Welcome to the last week of our opening series for 2015. This series is built around a simple truth…2015 has the potential to be your best year ever.
And like I’ve been saying for throughout this series, if things aren’t looking so good in your life right now, I understand why you would just roll your eyes at the thought of this being your best year ever. If things are really hard and painful in your life right now, it might seem almost cruel to suggest that somehow this could be your best year ever.
But here’s what we’ve been reminded of every week in this series…if we decide that this year is all about Jesus and NOT about us, that changes everything. If it’s all about Jesus, then my year is based on Someone greater than me, and Someone who is greater than anything that happens to me.
If this year is all about Jesus, then it really can be the best year ever.
Let’s pray and then we’ll jump into the final week of this series.
This series is based on this passage from Luke 4. “[Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21, NIV)
I love this scene. After Jesus reads this Scripture from the prophet Isaiah, He tells everyone, “This is all about Me. I am the fulfillment of this prophecy. This is what I came to do.”
And when we submit to Jesus and let Him do what He came to do in our lives, it ushers in “the year of the Lord’s favor.” In other words, it can make it the best year ever.
And that’s what we’re going to talk about in the final week of this series. Jesus said that He came “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:19, NIV)
I realized something this week that blew my mind. This week I realized that, in 19 years of ministry, I’ve never preached a message that completely centered on the favor of God. I always viewed it as some kind of sidebar message in the Bible. Almost like a footnote or something like that. But this week, as I dug into this, I realized that the favor of God is almost as pervasive in the Bible as the grace of God. It blew my mind.
Somehow I’ve overlooked preaching on the favor of God for 19 years. I don’t know how that happened. That’s almost like having 11 of your 12 footballs under-inflated and then saying, “Hmm…we didn’t notice!”
Today is the day that breaks my 19 year streak, because today we’re talking about the favor of God. I did a lot of research and studying for today. I listened to sermons from other pastors like Steven Furtick that really helped me wrap my mind around this.
Jesus said that He came “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The best year ever is a year that is lived in the middle of God’s favor.
God’s favor is something that we should be constantly seeking. The Bible is filled with examples of people who sought the favor of God.
Here are just a few examples.
In 2 Chronicles 33, Scripture tells us that, “In his distress [Manasseh] sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors.” (2 Chronicles 33:12, NIV)
In 2 Kings 13, “Then Jehoahaz sought the Lord’s favor, and the Lord listened to him…” (2 Kings 13:4a, NIV)
In Exodus 33, “But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God.” (Exodus 32:11a, NIV)
Time and time and time again in Scripture, we see people seeking the favor of God. It’s something that we have to constantly be seeking, wanting, and looking for.
But the problem for a lot of us is that we don’t really know what it is. It’s hard to look for something when you don’t know what you’re looking for.
It’s kind of like when Nicki was busy cooking and she asked me to get the Dutch oven out of the cabinet. I didn’t want her to know that I had no idea what the heck a Dutch oven is, so I just scrounged around in the cabinet for a while. But it’s really hard to find something when you don’t know what you’re looking for. Finally, she gave up on me and got it herself.
It’s a pot! If she had just said, “Get the pot out of the cabinet,” I might have had a fighting chance. But Dutch oven…the oven is the big appliance sitting in the middle of the kitchen. But I still don’t what is Dutch about it.
But anyway, the point is that it’s hard to find something when you don’t know what you’re looking for. All these people in Scripture sought the favor of God, but what is it? What is the favor of God? What does it mean to have God’s favor? What is favor?
I’m not going to pretend like I fully understand it, because nobody does. God is so far above us. He is so much more than our tiny little finite brains can comprehend. And God’s favor encompasses so much more than I could ever fit into a sermon. And it encompasses so much more than I can every fully understand.
I’ve heard far too many sermons that try to reduce God to three points, a poem, and a prayer. And God just won’t be boxed in like that, so I’m not even going to try.
The favor of God is such a huge concept. But while I don’t understand everything about God’s favor, what I do understand gets me fired up. And that’s what I want to share with you today.
So here’s how we’re going to attack this. We’re not going to worry about what we can’t comprehend. We’re going to focus on what God has made clear to us. And according to what is made clear to us in Scripture, we’re going to talk about God’s favor. Specifically, we’re going to talk about what it is, and what it isn’t.
