Luke 1:26-33 (NLT)
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
Last night, our family watched the movie, “Heaven is For Real.” I know get with the program people it’s been out forever. Not big on movies and someone who doesn’t watch television on a regular basis – give me a break on this one. The movie is an incredible account of a boy’s visitation to Heaven where he meets Jesus and finds true faith in God at age four. He begins to share his new revelation with his family and as word spreads it shakes many from comfortable religion forcing them to decide if their faith is real. In the midst of discovering that something has indeed happened in their little boy and the change that was coming, his mother and father have an argument. Not even really sure what it was supposed to be about, but midway through she tells him that she just wants “normal”. I understand that feeling. I have had something change our life forever and there are days in the midst of the mystery and miraculous that I just want things to be normal again. But a normal life is most often ignorant of God. I think it is funny how God aligns our steps to reveal things to our heart. This appointment was divine. There was a reason that we all met in the living room on a dreary December night to watch this movie.
Earlier in the day we attended church as most Christian families would do the Sunday before Christmas. As most other congregations, we talked about Luke 1 when the angel Gabriel visited Mary to tell her the “wonderful” news that she would conceive, carry and give birth to Jesus Christ the Son of the Living God. Woo Hoo! Right? The angel tells this teenage girl that she has found favor with God. That’s like winning the lottery in Judaism right? Well, the fact that she would be impregnated outside of marriage alone was a death sentence in her religious culture. She was a young girl planning to be married to Joseph. This could ruin everything she had planned for her future. Things were about to change for the better, but in the midst of the turn it seemed like her world was falling apart. Mary found favor with God. She was a virgin. She was probably very religious and trying desperately to follow God’s Commandments. But she was still human. How could this be God’s Favor when everything seemed to be falling apart? Why would the Lord ruin her life to give her such an opportunity? What is the point of pain in the prosperity process? Why must my heart ache or even break to experience new life? The Lord speaks to us all in the same voice and with the same promise that was given to Mary. “Don’t be afraid, __________ for you have found favor with God!”
Isaiah 61:1-3 (NLT)
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.
At the end of the movie, Colton’s (the boy who experienced Heaven) addresses the congregation of his church regarding his boy’s experience. He cannot explain it. He did not experience it. But in the profound moment that he realized that it had to be real and there was no other possible explanation, it forced him to decide if Heaven was real to him. He says, “If we believed Heaven was real, we would all live differently.” He is right. Throughout the movie, it is clear that this family had struggles of its own and when their son revealed his experience it created a great deal of negative backlash even in the small church. Why would anyone question such a beautiful revelation? However, many did and it caused problems for this family. How could this be a good thing? It was a God thing. I can only compare this to our family’s experience with our son. He has had cancer five times in three years. He is beyond medicine and science living in the realm of hope. God has delivered him every single time. The doctors and nurses call him a miracle. We have seen the Hand of God and His Favor in every detail of this journey. I know that God is real. I know that His Promises are for me. My faith is secure. My hope is anchored. My life is changed. This did not come without fear, trepidation, pain, sorrow, anxiety and hardship. But in the end, the peace found in discovering the Favor of God for our life was worth it. God is making an exchange in the hearts, minds and lives of those who discover real faith. Genuine and authentic faith that changes how we live even when everything seems to be falling apart. God’s Favor doesn’t fix all our problems. God’s Favor fixes us. We become planted for the Glory of God. I hush all those voices who make God into some do-boy in Heaven running back and forth for insolent and spoiled children. He is not like that. He has an awesome plan for us. It is according to His Will, His Way and His Word. Those who discover that Heaven is real and that God really reigns will hold on in the storm by faith, endure the digging in our heart for good soil and refuse to let go until they are blessed. It worked for other men and women in the Bible who chose righteousness in spite of themselves. I know that it is working for me.
Psalm 86:15-17 (NLT)
But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. Look down and have mercy on me. Give your strength to your servant; save me, the son of your servant. Send me a sign of your favor. Then those who hate me will be put to shame, for you, O Lord, help and comfort me.
Send me a sign of your favor. Is your faith weak today? Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. Is your hope dwindling? Don’t give up. Hope never leads to disappointment. The Lord will send you a sign of His Favor but will you see it? Favor is an attitude of approval or liking. It is an act of kindness beyond what is due or usual. God expressed His Approval for you when you accepted His Son, Jesus, as your Savior and Lord. There is nothing more to do but live in right standing with God. However, you cannot stay in such a position without real and genuine faith.
Do you believe Heaven is real today? I cannot answer that question for you. I know that it is because I have walked to the edge of life and death with our son. What I found in that place was peace that passed all understanding because the closer I got the weaker I became in my humanity. The Lord carried me the rest of the way. His Presence is with me. I know that He is there. I had to let go. Not because I wanted to, I am a fighter by nature. It is my will to survive. But when I was completely broken, He filled me up. I believe that’s how His Favor works. If we all lived an easy life, no one would really persist in seeking God’s Will. We would all live in comfort and complacency. Now as we are in a lull, I am forced to fight hard to hold on to the faith that I found in the fight and keep a strong, conscious hold on my hope. I do not want complacency to take over my life again.
If you are struggling today and think God has forgotten you, ask Him for a sign of His Favor. Every need met in your life symbolizes God’s Provision. Every good thing in our life is a Gift from Him. Just because He doesn’t do it our way, does not mean that the Lord is not perfecting all that concerns us just as He promised. It only means that His Unfailing Love wants better for us than we could even think to ask for. I personally hope that this sign does not involve a massive angel standing at the foot of my bed. We will fight if he tries to tell me that I am pregnant again. But seriously, we are all God’s Favorites. He has poured out special favor on us. Heaven is for real. It is evident in the world in which we live if we choose to open our eyes of faith and hearts to hope. Again the Holy Spirit is whispering to each heart, “Don’t be afraid, _____________ (put your name in the blank) for you have found favor with God!” Now live in it, walk in it and breathe in it until He comes.
Romans 2:10-11 (NLT)
But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.