Extravagant

I used to have a really bad temper.

Flying off the handle.
Getting mad.
Harsh words.
A willingness to fight.

There have been times in my life when those things could have been and were an apt description.
Not always, but definitely some.

I have never been proud of my hot-headed tendencies. I have often fought and won against them.

But not always.
Unfortunately, the ones I love have more often either been in the crosshairs or innocent bystanders with collateral damage.
Either way it hurts.

I am not going to tell you that my temper is no more.
As soon as I did, some situation would arise to put the lie to my words.

But, I have matured.
I have changed.
My volatility is nothing like it was in the past.
These days I am learning the art of asking myself an all important question: Does this really matter enough to lose my cool?

Still, there is room to grow.
Not losing my temper needs to become having greater patience.
Being more tolerant. 
Exhibiting mercy.
Being a conduit of grace.

I am so glad God is still working in me…

Having said all of that, I still struggle with anger.
I still wrestle with resentment.
I still want answers.
I still get mad at God.

Still.
Get.
Mad.
At.
God.

And yet.
And yet…

I am glad He loves me enough to be patient.
I am glad His tolerance is much better than mine.
I am thankful for His mercy.
I am gratified by His grace.

I am learning to live with the non-answers.
I am learning to trust God’s love even when I cannot comprehend.
I am learning how to still worship… even when the oceans rise and thunders roar. (Still by Hillsong United)

I wish I was the only one with unanswered questions.
I wish I was the only with with anger.
I wish I was the only who has ever been mad at God.

But I am not.
These days I too often meet fellow travelers.
Or, hear of those who have joined this fraternity of pain, doubt, and questions.

I wish I had the answers we both want.
I wish.
How I wish I did.

But some answers are never to be.
And in truth, we both know that the answers will never undo the pain or repair the damage.

But, from my perspective almost two years out from the horror of October 10, 2011, I’d like to share with you a passage of scripture that gives me comfort, hope, and a little bit of peace.

Still.

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
1 Corinthians 13:12-13, (The Message)

In your pain, with your doubt, and in spite of your unanswered questions, do your best to love.
Love extravagantly.

In the act of loving, redemption and relief can often be found…

I am thankful for the love shown to me.
I am thankful for the blessing of loving you in return.

Extravagantly yours,
Les Ferguson, Jr.

A Song Can Rise

Normally I write on my Mac or my iPad. But last night, inspiration struck late. I spent awhile furiously scribbling on scraps of paper and left over stuff from the real estate day we had just concluded.

I can’t wait to finish it. I can’t wait to share it. I think it will be provocative and challenging. I believe if shared enough, if given a wide enough audience, it might just help us in the fight against those who who molest children or sexually assault others.

But in the midst of the writing storm, an old friend from my preaching days posted some song lyrics on Facebook. She didn’t give the name of the song. She didn’t share the identity of the group that sang it.

But how the lyrics resonated.
With me.
With my life.
With my struggle with God.

I am doing so much better than I was. I am standing. I am determined. I am moving forward to build the best life ever.

But there are days. Yes, there are days…
There are days of heartache and challenges.
There are days of little to no self-confidence.
There are days where the questions seem to overpower the hope.

But not for long.

So, as I work on an article I believe will be helpful, I’d like to share the lyrics from Worn by Tenth Avenue North

I’m tired
I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes to keep on breathing

I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn

I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

I know I need
To lift my eyes up
But I’m too week
Life just won’t let up
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn

I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

And my prayers are wearing thin
I’m worn even before the day begins
I’m worn I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn so heaven so come and fluid my eyes

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn

I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Yes all that’s dead inside will be reborn
Though I’m worn
Yeah I’m worn

I want to know a song can rise from the ashes of a broken life

With sometimes cracking voice and strained vocal chords, I am singing.

I suspect some reading this need to let God start warming them up to sing again.

Do you think we might sing together?

