Welcome to everyone at all of our locations! Are you guys loving this Psalms series as much as I am? Last weekend, Dr. Dick Foth was with us. If you missed it, you need to go to www.theaterchurch.com and watch that message. Next weekend, we’ve got our very own campus pastors preaching, but this weekend is a unique joy for me. 10 years ago, I met a pastor in Arizona who had left an executive position with Microsoft to go and plant a church. The story was so inspiring to me that I wrote that story in In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day and it has been so much over the years to see the way so many people have been inspired by the example set by Lee McFarland. So he and his wife, Sandy, went and started a church in Surprise, Arizona, which is one of the coolest town names ever and God blessed that church and it became one of the fastest growing churches in America. Lee and I have been friends through the ins and outs and the ups and downs and I wanted him to come and share some of his heart and his story with our church family this weekend. So would you give a wonderful, warm welcome to pastor Lee McFarland?
It is great to be here. That was awesome worship. Mark is a great friend. I think we met at a Starbucks the first time and we’ve been friends ever since. Let’s pray before we get started tonight.
Lord it is awesome to be in your house. We’ve already been blessed but now we are fastening the seatbelts and we are going to get busy with You and You want to touch our hearts and we pray that is what happens, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
A man bought a donkey from a preacher and the preacher told this man that the donkey had been trained in this very unique and special way. He said the only way to make this donkey go is to say Hallelujah and the only way to make him stop is to say Amen. He said, ‘Do you still want to buy the donkey?’ The guy said, ‘Yes.’ So he buys the donkey and he hops on it and he says, ‘Hallelujah!’ and the donkey starts trotting along. Then he says, ‘Amen!’ and the donkey stops. He said, ‘This is awesome!’ So he said, ‘Hallelujah’ and goes riding through the desert and down through some trees and stuff and pretty soon, he sees a cliff approaching and he suddenly has a memory loss and he can’t remember the word to stop the donkey. He yells Moses, Bible, church, please stop! But the donkey keeps running and this guy starts praying, ‘Oh Lord, please stop this donkey! Amen.’ The donkey comes to a stop right on the edge of the cliff. In relief, the man says, ‘Hallelujah!’
That’s the story of my life! Has anybody here ever made a bad decision? Me too. We all make mistakes. But life is not about the mistakes we make as much as it is what we do after that. Failure is never final. The real failure is when you don’t get back up. That’s what we are going to talk about.
How do you come back from a set back? How do you go from delirious to fearless? If you are on Twitter or Instagram, you might want to Tweet about the message. My Twitter and my Instagram and my email are up on the screen. Please feel free to jump on those and make it positive! I probably should tell you a little bit about myself.
Before Sandy and I were married, I seriously did pray for a California blond. I was living in Colorado and this was going to be a hard deal for God because it was an interstate deal. I had gone to California and I had seen the cute blonds there and I was like, ‘Lord, I want a California blond, Amen.’ So Sandy is the answer to prayer! My wife is a testimony of prayer. We have two kids. One time, we didn’t have a lot of money for a vacation trip with the kids. The kids were seven and eight years old. We wanted to get out of town, get out of the heat, we were living in Phoenix, so I booked a cheap hotel, super cheap. We drove up there where it was cooler and we got to the hotel and we went to the room and Sandy just groaned. The carpet was nasty and worn out and the bathroom was so dinky and the bathmat was a paper bathmat! I was thinking, how do I recover from this bad decision and right then the kids started giggling. How many of you remember coin operated vibrator beds? They were like, ‘Daddy, give us a quarter!’ So I put a quarter in and they were bouncing all over the place and my daughter turned to my son and said, ‘Josh! Isn’t this the best hotel ever?’ So my bad decision turned into something beautiful.
