Friday, September 05, 2014

Ready, Set ... SIN!

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6.1)

Have you ever wondered why Paul had to address this question?  Here's why: Paul taught a message of grace so scandalous that it naturally led followers of Jesus to conclude it makes logical sense to increase our sinful activity so that God's extraordinary grace can be further displayed. More sin = more grace.

Here's an unnerving thought for those of us who prefer our list of rights and wrongs: when you proclaim a message of genuine grace, some people will assume a life of indulgence is the best path to experience grace at the deepest level.

Obviously Paul quickly corrects this misunderstanding by instructing his readers that dying to sin and living for Jesus are natural by-products of experiencing grace - not the opposite.  In other words, when I truly capture the magnitude of God's radical grace it propels me toward right living not away from it.  When I sin, I am taking a step back from who I am in Jesus.

In Christ, I have been declared free. So why would I live a life of captivity?  When I sin, I am putting on shackles Jesus has already removed. It is unnatural for a redeemed person who has been set free to desire bondage (even thought there is often a level of comfort there - another post for another day).

When as a Jesus follower I grasp the reality of the gospel, I am drawn to righteousness. That's why it is essential to understand that the gospel is not just the entrance point into the Christian life. The gospel is the heartbeat of Christian living. It is what enables me to live for Jesus and become more like Jesus. It is the reason Paul says in 1 Cor 2.2 that he has one message: Christ crucified. Anything else tends to leave us antinomians or legalists.

Preaching grace is dangerous.  Some will misinterpret your message as a license to sin.  Others will attempt to live moral lives out of sheer willpower.  And many will fail to grasp the magnitude of both their own sin and the grace of God displayed in Jesus Christ. 

So we tend to restrict grace. We want to tame it. We rationalize it.  We explain it.  Because if we do not, grace gets really messy really fast. It is complicated. It makes us uncomfortable.

The longer I am on this journey, the more I am learning that grace can't be placed within our tidy theological systems and boundaries. It can't be harnessed.  At times it will make us uneasy and leave us puzzled.  But if it doesn't, Paul says it is not true grace because scandalous, irrational, divine grace will cause us at times to respond, "If this message is true, let's go sin because grace increases as sin increases."

If your view of God's grace does not make you uncomfortable, you haven't truly grasped it.  And guess what? It's probably because you have yet to grasp the depth of your own depravity either. 

Listen to what deceased theologian Martin Lloyd-Jones exclaims about this verse:

"The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. This is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel of salvation does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel."

Do these words make you uncomfortable? They should. That's what the true message of grace does. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

My Thoughts on Mark Driscoll

*If you are not familiar with "church world" and the Mark Driscoll situation, this blog post may be meaningless to you. 


"What I did was indefensible. Thanks be to Jesus it is also forgiven." Mark Driscoll

Social media, the blogosphere, and news related to evangelical Christianity have been abuzz in recent months with the supposed demise of Mark Driscoll - the infamous pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  Accusations of bullying, verbal abuse, inappropriate behavior and language, improper use of church funds, plagiarism, and a number of other charges have been leveled against the mega-church superstar.  Yesterday he announced to the church that he is taking a 6-week leave of absence as pastor. 

I have spent some time with Mark and was even part of a small group of young leaders who were mentored by Driscoll and a few other prominent pastors.  The church I started in Las Vegas was and still is a part of the Acts 29 church planting network that Mark started.  I have talked to Mark one-on-one several times and his guidance helped shape and develop me as a young leader and pastor.

I have also been verbally confronted by Mark Driscoll. It was not fun. When I resigned from ministry as a result of my choices, I received a phone call from Driscoll that was brutal.  His language was questionable and his tone was harsh.  I was not surprised.  And in one sense, I felt I deserved it.  Maybe I did. And I didn't and don't hold it against Mark for responding the way he did. Right or wrong, it fits his personality and style.  I expected no less. 

By the way, I received similar phone calls from other headline leaders who are not being tried in the court of public opinion.  I have spent time with many other pastors who use similar language and have a similar style but who have managed to stay out of the public spotlight.  Right or wrong, it is reality. Pastors are humans and struggle with language, anger, bitterness, resentment, pride, hatred, and every other temptation known to humanity. We all make choices that are indefensible. That's why we need the gospel.

