Desert Living

“God doesn’t waste our jaunts into the desert but goes with us. In fact, Desert 101 often affords the best learning environment in the world. In the desert, we learn to crucify our will and follow God’s. In the desert, we learn to grow.”

Eric Greer has spent time in the deserts of secrecy, shame, and the elusive search for affirmation. In his chapter in the book Surrendering to Hope: Guidance for the Broken, Eric doesn’t waste any time exposing the roots of sexual abuse, pornography, and secret behaviors that began in his childhood. He courageously maps out for his his journey to the desert and the struggles faced along the way.

As a Marine he was able to gain some of the self-confidence that had been stifled in his youth.  Even so, there were inward battles ahead. After a significant beating outside a bar, he decided to contact American Military Evangelizing the Nations (AMEN) for some help. Here he connected with Captain Tony Smith.

“I was certain he could smell the alcohol oozing from my pores and the cigarette smoke on my breath, and he knew every impure thought I had. yet he showed no sigh of judgment. He treated me with grace … I began to see God in the midst of my desert. Late that summer, I was baptized at a little church building near Fort Sill, Oklahoma.”

Eric’s life took a total change of direction. Attending Christian college to gain skills in preaching and family therapy seemed to set him on the right path. Recalled into military during the First Gulf War, he had a part in an incident that he writes about vividly in the chapter. 

Married and in ministry, the unresolved pain of his secret desert continued to influence him. He writes about a cycle in his life.

“The cycle was always the same for me: pain medicated by fantasy, followed by acting out, an act of contrition, and deeper shame – an ever-growing desert. Only now, I had dragged Traci into the desert with me.”

Through the help of a recovery program that emphasized listening to the painful thoughts and finding acceptance in the love of Jesus, family, friends, and mentors, Eric was able to emerge from the desert in which he had lived for so long. Because of his long experience with pain he is able to help others now as a church planter and therapist. 

I hope you will want to read all of Eric’s story, as I have only given a sketch of what he experienced. He likens his time in the desert to Moses in Midian, a vivid image indeed. I know that many reading these thoughts will identify with Eric’s testimony … I hope that many more will find hope in the way that his exit from the desert of shame and secrecy was through the healing power of Jesus Christ. 

Eric Greer is the Pastor of Restoration Community Church in Kingston, Massachusetts.  He is also the owner and therapist at Restoration Community Counseling. In addition he is an adjunct professor at Eastern Nazarene College. He is married to Traci since 1992 and they have two daughters. You can follow him on Twitter (@missional_greer), find him on Facebook, and look for him on Instagram (@devildog1969).

 

The purpose for these posts is to introduce you to the scope and flavor of Surrendering to Hope … but also to remind you that no matter what you’re going through Jesus Christ is the answer to finding your way out of it.  If you’ve been reading you will know that Rex, Les, JB, and Eric will all testify that following Jesus brings the answers your heart has always been searching for. In the next post I want to share a chapter with you that is written by someone who had a secret she thought she would take to the grave. But God had other plans.

No matter where you find yourself, Out Here Hope Remains. Thanks for reading. JED

Not All is Black and White

“As an African American male raised in Pulaski, Tennessee, some might think I encountered racism at every turn. Born in the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, the greatest domestic terrorist organization in the history of the United States, I am often asked how I survived.”

The first two chapters of Surrendering to Hope: Guidance for the Broken deal with grief and death, there are more issues in life that can break us. Reading Dr. James B. Angus Jr.’s chapter, Not All is Black and White, is a testimony to the oppressive power of racism – and the keys to survival in the face of it.

Reading this starkly personal story was, for me, a profound  statement of the things I do not know by experience. In many ways I’m certain I have closed my eyes to racism in my community and in my own beliefs over the years. I’m grateful to read this truth from a brother in Christ. More, the awareness this testimonial chapter raises can help tear down walls that have been built between people of all colors through the years. 

Dr. Angus relates recognizing a place where racism had a strong hold was in the church of his childhood. 

“On a cold January morning in 1988, at the age of nine, I was baptized into Christ at the Church of Christ that met on Taylor Street in Pulaski. This black congregation was located on the black side of town … I thought there must have been two churches in the Bible – that is, the black churches of Christ and the white churches of Christ. This definitely wasn’t biblical, but it was the way we lived.”

