Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures

The Miracle and Meaning of DNA March 17 2017

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

The molecular structure of DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) was identified in 1953, a fairly recent discovery for what we now know to be the fundamental aspect of the human genetic code.

DNA is now routinely used in criminal investigations and prosecutions. Its use was highly publicized during the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995. It is now so commonplace, that it is just an incidental detail in crime and investigative TV shows. Most recently, DNA testing has been commercialized for the general public as a way to trace our ancestry, or to find out if we may have a propensity toward certain health problems in the future. All you have to do is mail these companies a saliva sample, and pay around $100.

The Miracle of DNA

This blog explores the implications of DNA testing for us in society, as believers.  But before we talk about the meaning of it all, let’s cover a little background.  DNA occurs as chromosomes in a cell, which make up its “genome.”  The human genome has approximately 3 billion base pairs of DNA arranged into 46 chromosomes (a double helix of 23 chromosomes each).  The information carried by DNA defines our genetic makeup – facial features, whether we will be tall or short, color of our eyes, hair, and skin, and all our other physical traits.  These are the features that allow us to recognize family members, friends, celebrities, political figures, and the clerk at the grocery store.  Even voices have inherited signatures, making it sometimes difficult to tell the difference between father, son, and brothers on the other end of a phone call. It is astonishing that, with over 7 billion people now living on earth, each one can still be recognized as a unique individual.  

As scientists discover more and more of how the human body works, some Christians might be tempted to wonder about how and even whether creation actually took place.  But these discoveries are actually tremendous confirmations of creation. Human life is so amazingly intricate and complex, and so well designed, that it is difficult to imagine how it could not have been created by an outside hand.  Science is giving us a window into how God put us together, and we are seeing some incredible things. DNA is part of God's human design. Knowing more about it should cause us to be more amazed at how He designed us in the first place.

The Meaning of DNA and Its Applications

In this blog and the next, we’ll be exploring some of the implications of DNA and how we should be thinking about it as believers, based on the Scriptures.  This includes biblical truths as they pertain to health, ancestry, and stewardship.  We’ll talk about health in this blog and finish the other two next time.  In each case we’ll see where our hope should be placed.

In terms of health, DNA testing can yield predictors of medical conditions. This could turn out to be very useful in cases where precautions can be taken to minimize the impact of the condition. But it could also be a temptation for someone to worry and fear for their future, or even try to control the situation. Genetic “foreknowledge” can even raise concerns where concerns are not warranted.  For example, one Australian newsletter on genetic ethics states:

“An individual is much more than the sum of their genes: the individual’s environment can modify the expression of genetic messages to the body and many health factors are not genetic. The discovery of a variation in a particular gene may provide some information about the nature of the condition that the person has, will develop, or for which they may be at increased risk, but can rarely predict the severity of the condition or the age at which symptoms will first onset.”

So as Christians, how should we be thinking of genetic testing and diagnosis as they become more commonplace?  First, we need to recognize that God is the sovereign creator. He does not make mistakes. Rather, He creates with a purpose in mind. Psalm 139 says that God has woven us skillfully, and He knows every part of us. What some people call defects or disadvantages are not a surprise to the Lord.

Knowledge of a potential genetic abnormality could also be a temptation for someone to worry and fear for their future. Yet we know that God is sovereign. There is nothing that is beyond His knowledge and control. Verse 16 of Psalm 139 says that He knows and has ordained all of our days.

When the Psalmist says in Chapter 119, verse 165 “Those who love Thy law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble,”  God didn’t add “except when you inherited a genetic flaw.” Life could be very challenging physically, but spiritually speaking, God’s peace and victory is available to all, regardless of genetic makeup. We have great hope because any of us, despite the physical circumstances, can love God’s law and strive to live by it.

Lastly, God can use our physical weaknesses for His glory and our growth. There are many examples in the Scriptures of how God used the sick and infirm. In John 9, people asked Jesus why a man would be born blind. He answered that it was so that God's work could be displayed. The purpose of that man's blindness was for others to know the power of God. You can also look up John 11:4 and Acts 3:16.

The apostle Paul spoke of an area of weakness – a “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12:7.  We don’t know exactly what his thorn in the flesh was. It could have been a health issue or any number of circumstances.  In spite of it, he was able to hear the Lord say “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul went on to state “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” 

The temptation in today’s world with all the diagnostics available is to let the diagnosis either control our life (especially our thought life) or give us excuses for not going God’s way.  Paul saw his situation as an opportunity to demonstrate the power of Christ. 

Should we use modern medicine for greater knowledge and treatment? Absolutely. If we are sick, we should do what we can to get better. Paul told Timothy to take some wine for his stomach. Luke himself was a doctor. Jesus never chastised anyone for asking or praying for healing.

The point is this. We can often try to alleviate any discomfort and assuage all pain, to the point of obsession. Yet these physical trials and limitations can be the very things God uses to reveal His character and work. We have an opportunity to display God's power in our weakness, and this is not something to be feared. Rather, we should see the potential for God's glory to be shown in our weakness.  This would not be demonstrated necessarily by healing of the body but by exhibiting the supernatural peace that only God can give.

