Friday, October 18, 2019

Political strife, a barrier to communication of truth ...

Christians, of all people, ought to appreciate that engaging in political strife creates a barrier to communication. 

Especially to communicating the good news about Jesus Christ. 

If we want anyone to consider the truth about Jesus, we must express all things we believe to be true in his spirit; not like gladiators. 

If our belief in Christ is true, we will conduct ourselves in politics in the spirit he displayed. 

“Strife” has been described as, “bitter sometimes violent conflict or dissension.” “Discussion”, on the other hand, has been called, “consideration of a question in open and usually informal debate.” 

I believe Christians must as citizens participate in earnest conversation and advocacy about important questions; but not engage in strife. Of course an earnest discussion can trend toward strife, but a godly spirit can restrain the trend. 

May I myself heed this caution: Earnest conversation and advocacy can lead toward truth and understanding. No one knows where unrestrained strife or conflict leads.


Monday, October 14, 2019

The Good News - Live it or Hide it?

There is justifiable concern that candidates for president have expressed willingness to use tax laws to force conformity of religious institutions with social thought about sex and marriage. What are Christians to do?
Rather than retreating into silence in the face of outcry against God in our time, should we not live, breath and speak the gospel truth with loving conviction even as we seem to hold an increasingly disadvantaged position in the culture?
Let’s consider some old-time people who believed God is to be worshipped, loved, and honored.
While captives in Babylon, the Jewish men Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego took courage and spoke for the Lord and refused to bow to the idol set before them by King Nebudchanezzar. He condemned them to death and set in motion the machinery of execution. Yet look at the power that changed the king’s heart about the Lord! (Daniel 3 & 4)
Likewise the case of Daniel. (Daniel 6)
Don’t we Christians, their spiritual successors, underestimate our ability to arouse amazement about our God by faithful life and speech even when events put us in a seemingly weaker position vis a vis government?
We must diligently defend freedom of speech and the free exercise of faith, and most importantly we must live and express our faith!

October 14, 2019

Thursday, September 12, 2019

A spiritual question plagues me ...

The personal choices of Christians don’t bind or represent the church.

If I were not already a person who believes in Jesus Christ, would I be likely to believe in him if I were convinced he is the ally of my political enemy?

I mean, shouldn’t Christians ponder whether we are screening Jesus from view when we seem to identify the church with any political leader or political movement?

How do we square affiliation of the church with a political leader or political movement when the Bible says, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.”
Psalm 146:3

And, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” Zechariah 4:6.

Christians can and should make choices about political leaders and political movements they will support as a civic duty in a Republic. Jesus said to the religious authorities of his day, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Mark 12:17

I repeat, the personal choices of Christians don’t bind or represent the church.

If we represent our civic choices as the choice of Christ’s church, we misrepresent Christ. If we misrepresent Christ, how can anyone believe we are carrying his message of salvation?

Monday, August 26, 2019

How easily pride sneaks up ...

How easily I see the need of other people for correction. How often I think I recognize the attitude that is leading them to err. How slowly I realize that their bad attitude is one I have indulged in myself!
I am not bold enough to describe myself as a peacemaker: that’s a judgement for someone else to make. I have been trained as a conflict coach and mediator, however. In those roles I have mediated a number of conflicts. Early on I began seeing attitudes in people that impeded reconciliation.
In time I recognized that the bad attitudes typically originated in what the ancients described as “pride” -  the certainty that I am right and that the only good outcome is the one I desire. 
I made a mental note to stay away from this kind of pride. I have failed. That’s because I’m unaware of it when it grips me. It sneaks up on me! 
How easily pride sneaks up …
I have read of the destructive effect of pride in historical figures like the capable revolutionary war general Benedict Arnold, a traitor. I get a self righteous impulse to say “I’d never go there.” Then I do, within the context of my much less spectacular life.
I was preparing to write a piece on the destructive power of pride in public men, when my grandchildren dropped in. Feeling I was engaged in an important scholarly investigation, I begrudged them but little time and attention. My wife kindly asked me if I was feeling well. Suddenly I realized I was practicing the same kind of flawed conduct I was hastening to point out in two prominent American military men!
The next time the grandchildren came over, I reminded myself over and over of the reason we moved into a home two blocks from them: to be close to our family. Not to write judgmental articles about public figures now long dead.
May God grant that I never again forget why He has left me here. To pursue what He considers good. And may He forgive and correct me if pride sneaks up on me successfully again and I give in

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

What can possibly be wrong with pride?

