Who Isn’t Dysfunctional
About the Guest
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Ron DealRon L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series
How can I share the gospel if my family is a mess? Ron Deal reminds us that most of the families featured in Jesus’ lineage were dysfunctional, so you’re in good company.
Who Isn’t Dysfunctional
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, October 17th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. The Bible presents for us a long line of families that don’t measure up; so if you’ve got one that’s like that, you’re not alone. We’ll hear more about that today from Ron Deal. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I think all of us feel the pressure. Here is how Mary Ann and I have felt this pressure—we’ve been at events, where a family has been introduced. It’s mom and dad, and there are multiple kids—5/6 kids. The whole family gets up on the platform. They are all dressed in kind of matching—like the von Trapp family—
Bob: —thing, without the lederhosen. The kids all play instruments, and they are all well-groomed and well-behaved. Mary Ann and I have been at these events; and we’ve gone, “How come our kids/how come our family doesn’t look like that?—doesn’t act like that?”
Ann: Do you know when I experience that?—is at Christmastime—
Bob: Oh, the pictures?
Ann: —when people send—they used to send letters; now, it’s usually just a picture, which is better; but I’ll never forget getting one letter. This guy had like five kids, and he’s like, “My five-year-old read the Bible through this year.” [Laughter] I’m like, “We are the rejects of the Christian world!”
Dave: We actually—I remember getting that one. We had one written and ready to go, and we didn’t even send it. [Laughter] We’re like, “We’re the loser family.” [Laughter]
Bob: Well, we’re going to hear Part One of a message today that reminds us that, if you’re the loser family—like the rest of us—we come from a long line of loser families.
Ann: You’re not alone.
Bob: That’s right.
Our friend, Ron Deal, was speaking at an event, where all three of us were. Ron gives leadership to FamilyLife Blended®. He is the author of the book, The Smart Stepfamily. He’s probably the best person in America to learn from on issues of blended families/stepfamilies—relationships in those families. We have him on FamilyLife Today regularly; and he has a new podcast, which is called FamilyLife Blended. You can find out more about that at the FamilyLife® Podcast Network page. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and find out about Ron’s podcast and other podcasts that we have.
He presented a message; and he was talking about the fact that, if you read your Bible carefully and if you get past the airbrushed images of the great heroes of the faith, you see a lot of dysfunction/a lot of family junk going on. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Dave: Oh, yes. That’s one of the reasons I honestly love the Bible, because it is so honest.
Ann: It’s messy.
Dave: It’s not airbrushed at all.
Bob: We thought our listeners should just get some encouragement today from Ron to know: “Guess what? Your messed-up family could qualify for a place in Scripture”; right?
Ann: And there’s no perfect family.
Bob: Exactly. Here is Part One of a message about imperfect families from our friend, Ron Deal.
Ron: I’ve got a confession to make: It’s intimidating working at FamilyLife. Every day I walk into a building represents, you know, 250/350 people, who are deeply dedicated to serving marriages and families. Here’s what I know that they don’t know about me. I come from a very imperfect marriage; I have a very imperfect family; I have been less than perfect as a father. My kids have so much to be desired, as far as I’m concerned—there are things we want for them that we don’t see in them yet; right? I know that about me every single day I get up and go into that building.
If you have any—if you can relate to that at all—the idea that you are an imperfect couple or family, I have good news for you today; because here is what has happened in my journey around that whole concept. I’ve given up on trying to find perfection because I just, one day, stopped and took a look at families in the Bible.
Let’s start in the beginning; shall we? Adam and Eve have everything perfect, and then they blow it for all of us: “Thank you very much.” Not long after that, they start having children. Now, you thought the sibling rivalry was bad in your house! One of theirs ended up dead because, at the hand of the other—conduct disorder is what Abel got at that point/what Cain got at that point in time—he got diagnosed; right? I mean, this is not a good start to family.
