Your Family: Root, Stem, And BranchesErwin W. Lutzer | May 29, 2005
Selected highlights from this sermon
Every person is born into a family network. Relating to this network determines, to a large extent, how you’ll live your life.
Every thing a parent does will affect the family; conversely, anything a parent doesn’t do will also affect the family. Think of a violin. If one string is out of tune, the music it produces will be discordant, hard to listen to. But where the “parent” string is tuned, harmony will resound.
If you happen to be in a dysfunctional family, know that God will grant you the inner resources to put up with (and even benefit from) that situation. He can help you rise above the brokenness.
Would you join me please as we pray one more time? “Father, we ask that in the midst of the brokenness of this world that we might look to you as the one who is able to fix what’s gone wrong. Some of your people have come here today with heavy hearts for different reasons. Would you lift these burdens? Would you give us insight into family relationships that will be transforming for many? Our needs are great Lord and our expectation comes from you and you alone, in Jesus name, Amen.”
When you are born you are actually born into a family with a system. You are born into a network. Usually a father, a mother most certainly is in the home, and brothers and sisters. How you relate to this network determines to a large extent how you will eventually live your life. You have a certain amount of inevitability and certain cause and effect relationships that happen within families.
But at the same time there is individuality, individual expression and individual choice so that you can break out of the family system. You may be born into a harmonious relationship or you may be born into a dysfunctional one. But in each case there are these interrelationships that are very critical.
As you know, this is another series on the reclaiming the family. My message today is titled, “Your Family: Root, Stem and Branches.” We are going to be looking today at a dysfunctional family found in the Bible. It’s not the only dysfunctional family in the Bible. As a matter of fact there are many of them. What is so surprising about this one is that it is a family that you would not expect to be so out of control.
The family is that of David. We know David as the sweet Psalmist, the one who through his poetry has blessed millions and continues to bless us in the Psalms. But I need to emphasize that even though David had it together in his relationship with God he could never quite have it together with his relationship with his family. He failed miserably as a father.
The first part of this message is going to be very discouraging because I am going to tell you the story of David’s dysfunctional family. It covers several chapters of the Bible and that is why I will simply summarize it for you. As we go through the text you may say, “What a bad example,” and he is. But at the end what we are going to do is learn five principals that are very necessary to move from a dysfunctional family to a healthy one and what to do if you can’t move it at all or what to do if it just will not fix. That’s the agenda. I think it is possible for us to learn from a positive example. But it’s also possible for us to learn from a negative one.
The story is in II Samuel chapter thirteen. If you have your Bible we will be looking at a few verses from that passage. Remember that David had committed two sins: one was adultery with Bathsheba and the other was the murder to cover it up. The prophet Nathan came to David and said to him, “The sword will never depart from your house. There is going to be trouble in your family and the sins that you committed are going to be multiplied in the lives of your family. David, you set in motion a certain number of dominos and you are going to have to live with the fact that those dominos are going to have terrible consequences.”
Now there is a sense of inevitability that has been set up because God said that. But look at it in another way. How different it might have been if David, after he committed those sins, had gone to his family and begged the forgiveness of his wives and his children. He should have said to them, “Don’t do what your dad did. Look at the consequences!” Had he warned them through his own brokenness and humility, crying up to God for the need for them to take a different path, it might have turned out very differently.
But it’s clear that David did not do that. He did what many fathers do, and that is to become a passive father. He became very, very passive. Passive fathers have certain characteristics and David had all of them to an extreme degree.
First of all, a passive father often times has anger without action. They become angry but they do nothing! Let me tell you the story of II Samuel chapter thirteen. David had a number of different wives. That was tolerated in the Old Testament though not strictly approved by God. He had his oldest son whose name was Amnon. Keep the name Amnon in mind. He was the oldest boy.
But David also had two other children, a brother and a sister, Absalom and Tamar. Both of them were drop-dead good looking. In fact, if I had time to read the text later on when it discusses Absalom in his rebellion, there are several verses of scripture devoted just to the way he looked. He oozed charisma. His sister Tamar was beautiful, too.
Amnon, the oldest son, wanted to become intimate with his half sister Tamar. She said, “No.” So he set up a series of circumstances in which he raped her. You have a son raping his half sister. What do we expect at that point? We’d expect David to get involved and say, “Wait a moment now. Let us make sure that Amnon gets appropriately punished.” Then he should have come along and put his arm around poor Tamar and helped her in her need and in her shame.
