Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures

The Ultimate Act of Selflessness April 20 2019

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

When I was going through Boy Scouts back in my small home town in Virginia, I remember reading in the scouting magazine Boy’s Life about acts of heroism by scouts across the country. I was always impressed about how young kids could be that brave or considerate, and we were reminded of this scouting reputation on a regular basis.  “Brave” is one of the 12 points of the scout law, which those of you who have gone through the program may remember as: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” Some 170 of these Boy Scout acts of heroism are documented in a recent book entitled “Running Toward Danger.”

While the brave, selfless acts of Boy Scouts are certainly commendable and may have saved many lives, one selfless act that changed the world stands alone – the one we remember this Easter weekend. Jesus’ sacrificial, selfless death on the cross, and His resurrection, continue to save lives and change lives today.

The fact that we can receive eternal life as a gift, though we are deserving of spiritual death, is a message so simple that a child can understand it; but at the same time, it is a truth so profound that we will never be able to fully comprehend the magnitude of it. Peter attempted to describe it in his first letter, addressed to Christians who were enduring suffering in other lands:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you ….” (1 Peter 1:3-4)


This amazing hope, this inexhaustible gift, remains available to all. Verse 9 of 2 Corinthians 8 puts it all in perspective:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.


It is heartbreaking that this greatest of all gifts is so often overlooked or dismissed. Saddest of all, His sacrifice is often even mocked.

This short, simple blog is just a reminder of how powerful and relevant that sacrifice remains for us today. The sacrifice of the Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament and fulfilled by the “lamb of God” 2000 years ago, providing the “once for all” sacrifice (Hebrews 10:10) that burnt offerings could never fulfill. This ultimate act of selflessness is highlighted in the way the Scriptures speak about death. Here are just a few examples:

  • The willingness to die for someone else is the supreme act of love: John 15:13 – “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
  • There is no way that we deserve that love: Roman 5:6-8 – “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
  • Jesus willingly suffered this sacrificial death not only to redeem us, but so that we would live for Him, not ourselves: 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 – “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”
  • This passage is followed by an expression of our redemption in verse 17: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

Part of the story of the Boy Scout acts of heroism is how grateful the people were to have been saved from physical harm. If you or I had been dramatically rescued from physical death, and possibly some of you have, we would be overflowing with gratitude.

Given the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice, which leads to an “inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away,” our gratitude should be profuse; it should overflow with love for God and others. This Easter, my prayer is that we would all have an even greater appreciation of “how great a love the Father has bestowed on us” (I John 3:1), and that this would result in our living, not for ourselves, but for Him and others. God bless you and your family as we celebrate the resurrection of 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


Socialism, Capitalism, and the Scriptures (Part 2) April 06 2019

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

We observed in the last blog that as long as we humans are involved, there are no perfect forms of government. Romans 13, which addresses the Christian’s responsibility toward government, showed us that the same principles of love apply in our relationship to government as in the rest of life. All the commandments are “summed up in this saying, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Romans 13:9).  The ministry of Jesus was focused on the change within individuals, not change within the governmental structures around them. It was about living individually with God’s supernatural peace, with or without governmental peace.

CONTENTMENT
Lets face it. There is no shortage of challenges in life, whether government-induced or otherwise. A characteristic of spiritual maturity that cuts across all of life’s challenges, regardless of source, is learning to be content, as Paul states in Philippians 4:11-12:

I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”


Paul didn’t say “I wish I was living under Greek rule right now. It would have been so much easier.”

One would think that government officials would want exactly the types of citizens who could be content in the way that Paul described. This would make it easier for leaders to rule, and to solve some of the tough problems that face every country. But politics boils down to trying to convince the public that they should be discontent with the current situation, because their party is the only one who can make our lives better, and they go on to recite all the benefits that will come if they are elected. While we may reluctantly accept that this is the way politics works, it requires some discernment to distinguish what will truly “make our lives better.” So let’s see what we can discern from the Scriptures about this in the context of government.

Paul gives us a little hint in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, regarding how we should pray:

“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

We can certainly pray for God’s influence upon our leaders to allow freedom and circumstantial peace for our lives. There are many countries where freedoms are not given and peace is not a reality (we need to continue to pray for our brethren who live under these conditions). However, the greater principle here is this: the peace we experience comes as a result of us praying for our government leaders. It is God’s supernatural peace within, not a delicate external tranquility dependent on others changing. Living a life with God’s peace and contentment is possible under any range of economic systems.

THE PURPOSE OF WORK
Does the Bible give us any guidance about these systems, ranging from government-focused socialism to profit-focused capitalism? We saw in the last blog that socialism and capitalism mainly differ in their systems of economic production, so it would make sense to start with the question of “What is the motivation to be productive?” or in other words, “What is the motivation for work.”

We find in Genesis 2:15 that, from the beginning of creation, God intended man to work: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” The Hebrew word abad, translated here as cultivate, appears almost 300 times in the Old Testament. It is also translated work, serve, labor, and multiple other ways.

We see the “work” theme multiple times in Proverbs, including the somewhat satirical passage in Proverbs 6:6-11: “Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, which having no chief, officer, or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest. How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest – Your poverty will come in like a vagabond, and your need like an armed man.” In other words, the lowly ant can put us humans to shame. There are apparently no “couch potatoes” in an ant colony. While someone can be lazy in both a socialist or capitalist regime, he is probably less likely to be “rescued” in a capitalistic one.

We see this work theme in the New Testament as well. For example, let’s look at 2 Thessalonians 3:10-11 – “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.” Paul preceded this passage with a description of how he and other leaders had demonstrated their work ethic. Society in biblical times was expected to be industrious.

If you look up the word “profit” in a concordance, you will see in both the Old and New Testaments that the profit motive is almost universally assumed to exist within cultures. It seems that making a profit (or at least working to put food on the table) is an expected, natural motivation for living.  While there is no sin in making a profit, the Scriptures also say that it must be done justly and fairly – no bribes (Exodus 23:8; Proverbs 17:23), no cheating on weights and measures (Leviticus 19:36; Proverbs 20:23), and no taking advantage of people through excessive interest (Leviticus 25:35-38).

