Author: Marcus Buckley

I Never Thought I Would Say This…

running

I enjoy running. There. I said it.

Don’t panic, however. Those of you who have known me for a while may be tempted to, but let me assure you,  I have not been abducted and replaced by a body-double, and I have not lost my mind. Well, the last one is a distinct possibility, but nevertheless, I have discovered I enjoy running.

This does not mean running is fun. There is a difference.

I have never enjoyed running. Ever. If I was running, I have frequently joked, then so should you because it means I am being chased by something I can’t defend myself from. Even if running had been fun for me, I had not been able to run for a number of years, even before I had back surgery several years ago. After the back surgery, I had been able to get back in the gym and get back in pretty good shape –good enough to fit into a Batman suit again for Halloween, anyway. But even then I couldn’t run without it hurting my back, or more accurately without having the fear of it hurting. I took up boxing, hit the weights, and walked at a pretty good speed and ridiculous incline on the treadmill, but no running.

Fast forward to August of 2017. I’ve been out of the gym for over 14 months since we moved back to Florida, and my body is showing it. So my wife, Lea Ann, and I get signed up at a gym here in town and get to work. She gets back into shape much quicker than I, a fact I attribute to her extreme athleticism during her high school years and the fact that she isn’t fat like me. This fact doesn’t deter me, however; it actually serves to inspire me. Because she gets into shape much faster than I, I don’t want her to be looking all svelte but be stuck with a chubby hubby, so I’m working pretty hard.

Which brings me to the running thing. I realized that if I want to get a year’s worth of sedentary lifestyle off in less than a year I was going to have to make some changes and push myself. I’m tracking calories (which hurts my feelings but really helps the working out thing),  I’m doing 4 sets of 15 of everything, and I’m running. Well, running and walking, but I’m running more everyday. And my back hasn’t hurt yet. My knees, ankles, shins, toes, and hips hurt, but not my back.

A funny thing happens when I’m on the treadmill at the gym now. I can see a hazy reflection of myself in the window near my treadmill. I’m 46 now, and the beard that I have grown on a lark earlier this year is a lot grayer than when I let it grow in years past. I think back to the last time I really ran, back in 2000-2001 when I had been recruited by a government agency to come and work for them (I wound up not going). Lea Ann, who had been a track star in high school, was my coach, teaching me everything I needed to know about pace and stride length. I would run 3 or 4 miles a day, every day, rain or shine, because I had to. If I was going to be able to meet the physical requirements of the job I was being recruited for, I needed to be able to perform. Now, I have a different–and perhaps better–motivation.

I want to do this. I want to prove to myself that I can. I want to do because I can do it.

For years I gave a lot of reasons as to why I couldn’t run, most of them revolving around my fear of re-injuring my spine. The fact of the matter was that it was just excuses. Fear really is just an excuse. And I was making excuses when I should have been making progress.

So why do I now enjoy running when I so desperately hated it before? Because I see it for what it is –a privilege. I run because I can. Not everyone has the privilege of high-speed bipedal locomotion, and while I’m not exactly high speed I am up to 6 mph and a little over three miles at a time (alternating roughly 1/3 walking and 2/3 running). When I’m on the treadmill or running in our neighborhood, I try to push myself a little farther each time. Mind over matter. And boy, do I say some nasty things to myself when I think about stopping.

How many things do you and I miss out on because we make excuses? Because it might not be fun, or it might actually be uncomfortable for a little while? How many times do we lose the argument with ourselves and quit too early, just short of the goal? If you have the opportunity to run, then run. It may be running physically, but it may also be exercising your potential spiritually. Don’t let the fear of what might happen keep you from doing what you can. Start running and pumping those legs physically, emotionally, spiritually, until you find your stride–you may actually find that you enjoy it.

Where is the Great Shepherd in the Storm?

Houston flooding

The question  hasn’t been asked of me yet, but I know it’s coming: “If God is so loving, why is He allowing what is happening in Houston to take place?”

