Episode 1. God’s Grand Design
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Families. They’re something we tend to take for granted. They just exist. Most of us were born into a family. Most of us grew up in a family. Many of us have started our own families. And yet this …
Families: They’re something we tend to take for granted. They just exist. I mean, most of us were born into a family; most of us grew up in a family, and many of us have started our own families, and yet this thing we call family doesn’t always turn out to be what we’d hoped, does it?
God’s Grand Design
For a long time, I had a series of messages bubbling around inside me, and unusually it’s taken me quite a while to crystallise my thinking. Now that’s really unusual. Each year I present over five hundred radio and television messages like this one, and so as you can imagine, I have to churn them out pretty quickly. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but the reality is that the ideas have to come together and the words have to come together in a short time, otherwise I just fall behind, but this one about family … well, it’s taken a while to come together because it just ain’t easy. What constituted a normal, common family when I was growing up isn’t necessarily what families look like today, and whilst we all have hopes and dreams about what our families should be, they don’t always turn out that way.
Over the years, I’ve talked a lot about families on the programme, and the response has always amazed me. More often than not, people write to me about the sad things that have happened in their families. They’ve pleaded with me to deal with this issue and that issue, and it’s out of those anguished cries that this series of messages has been born. I’ve called it ‘Family – When Things Don’t Turn out the Way You’d Hoped’. Today and over the next few weeks, we’re going to chat about the realities of this thing we call family right here and now, in the twenty-first century because whilst the ideal model of family is a happy and loving husband and wife mum-and-dad combo, with a clutch of happy healthy well-adjusted children (that’s the rosy ideal we each have in our heads, right?), the reality for many families – may I suggest, for most families – is vastly different.
So many people, young and old, are hurting and aching because of their family relationships or lack of family relationships. It seems to me it’s time to talk about that reality, and discover what God has to say into those situations, because no matter how good, bad or ugly your family situation happens to be, God loves you beyond anything that you and I could put into words. God is in that place with you, and He wants to heal when you need healing, comfort and console when you need that, and He wants to give you (I believe this with all my heart) … He wants to give you hope for the future: His hope, because His plan from the very beginning was and remains that we should not be alone. He hasn’t made us to be alone; He’s made us to be part of a loving family. Now let me pre-empt something here, for those who are living life as singles, and by the way, being treated by other people sometimes as though there must be something wrong with you: We’re going to be talking about singleness in this series as well, because it’s God’s plan for some people.
Now let’s step out and look at God’s grand design for us to live in family relationships: A grand design that He set out right from the beginning. Let’s get a handle here on what God had in mind when He created this whole idea of family. Genesis 1:26-28:
And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: Cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” It was so, and God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in His image; in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
It’s an amazing plan. In the image of God we were created, male and female. Even though God reveals Himself in the Bible through Jesus and through the masculine gender, women are every bit as much created in the image of God as men are, and He tells them to go and be fruitful and multiply. That whole thing right there tumbles right out of God’s image, the trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three in one. Man and woman, husband and wife, who become two in one, and just a little further on, God explains exactly what that means. Genesis 2:7-25:
Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living thing. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He put the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground, the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food: The Tree of Life also in the midst of the garden, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make for him a helper as his pastor.” So out of the ground, the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. But for the man, there was not found a helper as his pastor, so the LORD caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man and he slept. Then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the place with flesh, and the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man, He made into a woman and brought her to the man.
The man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called woman, for out of a man she was taken.” Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and they were not ashamed.
You see, out of that grand design, families came into being. Out of God’s design for us not to be alone, and out of His plan for us to be fruitful and multiply, and bring children into a healthy safe loving environment, families came into being. Now there’s a way to go to develop the sort of understanding that we have of families today, but there’s the beginning of it, dare I say the genesis of it. Families are as much a part of God’s grand design for this world as every other part of creation.
Through science, we marvel at the magnificence of God’s creation: The trillions upon trillions of stars, spread across distances so vast that we simply can’t comprehend them, collectively producing so much energy that we couldn’t even begin to imagine; the intricacy of atoms, of molecules and living cells, let alone animals and people. It’s truly amazing, and it’s as part of that incredible creation narrative that families were born: Just as amazing, just as wondrous, just as powerful, just as incomprehensible as any other part of creation. Let’s never forget that. Let’s never ditch God’s grand plan for family, just because we come up with something that we think is better or more convenient.