Conversely, if we find in a DNA test an absence of certain genetic indicators, we can gain a false sense of security as to our health or longevity.  We forget the reminder in James 4:14 that “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”

Paul knew something about physical trials, yet he was able to write in Romans 8:37-38: “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

That’s a pretty comprehensive list.  The reminder for us is that we can live in spiritual victory even if we are physically weakened, nor should we allow a possible future condition to control us.  This is supernatural hope, even if a doctor finds what is perceived as a looming health challenge buried in our DNA.

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

Steve Smith


Pressure Situations: Lessons from the Oscars March 03 2017

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

It would be safe to say that Hollywood is not aligned with biblical principles. But occasionally some lessons can be drawn from incidents that occur in the acting profession. Such is the case with the 2017 Oscar Awards Ceremony, held Sunday, February 26. Although the Scriptures acknowledge the concept of giving prizes for competing (see I Corinthians 9:24) and giving honor (Romans 13:7), the entertainment industry has developed award-giving to another level entirely.

Enter the 2017 Oscars. At the grand finale – the highly anticipated award for “best picture” – the presenters were unknowingly handed the wrong envelope. After some hesitation, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced La La Land as the winner in the best picture category. The film director and his crew came on stage and started giving their acceptance speeches. In the background you could see people with headsets scurrying about, whispering to the excited group. A mistake had been made; Moonlight was the real winner. Uh oh. There was confusion all about the auditorium, and after sorting it out, the “new” winners came up on stage. The mistaken recipients and the real ones attempted to make the best of this high-pressure situation, played out live in front of tens of millions of viewers.

But the question for me is “what would I have done?”  How would I have handled it in a way that respected the participants?   Are there some biblical principles that come into play?  

If you have managed children’s programs, are a teacher, have been responsible for groups where recognition is made, or perhaps have been on the receiving end of omitted recognitions or errant announcements, you understand the kind of things that can happen.   The Oscar incident provides a good opportunity to consider how we, as Christians, should think about the whole area of awards, recognition, and honoring of others’ accomplishments.  God provides a far superior method of bestowing honor than secular award ceremonies, so here are a few principles to consider.

  1. Expressing appreciation is a good and honorable thing.  There are opportunities to do this on both an informal and formal basis.  Paul and other New Testament authors expressed appreciation to numerous individuals who had helped them in their ministries over the years.  See the last chapter of the Pauline epistles to the Romans, Corinthians (first letter), Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians for some great examples of his recognition and encouragement of others, by name.  So expressing appreciation or recognition and bestowing honor are very much a part of building up God’s flock, as well as encouraging those within our physical family.
  2. Remember Who we ultimately serve. Colossians 3:23 states:
    “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.”
    In other words, we should not be concerned about getting recognized or overlooked in our own work or in our serving.  We are not doing this for a human reward, and our peace and joy should not depend on being recognized.  If we are recognized, that’s great; if not, that’s great as well, and perhaps even better.  So as we honor individuals for their efforts and a job well done in a church program context, we can provide gracious reminders, including to ourselves, that we don’t do these things for earthly rewards or recognition.  But we notice and encourage one another in carrying out responsibilities as part of God’s family.  This is an important lesson for all ages, and it is a particularly good opportunity for teaching children this critical biblical principle.
  3. If things go wrong.  So what if we are in the position that Oscar participants were in?  An omission occurs; people get the wrong award; or a name gets horribly mis-pronounced, even as much as we have prepared.  The worst thing to do is try to cover it up.  Rather, this is an opportunity to demonstrate love through taking responsibility for our actions (or helping someone else do so).  Repentance should be as public as the offense.  If it happened in front of a large audience, correct it in front of the audience.  If it was an omission that occurred privately with an individual, correct it with that person.  If you have difficulty “thinking on your feet” in pressure situations, perhaps take some time in advance to think of gracious responses.  You want to prepare well, so that mishaps are less likely, but it is sometimes good to plan out what you might say in the event something goes wrong.  
  4. The value of building a character of faithfulness and love.  The occasional slip-up is much easier for others to accept if our love and servant spirit have been demonstrated over a long period of time.  People will usually recognize that the oversight was a rare event and that you really do care about them.  Perhaps this is what I Peter 4:8 means, where God says “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”  In other words, if you have a consistent pattern of loving, people will see that, even when you sin against them or inadvertently “pull out the wrong envelope,” figuratively speaking.     
Proverbs 15:23 says “A man has joy in an apt answer, And how delightful is a timely word!” May God give us apt answers and timely words as we seek to serve others.

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

Steve Smith


The Tragedy of Opioid Abuse, Part 3 February 17 2017

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

In Part 1 of this blog series on opioids, we were reminded from the Scriptures that we as believers in Christ are not to allow ourselves to be controlled by alcohol, and by extension, other substances (Ephesians 5:18).  We learned that we have tremendous hope, because God enables us to choose to get out from under a sin under whose control we have placed ourselves (Romans 6:12-13, 16).  In addition, God’s Word provides specific guidance for how to resist temptation and have victory over sin, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  An important part of this involves the “put-offs” and “put-ons” - putting off the old, sinful practices and instead deliberately putting on the new, righteous practices in their place (Ephesians 4:22-24).  Further, it may be a God-given opportunity for us to introduce an unbeliever to Christ, as they struggle with drug abuse and are desperate for help and hope.   

