Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures

"I’m a Redhead. Don’t Make Me Use It" October 27 2018

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

I’m an observer of pithy sayings on tee shirts, bumper stickers, license plates, etc., because it provides a little window into how people think. I saw the redhead quote on a license plate frame while driving to work this week – one of the more creative ones I’ve seen this year.  Having had an aunt who was a very red redhead, I can relate to the redhead quips. We all loved Aunt Heather, and she did not follow the stereotype of having a fiery temper. In fact, there is no evidence out there validating if or why redheads have more fiery dispositions than average, at least not that I found. The same is true with the Irish, who have somehow been labeled with a similar stereotype.

But there is a useful biblical principle to consider here concerning anger, a problem all of us have struggled with, and perhaps the most common problem known to man. It is so easy for anger to come out when things don’t go our way, when we think we are being treated unfairly, or when someone does something to us that we don’t like. Jesus directly addressed the problem of anger and its seriousness in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:21-22a – “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘you shall not commit murder,’ and ‘whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court….”


Jesus was reminding all of us that the way we treat or respond to others verbally is as serious as a physical attack.

How many times have we said or thought something like “that person made me so angry!” What we are basically saying here is that we are justified in our anger because of what the other person did, or because of the circumstance we were facing. We can be tempted to say that it was the fault of the other person or the circumstance, or excuse it away because of a personality trait or even heritage. Or we might minimize it by saying something like “I’ve always had a quick temper.”

Interestingly, Jesus dealt with this issue when He was exposing the Pharisees in Matthew 15:7-11:

You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”


Then Jesus told the assembled crowds in verse 11:

It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.


In other words, the Pharisees had their focus completely in the wrong place. Spirituality is not about the rules they had put in place, nor about the foods they said that people could and could not eat. Rather, it is what comes out of the mouth that counts, and we see in verses 18-20 where that comes from:

But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.

Some people and some circumstances might increase our temptation toward evil thoughts, slanders and so forth, but Jesus is saying that it comes out of our own heart. Our anger does not come out of someone else’s heart. Each person is responsible for his own thoughts, words, and deeds.

Sometimes this is not easy to accept. Other people can be thoughtless, unhelpful, unfair, impatient, lack compassion, be mean, and even cruel. They can test our patience, and thus may tempt us to anger. But it is wonderful to know that no other person or circumstance can make us angry. They cannot force us to sin. This is great hope to know that God gives us the capability of choosing not to become angry. By the way, this does not mean that we have no emotion. We can be in turmoil on the inside, but we can respond in a loving way. We’ll see that in a minute.

For example, think about two people who have been embroiled in a major argument.  They are criticizing, yelling, and slamming doors. Then in the middle of this shouting match, the boss (or pastor) calls. How do they answer the phone? We chuckle at this, because we know how quickly we can get the voice and actions under control when we think we need to protect our image. It is amazing how fast the tone of voice can change, and we can engage in a peaceful, calm conversation. 

This is tremendous hope, because we can see immediately that the Lord gives us the power to overcome anger. When we allow ourselves to demonstrate anger or bitterness, we are placing ourselves under the control of the other person or circumstance and taking ourselves out from under the control of the Holy Spirit. But people also have many questions that come up about anger:

  • Is anger ever justified?
  • Didn’t Jesus become angry?
  • What does it mean in Ephesians 4:26-27 to “be angry and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”

We don’t have space to deal with these here, but the answers to these questions are all in Lesson 11 of the BCF Self-Confrontation manual and Student Workbook. If you have followed previous blogs, you know that the key to lasting biblical change is to “put off” the old self and its former manner of life and “put on” the new self.  In fact, if you especially focus on the “put on,” the “put off” will be much easier. In the area of anger, the Scriptures provide several specific examples of this. It is not enough to just “stop being angry.” The key is what you put on instead. Ephesians 4:31-32 directly addresses this point:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice (the put offs). Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (the put ons).


This is a powerful passage for lasting biblical change in the area of anger, with the emphasis being on the “put ons” and pointing to Jesus as the ultimate example. Instead of giving way to anger, He was was full of tender-heartedness and forgiveness. The BCF Victory Over Failures Plan provides structured worksheets for helping you go through the specific “put offs,” “put ons,” and a specific plan for change. James 1:19-20 covers additional “put offs” and “put ons” related to anger, explained in Lesson 11.

So, you redheads and Irishmen take heart. There is no proof that you are prone to fiery tempers more than anyone else. But even if you were, God’s Word and the Holy Spirt can help you resist the temptation to anger in the same way that He helps the rest of us. Thank the Lord that neither our hair nor our heritage can doom us to a life of anger or separate us from a vibrant walk with Jesus!

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail blog@bcfministries.org.  You may also subscribe to the blog by emailing that address and put “Subscribe to blog” in the subject line.  If you need general information about BCF, you can access our home page at www.bcfministries.org

Steve Smith


Lessons from the Kavanaugh Hearings October 14 2018

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

In the last blog, we were reminded about praying for those who may be causing us difficulty, drawing from the statement by the young Liza Kavanaugh. The hearings are over now, but a lot of bitterness remains over what occurred. The fact that this level of tension still exists not only highlights the depth of the political battles, but also demonstrates that issues such as the treatment of women and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty are both high profile concerns in American society. And these two issues intersected with one another in a big way during the Kavanaugh hearings.

One take-away from the hearings might be that highly charged political decisions are not a good time for a reasoned discussion on either sexual assault or the presumption of innocence. In fact, this is the wrong venue for a lot of topics, as the underlying seriousness tends to get lost in the rhetoric, and claims that are potentially false or exaggerated tend to diminish the importance of the topic for those who have actually been impacted on either side. It is difficult to tell in these environments how much the arguments stem from sincerely held principles or are merely attempts at political persuasion.

As you know by now, the BCF blogs do not wade into political debates. Rather, these high-profile settings and current events can be opportunities for us to 1) see how relevant the Scriptures are to everyday life, and 2) see how God tells believers to behave and respond in life situations. These situations can also turn into opportunities for us to demonstrate the love of Christ, even though expressing that kind of love can sometimes be misunderstood or taken as mere political opposition. Let’s face it. We are seeing an increasingly intense clash of world views, not just in the U.S., but in other countries as well. One of the great paradoxes of life is that the truths of God that the world largely rejects are the very truths that can give society hope.

One of the things the Kavanaugh hearings has reminded me of is that sexual assault, molestation, or intimidation are serious concerns that both the church and we as individual believers should pay attention to. As indicated in the last blog, many families have been affected by this in some way, whether reported or not. Movies, TV shows, the internet, and media in general take advantage of human temptations to sin in the area of sexuality. And it’s interesting to see how the purveyors of these explicit media are some of the same ones decrying the times when real-life humans fall to those temptations.

