Friday, July 25, 2014

When You Fall Short (Matthew 26:69-75) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Do you look at a glass as either half empty or half full?  For example, a baseball player is more likely to describe his 250 batting average as - “I get a hit one out of four times at bat”, rather than - “I make an out three out of every four times I come to the plate.”  Pitchers too have a tough time describing pitches that miss their location and end up right in the center of the plate.  Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Bob Patterson described his pitch which the Cincinnati Reds' Barry Larkin hit for a game-winning home run: "It was a cross between a screwball and a change-up. It was a screw-up."

You don't have to be a baseball player to know what it feels like to strike out.  Right?  Yes, there are moments, there are days when we are not at our best.  Anyone here know what I’m talking about?   When our best is not enough, when our efforts come up short, times of personal failure, of not reaching our personal expectations or goals, of disappointing ourselves or others, of regrets, of mistakes that hurt others, of not fulfilling our best intentions, of guilt over something we did or forgot to do, of behavior we are not proud of.    Yes, we all fall short. 

If only I could turn back the clock; if only I had asked for help; if only I hadn’t spent so much money; if only I had thought it through better; if only I had been there for my friend; if only I had told the truth; if only I had made a better decision; if only I had communicated better with my children; if only I had been there when my family needed me or worked harder at my marriage.”  Millions of Americans attend support and recovery groups to deal with just such realities.

Falling short, failures, cut both ways; there are acts of commission and omission – we do something wrong or we fail to take action, to do anything at all.  We live in a culture which worships success and shuns failure.  We don’t like to be reminded of our faults and foibles and how often we succumb to them.    We tend to hide or deny our regrets.   Failure brings shame in our culture.

Deeply entrenched and painful memories are some of the hardest things to deal with in life.  If we allow them too, they can consume us and take over our lives by controlling our thoughts, attitudes, emotions and behavior.  They can invade our nights with sleeplessness. They can adversely affect our health.  Dwelling on our mistakes, becoming obsessed with some personal failure, can hurt us or even destroy us.

The story in the Bible of the prodigal son comes to mind, this younger brash son utterly failed his family and  brought shame upon the family name.  Fortunately, the story has a happy ending.  Another is a disciple named Peter.    Peter oused charisma.  He was an intense, dedicated, passionate, natural born leader.   Recall that it was Peter who defended Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane by slicing off the ear of a Roman soldier.  If there was anyone who truly loved Jesus, who was truly devoted to him, it was Peter. 

And yet Jesus spoke these unforgettable words to Peter. “This very night you will fall away on account of me, for it is written:  and the flock will be scattered.” Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”   Jesus answered: “I tell you the truth, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” 

Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. 70But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. 71Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”  Then some bystanders said to Peter:  “Certainly you are also one of them, your accent betrays you.”  Peter swore an oath, “I do not know the man.”  At that moment the rooster crowed.  Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said.  And he went out and wept bitterly.   It was undoubtedly the lowest moment of Peter’s life.

What can we learn from this story?  First, remember that everyone fails!  You are not alone. Failure is universal.  Everyone disappoints themselves or others in life.  You do, I do.  It is humbling to look in the mirror and admit I blew it.   Today Disney Corp rakes in billions from merchandise, movies and theme parks around the world, but Walt Disney himself had a rough start. He was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” After that, Walt Disney started a number of businesses that didn’t last too long and ended with bankruptcy and failure.  He kept plugging along, however, getting support from his brother, and eventually found a recipe for success that worked.

Never in his wildest imagination did Peter ever think he would let Jesus down and deny knowing him.  The Bible says: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  
Have you ever not spoken up or stood up for your faith when you had the opportunity?  Was it because of peer pressure or because you were afraid?   If so, then you have walked in Peter's shoes. Yes, Peter feared for his life.  To deny knowing Jesus is a major failing.  Peter knew it and most of us here today know it as well.  Can you think of other ways you have let God down?  I can think of ways I have.

Peter simply lost his nerve and succumbed in a weak moment.  Has that ever happened to you?   Evangelist Billy Graham, who has preached the gospel to more people than anyone in history, when asked after he retired if he had any regrets said:  “I wish I had spent more time with each of my children.”     

