Have You Forgiven?

Paul Buckman.

There is a part of me that hates hearing that name, seeing that name, or remembering that name.

I don’t know if I have completely forgiven him. I don’t know if I ever will be able to do such a difficult thing.

His evil actions have lifelong implications not just for me, but for my children. And if we are completely candid, his actions will have a multigenerational effect.

So what do we do with that?

I remember saying early on in this grief journey that I hated his whole family tree. That’s a little bit harsh, but I do have some righteous indignation for whomever in his family (or friends for that matter) who might have known of previous offenses and kept quiet.

All that being said, I have had to let so much of that go. As long as I continue to harbor bitterness and rage, he is still causing pain and heartache. For the most part, I have had to make peace with some things in order to find peace in new directions.

Have I forgiven Paul Buckman? Clearly he was an evil, wicked, sin-sick man. But what he did is in God’s hands.

I intend somehow to find the place in my heart to let him go completely. I need to. Not for him, he’s beyond anything I can think, feel, or do. I need to for me and for my family.

And based on that, maybe you too will find the words of my friend, Royce Ogle, to be important in your life as well. Thank you, Royce, for allowing me to share them here…

Have you ever heard someone say, “I just can’t forgive her (him)”? Maybe you have said that yourself. I might have said it myself. It’s a purely human response when someone has cause you pain, disappointment, or broken a trust. All of us have been violated in some way by another and have known the pain that ensues. That is true!

What is untrue is that you “can’t forgive” another, no matter how, and to what extent, you have been wronged. People who hold firmly to that position probably do not understand what forgiveness is and how to do it.

Many people, even many Christians, believe they only need to forgive those who ask for forgiveness, or those who apologize for a wrong. That is false. Forgiveness rests solely with you. If you will forgive another is completely your call, no other person is involved.

I don’t know how you have been wronged but you feel that something has been taken from you, an offence has been committed against you, and you deserve something…

To forgive someone is to release the offender from his debt, whatever it may be. The idea is that a compassionate lender tells the borrower he does not have to repay the balance of the loan. He is released from the debt.

To forgive someone is to release the resentment and bitterness you have stored up inside you. You visit there often and feel an emotional rush every time. To forgive another is to gather that garbage and throw it out.

To forgive someone is to treat the offender as if you have forgiven them. It means to sincerely desire the best for them, not the worst.

Forgiveness is a choice! But, it is not an emotional choice, it is an intellectual choice. If you wait ’til you “feel like it” you will never forgive someone who has wronged you. The reason you have decided to wait for an apology is that you want to “feel” better. The problem is you can’t “feel better” until after your forgive, not before. You must make a decision. You must tell yourself “I am tired of being bitter and resentful and I’m going to do the right thing and forgive“. Is it that easy? No, it isn’t easy but that’s the way to do it.

You see, all of your hateful thoughts, all of those things that fuel your hatred and disgust, make you more and more bitter, will not leave you unless you decide they have to go! You make the declaration to yourself “This moment I am forgiving _______ from every wrong against me. I will no longer harbor and encourage bad thoughts about him/her. I have set him/her free from the debt owed and I will experience peace where bitterness and resentment have lived.”

If you can’t seem to do this, start praying for the offender. You can’t pray for someone long and resent them at the same time. If you will to forgive soon your emotions will catch up to your thinking and you will experience peace instead of turmoil.
You don’t necessarily have to even tell the other person. In many cases the other person has gone on with life and has no idea you have been bitter for years. Maybe the person is deceased that you have had ill feelings about so long. Or, it might be an ex-spouse better left alone. You see, this forgiveness thing is all about you, not the other person.

Just try forgiveness. It is like a cool drink of water on a hot day, or a deep breath of fresh morning air. It’s so good for you. Bitterness and resentment can’t live in the same space with forgiveness.

I didn’t tell you that you must forgive others, Jesus did.

Thanks for reading–I love and appreciate each of you!

Les Ferguson, Jr.

It Has To Stop

You must meet Clara Hinton.

She is a wife and mother.
She is also a former preacher’s wife.

Her husband is serving hard time for child molestation.
At least 23 counts.
Over at least a 40 year time frame.

He was a preacher.
A trusted man.
A loved man.
A believable man.

At the same time, he was a purveyor of a consummate evil.
He betrayed those who entrusted him.
He used the Bride of Christ as avenue to perpetuate a horror far to great to even try and comprehend.

You simply must meet Clara Hinton. She is on the front lines… she has had an experience of evil that is all to common. She has a first hand knowledge of how those who prey on children work.

