Steven Furtick - But God Said
In just a moment we're going to go into the Word of God. How many know God has already spoken? If you know he has the final word in your life and that word is favor…
Father, we decree and declare that you are a good God. What you started you will finish. What you spoke you will bring to pass. We declare it over every family, every life, every business, every community, every nation. We thank you, Lord, that your word never returns void but accomplishes the purpose for which you sent it. We stand in that purpose today, remembering the bigger picture and remembering that we have a part. Lord, I thank you for everybody today who will be giving, who has given, those who want to give but can't right now. We all join our faith together, moving forward in the face of tremendous uncertainty, confident of your favor. May the favor of the Lord be upon you and a thousand generations in your family, your children, their children, and their children. May his presence go before you, behind you, beside you, all around you. I see the angel armies of God lining up to fight for the people of God right now. I thank you for the Holy Spirit within us. In our coming and our going, moments of sadness, weeping, and mourning, and in our rejoicing, you've been there this year and you'll be there tomorrow. We give you glory, and we thank you that if you are for us, you're greater than anything against us. And the gates of hell will not prevail, cannot prevail. No weapon formed against your people will prosper. We stand as a testimony, and we give you praise.
Come on, clap your hands! Favor 2020! Let's lift up the loudest praise we can until the neighbors can hear it, until the Devil can hear it. Favor! All right. So, we're praying for you, everybody who's giving online (elevationchurch.org/favor), and we're excited to see how God uses your generosity. He already has. Thank you for being faithful. You're the best church in the world. I don't even care if that's bragging to say it. Lord, forgive me for bragging. Thank you for letting me pastor the best church in the world. That's how I feel about it. Praise the Lord.
So, we're believing for you. One Scripture for today that God drew my attention to. Stand for the Word. If you're not standing right now, then your transmission is going to be blown when you go to start your car. All right? Micah 5:2: "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times". "But you, Bethlehem…" The title of this message is But God Said. Let's pray. Thank you for what you've spoken, Lord. We agree with it. And all your people said together, "Amen". "But you, Bethlehem…" But God said. It's kind of a Christmas sermon I'm preaching today, but, you know, it probably would be good if you're watching it another time of the year. I don't think it's limited to the Christmas season.
What drew me to the text was the idea that the prophet, who lived eight centuries before Christ, prophesied about him in this text. In a time (I want to point this out) of spiritual declension and compromise, Micah prophesied a message across the span of three kings about justice, mercy, and humility, and it was amazing what he said. What he said was amazing. Who he said it to, the rebellious nation… Especially the northern kingdom. They were such a mess. So, Micah came preaching to that, and he spoke about a future promise.
One of the things that keeps me rooted in God in every season of my life is to know that Christ was born to take away our sin, but he was born in the least likely place. "But you, Bethlehem, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me…" Isn't that what the Christmas story is all about anyway? About God bringing the greatest gift out of an impossible situation. If ever we needed the Christmas story, we need it right now. If ever we needed to believe that where you start doesn't have to be where you finish, we need it this year. If ever we needed a message that helped us to believe that what you see is no match for what God has spoken, we need it right now.
So, I went to get a sonogram the other day, not for a baby but for my heart. My 40-year-old checkup. Chunks made me go for some insurance thing or something. I don't know what, but they were showing me all of the places that I might be blocked. I was thinking, "Man, this is great". The last time I went in for a sonogram was like 10 years ago to see Abbey, and to watch her moving around and all of that was cool. But I thought, "Man, they're using this to see about my cholesterol, and they're checking my arteries".
I thought, "This would be great if I had one of these for your soul as a preacher," if I could put some gel and some pads… You know, I have to get licensed and all that. I'm not just going to run around and start doing it, but if they made a machine for that, where I could see the different things… Because the cardiologist was saying, "You look healthy," and this and that. He was complimenting that I looked like I worked out. I felt great hearing that. But then he said, "We've got to check beneath the surface now and see what's going on". I thought, "I need that when I preach".
I need one of these machines to see what pissed you off this week that's keeping you from hearing me while I'm preaching. I need one of these machines so I can see whether you're still hung up on the fact that I said pissed off in the pulpit that you can't hear the next thing I say. I need a machine to see where the block is. I thought that would be so helpful if I could get one of these machines. Also, if I could use it to see what God has put inside of you that is growing that you don't know about yet. So, I thought what we would have for the Christmas story is a spiritual sonogram so we can see what little baby thing is growing inside of you, what small thing God is doing inside of you right now, and so we can see what's blocking it at the same time.
