Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures

Teaching Children Selflessness (Part 1) March 17 2018

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

Little children are so cute! We are blessed with four grandchildren (ages 10, 4, almost 3, and almost 2), with one more on the way. They are truly a gift from the Lord.

But it is also true that you don’t have to teach children how to sin. They are amazingly adept at figuring that out on their own. That’s because, ever since Adam and Eve, we have all inherited a sin nature. We are not “born good” as babies. We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are born as sinners. Not until we have accepted God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ do we have the power to consistently overcome sin, and even then, the pull of our flesh is strong. Among other Scripture passages, we see this from:

  • Romans 5:18 - “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men,” and from
  • Romans 6:6 – “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin ….”

Even though believers are no longer slaves to sin, life can be a daily struggle. But our goal nevertheless, whether child or adult, is to follow the example of Jesus (1 Peter 2:21).

When it comes to helping children follow Jesus’ example, you can never start too early. While each child will need to make his or her own decision about faith in Christ at some point, bringing them up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4) is both a command for parents and will help build a foundation of character that God can use even more powerfully when children grow up.

God never promised that this would be easy, and we know from observation or experience that it is not. There will be tears. There will be exhaustion. There will be sleepless nights. There will be days when “no” seems like the only word in our vocabulary. But as we seek to help our children grow, some of the most important parts of the process will be opportunities for us to grow as well. You could think of children as little “spiritual growth aids” for parents.

There are many characteristics of Christ we can help children learn, but let’s start with “selflessness,” since selfless love is what brought Jesus to the cross. Now you might be thinking that a “selfless child” is an oxymoron. In other words, you might think that it’s not really possible. Although children can melt our hearts with hugs, demonstrations of trust, and overall cuteness, they usually begin life with a focus on three things: “me, me, me.” Just acknowledge the fact that we didn’t need to teach our children how to be selfish. That came as part and parcel of these adorable little bundles of joy. And there is clear confirmation of this in the Scriptures, as God reminds us that “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15) and that “a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother” (Proverbs 29:15).

But you know that we adults are not inclined toward selflessness either. Just think of the last time you were in a group photograph. Whose face did you check first to make sure it looked ok? Thinking about ourselves first is part of our human nature, and only by God’s grace can we exhibit selflessness even when we don’t feel like it. Acts of selflessness often run counter to our feelings.

But Jesus also used children as an example of how we should come to Jesus: “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). So we can see in them both examples of “childlike faith” as well as the daily realities of dealing with “it’s all about me.”

We would all likely agree that teaching children selflessness is hard work. But how would we get started? If you remember the “put-offs” and “put-ons” from our “addiction” blog series or from the BCF Self-Confrontation course, you know that the “put-offs” are important, but biblical change comes more completely from a primary focus on the “put-ons.” This applies to children as well, not just adults, and there are some great, practical “put-ons” for children. Let’s take Ephesians 4:28, for example: “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.” A thief can stop stealing for a while and still be a thief. But we know that biblical change has taken place when someone not only stops taking from others, but begins working and becomes a giver instead.

It’s so interesting to watch how children tend to protect and hoard their own things, and also covet the things of others. Where did children universally learn that? And how do they learn not to? Intervening in a tug-of-war over toys (or food, or the TV remote) to reinforce sharing is a simple, but powerful application of Ephesians 4:28. We may have to go over this lesson with our children 1000 times, but as they hear our loving reminders and hopefully see our example in practice, they will not be able to escape this biblical truth and learn to become sharers. In fact, this is the real promise of Proverbs 22:6:

“Train up a child in the way he should go. Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

The promise here is that children will not be able to escape from the training. It is not a guarantee that they will be godly when they grow up. If it were true that the statement is an assurance of the child becoming godly, then God our heavenly Father would be a failure as a parent. He never does anything wrong in our training, but does He have rebellious children? Of course, we see that He does.

But the training children receive will stay with them, even when they go through periods of rebellion. We cannot control what the children ultimately do with the training. Our responsibility is to faithfully bring them up based on God’s ways and bathe them in prayer; but the outcome is in the hands of each child and the Lord.

Given that our focus is to be on the training and not on the ultimate outcome provides great freedom for parents. Although our heart may ache at what a child ultimately decides to do with his or her life, our focus is to be on the biblical love and training of our children and on being a godly, consistent example to them. This is a sobering responsibility, to be sure, but we leave the results in God’s hands.

We also realize that we sometimes fail at this responsibility, and that we sometimes sin against our children. Next time we’ll talk about what to do when we’ve blown it, and we’ll look at other examples of how to teach children selflessness. We are stewards (caretakers) of our children at home for a relatively short time, and we’ll talk about how we can biblically disciple them during these years. This is a huge topic, and the Bible says a lot more about it. But it is critical for our families and for the next generation, as the pressures, distractions, and temptations of the world increase all around us.

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

Steve Smith


End-of-Life Warning March 03 2018

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

I recently purchased a carbon monoxide detector that advertised an “End-of-life Notification.” That seemed a little strange.  Not only could this detector warn you when CO levels were high, but it was sophisticated enough to determine when people had died and could notify authorities.  But my first reaction was “I’m not sure I would be very confident of this CO detector.”

On further reading, it became apparent that the “End-of-life Notification” was referring to the life of the 10-year battery, and of course not to the people.  OK.  I get it now.  But it started me thinking about other notifications we could receive about end of life that were real.