If I hear someone say about me, “He is proud of his achievements,” how tempting it is to for me to consider that a compliment. However, the statement is not a compliment if the person means “He is preoccupied with his achievements and, in his own mind, is the leading person in the drama that is his life.”

In the preceding sentence I paraphrased a statement that author Nathaniel Philbrick made in His book “Valiant Ambition” about the Revolutionary War traitor Benedict Arnold.

Arnold was a very successful American general till pride took him down the road to ruin.

Shall I not ask myself, “Is my pride taking me to a different place?” Scripture says: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” 1 Peter 5:5 (ESV)

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Is there a "good divorce?"

A good divorce, is there such a thing? I can’t say. However there is such a thing as good parenting after a divorce.

I was blessed with good relationships with both parents, and with my stepfather, after my parents’ divorce. Going fishing played a big part.

My mother remarried. More than once she said of my father and stepfather, “you are fortunate to have two fathers who are both honorable men.“

My earliest memories are living with my mother and grandparents, then later with my mom and new stepfather, brothers and sisters.

I have no recollection of my father during my early years, probably because he was off at war. At the end of World War II my parents were divorced.

Now that I am well past the age when my father and mother divorced, I understand the effort my father invested in creating and maintaining a relationship with me, his son who lived 1500 miles from him.

The role of fishing?

I grew up fishing with my mom and stepfather in East Texas. We finished for almost everything that moved, primarily bream, crappie, bass, and catfish. In the process we also caught disagreeable looking fish like Alligator Gar and “Grinnel“. We fished with minnows, worms, and artificial lures; I even fished with chewing gum. In addition we set out trotlines baited with stuff too awful to describe. It was exciting!

When I was about 12, my father began taking me fishing every summer. This involved flying up East from Dallas alone on American Airlines. That by it self was exciting!

The fish my father and I stalked up East - trout and salmon - were prettier than most of the fish I stalked in East Texas.

My father grew up in East Texas, and in Austin. I don’t think he ever went fishing in his boyhood. His family was poor and all of them worked hard just to survive. His father left the family and everyone had to work.

When my father became successful in business and could take time off for fishing, he and his friends went after trout and salmon. Unlike me, they didn’t fish with live bait. They fished with dry flies, and, if necessary with wet flies. A serious offense to them was being accused of “fishing with bait.“ Although they were fishing purists, they were not highbrow. They loved putting on grungy clothes and going into rural New York, Montana and Canada for weeks at a time.

I was admitted into his fishing brotherhood only after my father spent several days training me to fly cast on the grass in the backyard of his home. That time together forged a bond between my father and me that lasted all our lives.

My father also was a faithful letter writer. He typed his own letters, signing them with a practiced flourishing signature the art of which I have never equaled.

The letters might contain descriptions of his travels around the world (he was an airline executive) and often snapshots. Sometimes they contained stories about places overseas where he fished, like Norway and Iceland. I remember he described the geysers and geothermal activity he saw in Iceland, along with the salmon fishing and fellowship he enjoyed.

Our annual fishing trips and my father’s frequent letters created a wonderful bond I greatly value and even now enjoy. My father passed on to be with the Lord three decades ago.

