It might not mean much to you, but it means everything to me – here is the story of how Easter changed my life.
Easter is a contentious time around the world. It’s a holiday perpetuated because the Christian world hijacked an existing pagan festival around the time of the equinox. Because so much of Western civilization is built on Judeo-Christian beliefs, from our legal system to our constitutions, we all get that awesome holiday that occurs sporadically across March and April each year. As society increasingly moves towards a secularised worldview and looks to remove religious symbolism and ideology from life, it seems Easter is now simply about a holiday in the first half of the year where we have a chance to get away and relax. The celebration is met with renewed debate about the role of religion in society, and whether or not faith is dead based on how much the world now knows about how the universe works.
My wife and I were at K-Mart the other day where we were behind a couple that bought $177 worth of Easter eggs, presumably for the kids. For those who don’t know, K-Mart is known for its low prices, so we’re talking kilograms of chocolate here. I’m sure those kids will be having a good morning on Sunday. Some friends have been telling me about a great trip away they’ve organized, and Easter will be a great time for them. I know of many people ramping up on Marvel movies in preparation for Avengers: Endgame, and also those who are rewatching the Star Wars Episode IX trailer on repeat for the entire weekend.
The downtime and the chance to have a break are always nice and something I welcome, carrying a lot of good memories of good times. But for me, Easter will always carry a significance that no other time of the year can match. This is the story about how Easter changed my life.
People often say to me, “Matt, for such a smart guy, we can’t believe that you think that faith stuff is real”. It’s a pretty common train of thought. I remember watching a video from noted atheist Penn Jillette where he stated that he couldn’t understand how so many intellectual, grounded, successful people he knew could profess faith in God. He thought the notion of God speaking to people must be a code word that he didn’t understand and was not included in the loop, like it was some secret saying that actually meant something else. I have been hearing such conjecture my entire life, particularly being a person who went into the logical field of IT. I’ve always been a nerd and always been surrounded by great thinkers who would routinely debate me on the relevance and reality of faith, or lack thereof.
I grew up in a Christian home. My grandparents are Roman Catholic and I was similarly christened in the Catholic Church. As I got a bit older, we started going to another type of church, what would be referred to as “Pentecostal”. We would go multiple times a weekend without fail. Church was a priority above anything else really, and we’d be the first people there, connecting with and talking with everybody, and the last to leave.
In 1994, when I was 5 years old, our preacher was talking about the story of Easter, and also how if you believed in your heart that Jesus died and rose again and confessed with your mouth who Jesus is, it would mean that you could get to know God. In the little mind inside my little 1950s haircut head, I thought, “wow! I could get to know God!”, and went down the front and decided to become a Christian. Of course being 5 I didn’t and couldn’t fully understand everything, but I knew that that was what I wanted.
As I got older, I kept going along to church several times a weekend. I got involved in the kids ministry program, decided to get water baptised at age 11, then eventually was involved as a leader in the program. I read a book by a mentor figure you would’ve seen quoted several times across my blog by Doctor John C. Maxwell called “Leading From The Lockers” that really set me up to have a sense of purpose and direction with my life, even from a younger age. Our family then moved over to another similar type of church where I really got cemented and was able to be an active member of the youth program and youth leadership initiatives.
Outside of my church world, I was a teenager in high school, and I had some very new experiences along the way. I had never really had a time away from church, and still haven’t to this point of my life, and I didn’t really find myself questioning what had already become somewhat of a conviction in my life. But what I was presented with during high school was a large number of people who I saw were questioning things, having something missing in their life that I had never felt was missing in my own. That, and the arguments being presented to me didn’t seem to make logical sense.
They were searching, and they had some brilliant and very real questions along the way. It was at this time in my life where I really branched out into the intellectual and historical backgrounds of Christianity, and saw that fact and logic aligned with what I had already believed. I learned more about the origins of Scripture, about the 24000 copies of the New Testament manuscripts copied over the span of 300 years allowing for great precision in assessing any deviations, and the documents by other historians and authors that confirmed what Scripture described as having occurred. I learned about the fulfilled prophecy of the Old Testament, such as the rise and fall of Alexander the Great being chartered in detail 250 years before his birth by the prophet Daniel. And I learned how logical faith really was by consulting the wisdom of great theologians across modern and formative eras of the faith.
More than anything, I had reinforced in my heart that what I believed was true, and what was even better was that I got to see others in my high school and surrounding connections begin their faith journey as well. I saw the dramatic transformation in their life, the areas of brokenness that found healing, the physical torment that found supernatural resolution, and a sense of purpose and direction that did not have any other explanation than the divine.
That may make it sound like I had a fairytale of a life and a purely blissful faith experience. It was great, don’t get me wrong, but by the time I’d finished high school, there were several challenges awaiting me in my young adult years. I was close to several people that I knew from multiple different arenas who became very sick or had great crises of faith or life struggle all at the same time. And I remember praying and asking God where everyone was in all this, and I remember being taken by the hand as I walked to the bus one day, and filled with a comfort that my heart will never forget.
