Steven Furtick - Concealed But Not Canceled
Come on. Praise him for every valley and every mountain. His steadfast love is better than life. Wow! What an awesome God you are. No doubt about that. Everything in our lives points to the fact that there was a steady hand guiding us. Now, Lord, we clap our hands to celebrate your hand that never left our lives. In Jesus' name, amen. You know what you have to do. High-five 18 people and tell them, "It was the hand of God". Did you do 18 or did you round up? Lazybones. Everybody online as well. Give a high-five in the chat, a little fist bump in the chat. Let us know you're here too, our eFam around the world. Today I have a word for our anniversary. I tried to tell God several months ago that I wanted to invite a guest to speak for the anniversary. I said, "This is a great Sunday for me to just enjoy all that you have done, Lord, and the works thy hands have made, so I'm going to invite a guest speaker".
I even had a little list of guests I wanted to bring. Almost anybody will come preach to you because you are the most amazing church in the world. That's not bragging. It's a fact. You are the greatest. I'm not saying the greatest onstage; I'm saying the greatest people, the greatest volunteers, the greatest prayer warriors. The most generous, amazing people in the world are right around you. So, I was getting my list of guest speakers ready. Then I saw something in the Scripture that I felt I was supposed to preach on this day, so then I was conflicted, because I wanted the day off so I could just cry through the baptism video like you do and not have to dry my snot, put Visine in my eyes, get up here, and pretend to be all composed. When I saw this word, though, it really felt important, and it felt appropriate for the day. Now, Graham looked at me… Because we went a little longer in worship. We had a video and Holly baptized half the town of Charlotte here at Ballantyne and at all of our locations. Let's welcome all of our locations right now.
So, we sang and we prayed and we praised and we sang and we prayed. Graham looked at me and went, "Are you preaching today"? Like, "How long is this going to be? I've got an appointment with a bowl at Chipotle. Are you preaching too"? Well, the truth of the matter is not only should we make time for God's presence that matters the most, but I believe if you listen well I can go quickly. I want to turn to a Scripture in Isaiah 49, because when I told the Lord I would get a guest speaker he said, "Okay. Then you be the guest, because it's my church". He said, "I'm inviting you; say yes".
So here is my yes. Isaiah 49:1-4. The Word of the Lord. "Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother's womb he has spoken my name. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. He said to me, 'You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.' But I said, 'I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all.'" Who hasn't felt like that? Come on. Who hasn't felt like that some days? The servant of the Lord feels unappreciated and unseen, and he says so. "I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all".
Keep reading. "Yet…" That's the word the Devil doesn't want you to get to in this text. "But I said, 'I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet…'" Everybody holler, "Yet"! That's an important word for this message today, so I want you to emphasize it. It's just three letters, but say it with everything you've got. "Yet what is due me is in the Lord's hand, and my reward is with my God". The Word of the Lord. Do you receive it? The word of the Lord for our eighteenth anniversary is this: Concealed but Not Canceled.
I thank you for favor, God, as I preach this message. I thank you for penetration of these principles that have ministered to me. I thank you for each precious person you brought into the room, and I thank you that you're going to do it like you always do in a way that you've never done, and we will give you glory. In Jesus' name. We praise you in advance. Hallelujah. It is so. Amen.
Concealed but Not Canceled. Let me start this personally. A few years ago, I was going through one of those valley seasons of life and ministry that we all have to pass through, and I was throwing a pity party. Even though there were so many things to be grateful for in this ministry, I found myself doing a lot of avoiding what I knew God had assigned me to do. I was avoiding things I had asked God to give me, and I started canceling things that were a priority in my life. I was talking to a friend who's very wise and more experienced than me about this. I told my friend, "I just can't believe that after all God has done for me I can't find my motivation. I'm grateful and I'm thankful, and I praise him for what he has done, but I guess I'm just getting lazy".
