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.
We live in interesting times.
Christians in the United States are becoming somewhat frustrated at the erosion of their religious liberties. Unlike believers in other parts of this world, there has developed within the United States an attitude of entitlement based on legislated freedoms found in the founding documents of the United States.
It seems the very blessings for which we as believers in Jesus Christ enjoy have made us complacent. I find it interesting the number of parallels between our situation in 21st century America and the Israelites under the Law in the Old Testament.
Yahweh-God gave the Ten Commandments (more accurately, the ten words) to the Israelites not as a means for them to perfect themselves, but rather as a stark reminder they were imperfect and could never approach the perfection God demanded. Apart from their relationship with Yahweh-God—demonstrated through the shedding of sacrificial blood through sacrifice (which only covered but did not remove sin)—the Israelites should have realized their innate imperfection and sinfulness the more they attempted to keep the Law!
Unfortunately, this never occurred. The aphorism, “Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” seems to have come into play in their minds. They had the Law. They were a people chosen by God through Abraham. They measured themselves by a comparison to others who may or may not have the Law. Those without the Law (and a relationship by blood to Abraham) were “dogs” and Gentiles. Those “under” the Law were subjected to a hierarchy of means measuring those who did have Abraham: “I keep seven commands and you keep only four therefore I’m better than you.”
The gift of the Law by Yahweh-God—allowing the Israelites to see their need of God’s grace and their inability to keep the Law—should have caused both humility and a greater dependence on God’s grace. Instead, their response was not an acknowledgement of their need of God; their response was to elevate the importance of the keeping of the “rules” of the Law. They forgot the biblical principle James enunciated in James 2:10: “Whoever keeps the entire Law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all.”
Now keep in mind, this was no easy task. Every aspect of their worship spoke of the holiness and majesty of the Lord. From the delineation of the sacrificial system, to the preparation of the sacrifices to the clothing and methodology necessary for the priest to enter into the Holy of Holies—the presence of God—all of their worship emphasized the person of God, His majesty and His holiness!
Yet they ignored it all and focused on themselves, their performance and how they could create a hierarchy in their society and relationships.
Here is the parallel I mentioned earlier: American Christianity has over the course of the years of freedom has forgotten the difference between freedom and grace, between the person of God and the mechanism He provides for blessing.
Yahweh-God in His wisdom has allowed Christianity in America to flourish for almost two full centuries virtually unopposed. God did this by providing founders of this country who were both believers in Jesus Christ and who were deeply influenced by a Judeo-Christian philosophy.
Our Founders even produced something called a “Bill of Rights,” which is a singular example of a clear enunciation of not merely human rights, but the source of those rights. While over the course of the first 200 years there have certainly been times when a complete lack of wisdom has been demonstrated by those we would refer to as “Evangelical Christians,” the United States has been an incredibly effective and fruitful source for worldwide missionary activity.
Yet even acknowledging all of the good American believers have accomplished, now we are seeing a huge swing of the pendulum away from the biblical moorings which traditionally anchored this country to what is nothing more than an emphasis on erotic liberty (which is driving almost all of the changes now).
We in the United States are now seeing the beginnings of the erosion of religious liberty. Should we use all legislative means at our disposal to fight these losses? Yes we should because God has given us all of these; the freedoms, the means and the methods for us to protect laws and to even pass new ones.
Sometimes we as believers act as if we think God is in Heaven looking down and thinking, “Wow, I didn’t see that one coming!” God is sovereign and He is the One who gave us a country rules through the democratic process.
When Jesus Christ was on this earth He stated often, “You have heard,” referring to what the Law stated and then He went on to radically apply the Law in a way emphasizing our relationship with God through Him! There was no “keeping the rules,” people would no more be able to measure themselves against others. Jesus wanted people to see our thoughts and motives is what drive our actions!
I am thankful for the rights we as believers in Jesus Christ have been granted through the Constitution of the United States. Yet I do not worship the Constitution. Through God’s grace and His choice of me, I worship the God who gave us this document and allowed it to exist for this time. There will come a time when God will no longer need this document to aid the furtherance of His kingdom. When that occurs, the Constitution, and perhaps even America, might well be gone.