Not only in the church, but in everyday experiences James says, “I developed a black complex. Every day, I am reminded that I am a black male.” He saw it in the stereotypes assigned to blacks, “black jokes”, and the ways that some in the community overlooked the many significant identifiers of who he was as an individual outside of the fact that he was a black man.

In 2000 James had a taste of injustice as administered by unethical police officers. He details this arrest and the resulting  time of struggle with his own feelings about himself and God. Ultimately God led him to the campus of Lipscomb University.  Though he still encountered some racism, he also experienced acceptance. He writes, “I learned that not all white men are out to get me; some are there to love and encourage. Together we learned not all was black and white.”

Dr. Angus attributes faith in God for the positives in his life, and who helps him with the things that torment him even today. 

“God is able to handle me, and God is able to handle the racism in this country. God is both black and white. God is the god of diverse community.”

What a powerful testimony. I hope you’ll buy the book and read this incredible chapter. More, I hope that the message of this chapter will resonate throughout the churches and Christians everywhere.

I have yet to meet Dr. Angus, but I hope to one day. He is a Minister and  Adjunct Instructor at Lipscomb University and lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He is married to Melody Jeanette Angus and on his Facebook page I see pictures of three beautiful children. You can see some video of James preaching HERE

As we make our way through Surrendering to Hope we will find many more diverse struggles that people like you and me are facing every day. The answer is to put our hope in God who can see us through, but that is easier to write than to do. In the next post we’ll meet someone who is engaged in war with the temptation of pornography.

Whether you’re facing death, loss, racism, or temptation … always remember … Out Here Hope Remains. Thanks for reading and sharing. JED  

Losing Your Markers

Murder is for TV mysteries where you briefly see a terrible deed and someone smart figures out who did it.  Except when it happens in real life to someone near your heart. I can’t identify the feeling that I have when reading about the murder of two people I knew and loved. I certainly cannot identify with the feelings of the husband and sons and family left behind to deal with this tragedy, even though he’s one of my best friends.

In the second chapter of Surrendering to Hope: Guidance for the Broken, Les Ferguson, Jr. recounts the series of events that led to the day that changed his life forever on an October morning in 2011. Les goes into significant detail recounting the story he has lived over and over again in his own mind. I loved Karen and Cole, and their untimely death still seems almost unreal to me. But whatever I feel about it, I know that doesn’t come close to how Les and his family feel. 

“It wasn’t that I quit believing in God, but my faith that God cared took a huge hit. I didn’t understand who God was. I couldn’t understand what God wanted form me.  … I spiraled downward. I couldn’t be comforted because there was no comfort.”

Les writes in heartbreaking specifics about his time of wondering, struggling with faith, and ultimately finding some healing. In a beautiful way he attributes his healing to the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

“I know now the Comforter has been active all along, giving me the time and space necessary to experience my pain, reframe my experience, and transform me.”

As everyone who has experienced loss knows, the loss of a loved one never is never very far from our hearts. Still, through the pain of the death of his wife and son, Les is able to end his chapter with thanksgivings. He is blessed with a new wife, Becki, her children, and many other blessings. 

“I am thankful for the God who heals, seen and unseen.”

 In addition to this faith-building chapter, Les has also crafted a book that tells the story in greater detail and then examines great figures in the Bible that experienced grief and sorrow. That book is called Still Wrestling: Faith Renewed Through Brokenness. You can read my review of that book HERE.  you can follow his writings on his blog HERE. Follow him on Twitter @les_fergusonJr and find him on Facebook. He has a regular column in the Clarion Ledger, Jackson, Mississippi.

Les has recently accepted the Preaching Ministry at the Oxford, MS Church of Christ and will begin there soon. He has been interviewed multiple times on national and local radio stations and in newspapers about his new book. In addition he is often requested to speak about grief and loss as well as other subjects. He is hard at work on his next book.

 

Note: As I write about the chapters of this book, Surrendering to Hope, you might think it’s a depressing book. Actually, it’s the opposite. When we surrender to hope, we find that the losses and struggles of life can empower us instead of destroying us. In the next chapter James B. Angus, Jr. expresses the hope he found through a struggle that is all too common today, as an African American male born in the town that is the birthplace for the Ku Klux Klan. God’s hope shines through everywhere. That’s why it’s always true … Out Here Hope Remains. Thanks for reading. JED

Lost Sons

“I’m sorry but we’ve pronounced your son dead.” 

