Mark Batterson - The Courage of Calling
On a Sunday morning in 1851, during a church service a little bit like this, a 40-year-old mother of seven, Harriet Beecher Stowe, had a vision of a slave being beaten to death. That vision left her so shaken, that she would hardly keep from weeping, days on end. She went home and started writing a book that we know as "Uncle Tom's Cabin". That book was released 170 years ago today. The initial print run. 5,000 copies sold out in less than two days, which is saying something, because only 3% of books sell 5,000 copies. The book was banned in the South, but it sold 300,000 copies its first year. It pricked the conscience of a nation, would sell millions of copies. It could be argued that no book, save the Bible, has changed the course of history more definitively than "Uncle Tom's Cabin".
Harriet Beecher Stowe would devote much of her time, talent, and treasure to the abolition of slavery. When Harriet met President Lincoln a decade after writing that book, he is purported to have said, "So you're the little woman who started this great war". On November 5, 1872, Susan B. Anthony cast a ballot in Rochester, New York, for the presidential election. She was arrested, convicted of voting illegally, and Susan B. Anthony, of course, would devote the next 50 years of her life to a cause that was once considered a crime, a woman's right to vote. She didn't live to see the 19th Amendment pass, but her courage was the key catalyst in that cause.
By the way, she celebrated her 86th birthday here in DC, and these are her final public words, "With women consecrating, with such women consecrating their lives, failure is impossible". You go ladies, come on. On December 1st, 1955, a seamstress name Rosa Parks boarded a Cleveland Avenue bus. When asked to give up her seat in the colored section, Rosa Parks refused. She took a stand by remaining seated. "People always say I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true," said Rosa. "The only tired I was was tired of giving in". At some point, enough is enough. Slavery has to be abolished, sexism has to stop, discrimination has to end. At some point, you have to exercise your courage by standing against that which is wrong, by standing for that which is right.
You have to write the book like Harriet Beecher. So you have to cast the vote like Susan B. Anthony. You have to take a stand like Rosa Parks. That's what courage is, that's what courage does. Welcome to National Community Church. I wanna say, again, to our extended family online, we're just thrilled that you're a part of this family all around the world. Shout out to our campuses, NoVa, of course, Cap Hill, and Lincoln Theater. And I just wanna say that this is a unique day, because Pastor Dave Schmidgall has not only been the campus pastor at our Lincoln Theatre since its inception, predates that to the Gala Theatre. Some of you have a lot of history with NCC, has served so well.
Today, Pastor Dave hands that baton to Pastor Jimeka, and we are so excited about the anointing that's on her life. There's is a calling that God has given her to step in to that place, and we just wanna celebrate that across the board. And so ready or not, here we go. We've talked about the courage of conviction embodied by Queen Vashti. We've talked about the courage of inconvenience epitomized by a man named Mordecai. And this weekend, we talk about Esther and the courage of calling. Now before we jump in, there's a lot of sub-plots in this book that are easily overlooked, and one of them is the fact that Esther was an orphan. We don't know the circumstances in which she lost her mother and father, but we do know that someone stepped up and stepped in, a man named Mordecai.
Now, I just wanna say that, I think few things are as courageous, and we've got a lot of foster parents, adoptive parents at NCC. I think about Dan and Melissa Cummins and many others. I just wanna say that that's the courage of calling, and we honor you, can we honor that? And so I think sometimes we read a book like this and it's almost like, no, this is a real book about real people, and Esther's in a very real situation, but Mordecai steps in. And so I wanna say, if that might be a calling that God is stirring in your spirit, DC127.org might be a great place to just kinda check it out. I don't think anything's more noble. We tend to think about, "Oh, let's impact the masses," right? "Let's do something big that everybody notices".
I'm telling you, the greatest courage in the world are the moms and dads who make sacrifices day in and day out, those who step in, foster, adopt. And so praise God, all right. Ready or not, let's jump in. "Courage is not just one of the virtues," said C.S. Lewis, "but the form of every virtue at its testing point". I think courage is where conviction meets compassion. And few people are more courageous than Esther. We need an Esther anointing right about now. We need to stand in the gap. Esther sacrificed her safety for others. We'll see that in a moment. I think part of courage is risking your reputation, what other people will think, or say, or do.