My friend laughed. My friend said, "Anybody who has known you for five minutes knows there's not a lazy bone in your body. You're one of the hardest working people I've ever met in any profession. It's not that you're lazy; it's that you're afraid". You know how somebody can say something and all of a sudden it's like they turn into Yoda? You say, "Tell me more about that. I'm not lazy; I'm afraid". "Yeah, you're afraid. You're not motivated right now because you're afraid, and you're afraid because you have accumulated a few failures and disappointments, so now you're not doing the thing you're called to do, not because you're lazy, bad, evil, wicked, hateful, or an apostate. You're not lazy; you're afraid. You're not showing up because you don't want to fall short".
It turned around my entire view of it in that one conversation. The fear of falling short was keeping me from showing up. This passage I read for emotional context hopefully registered to you on multiple levels as I read it. The servant of the Lord, prophesying about Jesus, ultimately, but through the vehicle and the human vessel named Isaiah, who prophesied around the eighth century in a very perilous time, is sharing about his confidence in God's calling on his life. Just to mention it again, because after I read this Scripture and point out a few things, I'm going to share with you a story that will bring it to life. He says, "Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother's womb he has spoken my name. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver".
What drew my attention to this text for our purpose today is that you can be called and concealed at the same time. You can be in the will of God but not feel God at the same time. This draws my attention not only to Isaiah but to all of the people I pastor who feel sometimes like the hand of God has left their life. You know he put you where he put you for a purpose at a time, and then at times you go through seasons, and maybe even just hours in the day, where it feels as if the hand of God has lifted. I should talk for a moment about the hand of God before we move on, because there is no other reason that I'm here celebrating the eighteenth anniversary of this church today, as your pastor, than the hand of God.
The fact that I'm here and sane and married and not addicted to substances other than Diet Coke… Leave me alone about it. Aspartame or amphetamines. You decide. I'll drink the Diet Coke and stay married. No, it's the hand of God that I'm here, not my skill. It's the hand of God that I'm here, not my status. It's the hand of God that I'm here. This church was great before it was ever famous. We live in a time where fame is conflated with greatness and people can't tell the two apart, but everything great is not famous, and everything famous is not great. Concealed, Isaiah said. If you can get in this with me, it's going to be so beautiful when it pops off for you personally. He says, "My reward is in God's hand".
It is the hand of God that decides when I'm promoted. It is the hand of God that decides when the people come into my life, when the people exit from my life. God is deciding, God is deciphering, God is discerning, and God is developing with his hand. It was nothing but the hand of God. Look at the person next to you and say, "I know I'm pretty. I know I'm cute. I know I'm handsome. I know I'm charismatic, but none of that is what got me here. It was nothing but the hand of God. Yeah, my parents helped out, but it was his hand on them that got me through. It's nothing but the hand of God". It was nothing but the hand of God that got us through COVID as a church. It was nothing but the hand of God that got you through that divorce and kept you with a shred of your hope for love in the future. It was nothing but the hand of God that you got in the car drunk but still didn't die. Somehow an angel kept you alive.
You know it and I know it, so let's not pretend that we were so good and so gifted. We came to praise him and lift our hands because it was his hand! I heard a saying one time. Tell me if you agree. "Where God guides he provides". Is it true? Won't he do it? How many have a testimony? If you go down in the deepest valley, there will be grass in that valley, because the Good Shepherd will never leave you somewhere he won't feed you. His hand has provided. I heard how the hand of God provided, I heard how the hand of God gave, I heard how the hand of God would provide, and I've seen how the hand of God can provide. What I had to realize in the moments of my discouragement and in the places of my deepest deficiency was that the hand of God that provides is also the hand that hides.
Isaiah said, "I felt like it was all for nothing". The disciples who followed Jesus watched him go down into the ground. The two on the road to Emmaus in Luke's gospel, chapter 24, said it best. "We had hoped he was the one". But they buried him. "It was all for nothing to leave our boats and our nets and follow him. It was all for nothing to step out on faith. It was all for nothing to love that person who used my love as leverage to hurt me. It was all for nothing". It made me feel less of a little whiny, baby brat that Isaiah said, "I know God made me, I know he's got me, and I know I'm in his hand".