I have no idea whether Mark Driscoll should or should not remain a pastor.  I wrestle constantly with the same question in my own life. I don't know the answer.  What I do know is that pastors have a high calling.  The pressure to succeed in ministry is immense. The temptation to lose focus is constant. The loneliness is overbearing at times. It is not a vocation one should enter lightly.

My heart goes out to Mark Driscoll. Even though we would not be considered close friends, I have spent enough time with him and around him to know that underneath all the aggressiveness, brashness, and arrogance is a man who loves Jesus, his family, and the gospel. 

I pray he gets the direction he needs and is able to rebound with humility.  I pray that his brightest days are ahead of him.  I pray for his wife and children.  And I pray for Mars Hill.  My wife is from Seattle. My in-laws still live there.  It is a city that needs Jesus.  God has used Mark Driscoll, in spite of his shortcomings, and Mars Hill Church to punch a hole in the darkness there.  I pray He continues to do so. 

From all appearances, Simon Peter had a similar personality as Mark Driscoll.  He constantly stuck his foot in his mouth, corrected people, cursed, and even rebuked Jesus Himself.  And let's not forget Peter even blatantly denied Jesus when Jesus needed him the most.  And yet in early Acts when God selected someone to stand on the center stage at Pentecost and preach, guess who was chosen? Peter, the disciple with the hot head and foul mouth. Thankfully God has room for the brazen and abrasive. 

I am not defending the actions or attitude of Mark Driscoll.  What I am saying is this: give God space. Give God the space to work in Mark's life.  Trust that God is big enough and gracious enough to use this time of difficulty to make Mark more like Jesus and less like Mark Driscoll.  After all, you and I need that same space.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Mistaken Mentor & A Wedding Ring

"You will not make it three years! Your so-called marriage is destined for failure."

The words leaped off the page at me. They hurt deeply. They angered me. This remark was just a small part of a long grace-less diatribe I received from one of former mentors.  I had reached out to him to seek his forgiveness after a year of silence.  Like many, he contacted me shortly after my sin was exposed and harshly informed me how wrong I was and how deeply disappointed he was in me.  And then I didn't hear from him again until I reached out to him a year later to seek his forgiveness and convey how God had been working in my life over the previous year.

His response? A harangue on how unrepentant and narcissistic I was and how my second marriage was destined for failure. I guess I wasn't surprised. We tend to talk about grace more than we display it.  He really didn't know what steps of repentance, restoration, and healing I had taken so he didn't really know the state of my heart nor did he care to learn what God had been doing.  Sometimes it is just easier to lash out than accept and practice what forgiveness looks like in real life. I get it.

Today Ashley and I celebrate our third anniversary.  Three years is not a huge deal for most married couples but for us it is monumental.  A lot of people believed our marriage would not survive. A lot of people informed us our marriage would not last.  And yet not only have we survived, we have thrived.

Today I can honestly say that our marriage is stronger and healthier than we imagined. Here are a few reasons why.

1. Strength often comes through refining.  Our marriage did not begin under ideal circumstances. Most marriages built on the foundation with which we started crumble under the duress.  And yet the tough times we have gone through have actually drawn us closer together and not pulled us apart. Difficulties will either weaken or strengthen a marriage.  By God's grace, ours made us stronger.

2. We are passionate about each other.  I have never been loved the way Ashley loves me.  I did not know someone could love me the way she does.  I love being loved by her.  I do not feel I deserve her.  I have been asked on numerous occasions how I got "so lucky" to be married to Ashley. And to be honest, I don't know.  She is way more than I deserve. I cherish her.  I love so much about her that a list can't do justice to the things I love about her.  I believe our passion for each other keeps our marriage fresh and growing. She gets me. I get her. I love her for who she is and she celebrates who I am. She really is my best friend.