To ignore her is dangerous.

On her blog she tells the story of her experiences. Just a little bit of reading will catch you up to where she is in sharing this strange journey. Her wisdom is compelling.

As one who has had the evil of molestation invade and destroy, let me make you a most solemn promise: You want to do everything you can to avoid, evade, and stop molesters.

It is an evil that has a lasting impact.

Here are two things Clara Hinton says in her latest blog post:

Pedophiles are liars and manipulators on every level. Playing people as puppets delights them. They are masters of deception and they know how to take total control.

Pedophiles are conniving, manipulating, deceitful liars who work hard to harm our children. It’s time for us to open our eyes wide and stop this horrendous cycle of abuse!!!

Please take the time to listen to her and her son, Jimmy. He too is writing and sharing information we need.

I don’t know how much speaking and teaching I will get to do on the subject, but I plan to educate as much as possible–it is another way to honor those I have lost as a result of this pervasive horror.

And guys, if I might add one more thing or make one more suggestion, it would be this: trust the instincts of your wife. Even if you have to apologize later, you will be better off doing that than living with the results if she was right and you did not honor the threat she perceived.

Been there and doing that. In that regard, don’t be like me!

God bless and have a happy Lord’s Day tomorrow!

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.

Abraham, The Father of Faith?

I don’t know if this is wise or not, but…

As I write, the new material for my book tends to become the next lesson I preach. Or vice versa.

At any rate, to keep up interest, I thought I’d share a snippet written ultimately I hope for publication…

Though I walk through the valley of darkness

I am not afraid

Cause I know I’m not alone

And if the wind blows east, would you follow me

And if the wind blows north, would ya stay your course

And if the wind blows west, would ya second guess

And if it blows to the south, would you count me out

And if the sun don’t shine, would you still be mine

And if the sky turns grey, would you walk away

Would you say I do, if I say I’ll be

And walk this road through life with me

You know I love youuuuuu

On this lonely road of faith

On this lonely road of faith

(Kid Rock)

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God. It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed[a] that God would keep his promise. And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead—a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them… It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead. (Hebrews 11:8-12, 17-19 NLT)

Abraham.

The father of faith.

But what exactly is faith?

In my blog Desperately Wanting to Believe Again, some might have been tempted to think I wanted to learn how to believe in God again. That would be the wrong temptation to embrace. When I use the word believe I don’t mean acknowledge God’s existence. To the contrary, I believed then and believe now fervently.

What I have wrestled with is faith.

The belief and trust that God has my best interests at heart. That God really does care. That God loves me.

Like many of you, I know the scriptural definition of faith: Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1, NLT)

I believe that verse. And yet, it is problematic for me.

The first part I am extremely cool with. I have great confidence that God has given me salvation. I eagerly await the day when Jesus comes back to take us home. I didn’t say if, I said when.

But the second part of the verse in question? Faith gives us assurance about things we cannot see…

I said it was problematic. That’s really understating the case.

I have found it hugely hard to believe God really wants the best for me. I have struggled significantly with the idea God was protecting me or taking care of my family.

Even now, when I see His providence, I still wonder about the past. I still question where we are going.

Whether I wanted it or not, I long ago left my home for a far country. I once wrote on my blog that I mourned the loss of me. If we had experienced only a double murder, that would be massively bad enough. But the loss of wife and son, mother and brother, brought on more changes than we could have ever imagined.

Yes, I have mourned the loss of me.

The connections, the location, the friends, the life once had… It all went away. And faster than you might believe.

I am also appreciative of the faith of Abraham.

God said go and he did.

And for whatever reason, we don’t quite get the questions he might have had. The worries. The fears. And even the loss that came with leaving one life and embarking on another.

Abraham, the Father of faith is presented as a man who unquestioningly trusted God.

It’s a beautiful picture even if it is not quite true.

Before you level a charge of heresy or sacrilege, try to remember some stories from his life of faith. It wasn’t an all cheerful Forest Gump life is a box of chocolates existence.

There were struggles. There were hard times. There was disbelief. There was uncertainty. Remember Sarai? Was she wife or sister? And what about the promise of having a son? Sarai laughed. They played pregnancy games. Poor Ishmael was nothing more than a faithless attempt to make God’s word true.

And then there was the whole deal of sacrificing Isaac. Do you really think Abraham made the trip up the mountain with a light heart unburdened by questions, worries, fears, and doubts?

