A New Disciple and Simon Peter

INTRODUCTION

It is always possible to go deeper in one’s Christian journey. Jesus is an essential focus to reach that goal.

What if the opportunity arose to sit down and talk with Simon Peter about Jesus? You could ask him why he followed Jesus? What was Jesus like? How did Jesus change his life? What was it like to be present at such key events as the Feeding of the 5,000, the Sermon on the Mount, the Transfiguration, the Last Supper and Jesus’ resurrection? You could not only ask about what it was like to see Jesus walking on water, but what it was like for Peter to walk on water! Or, what did it feel like to have Jesus say, “Get behind me Satan!” to you? How have you handled being someone who denied Jesus on the night of his arrest?

This book has been written to provide discussions about Jesus in the context of Simon Peter’s life of discipleship. A new disciple visits with Simon Peter in his prison cell in Rome near the end of his life. Each chapter is an account of one of the disciple’s weekly visits. This provides the opportunity for specific conversations about Jesus. The visits start with talk of Peter’s earliest encounters with Jesus and week by week move through Jesus’ ministry, the cross, the resurrection, the ascension and a few experiences revealed in the Acts of the Apostles. Portions of the discussion also arise from the Letter of I Peter. The new disciple asks questions that someone new to the faith might ponder. The answers arise from someone who for 30 years of his life had been following Jesus and the perspective and wisdom that those years may have provided.

As a pastor for over 40 years, it has been my greatest joy to be a part of teaching opportunities that lead students to a deeper understanding of Jesus and his mission. As an ordained church leader, I have taught Bible studies, Sunday School classes and book studies. I have led retreats from 12 to 120. I have had wonderful faith conversations with new visitors and long-time church members.

This is a resource for any of those contexts.

What is effective for growth in faith are resources that help people focus more deeply on Jesus. Jesus is the key. This book is an opportunity for growing deeper in a relationship with Jesus.

Each chapter addresses an important question about the Christian faith and Jesus Christ:

  1. Why would one want to follow Jesus?
  2. How does healing fit into the ministry of Jesus?
  3. What did Jesus teach us about prayer?
  4. How can our faith in Jesus be nourished?
  5. How do I follow Jesus in the 21st century?
  6. What did Jesus mean in his challenge to take up one’s cross?
  7. How are the parables of Jesus still providing direction for today?
  8. Is the Gospel of Jesus really for everyone?
  9. How did Jesus understand the Old Testament scriptures?
  10. How did the experience of fear during Peter’s denial of Jesus change his life?
  11. What is the meaning of the Jesus’ death and resurrection for someone today?
  12. How do followers of Jesus witness to their faith today?
  13. What were the essential resources and insights revealed by Simon Peter about Jesus through the encounters with this new disciple?

Working through questions deepens learning. Within the chapters, the new disciple is able to ask questions of Peter about key events in his time with Jesus. Over those weeks of visits, the disciple struggles as someone new to the faith and asks Peter questions from those struggles. Each chapter then closes with questions to the reader for more personal reflection or group discussion. The closing questions enable the teacher or leader to tap into their own life experiences in the faith and to have the group share from their experiences as well.

Because it combines two people’s perspectives of following Jesus – one brand new and one who was there from the beginning – it is a book that will reward a long-time disciple as well as someone just beginning in the faith.

PREFACE

My uncle is a guard at a Roman prison. It isn’t something that I generally reveal to people, but I thought that might interest you given that Simon Peter, one of the earliest followers of Jesus of Nazareth, is being held there.

It occurred to me a few weeks ago that I might be able to get into the area where Peter is confined. I contacted my uncle with whom I have been close all of my life. I asked if it would be possible for him to get me in to see Simon Peter. It took some coaxing, but he said that he would arrange it.

I had no previous relationship with Peter and he had no reason to welcome me. I am just a recent follower of Jesus. I am excited about what that has meant to my life and I’m thrilled with the group of Christians who have come around me. I want to know as much about Jesus as I can. I want to grow deeper in my journey with Jesus. What better person to turn to than Simon Peter?

It turned out that Peter was thankful for my visit and was open for me to return for a series of conversations. As I checked with my uncle to see about returning, he made it clear that these visits would need to be short. I agreed to keep them all less than an hour. I was just thrilled that I could return regularly!

I have little experience in this faith, and have a lot of questions. Peter never seems to mind. He said that asking questions are the way we learn and grow. So, each week I go return with a new question or questions for him.

In the early stages of the visits I just wanted to know basic things, like how he came to follow Jesus and why. What was Jesus like? What has kept him on this discipleship journey.

Our conversations grew deeper over the weeks as some of Peter’s responses triggered stories from his past with Jesus. On one visit a need for healing prayer came about for a cell neighbor of Peter’s, and he and I ended up digging deep into the matter of healing. I struggle with how to pray and asked Peter to teach me more about prayer and we talked that through from his experiences with Jesus. Food brought a discussion on Jesus feeding many with a few loaves and fishes. Peter hearing children’s voices got us into a conversation of how Jesus was so open and welcoming with all kinds of people, including the little ones. I even got to ask him about the time Jesus told him, “Get behind me Satan!”

I am learning too much to keep these visits to myself. I have taken notes and have begun to make these accounts available to you. I try to be open about my own limitations and honestly report what I asked and how I responded to this great leader for Jesus. I hope what I am about to share will be useful for your own journey with our Lord.

FISHING – Chapter 1

“I could discover the person God meant me to be”

           Hello Peter. I know that we have never met, but I was told that you find visitors helpful in this time and place. I have come because I would like to learn how to follow Jesus from someone who walked with Him.

 Welcome and thank you for coming! Prison is not a place that inspires a lot of visiting, so I am always thankful for visitors. How exciting that you would like to learn more about following Jesus – being his disciple! How have you come to hear about Jesus?

 A friend invited me to a gathering of Christians. I listened and talked with them and returned to further meetings as they studied and prayed together. These were people with a sense of purpose and direction for their lives. They were joyful and hopeful. I wanted to have what they had. I continue to go back and learn more, but when I heard that you might welcome any visitor and that you had walked with Jesus, I had to try to come and see you! But I must admit, I am not sure exactly where to start or what to ask!

 I am not sure there is a starting place. I can say that following Jesus has been an amazing and challenging journey of growth. My life has been lived at depths I could never have imagined for a fisherman from Capernaum of Galilee.

Ah! There. That is exactly what I would like to learn from you! I want to hear some of your story. You know, how was it that you first came to follow Jesus and why?

I have a brother whose name is Andrew.  Like me, Andrew was a fisherman, and we were from a long line of fishermen.  In our early years of adulthood, when we needed to be more involved in our family’s fishing business, Andrew began to disappear into the hills – sometimes for days!  We learned that he had gone off in response to a new preacher or prophet. It was the famous baptizer, John.

One day he came to me and said “Simon, come with me today.  We think we have found the Messiah.”  I just laughed and shook my head. There was work to be done and he had tried to get me to come a few times before. This time, though, he was so fervent in his invitation. I loved my brother dearly.  Oh, there were times when I needed to straighten him out, as brothers sometimes need to do.  But this time, since we had enough fish caught and sold for a while, I decided to go and see this “Messiah.”

So, this first time of going to see Jesus was more to please Andrew?

I guess you could say that. I certainly wasn’t regularly seeking something beyond my life as a fisherman in ways that Andrew was. But even though Jesus was a man with some carpentry skills from the little hill town of Nazareth, it didn’t take me long to realize that Andrew had discovered someone who really was different.

Why? What was it about Jesus that you could so quickly see?

Well, it started with the fact that he had a strong presence about him. It was a combination of strength and peace that I had never experienced before.

So, he had an aura about him?  

You could say that, I guess, but it just started there. As time went on, it was his conversations with us and his public teaching. It always felt personal – that he was speaking right to me. He could talk about something like the coming of God’s Kingdom, but use simple, everyday experiences that you could relate to – stories about farming, neighbors, being in debt, and even fishing! And, there was a real sense of authority to everything that he taught – very different from how our religious leaders would teach. And so, we began to take a few days off now and then to go and listen to this fellow.

Once we were down by the lake, sitting near our beached boats, cleaning and mending our nets and getting things ready for the next day’s fishing. We had already been out on the lake for hours and had taken no catch. Jesus came down along the shore with a large crowd following him.  They were pressing in so hard that he climbed into our boat and asked if we would put out a little way from the shore. We could see his predicament.  Immediately we dropped our nets and pushed out into the lake a short distance. People were pressing in upon him and the urgency and interest of the crowd was not surprising. When Jesus spoke, it always felt that you did not want to miss a thing.

Jesus then taught the crowd from our boat. As He finished speaking, Jesus said to us, “Put out into the deeper portion of the lake and let down your nets for a catch.” This seemed like such an odd request to us. It was not a good time to go out and fish. I felt a little urging to instruct this carpenter on the finer points of fishing in this lake. After all, when it came to fishing, I was the expert. But we decided it could not hurt anything to do as he said.

As I look back now, I am embarrassed to admit that there was a little condescension in my attitude as I said to Jesus, “Master, we worked all night out on that lake and caught nothing.  But, for You, we will put out again and let down our nets.”

We did just as Jesus said.  We went to the deep water and then threw out our nets.  It was not but a minute before our nets were teeming with fish!  It was one of the largest catches I had ever seen.  Our nets were breaking!  We called our partners, James and John, to come and help us.  They did, and we managed to drag in one of the greatest catches of fish ever taken from the Sea of Galilee.

This was unbelievable, but I saw it with my own eyes.  I fell on my knees right there in the boat before Jesus and said, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinner.” Jesus listened to what I said, and responded, “Don’t be afraid over this.  From now on you will not be catching fish, but people.” He then looked into the eyes of each of us, and peering into our very souls he said, “Come, follow me.”

Wow! First, why did you feel so sinful when this happened? And, didn’t that feeling make you resent Jesus in some way? Was it alienating to think that he was so much better or above you?

No, no, no! It was awe that arose in me and I felt unworthy to be in his presence. Jesus was this mix of approachable and inspiring human all in one. I was just a simple fisherman. I did not live with a daily concern about my behavior or my walk with God. I just lived. But Jesus was different in that way. Everything that he did was done listening to and walking with God. I knew it. I could feel it. And, that was so far from how I lived. Ha! In some ways, it is still far from how I have lived since then – although listening to and walking with God has been much more my focus and my heart’s desire. So, when this amazing catch of fish happened, I felt so different, so sinful, so unworthy of being in his presence.

Yet, he invited you to follow him – even though you fell down on your knees and confessed how sinful you knew you were!

Well, that is Jesus! I guess he saw that sinners like me are reachable and we can recognize the need for something more. He often said, ‘I came to seek and to save the lost.’ Funny though. I never really knew how lost I was until I started to spend time with Jesus. I don’t mean that he made me feel so bad. I mean he made me realize that I had so much more to offer the world than what I was living out!

And, when he called us to follow, I knew that he did not intend that we join him to fish together.  He meant: “Come.  Go where I go.  Follow me wherever I lead.”

I think I am hearing that same calling in my heart from Jesus. And, I am not sure if I am willing and able to go where he leads or even worthy to be a true disciple of Jesus.

 I had that same struggle inside of me. I could sense that this was a turning point in my life.  I could listen to this call and go.  I could follow this man and my life would take a whole new turn.  I would be on a totally new course to a destination that would no longer be in my hands, but his.  Or, I could stay home with the comfort of what I had known and be a fisherman, just like my ancestors so many generations before.

Back to Andrew.  As soon as I saw the look in his eye, I knew where he was headed.  But that was Andrew. He had a certain willingness to just go and leave other responsibilities behind. His attitude had often made me so angry! While I have my impulsive streak, I also feel the calling of responsibility. Just dropping everything and following Jesus was such a drastic choice!

This is exactly what I came to learn. Why did you follow Jesus?

What sealed the decision for me was Jesus, himself. I tell you; I have never known anyone like him. There was an immediate warmth, patience and compassion about him. He was one of the smartest people I have ever encountered and yet he never misused that intelligence against another. Oh, he could kid. He quickly identified one’s key strengths and weaknesses. The kidding would come with the weaknesses. He pulled them out in a comment or conversation in ways that cut to the quick with uncanny accuracy. He would often state it with a gleam in his eye and bring a laugh from everyone at his unerring insight. But he could also say it with the love of a teacher’s challenge because he knew it was an area that needed to change. I knew that I could discover the person God meant me to be if I followed Jesus. And so, Andrew and I dropped what we were doing, gave brief good-byes to our families and headed to follow Jesus.  Our best friends, James and John, put down their nets as well and followed Jesus.

So, that’s the story of how you decided to follow Jesus.

It was what I thought to be the best decision I ever made. But what I realize now is that the real decision was what God did in bringing me to Jesus. Over the years, I have realized that rather than me finding Jesus, Jesus found me.

And, as Jesus said, I have been all about fishing in a whole new way ever since!

This has been great, but I am going to need to go. Would it be possible to visit with you again and bring more questions?

You are always welcome for as long as the Lord has me here. And, questions are the key to learning and growth in your faith. As Jesus once said, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER – 

FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION:

  1. What is it about Jesus that has drawn your interest to follow and learn more about him?
  2. Peter, Andrew, James and John were called to a new experience of fishing in their journeys with Jesus. Is there an aspect of your gifts and life experience that the Lord has tapped and turned into a key part of your faith journey?
  3. Who could you sit down with and ask questions about faith and Jesus?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1. What are ways that following Jesus has changed your life’s journey, its experiences and its long-term destinations?
  2. It seemed that Jesus called these disciples into one big change in their lives. Yet, in another it seemed that it was more of a daily experience of shifts and discernments. How have you experienced either or both of these callings of Jesus?
  3. How has Jesus helped you to discover what more you can be, and even are meant to be?

HEALING – Chapter 2

“He sought to have a spiritual impact on their whole life”

Hello Peter! I have come back to listen and learn some more. Is this a good time?

Yes, thank you! It is good to see you! This time each day is a particularly difficult time as we draw to near the end of the day, so to have you here is a blessing. You see, with so much time to think, so many memories come back to me and it’s good to have someone to share what has come across my mind.

What are you remembering and thinking about?

