Steven Furtick - There's A Hole In Your Story
So thankful that you're here today. And, I'm going to go ahead... I normally have you stand to read the scripture... it's 19 verses today, so go ahead and sit down and we'll take it slow. God bless you. My Scripture from today's point of view is Acts, chapter 11. This sermon will probably take two weeks to preach. We did it last night. The Lord showed up. I thought he did until nobody who was here last night said, "Yeah"! To me, he showed up. So we probably won't get to the entire message today, but in Acts, chapter 11, it's a very unique and pivotal story as the gospel is going forward through the ministry of the early church.
It says in verse 1, "The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, 'You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them'. Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: 'I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat". I replied, "Surely not, Lord"!'"
How are you going to say "No" and call him "Lord" in the same sentence? That's crazy. "'Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth'. The voice spoke from heaven a second time…" Thank God for second chances, third chances, fourth chances. Can I get a fifth chance, sixth chance, seventh chance, eighth chance? "'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean'. This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again. Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man's house. He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved'. As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit'. So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God's way"?
If you would, nudge your neighbor gently and say, "Get out of God's way". "When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, 'So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life'". So, we've gone from protest in verse 1 to praise, but that's not the title of my message. The title of my message hinges on verse 4: "Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story".
Now look at your neighbor and give them my title. Say, "I'm not calling you a liar. I promise I'm not, but there's a hole in your story". Come on, say it like you're on CSI and they've been in the interrogation room all night and the coffee is cold. Look at them again and say, "There's a hole in your story". Look at your other neighbor and say, "There's a hole in your story". A story within a story. Acts, chapter 11, is really about the purpose of God, but it's told through the perspective of Peter through the writing of Luke for Theophilus to describe simultaneously both the ministry of Peter and the purpose of God.
Did you know your story is a story within a story? There's always a story within the story. There's the surface story, and then there is the story that is beneath the surface, and then there is the story that is overarching. Sometimes we don't even realize how many missing pieces there are of the stories we tell ourselves. Even worse, we don't even really understand the missing… I would call it a plot hole. Have you ever been watching a show and there's just a plot hole in the story? We were watching this Christian show called Friday Night Lights with Saint Tim Riggins, and they had a plot hole in it. We were talking about this. Lyla Garrity drove her car into Buddy Garrity's car dealership through the window. In the next episode, everything was fine and she had her car back. Even in our family, we adopted that. We call it, "Can I get a Garrity"? When you do something stupid in our family and you want total immunity and forgiveness and never bring it up again ("As far as the east is from the west, can you cast this in the sea?") you have to ask for a "Garrity".
How many of you have ever needed God to give you a Garrity? Yeah, I can preach on anything. The truth of the matter is in Acts, chapter 11, it's a microcosm for what we experience so many times in our lives. When there is space, a story fills it, and then the space between what you know and what you think you know, sometimes, is the story you tell yourself that keeps you stuck. When the church was first starting and I was an inexperienced pastor, just a whippersnapper in a Monarchy tee shirt with some antique denim jeans and some Mark Nason boots… I was oblivious about certain things, and I invited this man to come share his story with our church. The church was only about two years old. I had him share with the whole church his story.
The next week, somebody called our church office and requested to have a phone appointment with me. The person who called was a man of God. He had a radio ministry. I had heard his voice on the radio so many times, so when we finally talked on the phone, it was surreal to hear his voice, because I'd heard him on the radio. I'd never talked to him before, didn't even know he knew who I was, so I felt kind of important when they said, "So-and-so wants to talk to you and set up a phone appointment". Ooh, a phone appointment. So when the day came to have the call, he said, "Hello, Pastor" in his beautiful, rich, baritone voice. "Hello, Pastor". I said, "Hey, it's so good to talk to you". He said, "You might want to hear what I have to say before you say that".
Now, what he said next was an education. He gave me a seminary education in a five-minute phone call. He said, "I watched your interview with so-and-so", the person I had brought up. Let me do it in his voice. "I watched your interview, and it was very entertaining, but it wasn't very accurate". I said, "Well, all I did was let him share his story". He said, "Well, there are a few holes in that story I'd like to fill in". See, the man I was talking to was playing this victim role, and when he told his story, it was everybody who didn't help him, everybody who didn't care about him, everybody who mistreated him. He didn't mention the people who gave him rent payments. He didn't mention the people who gave him second chances, third chances, fourth chances. He left a lot of that out. I never forgot what the older, more experienced pastor said, because I've been trying to apply it to my life. "There are a few holes in your story".