But if none of this is enough to help you see Abraham as man for whom faith wasn’t always easy, then let me remind you of Sodom and Gomorra. Remember when God was going to destroy those two wicked cities? And Abraham was cheering God on? Right? Except, there was no cheering. Instead there were questions, doubts, fears and disbelief.

Remember what Abraham asked the Lord? What if there fifty righteous people living there in the city? Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?

I don’t know about you, but I hear the questions of Abraham’s heart. I see a man of faith who was also a man unafraid to say to the God of the universe, hey, wait a minute. I am not sure about all of this. I see how things aren’t working the way I imagined. Sometimes it doesn’t look like you have my best interests at heart. And yet, I believe even as I doubt.

In a book about zombies and survivors at the end of life as we know it, the author gives vibrancy to an ex-catholic priest turned warrior with these words that resonate still: Faith isn’t the absence of doubt, it’s the decision to believe in something contrary to what you observe. (The Remaining: Refugees, D.J. Molles)

And like the man once told Jesus, I believe; help me with my unbelief.

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.

Big Fat Hairy Deal

Remember the old cliche about a monkey on your back?
It’s often associated with some kind of addiction or character flaw.

I asked this question on Facebook yesterday: Everybody has a monkey. What’s your monkey’s name?

Some of the answers were serious.
Some were funny.
Some were flippant.

If the shoe was on the other foot, I’d try to answer with something funny or flippant too. If you are like me, your real monkey is serious, painful, and seemingly best ignored.

But, this thought leads us to some funny imagery… In a room full of people, or better yet, a church auditorium or sanctuary, we all walk around seeing the monkey on others while trying to ignore our own. And lest we forget, the readily available righteous indignation when someone happens to get a glimpse or fix on the monkey riding our back.

As it turns out, monkey business is never very funny for very long.

My monkey wasn’t/ isn’t alcohol or drugs. There was/ is nothing about mine that would suggest some kind of aberrant behavior. It wasn’t/ isn’t a family embarrassment. Nor the kind of monkey one shouldn’t talk about in polite social situations.

But, he was/ is a big monkey. Ape-sized. Bigger even. I think he had a previous life as a body double or stand-in for another famous Hollywood chimp type. You might remember him? The one who climbed the Empire State Building and swatted airplanes from the sky?

Did I say he was big?

Huge.
Hairy.
Strong.

Have you ever heard the term BHAG? It stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. I am beginning to develop one, but more on that later.

In the meantime, what I have had riding on my back was a BHFD.

Big
Hairy
Fat
Deal.

That wasn’t (isn’t) necessarily my monkey’s name, but it sure describes his importance, or at least how hard a monkey to shake he has been.

My Dad has a color-pencil drawing in his office that a sweet lady did for him many, many years ago. It is a caricature of Dad sitting at his preacher’s desk with piles and piles of different kinds of hats. The drawing symbolized all the different hats–jobs, roles–Dad had to wear in doing ministry. Every preacher should understand that.

Likewise, my monkey wears a lot of different hats too.
Or rather, outside of the things he isn’t (see seventh paragraph from the top), my monkey (otherwise known as a big fat hairy deal) is a multi-talented creature.

He weaves an unbelievable tapestry of fear, doubt, worry, and lack of self-confidence.
The resulting picture is demoralizing, paralyzing, and capable of producing a self-sustaining debilitation.

He is pretty gifted like that.
I should know.
After all, he is my monkey.
I have owned him for a very long time.

But yesterday, he took a major blow. I heard him shudder. I felt his weakness. I sensed his grip losing its hold.

For years (even during the good ones) he has told me I am not good enough, smart enough, or talented enough. He has painted me with fear, soaked me in doubt, infused me with worry, and convinced me that nothing I did would ever matter.

Add to that potent mix Satan’s mighty evil blow, and my monkey could have, should have had it all sewn up tight.

But contrary to my strongly held monkey belief, God wasn’t/ isn’t finished with me yet. He surrounded me with encouragers, provided the right opportunity, and helped me take the first step forward.

Yesterday, I shared my new found, hard won faith. (Thanks Meadowbrook!)
I preached.
And it felt better than it ever has before.

I am learning to never say never while my monkey is fighting to hold on.
I doubt I would ever be a full time preacher again, and yet, if the right place or people came calling, I would have to ask God what He was up to.

In the meantime, the big fat hairy deal is giving way slowly but surely for the big hairy audacious goal. I am daring to dream–really dream–that I have found my new ministry role/niche/voice to fill.

Thanks to those who have believed in me, found patience to share, and otherwise supported me. Your strength has made a difference.

