The Tulsa Workshop

Last week was amazing.

I used to go to The Tulsa Workshop as a teenager. Later as a college student and after, it became a yearly conference to attend—usually with my college buddies.

Over the years, this workshop has reinvigorated me.
It has challenged me.
It has fed me.

And the fellowship… these guys I have gone with have been some of my closest friends since I was 18 years old.

For awhile I missed a few years.
Hurricane Katrina disrupted an entire year of our lives. There was no time for such a trip.
And then, Cole’s disease progressed to the point that it was just unfair to leave one person at home to help care for him.

So I missed some years.

But last week was amazing.

I enjoyed my time with Becki.
I enjoyed my time with some of my oldest friends.
I enjoyed getting to meet face-to-face some folks I’d corresponded with for a good long while.
I networked.
I hobnobbed.
I enjoyed some of the best singing this side of eternity.

It was all good stuff.

And the icing on the cake? I was privileged to be one of the speakers. (You know how some kids want to be a professional baseball player? I wanted to be a Tulsa Workshop speaker!)

It was a challenge.

One topic was The Weakness of God. I love speaking about this. I really love it. And if you think the title is somehow blasphemous, just know it comes straight out of scripture. It is a message of hope to all who are broken. It is a reminder that God is not absent or done.

The other two sessions were back-to-back lessons on Is It Ok To Have Doubt, Part 1 & 2. So much of my understanding, belief, and theology about God, faith, and struggle has undergone a massive transformation. This topic in particular forced me to put some cohesive thought into the relationship between doubt and faith.

I don’t think I have ever spoken anywhere on any subject where people seemed to resonate with what I said like they did at the workshop.

It was gratifying.
It gave me a sense of ministry that has been missing from my life.
It allowed me to feel like me if only for a short time.
And more than anything else, I drove away from Tulsa knowing I had said some things some needed to hear.

I will always be grateful to God and The Tulsa Workshop.

Lots of potential changes in my life… I am praying for the opportunity to wrestle with some decisions. Would you pray with me?

And while you are at it, check out my post on the Holy Spirit as The Comforter over at Wineskins. I’d love to know what you think!

By the way, in a shameless bit of promotion, all of the lessons presented at the workshop can be ordered from their website.

Yours,

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Trying to Sing A New Song (Reflections on Being Herded)

Have you ever had to change your story?
Or maybe learn to sing a different tune?

Sometimes we find out things are not quite what we thought or maybe there was a different detail than what was first understood. As a result, we may have to amend what was said or be more accurate in the future telling.

Sometimes we have learned a song one way only to realize we have been singing the wrong note or using the wrong tempo. Adjustments have to be made in order to sing the song as it was written.

Time, distance, and perspective often conspire to cloud our vision or remembrance. Pain and suffering can do the same thing.

Tragedy has a crazy way of redefining, rewriting, and rewiring not only our story or song, but whatever they might become.

In my case, I have long felt certain a particular part of my life has been closed off to me altogether.

Done.
Finished.
Over.
Thankful.

Yes, thankful. Being a full time local minister is hard, difficult, and emotionally draining.
It is hard on families.
It is hard.

It is full of amazing blessings, but often hard nonetheless.

As a result, I have spent lots of time preparing, trying, and singing a new song.

This song is comprised of a new identity, new career, new direction, and a new location.

At one point, I never really thought I would ever speak again in front of any kind of crowd. Especially one church related.

Done.
Finished.
Over.
In the past for good.

That one didn’t last for very long.

Quicker than I would have imagined it fell by the wayside. With the foray into blogging and writing, the speaking opportunities have been pretty steady. This week makes the first week this year that didn’t have me speaking some where, some how. I’ll make up for it speaking three times next week at The Tulsa Workshop.

My goal and plan, this new song I wanted to sing, began to change. Slowly but surely I reimagined myself back in ministry, but totally defined in a way that let me be comfortable.

I was either going to stay in real estate or find another job that would provide for my family while allowing me the freedom to continue writing and speaking on weekends. There are lots of folks who struggle with faith and trust—and I felt (still do) that my abilities, knowledge, and experience were perfectly suited to help fellow travelers…

Thus commenced the other-than-real estate job search for something a little more dependable financially. I think I can fill out an application, take a questionnaire, describe my experience, and write a cover letter blindfolded and asleep, all at the same time!

Yes, I am that good. But apparently not good enough for another job. I can also fill up a trashcan with all of the rejection letters.