Well, today was an eventful day. I heard someone groaning in the cell next to me. He seemed to be in great suffering. I moved over to his side of my cell and asked if he might like me to pray for him – pray for his healing. He quietly said, “Yes.” I could tell, even from his short desperate answer, that he was willing to try anything. I had him come near so that I could reach through the bars and lay my hands on his hands, and I prayed for relief of his suffering in the name of Jesus.

Is he any better?

Yes, he was healed in that moment. I was thankful that his suffering had been relieved.  Soon word of the healing spread throughout our prison section and many others moved to their corners nearest my cell. They were reaching out from within their cells and saying that they had different illnesses, struggles, and hurts that they wanted me to pray for. My heart went out to all of them. As I prayed for one person, the next person in pain begged for their turn. I kept praying until the pleadings ended. One healing led to many prayers and healings in the name of Jesus in this section of the prison.

I have learned that Jesus did many healings. What was it like to be with Jesus and see him be the healer?

Today took me back to an early time walking with Jesus, not too long after Andrew and I began to follow him. We were in the hills of Galilee. Jesus had prayed for people that we encountered, and we had seen them healed. It was time for us to head back to Capernaum where we lived. As we came into the town, people began to gather around us.

At one point a centurion came up to Jesus and said that his slave, who was dear to him, was very ill. He was worried and asked if Jesus would heal him. The Lord said, “Yes, I will come.”  But, the centurion said, “No, please, I do not deserve to have you in my house, but just say the word and my servant will be healed.”

I could see Jesus’ face light up. There was something about the trusting way the centurion said it – his insight into authority. He touched Jesus’ heart. Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” We later got word that the servant had been healed. The healing took place at a distance, like today for many in this prison!

After healing the centurion’s slave, Jesus continued speaking and healing until late in the afternoon. People began to leave for their homes. I invited Jesus and some of our new friends – disciples that had begun to follow Jesus – to my home. When we arrived, I was troubled to learn that my mother-in-law was ill with a high fever and was struggling.

So then, did Jesus heal her?

Well, Jesus said that he would go and pray with her. I was a little nervous at that point. I was worried that my mother-in-law had mixed feelings about this new venture I was in. I had left my fishing and my family and had gone off to follow Jesus. I believed that God would never let them go hungry, and that they were safe. This belief came out of the growth of my faith in God as I followed Jesus. But I feared that she was worried about all the changes taking place in our lives. I didn’t know how she would receive Jesus.

I should have never worried. Jesus listened and talked with her. Then, he reached out and touched her hand. As he did, the fever left her, and she was well again. Immediately, she got up and began to serve us.

That must have been a powerful thing to see!

Yes! This reaffirmed my willingness to follow Jesus. I was following one who could bring healing into my own family, even into my own concerns about what I had done in leaving them behind. I had seen my mother-in-law healed, and I had seen her serve Jesus. Suddenly, the healing ministry of Jesus became personal. I saw it with new eyes of a deeper faith.

This healing ministry is kind of hard for me to believe. I don’t know. I want to believe in the miracles that I have heard that Jesus performed. Yet, I have doubts!

Well, I continued to see Jesus heal. I saw him reach out and touch the hand of a leper that had been withered and made it whole; I saw him take someone who was not able to walk and give them strong legs to walk; I saw someone who had been blind from birth and he gave them sight. These are just a few examples.

But also, there was a deeper, personal aspect to everything about Jesus. There could be many people waiting, but his healings were done one on one. He would look the person right in the eye. Jesus didn’t want it to be a physical experience alone. He sought to have a spiritual impact on their whole life. Those interactions could sometimes take a while.

In that sense I guess I have already experienced the healing power of Jesus. My life is changing, and my spirit is coming alive in new ways. Are there other stories that can help me to have a fuller sense of his healing ministry?

There was the time that Jesus was invited by a synagogue president to come to his house and heal his daughter who was very ill. On the way to the man’s house and surrounded by a crowd of people, Jesus perceived that healing power had gone out from him. He asked us all who had touched him. It seemed odd to me because people were bumping up against him constantly. But, one woman admitted she was the one who touched Jesus. She shared with Jesus her long struggles with a flow of blood from her. She talked on for a good while, explaining that doctors could not cure it. Finally, she said she had come forward to Jesus and hoped by just touching his garment that she would be healed. In the moment of touching his garment, she knew that healing had come, and her suffering had ended. Jesus focused on listening to her and her story and confirmed that she was healed.

But just then, people came from the leader’s house with the news that his daughter had died. They suggested that the leader not trouble Jesus anymore. I felt some panic – perhaps Jesus had spent too much time with the woman. But Jesus was calm and focused. This was something that I observed often. Jesus was always ready to handle a surprising turn of events as if it was just the next aspect of the day. Surprises like this did not faze him.

Jesus turned to the leader and told him to not be afraid and to keep on believing. We went to the house; mourners were already gathered there. But Jesus asked to be taken into the room where the daughter lay. James, John, and I went with him. With a calmness and deep purpose, he took the little girl by the hand and told her to rise. She did and walked from that room!

He healed your mother-in-law. He healed a woman of her blood flow. He brought a young girl from death to life. So many stories of amazing healings. Was he ever unsuccessful?

There was the time that we went back to his hometown of Nazareth and he could do very little healing there. It seemed that the people were so caught up in the fact that they knew him as he grew up that they struggled to think that he could be someone special, someone gifted. There was no interest and no faith.

When did you discover that you also had this gift?

During Jesus’ ministry we disciples were sent out with a charge to have authority over demons and cure diseases. We went out into the villages and healings did take place. It was through those experiences that I knew that it was possible. Then, after the Lord ascended and the day of Pentecost came, the winds of the Spirit blew powerfully into us and empowered us in many ways. A little later I discovered that I was still blessed with the gift of healing. I was walking to the temple with John, my longtime friend and fellow disciple of Jesus. We came upon a man who was lame and asking for alms. We focused on him and were moved with the realization that we were being led to offer him healing. I said to him, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” The man stood up and walked. He then began to leap around and give praise to God. It was an exciting moment and it led to other things that day, but I then knew that the power to heal was available through me.

Over the years I have continued to be moved by the Spirit as I encounter people who are hurting and am led to bring the Lord’s healing to them. I listen and learn of their suffering. I reach out and touch and pray and see them healed.  It always leaves me in awe. I am so thankful for this gift, but also humbled by it.

I am not sure that I have seen everyone with this gift having that same humility about it.

I know that there have been some over the years that have also had the healing gifts and have used it for their own accomplishments and reputation. But, to tell you the truth, for me it has been a bit of a mystery. I know the Lord is at work. Through these hands of mine there have been people whose lives have changed. I have sought to do as Jesus did – trying to touch not just their physical lives, but to reach their hearts, inspire their spirits and see their lives change in Christ. For so long God used these hands, calloused and rough, for pulling those nets on the Sea of Galilee. And now, they are used to reach out and caringly touch and heal the lives of people in the name of Christ. I am amazed!

Are there times when you cannot bring this healing to people that are ill?

There have been times when the Lord would help me to realize that a person would not be healed. In some cases, as I have talked and prayed with the person, we learned together that the illness would be a part of a deeper healing over time for them. We discovered that the illness was meant to be part of their ongoing faith journey – thus through the struggle with that weakness finding new strength in Jesus. In other cases, we learned that the illness would be unto death. This was always a hard moment, but also a time to realize the full promise of eternal life. I have come to see that all healing in Jesus is ultimately about going deeper into our journeys of following him wherever he may lead.

So, like Jesus experienced in his hometown, the miraculous doesn’t always happen?

Being now in this prison is an example of that, I guess. Being here, where there are so many gathered around who are on a course toward death, I have come to realize that it is my course as well.  You see, I have been in prison for following Jesus before and then been released. Most often the jailing was brief. But one time in Jerusalem – an angel came and miraculously delivered me, took me by the hand and walked me out of the prison when everyone was asleep. I thought I was dreaming, and that God was letting me know that I would be delivered. But the next thing I knew I was out in the city. I went immediately to the home of friends. I knocked on the door and, when the door was finally opened, I was received with amazement and joy because they had been praying for me.

I was miraculously delivered then, but not now. I know that this will be the time when I will face death. And, in facing that death, I confess that there are times when I feel fear. It is not really a fear of death, but a fear of how that death will take place. I look for strength from the Lord each day and I find that strength! What carries me through, what makes me feel assurance, hope, and strength is the promise I have from the Lord that I will be in his presence. It is that which keeps me going. It is that which gives me comfort. Because, you see the greatest healing of all is being with Jesus and to see him face to face.

Peter, I have so much to learn and you have so much to offer. I am only allowed a little time with you. My time has come, and I must leave, but I will be back again.

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER –

FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION:

  1. What are your thoughts or questions regarding the healing ministry of Jesus?
  2. How has the healing ministry of Jesus through today’s church touched your life?
  3. How have challenges (like ill health) affected your journey following Jesus?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1. Have you or someone you knew experienced a surprising or special healing that might be termed “miraculous”? What was that like for them and/or for you?
  2. How do you understand the role of medical doctors and modern medicine and its place in how God is at work in the healing of people?
  3. What have you learned about prayer from Peter’s story of deliverance from prison? You will find that story in Acts 12:1-19. There is some irony for those who were praying for Peter’s safety and release as he hints in his answer regarding the door being “finally” opened. Peter appeared at the door and the maid, Rhoda, in her joy, went to tell everyone rather than let him in. Those who had been praying told her that she was out of her mind until they found Peter at the door. They were praying for his release, but had a hard time believing Rhoda that he could be at the door! How have you experienced ways that prayers are amazingly effective, and sometimes even beyond our expectations?

PRAYING – Chapter 3

“Prayer arises from your heart”

Hello Peter! I have been looking forward to being back with you this week! I have been struggling with my prayers. I am wondering what Jesus taught you about prayer that you think could be helpful to me?

Welcome! I, too, have been looking forward to another time together. So, prayer is what you would like to talk about this evening?

Yes. It seems so hard to know exactly what to pray about. I can ask for things in my life, but it seems so selfish to just make prayer a list of requests! I think there should be more to it and I am just not clear about what to add or change.

Great! Prayer it is then and, yes, Jesus did talk with us about prayer. We were impressed by the way Jesus would pray. He would pray in our presence at times. He would also take time away from us for his own personal times of prayer.

What were some of the things Jesus talked about regarding prayer?

Well, Jesus taught that prayer is not a public event where you seek to impress others with a lot of empty, flowery phrases. Prayer arises from your heart and the experiences of your life. Jesus’ model of going off to pray is something that followers of Jesus should also find time to do. It provides an opportunity to talk over your personal journey with God. Praying for your own needs and the needs of others will renew you and strengthen your walk with God. Practicing prayer privately will strengthen your ability to pray with others – lifting their concerns as you gather with them and even praying for matters arising in the world.

So, Jesus wasn’t implying that prayer is only a private experience between you and God?

Oh no, praying in the presence of others has its place. Jesus prayed publicly at times. But he had us keep in mind that it is not to be done for show to impress those gathered.

I have found that my prayers grow from the daily activities of my life as it is lived in Jesus, as I spend time together with other followers of Jesus, and with those I encounter in the world. I take time to pray, but I also pray at any moment that I need time with God. Jesus never lost track that his Father in heaven was always there and available continually for conversation. And I mean that it is a conversation and that God also communicates through times of prayer. Listening and hearing God’s guidance often takes time and effort, but is a rewarding gift of prayer.

You said, “his Father.” In worship I have heard a prayer Jesus taught that starts with, “Our Father in heaven.”

Yes. I treasure the prayer Jesus gave us. It is coming to be known as the Lord’s Prayer. As I think about how Jesus taught us to pray, it’s a good model for us to work with this evening.

I have started to memorize it since it has been used in worship. So, that prayer really did come from the very mouth of Jesus?

Yes, Jesus taught it to us when we had asked him to teach us to pray. Let’s work through the prayer and see what we can learn together this evening!

That would be great!

Jesus opened this model prayer with the word “Our.” I had said Jesus modeled the importance of praying on your own, but here he clarifies an important truth. Right at the start this is a reminder that the faith community is important in following Jesus. Jesus did not teach a prayer that started “My father.” It is significant that the pronoun is plural and we should not pass over that fact. We follow Jesus as a community. A journey with God in Christ is very personal, but it is not meant to be solely a private experience. The first word emphasizes that followers of Jesus are a community.

And, the next word has much to teach us, as well. Jesus invites us to look to God as our “Father!” Jesus understood God to be his father in heaven. But he taught us that as his disciples we are part of God’s family. God is Jesus’ father, and “Our Father” as well! This brings us back to seeing a balance of the personal and the communal parts of our life journey with God. For each of us and all of us, God is our father in heaven.

I have known some people whose fathers have not been very loving and “fatherly!”

Those that have had wonderful relationships with their parents have a model that can provide helpful insight into how caring and loving God is for us as children in his family. But you are right. Those who may have had parents that were abusive or not invested in their lives could find accepting God as a father to be a difficult model to embrace and express regularly in prayer. I hope that experiencing God’s love and care will help to heal that loss in their lives.

Jesus goes on to lift God’s name as holy. Do you think this had to do with the commandment to not take God’s name in vain?

That’s a great insight! “Hallowed be thy name” is a connection to that commandment. We should treasure the name of God. It is holy to us. It is a gracious gift. It should not be said flippantly or in vain. Isn’t it something that Jesus felt it essential to remind us to treasure God’s name as a holy gift? Does it sometimes seem to you that people do not consider the name of God to be so treasured that it should be only used in prayer or faithful discussion and teaching? Often, people will say “Oh God!” or “Oh my God!” as if it was an expression to be used with no real thought. Thus, they demonstrate the essence of God’s name not being hallowed but being expressed thoughtlessly with no desire to talk to the Lord. Jesus wanted us to so treasure the gift of speaking directly with God and to use God’s name as a gift in prayer, praise and thanksgiving.

Why do you think he wanted us to regularly pray for God’s kingdom to come and will be done? Won’t that happen whether we pray for it or not?

These two ideas with a little shift of meaning express a key perspective. Jesus leads. We follow. As followers of Jesus, we seek for God’s kingdom to come into this world. We easily become focused on ourselves and wanting our lives to go as we would have them go. This selfishness is at the essence of sin. This prayer from Jesus reminds us how important it is for us to live every day desiring to see God’s leadership at work in the world and for us to be a part of God’s kingdom coming. This then flows into the next prayer piece with the desire for God’s will to be done.

