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

Surrendering to Hope

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Today I received advanced copies of Surrendering to Hope: Guidance for the Broken. I am blessed to have written a chapter in this book of twelve stories of loss, pain, struggle … and hope. 

The life of John Robert Dobbs forever changed the hearts of his family and friends. It is a tale of tears and heartache but that shouldn’t be the entire story. It is my hope that by sharing about our loss I can also share what John Robert taught us and how we honor his memory as we live on. But mine is just one of the stories shared in this collection.

If you’ve experienced suffering because of loss, chronic illness, mental abuse, sexual abuse, divorce, racial oppression, or struggled with same-sex attraction, you will find something here to which you can relate. As you read their stories you will see a common thread. There is hope for those who are broken by the painful experiences of life.

I appreciate editors John Mark Hicks, Christine Fox Parker, and Bobby Valentine. Together they have curated a cast of fellow sufferers who are willing to share their hurtful experiences in hope that they may bless others who walk those same paths. I am grateful to have been included among the other authors, all of whom I admire greatly.

If you happen to be attending Harbour: The Pepperdine Bible Lectures in Malibu this May, you can hear from several of the writers in this book. Hear lectures by James B. Angus, Jr., Les Ferguson, Jr., Sally Gary, Eric Greer, Paula Harrington, John Mark Hicks, Jim Holway, K. Rex Butts, 

According to Amazon, the book will be available May 8th, but you can pre-order today. I would encourage Christians and churches to keep some of these on hand to give to those who are struggling through hurt.  

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13 

 

Blogs / Websites of Some of the Participants:

John Mark Hicks

K. Rex Butts

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Sally Gary

Paula Harrington

Bobby Valentine

Christine Fox Parker

Other Books Recommended:

Still Wrestling: Faith Renewed Through Brokenness by Les Ferguson, Jr.

Meeting God at the Shack: A Journey into Spiritual Recovery by John Mark Hicks

Loves God Likes Girls: A Memoir by Sally Gary

The Legacy of Billy Graham

bgrahamBilly Graham’s death today at the age of 99 gives me a moment to pause and reflect on his influence in American Christianity. I’m not alone as I see so many people expressing both sorrow at his passing and memories of his great accomplishments. 

Graham’s influence can partly be attributed to the times in which he lived. His crusades persuaded many people to follow Jesus Christ both in person and through television. He had a simple way of preaching the basics to the everyday person in such a way that it could be received. Though he sat with Presidents and celebrities, he never seemed to let that become his purpose. From the excellent obituary in the New York Times we are reminded about the vast influence of Dr. Graham: 

In 2007, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association estimated that he had preached the Gospel to more than 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories since beginning his crusades in October 1947 in Grand Rapids, Mich. He reached hundreds of millions more on television, through video and in film. (Link below)

Confession. My experience with Billy Graham isn’t all wine and roses. I grew up in a faith family that often scoffed at Graham’s crusades and the multitude of people who poured forward to pray for salvation. (To be honest, my tribe is so independent that I’m not saying ALL of them felt that way. But I heard many criticisms, corrections, and dismissals.) That sounds really harsh and I wouldn’t say it just that way but after reading some Facebook posts from some who still cling to that perspective I know it’s still true. Yes, it is my conviction that the Bible teaches that our salvation experience with God includes baptism that washes away sin. Graham invited people to say a “sinners prayer” to be placed in a right relationship with God. We differ. But somehow for me, that doesn’t translate into dismissing the greatest evangelist of my generation. Billy Graham was an evangelist. The work of discipleship and growth in God’s will was left up to the teaching and ministry of local churches. I am pretty sure he knew that he had one job: bring people to Jesus. 

– Admiration for Billy Graham –

My admiration for him has grown over the years. I admire his strong convictions about the Word of God and the passion for reaching out to the lost that characterized his efforts. I admire him for his high moral character and faithfulness to God, even as other televangelists crumbed into the morass of greed and sexual sin. I admire the way he had a connection with his audience. Stadiums full of expectant hearts awaited him during the crusades. Local churches were invited to participate and to follow up with the respondents.  Everything I can see about his efforts point to Jesus Christ and not Billy Graham. I respect that.

