Newbridge Blog

Scandal

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As a pastor and long-time Christian, one of the greatest ironies I have ever experienced is the chasm that exists between the supposed core message of Christianity- the idea that Jesus came to save us from sin and hopelessness with the free offer of saving grace, and to save us for a life marked by unprecedented love that ends in eternity in heaven- and the perception of Christians that people outside the fold of Christianity have.

A survey by the pollster George Barna found this startling result: Just 16% of young adults in America- people in their late teens and early twenties- have a favorable impression of Christians, that they are a positive influence in society. In the same survey, 87% of respondents identified Christians as “judgmental” and 85% as “hypocritical.”

Lest we simply write off these figures as bias or misperception, one of the researchers on the project had this to say: “Going into this three-year project, I assumed that people’s perceptions were generally soft, based on misinformation, and would gradually morph into more traditional views. But then, as we probed why people had come to such conclusions, I was surprised how much their perceptions were rooted in specific stories and personal interactions with Christians and in churches. When they labeled Christians as judgmental this was not merely spiritual defensiveness. It was frequently the result of truly unchristian experiences.”

As I’ve talked to people over the years, one of the recurring themes I unfortunately encounter in those conversations is bad church or bad Christian experiences- some situation where an encounter with Christians or the church created more pain rather than more healing. More suffering rather than less. More tears rather than wiping them away. Or even more doubt rather than more faith. I truly wish I could say that these conversations seem to be the exception rather than the norm, but sadly, they’re not.

One of the frequent push-backs on this data is that the modern mainstream world is more hostile to Christianity than in past generations. That’s true. But the problem is that much of this hostility isn’t rooted in a reaction to the message of the Gospel of hope or to the person of Jesus, but in Christian bad behavior. By contrast, the early church in the Bible was placed in an even more hostile world, but grew rapidly rather than declining, and was remarkably popular amongst the margins of society. The same was true with Jesus. But sadly, the same does not seem to be true with us.

This creates a real quandary: If the Gospel- which we hold dear- is really “good news,” and if Christians are to be transformed by it to become both its agents and its best advertisement, we have a problem.

Here’s my take on it: I don’t think the vast majority of Christians set out to be the negative statistics we see above. But somehow, they- we- end up there. Lots of Christians talk about grace. Apparently, a lot less actually do it. Very few of us would see ourselves or the others in our tribe as judgmental or hypocritical. But the statistics reveal that at the least, we are direly misunderstood, and at the most, that we have become that way somehow. In either case, this is an issue that we need to face unflinchingly and humbly, because it’s on us to shift it.

Why do I think this is? I think it’s because we misunderstand what the grace of God- given to us by Jesus the midst of our brokenness and sin- ACTUALLY is. We have in some way failed to grasp it or have moved on from it. And we have failed to be deeply transformed by it. Tullian Tchividjian, who wrote a fantastic book on the subject, says this: “Too many people have walked away from the church, not because they’re walking away from Jesus, but because the church has walked away from Jesus.”

We tend to believe that grace is for bad people who need to get it together, but it’s for ALL people, even if they think they have it together. Trouble begins when we think we’ve mastered Christian living and no longer need grace- that we’re good Christian people. We Christians don’t live in grace until we supposedly clean up our act, because our act is never clean. We’re not “holy” because we behave well or check a list of boxes. We’re only holy because of Jesus (Hebrews 10:10), and he offers that equally to the people who think they’re good, and the ones who know they’re bad. This is very offensive to "good" people, but there are no “good Christian people,” because we never graduate from the school of grace. We remain in it, receiving it from God continually, and giving it to others.

Over the next few weeks at Newbridge Church, we’ll be digging deep into the Scandal of what God’s grace really is- how it changes us- how it changes our church, our living, and our world. We hope you’ll join us!

Warning Lights

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For the past several weekends at Newbridge Church, we’ve been in a series called Restore. The big concept of it is that we believe as a church that God's heart throughout history is for the restoration of brokenness. And we believe he’s called us to join in.

This past weekend in Part 4, I addressed the fact that it’s really hard to be a restorer out in the world if you’re profoundly broken yourself. In fact, I believe that the greatest challenge to Christianity is not forces that oppose from without, but the unrestored hearts of Christians within.

