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Youth Lesson: Faithful Prayer

While we are unable to meet for Sunday School, I will post an adaptation of the youth Sunday School lesson every Wednesday.  Think of the lesson as a guide to discuss a passage of Scripture as a family.  Each lesson will include some introductory material, a Scripture reading, questions for discussion, and a short prayer.  I encourage you to take just 15-30 minutes every week over dinner, at the end of the day, or whenever best fits your family schedule to actively engage your students in this opportunity to grow together as a family in faith. 

Introduction:

Our Scripture passage this week picks up at the end of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples at Passover. John’s account of the Last Supper includes a long speech that Jesus gave his disciples.  During that speech, Jesus was trying to prepare his disciples for all that was about to happen. He encourages them to continue trusting in God, reminds them that loving God means that they must also love others, and he wants them to know that God will continue to always be with them. Last week, we focused on Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit would come and be with them.    

Jesus ends this long speech with prayer. If you look at John 17 in a Bible with section titles, you can readily see that Jesus prays for himself, his disciples, and for all Christians. In the previous few chapters, Jesus speaks to his disciples to encourage them to keep the faith and to comfort them.  In this chapter, Jesus’ prayer seems to do the same for him – to encourage him to faithfully follow God’s plan for him and to provide comfort for himself and his friends as they will soon be separated.  When he finishes praying, they leave where they are, go to the garden where other Gospel accounts tell us that Jesus again chooses to pray, and that is when Jesus is arrested.

Read:

John 17:1-11

Discussion:

  • What does Jesus ask for himself in verses 1-5?
  • What does Jesus ask God for on behalf of his disciples in verses 9-11?
  • How would you describe Jesus’ relationship with God based on this passage?
  • What does this prayer tell us about Jesus’ feelings for his disciples? What does it tell us about their relationship?
  • What do you think it means when Jesus prays that the disciples “may be one as we are one” in verse 11? Why do you think Jesus offered this prayer? Remember, Judas, one of the disciples, will betray Jesus. Try putting yourself in the disciples’ shoes in the aftermath of Jesus' death and even his resurrection. They are scared (their own lives at risk) and confused.

 Reflection:

Jesus knows what God is calling him to do. He knows that his betrayal, torture, and death are coming; and he knows that he will soon return to God’s presence. Despite his confidence that this is God’s plan for him, he knows that all of these events could cause many divisions. Jesus knows that it is important for his followers to remain united as one as they continue to bear witness to Jesus. Consider this commentary from the Feasting on the Word Youth Sunday School Curriculum:

Some ancient theologians who studied these very verses talked about Jesus’ oneness with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. What if the answer to Jesus’ prayer for unity was not about solidifying into a monolithic block but, rather, was about joyful interplay, glorious dancing? If we tried that idea on for awhile, could it affect how we view our own disagreements with our brothers and sisters? Perhaps the vision toward which we strive is not one of total agreement but of the ability to join, in our disparate ways, in the common dance of faith.

Even though Jesus knows all that is about to happen, this goodbye is still hard for him to face. He clearly loves his disciples, and he can’t say this goodbye without coming to God on their behalf. He needs to know that these disciples, whom he loves, will be protected and that they will never be left alone. This scene is reminiscent of anytime a parent leaves a child – for the first time in daycare/school, to go on a trip, to begin college, etc. Parents linger to make sure that those in charge know everything they need to know and will do everything they need to do to keep their children safe. Jesus’ affection for his disciples is much the same. He knows that he will not have much time left to be by his friends’ sides, and he comes to God in prayer to ask God to continue to care for them in the same way he has.

 Application Questions:

  • Jesus knows the importance of prayer. This week, choose a few of the prayer topics below, fill in the prompt with your own prayer, and commit to praying these words of prayer every day:
    • My prayer for myself is…
    • My prayer for my family is…
    • My prayer for our youth group is…
    • My prayer for our church is…
    • My prayer for my school is…
    • My prayer for our community is…
    • My prayer the world is…
  • What prompts you to pray? Think of something that you do every day that you can use as a prompt to pray, and commit to using that time to pray for something specific (for example, commit to praying for your friends while you brush your teeth).

Pray:

Dear God, we thank you for your love and peace. We thank you for drawing us together as brothers and sisters, even when we cannot be physically together. Help us commit to caring for one another and our world by praying for one another and our world. Let us be voices of truth and let our actions be evidence of your love. Amen.

Posted by Sam Oakley

Children's Lesson: The Ascension

While we are unable to meet for Sunday School, I will post an adaptation of the children's Sunday School lesson every Monday.  Think of the lesson as a guide to discuss a story from the Bible together.  Each lesson will include some introductory material, a Scripture reading, questions for review and discussion, an activity suggestion, a short prayer, and a memory verse.  I encourage you to take just 10-15 minutes every week to actively engage your children or grandchildren in this opportunity to grow together in your faith!

Introduction:

Share some background information before reading the story together.

Last week, we learned about Jesus’ promise to the disciples that the Holy Spirit would come, be with them always, and would guide and comfort them. Jesus gave them this promise of the Holy Spirit because he knew what was about to happen – that he would be arrested, die on the cross, and then come back to life. He knew his disciples would be sad and scared, and he wanted them to know that God would never leave them.

Our story this week is found in the beginning of the book of Acts. The book of Acts tells us about the things that happened after Jesus rose from the dead. After Jesus rose from the dead, he spent 40 days on earth. During those 40 days, Jesus continued to teach his disciples. He told them that they needed to wait in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit. This happens in Acts 2, and we get to learn more about that next week!