But listen, at the end of the day, courage is doing what's right regardless of circumstances, consequences or cost. I mean, they're comes this moment, if I perish, I perish. I'm just gonna go all in, let's go, it's go time. This is a moment to action, and I just believe that there is a moment for all of us, and we're in one of those seasons. It just takes a little bit more courage to follow Christ, and live by biblical convictions, does it not? And so we're praying for that revival of courage in each one of us. Now, critical junctures in our lives. Situations present themselves that call for courage. And in those moments, what I've learned is, either you're going to let fear or faith dictate your decision. Either you're gonna be afraid of offending people or you're gonna be afraid of offending God. And those are two very different. Either you're gonna play it safe or you're gonna take a risk. And these are the days when decades happen.
And so I'm not gonna deep dive this, but hermeneutics, the science of interpreting scripture, we talk a lot about context, and it's so critical. I love the genre in the Bible that is historical. When you read biography, and this is true of reading memoirs, it's both a window and a mirror. It's a window into real people, in real time, with real problems, and so we get to learn from Esther, but it's also a mirror, isn't it? That reflects on us, okay. What does this say to me about how I'm exercising courage in my own life? And so we're gonna look through the window, we're gonna look through the mirror, and I believe God's gonna give us the courage to live according to biblical convictions. No reserves, no retreats, no regrets in Jesus' name, amen.
So do you have a Bible? You can meet me in Susa, the ancient Persian empire, Book of Esther, we'll get there in a moment. I had this little elbow, that I was thinking about courage this week. And I was thinking about some of the moments when maybe I've gotten it right and exercised courage and maybe some of the moments where I didn't. I just wanna level the playing field. We celebrated our 16th anniversary at Ebenezers our coffee house in Capitol Hill. And it's such an amazing story, it's coffee with a cause. And Holy Spirit plus caffeine equals awesome. But something happened this week. It triggered a memory, the anniversary, and I went back to 18 years ago. We were getting some opposition from our community in part because it was a church starting the coffee house. And there's a certain level of cynicism or skepticism sometimes. Every business is owned by someone, come on. We're just gonna operate it based on principles that are biblical and so, but we were getting some pushback.
And I remember this community meeting, 'cause we needed some approval. You can't get much done in DC without a little bit of approval. And so there was this meeting, that I'll be honest, I walked into it timid and someone asked the question, what does Ebenezers mean? Well, we know what it means, don't we? It means 1 Samuel 7:12, "Hitherto the Lord has helped us". There were so many miracles in that journey that we thought we're just gonna call it what it is, so far, so God. In fact, I grabbed a latte this morning 'cause I needed it. And there's a little, if you ever get one of our coffee sleeves, it says SFSG. Looks like Stu code, but it stands for so far, so God. But can I tell you where it comes from? In that community meeting. It breaks me down for some reason.
Someone asked what it means and I chickened out and I said, it means so far, so good. And I took God out of the equation because I was afraid of frontloading. And I'll never forget, after the meeting, my wife's voice is as close to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit as you can get. And any married couples, aren't you grateful that we can love each other in that way? And there was just this moment of conviction where I chickened out and I made a vow, never again. I'm not ashamed of the gospel. And so sometimes I'll even go out of my way in a setting where, and I'm very, very careful, okay? It... Wow, I'm so off script. It takes courage to preach on a street corner, but I wanna see that through two angles. It takes courage. Sometimes I wonder, and there's sometimes a divine appointment and it has a positive impact, but sometimes, there's also a negative impact and almost like an allergic reaction, and so I'm not... Do you get what I'm saying?
I'm taking a risk here. I'm not saying that you belligerently get in people's face. I'm just that you authentically, organically, the only way we got here is God. So far, so God. And so if there are moments in your life like mine, where you lacked the courage and you felt the conviction, it's like, "Ah, I missed it, I missed the opportunity," leverage that regret into more courage the next time, amen? Susa was the capital city of the ancient Persian empire, you'll see it on the screen, almost due east from Babylon. And I mean, this is like... Okay, so what I'm getting at is the king basically ruled the whole world, almost, like the most powerful person on the planet. Susa kinda right there.
And this is a real place, okay? This is where Nehemiah was a cup bearer to the king. This was the setting where Esther is queen and lives in the palace and entered into a beauty pageant of sorts. Susa was the epicenter of the ancient world. When someone coughed in Susa, the whole world got a cold, or COVID? Too soon? After the Babylonian captivity, many Jews returned to their homeland, to Jerusalem, but many of them stayed where they were. Esther is one such person. Now the Midrash commentary on the Old Testament describes this period of history as darker than night. Very dark time in human history. But also describe Esther in this beautiful word picture, as the morning sun rising on a nation, rising on a generation. I say, do it again, God. Let your people rise and shine your courage in Jesus' name.