Look at verse 2. It's so beautiful. I fought back the tears while I was preparing this message because I wanted to save the emotion for our moment together so we could feel it together. He said, "God took me in his hand and hid me". Isn't that the part they never tell you about God's hand? Sometimes the greatest gift he gives you is hiddenness. So, while we are here today on our eighteenth anniversary, thanking God for all of the many ways… Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father, There is no shadow of turning with thee; Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not; As thou hast been thou forever will be. All I have needed thy hand hath provided… That same hand that provides sometimes hides.
I want to speak to everybody today who is in a season of your life where you sense that God is hidden, that you are hidden, and the reason you're going through what you're going through has not been revealed. Turn with me to the words of Isaiah who said, "God spoke of me before I was born. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver". Do you remember the first time you ever heard the phrase "They got canceled"?
I remember very well someone saying that a major celebrity was canceled. I said, "What, their show is off the air"? They said, "No. It doesn't mean that. That's what it meant in the 80s, back when there used to be sitcoms. This is not Full House. It means they were canceled. It means they did something wrong and they got canceled". I said, "They died"? "No, they got canceled". I said, "They got fired"? "No, they got canceled". I said, "Explain to me what it means". What they showed me were comments people were making about this person that were disagreeing with what the person did, and they called that canceled. Now, these comments were not coming from the chief executive officer of the company; they were coming from people who didn't even know the person, and they said they got canceled. A little phrase went through me, and I want to see if I can get it to go through you, too, today. Man can't cancel what God created. Put that in the comments section.
Let's do something good with the comments section. Repeat after me. Man can't cancel what God created. Or if you prefer the language of Isaiah, man can't cancel what God has called. Now shout, "I'm called"! "I was called before I got here. I was called before I blew it. I was called before I went through this sickness. I was called before I passed through these waters. I was called before I came to this challenge". If I'm called by God, how can I be canceled by man? I understand we can lose a reputation and we need to have character. I understand we can make mistakes and have to suffer the consequences. I understand there's accountability for those who are in the public eye. But I'm not talking about those in the public eye. I'm talking about those who feel hidden in this season of their life. You feel like nobody even cares that you're here, because you're here but you're hidden.
Let me illustrate. Right now there are frequencies going through the air making my voice go to your heart. Hopefully your heart. First it has to pass through your ears, and in order for the noise that is coming from my mouth… I'm shouting way too loud, so let me modulate down in order for the sound to reach you. Where I am there must be vibrations, but the vibrations are not visible, yet we all believe the vibrations because we know the words I'm speaking are going through the air and maybe into your heart or maybe in one ear and out the other. Something that is vibrating is creating something that is not visible. It is proof for the fact that if God speaks a word over your life, you might not see it, but that doesn't mean it isn't here right now.
I came to have an anniversary party for every word God spoke over your life! From the womb he spoke it. Before you were you he spoke it. Before you got your Social Security digits he spoke it. Before you messed up the last relationship he spoke it. If he spoke it and if he created it and if he made it, you can't mess it up. All right. Let me teach you a Sunday school story now. They left this one out of your Sunday school storyboard flannelgraph textbooks. It is quite possibly the most inappropriate story I could share with you on such a glorious, beautiful occasion as the anniversary of a church on the eighteenth year. It involves a dagger. It involves a stabbing. It involves a king named Eglon and a warrior named Ehud. I'm going to go quickly, but I have to show you this. God has secret weapons. He has more than one way to win in your life. He has more than one way to make a difference in the world.
So, the Israelites were doing what they always did, turning away from God. They were turning away from the one who rescued them, turning away from the one who redeemed them. Let's pick up the text in Judges, chapter 3. The most inappropriate anniversary Bible text, but I'm just a guest speaker today, so what do I know? The Lord took me to Judges, chapter 3, verse 12. "Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and because they did this evil the Lord gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel".
