Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures

A Pause to Give Thanks – For You! November 22 2017

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

When BCF began in 1974 it was difficult to envision what the Lord might do, or whether it would still be in existence 43 years later.  This is especially astonishing when one considers that it started with a Bible study book called Self-Confrontation, probably not a title that a marketing strategist would have recommended.  And “first take the log out of your own eye” would never have been chosen as a theme verse to put on the cover.  But there was a reason for the title, and by God’s amazing grace, here we are.

If you know much about BCF, you know that it is not a centralized ministry.  The goal from the beginning has been consistent with what Paul expressed in 2 Timothy 2:2:
And the things which you (Timothy) have heard from me (Paul) in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

The BCF ministry does not revolve around us in our little office in Indio CA, but around the Lord and the God-ordained local church, designed to nurture and strengthen believers locally and reach out to a world in great need.  That need has always been there, but the world somehow seems even more needy today, as it drifts farther and farther away from God-established principles for living.

BCF has had materials, classes, and seminars from the very beginning, but the desire has been to see the ministry of in-depth biblical discipleship grow through the local church.  If you are reading this blog today, that means you, a representative of a local body of believers.  You may meet in a big city or a small town; in a church building, industrial park, school, home, college dorm, prison, or some other far-flung place around the world; you may meet in a public place or in secret.  But the local church is where the ministry of God’s Word really takes place.

This Thanksgiving provides us with an opportunity to thank you – those of you who have been out there faithfully teaching the Word of God, biblically discipling/counseling people in need, ministering in prisons, helping behind the scenes, and otherwise encouraging the saints.  You are people in every state and many nations, discipling one-on-one, in small groups, from the pulpit, in Sunday School class, by audio, video, and by simply demonstrating Christ-like love in ways that are both seen and unseen.

Thanksgiving has been celebrated as a federal holiday in the United States every year since 1863, when, during the American Civil War President Abraham Lincoln  proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent  Father  who dwelleth in the Heavens," to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.  But giving thanks was originally God’s idea.  And we use this as an opportunity to give thanks to Him and to you, the ones who are out there as pastors and lay people, old and young, male and female, of many races and nationalities, rich and poor, healthy and feeble, as you teach, disciple, serve, and love others.

As we give thanks to God for allowing the ministry of BCF to continue for 43 years, we also give thanks for you in the local church.  We realize that BCF’s longevity is not because being a servant is a great marketing campaign, nor is learning to “deny self” a way to sell a lot of books.  One of the attributes of the title is that the Self-Confrontation course doesn’t “sneak up on people.”  The title can give you pause as you think “Hmmm. Do I really want to do this?” And then you realize that while these truths can be very painful to hear, they are the way to righteousness, peace, and joy in any and every circumstance.  We see how important this is to the Lord in Romans 14:17:
“for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

We are no different than the first century Christians in facing difficulties.  They had struggles too, as described in John 6:66:
“As a result of this, many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.  Jesus said therefore to the twelve, ‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’”

Yet somehow, despite the weaknesses of the vessels that attempt to convey His message, God has used these truths to transform many lives, including many of you.

So we give thanks today for those of you who have said with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” We are thankful for you in an age where we are seeing fewer and fewer people desiring to be students of the Word of God, and we realize even more how privileged we are to be involved in this ministry.  Paul’s message to the Corinthians sums it up beautifully:

“You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.  And such confidence we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:2-6)

I recently re-watched the video about the history of BCF, and it made me even more thankful for all of you who have been involved over the years.  You might be interested in watching this video by Bob Schneider of how and why BCF got started.  You can view it at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xy3tYNeRMt8&feature=youtu.be

God bless you as you celebrate this holiday in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln with “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father"

Steve Smith


Addiction: Who’s In Control (Part 2) November 10 2017

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

In the last blog, we addressed part of the topic of addiction, based on a recent article in National Geographic entitled “The Science of Addiction – How new discoveries about the brain can help us kick the habit.”  In discussing the chemistry of the brain, the article cites research indicating that craving is driven by dopamine, the flow of which is increased with the use of drugs.  We also found that science is not sure what to do about a “cure.”  At 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016 in the U.S. alone, clearly it is a serious problem and affects not only the individuals involved, but their family and friends as well. We ended the previous blog by explaining the biblical hope we have as believers to overcome potentially addictive temptations.

So let’s say you were the one who had a drug addiction problem.  And you were so committed to staying off drugs that you arranged for a friend or family member to be with you 24/7 to help you avoid succumbing to temptation.  He or she would help you stay away from the hangouts with your drug friends.  He would help you not go near places where drugs were sold. He would not be a nag, but would lovingly encourage you, remind you, sometimes warn or admonish you as you pursued a drug-free life. He would keep you focused on soaking up God’s Word and serving others, giving you little opportunity to focus on yourself and your former habit.  It would be very difficult for you to obtain and use drugs if you had such a faithful friend who was with you all the time, even if your body was still craving them.

Well guess what. If you are a believer, you have that Person 24/7.  His name is the Holy Spirit.  The thing is, even if the Holy Spirit is giving us reminders, through our conscience, to avoid and not succumb to temptation, it’s easy push aside the promptings of the Holy Spirit since we do not see Him physically. We make excuses for ourselves by thinking that He doesn’t really care or is not looking.  Although the prompting, conviction, and empowering of the Holy Spirit is enough for us to resist temptation, the pull of our flesh is strong.  The Scriptures tell us that God also uses friends, family, and the church body to help, as we will see below. 

Seeing the Seriousness of the Situation

There are many things to cover here, but let’s start with the importance of realizing the urgency of dealing with the situation, whether it be drugs, alcohol, or the range of potentially life-controlling behaviors.  Paul wrote to Timothy:

“Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”  (2 Timothy 2:22)

These two underlined verbs are expressions of urgency, and lusts can cover the gamut of substances and behaviors that can start to control our lives.  In other words, Paul is saying “don’t hang around places where you are going to be tempted in your areas of weakness.”