It is amazing how easily you can make a bad decision. We pastors are not immune to bad decisions. In fact, pastors have a bulls-eye on their back! Satan would like nothing better than to bring pastors down. I wasn’t always a pastor. I was an engineering manager for Honeywell and then Sandy and I moved to the Seattle area to work for Microsoft and I landed a great job as Director of Worldwide Operations for Microsoft. It was my dream job and my dream company. Nobody had ever heard of those Apple people then. I was going to be one of the Microsoft millionaires of the 90s. They were on top of the world. I was making lots of money, six figure salary and thousands of stock options. Of course that’s when God called me to go into ministry. I was like, really Lord? Now? So this pastor called me one day and said he wanted to sponsor starting a church in the northwest part of the valley in Phoenix and I said, ‘I’m going to be there on business for Microsoft next week, maybe we could have breakfast.’ He said, ‘Good, let’s meet at Denny’s.’ Now, I didn’t eat at Denny’s. I do now! But back then I didn’t eat at Denny’s but I said alright. He pulled up in this old pick-up truck. Long story short, Sandy and I decided to do it. We moved to Surprise for the posh salary of $22,000 a year. I had to give up all my Microsoft stock options. They call them golden handcuffs because if you quit, you lose them. It is designed to keep you there. I was a billionaire on paper so it was this huge leap of faith. We moved to Surprise and started a church in our living room. The Church of Sun City sponsored us. Our church, Radiant Church, grew to 6,200 people in 10 years. We were having five services. The longer I talk, you realize what a miracle that is! But I have to confess that I’m a work-aholic. Are there any work-aholics here? Look, they can’t even raise their hands. I was drinking three energy drinks a day and five on Sunday. I was so stressed. The economy had turned down so offerings were low. I had to reduce staff three times. It was a pressure cooker. I was stressed and burned out. We had three suicides in our church in less than six months and I got to a very unhealthy place. So three years ago, in July of 2011, I had to stand up in front of my church and confess that I had a moral failure. I’m a fallen pastor of a mega church. I didn’t set out to have a moral failure, I can promise you that. I’m sure nobody does. I don’t think anybody wakes up one morning and says let’s see if I can ruin everything in my life in one move. It started on Facebook. Men, be careful on Facebook. You can end up sending things you should never send because there’s a detachment that creates a false sense of safety. Facebook can be used for evil. I think the whole Internet can be evil. So three years ago, I had to resign as the pastor of the church that I started. We had poured our lives into it for 14 years. I lost everything. But I was wrong. I sinned against God and my wife and my kids. I will never forget that night. Do you know what it’s like to say to your spouse, ‘I have to tell you something and it’s really bad and we are in big trouble,’ when they didn’t do anything? You did it but now we are all going to suffer. Sandy is amazing. I hope you get to meet her. She is the hero of my story. She was mad at me for like five minutes and then she chose to forgive me and show me grace. She never said the word ‘divorce.’ Murder maybe but not divorce! Sandy and I have been married for 33 years now. We got married when we were 10, in case you are doing the math! My son Josh is 22 and my daughter Chrissy is 21 and they are awesome young adults. But kids pay a price for the mistakes we adults make don’t they? I lost my ministry, my job, my income, my health plan, my truck. Our whole savings was wiped out. Our retirement account is wiped out. All my friends, you find out who your friends are. There was a lot of people calling me when I had a big church. You know who called me when I didn’t have it anymore? Mark Batterson. He was one of the first. Sin has terrible consequences. And on top of that, we had a huge legal issue, a lawsuit. That leads to a bunch of junk on the Internet. Please don’t google my name. It is pretty crazy. You can publicly confess, you can resign, you can walk away and still three years later, you can get attacked. People exaggerate it and tell these awful lies. Our culture loves to kick people when they are down. It is the new sport in America. So for the last three years, I’ve been sitting in the back of the church with all the other sinners, I see you back there, I love you! You are my people! I think I see a Corona being passed in that back row!
A year ago, I completed a two-year restoration program with Tommy Barnett. He was my restoration pastor. He has been in the ministry for a thousand years. He is like Yoda. ‘Restore you we will.’
Now, some of you are thinking, we picked the wrong time to come to this church! Listen, I don’t think so. Stay with me. This is going to get encouraging. And like Liz Taylor said to her seven husbands, ‘I promise I won’t keep you long!’
So let’s jump right in. How do you get back to a good place when you’ve ended up in a bad place? I mean, our nation could use this right now. How do you go from delirious to fearless? That’s what I love about the Bible. The Bible has the answer. We are going to focus on a Psalm that is very near and dear to me and you will see why as we go along. Psalm 34, verses 5 and 6. I would love it if we could read this out loud together. Would you read this with me nice and loud?
