Americans have a reputation for being short-sighted. While Japanese corporations plan for the next hundred years, American companies find it painful to plan for the next twelve months. Notice how well the American government planned the management of Social Security, knowing that massive numbers of baby boomers would someday demand their share. Nor can we forget the myopic decision-makers at IBM who decided just a few decades ago that computers needed to read only two-digit numbers to calculate dates.
Scrimping when we plan for the future leads to crises, as we have seen in the recent scramble to "save" Social Security and the looming Year 2000 computer problem. Rather than avoiding such crises altogether, Americans tend to slam into them at full speed, hoping their momentum will carry them through without lasting harm. Though this country has weathered hard times before, we cannot expect a miracle to save us every time.
Poor planning in industry begets pollution, waste, over-consumption of resources and financial ruin. For instance, many medium- and large-sized companies across America took a decided turn for the worse when tougher environmental laws and regulations took effect. Suddenly, they had to spend millions of dollars to clean up the local ecosystem and install pollution-prevention or -reduction equipment in their factories. Such expenditures forced some out of business completely.
Mining, petroleum and timber companies have had to learn some tough lessons in usage management in recent years after learning that they had stripped the land of the resources that kept them in profits. Many of our resources are non-renewable, leading to widespread recycling efforts to extend their usefulness and profitability.
Nearly two decades ago the federal government bailed Chrysler Corporation out of a financial mess at taxpayer expense. The blame for the company's near collapse fell squarely on its management, who had failed to account for changing consumer tastes, slow domestic sales and increased competition from Japan.
Historically, poor planning has contributed to a number of unfortunate, sometimes atrocious, results. Failure of the congressional and constitutional delegates to settle the slavery issue in 1776 and 1783 made the devastating Civil War a certainty. A lack of a cogent, humane American Indian policy in the last century decimated the native tribes in this country. Short-sighted planting techniques and land management early in the century led to the Dust Bowl of the early 1930s. We are just beginning to see the long-term effects of such things as abortion, sexual freedom, easy divorce, daycare and latchkey children, processed foods, mass inoculations, antibiotics and many other modern issues regarding health and well-being.
Anyone who studies the Bible in depth cannot help being impressed by God's long-term planning. God's plan, conceived countless ages ago, is working toward an end still many centuries in the future. His prophecies speak of events He promises to bring to pass thousands of years later (Isaiah 46:9-11; 55:10-11). Ephesians 1:4 says that God planned for His church "before the foundation of the world." That is foresight!
Our goal is to become like Him, and this includes His ability to plan our course over many years. Obviously, we do not have the power to control events that take place around us, but with His help and a bit of hard work, creativity and endurance, we can set long-term goals—both physical and spiritual—and accomplish them. With a little foresight, a little planning, we can leave our children and grandchildren a legacy of accomplishment.
This is exactly what God wants us to do! Solomon writes, "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children" (Proverbs 13:22). God is doing the same thing for us, for Paul tells us in Romans 8:16-17:
The Spirit Itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
With God's example as witness to us, we need to buck human nature's proclivity toward shortsightedness and take a long view of life and our impact on others. What we do with our lives—good or ill—has long-term consequences. What kind of legacy will we leave to our children and grandchildren?
The second commandment contains a principle concerning the impact of a person's life on future generations:
For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Exodus 20:5-6; see Numbers 14:18, 33)
This principle underlies all conduct, whether good or evil. Everything we do produces some sort of consequence, though the effect may not become apparent until generations later and affect uninvolved people. Sinful actions produce curses like destruction, disease, disorder, strife and death. Godly actions produce blessings like health, bounty, peace, safety, wealth, unity and righteousness.
Therefore, we can never assume that "no one was hurt" by our actions. None of us live in a vacuum. We have to take a longer view of matters, projecting what will result for us and our progeny because of the steps we take today. Though this is not easy, it is not impossible because God has given us the tools we need to do this with a fair amount of certainty.
Hebrews 11:1 gives the Bible's definition of faith: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul reminds them, "For we walk by faith, not by sight" (5:7). Because of our trust in God, we have confidence in His Word, and by it we plan and live our lives.
The Bible, together with the influence of the Holy Spirit, reveals the order and details of God's plan. By understanding the meaning of the holy days, we know that we are living in the time pictured by the Day of Pentecost and swiftly approaching the fulfillment of the Day of Trumpets. Man's six thousand-year days of futility are nearly finished, and the eve of God's rest, typified by the Sabbath (Hebrews 4:3-10), is imminent.
This knowledge gives us a broad starting point from which to plan. Herbert W. Armstrong advised us to expect Christ to return at any time, but plan as if we still had many years to wait. This principle rests on Jesus' warning in Matthew 24:32-44, where He tells us to watch expectantly for the signs of His return as we live our lives preparing for that day. The first-century disciples spent their whole lives waiting, watching and preparing themselves—and they died in faith and patience nearly two millennia ago! We must live with the same balance of expectation and patience as they did.