God’s will matters! Our will is at its best when it is embracing God’s will. Jesus emphasized that we can easily lose track of whose will we must follow. Therefore, Jesus called us to pray regularly that God’s kingdom might come and that God’s will might be done so that our sinful hearts will be trained to more deeply desire God’s ways and not our own.

I like that the next part of the prayer deals with our daily bread! I need the reminder that all that I have, and especially what I have this day, comes from God!

Exactly! You have caught the truth that “Give us this day our daily bread” remind us that all that we require for living comes from God and is a blessing. But, don’t miss that Jesus again reminds us that we need to see this petition in the context of community. He leads us to pray for “our” daily bread, not only “my” daily bread. If we have more than enough today, we can share to supply the needs of others. This is a regular reminder that we are both blessed to have our daily bread and can be a blessing to supply the daily bread of those in need around us.

What comes next makes me nervous. I know that God is much better at forgiving than I am. I am afraid to have my forgiveness based on how good of a forgiver that I can be!

Keep in mind that “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” teaches that forgiveness is central to following Jesus. In him we are forgiven. Sometimes Jesus pronounced forgiveness at great risk. The religious leaders would hear him forgive and challenge his authority to pronounce a forgiveness that they believed was reserved for God alone. Their challenges did not keep Jesus from forgiving.

Forgiveness is essential in understanding what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We need to know that we are forgiven because we know that we are sinners. We are not all that God would have us be. Thus, we recognize our need for God to forgive us in this prayer. But Jesus also reminds us that we must be ones who forgive as well. He reminds us that if we lose track of the value to forgive, then we also lose track of the reality that we are forgiven by God. We do not earn our forgiveness by forgiving. We reveal our true understanding of the value of forgiveness by being people who forgive.

Thanks. That helps me to better understand that part of the prayer. Jesus goes on to talk about temptation and evil. I do find that I experience temptations from following Jesus each day. I find that I am too easily drawn toward some sinful action or decision.

Yes, these two parts are tied closely together in a similar way that we are to pray for the God’s kingdom to come and God’s will be done. “And lead us not into temptation” is a recognition that we face temptation every day and of our need for God to lead us away from those temptations. This helps us to understand that paths to temptation are a part of this world and we look for God’s guidance and strength to lead us away from those paths. This builds to the next phrase: “deliver us from evil.” We pray to have the evil in our lives removed. So much evil comes with living in this world – malice, guile, insincerity, envy, and slander would be some examples. We need to be led away from temptation and have God deliver us from the evil in our lives.

Was that the end? I have sometimes heard an additional ending.

Some have found it helpful to add a closing statement of praise that is consistent with this prayer that Jesus taught. “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever” is a fitting reminder and summary of who it is that we serve, how we seek to live, and all for which we have prayed.

That was a lot to take in. Is there anything else to share about prayer from your walks with the Lord?

Well, … I will confess something to you and hope that you will not judge me harshly. On the last night of his life Jesus wanted James, John and I to stay awake with him as he needed some time for prayer. He encouraged us to do the same, but we were so tired. Even though we could see that he was in anguish, we fell asleep instead of praying. I look back on that and realize that it revealed just how little my heart was prepared for what was to come. I could have asked so many more questions of Jesus over those years. I could have more regularly prayed. I was so cocky – feeling that I was part of something so important and that there was time ahead with Jesus. But that night, especially, I would have benefited more from prayer than sleep.

Yet, as guilt comes upon me over lost times of prayer and lost times to have learned more from Jesus, I realize that I am forgiven. I also realize that I cannot change the past, but I can live more powerfully today if I learn from the past. If the past bogs me down, then the blessings of today are easily missed. Then, I have not embraced my forgiveness in Christ, and I am living in that sinfulness another day. With God’s help, I am getting better at leaving such things behind and being the stronger follower of Jesus that God would have me be. But it has been a learning journey.

Do not hear that I don’t sin anymore. I still live as a sinner – not being all that God would have me be. But I don’t let that weigh me down as much as I used to. I seek to take one day at a time. As Jesus once said soon after he taught us about prayer, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

I learn so much from these times with you and they go so fast. I will be back with more questions soon.

That’s great! Questions are how we learn. Jesus always invited our questions. As I said, I wish that I had taken the opportunity to ask more often!

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER –

FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION:

  1. What gets in the way of your prayer life?
  2. What could you do to remove some of your barriers to being more prayerful?
  3. How has prayer been beneficial in your life?

 FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1. How have you found devotional booklets to be helpful in strengthening your personal prayer life and times of devotion?
  2. How has the Lord’s Prayer been helpful to you in your praying?
  3. Which petitions of the Lord’s Prayer do you find most meaningful?
  4. Peter speaks of prayer as a conversation. How have you learned to listen for God’s guidance in prayer?
  5. Peter states that he cannot change the past, but he can learn from the past. What is a way that you have been able to learn from some past experience where you were disappointed in your behavior?

 FEEDING – Chapter 4

“Seeking Jesus”

Hello Peter! It is great to see you again. Thank you for being my friend, sharing these times with me, and telling me more about Jesus. I have thought about our visits over the week and realized that I come with questions that pour from me. I am thankful to have your perspective. But here you are in this prison, and I don’t ask how you are doing! How are you and what is on your mind today?

Oh, my young disciple, how thoughtful and loving of you to think this! I also benefit from your visits. But your timing is amazing! Today has been eventful and it has made me think back to a key event in our days with Jesus. There is so little food available here. As you have noted and provided for me, food comes from the prisoners’ contacts. Not surprisingly then, some of these prisoners have little access to food. Many people and not much food.

We had a similar experience with Jesus out in the wilderness. A huge crowd of more than 5,000 had gathered to hear Jesus teach. It was near the end of the day. We twelve disciples felt a concern for the people. It was a quite a distance to local villages and it was getting late. We approached Jesus out of responsibility and love and asked that he send the people away now so that they could get to the villages to buy food. We were shocked when Jesus told us, “You give them something to eat.” We said that we had nowhere near the money that would be needed to buy enough bread for a crowd like that!

He asked what food was available. My brother, Andrew, replied that a young boy had offered his basket of five loaves and two fish, but wondered what was that among so many? Jesus told us to have the crowd be seated. He took the fish and bread and prayerfully gave thanks. He then sent us out across the crowd with what we had. We reached into the basket and handed out fish and bread for all who wanted it. In that act we were in the middle of a startling miracle of provision and sharing. There was always bread and fish in our basket as needed. There was also an experience of love and sharing within the crowd. Those who had some food also began to share to those who did not. Somehow, in the grace of our Lord, everyone ate their fill! Jesus asked us to gather everything that was uneaten. There were twelve baskets of leftovers!

What an amazing story Peter! I can see why it came to mind today in this prison.

Yes, but here there is very little for all who are imprisoned. A morsel for each maybe. It is to Rome’s advantage for some of us to die. But, there, in the presence of Jesus, all ate and were satisfied! It was an amazing time of grace, love, and unity. I think of it now and realize that there was so much more to learn from the great feeding than we realized then.

What do you mean?

Well, we saw as time went on later that week that the crowds continued to be drawn to Jesus. He commented to them that their interest was more because they had been fed in their bodies than what he had to offer them in teaching. That was so true. But, sadly, I know that I also missed so much of what he was saying to us in that event!

We thought we were showing care for the crowd when we suggested to Jesus to send the hungry people away to where they might find food. That was all we were able to see as possible in that situation.

Jesus saw that encounter, and every encounter, with an inspired perception of all that was possible. As I have grown in my faith journey in these years, I have found myself sometimes seeing things as he would see them. But, for me it is only a moment here and there. It is a glimpse of the kingdom at work in our midst. Jesus was continuously connected to his Father in heaven and experienced each moment as an opportunity for God’s kingdom to come into each situation.

God provides. I have seen that be true year after year. Jesus sent us out into that crowd, and we experienced the fullness of a basket and the fullness of sharing hearts. I have found over the years that two kinds of miracles occurred that day. Certainly, there was the multiplying of five loaves and two fish in a basket to way beyond that number. But also, the sharing that happened as people reached out to each other with what they had available. We human beings are more than willing to welcome a miracle that requires little from us and a lot from God. But God has a way of inspiring in us the miracle of our own sacrifice to meet the needs and challenges of our neighbors.

I did not see this clearly then. I see it a little better now. It causes me to think differently about the food that comes my way here. What is my neighbor’s condition? Could he use a little more and could I do with a little less? The Lord will provide. This does not mean that I use these morsels as tests for God to do something more miraculous if I give what I have away. It remains scriptural truth that we should not test the Lord our God.

But we must remember that God gives provision for the work that God seeks to accomplish. It may be a miracle beyond all that we can understand in this world. It may be a miracle of God’s provision from what is available through peoples’ caring hearts. We may even find that what we wanted to accomplish turned out not to be what God wanted accomplished. Therefore, God may not provide because it is not in God’s will for that situation.

Through faith we can see each of those possibilities as they come. Sin clouds our vision with a self-centered perspective that easily misses God’s goal in any moment. Therefore, acquiring spiritual sight into each experience is a lifelong challenge for us. Jesus always had that sight. The great prophets and leaders in the scriptures experienced it from time to time. We followers of Jesus have his Holy Spirit available to teach us how to see more clearly. Some say, “Seeing is believing.” This saying should really be “Believing is seeing!”

I feel so limited in my journey with Jesus as I hear stories like this! I know that I have so much to learn and I want to learn it.

A key aspect of going deeper in this is not seeking the knowledge or the gifts. It is seeking Jesus himself. In Jesus, the other things will come. Apart from Jesus, it will be missed no matter how hard it is sought.

By the way, the twelve of us missed this perspective enough that Jesus led us into a similar experience a second time! The crowd may have been a thousand or so fewer, but the lesson was the same. I guess what I am saying to you is that there is always more to learn and that I, too, am still learning!

So, are you hungry?

Oh no, I ate just a little while ago. But even if I was, I couldn’t take some of your food from you here in this place!

In answering my question, you just experienced what we experienced many times. Jesus was so perceptive. Every situation had more than one meaning as he saw it. This was how parables arose from his mouth. He would see or hear something and create a story related to the context in a powerful way. A road or journey, an owner or leader, a coin or sheep, or even a child could inspire a teaching or story.

If we were in a context where food was available, Jesus could use our hunger or the bread before us or the need for gathering a meal together as a pretext to talk about spiritual nourishment in some new way. I tried it here with a hunger question for you as an opportunity for a deeper discussion regarding your spiritual growth and nourishment.

I see, I think. Or, to keep in the flow of what you are saying, I see a new thing with these same eyes! Yes, I am hungry and want more spiritual food, more of the Bread of Life that I can learn throughout our times together!

Once, we had left Jesus alone near a Samaritan city called Sychar as we went into the town to purchase some food. We later learned that Jesus had a deep conversation with a woman at a well there. She left him as we arrived. We began to get the meal ready, but it seemed that Jesus was not interested in eating. We encouraged him saying, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”

This was exactly a situation that shows what I mean. We then started talking with each other and wondering whether someone had brought him some food of which we did not know. We were hungry. We had been sent on a mission to get food. It was there before us. So, we were very focused on physical food in the conversation. Jesus was not.

Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” He then went on to talk about how the fields were ripe for harvesting. By this he meant that opportunities were all around us to share about the coming of God’s kingdom with people who might respond. And, he was right. The woman went into Sychar and brought many from the village to see and hear Jesus. We stayed there in that Samaritan village, welcomed by those people, for two days. Many believed in Jesus from that experience. There was the harvest that Jesus knew would come from his time with the woman at the well. We were not yet seeing all the levels that we needed to see. But we were learning.

Over the years I have become better at fully seeing and listening. I am not nearly as perceptive as Jesus was. But, in the Holy Spirit, I have been able to have my eyes and ears opened more and more to what God is seeking to do right now. Each moment is a possible time for us to share a new experience in our Lord! Opportunities abound – the fields are ripe for the harvest!

I think I understand that I have much more to see and hear and much more to learn about seeing and hearing. I can truly say, “Yes, I am hungry!”

That is wonderful. Please continue to come back and talk with me as long as the Lord allows. Your hunger to grow in your faith is evident and will inspire you into a fruitful future in our Lord.

Thank you so much Peter! I don’t know what to say to that except that I shall come again!

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER –   

FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION:

  1. Peter said, “A key aspect of going deeper in this is not seeking the knowledge or the gifts. It is seeking Jesus himself. In Jesus, the other things will come. Apart from Jesus, it will be missed no matter how hard it is sought.” What are ways that you can seek Jesus rather than get caught seeking growth in Jesus, or love in Jesus, or a deeper faith in Jesus? Peter implies that there is a subtle difference. How might that subtlety express itself?
  2. Where might there be a harvest in your life journey that you have overlooked?
  3. How might you step out to be more available to do some reaping in that situation, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit?
  4. Are you hungry in your spiritual journey? How does that hunger express itself? 

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1. What did you think of Peter’s perspective that the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 was more than a miraculous multiplication of bread and fish, in that it revealed the miracle of people open to sharing what they had with others even at their own risk? Do you think there was even more greatness in that part of the experience?
  2. What is the difference between the phrases “Seeing is believing” and “Believing is seeing?”

FOLLOWING – Chapter 5

“Jesus said ‘Come!’ And so I did.”

Peter! What in the world happened? You are soaking wet! The cell is soaking wet!

It is one of the things that take place in this prison. They come through with huge buckets of water to clean out everything – us, our cells, and anything else that might be here. It happens, I guess, when the stench just gets so bad that they cannot stand it anymore.

Wow! You are drenched!

It’s certainly not the first time in my life (nor in this prison!). As a fisherman one ends up in the lake for different reasons. There was a time with Jesus when I followed him into the lake on a stormy night. I really got wet that time!

Why were you and Jesus swimming in the lake on a stormy night?

Well, swimming had little to do with it, and that is what makes the story important for a new disciple like you! We talked last week about the time that we were with Jesus and how over 5,000 people were fed. What we didn’t get to was that Jesus sent us all away after that took place. He dismissed the crowds and then we got into a boat to head across to the other side of the lake. Jesus stayed behind for some private time on the mountain to pray.

