News I Can Use

So.
In the life is stranger than fiction category, my resurrection saga continues.
In the category of never saying never, well, I made that mistake too.
In the category of a seemingly never-ending job search, well, that’s a wrap!

Hallelujah! I have a job. And not just a job, a ministry! I have been given the opportunity to serve with and minister to and for the wonderful folks at the Lake Harbour Drive Church of Christ in Ridgeland, MS.

I am beyond excited. I cannot wait to begin working with this group of elders, deacons, and saints.

Will there be problems and difficulties? Absolutely!
Will I have to stretch and grow? Without a doubt, yes!
Will there be growing pains? Of course.

But I am still overwhelmed by the knowledge: God is not through with me yet!

If God is not through with me, then rest assured, God is not through with you either! Life can be hard, unyielding, and relentless. It can feel for all the world like unending roller coaster of pain and suffering.

I get that. Been there; done that. Got the T-Shirt. And still I wrestle and struggle… In some ways, I always will until this life ends and my eternity begins.

But God is still God.
His Throne is secure.

So hold on.
Hold on.

God is not through with us yet.

And if you are in the area, come see us. I start my new job (did I mention I have a fantastic new job?) on April 28th.

I’ll post a real blog post soon.
Promise.

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Hope… Even In Our Pain

image

Kyle is my oldest son. I am proud, so very proud of the man he is. There was a period of my life in which I unlearned/learned/relearned much of my current theology from him.

He taught me grace in meaning and action. He helped me see the salvation offered by God in a much broader fashion than my self-imposed and narrow ideology had ever allowed before.

He may be young at 27 years old, but I would sit at his feet any day.
Any day.

His wise words below offer hope. A hope we have to make sense of an often senseless world.

On the two year anniversary of the day that ripped our family asunder, I hope you can appreciate what he says…

image

This is a picture that I have shared with friends before. However, after two years, this picture is the best way for me to describe what life looks like since that day in October 2011. Just days after the death of my mom and my brother, we found my mom’s bible. On its pages were several notes that she had recently written, notes that pointed toward hope in the midst of the chaos she and my dad had been facing in her and Cole’s last few months. This picture comes from one of those pages. On it is a simple phrase that has encouraged me to put one foot in front of the other each day.

“God is at work, even in our pain!”

I remember when my dad called me out into the garage, telling me to come look at what he had found. When I looked in her bible and saw these words it felt as though God had allowed my mom to reach back into this world to tell me something essential, something I needed to know. Of course I wept. But this phrase has honestly helped me keep living.

It might be easy to read this phrase quickly, feeling and thinking nothing more than that which is felt or thought at the reading of any trite, pious, bumper-sticker style religious platitude. But to me, this means far more than that. This phrase encompasses something that I needed so desperately two years ago. Really, it encompasses something each of us needs at any given moment of our often pain-filled experiences on this earth—Hope in the apparent absence of hope.

Joseph was betrayed by his family and sold into slavery, alone in a distant country…

Israel spent 420 years in slavery, many born into and dying without a single day in freedom…

Job, well, you know about Job…

And yet, God was at work in it all.

…Joseph was in a position to save most of the known world including his family line, the line of Israel, during terrible famine.

…the generations of Israel that came and went in complete slavery continued the line until their family would be set free from Egypt in an amazing display of God’s power.

…And Job, who had only heard of God with his ears, saw God face to face, and was comforted, teaching generations of believers how to wrestle faithfully with God.

This does not make their struggle any easier. It does not take away the pain. However, just maybe, it gives meaning to their pain. The message of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection is that even the darkest pain can serve a valuable mission, even death is not too broken to be redeemed by God.

I don’t believe that our pain is always God’s doing or “part of God’s plan” as the cliché goes, though it can be (think of Israel taken into exile or Job’s story). I believe sometimes things are the result of the Enemy, the result of the decisions of man, or even simply the result of climate, chemistry, biology, and physics—just the way the world works. But if we are honest with our faith, we must at least acknowledge that the all powerful God doesn’t always stop our pain from happening—and couldn’t He? It is in those moments that all I have in my heart that works is, “God is at work, even in our pain.” There is more to everything than I can see.