Those who look to Him are radiant. There faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called and the Lord heard him. He saved him out of all his troubles.
Do you know who can save you from your trouble? God! If you look at the beginning of Psalm 34, it tells you what was going on with David at the time he wrote Psalm 34. It says: Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelek, who drove him away, and he left.
We need to back up a little bit and figure out what this is all about. Even people who don’t attend church have heard the story of David and Goliath. Israel was fighting this nine foot giant named Goliath and David, this young punk kid, not even a soldier, went to take some stuff to the army that is fighting this guy, he shows up with his sling shot and he ends up killing Goliath with his first shot with his sling shot! Then he takes the giants sword and chops off his head. It was awesome! David became a war hero. He conquered Israel’s worst enemy and suddenly, everybody was talking about David. Then the prophet Samuel tells Israel that David is going to be the next king of Israel after Saul, the current king. And people start flocking to David as a lead. In fact, they even start singing a song about him. When David hears this, think about what this did. He is thinking, ‘They are telling everybody that I’m cooler than the king, that’s not good.’ So he panics and he is seized with fear. I Samuel 21 tells us that that day, David fled from Saul and went to the king of Gath. David turns to this guy Abimelek who lived in Gath. Wait a minute, Gath was Goliath’s hometown! David ran back to the enemy, to the Philistines. But you know what, that’s what happens to you and I, isn’t it? When we can’t see our way around a problem, when we get all stressed out, we fall back into something that we’ve already conquered. And the fact is, our issues don’t happen overnight, do they? A really bad decision starts back with a thousand small bad decisions. If we are honest, we know our issues have been building for a long time. David was the same way. David was a liar. He was fearful. Later in his wife, we find out he has a problem with naked women in bathtubs. You might say, wait a minute, the Bible says Jesus accepts me just the way I am, warts and all. Yes, Jesus accepts you where you are but He is not content to leave you there. Being a Christ follower means getting victory over your struggles. God wants you to deal with your list of issues. How many of you have issues? Raise your hand if you have issues. If you don’t have your hand up, that means your issue is lying and being delusional and pride. The fact is we all have issues! Turn to the person next to you and say, ‘You are a mess!’ But God always give us a second chance.
Unfortunately, we can get derailed just like David did. Verse 12 of I Samuel 21 says David took those words to heart and was very much afraid of the king of Gath. See, if you start believing the trash talk of the enemy, you know what that’s like, you will forget who you are and your actions will follow.
Listen to this description of David in I Samuel 21:13
So he pretended to be insane in their presence and while he was in their hands, he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard. Wow! Does David sound like the warrior prince now? This is the president elect with drool running down his beard pretending to be insane! Fear can turn a warrior into a wimp, a champ into a chump, a winner into a loser.
So what’s the answer? Why is this Psalm in the Bible anyway? Because Psalm 34 tells us how to go from delirious to fearless. There is so much in this Psalm. It is so cool that I get to do this Psalm because it is my favorite Psalm. I named my church after this Psalm. I want to quickly show you a few things. What have I learned the last three years?
Number one, praise God to chase away fear. Praise conquers fear! The first four verses of Psalm 34 tell us
1 I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.
This is the great exchange. If you are delirious with fear, David has given you the solution. Praise! We turn so many other ways when we get worried. But when we seek after God and we praise Him, it releases us from those feelings of fear and panic.
Notice in verse 4, I sought the Lord. That means being broken before the Lord. When you seek the Lord, you just break everything down. I never liked that word. People say you need to be broken before the Lord. I would say, nobody’s going to break me! I’m 250 pounds, 50 percent muscle and 50 percent fat. Us guys can relate to that. But being broken before God is not so bad. Verse 18 or our Psalm is such a verse to cherish. It says
The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed to the spirit. Maybe your heart has been broken. Maybe you lost your job. Maybe somebody you thought was your friend just totally walked away from you. But Jesus wants to tell you right now in this moment, ‘I am closer to you than I have ever been.’