One theological footnote. Book of Esther is unique because it's the only book in the Bible that doesn't mention the name of God, not even once, and yet no book celebrates the sovereignty of God on par with so many supernatural synchronicities. God's in the business of position us in the right place, at the right time, with the right people. Here's the catch. Often the right place seems like the wrong place. We all want a miracle. No one wants to be in a situation that necessitates one. But you can't have one without the other. All of us like courage, courage, courage. No one wants to be in a situation that requires courage. No one in Ukraine wants to be where they are right now. But those are the moments where courage is not the absence of fear, it's facing those fears and refusing to back down.
So we love this little phrase in Esther 4:14, right? We put it on pieces of art, "For such a time as this," and it's so poetic and it's so idyllic, but this is when all hell breaks out. This is when an entire Jewish race is threatened with genocide. This is a low point in human history, but we are here for such a time as this, such a place as this. This is when and where and how the people of God step up and step in. And so, long story short, man named Haman, I think, on par with Putin. Huge ego, could care less about, I mean... Gonna kill an entire race of people because one person won't bow down. And so that's where we pick up the story. A little bit of backstory, we're gonna get to Esther.
Esther 3:2, it says, "Mordecai bowed not". Why? For the same reason that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn't bow. Worship the Lord your God only. I'm not gonna bow down. I don't care how big your ego is. I'm not gonna bow down down to it. I worship God and God alone. You're not the boss of me. That's what my kids used to say. If you let fear dictate your decisions, you'll bow down to popular opinion, to political correctness, to trending hashtags, and whoever has the loudest voice or the biggest ego. That's just not how we roll with the people of God. We don't bow down to the things of this world, but here's the catch. If you don't know what you stand for, you'll bow down to this, that, and the other thing.
Let me flip the script. How big and how fragile does your ego have to be to issue a government mandate that everybody must bow down when you walk by. You are compensating for something, and that something is insecurity, it always is. Haman gets all bent outta shape because one man, Mordecai, won't bow down. And we think he's crazy, but I wonder how many of us want people to bow down to our every whim and wish. We all have control issues, do we not? Like, my way or the highway. And it's really hard to sanctify that ego, right? It's one of the last things to get sanctified. So here's the crazy thing about the story. And I would say this first. Getting people to bow down to you is exhausting. Just stop. It's just so exhausting. And if they do, at the end of the world, your world gets smaller and smaller and smaller until the only thing that fits in your tiny, little universe is your ego. It's just no way to live. But here's the crazy thing.
So it was Haman's injured ego that makes him so mad that he gallows to kill the person who will not bow and ends up impaled by his own ego. That's the story in a nutshell. Your ego's gonna get you impaled. Lord sanctify our egos. Instead of all of these defense mechanisms, sanctify it. Lord gave me a word, I think it's a word of knowledge, 'cause it came outta nowhere. Here is... Someone needs to hear this. Haman is the problem here, right? And that's why the whole story goes south. But I would say to Haman, "Come on bro, you have all the power, all the wealth, and one person not bowing down is gonna let you get all bent outta shape"?
And so I'm gonna kind of twist the narrative here and just say, don't let one person ruin your life. That's the word? Don't let one person. You're letting them live in your head. Don't let one person, don't let one thing, don't let one mistake ruin your life. Catch us online in the house at our campus. Am I in the right room? Show me some hands. Who else has at some point in your life, let one mistake, one person, one situation, and it's the negativity bias. And like our whole life is terrible because one person won't dow down to us. Come on, can we get past that? Can we get over that? 'Cause if we don't, we're gonna find ourselves as the bad guy in the Book of Esther. Okay, how are we doing? All right. Whew. And by the way, you don't have to major in political science to know that ego is a huge piece of Putin's puzzle.
So Lord, we pray, break it in Jesus' name. God, help those who are innocent and who are being bombed, whose lives are being destroyed, the refugees who are fleeing for safety, oh God. Oh God. Oh God. When we don't know what to pray, we say mercy. Help, help, Lord. In Jesus' name.