Jesus set an amazing example for us in His treatment of women, which broke tradition for first century thinking:

  • In John 4:27, about Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well, the disciples “were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman,” particularly one from Samaria. But Jesus’ interaction with her is a wonderful example to us of compassion and forgiveness.
  • When Jesus was in the home of Simon the leper, He chastised the disciples for failing to recognize the good deed a woman had done to Him by anointing Him with oil (Matthew 26:7-10)
  • When Jesus was on the cross, He made sure that His mother would be in good hands, by having “the disciple whom He loved” take her into his home (John 19:25-27)

Jesus’ concern and compassion for women clearly comes through. Paul followed Jesus’ example in the New Testament, by acknowledging many of the women who had been instrumental in his ministry, and he summed up his message about the equality of men and women in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Women are not always treated in this way. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were approximately 323,000 victims of rape or sexual assault in 2016, both those reported to the police and not reported (as assessed through surveys). The great majority of these involved women assaulted by men. It was estimated that about 25% of the incidents were reported to police. What actually happened to Dr. Ford we may never know, but clearly, sexual assault remains a serious problem. And with annual statistics of this magnitude, it is likely that most families have been affected by this in some way, whether reported or not. I was on a jury for a civil case just a few years ago involving sexual molestation, and it was indeed grievous to the family involved.

This is sad, but should not be surprising, because humans have this characteristic called a “sin nature.” Paul goes to great lengths to explain this in the first several chapters of Romans, 1) that they (i.e. we) are without excuse (Romans 1:20), 2) that “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10), and 3) that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 6:23). The Bible describes all too graphically how this played out in real life, from the murder of Able by Cain, to the sin of David with Bathsheba and the subsequent plot to kill her husband Uriah, to the adulterous sin within the church at Corinth, and so on.

Men, when we start to think that we are not susceptible ourselves, all we need to do as a reminder is go back to Jesus’ reminder in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Jesus obviously set a high standard, one that we can never meet in our own strength. This is why Jesus could say to the men who wanted to stone the adulterous woman “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). The guilt of men in that audience was obvious from the words that followed in verse 9: “When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.” Perhaps this is an acknowledgement that the older ones had become more aware of their propensity to sin.

So what is the point? Perhaps we cannot solve the societal problem of sexual assault, but we can be responsible for our own walk with Jesus in this area. I Corinthians 10:13 is the familiar verse that reminds us of the hope that “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man.” And there is also the promise in that verse that “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

But we often forget the verse immediately prior: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (verse 12). Or in the words of John Bradford in the 16th century, “there but for the grace of God go I.” None of us is immune from temptation to sin. And in verse 14 we read: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” In other words, don’t see how close you can get to the temptation without sinning. The statement full of hope (verse 13) is sandwiched between these two verses of our responsibility.

We have given examples of ways to “take heed” and to “flee” in the series of blogs on addiction. You can find these in the blogs dated October 27 and November 10, 2017 and the two blogs in February 2018 (February 4, February 19). This experience has also reminded me that Vice President Pence made a statement long before holding his current office that he would not go out to a meal alone with another woman other than his wife. A lot of people made fun of the “Pence rule,” but hopefully, his critics can now see how his personal precautions are not so foolish.  It is a practical application of I Corinthians 10:12. There are other ways to get business done and advise female employees in their careers without leaving the appearance of impropriety. From the beginnings of BCF, we have similarly stressed the importance of team counseling/discipleship for multiple reasons. For one, it is a great example of how to train/disciple others; but it is also for protection of all the individuals involved. You can learn more about team counseling in the BCF Level 2 course on Biblical Counseling/Discipleship.

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail blog@bcfministries.org.  You may also subscribe to the blog by emailing that address and put “Subscribe to blog” in the subject line.  If you need general information about BCF, you can access our home page at www.bcfministries.org

 

Steve Smith


"We Should Pray for the Woman" September 29 2018

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

I was not planning to write about the Judge Kavanaugh hearings, since as I’ve said before, this is not a political blog. The hearings have been more contentious than any I ever remember; and I am old enough to remember the Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas hearings.  But for the moment, let’s set aside the questions of political justice and which side is right, and instead ponder how the Scriptures are relevant even in a situation as dramatic and difficult as this.

Sadly, I am aware of tragic circumstances that have gone in both directions: women who have been sexually assaulted or raped, and men who have been falsely accused. Both are horrible, difficult circumstances for all concerned. A former pastor of ours had a pastor friend who was accused of molestation by a young lady. It went all the way to trial, where it came out that she had completely made up the story. By that time, of course, the damage had been done to the reputation of the pastor and his family. On the other hand, all of us have seen high-profile examples of where the accusations were true, both outside the church and, I hate to say it, within. And we likely hear about only a fraction of the actual events. This is why we are all careful about who we entrust our children to in Sunday School and in other activities involving young people.

No matter how the Kavanaugh nomination turns out, the biggest lesson for me, and the most important reminder, is what Judge Kavanaugh related about the perspective of one of his daughters. Here’s the quote:

“I intend no ill will to Dr. Ford and her family. The other night, Ashley and my daughter Liza said their prayers. And little Liza, all of 10 years old said to Ashley, ‘We should pray for the woman.’ That’s a lot of wisdom from a 10 year old. We mean no ill will.”

Little Liza had apparently seen through the turmoil and passions of the moment to the importance of individual lives, including that of Dr. Ford. How many of us would have thought of that, if we were part of that family?  I don’t expect that Dr. Ford was enjoying the moment any more than the judge was, and it was a compassionate response on behalf of the Kavanaugh daughter.

We will likely never know exactly what happened, and we have seen a vivid example of how the pursuit of political victory does not bring out the best in humanity. But little Liza’s comment does bring out reminders about the power of the Scriptures when we face tense, difficult situations or persecution.

Both the accuser and the accused have appeared sincere, but this is not a commentary on the Kavanaugh proceedings. It is more a reminder to those of us not in the public spotlight, but who likewise can confront difficult challenges we were not expecting and did not think we “signed up for.” In fact, God reminds us in I Peter 4:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” In other words, these things are to be expected as part of life, undesirable though they may be.

While we may not be in the national spotlight like Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, there are plenty of situations where we may think we have been unfairly treated or falsely accused; or perhaps have been an actual victim of a crime.  On one hand, earthly justice is warranted for the perpetrators, but God’s Word reminds us of how we are to respond when we are on the receiving end of these events. Here is a sample:

Matthew 5:11 – “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:44 – “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

Romans 12:14-15 – “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

This is not easy, no question about it. But it is what sets believers apart from the common responses of the world, Jesus Himself being the ultimate example. And it illustrates how we do not need to be controlled by whatever happens to us, even if it seems to be unfair.

