Category: Reflections/ Messages (Page 2 of 18)

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

Christmas or Xmas?

Where I grew on a farm in northeastern Pennsylvania, the winters could sometimes be very harsh. But with the cold and snow came sleds, toboggans, ice skates and, in some more mountainous areas, skiing. When the snow came, we knew it was almost time for Christmas. My brother and I would find a tree, my mother would make wreathes, we would put up a few decorations, and we would buy and exchange presents. With no electricity until I was in 8th grade, I don’t remember any fancy lights.

Our small country church would have the children from Sunday School enact some scenes about shepherds, Mary, perhaps a donkey, and baby Jesus. That is about all I remember. I’m not sure that is really what the Christmas story was meant to tell me.

C.S. Lewis wrote a short essay by the title “Xmas and Christmas: A lost chapter from Herodotus,” which was published originally in Time and Tide Vol. XXXV in December 1954. A later essay building on similar thoughts was published as “What Christmas Means to Me” and published in the Twentieth Century, vol. CLXII, December 1957. What Lewis reflects upon is a serious dichotomy: the commercial aspect of Christmas and the sacred aspect. 

Walter Hooper, the inveterate perpetrator of Lewis’s vast storehouse of works, republished the work in other collections, where it was called by the original title “Xmas and Christmas.”

In his original essay, Lewis contrasts two occasions, which he fist called Crissmas and Exmas, attributing the latter to a pagan group who lived on the island of Niatirb. Their great traditions of Exmas included sending out “a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture” with men in garments that the Niatirbians believed their ancestor wore some 200 years earlier. If a person was unlucky enough to get a card from someone he had not acknowledged, he was obliged to “go out into the fog and rain” and buy a card for that person as well.

A further custom was to send gifts to one another, and this was considered a worse fate than the exchanging cards because “every citizen has to guess the value of the gift” he had received and reciprocate with something of equal value. The sellers understand the Niatirbian custom and “put forth all kinds of trumpery…being useless and ridiculous, [that] they have been unable to sell throughout the year.” The citizens of this island become exhausted form the Rush [like Black Friday?] on Exmas and stay in bed until noon, then eating supper with “five times as much” as other days and become intoxicated.

There was, however, a small group of people living on the island who kept Crissmas. They took part in a sacred feast and some had images in their temples of “a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child.” An observer (Hecatacus) converses with a priest to suggest that Exmas and Crissmas should occur on different days, reflecting their completely opposite views. But he is told that they are the same, involving “merriment.” However, Lewis concludes, even barbarians should not have to suffer things, such as gifts and cards, “in honour of a god they do not believe in.”

There is nothing “wrong” with sending out Christmas cards, which is becoming a lost “art” due to the Internet, or buying gifts for people. The problem arises when we create in our children and loved ones a desire for gifts that have nothing to do with the meaning of Christmas. We want to show love and appreciation for children, family, friends and others with gifts, but how do we relate our actions to the gift of Jesus to the world?

Lewis also wrote on the Incarnation and in his Introduction to St. Athanasius: On the Incarnation (1944) he states that “[Athanasius] stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, ‘whole and undefiled,’ when it looked as if all the civilised world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius—into one of those “sensible” synthetic religions which are so strongly recommended to-day and which, then as now, included among their devotees many highly cultivated clergymen. It is his glory that he did not move with the times; it is his reward that he now remains when those times, as all times do, have moved away” (p.9).

Lewis reminds us that Christmas is about the Incarnation—Jesus as God, born into a world of sinners to offer eternal life. Gifts were offered to Him but not in any sense and equal or reciprocal repayment for His gift to us.

It is now Christmas 2020 and we have reflected on lockdowns, quarantines, disease and death. We now need to think of how Christmas relates to our life through Jesus Christ. Do we think mainly about Santa or the Savior? About Christmas trees or the cross? Is Covid more on our mind than calvary? Is it Netflix or the Nativity?; the Salvation Army or the God of Heaven’s Army? How we think about Christmas and Xmas could make a difference in our attitudes and how we celebrate this year.