A storm came on the lake. Storms on that lake can get violent! We were nowhere near our destination on a dangerous, stormy lake in the middle of the night!

As if that were not enough, suddenly we saw Jesus walking toward us on the water! I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true! We thought that it might be a ghost or something. But Jesus cried out to us, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Something came over me in that moment. I found myself saying to what seemed to be Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come upon the water.”

What? Why in the world would you have used that as your test for whether it was Jesus or not?

Well, maybe the devil was moving me, but I lean more toward the Spirit; but with what happened, you will see that I was not really prepared to take the step to which Jesus invited me when he then said, “Come.”

Now understand, as a fisherman for so many years, I could go into the water and handle myself okay. But also, as a fisherman for so many years, I knew that this was not a time to be out in the lake at any distance from the boat! But, Jesus said, “Come,” and so I did!

I took a step upon the water and it held me. I took another step and it held me.  I walked a little further from the boat, looking to Jesus all the time. But the wind was really howling. The water was up and down. This was so crazy. I took my eyes off Jesus and started looking around at where I was and what I was doing. I lost it! I was afraid! And I began to sink! There was no swimming stroke that was going to save me in that terrible storm. I cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of me. He said to me in that moment, “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

He got me back to the boat and we both climbed in. Just then, the wind stopped, and the lake was soon still. We were amazed, humbled, and inspired to worship him and realize that he truly was the Son of God!

What a story! He really walked on water!? You really walked on water!?

I know it sounds ridiculous, but, yes, it is true. What is even more important is what I learned as a follower of Jesus.

Those few moments that I walked on the water were possible only because I kept my eyes on Jesus and because I believed in his calling to me to come to him. I trusted that Jesus could lead me safely even in that impossible situation. I was not afraid of the wind and the water as I stepped out of the boat because I was, for a few moments, focused on him. He called, and I followed. Then I took my eyes off Jesus, and I was lost! The wind and the waves caught my focus and fear came. The waves were beyond anything that I could handle by myself. I knew this as an experienced fisherman. The storm was greater than me. What I had forgotten was that the storm was not greater than Jesus.

In a way it was similar to the fishing story that I shared with you a few weeks ago. Jesus led us out onto the water in our boat at a time when fish should not have been available. My experience made me hesitant, but I trusted to go where Jesus led us. We had the great catch of fish. He called us and we followed.

This was the lesson that I have treasured since those days on the lake. I have taken my eyes off Jesus and followed my own way many times since, but I now realize it sooner and turn back more quickly. (Well, there was one evening where that was not the case, but that is a story for another visit!)

I hear you saying that a key aspect of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus is learning how to follow him and keep my eyes focused upon him even though I cannot physically see him now.

Exactly! It is the essential focus of a disciple. It is all about Jesus. He is there as you listen and learn from these stories of him. He is there as you walk in the wetness of your baptism each day (which especially comes to mind for me right now!). He is there as you eat the bread and drink the wine of the Meal which he gave us. He is there in your prayer life, hearing and guiding you. He is there in your community as you gather with other sisters and brothers who are followers. He is there as you reach out in words and actions to your neighbors in need. He is there then. He is here now.

I have heard Jesus say, “Follow me,” in so many ways over these years and it has been a life full of purpose and meaning. He is saying to you, “Follow me!” It will be a blessing for you as well.

What I am just beginning to learn is that, even though I never knew Jesus as he walked this earth, it is still possible for me to know and follow that same Jesus right now these years later in a completely different part of the world! What you are saying is that this is not just a novel idea that I should think about and toy with. This is the essential aspect of what it really means to be a Christian disciple. I am to follow Jesus and Jesus is ready and available to lead me daily in my life!

That is exactly what I am saying and could not have said it any better myself!

But it must come so naturally to you as one who knew Jesus back then. How do I develop this ability to “keep my eyes on Jesus” and to listen and learn where Jesus is leading me in any given moment?

We who walked with Jesus in those early days learned, after Jesus ascended, that he left us with some key experiences that inspired and renewed us in him. We began to devote ourselves to the stories of his life and teachings as we recalled them and shared them. We studied and learned about Jesus’ mission from the scriptures themselves. New life came in those conversations – his Spirit was there with us as we shared our thoughts and insights.

We learned that our baptisms had meaning not just at the beginning of our walks with Jesus, but each day as we sought to follow where he was leading us. We were comforted by the promise of God in Jesus that we were a part of God’s family even in times of struggle and doubt.  And, we were renewed as we celebrated the meal of bread and wine together as a community. We have that physical promise again and again that he gave his body and shed his blood for our forgiveness and new life. It is ongoing spiritual nourishment in physical form. He was and is present there with us in that simple meal.

As those early followers of Jesus, we learned the value of prayer. We found that it mattered to talk with the Lord and listen for guidance. For me, talking in prayer to God was all I knew in the days before I met Jesus. Learning also to listen has been fascinating and inspiring. I have found that the Lord can give me specific guidance during my prayers if I listen and open myself to heading where he leads. It has rarely been a voice or a vision, but on occasion that has happened. It can be an urging that will not go away. But, like many things in life, you have to work at listening in prayer. Be willing to follow where you are led. On that journey you must continue to listen to be sure that what you are doing is truly what God is calling you to do.

In those days with Jesus and after his ascension, there was a group of us beyond just the 12 specifically called by Jesus that stayed together. Our community in him was not just a nice experience. It fed our faith, and we discovered that there was a strong sense of his presence. That reminded us of his words, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

We learned that wherever we reached out in words and action to meet the hopes and hurts of others, Jesus was there. When we did this, we began to understand the full meaning to his parable where he had said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” In those times of vulnerability, in which one becomes available to people who are in need, Jesus is there.

I saw Jesus rise from the dead. I saw Jesus ascend into heaven. I know Jesus is alive and present in us, with us and through us! I am with him every day.

So, for a disciple, there are disciplines to focus upon – the scriptures, the stories and teachings of the apostles; fellowship with other followers; our baptisms; the meal; praying – talking with and listening to Jesus; and reaching out in the love of Jesus to the needs of our neighbors!

You’ve captured it! He is still with us and leading and calling us to follow.

I get it. And, I know I will have a lifetime of learning! But, now my damp friend, I must leave and will be back next week.

Go in Jesus!

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER –

FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION:

  1. When was a time when the living Jesus was particularly present and providing support, guidance and/or grace to you in your faith journey?
  2. How have you sought to keep your eyes on Jesus, to follow where he leads?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1. Peter listed a group of five practices that have been used by disciples to help them keep focused on Jesus in their daily lives. These are: God’s Word, the Sacraments, Prayer, Fellowship and Witnessing in their words and actions. Which of these five disciplines has been most helpful to you in your faith journey?
  2. As you think about those five disciplines, of which have you taken least advantage as you have sought to grow in your faith?
  3. What would be one new step that you might take with one of those disciplines in order to experience greater growth in following Jesus – keeping your eyes on him?

DYING – Chapter 6

“Dying and rising. Losing and finding”

 Hello Peter! I have been so excited to come and talk with you today. I heard in a story as we were gathered this week in worship of a time when Jesus said to you, “Get behind me Satan!”  Is that true? Did Jesus really say that to you?

Hello, my friend! What an opening for our discussion! Yes, that is true. Of course, there is a story behind that moment, and so this is good that you have brought it up right away. Shall I tell the story?

Yes, please!

We had taken a northern journey with Jesus, away from the larger crowds in Galilee. He was teaching us as we walked. Jesus paused at one point and asked us who people were saying that he was. We told him some of the claims that we had heard – John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.

This was heady stuff for us. We knew that Jesus was becoming known and that people were realizing just how amazing and important he was. Then Jesus made it personal and said to us, “But who do you say that I am?”

He had never asked us THAT before. Who did we say that Jesus was? I knew in my heart that Jesus was the Messiah. And so, I said, “You are the Messiah!” It was time that it got said, so I said it!

What came next shocked us. Jesus told us that we were not to tell people this. And then, he began to talk for the first time about what would take place in the future for him. He told us that there was suffering ahead. He would be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes. He would be killed! He also said, although we almost missed it, that he would rise to life again after three days.

Jesus was so open and matter of fact about this. I was stunned. This could not be possible. None of us had any sense that this was what lay ahead for Jesus. We had a totally different picture of what was coming, both for him and for ourselves!

I took Jesus aside at that point and said, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” He looked into my eyes and then beyond at the rest of the disciples and said strongly to me, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things!”

What did you say to that?

I said nothing more, but Jesus had much more to say. He called us all around him and began to teach about dying, the cross and discipleship. He provided new meaning to each of those ideas.

Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

Dying. The cross. Discipleship. What else did Jesus teach about these things?

This is embarrassing, but once as we walked with each other along a road, we were arguing over who was the greatest of us as disciples of Jesus. I cannot remember why it arose, but we were hard at it with each other. When we arrived at our destination, Jesus asked us what we had been arguing about on the road. None of us could utter a word, because we knew that he would not be pleased with what we were arguing about. He called the 12 of us together and made it very clear that whichever of us wanted to be first must be the last of all and servant of all!

Do you think that, after all these years, you now understand this teaching?

I have come to realize some things more deeply. For example, taking up my cross is not facing something difficult in my life and bearing up under it through my faith in Jesus. We do need to face those times faithfully, but taking up our crosses is about losing our lives and finding our new lives in following Jesus.

We who are followers – disciples – of Jesus are to deny ourselves. We must take up our crosses. That is, our sinful, worldly focused lives must die away. Sometimes this dying involves petty, worldly things – selfish and sinful – like covetousness, envy, jealousy, lying, and the like. They must be faced, confessed and left behind – become dead to us. We are convicted by the Lord of these sins and we confess, and they are gone and forgiven. These things can pop up in us daily and be confessed and forgiven daily.

But sometimes there are deep set perspectives and priorities within us that God challenges again and again. We may have issues with money, lust, greed, anger and such. We sin, confess and receive forgiveness – turning them over to God. Yet, these sins can dog us in ways that tempt us into further sin and require confession and forgiveness again. But God continues to faithfully work in our lives to root them out. New priorities and perspectives do grow as our lives are reset on divine things. New life arising day after day. Dying and rising. Losing and finding. Each day walking in a new journey of life with God in Jesus.

This life of dying to self, losing one’s life, and taking up one’s cross, is not easy for me to understand. Were there other times that Jesus taught about this?

There was a time when James and John took Jesus aside after he had reemphasized that he was headed to his arrest, punishment and death. Somehow, they felt that it was a good time to ask to have places of honor next to him in his time of glory ahead. Jesus said to them that they had no idea what they were asking – whether they were ready to face the kind of challenges that were ahead for him.

Like the rest of us, James and John were so clueless – even with what Jesus had clearly said – what it would mean to truly follow him. There would never be the glory that they had in mind. My current plight and what all of those early disciples have faced in their ministries in Jesus’ name are not what the world would glorify. Jesus knew what James and John would face – what all of us would face. Jesus acknowledged that they would experience similar challenges as were coming for him by saying that they would drink from his same cup and be baptized with a similar baptism. He also told them that sitting at his right and left were not his to grant.

We were so angry with them when we heard what they had sought. But Jesus called us together and reminded us again about discipleship and servanthood. He said that while worldly rulers lord it over their subjects, it would be different for his followers. He said again to us very plainly, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Then Jesus told us that he “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

This all seems very hard and costly. I understand it in some ways, but I have also seen in the people with whom I worship, and especially in you, an energy, a joy, and a love for the Lord and for each other. Your lives seem different than what all of this feels like.

We lose our old lives as Jesus brings new life within us. Those new lives arise with priorities centered in Jesus and he inspires in us love, joy, peace and kindness. It’s a process, but those qualities arise in that new life in Jesus and are what you see in me and in your friends. I also have seen these qualities in you.

I hope so and I hope that I can continue to grow in this way.

Sharing these stories with you takes me deeper into the truth of our Lord. Our conversations are strengthening me to die in our Lord and experience aspects of new life in him. You are Jesus to me as he moves in you and me together. My experiences with the Lord and in ministry may have been more than yours, but I have found that each person grows in their journey with the Lord along their unique path. They have their own perspectives and ask questions in new ways that can enable even more experienced followers to see something anew. Although you have not seen Jesus, I know that you love him. Even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice in him. You are receiving the outcome of that faith – your salvation. Yes, Jesus speaks in and through you, my friend.

You are very gracious in saying that, Peter. I guess I am dying a bit through these conversations as well. I had no idea that the conversation would head in this way when I came this evening. I was simply fascinated to hear about Jesus calling you Satan. Now, I know the deeper meaning behind that story, but am still afraid that I don’t die enough each day. 

Keep your eyes on Jesus. The dying will come in small and large doses as he sees fit.

I need to leave again, but I will keep this in mind and seek to die a little each day and rise to new life in our Lord! 

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER –

FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION:

  1. In what ways is your mind set more on human things than divine things?
  2. What would you like to see die in you today that might allow a new aspect of your life to come more alive in Christ?
  3. What in your life holds you back from dying to self in the way Jesus described?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1. Losing and dying do not seem like big selling points for following Jesus! Why do you think that they are so essential in understanding what it means to be a disciple and to follow Jesus?
  2. How is it possible to be a servant of all and still be an effective leader?
  3. How does a servant leader behave in a work or family context?

CONNECTING – Chapter 7

“In a meaningful way, they haunt you.”

Hello, Peter! It is good to be back with you this week! I am learning new things about Jesus and thinking about how they connect to my life. It often happens through those stories he told that I hear in our gatherings. Did you find Jesus to be a good storyteller?

My friend, it is so good to see you again, as well. Yes, I did find Jesus to be a good storyteller – actually an amazing storyteller. The way you said that the stories connect to your life brought to my mind how he often found inspiration for his stories. He would see something in our midst and make a comparison – a short metaphor or simile. Here are a few that Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.” “The eye is the lamp of the body.” “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.” Then he would go on to explain the connection. While these brief sayings were not fully developed stories, they were insightful and made us think. Other times, Jesus would build an entire story, or parable, around something that was said to him, or that was there in the place where he was speaking, or even just something that was a common experience to everyone gathered.

