How Far Do We Take the Idea of Childlike Faith?

Childlike faith is a concept that is tossed around in Christianity and comes from Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:3-5. In that passage Jesus says this, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Now often I’ve heard the idea of childlike faith explained as having a dependance upon God like children are dependent upon their parents. This explanation could be a little too simple, but I think it is a fairly good starting point. I mean now that I’m a father, I’ve had a taste of the dependance that my kids have. We have to provide so much for them, and in our faith the same is true of God.

This also fits with the context of what Jesus is talking about. Jesus was asked by his disciples who the greatest in the kingdom of heaven was. Jesus answered with children, which would have been a surprising answer. It wasn’t a person of importance, talent, or wisdom, children were the greatest. The ones who couldn’t escape their dependence and maybe even took joy in their dependence on their parents.

There are other aspects that people mention when talking about childlike faith. It is about having an awe for the world we live in. It is about naturally having trust and things of that nature. I’m not so sure I buy it, because kids are a lot more complicated than we like to imagine.

They can live in awe of what is around them, but they can also ignore things around them because they’re busy throwing a fit. They can naturally trust and say hello to complete strangers, or they can cower, run away, and scream any time they run into someone new. They can listen and follow instructions well, but they can also completely ignore you and look you in the eye while defying what you just said. They can prove to be a source of wisdom with their limited knowledge, but they can also try to authoritatively talk about things they have little knowledge about.

My point with all that is that kids are complicated and it is all too easy to derive too much out of this passage and what it means for us. We can take insights from it and I think the idea of dependance is a pretty solid concept to build off of, but it is hard to build concrete ideas out of the concept of childlike faith. Perhaps part of it is just realizing that the list above isn’t just a description of kids, it is a pretty accurate description of what I’m able to do as well.

I remember getting into a bit of a debate about what kind of media we should consume as Christians, and the person I was debating basically came to the conclusion that we shouldn’t do anything that we wouldn’t want kids doing. Now I assume given the context that his focus was we shouldn’t watch/listen/play/read what we wouldn’t want our kids to watch/listen/play/read, but I think that this concept is taking the idea of childlike faith too far.

This understanding of our faith in relationship to the faith of a child seems a bit too far. Parts of the Bible aren’t very family friendly and have parts that I wouldn’t necessarily want my kids to focus in on, would that mean that as an adult I still shouldn’t read those parts of the Bible? There are history books that involve the rather heinous acts that we as humans have done to each other that I wouldn’t want to expose my four year old to yet, but does that mean that I wouldn’t be able to read it? That it would be immoral?

Now I understand my arguments have been geared towards books that would be viewed as educational or enriching. What about media that is more for entertainment. Even this is a difficult place to draw firm lines. There is quite a significant amount of movies, books, and even video games that are presenting themes and stories that can be edifying, but placed within a messy world. A world that may or may not be every moral. Are these things I would want my kids involved with now? No, but later? Quite possibly.

This really breaks down if you exit the arena of what kind of media we consume. As adults we work, drive cars, have sex, and do many other things that we wouldn’t want our kids to be doing. If the belief is we can’t do anything that we wouldn’t want our kids doing is valid, then these would all be improper no matter the circumstances. This just doesn’t seem to be a tenable way of going about life.

So while presenting the idea of childlike faith as involving dependance upon God as a father, and other potential aspects that go along with being a child, we can easily take it a bit too far. If we turn childlike faith into something to achieve or some kind of list to adhere to then I think we have fundamentally missed what Jesus is getting at here.

It is not a call for another list of what we’re to embrace or avoid. It is a call to see ourselves as children. To place ourselves in dependence to God, and maybe in the process realizing that while we’re capable of childlike obedience and wonder, we’re just as capable of throwing tantrums and open defiance.

What is the Purpose of Preaching?

“What is the purpose of preaching?”

This is a question I was asked a number of times by my mentor and friend during our weekly meetings years ago. While I think it was a question intended to initiate thought on the topic, I also felt that it was a question that he too asked. Regardless, this question has stuck with me over the years.

I imagine that it is a question that many people would answer in different ways. The sheer volume of books that are about the topic indicate that there is no agreed upon one way or purpose behind preaching. I don’t even really feel that I know the answer to that question today.

While I don’t feel that I have what constitutes a complete answer, I have managed to come up with a few thoughts over the years.

