THIS IS US: Shema and the Shaping of Lives Deuteronomy 6:1-9

I want to take a straw poll survey — Raise your hand if either of the following statements apply to you. Raise your hand if family—what I mean is either the biological nuclear family that you were born into, the family that adopted you, foster family, or the family you created by marriage—has been either a source of one of your deepest joys in life, or a source of some of your deepest pain in life. If family has been one of the two of those or BOTH, will you raise your hand? Before you put your hand down, look around. I want to make a proposal to you—-that what you see is NOT a coincidence. We didn’t just so happen to have a random sampling of people who live in the U.S. and we’re unique in that family has had a significant role in either our deepest joys or our deepest pains. What you just saw was, what we would call, design. It’s the design of your Maker. There’s a reason that family plays such a significant role in our lives. There’s nobody who escapes that. For some of you, the role that family played was significant and beautiful and good, and for some of you the role that family played was some pain and it shaped you in some ways that you would rather forget and move forward from. Regardless of how it shaped you, it did.

Over the last few weeks we’ve been studying the series we’re calling “This is Us.” We started off by talking about what it means to be human on an individual level. We zoomed out and looked at what it means to be human on a communal level, on a relationship level, in marriages. What does it mean to be human in friendships and relationships? I want to zoom out one more level today and talk about what it means to be human in family. I want you to say this after me, “Family has had a significant effect on my life.” It has! The story of family is all around us. I started thinking this week about the way family is portrayed and what I noticed is that my favorite book over the last two months, my favorite movie over the last two months, and my favorite TV show over the last two months, all have one thing in common — They are all about…..FAMILY! A few months ago I read John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, all about a family and their journey over generations. Over Christmas break we saw the really happy movie Manchester by the Sea. It’s a beautiful portrayal of grief, and grief set in the context of a family. One of our favorite TV shows over this last season is This is Us. It’s all about a family.

God’s design is that family would be for our formation, that it would help shape us, and it would be for our flourishing. That it would help us grow and become the type of people that he’s designed us to become. But we all know that there’s times when that works and it works really well and it’s exciting and it’s joyful; and there’s times when family lets us down, and there’s times when family’s difficult, and there’s times where family is something we may rather run from than run to. I can prove that to you just by showing you a cursory sample of a few family reunion T-shirts. Official Survivor of the Crockett Family Reunion. I shook my family tree and a bunch of nuts fell out. One Reunion, Many Paths—Psychopaths, Sociopaths, and More Psychopaths. Trying to Relate to the People I’m Related To. My Family is Temperamental—Half Temper, Half Mental. Family Reunion Spin the Bottle Champion. If we didn’t argue, we wouldn’t have anything to talk about. We can relate maybe.

The story of family is if your family sort of went off the rails a little bit, if there’s some pain attached to your family unit and your family story, I just want you to know that you’re not alone. You don’t have to read too far in the Scriptures before you see family going a little bit awry. God creates family in Genesis 1 and 2 — Adam and Eve born in the garden; they create family; Genesis 3 we have the fall and sin enters the world. Genesis 4–Adam and Eve have kids. They have Cain and Abel and I don’t know if you’re familiar with the story, but their family unit did not turn out all that well. Cain kills Abel. I guess there’s a barometer that may make you think, “Well, we’re not doing too bad.” If no one in your family has killed each other than you’re doing okay! Better than the first family.

There are expectations around family. Here’s why — Because God has designed the family to carry weight. To have significant impact in your life for your flourishing, for your formation, for your good, and when that aligns and is operating in the way that God designed it to operate, there is nothing better. When it operates in a way that God didn’t design and where there’s pain attached to it, there’s potentially nothing worse. It has the potential to be really, really good or really, really difficult. Expectations within family and over family are innate. The question becomes how do we live in God’s design for family? What does that look like? Before we go any further in the message, I want to speak to a few people in this room. One, I want to speak to the parents and grandparents — This message is for you. I want to speak to the single people in this room. I want to speak to the people who aren’t a part of a family that has kids that you’re teaching or training right now. I want to speak to you also, because when writing this message I have you in mind also. I believe that God has a role for you to play in discipling the people around you and whether they are biological kids living in your household, whether they’re kids who have left your household, or whether they’re people you rub shoulders with and have influence in their lives, you have influence in the lives of the people around you. This message applies to us all.

