Wednesday, April 29, 2015

April 26, 2015 Failure Isn't Fatal - Lessons From the Life of Moses

The Biblical character of Moses has been portrayed many times in film – most recently by Christian Bale in Exodus:  God and Kings – but the most enduring image of Moses is that of Charlton Heston in Cecil B. DeMille’s classic The Ten Commandments.  Heston’s portrayal of Moses is certainly one of great strength, as he fearlessly challenges the Pharoah of Egypt and confidently leads the Hebrew people out of their captivity.

Years ago, my older brother Ed, who is also a minister, and I had a conversation about Moses and the Exodus.  We were in school and a professor said something that I wasn’t sure about so I talked to Ed about it.  In the course of our conversation he told me I was wrong in the way I viewed the parting of the Red Sea and Moses and that I ought to read the Bible and not depend on movies for my information.  I thought he was wrong, and told him so, because I had seen the movie The Ten Commandments, so I knew exactly how it happened.  But then I read Exodus and found the movie was wrong and so was I.

The cinematic Moses is generally portrayed as strong, confident, articulate, and powerful.  The reality, however, is far more complicated.  When reading the story of Moses we find a very conflicted human being, especially in relation to the call that God placed upon his life.  In this week’s Scripture reading, which contains selected verses from the longer story of Moses’ meeting with God at the burning bush, we find not a confident, assertive Moses, but a man who was not at all interested in becoming the leader of the Hebrew people.

As you read through the passage, note the number of times that Moses seeks to make excuses for why he is not the person for the job God offers to him.  In 3:11 we find the excuse of a lack of self–confidence.  In 3:13 Moses worries about the response of the people, that they might doubt God.  In 4:1 he worries that the people will not believe God has sent him as their deliverer.  In 4:10 Moses worries that his speech impedement will hinder him as a leader.  And finally, in 4:13, Moses simply dispenses with the excuses and asks God to send someone else to do it.

3:4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”  And Moses said, “Here I am.”
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”
10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’  Then what shall I tell them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.  This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
4:1 Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”
10 Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”
13 But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

Moses, like Peter and David, was a person who had his share of failures, and we’ll look at a couple of them this morning.

Moses failed to believe in his own worth as a child of God.
In seeking to excuse himself from God’s call Moses said this – I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.  Moses had some kind of speech impediment, but we don’t know what it was.  People can be tough on those who struggle in any area of life.  I had some speech difficulties when I was younger and I had to endure some ridicule for it, and I didn’t like it.  Moses was raised in the house of Pharaoh, so I’m not sure anyone made fun of him, certainly not within earshot, but when he fled from Pharaoh’s house it might have been different.

We can be hard on one another, can’t we?  Perhaps it’s because we want to raise ourselves up that we put others down, or perhaps it’s because we can’t appreciate ourselves so we can’t appreciate others, but we can be very hard on ourselves and on others as well.

I was reading an article the other day that was very hard on certain groups of people.  It purported to be written from a Christian perspective but said that certain groups of people could not be considered children of God.  How absurd!  Everyone is a child of God.  Everyone.  It’s no wonder that we must endure some of the struggles we have among humanity, because we can’t even recognize the simple truth that every person is a child of God. 

Moses could not see himself, I don’t think, for the valuable child of God that he was, which put him in the company of many, many other people.  I sit and listen to people all the time, in one way or another, express sentiments that tell me they cannot accept that their life has value and that they matter.  It’s so tragic that life – and other people – wears us down to the point that we cannot appreciate the fact that we are a cherished child of God.

Moses failed to trust God.
In Numbers 20:1-12 there is an interesting story about Moses striking a rock to bring forth water.  The actions of Moses in striking the rock bring God’s prohibition of him entering the Promised Land with his people, which seems rather harsh in relation to his actions.

Numbers 12:20 says But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

Trust.  That’s a tough word, isn’t it?

I’ll tell you this – it’s not always easy to trust God, is it?  It’s not that God is untrustworthy; it’s that we have a difficult time turning over control of our own destiny to anyone else, even God.

