This blog post is Part 12 of a series entitled "May I Ask A Question?" by Pastor Jeffrey Dean Smith of Donelson First in Nashville, TN.
Message Date: August 13, 2023
What a series this has been! We have studied over 250 different passages in Scripture with the May I Ask A Question? series. Did you hear that! We have immersed ourselves into a scriptural deep dive dissecting an array of topics:
Suicide. Salvation. Church Governance. Election. Free Will. Dinosaurs. Hell. Holiness. Divorce. Marriage. The question, “Why do bad things happen?” Theology. Eternity. And much more...
Man, what a study this has been!
I am going to work to get in as many questions as I can in the last few weeks. A majority of the remaining questions have a common theme. The theme can really be summarized in this question:
What do I do?
What do I do about family dysfunction?
What do I do about family members who choose the LGBTQ lifestyle?
What do I do about tithing when I can’t even pay my bills?
What do I do about my family and friends who do not believe in Jesus?
Well, we are going to tackle some of these “what do I do” questions as we focus our attention to the “family.” Maintaining a healthy God-first family is really, really hard. What are your thoughts on making it easier?
To maintain a healthy God-first family:
1. Realize this is what God desires for my family.
Family is really, really hard! There is no way around it. However, what I can offer are some suggestions on helping your family be best united and prepared to face the “hard” together and, dare I even say, learn to grow closer even in the midst of challenges and difficulties and even disagreements. So, let’s talk through this.
First I will say – so very many of you are new to Donelson First. Since I arrived as Pastor @ DF three years ago, we have had many, many great studies through a plethora of topics. One 10-week study that was extremely empowering and invigorating for our Church - - Family Strong. In this 10-week study, we tackled very many issues about marriage, dating, finances, disagreements, divorce, discipline, time in the Word, and so very much more! I encourage you to watch or listen to this series on the DF app, DF podcast or on the archives at Donelsonfirst.com.
What would life be like had God never created the family? - - If we each did life alone?
Fortunately, He did not! God designed us to live in families. The Church is called the family of God. We are adopted into His family when we are saved. Even Christ was born within the context of a family. “God in the flesh” submitted to an earthly mom and dad to model what it means to honor parents and to benefit from their loving direction.
Family is extremely important to God. Therefore, family should be extremely important to me.
If it is not my priority to maintain a God-first family, it will not happen on its own. It just won’t. Why? Well for many reasons, but especially for this reason...
2. Recognize this is what Satan despises for my family.
As it relates to your family, I realize that represented here today are a myriad of stories and situations that are amazing and wonderful and potentially many more challenging and possibly dysfunctional. And we are only going to skim the surface on the innumerable facets of family. Turn to Genesis. There are 2 attacks that we see the great deceiver launches at the beginning of time. These are the first assaults of Satan, our enemy, upon humanity. And both are directly aimed at the family:
We have just read a most beautiful and romantic story of earth’s first lovers, first couple. The two have become one and are united. Man and woman together shape a "one-flesh" union through marriage, and they soon add children as they become an even larger family, which is the essential foundation of human society. But in the very next verse we read, we see that Satan is determined to drive dissension and divisiveness between earth’s first marriage.
Satan deceives Eve into believing that disobeying God, and thus disrupting the family unit and the families proper order of leadership, as we know that begins with Adam as the man of the home, and in this one act of deception, family dysfunction begins. Adam and Eve are tossed from the Garden of Eden and are now beginning life outside of God’s ordained order of perfection. They have 2 children, 2 sons, Cain and Abel.
When God asks Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” Did God really not know what had happened to Abel? Of course He knew! Then why did He ask, you might be wondering? God was implying that we are to take care of, to look after, one another as family. When Cain murders his brother, he not only committed an atrocious act against his own flesh and blood, he too acted in an egregious way against the foundation of the family God has ordained. This is exactly what Satan wanted then and it is what he works so hard against even unto this day. Therefore...
3. Resist the urge to become complacent in my family.
He does not want my family to be a healthy God-first family.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12
So very much of my ministry over the years has been for the family. If I could summarize the great demise of the American family into one underlying issue, though difficult to do without seeming trite, it would be this: complacency. Issues of infidelity, addictions, disagreements and deceptions often are the result of a greater underlying place of complacency - complacency in my heart and in my walk with the Lord and in how I treat those closest to me and how I keep romance alive in my marriage and in how I communicate with my kids and on and on and on...
Each of these are more often than not the effect of the root cause – complacency. And it is complacency that can lead to so very many poor choices. Our kids are immersed into the digital. Socials saturate their lives. They spend more time thinking about their next Tik Tok upload than they do mostly anything else. If you have tween or teen and you don’t know about “Be Real,” then you probably don’t know your children. And, all the while, many parents with whom I talk, are ignorant to the daily struggles of their students as it relates to the overwhelming pressures to perform in the classroom, body shaming, gender dysphoria, bullying, sexting requests from others, social media acceptance and so very much more. Satan is truly attacking families in a way unlike any other through porn.
• 68% of divorces in America involve at least one partner viewing internet porn.
