Well thank you very much. Obviously goes without saying it is such an honor to be here at the Crystal Cathedral and the Hour of Power. And I thank you, doctor, for the invitation and I don’t take it lightly. It’s a wonderful day to celebrate family; it’s a wonderful day to celebrate the joy of the Lord. I love to talk about family. With our five children in the Butterworth family, all grown. A daughter, four sons, all J’s: Joy, Jessie, Jeffrey, John and Joseph. And I just love to talk about how God can be at work in our family. Now sometimes people don’t feel that connected for some reason, so I just want to take a little informal survey here, very quickly. If you’re a parent in the room this morning, would you raise your hand? Okay, nice representation of parents. Where are the grandparents in the room? Grandparents? Great grandparents? Okay. One more: if you have or at one time had parents, would you raise your hand? Not as many on that last category as I had hoped.
But you know when we talk about family, we really are talking about everyone, and I would love to begin by telling you a little story from my youth that hopefully will create a metaphor for our time together this morning. I’ve lived here in Southern California for almost 30 years now, but I was born and raised back East. I was born in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, a product of the Philadelphia public schools. I remember when my children were in junior high, I talked to them about how different junior high seemed when I was there, as opposed to when they were in junior high. When I was in junior high, things were very simple back then to my way of thinking. It was before intermediate schools and, you know, all the junior highs were the same in Philadelphia. They were all 7th and 8th grade. It was also very sexist back then, I have to say, some of you might be old enough to remember boys took shop and girls took home economics. Anybody remember those days? And obviously we’ve come a long way and we now know that it’s equally important that my, you know, my boys know how to cook and that my daughter knows how to weld. But back then if you were a boy, 7th grade was wood shop, preparation for heavy metal, metal shop.
Now our metal shop teacher was quite a piece of work. This gentlemen used to come in and take role at the beginning of every class and then he would leave. And he would go to the faculty lounge, had a very kind of light view of education, I might say, and he had a very interesting grading policy. You had all semester to make one metal shop project. You lived or died, passed or failed off that one metal shop project. Well I had no worries because at 8th grade graduation the year before, the graduating 8th graders gave us incoming 8th graders a list; metal shop projects that can be made in one week or less. This way we could fool around all semester and not have any stress because we knew we could create a metal shop project and pass the class.
Now I was especially daring at this point in my life. I not only waited till the last week to begin my project, I waited till the last day. Because according to the list, the easiest metal shop project to make was a screwdriver. You take a steel rod, you cut it the right length, you put it in a fire, you get it red hot, you put it on an anvil, gather a group of guys around you to hum the anvil chorus, take one of those mallets, you pound down the one side, you pound down the other, you cut one of those yellow things into a handle, drill a hold, put the rod into the handle, let it cool, let it dry, ta da! Screwdriver. Any idiot could do this.
Well I was to discover that I’m not just any idiot. I did exactly what they said. I cut the rod the right length, put it in the fire, got it red hot, pulled it out on the anvil, gathered the group of guys around me to hum the anvil chorus, hit it one time with the anvil, one blow and I already knew I was in trouble because I flattened way more of the rod than the average screwdriver should experience. I looked at the clock, there really wasn’t time to begin again, so the perfectionist in me said at least it’s going to be even on both sides, and I kept working on it. It was getting uglier and uglier. I turned my attention to the handle. I thought I made a beautiful handle by the way, put the rod into the handle, let it cool and dry, it was official, it was the ugliest looking screwdriver ever made.
We remember this moment, a therapist would tell me later, this is probably the first time I ever dealt with depression. For I was up all night convinced I’m not going to pass 8th grade metal shop. They’re going to fail me, I’m going to go to high school next year and at one o’clock every afternoon, the high school principal’s going to get on the intercom: Mr. Butterworth, the school bus is waiting to take you back to the junior high to repeat 8th grade metal shop, you fool. So I was very upset.
