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Love, Week 1

No Greater Love

John 15:12-13

Love others because Jesus loves you.

Here is my command. Love one another, just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than the one who gives their life for their friends.

Every Sunday afternoon, Anthony met up with Josh and Rhianna and some of the other neighborhood kids to play basketball in the park across the street. Some of them were really good, while others were just beginners, but they all had a lot of fun laughing and hanging out. It was the highlight of Anthony’s week.

One Sunday afternoon, Anthony pulled on his basketball shoes as usual. “Going to the park, Mom!” he called as he headed for the door.

But his mom called back from the kitchen, “Hold it! Come in here a sec.”

Anthony headed into the kitchen to discover his mom pulling a large casserole out of the oven. “Tony,” she began. “I know you want to play ball, but I’d really like you to come visit Grandma Rae with me.”

Anthony frowned. “But . . . we just saw her like last week.”

Great-grandma Rae had lived in the next state until two weeks ago, when Anthony’s family had helped her move to a retirement community nearby.

“Grandma can’t get out by herself,” his mom pointed out. “So I want to make sure we visit at least once a week.”

“That place smells like cabbage,” Anthony protested. “And . . . it’s all old people.”

“Some of them have lived pretty adventurous lives,” his mom said, as she wrapped the hot casserole dish in tea towels. “Your great-grandma included.”

Anthony couldn’t believe his mom would make him miss time with his friends to go sit in his great-grandmother’s boring apartment. “Can’t you just go alone?” he suggested. “Or pick another day?”

“Sunday works best,” his mom pointed out.

“Not for me!” Anthony complained. “I can stay here and hang out in the park. I’ll be fine.”

Mom sighed. “Tony, this is your great-grandmother. She’s family. I know it’s not what you want to do Sunday afternoon . . . but I need you to come.”

Anthony glared at his mom. “Yes, ma’am,” he snapped.

His mom’s face told Anthony that he’d pushed it right to the edge. But she only said,

“I want to get this shepherd’s pie to Grandma while it’s still warm.”

The retirement home was just as depressing as Anthony remembered, and Grandma Rae’s apartment was really one cluttered room. She adjusted her faded cardigan and beamed up at Anthony. “Real glad you’ve come,” she said, and held out a glass dish of gluey candy. “Would you like a licorice allsort?”

Anthony tried not to wrinkle his nose in disgust. “Uh, thanks, but no,” he said.

“How’s school?” Grandma Rae prompted. “Patricia says you’re in the sixth grade?”

Anthony shrugged. “It’s fine.”

“You play Scrabble like your mom?” asked Grandma Rae, trying again. “We could all play a game…”

Desperate to get out of this, Anthony held up his tablet. “You know, I’ve got . . . school stuff I should work on.”

He could tell Grandma Rae was disappointed, but she accepted it with grace.

“Oh. Well . . . why don’t you make yourself comfy over there in the recliner?” she suggested, pointing to the worn recliner in the corner. Lacey doilies sat on the back and arms of the chair.

Anthony avoided his mom’s eyes and escaped to the corner. Instead of schoolwork, though, he immersed himself in Dragon World while his mom and great-grandma played Scrabble.

On the way home, his mom gave him a sidewise glance. “You’d make Grandma Rae’s day if you spent a little time talking to her,” she said.

Anthony crossed his arms. “I went, okay?”

Over the next few weeks, Anthony grumbled every Sunday afternoon he had to go see his great-grandma. One Sunday, though, his mom woke up with a stomach bug, and they couldn’t even make it to church. Anthony tried to be helpful, but he could tell his mom just wanted to sleep. Though he was bummed about missing his small group at church, and that his mom was sick—he was glad he could go to the park that afternoon instead of the retirement home.

“Hey, man!” Josh called out, bouncing him the ball. “Where have you been?”

Anthony rolled his eyes. “Mom’s got me visiting my great-grandma every Sunday.”

Rhianna jogged up and Anthony tossed her the ball. “That’s cool,” she said. “What?” asked Anthony, caught off-guard.

Rhianna dribbled the ball, alternating hands. “Having family here,” she explained. “My grandma’s on the other side of the country.” She threw the ball back to Anthony.

“Oh,” he said. “Well . . . yeah. I guess.”

