Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures

Changed Lives, and the BCF Prison Ministry – Part 2 July 06 2019

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

This blog is part two about BCF’s ministry to prisoners. As mentioned last time, BCF has had an outreach to prisons and prisoners for over 30 years. This has been largely as a result of the Lord leading friends of the ministry to reach out to prisoners and prisons throughout the U.S. and even overseas. Over the years, BCF has been privileged to train and provide materials to chaplains and prison volunteers, beginning with the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry in the 1980s.

In Part 1, we were reminded from the Scriptures that no one is beyond redemption. At the same time, there is a need for society to render justice for those who commit crimes. We hear in the news every day about horrible things people have done and the harm it has caused to others. Governments exist, in part, for the purpose of rendering appropriate physical consequences for those who have committed crimes, for the restraining of evil in the world. But spiritual redemption is still possible, and we have seen the great ways God can use those men and women who come to Christ or recommit themselves, both inside and outside the prison walls.

One of the things we have learned about a course having a title “Self Confrontation” is that just by hearing the title, people have an idea of what they are getting into. For example, they may be thinking, “Hmmm, this might not be one of those feel-good Bible studies.” But for those who do come, they quickly begin to realize is how powerful a hope the Scriptures are when they dig into God’s Word with a teachable spirit, ready to acknowledge His truth that “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). This is deep, life-transforming hope that no secular program can offer.

We bring this up, because the reaction of prisoners to the “Self Confrontation” theme has been fascinating to watch, and sometimes humorous. At one course in a prison, the instructor was going through Lesson 4 about some of the world’s approaches to dealing with the problems of life. One worldly approach described in this lesson is about “releasing the potential within us.” So in response to the instructor’s question “You know what happens when we release the potential within us?” A voice responded from the class “Yeah. That’s why we’re in here!” On another occasion, an inmate was talking to another inmate about taking the course and explained “This ain’t no sissy Bible study.” The impressions and reactions of prisoners are priceless. But they realize that seeing lives change is serious business, not just an academic exercise.

So why are chaplains, prisoners, and even prison administrators interested in Self-Confrontation? Many would say “because we see lives changed.” They see people becoming peacemakers instead of fighters. From the very beginning, prisoners realize they are in the class to work on their own lives. In one prison, the sergeant’s announcement for the class over the loudspeaker goes something like this: “It’s time for Self-Confrontation. You know you all need it. Get in there!” Certainly, some take it more seriously than others, but the reason for the study, and the focus on biblical principles, are clear from the outset. We are not trying to “sneak up on them” through clever titles or marketing. It’s the Bible – pure, simple, and powerful.

Some of the prisoners have been incarcerated a long time, and they have taken virtually every type of class available.  Most would say that they have never been taught directly from the Word about how God says to change. They have never been taught about the biblical view of “self,” and this is revolutionary, in stark contrast to what the world would be telling them.  They begin to realize that focusing on their own needs (rather than on loving God and others) can land them right back in prison. For many prisoners, the truth of Luke 9:23-24 becomes very real and personal to them, where Jesus said:

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”

This message is radical and life-transforming, one which most people even outside of prison never have learned or accepted. Those who come to Christ within the prison environment perhaps have a clearer understanding even than we do of how revolutionary the message of Jesus really is, together with the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Prisoners who believe and live by Luke 9:23-24 are not likely to go back to prison, if and when they get out.

BCF’s focus since 1974 has been on biblical discipleship, recognizing the God-designed plan of spiritual multiplication. Jesus was the ultimate example of making disciples, and this was His challenge to the eleven after the resurrection, not only for “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (i.e. evangelism), but also “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Keep in mind that “all that Jesus commanded” included principles for dealing with the realities of temptation and the difficult trials of life. For example, just within the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught about how to deal with insults, unjust accusations, anger, forgiveness, reconciliation, lust, marital relationships, loving our enemies, worry, greed, hypocrisy, and other problems of life. What could better prepare prisoners for re-entering society, as well as continuing to live within their own prison community, than helping them with these applications to real life situations?

