Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures

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


    A Most Unusual Commencement Speech July 07 2017

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

    Over the last few days, reports have come out about a commencement speech given in early June by Chief Justice John Roberts at Cardigan Mountain School, an elite middle-school for boys in northern New Hampshire.  Justice Roberts addressed the ninth grade class in which his son was graduating.  The speech was recorded, but not televised and not publicized until a few days ago, when it showed up on YouTube.

    Instead of the often lofty, aspirational tone of many commencement speeches, this one was rather subdued and caught peoples’ attention because of how it attempted to inject a dose of both reality and caring into the minds of the graduates.  I have taken the liberty of providing some extensive excerpts below:

    “Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you.  I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why.  From time to time in the years to come I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice.  I hope that you will suffer betrayal, because that will teach you the importance of loyalty.  Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted.  I wish you bad luck, again from time to time, so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life [maybe I would have substituted ‘trials’ for ‘bad luck’ and ‘blessing’ for ‘chance,’ but you get the point].

    "And understand that your success is not completely deserved, and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.  And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then your opponent will gloat over your failure.  It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship.  I hope you will be ignored, so that you know the importance of listening to others.  And I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.  Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen.  And whether you benefit from them or not will depend on your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

    "Now some tips as you get ready to go to your new school.  Over the last couple of years, I’ve gotten to know many of you young men pretty well, and I know you are good guys.  But you are also privileged young men.  And if you weren’t privileged when you came here you are privileged now, because you have been here.  My advice is … don’t act like it.  When you get to your new school, walk up and introduce yourself to the person who is raking the leaves, shoveling the snow, or emptying the trash.  Learn their name and call them by their name during your time at the school….

    "When you pass by people you don’t recognize on the walks - smile, look them in the eye, and say ‘hello.’  The worst thing that will happen is that you will become known as the young man who smiles and says ‘hello.’  And that is not a bad thing to start with….  The last bit of advice I give you is very simple, but I think it could make a big difference in your life.  Once a week you should write a note to someone.  Not an email, a note, on a piece of paper.  It will take you exactly 10 minutes.  Talk to an adult; let them tell you what a stamp is, and you can put the stamp on the envelope.  Again, 10 minutes, once a week.  I will help you right now, I will dictate to you the first note you should write.  [He went on to describe the note they should write to their teacher thanking them for their work.]  He closed by saying that “it will mean a great deal to people who for reasons most of us cannot contemplate have dedicated themselves to teaching middle school boys."

    Justice Roberts had some quotes from Socrates and Bob Dylan (from Forever Young) in the speech as well, and a few aspirational remarks.  But what struck me was his candor with the students about preparing to learn lessons from real life and how to care for people going through challenging times. It was like the breath of fresh air in graduation speeches.

    Now realistically, if I had heard that speech as a ninth-grade boy, it definitely would not have sunk in.  And the same might be true for these ninth-graders.  But as we have grown and have come to understand the Scriptures, by God’s grace, we have hopefully learned some of these lessons, and are still learning them.  We have been treated unfairly; we have seen betrayal; we have seen loneliness; we have seen trials; we have seen gloating; we have been ignored; and we have taken privileges for granted. But in the process, hopefully we have learned about true joy, compassion, loyalty, fair treatment, and the value of friends, among many other things.

    Jesus was way ahead of Justice Roberts, because He taught the disciples about many tough things they would face in life.  Just within the Sermon on the Mount (all references from the gospel of Matthew), He had profound messages of hope, but He also prepared the disciples with important counsel for the hard road ahead, such as:

    •  He said that those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness are blessed, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:10)
    •  He said “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (5:11-12)
    •  He taught about forgiveness (5:23-24)
    •  He taught about the importance of dealing with anger (5:22), lust (5:28), greed (6:19-21), and worry (6:25-34)
    •  He taught about blessing others and not taking revenge (5:38-42)
    •  He told the disciples that they were to even show love toward their enemies, instead of hate (5:43-46)

