Heaven Came Down

True Confession #1: I did not sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night or the night before or at any time I can really remember! That means I cannot claim to be an expert about anything.

Except brokenness.

I get brokenness.

I get brokenness as the result of my own stupidity.

I get brokenness from my accumulated pain, heartache, and grief.

In that sense at least, there was never any reason for me to sleep at a Holiday Inn Express. Because, as it turns out, I own brokenness (I’m not so jaded or self-impressed to think I’m the only shareholder in this conglomerate). In fact, we both know there are as many different ways to be broken as there are broken people.

We’ll come back to brokenness momentarily, but in the meantime here’s True Confession #2: I have absolutely no idea why I signed on to write an article or post on The Book of Revelation.

Seriously.

I’m not the go-to-guy for advanced understanding of biblical languages. I’m not an expert on all the prevailing historical detail. So, for me to just pop out an insightful, accurate, and informative article on the Book of Revelation? The true question has to be what was I thinking?

Revelation is one of those books that has spawned innumerable interpretations. From the solidly biblical to the fantastical are-you kidding-me? From serious discussions of timelines and who was the Roman Emperor when it all took place to the meaning of locusts.

Yes, you read me correctly. Locusts. As in early predictions of Apache Attack Helicopters.

Who knew?

And all of that before you get to the interpretations of a great red dragon stalking a pregnant woman, souls under the altar, and angels pouring out Bowls of Wrath.

It would be remiss of me to forget the implanted microchip that we’ll all have as the Mark of the Beast.

666 anyone?

Knowing this commitment and deadline was approaching along with the very sneaky suspicion that I had little to offer, I kept defaulting to the silly. And goofy. We must not forget goofy.

What is that you might ask? Somewhere back in the dim recesses of time, I learned a song at Sardis Lake Christian Camp ripped right out of Revelation.

Revelation 21:8 to be exact and the song lyrics went like this:

Revelation
Revelation
21:8
21:8
Liars go to hell
Liars go to hell
Burn, burn, burn
Burn, burn, burn…

Being the stellar theologian that I am, I’m sure the whole purpose of this particular verse immortalized in song was to excoriate all liars.

Burn, burn, burn!

Not.

But frankly, that’s quite depressing. In my brokenness, I’ve told more than my share of lies. I have allowed myself to live deceptively. Accordingly, self-deception has been a double-edged sword: it has been both the mark of my brokenness and a source of it. And while we laugh or snicker at the goofiness of that little ditty, there is an element of pain and sorrow securely attached.

As I work my way through this, as I wrestle with who I am, where I’ve been, Revelation confronts me with a balm for my soul, but not just my own.

Broken people (no matter the reason why) need hope and this last exclamation point to the canon of scripture is serious hope! When you get past the apocalyptic language, when you move beyond the imagery, Revelation is a story of redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. It’s the story of heaven coming down. It is the broken being remade anew in the presence of Immanuel, God with us!

And maybe, just maybe, the reason I latched on to this particular topic with this particular issue is simpler than I have been want to understand. I own in some respects a realized hope even now. But I long for that day when hope is revealed in its entirety.

Who doesn’t need hope?

“He who testifies about these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20 CSB17)

Yours with hope for a blessed future indeed!

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Oxford, MS

I Got Rhythm!

I Got Rhythm!

Photo by Paulo Evangelista on Unsplash

No one has ever accused me of having rhythm. I don’t sway in time with the beat very long before I am completely out of sync. I can’t clap along in a song without eventually becoming a distraction to others. 

I love singing and usually go around with a song in my head throughout the day. I remember lyrics like nobody’s business. I often wake up with music playing in my head. Granted, it’s most likely classic rock, but rhythm? I’m lucky to spell it correctly two times in a row (I’m thankful for spell check—that’s one thing my editors don’t have to worry with)!

Long ago (1930), the Gershwin Brothers, George and Ira, composed the words and the music for which Wikipedia tells me became a jazz standard: I Got Rhythm.Honestly? I know little to nothing about jazz. And while there is a tempo and progression to that style of music, it completely eludes me. Frankly, it bores me to tears.

And before you get all worked up about a perceived attack on your favorite kind of music, please understand I’m just using the song title to introduce what I lack in so many ways.