In order to do this, we need to go to Luke, chapter 1, for a moment. Eight centuries after Micah spoke this… What a great thing to remember, that God does not see our lives from where we are. It said he spoke these things from old. So, as we talk about finish with favor… Did y'all hear the message last week? Finish with favor. Sounds so sexy. Right? But unless you understand that your life started in the mind of God, you will not have the confidence to know it is going to finish with the favor of God. So, Micah takes us all the way back. Eight centuries before Christ he prophesies it.
Now Mary… This is the Christmas Scripture you're more familiar with, at least the one I'm more familiar with. Where the angel came to her… Do you remember this? And he has that sonogram machine to see Jesus inside of her. She's caught off guard. Look in Luke 1:28. "The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.' Mary was greatly troubled at his words…" Let me talk for a moment about what favor really feels like. Let me give you a few words: inconvenience, interruption, and in Mary's case, I think I see a trace of insecurity. When the angel called her highly favored, it didn't really match what she felt. This maybe gets left out a lot of the Christmas story. Right? It says, "She wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.'"
Look at that. Fear and favor in the same sentence from the mouth of the same angel. The relationship between fear and favor cannot be overstated. To really follow the favor of God in your life and to step out of what's familiar in your thoughts, your pursuits, your objectives, your goals… To really be a part of the bigger picture of what God is doing and not be so seized and sabotaged by what has been and what the world says is… Here's what I'm trying to say. To really know that favor showed up, you have to look around and see if fear is there too. Until you feel fear, you really haven't found favor.
The angel said, "I want you to choose favor over fear". In verse 31, the angel said, "You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus". You are to give him the name Jesus. "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever…" Go to Genesis 35. If you can get any staff members who have a back-door link to the sermon vault at Elevation Church, there was a series we did on Jacob years ago, but it's not currently available for public consumption, because there's a statute of limitations on everything I say from this pulpit.
Some of that Jacob stuff was so good when we were preaching it that it never really left me. One of the things I will never forget (I was telling my friend just this past Friday) is when I first saw in Genesis 35:16… Remember, when they spoke of God, they would call him the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Remember that what people called Jacob wasn't necessarily what God called Jacob. There's the name his parents gave him, Jacob…trickster. Heel grabber is the literal translation, because he was literally trying to beat his brother out of the womb, but it didn't work. But he was so sneaky about it, he cooked him a bowl of beans and got him to trade the birthright for the bowl of beans.
All this stuff you do when you don't really know you have your own favor from God. I think part of the reason he was so, I guess you could say, twisted in his motivations was his brother Esau was his father's favorite. His father got along better with Esau, and it created a lot of complications for him. We can't go into all of it because it involves so many different things. Not just the stealing of a birthright but actually the marrying of his uncle's daughter. His uncle Laban had two daughters. One was called Rachel, who was pretty. The other was called Leah, who had a good personality. I'm going to let you do all the translation of what I just said and didn't say.
Leah wasn't the one Jacob loved, but she's the one Jacob labored for. Jacob labored for Leah. This was always a cool thing to me about this passage. He labored to get Rachel in marriage, and his uncle Laban slipped Leah, the older sister, in. The Bible says something so funny. It says that when he woke up the next morning after his wedding night, there was Leah. I always thought about that. Have you ever gone to bed with Rachel and woke up with Leah? I don't mean physically. I'm not asking that much of your business. We do not know each other like that. You can keep that for your therapist. But, I mean, you work for something and work for something and work for something… He worked seven years for Rachel and woke up and it was Leah.
Some of the things we chase after and strive after and go after and set our hearts on… Oops! It's Leah. And now it's too late, because you got Leah. Then he worked seven more years and got Rachel. But there was a contrast, because he actually… Now listen to this. This is so cool. He worked seven years and got Leah. Then Laban gave him Rachel and he worked seven more. It's the difference between working for versus working from. The law gets you to work for. Grace gets you to work from. We don't just finish with favor, like we're fighting for it. We start with favor, like we're fighting from it.
So many things happen in his life that he eventually ends up not only marrying Leah and Rachel… And Rachel is his favorite wife, but Leah is the one who can have kids. There's something about loving Leah too. God saw she was unloved, and he opened her womb, and she was more productive than her sister who was beautiful on the outside but barren on the inside. There's something about the favor of God. Rachel couldn't have a baby until finally one day, in a series of events, she gave birth to a son Joseph, and she prayed for one more. This is what the Lord told me to give you, and what triggered it for me was seeing that Jesus will reign over the throne of Jacob. Go with me to Genesis 35:16 for a moment, and let's follow Jacob's caravan. He has set out.
