Enough?

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12–13)

Once upon a time, in a land far away, I woke up to the simple fact that I was woefully flawed.

It wasn’t really anything newly discovered.  There wasn’t any blatant immortality that suddenly reared its ugly head.  There was no forced intervention of family and friends to rescue me from some overtly destructive behavior.

On the other hand, there was the slowly dawning realization that my flaws and failures were real and weren’t going to be wished away.  There was the slowly expanding understanding that the Spirit of God had much work still yet to do in me.  And, to make matters worse I came to see how my stubborn pride was doing a pretty good job of putting out the Spirit’s fire.

I was a master at sticking my head in the sand. I was perfectly equipped to ignore or at least see my flaws as less flawed than others. As a result, it was far easier to preach to someone else than to recognize God’s Spirit illuminating my own short comings.

Ultimately, I began to understand with greater clarity that all men (and women) were truly equal: we are all broken by sin!  My sin, my struggles, my brokenness was not somehow less sinful than yours. At the end of the day, the only real difference between any of us–outside of the saving grace of Jesus– was our ability to see our own imperfection.

Today?

Today, I am the same guy to one degree or another. I am still tempted on occasion to see myself as above others. I am still enticed by the desire to see your failures as worse than mine. Thankfully, God is still working on me and His enlightenment continues to grow.

Tomorrow may be different. I may get stuck again. I may close my eyes to some essential truth. And If I do, well, tomorrow I may need you to kindly and lovingly remind me that I am not what I sometimes think.

But today? Today I can say with all the hope in the universe… “Hi! My name is Les Ferguson, Jr. I am a husband, father, son, and brother–and now a grandfather. I am a minister. I am a writer. But more importantly, I am a child of the King. Broken by sin/ renewed, restored, and reconciled by grace.”

And that’s enough.

Until God calls us home, that’s enough.

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Les Ferguson, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland, MS

I Am Waiting…

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As I write this I am waiting.

I am not at the doctor’s office or hospital.
I am not waiting on a child to get through with music lessons.
I am not waiting on somebody to get ready.
I am not waiting on an appointment.

And even though you were to see me now sitting at my desk in my office pecking away at this keyboard, you would find me waiting.

I am not good at waiting. Years ago in the US Navy we would laugh with frustration at how the military often worked. It was quite common to both hear and say, hurry up and wait

I am waiting on many things in this life.
People don’t move at the speed I would like.
Things don’t happen in my timeframe.
My expectations/ desires are often not the reality of my world.

And so I wait.

I wait for fairness and justice.
I wait for understanding.
I wait for answers I know will not satisfy the longing in my heart.
I wait for answers that will not be given on this side of life.

And so I wait.

I eagerly await the day when sickness, sorrow, pain, and suffering are no longer a part of our lives.
I long for the day when death is gone forever.
I wait expectantly for the ultimate redemption, restoration, and reconciliation of this world/ creation.

At times it seems as if it will take forever.
And so I wait.

I am tired of being broken.
I am weary of struggling against my own broken nature.
I am often exhausted by by the ache and loss in my heart.
I shed tears on a regular basis for the pain and hurt my children feel but seldom express.
I am sometimes shocked by how much that which would be joyous is overshadowed by loss.

There is a tension here at my new address.
And so I wait.

Thankfully, I do not wait alone.
I wait with my wife and family—we walk this journey together.
I wait with others whose faith has been tested.
I wait with those who so identify with the man who told Jesus: I believe. Help my unbelief.

We are not joyless people out here on the margins.
We are not without hope.
In fact, ours is a hope so real we cling to it as if nothing else matters.
Because nothing else does…

May the greatest of blessings be yours this season.

Merry Christmas to all…

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland, MS.

That Lovin’ Feelin’

I rarely watch any TV. It’s not that I don’t want to, but sitting still for that long is quite often a problem for me—at least when staring at a screen.

Sometimes at night, one of the news channels will be on in the background, but I am usually reading or writing or otherwise occupied to pay much attention.

During college football season I’ll catch a few games here and there. I might watch a little of the World Series. And every once in awhile I might tune in to a Saints game.

