What are your hopes tonight? What are those things you most want? Who are the people you miss, those you desire to see, to be in the presence of or perhaps the one you desire to love?
What are your fears tonight? What were they as a child, as a young adult, or what do you think your fears will be in the future?
We all have hopes and fears. I know, you might think this is an odd question on Christmas Eve, but wouldn’t it make sense to face the negative in the midst of an even greater “positive?” This is the most “positive” time of the year! If ever there was a time appropriate to face our fears and to gain more hope, this is it!
The Christmas hymn, O Little Town of Bethlehemwas written by Phillip Brooks in 1867, two years after he had visited the Holy Land and had ridden from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve 1865 to participate in a five hour service at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem!
The hymn has not merely endured through the years, but it has come to be one of the most favorite of all of the hymns of this season. The words Brooks wrote so vividly describe the city of the Saviors birth.
“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.” We can even imagine the six-foot-six-inch Brooks descending from the hillsides on horseback into the town with only candles and fires for illumination. The stars slid across the night sky in the matching silence that was evident in the town.
Yet the imagination of Phillip Brooks is all too evident in the first stanza of this beloved song: “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
There it is again, “the hopes and fears.” It isn’t merely the hopes and fears we each have with us tonight, it is the “hopes and fears of all the years.” Brooks understood the majesty of the gift given at the point in time which literally split time in half: the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ.
Jesus, the Living water, the Bread of life and the Light of the world—it is this Jesus, our Messiah who provided the everlasting light within the dark streets of Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.
The Creator of all which exists, the Lord of this Universe came as a baby, was placed in a feeding trough in the midst of livestock. He will never come to this world again in such a helpless and vulnerable state. The angels told the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into Heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into Heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into Heaven.”
His mother was carried to Bethlehem on a donkey, but when Jesus the Messiah returns it will be on a white horse and He will destroy those who oppose Him through His Word—have you ever wondered why the Bible refers to itself as the sword of Truth!
Think now of all of our hopes and fears—indeed, think of all of the hopes and fears of all time, from people everywhere! Every single hope is made real in the person of Jesus Christ! Hope isn’t a mere idea, it is a person. We hope, we trust, we know what will happen, not just because this is what we want, but because it is promised in the person of our Lord!
In the face, in the midst of such incredible hope, how can any fear yet remain? What fear can stand in the brightness of an “everlasting Light?” You’re afraid of darkness? He is the Light of this world! You fear fire? He is living water, quenching heat, thirst and dryness of the body and the soul.
Are you afraid of hungering for something you cannot have? He is the bread of life which satisfies every spiritual hunger which often motivates our physical ones. Fear lack and financial ruin? He tells us of mansions He is building in Heaven, how our treasure is there, and no moth or rust can ever destroy it!
We celebrate the greatest valentine ever given on Christmas Day! Because God so loved the world, He sent His one and only Son to give us the ability to live eternally with Him!
Just as the gifts under the tree are no good until they are taken and opened, until they are used, until the change how we live, and then those gifts which make the most difference, we never cease to give thanks to the one who gave them!
Tonight, we come to prepare our hearts for the greatest gift ever given. Unlike the gifts under the tree, this gift will remake all who accept it. It will never grow old, never wear out, and it will always amaze those who have it. Its power split time in half, it changes us from orphans to adopted sons and daughters. And there is nothing we as humans can ever get another which will give us life everlasting like the gift the Father has given to this world.
There are those who find this thought silly, even unsophisticated. Yet in this is a sad truth: Those who have this gift, know; those who do not have it, do not know.
I’m into my third decade as a pastor now. Over the years I have met people—good people who know the Lord—yet they have no problem telling me there is someone they know, someone with whom they have had a relationship in the past and now, because of something they did, they said, or they caused and now they cannot forgive them, ever.
There is a huge difference between what we know and how we feel, our responses to circumstances. What we know is what is reality. Does reality change? It certainly does. Yet the changes to reality are much slower and more deliberate. Interestingly, the root of “reality” is “real.”
