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Love, Week 1

No Greater Love

John 15:12-13

Love others because Jesus loves you.

Ezra looked around the candlelit table and cleared his throat before speaking his special words for the Passover meal. “What makes this night different from all other nights?” he asked.

As Ezra’s father shared how God had saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, Ezra watched the faces of his family. His mother and older brothers. His grandparents. And his Uncle Abel and Aunt Lydia who had traveled from their village to Jerusalem, just for Passover. When the week was over, Ezra would go back home with them for a whole month to play with the new lambs and swim in the creek and enjoy the wide-open spaces outside of Jerusalem’s noisy, crowded streets.

“It’s gonna be the best ever,” he told himself.

When the meal was finished, Ezra’s mother pulled him aside.

“We’ve let Jesus and His friends use our upper room for their Passover meal,” she reminded him. “Run up and make sure they’ve got everything they need.”

The city had been buzzing with news of the teacher and miracle worker, Jesus. While the people—including Ezra’s family—loved Jesus, it seemed the religious leaders were out to get Him. Ezra had been excited to discover that Jesus and His followers would be eating in his very own home. He raced for the door.

“I’m on it!” he exclaimed.

His mother called after him, “Don’t bother them! Just check!”

Ezra quickly climbed the outside stairs. But before he reached the upper room, he could see the door was already open. It sounded as though Jesus and His friends were preparing to leave—though Jesus was still speaking.

“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love,” Jesus was saying as the disciples packed up. “I have told you this so that you will have the same joy that I have.”

Ezra knew he should leave, but there was something about Jesus’ words and His voice. “Here is my command,” Jesus told His friends. “Love one another, just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than the one who gives their life for their friends.”

“Who would do that?” Ezra murmured to himself. He had heard many rabbis and teachers, but none spoke like this. As Jesus and His friends began to pour through the door, Ezra quickly backed down the steps. He nearly ran into his mother.

A loud whisper startled him: “Ezra!”

Ezra turned to see his mother just outside. He slid back out and shut the door behind him. “I wasn’t bothering them!” he protested.

“It’s not that,” mother told him. In the glow of the lantern, Ezra could see the worried lines in her face. She pulled Ezra aside as Jesus and His friends passed across the courtyard and into the street.

“We just got word that Dan had an accident,” she told him.

Ezra’s best friend, Dan, lived one street over behind the potter’s shop with his father. “But Dan’s okay, right?!” Ezra asked.

“It was the fire in the kiln,” his mother explained. “Dan stumbled. Here, I want you take this salve.”

Ezra’s mother tucked a jar into his hands. Heart pounding, he dashed off into the night, sandals clattering down the dusty street. Minutes later, Ezra reached the potter’s shop. He rushed through the empty workroom, passed the blazing hot kiln, and burst into the back room where Dan and his father slept and ate.

Dan’s father, Obed, leaned over Dan tying a bandage.

“Are you all right?” Ezra cried out.

Sheepish, Dan held up his hands, both wrapped in thick layers of cloth. “The burns on my hands hurt. A lot. But Dad says I’ll be okay.”

Ezra held out the jar of salve. “Mother sent this. Maybe it’ll help with the pain.”

Obed quickly took the jar. “Give her my thanks. And if you don’t mind staying with Dan for a few minutes, I need to see to the kiln.”

He slipped out as Ezra took a good look at Dan’s hands. “I didn’t think you were allowed to mess with the kiln,” he pointed out.

“Yeah, not so much.” Dan sighed. “I just wanted to see if this pot I made was done and . . . ow!”

Dan had accidentally whacked his hand against the side of the bed. He winced.

“How bad is it really?” Ezra demanded.

“My hands look like ripe tomatoes,” Dan admitted. “They’ll get better, but Dad said it could be like a month ’til I can really use them.”

Ezra carefully sat down beside Dan. “Wow. That’s rotten,” he said. “How are you gonna eat? Or get dressed?”

“I’m more worried about Dad,” Dan told him. “I mean, it takes me all day to take the sticks and stones out of the clay and knead it so he can use the clay to make pots.”

“Well, your dad can do that, right?” Ezra asked.

“Sure,” Dan agreed. “But it’ll take him twice as long to make pots that way. And the tax collector got really mad when he was here last week and Dad didn’t have enough money for him . . .”

“Oh.” Ezra swallowed hard. If it took Ezra’s father longer to make pots, he’d sell fewer and make less money for food . . . and for those terrible taxes.

Dan shrugged and smiled. “Hey. We’re gonna be fine. Tell me all about your trip!”

