In just a couple of weeks, we’re having our preview service for a brand new Church – 5twelve City Church in downtown Austin. Better yet, we have a venue – the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center! Thank you so much for praying with us through the struggle of finding a home.
Recently, my family and I took a trip to South Africa to visit our family and friends there. My two brothers, my sister, and I are very close. In fact, they and my mother were part of the Church that Karin and I led in Pretoria, and we had dinner together at least once a week! Being away from them has been very hard. When we were there this summer, during a lull in the noisy dinner full of nieces and nephews, my sister asked, “How’s the wannabe church in Austin?” It sounds kind-of sad, but it’s true! Right now, it’s just a “wannabe church!” Later in the trip, I was invited to speak at our old church in Pretoria. When I was there, I was watching as the service began. People came; there were volunteers doing things; the Children’s Ministry was up and running… and I thought, “What did I DO?” I began remembering what it was like for everything to be running so smoothly, and the wannabe church in Austin started tugging at my heart.
What made me leave all that to live halfway around the world, for a wannabe church in a foreign city? I began thinking, “Why?” And then I realized – it’s because we believe that life is about more than our comfort, or our success, or our earnings. We believe in a life that is defined, not by our achievements, but by our obedience to God. These thoughts led me to Hebrews 11. This chapter explains not only what faith is, but also that faith is the key to favor. This entire chapter is a story of how little by little, people are living in the favor of God.
1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
If you read these verses, you see that faith is a substance – an evidence of things unseen. It is the sensory capacity of your spirit to see what you can’t see physically. It’s an ability to interact with the invisible. By faith, we take action on something we see in our hearts, by our spirit. The author proves his point by saying that everything we see with our senses was actually made by the unseen Word of God. So the invisible is actually far more “real” than what is seen. Faith is responding to God, yet we shape our lives so wrapped up in what we see that we lose sight of the unseen.
Faith is Responding to God
For a very long time, I thought faith was what you used if you really wanted something. If you want something, you pray for it. If you really want something, you faith for it. It’s the intense form of want. Yet now I realize faith isn’t me asking God for something – it’s me responding to God. It’s me seeing what God reveals and saying, “Yes, Lord!” It’s living in response to what God reveals.
A couple of years ago, we were living in this abundance of favor in our Church, with Church planting and favor within our city. And then God spoke to us about a season of us accomplishing His purpose in the US. He spoke to Karin, and I rebuked her. Then he spoke to me, and she rebuked me. And then he spoke to both of us and we rebuked the Devil. Finally, we realized it really was God’s voice we were hearing. So we began asking, “What do you have for us, Lord? Where do you want us?” The more we wanted to stay in Pretoria, the more he called us away.
We’d never been to Austin, but I was invited here to preach. The Wednesday before I was to leave to come here to speak that very first time, I woke up and realized that Austin was where God wanted us to go. I told Karin, and she said, “Well, I’ve known that for some time…” So we looked it up on the map! “God, if this where you want us, we’ll go!” After a weekend here, I knew this was the place where God wanted us. After we made that decision, I was invited to do great things at great Churches all around the world. The floodgates of opportunity opened. But every time we prayed, we came back to, “What did God say?” We were convicted.
Did we have a ready-made opportunity in Austin? No! Did we know anybody in Austin? Maybe two people. Karin hadn’t even been to Austin. Yet we knew in our hearts that we couldn’t go anywhere else in the world because God had called us here! We saw something. And when we saw it, we had to respond. Because success in life isn’t where you go or what you achieve; it’s whether or not you’re obedient to God. That’s all we had to go on. Praise God for the opportunity that has opened up and the privilege that we have to be here. But it started with something that was invisible. What call has God made on your life that you need to respond to?
Respond in Faith, Live in Favor
The writer of Hebrews goes verse 11:6 to say, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Faith is the capacity to believe in and see God. And once we see Him, we embrace Him. And when we embrace Him, we experience Him and receive the reward of Christianity. And that reward isn’t salvation; it isn’t going to Heaven; it’s a relationship with God – that’s what we were made for. Yes, that implies salvation and Heaven, but it’s so much more. It’s that we get to know Him for who He is.
One miracle repeated often in the Gospels is Jesus healing the blind. I’m praying for you who haven’t seen God as real and someone you can embrace. You haven’t come to believe that what Jesus did on the cross wasn’t only for all mankind, but it was also for you. I pray that if you’re in that space, Jesus will come heal that part of your spirit. The Bible says that God has given each of us a measure of faith. I pray that the Holy Spirit will come activate that measure of faith in you.
But I also pray for those of you who have given up on dreaming about God’s plans and purposes – you’re just wandering through life. May you begin dreaming again, and may you see God’s plan for your life.