Anthony had a blast, playing ball with his friends. As he was heading home, his small group leader from church sent a text:

Missed you today! Check the app to see what we talked about.

Curious, Anthony clicked over to find the verses, and read aloud. “John 15 . . . Love one another, just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than the one who gives their life for their friends.” He blinked as he scanned the words again. “Give my life?” he wondered aloud. “That’s intense!”

But as he thought about it, Anthony realized that his life was really, well, his days. His time.

“Love is really about giving up my time,” he considered. “For someone else . . .”

The words stuck with Anthony all week. The next Sunday afternoon, he stepped into the kitchen to find his mom taking a pan of enchiladas out of the oven.

“Is that for Grandma Rae?” he asked.

His mom immediately tensed up. “Look,” she began, “I know you don’t like going, but—”

“Want me to carry the pan out to the car?” Anthony offered. “Oh, and I thought we could stop and get Grandma some good candy instead of that licorice stuff.”

His mom smiled, surprised. “Sure. Sounds like a plan.”

When they reached Grandma Rae’s, Anthony gave her a big hug. “Hey, Grandma Rae!” he said.

I put an extra cushion on the recliner for you . . .” Grandma Rae pointed out, but Anthony shook his head.

“Thanks,” he said. “But I thought I’d play Scrabble with you and Mom.” Grandma Rae’s face lit up. “Don’t expect me to let you win!” she warned.

Anthony showed her his tablet and clicked on a Scrabble app. “Hey!” he exclaimed. “I’ve been practicing. If you want, we can download it on your phone, and we can play during the week, too.”

To his surprise, Anthony discovered that playing Grandma Rae in Scrabble was actually kind of fun. And when they finished, he showed her how to set up a group text with all the great-grandkids.

On the way home, his mom glanced over. “Tony . . . ” she said. “Thanks. That meant a lot.”

Anthony shrugged. “Grandma Rae’s cool,” he said, as his tablet beeped with a message. It was from Grandma Rae. “She wants to know what ‘YOLO’ means. Oh, and ‘GOAT.’ When it’s not an animal.”

Anthony knew he’d still rather play basketball on Sundays. But it was pretty awesome to know that he could show Grandma Rae love, just by giving up a little bit of his time.

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“Love one another, just as I have loved you.”

That’s a pretty tall order. Share with each other what you think Jesus meant. Jesus loved us by giving up His life for us! That’s huge. But for you, “giving up your life” to love someone may be very simple. You planned to spend the afternoon reading that brand-new book in the series that just came out. But your friend needs someone to hang out with them and listen. Or you wanted fast food, but your dad had a tough day and you know he likes pasta—so you suggest Italian, even though it’s your turn to choose. You don’t have to show love on your own. All love comes from God, so our job is simply to ask—and then to show the love He gives us to those around us. Pray for each other, that you would each see creative ways this week to show love to those around you.

Coming Soon

Love, Week 2

Jesus at the Home of Martha and Mary

Luke 10:38-42

Love others with your time.

Everywhere Jesus went, He said and did things that was different than people thought He would. He taught that who you were mattered less than how you treated others.

One day, Jesus and His closest friends arrived in the village of Bethany. A woman named Martha and her sister Mary invited Jesus into their home.

“Come in, come in!” Martha exclaimed with a flurry of activity. “You must be so tired from the journey. Would You like a cup of water? Maybe some barley crackers? Or figs? Have a seat right here; there’s a little bit of breeze.”

As Jesus and His disciples found places to rest, Martha made a beeline for the kitchen area to finish dinner. As she kneaded the bread dough, she murmured, “There’s lamb, of course. And pigeon. I do wish we’d had a little more warning that Jesus was coming. Mary, could you—Mary?”

As she finally glanced up from the dough, Martha realized that Mary hadn’t followed her.

“Where is that girl?” she wondered.

Looking back, Martha could see that Mary had taken a seat on the floor near Jesus’ feet. Her eyes were fixed on Him as she listened to every word He spoke.

“She knows perfectly well I need help!” grumbled Martha. “It’ll take me to midnight to fix this meal all by myself!”

Martha stared hard at the back of Mary’s head. But her sister didn’t turn around. Martha gave the bread dough an extra-hard punch. “It was her idea to make three kinds of bread. Now here I am doing it,” she huffed.