In Part 2 we mentioned in the discussion about “put-offs” and “put-ons” that the collateral damage of drug abuse is often human relationships that need to be repaired, forgiveness that needs to be given and requested, and godly communications that need to be restored.  The Christian faith is based on the forgiveness that we have received from the Father.  This forgiveness, undeserved as it is, should be a powerful motivation for us to forgive others.  In fact, the Scriptures state this very directly in Ephesians 4:32:

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other as God in Christ has also forgiven you.”  

God’s sacrifice of His own Son on the cross is the ultimate example we are to follow in our forgiveness of others.  Forgiving others is also the only human responsibility that Jesus stated in the Lord’s prayer: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” It is assumed in the prayer that we will be people who are ready to forgive.  Forgiveness may not be deserved, and it may not be easy, but understanding and practicing forgiveness is an essential part of restoring relationships.  

Rather than elaborate further on forgiveness in this blog, we will end by giving you a link to two teaching videos recently made available by BCF, the first on biblical forgiveness (when someone has sinned against you) and the second on reconciliation (what to do when you have sinned against someone else).  These videos were recorded during a live webcast in 2016 and will lead you through a biblical explanation of these topics, with a focus on application to life situations.  They contain more than four hours of teaching by Bob Schneider and Shashi Smith.  You will want to have your Bible and notebook handy, and you can view the two videos in shorter segments if you wish.

Biblical Forgiveness:
https://youtu.be/mbJ-A6_XeGM
Biblical Reconciliation:
https://youtu.be/1DZnlOPGEAI

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

God bless you as you learn and apply these principles.

Steve Smith


The Tragedy of Opioid Abuse, Part 2 February 03 2017

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

In Part 1 of this blog, we were reminded that we are not to allow ourselves to be controlled by alcohol, and by extension, other substances. We learned that we have tremendous hope: if we have placed ourselves under the control of a particular sin, God enables us to choose to get out from under it (Romans 6:12-13, 16).  Those who are under the control of a sin may need a lot of help and encouragement, but ultimately they have a personal, individual choice.  In addition, God’s Word provides specific guidance for how to resist temptation and have victory over sin, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  This can be very difficult at times, but at no time are we able to say that an outside influence, such as alcohol or drugs, forces us to sin.  

We covered two main points in Part 1: the hope we have and the need to “take heed.”  We cannot overcome temptation without the Lord’s help.  The third point is anchored in the principles we read in Ephesians 4:22-24:
“That in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”

In other words, don’t just think about getting off the drugs; put particular focus on the “put-ons.”  As Christians, there is no reason why we should be taking drugs for non-medical purposes, nor taking more than we absolutely need.  Putting off the old, sinful practices and putting on the new, righteous behaviors in their place is expressed in this passage as a fundamental biblical principle.  It is then illustrated by a series of specific “put-offs” and “put-ons” through the rest of Chapter 4 (e.g. put off stealing and put on working and sharing with others) as well as in Chapter 5, starting with Ephesians 5:18.
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.”

The remainder of Chapter 5 has additional “put-offs” and “put-ons” dealing with interpersonal relationships: husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees.  But in verse 18, it gets to the root of the issue with drugs: who or what are we controlled by?  We are to be filled with (i.e. controlled by) the Spirit, not by any substance, any person, or anything that we might be tempted to lust after or depend on in place of the Lord.  

If we occupy ourselves with the “put-ons” that God gives us – loving, serving, yielding ourselves to the Spirit's control, we won’t have time to think about falling back into old, sinful habits. In fact, Galatians 5:16 says that if we get busy with living by the Spirit, we will not fulfill the desires of our flesh. This is explained further in 2 Timothy 2:22:
“Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”  

This verse is as relevant today as it was when written by Paul almost 2000 years ago.  “Flee youthful lusts” (the put-off) expresses the urgency with which we need to respond to temptation.  Instead, we are told to “pursue” (also an expression of urgency) righteousness, etc., which is part of the “put-on.”  The other part of the put-on is just as important – who we are to associate with.  We are to associate with “those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”  In other words, we should spend our time around those who are seeking to grow in their faith and who evidence the fruit of the Spirit, not with those who continue to fall in the same way we are tempted.  

But this does not simply fall into place on its own.  Just as people often plan for how to keep a drug habit going, it is that much more important to make a plan for living righteously instead. Prayerfully write down opportunities you have to practice the put-offs and put-ons.  This means involving Christian friends and family in developing the plan and carrying it out, per 2 Timothy 2:22.  