Now, I want you to understand the Enemy has no power over you other than what you give him by your disobedience to God. Always remember that. You're in God's hand. He sharpened me in the shadow. He polished me in the secret place, getting me ready for such a time as this. The Bible says in verse 13 that God wanted to act on behalf of his people. This king Eglon took it a little too far. "Getting the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him, Eglon came and attacked Israel, and they took possession of the City of Palms". So they're under attack. You may be too. You may be under attack in your life right now. I think the biggest factor that determines whether you're under attack from the Enemy is whether you're alive. So, if the answer to that is yes, you're under attack in some way, shape, or form. It may be a long-range attack or it may be something that's happening immediately.
Watch what happened in verse 14. "The Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years". Now you see why I picked this passage. That got my attention. Eighteen years. I'm like, "Yeah, but, Lord, we haven't been subject to Eglon for 18 years". They were having to pay tribute. They were having to bring all this extra taxation to the king, and they were oppressed by him. It was causing them great hardship. We're here today celebrating 18 years of blessing, but let's see before we finish this celebration if there's a parallel for these 18 years of oppression Israel suffered and the victory God gave them and the 18 years of victory he has given us. Watch this.
Verse 15: "Again the Israelites cried out to the Lord, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite". Now we have a completely confusing situation where God gives his people a gift that makes no sense. The tribe of Benjamin is literally known as the right-handed tribe, because the name Benjamin literally means son of my right hand. That's what it means. So, when God wanted to deliver his people, he sent them a left-handed warrior from a right-handed tribe. This makes no sense. How many have been feeling like that about a situation in your life right now? This makes no sense. Why would God sharpen an arrow, polish an arrow, and then conceal it in a quiver?
Did you notice that Isaiah 49:2 said, "God hid me in the quiver"? Did you know that God has a quiver? The quiver is the pouch where the archer keeps his arrows so he can carry them to the place so that when the time is right the arrow can be launched, but until the arrow is ready to be launched the arrow is kept in the quiver. If you judge your potential by the quiver, you'll think, "I'm never going anywhere". If you judge the potential of your child by what they're struggling through in adolescence, you'll be preparing to give them money for a homeless ministry named after them. But what if it is not a destination where they are right now? What if you have been cursing something in your life and what you call a curse God calls a quiver?
So I came with a challenge, church. Let me smile at you while I say it. Don't curse your quiver. That's where God keeps his most valuable weapons, his secret weapons, his special weapons, his sharp weapons, his ready weapons, his capable weapons, his weapons that no one will see coming. Now the Bible seems kind of brilliant, because I understand it is the shameful things God uses to shame the strong, that it is the foolishness of the cross God used to save the world. When he got ready to redeem us from our sin, he found a virgin womb. Why? This makes no sense. When he got ready to take down a Philistine giant, he chose a shepherd boy who was hidden in a field, because this makes no sense. When he got ready to use somebody to liberate the Israelites from Egypt, he chose a murderer who was a fugitive. Why? Because this makes no sense. When this makes no sense, that's where God can get the greatest glory.
So he said, "I've got to get a left-handed warrior". Somebody in here has felt left-handed in a right-handed tribe all your life, and you've never really fit in. You've never really been what you thought you were supposed to be. You've never really had what you felt like you were supposed to have, and what other people do easily you struggle for. You're a left-handed warrior from a right-handed tribe. God looks across 50,000 Benjamite soldiers. They had about 47,000 swordsmen and only 700 lefties, and God said, "I need a lefty for this". God is looking for lefties, and you're about to find out why. If you want to hear the rest of this message, make some Holy Ghost noise in this 18-year-old church. You know what happens when you turn 18. You can go to war when you turn 18.
I believe God is about to raise up a warrior as I preach this word today. As a matter of fact, what's that in your hand? You look like a weapon. Isaiah said, "He had me in the shadows, but he wasn't punishing me; he was polishing me". I'm not being punished; I'm being polished. That's his hand working on me. That's his hand sanding me down. That's his hand hiding me for the right time. When the right time comes, I'm going to be the right one for the right time, because he hid me in his quiver. It's not a curse; it's a quiver. Loneliness sometimes is because you feel left-handed. One of my best friends said three phrases describe how he has felt his whole life: left out, looked over, and less than. Understand this, church, for the historical context. If you were left-handed in a right-handed tribe, they didn't let you serve in the military except in a special position, and it wasn't the best position.
