For four years I was an Assemblies of God minister and a monk with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity. The following is an excerpt from my book Taking Off My Comfortable Clothes: Removing Religion to Find Relationship.
Many times throughout the year, men and women would spend a week at the community to see if the monastic lifestyle was something they felt called to embrace. One time a young man came to the community who played the guitar. That wasn’t unusual. We had many guitar players visit the community, often because they were attracted to John Michael‘s music. What was unusual was what John said about this young man. John and I were discussing the possibility that he might join the community, and John observed, “He is one of the best guitar players I’ve seen, but I cannot tell him that.” Some egos are better left unwatered until the proper time.
Later that week this man and I had a conversation. He was going on and on about how he wanted to use his guitar playing as a ministry, and I remembered what John had said about his talent.
“How do you feel about playing just for God?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” he said.
“Are you content to just sit in a room and play for God with nobody else listening?” I said.
“But I want to play for people,” he said.
“Until God alone is a big enough audience,” I said, “then you aren’t ready to play for people.”
A Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table . . . Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” – Luke 11:37ff
One day, Jesus is walking along, teaching a crowd of people about prayer, Beelzebub, driving out demons and the sign of Jonah, who lived inside a fish for three days. You know, the basics of the faith. Then a Pharisee invites Jesus to eat at his house, so Jesus goes and has a nice lunch, but when He doesn’t wash before the meal the way custom instructed, the Pharisee gets religious with the creator of the universe.
In response to this Pharisee and his concern for traditions over God’s mercy, Jesus tells him and his friends they are filthy cups and fools who are headed towards God’s judgment for the way they chose tradition over relationship. This is the famous passage where Jesus pronounces His “Six Woes” upon the Pharisees and scribes.
It occurred to me that Jesus is actually condemning those who were feeding Him lunch. After accepting an invitation to eat in someone’s home, Jesus turns on the one who fed Him. In appears that Jesus wasn’t afraid to tell the truth to those who were hosting Him. Could pastors (me included) learn a lesson from this?
How often have pastors been afraid to address certain church issues in fear of offending the generous giver and losing their financial support? Are we, in this manner, placing tithes over truth?
The phone call came, as they usually do, at an inconvenient time. It was my mom, calling from Mississippi, telling me in Baton Rouge that my dad was in the hospital in California and had cancer. This was definitely not convenient. I called my dad and told him I was flying out in a couple of days to see him. He said he was looking forward to my visit.
My relationship with my dad had been rocky at best for the last twenty-five years, and I was not really looking forward to the trip. It was the right thing to do, but not necessarily the first thing I wanted to do. I was angry and hurt by what took place during and after my parents divorce, and though I wanted answers, I didn’t really want to go through him to get them.
The next day I told my boss about my departure. He asked me how things were, and I gave him a quick version of our relationship. He said, “Sit down. I want to talk to you about my dad, who has bi-polar disease.” We talked for a few minutes, and I said, “Your dad is just like all of us. Not one of us is really in our right minds, are we? For if we were, we wouldn’t live a life that needed a Savior.”
The idea that none of us are in our right minds bothered me, so I began to explore Scripture to support my idea. Continue Reading
This Was NOT In My Plans
Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it…Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility…They were to be trained…to enter the king’s service (Daniel 1:1, 3, 5)
About the time I think my life isn’t going like I planned, I think of Daniel and his three friends. They were well-educated young men who came from successful Israeli families, nobility even, and were handsome and smart. They were the cream of the Jewish crop whose parents carefully planned their careers before they were born. They were well on their way to living the American, no, Israeli dream: Nice job, good home in a decent neighborhood, a quiver of respectable children and a well-tended 401k.
Then King Nebby shows up and ruins their plans. He destroys their town, carries off the golden articles from the Temple, makes eunuchs of the Daniel and the boys (2 Kings 20:18; Isa. 39:7) and carries them to Babylon where they will serve the king until they die, never to see Israel again. And I think, “Well, I may not have everything I ever wanted, but at least I’m not a eunuch in Iraq.” Continue Reading
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Genesis 22:9
Abraham's Sacrifice by Rembrandt
If you are at all like me, and I like to think you are, you can look back over your life and see how God gave you an assignment that necessitated the learning of new skill. As those skills grew, you might have concluded, “Now I know the reason God is doing this in my life.” But as you look back over the years, you see that God had a completely other reason for making you proficient in a certain area.
Scripture records that Abraham built many altars, so he was obviously proficient at gathering stones and arranging wood. So, when God told him to build an altar and sacrifice his only son, Abraham repeated an action he had been practicing for years, only now he did it for a new and challenging reason. Abraham had built altars for years, but the signature purpose of this skill was now beyond his imagination.
Like Abraham, I too have found myself moving from place to place, sacrificing my hopes and dreams that I built around the location or the job I had. I have never lived in only one town, had only one job, or been a member of only one church or denomination.
The [expert in religious law] wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor” – Luke 10:29 (NLT)
Here I am, reading along and preparing for my Sunday sermon, feeling good about myself because I’m the pastor and a handful of people will get out of bed early and listen to me expound upon the Word of God, when it starts to occur to me I’m not as good as I like to think. In fact, sometimes I’m too religious for my own good, and it took a long-dead lawyer to get me to take a hard look at myself
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), a lawyer challenges Jesus with the question, “What should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replies, “How do you read it?” And the lawyer goes on to give the acceptable church answer: Love God with all you heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. “Great,” responds Jesus, “do it and live.”
The lawyer should have left well enough alone, but he goes on and tries to justify the way he treats others. Eugene Peterson says, “Looking for a loophole,” the lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer tells the lawyer he is asking the wrong question. We should not be concerned with writing a short list called, These Folks Are Acceptable Neighbors. Instead, we should ask the question, “What kind of neighbor am I?”
I’d like to think this parable gives the lawyer a tough time, and it does, but it is actually tougher on me than I like to admit. If I’m really honest, I’ll admit that I’m more like the lawyer than the Samaritan. Continue Reading
For four years I was an Assemblies of God minister and a monk with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, founded by singer/songwriter John Michael Talbot. This is an excerpt from my book Taking Off My Comfortable Clothes: Removing Religion to Find Relationship.
Me and Mom
When you consider yourself a “cool” Southern California kid, you think you can handle anything that comes your way. Move to Arkansas and join a monastery? No problem. Become the world’s only Assemblies of God monk and try to get the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world to accept you? Piece of cake. Joyfully anticipate taking a three-year vow of poverty, chastity and obedience, and even invite your mom to fly out from California to witness the experience? Right up my alley.
Until I noticed a little bump on my upper lip.
At first, I thought I was having an allergic reaction to something. Even though it was January, my mom was having some trouble breathing and we thought it might be a reaction to all the cedar trees. Yeah, that’s it. The bump on my lip is due to allergies. I took some Benadryl, said a little prayer and tried to ignore it.
But the bump grew larger, and eventually I looked like I got in a fight and came out on the losing end of a right hook. Continue Reading