Rusty: In the game of tennis the one area that makes the real difference is the number of unforced errors. These are the shots that aren’t caused by anyone but ourselves. The best tennis players in the world make the least unforced errors. In our own lives, how can we make fewer unforced errors? Well, there are three main areas of life. When we make too many errors we can create short and long-term havoc for ourselves. Let’s start with our careers.
I’ve hung around enough water coolers, ping pong tables, and board rooms long enough now to know that there are three unforced errors that if we avoid we can make our work life so much better. Avoid allowing our ambition, immaturity, and arrogance to trip us up. When we’re overly ambitious, we alienate others. We lose the support of our peers and only cause the boss to get a headache when she thinks about having to manage us. Immaturity shows up when we aren’t thoughtful about our career moves. We get impatient hopping from job to job or assignment to assignment. We show everyone that we aren’t willing to wait for good things to come to us. When we think we know better than others, but we act as though we’re better than our coworkers, then we come across as arrogant and no one likes someone who is arrogant. Second, we must avoid errors in our relationships.
Here are three errors to avoid. First, fear. We can’t be fearful all the time of others and how they might hurt us. No relationship is ever perfect, of course. Yes, we’re going to feel pain at some point. But living with that fear will hold us back and also deny others from ever feeling like they can love us fully. In our relationships, we must not fall into the trap of competition. Have you ever read in any relationship book or anywhere in the scriptures that we’re to compete with others whom we love? No place ever, yet we do it all the time. We compete with those closest to us and that competition drives people apart, not together. Unforced errors in our relationships can be avoided if we pay attention to what we are doing more than what others are doing to us. Another place in life where we can hurt ourselves is in our finances. There are two errors a lot of us make with our finances. One is to try to go it alone and the second is to not manage risk. These are easy to avoid. Find a professional to give advice and have that person create a portfolio that has well-balanced risks.
You might be saying, Rusty, I don’t have enough money to have a financial advisor. That’s not true. There’s someone out there for every level of financial resource if we’re just willing to go look. Not looking and allowing on our own judgment causes us to take too much risk. That in itself is an unforced error. There are also two attitudinal areas we can focus on. We’re always better when we choose the future options rather than choosing instant gratification. Think with me, can you think of anything good that ever comes from instant gratification? Advertising tries to tell us that it does, but by now we should know better. When the choice comes, opt for the future good, not something that feels instantaneous. Lastly, we should adopt an attitude to expect the best from ourselves. Self-sabotage is an error waiting to happen. When we start thinking we can’t, or aren’t good enough, then we’re allowing our minds to sabotage all the hard work, discipline, and preparation we’ve done.
If we rather expect the best and put the other thought behind us, then we better be ready for whatever shows up. So, we covered our career, relationships, finances, opting for the future, and expecting the best from ourselves. Reorder these and instead of having unforced errors dictate and direct our lives, we have a F-O-R-C-E, a force that we can count on. We know that that force is our loving, graceful, and merciful God who wants nothing less for us than to have an abundant and full life. Best of all, a God who doesn’t keep track of any of our unforced errors.
Paster Terry: This is the final piece of our little mini series Life Apps V2. Rusty is my partner in the project with me. He shared this whole idea of unforced errors. We’re talking about mistakes and failures that oftentimes become part of our lives. They have a way of defining us. We’re going to try to learn how to negotiate it. I think it’s helpful for us because at times we’re going to find ourselves when we will face failures. Or face things in our lives that are less than what we would’ve wanted. It might be people we love who are going to have things happen to them and we want to be able to help. God has so much wisdom to give us. Myself, I think about this day as a special day. It was about a year ago when I had vocal surgery. Last year was a very difficult year for me. It was very hard.
Out of that came such a sense of gratitude for being able to have the opportunity to share God’s words and to be able to share this together. I feel tremendously grateful for the privilege of being able to represent the Lord’s heart in any way that could strengthen all or any of us in our faith with God. I was thinking about this particular issue of failure and recovery. I understand because inevitably we’re going to have times of failure in our life. Maybe some of us are in that right now. We’re going to have periods where we fall short of our expectations. Things that we were hoping would come out of us and it didn’t. Sometimes that’s hard. Some might find themselves struggling with issues that seem to hamstring us right now and having a hard time shaking them. It can feel a bit self-defeating. They may be incidents that have to do with this season.
