daily Broadcast

Overcoming a Dysfunctional Family

From the series Unstuck

Sin is the root cause of dysfunction. If that's true, then we all have first-hand experience with it. Chip reminds us that God came up with a plan to counteract the dysfunction that is so destructive and how that restoration can only begin when we recognize the full extent of our need.

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Message Transcript

I will tell you, some of the greatest people on the face of the earth, who have done the most good, have come from dysfunctional families.

So, this message is not going to be about finding someone that we can blame. But the other side is we can’t deny where we came out of and try and make up fairy tale stories and reframe our past and put a nice smiley face on it when it really wasn’t very good because it makes us feel so bad about one of your parents.

Now here’s what we know: “When problems and circumstances such as parental alcoholism, mental illness, child abuse, or extreme parental rigidity and control interfere with family functioning the effects on children can sometimes linger long after the children have grown up and left their problem families.

“Adults raised in dysfunctional families frequently report difficulties forming and maintaining intimate relationships, maintaining a positive self-esteem, and trusting others. They fear loss of control and they deny their feelings and reality.

There are a lot of us that could say, “Been there and done that,” right?

A definition of a dysfunctional family and I’ve put that in your notes. And it says, “A dysfunctional family is that which is not operating according to its original design. Faulty, impaired, not working properly for optimal results.” And the question I think I’d ask is, “In what ways?” I mean we all have our struggles but in what ways, when you think about your family growing up, no blaming just the reality of how did it function in a way that wasn’t very healthy?

Some of the specific things are families that have very minimal relational connection, workaholism, families who gathered around the TV but never talked face to face, a lack of love, lack of communication, little time together, affirmation, failure to respect one another, no boundaries set, lack of nurturing encouragement.

And then I came across a little test and what I want you to do, there are about twelve to fifteen questions and in your mind, I just want you to say, “Yes,” or “No.” First thing that comes to your mind, yes or no, yes or no? And you can count how many yesses or noes on your fingers if you want. If you’re here with someone close to you that you would be embarrassed how many fingers come up then do it in your head. But it’s a pretty safe place.

And I’m going to read these pretty rapidly and I don’t want you to think, “Well, I’m not sure, I don’t…” Just whatever your first reaction would be is probably the most accurate one, and then I will let you know the implications. It’s just a little test from their website [Kansas State University].

Question number one: Do you find yourself needed approval from others to feel good about yourself? Yes or no? Do you agree to do more for others than you can comfortably accomplish? Yes or no? Are you a perfectionist? Yes or no? Do you tend to avoid or ignore responsibilities? Yes or no? Do you find it difficult to identify what you’re feeling inside? Yes or no? Do you find it difficult to express your feelings? Yes or no? Do you tend to think in an all or nothing terms? Yes or no? Do you often feel lonely even in the presence of others? Yes or no? Is it difficult for you to ask for what you need from others? Yes or no. Is it difficult for you to maintain intimate relationships? Yes or no? Do you find it difficult to trust others? Yes or no? Count on those fingers. Do you tend to hang onto hurtful, destructive relationships? Yes or no? Are you more aware of others’ needs and feelings than you are your own? Yes or no? Do you find it particularly difficult to deal with anger or criticism? Yes or no? Is it hard for you to relax and enjoy yourself? Yes or no? Do you find yourself feeling like a fake in an academic or a professional life? Yes or no? Do you find yourself waiting for disaster to strike even when things are going well in your life? Yes or no? And do you find yourself having difficulty with authority figures? Yes or no?

Now, you know how these tests are. They say, “If you said yes to more than half of those, there were eighteen in all, you may have come from a dysfunctional family.” If you answered three, four, or five, chances are you came from just a regular group of people like many of us with all of our hang-ups. We’re all going to say “yes” to some of those things.

Now here’s what we know. Dysfunctional families are not new but we do know that the level and the extreme of what’s happened in families in more recent years. There are more dysfunctional families with more extremes. And here’s what we’ve learned from the recovery movement and what we’ve learned from the psychological literature over the years that there are four very specific things we know about dysfunctional families. And I just listed them right on your notes. Dysfunctional families, left to themselves, produce dysfunctional children. Ah-ha. You know? That’s, like, wow! But, you know, it’s important.