So, imagine all of the times Ehud got looked over, left out, and felt less than. The Israelites cried out to the Lord, and he gave them a deliverer from a place they weren't looking. He gave them what they had looked over. He gave them someone who had been left out. He gave them what they considered less than. When we regard Christ according to the flesh we miss his glory, because God will always wrap his favor in flesh. When we look for God to do something only from the right hand of what we consider a blessing, we miss what's on the left every time. I'm trying to say God is trying to give you stuff, but you're watching the wrong hand. You're waiting for everything to go right, but sometimes God wants to bless you from the left.
Now do you see why I invited myself to preach this message? It has been 18 years they've been struggling. For 18 years they've been suffering. For 18 years God has been blessing this ministry, and for 18 years it was nothing but his hand that kept us going. For 18 years. Then they cried out, and God sent them a blessing from the left. Watch what happens when he goes. "The Israelites sent him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab". I want you to picture this in your head…this loner called a loser, looked over, and left out. That's not always just the way people talk about you; sometimes that's the way you talk to yourself. This left-handed warrior, this left-handed judge. He takes the tribute to the enemy king, but verse 16 says something kind of interesting.
"Now Ehud [the left-handed deliverer] had made a double-edged sword about a cubit long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing". We call this conceal and carry. I'm not making a political statement. You know, they would have canceled the Bible. Isaiah would have gotten canceled. Paul would have gotten canceled. Jeremiah definitely would have gotten canceled. Some of the prophets were walking around naked. Cancel. Cancel. Cancel. Cancel. Some of us have cancel culture in our hearts. Anything that doesn't look like… Oh, yeah. I'm coming for them this morning, Mama. I'm coming for them on my eighteen birthday. I didn't come here just to blow a kazoo; I came here to break a chain. Every once in a while you have canceled out something God came to give you, and you keep canceling. He carried a weapon in to deliver his people. First of all, it was concealed. He put it under his clothing.
Watch what he did. Verse 17: "He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab, who was a very fat man". I didn't call him that; the Bible did. Don't cancel me; cancel Judges. He was a fat man. You couldn't even read the Bible if it was written today. He was a fat man. So, Ehud presented the tribute. "Here's your stuff. We hate you. Eighteen years of slavery. Keep going". And he sent the rest of them on their way, because sometimes you have to do what God gave you to do, and nobody is going to get it, but you still have to do it. So he sent them away, and they carried it out. "But on reaching the stone images near Gilgal he himself went back to Eglon and said, 'Your Majesty, I have a secret message for you.' The king said to his attendants, 'Leave us!' And they all left. Ehud then approached him while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his palace and said, 'I have a message from God for you.'"
The king gets up from his seat, knowing nothing. If they came in from the tribe of Benjamin, they were probably searched for weapons, but the warriors always carried their weapon on the opposite leg they intended to draw it from. So, if you come in here from a right-handed tribe, we're going to check your left thigh. But God told him to strap it to the right one. That was the unchecked leg. That was the one nobody thought to look for. That was the thing they didn't even see as a threat. That was the thing that snuck in unexpected. There are some of you who are in here today, and you are checking the wrong leg. You are checking the wrong source. You are checking the circumstance, but God, when he gets ready to deliver his people from 18 years of captivity, uses somebody who can conceal the weapon on his right leg.
Why his right leg? Verse 21 tells us. Because when the moment came, Ehud reached with his rejected hand, with his weak hand, with his left-out hand, with his looked-over hand, with his less-than hand. You keep thinking God is going to use your special strength. He's going to use your secret weakness as a secret weapon. Ol' fat Eglon never saw it coming. He didn't check that right leg, did he? Verse 21 says he took that sword that he made himself from his right thigh and Boom! plunged it into the king's big ol' King Hippo belly. He walked out, blew a trumpet, got 10,000 Moabites dead, and the land had rest for 80 years. Why? Why did God give them the victory? How did God give them the victory? It was from something concealed.
