How Freakish Faith & Desperate Dilemmas Lead to the Miraculous

Humility is one of those extremely difficult things to teach, write, or speak about because anything said sounds exceedingly… shall we say, not humble? I’ve written rather sterilely about humility here, here, and here. However, looking back the realization washes over me that I was writing theoretically from head knowledge rather than from practical experience. To be plain, I was pridefully writing about the importance of humility.

Arrogance is an interesting component of the human experience. For example, there is a mythological nearly universally held belief that arrogance is exclusive to the rich, the powerful, the famous, the intelligent, and the beautiful. This is not so, pride is not a respecter of persons and it will happily ensnare the poor, the weak, the silly, the obscure, the ugly, and the witless.

Most alarmingly, pride initially creeps into a heart like undetected cancer, attacking the healthy cells and gradually gaining greater and greater control. Like cancer, many suffer from pride long before they realize it is even in their system. The longer pride has been allowed to fester without confrontation the more intensive the treatment process becomes. Furthermore, the certainty of a complete recovery becomes less and less assured as pride silently attacks more and more vital areas of the soul. Early detection can mean the difference between spiritual destruction and deliverance.

Without being too personal, this past year (really longer) has been the most painful season of my entire life. Agonizing pain, absolute rejection, abject betrayal, and total disappointment leave an individual with a profound sense of powerlessness. The desperation that ensues leaves literally no room for pride. In fact, it’s almost as if God surgically removed every cancerous tumor of pride from my soul without warning or anesthesia. At first, I treated God like I treated my heart doctor as a child being prepped for a fourth open heart surgery. “Why are you hurting me?” I’d shout indignantly towards the heavens. God responded just like that doctor, “I’m trying to save your life, but the process is painful.”

There are two spiritual results of humility that we typically fail to notice. One, genuine humility produces a desperation that encourages complete dependence upon God. Two, desperation and complete dependence upon God set the stage for a freakish (almost nonsensical) level of faith that activates the miraculous.

Oddly, humility and desperation are much closer cousins than we typically realize. And, humility and desperation are the foundation of almost every major miracle described in the Bible.

Recently, a respected friend enlightened my thinking regarding a perplexing faith enigma in the ministry of Elijah. The enigma is this: Why would Elijah have the faith to confront the prophets of Baal and call down fire from Heaven only to flee from Jezebel and sink into suicidal despair moments later? What changed? Why the drastic difference from one moment to the next? I believe there are two reasons, but I’ll only share one now and I’ll save the second reason for another article. We tend to think of Elijah’s showdown on the mountain as an act of confident superhuman faith. But, I think the text and the context support the thesis that Elijah was acting out of an absolute dependence that gave him no choice but to put his faith completely in God. In other words, Elijah reached a place of such deep desperation that he realized God was either going to do it or he was going to die praying for God to do it.

It is not paradoxical to say that faith and despair are tightly connected in the realm of the miraculous. God does not respect desperation without faith, but faith without desperation is rarely genuine faith. I know, that takes a minute to get your head around, but Scripture overwhelmingly supports this concept. Psychologically speaking, the connection between desperation and the miraculous makes a great deal of sense. We do things we would never otherwise do when we are dangling from the end of our rope looking down at the jagged rocks below. When we have nothing left to lose and everything to gain, we become willing to do what God has been telling us to do all along. Tepid levels of faith resist the voice of God when it thinks it still has other valid “less crazy” options.

Scripture emphasizes how the woman with the issue of blood had spent everything she had and tried all the “reasonable” avenues before desperately touching the hem of Jesus’ garment.

Peter had nothing to lose when he stepped out onto the water. If Jesus didn’t intervene he was likely going to die anyway. So, he literally stepped out onto the sea with desperation induced faith.

When Moses stretched out that rod towards the Red Sea he really had no other choice but trust God or die.

Every leper that Jesus healed was already an outcast and freak in society so they had nothing to lose by running to Jesus.

What did blind Bartimaeus have to lose by ignoring the critics and screaming for Jesus to stop and have mercy upon his situation? He had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Three and a half years of drought. No revival or repentance. Elijah was lonely, righteously indignant, and bone tired. Those were the perfect ingredients for a freakish act of faith like publicly calling down fire from the sky. Sometimes it really does take a certain level of indifference towards the miracle. An attitude of almost spiritual recklessness that says, “Lord I’m trusting you with the impossible, and if I end up looking foolish… who cares!”