Now, I don't mean to get all up in your macaroni at this time of the day, because I know it's early, but are there a few holes in the story you've been telling yourself about yourself, about others, about your parents, about your kids, about God? Are there some holes in your story? I want to take this text for a moment and interrogate it. I want to see what Peter said in verse 4 that took us from protest to praise. It started with a rumor. Back in the Bible days, they spread rumors. Things have changed. We have evolved societally. In the Bible, they spread rumors, and they weren't always accurate. In verse 1, if you revisit it with me for a moment, they're talking about Peter going to eat with the Gentiles. "Did you hear what Peter did? I heard he was down there eating bacon and sausage and pork rinds with those Gentiles. I heard he was down there playing poker. I heard he was drinking beer and watching Cinemax".
One author said a lie can make it around the world by the time the truth gets its shoes laced up. Here's what's crazy: the story about what Peter did got back to Jerusalem before Peter did. The story beat Peter back to Jerusalem, and he's 70 miles away, sharing the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ has just gone beyond the borders of one people group, the Jews, to the Gentiles, which was God's original intention. When he called Abraham, he said, "I'm going to bless you, but I'm not just going to bless you to bless you; I'm going to bless you to be a blessing, and through you all of the nations of the earth will be blessed". That's always what he wanted to do, and now he's doing it.
Sometimes we get so lost in the story, the story that was handed to us, we miss the bigger story God is telling. The key word to me in verse 1 was… It said, "The apostles and believers throughout Judea heard…" The word was heard. They heard something. "Did you hear about what…? Did you hear what they did"? "Did you read the article"? "No, I just read the headline". "You go to Evolution… What's it called? Elevation Church? I heard they don't have a cross on the building" or "I heard they have a trampoline on the stage for leap year". I heard, I heard, I heard, I heard, I heard.
Do you know how much trouble there is when you take to heart what you heard without checking it out? So the first thing I want to say… I want to do a sermon around this. I want to warn you about four types of stories that will ruin your life if you let them, four types of stories with some holes in them. The first one I want to show you is: beware of secondhand stories. Beware of what you believe that you have not seen for yourself. For everybody over the age of 12… Raise your hand if you're over the age of 12. If we are grown-ups, can we please make a quality decision to stop letting our opinions of others be determined through the filter of the opinions of others? The contrast is severe.
In verse 1, it says the apostles and believers heard about what Peter was doing, and they criticized him out of their ignorance. Verse 5 says they heard what Peter did, but watch what Peter has. Peter has a first-person perspective. He's not going off of what he heard; he's going off of what he experienced. That's why it doesn't affect me what you think God is like. You can tell me God is judgmental and hateful, but I don't believe that because I have experienced his love. I have seen his goodness. I have felt his touch. I have experienced his embrace. When you hear something secondhand and take it as truth, it can be worse than secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke can destroy your lungs; secondhand stories can destroy your life. Secondhand stories can keep you from getting to know people you would actually like if you didn't just meet them through a screen. Secondhand stories can keep you stereotyping genders and races and other denominations.
I was riding around with a pastor one time, and we drove by a church, and the parking lot was full. The parking lot was so full that people were parked on the side of the road to go to that church. We were driving past it to go to his church. I was speaking for him, and we were on the way to his church. He pointed at the church with the full parking lot and said, "That's a weird church". I said under my breath, "And it's full too". See, when something else makes you feel insecure, you shield yourself by calling it weird.
So, this is what I want you to get out of it. Some of you are holding on to stories that are not even true about you that were given to you secondhand about who you are. Gideon: "I am the least in my tribe". This is an Old Testament story that illustrates it. "I am the smallest. My tribe is the smallest. I'm the smallest in the tribe". I want to ask you what God asked Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. "Who told you that"? Who told you that story? Sometimes it's even well-meaning people. I mean, these were not pagans; these were observant Jewish Christians who just wanted to get it right. What happened in their day happens in ours. When God originally blessed his people, he wanted them to take it beyond just these borders, but over time, tradition gets in the way of truth. So then you start thinking your tradition is the truth.
If you've ever had a family member say something to you like, "Oh, well, you're getting kind of big for your britches…" You know, you make a move forward. "Oh, well, you're getting too big for your britches". It's a way of trying to keep you stuck in a tradition of what our family has accomplished and what we do. It's so subconscious for most of us. It's a story that runs in the background, and we never even know it, but it is a story someone else told themselves, and then they passed it on to us and we took it as our own. We stay stuck in a story for 80 years of our lives that we could have broken out of if we would have believed the voice of God. What stories are you holding on to that are old, that are keeping you from what's new and what's now and what's true and what's real? Secondhand stories. It's a dangerous thing.
