This week's Bible Study - May 15, 2016
Redeemed from a Devastating Failure
Luke 22:54-62; Acts 4:8-13
Quotes of the Week:
Failure is an event, never a person.
William Brown, Welcome Stress!
Failure. What does it feel like to fail? I believe our society has tried to make it harder and harder to fail, by redefining success in many cases. In kid's sports, it's as if we want everyone to be a winner. It feels much better to win, doesn't it? We don't like to lose, although if we were going to be true to life, we would spend more time helping kids learn to lose appropriately. At times in kid's sports, sometimes the people that take losing the worst are often the parents.
If you have been involved in Upward sports, they speak of the circle of respect. They tie a lot of that back to the coach. Since Upward is a kid friendly league, most people realize that the basic intent is to help kids learn fundamentals. In the younger grades, some of the kids don't know how to dribble or shoot a basketball, and some of them have never played team sports. However, even in Upward, there can be some good teams in which the players are fairly close to one another in skill levels. When those games get heated, you have human coaches, human referees, human players and human parents. The one commonality among humans is imperfection. I've been involved in some games as a coach, where a referee has made an obvious bad call that may very well turn the tide of a game. Part of me wanted to yell at the imbecile (if the call went against our team), but as I thought about it, I realized that parents were watching me, and the kids were watching their parents. If I chose to be disrespectful towards the referee, some of the parents would take my cue and do the same thing. Then, their kids would see how they behaved and they would likely start behaving disrespectfully too. It is an eye opening experience to realize that if you make a bad decision there, it can cycle quickly to others.
While it isn't as much about failure, there is a point about the example that we set for others. In the movie about Jackie Robinson, 42, there is a scene in Cincinnati where a father and his son are there to watch the games. At this point, Robinson had shown that he belonged in the league and he was turning heads for his play alone, although many heads turned because he was the first black professional baseball player. The kid in the stands is happy and is thrilled to see him, but his father begins throwing racist words around and yelling at Robinson. The kid looks up at his father and after a few seconds, changes from a happy mood and starts yelling the same things at Robinson. He repeated what he saw his dad doing because his dad's actions impacted him. We are no different, we make an impact on people regardless of whether we say kind words or hurtful ones. In one scenario those who hear us (or in the day of social media) read what we say, will have one impression of us, and when we are hostile and aggressive with our words, we leave a different impression of ourselves, and often the person we are speaking about. Are we aware of how our words, both spoken and shared online, can be detrimental and have a negative impact that reaches far greater than we would have imagined or even possibly intended?
As much as we don't like losing, I believe most people would rather lose than fail. Losing implies that you lost in a game, while many equate failure with 'end of story'. For example, the St Louis Blues hockey team lost three games to the Dallas Stars, but they ultimately won the series and continue to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Not all losses are considered failures. Even if they had lost, there is always next season. A professional team cannot continue to relive bad seasons, if they want to improve. The truth is that we not only need to learn how to lose well, but we also need to learn how to recover from a failure. Not many kids will learn to ride a bike the very first time they hop on. There may be many failures, but if they keep at it, eventually they will figure it out. Those failures are soon forgotten. However, there are other failures that we make that we have a real hard time shaking, and part of that might be because others (Satan included) want to keep reminding us of them.
There are plenty of failures that we see in life. Businesses fail and people get downsized. I've been part of proposals at work that were not selected, and that effort stalls. Failure. I've been part of programs at work that did not ultimately succeed. The program was cancelled. Failure. In business, it can be easy for employees to get into a failure posture, which will impact everything they do at work. There are structural failures that end up costing millions of dollars and loss of life. You likely remember the space shuttle that exploded due to an O-ring problem. There are structures, such as bridges and buildings that were not built to code and they ended up collapsing. Failure. In our lives, many of us have experienced relationship failures that have caused our lives to seem to go in a totally different direction than we perhaps had planned. We all have failed to keep promises, at one time or another. We all have set goals that we intended to meet, but things change and we fail to meet them.