Number two, dysfunctional families require an intervention to break the cycle of destruction.

Third, genuine recovery never begins until a person hits bottom.

And fourth, genuine recovery is never complete until another person has helped another person recover. If you’re familiar with the twelve steps you know that toward the very end you need to help someone else, you need to sponsor someone else. You help someone else get healthy.

And so, I don’t want to spend our time just looking at psychology, and our dysfunctional families, and in many cases, this has been used, “Oh I’m from a dysfunctional family. It’s how I blame my past, I blame other people.”

Everyone gets a choice, everyone has the responsibility, everyone gets to decide how you respond to the background and the family you came out of. The victim mentality, “It was my mom’s fault, my dad’s fault, this or that,” that only causes you to continue in whatever you came out of.

Some people come from dysfunctional families, they never come out of it. Other people realize, you know something? There are some amazingly good things that come out of that pain and that hurt.

In fact, God’s solution for dysfunctional families goes way beyond emotions, way beyond even our personal human relationships, and way beyond any psychology. God’s solution for dysfunctional families, let’s examine the problem.

Here’s what He’s going to say. He’s going to say, “We are all members of a dysfunctional family.” He spent all of chapter 1 saying, “You’re in Christ, in Him, in Him. Here’s all that’s true of you. Now this is true of you.”

Now, in chapter 2 he’s going to say, “But I want to remind you where you came from.” And he’s going to say, “Your dysfunctional family was not one generation ago. It wasn’t two generations ago. It wasn’t five generations ago. It wasn’t your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, double great grandfather or grandmother.” He’s going to say, “Your dysfunction goes all the way back to your original parents.

Every issue, every problem, of every family goes all the way back.” Listen to what he says, Ephesians chapter 2 verse 1, “As for you,” speaking to these Ephesian Christians, “you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live. ”Literally, your lifestyle and the word is, “in the way you used to walk.” When? “When you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air,” speaking of Satan, “that this spirit namely that’s in the work of those who are disobedient.”

And then he says here’s the scope. This wasn’t just some people. “All of us who lived among them at one time,” speaking of their life before Christ, “gratifying the cravings,” or the word literally is “the lust of our sinful nature,” “and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest we were, by nature,” in our DNA, “by nature objects of wrath.”

I want you to circle in the first line the word “dead,” then I want you to skip down four lines and circle the word “disobedient,” and then I want you to go all the way to the bottom and circle the word “objects of wrath.” The gospel is only good news when you face the bad news.

God says, “Ephesian Christians, I gave you a lot of good news, you have been chosen, you’ve been adopted, you have an inheritance, you’ve been sealed with the Spirit, God loves you. All that is in Christ, in Christ, in Christ. But here’s what I want you to remember. As for you, you were, one, separated from God. You were spiritually dead.”

When our first parents sinned and rebelled against God, they didn’t keel over physically. They were separated from God. They were disconnected from a relationship with their Creator.

And he gives two reasons. He says, “By transgressions.” That’s the idea of being on a trail and knowing you should go to the right way instead of the left way and you choose the left way. He says, “Your sins and your transgressions, your wrong paths,” so that’s what you actually did, “in which you lived,” it was a lifestyle, it’s how you lived.

You knew what was right; you didn’t do it. You fell short of God’s perfect standard. In fact, you were living your life by the ways of this world that’s energized by the enemy and the spirit of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, selfishness and greed.
That’s who you were! So, you were dead spiritually, and you were disobedient to truth and to God, and He says, “You know what the results were? You’re an object of wrath.

God is absolutely loving, and kind, and compassionate, and holy, and He’s absolutely just.

And the just wrath of God is when we do things that hurt people, when we do things that sin against Him, there is an anger of God that is righteous to preserve His creation. And He says that’s what you were like. And it came out of your relationship with your dysfunctional family.

