Disrupting Dysfunction

Good to see all of you as we plunge into God’s Word. What a privilege it is to study his word together. Even stories like this that sound very foreign and unfamiliar to us, God has a word for us. If you’re not in 2 Kings, go ahead and turn there.

Many of you have heard the contrast between the Edwards family and the Jukes family. The way the story is typically told is that Jonathan and Sarah Edwards back in the 1700s and on had many descendants that were reputable people, one vice president, dean of law school, dean a medical school, three U.S. Senators, three governors, three mayors, 13 college presidents, 30 judges, 60 doctors, 65 professors, 75 military officers, 100 lawyers, 100 pastors, theologians and missionaries.

As the story goes, through this one family line there is this massive influx of social capital that helps society. And then the contrast is typically made between the Edwards line and what is often called the Jukes line. Now that’s not Max Jukes’ real name. But Dugdale back in 1877 explored this guy’s lineage, changed the last name to protect the guilty. It actually was, he made it Juke, I believe.

Regardless, the research was done that showed that Max Juke had in his lineage, his descendants, seven murderers, 60 thieves, 190 prostitutes, hundreds of alcoholics and paupers. And often the story is told of how many millions of dollars this one family cost society through court fees, prison terms, etc. And so, the contrast is made between these two families. One of the implications, messages is that families matter. That some families produce a disproportionate amount of dysfunction and some health and function to society. However, these stories are dangerous for a couple of reasons. Let me give you three.

One, the facts are often inflated and conflated. So, the Juke line, if you look at all the research back there often occupations are conflated, general immorality is added to prostitution, and you have these huge numbers.

Secondly, these kinds of stories can ignore socially accepted forms of brokenness while condemning socially unacceptable forms of brokenness, if that makes sense. Because in one sense all our families are dysfunctional, right? So, we are all are passing down brokenness, and these kinds of stories can miss that.

Thirdly, these kinds of stories can lead and have in history led to horrible practices like eugenics where actual lines are intended to be terminated for the sake of society. And even more on a personal basis, it can lead to fatalism, right? When you study your family tree and you see all kinds of brokenness you can just feel, what’s the use? I mean, I’m doomed. There’s no hope for me. I chose the wrong parents.

From a biological perspective these kinds of stories I find fascinating because they bring up this tension between what you could call genetic determinism, and that is essentially you are your genes. And many scientists don’t even believe in any kind of personal choice because you are only the result of your chemicals. Your genetic wiring determines what you are. And that’s already determined. I’m not talking about a Calvinist / Sovereignty debate. I’m talking from a medical perspective, you are your genes.

So, you have that on one side, genetic determinism and then on the other side, you have lifestyle and environment factors that include personal choice. You are whatever you choose to be. That’s who you are, more of the Disney model. But bridging those two extremes are what is, well one of the things could be called epigenetics.

The Human Epigenome Project began in 2003 and began researching epigenetics. The Greek word epi simply means on or around. So, it’s not so much studying how genetic tendencies are passed from generation to generation, but actually how epigenetic tendencies are passed from generation to generation.

For example, your chances of having heart disease, diabetes, becoming addicted, getting anxious or angry and many other things rise and fall with your genes, right? But whether those genes are turned on or off falls into the realm of epigenetics. And that is, the expression of your epigenomic changes can be affected by things like eating, exercise smoking, not smoking, and an endless amount of choices or environmental factors.

Do you find that fascinating? It’s not just, because you think of genes being passed from generation to generation but even the ability, the tendency of your body to turn on or off certain genetic propensities can be passed down from generation to generation, which is remarkable. And the more we learn about this, the more it seems as though science is catching up with the Bible because there is a weird tension between something seemed so genetically determined and other things seem so environmentally and personally determined.

And there’s that tension there that’s always there from a biological perspective yet from a biblical perspective you see that same tension. For example, Exodus 20:5, God says he’s going to visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations. Numbers 14:18, same thing.

“The Lord is slow to anger abounding and steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression.But he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.”

So that can feel very much like, oh man, if my grandfather messed up, I’m doomed, right? I inherited some horrible spiritual genes. And I have, it doesn’t matter what I do, I’m under the curse. Yet the Bible also describes another side of this. For example, Deuteronomy 24:16,

“Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.”

Ezekiel 18:20,

“The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”

In other words, God doesn’t judge children for their parents’ sin or parents for their children’s sin. So, do you feel the tension there? That there are things that are passed down from generation to generation and yet that is not the final determining factor as to whether those are going to be expressed.