Fast forward a little bit into Genesis, you come to this guy named Abraham. God makes a covenant with him. This is kind of a big deal; everybody since then is going to be influenced because of that covenant—that includes you and me. God says, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” more than once throughout the Bible. If you identify yourself with these people—I remember one day, as a young minister, working with families, I remember thinking, “They must have it all figured out”; but let’s just do a quick survey of that lineage, shall we?
Abraham and Sarah have been promised a child, only they haven’t gotten pregnant yet. Sarah is not getting any younger; Abraham is definitely not getting any younger, so one day, she goes to her husband. She says: “I’ve got an idea. I’ve got a maid servant over here. Why don’t you take her and have sex with her”—make her your second wife, so to speak—“and we’ll have a child through her?” Ladies, can any of you imagine pitching that idea?
How does that work out for them? Well, Hagar finally gets pregnant. Sure enough, she gets pregnant. She starts thumbing her nose at Sarah, saying [mockingly], “I can have a baby, and you can’t have one.” It’s on, at that point in time, in that household—do you know what I’m talking about? See, in that day, in the ancient world, the greatest thing a wife could do for her husband was carry on his lineage. To give him a child was one thing; to give him a male child was even better because the family name would be carried forward. Sure enough, Hagar is going to have a boy.
Sarah doesn’t like this. This is biting her; it was her idea, but she didn’t like the outcome. She goes to her husband—she says, “I want that woman out of here.” She tries to separate them from the family household. Only the Holy Spirit has a plan for her. She’s [Hagar’s] pregnant; [Sarah] sends them out into the wilderness. The Holy Spirit brings her back and says, “No; no; no; Abraham, you’re going to take care of this because this is your responsibility.”
But the rivalry is not over within this family. How do we know?—because flip a few chapters forward in Genesis, Chapter 21. We have same song, second verse: now, Sarah is pregnant; she does have a child; his name is Isaac. On the day he is being weaned, they throw a little party for him. In comes his older half-brother—starts making fun of Isaac the way that his mom used to make fun of Isaac’s mom. We have same song, second verse. Sarah gets up in arms, runs into Abraham and says, “I want that woman and her son out of here.”
Now, notice her language: “I want that woman and her son,”—this is not a good tip. If you are a stepmother, don’t try to ever separate your spouse from their kids—it will really wreak all sorts of havoc in your home—but that’s exactly what she does. But Abraham cares for them, and Isaac grows up.
Now, does this rivalry—favoritism, jealousy, insecurity—thing get passed to the next generation? Absolutely, it does. How do we know?—because you just keep reading in the Book of Genesis: “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Isaac grows up; marries a woman named Rebekah. They have two kids. What are their names?—[Audience response]—Jacob and Esau. It’s funny that you say it that way, because Esau is the older one. Why would we say Jacob before we say Esau?—why?—because of the story; right? Jacob outsmarts Esau, early on, in their little experience; and he tricks him out of the birthright.
Later on, in the family journey, Dad is old. It’s time for Isaac to pass a blessing on to his oldest male son; that is who it always went to, and that would have been Esau. Esau, who is the hunter, goes out. He’s going to kill something and bring it home, cook dinner for Dad; and after dinner, Dad is going to give him the blessing. Now, Dad is kind of old—he can’t see well; he can’t hear very well. While Esau is gone, Mom/Rebekah comes in to her favorite son, Jacob; she has a plan: “Honey, let’s steal the blessing.”
Now, ladies, imagine this one for a minute. She is conspiring, with her youngest son, against both her husband and her older son to steal the blessing. Why?—because Jacob is her favorite. She says: “Put on your brothers clothes; you’ll smell like him. Dad can’t see well. He’s going to feel your arms—put on some goat skin; you’ll feel like your hairy brother. I’ll cook dinner. You feed it to Dad. Quick; hurry up. Let’s do this before your brother comes home.” The plan works; they steal the blessing!