What does David do? The Bible says in chapter thirteen, verse twenty-one, “When King David heard of all these things he was very angry.” We could add, “He did absolutely nothing!” Now he may have thought to himself, “Well I committed two sins, immorality and murder, who am I to get involved in my children’s disputes?”
Our hearts should bleed today for Tamar. The scripture says in verse fifteen, “Then Amnon hated her with a very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he loved her.” That is a commentary on the nature of sexual bonding if there ever was one. Verse nineteen, “And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe she was wearing. She laid her hands on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went.” Later it says, “So Tamar lived a desolate woman in her brother Absalom’s house. She lived as a widow, despised and filled with shame all because of this terrible, terrible evil.
David could have changed that. He should have gone to Tamar and said, “I am going to be with you through this. The God who has forgiven me for my sin is the God who is able to heal you of the evil and the injustice that was done against you. Even though society considers you to be an outcast, I am your dad and I am going to stand with you.” But, he didn’t.
What happens in dysfunctional families if the father is passive? The kids begin to take responsibility for what’s happening. So Absalom, who is a full brother to Tamar says, “I’ll take care of it.” Two years later Absalom sets up a series of events whereby Amnon, who raped his sister, is murdered.
Well, now you think for sure that David is going to get involved. But he doesn’t. The Bible says in verse thirty-one, “After this happened the King arose, tore his garments, lay on the earth; and all his servants who were standing by tore their garments.” Big deal! He doesn’t do anything. He allows it to happen. He had committed murder so he thinks to himself, “Maybe I can’t do anything here,” and he lets it pass.
You may say, “Pastor Lutzer you are being a little hard on David here. Are you sure he was that passive? The answer is that I am that sure. The Bible says something very interesting in I Kings chapter one, verse six. He had another son who was totally out of control in trying to take over the kingdom. It says in verse six that David never displeased him; David never crossed him or even asked him, “Why are you doing this?” David had a wonderful relationship with God. He was out of touch emotionally and in every other way with his very dysfunctional family. He had anger but no action.
Secondly, David accepts reconciliation without forgiveness. Absalom runs away and stays away for three years. Then he wants to come back. When he comes back to Jerusalem, David has him under house arrest for about two years. Absalom wants to see his dad but his dad won’t see him. David doesn’t know what to do.
So what Absalom does is he starts a fire to get some attention. That’s what kids sometimes have to do in a dysfunctional home to get attention. They have to do something just to get the attention of dad and mom. So Absalom begins a fire so his dad has to talk to him. His dad talks to him and says, “Okay, it’s been five years since the murder. You can come back.”
This story is told in chapter fourteen. You’ll notice at the end of the chapter it says, “So he came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom.” Wait a moment! Absalom, you murdered your half brother. Don’t you think he should at least be asked whether he is sorry and beg the forgiveness of his dad? But forgiveness was neither asked for nor was it received. So David reconciles without forgiveness. He doesn’t deal with the issue.
That’s the way it is in most dysfunctional families. No matter who is out of control, no matter what happens there is never a resolution. There is never communication that says, “Let’s sit down and talk about this and let us ask forgiveness. Let us make sure that there is reconciliation.” If you have some family member that is out of control doing evil things and it is never reconciled, the family just has to hush up and pretend that it hasn’t happened. Then they go on pretending to be reconciled when point in fact the issues that are unresolved are deep, damaging and sometimes very evil.
Now let me ask you a question. Absalom is able to be back in the good graces of his dad without even having to say, “I’m sorry for the murder.” Do you think Absalom says to himself, “I just really love my dad because he is so gracious and merciful and forgiving, without even demanding anything from me.” Do you think he said that? No, he hates his dad. In the next message in this series I’m going to emphasize that parents who do not discipline their children end up with those children who hate their parents. The kids will love you if you have proper discipline.
So what happens to this young man who has been able to get by with his evil? He begins to plot against his dad. He gets a chair near the gate of the town and sets himself up as a judge. He begins to steal the hearts of the people. Absalom would say things like this to the people: “My dad’s had a wonderful career. But, don’t you think he’s doing this wrong?” They’d say, “Well I hadn’t thought of it, but you really do have a point.”
He begins to stir up opposition against his dad until it results in civil war. Absalom commits immorality publicly to show how he distains his father. In the mist of this civil war David has to leave Jerusalem and eventually Absalom is killed in the process. David has been humiliated because he had a son that was out of control and he did nothing about it. You have reconciliation without forgiveness and you have sentimentality without strength.
