Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures

The “Undo” Command May 11 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Smith


Lessons from “Schoolhouse Rock” April 27 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Smith


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God says in Psalm 127:3-5:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Smith


Teaching Children Selflessness (Part 2) March 31 2018

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

One of the benefits children have is that they tend to be less concerned about things of the future. I have to admit that, as a child, I was clueless as to the future potential concerns, hardships, and tribulations that become part of everyday life later on. Ah, those were the days! No taxes, no bills to pay, no cars to fix, no payrolls to meet, no potential job complications to worry about. And it didn’t take much to keep us entertained and (mostly) out of trouble. Some children must face the realities of life much earlier, like those with serious diseases or the loss of parents; but we could say that children, in general, are blissfully unaware of all the temptations to worry that we face as adults.

But it also seems that those carefree days of childhood tend to come to an end rather abruptly. Thankfully, I was spared a lot of pain and disillusionment when I came to know Christ as my Savior my last year of college in 1971. This is not to say life was easy after that. But I had a new hope and purpose for living and new resources to help me walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which I had been called (Ephesians 4:1). 

While we would not want young people to miss out on the “simple days” of childhood, we do need to prepare them for life’s challenges. A great way to do this is to simply follow Jesus’ example of training his own disciples, and He was very systematic and consistent in how He prepared them for the many challenges they would face. If you just read through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew Chapters 5-7, for example, you will see how much time He devoted to preparing the disciples for the difficult times ahead. His approach could be summarized in five steps:

  1. Teach them what and why – We see from Mark 1:17 that Jesus told his disciples to follow Him (the what) so that they might become fishers of men (the why).
  2. Show them how - Note that in Mark Chapters 3-6 Jesus showed the disciples how to minister to others. He taught in parables, among which was the parable of the sower; He performed miracles; and He demonstrated what true faith involved. The disciples (with few exceptions) were with Jesus continuously, and were in a position to observe how He lived and ministered.
  3. Get them started – We see in Mark 6:7 that Jesus sent the disciples out to minister in pairs, and when they came back, “they reported to Him all that they had done and taught” (Mark 6:30).
  4. Keep them going – Jesus continued the training of the disciples throughout the rest of the book. Immediately after their return, He taught them lessons of faith, such as through the feeding of the five thousand. In this case, Jesus made them not just observers, but active participants in the ministry by doing basic things they could do: search for food and pick up the leftovers. He taught them about the folly of following the traditions of men (Mark 7). He challenged them with probing questions like “But who do you say that I am?” Mark 8:29) He warned them about being too attached to this world: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:38) And He taught them about how He would suffer, be rejected and killed, but rise again. These lessons continued even to His death.
  5. Teach them to train others – The “Great Commission” is in the last chapters of both Mark and Matthew, where Jesus instructed His disciples to teach/disciple others. They had been trained up to the point that they could continue His work in the world. And we see throughout the Book of Acts that the disciples took this training to heart.

As I was reading through a devotional this week, leading up to Easter Sunday, it struck me that Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17) was perhaps the most powerful demonstration of Step 2 in the New Testament. In fact, Jesus closes this demonstration with the words “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.”

There are many, many examples of how these simple steps of discipleship can apply to training children: having them pick up their toys (to teach responsibility), helping siblings pick up their toys (encouragement), going with you to take a meal to someone (compassion), helping to take out the trash (faithfulness even when we don’t feel like it or when it’s an unpleasant job), drying dishes (carefully), setting the table (serving others), asking forgiveness of God and others (humility), and so on. A lot of these activities may seem mundane, and sometimes it’s just easier to take over and do it ourselves. We are tempted to do this not just for the sake of efficiency, but to avoid battling the reluctance, the dragging of feet, and sometimes the outright resistance, not to speak of the less-than-perfect result. But a broken dish or a crooked bedsheet, or a few additional minutes is a small price to pay for the lessons that, by God’s grace, will be remembered by our children for a lifetime.

To that end, one thing to remind our children of is that “he who is faithful in a little thing IS faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10). This verse is in the present tense, not future (i.e. it does not say “will be faithful”). In other words, the seemingly little, mundane jobs are actually very big ones in the sight of God. Those little things that we tend to dismiss as insignificant are as much demonstrations of faithfulness as the more visible, prominent jobs. This is so, so important to be mindful of, not only as we train our children, but as we carry out our other seemingly “mundane” responsibilities as well. 

So let’s walk through a simple example of the discipleship steps. It could be anything, but let’s take teaching a child to make his or her bed. 

  • To teach them what and why (step 1), start out by explaining (in an age-appropriate way) “It is important that you begin to make your own bed because you will learn how to be a faithful steward by caring for what God has provided to you” (I Corinthians 4:2). “This will also help you in carrying out your responsibilities even when you don’t feel like it” (I Timothy 4:7). “There are lots of things in life you won’t feel like doing, but we honor God and others by doing them.”
  • Step 2: Show them how. Show your child how to make the bed properly by explaining each step. They can follow you around to observe how you make beds.
  • Step 3: Get them started. Assign the responsibility to the child and give him or her a certain amount of time to complete the task. At first, you might need to provide a lot of help, depending on the age.
  • Step 4: Keep them going – Remind them to make the bed before they start on another activity (e.g. before they come to breakfast, start play time, or go to school) and inspect for completeness (the definition of “complete” being appropriate for the age level). 
  • Step 5: Train them to disciple others - For example, have them teach a younger brother or sister to make their own bed, when the time comes. If they don’t have a younger sibling, you can pretend to be one and have them practice training you. It can be fun to make a little game out of it, when you pretend to be the reluctant, imperfect “student.”

As a parent, there are few jobs more important in this world than lovingly, patiently, discipling our children. As we know, it can be inconvenient, time-consuming, exasperating, and at times seemingly hopeless. But guess what. God is using our training of the children as a way He trains and matures us. And as we saw in the last blog, the results are between the Lord and what the child ultimately decides to do. We do not control the outcome, but our responsibility is to be faithful in this very important task. 

And as we mentioned last time, we often fail. And this becomes the perfect opportunity to teach our children Step 2 (i.e. “show them how”) about asking forgiveness. God does not say that we should ask forgiveness of others, “except for our children.” Our children know we are sinners, and while it may be humbling to ask them for forgiveness, it shows them how human we are, and prone to failure just like them. This makes us an example of the believer, and how we are to deal with sin in our lives. And it demonstrates how they, themselves, should ask forgiveness of others. This will not diminish their view of us, but will give them a greater appreciation of God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy in our lives. Children are very perceptive, and God has given them the uncanny ability to spot hypocrisy. More importantly, it is our responsibility before God to take the initiative in maintaining godly relationships, and asking forgiveness is a critical part of this.

There are times that our children will not like what we say or do in exercising our biblical responsibility to train them, and they may rebel against it. We don’t ask forgiveness for carrying out our responsibilities, but in cases where we have not responded in love, we need to take the initiative to restore those relationships. We should be able to say, legitimately, that we have sought to “be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18), to include our children, while also being responsible for their training.

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


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