The road ahead–though with plenty of setbacks and struggles still to encounter–looks brighter still.

Here’s the best part: If God is willing to work in my life, He is certainly willing to work in yours–and through all of our worries, doubts, fears, and perceived inadequacies.

You gotta like that!

If I can help you or your group/church, etc., please feel free to contact me.

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Bless Her Heart

Judgement and judging.

The Bible says an awful lot about those things.

Sometimes we are told to judge; other times we are commanded not to judge.

There is such a thing as righteous judgment. There is such a thing as discernment. We can rightly see certain situations and circumstances and justly judge them wrong.

Nathan saw what David had done regarding Bathsheba and Uriah. And directed by God, the prophet told him, You are the man. There was no way to soft peddle it; there was no way to justify. Samuel’s judgment was righteous, justified, needed, and true.

My long time friend and college roommate, John Dobbs, refers to the phenomenon of piling on to somebody when they are down as a “monkey pile.”

That’s a kind of judgment that is more about condemnation. And most of us are good at it.

In the South we have a genteel way of doing that.

“She/ he has some pretty bad problems and consistently makes horrible choices… bless her/ his heart.”

Translation? She/ he is dumb as a rock and stupid too. And probably deserves whatever she/ he gets.

That “bless her heart” bit?  Somehow that is supposed to make it ok for judgment and even condemnation.

I think “Monkey Pile” is an adequate description of judging hearts. As one who has experienced the very uncomfortable feeling of having every action and reaction judged and found wanting, and condemned too–as one who has been guilty of doing the same thing to others, bless their little hearts… we need to recognize that while calling wrong things wrong, most of our judging and condemnation is reserved for people whose shoes we would never choose to walk in.

While we may think we know what’s in another person’s heart, the reality is, unless we are experiencing the exact same thing from the exact same framework, we haven’t a clue.

Really. We don’t.

We may think we have a good idea.

We may be the best emphasizer in the world with an empathy that is off the charts, but the truth is, we cannot know.

And because we cannot know all the reasons and rationals involved in all of the mistakes, missteps… because we cannot really and truly understand the heart and motive behind the things we don’t always approve of, we need to be less judgmental and more compassionate.

Unless of course you want to trade places with them?

Yeah. I didn’t figure you wanted to any more than me.

I know sin is sin; wrong is wrong.

I know that.

I understand that.

I recognize that.

You do too.

But even when it involves sin, a little less condemnation, a little more mercy, grace, and compassion goes an awful long way to helping the hurting, strengthening the struggling, and restoring the fallen.

“Bless Her Heart?” Chances are, we need just as much blessing or more.

So before you judge or condemn, ask yourself what you would want if walking in the same shoes…

Where have you experienced judgment/ condemnation when you really needed mercy, grace, and compassion?

Les Ferguson, Jr.

An Eleanor Rigby Kind of Life

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near
Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there
What does he care?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

All the lonely people (Ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people (Ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all belong?
(Eleanor Rigby, The Beatles)

There are so many tragedies just waiting to happen. Most of them do. Every single day there is news of heartbreak and loss. Of families who wait for the one who will never come home again.

If accidents and evil people weren’t enough, there is always a hodgepodge of sickness and human frailty looking to claim another victim.

Heart Disease
Cancer
Diabetes
There are not enough pages to list all the possible and potential life altering, life ending medical conditions.

It’s a crapshoot and all of those things are sickening when they become our reality.

Personally, I am worn out by heartache, worry, and fear. I am so weary of the constant sense of impending doom. Of wondering what’s next…

But, I digress.

In a world of broken hearts, lives, and dreams, I think there is a greater calamity. I didn’t see it for much of my life. I certainly didn’t understand it. And if the truth be told, I didn’t want to…

If it was painful then; it is doubly, triply painful now.
It’s a condition that happens as a result of brokenness.
It is often hidden behind a slick mask of happiness, a false bravado, or a facade of joy.

It is called loneliness.

But even using that word connotes something that, while hurtful and undesirable, is just a situation you have to get used to or worse, find an answer for… (i.e., fix it!)

And the advice often given?
Get out of yourself…
Make a new friend…
Find a new activity…
Blah, Blah, Blah…

All of that is well and good, but it fails to answer the root cause of loneliness–it makes the lonely seem somehow week for being lonely in the first place. It completely misses, disregards, or denies the loneliness of loss, hurt, pain, and the perceived absence of God.

And that my friends is the loneliest place on earth…

Loneliness, the great calamity? Absolutely. You betcha. Yes, sir, don’t say maybe…
And that’s often found within the church–of any denomination or stripe. Can you imagine how lonely the lonely are without even a church family to call on?