The Apostle Paul was a prime example of carrying out the ministry of discipleship, with his nurturing of the churches and church leadership. He passed these instructions along to many people, and explained the strategy very simply and clearly to the young Timothy:

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

We have had the blessing of seeing discipleship happening inside the prison environment over and over again. Many of the outside volunteers or chaplains who teach Self-Confrontation to prisoners begin looking for prisoners who God might use to teach alongside them. This is the way to spiritual maturity, when someone is not only taking in the Word, and not only “doing the Word” (James 1:22), but also passing along the Word to others. This was beautifully illustrated in an interview Larry King had with prisoners from San Quentin a few years ago. You will enjoy viewing this short video segment at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnFHs_Q7dzE. In some prisons, we see not just the teaching, but one-on-one discipleship occurring, with prisoners trained up to help others with their Self-Confrontation homework.

For those who do get out of prison, readjustment to life outside those walls can be extremely difficult. Families and friends may have turned their backs and moved on, and employers are not exactly waiting in line to hire convicted felons. It is a little bit like Saul, who after his conversion on the road to Damascus, faced skepticism from the churches about the authenticity of his change. The Lord used a vision to raise up Ananias, a skeptic himself, to introduce Saul to the saints as a completely changed man. Churches can be tremendous re-entry points for released prisoners, and while recognizing the need to be cautious, people can come alongside these transformed men and women to help them through the difficult process of re-entry into society.

This is part of the intent of the First Step Act, signed by President Trump in 2018. The First Step Act recognizes the need to assist ex-prisoners in becoming productive members of society, helping them through the many barriers. While this sort of legislation is helpful, it cannot replace the life-transforming power of Jesus Christ. This is why at BCF we are so grateful for those of you who minister to men and women in prison. It is a clear example of God’s love for those who might have been deemed unlovable - those society has cast aside. They probably deserved what they received, but it is a good reminder to those of us who have not gone to prison, that it could easily have been us who were there. All of us are undeserving of God’s grace and mercy, and we are thankful for God’s reaching down to us, whether inside or outside of those prison walls.

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


Compassion, Justice, and the BCF Prison Ministry – Part 1 June 22 2019

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

This blog begins a two-part series (maybe three) on BCF’s ministry to prisoners. As most of you know, BCF’s core ministry is to support local churches with biblical discipleship/counseling materials and training. However, we have also had an outreach to prisons and prisoners for over 30 years. This has been largely as a result of the Lord leading friends of the BCF ministry to reach out to prisoners and prisons throughout the U.S. and even overseas. But before we get into that, let’s look to the Scriptures for why Christians should even care about prison ministry.

In a nutshell, the great truth and hope of the Christian faith is that no one is beyond redemption – no one. Although hearts can be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13), we cannot be the judge of how people will respond. We also know that no one among us deserves salvation. In Romans 5:6-10 we are variously described as helpless (verse 6), sinners (verse 8), and even enemies of God (verse 10). The Pharisees tried for a lifetime to be good through following the law (including many of their own made-up laws), but Jesus gave them a stinging indictment as “whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27). They were following the laws for show. Titus 3:3-5 sums up our status as deeply flawed humans worldwide, in need of rescue and transformation:

For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit ….”

But sometimes what creeps into our thinking is that some people are more undeserving than others; and we can even write them off as if they should not be recipients of God’s grace. We can be tempted to put prisoners in that category, subtly thinking that what they have done is so bad that they do not deserve to be saved. To repeat: NONE of us deserve to be saved. Read Paul’s assessment of both Jews and Greeks in Romans 3:10-18, which can be summarized in his quote of Psalm 14:3 “There is none righteous, not even one.” He goes on to explain justification by grace through faith. To think that some convicted criminals are beyond redemption is to say that their deeds were so bad that there is not enough of God’s grace to pay for their sins. We know this is biblical heresy, but we can still be tempted to think it.