Rhythm?

I wrestle with keeping a work rhythm. I face a massive struggle to maintain some kind of rudimentary writing rhythm. I am hit and miss at being the husband, father, friend, and minister I should be. And heaven help me, having a rhythm that sees my creative ideas flow into quantitative, observable results? It’s like watching what I think, dream, or imagine slide off into a huge black hole never again to see the light of day!

But nowhere in my rhythm-less existence do I see the absence more detrimentally than in my spiritual life.

I have no idea how many Bible reading plans I have started over the years. Let’s use a teeny, tiny bit of hyperbole and say the number is astronomical… I have failed to complete most of them. I have also committed over and over again to specific times of personal prayer and devotion. Each recommittal recognizes a previous failure. I always have good intentions—I always want to grow closer to God and be that better husband, father, friend, and minister. But somehow, a proscribed routine always finds me lacking. 

The end result of all those failures finds me feeling like one. (I have always known those folks who seemed to make these kinds of rhythms look easy and if feeling like a failure could be turned up a notch, that’ll do it for sure). Not to mention the accumulation of guilt engendered by my numerous failures.

So, at this point it would be laughable for me to recommend a new plan, point you to a different kind of schedule, or somehow chide you for that which I lack.

But, if you are a fellow traveler on the struggling freeway of spiritual rhythms, I’ll tell you where I am and what I am doing… let me warn you, compared to those who seemingly have it altogether, I am a kindergartner surrounded by PhD candidates! My erstwhile flaws both betray and portray me…

What can I offer you? First of all, my transparency and the certain knowledge that you are not alone if this is your struggle too. Secondly, I am not going to give you another plan that we can both fail together in. And third, an introduction to an English author and blogger by the name of Sheridan Voysey. 

Understand, I’ve never met the guy. I don’t know everything he believes or even what tribe of Christianity he identifies with. But what I do know is he has given me hope that I can develop a greater spiritual rhythm without devolving into the frustration of failure.

In his blog article A Simple Rhythm for a Profound Spiritual Life, Voysey invokes Mark 3:13-15,

“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” (NIV11)

In his words, “the call of Jesus is a call to a two-beat rhythm of life:

            Being withhim in prayer and devotion.

            Being sentfrom him into the world in action.”

He goes on to say, “being with, being sent—that’s Jesus’ rhythm of life.”[1]

I struggle to get up at the same time every day. When I do wake up, my head is often not in the game. Life gets in my way and whatever discipline I can muster is usually not enough. The best metric for my spiritual rhythm of life is found in the old African American Spiritual, “Give Me Jesus.”

            In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus…

Yes, I want to do better at having a more dedicated prayer life. I’d like to be able to live my days around ordered times of scripture and devotion. But in my weak flesh, I’m going to strive to be with Jesus and go where he sends–that’s the spiritual rhythm I hope to live best! 

Somehow, I think we can do this together!

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Madison/ Oxford, MS


[1](https://sheridanvoysey.com/023-a-simple-rhythm-for-a-profound-spiritual-life/)

This Guy and Politics!

I grew up hearing the old saw “never talk about politics and religion at the dinner table” with the idea that the topics were too incendiary for polite company. Being a preacher’s kid kind of put the kibosh on the religion aspect—at least at our house.

I have good memories of rich theological discussion and debate. In fact, my memories are so vivid that I have blamed my father for our differences in theological understanding. Both of my parents encouraged us to think, reason, and study for ourselves. My Dad is in his late seventies now and we still thoroughly enjoy discussing and learning from each other.

But politics? Those don’t play a big role in my memories. I remember political moments for sure. I can easily recall the tension of their support for the Civil Rights movement. I remember the drama and concern while watching the draft numbers from the Vietnam War era being called out on the evening news.

The only overtly political legislation that evoked difficulty or concern that I remember was the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. Other than that, I have no memories of political arguments—no upset dialogue, no legislative anxiety. 