The greatest resource, I believe, that God gave to the nation of Israel in the shaping of their families is that beautiful passage of Scripture that we recited in worship this morning called the “Shema.” The Israelite people would recite Shema every morning and every evening. It was the bookends of their day. They wanted to remind themselves of the things that were most significant as they started their day and as they ended their day. In his wonderful book Man’s Search for Meaning, author Viktor Frankl recounts his time in Auschwitz concentration camp. The Nazis had stripped him bare and a number of other men were in the same position. After they did a number of different things to them, they told them to go back and get their clothes. All the men went to the clothes and grabbed whatever was there lying on ground and put it on. When Viktor Frankl put on the new coat that he got, he stuck his hand in the pocket of the coat and felt a piece of paper in the pocket. On that little piece of paper was written Shema. What he said {in a book afterwards} as he walked through this unbelievably difficult time in Auschwitz concentration camp was: “If you know your ‘why’ in life, you can survive any ‘how.'” THIS was Viktor Frankl’s why.

Would you stand as we read God’s Holy Scripture together? As I read it, let it just wash over you. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 — Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. This is the word of God. Thanks be to God.

What was the intention of this passage of Scripture? Why was it so significant to the Jewish people? For the Jewish person, this was their creed, this was their anthem, this was their song. Why was it such a big deal? There’s two reasons: 1) You had a community of people, every single day, when they rose up in the morning and when they laid down at night, they were reminding themselves of one central truth. They reminded themselves as they read that they were not individual floating around people in God’s vast universe, but they were part of a community of faith that circled around THIS truth and reminded themselves on a daily basis. 2) It not only gives definition to a community, but it gives clarity to a life. Since the beginning of time humanity has asked a question: What’s our purpose in life? What are we created for? What’s our chief end? The Shema answers it with one word. Here’s the reason you were created, here’s your purpose; you want to know what God wants from you, what God’s beckoning of you, what his desire is for you…..look no further. Shema answers it. Here’s why you were created……..TO LOVE. And to love God. And to love God, he says, with everything that you have. With your heart, with your soul, and with your might. Now, there’s been a number of wonderful, theological works that have dissected each of those components that we are suppose to submit to the love of God — the heart, the soul, and the might. I want to say that there’s some value in that, but I think the bigger value is recognizing that we are called as God’s people to submit our whole selves to his love. We are called to submit our intellect. We are called to submit our emotions. We are called to surrender our desires, our thoughts. All of that would be encompassed under this one command — Love the Lord your God with everything that you have. Don’t you love it that that is our God? That the command is well, give me your lives because I’m going to give my life for you. That’s the goal, that’s the central call of the life that’s surrendered to this God, this Yahweh, this covenantal steadfast God.

So that’s the goal, but the question becomes HOW? If you read a little deeper into this passage, you start to see how God intends for this to play out. Let me show you three significant passages that help draw this point out. It says in Deuteronomy 6:2 — That you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son. So this is family. Deuteronomy 6:7 — You shall teach them diligently to your children…. This is something that’s being communicated from parent to child. Deuteronomy 6:20–When your son asks you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?” then you shall say to your son….. This is happening, this teaching of Shema, not just in synagogues or churches, but in homes. We went around and raised our hand and said yeah, family has had a significant weight and role in our lives, either for our joy or for our pain or some of us said both. God would say absolutely yes and amen, family plays a significant role, therefore, family is where we want the formation of our faith to first take root and to first take place and to start to sprout and to start to grow. Friends, the life of love—-this love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength—-takes root in the home of faith. Here’s the problem and here’s the challenge—-Many of us would say yes and amen we’ve experienced that, or yes and amen we’ve wanted to experience that and it’s been elusive for us. If you’re a parent in this room today, you know the challenge with that. The challenge with that is we’re busy people. Right?

In 2010 there was a survey done by the Journal of Marriage and Family. They charted how many hours a week parents spent with their kids. {Ryan shows graph.} You may expect in a sermon like this to hear, “You don’t spend enough time with your kids.” My goal is not to make anybody feel guilty here. My goal is to say that there is a HUGE impact waiting to be had and you may not be able to, with your schedule, spend anymore time together as a family. I think you probably can, but that’s not my goal today. My goal is to say how you use the time that you DO have makes a huge difference. Here’s the good news — Since 1975, the number of how much time parents spend with their kids is on the rise. On average, the average mom spends 13.7 hours a week with their kids. The average dad spends 7.2 hours a week with their kids. That’s just the reality. Some people see this number and go yeah, that’s why we decided to homeschool our kids, because we want more time with our kids. Or, that’s why we send our kids to a Christian school, because we want them to be taught Shema principles all throughout the day. Those are good reasons; those aren’t the decisions Kelly and I have made for our family, but those may be the decisions that you’ve made for your family and that’s wonderful. The goal is to say today — How do we make the most of the time that we do have, because God’s calling on family is huge. It’s huge! And I’ll add anecdotally, that the people who will give an account for how they shepherd and disciple their kids, before the throne of God, are the parents. Now, what we do in Sunday School here is amazing and I love it. As a parent, I am so grateful for it. {If you volunteer in the kids ministry, will you just raise your hand? Thank you.} But it’s one hour a week and so the weight of discipling kids falls squarely on the shoulders of family and on the community of faith in general. The question becomes, as parents, as people called to have influence in the life of our kids, how do we do that and how do we do it well? This is us! We are people as individuals, we are people in community together, and we are people as family and God’s design for family is that it would be for nourishing and for flourishing. So how does that happen?

