This month: 189 - Freedom in Christ
Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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Les Ferguson, Jr.

Les Ferguson, Jr. has been preaching since he was fifteen. He holds a B.A. in Bible from Magnolia Bible College and an M.A. in New Testament Preaching from Johnson University. His college years were separated by a six-year stint in the U.S. Navy where he worked in electronics and missile fire control systems. A portion of his service time was spent in the Persian Gulf during the US operations known as Desert Shield, the precursor to Desert Storm. After his military service, he spent three years as a youth minister in Vicksburg, MS, three years as a preaching minister in Laurel, MS, and fourteen years as the senior minister and an elder in Gulfport, MS. He was heavily involved in Honduras mission work with Torch Missions. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he served as a point of contact and directed recovery work on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. After suffering a tragedy in the loss of his wife and handicapped son, Les stepped down from a full time preaching ministry. He has since married his childhood sweetheart, Becki. Together they are raising four boys, Conner (17), Michael (16), Max (13), and Casey (8). His oldest son, Kyle (28) is married and lives in Huntsville, AL. Les began working with the Lake Harbor Drive Church of Christ in Ridgeland, Mississippi as their Senior Minister in April 2014. Since the end of January 2013, Les has been writing a widely read blog, Desperately Wanting To Believe Again that explores faith, questions, doubt and pain from a Biblical/ real world perspective. He is currently writing a book while building a speaking career to encourage and help all who struggle with faith and doubt. You can also read him as a featured author for Wineskins.org.

Homepage: http://lesfergusonjr.com

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

If a title like that, about a subject fraught with angst, anger, heartache, frustration, and loss doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will.

Years ago, in what seems another lifetime, I worked under an elder who was a highly trained and successful psychologist. In meetings and conversations, he occasionally referred to a medical condition called JPN.

Truthfully, I was often intimidated by this man and prone to nod and smile as if I knew exactly what he was talking about. Meanwhile, I ginned up a fierce search of what this particular malady was with absolutely no luck in the answers department.

Eventually, in a moment of confusion, I managed to work up the nerve to ask exactly what JPN was. To my humiliation, the room erupted in laughter…

JPN? Just Plain Nuts!

If I were you and had no clue what could possibly be meant by suggesting or questioning the idea of pandemics are wonderful, I’d be inclined to pass on an official diagnosis: Just Plain Nuts!

But if you can get past your predisposition to consider me JPN, I’d like you to think about it.

I recognize that people we love and care for have been gravely ill and some have died from this terrible scourge. Please don’t hear me talking about this pandemic in a way that lightens or somehow lessens your grief and agony. In fact, as I write about this, it’s from a different place that looks at the disruptions we have faced and how we have dealt with them.

Like many others, I have tried to take this pandemic very seriously:

  • Wearing a mask
  • Socially distancing
  • Being considerate of those at a higher risk
  • Not judging those who are legitimately fearful of this disease and its consequences
  • Not judging those who see it as far less serious
  • And grieving with those whose lives have been altered forever by death and other consequences.

Not knowing the future and what this pandemic yet has in store is difficult. And as much as I’d like to know what lies ahead, I am reminded anew of James’ words in 4:13-17…

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So, it is sin to know the good and yet not do it.” (CSB17)

Personally, I need to be reminded that I’m not in control of what life brings. And, I need to be reminded that I am prone to an arrogance that says I can control my life and the lives of others.

So, what do we do with a time such as this? Beyond learning how to control our actions and reactions, what more do we need to see?

Over the years, I have had a love/ hate relationship with Paul’s words in Romans 8:28…

“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (CSB17)

After the events of almost nine years ago—the murder of a wife and son—I hated this verse. I hated it because so many well-intentioned friends and acquaintances tried to convince me that in some weird convoluted way, the horrific loss my family suffered was somehow good.

I rejected that then; I reject that now. As I have written elsewhere, you can never tell a kid that the loss of his mother and brother is good. Not going to happen.

In the same way, if you are experiencing great loss as a result of this pandemic, I am not doing to you what was done to me. You can’t make the losses we experience good.

However, I’ve come to love this verse because I have a much greater appreciation, love for, and understanding of our great Redeemer—Restorer—Reconciler God who can take the worst of situations and use them in some way, some fashion for good.

