“The Cage of Guilt” Wild Goose Chase, Part 4 Mark Batterson

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September 14, 2008

“The Cage of Guilt” Wild Goose Chase, Part 4

Mark Batterson

How’s everybody doing? I’m doing alright, thanks for asking. This is one of those moments where I’m just thankful to be walking, in the most literal sense. It was about a year ago that my son and I signed a discipleship covenant and part of it was a physical challenge, and on Saturday morning bright and early, we got up and ran in the Dewey Beach Triathlon.  I figured if one of us didn’t drown, it was a success.  It was an amazing experience. We did the swim, we did the bike, we did the run, we crossed the finish line together.  I still have some permanent marker, I did shower but wasn’t able to get it off yet. Great weekend!


I’m so excited about what God’s been doing at NCC. I’m loving this series. Last weekend was an amazing weekend, as we continue to celebrate what the Lord has done and we look forward to what He is going to continue to do.


We are going to continue the Wild Goose Chase. If you have a Bible, I want you to turn to Luke 22:31. 


If you’re anything like me, you love success stories.  I love success stories, I think they are motivating, I think they are inspiring. But I’m going to be honest with you, every once in a while, give me a good old-fashion failure story. Is there anybody in your life who makes you feel really good about yourself simply by comparing yourself to them? We all need someone like that. I’m kind of half-serious here, I need to know that I’m not alone, I need to know that I’m not the only one who wrestles with doubt, that I’m not the only one who wrestles with sins that try to entangle my life. I need to know that, and that’s what I love about Peter. Peter is this guy who, when you’re feeling bad about yourself, it is encouraging to me that here’s this guy, a disciple, used powerfully by God but who made so many mistakes along the way, and I want to look at one of them this weekend. I think we can draw some encouragement from it and learn some lessons from it. 


Luke 22:31: Jesus is prophesying about what is about to take place, he says, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail, and when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  But he replied, (you’ve gotta love Peter’s bravado, he has no clue what is about to happen but he pretty boldly says) “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." Jesus answered, "I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times, deny that you even know me."

Around the turn of the 19th century, a Russian psychologist and physician named Ivan Pavlov did some groundbreaking studies that won him a Nobel Prize, that dogs naturally salivate to food. Many humans do as well.  But Pavlov wanted to see if salivation could be caused by another stimulus and as you may recall from a high school Science class, Pavlov conditioned the dogs by ringing a bell and then feeding them their food and eventually, the ringing bell without the food would cause salivation. And Pavlov referred to this learned relationship as a conditioned reflex.  I experienced it this weekend, as I went out to run the Dewey Beach Triathlon and there’s a little place called Fractured Prune, [?] the weirdest name for a donut shot I’ve ever heard, but if you’ve never tasted a Fractured Prune donut, there is hope for you. If you don’t taste it this side of heaven, I’m pretty sure Marriage Supper of the Lamb, there will be Fractured Prune donuts.  We were driving and I kid you not, we started salivating, this conditioned reflex. To one degree or another, all of us are Pavlovian. We’ve been consciously or subconsciously conditioned our entire lives and much of our behavior is dictated by those conditioned reflexes. Every time I fill up my gas tank, I instinctively look in the side view mirror before driving off. And the reason is simple, because a few years ago, I didn’t do that and I ripped a gas hose right out of the gas pump. Coincidentally, it is on the way to Dewey Beach, drove right by the gas station yesterday and didn’t stop and get gas there, because who knows, that employee still may work there. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, going in and saying, “What do I do with this hose?” I was driving out and I’m like, “Why is everybody looking at me?” And here’s the crazy thing, I’ve filled up our gas tank countless times since then. I kid you not, it is this Pavlovian conditioned reflex, every time, there is this subconscious feeling that I forgot to take the hose out.

