Mark Batterson - People of the Second Chance with Prison Fellowship
In 2002, Daniel Kahneman was awarded a Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking work in the field of behavioral economics. When he received the award, Kahneman wrote a letter to the Nobel Committee detailing a defining moment in his life. In 1942, his family was living in German occupied France. As Jews they were required to wear the yellow Star of David on their clothing when they were in public. The stigma of that star produced feelings of fear in eight year old, Danny. One night, Danny was out past curfew when he saw an SS soldier approaching. He was scared of what the soldier might do because of that yellow star. The soldier stopped him. Then he did something that Kahneman no category for. The soldier opened his wallet, showed Danny a picture of his son and gave him money. That one encounter would change the trajectory of Daniel Kahneman's life.
In his letter to the Nobel Committee, Kahneman said, "I went home more certain than ever that my mother was right. People were endlessly complicated and interesting". Whether in person or online, I want you to turn to the person next to you and repeat after me, are you ready? You are endlessly complicated and interesting. And so am I. And so am I, and so am I. Every person you meet is a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle. Now I am holding in my hand, a single piece of a jigsaw puzzle, one in a thousand and here's what we do. One meeting, one interaction, one conversation, one tweet. And we judge the entire puzzle by that one piece. Right? We make assumptions. We draw conclusions. We cast judgment based on a data point of one. We write people off too quickly, too easily, one strike and you're out.
And that's where I would offer a little reminder. Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Everyone you meet, made in the image of God. Everyone you meet is endlessly complicated and interesting just like you. Now, let me have a little bit of fun. This puzzle piece actually belongs to someone. Can I give you a few clues? Here we go. He didn't learn to speak until he was four years old. His family nicknamed him, "the dopey one". Teachers called him a slow learner. He failed as entrance exam to the Polytechnic Institute at 16, took him nine years to land a job in academia. Oh, one more thing. He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. None other than Albert Einstein. Looks kinda like... I think have the tongue. I think I have the tongue.
Whether you're in person or online, welcome to National Community Church. We've got a few extra friends joining us, a few extra campuses this weekend. Shout out to the Mabel Bassett Women's Prison as well as the Jess Dunn, Joseph Harp, and Eddie Warrior Correctional Centers. And I just wanna say on behalf of everybody here, we hope that you feel seen and heard and loved in Jesus's name. And I wanna say that we are absolutely honored to be partnering with Prison Fellowship as we celebrate second chance Sunday. And you know what we have small groups. We have group that serves at the youth service center. We have small group that prays over the letters that we get from prison. We have a group that uses the curriculum, that Prison Fellowship help design Outrageous Justice and so ncc.re/secondchance as the Lord stirs you, can we stand in this gap? Amen?
Let me share a few stats up front and then we'll jump into scripture. One in two Americans have a loved one who was or is incarcerated. More than 70 million adults have a criminal record. 1.5 million children have a parent in prison. We need to stand in that gap. Of the 1.7 million people incarcerated, 95% will reenter society and that's where the challenge presents itself because only 40% of returning citizens have a high school degree and we need to stand in that gap. And then there are 44,000 legal barriers that make it very difficult for returning citizens to get a job. The unemployment rate amongst returning citizens, 27% and poverty is the strongest indicator of recidivism. And so can I just say if you're an employer, yeah could we give someone a second chance? And see what God can do.
Now, I know that's a lot of numbers, so I better say this. Every number has a name, every name has a story, and every story matters to God. God has not, cannot, and will not give up on any one of us. It's not in His nature and neither will we. Amen? One more thing up front, if you've been the victim of a crime that can be incredibly traumatic. In fact, you can get triggered by a lot of different things. And I wanna say, I hope you feel seen and heard and loved. I have a friend, Kevin Ramsey stabbed 37 times and somehow survived. And here's the deal, restorative justice, justice is part of it but so is forgiveness. And it's a two-sided coin and there's nothing easy about it. There's nothing neat and clean about it.
But I think Corrie Ten Boom was right, "forgiveness is setting the prisoner free only to find out the prisoner was me". If you have a Bible, you can meet me in Luke 22. Jesus has just celebrated the last supper with His disciples and he pulls Peter aside. Verse 31 and by the way, it was Jesus who changed Simon's name to Peter. And in this instance reverts to his old name and doubles down and uses it twice, which is intriguing. "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat". Which almost sounds like this Job reference of the enemy asking permission to test and to try. But Jesus says, "I have prayed for you". I don't wanna jump ahead too much but how was Jesus able to forgive Peter for what is about to happen without kind of ruining the story? He prayed for him. You gotta pray for people. That's the only way you're gonna have the power to forgive.
