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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. read more

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." read more

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. read more

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. read more

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. read more

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. read more

Games Men Play

by Jamie Buckingham

Last year, I almost quit playing racquetball. Almost, but not quite. I'm glad I didn't. Racquetball is a high priority in my life.

By that I mean I play three times a week and often carry my racquet, shoes and shorts when I go out of town. When I'm at home, I divide my playing time between an outside court and a shiny new court in a condo project being developed by my friend, Brooks Watson.

I used to play doubles with Brooks, but on several occasions, he tried to change my good looks with his racquet. Brooks is left-handed—which makes him lethal when you put him on a court. One bloody afternoon it cost me $65 to have 12 stitches put in my chin because I forgot Brooks swings from the south while I swing from the north.

On the way home from the emergency room, I decided a 20-by-40 court is too small to contain four middle-aged men swinging clubs at a wildly bouncing ball—especially if one of them swings backwards.

Now I limit my game to singles—with an occasional threesome for variety. (More about that later.) My regular opponent is our pastor, Curry Vaughan. Curry is 10 years my junior, played first-string guard at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, has biceps like Godzilla, and goes after every shot as if he's charging downficld on a kickoff to smash a helpless midshipman into a pulp.

He's the kind of fellow who laughs after hitting you in the small of the back with a ball going 200 mph—and then uses it as a sermon illustration the next Sunday. It gives me great pleasure when I beat him.

I sometimes play with Harvey Hester. Dr. Hester is a psychologist who sometimes, just as I'm getting ready to serve one of my blistering corner shots, clears his throat and asks me if I hate my mother.

I also play with Al Reed who wears trifocals, which makes him even more dangerous than Brooks Watson, and with Kent Busing, who is ambidextrous and switches his racquet back and forth be-tween hands so he never hits a backhand shot. read more

Phony Christians

by Jamie Buckingham

Aside from disobeying and failing God, the one thing I fear most is becoming phony. Our American world, in particular, has spawned far too many phony Christians.

They are easy to spot, especially when it comes to money. It's hard to tell, any more, what a man means when he says: "Pray for me. I have a financial need." Does he really want my prayers? Or my money?

As the overseer of a flock, I struggle with this all the time. I am convinced God does not want church leaders begging for money. Nor does he want us to write letters to our "mailing lists" asking widows, struggling young couples and naive young Christians to "pray that God will meet our financial needs by next Tuesday."

That is nothing more than manipulative begging. Especially if you enclose an offering envelope. I can't do much about the garbage which comes through the TV tube in the name of Jesus, nor have I been very effective in stemming the tide of mail which comes from Bible-waving, Mercedes-driving beggars.

But I can make certain that the leadership in our local body does not manipulate. The danger, however, is not so much that our people might misunderstand the genuine Christian's requests for prayer. The real danger is that we, in our effort to keep the ministry pure, might stop asking our friends to pray for us.

Some of my "faith friends" love to talk about George Mueller, who supposedly made his requests known only to God. Mueller, though, never hesitated in letting everyone know exactly what his needs were. But that's different from today's phony Christian who says he wants to get you on his mailing list so he can "pray for you" (when what he actually wants is your money).

Although I know it is God who answers our prayers, I also know that money does not float down from heaven like manna. It is given by people who have received information about specific needs. The danger lies in taking the shortcut: bypassing God and going directly to the people. read more

The Happiest Day

by Jamie Buckingham

According to my friend Ollie Swenson, who also lives in the country, the second happiest day in his life was the day someone gave him a goat. The happiest day was the day the goat ran away.

Ollie went on to explain how his goat—the very first day he had it—climbed the fence and ate every one of his wife's expensive shrubs, including nine hanging baskets on the patio (rope and all).

The goat finished that off by devouring all the imported tulips from Holland and, without even a burp, ate one of his wife's eelskin shoes. The next day the goat butted Ollie's mother-in-law head first into the compost pile and then totally destroyed his neighbor's garden.

Two days later, the neighbor called to apologize. It seems the goat—quite by accident—had gotten mixed up with two cows the neighbor was taking to the market. The goat wound up at the slaughterhouse and no one could figure out how a thing like that could have happened.

Ollie said it was a time for rejoicing throughout the kingdom. Well, I don't know much about goats, but I can tell you about pigs and cows. And about horses that eat sand and have to be flushed out. Now that's quite an experience.

Mickey Evans, who runs an alcoholic rehab center on a large ranch, gave me a 34-year-old horse one time. One morning, I walked out to the pasture behind our house to lean on a fence post, watch the sunrise and pray in tongues.

I glanced out into the pasture and saw the horse lying on his side, looking like the Goodyear blimp. I mean he was so filled with gas he was about to float. I called the big animal vet. He arrived within the hour. "He's sanded," the vet said. By that he meant the horse was too stupid to know the difference between grass and dirt, and had eaten at least a bucket of sand.

The effect was the same as pouring dirt down your sink—it had clogged his innards. We finally got the horse on his feet, which was no easy feat. The vet told me to hold the horse's head. He then withdrew a 25-foot rubber hose from his satchel and stuck it in the horse's nose. It was hard to believe. read more

A Visit in Exile

by Jamie Buckingham

Nothing had changed—even though it was all different. We sat up late, talking, just as we had done 10 years ago. My wife, Jackie, Dan and Viola Malachuk, and myself.

Outside winter winds whistled through the barren trees on the dark New Hampshire mountains. But inside it was just as it had been in those days when Dan and Viola lived in the big house in New Jersey and Dan's publishing company, Logos International, was the hottest thing going.

Back then Dan Malachuk was one of the shakers and movers of the ascending charismatic movement. He, along with Demos Shakarian, Oral Roberts, Kathryn Kuhlman—well, they kinda put the whole thing in motion.

Demos took the message around the world with his Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship. Kathryn made it real with those dramatic miracle services. Oral folded his tent and built a university to train the next generation. But it was Dan Malachuk who published it for the world to read—and believe.

Viola was part of that dream. They went to work in the back of Dan's jewelry store in Plainfield, N.J. Dan dreamed, brought in authors and marketed books. Viola sat at a little desk preparing the manuscripts. Hundreds of titles with the Logos imprint covered the world. A national magazine, Logos Journal, was birthed. Huge conferences on the Holy Spirit were held in Jerusalem, Switzerland, South Africa.

Then it all came tumbling down. Now Dan and Viola sit in self-imposed exile in their little house in the backwoods of New Hampshire. "I'll tell you why Logos went bankrupt," a respected leader told me. "Dan was not straight. He was always making a 'deal,' which would benefit himself."

Perhaps so, and maybe it was by God's grace Dan didn't wind up with some big lawsuits. We would talk of that later. But that first night, sitting in their kitchen drinking apple cider and remembering, we only talked of good things. read more


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