Family is God’s Gift

Our families are the center of our universe. Family is there when no one else is around. Family supports us, helps us, loves us. Family DRIVES US CRAZY!

What’s the old saying? “You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family.” There was a point in the creation story when the family unit was living in harmony; communicating, loving unconditionally and unaware of each others shortcomings. But then they ate the apple and in flew all the dysfunction. You know as well as I do that each of our families have some level of dysfunction; some level of crazy. There are some Biblical families that had a certain amount of issues; a certain amount of dysfunction – just like yours and mine. And in these stories we’re going to look for God’s grace. We’re going to listen for the good news God can speak into our dysfunction. We’ll discover that our family problems are not all that different from anyone else’s problems. And we’ll discover that God loves our families and can give grace even in the craziness.

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Dysfunctional is a word we hear a lot in the context of family. Dysfunctional is an adjective that means “not operating normally or properly.” It means “deviating from the norm in a way that’s regarded as bad.” Dysfunctional is a term that’s so often attached to family. We talk about the dysfunctional family. You don’t hear much about the functional family, but you hear a lot about the dysfunctional family. The definition of a dysfunctional family is this:  “A dysfunctional family is one in which conflict, misbehavior, and often abuse on the part of individual members occur continually and regularly, leading other parts of individual or other members of the family to accommodate such actions.”

That’s a good definition. There’s something wrong in one part of the family and it causes the other part of the family to act in a different, weird, crazy way in order to accommodate the bad actions.

God didn’t create family to be a dysfunctional thing. He didn’t create home to be a place where it’s just World War III. You know, we understand, as little kids, what home is supposed to be. When I was a kid growing up, my home had a lot of fighting and yelling and it was all brought on by a lot of variables; poor communication, unresolved conflict, money, fear, uncertainty.  I remember tense times.  Times when I wanted to leave/escape.  That’s not God’s intention for the family. That’s not God’s best.

You know, when you played tag as a kid the first thing you do is you set up home base? And once you set up home base that was the safe place. You know, when you’re playing tag and you’re on home, nobody can tag you out. You’d be like, “You can’t get me; I’m home.” And I used to play, and my friends would play, and my brother would always do this. He’d take his hand off home like this, just that close and you’d come to get him and he’d be like, “I’m home. Can’t get me! I’m home.” Home’s a safe place. It’s a refuge. But for so many people home’s not a safe place. It’s not a safe zone. It becomes a war zone. God has a better plan.

So what we’re going to do for the next several weeks is talk about family.  I believe that family matters.  But there are attacks taking place against the family. So while I want us to have fun with this; I want us to be real about this topic; maybe you’ll face some moments when you realize that God has something better for you and your family.  But all us, we have some craziness in our families.  We have some dysfunction.  It might be with our spouse, in-laws, parents, adult children, aging parents, kids.  We’ve all got a little bit of crazy. Own it.  Admit it.  I’m broken; you are broken. Ask my kids, they’ll tell you we’ve got crazy in our house, too.  None of us are immune and a lot of us have the same stories we could tell.  But when we come together in family, all those broken pieces can fit together and make something good.

So I want the next few weeks to be helpful for all of us.  Let’s own our craziness and at the same time discover God’s best for families; God’s purpose for families; and how we can receive God’s grace in our crazy, messy, chaotic families.

The place we’re starting today will be in setting the foundation.  We’re going to go back to the beginning, to the earliest story of family and discover God’s intention and purpose for family.  What is the measuring stick for family?  I know what my family is like but how does it measure up to God’s hopes and dreams and expectations for family?

Family starts with God!  God created the family.  In the beginning there is time, space, matter, humanity; the beginning of culture, customs, languages and nations.  At the center of all of human history is the family.  The formation of the family may be the most important event in the entire story of Genesis.  God created the family as the basic building block of society.  Your family, regardless of what it looks like, is a gift to you.  Even in the craziness, your family is a gift to you.  You may not believe me!  Let me tell you why – let’s build some theology around our family.

Let’s go to Genesis 1&2 and remember God’s intention for family and how this can be really practical right now, especially if your family is in a tough spot.

