I Finally Found God

This was written at the request of The Relevant Christian magazine–I suspect it will form some of what I might say in one place or another… In the meantime, here it is.

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My name is Les Ferguson, Jr.

That may not mean much to you and that’s ok. In fact, you may have no idea who I am or where I have been. Any news stories you might have seen have long left the airwaves…

And I am good with that.

There was a time not so long ago when my name didn’t mean much to me either. I longed to drown my memories, to forget my existence, and to somehow alleviate my all-encompassing pain.

At this point, frankly, I am somewhat weary of the notoriety of my story—I am weary of some of the things that have become an ingrained part of my new identity. I am weary of the heartache of the past that will always be a part of my present and future.

My name is Les Ferguson, Jr.
I am a preacher’s kid.
The world of church work has been a part of my life since almost as long as I can remember.
I grew up in church.
I came of age in church.
Much of my identity and self-worth has long been tied up in church and service to her. Even when I wanted to be far away, she was always close by, an ever-present attraction or irritant, depending on the circumstances.

My name is Les Ferguson, Jr.
I used to be a preacher and that is a story we are getting to.

In fact, I started preaching for a little country church at the age of 15. It was a predominately African-American church. I say predominately, because there was one skinny white kid who preached there on Sunday mornings. Yes, that was me.

I owe that little group of folks a lot, but that’s a part of my story we will not delve into today…

My name is Les Ferguson, Jr.
I went to Magnolia Bible College and studied to be a preacher. My time at school was divided by a six-year hitch in the US Navy. After the Navy, I began work as a youth minister in Vicksburg, MS and also went back to school. In time, I began a full-time preaching ministry in Laurel, MS and later in Gulfport, MS.

I’d like to think I did good work during some of those years. Certainly I grew as a speaker/ communicator. More importantly, I grew as a theologian and minister. And as compassionate as I’d like to think I was, I had lessons yet to learn that would prove to be the fight of my life…

My name is Les Ferguson, Jr.
I used to be a preacher and then I found myself being one again.

In some ways, it would be easier if I could tell you I suffered a moral lapse or made some huge mistake that necessitated a ministry time out. It would be easier to say I cheated with my time. Or maybe I swindled some sweet elderly lady out of her life’s savings or insurance. It would be so less painful to tell you I embezzled church funds or got caught up in some aspect of illegal drug use. It would be far simpler to just acknowledge some degree of depression or a mental breakdown.

It would be easier and I wish I could, but I can’t.

My name is Les Ferguson, Jr. and the time between having been a preacher and becoming one again was a long hard battle of lost and rediscovered faith.

Preachers are not supposed to lose their faith. Standing all alone atop our pedestal of supposed super spirituality, we are thought to be invincible to the failure of doubt. At least until we aren’t and by then, there is little you can say to stop it.

When faith departs, there isn’t a single religious cliché that will fix anything—not WWJD (What would Jesus Do) and not FROG (Fully Rely On God). And faking it till you make it isn’t a viable option either.

And then there was scripture.

Comparing my story to the story of Job wasn’t comforting; it was obscene. And Romans 8:28 enraged me—there was nothing good about the murder of a wife and son.

And so faith departed. It didn’t happen all at once, but I felt it trickle away and was powerless to stop it.

I am not sure I wanted to.

I suppose I should clarify what I mean by losing faith. In my case, I never quit believing in God. I never doubted His existence. I never doubted His presence in this world. In fact, that knowledge and belief in Him fueled my doubt like pouring gasoline on an already raging fire.

When I say I lost my faith, what I mean is losing my trust, hope, and belief in a God who loved and cared for me. I knew He cared for others. I saw the evidence in a thousand places in a thousand times. I heard the happy praise. I saw the exponential joy. I felt the faith of others as a living, breathing, tangible thing…

I get giving God credit for the good things we experience in life. I really do. But every time I heard someone speak of what God had done for them–curing their illness, getting them a new job, buying them a new house, or making their headache go away… I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs both literally and metaphorically the immortal words of Esau, “Do you only have one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” (Genesis 27:38 HCSB)

The next phrase in that verse says, “And Esau wept loudly.”

So did I.
So did I.

And in my tears, rage, and bitterness, I cried with an impotence hard to imagine…

What about me?
What about me, God?
Don’t I count too? 
Why doesn’t my family matter as much as his stupid toothache or her goofy issues?
Why God, why?
Why can’t I be blessed like all the rest around me?
What did I do wrong?
How did I fail you?
What about me?