Let me be clear: I don’t believe we ever will see complete wholeness in our lives on this side of eternity, but true restoration that’s in line with the heart of God reaches inward and outward at the same time. It tangibly affects the world, but it also changes your heart.

In my close to two decades of church ministry, the major stumbling block for Christians hasn’t even been the brokenness itself, but the lack of awareness of it.

The way this really trips up Christians is in our view of salvation. We tend to view “being saved” as a cure-all for all the brokenness issues that we each have- and we all have them- emotional, relational, physiological, even spiritual.

When my wife Grace and I bought our first house, there are many things we fixed or updated right away. But there are many other things we haven’t finished yet, even though we’re the owners. And there are still other issues that haven’t even made their appearance yet that we’ll have to address when they do.

Coming to faith is like Jesus taking title to the house of your life. Jesus may be the new owner, but it takes time to expose all of the issues that he has to restore for you to be whole. There are some things that will change right away, just like with my house. Others will take much longer. But the key to getting on the journey is awareness. This is hard but incredibly fruitful. We serve a Restoration God who desires you to be whole, unbroken, undivided, and free.

I've been a Christian for many years. I was talented and apparently spiritual enough to end up in full-time ministry. I knew a lot of Bible verses. But I was profoundly broken, and brokenness breeds. I hurt people deeply. If you’re broken, you will inflict it on others. I was insecure, spiteful, hurtful with my words, emotionally manipulative, even toxic. This spilled into all the personal and professional relationships I had around me- my marriage, family, work, church, and friends. Because you can’t control what you’re not aware of. If you look around your life and don’t think you have any brokenness, it’s not because you don’t have it, it’s because you don’t see it. The key is becoming aware. This takes tremendous humility and courage, because you’ll have to begin to see yourself the way other people experience you, own it, and not make excuses.

Where to begin? In your car, there are warning lights that come on if there’s a problem. You may not be able to literally see the problem in the engine, or understand how to fix it. But knowing is half the battle. Here are some “warning lights” for personal brokenness that I’ve used in my own life and as I’ve tried to help others:

  1. Do you have a trail of broken situations in your wake? Not just one or two, but a trail. Failed relationships, lost jobs, burned bridges in friendships or work. If you look back and see a pattern like this, it’s likely that there’s a brokenness issue in your own life that’s feeding it, whether you know it or not. If there’s a pattern, the only thing in common with all of those diverse situations is you. There’s an old adage “Wherever you go, there you are.” Simply running to a new situation- relationship, job, church, city, school- won’t fix the underlying issue.
  1. Is there a recurring theme in your life that keeps showing up? I had a friend who went through about 5 jobs in 2 years. Every time she’d change jobs, it had to do with the fact that she couldn’t stand her boss. Now, either she had an incredible string of bad luck, or there was a pattern. In her case, it was unhealthy expectations under the surface towards authority figures, but in any case, the pattern signals a brokenness issue. If there’s something in your life that keeps recurring, pay attention.
  1. Are your struggles always because of OTHER people? It’s possible that it’s always the other person’s fault- what they did to you, how they hurt you or betrayed you, or what they failed to do, but that’s not likely. One of the questions I always ask people who come to me for counsel when they’re facing professional, relational or personal drama is “what percentage of this situation is YOUR responsibility?” We each own some fraction of the situations we find ourselves in, even if it’s very small. If you can’t own some portion of it, chances are good that you’re unaware.
  1. Does your personal worldview or belief system allow you to label whole groups of people who are different from you in a way that allows you to devalue them?  Liberals, conservatives, atheists, people of a different race, faith, gender, or sexual orientation; poor people, rich people, people you may not even know. A great challenge for Christians is that we often spiritualize our brokenness rather than dealing with it. Labels are a great way to move the focus onto others’ issues, rather than having to face down our own issues.

 Jesus may have taken title to the house of your life, but it doesn’t mean he’s done with the renovation. In fact, he may just be starting. But in that there’s hope. Because our God is a Restoration God. Pay attention to the warning lights. If you’ll become aware and get on the journey towards restoration, our restoring God will get to work.

Posted by Michael Hoddy with

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