On January 13, residents of Hawaii had something like an end-of-life warning when they received notices that there was an incoming missile and that they should take cover.  The message read: “BALLISTIC  MISSILE THREAT  INBOUND TO  HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Given the recent threats from North Korea, and the fact that a missile from North Korea could reach the islands in about 30 minutes, citizens were inclined to take the warning seriously.  Family members and friends called and texted one another saying their goodbyes.  People fled to basements, down manholes, and wherever they could find a place that vaguely resembled “cover.”  As we all know, the notification turned out to be a false alarm, but it also turned out to be 38 minutes of people full of worry, fright, panic, desperation, prayers, tears, wild thoughts, and who knows what else.

I am always hesitant to write about the topic of unexpected death, because so many of us have been affected by it, and we have seen so much of it in the news, not the least of which has been the school shootings in Parkland, Florida.  In prior blogs, we have noted the staggering number of sudden, unexpected deaths that come just from drug overdoses (64,000 in 2016), traffic accidents (40,000) and homicides (15,700).  Heart attacks can be sudden cause of death, and 610,000 Americans a year die from this cause alone, one quarter of all annual deaths in the U.S.

Regardless of the cause, unexpected death can turn the lives of those who remain upside-down: husbands or wives left with a family to manage on their own, children orphaned, incomes lost, plans for the future instantaneously changed.  Life is challenging under normal circumstances, and these challenges are compounded when a loved one passes from this earth.

Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1789 that “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” and it is a reality that the chances of our physical death are 100%, unless the Lord returns first.  In other words, all of us are terminally ill.  Death is, therefore, a topic we must deal with, and as believers we should not be afraid to do so.  One of the great things about God’s Word is that it deals directly with life’s difficult topics, including death, and it provides radical hope for the believer, a hope that the world could never provide.

I remember the first time I attended the memorial service of a believer, shortly after I came to Christ in my early 20s.  It was astonishing and eye-opening.  Yes, there was grief and there were tears, but there was also an overpowering sense of hope and even joy.  It was a vivid illustration of the truth of I Thessalonians 4:13-14: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”

When Shashi’s father died suddenly at age 50, just two years after we had been married (his wife was only 43 at the time), the pastor spoke at the memorial service from Philippians 1:20-24, where Paul vividly described his personal tug-of-war about being ready to die, but also wanting to stay a little longer on earth, to serve God and others:

“… 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.”

Dad’s pastor reminded us of the biblical reality that death is a believer’s ultimate upgrade, hard though it may be for those who are left.  While I would never minimize how difficult life can be after the death of child, a spouse, a family member, or a friend, I would also not want to minimize the power of hope there is in a believer who has gone Home, even in a tragic, sudden way.

The emphasis in the Scriptures is all about spiritual life, not physical death.  Sometimes we can put the emphasis on the wrong syl-LA-ble. In fact, the word “life” is used 47 times just in the Gospel of John.   There are several great reminders of this contrast in this book, among them being John 5:24:  “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”  That is great assurance!

We covered this passage just two weeks ago at our church, and as we have been studying John’s gospel, our pastor has also been reminding us of the purpose of the book as summarized in John 20:30-31: “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

It is a comforting reminder to us as believers, but also a call to make this astonishing hope known to an otherwise lost world. Paul again encourages us in I Corinthians 15:55-58 to be steadfast in living out this hope and conveying it to others: “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 brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”

There have been several friends we know who have unexpectedly lost loved ones in recent weeks.  Thankfully, these were believers, and they have believing families who can encourage one another.  But it’s still tough, and in some cases the family that remains will need a lot of help.  Like them, we never know when the Lord might take us home.  Going back to my CO detector, we have already received our physical “end-of-life warning.” And perhaps there was some spiritual lesson for us in the reminder of the Hawaiian missile incident.  In any event, the knowledge of our mortality should prompt us, like Paul, to both be ready at any time and to “abound in the work of the Lord” while we remain.  May God give us the grace, strength, and boldness to do so.

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 4) February 19 2018

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

Last time, we talked about one of the great “hope verses” of the Bible, I Corinthians 10:13 (“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able …”). And we discussed how we often forget the verses immediately before and immediately after verse 13.  Therefore let him who stands take heed that he does not fall” (verse 12). And “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (verse 14). 

BCF’s “Victory over Failures Plan” (or VOFP) is built around this biblical idea that, even as believers, we are all susceptible to sin and that we need to have a specific game plan to put into practice the commands to “take heed” and to “flee.”  In the VOFP, one of the six worksheets is called the “Overcoming Temptations Plan,” and it is a very practical and biblical approach to having victory over temptation, in the power of the Holy Spirit. If you have struggled with a temptation or still are (and that would include most of us), this would be a great way to begin cooperating with the Lord to transform your life, as He has with so many others. 

The “Overcoming Temptations Plan”

It would be good if you went through the study of biblical principles that goes along with the whole VOFP, but because we don’t have room for that here, we’ll go over a few key points on the Overcoming Temptations Plan, since the topic is Addiction.  As we studied in Addiction Blog No. 2, victory over temptation and sin comes through putting off the old self, with its sinful practices and instead being “renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new self,” (Ephesians 4:23-24) with its new, righteous behaviors.  Often, if we focus on the put-on, the put-off becomes much easier.

