Category: Reflections/ Messages (Page 1 of 17)

PLAGUES, PESTILENCE AND PROMISES

For almost a year people around the world have been suffering from a plague. Newspapers and the Internet refer to our present disease as a pandemic, meaning that—whatever it is called—it is prevalent everywhere. 

We have probably all heard of the Bubonic plague. It is one of three types of plagues, along with septicemic plague, and pneumonic plague, that were caused by the plague bacterium. The most common symptoms include fever, headaches, and vomiting. It is mainly spread by infected fleas from small animals and diagnosis is made by finding the bacteria in the blood, sputum, or fluid from lymph nodes. It is not Covid-19 but has similarities.

Bubonic plague wiped out 30-50% of Europe’s population in the 14th century. Today, it is much less common and in recent decades, only between 1,000 and 2,000 cases are identified each year. By comparison, there are more than 2.27 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world (January 26, 2021), according to data from Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. We probably all have friends and family who have had Covid-19, or who have died from it.

The first two major plague pandemics began with the Plague of Justinian and the Black Death, which finished around 1353, but not before it killed as many as 50 million people—more than half the population of Europe. The most recent, the so-called “Third Pandemic,” erupted in 1855 in the Chinese province of Yunnan. The disease traversed the globe over the next several decades, and by the beginning of the 20th century, infected rats traveling on steamships had carried it to all six inhabited continents. The worldwide outbreak would eventually claim some 15 million lives before petering out in the 1950s. Most of the devastation took place in China and India, but there were also scattered cases from South Africa to San Francisco. 

The history.com website outlines other outstanding plagues, such as those mentioned above, but there are other common kinds as well, such as influenza. It caused by a virus that spreads and infects a large proportion of the population and there have been five in the last 140 years. The 1918 pandemic was the most severe, killing an estimated that 50–100 million people. The most recent, the 2009 swine flu pandemic, resulted in almost a million deaths globally, but was considered relatively mild. Such pandemics are said to occur irregularly.

The problem of plagues is mentioned in the Bible, particularly those that affected King Herod of Egypt (Exodus 7-12). It was a result of his refusal to listen to Moses and allow the people to worship the Lord. Imagine frogs in your bed, flies in your food, gnats in your hair, dead animals, boils on humans and animals, hail, locusts, darkness and blood, and you get the picture. There are also a number of plagues referred to in the book of Revelation—and all of them are very bad indeed. 

In Exodus 5:3 we read a warning about plagues and Deuteronomy 28: 59 makes it clear that the coming plagues were related to disobedience: “the Lord will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses.

[At] this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth.”

In Amos 4:10 one reason for plagues is given: “I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord. 

Nevertheless, there is also a promise in Hosea 13:14 that is encouraging: “I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?

Some people—often sitting in armchairs—consider plagues and especially Covid-19 as punishment from God for our (apply narrowly or broadly) sins. This may be true, but it is difficult to prove. God certainly may use diseases to get our attention (pain is “God’s megaphone,” C.S. Lewis), so that we repent, but He is also patient, loving and merciful. He disciplines us through all sorts of things, but He is not a capricious God. He can of course, send plagues upon us for our sins—but remember that our sins were, in total, paid for by Jesus on the Cross.

Covid-19 is devastating—but how thankful we are to God for vaccines and the medical research that has gone into their discovery and production. We are also grateful for the people who treat the disease, often endangering themselves. 

God can (and will) speak to us individually through this disease, but He also wants to speak to us in many other ways.

Karl and Joice Franklin
Thankful for Covid-19 vaccination #1

Books and Magazines

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Ecclesiastes 12:12b).

The philosopher represented in the book of Ecclesiastes, most often referred to as Kohelet, didn’t have to contend with an over-kill of information on the Internet, but he did have a valid point about books—even then. Some contemporary observers thought that the Internet, with its rapid access to unlimited information, would spell the end to the publication of books. It hasn’t happened, although the publishing of newspapers has diminished.