At first, these steps may seem to be dramatic, and indeed they are.  With drug abuse, your life is on the line spiritually, as well as physically. Radical surgery is needed, not a bandaid.  Jesus said, “if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you ...” (Matthew 5:30). This was a metaphor for taking serious steps in the battle against sin, and that is what is needed here.  Each person’s plan will be a little different, but here are some ideas:

  • Consult a medical professional for how to reduce and remove addictive substances, and take a Christian family member or friend with you when you go. This does not mean it will be easy, but you are not “doomed” to stay under the control of the substance or practice.
  • Make specific plans for how you will “flee temptation” in the future, such as:
    • Never going back to the places where you obtained the drugs.
    • If you must go to or near the area, take someone with you and explain why you are taking them along.
  • Make specific plans for how you will “pursue righteousness” with fellow believers
    • Memorize and meditate on Scripture passages that are relevant to your problem area, and there are many Scriptures to draw from.  We already talked about several passages.  Psalm 1 is a great place to start and is even a reminder of the importance of meditation (“But his delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law he meditates day and night.  He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water … “).  Tell others what you are memorizing, and have them listen to you.  The Holy Spirit can bring these verses to your mind during times of intense craving or temptation. Lesson 3 of the Self-Confrontation manual has several plans for memorizing scripture.
    • Keep yourself busy with “fruit of the Spirit” activities.  The first characteristic in that list is “love,” and there are thousands of ways you can demonstrate love to both believers and unbelievers alike.  True biblical love is the sacrificial type of love that comes out of  gratitude for what Christ has done.  It is not dependent on receiving something in return.  It does not expect or depend on appreciation from others.  Jesus didn’t receive much appreciation when He suffered in our place.  Yet He could have joy because He was not doing it for earthly recognition but to please His Father.  
    • Have others take control of any medications you may have, and dispense them to you according to the doctors’ prescriptions.  
    • Be the best employee, student, spouse, parent, housework-doer, and church helper you can be.  Fill up your time with demonstrating love as you carry out these responsibilities, leaving no time for what I Peter 1:14 refers to as being “conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance.”

Don’t wait for a family intervention.  You can place yourself under God’s control to intervene in your life starting this very moment.  He is not going to make you want to change, but He is always there waiting, longing to have a new or renewed relationship with you.  He does, however, expect you to acknowledge your need for His change, and to cooperate with Him.  Like the father of the Prodigal Son, He is eagerly anticipating your return, ready to greet you with open arms.

BCF has a helpful tool called the Victory Over Failures Plan, which is simply an organized format to apply the biblical principles we have covered here, including identifying put-offs, put-ons, and a plan of biblical practice.  You can find it on the BCF website.  Often in cases of drug abuse, human relationships need to be repaired, forgiveness needs to be given and requested, and godly communications need to be restored.  We’ll get into this in Part 3.

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

Steve Smith


The Tragedy of Opioid Abuse, Part 1 January 20 2017

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

The U.S. has a drug problem, and has had one for a long time.  But the situation has worsened in recent years with the report of over 52,000 fatalities by drug overdose in 2015, as reported by the Center for Disease Control.  This is a 10 percent spike from the previous year and is more than traffic fatalities (37,000 annually) and suicides (43,000 annually).

About 63 percent of the overdoses involved a prescription or illicit opioid.  Opioids include drugs derived from opium, including morphine, as well as semi-synthetic and synthetic drugs such as hydrocodone, oxycodone (e.g. Oxycontin), and fentanyl.  The CDC reports that more than 300,000 Americans have lost their lives to an opioid overdose since 2000.

This is staggering and heartbreaking, and is receiving increasing attention in the media, in politics, and the medical community.  The agency in the Los Angeles area for which I work has had several presentations about the surge in opioid abuse.  Most families in our area have been impacted in some way by a relative or friend going down the devastating spiral of drug abuse.

Prescription opioids are increasingly a path to prolonged substance abuse, as they are physically addictive.  They are commonly prescribed for dealing with pain after surgeries, during cancer treatments, and for other ailments.  What starts as a way to deal with pain can easily lead to tragedy, if someone lets that happen.  We know of those who have been through the medically supervised detoxification process as well as those who have chosen to get off drugs “cold turkey.”  But these things deal only with the symptoms of a much deeper problem, the solution to which can be found only in the Scriptures.

It was said of Jesus in Matthew 9:36 that:
“Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.”

This seems to characterize the times in which we live as well.  So many people are either without hope or they turn to the so-called hope or temporary fix that drugs, alcohol, money, or _______ (fill in the blank) provide.  While drug “recovery programs” abound, this has not stemmed the tide of drug use.  Things have only become worse.

But what is to be the response of the church to these difficult situations and individual tragedies?  What do the Scriptures tell us?  It turns out that the Scriptures provide very practical hope, but in a way that is different from what the world typically says or expects.  It is difficult to summarize it all in a single blog, but here is a start, to be continued in two weeks.  

First, one of the great sources of hope is to recognize that when we put ourselves under the control of another substance, it is making a choice to sin.  Ephesians 5:18 states:
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.”

We are commanded not to allow ourselves to be controlled by alcohol, and by extension, other substances.  In the Bible, failure to obey a command is very directly called “sin” - no dancing around it, no political correctness, just simply sin.  Many people might question how this biblical truth could instill hope, and it may even seem paradoxical.  Won’t this make them feel bad?  How can it be hope to label a drug-abuser’s activities as sin?  On the contrary this is powerful hope and an incredibly powerful and fundamental truth from God’s word.  It is tremendous hope, because we then understand that God enables us to also choose to get out from under a sin that has us in bondage.  