You want to talk about family dysfunction. This is a mess; right? Sure enough, that favoritism/rivalry thing just continues yet another generation. Esau comes home—finds out the blessing has been given to his brother. He is hopping mad; he wants to get revenge. He wants to kill his brother; right? We’ve got another Cain and Abel situation going on. Jacob runs to Mom and says, “Now, what do I do?” Mom says: “I don’t know. Look, look; go to your Uncle Laban’s house. My brother lives a long ways away from here, and you just run to his house until your brother calms down.” “Great!”
Jacob takes off, and he goes to Uncle Laban’s house—starts living there, starts working there, spending time with his uncle and his family, waiting for his brother to calm down so he can go home. It will be years, by the way, before he is ever able to go home. In the meantime, he starts working for Uncle Laban. Uncle Laban comes to him one day and says: “My, you’re a fine worker. What am I going to pay you for all the stuff you are doing for us around here?” He goes: “Well, as a matter of fact, Uncle Laban, have you noticed your daughter, Rachel? My goodness! She is absolutely gorgeous. I think I’d like to marry her.”
Now, some of you are doing the math. This is another weird family story in the Bible; he has fallen in love with his cousin. This is Uncle Laban’s daughter. He’s fallen in love with his cousin; he wants to marry his cousin: “Well, what do I have to do to win her hand in marriage?” “Work for me seven years, and you can have her hand in marriage.” “Alright; you have a deal.”
Seven years go by. He goes to his uncle and says, “I’d like to marry Rachel.” “You’re right. It’s time we got a wedding. I promised you that.” They set up the wedding. This is what I call the what-goes-around-comes-around story of the Bible; because Jacob, earlier was the one who stole from his dad and his brother, and now he is going to have the same thing done to him; because Uncle Laban—if you remember this story—sneaks in his oldest daughter, Leah, as the bride of the wedding.
Now, here is the backstory on Leah and Rachel. Rachel is the pretty one. As a matter of fact, about Rachel, the Bible says, “She was beautiful and lovely in form.” About Leah, the Bible says, “She had weak eyes.” Rachel—her name is even representative of her beauty—her name means: “ewe; lamb; precious, pristine, beautiful lamb.” Leah’s name means “cow.” I am not making this up. Nobody wants to marry the cow; everybody wants to marry the beautiful lamb.
Seven years later, it’s time for a wedding. Uncle Laban sneaks in Leah as the bride, and Jacob marries the wrong woman. He doesn’t know how this happened. How in the world does he marry the wrong person? We don’t know. I think she had a pretty thick veil; that’s the only thing I can figure out.
The story gets even better because they go and they consummate the marriage. Back in that day, you had a wedding; you go off to a side room; you consummate the marriage. Everybody is having a party. Then you come back out and join them. Isn’t that kind of weird?—can you imagine doing that? The leaders and the elders of the town would go in and check the bedsheets and make sure there was some evidence that she was a virgin; this is accountability. It’s so different for us in our day and time.
But they go, and they consummate the marriage. He still doesn’t know it’s Leah! How does this happen?! She kept the veil on; alright?—that and a whole lot of alcohol. Jacob has no idea what has just occurred—he’s married the wrong woman, consummated that marriage, and he still doesn’t know until—I don’t know—he wakes up, rolls over, and he is lying next to a cow.
Then he realizes, “I’ve been duped!” You can imagine this conversation. He goes to Uncle Laban; and he goes, “Hey, what’s the deal?! ‘Seven years…’—I said/you said—we had a promise.” “Oh, well, I’m sorry. Didn’t I tell you? It’s not our custom, around here, to marry off the younger daughter before we marry off the older daughter. [Using British accent] Tally ho! Good luck with all that,”—I have no idea why Laban sounds British when I do this; I have no clue; it just kind of comes out that way.
He married the wrong woman: “Well, what do I have to do to marry Rachel?” “Work for me another seven years, and you can have her.” Can you imagine being Leah throughout all of this? What does she have?—nothing. Turns out, she has a little bit of God’s grace on her side; because He sees how incredibly difficult her circumstances are. God gives Leah something, and that is the ability to have a child—not just any child; she has a son. She is able to carry forth the family name, and this is going to raise her status in the household.
