Steven Furtick - When Never Meets Now
I want to thank you, Lord. I don't know if they've been to the gym this year a lot yet, but I thank you that you brought them to church today and online and on YouTube and Facebook. I thank you that someone is on a podcast right now hearing this word, and they are getting stronger. So, Lord, just like Dustin Stradley's biceps were so much bigger than the last time I saw him, I want somebody to look at us and say, "Boy, your faith is bigger. Your love is bigger. You're more expectant. Your wisdom is growing". We came today to grow. We thank you, Lord, for meeting us in this place. You're an excellent trainer. Have your way.
Oh, I just felt a series coming on. Sorry, y'all. "Wait Training". A sermon or a series. We're going to talk about that a little bit today. Are you excited about the Word? Oh, this is awesome! This doesn't even feel like a normal Sunday. This feels like a Code Orange Revival! You know what? I want to read my Scripture. I want to get right to it. Any announcements that need to be made, somebody else make them. I want to preach. Stay standing. Y'all holler to the people online. Say, "Stand up". Tell them, "Stand up for the Word of God. Show some respect". I had so many texts about last week's message, and all y'all remembered were the trash bags. I'm like, "Well, if I knew you were that easy, I would stop studying and just get a wheelbarrow next week or something". I think it impacted us to talk about, "Are you holding on to something that is hurting you"? We might revisit a little bit of that in a moment.
There's a passage, a story I want to share with you from Acts, chapter 10. Did you study it last night, Jason? Okay. I told a few of my guys, "This is where I'm going to be if you want to get a head start". But you will never guess where God took me with this one. I don't care how many times you read it. It's powerful. I have to read 20 verses, so y'all listen fast. Acts, chapter 10, verse 1: "At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, 'Cornelius!' Cornelius stared at him in fear. 'What is it, Lord?' he asked. The angel answered, 'Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter.'"
Y'all remember Jesus changes names. Right? He can change your name too. What you've called yourself all your life… You get one good encounter with God, and he'll show you a side of you you've never seen before. "Go to Joppa. Get Peter". "'Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.' When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa". Now, while all that is happening in Caesarea, listen to what's happening in Joppa, and watch how God will hook stuff up that you didn't even know you needed to pray about. "About noon the following day as they were on their journey…" Going to get Peter. "…and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, 'Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.'"
All of the carnivores, say "Amen" for the vegans. "'Surely not, Lord!' Peter replied. 'I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.' The voice spoke to him a second time, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.' This happened three times…" Because Peter was hardheaded. "…and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon's house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him…" You have what Peter was thinking and what the Spirit was saying, and they were not the same. What was going on in his mind was not what was going on in God's thoughts. That could be true of you too. I'm just saying. "…the Spirit said to him, 'Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.'"
Let's focus on two verses. Let's look at verse 14. "Surely not, Lord! I have never…" Then go to verse 20 where he said, "Do not hesitate…" "I have never," and the Spirit said, "Do not hesitate". So, this is the message: When Never Meets Now. In your presence, Lord, is the fullness of joy, at your right hand pleasures forevermore. Release the resources of heaven to your people through me today, I pray. I avail myself to you. In Jesus' name, amen. I'm so glad there was snow in the forecast. I didn't know. I don't want to say I never watch the news, but I could almost say I never watch the news. I'm not going to say never because, you know, never say never. Since that's what I'm preaching on, I've thought of all of the little cliches. "Never say never". "Now or never". I thought of all of them. "Never, neverland". I've been studying a lot of different sources. But I'm glad. I didn't know it was supposed to snow.
Now, those in the other parts of the world… You wouldn't really call it snow if you're in Michigan, but this is the South…more specifically, the southeastern United States. We never, relatively, really get snow, so we don't know what to do with it when it might come. I mean, we are more scared of an inch of snow than a gallon of anthrax. It's a weird thing to watch Southerners respond to the snow. Holly grew up in Miami where she really never saw snow. Anyway, I'm glad it snowed, because I had this message on Monday, and I didn't know how I was going to wait to preach it on Sunday. So, when they said it might snow, I was like, "Well, I could call the real Christians, the sanctified…" So, I'm here a little early just in case. We have generators. We have milk in the grocery store, but just in case, I said, "Let's go ahead and preach it," because we can do that now.
Now, I'm glad about that for two reasons. First, it's the people who come who are so hungry they skip brunch. "I'm skipping brunch for a breakthrough". See what I'm saying? The people online are like, "The people are so excited today". It's the ones we filtered. It's not any of the ones we don't want here. This is like the premium Christians. No offense if you're not here. I'm just playing around. But I was excited, because I was already ready. I kind of wanted to preach it when God gave it to me. I was like, "Can I preach it now"? But you have to wait, and sometimes when you wait it gets hard to wait. So, you're sitting there wanting to wait, but it's like a weight. It's like, "It's a heavy message, and how can I hold this until I get there"? So, they were like, "It's snowing". I was like, "Cool. Let's do it early". Like Bill O'Reilly said one time, "We'll do it live". Don't look that up on YouTube.