Not only was it concealed; it was crossed. It came from the other side, which was the right side. You don't get it. You're the right one for this, and what you think is wrong with you is what makes you right for this. Hey, work on yourself. Get yourself better. Do what you can do to increase your strengths, but know in the meantime that you serve a God who gave a victory to a nation over an 18-year problem, and he used a left-handed warrior who nobody saw coming. So, turn to your neighbor and say, "Look to the left," because in this season it's going to come from an unexpected place. It's going to come from an unexpected blessing in this season. It's going to come from an unexpected experience in this season. It's coming from the left. It's a concealed weapon, and he crossed it, but I have to show you one more thing.
Not only was it concealed, not only was it crossed where it came from the other side, but the Bible says in verse 16 that this dagger, this sword, was about a cubit. I had to look up… I'm just being honest. I don't remember. They probably taught it to me in seminary, but I forgot. I had to look up how big a cubit is. Actually, what I Googled was "How big is a cubit in American"? I don't want no meters. Do I look like international anointing? No. How big was the instrument that ended 18 years of oppression? Google told me something, and God told me something. Google told me a cubit is 18 inches. I said, "What now"? We're celebrating 18 years. Eighteen years, and on his eighteenth… No, that's another Bible verse. Eighteen years of captivity ended with 18 inches of faith. So, you mean to tell me that for every year they were oppressed Ehud made a weapon an inch bigger. An inch for every year.
Do you know how long 18 years is? That's as long as my oldest son has been alive. Do you know how long 18 years is? Eighteen years is 72 summers, springs, winters, and falls. That's 18 years. Eighteen years is a long time. It's 6,574 days. That's 18 years. That's 157,788 hours. That's 18 years. That's 9,463,280 minutes. All of a sudden, 10 million minutes of oppression ended. Eighteen years of oppression ended because of 18 inches in the left hand, not the right hand. So, God said on this eighteenth-year anniversary of Elevation Church, "What do you have in your hand? It's enough".
Eighteen years is long. Eighteen inches is short. But isn't this what God always does, to use the small thing to take down the big thing? Isn't this what he always does? Taking the mystery of the gospel to mystify the scholar and the wisdom of this age to confound it to be brought to naught. So, I came to remind this church that God called me to pastor this year: this is a church that believes in 18-inch miracles. Hallelujah, Jesus! Eighteen inches is all it took for 18 years to come to an end. Eighteen inches. They say the greatest journey and the longest trip in human experience is 18 inches from the head to the heart. These numbers are approximate, but the truth is very relevant. Some of you are 18 inches away from faith.
Isaiah said, "I know he called me in my head. I know he chose me before I was born, but sometimes my heart gets discouraged and I say to myself, 'I spent my strength in vain. It was all for nothing.'" Have you ever felt that way? I feel that way sometimes talking to you, but I have to remember and you have to remember 18 inches takes time. Some of the things you believe in your head haven't made it to your heart yet. When they do, when you really believe, "I'm not less than; I'm left-handed. They say I'm weird; God says I'm wired by him, the master workman…"
If I can find a way to preach to you over the next few weeks as I launch my book Do the New You, I'm going to try to get you to see that God has brought you to this moment of your life because you are a weapon in his hand to do good for his kingdom. So, the next time you feel like Isaiah and you feel concealed and you say, "God, I can't see how it's going to work out, I don't see how it's going to happen, and I don't see why I have to go through this," remember it's concealed, but it's not canceled. It is still active in your life.
This weapon of the double-edged sword of the Word of God is in your hand today. For Isaiah said and I echo, "Yet what is due me is in the Lord's hand". Stop looking at how small it is in your hand and start realizing how powerful his hand is. He's got you in his hand. Church, he's got us in his hand. I've seen it in the baptism tank. I've seen it in the boardroom. I've seen it at the bottom. I've seen it in the breakthrough. I'm still in his hand. If you know you're in his hand, lift your hands and give him praise for 18 years!