    The Cardigan Mountain School speech was but a pale reflection of Jesus’ teaching.  As revolutionary as Justice Roberts’ words may have sounded to the graduating class, how much more revolutionary must Jesus’ words have sounded to the disciples?  And they sound radical even to us today. Just as Justice Roberts showed his care for the students and their futures by not giving them merely a “feel good” message, so the power and hope of Jesus’ words still ring true for us today, as hard as they are to hear sometimes. Not everything will go the way we might have hoped, but Jesus said (and demonstrated) that our joy is not dependent on how things turn out or how people treat us. True joy is anchored in a contentment that God is in charge, and if we have paid close attention in the school of Jesus, we will also learn thankfulness, loyalty, compassion, fair treatment, the value of friends, and many other life lessons that are transformative in our lives. And do you know what?  You can send a note to the Teacher right now.  It’s called “prayer.”  Just thank Him for all He has been using to to teach us, for His love, for His infinite patience, and for His grace to help in our times of need.

    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


    T-Shirts 2017 June 23 2017

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

    Last year about this time we had a blog about T-shirts.  Summer truly brings them out in force – on vacation, at the beach, going shopping, etc.  Many advertise loyalties to schools, sports teams, businesses, clothing brands, or musical groups.  And like we saw last time, some advertise human characteristics that are not exactly virtuous (sarcasm, self-exaltation, argumentativeness, etc.).

    There are also some very humorous ones, and companies marketing senior citizens seem particularly adept at these.  Here are a few:

    •  “RETIRED – I was tired yesterday and I’m tired again today.”
    •  “If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself”
    •  “Retirement: There’s a nap for that”
    •  “I’m retired.  This is as dressed up as I get”

    Perhaps we’ll have a future blog on the whole subject of retirement.

    Vehicle license plates (affectionately known as “vanity plates”) have a similar range of advertising strategies.  The limitation to six or seven letters and numbers brings out all sorts of creativity, and some of them can take a little while to figure out what they are trying to convey.  Some states have special characters, like hearts, that allow you to express love for another person, sport, or any number of other things.

    We all have seen plates that are particularly clever (or perhaps you have one).  For example, there are a lot of Star Wars plates out there, like:

    •  IMAJEDI
    •  DRTHVDR
    •  H4NSOLO (I guess someone already had taken the plate with the “A”)

    Many others attempt to persuade (HIOFECR), impress (WSHURME, seen on a Bentley), or remind (1-LEG, seen on a handicapped plate).

    We were reminded in the 2016 T-Shirt blog how the Apostle Paul wrote about the right kind of advertising.  He wrote about a true life message in 2 Corinthians 3:2-3:

    “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.”

    As believers even today, we are “known and read by all men.”  We have to expect to be watched, examined, and evaluated to see if our walk is consistent with our spiritual T-shirt (i.e. our talk).  Assumptions about us can be made by others very quickly based on what we may think of as “small, insignificant actions.”

    I repeated this reminder here because of a license plate that recently caught my eye on a pickup truck in a parking lot: “DYE2SLF.”  That is bold!  And it was on a California plate at that. It was likely motivated by their faith, but we don’t know for sure.  But it is at least as bold as having a fish symbol on our cars, because the owner is providing an expectation that this is how he or she lives.  But my guess is that part of the reason they did it may have been to serve as a reminder to themselves that others are watching.

    At any rate, this was a reminder to me of the biblical principle expressed by Jesus in Luke 9: 23-24 – “And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, he is the one who will save it.”

    This is not a new idea to many of us.  But as easy as it is to understand, it is equally hard to practice consistently.  And by writing this blog, I already sense added pressure to live up to the license plate, knowing how prone I am not to do that.  So we close this blog remembering that we cannot do this on our own human power, but rely on power of the Holy Spirit together with God’s “mercy and grace to help in time of need.”  Thank you, DYE2SLF person, for this great reminder!  May the Lord help us display our life T-shirt or license plate messages in a way that honors Him.