Second, the story reminds us that failure is not final.  Failing doesn't mean you are a failure.  There is a huge chasm between failing at something and being a failure.  Never confuse the two.  Failure isn’t fatal.  In the Bible, King David failed morally when he committed adultery with Bathsheba.  The prophet Jonah failed to obey God when he refused to go to Nineveh to bring God's word and instead ran away from God.  Moses failed in leadership when the Israelites whom he delivered out of Egypt turned away from God and worshiped idols in the wilderness. 

And yet, these men eventually became some of the greatest leaders in Israel.  God used them for great purposes in His plan for the Jews.   Like the apostle Peter, they knew failure, they had regrets, they had to deal with guilt, they knew what it felt like to let themselves down or let others down or let God down.  But you can also see from the success they had in life, that their failures did not get the best of them.  These failures didn't define them.  It didn’t thwart God's purposes and plans for their lives.  Your failures, my failures, won’t stop God from using us for His glory.

We must never allow other people to define us or label us by those times when we are not at our best.  We must not do it to ourselves either.   Former first lady Barbara Bush's press secretary, Anna Perez said there was a time when she dreamed not of having a White House office, but simply of having a roof over her head.  When Perez was in the fifth grade she came home from school one day and found her mother, two brothers and two sisters sitting on the street.  They had been evicted. "Mom had to split up the family."  "I lived with my fifth-grade teacher for a while. But no matter how bad things got, I remember what my mother kept telling us:  “We are not defined by our circumstances.  We are defined by our ability to overcome our circumstances.”

God wants us to learn and change and grow from regrets and personal disappointments.  God's word is – “I love you, you belong to me, your failures are not final nor fatal.”  We can choose to dwell on them, to wallow in them, to allow them to cause us to spiral downward or we trust in God and pray for God's power and grace, we can reach out for help from others, to overcome them, to triumph over them, to find hope and light out of them.

Third, remember, God is a forgiving God.  God is a merciful God.  God seeks to restore us when we let ourselves, others or God down.   Even though Peter had absolutely failed Jesus as a friend and a disciple, Jesus gave him another chance, another opportunity.  Why?  Because the God you and I worship is gracious, merciful, loving, and forgiving.  Jesus met and accepted Peter after his resurrection.   Jesus forgave Peter, he welcomed him.  Jesus didn’t reject Peter even though Peter rejected Jesus.   Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep, which meant to lead his church into the future. 

Recall these promises of the Bible: “Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will not be angry forever.”  And another from scripture: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.  But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”  

The final lesson is humility and learning to forgive yourself.   Humility comes from going to someone you have let down or hurt or disappointed and asking for their forgiveness.  To say you are sorry.   And if restitution is needed, you make it.  You can't guarantee how they will respond, but Jesus wants you to take this course of action. 

And further, it is essential to ask God to help you to forgive yourself.  To believe you are worth forgiving.  To believe you are forgivable.   We have a tendency to hold ourselves more accountable than we do others, to hold ourselves to a higher standard than we hold others. 

Years ago, it took me a long time to forgive myself because I was wracked with guilt and the fear of what might have happened, when I was late picking up our son Matthew from elementary school when he was about 7 years old.  I was late because I was at church packing up a van for a ski trip with a bunch of our church's high school kids.  When I pulled up in front of the elementary school, the gates were shut, the street deserted, and Matthew was standing alone on the sidewalk crying, afraid I had forgotten him.

Dwelling on personal failings robs you of the energy you need to be the person God has created you to be. There is a difference between forgiving yourself and forgetting what you did.  Forgiveness is forgetting in spite of remembering.  It is being set free from the emotional baggage of a painful memory.  

Turn to God and ask for God’s power and grace to help you find the power to forgive yourself.  Ask God to help you regain your faith in yourself, to restore your sense of value, worth and self-confidence.   For until you are able to forgive yourself, you will never know inner-peace, peace within yourself and peace with God.

Jesus forgave Peter.  And the apostle Peter’s failure proved to be a profound turning point in his life, for out of his brokenness came greatness.  In his lifetime, he won many to Christ and continued to be a loyal and courageous follower of Jesus until his death as a martyr.

We cannot turn back the clock and undo something we did.  But we can resolve to open our hearts to the Lord and experience God's forgiving and healing peace.  When we truly repent, God is willing and ready to forgive you, to forget what you have done, to accept you, and to restore you to a righteous relationship and to the adventure of living the life God has given you.    Amen!

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