Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. - Psalm 23: 4 (ESV)
Carl Lentz is the hipster pastor of Hillsong NYC. A man with the faux mohawk, leather jacket and a disdain for religion. Those who follow his preaching are extremely devoted. The pastor worship is almost palpable. You can show them all that is obviously wrong with Hillsong and they do not care. Built on a foundation of sexual abuse by the patriarch? Old news. Hillsong London recently used the secular dance song, "I Like to Move It, Move It" during worship? Oh we are just trying to reach as many for Jesus as we can! Word faith and prosperity preaching? Oh, you're just too religious! Well recently Pastor Lentz spoke at Oasis Church in Los Angeles and delivered a sermon about coming out of the valley. At best the sermon was problematic throughout. Let's take a look at the before, during, and after portions of this sermon. The link to the video can be found at the bottom of this devotional.
One of the criticisms often leveled against Pastor Lentz is his proclivity to engage his flock the way the world talks. To reach them with the very worldliness that is consigning them to hell. This is often blown off by his supporters with cliched sayings about "reaching people where they are at" but that largely misses the entire point. Where they are at is killing them. What they need is something different. What they need is the shining city on the hill. What they need is Jesus unvarnished. What Lentz delivers however is the same carnality they are currently living in. Within this sermon, at no less than three different points he uses the term "hot" to refer to women. Some may scoff at this and claim it is a generational thing but I disagree. This generation knows the difference between the words beautiful and hot. They know what each imply and they are not the same. Hot is a sexual reference of physical attractiveness. That would be bad enough but it is how and when he used the term that becomes more troubling. At the end of the sermon he actually refers to the host pastor's wife as hot. After the opening prayer when he has the congregation greet one another he glibly tells them to turn to the person next to them and say, "You look so hot right now." Despite the utter inappropriateness of both of these usages the first time he uses it was more disturbing. During his opening prayer, as he is still speaking to God, Lentz finishes by "praying" - "thank you for Laura Lentz; so hot in Jesus name."
What is the message Lentz is sending about the reverence of prayer? I am all for mixing humor into a message. Everything cannot be fire and brimstone anymore than it can be all puppies and rainbows but to make this kind of flippant and sexually charged joke as you are still praying? Seriously? What do you impart to your listeners? While we are on the subject, what are you reinforcing about your wife? Why are you telling thousands of people about the sexual attractiveness of your own wife? How in the world is that edifying? How indeed because in the world it is considered edifying. In a world that worships sexual impurity and visual lust I can think of no higher compliment without getting completely graphic in nature. Therein lies the rub. In the attempt to seem hip and relevant, Lentz tosses his own wife out as sexual red meat to the lost. Not only that but is that what you are thankful to God about regarding your wife? Not that she is beautiful? Not that she is a woman of God? No, just that she is "hot in Jesus name." Before you think this is much ado about nothing remember what the Bible specifically says about this:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. - Ephesians 5: 1-4 (ESV)
Not only was this horribly out of place but it was offered during a prayer about thanksgiving! I wish I could say that was the only problem with the opening moments but when Lentz went to the text, Psalm 23, he referred to the Psalm as the "DUI Psalm." What did he mean? Mockingly, Lentz joked that even the unsaved will start reciting, "Though I walk through the shadow of death" when they see flashing lights behind them and they have been drinking. Are you serious? In another attempt to be cool and relevant, Lentz uses the most beautiful Psalm to essentially joke about driving you car while drunk! Beloved if these things seem unimportant to you then that is exactly the problem. The reverence of prayer should be important. Joking to thousands of people that your wife or someone else's is "hot" should be important. Joking to the unsaved about a habit that kills so many people should be important. Yet in the hipster church they are not. They are viewed as stylish and cool. Pastor Carl just being Pastor Carl. He is so real. No! He is not being "real." He is being carnal. I haven't even addressed how Lentz then recited lyrics from the rapper Coolio's "Gangsta Paradise." This is all before he even started the sermon.
