Steven Furtick - It Is What It Is, But It's Not What It Seems
I want to spend some time in this passage today, Romans 4:18. The apostle Paul says, "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became"... Do you know that that's always true that you always become what you believe? If you see yourself as a grasshopper in the land God has promised you, you won't take possession of it, not because it wasn't yours but because you didn't see yourself as the rightful owner. What you believe eventually is reflected in what you become. I'm just pointing that out. That's not my sermon. That's the chips and the salsa before the enchilada. Now look at this. It says, "He believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, 'So shall your offspring your seed be.' Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old"...
That's definitely not an overstatement. Your reproductive days are certainly coming to a close around age 100, especially if you live in a time where there are no little pills. (I'm sorry, y'all. Let me get back on this). "And that Sarah's womb was also dead". So this is an impossible situation from every angle. "Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith". Come on, you came to the gym today to get strengthened in your faith. This is the original CrossFit. We're going to be strengthened in our faith. "and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised". Shout over the Scripture now. Here's my declaration, my title. I want you to give your neighbor my title. Look them right in the eye and say, "Neighbor, it is what it is, but it's not what it seems".
I feel fire on that. It's a declaration of faith. Look at your other neighbor and tell them, "It is what it is, but it's not what it seems". Essentially, we are walking into the middle of an argument in Romans, chapter 4, that Paul is presenting against the Judaizers, who would have the Gentile converts to the faith be circumcised as an outward expression of their new commitment to the community of faith. Paul sees this as a grave mistake, for he understands that it is not the circumcision with human hands that makes you a believer; it's the circumcision of your heart. It's not something that's cut away from your skin. It's something that has to be removed from your heart that enables you to connect with God in this relationship.
And then, presenting one of the most important doctrinal beliefs you'll find anywhere in the Canon, Paul is elaborating on this concept of justification by faith. It has never been presented exactly this way until Paul puts pen to paper and God uses him to expound upon the fact that you have to come in on your knees. Relationship with God cannot be the product of works, although works are a by-product of that relationship. In the middle of this argument about what it means to have real faith, what it really takes to have faith, what faith really looks like, and in this contrast between the seen and the unseen elements of faith, Paul is using Abraham as an example, because he is the father of faith. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob's name was changed to Israel. The nation came from Jacob, but Jacob came from Isaac, and Isaac came from Abraham.
Sometimes your life is part of a bigger picture. You might not even be the one to see certain things come to pass, but you might be the one God uses in the life of the one, and that takes faith to have that kind of perspective on your life. I texted Pastor Mickey this morning, and I just said, "God used you in my life so much. I was just thinking about you this morning. Will you pray for me"? He believed in me at a stage in my life where my potential was hidden. Anybody can believe in you once your success is evident, but if you have somebody who believes in you while your potential is still in seed form, never forget that person. That's why I was reaching out to him, just to tell him, "Thank you. I'm preaching today. Pray for me. I just had you on my mind". He doesn't preach in a big church, but he does preach in a big church, because his faith lives on through me.
So, this is the kind of framework. And last week we talked on frame-game. Have you been worked on your frame-game this week? would you do me a favor, would you just frame-up your neighbor real quick at all of our locations and then tell them, "You look better than you did last week". I see signs of improvement. Frame-game. Now Abraham enters the frame of the discussion about faith, and Paul has given us a synopsis of the story. A synopsis is different than a story. A synopsis requires some essence of prioritization to try to figure out what to put out and what to leave in. This is something women would do well to learn when you're trying to communicate with men. We typically do better with a synopsis than the full story.
All of the men are leaving me up here by myself, but you know you did not need to know all of that to find out what's for dinner, and sometimes you just want to press the button to skip to the synopsis. "Can I get the CliffsNotes"? Sometimes you think that in marriage. You do. I don't think that. My wife is captivating. Speaking of Holly, she's on this kick lately of audible.com. "Audible.com: Audio that speaks to you wherever you are". How do I know that? Because my wife walks around the house… She has listened over the last year to 10 or 12 books on audible.com. "Audio that speaks to you wherever you are". She says she read them, but we kind of have a debate about that, because I always thought reading meant your eyes were involved. She'll say, "I read a book", and I'll say, "Listened to one" under my breath, in my head.