Think of the humility it took for the three Hebrew boys to say, “God is able to save us from the fiery furnace, but even if He doesn’t we will not bow to the king’s idol.” Almost every major act of faith comes down to the willingness to do something utterly crazy believing that God can do anything, but inwardly determining that even if God doesn’t you will still do the right thing. It’s nearly impossible to have that mindset until every drop of pride has been drained from your soul.

Freakish faith and desperate dilemmas are almost inseparable. You’ll likely never tell a mountain to move out of the way in Jesus’ name unless you are desperate beyond words to get to the other side. You won’t pick up your bed and walk until you stop caring what people think about you. You won’t let Jesus rub mud and spit in your blind eyes until your pride is dead.

Prideful prayers don’t move God. Prideful praise offends God. But humble, desperate, freakish faith calls down fire and closes the mouths of lions. And just when everyone thinks your freakish faith has finally gotten you killed, you will answer from the pit like Daniel:

“…O king, live forever. My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt. Then was the king exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God (Daniel 6:21-23).”

My Response to the Critics – Should We Still Dress Our Best for Church?

With 20K clicks in just 24 hours my last article, Should We Still Dress Our Best for Church? quickly became AV’s second most read post (second only to this article). It’s still getting thousands of interactions a day, and no one is more stunned than I am about it. Often, the articles I think will be the most interesting are overlooked, and the ones I throw together quickly gain insane levels of interest.

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I’ve received tons of feedback about the article (more personal responses than any other post). To be fair, much of it has been very kind and supportive. Quick thanks to those who visited the French Thread store.

On the other hand, I received a lot of criticism. Some were well thought out, well-intentioned, and interesting. Others were thoughtless and hateful. My little “…latte sipping, skinny jean, cashmere wearing liberals…” jab probably deserved some good counter punches. I don’t mind criticism, it comes with the territory. You shouldn’t write, speak, sing, or preach publicly if you’re thin-skinned.

Two things did surprise me though; the very strong emotions that people feel concerning church attire (among other things, I’ve been called legalistic, hateful, egomaniac, haughty, jerk, old-fashioned, and my personal favorite… parasitical), and the knee-jerk reactions of the critics (many responded to the article simply by reading the title and not the content). How can you debate against a proposal that you haven’t considered? It confirms that our culture is highly opinionated yet tremendously understudied. Opinions steeped in feelings rather than reflective thinking provoke strong emotional outbursts.

I usually do not write follow up responses to my own articles, but the lively debates have exposed several key issues that I feel need to be addressed and a few clarifications that need to be made. This post will probably seem a little more disjointed than my usual writings and for that, I apologize. It’s simply easier to respond to the critics in one public setting rather than give the same responses over and over again in private messages.

Clarifications & Response to the Critics: Let me be very clear, I do not believe that wearing a suit and tie will save you. I have known many tremendous Christians who didn’t wear suits or ties to church. They did, however, dress respectfully in what they considered their best.

For those who accused me of “adding” to the Gospel; the article in question was not a theological discourse. It was a thoughtful discussion about what is “best” and most appropriate for corporate worship. Mainly, what is “most” favorable for fostering a respectful and worshipful environment, which should be the goal of every church service. Essentially, I was speaking culturally about spiritual things. I know. I know. Cultural debates are dangerous… just try preaching about Christianity’s ongoing love affair with sports, Hollywood, sex, and immodest fashion trends.

I do acknowledge that there is some room for debate in regards to what respectful attire looks like in American culture. The article was directed towards Western Christians who already have a deep relationship with God. I also affirm that non-believers should “come as they are” but my prayer is that God will transform them with His Spirit (internally and externally). The demoniac ran to Jesus from the tombs naked and tormented, but left clothed and in his right mind (Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20). My experience has been that ultra-casual church attire is accompanied by ultra-casual worship, and ultra-casual worship is a symptom of casual dedication.

Interestingly, when Jacob and his family went back to Bethel (literally translated, the house of God) they did four things: they got rid of their idols, they cleaned up, they changed their clothes, and they buried their earrings (Genesis 35:1-4). Concerning Genesis 35:2 the Adams Clark Commentary says:

“Personal or outward purification, as emblematical of the sanctification of the soul, has been in use among all the true worshippers of God from the beginning of the world. In many cases the law of Moses more solemnly enjoined rites and ceremonies which had been in use from the earliest ages.”