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Hampered By Fear

I wonder sometimes if I am the only person with my unique worries and fears.

Most likely since I am the only me, I am unique in that respect.

But I doubt very seriously that I am alone in having the worries and fears I do.

Nor doubts either.

Can’t forget questions as well.

But sometimes, I find myself plagued by fears–the kind that keep me from doing what I know I should and could do.

I am writing like crazy. Almost two chapters for my proposed book have been completed this week. I have talked on the phone this week as well with two different people about what I need to do in order to get published.

And that makes a total of four who have now given me some direction. Two have actually given me a format to use in writing a proposal.

As crazy as it seems, I am terrified about writing a proposal. To my credit, one set of directions wants me to write things I have no concept of–no understanding. And, I am wigging out about even asking what those things mean. I am trying to write a book, so why would I want to highlight my ignorance in bright green and red neon?

But one proposal instruction are simply a one page affair with a few sample chapters attached. Still I procrastinate–I am even afraid of writing a bio my own brother wants for a speaking engagement where he preaches.

Failure.

Appearing stupid.

Not wanting to toot my own horn.

Those are all very real things for me (and some of you too–I’ll admit it even if you don’t want to).

Why is this so hard? It should be simple. It should be something a climber can climb with no problems. And I am a climber. My life is all about climbing out of the abyss and building a new life.

Attacking mountains is the name of the game.

I am not afraid of hard work. I am not afraid of looking at my deepest emotions and finding them wrapped in the harshest of realities.

But.

I. Am. Terrified.

My friend Cecil May III helped me figure it out today. He called to check in on me–to see how things are going. In the course of our conversation, I told him about the fear of writing these proposals.

And in his inestimable fashion, he nailed the issue squarely. Sending a proposal means putting my work in the hands of somebody who is just as likely to reject it as accept it.

That scares me to death. Who wants rejection? That has frozen me into a certain inactivity or avoidance.

So, I have given myself a self-imposed deadline. I will write a bio and a one page proposal before Monday morning. Or sooner.

I owe it to my family that was lost.

I owe it to my family that survives.

I owe it to all who suffer, question, struggle, wrestle, doubt and fear.

And you can take that to the bank!

So back to work all of you who are reading this and avoiding something you need to do. Life is about challenges and we can face them together…

What are you afraid of? What are you avoiding? If it is fixing a broken relationship, please don’t wait another day.

Les Ferguson, Jr.

From My Perspective: What Real Faith Looks Like!

Faith.

We sing about it.
We talk about it.
We pray about it.
We throw it around as if it was somehow easy to have or easy to grasp.

We tell people they need to have faith.
We tell others they need to keep the faith.
Or maybe we ask them, Where’s your faith?

We describe faith as pure. Or simple. Maybe basic. Or even elementary.

And sometimes we describe those who might be struggling as losing or having already lost their faith.

I know
Believe me, I know.

I have been accused of not having enough faith.
I have been pigeonholed as one who has lost his faith.
I have heard how he’s (that’s me) lost his way, bless, his heart.

Or better yet, what kind of a preacher gets mad at God?

As it turns out, this kind.

And the truth is? My faith has suffered some hard, hard days.
Try having your family ripped asunder.
Try seeing your whole world unglued.
Try losing a whole circle of friends.
I bet you’d also find it hard to sing about having an awesome God…

Not that He isn’t. Not at all.

But when people are hurting and wanting answers, it’s not a simple matter of just having faith.

I never once stopped believing in God.
Not once.
Never.

But if you reframe the question, then I had trouble seeing his goodness. I had a difficult time finding His mercy. I struggle even now with seeing His purpose for my life. Lots of things are still topsy turvy upside down. With no end in sight.

Still want me to have faith that everything is going to work out alright?

Let’s be real. Somethings will never be made right. Not on this side of eternity.

But in a funny way, I have found strong hope in the strangest place.

