At Gateway Church in Austin, we finished our series, Overcome.
The way we respond to failure in our lives often reflects how our parents taught us to relate to it. Is failure a threat to your performance, a dent to your image, a reason to give up? Or is it possible to view failure as a chance to lean into God’s loving forgiveness and learn to rely more on His strength and wisdom?
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
HERE IS THE AUDIO OF THE MESSAGE I SHARED:
HERE ARE THE NOTES FROM THE MESSAGE BY JOHN BURKE:
This morning, we are wrapping up our series Overcome – looking at moments when Jesus who was alive after being crucified interacted with some of his key followers and was seen by over 500 eyewitnesses. Today we are talking about overcoming failure. Let me tell you two stories of failure.
The first story: Simon Peter. Peter was a brash, impetuous, zealous—shoot first, ask questions later guy. A fisherman by trade. When he first met Jesus, he had just finished fishing all night with his brother and two business partners James and John and they came up with donuts – zeros, not Krispy Kremes. Jesus comes along while they’re washing their nets, asks to borrow Simon’s Peter’s boat. Jesus pushes out in the boat, people crowd around to hear him teach. Afterwards, Jesus says, “Simon, let’s go fishing.” Simon Peter says “Jesus, we’ve been fishing all night, and we didn’t catch anything (which must have impressed Jesus, here’s a fisherman admitting he didn’t catch anything, doesn’t often happen). So they set out to sea, let down their nets, and the nets almost broke because they were so full of fish. Well, that was enough for Simon–convinced this must be the long-awaited Messiah, he decides to follow Jesus. But failure followed him:
Peter overheard Jesus saying he would be turned over to the Roman Authorities and Crucified. Peter new better, “Jesus, this will NOT happen to you because I won’t let it.” Jesus looked Peter in the eyes and said something that cut him to the bone: “Get away from me Satan, You are trying to make me stumble. You do not have the interests of God in mind, only your own interests.” Ouch! What’s the worst thing you’ve been called? I’ve been called some bad things “Spawn of Satan. Son-of-an-Aggie.” But to fail so miserably Jesus calls you the mouthpiece Satan? FAILURE
Peter argued with the other 12 disciples about which of them would have the highest cabinet seats in the new Administration of King Jesus—“The Greatest will be your servant” Jesus said—you’re missing it. And he kept failing. On the night Jesus was betrayed, Peter fell asleep praying and then later when Jesus gets arrested there in the garden – Peter in his zeal, draws out a sword and starts swinging and cuts off the ear of a soldier. Jesus rebukes him, heals the soldier and says, “Peter, what are you doing? Everyone who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” Failed again.
But Peter had sworn to Jesus at Passover, the Last Supper, there was one way that he would not fail – even if he had to die. He would never betray or disown the one he loved and trusted as Messiah, the Son of God. And so he followed Jesus’ captors into the courtyard beneath the palace. And there he waited in the shadows until the cold of night became unbearable. There was a charcoal fire in the middle of the courtyard, the soldiers and a crowd stood there. The verdict came down on Jesus – convicted of Blasphemy claiming to be God and the sentence was crucifixion. Peter got scared as he stood by the fire. A young girl pointed, “hey, weren’t you one of the men with Jesus?” Fear! “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He walked away from the fire. Another girl declared “This guy was with Jesus.” He said, “I don’t even know him.” Pressure mounted as another accused “You must be a follower of the Galilean, your hick Galilee accent gives you away!” Peter let out a string of curses – I Bleepin swear — I don’t know the man.” The rooster crows—just as Jesus predicted. Failure…failure… failure.