The second reason, though, is it gave me a perfect illustration for this idea of When Never Meets Now. When we started this church, I stood up on the first snow day we ever had, and I said… I was 26. I was probably wearing some True Religion jeans, or something like that, probably some Antik Denims with some studs on the… One day I walked in, and this guy was like, "I've never seen a preacher with stuff like that on his pockets". Why am I telling you this? I stood up and said, "Hey, a lot of people were asking me, 'Are we going to cancel church?' and I just want you to know, as long as I'm the pastor of Elevation Church…" I'm 26, talking like I'm 62. I said, "As long as I'm the pastor of Elevation Church, we will never…" I went into all of these hysterics. "I don't care if it's eight inches of snow. I don't care if it's…" And God is laughing.
What kind of fool would I be if now, with all the technology that has advanced for us to reach more people, I was still standing up in here with some Swarovski crystals on my back pockets or something, talking about, "We will never…"? You know you've said "Never" about some things. In the Scripture, when Peter said, "Never. I have never…" I went back and noticed that every time Peter said "Never," it closed him off from what God was trying to do. This isn't the first time. Remember when Jesus said, "I have to go to Jerusalem. There I will be killed, handed over, but on the third day I'll rise," which was the whole reason he came: to pay the price, to redeem the world. The whole reason he came, and Peter said, "Never, Lord. This will never happen to you". Everybody say, "Never". Put it in the chat in all caps and think about what you've said "Never" about that now, if we put your never and your now… How it started; how it's going…
I heard one guy say, "I'll tell you what. I never fight with my kids". Do you know what I thought? This is what I thought, because I have kids now 16, 14, and 10. I thought, "Then you never tell them no". If you never fight with them, you never tell them no. That's the only thing that tells me. "Oh, I never yell at my kids". Then you're never around them. The only parents who don't complain about their kids are the ones who stay late at work so they don't have to deal with it. You know you skip bedtime. I thought, "Well, if you never fight with your kids, if there's never any conflict, that means there's never any confrontation and there's never any correction, and if there's never any confrontation and correction with your kids at any point in their natural life…" I'm not saying you have to say no all the time, but once in a while, you're going to have to not be their friend and be their father. Do you hear this, Graham?
Graham doesn't like this part of the sermon. He's totally out. He looks so Presbyterian right now on the front row. But it's true. If I never tell you no, you will never learn discipline. If you never learn discipline, you can never get a job. If you never get a job, you can never leave my house. I need you to leave, so I have to tell you no sometimes, once in a while. Okay. Parenting seminar over. "I'll never cancel church for snow". How many of you at one point said, "Oh, I'd never go to a church like Elevation. I'd never go to a big church"? How many of you said that? Then you're not going to heaven. It's every tribe, every tongue, every nation.
So, there's only one other option than a big church in the end. Nothing against small churches. I'm just saying. Then what happened? God spoke to you or God spoke to your kid or you hit a place you never thought you'd hit. You hit a need that made you rethink your never. When never meets now. As easy as it would be to pick on Peter, I have to take a moment and defend this great disciple. Peter wasn't holding on to his preferences out of personal selfishness. If you want to understand Acts, chapter 10, you have to understand a little bit about Acts, chapters 1-7, where the gospel was following the course of Jesus' promise in Acts 1:8. "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem [where he died], Judea [the surrounding area], Samaria [past the borders of where they felt comfortable going], and to the ends of the earth".
Somebody say, "No boundaries". Acts, chapter 10, is a spearhead moment for this mission to go forth beyond the confines of the Jewish world. To really understand Acts, chapter 10, and why Peter was in a tanner's house in the first place… You know that's a no-no. Tanners work with dead animals. Even being close to some of these animals would have made him unclean. Now you understand how God has been moving Peter in a progression so he wouldn't be snobby about which certain people God could bless and use. Oh, this will not make the sermon, but let's just put it in the sidenote. You can tell you're making progress in your walk with God when you have less prejudice toward people. That's one of the first signs. How do you know if you're growing spiritually? If you memorize more Scripture? The Pharisees had a lot of those Scriptures memorized, and they wanted to kill Jesus. How do you know if you're getting closer to Jesus? If you spend more time praying in the morning? If you listen to Christian radio?
