Good morning! What a delight it is to be at the Crystal Cathedral and it’s a beautiful, beautiful sunny day in Southern California and its warm. And the warmth of the Crystal Cathedral and the heat today remind me of one of my favorite stories of three pastors who went fishing. And as they were out in their boat fishing, a terrible thing happened. The boat sank and they all drowned. And what was amazing is when they woke up they were in hell. And these three pastors thought, oh my goodness, I can’t believe I’m here. How did we get here? And the Baptist, he looked and said I can’t believe I’m here. I shouldn’t be here. He said I thought I had it but I guess I didn’t. I thought I had it but I guess I didn’t. And the Methodist, he said well I can’t believe I’m here either. He said I had it but I lost it, I had it but I lost it. And the Robert Schuller, positive thinking pastor said it’s not hot and I’m not here.
Dr. Schuller, you have just blessed us in so many ways and inspired us. I remember a few years ago, coming out and having dinner with you and Arvella, and I’d just written a book called, Failing Forward. And you had taught me so much about possibility thinking and how to fail correctly. I mean you literally were my mentor in that area, and when the first book came off the press of Failing Forward, I held onto it, and when I came out here to Los Angeles to have dinner with you and your wife, I gave you that book. It was the first book and I wanted to give it to you because you were kind of like the godfather of failing forward. And I have a picture of you and me holding up my book, Failing Forward and it’s in my office today. And so when I see it, I’m reminded of that time and I’m reminded of what you have taught me, and I think all of us at the Crystal Cathedral, all of us that watch his TV program through America and around the world, would all say to Dr. Schuller, thank you. Thank you for teaching us possibility thinking. Thank you, for teaching us how to fail forward. I believe that’s from all of our hearts.
Let me tell you how I came to writing the book, Failing Forward. My wife and I were going on a cruise to see the fjords of Norway
By the end of the two week cruise, I’d written the book and when I write it, Margaret pulls off the pages and she reads it and then makes it better and corrects it, so she slowly got the legal pad kind of manuscript under her arms as we go off the ship and she stops halfway off the ship, and she turns around and she says “John, she said I love the book, I love the book.” I said “thanks honey.” I said “tell me what do you like about the book?” Oh she said, “your candidness.” She said “on every page of this book, you talk about your failures and you’re so open and you’re so honest and when the reader just picks up the Failing Forward book, they’re going to be so encouraged because they’re going to identify with all your failures.” She said “there’s only one problem.” I said “what’s the problem?” She said “you didn’t get all your failures in that book.” She said “I see a series! Failure 101, 201, 301, 401.” She says “you have a whole series of books to write on failure.”
And it’s very, very true. Its true in my life, its true in your life. You know we could do a success seminar in one day but if we wanted to do a failure seminar, it would take a week because we’ve all failed. I shouldn’t assume that. There may be somebody out there that hasn’t failed.
Now let me ask you: have any of you ever failed at; raise your hands on these. Have you ever failed to get a job or a promotion you wanted in life? Okay, okay. How many of you have ever, how many of you have ever been impatient with a child? Got you on that one didn’t I. Okay how many of you, be truthful here, how many of you have ever fallen asleep during a sermon. Now not one of Dr. Schuller’s sermons, of course, of course.
RHS: I once fell asleep in my own sermon.
JM: I love that one! In fact somebody asked Pastor Brooks one time, “pastor,” he said, “what would you do if somebody fell asleep in a pew while the pastor was preaching? He said I’d leave the pew and I’d go up and wake up the pastor. We’ve all failed. Well okay, okay, maybe when I gave you all this list you didn’t raise your hand because you just kind of like the only perfect person in the world. But let me ask you a question. How many of you raise your hand and say John honest to God, I have never failed but I am sitting beside somebody who has failed miserably. You see we’ve all failed. We’ve all failed and we all understand. We all understand that failure has a way many times of dampening our spirit and causing us to give up. And so many people that we look up to today are what I call famous failures. Bill Gates, a drop-out out of Harvard, spent 50 bucks on computer technology and he started a business and hasn’t done too bad. Mark Hanson and Jack Canfield, the authors of Chicken Soup for the Soul went to 50 publishers to get their book published and they were rejected by 50 publishers until they found one that would publish the book and it’s sold 75 million copies.
There are a lot of famous failures and the bible, what I love about God’s word is God’s word takes some of the most significant, important people, people that we look up to, people that we want to pattern our lives after, He takes some of the, the bible takes some of these most significant people and talks about their failures.
