Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures

Aliens, Immigration, and the Scriptures June 23 2018

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

Immigration has become a worldwide topic of vigorous discussion and debate. And no matter where you are in the world, people take different sides. On one hand, there is a lot to be said about living in a country to which people want to migrate. Those who live in a county that many people want to leave are probably going through great difficulty. In other words, having an immigration problem is a lot better than having an emigration problem. That said, one of the tasks of government in the 21st century is to manage the flow of people into and out of the country for which they are responsible. And this is no easy task.

I didn’t really want to write this particular blog. People are quite passionate about immigration and it never ceases to be a divisive topic, not only in the U.S., but in other countries as well. It was safer to steer clear and tackle an easier subject. But it is a topic we cannot avoid, particularly when the Scriptures provide some important truths that can guide how the Christian community can respond; and I’m not talking about a political response. As we’ve said many times, this is not a political blog.

We can learn a great deal by observing what Jesus did about governmental issues like this. One of the things we find is that His focus was on relationships, not the politics. The beautiful thing about Jesus is that He was all about interacting with people: helping them, teaching them, admonishing them (e.g. the Pharisees), encouraging them, and giving them hope, even while a harsh governmental regime was in place at the time. While the politics swirled around Him, He kept His focus on the mission – the people for whom He was to be the Light of the World.

It is easy to get caught up in the political debate and overlook what the living and active Word of God has to say. So step back from the news cycle for a moment, take a deep breath, and let’s find out what the Potter has to say to the clay (that would be us).

A good example of Jesus’ focus on relationships over politics is His encounter with the woman He met at Jacob’s well, the “woman of Samaria” (John 4:7-38). It was not politically correct of Jesus to be traveling through Samaria, the land of the “impure” Jews who had intermarried over the years with non-Jews. Not only this, but He was talking with a woman. We see this propensity toward discrimination from the commentary in verse 9 (“for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans”), and by comments the disciples made when they got back from buying food because “they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman” (John 4:27).

But here He is, having an extended conversation with the woman – her background, her relationships, her understanding of worship. Then Jesus caps off this encounter with verse 35, “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.” In that one encounter, Jesus had demonstrated to the disciples how they should care about so-called second-class citizens, by reaching out to someone who was not only a Samaritan and a woman, but one who had a dark past. And we see the result in verse 39 that “many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified.”

There are quite a number of references to aliens in the Bible, also variously translated sojourner, stranger, foreigner, and immigrant. And we can see in these references several aspects of the immigration issue. On one hand, governments have been put in place for the purpose of restraining evil, or as we are commanded in I Peter 2:13-14 “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” Romans 13:1-7 is the classic passage on the authority given to human government. “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil” (verse 3). Many countries have established orderly processes to maintain the rule of law, including the process of immigration, asylum, and citizenship. Shashi and her family migrated to the U.S. in 1959 under a very orderly process, without which, my life and the lives of our children and grandchildren would have been very different! So I am thankful for how that worked.

It is interesting that aliens in the Scriptures are often referenced as needing protection, right alongside widows and orphans. For example, we see in Malachi 3:5: “’I will be a swift witness … against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien, and do not fear Me,’ says the Lord of hosts.” Deuteronomy has several references to treatment of the alien:

  • Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
  • Deuteronomy 23:7 – “you shall not detest an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land.” It’s interesting that they were to honor Egyptians, despite how the Hebrews had been mistreated, at least during the latter part of their stay there.
  • Deuteronomy 27:19 – “Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.”
  • Deuteronomy 24:17 – “You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge.”

To be sure, there are many evil people out there attempting to exploit the situation for their own purposes, and these need to be dealt with. But there are also many who are enduring horrific persecution in their home country. We have witnessed that among Christian communities in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Many countries have processes set up for asylum seekers. While the government is responsible for managing the flow of people into and out of the country, once accepted into the country (either temporarily or permanently), we are to treat them with love and respect.

Matthew 25:35 carries with it the same idea, where Jesus is contrasting the righteous and the unrighteous: “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in” … and verse 40: “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

Over the last 44 years, BCF has been blessed with many families and individuals who have demonstrated this kind of love by hosting students who have come for BCF courses. These have been people from all walks of life: from Africa, South America, central and eastern Asia, western Europe, eastern Europe, the Middle East, and throughout North America. The hospitality has been generous and the friendships often long-lasting.

Shashi’s family and their Christian friends in the U.S. were great examples of extending hospitality to international students. They did not have to travel overseas for this mission field; the mission field came to them. And it is with that spirit of hospitality that so many of the aliens and strangers have come to know Jesus Christ. What you cannot talk about in many of their home countries you can talk about here. We have several in our church who have consistently reached out to internationals, and it is one of the great opportunities and blessings for both the hosts and those being hosted.

Yes, there are people out there who are trying to exploit the system. There are those out there who want to do harm. This is the government’s job to keep that under control. But it is our job to cultivate the relationships that the presence of aliens and strangers affords, to treat them with respect, and pray that they might find the One who graciously reached out to us through His Son. If it feels like we are in a foreign land on earth, that’s the way it should be, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ …” (Philippians 3:20). So as the story turns out, we are the ultimate aliens, on earth for a time, but permanently citizens of heaven.

