When I read about this God who says ‘Look, I don’t care what’s happened in the past. You turn back and you honour Me in your lives, in your family; I won’t just bless you, I’ll bless your children and I’ll bless your children’s children.
The Dysfunctional Family
Well, here we are, a new week! And today we are going to start a discussion, you and I, about something completely different. Over these next few weeks on the programme we are going to be taking a look at what it means to build a godly family. I’ll tell you why.
Recently here at the ministry of Christianityworks we asked our friends and supporters to write in to us to share their prayer requests and here’s what struck me: at least eighty percent of the prayer requests we received – and there were a lot of them, I have to tell you – at least eighty percent were asking us to pray for people’s families: for my son or my wife, for my daughter, my husband, my auntie, my cousins. You know something? We actually care about our families. As difficult and as strife torn as many families are, blood is thicker than water and our families really do matter to us
And we don’t have to look very far, you know, in society to see todays families are becoming more and more dysfunctional. But here’s the thing: we kind of know that but somehow we imagine that, well, there’s this perfect family out there. In fact, the perfect family is the norm and the dysfunction we see in our own families, well, we are just the only ones.
‘It’s my fault. I’ve botched it up. We’re just stuck with this – it’s the way it is. The teenagers who don’t respect their parents; the adults in our extended families who are having feuds and they haven’t talked to each other for ages because they argued over distributing the assets of their parents when they died eight years ago. No, you see, it’s just my family that’s a mess. And that’s the thing, it’s what I’ve been handed; it’s the hand I’ve been dealt and there’s just nothing I can do about it – there’s just nothing. What’s the point?’
It’s true, isn’t? Living out families is sometimes like living out a gorilla war. It’s so in your face; every time you come home; every time you walk in the door – the whole ‘family thing’ greets you. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that every family is a basket-case – hopefully yours isn’t but sometimes we are so close to it all, it kind of feels like it is a basket-case. We get it out of perspective.
And in the middle of this constant relational tension you can get to feeling like ‘Aw, God, what’s going on here? Why can’t I have a normal family like everybody else – like those people next door?’ And let me tell you, I’m not talking about this whole ‘family thing’ from some perfect place, I can tell you.
Before I gave my life over to Jesus a decade and a half ago, I’ve got to tell you I made some huge blunders that changed the very course of my life and I am still far from perfect. But since that time God’s been teaching me a new way – I’m still learning.
So I’m at a certain place in my journey and you are at a certain place in your journey and let’s get over this comparing and judging and ‘Other people have better families than me.’ There’s only one issue – where do we go from here?’ And I for one, I am about building a godly family because there is such reward in that; such harvest and not just one day in the future but along the way, here and now – the joy of investing and sacrificing to make a difference in the lives of those whom we love.
We will talk about that over the coming weeks but today I just want to give us some comfort that God knows all about dysfunctional families. You can take the very first human family, if you like – Adam and Eve – and their two sons Cain and Abel. You probably know the story of Adam and Eve – you know, the Garden of Eden, then they sinned; they ate the apple and God kicked them out and they had a couple of sons.
But I want to show you something about this family – the interactions between the people – that’s a real stark reminder about the dysfunction in family. You often hear people talking about Adam and Eve and the snake and all that stuff from a theological perspective – and that’s great – but what about from a family perspective? Okay, Adam and Eve, they’ve sinned; they ate from that one tree that God told them not to. God comes looking for them – they are hiding in the garden. I have always thought that was incredibly smart to be hiding from God! And God brings Adam to account
“He says to Adam, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” And the man said, “The woman whom you gave me, she gave me the fruit from the tree and then I ate it.” And then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me. I ate.”
And the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures. Upon your belly you shall go and dust you shall eat for all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers and he will strike your head and you will strike his heel.” Comes from Genesis chapter 3, verses 11 to 15
So there it is: they rebelled against God and God – well, Adam blames Eve. The very first thing he does when he does something wrong Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the snake and I guess, the snake didn’t have a leg to stand on! You see what happens? We go from perfect harmony to dysfunction.
God tells them that that is going to be the norm from now on there’s going to be enmity between the man and the woman, there’s going to be enmity amongst the children and that’s exactly what happens. Listen to what Cain and Abel … what their relationship ends up like:
“Abel was the keeper of sheep and Cain the tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground and Abel, for his part, brought the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering but for Cain and his offering, God had no regard. So Cain was very angry and his countenance fell.
The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted and if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door. Its desire is for you but you must master it. Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out into the field,” and when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” Genesis Chapter 4.
So there you have it – the very first family. They rebel against God; husband turns against wife, brother kills brother. It’s the absolute natural state of affairs for a family that has turned its back on God. But here’s the good new, there’s a flip side to this coin for the family that turns back to God. A family that honours God; a family that has God as the head of its household – that family can expect God to bless it. Have another listen. Deuteronomy Chapter 5, beginning at verse 8:
”You shall not make for yourself an idol whether in the form of anything that is in heaven or above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them for I, the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of their parents to the third and fourth generations of those who reject me but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
In other words, when we put God at the head of our lives and the head of our families, He will show us His steadfast, unwavering love, not just to us but to a thousand generations. And you know what that means? It doesn’t matter how bad things have become in our families, when we honour God, He in turn will honour us.
