Steven Furtick - When Better Feels Backwards
Just one verse to get us started today. Hebrews 6:9, "Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things". Somebody shout, "Better things". You shouted that like you want God to do something awesome in your life. Yeah, he said, because the context is some are falling away, and some are giving up on what they first believed, and some are going back to old systems of thought because it's too challenging, but He said, "Not you, not you". You're not gonna give up, or burn out, or fade away. "...we speak in this way; it does happen, yet, in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things, things that belong to salvation". I want to preach to you for a few moments today with God's help on the subject of "When Better Feels Backwards". When better feels backwards. And I pray that this might encourage you. In fact, let's pray one more time before we take our seat.
God, if I share my opinion today, it will be close to worthless. And if I share from human wisdom today, it'll have a short shelf life, but, Your word is eternal. So, speak now, we're listening. Give us open hearts to receive the things that you desire to say in Jesus' name, amen.
Tell the person next to you on your way down to your seat, "You've never looked better". If the Lord has to forgive you for lying, you were just doing what the preacher said. Yeah, because on the enneagram, which is like the personality type, it's not new, but Holly just discovered it a year or two ago and she told me, she studied the different nine personality types and she said, "You're Number One". And I was like, "I know. It's about time you caught on to that". I said, "Well, what is it"? And she said, "A perfectionist". I thought at first, she said "perfection", but she said "ist". She said, "a perfectionist". She said, "The motto of the Number One on the enneagram is 'It could always be better.'"
And I thought about how that can be such a wonderful thing if you're trying to make something great and create something special, but it can be such a horrible way to approach your everyday life, that "it could always be better". And you meet these people every once in a while, don't you? I never forget the guy who got a raise and I congratulated him, and he said, "Hmm, I wish. My tax bill is about to go through to roof". One guy, he saw us doing the baptisms at the church, and we baptized over 2.000 people, remember, Rick? In two weeks. And when I told him about it, no listen, this is what he said: "Wow, your water bill must've been through the roof". Always looking for how it could be better. And I relate to this. Because honestly, I think y'all ought to thank God for all the perfectionists like me.
I know we're annoying, but don't you kind of want a perfectionist to design the airplane that you fly in? What, you want somebody who just glued the wings on kind of halfway straight? "Give them more peanuts, they'll never notice", but the blessing of seeking perfection may be progress, and yet the byproduct, so many times in our lives, is that we can often, in our quest for perfection, fill our minds with ways that it could be better when not realizing that some of the best things in our life come through not the things that we asked or prayed for, but the things that we are currently working through.
The challenge for the author of Hebrews is that he's writing to a group of Christians whose lives are getting worse. They have accepted Jesus as the Messiah, and that caused all of their Jewish counterparts to think that they were crazy, that they had absolutely lost their minds to follow the teachings of a carpenter who was crucified on a Roman cross. And so now, this group of Christians in Rome is being written to, to encourage, "Don't go back". And just look at somebody next to you, because they've been tempted lately. Tell them, "Don't go back". That's the temptation. Don't go back. Don't go back to the old way of doing it, because this way is better.
And the Christians in Rome, who are about to face severe persecution from Nero, this is for anybody who's going through anything right now. It might not be Nero persecuting you, but it can just be the unfamiliar territory of trying to learn to live by grace and faith when you are constantly being tempted to live by logic and calculation and what is fair; the temptation to control when God is calling you to surrender, and there is a temptation to go back to the old way, and He's telling them, "Don't go back; Jesus is better". He tells them that 13 times in the book of Hebrews. He uses this word that a perfectionist like me really likes. In the Greek, the word is kreittón, and it means "better". It's translated several different ways in English, "superior", "supreme", but mostly, it's translated "better"; better in quality, better in substance, better by comparison.
Jesus is better. And He's better because He made a better covenant than the old covenant. A covenant is an oath. God didn't make an agreement with humanity; He made an agreement with His Son. He knows that you have a hard time holding up your end of the bargain. So, rather than making an agreement with your fickle faith, He made an agreement with His faithful Son, who was obedient even unto death on the cross. He did it better. He says that we have a better hope. Not the kind of hope that only works when things are going in your direction, but a kind of hope that is like an anchor for the soul, Hebrews says. It is a better hope, because an anchor only works when it hits the bottom. There is a certain kind of hope that floats, and as long as everything on the surface is going good, you feel pretty good. And then there is a better hope, a kreittón hope, a hope that gets down to the bottom, and it doesn't fully function and serve its intended purposes until it is at that bottom place.