I have realized that, over the years, I have become far more likely to try and hold my destiny in my own hands and far more likely to turn it over to God.  When I was younger, I was more willing to trust God with my life and my future.  I like to think that I still do, but when I am honest with myself – which is not always often – I have to admit that I work very hard to keep control over my life.

Moses failed to trust the people God had placed under his care.
I really thought hard about this point, because it hits a bit too close to home for me.

Moses received a visit from his father-in-law, who observed that Moses was wearing out himself and the people under his care because he was trying to do everything himself.

Exodus 18:13-23 –
13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”
15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will.
16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”
17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.
19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you.  You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.
20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.
21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.
22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.
23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

I had a visit like that not too many months ago, when someone came to me to try and talk some sense into me.

Moses’ father-in-law recognized that Moses needed to stop trying to do everything himself.  I think what was really going on was that Moses did not trust the people.  It wasn’t that he was so self-giving; he was controlling to the point that he could not let go of anything so that others could be a part of the ministry.

To the defense of Moses, the people under his care were not always easy, and he may have had good reason not to trust them.  They are often described as stiff-necked, stubborn, and combative.  But that wasn’t an excuse for Moses to fail in his trust of them.

Moses was in a place of very important leadership, and his leadership was suffering – and the people were suffering – because he could not relinquish his control and allow others to become part of the ministry.  Ministry does not expand when we fail to trust people; instead, ministry suffers and will contract.

As hard as it can be to trust God, it can be even harder to trust people, but trust them we must.

On a wall of the orphanage, in Calcutta, India, founded by Mother Teresa, was written the following –
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
 If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. 
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. 
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. 
            Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. 
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. 
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. 
It was never between you and them anyway.

Dealing with people is no picnic.  People can be difficult and untrustworthy, but we must trust regardless.

Failure.  It’s a part of all of our lives, but it does not have to define who we are.  In fact, we could say that Peter, David, and Moses would have been lesser people and examples had they not suffered failure.

Whatever failures burden your life, allow God to transform them into strengths in his miraculous manner.

FCC Shelbyville | April 19, 2015 Sermon

Monday, April 20, 2015

April 19, 2015 Failure Isn't Fatal - Learning From the Life of David

I have a couple of scars from years past.  One is on my right wrist and another is on my left hand.  The one on my wrist came from an accident when I was in the 5th grade and the one on my hand came from doing something stupid when I was in college.

Scars, certainly the one on my hand, can remind us of the consequences of our actions.  The failures we endure in life leave scars, but they are the type of scars that are not seen.  They are the psychological scars and the scars upon our souls, and for every external scar, there are numerous internal scars.

This morning, we come to the second of three messages on the theme of failure – Failure Isn’t Fatal.  The truth is that while failure isn’t fatal, sometimes it can come pretty close.  Last week we talked about Peter and some of his failures, and it was an encouraging message about a couple of realities – that everyone fails, that we need to give others and ourselves a break when it comes to failure, and that grace always triumphs over failure. 

Today’s message reminds us of some of the more difficult aspects of failure; primarily, the consequences of our failures.  I really do believe in grace and that we need to extend grace to one another, but grace does not automatically erase the consequences of our failures.

Living as we do in the digital age, sometimes our failures are compounded by public exposure.  At a time when so much is posted online with little or no thought given to the consequences of those postings, a person’s actions can follow them in a very public manner for the rest of their life.  I read an article last week about the damage done to people’s lives because their failures had been caught on camera and posted online.  In Luke 8:17 Jesus says, for there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.  I think that was a prophecy about the coming of Facebook and Youtube!The best advice I can give is this – think about what you are either doing or about to do, and be aware about what will happen if your actions come to light and how those actions may affect you even years down the road. 

This morning we will consider the consequences of failure through the life of David, the great king of Israel.  David is one of the most fascinating characters in the entire Bible.  A great warrior, poet, musician, and leader, David was also a very flawed man.  There are many stories of David in the Bible – his life is covered in greater detail than almost any other Biblical character – and many of the stories reveal the deep flaws of his life in all their painful details.

The most notorious failure of David was his affair with Bathsheeba, and this morning we will read the passage where the prophet Nathan confronts David about that tragic episode.  Nathan does so in a brilliant way, as he tells a parable that enrages David because of the story’s injustice.  Once David is drawn in to the story, Nathan springs the trap on him and reveals that the story is about David, his failure, and the terrible consequences of that failure.