I don’t know how many in each political party think of the other party as an enemy, but it is probably safe to say that the percentage has increased in recent years, and the vitriol seems to have boiled over in the Kavanaugh hearings. While each side may passionately believe that its approach to governing is the best for our future, as citizens we would hope that the discourse and debates could be much more civil than we have seen in recent weeks. It’s a good time to remind ourselves that our hope is ultimately in the Lord, not government, even as we may work to help government make the right decisions. Let’s face it; whenever humans are in the mix, governments are going to have their problems.

This made me remember that years ago, in public school, we had the Golden Rule on a big sign hanging on the wall: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31). It would be nice if politics could be governed by this simple but powerful statement from Jesus Himself. Many would say that this is not how you win elections, and sadly, this is probably true in the current environment.  But while the Golden Rule is a good code of conduct for all people, we who are believers in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, should be especially good followers of Jesus’ teachings about love, compassion, and selflessness.

The Golden Rule is so simple that a child can understand it, but so profound that it can transform society and the individuals within it. Just think of how you would like to be treated in a particular situation, and treat others that same way. How simple is that? But how short society falls in behaving this way. Perhaps the Golden Rule should be emblazoned on the wall in the front of the U.S. Senate chambers.

At the same time, how easy it is for us to forget the Golden Rule ourselves, as non-politicians, in the heat of the moment. It is so easy to let the flesh take control of our lives. While it is hard right now to imagine a revolution in politics back to biblical principles, we can have our own mini-revolution of selfless love in our families, in our churches, in our schools, in our neighborhoods, among strangers, and even toward those who oppose us. Thank you, little Liza, for reminding us how precious every relationship is, and how much in need of prayer we are.

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail blog@bcfministries.org.  You may also subscribe to the blog by emailing that address and put “Subscribe to blog” in the subject line.  If you need general information about BCF, you can access our home page at www.bcfministries.org

 

Steve Smith


Lessons from the Cajun Navy September 15 2018

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

Hurricane Florence has brought into focus a group we have heard about in several recent flood disasters: “The Cajun Navy.” According to information in Wikipedia, “the  Cajun Navy  are informal ad-hoc volunteer groups of private boat owners who assist in search and rescue efforts in Louisiana and adjacent areas. These groups were formed in the aftermath of  Hurricane Katrina and reactivated in the aftermaths of the  2016 Louisiana floods, Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Florence. They are credited with rescuing thousands of citizens during those disasters.”

Many of us remember Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the third strongest hurricane to make landfall in the United States. Although New Orleans escaped the strongest of the winds, Katrina's storm surge caused 53 breaches to various flood protection structures in and around the greater New Orleans area, submerging 80% of the city. The water did not recede in some areas for weeks. A few years after Katrina, I listened to an audio book on my commute titled “The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.” It was a heart-wrenching description of the aftermath of the hurricane and the suffering that ensued. Over 1200 people died in the hurricane and subsequent floods.

Because of the overwhelming nature of Katrina, it is reported that former Louisiana state senator Nick Gautreaux put out a plea across local TV and radio for "Anybody who wants to go help the people of New Orleans, please come to the Acadiana Mall." Between 350 and 400 boats and people showed up. This makeshift flotilla that became known as the Cajun Navy is credited with rescuing more than 10,000 people from flooded homes and rooftops.

Then in 2016, major flooding struck south-central Louisiana, resulting in even more attention for the informal rescue organization.  The Baton Rouge  Advocate  summed up the views of many when it wrote: "The heroes hailed from the Cajun Navy, the nickname for an impromptu flotilla of volunteers who had no admiral, no uniforms, no military medals awaiting them for acts of valor. It was conscience, not a commanding officer, that summoned them into treacherous currents to carry endangered citizens to higher ground."

In August 2017, the Cajun Navy deployed to Southeast Texas for Hurricane Harvey, ready to help search and rescue efforts alongside first responders who were inundated with thousands of calls across the region. This even prompted President Trump to mention them in his 2018 State of the Union address as an example of heroism and sacrifice.

Even as I write this, their volunteers have now assembled again in North and South Carolina to assist with Hurricane Florence. Local emergency responders seem to be better prepared now than in past hurricanes, but there is always the possibility of the agencies being overwhelmed with the scale of a disaster. Time will tell how this plays out. But in each event, these volunteers have noticed a need, taken the time, spent their own money, and taken great risks for those who were helpless and sometimes in hopeless situations.

We see this virtually every time a disaster occurs: neighbor helping neighbor, stranger helping stranger. The Cajun Navy has received an unusual amount of notice but heroism and sacrifice also occurs many times in places obscure and unseen.

As I was reminded about the Cajun Navy by its mobilizing for Hurricane Florence, it brought me back to the powerful illustration of love that Jesus provided in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We forget sometimes that this parable was prompted by a lawyer challenging Jesus with a question about eternal life in Luke 10:25:

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’”

Characteristically, Jesus answered the lawyer’s question with a question: “And He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?’” To which the lawyer answered with the two great commandments: ”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus commended his answer, but the lawyer, wishing to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?

I’m very glad the lawyer asked that question, because Jesus’ response gave us an extraordinarily powerful illustration of what it means to truly love your neighbor (Luke 10:30-37).  The parable is well-known, but it is worth pointing out a few things:

  • The “neighbor” was actually a stranger to the Good Samaritan. In other words, the Samaritan didn’t help the man because he was a friend. We don’t know exactly who the man was in the parable, but he actually could have been more like an enemy, given that Jesus chose a Samaritan to be the example of love.
  • The man who was robbed and beaten along the road was completely helpless - Verse 30 says the robbers “went away leaving him half dead.”
  • Helping him was messy – This had to be part of why the priest and Levite passed him by. The man must have been difficult even to look at, if he was described as “half dead.”
  • Helping him would take time and be inconvenient – The Samaritan set aside his schedule, brought the man to an inn, and stayed there overnight himself (verse 34).
  • Helping him could cost money – The Samaritan paid the innkeeper to take care of the man until he returned, including a commitment to reimburse him for “whatever you spend” (verse 35)

The parable describes quite well what it must be like to take time out of one’s own schedule, and commit one’s resources as a Cajun Navy volunteer. The same is true for many other types of volunteers. Obviously, not everyone can be in the Cajun Navy. All of us face dilemmas and possible limitations in who we can help and what we can do. But if Jesus chose to use this parable to illustrate an example of true, godly love, it must be pretty important.

At the end of the parable, Jesus left the lawyer, and He leaves us, with the simple, memorable command “Go and do the same” (verse 37). May God help us, motivated by compassion (verse 33) and mercy (verse 37) to carry out this command in the name of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Compassion and mercy should naturally flow out of a Christian because of the compassion and mercy we have been shown by Christ. It helps to remember that EACH OF US was the man left half dead along the road (actually fully dead from a spiritual standpoint), as in Romans 5:6 – “For while WE were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” WE were the ones in the flood clinging to a tree or in an attic watching the water rise when the Lord, through His mercy, sent His Son to rescue us. “Saved” is a word that it is much maligned in the world today, but it is very descriptive of what Jesus, “the Savior” did for us.