In those words are the pain of every hurting, broken, questioner who has wondered where God is and why He hasn’t made a difference so desperately wanted and needed.

In the dark despair of tragedy, in the grip of a destructive evil, those were my words.
They were given birth the day my family was ripped from me.
I angrily thought them the day I was forced to pick out two caskets.
I mouthed those words relentlessly as I stood in a day long receiving line.
I cried those words as the funeral message was preached.
I sobbed those words quietly at night as I tried to comfort a five-year demanding to see his grave-bound mother…

Eventually those words took on a life of their own. In my bitterness and despair–in a dry and weary land–there was no comfort, no solace, no balm of Gilead to soothe my spirit, to ease in even some small way the despair that had taken root in my soul.

In that fertile ground of pain and sorrow grew the sure knowledge that God—real and alive—cared nothing for me. I couldn’t trust Him. There were no bargains to be made; no deals to be had.

Hope was gone and I was alone.
Raw.
Bleeding.
And desperate for something to ease the pain…

In my heartache and anger, I eventually found God.
Not all at once.
But slowly and surely, as life became more than just my pain, God started showing up.

Here’s where the story gets real.

The former preacher, the guy with two theology degrees and a lifetime of ministry, finally found God.

Not the God who blesses America (even though He does).
Not the prosperity God who delivers wealth to those who contribute (to whatever cause or bank account needing funding).
Not the God we keep all locked up in a box (church, traditions, understanding) of our own making (although He can dwell there too if He so chooses).
Not the God we bargain with and cut deals for (even though I am sure He is interested).

Instead, I found God.
The God who created everything.
The God who wants nothing more than relationship with His creation.
The God who offers grace, mercy, and love.
The God who redeems our brokenness and changes our story.

For me, the redemption of my story was everything. To use my pain to bless others means my family did not die in vain.

And thus, the grace of God has proven to be overwhelming.

I am preaching again and this time I share a message of grace I have experienced; a message of grace I am compelled to share with others.

My faith is secure.

It took awhile, but I finally found God on His terms and not mine…

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Madison/ Ridgeland, MS.

The Power of a Beautiful Story

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What is Christianity? It is what is good, true, and beautiful. These are the three virtues that describe our faith. God is good. God is true. God is beautiful. God embodies these virtues perfectly, but these virtues do not stop with God. What he creates is good, true, and beautiful. As Christians, we should strive for goodness, truth, and beauty in our own lives. We should reflect the virtues of God. We are shaped by a story that is good, true, and beautiful. The Bible is God’s grand narrative, and we are invited to be a part of it.

Of the three virtues, beauty is the one that is most neglected by Christians these days. We are great at standing up for doctrinal truths. We have no problem doing good in the communities in which we live and around the world. Beauty is another animal. It is not that we are against it, but I think most Christians do not know what is meant by beauty in its purest form. Beauty has been hijacked. The so-called beauty that is pimped on magazine covers and billboards is not the kind of beauty we are talking about.

What is beauty? The psalmist wrote, 
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)
Our standard for beauty is God. Everything about God is beautiful. His work, word, and ways define beauty for us. The beauty we see in creation is a reflection of the beauty of the Father. The beauty of a painting, film, or poem is a glimpse of the eternal Artist, who created all things. The beauty of humanity at its finest is a reminder of the greatest human being that walked this earth, Jesus of Nazareth.

We must be careful not to neglect beauty. It has the power to win people over. Often Christians are guilty of shouting truths at a secular world that desperately needs to see the beauty of God. We must never neglect the truth of the Christian faith, but the first thing the world needs to see and hear from us is the beauty of what it means to be a Christian.

God’s beauty is broad. It is many things. At one point in his ministry, Paul pointed to the beauty of the words of a pagan poet to win people to Christ. God’s beauty can even be found in things that deny him or do not know him. The longing for something beautiful is a desire every human has. We may have a difficult time defining beauty, but when we see something beautiful, we cannot take our eyes off of it. Beauty is a necessity, just as story is a necessity. Without stories, our lives do not make sense. Everyone has a story. Everyone is living into a story. Every human being on this planet has been shaped by the stories they have grown up with. Without beauty and story, life is meaningless.

It is important to understand how foundational beauty and story are because Christians have a beautiful story that the world needs to hear. Everyone agrees that there is something wrong with the world. How do we address this brokeness? We address it by telling a beautiful story, a story that is truly good news to the people who hear it. We live into this story, so much so that people recognize that our lives are strangely different. We embody this beautiful story that we are now a part of it, and we proclaim it with every aspect of our lives.