The world has subtle ways of persuading us that we should view ourselves to be victims of drugs and other life-dominating practices of sin.  We want to somehow believe that “it’s not our fault.”  But seeing ourselves as victims leaves us without hope and dependent on some other human or some circumstance to rescue us.  It is when we realize that God gives us a choice, and the power of the Holy Spirit to go with it, that we can realize true hope.  

People make their own choices even when it comes to addictive drugs.  For example, a person would never go into a large crowd and make a spectacle of himself shooting up drugs.  He chooses when and where to do this and even who is around to observe him. This tells us that choosing where we go, when we go there, who we associate with, what we keep in our house, etc. are matters of choice.  And these choices will make a big difference in whether we fall again into the same sin.  

With this freedom to make choices, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, comes the hope that we can escape bondage to any particular sin.  And it is true compassion when we remind others that they can make moment-by-moment choices that will lead to freedom from this bondage.  They may need a lot of help and encouragement, but ultimately they must make a personal, individual choice.  

For unbelievers, the first and most important choice is to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, as only then will they have the power to escape their slavery to sin.  This liberation is described in Romans 6:17-18:
But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

This is true liberty, when we are no longer in bondage to sin but have a new power to choose righteousness.  This is why, back in Matthew 9:37 (right after the statement about Jesus’ compassion for the multitude) Jesus addresses those who have already been freed to be involved in the harvest:
“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Therefore, beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Sometimes the Lord uses the depths of despair to help people recognize their sin and need for help. If someone is at the bottom the downward spiral, and their world is falling apart, this may be the time they are most open to the gospel, ready to reach for God’s hand, and most open to change.  It is at this time that we, the compassionate workers in the harvest, can come along side and help them find the only permanent way out.  

Second, we should recognize that any of us, even as believers, are vulnerable to temptation and sin. 1 Corinthians 10:12 says
“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.”  

This is a warning for us not to think that we can withstand the forces of this world or even the “innocent lure” of pain medications, absent the grace and help of God.  We need to recognize that temptations are out there, and we need to take biblical precautions.  This warning occurs right before one of the most encouraging and hopeful verses in the Bible, verse 13:  
“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.”

The point is that God provides hope and a way through temptation, but there are choices we need to make and steps that we need to take.  We will talk about those steps, and the biblical principles behind them, in the next blog.  

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


Great Baking Disasters January 06 2017

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

Loving greetings from BCF in 2017!! For many of us in the U.S., the celebration of Jesus’ birth and the other holidays from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day brings with it the nostalgic aromas and tastes of various baked goods. One of our family traditions during this season is to bake pumpkin bread - lots and lots of pumpkin bread - to share with family and friends. Shashi’s recipe is particularly good, and it fills the house with the seasonal aromas of cinnamon and nutmeg. It tantalizes the taste buds with moist sweet morsels filled with juicy raisins and walnuts. I think I’ll go cut another slice right now.

We have baked literally hundreds of loaves of pumpkin bread over the years, and have almost memorized the ingredients and measurements. Despite all our practice, the recipe is always by our side, with instructions carried out in sequence and double-checked. I know the importance of this first hand, having ruined a few recipes in the past.

For example, there was the time we mistook citric acid for sugar (it looked the same in the storage container). The first bite of that one was quite the surprise! In one of my first attempts at chocolate chip cookies, it seemed that the dough was still undercooked, so I kept them in the oven longer … and longer … and longer than what the instructions called for (I wasn't aware at the time that you don’t test whether cookies are fully baked the same way you test breads). The folly of this did not become apparent until the cookies cooled. The description “hockey pucks” comes to mind. I had failed to trust the very clear instructions.  There were other times that things “just didn’t taste right.” Something was clearly missing, but what went wrong remains a mystery. Most families have their own “great baking disaster” stories.

Baking is always a great reminder of the importance of following instructions. The Lord even provided detailed baking and cooking instructions to the Israelites for such things as the grain offering (see Leviticus Chapter 2). But as we go into 2017, this is a reminder to me of the unfailing truths of God’s Word. Sometimes we want to take shortcuts. Some instructions are inconvenient for us. Some instructions we want to simply ignore. But to do so is to ignore the very source of hope in our lives.

“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.” (Romans 15:4)

If you want a great study about what the Word of God is and what it does in our lives, go to Lesson 3 of Self-Confrontation, pages 50-52. In the new year, these passages can remind us of the truth, power, admonition, encouragement, and hope that the Scriptures provide. For example, just in the Psalms we are reminded:

“Make me know Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; For You I wait all the day.” (Psalm 25:4-5)

“The sum of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.” (Psalm 119:160)

“Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, For they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation.” (Psalm 119:98-99)

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” (Psalm 119:9)

“Those who love Your law have great peace, And nothing causes them to stumble.” (Psalm 119:165)

“Sustain me according to your word, that I may live; And do not let me be ashamed of my hope.” (Psalm 119:116)

“This is my comfort in my affliction, That Your word has revived me.” (Psalm 119:50)

“Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11)

And there is so much more. Nations, leaders, and economies will come and go, “But the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Even more than this, even in the midst of what we might call disasters, the Lord actively works to cause good in our lives, to develop Christlikeness in us (Romans 8:28-29).