Verse 19 goes on to say
The righteous person may have many troubles but the Lord delivers him from them all. Now, if you are like me, you go, righteous? That leaves me out. This verse doesn’t apply to me. But there is something beautiful that happens when you are broken before the Lord. That is when Jesus walks up to you and He puts a robe on you. The Bible says He clothes us in righteous.
If Sandy hears a noise in the middle of the night, this is what I put on to go out and confront the robbers and they run! But Isaiah 61:10 says
I delight greatly in the Lord. My soul rejoices and my God has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness.
All you have to do is say, ‘Jesus I’m broken-hearted over my sin, please cover me with your righteousness.’
Sometimes I think we think our sin is better than somebody else’s. Have you ever thought that?
You’ve thought, ‘At least I didn’t do that!’ In fact, I might be making a lot of you feel better because when you listen to me, you think, ‘At least I didn’t do what he did!’ Some of the guys are leaning over whispering to their wives right now, ‘At least I didn’t do that!’ But the Bible says our righteousness is like a filthy rag to God. Our good works can never save us. We need the righteousness of Jesus to cover us. And then God sees you as a son or a daughter of the King. Your sins are separated from you as far as the East is from the West and now when you die, you are going to heaven, a place where there is no more crying and no more pain. So if you have never asked Jesus to take that step with you, I’m going to give you an opportunity in just a moment. Or maybe you have drifted away, I’ll give you an opportunity to come back. Because if you have failed like I have, number two, please keep your dream alive. You might want to write that down. Keep the dream alive. Psalm 34 tells us to keep the dream alive. This is so beautiful! In verse 8, it says
8 Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
9 Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
This is God’s taste and see verse, his taste test verse. I would like to show you a story of how God keeps the dream alive. Most people, if they are not Christians, have not ever heard the story of Peter denying Jesus three times in Matthew 26. It involves a famous farm animal. Peter was going to deny Jesus three times before the rooster crows three times. Did it happen just like Jesus said? Yes! Peter, the main man, the leader of the pack, he walked on water, he saw Jesus feed 5,000, he saw Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah on a mountain. Peter goes and says he doesn’t even know Jesus. Oh snap! That’s vicious. So let’s fast forward. After all this has happened and Jesus has died on the cross and He has risen from the dead and the disciples are hanging out and they are all just scared. So the future looks bleak. If you go to John 21, it says Peter is now going to make a decision. Verse 1
3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” It’s like Peter says I have failed at this whole ministry thing, obviously I’m done. I’m going back to fishing.
Let me ask you something, which is bigger on your car, your windshield or you rear view mirror? It’s not a trick question, the windshield of course! Why? If you stare at what’s behind you, you will crash! You can’t look back. When we fail, we look back. We keep looking back but you can’t do that. The Bible says his mercies are new every morning. That’s a forward looking statement. Paul says I press on for the mark. That’s a forward looking statement. The Bible never encourages you to stare at the junk behind you. When we fail, we want to give up and we want to walk away. Romans 11:29 applies to all of us, pastors included. It says the gifts and callings of the Lord are irrevocable. In other words, when you fail, God doesn’t say give me those gifts back. No. I realize some of you might be saying that you don’t agree with a pastor coming back into ministry after he’s done something like I’ve done. I can appreciate that. I feel that way about myself sometimes. But it appears we would be contradicting a major strategy God uses in the Bible. God loves to use people who have failed. Have you ever noticed that? The next time you feel like God can’t use you, remember Noah was a drunk! Check it out in Genesis 9. It says he somehow got naked. You know you were sloppy drunk when you end up with your clothes off. His sons had to back up with a cloak and lay it over him. But God says I will use him to save the world, build a boat! Abraham was too old. Jacob was a liar. Leah was just plain ugly. Joseph was a day dreamer. Moses was a murderer and he stuttered. Gideon was afraid. Sampson was a womanizer. Rahab was a prostitute yet she was the great great great great great great grandmother of Jesus. Jeremiah was always weeping. David had an affair and killed the husband. Elijah was suicidal. Isaiah preached naked. Jonah ran from God. Naomi was a widow. Job filed for bankruptcy. John the Baptist ate bugs. The disciples fell asleep while they were praying. Martha worried about everything. The Samaritan woman was divorced. Zacheus was too short. Paul was too religious. Timothy was too young. Pastor Mark dislocated his shoulder on a slip and slide for crying out loud! But God can use them all! And God can use you too! Give God a big hand because He loves to use failures!
