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A Foundation that Handles the Hard Times: Part 2

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By Tammy M. Cardwell

Read Part 1 | Read Part 3 | Read Part 4

In Matthew 7:24-25, Jesus likens a man who hears His sayings and does them to a man who built his house on a rock. This house, built on the proper foundation, withstood flood, wind, rain—all that life's storms could throw at it. Likewise, the man who hears Jesus' sayings and does not do them is as one who built his house on sand, the worst foundation imaginable.

Jesus is our first, best example in all things, especially when it comes to having our priorities in order. He understood priorities and, more than anyone else, lived a life in which God truly came first.

God has always desired—demanded—to be first in our lives. Exodus 30:3 makes this clear and Jesus makes the point once again in Matthew 22:37-38

Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment."

Jesus knew the truth, that what matters most in life must ultimately be gauged by long-term measures. In other words, forget today for the moment, and even tomorrow. What can you do today that will matter more than anything else 1,000 years from now? The answer is simple: Develop the closest possible relationship with God.

We were made by God, for God, and our relationship with Him is eternal. It is the most important relationship we have, bar none, and there is no good reason for permitting anything or anyone to come between Him and us. If only we all truly understood this. A recent Barna Group survey shows quite clearly that we do not.

In February of 2005, the Barna Group released the results of a survey in which they asked 1004 adults questions about parenting and their goals for their children. The results, especially those reflecting the views of born-again Christians, are disappointing—even disturbing.

Not surprisingly, considering the range of people taking the survey, only 20% of these parents indicated that they considered "Having a significant faith commitment and an identifiable set of religious beliefs" to be a necessary ingredient for parental success.

When asked what outcomes they most desired for their children, outcomes that they were most committed to facilitating, 39% mentioned a good education, 24% wanted their children to feel loved, and only 22% listed having a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ.

Read further into this Barna report and the results get even more interesting. Of the respondents, 43% of the parents teach their children that there are some moral absolutes that must always be obeyed no matter what the situation and 45% teach that there are no such moral absolutes. One would think that surely the 45% reflected only the non-Christians. One would, unfortunately, be wrong.

According to this study, less than 60% of born again parents1 teach their children that there are certain moral absolutes that must always be obeyed. Also:

"Only three out of ten born again parents included the salvation of their child in the list of critical parental emphases,"

How can this be? How can the Christians who answered this survey possibly have priorities that are so out of keeping with those of the God they claim to serve? And given the results of the survey, is it really any surprise that the United States is in its current condition, that so few families come through hard times still standing strong? If things are to be different for us and our children, we must make a change. We must get our priorities in order and keep them in order, and our very first, absolute highest priority must be GOD.

Not only this, but we must acknowledge and act on one foundational truth. It is our responsibility (not that of the church or anyone else) to do what is necessary, through modeling and active teaching, to see to it that our children grow up with the same priorities. Deuteronomy 6:7 talks about this very thing.

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.

Look at Joseph for a moment. He would have been between ten and thirteen when his brothers sold him into slavery. Even so, his parents had done such an excellent job of teaching him about God and the ways of God that he continued to grow spiritually for the next fifteen years. He grew spiritually in spite of the fact that he received no further teaching and was completely surrounded by "the world." How many of us have done so well by our ten-year-olds that we can know the same would hold true for them? Oh, the rewards of doing it God's way!

Proverbs 3:5-6 promises:

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths."

Here, in two verses, are both what it means to love the Lord with all one's heart, soul and mind, and a marvelous promise. First, we choose to trust Him with all our hearts. This can be challenging for many reasons, but it is something we are capable of doing or we would not be told to do it. The key lies in the power of choice. If I can trust an airplane to safely take me where I need to go, then surely I can trust my God, the Creator of the Universe. The next step is to set aside our own understanding and lean on the Holy Spirit. My understanding at any given time is limited by my combined knowledge, experience and perspective. Compared to God, I know nothing. When I choose to defer to Him; to do things His way as expressed in His Word and through that still, small voice; when I acknowledge him in all my ways even when what He's asking me to do makes no sense, then His promise manifests. He makes my paths straight. Of course, having God as my first priority really does mean acknowledging Him, putting Him first, in all my ways, ways like:

Money Ways. This seems to be the hardest thing for many people. It is certainly an avidly argued issue, and almost all of us know more than one person for whom money has become a god. That is certainly an old story. The book of Malachi is a conversation between God and a people in trouble. "We have all these problems!" they cry, and God answers, "You brought them on yourselves by robbing me of tithes and offerings." (My paraphrase. For the quote, see Malachi 3:8-9)

