The Real Power of God is sometimes not obvious… and that’s a great encouragement to those walking with God but no one recognizes them.
Carl Lentz is a charismatic Hillsong’s preacher with an Instagram worthy life and looks. He is famous for taking care of celebrities like Justin Bieber, wears Supreme and even has pictures of him floating on the internet walking around the beach bare-chested with low-hanging shorts showing his physique.
Last month he publicly admitted to cheating on his gorgeous wife of 17 years who he met when they were both Hillsong Bible college students. He has since been fired from Hillsong Church.
Sadly, cheating preachers, pedophile priests, snake-oil televangelists have existed before, but why did this particular episode hit me differently?
Because of two reasons.
Today, the world has shifted, rather, we live in two worlds simultaneously, the real world that people interact with you physically in, and the virtual world of social media where you get to show people only what you want them to see. Carl was one of the few pastors that are popular and famous in both. In fact, he also lives on stage, which I define as part of social media in the sense that can premeditatively make people hear and see what you want them to hear and see.
Not only did he put thousands of people in the seats in church, he owned a $1.5 million dollar home and is one of those people that it’s the celebrities that want to take pictures with him instead of the other way around.
Carl is the quintessential example of someone the world might think “made it big”.
The second is set up by the first:
Hillsong today emphasizes teachings on light-for-the-masses motivation and empowerment on Earth aspects of the Gospel.
Carl’s preaching is so charismatic, empowering and makes sense for many people.
“God, do tonight what only you can do.” He says in a pensive, child-like voice at the end of a worship session.
“This is not a show, this is not a religious performance. Jesus, we need you now.”
Carl points people to Jesus, just like a good minister should.
One of his recent sermons I’m Not Slowing Down, he preaches one of the verses that speaks about the empowerment from the Gospel.
But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things … We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.Galatian 5:22-24, MSG
Lentz continues to explain that if we are “leading Holy Spirit led and Holy Spirit fed” lives, the “God of the universe wants to bring gifts to your life” such that the believer can have a “ridiculous amount of [good] fruit” that non-Christians can sense.
“Are you so in step with the Holy Spirit such that there is an abundance of peace and abundance of joy in your life? Can you imagine what would happen if we brought the fruit of the Holy Spirit into every political conversation? Every moment on social media?”
“People don’t have to wonder if we are different. People don’t have to wonder if we are talking about something that we are not actually living. That’s the faith that I want to have right now.”
That’s my kind of sermon!
… what a strange phenomenon that Lentz was preaching an empowering Gospel, and yet was seemingly devoid of the fruit of what that Gospel is supposed to lead to.
The key fruits he preached about was “a willingness to stick with things” and “loyal commitments”, and yet we find out that he was thinking of breaking the biggest commitment he had while he was preaching that sermon.
The man that got rich and famous preaching an exceptional gospel, that looked like he had an exceptional life turned out to have a less than exceptional character.
Does Carl’s secret shortcomings prove the Gospel is devoid of transformative power? Doesn’t this mean Christianity is fake? It’s just a man-made idea?
No, but it shows you that two people can listen to the same message and have different results. It also shows you that the supreme power of God that works powerfully inside a person may not be obvious on the surface, and that people can have a “form of godliness” that look good but fails the rest tests in life.
The encouraging thing is that the reverse is also true!
There are many people in the body of Christ that you wouldn’t take a second look at – there are too uncharismatic, too pensive, too quiet, too unsure of himself, too unattractive to be “blessed” by God. Yet, inside, God can be doing a powerful work in them that you wouldn’t believe until the appointed time comes.
Which one is us?
I am sure that there are some Christians sitting on the pews of Lentz church that have true spiritual gifts, great moral courage, and have the life-changing faith and walk with God Lentz talks about. It’s just that you probably wouldn’t recognize him because he doesn’t look the part (at least for now).