So, he used these stories that connected to common experiences as ways of making spiritual truths easier to understand?

Well, I guess that I would have to say yes and no to that. There were times when Jesus told one of these parables and I felt like I was taken deeper into understanding a spiritual truth. There were also times when I and the other disciples heard a story and we were more confused and asked Jesus to interpret – to make the connections clearer. He would do that for us, but not publicly for the crowds.

Did he tell these parables often?

Yes, he did.

Do you have some favorites that you might be willing to tell me?

I will do my best to share a few with you and hope that you will then hear them in your worship times with new ears!

I remember a time when a lawyer, an expert in the laws of Moses, asked Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus put it back to the man who was one well-versed in the law: “What is written in the law?” The man responded with quotes from scripture regarding loving the Lord our God with all that we are and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus affirmed this response and told him, “do this, and you will live.”

This high expectation to keep the law, “do this,” was typical of Jesus. Jesus often lifted the law higher than the way the religious leaders taught the law. Jesus was willing to let us wrestle with a statement like, “You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How we live our lives really matters to God. Jesus calls us to seek to be fully obedient to God’s call upon our lives. As we fail in that quest, we then look for forgiveness in him. This is the Gospel. We fail to live as God would have us live and be as God would have us be. Thus, we sin. Jesus died for us on the cross so that our sin might be forgiven through his sacrificial death for us. He rose again so that we might also have new lives in him. Through our faith in him we have new life each day and on through death into eternity. But, in the inspiration and strengthening of that forgiveness, we press on to “do this,” to live each day following Jesus into that day’s calling.

This lawyer seemed to pick up on the sticky aspect of Jesus saying so simply, “do this and you will live.” He wanted a more specific definition of how he might “do this!” He asked Jesus to clarify or define exactly who was his neighbor.

This led Jesus to tell one of his most powerful parables. It was about a man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho who fell among robbers and was left for dead. A priest came by and avoided any contact with him, passing by on the other side. A Levite, a servant in the Temple, also came by and did the same. We were shocked to hear Jesus describe religious leaders, who had great exposure to the expectations of the law, passing by and leaving the man for dead.

Then, Jesus introduced a third traveler into the story. It was this traveler that left us all wrestling for the depth of truth he was revealing. Jesus revealed that a Samaritan, the most hated group of people for Jews in our time, came by. This Samaritan was moved by the man’s need. The Samaritan cared for the man, poured oil on his wounds to help with healing, and then bandaged them. The Samaritan placed the wounded man on his own donkey and walked alongside until he found an inn. The Samaritan took care of him there that night and then paid the innkeeper to continue the man’s care until the Samaritan’s return. The Samaritan promised the innkeeper that he would cover any other costs upon his return.

Then, Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man?” The lawyer responded with the obvious answer, “The one who showed mercy.” He could not even say the word “Samaritan” with the answer. Jesus told him to “go and do likewise.”

Wow! There is so much there to think about.

Yes. That is what happens with these parables told by Jesus. There are so many connections that they make to one’s life and to one’s experiences. In a meaningful way, they haunt you.

Can you walk by a beggar without this story working on your heart? Can you carry a prejudice in your life toward a group of people and not have this story work on your heart? Can you think about what it means to love God with all that you are, and your neighbor as yourself, and not have this story come to your mind and make you think and feel new things? It also might inspire one thing at one stage of your life and another at another stage. And this is just one story!

Yes, and I have heard that there were many stories.

Absolutely. Too many stories to be told this evening. But here are the essential elements of a few of them.

Jesus told a parable about a shepherd who left ninety-nine of his sheep behind and searched until he found one lost sheep of his hundred. He picked it up and laid it on his shoulders rejoicing. Each of us matter in this world to a gracious God who lovingly searches for us and celebrates as we are found.

Jesus once described a sower whose seed fell onto different places with different results. Some fell on a path and was eaten by the birds. Some fell on rocky ground and did spring up, but with poor roots, dried up under the hot sun. Some fell among thorns and as it grew the thorns choked off the growth and there was not yield. But some fell upon good soil and brought forth grain yielding thirty, sixty and even a hundredfold! This parable has been so accurate to my experience of how this Gospel message touches lives and how people respond to it.

It also has spoken personally to me about how I have received God’s word in my heart in different stages of my life as well as on different days. I want to be good soil all of the time, but sometimes I have been a hard path not hearing what God has for me in that moment. Sometimes I, Peter, have been rocky ground and not rooted in a truth from God and I respond selfishly to a situation where love and patience are needed. Sometimes I have been distracted by the pressures of everyday life and my best responses inspired by Jesus are choked by my anxieties about all that I was facing. Yes, and sometimes I am good soil and able to live out through the inspiration of our Lord caring responses into the needs of my neighbors.

Jesus also told a parable about God’s judgment and how our interactions with people in need are really like interacting with Jesus himself. Jesus said in the story that people have found him – Jesus – hungry and fed him, thirsty and gave him drink, a stranger and welcomed him, naked and clothed him, sick and cared for him, and, you should note this evening, imprisoned and visited him! He said that those who had cared for the least of the world had actually cared for him.

Jesus told stories that live in our hearts and rise to our minds as we live out each day. These parables connect to the everyday experiences of our lives. They help us to connect more faithfully to our calling to follow Jesus. They inspire us to live more caring and faithful lives that better respond to the challenges and needs of people we encounter every day.

Connections! I see it. I have experienced it a little in just the few stories that I have heard. Now I see even better how I need to hear more and really listen. I want those stories in my life. I want Jesus deeper in my life. Peter, you help me to yearn for a closer journey with Jesus. Thank you so much! I will be back!

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER –

FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION:

  1. As you think about a parable of Jesus that you know, how has it connected with your life?
  2. Try creating your own one sentence metaphor. The Gospel is like __________. Following Jesus is like _________.
  3. Peter talks about how the Parable of the Sower has spoken to the different stages of his life. In what way has this parable spoken to the different stages of your life?
  4. Rewrite the Parable of the Good Samaritan to bring it into our times?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1. How are you responding to the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, the parable about God’s judgment? How are you responding to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned?
  2. What parable is a favorite of yours and why?
  3. What is an experience that you have had that became for you a parable of what it means to follow Jesus?
  4. Is there a parable that has left you confused? Discuss it with the group. Maybe do some research to better understand the parable.

WELCOMING – Chapter 8

“How can I be the love of the Lord in their life journey?”

Hello, Peter! I could not wait to come back. I feel so close to Jesus when we are talking together!

I have told you before that our times together feed my journey with the Lord, as well! And I experienced something today that has me thinking and ready to share!

I heard children’s voices. I don’t know how. It could have come through the bars from the outside somehow, but it actually seemed that they were nearby in the prison. I thought, “What an odd place for children to be gathering!” That thought reminded me how Jesus was so open to having children around as he taught.

Weren’t children a distraction? Sometimes they make noise, or talk out at the wrong times, or even ask questions that can be inappropriate!

Well, that was what we disciples thought as more and more people would bring children to Jesus for a blessing. Once, when we actually started asking the parents not to do it, Jesus stopped us. He told us that it was okay for those little ones to be brought to him. Jesus enjoyed their presence, their innocence and their curiosity. He said that God’s kingdom belongs to those who can receive it like a little child!

This could seem simple, but it has set a challenge for me throughout my life. Jesus was saying that those children were examples to us as disciples regarding how to receive and be a part of the kingdom, God’s family. Children can have great trust in the leadership, care and support of their parents. I continue to learn regarding this as a model for my faith in the Lord. I continue to seek to grow in my trust in the Lord.

I guess I understand that. I, too, have much to learn regarding faithful trust and obedience. But it still seems like those children could have been an intrusion when something really important was being taught.

Jesus welcomed intrusions. He cared for people who we would have thought did not deserve his attention. He spent time with people that could have been interpreted as time wasted. Yet, those encounters so often became investments in changed lives.

Have you noticed in our conversations over these weeks that Jesus listened to, healed, and lifted up people who others looked down upon for one reason or another? Jesus welcomed Roman soldiers, tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans and others just the same as anyone else. Shocking as it was to us, he willingly reached out and touched those with leprosy.

I have to admit, life seemed easier when I prejudged who the good people were and the bad people were. In those days, that approach fed my sense of self-worth. I thought I knew who I could judge to be less than me. I am sure that I never would have expressed it that way back then. But that was what was in my head until … Jesus happened in my life!

Now, when I am at my best, the people I encounter matter. Their life journeys matter. Their hurts matter. Their aspirations matter. But I especially make sure that the people who matter least to other people are people to whom I reach out in the love of Jesus. Jesus did this to me. His love for me, his interest in me, his forgiveness of me, and his acceptance of me changed my life and how I think about others.

Now as people interrupt my day and enter my life, I try to listen before I talk. How is my walk with God intersecting with their lives? How can I be a good neighbor to them in their challenges and hopes? Is this a one-time interaction or can it be an ongoing relationship? How can I be the love of the Lord in their life journey? That is what Jesus did with each person that he encountered.

That’s challenging to try to be and do! I am curious whether some questions have arisen within you about me through our conversations and how the Lord is leading you through our discussions each week!

Well, in coming to visit me in this prison week after week, I can see your hunger to learn and your commitment to growing in your faith in Jesus. Your questions are sincere and your answers are honest. You want to learn everything that you can about my days with Jesus. You have encouraged me to talk, but you have not revealed a lot about yourself.

I’m not really hiding myself, Peter. I see myself as a regular person who has been inspired to follow Jesus through my interactions with other Christians and my talks with you. I know there are sinful aspects of who I am that must die. I get disappointed in myself in that I often think only about what I am going to get out of a situation. I can be so self-focused and even in our visits I am afraid it’s all about me getting to have Simon Peter one on one.! Yet, I believe that I am growing as a person in ways that I never could have imagined without knowing Jesus. And that is why I keep coming.

There is wisdom in what you share. I would say some similar statements about my frustrations with my own selfishness, and I have been walking with Jesus for over 30 years! Each person has a mix of common experiences that happen to many of us and the unique life experiences that are part of our own personal mix.

Jesus had an amazing ability to enjoy that about everyone that he encountered – both the predictable commonality and the unique twist to life that each person can bring. Each person mattered and every situation was a faith event. Now, I do not mean that Jesus overwhelmed each interaction with spiritual talk. Often, people were surprised by how down to earth Jesus was. They were often disappointed because he did not meet their preconceived ideas of who they thought he should be and what he should do. His critics did not like the people with whom he spent time. They were often annoyed by what he would teach. For example, they judged how he behaved on the Sabbath and handled other religious practices.

This mix of negative reactions are what took him to the cross. He wasn’t pious enough for the religious. He wasn’t radical enough for the zealots. He wasn’t regal enough for those who wanted a king. But he was expendable enough for all of them and dangerous enough that he had to be eliminated.

But, for those whose hearts were touched, who believed in him, who followed him, he was God’s Messiah, the Christ.

Our conversation today began because of children. Jesus welcomed children when others would have sent them away. Jesus told stories in which Samaritans were the heroes. Jesus had dinner at tax collectors’ homes. He touched lepers and had late night conversations with Pharisees. Jesus brought healing into the homes of Roman soldiers as well as synagogue presidents.

I hope you see in this that you are welcomed by Jesus – that you matter to Jesus. And not only do you matter, but that you are forgiven and loved. Your gifts and abilities are known, appreciated and encouraged for your own growth as the unique person that you are. This redemption, inspiration, and renewal of the lives of people is the way that God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is done in the world. And, the closer you are to Jesus, the more God’s effect grows in your life!

Thank you so much, Peter! I needed to hear that. But I also need to go. I will be back again next week and hope that the Lord will still have you here to talk with me.

Go in peace!

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER –

FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION:

  1. Why do you think that Jesus welcomed the little children to come to him?
  2. Who are the people that you encounter and with whom you disagree and choose not to interact in any productive way?
  3. Who are the people who matter less to you than other people and why is that?
  4. How could you strengthen your ability to welcome new people into your daily life?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1. What can the example of children teach us about how we follow Jesus as disciples?
  2. Who are the people who welcomed you and made you feel included in their lives?
  3. What is one change in how you think, talk, or behave that would move you to be more welcoming?
  4. What is one change in your church that you think would help your church to be more welcoming?

INTERPRETING – Chapter 9

“You have heard that it was said …, but I say to you …”

Hello, Peter! I heard a story this week that I have to ask you about. It was that you, James and John actually saw Moses and Elijah! Moses and Elijah! Can you tell me about that?

Great! It’s quite a story. Jesus invited the three of us to come away with him into the wilderness away from the crowds and even from the other nine disciples. We three had accompanied him like this from time to time, but this time he took us up a high mountain. When we reached a plateau, Jesus stopped and began to pray.

As he prayed there was a change that came upon him. His face glistened brightly. His clothing became as white as white can be. Two men appeared and began to talk with Jesus. It became apparent that these two were Moses and Elijah!

Really! Moses and Elijah! Was this some sort of dream? Was it a vision? Was it real? How did you discover that they were Moses and Elijah?

Over the years I have learned a lot about the reality of dreams and visions. Sometimes dreams are just dreams – your mind goes on a journey about things happening in your life at the time with no obvious purpose. But sometimes dreams are visions – God giving insight into something taking place in the reality of our lives that God is doing or about to do. I once had a vision that enabled me to adjust my understanding of my faith in Jesus and the widening of our ministry to Gentiles. Another time I had a vision that guided my release from jail. This experience on the mountain was very real to us. I honestly do not know what to call it.

As we watched and listened, Jesus, Moses and Elijah used their names. That is how we were able to know for sure who they were. It was incredible. I thought that we should stay there as long as possible and even offered that James, John and I could construct booths for them in which to stay.

It was in that moment that everything began to change. A thick cloud came over that section of the mountain. We could not see our hands if we put them up in front of our faces! And then, a voice came in the cloud that said, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him!” That just knocked us flat. We fell face down on the ground in awe.

As we then began to look up, everything had changed. The cloud was gone. Moses and Elijah were gone. Jesus was now with us looking just as he had always looked.

Wow! What do you make of that experience? Moses and Elijah! The voice of God!

A lot of things actually. But I don’t want you to miss what God’s voice called us to do – listen to Jesus.