This is the vulnerability of capitalism – people controlled by greed can wreak havoc in what can otherwise be a very effective approach to economics. Paul includes “greed” together with his long list of depravities in Romans 1:29-31 as a characteristic of those whom God “gave over to a depraved mind.” In other words, greed is not a characteristic of love, and God set up specific laws even in the Old Testament to guard against abuse of the freedom people have to make a profit. And abuse of this freedom (real or perceived) is what sometimes leads people to embrace a more socialist approach.

We also see in the Scriptures the command to care for the poor and disadvantaged. There are many references, but see for example Deuteronomy 15:7-11. In Ephesians 4:28 we also see that working and sharing is stated as the cure (or biblical “put on”) for a habitual thief:

He who steals must steal no longer, but let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.”

There are different ways to organize assistance to make sure the poor can survive. In many countries, government takes on the task of helping those who are unable to work because of age or disability, with the amount of assistance varying widely. But if taken too far, it is easy to see how this can strip citizens of their motivation to be ambitious, productive, creative, and innovative.

At the other end of the spectrum, capitalistic societies that are driven by greed and not tempered with fairness and care for those in need can be dysfunctional as well. We have seen a number of examples of this in recent years. It allowed Bernie Madoff to cheat investors out of billions of dollars. The system of banks, mortgage brokers, real estate organizations (combined with lack of oversight) brought about the housing crash in the U.S. in 2008.

The purpose of this blog is to highlight biblical truth, not give political recommendations, leaving conclusions or actions up to the reader. Sorry if you were expecting to see some sort of endorsement of a political/economic system. But we can see how the primary focus of the Scriptures is on our own individual responsibilities before God, not how to structure government. I am grateful for those who take the initiative and risk to run for office and who try to help government run more efficiently.

While we should try to improve government, our hope for the future does not rest there.  This is why BCF’s focus has always been to keep people anchored in God’s Word. If you are despairing today about the state of government, it is comforting to know that our hope does not rest in our earthly authorities. As Christians, our lives are greatly simplified by acting on the truth of Colossians 3:23-24 -

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”


Also, this blog does not deal with how to decide if or how you should resist a totalitarian government, like some have had to endure with Nazi Germany and other regimes throughout history. Some had to experience unspeakable horrors, but nevertheless, all the biblical truths of how to have peace in the midst of those horrors still apply. This is not to minimize the challenges, but even so, is a great hope for us and for all our dear brothers and sisters worldwide.

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


Socialism, Capitalism, and the Scriptures (Part 1) March 16 2019

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

I’m an engineer, not an economist or a political scientist. But I’m also a student of the Scriptures, or by God’s grace try to be, and I find the current debate about governmental structures quite intriguing. As with all our blogs, we are not taking political sides. But the Scriptures provide some powerful truths that are pertinent to this discussion. We’ll lay a Scriptural foundation in this blog, and follow up with more about governmental structures next time.

Let me start by saying that there are flaws in all governmental systems, and those flaws are called … humans. As long as we humans are involved, there are no perfect forms of government. Having said that, as believers we are living under a new Master, yet we are also to be subject to the governing authorities, as we know from Romans Chapter 13.

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (verse 1).

Keep in mind that this was in Paul’s letter to the Romans, not exactly a government that was benevolent toward Christians. The instruction includes reference to paying taxes and giving honor to the authorities. We do this not just to avoid punishment, but “for conscience sake” (verse 5). The passage goes on to say that all the commandments are “summed up in this saying, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (verse 9).

It is remarkable that the “love your neighbor” statement is in the context of government, but it really highlights our responsibility as believers in this world. Our primary work is not to change government (although we should try to help it function better, as we have opportunity), but our primary responsibility is to demonstrate love within the society that government oversees. The ministry of Jesus and the disciples who followed Him was about the change within individuals, not change within the governmental structures around them. It was about living individually with God’s supernatural peace, with or without governmental peace.

This truth should allow us just to take a deep breath and not get so tied up in knots about the daily news (you can take a deep breath right now if you need to). The real question is: “how can I show the love of Christ in what is sometimes the chaotic context of our daily lives?” Or as Jesus reminds us, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). Don’t you love the simplicity of the Scriptures? So simple that even a child can understand how to do that, but so profound that it takes a lifetime to live it out as a part of our characters.

We had an individual in our Self-Confrontation course in Washington D.C. some years ago who was a former prisoner, and he was happy to be visiting the Nation’s Capital so that he “could see where all those laws were coming from that he had violated.” At first, he was shocked to see how many thousands upon thousands of laws there were that could be disobeyed. But then he remembered Jesus’ statement to the lawyer in Matthew 22:37-39 that it all boils down to just two laws, “love God and love your neighbor.” This is good citizenship boiled down to its essence.

Now with that as an overview, let’s consider socialism and capitalism. There are a number of variations of socialism, but a common dictionary definition would be “a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.” Typically, the government is more in control of economic activity. Karl Marx thought of socialism as a transitional social state between capitalism and communism, although some socialist nations exist that have no intention of transitioning to communism. This is a separate issue from how leaders are designated, whether through a public vote, monarchy, dictatorship, etc. Keep in mind that there are countries that try to present themselves as democracies with free and fair voting but are, in effect, socialist dictatorships – witness Venezuela. The now deceased Hugo Chavez’s government takeover of industry has not worked out so well.

A typical definition of capitalism would be “an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.” The natural question is, “why should we care about socialism and capitalism?” Part of the answer to that question goes back to the fact of how human we are.

At the risk of over-simplifying the situation, let’s just say that the human failing most associated with capitalism is greed; the human failing most associated with socialism might be summed up as some combination of laziness, lack of motivation and poor stewardship. Both responses reflect a lack of love for people.

In socialism, if there is little reward for my labor, I am more inclined not to be productive. The government then often is inclined to instill “motivation” through fear. You can see this in the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. An extreme outgrowth of capitalism would involve an attitude of “every man for himself,” – using every legal means (sometimes illegal) to gain an economic advantage over others. It may succeed in yielding overall economic success, but sometimes at the expense of others. We’ll talk about the profit motive and compassion for the poor under a capitalistic system in the next blog.