• It has been proven that pornography use has increased marital infidelity by more than 300%.
• And, studies show just as many girls view porn as do guys.
• The average age of someone viewing porn for the first time is the age of 11.
Satan knows if he gets you hooked while you are young, the impact on your family & future family can be devastating. I have had countless conversations through the years with family members, who have made horrifically poor choices & the fallout - - they lost their family! Here is a staggering statistic about the state of families and marriage. Studies show:
48% of married couples say it is a more stressful situation to purchase a new car or launch a new career than it is to make the decision of whether or not to file for a divorce.
40% of children in America are being raised without an involved father.
Of children born to married parents this year, it is projected that more than 50% of them will see their parent’s marriage end in divorce before their 18th birthday.
All the while... A majority of families in America (74%) do not attend church regularly as a family.
To be complacent means I: Stop trying. Stop striving. Stop giving. Stop hoping. Stop helping. Stop feeling. Stop...
And let me clear – those here today who say, “My marriage is great. I don’t have an addiction. My kids love the Lord, and I sense that I am in a good place. Therefore, complacency is not a word to describe me.” I would encourage you to allow the Holy Spirit to take you to a even deeper level of personal contemplation as you consider holiness and humility and a complete surrender of everything that is you so that you may be everything that God desires of you.
Complacency is tricky. Complacency is sly. Complacency is sneaky. And it often finds its way into my life in ways that are not most easily noticeable. What if we each, whatever the state of our family structure, chose to rebel against complacency! To no longer be complacent means I: Start doing. Start talking. Start accepting. Start forgiving. Start hugging. Start... I presume we each know of an area in which we can do more as it relates to family. Ask yourself: "How can I better start _____________?"
4. Reignite a spiritual strategy for my family.
When we talk about the family, there are so many layers to family. No two families are the same. No family has it all together. And just because we talk about it today does not mean it all works in the home tonight. I get this. If up until this point in your life, “family” hasn’t been what you desire or had hoped for or are even proud of…this statement is for you: My past performance does not dimmish God’s future plan for my family.
Some here have been abused by a family member –sexually, verbally, or emotionally. Some here are bitter or broken over divorce. Some are a casualty of a family member’s poor choice that has left you emotionally or financially burdened. An unfaithful spouse. A prodigal child. A distant father. Some to no fault of your own are broken and empty from years and years of family dysfunction.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all their toil - this is the gift of God. Ecclesiastes 3:11-13
Included in the many, many gifts God has given to us is the gift of family. The gift of family is not a perfect gift because neither me nor anyone in my family is perfect. But the gift is perfectly given to me by God. You did not choose your family. God chose your family for you. And... Family is an earthly manifestation of God’s plan for eternity.
For those who know and receive the Lord as Savior, we will forever live as a family in heaven. And how we spend our lives here, defines, as we have discussed before, how we spend eternity in paradise with our Savior. Developing a spiritual strategy for my family is so very important to helping my family use the time they each have been given in this life to bring glory to the Father. What does this look like? Well, the ways are quite endless.
Here are three words that can help direct our hearts in the proper way as we each think of the spiritual strategy we should possess for the holy direction and focus of our family:
Listen, submitting to one another is not a sign of weakness. Nor is it one exercising dominance and power over the other. The act of submission is one of the most humble and Christ-like illustrations I can exemplify as I show my family, “I love you.” Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Submit / Greek/ hypotasso = surrender oneself to; to come under authority.
Paul stated to the Church in Ephesus that when we choose to “surrender oneself” to another, particularly within our families, we are not only placing the needs of others before self. But we too are, look again at what Paul said is the reason as to why we are to submit: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. I am bringing reverence to Jesus Christ by surrendering myself to one another. Such an application to the way I treat one another in my family is truly about the art of one dying to self for the sake of others. Imagine if we each approached family life in such a way! Your needs before mine. Your comforts before mine. Your expectations before mine. Yet another word to think of for a spiritual strategy for my family:
One of the greatest detriments to maintaining a God-first family: Resentfulness and an unwillingness to forgive. In relation to the family, this can often play out in a variety of ways. I briefly mention two today: Never apologizing. Never forgiving.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Mark 11:25
I’ll just ask today: Do you need to confess to someone and ask for forgiveness? Could it be that you have done something against another; spoken against another? It sure is amazing how powerful these 2 words can be: “I’m sorry.” Man oh man am I thankful for forgiveness! Anyone here ever had an argument w/your spouse? Of course, you have. Anyone here ever been the one in the wrong in an argument with a family member? Of course, you have. Anyone here ever received forgiveness from your spouse, or parent, or child for something you did? I hope so!
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
I received this question in our series: I was abused in a terrible way by a family member over 20 years ago. To this day, I still remain hurt and scarred over what happened. The family member who abused me is no longer living. I know I need to forgive him for what he did. How?
First of all, to whomever sent this question – thank you. And I am so very sorry for your pain. I too want to say that in no way can I pretend to fathom, even partially, what you have had to endure all of these years. And to anyone else here today who has been, in some way, mistreated, abused, lied to, cheated on, or been the recipient of any order of injustice... I too am so very sorry for your pain. Such pain is really difficult to even begin to quantify. So I won’t try and say some cute line or thought in an attempt to minimize the weight of your brokenness. What I can say, and I do so gently and with true compassion of heart: Hurt can distort the way in which I love, and allow myself to be loved, in my family.
