Thursday, February 02, 2017

I Am Not Important

This Sunday I am preaching from John 3:22-36.  Following on the heels of one of the most popular texts in the Bible, this story often gets neglected but serves as one of the clearest ministry models in the New Testament. Let me put it in context for you.

John the Baptizer hits the preaching circuit in full force. He is provocative, confrontational, inflammatory, and offensive. His message stands in stark contrast to the religious world of his day and the commoners love him.  They flock to hear him.  He is baptizing people by the droves. Reporters are itching to get an interview with this crazy desert dweller turned evangelist.  He rocks the establishment.

He even has disciples ... students ... loyal followers who have been transformed by his message of repentance.  John has a devoted team and his ministry is busting at the seams. Outreach Magazine is calling ... "let's get you on that fastest-growing list Johnny."

And then Jesus shows up. Another ministry moves into town ... one that attracts more attendees, baptizes more people, draws more attention.  Suddenly The Baptizer's numbers posts on social media are not quite as impressive as the ministry down river.  And John's disciples take notice. 

Resentment ensues. Jealousy surfaces. And Simultaneous Ministry Success Syndrome takes over. "Have you heard John? That Teacher who we thought was on our team ... the One you raved about ... His numbers are outpacing ours! Everyone is going to Him! Call an emergency staff meeting! What are we going to do? Our attendance is dropping!"

John's response should be framed and posted in every church building and office.  It should be the mantra of every group of Jesus followers on the planet ... and yet.

The Baptizer's reaction? Ministry success is not found where you think it is ... in numbers - baptisms, attendance, money, programs, recognition.  Ministry success is determined by one standard: are we making much of Jesus?

Here is how John articulates it: Jesus must increase but I must decrease.

No seven words in the New Testament challenge me more.  Jesus is important. I am not. The success of a ministry is gauged by how important Jesus is and how unimportant the leaders are. 

To be honest, I am not sure how well this truth fits in the modern evangelical landscape.  We tend to measure success with the yardstick of John's disciples.  We tend to highlight the biggest and fastest-growing. We tend to transform pastors into rock stars.  And we pastors tend to like it.

What would John the Baptizer think about the modern evangelical terrain?  What would he think of our social media driven achievements & our large buildings & our cool appearance & our rock concert style experiences & our measuring rod criterion of success & the pathetic cliches we employ to justify our self-promotion?

I find it interesting that the final words of the forerunner in the Gospel of John remind us that we are not that important but Jesus is. His last spoken words remind us Jesus is Superior. Greater. Better. Grander.  It is all about making Jesus famous.  He must increase and we must decrease.

Jesus can't increase if I am increasing.  I can't make Jesus more important if I am consumed with my own importance.  Jesus can't be in the spotlight if I am standing there.

Confession: I have spent a lot of my life both inside and outside of ministry striving to be important. It is exhausting.  And if we are being frank, there is no finish line.  There's always more people, bigger goals, more money, bigger opportunities, more campuses, more recognition, more followers, more, more, more, bigger, bigger, bigger.  Stop the madness!

He must increase and I must decrease. Period.  Anything less (notice I chose the word less and not more). Anything less is misguided. Foolish. And yes - idolatrous.

Go read John 3:22-36 and let it soak in. And then pray that it becomes our heartbeat - for life, for ministry, for everything.  More about Jesus - Less about me.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Thoughts on Grace

Yesterday at City Church we completed a 13-week series on God's grace entitled Charis (the Greek word for grace).  It is a series I have been putting together and processing for a few years now.  Perhaps no set of sermons has ever been more personal to me.  Here are a few of my takeaways.

- Grace is more than tolerance or leniency.  It is even more than the unmerited favor of God.  Those definitions dilute the fierce and aggressive nature of grace ... which not only welcomes rebels but relentlessly pursues them. 

- If grace does not offend your human sense of justice or fairness at some point, you probably do not grasp a) the magnitude of your own sin and/or b) the scandalous nature of His grace.

- Grace is more than a doctrine.  Grace is found most clearly embedded in stories.  The Bible from cover to cover is filled with the narrative of broken people who stand in need of radical grace and the God who pursues them. Do not try and restrict it to a theological concept that you can parse.

- The redemptive stories of the Bible are R-rated.  We attenuate the scandalous nature of grace when we try and omit or clean them up and make them only appropriate for our children's Bible storybooks.

- You can't make God love you.  Stop trying.  Grace declares that God loves me no matter what I do or do not do.  Do we really think keeping up with a Bible reading plan or remembering to pray before I go to sleep somehow earns the favor of a God who pursues His enemies?

- God redeems rebels because of who He is not because of who we are.