1 The Lord sent Nathan to David.  When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor.
The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle,
but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die!
He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!  This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul.
I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.
Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.
10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you.

Wow.  That is such a powerful scene, and poor David didn’t see it coming.  At the moment when Nathan raises his finger and says to David You are the man! it must have hit David like a ton of bricks.  All his tragic and treacherous plans had been revealed.  His failure had become public, and the attendant shame and consequences had come down upon David’s head. 

This morning I want to talk about the consequences of failure in relation to David’s family – those under his own roof; his people – those under his leadership; and his spiritual life – his relationship to God.

The consequences of failure for David’s family.
I have a couple of jokes that I often repeat, and one of them is this – there is good news and bad news about living away from your family, as I have done for so many years.  The bad news is, you are away from your family.  The good news is, you are away from your family.

Family is not always easy, is it?  To live in a family requires patience, love, and grace.  And then some more patience, love, and grace.

For all of David’s success in other areas of his life – and David certainly had his share of success as well as failure – David was not very successful in his family life.  David’s family life was riddled with failure, especially regarding his son Absalom.  We don’t have time to go into all the details of the story, so I will encourage you to read II Samuel 13:1-18:33. 

David and Absalom had a terrible falling out as a result of a tragic event that took place between David’s daughter Tamar and her half-brother Amnon.  David’s failure to act upon the situation led to Absalom eventually wresting control of the kingdom for a time from his father.  It’s not as though David could not do something related to the situation with his daughter Tamar and his son Amnon.  He was, after all, the king – he was the law.  And yet he did not do anything.

In the battle that ensued between their soldiers, Absalom was killed, even though David had instructed his men not to harm Absalom.  When David learned of the death of his son, he uttered the painful lament that resonates across the centuries – O my son, Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom, my son, my son! (2 Samuel 18:33).

You cannot control everything that happens to your family.  There are going to be moments of crisis that come along and they are not your fault and you cannot prevent them.  Having said that, you don’t need to create any more crises than life manages to create for you. 

Every one of us – every single one of us, without exception – has something we are dragging around with us that took place within our family that could have been prevented, but wasn’t, and it follows us around and shapes us for years and years.  Please understand that I am not trying to make you feel guilty.  If you are a parent, you already feel guilty; that’s just one of the realities with which parents live.  What I am saying is this – David contributed, sometimes by his actions and sometimes by his lack of action, situations in the life of his family that had very real consequences for them.  It is incombent upon us to think very carefully about our actions and the consequences they have upon our family.  What we do can and will impact our spouse, our children, and our extended family for years to come.

Absalom died without ever having reconciled with his father.  I have seen too many families with fractured relationships and years pass and reconciliation never comes.  When someone dies, it’s too late.  Don’t wait until it’s too late.  If someone needs to take the first step toward reconciliation, be that person.  If it is spurned and turned away, you can have the peace of knowing you did your part.  You might not be able to fix everything that is broken, but you can do what you can do.

The consequences of failure for those under David’s leadership.
I am aware of the fact that my actions affect other people.  If you are in a leadership position you have to think about how your actions affect the lives of other people, and as the minister of this congregation I do think about that.  A lot.  We have seen far too many failings on the part of leaders and I do not want to be one more name on that list.

David was a lot of things.  He was a rock star of his day.  He was a poet and musician.  He was a warrior and larger than life personality.  He was the king who really elevated the nation of Israel to a completely different level.  He was also a hypocrite, a scoundrel, and a murderer.  Though he did not draw the sword to plunge into the victim, he hatched the plan, gave the order, and set it into motion.

One of the problems David suffered was an entitlement mentality.  We often talk about an entitlement mentality among the poor, and unfortunately so, but David is an example of an entitlement mentality among the rich and powerful, who are used to getting whatever they want.  David was the king, and what the king wants, the king gets.  David wanted the wife of another man, so he took her.  When his actions threatened to become public knowledge, he hatched the plan to kill Uriah, Bathsheeba’s husband.

