Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures

T-Shirts 2017 June 23 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

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

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

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

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

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

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail 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

Steve Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail 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

Steve Smith

“Why We Lie” May 26 2017

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

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

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

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

Why Lie?

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

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

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

When Are We Tempted to Lie?

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

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

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

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

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

The Freedom of Telling the Truth

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

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

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail 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

Steve Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

“With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail 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

Steve Smith

The Miracle and Meaning of DNA, Part 3 April 29 2017

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

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

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

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

What About So-Called “Inherited Problems?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail 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

Steve Smith

The Coptic Christian Church Bombings and the Message of Easter April 14 2017

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

I heard a remarkable interview on the way into work this morning.  Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, we were horrified to hear of the bombings of two Coptic Christian Churches in two different Egyptian cities, killing almost 50 people and injuring dozens more.  It could have been worse had security not been present already.  Christians make up about 10 percent of the population in Egypt, and they have been targeted before, with another church bombing just this past December.  

“Coptic” generally translates to “Egyptian,” and these churches have ancient roots said to date back to John Mark, author of the gospel by that name.  Their worship is said to be similar to Eastern Orthodox, but we consider them dear brothers and sisters in Christ nevertheless, and they represent the largest Christian population in a Muslim-dominated country, hence their vulnerability to persecution.  

The interview is a reminder of how fragile a life many Christians live in other parts of the world, yet how the message of love and forgiveness, which is the essence of the message of the cross of Christ, permeates Christian belief throughout the world, even under intense persecution.  It sets Christianity apart from those intent on hatred, vengeance, and conflict.

Here are a few excerpts from the NPR interview with Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom. Bishop Angaelos was born in Egypt and is in constant contact with the Coptic community there.  Regarding these events, the Bishop notes:

“It has been a tragic week.  At times like this we see the very worst and very best of humanity.  We see one group of people wanting to cause pain and terror while there are so many acts of graciousness and kindness that have also happened.  We are very blessed to have so many people praying for us.”  

Interviewer: “What do you tell people in Egypt who are concerned about the state of emergency that the president of Egypt has declared, suggesting that this has given the government too much power?“

Bishop Angaelos: “What I say to them is ‘please do not confuse the issues while we are still burying our dead and are still ministering to our families, and do not turn this into a political argument.’   My biggest concern during these days is that there is an immediate desire to politicize everything that happens.  So Christians just become collateral damage.”  

Interviewer: “So the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for these bombings.  Do you believe that they were behind this?

Bishop Angaelos:  “The political grandstanding and point scoring that comes from people declaring they have done this or that doesn’t really impress me nor does it concern me.  The important thing is that we keep the focus on those who have lost their lives and those who continue to be victims, rather than giving the focus to those who want this kind of coverage.”  

“I think that groups like this actually have a more sinister plan.  I think what we are seeing now is a plan to actually eradicate Christians.  I think there is an immense intolerance by these people and their followers, felt toward Christians in Egypt.”

Interviewer:  “What is that like day to day for Coptic Christians in Egypt?”  

Bishop Angaelos: “It is interesting that these attacks happened in full churches.  We had the bombing of St. Peter’s Church in Cairo only a few months ago, and yet Christians keep going to church, still keep publicly proclaiming and living their faith.  They are not dissuaded as they walk out of their homes every day feeling vulnerable.  One of the clear, defining factors of Christians in Egypt over the past years, as we have seen them suffer these ongoing attacks, is their spirit of forgiveness and their spirit of resilience.  I think that in itself speaks volumes.”  

Interviewer:  “Do you forgive the suicide bombers that carried out these attacks?”  

Bishop Angaelos: “Absolutely. I don’t have to forgive the act, because the act was vicious and it was evil. But we are all humans, we are all under the brokenness of sin, and we all have a possibility to repent.  We are very happy to continue loving, and forgiving, and hoping.  And I think this is the only way to break a really sinister spiral of violence that has swept across the Middle East.”  You can hear the full interview at:

In a future blog, we’ll talk a little more about forgiveness, for which Christ’s death for us on the cross is the ultimate example, together with “justice,” which is also part of the way God works in the world.  The perpetrators of hatred and violence will not escape justice.  But for now, during Easter season, the reminder to us is the magnitude of God’s forgiveness, which far exceeds even the ability of the Coptic Christians to forgive their persecutors.  This is amazing forgiveness, validated by the resurrection, which we joyously celebrate this weekend.  He is risen indeed!   May we keep our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters in prayer worldwide.