If you've bottomed out in your emotions, if you've bottomed out in your bank account, if your health has bottomed out, if you feel like the worst is happening to you, I want you to know that you have a better, kreittón hope in Jesus because He's better. Somebody shout "better". Better covenant, better hope, better promises. The Bible says that Jesus had a better ministry. Not only a better ministry, but that His blood speaks a better Word. So, when condemnation rises up in your heart to tell you what you're not, remember for a moment, Who Jesus is. And if He went into the holy of holies and shed not the blood of bulls and goats, but the blood of His very own perfect life, for your sake, when a drop of His blood hit the mercy seat, it spoke over your life a future and a hope that is better, and it doesn't matter what has been, because what's ahead is better, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
And these Christians who have lost so much are left wondering, "If Jesus is better, how come my situation is getting so much worse"? See, better is subjective, right? Some things are just better than others objectively. Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole. One of those is better. iOS, Android. Some things are just better. I didn't even take a side and y'all are booing me. Pharisees. Some things are just better. Clemson Tigers, every other football team this season. Krispy Kreme, Dunkin' Donuts - I won't even have the conversation. You cannot beat - I'm prophesying over your future after church today - an original glazed hot dozen. I prophesy over your life the carbohydrates won't even count. Stop by and get one and see if it doesn't melt in your mouth. It will bless you.
Things are just better, but when it comes to things that really matter in life, I think all of us know that better is a perspective. It's very subjective. You know why you think some people's lives are better than yours? Because you see the part that they show you. They might have a better house, but I wonder what goes on inside. And see, you don't know which one's better. Oh, if you live long enough you will find out that some of the people you spent so much of your time envying were secretly miserable. Better is a perspective. Better is not necessarily something that you can measure from what you can see with your eyes, but we all live in this world like, "You gotta get the iPhone", what is it, 11, that just came out? Why I gotta get it? I don't even like the texts I get now from people on the old one. "No, it's better. It's got a camera that can see through people, it can put x-ray vision..."
It's better? Oh, I get it; it's better you know? It's interesting, 'cause the writer of Hebrews, he goes all the way back to get the people to move forward. He goes all the way back to get the people to move forward. He knows the only way that they're gonna move forward in their faith is if they go backwards. Go backwards. Better? "I thought I'd be better by now". You are. Look where you started. You remember when you weren't even going to church? Look at you now. You've got a pen, you're gonna steal it, but at least you stole it from a church. That's better. Touch somebody and say, "I'm doing better". If you could see my bloodline, I'm doing better. If you could see the thoughts that I didn't act on, if you could see the temptations that I did resist, I promise you I'm doing better.
See, it's subjective and it's relative. Better compared to what? Every time I preach, I know, because I am a Number One, that the sermon could be better. Of course, I'm speaking on behalf of God. The gap between what He knows and what I say will always be a pretty big one, so I understand that it could always be better. And that torments me sometimes. Truly, it does. because a lot of times, I get used to doing things a certain way. Remember, these people that the author is writing to so eloquently are not unfamiliar with religion. They came from a religious system, not out of a meth lab. They're not being tempted to go back to the world, they're being tempted to go back to an old religious system, and to drift away, or he says, "fall away from grace". He makes an argument that you should be further along by now.
He says that in chapter 5, that you should be teachers by now, but you're still dealing with the basics. And then he says that if you fall away from grace, that it's impossible to come back. And when I read that, I got depressed until I realized what he was really saying: It's that if you ever really get grace, you can't really fall away. And what he's teaching them, Jerry, is kind of like on tennis. He has to teach them to switch their grip. When I first came to get him to teach me, the first thing he said to me was, because I had developed my own unique style of playing tennis. I wasn't good at it or anything, but I had this certain way of getting the ball over the net that worked for me; and as long as the person on the other side of the net was less athletic than me, my way worked just fine. Or even if they were more athletic than me, I would only pick people to play against who I knew had never played. It was good for my ego and my self-esteem, but bad for my tennis skills.
And when I first came out to Robert Stephens, if you wanna look him up on Google, get him for a tennis teacher. He's pretty good, but when I first went out there, this made me mad, because he said, "Let me see what I'm working with. Show me your serve". So, I did what I do, you know. I had this little thing, I put my pointer finger on the racket like that; it's my grip, okay? It puts the ball over the net. Six miles an hour, maybe, but it gets over the net, into the box. It works. And when he saw my grip, he said, "Okay. Now, you need to hold it like this". And he switched my grip, but let me tell you what happened when he switched my grip. When he switched my grip, the ball no longer went over the net. Instead, it went over the fence. When he switched my grip, my percentage shots that went in the box went way down.