The source of our dysfunctional family, in a verse, is Romans 5:12. Listen carefully, it says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man,” Adam, “and death through sin this death came to all men because all sinned.” And so, if you want to really talk about dysfunctional families, you go back to the first family there was a dysfunction that created death, disobedience, and the wrath of God. And he says now we all have carried this.

And so, the results are three Ds is what I give them. D number one in the past is death. D number two in the present is disobedience, you can fill that in. And D number three is destruction. That’s what dysfunctional families do.

My dad grew up in a religious system, we went to the religious system, the people didn’t believe the Bible, we said little prayers, there was no reality.

There was disobedience, we were externally good, moral people, my parents were nice, good, moral as in by the world’s standards. They were both schoolteachers, they were both well educated, we had the G.I. World War II “be good people,” buy a house in the suburbs, raise your kids well, get a good education, don’t commit any really big, bad sins. Project that you’re a little bit better than you are.

And we were far from God. We were externally religious, it was so external that by the time I got in my mid-teens it was like, “I don’t know if I believe in God and I don’t believe in this and all this hypocrisy,” and it was, I just, “I’m out of here.” And so, as a result of my father’s growing pain, it was a couple beers after school, then it was four or five beers after school, then pretty soon He didn’t come home for dinner and then pretty soon it was eleven o’clock at night and then pretty soon I heard the screaming of my parents with my older sister.

And so my sister didn’t get loved, so she went and found love someplace else. And she rebelled. And her life ended up, for a while, a mess.

And he’d be sitting there, I remember Saturday mornings, there would be two cases of Mabel Black Label, that’ll date some of you. And he and, all I knew his name was John.

But Saturday mornings there would be two cases of beer and my dad would drink one and John would drink one. And they’d sit and talk and then he’d get up to go to the bathroom about a dozen times throughout the day, and when he got up I’d say, “Excuse me, John,” and I’d take my dad’s beer and I would go over to the sink, and I would pour it out and then I would put it back so he thought that he drank it. I thought, I’m going to save my dad.

By the time I was in late high school I had one of those Hoosier moments where my dad was drunk, and it was one of my basketball games. And he didn’t like the way the coach was calling the game, and my role in that particular game, and all I heard was from my buddies later, “Hey, man! The police came and had to drag your dad out of here!”

My middle sister who becomes the invisible one and, by the way, in dysfunctional families we create roles and we fulfill them. So, the scapegoat is my older sister, I’m the rescuer, and my other sister cooked the meals, took care of everyone, just wanted there to be peace and harmony.

And all I remember was it was really weird the last two years of high school because she would always walk around… and all she had was this little bowl of wheat puffs or something. They had no calories in them. And she just got skinnier, and skinnier, and skinnier, and skinnier until she was just skin and bones and had an eating disorder.

Because, see, we didn’t get loved. But, I mean, if you asked someone in the community, man, our family looked squeaky clean.

What we were experiencing was death, or separation, in our relationships, we were living in disobedience to God, and we were experiencing the just consequences of sin.

Now, my mom was the enabler. My mom was the most amazing person but she was a guidance counselor, she helped everyone. I remember drug addicts would be asleep on our floor and I’d get up and we were loving them. And she was an amazing person, the most emotionally intelligent person I’ve ever seen or met in my life. I mean amazing.

And what she did, unconsciously, was she wrote my dad’s papers, she covered for him, she took care of everything, she painted the positive picture, all out of a very sincere heart of loving and holding the family together. Sound familiar to some of you?

Now, my dad was a pretty functioning alcoholic; He had a violent, violent temper that I saw on some occasions and I probably blocked out a number of others. But I remember when it got to where my mom couldn’t manage it anymore. And she did an intervention.

Dysfunctional families require an intervention. You don’t slide out of them. Now I’d like to say that there was a lot of research and there was great counseling and a lot of people to help her.

My mom was a very savvy, very smart person who understood life. She took all these counseling courses and so let me just tell you, here’s her intervention. My dad’s name was Reb, it was Ralph but He went by Reb.