What is this story of beauty? It is a love story. It is a story about sacrifice and what it means to be truly human. It is a story that will bless our lives in more ways than we can imagine. It is a story that recognizes this world is not what it should be. This problem leads us to the heart of the story. Humanity cannot solve the problems of this world, although we continue to try. God alone can make things right, and he did so by taking on flesh and coming to this earth.
Our world recognizes beauty each year at Christmas when it celebrates the incarnation. People are mesmerized and filled with awe because of this mysterious event. Beauty and mystery are close cousins. They go hand in hand. If you explain every detail about something, it is no longer a mystery. We are intrigued by mystery because we do not
understand everything about it. The same is true of beauty. Part of the allure of things that are beautiful lies in our inability to fully explain them. We can try to describe the beauty of a sunset, but our words do not do it justice. Our explanations of what is beautiful always fall short. What is beautiful in the Bible are things we profess but do not fully comprehend. Incarnation, Trinity, atonement, resurrection, etc. are all elements of our beautiful story. They are foundational to who we are and what we believe but they are also shrouded in mystery and beauty.

We have a beautiful story to tell and we must not fail to share it with the world. Often, we are guilty of sharing facts from the Bible as if it is no different from a science textbook. When we do this we are missing out on the wonders God has revealed to us. We are called to woo the world with the beauty of a story. It is the beauty of a God who created all things and said, “It is good.” It is the beauty of a God who is one and three at the same time, a God who dwells in perfect community. It is the beauty of a God who left heaven and came to earth. It is the beauty of a God who took on flesh and ministered to the least of society. It is the beauty of a God who forgave his killers and willingly went to the cross to show us what love is. It is the beauty of new creation springing up from the grave.
This is our story, but it is just part of all there is to tell. When God invests himself in creation, the result is beauty. God has been present in the lives of the patriarchs, Israel, and the early church, and he continues to invest himself in the lives of Christians today. Many Christians have personal stories of how God has worked in our lives. In a world that is longing for beauty and a story to make sense of their lives, we hold the key. We have been called to tell a beautiful story.

Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications. He blogs
regularly at Resurrected Living (http://start2finish.org/category/resurrected-
living/)

The Power Of A Villain Story–By Tyler Jarvis

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One of the things I like the most about the Bible is that it doesn’t pull any punches. I mean, there are lots of guys who are generally “good” guys but who do really crappy things. Generally, when you read a story, the main character is presented in the most likable light possible.

Not in the Bible. Or at least, not always.

In the Bible, you hear about guys like David, who was famously described as a man after God’s own heart, but who also impregnated a woman who was married to another guy, and then carried out a plan to kill the woman’s husband so he wouldn’t be caught.

In the Bible, you hear about guys like Samson, who served as a Judge of Israel and was supposed to rescue the Israelites from the Philistines, but he actually just winds up breaking all the vows he made to God, and even when he does kill a few Philistines, it’s too little too late, and he dies without having done what he was called to do.

In the Bible, you hear about guys like Peter who was the rock on which the Church was built, but who was portrayed as incredibly dim-witted all throughout the Gospels. And even after the resurrection, when Peter is supposed to be super awesome all the time, Paul still has to get onto Peter for being a racist.

I think it’s important that these stories are included in the Bible, because the writers understood the importance of a villain story. It’s important to have stories about people who screw things up. It’s important to tell the stories of the guys who weren’t always good at following God.

Because really, that’s our story. I can relate to guy who does good and bad things. I’m familiar with seeking after God’s heart, but also trying to make myself look good. I know what it’s like to know what God has called me too, and to ignore it because there were other, better things to do. I know how it is to want to follow Christ, but to make stupid mistakes.

The Bible includes all these stories to show us that being a follower of God isn’t just something for the elite. David wasn’t bred to be a holy King. He was a shepherd boy who accidentally found himself anointed to be King, and he screwed up along the way. Samson had strength, but lacked the discipline and desire to follow God. Peter was self-absorbed, and only followed Jesus because he thought Jesus was going to lead a violent rebellion against the Romans, but he wound up leading Christ’s Church.

This is important to note, because, like Peter, Samson, and David, we’re not always going to be the good guy. We are going to do things that are stupid, shameful, and Un-Christlike. At some point in our lives, we are going to do things that hurt the cause of the Kingdom of God. And God can use us anyway.
Because the Christian story isn’t a hero story. It’s not a fairy tale. It’s a real story about real people who seek after God and who screw up. It’s a story about people who are constantly being transformed, but who sometimes resist that transformation. It’s a story about people who don’t always look more like God today than they did yesterday.