The Overcoming Temptations Plan has three sections: it has space for you to first identify ways in which you have previously fallen to a particular type of temptation and sinned (the put-offs).  Next you would identify the righteous pattern to be established instead (the put-ons).  Both of these are brought forward from the previous worksheets in the VOFP.  The focus of the Overcoming Temptations Plan then turns to “My plan to respond righteously the next time temptation arises,” which is where you would get very specific about what to do that next time.

As students, those of us who tended to procrastinate learned to study furiously (a.k.a. cram) leading up to important exams.  But we also learned that this strategy didn’t work so well with “pop quizzes.”   One way to think of your plan is to think of temptations as a series of “spiritual pop quizzes.”  You never know when temptation might present itself, but unless you are prepared, guess what?  A spiritual “F” is very possible.  Having a “spiritual F” may sound like an oxymoron, but you know what I mean.

Let’s Start with Our Thought Life

To deal with temptations associated with addictive behaviors, your plan will need to consider three parts of preparedness: 1) thoughts, 2) speech, and 3) actions.  So let’s take thought life first.  Jesus said in John 14:26, when he was preparing the disciples for His death and departure “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit … will bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.  It will be more difficult for the Holy Spirit to bring God’s Word to our remembrance in the midst of the temptation if we do not take the “all that I said to you” seriously.  We need to listen carefully to what God says.

And if you want to be a Psalm 1:3 person, that is, one who is “like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season…” you need to start with the put-on in verse 2: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.”  In Christian circles today, we don’t emphasize Scripture memory very much, but for all of us, especially for believers who are struggling with temptation, Scripture memory is a vital practice that the Holy Spirit can use to transform our thought life, and give us victory over temptation.

Jesus, Himself, in the temptation in the wilderness responded three times to the devil “it is written” (Matthew 4:3-10).  He has certain advantages over us as far as knowing the Scriptures, but it points to the importance of taking the Word into our minds/hearts so that we might be prepared, just like Jesus was.  In other words, if we want to take temptation seriously, we need to take Scripture reading and Scripture memory seriously.  Lesson 2 in the Self-Confrontation manual, pages 41-42 has four example plans for Scripture memory, but there are many other ways, in this age of technology. You might want to pair up with a friend and give them free reign to ask you, unannounced, and in love, “OK Steve, give me I Corinthians 10:12-14,” or whatever verses the Lord leads you to memorize.  Make sure these verses are related to your area of temptation.  The things we remember from Scripture can then be used by the Lord to impact the way we speak and act.

Speech

As to our speech, there is a temptation not to be truthful with our family and friends about an addiction.  We might try to hide what we are doing.  We might be tempted to lie about it when confronted.  We might verbally strike out against someone when they inquire about whether something is wrong and whether we need help.

So part of your plan could include making pre-arrangements with your “Proverbs 27:6 friends,” as we discussed in Addiction Blog No. 2.  If you are serious about change, they should have the freedom to talk with you very directly, per the “faithful are the wounds of a friend” of Proverbs 27:6. Your family would be a great place to start, humbling though it may be.  Probably a significant percentage of the 64,000 drug overdose lives lost each year might have been saved if those struggling with drugs were to provide their family and friends with the freedom to “wound them” with loving reminders, even lovingly stern reminders.  A true friend will lovingly step in anyway, but pre-arranging this may also help you to remember not to put yourself in the path of that temptation in the first place.  It is similar to a surgeon using a scalpel in surgery to heal you from inside out, from the specific area of the problem.

Actions

We talked about examples of this in prior addiction blogs: a pastor’s friend who would not go into a hotel room until the management had actually taken out the TV; and Shashi’s high school Bible study leader who had to quit playing professional baseball (when he became a believer) because it was the area where he failed in the anger problem he faced.  We talked about how radical some of these things might sound, but to these believers, it was part of acknowledging how vulnerable they were to their temptations.  Ultimately, the actions you put down in the Overcoming Temptations Plan are between you, the Lord, and those who come alongside you to help in your struggle with addiction.  Some of these actions may fall into the category of put-offs, while others may be put-ons.  Just remember that the put-ons are especially important, and there are some examples of those in the sample VOFP in the Self-Confrontation Student Workbook.  But to give you some example ideas of actions that could apply in certain circumstances, consider the following:

  • If it involves anger at another person such as a family member or co-worker: Make a list of ways to bless the family member or co-worker with whom you are tempted to be angry, and look for opportunities to bless him or her, using Romans 12:9-21 as a guideline.
  • If it involves abuse of prescription medications:  Have a family member monitor the medications for you and to take those meds out of your own control.
  • If it involves alcohol abuse:  Keeping absolutely no alcoholic beverages in your home.
  • If it involves certain foods: make arrangements with the family not to bring that food home from the grocery store.
  • If it involves pornography: Moving the computer to a room where it is always visible for others to see what you are watching. Or if you live alone, work with a friend to put controls on what you can watch.
  • Set self-imposed time limits for video games (and for some people that might be zero)
  • Unsubscribe from any TV channels that are likely to have sexually oriented programming
  • For almost any addictive behavior, making arrangements for family members to track you any time of day or night with GPS.
  • Never go to places where you might be with a person you are wrongly attracted to, and certainly never be alone with that person.