This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
And ride that highway in the sky

This is for all the single people
Thinking that love has left them dry
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
You never know until you try

Well, I’m on my way yes, I’m back to stay
Well, I’m on my way back home, hit it

This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
And never take you down or never give you up
You never know until you try
(Lonely People–America)

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A Doormat Christianity

Matthew 22:34-40, Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Loving God and loving others. The two greatest commands. The heart and soul of what it means to live a Christian life.

In an old newspaper column somewhere back in time, I once wrote about God’s response when looking at his children and all of the theological drama we have created. In my imagination, I saw Him shaking His head and saying, “No, no, no. That isn’t it all.”

I suspect there are lots of ideas, beliefs, and dogmas that satisfy our human nature but miss entirely the ideal of God.

You might be an arm chair or a classically trained theologian and think me arrogant to even suggest such thing. In return, I think it pretty arrogant to ever imagine even for a minute that we have gotten it all right.

Along the way of developing and defending our doctrinal beliefs, it sometimes feels as if we have lost the main thing. I often tell the sixteen year old in our house, you can be right and still be wrong. If you are right, but mouthy and snotty in the process, all the right doesn’t undo what the attitude got wrong.

The same is true of Christianity. If your doctrine of _________ is exactly what God intended, but you fail to be loving toward your follow man, what good does it do?

You can be right and still be wrong.
Can I get an Amen?

I will probably not make any friends with this post. I suspect some will disagree vehemently. And that’s ok.

I keep being told that one day I will be back in full time ministry. I agree.

I am trying hard to find my voice, to discover my niche, or for lack of a better term, create my own ministry role. But, if you mean being a full time pulpit minister/ preacher/ pastor for a local congregation… I just can’t do that.

One reason is I am a long way from an everyday hey-God-I-can-do-this kind of thing. God and I are still wrestling. I am still limping. And like it or not, most churches wouldn’t handle very well a preacher who openly limps. I am sure there are exceptions, but I wouldn’t know them.

More importantly, another reason is my inability to practice a Doormat Christianity.
Go ahead and ask… you know you want to… What is Doormat Christianity?

As a preacher, my greatest desire was to see the kingdom of God grow. To do that, I strived hard to love God by loving others. In the process, I often allowed myself to become a doormat to those I served.

What about Jesus’ commands to turn the other cheek or to go the extra mile? I fully believe those words at work in our lives would go an awful long way to bringing us peace in our relationships.

Loving God by loving others even when they are unloveable is not the issue. On the other hand, we are often motivated by something less than love in going the extra mile or turning the other cheek.

It’s not a pretty picture, but in my life as a preacher, it was often more about self-preservation. In order to not rock the boat, I welcomed the opportunity to be a doormat to keep my job or provide for my family.

I am kidding right? Not one little bit.

Spiritual abuse? Bring it on.
Power trips? Learn to roll with the punches.
Maintaining the status quo at the cost of your own spiritual growth and creativity? You betcha.

I probably sound bitter. I am. But, I am not content to stay there and so God and I are having to wrestle with that as well.

In the meantime, can I ask a favor? Love your ministers lavishly. Chances are you have no idea what they are sacrificing–sometimes even their own self-esteem. If you like to make jokes at the preacher’s expense about only working one day a week or keeping his moving boxes close to hand or how much money he makes, Stop!

Stop now. He may laugh with you, but it takes a toil.

Eventually he becomes a doormat whether he wants to acknowledge it or not. Even when he can’t or won’t see it for what it is, his spouse sees it and suffers too.

Doormat Christianity is hurtful, destructive, and ultimately damaging to the spirit within.

Loving others means saying this is wrong!

Thanks for reading.
Anything in particular you would like me to address?
How can I help you?

Les Ferguson, Jr.
DWTBA

My Friend Kansas Bob

A question came in on the comments today. It referenced a time in my life when I was a yearly director of a camp session at Gulf Coast Bible Camp (a great place to support or send your kids). That particular week’s theme was I Am A Friend of God.

The question: Do I still consider myself a friend of God or are we more like frenemies?

Good question. I’d like to believe I am not an enemy of God. I certainly don’t believe God is my enemy. We have been a bit estranged in the past year and a half. We have wrestled an awful lot–and I have yet to win one single match. But I still wrestle. I guess I am stubborn like that.

Often friends get crossways with one another. But getting crossways or having a difference of opinion doesn’t mean abandoning the relationship.