The first of these thoughts is that a sermon is a reflection of life. What I mean by this is that a sermon should reflect the messiness of life. Far too often sermons I’ve heard tend to be prepackaged and engage life more from the vantage point of life as it should be, rather than life as it often is.

This can be done a number of ways in my mind. You can include stories from real life, both our own and from other sources (books, magazines, articles). Nothing reflects real life like a story from real life.

Even if you don’t want to invest the time in collecting stories, simply reading many of the stories in the Bible will present you with a picture that is not always an image of the ideal. Take the story of Abraham that I’ve been going through for some time. You have a story that presents a man of faith and trust in God alongside of doubt, lying, struggle, and selfishness. Simply making an effort to put the people of the Bible in the light they are presented can present a reflection of real life.

In addition to these, another way is to avoid overstatement, unless you’re trying to use hyperbole or a similar technique. I don’t think a sermon reflects life if we are making statements that don’t really reflect life, even spiritual life.I know Jesus employed hyperbole at times, so I think that’s fair, but too often I don’t think we’re really using hyperbole. We really believe some of the conflated statements that are placed within sermons, and that has troubled me over the years. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be difficult statements that come out of the Bible, we just have to be careful how we try to connect everything.

Moving on to my second thought regarding the purpose of a sermon, is that it leads more to God and the Bible than to answers. What do I mean by this? I’m simply meaning that too often sermons can come out as a list of what to do or not to do. Sometimes these lists can be answers that more reflect the person who is preaching the sermon than it does the conclusions (or sometimes lack of conclusion) that the Bible presents.

I think that the best sermons lead people to some answers, but maybe they lead to more questions than they do answers. I think in these cases the sermon itself doesn’t quench a thirst and hunger for God, but fuels it. Do we trust people to be able to wrestle with God and the text of the Bible? Or do we feel that we have to force feed the answers from the pulpit? Of course this often assumes that the one preaching has all the correct answers.

As I’ve already alluded to, most sermons that provide too many answers tend to be very moralistic in nature. It is more about doing the right actions and avoiding the wrong ones. As I’ve said elsewhere I worry that our focus on morality can hinder our focus on God and his grace. So continually hearing sermons on morality can too easily reduce our faith into rules to follow.

My third and final thought is that sermons will also bring light to the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is another phrase that can mean a number of things to different people. The way I’m using it here, is simply the work of God in the lives of the congregation: individually, corporately, as part of the larger local community, and beyond.

A sermon, in my mind, will seek to reveal God and his kingdom and challenge people to see God at work in the world around them. This is definitely connected to the first thought of a sermon reflecting life. If we adequately, by God’s grace, reflect life and reveal the kingdom of God, then we present the reality that God does really intervene in this world. He is present, even in ways we don’t understand, which is often the way God intervened even in the lives of those recorded in the Bible.

I think that the best sermons will try to give you glimpse of the kingdom of God within the messiness of real life, and have you hungry for more. It will challenge us to look beyond just ourselves as well, and see how God is at work building his kingdom around us. This moves us from simply trying to adhere to a moral checklist and challenges us to bring attitudes of grace, forgiveness, and humility into the world around us. That is a big challenge as I don’t think many of us do these things well naturally.

Those are my three ideas. As I said I doubt they’re comprehensive. They’re simply the best answers I’ve thought of over the last few years of thinking about this question. My thoughts are that the purpose of preaching is to reflect life, to lead us to seek God and His word more than simply seek after answers or morality, and finally to bring light to the Kingdom of God that is at work around us. Anybody else care to share what they think the purpose of preaching is? Feel free to share or to disagree with or add to my own thoughts.

Obedience to God is Not the Greatest Good

It is so easy to sort through the Christian faith and only find morality isn’t it? We focus on things like the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and other parts of the Bible and make lists and lists of rules. Some of which are directly connected to the Bible and others that are of a more supplemental nature.

I remember being a young Christian trying to sort through all of the rules. I had run into many rules that some Christians called being obedient to God, that I didn’t understand the foundation of. Where did God forbid dancing, alcohol, gambling, and Harry Potter? While I understood some of the reasons behind such ideas, it was one thing to give a reasoned account of why something could be dangerous and another to say that God absolutely forbids it and would be angry with us for doing it. In this kind of framework obedience to God is the most important thing.

I’ve been thinking about the idea that obedience to God is the greatest hallmark of our faith, and I’m not sure I believe it. This thought process started mainly because of the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. A lot of people praise Abraham for obeying God, even for such a difficult request. At times though this looks to others like blind obedience that isn’t nearly as appealing. In fact, some people who praise Abraham are also looking for blind obedience to the words they speak, because they claim they are also directly from God.