G.K. Chesterton is reported as having said, “What a glorious garden of wonders the lights of Broadway would be to anyone lucky enough to be unable to read.” He clearly despised the supersaturation of Broadway advertising, but did he really mean that someone would be lucky if they could not read? Judging by the number of books and articles he wrote, I doubt it.

But there are many people throughout the world, including in America, who cannot read. Some, we realize may have genetic or physical problems that makes reading difficult or impossible. Others have never been taught to read properly. One furlough I substitute taught at a high school in Pennsylvania and one of the classes I had a number of times was “Remedial Reading.” Several students were about to “graduate” but could not read fluently. They were not dumb, they just had never learned the basics of reading and “hated” to read. My solution was to get them reading comic books after teaching them some basic reading principles. They soon began to read fluently.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of languages in the world whose speakers cannot read. I know—we worked with one such group in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. In Kewa, the language we learned, people could not read because there were no books. And there were no books because there was no orthography, no alphabet—the language had never been written. Working with the people, we compiled an alphabet and Joice constructed some basic pre-reading and reading materials. We take things for granted, but think: Who taught you how to hold a book and helped you trace the words from left to right (in our system)? Who taught you the ABC’s and how to write? You may remember little about the details, but you did learn and, hopefully, you enjoy reading and looking at pictures.

Teaching people to read who have never had books, an alphabet, or any reason to read, is not easy. We wanted the Kewa people to read the Bible, but of course no youngster starts their English reading lessons with the Bible. It is too difficult—we start with stories and it takes time before anyone has mastered the art of reading fluently enough to read the Bible.

I have owned thousands of books, journals and magazines. Moving about as we have over many years I have had to “get rid of” a lot of them and it has been painful. I have donated hundreds of them to friends and libraries, yet I still have bookshelves filled with books. Some I just can’t give away although I know that after I die I can’t control their destiny. 

The Kewa people—and thousands of language groups like them—still do not have many books in their language. Often, they come to believe—or are taught—that their languages have little value and that they should learn the dominant language. In many cases this seems true because the smaller ethnic groups are assimilated into the larger dominant cultures and languages—witness the history of Native Americans and the Australian Aborigines.

We spend millions of dollars to protect certain animals from extinction, or even “endangerment.” Currently, there are 1,556 known species in the world have been identified as near extinction or endangered and are under protection by government law. Open your TV on a Saturday morning and there are a number of programs that promote the protection and care of animals. Although millions of dollars are spent on protecting endangered species of plants and animals, we rarely see a program that is devoted to the preservation of a dying culture or language.

This is Not a Book is the title of a book by Keri Smith, published in 2009. It is, in this case, not a book unless there is a reader to compile it. The “book” is almost completely blank, and as the reader, you must create the content. The purpose is to teach you to think creatively. But, if not a book, what exactly is it? The answer is left to you, as the future reader, to determine. It seems odd that people will pay money to buy a book that has nothing in it—why not simply start writing a journal? Apparently a blank “book” will motivate some people to compile their own book. Sounds crazy, but it seems to work—for some people.

I love to examine and read books, although I admit that I don’t read many very carefully. I am out of school now and can pick and choose what I like! That is what it is like when you have lots of books to choose from. But I am aware that there are no books in many small languages in the world.

Karl Franklin
Not exactly a bibliophile, but close

RESOLUTIONS


Have you made a New Year’s resolution? Perhaps to lose 10 pounds or read the Bible through in 2021? Why do we make resolutions and why are such resolutions common and popular? Here are some that I noted from the Internet: save more money; build a better budget; cook one new thing each week; read more books; join a club; create a cleaning schedule you’ll stick to; drink less alcohol; quit smoking; eat veggies regularly. And so on, and so on. Perhaps, add yours to the list!