We came to class the next day and we were all supposed to sit by our projects that were glaring up at us, and we were all very embarrassed you know because nobody thought they’d did it quite right, but I was especially embarrassed. But there was a buzz in the air, there was a sense of excitement, there was a rumor that the teacher was going to make a guest appearance. There was all sorts of energy in the room. And sure enough, the teacher comes waltzing in the classroom and goes to the front of the room and begins a prepared speech. And he begins by saying “Gentlemen, I’ve taught metal shop for many, many years. I’ve seen metal shop projects come and metal shop projects go but I have never seen a metal shop project like the one made by Mr. Butterworth. Mr. Butterworth, would you please come to the front, please.” I thought my goodness, this teacher’s into public humiliation, you know, and he puts his arm around me and he begins the most sarcastic, cynical speech. “How can I find words to describe this project? Where can I..” you know and I’m thinking who certified this guy? Where did he study? This is horrible.
So he gets through this speech, I’m sure it was only 30/40 seconds long. It seemed like forever and he finally gets to the end and to my amazement, he ends by saying, “And so gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to announce that the outstanding metal shop project of the year award goes to Mr. Butterworth for his chisel.” Now I remember this moment very well, too. This is the moment I understood the phrase go with the flow. I stepped forward and thanked everyone who made this award possible, my mom, my dad, my agent, my producer, all the little people. Of course all the boys were wanting to yell “I thought it was a screwdriver!” no, no, no I’m sorry we have no time for any questions from the press. And I was off to the limo.
Now this raises a great theological question. Why would God allow an 8th grader to make a screwdriver that would become an award winning chisel? Well as a parent, I think I have an answer. I say with a certain degree of pride, our five kids have turned out really well. We’ve been really blessed by God. And on occasion, someone will come up to me and they will say, “I know one of your kids and they are wonderful. How did you do such a good job? What’s the key?” And if I’m honest, what I really need to say is “I have no idea. I was trying to make a screwdriver and it became an award winning chisel.”
I mean, really, who thinks they know all there is to know about how to be an effective parent. Fortunately, we have a source greater than any human being. That God Himself has given us guidelines, given us instructions in His word; the scriptures that help us understand keys to family success. And many of us understand these and we embrace these and it’s my delight to just go through two or three of them this morning in one of the classic texts from the Old Testament. It’s Psalm 127, its only 5 verses long. If I may, I’d like to read you the entire Psalm and then just break it down with a couple of key points.
It goes like this: Psalm 127: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchmen keeps awake in vain. It’s vained for you to rise up early or to retire late or to eat the bread of painful labors, for He gives to His beloved even sleep. Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man who’s quiver is full of them. They shall not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies at the gate.”
A Psalm, interestingly enough, not by King David but by King David’s son Solomon and Solomon lays out some very important keys for us to understand what success in family would look like. God is the builder, not humans. God is the builder, not humans, unless the Lord builds the house. Somebody within the sound of my voice needs that message of encouragement today because for whatever reason, you have taken all the responsibility and all the guilt on yourself for the upside down nature of your family right now, and you need to understand that of course you have responsibility, but ultimately, it is God who builds the house. It does not say unless dad builds the house. Where are the strong men in this world? We do need strong men, we need men to step up to the plate and be the kind of leader at home that they should be. But it does not say unless the dad builds the house. It does not say unless the mom builds the house. Where are the women who pick up the slack for the dad’s who won’t do it because they’re out doing all this other stuff. It all falls on me, a tired, weary mom might say, and I understand that. But interestingly enough, it does not say unless the mom builds the house. It doesn’t even say unless one of the kids. Maybe you grew up in a house like that. Mom and dad weren’t around and it kind of all fell on me, the eldest child, or the most responsible of the children. And so I had to carry all the burden of building this home. No, it says unless the Lord builds the house. To me that accents the undeniable supremacy of the spiritual dimension in our home. That the way God builds a home is for allowing each individual to be in relationship with Him and as we grow in grace and knowledge in our relationship with God, our family grows that way.