Eventually that would change during my high school years. Jimmy Carter was president and I began to pay attention half-heartedly to the political rumblings during his term. My senior year would see me fully engage with the political process for two important reasons. First, the Iranian Hostage Crisis was front page every day—you couldn’t escape the outrage. And second, I took a senior US. Civics class where we could earn an “A” test grade if we registered to vote. If you ever looked at my high school transcript, you’d know I needed every “A” possible!

And by registering toward the end of my senior year (1980), I was able to cast my first ballot in a presidential election—for the Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan. Unfortunately, with that first vote, I was hooked. I studied/ researched issues, involved myself in some low-level activism, and before I even knew what had happened to me, I was a full-fledged political animal. By the time of the twenty-four hour a day cable news networks, politics began having an inordinate sway in my life—a sway that took years to break—a sway that has threatened to overtake my life on several occasions.

So yes, I became one of those gloom and doom folks who sweated out elections, who fussed and fumed over policies deemed detrimental to my way of life. I particularly became unglued/ unbalanced over losing our health insurance and doctors. Frankly, those were some unhappy years. Those were times in which I made the people closest to me miserable–including myself. I wish I could say that in the midst of my angst I always acted with a Christ-like spirit, but that would be self-delusional at best.

If I could be totally honest, as much as I despise the term jerk, that’s exactly what I became. So, what do I want you to know about the Christian and politics? I thought you’d never ask.

We could talk about Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:21, “Give, then, to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21 CSB17) Honestly? That’s a much-needed reminder.

We could talk about Paul’s words in Romans 12—about presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice—about not being conformed to this world. Hey, that’s something I need to consider on a regular basic, politics or not.

But in an effort to make you think about where your priorities should lie, take a look at the story of The Rich Young Ruler as told by Jesus in Mark 10:17-22…

And then in Jesus’ explanation in verses 23-31, we find these words: 

“Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were astonished at his words. Again Jesus said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”” (CSB17)

As you read these verses, try out this little exercise: substitute wealth and riches with political concerns or political capital…

Ouch! 

And worse than that, it is scary to realize how out of whack I can let my priorities be!

As a child of God, I need to remember that His Kingdom is eternal while the politics of this world will one day pass away.

I leave you with the words to an old hymn…

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

(Helen Howarth Lemmel)

Blessings and Peace!

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Madison/ Oxford, MS

Exploding Oatmeal Grace!


Photo by MILKOVÍ on Unsplash 
(The following was originally published last year as a monthly column in the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, MS–I’ve made a few minor edits…Happy Thanksgiving to all! LFjr)

At one point in my journey to become a published author, I was introduced to and subsequently retained a literary agent. His job was to help refine my work, find a publisher, and otherwise babysit me through the process of getting a book printed and on the shelves.

We reached an agreement on a Friday mid-day. His last words to me were, “go tell your wife you are a writer with a literary agent.” It was a big deal and I was never so excited and exuberant as I was that day. And of course, I told Becki and we celebrated (or least I danced around the room a lot).

That was Friday.

On Monday, my new literary agent called and said, “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to cancel our agreement—I don’t have any publishers that would work with a book like yours.” And since I already knew he worked with religious themed books and authors, that was code for this is awful and I don’t want anything to do with it.

On Friday, I danced. On Monday, I moped. To say I was disappointed is to be greatly understated. Honestly? I was devastated. I felt totally rejected. On that Monday, I particularly saw this specific rejection as a metaphor for my life. It was, to me, just one more example of the universe declaring me unworthy… Yes, I had a pity party, and no, you were not invited.

I don’t need to bore you with the details of my tragic story of heartache and pain. There is more than enough information out there in the public domain—and we both know it was incredibly messy. It has been, in many respects, a long hard row to hoe. I would love to be able to laugh, smile, and say emphatically that it all cleaned up nicely. Kind of like spilt milk—you grab some cleaning supplies and sponge it all up–done, over, nice and tidy.

While that would be good and helpful, the messiness of life rarely ever cleans up so easily. Worse, it often takes far more time and effort than you would hope. In fact, if you’ll allow me to use a different kind of metaphor, most life messes are more like the bowl of instant oatmeal that explodes in the microwave. If you have never experienced it, don’t. Seriously. It becomes a big, nasty, wet, steaming, hot mess. Worse, it gets everywhere (there has to be some arcane scientific principle involved here)—it permeates every nook and cranny and takes considerable time and effort to clean up. Even after expending significant energy and using a copious amount of paper towels, you may still find vestiges of exploded oatmeal in the days and weeks to come.

