137 Golf Balls

For most of our lives Friday night at the Hudson home has involved pizza, games, or some crazy activity. This weekend was no different. After some pizza and banter, the conversation turned to what would be the activity of the evening. I’m not sure who suggested it, but the idea of golf ball hunting was brought up, and moments later Gent, Jake, Ris, and myself were in the woods. To give you a visual, it looked something like Easter for grown-ups. We scoured the woods looking for golf balls as though they were gold, and twenty minutes later, we strolled out with 137 golf balls! We celebrated with a photo session and perusing the mirage of colors and brands. As I reflected on our haul, I was amazed that 137 people, unless some had hit multiple shots into the woods, had chosen to leave their golf ball. Costing between $2.50 and $5.00 a piece, they were left because their value was not worth the time that it would take to find them. Jesus speaks of going on a search, not for golf balls, but for sheep. It’s the parable where 99 sheep are safe, but one has wondered away and is lost. The parable suggests that though He has 99 sheep, Jesus puts extreme value on one, so much so, that he leaves the herd to find it. His point? There are no unimportant souls, no unimportant people, everyone has value to Jesus. Important to know for ourselves and important to know about the broken and confused around us. Jesus cares, and if He does, we must. Recognize this today, no matter what you have done, you matter. Jesus is searching for you, reaching with grace and mercy . . . and, if He’s doing that for us, how much more should we be reaching for those in a world that is broken and hurting.

Dormant, Not Dead

High heat and no rain have brought a swift change to our yards. It’s mid-July and they look like its late August, unless you don’t care about your water bill, and have been relentlessly watering. Green lawns that we were constantly mowing in May have turned dry and brown. But take heart, your yard is not dead, it’s dormant. It’s good to know. In most cases you won’t have to reseed, simply wait, and come Fall, rains will come, and your grass will turn green again. The brown isn’t a sign of death, but protection. Built into every blade a grass is the ability to defend itself when times get dry. It will live again. What a novel idea, one not just for grass, but for Christians as well. In life, dry seasons come, God knew that, so he built in safeguards. David explains this in Psalm 23 when he says, “when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” How can he have that confidence? Because he knows he’s got built in protection. He follows up the fear no evil with, “surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” What David understood we must know; that we all have times of stagnation and dryness. In those seasons, God has not forsaken us, we have not committed the unpardonable sin, or somehow become God’s least favorite child, we are simply going through a tough stretch. It’s just a part of life. When these moments hit, know you’re not dead, just dormant. Stay faithful, keep praying, know that mercy and grace will sustain you, and say to yourself often, I’m not dead, just dormant.

Let it Go

How far do you want mercy and grace to extend? Past your latest sin? Past your struggling weakness? Past your worst failure? Past your past? We’re all in when God stoops down, writes something in the sand, and forgives the woman caught in adultery. We love when Jesus cleanses the heart of the woman who has had five husbands and is living with a sixth man. But the real challenge comes when we must be like Jesus; forgive, extend grace, and show the mercy to others as he has done for us. What I’ve found is that it is much easier to receive mercy than to extend it. We hold on to grudges, are judge and jury, and hold on to pains that someone else caused. Is it possible that what made David a man after God’s heart wasn’t that he was perfectly Holy or righteous, but that he extended the same grace that God had extended to him to others? David had been pursued by King Saul for years, but when given the chance to exact revenge, he exhibited mercy. Saul is pursuing David and comes into a cave where David is hiding. David has the perfect opportunity to take Saul’s life, but instead, he cuts a corner off Saul’s garment and extends mercy. In another moment, Saul and his men fall asleep and David walks into the camp unnoticed. Standing over the problem of his life, instead of taking his life, he takes a few utensils and a sword and walks away. As we start this year, I encourage you to forgive, show compassion and extend mercy to those who have hurt you or have caused you pain. Why? Because if we want grace and mercy to go beyond our failures and shortcomings, we need to make sure it goes beyond what others need also.

