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Home Improvement: A House is Not a Home

Psalm 128

During the Second World War, a kindly, older gentleman who lived in a hotel here in the United States struck up a warm friendship with a young, preschool girl. The little 5-year old girl was the daughter of a serviceman. The elderly gentleman noticed the little girl playing everyday in the hotel lobby. It was the only place she had to play, but she didn’t seem to mind. The man, in conversation with the little girl, found out that because of the war, the serviceman and his family had been moved time after time from place to place, and now this particular hotel was their temporary residence. One day, as they were talking together, the man said to the little girl, “It’s just a shame that you and your family don’t have a home.” The little girl answered with deep wisdom. She said, “Oh sir, we have a home, we just don’t have a house to put it in.”

That story underscores a very basic truth of life—namely this; it takes more than a house to make a home. It takes more than a father and a mother and some children to make a real family. It takes love, patience, commitment, energy, trust, faith, and a lot of hard work. Christian homes don’t just happen. Christian families don’t just popup out of nowhere. They have to be worked at and worked out. They have to be nurtured, developed, tended, cherished, renewed each day. That’s the reason I wish to focus our attention today upon the wisdom contained in Psalm 128. That Psalm is entitled “The happy home of the faithful,” and the psalm speaks of the ideal which God has in mind for our homes today. But given that is true, I must say to you today that the wreckage of our American home life is an open sore in our time. The homes of this nation, more often than not, have become not a source of joy, growth, security, and love but instead a source of hurt, rejection, hostility, and depression. That is why it is so urgent for us to bring the awesome resources of Jesus Christ and His church to bear upon our homes today. To help us in that venture, I wish to focus first on some of the negative forces impacting our homes, and then I wish to reverse the image and focus on the positive forces which can impact our homes today.

Let me begin with the negative forces.

1. Too many people today regard marriage as a convenience not a commitment. Many have forgotten that marriage is not some quaint, social mores. It is nothing less than the creation of God, and it is never to be tampered with or taken lightly. A recent story making the rounds makes the point. A woman said to her friend, “My husband is impossible. He irritates me so much that I’m even losing weight over the whole thing.” Her friend asked, “Why don’t you leave him?” The lady replied, “Oh, I am as soon as I lose 14 more pounds!” Marriage is a commitment, dear friends, not some temporary arrangement. The marriage vows do not say, “As long as we both shall love;” rather they say, “As long as we both shall live.” I’m thinking now of John and Margie Cooper. They were married in 1941. In four years, they had two children. John was well on his way to becoming a successful farmer in California. Then Margie was stricken with polio and she would spend the rest of her life in an artificial respiration machine. All of John’s hopes and most of his dreams were now confined to that massive piece of equipment once referred to as “an iron lung.” In 1981, John and Margie Cooper celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. Someone who did not know John Cooper well asked him to explain his devotion to Margie. He answered with a simple, single sentence. He said, “I am a Christian, and I keep my promises.” Now that’s commitment. Too many people today regard marriage as a convenience, but not a commitment.

2. Too many people today have diminished the value of the parent-child relationship. When families are strong, when parents are held and honored in affection, and when parents live in such a way as to be worthy of that honor, when the truth they pass down to their children is respected and obeyed and taken up and passed on to the next generation—when that happens in a nation, that nation will grow in its strength. As one writer has put it, “As the home goes, so goes the nation.” I think that’s absolutely true. Alex Haley, you will remember, wrote an incredible book entitled Roots. It became a best-seller, and a television adaptation of that book wound up being the most viewed television series in history. Well just before he died several years ago, Alex Haley was asked what he thought was important for the growth and development of the American family. He said, “We ought to interview the older members of our family—get their history before it’s gone. We need to have more family reunions. We need to cultivate the treasures which belong to every family. For all of this will strengthen us, not only as families, but also as a people.” Then Alex Haley said, and listen carefully, please, “Those who have contempt for the past will have despair in the future.” Too many people today diminish the value of the relationships that exist in the home.