Wherever there have been addictions, there have also usually been broken relationships.  The VOFP provides biblical guidance elsewhere on forgiveness and reconciliation, as well as ways to simply grow in your walk with the Lord.  Also related to the Overcoming Temptations Plan is a plan to live righteously in our daily practices of life (Worksheet 4 of the VOFP).  Some of the principles and examples provided above may be ones you will find even more pertinent for the Daily Practices Plan. Suffice it to say that the reason we usually fall to temptation is because we are thinking about ourselves and not about loving God and others.  So for all these situations, ask the Lord for wisdom in how you can bless those around you.  It’s amazing how much trouble (and grief for others) you can avoid by following Jesus’ example of not "coming to be served but to serve" (Matthew 20:28).

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 3) February 04 2018

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

We put the “Addiction Series” on pause over the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holidays to cover some other topics, but wanted to continue the series with a third installment.  Those of you who have been through the BCF Self-Confrontation course know that most of the lessons are structured around four elements:  

  •  Biblical Understanding,
  •  Biblical Hope,
  •  Biblical Change, and
  •  Biblical Practice.  

To an extent, we were following that structure in “Addiction” Parts 1 and 2 (October 27 and November 10), even though we didn’t explicitly state it.

Remembering back from three months ago, we started the Addiction Series with a recent article in National Geographic entitled “The Science of Addiction – How new discoveries about the brain can help us kick the habit” and learned how extensive and devastating the problem of addiction is, not only in the U.S., but worldwide.  We saw in James 1:13-15 and other passages that a person can be “carried away and enticed by his own lusts” and that this gives birth to sin. These and other verses show the progression and consequences of our choice to let our flesh control us rather than the Lord.

We found that the scientific research has done us the service of explaining the mechanics of how addiction takes place in the chemistry of the brain.   But the Scriptures clearly show where the responsibility lies in giving in to temptation.  To quote the comic strip character Pogo, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”  And we can’t take the 1960s/70s comedian Flip Wilson’s “the devil made me do it” skits as biblical truth, hilarious though they may have been.

We also found in the last blog that the Scriptures give us tremendous hope, even for those who are at the bottom of the downward spiral of addiction.  People may make deliberate choices to take a drug, get drunk, endlessly 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.

We were greatly blessed when BCF taught in a church in Southern California several years ago where many of those attending were former drug addicts.  The church has a tremendous outreach to the those who have been devastated by substance abuse.  One of their themes is that “we don’t have a 12-step program, we have a one-step program – Jesus!”  That is amazing hope, and so consistent with Scripture! And there are a lot of specific biblical principles that go along with that theme.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, there is a long list of unrighteous life-styles.  Then in verse 11, there is one of the most hopeful statements that an addicted person can possibly hear.  Writing to the church in Corinth, Paul stated “Such were some of you.”  In other words, no one is out of reach of God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy, no matter what they’ve done, no matter where they are on the downward spiral, and no matter how high or low their levels of dopamine.  Paul was writing to people who had been saved out of dire circumstances of sin. This is not to underestimate how difficult it is to resist temptation and the pull of the flesh, especially when you are at bottom of the downward spiral.   But of course, as believers, we cannot turn this around and say: “let’s continue in sin that grace might increase.”  Paul answered that with an emphatic “May it never be!” in Romans 6:2.  As Christians, we need to cooperate with the Holy Spirit by actively putting off the sinful practices of the old self and putting on the righteous practices of the new self, as we discussed in Addiction blog No. 2.  This step, which we call “biblical practice,” involves putting the biblical principles to work in our daily life.  Especially with addictions, the temptation to fall back into old ways is very strong, and specific plans are needed.

Biblical Practice – Making Plans for when Temptation (Inevitably) Comes

Many of us are very familiar with one of the great “hope verses” on temptation, I Corinthians 10:13.  God says that “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”  But we often forget the verses immediately before and immediately after verse 13.  “Therefore let him who stands take heed that he does not fall” (verse 12). And “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (verse 14).

The promise of verse 13 that we would be able to endure is directly connected to precautions and actions that we should take individually.  God is saying here that, first, we are all susceptible to falling, so don’t get too proud or confident of yourself.  We must always be in a state of spiritual watchfulness.  Many of us are sadly familiar with situations where we saw someone who looked godly on the outside falling into sin.  We must recognize that we are not immune. This is the “common to man” part of verse 13.

Then in verse 14, we don’t just stand around in front of the liquor store (or the casino, or the adult book store, or … pick your addiction) waiting for the feelings of temptation go away.  Rather, we are to flee!  This is one of the most urgent verbs in the English language. God is reminding us that we have the choice to “flee” the temptation.  We are not forced to give into it.  God provides the way, but we must take decisive action to flee.

This doesn’t mean flee the circumstances (like “I just want out of here!”), but it means to flee the temptation and the sin that the temptation could lead you to. In other words, don’t hang around the liquor store or the casino, and protect yourself from places you should not go on the computer.  There are very practical ways to do that.  The “endure” of verse 13 also reminds us that, no matter how difficult our circumstances or trials may be, we can have spiritual victory within that situation.  God is not promising here that our problems or trials will necessarily go away.

BCF’s “Victory over Failures Plan” (or VOFP) is built around this biblical idea that, even as believers, we are all susceptible to sin and that we need to have a specific game plan to put into practice the commands to “take heed” and to “flee.”  In fact, there is a specific worksheet called the “Overcoming Temptations Plan.”  It is the fifth out of six worksheets in the VOFP, and is a very practical and biblical approach to having victory over temptation, even ones you may have given in to for years.  It involves putting into practice multiple biblical principles in the power of the Holy Spirit.  If you have struggled with a temptation or still are (and that would include most of us), this would be a great way to begin letting the Lord transform your life, as He has with so many others.

