside the Belgian town of Waterloo in which Napoleon Bonaparte was finally defeated by forces commanded by the Duke of Wellington. The term Waterloo has therefore become synonymous with anything difficult to master. For example, one can refer to Armenian as having a “Waterloo of an Alphabet.”

I thought of times when I wanted to “throw in the towel” and quit—not pleasant reminders for me but true nonetheless. I have met my Waterloo at various stages of my life and, occasionally, I have been taken to the cleaners.

I was the Director of the Wycliffe and SIL International work in Papua New Guinea for several years, commanding a force of hundreds of missionaries and employees. Missionaries are determined, with strong-minded opinions, or they wouldn’t be working overseas in difficult situations. It follows that a few had negative feelings about the way I handled some issues. I became discouraged at such times, but never wanted to throw in the towel. Part of the reason was because Joice was always there with one hand on my shoulder to stop any such action. She encouraged me even if I met a “Waterloo.” We all need that kind of help.

Some of the disciples met their Waterloo when Jesus reminded them of what it meant to follow him. It was after he told them that they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood. “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’” (John 6:60). Those who “turned away” seemed to think Jesus was asking them to be cannibals and literally eat flesh and drink blood. Instead, Jesus was asking his disciples (and us) to figuratively eat and drink of him to such an extent that we need nothing else to sustain us spiritually. It is a “hard saying” but it is also the way to be “fed.”

I have been “taken to the cleaners” a few times, mainly by buying something that I had believed was an excellent product and of course necessary, but which turned out to be not worth my time or money.

One such instance happened right here in Waco. Our small lawn needed help and a lawncare “specialist” said he would take care of it for me. He charged me over $200 for installing a section of grass that was about six feet square. I was annoyed and tried to get him to reduce the cost or install more grass. However, he wasn’t interested and I was not going to “fly off the handle” or “blow a fuse” about the matter. 

There are many idioms to express how I felt and you can probably identify with some of them:

“to flip out,” be “mad as a hornet,” or “mad as a wet hen.” We can also “get hot under the collar,” or “blow a gasket.” Expressing thanks and kindness is the opposite and we don’t feel that way when we think someone has taken advantage of us.

In today’s idiom, I suppose we “loose our cool” but, regardless of how we express our emotions, they can betray our understanding of the Scriptures and keep us from loving God with all our heart, mind and strength. We might then legitimately want to “throw in the towel” instead of asking God for forgiveness and fortitude. Paul reminds us in Romans 7:24-25 of how we can get help: “What an unhappy man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death? Thanks be to God who does this through our Lord Jesus Christ!”

Perhaps it is then OK to throw in the towel, if it is at the feet of Jesus.

SALESMEN AND WITNESSING

When we lived in Duncanville (SW of Dallas) we had many salesmen stop by and Joice would invariably visit with them and sometimes invite them into the house. She wanted to witness to them, if it was possible. This led to many interesting encounters.

One of the most memorable was when two well dressed men showed up and rang the doorbell. “What have we here?” Joice asked, “a couple of Mormons? Come in.” “No, we are Kirby vacuum cleaner salesmen,” the men replied. I was at work but Joice was going to have some fun. “Will it really clean bricks or tiles?” she asked. “Of course,” they replied and worked on the fireplace and kitchen floor. “But what about sofas and chairs?” Again the men showed how efficient the vacuum cleaner was. “What about sand and grit in the carpet?” And, of course, the demonstration went to the carpet. “You missed some over here,” Joice said, so they went over a larger swath of rug.

About this time I arrived home and Joice met me enthusiastically with the comment, “There are two men here who want to meet you.” I could see from all the vacuum apparatus what was up but I could also see the twinkle in Joice’s eyes that we were going to have some fun. “This wonderful Kirby is on sale now for $2,000,” one of the men said “and we have just used it on your mattress.” Using our TV and DVD, they showed us all the enormous monster bugs that were roaming in our bed. “But those aren’t ours,” I objected, “we got this mattress from our children in Waco and they must belong to them Besides, if we disturb the natural habitat of these creatures now, they may begin to roam wildly in the house and cause all kinds of sicknesses.” (One of the men was furiously taking notes.)