Thankfully, there are many of examples of merciful, sacrificial love within the Christian community. There are many organizations with millions of volunteers who, like the Cajun Navy, get organized to bring help to those who are helpless. Samaritan’s Purse and others have emerged straight out of Jesus’ parable. But we don’t need a disaster to be so motivated. There are people in need all around us, within our families, our neighborhoods, and our communities. May God use us in the coming days to become aware of and, as He enables, respond to these needs.

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail blog@bcfministries.org.  You may also subscribe to the blog by emailing that address and put “Subscribe to blog” in the subject line.  If you need general information about BCF, you can access our home page at www.bcfministries.org

 

Steve Smith

 

 


"It Was Not Supposed to Turn Out This Way" September 01 2018

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

The beginning of the school year reminds me of how simple life used to be as a child. Back then, Labor Day weekend usually brought with it a mix of emotions: sadness that summer vacation was coming to an end, along with a bit of trepidation about what a new school year would bring. While school seemed hard at times, and homework was always standing in the way of fun and games, little did I know back then that going to school would be the easy part of life. The hard part starts once you are no longer there.

Although some childhood situations were more challenging than others, we were generally learning to be responsible (though some of us very slowly) and did not yet have many life-changing decisions to make or responsibilities to carry out. And we didn’t have as many things to potentially worry about – no bills to pay, no budget to manage, no cars to fix, no job interviews, no difficult clients or job pressures, few deadlines to meet, no layoffs, no housing decisions, no children to train, less complicated relationship problems, and no difficult political conversations at Thanksgiving with Uncle Harry. You get the idea.

As children, we are blissfully unaware of how complicated life can be. Even as we enter adulthood, we tend to have high expectations of how our lives will turn out, or as some put it, a youthful idealism. That’s not entirely a bad thing, but when life takes difficult turns that we don’t expect, many people are ill-prepared to deal with them, even as Christians. And life can get way more complicated than we ever imagined.

Believers have a big advantage, as we have been provided with powerful resources – namely, the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, and prayer. That doesn’t mean that life gets easy. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be tears. It doesn’t mean that we will be without grief. Even Jesus wept when His dear friend Lazarus died, and that was even knowing that Lazarus would be raised from the dead.

God, our loving Father, wants us to have an abundant life spiritually speaking. But He is also very clear in His Word, that it may not be an easy life physically speaking. And He loves us so much that He has told us what to expect and how to prepare for it. Jesus, Himself, spent much of His three years of ministry preparing the disciples for the difficult days to come, and we have that inspired instruction recorded for us to use in our lives today.

Even His early teachings of the disciples were focused on preparing them for life as a follower of  Christ. Just look at the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew Chapters 5-7. Jesus prepared the disciples to deal with the practical challenges and temptations that come with the realities of life: persecution (5:10), false accusations (5:11), temptations to anger (5:21), need for reconciliation (5:23-24), lust (5:27-28), divorce (5:31), dealing with evil people (5:38-41), loving our enemies (5:43-44), self-exaltation (6:1-4), forgiveness (6:12-15), temptation to accumulate earthly treasure (6:19-20), worry (6:25-34), hypocrisy (7:5), discernment (7:15-20); and obedience (7:24-27). These are contemporary issues that we face still today. How could anyone ever say that the Bible is not relevant?

Jesus also gave specific instruction to the disciples as His crucifixion approached: a vivid example of what it means to serve (John 13:5-9), the realities of betrayal (13:10-11); loving one another “as I have loved you” (13:34), life after death (14:1-4), fellowship with the Father (14:11), the Helper, the Holy Spirit (14:16), more persecution (15:18-21), including persecution motivated out of perceived service to God (16:2 – “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.”)

It is hard to get perspective on this when we are going through an extremely difficult situation. There can be disillusionment, disappointment, and despair. We can be physically and mentally completely exhausted, not knowing what to do next. The situation may seem out of control, and that we have come to the end of ourselves. We might even be tempted to think, “Lord, I’m ready to opt out of life,” or “Lord, now would be a great time for the Rapture.” 

In the midst of all this, Jesus left us with a great example in His prayer for the disciples in John 17:13-19:

“But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.”


What is remarkable about this prayer is that Jesus prayed that the disciples would have His joy. He said this despite all He had gone through and all that He knew He was going to go through. This implies a much deeper joy than the feeling-based joy (or “enjoyment”) that we sometimes live for.

We see this again in the commentary in Hebrews 12:1-2 regarding Jesus’ understanding of His purpose for enduring the cross:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”


What we need to distinguish as believers is “joy” vs. “en-joy.” Jesus did not enjoy going to the cross to take on the punishment for our sin. We know this because He said in Luke 22:42, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Likewise, we can have joy in what God is doing in and through us during a trial, while not enjoying the trial itself. God does not expect us to enjoy each trial, but to look past the trial to His ultimate purpose.

We see this in the Hebrews 12:1-2 passage, with the “therefore” in verse 1 being the continuation of Hebrews 11, often known as the “Hall of Faith,” where God recorded many of the great human examples of faith from the Old Testament. You can read back through this on your own, but Hebrews 11:35-39 provides a summary of how things did not go well, in human terms, for almost all these heroes of the faith.

“Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. All these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.”


In other words, we not only have Jesus, but we have this “great cloud of witnesses” who experienced very difficult things long before us. And the lessons that Jesus gave to the disciples and the recorded lives of the heroes of faith are directly applicable to us today, 2000 years later. That is amazing hope!

As the end of Hebrews 11 indicates, we cannot predict and may not even live to know how all the difficult things in our lives will turn out. That’s not our job. Our job is to be faithful, and in the midst of even the most difficult circumstances, and by God’s grace, we can have not only God’s peace, but His ultimate approval. This is not to minimize how tough these situations can be. The types of difficult situations are innumerable: a car accident, a serious health problem, a financial setback, a suicide, a drug overdose, a son or daughter walking away from the Lord, a surprise betrayal. There are many ways that the high expectations we might have had can turn out to be disappointments. Yet in the midst of each agonizing situation, there is an opportunity to demonstrate the faith that God provides, and like those in the Hall of Faith, inspire others to walk in faith as well, pointing them to Jesus, the ultimate example of all. We will have more specifics on how to deal with these types of challenges in a future blog.

