Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter

Today, people are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the pivotal event that marks Christianity worldwide. This is a day filled with purple, flowers, Sunday "best," and happy smiles on the faces of children who've discovered their "Easter Bunny" surprises.

But, as I sit here ... having come home, a few minutes ago, from the second of two Easter services that I have been a part of, today ... I am feeling complete satisfaction.

The satisfaction that I feel is something I could not imagine. It isn't excitement. It isn't something uplifted. It is, simply, satisfaction.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Grace

It is the joy of the universe that Christ died, on the cross, on the place called Golgotha ("Place of a Skull"). Because, as He suffered, our sins - and, everyone has sin - our mistakes against truth, our indiscretions, our wrong-doing .... literally, EVERYTHING that we have done that we know that we shouldn't have done... is taken upon that body - the body of Jesus, Himself and because He died

we. are. forgiven.

And, it is that forgiveness that takes away the power of the Tempter, who always is attempting to get us to feel horrible for the things that we have done - that Accuser of the Brethren, who wants not just to accuse us, but also wants us to extend those accusations on others who we see doing the same things that we feel guilty for doing, ourselves!!! And, the temptation to cast accusation at one another is so profound, so immense, and so deep-seated that it is ONLY the power of Christ's work at Calvary, His work of cleansing our guilty consciences of sin - and, wiping our slate clean in our hearts, that can defeat Satan's grip on our souls.

In fact... I am quite certain that right this day, this day celebrated around the world as Good Friday - the day commemorating the death of Christ on the cross - that there are innumerable individuals wrestling with guilt over something they have done in the past, perhaps tossing that guilt out upon others through what some could call the process of "projection," getting high-and-mighty FURIOUS about someone else's wrongdoing, when - in truth - they are just too terrified of their own guilt to be honest.

This world is full of guilty people.

But, because of this Good Friday - because of the cross that held, through bloody nails, the body of the Son of God, and because the Creator of Time and Space, Himself watched that sinless Lamb die there for every sin that mankind would ever become involved in .... that cross ... that beautiful, incredible, terrible cross ... you, too, can have a clean heart.

Please ... on this Christian day ... take an opportunity to make sure that your conscience is clean, before casting stones at everybody who causes you to feel condemnation upon yourself. Take the opportunity to accept Christ's forgiveness. It is the most powerful thing humankind will ever know. And, it came because the Creator - God, who loves YOU, despite what others might tell you - did what only He could do: He took all the punishment for your sins on His own body, allowing your flesh to experience cleansing and redemption and giving you the opportunity to begin again. If you are looking for a "fresh start," this is your day.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lamb of God


"God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
- Romans 5:8

"All of us, like sheep, have gone astray. Everyone has turned to his own way. But, the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." - Isaiah 53:6

"He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed." - Isaiah 53:5

"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." - 2 Corinthians 5:21

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." - Romans 3:23

"O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the LORD."  - Jeremiah 17:13

"But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. I will give You thanks forever, because You have done it, and I will wait on Your name, for it is good, in the presence of Your godly ones." - Psalm 52:8, 9

"As for me, I shall call upon God, and the LORD will save me." - Psalm 55:16





Whose Kingdom?

About 8 years ago, I had the opportunity to visit San Miguel de Allende, a historic and beautiful town in Mexico. It floored me how faith had caused the creation of so much beauty - including the Parroquia San Miguel Arcangel. It reminded me that God is bigger than the U.S.A. 

I am surprised that, in America, we are blind enough to believe - perhaps, based on pride? - that this country is somehow "better" than other countries on Earth. The idea of a "Promised Land," in the Bible, is a spiritual one. Abraham, himself, the progenitor of the Jewish nation, "was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God... a better country, that is, a heavenly one; therefore, God is not ashamed to be called (his) God, for He has prepared for (him) a city." [Hebrews 11:10, 16]

But, it seems some still want to place their hope in earthly things. 


