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.

Life is Good

Busy, busy, busy…

Just like you.

Next Tuesday I will be speaking/ teaching three classes at the 2014 Harding University Bible Lectures. If we haven’t met and you are there… well, come let me buy you a cop of joe!

Today I sent in my topic title for the 2015 Pepperdine University Lectures.

Won’t that be a funny sight? A Mississippi Redneck in Malibu, California!

I would have never imagined how much life could have turned in around in the past three years. We are fast approaching the three year anniversary of the day my family came unglued.

And while all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again… God has been mightily at work in the life of my family.

What was broken has been in many ways restored.

At any rate, I am thankful for so much that we have been given–new opportunities for ministry, speaking, writing…

I am so thankful for Becki and the way she has brought peace and love into our lives.

My parents, siblings, and close preacher friends have been rocks of stability!

And then there is my oldest son, Kyle. No man could have asked for and received better support and love from his oldest son (and his wife, Karissa)!

Indeed, all my children–whether birth, adopted, or step continue to give me great joy and more reasons to fight on!

And I cannot say enough about my new church family at the Lake Harbour Drive Church of Christ in Ridgeland… Your positive encouragement and patience mean everything!

So.

No theology or challenges from this blog tonight (Although you can read new material from me posted this evening at Wineskins.org–please feel free to check it out!)

Just thanks.
Thanks to all of you who have allowed me into your lives–who have helped give me a new voice!

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Not Born Retarded

So. It’s been awhile. Life is keeping me busy. Being a preacher again is keeping me busy. But don’t think I am complaining. The Lake Harbour Drive church is simply amazing. We have been welcomed, loved on, and the process continues. Sometimes I think they are the most easily made happy people ever… especially when it comes to preaching.

My confidence is improving, but still I am amazed…

I have added a few new speaking engagements to my speaking page. My elders have said I have a message and they want to make me available to share it. I think they must have all been running a fever at that time.

In the meantime, I want to continue dedicating time to writing my book, but that has proven to be elusive… If I were to self-diagnois, I’d say I suffer from fear of rejection and fear of success.

Crazy, I am sure.

This coming Sunday morning, I am teaching a one-time class with our 20″s & 30’s group–we are beginning a new study together the following week. So while we wait for everybody to get a book, I am filling one class time with something different. I choose a chapter of what I have written previously to share with them. It’s from my book and maybe you will be blessed by it too.

At any rate, I love my readers and thank each of you for taking this journey with me…

Les, Jr.

Not Born Retarded

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?
The Beatles

Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.
“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.” “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.” The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”
So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.
When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”
“Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.” Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
Genesis 12:1-14, NLT

I was taught through much of my life that it was wrong to hate anything.
But I do.

You may be tempted to think I hate Paul Buckman for what he did. I tried to. I want to. Sometimes I think I feel the need to. But the simple truth is it takes too much energy and time to keep that hatred stoked and burning. I knew Paul Buckman but for a short time.

With apologies to those who may have loved him, it’s best for my well being to just let him go. He is in the hands of God and however He works that out is His business.

On the other hand, being fully human, I claim inconsistency.
Like you, there are many inconsistencies in my life.

There are some things I hate with a passion.

I hate the word retarded. And that’s probably the largest understatement you’ll read today.

I hate the word retarded.

If you ever feel the need to have your butt kicked or your insides pulled out through your nostrils (trying to be as descriptive as I can without being profane or obscene), let the parent of a mentally challenged or handicapped child hear you calling their kid retarded. Or describing them as someone who rides the short-bus.

I hate the word retarded.

I hate it because that was how so many saw Cole and others like him.
I am not in denial. I know he was (hallelujah, no more).

But with or without his mental and physical limitations, he was worthy of respect and love. He was a good boy who didn’t deserve the horrors that befell him–even the one that afflicted him from birth.

The bitter truth is we are all retarded in some fashion or another. Not a single one of us is a perfect physical specimen without flaws. And that’s just on the outside. In our hearts and minds, in our thinking and attitudes, we all are less than what God intended.

Cole was retarded. It makes me nauseated to think, say, and write it. I know how the world saw him. But those who knew him best saw the incredible gift of ministry and love he gave to the world.

