Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Steve Smith


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Steve Smith


Lessons from Las Vegas July 28 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Smith


Remembering Our Freedoms July 04 2018

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

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

Equipping the Soldiers

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

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



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

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

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

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

Equipping the Saints

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Smith


Aliens, Immigration, and the Scriptures June 23 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Smith


A Tragic Week for Suicides June 09 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Smith


School Shootings and the Christian Faith May 26 2018

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

Our hearts break every time we hear about another school shooting.  And although the odds of being killed by someone with a gun in school are extremely small (about one in 2.5 million in any given year), there is something particularly difficult about seeing young people lose their lives or be injured by a bullet in a place that should be a safe haven.   The deadliest school shooting in U.S. history took place in 2007 in the very building where I took engineering classes at Virginia Tech.  The shooting was 35 years after I graduated, but it was shocking that it could occur in a place where I spent so many hours, even though removed in time.  And it is even more shocking for those who have to live through such an incident in a school that their own child attends. 

A Wikipedia site tracks school shooting statistics back to the 1840s. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_school_shootings_in_the_United_States#1840s

See a summary below, listed by decade.  The current year has been a particularly tragic one, with the Parkland, FL and Santa Fe, Texas high schools fresh in our minds.

Decade
Beginning
 Number Decade
Beginning
 Number
1840 1 1930 10
1850 4 1940 11
1860 5 1950 14
1870 3 1960 44
1880 2 1970 37
1890 13 1980 51
1900 12 1990 93
1910 12 2000 112
1920 5 2010 175

 

So how did we get to this point? It is quite telling to read through each of the accounts in the Wikipedia site and see what is said about motivations for the killings. Each shooting event is described, and it is interesting to read about the individual incidents back through the decades.  Some of the common words found in these descriptions include: “argument,” “dispute,” “disgruntled” “relationship problem,” “upset,” “revenge,” and “in response to discipline.”  The shootings are almost always linked to some sort of injustice perceived by the perpetrator.  It is sad when this takes place, and even more sad when uninvolved students and teachers get caught in the line of fire.

The temptations for doing evil are not much different today than they were in the 1800s.  In fact, the inclination to sin today is not very different from what was involved in the very first murder on earth, when Cain responded angrily to a perceived injustice and killed his brother Abel.  Perhaps what is different today, and possibly explains part of the spike in school shootings in the last 10 years, is the prevalence of social media, and extensive exposure to violent video games.   It is not unusual that mass killers have researched prior killers and learned from their tactics.  Pure, calculated evil does not begin to describe how indifferent people can become to the value of human life. Although there are still debates in academia about the link between violent video games and physical violence or aggression, one thing is for sure – this is not the way to teach the younger generation about how to love their neighbor. 

Each one of these events makes the case for why the world, and our local communities, need a vibrant Christian witness.  So think about it.  What societal problem does the Word of God not have an answer for? 

  • How many shootings would there be if everyone lived by Jesus’ Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31)?
  • How much revenge would be taken if people took the “Love Chapter” of the Bible seriously, like “love does not take into account a wrong suffered” (1 Corinthians 13:5)?
  • How many arguments would occur if everyone lived by Philippians 2:3? - “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” 
  • How much coveting, greed, and theft would occur if, like Paul, we all could say “…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 …” (Philippians 4:11-12)?
  • How much discrimination would occur if everyone lived by the principle 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.
  • How much better work places would there be if everyone lived by Ephesians 6:5-9? – “Slaves (or employees, in today’s terms), be obedient to those who are your masters (employers) according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ … 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. And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him”?

The solutions to every societal problem are in the Scriptures, and we are commended to live them out in our homes, churches, and communities.  The list of relevant Scriptures goes on and on. But as we know, lasting change comes not through outward reformation, which is merely trying to follow a set of rules, but by inner transformation of the heart, through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

To be sure, an orderly society and government can be cultivated when people follow biblical principles in a secular sense, and even our secular court system has a Judeo-Christian foundation. But a life transformed by Jesus should result in a daily response of gratitude for what God has already done for us, starting with our salvation.  Even as believers, we are well aware of how we fall short of following these principles and how strong the pull of the flesh can be. But in the end, lives transformed from the inside represent the ultimate solution to school shootings.  Actions taken by government and individuals can deter evil to an extent, but absent transformed lives, the root of the problem is still there.