If you ever played the game where you pass a thing down the row… I could start and say, "Milk is on sale", and by the time it passes all the way down this row, you know it would turn into "Donald Trump is the pastor of Elevation Church". It has never been worse than it is right now in our world. We don't read the whole story, just the headlines. So then it becomes, "Oh, well, you're not this" and "You're only that" and "You can't this" and "All white people…" and "All black people…" and "All men…" and "All women…" and "This community" and "That community". It is a generic way of keeping us from peeling back the labels, because labels always limit, and when you label yourself, you limit yourself. All that to say, there might be a few holes in your story, some things you have told yourself that aren't necessarily… He said, "It was very entertaining, but it wasn't very accurate".
Sometimes you tell yourself a story to survive, just to make it. What's sad to me about it is somebody might have rejected you at one point in your life because of how they felt about themselves, and then you took it as an indication of your value. "Oh, well, they walked out of my life. There must have been something wrong with me". That's their story, not yours. You don't have to own it. I love Peter, because he is so reckless. The reckless reverend comes in, but he has himself under control. He just told them the whole story. Don't you want God to show you the whole story of your life? When he starts the story, he starts with everybody's favorite main character in the story.
Look at verse 5. Are you ready for this? This is how every story starts: "I…" Secondly, beware of self-centered stories. Oh man, when you put yourself at the center of every story, you're going to be stressed out. There's not enough Pepto-Bismol in the world for you to keep your stomach calm if you put yourself at the center of every story. This is for all of us who are easily offended. All right? "Did you see how they looked at me? They don't like me". They like you fine. They're sleepy. They don't like their husband. It's not you. Look at somebody and set them free. Say, "It's not you". It's not you! They weren't mad at Peter; they were stuck in a structure and a system and a way of thought.
When I make myself the center of the story, I take on unnecessary stress. Sometimes when I'm preaching I think I'm not doing good if everybody is not saying, "Amen" or something like that, but what if you were up till 3:30 in the morning and you didn't get your sleep? I'm going to take that as a reflection of my preaching? I don't think so. The Devil is a liar. This is good preaching no matter whether you nod at it or not. You know what? I need to get better about that in my life, because I really struggle thinking that every story starts with me, how they treated me. I say that God has a reason for everything, and what I mean by that is… This is my dirty little secret. What I mean is God has a reason for this that I am going to like, agree with, and understand. That's just not the way it is.
How many know that's just not the way it is? A self-centered story… In parenting, when I make it about myself… Remember, these are circumcised believers. That is an external sign of a covenant. It's something you can see. You wouldn't necessarily always see it, but you could see it. (I'm going to leave that right there in case your kid didn't go to the kid's ministry today. You can do that Bible study at home.) You couldn't necessarily see it, but you could see it. Here's the temptation: when we try to go off of what we can see and tell ourselves a story, and then we start filling in the space… Remember, Peter is 70 miles away from Jerusalem, and they start telling the story. Space creates stories. Physical space creates stories.
Sometimes you don't need to text certain things; you need to pick up the phone and call. Sometimes text doesn't get the tone across, and you're going to spend six months fixing a relational mess because you used your thumbs rather than your feet to walk over and have a real conversation. When you have space you create a story. Even the space of time creates stories. A lot of time goes by, and you start remembering things differently. It's hard for me right now raising kids to remember what it's like to be a kid. If one of my kids acts up, my immediate thing is to make it about me. "They are disrespecting me. I am the man of God".
One day the Lord really… Have you ever had one of those God bombs go off inside of you, where you just knew that what you were thinking was wrong? I was thinking about one of my kids. "They are so selfish". They were making certain decisions. I thought, "This is so selfish". The Lord said, "They're not selfish; they're scared". Think about what it's like when you start getting flooded with all of those hormones. Think about what it's like when the rules change on you all of a sudden. Y'all don't have big kids yet, but you will remember certain times in your life where you were acting selfish, but the reason you were acting selfish is because you were scared. When you get scared, you start acting selfish because you are in protection mode. So what am I doing? I'm going from "They're so selfish", and God is showing me the whole story.
See, there's a hole in your story. There's a whole story, and then there's a hole in your story. Sometimes we tell ourselves stories about others without realizing they are going through things too. Y'all don't want to say "Amen" to this because it means we have to have compassion on people, kind of like God has compassion on us. Kind of like we want God to forgive us, kind of like we want God to excuse our gaps, we're going to have to sometimes say, "God, help me to stop making it about me. God, forgive me for making this about me". It's bigger than you. How could Peter have known that what he was being criticized for in this moment would lead to the gospel penetrating the Roman Empire? You have no idea what God is doing through this conflict, this season in your life. There is a bigger story being told, and there is a hole in your story.
