Happy New Year (with extra salsa, please)

Happy New Year! (A Life Observation post, #2)

As I write this it is New Years Eve. Some of you will read this today. Or maybe tomorrow on the first day of the year. Or even some other day in the future. But when ever you read this, Happy New Year!

I don’t have the power to grant you what you might wish for. I can’t really do much of anything to make your dreams come true.

And if I were to be true to my selfish nature, I’d have to tell you that any power to grant those things would probably be spent on me.

Yeah.

Mr. Selfish.

That’s me.

Like you, I too have hopes and dreams.

As others might wish, I’d like to lose a little bit of weight. At the same time, I’d also like the ability in this new year to eat as much salsa and chips as my little heart desires (breakfast, lunch, supper, and a midnight snack).

Fat chance of that.

I could indulge in fantasy, but I won’t.

My hopes and dreams are not about winning the lottery and being filthy rich. I don’t fantasize about sports cars and new trucks. I don’t sit and daydream about indulgent beach or mountain vacations. The vast majority of what I could wish and hope for isn’t materialistic.

Yes, I dream of security and the freedom from worry and fear. But more importantly, my dreams are about relationships. People I love. Kids I want to protect. A wife I want to honor with every breath.

And the God I want to serve.

For me, Happy New Year means the ability and opportunity to do just that.

So happy new year to me. Happy New year to me in all the titles I wear. From husband to father to son and brother… from real estate agent to the job hunting wannabe preacher living inside of me… And if you have an ugly way of looking at me, some inappropriate name you want to call me, well, Happy New Year to that guy as well!

Yes, Happy New Year to me… and Happy New Year to you. I wish us both peace and the quiet assurance of God’s abiding presence.

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Hey Pimp!

Hey Pimp!

Yep. You read that correctly.

Hey Pimp!

My friend John Mark Hicks connected me with another writer by the name of Tim Brown. Tim is going to help me work through the process of getting a literary agent.

I called Tim the other day and got a voice mail prompt that made me think I had the wrong number. I tried again and got the same. The problem wasn’t my dialing.

So since I thought I had the number wrong, I sent Tim a short message through the FaceBook Messenger app on my phone. A couple of hours went by and no response. I checked my original message and was horrified at what I found.

Somehow Hey Tim was autocorrected to Hey Pimp!

Yep.
Hey Pimp!

Truthfully? I was mortified. Embarrassed. Horrified. Frustrated.
And apologetic.

Thankfully, Tim laughed. And I did too.
Eventually.

That’ll teach me to put faith in technology.

Faith is a funny thing.
We claim it.
We proclaim it.
We compare it.
We share it.
We shame it.

Shame it? Yes. It may not be what you are shooting for, but people often get shamed by others from their point of faith. I can tell you that from my experience–on both sides of the coin.

“You just have to be strong in your faith. Just be strong and have faith that everything will work out.”

How many times have you said or heard or thought something along those lines?

Sounds powerful and true, does it not?
That is, until it doesn’t work out.

The truth is sometimes very brutal no matter how much you don’t want to see, hear, or otherwise experience it.

Finding out you are paralyzed from the neck down–and it’s permanent –does not work out.
Realizing your child is mentally and physically handicapped does not work out.
Losing a parent, spouse, child, or sibling does not work out.

As a result though, you may adapt.
You may learn.
You may grow.
You may accept.
Life changes.
Life becomes very different.
But those things do not work out, no matter how strong your faith.

“Faith and doubt are opposite sides of the same coin.”

How different ministry and service to those who grieve and suffer might be if the acknowledgement of this simple truth could’ve made.

Truly, faith and doubt are inherently wrapped up in our relationship with God.

Having faith doesn’t insure against the absence of at least an occasional twinge of wondering/ questioning where God is or what his nature might be. And sometimes it even means examining and wrestling with the reasons why we believe in the first place.

Instead of being afraid, condescending or judgmental when doubt is expressed by others, we should instead recognize it as a valid thought or emotion. Doubt is usually expressed in the aftermath of crisis, in pain, and with great fear of the future.

It is easy to tell someone “it will all work out.” It is quite another to walk alongside–allowing them to give voice to their heartache and frustration–particularly where God is concerned.

This Christmas, the best authentic gift you might ever give is the gift of presence, compassion, and understanding. Faith and doubt go hand in hand, especially when you lend your faith and strength to those who wrestle with it.

Thank you to all who have walked with me through deep and dark emotions. Yours is the gift of life to one who has struggled.

Merry Christmas to all! (But don’t tell my mama I called you a pimp…)

🙂

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Paralyzed/ Fear

A Life Observation #1

Paralyzed.

To be paralyzed, unable to move, and totally dependent on the work and care of others is terrifying. The thought scares me greatly.

Obviously, there are many in this world who suffer paralyzing injuries and manage to claw their way back to living a productive and happy life. How they do so often proves to be a powerful testimony and an inspiration.