Over the course of our lifetime, this is important, I want you to grasp this concept, we acquire an elaborate repertoire of conditioned reflexes. Some of them are minor idiosyncrasies, like a nervous laugh or a half-smile or a twitch. Others become major personality traits. I think a critical personality is often born out of psychological insecurity, we criticize in others what we don’t like about ourselves, and when we see something that just kind of triggers this. And so some conditioned reflexes are as normal and as natural as a blush, others are as destructive as drinking to drown your sorrow. But big or small, conscious or subconscious, harmless or harmful, one thing is certain, we are far more conditioned than we realize. I want to submit that part of spiritual growth is recognizing how we’ve been conditioned and allowing God to recondition our reflexes. I don’t have time to go there but if you paint with broad strokes, one of the things you can see is how often Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, but I tell you…” Kind of this reconditioning, like turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, pray for those who persecute you, is that your natural reaction? Love your enemy. Those are not natural reactions, those are conditioned, reconditioned reflexes, and it is what God wants to do in our lives.

Now let me talk specifically about guilt because we’re talking about the cage of guilt and how that keeps us from living the spiritual adventure and the Wild Goose chase. When we sin, guilt is a healthy and a holy reflex. Thank God for the conviction of the Wild Goose. He loves us enough that he says, “I love you enough that I’m not going to let you hurt yourself, I’m going to convict you, I’m going to prompt you in a way so that you know that what you are about to do or what you have done is going to take you to the wrong place and eventually you are going to become who you don’t want to be.” So thank God for the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but some conditioned reflexes are like these psychological straight jackets that immobilize us emotionally or relationally or spiritually. I think false guilt is a great example. The moment we confess our sin to God, our sin is not just forgiven, it is forgotten. Isn’t that an amazing thing! When was the last time you said, “God thank you that your grace is enough, that your grace is sufficient.” For most of us, it is far easier for us to accept God’s forgiveness than it is for us to forgive ourselves. Why? Because we can forgive but we can’t forget. And if we don’t allow the grace of God to really saturate and sanctify our sinful memory, I think many of us continue to experience false guilt over confessed sin and it paralyzes us spiritually. We become so fixated on past mistakes that we forfeit future opportunities. We mistakenly think that our sins disqualify us from God using us and what happens is this, our feelings of guilt become the cage that keeps up from chasing the Wild Goose.

Let me go back to Peter. I want you to see how he ends up in this cage of guilt. Luke 22:54, read along or follow along on the screen: Then seizing him, they led Jesus away and took Him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance but when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them.

Now I want to make an observation here, Peter gets a bum wrap, right? We’re going to read it, he is the guy who denies Jesus, but listen, where were the others? Where were the other disciples? None of them got close enough to get caught. So let’s give some props to Peter for at least getting close enough to be in a situation where he would deny Jesus.

A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, "This man was with him." But he denied it. "Woman, I don't know him," he said.

You almost think his memory would kinda trigger right here, not yet.

A little later someone else saw him and said, "You also are one of them." "Man, I am not!" Peter replied.

Again, here I’m thinking like, ok, I’ve got two strikes, I’m not going to get that third strike. About an hour later another asserted, "Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean." Peter replied, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about!" Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly.