3. Too many people today surrender to the “sensate” tendency of our society. Sensate means “perceived by the senses.” In other words, if it feels good, do it. We have carried self expression to a ridiculous level in this society. Nothing is to be denied, postponed, or even savored anymore. There was a popular song a number of years ago called “You Light Up My Life.” Beautiful song, but there was one line in it which was not so beautiful, “It can’t be wrong, if it feels so right.” Rubbish! It can be wrong no matter how right it feels. Jack Nicholson may be a fine actor, but his understanding of family relationships is not so fine. He is not married to the mother of his children. That doesn’t surprise you, I know, because that happens a lot these days. But Nicholson carried it a step lower. He refuses to live with the mother of his children, but he wants to be known as her partner. He doesn’t want the responsibilities of fatherhood, but he wants the benefits, and he sees nothing wrong with that. He said in an interview that he and Rebecca, the 30-something year old mother of his children, never discuss marriage. He said, “That discussion is the very thing I am trying to avoid. I’m after the immediate, real thing. That’s all I believe in, and Rebecca prefers it that way.” Well, perhaps he should have had that discussion with Rebecca for just after the interview was published, she dropped him and sued for child support. All Jack Nicholson wants is a sense of pleasure for now. Sadly, he’s not alone. Too many people today surrender to the sensate tendencies of our society.

But now let me turn to the positive forces at work in our home life today.

1. We need to acknowledge our need to be needed. All of us need other people with whom we can build a relationship and share the events of our lives. Once we acknowledge that, then the home and the family become central to our daily living. You may remember a number of years ago now when the wife of San Francisco’s mayor Alioto disappeared when he was in the middle of a campaign for the Governor of the state of California. After several days, she finally showed up at a well-publicized press conference. She was asked where she had been and why she had left. She answered, “My daughter found a young man and got married. My husband decided to run for Governor without even bothering to confer with me. Obviously, I assumed he didn’t need me. Nobody needs me, in fact. So, I just ran away.” Isn’t that sad! There she stood, elegantly dressed with all of the material things life can afford, and yet she was miserable because she did not feel needed. We all need to be needed, and anyone can see that home is the place where that need is best met.

2. We need to acknowledge our need for honesty. One of the things that bothers me most is to read where a couple got divorced because of incompatibility. Well, where did we ever get the dumb idea that in order to live happily with somebody, you’ve got to be compatible? Come on now, God made all of us different. That means that compatibility is an impossibility. So we need to openly and honestly acknowledge our differences and then either work at overcoming those differences or, in some instances, work at celebrating those differences. I still miss my great friend the late Frank Harrington. He was full of such wisdom which he always communicated in such humorous and winsome ways. I remember once Frank Harrington was telling about the time when he was watching a play-off football game between the Cowboys and the Rams. The game was at a crucial point and just as the key play was unfolding, here came his wife, Sara, with the vacuum cleaner right between him and the TV. The vacuum was running wide open, the TV fuzzed up, and he missed the play. She was standing right in front of the screen when the instant replay came on. He was livid, and he cried out, “Sara, what in the world are you doing?” She responded, “I’m cleaning the stadium.” She was being honest. She was delivering a message. They had a problem that needed work, and that was her way of communicating that truth, and believe me, he got the point. So here’s the guiding principle: Happiness does not come from an uncultivated vine. If you’re going to have a happy home life, you’ve got to work at it.

3. We need to acknowledge our need for affirmation. In the daily experiences of the home, no one can stand a steady barrage of criticism, negative comments, and sarcastic remarks. We all need praise and affirmation, yet I know homes where there is no affirmation at all, where there is only bickering and criticism. Catherine II of Russia used to say, “I praise loudly. I blame softly.” Good advice, especially at home. The names of people whose lives have been changed by a word of affirmation are legion. Some years back in Australia, two boys wanted to learn how to play tennis. Harry Hopman, a local tennis coach, watched them struggle and noticed that neither of them had much natural ability. One was a tad slow; the other just had a weak game. So Harry Hopman worked to find ways to affirm these two boys. One of the things he did was to give them nicknames. The slow one, he called “Rocket.” The one with the weak game, he called “Muscles.” Well the rest is history. Because, in time, the world came to know them as Ken “Muscles” Rosewall and Rod “Rocket” Laver, two of the greatest superstars the world of tennis has ever known. You see, affirmation has a wonderfully freeing and transforming effect. Master the art of praise in your home. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Well, I think it all comes down to this . . .

Psalm 128 pictures a happy, faithful, beautiful home. The wife is content in the home. The children are happy as they gather about the table. The husband finds great reward in his family life. Even the grandparents are part of the picture. It’s absolutely beautiful to read, but please remember how the Psalm begins, “Blessed are all who fear the Lord who walk in His ways.” That’s the key—not just our lives but our homes must be centered on our faith in Jesus Christ and our obedience to His way in life. That is why today, in the name of Jesus Christ, I call us to put family at the center of our lives again and to rededicate ourselves to our children and to our grandchildren. You see, it’s true, “As the home goes, so goes the nation.” That, dear friends, is a truth we dare not forget.

 

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