The one I want to talk about today is Peter. In fact the lesson that Peter learned from God about failure was that God will give you hope because in Peter’s failure, he had a tendency to give up hope. Now lets go to the beginning when Jesus saw Peter. When he came into the presence of the Lord, and He saw Peter, He saw this strong muscular, square jaw looking leader, and he said I’m going to change your name. We’re going to call you the rock. You’re strong and you’ve got capacity and you’ve got a physical presence. We’re going to call you the rock and this is not a bad thing. I mean here comes Peter the disciple and he’s just kind of intimidated with Jesus and he’s kind of getting in there and Jesus looked at him and he said we’re going to call you Rocky. You’re going to be Rocky. Boy I think Peter said ho, ho, ho. I’m the rock.
But if you look at Peter’s life, there were just a lot of chisels cutting away on the rock and mistakes that he made. You turn the pages and you see that he’s speaking out of turn a lot of times, he’s taking his eye off Jesus when he entered into the water. He went to sleep at a very important time in the Lord’s life when he asked him to pray with him, he took things in his own hand, attacked a soldier with a sword, and you can go down Peter and you can see all kind of shortcomings, mistakes and failures, but of course the classic one, the one that you and I know about, is when his best friend Jesus, needed him the very most, when he depended upon him to speak out for Him and to stand up for Him, you know the story. Peter denied knowing his best friend. Now this is a major failure. And I’ve asked myself many times in the denial of Peter towards his Christ why he did that. What caused that failure and I think there are three reasons that Peter failed.
First of all, he placed himself spiritually above the others. Now I know that Peter looked upon himself in a more favorable light than the other disciples, and I know that he placed himself spiritually above them because when Jesus talked that night about the betrayal, He looked at His disciples and He said “tonight you’re going to desert Me” and Peter declared “Lord if everyone else deserts You, if everyone else leaves you, if everyone else messes up,” he said “I just want you to know, I will not desert you.” In other words, he said hey, Lord, I’m the rock! I’m the rock! You can count on me! Now Lord, I can’t talk about these other guys. I think you may have some problems with that other 11, to be honest with you. But I just want you to know you can count on me.
And I can tell you in our own spiritual journey, whenever we begin to place ourselves above others, when we begin to think that we are more spiritual than someone else or that we’re stronger than someone else, it is almost always a sign that we’re about to fall. That that pride is going to eventually bring us down. I can promise you this, this comparison game of our comparing ourselves with others, you’re never going to win on that, you’re never going to win. You can say but I know I’m better than them and I know I’m more spiritual than her, but if you go long enough, you’re always going to find somebody that’s better and more spiritual than you. My goodness. I mean when you really think you’re good, think of Billy Graham. And I was talking to Billy one time and he said “you know John,” he said “when I think I’m doing good I just think of Mother Teresa.” The comparison game doesn’t work, in fact, I know so many godlier people and more holy people than me that when I get to heaven, I think the good ones, I mean the real good ones, the godly ones, I think they’re going to be in heaven, around Jesus and then I think people like me are going to be out in the lobby with a satellite feed. And we’re going to be able to kind of get a glimpse of Jesus through, you know, through that satellite feed. But I know this: we are setting ourselves up for failure when we think that we are more spiritual than someone else.
Secondly, the second reason Peter failed is that he thought he knew himself better than Jesus did. This amazes me. Because Jesus said “I tell you the truth, Peter, this very night before the rooster crows, you’re going to deny Me three times. You’re going to deny that you even know Me.” “No,” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with You, I will never deny You.” You see Peter thought that he knew more about himself than Jesus did. And every time I begin to think that I have better plans than God has for me, or I have better ideas than God has for me, or I have better decisions to make for myself than God has for me, its always putting me on the edge of failure.
And the third reason he failed was that he felt that he was stronger than he was. He literally felt that he was more capable than he really was. And Jesus said to him, “Peter the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” In other words, Peter, you’ve overestimated yourself, you’ve underestimated others and during the pressure of the crowd, we know what happened, in the pressure of the crowd while Jesus was on trial, three times Peter denied him. And in denying Jesus, at that third time the rooster crowed and the bible says, “and the Lord turned.” When the rooster crowed, “the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” He never said a word. But as Peter saw the master look at him, he could tell in his eyes, he could see the disappointment. He could sense that this was a failure that was of proportion like he had never experienced before in his life and he was crushed. The rock was crushed as he went outside and he wept.