While I would not want to jettison obedience from the Christian faith, I wonder if the emphasis should be placed somewhere else. Did Abraham obey out of blind submission to God or was there something more going on here? I would say that ultimately Abraham’s ability to obey was more connected to his knowledge of God and a trust, faith, respect, and even love for God. It is this trust, respect, and love for God that is our ultimate calling in my opinion.

Obedience to someone doesn’t mean that we trust them, respect them, or love them. We can obey bosses that we don’t respect, because we want to keep our job. Sometimes we obeyed our parents not out of love or respect, but because we wanted them to leave us alone. For those who now have kids I’m sure that we can see times when our own kids do the same.

It is not hard to obey God out of that same motivation. We can easily come to view God as the one servant in the parable of the talents did in Matthew 25:14-30. God becomes “a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed,” and causes us to “become afraid” and we do little so we don’t get him angry.

Being obedient can also be used to get our way on things. This reminded me of Tim Keller’s book The Prodigal God where he talks about obedience as a way to have God owe us. “You can avoid Jesus as Savior by keeping all the moral laws. If you do that, then you have ‘rights.’ God owes you answered prayers, and a good life, and a ticket to heaven when you die. You don’t need a Savior who pardons you by free grace, for you are your own Savior. ”

Again here we have an obedience that isn’t out of a trust, respect, or love for God. In this case it isn’t out of a fear of God, but rather trying to earn good things through our obedience. We obey out of a desire to get a reward and think that more obedience will equal more rewards.

It is this train of thought that leads me to conclude that obedience is not the end we are seeking to achieve as Christians. Obedience will be part of the Christian life, but if it becomes the end it can be done to avoid punishment or get reward. This kind of obedience can be disconnected from trust, respect, or love. As Jesus says in Matthew 22:37-40, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus views love of God as the great and first commandment, not obedience. Again, I do think that the love of God will lead us to concrete ways of expressing that love. This will probably even look a lot like obedience. However, obedience is not the final destination. The destination is love of God. It is being able to love, trust, and respect God. This is greater than both our obedience and our sins.

Does Going to Church Make You Moral?

Last week the internet, or at least certain parts of it, were ablaze at the comments of Sylvia Allen’s offhand remark about mandatory church attendance. With the righteous indignation directed against the remark, I guess some people thought it was a serious attempt to pass a bill or law to make it a reality? Regardless, my point here isn’t to add to chorus of people demeaning that comment, but rather to think about the idea under her suggestion. Does going to church make you moral?

My short answer is no, there is no guarantee of it. Simply going to church or getting a friend or relative to go to church isn’t a guarantee that you or they will be shaped by the morality of the Bible. While it might be nice to assume that going to church makes people moral, it isn’t that simple.

Part of the problem is how do we even measure morality? We are all flawed in our interpretations of Scripture. We all have parts that we hit accurately, and other parts that we may not have down. We may even ignore some parts or Scripture rather willingly.

Let’s give a rather simplified example. Imagine a church that had a great reputation of caring for the poor. They had a food pantry, supported a local homeless shelter, and even helped the unemployed find jobs if they could. Yet at this church, there was gossip and division among the church members. There was rampant pride, backstabbing, and pettiness among members despite their great presence in the community.

Now imagine a church that got along great. There was little division and gossip. Everyone felt like part of the church family and knew each other well. Yet this church did very poorly at reaching out to anyone new. They weren’t involved in their community very much. While they’d take care of needs for those in the church, their outreach was nonexistent either in physical or spiritual ways.

Now between these two churches which has a better morality? How do we measure and order it? They both have flaws, but which is greater or which is lesser? It’s really hard to say and the answer will depend on who we ask. Yet this is the kind of issue we face when we think about morality in the church.

Even if we were able to agree with what a Christian morality would look like and we were right, the reality is that going to church is not going to guarantee a shift. Not everyone who heard the teaching of Jesus accepted those teachings with open arms. In fact some of the religious leaders were so against it that they sought to kill Jesus. While this may not compare directly to modern day church, it does show that simply listening and being in proximity to something does not always cause change in the direction we want.

What ultimately bugs me about the idea that going to church is the way to make people more moral is that the church isn’t really about making people moral. It is about making people followers of Christ. While there will be intersection between these two ideas, they are not the same. Learning how to follow Christ involves a realization that we can’t live up to any kind of moral perfection and that we have the need to rely on God’s grace. And even with that goal, simply going to a church once a week isn’t necessarily going to cause that to happen.