Now, yes, sin entered the world. Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and there have been terrible consequences to that. That’s what we’re going to be looking at after the break, and it’s for that very reason that I’ve called this series of messages ‘Family – When Things Don’t Turn out the Way You’d Hoped’ – because it’s that sin that causes the pain and the devastation that’s going on in so many families today. But the starting point of families, the starting-point of this series, has to be with God’s grand design for family. Let’s never lose sight of that. Nothing that humanity can come up with, none of the alternative options that people are living and advocating today, no matter how passionately or how strongly, can come anywhere close to God’s plan of one man and one woman falling in love, leaving their parents, and becoming one flesh as the starting point for providing a safe, loving environment into which children can be born and raised. It’s an incredibly grand design. Don’t you think?
It’s not an Easy Road
Boy meets girl, they fall in love and with stars in their eyes, they walk down the aisle and commit their lives to one another. What a rosy picture, and it’s a picture that’s reinforced and represented to us over and over again. You’d be amazed how many of the ads on television dangle a happy, loving, intimate marriage under your nose as the brand promise, if you buy whatever they happen to be selling today. From orange juice to luxury homes, the picture of the ideal family is presented to us over and over again, and so we start believing that that’s how ninety-nine point nine percent of all families are. Now we kind of know they’re not, but we still swallow this lie; hook, line and sinker ‘cos we want to believe it.
My wife Jacqui and I were on holidays a few months back, and we met another lovely couple who live not far from us, so we’ve kept in touch. They’re retired, reasonably well-off, it would seem, a beautiful home with a few acres out of town happily-married; they seem to have it all. We caught up with them for lunch recently and came to know them a little bit better. Interesting. Behind their apparently ideal lives lie some significant issues with their adult children. They didn’t go into a lot of detail, but it just made me realise how there’s no such thing as the absolutely perfect family. In fact, I can’t think of one family that we know in our lives who has it all sorted: Where everyone loves everyone else; where there aren’t any hurts or divisions; where the children have all grown up to fit with what their parents had hoped for them; where … You’re getting the picture, right?
You see, God’s master-plan for our families was a perfect one. He created Adam; He created Eve so that Adam wouldn’t be alone; He blessed them with a beautiful garden, where they had complete safety and everything they would possibly ever need. Then, Adam and Eve do the one thing that God tells them not to do. Tempted by the serpent, they eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and so, this is what happens to them. Genesis 3:16-22:
To the woman God said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing. In pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you: You shall not eat of it, cursed is the ground because of you. In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The man named his wife Eve because she was the mother of all living, and the LORD made garments of skin for the man and for his wife, and clothed them. Then the LORD said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, and now he might reach out his hand and take also from the Tree of Life, and eat and live for ever.’ Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden, He placed a cherubim and sword flaming, and turned to guard the way to the Tree of Life.
So as a result of their sin, as a result of their rebellion against God, a few things happened. Firstly, the woman would experience pain in childbirth, and though she desires her husband, now he will rule over her. That’s a punishment. Strife and enmity between husband and wife is a consequence of their sin, and for the man, instead of this idyllic life he’s been living tilling the garden and living in perfect harmony with his wife, now all of a sudden, things are going to get hard. He’s going to have pressures and work, and things won’t always go the way he expects them to go, and that’s going to put even more strain on the husband-wife relationship, and on top of it all, God boots them out of the garden. Out of the ideal life that He had for them, and lets them go and fend for themselves in the harshness of a fallen, sinful world.
That’s what happened. That’s why you and I are now in the same fallen, sinful world, living out the consequences of our sin. That’s why your marriage and your family aren’t all that you expected them to be and by the way, no, there aren’t any one hundred percent perfect families and marriages out there. Sure; some are better than others, and the more we live for God, the more we love Him and obey Him, the better our marriages are going to be, and the better our kids are going to grow up. Ah … Oh, the kids. Did I forget to mention Adam and Eve’s boys? Cain and Abel? Genesis 4:8-11:
Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out into the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
And the LORD said, “What have you done? Listen. Your brother’s blood is crying out to Me from the ground, and now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.”