The men were clearly perplexed and ever so gradually brought the sales price “down” to $1,000. However, we weren’t “biting” and the men decided to call their supervisor, who just happened to be working the same street. He came immediately and offered us more incentives but could see we were sales resistant. We showed them Kewa pictures, the translated NT, and gave them a good lecture on Bible translation. They somewhat grudgingly but hastily left us with our newly cleaned house. Joice and I had a good laugh.

Over the years, many other vendors appeared at our doorstep and Joice would talk to them. One was a Christian man, witnessing to everyone in our town. It was cold and we invited him in. “This is a terrible town,” he said, “I can’t find any pagans on this street.” We didn’t think he really looked hard enough.

Besides Mormons and vendors of all kinds, we also had Jehovah Witnesses. We would always try to bring the Scriptures into our conversation and even offer to pray with them. They did not want prayer and would quickly find that they needed to “move on.”

We know that as Christians we are to be a “witness” for Christ. But is it OK to do it and have a bit of fun as well? Or is it far too serious of a matter? It depends on the context and situation: talking to a homeless person about our faith includes being interested in their condition and responding to it. Also, our “witness” to a person of another faith demands some respect and personal accountability.

I always admired how ready Joice was to talk to someone, not necessarily witnessing about Christ, but leading that way if possible. She was entirely without guile or chicanery, instead offering an honest and open expression of her faith. She taught me a lot but I could have learned much more!

From what I have observed over almost 7 years, witnessing at our church is pretty “low key,” and offered in a context of friendship and love. For example, Joice met regularly for a couple of years with four women, and she often wondered if she had any lasting “witness.” Was she demonstrating Christ’s love and compassion even though she didn’t overtly say much about her faith? It was consummated in her prayers.

Hopefully, we all want our lives to be a witness—the way we live, act and what we say will mean more to our children than our lectures.


“You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.” (Acts 22:15)

In Joshua Chapter 24, the people claim they will be witnesses for God and Joshua assures them, “You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.”

Karl Franklin

THE WEDDING RING

Men, did you ever wonder why you gave your wife a wedding ring? Peer pressure or history? Love or pride? Some combination? Here is some history: Way back in time Egyptian pharaohs used rings to represent eternity because a circle has no beginning and no end. It also reflects the shape of the sun and the moon, which the Egyptians worshipped. They also thought that the open space in the middle of a ring represented a gateway to the unknown. 

Alexander the Great conquered the Egyptians and the Greeks adopted the tradition of men giving rings to their lovers. Many of their rings depicted Eros or Cupid, the god of love. Then, when the Romans conquered Greece, they followed the tradition and began using iron and copper rings in marriage ceremonies.

In the U.S., the wearing of rings to symbolize marriage is a relatively recent practice. Puritans did not wear any jewelry, including wedding rings, because they believed that excess adornment was a sin. However, one common practice was for the man to present his fiancée with a thimble, used for sewing. Later brides began to cut off the cup of the thimble leaving only the outer ring, which acted as a woman’s wedding ring.

According to a “how to” book called Enquire within About Everything, published in 1903, “men would wear a ring to symbolize not only their marital status, but their desire for marriage as well. If a man wanted a wife, he would wear a ring on the first finger of his left hand. When he became engaged, he moved the ring to his middle finger, and when finally married he would move it to his ring finger […] if a man never wanted to marry, he would indicate this by wearing a ring on the pinky finger of his left hand. These rules for indicating marital status were similar for women of that time.”

A good story, but it was not true for most men, who did not traditionally wear wedding rings until World War II. Because of extended separations caused by the war, men’s wedding rings signified that the man was “betrothed to another.”

When I proposed to Joice in 1955 I gave her an engagement ring and in 1956 a wedding ring. By this time, it was traditional that the ring had a diamond (or some other gem) topping it. The bigger the diamond, the more love—right? Of course, if we believe the jewelers! But the engagement ring was a sign of our promise, and the wedding ring was the promise fulfilled. My diamond was not substantial, but it could be seen without a magnifying glass. The wedding ring was worn until it could no longer slip on and off Joice’s finger—due to arthritis about 15 years ago. It was then cut off and made into a necklace. I’ll return to it later.