I don’t think there can be a more important use of time for a disciple of Jesus than to be a listener. Jesus is always communicating. Each experience, each person, and each moment are opportunities to listen. Too many times we get so caught up in talking that we miss out on what Jesus is seeking to reveal to us.

As I have listened to Jesus and have meditated upon our scriptures, the law and the prophets, I have often thought back upon that day on the mountain. We saw and heard Moses, the great giver of the law and Elijah, greatest of the prophets, in conversation with Jesus. Their presence and conversation left me with the deeper realization that Jesus is the fulfilment of all the law and the prophets. And, while the law and the prophets were important to Jesus, he handled them differently than the religious leaders.

How so?

Well, first, in dealing with the law as Moses revealed in the first scrolls of our scriptures, Jesus spoke with unquestionable authority. Jesus would say, “You have heard that it was said,” and then he would quote some portion of the law of Moses. He would follow this with, “But I say to you” and then he would share his understanding of that law.

Here are a couple of examples: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” Another was: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

These statements were said with an authority that spoke to our hearts. They were revolutionary, but also very consistent with the larger flow of the law and with the influential way that Jesus lived out this understanding with people every day. Jesus helped us to see that his perspectives were much truer to the full meaning of the law than what other religious leaders were teaching.

Jesus taught the law in a way that left us convicted of our sin and inspired us to seek to be better at how we treat each other. We were inspired to be truly human, and not to settle for our broken humanness. We were to love God and our neighbors in ways that did not settle for the least that we might do. One example of many that particularly catches the importance of not settling for the least was when he said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” Go the extra mile!

Other examples of this wider approach to the laws of Moses often came out around the importance of rest on the sabbath. Jesus kept the sabbath and worshipped on the sabbath. However, his faithfulness in keeping the sabbath did not stop him from responding to someone in need and healing on the sabbath. Thus, Jesus was vulnerable to the charge of “working” on the sabbath. He did not accept that interpretation of his actions and said that everyone should understand that, in his words, “the sabbath was made for people and not people for the sabbath.” He used the example of a person whose child or even one of their sheep fell into a ditch on the sabbath, they would certainly help them to escape the ditch. He saw his healings on the sabbath to be a rescue like that. The religious leaders continued to be troubled by his willingness to heal on the sabbath.

So, then was Jesus against the law?

No, in fact, Jesus made it very clear that he came to fulfil the law. He taught us that his interpretations took the law to its rightful place. He consistently taught that the law was about fully loving the Lord our God and fully loving our neighbors as ourselves. Those key teachings of the law were paramount. Love mattered to Jesus – costly, caring love. One of the last commands that he gave to us as the twelve was that we were to love one another, and that this was essential for our witness of him to the world.

Listen to Jesus. Live a life grounded in love of God and others to faithfully express the laws of Moses. But, what about the writings of the prophets?

Once, when we went with Jesus to his hometown of Nazareth, it was the sabbath and we went to the synagogue as he was accustomed of doing. He was invited to read from the scriptures and so he unrolled the scroll of Isaiah and read: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” When he sat down, he said to all gathered, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

This was inspiring to us that his mission would turn the world upside down. He truly could be the Messiah that the people were waiting for. But his hometown was so upset by this final statement that his presence was fulfilling this prophecy that they ended up driving him out of town and would even have forced him off of a cliff for his audacity. They could not accept that this person who grew up in their midst could be anything that great. But he passed through their midst and we went on our way.

Do you remember in our discussion a few weeks ago how Jesus specifically told us of the suffering and death that was ahead for him? That prophecy came soon after I stated that he was the Messiah. Of course, all that he predicted came true. In the months after his death, resurrection and ascension we came to realize that there was another passage earlier in Isaiah than the one he read in Nazareth that helped us to have a better understanding of his Messianic mission that led to suffering and death. In Isaiah is this passage: “he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

He was the suffering servant who would teach, heal, and confront religious misunderstandings to a point where he would be arrested, suffer punishment, and finally be crucified. And, his death would result in a resurrection that would affirm all that he was and what he was calling us to be.

His death brought the gift of forgiveness. He was the culmination of the sacrificial system in the temple of so many centuries. He was sacrificed on the cross for our sins. And, his resurrection brought the gift of new life unto eternity for all who believed in him. He wanted us to see that a new life, new perspectives, and new priorities arise as we follow Jesus. These teachings arose powerfully from passages in Isaiah, and were affirmed by other prophecies throughout the law and the prophets.

An example was when Jesus entered Jerusalem in that last week before he was crucified. He made arrangements to enter riding on a young donkey. We generally walked from place to place, but it was important to him that he enter Jerusalem that day on that animal. It did not occur to me at the time, but as we later poured through the scriptures, we found that Zechariah spoke of Jerusalem receiving its king riding humbly on the foal of an ass!

Zechariah later saying that the inhabitants of Jerusalem will “look on the one whom they have pierced and they shall mourn for him.” Or, the Psalm that Jesus quoted on the cross when he said, “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?” That Psalm goes on to describe the sufferings of someone whose death would come from a punishment like the cross.

So many of those prophecies had a focus for their own time, but yet, also connected to the fulfilment that Jesus brought through his life, death and resurrection. The entire law and the prophets have pointed to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as the Messiah, God’s son.

This understanding regarding the Messiah from the prophets was new to us. It took time for us to see it come together. Much of it did not make sense to us until after the resurrection, his ascension into heaven and the gift of the Holy Spirit pouring into our hearts.

So, now, at this stage of your life, do you feel you understand it?

Actually, my friend, I find that the more that I understand about Jesus, the more I discover that there is much more to know. You, through your early journey in the faith, your curiosity and enthusiasm have helped me to go deeper in my walk with the Lord. Your effect on me shows that none of us stand alone as leaders, or teachers, or even apostles! We need each other – long time believers and new believers, alike. Together we are able to more faithfully follow Jesus.

I understand your point and perspective, but I have hard time believing that I have things to teach you, Peter!

Our talks together have helped me to grow and learn from this experience in prison. They have brought to mind events in my days with Jesus that have fed me and encouraged me through the bleakness of these surroundings. You are like Jesus walking into my prison each week with love and strength. Thank you for coming again this week.

You are welcome, and I plan to return, but it is time for me to go. Thank you, Peter.

Go in peace and walk in Christ!

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER –

FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION:

  1. How do you listen to Jesus in your daily life?
  2. What might you do to improve your listening skills?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1. What differences do you see in how Jesus chose to interpret and understand the law from the other leaders of his time?
  2. Peter felt that costly love was at the center of Jesus’ interpretation of the prophets and as to how Jesus lived out his calling as the Messiah. What are your thoughts about this perspective?
  3. If costly love became more important for your interpretation of Scripture, what effect would that have on your daily life and walk with God?
  4. Peter mentioned the possibility of understanding prophecy with a dual sense of it both commenting on current events of the prophet’s time and future experiences of God’s people. How could that be useful to your reading of the scriptures?
  5. Peter affirmed the new disciple as a resource for his growth in understanding God. Who is God putting in your circle of relationships to strengthen your growth in your walk with God?

FEARING – Chapter 10

“We did not know what to do. We were gripped by fear.”

Hello, Peter! I am thankful to God every week that I can come and see you. I know my faith in Jesus has grown by leaps and bounds because of our talks.

I have told you, my friend, my faith is also fed also by our times together. It is good to see you again.

Peter, you figure so prominently in the stories I hear of Jesus. I have heard one story I could not bring myself to mention. I have postponed asking week after week. I still hesitate to …

You have heard that I denied our Lord on the very night he was betrayed and arrested.

Yes, that is the story I have struggled to ask you about.

I understand how difficult it could be. That night was more than 30 years ago, and I have had to discuss what took place with many people over those years. Obviously, I am not proud of my behavior that night, but I have come to know I have our Lord’s forgiveness for what I did.

So, you are able to talk about it?

Yes, and hopefully, what I have to share with you will help you to find your way when fear seeks to control how you behave.

It was Passover. We disciples were together with Jesus like a family to celebrate the Passover meal.

Early on, Jesus came around to each of us and washed our feet! Our feet! I could not let him do it and I told him as much. But, Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” This shook me. So, I replied, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” He told me that one who has bathed only needs their feet washed to be fully clean. He then said that we were clean, but not all of us. We had no idea then what that meant, but realized later he was referring to Judas.

Then Jesus led us through the full celebration of the Passover meal, the Seder. At the end, he took some of the bread from the meal, blessed it and said, “Take, eat, this is my body.” He then took a cup, gave thanks and gave it to us to drink saying, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” This was not part of the Seder, but after. Jesus used the bread and wine of that covenant meal to express the new covenant in him – in his body and blood. The celebration of bread and wine has now become a key part of our gatherings as we worship. It is the Eucharist – the Thanksgiving – for all that our Lord accomplished in giving his body and his blood for us. To this day I know his presence every time I partake in that celebration. I am renewed in the forgiveness and new life Jesus provided in his life, death and resurrection.

Then Jesus came out with a statement that shocked us. He said we would all fall away from him that night! He quoted the prophet Zechariah about the shepherd being stricken and the sheep being scattered. Jesus also said he would be raised up and see us again. We didn’t, we couldn’t, put all of this together. All I could hear was we were going to run if things got difficult. I told him that the rest may run, but I would not. That was the Simon Peter of that day – bold with a certain confident arrogance beyond what I could understand or back up.

Jesus responded to me saying, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” I was shocked and embarrassed and came right back at Jesus to say, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” After seeing my boldness, the others also said the same.

So far, it seems like you were a leader who was ready to stand with Jesus to the end. What changed?

Well, we left that room and went to Gethsemane, an orchard of olive trees where we often gathered just outside the city. We all talked along the way, but when we arrived in the garden, Jesus drew James, John, and me away from the others. As I mentioned last week in the story of our time on the mountain, this was not unusual for the three of us to go on with him apart from the others.

Jesus revealed to us how deeply troubled he was. We had never seen him like this. He asked us to stay awake with him, and he went a little farther from us. Jesus threw himself to the ground and prayed. He asked the Father that the cup ahead for him might be taken away. Yet, he then said, “not what I want, but what you want.” We had no idea what this all meant.

We were so drowsy. He came over to us after a while and found us sleeping. It upset him. He told us to pray so we would have the strength to face the trials ahead. He said, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He, of course, was right. We could not focus on prayer. We were just so tired. Twice more Jesus drew away from us to pray. Each time he returned and had to wake us. On the third time he announced his hour for betrayal was at hand.

As he spoke those words a mob with swords and clubs showed up. Judas was near the front with some of the chief priests and elders. I became afraid. Judas came up to Jesus and kissed him. This was the sign the group was looking for, and they muscled in to grab Jesus. I could not let that happen. I drew my sword and swung it at one of the people in the mob, and I cut off his ear. Jesus ordered me to put the sword away. He said this was part of the fulfillment of scripture. Jesus then touched the ear of the man and healed him.

You still had done nothing that seems to be anything but brave.

I hear you, but you cannot imagine how things were. We had no control. Jesus had been so upset and had said so many cryptic things about what was ahead. Judas – one of us! – betrayed our Lord in our very presence. The mob was ready to grab us all and take us under their control. I tried to respond and Jesus showed me it was not what he wanted. We did not know what to do. We were gripped by fear.

So, just as Jesus had predicted, we ran. I ran.

I can see how you, and even the rest, would feel guilty for deserting Jesus, but was not Judas the real betrayer in all that took place?

Yes, but the story goes on. I wanted to see what was going to happen to Jesus. I went into Jerusalem to the Temple area. I wasn’t alone. A friend went with me. He actually had some contacts there that got us near to where they were keeping Jesus. The person at the gate asked me if I was one of the followers of Jesus of Galilee. Being anxious to get through, I said I was not. At that moment it did not occur to me I had just denied the Lord for the first time.

The night was cool. Once inside the courtyard, I saw some people around a stove with coals. I moved close to them. One of the women there looked at me and said, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth!” The charge caught me off guard. Fear gripped me. With an oath I said, “I do not know the man!” But, with that statement my accent gave me away to another who also accused me of being a follower. Again, I said as strongly as I could, “I do not know the man!” As it came out of my mouth, I heard in the distance the crowing of a cock. I knew Jesus was right about me. I had denied him three times. I left there and wept and wept and wept.

And so, that is how your denial of Jesus happened.

Yes. My bravado was false. I could not back it up as fear rose within me. That experience taught me a lot about fear. The more I have relived that night in my mind, the more I have learned. Fear is one thing, but it also taught me about faith and love.

You see, much later, after Jesus arose, he came to us as at the Sea of Galilee. After we had shared breakfast together, Jesus turned to me and asked me three times in a row if I loved him. Each time I said, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Each time Jesus commanded me to feed and tend his sheep, his lambs.

Three times. Jesus’ words touched me and changed me. Jesus was making it clear he wanted me to be one who would lead and nourish his followers. I was forgiven!

Jesus went on to say to me, “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”

I have grown old, my friend. That day is drawing near.

Since then, my years of ministry have presented fearful situations again and again. I now face them differently than before. My faith in Jesus and my love for him have strengthened me. Staying focused on Jesus has enabled me to be calm and allowed me to think clearly. Jesus has become more important than my life.

Jail sentences, angry crowds, and aggressive opponents have been faced. Despite all, I have remained a faithful witness – sinner that I am – to the grace and love of Jesus.

I am so new to all of this. I hope I can have that kind of courage when I need it. I hope I can overcome any fears that may arise.

It is always Jesus, my friend. Keep your focus upon him. The rest takes care of itself. Fears have a tendency to shift that focus to the troubles at hand – like the story I shared with you about me walking on the water. Keep your eyes on Jesus.

And, never forget that the grace and love Jesus brings includes a complete forgiveness for the fact that we still lose battles with our own fears every day.

I will remember this Peter, and thanks for being willing to share these stories of your struggles. Maybe next time we can even talk about the cross itself.

The Lord willing, my friend, that will be our next conversation. Go in peace. Keep serving our Lord!