And that’s encouraging. Because I take steps back. I have days like David, where if people knew what I’d done, they would probably think I wasn’t a Christian. I have days like Peter, where even though I work as a leader in a Church, I exclude people that I’m supposed to include. I have days like Samson, where God gives me everything I need to follow him, and I do my own thing anyway. And it’s on those days that I need these reminders that God’s not finished with me yet. Even on the days that I’m the villain of the story, God works in and through me.

We should strive to be followers of God. We should strive to be after God’s own heart. We should strive to be perfect as God is perfect. But we should also rest in the comfort that God uses us when we screw up. Some of the greatest heroes of the faith were bigger screw-ups than you and me.

Sometimes, the villains make the best heroes.

Tyler Jarvis is the youth minister at the Oak Ridge Church of Christ in Willow Park, TX. He’s married to his wonderful wife Andrea and they have zero kids. He enjoys playing guitar, rock climbing, and writing about himself in the third person. You can check out his blog at tylerjarvis.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter at @Tyler_Jarvis.

Grace: The Power of a Redemption Story

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This is my contribution to the 2015 Summer Blog Tour… I pray it blesses you in some small way!

I don’t watch a lot of TV. Consequently, I often miss things that are culturally relevant. I hear about TV shows and have no clue about them at all. People talk about movies and actors and I just kind of nod my head because more often than not, I have no idea who or what they are talking about.

Even when a movie comes along that grabs my attention, I rarely make the time to see it. In fact, I cannot at this moment remember the last movie I saw.

The truth is, I am a nerd and would rather read a good book.
That I can talk about with ease.

So while my grasp of popular culture is fairly tenuous, I am somewhat aware of a Discovery channel program called Dirty Jobs. Instead of trying to explain something I have never really watched, the following comes directly from the show’s website…

Welcome to Dirty Jobs, the new Discovery Channel series that profiles the unsung American laborers who make their living in the most unthinkable – yet vital – ways.

Our brave host and apprentice Mike Rowe will introduce you to a hardworking group of men and women who overcome fear, danger and sometimes stench and overall ickiness to accomplish their daily tasks.

Not one to just stand by, each week, Rowe will assume the duties of the jobs he’s profiling, working alongside rattlesnake catchers, fish processors, bee removers, septic-tank technicians and other professionals: average folks tackling extraordinary tasks that simply must get done.

But you’ll walk away from Dirty Jobs with more than just a glimpse into unfamiliar occupational duties…

If you’re like us, you’ll also gain a new understanding and appreciation for all the often-unpleasant functions someone is shouldering to make your everyday life easier, safer – and often cleaner.

Dirty Jobs.
Nasty jobs.
Disgusting jobs.
I know there are plenty of jobs out there I wouldn’t want to do.

Not today.
Not tomorrow.
Not ever.

But, I’d like to suggest maybe the nastiest, dirtiest job of all is one done by God…

The job is grace.

We typically define grace as unmerited favor.The definition itself ought to tell us ahead of time that grace is a dirty and rough business. Giving grace means giving people what they need not necessarily what they deserve.

Speaking of movies I have seen, remember Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ? Like the movie tried to convey, the Crucifixion wasn’t a death penalty punishment meant to impart death from a “let’s-try-and-spare-the-punished-any-overt-pain” kind of experience. To the contrary, far from humane, it was intended to inflict massive emotional, mental, and physical suffering—a total annihilation of body, soul, and spirit. For those who had to watch one live and in person, it must have been a spiritual gut-punch.

Hopefully you are managing a visceral grasp on the ugliness Jesus endured, because there was nothing rougher or more difficult than the grace procured by the Cross…

Did I mention it was a dirty job?
It is always a dirty job.
Grace means getting down into the filth and ugliness of our world.
Worse, grace means there are no rubber gloves and boots to protect you from the showers and splatters of filth that will come.

That’s what Jesus did.
That’s what we are called to do.

I wish I lived in a sterile, clean, antiseptic environment, but I don’t.
Sometimes I whine, complain, and get all twisted up.
Sometimes I act ugly, mean, or spiteful.
Sometimes I am selfish and heartless.
Sometimes I experience/ endure heartache.
And because I am fundamentally flawed and broken, I need grace.

I need grace from God.
I need grace from you.