If rape and a double murder could be construed as God’s plan for me, my anger would be much greater. If God was trying to help me grow or teach me some lesson and thereby let this happen, then I would be sorely ticked off at Him. There are much nicer ways to get my attention. I don’t think God was doing that. I don’t think God caused the perverted creep to do the perverted creep things he did.

I doubt I’ll ever have full understanding, but I am thankful God has not abandoned me in my time of questioning and wrestling!

And you know what? I am not alone. There are lots of us out here who struggle to understand why our lives have fallen apart–why so many bad things have to happen–why we continue to endure while others skip through life with hardly a disruptive ripple.

We are many. And as long as this earth lasts unredeemed, we will be here.

We are not going away. Chances are, there may be an unwanted occasion when you become one of us. I hope not, but that’s the reality of this world…

In the meantime, I’d like to share a guest post from a man who has also endured much.

Blog, meet Kansas Bob. Here’s what he has written:

In March of 1990 my life fell apart. Ellen, my wife of 19 years, had a heart attack and kidney failure.

In the following four years my whole life’s focus was caring for her. Everything else I was doing, ministry-wise, stopped.

I slowly died on the inside.

It was during this time that I began to be confronted by the control issues that surrounded me and lived deep within me.

As I continually prayed for my wife she got weaker and weaker.
And my frustration got stronger and stronger.

I had no control over what was happening. My children began having problems in school. They too were dealing with a deepening grief about their mom’s health.

All the while I was being forced to change – I hated it. All of the things in life that I thought I had figured out were unraveling before my eyes. Everything that was important to me was falling apart.

I was dying on the inside and in May of 1994 my dear wife of 23 years died.

The past years had taken a toll on our family, my 14 year old son, my 10 year old daughter and me.

We were all devastated at my wife’s death.
We all expected her to get well.

That is what we prayed for.
I believed in healing and miracles.
Standing by her side I even prayed for a resurrection when my wife breathed her last.

The aftermath of her death found my son medicating with drugs, my daughter struggling with identity issues and me dealing with a broken theology.

I increasingly became aware of how much I had been led by principles and precepts.
Subconsciously I had developed a complex internal system of rules and logic concerning life.

These “of course” were all based in scripture and encompassed words like “authority” and “submission”.

Unclear to me was the real issue – living by rules put me in control.

For years I lived the life of a “led by the Spirit” Christian when in truth, I was more like a rules following control freak.

Sadly, my legalistic approach to life and Christianity bred an arrogant attitude towards people who didn’t see the scriptures the same way I did.

When my wife was sick, the arrogant attitude began to give way to glimpses of humility.

I was humbled when meals came into my home from friends at church for 10 weeks.

Coping with hospitalizations, doctor’s bills (from 40+ doctors), hemodialysis, and a boatload of medical problems brought me to a place of breaking.

I was losing control.
I didn’t want to let go of my legalistic ideas and practices but had no option.
I could no longer maintain and feed the on stuff that once brought my ego such satisfaction.

The years after my wife’s passing brought many changes in my life.

That major theme of losing control seemed to subtly resurface as my children began to outwardly grieve the loss of their mom.

“Control” is a major battlefield for one trapped in black and white thinking.
It is all about “control”.

That brings me to the end of 2002.

I had remarried and Ann, my new wife, was going through an intense health crisis that involved paralysis.

I was beside myself once again when the Holy Spirit began to speak to me.
He spoke to me about life and living.
About letting go and flowing in life instead of controlling.
He said that life isn’t something to be managed like a project but something to be lived.

God was beginning to slay my desire to be in control.

Little did I know how much this would be tested over the coming years.

In the summer of 2007 my wife had another relapse of this nasty neurological disease called Neuromyelitis Optica.

This time she did not bounce back like the many times before.
This time she could not walk.
This time she would need to use a wheelchair to get around.
And she does to this day.

In January 2008 I read this quote from G. K. Chesterton:

“Why be something to everybody when you can be everything to somebody?”

It got me crying.

And over the following months I became convinced that God was leading me to leave my job as a pastor.

That summer I retired to minister full time at home.

I still find it difficult to let go and not control but I am making progress.

I try to see issues in the color gray rather than in black and white.
I do things these days that have clear boundaries.
I listen more to the advice of friends and family.
I honor the choices of my adult children even when I don’t agree with them.

And in all things I remember that God loves me and wants me to trust Him.

Not that I always do.

After all, trust is an issue of letting go and giving up control.

Kansas Bob
http://kansasbob.com