Several people have objected to dressing “up” for church out of concern for how the poor or homeless might feel in the service. That’s a noble sentiment when genuine, although it’s often used as a red herring argument. First, dressing our best doesn’t have to be expensive or trendy. Second, I’ve been to many “hip” churches that dressed very casually but their shoes cost more than my whole outfit. You can make people uncomfortable in hundreds of little ways. Third, if you live your life by this standard you should apply it to the car you drive and the house you live in because all those things could make a poor person feel uncomfortable.

I’ve seen many poor homeless people find salvation who desperately wanted to rise out of their situation, not stay stuck there. In fact, sometimes they feel like people are condescending when they try to be “like” them (think Gucci faux grunge in the soup kitchen). The key is to treat people from every walk of life with true love and compassion. People can tell if you really care whether you’re wearing a tie or a T-Shirt.

Every culture has a type of attire that is culturally deemed respectful or dressy and conversely, every culture has attire that is designed to be rebellious and disrespectful (think jeans that intentionally sag down to the knees). You don’t have to be a genius to know those fashion designers intentionally design clothes to make a statement of some kind. T-Shirts are just walking advertisements. There’s even a style of dress commonly referred to as a “cocktail” dress.

It would be intellectually dishonest to ignore the reality that there are types of clothing that are culturally speaking, inherently disrespectful and vice versa. For example, most American citizens still put on a suit and tie to meet the president of the United States at the White House. Why? As a symbol of respect and honor for the position (even if they don’t like the man).

Nevertheless, there’s an astonishing theme that I’ve noticed trending from the most vehement objectors; many people do not believe that a church service is special or worthy of respect or any kind of special consideration. Most of these objectors acknowledge that certain clothing is more respectful than others, but maintain that it is irrelevant because a Sunday service is no more important than getting coffee (or a beer) with friends who happen to be Christians.

Their arguments stem from the assumption that the early Church was incredibly informal and that the whole Sabbath thing is so “Old Testament” and therefore, completely immaterial. Any other view is considered by them to be pharisaical and legalistic (by the way, that whole “legalism” thing gets taken out of context way too often, but that’s another subject for another day).

So, what about the early Church? What about the Lord’s Day? Is Sunday special or not? These are incredibly important questions with far-reaching ramifications. Early Christians considered resurrection Sunday to be a spiritual embodiment of the Sabbath (here’s a great article that delves deeper into that subject). John the Revelator called it the “Lord’s Day (Revelations 1:10).” Literally translated, the “Lord’s Day” means “the day belonging to the Lord.” Markedly, the Holy Ghost was first poured out on a Sunday (Acts 2:1-36). Early Christians viewed the Lord’s Day with the same pious reverence with which they had previously observed the Old Testament Sabbath.

Consider how the writer of Hebrews speaks of the Church:

“Wherefore we having received a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear (Hebrews 12:28).”

Clearly, we are to view the things of God and his Church with veneration and admiration.

Furthermore, Jesus did not say, “The gates of Hell shall not prevail against you or me.” He said, “…I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).”

Consider another important Scripture that gives us a glimpse into the way the apostles viewed the Church:

These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:14-15).”

The apostle Paul was emphasizing certain parameters that should be observed within the house of God. Early church services were not unplanned gatherings without leadership or organization. It wasn’t just a coffee break or an informal get-together. It was the sacred assembly of God’s holy people (here’s an easy to read article on the biblical distinctions between private and public worship).

Private worship is important but not to the exclusion of public worship. They serve different purposes and they are both imperative to the Christian life. This is a topic that deserves a lot more attention but for the sake of time let’s move on.

The most common objections came from people who don’t think God cares how we dress under any circumstances. Modesty to them is pure legalism. Any kind of outward holiness is loathsome. Their favorite verse in the Bible just happens to be an Old Testament verse, which I find interesting because this same crowd typically preaches to me about how we are no longer bound by anything in the Old Testament. They usually misquote a fragment of the verse as saying, “God doesn’t look at the outward appearance; He “only” looks at the heart.”

Does God only look at the heart? This is an important question that every Christian can and should settle once and for all. Let’s look at the actual verse in question in the original context:

“But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).”