“Reb, you got forty-eight hours. You can have this bottle or me and this family. You make a decision. We’re done.” My dad thought about it, he was a three and a half pack Lucky Strike guy, I mean, he was trying to kill himself. But he looked at what he had, looked at that bottle and he quit. And after about three months, I wanted to give him a beer. You know? And it was just like a good alcoholic has got to be way better than this. I mean the pain, and the stuff wasn’t getting sedated anymore, and he went through seven tons of gum and a number of outbursts, and later my father trusted Christ.

And that still was a very long journey. Here’s what you need to hear: Until someone intervened and helped him see the crossroads that he was on, and forced him in that crisis to make a decision, he, me, you, everyone in humanity, will continue on the dysfunctional pathway that our original parents created by their sin - they passed it on to us in our heredity, in Adam, and we confirmed it by our behavior and our own personal sins.
The Scripture says to these Ephesians: Everyone is a member of a dysfunctional family but the good news is point number two. Jesus’ intervention broke the cycle of destruction.

Every now and then there is a preposition that is in the Bible that gives me great hope. And in verse 4 it says, “But,” there are different ways that this language can say the word “but” in contrast. This is the strongest way it can say it.

“But because of His great love, God,” and then describing Him in parenthesis, “who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions.”

And then Paul, I think he just almost gets overwhelmed and you can put a little bracket around, “It is by grace that you have been saved.” He just keeps coming back to, by the way, don’t get thinking it was something in you. It was by grace that you were saved. “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” and then for a purpose, “in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

Since we’re trying to make a point could I ask you, where it says “in Christ, in Christ, in Him, in Christ Jesus, in Christ,” could you just underline that so that when you look at these notes you’ll realize that everything he’s going to talk about is not about your self-effort, not your self-help program, not you thinking a little bit differently. It’s a fundamental shift. He’s going to say, “But God did an intervention.”

The second person of the Godhead, who was worshipped by myriad and myriad and myriad of angels, stepped out of heaven and was born of a teenage girl in a dirty stall, and was given birth around animals, on the planet that He spoke into existence, and then lived a perfect life to reveal what the Father is like, full of grace and truth, died in our place, and rose from the dead to break the cycle.

And what you’re going to see, I want you to underline three phrases, because we underlined or we circled, “death, disobedience, and objects of wrath,” look what God’s grace does. Number one, “made us alive,” circle that. Literally it’s one word, it means He quickened us. He intervened! You were dead spiritually! You were separated from God forever and ever and ever and so was I, and all of mankind, and we deserved it. But He intervened, He did an intervention, and He quickened us.

The second thing, notice what He did, He raised us up. Circle that. Everything that is true of Jesus is now true of you. It’s Romans 6. You died with Him, you’ve been raised with Him to walk, to live, in newness of life. You were dead; you’ve been quickened. Now, you were disobedient, you’re raised up with Him.

Notice the third thing: “And seated with Him.” Literally the word, you’re enthroned with Him. Instead of an object of wrath, the just wrath of God now this new position in Christ, you are enthroned so that the God who created all that there is, sees you exactly how He sees His Son.

The big word is “justification.” Some people in Sunday school say it’s just as if you didn’t sin. Well, that’s really true. But that’s just half of it. It’s a legal declaration where God takes, if you can imagine a computer screen, this is what helps me. And on a computer screen you have Jesus over here and you have you over here. And under you we have a list, if, you know, every sin of thought, word, and deed forever and ever and ever, and what you deserve and what I deserve is death.

And over here, under Jesus, we have the perfection and the absolute righteousness of God and what God the Father does with the computer screen of your life when you, by faith, trust Him, He pushes “delete” under all your sins and then He drags over the righteousness of Christ, and gives it to your account so that when God sees you, on the computer screen of heaven, He sees the very righteousness of His son and you are enthroned and that’s your position.

And I will tell you what, that’s awesome and if you ever get that truth the eighteen inches from your head to your heart, you’ll be born again, again. Because that’s truth most Christians aren’t living with.