"Prayed for you, Simon, that faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers". Peter replied, "Lord, I'm 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 that you know me". And so spoiler alert, Peter does in fact deny Jesus three times. And if we're being honest, there's a little part of us that we're thinking to ourselves, bro, He just told you what was gonna happen. Right? Would you not be on guard in this moment? But I think Mike Tyson was right. "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth". See you never know how you're gonna react until someone makes a joke about your wife at the Academy Awards.
What did Denzel Washington say to Will Smith? "At your highest moments be careful, that's when the devil comes for you". There's an old acronym. I'm just gonna throw this out there. Halt, stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. That's when the enemy's gonna come after you. And I would add an S, successful right? Be careful in those moments. Do not be unaware of the enemy's schemes. Peter denies Jesus three times. We'll pick it up with a third denial verse 59, Luke 22, "About an hour later someone else insisted, 'Certainly this fellow was with Him for, he is a Galilean.'"
And so there's a little nuance here that there were two different dialects spoken in first century, Israel. There was the Judean dialect, which was spoken in Jerusalem. It was city speak, fancy talk. Right? And then you have the Galilean, It's kind of this more rural country, maybe a little bit of a drawl to it that you're not... And so Peter's accent betrays him and it's almost like those who are with, "you're not from here. You're not one of us". Isn't it interesting that something as simple as an accent can elicit implicit bias. We read right over this, but Peter's denial is a wrong reaction in part to discrimination. That doesn't excuse the denial but it's a piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
Verse 60 "'Man, I do not know what you're talking about.' Just as he speaking the rooster crowed". Around the turn of the 19th century, a Russian physician named Ivan Pavlov did some experiments that would win him a Nobel Prize. Dogs naturally salivate to food but Pavlov wanted to see if salivation could be caused by another stimulus. Now, as you may remember from science class Pavlov conditioned the dogs by ringing a bell before feeding them and eventually the ringing bell minus the food caused the salivation. And Pavlov referred to this learned relationship as a conditioned reflex. About 15 years ago, I'll give you an example. I was driving from DC to the Eastern shore, had to stop for gas, pulled in, filled up, headed out, and everybody starts waving at me. They're so friendly on the Eastern shore. No, no, no. They were waving both hands because your pastor had forgotten to take the gas hose out of his gas tank.
So he pulled the gas hose out of the gas pump and was pulling it behind the car and sparks were flying and people were waving their hands. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, but I need to know, come on. You're online. Anybody with me you've made that, anybody in the house at our campuses. Okay we're gonna start a little support group and we'll get over this. So here's the funny thing. I have filled up with gas hundreds of times. And I want to tell you, my record is perfect at this point. I haven't made that same mistake, but I'll tell you this, every time I pull out, I check the rear view mirror. That side view mirror, right? Because there is this deep seeded fear, this subconscious feeling that somehow I have forgotten to do it. That is a conditioned reflex.
And so to one degree or another, all of us are Pavlovian. We have been consciously and subconsciously conditioned our entire lives. Family of origin, right? Culture, circle of friends. We have been more conditioned than we realize. Now some of them are as normal and natural as a blush. Some of them are as destructive as self-medicating or self injury. But one way or the other, we acquire this elaborate repertoire of conditioned reflexes that double is defense mechanisms, and coping mechanisms, and adaptive strategies. What I'm getting at you're endlessly complicated. And interesting.
Let me pause here and pose a Pavlovian question. I wonder if Peter felt a twinge of guilt every time he heard a rooster crow? We are wired in such a way that our five senses hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, smelling, they can trigger memories that are decades old. So this is gonna sound super sentimental. But whenever I smell lilacs, I am transported through time and space to my grandparent's garden in Fridley, Minnesota, right on the Mississippi River. One whiff and I am five years old, all over again. That's the power of a physiological trigger. And the same is true with taste, touch, sight, and sound. And so this is one of those stories, really hard for us to understand as urbanites, most of us wake up to an alarm clock or if you live in the city police siren, car alarm, garbage truck, right? Those are... The rooster population in DC is zero. But in rural areas, roosters still rule the roost.
So many years ago, I'm on a mission trip in the Galapagos Islands. And we're on the Island of Isabella human population, a thousand people. Rooster population, my estimate, a hundred times that. And all of them, all of them right outside our window at four o'clock in the morning. Literally Parker, my son was with me and if I remember right, he took a shoe and threw it across the room at the window. Cause there ain't no snooze button on those roosters. This is how Peter woke up every single morning. And when the sound of that rooster's crow traveled through the Labyrinth of the inner ear and registered in the auditory cortex, don't tell me that it did not create physiological feelings of guilt. It was a daily reminder of Peter's greatest failure. Filled with regret every morning, how could I do that? How could I fail like that? How could I make that mistake?