There might be a season in which we’re struggling with something. I hope that we would learn how to be resilient and be able to reinforce our capacity to move forward when it’s hard, especially when we’re being hard on ourselves sometimes justifiably. The Bible is filled with examples of failure and recovery. You could suggest that the larger story of the Bible is about failure and recovery. Certainly, it is when we think about the mission of Jesus. The whole idea of God’s recovery plan for a fallen race. Failure and recovery is the story of Genesis to Revelations. If you think of it that way, it reminds us that God is a God who invests Himself in the recovery of lost things. When Jesus was on earth in His ministry He taught a series of stories. Those stories had to do with the recovery of lost things. He talked about a lost coin being found and the joy of that recovery. He talked about a lost sheep being found by the shepherd and the joy of that recovery. He talked about a lost son, the prodigal, and the joy of recovery.
Everything about it captured the essence of what He came to do. God is into recovery. He loves restoring things that are broken and lost. He loves helping us when we’re failing or struggling. Keep that in mind. We are going to look at what I think is the greatest example of failure and recovery in the entire scriptures that are recorded. As an individual, there are very few people that can connect with us on this as well as Simon Peter. Peter is this astonishing example of how we can get ourselves into a bad place and how God helps us get out of it. I want to use what I’m calling four brushstrokes or four pieces of scripture primarily. We could sit with each one of these pieces and do an entire series on the passage.
We could spend weeks here, but we’re going to do broad strokes. We’re going to do brushstrokes. We’re going to try to see how Peter increasingly finds himself in trouble until he ultimately gets himself stuck and devastated, and then how the Lord helps him get out. We’re going to try to draw from the principles that can be helpful for us when we find ourselves in those places where we’re having a hard time moving forward. Places we feel ashamed, broken, or paralyzed. Places where our own sense of not being able to meet up to what we sense God expects from us. Or what we expect from ourselves or people we love may be expecting from us. I want to talk about that. Let’s look at how Peter starts to slip and this thing starts to snowball in a bad direction. In Matthew 16, this is what we call the rebuke. “From that time, Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders.” It’s towards the end of Jesus’ ministry. He knows what’s coming. He can see it. He senses it.
The moment is at hand, the hour is nearing when He is going to fulfill the purpose for which He was born, to give His life away is a ransom for many. To become the ultimate sacrifice, to pay a price for us that we could ever pay for ourselves. This is what Jesus understands is coming. Jesus sees that He’s going to suffer many things and began to tell them about how He’s going to Jerusalem and will ultimately be rejected by the religious authority and the powers there. The elders, chief priest, and scribes will reject Him. They will take him. Jesus says “I will be killed.” He also says, “I will rise again on the third day,” but that didn’t make sense. What was He even talking about? It seems like the disciples got stuck on what the bad thing that was going to happen was. Many times, it is what we would expect as well. We see that something happens. When you look at it objectively, it is so incredible. It’s almost hard to believe that anyone would do what Peter does.
As Peter is listening to these words, he’s bothered by them. For one thing, he doesn’t like Jesus talking about His death. This idea about dying and being delivered over in Jerusalem did not fit his paradigm or conception of what Messiah was. Remember, they all believed in Jesus, but they also hitched their wagon to Jesus, if you will. They had all invested in that moment deeply. They believed He was Messiah. They had no idea that He was going to be a suffering Messiah. This idea didn’t fit. As Peter’s listening to Jesus speaks these words, he does something that almost seems incredible. Peter says, “Lord, I need you to come over here with me for a moment. I need to talk to you.” It says that Peter took him aside and starts to rebuke Jesus. Peter said, “Lord, I need to correct you on something, all this talk about you dying and stuff, I don’t know where that’s coming from. I’m telling you, that’s not going to happen.” I do not think Peter was prepared for the velocity of what was coming at him. There is no way in the world he could have anticipated the reaction of Jesus. It was so intense, cutting, and profoundly provocative that Peter could have only been stunned at the moment. As Peter is yelling we’re not going to let this happen to you and to stop saying that, Jesus turned to Peter and said with the same level of intensity you need to get behind me, Satan.
