Getting Lost in Our Obligations - Nehemiah 10-13
Many years ago, a young man was tasked with a few of his friends to dam a small stream with sand bags. They learnt to fill sand bags, to beat them into shape, to lay them like bricks, and to do it so they eventually created a small dam allowing the stream could continue to flow. The owner saw what a good job they did and asked them to now do something more permanent. He supplied them with materials to fill sand bags, so they became concrete, and let them get on with rebuilding the dam. Out of their enthusiasm and new-found confidence they set to work. Several weeks later, others down stream complained to the owner the stream had dried up. He went and saw the dam, which was now twice the size of the original, and had virtually flooded his entire paddock.
Too often we get caught up in our enthusiasm and lose sight of the reality before us. It happens in all aspects of life. We become enthused by a social justice issue, and suddenly everything else is lost in the enthusiasm to advocate the cause. We find a new car or piece of machinery, and suddenly every other car or machinery we ever owned is woefully inadequate. We find a health solution that works for us, and now everyone who has the slightest inclination towards our health worry needs to try it out. We so often get caught up in the enthusiasm of something new that we lose perspective.
One can’t help but see this in the latter chapters of Nehemiah. These vitally important chapters set up the scene for Jesus’ ministry 400 years later. Nehemiah, who is now governor of Jerusalem, works with Ezra, the leaders, and the people, to set in place systems that are designed to ensure hey don’t sin and fall from God’s grace again. It was their inability to follow the covenant that led to the exile, and having now rediscovered the covenant, or the law, they enthusiastically and intentionally set in place structures to protect the people from their own misadventure. It puts into place the influence of the Pharisees, Scribes, religious leaders and other factions at the time of Jesus. They were trying to protect Israel from its own mistakes.
We do this in the church too often. We get caught up in an enthusiasm over certain programs or projects, and suddenly everything else in the church is subordinate to it. We become overly concerned with certain theological nuances while allowing other just as important theological things to subordinate themselves to this. We impose upon each other certain expectations without giving room for God’s grace to allow us to flourish as He intends. In our enthusiasm we lose perspective and skew what God is doing among us. We begin to expect God to conform to our view of the world, rather than allowing Him to show us a wonderful world lived under His unconditional grace.
As church, the best gift we can give to the world is one of balance and grace. Rather than imposing upon others moral expectations, legalism, or the demand of works and performance, we can show love and grace that affirms who God has made people to be. Sure, we need to point out the distortions and brokenness that inflicts pain and suffering upon unrealised lives, but it is God’s grace that saves, not the law. Being enthusiastic about God’s grace is a far more powerful and rewarding message than insisting that the law or our actions are required before we discover God’s love for us. It is by grace that we are saved, least anyone boast of what they have done.