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail 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

Steve Smith

The Miracle and Meaning of DNA, Part 2 April 01 2017

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

In the last blog we began looking at the implications of DNA testing for us in society, as believers.  We provided some background on DNA and introduced three aspects of DNA for which to explore biblical truths: health, ancestry, and stewardship.  We covered health last time, will address the first part of ancestry in this blog, and the remainder next time.

Ancestry Overview

Ancestral records have been kept from time immemorial, as is clearly evident in the Scriptures. Numbers 1:18 tells us that the Israelites “registered by ancestry in their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, head by head….”  

The people of Israel kept meticulous records, and it was a major problem if a family lost track, as some of them did, when they migrated back to Jerusalem from Babylon.  Ezra 2:62 describes the situation: “These searched among their ancestral registration, but they could not be located; therefore they were considered unclean and excluded from the priesthood.”  Ancestry was also clearly important to establish Jesus as the Messiah, as we see from the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3.  

We aren't as meticulous today about ancestral records as they were in biblical times, but there has been a renewed interest in reconstructing family trees. Opportunities abound to do that, not just through DNA testing but through a host of businesses that can help us search through ancestral records.  

One such service extrapolates the likelihood (not certainty) of your having certain personal traits based on a statistical analysis of DNA test results.  Traits include such things as sleep characteristics, likelihood of caffeine consumption, and sensitivity to sweet and bitter tastes.  You can use this to compare yourself against someone else who has had their DNA sample taken.  In certain ways it is a DNA-based version of personality testing that identifies likes, dislikes, personal preferences, etc.  The implication is that certain traits may be more common among people of the same ethnicity or heritage.  We’ll have more about this in the next blog.

Ancestral Prejudices

DNA analysis and tracing our ancestry can be fascinating, amusing, and sometimes surprising. It can reconnect families, and even highlight interesting pieces of history. However, there are a couple of things to be aware of from a biblical standpoint.  First, if it turns out that you have a family lineage of historical “significance,” there could be a temptation toward pride.

Often, there is the thinking that, because you have someone in your ancestry that achieved great things, that the same “greatness” transfers to you. The phrase “it's in our blood” is often used. Conversely, if someone in your family had committed a shameful act, there can be a fear that those same mistakes will be repeated.

Yet we know from Ezekiel 18, that no one is compelled to repeat their family history – either of sin or of righteousness. Each person has their own unique choice to follow the Lord, or not.  
(We will address so-called “inherited character traits” more thoroughly in the next blog post.)

Pride can also come from the status that lineage may provide. In many cultures, being from a certain bloodline can give you higher stature in society. Or perhaps it gives you “bragging rights” in conversations with others. People might find you more interesting or think more highly of you if you play the “ancestry card.” The gospels provide numerous examples of how the Pharisees had learned to do this quite well.

Yet we know that the Lord shows no partiality (Deuteronomy 10:17-19, Romans 2:11, Ephesians 6:9). He regards the lowly (Psalm 138:6). If there was anything that distinguishes us by status or reputation, He has broken down those human institutions. Written to Gentiles, Ephesians 2:14-16 explains how believing Jews and Gentiles were made one in Christ “...He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.”

In New Testament days, some of the Jews had a pride problem because they thought of themselves as superior to the Gentiles, and this thinking even came into the early church.  Even the Apostle Peter had difficulties with this, so much so that the Lord had to give him a vision that showed him how the Jewish believers needed to welcome the Gentiles into the church.  

Acts 11:2-3 explains what happened after he had seen the vision: “And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, saying, ‘You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.’”  It was at that point that Peter explained to his Jewish friends about the vision of the sheet filled with animals coming down from heaven, accompanied by a voice that said “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”  

There was a beautiful reaction to this from the Jewish believers, as we see from Acts 11:18: “When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God saying ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.’”

We have our perfect example in Jesus, who treated the lowly and overlooked with equal care and respect. In John 4, He conversed with the Samaritan woman, who would have been regarded as an inferior race and gender at the time. Jesus gave generously of Himself to the sinners and unclean, lepers, tax-collectors, and many others who were looked-down upon.