Deuteronomy 6:6-7, going further into this passage. The call has been given out — love God with everything you have…your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. {Don’t you love that this is our God? It’s not like hey, I want you to keep these in your head, and I want you to have it memorized, and I want your cognitive faculties to be absorbed in the goodness of God. Now that’s good and that’s true, but that’s not what this says. This says God wants it to be on our HEART. That our emotion, that our desire, that our thoughts would be captured with the love and the goodness of God.} You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You. Are. A. Teacher. Did you know that? Not just the people that have taken the spiritual gifts assessment and you scored teacher. Not just those people. Every single one of you in this room is a teacher. If you’re a parent, you are intended to be a teacher to your kids, whether you feel like you’re gifted with the gift of teaching or not! You know how I know that? You have kids….that’s how I know that. God’s call on your life is to be a teacher. One of the ways we start to instill this love of God (ethos and ethic) into our families is by teaching it consistently. Here’s the way the book of Colossians (3:16) would say it: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, {Isn’t that a beautiful picture? Allow the Scriptures to saturate your being.} teaching {So when that happens….when you let Christ’s word dwell in you richly, the natural thing to do is to talk about it. When you talk about it, you’re teaching.} teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. The Scriptures will command us to do this diligently as if to say you might need to teach something more than once. {Any parents want to say yes and amen to that?} OR, you may need to teach it every single moment of every single day!! Yeah, teach it diligently!

I love how ruthlessly honest the Scriptures are, because here’s what all the people in this room are thinking: I don’t have time for that. Are you kidding me? I don’t have time to run a seminary in my home. When am I suppose to carve out the time to teach the people around me? I’m glad you asked that because the Bible answers it. You shall teach it and you shall talk about it when you sit in your house. How many of you sat down in your house recently? So maybe over a meal. When you’re sitting down on the couch, when you’re hanging out building Legos or doing homework, or whatever….. When you’re just being a family unit in your home, that’s when it happens. OR, when you walk by the way. This was their way of saying when you’re in transit from one place to another…that’s when this teaching happens. How many of you guys have driven somewhere recently? Or walked somewhere? When you lie down. How many of you went to bed last night? When you rise. How many of you got up this morning? Don’t you love how everyday practical the Bible is? When do we teach the Scriptures to the people around us? Every day in every way. That we let it dwell in us in such a way that it comes out of us as we talk, or as we ride in the car together, or as we sit down over dinner together, or as we tuck our kids in bed at night, or as we say good night as they get a little older and won’t let us tuck them in anymore. That’s when we do it.

You may be asking what the message is. This Shema starts to teach us the message: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God…. The Lord, Yahweh. It’s this covenantal word for God. Underneath this word Yahweh is the idea that He will never, ever let you go. Underneath that word Yahweh is that He is a steadfast, faithful God that your failure does not extinguish His faithfulness. That’s what we teach our kids! I’ve fallen short. There’s been times where I haven’t added up. You know them well, children, right? But our God is good and our God is steadfast. The Lord our God, the Lord is one. He stands alone and we stand amazed. There is none like Him. He spoke it all into existence. He holds it all together by the very breath of His word. He lived for us. He died for us. He rose for us. He ascended on our behalf. He is our mediator. There is none like Him! There is only one. In the polytheistic world that they lived in that spoke volumes. It should speak volumes to us too. He stands alone! That’s the message that we give.

If you read further you see that the message has a different personal dynamic in each family. Deuteronomy 6:20-23 — When your son asks you in time to come, {If you live a gospel-centered, Shema-centered life, your kids are going to ask what the deal is. Why? You’re going to get the chance to speak into that.} ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. He goes on to say, “….and we are alive to this day because God is good on his promises.” So here’s what we teach — We teach the Scriptures. You don’t have to be a theologian in order to do that, you just have to spend time with God. Then, we teach out of our story. This is what God has done for me. This is what God has done for us. For the people who are younger than you, specifically in your sphere of influence, they need to hear your passion for the Scriptures and they need to hear your stories of the way that God has come through for you on a personal basis. When you sit and when you walk and when you rise and when you lie, these are the things that start to come out of us.