Most Christians have got, “I’m saved, God forgave me, now I’m really trying hard to be a good person, it sure is hard. And I used to be immoral and I’m trying to be moral. And I used to have an addiction, I’m trying to break the addiction. And I know I’m supposed to. I’m supposed to read the Bible, I’m supposed to pray, I’m supposed to go to church, I’m supposed to, supposed to, supposed to.”

And then they just get tired because they don’t understand who they are, understand who they really are. When you understand who you are there is a gratitude. And then notice there is a power and the power isn’t your own. Mercy is when someone doesn’t give you what you deserve and grace is an abundance of overflowing of just freely, unmerited, unconditional love.

And the reason I like to read Tozer so much is I struggle with the goodness of God. I struggle, to this day with, when I perform well God loves me. When I don’t perform well, He doesn’t love me. And I have read - in that book by Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, there is a thin chapter on the goodness of God. I’m not exaggerating, I’ve read that chapter hundreds of times - and I’ve read the book I don’t know how many times. But I’ve read that single chapter hundreds of times.

And Tozer says it’s, it captures this and it’s a view of God that changes how you live the Christian life. And Tozer says, “It is the goodness of God that causes Him to be cordial and kind and frank with every human being. It is the goodness of God that He longs and finds happiness and joy in the blessedness of His people.” He says, “The skies that we live under would be completely different if we could but believe that God, though exalted in power and majesty is eager to be friends with us.” Have you thought of God like that?

God is good not because you’re good. God is good because there is something inside of Him, are you ready, that wants to bless you, that wants to do well for you. You know, we’re parents, right? I mean haven’t we at least given our kids a nice gift at Christmas and who is the most excited person under, I mean, once you get past six or eight maybe. I mean when you’re six or eight it’s all about, “What present did I get?” But when you get past that isn’t the greatest joy giving someone something that you know is at the center of the target of what they really long for and watching them open it?

Where do you think you get that? You’re made in the image of your heavenly Father. He wants you to open packages that delight your heart. He wants you to have great relationships. He wants you to be in the right job in the right place.

But often, in a fallen world, the way He gets us where we need to be is by allowing the velvet vice of consequences of some of our own stupidity, and our own mistakes, and the hurts and the pains of life, to get us to that position where He can do an intervention.

With Christ, with Christ, in Christ Jesus, in Christ Jesus. His motive, if you jot this in your notes, in verse 4, is His great love. His action, you could literally just parallel instead of death He made you alive, that’s the past. In the present, instead of disobedience you are raised currently with power. And in the future, instead of destruction you have eternal hope and honor. And His purpose was to reveal His character. I don’t understand this.

God wants angels to know, we’ll learn later, and He wants to us to know, and despite how we want to cover up our dysfunctional past, He wants to take your dysfunctional past, intervene, make you alive, clean you up, begin to transform your life, and then take you and make you a trophy of redemption and put it on His heavenly mantle and say to all the angels, “That’s what it looks like when I love people like this.”

And there will be a season, for some of you, when you can own some of this and accept God’s forgiveness and at just the right times, with just the right people, in a safe environment you’ll start to share some of what God is taking you out of and there will be a healing at the next level that will occur because you do that.

It’s hard because, see, it’s one thing to start to believe it but when you verbalize it to someone else, when you tell them, “This is where I’ve been,” and the hero, by the way, very carefully, the hero isn’t your recovery journey. The hero is not, “This is how terrible it was and I’m getting lots of attention by talking about what it’s like now.”

The hero is Jesus. The hero is the grace of God. The hero is, “Who am I to receive this but this is what God did,” you know what that does for other people? It gives them hope! You know how many guys are hooked on pornography? It’s off the charts and they’re in our churches. In fact, the last statistic I read, twenty-five percent of them are Evangelical pastors. You know how unsafe it is to share that? You know what it’s like to be stuck in something like that?