My hope is wrapped up in faith.
A faith I wrestle with.
A faith that has left me without near enough answers to satisfy my anger, fear, and frustration.

You see, I think we have the concept of faith all messed up. We see faith as something concrete, fixed, unmovable. But that’s not necessarily true.

The very idea of having faith means also having doubts, fears, worries, and questions to go along with it. Without those things, faith wouldn’t really be faith, would it?

Honest and pure faith is full of unanswered questions. It is a wrestling with God and the answers we crave.

I confess: I don’t always understand. But my hope is in a God of faith who recognizes the validity of struggle, who acknowledges the doubt, who understands the heart behind the questions, and who helps me take a step forward, even when it seems so counterintuitive to do so…

Faith.
It’s hard.
It’s difficult.
And sometimes it seems like the last thing we ought to hold on to.
But it gives me hope.
And I am glad.

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Relentless

Destin, FLorida is beautiful. We have enjoyed our stay, but the trip home is fast approaching.

Vacations can be fun, should be fun, but I often find it hard to really relax. I am normally a fairly driven person (ok, so maybe intense is more accurate). And it seems like there is always something that I could be doing to get a leg up on the competition–to make a sale, get a listing, new marketing, etc. it is hard for me to let it all go for even short periods of time.

To say I have huge security issues is quite the understatement. I am not all gloom and doom, but I am afraid far too much of the time.

Whether it be fear, worry, grief, or pain, life can often be like the waves pounding the seashore.

Relentless.
And sometimes the waves come in so fast you can hardly catch your breath.

I try hard to believe God has good things in store for me. I try hard to trust life will not always be difficult. I try hard to hold on to the hope that one day pain will not be quite so intense.

In so very many ways, I can see what I just wrote as being my reality.
I have a loving and compassionate wife. We have children that are amazingly good kids. And thus far, nobody has ever gone hungry or without. Crippling pain and grief still rears its ugly head from time to time, but not nearly as much as it has in the past.

This vacation as been a little bit of a chance to catch our collective breaths. To get ready for the waves to come again…

I don’t know what God is always up to. I try to trust Him even though it is very hard for me to do at times.

Long ago I learned a saying that may be familiar to you…

God is good all the time.
All the time God is good.

I want to believe that.
Do you?

Show Me The Way–Another Throwback Post

Thanks to a friend, we are chilling out, regrouping, relaxing, and recreating in Destin, FL. I came here with the intention of trying to write, but the beach and water call my name.

There is something restorative about the ocean… The never ending waves roll in and with them the certainty that life goes on.

I worry about the future. I stress constantly over being able to support my family. I wrestle with doubt. I strive with fear. I struggle with self-confidence… And still, life goes on.

Patience is not my strong suit. I want a voice from heaven that says everything is going to be alright. Bills will get paid. Opportunities are coming.

Yes, as I once said before, I am a mess. Certifiable.

In the meantime, I found another old post from my old life and old blog. Amazingly enough, it is so appropriate for where I am today. In the next day or so I hope to share something new. In the meantime. Check out my new endorsement and enjoy…

Every night I say a prayer in the hope that there’s a heaven
And every day I’m more confused as the saints turn into sinners
All the heroes and legends I knew as a child have fallen to idols of clay
And I feel this empty place inside so afraid that I’ve lost my faith

Show me the way, show me the way
Take me tonight to the river
And wash my illusions away
Show me the way

And as I slowly drift to sleep, for a moment dreams are sacred
I close my eyes and know there’s peace in a world so filled with hatred
That I wake up each morning and turn on the news to find we’ve so far to go
And I keep on hoping for a sign, so afraid that I just won’t know

Show me the way, Show me the way
Take me tonight to the mountain
And wash my confusion away

And if I see a light, should I believe
Tell me how will I know

Show me the way, show me the way
Take me tonight to the river
And wash my illusions away
Show me the way, show me the way
Give me the strength and the courage
To believe that I’ll get there someday
Show me the way

Every night I say a prayer
In the hope that there’s a heaven… (Dennis DeYoung)

I vacillate in the type of music I listen to. Some days it’s more about good classic rock. The kind of music I grew up with. The kind that has been belted out of my lungs from the first day I ever got behind the wheel. I love rock and roll. Put another dime in the jukebox baby.