Yet on that first Easter morning, you know the story, the women come down, the tomb is empty, the angels talked to the women, He who was crucified is now risen. This brought great hope to the women, and then I love this phrase. One of my favorite, one of my favorite verses in the bible is this one. The angels looked at these women and said, “now go and tell His followers,” the followers of Jesus. Now notice this: “and Peter.” The angels said now we want you to go tell the disciples, the Lord is risen, but not.. just let me clarify this: The disciples, the followers of Jesus and Peter.
They wanted him to know that in spite of his failures, in spite of this terrible denial, that God loved him unconditionally and the fact that he was still a disciple and he was still in the inner circle and that he was still unconditionally, preciously loved. Now while all of this was happening, what does Peter say? Peter’s discouraged. Peter’s given up. The last time he saw Jesus he saw that look in the Lords eye and he had denied Him and this was a failure that Peter could not overcome and he looked at his disciple colleagues and said guys, I’m going to go fishing. I’m going to go back to the trade I used to before I met Jesus. A young man who had so much hope of becoming fishers of men now is going back to fish for fish. A young man who was called the rock now wants to slink away and get as far away as he possibly can, to try to forget what he’s done and try to abandon all those ideals and values that he had. He was disappointed, he was discouraged, he had lost hope, he was in despair.
C.S. Lewis in Screw Tape Letters said, “Satan’s strategy for all of us is to get Christians preoccupied by their failures.” Because when we’re preoccupied by our failures, what we didn’t do, what we should have done, what we can’t do, when we’re preoccupied by our failures. It causes us to take our eyes off Christ. You know he’s fishing. He’s fishing with the disciples out on the sea of Galilee, Jesus the resurrected Lord now comes back, He’s on the shore, and He called out to His disciples out there fishing. He said “have you guys caught anything?” And I love this. The bible says this: the disciples said “no, no, we haven’t caught anything.” Now I’ve just got to stop here long enough because my sense of humor is just what it is, and when they said they had caught nothing, it’s the only I think time that a fisherman had been truthful. They said we’ve caught nothing.
He said “well cast your nets on the other side” and when they cast the nets over on the other side, they pulled up a huge hall, 153 fish and John said to Peter, “It’s the master! That is the master on the shore.” And then Peter, as the boat started to slowly turn to go back to the shore, Peter dove into the water. And when he dove into the water, he was basically saying the boat’s too slow. And I’m getting a second chance. And I thought that I had blown it forever. And the master is on the shore and as he’s swimming, he’s saying things like I’ve held onto this failure long enough. I’ve allowed this mistake to control my emotions long enough. I’ve allowed this to keep me from my potential long enough. I’ve got to get to Jesus, I’ve got to get to Jesus. And on the shore he came, and Jesus had a fire.
It’s interesting it says that He had a charcoal fire. Stay with me. The sense of smell of all the five senses, the sense of smell is the one that you remember the best. And when he came on shore to see Jesus, to get this failure off of his back, the first thing he sees is Jesus and the fire and he smells the charcoal. Charcoal's only mentioned twice in the bible. You see Peter was sitting at a charcoal fire when he denied Jesus. And now he’s coming back to get these failures off his back and again he smells the charcoal and all it does is bring back that fresh reminder of that failure and that mistake. So how did Peter turn from failing Christ to following Christ? Its in the dialogue in this passage of scripture.
If you’re going to start following Christ after your failures, you’re going to have to wake up to your problem. And Jesus, when he looked at Peter, he asked him a very simple question. He said “Peter, do you love Me?” Peter, let me talk to you. Do you love Me? Now to be honest with you, if I was Jesus, I would not have asked that question, I wouldn’t even have thought of that question. I’d have looked at Peter and I would have said something like this. Peter, I am so disappointed in you. Dear God, Peter, I’ve spent three years of my life investing in you. I mean Peter, haven’t you been with me when we saw miracles, haven’t you been with me when we see the glory of God? Peter, Peter, Peter, Peter, how could you do that? Why did you do that? That’s the kind of questions I would ask.
Jesus knew that those weren’t the questions. He knew there was one issue and He wanted to wake Peter up to the problem. He said Peter do you love Me? He didn’t ask that question once or twice. Three times He said Peter, do you love Me, and the third time, Peter is now beside himself, wanting to get this failure off his back and he said “Lord You know me, You know, You’ve got to know that I love You.”
And then Jesus said something interesting. After Peter said you have to know that I love you, He looked at Peter and says “Peter do you love Me more than these?” Now when He said more than these, what did He mean? Oh He could have been pointing to the boats. Peter, do you love Me more than the fishing business that you’ve gone back to? Do you love Me more than the boats? Or He could have been saying, He could have been waving His hand to the disciples. Remember the disciples that Peter said, I don’t know if you can count on them but you can count on me. Now He said Peter let me ask you, do you think you love Me more than these other 11 followers love Me? Wow.