The Psalm goes on to say it won’t help you to get up any earlier, or stay up any later, or work any harder. My generation, that was the solve for any problem, right? Problem at the job, I just get in the office earlier, I just stay up a little later, or work a little harder, I can solve anything. No, that’s not what is said by Solomon. “He says unless the Lord builds the house, it’s vain.” I mean I even love the metaphor: builds the house. You need to know that this morning, who stands before you is a man who has no idea what’s going on when it comes to building. If you remember that guy that used to be on television, the Tool Man, I’m kind of on the opposite end of the chain, all right? I can say I’ve only recently learned the names of the tools so that when my wife asks for something, I know what to hand her. When we moved to Southern California 30 years ago, we moved to the only place we could afford in Southern California. They refer to that as a fixer upper. I was soon to learn that’s Southern California code for dump. We bought the dump, it was all we could afford, but someone had to fix it up. And everyone looked to me and it was ridiculous and my wife finally said look, I’ll take care of the fix, you just go down to the hardware store and get the supplies and I’ll go do the building. And it worked great that way. I’d go down every Saturday morning and I’d have a little list in my hand and there was a little code that I had to use because there was only one guy that I would work with at the hardware so everybody else made fun of me. And I’d wait for this guy. If he were busy with another customer, the code was I’d go and kind of play in the nails. And he’d come over and he’d say what’s your wife want this weekend? And I’d hand him the list and he’d say oh okay, second story. You know and then we would begin, he would hand me all this; these are beams, these are nails, these are carburetors, you know all the parts that I still don’t understand, but things that would be important in building a house.
As we stand in this magnificent building today, I’m in awe because I think you know if you were looking to me to help construct a building, I think I would have to say all is lost. I would not know what to say. Matter of fact, if I could reduce it to one word, when it comes to me as a builder, the word is inadequate, inadequate, inadequate. If I’m honest as a husband and a father, you ask me to reduce it to one word: inadequate, inadequate, inadequate. It’s one of the great questions I have of God when we get to heaven. God, why didn’t You give us five, ten test families before we got the real one, so that we could work all the bugs out with the other ones and then really do it right. I mean for those of us that have multiple children, you know how it works. I see my oldest, I see my daughter to this day, it’s a knee jerk response, I just start to apologize. Sweetie I’m sorry, we didn’t know any better. You were the first one. We were reading everything we could get our hands on but it just.. I don’t know and then of course with five, by the time we got to the fifth, I think I knew a lot more but with five, you’re just so tired. And there always seems to be something along the way, doesn’t there?
But God says I will build your house. And it’s a mystery. There are many wonderful moms and dads who have worked very hard and have children that produce heartbreak and heartache. What did I do wrong? And there are other parents who seem to be completely uninvolved and their children are model citizens. And its one of the great unexplained mysteries of our time. Nevertheless, God says, if you will connect to Me, I will build your house. I will give you the ultimate, true success that you are really looking for. God is the builder, not humans.
Now there’s a second point in this Psalm as well. Children are rewards, not punishments. I’m grateful to hear you laugh, you’ll be amazed how many times I make that point and the best I get is what I call the gritted teeth laughter. Trying to be funny up there, aren’t you? You weren’t in the SUV coming over to church this morning, you know. But the text says, “Children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb,” fruit of the womb, we’re talking about children here, not underwear, the fruit of the womb is a reward. “They’re like arrows in the hand of a warrior.” Children are like arrows. That tells me several different things about the children in my life.
First of all, if they are arrows, that must mean that I am the archer, I am the one who takes that arrow and puts it in the bow. Therefore, I love to tell parents, your two most important functions with your children are to provide direction and motivation. Direction and motivation. Think about it. You take that arrow and you put it in the bow and then you aim it at the target direction. And then you pull back that bow string and you launch it, you give it the motivation in that direction, to go the way that it should go. Children need direction and motivation. And for many of us, we just give our children so many opportunities and that’s good but eventually we kind of need to hone it down to that area of giftedness. For every child is gifted. I was with a group of men at a men’s retreat just last weekend and a dear friend just shared the sweetest little phrase, he said, you know I’m a schoolteacher and we believe all children have a gift. It’s just that some children unwrap their gift earlier than others. Isn’t that a wonderful thought? Every child has a gift. So our job, as a mom or a dad, is to provide direction or motivation into their life. And then the other thing we need to realize about children as arrows, we are back in Old Testament times. Solomon is not referring to factory mass produced arrows where all of them are alike. Each child is unique. If you would look at an Old Testament arrow from a distance, they may all look alike but you take upon a closer examination and you realize, look there’s just a little shade of difference in each one of these arrows.