Listen. I'll be honest with you. I don't even keep my radio on Christian radio. I want to rock when I'm in the car. I don't think God minds. What good is it listening to Christian radio if I'm cussing everybody out in traffic who's cutting me off? The real proof of progress in my walk with God… Peter is finding out that as the gospel is going forth… Now follow this. As the gospel is going to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, ends of the earth, it's going to require not only a geographical but a psychological transformation. Geographical. "God, I want you to do more in my life. God, I want to buy a bigger house. God, I want to move to another city. God, I want to get past this stage". That's geographical. The psychological is Peter, who's a Jew… Not the most observant Jew, but observant. Y'all know Peter was a little rough, yet as he's praying and God shows him something… Remember how it said (I won't have time to read the whole text again; you can read it later this week…please do) that something like a blanket came down from heaven as he was praying.
Now, had he been scrolling or posting at this moment, he would have missed the chance to see what God would do. That's free. He was on the roof of the house of Simon the tanner after raising, by the way, a woman from the dead in Joppa. That's what he was doing in Joppa, and he decided to stay a little while, because I guess raising people from the dead takes a little bit out of you. He's hungry, and he's on the roof, and he's praying, and something like a blanket comes down with animals on it. Some of the animals on the blanket were animals he wasn't supposed to eat or touch according to Leviticus 11. If you want to understand Acts, chapter 10, where Peter said, "Never," you have to understand Leviticus 11. Leviticus 11 is the dietary restrictions God gave his people so he could distinguish them from all of the other people on the earth. It was never really about the diet.
How many of you receive that word? It's not about the diet. Come on. Lift both hands. I impart the miracle of calorie cancellation, carbohydrate cancellation, fat burning, cell reduction…all of it. It wasn't about his food; it was about his faith and his frame of reference. That's what God was showing him. There was stuff on the sheet or on the blanket that he was not supposed to eat. If you really want to study, read Leviticus 11 this week. It will make the CDC guidelines look like a children's book. When you read the land animals the Jewish people couldn't eat… I mean, if you wanted to eat a land animal, it had to have hooves and chew the cud. Both. It couldn't have split hooves and not chew the cud. It couldn't chew the cud and not… It had to be a specific way. If you wanted to eat sea animals, Leviticus 11 says it has to have scales and fins. No shrimp.
I don't want to live in a world… Fried shrimp, boiled shrimp… How many of y'all can't hear "shrimp" without hearing Bubba Gump? (Y'all are old. That's an old reference.) The most restrictions were on the birds. The most protected were the birds, and then they couldn't eat most of the flying insects. Wouldn't want to anyway. All that was on the blanket that came from heaven. "How can something I have been taught is not of God come from heaven"? "Never. I'm never eating any of these things". Well, Holly never ate boiled peanuts until she met me. That's right. I converted her…corrupted her, whatever. She thought they tasted like dirt. She made them for me Monday night, though, and she was eating them too. She said, "Never. I would never eat this". You know what I mean? What if it's not about the diet? What if it's not about the food? What if the way we look at our lives and the things that happen to us and the things God allows, even the things we're praying about, are on the completely wrong level? What if we think the person we don't get along with is about that person and don't realize that person is something God is using in his project called you?
When they annoy you, they become sandpaper. It has taken you a while to warm up to the idea that "Wait a minute; this doesn't have hooves. Wait a minute; this doesn't have fins. Wait a minute; this didn't chew the cud. Wait a minute. This can't be of God". I call BS. Y'all weren't here last week? Belief system. Your belief system is formed by your personal experiences, and then, like I said last week, you call that truth. "Oh, all women, all men, all Millennials, all Boomers, all Gen Z, all churches, all Baptists, all black people, all white people…all, all, all". I call BS on all of it. You know, BS also could stand for blanket statements. Like Peter made. "I will never eat anything like that. Never, Lord"! "Well, I never". That's how you'd say it if you were prim and proper. "Well, I never". But what do you do when, like Peter, never meets now and you realize the way you saw God when you were 18 was shaped by your experience, not his Word or his Spirit?
What do you do when you find out "The Lord is my shepherd" doesn't mean he keeps everything bad from happening but that he walks through the valley with you? So, when we make blanket statements… I remember hearing somebody say one time, "I never doubt God's Word". Incidentally, this was a preacher, and he was out of the ministry three years later for an affair. I wonder, is the reason you never doubt because you never did self-inventory to see what was really in you? It's easy to make a blanket statement. Watch this. Those of you who are here for the first time, watch how good they do at this. God is good… Congregation: All the time! Steven: And all the time… Congregation: God is good! Steven: See, I love that. I'm not knocking that. That's true. I believe all things work together for the good. That doesn't mean all things are good. That doesn't mean it's all good. That's not what we mean. We say God is good. "Do not call that evil which I have called good. Do not call that good which I have called evil".