I have run out of space to cover the VOFP in enough detail, so we’ll leave that for next time.  As you can see, this three-blog series is stretching to four.  Maybe it will even go to five.  But this is a critical topic, affecting millions of individuals and families both within and outside the church.  So just as a preview, the Overcoming Temptations Plan deals with our thought life, our speech, and our actions.  So as a little exercise, you can start by identifying the type of situation in which you have previously been tempted on at least a semi-regular basis and proceeded to sin.  It could be in any of those areas, or all three.  Almost always, thoughts are behind both our speech and our actions, so we’ll start with the thought life next time.

In the meantime, you might want to read back through the VOFP, if you have a Self-Confrontation Student Workbook. The VOFP is covered both in individual lessons, starting with Lesson 5, and in the back of the Workbook.  Or you can order the VOFP from BCF as a stand-alone booklet.  It’s 48 pages long, with both blank and sample worksheets, plus the background explanation with biblical principles and instructions.  We will learn next time how very practical and useful plans can be made based on the “put-offs” and “put-ons” described so far in Addiction blogs 2 and 3.

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

Steve Smith


Encouraging Our Better Angels? January 19 2018

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

In my rare reading of the Wall Street Journal on a recent airline flight, I came across an article in the Book Review section titled “We Can Encourage Our Better Angels.”  The article was based on a book by Dr. Christian B. Miller titled: The Character Gap: How Good Are We?

My first thought was, “Hmmm, it’s nice to see that someone is trying to give messages to the financial industry, which has not always been known for its virtue.” (The September 30, 2016 blog on the Wells Fargo scandal is a commentary on what happens when emphasis on the bottom line overtakes ethical treatment of one’s customers.)  Reading further, I found that the WSJ article was directed at a general audience, encouraging all of us to aspire to acting ethically and honestly in our businesses and personal lives.  Here is an excerpt:

“The broad categories of virtue and vice don’t describe most of us very well.  While there may be some outliers on either end, most of us fall somewhere in the middle, in that great bulging center of the classic bell curve.  Given our mixed characters, we tend to be neither good enough to count as virtuous nor bad enough to count as vicious.
“Hence, we are confronted with what I call the character gap.  There is the virtuous person we should be.  There is who we actually are.  And there is a big difference between the two.  The good news is that our characters are not carved in stone.  Social science suggests several ways that we can all become better people, not overnight, but slowly and gradually.”

This is a fairly common assessment of human nature – from a secular perspective.  The article goes on to describe three examples of how we can “become better people:” 1) moral reminders, 2) role models, and 3) education in self-awareness.

Regarding moral reminders, the article describes an experiment that was conducted with three groups of about 35 student participants.  The first group took a 20-question test (with the questions being very difficult) and had to submit it to the person in charge after they were done.  The test was graded, and each student was to receive 50 cents for every correct answer.  The second group took the same test, but subjects were allowed to grade it themselves and report on how many they got “correct.”  The same reward applied.  This group reported getting an average of 6.1 problems right, almost double the score of group 1.   It was very evident that some were lying to earn more money, since there was no penalty for cheating.  A third group took the same test, and got to grade it themselves, but had to sign an honor code before they started.  The average score was back down to 3.1, suggesting that signing the code had influenced them not to cheat.

When we leave God out of the picture, this is the kind of guidance we are left with.  Interesting, but not transformative.   Approaches like this fall far, far short of the power and hope we have from the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit.   On one hand, it is wonderful that people are concerned about moral character.  I am encouraged that ethics are taken seriously within many parts of the business community.  On the other hand, the secular approach is a diversion from the power and hope of transformed lives through God’s plan of salvation.  While I would not expect banks and software companies to include the Gospel as part of their ethics training any time soon, at least some companies recognize the importance of the character of their employees.  A construction company I am familiar with puts the bumper sticker “Character Matters” on its pickup trucks – a pretty good reminder for their employees to be honest and gracious in their dealings with others.

Our propensity to sin has been well-documented since Adam and Eve.  The Ten Commandments were given in recognition of the reality of how sinful man is.  The Apostle Paul, himself, was completely aware of the pull of the flesh and the temptations he had toward sin, even after his salvation:

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.  For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.  But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.  I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.” (Romans 7:18-21)

We can all relate to this. Like Paul, we are painfully aware of our weaknesses (or at least we should be). The Bible reminds us that we all came into this world as sinners.  As evidence, all we have to do is look at small children. They are so cute! But one thing we don’t have to do is train them in how to sin. They figure that out on their own quite well, thank you. And they can be so creative in the ways they try to hide it, or excuse it, or flaunt it.  Our propensity, from the very beginning of life, is to sin.

It is also interesting to see how Paul described himself as his life progressed.  In I Corinthians 15:9, toward the beginning of his ministry, he described himself as “the least of the apostles.”  Further into his ministry, in Ephesians 3:8, he described himself as “the very least of all saints.”  And later in his life, in I Timothy 1:15, Paul described himself as “the foremost of all sinners.”