    If you would like to contribute to my ongoing collection of T-shirt and license plate examples, send me an email at blog@bcfministries.org.  I would appreciate any interesting “life-message” T-shirts or plates you see this summer, either good or bad.

    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


    How Did “Pollyanna” Get Such a Bad Rap? June 09 2017

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

    The 1960 movie “Pollyanna” (the Hayley Mills version) was on a classic movie channel this past weekend.  Although I didn’t watch it, it reminded me of my reaction to it when I first saw it maybe 20 years ago.  Prior to that I had only heard “Pollyanna” mentioned in a derogatory context, like “don’t be such a Pollyanna.”  The implication was that a Pollyanna was someone who was naively optimistic, or who did not understand the realities of the world. In other words, the real world contains unfair treatment, difficult circumstances, and people who do evil – and you are naïve if these things don’t bother you.

    Well, it’s true.  The real world does contain unfair treatment, difficult circumstances, and people who do evil. But the Scriptures are quite clear that even these things cannot cause us to lose hope or take away the supernatural joy we can have even when things are not going well, humanly speaking.

    The story line of Pollyanna, based on the 1913 novel by that name, is that the young daughter of missionary parents was sent to live with her aunt after both of Pollyanna’s parents had died. Pollyanna’s parents had taught her to look on the bright side of every circumstance.  So she grew up with an effusive optimism and invented “The Glad Game,” which she invited others to play with her.  The game originated when Pollyanna was hoping to get a doll for Christmas but found only a pair of  crutches  inside the missionary barrel. Her father said that she could be glad about the crutches because she didn't need to use them.

    It so happened that Pollyanna’s aunt was just the opposite: very dour and cynical, looking at everything in a way that showed how miserable a life she had.  But the aunt was wealthy and wielded great power and influence in the small town where she lived. Pollyanna’s optimism becomes contagious to just about everyone in the town except for her Aunt Polly.   Reality then set in for Pollyanna’s own life when she falls from a tree and her legs are severely injured.  She is bedridden and not even The Glad Game seems meaningful anymore.  The townspeople rally around her and show how their lives have been transformed by how Pollyanna could find something to be joyful about in every circumstance.  In the end, even Aunt Polly learns to find joy in focusing on things to be thankful for.

    Enter Paul-iana (a.k.a. the Apostle Paul).  Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote some tremendously encouraging reminders to the churches (and by extension, to us) about gratitude. And it’s good to remember that Paul wrote these things even though he did not have exactly a life of ease.  So before we get into his message, let’s look at what his life was like.

    In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul was admonishing the church about allowing themselves to be deceived by false gospels.  “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (verse 3).  It seemed that the Corinthians were being tempted to abandon Paul’s teaching for a “different gospel” (verse 4).  He was compelled to remind them how much he cared about them and was concerned for them by recounting how he had labored to help prevent the Corinthian believers from being led astray. Paul states in verses 23-28 that he was:

    “in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.”

    In the context of Chapter 11, Paul was saying to the Corinthians “Why would I go through all this if I was not concerned about you?”  The Paul who experienced all these difficulties is the same Paul who wrote profound reminders that we are to have joy in all circumstances.  This was not just a nice spiritual theory for him; he lived it.  Here are just a few samples.

    1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (the memory verses for our church as we have been studying 1 Thessalonians)

    Philippians 4:4 – “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.” (written from confinement in prison, as were the next two passages)

    Philippians 1:3-4 – “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all .…”

    Philippians 1:18 – “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.  Yes, and I will rejoice …”  (in response to those who were preaching the gospel with impure motives)

    Galatians 5:22 – “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY, peace patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, self-control …”

    2 Corinthians 7:4 – “Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf.  I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction.”

    2 Timothy 1:4 – “longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy.”

    So it was not as if Paul was oblivious to the realities of the world when he wrote these things.  On the contrary, he had experienced the real world, and its dangers, more than many of us ever will.  If the world wants to call “in everything give thanks” being a “Pollyanna,” so be it.  It would seem from the Scriptures that a characteristic of being a Christian is to find ways to be thankful in every circumstance, and we should be unafraid of finding ways to express our gratitude.  The Lord didn’t say this would be easy; but as we learn, and sometimes fail, He transforms our life and gives us hope that is not dependent on earthly outcomes.  

