We’re beginning a new series today called "No Perfect Families Allowed, How God’s Grace Works through Imperfect Relationships."
This series will be based on families in the Bible. No efforts have been made to airbrush the complexions of even of most notable households. God doesn’t attempt to hide the dirty laundry of Bible families.
The Bible also presents the joys of family life, but it just doesn’t present the human condition in the home any different than anywhere else.
Our families have flaws because all humans have flaws. That’s why our church is a "No Perfect People Allowed" church - because there aren’t any perfect people. That means that we’re also a "No Perfect Families Allowed" church.
If you have something about your family that isn’t perfect – join the club. At Pathway we’ve got struggling families, stressed families and good families that are striving to be better – but no perfect families. That needs to be said. We need to go on record with that. People need to be able to come to church without thinking they need to wear masks in order to fit in.
Here’s a video to show you that you’re not the only one with flaws in your life.
http://www.youtube.com/watchv=grRnCSAzwuQ&feature=related ("Stained Glass Masquerade" by Casting Crowns, with lyrics in the video.)
We definitely need to close the curtain on the stained glass masquerade at church so that hurting people will know they’re in a safe environment. Turn to someone and say, “I’m not perfect and neither are you.”
Now look up here and say, "You’re not perfect either Brian."
Some of you enjoyed that entirely too much!
If you’ve ever asked yourself if you’re the only one in church “feelin’ so small” the answer is “NO!” We all feel small sometimes. We feel small because we know we’re not perfect and our families aren’t perfect.
So God’s Word addresses this issue because God cares about you. He cares about how you feel. He cares about your family! He doesn’t want you to think that you’re a second-class citizen because you or your family has flaws.
He cares about you if you’re single, divorced, widowed, married with kids or married with no children. He cares about the family flaws you have to face now, the family flaws you endured in the past, and the ones yet to come. God wants to help us handle the abnormal things about our family. I like how one lady put it when she said, “The only thing normal in our family is the knob that says Normal on the clothes dryer.” If you’ve ever felt that way this series is for you.
We begin our series today with the very first family, that household in the Garden of Eden composed of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel. Their story includes a couple of major flaws – but this family survived - so I want to talk to you today about "Surviving Family Flaws."
How do you survive when a spouse walks out on you? How do you survive the rebellion of a child? What about family members with addictions or other self-destructive behaviors? What about living with that family member out of control with his or her spending, or they’re lazy or inconsistent; a father who won’t be a dad or a mother who shuns the responsibilities of mothering? How do you handle these and many other family flaws?
Some of you have felt the pain the family flaw of abuse – verbal, physical, sexual, horrible. Or loss - the premature death of someone you loved dearly, or broken relationships due to irreconcilable differences. How can you survive? God has comforting and encouraging answers in His Word, the Bible!
Concerning the family of Adam and Eve that we’re considering today, let’s get the bad news out of the way first. The bad news about the first family is that we’ve all inherited their genes. We’re all flawed. The Bible says we’ve all sinned because we all inherited their sinful nature. But there’s also good news – news good enough to prevail over the bad news!
It’s good news that trumps every personal and family failure. And this is it: Yes, we’re all flawed – but we’re not flawed beyond hope! With God’s help we can overcome the impact of our flawedness. GOD’S GRACE IS GREATER THAN OUR FAMILY FLAWS!
Our theme for this series is Romans 5:20b (Amp)
"Where sin increased and abounded, grace (God’s unmerited favor) has surpassed it and increased and superabounded…"
That gives us hope for our lives and families!
I want you to keep this in mind in this series. We’ll be looking at some very dysfunctional families in the Bible. But no family flaw is too great for God’s grace to bring help and healing.
If we will plug into God’s grace and ask for His wisdom and follow His instructions we can have peace and joy in our lives no matter how tough things have been or are right now in our family!
We’re not going to rehearse all of the familiar details of Adam and Eve’s family flaws. What we’re going to look at is HOW GOD RESPONDED to their flaws. Because it is observing how God responded that gives us hope!
Here’s a snippet of the story from Genesis chapter three. This is after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.
20 Then the man — Adam — named his wife Eve, because she would be the mother of all who live. 21 And the Lord God made clothing from animal skins for Adam and his wife.