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER –

 FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION:

  1. Fear is a key aspect of this visit with Peter. Fear changed Peter’s ability to be the person he wanted to be after Jesus was arrested; he was frightened. When was an instance in your life where fear or anxiety ruled your behavior that in retrospect disappoint you?
  2. Identify a regret that still burdens you. Consider how Jesus’ forgiveness and restoration of Peter after Peter denied Jesus three times could help you to be released from this burden of regret.
  3. Fear is a powerfully negative motivation. Often, things to be feared are featured in advertising, politics and religion to move people toward something. It is also important to realize that people who have been honored for their courage have said that it is not that they did not feel fear, it was that they chose to not let it change what they intended to do. Peter revealed his fear that night. He later stated his faith in Jesus and his love for Jesus helped him in later experiences to overcome his fears. How do you overcome your fears in life?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.  What are your thoughts about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples – including the interaction with Peter and even the washing of the feet of Judas? Over the years, what has been your reaction to Jesus washing the disciples’ feet?
  2. Describe the importance of receiving Holy Communion in your life of faith. What is the most meaningful aspect of the Eucharist for you as you celebrate it?

RISING – Chapter 11

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Hello, Peter! I had a hard time waiting for this evening to come around again because it seems like our talks are nearing a discussion of your final times with Jesus. I am about to explode wanting to hear of those times! I know that you knew all that Jesus went through as he suffered and was crucified. Were you also there as he died? How did you and the other disciples handle something so shocking and horrible? And then, you witnessed the risen Jesus. I would like to hear everything about being with Jesus raised from the dead.

Welcome my enthusiastic young friend. I will share all of that with you. It is good that we cover that tonight because we may be nearing our final time together!

Why? What have you heard? Have you been told by the guards that you are nearing some resolution of your imprisonment? My uncle, the guard, has revealed nothing to me.

No, it is more related to my prayer life and the Holy Spirit revealing what may soon be ahead. It may not be within the week, but it will likely come soon and without notice.

What should we do? What should I do? Should I leave? I’m sorry I just don’t know what to say or do!

It’s okay. Be still. This is exactly where I want you to be this evening! We need to talk about our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection.

Last week we talked through my denial of Jesus. In that night and the next days, I was deeply shaken. I did not go to the cross. I could not bring myself to appear before the Lord – let alone watch him die, believing that it was in part because of my own cowardice. I felt enormous shame.

Much of what I am about to share you may have already heard. I will not go into great depth, but provide a reminder of the sacrifice for us that Jesus willingly endured.

I learned that Jesus suffered his horrible death courageously. He was tortured – whipped and beaten with rods by the Roman guards. They placed a mocking crown of thorns upon his head and forced him to carry his own cross through the streets to his place of execution. He carried his cross until he could do so no more. They grabbed a man from the crowd and forced him to finish carrying the cross to the place outside the city called Golgotha.

They nailed Jesus to that cross. Even though he had lost a lot of blood through all that he had experienced, he continued to talk with those witnessing the crucifixion.

He shared that he was thirsty. The soldiers offered a little bitter wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.

There were two others crucified with him, and he talked with them. I understand that one mocked him, but the other defended him, and Jesus gave comforting words to that man.

A few of the Jesus’ followers were there, including Jesus’s mother, Mary. I heard that from the cross Jesus asked a friend to care for Mary after he was gone.

Near the end Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This passage is a quote from one of the Psalms that vividly describes the agonizing death of a man, and yet concludes with a message of promise and hope. It is an uncanny description of exactly what happened to the Lord in his suffering.

As Jesus died, he said, “It is finished!” He was not saying with relief that he was breathing his last. He was proclaiming that he had faithfully and lovingly accomplished all that he was called to do. His mission was completed!

In those hours after the crucifixion, we had no idea what to do. We were afraid, confused and aimless. We were in hiding and having conversations that people fearing for their lives have. Fear is a deceptive state out of which to think and behave. We discussed whether we should stay in Jerusalem or go home to Galilee? We wondered whether we should flee to Egypt or some other foreign land? Questions filled our minds. Should we slip away as a group or singly? What should we do with all that Jesus taught us? Did we still have a mission? Were we willing to die for that mission as Jesus had died? We agonized over our next steps as well as the future of the ministry our Lord had shared with us. We were huddled together in a rented house that we had found. Some of us never left the house while others went away at times to be alone.

I can’t imagine what all must have been in your minds in that time! I can see how you would have feared for your own arrests, and even executions, since that was what happened to Jesus. Did you expect to encounter a risen Lord Jesus? Hadn’t he revealed his resurrection in some way to you?

As I said, fear does strange things to one’s mind. And group fear adds to the confusion. The possibility of Jesus rising from the dead was not in our minds. People in that house had witnessed his death. We knew that Jesus was gone. We were of no mind to recall what he had said to us in our times with him about all that would take place. Panic poured through us.

But then, unexpectedly, the women, including Mary Magdalene, who had gone to the tomb to ensure that Jesus’ body had a decent burial, brought astonishing news. The stone had been rolled away. Angels asked them why they were looking for the living among the dead. They were charged to come and tell us what they had seen and heard. Jesus’ body was gone! We began to wonder what this could mean.

I had to see for myself! I ran to the tomb and John came with me. He was faster than I and arrived first. John peered into the empty tomb. I just burst on in when I arrived. The linen wrappings were there; the cloth for his head was rolled up in a separate place. I was trying to make sense of it all. John came into the tomb behind me. He looked everything over and shared with me that he believed that Jesus had risen from the dead!

We went back to the house to report what we had seen. It turned out that Mary Magdalene had followed us out to the tomb and stayed on after we left. Jesus appeared to her there. She later came to the house where we were staying and said to us, “I have seen the Lord!”

The risen Jesus appeared to us twice in that house – that evening and a week later. He demonstrated that he was truly risen and alive. In that first evening we also heard from two friends who had encountered the risen Jesus that day as they were travelling from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus, a village not too far away.

Amazing! You all saw the risen Lord!

Yes, multiple times! His reappearance the second week came with Thomas present among us. Thomas had not been there the week before and found our stories too difficult to believe. He had said that he would need to touch Jesus – witness his scarred hands and feel the wound in his side to believe this resurrection took place.

When Jesus appeared that second Sunday evening, he stood before Thomas and invited him to touch his wounds. Thomas fell to his knees and, true to his word, cried out, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus stated something to Thomas that involves you and other believers who were not given my opportunity to see Jesus risen from the dead. He said to Thomas, “Do you believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Jesus was speaking a blessing upon you my friend. I know that Jesus lives. Believe in the risen, living Lord Jesus. He died on that cross that you may know full forgiveness for your sin. He rose to new life that you may be given new life in him that begins now and goes on unto eternity!

Peter, I have come to learn that those three sentences are at the essence of the Gospel of our Lord – faith in Jesus, forgiveness of sin, and new life in him! I am trying to live a life that each day reflects these truths.

Our times together have been a witness to that. At an earlier visit I shared with you that I had the opportunity to talk with the resurrected Jesus on the Galilean lakeshore. His triple charge to me there to feed his sheep has been guidance for my life over all these years – forgiveness and new life in Jesus!

Not long after that lakeside discussion we saw him again in Galilee. We were still trying to understand what to do and how to do it. Jesus helped us work through our doubts and fears and told us that he had all authority in heaven and on earth. He said “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

After that, we went back to Jerusalem. Jesus appeared to us one more time outside the city before he ascended. He told us that we should now not leave Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit would come upon us within a few days. He told us that in the power of the Holy Spirit we would be moved to become his “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” It was then that Jesus lifted up and a cloud took him out of our sight.

Over these years I have been led by the Spirit to many places so that the Gospel could be shared. This is the reason why you now find this Galilean fisherman in Rome and in a Roman prison.

We are called to be Jesus’ disciples. We are to witness to the world, each using his or her gifts as the Spirit leads, and make disciples. Thus, our visits over these weeks – me discipling you and, as I have told you, you discipling me – are central to that calling!

I am so thankful and amazed at what I have heard and learned over these weeks. I need to leave, but I don’t want to leave. I will come back next week. I hope that we can talk again. I have so much more to learn from you about your ministry! Again, I am so thankful for these times, Peter. I am a different person – a different disciple – because of all that you have shared!

The Lord willing, I will be glad to talk more with you. Now, go in peace and seek to be the person that our Lord is calling you to be.

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER – 

FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION:

  1. For many, prayer is only an experience of speaking to God. Listening and discerning guidance from God is not as common. Yet, listening is an important aspect of prayer. Peter learned in his prayer time that his imprisonment and his life were soon to come to an end. What could you begin to practice in your times of devotion to strengthen your ability to listen to God and not to just talk to God?
  2. Peter confessed that he could not bring himself to go to the cross. Guilt and shame prevented him from being present in the worst hours of our Lord’s life. Have guilt and or shame ever kept you from doing something that you felt that you should do? If so, how have you been able to get past that experience?
  3. Forgiveness comes up again and again in Christian teachings. It is a key phrase in The Lord’s Prayer. What might you do to be sure that you are fully experiencing this forgiveness?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1. Peter spoke of debilitating fear. He shared how fear had controlled the behaviors of the disciples after the crucifixion and even after the resurrection. The first letter of John, states: “There is no fear in love, perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18) It is interesting that this Bible passage connects love and fear – not love and hate. How do you imagine that love of Jesus reduced the fears of the disciples in those days following the crucifixion and resurrection?
  2. How could deeper love change our fears that inspire our racism, sexism, chauvinism, ageism, and any other “ism” that makes us fearful of someone different than ourselves?
  3. What does the resurrection mean to you personally?

WITNESSING – Chapter 12

“You pray. You listen. You love. You witness.”

Oh Peter, I am so glad to see you this week! After what you shared last week, I wasn’t sure if you would even be here. But I am so happy to be back with you to learn more about Jesus.

I am glad to see you, as well, and I have learned nothing more about my future than what I mentioned last week. I have had some thoughts, though, about what we might discuss, but I would like to start with you having the opportunity to ask whatever you want to know.

I have only one thought for this evening. I want to hear of your life after Jesus ascended.

Okay, that works well with my thoughts. Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus encouraged us to remain in Jerusalem until we were “clothed with power from on high.” At the feast of Pentecost, we disciples were gathered together in a house and there suddenly came the sound like the rush of a mighty wind that filled that house. Divided tongues, like fire, rested upon each of us. We were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in multiple languages as the Spirit inspired us.

Because of the festival, there were people gathered in Jerusalem from all over the Mediterranean. We spilled out into the street and were being understood by all who gathered there, each in their own language. Some even thought that we were just drunk, but I reminded they that this was ridiculous. It was 9:00 o’clock in the morning.

I was inspired to speak to the crowd. Passages from scripture came to my mind and I shared a message about Jesus – his powerful ministry, his tragic death on the cross and that we had witnessed his resurrection from the dead! I proclaimed him Lord and Messiah to that varied crowd! I invited them to repent and be baptized in Jesus’ name for their forgiveness and so that they too might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Many welcomed this message and 3,000 were baptized. This was just the beginning of our ministries to people in Jerusalem.

We early followers devoted ourselves to crucial practices that strengthened our faith. We learned by sharing and discussing the teachings and stories of Jesus and how they related to different portions of the scriptures from Moses and the prophets. We continued to baptize new followers and regularly celebrated the Lord’s Supper. We were strengthened through our prayer experiences and our time together through the encouraging fellowship of our faith communities. And we found that it was important for us to reach out beyond ourselves and witness in our actions and our words about Jesus to the world. I think this evening we should concentrate there – on the importance for followers of Jesus to share their faith with the world.

Great! I want to be a witness for Jesus in the world. I need to learn more of what you have faced and how you have shared your faith in Jesus.

In those early days our witnessing mostly took place in Jerusalem. We talked with those we encountered on the streets and in the shops, with neighbors, and with those we encountered in the Temple area. Those discussions are often unpredictable. They can stretch one’s thoughts and understandings regarding Jesus as people ask questions and challenge statements. The Spirit can inspire responses in ways that meet the discussion, but, even though you are the one saying them, they can sound as new to you as they do to the person you are talking with. Other times you may not have the answers needed in that moment and can honestly say there are things you still do not understand. Witnessing teaches us what we know and what more we need to know. It is inspiring and humbling often at the same time!

Those early encounters led to new followers. Some did not live in Jerusalem but heard the good news about Jesus there and went back to their villages. It was important for us to follow up on those new disciples. I travelled out beyond Jerusalem to some of those villages, like Lydda and Joppa.

One of the most transforming experiences after the ascension of Jesus – both for my future and the future of the followers of Jesus – came through a vision that I was given. In Joppa, I stayed with a believer named Simon, a tanner. His house had access to its roof and one day I went up to pray. I became hungry and as my meal was being prepared for me, I fell into a trance. I saw heaven opened and a large sheet descended to the ground. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals, reptiles and birds. I heard a voice call out to me saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” I responded as a faithful Jew who understood our laws regarding these animals, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” The voice responded, “What God has made clean, you must not call common.” This vision took place three times and then the sheet rose back up into heaven!

What an odd vision, Peter! You said that you were soon going to eat. If I had such a vision, I think I would have just chalked it up to a silly daydream triggered by hunger! What meaning did you gain from the vision?

Maybe, if it occurred only once, I would have thought the same as you. But when it happened three times it was too significant to ignore. As I was wondering what the vision meant, some people came to the house and asked specifically for me. Even as these men were at the gate, the Spirit spoke to me with this message: “Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.”

I went down immediately and explained that I was Simon, called Peter, and asked why they had come to look for me. They said that they were sent by a centurion named Cornelius from Caesarea. They explained that this Roman centurion was an upright and God-fearing man, respected by all the Jewish people who knew him. A holy angel had appeared to Cornelius and had instructed him to send men to Joppa to the home of a man named Simon, a tanner who lived near the seashore. The angel said that another man named Simon, who is called Peter, would be at the house and that they were to bring this Simon Peter to the home of Cornelius so that he could hear what Simon Peter has to say.

It was a startling connection of two visions. I invited them into the house and we all stayed there that night. The next morning, we headed to Caesarea.

When we arrived at the home of Cornelius, he had invited some of his relatives and close friends to hear what I had to say. At the first opportunity to speak to the group, I shared how it was unlawful for Jews to associate or visit with Gentiles, but that God had made it clear to me that I was to think of no one as unclean. I was ready to listen and learn what it was that they expected of me.

Cornelius then confirmed what his messengers had told me. I was there because this centurion had a vision from God to send for me and to listen to what I had to say.