“Get behind me, Satan. You are an offense to me because you are mindful not of the things of God, but the things of men. I reject what you’re saying.” Peter meant it for good. He loved Jesus. He also has some self-interest. Jesus is saying, you have no idea how hard this is for me to have someone whom I love and loves me speaking these words to me. Something coming out of you is hellish in nature and it’s trying to move me off track and I will not be moved. I know where I’m going and why I’m going. It’s going to be hard enough to do it without you getting in the way and telling me I can’t. Do not speak that way. You do not understand what you were saying. You are thinking purely out of a paradigm that is looking at your own sense of what is powerful, and authoritative, and what it means to rule and lead. You have no idea what I’m about to walk through. I do not receive what you just said to me. I renounce it. I identified it as something that is designed from the pit of hell to get me off course.
You have to remember Peter may have stepped out of line a little bit, but that was blistering. As Peter is in that moment, remember, it’s almost as if there is no resolution. It’s like when we get into a disagreement with someone who’s close to us and it’s intense, but nothing is sorted out. It just ends. Yes, Peter stepped over the line, that’s true. But now there’s this little tension. When you have a relationship and something happens, especially if it’s in relation to someone you highly regard, there’s a subtle tension of something that is not really resolved. Where did that come from, Lord? As far as we can tell, there was nothing more set around it. Brushstroke number two, the second incident. Watch what happens as it devolves. Let’s jump over to the night of Jesus’ betrayal. It’s not far after what we just saw and read about.
It says that Jesus already knows He’s being betrayed by Judas. Judas has already left, gone in the night. It’s all starting to happen. Jesus is fully aware, knows where it’s going, and not caught off guard. He turns to His disciples, the ones who were left and says, this is from Matthew 26, “all of you will be made to stumble because of me this night. All of you are going to be offended by me tonight. You’re all going to be scattered because of your relationship with me. For it is written I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered. That’s you. You’re not going to be able to make it tonight. But I will also say that after I have been raised,” there it is again, they still weren’t getting it, “I will see you again in Galilee.”
Sometimes, when we are insecure about a relationship we push into places we wouldn’t normally go. Jesus already has some tension developing. Now Peter pushes it even further. He says, “what you said about all of us being scattered, offended, and stumbling because of you, it’s not true. Even if all are made to stumble, I will not. I will not do it. I will not be made to stumble. This is one thing I know. I know me better than me.” Jesus says, no you don’t. Yes I do. No you don’t. Yes I do. Jesus says, “Before the night is out you will not only break with me. You will deny me before the new day is ushered in and the rooster crow, the second time to market you will have denied me not once, not twice. You will break with me three times and it will be an emphatic break.”
Peter says, “I am willing to die with you.” He’s saying I reject what you’re saying and the distance grows. The fisher takes, the fisher expands. It’s there now. Jumping forward. They make their way down to the Valley of the Kidron up to the Mount of Olives out of the city. You can still go there today. It’s pretty. You can go to the Mount of Olives today and get a pretty good sense of what an olive grove was like where Jesus was. You can look across again the little valley and see the city itself still there in so many ways as it was. Jesus is there in a garden. He knows this is now. It is happening. He knows where it’s going. He says to His disciples, look, there’s not a lot you can do for me right now. But if you’ve ever loved me, here’s one thing I would love for you to do. I need you to pray for me. He says, can you stay up and pray? That’s all I need. It says they prayed into the wee hours of the night and into the early morning. It was hard.
I have sympathy with the disciples. They fell asleep. It started out well, but then they just went out. I get that. It would’ve been hard, but here’s the thing. As Jesus is praying He utterly needs them. They’re not there. We’ll die for you. I don’t need you to do that. I just need you to pray with me. They’re sleeping. In the background, if you want from a different perspective, you could see lights flickering through the olive grove trees from a distance. At first, you can’t really tell. It looks like a sparkle, but then as it starts getting closer and closer until you see that there’s more and more light. You can tell there’s a group of people coming. They’re coming fast and someone is leading them. We can’t tell who. As soon as they come, the disciples start to wake up and realize, that those are soldiers coming. They’re coming to get Jesus. Judas is leading them to where he knew we would be.