God has grace on her, and Leah gets pregnant. She has a boy. She gives him—I don’t know—it’s kind of a cool name, I think: Reuben. I don’t know; it’s kind of a neat name—Reuben; yes, it’s an awesome name. What’s it mean?—“Misery.” She named her child “Misery.” She makes the statement, “Because the Lord has seen my misery, surely my husband will love me now.” Wow! Keep in mind these are God’s people: “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Jesus is coming from these folks.
Leah gets pregnant again. She has a second child; it’s a boy. She gives him the name Simeon, which means one who hears because “The Lord has heard that I am not loved.” She gets pregnant again; she has a third child. She gives him the name, Levi, which means attached. She makes the statement: “Now, at last, my husband will be attached to me.” I mean is this weird or what? Is this sad? Is this not representative of how incredibly dysfunctional and messed up this family system is? Surely, it’s got to get better. Jesus is coming from these folks.
Actually, the story doesn’t get any better if you just keep reading. You guys remember all of this; right? What happens is—in the meantime, Leah is having all these kids; and Rachel, the favored wife, is over here going [Whining]: “I’m the favorite wife. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve got to come up with a plan. Wait! I’ve got an idea. I’ve got a maid servant Bilhah. I could give her to my husband, and then she could have a child. I get to name that child. It would kind of be like it’s coming from me—a gift to my husband. I think I’ll try that; yes.” Wait; where did that idea come from?—oh, yes; Grandma did that.
Sure enough, she tries; and Bilhah gets pregnant. That’s wife number three if you are keeping track. Rachel gets to name him. The first child is a boy, Dan, which means “vindication.” She makes the statement: “God has vindicated me”—implication—“against my sister.” Bilhah gets pregnant a second time; Rachel gets to name the next child, “Naphtali,” which means “struggle.” She makes the statement, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” Oh, it’s on, girls; do you know what I’m talking about?
Not to be outdone, Leah goes: “Wait a minute. I’ve got a maidservant, Zilpah. I could give her to my husband.” That would be wife number four, if you are keeping track. “She could have a child, and I could name that child. Then I could take it up a notch”; and sure enough, that’s what happened. She gets pregnant, and Leah gets to name him. The first one is named Gad, which means “good fortune” because she’s finally had some good fortune. So, then Leah has another child through Zilpah; and that’s Asher, and that means “happy” because clearly she’s not.
ABC has nothing on these people; these are the original Desperate Housewives. It’s in the Bible, for crying out loud. “I’m the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”—and that mess. Why in the world?—that is a crazy mess. You’re thinking, “Well, surely, the family has got to get better at some point”; right? I don’t think so; because after all of these kids, the rivalry is still going on.
Rachel still hasn’t had any children of her own until the day comes that she gets pregnant, and the favored wife gets to give her husband a favored child. His name is Joseph. He never has to take out the trash, never has to mow the yard, or empty the stalls. All the other brothers have to do that kind of stuff. He grows up in a home, where he is favored. The differences within that family—you want to talk about a multi-generational messed-up wide and tall blended family? There is one right there in the middle of Scripture, and he is living the pristine life.
Then one day he comes home with a coat, and that’s it—final straw: “He’s dead,” “We’re done.” They didn’t kill him because of a coat. That was just the final straw in the process of watching this, day in and day out, in their family household; and they were finally done.
“I’ve got a better idea. Let’s not kill him; let’s just sell him into slavery. They’ll use him up and spit him out for 80 years; and then they’ll kill him when it’s all said and done,”—because that’s what they do to people during that time/that’s what they do to slaves—“That’s it; that’s our plan. In the meantime, we get to go tell Dad that he is dead, and we get to laugh behind Dad’s back.” This is the family of promise; these are Jesus’s ancestors: “Are you kidding me?!”