We should remember, however, that according to a 2014 report, 35% of the resolvers failed their Resolutions because they had unrealistic goals (usually too many). Furthermore, 33% didn’t keep track of their progress and 23% forgot all about them. So, don’t worry if you don’t keep your own—just keep reminding your friend about theirs!

Sometimes we need something to help us achieve our goal or resolution. One of my aims is to read the Bible through in a year and having a “One Year Bible” keeps me on track and moving. Stepping on the scales regularly is another reminder.

The idea of resolutions at the start of each year has its tradition in religions. For example, the Babylonians promised their gods that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. (I wish that some people who borrowed books from me would have been Babylonians.) The Romans promised the god Janus that they would be faithful. In the medieval era, the knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry (Lennox, Doug, 2007. Now You Know Big Book of Answers. Toronto: Dundurn. p. 250.)

Even in our present era, at watchnight services (or Watchnight Mass), some Christians pray and make resolutions. This tradition has many other religious parallels. For example, during Judaism’s Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), people are to think of their past sins and seek and offer forgiveness. People can also do this during the Christian liturgical season of Lent, although the motive is more of sacrifice than of responsibility. In fact, the Methodist practice of New Year’s resolutions came, in part, from the Lenten sacrifices (see Wikipedia on the topic if it really interests you.)
There doesn’t seem to be any penalty if you fail to keep a resolution, although like the notion of golf-gods, there may be mythological resolution-gods. They will punish you by adding pounds if you didn’t keep your resolution to lose them. If you have made a resolution never to play the lottery again, you will certainly lose it if you didn’t follow your resolution to save money. There might be kale and cabbage on sale, instead of steak, if you disregarded a resolution about eating more veggies. And so on.

It is good to have a “resolved” spirit, one in which you are determined or committed to do things better than in the past. We can say that we “made up our mind” to do something better in the future—usually next year or far enough away that it won’t hamper our present activities. Our mind is “fixed” or “set” on the target and we feel motivated to achieve it. But is our “determination” (our willpower) enough? Don’t we need support to achieve our objective, someone who knows what it takes because they have completed a similar or same thing? It doesn’t help, however, to have someone who pushes us beyond our present capabilities just because that person has completed a resolution. We need realistic boundaries and trainers who understand our weaknesses.

The Holy Spirit is like that. He takes Jesus’ statement that “my strength is accomplished in weakness,” and enables us to do what is impossible with our own might. The verse “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak” (2 Cor 12:9) can become a reality in our lives.

We receive His grace by asking for it, not by resolving that we will somehow find it by making promises or doing more, although, of course, we “prove” we have His power when we act from our weaknesses.

I don’t mean to sound “holy” in expressing my belief that the power of the Holy Spirit is greater than any resolution we can make. I’m trying to make the point clear that we don’t have to wait until New Year’s eve to ask for God’s power.

Karl Franklin
Relaxing in God’s grace

IT’S A JUNGLE OUT THERE


Have you ever been in a jungle? If so, you know it is not a place you would wish to go for an afternoon picnic or for a stroll along a river. There may be paths or trails through a jungle, but you would want a guide before trying to traverse through a canopy of trees, bugs, wild animals and harsh terrain.

An Israeli adventurer named Yossi Ghinsberg found this out when he became lost in the Amazon rainforest for three weeks. His episodes, along with some other men, form the basis for the movie “Jungle” and made him a rich man. There are numerous accounts of his exploits on Internet sites and in the books he wrote.

According to Wikipedia, the Amazon rainforest is home to about 2.5 million insect species, tens of thousands of plants, and some 2,000 birds and mammals. Its biodiversity is unparalleled in other jungle rainforest areas of the world. In other words, there would be plenty of company in the jungle, but probably not what you were looking for.