When we lived among the Kewa of Papua New Guinea, the women were intrigued by Joice’s ring and that I had given it to her in marriage. They were also embarrassed that I could only afford such a little “piece of glass.” The women chided Joice: “My husband gave 10 pigs and 4 pearl shells for me,” indicating the inferior ring of hers (and perhaps the husband as well) was of little value.

We move on a few years until Joice and I were visiting friends in New Zealand and, after shopping at a large store, she discovered that the diamond had dropped out of her ring and was lost. Sometime later, however, a jeweler friend took the ring and put a much better diamond in it. I wanted to show it to my Kewa women friends and, to some extent redeem myself, but could not.

I mentioned that Joice developed arthritis in her finger joints and eventually was unable to remove the ring manually. Her solution was to go to the local fire station and have them cut it off. She then she had it made into a necklace and kept it hung by some other jewelry in our closet. After she died, my daughter and I looked for the ring but could not find it. We were distraught and prayed much about “the lost ring.”

Recently, while searching again, I saw something shining in a remote area behind a shoe rack. There, hidden in the crevice between the carpet and the wall, was the missing ring. I immediately called my daughter to tell her, even as I thought about the stories in Luke 15 of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. I didn’t call in the neighbors to celebrate with me, but I did thank the angels of heaven.

Something as “simple” as a wedding ring is symbolic of promises and pleasures, in our case for 65 years. In Revelation 2:17 we read that “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”

Unlike our ring, it is a name that we will never lose!

DEATH

I am waiting for my wife’s “death certificate,” a legal paper that testifies to her death. Our mission is sending me a “death packet,” with various kinds of materials—all meant to help me.

The word “death” sounds so final, and it is. We all face it, and despite the best poetry and images, it is most often not pleasant. Our body, which Paul compares to a tent in 2 Corinthians 5, will eventually be “torn down.” It is therefore a temporary structure, but there is a house in heaven for us to live in and it will last forever.

The “final sting” in this life is death, a personal enemy, who is usually accompanied by sickness, and both are enemies of God. The literalness of this event should cause even the most hard-hearted person to reflect on the inevitable path to the grave. There is much more to it, of course, while we are still alive. However, those who believe the words of Jesus will “sprout to life” after they die (! Corinthians 15.36).

We don’t see this marvelous metamorphous take place. All we usually see in death is someone dying, and it should bring God into the picture. Did He really allow this? As Martha complained, “If you would have been here my brother would not have died.” (John 11.22) “If you would have been here…,” is a desperate plea for help and all of us will probably think or say it. 

How does God feel about the death of a human? Note Psalm 116.15: “How painful it is to the Lord when one of His people dies!” He knows the agony and suffering of death. His own Son suffered and died, and Jesus is the High Priest “on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.” (Hebrews 12.2)

You can tell I have been thinking about death—not just because my wife just died, but because I am old and need to be prepared for it as well. We both joked: Who would go first? What would the other do when alone? But we were serious about it too. We had both prayed that we would be “faithful to the end.” Faithful to God, of course, but faithful to each other, to our family, to our faith, to our friends, and as a witness to the world.

Death is final in the sense that our mortal body (our tent) is dispensed with so that our immortal body can take shape. “Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11.20) Then Jesus also asked, “Do you believe this?” Our faith allows us to be certain about it and to be confident of what we cannot see. (Hebrews 11.1)

I don’t mean this to be simply a sermon on death or a walk down morbid main street. I want it to be a joyful realization that God has something much better for us than the things of the world. His wonderful promises and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our “tents” can compel us to live and think differently about what our culture provides with its enticements.

Death bringing life: We try to understand and live with this paradox, this “seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.” (Wikipedia)

The traditional wedding vow goes like this: “I, _____, take thee, _____, to be my wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith.”

