Smoke Screens

Distractions. Create a diversion to take attention off the real issue. Webster says a smoke screen is “something designed to obscure, confuse or mislead.” In 2018 the Associated Press reported that Nevada ranchers, whose livestock compete with wild horses for grazing land, used draught conditions as a smoke screen to pressure the government to reduce wild horse populations. I thought it striking that in their “examples” Webster connected smoke screens to “campaign promises.”

Recently I read an article titled Former Republican National Security Officials for Biden. It’s a pretty thorough bashing of Donald Trump, and much of the criticism is true. Time and again I have been personally embarrassed and felt shame by Mr. Trump’s brashness and rashness; however, within the first few lines of this article the smoke screen approach glared. Smoke screens in politics is about as common as oxygen is in air, and that’s especially true in a presidential election year. On both sides of the aisle! There are about as many articles out there bashing Joe Biden as there are bashing Donald Trump. I must say that a few sour grapes as in the case of those who wrote the aforementioned article seem to enrich a bashing session. That became obvious when they wrote, “While some of us hold policy positions that differ from those of Joe Biden and his party, the time to debate those policy differences will come later.” It seems that thinking people would make decisions on “policy positions;” not personalities. Before buying a house it would be wise to inspect it: see its condition and features, check the neighborhood and age of the house, see if the taxes are paid or there’s a lean and find out whether or not it’s in a flood zone. I want more than the word of the realtor who obviously has a vested interest in the deal.

Furthermore a bashing smoke screen seems a bit more lofty and credible when it’s by intellectuals, authorities and people in the know. I have a high respect for truly intelligent people; but I have observed that many people with high IQs and some in lofty positions have very little common sense, wisdom or touch with reality, particularly with what it comes to right and wrong. It’s shocking to read some of the books written by “our best, leading professors” and other intellectuals. When they start talking about the need to eliminate the non-contributing mouths within society and argue that a service animal is more valuable to society than a mentally handicapped or elderly person, I am not awed by their education or high rank. When they make the claim that educated, academic and “successful” people should be the ones who decide who lives and who dies, I’m thinking about Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot and Joseph Stalin. Every time I watch or read the news, bias glares. Censorship and twisting is obvious and disregard for truth and honesty astound me. Everywhere I look I see the elevation of agendas over truth and righteousness.

I am not a Republican or a Democrat; neither am I against Republicans or Democrats. I’m a Christian, and I am on the side of what the Bible teaches. I stand against all who defy God and with all who stand with Him on the issues. Furthermore, my focus is on the issues, not the personalities; and I refuse to let a smoke screen make me forget or lose sight of what really matters. The closer we get to Election Day, the more smoke and mirrors I see: name calling, highlighting the bad baggage, horror predictions, defamation of character and plain ole lying.

What about the issues? Tell me where a candidate stands on the sanctity of life, especially the lives of innocent babies. I’ve read the Bible, and I know that few things are more important to God than life. He hates murder. Don’t give me a smoke screen called women’s rights or health care for women. Don’t try to make “murder” look better by calling it an abortion. Tell me where you stand on the life of that little human being.

I’m looking at the issue of sexuality. God is not the least ambivalent on the fact that He created males and females, and that sex is to be between married males and females only after they are married, and never outside that relationship. I can’t stand a rash mouth, in myself or my president or congressman; but don’t try to distract me with a mouth issue or whether or not he’s popular with the presidents of Europe or South America. I’d like to know what he thinks about a person who says today that he’s a boy, but who decides tomorrow that he’s a girl. I’d like to know if he plans to push for laws that will put me in prison for taking God’s position on this and other issues. This week one of my doctors lamented to me that he’s no longer permitted to comment on a patient who says he’s of the opposite sex.

I’m focused like a laser on the issue of religious liberty. I wrote a book on religious intolerance. (A History of Churches: the Survival of First Century Christianity against Overwhelming Odds.) I know something about what it’s like to be persecuted, horribly abused and killed by the millions for preaching and practicing the Bible, and for advocating stances which are out of sync with the people in charge of the religious system and government in power. I see what’s going on this day in Muslim countries around the world. I don’t want this country to go there; and I don’t want my grandchildren to live in a country where freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly and the redress of grievances is not tolerated. I’d like to have a president that is kind, respectful, humble and in charge of his mouth; but first tell me what he believes about the 1st Amendment.

