If you are a parent, at one time or another you have watched your child do something, say something or react to a certain situation poorly and you have cringed because you realized that you were looking in a mirror and what you saw were some of your less laudible traits being played back to you in your child.
Or maybe you said something, did something, or reacted in a particular way and they shrieked with the realization that you had “become your parents.” The very things you swore you would never do or say, you were now doing and saying. Like it or not, we do tend to follow some of the footprints of the influential people of our lives.
In our text this morning we see some snapshots from the life of Isaac. As we look at this second “patriarch of the faith” we see several similarities to his father, Abraham. Some are good and some aren’t.
THE FOOTSTEPS THAT LED TO TROUBLE
Heading to Egypt. Our text begin telling us that in the day of Isaac there was a famine similar to a famine in the days of his father Abraham. Abraham took off for Egypt instead of trusting God. His first instinct was to run from trouble. And it appears that that was the first instinct of his son, Isaac. We read that God tells Isaac NOT to go to Egypt but instead to stay in Gerar.
Like it or not, our children learn to deal with problems the same way we do.
- blame others
- make excuses
- run away
- whine and complain
- or patiently trust God
He lied about his wife. The second scene in our glimpse at the life of Isaac is one that is quite familiar to us because it happened twice in the life of Abraham. It is the same situation . . .Isaac gets in trouble and he handles it the way his father did.
Isaac is living in Gerar as God told him. Apparently he was aware that the men of the community thought that his wife was attractive and desirable. When they asked him who she was . . . he used the lie his father used, “she is my sister,” he said.
Unlike the case with Sarah, Rebekah is never taken into anyone’s harem. God makes sure this doesn’t happen. Abimelech is looking out his window one day and spies Isaac “making out” with Rebekah. Surely his first thought was, “O, gross!” But then he realized that this was not Isaac’s sister. Isaac was caught in a lie. His reputation was stained, and his character was called into question.
Do you realize that it is easier to sin if someone opens the door for us. It is easier to do what is wrong if we have seen others do so. It is easier to pick up bad character traits if they have been modeled before us.
Griffin O’Neal is the son of actor Ryan O’Neal and brother of the actress Tatum O’Neal. Several years ago, Griffin made headlines when he accused his father of turning him on to cocaine at the age of 13 and encouraged him to begin having sex at age 11.
“We were going to a movie and Dad said, ‘Let’s do a little of this to get us through. It’s a long film.’ He pulled out some coke, and that was that. I’d smoked hashish before that with him. There were always drugs in the house. I was an old hand at smoking pot when I was 6.”
Griffin went through a 2/12 year drug rehabilitation program. He said that these days, he gets no advice at all from Ryan. At the time of the interview, they hadn’t spoken for a year. “He has rejected me and considers me scum,” says Griffin. “My own father gave me cocaine and yet he won’t take the blame. If he ‘d given me a stronger fatherly message against drugs, who knows? My like could have been different.”
Not every case is so blatant and obvious. But we do influence our children in many ways. We are setting our children on a course or giving them an example,
- by our spending habits
- by the way we resolve conflicts
- by the values we order our lives by (not always the same as the values we profess)
- by our worship habits
- by our devotional life (or lack thereof)
- by the way we approach our work (with diligence or resistance)
- by the way we handle hard times (with complaints or with trust)
- by the way we handle those who oppose us
The choices we make not only have immediate consequences . . .there are long term consequences as well. People are watching. The patterns of our lives will influence those we love. . . positively or negatively.
Now, if you are like me, you perhaps feel a sense of remorse at this point. We know we haven’t always been a good example. We know that we have made some serious mistakes in our lives. And we wonder; if there is anything we can do to help those who follow us from walking that same path? Let me make some suggestions:
1. Don’t justify or excuse. Don’t play the role of victim . . . instead take responsibility for the choices you made. Admit that you were foolish. Confess that you sinned.
2. Be honest about the cost of your mistakes. Be honest about the heartache, the loss, the suffering. Help others to see the real and costly consequences of your actions. Have you ever listened to some people as they give their testimony. They talk about the horrible way they lived before they met Christ . . . but they tell it in such a way as to glamorize those days. I’ve heard people say, “Wow, I wish I had a testimony like that!” Why? Why would you for a minute wish that you had sinned more? Beware of the danger of glamorizing the sinfulness of the “good ole days”.
How much better to say to a child, “No, I didn’t go to church when you were little . . .but I should have. I have wasted all those opportunities to enjoy God’s blessing. I have spent years looking for something that was right in front of me the whole time.”
3. Point people to a better way. Show your children, friends, and those around you the wisdom of God’s way. Show them a better alternative. Don’t just show them the words . . . show them by your lives.
4. Pray, Pray, Pray. Pray that God would shield those who follow your footsteps that same way God shielded Isaac. Pray that God would awaken their hearts and make them sensitive to His Spirit.