In the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis, we know that he experienced a lot of hardship as a result of his brothers selling him into slavery. We also know that God used Joseph in a mighty way to save lives and further his redemptive plan. Hopefully you’ll remember what Joseph ultimately told his brothers when they reconnected many, many years later…

“…Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.” (CSB17)

I particularly like how Max Lucado said it: “One of the most potentially frightening aspects of being a Christian is knowing that when you put your trust in Jesus, all of Hell takes arms against you intending evil upon your life. And, yet what trumps that fear and evil is knowing that, no matter what comes, God is the Master Weaver. He takes what was intended for evil and reweaves it for good.”  https://tinyurl.com/y524nd7q

All of that to get back to my premise: can we somehow see the good in this pandemic time? 

Admittedly, this current situation we are all living in has been a huge disruption. As a preaching minister, I had a whole year of theme related stuff planned out for our church. And even as we shifted away from that, my work has changed dramatically—particularly in learning a whole new skillset (yes, old dogs can learn new tricks).

In spite of that, I see some wonderful things in these trying times. For instance, a lot of people have realized how badly they want to worship together. Some have come to see a greater value in Bible classes. A lot of us have realized just how much we depend on each other and the fellowship we share. Some of us have truly recognized that the church is not held hostage to a building.

That is wonderful to see—God does reweave our circumstances.

But even better, many of us have been awakened spiritually to our need/ desire/ purpose/ reason for dwelling in Jesus—and in that dwelling, to trust Him!

  • To see opportunities to be His hands and feet
  • To recognize that the church is bigger than our narrow inward focus
  • To better understand how we can be a light in our own immediate communities.

From that perspective, pandemics can be wonderful opportunities to count our blessings, to realize the true source of our hope, and to really be the church—maybe for the very first time.

I wish no one would suffer as a result of this pandemic. I pray peace and blessings upon those who have. 

And, I pray that together we grow in love and maturity—to move beyond our building-oriented issues and lives—to really shine like Jesus!

If we can do that, then we can say yes, God can do wonderful things even in the midst of a trying pandemic time!

May Paul’s words be true of us…

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in Christ’s triumphal procession and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (CSB17)

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Paris, MS 


Got a Minute?

I know of a preacher who is doing a video series with the title Got a Minute?

I love that idea and while I am not going to enter his territory with a video series of my own, I may very well share some writing with you under that guise in the future as well as today.

So, Got a Minute? I hope you do!

One of my favorite contrasts in scripture is found in Galatians 5. In verses 19-21, Paul follows up a section about walking by the Spirit by enumerating a short list of ugly behaviors/ attitudes he calls the work of the flesh. And ugly they are!

But the contrast toward those ill-formed activities is walking by the Spirit—exhibiting the Fruit found therein. We read about that in verses 22-23:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things.” (CSB17)

Unfortunately, a theological pet peeve of mine is referring to these characteristics as the fruits of the Spirit as if there were many. But, if I understand correctly, all of these attributes work together to be the fruit of a Spirit-filled, Spirit-led walk of faith.

Honestly, these characteristics are challenging to me—and maybe because I struggle too much with some of the things referred to as the works of the flesh. Yes, God is still working on me.

Occasionally, the topic of new elders will come up and we are quick to look at what Paul told Timothy and Titus. But from my perspective, the first qualities of life we ought to consider or the first question we ought to ask is does this person display the fruit of the Spirit? And if we were to really get serious, that ought to be the first question of qualification for any child of God in any capacity.

While I cannot remember where I heard it, I have to agree with the guy that said, “if flexibility and adaptability are not a part of the Fruit of the Spirit, they ought to be!”

Flexibility and adaptability.

Think about those terms.

Now think about them through the lens of patience and self-control… Honestly? I think you can easily make a case for their inclusion or at least being a way to define how patience and self-control can be seen.

So, why am I talking about flexibility and adaptability? Simply because we are living in very strange times—and these strange times mean different ways of doing things. These strange times mean nothing is really normal. These strange times mean we may have to see, do, and accept differences we are not accustomed to. And, these strange times most likely mean we cannot control everything as we might like.

Patience.

Self-control.

Flexibility.

Adaptability.

At work.

In your family.

And even with church, these strange days call for us to model Christ-like behavior, to live the Fruit of God’s Spirit, and to exercise patience and self-control.

Got a minute?

Be flexible.

Be adaptable.

And in so doing, you may be an instrument of peace in a chaotic world—and hey, wouldn’t you know, being peaceable is also a mark of the Spirit’s fruit!