And it’s the same with our kids. Boy did I make a mistake as a young dad. I had the silliest thing going on because when all five of our children were born, I swear to you they all looked identical at birth. Just the big round face with the chubby cheeks and the little toe head there and they looked identical and I figured they looked identical, same mom and dad, same last name, they look alike, they must be alike. What a mistake. I treated them like they were all alike. I mean it’s crazy. Now that they’re adults, I can say to you they are as diverse as you can imagine. I have children who are extraordinary athletes. I have children that are very gifted musicians. I have children that are very creative artists. I have children who are brilliant and I have children who are not. All the same mom and dad, all the same last name, they look a little different now that they’ve grown up, but you see what I’m saying. Each child is unique. And the greatest gift a mom or dad can give their child is to direct and motivate that child into that area of their strength. Hit that sweet spot. Nail that skill set so that they are moving in the right direction. Grandparents can offer the same gift to their grandkids, great grandparents, it knows no generational bounds. As we connect with our family, as we help them understand that they are truly a gift and a reward.
So if I could say one final thing and kind of spill into the next Psalm for one little phrase, Psalm 128, verse 3 says, “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house and your children like olive plants.” We’ve changed motifs now. We’ve gone from home building to gardening. But not to worry, I’m as bad at gardening as I am at building. So I would offer one final contrasting phrase. Number one was God is the builder, not humans. Number two children are rewards, not punishments. Number three families should grow from attention, not suffer from neglect. Families should grow from attention, not suffer from neglect.
When my children were young, on Father’s Day or on my birthday, they used to take great pride in getting me a potted plant and their words were let’s watch dad kill it. Well I read all the literature, I understand about watering and sunshine and weeding and fertilizing but none the less, it seemed like they never seemed to live. Now the problem was perhaps I was traveling too much and didn’t give it the attention it needed and the plant eventually died.
And how often are busy dads and moms guilty of the same thing. We’ve got good reasons, we’ve got good excuses, there are very understandable reasons why we do what we do, but you know what, you only get one go around on this life, and we want to do the very best that we can.
Several years ago, I got a phone call completely out of the blue from my sister to tell me that my father had suffered a massive heart attack and had died on the spot to our complete surprise one August evening. And we went back to Philadelphia and we planned the service and we went to a very small church back there and I ended up conducting my own father’s funeral, which was truly an amazing experience. Because my father was a hero of mine and I got to share many reasons why he was a good parent. And out of that came the idea that you know what, some day all of this is going to change. It’s going to be my body in that funeral home and one of my children is going to have to stand up and say what dad meant to them. And my hope is that they will be able to say the same kinds of things that I said about my dad. My dad created for me what I have begun to call the short list, in a life full of choices, the things that really matter. And this new book that we have that demonstrates this, whether you get into my choices for the short list or not, the issue is you need a short list this day of the things that are really important. With the end in sight, how do you want your family to remember you? This great day of family celebration, this great day of joy, may it be a day where we also realize God is the builder, children are rewards, and my family will grow from attention.
Would you bow your heads with me? Lord I ask that You would take these thoughts this morning and drive them home into the hearts and minds of my dear brothers and sisters who sit in this room today and all who hear my voice. For the mom or the dad or the child or the grandparent that especially feels pain today, I pray that You would wrap Your arms around them and help them understand that You want to build into their life. You want to be there for them. For those of us who have pure joy in our life today because of all the goodness, I pray that we would be grateful for that and thankful and all of us in between. You truly are the builder of our homes. You truly are the one who offers us family success and we give You all the praise and the honor in Jesus’ name, amen.