I need to calm down, y'all, because this blessed my life. Do you realize how many of the things you are sitting in right now somebody said "Never" about at one time? How many of you are sitting in a now that used to be a never in your life? How many of you never thought you would finish…? Let's start with eighth grade. I was going to go to college, but I was like, "We should work our way up". How many of you never thought you'd finish high school? How many of you never thought you'd finish college? Y'all, I still have dreams sometimes that I didn't finish college…to this day. I finished college, like, 70 years ago, and I'm still dreaming about it.
There are moments when you're in the middle of it… When I wrote my first book, my editor… He had been editing books. He edited The Prayer of Jabez. Remember that? He brought me a book on our first meeting. I was like, "What's this"? I didn't even really want the book. I didn't even really know who the author was. I said, "What's this"? He said, "You just need this so you can have a reminder that books do get finished". We hadn't started yet. He knew I would hit points in the process where I would feel like, "I'm never going to finish this," so he said, "Put this up somewhere so you can see that books do get finished".
I think the Lord put me up here this week, and Peter, to let you know it does get better. It does get better. It does get better. I said it three times like the angel, because the Devil says, "Never" over and over and over and over again, because the Devil understands the power of repetition better than you do. Last week, I told you (this is Jesus in John, chapter 8)… We talked about how the Devil is a liar, but he doesn't sound like a liar. He sounds like you. His native language is lying, and one of his favorite words is never. You know what depression is. Depression is when you finally give up hope it will ever be any different than it is right now. The reasons behind it have medical roots and also have clinical treatments.
That's not my point. My point is the Devil knows how to tell you and make you feel like, "You're never going to be happy again. You're never going to be loved again. Never". That's the language he lies with. "Never". He tells you never about certain opportunities. "Well, that's never going to happen. Nobody ever notices you anyway. Have you ever noticed how they never notice"? This is how the Devil talks. "What's the point in trying? They never notice. They never say thank you. They never appreciate you. Never, never, never. Never, never, never. Never, never, never, never, never". Eventually, you just agree with the Devil to get him to shut up. "Okay! Fine". The truth will set you free. But I left something out last week, and I want to give it to you now. In 8:32 he says, "The truth will set you free," but watch what the Jews say when Jesus confronts them with the truth. He said, "The truth will set you free". "They answered him…" I can't believe I left this out. "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone". Huh?
Four hundred years in Egypt ring a bell? There has never been a people that were in captivity more times than the Israelites…Assyria, Babylon, Egypt. "We've never been slaves of anyone". "Oh, I don't struggle with that. I'm a good Christian. Oh, I don't really deal with that. I raise my kids in the fear and admonition of the Lord". Okay. It's called a selective never. It's when you reduce down the whole thing to the current… As a matter of fact, they were under Roman oppression at the moment they said that. Denial. Y'all, I've used therapy in my life on and off to be a good pastor without shame for years. I'll talk to somebody in a heartbeat. I will. "Well, you should talk to the Lord". I talk to him and people, because I can't see him.
"Thank you, Pastor. You make us feel so much more… Because I thought you never struggled". No, I do. I struggle. I struggle a lot. That's how I get these little messages. I go down to hell. I box the Devil six days. I come back and tell you, "Here's something to try on him". But my fear was… I was like, "I'm probably not going to finish strong. I mean, good grief. I struggle with this, and I deal with that. You know, most people… Nine out of ten ministers, I heard one time, don't". The person said to me in a counseling session, "Hmm. You may not, but I actually think you will, and here's why I think you will: because you know you might not". Now, some people would call that being negative. When Peter said, "Never, Lord. I will never deny you," isn't it funny how he was the first one who did? When you say, "Never…" "I'll never. I mean, I would never deal with that".
I think it's crazy. God will give people the word they need for something they're about to go into, and they won't even write it down or listen to it, because they don't know they're going to need it. God is giving you what you're going to need for where he knows you're going to be. You're so right here, right now, in this season. "If it doesn't say exactly what you want it to say right now…" But you might need this. You might need it Thursday. You might need it in three years. You might need it for somebody else. It might not even be for you. I don't know what Peter was praying about on the roof in Acts 10, but I don't think he was praying for Cornelius, because he didn't even know who he was, yet God answered a prayer Peter wasn't even praying by sending something to the gate Peter didn't even ask for.