In Matthew 5:29-30 Jesus Himself talks about the importance of taking decisive action when it comes to resisting temptation: “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you ...” and “if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you ….”  Jesus made these statements in the context of equating looking on a woman with lust to the actual act of adultery.  Even though Jesus may have been using the idea of losing an eye or a hand metaphorically, He was basically saying that, because our flesh is weak, dealing with temptation requires decisive action.  

Put Offs and Put Ons

The very first verse of Psalm 1 is a warning to us about not putting ourselves in the position of being tempted: “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers.” The focus here is on what we are to “put off,” according Ephesians 4:22, that is, what we are not to do.  The real key to biblical success against temptation is to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new self,” (Ephesians 4:23-24) with its new, righteous behaviors.  There isn’t time or space to explain this in detail here, but BCF’s Self-Confrontation Lesson 7 provides a complete explanation of the biblical principles surrounding the “put offs” and “put ons.”

A great example of the “put on” for the problem of youthful lusts is back in the second part of 2 Timothy 2:22. The verse explains not only what to pursue (righteousness, faith, love, and peace), but who to pursue it with: those who call on the Lord with a pure heart.  In other words, find friends who are growing in their walk with Christ - friends or family members who will lovingly help you through this time in your life.  Ideally, you will not only have ongoing fellowship with these friends and family members (which makes it easier for you to avoid falling to temptation), but they will tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear.  These are Proverbs 27:6 friends: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”  And let them know in advance that this is the kind of friendship that you desire, to care enough that you can tell one another what you and they need to hear.

As believers, anything that controls our lives other than the Lord could be considered a source of addiction. You may need to take what seems like drastic measures to do what God says in Psalm 1:1 and 2 Timothy 2:22 for the purpose of avoiding and resisting temptation. I had a pastor tell me one time about a friend of his who would not go into a hotel room until the management had actually taken out the TV.  This may sound extreme, but for him, he realized how vulnerable he was to temptation.  It was his way of putting into action the principles in Psalm 1:1 and the “flee” part of 2 Timothy 2:22.

In cases where addictive substances are involved (e.g. a variety of drugs, both prescribed or illicit), it can be important to get off them (i.e. “flee”) under the care of a medical doctor.  Various regimens are available to assist in the detoxification process.  However, completing that regimen doesn’t necessarily mean that the temptation will go away, which is why having a plan for practicing the biblical put offs and put ons is so important.

Regarding the “put ons,” in this day and age, there are a variety of ways to have “those who call on the Lord with a pure heart” help you.  One example would be to arrange for your family or a friend to be able to track you by GPS 24/7.  Or maybe it involves putting the computer in an open, visible place for others to see.  You get the idea.  If people think that’s going overboard, that’s OK.  Not only will you have a plan for resisting temptation yourself, but you will show others how serious you are about walking with Jesus.

Nathan the prophet was a Proverbs 27:6 friend.  He told King David a story about a grave injustice done to a poor man by a rich and powerful man, to which David replied “surely the man who has done this deserves to die.”  To this Nathan responded “you are the man!” David did not expect to hear this, but needed to hear it.  While other leaders of that day may have responded by getting rid of the prophet, David replied “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:1-13).  The depth of one’s own sin can be very difficult to see or accept when you are at the bottom of the downward spiral.  But heaven and humans rejoice when a person responds as David did.

Psalm 51, which was written by David after Nathan confronted him, is a beautiful Psalm of repentance, humility, and forgiveness.  Many songs have been inspired by this Psalm, but verse 17 perhaps sums it up best for David: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” If the Lord can forgive and redeem a man who committed adultery, murdered Uriah by sending him to the front lines, and lied profusely in the process, He can forgive and restore the repentant addict as well.  But there is much more to say about how God’s Word applies to addiction and what steps you can take to both avoid and resist temptation. We’ll cover more in the third installment, focusing mainly on the “put ons” and how to put corresponding biblical plans in place.

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


Addiction: Who’s In Control? (Part 1) October 27 2017

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

This is a two-part blog, prompted by the feature article in the September 2017 issue of National Geographic titled “The Science of Addiction – How new discoveries about the brain can help us kick the habit.”  Part 1 of this blog describes how pervasive the problem of addiction has become. In contrast, we will look at the amazing hope that comes by understanding the problem in light of the Scriptures.  Part 2 will explain the biblical steps one can take to have victory over addiction.

The National Geographic article cited some statistics on the impacts of drug and alcohol abuse:  over 33,000 Americans die each year from opioid overdoses; 3.3 million worldwide die each year from alcohol.  It also cited a report  from the U.S. surgeon general released in November 2016 that 21 million Americans have a drug or alcohol addiction.  This is over 8 percent of the adult population and a sad commentary on where we are headed as a society. The most recent data from the Center for Disease control indicated some 64,000 deaths in 2016 from all drug overdoses, a massive 20% increase from 2015.  This is more in one year than the number of American deaths in the entire Vietnam war (58,000) and 14 times as many deaths as in the Iraq war.

BCF had a series of three blogs in January and February, 2017 on “The Tragedy of Opioid Abuse.”  https://bcfministries.myshopify.com/blogs/news/the-tragedy-of-opioid-abuse-part-1. Prescription opioids, developed to help people deal with pain, have sadly been a gateway to addiction for many people.  What starts as a prescription  for pain relief can become a  craving that can lead to a life-dominating practice.  In many other cases, however, people have purposefully indulged in substances or certain activities purely for the sake of having pleasurable experiences.   One thing leads to another and another, resulting in defeated lives, devastated relationships, and sometimes death.

The National Geographic article provides an extensive explanation of the chemistry of the brain.  It cites research indicating that craving is driven by dopamine, the flow of which is increased with the use of drugs. Pleasure is stimulated by other neurotransmitters in what the article calls “hedonic hot spots,” and when craving overwhelms them, “addiction occurs, leading people to pursue a behavior or drug despite the consequences.”

