For weeks they had witnessed incredulous things…Compelling teaching. Growing crowds chasing them. Scores of people healed. Testy confrontations with highly respected temple leaders. The miraculous feeding of 5,000 persons.

Now as they rested on their way to another village, Jesus stirs from a time of prayer and asks them, “Who do people say that I am?”

Responses flow quickly and freely from the disciples: “John the Baptist.” “Elijah.” “Jeremiah.” “One of the ancient prophets.”

Then after a few moments, Jesus asks a more pointed question. “But who do YOU say that I am?

Although the text doesn’t describe the scene, I imagine a pregnant pause as Jesus scans the faces of his hand-chosen disciples waiting for an answer. Eye contact is averted. Feet shuffle. The silence is deafening.

And then rambunctious and impulsive Simon Peter blurts out, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus lauds Simon Peter and forecasts incredible things for him. (I wonder if the other disciples felt a combination of relief that someone broke the uncomfortable silence mixed with jealousy toward the new teacher’s pet.)

However, shortly thereafter, Jesus scolds Simon Peter on another matter. And later after pledging his supreme allegiance, Simon Peter denies any association with Jesus three times.

It is only after the resurrection that Simon Peter and the other disciples are transformed. They refer to Jesus as Lord. This motley band of fledgling followers become so resolute that they go on to share the Good News even unto their deaths. 

Put yourself in their sandals. How would you answer if Jesus looked at you today and asked, “But who do YOU say that I am?

Does that question make you squirm? Are you inclined to give a “Sunday School” answer? Are you comfortable and confident in your response? Are you honest enough to admit you’re uncertain and want help? Other?

That question is the most significant question you will ever face. Your answer to it lays the foundation not just for your faith journey but for how you will choose to live your life. The question will never go away on this side of heaven. You will face it continuously. In your humanness, your answer will likely fluctuate.

But the important thing is that you keep leaning into the question. Keep seeking to understand and know Jesus. Keep asking Him to reveal more and more of himself to you. And yearn for the same transformation his disciples experienced.

For reflection:

1.      Simon Peter’s story could be your story. How does your allegiance to Jesus contrast with his?

2.      Presently, in what ways are you actively trying to get to know Jesus better?

3.      This significant question is recorded in three of the four gospels. See Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 9. Read and compare them. What do you notice?

Day 2:

Are you happy?

I’ve been privileged to experience a good life: College and grad school education. Terrific family. Significant work accomplishments. Active church involvement. Good friends. A nice house. Varied travel experiences. Comfortable lifestyle.

But several years ago, I realized that deep down, I wasn’t content. On the surface it looked like I had much of what the world said I needed to be happy. But on the inside, I was searching for something more. I was anxious and restless.

In John’s epistle, we learn what Jesus sees as his earthly mission. “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10 NIV) Some other translations use the words “abundant life.”

For much of my upbringing, church teaching seemed to refer to this life that Jesus offers only as eternal life. Jesus comes to save us from hell by offering us tickets to heaven.

But a Lexicon study into the meaning of the word “life” in this passage offers more. It refers to both present and future life. Both physical and spiritual life. Old Testament writers used this word “to denote a happy life and every kind of blessing.” In other words, Jesus brings heaven to us now on this earth. This is simply amazing!

It took brokenness and the compassionate intervention of several church friends to help me resuscitate my faith journey.  I began to get a fresh glimpse of a God who sees me as his beloved child and wants the best life for me. One who restores me and then invites me to join in his mission to help bring abundant life to others.

I am still very much a work in progress. I struggle to surrender control. Too often I still want to pursue my agenda and not God’s. But I am committed to trying.

Edward Sri, in his book, Into His Likeness, writes:

“When we truly welcome Jesus as Lord of our lives, we experience a great mystery. It’s the mystery of self-giving. When I give up control over my life – my plans, my hopes, my desires – and entrust it all into the hands of God, when I follow his moral teachings and live according to the way he made me, I actually discover fullness of life at a deeper level because I am surrendering to God’s plan, which is so much greater than my own.”

“There’s a deeper peace, joy, and sense of purpose that comes when we live for Christ and not for ourselves.”

For reflection:

1.      How about you? Are you happy and/or joyful? Why or why not?

2.      How do you react to the excerpts above by Edward Sri? Do they cause you to be hopeful or chagrined? Take your reactions to Jesus in prayer.

 A prayer to consider:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,

My memory, my understanding, and my entire will,

All that I have and possess.

Thou hast given it all to me.