That’s about it. I can’t remember the last movie I went to. I am regularly embarrassed by my lack of knowledge when it comes to movies, shows, actors, bands, and musicians. At one point, it was mentioned to me that The Band Perry used to live in a house around the corner from us. It was quite humorous (and embarrassing, I guess) because I had absolutely no idea who or what they were about. Pop culture doesn’t engender very much interest for me…

At one point I was quite proud of the fact that I had never ever listened to Taylor Swift. All that came to an unfortunate end last year at a school talent show I was obligated to attend. At the end of the evening, I dearly wanted to shake it off and pretend the night never happened.

But, totally out of character for me, this past Monday night I actually turned the TV on and looked for a movie. I stopped on basically the first thing I saw: Top Gun!

This is one of my favorite old movies. I let it play a bit in the background as I did other things. I focused on some of the flight scenes. But the one one part that grabbed my attention most was when Maverick (played by Tom Cruise) told his f-14 back seater, Goose, that “she’s lost that loving feeling.” In the movie, Goose immediately tells Mavrick, “no, she hasn’t.” And when Maverick insist she has, Goose utters one of my favorite lines, “I hate it when she’s lost that loving feeling.” And just like that the two of them are serenading a lady Maverick wants to meet…

You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips

And there’s no tenderness like before in your fingertips

You’re trying hard not to show it, (baby)

But baby, baby I know it

You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’

Whoa, that lovin’ feelin’

You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’

Now it’s gone…gone…gone…woah

(The Righteous Brothers)

And of course there is more to the song, but I wonder how many of us find this to be true.

  • I wonder how many of us are in relationships where somebody has lost that lovin’ feelin’.
  • I wonder how many of us have a skewed vision of love that is more about our own interests than the interests of others.
  • I wonder how many of us have simply forgotten that the greatest commandment, the command to love transcends all time and place.

One of the Pharisees, an expert in the Law, asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment… And Jesus’ answer was “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:36–40 HCSB)

Seems to me, based on that one short passage, none of us can afford to lose our lovin’ feeling toward God or anyone else.

And that makes the words of Paul even more important…

If I speak human or angelic languages but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for languages, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things. For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1–13 HCSB)

How well do you love?

The Stigmata

Galatians 6:17, From now on, let no one cause me trouble, because I bear on my body scars for the cause of Jesus.

I have a funny image in my head from when I was a small boy. My family left Manassas, Virginia at the end of my third grade year in school to move to Texas. And since this funny image took place in Manassas, it had to have been put there sometime in 1970 or before.

At any rate, I remember watching this group of four men at church (my daddy being one of them) standing in a circle and simultaneously all looking down at their pants legs. I remember a bit of grumbling. I remember the look of confusion on all of their faces—as if somehow, someway the whole world had shifted on them.

I laugh at that image in my head. I laugh at the thought of four wives conspiring together—worse, shopping together—all to see their four husbands wearing strange new pants.

Bell bottoms.
Flared legs.
No more Mr. Straight-Legs for these guys.

And laugh as I might all these years later, fashions have changed and changed again. What once was, comes again. As I sit here today, I feel quite certain that should elephant-eared bell bottoms to come back in style, I would do my very best to avoid that particular fashion disaster!

Personal expression has changed an awful lot.
People watching has never been a more amazing, humorous, and scary event.
Not that I am the epitome of style and good taste.
(Let’s please hide all of the pictures from long ago that might possibly show a younger version of me with a quite unfortunate mullet hairstyle.)

But I digress.
Personal expression changes; and yet, some things have remained the same.

I am not a fan of piercings (if you have one, this isn’t about being critical of you or anybody else). But piercings have been around an awful long time. More than just a show of personal expression, they often signaled ownership.

Even better, in our biblical example, it signifies you have chosen to be owned.

When you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for six years; then in the seventh he is to leave as a free man without paying anything. If he arrives alone, he is to leave alone; if he arrives with a wife, his wife is to leave with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children belong to her master, and the man must leave alone.

But if the slave declares: ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I do not want to leave as a free man,’ his master is to bring him to the judges and then bring him to the door or doorpost. His master must pierce his ear with an awl, and he will serve his master for life.
(Exodus 21:2–6 HCSB)

How’s that for a personal expression?

And so we sometimes sing:

Pierce my ear, O Lord, my God
Take me to Your door this day.
I will serve no other gods,
Lord, I’m here to stay.
For You have paid the price for me
With Your blood You ransomed me.
I will serve You eternally,
A free man I’ll never be.