You know how many Christians are alcoholics, how many Christians have prescription drug issues, you know how many people are just desperately co-dependent and controlling in ways that…I mean, everything is about what everybody else thinks and making everyone else happy, and working themselves to death, and becoming these self-inflicted martyrs? God wants to break those cycles and He wants to intervene.

But to experience God’s provision here’s the third point: Our restoration can only begin when we recognize the full extent of our need. The recovery people call it, “Hitting bottom.” The full extent of our need.

And notice what he says, the “for,” it’s a reason. He says, “For by grace you have been saved,” now you have a responsibility. There was an agency, there is a means of reception. It’s not meritorious. But, “For by grace you have been saved through faith,” and that’s not of yourselves. “It is the gift of God, not by works, lest any man should boast.”

This is not the multi-billion-dollar, self-help, think and grow rich, think your way into, out of your difficulties. This is a gift from God. It’s grace that delivers. And when you turn from trying to solve the pains and the hurts and the longings with stuff, and people, and success, and fame, and addictions, and repent, change your mind. And in the empty hands of faith say, “I’ve hit bottom, I can’t do this. I just can’t do this. Will You help me?” God will come.

Finally, you move beyond recovery because it’s not a one step, pray a prayer, “Oh, thank you, God.” It’s a journey and you renew your mind, and you need the community of God’s people.

But to move beyond recovery our restoration is never complete until we impart what we now possess. This is one of my most favorite verses in all the Bible and it’s so often, not misquoted, it’s not quoted! Most of us, we’ve learned Ephesians 2:8 and 9, “Salvation by grace,” it’s on the little card. Right?

Verse 10 starts with this reason, “For you are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God…” the idea is foreordained, from the foundations of the earth, has a good work for you to walk in.”

Underline the word “workmanship.” We get our word, “poem,” in the ancient world it would be tapestry, it would be a fine work of art. You are a unique piece of art that’s been redeemed. You are His creation, His masterpiece, His workmanship and He saved you, forgave you, quickened you, seated you in the heavenly places, made you rise with Him, given you power to live a new life because He’s got a job for you. He’s got a job for you. It’s not so you can say, “I used to be this, now I’m that. Hi, my name is Chip. I’m a recovering workaholic.” That’s not the goal.

The goal is: Now, in the sovereignty of God, you grew up in a certain home, God wants to use all things for good to them that love Him, that are called according to His purpose.

The goal is: Make you like Jesus, and as He makes you like Jesus the vertical relationship, the horizontal thing, He has a good work for you to walk in.

There is a job for you that only you can do, are you ready for this? That your background prepared you for, your family of origin prepared you for, you understand certain people, you know certain hurts, you have certain gifts, you have a certain personality, and there is a good work to walk in.

And until you start to impart that you never get whole. And God’s kingdom doesn’t grow. Even your salvation, it’s not just about you. You’ve been delivered to walk in a good work.

What’s your good work? Where is your focus? You know, one of the dangers of all this is your focus can be, “How do I get better? How do I get better? Am I getting better? Am I getting more better? Am I falling back behind? What about me? What about…?”

You know this analysis paralysis. You focus a lot on God and who He says you are, you focus on the needs of people, as God shows you, move forward, and you deal with what He shows you, you become a trophy of His grace. You do the good work.

You become like my friend Andy, who after thirty plus years in a pornography addiction and being an elder and a deacon, in two or three different churches, got help, got in a recovery group, got with other men who were going through sexual addictions, said, “You know, I’d like to talk to you about something,” he was actually leading a ministry. And he said, “I’ve never shared this with anyone. It started when I was nine years old. It was a Sears catalogue, the lingerie section. And then I found my dad’s Playboys under the bed.”

And he said, “I’ve lived a double life and I’ve lived in pain and torment in my soul ever since. And I’ve been free now for about six months. And I told my wife a week ago. And I got an awesome wife and we’re on a journey.”

A year later, he got up in front of our church and shared that story with his wife on the front row, and we launched about fifteen sexual addiction groups out of it. The pain is tough but you know what? There was a good work for Andy. And there is a good work for you.