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail blog@bcfministries.org.  You may also subscribe to the blog by emailing that address and put “Subscribe to blog” in the subject line.  If you need general information about BCF, you can access our home page at www.bcfministries.org

Steve Smith


The “Undo” Command: A Sequel on Reconciliation August 18 2018

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

Several blogs ago (May 11, 2018, to be exact) we left you hanging with an expectation of more material on the subject of forgiveness and reconciliation, while we dealt with several intervening topics that had captured the attention of the American public: sad and serious topics such as School Shootings and the Christian Faith (May 26), A Tragic Week for Suicides (June 9), and Aliens, Immigration and the Scriptures (June 23).  The amazing thing about the Scriptures is that, as long as humans are involved, God’s Word has answers that penetrate to the heart of the problems we have. Sometimes the answers are humbling to accept, but they are certainly not superficial. Our Maker knows what we lovingly (sometimes painfully) need to hear. This is why BCF has been so committed over the years to teaching the relevance of the Scriptures to everyday life.

In Romans 15:1-4 the Lord reminds us, through Paul’s writings, of why constantly going back to the Scriptures is so important:

“Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘ THE REPROACHES OF THOSE WHO REPROACHED YOU FELL ON ME.’ For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”


My brothers and sisters, in this world that seems to stray farther from the Lord by the day, it is that much more important to stay anchored in the Scriptures. We had a Bible teacher back when we lived in Orlando that would say “keep your newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other.” Though physical newspapers are becoming an endangered species, his point was that not only will we see the Scriptures being fulfilled, but we will see how relevant and timeless the Word of God is to daily situations. And we see how that is so, so true today, to an even greater degree.

Where we left you hanging in the May 11 blog was on the topic of forgiveness and reconciliation. We had left you with links to two BCF videos on this topic, recorded in 2017 and always available for viewing at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbJ-A6_XeGM&t=3464s and

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DZnlOPGEAI&t=32s

We had talked in the May 11 blog about how convenient the “undo” command is on the computer, but how most of us have times when we would love to also have had an “undo” command for life.  It would have been convenient to just hit “undo” to take back words we wish we had never spoken or actions we wish we had never taken.  But there is no way to “un-say” words.  There is no way to “un-slam” a door. There is no way to “un-lie” after we have told a falsehood.  David could not undo what he had done in his downward spiral of sin; all he could do was to humble himself, and be a recipient of God’s mercy and forgiveness, as described in David’s prayers of confession in Psalms 38 and 51.

It is tragic how many relationships are fractured, how many families are split, and even how the reputations of churches are sometimes affected by an unwillingness to be reconciled. Jesus expressed the urgency of dealing with these things when He said in Matthew 5:23-24:

Therefore, if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”


It is humbling, but it is so, so important to be reconciled.  So here are some biblical principles to think about when you realize that you have committed an offense against someone else, or even if they just perceive that you have sinned against them.

Let’s say that you perceive there is a problem in a relationship even if you don’t exactly know what it is.  Keep in mind that going to them is part of preserving the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3). If you do not know for sure, but think it is possible that fellowship with that person may be broken, go anyway to check out whether you may have committed an offense unknowingly. You may be tempted to wait for a more convenient time. God says not to wait. However, you must be careful to take the proper steps or you could become a stumbling block to the other person. 

The BCF Victory Over Failures Plan highlights some biblical principles when putting Matthew 5:23-24 into practice, and partial excerpts are provided below. These can be helpful for not only your own life, but also when you are helping/discipling others. When reconciling you should:

  • Take the initiative to be reconciled (even when you are uncertain that it is needed). This is an act of both love and obedience, emphasized in both the Old Testament and New (based on Leviticus 5:15-18; 6:2-5; Numbers 5:5-8; Proverbs 6:30-31; Luke 19:8).
  • Demonstrate the “fruit of repentance” (Matthew 3:8; Acts 26:20) by writing down and following through on a plan for change. This would include a description of how you will “put off” the old pattern of sin and “put on” the new pattern of righteousness.
  • Ask forgiveness. It can be important to think about or even write down in advance the words you will use. This would include:
    • An admission and confession of sin against God and the person offended (James 5:16; I John 1:9)
    • An expression of repentance, which would include: 1)  how sorry you are (Psalm 51:16-17; 2 Corinthians 7:9-10); 2) an intention not to repeat the sin; and 3) the specific steps you are taking to change.
  • Prepare yourself for various responses from the other person and plan how to respond biblically. For example, they might say “Oh, that’s all right” or they may not even remember the incident. You might want to explain that, even if it didn’t bother them, you wanted to take it very seriously and make sure there was not anything between you. And don’t, in a backhanded way, blame them for your own sin (e.g. “I’m sorry, but I had a hard time handling it when you took all the credit for the school play”). And don’t make an excuse for your sin (e.g., I’m sorry, but that was just a bad day for me”).
  • It is also possible that the other person may not be willing to forgive you. Keep in mind that you can never force someone to forgive.  They may think there is no way you could ever make up for whatever wrong they think was done. You cannot control their response, and it is possible that there is no further attempt you can make toward reconciliation. The only thing you can do is humbly, quietly, keep on demonstrating love to them, as the opportunity arises. With some relationships, that opportunity may not even exist. These situations can be extremely difficult, leaving you with nothing else to do but pray.

Also remember that our Heavenly Father goes through grief with His own children. He has sons and daughters who walk away. He has precious lives that refuse to be reconciled to Him. Jesus expressed this heartbreak in Matthew 23:37 – “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”  You can just feel the agony in Jesus’ statement. My brother told me about a friend of his who was recently killed in a car crash. His son was apparently estranged from him and spoke at the service about some of his regrets. God says in Galatians 6:9-10:

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”


Being reconciled in a broken relationship would have to rank very highly on the Bible’s list of what it means to “do good.” So don’t let that “opportunity” slip away. If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail blog@bcfministries.org.  You may also subscribe to the blog by emailing that address and put “Subscribe to blog” in the subject line.  If you need general information about BCF, you can access our home page at www.bcfministries.org

Steve Smith


Lessons from Las Vegas July 28 2018

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

I have to confess that this blog originated from Las Vegas, a.k.a. “sin city,” earlier this week. It just happened to be a convenient stop on our way home from a visit with our younger son and his family in Denver. In other words, we did not go out of our way to stop there. I wanted to clarify that point, because Las Vegas generally lives up to its famous nickname, but that was not the reason we were there. However, Las Vegas presents a fascinating study on the propensities of mankind, which stimulated the thinking about this blog.

That the Las Vegas nickname is consistent with its reputation was recently confirmed by a survey of professionals in the fields of branding,  marketing, and  advertising who were asked to identify the best city slogans and nicknames. Participants evaluated about 800 nicknames and 400 slogans based on several criteria: whether the nickname or slogan expresses the brand character, affinity, style, and personality of the city; whether it tells a story in a clever, fun, and memorable way; and whether it "inspires you to visit there, live there, or learn more."