Of course, we can see signs of specific prophecies—for instance, the rising of the Beast power—already occurring before our eyes. It is exciting and somewhat scary to watch them unfold. However, we need to look at them objectively without jumping to the conclusion that their effects will be instant. As the saying goes, "Rome wasn't built in a day." So we must watch and pray and work out our plan as the prophecy completely unfolds.
Along with God's plan and specific prophecies, we can use God's way of life as a gauge to help us forecast our lives. Notice God's faithful promises of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. He says,
If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, then I will give you [blessings and favor]." (Leviticus 26:3-4)
If we are fulfilling the conditions, God will fulfill His promises! If we live God's way, our life will be generally peaceful, abundant and satisfying.
On the other hand, we must take our lumps if we fail to keep our part of the bargain:
But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, . . . but break My covenant, I also will do this to you: I will appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever. . . . And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set My face against you, [etc.]. (verses 14-17)
This law of cause and effect works as inexorably as the physical laws of nature. Just as one action causes an equal and opposite reaction, so does God's spiritual law of righteousness produce good and evil produce destruction. Once we realize this, we can live confidently—in faith—knowing that the trajectory of our righteous living now can generate only good results in the future. Though many hills and valleys lay between now and the end of our road, the end will be positive. As Paul writes in Romans 8:28,
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Knowing these things—God's plan, specific prophecies and God's way of life—makes planning confidently for a bright future possible!
A Case Study
A recent article in Power for Living magazine compared the progeny of two well-known Protestant ministers of the 18th century, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones (not their real names). Though both men zealously preached Christianity, their parenting styles were very different. This fact figured very prominently in their descendants' religious lives.
Like most fathers, Mr. Smith loved his children very much, but he was so driven to preach the gospel that he had very little time to teach it to his children. They received a very complete Christian education and became well-versed in the Scriptures, but only because Mr. Smith's fellow missionaries acted as tutors for the children in place of their busy father. Generations later, Mr. Smith's descendants show a decided "spiritual indifference," although some are still nominal Christians.
Mr. Jones, however, believed that Christianity begins at home, so he took it as his solemn duty to instruct his children in religious matters. After a thorough religious training, Mr. Jones' children followed their father's example, teaching their children similarly. After several generations, most of Mr. Jones' scions are still very active in their churches and teaching their children the family religion.
Obviously, these two examples may not take certain factors into account, but their general principle is true. How we approach circumstances today has a tremendous bearing on our descendants! Notice, the children of these two men probably received similar instruction, but the way and by whom it was given made a distinct difference.
This should give us pause. It should make us re-evaluate our priorities and our approach to planning for our children and our grandchildren. It is not enough just to provide for their physical needs after we die, but we should also be intent on providing for their spiritual needs as well. Nothing works better in this regard than personal example and involvement.
King David receives some deserved criticism in light of Adonijah's attempt to wrest the crown from him:
Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, "I will be king". . . . (And his father had not rebuked him at any time by saying, "Why have you done so?". . . ) (I Kings 1:5-6).
Apparently, David's flaw was similar to Mr. Smith's in that he did not take a personal hand in teaching his children. The effects of it frequently plagued his reign.
Eli, the high priest (I Samuel 2:12-17, 22), and Samuel (8:1-3) are also criticized in this vein. Eli's flaw led to the loss of the Ark of the Covenant and a change in the line of the high priesthood. Samuel's fault precipitated Israel's rejection of God's rule and demand for a king.
Such major consequences will probably not occur in our case, but the lesson for us is plain. Parents can profoundly affect their children's lives—and generations down the line. We must begin to think in these longer terms.
Although the following four points on leaving a spiritual legacy may seem obvious, they bear noting:
1. Live what you believe. Children are very perceptive, and they will notice or even point out their parents' inconsistencies. Christianity is a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week life, not compartmentalized to the Sabbath.
2. Make your example obvious. Children learn lifelong examples from their parents, but if the example is too subtle, they might miss important details. When parents are "up front" about why and how they live, children feel reassured and are more likely to accept it.
3. Get them involved. Children need to feel that it is their religion too, not just their folks'. Family Bible studies, having the children pray over meals and getting them involved in serving the brethren are good starting points.
4. Teach them in the way they learn best. Not every child learns the same way, so parents need to structure their teaching accordingly. Of course, this means that parents must first learn how each child learns best. This often requires one-on-one instruction, which will strengthen the bond between each child and his parents.
God tells us in Psalm 127:3:
Behold, children are a heritage [legacy] from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is His reward.
A legacy is a gift or an attribute handed down from one generation to the next, and God has started the chain by giving us children. Now it is our turn to pass His way on, and the blessings that flow from it to our descendants.
The very next psalm takes up this theme, showing the promises God makes to those who pass on His ways to the next generation:
Blessed is every one who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways. When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord. The Lord bless you out of Zion, and may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life. Yes, may you see your children's children. Peace be upon Israel! (Psalm 128:1-6)
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