One book she was looking at… I don't know if she downloaded it or not, but she said she wasn't going to listen to that one because it was narrated by a child. Not that a child read it on audible.com, not actually that a child did the voice work, but that the point of view of the book was a child telling the story. She said, "I just don't think I would enjoy a whole book written from a child's point of view. I think that would get old". That was interesting to me, because when you think of elements of a story, you think about the characters and the plot and the setting, and it always blows my mind… I don't know if any of you are fiction readers. Any fiction readers? If you have any good books I should take to the beach this summer, feel free to send them my way. I should totally read more fiction. It's a good escape, but I don't read enough.
I can't figure out how somebody can have enough imagination to make up a whole world in a fiction book. I've written books before, but it's real stuff. I just don't imagine I would ever have the imagination to make up a whole world, you know, names and where people went to school and cities that don't really exist and aliens and zombies and walkers. I just can't imagine I would have that kind of imagination, but some people do. The plot and the characters and the setting when you're reading a book are all experienced through the medium of whomever the author chooses to use to tell the story. You all know where I'm going with this. You guys are quick on the draw. I found out that in life you have to select a narrator, because the narrator you choose will determine the way you experience the events.
Everybody in here has an internal narrator, somebody who in every situation is trying to tell you how to think about that situation, how to interpret the motives of people in certain situations, how to look at an opportunity and size it up. The Lord told me to come out here and tell you today that some of you need a new narrator. I'm going to say it again, and maybe it'll hit the back. Maybe it'll hit Providence. Maybe it'll hit Gaston. Some of you have a really annoying, whiny, complaining, suspicious, negative narrator. It's wearing you out, because you keep going into situations, and your narrator keeps on telling you what to think about this and what to think about that, but I have good news for you. Anytime you get ready, you can get a new storyteller. I'm trying to say you can have a life narrated not by feelings but by faith.
I have to ask a question. Is your life narrated by your feelings or your faith? I think that's the plotline we're plopped into with Abraham, who has a decision to make. In Romans, chapter 4, Paul is giving us some of the story. Not all of the story. If you read all of the story, you're going to read about how Abraham, while he was waiting on God to give him a son, slept with his wife's assistant to try to produce something he couldn't be patient and wait for. That happened, and in Genesis we hear about it, but it didn't make the trip across the centuries to Romans, chapter 4. Isn't that interesting? In the story selection process, in the synopsis, it didn't even make the story.
It didn't even make the story that Abraham got into trouble one time. He was scared because his wife was beautiful, and he thought that if the king knew it was his wife he'd be in danger, so he told his wife to pretend like she was his sister. Then the king almost slept with his wife because he thought it was Abraham's sister. Then God started messing with the king, because God didn't like it very much that the king was about to take Abraham's wife, so the king figured it out really quickly and said, "Why did you lie to me"? Yet I can't find that in Romans, chapter 4. It's not as if it didn't happen. It's just that when you narrate your life by grace, this is the context of faith.
Some of the failures that are most prominent in your mind didn't even make the cut of the story in the mind of God, because he sees you from a different perspective and sees you in a different dimension. I feel the Spirit of God on me today. I'm just going to preach this like I feel it in my heart. Touch somebody and say, "It's not even a part of my story". But it is in your story. There's a kind of faith that is very dangerous. I'll show you two extremes here, and both are warned against in Romans, chapter 4. Sometimes there is a version of faith that looks more like denial. Then there is the absence of faith, which creates despair. What I see in Romans, chapter 4, front and center, from the father of faith, is that he was able to avoid both extremes.