As a result, God warns us against regarding status. In Romans 12:16, Paul writes, “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.”

Galatians 3:28 sums it up: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  

You can also read more on this same theme in Deuteronomy 1:17 and Romans 14:10-12.

This is awesome hope for believers in every culture, regardless of ancestry or prevailing social status.  While cultures may have long-established prejudices, God says that we are all part of the same spiritual family.  
No ancestry, nationality, race, gender, or age stands in the way of our having fellowship with the Lord and with one another, and the church should be the ultimate example of this principle in action.

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail 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

Steve Smith

The Miracle and Meaning of DNA March 17 2017

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

The molecular structure of DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) was identified in 1953, a fairly recent discovery for what we now know to be the fundamental aspect of the human genetic code.

DNA is now routinely used in criminal investigations and prosecutions. Its use was highly publicized during the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995. It is now so commonplace, that it is just an incidental detail in crime and investigative TV shows. Most recently, DNA testing has been commercialized for the general public as a way to trace our ancestry, or to find out if we may have a propensity toward certain health problems in the future. All you have to do is mail these companies a saliva sample, and pay around $100.

The Miracle of DNA

This blog explores the implications of DNA testing for us in society, as believers.  But before we talk about the meaning of it all, let’s cover a little background.  DNA occurs as chromosomes in a cell, which make up its “genome.”  The human genome has approximately 3 billion base pairs of DNA arranged into 46 chromosomes (a double helix of 23 chromosomes each).  The information carried by DNA defines our genetic makeup – facial features, whether we will be tall or short, color of our eyes, hair, and skin, and all our other physical traits.  These are the features that allow us to recognize family members, friends, celebrities, political figures, and the clerk at the grocery store.  Even voices have inherited signatures, making it sometimes difficult to tell the difference between father, son, and brothers on the other end of a phone call. It is astonishing that, with over 7 billion people now living on earth, each one can still be recognized as a unique individual.  

As scientists discover more and more of how the human body works, some Christians might be tempted to wonder about how and even whether creation actually took place.  But these discoveries are actually tremendous confirmations of creation. Human life is so amazingly intricate and complex, and so well designed, that it is difficult to imagine how it could not have been created by an outside hand.  Science is giving us a window into how God put us together, and we are seeing some incredible things. DNA is part of God's human design. Knowing more about it should cause us to be more amazed at how He designed us in the first place.

The Meaning of DNA and Its Applications

In this blog and the next, we’ll be exploring some of the implications of DNA and how we should be thinking about it as believers, based on the Scriptures.  This includes biblical truths as they pertain to health, ancestry, and stewardship.  We’ll talk about health in this blog and finish the other two next time.  In each case we’ll see where our hope should be placed.

In terms of health, DNA testing can yield predictors of medical conditions. This could turn out to be very useful in cases where precautions can be taken to minimize the impact of the condition. But it could also be a temptation for someone to worry and fear for their future, or even try to control the situation. Genetic “foreknowledge” can even raise concerns where concerns are not warranted.  For example, one Australian newsletter on genetic ethics states:

“An individual is much more than the sum of their genes: the individual’s environment can modify the expression of genetic messages to the body and many health factors are not genetic. The discovery of a variation in a particular gene may provide some information about the nature of the condition that the person has, will develop, or for which they may be at increased risk, but can rarely predict the severity of the condition or the age at which symptoms will first onset.”

So as Christians, how should we be thinking of genetic testing and diagnosis as they become more commonplace?  First, we need to recognize that God is the sovereign creator. He does not make mistakes. Rather, He creates with a purpose in mind. Psalm 139 says that God has woven us skillfully, and He knows every part of us. What some people call defects or disadvantages are not a surprise to the Lord.

Knowledge of a potential genetic abnormality could also be a temptation for someone to worry and fear for their future. Yet we know that God is sovereign. There is nothing that is beyond His knowledge and control. Verse 16 of Psalm 139 says that He knows and has ordained all of our days.

When the Psalmist says in Chapter 119, verse 165 “Those who love Thy law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble,”  God didn’t add “except when you inherited a genetic flaw.” Life could be very challenging physically, but spiritually speaking, God’s peace and victory is available to all, regardless of genetic makeup. We have great hope because any of us, despite the physical circumstances, can love God’s law and strive to live by it.