Second story: The story of a guy named Judas. Judas was also a follower of Jesus, one of the inner circle of 12 with Peter. He was trusted with more than Peter, Jesus made him treasurer of the group. And he too saw things that convinced him that Jesus was the Messiah, and he left all to follow Jesus. And he too failed. He was stealing money from the bag—but he never admitted it. He, like Peter, decided that he knew what was best for Jesus. He was convinced the Messiah was going to be a military ruler and nationalistic King who would overthrow the Roman government. Jesus didn’t seem to be mobilizing military strength fast enough, so Judas, like Peter, betrayed him! Maybe with the hopes of forcing a confrontation with Rome, so Jesus would use his miraculous power to destroy the oppressive Roman government. But he too failed, just like Peter. Yet there’s a grand-canyon size difference in the way the two failed. One started over, the other stayed stuck. Peter started over, again and again, and he became the Rock [the nickname Jesus gave him]. But Judas stayed stuck and in shame and killed himself over his failure.
All of us fail and get stuck at times. The question is not whether you will fail, but what will you do with that failure “Will you stay stuck, or will you start over?” There are two ways we often stay stuck:
- Denial. The person who says “Who me, fail? Never.” That person stays stuck. If we can’t admit to God that we sin and stumble and fail in many ways, then we can’t receive the Grace of God. This was the sin of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. Jesus confronted them on their legalistic Religious pride that masked hearts that didn’t love God or People. Pride led them to deny it. If pride won’t let us admit our need for God’s forgiveness and leadership to change and grow from our failures, then we’re stuck. Oftentimes, we want to hide from God and hide our failures from others – to just pretend we have no problems – wear a mask of perfection or become defensive. Some of us are religious, but we’re stuck too if we’re honest. We do all the right things on paper, we go through all the right motions, we’re basically good people on the outside. But we’ve lost that first love for God, that radical willingness to trust Christ in everything. We lost that sense of adventure and relationship, and instead, we replaced it with comfortable routine. We’ve become safe, predictable, in control—yet relationship with God is a wild journey of change. He never calls us to stay comfortable, but to become more and more like Him—and that stretches us into uncomfortable places—to share our faith, to serve with our gifts, to lead others, to cross cultures, to love those we don’t love. So if you’re “doing good” great—but have you failed to let God stretch and grow your spiritual muscles? Whether you deal with that failure in denial or in honesty and willingness is critical.
- Shame. Is the other way we stay stuck. Some of us fail morally or spiritually, and we feel bad about it, in fact we feel so bad we decide we ARE Bad–God can’t extend Grace to us. We’ve failed too badly. We feel we are beyond God’s ability to help us. We bath in our pity and guilt, we decide to keep punishing ourselves, but we won’t take God up on his offer of Grace. That was Judas’ failure—shame. The sin of Judas was no more treacherous than Peters, or yours or mine for that matter. [You know what’s amazing—Jesus washed the feet of Judas the night Peter and Judas betrayed him.] The Grace of God was just as available to Judas as it was to Peter, but Judas pushed it away. Both Denial and Shame are sins of Pride. Denial is saying “I’m too good to do wrong. I am the judge of what is right or wrong, not God.” But Shame is also the sin of pride saying, “I’m too bad for God to help. Not even God can redeem me.” But that’s declaring “God is wrong—I’m right. See—same thing—“It’s all about ME—I’m God—I know.” Pride. Pride is the only thing that can keep us permanently stuck—denial or shame.
Some of us here this morning are spiritually stuck because we know that we’ve failed miserably. We turned our back on God and his ways, cause it made it easier to alleviate the guilties. And you’re still stuck in that same place, but something deep down doesn’t want to stay stuck. You realize there’s something missing. You want a relationship with God if that’s possible, but you’re afraid of failing him again. Of letting him down. You’re ready to start over, you just don’t know how. Listen very carefully today—God wants you free.
And some of us here today are following Christ, but keep failing in a certain area of our life. We’re very aware of our sin—over and over and over. We have not turned our backs on God, but we still feel stuck in a pattern or habit or addiction. We want more of God’s love, joy and peace but struggle and fail. Do not believe the lie that you will never overcome. We all can fail forward, like a child learning to walk, who finally does run. But to do this, we must stop seeing failure through our eyes, and see failure through God’s eyes. God sees things very differently than we do. Let me give you an illustration to understand God’s ways.
