Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dare to be a Mordecai

[This entry follows a sermon titled "Fasting in Critical Situations".  Click on the title to find the audio.]

Do you know the children's song "Dare to be a Daniel"?  It's a call for Christians to courageously take a stand for the Lord in any environment...especially hostile ones.  Well, after Sunday's sermon, I decided to challenge us all to "Dare to be a Mordecai."  It doesn't seem to have the same lyrical power as the children's song, but we'll go with it.

As we continued our 6-week journey through various Portraits of Fasting this past Sunday, we came to a critical moment in the book of Esther.  To give you the basics...a man named Haman convinces the king of Persia to make a decree calling for the annihilation of the Jewish people in his kingdom.  Esther, a Jewish orphan whom God raised up to be queen of Persia, is the only one in a position to help in the situation.  Her cousin...and the man who raised her after her parents died...is Mordecai.  Upon hearing news of the decree, Mordecai is devastated and goes into mourning (4:1-4).

Queen Esther sent Mordecai some clothes so he could take off the traditional mourning garb (i.e.- sackcloth), but he refuses...then, Mordecai seizes the opportunity to speak into Esther's life.  It hits him that Esther is in a position of influence...she has the king's heart...she can do something to stop this holocaustic slaughter of the Jews (to coin a phrase).  In fact, it's not just that she can...she must!

Mordecai's call to go speak with the king on behalf of the Jews is met with immediate resistance, and Esther reminds Mordecai that impromptu visitors are killed unless the king intervenes.  Then, Mordecai sends this message, "Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish.  And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (4:13-14).

It is here that I want to plant myself for just a few moments.  On Sunday, we saw that in the portrait of fasting that follows, we learned three things.  (1) In critical situations, we need God's intervening power.  (2) In critical situations, we need God's people praying.  (3) In critical situations, we need humble courage.  What I want to offer today is another insight about critical situations...but it comes just before the fast begins.  It's actually what promotes the fast.

Here it is...in critical situations, we need a Mordecai.  We either need one speaking to us, or we need to "be a Mordecai" for one walking through a critical time.  It is good and right to hold up Queen Esther as an example of humble courage.  She is humble enough to share the burden of the moment with others, and that humility fuels her courage to step into the king's presence.  However, it is the strong words of Mordecai that stirs the queen's heart.

When Esther comes back at Mordecai with the Persian law and the possibility of death, Mordecai does not say, "Well, I'll pray for you.  You just keep praying about it, and we'll see what happens."  No, he confronts her with the reality that a sovereign God has put her into this position...her beauty may have been the ticket into the palace, but she has not entered a spectator sport.  Her life is on the line whether she goes to the king or not.

It seems that spiritual warfare is often increased during critical situations, and our thinking can become fuzzy if we're not careful.  It is then that we need a Mordecai to step in and remind us how critical our God-honoring response is.  It is then that we may need to be a Mordecai in the life of a fellow believer struggling through his/her situation.

Of course, this doesn't take the place of prayer in any situation...Mordecai joins the fasting and recruits others to do so.  He is not factoring God out of the equation...in fact, he's certain that deliverance will come one way or another (4:14a).  However, it seems that God has provided His way of deliverance in Queen Esther.

This must be the case if we are a Mordecai to others.  There is a type of counsel these days which more resembles the drill instructor/new recruit relationship than anything else.  "Just get over it and do the right thing!  It's your problem...deal with it!"  This kind of counsel is influenced more by Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura than it is by the Scripture.  This counsel takes an abnormal pleasure in exposing the faults and faulty thinking of others.  It is arrogant, and it is out of place when it appears in the people of God.  Let me explain.

Are there times when hard counsel has to be given?  Yes.  If you're sitting in front of a friend who's convinced she needs to divorce her husband because they've just grown apart, some hard realities will need to be exposed and hard decisions will need to be made and a hard path may need to be walked.  But you can't just say "Get over it...stay with your husband!" and walk away.  Not only does that dismiss the pain your friend is facing, but it also dismisses God's design for you as a friend and sister in Christ.  You see, hard counsel should never be given in a vacuum...just spouting out orders and walking away. 

Look at Mordecai.  He tells Esther that if she doesn't act, she's going to die...never an easy thing to tell someone, especially the one you've adopted and raised as your own.  He doesn't stay silent, but he doesn't just blurt out what he's thinking and walk away...as if he's now done his part.  No, Mordecai gives her this difficult counsel, and then he links arms with her in praying and fasting to see it through.  He recruits others to spiritually gather around Esther and pray her through this.

So, what do we need?  We need Mordecais...Mordecais who will speak truth into our lives, even when it is difficult and confronts our comfort.  Yet, we also need Mordecais who don't just commit strong words to our situation...they commit themselves to our situation.  We need them, and we need to be them for others.  No matter our temperament...no matter our personality...God has put people in our lives who need this from us, and we need it from others.

