As for Me and My House:
April 11, 1999
Today we are launching a brand-new series called “Heaven Help the Home.” As a place to begin, let’s consider these words by Chuck Swindoll:
Whatever else may be said about the home, it is the bottom line of life, the anvil upon which attitudes and convictions are hammered out. It is the place where life’s bills come due, the single most influential force in our earthly existence.
I’m sure you’ve heard it said that home is where life makes up its mind. Sometimes parents forget how powerful our seemingly small actions can be. Brian Bill sent me this reading called “When You Thought I Wasn’t Looking.”
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator, and I wanted to paint another one.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you feed a stray cat, and I thought it was good to be kind to animals.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make my favorite cake for me, and I knew that little things are special things.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I heard you say a prayer, and I believed there is a God that I could always talk to.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I felt you kiss me goodnight, and I felt loved.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw tears come from your eyes, and I learned that sometimes things hurt, but it’s all right to cry.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw that you cared and I wanted to be everything that I could be.
When you thought I wasn’t looking, I looked … and wanted to say thanks for all the things I saw … When you thought I wasn’t looking.
Parents have a bigger influence than they realize. I spent most of this week on the road, driving from Oak Park to Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama and back again. I spent time with two of my brothers, and on Thursday night I surprised my Mom on her 78th birthday. One day while listening to the radio I heard a news report about a new study on the causes of teenage drinking. The researchers discovered that parents are the strongest influence on whether or not their children will use alcohol. Where the home is strong and stable, children are much less likely to drink. The results shouldn’t surprise us, but they do, it is only because we overlook the power parents have for good or for evil in the lives of their children.
Joshua certainly understood the power of parents. As he came to the end of his life, he called the leaders of Israel together for one final message. Knowing that he is only one step from death, he sounds a call to renewal that begins with a recital of God’s blessings in the past (Joshua 24:1-13). Then he challenges the people to be faithful to God (24:14-27). In the middle of his message we find those stirring words that have been quoted and memorized for over 3000 years, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (24:15). In those words, and in the verses leading up to them, I find five decisions we must make if we want our families to serve the Lord with us.
Decision # 1: Building a Grace-Based Family.
As Joshua recounts the story of the conquest of the Promised Land, he quotes the Lord who has a strong reminder to the people:
Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands. I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you–also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow. So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant (Joshua 24:11-13, underlining mine).
Joshua wants the people never to forget that they owed everything to God. It’s easy to see how that might happen. After all, the Israelite army had won battle after battle, often routing the enemy from the field. It would be natural to start thinking, “We’re something special.” But that thought is always deadly. Joshua knew that once the people took credit for their victories, they would soon turn away from the Lord altogether.
We ought to do with our families what Joshua does with the people of Israel. It’s a good thing to review past blessings and to make a written record of God’s faithfulness. We need to say to our children, “Sweetheart, do you remember when you were so sick and we prayed to God and you got better?” “Do you remember when Dad lost his job and we were afraid so we prayed and God gave him a new job?” “Do you remember when we prayed for Joe and Cheryl to be saved and six months later they accepted Christ?” A good memory of God’s blessings is a bulwark against backsliding.
Has God blessed you? Then write it down. Think often about it. Tell it to your children, your family, your friends. Pass it along so that succeeding generations can tell the story after you are gone to heaven (Psalm 145:4-5).
Another way to build a grace-based family is to practice generous giving. When we give liberally, we teach our children to do the same. They learn that we give because we have received and that God never stops giving to his children.
Finally, we build grace-based families by being quick to forgive and slow to take offense. Love covers a multitude of sins.
Decision # 2: Teaching My Family to Worship God.
‘‘Now fear the Lord” (Joshua 24:14a). When we think about the fear of the Lord, many people get the idea of cringing in terror. The biblical concept is much broader than that. Fearing the Lord means having such a deep respect for God that we want to please him in all we do. One writer says it refers to the “inner devotion” that causes us to honor God.
How do we share this “inner devotion” with our families? In several weeks I will devote an entire sermon to this topic so my comments here will be brief. Essentially I believe that what the Puritans used to call “family religion” is better caught than taught. It is more an atmosphere than a program. When the parents truly fear God, their children will learn to fear him too. When they love the Lord, it will be natural for the children to learn to love him too. When they sing hymns, their children will learn the words. When they pray, their children will quietly pray with them.