3. Second Marriage Grace.  My most read blog post ever was one I wrote on second marriage grace. You can read it here. In that post, I talk about how God used a message by Andy Stanley to teach us the principle of second marriage grace. It is a truth to which we cling regularly. The statistics of how many second marriages end in divorce dwarfs the failure of first marriages.  We know that if we are going to have a healthy, successful, and enduring marriage that we must cling to second marriage grace. It is the heartbeat of our relationship.

4. God heals, redeems, and restores.  This truth is the one primary reason our marriage has not only survived but thrives. Simply put, God's grace defies statistics. We are living evidence of that reality.

To celebrate our three year anniversary, I gave Ashley a beautiful wedding ring.  When we got married three years ago, we gave each other simple wedding bands. It was symbolic of where we were in life and the difficulties that awaited us. Our relationship was built on the only real thing we had at that time: each other. Everything seemed to be stacked against us. And the simplicity of our wedding bands symbolized the simplicity of what we had: each other.

Three years later I wanted to give Ashley something that symbolizes the depth of where we are now in our relationship.We are defying the odds. Not because of how great we are but because healing and redemption are real.  Grace trumps stats.

My former mentor was wrong. Our marriage is not destined for failure.  Our marriage, by God's enabling grace, is stronger and healthier than ever.

Happy Anniversary Ashley Hudson. I love you more deeply today than I ever have. And the best is yet to come.


Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Passports and Sovereignty

We just returned from an incredible family vacation to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I love taking my family on great vacations.  We try and make our vacations memorable. In Cabo we snorkeled, went sailing, swam with dolphins, rode ATVs on the beach, ate great food at fun restaurants, and stayed in a nice resort. It was an awesome vacation...that almost did not happen.

We did not have an easy time getting to Mexico...because I am an idiot.  Last year we went out of the country by boat which means my two younger kids did not need a passport to leave the country.  I assumed the same was true when leaving the country by air.  BIG mistake.  When we arrived at the airport at 5:00 am on Saturday morning, we were informed all three kids needed passports.  I was in shock.  I had made a huge mistake.

What is ironic is that I normally research things to death and still cannot believe something so obvious slipped my attention. It looked like our much anticipated vacation might not happen. But to make a long story short, our vacation was delayed by 3 days and we spent 8 hours and an extra couple of hundred dollars getting expedited passports for the kids on Monday.  We also had to rent a car, drive back to Decatur in one day to get a notarized approval form and stay 2 nights in a hotel in Atlanta. It was quite the ordeal.

Needless to say, we were ready for vacation once we got to Mexico.

One thing I noticed during our entire ordeal is how quickly we Christians love to assign responsibility to God.  Our immediate response in these type of moments is to maintain that God has some divine reason for our vacation being delayed.  Was the plane going to crash and God decided to spare us and not everyone else on the plane? (The answer was no by the way).  Did we avoid some type of tragedy?  Did we get to Cabo on Tuesday so we could reschedule Monday's excursions when it poured rain in Cabo?  Maybe but that sounds so trivial to me.

My personal belief is that we did not get on that plane on Saturday for one primary reason: I am an idiot.  I did not do my research and realize every person, regardless of age, has to have their own individual passport to leave this country by air.  I am not going to assign blame to God for my stupidity. 

Here's what I realized. When we arrived at the Atlanta same day passport agency on Monday (the only one within hundreds of miles), I realized that there were dozens of people in the same boat as us.  Some had a slight tear or water stain on their passport.  Some ignored their expiration date.  Some people flying into Europe did not book their ticket within 3 months of expiration.  And on and on and on. Every person had a story. Every person missed a flight. Every person was supposed to be somewhere else at that moment in time.  And yet there we all stood - waiting in the same line for the same basic purpose.  Did God cause each one of us to miss our flights for some supernatural reason? Maybe? Maybe not?  Maybe we are all just idiots who forgot to do our research.

Those who know me well know that I am more reformed in my personal theology.  What that means in short is that I have a high view of God's absolute sovereignty in all matters.  I believe God is in absolute control and nothing catches God off guard.  But I also believe that God allows for stupidity.  God in His sovereignty gives room for flawed humans to make dumb mistakes.  And I even believe He allows these type events to happen without some bigger supernatural reason driving it. Sometimes God just allows stupid to happen.