Now, it's interesting that Peter, in one of his epistles 1 Peter 5:8 writes about the enemy and calls him a roaring lion. In other words, he wants to intimidate. He uses intimidation tactics, but he doesn't just roar like a lion, he crows like a rooster. He is the accuser of the brethren, wants to remind us of everything we've done wrong over and over and over again, why? So that we don't have any energy left to go after those God size goals. The enemy simply put, wants to condition your reflexes with guilt and shame and fear and anger and lust and pride. Should I keep going? Or is that just me? Is that just me? Am I the only one who's fighting these battles on all of those fronts? No, no, no. The enemy wants to condition your reflexes. But Jesus came to recondition those reflexes with His amazing grace.
And so why don't we talk about that? If you're taking notes, you can jot this down. It's much easier to act like a Christian than it is to react like one. Most of us are good actors, we can play the part until the bottom falls out. And now we start reacting out of the flesh. I would argue that the Sermon on the Mount and much of Jesus ministry, is about reconditioning reflexes. What are you talking about? Whether six antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount I would call them six counter habits. Simply put, love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Bless those who curse. You turn the other cheek, go the extra mile and give the shirt off of your back. Nothing natural about any of those. But when Jesus reconditioned your reflexes, now you react out of grace, right?
And so what Jesus is doing six times, he says, "You have heard that it was said, but I tell you". It's like, he's uninstalling this Old Testament mindset where it's an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. And he's rewriting the narrative and he's saying, "No, no, no, we're gonna one up this thing. Don't just love your neighbor, love your enemy". And he pushes this envelope. Can I offer a little exhortation right here? Pay close attention to your over reactions. You've gotta reverse engineer those reactions with the Holy Spirit's help and figure out what is causing them.
When I over react to a situation hypothetically speaking or not, when I get more upset than the situation calls for, come on, let show of hands. Let's all, make sure we're in this together. You overreact, right? Like the situation really didn't demand that reaction, but wow, wow. What just happened, right? Or when I get overly defensive. Or I get really irritated or I begin to project what I don't like about me onto others. It's an indicator that something isn't quite right in here. And in my experience, it's one of two things. It's either an sanctified ego or unforgiven sin. And right there, I would say, "Lord Jesus help us, help us".
When my pride gets injured, it's so hard not to react. But we've gotta make sure that that ego is sanctified. That sin is forgiven and on that note, who's the hardest person to forgive? Yeah, absolutely. The hardest person to forgive is the person who's looking back at you in the mirror, but you need to give yourself a second chance, why? Cause that's what God does. And so verse 60, "just as he was speaking, the rooster Crow, the Lord turned, looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him 'before the rooster crows today you will disowned me three times.' And he went outside and wept bitterly".
I love what Jesus does here. And you almost have to read between the lines. He doesn't say a word to Peter, why? Well, think about it. There goes his alibi, right? If Jesus says something to Peter, He's calling him on the carpet and Peter ends up on the cross next to Jesus. Are you tracking with me? And so not saying anything to Peter is this tremendous act of grace because He would be calling him out and calling him on the carpet. So what does He do? He turns and looks straight at Peter. Now this is really hard to do in a room this big, but I'm gonna say this eye contact is a powerful thing. And so just with a few of you, boom, You just, you make eye contact and there's just, there's something even for a split second, there's something that creates this intimate relational connections.
Okay when you want your kids to tell the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. What do you do? Look me in the eye. Look me in the eye because it's harder to lie when you're looking some. But it's not just a lie detector. Listen, when you love someone, you don't need to say anything. You can just gaze into each other's eyes, right? In the words of the eighties pop artist Debbie Gibson, "I get lost in your eyes And I feel my spirits rise and soar like the wind. Is it love that I am in"? There is something affirming, something empowering about eye contact. Let me just take a moment. Can I advocate for our friends experiencing homelessness? I had about three or four interactions just this week.
If you live in a place where friends live on the street, you're gonna cross path all the time. Can I just say, can we give each other the respect and dignity of eye contact? I think our friendships need to feel seen and heard and loved. And I think there's often this tendency to walk on the other side of the street or to avoid the glance. And I know these situations are complicated and it takes the wisdom of the Holy spirit to lead us and guide us. I'm just saying that there's something about eye contact that levels the playing field and says the image of God in me greets the image of God in you.