Having said all this, one of the jobs of government is to help protect its citizens from evil (Romans 13:4), and leaders will need to figure out how to do that for students, within the resources available to them. This is not a political blog, so don’t expect any opinions on this to come out of BCF.  Suffice it to say, brothers and sisters, Jesus is still the answer! After thousands of years of trying, secular systems are still struggling to find solutions to the sinful propensities of man, but ironically, they have managed to marginalize the very principles of the Christian faith that could help them succeed.  That is why we dare not shrink back from highlighting the relevance of our faith to contemporary life, not as a political force, but as those who humbly but visibly minister and have an impact in our families, neighborhoods, businesses, rescue missions, prisons, workplaces, and yes, in our schools.

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 “Undo” Command May 11 2018

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

My favorite command on the computer is “Undo.” Most commercial software has this function, and it is a quick way to cancel out mistakes in writing, numerical formulas, graphics, or any number of other programs. It started as a “Control-Z” command in the early days of the personal computer, but soon earned its own icon in the menus of most programs.

“Undo” even has its own Wikipedia entry, and it has spawned an entire vocabulary of “un” words in music, advertising, and social media, such as:

  • "Un-break My Heart” (a 1990s rhythm & blues song by Toni Braxton)
  • “Un-like” (remove a previous “like” designation now common in social media)
  • “Un-friend” (a Facebook term for taking someone off a “friends” list)

Most of us have times when we would like to have had an “undo” command for life. It would have been convenient to just hit “undo” to take back words we wish we had never spoken or actions we wish we had never taken. But there is no way to “un-say” words. There is no way to “un-slam” a door. There is no way to “un-yell” insults. There is no way to “un-lie” after you have told a falsehood. There is no way to “un-cheat” once you have broken the rules. In other words, there is no way for you to “un-sin.” This is the difference between the “undo” command and real life. And even if no earthly person saw or heard it, God did.

David experienced this in his sin with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. Initially, David seemed to not be so concerned about his sin as much as he was concerned about getting caught. He tried to cover it up, and one thing led to another until he murdered Uriah by sending him to the front lines of battle, ordering that the other soldiers withdraw, leaving Uriah completely exposed (2 Samuel 11).

David could not undo what he had done; all he could do was to humble himself, and be a recipient of God’s mercy and forgiveness, as described in David’s prayer of confession in Psalm 51. The preface to the chapter in the biblical text explains that these words were written “when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” Verse 17 summarizes David’s repentant state: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” He had no righteousness of his own that he could offer the Lord. He was finally humbled to the point where there was nothing he could say, nothing he could do that would “undo” his sin. And we all get to read about it in the Bible several thousand years later.

Just like with David, our sin also has consequences in both our relationship with God and our relationships on earth. Sometimes our words or actions can be so egregious, that the other person may never want to talk to us again. Once the words or actions are out, there is no taking them back. That’s the bad news.

But there is also some good news. While there is no way to “un-sin,” there is an amazing way that God provided for relationships to be restored, both with Him and with others. That, of course, has to do with forgiveness. Forgiveness was central to Israel in the Old Testament and to Jesus’ message in the New Testament. The linkage between the two was dramatically expressed by John the Baptist when he said of Jesus “Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), linking the old, temporary sacrifices for sin with the new, permanent sacrifice through Christ.

Although we cannot “undo” our sin, it can be paid for, and it was paid for at the cross. We personally benefitted from that when we put our faith and trust in God’s forgiveness. When He was on the cross, Jesus proclaimed “it is finished” (John 19:30). The Greek word is tetelestai, which was an accounting term in New Testament times, typically written on business documents or receipts indicating that a bill had been paid in full. Those witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion may not have understood the significance of what Jesus was saying (in Aramaic) at the time, but it is a word that perfectly describes what Jesus accomplished. What comes through in several Scripture passages is the urgency with which we should respond, for example: 

Proverbs 6:2-5 – “If you have been snared by the words of your mouth, have been caught with the words of your mouth, do this then, my son, and deliver yourself, since you have come into the hand of your neighbor, go, humble yourself, and importune your neighbor. Give no sleep to your eyes, nor slumber to your eyelids; deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hunter’s hand and like a bird from the hand of the fowler.”