- Obedience flows out of grace. Salvation and Christian living both originate from grace.  God doesn't save us and then hand us the keys to take over. The gospel of grace is needed for salvation and sanctification. 

- The bloodline of Jesus Himself is filled with the stories of people we would want to rewrite or edit out of our history.  The Bible writers go out of their way to include these stories so that we might remember that Jesus came to save the type of people found in his own history - broken, messed up sinners ... like us.

- When we begin to understand our vast need for grace, we begin to live a life defined by grace.  Grace becomes a way of life only when we understand how desperately we need it and how much of it we have been provided and offered in Jesus.

- Grace redeems us both from our filthy unrighteousness and our feeble attempts at self-righteousness.  Grace is bigger than your deepest, darkest sin and your failed attempts at behavior modification.

- Grace should make us uncomfortable.  Live with the tension.  Don't try and add to it or subtract from it in order to make it more palatable.

These are just a few of my lingering thoughts from the series. The longer I am on this journey the more God is teaching me about my desperate need for His grace.

All of the Charis messages can be watched on our website or listened to from our podcast.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Dear Levi from your Daddy

Today is the due date for Levi Lockey Hudson.  Unfortunately he is not on our schedule. We are on his. So he has not officially arrived yet.  I've been thinking about his arrival and had a few thoughts I wanted to share with him.

Dear Levi:

You are a product of grace 

One day when you get older you will hear a story of grace and redemption that led to this moment in time when you became a part of our family. You are a gift from a gracious God who heals, restores, and redeems.  God has given us the privilege of being your parents for one simple reason: He is a good Father.

Your mommy is the best 

Your mommy is my best friend. She is a blessing to those who know her. She is loved by a lot of people.  She is sweet, kind, pleasant to be around, encouraging, positive, beautiful, smart, and a ferocious lover of God, your daddy, and our family. You are privileged to have her as a mommy.  I will seek to love her in a way that demonstrates for you just how special she is.

You have awesome siblings

You are blessed with 2 sisters and a brother who love each other deeply, who love Jesus, who have incredible hearts, who will demonstrate for you what it means to love, laugh, and enjoy life.  They are much older than you which is a blessing because they have years of experience, ups & downs, and life to share with you.  Listen to them. Value them. They have walked life's path before you and want what is best for you.

Your home has been redeemed

Some people will call the home in which you have been born a "broken" home. You will not understand what that means for some time. Your siblings have a different mommy than you.  They have "step" parents.  They do not spend every night in our house but they are a part of our family. You will have some questions as you seek to understand this dynamic. But here is the good news: your home is not broken. It is redeemed.  God takes our messes and redeems them for His glory and purposes.  Your home is a constant reminder that we serve a God who redeems broken people.

Your daddy needs Jesus

God has chosen me to be your daddy. That makes my heart happy.  I promise you that by God's grace I will seek to be the daddy you need.  But also know that I am broken and in constant need of that grace. There will be times I make wrong decisions. I sin. I disappoint people. I react. I don't always represent clearly the Jesus we follow.  I will need you to forgive me at times.  Your daddy needs Jesus and that is good news!

You are loved by a perfect Father

While your daddy will let you down on occasion, you have a Heavenly Father who will never let you down.  He loves you more deeply than you will ever know or understand.  There will be times that you do not understand His plan. There will be times you walk away from His love for you. There will be times you question His very existence.  But even in those moments, He will never leave you nor forsake you.  He will pursue you. His grace is relentless.  He is quick to forgive and heal and restore. He can be trusted. Rest in Him.

You have a deep heritage of grace

Your story is one of grace.  Your very name represents this heritage of grace.  Jesus has transformed the Hudson family with His grace. I pray that God's grace will capture your heart from your earliest days. I pray that you rest in who you are in Jesus and what He has done for you.  You can't be good enough to earn His grace. You can't be bad enough to be disqualified from His grace.  He can never love you any more or less than He does right now.  I pray that the gospel of grace becomes your life mantra.  Our desire is to model it, teach it, live it, and constantly point you to it. 

Welcome to the world Levi Lockey Hudson.  You are our gift of grace.

NOW COME ALREADY!!!!

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Transparent, Tough, and Needed Discussion at City Church

Yesterday at City Church we took a Sunday to break away from our "regularly scheduled programming" for a Sunday of intentional prayer, reflection, and discussion regarding what has been happening in our culture.  We discussed racism, violence, the role of the church, and many other tough topics.

A few of the things that I took away from our discussion:

- God is in absolute sovereign control. Not one thing that has happened recently caught God by surprise. His sovereign rules extends to every square inch of our planet and He can be trusted.