Those are the crushing words my friend Rex heard from the doctors after his infant son Kenny had stopped breathing.  In that stunning moment, he and his family experienced a devastating loss that changed their lives forever. 

Rex writes about this experience in the book SURRENDERING TO HOPE: GUIDANCE FOR THE BROKEN.  I can identify with Rex’s loss, and maybe some of you can too. He is a minister of the Gospel, and you can bet that he wrestled with his faith during this terrible experience.

Through believing in Jesus, we are assured of eternal life. My son Kenny would not be dead forever. I would see him again one day because of Jesus. That faith helped me survive...”

As I read through Rex’s chapter I see so much of my own journey there in his words. His faith helped him survive, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t giant struggles in his own heart.

…Feeling that he had failed his son

…Questions about why God allowed this to happen

…Wondering why other people’s children experienced healing and Kenny didn’t

As if those questions weren’t weighty enough, not long after this loss another loss rocked their family as well.  As Rex reflected on these losses and the impact they had on his faith and his family, he came to a new understanding of God’s work in his life. 

Before we are faced with significant loss or crisis, we often have a view of God that is genuine but incomplete. We haven’t had to rely on him through traumatic losses that have no real answer. We haven’t had to put one foot in front of the other not knowing if some other terrible thing is about to happen. The truth is that we would be content to stay in that place. But when we don’t have a choice we do gain a new understanding of God’s place in our lives.

“In the fifteen years since Laura and I lost Kenny, I’ve learned something of God’s heart that I didn’t know before. With all the brokenness that has marred God’s creation, I see how God is filled with loving mercy and compassion for those who suffer.”

What I love about the way Rex writes about his loss is that it’s just honest. It’s not demanding that you see things the way he does. He just wants to share his experience and hopes that somewhere in there you can find some hope. I appreciate that spirit. 

One day Rex and I and our families will be reunited with our Lost Sons. That is our sure hope.

Rex is the minister for the Newark Church of Christ (in Delaware).

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Surrendering to Hope (HERE) and read further about Rex’s journey.  Check out Rex’s blog HERE. You can follow him on Twitter (@krexbutts) and find him on Facebook. 

In the next few weeks I’m going to share some more from this excellent little book. Until then, Out Here Hope Remains. Thanks for reading. JED

A New Book About Grief

I mentioned in my last post that I wanted to write some reflections about a decade in the grief journey. I realize that many people are much farther along the path and have much more to offer. I also realize that there are many many books and blogs on the grief journey that are available and I doubt my thoughts are unique or more valuable than others. But I’m not alone in that.

Early in my grief journey, several friends gave me books. I understand that – it’s hard to know what to say and a book is at least an expression of the offer of hope and healing. As I read through grief literature I was very blessed by the things written from the perspective of broken hearts. But I also noticed two things. First, these books were repetitive. The principles of surviving grief are not really all that diverse – but they are helpful. A second thing I noticed is that most of these books were written out of personal loss  – a shared experience that gave each one a bit of a unique character, even if the principles were similar. So, I consider it a good thing to do to read a book or two about grief if you are suffering a loss. 

And there’s a new one you should include in your readings. Gary Roe’s Comfort for Grieving Hearts has potential to be a standard among writings about grief. The format is quite unique. The chapters are short and readable – very important for the grieving heart that cannot pay attention long. Each chapter begins with a thought from the perspective of a grieving person, followed by a discussion about the subjects the grieving person has raised. Each chapter ends with a grief affirmation, and they are listed at the end of the book.  Interspersed throughout are journaling prompts, and they are prompts that really get your mind thinking about an aspect of grief. 

Grief is a dynamic process. It’s always moving. It’s highly individual, defies prediction, and refuses to be boxed in. It’s all a bit mysterious. It’s a matter of the heart. – Gary Roe

At the end of the book, Gary Roe shares his experiences with grief. I think he saves it for the end because the focus of the book is not his individual experience.  The focus is on the unique experience each of us has had with loss. Although Mr. Roe is a Christian, this is not a book filled with Scripture references and overt references to Christianity… however, a Christian spirit pervades this book. You can confidently give it to a friend who may not be a Christian, but who might be open to discussing that idea later down the line. 