Let me fast forward. Haman rolls dice, they're called pur, and we'll come back to that. Orders the genocide of the Jews, and that's where we pick up the story. "When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he to his clothes," I mean, wouldn't you? In part, listen to me, in part because it's his integrity and not bowing down that brings about this mandate. Don't tell me he's not dealing with a few, like, did I do the right thing? Should I have compromised for everybody else? There's a lot of layers here. And I think a lot of us are tempted to compromise for other people. Oh, so that's what you're doing? It says he put on sackcloth and ashes and went out into the city wailing loudly and bitterly, only went as far as the king's gate. I'll come back to that. Because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter.
And I'm just gonna stop there for the sake of time. You can read this whole chapter, but putting on sackcloth and ashes was a form of ancient grieving. And it's another one of these sub-plots that I feel like I can't afford just to read right over it, because these are the circumstances that bring about the situation. So, putting on sackcloth and ashes is almost like admitting and identifying and processing the pain. And if you don't process the pain, you will project the pain, 'cause hurt people hurt people and forgiven people forgive people. You have to name the loss 'cause if you don't, it will own you. I'm gonna say a couple of things about grieving, 'cause it takes courage to grieve, 'cause that's not what our culture's into. It takes courage to get counseling. It takes courage to go to AA or Celebrate Recovery. Those are the courageous people. Yes?
And so stick with me for a minute here, okay? Couple of things, one, it's okay to not be okay. Life is lived in seasons. There are seasons of suffering. There are seasons where you get a cancer diagnosis more than once, like Laura and I have. And it just sucker punches you. And it's okay in seasons like that to not be okay. We put emotions into categories of positive and negative. And this is a guy on the StrengthsFinder, that positivity is one of my strengths. So I've had to work really hard to learn the language of lament. I have to work really hard to identify because I repress feelings of sadness. But counseling has helped me. That's where it's coming from. You know what? It was in a conversation with another pastor over dinner, like three months ago, that we both came to this moment of realization. I think we're grieving, 'cause over the last couple of years there's been loss, yes? Can I just apologize for something?
I said cold and then I said, COVID. Those are two different things. I apologize. Almost everybody in this room has been touched by someone. They've lost the life, it's impacted our way of life. So I just, there was a check in my spirit when I said that. So I apologize for that. Negative emotions, quote, unquote, are healthy and holy. God gave them to us, but we have to learn how to process it. And so part of the genius of Judaism is that there were guidelines and timelines for grieving. Okay, because so if you lament, lament is... There's an entire book in the Bible called Lamentation.
So if we're not doing it, we're missing a whole book in the Bible. Now, careful. Repenting and lamenting are two different things. Repenting is a sin that you've committed. Lamenting is something that someone else has done, but you mourn with those who mourn. And if we get those two things confused, then there's false shame and false guilt, but we've gotta learn to lament. But at some point, if you don't come out of the lamenting, it turns into languishing, which is the opposite of flourishing. So somehow, some way we've gotta work through it. Now, notice what Esther does. She sends Mordecai clothes. See, this is what we do, this is what we do. No, no, no. Don't sackcloth and ashes, stop grieving. Right? We... And what happens is, that's when helping hurts. This is Peter saying to Jesus, no, no, no, you're not going to the cross. These are the harshest words of Jesus in the gospels. "Get behind me, Satan". You have to let me suffer. You have to let me go to the cross.
This is my expression of courage, this is my calling, to pay for sin for all time. But we want to short circuit it. We wanna help the caterpillar out of the chrysalis, and by doing so, that person will never fly. Grieving is as unique as you are, as unique as your fingerprint. So don't short circuit it. You have to somehow, some way embrace it, but if you do it by yourself, you're in trouble. At least Esther has Mordecai and Mordecai has Esther. Can I just... I just think people need encouragement. Encouragement. Courage is really hard to come by if you're discouraged.
Can I just say, Laura and I have so much love and respect for single parents? I think it's heroic to me, because it probably isn't the situation that you signed up for, somehow, some way, but you don't always have the relief picture. Because what I've learned in marriage is sometimes, like on an off day, you need your wife to be on. Right? On a bad day, you need them to be at their best, and you have a relief picture. But I think with single parenting, extended family, good friends can really, really help, a church family can rally, rally, but I'm just saying, single parents, we love you. We bless you. It takes a lot of courage to carry a little bit more weight than, yeah, yeah, yeah, go ahead.