But substance abuse is not the only thing that can destroy one’s life. The National Geographic article noted that when South Korea made super-high-speed Internet cheap and widely available, it became clear that some people were ruining their lives through excessive game playing.  Apparently, the Korean government now pays for treatment.  Although the Internet has enabled a multitude of conveniences and efficiencies in 21st century life, it has also brought with it unprecedented levels of temptation, fundamentally impacting human relationships and making it easier to ignore everyday responsibilities.

The article continues, “Some scientists believe that many allures of modern life – junk food, shopping, smartphones – are potentially addictive because of their powerful effects on the brain’s reward system, the circuitry underlying craving.”  If you want to see an eye-opening expose’ of the addictive power of smartphones, watch the CBS 60 minutes episode entitled “Brain Hacking: Phone, Apps, and Social Media Addiction.” The first part of the segment can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqFxCf_0sW4.

To be sure, temptations have been with us from time immemorial, and people make sinful choices, leading to tragic consequences.  This is nothing new, and the Bible is replete with examples of how this happens, from Adam and Eve onward.  But the visibility and scale of the problem has become even more apparent in today’s society.

Although science may be able to explain how the brain responds to various stimuli, the world’s research merely confirms what the Bible has been saying about human behavior for many centuries.  Before we came to know Christ, our own natural inclination was to focus on human pleasures and lusts:

“Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” (Ephesians 2:3)

Even as believers, we have nothing to brag about.  We are still capable of succumbing to temptation. For example, the book of James is addressed to “the brethren,” and verses 13-15 of Chapter 1 state:

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God;’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  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.”

You can see in these verses the progression and consequences of our choice to let our flesh control us rather than the Lord. The scientific research has done us the service of explaining the mechanics of how this happens in the chemistry of the brain.  But the Scriptures clearly show where the responsibility lies: with us.  Science typically deflects that responsibility to being a disorder or disease, with us being the “victims.”  As we will see, this approach is not only inaccurate, but it actually lacks compassion, because it focuses mainly on the effects of the problem, not the root of the problem.  Although people dealing with addictions may be sincere in their desire to help others, a treatment that does not deal with the fundamental cause is insufficient.

The National Geographic article acknowledges that “Science has been more successful in charting what goes awry in the addicted brain than in devising ways to fix it …. Most medications used to treat addiction have been around for years.  The latest advances in neuroscience have yet to produce a breakthrough cure.”

Part of why science has been unable to find a cure for addiction is because it has been looking in the wrong places.  Interestingly, the words “choice” or “choose” do not appear in the article.  Addiction is referred to as a disorder or disease.  As we will see in Part 2, there is an important role for medical professionals to play in helping people through certain addictions, but fundamentally, a “cure” depends on what people choose to do.  Therein lies the great hope. We will pick up on this in Part 2, but suffice it to say that the very next verse after Ephesians 2:3 is the ultimate hope:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions [this includes addictions], made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) ….(Ephesians 2:4)

Ephesians Chapters 4, 5, and 6 go into detail about the outworking of God’s grace in our lives.  For example, Ephesians 5:18 directly addresses our propensity to let other substances and behaviors control us.

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.”

We will get into this in the next blog post, but suffice it to say that we have a decision to make, whether or not to get drunk with wine.  People may make deliberate choices to take a drug, get drunk, indulge in video games, or commit an immoral act, but they are not somehow forced to sin because of their background or past indulgences.  Even under intense craving, a person is not forced to make the choice to take that drug, take the next drink, play the next game, or commit the immoral act.

For example, it would be highly unlikely that a college student would stand up in the middle of class and shoot up with heroin.  He can make a choice not to do that, given the right set of conditions.  Likewise, it would be highly unusual for a drunkard to take a bottle of liquor to church and start drinking in the middle of the service.  Even an unbeliever can make a choice not to succumb to intense cravings when he puts himself in a position where it is obvious he needs to resist.

Here we have an even greater hope as believers. We have the resources of the Holy Spirit as our awesome Helper, not only to resist temptation, but to also live out the rich, abundant life the Lord intends for us. This in no way minimizes the challenges that individuals have in their struggles with temptation and addiction, and the challenges that their families and friends have in helping them.  But the Scriptures provide tremendous hope that is very often overlooked even within the Christian community.  We’ll cover how to take full advantage of this hope in Part 2.

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 Summer of Disasters: Making Biblical Sense of It October 13 2017

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

After the September 2nd blog about Houston’s Good Samaritans in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, I had not anticipated writing again any time soon about disasters.  But after Hurricane Irma (Florida and the Southeast), the decimation of Puerto Rico by Maria, the pure evil of the shootings in Las Vegas, and now the relentless fires in northern California (at least 32 deaths so far and 3000 homes and businesses lost), there is too much happening for me to ignore it.

The people affected by all of these events have several things in common:

  1. the magnitude of the disaster was unusually large;
  2. the chances of the disaster happening to them individually was very small and unexpected; and
  3. many of them lost all the earthly possessions they had.  In developed countries like the U.S, we have come to expect that we can control most situations – not prevent disasters entirely, but at least limit their impact.  These five events were well beyond our ability to control.   The word “humbling” comes to mind, and at times, “helpless.”  Unexpectedly losing a family member or having no home to go back to is difficult, no matter when it happens.  When it occurs on this scale, it is a very sobering reminder of how fragile our lives on earth really are.

Our home in southern California is only about five miles from the San Andreas Fault.  I remember reading about the fault as a youngster back in Virginia and wondering how people could live with the scary prospect of falling into the ocean!  Although my view of the San Andreas was shaped by a grade school imagination, I also never imagined that we would end up living near it.

