I Finally Found God

This was written at the request of The Relevant Christian magazine–I suspect it will form some of what I might say in one place or another… In the meantime, here it is.

found

My name is Les Ferguson, Jr.

That may not mean much to you and that’s ok. In fact, you may have no idea who I am or where I have been. Any news stories you might have seen have long left the airwaves…

And I am good with that.

There was a time not so long ago when my name didn’t mean much to me either. I longed to drown my memories, to forget my existence, and to somehow alleviate my all-encompassing pain.

At this point, frankly, I am somewhat weary of the notoriety of my story—I am weary of some of the things that have become an ingrained part of my new identity. I am weary of the heartache of the past that will always be a part of my present and future.

My name is Les Ferguson, Jr.
I am a preacher’s kid.
The world of church work has been a part of my life since almost as long as I can remember.
I grew up in church.
I came of age in church.
Much of my identity and self-worth has long been tied up in church and service to her. Even when I wanted to be far away, she was always close by, an ever-present attraction or irritant, depending on the circumstances.

My name is Les Ferguson, Jr.
I used to be a preacher and that is a story we are getting to.

In fact, I started preaching for a little country church at the age of 15. It was a predominately African-American church. I say predominately, because there was one skinny white kid who preached there on Sunday mornings. Yes, that was me.

I owe that little group of folks a lot, but that’s a part of my story we will not delve into today…

My name is Les Ferguson, Jr.
I went to Magnolia Bible College and studied to be a preacher. My time at school was divided by a six-year hitch in the US Navy. After the Navy, I began work as a youth minister in Vicksburg, MS and also went back to school. In time, I began a full-time preaching ministry in Laurel, MS and later in Gulfport, MS.

I’d like to think I did good work during some of those years. Certainly I grew as a speaker/ communicator. More importantly, I grew as a theologian and minister. And as compassionate as I’d like to think I was, I had lessons yet to learn that would prove to be the fight of my life…

My name is Les Ferguson, Jr.
I used to be a preacher and then I found myself being one again.

In some ways, it would be easier if I could tell you I suffered a moral lapse or made some huge mistake that necessitated a ministry time out. It would be easier to say I cheated with my time. Or maybe I swindled some sweet elderly lady out of her life’s savings or insurance. It would be so less painful to tell you I embezzled church funds or got caught up in some aspect of illegal drug use. It would be far simpler to just acknowledge some degree of depression or a mental breakdown.

It would be easier and I wish I could, but I can’t.

My name is Les Ferguson, Jr. and the time between having been a preacher and becoming one again was a long hard battle of lost and rediscovered faith.

Preachers are not supposed to lose their faith. Standing all alone atop our pedestal of supposed super spirituality, we are thought to be invincible to the failure of doubt. At least until we aren’t and by then, there is little you can say to stop it.

When faith departs, there isn’t a single religious cliché that will fix anything—not WWJD (What would Jesus Do) and not FROG (Fully Rely On God). And faking it till you make it isn’t a viable option either.

And then there was scripture.

Comparing my story to the story of Job wasn’t comforting; it was obscene. And Romans 8:28 enraged me—there was nothing good about the murder of a wife and son.

And so faith departed. It didn’t happen all at once, but I felt it trickle away and was powerless to stop it.

I am not sure I wanted to.

I suppose I should clarify what I mean by losing faith. In my case, I never quit believing in God. I never doubted His existence. I never doubted His presence in this world. In fact, that knowledge and belief in Him fueled my doubt like pouring gasoline on an already raging fire.

When I say I lost my faith, what I mean is losing my trust, hope, and belief in a God who loved and cared for me. I knew He cared for others. I saw the evidence in a thousand places in a thousand times. I heard the happy praise. I saw the exponential joy. I felt the faith of others as a living, breathing, tangible thing…

I get giving God credit for the good things we experience in life. I really do. But every time I heard someone speak of what God had done for them–curing their illness, getting them a new job, buying them a new house, or making their headache go away… I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs both literally and metaphorically the immortal words of Esau, “Do you only have one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” (Genesis 27:38 HCSB)

The next phrase in that verse says, “And Esau wept loudly.”

So did I.
So did I.

And in my tears, rage, and bitterness, I cried with an impotence hard to imagine…

What about me?
What about me, God?
Don’t I count too? 
Why doesn’t my family matter as much as his stupid toothache or her goofy issues?
Why God, why?
Why can’t I be blessed like all the rest around me?
What did I do wrong?
How did I fail you?
What about me?