It’s actually quite funny. There have been days when tears of frustration rolled down my face, but now I just have to laugh at how crazy it all is!

Day Laborer? Not qualified!
AT&T Store? Not qualified!
Community/ Public Relations? “We never even considered you!” (That one hurt bad!)
Government Job? Not qualified!
Government Job? Not qualified enough!
Government Job? Qualified but not as qualified!
Home Depot? Depart from me, we never knew you!

And while at times my emotions have been all over the map, I am beginning to think there is a God reason for all the set backs, difficulties, and disappointments.

I think my new song is not going to sound anything like I intended.

And truthfully, I am somewhat afraid of the tune that seems to be playing.
Terrified, actually.

I don’t know how, where, or why, but it feels like I am being herded right back into the life and work of a local church minister.

I can’t believe I just typed that…

Done.
Finished.
Over.
In the past for good?

Not so fast, Mr. Used-to-Be Preacherman, not so fast.

My new song may end up being an old familiar one.

My struggles with God are not over. I have much yet to understand.
In the process I am having to learn how to not be so resistant.

I used to sing where He leads me I will follow.
With a scratchy voice, I am warming up for the song to come!

In the meantime, does anybody want to buy or sell a house?

Blessings to all,

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Church Questions

A little different kind of a post for me, but maybe it will be of interest…

Awhile back, I sent a resume to a church and received the following questions in response:

–Churches across the country are struggling to maintain attendance and growth. Do you agree that Churches of Christ are also fighting this decline? Give us your thoughts on what is driving this.

–What specifics might you focus on, at the congregation level, to change the direction of decline?  Specifics might include demographics, worship styles, education, outreach, etc.

–In your personal experience or observation of other congregations, what have you seen to make you feel these things would work?

I thought they were good questions and actually enjoyed formulating my answers.

I thought I would share them with you as a topic of discussion…

Yes, I agree with the premise that churches are struggling to maintain attendance and growth. Certainly, churches of Christ cannot be singled out any more than any other group of believers. We all have our fair share of problems.

Obviously, I cannot answer for every church in every place. There are often economic factors that change populations. Socially and culturally, we face an often-disheartening system of values or a lack thereof. Morally speaking, church members tend to be just like the people around us.

From that perspective, instead of leading, guiding and illuminating our culture, we are either reacting to it negatively or living in it no differently.

And, where we have focused on minor issues, argued among ourselves, participated in power struggles, missed the major issues, and failed to live out the story of Jesus individually and collectively… We have quite simply lost our influence and ability to deliver a life changing perspective.

In some ways, we have lost our place at the table while we have celebrated the irrelevant.

In the midst of and as we moved out of the immediate heartache and despair of our family tragedy, my faith wavered. I never lost my belief in God, but I certainly began a period of questioning exactly who and what He was. Some of those questions remain and are good reminders of what is real and important.

Personally, I discovered that theological arguments, debates, and discussions matter little to people living on the jagged edge of holding it together or losing it entirely. And, I discovered that more “church members” are in that category of folks than we could possibly imagine. Some of them are quite cognizant of how much they struggle even as they do their best to hide it from themselves and others (the biggest lie told at assembly times? I am ok, doing good, etc.). Many more are just one difficulty away from finding out their faith isn’t as deep as they might have surmised.

What was important to me were simple but deep theological questions with life-altering impact.

• Does God really love me?

• Does God really care?

• Where is God when I needed Him the most?

So what is the answer?

A theological buzzword bandied about these days is missional.

Everything is missional. Missional coffee, missional programs, and on and on it goes. I suspect the validity and intent of what being missional is all about gets lost in the clutter of ecclesiastical systems.

Take a look at these excerpts from Alan Hirsch in Leadership Journal, Fall 2008…

A proper understanding of missional begins with recovering a missionary understanding of God. By his very nature God is a “sent one” who takes the initiative to redeem his creation. This doctrine, known as missio Dei—the sending of God—is causing many to redefine their understanding of the church. Because we are the “sent” people of God, the church is the instrument of God’s mission in the world. As things stand, many people see it the other way around. They believe mission is an instrument of the church; a means by which the church is grown. Although we frequently say “the church has a mission,” according to missional theology a more correct statement would be “the mission has a church.”