First of all, let’s talk about what it isn’t. It’s not a formula. Favor is not a formula. It’s not do this, this, and this, and you’ll receive favor. God’s favor can’t be reduced to some mathematical equation. It’s not a formula…but that’s usually what we want it to be.
If you Google the words “God’s favor,” the very first result says, “What is the favor of God and how can I get it?” Basically, just tell me what to do and when to do it so I can receive God’s favor.
That’s not the way it works. It’s not a formula. It’s not a checklist where, once all the boxes are checked, God’s favor just flows into your life.
If that’s the way it worked, what kind of relationship would that be? Can you imagine your other relationships working that way? For example, if you’re married, does your marriage work that way? No!
Think about it this way…if you’re a husband, you want something. And we all know what husbands want, right? Come on, now. We all know what husbands want. (Is he talking about what I think he’s talking about? Yes I am! And welcome to Connect!)
So husbands, how do you think this would work for you? The evening rolls around. The kids are in bed. It’s just you and your wife. And you’re looking for her to show you “favor.” So, to get her in the mood, you pull out a check list.
“Now, as you can clearly see, I did the dishes and took out the trash. And I even put my dirty clothes in the hamper. So, I’ve obviously held up my end of the bargain. My boxes are all checked, so I believe it’s time for you to check your box. I believe it’s time for some “favor,” if you know what I mean!”
How’s that going to work for you? It’s not! You just reduced a loving relationship to a business transaction! You turned it into a checklist. That’s not how it works in a marriage.
And that’s not how it works in our relationship with God, either. It’s not a business transaction. It’s not a checklist. It’s not a formula where if I do this, He does that. We might want God to fit into that kind of nice, neat, tidy box, but He doesn’t.
Listen to how Paul described it in Romans 9. “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Romans 9:14-16, NIV)
We can’t manipulate God into giving us His favor. It’s not based on our desire or our effort. Favor is not a formula.
And it’s also not fair. Favor is not fair.
I currently live in a house that is dominated by the concept of fairness. For example, this past week we had spaghetti for dinner. And Brock looked at his plate, and then he looked at Ryan’s plate. And then he looked at his plate and then he looked at Ryan’s plate. And then he asked Nicki, “Does Ryan have more than me?”
Because that just wouldn’t do, would it? I mean, if Ryan had one more spaghetti noodle than Brock, then that just wouldn’t work because that wouldn’t be fair.
And in a lot of ways, we never grow out of that, do we? If someone has more than us, if they have something that we don’t, we just stomp our foot and say, “That’s not fair!”
We do that when we see God’s favor in someone else’s life. They are blessed with something that we wanted. They are experiencing a brand of favor that we are not. And it’s not fair.
We need to understand that this is a kids’ game. It really is. That’s what kids do. With maturity comes this realization…not everything is fair. It’s just not. But a lot of us need to grow up and realize that.
Sure, there is always going to be someone who has a gift that you wish you had. There is always going to be someone who has a blessing that you’ve always wanted. There is always going to be someone who seems to be living in greater favor than you are.
A couple of things about that…first of all, you don’t know all the behind-the-scenes stuff that is going on that person’s life. You may see their blessing, but maybe you aren’t seeing their trial. If you could see their trial, you might not be so quick to ask God for a trade.
And secondly, we really don’t want fairness. We may think we do, but we really don’t. We don’t want to be treated fairly, because if God treated us fairly, we’d all be in deep trouble.
But thank God, He doesn’t. Psalm 103 reminds us, “[The Lord] does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:10-12, NIV)
The Lord does not treat us as our sins deserve. He does not treat us fairly. And aren’t you glad? Aren’t you glad His favor isn’t fair?
One more thing that favor is not. Favor is not a formula. Favor is not fair. And favor is not “favors.”
What we’re talking about is favor with God, not favors from God. It’s not, “Hey God, would do you me a favor?” That’s not what we’re talking about. If that was true, then the Colts wouldn’t have lost 45-7!
God’s favor isn’t about Him doing us favors. And God’s favor doesn’t mean that our life becomes easy. It’s not about what’s convenient.