Geologists say that it’s not a matter of if we will have a major earthquake here, it’s a matter of when.  And they say we are overdue.  So it’s very possible that we could be in the same position that thousands of Americans are in right now.  In fact, the Great American Shakeout is scheduled for 10:19 a.m. on October 19, when all of us in earthquake country have our annual “Drop, Cover, and Hold” drill, with many emergency preparedness reminders – three-day supply of water and food; anchor bookshelves to the wall; secure loose objects, etc.  Although we are aware of the danger, and we do what we can to prepare, we are not in control of the outcome.

With the disasters this summer, we have had to once again come to grips with unexpected death and billions of dollars in property loss.  But as believers, we have a tremendous advantage over those who don’t know Christ, when it comes to disaster preparedness in a spiritual sense. For example, we realize that we are merely stewards of what we have on earth and that the end of our life here, like earthquakes, is also not a matter of if but when.   Our chance of earthly death is 100%, unless the Lord comes back first. But our chance of eternal life is also 100% for those who have come to know Jesus as their Savior. We see from the Scriptures that as we live for and serve the Lord here on earth, we need not fear either death or loss of material things, as traumatic as the circumstances may be.

The end of the book of I Corinthians has a wonderfully hopeful and triumphant reminder of the believer’s victory over death.  It is in the context of Paul’s writing about our resurrected bodies:

“But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 15:54-58)

This passage is set in the context of Paul’s statements about the foundation of our faith being the resurrection of Christ (I Corinthians 15:12-20 – which was covered in the September 29 blog).  In other words, because of Christ’s resurrection (and ultimately our own) we have the freedom to “abound in the work of the Lord,” even taking risks like the Good Samaritans have done in Houston, and Florida, and Puerto Rico, and Las Vegas, and Santa Rosa. In Las Vegas we saw people using the bodies as shields for others, lifting people over fences amid a hail of bullets, and giving bloodied strangers rides to the hospital.  Each disaster has brought out extraordinary acts of self-sacrifice.

As believers, we can demonstrate love in both the mundane flow of daily life and in crises, because “our toil is not in vain in the Lord,” even if it should somehow cost us our life on earth.  For us, death means a graduation, even though, like Paul, we struggle with how soon we want that to happen.  Here is a description of Paul’s struggle from Philippians 1, written from his confinement in prison:

“… but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.  But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” (Philippians 1:20-24)

We see that Paul’s desire to serve was rooted in the recognition of his own mortality.  He was not afraid to serve, because he was also not afraid to die in the process of serving.  The beauty of this principle is that when we serve others not only do we not need to worry about whether we die doing it, but we also do not need to worry about whether others appreciate it or even know about it, because it’s not really for them but for the Lord.  This is the essence of what Jesus meant by dying to self (Luke 9:23-24).  The secret to saving our life (part of which involves having God’s peace and joy) is losing our life for His sake.

On the surface, this appears to be a paradox, but it is a deep truth of the Christian faith.  It also is an extraordinarily challenging one to learn, author of this blog included.  But we together can ask for God’s grace to see life and death as Jesus did, and as Paul apparently did, even as he was tugged in both directions.

As we see this and practice it more fully, our peace and joy will become less dependent on earthly circumstances and more rooted in things that eternally matter.  It is not that we don’t care about what happens on earth.  We do care, for believers and unbelievers alike.  But as we grow in maturity, even when earthly tragedy strikes, we are more able to say with Paul “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  This was our pastor’s theme passage when Shashi’s father went home to be with the Lord at age 50, now 41 years ago, and it resonates with us still.

And in closing, we say to Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, Santa Rosa, and those in the surrounding areas, we’re continuing to pray for your recovery and that God will use this in your lives to strengthen your faith and build up the body of Christ.

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


Sitting in the Exit Row September 29 2017

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

I don’t fly nearly as much as I used to.  But I happened to be on a flight from Palm Springs to Denver a few days ago (first leg of a trip to Virginia to see my 95 year old dad) and was able to get a seat in the exit row, right next to the window.  The exit row seems to be much sought after, especially with ever declining leg room in coach.

I had not been in the window seat of the exit row for a long time, but since I would be the one responsible for getting the exit door out, I decided to read the instructions a little more carefully than usual.  The doors are actually a bit on the heavy side – 40 pounds, but I should be able to handle that.  Among other things, the instructions state that exit row passengers need to be able to:

  • Speak and understand English.  Check.
  • Hear and understand commands given to you by crew members for opening exits and following emergency procedures.  Check.
  • See hand signals given by crew members and visually assess dangers outside the window/exit, such as smoke, fire, water, or debris that would make the exit unusable.  Check.
  • Locate the emergency exit, recognize the emergency exit opening mechanism, and operate the emergency exit with sufficient mobility, strength, and dexterity in both arms, both hands, and both legs.  Check.
  • Assist and lead others away from the aircraft.  (This one requires a little bigger commitment and some self-sacrifice.)  But that’s the coolest instruction of all.  So check.

I couldn’t help but wonder, though, how often they have to use emergency exits, and how likely it is that I would be on such a flight.  It’s one thing to be able to do those things.  It’s another to be able to do them under the pressure of an actual emergency.  So I looked it up.

According to a National Transportation Safety Board study, there were 42 evacuations during the 16-month study period in which the Safety Board recorded all evacuations. On average, an evacuation occurred every 11 days.  That’s a lot more often than I thought.  But the odds of that happening on your plane is very remote, with approximately 30,000 commercial airline flights in the U.S. per day.   The chance of you being on such a flight is one in roughly 300,000.  But it does happen to a group of passengers somewhere, once every 11 days.

I didn’t intend to get too philosophical about sitting in the exit row, but it was starting to help me reflect on the transitory nature of life. Having nothing but 35,000 feet of air below you creates a much different impression than traveling in a vehicle with wheels firmly in contact with the ground.  The reality is that you are over 100 times more likely to be killed traveling in a car compared to traveling by airplane for the same distance covered.  Riding on a motorcycle is 3000 times more likely to get us killed for the same amount of travel.
Traveling by car or motorcycle should actually be an even better reminder of our mortality than traveling by air. My job requires me to keep up with transportation statistics, and a staggering 37,000 traffic deaths occur per year in the US. alone.