So, does this mean that what we “feel” should be automatically discounted and disparaged? Not at all. Feelings are always a response; a response to people, to circumstances and even to thoughts—ours mostly. Unfortunately, feelings are ephemeral, they change, have no solidity (or reality) and how we “feel” often soon changes as soon as the pizza we have eaten is digested.
I am not surprised when those who do not have a relationship with God through Christ do not forgive. People who are lost or pagan have not been “recreated” as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17. They are acting according to their created order; they are not less than believers because believers were once just like them.
Yet believers in Christ are to look like Christ and act like Him! Paul makes it very clear that “those whom He [God] foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29, ESV). What God foreknows and predestined is reality; it is what is real.
Of course, those who are more attentive and observant immediately realize there are many people who profess Christ as their Lord and yet they do not either “look” or “act” like Christ. How can this be if the reality is that God has made us to look like Christ?
The same God who made us to look like His Son also gave those He made this way true freedom and will. Those who do not forgive have made the choice to purposely disobey and to not forgive!
Paul in Colossians 3:13 commands, “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.” Paul informs the Ephesians in Ephesians 4:32 that forgiveness is a mark, is actually evidence that we are actually saved. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
In Luke 6:37-38 is perhaps one of the most often misunderstood, misapplied and misquoted verses in all of the New Testament. There Jesus lays out three parallel concepts which make it crystal clear how God applies justice in this world: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven…For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
People who are judgmental will themselves face judgment. People who are constantly condemning, will themselves face condemnation. People who forgive will find forgiveness. The way we act and live will be the “measure,” the means by which our lives will be measured and judged by God.
Oh, and try not to oh-so-quickly state, “Hey, this has nothing to do with salvation!” You are correct; it does not. Yet this does apply to our eternal reward as believers! I know some people who tell me how much they love Jesus, how long they have been in church and all they do for people, yet they are often cranky, mean-spirited, angry and demonstrate very little of Jesus in their life. God will make sure they are rewarded accordingly.
There are people who have literally lost brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers and other family because of the actions of an individual. I’ve heard them tell me they “will never forgive that person.” The longer I know the Lord, the more I understand they are destroying their rewards and robbing themselves of blessings in the here and now.
Who do we think we are as believers when we make such statements? God’s One and Only Son paid for our sin, and then the Father because of that payment has forgiven us. Do we actually think we are “bigger” or more important than God? I’ve actually had people say, “God has blessed me the way I am.” Okay, but how much more could he have blessed you if you were obedient to Him?
In my life, Me, Myself and I are the most self-centered, often evil and selfish persons I know; I know them because I am them! As I age, and as I mature in my relationship with Christ, I am more and more amazed that God the Father has forgiven me and especially Jesus Christ has also forgiven me. Especially Jesus; as my Advocate, He knows all of my Issues whereas the Father only sees Jesus!
Praise God! Because I am forgiven, I can now forgive!
Wanting is an interesting concept. First, it’s emotionally driven; what I want today may be completely different from what I want tomorrow—or even in ten minutes. Out of control “wanting” is incredibly destructive. I remember back in the seventies, a company called Household Finance used to have a commercial that had a tag-line in it saying, “When you want something long enough, it can become a need.”
Uncontrolled “wants” can weaken our will. Yet a mature person has the ability to live a life which constantly strengthens their will. This means we must deny our wants: no piece of cake, no new car, not purchasing something which cannot be paid for this month, and on. It is the denial of our wants which strengthens our will.
For those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, the most striking example of the “want vs. will” battle is found in theGospel of Luke 22:39-46. In this passage, we see Jesus Christ, the Son of God—who is God—struggling in the Garden of Gethsemane with His approaching death as He prayed to the Father.
Almost everyone who has ever attended church, Sunday School or even Vacation Bible School as a child are familiar with the events of this story. Jesus, who was fully man and yet also fully God, experienced the human condition to its fullest extent. “Sure, He experienced everything every human experiences!” No, that’s inaccurate.
Far too often, we are tempted with something (think a “want” here) and we fail and give in to the “want.” Jesus Christ, coming as the second Adam and being Virgin Born so He would be able to demonstrate what perfection really is (Adam and Eve were created perfect, yet because they sinned, we do not know what perfection is through the human condition), experiences every temptation just as every human does, yet He—Jesus—experiences temptation to the full and He defeats and overcomes it!