As Martha checked the lamb to make sure it was cooking properly, she strained to hear what Jesus was saying. “I’d like to listen, too!” Martha muttered. “But I know what has to be done.”

Martha moved even more quickly, plating up dried fruit and shoving loaves of bread into the clay oven. “Mary’s not ignoring me on purpose,” Martha told herself. “She’s just focused. That’s the way she is. I should just let it go.”

Martha stirred the lentil soup with vigor, determined to just get over it. “I will let it go,” she said. “It doesn’t bother me.” She shook her head, as if to prove it. “It doesn’t bother me at all. I’m totally fine. I don’t need help anyway.”

She gave the soup an extra-hard stir. Scorching hot lentils splashed onto her arm. “Ooo!” she huffed. “That’s it!”

Martha couldn’t shove down her frustration any more. She slammed down her wooden spoon and stalked toward the group around Jesus, wiping her hands on her apron.

“Jesus!” she said loudly.

Conversation ground to a halt. Everyone looked at Martha. She swallowed hard, but plunged ahead. “Lord, my sister has left me to do the work by myself. Don’t you care? Tell her to help me!”

Jesus studied Martha with deep compassion in His eyes. He knew that she was doing her best to make sure the group was fed—but He could see everything that was in her heart.

“Martha, Martha,” He began. “You are worried and upset about many things.”

Martha may have been protesting inside, “Well, someone has to worry about All the Things or no one will eat!”

“But few things are needed,” Jesus continued. “Really, only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better. And it will not be taken away from her.”

Jesus’ words were clear. Though Martha’s work was important, nothing mattered more than spending time with Jesus. We don’t know how Martha responded—but we do know that Jesus never shamed people. Instead, He showed them a better way to live.

Martha took a deep breath. “Yes, Lord,” said Martha.

Maybe Martha returned to the cooking area right away. Or maybe she, too, took a few minutes to sit and listen to Jesus. Either way, we know that Martha later showed great love for Jesus and trusted Him with her brother’s life. In fact, Martha became witness to one of Jesus’ greatest acts of love and power.

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If Jesus came to your house, what do you think that you would do to welcome Him?

Share your ideas with each other. Martha wanted to serve Jesus an amazing meal, while Mary took time to listen to Him. Both things are important— after all, people have to eat, and it seems Martha had a gift for hosting parties. But often the very best way to welcome and love others is simply to spend time with them and listen to them. You can show love to others when you set aside the things you want to do, and instead, spend time with someone. Take a few minutes and share at least three ways that you could show love to a friend or someone in your family by giving them your time. Then pray for each other, that God will show you specific ways to love others with your time this week.

Coming Soon

Love, Week 3

Love Your Enemies

Matthew 5:43-47

Love others because they matter to God.

Irene Robbins was short with wild, curly hair. She found her favorite outfits at the thrift store—including the best pair of funky orange boots ever.

Alta Gibson was tall with sleek hair, a fashion model wardrobe—and a sharp tongue. Her circle of friends hung on her every word . . . especially when she was gossiping about someone. “There’s no way Irene Robbins got a 99 on the pre- algebra test!” smirked Alta. “She must have cheated.”

Alta’s cutting comment made it back to Irene, who complained to her small group leader at church, Lynn.

“Alta is totally a Mean Girl!” announced Irene.

Lynn nodded thoughtfully. “Maybe. But if she’s mean, it’s probably because she’s hurting somehow.”

Irene sighed. “Her mom’s in fashion merchandising. Alta gets everything she wants!”

School wasn’t the only place Irene had to deal with Alta. They were on the same team in the soccer league. “C’mon, Robbins!” Alta shouted. “You’re pulling us down!”

“Yeah, well, my parents don’t pay for private lessons,” Irene muttered to herself, just as Alta tripped her up, on purpose.

It was just as bad at Adventure Girls, where they were in the same troupe. Alta shook her head as she glanced smugly at Irene’s orange boots. “Good grief, Robbins. Those ridiculous boots are falling apart.”

Irene wanted to snap back, but their troupe master, Ms. Crane, was assigning partners to sell Adventure Girls chocolate bars together. “The team with the highest sales will get the summer hiking trip in the Rockies paid for,” explained Ms. Crane.