How does all this take place?  Well, if you wait until you're in a critical situation to try and find a Mordecai, you will likely come up short.  This is why I repeatedly made this statement on Sunday: "God's design for His people is that they be a people...not just scattered persons with the same doctrine."  It is only as we are together...in the church...loving one another through every situation in life...that we will find and/or be a Mordecai.  It is in the context of genuine, committed relationships with other believers that we can find this kind of relationship.

So, dare to be a Mordecai...because you will need someone to dare to be a Mordecai in your life.  And take some time to read 1 Corinthians 12:12-26.  Be reminded of just how important it is to be a people, so that "if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1 Cor. 12:26).  Lord, make it so for us!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Don't Turn Your Back!

[This entry follows a sermon titled "Fasting for Deliverance."  Click on the title to find the audio.]

Two days ago, our congregation began 40 days of prayer and fasting, and I started a 6-week sermon series called Portraits of Fasting.  Each week, we will look at events in Scripture where fasting takes place, examine the role of fasting, and think about its relevance for our own lives. 

We began by looking at King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20.  As the Ammonites, Moabites, and Meunites approached to attack, the king called for national fasting and prayer.  He called for the nation to let go of any source of strength that lies in this world...even the God-given source of food...and, instead, look to God Himself as their source of strength and deliverance.

We do not have armies of Ammonites beating down our door, but as the people of God, we do have enemies.  We don't wrestle against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12), but we wrestle all the same.  Of course, the devil is our enemy.  1 Peter 5:8 says he's like a prowling lion, seeking whom he may devour.  The second enemy I mentioned Sunday is the power of sin...what Kris Lundgaard calls "the enemy within" in his book bearing these words as its title.

In the strain of spiritual warfare...in the fight against the indwelling power of sin...we can become overwhelmed.  We can get scared, as Jehoshaphat did, feeling that our defeat is imminent.  It is in these times that we must do three things.  First, we must remind ourselves of the gospel...that Jesus Christ has won our victory over sin and the devil in His death.  In the end, the battle of this life will come to a close, and perseverance in trusting the Lord Jesus Christ will end in an eternal celebration of victory!

Second, we should remember that fighting this battle in our own strength is like entering nuclear war with a bow and arrow.  Paul tells us that our strength is in the Lord, and this is where fasting can enter our battle strategy.  It is in fasting that we let go of any source of strength we have and look to God to intervene.  After all, putting to death the deeds of the body must be done in the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:13).  Truly the battle is the Lord's!

The third thing to remember is that when there is a moment of reprieve in the battle, we cannot let our guard down...we cannot think that full and final victory has been achieved, for this kind of final peace is reserved for eternity.  The language of Ephesians 6 speaks of constant readiness...constant battle.  The power of sin is that it will back off long enough for us to be lulled into a sense of complacency, and then it will strike again.

Just last night, I watched The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian with Susan and our older boys.  About two thirds of the way through, battle between the Narnians and the Telmarines is set to take place.  In order to buy time, Peter (High King of Narnia) challenges Miraz (King of the Telmarines) to an individual fight to the death.  The one who wins would gain the surrender of the opposing army.

If you have seen Miraz, he is quite the evil character.  He kills his brother, the king, and plots to kill his nephew (Prince Caspian) in order to gain control of the throne.  As he is preparing for this fight with Peter, he tells one of his men to be prepared to step in and kill Peter with a crossbow if the fight isn't going his way.

The fight begins, and during the first round of swords and shields clashing, Peter slices Miraz's leg.  Almost immediately, Miraz calls for a respite.  They rest for three minutes, and then they're back at it.  Shields to the face and brushes with death fill the fight.  After losing his sword, Peter makes the strategic move of punching Miraz in the leg wound he inflicted earlier.  Miraz screams in pain and begs for another respite.  Though Peter is urged by his brother not to let up, Peter will allow another rest.  Then, Peter makes a mistake...he turns his back.  As he is walking away, Miraz grabs his sword and goes right on attacking!

Of course, in the book, Peter wins the fight.  But in real life, it is this kind of turning our back on the enemy...this kind of thinking that the fight is over for a while...that can lead to a tragic defeat, a giving in to sin that could have been avoided if we had stayed on guard.  Let me finish with some words from Kris Lundgaard's book, The Enemy Within.

"How would you like to fight an enemy who, just when you had him on the ropes, could duck into a cave or tunnel where you couldn't follow?  An enemy who could hide just out of reach, letting you rest long enough to think he was gone for good, then drop from nowhere onto your back?  This is the advantage of indwelling sin - it lurks in an unsearchable and deceitful fortress, where you can't find him. 
"Have you ever battled some lust - prayed and fasted and sought counsel against it - then watched it slink away into the night?  You thought you had it licked.  You thought you could move on with your spiritual life.  But one day you were watching television, and a commercial...bubbled up a whole nest of wicked desires.  Sin can be like trick birthday candles: you blow them out and smile, thinking you have your wish; then your jaw drops as they burst into flames.
"Never think for a minute that the war against sin is over in this life.  There isn't even a cease-fire." (p. 39)
In the battle against sin, we fast, we pray, and we fight...but we should never turn our backs!