Many churches have mission statements or talk about the importance of mission, but where truly missional churches differ is in their posture toward the world. A missional community sees the mission as both its originating impulse and its organizing principle. A missional community is patterned after what God has done in Jesus Christ. In the incarnation God sent his Son. Similarly, to be missional means to be sent into the world; we do not expect people to come to us. This posture differentiates a missional church from an attractional church.

A missional theology is not content with mission being a church-based work. Rather, it applies to the whole life of every believer. Every disciple is to be an agent of the kingdom of God, and every disciple is to carry the mission of God into every sphere of life. We are all missionaries sent into a non-Christian culture.

Being missional is about restoration. Not restoring a church, but restoring a world to God’s ideal. That starts individually and then collectively within our own family and church family. Being missional is about taking responsibility for our own little corner and shinning the light of Jesus there.

I believe churches of every stripe will continue to decline when our focus is on anything else than connecting people to Jesus. That’s the answer for the hurts and despair so many experience. That’s the answer for struggling marriages and faltering families. That’s the answer to a crumbling society and culture that is completely out of tune with God.

Jesus. That’s the answer to decline.

Certainly, I have my favored church systems. I like a more contemporary worship experience. Those things help me connect, if you will. But we could spend an enormous amount of time designing and tweaking our assemblies and still miss folks who are looking for something different.

Somehow we have to help people connect outside the assembly. Using pressure and guilt to build attendance does not facilitate spiritual growth. Restoration and renewal of the heart have to be our focus—and not a one-hour a week assembly time that caters to whomever has the loudest cry for doing things the way they like.

In my case, after our loss and becoming a single parent for a while, Wednesday nights became a curse. It caused me to rethink our purpose in doing whatever we do. If people want to gather on Wednesday nights, then by all means let them gather. By the same token, if this strung out family of four has no family time, no opportunity to just be together, then spiritually, emotionally, and physically, they might best be served by dedicating that evening to just being family.

Outside of the Sunday morning assembly, small groups—with a focus and plenty of dedication—can be great tools in helping people connect to each other and a higher purpose for life.

But, this restoration and change we seek—no matter the tools we use–can only begin when people are sold out to Jesus—and want to make a difference in the lives of others.

As shepherds and ministers, our job is to model the Christian life—to let our light so shine that the world may see Jesus. Let restoration and renewal begin with us.

Don’t be afraid to toss the traditional formats; don’t be afraid to embrace them either. The purpose isn’t how. The purpose is Jesus.

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Vicksburg, MS

Living on Salsa Time

Diets.
I hate being on a diet.

I would like to wish for those days long ago when my metabolism was high and I could eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.

Except the gene pool left that metabolism thing out. I have never been that person, at least that I can remember.

At this point in life, I gain at least five pounds every time I go on Facebook and see the pictures of whatever my friend Ricky Grau has posted for a meal.

It’s once again cardio time. Lots of running, walking, biking—whatever the weather will permit. Along with plenty of table push backs and healthier eating.

I don’t want to do it, but do it I must.

Unfortunately, this round of dieting and trying to get control of my eating must include a complete withdrawal from my favorite drug of choice: Chips & Salsa.

Chips & Salsa.
Oh, the glory and beauty of golden yellow chips and rich red salsa. Preferably the hotter the better.

Nothing makes a bad day or a stressful time better than a big bag of tortilla chips and some good salsa.

As much as I like it, I am not a salsa snob. I have had all kinds, all brands from ultra cheap to the best you can find. One of my favorites comes from Texas. Peach Salsa.

Yeah. I roll like that.

Oh my.
Just writing about it makes me wonder if life might be better lived fat and happy with chips in one hand and a bowl of salsa in the other.

At this point I bet you could easily guess my favorite kind of restaurant. Yep. Any that serve Mexican style food. You know the kind, don’t you? They always deliver chips and salsa.

I have spent years living on Salsa Time. And if I can lose some weight, I can get back to living on Salsa Time again. At least until I gain all the weight back and start all over once more.

It’s a vicious cycle.
Somebody help me.
I wonder if there is a support group for Salsa Addicts.

I hope you hear me having a little fun with something I seriously need to work on. I really must let go of my unhealthy approach to eating.

That’s not the only thing I am having to learn how to let go of…

It would be no gamble for me to say I am not alone.
You, dear reader, have things in your life that control you inordinately just as I do.

Here’s where this post on Salsa Time is taking us…

It has been a real temptation for me to let anger and bitterness control who I am and who I will be.