Who do you want to tell you what it’s like to run a marathon? The guy who starts and then quits half-way through the race (“You cannot believe how brutal a marathon is!”), or the guy who starts, finishes and wins the race (“Yeah, it was brutal, but the winning is incredible!”)?
So, Jesus Christ, in the Garden of Gethsemane, struggled with what He wanted and the will of God. No one who is sane would want to die the death of crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. There in the garden His prayers were so intense that Luke records, “And being in agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
Now here, I must point out a not-so-minor peeve of mine. Jesus did not sweat drops of blood! I cannot count the number of teachers and pastors who claim He did. I have even heard long medical lectures about how if anyone ever does sweat drops of blood, then their death is immanent. First, Luke clearly stated “His sweat became likegreat drops of blood.” This is a simile, an extremely useful literary tool which enables the reader to have greater sensory appreciation for the event they are reading.
Second, and perhaps even more important, if He had sweat bloodthen His sacrificial death would have been unacceptable. The sacrifice had to be perfect in order to offer it to the Lord. Under the Levitical code, all sacrifices must be of the “firstfruits”—the best of the best and without any blemish.
If you’ve ever been Savannah, Georgia in the summer—or any other location where the heat and humidity are above ninety degrees and ninety percentile, our sweat is like we are sweating bloodbecause of the increased salinity of our perspiration which in turn, increases the viscosity of our sweat. But I digress….
What we are witnessing in Christ’s struggle in the Garden is His struggle between His want and His will—and who alive has not struggled like this? There are times when even in our fallen selves we have, by God’s grace, overcome our desires and our wants and have exercised our will to not give in to the temptation we are facing.
Yet allow me to point something out for our further consideration: as God, Jesus could have exercised His will—yet he chose not to! Jesus Christ while asking for this “cup” of torment to be removed by the Heavenly Father, this suffering Jesus as God submitted Himself as a manto the Father’s will even though as God, He could have exercised His will as well and avoided the Cross.
The love God demonstrated on the Cross—the Father’s giving of His Son to die and the Son’s giving of His own life—was not a choice made at the last moment; this was a willful choice made in eternity past for Jesus to die in my place and in yours. Jesus did not want to die. Jesus, because of the love of the Father, Son and Spirit, made the choice in eternity past to demonstrate how much God loves us so we have the opportunity to live with Him forever.
If we desire the ability to exercise more “will” and less want, we too must make our choices now. Not in the moment of “want.”
One of those phrases which are said far too often and almost flippantly, are believers, Christians, are “to be in the world but not of the world.” Usually it is a teacher or someone who is attempting to make a point through the use of this phrase, but no real, concrete explanation is ever given which would give meaning to the aphorism.
The listener is somewhat perplexed and unsure how to alter their behavior, so they can then avoid being “of the world.” I’m sure, in many instances, the frustration builds, and no attempt is made to alter their life. Thoughts of finding some kind of camouflage may even immediately be considered to avoid being detected . . . .by anyone!
While this saying usually sounds so much wiser than the wisdom actually imparted, the Apostle Paul, in the letter to the Romans, wrote to them saying, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”(Romans 12:2 ESV).
The saying, “being in but not of the world,” is not in the Bible, but the principle is. The Apostle Paul, after spending eleven chapters informing the church in Rome of God’s plan, of how God chose people to be His in spite of the fact every single person had rejected Him and had chosen to worship the inferiority of creation rather than Him; He made a decision to choose some of us anyway.
Paul then demonstrated how on our own, no one would be able to come to Him through His Son. He then gave the example of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah—and how God will stillsave a remnant who will accept His Messiah Jesus. Then Paul concludes by telling the Roman Christians they should, as an act of worship, “present [their] bodies as a living sacrifice” which is their natural, spiritual worship response as a saved, redeemed people.
Okay, so far so good. Yet just as the saying of “we’re in the world but not of the world” sounds really cool in concept, how exactly does this occur? Paul doesn’t hesitate, but quickly adds the way, the mechanics which will allow this to occur: through “the renewal of our minds.”
