Newbridge Blog

Giving Easter Another Chance

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When I was a little boy on Easter morning, I would do what all little boys do with reckless abandon: run full-throttle downstairs to find my Easter basket, bedded with green plastic Easter grass, and filled to overflowing with candy- Hershey kisses, Cadbury eggs, chocolates with cream, chocolates with peanut butter. It’s one of those childhood sensations I can still touch, taste, see, and smell in my mind’s eye. It’s also one of the times my usually sweets-averse mother relaxed her stringent standards. Candy before breakfast! Where did this sugary, chocolaty, overindulgent decadence come from? Why, the Easter Bunny, of course!

Now, our family owned three actual, standard-issue non-Easter rabbits, and I distinctly remember one Easter morning sizing up my Easter basket next to one of the rabbits, and realizing, even at my young age, that the geometry and physics of the whole rabbit-basket equation was a stretch to say the least. I think I even asked my parents how the bunny opened the doors to our home. I was happy for the candy, but suddenly suspicious of the backstory. And thus, in that sad moment of lost childhood innocence and wonder, cynicism was born.

As adults, if we’re truly honest, many of us feel that same cynicism in a different way as we come to Easter and its traditions, especially church. For some of you, the last time you were in church was LAST Easter. Or maybe longer. Or, you go more regularly, but just go through the motions, because the Easter message of HOPE doesn’t seem to stand up to a closer examination, just like my Easter basket and the bunny. We look at a world that doesn’t seem very hopeful, in fact it seems dark, headed the wrong direction, often confusing, and sometimes downright frightening. We look at our lives, and we see circumstances that cause even the strongest of us to draw in our breath- illness, broken relationships, death, despair, hardship, suffering, big questions.

And sometimes, we look at Christians around us- and they seem to be angry, defensive, running scared, more concerned with their own self-protection, moral authority, and invulnerability than with the things we thought Jesus was all about. Maybe you’ve had a bad experience with one, or a bad church experience, and it’s soured that message of hope that you thought Easter was about. If you’re honest, maybe you have doubts that the outlandish story of Jesus’ resurrection that Easter celebrates could be true because you'd see a much different picture in your world if it were. And even if it is, it’s hard to trace how it impacts and changes your life and your struggles when your eyes open to face them every morning. You have every right to be cynical because of all this and so much more.

One of the interesting things we forget about Jesus’ closest followers- his disciples- is that they didn’t believe in him either, even after hanging around him for three years and hearing him make repeated, clearly-recorded, outlandish claims about being the son of God, the savior of the world, and that he would die and then be raised to life. You’d think that the people who followed him around for so long would have more faith, but they clearly didn’t.

When Jesus was arrested, it was because one of his closest followers betrayed him. Another, who vowed to lay down his life for Jesus wilted and ran at the fireside inquires of a middle-school-aged girl. By the time he was crucified and buried, all of his inner circle had fled. On that first Easter morning, when the women came to Jesus’ tomb and discovered that the stone had been rolled back, they weren’t there because they expected a resurrection, it was because they knew some men had hastily buried Jesus on Friday, and suspected, women knowing what they do about men and these sorts of things, that they hadn’t done it right. We learn in the Bible that even after reports and sightings of Jesus began spreading around, at least one of his closest followers still didn’t believe it.

All these people heard everything Jesus said about being the son of God and rising from the dead, but none of them actually believed it when the jarring events of real life: an arrest, crucifixion, death, and burial- came to pass. For them, the idea of hope was crushed by the circumstances of no hope. Like you, they had every right to be cynical.

 But fast forward into the future: Many of these same people became the strongest voices declaring that Jesus had in fact risen and was the Savior- the son of God. Most of them ultimately paid for this claim with their lives, and the rest were persecuted, living with suffering, alienation, rejection, and difficulty. But they were filled with HOPE right to the very end because their cynicism was melted away by encountering Jesus the person. These stories, just like Jesus’ claims about himself, are comprehensive and well-documented. If they had not encountered a risen Jesus, this would have been pointless and insane.

 If this unlikely story revolutionized the direction and purpose of their lives, making them these bright, blazing beacons of hope in the midst of great suffering, difficulty, and great personal cost, then perhaps we should give Jesus another chance. Perhaps, in the midst of struggles, questions, doubts, and even cynicism this Easter, you need an encounter with Jesus the person. Perhaps you need to choose hope.

Choosing hope. One thing I’ve learned as I’ve grown older and crossed paths with people who have endured great difficulty and struggle is that hope isn’t something that happens to you. It’s a choice. It’s always a choice. And hope isn’t a just reward at the end of your personal journey. It’s a direction you choose to set your life on each day.