Matthew 5:23, 24 – “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”

For us as believers, we make this an urgent matter because the forgiveness we have received through Christ compels us to do so. We did not earn it, we did not deserve it, we did not merit it in any way. Even if we believe we have not sinned against another person, the fact that the other person may have something against us makes it urgent to find out what is affecting the relationship.

This raises all sorts of questions about forgiveness, such as:

  • What if you think the other person has sinned against you to an even greater degree?
  • What if the other person breaks off the relationship with you?
  • What if the other person simply will not accept your request for forgiveness?

We’ll deal with these in the next blog. Likewise, we’ll talk about ways to help you not say the words you wish you had never said, or do the actions you wish you had never done. The thought life is an important part of this. 

In the meantime, you might want to watch BCF’s two videos on Forgiveness and Reconciliation, recorded in 2017 and always available for viewing at:

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

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

But we’ll also cover some of the highlights in the next blog. There are certain metaphors people tend to use or strategies they employ to describe how not to let the words or actions come out, like: “bite your lip;” or “count to ten” or “take a deep breath.” But God’s Word goes much deeper than these superficial strategies. You will see some of that in the videos and we’ll cover some key points 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 materials and courses, you can access our home page at www.bcfministries.org.

Steve Smith


Lessons from “Schoolhouse Rock” April 27 2018

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

Many middle-aged adults would remember (fondly or not) the songs of “Schoolhouse Rock.” It was reported that the creator of Schoolhouse Rock, Bob Dorough, died this week at age 94. The story goes that Dorough, a jazz musician and vocalist, was approached by a New York advertising executive in 1971, explaining that his sons were not very good at math and could not multiply. So he asked Dorough to set the multiplication tables to music.

Thus was born the first song of the series "Three's a Magic Number." This was followed by many other well-known tunes like: “Conjunction Junction, What’s Your Function?;” “The Preamble” (of the Constitution of the United States); “I’m Just a Bill” (how a bill becomes law in Congress); “What is a Noun?” and so on. If you want to stroll down memory lane or find out what this is all about, just visit the videos at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHp7sMqPL0g
Some adults, to this day, credit Schoolhouse Rock for being able to remember answers to some of their test questions in school.

I’m sure you are starting to wonder “OK. So what’s the spiritual significance of Schoolhouse Rock?” Well, I got to thinking about how much more we sometimes remember about words that are put to song. Think about the commercials. Think about the jingles. Think about the refrains of many of the well-known songs of today. The lyrics can sometimes stick in your brain to the point where they are impossible to forget. When people are singing the jingle, that’s when advertisers know they have succeeded.

Somehow, God designed into our human bodies the ability to better remember words by putting them to music. The nation of Israel knew this very well, and we see it demonstrated throughout the Psalms and other books of the Bible. In fact, someone has counted up the number of songs in the Bible to be 185, most of these being from the Psalms. It’s too bad that archeology cannot find a way to unearth the melodies as well as the lyrics. But even though we may not have the original tunes, we have had the benefit of some modern-day song-writers putting the Word of God to music. Here are a few familiar examples:

“This is the day that the Lord has made …” (Psalm 118:24)
“Beloved, let us love one another …” (1 John 4:7-8)
“You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, 'Lord, Blessed be Your Name.'” (Job 1:21)
“You are the Everlasting God…You do not faint, You won’t grow weary.” (Isaiah 40:28-31)

 

The “Kid’s Praise” series had come out when our sons were young, and after seemingly endless repetition, those songs, and the Scripture verses many of them are based on, just became part of our lives. At our church, we try to have new memory verses every couple of months, related to the book of the Bible we are studying. In the last year or so, our musical worship ministry team has put several of the verses to music. For example, there is I Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” And as I’m writing this down, I’m singing the song in my head.