The “sin city” moniker was ranked second, behind only  New York City's "The Big Apple." Las Vegas also had the top-rated slogan: "What Happens Here, Stays Here," further solidifying its lurid reputation. Some also call it the “city of lost wages,” a lighthearted way of saying that there are also some down sides to “sin city.”

As I took a walk by some of the hotels, casinos, high-end shops, and new high-rise construction Wednesday morning, I could see the evidence that the marketing strategy has worked fabulously well, from an economic standpoint. And the hospitality and construction industries there provides employment for many thousands of hard-working residents and families in the Las Vegas region. As we know, however, what happens there does not always stay there, because the sins that are celebrated in Las Vegas also have real-life consequences in homes and businesses in the U.S. and internationally. Sadly, we have personally seen lives devastated and families torn apart when gambling becomes a life-dominating practice.

Gambling opportunities may soon be expanding even further given that the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down a 25-year old federal law known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) that largely outlawed sports betting outside Nevada. The court’s 6-3 decision creates a path for other states to pass statutes that would legalize sports betting within their borders. This doesn’t mean that most states will do that, but if the proliferation of casinos is any indication, one could assume that sports gambling opportunities will follow suit.

There are various lists of reasons why people gamble. Here is one from the California Council on Problem Gambling:

  • Hoping for a big win (i.e. dreams of getting rich quickly)
  • Trying to win back lost money
  • Seeking the excitement of risk-taking
  • Impulsivity
  • Trying to feel better about themselves
  • Escaping from loneliness, depression, anxiety and/or other unpleasant feelings
  • Hiding from life’s problems
  • Distraction from physical or emotional pain

The Bible does not mention anything directly about gambling, nor does it condemn entertainment or money per se. However, the Scriptures address the dangers that exist when someone is motivated or controlled by greed, wealth, and pursuit of mere pleasure and self-indulgence. Even Solomon, one of the wealthiest men to ever live, was aware enough of the dangers to state: “He who loves pleasure will become a poor man” (Proverbs 21:17a).

But it is not that we can blame an addiction to gambling on the Supreme Court, the Nevada Gaming Commission, or even the casinos themselves. As James 1:14-15 states, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” We see that temptations are all around us, that they are “common to man” (I Corinthians 10:13), and that we have no one to blame but ourselves. But the Scriptures also provide specific guidance about what to do.

In fact, if you were to go back and review BCF’s “Addiction” series of blogs in Fall/Winter 2017/2018, you would find that much of our scriptural study of drug addiction also applies to the very same sins that have made Las Vegas famous. In those blogs, we looked at a scientific explanation of addiction in the chemistry of the brain, in which craving is driven by dopamine, the flow of which is increased with the use of drugs. This is the same dopamine that stimulates the craving to keep putting money in a slot machine or engage in other self-indulgent activities that tempt us to come back for more and more and more. But just as James 1:14-15 clearly states that we have no one to blame but ourselves, God is also faithful “who will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape, that we may be able to endure it.” In other words, we are not forced to yield to temptation.

Even though Las Vegas may be the iconic city of these sins, and what stimulated the writing of this blog, temptations abound in many other places and ways, and they can have results that are just as destructive. But the same hope and strength that is there to resist the temptation to take drugs is there for the one addicted to gambling, or to entertainment, or to any number of other things. Rather that repeat everything here from the drug addiction series, you can go back to Parts 3 and 4 of the “Addiction: Who’s in Control” series. These would be dated February 4 and February 19, 2018. You can get there faster if you click on this link and scroll to the appropriate dates.

https://bcfministries.myshopify.com/blogs/news/addiction-who-s-in-control-part-3

The beauty of the Scriptures is that solutions to our problems are not so complicated as man’s philosophies make them out to be. Whereas man says that we need months and months of therapy, God keeps it very simple: recognize our sin, humbly ask His forgiveness, keep putting off the old self with its sinful practices, and actively put on the new practices of righteousness. Addiction blog part 3 explains how this works and how you can make a specific plan to resist life’s temptations and rely on God’s power to keep walking in His way. The solutions are simple to understand, but at the same time very humbling, because we must admit that we cannot do this on our own. And the pull of the flesh is strong.

In Luke 12:13-15, Jesus was asked by someone to intervene in a dispute over an inheritance, who said to Jesus, “tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Jesus saw this as an opportunity to teach a lesson, saying “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” In other words, winning the lottery or a big jackpot in Vegas is not going to solve all our problems. True joy is found in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, and this is available to all: rich and poor, male and female, every race and background, famous and obscure.

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail blog@bcfministries.org.  You may also subscribe to the blog by emailing that address and put “Subscribe to blog” in the subject line.  If you need general information about BCF, you can access our home page at www.bcfministries.org

Steve Smith


Remembering Our Freedoms July 04 2018

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

Last week, I was privileged to see a presentation by Colonel Seth Krummrich, Garrison Commander for the National Training Center (NTC) located at the U.S. Army’s Fort Irwin in San Bernardino County, CA. The NTC serves as one of the Army's premier training centers. Following the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, the NTC mission was transformed to focus on training for counterinsurgency operations, especially those that take place in desert environments such as those in northern Africa, the Middle East, and southwest Asia. With the July 4 U.S. Independence Day remembrances approaching, it seemed appropriate to provide a little window into how the U.S. military strives to keep this nation and much of the world protected from terrorist threats, working closely with other nations. The operation of the NTC is fascinating, and tells us a lot about training, equipping, and readiness for conflict.

Equipping the Soldiers

The NTC, with 996 square miles of land area, is almost the size of Rhode Island. The center brings together 6000 soldiers 10 times a year for a month each. It is designed as a “super laboratory” to replicate conditions as they might occur in the field for a range of current and future conflicts. One of the features of the center is the presence of 12 mock "villages" which are used to train troops in urban military operations, prior to their deployment. The villages mimic real-life, and contain a variety of buildings such as houses, businesses, religious sites, hotels, traffic circles, etc. filled with foreign language-speaking actors portraying government officials, local police, local military, villagers, street vendors, and insurgents.

One of the settings is a 600-building complex to model urban guerilla warfare, creating situations just like many soldiers will face in the field. See photo below. There is also a mountainous area to model situations such as they might find in Afghanistan. Air space above the training center is reserved for military exercises up to 26,000 feet.



One of the points the Colonel emphasized was that they create scenarios in which the soldiers must make decisions under extreme stress, understanding that it is much better to make their mistakes in training so that they are less likely to make them in the field. They are able to bring in all branches of the military to replicate coordinated ground and air combat and interaction with the local community, including the use of translators as would be experienced in the field. They recreate insurgent networks, terrorist networks, security threats, cyber attacks, etc., to help soldiers be prepared for almost any situation that may occur.