Some folks might read this and laugh at the idea of a dime jukebox. Others are probably looking at this and trying to remember if they have ever seen an old jukebox in an old movie.

Isn’t that a hoot?

But I digress.

My other favorite is contemporary Christian, preferably the hard charging kind that is reminiscent of secular rock but with lyrics that reflect Christian values and/or praise God.

And from day to day and sometimes within the same day, I go from one to the other.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I connected with an old rock song from a group that is still around in one form or another a song with a decidedly spiritual touch. A plea even to see and know and understand that there is something out there that is better than the values of this world.

Enter Dennis DeYoung and Styx.

Show me the way.

Indeed.

I don’t know how I missed the import of the lyrics for all of these twenty-seven plus years that I have been singing along to this song. But I did, that is, until last week.

Show me the way. That might very well be the anthem cry of generations of young people, middle aged people, and old people.

Show me the way.

Politicians fail us.

Sports figures fail us. (Did Kenny Rogers really have pine tar on his hand?)

Teachers and principals and business leaders and religious leaders fail us.

Even our own flesh and blood can fail us in grievous ways.

Is it any wonder then that the world, at least those who are not so far gone in self-absorption, is looking for something better? And in particular, someone to show them the way?

That’s where you and I come in.

Christians.

Beacons of light.

The people who can show the way, if we only will.

Matthew 5:14-16, (NIV) You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Show me the way, show me the way
Take me tonight to the river
And wash my illusions away
Show me the way, show me the way
Give me the strength and the courage
To believe that I’ll get there someday
Show me the way

Every night I say a prayer
In the hope that there’s a heaven…

When Your Name Is Job

Seriously.

That’s not my birth name.

It’s not my nickname.

It’s not some weird family term of endearment.

In fact, if there is a biblical name I hate more than any… If there is a biblical story I despise more than any other, it is the name and story of Job.

I don’t want to hear how I am a modern day version of Job. It makes me sick. It makes me angry. It gives me questions for which I am still impatiently demanding answers.

I read Job’s story and find it utterly horrific that God would allow, much less encourage the kind of faith testing Job endured.

But as hard as it might be to wrap our minds around it, since the day mankind choose sin and self over righteousness and God, Satan has owned the power and authority to wreak havoc in our lives.

Satan did it in Job’s life.
Satan did it in mine.
And maybe not to the extreme others have had to face, Satan is still doing his best to wreak havoc in all of our lives. Mine and yours included.

It’s bad enough when it comes through the destruction of tragedy… it’s more than bad enough when it comes at the hands of wicked evil men.

But the truth is, it happens more often as a result of our own personal choices and decisions.

For every person whose family is murdered, destroyed–whose life/lives are damaged beyond comprehension, there are thousands and thousands–untold numbers–who face destruction, heartache, and grief as a result of their own making, be it poor choices or systemic failure.

There are people all around us who look to be successful, even “faithful” church folk. There are good friends and family whom we know and love… and they are hurting, struggling, dying on the inside.

And they are often ashamed.
Ashamed of their own weaknesses.
Ashamed of their own doubt.
Ashamed of their own lack of faith, belief, and trust.

I know this to be a fact.
I know it because I am one of them.

Regardless of how we got here, we are here. And we are most likely not going away.

So the question for the church is this: what are you going to do with us? My experience is that the church can do just as much damage, cause just as much pain. Platitudes will not fix us. Neither will hoping we go away. And expecting us to fix what is broken ourselves may be a lost cause.

Yeah…

When you are dealing with broken people, it doesn’t really matter how they became broken, does it?