I told them about Jesus. I revealed that his ministry of preaching the good news of forgiveness and new life in him included many healings and exorcisms. I described his death on the cross and his resurrection, and that many of us had spent time with him, even eating and drinking, after he rose from the dead. I explained that he fulfilled prophecies regarding the Messiah, and that all who believe in him receive forgiveness of their sins in his name.

As those Gentiles to whom I spoke heard these words, they were overcome by the Holy Spirit and spoke in other tongues. It was similar to our first experience of the Holy Spirit on that Pentecost not long before.

We baptized those who had been touched by the message of Jesus and the presence of the Spirit. We stayed on there for a few days afterward.

Gentiles received your message and were filled with the Holy Spirit and baptized. God used you to move the Good News of Jesus beyond Jewish believers to Gentiles!

Well, yes, although this was not something immediately received with great joy by all of Jesus’ followers. When I returned to Jerusalem, I found that some believers there troubled that Gentiles had accepted the word of God and were now a part of the fellowship of believers in Jesus. They challenged me, a Jew, regarding my going to the uncircumcised Gentiles, and were upset that I had met and eaten with them.

I told them about my vision with the sheet and the animals. I revealed that as the Spirit fell upon those Gentiles, I remembered Jesus’ words that “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” I explained my reasoning that if God gave them the same gift of the Holy Spirit that he gave to us, who was I to hinder God! This quieted their complaints and led them to realize that God had now granted Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.

Your ministry, then, has touched the lives of people across the empire. I have heard that there are Christians in cities all over the Mediterranean and beyond. And now I am also one of those touched by this message!

While, yes, it was that experience that inspired us to be open to sharing the Gospel with the Gentile world, I have not been the most significant player in spreading this Good News. Paul, originally named Saul – the Pharisee turned disciple and apostle of our Lord – and those who travel with him have had a more far-reaching ministry and mission. Apollos has also been one who has touched the lives of many. And a woman named Priscilla—she and her husband, Aquila, often work with Paul, and she was the one who served as Apollos’ mentor in the faith.

My journeys have been less, but my witness has been faithful and, thankfully, effective wherever I have traveled. Jesus called us to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. And now, here I am a witness of the love and grace of Jesus in the very capital city of the empire, touching the lives of those with whom I am imprisoned.

Yes, and inspiring my growth in that Gospel, as well! Witnessing is something that I have not thought much about and I am not very confident that I can do it well. I now know it is part of what I need to be about, though, as a follower of Jesus.

Your visits have been both an inspiration and a comfort to me in this time, my friend. People who follow Jesus are constant witnesses of his grace and love. Wherever we are, Jesus goes with us, and our words and deeds impact others in either subtle or direct ways. I experience his presence in our times of sharing during these weeks. I know that you do also.

As you go out into the city and into the world, your caring actions may lay the groundwork for someone’s heart to be opened to a later sharing. Your loving words may encourage a person to share their life struggles to you. You pray. You listen. You love. You witness, giving an account for how you have the hope that is within, but doing it with gentleness and reverence. But it is not about you! It is about them and Jesus.

You will be a wonderful witness of the grace and love of Jesus, my friend. Keep praying. Keep listening. Keep loving. And share, as you are led, what Jesus has done in your life.

I will be back, the Lord willing, and I will look forward to learning all that I can from you in what time we have left. You are in my prayers every day, and I am thankful for all that you have shared with me.

Go in peace my friend and know that the Lord Jesus goes with you wherever you are. His promise to us was “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

SOME QUESTIONS OR CALLINGS TO CONSIDER:

FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION:

  1. The five disciplines are 1) Studying God’s Word, 2) the Sacraments, 3) Prayer, 4) Fellowship and 5) Witnessing. These disciplines also came up in Chapter 5 – Following. Which of these do you think is most challenging in your life? Pray about how you might take an action to strengthen this discipline.
  2. Witnessing is not easy for many of us, yet each follower of Jesus is already a witness. The question is a matter of whether we are good witnesses or poor ones. To whom might you be witnessing with little intention these days? Peter provided instruction for how we can improve our witnessing – praying, listening, loving and sharing. Begin in your prayer life to ask God to bring someone into your spiritual focus. Listen with openness to learn of whom God may be leading you and be a good listener to those whom you encounter every day. Begin to pray for the person to whom you are being led and for their growth in connecting to Jesus. Be ready to listen to them and share God’s love for them.
  3. Peter’s vision opened his perspective on the wider world and God’s call to be open to all people. As a leader, his obedience in this matter changed the perspective and the scope of the ministry of the entire church. A great danger of witnessing is expecting those with whom we share to become more like us – to have our exact connection to Jesus and the faith. Praying, listening, and loving are important because they can get ourselves out of the way. Every person matters to God. Their life journeys are known by God. We may have the privilege of coming into their journey at a certain time for a certain purpose – God’s purpose. There are likely people in your life that might not even have occurred to you as you prayed in number two above for someone to whom you might witness. Are you willing to break new ground in your witness? With whom might that be? And how might the Holy Spirit be leading you into their lives more deeply?

FOR GROUP DISCUSSION:

  1. What is something in your life right now where you are sometimes guided by your own will and not God’s?
  2. The 5 disciplines mentioned arise from Acts 2 and especially Acts 2:42. Are there any other disciplines that you think might be missing from this list?

LIVING – Chapter 13

“But I now know that Jesus has also happened to me.”

My dear reader and friend in Jesus,

I have some bad news. As you know, I have recently had weekly conversations with Simon Peter and made a commitment to share with you what I learned. I feel such a loss as I bring you the news that Peter was executed this week. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that this was coming. And the resurrected Jesus had spoken of it to him on that lakeshore long ago. I feel so sad that he is gone, but even sadder for the future of all who believe in Jesus. What a loss of a great man who walked with Jesus!

It was such a gift to listen to Simon Peter, the Rock, tell me about his experiences with Jesus! I knew that those opportunities would be coming to an end, but now it feels so final. I have been recalling all that I learned from Peter by looking over the notes that I used to write to you. I would like to share with you what has been most significant to my growth in the faith.  

In every encounter, I experienced in Peter the energy of his faith as he talked about Jesus. It came through the air and into me – how much the joy of following Jesus poured out of Peter as he talked. I pray that my daily encounters with others can carry that energy for Jesus!

Peter would often remind me that this Christian journey was all about following Jesus. Jesus lives! I can follow the same Jesus that Peter knew. Jesus is the one with whom I talk in prayer, discern direction for my life, and gain comfort in facing life’s ups and downs.

Peter emphasized more than once that those who knew Jesus practiced certain disciplines after Jesus had ascended and after they had been given his Spirit. These disciplines helped them to remain focused on Jesus and their calling to be his disciples:

  • Peter said that it was helpful to share the accounts of what Jesus had done and to see it in the context of the Holy Scriptures.
  • Peter emphasized that our baptisms connect us to the death and rising of Jesus – that our old selves daily die in him and our new selves arise. He said that followers of Jesus now eat bread and drink wine as Jesus had taught at their final supper with him and find assurance in Jesus’ words, “This is my body. This is my blood.” Peter valued the presence of Jesus in the celebration of this holy meal.
  • Peter taught me that prayer is talking over one’s life with the Lord, but conversation means it is equally important to be a willing listener to what the Lord may be leading me to be and do through that prayer time.
  • Peter emphasized that being with other followers of Jesus – the fellowship of believers – is essential in keeping alive one’s faith and growth in Jesus.
  • And, Peter would not let me forget that a witness to others in actions and words is part of one’s calling in following Jesus. Jesus said to his disciples before he ascended that they were to go and make disciples of all nations – to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. Following Jesus is not only about me and my salvation. It is living more for others than myself so that they will know the good news of Jesus.

Peter also revealed paradoxes about following Jesus – things I did not expect. I think they flowed from Jesus’ calling as the Messiah – not to be 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 and servant of all. Jesus taught that his followers had to lose their lives to find their lives.

Jesus acted unexpectedly and taught his disciples to do the unexpected:

Jesus willingly spent time talking with tax collectors and others that religious leaders of his day shunned. Jesus told a story where the hero was a Samaritan – an ethnic group despised 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 suffering people. 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 realizing that I need to see people differently. Every day I must become more welcoming and more ready to listen than to talk. I need to realize that many of the people that I once intentionally ignored are the people that I should intentionally invest in. Discovering the life to which Jesus is calling me will mean being less comfortable and taking more risks – losing my life. Now, I understand that the more 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 confess that I have wondered, could Jesus have just focused on the positive 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 an incredible three years of amazing teaching and then a miraculous disappearing into heaven – possibly in the same chariot that had taken Elijah many years before.

But I can hear Peter saying a strong “No!” to this. Jesus knew that he was called to die and then rise again. He told the disciples exactly that more than once. The cross was central to Jesus being the Messiah, the Christ. Taking up one’s cross was his expectation of each disciple. After Jesus had strongly told Peter to get behind him and called him Satan, Jesus said to the Twelve, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 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.”

There is gift in following Jesus – grace. There is cost in following Jesus – loss. But 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 once 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 convinced that I could experience Jesus in that same way. But I now know that Jesus has also 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.

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 gives me assurance of my forgiveness.

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 pray that the sharing of my visits with Peter has been helpful to you in your life journey, and I pray that your journey is a faithful, daily response to the calling to follow Jesus.

 SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

 FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION:

  1. The five disciplines are:

           1) Studying God’s Word, 2) the Sacraments, 3) Prayer, 4) Fellowship and 5) Witnessing.

These disciplines 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.

 FOR GROUP DISCUSSION:

  1. When have you felt an energy and joy in following Jesus?
  2. How have you thought about the paradoxes 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?
  3. The new disciple describes how Jesus happens in a person’s life: 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 Do any of those also describe you? How?
  4. What might you add to that list?

Scripture Passages Used In Each Chapter

(Passages without parentheses are the primary resources for the stories in each chapter. Passages in parentheses are where the stories are also told in other books.)

Chapter 1 – Fishing

  • John 1:35-42
  • Luke 5:1-11 (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20)
  • Matthew 7:7

Chapter 2 – Healing

  • Matthew 8:1-17 (Mark 1:29-34; Luke 7:1-10 & Luke 4:38-41)
  • Mark 5:21-43 (Luke 8:40-56)
  • Mark 6:1-6 (Matthew 13:54-58; Luke 4:16-30)
  • Acts 3:1-31
  • Acts 12:6-19

Chapter 3 – Praying

  • Matthew 6:5-15 (Luke 11:1-4)
  • I Peter 2:1
  • Matthew 26:36-46 (Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46)

Chapter 4 – Feeding

  • John 6:1-40 (Matthew 15:32-39; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17)
  • John 4:1-42

Chapter 5 – Following

  • Matthew 14:22-33 (Mark 6:45-52; John 6:16-21)
  • Acts 2:37-47
  • Matthew 18:20
  • Matthew 25:31-46

Chapter 6 – Dying

  • Mark 8:27-38 (Matthew 16:13-28; Luke 9:18-27)
  • Mark 9:30-37 (Matthew 18:1-6; Luke 9:46-48)
  • Mark 10:32-45 (Matthew 20:17-28)
  • I Peter 1:8-9

Chapter 7 – Connecting

  • Matthew 5:13-16
  • Matthew 13:31-32 (Luke 13:18-21; Mark 4:30-32)
  • Luke 10:25-37
  • Matthew 5:48
  • Luke 15:1-7 (Matthew 18:12-14)
  • Mark 4:1-20 (Matthew 13:1-23; Luke 8:4-15)
  • Matthew 25:31-46

Chapter 8 – Welcoming

  • Matthew 19:13-15 (Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17)

Chapter 9 – Interpreting

  • Matthew 17:1-8 (Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36)
  • Matthew 5:38-48 (Luke 6:27-31)
  • Mark 2:27
  • Luke 14:1-6
  • Matthew 22:34-40
  • John 15:12
  • Luke 4:16-30
  • Isaiah 53
  • Zechariah 9:9; 12:10
  • Psalm 22; Psalm 118: 22-23
  • Jeremiah 31:31-34

Chapter 10 – Fearing

  • John 13:1-11
  • Matthew 26:26-35 (Mark 14:22-31; Luke 22:14-34); Zechariah 13:7
  • Matthew 26:36-56 (Mark 14:32-52; Luke 22:39-53; John 18:1-11)
  • Matthew 26:57-75 (John 18:15-27; Mark 14:53-72; Luke 22:54-62)
  • John 21:15-19

Chapter 11 – Rising

  • Matthew 27:27-56 (John 19:1-30; Mark 15:16-41; Luke 23:24-49)
  • Luke 24:1-12 (John 20:1-18; Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1 -8)
  • John 20:19-31 (Luke 24:13-49)
  • Mathew 28:16-20
  • Acts 1:1-9

Chapter 12 – Witnessing

  • Luke 24:49
  • Acts 2
  • Acts 9:31-11:18
  • I Peter 3:15-16

Chapter 13 – Living

  • Acts 2:37-47
  • Mark 8:27-38 (Matthew 16:13-28; Luke 9:18-27)
  • Mark 9:30-37 (Matthew 18:1-6; Luke 9:46-48)
  • Mark 10:32-45 (Matthew 20:17-28)
  • Luke 10:25-37
  • Matthew 25:31-46
  • Matthew 17:1-8 (Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36)

[I would like to share a thank you to Jennifer Altman Sauer as I have written this book based on the life journey of Simon Peter with and in Jesus. The idea for these stories came from a Lenten Sermon series that took place at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Glenshaw, PA in 1996. My preaching style includes from time to time impersonating biblical characters and telling biblical stories from their perspective. In that Lenten season I impersonated Simon Peter as he was in prison at the end of his life and being visited by a few people with interest in his experiences with Jesus. I worked from an outline in my head each week and not a memorized script. But, what I shared was audio recorded. At the end of the season I thought that the stories could make a helpful discipleship resource from the life of Simon Peter that could lead people into a deeper walk with Jesus. Jennifer had the typing skills to listen to the tapes and type verbatim copies of what I had said. She was generous in her offering her time to do that for her pastor. Many of the short stories that will follow and that are based on the life of Simon Peter are the direct result of having those verbatims as a key resource for inspiration and direction. I am deeply thankful to Jennifer for that gift that I am now using over 20 years later.]