I have worked in both the private and public sectors over the years, and like to think that I have been equally productive in both. But I have to say that, with the private sector, not knowing if you will have a job in a month or a year is a very strong motivation to do your best and to be as competitive as possible. It inspires innovation, creativity, and cost control – the very things that have allowed America and other capitalist societies to succeed from an economic perspective. Those motivations can also be there within government, but it depends on leadership and the rules of employment and management.

As Christians, we have a big advantage, because we realize the truth of Colossians 3:23-24 -

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”

If others around us are not motivated, that should not deter us from being the best employees we can be. If we are surrounded by people who think we are just trying to “get in good with the boss,” that’s OK. We aren’t dependent on the opinions of others. Having a boss that is unfair or difficult to work for should still not deter us from doing our best. We may come to the conclusion that we have to say something to improve the situation or even seek another job, but based on the principle of love, we should do it out of love for that person or people in the organization, not out of our own personal retribution.

We had this come up in a class in Colombia, South America a few years ago, where a young lady presented a situation about dealing with a difficult boss. As the class looked on, the instructor took her to 1 Peter 2:18-19, which is in the context of submissiveness to human institutions more generally, and to masters (employers) more specifically:

Servants be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.”

The passage goes on to talk about the ultimate example of this being Jesus Himself. It was almost like there was a collective gasp (in Spanish) from the class of about 30 people, and a few tears from the one asking the question. But they all got the point. The Christian life is about radical, transformational love. Later that week during testimony time she explained how the Lord had used that principle to improve the relationship between her and her boss.

There is much more in the Scriptures about the types of behavior that will lead to a loving, productive society, and what that might mean for governmental structures, but we’ll get into more depth on that next time. 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


Youthful Indiscretions, Virginia Politics, and Redemption (Part 2) February 23 2019

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

The Commonwealth of Virginia, home of my growing-up years, continues to be in the news, and not in a good way. Although the abortion controversy was overtaken by the Governor Northam “blackface” incident, other controversies have also engulfed the Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General. To recap, a photo became public from Governor Northam’s yearbook from medical school of a person dressed up in “blackface” standing next to another person dressed up as a member of Ku Klux Klan. Governor Northam initially admitted to being in that photo, but later denied it. Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor has now been accused of sexual assault, and the Attorney General admitted to a blackface incident of his own.

In the last blog, we talked about how powerful Jesus’ example was when He walked on the earth, as He shattered the prejudices of His day. We discussed how racial prejudices lasted far too long in the U.S., and that we have come a long way since then, though remnants still exist.

But what today’s politics brings out is that virtually anything in our past, no matter how long ago and no matter how people have changed, can now result in public shaming, humiliation, and even loss of a job. Perhaps political consultants advise that this is necessary (sadly) to win elections, but dredging up every incident from someone’s past to gain political advantage undermines the message we should be sending to society about the availability and power of redemption. To be sure, character is critically important as a qualification for office, but a failure to acknowledge the possibility of a changed life can keep gifted, service-minded individuals from taking on civic responsibilities. With the brutality of today’s political dialogue, is it any wonder that good people leave public service and others don’t get in?

But let’s face it. We have all done some really foolish things in the past, maybe even in the recent past. In biblical terms, “foolish things” usually translates to unloving, sinful things, where we did not consider others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). So what about redemption? As believers, we should understand redemption more than anyone else, given what has been revealed to us about the depth of our need for it, and the price Jesus paid to secure it for us. There are many scriptural references on this, but suffice it to say that: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7-8).

The Bible is filled with examples of redemption. Where would King David be, were it not for God’s redeeming grace? Where would Paul and Peter be? Where would the thief on the cross be? According to today’s secular standards, the Apostle Paul would never have been allowed to minister in the church. Ananias had to be convinced through a vision from God that the “new Saul” (a.k.a. Paul) was for real and was not a danger to the saints (Acts 9:10-19). It was reported that “When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26). This skepticism was understandable. But the reality of Paul’s changed life and boldness for the gospel became apparent very quickly.

According to today’s standards, David should never have become known as a “man after God’s own heart.” He committed adultery, tried to cover it up, and ultimately committed a murder by sending Uriah to the front lines of battle. Two of the Psalms attributed to David (32 and 51), are among the most descriptive in the Bible of how a person with a pattern of sin can be forgiven and restored. The repentant thief on the cross reminds us that no one is beyond God’s forgiveness. The Apostle Peter denied that he was associated with Jesus, not once, but three times. Did this disqualify him from ministry? Not at all! After he was restored, and after Jesus’ resurrection, he was one of the Lord’s most bold, ardent followers.

One of the wonderful things about the Scriptures is that God allows us to see both the dark, sinful side of human nature, as well as His readiness to take us back. This is why we can relate so well to the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), which so amazingly illustrates God’s compassion, patience, and readiness to restore us and take us back under his wings. This is powerful hope!

So that brings us back to how we should consider redemption for political figures, employees, those within our spiritual family, and in our physical family. We at BCF have been privileged to see God’s work in many, many lives. This is part of what makes this ministry so hopeful and fulfilling, and why, by God’s grace, the BCF ministry has continued for almost 45 years. Here are a few observations:

  1. We should celebrate changed lives, not try to manipulate people or continue to punish them by bringing up sins of the past.  God recorded the personal failings of biblical characters for our instruction, not for the purpose of humiliation or accusation. As Romans 15:4 states: “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.”
  2. At the same time, we need to be discerning about whether a person truly has a changed life or whether he is merely saying the “right words.” In reality, we know that a truly changed life cannot occur apart from salvation through Jesus Christ. Even in the political realm, we generally need to make judgements based on overall character, to the extent we can know that. But aside from politics, if an event has occurred that has caused a breach of trust, we can assist those individuals by helping them put in place some steps to avoid temptation as well as minimize even the appearance of evil. How these individuals accept counsel will be an evidence of how serious they are in demonstrating change. Ronald Reagan’s axiom on international relations: “Trust, but verify” comes to mind here.
  3. Expect some people to be skeptical about your own changed life. It takes time to develop a pattern of demonstrated faithfulness, and you may need to go to extra measures to help others see how the change is genuine. For example, if it has to do with infidelity, or the suspicion of it, make sure your spouse knows exactly where you are or where you are going at all times, and don’t put yourself in a position of being alone with a person of the opposite sex. This is consistent with the biblical command to “Flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
  4. We need to be prepared to accept the consequences of our actions. Someone who was caught embezzling money may have confessed, made restitution, and now “shares with those who have needs” (per Ephesians 4:28), but he may not be a good choice for church treasurer. Not only does that put him in the path of temptation, but it could be a stumbling block to others. This is also why we are very careful about the reputations and record of those we have in children’s ministry. It is possible that people could get fired from a job as a consequence of something they have done, or they may have difficulty getting another job. While this may be discouraging as one of the physical consequences of sin, they can still have a vibrant relationship with the Lord, who is always patiently waiting, longing to take them back, like the father of the prodigal son.

So what about politics? Apparently political positioning/manipulation will be with us forever, and it will likely even intensify in this age of social media. In principle, poor judgement or sin from years ago should not automatically disqualify a person from service. If we pay attention, there is usually enough information (not always) on an individual’s current character qualities and policy positions to make a voting decision.  As Christians, we have the benefit of having seen the power of redemption in our own lives and the lives of others, so we should not too quickly dismiss a person for a “youthful indiscretion.” We hope and pray for more elected leaders, as well as citizens, who will have that same understanding.

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


Youthful Indiscretions, Blackface, Yearbooks, and Redemption (Part 1) February 02 2019

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

Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia was in the news twice this past week. The first was from this past Wednesday when the Governor was defending a bill in the Virginia legislature that would have significantly loosened restrictions on abortion in the third trimester, to the extent that the bill’s sponsor, in response to a question from the legislative committee, indicated that there was nothing in the bill that would prevent an abortion being performed while a woman was in active labor.

I grew up in Virginia, went to college in Virginia, and worked in Virginia for 13 years. So I still pay a little bit of attention to Virginia politics. This story was so shocking, even though the bill ultimately failed to get out of committee, that it was hard to believe it could be something considered in my home state. So I looked up the actual language in House Bill No. 2491, Section 18.2-74 to see for myself. The section title is: “When abortion or termination of pregnancy lawful after second trimester of pregnancy” and the relevant paragraph is:

The physician certifies  and so  enters  in the hospital record of the woman,  that in the physician's  medical opinion, based upon  the physician's  best clinical judgment, the continuation of the pregnancy is likely to result in the death of the woman or impair the mental or physical health of the woman.”

This gives a single doctor an incredible amount of discretion, particularly with respect to the mother’s “mental health.” No words at all about a viable baby’s health. As I’ve said many times, this is not a political blog, but the Scriptures are clear about God’s hand in our formation: “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13 and read through verse 16, as an example). Do we care about all the moms that go through difficult pregnancies? Of course we do. But we cannot escape the responsibility society has to preserve life, both mom and baby.

A similar bill was recently passed in New York State, where I was born (Schenectady). It made me think, “Hmm, it’s a good thing this bill did not exist when I was born,” because my mother started hemorrhaging during delivery. It was at that very point on the delivery table, according to her testimony, that she gave her life to Christ. It would not have been difficult under current New York law to have terminated me right then and there.

But this blog is not primarily about abortion, as important as that topic is. The abortion topic was quickly overshadowed by what was revealed about the Governor on Friday. A photo became public from Governor Northam’s yearbook from medical school (when he was 25 years old) of a person dressed up in “blackface” standing next to another person dressed up as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. According to Wikipedia, blackface is a form of  theatrical make-up used predominantly by non-black performers to represent a caricature of a black person. It was generally used by performers in the mid 1800s and early 1900s, but also lingered into the mid-1900s. It represented a sad era of racial stereotyping.

Governor Northam initially admitted to being in that photo. But as I check the news once more before publishing this on Saturday, the Governor is questioning his own admission, saying he does remember darkening his face to represent Michael Jackson in a dance contest. We may never know the truth about these matters, but that’s beside the point. Either way, the Governor’s yearbook was from 1984, when a supposedly sophisticated 25-year old medical student should have known better. It was hardly a “youthful indiscretion,” and the political frenzy is certainly emblematic of our times.

Whatever the outcome, it is actually refreshing to step back and get a biblical perspective on all this. That is one of the objectives these blogs were originally meant to achieve – to help us see through the chaos of society, politics, and the media, to what God says about so many of the issues we face today. And the Scriptures are still amazingly relevant and contemporary!

Let’s start with Jesus Himself. The beautiful thing about Jesus’ example when He walked on the earth is that He shattered the prejudices of His day against women (He talked with them when others thought He shouldn’t), race (He affiliated with the Samaritans and even used them as one of the greatest examples of love), and the so called “lower classes” of society (lepers, the blind, servants, the poor). Racial prejudices lasted far too long in the U.S., and we have come a long way since then, though remnants still exist. And Paul reminded us that God is no respecter of persons, 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.”

But the Northam revelation has triggered a number of thoughts, including:

  1. How relentless political posturing, maneuvering, and attempts at public shaming have become in the U.S.
  2. How amazing God’s redemption really is. Our God is a God of patience, love, and forgiveness, a God of second chances, third, fourth …
  3. How much the world needs Jesus. The world needs hope, and people are searching in all the wrong places.

I would love to address all of these in one blog, but I ran out of space, so we’ll only get to the first point here and cover the other two next time.

First, political posturing, maneuvering, and public shaming is an unmistakable trend, being accelerated and amplified by social media. Even rational conversations about important issues are squelched because of how much we are all walking on eggshells, out of concern for being taken the wrong way or being shamed for a legitimate, and even loving, point of view.

We may not have dressed up in blackface for our yearbook or Halloween at any point in our lives, but there are plenty of “youthful indiscretions” (a euphemism for the biblical word “sin”) in our backgrounds. Just ask our parents, or our siblings. Or maybe even our children!