In fact, a lot of the time the favor of God is quite inconvenient. A lot of times the favor of God moves us out of our comfort zone. A lot of times the favor of God doesn’t make life simpler. It makes things more complicated.
Take Mary, for example. Mary was a young girl who was engaged to a great guy named Joseph. Everything was going great.
And then in Luke 1, an angel shows up. Luke wrote, “The angel went to [Mary] and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28, NIV)
So this is awesome, right? Mary is engaged to the man of her dreams, and then an angel appears to say, “Mary, you are highly favored!” This is the stuff that fairy tales are made of…until you see what the favor of God gave her.
The angel went on to say, “You’re going to get pregnant out of wedlock, and you’ve got to convince everyone that the child is God’s! Congratulations, Mary. You have found favor.”
It didn’t make her life simpler. It didn’t make her life easier. It didn’t make her life more comfortable. It made things incredibly more complicated. It caused her a great deal of pain, because in this culture, pregnancy out of wedlock could cause you to be shunned for the rest of your life. God’s favor in Mary’s life really just messed everything up.
But His favor is not about making things easy or convenient.
God’s favor doesn’t mean that I’m going to drive a Bentley to my job where I make a six figure income, and then I come home to my beautiful huge house, my perfect spouse, and my happy, healthy children.
God’s favor isn’t about making our lives easy. It’s not about our convenience. It’s about so much more than that.
So now that we’ve talked about what favor is not, let’s talk about what it is. And again, it’s impossible to fully grasp it, but here’s the best definition I can give you.
Favor happens when God’s presence unleashes God’s power to achieve God’s purpose. There’s a lot here. That statement is jam-packed, so let me say it again. Favor happens when God’s presence unleashes God’s power to achieve God’s purpose.
First of all, God’s favor can’t happen outside of God’s presence. Maybe that’s why God’s most frequent promise in Scripture is, “I will be with you.” He made that promise more than any other. “I will be with you.”
In fact, think about the very last words that Jesus spoke in the book of Matthew. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b, NIV)
I am with you ALWAYS. Jesus’ presence in our lives is not situational. And it’s not conditional. Jesus promised His presence ALWAYS.
You may not feel like Jesus is with you when your doctor walks in with bad news. You may not feel His presence when you lose your job. You may not feel like He is with you when you keep hitting the same wall in your life, over and over and over again.
But the promise of God’s presence isn’t based on our situation. And it’s not based on our emotion. How I feel about it doesn’t make any difference. God’s presence is a reality in my life, whether I feel it or not. And His presence is key to His favor.
And God’s presence unleashes God’s power.
Favor isn’t something I can manufacture. It’s not something I can create. It is fueled by the presence and the power of God.
The presence of God, which isn’t based on my situation. And the power of God, which is greater than my situation.
In fact, the Apostle Paul reminds us, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Corinthians 4:20, NIV)
What I’m preaching to you today isn’t just all talk. It’s real. It’s active. It’s power. God’s Kingdom isn’t about religious clichés and platitudes. It’s about God’s presence and it’s about God’s power!
I realize that you may feel like you’re staring down the barrel of a really tough year. It seems like every single week, I hear of how another family in our church is struggling, who is hurting. It feels like it’s ramping up more and more.
But that doesn’t mean that you aren’t living in the favor of God. It doesn’t mean that God isn’t present with you. And it doesn’t mean that His power isn’t greater than what you’re facing.
Whatever you are facing, your God is with you and your God is greater. In fact, I want to be sure we’re all picking up what God is laying down today. So let’s say it out loud. Repeat after me. My God is with me! (repeat) My God is greater! (repeat)
Somebody in this place needs to hear that today, because you’re ready to throw in the towel. You’re so tired of hitting the mat over and over again, and you’re just done. You’ve got to hear this…you are not in this alone. Your God is with you. And your God is greater.
And it leads us into His favor. Favor happens when God’s presence unleashes God’s power to achieve God’s purpose.
This is the most difficult part about embracing God’s favor. It means embracing the truth that it’s about God’s purpose, not mine.
This is where our choice lies. This is where we can receive or reject God’s favor. God is with us. And His power is greater than whatever we’re facing. But we can still choose not to submit to His will. We can choose to reject His purpose in favor of our own. Or we can surrender to His will and embrace His purpose in our lives. That’s our choice.