My Mom was right. I am fortunate - blessed - to have two honorable men for fathers. Both of them whole heartedly did what they could to love, train and affirm me. I couldn’t ask for more. Both of them now are gone from this life, but they aren’t gone from my heart.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Standing and kneeling for America …

God blessed me with an experience of America’s nobility when I was a small boy; one that permanently shaped my conviction of America’s potential for good. That experience is why I expect always to stand to our national anthem.
Growing old has also shown me that nobility is not a “given” for our nation - or any other nation. When I stand for the anthem I am not standing for everything that happens on our soil.

What was noble about the America of my childhood?

I grew up in World War 2. At age 3 or 4 I learned America had been attacked and we were in a dangerous war. One night when my grandparents drew the curtains and turned off lights in a practice “blackout,” I asked why we were doing this. My grandfather replied that a man named Hitler might send bombers to attack us and we were practicing turning off our lights so his planes would have a hard time finding targets for their bombs. I was not afraid, but I got the message. Not only our soldiers, but all of us – including children – were in this war.

Uniforms were everywhere. My mother, uncle and many family friends wore uniforms. My mother’s uniform was the uniform of the American Red Cross. My Uncle Bud, an aviation cadet, wore an army uniform. Though my father was away and I seldom saw him, he also wore the uniform of the Army Air Corps. About half the people in my Mom’s group of friends wore uniforms of the U.S. Army, Navy or Marines. We were visibly a country at war. 

The war was officially “over” when I was about 6 years old. For many it continued. For instance, it was hard for returning soldiers and their families to find places to live; there was not enough housing. Builders and building materials had been diverted to the war and away from building houses and apartments. 

To help in the housing shortage, my grandmother rented a room to a wounded soldier who had returned from several years of captivity by the Japanese. His name was Charlton Wimer. I asked Charlton one day what he had done in the war. He replied that he had served in the Army in the Philippines and had been captured and put in a prisoner of war camp. 

I asked him what being a prisoner was like. He paused and replied that every night he and the other prisoners were forced to sleep with their feet toward the center aisle of the barracks so the guard could strike them with a club every time they made their nighttime rounds.

The war also continued with a new enemy who had been an ally. The Soviet Union violated the peace agreement that gave the German capital of Berlin into the shared control of all the wartime allies. 

When most troops of other friendly countries went home, the Soviets kept theirs in place and tried to intimidate America and its friends into surrendering the people of Berlin to Soviet control. The Soviets blocked land access to Berlin and waited to America to accept inevitable defeat. 

Instead of delivering the Berliners into the hands of still another tyrant-Josef Stalin-America and its friends supplied all the needs of Berlin by air until the Soviets backed down. Many of the same pilots who had flown bombing missions into Berlin during the war now flew food, supplies and coal in icy winter weather and saved the city.

Having seen the nobility of America, I must stand for our national anthem. Having also seen occasions when we Americans have been less than noble, I also kneel. I kneel to the God who faced down our enemies in my childhood, and who can bring repentance for the less than noble deeds we sometimes do. 

May God bless America, and may America bless God who sustains us 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Bridging the Faith Gap Between Old and Young

I live in a time when many young people seem desperate and hopeless. What can I say to them?
Who am I to tell them anything?

I am not young, but I have a God who has kept me from becoming desperate when I confronted challenges I never anticipated, challenges that scared me.

How can I communicate to much younger people the reality, hope, and welcoming spirit of Jesus Christ?

One way I can communicate Christ is having joy and peace when confronting the constraints and trials of old age. This joy and peace is only supplied by Christ himself; it is not something I can conjure up.

When I lack peace and joy I can pray for the same assurance that God gave Joshua, the leader of ancient Israel, when he succeeded Moses:

“Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you … Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” * 

God gave this assurance to Joshua. I am a successor in faith to Joshua. I have inherited this assurance.

I remember a young nurse I met at church. She was working in the ICU** of a local hospital. She said, when describing how she came to believe in Jesus Christ, that she had noticed a difference in the way Christians die.

I ask myself, who has fewer powers of persuasion, fewer ways of influencing people to believe in the reality and goodness of Christ than a person who is living their last moments? Yet Christians surrendering life in the ICU had pointed this young woman to Jesus Christ by the manner of their dying.