Kind of like epigenetics. You have a real genetic line that’s passed down from generation to generation but that doesn’t necessarily mean all those genes are going to be turned on or turned off. There are other factors.

So it is spiritually. There are real tendencies, propensities that are passed down from generation to generation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to express themselves. There are more factors at work. The main factor that we learn from the passage we are about to plunge into is that God’s presence changes everything. God’s presence is the ultimate defining factor beyond genetic and social, environmental tendencies. Let’s see if you see this from the life of Ahaziah in 2 Kings 1.

First of all, this poor guy chose his parents poorly. His dad was Ahab. Ahab is described in 1 Kings 16:30 as more evil than any other king before him. So Ahaziah, your dad, was the worst king that Israel had ever had previously. And your mom, what was her name? Jezebel. Do I need to say anymore? The poor guy lost the genetic lottery big time.

It was so bad that when God (through Elijah) confronted Ahab, he promised the demise of his descendants. So, imagine you’re Ahaziah. It’s raining outside. There’s nothing to do. You pull out the family DVDs and there’s one with Naboth’s vineyard on it, and you’re wondering, what is that about? And so, you’re watching this action film of your family, and this guy with a big hairy outfit pronounces judgment on your dad, and he says this. 1 Kings 21:21. I will cut off from Ahab every male. 1 Kings 21:29 I will bring disaster in his son’s days.

And you’re like wait, wait let me do the math here. Ahab’s son. That’s me. I’m doomed. It doesn’t matter what I do. Judgment has been pronounced on me. I’m under this multigenerational curse. And if I do good, it doesn’t matter. If I do bad, it doesn’t matter. And it can feel very fatalistic. So, he chose his parents poorly.

But then secondly that’s not the whole story, because if you look at the end of 1 Kings 22:51 summarizing his short reign, Ahaziah, the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel and Samaria in the 17th year of Jehoshaphat, King of Judah. And he reigned two years over Israel. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father Ahab and in the way of his mother Jezebel, and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat who made Israel sin.

He served Baal and worshiped him and provoked the Lord the God of Israel to anger in every way that his father had done. So, you notice when judgment was pronounced on him, there was no reference to a generational curse. There was a reference to the way in which he lived his life. He continued the way of his father, he continued the way of his mother. He chose to reproduce spiritual dysfunction. He inherited spiritual dysfunction, and he reproduced spiritual dysfunction. Well how did he do that? And that’s what 2 Kings 1 is all about. 2 Kings 1 fills in the story. I want to suggest to you three ways in which he did this.

Number 1, he lived in fear. Look at verse 1.

“After the death of Ahab, Moab rebelled against Israel. Now Ahaziah fell through the lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria, and lay sick;”

Now I’m going to do what I always tell you not to do. I’m going to base this point on implication. So, this is the most tentative of points here, because the text you notice doesn’t say he lived in fear. But it’s very interesting to me.

The way these two events are placed next to each other. First of all, Moab rebelled, verse 1. Secondly, Ahaziah fell. He most likely fell through a lattice in a window because they didn’t have glass in their windows. And so, if it’s a hot day, remember this is pre-HVAC, you’re sweating like a dog, what did you do? You went, and you sat in the window. So, if he’s up second, third story window, sitting in the window, chilling with his sweet tea, leaning against the lattice, the lattice gives way, and he plunges down and is seriously hurt.

That’s the fall described in verse 2. But why does the author mention Moab’s rebellion here? He doesn’t even develop it. It doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with what’s happening here. He’s actually going to come back in chapter 3 and give us the details of the Moabite rebellion.

Why does he mention it here? It seems like if we remember what is the king’s primary responsibility as a king? His primary responsibility is to make sure the kingdom is safe, the borders are secure, the people are protected. And if there is this rebellion going on, and King Ahaziah is sitting in his window at a time when a king is supposed to engage the enemy.

So, the implication seems to be at a time when a king should be at war, he was sitting at his window. Now humanly speaking, that makes sense, right? Because if you’re watching DVDs, and you see that you’re under a curse and you’re supposed to die young, you’re probably going to steer clear from the battlefield. You guys go ahead, take care of Moab. I’ll cover you from here. And so, it seems, and again this is the implication, it’s not stated it seems as though he is trying to play it safe, to stay in his mansion.

But do you see the irony? When God says your time is up, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of the battlefield or lounging with sweet tea in the window of your mansion. Your time is up. God has not called us to live in fear. He hasn’t called us to play it safe. He’s called us to worship him, to respond to his call.