Ezra closed his eyes so he could remember Uncle Abel’s home, just as it had looked when he visited three years before.

“They have this special little room up on the roof,” he began. “I get to sleep up there instead of crowded in with everyone else! It gets all the cool breezes. And there’s this amazing stream with a swimming hole and shade trees. And all the sheep are having their babies right now and the lambs are just ridiculously cute. Plus, they have their own donkey I can ride anywhere! It’s the best place in the whole world.”

Dan grinned and eased back against the wall. “You’re gonna have the most amazing time ever! And I’ll be all better by the time you come back.”

Ezra pulled his thoughts back from the swimming hole to the tiny potter’s shop. Even though Obed was a master potter, their family didn’t have much. And with Dan unable to help for a whole month, things would get even worse. Ezra wondered how he’d feel, knowing Dan was stuck in this back room, unable to even get himself a drink of water. The words of Jesus he’d heard only a short time earlier drifted through his mind again.

“I have told you this so that you will have the same joy that I have. . . . Love one another, just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than the one who gives their life for their friends.”

“I guess that can actually mean a lot of things,” Ezra murmured to himself.

“What was that?” Dan asked.

“Nothing,” Ezra said quickly. “I just . . . I was thinking . . . I could wait and go to my uncle’s village next year.”

“What?” Dan exclaimed. “No! You’ve been looking forward to this for months.”

“Yeah, but someone’s gotta make you eat your lentils,” Ezra joked. “And I’ve always thought the way you get to knead all that clay looks pretty fun.”

“Oh, c’mon,” Dan said. “You don’t need to do this.”

But even though Dan protested, Ezra could see a spark of relief in his eyes.

“Of course I don’t have to, you goof,” Ezra said. “But I want to. I can hang out with you, and help out in the shop and you’ll be totally back to normal in no time.”

“Well, I mean . . . if you do . . . that would be pretty cool,” Dan agreed.

“Here, have some water.”

The boys laughed as Ezra tried to figure out how to give Dan a drink without completely soaking them both.

Ezra was disappointed to miss his trip. But he felt a deep down joy knowing that he really could give up something that mattered for the sake of his friend.

Coming Soon

Love, Week 2

Jesus Calms the Storm

Mark 4:35-41

Comfort others who are hurting.

Everywhere Jesus went, crowds followed. People longed to hear His stories about God’s kingdom or to see Him do something amazing. Many were desperate for healing or to discover wisdom for their broken lives.

Jesus never ignored the crowds. He looked on them with compassion, sharing God’s Word and often making them whole again.

But only twelve men, the disciples, traveled everywhere with Jesus. One evening, after Jesus had been speaking by the Sea of Galilee all day, He got into a boat with His closest friends.

Peter likely took charge. “James! John!” he commanded. “Get the sail up.”

“Working on it . . .” James said.

“Are you sure about this sail?” John wondered. “Getting a little windy.”

“You want to row the entire way across the Sea of Galilee?” Peter asked pointedly.

As dusk settled and the sun dipped below the hills, the boat set off across the lake. A brisk breeze pushed them along.

“At this rate, we’ll reach the other side in no time,” Peter told them.

John shook his head. “I still don’t like the look of those clouds.”

“Hey, Jesus!” James called toward the back of the boat. “What was that story You told today, about the mustard seed? I get that it grows big, but—”

“Shhh!” John warned. “He’s asleep.”

“You’d think He could help us navigate or something,” James grumbled.

“C’mon, James. I didn’t see you teaching and healing all day,” John pointed out.

As night set in, the wind whipped up in wild gusts, beating against the boat. The rising waves hurled the boat up high, only to dash it back down again.

“Lower the sail!” Peter called out. “And don’t you dare say, ‘I told you so.’”

“Watch out for that wave!” James called.

“Taking on water!” John warned.

Desperate, the disciples tried to bail water out of the boat. But wave after wave crashed over their heads.

“We’re going down,” John choked out.

“We’re gonna die!” James shouted.

“We’re trying, all right?” Peter yelled over the wind. “Everyone’s doing something—”

“Except Jesus!” James cried.

They all peered through the wild sprays of water toward the back of the boat. Sure enough, Jesus was still fast asleep on a cushion. The disciples crowded to the back of the boat, shaking Jesus awake.

“Teacher! Save us! Don’t you care if we drown?”

Jesus sat up, His feet in the deep briny water at the bottom of the boat. He didn’t seem surprised by the wild wind or waves.

“Please! Do something!” John pleaded.

Slowly, Jesus rose to His feet. He kept His balance easily on the rolling deck. Then, He called out into the heart of the wild storm.