Breaking with the Past
One of the things that bring so much dysfunction into families are the things of the past – things that have been handed down genetically, emotionally and spiritually. Our parents hand so many things down to us: their genes, their strengths and their weaknesses. People say that I look like my dad, I even walk like him but it wasn’t till I saw myself in a TV interview that I was shocked to realise that my very mannerisms are so much like my fathers.
It’s pretty scary! And so alcohol addictions and bad tempers and a tendency to whinge and complain; all sorts of things end up being handed down from generation to generation.
Dysfunctional families are much more likely to produce children that grow up to have their own dysfunctional families. Where does it end? Well, I have a simple answer to that – it ends today, right here and now, this very minute – that’s when it ends. Let me explain. See, it’s really easy to blame our parents for things … for the bad things that happen. If abuse happened in your childhood or you had a father with a bad temper or your parents smoked; whatever it is and they handed those things down to you.
I don’t know about your parents but mine, I had good parents. They weren’t perfect, they just worked hard and I am sure they can look back at their lives and go, ‘Well, I could have done this better or I could have done that better,’ but there is no point in just sitting here and blaming them and blaming the past. Things do get handed down from generation to generation, some of them are good things but others aren’t.
When you go and see your doctor, one of the first things he’ll ask you about is your family history. Is there a history of high blood pressure or diabetes or heart disease or mental health issues or breast cancer? Family history has a lot to do with our physical well-being.
Now my dad had Type ll Diabetes and in the end it took his life. My mother has high blood pressure and so I can sit here without exercising, eating whatever I want and whinge and complain about the fact that they could give me diabetes and high blood pressure, or I can get off my backside and do something about it. There’s a pretty clear alternative.
Most illnesses, you can work against them and reduce the risk and it’s the same with emotional and spiritual things that get handed down to us. Maybe you had parents who were into the occult, maybe you had parents who fought like cat and dog, maybe you had parents who knew about God but simply didn’t honour God with their lives. Well, you’ve got two choices – you can sit there and complain about it or you can do something about it.
Have a listen to what happens when we put other things before God. We looked at it earlier. God say
“I am a jealous God and I will punish children for the iniquity of their parents to the third and fourth generation. But those who show steadfast love, I will bless to the thousandth generation.”
It’s pretty straight forward! When parents turn away from God and chase after other things, it’s going to have an impact – not just on them – but on their children and their children’s children.
It’s obvious. We’ve seen how it works. A child brought up by an alcoholic father is likely to suffer the consequences of that in adulthood. There’s every chance that it will impact not just them but it will be passed down to their kids. It’s not rocket science – we’ve all seen it but look at the alternative that God talks about:
“Showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
A thousand generations – a new generation every twenty five years, that’s twenty five thousand years! We are only a fraction of the way into that since this was written (Deuteronomy) a few thousand years BC. Do you get it? God’s blessing to us and our families when we honour Him is just massive, and you see that in a lot of godly families. This dynasty of blessing flows down from one generation to the next.
Maybe there are things from your past – emotional, spiritual – that are impacting your life. Today is the day that we can choose to break that chain. Today is the day that we can choose to break free from the power of the past. Listen to the prayer that Nehemiah prayed:
“O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps the covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you, day and night, for your servants the people of Israel. Confessing the sins of the people of Israel which we have sinned against you, both I and my family have sinned.
And Nehemiah then goes on to ask for forgiveness; he turns away from that and he moves on. It’s a simple prayer; it’s a prayer of repentance. It breaks the linkage to the sin of previous generations – Nehemiah, his ancestors and his family.
We have all sinned! God is a God who forgives and God is a God who makes all things new again. He breaks the power of the past over us because His heart is to bless to a thousand generations. The Apostle Paul writes in Second Corinthians chapter 5, verse 17:
“If anyone is in Christ Jesus he is a new creation. Old things have passed away and all things are new.”
Let me take you back to some of the things that maybe you’ve had handed down to you – addictions or anger or bad behaviour or whatever it is – we can receive freedom from those things simply by praying and believing. God will work out His answer to our prayer in our lives in His good time
Meanwhile we can take stock of those things and decide to start doing something about them. Not in our own fancy strength but through a relationship with Jesus which transforms us. It is time to end the cycle of sin in our families – to stop it dead here. The buck stops with you and me. How about it?
Setting the Course
Now it doesn’t matter how dysfunctional a family is at the moment, all it takes is one member of that family to turn back to God; to honour God and God can and will make an awesome and mighty difference. It may take time, it may take longer than you and I would prefer but God is a God of grace – His heart is to bless our family to a thousand generations and He’s looking for some godly men, godly women, godly children to take a stand and say, ‘Enough is enough! It is time for me to build a godly family.’ First Corinthians chapter 4, verse 20 in the Message translation says this:
“God’s way is not a matter of mere talk, it’s an empowered life.”