This blogpost are for those people who are genuinely trying to walk with God, but because of whatever circumstances, seem to be stuck in 2nd gear. The blogpost are for those who are genuinely holding the promises of God in your heart and are walking in-Christ, you are God-loving, God-minded, ambitious, hardworking, inspired but for whatever reason or big setbacks, people do not recognize it because you don’t have the external markers of success (yet). Just because people don’t recognize it doesn’t mean you aren’t a leader-in-training.
Many people equate confidence, positivity, being charming, being popular as being blessed by God. But I am saying that you don’t have to be a celebrated cell group leader, worship leader or pastor; you don’t have to feel confident or happy all the time, you can still organically wrestle with your real life problems and be favored by God. Very often, you aren’t as “positive” as others because you are confronted with big problems others don’t have. Others seem more confident because life is easy for them. It’s easy to preach a sermon on faith when you know you have a chance to get what you want in life. It’s much harder when confronted by hardship, handicap or ugliness in life.
But … the Bible is full of examples that those that have a relationship with God but are struggling mightily with real life problems that others don’t recognize who are being set up to be spiritual giants.
You are one of them?
Carl Lenz vs the early church.
Today we live a time and culture that it is possible in the Western world to become rich and famous by identifying as Christian and preaching paraphrasing parts of Christian teachings, because of this, there are some that “using God improperly to gain the world.” This was not so in the early church. For them, because of harsh religious and political persecution, you would risk losing your livelihood, be imprisoned or executed and demonized for calling yourself a Christian.
Between the 3 days of Jesus’ public crucifixion and the alleged resurrection, the disciples were in disarray… cowardly. Peter denied knowing Christ three times, Thomas doubted. Judas killed himself. Many were hiding in caves. The disciples were behaving exactly like all the rest of the fake messiah cults, on cue. Christianity should be wiped out soon.
Then, something totally changed the script. People, starting with the disciples, behaved in strange ways.
Each one, save for John, spread the Gospel message until they were executed. With each news of a fallen brother, the rest did not stop, they continued to turn the world upside down… starting with Rome, the epicenter of military persecution, and then the world.
These persecutions are no joke. The persecutions under Rome intensified from the time of Christ to 311 AD that included Emperor Nero using Christians as human torches, burning them alive on the roadside and being thrown to be torn apart by dogs. If you were Christian, you could have your property seized, be thrown in prison and even executed. Why call yourself Christian at all?
Yet, these Christians changed Rome.
Romans would practice abortions and abandonment of little children to wild animals. Women were considered inferior; they could not speak in public and most had no education. Romans promoted brutal gladiatorial contests where people have torn apart for amusement. Christians, sometimes under threat of death, changed all of that.
From Rome, it spread to the rest of the world, vastly influencing western culture in help for the poor, education for all, political freedom, economic freedom, science, and the family amongst many others.
Mother Teresa chose to “serve the poorest of the poor and to live among them and like them.” Historian Glenn Sunshine wrote, “Christians were the first people in history to oppose slavery systematically. Early Christians purchased slaves in the markets simply to set them free.” Majority of Noble Prize winners in science identify as Christian.
The list goes on and on that even atheist authoritarian regimes and atheist journalists have acknowledged it.
Matthew Parris, a well-known atheist British journalist says of Africa’s structural moral decline:
“Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts … these alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do.”
“In Africa, Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”https://www.lifeministries.org.au/atheist-truly-believe-africa-needs-god/
For the early church, many of them had the “give up the world” to “gain God.”
And yet, even in doing so, they weren’t just losers living lives in obscurity, instead, they exceeded all expectations and abounded in history making accomplishments.
Even stranger, God also showed them that when they gave up the world to gain God, they still gained the world and everything else as well.
“Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, and all these things [that the world hungers after] will be added to you.”Matthew 6:33
We see God supernaturally supercharging the economy of the poorer Macedonian church folks to abound in economic wealth so they could bless the Corinthian church that was in a higher socio-economic level. Those “low-level” Christian businessmen in the “boring”, “disadvantaged” states were becoming richer than the world expected them to be.