That said, it is good for us to be reminded of our mortality.  It helps us and others to see our need for and dependence on God and to perhaps use our time on earth a little more wisely. God made note of this numerous times through the writers of Scripture.  Here is a compilation of a few related verses:

  • Psalm 39:4 – Lord, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am.
  • Psalm 90:10 – As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away.
  • Psalm 90:12 - So teach us to number our days, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.  
  • Psalm 103:14-16 – For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.  When the wind has passed over it, it is no more. And its place acknowledges it no longer.
  • Psalm 144:4 – Man is like a mere breath, his days are like a passing shadow.
  • James 4:14 – Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.  You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
  • James 1:9-11 – But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.  For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
  • I Peter 1:24 – All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever.

As a Christian, considering our physical mortality should not lead us to despair, but rather should give us great hope.  For example, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 states – Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, our inner man is being renewed day by day.  For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

As the old gospel song says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.”  Every time we get into anything that travels at high speed, exit row or otherwise, it should remind us of this truth.

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


Equifax, Hacking, and Thievery September 15 2017

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

Word came out last week that Equifax, one of the “big three” credit bureaus had been hacked, with a theft of the electronic records of 143 million people. That’s over half of the adults in the U.S. The theft included social security numbers, credit card numbers, and other personal information.

There have been many high-profile bank robberies in the past:

  • The Great Brink’s Robbery of 1950 ($2.8 million or $27.6 million today – the largest value robbery in the U.S. up to that time)
  • The United California Bank robbery of 1972 ($30 million, or $172 million in today’s dollars – the current U.S. robbery record in terms of total value)
  • The Dunbar Armored Robbery of 1997 ($18.9 million in cash or $28.2 million today – the U.S. cash robbery record)

But the Equifax theft has the potential to result in an avalanche of stealing through fraud and identify theft. Technology has enabled theft to occur on a scale never seen before. 

Society has become accustomed to hearing about hacks, to the extent that we often don’t pay that much attention to them anymore, at least not until they affect us personally.  And preventing theft is very costly, with security guards patrolling most establishments, millions of cameras, and billions spent on cyber security.  Just think of what it would be like if people did not steal: no locks on houses or cars, no security guards, substantially lower insurance costs.  But preventing theft is now part of everyday life, and it is a sad commentary on the human condition that there are millions of people who have jobs that attempt to limit the impact of this one sinful act.  Theft is viewed by many as OK “if I can get away with it.”

We have personally been the victims of credit card fraud several times in the last 10-15 years. Thankfully, the credit card company has usually been quick to detect this. We’re not sure how they do it, but they’re usually very good. Perhaps the last one was easiest – an attempt to use our card for a $2000 charge at a tattoo parlor just a few weeks ago.  This happened shortly after the Equifax hack, so who knows if this was related.  Getting new sets of cards is inconvenient, but one could barely function in today’s society without a credit card.  Full-fledged identify theft is more difficult to deal with, and authorities recommend frequent monitoring of all things financial in today’s hack-prone environment.

Stealing has been with us from time immemorial. Dealing with the propensity to steal was so important that he Lord actually gave Moses two of the Ten Commandments to highlight the sinfulness of taking things from others. We immediately think of the eighth commandment “You shall not steal.” But the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet,” is very much related to it. In fact, stealing begins with coveting because someone “wants it” for themselves, which leads to the actual act of stealing, in all its various forms. It is the antithesis of sharing with others.  That’s why it is especially heartbreaking and detestable when people and businesses have their things looted, while they are particularly vulnerable (ex. after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma).  Sadly, the very people who need the most help are taken advantage of by those whose primary goal in life is to look out for themselves.

Jesus actually used this contrast in John 10:10 to make a point: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Thieves know that stealing is wrong.  This is obvious because they almost always sneak around to do it, and escape as fast as they can.  If only thieves would see that they are accountable to the God of the universe, repent, trust Christ, and become givers rather than takers.  We see this life transformation in Zaccheus, a chief tax collector (Luke 19:2).  His belief in Jesus was manifested by his eagerness to make restitution to those he had defrauded:

“Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”

While the people grumbled that Jesus “has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner,” Jesus’ assessment was that “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek, and to save that which was lost.” The starting point for Zaccheus was to realize that he was lost.

Clearly, the only real solution to stealing is a life transformation through faith in Christ, and we would pray that the hackers, burglars, thieves, and committers of fraud come to faith just like Zaccheus did.  He was a great example in Ephesians 4:28 of putting off the old self and putting on the new, righteous behavior instead -  “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.”

It is also interesting that the Bible makes note that the men crucified on each side of Jesus were thieves (Matthew 27:44). And it is the thief who trusted Christ just before his death that provides the hope that it is never too late to trust in Christ. No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace – not even the worst of thieves and hackers.

The reality is, however, that thieves will always be with us.  While we should be always ready to share with others, it would not be loving toward thieves to give them unhindered access to property that does not belong to them. The concept of security existed even in Jesus’ day, an example of which was when Jesus used a thief to explain the importance of being watchful for the coming of Christ:

“But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into.” (Luke 12:39)

But even with a loss, we can by God’s grace still have peace and joy, knowing Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:19-21:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

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


Houston and Its Amazing Good Samaritans September 02 2017

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

There are many figures of speech we use today that have their roots in the Scriptures.  Examples would be:

  •  “They are like the blind leading the blind.” In other words, they are not very knowledgeable in this subject area, yet they are trying to teach others.  (based on Jesus’ statement about the religious leaders in Matthew 15:14).
  • “He fell on his sword.”  In other words, he did something wrong and took responsibility for it, and the blame.  (based, in part, on the incident where Saul committed suicide by falling on his sword (I Samuel 31:4).