In this man’s case, it was a call to be the king. But instead he appears to be trying to play it safe, and he lived in fear with no repentance. Quick diversion for all you history buffs, both of you.

There’s an interesting confirmation of the Moabite rebellion that was discovered accidentally in 1868 by a German missionary. F.A. Klein heard about this stone, went and found it and sparked this huge financial battle between the Berlin Museum and the French Consulate in Jerusalem vying to see who would pay more to get this, what is called the Moabite stone. This thing is 4′ by 2′ feet by 14″ and quite the find. From the 9th Century B.C. So today it would be almost three thousand years old. Well, some local Arabs, the late 1800s, local Arabs heard that the Germans and the French were financially fighting over who would get it, and they just decided they would ruin it for both of them.

So, they hoisted the thing up. It was super heavy, it would take about eight big men to lift this. But they hoisted it up, started a fire underneath, heated it up, poured cold water on it, broke it into pieces, and passed it out as party favors just so no one would get it. Well, the French kept pursuing it eventually buying, stealing whatever. They ended up with it. And today it’s in the Louvre in Paris. But it is quite the find because on this stone is carved the record by Mesha the Moabite king of the time when they rebelled against, and he refers to Yahweh, he refers to the House of David.

And by the way, this is at a time, the late 1800s, early 1900s when a lot of scholars were questioning even the existence of King David, saying there’s no evidence historically beyond the Bible that some King David, King of Israel even existed. And since then there have been other, but then this archaeological discovery, three-thousand-year-old rock that has a record of it, an enemy of Israel referring to the House of David, referring to Yahweh, referring to boasting in this exact rebellion. As he rebelled, Mesha rebelled against Omri and his sons. Omri was Ahab’s father, Ahaziah’s grandfather. So, a very specific record of what the Bible’s talking about. So, number 1, Ahaziah appears to be living in fear.

Secondly, he refused to turn to God. He refused to turn to God. Look at verse 2. So, he fell, he lay sick, seriously injured possible broken bones, internal bleeding. And what does he do? He sends messengers telling them, go inquire of Baal-Zebub the god of Ekron whether I shall recover from my sickness.

So, he is carrying on the tradition of his mother, mother Jezebel, was the daughter of the Philistia king, worshipper of Baal. And in a time of crisis, his default setting was to turn to Baal, lord of the flies rather than Lord of creation. And the messengers were sent. They began their 45-mile trek to Philistia. And in verse 3 an angel of the Lord tells Elijah to intercept the king’s messengers. And the big question is asked. This is the dominant theme of the chapter.

“Is it because there is no God in Israel?” Is this why you’re going to these, to Baal because there is, you’re acting as if there is no God in Israel. And you’ll see that question in verse 3, verse 6, verse 16.

So, the messengers turn around because Elijah raised that question and then said he’s going to die. They turned around, went back to the king. The king’s like woah, you didn’t have time to make that trip there and back? What went on? They explained when we met this guy, this prophet who said you’re going to die well. What did the prophet look like?

Verse seven. Isn’t that interesting? Well, he’s got this garment of hair and this belt of leather. It is Elijah, the Tishbite. Immediately Ahaziah knew it was their family foe. At this moment though we need to slow down in the story just a little bit to take this in because the king’s response to this message illustrates for us how not to respond to an offensive message. When God sends you an offensive message, and you’re worried about what the prophet was wearing… those preachers who don’t wear suit coats or do wear suit coats, or too loud, too soft, I don’t like this.

No. There’s a message here for us. Don’t get lost. Don’t miss the message. What is the message? But the king missed the message, asked about Elijah’s, what he looked like, who was this. How should we respond to an offensive message from God? I think this is a very relevant question for us today because many of us are way more concerned about not being offended than we are about hearing the truth, right? We’ll write people off if they tell us the truth, but it’s not exactly the way we wanted to hear it.

A great example of how to do it the right way is in Matthew 15 when Jesus was approached by the Canaanite woman. It’s ironic that it’s a Canaanite woman whose daughter was severely oppressed by demons, and she came begging and crying. And the disciples are kind of like, “Eh! Get away! Too much drama!” trying to push her away. And Jesus didn’t respond right away and then, finally, when he did respond, he said, “Well, actually I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

So, what does she do? She moves closer. She moves closer to Jesus. She gets down on her knees, and she utters those three beautiful words, “Lord, help me. Lord, help me.” So, here’s an offensive message. She moves closer. “Help me.” And Jesus says perhaps his most offensive words ever spoken to a sincere seeker. He says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

Whoa! Can you imagine being that woman and you’re going to Jesus for a miracle, and he calls you a dog?  You can imagine her just saying, “Well, whatever! If you’re going to call me a dog!” And listen to her response. “Yes, Lord. Yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”  Boom! I just love that response. The tenacity, the humility, but then the persistence. “Lord, help me.”