“And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own … they exceeded our expectations.”2 Cor 8:1-5, NIV
In placing God first, people actually became history makers that exceeded expectations. They didn’t just succeed in a way the world could understand, they succeeded in a way the world could not understand. They confounded the world, so to speak. That is one way you know it’s from God, when the success comes in a way that confounds the “experts of the world”.
They didn’t just do things or grow like the world does, they did things and grew in ways the world has never seen.
Fast forward today, there are charismatic people who have memorized Bible sound bites and look like they have God’s favor that are far from exceptional character, wisdom and discernment, real favor or Agape love; and people who look like “broken losers” that don’t seem to be a large presence in church that God is actually powerfully working with.
In Carl Lentz’s church, people might deem him as the most spiritual, the most mature “Christian”, a picture of what a successful Christian looks like, but I suspect that there are many others who are in his church or other churches, that hear the same message, don’t look the part, but are actually spiritual giants in training.
We too probably passed by many people that at first glance you think would not amount to much, and yet became a powerful man of God that we couldn’t imagine.
Powerful Biblical Faith that doesn’t disappoint, that actualizes a powerful destiny in Christ, is not self-generated, and is only clearly seen in the dark times. It is not when those who can easily become rich because of the system that become rich or when those who act morally in a predominantly ethical society that shows the power of God. It is when the poor become rich, the weak become strong, the foolish that confound the “wise” and people that sacrifice themselves to hold themselves to a morality that society doesn’t understand that show the real power of God.
THE TWO GUYS
I knew two guys in the big church I attended.
One dressed snappy. Carried himself well with the latest hippie fashion, spoke confident platitudes, surrounded himself by popular people and was a moderately successful insurance agent. The pastor liked such confident young men and involved him as a cell group leader. The affirmation he got from the people around him made him more confident and happier, the more confident and happier, the more church folks want to hang on his worlds, the more people bought his products, the richer he became the more confident, and he was unknowingly in a virtuous cycle that lifted him up in the eyes of the world. But I knew that his life in private was not as spectacular- he had frequent arguments with his mum, was easily offended. He was doing okay in his job and was hardworking, but nothing the world would take a second look at. In other words, it’s easy to thrive when the environment is to your favor. This type of success is commendable, but it’s no real demonstration of God’s favor. God’s favor is shown not when you can draw big buckets of water from an oasis, but rather when you can draw water from dry places that the world can’t get.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.Isaiah 43:19
Another guy went to church sometimes. When he did, he never was in a center of a crowd. Some days he would sit pensively in the pew alone, have a blank stare or a tear in his eye. Some days he spoke personally to people one-to-one. He doesn’t speak Bible to people in frequently, but when he does, it’s short and powerful with a gravitas that many don’t recognize, because it’s not in the excitable energy of today’s hippie pastor. He didn’t dress well, only in clothes that were comfortable. He didn’t look young and radiant although if you looked hard enough you can see that energy deep inside. Unknowest to most people, this guy was in the throes of debilitation from a disease that ravaged him for years that medical doctors were unsure about. In the past, he was an athlete and was from the best schools. Yet even during his turbulent times where he got little affirmation, instead of complaining, he was building a million-dollar business on his own even when no one would hire him. He was continuing to walk with God despite almost giving up multiple times.
Each time he is pensive on the pew, he was actually asking God, “should I give up on you?” Every time he would see people who have it good, who are brimming with “positivity” and who silently condemned him for not having enough positivity and faith, it would seem like God was stabbing him in the heart.
Each time, after having a long consideration of what that has happened, and also acknowledging that most people do not know how to deal with him, in a crushed spirit, somehow, comes a reaffirmation of a commitment, “ok God, I might not totally know who you are anymore. What is going on with me is not what I expected when I had a child-like faith. But my heart has experienced you before, and I will continue to walk in your ways.”