Yet just as God was active in the first century Church, He will continue to be active in the lives of believers in America—just as He is active in the rest of the World today.
Yet is this what God must allow to happen before we really make Jesus real in this world?
All of us make a number of assumptions every moment of our lives.
We tend to assume what we order at McDonalds will be what we get. We assume the person coming from the opposite direction on a highway or motorway will stay on their side of the road. We assume the lights will come on when we flip the wall switch.
Aside from the adage claiming “When we assume, you dare make an ‘ass out of u and me,’ our assumptions far too often prove to be wrong! The chances your McDonalds order is correct is proportionate to how far away from the restaurant you are when you check it; the person driving toward you often crosses the dividing line while answer their phone and we are always surprised when the lights do not come on as we “flip the switch.” It’s always risky making assumptions!
One of the tacit assumptions made in history for over two-hundred years is the continued existence of America and its influence—this is especially true of its citizenry.
Please keep in mind the underlying assumption I am making here (one I make by faith—and one in which there has never been a disappointment) is the validity and truth of Scripture (remember, I am a pastor-dude). Regardless of the pundits and the critics, Scripture and biblical prophecy has never been proved as wrong.
I remember being interviewed by a German independent documentarian when I was living in Illinois. The question came up regarding the history of the world and Scripture; basically, what the Bible says about the future. As I explained the Bible’s declaration of the future coming anti-Christ and the re-subjection of Europe, the Middle East and much of Asia by his government, she stated many people in Europe would be highly offended by this interpretation.
I asked her if she understood the prophecy as a statement of further American hegemony; in other words, was she assuming Christianity and its belief system were synonymous with America and its culture? Being from Germany and being thoroughly secular in her ideology, she saw no difference between “America” and “Christianity.”
What I then told her almost left her speechless. I informed her there are no symbols nor is there any mention of “America” in any biblical prophecies; for whatever reason, the sovereign entity of the United States plays no role in the affairs of the world in the prophecies contained in the Bible regarding humanity’s future.
Does this mean America is no more? Has it been marginalized politically by world events or the rise of new and more powerful world powers? God in His wisdom does not inform us. All we can know with surety is there is no mention of the United States in end-times descriptions. While there are many who will try to insert an American presence into the events of the last days, it simply is not there if one follows the normal rules of interpretation.
I believe what we see playing out in the newspapers, RSS feeds and televisions news coverage certainly grants us insight into the beginning of the demise of America. America has lost much of its influence internationally. Because we have failed to discipline ourselves financially (especially personally), our government sees no reason to do so and our private, personal actions has granted them the permission to do likewise.
We have lost all semblance of a “moral high ground” due to our own hypocritical stances domestically—it is difficult to chide other countries for their mistreatment and slaughter of their own peoples when we have systematically killed over 50 million babies through legalized abortion. When other countries choose to kill a group of people like this, we refer to it as genocide!
The Bible states “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people.” It isn’t a particular sin—it’s not homosexuality or divorce or overeating or overspending—it’s sin! There is a reason why so many in other parts of the world assume there is a direct link between Christianity and America; for many decades this was a legitimate fact. Yet when those who have identified themselves with Christ so blatantly ignore the very commands of God, God judges those who know Him more harshly! The Apostle Peter reminded his readers judgment begins first with “God’s household.”
Here is something to keep in mind as those of us who seek comfort from God’s Word study it: the prophecies of Scripture never demand a particular method or means, they merely tell us what “will be” and sometimes they give us insight into the results which follow. God has given us prophecy for the same reason He gives us all things: to increase our faith in Him.
Trusting in God’s control of our future and eternity is not an assumption—it’s a surety!
A Marriage of Convenience
There are some things I do not believe I will ever understand.
I went into a McDonald’s a while back and there was a sign hanging on the wall: “Braille menus available.”
Who is that sign for?
There were a couple of songs on the radio in the early seventies which have always given me fits. One was MacArthur Park: “someone left the cake out in the rain, I don’t think that I can take it, ‘Cause it took so long to bake it, and I’ll never have that recipe again.”