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

Steve Smith


A Tragic Week for Suicides June 09 2018

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

I was originally heading in another direction on this blog, but two high-profile suicides this week caught my attention. Kate Spade, renowned fashion designer and entrepreneur was found dead in her Manhattan apartment on June 5 at age 55. She had started the business from scratch and developed it into a multi-million dollar empire.

Anthony Bourdain, a gifted chef, storyteller, and writer was found unresponsive in his hotel room in France on June 8, at age 61. He had taken his own life just as he was working on an upcoming episode of his award-winning CNN series, “Parts Unknown.” Not that long ago, in 2014, we were shocked to hear of another high profile suicide, that of Robin Williams.

The Center for Disease Control indicates that suicide rates have increased 25% since 1999, to a level of 45,000 in the U.S. in 2016. There was an increase in every state except for Nevada, which already had a higher-than-average suicide rate. Men have a suicide rate that is three to five times the rate of women.

As we know from the news and previous blogs, the drug overdose death rate has increased to alarming levels, with deaths from opioid overdoses in 2016 numbering over 42,000, according to the CDC, a staggering five times higher than in 1999. Total drug overdose deaths in 2016 numbered 64,000, a portion of which may have been suicides. Many families have been tragically impacted, losing children, brothers, sisters, parents, and friends in often very unexpected, surprising ways.

If anything, the rising suicide rate speaks to the hopelessness that many people experience. A suicide can be thought of as an expression of lost hope or result from an unwillingness to deal with difficult life situations. While the high profile suicides involve people who we might think have reached a pinnacle of success and achievement, there are underlying struggles that may or not be apparent to the rest of us. Many of those who take their own lives have experienced tremendous loss, become destitute, or have committed offenses or face consequences that they no longer think they can face. These are not high profile to the world, but are certainly high profile to their families and friends.

These are the very people to whom Jesus calls out “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28).

When Shashi mentioned the suicides to me this morning, my first reaction was the phrase of the Steve Green song, “People Need the Lord.” It is an oldie, and we don’t sing it much anymore, but I went back to look at the lyrics and oh how appropriate they are for the times we live in:

Every day they pass me by, I can see it in their eyes.
Empty people filled with care, Headed who knows where?
On they go through private pain, Living fear to fear.
Laughter hides their silent cries, Only Jesus hears.
Chorus:
People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
At the end of broken dreams, He's the open door.

People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
When will we realize, people need the Lord?
We are called to take His light, To a world where wrong seems right.
What could be too great a cost, For sharing Life with one who's lost?
Through His love our hearts can feel, All the grief they bear.
They must hear the Words of Life, Only we can share.
People need the Lord, people need the Lord
At the end of broken dreams, He's the open door.
People need the Lord, people need the Lord.
When will we realize that we must give our lives,
For people need the Lord.


 

If you have or can access this song, it’s well worth listening to again. I cannot listen to this song without it bringing tears to my eyes.

So after our discussion about suicides, I rode my bike to the grocery store to pick up a few things. I came out with a backpack heavy laden with milk, fruits, and a couple of other items, and wouldn’t you know it. There was a young man sitting on the sidewalk outside looking destitute, needy, and asking for some money for food. I initially smiled and said “not today,” conveniently thinking that any money may not go toward the intended purpose. And of course, “he should not be doing this in front of the store anyway.” I got on my bike and got ready to ride away, when the words of the song came into my head, Steve, don’t you know that “People Need the Lord!” I simply could not walk away. I could not do it, as inconvenient and unpredictable as it may have been to go back. I could not go against what seemed to be the Spirit’s clear call at that point.

So, I went back and asked his name, and at my request, Anthony told me a little bit of his story. I happened to have a paperback Gospel of John in my backpack, which we try to use as an evangelism tool at our church. Remembering from some our recent sermons in the Book of John, we started to get into how the Gospel of John is about belief - believing in Jesus, the light of the world. I wrote my name and phone number on the book and urged him to call me if he wanted to go to church and learn more.

It is hard to tell how much of our conversation sank in, but as he headed to the fast food place next door, and we exchanged good-byes again as I passed him on the bike, I was grateful for the “people need the Lord” reminder. Anthony may or may not call or show up at church, but I thanked the Lord for this reminder that people can be hours or days from passing from this earth, and they do, indeed, need the Lord.

Although the focus of BCF has been biblical counseling and discipleship, the starting point is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He is our hope, our motivation for living, and our example of compassion for others. It is only by His grace and mercy that I do not sink into the depths of despair in which many people find themselves in. As believers, we come to realize how often the Scriptures are overlooked as the ultimate source of encouragement, hope, and understanding of the difficult circumstances of life that might otherwise bring us to the same point of desperation as those contemplating suicide.