Lastly, God can use our physical weaknesses for His glory and our growth. There are many examples in the Scriptures of how God used the sick and infirm. In John 9, people asked Jesus why a man would be born blind. He answered that it was so that God's work could be displayed. The purpose of that man's blindness was for others to know the power of God. You can also look up John 11:4 and Acts 3:16.

The apostle Paul spoke of an area of weakness – a “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12:7.  We don’t know exactly what his thorn in the flesh was. It could have been a health issue or any number of circumstances.  In spite of it, he was able to hear the Lord say “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul went on to state “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” 

The temptation in today’s world with all the diagnostics available is to let the diagnosis either control our life (especially our thought life) or give us excuses for not going God’s way.  Paul saw his situation as an opportunity to demonstrate the power of Christ. 

Should we use modern medicine for greater knowledge and treatment? Absolutely. If we are sick, we should do what we can to get better. Paul told Timothy to take some wine for his stomach. Luke himself was a doctor. Jesus never chastised anyone for asking or praying for healing.

The point is this. We can often try to alleviate any discomfort and assuage all pain, to the point of obsession. Yet these physical trials and limitations can be the very things God uses to reveal His character and work. We have an opportunity to display God's power in our weakness, and this is not something to be feared. Rather, we should see the potential for God's glory to be shown in our weakness.  This would not be demonstrated necessarily by healing of the body but by exhibiting the supernatural peace that only God can give.

Conversely, if we find in a DNA test an absence of certain genetic indicators, we can gain a false sense of security as to our health or longevity.  We forget the reminder in James 4:14 that “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”

Paul knew something about physical trials, yet he was able to write in Romans 8:37-38: “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

That’s a pretty comprehensive list.  The reminder for us is that we can live in spiritual victory even if we are physically weakened, nor should we allow a possible future condition to control us.  This is supernatural hope, even if a doctor finds what is perceived as a looming health challenge buried in our DNA.

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail 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

Steve Smith

Pressure Situations: Lessons from the Oscars March 03 2017

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

It would be safe to say that Hollywood is not aligned with biblical principles. But occasionally some lessons can be drawn from incidents that occur in the acting profession. Such is the case with the 2017 Oscar Awards Ceremony, held Sunday, February 26. Although the Scriptures acknowledge the concept of giving prizes for competing (see I Corinthians 9:24) and giving honor (Romans 13:7), the entertainment industry has developed award-giving to another level entirely.

Enter the 2017 Oscars. At the grand finale – the highly anticipated award for “best picture” – the presenters were unknowingly handed the wrong envelope. After some hesitation, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced La La Land as the winner in the best picture category. The film director and his crew came on stage and started giving their acceptance speeches. In the background you could see people with headsets scurrying about, whispering to the excited group. A mistake had been made; Moonlight was the real winner. Uh oh. There was confusion all about the auditorium, and after sorting it out, the “new” winners came up on stage. The mistaken recipients and the real ones attempted to make the best of this high-pressure situation, played out live in front of tens of millions of viewers.

But the question for me is “what would I have done?”  How would I have handled it in a way that respected the participants?   Are there some biblical principles that come into play?  

If you have managed children’s programs, are a teacher, have been responsible for groups where recognition is made, or perhaps have been on the receiving end of omitted recognitions or errant announcements, you understand the kind of things that can happen.   The Oscar incident provides a good opportunity to consider how we, as Christians, should think about the whole area of awards, recognition, and honoring of others’ accomplishments.  God provides a far superior method of bestowing honor than secular award ceremonies, so here are a few principles to consider.