"There is a hole in your story, dear Holly, dear Holly…" Do you know this song? Not in your bucket. There's a hole in your story. We can't stand not to know how things are going to turn out, so we make up a story. Look. Sit down. I have to tell you about selective stories. This is when you don't know what's going to happen next in your life. Think about the uncertainty the early church was facing under great persecution and yet great purpose at the same time of great persecution. They're both happening simultaneously, but what story are you going to choose? Selective stories. You are always choosing your story. Some of us, for some God-forsaken reason, keep choosing horror stories. We fill in the unknown parts of our future…
You know what? Some of us could give Stephen King a run for his money if we put down to paper the scary stories we write about what might happen in our lives. I mean, Stephen King has nothing on you. You create boogeymen. You create scenarios. Have you noticed how the smallest thing can put a story…? If you're a new parent, raise your hand. They're not sleeping through the night. How many of you have a baby who's not sleeping through the night right now? And how many times have you thought, "What if this is a sign of things to come"? And now you have them in rehab, and now you have them on drugs. You have a needle in their arm, and they're just colicky. Flat tire. "O God! It's just going to be one of those days". That's a story. "It's just going to be one of those days".
The same person might have gotten a flat tire and said, "Well, God must have been keeping me from a wreck that was going to happen two miles up the street". That's just a story. Are you ready for this? You don't get to choose every situation, but you get to choose the story. Oh, the power of God is in that truth! You choose the story you tell yourself. So if something is hard, you can be like, "Oh man, this is hard. I thought God told me to do it, but I guess the Lord isn't in this. This is hard. It must not be God". What if Jesus would have thought about the cross that way? "Oh, this is hard. This must not be the will of God. I must not have heard God on this one". That's a story.
Here's another story: "This is so hard it must be God. The Devil must have gotten a memo that I'm on to something good. I'm on the edge of Canaan. That's what these giants are here to signify". It is dangerous when you select a certain story. "Nobody cares about me". Give me your phone. I will show you people who care about you who checked on you this week, but you let that Devil in your editing room and gave him your typewriter (I'm an old-school preacher). You gave him the seat in the chair to edit your story. You get to choose your story. I didn't always believe this. I thought, "Certain people have certain stories". No, no. Those are situations. Life will give you a lot of suffering. You don't get to choose it, but if you're going to have to suffer enough because of the situations life brings, why would you choose to suffer with a story?
I don't know who this is for. It's probably not somebody in this room. You've suffered enough. What you're going through is hard enough. What you're dealing with is heavy enough without telling yourself a story about it that reinforces the thought that God is not with you. I'm still in Acts 11. Peter told them the whole story. He saw what God did. They heard it. He saw it; they heard it.
He showed up and said, "I heard what y'all have been saying about me, but there's a hole in your story. You're telling me what you heard. Let me tell you what I saw. I saw the vision of the whole earth being reached by the gospel of Jesus Christ. I saw it. I experienced it. I know that God is for me". "How do you know"? "Well, I was there. I was there when he picked me up. I was there when nobody else could give me the comfort and the balm and the medicine, but God helped me through that night. I was there when I was in the middle of an emotional storm that I saw no way through, but look at me on the other side, dancing on the shore. I was there. You can't tell me God is not real. You can't tell me he didn't choose me. You can't tell me grace doesn't work. You can't tell me it's over. You can't tell me the best is behind me. You can't make me doubt it. I know too much! I saw it! You tell me what you heard; I'll tell you what I saw". You choose the story.
Now, if this is the most difficult season of your life right now, you still get to choose the story. Did you clap because you're going through hell? You get to choose what you tell yourself, the story of this season. Watch this. One person says, "I'm going through the valley of the shadow of death". Somebody else says, "There's a table for me in the presence of my enemies". It's the same situation, but it's a different story. Shout if you know that the Devil might take your money, he might rob you of a few years, but you can't have my story, my joy, my anointing, my authority! Get under my feet, snake! One of my best friends is going through the most horrible season of their life right now. He and his wife lost everything last year. I don't mean that like we say it. You know, your video game progress got lost. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about stripped. I'm talking about I felt like I was watching the book of Job.
I thought they would lose their faith. I really did. What would make me mad is every time I would call to encourage them, they would start encouraging me. I was like, "Stop it! This is your encouraging phone call". Have you ever been trying to unlock the door and somebody else is unlocking it at the same time? "Stop it! Stop it! Stop it"! The wife said something. They lost their ministry and had to move to the other side of the country. Much of it was his decision. It wasn't her decision, and then as the consequence of his decision, she ends up having to leave everything she has known…the town she grew up in, the ministry, all of it. Left it. Gone. Other side of the country. Then she gets diagnosed with cancer. So I'm like, "Are you for real right now? Her"? I saw her after all her hair was gone from chemo and after she was 33 percent smaller than she was when I saw her last.