In those words are the pain of every hurting, broken, questioner who has wondered where God is and why He hasn’t made a difference so desperately wanted and needed.

In the dark despair of tragedy, in the grip of a destructive evil, those were my words.
They were given birth the day my family was ripped from me.
I angrily thought them the day I was forced to pick out two caskets.
I mouthed those words relentlessly as I stood in a day long receiving line.
I cried those words as the funeral message was preached.
I sobbed those words quietly at night as I tried to comfort a five-year demanding to see his grave-bound mother…

Eventually those words took on a life of their own. In my bitterness and despair–in a dry and weary land–there was no comfort, no solace, no balm of Gilead to soothe my spirit, to ease in even some small way the despair that had taken root in my soul.

In that fertile ground of pain and sorrow grew the sure knowledge that God—real and alive—cared nothing for me. I couldn’t trust Him. There were no bargains to be made; no deals to be had.

Hope was gone and I was alone.
Raw.
Bleeding.
And desperate for something to ease the pain…

In my heartache and anger, I eventually found God.
Not all at once.
But slowly and surely, as life became more than just my pain, God started showing up.

Here’s where the story gets real.

The former preacher, the guy with two theology degrees and a lifetime of ministry, finally found God.

Not the God who blesses America (even though He does).
Not the prosperity God who delivers wealth to those who contribute (to whatever cause or bank account needing funding).
Not the God we keep all locked up in a box (church, traditions, understanding) of our own making (although He can dwell there too if He so chooses).
Not the God we bargain with and cut deals for (even though I am sure He is interested).

Instead, I found God.
The God who created everything.
The God who wants nothing more than relationship with His creation.
The God who offers grace, mercy, and love.
The God who redeems our brokenness and changes our story.

For me, the redemption of my story was everything. To use my pain to bless others means my family did not die in vain.

And thus, the grace of God has proven to be overwhelming.

I am preaching again and this time I share a message of grace I have experienced; a message of grace I am compelled to share with others.

My faith is secure.

It took awhile, but I finally found God on His terms and not mine…

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Madison/ Ridgeland, MS.

David Bowie Ain’t Got Nothin’ On Me…

In another world, in a different time, David Bowie sang that it was time to turn and face the strange changes

Indeed.

In the same song, he also said he didn’t want to be a richer man, instead, he was just gonna have to be a different man.

Yes, indeed.

While I wouldn’t sneeze at the opportunity to be a little more financially independent, being rich materialistically is not one of my life-shaping goals.

I’m just gonna have to be a different man.

How many times can a guy say indeed in one blog post?
Apparently, at least five times…

So once again, indeed.

I am just gonna have to be a different man and I am.

Strange changes abound. Strange changes indeed.

I suspect as long as I am alive, there will occasionally be moments of anger and pain, heartache and rage–yes, joy comes in the morning, but there are plenty more nights of questions and grief to come.

And I am ok with that.

Indeed (somebody stop me…).
There’s one of those strange changes… I have learned to not be afraid of it–grief serves its purpose and while tears can be bitter, they can also be cleansing…

I am thankful for many of the changes in my life.
I am thankful for lessons learned.

My reality has changed.
I am enjoying life.
To quote the Foo Fighters, who will have their own post fairly soon (as in almost done), I am learning to walk again…

Strange Changes.

I am wrestling with a new name for my blog. Desperately Wanting to Believe Again has served it’s purpose. I never quit believing. I do believe. I still struggle with trust at times, but I trust God even if I don’t always understand.

I am done with bitterness. I may be bitter at times or for a moment, but I never want to embrace bitterness again.

I may still have hurt. Pain will raise itself once in awhile, but I never want to be that guy again whose hurt turns him into a pariah.

It’s time to move forward.
It’s time time live again.
And I am.
I am.

Ok. So I am blathering on like the crazy strange man I am.

Four more things:

1. I am going to recommit to writing here more often–giving it the good old college try (whatever that means).

2. I am going to make significant progress on my book (call the first two New Year resolutions if you want).

3. If you have an idea for a new blog name reflecting my new reality, please share it ASAP.

4. Here’s a sermon from the first Sunday of 2015 (last week)–it ends with what I call a story of redemption, restoration, and reconciliation…

God bless and Happy New Year!

Les Ferguson, Jr.

and oh yeah, one more piece of happiness…

My beautiful wife and our new house in Madison, Mississippi! (This picture was from yesterday–after we closed on the house!)

New_house

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.