But perhaps there is no figure of speech so well-known and so powerful as saying that someone is a Good Samaritan.  We instantly understand that phrase.  The idea of a Good Samaritan as one who goes out of his way to help the helpless is widely understood, even by those who know very little about the Bible.  So much so, that we even have “Good Samaritan laws” that seek to protect from liability those who try to help someone else.  These are people who take risks that they don’t really need to take, but they do so out of care for those in need.

I heard reference to a Good Samaritan just a couple weeks ago who stopped on a freeway near where I work to help a stranded motorist and her children.  He was killed when a drunk driver plowed into their car. Like the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable (Luke 10:30-37), today’s Good Samaritans embody people who do not need to help, nor are they expected to help, but they do so anyway, even sometimes at great risk to themselves.

Enter Hurricane Harvey and the City of Houston, Texas.  We have heard a lot of references to Good Samaritans throughout the Gulf Coast in the last week – neighbors helping neighbors, people bringing their boats and rescue equipment from other states, people being carried on shoulders from their homes and being given food, clothing, and shelter elsewhere.  As difficult, massive, challenging, and long-lasting as this situation is, we have seen a virtually unprecedented turnout of Good Samaritans, and we only know about a tiny fraction of them.

Just this morning I saw a report of Good Samaritans in Houston with their own boat rescuing a number of people.  Sadly, the rescuers ended up in water near a live electrical line, and a couple of them perished.  We will never know all the stories of what risks were taken, what sacrifices were made, when neighbor helped neighbor and stranger helped stranger in response to this natural disaster.

Although we are very familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, what is also interesting is Jesus’ conversation with the lawyer that immediately preceded the parable.

“And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’  And He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law?  How does it read to you?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him ‘You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.’ But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:25-29)

That was a great opening for Jesus to provide this wonderful word-picture of what true love for neighbor really means.  Jesus didn’t necessarily have to specify the culture or background of the person who helped the man who was robbed and left for dead.  But he chose a Samaritan, the “second-class” citizen of that day, according to those who were of pure Jewish descent.  Jesus used the “lowly Samaritan” as the example of one who had compassion, making the point that the acceptability of love is not based on social class, or on how much you know, but by what action you take.  In fact, the pride of the Jewish leaders was a major barrier to their demonstrating Godly love.

In this case the Samaritan got dirty, used his own resources, accepted inconvenience by delaying his trip, and made sure other people were not inconvenienced (like the innkeeper to whom the Samaritan provided funds to take care of the man in need).  It is no wonder that this compelling example of love has made it not only into our secular vocabulary but also into the law.  This makes it particularly ironic that it was a lawyer who first asked the question.

As said earlier, examples of Good Samaritans abound in Texas, Louisiana, and throughout the surrounding states.  Sadly, we also see the ugly side, with looting and price-gouging that authorities are trying to get under control.  So in the same event, we see the depravity of human nature on one hand and the selfless, sacrificial demonstrations of love on the other. While it would have been physically much easier if hurricane Harvey had not happened, it has opened up many opportunities for believers and churches across the U.S. to demonstrate the love of Jesus.

While most of us are not present on the scene, we all have “little Harveys” around us.  People who are in need, desperate, and often responsive to seeing the love of Christ in action.  May the Lord help us to recognize these little Harveys and step forward to demonstrate that love.  And by the way Texas and Louisiana, we are continuing to pray for you!

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

Steve Smith


Charlottesville, Slavery, and the Scriptures August 18 2017

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

I have been watching with a combination of amazement and horror as events in Charlottesville, Virginia have unfolded this past week. I grew up about 30 miles away, just over the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Shenandoah Valley – a quiet, serene, family-oriented place.  Nothing much ever happens there, at least not that you hear about.  The closeness of this event to my hometown somehow compels me to write about it here, and to bring the Scriptures into view as we think about what has happened in Charlottesville.

Virginia has a rich history.  It is the home state of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry (of “give me liberty or give me death” fame), James Madison (and Dolly), James Monroe, George Mason, Booker T. Washington (founder of the Tuskegee Institute), and many others, including Robert E. Lee. Virginia was also part of the Confederacy, on the wrong side of the slavery issue, which brought about the most brutal internal conflict the American homeland has ever seen.  The discrimination lasted far too long, and I well remember seeing remnants of it through my growing up years.

What strikes me is how relevant the message of Christ is to this situation and how radical it must have been to first century society, where prejudices existed in a number of forms.  If we had seriously heeded that message, the scourge of slavery could have been avoided.  Did slavery exist in Jesus’ day?  Absolutely.  Did prejudice against other cultures exist, and against women and children?  Yes.  Discrimination against the blind, the poor, and the infirm?  Definitely. Jesus and the New Testament writers acknowledged the existence of slavery, and Jesus even referred to it in some of His parables. But this does not mean that they endorsed or condoned it.  Yet the message of Christ in the New Testament did not focus on political solutions to slavery.  Rather, the message focused on transformation of the human heart in a way that could, as a byproduct, transform societies. The focus was on the principle that, no matter one’s heritage or state in life, we are all equal and precious in God’s sight.  As stated 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.”

Jesus used a person of mixed ethnicity as the example of compassion that we still refer to today as the “good Samaritan.” Paul himself showed his compassion for the slave Onesimus, whom he had led to Christ while in prison.  Paul made an impassioned plea for Philemon to have mercy on Onesimus who returned to his master, urging Philemon to receiving him as a “beloved brother.”  
“For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.  If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me.  But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account;” Philemon 1:15-18

Sadly, greed is a great motivator, and the prospect of wealth, success, and economics, at both a personal and a governmental level, drove people to kidnap hundreds of thousands of human beings from Africa and sell them in America, England, and other countries.  Also sadly, some people, even Christians, compromised their principles, as slavery became a way of life in some areas.  Even though many slaves may have been treated well, there is no justification for selling human beings as a commodity.  Some of the Old Testament references to slaves, many of whom became that way as a result of military conquest, is another topic for another day.  Suffice it to say that the preponderance of Scripture is quite clear both that there are to be no prejudices in the Christian faith, and that both slave and master can be a powerful witness for the Lord in the way that they live (Ephesians 6:5-9).  The parallel of today would be employee and employer.