The sermon itself was a collection of selected verses chosen to represent the three things Lentz felt one needs to do when they find themselves in the valley. The problem was that his chosen text of Psalm 23 had nothing to do with the three verses he chose to prop up his three sermon points. Mind you, this is nothing new in modern preaching that seeks to provide human wisdom to solve temporal problems. In this case, the problem Lentz offers is when we face difficult times in our lives - the valley. Instead of expositing the Psalm, which is so rich in correct theology, Lentz pre-decided on three points he came up with. They were stay active, stay connected, and stay focused. But because Psalm 23 does not actually teach any of these, he scoured the Bible for three other verses to support each point individually and then somehow tried to link it back to being in the valley. To support the notion of staying active, Lentz offered a proverb:
The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; those who help others are helped. - Proverbs 11: 25 (MSG)
Those who know the Gospel know that you should never preach from the Message paraphrase because it is not an actual translation of the Bible. I know this point is glossed over but it is also at the heart of what is wrong with so many modern preachers who use this book and treat it as if it were God's Word. Lentz routinely uses it, as does Rick Warren and countless other false teachers. Again, I fear many read this critique and think it is not a big deal and I cannot stress how wrong that thinking is. We use the Bible because we believe it is the inspired Word of God. While no translation is perfect it is at least a translation we should be reading from. The message is a re-write. It is someone's attempt to redo what God has said and put their own spin on it. Yet even in the proverb offered up here, Lentz still misses the point. He presents his argument for staying active as serving in your church. That you should not come to church looking to be fed. This is a common staple of purpose driven heresy. The entire purpose of church is to feed the sheep, so that they might grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Yet Lentz here is teaching that if you want to make it through the valley you need to be concerned about others. There is plenty of human wisdom in that thinking and I am not arguing that on a carnal level it might be absolutely true. It just has nothing to do with Psalm 23 and also little to do with Proverbs 11. Yes, there is always the chance that God will give blessings back to those who give blessings liberally. That is the general principle of sowing and reaping. The larger theological point however walked on by without Lentz paying it any mind. The true idea of Christianity is bathed in self sacrifice. What Solomon is teaching here is that the act of being a blessing is in and of itself a blessing back to you. Not in material goods. Not even as a quid pro quo to escape the valley. It speaks to the eternal nature of who we ought to be as Christians. This point however is constantly lost amidst the new age blessing theology which insists that we bless others expecting to get something in return. Christ was a blessing to all He came across and for it He was crucified. We ought to remember that when we apply blessing theology to our lives. In order to support his second point, stay connected, Lentz went into Ecclesiastes:
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. - Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12 (NLT)
The overall point Lentz was making was that in a valley season, your relationships will make or break you. Once again, there is a plethora of human wisdom in that thinking. I am sure master motivator, Tony Robbins, would agree. Heck, I agree to a certain point. If you are going through a bad period in your life it is in your best interest to surround yourself with people who can pray with you, reinforce God's Word to you, and walk with you. No question about it. So what is the problem? First of all, it again has nothing to do with Psalm 23. David is alone in this Psalm. He speaks about many great things we can learn from. About how we need to allow ourselves to be shepherded. About how we need to rest. About how the awesome protection of the Lord will see us through. About how we have an eternity in heaven to look forward to. Do you know what is not in Psalm 23? Anything at all about staying connected. What about these verses from Ecclesiastes? Are they about the need to stay connected during the valley seasons of our lives? Nope. Not only that but again, Pastor Lentz misses the grand theological forest for the presupposed tree he constructed. Here are some of the thoughts from Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible:
Thus, when Satan attacks a single believer, which he chooses to do when alone; so he tempted Eve in the garden, and Christ in the wilderness; and one or more fellow Christians know of it, they are capable of helping their tempted friend, by their advice and counsel, they not being ignorant of Satan's devices; and by striving together in their prayers to God for him: so when false teachers make their efforts, as they usually do, Satan like, upon the weaker sex, and, when alone, they too often succeed; but when saints stand fast in one spirit, and strive together for the faith of the Gospel, they stand their ground, withstand the enemy, and maintain truth;
Beloved do not miss this forest. When the saints stand fast in one spirit, and strive together for the faith of the Gospel, they stand their ground, withstand the enemy, and maintain truth! Hallelujah! These Ecclesiastes verses have so much more truth than merely saying that we should stay connected! They are dealing with the vital need for unity based solely upon doctrine! About resisting false teachers! And what is the paramount ideal? Maintaining truth! This is what happens when you approach the Bible with three manufactured sermon points. You find a way to justify your points but you miss entirely what God is trying to say! Dear Lord forgive us!
Lentz's final point was to stay focused. Specifically, he teaches us to refuse to take our eyes off of the promises of God. Once again, not a bad point at all from the standpoint of human wisdom and in this case a lot closer to biblical truth. If we find ourselves at the darkest points in our lives it would behoove us to stay focused on Jesus and the promises of God. Like the other points before however, there is no real link to Psalm 23, which was supposed to be the foundational text for this sermon. I want to make sure we understand this point. If Psalm 23 supported these three sermon points then there is nothing wrong with finding supportive texts in other portions of Scripture. God's Word always confirms itself. What Lentz does however is what continues to infect modern day preaching. He decides beforehand that he wants to preach on the topic of getting through your valley. Now, while expositional preaching is always best, there is nothing wrong with topical preaching per se. The topic is certainly worthy as well. But instead of seeking the Bible to see what God has to say on the topic, Lentz uses Psalm 23 because it mentions walking through a valley and then strip mines the Word of God to prop up each individual point. In doing so, he preaches something that God did not necessarily say. In doing so he misses out on a gold mine of theological truths he could have imparted. These are no minor points beloved because the thrust of his message over and over again was that you will come through the valley. The problem is that is not always the case, especially when the valley is so trivialized by modern preaching. Earlier in the sermon in fact Lentz offers three things to overcome when introducing his valley concept. Disease, a bad boss, and the recession. I am with him on disease but overcoming a bad boss is now considered a Christian valley? The recession? Here is the hard truth today. Not everyone overcomes the bad boss. Not everyone overcomes the recession. Sometimes you lose your job because of the bad boss. Sometimes you lose your house due to the recession. And disease? Sometimes the answer is no:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." - 2Corinthians 12: 7-9 (ESV)