I especially believe that men bear a heavy responsibility in this area. I am speaking to dads, husbands, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and uncles. I am also speaking to young men, high school boys, college men, young single men, and older single men. Men of every age, it all starts with you. For too many years we have delegated spiritual leadership to the women while we went out into the world to make a living. We have laid a burden on the women that God never intended them to bear all alone. God meant spiritual leadership to be a shared burden, but the men must take the initiative if we truly want God’s blessing.
Recently I saw again a famous painting by Norman Rockwell that appeared on the cover of Saturday Evening Post in 1959. It shows a suburban family going off to church, led by the oldest sister followed by Mom who is followed by the younger sister. All three women are dressed for church. Following them is a young boy who appears to be going with some reluctance. Why the problem? At the center of the painting is dear old Dad slumped in a chair, in his pajamas, reading the paper with a cigarette in his hand. As junior walks by he casts a longing eye at his father. He’s going to church but clearly he’d rather be with his father.
Men, when will we learn that our actions speak louder than our words?
Decision # 3: Becoming a Student of Obedience.
“Serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14b).
The word “serve” is used in various forms six times in two verses. This is obviously the burden on Joshua’s heart. Nothing mattered but this, that the people should willingly choose to serve the Lord. He specifies exactly what that means when he adds “in all faithfulness.” Every area of life must be surrendered to the Lordship of Christ. “All faithfulness” means there can be no “hidden rooms” that we reserve for ourselves. In particular it means putting aside the false gods worshipped by the pagans. Matthew Henry calls them “dunghill deities” because they have no power to save, only the power to corrupt.
Recently I received an encouraging letter from a man serving time in the state prison in Huntsville, Texas. He had received a copy of one of my books and wrote to say thanks. In the letter he shared this testimony of God’s grace in his life:
I am a new creation in Christ Jesus. In April 1998 Jesus came into my life. I used to have all sorts of books like Penthouse, Easy Rider, American Rodder, Playboy, Hot Rod, In the Wind. But today as I look around none of those exist only Bibles and good reading. I enjoy spending time reading the Bible. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have tried to get what I saw others had from that Book but never did. But one of my brothers here told me to pray for understanding. Just like that, reading became joyful. My Lord has changed my life, I never could have. I praise God for saving my life by sending me to a place where he could slow me down and take me from Satan. Thank you Jesus.
I believe this man’s conversion is genuine because when he came to Christ, he got rid of the gods from “beyond the River.” The old literature went out with his old life and was replaced by the Word of God and good Christian material. That’s a sign of the genuine work of God’s Spirit in his heart. It’s also a sign that he is becoming a student of obedience.
Decision # 4: Remembering My Spiritual Heritage.
“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living” (Joshua 24:15a)
These verses tripped me up when I first read them. Then I understood that Joshua was appealing to the democratic sense of his hearers. He actually offers them a series of choices. First, the true God. Then the gods beyond the River (meaning the River Euphrates), referring to the gods of Ur of the Chaldees. Those would be the gods of ancient tradition, the moon god and the sun god. Then the gods of Egypt, meaning the gods of sun, rain, darkness, and natural disasters. Then the gods of the Amorites, meaning the gods of fertility and sexual pleasure.
Make your choice, he says. If you don’t want to choose the living and true God, then go back to the false gods you used to worship. Go all the way back to Ur if you like. Strange as it may seem, some people actually prefer the gods of this world to the one true God of the Bible. Their eyes are so blinded by sin and their heart so given to fleshly indulgence that they prefer to drink from the cesspool of sin than to drink from the Water of Life.
Here we see the genius of biblical religion. We need not try to coerce people into serving the Lord. If they prefer some other way, then so be it. It’s almost always a mistake to crowd people too closely when we attempt to win them to Christ. “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” We have nothing to fear and every thing to gain by presenting the options and giving people the right to make up their own minds.
Decision # 5: Choosing Daily to Serve the Lord.
“But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15b). This is one of the most famous statements in the Old Testament, and rightly so, because it expresses the heart of a great spiritual leader at the end of his life. In these simple words we find the will of God expressly stated. We are to serve the Lord and we are to do everything in our power to see that our family follows our example.
Not long ago someone asked for my advice regarding a spiritual struggle. Very simply, this person has been living like a Christian on Sunday and like a worldling during the week. I do not know all the details, and they really don’t matter, but the frustration of living a double life was obvious. What should this person do? “My Christian life is dry and dead.” I answered this way: “You didn’t get where you are overnight, and you won’t get out of this mess overnight. You must begin each day by choosing to serve the Lord, and then you must follow up that decision with a hundred small choices in the right direction. That’s really what serving the Lord means. If it doesn’t involve the nitty-gritty choices you make every day, then you’re still trying to straddle the fence.”