Seriously? Forget the cake; what about the hash brownies the writer obviously inhaled before writing this jingle?
One of the thornier issues facing Christians in general and myself as a pastor in particular is same-sex marriage. Over the years I have heard some very good men make some incredibly gifted attempts to claim the existence of same-sex marriage undermines the existence and value of heterosexual marriage. One pastor used the image of marriage being a boat and the proponents of same-sex marriage were doing the equivalent of boring holes in the bottom of the boat. In other words, if any other definition of marriage is allowed to occur, the whole of marriage would be destroyed.
I cannot more vigorously disagree.
Heterosexual marriage, in practice, doesn’t exactly have a “moral high ground” in this matter. The divorce rate in America still hovers around the fifty (50) percentile mark; those who identify themselves as Christians are not far removed from this mark. Yet it seems some of the more strident voices against same-sex marriage emanate from those claiming to be Christians—and some of the verbiage they are using gets pretty ugly!
As a pastor, I teach the entire Bible. Some believers have been trotting out the passages in Leviticus which describe the results of “men being with men” (my paraphrase) and “women being with women.” Those words are there and God was serious when He wrote them—He still is. The Bible states homosexuality is sin—along with many other activities as well. I also realize there are many people, some of whom I am friends with—who are homosexual.
If you are reading this and have chosen this lifestyle, then I most likely have hacked you off bad enough for you to throw your computer across the room! I would not recommend that action.
I do not dislike homosexuality any more than I dislike divorce, lying, over-eating, greed or any other sin. In fact, I can state along with the Apostle Paul, “I am what I am by God’s grace.” If there is anything I or anyone would consider good in my life, it’s not because I’m better or smarter, it’s because God is good.
Same-sex marriage is going to be what “is” in our country. Christians are going to have to come to grips with this. It doesn’t change what God’s Word says, it doesn’t change my responsibility to be obedient to God’s Word. We live in a democracy. If the people in this country decide this is okay, then believe it or not, God isn’t shocked one bit.
Allow me to channel my father’s words to me when I was ten years old: “I don’t care what the neighbor kids do—you belong to me!”
Our responsibility as believers is to love people with the love given to us by God and demonstrated by Jesus Christ on the Cross. This “love” is not sex, the “warm fuzzies” nor are we to embrace the definition our culture demands and then has called “good” what the Bible calls “evil.” True love is lived, it is demonstrated through our action and obedience to Jesus Christ in our lives. We do not and cannot demand obedience from those who are “not part of our family.” They may do as they choose. We are called by God to demonstrate truth through obedience.
The normalization of same-sex marriage is an opportunity given by God for us to prove the truth of our God and demonstrate our relationship to Him through our obedience. Christians should strive to have marriages so everyone who sees them would desire a marriage just like them! This is the whole point of living for Christ: demonstrating the love Christ has for this world through our obedient love for Him!
God has placed American Christians in America. He understands democracy and the great freedoms it gives. He also understands the human heart. When people reject His commands and His offer of salvation, believers should not react in hate and anger. People who reject the tenets of Scripture are not rejecting Christians or our sensibilities (so we need to get over ourselves): they are rejecting God.
Of course, the demand by the proponents of same-sex marriage who say I must state their cause is just and right are just as unfortunately wrong. I am not called to approve actions because of social pressure; I am called to be obedient to the Lord. Just as in first century Rome when the Church was in its infancy, Christians were not persecuted because they believed in Jesus Christ or Yahweh-God. Christians were persecuted because they refused political correctness and would not call Caesar “Lord!” Our obedience to Christ will always make us incredibly unpopular.
For far too long Christians have allowed Satan to get them off task by focusing too much on what those who are outside of a relationship with Christ are doing. Should sin be identified? Yes it should. But the identification of “sin” should be motivated by the same love a mother has for the child who gets too close to a hot oven: the warning is clear, it’s strong and its concern is for the safety of the child. It’s because the mother loves her child.
If we speak out against the sin in this world, let us make sure it’s because we love people like Jesus does. Our responsibilities are the same as they have always been: to love others.
This isn’t convenient.
It’s love and obedience.