While we are aware of the dark side of slavery, history has seen some shining examples of principled leaders, motivated greatly by their faith, who put countries on a path to ending this scourge.  The most notable in America was, of course, Abraham Lincoln.  President Lincoln, who was a student of the Scriptures, had many memorable quotes about slavery in his speeches and letters, the most iconic of which is: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”  But the President also had these:

  • “Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, cannot long retain it.” April 6, 1859, Letter to Henry Pierce
  • “In giving freedom to the  slave, we  assure  freedom to the  free  -- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth.” December 1, 1862, Message to Congress
  • “If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.” Letter dated April 4, 1864 to Albert Hodges

 In Great Britain, William Wilberforce was one of the primary legislators responsible for ending slavery.  He had become an evangelical Christian in 1785, leading to major changes in his lifestyle and a lifelong concern for reform.  He headed the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for twenty years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807.  In later years, Wilberforce supported the campaign for the complete abolition of slavery, and continued his involvement after 1826, when he resigned from Parliament because of his failing health. That campaign led to the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, which abolished slavery in most of the British Empire; Wilberforce died just three days after hearing that the passage of the Act through Parliament was assured. He was buried in Westminster Abbey (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wilberforce).

While local officials will need to navigate through the debate on how to deal with statues and remembrances of an ugly period in American history, we have the great privilege as believers from all walks of life (black, white, Hispanic, Asian, native American, Asian Indian, and a myriad of others) of being one in Christ.

This topic brought back memories of the children’s song that goes:
    Jesus loves the little children,
    All the children of the world;
    Red and yellow, black and white,
    They are precious in His sight
    Jesus loves the little children of the world.

My wife Shashi, being brown-skinned, says that in her family they would sing “Red, brown, yellow…”  It is so simple a song, but so profound and true, as we are reminded from Jesus’ embracing children when others wanted to turn them away: “for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14).

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


Observations on Jury Duty August 05 2017

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

Aside from being in the military, one of the great civic services we have in the U.S. is  serving on a jury.  Many of us have served on juries before, and the vast majority would say that, while it can be an inconvenience and interruption in the flow of daily life, it is also where we come to appreciate our legal system a little more, imperfect though it may be.  Typically, 12 individuals representing a broad cross-section of society are selected to attempt to discern the truth about various events and to render a verdict that represents justice for the people involved in the situation. 

It was my opportunity, and privilege, to participate in that process once again this week.  As explained in the informational videos, a trial consists essentially of three parts: jury selection, the trial, and jury deliberation. This time through I got only so far as jury selection, but to me, that is perhaps the most interesting part. 

I find jury selection interesting because you hear a lot of stories about family and personal situations that you wouldn’t ordinarily hear. This occurs when the judge and the attorneys begin asking questions about jurors’ suitability for serving on a particular trial.  For example, one of the first questions asked is whether any jurors think they should be dismissed due to hardship (which could be financial, travel, or caring for children or disabled, etc). Of the 85 original jurors in the pool, perhaps 20 were dismissed for hardship, mainly those who had their own small businesses or would not get paid while in jury service and could not afford to lose that income.  There were several travel hardships, the most interesting of which was a scheduled honeymoon trip, for which the husband said “my wife would kill me.” Immediate dismissal on that one, no other questions asked.

What was most interesting, though, was when the 18 potential jurors initially drawn from the pool had to answer a list of questions, one of which was something like “have you or your family ever been victims of a crime?”  The idea of the question was whether the juror would have any biases against either the defense or the prosecution because of that experience.  The case involved an alleged incident of domestic violence.

I would say that perhaps half of the 18 prospective jurors indicated that either family or close friends had been victims of a crime. There were two murders, several domestic abuse situations, one drug-related incident, and several home burglaries, one of which involved the threat of violence. There was nothing unusual about this group of 18 prospective jurors. They seemed to be, by all appearances, a typical cross-section of humanity.  Most said they would be able to overlook what had happened to them or to their family and friends and render an impartial, fact-based verdict.  Only three jurors were dismissed, and the necessary 12 were seated faster than any jury selection I have ever seen.

So why is this relevant to a blog focused on the Scriptures?  What occurred to me as I was listening to these life stories is that significant trials are common to all humanity, believers and unbelievers alike.  Perhaps some of these individuals were Christians and some not.  In Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount, the Father “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). Jesus is saying that the Father doesn't only bless the righteous, and give trials for the wicked. He allows blessing and trial for both.  We know from various characters in the Bible  that serious problems, trials, and temptations occur to believers and unbelievers alike.  Or in the words of I Corinthians 10:13, they are “common to man.”  However, someone who is walking with Jesus has a huge advantage: being able to see this trial, test, or temptation as an opportunity to mature in their faith, as difficult and unpleasant as it may be at the time. 

We may not know why a trial is happening in our lives at any particular time. It may be happening just because it is generally part of the way God matures us, as in James 1:2-4: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  It is important to remember here that “joy” is not the same as “enjoy.”  God is not saying to enjoy the trial in the sense of “oh isn’t this fun!”  Rather, we can have joy in the trial, knowing how it will mature our walk with the Lord after we have been through it and even as we go through it.  It is like the rigorous and sometimes brutal training an athlete or soldier will go through, so as to be more prepared for competition or battle.  It was said of Jesus “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Hebrews 12:2).  In other words, He did not enjoy the cross but had joy in knowing that He was accomplishing God’s purpose for His life on earth.