And I looked at him like, "I'm paying you for this crap? You've switched my grip, but you didn't fix my serve", but I didn't understand at the time that sometimes, in order to get to better, you have to go backwards. Y'all, help me preach if you have spiritual ears. Sometimes, in order to get to better, you have to go through bad. And I'm preaching this for somebody today who has been feeling like things have been going backwards for you. The thing about it is: When God shows you a new grip, called grace, for a little while in your life it's harder for you because you're used to controlling things and manipulate things. And when you get something new, have you ever noticed if you get something new, even if it's better at first, it gets on your nerves because you don't know how to use it?
And the temptation for us is, watch this, God will do a new thing in our life, and it will be teaching us to forgive; and it will be teaching us to get over offenses; and it will be teaching us to trust Him; and it will be teaching us to find different ways to connect to joy; and it will be teaching us to not be so fake; and it will be teaching us not to live by our feelings, but then we look at what He fixed on our grip, and we see our shot going so far over the fence. And I wonder if I would actually be better off doing it the old way than the new way, so I go back instead of moving forward into better. He said "You can't go back. You have something better. Better".
When you get depressed, you stop believing that. When you get uncomfortable, you stop believing that. You start trying to grip life like you're used to. We've gotta go backwards to get better. We gotta go all the way back to get better. That means I have to be comfortable in some seasons in my life (I'm looking in the camera because I think this is for somebody watching online), I have to be comfortable in my life to accept that sometimes loss is the way to gain. I have to be comfortable enough in my life to know that sometimes the most painful moments are the most purposeful moments. I have to be comfortable in my life to stop comparing myself so much with people who are not meant to be the standard anyway. Jesus is better.
I know some of you are intimidated, because you don't know if you're as good of a Christian as some of the other people in the room, but let me tell you something about being a better Christian. "Well they're a better Christian than me. Look, they memorized all this scripture". They're not better at Christians, they're better at memory. They've just got a better memory, that doesn't make them a better Christian. The religious people that crucified Jesus had a good memory. They could quote all 600+ laws. They're not better than you. I wish you would tell the person next to you, "You're not better than me. Not when it comes to my purpose". See, better is relative to purpose. Can I preach this?
So, I walked into Guitar Center and I asked Jaime behind the counter, "Which one is better"? I was buying software for Elijah to make beats. "Which one is better"? He said, "That depends what you want to use it for. That depends how you intend to utilize the software". Better is relative to purpose. Some of you think that everybody else is better, smarter, taller. Maybe, God needed somebody short enough to fit through that door. Have you ever thought about that? Maybe, God needed somebody ignorant enough to display his wisdom. Maybe God needed somebody humble enough to know that it is not I, but Christ in me. And besides, if Jesus Christ walks in this room, none of us are gonna have any fashion show to put on, none of us are gonna roll out our righteous deeds. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And grace is a way of life because you need Him like I need Him. And His blood that was enough for you was enough for me. If it cleansed Billy Graham, it can hit me too.
Because He's better. Because He's better. And the fact that He's better doesn't mean that sometimes life won't get worse. So, we need a definition of better. What if better is not always higher, what if better sometimes is deeper? What if better is not always a feeling, what if it's more like a foundation? What if better is not always what God is doing for you, but sometimes it's what He's doing through you? They couldn't recognize Jesus when He came in the form of a baby because they were waiting for something better. They couldn't recognize Jesus when He was led away silently and didn't say a word before His accusers. Because if He's really the Son of God, He should say something and come down. They expected better. And is it possible that better is right in front of us and we don't even recognize it, so we don't receive it.
You know what, some of us are so used to bad that we reject better when it comes. Sometimes, backwards feels better, feels familiar. Sometimes we'll go back to bad relationships because they feel better. Oh, I'm preaching now. It got quiet. When backwards, I called the sermon "When Better Feels Backwards", but what about, "When Backwards Feels Better"? "I think I'll just go back to this. I think I'll just go back to that. I think I'll just quit trying at this. I think I'll use my old grip, I'm tired of waiting on". That's what happened to Abraham, by the way. God told him He was gonna do it a certain way, but he thought he knew better.
So instead of waiting, he went in and slept with the servant of his wife Sarai, her name became Sarah, but Abraham went in and made a baby with her because God had a promise, and a timetable for the promise, but Abraham, I know you never did this before, but he thought he knew better than God. And the Bible even uses this illustration of Abraham in Hebrews 6. He reached backward to show them how much better it is to wait for the promise of God. He reaches all the way back to Abraham that was like the progenitor or the father of the faith of the whole nation. This is what they came from. And now as they're tempted to back away from what they're walking into as their lives get worse, as their situation seems to decrease and diminish, he reaches back to Abraham and he talks about how he patiently waited for the promise of God, but that's not the whole story.