    At the same time, we don’t want to minimize how difficult it can be for our brothers and sisters when they go through difficult times.  Paul is also the one who reminded us that we are to “encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11); we are to restore with gentleness those caught in any trespass (Galatians 6:1); and we are to “encourage one another day after day…" (Hebrews 3:13 – in other words, don’t give up on people).  And we dare not try to take the place of the Holy Spirit by preaching thankfulness at an inappropriate time.  Rather, if we by God’s grace live a life of gratitude, it can encourage others to do the same; or it may open up opportunities to have conversations about what God has done in our lives to make us more thankful.  It is ironic that the stigma of Pollyanna seems to prevent parents from giving that name to their daughters (I’ve never met a Pollyanna), and yet she represents (though imperfectly) a characteristic that is so important in the Christian life.  I should probably watch it again.

    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


    “Why We Lie” May 26 2017

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

    This is the title of the lead article in the June 2017 issue of National Geographic, featured on the cover of the magazine.  The full title is “Why We Lie – the Science Behind Our Complicated Relationship with the Truth.”  I don’t usually read National Geographic, but I had to read this article because lying has been so much a part of human behavior from time immemorial.  And the conclusion, based on the Word of God, differs from that of the author – explaining why we lie is not all that complicated. 

    The fact that the question of “why do we lie?” is even asked shows how insensitive society has become to the importance of telling the truth.  Societies are generally held together by trust: in marriages, families, individual friendships, financial institutions, the government and the governed.  The Lord repeatedly reminds us in both the Old and New Testaments how important it is to tell the truth.  Telling the truth was so important for judicial fairness in Israel that God made “you shall not bear false witness” the 9th of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:16).

    Although the National Geographic article highlights how rampant lying has become, and how technology enables this behavior to flourish, all the author could come up with in the end was another question: “What then might be the best way to impede the fleet-footed advance of untruths into our collective lives?  The answer isn’t clear.  Technology has opened up a new frontier for deceit, adding a 21st century twist to the age-old conflict between our lying and trusting selves.”

    Why Lie?

    Part of the article references tabulations that had been made by individuals over a 24-hour period, ranging in age between 6 and 77, documenting how frequently they lied and the reasons they lied.  Thirty-six percent indicated that their lies were to “protect self” and 44% of lies were to “promote self” (mostly to gain economic advantage, personal advantage or put forward a good impression).

    The Bible is filled with real-life examples of lies and deceptions, even from revered biblical characters.  David himself told lies and plotted deceptions to protect himself from others knowing about the adultery he had committed with Bathsheba (2 Samuel Chapter 11).  Peter the apostle denied being associated with Jesus – not once, not twice, but three times (Luke Chapter 22).  These and other examples should be good reminders that all of us, no matter how well-intentioned, are susceptible to denying the truth, stretching the truth, and making up stories to try to get through difficult situations.

    I still remember an incident in 11th grade English class where each of us had to give speeches in front of our fellow students – not my favorite classroom exercise.  The bell rang about a minute into my speech, and I was off-the-hook for the time being.  Whew!  The next day the teacher started up the speeches again, and much to my delight, she skipped over my name.  Apparently she had marked me off on her list the day before and did not remember that I had barely begun.  So when the next speech came up, what did I do?  I didn’t say a word.  But most of the class remembered, gave me “the eye,” and wondered if I was going to say anything.  I did not.  Looking back on it, my humanity was on full display.  Having not been caught by the teacher, I considered it to be a successful deception, which wasn’t entirely my fault.  Brilliant!  Not being a believer at the time, it reminds me of where I could be, were it not for the Lord.  Even now as a believer, some 50 years later, temptations abound to make myself look good, gain advantage, or hide my propensity toward sin.

    When Are We Tempted to Lie?