And where would I be if it were not for that person at Virginia Tech in the fall of 1971 who reached out to me and invited me to a Christian event, where I saw the love of Jesus displayed? Where would I be without Sammy To, the humble Chinese grad student, bringing me into his little discipleship group? These were individuals who had not heard the song “People Need the Lord,” for it had not yet been written, but they knew that I needed the Lord. May God encourage you, as He has me, to pay attention to those around us and be ready to reach out to a world that becomes more and more needy every day.

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


School Shootings and the Christian Faith May 26 2018

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

Our hearts break every time we hear about another school shooting.  And although the odds of being killed by someone with a gun in school are extremely small (about one in 2.5 million in any given year), there is something particularly difficult about seeing young people lose their lives or be injured by a bullet in a place that should be a safe haven.   The deadliest school shooting in U.S. history took place in 2007 in the very building where I took engineering classes at Virginia Tech.  The shooting was 35 years after I graduated, but it was shocking that it could occur in a place where I spent so many hours, even though removed in time.  And it is even more shocking for those who have to live through such an incident in a school that their own child attends. 

A Wikipedia site tracks school shooting statistics back to the 1840s. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_school_shootings_in_the_United_States#1840s

See a summary below, listed by decade.  The current year has been a particularly tragic one, with the Parkland, FL and Santa Fe, Texas high schools fresh in our minds.

Decade
Beginning
 Number Decade
Beginning
 Number
1840 1 1930 10
1850 4 1940 11
1860 5 1950 14
1870 3 1960 44
1880 2 1970 37
1890 13 1980 51
1900 12 1990 93
1910 12 2000 112
1920 5 2010 175

 

So how did we get to this point? It is quite telling to read through each of the accounts in the Wikipedia site and see what is said about motivations for the killings. Each shooting event is described, and it is interesting to read about the individual incidents back through the decades.  Some of the common words found in these descriptions include: “argument,” “dispute,” “disgruntled” “relationship problem,” “upset,” “revenge,” and “in response to discipline.”  The shootings are almost always linked to some sort of injustice perceived by the perpetrator.  It is sad when this takes place, and even more sad when uninvolved students and teachers get caught in the line of fire.

The temptations for doing evil are not much different today than they were in the 1800s.  In fact, the inclination to sin today is not very different from what was involved in the very first murder on earth, when Cain responded angrily to a perceived injustice and killed his brother Abel.  Perhaps what is different today, and possibly explains part of the spike in school shootings in the last 10 years, is the prevalence of social media, and extensive exposure to violent video games.   It is not unusual that mass killers have researched prior killers and learned from their tactics.  Pure, calculated evil does not begin to describe how indifferent people can become to the value of human life. Although there are still debates in academia about the link between violent video games and physical violence or aggression, one thing is for sure – this is not the way to teach the younger generation about how to love their neighbor. 

Each one of these events makes the case for why the world, and our local communities, need a vibrant Christian witness.  So think about it.  What societal problem does the Word of God not have an answer for? 

  • How many shootings would there be if everyone lived by Jesus’ Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31)?
  • How much revenge would be taken if people took the “Love Chapter” of the Bible seriously, like “love does not take into account a wrong suffered” (1 Corinthians 13:5)?
  • How many arguments would occur if everyone lived by Philippians 2:3? - “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” 
  • How much coveting, greed, and theft would occur if, like Paul, we all could say “…I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity …” (Philippians 4:11-12)?
  • How much discrimination would occur if everyone lived by the principle in Galatians 3:28? - “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
  • How much better work places would there be if everyone lived by Ephesians 6:5-9? – “Slaves (or employees, in today’s terms), be obedient to those who are your masters (employers) according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ … 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. And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him”?

The solutions to every societal problem are in the Scriptures, and we are commended to live them out in our homes, churches, and communities.  The list of relevant Scriptures goes on and on. But as we know, lasting change comes not through outward reformation, which is merely trying to follow a set of rules, but by inner transformation of the heart, through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

To be sure, an orderly society and government can be cultivated when people follow biblical principles in a secular sense, and even our secular court system has a Judeo-Christian foundation. But a life transformed by Jesus should result in a daily response of gratitude for what God has already done for us, starting with our salvation.  Even as believers, we are well aware of how we fall short of following these principles and how strong the pull of the flesh can be. But in the end, lives transformed from the inside represent the ultimate solution to school shootings.  Actions taken by government and individuals can deter evil to an extent, but absent transformed lives, the root of the problem is still there.

Having said all this, one of the jobs of government is to help protect its citizens from evil (Romans 13:4), and leaders will need to figure out how to do that for students, within the resources available to them. This is not a political blog, so don’t expect any opinions on this to come out of BCF.  Suffice it to say, brothers and sisters, Jesus is still the answer! After thousands of years of trying, secular systems are still struggling to find solutions to the sinful propensities of man, but ironically, they have managed to marginalize the very principles of the Christian faith that could help them succeed.  That is why we dare not shrink back from highlighting the relevance of our faith to contemporary life, not as a political force, but as those who humbly but visibly minister and have an impact in our families, neighborhoods, businesses, rescue missions, prisons, workplaces, and yes, in our schools.

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

Steve Smith


The “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