May the year 2017 be one in which we have a renewed commitment to read, study, meditate on, memorize, talk about, and apply God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit!

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

With hope for 2017,

Steve Smith


Lessons in Trust from Probate Court December 09 2016

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

I have had the privilege of being the executor of Shashi’s mother’s estate.  It’s actually not a very large estate, but she was still the owner of a house in California before she went to heaven, and this is what has required us to go through probate court.  I say “privilege,” because I have learned a lot about “trust” in the process of going through probate.  

When I first embarked on this little adventure, I was thinking that “this can’t really be that hard.”  So I read up on the process, got all the paperwork together, went to a little seminar, and filed the initial papers to get the court to authorize me to sell the house.  It was actually a lot to do, a good portion of which (in my view) was unnecessary.  And the forms had this underlying tone of “we’re not sure we trust you.”

A few weeks later, I had my hearing before the judge, and was able to observe about 20 other cases prior to mine. It was then that I began to understand why the process was so involved.  Not all executors can be trusted.  There were several sad stories about executors not carrying out their responsibilities, running off with some of the funds, attorneys not getting paid, and so on.  How people deal with money  tends to reveal how untrustworthy and sinful humans can be.

It turned out that I was summarily chastised by the judge, who pointed out two specific things I had failed to do, and in his concluding remarks he said, “if I were you, I would get a lawyer.”  So that’s what I did, and I continued to see things that I would have learned only by trial and error.  The judge may have been patient with me, and I would have eventually gotten through it, but he clearly did not want to be part of my learning experience.

This venture has reminded me how much we rely on trust, from person-to-person, person-to-institution (e.g. banks), and institution-to-institution.  A functional society is built largely on trust and there are basically two ways to do it:  1) for everyone to be completely, unfailingly trustworthy, and 2) for protections to be in place so that “trust” can be enforced.  I say “trust” in quotes, because the second method is not really trust, but is instead a way of enforcing compliance by making the consequences of nefarious behavior so unpleasant that everyone (or almost everyone) will comply.  The first method is most desirable, but not realistic considering human nature.

And sometimes there is no one to blame but ourselves.  I met a retired doctor once who had married a much younger woman, whom he thought he loved and could trust.  It turned out that she was just very good at manipulation, managed to set up joint accounts, and ran off with his life savings.  Not only can people be untrustworthy, but they can also pretend like they are the most trustworthy person on earth.  In these cases, “trust but verify” (per Ronald Reagan) is probably appropriate.  But the relationships most cherished are those where trust has been demonstrated over many years and where we can trust the other person’s word 100 percent.

Such is the relationship we can have with the Lord.  The Scriptures say a lot about trust and faithfulness.  The Psalms speak repeatedly of who to trust in (i.e. the Lord – Psalm 25:2, 31:14, 55:23, 91:2, among many other references); when I should trust Him (i.e – Psalm 56:3 (when I am afraid), 62:8 (at all times)); and what not to trust in (i.e. Psalm 62:10 (oppression/power), 44:6 (bows/weapons), 49:6 (wealth), 118:8 (man), 118:9 (princes/leaders).  In other words, earthly things and earthly systems are bound to disappoint us, so we dare not put our hope there.

And as Paul wrote in I Corinthians 4:2, “In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.”  We could use the modern term “executors” in the place of “stewards.”  It is one of those infrequent, but sobering responsibilities where trust is so important, and is a foundation of harmony within the family when an estate is involved.  

We could also substitute any number of relationships for the word “stewards” – husbands, wives, parents, children, employees, bosses, and so on.  If everyone was completely trustworthy, honest, and faithful, we would not need many of the institutions that have become necessary for protection in today’s world.  What a breath of fresh air that would be – no stolen goods, no need for locks and keys, no surveillance cameras, no computer firewalls or security. But this comes only with transformed lives, and even then, we are still imperfect; we can be tempted and choose to sin.  

Even Paul recognized his own frailty and propensity to sin: “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good” (Romans 7:21).  “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! So then, on one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:24-25).  This well describes the struggle we have with trust and trustworthiness.  We thank the Lord for His trustworthiness and pray, by God’s grace, that we might be a shining example of trustworthiness in all our relationships.

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

Gratefully, Steve Smith


An Unlikely Thanksgiving Parable November 23 2016

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

I was recently alerted to some research that had been conducted to test whether people are more concerned about their positional well-being versus their absolute well-being.  In other words, does the perception of their well-being depend on how they compare to what someone else has, versus how much they have in absolute terms?

Respondents were asked to state whether they preferred Condition A or Condition B, and they could choose both if they viewed one to be no better than the other.  An example would be choosing between the following:

A: Your current yearly income is $50,000, while others earn $25,000.
Versus:
B: Your current yearly income is $100,000, while others earn $200,000.  