I’d also like to know what he believes about the 2nd Amendment. Does he think taking firearms away from the populace will solve the crime problem in this country? Will it prevent another mass shooting? If a law is passed requiring all citizens to turn in their firearms, will the criminals all do it? What are his plans for sportsmen and law officers? Does he really believe that the elimination of firearms would have kept Cain from killing Abel?

There are other “issues” like civil rights, police reform, the military, foreign policy, health care, socialism and more. I hope I am intelligent enough to not be distracted by smoke screens. I am a free American. In the history of mankind, freedom has been a very rare thing. Many people paid a high price for us to be where we are in this country. I don’t plan to be distracted enough by smoke screens to let this rare thing called freedom which we have to slip away, especially when it is within my power to help preserve it.

I’d Hope They Were Right

Look around. There’s trouble everywhere: in homes, on the streets, in the seats of government and around the world. Uncontrolled passions and desires: for sex, drugs, money and a life of ease and pleasure. Sickness: more hospitals and treatment centers, mushrooming health care, people dying, nobody can slow the pace and conditions worsening with no end in sight. Old and new diseases: flesh-eating viruses, cancer, AIDS, syphilis and little babies inherit diseases and misery from addicted mothers. Violence and crime: gangs, skyrocketing murder rates, mass shootings, sexual and child abuse at every level and often in broad daylight with no shame. We’re poisoning ourselves: air pollution, steroids and poisons in your food, waste in this world’s rivers, lakes and oceans. Rampant graft and corruption: in banking and at every level of government with a special bull’s-eye on Washington. Corruption and injustice are the norm in Houston, in London, in Moscow, in Greece and world-wide. Brother against brother: blacks and whites endlessly prejudiced and at odds, gays and straights, rich and poor, young versus old and us versus them. A world-wide economy in which one collapse can collapse the whole. Overnight! Nation against nation: Syria, Somalia, North Korea, Iran, East versus West, Islam’s Jihad and dreams of world dominance with Sharia law and the ever-present threat of WWIII including nuclear weapons. On planet earth nobody’s safe; not a polar bear, not an elephant or rhino or tiger, not freedom of speech or religion and not you in your own home.

Christians frankly admit that the world is a cauldron of troubles and miseries of all sorts, and they predict that it is going to get worse and worse. In fact, they say this current state of operation will come down to a world-wide meltdown and collapse. Most people have heard of Armageddon. Christians are not fatalists, but they are realists. They are honest about the suicidal spin in which this world finds itself. They know this world is going to self-destruct; fully collapse.

Yet Christians are optimistic. They say there is hope, but it is in Jesus Christ. They say He is coming again. They really believe He is going to save the world and everyone who has made Him personal Savior. Yes, they have the idea that believers in Christ will face the rigors of a collapsing world and mortally suffer and die just like everybody else. But, they believe that when Jesus returns, all of the dead in Christ will rise again and receive brand new eternal immortal bodies. They will never again get sick or die. Furthermore, they believe that when Jesus Christ returns, He will establish an earthly kingdom over which He will personally reign in absolute righteousness. Yes, they really believe this. They also believe that their “eternal life” will be personal and knowing. They do not believe that their future is some sort of impersonal stasis. No, they think they will know each other, including Jesus Christ, on a personal level; and they think He will know them too. Consciously and personally!

Yep, like everybody else they’re in a hurting world that is full of suffering: pain, sorrow, predation, decay, aging, violence and death; but they believe that Jesus Christ helps them in a way that unbelievers do not know. They have hope beyond the grave along with courage and strength to face and bear the challenges of life.