The early church often endured accusations of immorality in their earliest gatherings. From my understanding they were viewed as atheists (because they worshiped without the statues and idols used in Roman religion), accused of being cannibals (due the language surrounding communion/Lord’s Supper), and accused of incest (because of the language of fellow believers as brother and sister) among other complaints. Being a part of the church wasn’t necessarily considered to be the moral thing to do from a Roman point of view. It was ultimately about following Christ not about being considered moral.

So this is why any dream of church attendance being the answer to morality is flawed, in my view. Christianity isn’t primarily focused on being considered moral, it is to be focused on following Christ. Even if that focus is correct, it is no guarantee that attendance will make any lasting impact. The whole picture of our faith, life, and how people come to God is more complex than that.

Morality: Friend or Foe to Christianity?

Soon after I became a Christian I remember an exchange that I had in defense of my new found faith. During that exchange I stated that even if what I believe in is wrong it would still help me be a moral person. My line of thought, at that time, was that Christianity at its heart was about making people moral.

Over the years my line of thinking has changed on that. I can certainly see why my young Christian mind viewed things the way it did, but I think that Christianity is about a lot more than simple morality. In fact sometimes I wonder if morality is a friend or a foe to Christianity. That may seem a strange way of putting it to some, but let me explain what I mean.

Let’s first start with the idea of morality as friend to Christianity. This is probably a more comfortable place for many of us to start. I don’t think it is a hard case to make that Christianity is related to morality in a positive way many times. A popular example of this would be the Ten Commandments.

We often view The Ten Commandments as the bedrock of morality in following God. There are ideas in there which are also reflected in our more popular culture, like not murdering, stealing, or committing adultery. In addition to these ideas, there are also a morality, of sorts, that is unique to the Bible which refer to only following God, not taking the Lord’s name in vain and keeping the Sabbath.

These aren’t the only laws that are found within the Old Testament or the Bible as a whole, but it is a fairly well known example that morality is part of following God and is displayed as something that we should strive after. It also displays that following God has it’s own peculiar sort of morality. There are aspects of the morality that would have broad appeal and can be found outside of faith, but at the same time there are parts of this morality that is very unique and focused in on the life of faith.

Moving out of the Old Testament you can still see morality presented as a positive by Jesus and in the Epistles. The Sermon on the Mount often builds off the morality of the Ten Commandments, but seeks to drive things much deeper than the surface. For example Jesus talks about even hating someone as being equivalent to murder in Matthew 5:21-26. He takes something that many people might claim to have never done, like murder, and reveals that even what we’ve been thinking and feeling about other people matters just as much as the actual physical act.

I’m could give you more examples of how morality is positively connected to Christianity, but I think this should be sufficient to lay out some groundwork for that position. What about the idea of morality as an enemy to Christianity? Is there any evidence of that being the case?

I would argue that there is. Even with Jesus’ comments in the Sermon of the Mount, is his equating of hatred to murder, simply to get us to be moral people or is there something else that he is getting at? What if the whole concept was to strip away the idea that we could be moral in the first place? That even if we haven’t murdered someone we may have still broken that commandment in our hearts and minds. Is this simply to get us to control our minds and feelings better? Maybe, but maybe it is showing us that complete morality, at least according to God, will always be out of our reach.

If this is true, this changes the landscape quite a bit. If this is what Jesus is getting at, then if we think we are moral individuals, we are going to have a hard time understanding the need for Jesus in the first place. This is what happened with a few people who Jesus interacted with. They appeared to think that they were moral, but this made them blind to their own need and the limits of their morality.

One such group that seemed to often demonstrate this kind of attitude were the Pharisees. An example of one of these interactions is Mark 2:13-17. Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners and the Pharisees were wondering why Jesus was eating with them. Jesus responds to this question by saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” I’m not so sure that Jesus is saying that the Pharisees are healthy or righteous, but more that Jesus has come for those who are able to acknowledge their sin and illness.

Another example, although it is slightly more complicated, is the rich young ruler seen in Mark 10:17-27. Here is a man who comes to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds by telling him to keep the commandments. The man responds by saying that he has kept all of these since he was young. Yet Jesus tells him he lacks one thing, and that he needs to give away all of his wealth and follow him.