When computers first started to become the ubiquitous necessity they are now, there was an aphorism that was immediately recognizable and understood: “Garbage in, garbage out!” If you enter bad data, you will never—and have no hope of ever—get good data from the computer.
Paul understood this was true of people as well. We are created beings and the One who created us knows how we are made and what is needed for us to function well. While Paul is writing to Christians, this principle is true of all of humanity. If you eat junk food, if you consume violent or risqué media, do not be shocked when the cigarettes you smoke make you wheeze, the donuts keep you from seeing your toes and the media you allow in your mind affects your ability to think clearly and function normally.
One other note: the Greek word translated as conformed gives us the ability to understand this conformity with the world that literally “fashions us together with” the world so we cannot be separated from it. This is the same idea in camouflage. Regardless of who you are, you have made the choice to “blend in” so well, you cannot and will not be distinguishable from your surroundings.
So, let’s return to our confusing little homily: “in the world yet not of the world.” As believers in Jesus Christ, as those who Paul says have been “recreated” by the Spirit, we are literally “no longer of this world.” Just as a diver must wear an air tank, a mask and flippers to propel him through the water and to keep him alive, believers must breath faith, consume God’s Word, and we must depend on the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christians are to be different. “Different” does not mean weird! Different means we exist through our faith, we are sustained by God’s Word and we find our energy, our power through the Holy Spirit. As we use our faith, consume God’s Word and live by the Spirit’s power, we will find our conformity will be to Jesus Christ. Paul even said this clearly that every believer is “to be conformed to the image of His Son.”
We are “in” not “of.” The only way we can exist “in” is for us to “look like” Jesus Christ—literally, for people to “see Jesus,” when they see us.
Now that’s some great camouflage!
We’ve all said something like this: “They are their own worst enemy.”
What motivates us to make this kind of observation? Usually it’s due to individuals who seem to be captive of their own weaknesses which they either cannot see or cannot overcome.
Yet even while we may shake our heads as we walk away from someone who should have known when to stop talking, we must always keep this in mind: we are no different than they are. There are times in everyone’s life when we are simply unable to determine where we are or what we’re doing.
No matter how aware we believe ourselves to be, no matter how we may even pride ourselves on our ability to understand the consequences of our actions, time and again we demonstrate our inability to often see what is proverbially directly in front of us. It is almost as if our brains seem to work against our efforts to interpret our circumstances.
Here’s the scenario: your wife has sent you upstairs to get a particular cleaner out of the closet (usually due to the fact you had the audacity to appear to be “un-busy” while she is busily “doing something”). You are familiar with this cleaner; you know what colors the bottle has on it, you even are familiar with the size and shape of the bottle, so off you go to check another victory off your list!
Unfortunately, the cleaner isn’t in the closet. You looked. It wasn’t there. So, you inform your wife that it isn’t in the closet (usually by increasing the volume of your voice so it will reach your wife who is still downstairs). After mere moments have passed, your wife comes to you. Of course, you are prepared for your vindication. You are confident of your situational assessment. You are prepared to receive your prize (trust me, this is a guy thing).
Reality, in these moments, becomes simultaneously displeasing and disappointing. Your wife reaches into the closet and turns to you and places the cleaner into your disbelieving hands. She then goes back downstairs while muttering an esteem-destroying narrative which further weakens one’s grip on one’s man-card….
So, you are standing there with the bottle of cleaner, attempting to process the reality of your ignominy, and you cannot fathom how you could be so wrong! And judging by the continued muttering of your wife downstairs, neither can she.
If your inability to have seen the cleaning bottle was a physical issue, this would have been referred to as a scotoma, a physical blind spot in one’s vision which makes one unable to see anything in the center of one’s vision. Yet very few people have a true diagnosed scotoma; while everyone has a blind-spot in their field of vision, few have the debilitative sort.
The reason our “man” example could not see the cleaner was a kind of scotoma, a mental one. I’ve done this very thing. The reason we do not see the very object for which we are searching is our minds have given us an image for which we were looking! If what our “eyes” see does not match our mental image, our brain immediately dismisses what is before us.