At the same time, I also know that the Bible is clear that God cares about the very details of our lives. God was not indifferent or unconcerned about what happened to us. So in one sense, there is a sovereign reason we missed our flight.  But perhaps the sovereign reason was to teach us to be better prepared or to teach us patience. After all, have you ever stood in a government agency line for 8 hours?  Maybe it was a simple teaching tool to help shape us as individuals.

Let me put this whole scenario into more focus.  After arriving in Mexico on Tuesday, I learned that my mother who went in for a somewhat routine surgical procedure that day stopped breathing for 2-3 minutes during her recovery.  If my dad had not been present in the room when it happened, we are not sure she would have survived.  It was a surreal moment for sure.  Some people would look at this situation and think perhaps God was trying to keep us home for that reason.  Really?  So we one-upped God and figured out a way to get there even though He wanted us to stay?  Sounds like kind of a weak God who can get one-upped by an idiot who forgot to do his research.

Here's reality: God is in absolute control.  He is in control when we make stupid mistakes. He is in control when your loved one stops breathing.  He is in control of missed flights as well as life and death situations.  His purposes will be fulfilled in everyday life.

I am not sure God caused us to miss our flights on that Saturday for some life-altering supernatural purpose but I do know that God cares about the details of life and works through the normal to shape us.  In other words, God works through and in our stupidity to make us more dependent on Him and less dependent on us.

This vacation was one of those trips where things seemed to go a different direction than we planned.  We were almost expecting things to happen. As a matter of fact, my wedding band is lying somewhere at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes life just happens - even on vacation. And yet through it all, we had one of our best vacations ever.

And guess what? God was in control the entire time - even when I was an idiot.



Friday, June 20, 2014

I Attend a TRADITIONAL Church

I attend a traditional church.

Don't get me wrong. On an average Sunday you will not find a choir, organ or pulpit in our gatherings.  Padded chairs replace pews. There are no hymnals and the pastor will not be wearing a suit. More than likely you will hear the latest Elevation or Hillsong tune. The room will be dark and the stage will be lit and people will raise their hands during the songs.  Jeans are the most common choice of clothes and most of the audience will look at the Scriptures for that day on their smartphones or the screens. Few will bring an actual Bible to church.  And yet the church I attend is traditional. Let me explain.

Traditional can be defined in a number of ways but the general idea is that a tradition is something that is handed down from a previous generation. When it comes to doctrine, you want traditions. After all, the gospel itself is a tradition that Christians believe has been embraced and passed down to every generation since Jesus and the apostles. Essential Christian doctrine is a non-negotiable tradition.

But when it comes to certain practices, traditions can be healthy or harmful.  Some traditions, particularly those related to the prescriptive practices of the New Testament, need to be preserved. Baptism and Communion would be two classic examples.  Other traditions are a mere reflection of the particular needs or preferences of a group or generation that for some reason get passed on to future generations. Can anyone say Sunday night church?  These traditions, while not inherently wrong in their original intention and purpose, run the risk of becoming unhealthy when they are held on equal plane as the ones prescribed in the New Testament.

Traditions serve a purpose. Some of them need to be embraced, maintained, and passed on. Other traditions simply need to go away like the need and purpose for which it was originally created disappeared. These type of traditions should not be maintained simply because they were effective in the past but no longer serve a redemptive purpose.  As time moves forward and things evolve, some traditions have no purpose in today's day and age.  Let them disappear. It's okay.

So what do I mean when I say that I attend a traditional church?  Truthfully the type of church we attend is probably more commonplace now than what was considered a "traditional" church in a previous generation.  I am sure if you counted every single church in places like the Bible Belt the "traditional" churches of the past still outnumber the "non-traditional" churches of the present. But I would argue that in most of the country the opposite is true.

When I started a church in Las Vegas in the mid-2000s, we were considered a "cutting edge" church by many people around the country.  We were featured in a few magazines. I was interviewed on a number of podcasts and spoke at multiple conferences. We even made a couple of local Las Vegas publications for the "edgy" way that we approached church.  But honestly, we were not that unique.  We were simply a part of a generation that did church in a certain way.  For those of us who run in those circles, it is the norm. It is traditional. It is what we know.