After Absalom dies David is filled with grief. Down deep inside I am sure David really did love Absalom. In fact, I know that he loved Absalom. If you read it you remember the king said, “Oh my son, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died for thee!” But you know there are fathers who love their children who just don’t know how to express it. They don’t know how to do discipline and they don’t know how to do reconciliation issues. That was David.
That’s a very discouraging story, isn’t it? But you know there are lessons we can learn from this family that was handled and managed so badly. What are those lessons? I speak to those of you today who are in families that are out of control. Single family parents, families where there is no love and no concern. How can we help you? How can we manage to give you instruction, hope and advice? I take these lessons from the story of David and I add my own common sense so that we can help families.
The first lesson is that a family is an interrelated system. Everything that David did had an impact on his children. Everything that David did not do also impacted his children. The passive father has awesome power over his children even when he does nothing. The family system needs him and he isn’t there emotionally or physically. So David is connected to his family and he was in fact the root from where these branches grew.
The various mothers that were involved were next in line to do something that would have been helpful. They perhaps didn’t know what to do. You can only imagine the jealousy between the wives. Obviously this was a really difficult situation.
Those who struggle with alcoholism and the helpers who help the people have learned that often times you can’t just deal with one family member without dealing with the other members who are also involved. That’s why they now have family counseling and not just individual counseling.
Your family is something like a violin. If one string is out of control, especially if it is a very important string and maybe violins have a lead string, all of the other strings will get in harmony with it. If the first string is out of harmony then all of the other strings will adjust and they will all become out of harmony. That’s why you have to deal with the whole family system.
In fact, it has been shown that even if one parent ends up being mentally ill and having a great influence over the members of the family, often times the children actually adjust their view of reality in accordance with their parent. Somehow they have to make sense out of all this. Everybody begins to play a different kind of role to fit in with what is happening in the family leadership.
When a child is on drugs the question you always have to ask is, “What about the rest of the family?” If a woman comes to me and says, “My child is out of control and he’s into alcoholism or drugs or immorality,” I don’t ever begin by asking questions about the son. The first question I always ask is, “Tell me about your relationship with your husband.” If the husband comes I ask about his relationship with his wife. The family is a system and it has to be treated that way. If there is no father in the home then you have to look into that. The violin may be totally out of tune. You have to ask the question, “How do you fit in the big picture?”
The second lesson is that time itself does not heal family wounds. It would have been easy for David to say, “Well, Absalom has been gone five years. Surely I can just kind of forget about what happened five years ago!” Time heals none of the wounds, whether it is five, ten or fifteen years. Unresolved matters continue to have consequences, not only in one generation but also in the next generation. They boomerang and everyone is affected. It just lies there unresolved and not dealt with. Time heals nothing.
If somebody mistreated you, think of Tamar. How long would it take Tamar to forget what Amnon had done to her? She lives with it until her dying day. I’ve been to funerals where there have been family splits and disagreements. Have you ever been there? You can just feel the tension! One group of family members wants to come to the wake at a different time then the other hoping that they won’t meet. Now they have to somehow be connected in some way. Nobody wants to deal with all the underlying issues that may be ten, twenty, or fifty years old. Time really heals nothing.
There’s a third lesson that is so obvious. I read it this morning and thought, “How profound!” The lesson is that whatever is broken should be fixed. That really took a huge amount of wisdom! I thought about that for a long time! Every member of the family has a part to play. David was broken. He was able to fix himself in God’s presence but he was unable to fix his family members, probably because he never dealt with it within the family. He dealt with it with God but he refused to deal with it within the family structure. David couldn’t fix it.
The wives I am sure were not able to fix it. Maybe they tried to exercise some kind of control and discipline the children that were clearly out of control. But for the most part David’s family wasn’t fixed. His other son Adonijah was a very rebellious boy. The Bible says that David never contradicted him and never got involved in his life.
I am speaking now about you. What about your family structure? Some member of the family has to do something. You can’t just continue to quietly keep these secrets, play the different roles and pretend that everything is okay when in fact it is not okay at all; it is severely broken. Somebody has to actually do something. Maybe they need to ask forgiveness, maybe to bring people together or maybe to seek a counselor. Something has to happen.