That’s really not a bad combo: (1) help for here and (2) hope beyond here. Nobody else seems to have much to offer. What comfort is there in a religion that says you’ll continue to exist; but only in some sort of unconscious, non-knowing or impersonal way? It must be deeply satisfying to know that your austere god may or may not let you into his heaven. Your best hope would be to die for him in a holy war, but even then at the end of your life he might knock you off the long bridge between mortal death and where his is into the abyss of eternal fire. Imagine how comforting it must be to think that unless you are one of a select 144,000, your death will be the end of you. What does an atheist have to offer? They scoff and mock Christians, and go to great lengths to get God out of everything; but they offer absolutely no hope. Nothing!

If I was not a Christian, I would hope the Christians were right. Oh yes! They’re the only ones who have anything to offer.

Dr. Billy Graham

He lived almost 100 years (1918-2018) and he was very mortal with shortcomings like all of us, but he was a great force for good. He preached the saving message of Jesus Christ with clarity for almost a century. Thousands trusted Christ because of him. Yes, it is pretty obvious that some made false professions. I suspect every preacher who has ever won souls to Christ has seen false professions. Not all who followed Jesus were genuine. Billy Graham touched millions of lives; all over the world!

Through the years I have heard him blasted by lots of people, many of them preachers who were close to me. Much of the criticism has come from people who never made much difference for the better in their entire lives. It’s so easy to be negative, critical and full of cheap talk than it is to see the good in someone and get up and do something of value. In my opinion, one of the biggest, most self-destructive flaws of Christians (especially preachers) through the centuries has been their propensity to zero-in in attack mode on each other, fellow Christians who are 98% like themselves. All they can see is the 2% where they disagree. The molehill becomes a mountain. Satan is reaching the masses with atheism, Islam and salvation by works; Bible-believing Christians are fighting over the mechanics of how to get missionaries to the field, the Lord’s Supper and church music; gagging at gnats and swallowing camels. I am not saying that secondary issues are unimportant; I am saying that too many Christians are woefully weak in cooperation, dwelling together in unity and respecting other Christians with whom there’s a 2% difference. It seems to me that we’re people of war who would much prefer to fight each other than real enemies of the cause of Christ.

I wish I could touch the hem of the garment of Billy Graham. He was a Christian giant among us. I am grateful to God for him and his Christian impact on this world. I feel privileged to have lived during his lifetime. I have asked God to give me a portion of the spirit which was Billy Graham.

A Decision that I Made Many Years Ago

God called me to preach when I was 13 years old. I’m thankful He did. In those early years, God allowed me to be the pastor of three small churches, and work as a pastor’s assistant in a fourth. In all of those cases, I was either in school or had to work at a secular job to pay the bills.

In October 1964, I became the pastor of the 11th Street Baptist Church in Beaumont, Texas. It was a full-time pastorate, but barely; Mrs. Hutson and I lived on $125 per week, and paid all of our bills including rent and taxes. About that time, God brought me into the presence of several spiritual giants in the ministry: H. Frank Fort, Kermit Johnson, Nick Michalinos, Don Warren, Eddie Atkinson and others. It didn’t take me very long to realize that they were in a league far beyond me. I will never forget the day Kermit Johnson asked me to preach at a Preachers’ Fellowship in Beaumont where most of those men were. Talk about scared to death and intimidated! I had heard them preach, and listened-in on their Bible discussions. They were kind to me, but I have to tell you that it was a very discouraging time. I felt neither fit nor qualified to be a preacher.

Soul-searching! Yes, lots of deep soul-searching! I knew God had called me to preach, but I was also humbled by how inadequate I was for the task. Back then after lots of thought, meditation and prayer, I made a decision that has forged the direction of my ministry. I knew that I could not measure up to what other preachers could do, but I also knew that I could do all that I could do. I didn’t have their charisma, their gifted memories, their oratory skills or their great Bible knowledge. But, I could work hard every day; just as hard as they could. And, I could love people and really care. I could study hard and pray diligently. I could give God my best efforts. Routinely! I could make routine excellence the aim of my life. I would give myself to detail, and doing things right. My motives would be right, and I would not give myself to self-exultation. Back then I decided I would seek to be God’s man, as much as humanly possible give Him the best I have and let Him do with me as He might see fit.

I am content to be who I am. I am grateful to God that He does not expect me to be someone else. I am convinced that He only expects me to be the best that I can be on a routine basis. I am glad to be in His hand, and know that He is my final judge.