There is an old Chinese proverb which reads, “If you wish to know about water, do not ask a fish.” The only thing a fish knows is water. For the fish to gain a comparison to the water in which he exists, well, it rarely ends well for the fish.
In many ways, our culture is to us as the water is to the fish. Culture is the medium in which we move and exist in a country, a family or a locale. Because our culture is always with us, it becomes extremely hard to identify what culture sometimes “is” and what it “is not.” If you travel outside the U.S., this grants you a perspective that very few Americans have; if you do not travel, most likely “blissful ignorance” will reign.
Recently, there has been much discussion to change the name of the of the Southern Baptist Convention. The reason? There are those who believe we should change the name of the Convention believe that because the word “Southern” is associated in our culture with the institution of slavery, and because the SBC owes much of its beginning to men who either owned slaves or supported the institution of slavery, we must change our name.
Culture is not automatically equivalent to what the Bible identifies as “worldliness.” Worldliness is all that is opposed to God and the coming of His kingdom. Now culture can certainly qualify as worldliness, but it does not have to be. We speak English in church and read Bibles and sing music that also uses the English language. We are, culturally, an American church, yet we seek to measure ourselves against God’s Word and not our culture.
Now back to the name change for the Convention: Why? Will anything change? The supporters claim it will change how we are perceived. Will our convention be redefined? No, not really. Same churches, same pastors and members, same beliefs but no changes in doctrine or theology. Then why change?
There exist within our churches people who have bought into the perception, ideology and thinking of the cancel culture which is now rampant in our culture. To change our name because the Convention is no longer geographically defined as being predominantly “Southern,” well, that has some legitimate, logical reasoning and purpose. But to change it based on what others may think—and these “others” are already hateful toward all things Christian—is a silly compromise to cultural pressure and its unbiblical societal demands.
In Matthew 11:16-19, Jesus said regarding John the Baptizer, “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
There are those in our culture will never be satisfied even if we acquiesce to their demands. We can attempt to satisfy their calls for cultural compliance, for no matter what we do, we will never satisfy their demands. We will never reach a point where they will cease to insist that our behavior and beliefs should change. If we seek to comply with their demands, or attempt to avoid their retribution, we will find ourselves the victim of their ever-changing rules and definitions which are continually mutable. To do so will only result in our disobedience.
Those who desire that Christians comply will never be pleased. I’ve read the end of the Bible; there will be more and more persecution of the Church coming and believers cannot escape the consequences of prophecy. Again, believers do not seek consolation and comfort in our circumstances, but in our sovereign Lord.
Our worship is to be lived to only One, to the worship of only One. Jesus Christ stated, “Wisdom is justified by her deeds.” Our deeds, the way we live our faith “out loud” amid our culture, will either justify our use of faith before God or convict us before our culture.
Believers do not live in water; we live in faith. We hope in a future we cannot see and is not yet here. Our proof, the proof we offer our culture and this world, is in our deeds.
I’ve always considered myself fairly content, of course, I’m not even sure why “content” is even an issue or even what it is. I’m not even sure why “I’m” even an issue.
Some of the others say I have OCD; though, admittedly, no one has ever defined that label and I certainly cannot define it. I guess I am just “me.” This is very convenient since I have no ability to really be anything else but me.
My right hip has been itching again. I told my people about it and they all just snicker and continue eating. Granted, I know I am very good at eating; I prefer clover, but long, deeply green grass is as good as candy—whatever candy is!
So there I was, happily and contentedly eating the grass just outside the area where we all sleep. There was a noise, a rather melodious tone which I recognized but I do not recall ever hearing it before. Others also heard it—I saw their heads raise up—but many resumed eating. The sound came again, yet this time I understood it: Come!
I wasn’t the only one, there were others, yet many ignored the sound. I was drawn to it, it literally resonated through all of who I am. As I began to move toward it, all who recognized it started moving faster and faster; not to be left behind (and that place on my hip was itching again), I started running too!
There was a man, a man who was calling my name! He touched me, stroked me and told me I belonged to Him. I felt so much contentment and love when I heard Him say my name. I knelt at His feet, I laid my head on His lap, and He uncovered the spot on my hip that had been itching for as long as I could remember.
“He is yours,” a voice told the Man, “there is My mark, My brand on him.” The Man looked at me and smiled at me. He said to the Voice, “Can you see the damage done by the wolves and his poor choices?”
“You know I cannot My Son; Your blood has made him as white as snow.”
I loved this Man. I loved His Father and there is something in me which lets me know I will always be His. I now remember all I have read (read?) and recall words from long ago:
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30 ESV)
I now am forever with this One; I cannot leave and I cannot be lost!
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 is 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 like great 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 blood then 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 blood because 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 man to 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.
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.