    The most significant temptations to lie seem to be in cases where we are unlikely to get caught, or where the deception is not viewed to be that significant in our society today.  For example: 

    • Getting more change than people deserve from a financial transaction is passed off as justified because it was a mistake of the business.  This is now a societal norm.  This ignores the opportunity we can have as Christians to show how different we are from the world; and people usually notice, though they may not admit it.  
    • We can present one image at church and another as we go about our “secular responsibilities” (which are really spiritual responsibilities as well) hoping the two worlds will never meet.
    • We blame someone else or something else for a failure at work, home, or school, avoiding the blame for what may have gone wrong.  

    Governments are increasingly installing technology to keep individuals in our society from taking advantage of situations for their own personal gain:  video cameras, global positioning systems (GPS), large transaction databases to spot financial inconsistencies.  They are facing the reality that we as humans are prone to deceit, and this is the way governments, businesses, and homeowners have attempted to address the problem.

    This almost seems like an attempt at “partial omniscience.”  Just think of how much easier and less costly it would be if we all recognized our accountability to a truly omniscient God and made our decisions accordingly.  That would be incredibly refreshing.  However, society is clearly going in the other direction.  The truth doesn’t really seem to matter, except when you get caught in a lie, and even then, the implications are limited and the behavior even expected.  The only time many people seem to be concerned about lying is when they are lied to. When they are on the receiving end of the lie, people act offended and would say they have been treated unfairly.

    One of the examples in the article is that of Bernie Madoff, manager of a multi-billion-dollar financial portfolio.  He was so convincing and so trustworthy on the surface, delivering spectacular returns, that he earned the loyalty of many high-profile investors.  Then the Ponzi scheme collapsed.  This is what happens when lies get piled on top of lies.  Another lie is used to keep our story from unraveling.  Eventually we run out of options to keep people from discovering the deception.  This is bondage, not freedom.  Sadly, as society drifts farther from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the more we can expect dishonesty, deception, and all the accompanying consequences.

    The Freedom of Telling the Truth

    So … why do we lie?  We saw above that even secular studies indicate that we care about ourselves more than about being truthful.  So how can anyone deny that we have a sin nature?  Children, from their earliest years, figure out how to be deceitful.  They don’t need training in how to lie or manipulate situations.  Rather, they need to be taught how to tell the truth even when it may not present themselves in the best light.  This is truly liberating, and is also a lot easier on the memory.  It is also how we demonstrate love for others.

    Recognize that the Lord Who has saved us from our sin, and Whom we serve out of a deep sense of gratitude, is fully aware of our failings, is ready to forgive and to welcome us back into fellowship.  We don’t need to justify ourselves; we don’t need to make excuses.  He knows our weaknesses already.  It is like the father or mother who knows, through obvious evidence, that a child is not telling the truth.  They are just waiting for the child to acknowledge it.  Why not just confess it, receive forgiveness, and go on to be a consistent truth-teller, in the power of the Holy Spirit?  It is our reputation before the Lord that ultimately matters most.

    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 Sound Technician (and other jobs you only know about when things go wrong) May 12 2017

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

    There are many reasons why we gather together as local bodies of believers: to praise the Lord through song and testimony, pray together, fellowship and encouragement, hear and apply the Word of God, and to be equipped for the work of the service (Ephesians 4:12).   All of these involve verbal and/or visual communication, and most churches have sound systems to help make sure we can hear clearly, especially when we sing together and hear the Word taught.  

    Enter the person who runs the sound system.  There are many jobs in this world that go unnoticed, that is, until something is not quite right.  Running the sound system is one of those.  If the microphone goes out, the wrong mic is on, the sound is too loud, the sound is not loud enough, or there is the feedback “screech,” that’s when we remember that the sound technician is there.  The sound person generally serves in obscurity until that moment.