For that reason (politics aside), I am a fan of Charles Krauthammer. I so appreciate how he has overcome his paralysis to do all the things he does so well.

All that being said, the idea of being paralyzed is absolutely terrifying.

In the movie Remember the Titans, there is a character who has a fateful car accident right before the state high school football championship. Cole knew every word and scene by memory. As we would watch this favorite movie, Cole would always cry when we found out this star player had lost the use of his legs for the rest of his life.

Living in a wheelchair gave him lots of empathy.

Several weeks ago, Becki and I watched the movie late one Friday night. And yes, I cried again for Cole and with Cole.

I hate the brokenness of our world where vibrant people sometimes find their physical lives restricted in such horrible fashion.

Unfortunately, the brokenness of this world often casts its shadow and influence in ways we least expect. The result is a life that has become paralyzed.
Or hearts.
Or spirits.
Or futures.

I have known this paralysis first hand.
Grief and tragedy can stunt, stymie, and paralyze even the strongest among us.

But beyond the horrific that sometimes occurs, many of us have become paralyzed in one fashion or another for a variety of reasons or excuses.

Here’s a life observation: From my perspective, FEAR is the biggest and greatest culprit.

I fear.
And it’s often paralyzing.

Please don’t see this as something I am saying as result of our tragedy. This has often been my nature both before and after.

Most of the time my fears are self administered. I allow fear to take root and it is almost always self-limiting.

As a result, I can find myself afraid to hope, afraid to dream, and afraid to live.

I would be less than honest to suggest that our tragedy had no effect on this. I know it did, but as I alluded earlier, it could only magnify a tendency already in existence for me.

Living in fear is no fun especially when that fear paralyzes and keeps one from living the life they should.

Yes, we may get rejected.
Yes, we may fail miserably.
And yes, we may wear ourselves out trying and trying again.

But If we quit, if we let fear win, what does it get us but additional misery?

Not this guy.
Not this guy.

I may get down.
I may occasionally feel momentarily defeated.
But I just can’t quit.

Not today.
Not tomorrow.
Not next year.
I am kind of stubborn like that…

What fear is holding you back? Wrestle with it now! I know you can! The New Year is coming soon. Wouldn’t it be great to face the New Year with the confidence? God can help; ask Him!

I love what Paul tells Timothy: …for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7 NLT)

Thanks for reading this first in a series of life observation posts!

Les Ferguson, Jr.

A Philosophy of Preaching

I am a political animal. There was a time, when I would have jumped into politics with both feet given the right opportunity and financial wherewithal. In fact, had I met the eligibility requirements for Warren county, I would have mounted a campaign for state congress this past fall.

I have some strong beliefs and find myself having to exercise some restraint—particularly on my Facebook wall and even here.
I am probably best described as a radical conservative. I whole-heartedly believe the liberal progressive direction some would take us in is a damaging the Republic.

I am a veteran of the US Navy. I love my country. I spent six years of my life serving her in a military capacity. I am proud of that service—and grateful for the opportunity I had to do so.

But the truth is, nations rise and nations fall. There is a very real probability that this great nation will one day go the way of other great nations and civilizations before her. May that day be ever far off.

However, I have a more pressing agenda.

As such, I’d really rather Desperately Wanting To Believe Again be about things that matter more, long-term.
Like eternity.

Sharing with you my struggles helps me find the right eternal perspective and hopefully encourages others as well.

In the meantime, I have submitted my name for three different preaching jobs. Some days, I lack the confidence necessary to believe I am a viable candidate for any of them. Not looking for words of encouragement here, so please don’t think it necessary to try.

But, here’s why I sometimes struggle with the idea of preaching once more on a regular basis… There are moments when I am not sure where I fit in the theological framework of my tradition. The tragedy my family has faced fundamentally rewired my thinking.

I have long been willing to explore and rethink (or reimagine, as good friend Patrick Mead might say) the things that have defined my religious place before God. I have not been afraid to come to the same conclusion. I have not been afraid to come to a new conclusion. I have not been afraid to leave it (whatever it might be) in the realm of questions of which I have no sure or easy answers.

Please know I am not talking about the identity, divinity, or authority of God or even scripture. I am not talking about anything salvational in nature.

If the truth could be any stranger, it probably would be. Here’s mine: I am mostly neither left or right on the grand theological scale. The word moderate wouldn’t be a very good description either.

Maybe the best way to describe my positioning on the theological continuum is basic or fundamental.
A fundamental Christian. And by fundamental, I mean one who has no choice but to explore hard, deep questions of the soul.

My concern is so very less about this position or that stance. It isn’t about shaking the status quo. It isn’t about playing devil’s advocate. It isn’t about challenging old traditions. It isn’t about fostering new traditions. It’s not really about making people think or somehow wrestle with old or new viewpoints.