22 Then the Lord God said, “Look, the human beings have become like us, knowing both good and evil. What if they reach out, take fruit from the tree of life, and eat it? Then they will live forever!” 23 So the Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made. 24 After sending them out, the Lord God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And he placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:20-24 (NLT)
God had given the first couple complete liberty to enjoy everything in the paradise in which He had placed them. He even walked with them daily. We don’t know exactly how this was done since God is a spirit but apparently he had daily personal unfettered communication with them. Which is what God still wants with us and will be the experience of heaven!
There was only one thing the first couple couldn’t have. God gave them specific instructions NOT TO EAT from one tree – only one tree. You know the story. They blew it. The serpent lied to them and they fell for it and they did the one thing God told them not to do.
Next, God confronted them about their rebellious behavior. He came down for their daily evening walk and they were hiding from Him. When God asked them what happened they passed the buck. Adam blamed Eve for the fall and Eve blamed the serpent.
After sadly rehearsing their error, God immediately does something very interesting in the Scripture we just read. The Bible says in verse 21, “And the Lord God made clothing from animal skins for Adam and his wife.” The first thing He did was not to evict them. The first thing was not to pronounce the consequences of their sin.
Before God expels them from the Garden of Eden, which, by the way, was in their best interest, since He was protecting them from eating of the tree of life and living forever in a fallen state. So, before becoming an evicting landlord, He becomes their personal tailor and fashions them clothes from animal skins.
PETA wouldn’t have been too happy with God, but God created the animals in the first place so He had every right to use their skins as clothing for the only living beings that He had created in His image. Since we know the rest of the story, we know that God wasn’t just trying to clothe them to keep them dry and warm. If that would have been His purpose He could have done that much earlier.
Clearly this is a statement about the shame they felt after the fall and how God wanted to help them cope with their guilt. We all know what guilt and shame feel like. We’ve all been caught. Our hands have been found in the cookie jar and no one has to pronounce our guilt. It’s self-evident. Our conscience already told us that our selfish actions had been hurtful towards someone who loves us. God wasn’t simply judging them. He was establishing the shedding of animal blood as a prototype of the shedding of His Son’s blood, the sinless Lamb of God, for sin’s atonement. God was providing for the covering of their guilt and shame.
Our sin must be paid for but God was illustrating right away that we couldn’t afford what sin costs! But He can! And furthermore, He’s willing to pay the price to redeem us! You can’t take a tour of the earliest chapters of the inspired biblical record without right away seeing God as our Redeemer as well as our Creator!
We need to remember that the bad press often given to God isn’t true. He isn’t a hateful cosmic killjoy that wants to rain on our picnic. He loves us. He’s given us boundaries in life for our own good. If no one had broken God’s rules we’d all be living in paradise. God’s rules are for our benefit. God doesn’t want to steal our joy – He wants to promote it!
Now - what does this have to do with family flaws? I want to quickly share one sober warning with you and two positive principles on "Surviving Family Flaws" based on the story of the very first family.
First, the sober warning.
Sin is never a solo pursuit.
When we sin, the consequences of that sin are like the ripple effect on the surface of a body of water. What Eve did affected Adam and what they both did affected us all. When I disregard God in my life I adversely affect the lives of those closest to me. We can say when we break God’s rules, “It’s not hurting anybody but me,” but that’s simply not true.
Sin is like a cosmic boomerang in the home. Were it not for the grace and mercy of God not only the first family would have been sunk by the tragedy of sin but so would we all. Even still, our disobedience to God not only hinders our walk with Him; it trickles down to those around us.
If I rebel against God, my wife and children see AND sense that rebellion. My attitude is contagious. This is very clearly illustrated in what happened between Adam and Eve’s first two sons, Cain and Abel.
3 When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. 4 Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, 5 but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.
6 “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? 7 You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” Genesis 4:3-7 (NLT)
Abel was a true worshipper of God. He worshipped by faith in God’s plan. He had learned from the example set by God that true worship involved blood sacrifice. So that is what he offered. Cain on the other hand offered a grain sacrifice unacceptable to God.
"It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith." Hebrews 11:4 (NLT)
Out of his envy of Abel having his sacrifice accepted by God while his own offering was rejected he chose to take the life of his own brother.
8 One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him. 9 Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?” “I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?” Genesis 4:8-9 (NLT)
How could this happen? It happened because of the residual affects of sin. Cain chose to make the same foolish mistake his parents had made and disregard God’s instructions. Their self-willed attitude and disobedience to God’s instructions rubbed off on him.