I wonder how many politicians are going back to check their yearbooks at this point. I could understand that, if all we cared about is earthly success and positioning. Do we care about our testimony? Of course. Are there things in our background that we regret? Certainly. Can we make our words and actions from the past disappear? No. But the difference between the world’s view and God’s truth is that the world (at least the political world) seems to be focused on the “gotcha moment.”

As believers, we understand that there are plenty of “gotchas” in our backgrounds, things we wish we could take back, where our sinfulness was exposed. The difference is that, as a Christian, we not only understand how sinful we are, but by God’s grace have seen the power of redemption. BCF has been privileged to see this many, many times over - how transformational God and His Word really are in the lives of people who were once hopeless.

Much of the world will never understand this, and we should not be surprised, because “… a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Corinthians 2:14). As believers, we are privileged to understand (and are still learning) the reality of the struggle between the flesh and the spirit, but also the even greater reality that God has made forgiveness freely available. Paul captured the struggle very well in Romans 7:18-20:

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh, for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.”


Paul is not making an excuse here for his actions. But he has aptly captured the daily struggle that goes on in our lives, even as believers. And if we left it there, it would be very discouraging and hopeless. But that is why there are the other two points. More about those next time, but until then, just ponder the end of Romans Chapter 7: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (verses 24 and 25a). We’ll pick up at that point.

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


I’m Thankful for … My Platelets? January 19 2019

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

One of the videos we came across during the holidays was of a husband and wife who woke up one morning, and to their astonishment, found that many things they already had in the house had been giftwrapped: the children, the breakfast, the shoes, the briefcase, the car, the coffee, and even themselves. They were so excited that the lights could turn on and off, the water flowed, and that they could take a hot shower.

The point of this little 2-minute video is that there are many, many things we take for granted in life that we should be thankful for - from big things to little ones - family, friends, the freedom to worship, running water, hot showers, clothes, the list is endless. And of course, we are never able to fully appreciate the gift of our salvation. The video by a church in North Carolina is well done and worth watching at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSxPWpLPN7A.

The challenging thing for us is that - let’s face it -  life is hard. Things don’t always go right. Cars break down, the plumbing leaks, finances are tight, jobs are insecure, family members get seriously ill, people have disagreements. The list of difficult things can sometimes seem as endless as the things to be thankful for, which is where the command of I Thessalonians 5:18 becomes especially challenging (“… in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”). But therein is also great hope, because by God’s grace, our lives don’t have to be controlled by circumstances or the difficult things of life.

Every now and then you come across a person who exudes gratitude, even in the face of great difficulty. One of my mother’s close friends was like that.  Mom worked at what was at the time the largest physical rehabilitation facility in Virginia. This is where many people came for rehabilitation from traffic accidents, diving accidents, physical disabilities, and debilitating illnesses. They were generally there because of what we would usually call “a tragedy,” humanly speaking. Aside from their medical recovery, after a time these individuals learned new skills in business - auto mechanics, appliance and furniture repair, barbering, and so on. My brother and I had many free haircuts from these rehab center students and without incident. They were amazing individuals, who took their education very seriously. We also had some fond memories of wheelchair races down their long corridors. It is here that I learned (still learning) to better appreciate the challenges faced by the disabled.

Mom worked in the business school, and her friend Mary Ann worked there as well. Mary Ann was one of the most joyful people you could ever meet. The thing is, Mary Ann was bound to a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis, which back in the 50s and 60s could not be treated nearly as well as it can today. The daily routines of life were very challenging for Mary Ann, but she was always an example to me of one who could be thankful in the face of great difficulty.

So the video and Mary Ann got me to thinking about things I had taken for granted. There are actually many of those, but one that came to mind recently was, of all things, my platelets. I knew very little about platelets until I started donating them about once a month, beginning shortly after 9/11. Platelets are cells in our blood that form clots to help stop bleeding, and they are remarkable little creations of God in the body. In most people, platelets do their job to stop the bleeding and stay regulated at the right level - not too many, not too few. But platelet counts can drop to low levels for people with certain cancers or leukemia or for those who have suffered traumatic injuries or have chronic diseases.  Platelets also have a shelf-life of only a few days, so medical facilities need to constantly replenish supplies.

Doctors and hospitals apparently love my platelets, because I am also “CMV negative.” This means that I have never been infected with cytomegalovirus. They say that only about 15 percent of U.S. adults who have reached age 40 are CMV negative. Having platelets that are not exposed to this virus is important, because those with weakened or immature immune systems (like little babies) are susceptible to life-threatening CMV infection. So babies with cancers or leukemia would need to be given this special class of platelets. This possibly explains why I get called so often by the blood bank. On top of that, my sweet mom died from breast cancer, but her life was extended, in part, because of the platelet donations of others.

The blood bank where I donate has photos of various people who have received donations of blood products, and sometimes when I’m lying there squeezing the rubber ball for 90 minutes I think about where my platelets might be going, like to little babies with cancer whose families are struggling through the heartache of seeing them suffer. That is tough. And when we see families working through that difficulty with their ultimate hope and trust in the Lord, that is an inspiration to all of us. It also makes me thankful for a part of our amazing bodies that for many years I took for granted, or actually didn’t even know about.

One of the devotionals I read one morning a couple of years ago talked about “The Game of Thanks,” in which a group or family would start going around the circle naming as many things as they can think of that they are thankful for, both large and small. Basically, there are so many things, that you could virtually keep going forever. And it is a great little game for children. You will find that after they get through family members, the dog, the cat, and their toys, they have to start looking around the room to find things they never would have otherwise thought about being thankful for - a little bit like the video.

The book of Nehemiah records a dramatic scene of the exiles who had returned from Babylon to Jerusalem and had completed building the wall. Nehemiah 8:8-10 records:

“They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading. Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, ‘Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

In other words, gratitude for what God has done brings strength to continue. It is amazing how dwelling on the blessings we sometimes take for granted can turn a temptation toward self-pity into a time of encouraging others and being encouraged. The joy of the Lord is, indeed, our strength. Lord, thank you for all the “Mary Anns” of the world and for things as obscure as platelets that remind us how we can live joyfully even in the most difficult of circumstances. By the way, if you are able to donate whole blood or platelets, check out your local blood bank. And thank you if you already have!