This is the scene where God was about to anoint young David through the prophet Samuel to be the next king of Israel. All Samuel knew is that one of Jesse’s sons had been chosen by God (1 Samuel 16:1). When he saw the older stronger brothers he naturally assumed one of them was God’s chosen. Especially because king Saul was a tall man with a kingly countenance (1 Samuel 9:2). But God didn’t want Samuel to make the mistake of choosing the wrong son just because of his appearance. God knew that David was a man after his own heart despite his youthful appearance and inexperience (1 Samuel 16:11-12).

1 Samuel 16:7 is among the most mishandled Scriptures in the Bible. The text does not indicate that God doesn’t care at all about the outward appearance. That would contradict dozens of Old Testament (Deuteronomy 22:5, 12, Exodus 28:42-43, Ezekiel 44:17, Proverbs 7:10, Hosea 2:13, Leviticus 19:28, Genesis 17:14) and New Testament passages (1 Timothy 2:9-10, 1 Peter 3:2-5, 1 Corinthians 11:1-15, Ephesians 4:19, Galatians 5:19, Romans 12:1-2).

The spiritual principle at work in 1 Samuel 16:7 is that God is not fooled or swayed by outward appearances alone. God is not impressed by the superficial. God has the supernatural ability to see beyond our exterior into our innermost being. He sees our true intentions, our deepest desires, and our secret longings. While man may see physical strength, God sees spiritual weakness. Where man may only see outward sincerity, God sees inward corruption. This is refreshing and sobering at the same time.

I wholeheartedly believe in outward holiness, but without inward holiness, the outward is in vain. Genuine inward holiness will produce outward expressions of holiness as well. For example, a man may love his wife with all his heart and because of that, it affects his outward actions towards her and for her. If he abused his wife that would be an outward display of inward problems. If he cheated on his wife that would be an outward display of inward problems. If he wears something she genuinely hates that would be an outward display of inward disregard. If he blatantly and publicly disrespects her that would be an outward manifestation of an inward problem. Avoiding those things is not legalism. It’s love.

This whole discussion has brought the issue of modesty into play several times. The hermeneutical law of first mention makes the issue of modest clothing incredibly important. Remember, after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden they lost their innocence and realized they were naked. In response, they inadequately covered themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). God saw that they were still immodest so he personally made a coat of skins and clothed them sufficiently (Genesis 3:21). Modesty is a common theme that runs throughout the Old and New Testament.

One furious individual wrote to me and said, “I wanted to speak at my church and they told me I had to wear a collared shirt… talk about controlling.” Now I realize the Bible doesn’t condone collared shirts as sacred. And I realize collars aren’t necessarily evidence of sanctification, but doesn’t a church have the right to maintain a dress code of some kind? Most jobs have a dress code. Shouldn’t the church have some influence?

My daughter just had her first piano recital and she was given a very specific list of what-not-to-wear. We had no problem with that because we respect the institution’s stated goals of artistry and excellence. I’m not even going to bother with theological examples of authority and respect. Doesn’t common cultural decency inform us that we should have some deference to spiritual and secular authority? Apparently, it no longer does and that’s sad.

You’d be surprised how many people think that Jesus dressed like a bum! Yep. I’m getting tons of emails claiming that Jesus was the son of a carpenter and probably dressed like a poor country boy. The implication being that since Jesus was poor and likely dressed poorly we should too. One individual even claimed that carpentry should be a prerequisite for the ministry.

While I think, a good argument could be made that carpentry wasn’t necessarily poverty level, it is obvious in Scripture that Jesus came from humble beginnings. However, it has no bearing on the discussion at hand. Nowhere am I indicating that poverty-stricken people should be financially irresponsible and buy fancy clothing before they attend church. Dressing “our” best may vary from person to person and from paradigm to paradigm.

Just to keep things interesting, let me throw out a little tidbit of information that many people overlook. As you probably know, the Bible doesn’t really say much about Jesus’ appearance or wardrobe. We can extrapolate some things based on the cultural norms of his time but that’s about it.

However, the Bible does make one mention of the Lord’s “seamless” garment (John 19:23). This is the garment that the soldiers gambled for amongst themselves. Why? Because a seamless garment was valuable. In fact, the consensus seems to be that this was the kind of garment usually owned by wealthy royalty (check out this short little article). I don’t think this means we should all go out and buy royal garments, I’m just saying Jesus apparently wasn’t running around in rags as many suggest.

