by Jamie Buckingham
A quiet pebble beach is located on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is under the shadow of the Golan Heights, not far from the ancient village of Bethsaida.
It was here, early one morning, that Jesus stood and shouted across the water to His friends in a fishing boat. "Catch anything?"
Peter recognized His voice, jumped overboard and swam to shore. It had been several weeks since Jesus had risen from the grave. He kept appearing and disappearing. By the time the other fishermen got to shore, Jesus and Peter had a fire going and breakfast was almost ready.
What followed was one of the most personal and poignant encounters in the Bible. Pulling Peter aside, Jesus predicted the kind of death he was going to die: "When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go" (John 21:18, NIV).
It was a disturbing prediction. Peter was going to be crucified. Peter's reaction was similar to the way many of us react when we get a glimpse into the future of unpleasant things—we divert attention away from ourselves to someone else.
Pointing at John, Peter asked, "Lord, what about him?" Jesus' response was instant. "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me" (John 21:22).
Like all of us, Peter was hoping for a guarantee of long life. He didn't like the possibility of early death—especially if it included suffering. He wanted to hold to all the healing verses of the Bible but omit the verses about Christians having to suffer if they follow Jesus.
I understand that feeling. Last summer, I emerged from my healing experience with cancer feeling invincible. Almost immortal. The doctors had told me I was going to die, but God intervened.
I not only survived—I was healed. But I didn't get what I really wanted: a guarantee the cancer would never return. That is the heart of Jesus' response to Peter: "God allows no guarantees. He does not want you to walk by knowledge—but by faith. "I alone control the length of a man's days,"
Jesus told Peter. "How long John lives is none of your business. You must follow Me." Following Jesus means risky living. God, however, is far more interested in what we become than whether we reach the goal.
In fact, the goal is really found in the following—not the arriving. That, sadly, goes cross-grain to the American concept of success. But God is more interested in building our faith than providing mental security.
by Jamie Buckingham
One of the modern Greek playwrights wrote of the novice who went to stay on an island with an elderly priest.
One afternoon the young cleric, eager to learn, walked with the venerable man along the craggy shore. As their robes swirled in the wind, he finally asked his big question. "Father, do you still wrestle with the devil?"
"No, my son," the elderly man answered, stroking his white beard.
"I have grown old, and the devil has grown old with me. He does not bother me as before. Now I wrestle with God,"
"Wrestle with God? Do you hope to win?" The wrinkled old man looked his young consort in the eye.
"Oh no! I hope to lose."
Unfortunately, most of us seldom get to that place in life. We spend our years battling with Satan. The devil, however, is not man's real adversary—God is.
God's ways are not our ways. His kingdom is not of this world. His commands run counter to our concepts. Until we are defeated by God, we shall always be miserable.
Last summer, following the diagnosis of cancer in my kidney, I found myself in what I thought was mortal combat with the devil. His voice, so logical and factual, echoed through my mind at night after the house was quiet, striking fear and panic.
He would remind me of the doctors' prognosis...chide me for not having bought grave plots. ..show me the agonized faces of my children and grandchildren peering into my casket...list, one by one, the sins of my past—and present.
Then I discovered that even minor resistance in the name of Jesus causes him to flee. Of course, he returns—and he did, in the form of another cancer.
Now I am back in the wrestling match. Only this time I am not battling Satan, for I know he is already defeated. Instead, like the old priest, I find myself wrestling with God.
As the radiation treatment gradually shrank the tumor, I had time—a lot of time—to spend on the mat. Our conversations, while gentle, were always pointed.
One quiet afternoon, sitting in the home of my physician in St. Petersburg, Fla., I found myself battling with Jesus' words from Luke 9: "Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it" (v. 24. NKJV).
Did this mean I should not take measures to save my life from the cancer? Surely not, for God had told me to resist evil. No, it meant I was not to save my life for my sake—but so I could be at God's disposal, delighting to do His will.
by Jamie Buckingham
Several years after my father's death, I had the heart-wrenching task of moving my mother, Elvira, into a Baptist retirement center in Florida. My father had donated the property to the center before he died, planning for the both of them to live there later.
Dad never got to live there, but Mom stuck to the plan. She moved only a few things with her, urging us children to divide up the rest. After the big pieces of furniture had been shipped out, my two brothers, my sister and I wandered through the old house.
Every keepsake had a memory attached—different to each of us. We decided to take turns choosing, I wanted only one thing: the tattered "prayer book" that my parents had used every morning for years. Actually, it was an oversized photo album with seven pages—one for each day of the week.