So, it left me wondering as I preach today. Listen to me, eFam. Listen to me. Let me know where you're listening from. Let me know what city, what town, what hamlet. Let me know what state. Let me know where you're listening from so I can say this: it's at the gate. Now, Cornelius is 30 miles away from Joppa. He sends a delegation. It takes them almost a day to get there. One commentator said Cornelius sent an extra beast for Peter to ride back on. "I don't even know who Peter is, but he's going to need to get back in a hurry". Were you paying attention when I read or were you still kind of drowsy? God told Cornelius where to get Peter, but he didn't tell him why. You know, the story ends pretty cool. I didn't get all the way there, and I'm not closing my sermon either, but let's skip to the end for a minute. He said, "Go send for Peter," and when Peter got there to Caesarea, 30 miles away, there was a crowd waiting to hear the message of Jesus, and Peter preached.
I have to show you this verse. It's Acts 10:34. When he got there, he began to speak, and he said, "I now…" "I now realize in verse 34 because I obeyed in verse 19". "I now realize how true". You don't know the truth until you obey the Word. You keep asking God to explain it, and he keeps telling you to trust it. You keep asking God to explain it, and he keeps telling you to obey it. You keep asking God to make sense of it, and he keeps calling you to walk in it. Everything God did in my life… Well, it was something that at one time I never thought possible. So, I'm preaching to you. I'm not talking about Peter. I'm not talking about Cornelius. I'm not talking about the fish with the scales. I'm not talking about the animals with the hooves. I'm not talking about the Gentile world, the Jewish world. I'm talking about you right now on the roof, seeking God, trying to figure out, "What in the world is this coming into my life? What does this mean? Why am I here? What is this season? How can it be? What will it take? Can I do it"?
The Devil is saying, "Never," and God is saying, "Now". Now. Three letters, but I feel it in my spirit. Now. "N-O-W, Devil…now". Surely the Lord is in this place. When? Now! How do you know it? By faith. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for". I can't see it, but I know it. I can't prove it, but I believe it. It's a promise! "Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you". That's what God said "Never" about. "You'll never take his presence from me". There will never be a day in my life, there will never be a moment in a day, there will never be a nanosecond that he won't be guide. There will never be a valley he won't walk me through. There will never be a shadow that he won't light the way. There will never be a mistake he won't redeem. There will never, there will never, there will never, there will never, there will never, there will never… There will never be a sin he won't forgive. There will never be a chain he can't break. There will never be a mountain he can't move. There will never, never, never, never! Okay.
Touch at least three people and say, "Never". A new never. But the whole thing (this is the part you won't like) hinges on now. As Peter is sitting on the roof saying, "Never…" I just want to make sure I break this down. I don't know if I broke it down good enough. He wasn't trying to get Peter ready for a barbecue downstairs. That's not how the verse ends. Y'all, Holly is so carnal. All she thinks about is "When is the next meal"? Is that true? We'll be watching a show, and it'll be like a shoot-out, and there will be bullets flying and people flying everywhere. (Christian gangster movies, obviously.) There will be all this chaos, and she'll look at me and go, "When did they eat"? I'll be like, "Holly, it's a heist. This is not…" That's the first thing she looks for. You know what? You're going to hate Acts 10, babe, because it doesn't even say if Peter ever got his lunch.
God had something more important at the gate even than what he was praying for. Does he have something better for you? Has the Devil been saying, "Never"? Have you been looking at a stack of bills (not the Buffalo Bills…snow day humor) and saying, "Well, I'll never pay this off"? Quick principle that served me. Okay? For your leadership, for your company, for anything…your fitness, your emotions…whatever. One immediate action is worth a thousand good intentions. I wonder how long Peter would have stayed up on the roof smelling food in a trance, and the Lord said, "You won't find out what I have for you up on the roof". God showed him something while he prayed. He spoke something that contradicted what Peter thought.
Now, that has been happening inside of you lately. The Devil is saying, "Never". You're thinking it. "Okay. I never will". Especially when it comes to addictions. When I talked about freedom last week, half the people couldn't even hear me, because it's like, "Oh yeah. I heard a sermon like this. I did rehab three times. Oh yeah. I tried this already. Cool, man. Hope you get them while they're young, because once you've been in it this long… Never". I hesitate to do this, because you could take it and make it something I don't mean. Even some of you who thought you will never have another relationship… You're bringing so much baggage from Leviticus 11 of how you think things have to be, and you're like, "Nope, they have scales. Nope, they have fins. Nope, they have hooves. Nope, they chew the cud".
