Each chapter of the book offers you ways to think about a specific Gospel story and personalize its message, giving you opportunities for new perspectives and personal growth.
Chapter 1: Claiming Our True Identity
The story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert (Matt 4:1-11) helps us recognize the wilderness experiences in our own lives. For Jesus, the wilderness was a desert where he was exposed to the physical extremes of heat and cold, hunger and thirst, and the temptation to betray his true identity. We find ourselves in the wilderness whenever our fears loom large, we are exposed to our humanness and limitations, and we find ourselves at risk. The wilderness may be hearing that the biopsy was positive, having death rob us of a loved one, or saying, “yes” to an inner imperative we can’t explain. In the wilderness, we struggle to claim our authentic identity in the face of powerful forces that threaten to derail us.
Chapter 2: Glimpses of God Touching Us
The story of Jesus’ transfiguration (Matt: 17:1-9) invites us to reflect on our own experiences of God touching us. Occasionally, God touches us with mountaintop experiences and blinding visions. Peter, James, and John were included in the select few gifted with a glimpse of the divine majesty – as fleeting as it was. Whether or not we’ve been to the mountaintop and heard the voice from a cloud, God still touches us in vibrant and personal ways. Personalizing the transfiguration story encourages us to explore the ways we have encountered God and to deepen our awareness of the rich and varied ways that God gifts us with the divine presence.
Chapter 3: Acknowledging Our Deeper Thirst
The story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (John 4:5-42) leads us to explore the deeper thirst at the core of our lives. The Samaritan woman’s deeper thirst is that she is desperate for a love that will last and that she has failed in every effort to achieve it. This is the broken place in her life, the place where she is most vulnerable, the pain she longs to heal. Like the woman at the well, we are all wounded. Our own deeper thirst emerges from the broken places within us. As we bring our pain to the well, we face the same challenge that she does. Can we bathe our wounds in the living water, trust that God longs to be a healing and redeeming force in our lives, and find the courage to live in a new way?
Chapter 4: Opening Ourselves to the Jesus Touch
The story of Jesus healing the man born blind (John 9:1-41) calls us to explore the painful limits of the human condition. Some of us – like the man born blind – have physical infirmities that are immediately obvious. Others of us suffer from less visible wounds. We wrestle with such demons as loneliness or depression, struggle with self-doubt or difficulty in loving ourselves, or try to overcome the emotional scars left by past trauma. Whatever our experience of brokenness, our wounds invite us to open ourselves to the healing touch of Jesus. As we recognize the ways in which we have been gifted by the Jesus touch, we are also called to reach out to heal others.
Chapter 5: Confronting Death, Stagnation and Dead Ends
The story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45) calls us to reflect on the death, stagnation, and dead ends that are an inevitable part of life. We’d like to maintain the naïve view that Christian faith insulates us from these realities, but it doesn’t. Human life is an agonizing mix of bitter and sweet. We live in a world filled with darkness as well as sunlight, hate as well as love, evil as well as good, and death as well as life. The good news is that we do not face these realities alone. Jesus weeps for us, and then he calls us out of the tomb. He touches us with a power stronger than death and gifts us with resurrection faith. That faith gives us the courage to roll back the stone, face the stench, and walk into the light.
Chapter 6: A Love Stronger than Death
The story of Jesus’ passion and death (Matthew 26:14-27:66) confronts us with harsh realities and difficult choices. In Gethsemane, faith reaches the breaking point. Jesus surrenders to suffering and death while the disciples flee into the night. During his trial, Jesus refuses to compromise his identity in God in order to save his skin. From the cross, he faces the ultimate challenge: responding to hate by loving his enemies enough to forgive them with his last breath. Personalizing this story calls us to reflect on how we handle life’s darkest moments of suffering and dying. It calls us to trust enough to surrender to God, to find the courage to stay faithful no matter what trials we face, and to love deeply enough to forgive those who do us harm.
Chapter 7: Surprised by the God of Easter
The story of Jesus’ resurrection (Matt 28:1-10) confronts us with powerful images and overwhelming experiences. As the women arrive at the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, they are greeted by an earthquake and encounter an angel. Before they have time to get their wits about them, they find themselves face-to-face with the risen Christ. As we personalize this story, we discover that the God of Easter takes us by surprise. We explore the powerful experiences in our lives, the times that our dying gives way to new life, the events that leave us forever changed. We discover that Easter faith affirms that even in the midst of life’s pain and dying, God is present and powerful. Easter faith is an unrelenting affirmation that death is not the end of the story, an adamant claim that dying leads to new life, a bold hope that someday the earth will quake and our own tombs will be empty.
Chapter 8: A Guide to Personalizing Gospel Stories
This chapter provides a straightforward explanation of a method for personalizing Gospel stories. It uses examples from the seven story chapters to demonstrate a four-step process:
- Opening ourselves to the story,
- Entering into the experience of the story,
- Making connections between the story and our own experiences, and
- Living out the story every day.
For each step, it explores a variety of techniques for unlocking the power of the story, discovering the ways that God is touching us, entering into prayer, and deepening our relationships with God.