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.

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.

Saturday Night’s All Right! (So Sue Me For liking Elton John Songs)

I have been busier than ever imagined or hoped with real estate.
Did I say busy?
Yes, busy.
Very, very busy!

It is at times exciting, fun, and frustrating.
I think it will eventually pay the bills.
That’s even more exciting for reasons obvious.

But, working is seriously cramping my style.
My writing style, that is.

I have planned to take a day off once a week to devote to writing for the past four… it hasn’t happened yet. But, having speaking opportunities (the more the merrier, hint, hint) ensures I will make time to write, think, and study. We are working at creating an absolutely fabulous place here at the house for that very purpose.

Still I am grateful. (And convinced a sermon will get finished somehow, some way in time for June 30th… and that’s pretty funny considering in my old life, sermons were always done by Tuesday evening–always).

I am not complaining. I am, to the contrary, joyously happy for the distractions of life that mean we are still living. Learning to be in the moment is to relish those moments as they happen. There is immeasurable riches and richness in that.

So, from that perspective, stolen moments to write–like now, are relaxing. We are sitting on a bench at the outlet mall. Becky is shopping. The other boys are doing whatever teenage boys do in a place like this. Casey is sitting beside me eating a scoop of rainbow sherbet in a waffle cone. And I am fully relaxed and amazed at the sunset spread out before me (while valiantly fighting the urge to get my own ice cream cone).

I still wrestle with God.
I mourn the relationship I thought I had with Him.
My spiritual limp is pretty evident.
My prayers are fraught with doubt and questions.
I long for the ability to trust once again–for the knowledge that my trust is not in vain.
I crave the experiential presence of God.
I often feel a weird disconnect (which is probably more in my mind than anywhere else) with friends and acquaintances from the past… like I don”t quite fit in.
On occasion, I am surprised and overcome when least expected with powerful episodes of tears and anger. I still hurt. Badly.

But, in spite of it all, God has managed quite nicely to help me find more peace than frustration, more tranquility than anxiousness, and more joy than sadness.

Who couldn’t be happy with that?

Les Ferguson, Jr.