Marked.
Not my own.

What makes this even crazier, that’s what grace does.
It changes us.
It marks us.
It signifies we are owned by one greater than us.

What are you marked by? What stigma do you wear?

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Practice

There are four violinists in my house.

I am not one of them.

Years ago, I took violin lessons for a short time. But when I was in college I met this beautiful girl and badly wanted to take her on a date.

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So I took my violin to a pawn shop, had a fantastic date, and in another unimagined life many years later, that beautiful girl became my wife.

Unknown to me during the intervening years, her mom took up violin and eventually she and her two boys did as well. After we got married, the youngest in our Brady Bunch World began taking violin lessons. And he took to it like the proverbial duck to water. He has a natural ability.

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I don’t mind paying for music lessons. I would love to take some for myself. However, at this stage of life, I mostly have to be content with playing a radio louder and better than most.

But, do you know what costs more than music lessons and instruments to play?

Practice.

As in pulling our hair out to get somebody to practice like they should.
It takes a lot of time, effort, and patience to get someone to do what they ought to do.
And not just where music lessons are concerned.

As it turns out practice is not cheap for anybody.

The same could be said for grace.

I am so thankful for the grace given through Jesus.
I know I don’t deserve it.
I know I rarely live worthy of it.
I know it requires an unfathomable amount of love and patience for me to have it.
And I know it is the costliest thing in the world.

Grace has never been cheap.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinhians 6:20 we were bought at a price. The cost of our redemption came at an awful expense.

Grace is never cheap.
Nor is the practice of grace.

If I give you grace, it costs me something.
It might be time.
It might be personal pride.
It might be a change in attitude.
It might be a change in behavior.

Giving you grace means I don’t have to be right.
I don’t have to force my understanding.
I don’t have to have my way.

How I wish we could be as quick to give grace to one another as we are to judge and condemn.

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I am thankful for you.
I am thankful for grace.
I am thankful for the grace God gives each of us to begin each day anew.

Practice grace.

It will cost you something but the benefits are out of this world!

Les, Jr.

Unpacking A Move!

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Over the past several weeks, we have moved more of our stuff from Vicksburg to Madison

We’ve packed up over there; unpacked over here (or least stacked boxes in sometimes strategic places).

The act of moving is not an art. There isn’t a delicate movement here or there—no finely tuned instrumentation taking place. It is just a blunt necessity.

This particular move has been anything but typical. We have strung this out in bits and pieces while we work on the new house. But ready or not, it is time to get everything from there to here.

What has been typical comes from this perspective: What looked valuable, important, and needed over there somehow looks junky, unimportant, and unwanted over here.

Be that as it may, all this moving stuff has caused me a bit of difficulty.

Over there, I had mostly hidden the treasures and knick knacks that were so important to my son, Cole. Hidden, as in put away, out of sight, and lacking the ability to move around on their own. I knew what and where to avoid—to keep myself from stepping on any emotional land mines especially if I was unprepared (as if one could ever be truly be ready).

Over here, I am having to handle them, find places for them, and otherwise deal with my grief and pain in a fresh new way.

I have been known to say that losing a child is like living a nightmare you never wake up from.

It’s always there.
It never goes away
And tears may come when you least expect it.

King David mourned the death of his son with these famous words: My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son! (2 Samuel 18:33 HCSB)

I get it.
I wish I didn’t, but I do.

I get the pain.
I get the hurt.
I get the anguish and anger.

As I write this, I would like to fuss about my contacts not working.  I’d like to complain about how blurry my glasses are. But the truth is often quite simple: tears have a way of distorting our vision.

Some days it is just plain hard to see.
I miss my boy.
I really do.

But as I push past the tears, as I trust in the God who will one day wipe them all away, I find myself thankful for you:

For my wife
For my children
For my family
For my friends
For my church
For all who lent an ear, shared a shoulder, and otherwise walked with me through the valley of the shadow of death.

Your love and support helps bear a burden too big to carry alone.

Thank you for being Jesus to me and living out the words of Paul in Colossians 3:12-15.

Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful.

And I am.
Thankful.

As the song says, thank you Lord for loving me

Les, Jr.
Madison/ Ridgeland

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.