It says in verse 19, "Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact…" That one phrase helps me understand what faith is and what faith isn't. The kind of faith I am to emulate from my father Abraham, whose seed I am, is not a sort of denial. I'm putting that before you because when we teach about being positive, it doesn't mean that everything in your life is positive, and I want you to know that. Here's the thing. Some people don't exercise faith, because they live in denial, and they actually begin to use their faith as a cop-out and don't confront things for what they are. Somebody looks at the person next to you and tell them "It is what it is". Common, some of you aren't participating, and that makes me really, really, really angry and insecure. Look at your neighbor and tell them "It is what it is".
Abraham faced the fact - he was old. He faced the fact - his stuff stopped working a long time ago. He faced the fact. He looked at himself and said, "It is what it is", and he looked at his wife and said, "It was what it was, but it ain't what it was. Now it is what it is. We're old now. We could have done this 30 or 40 years ago, maybe. We could have done it 50 or 60 years ago, but now it is what it is". "I didn't go to college. It is what it is. I didn't go to high school. It is what it is. I went through my first marriage. I was too stupid to make it work". You know what? You can't get over what you do not own.
So face it. Face it. Faith doesn't mean living in denial. Faith doesn't mean that it's all good. I got women in my church who were sexually abused. It's not all good. I got people in my church who can't get a job because they have a criminal record. It's not all good. I got people in my church under the sound of my voice right now who didn't grow up with a dad. It's not all good. You know what? Faith can handle that. Faith can handle that.
The starting place of authentic faith is honesty. It is what it is. "Lord, I'm disappointed right now". Do you know you can tell God that and he won't hold it against you? When God spoke to Abraham and said, "I'm going to give you a seed that's going to be your son, and out of your seed is going to come a nation as numerous as the stars", Abraham laughed in God's face. It didn't bother God, because faith is not a feeling; faith is a decision. I'm going to say it again to counteract all the wrong thinking you've ever had in your life about faith. Faith is not a feeling. You can be a pessimistic person but still have great faith. Even great faith has weak moments.
So the call to faith is first a call to come out of denial. Otherwise, you'll be waiting on God to deliver you from a situation that is going to require discipline. I'm going to say it again. When you live in denial, you'll be waiting for deliverance in a situation that requires discipline. Are you waiting for deliverance in a situation that is going to require discipline? In other words, are you waiting on God to cancel your debts or are you making a plan to pay them off? Faith doesn't wait on a check. Faith gets up and goes to work or at least looks for work. Faith will do it, but you have to face it.
You have to face it or you live in denial, and you'll say, "Well, I guess the reason nobody wants to be my friend is because God has me in a lonely season right now". No, God doesn't have you in a lonely season. Your bad attitude and poor relational habits of not treating people correctly have gotten you in a lonely season, and until you face it faith can't fix it. Until you face it, faith can't fix it. Faith can't fix what you won't face. He faced the fact, but he kept his faith. You can do both. He faced the fact. "I'm not living in denial". But he kept his faith. "I'm not living in despair". Faith is standing in the middle and making a decision that it is what it is, but it's not what it seems. I have that beneath-the-surface faith. I have that Saturday faith, waiting on something to come up out of a tomb and resurrect for the healing and salvation of the world.
He narrated his situation with his faith, so he became the father of many nations, and we are his seed. How cool is that? We are the seed of Abraham. Seed. That made me think about something. Will you think with me today? When Jesus was trying to explain to the people what the kingdom of God was like, he said in Mark, chapter 4, verse 31, "The kingdom of heaven is like a skyscraper, big and bold, massive, a towering structure". I wish he said that. I wish my faith was as big as a skyscraper. I wish I walked around never doubting. I wish all my stuff worked. That's what I'm trying to say. In fact, I wish this stuff I preach was as easy to live as it is to preach sometimes. Talk back to me. Talk back to me. Talk back to me. Don't you wish it was as easy to live as it is to write down in your notebook?
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. Show them a mustard seed. Show them the seed. That is what it seems to be, now that it's been through the process that it went through. Guess what I have in my pocket? No, not mustard seeds. I have trees in my pocket. I came to preach to somebody. You have trees in your pocket. You have potential in your life. You have trees in your pocket. You have healing in your mouth. You can tell your neighbor, "You have trees in your pocket". That's what God was telling Abraham. "I put a seed in you. I put a promise in you. I put a purpose in you. I put potential in you. Don't judge the tree by the size of the seed, because when it's grown it's going to look like something you can't even imagine right now".