I speak to you today and maybe you are a child. You say, “Well how am I going to fix mom and dad?” The answer is that you probably won’t be able to fix them. In counseling I have frequently told children, “God will never hold you accountable for doing a bad job of rearing your parents.” Children, you probably cannot fix mom and dad.
But there are certain things that you can do to fix yourself. You always begin there – fix yourself! You can begin first of all by establishing some boundaries. Let me tell you about some of these parents and some of these family systems that we are talking about, some of which have somebody who is very evil in the family. They are going to want to exercise control over you. They are going to find ways to manipulate you to put guilt and responsibility on you. What they are anxious for is that you will always come under their sphere of influence and be just as dysfunctional as they are. That is the goal of some parents and some members of the family. They hate it because you seem to be healthy.
Let me tell you a true story. An angry, evil, bitter woman was dying. Her daughter cared for her over a period of months, putting up with all of the anger that was spewing from her mother’s mouth. Do you know what her mother’s final words were before she died? She said to her daughter, “I shall speak to you from the grave.” Wow! The mother dies and they open the will and discover that her considerable fortune was given to one grandchild. Nobody got anything else, not the people who cared for her and not other members of the family - just one grandchild.
Then it was put in the will in such a way that this kid couldn’t inherit all the money and then be fair and say, “I am going to distribute it to other family members.” The executors needed to oversee to make sure that no other member of the family got any of the funds. What that woman knew is that she was setting up a series of circumstances that for years and years and years would continue to breed division and hostility in the family. She did speak from the grave - a message of hatred and destruction.
What do you do if you are in a family system that is broken and you can’t fix it? Fix yourself! Do not allow other people to destroy you for the rest of your life because they are destroyers. You put in place certain boundaries. That is a whole separate subject.
Let me also suggest that you develop healthy relationships outside of your family. You may discover that there are actually some people who are pretty normal out there someplace. Maybe you can’t find them within your family but they do exist. Find them and spend time with them. Make sure that you have a mirror that enables you to see reality from a different perspective and to be in places where you know that things can be different. You do not have to live the way your family expects you to live. You can rise above the dysfunction that is taking place within your home.
Obviously what you need to do is develop an independent relationship with God that is so satisfying that you can keep your sanity in the midst of all the stuff that is going on that is never dealt with. Remember the woman at the well? Jesus went to her and said, “I know that you had five husbands and the person you are living with now is not your husband.” May I say that dysfunctional families and blended families are nothing new. Just look at David and the mess in that family.
But here is a woman who could not look to a husband for any sense of affirmation or control or any sense of support. She had such a bad history with men. Jesus said, “If you believe on me you will find that within you there will be a well of living water springing up into everlasting life. You have inner resources that even your failed marriages cannot take from you.”
There is an independence that the blessed Holy Spirit of God can give us. I encourage you to develop that deep relationship with God, the satisfying relationship with God that says, “Just because my family is this way doesn’t mean I have to be this way. There is something more important which is that God grants me inner resources to put up with and even benefit from all the dysfunction that is around me.” So that’s the third point. Whatever is broken should be fixed.
Fourth, rejoice in God’s grace even in broken families. Look at how far we’ve come. The first lesson was that families are interrelated. The second lesson was that time itself does not heal family wounds. Third, whatever is broken should be fixed. Fourth, rejoice in the fact that God’s grace is seen even in the midst of brokenness.
We can see that in David’s family. Isn’t it gracious to think that God allowed David to write so much of the Bible that has blessed so many millions of people? That certainly was a mark of grace, despite the fact that he clearly failed as a father. God is very, very gracious. He allows us to be blessed even in the midst of failure. That doesn’t get David off the hook by any means, but it does show that things are not either one way or the other. It’s not all right or all wrong. In the midst of dysfunction God gives grace.
There is also grace in the life of Solomon. Strictly speaking, Solomon should not have been born because he is David’s second child with Bathsheba, a woman that David should have never married. We can say, “Solomon you aren’t really supposed to be here, you know. You are the result because David stole your mother from somebody else and had the guy murdered in the process.” The Bible says that Solomon was born and the Lord loved him. The Lord even blessed Solomon for David’s sake.
By the way, David had a closer relationship with Solomon than he did with his other children. It is very clear. Now here you have some sons who turn out badly and then here is a son who ends up writing much of the scripture as well, many of the chapters in the book of Proverbs. Solomon was one of the wisest men who ever lived and one of Israel’s greatest kings. You look at that and you say, “Amazing, coming from a family network that was as confused as David’s was. That certainly was grace.” And may I say that is grace!