Grief is necessary. It is a natural and normal response to a loss. It is nature’s way of healing a shattered soul. We live in a new world now, without the physical presence of someone special. Their absence hovers over us and colors everything. Recovery, whatever that means for each of us, takes time. – Gary Roe

You can find out more about Gary Roe at his website (HERE). You can find him on Facebook , Twitter , and other social media.  Currently this book is listed on Amazon for a very low price, but that could change. Check it out HERE

 

Still Wrestling

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UPDATE: Winner of the book giveaway is Cecil May, III … picked at random from those who entered. Thanks for reading and participating. Another book giveaway coming soon!

Thanks for checking out this blog post today. Be sure to read through the post to find out about a book giveaway!

I can still remember being stunned beyond belief the day the phone rang in my office at Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe. It was my friend Mark from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He called to tell me that the wife and child of one of my best friends had been killed… murdered. Maggy and I began preparations to head down to the Coast to offer what support we could. Les Ferguson, Jr was living a nightmare, and we were helpless to do anything but tell him we loved him and would be there for him.

Over time Les has chronicled his journey on a blog called Desperately Wanting to Believe Again. Nowadays the blog is titled simply, Les Ferguson Jr. Writes. And Les does write, he’s written a book called Still Wrestling. This book begins with a chilling account of the loss that Les and his family endured. In vivid and heartbreaking detail Les shares both what happened and his response in trying to deal with the many complications of this loss.

The honesty with which Les writes will draw the reader in. But not only as an observer of what has happened to him, but as a participant in the struggles of life that have significant challenges for all. A few highlights from the book…

Over the days, weeks, months, and now years that followed, I wrestled with God, wrestled with myself, and wrestled with my faith community. I am still wrestling. I suspect I will be wrestling as I draw my last breath.

But this I promise: unless you have lost a child, you cannot comprehend the level of grief, pain, and suffering I am trying to describe.

There is no going back for me. The hands of time cannot be rewound. All I know how to do is move forward. Sometimes bravely. More times than not, tentatively and fearfully.

In my thinking, God wanted me to accept and serve something fundamentally different from the God I had known before. In the horror of tragedy, he wanted me to trust him. In the horror of tragedy, I was convinced he was unworthy. So, I ran.

Yes, I have mourned the loss of me. The connections, the location, the friends, the life I once had. It all went away. And faster than you might believe.

As it turns out, my tragedy simply shined a light on the brokenness that was already there.

In most of the chapters, Les centers in on a Biblical character who has had significant life losses and struggles. In the retelling and examination of these stories we are reminded that though our losses may be different, the God who sees us through them is the same.

But I see myself in each character. I feel his pain. I share the struggle. I am just as human as every person we’ve studied. … I am not alone. And neither are you.

In the end, Les centers his faith in Jesus Christ. However, this is not a book that denies the ongoing pain of loss. I appreciate the way that Les balances out the pain and the faith that seem opposed to one another.

I have fallen. I will fall again. But here is the good news: In Jesus Christ, I am more than the sum of my mistakes, failures, sins, and epic disasters. Because Jesus was and is the ultimate Savior, a day will come when my value and worth will be seen completely in him.

That’s the Jesus I want to know. The Jesus who leaves you weak and trembling. The Jesus who unequivocally declares that love and service to others—even death on a cross—is what matters. It’s not our arguments. It’s not our differences of opinion. It’s not our posturing. None of that matters. It’s Jesus. Only Jesus. All Jesus. He is our doctrine. Everything flows from him. He is the invitation!

Discussion questions follow each chapter, making it suitable for a small group or class. I read the Kindle edition which was excellent and performed perfectly. 

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Ah, the giveaway! Thanks for reading this far. I’m going to offer one free copy of Still Wrestling to one reader of this blog. All you have to do is leave a comment letting me know if you’d rather have a paper copy or Kindle edition. I’ll choose from those who leave a comment in a week or so.

I appreciate Les for bringing us along on a journey he never wanted to take. We don’t always get to choose our journeys but we do get to choose our Savior.

No matter how hard the path seems, out here hope remains.

JED