Keep in mind that this is a separate issue from the need for society to render justice for those who commit crimes. People have done horrific things, and a failure to carry out earthly justice will only encourage more crimes to be committed. The Bible is quite clear about that, from the Ten Commandments onward. This is also why the Scriptures speak of restitution (e.g. see Leviticus 6:5, in which restitution is to be made for robbery, extortion, and other deceitful financial dealings, requiring restoration in full, plus 20 percent).

To see Jesus’ regard of prisoners and redemption, we need to look no further than the repentant thief who was crucified with Jesus (Luke 23:40-42). While one robber had been mocking Jesus, the other answered:

“’Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he was saying ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom.’ And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’”

Forgiveness came freely and immediately. The thief did not have time for rehabilitation or reformation. As an expression of faith, with nothing to offer, he simply asked for mercy.

A vivid illustration of Jesus’ compassion on societal outcasts was His encounter with “a woman in the city who was a sinner” while He was having a meal at the house of a Pharisee (Luke 7:37). She approached Jesus with an alabaster vial of perfume, “and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with perfume. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself ‘If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.’

At this point, Jesus gave an illustration of two debtors, one of whom owed much, and one of whom owed little, but the lender “graciously forgave” them both. It was an important lesson for Simon (the Pharisee), who had written this woman off as not being forgivable. But Jesus concluded His lesson of compassion by saying to Simon “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). Whether a person is in prison or not, we can be tempted to have the same “doesn’t deserve to be saved” sort of thinking.

The reminder for us is to not write anyone off when it comes to the possibility of salvation. Certainly, many in prison will never come to Christ. Some may even “fake a conversion” to earn some sort of favor. But we have also seen time after time how the Lord reaches down into prisons and uses His saints to help prisoners see their need for Him. Some of these may never get out of prison physically, and some may pay for what they have done with their physical life. But like the repentant thief on the cross and the “woman of sin,” God’s grace is abundant and He is ready to redeem those who come to Him with a humble, repentant, believing heart.

A good reminder for us is the quote attributed to John Bradford, an English reformer who was burned at the stake in 1555. It is said that upon seeing prisoners on their way to execution he remarked “There but for the grace of God go I.” This recognition of dependency on God’s grace is a motivation not only for prison ministry, but for the ministry of the gospel worldwide. We thank God today for the many believers whom He has called to bring His message to those who find themselves in prison. More about the BCF prison ministry in the next blog.  And we will see some of the challenges Christian prisoners have who have been released, and how to support and encourage them.

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


Reflections on D-Day, 75 Years Later June 05 2019

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

On June 6, we commemorate seventy-five years since D-Day, representing the beginning of the end of World War II. I have a dad, still living at 97, who is a veteran of that war. He served in the Navy, building ships and as part of convoys carrying equipment and supplies to a staging area in Iceland, supporting allies in the European theater. Although he was not directly in combat himself, nor was he at the D-Day invasion, his involvement in the war definitely increased my interest in the amazing men and women of that era.

As children of the Great Depression in the U.S. (1929-1939), that generation knew something about living with humble means, about hardship, and about sacrifice. Then on the heels of the Great Depression came World War II (September 1, 1939 – September 2, 1945) – six years of even greater hardship.

Understanding the hardships of war is useful to us as believers, as we see from Paul’s use of a “soldier analogy” to encourage his young disciple, Timothy:

You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 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.” (2 Timothy 2:1-4)

It is quite clear what soldiers should expect. And as we read the history of World War II, we find that while millions went off to the hardships of war, the hardships extended to many millions of families remaining at home, supporting the war production effort. While most of the fighting and destruction was in Europe, and in the western Pacific following Pearl Harbor, America’s production of planes (300,000 in five years), hundreds of ships, thousands of landing craft (read up on “Higgins Boats”), tanks, vehicles, guns, and other military equipment was vital to the ultimate victory over Hitler’s evil regime. The entire country was mobilized for the war effort. Some 6 million women joined the U.S. civilian workforce during that period to keep production going, and “Rosie the Riveter” became the wartime female icon. On top of that, some 350,000  women served in the U.S. Armed Forces, both at home and abroad.  These were extraordinary commitments.