So then you make blanket statements about what God can and can't do in your life. One of the greatest things… We're celebrating Dr. King's legacy in the United States this Monday. Our outreach teams went out and did amazing things, probably, by the time you see this message, but one day a man touched my heart, because he said, "I'm 72, and I hated white people all my life until God brought you on my TV and gave me the Word". We met, and he said, "Thank you," and I was like, "No, thank you. I spend a lot of my time wondering if people hear what you say or if it matters or if you're just giving people little sermons to get through the week, or whatever. That's hard for me to believe, but thank you for telling me". Then I talked to him a few minutes. He told me a lot of the story of why he felt the way he felt, and I got it. I was like, "Well, do you still like me after meeting me"? He was like, "I like you better". He said, "But you are shorter in person. But I never thought I would listen to a white preacher". That becomes the lid and the limitation.
When the Devil says, "Never," then you just stop looking. "Good things never happen to me; they happen to others. I never have any luck. I never get any breaks. It never stops. I never get ahead". That is the Devil's language. He took God's Word, "Never will I leave you," and he coopted God's Word for his purpose. Like he did with Jesus when he was tempted. He took God's Word, "Throw yourself off. The angels… Turn the bread into stones…" He took God's Word "Never," and now he's using it against you. "You're never going to finish, and they're never going to notice. It's never going to change. It never makes a difference". Then here's my favorite one: "Well, you never can be sure, so why even try"?
Now we're living in a time where that's almost true. Like, why put anything in the calendar anymore? Because if your second cousin gets sick, you're going to be in the house for three weeks. Leviticus 11 has nothing on the year 2020. I can't keep up with any of the rules. Okay? So, now I feel like, "Well, why even try"? because I can't predict it. But don't you understand that it becomes even more important to be sensitive to the Spirit of God when you can't depend on the circumstances? Give me verse 5. Look at what God was telling Cornelius when Peter was saying, "Never". Acts 10:5: "Now send men…" What did God say? What did Peter say? What happens when never meets now? What happens when the God who exists in eternity steps into the fullness of time? In the presence of the Lord is… I don't want you to see this as a Bible story. I want you to see it as a spiritual reality. When never meets now. They told them they would never go to the moon.
Now… I mean, I know people who are planning their vacation for 2032 to Mars. "Where are you going"? "Myrtle Beach". "Where are you going"? "Mars". And you're laughing. They laughed. I remember as a kid I wanted to live at Walmart. I did. That was a fantasy of mine when I was 13 or 14, because I wanted to live in the CD section. CDs were brand new, and when my mom would take me to Walmart, I would just spend all day, as long as she would let me… She had to come drag me out. Truth? I'd be like, "Oh, there's the Lemonheads. Oh, there's the Rollins Band". I was into the deep cuts of punk rock, not the Green Day stuff. No. Way more subcultural than that. "Wow! I wonder what that sounds like. I've heard of it. I wish I could listen to all of it. What if I had every CD in the world that was ever recorded"? What was my fantasy is now on my phone. I don't appreciate it. I fuss at it when it takes three seconds to load. "This text is never going to come through. It has been seven seconds".
When the ninth president of the United States died, I read it took 110 days for the message to get to Los Angeles. Talk about "This message is never coming through". We think we wait a long time. "Oh, how long was the wait at Chick-fil-A"? "It was forever. I mean, forever"! "How long did he preach today"? "He preached forever"! Y'all, Paul preached so long one time a boy named Eutychus fell out of the window. You'd have cussed too if you fell out a window. As I'm saying this, the gospel is going out all over the world while I'm preaching. If you would have told 2006 Elevation Church that we would not have to build campuses all over the world to reach people all over the world, we would have said, "Never". I told one guy it was in my heart to have a diverse church, and he said, "Well, you'd better not do it in Charlotte, because you will never build a diverse church in Charlotte".
Now? How do you like it now, Devil? Take a look at us now! We're young. We're old. We're rich. We're poor. We're coming from every country with a praise at the name! So, you can keep your blanket statements. You can keep your broken systems. You can keep the BS. Give me Jesus! Give me the gospel! Give me the Word, the presence, the Spirit! "Okay. I'll clap my hands and praise God when I get over this little cold". You'd better praise him with a runny nose and a fever. You'd better wave a tissue and praise him now! Get in on it! When are you going to rejoice? Now! Some people are waiting for heaven to give God praise. "When we all get to heaven, what a day that will be". But I read in my Bible, "This is the day that the Lord…"
Now! Remember when Martha sent for Jesus to come and heal Lazarus? Have you ever read that story? I've preached it a good 20 times in this pulpit, but if you never read it, you need to read it in John 11. They sent for Jesus, and he never came. Some of you feel like Martha. You sent for Jesus, and he never came. You prayed, and he never came. You asked, and it never changed. You tried, and it never works. You did it, and it never made sense. So, I want you to do what Martha did in John 11:20. It says she heard Jesus was coming. Somebody say, "He's here". He's not coming one day. He's here right now. He's at the gate. He is the gate. He is the way, the truth, and the life. She went out to meet him. What happens when never meets now? So, he didn't come when you wanted him, like you wanted him, how you wanted him, but he's here now. So, it didn't happen like you wanted, when you wanted, how you wanted. So, he didn't answer what you prayed, how you prayed, when you prayed, like you prayed, but he's here now.