Blessings to you!

Les Ferguson, Jr.

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!

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/)

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


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

 

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

It”s been awhile since I ventured to share anything here, but the following has been used in the Clarion Ledger as well as part of a message given this past May at Pepperdine… LFjr.

There was a time when my own story of heartache and pain was a raw, open wound. I don’t make reference to it as much these days because God has seen fit to bring an outpouring of immense beauty and hope into my life.

Do I ever have moments when grief and pain, fear and doubt still assail? Yes, I do. When America celebrates Mother’s Day, I am much more cognizant of the pain experienced by many (including some of my children) during this time of celebration and honor.

Although I am grateful that a story like mine is not the norm, there is a need to identify with each other: Every one of us knows some degree of pain, heartache, and difficulties—those are often the human condition.

As the book of faith for Christians everywhere, the Bible has any number of stories that evidence the pain and brokenness of humanity.  I’d like to share with you three stories of broken women that offer an amazing hope of redemption for all…

First up is Tamar–her crazy narrative is found in Genesis 38. It’s a story of family tragedy and loss, of evil wicked men and exploitation. Before the whole disgraceful mess is through, Tamar is thoroughly used, dishonored, devalued, and discounted. Since this is a family newspaper, that’s the G-rated version of the story and about as deep into it as we are going to go. I trust you can read Genesis 38 on your own.

The second story is that of Rahab in Joshua 2. Honestly? I couldn’t find a single version that uses a socially tolerable word to describe her. Euphemistically, we might refer to her as a “madam” or “lady of the evening.” Let me hasten to add that I do not believe for a single moment that this “profession” was her life’s ambition.

Again, I am going to trust that you know more of the story than what is acceptable to talk about at the family dinner table. I am also going to trust that you can read between the lines enough to see that both Tamar and Rahab were the victims of sexual exploitation.

So, there’s Tamar and Rahab, neither innocent of their own sin, but yet both victims of exploitation.

Hold on to the word victim for a bit as we also consider the story of Bathsheba as found in 2 Samuel 11. This story especially could be lifted out of the headlines of today. In short, a powerful man had an affair with a beautiful woman and in the process of trying to cover it up, murder was committed.

The difference in stories is found in the time and culture of Bathsheba. In her time, she would have had very little voice or power with which to deny the king what the king wanted. Was she a victim too? I’ll let you read the story and think through it yourself.

However, I am firmly convinced that all three of these ladies were victims of wicked men and ugly power trips. And I guess if we wanted to, we could use this as a stepping stone to talk about basic human dignity. We could talk about true justice or equality. We could make this about the #metooheadlines and accusations of today.

And maybe we ought to take the time to encourage men and women alike to have a high view of the value and worth of others, that people are not possessions! But in the meantime, I want you to journey forward in time from those three stories all the way to the opening chapter of Matthew’s Gospel where we read of the genealogy of Jesus…

If you are reading this passage at home, there’s a chance you will be discouraged by all the hard to pronounce names. There is a tendency to think of this as a bit rote and dry. But as you read, you’ll not only find Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba, you’ll also see two of the men who exploited them as well.

The older I get, the more fascinated I am by the study of genealogy. I recently sent off my DNA to Ancestry.com—and I am looking forward to learning more and exploring my family tree. I don’t know if I’ll ever find a connection to some historical person or setting, but what I have learned from the genealogy of Jesus is both fascinating and hopeful.

Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba are each an example of a broken, messed up, exploited life! All three of their stories tell me that no matter how bad it gets, no matter where we end up, not matter how deep the hole might be, none of us are unredeemable for the purposes of God!

I hope you are reading this loud and clear. Not a single person is unredeemable for the purposes of God! Say it out loud with me and don’t worry if anybody looks at you strange: “My life can be redeemed!”

In a funny serendipity, for me, it took being broken hard to understand I have always been broken! But whatever my story was, whatever my story might yet be, God can and does work through all of it!

Broken, but redeemed! If God can redeem their stories and mine, then God can redeem yours!

Psalms 147:2–6,The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem; he gathers Israel’s exiled people. He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. He counts the number of the stars; he gives names to all of them. Our Lord is great, vast in power; his understanding is infinite. The LORD helps the oppressed but brings the wicked to the ground.