Last Sunday my kids got on a bus to head to camp.  This particular camp is different from any camp that was available to me when I was a kid.  But for my kids, it is normal.  I found it interesting last Sunday before they departed that the pastor's wife of the church we attend told the kids that they are fortunate because they were going to a camp that is similar to the church they attend.  Their camp experience is not that different than their weekly church experience. I am certain that many of the other churches who sent their kids to this particular camp can make similar claims.  Reflecting on that thought later, I was reminded that in some weird way we attend a traditional church.  Non-traditional is the new traditional. 

Our worship band is just like thousands of other bands. The community service component of our church is not unique.  Thousands of other churches have a similar approach. Our philosophy of ministry is common. The small group model of our church, its growth strategies, the teaching style, the leadership structure, the type of people we attract - all of these components mirror what thousands of other churches are doing around the world.  I can't really think of a single thing that is unique in our church. We are the new normal. And that is okay. 

One thing I have learned about those in the "modern" church movement (myself included) is that we love to use superlatives.  We love to label ourselves as the best, coolest, latest, most life changing, etc.  We love to talk about how we are different. We take pride in what separates us from the churches around us who seem to be stuck in a style from a previous generation.  And yet, we are equally as traditional in our own world.

My kids have never really attended a church where they have to "dress up" to go to church. They don't have to sit in pews or try and sing songs they don't understand. Many of the things I experienced as a child growing up in church they will never experience.  And I am fine with that reality.  Many want to "preserve" traditions of the past that are simply irrelevant and useless to a new generation. What I want to pass to my kids are those traditions that are non-negotiable and outlast the latest fad.

I am afraid that in the attempt to dispose of negotiable traditions that many churches have downplayed the important ones. I have been guilty of doing the same.  I want my kids to hear about Jesus a lot more than how awesome or different the church they attend is.  I want my kids to hear the gospel week in and week out - not simply as a springboard into faith or the baptismal pool but as the heartbeat of our faith and the power by which they live everyday life.  I want them to understand that following Jesus is not always easy, fun and cool. Sometimes it is inconvenient, dangerous and unpopular.  I want my kids to walk away from church every week thinking about how awesome Jesus is.

Traditions, regardless of the face they wear, can be helpful OR they can simply get in the way.  They can hinder us from staying focused on what really matters.  There is a "new traditional" in the life of the church. And I love it. I am thankful for it.  But don't think for one second that the new traditional does not run the risk of falling prey to the same tendencies of those we love to criticize.

I am sure there will be a day when at least one of my children decides to go to a church that looks very different than the one they attend now.  It is how the cycle works.  What was new yesterday is normal today and will probably be boring and irrelevant tomorrow.  As a matter of fact, the latest trend is to go back to many of the traditions this generation worked so hard to replace.  The pendulum is always swinging. 

What is important is to make sure we receive, protect, and pass on those traditions delivered to us by previous generations that define who we are and what truly makes us unique.

Paul says it this way: "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance to the Scriptures, and that he appeared..." And that is a tradition we can't afford to miss or compromise.

I attend a traditional church. And that's okay.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Happy Broken Father's Day

I love being a dad.  I love my kids unconditionally. I believe in them, support them, provide for them, take care of them, encourage them, and protect them. I am not sure what qualifies a dad to be a "great" father but I do what I can to try and be the dad my kids deserve. And guess what? I fall miserably short.

I am not a perfect father. I am a sinner. I make mistakes. I overreact. I lose my temper. I say things I should not. I am sure my decisions are not always the best ones.  In essence: I am broken.

Several years ago, I made the decision to walk away from a marriage. And as a result, the mother of my children divorced me. I guess it is fair to say I abandoned our marriage. I made choices that impacted my children in a deep and lasting way.  I never abandoned my kids (even though people love to throw around that phrase in situations like mine). As a matter of fact, I am probably more intentional with the time I spend with my children than I ever have been. But I did make a decision that altered the course of their lives.

That decision to change our family dynamic haunts me on days like Father's Day. It usually surfaces with this type of internal struggle: "If you are such a great dad, why did you choose to walk away from their mother? Why didn't you fight for your first marriage?"