Failures in our lives can seem crushing. Just like most of us don't learn to lose well, we also don't learn how to fail well. Seriously, would any of us take a class on how to fail well? Nobody plans to fail, but in retrospect, classes on losing and failing may be good life classes to take, wouldn't they? It is helpful for us to learn how to recover from failures in life. If you haven't been there yet, you will be. And, if you've been there, you know what I mean when I say that it would be helpful to know how to recover. And, if you're old enough, you would probably agree that it would be helpful to know how to assist someone else in recovering from failure. Some seem dead-set on keeping others in their failure mode. (They probably need that class too, don't you think?) Perhaps those people would teach another class. I worked with a hotheaded manager back in the late 80s. He went to an Anger Management class and dropped out. He said that they wanted him to control his own anger, while he wanted to learn how to manage others using his anger.
The character in this lesson is familiar to most believers. The passage will be about Peter's denial of Christ. But, before we get there, there are some things that we might need to know about Peter. One of the passages we will look at refers to Peter, as being bold, but uneducated and untrained. In Matthew 14, Peter was the one who saw Jesus walking on the water, and asked Jesus to command him to come to Him. Ultimately, he sank, but that tells us something about Peter. In Matthew 16, Peter tried to counsel Jesus that Jesus would not be taken captive, and Peter was rebuked. In Matthew 18, Peter asks Jesus about how many times he should forgive someone else. And, in John 18, Peter cut off the ear of a soldier who was about to arrest Jesus. There are many other passages that speak of Peter, but Jesus saw something in Peter that had great potential. Even though Peter was going to fail Jesus, Jesus knew that he would ultimately be redeemed.
Prior to Jesus being taken away, Jesus told the disciples that they would all turn away. Peter, impulsive as he was, told Jesus that he would NEVER deny Christ. I believe that he believed that he wouldn't ever deny Christ. There is a problem that we all may face if we see ourselves above a certain sin. Has there ever been anything that you said you wouldn't do and you meant it, yet you found yourself doing it? Sometimes, these can become the easiest traps for believers, because we don't take the precautions that we should take to prevent ourselves from ever falling into the trap. But when we believe we are above that sin, we fail to see that we are falling, head first into it.
Can you imagine how chaotic the scene must have been, as Jesus was seized and taken away? I am sure that people were all over the place and the disciples mostly scattered. Peter, however, followed at a distance. I would imagine that his emotions were at an all-time high. The world as he had known it was starting to unravel before his eyes. Peter had to be wondering what was happening. When the disciples were together and Jesus was in their midst, life felt normal and perhaps they felt invincible. At that time, Peter "knew" that there was no way that he would ever deny Jesus and they could all rely upon one another. However, this was now a totally different ballgame. Peter may have forgotten much of what he had said previously. Have you ever been in a very hectic situation in life, when the bottom falls out? You probably can relate to the fact that your thoughts and actions can change drastically from what you thought they would be before you actually found yourself in the difficult spot. Peter, unsure of what was going on, sat down with others around a fire in the middle of the courtyard.
I feel certain that Peter wanted to be close, but he would have preferred to be left alone. He wasn't at all sure of what was going to happen. Would Jesus be released, or was everything coming to an end?
A servant girl, seeing Peter in the firelight, asked him "You aren't one of this man's disciples too, are you?" Perhaps she had seen Peter, along with the other disciples following Him at an earlier point. Peter replied "I don't know him". Peter likely moved closer to the fire, both to warm himself, but also to blend in with the others. Have you ever found yourself in this position at work, or in a group, when spiritual conversation arises? Do you stand for who you are, or do you shrink to blend in with others?
Peter couldn't get away from the others. He didn't want to leave, but he didn't seem to want to associate with Jesus. I am sure that he feared for his own safety, and not knowing how things were going to play out, he stayed in this land of limbo. A little later, someone asked Peter once again, "You aren't one of his disciples too, are you?" Again, Peter denied it saying "I am not".