We are seeking. We desire to find a particular object. Yet because of what we are thinking our brain says it isn’t there!
It happened. We’re in the water but we don’t know it.
We have become our own worst enemy.
For the believer in Jesus Christ, this should cause us great chagrin and even alarm. If our minds so readily dismiss the reality in which we live simply because we have the wrong image of reality, how can we know we know? How can we avoid being our own worst enemy?
In Romans 8:26, the Apostle Paul informs us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (ESV).
Because God created us and because He knows us completely, He has placed His Spirit within everyone who has a relationship with Him through the Son Christ. One of the most overlooked benefits of the presence of the Spirit in the life of a believer is the Spirit, who is God, knows what we need—and what we should know—better than we do.
Perhaps we should remember the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in the 1990 movie Total Recall: “How do we know this isn’t a dream?”
There is great power and strength in our relationship with Christ! No, this doesn’t mean we must all live in fear of spoiling our relationship with Him because of what we could do. A few verses after the above reference, Paul adds that nothing in the list he gives “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39 ESV).
So the next time you are looking for something you know you should be able to find, remember the gift God has given us so we can always find Him, we can always know His will and we will never be able to make any decision which will separate us from the love He has given to us in Christ through His sacrifice.
We will have defeated the enemy within us: ourselves.
When I was in high school and college, we lived in Normal, Illinois. Many of my college friends found this exceptionally funny, claiming I was “nowhere near normal.”
In college, what is normal is controlled by the Bell Curve, the average among everyone. Many professors set the average at the sixty-eighth percentage, where they believed the majority of their students would score on tests. Some, but not all, professors chose to dictate “normal” by the curve and not by the performance of the students. While this was certainly their right as a professor, this could be very unfair to a group of students who were uniformly superior to most classes.
Yet notice the determiner of “Normal” is arbitrary; it is either mandated by mathematical probability (thus not allowing for above average performances to be rewarded) or it is mandated by the group who make up that particular class population.
This is how society determines “normal.” Normal is an ever moving measure. It has no absolute basis. It cannot have in our culture since an absolute would demand an expected level of performance or behavior. Such measurements are deemed verboten and almost universally reviled as intolerant, judgmental and mean spirited.
So normal then becomes the sixty-eighth percentile of whatever now “is.” Everyone is a winner. Everyone must get a reward and recognition. No one should ever feel shame or embarrassment for their behavior. It’s okay if you go to school, attain middling to “average” grades and then you cannot understand why you are not employable since you believe your average performance in school should be rewarded with above average pay.
Why has this occurred? Is this purely due to undisciplined parents raising even more undisciplined children?
Choices have consequences. While unpopular, there exists a law of action/reaction in our world which effects so much more than Newton’s Third Law of Motion applies it to physical objects. Of course, from my theistic worldview, this finds its foundation in the principle of sowing and reaping.
Yet who would be the sowers? Parents? Schools? Society? The government?
Short of the miraculous intervention by God (as in the case of Jonah 4), nothing germinates and grows to maturity quickly. The primary responsibility for “Normal” to be the marker of acceptance lies fully—and in many instances, completely—with the Body of Christ, the Church. Weak teaching, underscored by a desire for relevance over accuracy and prophetic voice, has caused this societal attitude to grow exponentially and unabated.
I have many pastor-friends who have chosen to teach in a purely topical style. I believe this superimposes the will of the teacher in both his organization and his choices of topics over the will of God’s Spirit. The books of the Bible were written as we read them: chapter 1, verse 1 to the end of the book. This enables God’s Spirit to determine what gets taught and when it gets taught, rather than the fallible will of the pastor.
Too often, teaching is fuzzy. The teacher’s thinking must be clear. The Bible has one meaning, yet there are an infinite number of applications. Pastor/Teachers must constantly ask the Lord for guidance regarding His Word. Clearly enunciating the Truth of God will enable God’s Spirit to use the understanding of the listeners to grasp the meaning of the text and apply it to their lives.
Fortunately for those of us called by God to be pastors and teachers, God’s sovereign will always insures His Word will accomplish its purpose.