“Quiet! Be still!”

Impossibly . . .

Amazingly . . .

Just like that—

The wind died down.

The waves stilled.

In moments, the boat was rocking gently on a completely calm sea.

The disciples gaped at Jesus, their mouths wide open in shock.

“Why are you so afraid?” Jesus asked. “Don’t you have any faith at all yet?”

The men in the boat couldn’t answer. Jesus had silenced a storm so huge it terrified even them—and they were seasoned fisherman.

As Jesus settled back onto His cushion, Peter gathered with James and John at the front of the boat.

“Who is this?” they asked. “Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

John glanced at Jesus once more, amazed. Even though His friends had acted in fear instead of faith, Jesus had taken the time to still their fears and calm the storm.

Coming Soon

Love, Week 3

Feeding the Five Thousand

Mark 6:30-44

Give to others who are in need.

Philip, Peter, Andrew and the other disciples clustered around Jesus, comparing stories. Weeks before, Jesus had sent out His twelve closest followers, two by two, to share the news of God’s kingdom. Now they had all returned, bursting with amazing stories—but exhausted from many days of travel.

“Ooh. Just look at these blisters,” Andrew pointed out.

“I’m so hungry I could eat an entire wildebeest!” Philip added.

“I could sleep for three days,” Peter yawned.

Jesus Himself had just received terrible news: that His cousin, John the Baptist, had been killed by King Herod. But crowds of people still gathered, hoping to hear Jesus speak or to beg for healing. Jesus took a long look at His weary friends and pulled them aside.

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place,” He said. “You need to get some rest.”

Jesus and His disciples climbed in a boat, but the people in the crowd watched them go.

“They’re sailing across the lake!” someone called out. “Quick! We can go around by the road.”

The people were so excited that they streamed around the edge of the lake, gathering others from towns along the way. By the time Jesus and His friends reached their “quiet” place, an even larger crowd waited for them on the shore, clamoring for attention.

As Jesus stepped out of the boat, His eyes searched the chaotic crowd. “They’re like sheep without a shepherd,” He thought.

Jesus felt great compassion for the people, so He made His way to the hillside overlooking the lake, where He sat down and began to speak the things they needed to hear. His tired friends followed. By dinnertime, the crowd was still pressing in to hear Jesus.

Andrew tugged his friends aside. “We’ve got to do something,” he exclaimed. “These people need to eat!”

“We need to eat,” Philip added.

Peter marched right up to Jesus. “Look, Jesus. It’s late. You should send these people away now.”

“They can go into the villages and buy food for dinner,” Philip added.

Jesus listened until they were done. Then He said, “You give them something to eat.”

Philip could hardly keep from laughing. “There’s what? More than 10,000 people here! It would take half a year’s pay to give them each a couple of itty-bitty bites of bread.”

“How many loaves of bread to you have?” asked Jesus.

The disciples exchanged glances. None of them had brought a single crouton back from their road trips.

“Go and see,” Jesus told them.

Still skeptical, Jesus’ friends waded into the crowd, asking to see if anyone had brought food along. It seemed no one had anything to eat . . . until a small boy stepped up and offered a bundle to Andrew.

“What have you got here?” Andrew asked.

The boy carefully pulled back the fabric to reveal five small loaves of bread and two tiny fish. It wasn’t much, but Andrew led the boy back to Jesus and the other disciples.

“This boy has five loaves and two fish,” he told them.

The disciples expected Jesus to politely wave away the tiny meal. But instead, He carefully took the loaves and fish and smiled His thanks to the boy. Then he said, “Have the people sit down.”

Once again, Jesus’ friends exchanged confused glances. But Peter pulled it together and shouted out to quiet the crowd. “We need all of you to sit down in groups of fifty or a hundred.”

The crowd gathered into small groups. Then, Jesus took the five loaves and two fish and looked up to heaven.

“Thank You, Father, for giving us this food,” He said.

Jesus broke the loaves and fish into pieces and handed them to His friends. “Pass these around to the people,” He told them.

The disciples each took a few pieces and started to hand them out. They expected to run out immediately. But they kept passing out bread . . . and fish . . . and more bread . . . and more fish . . .

“I think . . . wait a sec. Everyone’s got food!” Andrew marveled.

“There’s even bread and fish for us!” Peter exclaimed.

In fact, there was so much food that everyone ate as much as they could eat. Jesus called the disciples together again.

“Gather the leftover pieces,” He instructed. “Don’t waste anything.”

To the disciples’ amazement, they filled up twelve entire baskets with the uneaten pieces of bread and fish!

