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The Risk Factor

by Jamie Buckingham

During my senior year in high school a group of women somewhere in the nation started a movement to have all competitive team sports—especially football—removed from public schools. Team sports, they complained, were too traumatic.

Children, they argued, should not be led to believe their team could win, then suffer the trauma of losing. They should only play games where everyone wins. They did not stop to think that there can he no victory where there is no possibility of defeat.

Who among us, regardless of how we voted last November, did not hurt for Michael Dukakis as he stood with his family on election night and—in a gracious New England way—conceded defeat. Yet the man who tries, even though he fails, is never a loser.

Those women in the early 1950s were right about one thing: defeat is definitely traumatic. But so is childbirth. And graduation. And marriage. Yet all are part of life. To eliminate them simply because they are risky would mean the cessation of life.

The risk-free life is a victory-free life. It means lifelong surrender to the mediocre. And that is the worst of all defeats. In politics the risk-free life leads to Marxism—where all risks are removed.

In religion, it leads to dead institutionalism. The man who is guaranteed against failure will never know the sweet taste of success. Today's youth are deathly afraid of risk. Yet, in what must be one of his-tory's great ironies, desiring safety, they escape into drugs—which is guaranteed failure and death,

Freedom demands risk. Eliminate the risks of freedom and you establish a slave state. Even then, if the risks of freedom are banned, tyranny takes over. Ask the Poles. The Czechoslovaks. The Cubans. Today's liberal is constantly crying for justice. But the question is not justice; it is freedom. Most definitions of justice call for the elimination of risk.

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Hope For All of Us

by Jamie Buckingham

Eleven years ago, my daddy died. It was Sunday noon. We had just come in from church and the phone was ringing. It was my mother in Vero Beach, Fla.

"Daddy has just gone to be with the Lord." As long as I can remember she had called him Daddy. The kids all called him Daddy. Only his old friends—and he had outlived most of them—called him Walter.

Jackie and I went back out the door for the 30-mile drive down the Florida coast toward the old home place. My mind was whirling. He was 87 years old. Although his mind had been as sharp as when he taught English literature at DePauw University back in 1915, we all had known the time was short.

Twenty-five years earlier, kneeling in his orange grove, his life goals had radically changed. From making money to giving it away. Now he was satisfied. He owned nothing. He was ready to go home. The week before, I had sat on the side of the bed, listening as he quoted from Longfellow:

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,

Life is but an empty dream!—

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

And things are not what they seem.

I knew, in his poetic way, he was telling me he was about to die. It didn't seem to bother him. He believed death was a beginning—not an end.

I believed that too. At least, I wanted to. But as I drove in silence, Job's question kept swirling through my mind, "If a man dies, will he live again?"

It's the question we all ask when death strikes. "Daddy has gone to be with the Lord," my mother had said. How did she know? How does anyone know where you go when you die? What's to prove you're not like ants stepped on by kids, or like leaves burned in the fireplace?

We pulled up in the carport and went inside. Mother met us in the kitchen. "He went peacefully, in his sleep. I've already had my cry. He's back there on the bed."

"I'll call the funeral director," Jackie said softly. "You go on back."

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Choosing to Obey God

by Jamie Buckingham

I was fresh out of seminary and the new pastor of a Baptist church in a little South Carolina town when Martin Luther King Jr. led his famous march from Montgomery to Selma, Ala.

We did a lot of talking about racial segregation in our deacons' meetings those days. Everyone was defensive. "We're integrated," one man said. "When Miss Jessie died we allowed her maid to come to the funeral and sit in the balcony along with her pickaninny."

Not too far away, in Greensboro, N.C., four black college students refused to move from a Woolworth lunch counter when denied service. It was 1961. By September more than 70,000 students, whites and blacks, had participated in sit-ins.

Our deacons appointed a special committee to patrol the street in front of the church in case "the darkies" tried to get in. "They got their own churches," Harry Lemwood, a grocer, used to say. "Let 'em go there."

I groaned over the injustice, but when King marched on Selma, I did not join him—even though I knew he was right. I didn't even stand up in my pulpit and applaud him. I kept silent. I wasn't afraid of Bull Conner. Or the snarling police dogs. Or of being put in jail.

What I feared most was losing my "job" as pastor. I preached against segregation—which was acceptable because of King's sacrifice. But I knew better than to do anything rash—like marching.

I just stayed home and preached the gospel. I quoted Romans 13—that Christians should not break the law—to justify my stance. No matter that the law said blacks were inferior to whites. No matter that it was cruel, dehumanizing and anti-Christ. It was the law.

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A Scout's Honor

by Jamie Buckingham

No book influenced my young life more than the Boy Scout handbook. In it I found a wonderful world of semaphore flags, sheepshanks, clove hitches, lean-tos and reflector ovens.