Each page contained the pictures of those they prayed for that day. My dad had made a little stand so that the album could stay open on the breakfast table, and each morning before eating their meager breakfast, they prayed for their friends. I took the old book and sat on the back steps, looking at each page.
Monday, they prayed for their local Gideon chapter—an organization dedicated to the distribution of Bibles. Tuesday, they prayed for the Billy Graham organization—and for Billy's crusades. Wednesday, they prayed for Tom and Betsy Smoak, then missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Colombia, South America.
I recall sitting at breakfast with them, listening as my mother's voice broke with emotion as she prayed for the six Smoak children by name. Thursday, they prayed for two elderly women who had given their lives as missionaries to mountain people in Appalachia. Friday, they prayed for old friends. Saturday, a family picture helped them remember all their children and grandchildren.
Sunday, even after they were too feeble to attend, they prayed for their local church, and for the staff and residents at the retirement center. Now mother was in that same center. The book had been left behind. I took it home. It remains in my study, closed. The stand, however, is on our breakfast table. It holds my prayer book—complete with pictures.
by Jamie Buckingham
Every year, for the last 15 years, a group of us—dressed in old clothes, carrying shotguns, rifles and sleeping bags—have gathered in a little hunting cabin deep in the swamps of south Florida.
We come from different towns and states. Each year we add or subtract someone, but the core group has remained the same. The four days are spent in the woods southwest of Lake Okeechobee on the edge of the Florida Everglades—30 miles from the nearest phone.
Early mornings and late evenings, we wait in deer stands in trees or walk through the woods with our guns. Nights, we gather in the little cabin with its tin roof, nestled deep in a hammock—a thick stand of oak, cypress and palm trees surrounded by a slough.
This year was different from all the other years. Months earlier, when news spread that I might be dying of cancer, the men had prayed for me. When I arrived, there were genuine tears of thanksgiving. My old friends, you see, had wondered if my cot might be the one left vacant.
Something else was different. The thrill of the hunt was still there; but rather than taking life, my purpose had changed. I had come to get quiet—and talk to God. Martin Buber, the Jewish theologian, once described God as "wholly other." I used to think of Him that way. Distant. Apart, A Creator removed from His creation.
Last summer, though, I discovered Him as Abba. He's my Daddy, and He loves me far more than I loved my sons who accompanied me on the trip. The last morning of the hunt, the alarm went off at 4 a.m. Rather than going out. I opted to stay in camp alone. I snuggled into my sleeping bag and listened as the men dressed, checked their weapons and quietly made their way outside.
I heard someone start the big swamp buggy. Minutes later, men aboard, it rumbled out into the darkness, its oversized airplane tires squishing across the swamp, taking the men to their tree stands.
Just before dawn, I got up, dressed and walked outside. The brilliant stars provided light as I found a huge oak that formed a natural chapel. I sat on a low branch, my back against the rough bark of the trunk, watching as the sun resurrected the world. Few things on earth match the beauty of a Florida sunrise over the Everglades.
by Jamie Buckingham
When I was in high school, I had a football coach who met every player at the sideline as he came off the field, shook his hand and said, "Good job!" I remember very little else about him—but I remember that.
No matter how badly I had played, he shook my hand when I came off the field. Under his coaching, we went undefeated for two years. An incredible feat for a tiny Florida school with a graduating class of 58.
One New Year's Day, after our second undefeated season, he took the entire team—all 33 of us—to the Orange Bowl in Miami. His alma mater, the University of Tennessee, was playing, and he had gotten us tickets. He piled us into a bus and drove 130 mites down the coast, coming back the same night.
It was his way of thanking us for a great season. The next summer we heard he had been fired. There might have been other reasons, but the one we were given was that the Quarterback Club—a group of businessmen who met on Monday mornings in the local drugstore to discuss Friday night games—said the coach had lied on his application.
He was not a graduate of the University of Tennessee. He had gone to a much smaller school. Some said he had never even played college ball. They said he was just a super-promoter who had fooled a bunch of folks. We kids didn't even get to tell him goodbye. When we reported for practice two weeks before school began, there was a new coach on the field.
"He was a fake," we were told. "We don't need someone like that in our town." We didn't know about that. All we knew was that he won ball games. He taught morality. If he heard us cussing, we ran laps until we dropped.
When he found out our star fullback was bragging about his sexual exploits, he benched him. We loved our coach because he was tough—but clean. And because he gave us confidence. I remember the Sunday night before the big Thanksgiving game with our longtime rival.