The final objection that I’d like to address generally goes something like this, “Christians who wear suits and ties to church seem haughty, arrogant, and condescending.” Sometimes they follow up with a statement like, “It seems to me like a suit and tie fosters a spirit of vanity and showiness that would be unpleasing to God.” I know that this is often just a misperception, but I still think this is the one objection that has some real merit.

So, this is where I preach to my like-minded friends for just a moment. All our dressing up out of respect for the house of God is valueless if we don’t love and respect others (1 Corinthians 13:1). If we’re condescending, unkind, derisive, or prideful we have missed the point. My friends, I’m am imploring us all to speak the truth in love and demonstrate that holiness is inward as well as outward. If we respect God we will respect others (Matthew 7:12, Romans 12:10, Philippians 2:3, 1 Peter 2:17, John 13:34-35). Don’t let inward filth defile the beauty of outward consecration. Vanity is always wrong no matter what we’re wearing or not wearing.

Related Articles: The Difference Between Praise & Worship, 6 Descriptors of Genuine Worship, Don’t Play Past the Bike (Common Sense Theology), 9 Signs of a Prideful Heart, You Might Be a Carnal Christian If…, Right, Righteous & Self-Righteous Judgements (Knowing the Difference), If We Are What We Post (What Are We Saying)?, Is Technology Killing Theology?, A Pattern of Persecution (What Does Hollywood Have In Common With ISIS)?

9 Signs of a Prideful Heart

God resists the proud (James 4:6), which is bad news for a church if it is full of pride. Spiritually dry and deadlocked churches are usually filled with pride. They’re spiritually stuck because God is literally resisting their efforts. What they’re doing might seem good on the surface but their motivations are displeasing to God.

Scripture is very clear about proper motivations; God doesn’t just care what we do, He cares how and why we do it. For example, God doesn’t just want us to give, He wants us to give cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). Jesus warned against displaying our righteousness just to be seen and admired by others, there’s no reward for that kind of conceited righteousness (Matthew 6:1). Paul even warned that preaching the Gospel must be done for the right reasons (1 Thessalonians 2:4). In a staggering display of immaturity, the disciples asked Jesus to decide who was the greatest in the kingdom; Jesus took it as an opportunity to teach them that without childlike humility they would never see the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1-35).

In a generation obsessed with talent competitions and spotlights, it’s no surprise that the thirst for attention has crept into the Church. It’s evidenced in pulpits and in pews. It’s on full display if you know the signs. There are certain “tells” or “giveaways” so to speak. There really is no way to overemphasize the importance of guarding our churches against being infected with prideful leaders. Even more importantly, we should carefully monitor our own motivations and quickly adjust when and where needed. Below are nine sure signs of a prideful heart. I use this list to check my own motives and the motives of those seeking position or platform in my local church. Many of these principles are universal and can be translated into any paradigm or organization.  

  1. They want to SING but they don’t want to SERVE.

  2. They want to PREACH but they don’t want to PRAISE.

  3. They want to LEAD but they don’t like LEADERSHIP.

  4. They want to TAKE but they don’t want to GIVE.

  5. They want RESPECT but they don’t show RESPECT.

  6. They want the SPOTLIGHT but they resent SACRIFICE.

  7. They like PUBLIC EMOTIONS but they dislike PRIVATE DEVOTIONS.

  8. They are SELFISH rather than SELFLESS.

  9. They produce FOLLOWERS rather than DISCIPLES of Jesus.

Now read this list again, but this time replace “they” with “I” and be brutally honest with yourself.

Related articles: Overcoming Ministerial Insecurity, Ministerial Discouragment (And How To Handle It), You Cannot Be A Church Leader If… (Part 1), 5 Tips For Introverted Leaders, 5 Ministry Pitfalls, The Case For Yearly Preaching Plans, 14 Ways You Can Support Your Pastor, Clothed In Humility, Right, Righteous & Self-Righteous Judgements (Knowing The Difference), If We Are What We Post (What Are We Saying)?, You Might Be A Carnal Christian If…, Consistency (16 Keys To Great Leadership), Living Selflessly In A Selfie World