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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hotheads in the Household

by Jamie Buckingham

I never heard my father and mother argue. I now know they often disagreed. But they considered it bad breeding to argue in front of their children. It was an unreal world for a kid to grow up in.

There was one time ... I was about 10 years old. I woke in the middle of the night and heard my mother screaming. My older brother, Walter Jr., had come in late from a Saturday night date. My mother met him downstairs, and there was some kind of horrible confrontation.

My mother was hysterical. Her words were shrill. Unintelligible. Then I heard Walter shouting something—also unintelligible. The door slammed, shaking the entire house.

By that time, I was out of bed. From my upstairs window, I saw my brother stomping across the dark yard toward nowhere, shouting back at the house. My mother, back upstairs, was still hysterical.

I was terrified and crawled back into bed, wishing it had never happened. Through the closed bedroom door I could hear my father's calming voice, "Now, now, he'll be back."

The next morning we all gathered as usual at the breakfast table before leaving for Sunday school. Each child, including Walter, was present. Mother was bustling back and forth from the kitchen, bringing in the Cream of Wheat in the big brown serving bowl with the blue stripe around the top.

My father, sitting at the head of the table in coat and tie, had us bow for the blessing. No mention was made of the catastrophic eruption of the night before. In fact, to my knowledge, this is the first time it has ever been mentioned by anyone in 43 years.

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My Finest Christmas

by Jamie Buckingham

I had known for several months that my body could not maintain the pace. The time was December 1979—10 years ago.

The pressures in our church had brought us to another crisis stage. Writing deadlines, to which I had agreed the year before when things were less hectic, were now screaming frantically at me from the finish line. Then there was the traveling ministry. I enjoyed it because I could go into a different city each week and be treated like a king—and not have to live with or solve the problems I constantly created at home.

Running on wound-up energy, I was growing less and less effective in all I was doing. I first realized I was in big trouble in early December when I stepped off a plane in Bogota, Colombia. After stumbling through customs and finding myself standing on a dark curbside outside the airport terminal, I suddenly realized I didn't know where I was staying or who was meeting me.

It was an empty feeling. I was surrounded by my suitcase and boxes of supplies I was to deliver to missionaries. I wanted to sit down on the curb and cry. What in the world was I doing here anyway? I wanted to be home.

Suddenly, I heard a horn blowing and blowing. I looked up. There was an old friend—a native Colombian. He was motioning for me to get into his car. In a daze I did.

"What are you doing here?" I asked. "I was praying and the Lord said to go to the airport and meet Jamie. "I don't understand."

"You had written earlier, saying you were coming and would stay with me. But you never said when. Each night I have prayed. Tonight, the Lord said you had arrived and needed help."

I remember little about the trip to South America except the conversation I had with a friend on the plane back home. I was to arrive home in mid-December, then leave the day after Christmas for South Africa—returning home in mid-January via Israel.

I said to my friend, "I don't see anyway to slow down except to be struck down."

"Don't curse yourself with that," he said.

"It would be a blessing, not a curse," I mumbled.

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