We will then see churches who sow the truth of God so the Spirit through the obedience of believers, will apply the Word, God’s Truth, to their lives. What is then “normal” will be obedient behavior. Believers especially will cease to measure their actions by the actions of the masses; our behaviors are to be measured against Christ’s alone.
There is coming a time when Christ will come and separate the wheat from the chaff, sheep from the goats and the saved from the unsaved.
I, for one, do not want to be measured by the Bell Curve’s sixty-eighth percentile; I desire to be called faithful and obedient.
I have lost track of how often I have stated to people: Rule #1, God is sovereign; Rule #2, don’t forget Rule #1!
I believe the God I serve often allows humanity the opportunity to catch a brief sliver of insight into His mind and perhaps—to an incredibly infinitesimally small degree—also gain some understanding regarding His love and relationship with people.
Because I am a pastor, I have many friends who are in the funeral home business. While it is a business, what they offer is service through a compassionate and loving relationship which will end up impacting every member of your family in one way or another.
Almost without exception, a good funeral home is built around a family who view the services they offer as both a calling and a responsibility they have to the community in which they live. For the vast majority of the population, the whole idea of caring for the dead and preparing bodies for burial is just, well, creepy.
Yet this is where I as a pastor, sees how God wonderfully gifts different people with distinct gifts and abilities which meet the needs of everyone. Those who are in law enforcement, those who serve fire departments, doctors, lawyers, plumbers—these individuals are working in an area in which they have been given a unique set of skills and abilities, which enable them to meet the needs of society.
The men and women who serve in these funeral homes live, work and many times they may even know the people who have died. They provide services for people they have just met, for friends, for neighbors and sometimes even for their own families. Again, I believe it is a calling from God which enables them to serve their communities so faithfully. Yet they also earn their living doing what they do.
The fact that their “services” are also a business often causes stress and difficulties to arise. Those in this business that I have been granted the gift of a relationship find it extremely unpleasant in having to become “insistent” regarding their fee and their ability to be paid.
Because of the nature of the relationship they have with their clientele, and the fact their services are always needed in emotionally sensitive circumstances, there is always extra stress and effort when they must be much more straight-forward regarding the payment for their services.
I have watched the verbal hurdles they face as they attempt to find a way to express the need and necessity for payment while at the same time being sensitive to the raw emotional state these families are experiencing.
While they have a moral responsibility to make sure they receive payment for the services they have rendered (this is true of all businesses—the employees expect those who own their business operate ethically, with integrity and do not do anything which would endanger their livelihood), they also desire to be sensitive to the needs of their clients. Yet as many of us know and understand, there are some people with whom we must become very terse regarding these things.
As I have observed these service providers endure these difficulties, when they finally secure payment, there is never a sense of “having won.” They are never jubilant over avoiding the financial difficulty of providing a service in which they will have to take a financial loss.
Quite the contrary; they are almost bewildered by the necessity of the confrontation. Given the choice, they would have preferred to avoid all confrontation regarding the matter. This kind of encounter seems to take the joy out of their calling to serve. It makes them uncomfortable because they actually know this is part-and-parcel to business, but it is an unpleasant necessity which they make every attempt to avoid.
The Lord God is the great Undertaker. While there are some who desire to teach that everyone will go to Heaven—or no one will—the Bible is very clear: “It is appointed for people to die once—and after this judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). For those of us who have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, the Bible also says, “The death of His faithful ones is valuable in the LORD’S sight” (Psalm 116:15).
Yet for those who are separate from the Lord, He says, “’For I take no pleasure in anyone’s death.’ This is a declaration of the Lord GOD. ‘So repent and live’” (Ezekiel 18:32). God does not wish anyone to die apart from Him, this is why Jesus told Nicodemus, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God must be true to Himself. He is both holy and just. If God looked at humanity, and chose instead to pat people on their proverbial heads and say in a grandfatherly way, “Oh that’s okay, if you don’t want to pay the price for rebellion, I’ll let it pass!”
One of the main reasons my friends who run funeral homes cannot allow people to simply “not pay” is because they have responsibilities to others; their families, their employees and even to their communities. If they do not follow good business practices, who would then be able to serve their communities in these instances?