The book of Hebrews goes on to explain how when we respond in faith, we live in favor.
- By faith, Abel…
- By faith, Enoch loved God, and he escaped death
- By faith, Noah heeded a warning, and he saved mankind
- By faith, Abraham left his home, and he fathered a nation
- By faith, Rahab took in some strangers, and she changed the destiny of her family
- By faith, David took on a giant, and he inspired a nation
There are many more of these stories, but you can see the pattern. When they responded in faith, they lived in favor. If you read these stories, you realize that responding in faith did cause some hardship in these people’s lives. But somehow, we’ve diminished “favor” to getting what you want. Don’t confuse favor with favors. God does us some favors from time to time. Provision and prosperity don’t equate with God’s favor. God led some people through deserts! The favor of God transcends favors.
The second thing we confuse with favor is favorites. I married up, y’all. Sometimes I look at Karin and her life and faith and think, “She’s obviously God’s favorite.” I know if I mess up, I’ll be in big trouble; I can’t mess with God’s favorite. But the more I get to know God, the more I realize that God does show great favoritism. God has favorites. But… because God is love, and God is infinite, God is infinite in love. What does that mean? It means if one person is God’s favorite, it doesn’t mean another person can’t be His favorite too. Is Karin God’s favorite? Absolutely she is. Am I God’s favorite? Absolutely I am. And So Are You.
He has shown His favoritism by giving the life of his first favorite – Jesus Christ – so that he could be the firstborn of many brethren. We are all God’s favorites. You are God’s favorite. He dreams about you and wants you to see the dream he has had for your life across the ages. He desires that you live in the plan and the purpose he has for your life. He doesn’t want you to just drift through and survive this life. You have been called… and made… and prepared. God has you in mind.
What is Favor?
Favor is when God’s favorites walk in His plan for them. Even Jesus asked for favors; he begged for release from the cross. Did He get what he asked for? No! But God’s favor was with Jesus throughout. Jesus’ obedience allowed for all God’s favorites to receive His favor – so that we would all know that we’re called to by God.
Luke 2:52 says, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” This scripture reveals a couple of things about favor. The first is that when someone is walking in the favor of God, it’s visible to others. When you see someone walking through hardship in the favor of God, you can tell there’s something different about them – an unspeakable peace and confidence. As pastors, we sometimes have the privilege of being with somebody during their last moments of life. I’ve wished I could take an atheist with me to see some of those last moments; there’s something tangibly different when a Christian is at the end of life. The anxiety is gone. When you know God, you know that you know, and it’s so real.
The second thing that we learn is that favor is practical. Jesus knew what to do and how to respond. Favor is the supernatural working of God in your life. In Greek, the word “favor” in the book of Luke is literally “the spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace.” For Jesus, the cross; for Israel, the promised land. The rest of God is the favor of God in the midst of circumstances. It’s His perspective on your situation; it’s His power running through you; it’s His peace in your chaos; it’s His hope in your hopelessness; it’s God’s ability that is made manifest in your life. The city of Austin is a place of favor for us, and it’s given us the faith for what God has planned to do downtown.
Is God speaking to you of a step you need to take in faith? What is it? Will you respond? I know you’ve looked around and seen some people, and life’s just working for them, and you’re in chaos. You see some people living the truths of the Bible, and it just works for them. Or maybe it’s working for you, and you look around and wonder why it isn’t working for others. Hebrews 4:2 sheds some light:
2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.
When you don’t mix the Word with faith, it doesn’t profit you. It doesn’t matter how much good He has planned for you; if you don’t respond in faith, you don’t get to live in favor. Saying, “Yes, Lord” begins a process of working out God’s favor in your life. Faith is the key to favor. Mary, the mother of Jesus, had an opportunity to see this in action. An angel appeared to her and said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). You and I know what this favor means… it’s not an easy road ahead, yet it’s the favor of God. Her response is breathtaking, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). In that moment of faith, Mary opens up the favor of God over her life.
A couple of weeks later, Mary meets her cousin Elizabeth, and here is what happens. (Luke 1:41b-49, MSG)
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly, “You’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed! And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me? The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears, The babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy. Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!”
And Mary said, “I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened—I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.”
May this be our story – “They lived by faith. By faith, some of them went overseas to plant a church. By faith, he left the safety of his job to pursue a career about which God had spoken to him. By faith, she crossed the street. By faith, Linda invited her friend for coffee. By faith, Joe volunteered in children’s ministry. By faith, John had a spiritual conversation with someone at work.” May it be said of us that we lived life not by what we could see on our own, but by what we saw with God when He opened our eyes. Would you step into what he sees for you?
Photo credit: Alan Smith