After about an hour, another man challenged Peter. However, rather than simply asking him, this man told the others that "This fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean". In one of the other accounts of this story, it was presumed that this man was a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off (surely everyone "heard" about that, except for the guy without the ear). Once again, Peter denied it (the third time), more vehemently, saying "Man, I don't know what you're talking about" and just as he was speaking, a rooster began to crow. The words that Jesus had spoken to him earlier "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times", had to be ringing in his ears. The thing that Peter said that he would never do - he did.
We could probably think of some fairly legitimate reasons for Peter's failure. Even as we think about this, we would have to ask ourselves what we would have done. Remember that Peter did not know the 'rest of the story', in regards to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. He was scared. He was cold. He wasn't thinking straight. Have you ever made choices that you have regretted because of similar excuses? I believe we can all relate. However, even when there are valid reasons, excuses or circumstances, this was still a monumental failure for Peter. Don't we often find ourselves trying to justify our failures? We need to learn to accept that when we make mistakes, we should not try to make excuses. While there may be mitigating circumstances at times, when we have failed, we still have failed - regardless of whatever else was going on.
Peter went from defending Christ, by slicing off an ear of someone trying to arrest Him, to denying Christ - three times! At one point, he seemed firmly entrenched in his desire to always follow Christ, even to risk bodily harm, and at another point he seemed to want to distance himself from anything to do with Christ. Does that happen today? It isn't often that we find ourselves in a spot where we are point blank asked if we are a Christian. However, I'm sure that some have denied that in order to avoid being treated differently at school or at work or among some friends. Some people may not deny Christ audibly, but they may find themselves compromising God's standards in almost every area of their lives. Some would seem to want to align with the crowd, as opposed to taking a stand for what is right. Still, others deny God's word and doctrine by playing a game of pick and choose with Scripture.
When the rooster crowed, I feel sure it was like a wake up call and a wave of conviction came over Peter. In fact, we read that immediately following the crow of the rooster, the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. It had to be an instant notice of failure. What must Peter have thought about until his next encounter with Christ? He had failed Jesus, even though he vehemently stated that he would never do such a thing. Would this be more than Peter would be able to overcome?
Although it probably didn't seem that way to Peter, instant recognition of failure can be very beneficial, as it starts the healing process right away. At times, we know that we have sinned, but it doesn't appear that anything happens. There is no lightning from the sky or anything else that hits us right at that point. If we were to be more cognizant of when we have failed, it can help get us back on the right track sooner, and potentially minimize consequences, as well as keeping us from the same failure again and again. If Peter had gone days or weeks with no remorse, the problem may have gotten much worse. Nobody likes to acknowledge failure, but the sooner that it happens and the realization has set in, the quicker that resolution is possible.
Now we fast forward some time. The resurrection had happened and Jesus had returned. While we won't really spend any time with this in this lesson, Jesus approached Peter and asked him three times if Peter loved Him. It was a powerful reminder of what had happened, and also made it clear that Jesus had forgiven Peter. After the resurrection, the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and there was a noticeable change.
In this passage, Peter and John were speaking of the resurrection from the dead, which provoked everyone. In verse 1, the priests, the commanders of the temple police and the Sadducees confronted Peter and John. The impact that they had on the people was huge, so Peter and John were brought in for questioning. Do you remember Peter, the one who denied knowing Christ just days before? The answer that Peter gives in this passage came from someone much different. To begin with, he had seen the resurrected Lord, and on top of that, he was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Apparently, there was a lame man that had been healed. Peter said that if they were called to say how that had happened, they should know the following. He said that each of them and all the people of Israel had crucified Jesus Christ of Nazareth, but God had raised from the dead. It was by His name that the man had been healed. Peter continued to say that Jesus was the stone that they, the builders, had rejected, and He has become the cornerstone. He continued to say that salvation was to be found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.
Peter, when by himself and in his own power, by the campfire, denied that he even knew Jesus. He had been what you might call an utter failure. But, now, in front of the religious elite, not only did Peter claim to know Jesus, but said that salvation was found in no other name.
The religious leaders saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men. They were astonished and took note that these men had been with Jesus. Before, to even know Jesus was something that they refused to say, but now, even the highest religious leaders took note that these ordinary men had truly been with Jesus.