Peter rises up, just as he said, I will die, and takes up his sword. That’s what the Bible says. He takes it up and is ready to fight. Even though everything was breaking out and couldn’t see who was who, Peter takes the sword. The Bible says he swings it. He hits the man. We know the man’s name later on. Evidently, it becomes part of the believing community in Jerusalem. His name was Malchus. Peter barely misses his head, but slices his ear. That’s another story right there. Jesus though in the middle of that says, stop it. Peter, put the sword away. Look, you live by the sword so you’re going to die by the sword. Put the sword away. You don’t even know what you’re doing right now. All things are as they’re supposed to be. I can see Peter thinking, ‘I can’t even do this right.’ Before long they don’t know what to do. They run and scatter. Peter though, wants to know what’s going to happen to Jesus.
Jesus is being taken to a place to be interrogated. a courtyard. It’s still dark, the sun hasn’t risen yet. Peter is there. There’s a group of people warming their hands around the fire there in the courtyard. He makes his way in very stealthy. He doesn’t want to be noticed. He tries to be as discreet as possible, but he wants to see what’s going to happen to Jesus. He’s warming himself by the fire. Someone says, hey, I recognize you. Are you one of those guys that were part of that group with Jesus? The one that they’ve got in there? No. Not me. Then a girl asks him. No, I think you are. I think you are one of them. You’ve got that Northern accent, the Galilean accent, which is where He’s from. Are you sure? I’m telling you, I don’t know the man. Now, we pick it up. Then he denied it again. A little later, those who stood by said to Peter, again, surely you are one of them for you are a Galilean and your speech shows it.
It can tell by your accent. He began to do what he had done before in his past. He starts to curse and swear. He says, “I tell you, I do not know the man.” I do not know the man of whom you speak. I have nothing to do with it. As he’s saying that, the rooster crows a second time. Luke also tells us at that very moment Jesus is being led through the courtyard. As Peter is in the process of denying Him, the rooster is starting to crow. As that is happening, Jesus is being led simultaneously. When he finishes his statement, Luke says, “Jesus and Peter look at each other and the eyes of compassion break him.” When he thought about it, big powerful man, and he just breaks apart. He runs off and is sobbing and weeping alone. He is an utter mess, a broken man. That’s what he is at this moment. We don’t know who found who. Evidently, John finds Peter somewhere there, but this moment was so intense.
We know that something happens even though Peter is utterly broken, probably because John was with him, but he doesn’t do anything. I think he was tempted. Some of it suggested that he really was tempted to do this same thing Judas ended up doing. What do I have left to live for? Especially after he sees what happens to Jesus. The next day Jesus is pinned to the cross. Utterly, brutally, and pathetically treated, Jesus dies. He’s brought to a donated tomb and I can hear Peter saying, John, you don’t understand. The last thing I ever did was denounce Him. The last words He ever heard me speak was the last time I saw Him, you don’t understand. The amazing thing that happens is Jesus rises. Just as He said He would. There’s a little piece of scripture in Luke 24. It says, “they rose up in that very hour they returned to Jerusalem and found the 11. Those who were with them gathered together saying the Lord has risen indeed and has appeared to Simon.
This is telling us that Jesus has a private meeting with Peter. He meets with Peter after His resurrection, but we don’t know anything about it. We don’t know what was said. We have no idea of how it went, how long it was, nothing. What we do know is after that meeting, Peter says, “I’m glad you’re alive. You are who you said you were. You are Messiah as we believed. But I am also as you said I was and that can’t change. It changes something, but it doesn’t change what I did. You can’t use a man like me because a man like me is no good.” We know what happened because of what follows. What follows is a flash forward. This is what I call the recovery moment. Jesus appears at the sea of Galilee, they’re fishing. They go back to what they’ve known. They don’t know what to do. They go back and do what they’ve done. Peter is stuck in a dark place. He’s not better. The sea of Galilee is not a sea. It’s a lake.