But the war production effort was not without other sacrifices as well. One of the examples that we find difficult to relate to today involved the rationing of many different items. This was required when factories converted to military production and began consuming many critical supplies. The U.S. Office of Price Administration (OPA) warned Americans of potential gasoline, steel, aluminum, and electricity shortages. OPA established a rationing system immediately following Pearl Harbor. Here are a few interesting facts that help us to understand the inconveniences that people were asked to endure:

  • Tires were the first item to be rationed, in response to the Japanese takeover of rubber production in Southeast Asia. The OPA created 7,500 volunteer tire ration boards around the country. Each board received a monthly allotment of tires based on the number of local vehicle registrations, and allocated them to applicants based on OPA rules.
  • The War Production Board (WPB) ordered the temporary end of all civilian automobile sales in January 1942. Ration boards were created to assign automobile sales based on need, as much of the nation’s vehicle production was shifted to military.
  • As of March 1942, dog food could no longer be sold in tin cans, and manufacturers switched to dehydrated versions.
  • As of April 1942, anyone wishing to purchase a tube of toothpaste, then made from metal, had to turn in an empty tube.
  • By June 1942, companies also stopped manufacturing metal office furniture, radios, phonographs, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, and sewing machines for civilians.
  • A national speed limit of 35 miles per hour was imposed to save fuel and rubber for tires.
  • Each person in a household received a ration book, including babies and small children who qualified for canned milk not available to others.
  • Gasoline ration cards were distributed based on need. An "A" sticker on a car was the lowest priority of gasoline rationing and entitled the car owner to 3 to 4 gallons per week.

Such was the seriousness of the war effort, impacting almost every facet of American life, but a small price to pay for defeating tyranny and preserving liberty. I’m not sure we would be as committed and understanding in the face of a similar threat today, in this age of instant everything. The lesson for me is how we, as Christians, should be prepared to serve, to be inconvenienced, and to be available for use however the Lord might want to use us. Paul’s analogy hits home, that we should not become “entangled in the affairs of everyday life, so that ‘we’ may please the ‘One’ who enlisted ‘us’ as a soldier.” In other words, we should not be so preoccupied with our own needs that we neglect to serve the Lord and others.

The storming of the beaches of Normandy began the march toward Germany that would end the war about a year later. It was a remarkable plan, executed by remarkable people, but came at a cost. Some 417,000 Americans lost their lives in World War II. Worldwide, the death toll is estimated at 60 million, 40 million of these being civilians, including 6 million Jewish deaths in the Holocaust.

So on this day, let us remember those who died for the sake of liberty, others who served, and millions who endured the many inconveniences of this great conflict. If you have a chance, go back and read or listen to Ronald Reagan’s moving speech at the 40th anniversary of D-Day. They were gathered at the site of the U.S. Ranger Monument at Pointe du Hoc on the Normandy coast.  Referring to the thirst some countries have for conquest, President Reagan famously stated that “The only territories we hold are memorials like this one and graveyards where our heroes rest.” You can read the full speech at:

http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/reagan-d-day.htm

But take a box of Kleenex with you.

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


A Tribute to Health Care Workers May 18 2019

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

If you have seen Mike Rowe’s TV show “Dirty Jobs,” you have seen some of the unusually grimy, messy, difficult jobs of life that most of us have never experienced (and would not really want to). In reality, there are many jobs that are difficult, and even the more routine jobs can be challenging because - let’s face it - they involve dealing with people.

Enter the health care industry. Having just had a short stint in the hospital, it was eye-opening for me to observe the mix of jobs, people, personalities and pressures that exist in that environment. This blog is an overall tribute to health care workers, who can teach us many lessons about serving others.