"But that's a people under the Law," some might cry, "and we're under grace!" True, that event happened under the law and yes, we are under grace. Tithing and the giving of offerings, however, predate both. In the garden, man was commanded to leave one tree for God alone and, later, Cain and Abel brought their offerings to God. And then there are the references (Hebrews 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:11, 17, 21) to Jesus being "a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." We only know of three specific things Melchizedek did as priest; he blessed Abram, blessed God, and received Abram's tithe, and Jesus has been referred to repeatedly as "a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." This implies to me that we will still be giving tithes and offerings in Heaven. Understand it? Maybe not, but I still believe it and choose accordingly, to acknowledge God in my money ways.

Many Christians feel they cannot afford to tithe, but my husband and I learned the hard way that just the opposite is true; we can't afford not to. While we began our life together as tithers and givers, we did reach one point at which we decided we couldn't afford to tithe. The decision to stop tithing was one of the most foolish we ever made. We only thought we couldn't afford to tithe at that time. Within a few months, we really were in a deplorable state, financially speaking, and it wasn't until we repented and were once again tithers and givers that things improved.

I remember someone telling me once, "I need to borrow the tithe this week. Surely God understands that." Yes, I'm sure He did understand, more than the person knew, but understanding wasn't the issue. If we pay our tithes and give our offerings first, then God can bless the money that remains in our hands, making it go further than is naturally possible. If I had kept records, I could show years on end when the numbers didn't add up, times during which we lived much more comfortably than our income supposedly allowed for. This happened, and still happens, because God is a God of increase. As we acknowledge Him in all our money ways—not only through tithing, giving, and missionary giving, but also by consulting Him as we spend the money we keep—He makes those paths straight. He makes the way.

I go shopping with the Holy Ghost regularly, and He leads me straight down the paths that take me to the very best sales and highest values. He also opens surprising doors. For instance, during one of our hardest financial years, God led me into a situation where I was able to barter for a brand new laptop computer. For years, I worked with a vendor during the summer book fair season in exchange for books and curriculum. Early on, when I was doing unit studies with two young boys and working outside the home wasn't an option, He prompted a friend to send me over $500 worth of brand new books. These are only a few of the examples I could give of God rewarding us for acknowledging Him in all of our money ways.

Our Time Ways are another important, and challenging, area in which we must acknowledge Him. In the first article of this series I asked a question: "Where do you spend most of your time and money?" The answer really does reveal one's priorities.

One way in which He expects us to acknowledge Him with our time is in church attendance. Hebrews 10:25 makes it quite clear, to the one who will see it, that church attendance is mandatory as far as God is concerned.

not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

And if one continues on to verse 26, the wording of which indicates that that it refers to something that has been said previously, one sees this.

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,

Again, Jesus set us a clear example. Repeatedly in the scriptures, we see that it was His custom to be in the House of God. I even realized recently that He set us a more specific example. I lost count, years ago, of the people who have told me that they wouldn't go to church because there were too many hypocrites there. If anyone in history had the right to use that excuse, it was Jesus; He was surrounded by hypocrites every time He entered the Temple, but He would not permit them to keep Him away.

If we acknowledge God in all of our church ways, we understand not only that He wants us to be in the church when the doors are open, but also that He has already chosen a specific church for each of us to be in and has given us specific jobs to do there. (Corinthians 12:18 and Ephesians 4:16) Our lives have purpose, and our highest purposes are His.

Prayer is another vital way in which we must acknowledge Him. I've said before that these priorities really are about relationship, and the growth of our relationship with God directly correlates with the amount of time we spend in His presence, in fellowship with Him. Jesus, our example, was ever speaking with His father, and in I Thessalonians 5:17 we are told to "pray without ceasing." This sounds like a ludicrous thing, but I find that this is pretty much what I do. Put simply, it means that I talk to God continually all day long as if He were standing right beside me. In point of fact, He is at my side all the time; that's part of what makes life with Him so wonderful. We discuss all sorts of things throughout the day; the worrisome things, yes, but also the glory of the rainbow in the sky, the silliness of the cats He gave us, how thankful I am for our wonderful children and grandson, and how very much I love HIM. He is not only my Father, but through the time we've spent fellowshipping over the years, He has become my best friend.

Bible Study is another time priority. In II Timothy 2:15 He tells us to:

"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."