See, before Abraham patiently waited for Isaac, the child of promise, to be born through Sarah, he got the word from God, and then he went and did something that he thought was better because he got tired of waiting. He had the right word, but the wrong womb. And so, he went in. Now, I know why he did this, because Abraham was from a place called Ur of the Chaldees, and so are we. Not geographically, and it's spelled differently. He was from Ur, U-R, but ours is spelled E-R, because anything that God does in our life, all we have to do is go on our phones and find somebody who is "er" than us. Bett-er, rich-er, strong-er, happi-er, thinn-er, ripped-er, cute-er.
This is the one that'll break your heart, you think your kids are smart, and then you get around some other kids, and you realize that your kids, by product of comparison, were better than their 3-year old brother, but around the same-aged kids... It's always this temptation, you don't have to do anything, but flip on a commercial and they will be pulling you back to the land of "Er". "It's better, it's better". And there are things in your life right now that you're like, "It'd be so much better if..." Would it really? Are you sure? "Yeah, yeah. If I was famous, that would be amazing. I would be significant if people knew my name". Oh really, that would be better? You never saw a celebrity commit suicide? Are you sure it would be better? Is that what better really is? "Well, if I had this amount of money, I wouldn't have any problems". Are you sure about that? You never met a miserable rich person? I can introduce you to a few.
It's not like this is new, it's not like it's only for the church here in Rome that is being persecuted for their faith. We are all drawn back to the land of "Er". Of looking around and never feeling really enough and comparing ourselves to things that were never meant to be our standard. The only standard worthy of your comparison is the full potential of Christ in you, the hope of glory. And I wanna declare over some of our lives today, we don't even realize how good it already is, we are forgiven, set free, redeemed, breathing, clapping, walking, talking examples of the miracle-working power of God. I release this over your life, it's already better, you can already rejoice, you can give thanks right now for His goodness.
Kreittón. Better, better, better, better. Don't let the quest for better in your life make you miss the grace of God that is already present. I'm preaching to every anneagram One right now. It could always be better, but it already is. Look what I deserve and look what He did. He did not treat me as my sins deserved. It's already better. I'm gonna walk around saying that all week. "It's already better. It's already", I'mma declare it by faith on things that I'm waiting for God to do. "It's already better, it's already better, it's already better, it's already better". Because once you give up the hope that it can ever be better, the only option is to go back. And yet, I'm so interested in how this writer constructs his argument.
Better, better. He starts the whole book of Hebrews talking about Jesus Christ in His glory. And he doesn't give an introduction; he just gets right to business. He grabs the mic, starts talking about, "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets". He's going backwards. He's giving them what so many of us desperately need in our lives, a frame of reference. You know, when the devil starts speaking to you, you lose all sense of where you really are in your life, and you lose all sense, you're drifting now, you're falling now, you forget how good grace is because all you can think about is how bad you are. So, he brings them all the way back, he rewinds it all the way back, and he says, "Long ago, in various times, various ways, God spoke through our fathers the prophets". Give me the next verse. "But in these last days, He has spoken to us by his Son".
Now he's beginning to construct the argument, kreittón, everybody say "kreittón". Not crouton, but I'mma help you remember it. "Kreittón", better. He's going to introduce that word for the first of 13 times in this epistle, letter, declaration that he said, and "I'm convinced of better things concerning you". Well, how do you know? You don't know me like that. You don't know what's going on in my life. You don't know what I'm actually dealing with. You're up here preaching all this stuff, you don't know my mom is sick and in a nursing home, and I can barely afford to pay for it, and I haven't been to visit her, but once this year. You don't know. Up here talking about better, well the writer of Hebrews says, "Let's go back. Long ago, in various ways and at various times, God spoke thorough the prophets, but now, in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things".
Somebody say better. Come on, I need full participation on every location. Say "better". Jesus is better. The prophets were good, Jesus is better. The old way is good, the new way is better. Dunkin Donuts is good, but Krispy Kreme is... ha! Now I see the signs. "Preach it, Pastor Furtick". "In these last days, He has spoken by His Son, whom He appointed". It's a better operating system because He is "the heir of all things, through whom, He also created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God". It doesn't get any better. "And the exact imprint of his nature". It is perfection in flesh. "And He upholds the universe by the word of His power". Somebody shout "better". Verse four, and I'll leave you alone, says this, "Having become as much superior to angels, as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs".