A trial may also be happening as an opportunity to demonstrate our faith. Peter, in his first book, starts out by reminding believers scattered throughout Asia Minor (generally today’s Turkey) of all the benefits of having a relationship with Jesus Christ “who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (I Peter 1:3-4). Then immediately following the description of this amazing inheritance, he reminds us that even painful trials on earth have a purpose in our lives: “In this (our salvation) you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials. So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (I Peter 1:6-7). 

Or a trial may be happening because we needed loving discipline such as in Hebrews 12:10-11 “For they (earthly fathers) disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He (the Lord) disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.  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.”  I love how the result is described as “peaceful fruit.” 

Yet in all these passages, trials are described as being a beneficial and natural part of our spiritual lives.  It is often hard to appreciate that when we are in the middle of a big one.  Yet being reminded of God’s loving purpose for us as believers can give us great hope, and yes, even joy when we realize that it is part of God’s work in our lives. This is hope that the world cannot possibly offer.  The stories of trials and tragedies that briefly came out of my time in jury duty have made me even more grateful to God for this important life principle in His Word.
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    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


    When a Tough Day Happens July 21 2017

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

    Last week I was waiting at a small rental car office to return a car when it became clear that the staff there was completely overwhelmed.  Overhearing conversations, this dilemma was brought about through a combination of a couple of staff who could not make it in to work and a high demand for cars on a hot summer day.  Customers and staff were well-composed overall, with a lot of apologies being expressed.  But clearly it was a tough day for all concerned.

    We have all had that experience in one way or another, whether it be with serving or being served, whether with children, at schools, hospitals, restaurants, banks, stores, in traffic, at airports, or any number of other situations.  Sometimes it seems like a daily occurrence.  In our age of instant everything, when a system breaks down, it somehow seems more difficult to tolerate.  Technology has brought with it higher expectations of efficiency and timeliness.  One click on your laptop can now bring a package to your doorstep tomorrow morning, or even the same day.

    As believers, unexpected delays present a huge opportunity for us to demonstrate the love of Christ.  It’s an opportunity that we many times overlook.

    Let’s start with how we respond to others.  It is no wonder that the first characteristic of love in I Corinthians 13 (the “love chapter”) is “patience” (verse 4).  Regardless of the order of the list of  characteristics or actions of biblical love, all of them are very important.  But it somehow seems fitting that patience would be first, given how much we struggle with it.

    Suffice it to say that people observe how we respond in difficult circumstances or when unexpected delays occur.  Responding with patience and grace when others naturally become impatient and angry definitely gets noticed, even though it may not be visibly acknowledged by others.  Numbers of times we have been in stressful situations, and as we demonstrate patience in the midst of other angry customers, the person delivering the service often expresses his or her gratitude.  They sometimes even have done favors that they wouldn’t do for their angry clients.  We don’t respond in order to receive a benefit, or even an acknowledgement; but we do it out of a response to Christ’s love for us and His own amazing patience with us.

    Ephesians 6:7 is a great reminder for both those serving and being served in a difficult, stressful situation:  “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.” Humans may not notice or appreciate what we do, but that’s not important, because our heavenly Father is the one Whom we ultimately serve.

    On the other hand, patience doesn’t mean that we don’t help a business to be more responsible or that we refrain from helping our children become more disciplined.  There may be times that a business needs to be told things so that they can help their service to improve.  In the long run this will be better for them and for their customers.  But it can be done graciously and lovingly, not focusing on our own irritation, but with a view to helping them to become better.  This is the same objective we should have for our children.  We discipline them not because of the inconvenience they have caused us but so that they can grow in maturity.  There is a big difference between these motivations.  We will have more on parent-child relationships in a forthcoming series of blogs titled “Helping Children Learn Selflessness.”

    All of this is built on the example of Jesus, Who “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28).  The principle holds when we seek to help our children, when we deal with other individuals, and when we interact with businesses.  Whenever we try to help them improve, it’s not because of the inconvenience we experience but out of care for them.  And there are occasions where it is just best for us to not say anything at all, because either the problem is so self-evident or is just not able to be solved for other reasons.  That was basically the situation at my car rental counter.  It was better to just try to encourage the employees, who had essentially no control over the situation they were in.  There was not much they could do about it at that point, and they worked through it as efficiently as they could.

    This is not to say that Christ-like patience and service is easy.  But a focus on serving (rather than being served) is a life-transforming principle that will help you be a peacemaker where others are stressed; show contentment when others are jealous; and express hope when others are despairing.  And it applies whether we are customers or the ones rendering the service.

    Writing this blog reminded me of what one of my bosses told me many years ago that “Steve, if we didn’t have problems, you probably wouldn’t have a job.”  Wise words, as many jobs exist that are mostly focused on trying to solve problems.  It’s just that some days happen to have bigger and more difficult problems to solve.  In the words of the Shirelles (a 1960s vocal group), “Mama said there’ll be days like this.”  More importantly, the word of God says:

    “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exaltation.” (I Peter 4:12-14)

    So don’t be surprised, but even expect these interruptions and “opportunities” to come.  And here are a few other ideas that you might consider the next time you are enduring an unexpected wait, delay, or potentially exasperating experience that could be a temptation to impatience or anger, such as:

    • Use it as an opportunity to pray.  Eyes open is fine.  Perhaps the Lord is giving us one of those unexpected “pauses” in life so that we can do exactly that.  You can start by asking for God to help you apply His grace in being patient.  And there are probably plenty of people involved in that situation who could use some prayer.
    • Use it as an opportunity to commit Scripture to memory.  Lesson 2 of the Self-Confrontation manual has several plans for Scripture memory, if you don’t have one of your own.  The Holy Spirit can use these passages to remind us of how to demonstrate Christ-like love even when times are tough.
    • The Lord said in Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God” (“Cease striving” in the New American Standard Version). In this fast-paced world, opportunities for stillness are rare.  Perhaps there will be an unexpected delay or two this week where the Lord can remind us of this, even in the midst of an otherwise chaotic situation.

    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