We cannot be workers (More of that time stuff; work requires time!) who are able to rightly divide the word of truth if we do not spend time studying that word. We study it in church, yes, but we must also allow time for personal study, preferably on a daily basis. Homeschoolers should understand this better than anyone else; if you wish to truly learn something, you don't pick it up casually on occasion, when it is convenient. Rather, you study it diligently.

And while we may think we already study diligently, I imagine most of us don't. (I don't spend anywhere near enough time in the Word, and I know it!) I saw something in the scriptures not long ago, however, that has spurred me to greater diligence. Take a look at the following from Matthew 22:29.

Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God."

I've read this passage many times through the years, but only recently did I really think about the group of people He was speaking to. Jesus was rebuking the Sadducees here, people who certainly should have known both the Scriptures and the power of God more than the average man. If He told them that they were in error because they did not know the Scriptures, then I really need to be studying!

We should also consider that the Word is the Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), which is an offensive weapon. It is also God's Truth, which Psalm 91:4 says is our shield and buckler; these are pieces of defensive armor. The wise soldier, knowing he is destined for battle (And, like it or not, in this world we are all destined for battle.), trains diligently in the use of both weapons and armor; he will not be caught unprepared!

Witnessing is also vitally important to God. Jesus was the greatest witness of all time, and Mark 16:15 applies to us today as much as it did to the men He was speaking to when He gave the command.

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

As Paul said in Romans 1, we owe a debt to the world.

The last of the ways that I will mention is our Troublesome Ways. It is easy for our troubles to become our gods, to act like the moon does during a solar eclipse and get between Him and us. Think about it, the moon is a tiny thing when compared to the heavenly bodies that surround it and yet, when it gets between the earth and the sun, the sun suddenly seems to disappear. The same holds true with our problems. From God's perspective, they are tiny, but if we permit them to get between Him and us, if we focus on them, He seems to disappear. He is no further away than He ever was and is just as willing to help us, but He is a gentleman; He will not force us to focus on Him or accept His aid.

Another way of thinking of it is to consider ourselves as children. We may instinctively run to our Father when we're in trouble, when we're afraid, when we're under attack, and this is good. Unfortunately, we can too often be like the little girl with the broken doll; she wanted her father to repair it, but was unwilling to let go long enough for him to do so. As a result, no matter how much he wanted to make his child happy, the doll stayed in its broken condition.

We cannot carry the load on our own, and He has never asked us to. Jesus said, in Matthew 11:28-30:

"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

A yoke is used to hook two draft animals together so that they can work in unison to pull a load. If we try to pull the load on our own, we are destined to struggle and often to fail. When we get yoked up with Jesus, however, and let Him teach us how to walk in unity with Him, He bears the load with us and it suddenly seems as nothing when compared to what we'd been trying to drag around alone.

These are only a few examples of "all the ways" in which we should acknowledge Him. It's really not all that hard to do if we follow one, basic rule. Stay focused on Jesus. Peter is an excellent example of the power of staying focused on Jesus. In Matthew 14, we read one of those stories every Sunday School seems to teach. The disciples were in a boat, tossed about by the waves, when they suddenly saw Jesus walking on the water. Peter called out to Jesus and the Lord invited him to walk on the water too. The wind still blew and the waves continued to toss the boat as Peter stepped out, but he walked on the water anyway as long as he stayed focused on Jesus. Only when he let his focus shift, when he let the waves get between himself and his Lord, did he begin to sink. Even so, as he began to sink, he cried out for help and Jesus was there instantly, lifting him up again; then the two of them continued to walk on the water, all the way back to the boat.

Refusing to give God first place, to acknowledge Him in all our ways, is dangerous. I could share many examples from my own life, but will limit myself to one. I once suffered a nervous breakdown. Many factors contributed to my problem, but the root of it was that God told me to do one thing, to stop serving in a specific ministry in the church, and I told Him no. Only when I repented and obeyed, almost the instant I repented and obeyed, did I recover. Telling God, "No," and failing to truly love Him with all our hearts, souls, and minds, is dangerous.

We have nothing to lose and everything to gain when we allow God to have first place in our lives. We have victory (I Corinthians 15:57), straight paths (Proverbs 3:5-6), all things working together for our good (Romans 8:28), peace (John 16:33), the promise that it will be well with us and our children (Deuteronomy 5:29), and more.

God comes first. Period.

1 From the report: "Born again Christians' were defined in these surveys as people who said they have made 'a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today' and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as 'born again.' Being classified as 'born again' is not dependent upon church or denominational affiliation or involvement.

Copyright ©  2005 Eclectic Homeschool Association

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