Sermon: "The Godly Home"

First in "The Parenting Challenge" Series,
Delivered April 24, 2005 by Rev. John Schmidt.
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3

Theme: Families are incredibly important. So we need to work hard on establishing godly families. Every parent is an evangelist by: Modeling the God-centered life, Passing on the Truth, and Setting Good Priorities.

audio The audio file of this sermon is available for download and listening in MP3 format.
Sermon Text: Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Sermon Notes are at the end.

The first five books of the Bible present to us this early experience of Israel as they discovered their history of what God had done through their ancestors. And it describes this special relationship, a relationship we call a covenantal relationship, because there is an actual agreement between God and humanity, and that's talked about in the first five books of the Bible. And this relationship, this covenant, this agreement talks about how God makes certain commitments to us and how we make certain commitments back to God. And so, the old part of the Bible, well it's all old to us now, but the older part, the Old Testament is a description of this first agreement for the nation of Israel. And we are now living in what we call the New Covenant. That's a new agreement that has come through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So the words we are going to hear though since it's part of the same agreement, the same God who is relating to us in humanity. There are many things we can learn from this early relationship, 3,500 years old, a relationship between God and his people. And this part of the covenant that we are going to read from Deuteronomy 6, verses 4 to 9, these verses talk specifically about our response as families to what God has offered to us. So let's hear the words of Deuteronomy 6, verses 4 to 9.

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates."

Now for the next three weeks we are going to be talking about parenting, the challenge of parenting. I usually like to talk about things that affect all of us equally. You know, when you talk about anger or a need for forgiveness, about prayer, that's things that apply to everybody whether you know you are younger or older, whether you have children or not, whether you are married or not, but some things are so important that we have to talk about it even though we are all not in the same stage or place of life and that issue, one of those issues that we have to deal with is the issue of parenting. And that's because families for the good or for ill have a phenomenal power over our lives. We come from a good family and we have responded well to what God has done through that family. And then we have a certain resilience that no matter what life throws against us we can survive, and we can prosper, and we can even thrive, because of the things that were built into us through those years, through those experiences and those relationships we have in the family. And if a family is really bad, then we can spend the rest of our lives trying to heal from those wounds. So it's really important for us to be serious about what it means to be parents.

Forming a healthy family is important work. There are some things that God only does through the family and so I think it is important that we recognize that there are some things that God wants to do through parents that he is not going to do by you dragging them to church. Now that's important, for us all to be at church, but we are here to support the family in what it is doing. You can see from the verses we just read that there is a central responsibility of the family for what God is doing in our lives. Families are incredibly important and God created it to be that way and that's good. That is part of the special thing that God is doing through you; shaping your children, giving them skills, teaching them about relationships, and tempering who they are as people. That's all part of your role. And part of your role too is that every parent is an evangelist, the primary evangelist that God has given to the life of your children. Now the church can help. Great youth events can help. A good Sunday school can help, but you are still God's primary spokesman, spokesperson to them. And so we need help. This is an important part of life.

You know in the baptismal vows we take in the Presbyterian Church when we bring our children up for baptism, the family assumes the responsibility to raise the child up in what we say in old language, the nurture and admonition of the Lord. That means to encourage them by the word of God and by what we experience in Christ Jesus and then to correct them by what we learn in the word of God and what we experience in our relationship with God. And then the congregation says "yeah, we will help you with that" and that's the biblical balance. So since there is so much responsibility there we need to think about what it means to be parents and to be that evangelist and to what it means to make a Godly home. And so we are going to look into this passage in Deuteronomy and take a look at some of the things that it teaches us.

I want to look in the first few verses again, verses 4, 5 and 6.

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give to you today are to be upon your hearts."

The first responsibility in parenting is to model what it means to have a God-centered life; to model it even before we speak it. This is a reality check. You know, no amount of talking, no amount of bringing people to church, no amount of paying high tuition to send your kids to good school is going to make up for the fact that you don't model what it means to be a Christian family. Now, we can look at some obvious things, you know the parents who drive up to church and drop their kids off to go to Sunday school and to church and then they go over to Starbucks. They are modeling something. They are modeling the fact that church and religious things are for kids and when they grow up this is what they will be doing. Now, I can't preach to those people because they are at Starbucks right now.