Yes, grace is a dirty job.
But it’s grace that takes away our guilt and shame.
It’s grace that says, “I love you.”
It’s grace that says, “I forgive you.”
It’s grace that takes broken stories and breathes into them the new life of redemption.
It’s grace that takes our pain and humiliation and turns it inside out.
It’s grace that redeems our story and makes it into something different, something useful, and something of service.
It’s grace that wipes away our tears.
It’s grace that empowers our own acts of forgiveness.

In the heartache of brokenness, I am thankful for the God who could not be pushed away by my anger and pain.
I am thankful for the grace of God.
It’s a dirty job, but it is the power of my redemption.

Grace.
It’s a dirty job but it’s my story…

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland, MS.

Danny Dodd: The Power of an Ordinary Story!

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Ordinary is an interesting word. It was a word once used for some of Christ’s disciples (see Acts 4:13). It usually denotes “nothing special,” “average,” “normal.” Nothing to see here, so just keep moving on.

An ordinary story? I’ll pass. Give me the extra-ordinary; the dramatic; the one filled with exciting special affects; the tearjerkers. Those move the needle. Those create blockbusters and best sellers. Ordinary is just not interesting.

Until it is.

Until ordinary reveals something else.

Those Jesus followers in Acts 4 certainly were ordinary guys without any special pedigree, but yet there was something quite different about them.

What was it?

It was noted that they “had been with Jesus.” Jesus has a way of making ordinary interesting.

I am not sure that LaVelle Travis (L.T.) Blevins would ever be considered just ordinary, but his story has ordinary beginnings. Born during the Great Depression in the small backwater Arkansas delta community of Gordneck, L.T. grew up like so many others of his era—poor but happily surrounded by a loving family.

Again like thousands of his contemporaries, L.T. answered his nation’s call and served in the U.S. Navy during both WWII and the Korean conflict. He married his sweetheart, began a family, started a successful small business and worked diligently to provide and care for them.

On the surface—this describes an ordinary life. It was the kind lived all across America. Yes, he lost his first wife too soon. He retired early to care for her. Later he had serious health concerns of his own from which he was not expected to survive. But really that is all fairly common. It is normal. L.T. Blevins? Not much interesting to see here, so let’s just keep moving on.

But before you do, I ask you to look a little closer. There is more to this ordinary story. Remember how I stated that Jesus has a way of making the ordinary interesting? If you spend any time around L.T. Blevins it becomes obvious. He has “been with Jesus.”

He just turned eighty-eight years old. The ever-present twinkle in his eye reveals a joyful soul shaped through the years by his relationship with Christ. He has this wonderful adventurous side that once led him to wrangle horses on the back lots of Hollywood movie westerns after WWII; ride across the country on a Harley knucklehead motorcycle; fly (and crash) without lessons or licenses in small planes; and physically build a lake house with his second wife, Kathleen, while in his seventies. He has all kinds of extraordinary stories to share.

But his most extraordinary stories are about being with Jesus. They are about his beloved Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, Arkansas; it’s beginnings; it’s growth; it’s ministry. He has been here through it all—serving as teacher, shepherd, cook, missionary, and everything in between.

Always here. Always faithful.

He reared his family here—now into their fourth generation. He carried the burden of leadership. He made personal and financial sacrifices for the Levy family. He mentored the current generation of leaders. He did not waver. He never created any drama. He is a peacemaker, a visionary and a great friend to preachers.

He has been with Jesus. Just an ordinary man in some ways, made extraordinary through faith in the Christ; just another boy from the Arkansas countryside, but one whose legacy of quiet dedication to God, family and church continues to shape and influence them.

He is a part of what has been tagged “the greatest generation.” Great—because of sacrifice, hard work and personal integrity. Once this was just considered ordinary and normal. It was simply how you were supposed to be.

It certainly does describe L.T. But that is not why this “ordinary” man is great. Rather:

The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. – Matthew 23:11-12

The power in this story really is found in the Christ and in the good, humble man who allowed Jesus to do the extraordinary within him.

L.T. inspires me. Throughout his life he just consistently did the right thing without any big fuss. It is an ordinary story, but it is not. It is a story of quiet and consistent faith lived out through the normal variations of life, but never wavering.

I remember one summer camp session where several people shared their faith stories with the campers. All were dramatic and meaningful. One brother showed the needle marks on his arm and gave God the glory for empowering him to overcome his addiction. It certainly was a powerful story.

But there is also the need to share the power in stories absent of all of this—a story of faith that never ventured away. That is the power I see in L.T. Blevin’s story and in his person and that is why it is so meaningful to me.