David Kraft was a great athlete and the Lord captured his heart at a young age. He ended up going to Denver Seminary. He was 6’2″, 200 pounds. After he got out of Denver Seminary, he served with an organization called Fellowship of Christian Athletes. At the age of 32 he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that the doctors told him was eventually going to take his life. Over the course of the next few months his health slowly deteriorated. He went from 6’2″,200 pounds to 6′, 80 pounds. His dad went to visit David in the hospital. As they hugged each other, they thought maybe for the last time, David grabbed his dad’s face and listen to these words he said to him, “Dad, thank you for building the kind of character into my life that can enable me to face even a moment like this.” Where did that fortitude, perseverance come from? It came from his home. It came from his family. How do we do this, you guys, because that’s the kind of faith I want to instill into my kids. That’s the kind of faith my dad instilled in me. How do we do that? We tell stories of God’s goodness, that’s how we do it. Because the stories we tell shape the lives that we live.

We tell stories of God’s goodness. We read Scripture together. If you’re a young family, I would suggest you get a Jesus Storybook Bible. They’re awesome. If you’re an older family, get a Jesus Storybook Bible. They’re awesome!! One of the things we did this last year as a family was read Chronicles of Narnia together. I love the way that C.S. Lewis paints such an illustrative picture of the kingdom of God, of Jesus, in the person and work of Aslan. I love that! It stirred my kids’ imagination. So that’s one. Tell stories, read the Scriptures. Do that together. You have time. Take the time that you have. If you’re a parent, I want to speak directly to you. Take your role as teacher seriously. Do it intentionally. Think about it. Pray about it. There may be no important task that you will ever be given in life. Then as a family, spend time to celebrate God’s consistent provision. When you pick up your kids from our wonderful kids’ ministry today, you’re going to get handed a Homefront Weekly. You’ll get it every week with the new curriculum that we’re using. Take that, use it as a platform for discussion around your dinner table….or as you walk, or as you rise, or as you lie. You. Can. Do. This. God would not have entrusted you with those kids if he didn’t think you could.

Deuteronomy 6:8-9 — You shall bind them (Shema) as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Notice this is hands and eyes. This is very personal. This is on our being on a daily basis. Doorposts — This is family. Surround your family with it. Saturate your family with it. Gates — The idea was marketplace, that this was a civic exchange place. So, it’s personal, it’s familial, and it’s public. So we teach consistently and then we surround ourselves with it intentionally. An Orthodox Jewish person, especially back in this day, but even some to this very day, will wear what they call “phylacteries.” {Shows a picture–little black box with Scripture.} The very front of his forehead—Shema. On his hand and arm—Shema. Can you imagine every single day putting these on as a Jewish man? It’s no wonder that when Jesus is asked, “What’s the greatest command?” he recites Shema. Love the Lord your God with everything you have. Well, what are they doing? They’re creating sacred space. They’re claiming their home as a place where God inhabits, where God dwells. As evangelicals we don’t do sacred space very well. We LOVE the Scriptures, and if you were to ask us, “How does spiritual formation happen?” we would say the Bible and that would be the end of the story. The only problem is the Bible goes further than that. The Bible would actually say that we’re visual people. We need reminders throughout our day of God’s faithful, of God’s goodness, of God’s love, and of God’s provision. Is the Bible good, necessary, and primary? Yes and amen! But we need to have reminders throughout our day, that God is present, that God is good, and that God loves us. The Hebrew people would create sacred space in their home. They’d create it on their gates. They would create it on themselves, reminding them that God is up to something in this world. He’s on the move.

