My dear friend in Jesus,
I have a difficult thing to share with you. As you know, I have been blessed in recent months to have had wonderful conversations with Simon Peter. I did my best to share with you how those conversations went because you expressed an interest.
But, all of that has now changed! I feel such a loss as I share with you the news that Peter was executed this week. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that this was coming. The resurrected Jesus had spoken of it to him on that lake shore long ago as Peter had shared with me the story. I had passed that on to you in my accounts from my recent visits.
I feel such a loss and yet so blessed. I had the opportunity to listen to Simon Peter, the Rock, talk with me about his experiences with Jesus the Christ! I knew that those opportunities were coming to an end, but now it feels so final. I have been thinking over all that I learned from Peter. I have looked over the notes that I used to write to you of my visits. I would like to share some of those key things that I now hold dear regarding my own discipleship of Jesus as it has been nurtured by Peter.
One of the things that I experienced in Peter was the energy of his faith as he talked about Jesus. It almost came through the air into me – how much the grace, love, peace and joy of Jesus poured out of Peter as he talked of our Lord. It is my hope that my daily encounters with everyone that I meet can carry that energy for Jesus that so touched me over these recent months!
Peter would often remind me that this Christian journey was all about following Jesus – the same Jesus that Peter knew was the one that I could follow, talk with in prayer, learn from his Spirit, discern direction for my life, and gain comfort in facing the ups and downs of daily living. Thus, I follow Jesus.
Peter emphasized more than once that those who knew Jesus embraced certain disciplines after Jesus had ascended and they had been given his Spirit. These were disciplines that helped them to keep focused on Jesus and their calling to be his disciples:
- He said that it was helpful to share the stories of all that Jesus had done and said and to see it in the context of the Holy Scriptures.
- He talked about the value of baptism’s connection to the death and rising of Jesus – that my old self can die in him on the cross and a new self arise in his resurrection. He said that they eat bread and drink wine as Jesus had taught them at their last supper with him and that Jesus said, “This is my body. This is my blood.” Peter valued that connection with the presence of Jesus in that meal.
- He taught me that prayer is certainly having a conversation with the Lord, but that it is important also to be a willing listener to what the Lord may be leading through that prayer time.
- He emphasized that being with other followers of Jesus, the fellowship of believers, is another essential resource in keeping alive one’s faith and one’s growth in that faith in Jesus. We are communities of believers in Jesus and the body of Jesus in the world.
- And, he would not let me forget that a witness to others in actions and words is part of one’s calling in following Jesus. Jesus had said to his disciples just before he ascended that they were to go and make disciples of all nations. Thus, this is not just about me and my salvation. It is good news for the whole world!
Peter also seemed to reveal so many opposites about following Jesus – things opposite of what one might think. It seemed tied into the way Jesus was the Messiah – not a conquering king, but a suffering servant. Peter said that living in Jesus involved a daily dying to ourselves. He remembered Jesus telling them that to be first in God’s kingdom was to be last of all and servant of all. Jesus taught that his followers had to lose their lives to find their lives.
It has seemed to me that before I began following Jesus the things that I would have defined as living my life well could have all been represented by one side of a coin. But, now that I am following Jesus, he has led me to turn that coin over! Many aspects of following Jesus are opposite of what I once would have thought:
Jesus willingly spent time talking with tax collectors and others that typical religious leaders would have shunned. Jesus told a story where the hero was a Samaritan – a despised ethnic group by the Jewish people. Jesus told a story that taught that we could best find him as we encountered the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned – he was there in the lives of some of the most challenged people that his followers could encounter. Jesus called us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Jesus taught that if someone should strike you on the right cheek, just turn the other to them as well.
All of this has left me also realizing that I need to see the world and the people in it differently. Every day I need to be more welcoming. I need to be more ready to listen than to talk. I need to realize that many of the people that I used to intentionally ignore are now the people that I need to intentionally invest in. I need to be more open to risking my life – losing my life – that I might discover the life to which Jesus is calling me. Now, the more that my life is not about me, the more my life gains meaning, purpose and direction – my old self is dying, and my new self is rising!
Dying matters. Rising matters. I think that I could have been caught up in the joy of a risen Jesus and almost want to play down that he died on a cross. This was not Peter’s focus. We face our sinfulness honestly and embrace our forgiveness in Jesus honestly. Dying. Rising.
But, the suffering of the cross! I have wondered, could Jesus have just taught the powerful things that he taught and then disappeared with Moses and Elijah on the mountain as Peter, James and John had witnessed? They could have heard the voice of God saying to them with just a little change of phrasing, “This has been my beloved Son. Now live as you have seen him live and follow what you have heard him teach.” No death on the cross. No resurrection from the dead. Just a powerful few years of amazing teachings and then a miraculous disappearing into heaven – possibly in the same chariot that had taken Elijah many years before. No suffering. No death on the cross. No rising from the dead. Just a miraculous disappearance.
But, I would now hear Peter saying a strong “No!” to me on this. Jesus knew that he was called to die and then rise again. He even told the disciples exactly that more than once. Jesus wrestled with what he knew was coming as he prayed that night in the garden before he was arrested. The cross was key to Jesus being the Messiah, the Christ.
Taking up one’s cross was his expectation of each disciple. Soon after the moment that Jesus had strongly told Peter to get behind him and called him Satan, he said to them: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” And then, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
It seems that there is gift in following Jesus – grace. It also seems that there is cost in following Jesus – loss. It seems like the more you lose, the more you find. The more your old life dies, the more your new self can come to life.
At one point I remember Peter used the phrase, “since Jesus happened to me.” I could see through our talks how Peter experienced Jesus happening to him. At that time, I wasn’t sure that I could experience Jesus in that same way.
But I now know that Jesus has happened to me. Jesus is an experience, a happening, a change agent, an inspirational force, an uncomfortable nudge, a loving confidante, a goal to aim for, a companion to walk with, a lighthouse on a stormy sea, vital nourishment and living water to a hungry and thirsty soul.
At different times Jesus speaks to my heart, guides my steps, challenges my assumptions, changes my priorities, humbles my arrogance, refocuses my eyes, moves my hearing into listening, convicts me in my waywardness and inspires forgiveness in my penitence.
Living in Jesus is Life with a capital “L.” Real Living. Real Life. Life that inspires now and leads to eternity with him.
I have the freedom to face and confess the worst that is in me. I have hope and strength to live anew each day. Dying and rising. Losing and finding.
I hope that my willingness to share my visits with Peter have been helpful to you in your life journey and I hope that journey is one that has heard the calling to follow Jesus.
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER FOR PERSONAL CONTEMPLATION OR GROUP STUDY:
- When have you felt an energy and joy in following Jesus? How might that joy express itself in ways that could bring others into an interest in following Jesus?
- The five disciplines of God’s Word, the Sacraments, Prayer, Fellowship and Witnessing have come up in two other chapters (Following and Witnessing). Have you sought to strengthen one of these disciplines in your own life? If you have, is it time to choose another? If not, take some time now to consider one of the five and how you plan to go deeper in your journey with Jesus.
- How have you faced the opposites that are a part of following Jesus? If you have yet to think about that, how might you face those opposites in your journey with Jesus?
- How has Jesus happened to you? The new disciple provides quite a list. Do any of those also describe you? How? What might you add to that list?