It is the kind of life I wish to live and for my children—just consistently being with Jesus everyday in a normal, ordinary, drama-free, yet incredible kind of way.

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Danny Dodd is the preaching minister for the Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, AR. He is originally from Greenville, MS. His wife is Terri, originally from Melbourne, AR. Their daughters are Taylor (13) and Jordan (9). Danny also has served at the Gateway church in Pensacola, FL; as a resident missionary in Vilnius, Lithuania; and in churches in Mississippi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of a Recovery Story

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There comes a day in every recovery story where the rock bottom floor gets too uncomfortable. It’s cold and dark and miserable. My body aches for the release my habits bring but my head says I just can’t go there again. I gut it out until I just don’t have any guts left.

It’s a long fall to get to the bottom. Along the way there are signposts and blinking billboards that tell you life will always be this way. The map of your life is laid out and there is no detour you can take. Your choices are already set into the route so you might as well just follow it anyway. The lies repeat themselves until you decide they must be truth. And even though you can see the end of this route, and it’s totally not where you want to go, you decide there is nothing you can do to stop it. And so the cycle repeats itself.

A friend once told me that when the pain gets to a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, change becomes attractive. Because surely the pain of change can’t be as bad as the pain of the habit. On this day the pain scale rises to 100 and I determine there has to be a better way. 

Flipping open my Bible, I land in Romans. A hard book to understand sometimes, to be sure. What could I possibly see anew in a book I’d read many times before? It starts with the question of continuing in sin, banking on the love of God and His continuing grace and forgiveness to save us. Been there, done that. That’s where I was living every day. The lie that I can do what I want, handle my problems with my own brand of feel-good release and still be okay with God. The lie ringing louder, but more hollow, every time the cycle repeated. 

As I prayed to be open and to receive true release from the darkness, my eyes fell on these words,

“Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection.

That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God.” Romans 6:6-7, 12-14 MSG

It couldn’t be any clearer! My sin didn’t have any power over me beyond what I let it have. I was elevating it to the power of the truth of God’s word and the truth of what Jesus did on the cross. I was giving sin a vote…every day. I was running sin’s little errands…every day.

Until that very moment when I realized that Jesus had re-calculated the route. He broke open the HOV lane for me to bypass the detours that nearly derailed my life.

It wasn’t easy…and there was still a long road ahead. Many days spent in prayer and planning with those who provided the rest stops of accountability and a new route. But suddenly I saw that it was possible. 

Beth Moore wrote in So Long, Insecurity: You’ve Been a Bad Friend to Us,

“We’re going to have to let truth scream louder to our souls than the lies that have infected us.”

The power of a recovery story lies in the truth. The truth that God’s word always trumps the lies. The truth that Jesus’ power always trumps the enemy’s. The truth that I could access the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead to raise me from the death and depths of rock bottom.

Your truth lies there too. When you hit 10…or 100…on the pain scale, Jesus will be waiting. Waiting, with the power of your own recovery story.

Let God’s truth scream into your soul today. 

Holly Barrett

Holly Solomon Barrett is a minister, speaker and writer who encourages all people to reclaim the redeemed life they have been given in Christ. She currently serves as Assistant Director of Residential Life for the ministry of The Crossnore School in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of NC. Holly’s greatest earthly joys are her adult children and three precious grandchildren. To connect with Holly, visit www.hollybarrett.org.

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Summer Blog Tour–The Power of Telling A Story

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I am participating in a summer blog tour–over the next few weeks, there will be a number of guests posts. I will be writing for this as well.

To kick it off, I gladly share the following by Steve Ridgell…

The Power of Telling a Story

Jesus often used stories to illustrate how to live as his disciples. I believe hearing the stories of Jesus still equip us to live out his call on our lives. And here is one example of how I think that works.

I have often heard people talk about the Great Commission passage in Matthew 28, but I wonder if we have missed what it means.   It is too easy to simply make the point that “go into all the world” means go out of your front door and into your world.

What does that mean in terms of real life action? I believe Jesus explains exactly how his followers go into their world and make other followers. I think he shows how to go, where to go, and what to do when we get there.

Listen to the stories he told about going into your world.

How do I go? I go living forgiven.

She was a woman caught in adultery. The response by those who caught her was the familiar refrain of guilt, shame, and feelings of worthlessness. But Jesus offered forgiveness, not condemnation. And then he told her to “go and leave your life of sin”. Go back among her friends and family as a changed person. Live forgiven. That is how we demonstrate the truth that Jesus changes lives. We are the living examples of God’s work in this world.