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


Is There Any Hope in Today’s News? January 06 2019

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

It’s a good thing our peace and joy is not dependent on politics. For many people, this is the preoccupation of their lives. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, or where you live in the world, it seems that 2018 has brought about high levels of political stress, uncertainty, and temptations to worry.  The stock market is up, the stock market is down. The deficit is up. The government is shut down (partially). Drug overdoses are way up. There are fires, floods, tsunamis, wars, and humanitarian crises. Political attacks abound. On top of this, individuals and families have their own personal challenges, whether they be related to health, finances, or relationships. What is going on here? And is there any hope?

Thankfully, the Word of God was provided exactly for times like this. Take, for example, Romans 15:4:

“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.”

Sadly, the Scriptures are often overlooked as the ultimate source of hope amid the daily drumbeat of the news cycle. Some of the “earlier times” referred to in Romans 15:4 include those written about in Hebrews 11, men and women who were no strangers to hardship and suffering, characterized in verses 36 and 37 as “men of whom the world was not worthy.” The passage describes some of what they went through: “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 ….

Then what immediately follows in Hebrews 12:1-2 is this statement about these men and women of faith:

“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.”


If we are tempted to bemoan the times in which we live, just think of those referred to in Hebrews 11 and 12. The Egyptian government was not exactly benevolent toward the Hebrews, and Christians certainly were not the Roman government’s favorite people. Even the religious leaders in Jesus’ day were only trying to protect their positions of power, and plotted to kill the One who came to save them. In many respects, things were much more precarious and volatile back then than they are now. Justice (and injustice) was swift, as we know from John the Baptist, the trial of Jesus, and the existence of crucifixion itself as a preferred method of execution.

In other words, these examples of faith should be a source of hope for us. The Scriptures speak of the “joy set before Him,” referring to Jesus. He didn’t let earthly tribulations divert Him from His mission. The heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 are described in a similar way:

“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”


What all these characters had in common was a clear understanding of and commitment to their mission on earth and faith that God would fulfill His promises. This also enabled them to see how transient their life on earth was in the context of eternity. Some people might accuse us by saying that “well, faith is just an escape from life.” On the contrary, our faith gives us an even greater appreciation for life and how to live victoriously through all of the challenges and difficulties life presents. It enables us to have hope even in what seems like earthly defeat, have peace when others are despairing, and love when others would seek revenge. My fellow believers, this is not “fake news.” Our faith is founded on the historical truths of “earlier times,” culminating in the birth, sacrificial death, and resurrection of Jesus Himself, which is our motivation for showing God’s love in this world.

The Scriptures tell us that we are to be “in the world” but not “of the world.” In John 17:15-16 Jesus even prayed to the Father for His disciples: “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.”

So here we are at the beginning of 2019 – living in a world that is chaotic at times, both politically and in our personal lives. While some may try to escape from it all, through things like drugs or alcohol, God has provided us with an eternal perspective and resources that enable us to live “in the world” above what at times seems to be daily chaos. The Lord didn’t say this would be easy, and we fail at times, but it is a powerful witness to those around us, whether they would admit it or not.

So as we begin a new year, perhaps the reminder for us is this: don’t let the news lead us to any of the following:

  • Worry (Matthew 6:33-34 – “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness … So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” In other words, keep our focus on our daily mission of living a righteous life, and faith in God’s provision)
  • Fear of the future (I John 4:18, 19 – “There is no fear in love … We love because He first loved us.” In other words, the cure for fear is to keep on loving others, in response to God’s love for us)
  • Indifference toward the needs of others (believers or unbelievers) - (I Peter 2:12 – “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”)
  • Neglect of time in the Word of God (Psalm 119:105 – “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”)
  • Not growing to be more like Christ (Romans 8:29)
  • Neglect of fellowship (Hebrews 10:24-25 – “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

The Word of God has been powerful and practical for those in “earlier times” as well as for those of us today. It expresses the hope and peace we can have even while a chaotic, unpredictable world swirls around us. May the year 2019 be a year in which our families, friends, work associates, neighbors, fellow students, and even random strangers scratch their heads and ask, “how do you stay so calm?” Oh, and if necessary, maybe we need to step away from the 24/7 news cycle, whether fake or factual, and absorb more of the refreshing “good news” that leads to life.

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


Babies, Helplessness, and Jesus December 22 2018

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

The last few years have seen no shortage of babies in the Smith family and in our extended family of 8 nephews and one niece. While these little ones may differ in many ways in their eating habits, sleep cycles, personalities, and the need for loving discipline, there is one thing they all have in common – the need for help.

Babies and young children are the very definition of helplessness. In Lesson 7 of the Self-Confrontation course, we have a little illustration that goes something like this:

Suppose a mom and dad had a new little baby. Everything went well, and they were so happy to take the little one home from the hospital. When they got home, they put the baby down, and mom started explaining to baby, “OK. I’ve spent nine long months carrying you, and now my part is done. The diapers are in the cabinet over here, your food is in the refrigerator, and your baby bed is in the corner.  You’re all set with your supplies. Just give me a call if you have any questions or need any wisdom.


It is obviously a ridiculous illustration of how a parent would not treat a newborn baby. It is used in the context of Philippians 1:6, which says “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus,” meaning that God will not leave us on the spiritual “delivery table” when we become a believer. But it reminds us of how helpless little babies are to provide for themselves. They would not survive on their own.

Everyone knows that babies need a lot of help, and a lot of things can go wrong very quickly when children are left alone for just moments. Most of us know personally about things that can happen, some of them being funny when we look back on it, but some of them are also tragic. And perhaps you have experienced some of these things in your own families.

Isn’t it amazing, then, how Jesus entered the world as a baby – helpless, vulnerable, subject to a variety of  events that could have occurred? Would He catch a deadly disease? Would He have an accident? Would He get kidnapped? Would His brothers beat Him up? Would He get distracted from His mission and decide not to go through with paying for the sins of mankind? What did He actually know and what was He actually aware of as a little baby?