No one knew about this. People never probed too deeply in his life because he wasn’t part of the in-crowd, and he didn’t have anything tangible at the moment to show people… he had far from perfect health, far from perfect career, and didn’t get affirmation from the who’s who in church.
Even before his business grew, even though he was still struggling, I knew he was giving significant money to people who he thought was less fortunate than him. Even when its tempting to believe God has let him down, he was still trying to give according to God’s purpose. I was astounded that he himself needs money for medical expenses, and yet he was giving even before his business showed signs of success.
Which one of these people had more faith? For the first, he could have, but it’s hard to tell because real faith is only seen in the darkness. For the second, all I know is that the part of him that holds on to God when there are so many reasons not to, This reveals a faith that is not his own. It is this faith that excites me, because that type of faith is the type that leads to hope that doesn’t disappoint. Real biblical faith is not self-generated, it is from God. It is easy to self-generate feelings that look like biblical faith when times are good. Biblical faith is not self-generated blind faith, self generated faith can disappoint, but when God gives you that faith, it never disappoints.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we also have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we celebrate in hope of the glory of God.And not only this, but we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.Roman 5:1-5, NASB
Unlike the first who was in a virtuous affirmation cycle that naturally lifts people higher, especially in church; the second was in a viscous cycle were he didn’t get affirmation because people couldn’t discern what was really going on with him, and he had no time to explain it to those who would not listen. Yet, despite of this viscous cycle that naturally would lead a person to discouragement and more isolation, the second continued to power on in secret, and still wanted to please God even when the church didn’t recognize him.
I have no words to explain such character, courage and wanting to bless the same world that was indifferent and has taken from him.
“I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me” (Phil 4:13) He would say softenly. Then he would put his head down, and disappear from public view and back into the grind; while the other guy was socializing in church, attending parties, do token good acts in public and building up his Carl Lenz type persona.
Months later, I found out that he gave 5-figures to a random missionary to an Islamic country even though I knew that his own medical bills a year is also 5-figures. I saw the blessing on the Macedonian church powerfully working in this man’s life. The same resurrection power working in the lives in the early church was working today. God was powerfully working in the lives of the non-obvious and confound the “obvious” conventional wisdom of the day.
Majority of the girls in that church was drawn to the first person and didn’t bother with the second. They associated the first as a Christian “leader” and the other as a Christian “loser”. I am not saying that all people that are stuck in 2nd gear are all leaders-in-training. Some of these people really are sluggards, lazy, and are using romanticized stories of how God loves the losers as reasons to stay the way they are. I am saying that there are people who are inspired, hardworking, God-loving, God-minded, ambitious people but don’t seem to have the talents, opportunities or are stuck with big setbacks that others don’t seem to have who wonder if God is still for them. For these people, I write these examples to say that God is not done with you yet, and if you hang on, walk courageously even when people doubt you, attempt ambitious things, you will produce fruits that far exceed expectations.
The first looked like that Godly person flowing with favor, the other person was actually flowing with more power and favor, it’s just that it wasn’t the right time. God had a purpose in allowing his suffering, knew he wouldn’t give up, and in so revealed great insights about life that he could never have without those big trials and without a faith that was going to get through those trials with God rather than without Him. The funny thing is that the second person is exactly, and more, of what these girls said they wanted. Did these girls forget that the most magnetic man in the Bible, Jesus, had humble beginnings? When Jesus was only a carpenter’s son, was he attractive? Or, did you only notice him when he did the more obvious things, like publicly speaking at the Synagogue and debating with Rabbis twice his age? Or even more obvious like when he fed 5000 people after a sermon. My question is, while he was only a poor carpenter’s son with “no prospects”, surely he had traces of greatness in him. What are those traces?