It shouldn’t but it often does. Sometimes we see the nastiness of broken lives and because they did it to themselves, we try to extract our pound of flesh–to add some more punishment.

Really? Isn’t that what God would have us do?

No.

In case you didn’t catch that, no.

If you are stubborn like me, we’ll say it again, no!

Everybody who has received mercy, who has been given grace, should be a conduit of the very same.

Really.

Besides, turn about is fair play and one day it might just be you caught in a bad place…

I once preached for a church where those in leadership refused to allow a baby shower for any unwed mother. The one place where this broken life should find help, hope, understanding, and forgiveness became a place that piled on even more shame.

If you or your church wants to be a beacon of hope for the lost and weary, you could honestly begin and maybe do your very best work right there in your own family…

You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

You save more lives with love than condemnation.

Thank you for helping save mine.

Les Ferguson, Jr.

The Bad Day Cycle

Good days.
Bad days.

Bad days.
Good days.

The bad days are inevitable. They will come. For one reason or another, logical or illogical, people happen. Circumstances happen. Life happens.

Sometimes it is just uncomfortable.
Sometimes it just, well, blows. Sucks even. And all you can do is just try to hang on.

Knowing that doesn’t always make it any easier. There certainly is little comfort to be drawn from the knowledge that bad days happen.

To everybody.
Rich or poor.
Wealthy or wise.
Feel free to plug in any descriptive words of your own choosing…

Yes, bad days are inevitable.

But, at this stage of my life, as we move forward–sometimes gracefully, sometimes clumsily, I am grateful to say good days are inevitable as well.

If you are stuck in what seems like, feels like an ever spiraling out of control endless number of bad days, don’t expect me to try and act like you are imagining it.

Once in the US Navy, a medical guy did an unmentionable procedure to my body… And just beforehand, he told me it didn’t really hurt. But if it did, it was because I imagined it. I asked him if I could punch him in the face–and if it hurt, it was just because he was imagining it.

He didn’t like that deal. And for some reason, he seemed to have a better attitude acknowledging my pain…

If you are hurting over a never ending supply of bad days, I get it. And feel your pain. No sugar-coating it from me.

Bad days hurt.
Bad days can sap all your energy and ruin your outlook on life.

But if you hang on long enough, good days are inevitable too.

Today?

Today has been a bad day.

For lots of reasons.
Some are the ripple effects of our tragedy.
Some are simply from living.
And some are the results of my own internal struggles.

Thankfully, I refuse to succumb to the bad days.
I may hurt.
I may agonize.
I may be frustrated out of my ever loving mind… (Today I have been!)

But I choose today to get through the day. To start over again in the morning.

As long we live, we can choose that option.

I, for one, am glad…

Good days are coming again. Count on it!

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Unity?

Unity?

A week or so ago I posed the question on my blog Facebook page, if you had a choice in something to tackle with words, what would you want me to write about?

One of the answers was unity.

In a blog of self discovery, recovery, and restoration… in a blog about learning somehow  to trust and really believe in God’s providential care, how could I possibly address the concept of unity?

Unity?

I grew up in Churches of Christ. I am thankful for my heritage. I owe it a lot. But the truth is, even though we might claim a return to New Testament Christianity, we have a long way to go when it comes to unity among ourselves as well as Christianity at large. And (heresy alert!), I have had reason to wonder if there are certain concepts the ancient church took for granted that we in our modern rational context have failed to grasp.

Unity?

And yet, Jesus prayed in John 17, My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

So how does that work when we are so divided and fractured over stuff that causes some to go ballistic?

I am also reminded of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:1-6, As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

So where do we go from here?

What does it mean to have unity?

How is unity even possible?

I suspect genuine theologians would have some much more in-depth answers.

And yet? Does everything theological have to be difficult? Do we have to make things more complicated than they already are?

Why can’t some answers be simple?