So what’s the answer? Right this down, cry out to Jesus.
So back to the disciples, we are looking at how Jesus is going to restore these guys. John 21 says the boys are back to their old occupation. Verse 3
So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
There was some attitude in that ‘no!’ Why do you want to cry out to Jesus when everything you are trying isn’t working? Let’s go back to verse 5 and 6 of our Psalm. It says
Those who look to Him are radiant. There faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called out and the Lord heard him and saved him from all his troubles. That is such a great description of you and I, isn’t it? This poor man, this poor woman. There is something about calling out to God that He can’t resist. He loves to hear our cry out to Him and then He loves to answer it. When you do that, you better prepare for a miracle. Verse 6, this passage gives me the chills. This is Jesus talking.
6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.
I think at that moment, Peter is like, ‘You came back for me?’ I think it blew him away.
8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
That’s interesting, the fire of burning coals. That is mention two times in the Bible, and guess what fire was burning the night Peter denied Jesus? The same kind of fire. I think Jesus was taking Peter back to the place of failure. But He didn’t rub it in. He didn’t even bring it up. The failure was now becoming the miracle. Now, I have no proof of this but I have an engineering degree so my mind is always trying to figure things out in the Bible but I think the fish were swimming all night under the boat! How else could they have jumped into the net so fast! I think it was like Finding Nemo! It says Jesus talks to nature all the time so I think the fish kept asking Jesus, ‘Can we jump in now?’ Finally, Jesus told them to jump in!
Your miracle is closer than you think! It is right there! Jesus just has to say the word and poof! God turns failures into miracles.
A guy who heard my story at another church. He came up to me and said, ‘Lee, I’m married and I’m on Facebook with my old high school girlfriend and it’s got me in a really bad place. I’m going to go home and defriend her.’ I was like, ‘Yes! God will turn a failure into a miracle,’ if you listen for his voice and let the power of Jesus change you.
Another man came up and said, ‘I did it last night.’ I said, ‘You did what?’ He said, ‘I’ve been on Facebook with this woman, I went and got a hotel and we had sex. What do I do now?’ I said, ‘You know what to do, be broken before the Lord, walk through a restoration and let God heal you.’ If you have failed, let Jesus use my story.
Let Jesus use my story.
The last little bit of our story of Peter and Jesus.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.
Here goes my engineering brain again, what’s with the 153? Why do we need to know that? I’ve a bunch of commentaries on this. I actually made a little project on it. I don’t think this is calculus with Jesus. I think it is there because it’s the details of the story. It is what made that moment unique. You may tell a story sometime and you may say, ‘I lost my job and I lost my money and I had nothing left and God gave me a better job. God helped me go farther than I had ever gone in that other thing.’ Or you may say, ‘I had such a messed up marriage we were even separated, we were three weeks from the divorce being final and God repaired our marriage.’ God loves to take failures and turn it into a miracle and your unique story needs to be told. Your failure doesn’t define you. God always comes back around and it gives you a new mission after He has restored you.
The last verse, verse 22 of our Psalm says
The Lord will rescue his servants. No one who takes refuge in Him will be condemned. Bow your heads with me and pray.
Father, You know me. You know my weaknesses and all my failures. Yet, You still love me. Jesus, thank You for never giving up on me. Help me change. Lord help me taste and see that You are good. Father, You know the miracle I’m thinking about right now. I heard that just now, that the fish are under the boat closer than we think, and Jesus, I pray right now You will call out to those fish to get into the boat. I ask You for my 153 miracle in the name of Jesus.
If you want to take that step I talked about of recommitting your life or committing your life to Jesus for the first time, just pray something like this silently from your heart right now.
Jesus, I want to be forgiven. Nobody knows the things I’ve done except You and me. But right now I confess them and I ask You to forgive them and I ask You to cover me with your righteousness. Put that robe of righteousness on me. Come into my life and set me free. And Father we thank You for your Word, in Jesus’ name, Amen.