The first guy turned out reasonably to expectation. Some will say he turned out well. He had a middle-management job, a healthy family with kids and serves in church from time to time. He enjoys himself with church mates and activities. God was faithful to the first guy.
The second guy went on to become a multi-millionaire when no one would hire him. He would also experience a supernatural recovery in health despite doctors being unable to properly give a long-term solution for over a decade. Because God healed his health, the first could do sports and other activities all over again. Soon, he started looking better than most of the guys that overlooked him in the past. God was more than faithful to the second guy too.
One of those girls took a chance and ended up marrying him (before he got to his full potential), and now she says she couldn’t believe how she (and many other girls) were so blind. The guy, she thought, was much more than she expected, and has learnt that real spirituality, the real working of the Gospel in a person’s life is not as obvious as people think.
With the privilege of hindsight and maturity, she unabashedly said that the second guy was far better than the first. The second guy tackled problems most normal people wouldn’t have to go through, and he grew his business and finances in ways the world couldn’t understand. This can only be from real favor, wisdom and discernment of God.
Here’s a kicker.
So now that the second guy has flourished at the right time, does he look like or sound like a Carl Lentz? No. His wife would say he looks attractive, that’s all that matters. He has his own identity. He still wears comfortable clothes and nothing too fancy. He is active in sports again, but mostly to stay fit. He doesn’t go around churches to give messages… but… people do come to him for advice on business, life and God, for he succeeded in those areas in unconventional ways. Though he is not paid to give sermons, he writes his thoughts about God for people free of charge. People respect and feel secure around him. He gives to missionaries and ministries, but you wouldn’t know because it’s not announced in public. Thus, fulfilling what the kingdom of heaven is supposed to accomplish in the lives of those who walk in it:
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”Matthew 13:31-21, NIV
Real abundance had sprouted. People, like birds, come to perch around him.
We see this so clearly in the example of Joseph:
The darkest time of Joseph’s life (Gen 37-50) was probably when he was in prison. I imagine him to be a pensive disheveled pariah by that point.
If I were an outsider living in that time, what would I have known of this fellow called Joseph? He must have been a “good-for-nothing”, or else why would his family hate him so much that they sold him to slavery? He must have been a sexual offender else why would the captain of the guard throw him in jail after being accused by the captain’s wife? You wouldn’t want to associate yourself with Joseph at all. You don’t get social brownie points by being in the same Instagram picture. If you would be around him, you would sense his great disappointment and perhaps even the dissonance of entertaining thoughts that God had forsaken him. in a world that encourages being around “positive energy”, why would you want to be around that “negative energy?” For if God didn’t forsaken him, why would he have lost everything for the second time in his life? Who could have thought that this fellow will be powerfully used by God, that has God working in him even now and has a character like no other?
I have become a portent to many, but You are my strong refuge.”Psalm 71:7
I can imagine Joseph meditating under his breath, trying to see past the hopelessness surrounding him.
Contrast this with the Pharaoh’s butler who was sprang from jail and works at Pharaoh’s side. Who will people think God is blessing? Who do you think is favored by God? The Pharaoh’s butler or this disheveled alien accused of sexual offence? The Pharaoh’s butler could never interpret dreams, Joseph could. The Pharaoh’s butler forgot about Joseph, hence breaking his promise. Joseph could supernaturally forgive his brothers that condemned him to a life of slavery. So mature is Joseph’s transformation that one of the most poignant verses in the entire Bible that I am constantly amazed by is from Joseph himself, When finally confronting his brothers who did him a great evil, Joseph said something most cannot say:
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.Genesis 50:20, NIV
Joseph not only became the second in command in Egypt, he did something that is infinitely much harder – not only did he forgive his brothers for an unpardonable sin, he repaid their evil with good. Who can do that? Can you imagine what a mind screw this was for his brothers? Put yourself in Joseph’s brother’s shoes for a second. You betray this fellow. You mortgaged his entire future by selling him as a slave in a foreign land with no friends and family. Joseph was a favored child of Jacob and was likely to inherit a lion’s share of Jacob’s spoils and businesses. Joseph was probably going to be the next CEO of Jacob’s tribe, and you exchanged that future for him for a future of hard labor with no agency.