I am a basic, fundamental Christian who wrestles, struggles, questions, worries, fears, and wonders. I can’t afford, in this context, to be a political animal playing church politics of any kind. I don’t have room in my life for arguments and debate.

Once I might have, but now I am consumed with fundamental thoughts…
Does God really truly love me?
In the midst of the worst life has to offer, can God be trusted?
Does God really care?
Am I really important?
Does my life matter?

Can you see how those questions are so very fundamental? If I am going to love God and keep His commandments, if I am going to love others in a God-honoring way, then I need to know those answers in every permutation they can be known in.

I suspect I am not alone.

Churches are full of folks who need to hear someone who has been through a fire say with real life conviction: I may not have all of the theological answers about every possible question, but I can say, without any doubt at all, Jesus loves me, this I know.

I may rage at what feels like God’s absence.
I may not understand how He works in every situation.
I may not grasp where He is during every moment.
But Jesus loves me, this I know.

How’s that for a preaching philosophy?

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31-36, NIV)

Thanks for reading,
Les Ferguson, Jr.

A Season of Hope

I like Christmas.
Scratch that.

I love Christmas.

I love the lights.
I love the sounds.
I love the smells.

I love the feeling of this season of hope, joy, and family.

Truth be told, I am a big kid at heart.
Consequently, I am crazy about the big guy known as Santa Claus, too.

Ho, ho, ho, who wouldn’t know?

In my simple little life, there is one particularly important rule of Christmas thumb. And it’s a biggie too.

When you quit believing in Santa Claus, you get clothes for Christmas.

I believe. Therefore, bring on all the big boy toys. There will be no clothes for Christmas under my tree—at least for me!

Poor Becki. This year she has been presented with toy lists from four boys and one overgrown boy. And they are all about toys except for a hoodie for Max and some name-brand clothes junk for Conner—there is still some training needed, you can tell. Thankfully, I am up for the task.

Who knows what Mrs. Claus will do?

Sure, Santa is a lot of fun. But did I mention how much I love Christmas?

Christmas.
Peace on earth.
Goodwill towards men.
A Savior is born.

Yes, Christmas.
Christmas is so much more than candy canes, hanging your stockings with care, and the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer.

Christmas is the season of hope we all need.
Desperately.
Whether we understand it or not.

Yes, a Savior is born.
Emmanuel.
God with us.

That’s the most amazing thing to have ever been spoken.

How I wish I could have heard the angel’s pronouncement.
How I wish to have been present with the Shepherds that night.

Can you imagine the wonder and awe of a God who choose His abode among men?

That’s the story of Christmas.

How can we not hail the new born King?

Christmas is a season of hope.
Of renewal.
Of reawakening.

Until it is not.
Until the thief shows up to rob, steal, and kill.
A murderer of hope among us…

All around you this holiday season are folks who are struggling to rediscover hope in the midst of heartache. Or people who crave joy and find it so very elusive. Or those who grieve what once was and never will be again.

Everybody’s situation is different. But the answer is always the same.
A Savior is born.
Emmanuel.
God with us.

I am glad to remember…

My chains are gone.
I’ve been set free.
My God, my Savior has ransomed me.
And like a flood His mercy reigns,
Unending love, amazing grace.

(Chris Tomlin)

In the meantime, have a holly jolly Christmas…

Merry Christmas,

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Peace… In My Time

As I start writing this particular blog post, I am sitting in my favorite deer stand. It is a warm evening on the 1st of December. My best deer rifle (Remington 30.06)  is sporting a new scope. Thanks to my brother-in-law Mike, who picked it up at an auction. It is a vast improvement over the one I had before.

Today, I am not sure if I am hunting deer or hunting peace.

If a deer walks out, our freezer is going to be stocked with the kind of meat we eat most.

If not, I will have written some–and maybe found a little bit of peace sitting here with falling leaves and the sounds of a chipmunk scurrying around.

Peace is a precious commodity these days.

I keep thinking some things are going to get easier or better.

I keep being wrong.

Peace can be mighty elusive.

Especially so when it butts up hard against grief.

Grief isn’t a quick fix process.

If is a hard, hard job.

It is a long, long process.

If is a journey that ebbs and flows.

For whatever reason, Cole’s birthday last week was harder than the two before. Maybe reality is getting more entrenched. Maybe I just miss my boy.

But the truth is rather brutal.

All I have left is pictures and memories. And the feeling that a piece of me is always missing. I doubt I will ever be at peace with that, even as I strive to find peace, however elusive.

Saturday, Conner helped me plant a Ginkgo tree. It was Becki’s birthday reminder for Cole. I am grateful for her desire to help us honor and remember him.  IMG_0547

And I am hopeful.

I am hopeful that one day in the future this tree will serve as a gentle reminder of the love of a daddy for his boy. A love that will never be diminished by death, time, or absence…

May God be with us all.

Les Ferguson, Jr.