This is the same Paul that wrote in Romans 6:6-7 “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.”  In other words, Paul knew that he was no longer compelled to sin, but he was now free to choose righteousness.  But the daily struggle with sin he described in Chapter 7 was still there.  It was not that Paul was sinning more; rather, he was increasingly aware of (i.e. became more sensitive to) his sin.  The more he matured, the more he recognized the depths of his sin.  This helped him to increasingly appreciate the grace and mercy of the Lord.  It was a sign of his spiritual maturity.

This should be a great encouragement to us.  While the secular world may have devised methods to try to “encourage our better angels,” God’s message is that we needed much more than that – a life transformation.  We do not have the ability to be consistently good on our own.  Romans 5:6 says “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”  The one who is drowning needs someone else to save him.  Acknowledging the need for salvation is humbling, but out of it comes a deep gratitude to the One who has saved him.  This is a much deeper and more enduring motivation toward righteousness than the secular approach of “encouraging our better angels.”  We would be deeply indebted to the person who kept us from drowning.  How much more are we indebted to the God who gave up His Son to save us?

This takes the focus off of ourselves about how clever or great we think we can be.  The Pharisees became very skilled at that.  Instead, we give the credit to the One who did the saving and who continues to help us, as we rely on Him.  This is why we have the Holy Spirit, who not only convicts us of sin (John 16:8), but comes along side us to help us through it: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My (Jesus’) name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).

The believer’s personal and business ethics should be way beyond anything the Human Resources Department can teach.  Prone to sin though we may be, our character should be a living bumper sticker that says to our employer, our customers, and our acquaintances, “here is a man or a woman who can be trusted.”  May God help us to be this testimony of His grace to a needy world!

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


Reflections on “It’s a Wonderful Life” January 05 2018

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

Although we are already a week into 2018, I could not resist a few comments on my rare viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life” this past Christmas Eve. I’m not sure that I have ever watched the entire movie in one sitting (thanks to the multi-tasking we often get involved with over the holidays), but I did happen to watch about the last half of it this year (while wrapping some Christmas gifts). The American Film Institute ranks this 1946 classic as Number 1 on its list of the most inspirational American films of all time.

The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has sought to help others in various ways in the little town of Bedford Falls. He saved his younger brother Harry from drowning in a frozen lake, but lost his hearing in one ear as a result.  His quest to travel and go to college was interrupted by the untimely death of his father, which meant that he had to take over his father’s building and loan business. George makes some additional sacrifices for Harry, but meanwhile, the building and loan business struggles to survive, made more difficult because of the dishonest business practices of George’s competitor, Henry Potter, the wealthiest man in town.

The problems are exacerbated by the mismanagement of funds from the business by George’s Uncle Billy, which threatens to land George in jail and send the business into bankruptcy. George takes much of his frustration out on his family, leading to the key scene in the movie when George walks onto a bridge over a river and is contemplating suicide.

Enter Clarence Odbody  (Henry Travers). Prayers for George reach Heaven, where Clarence, “Angel 2nd Class,” is assigned to save George, in return for which he will earn his angel wings. Before George can jump, Clarence dives into the river just before George does, causing George to rescue Clarence rather than kill himself.

When George says he wishes he had never been born, Clarence decides to grant his wish and show George an alternate timeline in which he never existed. No one, including his wife (whom he never married in this alternate universe), recognizes George, and Clarence goes on to show the ill fates that befall various people George had helped in his real life but for whom he was not there in his alternate timeline.

George, now convinced that Clarence really is his guardian angel, runs back to the bridge and begs for his life back, and the alternate timeline changes back to the original reality, whereupon George realizes that he actually had made a difference in peoples’ lives.  And, of course, a bell on the Christmas tree rings, meaning that Clarence, the angel, has just earned his wings.

All theological inconsistencies aside, the film is a heartwarming story about truth, honesty, and service being recognized. Most of us can relate to the story, because we have seen similar things in our lives. We have done things to help people that have gone unnoticed. We have been honest when others have profited from being dishonest.  We may also have been resentful when others benefitted from our sacrifice. George had to be thinking “this is not fair;” and we think that way sometimes as well.

The problem is that so-called happy endings like the one in “It’s a Wonderful Life” don’t always occur.  Movies have the luxury of tying plots together in nice, neat little bows. I can fully understand that about movies. If we didn’t have happy endings, with things neatly wrapped up, there would be a lot fewer movie-goers. But real life is not generally like that.

Our challenge, while living on earth, is that we sometimes have “happy-ending expectations” that are not or cannot be fulfilled, at least not in the way we think they should.  Sometimes this is even exacerbated during holidays, because our expectations can be a little higher.  However, a deeper examination of the Scriptures shows us where to look for our joy. And it’s not in the storybook endings produced by the entertainment industry.