Houston is not alone in suffering natural disasters, of course, but it is currently ongoing and it is on a massive scale. It looks like something out of a disaster movie, much like Katrina in 2005 or any of the other large-scale disasters that have stricken the planet since the advent of widespread, instant communication. Thousands upon thousands of people are without power, without food and water, without shelter, and many are, worst of all, without hope.

This past Sunday I preached on Psalm 23 and John 10, about how Jesus is the Shepherd who provides, protects, and promises a future for His flock. But where is the Great Shepherd when disaster strikes?

Let’s reduce the scale a bit. I have a friend, who is a believer, whose daughter will be undergoing brain surgery tomorrow to relieve a problem caused by errant blood vessels in her brain. No parent wants to see their child go through health issues, regardless of that child’s age. If God is loving and merciful, why would a person have to go through something like this?

And in between these two situations separated by scale are millions of other crises that arise on a daily basis. Innocents suffering, good people hurting, disaster on stages great and small.

Where is the Shepherd in the storm?

He is right where He said He would be: with His sheep.

Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” No matter how dark the day may be, no matter how great the shadow is that falls across our lives and threatens to overcome us, the Shepherd is with His sheep. His rod of protection and staff of guidance will do their work, and the knowledge of this provides comfort.

What about those that are not His sheep? What about those who don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and have never placed their faith in Him? Are they the ones who are without hope that I mentioned above?

They don’t have to be. In John 10:16, Jesus said, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” God’s love is so great that He makes room for those who want to come into His care. Jesus didn’t die on a cross for good people, or religious people–He died for all people, everyone of which is a sinner in need of a Savior.

So where is the Great Shepherd? Why isn’t He doing something? He is–we just aren’t always looking with the right perspective. When we look rightly, what we see is the immovable presence of the Shepherd through every storm, every attack, every problem, no matter what the scale may be. Videos are popping up on social media of convoys of pickups pulling boats on their way to Texas to help rescue people who are trapped by floodwaters. People from all walks of life are sending money, food, water, and other needed items to people they have never met. The Shepherd is at work, providing and protecting, and He is using us to do it. Make no mistake, I believe that God can do whatever supernatural miracle He chooses. I also believe that sometimes we are the rod and staff in the hands of the Shepherd who is always with us, and that God allows such tragedy for us to be used to provide for and protect others, so that they might see there is a future promised for them through our faithfulness.

Be certain of this: no matter the storm, no matter the adversity, the Shepherd is in our midst. He is at work. He will take the terrible and make something beautiful, because that is what Jesus does.

How Far Downrange Are You Willing to Look?

rooftop counter sniper

I just read an article by USA Today writer Matthew Diebel about a Canadian sniper who killed an ISIS militant more than 2 miles away. 2 miles. 3,450 meters. It took 10 seconds from the time the shot was fired until it struck its intended target, an ISIS militant attacking Iraqi security forces (you can read the full article here). 10 seconds. Anyone who has done any shooting knows what an impossible task hitting a target with a rifle at that range would be. And yet, someone did it. The article quotes the source who revealed the shot, saying, “Instead of dropping a bomb that could potentially kill civilians in the area, it is a very precise application of force and because it was so far way, the bad guys didn’t have a clue what was happening.” The shot was confirmed by several sources.

I love firearms and I always have. I’ve been to the range a good bit over the years, but I can tell you this–I am intimidated when I have to shoot a target 100 yards out. 34 times that far is almost unfathomable to me. And yet, this person accomplished it. How?

They were willing to aim farther.

Now, don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not suggesting that the only reason he hit a potentially moving target from a distance of 2 miles was because he was the only person willing to try, and that somehow his own willingness guaranteed success. Far from it. This is clearly a person who had trained for a long time, and prepared for such a moment. While the specific rifle isn’t mentioned, is was likely a Barrett .50 cal. Whatever it was, it had to be something with the ability to reach out and strike a target that far away. He also likely had a spotter, someone who could help by providing wind readings, ambient temperature, humidity, distance measurements–all of which would increasingly affect the bullet as it travelled that distance. A lot went into being able to accomplish that task.