Thankfulness Beyond Blessings

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving it should be easy to reflect on God’s goodness and give thanks. Though our country is in a difficult season, we’re still fortunate to live with countless freedoms and blessings. While it may not be your dream home, you woke up in a bed and looked up to see a roof over your head. As a chill begins to fill the air, we kick on furnaces, add blankets to beds and grab coats before we leave our homes. Today, we might ask, what do you want to eat or how can I lose weight, but probably not, I wonder if there will be food for me today. If you’re reading this devotion, it means you have your sight and you’re holding it in your hand, either physically or on an electronic device. Much of the third world walks to destinations, while we jump into vehicles and travel in luxury. Consider the blessings we have if we have health, family, and friends. Beyond the material and relational blessings, there is more. King David, who lived a blessed life, reflected on God’s goodness in Psalm 136. He doesn’t mention material or relational favor, but reflects on one blessing, “that God’s mercy endures forever.” In fact, so overwhelmed by God’s mercy, he repeats the phrase, “his mercy endures forever,” 26 times. I too say, thanks God, for your mercy. Beyond the physical blessings, wonderful family, and good friends, I’m grateful for God’s overextending mercy. Mercy to robe himself in flesh and give His life for me, grace that extends beyond my continual shortcomings, and love that is unfailing and infinite. As we gather this Thanksgiving, remember to give thanks that you know a merciful, gracious, and loving God.

Imperfect Treasures

You walk into a store and begin to look around. After perusing the store for a few minutes, you realize everything is slightly used, marginally broken, missing something or has been returned. A button is absent on a shirt. A vase has a miniscule chip. An appliance is in an open box. Almost everything in the store is useable, though some things seem, slightly defective. Some would walk away, only wanting something that is new, while others might think, “I’ll take a chance, I think I can work with this, or I can fix this.” Much of our home is filled with items bought at consignment stores, garage sales and secondhand retailers. Mary and I find pleasure in the search and getting great deals. One day, as I was reflecting on our finds, God gave me a gentle nudge, basically saying, what you do with things is what I do with people. God loves taking broken, hurting, and damaged people and putting them back together. Understand, all humanity is broken, all of us. In fact, if you get to know most of the Life Community, you will find it is filled with people who are or have been broken. Some of us are still missing some pieces in our lives and others God is still working on. If you are looking for a perfect friendship, perfect pastor or perfect church community, Life is probably not the place for you. But, if you are slightly broken, are willing to take a chance on God and some other damaged people, you will find some amazing treasures at Life. Get around some of us and you will find a few knobs or buttons missing, and you might find a few chips in our personalities or attitudes, but we are all becoming God’s treasures. He’s taken a chance on us. We’ve been blood bought and we’re now a work in progress. Life, a place to find or become a gently used treasure.

Snow. Snow and More Snow

Monday was a glorious day. In fact, it’s been a pretty good month. Snow, snow and more snow. As I write, over a foot of snow is still on the ground. There are great spiritual lessons in snow. First, snow has no prejudice. It falls everywhere and on everyone. Doesn’t matter your economic, religious or social status. Snow falls. Second, snow covers everything. It covers average and beautiful landscaped yards. Snow covers sidewalks and streets, leaves that weren’t raked and branches that have fallen. Snow finds every knuck and covers every cranny. Finally, the obvious, snow makes everything white. Gray, green, brown, regardless the color, snow turns it white. Isaiah says, “though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow.” What an amazing word picture when we put into context what a snow does. Jesus’ blood, like snow, has no prejudice. It covers everyone. No bias, no discrimination. Second, like snow, Jesus’ blood covers everything, no issue is beyond his blood. Whether a lie, a moral failure or something worse, Jesus’s blood covers it. Finally, Jesus’ red blood turns our sins white. We become justified and clean. He gives us a clean slate. His blood takes our sins and makes them as distant as the east is from the west. The old song says, thank God for the blood, thank God for the blood, it washes white as snow. I’m glad I can live in the power of His work and not in my futile efforts to save myself. Maybe that’s why I love snow so much, because it reminds me that His blood makes my life look like a fresh snow.