So Jesus turns look straight at Peter. Doesn't give him the evil eye. This is not a look of condemnation. This is a look of compassion. Jesus is using eye contact to reestablish a relational connection. It's almost like Jesus takes Peter and says, "Look at me, look at me, it's okay. It's okay, it's okay, I knew it was gonna happen. I told you I've been praying for you, it's okay. I'm not giving up on you"! Why? Cause He can't, it's not in His nature. Kay Kostopoulos a professor at Stanford University teaches a class called Acting with Power actually in the business school. And she starts the class, the very first lesson with a little exercise. She pairs students randomly. And then she instructs them to stare into each other's eyes for three minutes without saying a word.
And so we're gonna do that this weekend. We won't, we won't do that this weekend. But she said, what she's discovered is once people get past the self-consciousness of the exercise, it's the craziest thing in the world. The empathy of levels just start... Come on. If we would take the time to look into each other's eyes, right? Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it this way, "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility". You gotta make eye contact. You gotta see that person as endlessly complicated and interesting. Let me fast forward to the end of John's Gospel. John 21:3 we'll move fast. Simon Peter said, I'm going out to fish. Now we read this recreationally, right? We for fun. Peter is saying this occupationally.
Why, I think he thinks his days as disciple are done, right? You don't fail the boss at the most critical moment. There's no way. My career as a disciple is over and we do the same thing. We make one mistake and we're ready to throw in the towel. We one mistake and we're ready to go back to an old way of life. We deconstruct our faith, which is fine if you reconstruct it. But if you deconstruct it and you don't do anything with it, you're now in a spiritual free fall where you lose your center of gravity and now we're in trouble. And so I think we do what Peter does.
So the disciples fishing all night, don't catch a thing. Someone on shore says, "Try the other side of the boat". Classic, right? These fishing boats in the first century were seven feet wide. Seriously, you think the fish are hiding seven feet on the other on the other side. But credit to 'em, they actually try the other side and miraculous catch of fish, 153 fish. And that's when they connect the dots, it's gotta be Jesus, right? And what they couldn't see Him because of the fog. If you've ever been to the Sea of Galilee, I filmed there, a curriculum a couple of years ago and there's almost this Marine layer fog that you can't see very far out. So they had no idea who it was.
And this again is a post resurrection appearance but they figure it out so Peter jumps out of the boat, swims to shore and you gotta love this. Jesus is already grilling fish on the beach. Somehow He got them somewhere. So He's already, you gotta love a God who grills out. I'm just sayin'. So after breakfast, Jesus pulls Peter aside and says, "Do you love me more than these"? Wait, wait, wait, what? You gotta understand. And there's some scholarly debate as to what "these" refer to but I think the best guess is probably fishing. This is his first job, this is his first love, this is where he found his identity, found his security long before he ever met Jesus.
And here's what happens again one mistake, I'm gonna go back to that old identity. I'm gonna go back to that old security. I'm gonna write myself off, but this turns into a defining moment for Peter. "Do you love me more than these"? It's almost like Jesus is saying, "Do you love me more than the thing that you love the most"? That's a question we need to ask ourselves. It's a hard question and the question hurt because Jesus didn't ask it once or twice, He asked it thrice. And that's not a word that I use very often, but occasionally I really like it, three times. Why would Jesus do that? That's what hurt. Well, maybe Jesus knew something about reconditioned reflexes before Ivan Pavlov ever came along. Jesus was denied three times by Peter but Jesus forgives Peter three times.
Can I just say that when I look back on my life, the people I appreciate the most, are the people that had the courage to say hard things. Things that I didn't wanna hear. The things that they spoke into my life and that's what Jesus is doing here. So long story short, Peter filled with regret. Recently read Daniel Pink's book "The Power of Regret". Two basic kinds of regret, stick with me here. Action regret, doing what you should not have done. Theologically, it'd be a sin of commission. And then inaction regret. Something you could have should, have done, didn't do, missed opportunity. Theologically, sin of omission. One way or the other. We tend to regret actions more in the short term, but over the long haul, we regret inactions 84% to 16%.
Now in his book, Daniel Pink shares some real life regrets. And I think I'll just share a few of these. "I regret being embarrassed about my ethnicity. I regret pawning my flute for 30 bucks. I regret picking up my first pack of Camel cigarettes in 1999. I regret bullying kids growing up. I regret being unfaithful to my wife. I regret not finding a good therapist 10 years ago. I regret working 18 hour days. I regret having an abortion. I regret that I didn't cuddle more with my kids. I regret that I let a college counselor or convince me that I didn't have what it takes to be a doctor". I'll just stop there. Do you identify with one or two or 10 of those? But what do we do with it? "By making us feel worse today," says Daniel Pink "regret helps us do do better tomorrow".