Where do I go? To those in need – and then serve them intentionally.

The story of the Good Samaritan was told to illustrate who is our neighbor. It is the story of a man who saw someone in need and then did something about it. He cared for them. Your world, your neighborhood, is full of hurting people in need of help. Physical needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs. Sick people, abused people, lonely people, addicted people. The last thing Jesus said after the story of the Good Samaritan was for us to “go and do the same.” So we go into our world as servants committed to helping others. But we do it with purpose.

We serve intentionally in the name of Jesus. This gives us credibility to speak into lives. Our lives are living proof that Jesus works. Our service is the proof that the Jesus story is worth hearing.

What do I do when I go? Speak with courage the story of Jesus.

He fought so many demons he was called Legion. He was lonely and in pain. Jesus met him, connected with him, and healed him. When Jesus left that place, Legion was ready to go with him. He was all in for a mission trip with Jesus. Except that Jesus told him no. Instead, he told him to go home to his family and tell them what the Lord had done for him and how he had mercy on him.

Our lives give credibility to the story of Jesus. Our service gives opportunity to share that story. But you will not make followers of Jesus in your world until you tell them the good news of Jesus. Tell your story. Tell His story. And invite them to become part of the story.

Go into all the world. Go into your world.

Live Forgiven.

Serve with Purpose.

Speak with Courage.

And you will make followers… who will make followers… who will make followers.

Buffalo Gap

Steve Ridgell lives to share the story of Jesus with this world. In addition to his work as Director of Ministry for Hope for Life (http://hopeforlife.org), Steve is a regular writer for Heartlight.org and has written books. His latest book is Can I Tell You a Story? https://www.21stcc.com/viewproduct.cfm/resultstable/tblItem/prodno/9780890984550/startrow/1

Steve also serves as an elder at the Southern Hills church of Christ in Abilene, Texas.

Doing the Maybe Dance

If you have woken up any day in the past couple of weeks and thought, I don’t recognize my world anymore, I completely understand…

Call me naïve.
Consider me sheltered.
And maybe even wonder if I have had my head in the sand…

But at the end of the day, I don’t recognize my world anymore.

I don’t understand how folks can be so full of hate that they shoot up churches. And it’s not like I haven’t personally experienced evil. To the contrary, I am well aware of how wicked and ugly people can be.

I don’t understand how and why folks can twist what is good and right into a perversion or caricature of what is intended.

I don’t understand how Christians can claim Christ and be hateful and spiteful—to each other and anybody else they find disagreement with.

So, if you are like me and hear yourself saying, I don’t recognize my world anymore

I get it.
In my best 80’s Valley Girl imitation, I so totally get it, dude! Or dude-ette. Whatever the case may be.

Up is down.
Down is up.
Right is wrong.
Wrong is right.

I don’t recognize my world anymore.

To some degree or in certain situations or circumstances, maybe I am naïve or sheltered. Maybe my head has been firmly entrenched in sand. I am not really prepared to argue it one way or another.

However I got here, I don’t recognize my world anymore. But since we are doing the maybe dance… Maybe that’s a good thing.

Because as it looks and feels today, Christianity is on the wrong side of culture.
Out of step.
Behind the times.
Old-fashioned.
Out of tune.
Or better yet, counter-culture.

Maybe we need to remember that because, well…

Maybe we have depended entirely too much on a government to provide the standard of what is good, right, and wholesome.

And maybe we have become entirely too comfortable with this world—too agreeable with a stance that doesn’t rock the boat or make some kind of a wave.

And maybe in all of our hand wringing when faced with the fact that the world’s values have never been that of the church, maybe we’ll remember we are here to share the eternal perspective of Jesus.

And maybe we have lost sight of the fact that this world is not our home.

And maybe we’ve forgotten that broken is broken and we are all broken in some form or fashion.

And in a maybe that might be the worst, maybe we have just simply loved ourselves more than others—and maybe in our own self-preoccupation, we have lost sight of that fact loving others isn’t always easy or pretty.

Finally, as we bring this maybe dance to a close, maybe we should quit saying maybe and remember the words of Jesus…

If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours. But they will do all these things to you on account of My name, because they don’t know the One who sent Me. (John 15:18–21 HCSB)

And then,

You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men. You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. (Matthew 5:11–14 HCSB)

Maybe?
No maybe to it.

Counter-culture.
Salt and light.
Love and hope.
Mercy and grace.
That’s our answer to a world we don’t understand anymore.