I have been in a jungle rainforest in the southern part of Mexico in the state of Chiapas and also in areas of Papua New Guinea. In 1957 we (new recruits for the Wycliffe Bible Translators) “trained” in the jungle area near the Guatemala border. We spent six weeks at a small camp site, living in huts and learning “survival” techniques. The second six weeks we went into the jungle to build our own “champa” (lean-to house), listen to lectures, and take river and jungle hikes. We learned to respect the jungle, as well as observing ancient Mayan ruins and visiting small Tzeltal Indian villages.

On one occasion I got lost (briefly) in the jungle. I had wondered too far from our operational base and became disoriented. Everything looks the same and before I knew it I was going in circles. Fortunately, I remembered a fundament principle from one of our lectures: “stop, sit down, and think!” I did and could then retrace my path with accuracy, but even for those several minutes, it was scary.

The word “jungle” is also used in idioms. You have probably heard of the “asphalt” or “concrete” jungle, which refers to an overcrowded and unsafe urban environment, with lots of large buildings and roads. On the other hand, a “jungle blackboard” can refer to a chaotic classroom and “jungle breath” is indeed “bad” breath. “Jungle juice” is a kind of drink that we, especially Baptists, should avoid at all costs.

The “King of the jungle” is the lion, not George of the Jungle, a comedy figure who was raised by animals in the African jungle. He did not follow the “law of the jungle” where only those who are ruthless survive. Tarzan was, of course, the true King of the jungle and with an apparent identity crisis tries to find Jane. He swung effortlessly (most times) from vine to vine while yelling with loud bursts in jungle English, “Me Tarzan, you Jane.”

But it is the phrase “it’s a jungle out there,” that I want us to think about. It maintains or infers that the world is a deadly place and that we need survival instincts and follow the “law of the jungle” to survive. The phrase apparently became popular from a book by Rudyard Kipling (The Jungle Book, 1874) but has been used in an opposite sense of Kipling’s. He wanted to put limits on violence to the animal kingdom, so formulated a “jungle law” to protect them. We want to claw and cut our way through our cultural jungle, with as few scrapes and bruises as possible.

The word “jungle” does not occur in the Bible, but there are 164 references (in the NIV) to “wilderness,” which can be just as unnerving as a jungle. Aside from John the Baptist, who could survive on honey and locusts, we don’t read of many people in the Bible who willingly went to the wilderness. The wilderness John lived in was wild and uninhabited because it consisted mainly of ravines and rocks. The children of Israel did “wander” in the wilderness, but they needed the special attention and food from God to survive.

The Western view of wilderness is less dangerous: state parks, with well-kept paths and signs to tell us where we are and rescue squads to find us if we get lost. And people do get lost—we read about it regularly in the paper or see accounts on TV. But the wilderness is generally a natural area that has not been messed up by machines and men. In America, the government has designated certain areas as a “wilderness.” For example, the Gila Wilderness was designated the world’s first wilderness area on June 3, 1924 and is part of New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. I don’t know where the name comes from, although there is a Gila river in the area and Gila monster lizards.

We wouldn’t generally say “it’s a wilderness out there,” because our perception of wilderness is different than that of the Bible. Jesus would not have been tempted by the devil in our version, such as in a State Park, where people camp and walk about on trails. I remember that in translating the idea of a wilderness into Kewa, a language of Papua New Guinea, I had to make it clear that no one lived in such areas.

There are ways that jungle and wilderness overlap: they are difficult places in which to live, they have difficult terrains, and some animals that live there that would like to sample us. In other words, we need to be prepared if we get off “the beaten path,” onto roads and trails that we are unfamiliar with and need a guide to help us.

The “road” for the Christian is difficult too: We are reminded in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress that Christian’s journey to Heaven was not an easy one. However, the true Christian must be willing and prepared for the trip—no matter where the road or trail leads. We have a sure guide, Jesus.

Karl Franklin
Fellow traveler

Joy

There are 242 Bible results for the word “joy” in the NIV—after all, it is the fruit of the Spirit, along with “peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” In the Old Testament joy is expressed most often in the Psalms, followed by Isaiah, Proverbs and Jeremiah. Not surprisingly, in the New Testament Luke has 12 references to joy and John has 8. People sing and shout for joy and it is coupled with strength and celebration.