Whereas we might think that most people would choose to make $100,000 even though others earn twice that much, half of the respondents indicated that they would prefer condition A, where they make less money but twice as much as everyone else.  In other words, a policy that increased their absolute income but lowered their income relative to others would not make them think they were better off.  The implication: people tend to rely substantially on comparisons with others for their peace and joy.  

The researchers would have saved a lot of time and effort if they had just consulted Matthew 20:1-15.  This is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, where the first group was hired at the beginning of the day to work for a denarius (a day’s wage in that day).  A second group was hired at 9 a.m., a third group at noon, another group at 3 p.m., and a final group at 5 p.m.  The owner said to each of these subsequent groups, “whatever is right I will give to you.”  The owner did not promise an amount.  

Then at the end of the day the owner started paying his laborers, beginning with those who were hired last.  To each of the laborers in this group he gave a denarius, the full day’s wage.  At this point, all the other laborers must have been thinking “if they are getting a denarius for about an hour of work, imagine what we are going to get!” They could do the math.  

But it turned out that the owner paid everyone the same – a denarius, including the ones hired at the beginning of the day, whom the owner had originally promised a denarius.  He was true to his word.  So what was the laborers’ response?  Predictably, they thought “that’s not fair!”  We chuckle at this because we realize it would be our own natural response.  We did not have to be taught how to be envious.  In fact, the landowner sums it all up with the question to the laborers: “is your eye envious because I am generous?”  

The context of the parable is that those who have set aside earthly treasures to follow Jesus (i.e. “for My name’s sake” in Matthew 19:29) “will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.”  Although we don’t normally think of this as a theme passage for Thanksgiving, there is a good reminder here, which is this:  comparing with others breeds discontentment, while realizing that what we have is an undeserved gift brings gratitude.  

If we are to do any comparing as believers in Christ, it is comparing what we have versus what we truly deserve.  The laborers, except for the one paid first, thought “we deserve more.”  We are more like the laborer paid first, but in the sense of forgiveness – receiving the generous payment (forgiveness) that we do not deserve

If you go back and read the April 29, 2016 blog “It’s Not Fair!” you will see how our expectations about fairness are backwards.  In reality, we should hope not for fairness, but for mercy.  And as believers, it is a generous dose of mercy that we have received, out of which should flow from us praise and thanksgiving.  The world can’t grasp this, because its emphasis is on the physical.  We, by God’s grace, have been granted an understanding of the magnitude of God’s forgiveness (though we can never fully grasp it).  And we are to thank Him for what we have physically as well, as little or much as it may be.  So let us do both as we go through the Thanksgiving holidays.

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

Gratefully, Steve Smith


Veterans Day Proclamations November 10 2016

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

The blog from November 6, 2015 highlighted the origination of Veterans Day in the United States.  See “A Symbol Of Selflessness.” It reminded us that selflessness is one of the hallmarks of those who serve in our military.  

In fact, there is a reason they call it military “service.”  The five branches of the U.S. military are all characterized by putting others first.  Some of the mottos for the five branches include:

  •  US Navy – “Not for self, but country”
  •  US Marine Corp – “Semper Fidelis” (Always Faithful)
  •  US Army – “This We’ll Defend”
  •  US Coast Guard – “Semper Paratus” (Always Ready)
  •  US Air Force – Several unofficial mottos, such as “Service Before Self” and “Fly, Fight, Win.”  

Each year since 1954, the U.S. President has issued a Veterans Day proclamation.  Although these find their way into obscurity rather quickly, they represent each President’s attempt to recognize those who serve us in this way.  Here are excerpts from a few of them, provided without comment, except to note the quote of Scripture in the proclamation by George H.W. Bush from John 15:13 – “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”  Jesus was, of course, referring to the life He was about to give for us.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1954 (the first presidential proclamation, issued by this highly-decorated five-star general in World War II)
Whereas  it has long been our custom to commemorate November 11, the anniversary of the ending of World War I, by paying tribute to the heroes of that tragic struggle and by rededicating ourselves to the cause of peace; and
Whereas  in the intervening years the United States has been involved in two other great military conflicts, which have added millions of veterans living and dead to the honor rolls of this Nation;
Now, Therefore, I, Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States of America, do hereby call upon all of our citizens to observe Thursday, November 11, 1954, as Veterans Day. 

John F. Kennedy, 1963 (President Kennedy was assassinated just 11 days after Veterans Day)
Whereas  this day has an important dual significance in that it gives each one of us an opportunity both to honor the dedicated men and women of all races and religious beliefs who have honorably served in our armed forces in time of war, and to reemphasize our determination to achieve world peace with patience, perseverance, and courage;

Richard Nixon 1972 (in the middle of the Vietnam War, in which 58,220 of our men and women died)
No group has sacrificed more for the cause of peace and freedom than the men and women who have proudly worn the American uniform. In serving God and country, they have sought not glory for themselves, but peace and freedom for us all. As a Nation, we owe them an enduring debt.