The center routinely brings in multi-national partners as well. The NTC strives to get all the operational details worked out before the units deploy, and this is typically the last stop for each unit before deployment into the areas of the world listed earlier. The Colonel Krummrich repeatedly stated what they tell the troops: “if you are going to fail, fail here in the simulated environment, not the real one.”

The combat theaters are instrumented so that they can track every person and every vehicle. Their training weapons are laser-based and calibrated to how the guns actually work. A resident “enemy squad” can make life very difficult for the trainees. It is as close as you can get to reality in the field. Feedback to the troops can be instantaneous. The debriefs and corrective actions are critical to preparing for the real-world threats, and the after-action reviews are brutally honest.

What struck me about the approach to military training embodied at Fort Irwin and at other military installations is that the training is all about preparing soldiers for real-life combat. Lessons learned in training can save one’s own life and the lives of fellow soldiers. There is no mention about being sensitive to the soldiers’ self-esteem, when helping them deal with life and death situations. Emphasizing self-esteem does not win military battles. Training, teamwork, and selflessness does.

Equipping the Saints

What also struck me is the strong parallel between physical and spiritual equipping. One of the primary reasons we gather together as bodies of believers is to be trained and equipped for interaction with the world, the Bible being our God-inspired training manual for real life. There are numerous reminders of this:

  • Ephesians 4:11-12 – And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.
  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 
  • 2 Timothy 2:3-4 – Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.
  • Hebrews 5:13-14 – For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
  • Hebrews 12:11 – All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

The Scriptures also characterize the Christian life as a type of ongoing battle:

  • Ephesians 6:10-11 – Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.
  • I Peter 2:11 – Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.
  • Galatians 5:17 – For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.

Yes, we study the Word of God and get together with other believers so that we can praise the Lord of the universe together. But we also do these things to be equipped for the work of service in everyday life. The temptations around us are like our spiritual insurgency, seeking to disable us and cause us harm. Perhaps we could think of the church as our “mock village,” preparing us for our daily battles and struggles.

BCF’s Bible study booklet titled “Living Victoriously in the Battles of Life” was developed to help believers be better equipped for facing and dealing with the every-day tests and temptations of life. It recognizes that real life can indeed be a battle in many ways – at work, at school, at home, financially, in our relationships, with our health, and in many other ways. This seven-week study works well with a group, personal study, or one-on-one discipleship. It can be thought of as a lead-in to Self-Confrontation: A Manual for In-Depth Biblical Discipleship, which has been BCF’s core curriculum for over 40 years, helping believers see God’s Word as the ultimate training manual for life. If you would like more information on these and other materials, please contact the BCF office at admin@bcfministries.org or access our home page at www.bcfministries.org.

Please also join us in showing our appreciation for the men and women in our armed services, along with our first responders, as the reason we can continue to speak openly about these things and celebrate the Fourth of July.

Steve Smith


Aliens, Immigration, and the Scriptures June 23 2018

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

Immigration has become a worldwide topic of vigorous discussion and debate. And no matter where you are in the world, people take different sides. On one hand, there is a lot to be said about living in a country to which people want to migrate. Those who live in a county that many people want to leave are probably going through great difficulty. In other words, having an immigration problem is a lot better than having an emigration problem. That said, one of the tasks of government in the 21st century is to manage the flow of people into and out of the country for which they are responsible. And this is no easy task.

I didn’t really want to write this particular blog. People are quite passionate about immigration and it never ceases to be a divisive topic, not only in the U.S., but in other countries as well. It was safer to steer clear and tackle an easier subject. But it is a topic we cannot avoid, particularly when the Scriptures provide some important truths that can guide how the Christian community can respond; and I’m not talking about a political response. As we’ve said many times, this is not a political blog.

We can learn a great deal by observing what Jesus did about governmental issues like this. One of the things we find is that His focus was on relationships, not the politics. The beautiful thing about Jesus is that He was all about interacting with people: helping them, teaching them, admonishing them (e.g. the Pharisees), encouraging them, and giving them hope, even while a harsh governmental regime was in place at the time. While the politics swirled around Him, He kept His focus on the mission – the people for whom He was to be the Light of the World.

It is easy to get caught up in the political debate and overlook what the living and active Word of God has to say. So step back from the news cycle for a moment, take a deep breath, and let’s find out what the Potter has to say to the clay (that would be us).

A good example of Jesus’ focus on relationships over politics is His encounter with the woman He met at Jacob’s well, the “woman of Samaria” (John 4:7-38). It was not politically correct of Jesus to be traveling through Samaria, the land of the “impure” Jews who had intermarried over the years with non-Jews. Not only this, but He was talking with a woman. We see this propensity toward discrimination from the commentary in verse 9 (“for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans”), and by comments the disciples made when they got back from buying food because “they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman” (John 4:27).

But here He is, having an extended conversation with the woman – her background, her relationships, her understanding of worship. Then Jesus caps off this encounter with verse 35, “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.” In that one encounter, Jesus had demonstrated to the disciples how they should care about so-called second-class citizens, by reaching out to someone who was not only a Samaritan and a woman, but one who had a dark past. And we see the result in verse 39 that “many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified.”

There are quite a number of references to aliens in the Bible, also variously translated sojourner, stranger, foreigner, and immigrant. And we can see in these references several aspects of the immigration issue. On one hand, governments have been put in place for the purpose of restraining evil, or as we are commanded in I Peter 2:13-14 “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” Romans 13:1-7 is the classic passage on the authority given to human government. “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil” (verse 3). Many countries have established orderly processes to maintain the rule of law, including the process of immigration, asylum, and citizenship. Shashi and her family migrated to the U.S. in 1959 under a very orderly process, without which, my life and the lives of our children and grandchildren would have been very different! So I am thankful for how that worked.

It is interesting that aliens in the Scriptures are often referenced as needing protection, right alongside widows and orphans. For example, we see in Malachi 3:5: “’I will be a swift witness … against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien, and do not fear Me,’ says the Lord of hosts.” Deuteronomy has several references to treatment of the alien:

  • Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
  • Deuteronomy 23:7 – “you shall not detest an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land.” It’s interesting that they were to honor Egyptians, despite how the Hebrews had been mistreated, at least during the latter part of their stay there.
  • Deuteronomy 27:19 – “Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.”
  • Deuteronomy 24:17 – “You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge.”

To be sure, there are many evil people out there attempting to exploit the situation for their own purposes, and these need to be dealt with. But there are also many who are enduring horrific persecution in their home country. We have witnessed that among Christian communities in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Many countries have processes set up for asylum seekers. While the government is responsible for managing the flow of people into and out of the country, once accepted into the country (either temporarily or permanently), we are to treat them with love and respect.