The one having hurt me may never offer a word of forgiveness. I may go through the entirety of my life never receiving the words “I am sorry.” But there is peace awaiting me, regardless of what the person who has hurt me chooses to do or not to do.
My hurt can end where my forgiveness begins.
If offering forgiveness is difficult for you, I hope you’ll remember this: Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13
So Jeffrey, you are telling me that I should forgive this person who did something terrible to me even knowing they may “get away with it” and never be remorseful? What I am saying is that: I do not have to continue living in the wake of pain over the horrific choices of another. I can find peace and comfort and even joy by letting go and choosing forgiveness.
I recall the brutality of what happened to our Savior. He was arrested, placed through a mockery of a trial. Humiliated. Hit. Spat upon. Beaten to the point of almost death. The loss of blood must have been overwhelming. Then, while naked and dehydrated, nailed to a cross and left hanging there to die... all the while having never done anything wrong. And while hanging there gasping for breath and holding on to life, while His accusers and abusers stood there mocking Him, He spoke:
What a truly remarkable moment in history – one that we, when considering how we love others, particularly how we respond to the pain inflicted upon us by a family member...Whether a sexual abuse, an emotional abuse, a cheating spouse, a prodigal child, or in a moment of anger when a family member says or does something that leaves me hurt or broken, Jesus reminds me that my response to those who hurt me most should be one of forgiveness, grace, and love.
You see, as a human, my tendency once hurt is often to retaliate, respond or resolve to never forgive and never forget. What I may not realize is that such a mantra can often inflict within me emotional and spiritual repercussions that far outweigh the initial pain felt from the injustice received. Choosing to forgive is just, if not more, as freeing to me as it is to the recipient of my offer. Ask yourself, whether in relation to family or to anyone who has hurt you: "Do I need to offer forgiveness to someone today?" If so, I pray today will be the day you say, “I forgive you,” and you begin the first critical step to experiencing freedom and peace.
Consider the English definition of the word “extend” as it relates to how you approach your relationship with each family member. Extend = exert or exercise oneself to the utmost.
I received this question from you: I have a family member with whom I rarely see eye to eye, especially religion. She too has embraced the LGBTQ+ lifestyle. How am I to love when I don’t like, nor agree, with her views on life, God, marriage, and more? There is so very much more to the topic of LGBTQ+ lifestyle of which we will not indulge today. I received very many questions on this topic of this lifestyle. Having said this, there are so very many additional layers to this question. For time today, I can only skim the service in response. I present this question today because the central idea that this question represents goes way beyond a lifestyle choice. And many of the remaining questions we have received on a plethora of topics are related to the family and how you and I are to respond to the sensitive issues of disagreements.
We received a question about family members working on Sundays, a question over disagreements involving how to take care of aging family members, and even a question about differing views on disciplining children. The common thread in these questions, and specifically the question I have just presented is this:
Even within the scope of close families, it is critically important to remember that we each are individual folk with different perspectives and life-approaches and history and convictions. Extending grace is such an important, yet often overlooked, and undervalued attribute of those striving to maintain a God-first family. I think of the countless conversations I have had through years with people struggling with an array of issues as it relates to the family. I can say from many years of such counseling, grace plays such a very important and critical and necessary part in the journey we all are on with our families. Now, let me be clear:
Grace is not condonement. I can offer grace and still remain aligned to the orthodoxy of God’s Word.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Philemon 1:25
...for the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him. 2 Chronicles 30:9b
Grace is such an important part of the Holy Scriptures. As a matter of fact, the word appears 170 times throughout Scripture. The first time we read the word grace in the Bible is when God is about to destroy the entire population of the world in the Old Testament, due to the hearts of humanity. But because of grace, God chooses to spare Noah and his family:
Favor /Greek/ hen = grace; favorable toward another.
What a powerful example to each of us to what it means to look past the faults and mistakes and missteps of others and to extend grace. We too see from this story that God, though knowing Noah would fail Him, still offered grace. We know that Noah was not a perfect man. As a matter of fact, after Noah and his family depart from the ark, we know that Noah gets drunk and makes some really poor choices.
Loving my family well requires of me to offer grace even when I disagree with their lifestyle decision and even with the foreknowledge of a potential future let-down on the part of those to whom I extend compassion. A God-first family is not a perfect family. A God-first family is an imperfect family of people choosing to submit and forgive and extend grace knowing this is exactly what God has done for me.
Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. Galatians 5:13
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:20-21
Here is the take home today:
Satan is fighting hard to devastate and destroy my family.
I have to fight even harder to maintain a God-first family.
Jeffrey Dean Smith is a husband, father to Bailey & Brynnan, author, and the Senior Pastor at Donelson First in Nashville, TN. If you are in Music City, meet Jeffrey and enjoy iced tea on the front lawn each Sunday at 10:30a.