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland, MS

Dear Family

I have been absent, but busy. In the meantime, I want to share with you a letter I just sent our church family…

Dear Family,

Today is Thursday, June 18, 2015.

It is a warm day. It is a beautiful day.

But not for everybody.

No, not for everybody.

Last night we had ice cream, brownies, cookies, fellowship and fun.

We gathered together and sang songs, prayed and heard a message from a guest speaker that challenged all those who were really listening.

After services, fellowship and conversation continued. Laughter could be heard in the foyer among different pockets of people who were enjoying our mutual relationships in Christ.

Even as we gathered together, others of our number were home grieving, hurting, and wrestling with their loss.

I weep for them too.

But as we enjoyed the evening, I had no idea of the hurt, pain, rage, and ugliness playing out in the life of another church family in Charleston, SC.

I wish I had no idea what this church family is facing, but I do. I do know the pain and heartache of such evil. I do know it, but not on this scale, God help us, not on this scale.

I fear for the ensuing ugliness. I fear and hurt for those who will have to face and live with this ugliness for the rest of their lives. I fear for what Satan will yet do to make this worse. I fear for the division that is surely yet to deepen.

I cannot fix Charleston, SC.
But I can pray.
You can too.

Will you join me in praying consistently and constantly for this church family?
I sincerely hope you will.

But in the meantime, there are things we can do right here at Lake Harbour Drive that will have a ripple affect across our land.
Yes, we are a diverse church in the heart of Mississippi.
I am proud of that.
And yes, we have a measure of unity in our diversity.
I am glad of that too.

But we can do better.
We can do more.
We can go past surface levels of relationship to a deeper walk with God and each other.
We can be beacons of hope to our community that says: we love God and we love each other—and the proof is our united hearts, minds, and lives! And whether you give us an opportunity or not, we love you!

So as Charleston reels, we pray.
We pray for them.
We pray for us.
We pray for our community.
And in the process we lean on the hope of Jesus, the hope of the Gospel.

May the Gospel live in us to be the bringers of hope this world needs.

In the immortal words of Mr. Rogers, will you be my neighbor (and partner in the Gospel)?

Yours for the Hope,

Les, Jr

How Do You Smell?

I have been away for far too long. No excuses, just busy with preaching, traveling (you can catch my Pepperdine class on podcast at iTunes), and working on this house so we can move in the middle of June. In the meantime, Conner graduates from High School next weekend and… between that and trying to figure out college, well, writing took a back seat…

At any rate, here’s something I wrote this week…

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Hurricane Katrina was one of those defining moments in life. It was a before and after delineation and everything you did or had done was put through that particular filter.

Back before Katrina, we used to…
After Katrina, we had to…

I came out of Katrina and all of its associated recovery with some strange idiosyncrasies.

For a long time, I filled up my vehicle every time it got to three quarters of a full tank—I did not want to get stuck without enough gas to get where I might need to go!

And then there is the whole antiperspirant situation.
Yes, you are reading about antiperspirant in the church bulletin.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, you couldn’t make a trip to Wally World for whatever you needed, whenever you needed it. And because there was no electricity (and therefore no air conditioning) or fresh water to bath in, antiperspirant was worth its weight in gold. I came out of that experience with a determination to always have at least two unused antiperspirants at home at all times…

Yes, I know it’s weird.
Yes, I know I am weird.
And yes, you can tell me any of the above.
But, you will never–to the best of my ability–be able to truthfully say I literally stink!

This article might stink.
My sermons might stink.
Occasionally, my attitude might stink.

But not me, not me! No sir and no ma’am.
Fresh as a daisy—that’s my plan and my approach. And if I do happen by some astronomically poor planning to run out of antiperspirant, I am going to have enough gas to get somewhere to buy what I need!

How much does a guy have to pay to get an Amen?

In the book of Proverbs, we read that there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (14:12)

When I say, death stinks, you will most likely agree. It does. Seeing those we love suffer and die, stinks to the high heavens. Visiting a cemetery stinks like nothing else can.

Death stinks.

Years and years ago, Loudon Wainwright III sang a rather goofy song about a dead skunk in the middle of the road stinking to high heaven

Death stinks. And when it is the stench of death and decay from our rebellion and sin? There is not an antiperspirant or deodorant good enough to mask that smell.

Thankfully, for those in Christ, we are given a new aroma—not a masked, powdered, covered over smell—but the very aroma of Christ himself. (2 Corinthians 2:15)

Death stinks.

How do you smell?

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Madison/ Ridgeland, MS