I used to say God had to have an amazing sense of humor. He made giraffes, didn’t he?   And he made men and women with fundamental differences and told us to love each other and get along. How crazy funny is that?

I think unity can and should boil down to this:

  1. I don’t have all knowledge and understanding–what wisdom I do posses resides in a body and mind prone to mistakes, pride, and well, completely missing the point and getting it (whatever doctrine, idea, tradition, etc.) wrong.
  2. If I am capable of mistakes, and you are too, can we not stop arguing, cut each other some slack, and get along–recognizing that our shared goal is getting closer to God?

Too simple? Probably for many, but it is where I am…

Here’s how I got there: My tragedy and loss–my grief, heartache, and despair had me closer to sucking on the end of a gun barrel to stop the pain than I want to admit. At least out loud. At least in this public forum.

Pain like that has a way of clarifying issues–or rather rendering them impotent, stupid, and irrelevant.

I no longer have time to debate or argue the merits of my understanding against yours in all the many ways we have divided ourselves in the world of Christianity.

It’s all I can do to keep the spark of faith flickering… It’s all I can do to to keep wrestling with God… so arguing with other Christians about the differences in our understanding just doesn’t make much sense.

Unity? I want a better understanding of God–a more vibrant and trusting relationship with Him. And if that’s the road you are traveling–if you are striving to be one through Jesus, then united we will be in spite of the things we understand differently.

Honestly? I hope I never lose this simple idea of unity…

Les Ferguson, Jr.

 

Theological Juggling/ Spiritual Gymnastics, Part 2

I enjoyed graduate school. Some of my best thinking and preaching took place during that time. My course of study in New Testament Preaching at Johnson University challenged me, forced me to grow, and helped develop some critical thinking and writing skills.

During that time, my sermons became much more focused. I begin writing and preaching messages that only had one point. I was a better communicator for it.

Over the years I flirted with going back to school to work on a Ph.D in speech communications, but there was never really the time, money, or energy. At the very least I couldn’t find or fund the emotional and mental reserves necessary to commit to that course of action.

I regret that at the same time I don’t. If you know what I mean.

Yesterday, I could have apparently used some better communication abilities.

Maybe this will help…

I am sure of Jesus.
I am sure of the Father.
I am sure of the Holy Spirit.

I believe in them with all my heart.

However, I have no shame in saying, there are aspects of each I don’t know or understand.

I believe Jesus was fully human and fully divine at the same time. I am not sure I understand exactly how that worked except with God, all things are possible.

I believe the Father loves me. And yet, even knowing that, there are some times I am quite confident I am not experiencing His love–at least how I imagine it to be.

I believe the Holy Spirit is my comforter. Scripture affirms that. Not only am I not sure, but there are times I am certain His comfort is far from me.

My need to know exactly how God works and what He is doing and why he does or doesn’t is part of my human nature that needs to control.

If I know, I can feel in control.

God’s nature is love. But the full expression of that love and how it will completely work out in our lives is still a mystery. I wish I could, but I cannot control that.

And like it or not, there are any number of doctrines that have divided, confused, and confounded us. We can’t all be right.

So, I’ll stake some comfort in the idea that when it comes to God, perfect knowledge is incomplete and out of my control.

In a comment today, Greg England said,

One thing I do know for sure and that is the longer I live the more I realize just how little I know when it comes to God and His Word. But it’s a blast, ain’t it, just to be able to scrounge around in the Word without having to know everything for sure (obviating faith) and enjoying the vast mystery of it all. I’ll forever be in kindergarten when it comes to my knowledge of God. But when He says I’m declared righteous because of my belief in Jesus, I’ll take it!

So will I, Greg. So will I.

In the next few days I’ll be writing a bit more about the idea of unanswered prayer (or, when God says nothing at all). As a teaser, I am not a deist, but I have some real questions about the nature of God.

God bless and have a great night/ day/ or whenever you read this!

🙂

Les Ferguson, Jr.