Here’s what you find: sometimes you have a family system that is severely broken and two or three members of that system go into all kinds of bizarre behavior and they act out everything. But often times what you find is that there is a grand exception that says, “I’m not going to become a part of this system and let it destroy me. I’m going to make something of my life and I am going to be different. I’m going to give my life to God.”
I’m thinking right now while I’m preaching of a minister in the Chicago area whom I know who is doing a wonderful job and is a close friend of mine. He comes from a very, very dysfunctional family. Strictly speaking, when you look at his family there is no way this guy should be doing what he is doing today.
But God’s grace meets us at the deepest point of our need, for those that are willing to open their hearts to grace and forgiveness and help. God says, “I’m going to lift you up out of your situation and give you hope and give you help.” Even in the midst of brokenness there is always grace that stretches like an elastic band to cover the need.
The fifth lesson is to be sure that you belong to the right branch of David’s family tree. I spoke about root, stem and branch and said that David is the root. But there was a root before David and his name was Jesse. That’s the name of David’s father. By the way, part of David’s baggage was that he was the last born. He was despised by his brothers. He never really got the approval of his brothers and probably not of his father, either. There is some evidence of that. So David took his own brokenness into his system.
Here’s what I want to say. In the scriptures in Isaiah chapter eleven, verse one it says, “A shoot shall come forth from the stump of Jesse,” that’s David’s father, and that this shoot is going to be a person who has a spirit of wisdom, love, greatness and power. It is a reference to the fact that David stands in the line of Jesus. You have Jesse, you have David, and on through you can trace the genealogies as they are given in the New Testament.
From this genealogy, with all of its brokenness, you can see who is in Jesus’ genealogy. The prostitute Rahab is there and Bathsheba is there. In the midst of all of this Jesus is born. He is the branch that we must claim in order to belong to a more important family than even an earthly family. I say to you today no matter where you are that there is a heavenly family that God has given to us that we can enter through faith in Jesus Christ.
One day Jesus was preaching and a huge crowd was around him. Some people wanted to get to him and they said, “Master, your mother and your brothers want to talk to you.” Jesus made an astounding statement. He said, “Who is my mother or my brother or my sister but he who does the will of my Father who he is heaven?” No matter who you are I encourage you to belong to a family that really matters, the family of Christ. Go out there and make a difference.
There is a story about five young men who were in the Navy. In the Navy they had opportunities to be immoral and to embrace the world. Four of them did and one did not. Somebody said to him, “What kept you from all those temptations?” He said, “It was a picture that I carried with me.” The person said, “Tell me more.” He said, “It was a picture that I took when my family said goodbye to me. My father was there reading his Bible with tears flowing down his cheeks, my mother was there and my brothers and sisters were there and we prayed together. I’ve kept this picture and every time I am tempted I say, ‘I cannot betray my family.’” That kept him from absorbing the values and the pleasures of the world.
I’d like you to visualize another family. I’d like you to visualize our Father, who is in heaven, and the Son that has been given to us to die for our sins so we can be reconciled to the Father. That Son accepts us as brothers and as sisters and says, “Join my family.” I don’t know how we can possibly be kept from the world with more power and more encouragement and help than to realize that we belong to a heavenly family and we are en route to a different destination.
At this moment it does not matter who your father was, whether he was there or whether he wasn’t. I mean it matters, but just hang on for a moment. At this moment it doesn’t matter whether you were rightly treated or even whether you were abused. Yes, it matters. But ultimately what matters most is the divine family to which you belong. And if you don’t belong the way is through Christ. He died for sinners just like you. Receive him and become part of a family that really, really matters.
Let’s pray. “Father, this message was given to many people who came from wonderful, good families with support and the intervention of a father in the midst of family squabbles. It was also given to those who came from moderately good families and to others with broken families. Some perhaps have no family. We ask in Jesus name that you will give wisdom, help, healing and redemption no matter where we find ourselves. Oh God, make this church a church of strong families that model your intention for the family.”
“Lord God, bring about forgiveness and reconciliation that is based on forgiveness. We ask that children will grow up in homes where they are loved and cared for and that mercy and grace will abound. How desperately we need that in today’s world. For those who have never trusted you as Savior, make this an opportunity for them to open their hearts and say, ‘Yes Jesus, I receive you to become a member of the divine family.’ We pray this in Jesus name, Amen.”