One commonality that many highly successful people have is that they have failed earlier. Isn't that astonishing? We don't like to hear that anyone has failed, but at times, we should step back and wonder what God might be getting ready to do in the life of a person' who has failed. You see, we learn a lot in our failure. We learn that perhaps we are not as strong as we thought we were. Some people, because of their past failure, are able to more ably minister to similar people in the future. I have a friend who was once an alcoholic and it seems that God keeps bringing other alcoholics into his life, now that he is a believer. My friend knew a bit of what they were going through. I remember hearing of one pastor who spoke very harshly about anyone that had been divorced. Unfortunately, at some point in his life, he himself went through a divorce. In that process, he acknowledged that he learned more about God's grace than at any other point in his life. He still was not a fan of divorce, nor should any of us be, but he realized he had cast off others who had failed in a similar way and realized he had not shown love but extreme condemnation to those people. His failure taught him true grace.
Failure can be redeemed, but it takes a person facing up to whatever their failure was to get past it. Otherwise, failures tend to be repeated. There are some people that use their own past failures to explain why they don't serve in any ministry. They may continue to come to church, but are sidelined, sometimes on their own, and sometimes due to others. The thing we have to ask is if this is really God's plan. In this lesson, Peter failed Jesus personally, but was later used in a large way. If you look at other characters in Scripture, you will find a commonality. Failure. Don't let failure sideline you. Take care of what needs to be taken care of, but then realize that God still has a purpose for you.
One thing we should ask ourselves and our churches is if we are willing to forgive past failures and give people a second chance. If you think back to a time that you had failed, you probably realize that you need to forgive yourself. If you live in guilt and shame, you hardly can step forward. It also takes others to support you and help you get back up again. Are we willing to help others along, or are we guilty of making others pay for their failures? Have we forgotten how we have been forgiven by Christ? We can help others by forgiving and restoring them. Specifically, if we have dealt with similar failures in our lives, we can and should support others.
Bottom line, failure is part of life. We don't plan for it, but it happens. This I know about you. You either have failed or you will fail. When you have failed, realize why it happened, learn from it, and get right back up and try again. I also know this about someone else you know. They have failed. It may be a small failure or it may be colossal. What can you do? Realize that, as believers, you are on the same team with same goals. Encourage them to move forward. Don't continue to remind them of where they have failed. In doing so, you are only aiding and abetting the other team, heaping guilt and shame upon them. However, reminding someone that they need to own their mistakes is different than constantly reminding them of that failure. If and when a person has done what they need to do to acknowledge their failure, has gone to the person or people it affected, and has requested forgiveness, then reminding them of that sin is only pouring salt in an open wound. But a person who just wants to 'get past the failure' without owning the damage and pain it caused others, is not as much about the failure as it is about setting things right, and keeping that point in front of them is actually helping them to move forward. Ignoring what they did and choosing to look past un-confessed and un-repented actions, only enables a person to continue, unchecked, in their behavior. They don't see that they have failed because no one has held them accountable for what they did. Of course the Holy Spirit plays a huge part in our ability to recognizing our sin, but there are times, when we need to step out of the dark and speak truth into their life. I would tread cautiously in that area, but if you feel that sick flutter in your stomach and your heart races when you think about going to that person, it might be an indicator that you are to go. But if you are ramped up and looking forward to the confrontation - it might be better for you to leave that to someone else, unless you are certain it is the Lord leading you and not your own anger - righteous as it may be.
On a bit of an aside at this point, Berkley and I have been reading a book entitled, When Sorry Isn't Enough, by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas. Given that many of the 'failures' that we need to redeem are in the context of relationships, this book is quite eye opening. Many times, our attempts at apologizing for what we have done to another is a weak excuse for saying "I am sorry". This book points out that there needs to be more when we have hurt someone else. We need to right wrongs, express regrets, accept responsibility, make restitution, and genuinely repent from our actions. The way we request forgiveness is very important, if we indeed want to restore a fractured relationship.