Being a health care worker is a really hard job, whether in clinics, hospitals, or assisted living facilities. Patients are not feeling well in the first place, and in the hospital environment, the pressures intensify with the situations that brought them there: accidents, heart attacks, stroke, cancer, physical attacks, and other life-threatening conditions. There are also things more routine, like recovery from major surgery or seeking to discover the source of their current pain. Each person comes in with his or her own medical issues, personality, family attachments (or lack thereof), and expectations of what should occur while they are there.

There are multiple people at different job levels that interact with the patients: doctors, administrators, nurses, assistants, social workers, phlebotomists, lab techs, etc. But people on the front lines of all this interaction are the floor nurses. Each day they come in to work and get briefed on the patients they will have for the day, absorbing all the elements that have converged to bring the patient to this particular nurses’ station. With a few breaks in between, nurses stay mostly on their feet, explaining to patients why this needle stick, that treatment, or a certain dietary restriction “is good for you,” answering questions, addressing complaints, dealing with the array of bodily fluids, responding to beeping monitors, etc. while at the same time briefing doctors/administrators and absorbing new instructions.

While we think of all the medical skills nurses must possess, the patient management skills are virtually as important, to be able to answer the many, many questions and concerns that are going through the minds of the patients and their family members. Then their 12 hours of daily (or nightly) nursing service come to an end by briefing the next shift on each patient’s status. And so the cycle continues. At least this is the way I observed it. Some of you nurses out there could explain this more accurately.

I was very impressed with the way nurses and the array of other medical personnel balance all of these pressures, at least on the outside. While our perceptions of health care worker responsiveness may vary across our own experiences, the great majority carry out their jobs in a highly professional manner. They also have limitations patients might not be able to understand or accept. 

It struck me that there is a lot of servanthood in being a health care worker: showing care when you probably don’t feel like it; helping people who think you are not doing good enough; doing messy, dirty things that a lot of others would never want to do; encouraging patients and family members who have received bad news; having demands placed in your lap every time you turn around. This is a tough job. But the health care worker/patient relationship is also a striking example of how servanthood can be vividly demonstrated.

To relate this to the Scriptures, let’s start with what Jesus said in Matthew 20:25-28:

“It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

If medical workers can practice these things because it is their job, how should we as believers, undeserving of God’s grace, not strive to follow Jesus’ own example in our daily routine of life.

While the need for serving others is quite apparent in the medical field from a sheer business perspective, perhaps we under-value its importance in everyday life. Jesus’ statement and example are meant to guide us no matter where we are: in our families, in our churches, in our schools and places of work. Having a servant-focused life can transform individuals, relationships, and societies. Servanthood often goes against our feelings and our inclinations as self-focused humans, but it is life-transforming when put into practice in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 5:21 through 6:9 presents a series of relationships where the principles of servanthood, submission, and love all apply: husbands/wives, parents/children, and employers/employees. These principles are all intertwined, and would apply to virtually any relationship we have. While it becomes harder when others don’t respond to or appreciate our efforts to serve them, we need to remember that they are not the ones for whom we do this. In fact, in that same passage Ephesians 6:7-8 explains “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.” People may not notice or appreciate our efforts, but that’s OK. God does. Perhaps appreciation would make it easier, but that should not change our desire to serve, nor Whom we serve.

To me, some of the patients seemed particularly undeserving of the excellent treatment they were being given. Nevertheless, the workers did not speak back harshly when accused (and I saw some examples of that at the hospital); they patiently explained, when others were demanding, and they helped those who needed help, even when the workers might have thought that some patients didn’t deserve it. Pretty impressive, and a great example to us.

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


“Taking a Bullet” for My Neighbor May 04 2019

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

Just in the last week we have seen two vivid examples of “taking a bullet” for others - literally. At the April 27 shooting at the synagogue in Poway, California, Lori Gilbert Kaye, age 60, put herself between the shooter and the synagogue’s rabbi and saved his life. The rabbi had a moving testimony about her sacrifice. On April 30, a gunman walked into a classroom at the University of North Carolina Charlotte campus and began shooting. Police and family told how Riley Howell, a 21-year old student, rushed toward the shooter trying to take him down and was shot "point blank,” but the action led to the disarming of the shooter.