But even those of us who are actually here at church, we've got to think about what we are modeling, not right now, but what are we modeling on Tuesday at 7:30 in the evening, about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, to follow him. What do we do at 6:00 in the morning? What do they see of us when we encounter a difficulty, how do we handle that? What's our response? How do we approach God? How do we approach each other in those times of stress? We are modeling what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Do they see us pray? Do they hear us pray? Do we pray together? Do they see us study the Word? Do they understand that we see ourselves and our story as disciples, as parents, as being inside of the big story of what God is doing in the world? What do we model to our kids?

I have a good friend that I knew when I was in Inner Varsity and worked with him and he had a great respect for his parents because they modeled certain things about what it meant to be a Christian family. Now, I didn't have that same experience. I didn't have the same modeling and God thankfully came and worked graciously anyway, but he had so much more and I am going to talk about him again in a second. But this idea of modeling is important. We can't be telling our kids, "be a disciple of Jesus Christ, be serious about God" and then not be serious ourselves. So the first part of building a Godly home is to be a Godly person, to seek God and to seek God's faith. What's it say here? "Love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength with everything that you are."

That's the first part. But it is important then to talk with our kids about what it means to be a Christian. So, the second part of this it says, impress them, meaning these commandments, these truths about God, impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. It's important to share our faith with our kids. But this word "impress" kind of scares me when I first see it because I have this image that you sit your kids down in a straight back chair in a darkened room, you put lights on them and you know you say, "This is the truth". That's not the model here. It's a natural thing. This is a joyful thing. Let me go back to that friend that I worked with when he was a student at the University of New Orleans. He had a family that when they would go on vacation trips they were together as they were on the road and their mother would read "The Upper Room" or some other devotional books, and then they would pray together as a family and they would hear their parents pray for the family, for the vacation, for the future, for God's protection and all of these things and this was just a fun and expected part of their family life. And so there they are going down the road 65 mph praying, hopefully with their eyes open and it's part of what shaped him. They are modeling, but also what they are saying to them as they read these things as they discuss them together.

Debbie and I on family vacations or when we itinerate in the car as missionaries, we would read Christian books to our kids in the car. We would read the "Chronicles of Narnia". We would read books by Madeline L'Engle and then we would sometimes have them draw pictures of what they were hearing in the book and all, and we would talk about these things. I can remember times when the kids just didn't want us to stop because they had to hear what happened to Adeline, what happens next in the story and this is all part of what we do naturally and it's fun. So we don't have to buy that DVD player for our van, because this is an opportunity for us to relate together and for us to transfer to a new generation the legacy of what God has given to us and to prepare them for their future with God.

So there are these natural moments; watching basketball and if somebody acts out, you can say, "Is that a good thing to do? What's wrong with that?" Or if they do something good and they handle thing in a very sportsmanlike matter you can talk about that. Anybody here ever see Mystery Science Theater? Yeah, okay. I love those little cartoon characters on the front that are making all these caustic comments about how bad the movie is. Well, we used to do that about commercials and TV shows as a family, but about Christian related things. You know, you see a beer commercial and I would say to the kids, "Oh yeah genius. Sure if you buy the right beer you will get the right woman. Everybody knows that." It's these teachable moments, the natural times in our life when we can help reflect on what the cultures trying to plan out. Yes we are supposed to impress things on them, but we are constantly being impressed by a message from our culture, and we as parents have to help our kids stand against that, to think through from a Christian world view what's happening around them.

It might be a nightly devotional with our kids. When they are really small we just pray God's blessing on them. When they get a little older, we actually start to try to teach them pray, maybe teach them prayers for them to memorize. Now, my family did a lot of things right and a lot of things wrong in raising me, but one of the things they did right is my mom taught me to pray, and I can still remember the prayer that my mom taught me when I was probably 3 or 4 years old.

God bless mommy and daddy, Kirby and Betty, grandma and grandpa and Uncle Sandy and Aunty Joyce, Aunty Lilly and Aunty Marney and make me a good, good boy.

You know what my mom's agenda was for me? I think there was an exclamation point on that part. But even after she stopped praying with me, I would pray that prayer. It didn't always mean anything to me. I wasn't really a Christian until I went to college, but that foundation was still meaningful in shaping who I was as a person, and we have that role in the lives of our children.