The disciples did what Jesus told them to do. They stayed in Jerusalem and waited for the Holy Spirit. He tells them that they will receive power when they receive the Holy Spirit. After they receive the Holy Spirit, they should not wait in Jerusalem anymore. They should go out into the world to tell everyone about Jesus. The Holy Spirit will be their guide.

Read:

Read the story of Jesus’ ascension this week. You can read the story from the Bible or the simplified version of the story from the Spark Story Bible below.

 Acts 1:6-14

The Story:

After Jesus died and rose again, he and his disciples got together near Jerusalem. Jesus had some instructions for them.

“As you know, God is doing amazing things in the world,” he said. “And your help is needed! We need you to go tell stories about me! Tell your friends and family and everyone you meet what you’ve learned by following me! Be my witness in the world!”

Then suddenly Jesus was rising – up in the air! What was going on?! He was being lifted up into a cloud!

Jesus’ friends looked around. Two men in white robes had joined them. The men said, “Why are you just standing around looking up toward heaven? Don’t worry, Jesus will come back some day.”

“Right!” said one of Jesus’ disciples, “Meanwhile, we have some work to do! Let’s get going!”

Review Questions:

  • What instructions did Jesus give his disciples?
  • What happened to Jesus after he gave them these instructions?
  • Who did the disciples see after Jesus went up to heaven?
  • What did the men in white robes tell the disciples?

Discussion Questions:

  • The disciples have experienced so many changes over the last couple of months. Jesus has been arrested, put on trial, killed on the cross, rose from the dead, and now he has been carried up to heaven by a cloud. What kind of changes have you experienced in your life? Changing schools, moving, staying home from school, a new brother/sister, etc. How did those changes make you feel?
  • Jesus promises us that the Holy Spirit will always be with us, to help us get through tough stuff. How can the Holy Spirit help us get through tough stuff?  
  • Jesus gave his followers a big job – to be his witnesses all over the world. As followers of Jesus, we should do the same thing!  What does it mean to be his witness? How can we tell others about Jesus?

 Activity:

Jesus tells us that we are supposed to be his witnesses, to tell others about Jesus. To prepare ourselves for this important job, we should know what we would say about Jesus.  Have everyone in the family share answers to the following questions.

  • What is one way (or even one word) you would use to describe Jesus?
  • What is one good thing Jesus has done for you?
  • What is one reason you want other people to know about Jesus?

Put your answers together into a few sentences to be prepared to be Jesus’ witnesses. Example: Jesus is loving. Jesus forgives me. I want everyone to know about Jesus, so they can be his friends forever.

Pray:

Dear God, thank you for the people who tell us about you. Thank you for the Holy Spirit to be with us and to guide us. Thank you for loving us all of the time, even when other things change. Help us tell others about you. Amen.

 Memory Verse:

“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8b

Posted by Sam Oakley

Faith in Action: A Bold Witness

In the final chapters of Acts, we see Paul standing trial before Festus, sharing his story with King Agrippa, surviving a shipwreck, and traveling to Rome to appeal his case to Caesar.  In every situation he encounters, he lives the words of the final verse of Acts, “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31). Charges that could not be substantiated have been brought against Paul, and his accusers seek the death penalty for him. In spite of that, he doesn’t respond with the anger or bitterness that one might expect. The only desperation in his pleas seems to be his desperation to bring others to Christ.  In Acts 26:29, he responds to King Agrippa’s question about Paul trying to convert him to Christianity with, “Short time or long – I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

As I read through these chapters, I am struck with Paul’s response to those around him. Festus and Agrippa cannot find anything with which to charge Paul. If Paul had not appealed to Caesar, Festus may have let him walk out a free man. Paul, however, seems less concerned about his own safety than he is with the opportunity to share Christ on a larger platform. He is willing to take the risks involved in being tried by Caesar to have the opportunity to continue to bear witness to Christ to all he could encounter along the way and from the court of the emperor. In fact, I can almost imagine Paul telling his friends who are concerned about him being transported and taken to Rome for trial, “This is awesome!  We don’t have to do any more fundraisers for my next missionary journey. All of my travel and food will be covered by the empire!”

Paul’s response to the crew aboard the ship is equally as notable. He tries to warn them that this trip will be disastrous (Acts 27:9-10), he tries to encourage them and offer them hope in the midst of the storm (Acts 27:21-26), and he provides for their safety (Acts 27:31). This is a prisoner transport, and he is facing a possible execution. Again, though, for Paul, this seems to be just another opportunity to witness. Acts 27:35 tells us that before the crew ate what they could, Paul – “in front of them all” – gave thanks to God. Rather than concoct his own escape plan, Paul points his captors to Christ.  Rather than withhold the good news of hope, comfort, and Jesus himself from those who would readily kill him (Acts 27:42), Paul freely shares all of God’s love that he can in every moment he can. 

Most of us are driven by our own self-preservation. We make decisions based on what is good for us as individuals or as families. Paul, however, has allowed himself to be driven almost solely by the cause of Christ. He withholds the love of Christ from no one, and he seizes every opportunity with which he is presented with both the readiness and boldness to share the gospel. Paul’s life and witness should challenge us to consider how we might allow God to transform us to be ready to bear witness to Christ in all circumstances (the mundane, the joyous, and the challenges), consider others before ourselves, and not withhold the love of God from anyone.

Posted by Sam Oakley

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