We all run that risk when we disobey God. We not only break God’s heart and hinder our walk with Him, but we’re also like poison ivy to those with whom we come into contact.
I had a very small allergic reaction to poison ivy last week. A small place on my forearm and a small place on my shin began to itch several days after I removed a truckload of vines from the side of a building.
This is only the second or third time in my life that I’ve had an allergic reaction to poison ivy. And it’s never been very bad. The couple of times I’ve been affected the area of my skin bothered was small and it didn’t spread.
But I remember growing up that my two older brothers weren’t so lucky. I’ve seen them in terrible misery from the affects of an allergic reaction to "Toxicodendron radicans." (Makes poison ivy sound even more wicked when you use it’s scientific name. "Toxicodendron radicans." Sounds like an evil character out of Star Wars.)
I’ve seen my two older brothers with their eyes nearly swollen shut from an allergic reaction to poison ivy. I’ve seen them covered with calamine lotion. My skin would itch just looking at them!
Cain was exposed to a rebellious attitude against God and it stuck with him. We know that Abel chose to obey.
You say, “See there, I can sin all I want to and rebel against God and my kids may not be affected, my family members won’t be influenced.” Perhaps not. Maybe they won’t have an allergic reaction to the poison ivy of sin.
Thank God He has given each of us a free will. But why make it difficult for those we love to obey God by setting a bad example? Sin is never a solo pursuit. Even if those you love don’t follow your bad example, their hearts will be broken watching you miss out on the joys of walking in the light of God’s truth.
So a solemn family-flaw warning. Sin is never a solo pursuit. Others in your family may not follow in your disobedient footsteps – but your attitude and your actions will affect their lives!
Now two quick positive principles about Surviving Family Flaws from what we’ve read about the first family.
WE CAN SURVIVE FAMILY FLAWS BY FAITH IN GOD’S LOVE FOR US!
None of us grew up in perfect homes. We’re just like Cain and Abel. Our folks had flaws. Our kids will grow up and look back on our flaws. Abel was able (smile) to overcome family flaws. He was walking with God just like his parents had done before paradise lost. He was able to regain fellowship with God by faith!
I reiterate what the Bible says about Abel: "It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith." Hebrews 11:4 (NLT)
Was it difficult for Cain to bring an animal sacrifice because it cost more? We’re not told. The one thing we know for sure is that he didn’t have faith in God. He didn’t trust God. He didn’t realize how very much God loved him and wanted to be his friend.
If we will have faith that God has our best interest in mind we’ll learn and observe his instructions. We’ll establish a relationship with Him by faith – by trusting in God. We don’t have to be victimized by our own flaws or those of our family. We can trust God and change the course of our family history!
Or, if we chose, we can be like Cain. We can be religious but aimless because our religion is not mixed with faith. Oh yes Cain was religious. He brought his offering to God – it just wasn’t an offering motivated by faith.
This attitude of Cain teaches us the second positive principle about surviving family flaws.
WE SURVIVE FAMILY FLAWS BY BECOMING MASTER OF OUR WORLDVIEW.
A worldview is not only how you see things in the world around you, but your attitude about what you see. If I have a skewed view of the world like Cain I’m going to do something stupid. If I have a bad attitude I’m going to do something selfish. I’m going to hurt those who love me.
Remember what God said to Cain after having rejected his offering?
“You will be accepted if (circle that word “if”) you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” Genesis 4:7 (NLT)
Charlie Brown to Linus: “What would you do if you felt that nobody liked you?”
Linus: “Well Charlie Brown, I guess I would take a real hard look at myself, ask if I’m doing anything that turns people off; how can I improve myself; do I need to change in some way? Yep, that’s my answer Charlie Brown.
Charlie Brown: “I hate that answer.”
Deep down we all have reservations about that answer. Our humanness is prone to be self-centered. We don’t want to master our selfish desires. We want to give in to them. But we know that when we do we often hurt those who love us.
We close with a true story, "In God’s Eyes," by Candace Carteen or Portland, Oregon.
"By the time I was ten, I was totally ashamed of my father. All my friends called him names: Quasi-Moto, hunchback, monster, little Frankenstein, the crooked little man with the crooked little cane. At first it hurt when they called him those things, but soon I found myself agreeing with them. He was ugly, and I knew it!