Jesus loves it, too. Matthew 15:28, he says,

“O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire.”

And her daughter was healed instantly. Jared Wilson writes this interaction,

“When Jesus calls you a dog, in other words, you don’t argue with him. You own your dog-ness.It’s those who find this admission beneath them, who think themselves above Christ and His Gospel, actually, who will end up losing in the end.”

If I’m so brittle that I can’t handle when God, and I’m not talking about people who are shaming people, but when God through His Word says, “This is who you are.  This is what you’ve become.”  And we are like, “No! If that’s the message, I’m not going to hear it!” It is the quickest way to miss a miracle.

We take our shame, which in this case the Canaanite woman’s shame was real. She was born in the wrong family, born to a really hard situation with her daughter, experienced lots of hurt, and even with Jesus, the disciples were wanting to push her away. But she did not mix her shame with stubbornness, which firms up into a kind of brittle bitterness that leaves us in despair. Her shame was mixed with humility, not humiliation, but humility that led to real pleading with God. “Lord, help me,” and Jesus responded and worked his miracle. So, she becomes a contrast to the response of the king in 2 Kings 1. So, number 1: he lived in fear. He refused to turn to God.

And then number 3: he endangered others. He endangered others. Verses 9-12, rather than humbling his heart and seeking God, he attacked the messenger. Verse 9, he sent 51 soldiers to arrest Elijah.

What happened to them? Poof! Consumed! So, what did he do? He did it again. Verse 11, he sent 51 more soldiers to arrest Elijah. Consumed. Now some skeptical scholars have described this “innocent captains and 50s destruction as an ‘inhumanity.’” Montgomery Wallace says of Elijah, “He was mistaken, self-centered, and stupid.” Now I know this judgment makes us feel squeamish, but a couple of things we have to keep in mind here.

First of all, Elijah did not judge these men. God did. It is described as the “fire from God.” As strong as Elijah may have been with his cool hair garment thing on, he couldn’t make fire come from heaven. It was God who was judging this rejection of his word in the land. This was not personal vengeance. This was not even like what the disciples were asking for in Luke 9, which we are forbidden to ask for. This was God bringing about a very specific judgment, foreshadowing the final judgment. This is what happens when you reject, stubbornly reject the word of God. Heed the warning.

The tragedy here is when we reject God’s authority and worship the creation rather than the creator, we end up endangering others. And the higher we go in leadership, the more people we affect. He endangered others, but embedded in this story of contagious dysfunction is a picture of humility and grace. Look at verses 13-18. Captain number three humbled himself, and he looked out for those who worked under him. He pleaded. Verse 13,

“Again the king sent the captain of the third fifty with his fifty. And the third captain of fifty went up and came and fell on his knees before Elijah and entreated him, ‘O man of God, please let my life and the life of these fifty servants of yours be precious in your sight.’”

God responded. We’ve seen this all throughout the study of Elijah, right? God is so ready to give mercy. That’s his posture. It’s not judgment. He is slow to anger. He is fast to grace. He’s abounding in steadfast love! Slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love! Don’t miss that contrast. His default setting is grace, but when the king stubbornly rejected over and over again, he jeopardized others. Yet God was ready to respond to this captain of 50, but unfortunately, verse 17, Ahaziah did not receive any benefit from that because he refused to repent. He, therefore, died.

He lived in fear. He refused to turn to God, and he ended up endangering others. So, in one sense, this story is the tragic story of a stubborn heart, of a refusal to acknowledge that God is in Israel. But in another sense, this story is an invitation to us. Do you see that? God says He records these Old Testament stories for our benefit, so we will hear and heed.

So, the Spirit of God is saying some really specific things to us today. Let’s ask some questions to get to the root of what this is saying to us. First of all, what disgrace have you inherited? What I mean by “disgrace” is just a general, could be physical, could be spiritual, things that you do not see as benefits. You might have come from a severely dysfunctional family, where all the rules of communication are broken. You treat one another with contempt. There’s lots of defensiveness and manipulation, coercion, harsh words, and that is passed down to you. And now you’re beginning your own family and passing that on. Lots of marital conflict and break down. Perhaps you have inherited a tendency or a propensity toward addiction that has been passed down from generation to generation. Or anxiety. Or anger.