Every one of us is different, created to be unique. We have our own skills, interests, and passions. God designed us that way. He gives us opportunities to learn, to be stretched, to be equipped for the things He has in mind for us to accomplish. While we have to be careful not to let our ambition exceed our capabilities, the fact remains that many times we are afraid to aim that far downrange. We stay within range of what is comfortable, what is certain, what is a “sure thing.” By doing so, we don’t aim for the far reaches that God has prepared us for.

The famous missionary William Carey said, “Attempt Great things for God, expect great things of God.” We have our part to do, certainly, but we must never forget that it is God who has called us, equipped us, and empowered us to do things beyond what we could ever accomplish on our own. And He usually provides people to help us along the way. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to do it on your own. If He hasn’t already, God will bring people into your life to help you if you’ll ask Him.

I don’t know about you, but I want to see God-sized things. I want to see God do things beyond what you and I could ever accomplish on our own. But we’ll never hit that target if we don’t raise our sights and aim for it.

 

 

Sometimes, You Just Get Stuck

raptor-truck-stuck-swim-beach.jpg

A couple of weeks ago I kicked off my current sermon series with a simple premise–if you stop in the wrong place, you’ll get stuck…just keep going. Psalm 1 was the text, where we see the progression of the person who winds up in a bad spot: walking in the wrong place, then standing in the wrong place, then sitting in the wrong place. Growing up in Ormond Beach, Florida (and having been back on the beaches here since last June) I have seen plenty of vehicles go across soft sand beyond their vehicle’s ability to traverse it, only to watch them slow down, stop, and then proceed to get themselves seated up to the axles in sand.

What you see pictured above is a Ford Raptor, a pickup designed to be a high-speed off-road-dominating monster. And it is. The Raptor is, by all accounts but those who simply despise Ford, an amazing off-road truck. And yet notice it’s condition in this photo: buried to the bumpers in sand. It’s clearly designed for off-road, and the aftermarket wheels and tires imply that it has been modified to perform even better in adverse conditions. So why is it stuck?

Because sometimes you just get stuck.

It doesn’t matter how prepared you are, how well-equipped you may be, or how much training you have. There are going to be times when you and I are going to find ourselves bumper-deep in something we don’t want to be in, somewhere we don’t want to be. We did all the right things, tried to be careful, and yet we’re still stuck. What did we do wrong?

There are many examples of people in the Bible who were doing the right things (or at least weren’t actively doing anything wrong) who found themselves in catastrophic, bumper-deep sand. In the Old Testament book that bears his name, we see that Job was a godly man who had a great relationship with God and was known for his righteousness, and yet he lost everything he had: his family (other than his wife), his possessions, even his health. He had done nothing wrong, and yet there he was, up to his bumpers in a mess. Others like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who in the first few chapters of the Old Testament book of Daniel are shown as young men faithful to God, refused to bow before a pagan king and his idols, and yet were tossed unceremoniously into a fiery furnace. Why?

Because God uses bad and difficult things as well as good things to bless. In the end, Lot was blessed with more than he had before his losses. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were delivered from the furnace and made to be high-ranking officials in the very kingdom that had enslaved them.

If you’re going to go off-road, sooner or later, you’re going to get stuck. I don’t know what happened to the Raptor in the above picture, but I’m pretty sure it lived to off-road another day, likely with some help from someone else. The owner learned something, and definitely had a good story to tell. Isn’t that the point of doing adventurous things like off-roading? Likewise, if you and I walk with God, sooner or later, we’re going to get stuck as well. The good news is that Jesus will give us what we need to get free, you and I will learn something from it if we will pay attention, and we’ll probably have a good story to tell. Isn’t that the point?