Years ago when I was a youth minister, Cole was my greatest asset. He brought those kids together like nothing else could. I am proud he is my son.

Being retarded was just another example of the weakness of God. God could have healed him, but He didn’t. And still God was at work in Cole’s life and through Cole, the lives of others.

Reading through the pages and stories of the Bible, there are no characters that are retarded at first sight. But the truth is, any number of characters were damaged goods–and by damaged, I mean the way we would look at them.

Take David as one example. God called him a man after His own heart. We know him as a dysfunctional husband, father and leader. And still, he did great things for God and His chosen people.

So there is a sense in which you could call every person in the Bible–other than Jesus of course–somewhat dysfunctional at best, stunted in the middle, and retarded at worst.

I’d like you consider the story of Isaac in that light.
Can you imagine what it must have been like living with Abraham, the Father of Faith?

You know, son, back in my day, when God spoke, we listened.
He said, go, and we went. He said, leave, and we left.
He said, you’re gonna have a son who will be the child of promise and a whole nation will come from him. That’s you, boy. And in just a few minutes we are gonna load up and head up that mountain to offer a sacrifice. And don’t you worry your little head one bit, you carry the firewood and God (said in a voice like Jerry Clower, Gaaawwwd) will provide the sacrifice…

Do you remember the old sitcom, Different Strokes? Gary Coleman had a signature line he would use on his brother… What you talking about, Willis?

In my crazy imagination, I hear Isaac saying something similar especially about the time he realizes he’s the sacrifice his father is offering.

How old was Isaac when this episode occurs? There is vast disagreement. Some say between 18 and 20 years old. Others around 33 years old. The Jewish historian Josephus, says he was 25 years old. And still others who believe he was around 37 years old. The one thing they all agree on? Isaac was no small boy when this incident happened–a small boy couldn’t have carried the wood needed for such a large sacrifice.

However you read it, can you try to imagine all of this from Isaac’s perspective?
Can you imagine that an incident like this might have stunted your relationship with your Father? With both of them? Can you imagine that when it came to all things God-related, Isaac might very well have been retarded?

How do you have a good relationship going forward when you were the object lesson in testing your father’s faith? How do you relate to God when He called for the same?

From our vantage point, we can surmise that God would have never allowed such a thing to happen in the first place. But, how do we know? How could Isaac have known? His own Dad was willing to take that chance.

Would you blame him if he spent the rest of his life licking his wounds from such an ordeal? Or, would you expect him to move forward as if nothing ever happened?

While he wasn’t born that way, I suspect Isaac was fundamentally and functionally retarded from that point on. I further suspect Eleanor Rigby had nothing on our man, Isaac.

And yet, Isaac was still a part of God’s plan.

So am I.
So are you.

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.

The Stuff of Life

It’s been like ten days.

Ten days since I did anything on this blog other than answer a few comments.

As much time and energy as I have put into this thing… At one point, being on the outside and looking in, you’d probably think the guy writing all this (me) didn’t have much of a life.

But I do.
I find myself busier than ever.

We are working hard in this rodeo they call real estate. Sometimes I feel more like the clown than I do the successful bull rider. But then again, it really doesn’t matter as long as I have the bull by the horns.

Yes, it’s a bad cliché. I have to own that one.

But truthfully? We are busy with the process of living. Instead of just reacting to life, we are grabbing the horns as hard as we can.

I want to live.
Not just exist.
I want to live.

So we work this real estate gig.
I write and seek places to speak and share.
Occasionally, I apply for a different kind of job.

But, we are busy.
In North Little Rock this Sunday.
The week after in Monroe, La.
Then the Tulsa workshop where I am blessed to speak three times.
And then the last Sunday of March we will be in Ridgeland, MS.

Did I mention I am writing? Yes! I wish I was working on book stuff, but I am staying busy trying to get lessons and sermons situated and done.

The book stuff will come–and it does in bits and spurts. The big deal with that situation is finding an editor who can work with me (translated: doesn’t cost an arm and a leg–I can afford a toe, but who’s counting?).

In the meantime, I want to live.
Not just exist.
I want to live.

My struggles with the difficulties of this world can be exacerbating at times–and that on a good day.