Well, what does that have to do with Peter? I love the way that Peter leverages this regret. According to church tradition, he's arrested by Nero and sentenced to be crucified at the foot of Vatican hill. But Peter doesn't deny Jesus this time does he? In fact he says, "Don't crucify me the way that Jesus was crucified, I am not worthy. Crucify me upside down". What in the world? What happened? What happened here? I'll tell you what happened. I think someone went from a profound regret where they wept bitterly at that moment that they deny Jesus and they leveraged it and they learned from it and the next time around, "No, no, no. I'm not gonna back down. I'm not gonna back up. I'm not gonna back off. I am not ashamed of the gospel, you can martyr me".
But you know what to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Over the last 15 years, I've gotten thousands of letter from friends in prison who have read a book I've written. And those letters are as unique as the people writing them. But there's a common theme. A few of those letters, very few of those letters, assert innocence. Most of them profess guilt and the regret that comes with it. And all we want right is just a second chance. Give me a second chance. I have a friend named Marcus Bullock made a mistake as a teenager, carjacked someone when he was 15, was tried as an adult, spent eight years in prison. But Marcus made the most of it.
Read books, learned computer languages, cultivated a relationship with God. Marcus was released when he was 23, but he had a hard time getting a job because of that felony on his record. Most of those application asked if there was a felony and he applied for 41 jobs, imagine that. Finally, the next one he applied to, they asked, have you come committed a felony in the last seven years? Well, the honest answer was no, he'd spent eight years in prison, right? And so he gets a job at a paint store, turns it into a contracting company that he started. And now is the founder of something called Flick Shop, where those with loved ones in prison can send a picture postcard. Why? Because it was Marcus's mom who would sent him pictures. Are you ready for this?
Nothing fancy would send him a picture of a hamburger and say, "You're gonna eat this on the outside someday". Send him a picture of a mattress and said, "You're gonna sleep on this on the outside someday". And so Marcus leveraged that regret, turned it into Flick Shop. And I just wanna ask the question, are you owning your regrets or are your regrets owning you? One last observation, John 21:4, "When daybreak came, Jesus stood on the shore". Question, when do roosters crow? The timing is impeccable. The timing is intentional. Jesus is rewriting the narrative. Jesus is reconditioning these reflexes. That rooster's crow that once triggered a memory of his denial of Jesus.
Now brings him back to a beach, having just grilled out, right and eaten some fish, a place where Jesus forgave him and restored him and reconditioned him. I'll you very simple equation. Sin minus grace equals guilt, we're just stuck. But sin plus grace equals gratitude. "Our worst days are never so bad that we're beyond the reach of God's grace," said Jerry Bridges. And our best days are never so good that we're beyond the need of God's grace. Every day is a day for relating with God on the basis of His grace alone.
Let me just kind of poke at this. I think most of us feel like we don't deserve it. Guess what you can. By definition, grace is the unmerited favor of God. Grace is undeserved. Yes. There's a little acronym, grace is God's righteousness at Christ's expense. We are justified just as if we had never sinned. I'm gonna invite our worship team to prepare to come at our campuses. There's a subplot within this subplot and I will close with this. Peter doesn't make one mistake and makes two of mistakes. Doesn't just deny Jesus three times. He commits a crime, he cuts off the ear of a man named Malchus, who is a servant to the High Priest.
This is assault and battery with a deadly weapon. There's no way you're getting by with this, right? Especially when that someone works for the High Priest, you're gonna end up on a cross us right next to Jesus. But what happens? You gotta love this, Jesus takes that amputated ear. And by the way we say that there are seven signs, seven miracles in John. I've written a book about it called "The Grave Robber" No, no, no, there's more than that. There are these little miracles that happen, including the miraculous catch of 153 fish. But this is one of these miracles that we underestimate. Jesus takes that ear and heals the man who had come to arrest him. I think this is a commentary on culture right now. We're all swinging our swords and cutting each other's ears off.
The problem with that is this. If you cut someone else's ears off, you can't have a... You can't hear what they have to say. And so Jesus restores this man's healing, but there's something bigger at play. Long story short, I love the way Dick Foth describes this moment. Basically Jesus destroys the evidence against us. Stop and think about it. Imagine Malchus filing suit against Peter, takes the witness stand Peter cut off my ear. Judge says, "Which ear"? Malchus says, "My right ear". Judge says "you need to approach the bench cause I need to get a closer look. Looks fine to me". And the case is dismissed, thrown outta court for lack of evidence. Why? Because of what Jesus does. Listen, His grace is sufficient for each and everyone within earshot of me talking right now. And I proclaim it in Jesus's name, amen.