Answers to these questions are all very difficult to comprehend. One of the passages in the Scriptures that is the most astonishing to me, and most difficult to contemplate, is Philippians 2:5-8, which fits right in to the celebration of Jesus’ birth:

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”


The fact that God the Son was willing to restrict Himself to the form of a helpless, vulnerable little baby is mind-boggling. Our brains struggle with how this is possible - how He was willing to be in such a precarious position, yet how the Father was still in control of ensuring that Jesus would, in fact, redeem the world. No human could possibly make up a story like this. Yet here we are, at Christmas in 2018, celebrating this very thing.

We could possibly relate it to committing oneself to military service. A new soldier would make the monumental commitment up front, knowing in general that service may be difficult and dangerous, but not knowing exactly what they will be called to do or exactly how dangerous it will be. The difference with Jesus being born as a human is that He knew exactly what He was going to have to do; and knowing that, He proceeded anyway.

Philippians 2:5-8 helps me to comprehend a little more deeply the significance of the love God had for us when He sent Jesus to earth. His birth is a touching, wonderful story, with angels and shepherds, and a lowly stable, but it only happened because of a very serious plan that was put in motion because of my need and your need for forgiveness and salvation. We are the ones whose helplessness made the birth of Jesus necessary.

In other words, Jesus deliberately chose to pour Himself into the helpless form of a baby so that He could grow up to be the sacrifice for those who didn’t even realize how helpless they were. When Philippians 2:7 says that He “emptied Himself,” it carries with it the idea that Jesus “laid aside His privileges.” He didn’t have to do this, but did it out of a love that was way stronger and more powerful than the love of a mother or father for a little baby.

It is this kind of love that motivates us to worship Him at Christmas, show our gratitude, and live for Him each day. A pastor of ours years ago reminded us of how odd it is that Christmas is the only time we give gifts to everyone except to the one who is having the birthday. A hymn written in 1872 by Christina Rossetti with the (not-very-Christmasy) title of “In the Bleak Mid-Winter,” captures the desire we should have:

“What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb
If I were a wise man, I would do my part
Yet what I can I give Him, I will give my heart.”


We don’t need to be rich to give the greatest gift Jesus could receive from us this Christmas.

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


Letters and Lessons from Departed Presidents December 08 2018

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

A memorial service for someone who has died is a great opportunity to contemplate how we have been investing our own lives. Most of us have been to memorial services that have been inspirational examples of love and selflessness, as well as services where one comes away with a sense that it was a sadly wasted life. Although I saw only highlights of the recent service for George H.W. Bush, America’s 41st president, I heard enough to appreciate the type of example he set for his family, for other leaders, and for us as citizens. In certain ways, it reminded me of the man with whom Vice-President Bush served in the background for eight years, Ronald Reagan. So let’s spend a few minutes on both of these men.

My Uncle John, a life-long bachelor from Connecticut, was a huge Ronald Reagan fan. And when Ronald Reagan passed away in June of 2004, Uncle John immediately made plans to come out to the Reagan Library in Simi, California so that he could properly remember him. And I had the “privilege” of being Uncle John’s tour guide and chaperone, which for him was a trip of a lifetime. My uncle had not been on an airplane in decades, and had borrowed a cell phone just for the occasion (but didn’t know how to use it). After missing the first leg of his flight and the getting lost after landing at LAX, it was a miracle that we were actually able to locate each other and get going on this little adventure. Once at the library, it was just as much fun to watch Uncle John enjoy soaking it all in as it was to go through it myself. Uncle John enjoyed seven hours’ worth—stopping at every station, reading every word, watching every video.

The library was packed with people even several weeks after President Reagan’s service, and I can understand why. Although the accomplishments of “the great communicator” were certainly on display, so too was his tenderness, love, and sense of humor. Among other things, he was a great note-writer, evidenced by some of the letters and notes he penned to people from all walks of life, not done to impress, but totally out of public view at the time. Then came his last letter, the original of which is in the library. Here are a few excerpts:

My Fellow Americans,
I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease. Upon learning this news, Nancy and I had to decide whether as private citizens we would keep this a private matter or whether we would make this news known in a public way…. In opening our hearts, we hope this might promote greater awareness of this condition. Perhaps it will encourage a clearer understanding of the individuals and families who are affected by it….
Unfortunately, as Alzheimer's Disease progresses, the family often bears a heavy burden. I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience. When the time comes, I am confident that with your help she will face it with faith and courage.
In closing let me thank you, the American people for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your President. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future. I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead. Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you.
Sincerely, Ronald Reagan


This letter was a great source of encouragement to many of the Alzheimer’s families and care givers at that time. I had a similar sense watching and listening to the highlights of the George H.W. Bush memorial service and to hear what impressed others most about his life. Though the media may have stretched their praise a bit, given how much they criticized the man when in office, it seemed that a portrait of his underlying character came through. President Bush was not one to dwell on his own successes or accomplishments, a trait that apparently was quite irritating to his campaign managers. It was hard for him to tear anyone else down.

His son George W. spoke of him as one who “valued character over pedigree,” even though Bush 41 had a pedigree of service few others ever achieved. The younger Bush (43) and others spoke of the elder Bush writing many notes to people from all walks of life, seeking to encourage, express condolences, and build them up. Would these presidents have used email and texts in this day and age? Perhaps. But the fact that they both took the time to write to people individually emphasized their thoughtfulness and caring. President Bush’s graciousness in losing the election for his second term was highlighted by a note he penned to the man who defeated him, Bill Clinton. You can read the full letter online, but a short excerpt captures the tone:

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country's success. I am rooting hard for you.


The two went on to work together on humanitarian efforts. Did these men have flaws? Certainly. Yet there are some important lessons we can learn from their examples as well, and parallels in the Scriptures. 

One of the better-known facts about George H.W. Bush’s life was that, as the youngest fighter pilot in the Navy during World War II, he was the only survivor after his plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean, being rescued by a U. S. submarine crew. What I didn’t remember was that he had also almost died from a staph infection as a teenager. George W. used these “close calls” to say of his father that “his brushes with death made him cherish the gift of life.”