Do you have those types of places in your home, in your life? We have this picture right as we walk out our door. It’s a picture taken in 2000 of Kelly and I in Mexico. It was a missions trip in Mexico before we were married when we were still dating. We had gone down with a large group of people; and both of us have a kid on our back and grins on our faces where God is just lighting us up. Every time I walk out that door, I see the verse (1 Corin. 13) that I burnt into the wood frame — Love is patient, love is kind…. For me, it’s this sacred space reminder that God has been faithful to our family. It’s this reminder that God’s love holds us together, and it’s a reminder of what we are on mission to do. Do you have sacred space in your life? Do you have reminders—physical, visible reminders? Here are two reasons you need this—1) We are visual people. We are stirred by the images we see and the stories we hear. We’re visual people. 2) We’re forgetful people. We need the reminder. Oh yeah, my purpose here is to love the Lord my God with my whole heart, with my whole soul, and with every piece of strength in me. That’s why I walk this little blue ball we call Earth. We need the reminders. You need the reminders. I need the reminders. What does that look like on a practical basis? It may look like setting up an ebenezer-type of memorial in your home somewhere. It doesn’t have to be weird, it doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be something that jogs your memory on a daily basis. Oh yeah, that’s why we’re here. Maybe it’s a background on your iPhone that you have. You’ve set it so that every time you open it it reminds you of something that invites you into the story that you are a part of. That’s what Israel’s doing, they’re reminding themselves they’re part of a bigger story. Every morning and every day. Maybe it’s a tattoo that you get that reminds you…. I don’t know! High schoolers, you’re welcome! College students, you’re welcome! Think about it though….how do you remind yourself in a practical way, surrounding yourself in the story of God. Sacred space matters. It helps shape us as people to be followers of the one true God.

We surround ourselves intentionally, we teach consistently, and finally, Deuteronomy 6:1-3 — Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. That you may DO them, KEEPING all the statutes and his commandments. Be careful to DO them. Do you notice that this isn’t just hey, think about these things? It’s not a nice suggestion to agree with the reality that the Lord your God, the Lord is one. No! This is an active invitation to a life that reflects the love of God. So, we teach it consistently, we surround ourselves with it intentionally, and then as James so eloquently puts it (James 2:17) that faith by itself that does not have any works, or any deeds, or any life change that goes with it isn’t actually really faith. And the calling is that we would live it out obediently. That we would teach it, that we would surround ourselves with it, and that we would live it. {Will you look up at me for just a moment?} There are people in your life that God is inviting you to have an influence on. You know this and I know this that the reality is that the things that we’ve learned in life we’ve learned not necessarily always by didactic teaching, but we’ve learned as we’ve watched people live. So much more is caught than taught. Absolutely. Here’s the deal — if you’re a parent, if you’re a grandparent, if you’re a Sunday School teacher, if you are a person who is in contact with another human being that you want to have influence on…..if you want to teach your kids to be generous people, do you know the best way to do it? Be a generous person. If you want to teach your kids to love the Scriptures, love the Scriptures. Let them see you reading them. Talk about them. Engage with them. If you want the people in the vicinity of influence to be servants, can I invite you to be a servant. If you want the people that you’re connected to….specifically, parents, if you want your kids to grow up and to be forgiving people, forgive them and invite them to forgive you when you wrong them. If you want your kids to love Jesus, do you know what the best thing you can do is? Love Jesus. Love Jesus and it will overflow into their lives. The reality is, friends, whatever comes out of our lives is flowing from what’s in our lives. Whatever captures our loves…..Hear, O Israel: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your strength, and your mind. Whatever captures our loves WILL determine the course of our lives.

And so, when you walk talk about this, surround yourself in this story. When you rise, invite the people who rise alongside of you to love this God with everything they have and everything they are. When you’re in between, in transit waiting in traffic, use it as a moment to deepen and instill THIS passage, THIS reality, THIS idea that God is great, He reigns above it all. When you gather around the table at dinner, take some time and remind yourselves of the story that you’re in. Because the stories you tell will determine the lives that you live.

And so Jesus takes his followers around a table to teach them, to surround them, and to live in front of them. He takes them to this table because a table is a family event. He takes them there and he teaches them that he’s lived the perfect life, that he’s going to die the atoning death that they might have life through him. He gives them bread, symbolizing his body. He takes them there to surround them, to tell them keep telling this story, because you need this reminder that your God is good, that he loves you, that he’s, by grace, paid the penalty that you could never pay on your own, and that he’s calling you to live in the same way. So as you come to this communion table, friend, would you come knowing that he wants to teach you how much he loves you? Would you come knowing that He is surrounding you in his goodness and his grace and the story that you are encompassed in? Would you come knowing that his invitation is not just to agree, but to go and live? The table’s open to any who are followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Let me pray and invite you to come and celebrate his life, death, burial, and resurrection.

Jesus, we remember this morning that you, O God, are one—Father, Son, and Spirit. We love you with our heart, with our soul, with our might. As we come to this table this morning, this family celebration of the faith that we hold in common, may your love be our anthem, may it be our song. May we remember, as we come this morning, that we are deeply loved; and would we remember this morning that we are called to love. Would you teach us once again, would you surround us once again, and would you invite us once again not just to hear it, but to live it out for the glory of your name. It’s in the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.