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Imperfect Families Being Perfected by God
by Sharon Riddle
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I, for one, am glad that God didn’t put a lot of perfect families in the Bible. A daily quiet time could become a time of agony if I had to face reading every day about Jacob’s methods of perfect parenting, Zacharias’ tips on communicating with your spouse, or Lot’s techniques for raising godly children in an ungodly environment. Instead we find God’s Word to me more like a mirror, reflecting the real problems families face. I recently studied one family that was downright “dysfunctional”. Here’s the family in 2002 disguise:

Mom is a manipulator. She sees it. She wants it. She gets it. This pattern of living has been was reinforced from childhood through the role model of her brother (a great influence in her life). The end justifies the means for this lady. What she wants are usually good things for her family, but she tries to pull on God’s strings, as if He were a puppet. Unlike her mother-in-law, the purest form of trust is still a foreign language to her soul. She is resourceful, hard working and doesn’t like to be told “no”. She needs to meet the REAL God. The one you bow to, not the one you barter with. Does she live at your house?

Dad is blind in more ways than one. He lives in the same house as three other people. Yet he doesn’t get it. Or maybe he does. He just looks the other way. He should know better. There is woundedness, disobedience, and greed right under his roof and all he thinks about is “What’s for dinner?” His nose is buried in the paper when what he needs is more prayer. Does he live in your home?

“Jay” is being discipled by his mother. Only she doesn’t know she’s doing it. Week after week he’s been watching her ways and her deceitful character planting will be bearing fruit for years. Lies are so comfortable in his mouth that they fit like a familiar suit, well-worn and comfortable to wear. Underneath we see the little boy who just wants to please his mom and earn the respect of his daddy. Because He hasn’t wrestled with the God of truth yet, he’s content to be near others who have. Does he sound like someone you know?

“Hunter” learned how to please dad from childhood. He had the sense to pay attention to what dad liked and he learned how to get it. Day after day he had tried to bag his father’s interest. Unfortunately dad was a spiritual man and Hunter had little respect for the things of God. Traditions were tossed around like trinkets and relationships were trophies. It’s hard to know God when you have no respect for Him… trampling through his courts week after week, asking for His blessing, but ticking him off with ungodly choices and disrespect. Does someone like Hunter ride to church with you?

The family is described in Genesis chapters 25-36 is the one that belonged to Isaac, Abraham’s son. Isn’t it funny that this family was the recipient of God’s special blessing and heirs to the promises of God? But in many ways they were a mess. Their problems are familiar to us because they remind us of ourselves or at least someone we know. Smile.

And then there is God. He is faithful, patient, merciful, forgiving. We see Him walk alongside trying to teach Rachel to trust, Issac to open his eyes, Jacob to be blessed through being himself, and Esau to understand that the blessing of God is guaranteed to one who leads an obedient life.

We watch this family, and it is honestly one of the most “real” families ever described in God’s Word. We see inside their lives as if we were peering through their picture window with the curtains pulled back. We see hurt, anger and bitterness being thrown around the room (like an emotional pillow fight), and the severe results of denial taking it’s toll in jealousy and even hatred.

But there are a few things Isaac does right in his lifetime. In Gen. 26:25 we read these truths: So he built an altar there, and called upon the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there; and there Isaac's servants dug a well. Isaac worshipped the Most High God and he cried out to that same powerful God for help. He located his home and his heart near the throne of God, and God filled his well with water and his soul with nourishment.

Issac learned this from watching his own imperfect father. We find the same life principle describing Abraham in Gen. 12:8: Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the \Lord.

There are two points I want us to see in Isaac and Abraham’s relationship. First, the Bible is true that the sins of the father are passed on to future generations. When Isaac is fearful he falls into the pattern he witnessed as a child… calling his wife his sister to escape death. Even the most godly man or woman must live with the consequences of life patterns passed on to the next generation. However, what is just as evident is that our dependence on a mighty God is also “caught” by future generations.

We are all dysfunctional in some ways. We have all fallen into patterns of manipulation, deception, emotional near-sightedness and people pleasing from time to time. But the big difference in our epitaph will have more to do where we “pitch our tent” than with our abilities, connections or opportunities. The point is that there is no Bible hero in God’s Word who became one through his or her own greatness. We are all so humanly fragile, so mistake riveted, so sin bent, that left to our own devices we would never make it to the door of holiness. But the great news is that if we will purposefully “pitch our tent” in the presence of the most High God, that if we will consistently and continuously call on the name of the Lord, and dig our well of satisfaction in Him alone, that we will find our family, like Isaac’s, listed in the hall of faith.

God is the only one who could take a brother (Esau) from this verse:
GEN 27:41 So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself, "The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob."
To the relational quality described in this verse a few chapters later:
GEN 33:4 Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.
Only God could take Jacob, “the deceiver”, and turn him into a man of total honesty.
GEN 30:33 "So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come concerning my wages. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, {if found} with me, will be considered stolen."
Only God could make a promise to Abraham that in his descendants all the families of the world would be blessed, and then pull it off as He truly did. Who could have forseen HOW He would do it?
GEN 22:18 "And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice."
And so, years later we find Jacob, Isaac’s son, doing exactly what he saw his own father and grandfather do:
GEN 33:19-20 And he bought the piece of land where he had pitched his tent from the hand of the sons of Hamor, Shechem's father, for one hundred pieces of money. Then he erected there an altar, and called it El-Elohe-Israel.

Recently several pastor’s wives from our church attended a conference where Marilyn Blackaby was the speaker. She shared that with 5 small children (plus two neighbor boys she also helped raise), being in a remote part of Canada (away from family and friends), and with Henry on the road much of the time (he pastored two churches that were over 100 miles apart), she was left much of the time with the heavy responsibility of her children. One day she was telling the Lord that He needed to tell Henry to stay home more and help her with the kids. The Lord answered very distinctly: “Henry is doing what I have called him to do. I will help you with the children.” What a promise Marilyn received from God that day! The God of Creation who designed the universe is offering to tutor her in child raising and the Holy Spirit commits Himself to full time child protection services. Today, as Marilyn looks at her five children all serving the Lord in the ministry she realizes that when God makes a promise, He has the ability to fulfill it.

So on the days when your home is like Ozzie and Harriet’s, rejoice in the goodness of the Lord. But on those days when relationships are less than perfect and your abilities as a parent, spouse or sibling seem lacking, take heart. He is willing to make you the same promise He made to Marilyn. “I will help you.” Make sure your tent is pitched near the altar of God, call on Him for help and watch Him work. God knows how to make a dysfunctional family FUNCTION.

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