Jesus’ friends took another long look at the vast crowd of men and women and boys and girls, all in good spirits now that they’d had a full meal. Jesus had shown His love for each person not only in sharing God’s words, but in providing for their other needs, too.

Coming Soon

Love, Week 4

Good Samaritan

Luke 10:25-37

Love others because they matter to God.

The crowds who followed Jesus loved to hear Him speak and watch Him perform amazing miracles. But the religious leaders didn’t trust Jesus. After all, He was challenging their way of following God! At every chance they got, the leaders and scholars looked for ways to trip Jesus up or show off their own knowledge.

One day, a law expert pushed through the crowd, carefully dusting off his fine robe. “Out of my way, please. No shoving,” he grumbled. “Ew. Do not touch me with those fishy hands.”

At last, he reached Jesus and demanded, “Teacher . . . What must I do to receive eternal life?”

“What is written in the law?” Jesus asked him. “How do you understand it?”

The lawyer smiled, smug. He had the answer perfectly memorized. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,” he rattled off. “’Love him with all your strength and with all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus told him. “Do that, and you will live.”

The lawyer wanted to show off, so he tried to pin Jesus down with a tricky question. “Ah, but who is my neighbor?” he asked. “I mean, are we talking just next door, or across the street? Or if I’m really being nice, that guy down the block who plays his zither really loud—”

Jesus knew the law expert was trying to figure an easy way around God’s words. So instead of giving a direct answer, Jesus told a story. If He told that story today, it might sound something like this.

+++++

A man was taking a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho. We’ll call him Chip.

Though he sang merrily as he hiked along the road, unfortunately, the day wasn’t all sunshine and green grass. Craggy rocks lined the path. And behind one of them hid a band of robbers.

As Chip approached, they leapt out. The thieves stole Chip’s clothes and everything he had. They were so mean, they even beat him up before they ran off.

Chip lay by the side of the road, too badly hurt to get up on his own.

Soon, though, he heard footsteps and a hearty voice. “I really don’t see how you can defend a premillennial interpretation of chapter 20!”

Within moments, a preacher hiked into view wearing a meticulous button-down and khakis as he argued on his cell phone.

“Help me . . . please, help . . .” Chip called out in a weak voice.

But instead of helping, the flustered preacher pretended not to notice the wounded man. He picked up his pace, crossing to the other side of the road. “You’re breaking up,” he grumbled into his phone. “The coverage is terrible out here. Better hang up and get working on my sermon notes!”

Just like that, the preacher was gone. Chip was losing strength.

“Water,” he croaked. “I need a little water . . .”

Soon, he heard footsteps again. Raising his head, Chip could just make out another man approaching—a worship leader wearing skinny jeans and sporting a handlebar mustache.

The man sang with great gusto and perfect pitch, “Greeeeeeat is our God. Sing with me, how greeeeeat—”

“Help! Please help me!” Chip cried out.

When the worship leader spotted Chip, he wrinkled his nose and quickly looked the other way. “Whoa, this dry air is brutal on my vocal chords,” he whined. “I gotta hydrate better.”

Crossing to the other side, the worship leader took a swig of vitamin water and kept right on going.

Chip was starting to give up hope when at last, he heard someone else approaching—this time on a donkey. He was ready to cry out for help again, when he saw the man was a Samaritan, an enemy of his people.

Chip tried to hide, but he couldn’t even crawl. As the Samaritan drew closer, Chip ducked his head.

“Oh my!” cried the Samaritan. “What happened to you?”

Before Chip could wave him away, the Samaritan hopped off his donkey and began pulling bottles and bandages out of his saddlebags. “I’m so sorry you’re hurting like this,” the man said.

The Samaritan gave Chip water to drink and carefully bandaged all his cuts and bruises. Then, he helped Chip onto his donkey and led the beast along the rocky path to the nearest inn.

“I need your best room!” the Samaritan requested.

Once the Samaritan had settled Chip into a comfy bed, he stepped out and found the innkeeper. “Here’s some silver,” he offered. “Please take care of this man. And when I come back this way, I’ll pay for any extra expenses you might have.”

+++++

When He finished telling the story, Jesus turned back to the law expert. “Which of the three do you think was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by robbers?” He asked.

The lawyer stared at the ground for a long moment, but he couldn’t escape the truth. At last he raised his eyes and said, “The one who felt sorry for him.”

“Go and do as he did,” Jesus said.

Stung, the lawyer turned away to return home. He’d been looking for a way to limit the number of people he needed to love. But Jesus’ story had made it clear: everyone matters to God, so everyone was his neighbor, and worthy of love.