Now as I said this is a more complicated situation, but I think we see a situation similar to the Pharisees. I would say the young man is sincere in his question to Jesus, and is also sincere in his belief that he has kept the commandments since he was young. The young ruler also seems to be wealthy and powerful, which has been taken, both then and even now, as signs of God’s favor. Yet, despite all this, Jesus is saying that he still lacks something. Jesus isn’t denying the man’s morality or sincerity, but saying that even with what he has he will not earn eternal life on his own terms.

In these cases, morality seems to be a hindrance to the life of faith. It hinders us from seeing what God is doing around us. We begin to believe that our own efforts are good enough. It can even cause us to view those who don’t share our morality as beneath us. This morality can develop into an illness, even though we think we’re perfectly healthy.

So is morality ultimately a friend or a foe? It honestly seems to me like it can be both. If we begin to think that morality is the goal of the Christian life, like I did when I first became a Christian, then I think it can turn into a quite deadly foe. It will lead us to pride and a reliance on our own efforts. It can lead to judgment and an overall lack of grace to other people.

While morality can become a great foe, I personally think it is impossible to divorce morality from our faith. Striving to be like Christ is a goal put forward to us by the Scriptures, and holds a certain morality inherent in that goal. Yet, at the same time our following of Christ involves two conflicting realities about morality.

One reality is that we should desire to follow the laws and commandments of God. The other is that we are incapable of doing this fully. We have our areas where we may succeed more than others. We also have our own particular struggles. It is here that we need more than just morality, rule following, and our own efforts. What we need is the love and grace of God that Jesus came to demonstrate in its fullest.

If we hold onto that love and grace, then morality can be a great friend to our faith. If the love and grace of God is absent from our faith, then morality can turn into a great foe. One who will burden our own lives under missed expectations, and cause us to be severe to anyone who fails to live up to the standards that we are able to keep.

Underestimating Pride

“Do you think that we underestimate pride?” This was a question that I posed to my wife, Kristen, the other day. It was a question that was more brought about by inner thoughts than it was from the conversation that we were having. Asking such questions unprovoked was not an unusual occurrence for me, and Kristen reacted in her normal way. She simply looked at me in a way that said “Where did that come from?” While her actual response eludes me it was something along the lines of “Probably.”

Probably is a good answer. However, why can pride be such a bad thing and why is this so overlooked? Honestly, I think we can all think of ways that pride can be a bad thing. We’ve probably all come across a specimen of the human race who thinks they know it all and/or that they’re the best, and that everyone who disagrees with them are ignorant morons. This can arise in pretty much any person regardless of belief or organizational loyalty. Now while this may be the extreme of how pride is a negative, the more common display of this is simply believing that we’re better than others. It may be because of wealth, looks, education, work ethic, beliefs or some combination of these things. The problem with this is that it often takes an over-inflated view of yourself or your “side” and relies on stereotypes, name calling, and inadequate descriptions of others or their “side.”

For the Christian I believe this takes on another dimension. Pride shouldn’t have much of a place in the Christian life. We are all reliant on the grace of God and are only Christian because of following Him and we are only able to follow Him because Jesus died on the cross for our wrongdoing and rebellion against God. How often though do we act as if we’re Christians due to our morality and by what we do or do not do? I’m not saying that this isn’t part of the equation, but it is not the root of Christianity.

The root of Christianity is the love of God forgiving those who were unable to make up for the wrongs they have done. Those people are you and me. When we change the focus to morality we can easily look down on anyone who doesn’t ascribe to our brand of morality, which usually has components that are purely man-made. That is pride. It is pride against God because we think that it is our morality that saves us. It is also pride against others because we act as if we did this on our own and that those around us should be able to get with the program. We think that we are better than others, and that is not the message of Jesus. His message is that we are all in the same boat and the only determining factor is God’s intervention in our lives.

To wrap up why pride is bad it is because it messes with relationships in two dimensions. In our dealings with God it can falsely reduce His actions in our lives and over-exaggerate our own ability to follow and please God. In our relationship with others pride overestimates our own situation and views and underestimates and belittles other situations and points of view. This breaks down any sort of communication and results in people who look down on each other.

Why is pride so overlooked? I don’t know entirely but I have two thoughts. First, is that our idea of pride is not always a bad thing. There is a sense in which pride is used as just being content with the work that one has done. Like being proud of an art project or of a child’s accomplishment. It isn’t always a bad thing until we start thinking that we or our child is better than other people. There is a healthy degree of satisfaction that should come from accomplishments, but there is a dark side to be aware of on these things.