- We must be intentional to listen way more than we speak.  Social media is a platform that gives me the opportunity to state an opinion before I take time to listen.  Don't fall into the trap. It is easy to make noise with a keyboard.

- Life matters to God - all life.  Protestors. Victims. Cops. Criminals. Bystanders. All life is valuable. Every person is created in God's image.  Treat people like they are valuable ... particularly those with whom I disagree and are different than me.

- We know and believe that all lives matter YET it is not necessary for me to dismiss the hurt of a particular group who wants to emphasize the value of their lives. Black Lives Matter - yes, yes they do.  All Lives Matter - yes, yes they do.  There is no reason to create an unnecessary divide between the two.  Allow people the space to voice their hurt without dismissing it.

- There are people in every movement who speak and behave inappropriately and sinfully. Don't be one of those people and don't judge the entire movement by the voice of the loudest.

- I am a mid-40s white American male who lives in a specific region and in a particular socio-economic class.  That is my life perspective. I should not pretend to understand the life perspective of someone who is not in my life situation.  I am not a black, urban, twenty-something year old male who lives in a different life context than me. I should not pretend I know how he feels or how he should react.  I need to listen and seek to understand the heart and hurt of others. 

- Get to know people who are different than you and seek to understand their life perspective. Look for common ground.  

- Don't be a "yeah, but" person ("yeah, but he was a criminal") ... true compassion does not seek to qualify - it listens and seeks to understand why someone is hurting.  Jesus followers should lead the way in terms of compassion and mercy.  

- Repentance begins with me. 

- God has placed human means in place to help thwart evil and promote good.  These institutions are composed of flawed sinners.  I should pray for them - all of them.  I should pray as fervently for the President and government officials with whom I disagree as the police officer who sits in my church.  I do not get to pick and choose based on my beliefs which government officials deserve my respect and prayers. Paul instructs us to pray for and intercede for ALL of them.

- We seek to be full of grace and truth.  Sacrificing one for the other misses the point of the gospel and model of Jesus.

- I have been reconciled to God and others through Jesus.  As a Jesus follower, I am an agent of reconciliation.  I should promote peace and unity not division and hate.

- Our world is broken. I am broken. Jesus is the ultimate answer. Point people to Him.

- As a Jesus follower, my beliefs will often run counter-cultural. That is okay. The Church thrives in times of uncertainty, trial, and persecution.  Just don't be a jerk with those beliefs because that is counter-Jesus.

I left yesterday's time together with a ton of thoughts in my head and heart.  I think we were able to talk about some tough issues in a raw and authentic way that left us all challenged.  Thankfully we have some diversity in our church so we were able to hear from different people with different perspectives. It was refreshing and I am thankful that my children were exposed to the gospel at work.

Thank you City Church.  Hopefully this step was a small one in a positive direction. We have a long way to go but I think our community of Jesus followers grew stronger yesterday.

** We did not record the service intentionally.  I wanted people to be able to share freely in a family style gathering.  I believe it accomplished its purpose.

Monday, June 13, 2016

What's in a Name?!?

As you have probably heard, Ashley and I are expecting a baby boy at the end of September. We are beyond excited. We have discussed a multitude of names and have finally decided on a name for our son.  We wanted to pick a name that we love and also has meaning.  We believe we have found one that meets both criteria.  So we are happy to announce the name of the next Hudson boy will be...

LEVI LOCKEY HUDSON 

LEVI

Levi is the name of Jacob & Leah's 3rd son in the Old Testament.  I identify closely with the story of Jacob as he wrestled constantly with the struggle between his own human identity and the man God created and called him to be.  His ultimate identity was not found in his own cunning ways to gain notoriety but in the God who saves and redeems sinners.  He is one of my favorite OT characters.  Also Jacob and his wife Leah met under unusual circumstances generated by wrong choices that God used to create a lasting bond in spite of the choices that landed them there ... a story that resonates deeply with Ashley and I.  

Levi was also the priestly tribe of the 12 tribes of Israel.  Our Levi comes from a heritage of people set aside for God's service so it is fitting.

In the New Testament, Levi is the name of the tax collector Jesus called as one of his 12 disciples.  He also went by the name Matthew.  And if you know the story of Matthew, you know it is one of scandalous grace.  Tax collectors were some of the most despised and dishonest people in the Roman Empire.  And yet Jesus stops specifically at the booth of Levi the tax collector and invites him to become one of his followers.  The grace of Jesus crossed boundaries that no religious person in his day would even approach.  He pursued sinners like Levi.