Gerald Ford, 1976 (providing a reminder of practical ways we can encourage our veterans and their families)
Veterans Day, 1976, can be made especially meaningful for our veterans who are patients in Veterans Administration hospitals by a visit from their relatives, friends and other Americans. Such a visit, however brief, will tell them as no words can that they have not been forgotten.

Ronald Reagan, 1987 (the bicentennial year of the signing of the U.S. Constitution)
Our observance of Veterans Day this year, the Bicentennial of the Constitution, reminds us in a special way of the service men and women who have made  liberty's  cause their own. Our fundamental charter lives on because through the years countless brave Americans have gladly willed to ``provide for the common  defence.'' No one is more responsible for securing ``the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity'' than our veterans.
 
George H. W. Bush, 1990 (the Persian Gulf War was started by Iraq in August of that year and was concluded on February 28, 1991)
The Bible tells us that no greater love has a man than this: to lay down his life for a friend. Our Nation's military veterans are brave and selfless individuals who, when duty called, were willing to put themselves in harm's way to defend the lives and liberty of others. 

George H.W. Bush, 1991 (It is noteworthy that, following the attack on Pearl Harbor  in 1941, he postponed college, enlisted in the U.S. Navy  on his 18th birthday, and became the youngest aviator in the Navy at the time.)
Memory is the first measure of gratitude -- those who are truly grateful do not forget the service that has been rendered for their sake. 

William J. Clinton, 1994
It is an extraordinary person who is willing to step in harm's way to protect others. Our Nation has always been blessed with an abundance of such men and women. We owe our veterans an inestimable debt of gratitude. On this day, we recognize how much they have done, and are doing, to make a better, safer tomorrow for all of us.

George W. Bush 2007 (in the middle of the Iraq War)  
Veterans Day is dedicated to the extraordinary Americans who protected our freedom in years past, and to those who protect it today. They represent the very best of our Nation. Every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, and Coast Guardsman has earned the lasting gratitude of the American people, and their service and sacrifice will be remembered forever. In the words of Abraham Lincoln: " . . . let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the Nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle . . . ."

Barack Obama 2015
Our veterans left everything they knew and loved and served with exemplary dedication and courage so we could all know a safer America and a more just world.   They have been tested in ways the rest of us may never fully understand, and it is our duty to fulfill our sacred obligation to our veterans and their families.   On Veterans Day, and every day, let us show them the extraordinary gratitude they so rightly deserve, and let us recommit to pledging our full support for them in all they do. 

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

Gratefully, Steve Smith


Getting Old Is Not for Sissies October 28 2016

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

I was at the drug store last weekend waiting in line for a prescription and a lady, advanced in years and a bit unsteady, came down the aisle with her walker looking quite anxious. She had just taken her husband home from the hospital and needed to get his prescription filled for antibiotics.  Those of us in the line gave her instantaneous priority.  

Multiply that by the millions, and you begin to understand the daily challenges of aging.  And most of us have been involved with this first hand, with aging grandparents, parents, and yes, even ourselves.  

My dad is turning 95 in just a few weeks.  Having just broken his hip three weeks ago, we can see the struggles even more than before.  In a recent phone call we joked about the quote attributed to Bette Davis that is the title of this blog:  “getting old is not for sissies.”  Very true.  Thankfully, he lives in a facility that can handle the different needs of seniors, from independent living to full nursing care.  We have been to dinner with him at this facility numbers of times, and it is here that I first heard about the table conversation referred to as “the organ recital.”  A sense of humor is very helpful to enduring the maladies of life.  

The Bible does not go into a lot of detail about the specific tribulations of old age.  There are references to losing one’s eyesight (Eli’s eyesight had begun to grow dim – I Samuel 3:2).  Abraham, Isaac, and others were said to have died as old men “ripe of age.”  There is mention of the need for a staff in old age (Zechariah 8:4).

But the Scriptures certainly remind us that our years on earth are finite.  “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.  You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and vanishes away” (James 4:14).  Some of the aging and end-of-life situations can be extremely difficult.  You can go back and read the April 1, 2016 blog “A Tribute to Care-Givers” for some biblical perspectives on aging and care-giving. Just click on A Tribute To Care-Givers .

But there is great encouragement in the Word of God for us as we age, such as:

  1. Recognize that we won’t live on earth forever.  As in Psalm 90:12: “So teach us to number our days, That we may present to you a heart of wisdom.”  Recognizing our earthly mortality reminds us that every day should be seen as a gift.  
  2. Be content with weaknesses.  Nowhere do thorns in the flesh abound more than in old age. Paul spoke of his own thorns (though not from old age) in 2 Corinthians 12:9 - “And He [He] has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’”  We can learn from this that exhibiting grace and contentment when suffering is a powerful example to others.  It is powerful because most people realize that having this response is not easy when one’s bodily functions are failing.  
  3. Minister to others as you are able – Biblical principles do not get suspended when we get old.  Even though we are not as physically able as we once were, we can still practice many of the “one anothers” – loving, serving, praying for, etc.  As long as the Lord allows our mind to function, there are ways to do these things.  
  4. For the believer, death is not to be feared.  It is a promotion. – “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).  This is the greatest and most comforting promise of all.

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