I’ll tell you what, looking at Scripture through the lens of Ivan Pavlov is an interesting exercise and Peter makes an interesting case study. I have read this story countless times, but it was a few years ago that I had a thought and I’ve shared this thought with you before. But it was one of those moments where it’s good to jump off the page. Here’s the thought, I wonder if Peter felt a twinge of guilt every time he heard a rooster crow. Have you noticed the way different stimuli triggers different memories? Like seemingly insignificant sights and sounds and smells can evoke powerful memories. Whenever I hear, You Got It, Ray Orbison, not played very often anymore, but whenever I hear that playing on the radio, oh, the flashback is immediate. I’m right back on Lakeshore Drive, driving from the University of Chicago downtown Chicago with Laura, we were dating and I heard this song I really liked and it finally came on the radio and it was a moment, it was our song. I was in a Five Guys not long ago and it came on and I was with another pastor, a guy friend, and I had all these feelings and it felt really weird at that moment.
One whiff of lilac and I'm transported through time and space to my grandma’s back yard. She had these lilac bushes and one whiff and I’m right back there. I wonder if a rooster’s crow had the same kind of psychological effect on Peter. He let Jesus down when Jesus needed him the most, and I’ve got to think that sound triggered something in his auditory cortex and it had a Pavlovian effect on Peter. Every time a rooster crowed, it put Peter right back in the cage of guilt. Well, this is one of those stories I think is difficult for those of us that are urbanites to really understand. I mean, we live in the city, I live just a few blocks from the Capitol and we go to sleep and wake up to the sound of sirens, car alarms and garbage trucks, the sounds of the city. I think that the rooster population in DC is zero, the last time I checked, but I remember when a missions team from this church, about a dozen of us went to the Galapagos and I’ll never forget waking up on the island of Isabella. I forget the population but I want to say like 1,000-1,400 people, and I think 7 million roosters. I can’t confirm that but I remember that first morning, waking up to the rooster choir. I thought, “Aren’t you supposed to wait until it gets light out?” And there’s no snooze button! I remember that sound. That had to be what it was like for Peter. Imagine waking up every morning to the sound of a rooster crowing, what a great way to start the day! Hey, here’s a little reminder Peter of your greatest failure! Good morning! Have a great day! Listen, Scripture says that Satan prowls around like a roaring lion. I also think he crows like a rooster. He is the accuser of the brethren, and that simple description of who he is, I think reveals a tactic that hasn’t changed since the Garden of Eden. I’ll tell you exactly what the enemy wants to do, he wants to remind you of what you’ve done wrong over and over and over again, and then he wants to remind you again and again and again, because he wants you to live in the cage of guilt, wants to, in a sense, condition your spiritual reflexes with guilt. He wants to hurl accusations at you. And Jesus came to recondition our spiritual reflexes with His grace so that we are no longer reactionaries, we become revolutionaries for His cause. Not living in the cage of guilt but living this spiritual adventure that He called us to.
Let me notice one little phrase, because it is so intimate, so personal, so relational, it is almost a throw-away line in this story, but it is in there for a reason. Everything in the Bible is in there for a reason, and I love what it says. It says: At that moment, the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. You ever notice that passage? It’s almost a footnote in the text but I think it speaks volumes. The split second after Peter denies knowing Jesus, Jesus looks straight at him and makes eye contact. Listen, I don’t think it was a look of condemnation, I don’t think it was evil eyes, I think Jesus knew that Peter would beat himself up over this, and Jesus wasn’t about to give up on Peter but I think He knew that Peter might give up on Peter. I think Peter’s denial doubled as his moment of greatest spiritual vulnerability, and that is precisely the moment Jesus makes eye contact. Why? Because eye contact is a powerful thing. Turn and look at the person next to you. Look them in the eye, I know it’s close quarters, gaze into their eyes. It’s a number of different reactions but when you look someone in the eye, when you actually make eye contact, it is a really powerful experience. There is a connection that is made. Have you ever asked your kids to look you in the eyes when you want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? If you really want the truth, they need to look you in the eyes because it is far more difficult to lie. Have you ever just silently gazed into the eyes of the one that you love, and time melts away, and there is a moment where you are lost in their eyes? That does happen folks and that’s really a cool thing. Let me ask one that might be slightly more convicting. Have you ever avoided eye contact with someone that you’ve been gossiping about? Oh, I don’t think I want to run into them at the water cooler at the office. It’s tough to make that eye contact because you’ve been talking about them, it’s tough to make eye contact. So I think the fact that Jesus is looking straight at Peter, I think it says so much about how He is. You know what, Jesus didn’t need to say a word. In fact, if Jesus had verbalized something to Peter, it would have exposed Peter as his friend and Peter would have been in some trouble. So, in this selfless loving way, I think Jesus sends a non-verbal message via eye contact, “Peter, look at me. Look at me. I forgave you before you even denied me. I just want you to know I haven’t given up on you. We are still in this thing together.”