The actions of David had far-reaching consequences upon others, and not just his own family and immediate circle.  The actions of David had implications and consequences for the entire nation in that historical moment and beyond.  It’s rather amazing to think that in the entire history of the nation of Israel, it was under the reign of David and Solomon, the second and third kings, when the nation reached its peak, and it arguably never reached that height again, and some of the failure to do so can be traced to the failures of David.

David’s example of leadership weighed upon Solomon, who conscripted his people into harsh labor and subjected them to punishing tax levels, causing the kingdom to break apart at his death.

That’s a really big weight of responsibility to place upon anyone, but it’s there.  It’s tough to be a leader, and let me add this – everyone is a leader somewhere.  It might be on a large-scale level or only in a circle of a few people, but everyone must remember that their failures have consequences for other.

The consequences of failure for David’s own spiritual life.
The failures of David can be traced in concentric circles.  Starting from the circle furthest out we find the consequences for the entire nation of Israel, both in the time of David and for centuries after.  The next circle in is that of David’s family, and the terrible consequences they suffered.  The inner circle is David himself, and the consequences that failure had for David.

One of the consequences was the fact that David was not the one to build the Temple.  It was the great desire of David to build the Temple, as the Tabernacle was still in use.  The Tabernacle was the portable tent that was used during the generation of wandering in the wilderness.  When David had established the kingdom his plan was to build the Temple.  David observed that he was living in splendor but the worship of was taking place in a tent – 1 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent” (II Samuel 7:1-2).  God’s answer, however, was that David was not the one to build the Temple; that task would fall to David’s son, Solomon –  

Then he called for his son Solomon and charged him to build a house for the Lord, the God of Israel.
David said to Solomon: “My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the Lord my God.
But this word of the Lord came to me: ‘You have shed much blood and have fought many wars.  You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight.
 But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon, and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign.
10 He is the one who will build a house for my Name.  He will be my son, and I will be his father. And I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever (1 Chronicles 22:6-10).

It was a crushing disappointment for David that he was not the one to build the Temple, but it was a consequence of his failures.

In spite of David’s failures, it is important to note that his life is not defined by those failures.  Though he had some big, tough failures to overcome – and he did not overcome all of them – David’s life is summed up in the book of Acts with this statement – God testified concerning him: “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.”  (Acts 13:22).  The Bible gives that assessment of only one person – David.

Far be it from me to argue with God’s assessment of David, but that sounds a bit debatable to me.  David’s heart was not always reflective of God’s heart, and he did not always do what God wanted him to do.  The point is, God still saw the good in David, and in a way, it’s scandalous that he did.  Plenty of people were hurt by David’s failures, but God saw that good.

No matter what our failures, God always sees the good in us, even if it is scandalous to others that he does.  When others want to remind you of your failures and when they want to lord them over you, remember that God sees the good in you.  Let those scars of failure heal!


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

April 12, 2015 Failure Isn't Fatal - Lessons From the Life of Peter

When I was an associate in Anderson County, back in the 80s, one Saturday I had taken a group out in our church’s bus.  We arrived back in the afternoon and I parked the bus in the lot across the road from the church.  I parked, as always, as the back of the lot, which had a slightly downhill angle to it.  I went on about my day, and later that evening, when I came home, there was an odd message our own answering machine.  It was from the minister of the church and it seemed so strange that I couldn’t get it to register in my mind.  The message said something about the church bus being in the garage of the house down the hill from the parking lot.

I drove out to the church to see what had happened, and pulled into the parking lot across the road from the church.  We always parked the bus at the back end of the lot, but when I pulled into the lot the bus was not there.  That’s a bad feeling, I can tell you.  I parked my car and walked across the lot and when I got near the edge of the lot I could see the bus, and it was in the garage of the house down the hill, which was owned by a couple who were members of the church. 

But the bus wasn’t really in the garage in the way a car is parked in the garage.  Obviously, the garage wasn’t built to hold a full-size school bus.  The bus had rolled down the hill and into the corner of the house.  The front of the bus was partially in the garage and the rest of the bus had taken out the corner of the house.