Over 300 years ago Matthew Henry said that serving the Lord involves “serious godliness.” I like that phrase because it captures the spirit of Joshua’s words. If we are going to do what he did and say what he said, it will mean “serious godliness” for all of us.
When I preached this sermon a man came to me and suggested I ask these questions: “Do your neighbors know that you are a Christian? Do they know you love the Lord?” With tears in his eyes he spoke of how good God has been to him for 72 years. “Oh, why am I not bolder to speak up for him?”
Note several implications. First, each of us must personally decide to serve the Lord. I can’t choose for you nor you for me. We need a generation of Joshuas who will make this choice for themselves. Second, parents have a special obligation to set the right example in this area. We can hardly expect our children to serve Christ when we take our obligations lightly. Third, fathers have the highest obligation. People often tell me that my boys remind them so much of me. I’m always proud to hear it but there is a heavy burden implied in those words. If it’s true that the apple never falls far from the tree, then I had better make sure the tree is healthy, or else what will the fruit be like?
A Time to Choose
I am struck by Joshua’s boldness:
This is a public choice. “But as for me.” He means, “I don’t care what the rest of you do. I’m going to serve the Lord.” Even though he was the leader of the nation, he was willing to part with his own people over this fundamental issue. I think we all have to say that sooner or later. It happens to us whether we are office workers, executives, business leaders, teachers, students, blue collar workers, or simply dealing with our friends, family members, and neighbors. If you follow Christ, there will come a time when you must say, “Do what you want, and whatever you do I will still be your friend, but I’m going to serve the Lord.”
This is a personal decision. “But as for me.” In the end it comes down to this. You must choose to serve the Lord. It won’t happen by accident and it can’t be inherited from your parents. They can give you the heritage, but at some point you must make it your own.
This is a persuasive declaration. “But as for me and my house.” This may be the most amazing thing of all. Here Joshua speaks as the God-appointed leader of his family. He claims the right to speak for his wife, his children, his grandchildren, his great-grandchildren, and even for his servants. “As the leader of this clan, I hold their proxy in my hand. I hereby declare that my entire household will serve the true and living God.” Every Christian man ought to make a similar statement about the family God has given him.
This is a positive statement. “We will serve the Lord.” This is more than a statement about forsaking other gods, though that is implied. It means that Joshua’s family will orient itself around the worship of the God of Israel. His law will be their law, his commandments will be their delight, his worship their highest goal, and his glory their ultimate aim.
I find it fascinating that Joshua does not say, “My house without me,” which would be like that famous Norman Rockwell painting. Nor does he say “Me without my house,” which would be a different kind of hypocrisy. Both are joined together as God intended. “I will serve the Lord and my family joins me in this pledge.”
How can a man be so certain about his family? I think Joshua could speak like this because he had taught them well for many years. And he knew of their own personal commitment to the same God he worshipped. And he had provided a good example for his family to follow. Let no man read these words and think that he may live a careless life and at the end of his life ask God to save his family. To live that way and then to pray desperately at the end is to presume on the grace of God.
You Gotta Serve Somebody
Let me ask the question this way. Can I guarantee that my three sons will follow in my steps and serve the same Lord I worship? The answer is no because God has given to each of us the ability to make our own choices. And we all know of sad cases where godly parents produced offspring who did not serve Christ. What, then, does this text mean? I think it teaches us that godly parents can tip the scales in the right direction. We cannot guarantee what our children will do but we can provide an atmosphere of “serious godliness” that makes it easier to choose Christ than to choose the way of the world.
I realize that I am preaching about the family but in reality I am speaking to individuals. One of our single women said to me that this sermon applies to all of us because we need to serve the Lord if we plan to serve him later when we are married. She’s right. In the end the decision is intensely personal.
Is your mind made up? Are you ready to serve the Lord? Do you know where you stand with God? The application could not be clearer: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” In the words of Bob Dylan, “You gotta serve somebody.” No one gets a free ride and no one can straddle the fence forever.
There is no room for neutrality. Every person needs a God and every person must serve the God they choose. If you choose not to choose, you’ve already made your choice. You can’t choose the true God by default or by inheritance.
Make your choice. Cast your vote. Choose your God. I pray you will make the right choice. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.