I don’t think there could be a Billy Graham today. The advent of the internet widens the field of influence among many teachers and preachers. The spirit of division and hatred that has a big influence over our country has even influenced our churches. Though as I noted earlier there were always critics among the churches, today I think that the cynics, punsters, and self-appointed saviors would be relentless in the attempt to destroy his efforts. The fact that there is no Billy Graham-like figure today demonstrates the truth of the matter. The televangelists who draw large-scale audiences today mostly do not resemble the humble and Bible-centered approach that Graham took.

My appreciation for Billy Graham is not based on total agreement with him on everything he said and taught. But he brought awareness of God’s presence and a positive influence on our country through some very difficult times. 

My guess is that the current generation if they have heard of Graham at all, will think of him as a relic of the past. Maybe so, but our world was better off because Billy Graham loved Jesus Christ and stood before masses to beg them to follow Him through books, television specials, and in crusades. 

God bless all the voices that keep calling us to look to Jesus … that call us out of the world of darkness into His marvelous light … they remind us that out here hope remains. JED 

Obituary in the New York Times

Grand Intentions

Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow Me now; but you will be able to follow later.” 37 Peter said to Him, “Lord, why cannot I follow You now? I will lay down my life for You!” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you [really] lay down your life for Me? I assure you and most solemnly say to you, before a rooster crows you will deny and completely disown Me three times. ~ John 13:36-38 AMP

“You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.” – John 18:17  AMP

Peter has such grand intentions. Ready to pull out his sword and fight, but unwilling to confess his Master to a slave girl. I would criticize him for this inconsistent and shameful behavior if it weren’t so familiar to me.

How often do we begin our day confident in the new mercies from God that this is the day we will turn the corner and make significant and needful changes … only to face the noon hour with disappointment?

“Will you really lay down your life for Me?”

rooster4cThere is no denying that there is victory to be claimed if we will only yield to the Holy Spirit. It would be a sad, defeatist attitude to think we have no hope of gaining in holiness. But it is also realistic to note that our lives are not shaped by our pronouncements of what we intend to do. They are grand intentions, indeed. But they are focused more on what we wish rather than what we are.

Instead of expressing our Grand Intentions to the Lord, it would behoove us instead to express our utter dependence. Hour by hour, minute by minute. Only when we fall into His empowering presence can we experience the overcomer’s victory. Only then will the victory be His and not ours.

“Will you really lay down your life for Me?

Right or Real? 

Although that question was for Peter, it cuts me to the heart. I know the right answer, but I also know the real answer.

We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake. … I call upon him in prayer. Often he might reply – I think he does reply – “But you have been evading me for hours.” ~ C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

So, I’d like to start this day with one truly Grand Intention: to be aware of God’s holy presence throughout the day. That seems to me to be a better course than expressions of bravado.

“Will you really lay down your life for Me?”

My only hope is to walk with Him hour by hour throughout the day. Whatever my performance, He will be there to catch me when I fall and to strengthen me when I get back up.

Out here hope remains. John

This Is Us…That’s It.

 

I’m a reluctant fan of NBC’s This Is Us. I didn’t want to like it. At times I have let two or three episodes build up because there are a lot of emotional moments and it was like I couldn’t face what comes next. Even though I didn’t know what was coming next. But there was one thing that was always coming next… the story of how Jack Pearson died. By the way, that’s not a spoiler. Anyone who has watched two episodes knows that Jack is dead, but we are tantalized by not knowing.

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Family dramas have been around as long as television. Without thinking too hard so many come to mind. The western families on shows like The Virginian, The Big Valley, and Bonanza were popular once upon a time. Family dramas like Thirtysomething and Parenthood and …well… Family have proliferated television fare, I think, because they present a reality that we all face. There are no perfect families. There are hard decisions to make and heartbreaking issues to face together. We learn to draw together and gain strength through the trials. And sometimes they defeat us. 