If Christians can influence people to seek Christ by the way they live their final moments, then surely I can exhibit the goodness of Christ while I am still up and on my feet, living out old age.


*   Joshua 1, verses 5–9
**  ICU-intensive care unit

Doug Smith, Jan. 23, 2019

Friday, January 18, 2019

Should We Let Fear Govern Immigration Policy?

We should not let fear govern our attitude toward immigration or immigrants, whether they are legal or illegal.

Fear makes us Americans act out of character and pushes us to ignore the real issues, leaving the problems worse.

Illegal immigrants are valuable human beings and their disorderly influx into the United States presents an important problem that must be solved.

Many if not most of these immigrants want what I want - to live and work in a free country. It’s best expressed in the words of a federal district judge I stood in front of in a deportation hearing years ago. I was the prosecutor, seeking deportation of the man who stood on crutches in front of the bench.

Before pronouncing judgment the judge said, “I have a hard time punishing someone who wants to come and live in the country I love.”

Having said this, he applied the law, releasing the man from the local jail where his prosthetic leg had been stolen, and deporting him home to Mexico.

My plan? Stop listening to politicians who act as if the illegal immigrants are exclusively drug dealers, violent criminals, and human traffickers. I imagine most of these immigrants are ordinary people seeking a decent life. 

All the immigrants I met when my wife and I lived in Texas from 2005 to 2016 were extraordinarily diligent and competent. In my mind the challenge we face is assuring an orderly way into our country for immigrants like them, according to our country’s needs, and assuring an accurate way of screening out the portion of humanity that has no respect for people or the law.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Does Heaven Have a Wall?

By permission of author Jeremy A. Watts, as posted on Facebook™
Saturday, January 12, 2019

I have not said much about the border wall in the past few weeks. Believe it or not, this post is not really about the border wall either. Like most of my Facebook friends, I am neither an immigration expert nor a policy-maker.

However, I am a Christian and a Bible teacher, so I feel like I should address this particular meme. I’ve seen it quite a bit from my politically conservative Christian friends, and it seems to pop up in the comment section of just about every immigration-related news article I see.

Unfortunately, whoever made this meme does not seem to have read the end of the book. Yes, New Jerusalem has a wall, but it also has twelve gates – and they are never shut. The nations and the kings of the earth bring glory and honor through the gates to the King. Revelation 21 also tells us there is no Temple; anyone who comes through the gates has equal access to the King. Gentiles, women, commoners – all will see the light of the Holy One. And to top it all off, the Spirit and the Bride beckon, “Come.”

If this meme is your clever argument for a border wall and strict immigration policies, just stop it. Don’t pretend this is a “Christian” response. It’s not. Jesus broke into our world to break down the barriers between God and man, not to raise them up. He descended into Hell to set the captives free. After all, it is Sheol that has a great gulf fixed that no man can cross.

This is not a statement on whether or not a border wall for the United States is a good idea. This is a statement about the beauty of the Gospel. This is a statement about a Lamb that breaks down walls with his own blood so we can sit down at a table with the King. Don’t conflate the enemy-loving, outsider-inviting Gospel of Jesus with the broken, exclusionist policies of Caesar. Debate your wall, but leave Heaven out of it.

Monday, January 14, 2019

A Crisp and Snowy Morning

Today is Monday. Snow has fallen since Saturday evening. Friends are posting photos on Facebook. The consensus is, we have about 10 inches in central Anne Arundel County (MD).

The sun came back this morning. I look up from my breakfast, to the window, and see coverings of brilliantly shining snow topping tree limbs, and also long icicles dangling from the eves of our roof.

The storm has passed, and the view outdoors suggests that we have been delivered into another world. I hope so. May a special snow blanket the quarrelsome spirit of us Americans, cool us, and cause us to open our eyes with a new respect for one another.

January 14, 2019