Selfie: Awkward Family Photos


This week at Gateway Austin we concluded our series on Selfie: Capturing Who We Really Are.

To dive even deeper, work through this week’s Next Steps.

You can watch the message Rick Shurtz and I wrote here:

Selfie – Awkward Family Photos – May 11, 2014 from Gateway Church on Vimeo.

How do you view yourself? What has shaped your view of yourself? Is your view of you consistent with God’s view of you?

Our families have shaped how we view ourselves. Family has a powerful effect on our self-perception, both for good and for bad.

Consider: If you could take a family photo most representative of your family, what would that photo look like?

I’d encourage you to ask this about your family of origin, and if you’re an adult, what would the photo look like for your family today.

The moment I ask that, the moment I pose that question, I can’t help but think two thoughts.

  • First, that many of us would have photos representing some sort of pain or sadness.
  • Second, that this would only be made worse by the thought that we think we’re alone in that, that most everybody else would have a happy family photo.

Now consider: How has your family photo affected your view of yourself?

Often times we grow up to become exactly like our parents and grandparents or we try so hard to not be like them that we go the opposite direction – too far in the opposite direction.

Too many of us place our value in our families or our lack of family. We are too concerned with how others see us in terms of how our kids achieve. Other of us don’t feel valuable because we don’t have kids or our kids aren’t achieving or we don’t have the family photos we see in the lives of others.

As an aside: some of you may be here today considering divorce or separation. You are smiling today but there is a great deal of pain in your current family. DO NOT try to handle this on your own. DO NOT give up.

So what do we do with the influence of family on our lives?

  • It can be the absolute BEST of influence on us?
  • And it can be the absolute WORST of influence on us?
  • Family can be a taste of heaven.
  • And family can be a taste of hell.
  • How can we benefit from family?
  • And how can we overcome where family has done damage?

To get after this, I want to take us to what is admittedly an obscure passage of Scripture. It comes from Numbers, and is repeated a few other places in Scripture as well.

‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in 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 the fourth generation.’ – Numbers 14:18 (ESV)

Starts out strong doesn’t it.

God is slow to anger. We like that.
He’s abounding in steadfast love. We like that too.
He forgives our iniquities and transgressions. We’re on a roll.

But then this…

He will by no means clear the guilty. He visits the iniquities of parents on the children to the third and fourth generations.


How might I be experiencing the iniquities of my great grandparents. What does that mean? And even more, it hardly sounds fair!

Let my great grandparents deal with their own problems. I shouldn’t have to deal with them, and I certainly shouldn’t be accountable for them.

Scriptures mysteries are often unpacked in the stories. And Scripture abounds with stories. I’m going to read one or two line descriptors from multiple stories that give us a visual aid in helping us understand Scripture’s teaching.

Listen closely you’ll see what I mean…

“Abijam began to rule over Judah … He reigned in Jerusalem three years…He committed the same sins as his father before him….” – 1 Kings 15:1-3

Nadab son of Jeroboam began to rule over Israel … He reigned in Israel two years. But he did what was evil in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his father, continuing the sins that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit.” – 1 Kings 15:25-26

“Ahaziah son of Ahab began to rule over Israel … He reigned in Samaria two years. But he did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, following the example of his father and mother and the example of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who had led Israel to sin.” – 1 King 22:51-52

One more that is positive:

“Jotham did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight. He did everything his father, Uzziah, had done….” – 2 Chronicles 27:2

When Scripture tells us the iniquity of one generation is going to travel to the next generation, and even multiple generations, to the third and fourth generation, it’s not talking about the accountability for that behavior. It’s talking about the behavior itself.

Consider this other passage:


“When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. 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.” – Ezekiel 18:19-20 (ESV)

Here’s how I’d pull these teachings together:

Accountability is not passed from generation to generation but character is.

So how do we break this cycle?
What do we do to break it for ourselves?
What do we do to break it in our parenting?
How do we protect ourselves not just from awkward family photos but from dangerous family photos?

A man named Nicodemus comes to Jesus wanting to know how we experience God, how we know him, how we can know him today, and how we can know him for all eternity.

Listen to how Jesus answers him:

“I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” – John 3:3

Nicodemus responds:

“What do you mean? How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” – John 3:4

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.” – John 3:5-6

When a woman gives birth, we refer to her water breaking. Here Jesus says a person must be born of water and of Spirit. That water birth, that’s our physical birth. The spiritual birth, he’s telling us, is something different than that. Humans can reproduce only human life. The Holy Spirit, though, it can give birth to spiritual life.

Let me read one more statement from Christ that can sound a little confusing at first, maybe even a little offensive, but that is incredibly important for this conversation.

Jesus says this:

“And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” – Matthew 23:9

This isn’t en exhortation to dishonor our parents. We know from other places in scripture where Jesus goes to great lengths to be certain his mother is taken care of after he’s gone. We read in the ten commandments: “Honor your father and mother.”

This isn’t an exhortation to diminish our parents, but what does he mean?

Recognize your heavenly Father as your Father.

Available to you, and available to me, and available to our children, is a spiritual heritage that transcends the challenges of our physical heritage.

Scripture says it like this:

“…you have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root….” – Romans 11:17

It’s the image of a tree – a spiritual family tree.

You and I, we are like branches, and available to us is to be grafted into this rich and eternal spiritual family tree.

Family negativity can be broken because available to each and every one of us is a spiritual heritage that is rich and vibrant and alive and healthy and wise and good and life-giving.

Available to each and every one of us—no matter if we are married or single, no matter if our family of origin was healthy or destructive, no matter if we have kids or don’t have kids—available to us is absolute best of what family can be.

You and I and our families, we can be grafted into a spiritual family tree, that GIVES life rather than TAKES life.

Hear carefully this teaching from Jesus:

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” – Luke 11:9-13

This whole teaching is a lead up to asking God for the Holy Spirit.

Why is that significant? We are talking about spiritual birth, and Jesus said the physical gives birth to the physical and the spiritual gives birth to the spiritual.

This is an asking for the Spirit.

“Look,” Jesus says, “If you want to be grafted into this spiritual family tree, then it’s very simple what you must do: ASK FOR IT.”

Asking for it, it’s like asking your dad for a fish, he’s not going to turn around and give you a poisonous snake. This is the kind of request God LOVES TO SAY YES TO.

You’re asking for something God longs to give you.

We ask for it, and that’s the kind of prayer God loves to answer with a YES.

Let’s say you’ve done this. You’ve asked to be part of God’s family, to experience his new birth, to have the Holy Spirit in your life. Does that then mean that the generational challenges are broken? I don’t think so, but I do think it means you have the potential for them to be broken.

It now depends upon what you do with this new birth. Very little is gained by “asking” and “forgetting.” If I ask for something, it’s because I want to do something with whatever it is I ask for.

If we want to break them for ourselves and for our families, we first ask for the Spirit, and then we take full advantage of God’s yes.


“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” – Joshua 1:8

How do we make the most of this spiritual heritage? We meditate on the family book.

We don’t just do so every now and then. We do so “day and night.”

Family affects us. It affects us positively and affects us negatively.

Available to you and to our families is a spiritual heritage with a family photo that transcends all time.

We can be part of a family that doesn’t just last until the kids are grown or until the last of us dies, but it’s a family that will last forever.”

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