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.


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 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.


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.


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.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Grace Point Church turns 10

Do you ever wish life came with an edit button? Do you wish you could go back and rewrite or omit a chapter of your story?  I think all of us have moments or seasons we wish we could amend.

Ten years ago this week a new church launched in Las Vegas.  135 people gathered in a middle school cafeteria north of Las Vegas and Grace Point Church was born. I had the privilege to serve as the Founding & Lead Pastor of Grace Point for its first five years.  In reality, I had already invested over 3 years of my life into that moment so the official "launch" was simply the climax of the previous chapter of my life.

Parachuting into a community like Vegas and planting a church is a daunting task. Very few church plants survive in Vegas.  And truthfully only a church planter knows the weight and burden of starting a church from scratch.  The amount of money that must be raised (a million dollars for us), convincing a core group to move to Las Vegas with you with no guarantees of success, finding staff and key volunteers to lead, securing a location, letting the community know you are there, questioning if and why anyone would even show up, all of your doubts and insecurities exposed again and again ... and on and on and on. The church plant death rate in the first three years is telling. But we were a part of something unique.

Over the first 3 years, Grace Point grew to a self-sustaining church of over 800 people, even seeing more than a thousand show up on a few occasions. We preached the gospel and hundreds of people came to faith in Jesus and were baptized (including my 2 daughters). Lives were changed. Marriages were restored. Broken people found a place of healing and redemption.  People from around the country began to take notice of Grace Point.

The name Grace Point came from my own personal quiet time in Romans 5:20 where Paul reminds us grace is bigger than sin.  We wanted to be a point in Sin City where God's grace abounds. And that is the environment and message we were able to demonstrate and proclaim.

My dream became a reality ... and in the process my heart drifted from God.

Five years ago this week and on the fifth anniversary of Grace Point Church, I stood on the stage and preached my last message as their pastor. My own sinful choices disqualified me from leading the very church God enabled me to start in 2006.  I hit bottom.  I hurt people - most importantly the ones God called me to protect first and foremost. It was a devastating time in my life and I had no hope that God could restore my marriage or my ministry. I gave up. I ran. I hid. I disappeared. And Grace Point was forced to rebuild without me. 

This weekend Grace Point Church turns 10 years old.  I have no idea if they plan to celebrate this monumental occasion. I do know that you will likely never hear or see anything about the first 5 years of their journey.  In a sense those chapters have been omitted except in the hearts and minds of the people involved. That is often the way it is when a pastor has a moral failure. But thankfully God has enabled Grace Point not only to survive but to thrive. After being portable for 10 years, they are about to move into their own facility. Exciting days are ahead of them.  And occasionally I peek in to see what is happening and rejoice in what God has done in spite of me.

The Church belongs to Jesus. It is bigger than any one person or sin. It is His church and He will sustain it. I am regretful that it took a life-altering chapter for me to grasp fully that truth.

For a few years, I wanted to rewrite those chapters in my life. I think at times you have to hit bottom to look up. When a person is drowning in sin, the tendency is to try and tread water or try and make it to shore on your own.  But that struggle only takes you deeper until something breaks.  I was broken and it changed my outlook.

My perspective has shifted dramatically in recent years. I know that I cannot go back and amend those seemingly defining chapters but God can redeem those chapters for His glory and in the process heal my heart to the point those chapters do not define me.  God has shifted my perspective from focusing on my personal, relational, and pastoral failures while at Grace Point to observing what He was doing behind the scenes for the season I was removed.

Here are a few glimpses of how God was working a bigger story behind the scenes when my chapter was being written.

- I sat in the kitchen of a young couple many years ago in rural Kentucky and shared the gospel with them. They prayed to embrace Christ, were baptized in our church, and began a spiritual journey that eventually landed them in Las Vegas to become a part of Grace Point.  He now serves as the Lead Pastor of the church. 

- One of the current elders/full-time staff members and his wife moved to Vegas after being displaced by Katrina. He was a marine biologist and took a job taking care of the aquariums at The Mirage. She assumed a hospitality director position for Caesar's Palace. They randomly saw a sign one day for Grace Point, attended, and embraced Christ. I had the privilege of baptizing them.