That’s why this ministry I’m involved in is called Christianityworks because it actually does. So let’s talk about making it happen – an empowered life that sets about building a godly family. But you know what I have noticed? We can talk about a lot of stuff but most times nothing changes unless we actually do something.
It’s true at work; it’s true at home! How often have you been to a meeting at work and people talk about a whole bunch of stuff: ‘We’ll do this, we’ll do that,’ but after the meeting no one does anything. And guess what? Nothing changes; nothing!
We come home at the end of the day; we need a rest; we ignore things – the badly behaved children for example. There’s a great proverb: Proverbs chapter 29, verse 17 that says:
“Discipline your children and they will give you rest; they will give you the delight of your heart.”
I have seen this down at the local supermarket. The mother’s is with the child and the child just grinds her down through bad behaviour and she’s tired … she’s too tired to do anything about it so she lets this kid run riot, causing her grief and causing everybody else grief as well.
Why does it happen? I’ll tell you why – probably because dad is too tired to discipline the child when he comes home. Does he enjoy their behaviour? No! But this kid walks all over his mother, she’s exhausted and … and mind you the kid is only seven – wait till the little terror becomes a teenager!
You see, there’s fruit in building a godly family – tremendous fruit. Discipline your children and what do you get? Peace and a delighted heart! What you sow is what you reap. The problem is sowing is hard work sometimes and reaping seems … well, such a long way off, doesn’t it?
Let me tell you something – we have been talking about building a godly family but it ain’t going to happen unless we step out in faith and start making it happen. Yes, it’s about God blessing our efforts but if He’s got nothing to bless then, He got nothing to bless. I mean, if I am twenty kilos overweight, forty pounds, and I want to be trim, taut and terrific and I pray and pray and believe God for a breakthrough but I keep eating and drinking the same old rubbish and I don’t exercise.
Let me ask you something – is God going to zap me while I am lying on the sofa and miraculously remove the excess weight? Well, He could, and with God I never rule anything out but I have never quite seen it happen that way, have you?
Why would we think it is any different building a godly family? We behave ourselves into a bad place by what we say, what we do, what we fail to do – we behave our families into that bad place and yes, we should pray. But God expects us to start behaving ourselves out of that place. And that’s what we are going to be talking about over the next three weeks.
He is going to bless that but we have to do our part. So let me ask you something – do you want to have a godly family because if you do you are going to have to decide; that is what we want, plan it and start living it? We are going to have to decide that some changes have to be made. This easy, comfortable, lazy existence has to change. Discipline is painful; kids don’t like it much. It takes strength and perseverance but it pays dividends in their lives and in ours.
Let me ask you, how much do you want to have a godly family? And if the answer is ‘Yes, I do. I do!’, then some tough decisions have to be made. If your family is one with a husband and a wife, then it is up to the both of you. If it is a single parent family then it is up to you alone. But husband and wife have to talk and dream and decide what is important and set priorities and figure out how to do this – what steps to take first, and so on.
Mum and dad, you are the leaders and I happen to believe that ultimately, the father is responsible for the spiritual growth and nourishment and development of his family. The buck stops with you, dad! And that’s not a sexist thing because I have to tell you, so many women would give their eyeteeth if their husbands would just step up to the plate and take on a leadership role. So many kids would love to have parents who were interested in them, who spend time and efforts setting boundaries, enforcing those boundaries, nurturing them within those boundaries.
I have to tell you, as a person, I am a natural isolationist. I like my own company, oft times over the company of others. I really enjoy retreating to my own space after a hard day at the office, so for me, given who I am, getting involved with the family and kids and listening to what happened to them at school and at work – it’s not a natural gig, you know?
But we have to start somewhere. We can’t build a godly family if there is no relationship; if there is no interaction; if we are not involved in planning and making it happen. We are going to talk about some of that over the next few weeks. In fact, I have been speaking to one of the godliest families I know; some friends of mine who live in the USA – mum, dad and their NINE children. They have given me some of their pointers, both the parents and the children. This massive tribe, I have to tell you, they have got their act so well together.
I know it’s not perfect, but I ask them and I ask the kids: ‘Tell me what this godly family thing is about.’ I’m going to talk about that in the next few weeks but right now, we have to decide, each one of us, do we really want to have a godly family? Well, do we? And if we do, what are we going to do about it.
Maybe that’s something you can pray about and think about and talk about over this next week. We will look at it some more when we get together again at the same time next week, this whole thing of building a godly family.
But I have to tell you, when I read about this God who says, ‘Look, I don’t care what has happened in the past. You turn back and you honour Me in your lives, in your family and I tell you what, I won’t just bless you, I’ll bless your children and I’ll bless your children’s children and I’ll bless their children and the next generation’.
In fact, the blessing when you break the curses that have been handed down to you, simply by praying and honouring God and turning back to Him, the blessing that flows is a blessing that flows for a thousand generations. That’s who God is!
Listen to the audio at christianityworks.com