My father was born with something called parastremmatic dwarfism. The disease made him stop growing when he was about thirteen and caused his body to twist and turn into a grotesque shape. It wasn’t too bad when he was a kid. I saw pictures of him when he was about my age. He was a little short but quite good-looking. Even when he met my mother and married her when he was nineteen, he still looked pretty normal. He was still short and walked with a slight limp, but he was able to do just about anything. Mother said, “He even used to be a great dancer.”
Soon after my birth, things started getting worse. Another genetic disorder took over, and his left foot started turning out, almost backward. His head and neck shifted over to the right; his neck became rigid and he had to look over his left shoulder a bit. His right arm curled in and up and his index finger almost touched his elbow. His spine warped to look something like a big, old roller coaster and it caused his torso to lie sideways instead of stright up and down like a normal person. His walk became slow, awkward, and deliberate. He had to almost drag his left foot as he used his deformed right arm to balance his gait.
I hated to be seen with him. Everyone stared. They seemed to pity me. I knew he must have done something really bad to have God hate him that much.
By the time I was seventeen, I was blaming all my problems on my father. I didn’t have the right boyfriends because of him. I didn’t drive the right car because of him. I wasn’t pretty enough because of him. I didn’t have the right jobs because of him. I wasn’t happy because of him.
Anything that was wrong with me, or my life, was because of him. If my father had been good-looking, like James’ father, or successful like Paul’s father, worldly like Terry’s father, I would be perfect! I knew that for sure.
The night of my senior prom came, and Father had to place one more nail in my coffin; he had volunteered to be one of the chaperones at the dance. My heart just sank when he told me. I stormed into my room, slammed the door, threw myself on the bed, and cried.
“Three more weeks and I’ll be out of here!” I screamed into my pillow. “Three more weeks and I will have graduated and be moving away to college.” I sat up and took a deep breath. “God, please make my father go away and leave me alone. He keeps sticking his big nose in everything I do. Just make him disappear, so that I can have a good time at the dance.”
I got dressed, my date picked me up, and we went to the prom. Father followed in his car behind us. When we arrived, Father seemed to vanish into the pink chiffon drapes that hung everywhere in the auditorium. I thanked God that he had heard my prayer. At least now I could have some fun.
Midway through the dance, Father came out from behind the drapes and decided to embarrass me again. He started dancing with my girlfriends. One by one, he took their hand and led them to the dance floor. He then clumsily moved them in circles as the band played. Now I tried to vanish in the drapes.
After Jane had danced with him, she headed my way.
“Oh no!” I thought “She’s going to tell me he stomped on her foot or something.”
“Grace,” she called, “you have the greatest father.” My face fell. “What?”
She smiled at me and grabbed my shoulders. “Your father’s just the best. He’s funny, kind, and always finds the time to be where you need him. I wish my father was more like that.”
For one of the first times in my life, I couldn’t talk. Her words confused me. “What do you mean?” I asked her.
“What do you mean, what do I mean? Your father’s wonderful. I remember when we were kids, and I’d sleep over at your house. He’d always come into your room, sit down in the chair between the twin beds, and read us a book. I’m not sure my father can even read,” she sighed, and then smiled. “Thanks for sharing him.”
Then, Jane ran off to dance with her boyfriend. I stood there in silence. A few minutes later, Paul came to stand beside me. “He’s sure having a lot of fun.” “What? Who? Who’s having a lot of fun?” I asked.
“Your father. He’s having a ball.”
“Yeah, I guess.” I didn’t know what else to say. “You know, he’s always been there,” Paul said. "I remember when you and I were on the mixed doubles soccer team. He tried out as the coach, but he couldn’t run up and down the field, remember? So they picked Jackie’s father instead. That didn’t stop him. He showed up for every game and did whatever needed to be done. He was the team’s biggest fan. I think he’s the reason we won so many games. Without him, it just would have been Jackie’s father running up and down the field yelling at us. Your father made it fun. I wish my father had been able to show up to at least one of our games. He was always too busy."
Paul’s girlfriend came out of the restroom, and he went to her side, leaving me once again speechless.
My boyfriend came back with two glassed of punch and hande me one. "Well, what do YOU think of my father?" I asked out of the blue.