The point of this is that we know Scripture memory is important. But because, we have songs for only a limited number of verses, we usually need to memorize the old-fashioned way – repetition, repetition, repetition. But this is also part of biblical meditation, per Psalm 1:2 – “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” Biblical meditation does not involve emptying your mind as in some of the eastern religions, but rather filling your mind with God’s Word. Verse 3 goes on to state the benefits: “He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” This is speaking of the most important kind of prosperity: spiritual, not financial.

So while Scripture memory takes planning and discipline, it boils down to priorities and motivation. For example, let’s say that a benevolent individual was willing to pay us $1000 for each Bible verse we memorized. That would be quite a motivation. We would be much more likely to put other things aside for the prospect of earning money. In other words, we can do this, if we really want to, by God’s grace.

“Uncle Bob” Schneider, President of BCF, actually did that, on a much smaller scale, with one of his teenage children some years ago. He gave his teenager one dollar for each verse, up to $50. That might not seem like much now, but back then, for a young person, that was real money. There were only two catches. Uncle Bob got to choose the verses and his child had to be able to recite them all in one sitting. But he did it, and afterwards said “OK, dad, let’s go for the next 50,” clearly with the expectation of earning more money. But by that time, Scripture memory had become a habit and dad said that no more incentive was required.

As a young believer in my early 20s, I was taught about the importance of Scripture memory, and carried around a pocket Bible all marked up with memory verses. It was good for pulling out when I was standing in lines or was otherwise unoccupied. However, I went a little too far one day when I was driving along an open stretch of highway with very little traffic around and pulled out my little Bible to start to reviewing verses. I held it up so that I could see the road and the pages at the same time. The Lord helped me quickly learn how bad an idea that was when an officer pulled up beside me, waved me over, and gave me a stern lecture on the hazards of reading while driving. “I should give you a ticket for reckless driving.” Thankfully, he did not ask what I was reading. So I slinked away with a warning (no ticket) and committed to never, ever doing that again. I had learned the principle to use those “idle” moments as time for Scripture memory. But the Lord had used the officer to remind me that the driving task was not idle time.

We have idle times even today, if we look hard enough. We still stand in lines, and we still have times between activities - some of us more and some of us less. Yes, the cell phone has absorbed much of that otherwise idle time, but here’s the deal. Instead of checking the news, weather, sports scores, latest videos, etc. or just letting the mind wander, take a couple of minutes to review a verse or verses to the point where it becomes a habit. One of the other “idle times” might be whenever you’re awake in bed. This might be something you do until you fall asleep (which for me is not very long). It might be when you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. Each person is a little different as far as when those otherwise idle times might be. There will be days when you have none at all or days when they are very short.

Lesson 2 in Self-Confrontation covers the importance of Scripture memory to a Christian’s walk, and its benefits. So if you have a Self-Confrontation manual, you can go there and do a little mini-study just on Scripture memory. There are also several plans for Scripture memory that you can choose from. The smart phone has made it even easier to get organized and tailor a memory plan to your specific schedule. It takes some discipline and planning, but you can change your phone from being a liability to a Scripture memory asset. This blog has been a good reminder that the author needs to get back into that habit as well.

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


“Free Range Parenting” (Part 3 of “Teaching Children Selflessness”) April 15 2018

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

As we learned in Part 1 of this blog series, we are caretakers, or stewards of the children the Lord has entrusted to us. While there are some days with our children that seem like they might never end (and maybe they think the same thing about us), looking back on it, we have them at home for a relatively short time.

It is interesting how metaphors are invented to describe parenting styles. We hear a lot about “helicopter parenting” (implying that parents can hover over them too much). Then there is “free range parenting.”  In fact, the State of Utah passed a “Free Range Parenting” bill just last month.

According to newspaper reports, “It all started when Lenore Skenazy let her 9-year-old ride the subway home alone (in New York City). She gave him a map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill and — just in case — some quarters for a pay phone call. Then she left him in the handbag section in New York’s original Bloomingdale’s. It was all his idea. He had begged Skenazy to just leave him somewhere and let him find his way back all by himself, until finally, on a spring day in 2008, she let him do it.”