All of the stuff was in full effect. She started talking about, "Thank God for the insurance". Think about this. She said, "Even though we lost everything, if we hadn't moved across the country, we wouldn't have gotten put on different insurance, and our old insurance wouldn't have covered this". So I'm thinking… I kind of have an attitude about it. I'm like, "Well, if God can get you to the other side of the country for better insurance, he should have stopped the cancer". That's how I think. I know. Your halos are just glowing right now. Y'all trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Sometimes I lean on my own understanding. I'm like, "This is ridiculous". I didn't say it out loud, but I'm sitting over there thinking it. I'm thinking like, "Well, did God really have to make you lose everything, get you across the country, give you insurance if he's a healer"?
I'm thinking that. I called them yesterday. I was like, "I keep thinking about this insurance thing y'all keep saying. It's bugging me. It doesn't make any logical tactical sense. The Great I Am who can part the Red Sea can't stop you from getting cancer; he just gets you on a better insurance policy". I said, "I don't get it". She said, "It's not your story". I want you to look at the Devil and say, "It's not your story". She said, "If I believed that this was the end for me, I wouldn't survive, but if I believe that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living…" She said, "That's my story and I'm sticking to it".
Let the Devil know, come hell or high water… I get to choose the story I tell. Yeah! I feel empowerment in this word. I get to choose the story I tell. I get to choose. Be careful about selective stories, be careful about self-centered stories, be careful about secondhand stories, and be careful about short stories. This point is not for Holly. She has never in her life… I might have to pay for this when we get home, but it's going to be worth it to get the point across. When my wife was growing up, her dad used to say, because there were three women in the house… Well, three daughters and a wife, so it was him versus the estrogen, and the estrogen was just so powerful. When they would start telling a story, he'd go, "How long is this story going to be? I just need to know. Should I get comfortable in my chair? Should I fluff my pillow? Should I get an MRE? How long are we going to be here in this story"?
I thought that was so rude that he would say that, but now I know what he was saying. It's not I don't want to hear it; I just want to pace myself with my attention span, make sure I take some notes so I can refer back to point 3A. But it's always so eloquent. I don't mind. Anyway, she says something all the time to people that I have never said to anyone. Somebody will be telling a story. This happened last week. She said last week to somebody… They were starting to tell a story. I'm yawning. I look interested, but I have an inner yawn. I'm thinking the more I nod, the faster they'll do this. She goes, "Oh, this is a great story. Please tell me everything, and don't leave out any details". "Shut up"!
When it said Peter told the whole story, I thought about Holly. I thought about the whole story, all of the details. Sometimes you let doubt cut you off in the middle of a sentence God is speaking in your life. So be careful about the short story. Be careful when people try to summarize your life into a neat little category. Be careful when you tell yourself a story like that's all there is. That's not all there is. There's more to the story. There's a hole in your story right now, and I wonder what you're going to fill it with. When Peter went down to preach to Cornelius, he went down to tell him the good news about Jesus Christ. When he recounted it to the circumcised believers in Jerusalem, he left one part out.
Let me show you what he left out of his story. He left out the sermon he preached while he was there. I want to show you just one thing before I sit down and put this mic up and send you home happy. I want to show you why some of you are stuck in a part of your story that was never intended to be the end. When Peter got up to preach to Cornelius, in Acts 10:39 he said something about Jesus that "We are all witnesses…" "I saw it. I know what you heard. I saw it. I was there. I saw him save me. I saw him pay the price for my sins. I saw him shed his blood. I saw him with the lashes on his back. I saw him as a sheep before the shearer, and he didn't say a word. I saw it for myself". "We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him. They hung him on a cross [comma]…"
The word of the Lord for you today, my brother, my sister: don't stop at the comma. The next verse says, "…but God…" I love those two words like I love the breath in my lungs. "But God…" We were trespassers. We had broken his law. We did not deserve mercy. Somebody shout, "But God…" If you stop at the comma, you'll never get to see the but. God was raising him from the dead by the time the story started to spread. Resurrection is possible when you realize he didn't stay on the cross. When they nailed him on the tree, they put a nail in his hands, but early one Sunday, he showed Thomas something. "Put your finger where the nails were". There's a hole in your story. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ! There's a hole in your story. Follow me down to the garden tomb where they laid his body in a cave. His body is not there. He is risen! There's a hole in your story, and the best is yet to come! He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it! If you believe it, give him a shout right now!