Let’s just say you’re walking the dog one Saturday morning, when the 15-year-old kid who lives a couple of houses away storms out of the house. Slams the door, jumps into his parents car, and you know he doesn’t have his driver’s license yet, and you know there’s been trouble in that household for a while. You watch as he backs out and slams the pedal down, he loses control heading right for you. The kid’s head is barely peaking over the steering wheel as the car swerves all over the road, overcorrects, jumps your curb and slams into your car parked. As the cloud of dust settles, the kid hops out of the car with a terrified look on his face. You have three choices:
Your first choice is to treat him with justice. “Kid, you messed up badly. I’m calling the police, they’ll cite you for driving without a license and you probably won’t get one ‘til your 18th birthday. I’m calling your parents to tell them what happened. And you’re gonna have to get a job and pay for every cent damage to my yard and car. Now—if you did this, you’re not being a bad person. You’re simply giving the kid what he justly deserves—no more and no less. That’s what Ephesians 2 says God is just in giving us: Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. 2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world….” Ephesians 2:1-2 Death means “separation” – this instance is talking about spiritual death—separation from God, the Source of Life, Love, everything good. Spiritual Death is just—it’s payment we deserve for rebellion against our creator—just like making the kid pay and face the full consequences of his sin is just.
However, you might choose a second option: Mercy. Mercy is giving somebody a little bit less than he deserves. You say, “I should call the police, but I’m not going to. I’m gonna call your parents, and we’ll figure out what to do with all this damage.” And the kid should be grateful for mercy because he’s not getting what he justly deserves due to your mercy. He’s getting less punishment than he deserves. 4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead…For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-6 God’s “so rich” in mercy—what He was doing that first Easter was making it possible to give us not just less punishment, but spiritual life in place of death.
God went further—he chose a Third Option (a much riskier, relationally costly one that could blow up in your face): You could show Grace: You could say, “Kid, you screwed up bad—you destroyed my yard, you did a nice little piece of work to my car. This could affect you getting a driver’s license. But I’m not gonna call the police, and I’m not sure I’m even gonna sick your parents on you. I can pay to get this stuff fixed, but I have a bigger concern than what it’s gonna cost me. How about you and I go get something to eat, and let me hear about what’s going on in your life. I want to hear your story, and I want to tell you some of the things I’ve learned the hard way, and talk about what your future might hold for you. I’ll buy. What do you say? The kid nods. “There’s just one condition,” … “I’m driving.”
Now, what’s your reaction to that last choice? Isn’t that the most ridiculous, ludicrous thing you’ve ever heard of? To relationally invest in him? That kid could totally take advantage of Mr. Nice Guy and take him for another ride. He could stay stuck and never learn from his failure. It could be someone else’s car or even life tomorrow. And you know what—he might. That’s the risk of Grace. But that’s God’s way: God saved you [set you right-related with himself] by his grace when you believed [trusted]. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done….” Ephesians 2:8-9 Grace is giving someone something they totally DIDN’T deserve for their failure. That’s the scandal of God’s Grace. It’s risky business because it doesn’t fully account for failure on the spot. Instead, it takes a relational risk. Because it’s also possible that this kid might just get hit with Grace-giving-relationship that will forever change the direction of his life. God moves into relationship, by Grace, with all who want it—who trusts in his forgiveness, love, and concern for us demonstrated through Jesus that first Easter.
Grace is the reason God sees our failures differently than we do. Ever put on colored-glasses? It changes the color of everything. God puts on Grace-Colored Glasses. When we accept his Grace—he sees every sin, every failure, through the Eternal Lens of Grace. He’s already taken the burden of payment for every mistake on himself, through Grace-colored glasses he sees our failures as opportunities to grow—through Relationship with God. That every sin, every failure, is a chance to relationally be led and taught by God, not how to fail more, how to grow until we fail less and less. That’s something we don’t deserve, but it changes everything.