This is going to sound heartless and cruel, but I hope you will follow through with my thoughts and reasonings and hear me out.

I am glad Paul Buckman took his own life. I am sorry for his family, but I am glad he is gone on to his just reward, whatever that might be. I am thankful we were spared a trial and all the circus that comes with it.

There was a time in which I hated him and hated his family even worse. That anybody might have loved him and had an inkling of what he was capable of was a massive affront. I wanted every relative and distant connection he might have had to be gone from this earth.

But in the taking of his own life, he did me a service, as harsh as it might be. I hate what he did, but I cannot hate him for he is no longer here.

I have had to learn to let it all go.
Anger and bitterness engendered by his despicable actions are nothing but a poison to my body, mind, soul, and life.

The toxin that results from holding on to my anger and bitterness robs me of the joy of family. My beautiful new wife.
My children.
My new stepchildren.

They need me to be me. Not some twisted version of hate, rage, and bitterness.

I have been in a long process of letting it go.
Forgiveness is the next step.
And I am learning how to do even that.

Paul Buckman was just a man. However it happened, his made-in-the-image-of-God humanity got skewed all out of whack. I am sure his parents never envisioned what he would become. I suspect he never planned or desired to have his life end the way it did.

I hate the pain he has caused us. I hate the pain we will hold until God calls us home.

But I can no longer hate him.

A long time ago, in another life in the first church I served as full time preaching minister, a young lady said something I have never forgotten:

Forgiveness is a gift you gave yourself.

That’s powerful.
And true.
And totally rehabilitating.

Paul Buckman? I may have to wrestle with this over and over again, but today, I forgive you.

I forgive you.

Are there are folks and situations I need to let go of?
You betcha!

But for now, my plate is full. It’s impossible to forget, but I am going to forgive.

How about you?
Any forgiveness you need to give?

In the meantime, does anybody know where I can find some calorie free chips? My contraband salsa is waiting.

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Wineskins Check-Out: I Need Restored!

Hey There Friend! I am so glad you have spent time with me in the past year as I wrestle with my faith. A new year has dawned and many of us are still wrestling with questions and that’s ok. Wrestling is growing.

I hope I never stop.

I have been out of the loop a bit, so here’s a little self-promotional news about the happenings in my life.

I preached this past Sunday in Natchez, Ms. I will be speaking there again this coming Sunday. Always looking for more opportunities to share…

Also, the new schedule for the Tulsa Workshop is out and I am presenting three times–and yes, I am very excited.

I have spent considerable time this week reworking my book proposal and remain committed to the process.

Awhile back I announced the opportunity that had come my way to be a featured author at wineskins.org. At the time I didn’t quite grasp how it was going to work—I thought DWTBA was going to be linked and what I wrote here would just become a part of the other web e-zine.

Not the case at all.

In fact, I am writing in two different places.

So, I would like to invite you to take a look at the new issue as soon as it is out. The writers are each telling stories of those special people who have helped shape their own personal faith.

Please take the time to check out http://wineskins.org.

In the meantime, I am going to share here what I wrote there in the inaugural restart issue…

Thanks for sticking with me—
Les, Jr.

Restoration.
I have experienced way too much of that in my life.
Going to the dentist is painful and difficult when you have had mouth trauma over the years.
It is also financially painful.

At age 51, I (and my wallet) remain terrified of dentists and the work they do.

Why?

Because at age 15, I totaled a Volkswagen Beetle. In the process, I ate the steering wheel and knocked teeth out and tore gums away. Not a pretty sight, for sure. But, the docs were good and wired it all up and things stayed well for a number of years until some of those teeth died.

And when they had to be removed, we found out that a prescribed acne medicine had caused chemical bonding of those dead teeth to the bone. Getting them out of my mouth required some uncomfortable surgery.

My teeth woes have gone on and on throughout much of my adult life.

But wait.

This is a place for theological discussions, not bad oral health stories.
This is a blog post that is supposed to be a part of a theme on Biblical Restoration.
Amazingly enough, there are some similarities between the two.

Dentists and those who practice dentistry with bigger and fancier names know all about tooth decay and gum diseases. They have seen the results of accidents. They know the stench and damage of rotting teeth.

Sounds a lot like sin, does it not?

Sin causes spiritual decay. It causes the very fabric of our lives to become rotten to the core. And the following physical, emotional, and mental trauma is often spread into the lives of others.
The consequences can be really really high and very very hard.