    It turns out that there are lots of jobs like that, and many places where the Lord is served in human obscurity. Perhaps you have one of those.  The list of such jobs is very long, and I would hesitate to start the list because it would leave a lot of people out.  But this also includes many unpaid jobs: housework, bringing up the children, caring for an elderly parent - jobs for which there can appear to be little earthly recognition.  Let’s just say the sound technician is representative of the obscurity with which many people work and serve.

    Thankfully, none of us serve in obscurity before God.  Hebrews 4:13 states that “no creature is hidden from His sight.”  Although there are times in which we might prefer this not to be true, it is great hope for those who faithfully labor in relative obscurity.  Ephesians 6:7-8 speaks directly to this:

    “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.”

    In other words, the most important audience for your service is God Himself.  We should strive to be the best employee, worker, student, helper, roommate, spouse, parent, or child we can be, but it is not for the purpose of seeking praise from others.  When we do receive praise, we can graciously accept it and give credit to the Lord, but we need not be discouraged if we don’t receive earthly praise.  

    The scribes and Pharisees had an entirely different focus. Jesus said of them “they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.  They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.” Matthew 23:5-7

    But on the other side of the coin, we are to express our gratitude and provide encouragement for others, including those who labor in obscurity.  I Thessalonians 5:11 states “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you also are doing.”  The Apostle Paul was a great example of this, as most of his epistles begin with words of thanksgiving and encouragement, such as:

    • Romans 1:8 – “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all ….”
    • I Corinthians 1:4 – “I thank my God always concerning you ….”
    • Ephesians 1:15 – “For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you ….”
    • Philippians 1:3 – “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you ….”
    • Colossians 1:3 – “We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you ….”   
    • I Thessalonians 1:2 – “We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers ….”

    Serving in obscurity is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate Whom we serve.  While we seek opportunities to encourage others (and are commanded to do so), we do not need to let our peace and joy depend on whether we receive praise or encouragement ourselves.  It is a great step forward in spiritual maturity when we realize this and can be content with either encouragement or a lack thereof.  Jesus is the ultimate example of this, and He could do it because He “kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (I Peter 2:23).  May we, by God’s grace, be able to say like Paul “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Philippians 4:11).  

    And by the way, if you are looking for people to encourage, you can start with the sound technician, and others in the church who serve in relative obscurity, as well as those who are more visible.  They all “with good will render service as to the Lord” to help us worship and grow in our faith.

    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 Miracle and Meaning of DNA, Part 3 April 29 2017

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

    In Part 1 of this three-part DNA series we began looking at the implications of DNA testing with respect to the physical part of the person.  We provided some background on DNA and introduced three aspects of DNA for which to explore biblical truths: health, ancestry, and stewardship.  We covered the first part of ancestry in Part 2, and will finish up ancestry and stewardship here.

    In Part 2, we addressed the possible surprises of learning about your ancestry. Perhaps there was a notorious criminal or someone who cheated the rest of the family out of their inheritance. Perhaps someone in your family history achieved something “great.” We do not need to be either prideful or ashamed of our lineage because God does not favor or reject us based on our lineage or someone else's accomplishments or sins. We are individually accountable to Him.

    We ended Part 2 by recognizing that, while cultures may have long-established prejudices, God says that believers are all part of the same spiritual family.  No ancestry, nationality, race, gender, or age stands in the way of our having fellowship with the Lord and with one another, and the church should be the ultimate example of this principle in action.

    What About So-Called “Inherited Problems?"

    We have seen in this age of technology that DNA testing is able to reveal our racial/ethnic background quite accurately. While there is nothing wrong with learning about our genetic background, it can introduce questions that may be temptations in our thought life.

    Upon learning (or confirming) our ethnic heritage, we could use this information as an excuse for various sins. For example, some ethnicities make claims to (or are stereotyped as) having a propensity to anger. We use phrases like the “Irish temper,” or “how to argue like an Italian.” Or we attach euphemisms like “intense” or “passionate” to various cultures. There is a temptation with sins like anger to erroneously excuse them away by tying them to a genetic trait, passed down through ancestry.