How can I lead them when I failed them so deeply?
How can I teach them to be honest when I lived such a lie?
How can I show them how to love when I failed to love their own mother?
How can I be Jesus to them when I misrepresented Him so severely?

These type of questions can hinder a man from being the type of father God has called him to be. After all, how can a man who has made such a blatant and life-changing error still be the father he is supposed to be? 

The answer? The gospel

The gospel declares that Jesus is who I am not. He does what I cannot. He salvages what I destroy. He heals what I wound. He reconciles what I damage. 

I have learned (and continue to learn) that the only way that I can truly be the dad God intends is for me to point my kids to Jesus.

I failed them but He will never fail them.
I am broken but He is not.
I make mistakes as a parent and will let them down but Jesus will never disappoint them.

I believe my greatest contribution to the life of my children is to lead them to follow and trust their Heavenly Father who loves them in a way that is free from error. 

Like most parents, I believe my kids are as close to perfect as a child can be. But guess what? They are not. They are as broken as I am.  And the answer to their brokenness rests in the same Person who heals my sinful heart.

My children do not need a different or new father.  They have a father who loves them more than life. But what they do need is a father who recognizes his own brokenness, seeks forgiveness from his Heavenly Father, and seeks to follow his Father in a way that points his broken children to Jesus.

So to all my fellow dads out there: Happy Broken Father's Day!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Getting Caught

Time for a soapbox moment...

I was talking recently to a young man who was caught in an affair, subsequently fired from his church, and is wrestling with his next steps.  He wants to do the right thing and is seeking reconciliation with his wife.  He served on staff at a fairly large church.

I asked him how his lead pastor responded to the situation and his reply came as no surprise.  The pastor was harsh, chastised him, and then proceeded to inform him that the only reason he was coming clean was because he got caught.  Let's be clear: that statement is TRUE.  If he had not been caught, he did not plan to come clean.  He was not overwhelmed with guilt and confess his sin without first getting caught.  For this reason, the pastor felt justified in his less than gracious response.

"If you had not been caught..."

This preface to whatever words follows it drives me crazy.  It is a statement I heard repeatedly when I went through a similar situation over 3 years ago. Here's why it bothers me...

Repentance often follows exposure. There is not time for me to list the biblical characters who "got caught" before repenting and turning from their sin.  King David is a classic example.  David was an adulterer and murderer and there is NO indication he had any plan of coming clean before being called out by Nathan the prophet.  He was caught in his sin which eventually led to his repentance and restoration. 

I can name dozens of others from Adam & Eve to Paul to Abraham to Moses to Noah.  The list is endless. 

* I will not even begin to discuss the reality that many of the big dogs in the Bible commit blatant sins and the Bible subsequently provides NO record of their repentance.

Here's a truth: God often uses exposure to lead people to repentance. 

There are very few examples in the Bible of people reaching a place of repentance without first being caught at some level.

And by the way, there is no clear cut time frame provided by which a person must reach that place of repentance. For this particular young man, thankfully his repentance happened quickly.  For others, it takes weeks, months, even years!  It took me a window of time to reach a place of true repentance. I made more sinful and poor decisions in the process.  However, God never stopped pursuing me. He was relentless.  He exposed more sin. He brought more deception to light.  And in the process, His exposure of my sin eventually led to my full repentance and potential restoration.

Sin is deceptive.  It is often difficult to think clearly and rightly during a time of exposure. You scramble. You hide. You lie.  And yet God never gives up.  He exposes so that He might heal and redeem

We love to talk about grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing.  But applying and living it gets messy and complicated.

Getting caught is tough.  It is less than ideal. And yet it happens more often than not.  It is clearly a method that God employs to lead His children to repentance and redemption.

Jesus died for those who get caught.  He died for the guilty.  He died for the exposed. 

We actually have an example in the New Testament of how Jesus responded to a woman who was actually "caught in the act of adultery" (John 8:4).  Sound familiar?  Maybe a re-read of that particular passage (John 8:1-11) would help remind us how to respond when we are faced with someone who has been caught in the very act