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Yesterday I had lunch with Nina, Michael (her son), and Joseph (her husband).  We don’t normally get together for lunch on a Monday unless it’s somebody’s birthday.  In this case we were celebrating Michael’s birthday.  We went to a pizza place near their home that makes authentic Neapolitan pizza.  Naples is famous for being the birthplace of real Italian pizza, and although pizza can be imitated, I really do think the Neapolitan is the best.

It was after one when we arrived, and I was hungry.  I had dropped one of my soft boiled eggs on myself at breakfast.  Soft boiled eggs are still in the shell, but they’re not hard, so when it hit my lap it broke open and there was egg yolk all over my dress.  I had to change, and did so laughing—I mean really, how surprised did I look when the egg went all over me?  It must have been hilarious!  I threw the dress into the washer to get the egg out before it could harden and possibly stain the dress.  Anyway, instead of my usual breakfast of two soft boiled eggs and a grapefruit, I only had one egg and a grapefruit.  So by one I was starving.

We ordered our pizzas and talked about all that had happened since I had seen them last.  When the pizzas came, we passed slices around the table so that everyone had a slice of all the other pizzas at the table.  All of them were amazing.  They say that hunger makes even mediocre food taste good, while a full stomach renders even the most delicious foods tasteless.  That’s probably true.

Then we brought out the birthday cake and sang Happy Birthday to Michael.  As we ate the cake Michael began talking about seeking God.  The passion in his voice stirred up my own passion until I was ready to kick over the table, shoot out the lights, and start my own personal revival right there.

On the long subway ride home I prayed over and over again: “Lord, don’t let me lose this holy dissatisfaction!  I want to stay passionate for You!”  When I got home I went to my prayer chair and sat down to pray.  An hour later I realized that I had fallen asleep.  Again I prayed: “Don’t let me lose this holy dissatisfaction!”

Here’s the thing: it is hard to maintain that feeling of holy dissatisfaction.  And it is so easy to slip back into the everyday stuff, old habits, and familiar routines.  There’s nothing wrong with those things.  But I know that there is more—you do too!  There is more to this Christian life than going to church, saying a few prayers, going to a Bible study, and keeping your life untangled from sin.  And even in all these “normal” Christian activities we struggle and try hard not to hurt those around us.  Part of my holy dissatisfaction comes from not always succeeding.  I still sometimes inadvertently wind up hurting the people around me.

In the Bible we read about the sun standing still for a day and water coming from a rock and all sorts of healing miracles (paralysis, blindness, bleeding, and even death).  And we hear of miracles happening in remote places like Africa and South America where life is simpler and people have uncomplicated faith.  Well I have faith!  I believe these things really happened.  Why am I not seeing these things in my life?

Or how about just seeing someone’s life changed forever?  Instead they often just become another church zombie.  Where are the people that have gotten radically saved?  Did God save them just to help them get a good parking place when they’re late for their doctor appointment?  I don’t want God to be my trained circus poodle any more than I wanted to be Lars’ trained circus poodle[1].  I want God to be God.  I know He’s bigger than I can even imagine.  I don’t want to bring God down to my size.  But here’s the thought that torments me: I think I inadvertently do reduce God to a “manageable” size by returning to my auto-pilot-Christian-zombie “normal” life.

It’s not as if God hasn’t done some pretty miraculous stuff in my life, He has!  But I want more.  And I know that God wants me to want more.  I remember that early in my missionary career, I was about to return to the US to speak at some churches about Europe as a mission field.  I was weeping before the Lord, desperate for Him to go before me and with me.  I have always had a terror of speaking in public, but also the burden for Europe and for its missionaries was so great that I was also terrified that I might not do a good job of speaking.  So I was praying and weeping and begging God to go with me and to speak through me.  He reminded me of a prophecy that I had gotten a few months earlier about the Table (see The Table), loaded with everything that I could ever want or need.  I told Him: “I don’t want a gift, I want You!”  Then God assured me that every gift on the Table is simply more of Him.

I have heard of people who operate in all nine of the Spiritual Gifts.  Why not me?  Why not my church?  I want it all!  I want all of God!  And I don’t want to limit God.  Dear God, keep this holy dissatisfaction strong in me until I finally can overcome myself!  And then I want it to spread to everyone around me.  I want it!  Do you?  God is good!

[1] See Trained Circus Poodles.

Grow Like Trees

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He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around,” (Mark 8:24, NIV).

This morning during my prayer time I prayed for the missionaries and pastors of Europe as I usually do.  But this morning I was led to pray for them a bit differently.  Today I was led to pray for them to grow like trees.  In my mind’s eye I saw trees as in time-lapse film: I saw their branches lengthen, bud, and grow thick and green with leaves as they reach toward the sun.  I also saw their roots spreading and burrowing deeper into the rich dark soil.  And in the process their trunks grew thicker and stronger.