It’s way bigger than Lake Merced. It says it is a lake shaped like a harp and is sometimes called the Lake of Gennesaret. It’s beautiful in its own way. It has a unique kind of beauty. It’s pastels. The water is grayish, blue, and purple yellows. It’s this beige. It’s very pretty. Jesus is there making breakfast. He appears. All of a sudden He’s there. He’s got charcoals there. The Bible says bread and fish on the fire crackling. The aroma is wafting through the air. The disciples see it’s Him. It’s the master. He would appear sometimes. Peter is in the boat. He’s so excited at that moment he forgets how bad he’s feeling. Do you know what that’s like? Sometimes we’re in a bad place. We have these brief moments where we forget how bad we’re feeling. Peter is in one of those moments. It’s the man, Jesus. He flies in the water and swims on the shore. They all gather around Jesus.
Jesus is there. He’s not saying anything though. He’s just making breakfast. One thing we do know is what He does. He says, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” How do I answer that question? Why are you doing this? Simon son of John, do you love me? Lord, you know everything. You know I love you. The word he uses is I care for you. Simon son of John I ask you again, do you love me? I do love you, Lord. Feed my lambs. The third time, I’m asking you one more time in front of everybody, do you love me? Do you love me more than these nets, this life? Do you love me? It says that Peter was grieved that the Lord asked him. The other gospels say he was grieved that the Lord asked him for the third time, do you love me? It’s almost like he says, what are you trying to do Lord? Trying to make me pay for what I did? One time for every time I didn’t. What are you doing? Why are you asking me that?
What’s the point of it? The point is Jesus wanted him to confess his love again. Jesus goes on to say, a bit later in the conversation, you know what you weren’t able to do? I’m going to tell you. There’s going to come a point in your life down the road when you’re going to do it. What you were not able to do, I’m telling you right now, is coming and you will do it. You need to believe my word for you. Jesus is saying, I’m not trying to hurt you. I’m trying to heal you. I’m trying to tie it up, stitch it up, and get the infection out of there because you need to get better. One of the ways you get better is by confessing your love because you’ll find it’s not rejected. You define yourself as unlovable right now, a man who can’t be used. I’m telling you can be used. This is something I’m doing in your life. Your failure will not be your ultimate definition. I’m telling you that. It’s a powerful word.
What are the principles for us? This is where I wanted to get to. We’re going to stay with this and process it through, finish this moment. One of the things we’re taught here is clear. When we’re in a place of struggle or feeling particularly defeated by our own selves, attitudes, conduct, or experience, the season that we’re in, whatever it is, I know it sounds so simple, Look to the Lord. Look towards the Lord when we feel this way. I look at Peter, he didn’t know what to do when they came for Jesus. But he finds his way towards Him in the courtyard. When he fails, at least he’s looking at Him. There’s a reminder there that we need to move towards God. Even when we blow it, we move towards Him. Draw near to Him. When we fall, fall forward, that’s called walking. Walking is falling forward. I move towards you God. It’s just like looking your way. I just have to look your way. If I can do that I’m on my road to recovery. My first step is not to run away from you, but to move towards you. That leads to the second piece.
Remember, there are certain seasons where survival is victory. What we need to do is create space for grace. I have watched things happen in my own life. I’ve certainly seen it in the lives of countless people who’ve had devastating moments. When you feel as if you failed at something, there is always a deep emotional tendency to want to compound that problem because you feel so bad. Many times it’s at a place where we have failed or things are caving in on us that we tend to do the least wise thing we should do. We react and we compound our problem.
One of the amazing things is Peter, whether he realizes it or not, helped himself by not reacting. I think it was partly because of John, but he helps himself by not reacting when he could have very easily done something extraordinarily reckless. Somewhere between Friday, Saturday, and the Lord’s resurrection, whenever it was Peter saw the risen Jesus and believes what seemed unbelievable that he created a safe space. He created space for himself. What partly happened is the poison that was there started to leak out of his system. When we’re in that place we have to make sure we give ourselves space for grace. One of my simple sayings is to do no more harm to ourselves. I’m not saying we deny what’s happening. Maybe we can’t get our attitude in a good place, but we’re not compounding the problem by being hyperreactive to what we’ve already made a mess out of. Peter doesn’t do what happens to Judas. Judas takes his life. Peter may have felt it, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t know how he’s going to get through it. There was no promise.