The man who murdered my first wife and our handicapped son didn’t start out life as a child molester, rapist, and murder. But the effects of sin caught up with him—resulting in an even greater sin spiral that eventually spilled over into our lives in a horrific way.

Please don’t take this as somehow blasé. Because it most assuredly is not. Sin always has consequences. And sin often has ramifications that are unintended in our own lives and often claim innocent victims as well.

So how does all of this work into the theme of biblical restoration?

The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
That word all is a funny little guy. It leaves no one out. We are all guilty.
And, the result is all are also in need of restoration as well.

So, I am very grateful for the forgiveness, mercy, and grace God grants me. But beyond all the. wonderful forgiveness, I need a full scale restoration. I need a life obsessed with living for God in all respects.

This heritage many of us call the Restoration Movement is a great thing. Restoring the church of the New Testament is a lofty goal. But when you get down to it, the church of the first century was full of the same kind of folks as the church of the 21st century (no matter what name is on the door).

Sinners all, we are a people who need to be healed and forgiven. We are a people whose lives need a total transformation. And only God can create the kind of total make over that fundamentally restores perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors in redeeming fashion.

As it turns out, restoration or restoring people to God saves not only them from pain, but also others who might otherwise be hurt.

Hey kids.
Brush your teeth good before bed tonight.
But before then, consider those areas of your life that need to be restored to Him.

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.

From Victim to Surviver to Thriver

In the immediate confusion and struggle of the events of October 10, 2011, I had no idea what to do from one moment to the next. I will ever be thankful for the people who were there giving guidance and support. I am particularly grateful for the friendship, compassion, and expertise of Bubba Lang and his staff at Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Homes.

We had a history together that predates those horrible events. After hurricane Katrina, Bubba allowed the church to use one of their chapels for worship services for about a year and a half while our new building was being constructed. In a crazy turn of events, we had sold our building and then two days before Katrina roared ashore, signed a contract to build a new building.

But unfortunately, everything changed including the projected costs as a result of storm recovery and rebuilding.

With a building project on hold and no building of our own, we were served well by Bubba and his staff. They made a difficult situation much easier than it could have been otherwise.

Even after being in our new church building, us “old timers” remembered those funeral chapel months with gratitude and humor. (After all, how many preachers get to preach in a place where people are dying to get into? Yeah, I know, it’s a groaner of a joke.)

But then the unthinkable happened. I found myself at the same chapel we had used all those months for Sunday worship trying to figure out what to do for a funeral service.

My friend Bubba was as compassionate and caring as anybody could have been. A business that provided a necessary service was more like a ministry and Bubba was the High Priest. I remember sitting there answering questions and carrying out what I think were lucid sounding conversations.

I also remember my breaking point that day. When directed to the casket show room and tasked with picking out two coffins, I reacted in anger. I balked, refused, and with a heavy heart, left the room. I still have no idea who made that final decision.

Immediately after, I remember being driven to the cemetery where we took possession of donated grave spots. I remember feeling how strange, unnatural, and horrible the whole process was.

I remember…

The horror of it all is still so very present.
And borrowing the words of a commenter on a another blog I read, I am doing my very best—determined—to make the transition from victim to survivor to thriver.

In many ways I already have made that transition.

And yet, the simple truth is that consequences often expand exponentially. With that expansion, which I often refer to as the ripple effects, comes a whole laundry list of unanswered questions, guilt, and anguish.

In those last minutes, what did they feel?
How terrified were they?
Did Cole understand what was happening?
Where was God?

Where was God?

Fair or not, with that question, at least for me, came a loss of trust, a loss of place, and a loss of friends.

Consequences.
And hard ones at that.
Consequences I still struggle with.

However, I remain very determined to face every one of them head on. Sadly, they don’t often have easy answers. They sometimes reoccur. And likely, it may very well take a long time to turn them around.

From victim to surviver to thriver. That’s my onward and upward journey.
Occasionally it feels like the proverbial one step forward and two steps backward.
But such is life for many.

Thanks for reading.

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Happy Veterans Day!

Happy Veterans Day!

I am sitting at the kitchen counter pecking away on my iPad. Most everybody is still asleep. All except Casey our resident energizer bunny who is up long before daylight starts to make an appearance.

He’s had cereal and I am on my second cup of coffee. And contemplating an apple for a good healthy breakfast.