Back in August I participated in a funeral service for a beloved friend in Hot Springs, AR. It was also an unplanned, unscheduled gymnastics competition. My sweet friend would have laughed out loud at my spectacular landing. In the vernacular, I stuck it hard.

Here’s how it happened…

I spoke passionately for about twenty minutes. This particular friend? We could have talked for hours. There was a lot to say. Still is. Marilyn was one of the most loving, caring, and giving women I have ever known. If something needed to be done, she was the one. And if it required money and she couldn’t fund it herself, she could talk the Grinch into paying for it.

So here I was. My part of the funeral service was over, and that’s when I entered the gymnastic competition. Or tried to fly. I am not sure which—I’ll let you decide. At any rate, when I stepped down from the rostrum on to the lower (unsecured/ unattached) step, my athletic prowess began to shine… the step tossed and rolled—I went into the air, did a graceful turn, flip, and then planted myself into the hard floor shoulder first. My right shoulder. The one my right arm and hand is attached too. Did I mention I am right-handed? Why yes, yes, I am.

I don’t know if I have ever fallen and popped back up so quickly. Truthfully, I was mortified, embarrassed, and mortified some more.

Yesterday (Monday as I write this) the pain in my shoulder and arm finally got to the point where Becki was tired of hearing me complain about it (it’s the gift that keeps giving). So, I wimped out and made an appointment to see a doctor. That rarely happens in my world, but I went. The verdict? Who knows? At this point we are just going to treat it with Naproxen and see if it gets any better.

In the meantime, while I can’t quite scratch my back with my right arm or throw a ball like I should, I have run into some other health issues. Suffice it to say, I did not enjoy telling my wife how truly high my blood pressure was at the doctor’s office. No, that was not a conversation I wanted to have. All married men everywhere know the look. Yep, that one. I got it. Hard. Guys, pray for me. The fallout is severe. I am now on a starvation, uh, I mean strict, diet. As it was told to me, I WILL exercise every day (You are NOT leaving me here by myself with all these kids). And, I WILL learn to relax and let go of some of my stress and anxiety.

Unfortunately, I am not the only person with a magical ever-expanding waistline. And truthfully? I know I have to learn to turn things off, to not take things so personally, and to realize I am not the only person capable of whatever needs doing. It’s hard to break the habits of a lifetime, but that is what I must do to have a better quality of life and health.

While important, I wonder how many of us should be just as concerned about our spiritual health? I was asked today how many people around me live in poverty. It made me wonder how many people even in our own church family are living in spiritual poverty…

  • How’s my prayer life?
  • Do I spend quality devotional time with God?
  • Am I committed to my faith community?
  • Do I work at building God-honoring relationships with those outside my faith family?
  • What are my real-world spiritual priorities?

As it turns out, I know the things I need to do to make better my physical health—and I know the source of my spiritual well-being.

Are their needed changes in my life? You betcha!

Here’s this preacher giving you the look.

Les Ferguson, Jr.

After the double murder that shattered my life and the life of my family, I slowly began to heal. I had a lot of help when I chose to see it. God. Family. Friends. A new wife who is my partner in every way imaginable… I don’t remember it, but Becki tells me years ago when we were so young and dating that I talked an awful lot about being a writer. I do remember two paid stints as a weekly newspaper columnist. I remember liking the idea of writing. In the aftermath of my horror, I did begin to write once more–I blogged. Those early days were full of anger and resentment. Raging against the machine, as it were. Eventually, I settled in on the idea of writing a book. I am still writing. As of today, I see one more chapter and then a conclusion/epilogue to write before the massive job of editing begins. Who knows whether it will ever be edited well enough to get a publisher to look at it. Even so, writing has been good for me, my ministry, my preaching… If nothing ever comes of it than that, well, it won’t be the answer to my dream, but I’ll be grateful none-the-less.

What follows is an unedited excerpt from what I am calling The Weakness of God. I hope you’ll get to read in its entirety one day. I pray it will be a blessing. LEFjr.

When Jesus had washed their feet and put on His robe, He reclined again and said to them, “Do you know what I have done for you? You call Me Teacher and Lord. This is well said, for I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also  should do just as I have done for you.  “I assure you: A slave is not greater than his master, and a messenger is not greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I’m not speaking about all of you; I know those I have chosen. But the Scripture must be fulfilled: The one who eats My bread has raised his heel against Me.