Now he has many sons. God was using all the strife and competition between these two wives to birth a nation. Those same children who were born out of the frustration of these two women would end up becoming the nation of Israel. You know God is using everything in your life, don't you? This incident is important, and it's what I wanted to ask you about today as we talk about finishing the year with God's favor. It says after building an altar to God in Bethel and remembering everything God did, Jacob and his crew moved on from Bethel, the house of God, the place where God met with him.
"While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth…" Which I think is a little bit redundant, because I watched this happen three times. I think every time there's a birthing there's also a breaking. But that's just me, as somebody who started a church, as somebody who's trying to bear fruit in every season of my life. But this is extreme now. This is not just a normal difficulty. This is actually a matter of life and death. In the middle of this, the midwife said to Rachel, "Don't despair, for you have another son". Watch this. "As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin".
This is going to require a little bit of explanation to translate Ben-Oni, which means child or son of my trouble. Ben is the part that means son; Oni is the part that means trouble, or some translators put it sorrow. Either way you put it, it's pain. As she's breathing her last breath, understandably, she names the child she is birthing out of the pain she's experiencing. Her perspective is "This is costing me my life". In a very poetic record, the writer of Genesis tells us that as she was breathing her last breath, this baby was breathing its first breath. We see here the confluence of the origin of Benjamin, who would actually represent the kingly tribe of Israel, but he wasn't called Benjamin, because his mother named him out of her pain: Ben-Oni. "But his father named him Benjamin".
But his father, who just lost the only woman he really ever loved, who just lost the thing he worked 14 years to obtain… In the middle of his loss (watch this, because this is what God is challenging us to do right now), he decides to label not according to what he's about to bury but about what was birthed out of what he buried.
Now, many of us (this is not a cotton candy Christmas message) have had to bury a lot of things this year. Even as a ministry, we had to bury every plan we had for opening new campuses, for the ways we thought we would reach people, for every Elevation Worship tour we booked in NBA arenas… For everything we planned this year, there were funerals we had to have, and you did too. What inspired me about the text was found not in the fact that it was his favorite wife he buried. You know, in that is a sermon, but what got me about it that I never saw when I preached it five years ago… It says, "Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel's tomb".
Back up to verse 19, because I think this is powerful. "So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem)". I read how Rachel, the woman Jacob loved, was buried just outside of Bethlehem. Then I read how Micah said that out of Bethlehem will be born a ruler who will dash the princes of men into pieces and whose kingdom will know no end. Then I read about Mary, who was highly favored, who gave birth through a virgin womb to the world's greatest salvation. It brought to me this question…Do we know Bethlehem better by what was buried there or what was born there?
I want to ask this question about your Bethlehem. Remember we sing "O little town of Bethlehem" like it's cute. Bethlehem was not where Mary's OB-GYN was located. Did you know they weren't supposed to be in Bethlehem when Jesus was born? I know this sounds weird. Jesus picked a bad time to come into the world. He picked the worst time to come into the world. And we think everything has to be just right for God to do something in our lives. No, no, no. They were only in Bethlehem because Joseph's family was from there, and maybe they still had some land there. The Bible doesn't say, but they had to go back under Caesar Augustus because there was a census happening, and everybody had to go back to their hometown. While they were on the way, just trying to get their business done, here comes Jesus.
I found out God is a lot like that. At the worst possible moment, he will give you the greatest possible opportunity. It's almost like this year we're being presented a question. Are we going to label this year by what we buried or by what was born? I messed up. I should have asked at the beginning of the sermon "What is Bethlehem"? I guarantee you none of you would have said, "The place where Rachel died". That's how Jacob would have remembered it, because he buried her on the way to Bethlehem, and he renamed his son.
Oh, by the way, he named his son Benjamin, which doesn't mean son of my trouble. It's a play on words, because Oni can either mean trouble or wealth. Instead of naming the child after what he lost in that moment, he named his son Benjamin. Benjamin doesn't mean son of my trouble or son of my wealth. It means son of my right hand. The right hand is the hand of blessing. The right hand is the hand of authority. So, the word God gave me for you today is: don't bury your blessing. What happens to us is, as we journey along the way, we lose a lot of things, and the temptation is for us to identify with what we lost, and then we start labeling our lives according to those losses. Well, that limits us to what we can receive. But if you can make a decision at this point in the year to call his name Jesus…
See, Jesus came from Bethlehem. Jesus was born in the place where Rachel was buried. Don't you see it? That's the same place David came from: Bethlehem. That little boy with the little rock who took down a big giant… That's why Micah said, "Out of you, Bethlehem, will come the salvation of the world". The salvation of the world came out of a small, impossible place. That's why I called it the year of the Lord's favor: because God said it was. But God said, the Father said… She named him Ben-Oni. Your facts are trying to name your life right now. Favor over facts. Let me break this down. Rachel had a baby. She died giving birth to him. Mary had a baby, and she never even had the experience of sexual intercourse. God saw potential in Mary that was greater than her experience.