If you think you might like to give Easter another chance, we’d love for you to consider joining us at Newbridge Church this Sunday at 10 AM. We’re a gathering of people with many stories of struggle and challenge, which would give us every right to be cynical. But we’ve chosen to go toward hope, and it’s changing us a little bit more every day. We’d love for you to join us!

Posted by Michael Hoddy with

Greatness

I’ve always fancied myself a creative type- musician, writer, thinker, dreamer, sometimes more than these things, sometimes less. One of the age-old clichés about creatives is that they do their best work in the middle of the night. This is not true for me. One of the interesting life lessons I’ve learned is that I do my best work early in the mornings. Things just flow naturally then. A cup of really good coffee, my laptop, the piano- these are all my tools of choice as the sun streams over the hill, through the trees, and into the back windows.

In years past, I would work on music- new arrangements, songs, recordings; or I would just write or think, or design, or dream. It was always very high and heady stuff about the world, people, faith, politics, exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from someone who describes themselves that way I did in the previous paragraph. I knew the mark I wanted to make on the world, and was determined to make it in whatever ways I could. I had a lot to prove.

These days, I still do my best work in the morning. But it mostly involves walking into my 7-month-old son’s room, calling his name, seeing his eyes light up and his little legs kick with excitement when he sees me, and playing with him- simple games like bouncing him until we both start laughing together uncontrollably. Yesterday morning, I even wrote another song- this time with him. But in contrast to the lofty ideals of the past, this one was called “Let’s Find Out If There’s Poop.”

My creative output is lower than it has ever been, but my heart has never been more full. In the past years, I explored life’s meaning a lot- wrote, thought and talked about it. But these days, my life has never been more meaningful, without having to think much about it at all. Why the shift?

Most of us want to do something great. We grow up with a desire to be remembered- to make a mark on our world, to change things, to leave our corner of existence different than the way we found it. Some of us chase this until we die, some of us give up, some of us settle or make an uncomfortable peace, and a few us actually achieve it. In America, there exists a great body of accomplishment and achievement-oriented thought and literature. Go to the bookstore in the airport (do you really go to bookstores anywhere else these days?), and you’ll find that the self-help and leadership sections are among the largest.

In my world- the church world- this is equally true. Almost unheard of 30 years ago, there are more leadership-oriented conferences and resources than ever before. These are all good things, and there’s a wealth of possibilities to be learned and practiced. But they are very often- at least for me- rooted in our desire to make a mark on the world. Many Christians like me- the creative and leader types- want to do a great work for God. To make Him known, to see our nation transformed, people healed, the church grow, the world change. All good things. We pray that God will bless us, strengthen us, equip us, inspire us, and challenge us as we go on our way. All good things, but so often, the common denominator is us doing stuff for God.

My journey of the past several years is teaching me something: God doesn't want you to do a great work for him. He wants to do a great work in you.

God is way less concerned about your output- all the things you are doing for Him, and way more concerned about who you are becoming. That reality and relationship comes way before anything else of true meaning and value. The condition of what’s inside you will have a direct impact on the enduring quality of what happens outside.

There’s a story in the Gospel of John about Jesus and John the Baptist. John was a rockstar- kind of a crazy, eccentric guy, but the first prophet his people had seen in hundreds of years. Crowds followed him everywhere. He got all the good speaking gigs. If Facebook and Twitter existed, everyone would have followed him. His blog would have broken the internet. But then Jesus, the Messiah, the character around whom his audience had built, shows up on the scene. And in true pop culture form, everyone moves on from John and starts following Jesus around instead. His popularity declines. His followers pick up on this decline almost immediately and basically ask him point blank what he thinks about it and what he plans to do about it. John responds in a classic way that has been ringing in my head for the past several months: “He must become greater, I must become less.” John knew his purpose didn’t lead back to him and his greatness. It lead out of him to someone greater.

Greatness in the eyes of God may look completely different than what you think greatness is. We measure greatness in terms of output, influence, achievement, followers, and likes. There's nothing wrong with these things. But the source makes all the difference. I’m convinced that true greatness- greatness that lasts- is measured by what’s in your heart- the source, and the direction the things in your heart point.

Does what’s in your heart leave people better than they were- more whole, more at peace, closer to God? Even when it costs you personally? Or does it require something from them for you to feel right? At the end of your life, your achievements will not surround your bedside. It’s all about how what’s in your heart changes the hearts of people around you for the better, one interaction, one person, one moment at a time. Lean in, and examine the state of your heart. Because God doesn't want you to do a great work for him. He wants to do a great work in you.

Posted by Michael Hoddy with

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