In those cases, all I can do is relate to God in a way much like Job in Job 19. He repeatedly points the finger directly at God with no hesitation, saying to the Divine in more or less words, “You did this!”

“Know then that God has wronged me…” (19:6)

“He has put darkness on my paths…” (19:8)

“And He has uprooted my hope like a tree…” (19:10)

“He has also kindled His anger against me and considered me as His enemy…” (19:11)

“For the hand of God has struck me…” (19:21)

And yet in the very same chapter, he acknowledges that though these things have happened to him, and that the God who he thought would protect him did not, that same God is worthy of trust for He is the only real source of hope in this world–He is the redeemer of pain. Whatever is causing the present crisis, God will overcome it all on our behalf in the end:

“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.
Even after my skin is destroyed,
Yet from my flesh I shall see God;
Whom I myself shall behold,
And whom my eyes will see and not another.
My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27)

Kyle Ferguson

 

When Your Name Is Job

Seriously.

That’s not my birth name.

It’s not my nickname.

It’s not some weird family term of endearment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah…

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

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

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

No.

In case you didn’t catch that, no.

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

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

Really.

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

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

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

You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

You save more lives with love than condemnation.

Thank you for helping save mine.

Les Ferguson, Jr.

The Story of Job Brings Cold Hard Comfort That Isn’t…

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East. His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom. One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:1-12 NIV)

If I never heard myself referred to as a modern day Job again, I could die a happy man.

Trust me when I say, nobody wants to be a Job.

Nobody.
Ever.
Guaranteed.

A long time ago I had a friend who used to say, sure the early bird gets the worm, but who wants to be the worm? And he was right

The story of Job is not comforting in the least. It is scary, terrifying, horrifying, sickening… I am sure you get the picture.

Even though at the end of the story, Job was given a new family, a new life, I can hardly get past all the horror he endured in the process. That includes the bad advice of his friends. The minute they opened their mouths, Job’s situation became much worse.

The admission of my struggle to understand how God operates in this world, in our lives is not hard to understand why. Anybody who reads this blog knows I wrestle to understand why He failed to stop what I recognize as the evil work of Satan.
Wouldn’t you?

On the other hand, I understand creation is broken. The Apostle Paul says it groans in eager anticipation/ expectation of being renewed. I get that mankind has free will. In the brokenness of our world, we can and do choose what is wicked, wrong, and hurtful.

The human monster who wrought destruction in our lives? I have no doubt in the simple fact he most likely had horror visited into his life by another sin scarred wicked man.

It is bad enough to wrestle with those things, but then Job’s story adds another whole dimension.

If you read the scripture above, you might draw some difficult conclusions. Not only did God fail to protect, He actually removed Job’s protection and suggested Satan have a go at him.

What does that tell me?
Are you ready for this?

I don’t know!

And therein lies so much of the struggle.
One of my new blog friends makes a persuasive argument that God neither causes (which I want to agree with) or permits evil. It is simply a product of the created–you and me.

I have long held that bad things happen because we live in a broken, it-desperately-needs-redeeming world (and if the story of Job didn’t exist, I might still hold that belief albeit not quite so tightly as before). I shudder now at all the times I offered such a belief as an answer to suffering and heartache. Who needs or wants such cold, unhelpful pseudo comfort?

But Job?
Job turns my neat theology as upside down as any tragedy that leaves us gasping.

God pointed Job out and gave Satan the opportunity. In my little theological world, that is both cause and permission.

If all I had to deal with was the question of why my family/ ministry wasn’t worth the protecting/saving hand of God, that would be one thing.

But Job?
I may never understand. And while I wrestle and struggle with my understanding of God’s nature, I am beginning to believe the only way to ever have peace is wrapped up in the concept of mystery.

I want answers now, but I may have to settle with a mystery to be revealed later.

It’s not what I want, but it may be just what I get.

What do you think about the idea of mystery?

The next post will hopefully frame my anger and frustration in a way you will have no trouble understanding.

Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing the struggle.

Yours,
Les Ferguson, Jr.