There is another way that we shape them and we produce a Godly home. Let's go to the next few verses here. It says, "tie them," again talking about these laws, these commandments, these things that God has revealed about themselves, "Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses, and on your gates." This whole picture is that this is really important stuff. It's got to permeate our family. This is a high priority thing, this relationship with God and the things that grow out of this relationship to God, and so the way we set priorities in life are part of us establishing a Godly home.

Now, it's not easy to set priorities, but it's an important part of what we do and if I can only find a little piece of paper that I had here, I could talk a little bit more carefully about it. Well, I will talk about it even though I don't have quote in front of me. There is a guy named Joe Roseman who is a psychologist and he was in front of group of about 450 people in North Carolina and he was asking them, "Show me your hands" is what he said "if you could do one thing that would reduce the stress in your family, would help with the discipline problems, help your kids with their homework and help them have a more enjoyable childhood all by doing one thing, would you do it?" Four hundred and fifty hands went up. He said, "Okay then, take your kids out of all after-school activities. Martial arts, music class, sports whatever it is, take them out, because it will do all of those things. How many people want to do it?" He looked around and no one raised their hands. There were 450 sets of eyeballs just looking at him. What's he talking about? Now I am not saying we should cut everything like that out of our lives at all. Part of our vision of being a church is that we are engaged with the culture around us.

I would like you to not only be involved, but be coaches for soccer teams and involved in scout troops and music classes and all, but there comes a point where it is too much. I had a family who had a daughter who got good at soccer and so all of sudden something that was two hours a week became every afternoon and then it became all of Saturday, then all of Saturday and Sunday as she started going to these tournaments all over the state. It took all of her free time away. It took her church attendance away, her involvement with the youth group. It was all sucked up for a soccer team. We've got to set some priorities. And so there are times when we've got to say, 'No' to good things because there are others things that are better. Sometimes we have to say 'no' in order to strengthen our families.

One of the decisions that Debbie and I made early in our marriage, is that we were going to have dinners together as a family. So that meant that I wasn't going to schedule things across dinner and as our kids got older, we wouldn't let them schedule things across dinner either. We had a few rough patches about that, but basically we just accepted the fact that this is the time we talk together as a family and we enjoyed that for years and, in fact, pretty much till the kids got into high years of high school.

We also made the decision to have Friday night be family night. That wasn't because our kids needing that, no obviously we stopped doing this as they got into high school and late junior high. We started to negotiate on that, but particularly when they were younger that was a discipline for Debbie and I because we could have been doing other things. But we made the decision that it was important for us to be home and so that was the night that we played games with them, we did art projects with them, we popped the popcorn and pulled out the candy. Now, I would always distribute the candy, you know the M&Ms four at a time. I am the candy grinch. I can make a little pack of M&Ms last for half a movie. So they would throw me the candy and I would divide it and we would pop the popcorn, have this time together, but this was a discipline for Debbie and I because we were going to be together with them. We need to set priorities.

Now think about all the tensions that come in to our families because we don't set priorities, because we pack too much in and so the good, or the kind of good, starts to crowd out the best and so we have these situations where we've got so many things packed into the afternoon that we are yelling at our kids, "Hurry up", "Do this", "Eat that", "Get off the phone", "We've got to go to this or we've got to go to that" and at the end of the day we feel like glorified taxi drivers or slave drivers. Why? Because we didn't say no to some things, in order to say yes to others.

Okay, now we need to think about the way we actually live our lives day-to-day in view of something that Annie Dilliard, an author has said to us. She says this and I think it has a lot of wisdom.

"How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives."

You can't imagine yourself spending your life in some kind of positive way that isn't reflected on the way you are living today and yesterday. This is the only life you are living. The one we are living today. What does your day look like in terms of the priorities that we see God gives us in scripture?

Now there is one other thing that's in this passage and it's in the same two final verses. It says this, "Tie them, these commandments, these things revealed about God, tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads." Write them on the doorframes of your house and on your gates." This whole idea of having these reminders in life, these symbols in life, that remind of us what our story really is and how our story relates to God's big story. Where are we in relationship to God and to one another? We need symbols of that and so for the Jewish family, one of those symbols was the one that they put on the door post and they call it the Mezuzahs and it's a little container and inside it are the very verses we read today.

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, is one Lord and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, your mind and your strength".

And so every time they would go in and out of the house they would have that reminder right there, "We are a covenant people. We are in relationship to the creator of the world and the one who has made an agreement with us and this means that we shape our lives certain ways and they had that reminder there."