  1. Expressing appreciation is a good and honorable thing.  There are opportunities to do this on both an informal and formal basis.  Paul and other New Testament authors expressed appreciation to numerous individuals who had helped them in their ministries over the years.  See the last chapter of the Pauline epistles to the Romans, Corinthians (first letter), Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians for some great examples of his recognition and encouragement of others, by name.  So expressing appreciation or recognition and bestowing honor are very much a part of building up God’s flock, as well as encouraging those within our physical family.
  2. Remember Who we ultimately serve. Colossians 3:23 states:
    “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.”
    In other words, we should not be concerned about getting recognized or overlooked in our own work or in our serving.  We are not doing this for a human reward, and our peace and joy should not depend on being recognized.  If we are recognized, that’s great; if not, that’s great as well, and perhaps even better.  So as we honor individuals for their efforts and a job well done in a church program context, we can provide gracious reminders, including to ourselves, that we don’t do these things for earthly rewards or recognition.  But we notice and encourage one another in carrying out responsibilities as part of God’s family.  This is an important lesson for all ages, and it is a particularly good opportunity for teaching children this critical biblical principle.
  3. If things go wrong.  So what if we are in the position that Oscar participants were in?  An omission occurs; people get the wrong award; or a name gets horribly mis-pronounced, even as much as we have prepared.  The worst thing to do is try to cover it up.  Rather, this is an opportunity to demonstrate love through taking responsibility for our actions (or helping someone else do so).  Repentance should be as public as the offense.  If it happened in front of a large audience, correct it in front of the audience.  If it was an omission that occurred privately with an individual, correct it with that person.  If you have difficulty “thinking on your feet” in pressure situations, perhaps take some time in advance to think of gracious responses.  You want to prepare well, so that mishaps are less likely, but it is sometimes good to plan out what you might say in the event something goes wrong.  
  4. The value of building a character of faithfulness and love.  The occasional slip-up is much easier for others to accept if our love and servant spirit have been demonstrated over a long period of time.  People will usually recognize that the oversight was a rare event and that you really do care about them.  Perhaps this is what I Peter 4:8 means, where God says “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”  In other words, if you have a consistent pattern of loving, people will see that, even when you sin against them or inadvertently “pull out the wrong envelope,” figuratively speaking.     
Proverbs 15:23 says “A man has joy in an apt answer, And how delightful is a timely word!” May God give us apt answers and timely words as we seek to serve others.

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail 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

Steve Smith

The Tragedy of Opioid Abuse, Part 3 February 17 2017

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

In Part 1 of this blog series on opioids, we were reminded from the Scriptures that we as believers in Christ are not to allow ourselves to be controlled by alcohol, and by extension, other substances (Ephesians 5:18).  We learned that we have tremendous hope, because God enables us to choose to get out from under a sin under whose control we have placed ourselves (Romans 6:12-13, 16).  In addition, God’s Word provides specific guidance for how to resist temptation and have victory over sin, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  An important part of this involves the “put-offs” and “put-ons” - putting off the old, sinful practices and instead deliberately putting on the new, righteous practices in their place (Ephesians 4:22-24).  Further, it may be a God-given opportunity for us to introduce an unbeliever to Christ, as they struggle with drug abuse and are desperate for help and hope.   

In Part 2 we mentioned in the discussion about “put-offs” and “put-ons” that the collateral damage of drug abuse is often human relationships that need to be repaired, forgiveness that needs to be given and requested, and godly communications that need to be restored.  The Christian faith is based on the forgiveness that we have received from the Father.  This forgiveness, undeserved as it is, should be a powerful motivation for us to forgive others.  In fact, the Scriptures state this very directly in Ephesians 4:32:

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other as God in Christ has also forgiven you.”  

God’s sacrifice of His own Son on the cross is the ultimate example we are to follow in our forgiveness of others.  Forgiving others is also the only human responsibility that Jesus stated in the Lord’s prayer: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” It is assumed in the prayer that we will be people who are ready to forgive.  Forgiveness may not be deserved, and it may not be easy, but understanding and practicing forgiveness is an essential part of restoring relationships.  

Rather than elaborate further on forgiveness in this blog, we will end by giving you a link to two teaching videos recently made available by BCF, the first on biblical forgiveness (when someone has sinned against you) and the second on reconciliation (what to do when you have sinned against someone else).  These videos were recorded during a live webcast in 2016 and will lead you through a biblical explanation of these topics, with a focus on application to life situations.  They contain more than four hours of teaching by Bob Schneider and Shashi Smith.  You will want to have your Bible and notebook handy, and you can view the two videos in shorter segments if you wish.

Biblical Forgiveness:
Biblical Reconciliation:

If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail 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

God bless you as you learn and apply these principles.

Steve Smith