I’m not sure what mistakes you’ve made. I don’t know what sinful memories are etched into your cerebral cortex. I have no ideas what failures form that cage of guilt in your life, but I do know this – God hasn’t given up on you. He can’t, it is not in His nature. I think at a very fundamental level, if you can spiritual grasp that simple truth, you are going to be ok. It is going to get you through what you need to get through. I think there are moments in our lives when we fail so badly that we feel absolutely unworthy to receive the grace of God, and it’s those moments that make us or break us spiritually. Either we lock ourselves into this cage of guilt or we experience new dimensions of God’s grace. And it changes our lives.
We have a core value here at NCC, love people when they least expect it and least deserve it. I love that. As Jesus’ modus operandi, He went around touching lepers, eating with tax collectors, hanging out with Samaritans, befriending prostitutes, and we are called to follow in His footsteps. And I think that’s what Jesus does with Peter, loves him when he least expects it and least deserves it. And I love that about Jesus. We don’t give Jesus the credit that He deserves as the Son of God. He is also the Son of Man, fully God but fully man. Just think about this, if your friend, your best friend had betrayed you like this, at the moment you needed them the most, they turned their back on you, could you not only forgive them, but would you have the guts to hand them the keys to the kingdom? To say, “You’re the one that I want to lead this endeavor.” I don’t know, I think that says a whole lot more about Jesus than it says about Peter. But it’s because Jesus loved him when he least expected it and least deserved it.
Let me tell you about my grandfather. Grandpa Johnson, my grandpa on my mom’s side, left a tremendous legacy. I want to tell you a story that relates to what I’m talking about. It was a couple of weeks ago that someone friended me on Facebook and then sent me a message and asked me if I was Mark Batterson, son of Don and Bonnie Batterson. Strange question, but yes I am, and she messaged back and said, “My dad was the Clerk of Court in Friendly, Minnesota in the 1950s when your grandfather was the judge, and he was at a tough place in his life, struggling with some things that were way beyond his ability to overcome and your grandfather reached out to my dad and led him to Christ and our family has spent a lot of time with your grandparents and your grandfather invested in him and it didn’t just change his life, it changed our entire family. In fact, one of my sisters is named after your grandma.” I had no idea. And I’m listening to this story and I’m like, “Wow!” It’s amazing. When you make a difference in someone’s life, generationally, what does that look like? But honestly it didn’t shock me, because my grandfather died when I was six years old, but not before having a profound impact on my life. One of my earliest memories was playing over at his house, and we loved their house. It was on the Mississippi River, one of those houses with lots of nooks and crannies to play hide and go seek, but there was one thing we couldn’t do. We couldn’t play with our grandfather’s fossil collection. It was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and I think I was about five years old and I couldn’t resist the temptation. I picked one up and I dropped it and it broke, and it’s the weirdest thing but I can actually, to this very day, I can access those feelings, they are buried deep. I think it was one of the most emotionally imprinted experiences of my childhood, and I think part of the reason I remember it so well is because I knew what I had done was wrong, I expected judgment, he was a judge! Man did he know how to show grace. I remember he walked into the room and didn’t say a word. He just picked me up and gave me a hug. That was it. Now listen, there are moments, parents and grandparents, when you’ve got to discipline and you need the wisdom to know when to exercise discipline and when that’s going to have the most fruit in your children’s lives, but I think there are moments when you need to love them when they least expect it and least deserve it and that grace that you exercise will change their life forever. I will never forget that moment. It was my first picture of what grace really was, and I think, in a non-verbal way, my grandfather was saying, “Mark, you are far more valuable to me than a fossil collection.” It changed my life and I’m so grateful for that.
That’s how Jesus loves us. When we least expect it, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That’s what Romans 5 says. He didn’t wait until we got our act together, when we are at our worst, God is at His best.