When Matthew followed Jesus, one of the first things he did was to invite Jesus to a party for his friends and acquaintances - who were all labeled "sinners" (Luke 5:27-32).  The religious were infuriated Jesus would attend such an event and hang out with such shady people. They even labeled Jesus a "friend of sinners" - a title He embraced and affirmed.  Levi stands as an amazing testimony of God's radical grace and how he crosses boundaries we tend to frown upon to extend his message of forgiveness and love. Ashley and I have experienced this grace in a real and lasting way and we want the name of our son to reflect that reality.

The name Levi means to be joined in harmony.  Ashley and I have been joined to Jesus and each other by grace and Levi is a product of our story of redemption and healing.  We want his name to echo the pursuing, radical grace of Jesus.

LOCKEY

Yes - you read that correctly.  His middle name will be Lockey.  My grandfather (Pappaw Hud) was named Lockey Lynue Hudson.  While Lockey is an unusual name, we want Levi to be named after my Pappaw (and his great-grandfather).  Pap Hud was a man whose life was forever changed by the gospel of Jesus.  For his first 40 years, his life was marked by vile living, alcohol abuse, fighting, and depravity.  And then he encountered the grace of Jesus and his life was forever changed.  The second half of Pappaw's life was marked by gentleness, delight, humor, grace, and a love for Jesus and his family.  I never knew the "old" Pappaw.  I only knew the Pap Hud defined by grace.  He was not perfect.  His faith was raw. And that's one of the things I most loved about him. There was no facade.  He never forgot where he came from and who He was in Jesus. 

Prior to the conversion of my dad and then grandfather (who God saved after one of Dad's first sermons), there is no real history of faith in our family.  In other words, I am just one generation removed from a family tree marked by scandalous living.  My Pappaw serves as a reminder of how redeeming grace transforms not just individual lives but generations to come. 

Pap Hud has been gone for several years now. I still miss him.  He and I were close. I spent two of my high school summers living and working with him.  I will never forget those times. It was in those day-to-day moments where I saw his faith lived out in a real way.  He was not a pastor, preacher, teacher, or deacon.  He was just a man who loved people, who people loved, and whose life was marked by grace.  It is with great honor we name our son after him.

We love you Levi Lockey Hudson. And we hope your life is marked by the same grace that has transformed our lives. 

What's in a name?  A story marked by grace.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Guess who is pregnant?!?

God never ceases to amaze us with His amazing grace. Grace by its very definition is undeserved and unearned.  As you know, our story is one of brokenness and redemption, hurt and healing, unfaithfulness and forgiveness. It is a story that testifies of God's relentless grace. And our grace story continues to be written.

Ashley and I are thrilled to announce our family is growing! God is giving us another undeserved gift of incredible grace.

WE ARE EXPECTING A BABY!!!!!

That's right: Ashley is pregnant. God has granted us the privilege of becoming parents.  He continues to make beauty out of ashes.

We have often questioned whether we "deserved" to have a baby. The Enemy has a way of constantly reminding you of your consequences and how "undeserving" you are of God's blessings.  And yet we know that God redeems brokenness for His glory and goodness. He brings life out of death.  And in His sovereign grace He has created life in spite of our failures. 

For 14+ years, I have been privileged to be the daddy of three amazing children. I love them more than my own life and never anticipated having the opportunity to walk this path again with Ashley.  But God had a different plan and so we take this next step in our grace story with both excitement and trepidation - knowing that the same God who creates life provides more grace than necessary to take each step of this journey.

It is our heart's desire that the life of our child will point people to Jesus and Jesus alone. 

Approximate due date: September 25th



Monday, January 18, 2016

The Loophole

"He uses grace as a loophole" 

Ashley and I were talking last week & she was telling me about a conversation she was having with someone where the above statement had been made negatively about another person ... like grace should not be viewed as a loophole.

As I processed these words for a minute, we both looked at each other and exclaimed, "But that's exactly what grace is - a loophole!" 

Our lexical friend Merriam-Webster defines a loophole as a means of escape.  Most often it has to do with an unnoticed out in the legal system that allows a person to evade the potential consequences of breaking a particular rule or law.   A person deserves one thing because of their actions but undeservedly avoids those consequences because of a loophole in the law.

Paul states it this way in Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death, BUT the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." As sinners we have broken God's holy and righteous law and are therefore deserving of God's full wrath. And yet because of Jesus, we are provided a means of escape - a loophole! We deserve death. He provides life.

We tend to fail to recognize grace as a loophole when we forget the depth of our own depravity and our constant need for the gospel.  And sadly, the longer we are on the journey of following Jesus the easier it seems to forget our righteousness is found in Jesus alone and not our own efforts to please Him.

I am grateful grace is a loophole and I hope I never forget just how important that simple yet profound truth is.