The place to start if you’re taking notes:  My family is God’s gift because they are made in the image of God.  That’s right.  You and your family are made in God’s image.  READ GENESIS 1:26-27. Have you ever stopped to think about what it really means?  “Made in the image of God” is an audacious claim—and one that probably carries some responsibility with it.  So, what does it mean to be created in God’s image? The Hebrew root of the Latin phrase for image of God—imago Dei—means image, shadow or likeness of God.  When this piece of Scripture was being written kings, Pharaohs, Caesars would put their image on a lot of things, especially coins.  So you knew what belonged to that king.  So this is radical what is written here in Genesis. God creates humanity to make himself visible.  God puts his stamp; his image on you.  That gives us value. You know who is represented through you.  And both sexes have godly value – God created male and female.

Now here’s the tough part – when your family is struggling and messed up and there’s pain or chaos; it can be hard to remember that you are created in God’s image and that person in your family who making it hard for you is created in God’s image.  When there is chaos, and pain and craziness usually a first reaction is to ostracize and demonize the person bringing the pain.  That just brings more pain.  What if we saw each other as the image bearers of God; even if it means digging through the crazy?

How you and I live in relationships is a reflection of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity says that the three Persons of the Godhead are all one, yet in some sense distinct from each other. The significance of this is that God is an intrinsically relational being in and of Himself, living in eternal loving relations between Father, Son and Spirit. So humanity made in His image is relational.

Your aging parents are made in the image of God.  Your addicted child is made in the image of God.  Your physically challenged brother is made in the image of God.  The husband who cheated on you is made in the image of God.  Your wife who divorced you is made in the image of God.  Your parents who didn’t have the best skill in raising you are made in the image of God.

Regardless of the level and pain of the craziness, messiness and chaos; how you relate to your family speaks volumes about what you believe.  If I believe you are made in God’s image then that’s how I will treat you as a person; and it’s a reflection of what you believe about yourself.  This doesn’t mean you endorse their craziness but it does mean that in some intrinsic way they are valuable to God and they hold value for you.  Even in the current reality of sin and brokenness we hold within us as created people the image of God.

What we see next in Scripture – READ Genesis 1:31.  God wraps up the action of creating and calls everything good.   Everything that God has made is good.  And he places these first people in Eden.  Eden means joy or delight.  God places us in a position of joy and delight.  So God created us for relationships and he places us in a place of joy and delight.  When we focus solely on the craziness and messiness and chaos we lose the joy and delight that is intended for relationships.

God says I’ve made this good.  When we lose sight of the good of our family; the potential of our family – the good starts to slip away.   But God calls this good and we have the capacity to reflect the work of the master artist who created us.

A lot of us are guilty of being critical about other family members.  We spend more time putting them down than lifting them up.  What if we lived out some goodness in our families like:  thinking before we talk!  Serving each other.  Giving compliments.

Everything God makes is good.  God makes nothing evil.  You know where evil comes from?  Genesis 3:1 it’s all good.  All of this good stuff and you can’t have it.  Eve knows Genesis 3:2.  You’re not going to die.  You’ll be like God.  Verse 6 – she took some ate it and gave some to her husband.  They think they’re going to find life but ultimately there is isolation (v8).  The goodness God intends is broken.

How are you letting God reverse the craziness and brokenness that leads to more and more isolation – and allow God through you bring his intended goodness into your family?  As redeemed people of God, God can use you to bring back his intended purpose.

Let’s get back to chapter two.  Here’s the next thing we see happening in this first family built on God’s intention.  We need each other.  READ Genesis 2.  God created us in His image. We were made for relationship.  The first relationship which profoundly affects all other relationships begins with God. It is on this meaningful relationship all others are to be built. We love God first and love our neighbors with the same legitimate concern we have for our own well-being. When we remove God from first place, we will rapidly begin to fail one another.  Meaningful life is found in meaningful relationships.

Each of us has value by virtue of being human, but as God said of Adam, it is not good for man to be alone. Our family is God’s gift because we need each other.  No one is an island.

The first thing God does in creation is that he brings Adam and Eve together – the first marriage – but more so to show creations that family is central to creation.  This first family is in a position of helping and serving each other. 

 From experience we could probably admit that the first thought we have when my family is crazy, messy or broken is to escape that family.  They are so screwed up I can do better on my own.  That’s a legitimate response.  At some point, each of us will become discouraged and disappointed with a relationship.

The health and maturity of a relationship are not measured by an absence of problems, but by the way the problems are handled.  How do you deal with relational disappointments? Do you blame, deny, run away, avoid, threaten, and manipulate? Or do you speak the truth, exhibit patience, approach people gently, ask for and grant forgiveness, overlook minor offenses, encourage and honor others?

Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t just make your relationships better overnight? We often think that if God really cared for us, he would make our relationships easier. In reality, a difficult relationship is a mark of his love and care. We would prefer that God would just change the relationship, but he won’t be content until the relationship changes us too. This is how God created relationships to function.

What happens in the messiness of relationships is that our hearts are revealed, our weaknesses are exposed, and we start coming to the end of ourselves. Only when this happens do we reach out for the help God alone can provide. While we would like to avoid the mess and enjoy deep and intimate community, God says that it is in the very process of working through the mess that intimacy is found.

Here’s the last point for today.  The gift of family is that there is a safe place.  God’s original intent is for a safe place.  READ Genesis 2:25.  The family can be a place of transparency; where there is no shame; no embarrassment; no ridicule.

This particular context is marriage so let me say this to those of you who are married and struggling with transparency and intimacy.  After God brought together the first man and woman, we find an expression of pure intimacy: “They were both naked and they felt no shame.” In other words, they had nothing to hide physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. They were “not embarrassed or ashamed in each other’s presence” In the Biblical model the Hebrew words used in the creation account reveals much about the unique gifts Adam and Eve brought to intimacy.

His gift. “The Lord God formed [yatsar] man …” (Genesis 2:7). The word yatsar means forming by plan or design, like a potter. Just as a pot usually has a singular purpose, God gifted man with a purity of focus that helps him initiate, protect and provide.

Her gift. “Then the Lord God made [banah] a woman from the rib …” (Genesis 2:22). Banah was sometimes used to describe constructing a palace. God fashioned woman with an emotional, physical and relational complexity that allows her to nurture deep connections. The good news for us is that intimacy thrives on differences! By refusing to hide from each other and God, and through honoring our differences, we bring each other exceptional gifts.  And it creates a place of safety.

Now we can broaden this to all of our other family relationships and ask “how am I intentionally creating a safe place where people in my family can be transparent with each other with no fear?”

All of us have a certain amount of dysfunction in our family; craziness, messiness, chaos.  Call it what you will.  Sometimes we get used to it and start to think it’s normal. In Genesis, God describes normal.  God made the family and God has a great picture of what a healthy family can be.  God has a plan for the family.  It is still the basic building block of society.  So, as Jesus followers, how do we let God take our brokenness and craziness and turn it around to bless people and show our culture how God still uses the family.

Why is Love So Hard?

Relationships are hard! Can we agree on that? Whether it’s marriage, kids, co-workers, aging parents, an ex, or church – relationships are hard. Sometime we manage relationships really well and they thrive. Other times, regardless of what we do – relationships just blow up and create a chain reaction. It is impossible to do life by ourselves, so we need relationships – but sometimes we have to admit that life would be pretty good if it weren’t for other people.

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Relationships are hard! Can we agree on that? Whether it’s marriage, kids, co-workers, aging parents, an ex, or church – relationships are hard. Sometime we manage relationships really well and they thrive. Other times, regardless of what we do – relationships just blow up and create a chain reaction. It is impossible to do life by ourselves, so we need relationships – but sometimes we have to admit that life would be pretty good if it weren’t for other people.

But unless we go off the grid and hole up in some cabin in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles from another soul, we’re going to need to interact with people.

So here in the middle of summer, I thought we’d take some time to get really practical with Scripture and see what God says about relationships and how to live together. Today, I want to take a big picture look at relationships. In the coming weeks we’ll get really specific about things like communication and conflict; about betrayal and commitment. But today, let’s just get a big picture view of relationships from Scripture and begin to understand why they are so hard in the first place. Now this series isn’t about marriage, although we’ll talk about marriage – because marriage is one of the hardest things we do. This series is about all our relationships and how to move to a place of thriving and healing. So whether you’re single or married, a parent or child whatever season and position of life you are in, God’s word will give us wisdom.

Now as someone who has been married for twenty years, with two teenage boys and work as a church professional – I know a thing or two about relationships. In a marriage of twenty years, I’ll confess that Melissa and I have had one or two conflicts! Does that surprise you? Can anyone else understand that? Someone once asked Melissa if in the really hard times when I really screwed up if she ever thought about divorce. She said, “divorce, no. Murder, yes.” So I’ve been on thin ice. Relationships are hard. They are complicated and messy. Have you lived there before? Why does love need to be so hard? It seems like it should be easy. You love freely and completely and that love is returned to you freely and completely. But that’s not how it always works.