For a lot of people, one of their favorite Bible verses is Romans 8:28. But it seems like a lot of people only read the first part.
Paul wrote, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…”
A lot of people want to stop reading right there, because that’s awesome. In all things God works for the good of those who love Him. Sweet! Don’t get me wrong…it is awesome! But we can’t stop there. We’ve got to keep reading.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NIV)
We have been called according to God’s purpose, not our purpose.
Where have you been kicking against that? Somebody here today knows exactly what God is calling you to do…you just don’t want to do it. It’s too uncomfortable. It’s too risky. It’s too uncertain.
The plain fact is that we can’t live in God’s favor while we’re rejecting His purpose. It’s about His glory, not mine. It’s about people coming to know Him, not me. Because it’s not about me at all.
So let’s get real about that. The hard truth is that God’s purpose may not be to make me rich. God’s purpose may not be to make me healthy. God’s purpose may not be to give me a spouse. God’s purpose may not be to give me children. God’s purpose may not be to give me a great career. God’s purpose may not be to make me famous. God’s purpose may not be for me to always win. God’s purpose may not be to remove the hardships and the trouble from my life.
But here’s the choice that I want to make. When it comes to God’s favor, I choose to trust that what God wants for me is better than what I want for myself. I may not see it at the time. I may not feel it at the time. I may not understand it at the time. But I want His favor, which means choosing to trust that what God wants for me is better than what I want for myself.
Favor happens when God’s presence unleashes God’s power to achieve God’s purpose.
It’s what I want. I want God’s favor on my life. I want God’s favor on my family. And I want God’s favor on our church.
If you’re a partner here at Connect, then I assume you’re praying for our church often. It’s one of the promises all our partners made when they signed their partnership commitment card.
And by the way, if you’ve been checking us out for a while and you know that it’s time to jump on and make this your church, stop by the Connect Center today. Talk to me. Talk to one of our Connect Team who are in the green shirts. We’d love to have you sign on as a partner today. And one of the things that partners do is they pray for our church.
But sometimes it can be hard to know how or what to pray for your church. If you don’t know what to pray, pray this. Just pray for God’s favor to flow in our church.
It doesn’t mean things will be easy. Actually it probably means the exact opposite. It means that there will be more risks to take. There will be more obstacles to overcome. There will be more challenges to face. There will be no guarantees. But a church that is not living in the favor of God might as well pack up and go home.
We want to know God’s presence that unleashes God’s power to accomplish God’s purpose in our church and through our church.
And I want the same thing for your life. I want you to know God’s favor. I want you to live in God’s favor.
And you can, because of Jesus. Jesus said that He came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
And that’s backed up by what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6. “As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2, NIV)
Now is the time of God’s favor. You can live in God’s favor because Jesus died on a cross for your sin. You can live in God’s favor because Jesus rose again, conquering death and giving you a new life. You can live in God’s favor because, in Christ, you are forgiven and free.
I may not understand everything about God’s favor, but I know this for sure. His favor flows into our lives because we have given our lives to Christ.
Apart from Jesus, there is no favor. That’s harsh. That’s not politically correct. But it’s the truth. Apart from Jesus, we will never find God’s favor.
And that’s why the first core value of our church is it’s all about Jesus. We want you to know Him. We want you to be forgiven through His death and resurrection. We want you to live in the freedom that He brings. That’s why we are unapologetically all about Jesus.
And that’s why we have folks in our Green Room every week, ready to talk with you and pray with you. If you’re struggling to see God’s favor in your life, they want to surround you in prayer. If you’ve got questions about all this Jesus stuff, they’re ready to talk with you. If you’re ready to surrender your life to Christ and start living in the favor of God, they’re ready to meet with you. Don’t leave today without stopping in the Green Room today and letting them surround you in prayer today.
One last time…favor happens when God’s presence unleashes God’s power to achieve God’s purpose. That’s what I want for you. Much more importantly, that’s what God wants for you. And He made a way for you when He gave His own Son up for you.
So let’s stand and worship our God who is present. Who has never left us. Who is more powerful than whatever we’re facing. And who has greater purposes for us than we have for ourselves. Let’s worship Him and seek His favor right now.