To make a long story short, her son made it home safe and sound, thrilled with the independence he had been able to experience. His mom wrote an article about this experience in the New York Sun, which prompted all sorts of reactions on both sides, from “America’s Worst Mom” to accolades for allowing her son to learn through a little independence. She later wrote a book on this topic.

This reminded me of the time when Shashi was traveling and I took our two sons (ages 14 and 10 at the time) with me to Chicago on a business trip. I gave them instructions for how to take the train to downtown, with plans to meet them later in the day at the bottom of the Sears Tower. I was confident that they could take care of themselves, but I have to admit being a little nervous when it came time to hunt them down. Those were in the days without cell phones, so we didn’t really have a backup plan, but they survived to tell about it. And they got to make the “guess what we did today!” phone call to mom after we got back. You will just have to guess her response.

The new Utah Free Range Parenting law exempts from the definition of “child neglect” various activities children can do without supervision, permitting “a child, whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm, to engage in independent activities …” Those activities include letting children “walk, run or bike to and from school, travel to commercial or recreational facilities, play outside and remain at home unattended.” The law does not say what the “sufficient age” is. Part of the idea is to get away from parents being “second-guessed” by child protective services when children are allowed to take on what Utah law now considers reasonable activities.

This is not an endorsement of any particular metaphorical parenting style. The Scriptures have ample (and often overlooked) instruction for how we can bring up children in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). But these worldly metaphors did remind me of a biblical metaphor on parenting that is relevant to our “Teaching Children Selflessness” series.

God says in Psalm 127:3-5:

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them ….”

Just as Jesus prepared His disciples for the day when He would no longer be with them, we have to realize that this day will come with our own children. And my, how that day seems to come quickly! “Little arrows” is a great metaphor for training and discipling our children, because arrows are not designed to stay in the quiver forever, but to be used for their intended purpose. At some point, we need to shoot these little arrows off into the world to achieve the purposes that God intended for them. However, the warrior is responsible for ensuring the arrows are straight and untwisted, checking the arrow for soundness, and then, for aiming the arrow in the right direction.

This is why the five steps of discipleship that Jesus used with His disciples - 1) teach them what and why; 2) show them how; 3) get them started; 4) keep them going; and 5) teach them to train others - are so powerful for us even today.  It is all about preparing them for walking with the Lord on their own.

While there is no guarantee that children will be godly when they grow up, we are to faithfully carry out our own God-given responsibility to train them up in the way they should go, so that when they are older, they will not depart from (i.e. not be able to escape from) the training (Proverbs 22:6), as we discussed in Part 1. There may be resistance. There may be extremely difficult challenges. There may be rebellion. But just as Jesus demonstrated love, selflessness, patience, etc. with His disciples, so also we have the privilege of learning and practicing these characteristics as we train/disciple our children, and to keep on praying for them as they leave home.

Even after they leave home, there can be opportunities for counsel – both parent to child and child to parent. If you read through the book of Proverbs, you begin to notice how often there is reference to the importance of being open to counsel. The character trait of “wisdom” in Proverbs is typically described as how we accept counsel and even reproof, not how we give counsel out to others. And this is often in the context of the parent/child relationship. For example:

  • Proverbs 13:1 – A wise son accepts his father’s discipline, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.
  • 3:11-12 – My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord or loathe His reproof, for whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.
  • 13:18 – Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects discipline, but he who regards reproof will be honored.
  • 15:5 – A fool rejects his father’s discipline, but he who regards reproof is sensible.
  • 15:31 – He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.
  • 12:15 – The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.
  • 10:17 – He is on the path of life who heeds instruction, but he who ignores reproof goes astray.

This is a good reminder to children who are grown, up as well as to parents. Accepting counsel or even reproof means listening to things that are sometimes hard to hear, but it is also a sign of wisdom. But be mindful, as both parents and children, that we are ultimately responsible to follow the Lord’s direction, not that of a human.  And if a parent or grown child rejects a well-intended bit of counsel, keep in mind that they will be responsible for their decisions before the Lord. We are not responsible for the results.  And the result may be another lesson learned by either parent, child, or both.

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