Just Keep Loving

John 4 is where we find Jesus setting his sights on helping a fragile and apprehensive Samaritan woman. The story opens as Jesus arrives at Jacob’s well, alone. He has sent His disciples to get bread. The setting is important, because if he isn’t alone, He likely doesn’t have a chance to have a conversation with the woman. It’s not that the woman isn’t broken, she is. It’s just that she is jaded and skeptical because of the bruises of life. She’s been hurt by five different husbands and the man that’s now a part of her life isn’t her husband. As the conversation begins, Jesus faces an emotional wall that is as high and thick as a prison wall. Trying to break through the icy stare, Jesus asks for water. He is met with a why? Why are you, a Jew, asking me, a Samaritan for a glass of water. Don’t you know your type doesn’t talk to people like me. When Jesus offers her water she skeptically asks, how are you going to give me water, you have nothing to draw with. When Jesus explains it’s spiritual water, she judgingly questions, are you greater than our father Jacob? Every attempt Jesus makes to help her is met with a jaded and calloused response. Jesus conversation with the Samaritan woman reminds me of the difficulty we run into when we try to share the good news; the news that Jesus can bless and impact their life. It’s met with the same skepticism and jaded response. Why? They’ been hurt and they don’t trust. How do we overcome their pain? The same way Jesus did. Keep loving, showing compassion and offering mercy. Hopefully, at some moment, the walls crack, the heart softens, and the love of God comes pouring over their heart like a spring shower.

Blessed and Thankful

Thanksgiving. For some, it’s become, not a day about giving thanks, but the day that earmarks the beginning of Christmas shopping. Instead of taking the time to reflect on the incredible blessings and favor we have as Americans, it has become a frenzied day of greed and self-centeredness. While I recognize that our country nor our lives are perfect, we must admit that we are abundantly blessed. For most who are reading this article, we have a warm home, food in our cabinets and a car to drive. Even for those who have little or nothing, there are caring charities who attempt to provide for the basic needs; clothing, food and shelter. While we may not realize or appreciate it, even those who we would call poor are often better off than many in this world. That is why it grieves me when I see such a lack of thankfulness.  In one of the most blessed countries of all times, I have been amazed and saddened by the anger, rioting and general discontent in people we’ve seen this year. When will we stop to count our blessings? When will we be satisfied with the abundance that we have? At what point will there be a pause, a reflection and a genuine heart of appreciation and spirit of gratitude? How about this week? It doesn’t have to be an “around the table” moment or a long prayer, but there should be a true spirit of thankfulness in our Thanksgiving. God is good and God has been good to us. Give thanks!

The Power of Consistency

I recently read of a feud between to neighbors in California. One got upset with the other over a landscaping issue and has proceeded to continually play the Gilligan’s Island theme song over outdoor speakers just below the acceptable decibel level of the city ordinances. There is now a lawsuit. The power of persistence is amazing. In Joshua 6, God tells the people to walk around the city one time each day, with the priest continually blowing trumpets. The battle plan makes little sense, but Israel’s consistent obedience brought an indescribable victory. Jesus speaks of a widow in Luke 18 who consistently asked a judge to grant her protection, she was so persistent that the judge says, “I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.” Want to know something else, God is consistent in His love for us. In Luke 15 we read the story of the prodigal son. While the son walked away from the father, the father never gave up on his son. Day after day he was watching, hoping and believing his son would return. In Luke 15:20, it says, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” We have a God who consistently looks for ways to love us and show mercy and grace toward us. It’s important that we realize that when we are not consistent, when what we say and what we do at church does not match up in our daily life, the gospel and the power of the Spirit loses credibility. Live a consistent Godly life. Live it before your spouse, your children and the world you are called to reach.