If God did not maintain His holiness, His just nature, what would this then mean regarding the sacrifice of His Son? The death of God for mankind demands that the value of the gift—in this case, the gift of salvation—be upheld and be protected.
If God chose not to punish man’s rebellion, the gift of Christ’s death on the Cross would be rendered worthless. No longer would it be the greatest act of love mankind has ever seen. It would be nothing more than another senseless death at the hands of a cruel people.
If God had did not occasionally give humanity some insight into His nature, how would we then understand the necessity of collecting debts? How would we be able to understand grace and mercy?
If no debt were ever collected, would anything have any worth?
Robert Frost is the quintessential American poet. Because of Frost’s work, and the masterful way in which he found words to bring to life rural America, there is no shortage of commentary regarding his poetry. I believe I was in Junior High (about seventh or eighth grade) when I first read Frost’s poem, Good Bye and Keep Cold.
Good Bye, Keep Cold seems to have as many meanings as there are commentators. In the poem, Frost is telling an orchard which was planted “on a northerly slope” near a farm house good-bye for the winter season. Frost laments as his imagination considers all the possible injuries which could occur to the orchard while he is away.
The hill which obscures the view of those in the house, could possibly allow the buds on the trees and the tender limbs to be eaten by rabbit, mouse, deer and grouse. He wishes the orchard would call out for his help when he writes, “If certain it wouldn’t be idle to call I’d summon the grouse, rabbit and deer to the wall and warn them away with a stick for a gun.” Frost’s desire to protect his orchard is evident in his desire to see its protection from the coming hungry wildlife.
Frost ends his poem by giving anthropological voice to his beloved orchard when he says, “I wish I could promise to lie in the night and think of an orchards arboreal plight when slowly (and nobody comes with a light) its heart sinks lower in the sod.” In this, Frost is exhibiting a fatherly empathy for the feelings he envisions his orchard may have in the dark of winter’s night. Yet in the equivalent of an audible sigh, Frost pens, “But something has to be left to God.”
As a pastor, I cannot find anything which would allow me to assume Robert Frost knew God intimately and personally; yet I cannot ascertain that he did not. Yet Frost’s life is filled with a gentility and sensitivity which allowed him to exhibit great empathy. In the case of Good Bye Keep Cold, Frost could expand this rapport to even nature itself.
Yet the crux of this poem, its main warning, to an unsuspecting and vulnerable orchard facing wildlife and oncoming winter, is this: “No orchard’s the worse for the wintriest storm; but one thing about it, it mustn’t get warm.” The very thing most would associate with vitality and growth and all that makes springtime and harvest possible, our poet warns against. But why?
The greatest danger to an orchard is an early spring followed by a late freeze. The buds, dormant on the limb, are waiting, indeed anticipating the coming warmth of spring. For temperature to advance too quickly could end up killing the potential of the harvest and perhaps even kill the trees themselves. This is why Frost advises, “How often already you’ve had to be told, keep cold, young orchard. Good bye, keep cold. Dread fifty above more than fifty below.”
While some paint Frost’s work with a brush depicting the sadness of his words as a reaction to the bleakness of the world around him, this is not what I see. Frost understood that while in its dormant state, no sub-zero temperature could cause any damage to his orchard; it was asleep and safe until it was awoken. Yet he was not providing mere “arboreal” insight in this poem; there is also great truth regarding the human condition.
Our society seems to desire great acceleration in many areas while at the same time it consistently retards and hinders natural growth in others. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the Western proclivity to stimulate sexual and physical maturation of its children while simultaneously discouraging mental maturity.
While many reject God as Creator and designer of humanity, I embrace this as an absolute truth. Humanity is separate from all other creation due to the fact we are created imago dei, in the very image of God. God, in His wisdom, chose a timeline for humanity to follow spiritually, physically and mentally. Humanity has uniformly rejected its spiritual heritage, but it cannot seem to overcome the physical changes which are inevitable in healthy people.
Parents today, while protecting their children from maturing and even discouraging responsibility, seem to quicken the physical appearance of their children—especially girls—through either proactive choice or willingly being held captive to the latest cultural style. Now for those without a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ, this is to be expected.