We just keeping turning in the pages of your Bible throughout the Old Testament. You never find a perfect family. You never find a family that has it all figured out—as husbands or wives, or parents, or kids—all those relationships. We get to this guy named David, who God says “is a man after My own heart.” We’ve heard that phrase: “A man after my own heart”; but do you realize God made the statement about David? It was God who said that about him. Now, if that’s not a compliment, I don’t know what is.
But even though he was a man after God’s own heart, his household included what?—a premeditated murder to cover an affair, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and then the child dies as a result of the consequence of David’s sin. Only to have another one of his children say: “Well, Dad was sexually-disgraceful. I guess I can be sexually-disgraceful”; so he takes one of his half-sisters and rapes her. Then he has a half-brother hunt him down and revenge his sister and kill him. That’s David’s household.
Quick question for you: “Are you feeling any better about your home right about now? [Laughter] Did you walk in here going: ‘Man, we are a mess. I sure hope these don’t know about me what I know about me. Well, at least, we ain’t that’”; right?
All of this begs a really important question in my mind; and that is simply this: “Why in the world would God let this be the legacy of His people? Why in the world would He design the family for our benefit and then give us a story of people who can’t do it? Why would He lay out principles for living life, and the blueprints for doing family, and then have nobody in his clan?—if you’re going to say, ‘I’m the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,’ would you kind of like to have examples?—‘Hey, be like Abraham,’ ‘Be like Isaac,’ ‘Be like Jacob”; but who wants to be like that?! It is kind of an important question: ‘Why in the world would God do that for us?’”
Bob: Well, I hate to leave it with that question hanging; but we’ve been listening to Part One of a message from our friend, Ron Deal, who gives leadership to FamilyLife Blended. It is a good question: “Why does God paint a portrait for us of so much family dysfunction throughout the Bible? Should that cause us to feel hopeless or encouraged?”
Dave: I’ll tell you—it causes me to feel hopeful. I’ll tell you what—when I read through the Bible, one of the first times, I was shocked. I thought it was a book of perfect people. I’m like: “Oh my goodness! These people are really, really messed up.” It gave me comfort like, “Okay; I’m not as bad as I thought I was.”
Ann: I love the fact that there is a commonality in all of the characters that Ron talked about, and that is they messed up; but they always went back to God. I can’t wait to hear the rest of this.
Bob: Yes; well, we will hear Part Two of this message tomorrow. I want to make sure our listeners know—if you are in a blended family, Ron’s got resources—a lot of resources—including his book, The Smart Stepfamily, that is also now available in an eight-part DVD small group series that you can go to FamilyLifeToday.com, get with some other stepfamilies, and go through this material, using the DVD series. Get a copy of his book/all of the resources available—you can check them out, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Then, next week, Ron is leading an event in the Tidewater area/in the Norfolk area in Virginia—the 2019 Summit on Stepfamily Ministry. Darryl and Gwen Smith; Michelle Cushatt; Pastor Ben Young from Second Baptist in Houston; and many others, who are going to be at that event—all designed to help church leaders and volunteers, who are working with stepfamilies know how to help those families when they are in crisis. Find out more about the Summit on Stepfamily Ministry. If you live in that area, and you can be with us October 24th and 25th, we’d love to have you come. The information is available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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In fact, I’ve got to tell you—I’m always astounded when I talk to people, who say: “I had this specific issue going on in my life. I got in my car, and I turned on FamilyLife Today, and that’s what you were talking about that day.” I go, “We can’t engineer that, but the Holy Spirit can.” I say all of that just to say, “Thank you,” to those of you who are helping us expand the reach of FamilyLife through our daily radio program, our website, our events, our resources—all that we do to try to effectively develop godly marriages and families. We appreciate your partnership in expanding the reach of this ministry every time you make a donation.
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Now, tomorrow, we’ll hear Part Two of Ron Deal’s message on messy families. That includes all of ours, so I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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