Terry looked surprised, "I like him. I always have."
"Then why did you call him names when we were kids?"
"I don’t know. Because he was different, and I was dumb kid."
"When did you stop calling him names?" I asked, trying to search my own memory.
Terry didn’t even have to think about the answer. "The day he sat down with me outside by the pool and held me while I cried about my mother and father’s divorce. No one else would let me talk about it. I was hurting inside, and he could feel it. He cried with me that day. I thought you knew."
I looked at Terry and a tear rolled down my cheek as long-forgotten memories started cascading into my consciousness.
When I was three, my puppy got killed by another dog, and my father was there to hold me and teach me what happens when the pets we love die. When I was five, my father took me to my first day of school. I was so scared. So was he. We cried and held each other that first day. The next day he became the teacher’s helper. When I was eight, I just couldn’t do math. Father sat down with me night after nigh, and we worked on math problems until math became easy for me. When I was ten, my father bought me a brand-new bike. When it was stolen, because I didn’t lock it up like I was taught to do, my father gave me jobs to do around the hosue so I could make enough money to purchase another one. When I was thirteen and my first love broke up with me, my father was there to yell at, to blame, and to cry with. When I was fifteen and I got to be in the honor society, my father was there to see me get the accolade. Now, when I was seventteen, he put with with me no matter how nasty I became or how high my hormones raged.
As I looked at my father dancing gaily with my friends, a big toothy grin on his face, I suddenly saw him differently. The handicaps weren’t his, they were mine! I had spent a great deal of my life hating the man who loved me. I had hated the exterior that I saw, and I had ignored the interior that contained his God-given heart. I suddenly felt very ashamed.
I asked Terry to take me home, too overcome with feelings to remain.
On graduation day, at my Christian high school, my name was called, and I stood behind the podium as the valedictorian of my class. As I looked out over the people in the audience, my gaze rested on my father in the front row sitting next to my mother. He sat there, in his one and only, specially made suit, holding my mother’s hand and smiling.
Overcome with emotions, my prepared speech was to become a landmark of my life.
"Today I stand here as an honor student, able to graduate with a 4.0 average. Yes, I was in the honor society for three years and was elected class president for the last two years. I led our school to championship in the debate club, and yes, I even won a full scholarship to Kenton State University so that I can continue to study physics and someday become a college professor.
"What I’m here to tell you today, fellow graduates, is that I didn’t do it alone. God was there, and I had a whole bunch of friends, teachers, and counselors who helped me. Up until three weeks ago, I thought they were the only ones I would be thanking this evening. If I had just thanked them, I would have been leaving out the most important person in my life. My father."
I looked down at my father and at the look of complete shock that covered his face.
I stepped out from behind the podium and motioned for my father to join me onstage. He made his way slowly, awkwardly, and deliberately. He had to drag his left foot up the stairs as he used his deformed right arm to balance his gait. As he stood next to me at the podium, I took his small, crippled hand in mind and held it tight.
"Sometimes we only se the silhouette of the people around us," I said, "For years I was as shallow as the silhouettes I saw. For almost my entire life, I saw my father as someone to make fun of, someone to blame, and someone to be ashamed of. He wasn’t perfect, like the fathers my friends had.
"Well, fellow graduates, what I found out three weeks ago is that while I was envying my friends’ fathers, my friends were envying mine. That realization hit me hard and made me look at who I was and what I had become. I was brought up to pray to God and hold high principles for others and myself. What I’ve done most of my life is read between the lines of the Good Book so I could justify my hatred."
Then, I turned to look my father in the face.
"Father, I owe you a big apology. I based my love for you on what I saw and not what I felt. I forgot to look at the one part of you that meant the most, the big, big heart God gave you. As I move out of high school and into life, I want you to know I could not have had a better father. You were always there for me, and no matter how badly I hurt you, you still showed up. Thank you!"
I took off my mortar board and placed it on his head, moving the tassel just so.
"You are the reason I am standing here today. You deserve this honor, not me."
And as the audience applauded and cried with us, I felt God’s light shining down upon me as I embraced my father more warmly than I ever had before, tears unashamedly falling down both our faces.
For the first time, I saw my father through God’s eyes, and I felt honored to be seen with him. (From "God Allows U-Turns")
Today we need to see the flaws of those we love, and those who love us, through God’s eyes.