Post-Father’s Day Follow-Up: Dads, You’re Doing Fine

10 miles to rest areaThis past Sunday I started off the sermon with something I had seen posted on Twitter last week. I didn’t write it down or save it, which is a violation of one of my core tenets to help my insufficient memory. I was thinking it was Ed Stetzer (@edstetzer on Twitter)–pastor, theologian, and church-statistics guru–but I can’t find it, so I will apologize and correct when and if the source is confirmed. The gist of it was how we heap accolades upon moms at church on Mother’s Day but proceed to beat dads to death with how they are the single source of the fall of civilization as we know it when they come to church with their families on Father’s Day, and a caution for pastors not to fall into that trap.

I realized he was completely right, and that I was indeed  guilty of that in the past. So I shared this with the people in both services and proceeded to tell the dads that they could relax a little. There would be no beatdown this Father’s Day–we get that enough. No, this was an opportunity to tell you how to catch a break, one that would be a real help.

Many in my generation are familiar with the “Vacation” movies featuring Chevy Chase as bumbling but well-meaning husband and father Clark Griswold. Everything Clark touches turns into a mess, mostly because of his own shortcomings, but it isn’t for a lack of trying or good intentions. Most men want to be good husbands, good fathers, good friends, good employees, good citizens, etc. Most men try really hard to fulfill the responsibilities our role as men places on us. And yet we still find ourselves walking away from the wreckage of the “Family Truckster,” and standing next to a burnt-up Christmas tree in the shambles of our home that has been wrecked by the SWAT team. We feel like we aren’t the men we need to be, like we are somehow letting our families down. Then, to top it all off, the very people who should be encouraging us instead join in the chorus of discouragement.

Let me say to you, as I did at Oasis Church this past Sunday: dads, you’re okay. Most of you aren’t beating your families, cheating on your wife, robbing banks, selling drugs, running guns for the Russian Mob, and so on. You’re leading the family on this trip called “life,” and you’re doing the best you can. The trip isn’t perfect, but neither is anyone else’s. There is strength for the journey, I promise you. And that strength is found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. There is also rest for that journey, and it is also found in Christ. All you have to do is ask Him, and He will give you what you need. People frequently equate trusting in God as a crutch, but let me assure you–having needed crutches once myself, I can attest to the fact that there is no shame in using a crutch when you can’t move otherwise.

Guys frequently tell me that they feel guilty that the only time they talk to God or go to church is when things are going badly. Let me ask you this–do you stop at a gas station when the tank is full? Do you stop at a rest area on the interstate when you don’t “need to go?” We stop when we need to stop. GPS estimated arrival times are challenges to be conquered, like the high score on a video game. We tend to drive as far as we can before we stop for any kind of break, and when we finally do pull over it is going to be somewhere that has everything we need in one place. Stop beating yourself up, and start talking to the One who is everything you need for the journey. There’s a place you can stop, catch your breath, refuel, and get back on the road. Jesus is the only rest area that you and I need, because everything we need is in Him.

Aaaaaand We’re Back…

welcome-backTime flies when you’re having fun, according to the old saying. I would say it hurries along quite rapidly regardless of whether or not one is pleasantly engaged. That being said, after a more than one-year hiatus, I am returning to the website which bears my name. Like my physical self, it no longer resides at the address it used to. Thanks to an eager internet capitalist, my former domain, marcusbuckley.com, is now priced at a healthy $799. While I commend the effort, it will have to be another Marcus Buckley who buys that one. I rectified the problem by adding the prefix for “Doctor” in front, and the price dropped to one percent of the now-absconded-with former domain. My name is worth less with my doctorate attached than it was without. Who knew?

Anyhow, please take note that http://www.drmarcusbuckley.com is the new domain. If you’d like to take a look and learn more about the church where I am lead pastor, check out http://www.oasischurchfl.com.

The Importance of Catching One’s Breath

“So, how’s it going?”

“Covered up, man.”

“I know what you mean.”

Have conversations like this? I do. All the time. In spite of technology’s promise to make life simpler, it seems we’re more “covered up” than ever. Instead of  leaving work or school, it now follows us more easily than ever. There is a lot to be said for being able to work from a mobile platform (as I am doing as I write this), but it also means that work is never more than a click or swipe away.