 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. I assure you: Whoever receives anyone I send receives Me, and the one who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”

When Jesus had said this, He was troubled in His spirit and testified, “I assure you: One of you will betray Me!”

 The disciples started looking at one another—uncertain which one He was speaking about. One of His disciples, the one Jesus loved, was reclining close beside Jesus. Simon Peter motioned to him to find out who it was He was talking about. So he leaned back against Jesus and asked Him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus replied, “He’s the one I give the piece of bread to after I have dipped it.”

When He had dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son. After Judas ate the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Therefore Jesus told him, “What you’re doing, do quickly.” (John 13:12–27 HCSB)

As I write this, I am fifty-four years old and less than five months away from my fifty-fifth birthday. I am not ancient and if you listen to the new gurus of our culture, I am still fully ensconced in middle age. On the days when I believed the hype and muscles are sore and legs are stiff, that is small consolation.

The truth is, I am no longer a youngster, but I am not quite yet approaching ancient-of-days status. On the other hand, I am a bit long in the tooth to so easily giggle at the inappropriate.

Have you ever wanted to laugh at a funeral?

Have you ever had to work hard to suppress a snort in the middle of a church service?

Preachers are the worst at this from my experience.  We are trained, educated, and equipped to be solemn when and where we need to be.

But there are certain verses in certain translations that have been known to provoke a struggle in repressing the inappropriate laughter of our inner twelve-year old. Even worse, occasionally someone will read something wrong—out loud in the church—and it will be all a guy can do to hold the laughter in.

I will not share any pre-adolescent examples here save for one that is mostly personal with me—and highly indicative of an excessive silliness factor. If this example isn’t good enough for you ask your own preacher, or better yet, read your Bible–you’ll find something to make you grin.

Save one.  I did promise you one, so here goes nothing.

True confession:  I cannot read, either privately or publicly, the name Judas Iscariot without fighting the inner mental giggle of a third grader.  Every time I see his name I want to call him Judas-is-a-carrot.

Beyond silly I am sure, but you get what you pay for whether reading it in this book or the sermon I developed to try out this material.

 Judas Iscariot.

There are loads of scholarly opinions on the meaning of Iscariot.  While interesting, they are not what I want to consider.

In American History, there have been numerous traitors who have plotted, divided, or otherwise acted in their own self-interests while betraying their country. They are each infamous to some degree, but none so much as Benedict Arnold.

In some respects, Benedict was a pitiful character.  A capable and worthy commander, he accomplished many good things in the quest for American sovereignty.  But disappointment, bitterness, and disillusionment ultimately led to an act of betrayal that has become synonymous with his name.

However, Benedict has nothing on the man Christendom rightly considers the most infamous traitor of all, Judas Iscariot.  And since I can’t restrain myself, let’s just call him Judas.

Judas.  That’s a name often stirring disgust, disrespect, anger, and most any other negative emotion found in our English vocabulary. There’s not much worse than betrayal and Judas says it all.

I have a grandson named Jude, but you don’t hear of many babies being named Judas.

The name Judas, like Hitler, Stalin, or even Osama, evokes little that could be considered pleasant. Some things can be redeemed but I am not sure Judas or his name ever will be.

Betrayal isn’t something we take lightly. American music is full of somebody-done-somebody-wrong songs. Even our lingo and slang is full of ways to describe what betrayal is like.

Stabbed in the back.
Sold down the river.
Taken for a ride.
Double-crossed.
Spit in my face.
Pulled the wool over my eyes

And in the immortal words of William Shakespeare as he had Julius Caesar speak them, Et tu Brute?

Even you, Brutus, even you.

How could you? Those are words we have said to others or maybe had said to us.

How could you?

Nobody likes being thrown under the bus.
Nobody likes being the scapegoat.
Nobody likes the blame being laid at your feet.
And nobody, I mean nobody ever enjoys being betrayed especially by someone we love and trust.

Ask the guy who unknowingly invested his life savings in a Ponzi scheme.

Ask the woman who said yes and moved across the country away from family and friends only to be contemptuously discarded and kicked to the curb for a newer model.

Ask the employees who began to build a company only to learn it was based on deliberately fraudulent information. Have you ever heard the phrase cooked the books?

And since we have already involved a nine year-old, ask the poor kid whose best friend made fun of him on the playground in front of the whole class.

How could you?
Why would you?
Why did you?

Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and He told His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be deeply distressed and horrified. Then He said to them, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow—to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake.” Then He went a little farther, fell to the ground, and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, “Abba, Father! All things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”

 Then He came and found them sleeping. “Simon, are you sleeping?” He asked Peter. “Couldn’t you stay awake one hour? Stay awake and pray so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

 Once again He went away and prayed, saying the same thing. And He came again and found them sleeping, because they could not keep their eyes open. They did not know what to say to Him. Then He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The time has come. Look, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up; let’s go! See—My betrayer is near.”

While He was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, suddenly arrived. With him was a mob, with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. His betrayer had given them a signal. “The One I kiss,” he said, “He’s the One; arrest Him and take Him away under guard.” So when he came, he went right up to Him and said, “Rabbi!”—and kissed Him. Then they took hold of Him and arrested Him. (Mark 14:32–46 HCSB)

All these centuries later, nothing about Judas’ reputation has been rehabilitated.  There is no commission to overthrow the guilty verdict.  There is no organization intent on seeing him in a fairer light. I would like to be remembered, but not like this.

Not like this.

Judas will go down in history as the worst betrayer of all time. That he did it with the intimacy of a kiss only adds to a higher level of disgust.

If you are like me, you probably can’t even say something as simple as poor old Judas.

Unfortunately, long before this ugly affair, there were problems in his character—and those problems created even more problems, leading to his ultimate betrayal.

John 12 tells the story of Mary, sister to Lazarus and Martha, anointing Jesus’ feet with a pint of pure nard, “an expensive perfume.” (John 12:3 NIV2011) Continuing the story, we then learn of Judas’ strident objection and the true reason behind it.

“Why wasn’t this fragrant oil sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?” He didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the money-bag and would steal part of what was put in it. (John 12:5–6 HCSB)

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, a ministry Judas was fully immersed in, Jesus taught His disciples many wonderfully important, life-affirming things. Maybe you’ll remember these two from the Sermon on the Mount:

“Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19–21 HCSB)

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24 NIV11)

Do you see where Judas’ heart was?

Do you see the internal/ external conflict he was living with?

I have been a Judas neophyte most of my preaching life. I cannot ever remember preaching a sermon on Judas. I can’t remember ever doing much thinking about him at all. Most of my theology where Judas was concerned could be summed up and communicated quite clearly in six short words or two short phrases: “Judas bad. Don’t be like Judas.”

Suffice it to say I was quite surprised to learn there are other theories or possibilities for why Judas did what he did. I would have assumed that Judas’ betrayal was primarily motivated by greed, especially given what we learned of him in John 12.

However, some believe Judas’ actions were intended to force Jesus to confront the power of Rome. Others believe that Judas betrayed out of disillusionment, out of his own sense of being betrayed by Jesus’ proclamations of impending death.

So, which was it?

Was it greed?
Was it confrontation?
Was it disillusionment?

Yes, it was. Yes, I have no problem saying yes to any of those statements, yes to them individually, or yes to them as one combined answer.

Yes. And it ought to scare us to death.

If the answer is greed, I don’t know anybody who hasn’t struggled with materialism. I don’t know anybody who isn’t tempted to allow the things of this world to become our treasure, to be what we serve.

As far as confrontation is concerned, many of us have bargained with God trying to get Him to work within our own agenda.

And disillusionment? Who hasn’t been disappointed by God? Who hasn’t been tempted to take matters into our hands when God doesn’t do what we expect or want?

Nobody wants to be compared to Judas, but there it is. And like Judas, every single one of us is susceptible to betraying God.

John 13:27 tells us after Judas ate the bread Satan entered him…

In the College Press NIV Commentary on the Gospel of John, the authors make a heart-wrenching statement: “Ironically for Judas the bread of the Last Supper was not ‘Christ’s body broken for him,’ but his commitment to self-serving allegiance and evil actions.”

In Judas’ desire for whatever was not of God, he became the tool of Satan.

In my faith tradition, we partake of the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. It is a hallowed, holy moment of reflection, communion, and remembrance. I just wonder how many times we eat of the bread and drink of the cup and then turn right around and betray our Lord.

Suddenly, I don’t feel quite so superior to Judas.

In your struggles for the legal tender, in your wanting God to do a certain thing, in your disappointment when God doesn’t do what you think God should have done, guard your heart.

Don’t become a tool for Satan.

The reality of Judas isn’t very far from any of us!