I have seen many miracles in my life and in the lives of others. As an active part of the key leadership team at my church, I had the privilege of meeting people every week who were discovering the answers that Jesus provided. They came from all sorts of backgrounds – agnostic, atheist, Muslim, non-practising, even Christians who had fallen away and were now trying to come back and get their lives and hearts sorted out, business men and women, young professionals, students, parents, sinners and saints – and all of them finding the same freedom and truth in their lives. I watched drug addicts recover in record time. I watched lonely people find family and friendship within the community of faith. I watched broken hearts reconciled, aimless people find direction, bodies physically healed, and dreams restored on a scale that could never be explained away by mass hypnosis, groupthink, brain washing or otherwise. This continues to this day where I see this happen every week, and am so encouraged by the family of faith and the power of the Christian message.
It’s a message that you belong. That you’re safe. That you’re accepted. It’s a message that takes a reality check and highlights just how far off the mark we are in life, unashamedly calling out the poor decisions we make in life, but despite what we’ve done, it shows us the way back home. You remain a son or a daughter despite the path you’ve deliberately chosen. It’s a message that shows us what I believe and have seen to be the greatest way to live, and it simply couldn’t be disputed the undeniable change that I’ve seen God and the advice and teaching of Scripture enacts in people’s lives.
Out of the many miracles that have happened, I’d like to share two that always stand out to me. One was a time when I had had a really difficult and painful conversation with someone late one evening, and really felt distraught and unsure of what to do next. I didn’t sleep very well and felt physically exhausted. One of my friends sent a text around the next afternoon asking who wanted to go see X-Men: First Class at the movies. I was feeling pretty awful and I knew I needed to get out of the house, and so I went to see it. When I got to the movies, my friend began to laugh his head off for some reason. Earlier that day, they had been out praying for people, and then one of them started drawing a picture. My friend thought it was so funny so he started drawing 5 o’clock shadow and a scar on the picture, and then they had a sense that this drawing was significant and someone who was associated with it needed prayer and encouragement. They walked around and couldn’t find such a person, until 6 hours later when I decided to put on the t-shirt they had drawn (also, beardless Matt alert):
I actually had another shirt ready to go for the day, and picked that one just as I was about to head out. Sonic’s face is faded in the same way the 5 o’clock shadow made it look, and my friend drew a scar on, not above, Sonic’s eye, in the same way that my shirt had a scratch. My friend prayed for me and gave me exactly the encouragement I needed to hear, beyond what he could have known on his own.
The second was a more recent occurrence. I had a pretty hard conversation again with a few people a few months ago and was feeling pretty low in life. I just had no idea what to do. At our church at Citipointe, we always take some time in our church services to pray for people, and I put my hand up for prayer. In that moment, I heard God speak to me – “this is your family”. One of my good friends took a photo of that moment and sent it to me an hour later, saying “I don’t usually take photos of people like this, but I thought I needed to – this is family”. This was the photo above. It was a powerful and emphatic reminder of the great support all around me.
That’s only two of hundreds of such occurrences in my own life, and thousands upon thousands I’ve been witness to in the lives of others.
I know I haven’t attempted to address logical questions or much about the state of physical evidence for the existence of God. Perhaps these are questions you wrestle with in your own life, and you’re not really sure where you stand on matters of faith. I would encourage you this Easter that those questions are important, and there are answers available. It doesn’t take very long to realize that not all truth that exists out there can be true since they’re all so contradictory, so I implore you to explore and to reason out and to search out the questions you have. Or perhaps you’ve felt distant from God, unsure, or confused – check some of the related links at the bottom of the page and throughout the blog in general, such as making sure not to miss the point of doing life with others. I think life presents us with some huge questions and I think it’s so important that we find the answers we need to those. This blog is an exploration of my own dealings with these.
And if you’re thinking of making a routine visit this Easter to a church in your area, I’d encourage you to do so with an open heart and mind. If you’re in Brisbane, our church called Citipointe has a fantastic, world class Easter production at all our different locations around the city. We attend the one in Carindale so you’re welcome to drop in and say hello!
So there you have it. The story of how Easter changed my life. The biggest decision I ever made, and one I continue to see the rich reward of every day of my life.
In closing, my experience with Easter is summed up in the words of one of my favourite songs, All The Way My Saviour Leads Me.
You lead me, and keep me from falling
You carry me close to your heart
And surely your goodness and mercy will follow me
Amongst all the things I am – a thinker, a son, a brother, a husband, a leader, a dog owner, a friend, an IT professional, a writer, a musician, an event organiser – I am a believer.
I hope this Easter is a time of refreshing for you and yours, and a time to experience the fullness of life.