Karl and Joice Franklin
Unwrapping the tinsel

Fear

“Fear Drive My Feet” is the title of a book I once read. It is an account of military surveillance by Peter Ryan in the Pacific (primarily Bougainville Island) during WWII. Ryan endured hardship in the jungles to transmit the activities of Japanese aircraft to military allies, who would then be forewarned of imminent attacks. When I read the book (years ago) I could feel the fear and danger that Ryan describes. The fear of being found by the Japanese kept Ryan moving from one place to another in the jungle while the people of Bougainville helped keep him safe.

An idiom we may have used is, “I was scared to death,” meaning that I was so scared that I did not know what to do. We also say, “starved to death,” and use the word “death” in other ways, but I want to concentrate a bit on fear. 

Fear—being afraid—can seem to affect various parts of our body: our blood runs cold; we break out in a cold sweat; we shake like a leaf; we jump out of our skin; our stomach has butterflies; the hair on the back of our head stands up; we have chills down our spine; we even think we might have a heart attack. We get cases of the jitters or heebie-jeebies and may be scared out of our wits. Hopefully, not all of these at the same time.

Recently I asked our son, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, if he remembered an event he shared in Papua New Guinea. The two of us were trying to cross a vine bridge over a flooded river and it was pitch dark. We were trying to get my small Honda 90 motorcycle to the other side. He recalled it vividly and said he had told it to his children and grandchildren. I asked him if he was scared and he said something that struck me: “You didn’t seem to be scared, so I wasn’t.” As a matter of fact, I was scared. The bridge was about 60 feet in length and my son was at the front of the bike, guiding it, and I was pushing it from the back. However, the footrests of the bike kept snagging on the short vertical vines (attached to long horizontal ones) and I would have to release them—some of them snapped in the process. The river was still rising and I had the bike headlight on so that we could see where we were going. It probably took us only 10 minutes or so but, like with any good story I can embellish it. Of course, we made it safely or I wouldn’t be telling you the story, but the fear of the occasion was overcome by the intense desire to get safely to the other side of the river and home.

Fear can be like that. It can motivate us and push us in a straight direction: we read in Proverbs 9:10 (NIV):“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Or, as the Good News Bible translates it: “To be wise you must first have reverence for the Lord. If you know the Holy One, you have understanding.” The word translated as “fear” occurs 336 times in the NIV in many different contexts, but various versions translate the concept using other words, e.g., “reverence.”

However, I did not have “reverence” for the river we were crossing, I was “afraid” of it. And that is generally the idea when we talk about fear. If we read that someone “feared for his/her life” it means that they believed they might die. Merriam-Webster defines fear as “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.” The kind of fear I am talking about is not pleasant.

We have an epidemic going on all around us and thousands of people are dying. It is natural and somewhat wise to be fearful because we know what can happen if we are not. Although we do not want to be overcome by fear of the pandemic, we can be foolish and not wear masks and observe social distancing, Instead, we should be concerned about those we meet and love. We have all heard 1 John 4:18, “Perfect love drives out fear.” Obviously, most of us do not have “perfect love.” However, in context, John has been talking about boldness and wants us to have courage, like Christ. 

Jesus certainly was concerned (fearful?) about his forthcoming torture and execution—his fervent prayer in Luke 23: 39-45 was such that an angel was sent to strengthen him. But he was determined to carry out his Father’s will. Fear did not overcome his purpose.

We know that fear can cause terrible results. We don’t want to be robbed but if we are fearful of every unusual noise at night or every unusual person we see, we can become paranoid and, if we have a gun, might shoot the person. 

Perhaps the biggest fear that humans have (we can’t be sure about animals) is the fear of death. We have invented trivial ways to talk about it—sure signs of worry: we bite the dust; we go to our Maker; we go to the big place in the sky; we go belly up; we buy the farm; we count worms; we cross the Jordan; we fall off the perch; the game ends; and so on. Making fun of death may be a way of coping, but it does nothing to eliminate our demise. What can help us?

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:26 that death is “the last enemy to be defeated.” Death will be destroyed, and we will be changed into something that cannot die (15:53).

Joice and I are old (not “getting old”) and sometimes wonder “who will go first?” This does not occupy a lot of our thinking and, when it does, it is not macabre. It is realistic to be ready and because of God’s mercy we are. We know that the fear of God is quite distinct from the terror of Him—there are over 100 references in the Bible to the fear of God and they are cited in the positive sense of faith and obedience. It is a fundamental aspect of the Christian life.

Karl and Joice Franklin
At a ripe old coon’s age; no spring chickens

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