See, there it is. There are the consequences of sin, and they’re playing themselves out in every family on this planet, to some greater or lesser extent. So, why am I rambling on about all this stuff today? Simply to make this point: There is no such thing as the perfect ideal family. There hasn’t been since Adam and Eve were booted out of the garden of Eden by God, so stop whipping yourself, imagining that yours is the only family with problems. That’s the first point that I want to make, and the second one is equally important. Doing family, being family in this lost and hurting world, was never going to be easy and it never will be. Family’s a tough road. When a bunch of imperfect people set about loving one another, they’re going to hurt one another, and so a lot of love and acceptance and tolerance and forgiveness is required, over and over and over again. Matthew 18:21-22:
Peter the apostle came to Jesus and said, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
See, it’s going to be hard. It just is. That’s the message today, and just because it’s going to be hard, don’t give up on it, because you and I have been made in God’s image. The whole idea of male and female, husband and wife, close loving family, tumbles straight out of the very nature of God Himself. Yes it’s marred by our sin, but the more we let God into this family, the more each one of us chooses to live our lives for Christ, the closer our families become to God’s ideal: God’s grand plan for a loving, Godly family.
Now I know that there are some people tuned in today whose families have completely fallen apart, and it’s simply not possible to go back and patch it all up and make it all sweet and happy and rosy. I get that, and God’s healing love is available to you – something we’re going to talk about next week on the programme, when we’re chatting about marriage breakdown and divorce. But if you’re still in a family, imperfect as it may be, hang in there! Live it for Christ; humble yourself; forgive; be who Jesus made you to be, because I know that you will discover good in that. I know that God will work in you and through you as you honour Him, and as you honour His plan for your marriage and for your family.
Listen. Do yourself a favour: When you get to the point of giving up and walking away, don’t.
Boys and Girls
As men and women, we each have different roles to play in our marriages and in our families as a whole and in fact, next week on the programme, we’re going to be taking a look at the most common mistakes that men make and yeah, hard as it is to imagine, the most common mistakes that women make in the family situation. If you’re a man, you might be sitting there listening to this thinking to yourself, “Man, I know I’m far from perfect”, all the while squirming in your seat because you know that this stuff we’re talking about is cutting … well, just a little too close to the bone.
I’ve been there, and trust me; I often still have to challenge myself about the balance between Berni the guy that fronts ChristianityWorks and produces these messages and gets out there and does a whole bunch of stuff for God, and Berni the husband and the father, and how I divide up my time and my energies and my emotional capacity between the two.
I love what God lets me do for Him; I just love it, and I need to work hard to be able to contribute my share to this ministry that I lead, but over recent years, I’ve also been changing my behaviour to keep my weekends free, by and large for my family. To have a regular date night with my wife, to go on holidays with her, stop what I’m doing and have breakfast with my daughter when she comes home from her overseas adventure.
See, those things haven’t been easy because I (like most men) am hard wired to work hard. It’s not that I don’t love my wife and children; I do, hugely, but I guess the thing that God’s been leading me through is to get my behaviours in line with my priorities and so, if you’re a guy and you know what I’m talking about here today, and you know that the hat fits, don’t feel guilty. Don’t squirm. Just decide today that God’s blessed you, and He loves you, and He wants you to make some changes so that He can bless your family more.
Decide today that you’re going to make some changes, so that your actions reflect the love that you have for your wife and your children, and may God bless you as you become the husband and the father that He wants you to be.
It’s hard, isn’t it, when someone goes and puts their finger on what are potentially faults of ours. It’s a bit uncomfortable, isn’t it? And yet none of what we’ve chatted about today is meant to criticise or to condemn. I know that God wants so many good things for your family. He wants to bless your family, and for Him to be able to do that to its fullest effect, we each need to own our part of the problem; to step up, to admit our faults under God’s mighty hand, to set about doing something about them. Husbands love their wives more than words can say. I love this proverb. This is for you, women. Proverbs 31:10-13:
A capable wife, who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not harm all the days of her life.
What a precious wife such a woman is to her husband and mother to her children, and what incredible power she has to build up her family or indeed, in the converse, to tear it down. Proverbs 14:1:
The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.
So if you’re a wife and you’re a mother, let me encourage you to take those two Scripture verses to heart; Proverbs 14:1 and Proverbs 31:10-13. Your husband will never, ever be perfect, he can’t be, but chances are that he loves you beyond what words can say, and as you bless him with wisdom, with respect, he will in turn bless you more than words can say. As your children grow up seeing how Mum and Dad live, how they honour each other, how they respect each other, how they bless each other, that’ll have such a huge impact on them for the rest of your lives – not just them, but your grandchildren, your great grandchildren, and that … That’s the way that God always planned it to be.