Both Reagan and Bush 41 were not publicly outspoken about their faith, but we can relate their example to our own walk with Christ in several ways, such as:

  • Our own rescue from spiritual death should motivate us to cherish our physical life. “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us that we would be called children of God; and such we are….” (I John 3:1). God did not have to adopt us into His family, but by His grace and mercy, He did.
  • Although it may be nice to receive human recognition, showing love to all (whether friend or foe), without expecting to receive anything in return, honors the One who made us: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:46). This statement was in the context of Jesus’ call for us to love even our enemies.
  • Don’t seek to be noticed. Jesus made this point several times in Matthew Chapter 6:
    • Verse 1: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”
    • Verse 2: “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do …”
    • Verses 5 and 6: “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room …” (this admonition was followed by the “Lord’s prayer” in verses 9-14)
    • Regarding fasting in verses 16-18: “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

These things are the hallmark of a deeper life, because our focus turns to honoring our Father rather than obtaining human credit. It means following in the footsteps of Christ Who “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” and Who “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:7 and 8).

So it’s OK if no one ever knows that you prayed and cried with a friend who had cancer; it’s OK if you gave money to a family and they never knew who did it; it’s OK if you anonymously helped a stranger stranded on the side of the road; it’s OK to be left out of an acknowledgement for a job well done. For our part, we should certainly encourage and build up others, and we are told to do so in the Scriptures. But there is a certain enduring honor that comes with laboring, serving, and writing in obscurity, even for the most visible of people like Presidents of the United States. Oh Lord, let us not be puffed up by recognition and let us be content in obscurity. And oh yes, let us not forget to write.

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


Being thankful for … Work? November 17 2018

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

We recently attended a memorial service for a relative of “Uncle” Bob Schneider, President of BCF. At this particular service, the key Scripture passage was out of Ecclesiastes Chapter 3. If you had been a teenager in 1965, like I was, you would remember the U.S. rock group “The Byrds” putting Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 to music. The song (“Turn Tun Turn”) was almost word-for-word from the King James Version:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;” etc.
and ending with “A time for war and a time for peace.”


The point of the song seemed to be a plea for peace and tolerance during a time of our increasing involvement in the Vietnam War. But the passage used in the memorial service went on to include verses 12 and 13:

“I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor – it is the gift of God.”


Most of us have had a variety of jobs, paid and unpaid. Working in the home and bringing up children are certainly included in the “labor” category. Some jobs may have been interesting and intriguing. Others may have been more like just grinding through the day, perhaps hoping for it to end. Other jobs may have been highly stressful and draining, even dangerous. Labor comes in all shapes and sizes, but it is part of human life. 

On the surface, the book of Ecclesiastes might seem to be about the futility of life, not exactly a hopeful tone. The author begins the book with “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun? A generation goes and a generation comes, But the earth remains forever.”

But when we dig deeper into the book, we also find some treasures - words of hope tucked away in several passages related to this “gift of labor” referenced in 3:13. For example:

  • Ecclesiastes 2:24 – “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.”
  • Ecclesiastes 5:18 – “Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.”

I have seen people who exude joy in jobs that would appear very mundane. I have also seen many people who are obviously unhappy in their work, even though the job might seem to be interesting, or at least well paid.

In Lesson 5 of Self-Confrontation, we have a little exercise in the Student Workbook, in which students first think of activities that they typically look forward to with eagerness, anticipation, and enjoyment. Many respond with significant events such as birthdays, vacations, hobbies, sporting activities, family events, etc. Not very many respond with “going to work.” While we all tend to look forward to these things, we see from the Word of God that the deeper joy comes from finding contentment in where we spend most of our time: the daily routines of life, and even in the ups downs of life.  Paul expressed this very well when he described the “secret” of contentment in Philippians 4:11-13:

“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”


Philippians 4:13 is a great verse, but we often take it out of context, implying some sort of heroic act. But actually, it is about finding contentment in the daily routine and the ups and downs of life, which is only possible because of the grace and help of God. Paul understood as well as anyone that life is tough. It will bring peaks and valleys, victories and setbacks (humanly speaking), and as Solomon states, “a time to weep and a time to laugh.” Having peace and contentment through all these things IS the victory.

As believers, we have this ability because of what Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 9:15 as the “indescribable gift,” that comes from the “surpassing grace of God” (verse 14).  In other words, the challenges of life, though there may be many, are small in comparison with what we have already received. This is not to minimize how difficult things can be: family relationships, work situations, financial challenges, health problems, and even one’s daily “labor in which he toils under the sun.”

Our Creator designed us to experience and benefit from our labor. It is part of how He teaches us to love. Just think about it: when do we grow most in love – when we are engaged in fun activities and special events, or when we have to make difficult choices to obey God (or not)? These opportunities to make loving choices often come in the seemingly mundane tasks of life: taking out the garbage with cheerfulness, disciplining the children with patience and love, doing work ungrudgingly for a boss we perceive to be demanding, and so on.

When you think about it, the greatest opportunities to demonstrate sacrificial love are in the unpleasant situations of daily living. Why? Because it is in the daily tasks that we experience tests and trials, and it is in these same tests that we that we must choose whether to love God and others or to focus on ourselves.

No one said this would be easy. But think about how this could revolutionize our lives. Most of each day, and consequently most of life, involves fulfilling our daily responsibilities. Rather than begrudging the daily routine, we should look for ways to show joy and love each day’s work (even if we may not “enjoy” it), finding satisfaction as we grow in our love for God and neighbor.

The additional benefit is that others may take notice. This is not always true, as people may seek to take advantage of this or test us even further to see if we are “for real.” But personal examples of love have drawn many, many people to the Savior, especially when demonstrating love even when it was hard. As Jesus taught, it is easy to love those who show love to you. But people often take notice when we respond with love and contentment even when it is not natural or does not feel good to do so.

Living a life of gratitude and contentment is radical living in today’s world, and usually unexpected. But that is exactly what God’s Word is: radical and transformative. Contentment is the “heroic act” of Philippians 4:13. Paul’s “secret” of being content is only by the grace of God, and may our gratitude be apparent to others this Thanksgiving and throughout the year.

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