Reading for today: Psalm 94 and John 18:15-27
Wow, this got long but it is my favorite topic. Sorry. Read it in three settings. Just kidding.
I like John. Apparently, John liked John. He often referred to himself as “the disciple that Jesus loved.” When all the disciples were choosing nicknames he said, “Call me the Beloved.” In spite of that, I like John. He’s a great story teller. He was there in a pinch when Jesus needed someone to look after His mom. I just like him.
I like Andrew. He was the behind the scenes guy. Always introducing people to Jesus. He never needed the limelight (did I mention John?) but was willing to search the crowd and find somebody else to step up and get things one. I think he was the first PR guy, the first wing man. Andrew was ready to promote Jesus to other people without worrying about himself. Just like him.
But Peter is my guy. Peter is the one I identify with most. Loud mouthed. Impetuous. Impulsive. Compulsive. Peter was always ready to open mouth and insert foot. He had all the tack of a bull elephant, the theological sophistication of a kumquat, but he was full of fire and passion, and he was sure he would never mess up. Until he did.
What do you remember about Peter? Liked to fish? Maybe. Walked on the water? Perhaps. But most of the time when you hear about the disciple Peter, you think, “Oh yea. Denied Christ three times.” He was the original Biggest Loser. That’s Peter.
I have made a career of messing up. I wrote the book on failing. Really, I did. ? When people say, “you should write a book.” I always respond, “I did.” The question inevitably follows, “What’s the name of it?” To which I dutifully respond, “Failure and How I Achieved It.” Same reaction all the time. They laugh, say it’s a great title, then nervously ask, “What’s it about?” I know a thing or two about messing up.
I wish that I didn’t. I wish that I hadn’t. I see those guys who have had it all together all their lives. They have been great pastors, Godly examples, heck, they have perfect haircuts. I see those guys and I am envious. Not of their positions but of their testimony. If somewhere along the way God had said, “You can pick any testimony you want,” I would have chosen Billy Graham’s or Mother Teresa’s or even Mr. Roger’s. I would not have chosen the testimony of a guy that has fallen, failed, and really fouled up. But God didn’t say that and I did, choose that testimony that is, so I like Peter.
One day Josh, my son, was picking Jakson, his son, up from pre-school. They operated on the color system. Blue was a good day. Green was a slip or two. Yellow was pretty shaky. And red, forget about it. For Jakson it has been a red day. As they were walking to the car, Josh said, “Jakson, you got on red today?” Jakson never missed a step. “Yea, Dad,” he said, “Sorry about that.” He was kind of like, “What are you going to do? Messing up is just in my DNA. It is what it is.” Ole Jakson is a chip off of PoppyC’s block. And PoppyC likes Peter.
In John 18 Peter denies that he ever knew Jesus. The pressure is applied, the heat is turned up, and in a moment of panic, given a choice between the right answer and the wrong one, Peter blurts out, “You must be crazy. I never knew Him.” And then, for good measure, he does it twice more. Of all the things you have a hard time understanding in the Bible, this is got to be one of the hardest. “Peter, how could you, who saw the miracles, tasted the wine, walked on water, even had your own mother-in-law healed, how could you mess up like that?”
I look back over my lifetime of failures and ask the same question. What was I thinking? How could I have been so stupid? What kind of screw up am I anyway? King David wrote in the 51st Psalm, “My sin is ever before me.” Been there. Wrote the book. Me and Peter. Given the opportunity to do the right thing, we chose wrong. I’m just saying I identify with those guys, David, Peter, Jakson.
Now, I’m not saying you do. You probably have a perfect haircut too. But just in case you have ever been in the “what was I thinking” club, here are some things I have learned:
First, accept responsibility for your mess ups. From public politicians to professional athletes, our news is full of high profile people that have blown it at one time or another. Without fail, the ones that never really get through it are the ones that refuse to own their failures, confess their faults, and live with the consequences. I’m thinking of another Peter I really like, Peter Edward Rose, Charlie Hustle. He’s got to be one of the greatest baseball players that ever lived but he messed up and refuses to come completely clean. No Cooperstown for him, no Hall of Fame. When you mess up, ‘fess up and take your lumps. Peter, the disciple, not the baseball player, when he is preaching on the day of Pentecost a couple of months later will say, “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:38) Don’t you think he was thinking about his own story when he said that?
Which leads me to the second thing, move on. I am not talking about a casual, cavalier, act as if it never happened response. I mean, once you’ve come clean, told your story, accepted the consequences, leave that chapter behind you and start writing the next one. There are some wonderful lessons I have learned in recovery. Perhaps the most important is living in the moment, staying present, dealing with the here and now, and letting go of the past. We say, “Nothing to prove and nothing to hide.” I can’t predict what people will think of me in the future. I can’t change what they believe about my past. I can only live today and keep moving forward. A few years ago, Doris and I were asked to do a TV documentary about our story. On the last day of this two day shoot, the young interviewer was wrapping up the story and asking final questions. Doris and I were sitting on stools in front of our fireplace with the camera rolling when the interviewer said, “Mike, many years ago you really messed up and then said, ‘It will never happen again.’ Seven years later you messed up again and said it would be repeated. Now, seven years ago you messed up a third time. Can you really say that will never happen again?” Doris looked at me. The room got quiet. I gulped. And then I said, “No. I have learned not to say that. But I can tell you this. It won’t happen today.” Move on. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Focus on today.
Last thing, know God’s incredible grace. You are not the sum total of your mistakes. You are not identified by your past. You are, “a new creature in Christ Jesus.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) God has removed you sin from you as far as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12) WooHoo! That is some good stuff right there. Lean in to that. Make it your mantra and your motto. Look yourself in the mirror every day and say, “I’m not yet what I’m going to be, but I’m sure not what I once was.”
Listen, if you live long enough chances are you are going to mess up somewhere along the way. You might see yourself as John the Beloved, or Andrew, the wing man, but you are somewhere, sometime, probably going to surprise yourself, open your mouth and deny Christ. When you do, don’t stay there. Confess it. Deal with it. Put it behind you. And bask in the AMAZING GRACE of a God that loves you and gave Himself for you. In the end of the story, (I’m preaching on this at my church the Sunday after Easter), Jesus has risen from the dead. (Speaking of getting ahead of myself.) The women come to the tomb and see the angel there. The angel tells them Jesus is risen. The he says, “Go tell His disciples AND PETER.” (Mark 16:7) That should give you chicken skin right there! Go tell the disciples AND PETER. He is not stuck in his failure. He is not the guy that messed up. He is covered by the Blood and full of grace! And I like that guy.
Speaking of the book. I am finishing another book that should be printed by June. “I Don’t Trust Anybody Who Doesn’t Walk With A Limp.” I tell you that to hold me accountable and to say there will be a place to pre-order on the Branches blog site at the end of these 40 Days. Don’t send money but get your name on the list if you are interested. Thanks for your kind words about this stuff.