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spiritual Journey - part Three

It was during that time of outright spiritual darkness -- too many "options," too much "advice," etc. -- that I discovered that something had happened to my heart, to make it more accessible. And, I met up with some folks who were going to volunteer as chaplains at the San Francisco Public Hospital. I thought that would be an awesome thing to do... to try to "give back," so to speak. Turned out, I absolutely loved the chaplaincy training that I got, and meeting the people, and learning the basics of something that is entirely focused on others (since I'd spent so much time just trying to sort my own Humpty-Dumpty self out).

At that same time, I had the opportunity to rejoin some of my Buddhist friends and do a retreat in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, which was very good for me because it gave me a lot more time to cry, grieve, and continue to heal. I'm not sure people ever fully heal, in this world. 

At that same time, I found an opening to work at Shambhala Mountain Center, in Colorado, and was really wrestling with whether-or-not I should do such a thing. Many of my Buddhist friends knew of my Christianity and - at that time (2008) - rather conservative political views; but, I was still encouraged by Christian, Buddhist, and other friends to go do it. "It'll be good for you," was the most common thought shared; and, I agreed. Also, for those of you familiar with a healthy prayer life, all of my prayers coincided to doing the same thing. Though I knew that some in the Christian world would condemn me for going to live at a Buddhist retreat center, I figured there's really no sense in trying to please everyone in the Christian world - it's just between me and God, ultimately... and, I went. And, it was awesome!

I found time to read the Bible, thoroughly, unlike ever before in my life. I became obsessed with studying all the various theologies out there within the Christian world... i.e., Calvinism, especially (for a time, my academic "bug" kicked back in as I wound my way through the various theories and approaches to faith in Jesus Christ). But, it was really the Bible that struck me. And, at the same time, I became vocal during the 2008 Presidential Election about conservative politics. Eventually, my politics and Christianity became problematic at Shambhala Mountain Center -- and, it wasn't anyone else's fault... it was just something that God was doing in my life, at that time... moving me on. So, then, I found myself in the arms of an incredible group of people up at a church in the Rocky Mountains named Morning Star Community Church. Wow. My heart was opened wide, people welcomed me into their homes, and I - immediately - had a new family. (Can you sense a pattern, here?!)

I found growth, strength, encouragement, and power with my time at Morning Star, mentorship, guidance, etc. And, most importantly, I found music again. I've always known how to play the piano - started learning when I was 5. But, it was the music that most disappeared from my life, during my confused years, my political years, my broken years. As healing continued to creep up on me ... not by my own efforts, mind you! ... I also found that I could play the piano, again. 

So many good people... thinking back... Judith... Pastor Doug... Lynette & Dave, Jerry, etc.... there are just far too many people to number, as I think back, and reflect in this way. Life is quite beautiful. 

So, there I was in the beautiful mountains of Colorado but I could feel something pulling me - yet again. Because I'd had the chaplaincy experience, I was actually able to work full-time as a chaplain in the Rockies, at a Boy Scout camp - which was sublime. Every day was spent in prayer, serving in a chapel, answering questions about God, about the universe, about truth... about whatever was on people's hearts... waking up in the morning to the beautiful sunrises... wow. 

Then came the next step. I became connected, through some incredibly loving friends of mine - mentors in Jesus Christ - to the school I attended from 2010-2013, Frontier School of the Bible. Though some in my friend-group, or in my family, thought Frontier was a bit extreme, seeing as how it leans toward fundamentalism (if not embraces it, altogether), I still knew that Frontier was where I needed to go. And, the reason why was that it would produce so many connections and so much knowledge that I could never have lived without it! 

Sadly, one by-product of my Frontier years was that I became immersed in a fundamentalism that even I consider a little too harsh an expression of one's faith in Jesus Christ - at least for me. Always yearning for more, always assuming I'm not an expert, I wasn't satisfied with dogmatic Christianity, the way I was taught to profess it, there at Frontier. So, I continued throughout my studies there with a healthy sense of hope that God would continue to direct my path... as He has for so many years. And, He did. He opened up an opportunity for me to serve as an interim pastor at a small-town church just down the road from Frontier. And, what an experience that was... but, it hasn't ended! I'm still there! In fact, South Goshen Community Church has Pastor Michael now, by God's grace! 