So he says, "Can you see the tree in the seed"? This is the question of faith. Can you see the hope of the world in a barren womb? Can you see leadership potential in your rebellious child? Can you see how it might have been a blessing that one person walked out of your life? They say we miss the forest for the trees, but sometimes I think we miss the trees for the seeds. Elijah sends his servant up. He's like, "Hey, check it out, because it's about to rain". The servant comes back down and says, "There is nothing there". He said, "Go and look again". Elijah is doing something kind of weird while he's sending his servant back and forth, because he sends him six times. The Bible says… I'm not going to attempt to demonstrate this, because my flexibility is limited, but he put his head between his knees.
I think it's because if he looked at the sky, if he looked at the situation, if he went by sight… The Bible says we walk by faith and not by sight. He had to close his eyes to what was there in order to see what would be. Finally, after six times, on the seventh time his little servant came back and said, "Well, there's a cloud up there, but it's only about the size of a man's hand". "To what shall I compare the kingdom of heaven? It's like a seed, a cloud the size of a man's hand. It's like a mustard seed". That's the smallest seed they knew of at the time. "Yet when planted, it grows". I love that phrase. I feel the oil of God and the electric power of the Holy Ghost on that phrase. "Yet when planted, it grows".
That's your word for this season of your life. Yes, it's small, yet when planted it grows. I'm going to stay right on this, because I know when God is speaking, and he's speaking to somebody. It's a cloud the size of a man's hand, yet when planted it grows. It's a little boy's lunch. It's only five loaves and two fish. Jesus said, "Put it in my hands, because yet when planted it grows". He's just a shepherd boy in a field. He looks like a seed, yet he's a king, and when planted in the soil of adversity in Saul's court, David grew to become a king. To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It's like a seed. You can't see it at first. It doesn't even seem like something worth showing. It doesn't even seem big enough for the cameras to pick up, yet when planted it grows.
God said it's time for you to start planting seeds of purpose even in the soil of doubt. If you plant it, it'll grow. If you plant it, the cloud will burst. If you plant it, the rain will fall. If you get your hands dirty and have faith and hope against hope, yet when planted it grows. Touch seven people and tell them "It's gonna grow". It's gonna grow. I feel a spirit of faith. I want to impart faith to you. I don't know if you believe in this kind of stuff, but I believe in a moment, in the presence of God, he can plant the incorruptible seed of his Word in the soil of an expectant heart and a ripe harvest.
You'd better catch that. You'd better catch that tree. You'd better put that in your pocket, and this week when you're up in a situation and it looks like a small little thing, and it looks like it doesn't stand a chance, and it looks like a little virgin girl from Nazareth, and it looks like Joseph in a pit, you need to understand that the pit wasn't a pit; it was the soil he was planted in so he could come forth in Egypt and bring… Tell somebody, "I'm growing. I'm growing. My faith is growing. My heart is growing. My capacity to love is growing". But the thing about the growth of the seed is…
Do y'all hate when I holler like that? I know some of y'all wish I didn't do it, but I watched some basketball games during the Final Four and the NBA play-offs. I watched all kinds of fans get up with their shirts off and their chests painted and jump around about some men in some shorts running up and down a hardwood floor. I just figure our faith ought to be enough… Jesus said, "I have to go to the cross. I have to be crucified, and they're going to bury me in the ground". That's one narration of what happened when they put Jesus in a borrowed tomb. He was buried. But guess what? Jesus said, "When they put me in the ground, I'm not being buried. I'm being planted to produce a harvest".