- Another one of the current elders attended another church in north Vegas but was dating a lady at Grace Point who came to the church through one of our community events. Her story is one of incredible grace and redemption. She also came to faith at Grace Point and I baptized her. He was also going through some healing from a previous relationship and soon became an active part of our church. A few years later I was able to officiate their marriage and watch God heal their hearts in the process.

- Back in the early 2000s, I was considering taking a pastoral position in southern Indiana. A teenage young lady with a heart for Jesus was a part of the selection process that hired me to be their pastor.  When we decided to move to Las Vegas a few years later, I asked her and her husband to be a part of our launch team and move with us.  They took a huge step of faith and moved to Las Vegas where they have been a part of Grace Point ever since. He is also an elder at the church.

- Other current staff members also came to Grace Point during our first few years and their lives and the lives of their families were radically transformed by God.

- Three different churches are being planted around the country by young men who served as interns at Grace Point while I was the pastor. One of them met his wife at Grace Point. She also moved to Vegas (by herself) to be a part of our launch team.

- Ironically enough after participating in a mission trip to help Grace Point, a couple from Alabama asked if they could move to Vegas and serve on our team. They spent one year at Grace Point on our staff before returning to the city in which we now live - Decatur. They eventually took over a small church that has exploded to more than 1500 people and has impacted many lives throughout North Alabama. They were also a vital part of the healing process for my first wife who now serves on their staff. 

- Grace Point helped launch 2 churches in San Jose and San Francisco that are making a huge gospel impact in those areas.

- During our first few years, we worked hard to establish a partnership with the City of North Las Vegas that enabled us to touch hundreds of thousands of people in a few years time. It was an important component of who we were as a church and our presence in the community. That partnership continues today.

- We started a community service weekend in North Vegas called Servolution where we served aggressively our community for an entire weekend. That vision has continued and still shapes the church and community.

- Even my younger brother Derek who came to Vegas during a difficult season of his life and served on our staff met his future wife at Grace Point!

- I can't tell you how many emails or Facebook messages I have received and still receive from people all over the country who were impacted through what God did at Grace Point during that season.

Can you see the common thread here? God was writing a story bigger than the individuals in the story.  God's story is bigger than any chapter or chapters in your life. He is in absolute control. He is writing a story larger than our failures and our success.  He uses different people at different seasons in our lives to get us where He wants us.  He is writing His redemptive story and broken people are a part of the narrative.

It blows my mind God was writing a redemptive story in a small house in rural Kentucky that would enable Him to continue something on the other side of the country in Sin City - something that He began in my heart but would continue through the ministry of someone else whose path divinely crossed mine years earlier.  That chapter alone demonstrates how sovereign and big our God is.

The decisions I made during that season of my life hurt a lot of people. I will always live with that reality. But God has healed my heart to the place where I will not focus on my past mistakes but on the story He was writing in spite of me.  My sin did not catch God off guard.  He knew the chapters of my story before they were lived out. He knew how my story would play out before Las Vegas was even on my radar. And in His sovereignty He put together a redemptive plan that He would use to transform the lives of thousands of people long after my chapter ended.

Thankfully God is now writing a new story in our lives. In spite of the brokenness and sin, God has even redeemed my poor relationship decisions and is allowing me to serve and lead alongside an incredible wife. Our story truly is one of beauty from ashes. God is allowing us to compose a new chapter. He has given us the privilege after 5 years of healing and restoration to lead a group of broken Jesus followers who also have chapters they wish they could rewrite or amend.  Our stories are all about Jesus - the One who takes our chapters of brokenness and sin and redeems them for His purposes.

So on this first week of January when memories of both victory and defeat tend to plague my mind, I am thankful I serve a God who is writing a story bigger than mine.

Happy 10th Birthday Grace Point Church. And thank you Jesus for allowing me to be a small part of their journey.  And now on to the next chapter of our God-written story.