I am as bad at this as anyone (which I am proving by writing this while on “spring break” with my family). But I also realize just how badly needed it is. It really is nice to have no schedule to follow, but just to be able to spend time with my wife and kiddos.

I can’t tell you how many times I felt guilty taking any vacation days when I was younger. As a pastor, there is always someone who needs you, a problem that needs to be solved, a question that needs answered. Much like any other job. But for someone who feels like they have to help everyone and fix every problem, it can be exhausting. God always empowers us to do what He calls us to, without a doubt. But He also is clear that there is a need for rest. A need for margins.

What happens when there are no margins? There is no room for error. Like flying with the Blue Angels, only never coming in for a landing. Without a break, your skill level eventually becomes irrelevant. Inevitably, you run into something, more often than not damaging someone else in the process

I don’t have the all the answers, but I have one that is especially clear today–give yourself a break. You will gain a lot by giving yourself some short-term margin. It may just help you get a perspective on how to gain some long-term margin as well.

 

You Can’t Love What You Don’t Know

Thanks to social media, it has been increasingly easy to gain insight into the minds of those who follow Christ. Our reflexes have become increasingly sharp in posting memes that require others to “share and like” if one really loves Jesus. Or, perhaps, we post pictures of church signs that contain some well-intentioned message. Then the truly stalwart Christians post news stories showing the evil of the world and decry the wickedness of humanity.

Take just a moment and look at this from a different perspective. Look at these things as a lost person would.

Many of the memes posted about Christianity are either based on hoaxes (if I see one more post about Proctor & Gamble and Satanism I will scream), or have enough grammatical errors and misspellings to make an English teacher openly weep. And as for the church signs? The grammar and spelling applies here as well, but perhaps worse is the fact that most have horribly painful puns that no one outside of the church actually thinks are funny.

Many of the things believers do to make their point to the lost world around them is a lot like showing family photos to a stranger. They have no point of reference for what they are seeing because they have no personal investment. They don’t know the people, they don’t know where it took place, and because they have no reason for context they really aren’t all that interested. That’s when the outrage begins on our part. “Why don’t they enjoy looking at these pictures and hearing these stories? What kind of cold-hearted, insensitive people are they?”

The funny thing is that is precisely what the world is asking about Christians.

The world around us doesn’t know us. Sure, they know some things, but they generally aren’t the best representations of us. They know caricatures, extremes on both sides of Christianity, that certainly do not represent the true nature of following Christ. “That’s because they haven’t taken the time to get to know us!” we say indignantly. “They don’t know me as a person, but they’re making assumptions about me!”

You see where this is going, don’t you?

Jesus was rebuked because He spent time with tax collectors, harlots, and anyone else He could find. The religious leaders of the day spat that He was a “friend of sinners” (Matt. 11:19). Jesus spent time with people so that they might come to know Him and therefore have a context for what He had to say. Jesus knew exactly who He was ministering to—He was God in the flesh, after all—but He nonetheless went out of His way to interact at a close, personal level.

In our zeal to push back against an immoral culture, we have pushed away the very people Jesus has called us to reach. We are so shocked and saddened by the lack of a moral compass in people’s lives that we have thrown them to the wilds instead of helping them find their way. We are in the world and not of it, make no mistake, but we are still in it. Jesus said that as we were going about life we were to be making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). As we go about the life God gives us, we will meet people who are lost without Christ. We need to stop being so surprised people without a compass get lost and then we mock their lostness. Instead, we need to graciously provide them with the knowledge of how to get on the right path, remembering that people generally accept directions better from someone they believe actually knows the way.

Is Compassion a Victim of Technology?

The Internet is awesome.

I mean, really. Think about what we have available at out fingertips thanks to this network of computer swapping information in ways unfathomable to non-techies like me. We can find out how to replace the power window in a car, even watch a video of someone doing it. We can learn new recipes to combine food that seems awful but turns out amazing. We can download music we had as a kid and thought lost forever due to being out of print. We can get precise driving directions on our phone to a location halfway across the country because we’re to afraid to get on a plane and fly there. All of this is, unquestionably, awesome.