Touch somebody and say, "I'm planted". It does not appear yet what I shall be, but when you see me I'm going to look more like him. I have news for you. It is what it is, but it's not what it was, and your eyes have not seen what it's going to be. Shout if you believe it! He's planting you. I want to talk to somebody at the Rock Hill Campus right now, because at the Rock Hill Campus I have somebody listening to this sermon who's in a state of despair. You figured, "Well, if it hasn't happened by now, it's not going to happen". You know what? It may not happen just the way you wanted it to happen, because sometimes you have to put the seed of your dream in the soil of your faith so that God's dream for your life can bud forth. Yet when planted, it grows.
"I prayed for you, Peter, that after you failed your faith would not fail and that after you had returned you would strengthen your brethren". You're coming up out of the dirt. You're coming up out of this failure. This is not your final resting place. Don't despair, and don't look at what you see, because we don't fix our eyes on what is seen. What is seen is temporary. I'm only in this ground for a minute, but I'm coming up bigger than before. I'm coming up stronger than before. I'm coming up full of faith, full of wisdom, full of lessons, full of purpose, full of love. I'm planted. Yet the only way for the seed to grow was for it to disappear into the soil, and the only way for Abraham's faith to be proven was for his hope to be planted in the soil of disappointment. Yet he didn't waver in his faith.
What do you mean, Paul? He slept with his wife's assistant. Yeah, but faith isn't defined by what you do in your weak moments. That's not how the narrator… You know what you have in your life? You have a third-person narrator. I'm going to break it down even more for the English teachers. It's a third-person omniscient narrator, because you have different kinds of narrators. It's the first person, and when you narrate your life in the first person, you look at yourself and say, "It is what it is", but what a narrator can do in telling the story… This is what faith can do in your life. Faith can show you that although it is what it is, it's not what it seems. In between denial and despair is destiny. To stand and know that God has planted me and I will produce my purpose.
You have a disappointment in your life? It is what it is. No need to deny it. You fell short? It is what it is. Boy, even just that first half alone would be a good start, wouldn't it? Just to say, "It is what it is that I can't come in church and pretend to be something I'm not and expect to be blessed in my state of pretention". I was reading something, because I'm reading through Mark a little bit preparing these sermons for you. I started the series in Mark, and I was over there about the woman with the issue of blood. Just for a Bible lesson for you, she had been going around to a bunch of different doctors, and they kept saying, "This is what it is, and this is what it is". She came to Jesus, and he was able to fix it for what it really was.
You can try to fix all kinds of things in your life, because you diagnose according to the symptoms but never really get down to the systemic parts that cause the symptoms, and you run around to a bunch of different doctors, a lot of different men, a lot of different women, a lot of different churches, a lot of different relationships, a lot of different places, trying to get it fixed, but until you get to the guy who really knows what it is, it can't be healed. What I never noticed before is that the woman when she came to Jesus… I always saw it a story like faith, just big faith. She pressed through the crowd, and she said, "If I can touch the hem of his garment I'll be made whole". I always was so focused on that I missed the part where it said that the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.
It was her faith that healed her, but it was her honesty that made her faith authentic. The Lord told me to give you two things: to come out of denial. It is what it is. You can say it. You can say, "I feel lonely in this season". Now be careful who you say it to, because you can say it in Delilah's Barbershop and wake up with a buzz cut you weren't expecting. So don't just say it to anybody, but God can handle it. God can handle it. I talk to God real as if I'm talking to a friend, because the Bible said Abraham was a friend of God, and if I'm his seed I'm his friend too. Friends can talk to friends. He's my Father, but he's my friend, and I can come to him and say, "You know, I don't get you right now, Sir, Your Majesty". Because I don't want a lightning bolt or anything like that.
It is what it is. "I feel like nobody appreciates me right now, God". Just make sure that when you tell God how you feel you let him narrate what you should do by faith, not feelings. It's okay to say it. Abraham faced the fact. "Look at all of these debts I have. Look at what the doctors are saying". Face it. Face it in faith. Come out of despair and realize that whatever it is you're looking at, it's not the end. It's a portal to your potential. It's not buried; it's planted. It's not over; it's just in transition. It is what it is, but my faith told me to tell you it's not what it seems. If you receive this word, get up on your feet and give your God a great praise, a high praise, a faith praise!