As far as I could guess, I must have failed to set the parking brake on the bus, and might have left it out of gear as well.  I don’t know for sure, but that was the best guess I could make.  I stood there at the edge of the parking lot for a bit just staring at that bus in the side of the house, and I knew I had to walk down to the house and talk to the people who lived there.  It was only about a hundred yards, but I it took me two hours and forty-seven minutes to walk that distance.  When I walked up to the front door I stood there for about an hour before summoning the courage to ring the doorbell.  In a moment I could see through the window in the door that someone was coming to answer the door.  I was younger and in pretty good shape at that time, so I wondered about turning and running and not stopping.  But the door opened and I was invited in.

Failure is really difficult.  What happens when we fail one another?  What happens when husbands and wives fail each other?  When parents fail their children?  When children fail their parents?  When employers and employees?  When friends fail each other?  When ministers fail their congregations?

Today we begin a three-week series titled Failure Isn’t Fatal!  We will look at failure through the lives of three Biblical characters – Peter, David, and Moses, learning some lessons from the failures of each of these three individuals.  I chose those three because they had some whoppers when it comes to failures.  They experienced failures that, unfortunately for them, have lived on for millennia.  Next time you fail, offer a prayer of thanks that yours aren’t written down and remembered for all time.

Peter has the misfortune to be remembered for several failures.  The first one that comes to mind, certainly, is when he denied Jesus three times (Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-27) which all four gospels record.  There is also the time that Jesus invited Peter to step out of the boat and onto the sea (Matthew 14:22-36; Mark 6:45-56; John 6:16-24).  For a few steps Peter remained above the water, but then doubt crept in and he sunk into the water.  There is the time in the book of Acts when God gives Peter the vision of the animals in the sheet and tells him everything is clean, but Peter struggles to accept it (Acts 10:9-16).  That failure foreshadows the struggle Peter has to accept the Gentiles who begin to come into the church in large numbers, and his failure to accept them causes Paul to rebuke him publicly (Galatians 2:11). 

The failure of which we will read this morning comes from the end of John’s gospel, after the resurrection.  On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a failure, but a closer look reveals that it is an interesting combination of a failure on the part of Peter and a very interesting response on the part of Jesus –

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.
18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.  Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Everyone Fails.
The title of this series uses the word failures – plural.  It’s not just one failure that is recorded for these characters; it is multiple ones.

Failure is difficult enough, but when it becomes public, it is especially difficult.  Some people have suffered such epic public failure that when their names are mentioned the first thing that comes into our minds is their failure.  In terms of failure, Peter’s were both epic and public.  How would you like to be remembered for all time as the person who denied Jesus?  And not just once, but three times!  And not just denying him, but doing so while he is listening, as Luke adds this interesting bit of information in his telling of Peter’s denials – The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter (Luke 22:61).  Were you aware of that verse?  Imagine what it must have been like for Peter, upon his third denial, to witness Jesus turning to look at him and knowing he heard every harsh word of his denials.

But it’s not just Peter. We could also talk about Thomas’ failure of belief (John 20:24-29) or any number of other passages in the Bible that tell us of the failures of people.  One of the interesting aspects of Scripture is that it gives us a “warts and all” view of its characters.  Scripture does not hide the fact that its characters were deeply flawed, nor does it hide their failures.

There are some things that are common to humanity, and one of them is failure.  Everyone fails.  Everyone.  If you are here this morning, and feeling like a failure for some reason, guess what?  You’re human!  Give yourself a break!  Over the years of ministry I have listened to so many people who cannot move beyond their failures.  They replay their failure over and over in their minds and cannot let it go.  Give yourself a break, because you are not the only person to fail.

But we also need to remember this – while we need to give ourselves a break, we need to give others a break as well.  One of the painful parts of failure is that someone, somewhere, is keeping a scorecard of our failures.  There is always someone who wants to remind us of our failures, they want to hold them over our heads, and they want to hold us down because of those failures.  They will not only remind you of your failures; they will pin them to you like a scarlet letter.

But here’s one of the really interesting elements of the ministry of Jesus – he doesn’t allow that to happen.  When you read the passages where Jesus grants forgiveness there is an implied message that we need to hear – Jesus is the one who releases us from our failures, which means that someone else can’t hold us to them.  When Jesus grants forgiveness, someone was probably protesting, saying, I’m the one who was wronged!  I’m the one who should have the say in whether or not a person is forgiven!  But that’s not how it works with Jesus.  He releases us from our failures, which means that no one else has the right or the claim to hold that over us any longer.  Jesus released Peter from his denials. 