It just seems like the flu, it just goes from one family member to the next. Depression. Or even more seriously, Christian-ish. Some of our families passed down from generation to generation, not a rejection of Christianity, but not really an embracing of true Christianity, but more of a passing down of a Christian-ish-ness. I’m Christian-ish. I’m a Christian, but it doesn’t really translate into the way I treat my family at home. Doesn’t really change the way I do my business. The way I handle my life, my finances. It doesn’t really change anything; it’s just a label I wear and whatever you have inherited. This is why I think this is important.

You say, “This feels so negative. I don’t even want to acknowledge that!” Well, some of us are stuck, and we end up passing it down from generation to generation because we won’t acknowledge this. This is part of what I think it means to own your dog-ness.

To say, “Okay, God.  Like Ahaziah, I’ve inherited some real brokenness.” And this isn’t to blame parents or grandparents. That’s not the point. It’s to be open and honest about where we are and what we’re becoming. And there’s something really healthy about that.

For me to be able, if you cornered me and said, “Peter, what’s your go-to?” This is the second question: where do you turn for help? I don’t mean just on Sunday, the songs you sing.

I mean your day-to-day go-to savior. Or better, consistent with 2 Kings 1, what is your Baal? You may look at Ahaziah and say, “Dude, what are you turning to Baal for?  That’s dumb. A bull, or a Lord of Flies, or whatever. Why would you?” But isn’t the same thing true for those of us who are turning to entertainment or addiction, alcohol, reputation, achievement, or any other pseudo-deity when we feel pressure or under assault? There is only one Savior! The Canaanite woman just nailed it.

“Lord, help me. Lord, help me.” And he always responds to that prayer. He may not respond the way you think he needs to respond, but he will respond to that prayer. He hears the cry of our hearts. So, will you turn to God for grace?

Ahaziah, like Satan, would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven. But I think even in the midst of this tragic story of the line of Ahab, there is so much hope in here because God gave a prophet because he had a message to deliver. And the main point of this whole passage, if you hear nothing else, is that even when the king would not acknowledge that God was in Israel, God was in Israel.  So, for us, even if we live in a country that more and more is rejecting the presence of God, that does not mean there is no presence of God.

Is there a God in Greenville? Yes. Is there a God who is pursuing your heart, who defines you in a way that is far more powerful and far more eternal than any genetic wiring or any experience or achievement or failure or any feeling that I’m under some kind of generational curse? He is the one who is ready to meet us right where we are and transform us. And I thank God that he is doing that.

As I look around and I see some of you, I know some of your stories and what you have inherited and you’re saying, “By God’s grace, enough!” This is not going to be passed down to my kids. This line of dysfunction is not going to continue. We’re not going to pass down this anger. This turning to self or playing the Christian game or whatever it is that you do. And I believe God has recorded this story for this reason. Let’s pray.

Father, thank you that you disrupt dysfunction and that there are hundreds of people here today who have experienced that grace-fueled disruption. That there is a God in Greenville.

That while we can be open and honest about all of the pain that we have experienced, the things the horrible things that have been done to us, the horrible things that we have done, but those cannot tell the whole story. They actually don’t tell the story.

You are the God, as we sang earlier, who brings chaos back in order, who transforms orphans into sons and daughters of the King. You are the King of glory!

You are the God of all grace, all kinds of grace, all amounts of grace! Lord, you meet us right where we are, and you have customized grace to help in time of need. So, Lord, wherever we are right now in our journey,

you have brought us here this morning to meet us in this moment. And I pray that as your Word has gone forth, we would not respond like the king did with defensiveness and counter-attack and looking elsewhere, but we would say, “Yes, Lord.

Lord, help me. I want to see myself differently. I want to see the future differently. And it’s all because of you. My eyes are on you. I’m turning my eyes on Jesus, looking full in his wonderful face and the things of earth, the genetic things, the social powers and influences, my past, my present, all those things fade in the light of who you are, your glory and your grace. I pray that you would wash over us with hope, not because we’re looking at ourselves or we’re undoing the past or trying to change who people think we are, but because our eyes are on you.

We’re seeing you as you really are and, therefore, we can begin to see ourselves for who we really are. So, Lord, receive this time of worship as your Spirit continues to apply this message directly to where we are. Continue to draw our hearts. Break down those defenses. Do your work. In Jesus’ name.

 

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