In Luke, chapter 1, when the Bible says the angel called her highly favored… On a 1 to 10 scale, I want you to know you're a level 10 favored by your Father in heaven. I like to believe things my eyes can't see right now. That's why I need one of those machines like that cardiologist had. Because you're looking at me like, "Nuh-uh. I don't feel very highly favored. I don't feel pregnant. I feel fat, but I don't feel pregnant". Let me tell you something right now. Out of Bethlehem came Jacob's greatest pain. Out of Bethlehem came God's greatest purpose.
So, what are you going to get out of it? This is not only a year for us to decide what we're going to give to this ministry. Yeah, we're giving an offering this weekend, and God is going to use that to take the gospel all over the world, and it's a privilege to do it. But what are you going to get out of it? He said, "Out of Bethlehem will come for me a great king". Mary had to believe that. I think this is the tension. I think this is why we struggle to believe it. I think this is what blocks us from believing that the favor of God is on our lives and that the purpose of God is working in our lives.
How many struggle to believe that sometimes? Mary experienced favor and fear. Favor over fear. Then look at verse 34. "How will this be, since I am a virgin"? As I read that verse, I realized we don't give birth to Christ in the same way Mary did. This has only happened once. So, if your girl tries to pull this Bible verse on you, you probably shouldn't marry her, because this is just a one-time thing. But Christ is being birthed in all of us, and so is his purpose, and so is the fruit of the Spirit. When Mary said, "Since I am a virgin," I realized all we have to do to really understand the power of choosing favor over fear, favor over facts, is to put whatever limits us right there where she said "a virgin". "Since I am an addict. Since I am divorced. Since I am an orphan. Since I am…"
You know, little things we get caught up on, like how much money we have in the bank. They call that our net worth. It's not really your worth, but since they call it that, you start to believe that. "Since I am broke". Then you put an event and make it an identity. "Since I am a failure". That's what happens when you focus too much on what you buried to see what is being born. I was telling my oldest the other day… I said, "Isn't it interesting how she's limited to her experience but God speaks according to her potential"? If we experienced this year so much pain, so much fear, so much loss, so much uncertainty, so many times where we bumped our head right up against the thing we thought wasn't going to happen, and it did happen, or we thought it was going to happen…
When we bump our heads one too many times into disappointment, we begin to call our lives whatever we buried. "Oh, Bethlehem. That's the place where…" "Oh, 2020". Y'all, 2020 got a bad rap, because all we can focus on right now is what we buried this year, but we don't yet know what is going to be born from what we buried. There might be a better job on the other side of this for you. Do you hear me? There might be more peace on the other side of this, so God shut down some systems and some things to get you focused on your Father. I love Jacob. Jacob is like, "God changed my name, and I'm going to change the name of this thing that was born in pain, but it was born on purpose".
Don't bury your blessing. You shove it down, and you force it down. You got disappointed, so now you just buried that. The problem is you are burying the blessing along with it. He said, "Son of my right hand". I'm naming my season according to what God is bringing out of it. So, I want to say about 2020, not only did I have to bury a lot, but I got a lot out of it. I learned some things about myself that I didn't like. Then I had to confront them. And guess what happened when I confronted them. God gave me grace for them, and he showed me that he loves me even through all that. Even some of the stuff I don't like… That's what he wants to use. I got a lot out of it.
I know that sounds funny to say that, because we did lose a lot. Maybe you lost more than me. I'm not saying this in some pretty little preacher way, prancing up here in the pulpit, talking about these little things preachers say. But if you have faith to know that what is being born is greater than what you're burying, then say it right now. "I got a lot out of it". "Hey, 2020, I appreciate you. You gave me my sight back. You taught me how to seek the kingdom. You taught me how to walk by faith. I got a lot out of it. Bethlehem isn't the place where I buried Rachel; it's the place where my Savior was born". With this bold faith, I want us to do what Mary did.
In just a moment, our worship team is going to sing "The Blessing" over you, because I think that's what we need to sing as we focus on the favor of God this year. My wife's favorite Bible verse comes from Luke, chapter 1. He says that after the objection rises up in Mary and she said, "How will this be…"? Because that's the part we don't know. "'…since I am a virgin?' The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come on you…'" I want you to notice here that Mary asks how and the angel answers who. But God said it's a blessing. Mary said, "How"? The angel said who. If nothing else this year… Maybe I'm not going to get some promotion or maybe it has been the hardest year ever to try to lead people, and yes, it has been challenging, but I found out who I was this year. I found out he was enough. I found out who I was this year. I found out I don't preach for crowds this year. I got a lot out of it. I found out a lot of things that were just keeping me busy.