God’s definition of happy endings is much deeper than the definition we find in Hollywood. All we have to do is turn to Hebrews 11 to see a great reminder of this. Verse 13 summarizes an important lesson from the lives of the Old Testament patriarchs:

These all died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

In other words, they didn’t get to experience the “happy ending” as we have come to know and enjoy it in the movies.  However, they knew that God was true to His Word.  They lived by faith, even though things may not have worked out like they expected them to in their lifetime.  Faith is not a passive, ethereal feeling.  Rather, it results in demonstrations of love for God and others, realizing that human recognition may or may not occur.  We can see this in Hebrews 11, where action verbs and decisions are associated with almost every reference to faith:

  • By faith Abel offered a sacrifice (verse 4)
  • By faith Noah prepared an ark (verse 7)
  • By faith Abraham obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance (verse 8)
  • By faith Abraham offered up Isaac (verse 17)
  • By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin (verses 23-25)

 Hebrews 11:37-40 goes on to recount what other heroes of the faith went through:

“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.  And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised …”

“Not receiving what was promised” (in their lifetime) could be translated as “wow, this did not turn out the way it was supposed to.” George Bailey was thinking this way at one point, and it is tempting for us to think that way as well.  Those believers who struggle with this can learn from Hebrews 11 that:

  • We obey, act, and serve out of faith, but outcomes are in the Lord’s hands, not ours. And sometimes, like in Hebrews 11, outcomes also take time.  Our joy should be founded not in the outcome, but in the process of loving and serving, motivated by our gratitude for God’s love and forgiveness.
  • Our ultimate reward is not from receiving the praise of humans, or even recognition from them.  Colossians 3:24-25 summarizes this well:  “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.  It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”  That said, we should be involved in encouraging others in their walk with the Lord, even though our own joy does not depend on receiving encouragement or recognition from others.

 

Let’s face facts here.  This is not easy.  In fact, it is radical thinking and goes against the grain of our human nature.  But this is also where we have a hope that is far beyond what we would have from thinking only on a human plane.

I love a heartwarming story like “It’s a wonderful life.”  It is a beautiful thing to be reminded of how God may have used us in the lives of others.  It is encouraging, it is rewarding, it is even inspirational. But our hope is far superior to simply that reminder.  The point is, God’s peace and joy is possible, even if no one (on earth) notices what we have done. If we depend on the outcomes of earthly life for our joy, or on appreciation from others, we may find ourselves on George Bailey’s bridge.

You might also want to review a related blog from April 29, 2016 titled “It’s Not Fair” (https://bcfministries.myshopify.com/blogs/news/105538758-it-s-not-fair).  If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail blog@bcfministries.org. If you are benefiting from these blogs, you might want to consider joining us for a deeper study of biblical principles for living at our upcoming Self-Confrontation training courses in Indio, CA in late January 2017.  The Weekend Seminar, which teaches the 24 lessons in the last two weekends of the month, will be webcast for those who cannot be with us in person. See http://www.bcfministries.org/courses.html for details.

Steve Smith


Non-Traditional Christmas Passages December 22 2017

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

We love reading the passages this time of year about Jesus’ birth, from the prophetic ones like Isaiah 9:6, to the actual accounts of how it happened in Matthew Chapter 1 and Luke Chapters 2 and 3.  Handel’s Messiah brings it to life musically, and we often listen to it at least once in the Christmas season. It is an amazing, wonderful story!

There are some other passages, though, that are not generally thought of as Christmas passages and yet are powerful statements of Jesus’ birth.  These passages don’t have shepherds; no angels; no manger scene; no donkey or Mary and Joseph.  Just Jesus.  They are familiar passages, but I particularly like them because they speak about Jesus’ character as related to His birth.

The Gospel of John opens with a simple but profound statement:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God (John 1:1-2).

The language in the first part of John 1 is a bit mysterious, because we don’t exactly know what or who John is referring to as “the Word.”  Then the most amazing statement of all is our first “non-traditional” Christmas passage:

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

This is like the “Eureka!” verse of Christmas.  Wow!  Jesus, being with God and part of the triune God from the very beginning, came to earth in the form of a human body.  Fully God, and fully man.  I am amazed, and grateful, every time I read through John 1:1-14, because it reminds me that Son of God lowered Himself to extend a hand to us humans to receive Him so that we could believe and become part of God’s family (verse 12).  It all makes so much sense, now, though we will never fully comprehend the magnitude of His coming to earth in a fleshly body.  Some received Him, but many did not (verse 11).  And so it remains today.

The other “non-traditional” Christmas passage, out of Philippians 2, helps us see deeper into the character of Jesus, as it relates to His birth.

Have this attitude in yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8).

There it is again:  Jesus has always existed as God, but for a time, was “made in the likeness of men.”  This passage is an absolutely remarkable description of what it was like for Jesus to be God, and yet by a deliberate choice, to take the form of a little baby and become the man that would sacrifice His life for us on the cross.

This passage beautifully ties together Jesus’ birth and His crucifixion.  It helps us, in some small way, to have a better appreciation of what Christ, being God, gave up to not only become like us, but then even to die for us. He didn’t have to do it, but chose to do it out of love.  This is the choice that the Father used to put Jesus in the manger that we sing about every Christmas.  It is also the choice that the Father used to put Jesus on the cross.

Romans 5, verses 6 thru 8 state: “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Jesus didn’t come to earth to congratulate us for having been great human beings.  Rather, He purposely chose to endure abuse, persecution, humiliation to die for the people that didn’t deserve it: the ones who were still helpless, the needy, the stubborn, the sheep who have gone astray.  Choose your metaphor. The ones who have blown it for the 500th time.  That would be us.  And that’s what brings us to worship Him – the One who knew before He became man that He would need to obediently humble Himself to the point of death.  No wonder that Paul, the writer of the letter to the Philippians, could say a few verses before this that “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21)

Jesus, when He made that choice to take on the form of a man, knew there would be a last supper.  He knew there would be a betrayal.  He knew there would be a cross.  He knew He would take on the sin of the world.  But He came to earth anyway.  Pretty amazing.  No human could make up this story line.