But, I want to live.
Not just exist.
I want to live.
And so, my focus can’t be on all the stuff and things that tend take up our time and attention.
Sure, some of it can be important and may have a needed bearing on where we go and what we do.

But not life.
No sir.
No ma’am.

I want to live.
Not just exist.
I want to live.
And to do that, it is all about relationships.

God, my family, friends, neighbors, co-workers… And even the guy at the Tamale shop next door.

Relationships are the stuff of life.

I want to live.
Not just exist.
I want to live.

My relationships are all a work in progress.
But I am working.
Forgive the mini-sermon, but you should be working on your relationships too. You never know when the time to do so will be no more!

Thanks for being in a relationship with me–even if it is just through the words of this blog. You have blessed me greatly.

Les Ferguson, Jr.

So Dang Good-Looking? :)

So. What’s happening in your little world?

Me? Life continues. And I am glad.

Conner is driving now. Casey is blossoming. Michael is getting ever closer to his drivers license—Can you understand when I say I am insurance poor? Max is going to be our ladies man. Kyle is in nursing school.

Becki is working harder than anybody I know to build a real estate business all while being an amazing wife and mother. She wears me out just watching her.

And me? I am working this real estate gig as hard as I know how. I am trying to write. And I have applied for more jobs than you can shake a stick at. Government jobs. Retail jobs. Preaching jobs. Laborer jobs.

I have not had much luck in the job market. Most of the time they say I am over qualified. Personally, I think I am so dang good-looking that I intimidate potential employers.

You believe that, don’t you?

I have had a phone interview with a preacher search committee for a church really close to home. I have a great hope that I’ll get asked for a follow-up interview.

My preaching calendar was so empty for several months, but suddenly there are lots of speaking opportunities—every Sunday in January is scheduled. I am speaking twice thus far in February—one of them is at a Saturday seminar on Child Abuse in Somerset, PA. No traveling involved—it will be done via Skype.

For the most part, my message is one of hope in the midst of doubt; triumph in the thrall of pain. If I can help your church organization, I’d love to do so. Ministry is in my blood and preaching is my passion.

http://lesfergusonjrt.com/speaking

Yes, life continues. Change occurs. Difficulties arise. Sometimes it can be overwhelming. And sometimes it can be life affirming.

That doesn’t mean the bad somehow wasn’t or isn’t painful. To the contrary.

And yet?

I will go to my grave with unanswered questions, yes. But I will also go to my grave determined to not be consumed by them.

I will go to my grave as the recipient of more beauty and grace than I could ever deserve. I will one day die very happy to have lived this life.

And that my friends is the state of my life at this moment in time.

I am so glad I get to share it with you.

Before I go, take a look at this link for my latest post on Wineskins…

http://wineskins.org/article/holy-ground-2/

Be a blessing; be blessed!

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.

It’s What I Do!

The sixteen year old needed to use my Macbook for a school project.

Made me wonder who he thought he was.

My Macbook?

Give a teenager (hey, there are three at my house right now and they can be rented out for odd jobs as long as you feed them) an inch and well, you know the old cliche.

Really son? My Macbook?

But then he needed my flash drive too.

Remember that thing about giving them an inch?

So I copied the flash drive onto my Mac in order not to lose it’s contents…

In the process I discovered something I have absolutely no memory of writing. It has a system saved date of November 29, 2011. Just a little over a month after the events of October 10, 2011.

I read this bulletin article (I think that’s what it was) ) and wonder how I had the clarity to say, think, or write any of it.

Here’s a snippet:

Life as we know it sure can change in an instant. And not always for the better…

I wish I had lots of words of encouragement and comfort to share. I wish I could look at each of you and tell you that whatever pain you are suffering/ enduring was going to get better sometime soon.

I really wish I could do that, but I can’t.

In reality, I know things will one day be better, if not highly different and strange in how they look and feel.  But until they do—until enough time has passed—where you are is where you must be.

I read that and shake my head. Part of me would like to punch the guy who wrote those words.

Cheeky fellow, he was.

I read that and find it hard to believe this guy was still trying to minister even in and through his own pain.

What was he thinking?