A lot of the things that were cluttering up my schedule weren't making me fruitful. I got to reorder some things. Oh, don't think I'm not praying for you if you lost something significant this year. We pray for you all the time. That's why I come up here and preach: so you can have some air to breathe as you try to navigate what it's like to live without your Rachel. I don't take that for granted, but I know something greater is always born in the painful place where something you love was buried. So, now I hear Mary saying in verse 38, Holly's favorite Bible verse, "I am the Lord's servant. May your word to me be fulfilled". She said the first time, "I am a virgin". That's the facts. She said the second time, "I am the Lord's servant". That's the favor.
Hey, church, the facts are bad. Right? The facts are bad, but the favor is greater. When I was getting my offering ready, I went over to one of our campuses where I used to preach live, over there at the Blakeney Campus. I went over there, and I went into my old green room, and I remembered how God made a way for us to get that building. It was a great memory for me. It was a favor flashback for what's out ahead of me, because I've really been struggling in this season. What is church even going to look like on the other side of this? Yet God keeps making ways, and we reach more people than ever, and I'm grateful for that. The thing about it is you're always having a funeral at the same time you're receiving favor.
Rachel is dying while Benjamin is being born. I started thinking about a lot of things. I flashed back so many things through my life when I was writing my offering check and preparing to speak to you today, because I wanted to tell you to finish with favor, but I didn't want to tell you that and then not go back to the beginning and realize how far God has brought us. For some reason, I ended up in this weird mental space where, in my mind, I just closed my eyes, and I was flashing back, and God was bringing all of these different things to my mind. Some of them were really big moments in my life, and all of that.
Then this one little weird thing came in, this song I wrote in Shelby, North Carolina, of all places. I am the righteousness of God, Made holy by his sacrifice, Perfected by his blood. I am a brand-new creation, Remade by his hand, And I know who I am. Now, when I tell you that song was twangy, it was twangy, because it was Shelby. But the flashback I got was when Mully McCraw came up to me after I finished singing it one Sunday, the first Sunday I taught it to the church. I wrote it. I sang it. Same day. This song was never nominated for a Grammy, but I sang it, and I was proud of it.
The song said, "I know who I am". Holly remembers it. Amy remembers it. Chunks remembers it. Eric remembers it. It said, "I know who I am". This was the bridge: I am a child of my Father Most High I'm a part of his plan I will not fall for the Enemy's lies Because I am who God says I am. Mully comes charging the stage after I finished the service. I say the little invitation song, you know, whatever, and we're singing it. He comes up to the stage. Mully always had something to tell me after church, and usually it was positive. He said, "I like that new song, but I've got a suggestion". I was like, "All right, Mully. Let's collaborate. Let's cowrite. What you got"?
Mully is not a musician. Mully is a carpenter. Hey, Jesus was a carpenter. But Mully goes, "When you say it the last time, you know, you say, 'I know who I am.'" And he says this. He looks at me so seriously. He goes, "Last time, say, 'I know whose I am.'" And he walks off, like, drops the mic on me. He just walks off and goes to the Chinese buffet. Mully just drops the mic and walks off. I'm like, "Lord, this is weird. I'm thinking about Mully and Shelby and Bethlehem and Mary and Mary and Mully and favor and this weird year we've had. Why am I thinking about this"? Then I saw the verses, and I wanted to thank Mully.
If you ever watch me preach on YouTube, thank you, Mully. Because Mary said in verse 34, "I am a virgin," and that's who she was according to her experience. But in verse 38, she said, "I am the Lord's". That's whose she was. We need to remember this year that the world can call you Ben-Oni, and your emotions can call this year a waste, but his father named him "Son of my right hand". Now, if you receive this word, I want you to stand up on your feet, clap your hands, and give God the greatest praise you've given him since December 31. Let's do this, and then they're going to sing "The Blessing" and we're going to worship God.
Let's look at Micah 5:2 one more time. "But you, Bethlehem…" But you, small place. But you, painful place. But you, where Rachel died. "…though you are small among the clans of Judah…" Though the womb is a virgin womb. Though Bethlehem is not even the place you intended to give birth. "…out of you will come for me…" Thank you for your glory, Lord. We confess that the sufferings of this present time are not even worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in your people. We are your servants, your people, your sons, your daughters.