Now, I want to fast forward and finish out this story. In John Chapter 21, Jesus has been crucified, resurrected, 40 days until the ascension when He would return to the right hand of the Father where He is right now. But during those 40 days, some amazing things happened and we have a few of those stories recorded and one of them is in John 21. At the beginning of the chapter, Peter says to the other disciples, “I’m going out to fish.” Now on one level, that could be a very harmless statement, like, “I like to fish, let’s go fishing.” But part of me wonders if it actually has a deeper meaning, like, “I think my career as a disciple is probably over with and I’m going back to fishing.” And he makes this proclamation, and I think there is a natural inclination when we fail God, to think, “Let’s just go back to what we were doing.” And there is nothing that Satan would have loved more than for Peter to have spent the rest of his life on fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. He probably would have done everything in his power to make sure Peter caught plenty of fish so he would be content to a life limited to just catching fish, but Jesus called him to be a fisher of men, right? And imagine the adventure that Peter would have missed out on, yes, I know he was crucified upside down, but what do you think his eternal reward is like though? Because that is the end gain. The places he went, the people he met, the things he did, the miracles that God did through him, what a life of spiritual adventure. There was a moment he could have gone back in the cage of guilt and lived there forever, but he didn’t do that, and I think it is because of what Jesus does. A beautiful story, John 21:15: Jesus said, “Simon Peter, Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord, 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.” And Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time, He said to him, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” Peter was hurt. Peter was a little bit offended because Jesus asked him the third time, and he said, “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.” I don’t think it is any coincidence that Jesus asked Peter this question three times. Peter was a little insulted by the repetition but it is quite possible that Jesus knew something about conditioned reflexes before Ivan Pavlov came along. Peter failed three times, Jesus reconditioned him three times. But that’s not all. I love when this story took place. You can go back and look at it, I think its verse 4 in Chapter 21, early in the morning. Jesus reconditioned Peter while the roosters were crowing. I wonder if from that moment, the rooster’s crow was no longer a reminder of failure for his feelings of guilt but it was a reminder of God’s grace that produced feelings of gratitude.
I’ve shared this formula before, let me give it to you one more time. Sin minus grace equals guilt. Without the grace of God, we are all stuck in the cage of guilt, but sin plus grace equals gratitude. The grace of God is the difference between drowning in guilt and swimming in gratitude. And when your spiritual reflexes have been reconditioned by the grace of God, it frees you to come out of that cage and chase the Wild Goose and live a life of faith.
This weekend, we are going to celebrate communion together, and I just want to say this. First of all, I want to extend an invitation. I think some of us may be in that cage of guilt and I want to invite you to come out. I John 1:8 says: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Maybe you’ve never done that. I want to encourage everybody at each of our locations to just look in the mirror for a moment and see if there is something you need to confess. There is One who can forgive it because He paid the price on the cross and if you are here, the Wild Goose chase begins by simply accepting the invitation that Jesus extended. He said, “Come follow me.” It is as simple as saying, “Lord, I don’t have it all figured out, and I don’t have it all put together, but thank you for your grace. I receive it. I’m going to follow after you.” That is the moment, and in that moment, you don’t just come out of that cage of guilt but you begin this spiritual adventure and I’m praying that a lot of us this weekend would respond to that and put our faith in Christ and enter into that relationship. And, communion, what a beautiful way to celebrate it. It represents the body and blood of Christ and what He did on the cross, and we do it, we go back to the foot of the cross and it is there that we receive forgiveness and we are able to move into the future. So I want to invite some of you to make that decision and others, the cage of guilt is one that we are in and out of all the time, aren’t we. Or is that just me? In and out of that cage all the time. But I think that Jesus would ask us the same question this morning, “Do you love me?”
I love Jesus. I’m so grateful for His grace. Without it, I am no place. As we celebrate communion, I want you to view it as a recommission. God is recommissioning us. I don’t know how big, how bad, whatever, but as we celebrate communion, I want to encourage you to reflect on His grace, let it fill you with gratitude and let’s move into the Wild Goose chase that He has called us to. Let’s pray together.
Lord thank You. Those two simple words seem to be the most appropriate prayer. Thank You for Your grace. God I pray that You would help us come out of that cage of guilt, set us free by Your grace, I pray, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Transcription provided by: Ministry Transcription, Margaret Salyers, margaretsalyers@bellsouth.net 404-775-4197

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