To thee, O Lord, I return it.

All is thine: dispose of it wholly according to Thy will.

Give me Thy love and Thy grace.

For this is sufficient for me.

- St. Ignatius of Loyola

Day 3: 

Living a Life of Earnest Imitation

Did you have a childhood hero - someone you sought to imitate?

As a young boy, my favorite baseball team was the Baltimore Orioles. And my favorite player was Brooks Robinson, arguably one of the greatest third basemen of all time.

I would mimic everything he did. I wore his number five. I bought and used his model glove and bat. I tilted my cap like he did. I copied his defensive crouch and batting stance. I even chewed my gum like he did.

More than all his on-field accomplishments, his aw-shucks easy-going mild manner appealed to me. He wasn’t a boisterous and vocal player. He let his splendidly consistent play do all the talking. His character stirred the best in me.

There is much I can take from that childhood experience and bring to my adult effort to be like Jesus.

Edward Sri, in his book, Into His Likeness, writes:

“If there’s one key word that sums up the essence of discipleship, its imitation – imitating the life of the teacher.”

This goes beyond book knowledge. For a Jewish disciple it meant immersion into the rabbi’s whole way of life.

Sri goes on to say that “While disciples certainly needed to know the content of his message, Jesus stresses the importance of observing his teachings, putting them into practice in their daily lives. Living out the teaching was more important than merely knowing them.”

The apostle Paul reinforces this concept when he declares to his own disciples, “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Sri goes on to offer this nugget: “The biblical notion of discipleship beautifully expresses what the Christian life is all about – the imitation of Christ.”

As Christ followers our task is to immerse ourselves into the life and teachings of Jesus. We note His passions, His delights, His efforts, what made Him angry or grieved Him. How He treated others. How He worshiped his Father.

And then we try to follow in His steps imitating Him as best as we can with God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s help.

For Reflection:

1.      How does the idea of discipleship – an imitation of the Master, change the way you view your life as a Christian? What is most inspiring about it? What is most intimidating?

2.      What is one aspect of Jesus’s life you’d like to imitate more in your life right now? What can you practically do this week to live more like Jesus in this area?


Day 4: 

Spiritual Practice - Gospel Meditation

This week I encourage you to use the spiritual practice of gospel meditation or reading scripture by using your imagination.

I first encountered this spiritual practice while reading David Benner’s book, The Gift of Being Yourself and it breathed new life into my bible reading. It takes me beyond reading scripture for information to reading scripture for an encounter with God. 

Benner says, Gospel meditation is gazing on Christ.”  I believe this “gazing on Christ” will further help us…

      - Understand better who Jesus is,

      - Comprehend why he came to earth,

      - Discover his attributes we can imitate.

This approach to reading scripture is not bible study. It is more of an exercise of using your imagination rather than your intellect. It involves allowing the Spirit of God to help you imaginatively enter the life of Christ as presented in the gospels.

Allow me to share one personal experience. I read one of the gospel accounts of the last supper. I imagined myself reclining at a table with Jesus and his disciples. Then came the foot washing. Jesus kneeled before me and started washing my feet. I felt his gentle touch and the wetness of the water. Then suddenly, he looked up at me with knowing eyes and softly said, “Randy, it will be alright.”

I was shaken because it was a period in my life when I was going through some significant personal angst. Jesus powerfully came alive to me in that poignant moment. My eyes welled up with tears.

Please know that I am not suggesting replacing good robust inductive Bible study with this practice. In fact, Bible study identifies the facts and sets an accurate context for reading with your imagination. These two approaches will complement one another. 

To get started:

      - Take a moment to quiet yourself in God’s presence. Close your eyes and ask God to take the words of scripture and by the power of His Spirit, make them God’s word to you.

      -  Ask for the gift of a few moments of Spirit-guided imaginative encounter with Jesus. Then slowly read the following account several times – preferably out loud.

      -  Read Mark 10:17-22

      -  Now allow yourself to daydream on the situation presented in the story. First picture the man approaching Jesus as he is leaving on a journey. Then, as if you were a spectator, observe the events as they unfold.

      -  Watch, listen and stay attentive to Christ. Don’t be distracted by the rich young ruler.

      -  And don’t try to analyze the story or learn lessons from it. Just be present to Jesus and open to your own reactions.

“I realize that simply pondering the event – allowing myself to daydream on it – is sharing Jesus’ experiences with Him.
I am, in fact, slowly moving into a new level of personally knowing Jesus.”

- David Benner