Let’s go back to the first pages of the Bible and begin to build a Biblical worldview on relationships and discover why they work like they do and why love is so hard. Because there are two competing worldviews in our minds right now. One is the Biblical worldview on relationships and the other is the secular/cultural worldview. This worldview says, basically, that the whole goal of life is to be happy. But there’s something interesting about the pursuit of happiness. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this but there’s something called the Hedonism Paradox. Here’s what it says: We fail to attain pleasures/happiness if we deliberately seek them. Isn’t that miserable? We seek happiness but we’ll never attain it.

There was a guy named Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist, a holocaust survivor. He wrote a book called man’s search for meaning. In that book he talks about happiness and he says, “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than one’s self or as the byproduct of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

Life must be lived that you give yourself, your energies to something or someone other than yourself. That’s where happiness is found. Here’s the amazing thing – that’s the Biblical worldview. So if you somehow get sucked into the idea that happiness is the goal and relationship exist to make me happy you will be consistently miserable. Continuing to search for someone who can finally make you happy and if you’re not happy the problem is them. Relationships are hard.

Genesis 3 – the very first relationship recorded in the Bible.
How do we see this relationship work and what kind of things are still true today?

v.1 right away the serpent is bringing doubt into what God has said. Now this is not what God says. God says that they have a lush garden with plenty of food to enjoy. But that cannot eat from the tree in the middle of the garden – knowledge of good and evil. Serpent says – did God really says you couldn’t eat from any tree in the garden? Here comes that wave of deception. God is holding out on us. Your obedience to God is costing you. There are things that are good and great for you out there if you’ll just throw off the shackles of your religion. There’s so many great things and God is holding you back. Here’s the thing, God really doesn’t love you. If he did he wouldn’t be holding out on you.

v.2 -3 read – so far so good. She’s confident she’s clear. She’s accurate. You must not eat or even touch it you will die. Did God say anything about touching it (Gen 2:16)? Feely eat from every tree…

Do you see the subtlety? She was so clear but then she’s drawn into confusion. Start to believe that God is holding out on us and then we start to look outside of the commands. Things start to look good and great. And God is so restrictive and so binding.

v. 4 You won’t die! Now the lie has gotten even more subtle. In some ways there’s truth to this. They won’t die immediately.

v.5 God knows that your eyes will opened and you will be like God. At first it was lies about God’s character but now it’s lies about how God feels about you. It’s not only that God is holding out on you but now he’s doesn’t really love you.

v. 6 Now she is convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and she took the fruit. Then she took some and gave it to her husband. Who was strangely passive and silent to this point. And he ate it too and at that moment their eyes were opened and they suddenly felt the shame of their nakedness.

v. 8 heard the sound of God walking in the garden. The same thing they heard countless times before now disturbs them. So they hid. And God starts to call out for them, “where are you?” He already knows the answer. But he asks the question to draw them in. From the very first pages of Scripture God becomes the pursuer of us. He seeks to draw us out. God steps into time and space history and pursues he children to tell them that he loves. But we are constantly rebelling, believing lies, and hiding.

v. 10 – 11. More questions to which God knows answer. But now the man replies in typical manly fashion. It was the woman you gave me! Before Adam was happy. He remembered that whole rib thing and she was great. But now, it was the woman! You gave her to me, remember. It’s not just her fault. God, it’s your fault. You gave her to me. She gave me the fruit, because she prepares the meals, I just consume them.

v.13 God asks the woman And in like fashion she responds, the serpent deceived me. And who made that serpent, God? That’s why I ate it. It had nothing to do with me. It’s really not my fault.

Do you see the temptation come in? The deceiver brings lies. It’s consistent with his character. The Deception comes in – you won’t die, your rebellion won’t cost you anything. And God is holding out on you, he doesn’t really love you.

The biblical worldview says that humanity in its very nature is broken. From this moment on, every relationship is broken. And I can tell you that my relationship looks just like that! And so do yours. It’s so unpopular to talk about mankind having a sickness in their souls; it’s almost illegal. But the Biblical worldview says that humanity is broken. Left to ourselves we are sinful. And because of this brokenness inside us, every relationship we enter into has a sense of brokenness. And we don’t like it! We’d rather blame someone else. There’s a deep problem in all of us and that problem is that we are selfish to the core.