It is so sad that we have to speak about these events, which have become all too common. It just reinforces what the Bible says about the depravity of the human condition, and the need for spiritual transformation. But it also reminds us that there are people out there who exhibit what Jesus called the greatest example of love:

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12-14)


I would like to think that I would be prepared to lay down my life for another person, but I suppose I won’t really know how I will handle that unless and until the Lord allows such an opportunity. Even Peter boldly declared to Jesus “I will lay down my life for you” (John 13:37), and then later denied three times that he even knew Jesus (John 18:25-27). I can relate to Peter, knowing how I have failed to speak about my faith in Jesus at times when I probably should have.

We have seen many examples of sacrificing one’s own life for the lives of others: in the military, in law enforcement, in fire departments (the 9/11 attacks come to mind), and in civilian life. There was a news story not long ago about a “good Samaritan” who stopped to help a stranded motorist on a freeway near my work, but was struck and killed by another car in the process of trying to help. Tragic though these are, they are great reminders to us of Jesus’ “greater love” example.

Taking risks to protect another person, and sacrificing one’s life in the process, would be a most honorable way to die. What makes the love of God so extraordinary is that Jesus did not sacrifice His life because we were so righteous, but because we were helpless, rebellious sinners. The depth of love represented in Romans 5:6-8 is staggering:

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.”


What is even more interesting about this passage is its context in Romans Chapter 5: tribulation. The “for” at the beginning of verse 6 tells us that verses 6-8 are connected back to the prior thought in verses 3-5:

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.


By the way, the word “exult” in verse 3 is not about feeling good about going through tribulation. It is not saying that we should somehow be thinking “Yay! Another trial!” It is about acknowledging that tribulation is ultimately good for us. The word “exult” is translated from the same Greek word translated elsewhere as “boast.” An example would be I Corinthians 1:31: “so that, just as it is written, let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” This is set in contrast to boasting about our own wisdom or accomplishments. Likewise, exulting in our tribulations does not mean bragging about how great we are for going through them.

Jesus’ own life is a great example for us. When He said “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done,” (Luke 22:42) it was clear that He did not have good feelings about going to the cross. The most grievous part was that He would be separated from full communion with His Father, being made sin on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21). But He was ready to do the Father’s will anyway.

God says of Jesus in Hebrews 12:2 “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.” In other words, our exulting in tribulation is about having confidence like Jesus did that God’s purposes will be worked out through those trials. And our motivation for acknowledging the good in our tribulations is the extraordinary love that God has demonstrated toward us.

An example would be this: if someone had sacrificed their own life to save me, I would want to make sure that person’s family knew how highly I valued that sacrifice. Grumbling and complaining about everyday difficulties diminishes the honor and privilege of receiving the gift of God’s forgiveness. This is not to minimize how difficult trials can be. But the hope that distinguishes believers in Jesus from the rest of the world is that we can see God’s ultimate purpose in our trials, just as Jesus saw through the difficulties of the cross to the ultimate purpose of His dying there.

Few people have the opportunity to be a hero by doing what Lori and Riley did. But all of us have trials and tribulations, and seeing them through the lens of Scripture is transformational in our lives. Tribulations, as hard as they may be, are part of God’s loving plan for development of our character. Jesus put it like this in John 12:24 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” In other words, a seed can only fulfill its true purpose if it dies. To the world, this sounds like a paradox. But to us as believers, it is true life.

Bringing this back to our own lives, the “soil” is our home, our work, our school, our relationships, our problems, our challenges, and all our collective opportunities to love God and our neighbor. These opportunities are not as dramatic as dying for another person. They can be mundane, inconvenient, and difficult; and they won’t be acknowledged in the media. But dying to ourselves in everyday life is no less honorable than “taking a bullet” for a neighbor. May God help all of us to be an example of this principle in action.

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 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.

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Steve Smith