Scripture says: “We all stumble in many ways.” James 3:2 That’s all of us—so just turn to your neighbor and say, “Welcome to the failure club.” But through the Lens of Grace, there’s always a way forward. In God’s eyes, there’s only One way to truly fail—Pride. That’s why scripture makes it very clear that getting unstuck is not ever about you or me—it’s about the Grace of God. For it is by grace…not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…. Ephesians 2:8-9 You don’t earn a gift, you just receive it, or reject it. Have you received the gift of God’s Grace? That’s what we mark today with Baptism—the outward symbol of the inward reality that you’ve said “Yes to God’s gift of forgiveness, relationship, a new life with God made possible by Jesus.” The Grace of God is scandalous, it’s counterintuitive to the way of the world, it’s risky because it can backfire. But God bets that His Relationship can touch you to the depths of your soul and allow Him to transform you from a Betrayer into a Rock.
See, Failure is not an event, failure is a judgment about an event. The only way you can fail in God’s eyes is by not letting God forgive you and grow you up through each failure. Failure does not define you unless you let failure stop you!
We enter relationship with God by Grace, but it doesn’t stop there—God wants to make us into His work of art as we daily follow him: For we are God’s handiwork [masterpiece], created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10 God forgives, loves, and moves into the closest relationship possible—because he wants to help us become the spectacular creation He planned before you were born. He sees you as someone worth dying for. If you trusted in His grace, are you living in that Grace—are you letting God grow and shape you into a person doing the good works He created you to do? Or have you let your failures or just busyness and self-absorption keep you struck? Are you motivated by His love and Grace to let Him change you into the masterpiece he created? Are you motivated to help others find faith? Living in Grace does that.
Let me tell you what happened to Peter. After he denied his best friend, his lord, the one he believed to be Messiah. After he fled in fear as Jesus was crucified. He came back to rejoin the other disciples. But he secretly still felt like a failure—He denied his Lord, surely He was disqualified. He went with the others back to Galilee, and Peter went back to fishing. They’d been fishing all night and caught nothing. A Voice on the shore calls out, “Hey Boys, haven’t caught anything, have you?” The question has a little sting to it. “NO—what’s your point?” – the question…the admission of failure. “Put down your net on the right side of the boat.” They do. Soon the nets are so full they can’t lift them. With hearts pounding, they then recognize the voice. Peter, zealous as always, jumps into the water and swims to shore, and there he finds…another charcoal fire. Just like the charcoal fire he stood around and betrayed Jesus—a reminder. Just the sight of the fire brings back the pangs of failure. And there is Jesus. I’m sure Peter had an urge to get back in the boat and sail away, to not be reminded of his failure, but Peter stood by the fire and faced the truth.
After breakfast, Jesus looked at Peter and asked a question: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 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.” John 21:15-17
“Do you love me?” Jesus doesn’t ask the questions we expect on the heels of failure: “Are you sorry for what you did?” “Do you promise you’ll never do it again?” “Are you gonna try harder next time?” What Jesus really cares about: Do you love me? It’s not the question of a judge or jury, it’s the question of a parent. It’s failure through the eyes of Relational Grace.
A Promising young executive at IBM was involved in a risky venture for the company and ended up losing $10 million dollars in the gamble. He was called into the office of Tom Watson, Sr., the founder of IBM and the legend who led it for 40 years. The Jr. Exec. was overwhelmed with guilt and fear as he walked in, and he blurted out: “I guess you’ve called me in for my resignation. Here it is. I resign.” Watson replied, “You must be joking. I just invested 10 million dollars educating you; I can’t afford your resignation.” Get back in the game!