THE FOOTSTEPS WORTH FOLLOWING
It is important that you see that Isaac did learn some good things from his father. Most of all, Isaac learned about faith from his father. (How many children these days can say that?) Notice some of the positive things said about Isaac at the end of the chapter.
His fortune grew We read that “Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy.” (12,13) Isaac continued working faithfully and blessing came.
One of the things I like about Isaac is that he seemed to be just an ordinary guy. Isaac is the most blue-collar of the Patriarchs. We don’t read a lot about him because he didn’t do much that was flashy. For the most part, Isaac simply did his job. He faithfully served God in the ordinary tasks of life. God took an ordinary man and used him to build His kingdom.
In my reading this week I read about a foreman on the railroad who was out on a hot day working with his crew on the side of the track. A train pulled up and from the custom made car at the back of the train, the owner of the railroad called out to the foreman. They visited as friends for about an hour.
When the foreman returned to his men they wanted to know how it was that he knew the President of the railroad. The foreman told them how they had started at the railroad on the same day. The men asked the obvious question: “How is that you are out here in the heat working as the foreman, while he is riding around as the President of the company?”
The man’s answer was very telling, “When we both started that day I was working for $1.35 an hour, and he was working for the railroad.”
Here’s a good question for all of us: who are we working for? Are you working for a paycheck or do you see the bigger picture? Are you logging time or serving the Lord? Those who work for material things can only hope for material things. Those who work for the Lord will enjoy the blessing the world can never produce.
He endured hardship. Receiving God’s blessing and having an easy life are not the same thing. There is no guarantee that doing the right thing will be popular. As Isaac grew in wealth he became a target for those who were threatened by him.
We are told that the men filled the wells his father had dug. If you didn’t have water, you couldn’t take care of your livestock. They were trying to push Isaac out. He tried reopening the wells but the men of Gerar claimed them as their own. It was underhanded and wrong. We know what it takes to dig a well today. And I suspect the process was more difficult then.
Some would say that Isaac was a wimp. He should have flexed his muscles and fought back. I don’t think Isaac was weak . . . he was faithful. He trusted God to make a place for him. Isaac endured. He kept doing what was right. And in the end the King of Gerar came to him and asked him for a treaty of peace.Isaac’s character and godliness was reaffirmed by the way he handled this difficult time. He turned a bad first impression around by the way he handled this situation. The same is true with us. There is nothing that reveals character like difficulty.
He stayed in the land God gave him. We read that Isaac “pitched his tent there”. When Isaac found the place where God wanted him to be . . . he stayed there. Isaac was sixty when Esau and Jacob were born and now back in Beersheba Esau got married at age 40. So, Isaac’s absence from the land could not have been more than forty years. He died at the age of 180 which means he stayed in the land for 80 years.
Now this doesn’t sound like any big deal but think about it. Think about the way you and I often are. We find blessing from God and then we run back to the world. We find the delight and peace of prayer and then forget prayer until the next crisis. We see the enlightenment the Bible gives us for living but then we return to our own tactics and devises. We are inconsistent. We would do well to stay in the place of blessing like Isaac.
So, should we learn from these verses?
First, we are warned that what we do not only affects our lives . . . it affects the lives of those around us. Our faithfulness spurs others to faithfulness. Our failures makes a path to sin that others may follow. We need to ask ourselves, “What kind of footprints am I leaving for those who come after me?” What kind of example am I leaving for my children, my co-workers, other believers?
Second, we are instructed by Isaacs’ example. How do we handle difficult circumstances? Do we run away, or trust faithfully? How do we handle opposition? Do we adopt the tactics of our opponents or do we continue to do what is right? We are to work for the Lord and Him alone . . . and if we do so faithfully, God will see us through.
Finally, we are encouraged. Isaac made mistakes but these mistakes did not disqualify Him from God’s blessing or grace. Nowhere in scripture do we read that Isaac was disqualified from God’s blessing because of the mistakes he made in his past. Throughout Scripture we read about “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Isaac holds a place of prominence in spite of his mistakes.
I suspect there may be some here today who feel that the mistake(s) they have made are so bad that God could never forgive them or restore them. But the Bible is filled with stories of how God has taken people who failed and turned their lives around. God is in the business of restoring broken lives. His forgiveness and restoration will not erase all the consequences . . . but He will help you to move in a different direction. But he will not do it unless you turn to Him. He will not do it until you stop trying to save yourself and trust what Christ has done on your behalf.
Maybe today is the day you need to stop making excuses and start addressing the problem. The problem is not your parents. It is not your environment or your income level. The problem is not even your circumstances. The problem is your heart. There is only one who can change that heart . . . and His name is Jesus.
Let’s face it. Most of us are not going to be like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Peter or Paul. Most will never be used by God in such a great way as these men. Most of us will are more like Isaac: simple people who will live their lives without much fanfare. And I pray, that like Isaac we will choose to be common folks who serve an extraordinary God. And as a result may we enjoy that mercy and grace that makes every breath a gift to be cherished.