Thoughts on Nehemiah

“The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah” (Nehemiah 1:1)

Have you ever noticed that in the Bible there are no last names?  Instead they refer to themselves by the father that they belong to.  This identification set them apart from other people and signified many things about who they were, including social strata and character (“Oh! You’re his kid).  The significance of this truth was never made more clear to me than when my youngest son was playing pee-wee football. For years he had wanted to play this sport, so when he got old enough, we signed him up. At first it was flag football. Then, a year later, it was tackle. That meant he dressed out in full pads for games and practices and belied the image of an athlete, though it was easily apparent he was not one.

This fact did not bother me, though, because I saw what a good teammate my son could be. He was always the kid encouraging his peers, telling them they’ll do better next time, providing optimism in the midst of disappointment. He liked to make people laugh, if he could, and he enjoyed having fun. However, when it was game time, “fun” sometimes included playing on the sidelines with a friend, instead of standing next to the coach, as he had been repeatedly instructed to do, so that he could be sent into the game at a moments notice.

As a result of “goofing off” during game time, his coaches often became upset they could not find him when they needed a sub. This often resulted in the refrain, “HOWELL!” (no response from my kid) “HOWELL!” (still no response as he is deep in make believe). Then something inaudible from the coach to an assistant as they sent in a different player and the assistant went and gently guided my son to the coach.

After seeing this occur for more than one game, I said to him after a game one day, “Let me ask you a question, son. What does it say on the back of your jersey?”

“Howell,” he said.

“That’s right,” I acknowledged. “That means that each time you step out there on that field you are representing me and your mother. People recognize you as our kid. And your behavior says what kind of parents we are. When people hear you being yelled for by the coach and you don’t respond, people hear your name, but they look over at us. Now, I know you’re a good kid. All I want you to do is show people how good a kid you are by doing what the coach says.”

I am not sure if he got this lesson, or even if he remembers this talk. But later, as I reflected on this discipline of my son, I remembered that as a Christian I, too, am a child of God. You are a child of God. But we must all be careful.  Questions about our character, goals, choices, or values are not about us.  They are about how well our Father has fathered us.  If our life is indistinguishable from the non-Christians’, then we reflect a Father who has taught us to compromise with the neighboring pagans.  But if our actions reflect the teaching and wisdom of Christ, if others can listen to your words and recognize the voice of God, then you will not only be set apart as a member of a distinguishable family, but you will also demonstrate the perfection and holiness of  God – our Father.

It is not enough to be a good teammate of the other Christians around you. It is not enough to have fun and enjoy looking like a strong and able Christian. It is not enough to enjoy the joy of fellowship or worshiping God. Who knows? Maybe, if we are paying attention, standing beside the coach to be used at a moment’s notice, we will hear the coach calling for us and get into the game.

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