Jesus says, Peter, I just invested my very life in you…I can’t afford your resignation. Do you love me, then get back in the game–use the gifts I’ve given you to serve and develop people. Peter says “Yes, Lord.” 3 times. Funny, Jesus asks “Do you Agape me—do you unconditionally love me” Peter answers “Yes, I Phileo—brotherly love you, Lord.” He knows he falls short even loving Jesus. But 3 times Peter denied Jesus, 3 times Jesus lets Peter reaffirm his love. Do you love me? Yes Lord. Then feed my sheep—take care of people (his sheep). Love and care for and spiritually feed people.
This guy Simon Peter failed spiritually, many times. Jesus restores him each time. Simon became Peter—the Rock, by failing forward. For the next 30 years, Peter became a mighty force for change, leading Christ’s church, doing great things for God. Peter’s failure didn’t keep him stuck. He kept growing to become the Rock [but he never wrestled—just in case you’re confused]. This wasn’t Peter’s last failure—Paul had to correct him even after this. But Peter kept learning from his failures, so he didn’t keep failing in the same way. We can do the same.
You know, a couple of weeks ago I was speaking, and I messed up. While talking about aliens from Mars, I made a flippant joke about a painful issue that’s caused hurt and concern for some people. It wasn’t wise and violated my own principle of not making flippant, off hand comments about complex and sensitive subjects. When we fail or make a mistake, first reaction is to explain, justify, deny—I didn’t mean that at all, I had been up all night in the hospital–but that never allows growth—it’s defensive. So as I apologized to a few people who talked with me about this, I was reminded of how God’s Grace brings good out of our worst moments. I received grace and hopefully grew in understanding. Living in Grace lets us grow up in relationship with God and each other.
Do you see yourself and your failures through God’s eyes? Jesus is asking: “Do you love me?” Can you hear him asking you that today? Is there something burning in your soul when you hear that question? Is there something you’re holding back? Hiding or running from God about? You keep going your way instead of His way? Do you love me? What do you say?
Maybe you’re a Christian on the sidelines, you got stuck in self-centered pursuits. Jesus says the same thing. Do you love me? Yes, then get involved or get back in the game and feed my sheep.” Jesus said, I am among you as one who serves. Luke 22:27 Those who follow Jesus serve! Go to Starting Gate and start serving people as an act of Love for God. Scripture says to Christian, You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Hebrews 5:12 If you’ve been a Christian more than 5 years, but you’re not teaching or leading others spiritually in any way, get in a Lifegroup and learn how—If you love me, feed my sheep. We took a survey a few months ago, and you know what you told us? Attending on a Sunday certainly is helpful spiritually, but those of you who started serving others and got involved in a life group grew 5x.
The series Overcome has been about the way Jesus defeated death and empowers us to overcome being overlooked, our doubts, our disappoints, and our failures. Jesus did not just walk around for 40 days after that first Easter Sunday and before He ascended into Heaven. He is still alive. In fact, I have been reading from the book of Ephesians throughout our time together today. Ephesians was written by Paul who saw the risen Jesus in a vision. A few weeks ago you heard from Dr. Mary Neal and Howard Storm who both saw Jesus. All around the world, I have heard stories of Muslims and Hindus who have visions of Jesus. He is alive and He is pursuing each and every one of us. Although I have not seen Jesus, I know He is alive. I have watched him guide me with that inner prompting voice. Do you hear His voice? He is asking all of us: Do you love me?
Maybe for you, today is the day to say “Yes” to God’s gift of relationship—forgiveness and right standing with God forever. Just tell him as we pray, and then I’d encourage you to celebrate that decision with us today by being Baptised. Jesus commanded those who accept his gift of Grace to go public with that unseen decision. Ephesians 2 says So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:7 Baptism is the symbol of being united in Christ—he died for your sins—you were buried with Christ. Raised to new life with Christ–clean and right with God. “So God can point to you in all future ages” —before all of heaven—He points to you saying “Look—my love and grace win again—I got my son, my daughter back.” He will be pointing to you in all future ages. Do you love me?—show him today. As we sing this song, Tell God what you will do to answer the question “Do You love me”.