And this is the example Paul gives us when he says in Philippians 2, verse 5 – “have this attitude in yourselves.”  Jesus had reason to boast, but He humbled Himself.  And verse 9 reminds us that “Therefore also God highly exalted Him ….”  On the other hand, we have no reason to boast, and yet are inclined to exalt ourselves.

But by God’s grace, He also gives us as believers the ability to make the same types of choices Jesus made:  not valuing our own rights as much as we do, but being the type of servant Jesus demonstrated Himself to be.  We’ll never fully get there, of course, this side of heaven.  But this is a life-transforming truth, demonstrated by Jesus, that it is the way to true life.  God bless you and your family in this Christmas season.

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

Steve Smith


Lessons on Preparedness, from the California Wildfires December 08 2017

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

Just a couple of months ago, the BCF blog was about “The Summer of Disasters.”  It was about a biblical perspective on life-and-death situations and how we saw people risking their lives to save others. One of those disasters involved wildfires in the area of Santa Rosa, a city north of San Francisco, which was devastated by 44 fatalities and some 5000 structures lost when high winds whipped small flames into a major conflagration.  Emergency responders were knocking on doors in the middle of the night, telling people to leave immediately.   Residents were very quickly put in the position of having to make life and death choices and to figure out what, if anything, they should or could take with them.  A couple originally from the Santa Rosa area was telling me about what their family members who still lived there were going through in the aftermath.  Six sets of family members lost houses, and the scale of the devastation was difficult to describe. It will be a very long road to recovery.

The same thing is happening now in Southern California, with winds upwards of 80 mph stoking multiple fires.  None are near where we live, but there is extensive news coverage at both the local and national level.  Cal Fire Division Chief Nick Schuler said Thursday night that “Residents should be ready to evacuate even if they don't live in areas immediately affected by flames. They need to prepare as if they will be impacted. Where are they gonna go? What are their escape routes? What is their plan for communication to their families?"

The fires have triggered many questions in my mind about how I would respond in that situation. How prepared are we?  How attached would I be to our worldly possessions? Where would we go? And of course, there is “how good is our insurance?”  There is no way to describe what it must be like to go back to your house and see nothing but ashes. But this is also where the Christian faith provides so much hope.  Our peace and joy need not depend on our earthly possessions.  The Apostle Paul had personal experience with this, as he stated in Philippians 4:10-13:

Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

The “I can do all things” in verse 13 is sometimes used to imply acts of bravery, but in context, it is really about being content across the full spectrum of circumstances we face in life – the easy times as well as the hard ones.  This is a great passage to memorize as a reminder when tragedies occur.

This is not to trivialize how difficult it is to see your house burned to the ground.  Losing essentially all your earthly goods has to be an extremely difficult experience.  But even here, the believer in Christ can have hope because we realize that our citizenship is actually in heaven (Philippians 3:20), and we are stewards of what God has allowed us to manage on earth.  It’s easy to say “Amen” to this when we hear it in church services; it’s another thing to live through it and have that truth tested in a personal way, like many people are right now.  In this or any other tragedy, we need to lift our brethren up in prayer.  It can be dismaying, and certainly not easy to go through this.

These experiences are where the things we learn in our study of the Scriptures are translated to real life.  It is where we find out how well we paid attention to the biblical truths.  This is what I would call “spiritual preparedness,” and it’s amazing to think back through the Scriptures about how much of what we learn has to do with preparing us for the challenges ahead.  In fact, much of Jesus’ ministry was about preparing His disciples for what was to come.  In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7), He was preparing them for real life: how to deal with insults, persecution, lust, worry, relationships with others, and a host of other things.  At the Last Supper, He demonstrated to the disciples (and us) what it meant to serve (John 13).  He explained that He was not going to be with the disciples much longer and that the Father was providing the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:13).

When He was challenged by the Jewish leaders to give them a sign, Jesus said “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  This made no sense, even to the disciples.  But John 2:22 tells us that “When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken.”  He had been speaking of the temple of His body, not the literal temple.  In the same way, God can use difficulties in a way that turns on the spiritual “light bulb” that reminds us “Oh now I remember.  Now I understand why we had that teaching on stewardship, or contentment, or sacrificial love, or having God’s peace even when suffering.  I didn’t really understand the depth of it then, but I do now.”

These times are also a reminder to me not to become too attached to my earthly possessions.  God says in I John 2:15,  “Do not love the world nor the things in the world.” It is interesting that the Greek word for love here is “agapao,” (verb form of agape) the same word as used for the sacrificial, selfless love of God and others.  In other words, do not love the world system so much that you end up sacrificing yourself.  We are to be good stewards of what God has given us, but our walk with Jesus should not be dependent on whether we have these material things.

But there is also “physical preparedness,” which we should pay attention to as well.  Physical preparedness is part of being a steward.  So I looked up what fire officials say about evacuations and emergency preparedness.  Cal Fire has an extensive set of recommendations on their website to prepare people who live in wildfire areas at  http://www.readyforwildfire.org/Prepare-For-Wildfire/, everything from evacuation checklists to fire prevention. Many of these recommendations apply to other kinds of emergency preparedness as well.

It is also during these times when we learn to appreciate more deeply the men and women in emergency services, and perhaps listen a little more closely to people like the Cal Fire division chief.  Some of us, myself included, have some homework to do.

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

Steve Smith


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