Now what surprised me about that verse was not that he chose to say that Jesus is better than the angels. Of course the creator is better than His creation. He made the angels; it stands to reason that He's better than the angels. There is nothing in your life that God has given you that He is not greater than. Don't worship the gift, worship the giver. The giver is the source, the gift is the resource. He's better. Somebody say, "He's better". That's the Greek word He translates. He says, "having become as much", verse 4: Superior, kreittón, better, it's the same word. Better covenant, better word, better promise, better ministry. Better, better, better.
Jesus is better than the angels, and I'm not surprised whatever you put in the next blank, Jesus is greater than. He's better than popularity, He's better than man's praise, He's better than a high you can get from some people, He's better than what you can put in your body and feel good for five hours, He's better, better, better. That's not what surprised me. What surprised me is when it said in verse 4 part A "having become..". Because He already was perfect. So how did He become better? I know from my study of the word of God that He did not improve in character. I know from my study in the word of God that Jesus didn't go into the gym and get gains, bro. I know from what I know about his immutable, which means unable to be changed, nature that He didn't get better like people get better.
So, in order to understand, when that shocked me, that just stopped me. I said, "I know He's better, but He didn't become better. He was already better". And I had to go backwards to understand better. I'mma preach to y'all three. In verse three, it describes this process by which God became a man. What's better, a God or a man? So... Right answer. Ding-ding gold star. God, but it said, "He became better". He didn't get better; He was revealed as better. And how did He do it? Because how we think of better is, we climb up, but Jesus is not Drake; He didn't start from the bottom. My God, this word is just blessing me enough to subscribe to the podcast. He started in a celestial space that is untouched by the temporal. He started in eternity and came into time. He started robed in divinity and glory and entered into flesh and shame.
Watch verse three, it says, "He was the radiance of the glory of God". He didn't become that; He was that. "He was the exact imprint of His nature". He didn't become that, He was that. "He upholds the universe by the power of His word". That's not what He did, that's who He is. So how did He become better? He made purification for sins, and then sat down. Jesus, I need you to hear this, for everybody who is dealing with shame, and you feel like you've been going backwards because you keep slipping and you keep stumbling, and you feel like, "I'm going backwards", I want to tell you Jesus went backwards so we could see that He was better. Now I need ten seconds of praise from the church from Nairobi to Gaston County and Ballantyne, in the back section, give Him praise if you know He came down to life me up.
And so, if you've been going down lately, if you haven't been feeling it lately, if some things have been subtracted lately, I wanted to declare you're getting better backwards. God's gonna do it in you. He is preparing you. Stand up and let me pray for the people. God said, "Sometimes, you gotta get better backwards". Sometimes you gotta switch the grip and understand that it's His grace and mercy, not your effort and your ability to walk in perfect faith. I'm getting better backwards. I'm getting better through the power of the things that I endure, and I refuse to go back. I refuse to go back when what I have is better. Make that declaration. Say, "What I have is better".
D.L. Moody, the great evangelist, was talking one time to a critic. The man didn't like his preaching because he made too many grammatical errors, and the man knew better English than D.L. Moody, but just because you know better English, doesn't make you a better preacher, amen, amen. And even though the man criticized him, he responded with humility. And in the story that was told of him said that when a man approached him and said, "Hey, I don't like the way that you get invitations, I don't think it's good". And he was used to bringing people to Christ, right? This way back in the day when you couldn't leave a comment on somebody's YouTube, you had to tell them if you didn't like them straight to their face. These were better times. No Internet courage back then.
He said, "I don't like the way you do it". And D.L. Moody said, "Neither do I. I'm trying to find a better way". Then he asked the man, he said, "How do you do it"? And the man said, "I don't. I don't have a way". D.L. Moody said, "I like mine better then. I like mine better". I know it's not pretty sometimes, and other people's progress can make you tempted to revert to past ways of thinking when you compare yourself to the wrong standard, but in the presence of God, in the presence of Jesus, "who is greater than all things, and the eternal Christ whose word has spoken not only from eternity, but from time. From Him who knew no sin who became sin, that we might become the righteousness of God". He says, "Don't get discouraged in your life, don't get discouraged by your marriage, don't get discouraged by another person's marriage".
Bad grammar, good theology. I feel you, D.L. Moody. He said, "Don't get discouraged by what you don't have that they do have", but instead, I want you to declare over your life today that relative to my purpose, there is not a better person to be on the earth, in position, on assignment, humbled before the presence of God. You know what makes you better for the job than anybody else? The fact that you know that you can't do it on your own. That's what makes you better in this world of improving, in this world of approving. And it could always be "er"-er. Don't miss what is on the way to a place called "Er". God's name is not "The Great I Er". He's the Great I Am. I need 600 people to celebrate this word right now.