I’m sure I skipped over the phrase “till death do us part” rather quickly in 1956, but once death parted us, I realize how serious that expression is. I can’t take it lightly because our parting here is final. For almost 65 years we fulfilled that vow, “according to God’s holy alliance.” That is also my comfort—needed badly now.

Not many of you have been married as long as Joice and me, but if you are married you have taken a vow. It is a sacred promise and a privilege to fulfill.

LITTLE THINGS

Ellen Hopkins, a novelist who has published several New York Times bestselling novels, is quoted as saying “Sometimes the little things in life mean the most.”

It started me thinking of some “little things” that have meant a great deal to me (and to Joice). I’ll relate a few incidents—but there are many more!

From 1958 until 1962 we were living in a remote village in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea (then called the Territory of Papua and New Guinea). Every week or fortnight we would send carriers for supplies and mail to an airstrip and government station about a 4 or 5 hour walk away (depending on the weather). We would supply waterproof bags and a small Qantas bag and hire young men to get our items. 

On one occasion the boys were given a pineapple at a mission station but, instead of carrying it and putting eggs in the small bag, one of the boys reversed the process and decided to carry the egg carton and put the prickly pineapple in the bag. When he arrived the eggs, which he had carried under his arm, were broken and dripping out of the egg carton. Joice was very upset—it was her only egg carton and had been used for several strips. While still internally complaining about the loss of her egg carton, one of the other boys arrived with the mail. He dumped out the contents from the waterproof bag and included was a parcel that Joice’s mom had mailed three months earlier. On top of the box was—you guessed it—an egg carton. When Joice asked her mother (a letter exchange back and forth to American took a month), she replied that she didn’t remember ever sending an egg carton. It was probably something she put on top of the contents for packing, but it made an impression we never forgot. If God was so interested in us that He would supply an egg carton, why were we anxious about anything? It was a little thing in one sense, but very big in another. Joice told that story many times.

When I had my 40th birthday we were at our mission’s headquarters in the Eastern Highlands. Not short on creativity, Joice decided to give me a “hillbilly” party (I am from the Allegheny mountain area of Pennsylvania and some of us so-called “hillbillies” did live there), one I would never forget. All the party participants dressed as hillbillies—blackened teeth, wrapped big toes, corn cob pipes, overalls, plaid shirts, and ridiculous gifts. It was a “little thing” because it didn’t cost much and everyone improvised and had fun, but I (and the guests) will never forget it—and I have pictures to prove it! “Little things” are often like that. (Of course, in today’s culture we could be castigated for portraying a class of people called “hillbillies,” although their still seem to be some “rednecks” around. In my defense, I respect both groups.)

Joice has always loved birds and there were plenty in Papua New Guinea. On one occasion when we were on a trip and visiting another mission station, Joice heard birds calling and watched a flock of the Bird of Paradise nest in a nearby tree. She was able to walk near the tree and observe them in all their beauty for some time. A little thing, but one never forgotten.

Returning from MD Anderson after one of our visits following Joice’s proton radiation, we stopped at a rest area. While I went inside, Joice waited in the car. Suddenly a blue bird, one of her favorite birds, landed close to her and they seemed to be as aware of each other. It was an experience that she viewed as a sign of God’s hope for her. It was just “a little thing” but the hope and joy it gave her (and, by extension, me) was immense.

Sometimes on April Fool’s Day I would try to do something unusual to fool Joice. Once I found a tree branch that I fashioned into what could resemble a bird if you had a good imagination and were still sleepy. I planted it some distance from the house and then called Joice to come and identify the bird. She examined if for some time, then got the binoculars and discovered my joke. She laughed and laughed and, of course, tried to fool me at times as well. Little things, but just enough to make us talk about them again and again.

Little things can be like that: they can give us delight and make us thankful. When you pause and remember some of the “little things” that have happened in your life, remember that God is not only the creator of the universe, He is also the initiator of “little things,” and these can be as marvelous to us as the Milky Way.

I think a lot about the “little things” that enhanced our marriage and there is, thankfully, no shortage of them.

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