He didn’t even know Jesus was going to be resurrected. Secondly, he had no idea if Jesus was resurrected. It didn’t change who Peter was and what he had done. That didn’t change. The embarrassment he felt in front of all of his peers, all his words, all his rush assessment of his own capacity exposed in front of everyone. They all knew it. But he creates space. Thirdly, we see the value of connectivity. We see the value of relationships. We see the idea of why relationships matter. Especially those relationships that are built around a commonality of Jesus. It’s why we talk about small groups. We talk about being involved in a ministry beyond a periphery of a community. Why? Because out of that context often comes friendships. Out of those friendships comes these relationships that allow us to prevail in the very difficult chapters, seasons, or failure moments in our lives. I know there’s some pain that comes because of choices others make and it’s inflicted upon us. But there’s some pain that’s more a product of our own choices.
That unforced error we were talking about. We did. Nobody else did that. It is even more painful when someone does what Jesus did to Peter. Jesus basically said, let me tell you what’s going to happen if you do this. Then we say, no, it won’t. It’s exactly what happens. That’s hard. How do you face that? One of the beautiful things we know is Peter finds John. John finds Peter. He’s not alone. The relational investment pays off big time when things are melting down. Two are better than one, three full core, not easily broken. That’s the value. That’s the strength. It holds us when part of us wants to run, quit, escape, meltdown, or yield to the darker side. Lastly, but not least, embrace His word of promise over our lives and future. This is huge because what we’re doing is positioning ourselves for breakthrough. We’re saying, Lord, I choose not to allow my present situation even if it’s bad because of what I chose to do or mishandled, keep me from You. I am choosing to trust Your Word over my life. Think about this. Just hold onto this.
What Jesus says to Peter essentially is, I’m telling you, you’re going to be okay. Not only that. I’m telling you that you’re going to end up becoming the man that you thought you could never be again. I’m telling you that right now. I’m working in your life. I am letting you know in advance that I am going to work in your life to such a degree that you are going to follow through on things that before would’ve broken you. You’re a different kind of man now. You can see Peter wavering over that word. Jesus basically brings a full circle. He says, “you didn’t believe me when I told you you were going to fail. But my word was true. When I told you it would happen you didn’t believe me, but it was true. Now I’m telling you that you are going to be blessed. You are going to succeed. You are going to be a blessing to others. I need you to believe that word as well. The same word, the same mouth that spoke to you then what was coming is now speaking to you about what’s ahead. I need you to take that word, embrace and hold it.
You need to trust my word over your life. For some of us, that’s exactly what God is saying. Because God is saying, it’s not a bad thing. It is a good thing. I’m going to bring good from the bad. What ends up happening in this man’s life makes him a different man. He is a deeper man. He has humility in him that only brokenness and struggle can bring. He has empathy in a different direction than he would’ve ever had. He has an understanding of God’s relentless grace that he would’ve never had. There’s so much that happened inside of Peter. He’s reminded how can he ever not be a reminder. It says in a way, that his life becomes a message. In a way, God takes the mess and makes it a message. We’re sharing in it right now. How good is that? That’s what God has for all of us. To different degrees He brings good. His word over you is a good word. In these places, He says, trust Him. It may take a while. It may be a moment that we see something turn fast. Or it may take a while. Either way, it’s okay. God is deepening. God is doing stuff.
Keep our minds in a good place. Trust His word over our lives. It’s the best part of His recovery plan. Let’s pray. Lord, I thank you. As we prepare to have our closing and giving time, this song is so connected to what we’ve just shared about getting up and trusting you. I want to ask that you would help us to do that. Help us to not be defined by our weaknesses, by our failures, in our mistakes, or those unforced errors, but to trust You with our future and the work that you’re doing in our lives. Your Word over our lives is greater. It’s greater than our weakness. It’s greater than our shame. It’s greater than our guilt. We have a great savior who loves us very much. You gave everything for us. You care about our lives. You care about the difference, the effect. You wanted Peter to affect people. So it is with us. The people that would be affected by our willingness to work through things and trust You. Grace upon grace, space for grace in Jesus’ name. Amen.