We can see as we watch this story unfold that we can see the effects of sin on this relationship. The first thing we see is that there is fear rooted in shame. They become afraid. First to be able to show themselves to one another and then to show themselves to God. They are suddenly aware and insecure about what is showing. I don’t think we can imagine a relationship where we can stand before our spouse and God and not even realize we’re naked. If I were to come out here without a shirt on I be so freaked out and so would you and we wouldn’t get a thing done. We’re completely wrapped up in our physical appearance and they become suddenly afraid and they cover and hide.

And just so you know every relationship is like that. All of us are covering stuff we don’t want seen. And hiding stuff we don’t want to come out. And it’s marked with this very destruction emotion called shame. And while Jesus forgives our sin and completely removes sin, we still marked with the residual effects of sin that pops up in shame. And so we’ll hide in our insecurities. We’ll make sure that you don’t get to see the kinds of things that we’re capable of. Man if you knew all of the things that are true about me you call the bishop immediately. Or you’d at least go to a different church. I’m not going to show you all that! No way. And you’re not going to show me. Thank you! I don’t want to see that. I’ve got my own stuff! Relationships are complicated because we never know when the real us is going to show up.

And when we get brave or whenever we slip up or whenever we stay in a relationship long enough where we can’t hide it anymore; we hide our stuff based upon insecurities but then we forget the lies we’ve already told. So we slip up and show the real us. And whenever that happens we get the third effect: blame rooted in denial. It’s not my fault. It’s just something that happened. Fear. Hiding. And blame.

Now what do we do with this? What do we do knowing that every single relationship is broken? It’s broken because we’re broken.

Identify the lies in your life that you’ve begun to embrace. The story of the gospel has a bad news component and a good news component. The bad news is God is holy and we’re not; sin costs. There’s a penalty to sin. The good news is that Jesus paid that penalty. And by faith through grace you can be absolutely forgiven.

Now Satan attacks both of those. He says on the one hand, sin’s not that bad. It won’t cost you. You deserve it. God won’t mind.

On the other hand, he’ll say God hasn’t forgiven you. He’s holding out, he’s still ticked at you. God’s up there angry.
Identify which lie you’re embracing.

Admit your failures. If you embrace a biblical worldview admitting your failures should be the easiest thing you could do. You already know at the outset your broken so when you make a mistake its not a surprise. It doesn’t mean your not sorry about it but it shouldn’t be a surprise.

We live by grace but yet we find it so hard to admit our failures. Relationships get even harder when there are mistakes that happen and no one wants to admit it. Relationships cannot move forward when you’re not willing to admit when you’re wrong. Reconciliation is impossible when your not willing to admit failure. Relationships are hard. We think if they know I messed up, or failed or made mistakes; they’ll think I’m weak, or that I goofed up, or that I can’t control myself. They already think that! They’ll think I’ve got a problem – because we all do. That’s why Jesus came.

Embrace the truth. What is the truth about the people who are God’s people? What is the essence of your identity? You are the beloved! God looks on you with such favor and such love.

Henri Nouwen said this, “self rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the beloved.” You thought is was something else. But how you identify yourself at your core in your heart of hearts defines all of the relationships that you have.
You are God’s beloved.

In this story Satan comes to us and he brings accusations about God that are not true. And we believe him. God’s holding out on you. Yeah I think he is. God’s too strict. Yeah he is pretty strict.
Satan also goes to God and makes accusations about you that are partially true. And God rejects them every time.

When we hear accusations about God we are so quick to embrace them. But God will never do that with you. When Satan comes and makes accusations against us, God says no that person is covered by the blood of Jesus.

If you’ve never embraced the love of God in Christ, today is the day to embrace it because all of us are broken inside. And the only hope we have of getting fixed because we can’t fix ourselves; if you’re holding out for more education, more training or resources to fix your relationships, take a look around. If training, resources or education would make relationships work then the US would certainly have the most healthy relationships anywhere. How are we doing?

If you’ve never embraced the reality of Jesus surrender your heart to him. And if you have embraced Jesus and your relationships are difficult it should make sense that they are. But step back from it and remember “I am Christ’s beloved.” I can extend graciousness and I can be brave and admit failure because I am completely forgiven. God knows you completely and loves you unconditionally.

Romans 8:31-39.

Relationships are hard. Your relationships are broken and so are mine. But there is hope in Jesus.