The word has a special place in our lives as well. In 1965 when Joice was in a government hospital at the coastal city of Lae, I was awaiting the birth at a guest house not far away. We had discussed a “middle” name for a girl, which I was sure we were having (but didn’t know). We didn’t know what name we should choose. However, early in the morning on October 30th I awoke with a desire to read the Psalms and there I found our name: “weeping may endure for a night, but JOY comes in the morning.”

I hurried to tell Joice at the hospital, arriving just as our little girl entered the world. The nurse was about to call me, but I already had the premonition that the time had come. I rushed into the delivery room and exclaimed excitedly to Joice: “I know the middle name for her—it is JOY,” and then I told her why we needed to call her with that name. Joice was too tired to disagree!

Karol Joy joined her brother Kirk James as our surprise offspring, because we had been told after an earlier ectopic pregnancy that we were unlikely to have more children. We were pleasantly surprised that the doctors were wrong.

We often tell this story because it reflects the power of the Spirit of God and the power of a name. If you know that part of your name is “joy,” it may help you to reflect that characteristic. My middle name is “James” and I have no idea why, except that it was my dad’s middle name and so I passed it on to our son. He has continued the tradition with one of his sons.

Names always “meant something” in the Bible—referring to events or features of the time or some person. They also did in the village where we lived for many years in Papua New Guinea. A favorite name for boys is the Kewa word for “fight.” When I asked about the name, I was told “Oh, that is to remind us of the battle with a certain clan about the time he was born.” There were always stories—true or invented—about why someone had their particular name. Kewa people had several names: the birth name, clan name, government name (for census), baptismal name (usually a phrase, such as “a new way”), and nickname.

My moniker was “Pora,” which meant “road” and Joice’s was “Usainu,” which was a combination of the village where we lived (Usa—we didn’t name it) and the feminine suffix -nu. Sometimes just an attempt at saying our English names was enough: Kirk became “Puriki” and Karol was sometimes simply “Keroli” (as pronounced using the Kewa alphabet).

The young man who assisted me in translation work was first named “Kirapeasi,” meaning “make it cook a little” but he was most often called simply Kira “to cook.” Later on, when he represented the village in a local government council, his name changed to “Number One,” He wrote an autobiography and called himself “Yombo.” Any name would optionally have the additional tag of the clan or village name as well.

Most of us can relate some facts (and fiction) about our names and many of us may have researched our surnames. Mine is “Franklin” and there are lots of them, a few were celebrities, but most were probably not. My father traced our Franklin lineage and claimed it went back to the brother of Benjamin Franklin named John—he had 16 siblings, but four died at birth. His five older brothers were Samuel, John, Josiah, James and Peter.

It would be nice to be more directly tied to Ben, famous as he was as a printer, scientist, politician, postmaster, inventor, statesman, author, and so on. He also founded many civic organizations, including the University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia’s first fire department. His face (or at least a picture of it) can be found on the $100 bill.

My mother’s genealogy was directly tied to the Dutch and she had a number of Dutch idioms (that I won’t repeat) to prove it. Joice’s ancestry was Irish and German.

Several years ago we both took the ancestry.com “spit test” and found out more: Joice’s dad was born in London, so she assumed she had a lot of British blood in her. Instead, it is mainly Irish. Mine, as would be expected, is primarily British, but also Iberian. We could be wrong of course: we may have had colds at the time so the spit may not have been pure.

Despite ancestry.com, we know that we are “Gentiles” and needed to be grafted into the “Jewish” tree. Jesus did that for us and in the process we received new and overriding names: Christians.

Because of that, our hearts sing with joy and we are reminded:

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! (John 15:11)

Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11)

With Great Joy
Karl and Joice Franklin

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