There is, of course, a dark side to the Internet as well. I’m not just talking the seedy underbelly where criminal endeavors spring forth or morality is easily compromised.

I’m talking about the death of common courtesy and compassion.

I was always taught to be nice, even to those who weren’t particularly nice to me. I was taught that if you can’t say something nice, it’s probably best just to say nothing at all. That’s not to say that one should never stand up for one’s beliefs or contest an idea that is contrary to one’s own. Such discourse, when done in a civil fashion, many times opens doors to surprising learning and wonderful friendships. I have many friends with views in opposition to my own. This does not make them an enemy, but a friend who sees things from a different perspective. Might I consider them wrong? Well, yeah. Everyone knows that DC Comics’ books and TV shows are better than Marvel’s (the opposite is true of their movies), that Mopars rule the automotive world, the the mid-90’s were the true golden age of Batman comics, and that the Alabama Crimson Tide is the greatest college football team in the history of everything (please hold the hate mail and nasty comments—you’ll just be proving my point).

So, then, how do we deal with a situation when a friend—particularly a fellow believer in Christ Jesus—publically and arrogantly makes a grievous error? Do we take Facebook and bash them in that cryptic way so many excel at? You know what I mean: “Feeling bad today. You know who you are. Pray for this person.” Does that really accomplish anything?

Jesus actually had pretty clear instructions in this situation:  “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:15-17).

The Internet and social media have made it awfully easy for us to skip steps one and two and jump right to the public aspect. It is extremely easy to say things from behind the relative safety if not general anonymity that a computer keyboard provides. We are insulated from any real personal interaction when we lob grenades via a keyboard. It certainly seems that we are more likely to say things via the Internet that we would never actually say to someone’s face or in the presence of their family and friends. When we write the things we do, do we ever stop to think how that person’s spouse will feel when they read it? What about their children? “Well, then they shouldn’t do such and such to bring such scorn,” or, “They shouldn’t let their kids read things on the internet,” or, “They need thick skin if they’re going to be this and such,” or whatever our response is to justify our harshness. The fact is that two wrongs don’t make a right. Correction is intended to be redemptive, but many times it’s simply done out of anger.

If an honest attempt is made to initiate conversation as Jesus taught and the person ignores or refuses such, then there is certainly little alternative. Blatantly obvious sin cannot simply be ignored due to bias or convenience. Realize that Jesus is talking about public sin here; not merely a difference of opinion, but a public spectacle that compromises the Christian testimony of the one doing it. I have some very good Christian friends who would strongly disagree with me on all of the points I listed above, but they likely wouldn’t viciously attack me on the Interwebs over it (again, please don’t prove my point). We need to decide if the stand we are about to take is a hill upon which we are willing to die. Some things are indeed worth it, make no mistake. Some are not. Knowing the difference is what separates history’s successes from its failures.

Proverbs 15:1 says that “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” It would do all of us well to keep that verse a little closer to heart. I’ll do my best to remember that the next time someone tells me that Greg Capullo is a better Batman artist than Graham Nolan or that a Shelby GT500 is better than a Hellcat Challenger. Because that’s just stupid talk 😉  .

Important Rule Here: Be Nice

I haven’t addressed this before because, frankly, I haven’t had to. Since I have had over 35,000 hits this week regarding an article I posted earlier, the comments have also increased to say the least.

Let me say that I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything I post. It is entirely likely that someone may have a deep-seated loathing regarding whatever my post regards on that particular day. It is often helpful if one reads what I have written in it’s entirety before commenting ;).

I welcome comments and civil discussion, but I will not allow this to become a soapbox for someone else’s agenda. That’s what their own blog is for :D. If someone gets snippy it either doesn’t get posted or it gets removed after the fact. We don’t all have to agree, but we will all be agreeable here.

Thanks,

The Management