Do not allow someone to lord your failures over you.

Not Every Failure Is a Failure.
Some failures may be perceived as failures, but they aren’t failures as much as disappointed expectations.  You can’t live up to everyone’s expectations, and I’m not sure you should.  You can take that advice from me.  I’ve disappointed my share of people over the years.  Some people hold us to unrealistic expectations and those expectations are ways in which they seek to control us.

But failure is also a tool by which God brings about our growth and improvement.  C. S. Lewis wrote that Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.

In spite of Peter’s failures we could also say there was an element of success in some of them.  Although Peter’s faith wavered when he got out of the boat and he began to sink into the sea, he did get out of the boat.  None of the other disciples did.  And even when Peter denied Jesus, we can point out that Peter was the only one of the disciples – the only one – who followed after him when he was arrested.  He went further than any of the others.

Through his failures, God shaped Peter in new ways and each of those failures – though they were certainly painful and had implications for him and for others – was a learning experience and a step toward becoming the person God wanted Peter to be.

What have you learned from your failures?  Something, I imagine.  Could you really have become the person you are without the lessons learned from failure?  Probably not.

Grace Overcomes Failure.
One lesson we learn about Jesus from the gospels is that he always accepted people where they were.  Unfortunately, we don’t.  Sometimes, especially in churches, we expect people to get to a certain point before we deem them acceptable.  Jesus never did that.  Grace was always a part of the way that Jesus dealt with the failures of people.

Our Scripture passage for this morning is one that is very interesting, and often misinterpreted.  Most people believe that Jesus asked Peter do you love me as a way of restoring Peter after his denials, but that is not what was going on.  I really don’t think Jesus would have made Peter answer for each of those three denials.  To me, it just doesn’t seem to be in the character of Jesus to humiliate Peter in such a public way because of his denials.

What is really going on is a challenge issued to Peter, his failure to rise to that challenge, and the grace that Jesus extends.  When we read this passage in English, it is impossible to see what was really going on, but a quick overview of the Greek will help us to see this.  You have probably heard that the Greek language has four different words for love.  By using different words, the Greek language is able to communicate specifically the kind of love being discussed.  The first word is eros, which is a romantic love, and from which we get our word erotic.  The second word is philos, which is the type of love between friends.  This is the word from which we derive the name Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.  The third word is storge, which is the love that exists between the members of a family.  The final word, and the one we have heard of most often in a worship setting, is agape.  Agape is the deepest, most faithful kind of love imaginable.  It is best summed up by understanding it as a divine love, represented in the love of God.

The first time that Jesus asked Peter do you love me, John (John, the writer of the gospel, was present at this exchange) uses the word philosPeter do you love me like a friend?  To which Peter replies with the same word – Jesus, you know I love you like a friend.  The second time that Jesus asks Peter do you love me, the word agape is used – Peter, do you love me more than a friend?  Do you love me with the kind of committed and sacrificial love that is expressed by God?  When Peter responds, he once again uses the word philos Lord, you know I love you like a friend.  The third time Jesus questions Peter he returns to the word philos, as if to say, Peter, will you not go further than the love that is shared between friends?  Will you not go to agape love?

Peter, at this moment, is reserved in his love; it is a failure to embrace Jesus with agape love.  But lest we be too hard on Peter, it is safe to say we are not always at the point of agape love either.  In spite of the hesitation of Peter, Jesus offers him grace, and a task.  Each time Peter responds, Jesus tells him to take care of my sheep.  Jesus does not wait until Peter is perfect in his life or his love before offering him a task and a calling.  The grace of God always overcomes failure.  Always.

When I finally managed to get to the house where the church bus had its collision, it was really difficult to ring the doorbell.  The couple invited me in and they were incredibly gracious to me.  Never once did they say anything in anger, never once did they bring it up to me at a later time, never once did they allow anyone else to criticize me over it.  That’s grace, and grace always triumphs over failure.
Never allow failure to define your life or who you are!