So, you didn't do what you should have, what you could have, what you would have. So, you wasted the last couple of years wandering around, so you're disoriented, so you did it, so you missed it, so you lost it, so you let it slip away, but you're here now. This is for somebody. I had to call Martha, because if I just preached about Peter, this message would be for the men. So, I wanted Martha with Peter so they could both tell you the same thing, that it's at the gate now. I had a man tell me, "I've never given to the church, but when I die, I'm going to will $10,000". This is what I thought: "God has to kill you to get $10,000? How are you smart enough to have $10,000 to give and stupid enough to say something like that"?
Now. You'd better give it now. You'd better grab them, hug them, love them now. Am I preaching? She heard Jesus was coming. She sent for him when Lazarus was sick. He never came. That's the first thing she told him: "You never came". So, you invite God into your never. "God, I'll be honest. I don't even really feel like this is going to work for me. I've started a lot of new years like this on the 'no shrimp' diet". But you're here now. You could have died. You almost quit. You wouldn't have been at church tomorrow to hear this message, so God had me preach it now. Everything changes when never meets now. I think this is more than a sermon. I think it's a meeting. I think it's a divine appointment for somebody who has been in neverland, and it hasn't happened, and you don't see how it's going to happen, so I could remind you that a lot of your nows used to be nevers.
I wrote a song years ago that said, "You've never failed me yet. I've seen you move the mountains, and I believe… You've never failed me yet". My buddy Robert Madu went to a church. He was the guest preacher, and they were singing that song "Do It Again," and they changed it. He said it was weird. The way we wrote it, it says: Your promise still stands Great is your faithfulness I'm still in your hands This is my confidence You've never failed me yet. He said when they got to that part, they didn't say, "Yet". They just said, "You've never failed me". He asked the pastor, and the pastor said, "We don't like that part, because when it says yet, it implies that he might".
See, I think the word yet implies that God's past faithfulness is the best predictor of his future performance. It means that if he kept me breathing… Have you ever stood next to an answered prayer? Have you ever stood in the living proof of a moved mountain? Have you ever just fogged a mirror with your breath to annoy the Devil that it didn't work when he tried to kill you? I'm telling you, you've never been here before. Be easy on yourself. Be patient with your process. Be open to what God is doing in this season. Be like Martha. Get your disappointed butt down there to the gate and ask Jesus why he never came. Be like Peter. Go downstairs and see about this thing God sent you. It's at the gate. It's standing there. God sent it. It might not look familiar. It might be weird. It might not be what you prayed for. It might not smell like ribs, but God sent it. Hey, you can't hesitate. You have to move now. Thirty miles.
I grew up in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. Tiny town. Not too tiny now. There are 20,000 people now, they said…something like that. It was much smaller when I was there. So, when people would ask me, "Where are you from"? I couldn't tell them, "Moncks Corner". I would have to say, "From a town that's 30 miles north of Charleston called Moncks Corner". Joppa was 30 miles from Caesarea. When I lived that close to Charleston, I never went. Now Holly and I spend our vacation days there. I never went when it was so close. Now I appreciate it more. I wonder what God has given you now that you never stopped to enjoy. I want you thinking about this message for a long time. I want you to ask the Holy Spirit long after I shut up, "What are the nevers I've accepted that I need to reject? What are the nevers I need to accept"? Y'all, the time for me to be in the NBA has come and gone. Do you understand?
I'm not going to be a brain surgeon at this stage in my life. I'm good with that. I've accepted that. I'm a heart surgeon. I'm a soul surgeon. She said, "Jesus, we sent for you. You never came". She expressed her frustration. It's so beautiful. She said, "Lord, if you would have been here, my brother would not have died". This is where God told me to leave you at the gate, Peter, Martha. I'm leaving you at the gate here with this verse, verse 22: "But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask". When she said, "Now," she recognized the presence of God. When you recognize his presence, you are open to his power. Jesus looked back at her with a question. Here it is: "Your brother will rise again". Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day". And Jesus said, "I am…" That's present tense. Present tense isn't going to happen one day. It didn't happen one day and now it's gone. Jesus said, "I am here. I am powerful. I am able. I am faithful now". My favorite Scripture says, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine".