Then I remembered Psalm 1:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper, (Psalm 1:1-3, NKJV, emphasis mine).

So if you are a missionary or pastor in Europe or if you are one of my missionary or pastor friends elsewhere in the world, this is how I prayed for you today.  God is good!

Prayer Slapped


I was recounting to a friend recently about my first trip to Israel in which I did a shocking thing: I tasted a sip of wine at an Israeli winery.  I was traveling with a group of Baptists.  I hadn’t known that they were Baptists until the moment when I was one of only two in the group who agreed to taste the proffered wine.  Scandalous!  The rest of the day we were shunned and avoided and given the hairy eyeball by the others.  Happily, the other sinner was my roommate, and this incident served to seal our friendship forever.

The next morning on the bus we prayed as usual before setting out for our day.  Well, I guess you could call it a prayer, but it felt more like a verbal slap to us: “Lord forgive us for having transgressed . . .” etc.  Everyone knew which of us had “transgressed.”  Prayer slapped!

Please allow me to interrupt my narrative here because this is important: the Bible does not forbid drinking wine.  How schizophrenic would God be to change water into wine[1] if wine was forbidden?  And how schizophrenic for Paul to advise Timothy “drink a little wine for the sake of your stomach”? (1 Timothy 5:23).

And if the Bible called grape juice “wine” as some claim, then explain why the Bible says: “Do not join those who drink too much wine . . .”? (Proverbs 23:20, NIV).  Nobody has ever warned me against drinking too much grape juice.  And if you read on to the end of the verse, it continues: “. . . or gorge themselves on meat.”  By the same logic, if this means that we can’t drink any wine at all, then it also means that we can’t eat any meat at all.

Some also claim that the “wine” of the Bible times was watered-down.  If so, then why did Isaiah lament for Jerusalem?

Once like pure silver, you have become like worthless slag.  Once so pure, you are now like watered-down wine, (Isaiah 1:22, emphasis mine).

Remember the conversation between Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden:

“Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied.  “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat.  God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die,’” (Genesis 3:1-3, emphasis mine).

That’s not what God said.  He said:

You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die, (Genesis 2:16-17).

God didn’t say anything about not touching the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  I think of the total prohibition on wine as something like Eve’s exaggeration[2], or like the “fences” of 613 rules the rabbis made to “protect” people from breaking the Ten Commandments.  In other words: manmade.  Not that that’s necessarily a bad or evil thing, it’s just not quite as good as the God-made rules.  Where it becomes a bad thing is when it becomes legalism (see Galatians).  Manmade rules tread so closely to that legalistic line that I, personally, wouldn’t even risk it[3].

So back to my narrative (and please pardon my rant!  I do feel better.): so I told the story of the prayer slap, and my friend was so surprised at the concept that I felt compelled to explain and to further illustrate.  I’ve had people pray about “someone that had hurt them” in prayer meetings, knowing that the “someone” was me.  That’s a prayer slap.  What they should have done is come to me privately, tell me that I had hurt them (I hadn’t realized that I had until the prayer slap), and give me the opportunity to make things right with them.

A prayer slap is a public assault on someone, disguised as a prayer.  A prayer slap is not a prayer.  Even though the prayer slap is addressed to God, the message of the prayer slap is not directed at God, but at another person.  Therefore, it is not a prayer[4].

My friend continued to be amazed—obviously she hadn’t stepped on toes like I had.  So I told her that I had also been sermon slapped.  That really blew her mind.  Yes, a sermon slap is a sermon where the preacher is preaching to you telling you how wrong you are—all but naming you, and all before the entire congregation.  I wasn’t present for my sermon slap, but it was delivered, and only a few people present knew that it was directed at me.  It may be in the church’s online archives, but I really don’t need to hear it.

For my part—because there are always at least two sides to every story—I have blog slapped people.  Don’t look for them because I have taken them down, feeling appropriately ashamed of my behavior.  The only thing I can say in my defense is that at least I didn’t pretend that my blog slap was a prayer.  Otherwise, I recognize it as an indefensible act.  And lots and lots of people Facebook slap (and slap through other social media), even Christians.

Whatever the issue is, we need to go directly to that person with our grievances.  To air them in public is wrong, and to couch them as a religious act is downright reprehensible.  And we really need to give each other as much mercy as we hope to receive, ourselves.  Nobody is always right besides God.  God is good!

[1] John 2:1-10

[2] Or perhaps it was Adam’s exaggeration.  After all, Eve wasn’t even there when God gave the warning against the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

[3] Of course the exception here is people who have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism or who simply lack the self-control to stop after one glass.

[4] New Age people also write lovely “prayers” that are not prayers.  One such prayer that I read went something like this: “I see you wrapped in light, and this light is from the father of lights, etc. . . .”  It doesn’t even pretend to be addressed to God.