Matthew 25:35 carries with it the same idea, where Jesus is contrasting the righteous and the unrighteous: “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in” … and verse 40: “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

Over the last 44 years, BCF has been blessed with many families and individuals who have demonstrated this kind of love by hosting students who have come for BCF courses. These have been people from all walks of life: from Africa, South America, central and eastern Asia, western Europe, eastern Europe, the Middle East, and throughout North America. The hospitality has been generous and the friendships often long-lasting.

Shashi’s family and their Christian friends in the U.S. were great examples of extending hospitality to international students. They did not have to travel overseas for this mission field; the mission field came to them. And it is with that spirit of hospitality that so many of the aliens and strangers have come to know Jesus Christ. What you cannot talk about in many of their home countries you can talk about here. We have several in our church who have consistently reached out to internationals, and it is one of the great opportunities and blessings for both the hosts and those being hosted.

Yes, there are people out there who are trying to exploit the system. There are those out there who want to do harm. This is the government’s job to keep that under control. But it is our job to cultivate the relationships that the presence of aliens and strangers affords, to treat them with respect, and pray that they might find the One who graciously reached out to us through His Son. If it feels like we are in a foreign land on earth, that’s the way it should be, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ …” (Philippians 3:20). So as the story turns out, we are the ultimate aliens, on earth for a time, but permanently citizens of heaven.

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail blog@bcfministries.org. You may also subscribe to the blog by emailing that address and put “Subscribe to blog” in the subject line. If you need general information about BCF materials and courses, you can access our home page at www.bcfministries.org.

Steve Smith


A Tragic Week for Suicides June 09 2018

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

I was originally heading in another direction on this blog, but two high-profile suicides this week caught my attention. Kate Spade, renowned fashion designer and entrepreneur was found dead in her Manhattan apartment on June 5 at age 55. She had started the business from scratch and developed it into a multi-million dollar empire.

Anthony Bourdain, a gifted chef, storyteller, and writer was found unresponsive in his hotel room in France on June 8, at age 61. He had taken his own life just as he was working on an upcoming episode of his award-winning CNN series, “Parts Unknown.” Not that long ago, in 2014, we were shocked to hear of another high profile suicide, that of Robin Williams.

The Center for Disease Control indicates that suicide rates have increased 25% since 1999, to a level of 45,000 in the U.S. in 2016. There was an increase in every state except for Nevada, which already had a higher-than-average suicide rate. Men have a suicide rate that is three to five times the rate of women.

As we know from the news and previous blogs, the drug overdose death rate has increased to alarming levels, with deaths from opioid overdoses in 2016 numbering over 42,000, according to the CDC, a staggering five times higher than in 1999. Total drug overdose deaths in 2016 numbered 64,000, a portion of which may have been suicides. Many families have been tragically impacted, losing children, brothers, sisters, parents, and friends in often very unexpected, surprising ways.

If anything, the rising suicide rate speaks to the hopelessness that many people experience. A suicide can be thought of as an expression of lost hope or result from an unwillingness to deal with difficult life situations. While the high profile suicides involve people who we might think have reached a pinnacle of success and achievement, there are underlying struggles that may or not be apparent to the rest of us. Many of those who take their own lives have experienced tremendous loss, become destitute, or have committed offenses or face consequences that they no longer think they can face. These are not high profile to the world, but are certainly high profile to their families and friends.

These are the very people to whom Jesus calls out “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28).

When Shashi mentioned the suicides to me this morning, my first reaction was the phrase of the Steve Green song, “People Need the Lord.” It is an oldie, and we don’t sing it much anymore, but I went back to look at the lyrics and oh how appropriate they are for the times we live in:

Every day they pass me by, I can see it in their eyes.
Empty people filled with care, Headed who knows where?
On they go through private pain, Living fear to fear.
Laughter hides their silent cries, Only Jesus hears.
Chorus:
People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
At the end of broken dreams, He's the open door.

People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
When will we realize, people need the Lord?
We are called to take His light, To a world where wrong seems right.
What could be too great a cost, For sharing Life with one who's lost?
Through His love our hearts can feel, All the grief they bear.
They must hear the Words of Life, Only we can share.
People need the Lord, people need the Lord
At the end of broken dreams, He's the open door.
People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
When will we realize that we must give our lives,
For people need the Lord.


 

If you have or can access this song, it’s well worth listening to again. I cannot listen to this song without it bringing tears to my eyes.

So after our discussion about suicides, I rode my bike to the grocery store to pick up a few things. I came out with a backpack heavy laden with milk, fruits, and a couple of other items, and wouldn’t you know it. There was a young man sitting on the sidewalk outside looking destitute, needy, and asking for some money for food. I initially smiled and said “not today,” conveniently thinking that any money may not go toward the intended purpose. And of course, “he should not be doing this in front of the store anyway.” I got on my bike and got ready to ride away, when the words of the song came into my head, Steve, don’t you know that “People Need the Lord!” I simply could not walk away. I could not do it, as inconvenient and unpredictable as it may have been to go back. I could not go against what seemed to be the Spirit’s clear call at that point.

So, I went back and asked his name, and at my request, Anthony told me a little bit of his story. I happened to have a paperback Gospel of John in my backpack, which we try to use as an evangelism tool at our church. Remembering from some our recent sermons in the Book of John, we started to get into how the Gospel of John is about belief - believing in Jesus, the light of the world. I wrote my name and phone number on the book and urged him to call me if he wanted to go to church and learn more.

It is hard to tell how much of our conversation sank in, but as he headed to the fast food place next door, and we exchanged good-byes again as I passed him on the bike, I was grateful for the “people need the Lord” reminder. Anthony may or may not call or show up at church, but I thanked the Lord for this reminder that people can be hours or days from passing from this earth, and they do, indeed, need the Lord.

Although the focus of BCF has been biblical counseling and discipleship, the starting point is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He is our hope, our motivation for living, and our example of compassion for others. It is only by His grace and mercy that I do not sink into the depths of despair in which many people find themselves in. As believers, we come to realize how often the Scriptures are overlooked as the ultimate source of encouragement, hope, and understanding of the difficult circumstances of life that might otherwise bring us to the same point of desperation as those contemplating suicide.

And where would I be if it were not for that person at Virginia Tech in the fall of 1971 who reached out to me and invited me to a Christian event, where I saw the love of Jesus displayed? Where would I be without Sammy To, the humble Chinese grad student, bringing me into his little discipleship group? These were individuals who had not heard the song “People Need the Lord,” for it had not yet been written, but they knew that I needed the Lord. May God encourage you, as He has me, to pay attention to those around us and be ready to reach out to a world that becomes more and more needy every day.

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail blog@bcfministries.org. You may also subscribe to the blog by emailing that address and put “Subscribe to blog” in the subject line. If you need general information about BCF materials and courses, you can access our home page at www.bcfministries.org.

Steve Smith