The last thing I'm gonna say is that life has lived in season. So you need to know what season you're in. Is it a season of grieving? Is it a season of courage? Or you gotta dig deep. Okay. There comes a moment sometimes in a message, where you realize, whew! That was a series. I'm gonna pay attention to what's happening right here. We're not even gonna get to Esther. I'll just figure out, we'll figure out something. Pastor Joel said something week one. "If you succeed without suffering, someone else did. If you suffer without succeeding, someone else will". I just think there's something there for us to just keep leaning into. That pain is not without gain. God is in the business of recycling and redeeming. And yeah, it's probably gonna take courage in a moment where, let's fast for three days, and if I perish, I perish, right?
But here's what I wanna do. We're actually gonna skip over the heart of the story, basically, the whole part I wanted to preach this weekend. And we're gonna go to the end of the book, Esther 9, because there's a promise that I want us to lean into and hold onto. It's a promise that, to me, is pretty powerful. So let me close with this. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote that book, "Uncle Tom's Cabin". Here's what she said, "Never give up for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn". Just Jo little phrase down, "That the tide will turn," 'cause I'm believing that for you. I'll just widen the aperture and say, that the Book of Esther is all about ironic reversal. Bible scholars love this idea of chiasm, that a lot of books are structured with mirror images, and Esther is a classic example.
In the beginning, Hing Xerxes throws a party 187 days. That's a party, yes, that's a party. But who's partying at the end? Mordecai and the Jewish people are partying at the end. You've got an evil man named Haman who is promoted to second in command. But what happens at the end? A righteous man named Mordecai takes his position. Haman rolls the dice, remember the pur? And it turns into Purim, this annual festival, this annual celebration of the courage of Esther that saved the people. You've got Haman building gallows that he ends up on. I mean, just the ironic reversals in this book are ridiculous.
But to me, Esther 9:1 is the turning point. This is the day when decades happen, here it is. "On the 13th day of the 12th month, the edict commanded by the king was to be carried out". But what edict? This edict that all the Jews would be killed. And on this day, the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them. But now, the tables were turned. The tables were turned, the tables were turned, the tables were turned. Now I have images 'cause there are moments where you gotta walk into the temple. 'cause people have turned it into a den of theives and turn over some tables like Jesus. But I think this is what we're leaning into in this book, where I'm just believing some of you need a breakthrough. You need healing. You've been praying for someone for so long, believing for revelation of God's love, believing for prodigals to come home, but believing, oh God, God, I'm tired of the anxiety, of the depression.
Where's that breakthrough? I just think there comes a moment where God can turn the tables. Part of why I love this is, it's almost like I've seen a time lapse over the last couple of years and I'm almost done. I have a friend who plays in the NFL. You would know his name, he's a high profile, plays a position that you don't do anything that doesn't get noticed. And I've known him for many years and there's a group of us that are part of his prayer team. Every week we get updates and we pray into.
Here's what's interesting. For the last three or four years, we prayed this verse. Turn the tables, turn the tables, because you can't play in that kind of position without, you've got coaches and news media and players, and one bad game and the whole narrative shifts. But man, so many times we prayed this prayer. Lord, turn the tables, turn the tables. And I won't get into details, but there have been so many moments that our prayer team has doubled back and said, "Look at what God just did". He turned the tables again and again and again. And it's not like we ever get into this place of zero gravity where no one's criticizing us and all's good. Like no more intense conversations in our marriage. We're good now.
By the way, Laura and I were talking about it this week and I'll just say. One of our regrets, and regret's a good thing, I'm gonna talk about it in two weeks, if you leverage it the right way. One of our regrets is that we didn't have the courage to get counseling early in our marriage. We both said that. We think that, and we're great, okay. Just to put everybody at ease. We're 29 years into this thing, it's going good, okay? Love my wife, and even more amazingly, she loves me. But it's lacking some of the courage to maybe get some of that help early on that would've maybe made things a little bit better, easier out of the gate, but long story short. I'm just believing for you that God wants to turn the tables. He can do it, he can do it.
So the worship team's gonna come. And online, just listen. Our prayer team ready, waiting, available. If you need prayer, we wanna pray with you and we're gonna enter into a time of worship. But I think the lyrics to this song are so powerful that they're lyrics that I feel like they're a prayer. And what you're gonna notice is that there's a moment about halfway through that goes from future tense to present tense, and we're gonna sing it, we're gonna pray it. Would you prophesy your praise today? You think about that thing that you're believing God for and let's see what God begins to do. Maybe, just maybe. This is the 13th day of the 12th month, or what is on our calendar, it was March 7th. But that's the day. The day that was meant for evil, God turned the tables. Look at what the Lord can do.