By Sheila Battin (written in 2003)
Life can be an interesting read. No two stories are the same. The plot thickens with its twists and turns. This time, it is the story of three men and their spiritual journey through life thus far.
Michael Sullivant, (photo from 1974) the senior associate pastor at Metro Christian Fellowship in Kansas City knew very little about God prior giving his life to Him. In fact, he was the living the life of the typical American kid.
“I was raised in a happy, upper-middle class American family in the Detroit suburbs,” he said. “I was the third of four kids but was the ‘baby’ for eight years. I was a well-adjusted, sports-minded, people loving and academically oriented little kid. However, our family knew very little about spirituality and simply had a superficial exposure to superficial Protestantism – that’s superficial to the second degree! My theology, which developed when I was six after looking up into the stars one night, was very simple. There is a God ‘out there’ who is bigger, smarter and more powerful than I am. He is a good, big person and I am a good, little person. One day, I’ll die and meet the One who created me. He will be so glad that I have arrived on His ‘shores’ and will welcome me into His heavenly kingdom (along with all the other fortunate and good Americans).
“By the time I reached high school, I had become a pseudo intellectual/hippie/jock – an admittedly weird combination of forces. I spanned the cliques and was not fully integrated into any of them. I was in the process of rejecting the moral values with which my parents raised me because it seemed to me that they were only based on cultural traditions and the counter-culture was in high gear to challenge them. I thought that I was a basically good person with a few imperfections. I was enjoying my life, minding my own business and sadly ignorant of the accessibility of God and His kingdom to a person living on earth.”
On a fateful day many years ago now, Sullivant would come to experience what would be a defining moment in his spiritual walk.
“I didn’t ‘give my life’ over to God until I was 18. But, I must backtrack to explain. When I was 16 in 1971, my older brother came home one night fully clothed and soaking wet. Amused, I looked up from my homework and asked him what had happened to him. He said that he had gotten baptized and accepted Jesus Christ as his ‘personal savior.’ This offended me, since I thought that he was saying that Jesus was his personal savior like wealthy people have personal chauffeurs. I wondered how he rated to have such a corner on Jesus. Anyway, I decided to attend this church with him to prove to him (and) myself that I could not be as easily manipulated by religious people as he had been,” Sullivant said.
“Well, visiting this church was real culture shock to me. These people actually seemed to enjoy being in church, for one thing. The other thing that I noticed was that they were acting like the Bible was relevant to the 20th century! Anyway, I had an experience with the Holy Spirit that day in which He made it very clear to me that I wasn’t okay, as I had always thought. He revealed to me the evil that literally was inside of me and that I didn’t deserve to go to heaven at all. This shocked and offended me, but I knew deep within that it was true. I went away from that church and attempted to run away from that revelation for two years.”
On the outside, life continued to treat Sullivant well. However, on the inside, Sullivant says that he was less than happy. After “running away” from God for two years, he now was ready to make a move toward him. That move arrived in a six-word statement that he says transformed his life.
“The summer after I graduated from high school and was preparing to leave Michigan to go to Miami University in Ohio, I was working as an appliance and furniture truck driver,” he said. “Over the two years of ‘running away’ from God and his rightful claim on my life (after all, He has made us for His purposes), I had become quite unhappy within my own heart. Outwardly, things were still going very well for me, but I knew that I wasn’t being true to myself and that I lacked the motivation and power to be the person that I knew I should have been. Actually, I was becoming a miserable hypocrite (no, they don’t only attend churches!) For a period of about 10 days straight, I couldn’t get the idea off of my mind that I needed to surrender my life to Jesus Christ. I had heard that he was the one who was the bridge between God and human beings.
“He was the one who died on the cross for our sins, guilt and shame and that He rose from the dead on Easter Sunday to prove that He was the real deal – the son of God and God the Son. I actually ‘believed’ this but it hadn’t brought any change in my life, because it was mental assent and not a personal heart commitment to the implications of its reality. But this idea scared me because I didn’t know what I would become or what would be required of me if I surrendered my will over to God. This was the biggest decision that a human being could ever make in my estimation. I was very certain that if I accepted Jesus, then I would have to force myself to ‘go straight’ and live a boring, miserable life as I assumed that any Christians that I had ever met were doing. But, I was so unhappy as I was; I mustered the courage to pray a prayer from the bottom of my heart that I had never dared to pray,” Sullivant said.
“I said to God and to Jesus, ‘I give up, you got me!’ I didn’t know any ‘proper’ prayers to pray, but believe me, that one works! I had an amazing, immediate experience that was beyond this world and I can recall every detail with specific clarity to this day. It can be described, as ‘supernatural’ and it would seem incredible to many people if the details were to be told. But, it is actually quite credible, given that we’re talking about the One who created all things without ‘breaking a sweat" and even rose from the dead. Since then, I have met hundreds of people who have had the same types of experiences with the Holy Spirit, so it seems rather normal, although certain extra-ordinary, to me, now. Suffice it to say, it is no mere metaphor to say that I have received Jesus Christ into my heart! He really came in and revolutionized my entire life and future since that day forward. One stunning thing that stands out is the experience that I had of the total forgiveness of all the guilt and shame of my sins and failures – which had been many (and yes, I have sinned since then).”
Sullivant’s life and way of life, he says, have changed dramatically, since handing his life over to God. As a matter of fact, he considers him blessed.
“When I opened my heart to Jesus and welcomed Him to become the Master of my life, I experienced the deepest, love, joy and peace that I had ever known,” he said. “These are what the Bible calls ‘Fruit of the Spirit.’ I encountered the puzzle piece that had been missing from the center of my being, all along. It was the person of Jesus – not a religion or a list of rules to follow – but a living person. I started to want to read the Bible and for the first time in my life, it made sense to me and I saw how truly relevant it is to people of any generation or nation (I’m still re-reading it again and again now for over 30 years). Receiving Christ revolutionized my style of life (I no longer wanted to think about or do evil things) and every personal relationship I had in my life.
“It changed the way I made decisions, how I spent my money and time, what I read and what I dreamed about for the future. It informed every major decision of my life and I see His faithfulness and goodness in guiding me with His invisible hand. God not only gave me the desire to be His friend but he gave me the power to be actually be His friend. (Although I have disappointed Him and myself many times). But, I have always rebounded from my failures and given my heart afresh to Him because I cannot deny the reality of His presence in the universe or in my heart. I look back and realize that following Jesus is the greatest adventure on which a person on this earth can embark.
“I have had the honor of speaking about and for Him to thousands of people in many nations,” Sullivant said. “He has blessed me with a wonderful wife, Terri, of 26 years and we have five children and a very cool daughter-in-law. We are a close-knit family and happy family that continually reaches out to others to share the goodness of God that we have enjoyed so much.”
Claiming God's grace as a rationalization for committing sins is a betrayal that fools no one, but how desperately do we all need His grace to compensate for the many ways that we are not yet like Jesus Christ?
Here is a recent message I shared with Remnant Westside Church based in Manhattan NY. True happiness is like a virus. You can have it and give it away to others without losing it! It will even grow stronger.
Just returned to Kansas City after the immense honor of ministering at the Remnant Westside Church annual retreat. What an amazing spiritual family filled with brilliant and passionate believers from the great city of New York City. Truly the Lord drew near to us all! So grateful to have made such wonderful new friends. Pastor and founder Bruce Yi (pictured) and his wife, Sung Hee, were amazing hosts! So full of authentic worship of our Heavenly Father and love for people. Infectious!
A VOICE OF HOPE
Michael Sullivant's Blog
I am a child of God, husband, father, grandfather, spiritual father, author, speaker and hope coach.