Now a reminder is not enough. We need the power of the Holy Spirit. That is why we have a new covenant. But even those of us who have experienced God and have committed our lives to Jesus Christ, we still need those symbols and reminders. That's why Jesus gave us the Lord's Supper. We need a symbol and a reminder of how we fit into God's story. That's why we have baptism. It's a sign, a symbol. But we have symbols at home too. One of the signs, one of the symbols, one of the practices that we could have is that of saying grace. That's an easy one. That's one that we all know about. It reminds us every time we eat that we are dependent upon God and that God is the giver of every good thing.

But there are other things as well. In our house there is a special chair where I have my quiet time and it is surrounded with all the books and pens and everything I need for that. And every time I sit there I am reminded that this is where my priorities start to surface and I focus on God, my Father. I can't do that in my office. When I go in my office there are other symbols that work; the computer, and the emails, 69, 80, 105 e-mails waiting for me. And then there are the books that are reminding me of all of the leadership stuff and the telephone there that says I have 11 messages waiting. That's not the place where I can settle down, but that chair is. It's a sign; it's a symbol that reminds me. It gives me a good habit.

There are other ways too that we can mezuzah our universe. One of the ways is to decorate our houses with stories and not just with things. Our Christmas tree has ornaments on it that don't remind us of the sale in Wal-Mart, but remind us of people who have given us these gifts, grandparents and great-grandparents. It reminds us of trips we took because when we take a trip we buy an inexpensive little ornament and write down when we did it and it's a reminder of oh yes we went to Cape Cod or we went to New York or Cold Bay, Japan. And so there is a story there and it reminds us of who we are as a family and it reminds us also of God because many of those point us to our relationship with Jesus Christ. We can decorate with things. Things that matter because somebody made it for us or because somebody served us in some of way.

I want to share with you two of my mezuzahs; two symbols of who I am, who we are as a family. This is the first one. This is my journal that I am using right now, but it was made for me by my daughter and she made it out of scrap paper. Now today is earth day, so it's one of those times when we can celebrate the fact that it is recycled paper too. But it's particularly; it's the wrapping from her laundry at Davidson. You see at Davidson, part of the billion dollars you spend to go to Davidson, goes to their laundry service. They do your laundry at Davidson. All of you college seniors, Davidson, okay for laundry. I hounded my daughter for four years about the fact that she went to Davidson not for an education, but for a laundry service. So she took the wrappings of her laundry and saved it and made me this of a laundry wrapper. And its not only a reminder of my relationship with her and how I joke with her, but she is telling me that she knows that my relationship with God expressed in my devotional life is an important thing to me and she is affirming that in saying, "Dad, here's another tool to meet God." It's one of my signs and symbols.

PCUSA symbol This one was made by my son and it's the Presbyterian Church USA symbol. He made it out in a cold shed out behind the house with only a moderate number of tools. And what it reminds me of is my calling that I am not only a Christian, but I have been called to be a Presbyterian minister and as a minister I rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, that I look for the power of the Holy Spirit expressed by these tongues of flames, that their cross is the center of what all we do because it's the center of what God's done for us. And it also symbolizes the book here, the Bible. These are all parts of the Presbyterian symbol, but it's also a symbol of my relationship with my son, because when he thought about me and thought about what does my dad need, he figured he would affirm the fact that I have been called to be a minister of the gospel. It's a symbol of who I am. It's a symbol of who we are as a family.

What symbolizes who you are?
What do you want to symbolize who you are?
What your story is and how you are inside of God's bigger story?

Let's pray. God we are thankful that there is a big story, the one that you write everyday in our lives because of the grace you give us in Jesus Christ. And so help us now to respond to that, to make right choices and to have right priorities, to model what it means to be a disciple, to share the truth of the gospel in our families and to have these symbols in our lives that remind us of what our real identity is. We are all at different places. We have different struggles, different guilt that we feel in our lives about how we have fallen short, because we all have fallen short, but God give us grace now to take new steps to be faithful to you and to our calling to Jesus Christ. For it's in his name that we pray. Amen.

Sermon Outline Notes:

  • Families are incredibly important. God created it to be that way.
  • Every parent is an evangelist.
  • Modeling the God-centered life
  • Passing on the Truth
  • Setting Priorities
  • Mezuzah Your Universe

© 2005, Rev. John Schmidt
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145