He said I want you to wake up to your problem. It’s a love issue. And I want you to break up with every rival love, whatever these is, the boats, the disciples and then He said I want you to take up your ministry. I want to give you a ministry and this next dialogue if very interesting. Jesus shared with Peter that He was not going to, from that day on, control his life. He said “I’m telling you the very truth Peter, when you’re young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished but when you get older, you have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don’t want to go.” He said this to help Peter understand what kind of death he would experience.
Then He commanded Peter “follow Me” and turning his head, Peter noticed the disciple that Jesus sought. In other words Peter turned his head and he saw John. And he said “Master, what’s going to happen to him?” In other words, he said Jesus I don’t mind having this kind of tough life as long as John has it too. You know. Just tell us were all going to suffer and I’ll feel better. And Jesus said, what is that to you? You follow Me. And peter did.
And a few weeks later, he became the preacher at Pentecost that literally gave wind and birth to the greatest gift we’ve ever received outside of our salvation; that is the church of Jesus Christ. Peter, who lost hope and went back fishing and gave it all up, now all of a sudden has fresh wind beneath his wing and its all because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Eighty one times in this word, 81 times, you’ll see the word hope. Eighty one times you’ll read the word hope. One time before the resurrection, 80 times after the resurrection. Eighty times after the Lord arose, there was hope for us, no matter what our mistakes, no matter what our failures, no matter what our problems, no matter what we’ve done, no matter what we’ve gone through, there’s hope, Peter would tell you. He would tell me. The lesson he learned in his failure was that God will give you hope.
I close with this very personal story. Just a few days ago, my mother died. About a month ago I was in Asia doing an Asian book tour, and speaking to the corporate community, and I was in Thailand and my sister Trish, who is an RN, called me on the phone and said they just discovered mom has cancer. So as soon as I could, I got back and Margaret and I drove from our home in Jupiter Florida up to Winter Haven where mom and dad live. And we had a wonderful Thursday with her. I mean she had just gotten back from the hospital and I’ve never had a better day with my mom. We laughed and you know, she wanted to kind of get rid of some of the books on her bookshelf so I took all the books down from her bookshelf and I read her the titles, and she’d say I don’t want that one anymore, and I don’t want that one anymore, and then she said well I want that one. And then she had one of my books on the bookshelf so I pulled that down and she said oh now what do I do with this one? Finally with a smile she said, okay, you’re here, I’ll have to keep that one, I’ll have to keep that one. We just had a phenomenal day.
Toward the evening, my dad called me into his office, and said its not going to be long, is it son. I said no, dad, its just a matter of days. He said I want you to do the funeral. I said I don’t know if I can. Its my mother. I mean I’ve done a lot of funerals and I’ve talked a lot about the resurrection and hope. But I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m emotionally able to do my own mothers funeral. And he looked at me, he’s a very good leader, confident man, he looked at me and said son God will help you, you can do it. And I know that it would please your mom, so I said I’ll do my best and so I put stuff together and a few nights later, she went to be with the Lord.
So that Friday came for her memorial service. And I began the memorial service by talking about Atticus the Greek scholar in 125 AD, who described the funerals of Christians. He was trying to describe to the secular world why Christianity was contagious and was growing. And the people couldn’t understand and he said let me, let me describe it this way. He said at a Christian’s funeral, they sing songs and they praise God and he said they talk about the fact that they’re leaving this world and going to one that is eternal and he said their viewpoint of death is different than any other persons.
So I talked about my mom and God did help me. And I closed with, in fact my mother had a great sense of adventure. My mother loved to travel and she’s been blessed and because of my brother and myself, we’ve been able to take her around the world and many, many wonderful trips and she always loved to plan the trip, she always loved to talk about where she was going and planning. And I closed that day by saying to those who had come to say their last good byes to her, my mom has now taken the trip of all trips. She’s going to a place where God dwells. She’s diminished from our sight but on heaven’s shores they’re saying she is coming, she is coming, she is coming. And then I looked at her friends and family and said the reason I can stand before you and smile on the day of the memorial service of my mother is because I know where she is.
And my friends, you watching television in America and around the world, you at the Crystal Cathedral today, here is my last word to you: hope. No matter what you’ve done, no matter where you’ve been, God offers you eternal life, God offers you hope and that is the star that causes us to rise above the difficulties and disappointments because we have a hope and a faith in a God that we can live with forever and ever. God bless you.