Now. I never paid attention to that word. When you're reading the Bible this week, because I know you read it for three hours a day… When you're reading the Bible, praying on the roof, and a sheet comes down this week, just look at every time you see the word now, and look at every time you see the word never. Ask the Lord, "Did that never come from you? Did that never come from the Devil? Did that never come from my biases? Is that never limited to a season of life"? Listen. Some of us are chained to limitations that do not exist anymore in this season. It used to be true, and it's not anymore. It used to be true that the Gentiles couldn't come to the God of Israel, but it's not anymore, because he tore the veil. His presence has no limits, has no borders. Jesus said, "The one who believes…"
Do you believe? A little bit of faith, mustard-seed faith. "He who believes in me will live even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die". It is not dead. It is not over. It is not finished. Your best days are not in a rearview mirror. No, no, no. You are to drag your nevers into the presence of your now. Spoiler alert: Lazarus got up. Even now, in the face of never. So, I want to pray about your nevers, and I want to call you to your now. The Devil is such a liar. He's so good at it. You would be too if it's all you ever did. He has had a lot of practice, and you let him. You built him a practice court in your mind, just letting him dribble never up and down the court. "Never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never". But now, in this present moment… Isn't it a clue that we call it the presence of God, not the pastness of God, not the future of God? When never meets now.
I want to minister to somebody who's going through heartbreak they never saw coming, who's going through a transition they never saw coming, who's learning a skill they never even thought they'd need, who is walking through something they heard about but never really dealt with. This word was for you. So, you can drag it into the presence of the Great I Am. So rich. I have to stop. I'm going to pray. One more thing. Remember, God spoke to Peter while he was hungry, so if you're waiting for lunch, this might be the breakthrough moment. Okay? Breathe in. Breathe out. A lot of us feel like things in our lives were wasted, because we gave and we tried and we loved and we cared and we encouraged and we served. How many times did Cornelius pray and God didn't send anybody to help? How many alms did Cornelius give these God-fearing Gentiles? They were attracted to Judaism but not accepted within it.
How many times did he pray and felt nothing? How many times did he give and receive nothing? It happens to all of us. What's the point in that? Why even try? Three or four years ago, I was getting ready to come back and preach. I had an eight-week series planned. I was going to do it big. Some of y'all are new to the church. We used to always have the series in advance. Then the world became so stupid I stopped trying to plan God. Maybe we'll go back to that one day. I told all the creative team what the series should be called. I told all of the campus pastors what the series would be called. You remember. Special Zoom call before Zoom was a thing. I was an early adopter. I went to preach the first week of it, and it wasn't… It just didn't feel like what God wanted me to preach. I said, "Oh, I'll get it next week," and that happened again and again. I preached, but I couldn't preach that. It just didn't feel like I was to preach it, so I never preached it. They designed graphics. They had them loaded in the computers.
I don't know what they do back there to make the stuff come on the screens, but they did all of it. Amazing team. They had it all ready, but we never used it. I thought, "Well, that was a waste". I had pages of notes. I had a sermon title for the first sermon. Never used it. I studied it; never preached it. I prepared it; never served it. I thought I wasted everybody's time. I am sharing this with you for a reason. I had a songwriting appointment. Chris and Brandon and Tiffany and I were meeting, and I said, "There's this sermon I never preached. Maybe it could be a song. It was called 'Graves Into Gardens.'" Now the series I never preached became the biggest song our church has ever released. It wasn't wasted. Do you see what I'm saying, Daniel-san? All that waxing, all that painting, all of that… God… not Mr. Miyagi, but the Master, the Messiah, the Redeemer, the resurrection, the Savior…
When never meets now, you're going to be so glad you didn't quit. I can't wait to read your testimony when you put it in the comments. I can't wait to hear what never you broke through because of the power of the Holy Spirit released in these moments that we shared, but it might not be today. Your now might be in a year. Your now might not be until your children are grown, David, and build the temple (Solomon), so you can see your investment was not a waste. Father, even now, no word from your mouth will return to you void. It will accomplish what you intend. I thank you for every seed. Lift your hands. Receive this word. Stop being so stubborn. Stop being in your own head and thinking things through. Worship God for a moment. Surrender to God for a moment. All that other stuff doesn't work, you controlling stuff. Lift your hands to your Father who knows the plans he has for you. Even now, we will not worry about tomorrow, for it shall only wear us down today. Now.
Whatever is standing at the gate in their life, Lord, whatever Cornelius they're meant to minister to, whatever their life is meant to preach, whatever purpose you've given them to fulfill, I declare gardens where there were graves. He who believes will never die, and even dying shall they live. You brought us here today to build our faith, God, and it worked, not because we just feel it, but because we know it to be true. You've never failed me yet, and just to finish the sentence so there's no confusion, you never will.