I am kind of taking the day off. Kind off, because there is always something that needs to be done, some lead to follow or chase, some contact to be made. I plan on seeing two people today.

Both old friends, one owns a funeral home and may have something I can do part time or otherwise. I am not sure how I feel about that. If I never saw the inside of another funeral home again, I suspect I could die content. On the other hand… It might be a good opportunity and a ministry of sorts to boot. As the great and wise theologian otherwise known as my wife, Becki, said last night, this may be where God is leading me…

I used to say God had an amazing sense of humor. My proofs were the fact that men and women, husbands and wives are so vastly different and yet God expects us to live in peace and harmony. The other proof was a giraffe–God was having fun when He made them. The third proof, if born out, might just be the idea of me working in a funeral home.

The other meeting is with a friend who owns a bunch of restaurants. We are meeting originally to talk about co-opting one to use for a Saturday pancake breakfast to benefit the local Robotics Team. I suspect the conversation will go in other directions if for no other reason than this will be the first time together outside of a chance meeting at the gym in well over 30 years.

Blah, blah, blah…

All this is about as exciting as watching tea bags steep, I am sure. But, this is my world and I am glad to share it with you.

Life takes you in some strange and weird directions. Part of me is terrified of ever having a full-time preaching ministry again, while part of me at the same time wishes it could be so. I was the kind of preacher who under normal circumstances had his preaching schedule lined up a year in advance–and weekly sermons were always finished and ready by the end of Tuesday.

I like structure and order.
I like knowing my direction and having a pretty good idea of what is coming next.
I like, no a better word is crave… I crave stability.

Cobbling together a hodgepodge of businesses, jobs, and ministry is not something I could have remotely imagined.

But we persevere. It is what we do.
That and waiting…

I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.” I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord ’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:17-26 NIV)

Thanks for reading and waiting with me,

Les Ferguson, Jr.

I Don’t Know Where I Fit In

In my earliest days as a beginning theologian, I understood well my conservative upbringing. I knew intimately the points and counterpoints of some pretty intense theological debates.

I was well versed in the different papers and publications put out by the differing and dueling editor-bishops. I knew what schools held to what doctrinal positions. I understood what would happen if I aligned myself to this camp or another.

There were theological giants walking among us and I was quite eager to hear everything they said.

For years I thrived in that atmosphere. I was a living sponge soaking up those doctrinal differences and arguments—reveling in my knowledge, honing my own ability to dissect, discourse, and write.

A large portion of my life involved doctrine, doctrinal analysis, debates, discussions, and like the proverb says, iron sharpening iron.

The little dictionary capability that resides within my word processor defines lockstep like this:

  • a way of marching with each person as close as possible to the one in front. 
  • close adherence to and emulation of another’s actions.

Yes, I was good at maintaining the right positions and attitudes—I could march and fit in—and I did.

I did at least until a pesky thing called ministry got in the way.

Ministry or the art of ministering into the lives of others was where I found myself more times than not. I could only retreat into my study and the scholarship of which I love for so long before real life had to be challenged.

Ministry meant interacting in the messy lives of others—and confronting my own messiness in the process.

Along the way, a funny thing happened (here’s where I probably lose the next preaching job or opportunity). As I became intimately involved with the lives of hurting broken people—as I came alongside them with the brokenness and hurt of my own life, I found it harder and harder to maintain some of my positions.

Sometimes it was because my positions didn’t hold water in the practicality of living out my faith—at other times, I realized that in the grip of pain and struggle, I couldn’t often afford the luxury of smug self-assurance.

At this point in my life, I have apparently lost the ability to march in lockstep. Or maybe you might consider me a round peg in a square hole.

And it’s not that I am advocating for you to rethink your arguments or positions. I am not all that worried about knowing whose theology is more accurate, yours or mine.

But here’s the rub: things that were once so important have lost their impetus.

I have come to believe that in the context of theology—and in the context of how we live our lives, a lot of doctrine and theology—bad, misguided, or completely correct—is overshadowed by the two greatest commands: Love God & Love Others.

I desperately want to have a ministry again one day. But in the trauma and heartache of my life, I have come to realize that nothing matters more than how I love God by loving others.

Living out that ideology might just be the biggest and best ministry any of us can have.

Yes, I am not sure where I fit into the theological world today… and yes, I respect your beliefs and opinions. But…

I choose to remember the words of Peter in 1 Peter 4:8, Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 

Les Ferguson, Jr.