    Most of us realize that we don’t need to be Irish to be capable of anger; and certainly not all Irishmen are habitually angry. Anger is a temptation that all of us have because of our sinful nature. Each one of us is perfectly capable of demonstrating anger, no matter our ethnicity or culture.  But we cannot justifiably use heritage as an excuse and dismiss it with “that’s just the way I was built.”

    It may sound surprising, but God's Word has already told us about genetics and sin. The Bible is clear about several things:
    1. Everyone is born with a sin nature (Psalm 51:5, Romans 3:23, 5:12-14). It was passed down from Adam (Romans 5:12,19). We all have gone astray; we all go our own way (Isaiah 53:5-6). Our heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).  Apart from the Lord, we are all equally bound by our sin. But there is never a time that we can say “my culture, my heritage, my family environment, or some other person forced me to sin.” Nor does someone’s sin nature “rub off” on others. We all are born with a propensity toward sin. And even as believers we all have sins and temptations that we struggle with.
    2. Calling our disobedience what it really is – “sin” - is actually a source of great hope. Trying to excuse away our sin actually makes things more complicated than they need to be. If the Bible calls something a sin, it means that we are to turn away from it and pursue the new life that God has given us. As believers, attributing our wrongdoing to a disease, to a genetic “flaw,” to another person, or to the circumstances of my heritage is basically saying that “God’s power is not sufficient to help me choose righteousness.”  If we recognize it as sin, it means that, by God's grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be victorious despite our circumstances (even if those circumstances were brought about, in part, by actions of our forefathers).  There are still times that we may fall, but God has provided the way for our fellowship with Him to be restored quickly and with great hope.  I John 1:9 is very straightforward and simple: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
    3. Nothing can interfere with our personal relationship with God and the peace and joy that He provides.  In other words, we are not somehow doomed to a miserable, sinful life because of what our ancestors did.  As we saw in Part 1 of the DNA blog, “nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.”

    Ezekiel Chapter 18 is a beautiful illustration of this.  The people of Israel had a popular  proverb that said “The fathers eat the sour grapes, But the children’s teeth are set on edge.”  In other words, they were saying that the inclinations of the current generation were dictated by the actions of their ancestors. In verse 3, the Lord’s makes it very clear “’As I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘you are surely not going to use this proverb in Israel anymore.’”

    Then the Lord goes on to give examples of how a righteous father does not guarantee a righteous son. Conversely, a miserable, sinful father does not doom his son to the same fate, even when the son has observed all the evils the father may have committed. We will deal with “observed behavior” in a future blog post.  

    This is all summed up in verse 20:  “The person who sins will die.  The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity, the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. “  In other words, we are not doomed to repeat our ancestors’ unrighteous ways. Nor does having righteous ancestors provide any guarantee that the current generation will follow suit. We will also deal with “generational sin” in a future post.

    Both of these show the truth of individual relationship and responsibility before the Lord. Even if DNA tests were to somehow show that we have certain propensities (such as anger), God gives us the same commands as He does to everyone else.  He does not say that the Irish or any other group gets a break on anger.  

    This is a great hope, because God is saying that, by His grace you can have victory even in those areas of life where you may have greater temptation to sin than someone else.  And perhaps to the believing Irishman He would say “even though you may have been labeled as an angry man, I am in the business of turning you into the kind, tender-hearted, forgiving person that I wrote about in Ephesians 4:32.” While this is a great hope, it is also a solemn reminder of our individual accountability to God.

    Stewardship

    This leads us to the biblical reminder to be good stewards of what we have, irrespective of family heritage or the particular circumstances in which we find ourselves.  I Corinthians 4:2 says “In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.”  Romans 12:6 reminds us that “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly.”  The emphasis of these verses is not so much on what gifts we have, but on putting them to work, no matter how conspicuous or inconspicuous they may be.  Trying to imagine “what could have been” were it not for our circumstances or family heritage will only distract us from from being that good steward of whatever He has for us today.  God does not hold us responsible for what our ancestors did, but He does expect us to be faithful stewards of our thoughts, speech, and actions for today.

    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