In that way This Is Us is no different than most family dramatic shows. The writers are excellent and the portrayals are just so rich. So even though I don’t like to cry at television shows or movies, there’s seldom an episode that doesn’t bring a tear. I guess that’s not all bad. But I’m going to make a controversial statement that This Is Us fans are going to hate. 

After the Super Bowl we learned just how it was that Jack Pearson came to be dead. Because This Is Us travels frequently back and forth in time we have already observed what life was like with Jack and how the family has survived the death of Jack. Now please let that be it. It was a great story.

What is This Is Us without the subtext of the mystery of Jack’s death? I think either they can try to exploit that in a third season or they can try to drum up another subtext for the next few seasons. But how often do we love a great series only to see it fall into shambles as writers try to come up with compelling story lines for seasons long after the real story is over?

One good example is the show Lie To Me. Fantastic first two seasons. Then new writers come aboard, change the main character’s demeanor, make the show more graphic, and it was over. I’m streaming Body of Proof on Hulu these days. Two great seasons and then season three is just not bearable. Some cast changes, a change of personality in the main character, and now I’m just watching it out of some kind of sense of duty. One more example (and this could result in more hate!). West Wing was one of the best shows I’ve ever watched. But that last season? More than dreadful. Horrible. I could barely finish the series. 

This Is Us could just turn into a soap opera with endless handwringing and pointless conversations. They could put the characters through a variety of situations unrelated to Jack’s death – but what would be the point? The story of This Is Us is over. Can’t we just be content with a couple of seasons. Let us love the characters as we do now and enjoy repeated viewing. 

 

I know I run a risk here. For one, alienating my friends who are This Is Us fanatics. Or it could have a fantastic third season and I’d look like a doofus who’s just writing to hear himself tap on the keyboard. It could be one of those multi-year breakout shows that just never grows old. 

But I don’t think so. This Is Us … That’s it. We know. We saw. We wept with you. We loved your family. We loved your flashbacks and forward flashes of the future. The storylines have all concluded. Kevin has made amends, even with Jack. Kate is in love and willing to be loved. Randall is going to surpass his dreams of being father of the year. That’s all we needed to know. We have closure.

Of course, I am going to watch the third season. Don’t judge me.

Link.

NBC This Is Us

Never a Friend Like That

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Jackson

When you have a dog that you loved and who’s crossed the rainbow bridge, you can’t help but think about him every once in a while. My nephew and his family recently lost a dog they loved for many years. They touch our hearts in a special way for sure. In reading through my grandmother’s book of poetry I found this little poem by W. Dayton Wedgefarth. I couldn’t find any information about Mr. Wedgefarth, but I liked his poem about a dog named Bum.

Bum

He’s a little dog , with a stubby tail, and a moth-eaten coat of tan,
And his legs are short, of the wabbly sort;
I doubt if they ever ran;
And he howls at night, while in broad daylight he sleeps like a bloomin’ log,And he likes the food of the gutter breed; he’s a most irregular dog.

I call him Bum, and in total sum he’s all that his name implies,
For he’s just a tramp with a highway stamp that culture cannot disguise;
And his friends, I’ve found, in the streets abound, be they urchins or dogs or men;
Yet he sticks to me with a fiendish glee. It is truly beyond my ken.

I talk to him when I’m lonesome-like, and I’m sure that he understands
When he looks at me so attentively and gently licks my hands;
Then he rubs his nose on my tailored clothes, but I never say nought thereat,
For the good Lord knows I can buy more clothes, but never a friend like that!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What was the name of your favorite dog? I hope it wasn’t Bum… but I hope it was a lot like Bum! Through life we live and love and lose but God has a way of healing our hearts and giving us hope so that we never forget that Out Here Hope Remains. JED