Yet for those who profess to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, this is nothing less than willful rebellion and the offering up of their children (permanent, enduring people with souls) on the altar of the immediate and passé.
This brings us back to Frost’s Good Bye Keep Cold. Humans are beings with appetites. These appetites are God-given and for them to work appropriately, they must be exercised according to God’s principles. For children especially, to awaken the appetites God has reserved for those who are mature in body and spirit is the equivalent to exposing them to the dangers of which Frost warned; the “fifty above” rather than keeping them in the proverbial “winter of their content” and prematurely exposing them to discontent.
The writer of Ecclesiastes informs humanity, “There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven….and a wise heart knows the right time and procedure” (3:1; 8:5). The rights and autonomy of humanity has not been infringed on by taking away our rights and freedom to choose. The problem with humanity is we have lost both the discipline and patience to wait for the right time.
And the wisdom to keep cold.
Are All Imaginations Created Equal?
Why is it some people are so much more “imaginative” than others? Why do we value people with imagination? Is imagination a learned behavior or a developed one? Can “concrete” thinkers have great imaginations or does this belong only to those who are more “abstract” in their thinking?
Maybe the question should be, “Does God give imagination as a gift?”
If you take the time to do a search of “Where does imagination come from/originate?” you will find a plethora of information ranging from opinion to scientific study. Though, admittedly, even many in the science community communicate the elusive nature of the origin of one’s imagination.
Regarding the well-being and progress of humanity, we owe much to men and women over the years who have shared their “imaginings” with the rest of us. Steve Jobs gave us the iPhone, Isaac Newton the Laws of Gravity, and The Eagles gave us one of the most recognizable guitar riffs at the beginning of their hit song, Life in the Fast Lane!
Well, there was the guy who gave us the Pet Rock of the late 1970’s.
I used to wonder what kind of mind thought of putting a rock in a wooden cage, selling it for seven bucks and calling it a pet.
Oh! Wait! Maybe he was related to the guy who shared “Gopher Eggs” with the people of the world!
People without imagination only saw a golf ball sitting in green, Easter-basket grass; some guy figured out non-imaginative people would actually buy them—even if for a prank joke!
Yet I believe God encourages believers to exercise their imaginations as well. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the churches in the city of Rome, asks his readers to imagine what it will be like when those God has chosen recognize the Messiah Jesus for who He truly is!
Paul, referencing his fellow Israelites God chose through their founder Abraham, makes this statement about the Jews: “Now if their stumbling brings riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full number bring” (Romans 11:12 HCSB)!
Here is Paul’s point: The Jews rejected Jesus during His earthly ministry 2000 years ago and the vast majority of them have rejected Him since—yet all of humanity has also rejected Messiah Jesus! Yet Rabbi Paul was reminding his readers about the prophecy of the Old Testament—The Torah—that prophesied the Gentiles (everyone not a Jew) and the Israelites as a group will eventually accept who Messiah Jesus is!
So, Paul is telling his readers, “The rejection of Messiah Jesus by the Jewish people has caused me to tell those who are not Jews about Messiah Jesus!” The result means Gentiles, non-Jews, can now enjoy a relationship with God because of the rejection by the Jews.
Paul could have been bitter. He could have even been vindictive. Instead Paul pointed out the obvious. Gentiles are now being saved, being brought into a relationship with Messiah Jesus! But wait! Can you imagine this? If people are now being brought into a relationship with God because the Jewish people rejected Messiah Jesus, can you even imagine what will happen to humanity when the Jews accept Messiah Jesus as the Old Testament prophets affirm?
Paul continues in this passage it will mean “life from the dead” and blessings beyond imagination on all of those who recognize Messiah Jesus! There will come a day where the Middle East will not be a source and central location of human strife. There is coming a day when government corruption will be unknown, justice and integrity will reign supreme and the earth will be healed ecologically!
If God, through His grace given to humanity, can allow our dysfunctional selves to light homes and cool them, to have cars, phones, and anti-biotics, can we ever imagine a day when war is no more, when death is not proud and where justice and righteousness is du jour and de facto?
Imagination is indeed a “good” thing. Yet the right kind of imagination requires a mind made new by God.