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.
As I write this it is early and quiet. I’m sitting in an empty old farmhouse outside of Vicksburg, MS drinking coffee and tending the fire.
I’ve already brought up two arm loads of firewood from the back woodshed. It’s not that cold outside, but the brick floors and open air build of Becki’s childhood home keeps it cold inside.
It is cloudy with rain on the way, but a little rain won’t stop what’s coming.
It won’t be long until this old house is filled with children, grandchildren, and great children. Today will be the first time we get to meet Graham, Sophia, Lola, and Rosie—the newest additions to the extended family
And we mustn’t forget those of us who are married in to this huge and sprawling ménage. There are quite a few of us too.
Soon this old house will be filled with the sounds and smells of Thanksgiving. There will be turkey, ham, roast beef, and some venison too. If it goes like it always has in the past, there will be more side dishes than I can actually fit on my plate.
Rest assured though, I will get my fair share of dressing/ stuffing. And of course, Becki has made my favorite dessert: Bread Pudding. I will hope with great fervency there is some left over to take home and enjoy later tonight. (After all, the Egg Bowl is played this evening—Hail State—and bread pudding will pair nicely with that.)
If my Ole Miss friends are still reading after the little blurb above, you should know that no game or team trumps family of any kind.
The past two years have been difficult and long. But as I look at this empty house in anticipation of what will take place here today, I know that I am blessed beyond measure.
Yes, there will be empty seats at the table. We cannot escape that fact. Some of us my share a tear or two, certainly a memory or three. But still, to be here (wherever here may be for you), is just one small indication of the blessings we share.
We sing a song at church on occasion that tells us to “count your many blessings.” As I anticipate family today, as I think about those who will read this little note, I know just where to begin counting my blessings…
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
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)
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.
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?
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!
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.
I get brokenness.
I get brokenness as the result of my own stupidity.
I get brokenness from my accumulated pain, heartache, and
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Burn, burn, burn!
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
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
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.
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.”
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!
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…
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.
(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.
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.
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!
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.