I want to look back - for a second. God is faithful. The Bible tells us that. I can't tell you what to do in your own life; but, I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that God is really awesome, trustworthy, and - at times - somewhat unpredictable. But, not a single moment of my life could ever be taken back. Because, each step led to the next, and within each of those times that I might've thought I was THIS close to completely losing my mind, GOD WAS WORKING! In fact, had I said "no" to Him, I'd never be married - today - to the most beautiful girl this planet has ever seen. 

So, I guess, in closing (for now), I just want to offer this to people who are legitimately seeking truth... look, a lot of people are going to tell you "do this," or "don't do that," and, you're never going to get anywhere if you ONLY listen to discouragement. If the still, small voice is telling you "go," GO... even if everything else is telling you you're crazy.

Thanks! :) - Michael

Spiritual Journey - part Two

So, as I was saying, I became involved with Buddhism during that pivotal -- healing, really -- time in my life. And, at the same time, I was really burdened with the reality that Jesus seemed to be so bifurcated... as if there are literally a billion approaches to Jesus, many of which contradict themselves and certainly each other. So, that was when I became a Mormon.

Why Mormonism? I was working at the Dalhousie University (Halifax) school of Dentistry - a temp job - and there were Mormon guys who I met that gave me the Book of Mormon, and told me to ask some missionaries over to my house to explain the Mormon faith to me. I was conflicted about Jesus' worship -- as I mentioned, above -- and, so, took their advice. I really admired the excitement that the missionaries had and completely resonated with the fact that they also seemed to agree that "denominational Christianity" was constantly in disarray, if not at war with itself. In-fighting. So, I figured I'd join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which I did. Of course, that ended my time with the Buddhists... for a while!

By that time, though, I was feeling a little confused about my past with sexual sin so I took an opportunity to set some of my thoughts down on paper, with the plan to maybe type them up on a blog or something... it ended up getting bigger than I'd anticipated but sometimes God's will is beyond your scope of understanding; well, actually, it always is - in truth. So, that opened up a new "can of worms," so to speak, and I found myself flooded with suggestions from Christians throughout the country to 'get out of the Mormon church!' and 'find a good, Bible-believing Christian church!' Also, those suggestions told me to 'run away' from the 'demonic influences' of Buddhism, and everything affiliated with it. Conflicted, yet again, I moved to California, where I "washed up" on my sister's couch like a total spiritual psychopath. Let's just say I've never been more of a wreck than I was that month I spent on her couch -- so grateful for her.

I found myself deciding just to stop searching, altogether. I just sat in cafes. I didn't think about anything spiritual. I didn't think about anything non spiritual. I barely thought, honestly... (I'm not sure how I managed to eke out a living for myself; but, I did.) But, there was something that was happening - quite under the surface - in my life at that time: I was healing.

<part three here>

Spiritual Journey - part One

Some have been asking for me to write about my own, personal, spiritual journey. So, here goes:

I grew up in a Christian home, was baptized as a child, and had good parents (my dad an outdoorsman, my mom an all-around wonderful woman!) And, as kids, we were taught that Jesus is God, and prayers to him, such as this one: Jesus, tender Shepherd hear me; bless Thy little lamb tonight; through the darkness, be Thou near me; keep me safe 'till morning light. We were somewhat "average" Americans, in forested Washington state.

Many of my friends, through school, were Christians, as well - from different denominational backgrounds. I struggled with Christianity while in high school, choosing to put a "Darwin fish" sticker on my first car (in part, in rebellion). But, it was my dad's death - at age 13 - that was really getting me angry at God. Then, when mom got sick with cancer - I was 17 when she was diagnosed with Stage Four breast cancer - I became quite rigid in some deep-seated anger toward whatever it was that people called "God." I decided there was no God for me, deeply wounded, and turned away from religion or spirituality altogether.