After doing all that out of jealousy and sin, this Joseph character “will provide for you and your children.”?
How is this possible?
It’s not. With man it is impossible, with God it is possible.
Paul summarizes this with
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.2 Cor 4:7, NIV
A jar of clay is ordinary looking and brittle, no expects it to be sturdy and no one expects anything important inside of it. Yet, these are the candidates that God puts real treasure inside, and this treasure allows them to “confound the world”, to get close to doing things only God could do.
So why is the Carl Lentz episode encouraging to me?
Because when comparing Lentz’s moral failings to the supernatural moral courage of the early church, when seeing the differences on how Lentz grew rich (because the culture of today is ripe for such professional preachers) and the supernatural increase of the Macedonian church, it reminds me that God can still powerfully work when we aren’t looking the part like Lentz. It means that when we are pensive and quiet at the church pew, and not looking like that shiny Instagram worthy Christian, God can powerfully use us.
Many a times, I come across many Christians who are legitimately struggling in life, and have setbacks that are not easily understood by the other people, or even church folk. These people don’t get as much support and outpouring of well-wishes compared with those more Instagram worthy folks. Religious minded Christians will always try to justify that person’s lack of success. He’s too lazy. He’s too timid to get what he wants. He’s got bad character. But some times, it’s none of those. In such a situation, it’s easy for the struggling to wonder if God is done with us, or if we will ever amount to something.
In the face of suffering and signs of becoming irrelevant by society, we ask ourselves the questions: Will we end up like a pariah? A footnote in history? Or could someone like us, that no one is recognizing, be a history maker like Joseph? If God is my only hope, what does it mean that the who’s who in church are lavishing attention and affirmation to others and not for us? Can God still work for me when I am isolated in my “prison” that no one cares to visit?
I was one of them, and the answer is Yes.
“For my father and my mother have forsaken me, But the LORD will take me up.” (Psalm 27:10) “God is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) King David said.
I found out that with God, the place that you are meant to be forgotten can be the place that God is working powerfully and is setting up your personal transformation and your future like a coiled spring, ready to be released at the appointed time.
Between isolation and despair, the Gospel works to create a spiritual giant.
This giant will eventually confound the people that doubted him.
So, if you don’t look the part of a Carl Lentz, if you aren’t confidently readily say the right things about God, who isn’t abounding with Instagram worthy wealth, health or family – that’s the perfect place for God to work. And, your fruits can surpass that of those who had easily got the affirmation of the crowds.
Many people live in two worlds’ simultaneously, the physical and the social media cloud. For the Christian, we focus on two worlds as well, the physical and the spiritual (kingdom of heaven). Unlike the social media, where we post what we want to post to exaggerate who good our lives are, or to make people think our characters are better than it really is; the kingdom of heaven is the INVISIBLE place that no one sees, but in it lies real power to actually actualize our worldly endeavors better than we could imagine, and also transform our characters to Christ.
One world is our way to manipulate people around us to think we made it, the other world is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and the LIFE – it forcefully transform ourselves and influencing our circumstances to become more than we can ever imagine.
That’s what David means when he says, Wait upon the Lord. Wait on Him.
Joseph became far bigger and more inspirational that Carl Lenz ever was, and at one time, especially in prison, remember that most of the world would have written him off.
The last shall be first and the first shall be last.
 In the church I was in had many people looking for certain external markers of success. The girls there believed they were princesses looking for a prince. I have no argument here. They are and they should. But they were fawning for guys that looked like the charismatic pastor on stage with the hippie fashion sense. They were looking for extroverts that just look like they have a measure of success.
 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor… From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. (Matthew 11:4-5, 12)