The second reason I think that pride is so overlooked is the idea of truth. When we hold a particular view of truth we want to defend that truth. In that defense though we can often become proud and give ourselves the higher ground. This is done with the Christian who looks down on those who are not Christians, the atheist who looks down on any person who claims to follow religion, the tolerant person who looks down on those who disagree with their ideas on tolerance, or the person of one political party looking down on people of the other political party.

This may all be easy to say, but ultimately it can be tough to avoid pride. It is so easy to look at another person and say that you are better than them for any given reason. The reality is though that we are all different, we come from different backgrounds, situations, cultures, and upbringings. The irony is that the very thing that we’re so proud of compared to another person, may very well be the thing that the other person is proud that they don’t have. Ultimately, the bottom line is that pride divides, it divides us from one another as we look down on others lives and beliefs, and it also divides us from God because we shift the focus to what we do rather than what God has done. I know that I have to be careful of pride, and I can imagine that I’m not alone.

Liberty, Morality, and Moderation: Part 2 – A Life of Fences.

As a young Christian I was introduced to the idea of fences. These fences would keep me from the evil and wickedness in the world and keep me dedicated to following God. This seemed wise at the time, but it led me to believe that even if God wasn’t true, that a good byproduct of Christianity was that I’d be a moral person. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to disagree with this conclusion and also with the method to a certain extent.

Morality is an interesting subject in the Bible. The two places I think of first when dealing with morality in the Bible are The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). There are other places to be sure, but these are the ones that spring to mind first. Reading these it is hard to come away and not be challenged, particularly with regards to the Sermon on the Mount. However, this leads to an interesting question.

What is the point of these passages? Is it to challenge us so that we strive to be better people? Or is it to challenge us to understand our human sinfulness and wickedness and turn to God’s mercy, grace, and love? I think many Christians would agree that it is so that we can understand our human sinfulness and wickedness and turn to God’s mercy, grace, and love.

However, in my own experience I’m not sure that is what I’ve seen by the actions of a lot of Christians (myself included). It seems that once we’ve become Christians we put a lot more energy into trying to live out these moral and ethical codes, than we do in talking about God’s grace and mercy and how we need it in our lives. In this energy to live out these moral and ethical codes in order to please God, the fence building starts. This is where things can go down healthy or unhealthy paths.

There is a place for morality in the Christian life. We are in relationship with the God who created the universe and loved us while we were rebellious. There should be a gratitude and change of our behavior that reflects that. Just like after marriage there will most likely be a change of behavior that reflects our relationship to our spouse. It will never be a perfect change, we will do things simply out of duty sometimes and other times we’ll not do what we should at all. This is not necessarily unhealthy, because it is real, and it requires us to continually rely on the grace, mercy, and love of God. However, it can get very unhealthy if we start building fences and changing not due to an outflow of a relationship, but in a belief that following a set of rules will result in acceptance and not following would lead to rejection. When we start doing that, we often begin to make rules that are not even based in the Scriptures directly and can forget about the grace, mercy, and love that God showed to us in the first place. Our fences lead us down the dangerous path of works righteousness.

This was the flaw of the Pharisees. They dedicated their lives to God’s law, but forgot, or never realized in the first place, that they were not perfect. They forgot grace, mercy, and love because they only focused on truth and law (a good number of which were of their own making). I think we often find ourselves in the same place as the Pharisees in the church. We work so hard building fences to keep the “immoral culture” out of our churches and out of our lives that we forget it is our own hearts that are wicked. The sad thing is that sometimes these fences keep people who need to hear the Gospel out of our lives and out of our churches.

This makes me think of Robert Frost’s poem the Mending Wall, and the saying “good fences make good neighbors.” The question becomes why do they make good neighbors? I think it is easy to take this saying as a positive, but I wonder if that is really what Frost is getting at, because later in the poem he continues:

“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.'”

In our rush to build fences to we ever ask what we are walling in or walling out? Do we ever ask who we may be offending by the building of our fences? Even more startling is the beginning line of his poem, which is “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” This phrase is repeated twice and in all honesty while Frost may be talking about the damage of weather and time to real walls, I think there is something to this for the fences that we build in our own lives. That God will try to break them down, that he is the something there that doesn’t love a wall. He has already come to break down the walls and offer His grace to all. Why are we so intent on rebuilding them?

Mending Wall – Poets.org – Text of The Mending Wall