It was my personal guidebook from the time I was 12 until I was 16. It took me from Tenderfoot, through the exciting world of merit badges, all the way to the coveted rank of Eagle Scout.

Youth activities in our little town—aside from a spitball fight in Sunday school or a Friday night dance—were non-existent. Scouting was everything. In Scouting, I felt the tug toward manhood. Older boys discipled younger boys.

Scoutmasters took us on camping and canoe trips. I learned how to apply a tourniquet and a splint, salute my superiors, have my uniform inspected and feel pride—with hard-earned accomplishments.

As a Scout, I learned all the important concepts that would later make life rich and meaningful. I learned to relate to a small group in my patrol and troop. I learned to respect—not fear or destroy—nature.

With only a hatchet, knife, rope and compass I could live in the wilderness. I learned Indian lore, loyalty and how to be part of a world brotherhood. A Boy Scout loved God and country.

He respected his parents. He went to church. He believed in good deeds, loyalty, thrift, courage, physical fitness and—most of all—being prepared. I took a vow that I still try to uphold.

He must be prepared at any time to save life, help injured persons and share the home duties. He must do at least one "good turn" to somebody every day. But with the good times were times of disappointment—the same disappointment I have suffered in adult life and in my church.

It wasn't with Scouting; it was with Scouts. Particularly with Scout leaders. One August afternoon five of us—young teenagers—headed for the girly show at the annual summer carnival on the fairgrounds.

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Politics, Pastors and Poets

by Jamie Buckingham

The first trip I made to Czechoslovakia was 18 years ago. I was there with a Dutch Bible smuggler. Be-sides distributing Bibles, we attended underground prayer meetings.

One of these was held in the basement room of a university in Prague. Vaclav Havel was there that night. I remember him especially, because he was a poet, a playwright, a writer like me. There were about 20 people present, sitting in a circle in a semi-dark room with shades drawn.

When I mentioned the word "freedom." my interpreter stopped speaking. Her face showed alarm. She whispered in English, "We can't use that word. There may be a spy present. They will say we are political." It's a good word," one man said with determination. "We need to hear that good word—'freedom,' We need to speak it always, for one day we shall be free again."

Dressed in a tattered sweater and old wool cap, he looked like most other Czech men. Only he was different. There was a fire in his bones. "His name is Vaclav Havel," my Czech host whispered. "He will get us killed—or he will set us free."

The next day I stood in beautiful Wencesias Square in the heart of Prague. I looked at the old museum, pocked by Russian machine-gun fire just months before when the Red tanks had rolled through the city.

I looked at the faces around me. I had never seen such a defeated people. Yet among the Christians I visited, there was resolution. Determination. The next week I visited a midweek service at a Baptist church in Levice. The music was stunning, led by a 40-piece orchestra that included 20 stringed balalaikas.

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Growing Older

by Jamie Buckingham

Everybody I know, when they consider the only alternative, wants to get older. Well, my daughter, Sandy, doesn't want to get older.

But she never has accepted that we can't halt time. She thought 9 was the magic age. "Daddy, I want to stay 9 the rest of my life." The same was true with 12, 16, 18 and now 21.

But everyone else I know wants to get older. My mother says now and then that she's ready to die, but I doubt it. I remember my dad telling us kids about an old man back in Indiana named Purcell who worked for my grandfather in the grain elevator.

Working in a grain elevator in the heat of summer was a miserable job. One afternoon, after a particularly hot, dusty, sweaty, fly-stinging day in the grain bins, the old man went into a nearby stable to pray. Grandpaw Buckingham was working in the feed lot outside and heard him calling out to God. "Dear Jesus, come quickly. Come get old Purcell. It's so hot, so miserable I just can't take it any longer. Come take me home, sweet Jesus."

Grandpaw took his shovel handle and thumped on the door. Loudly. There was a long period of silence and finally a frightened voice from within said, "Who there?"

"It's the angel of the Lord, Purcell," Grandpaw roared. "I've heard your prayer." There was an even longer period of silence and finally a quivering voice answered, "Purcell ain't here right now, but let him know you have been asking about him."

I think my mother's like that. She says she's ready to die—but she does everything possible to stay alive. Old age is not a disease. It is a marvelous condition that most everyone I know is eager to catch.

Unfortunately, it's not contagious and too many folks shuffle off before their time. But when you consider the alternatives, old age is a pretty good deal. There are a number of ways to keep from growing old. You might want to take up smoking. Or drugs. Drinking and driving is a sure formula.

Over-working, over-eating, over-worrying or a combination of any of the above will surely keep you from growing old. Or, if you really want to keep from growing old, have an affair. In fact, anything which keeps you out of God's will is almost guaranteed to keep you from growing old.

A friend of mine worried so much last year (he was especially concerned about losing his hair) that he finally had a heart attack and died. His worrying did accomplish one thing. He'll never have to be concerned about growing old.

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