Truthfully? I don’t know if I was thinking. I suspect I was running on autopilot. I had spent so much of my life trying to care for the needs of others regardless of my own.

Whether it should or shouldn’t be that way is a discussion for maybe another day.

But the reality is most preachers pour their lives out in service. And even when they can no longer preach from a pulpit on Sundays, they are still seeking to serve. It’s not second nature for them–it is first.

In the meantime, I don’t know what the future holds for me (none of us really do).

I don’t know if I will ever preach for a church again on a weekly basis (I did recently dare to dream and emailed a resume or two).

But this I do know.

I want to serve and minister to those who are hurting (I hurt with them) and to those who are struggling and wrestling with God (it’s a tag team match, I promise).

It’s who I am.

It’s what I do.

I try to remind God about that on a regular basis. But, maybe just maybe, through the words of this blog and other writing ventures–through speaking here and there–I might still make a difference.

That’s the purpose I crave.

Thank you for helping me fulfill it.

And that article written by a hurting preacher who had no idea or clue how difficult it would become? It ended with these still applicable words, slightly edited for publishing in this venue:

Here is ministry advice from one is literally fighting for his life, his faith, and his future…

Life is too short too live in bitterness and anger—forgive before it consumes you.

If you are married, do not take your spouse for granted.

Hug your children. Everyday. As often as you can.

And finally, if you have a damaged relationship with a friend or a family member, don’t wait for the right opportunity to begin repairing it—the opportunity is now—you will be glad you did.

 

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Done Dood!

Today I ran. It was a crisp cool morning.
The weekend rain had settled the dust.
The long gravel driveway and the two other gravel roads I ran were quiet and peaceful.
My running music was Billy Squire’s greatest hits, but as my mind ran on ahead of me, the music was soon an almost unheard background tempo…

I have never been an overly confident person.
Like many others, I often struggle with self-doubt.

As a preacher, even when I should have been confident in my ability, such knowledge often eluded me.

Why did I have such a lack of confidence?

There are a number of reasons.

I’d like to let myself off the hook and pretend that’s just the way I was wired. But the truth is I have allowed other factors to reprogram my original software with glaring glitches that are not all that flattering.

Where do these glitches come from? What causes our programming to be corrupted? The preacher in me wants to pound the pulpit and say in thundering voice sin is the reason. Sin corrupts everything, but that may be too simplistic of an answer.

From my personal perspective, instead of trusting in how God sees me, instead of finding my self-worth in Him, I tended to find value in performance.

My performance.
As in how well I performed in whatever capacity was called for.
Great performance always calls for pride and setting oneself up as the standard by which we measure.

But, performance is subject to many different variables. Some we can control; others we cannot. At any rate, as long as pride allows any of us to be the standard, failure is bound to happen.

Nobody is perfect.
Certainly not me.
Nor you either.

You know what happens when you fail often enough or performance falters? Yep. Prideful self-confidence is going to suffer!

But that’s not the end of the matter. As it turns out, our own pride in performance isn’t always the culprit. Sometimes it’s the pride of others. When they set themselves up as your standard, chances are, you’ll fail that little song and dance too. Where or when any of us tries to live our lives to please others? We will both be miserable before it’s over!

This is hard stuff for me to admit and change. I like to make people happy. I like even more to know I knocked it out of the ballpark.
Every time.
Every.

With that kind of motivation, it is easy to find yourself doing things for all the wrong reasons.

If I ever preach again on a regular basis, it has to be different than it was before. I have to be different. At the very least, I need to do a much better job of taking my ego out of the equation.

There I ago again.
Isn’t it funny where and how pride raises its ugly head?
I need God to take my ego out of the equation.

So today I ran.
As I ran, the music faded into the background, and I could clearly hear Cole’s words from the not-so-distant past… You done dood, Dad.

Dood.
That’s Cole-speak for good.
High praise indeed.
How I wish I could hear it today.

One day I hope to listen as the Father says well done good and faithful servant, followed by Cole’s pronouncement you done dood, Dad. You done dood.

Today I ran on gravel roads. But in the blink of an eye, Cole and I? We will run together on streets of gold…

Ready to run,
Les Ferguson, Jr.