Some seven years after our family tragedy, we are still cleaning up the mess in one form or another. The pain and heartache has worked its way into every facet of life. I see it in my children and the decisions they make. I see it in the way I approach certain situations. Frankly, there are times when logical, rational thought seems to completely disappear (I still panic when I can’t reach my wife or one of the kids on the phone). I remain a mess to be sure.

But when compared to Jesus, I am not all that different. When you look at his life, ministry, and subsequent rejection and crucifixion, not much has changed. It was and is to human eyes, a mess, even the proverbial hotmess. (Can you imagine being one of Jesus’ first disciples as they watched their whole lives explode in front of them?) And before you object to calling God’s plan a mess, take the time to read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. Particularly, you might key in on verse 23: “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.”

And then there is the matter of grace. Where we want cause and effect, logic and rationale—where we want to earn what we get by virtue of our own abilities, God meets us instead with the messiness of grace.

God gives grace to messy people who continue to create messes. (How many people do you know who get life right all the time? I rest my case.) All this to say, some messes don’t clean up easily at all. Some messes take a lifetime. Some messes will always be with us on this side of eternity.

So as messy people in our own right who recognize the grace extended to us, it behooves us to not be so critical, to give room to and recognize the Spirit at work in the lives of messy people. As Paul says it in Philippians 2:13, “For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose.”

The sin-sick brokenness of a lifetime doesn’t disappear overnight. Not in me. Not in you. I am a work in progress. My life is messy. Giving new meaning to Thanksgiving, I am so thankful for the grace of God working in me.

How about you?

May God bless us in our mess!

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Oxford/ Madison, MS

 

ACU’s Summit & Still Wrestling

This past April, Leafwood Publishers released my new (first) book,  Still Wrestling–Faith Renewed Through Brokenness.

It has been an amazing journey. Not only to write a book, but to survive, thrive, and find the kind of redemption, restoration, and reconciliation only our great God can bring.

As I have written elsewhere and often, life can be exceedingly difficult–filled with trauma, heartache, and brokenness. I wish I didn’t know that as well as I do, but, God has seen fit to help me help others who struggle too.

And I am thankful for that. In sharing my story of tears and pain, God has allowed me to experience a healing I never thought possible. He has redeemed this horrific story and given honor to those we have lost.

If you are reading this, there is one thing I am certain of: you are broken too. It may not be as unfortunately obvious a story as mine–splashed across the headlines of your local or even national news, but broken you are.

B.R.O.K.E.N.
Broken.
Broken.

It doesn’t matter how you emphasize it. It doesn’t matter the details. It doesn’t matter if it is public or private. It doesn’t matter if it is known only to you and God.

Broken we all are. By sin. By circumstances. By matters out of our control, we all know some level or degree of pain, sorrow, turmoil, or difficulty. We all know the heartache and fear of uncertainly. We all know the consequences of our own failures as well as the failures of others that impact us directly and indirectly.

Can you go ahead and say it with me? I am broken.

My book is not the only book that might help you in your struggle. My book is not the only book that can give you a new perspective or a renewed hope. I wish I could tell you differently. I wish I could say the only book you will ever need besides the Bible is mine, but then my brokenness would be even more evident!

Thankfully others have written different things to help with every imaginable circumstance. I trust you can find your way to the things you need. However, I’d like to point out a resource that might very well be the encouragement, connections, and fellowship you need to raise above your particular struggle.

The following comes from Abilene Christian University’s Summit website:

Are you discouraged by what is happening in the world today, and the endless stream of brokenness that seems to prevail in all walks of life? Do you wonder what our response should be to these real-world issues and how we can make a difference amidst the chaos?

We invite you to campus Sept. 16-19 for Summit 2018, when we will explore “Wholeness in a Broken World: Together Through the Power of the Spirit,” a study of contemporary issues through the book of Ephesians.

Check it out! There are lots of great opportunities to be encouraged–I’d love to meet you there!

Les Ferguson, Jr.
Oxford, MS