In college, at Dartmouth, I found other outlets for my wandering heart. I found friends, sexual expressions, substances (including alcohol, which I hadn't touched before 19), and political activism - not to mention all the "cutting-edge" theories and ideas that the academy seems to offer. By the time mom died in 1994 (I was 19), I dove in to what I believed was "the dark side." I was a Creative Writing major; I remember writing a poem in 1994 which described me looking over my mother's hospital bed, with me acknowledging her death and including the line ... "she left me with my demons all alone." The anger at my mom's death consumed me. I went pretty crazy for a while...

Fortunately, God hadn't disappeared from me - even though I did everything in my power to run in the opposite direction!!! For a while, I explored alternate "spiritualities:" everything from astrology, to New Age mysticism, to Taoist philosophy, etc. And, from 1998 to about 2001, my "spirituality" was essentially wrapped up in the rave scene, in which I participated in ecstatic parties as a "way of life." (Fortunately, for my health, that way of life only lasted for a few years.)

I continued to wrestle with my own personal demons over the years but I knew that God and I could not keep separate, though I did want Him gone. In fact, a lot of the driving force behind my vitriol toward Christianity during my 20's came from an outright fury toward God, so furious that I was determined to prove the world that "a loving God couldn't possibly...(you fill in the blank)." But, it was as I was working in the position of anti-Christian that Christ kept tugging at my heart. I can remember seeing examples of Christ's love throughout my life, and wondering why I couldn't handle seeing them. Then, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ pounded my heart with truth, when it came out, back in 2003. And, my dad's old Slow Train Coming, by the great Bob Dylan, kept drenching me with tugs toward the ONE I was so desperate to run away from. In 2003, God used a health scare to cause me to - FINALLY! - stop my running; when doctors gave me a clean bill of health, I lay on my bed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, feeling great relief  -- and, I said, "thank you, God." It scared me. But, it was - unquestionably - the truth.

I followed God to a Borders Books, bought a bible, read the Red Letters of Jesus in the book of Matthew, and realized that He - obviously - is God (especially hit by the words, "My sheep hear My voice;" I'm your sheep Jesus... what do you want me to do?) So... from that point, it was Him and me. And, I started making decisions to follow Him away from relationships I had built, associations I was with, and habits I'd picked up along the way, such as drinking. But, I wasn't perfect. Nobody is. I didn't have a "clean break," as some stories seem to insinuate that spiritual conversion always is. In fact, I would hardly call it a conversion. It was more God taking the right time in my life to say, "Michael... you're coming with Me, now." I made some phone calls to long-lost relatives and friends, built relationships with new friends, etc. It was a journey.

Then, there were the Buddhist years. And, those were good years, too. I joined the Shambhala Buddhist community, following my heart, in 2005 - in part because I had become fascinated with the love I encountered and also because I could feel God guiding me in that direction. Some would obviously condemn God - or me, perhaps - for having led me in that direction; but, I don't. I spent quality time with awesome new friends, and became immersed in a world-view, and a philosophy, that I had never been exposed to before. And, why did I become a Buddhist, after already becoming a Christian? Was that out of some "weakness," on my part? No. It was the next step in my journey.

Around that time, I had been attending Catholic Masses at St. Mary's Cathedral, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. But, not having been raised a Catholic, I felt conflicted and a little out-of-place. Also, I was on my own so didn't know many people... I'd sit in the back of the big, beautiful cathedral. Also, during that time, I was doing a lot of healing. 2005-2008 were huge years of pain, crying, and confusion for me. There were many -- innumberable -- nights that I would lie awake through the night, alone in a small apartment, just crying... grieving mostly over my parents' deaths... but, also over the loss of other friends and loved-ones; though I felt good about being "back" with God, I felt awful about the fact that my life was breaking apart, in so many ways. It was at this time that I came into close relationships with some incredible people involved in the Buddhist community and felt drawn to become closer.

Knowing what I know now about Buddhism, and - especially - the people whom I became so close to during those pivotal years in my life, I can honestly say that there is a lot of prejudice and misinformation out there about Buddhism, especially here in "Christian America." I can honestly say that fear and prejudice will never get a person anywhere (I know... I've tried them both.)

<part two here>