The recent revelation of adultery from popular pastor, Carl Lentz, hits me on a personal level. In 2014, Christina and I took a vacation to New York City and visited the Lentz-led Hillsong church. God used this visit to change my life.
My wife, who is a wonderful musician and worship leader, loves Hillsong’s music. So, when Christina and I visited New York City, she was determined to go to a Hillsong church service. To be honest, she practically had to drag me along with her. “No hate towards Hillsong”, I thought, “but lights, cameras, and pastors in tight shirts are just not my thing”. But God humbled me that day. The Holy One saw fit to use Hillsong lead pastor, Carl Lentz, as an instrument for Him to speak to me in a radical way. God spoke a simple message, “take down your mask”, but the depths of light and understanding in that statement has had more impact on me than any other experience in my life, save my initial revelation of Jesus at my father’s deathbed in 2003.
Now, I know God can use anybody for His purposes. In fact, He once anointed a donkey to speak a message to the aberrant prophet Balaam. If He can use an animal, then God is certainly able to use a crooked preacher or wayward priest. In fact, I believe many corrupt leaders today are being used by God for the sake of His Elect. Jesus taught us this: there would be an Invisible Church among the Visible, wheat among tares, true believers among false, until the end of the age. Yes, many self-serving prophets point others to the way of life, only to face terrible judgment themselves.
But Carl Lentz has never struck me as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. After 2014, I studied him very closely, watching his life and praying for him. From what I could see Carl has never clamored for the limelight, and his ministry happened more on the streets of NYC caring for his fellow man than swooning crowds. Only God knows what went wrong here. But I personally think the “celebrity” thing just got to him. I mean, you can only be lauded as a rockstar preacher so long before you start acting like a rockstar.
Lawrence and Waffle House
As I’ve been meditating on this Lentz tragedy, I feel like God used another recent experience to bring light: a visit with a friend, Lawrence Henderson. The simple and sincere life I witnessed from Lawrence stands in stark contrast to this “rockstar Christianity”.
Lawrence reminded of a few things about the Kingdom of our God.
The Kingdom of God is Simple
In 2014, Lawrence was not a believer when he was brought by a friend to one of our church meetings. For about a month, several members of our ministry team shared the word of God with him over coffee. He quietly took it all in and then one night, BAM! He went home to seek after God in thought and prayer. And then something just happened, something was transformed in this guy. For me and my team, Lawrence’s transformation was a bona fide “sign and wonder”. When Lawrence professed his faith, I baptized him. His baptism took place behind my house with a small gathering of believers and a large bucket of water (he is a big guy!) I baptized him in a simple way according to the ancient traditions of the Church, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The Kingdom of God is Often Unimpressive
Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is a like a mustard seed- it is the smallest of all the seeds. It’s doesn’t look impressive. It’s not the seed you’re likely to pick if you’re looking for “big impact”. But Jesus explained that this small seed slowly grows and builds and flourishes, and in the end it becomes the largest of trees, capable of giving shade to creatures below and refuge to birds above.
In the same way, Lawrence’s story may not seem all that impressive. He had a mysterious, but “invisible” transformation on the inside, got a lot of water poured on his head, and slowly started to learn more and more about his faith by reading a Book and listening to lectures online. He was also encouraged to work hard. Though college educated, Lawrence eventually took a job at Waffle House; but because of his leadership abilities, he was quickly promoted to a managing partner. (My wife and I just found his new store is the one right by our house!! Yay!)
Big deal? Waffle House? Your little church meeting? Yes, the world certainly would not find any of this impressive, but then again this world is condemned; and what matters to this world often is at odds to what matters to God. Lawrence had a miracle on the inside of him. He was baptized in obedience to the Scriptures. He has sought to live a sincere life of faith. He has worked hard, always striving to love and be a blessing to those around him. These things impress God!
Lawrence may not seem like a big deal to you, but I’m sure he’s a big deal to his 20 employees at that Waffle House. Instead of having to hate their jobs and dread waking up everyday, they come into a place full of smiles, laughter, and encouragement. During my visit, my heart welled up with joy as I watched Lawrence interact with his staff and regular customers, many of whom were elderly folks who I’m sure appreciate the extra love and warmth (along with their senior discount!). We live in hard times and we need Waffle Houses like the one Lawrence runs. We need somebody like a Lawrence to cheer us up and show us some love. I can tell you this, I saw the Kingdom of God at that Waffle House. God be praised.
The Kingdom of God is Pure
Why does Jesus, the King of all Glory and Fame, allow his spiritual kingdom to be so simple and unimpressive? It’s strategic. Jesus desires most of all for His kingdom to be pure. He wants real. He wants authenticity. He refuses the fame and falsehood of this world, but delights in true worship from the heart. He wants people to walk with Him for Him, not the perks. The Lord demands purity in his people. This is why the Apostle John taught us that those who look for the Kingdom continually purify themselves, just as He himself is pure.
With all that being said, the Kingdom of God is certainly not found in the mere glamor of lights, cameras, and fog machines. I warn you, God is not impressed with hype, excitement, and big personalities. I’m not saying God is against all these things per say… but just think about it for a second: shiny stuff has a tendency to distract us from what is important. Right? That’s common sense. So, we must be careful. You want to spruce up your meeting a little bit with lights? Sure. You can preach good to crowds? Fine. I’m not laying down rules nor am I implying we have to turn off the AC in our churches and gather in our basements. I’m simply giving a word of caution:
Stop the show.
It’s not worth it… Stop the noise. Stop the theatrics. Stop the striving for notoriety. All these things will burn up like chaff before the Lord on His Day of Glory. Don’t you realize that all of us will stand before God and give an account of our lives? When He comes upon the clouds with all power and glory, the glory, glamor, and power of this world will disappear. You and I will stand before the Humble King, naked and bare, as we really are. Yes, we will all face the One who knows all things.
So, with that in mind, live a simple life. Lower yourself in His presence. Concern yourself with developing sincere faith, quiet devotion, and good works. Flee all selfish ambition. Resist the temptation of vainglory and the fading limelight of this world and instead pursue the honor and fame and glory that comes from God alone.
Remember, Jesus is really coming again, and He will be the ultimate say on who is and who is not important.