Irene perked up. She hadn’t thought her family could afford the trip. But if she just sold enough chocolate, maybe she could go after all.

Alta, seated at the next table, rolled her eyes. “Selling stuff is lame,” she whispered to the girls around her. “My mom can just pay for the trip.”

“I’ve paired everyone up,” Ms. Crane continued as she looked at her list. “Let’s see, Irene Robbins and Alta Gibson will work together . . .”

Irene felt her stomach sink. But after the troupe meeting was over, she forced herself to walk over to Alta and her group of friends. Alta was bragging, “So, my mom is, like, in Paris right now and—”

“Alta?” Irene asked, trying to be brave.

Alta raised both eyebrows and blinked at Irene like she was a bug. “What?” she asked.

Irene swallowed. “So, I was thinking . . . maybe we could get permission to sell chocolate outside the Main Street Market on Saturday. . .”

Alta shrugged. “Fine. Whatever.”

Irene worked hard to plan for Saturday. She talked to the store manager, found a table to borrow, and even got her small group leader to come sit with them for a few hours.

“I love how you decorated with all these flags,” said Lynn, examining the colorful table.

“They’re flags of the countries where the chocolate is sourced from,” Irene explained, and then paused to ask a woman walking out of the store, “Would you like to support Adventure Girls? I’ve got a credit card reader . . .”

When Irene completed the sale, Lynn asked, “Where’s Alta?”

“She texted she’d be here,” said Irene, frowning. “I’ll just check again . . .”

But Alta didn’t respond. And she never showed up. “I cannot believe her!” exploded Irene. “I’m doing all the work, and she . . . Ooh, I just want to rub her smug face in the dirt on the soccer field.”

“Look, I get it,” said Lynn. “The way Alta treats you is the worst. It is so wrong. But you know that giving her back the same doesn’t help.”

“Yeah, I know,” sighed Irene.

“The Jesus way is hard. ‘Love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you.’”

Irene finally smiled. “I’m not sure He was talking about Alta.”

“I totally hear you! But let’s figure out what you actually can say to her,” suggested Lynn.

Monday morning before their pre-algebra test, Irene tried to confront Alta in the hallway, just as she and Lynn had planned.

“It was really disappointing when you didn’t show up,” Irene told her. “Did something happen?”

“Yeah,” Alta snapped. “I have a life.”

Alta stalked away and didn’t show up in class until the moment the bell rang—right as Mr. Wyatt entered the room. Irene shook her head as their teacher dropped the test on her desk. “At least numbers make sense,” she murmured.

The next morning, everyone expected to see their grades. But Mr. Wyatt didn’t hand back the tests. After class, he called Alta up to his desk. “Miss Gibson, can I see you for a minute?” he asked.

Alta frowned as she made her way up. Irene, in the front row, was trying to fix the zipper on her backpack and couldn’t help overhearing as Mr. Wyatt held up a test paper.

“Your test, Miss Gibson.”

Irene saw Alta light up. “I got a 97?” she exclaimed.

“You scored a 63 on the last test,” Mr. Wyatt pointed out.

“Yeah, and my mom got really mad—” Alta swallowed and broke off. “I mean, I studied really, really hard this time. All weekend.”

Mr. Wyatt nodded. “I’m glad to hear it. But the test key went missing from my desk yesterday before class. And no one else had such a dramatic improvement.”

Alta blinked. “Are you saying—”

“Did you take the test key, Miss Gibson?” he asked bluntly.

“No!” Alta denied quickly.

“I think I should set up a conference with your parents,” said Mr. Wyatt. Irene saw Alta’s face pale. “No, don’t call my mom, please.”

“I just want to talk about it,” said their teacher.

“But she won’t listen!” protested Alta, desperate. “She doesn’t think I’m any good at . . . She’ll just hear ‘cheating’ and get so angry—”

Irene’s mind raced. She knew Alta hadn’t been in the classroom to take the test key. But it was tempting to let her flounder.

“Please don’t call,” begged Alta.

Irene took a deep breath and stepped forward. “Mr. Wyatt?” she said. “Alta didn’t take the test key.”

“What?” asked Mr. Wyatt, surprised.

“I talked to her in the hall before class,” Irene explained. “And then she didn’t come into the room until right before you did.”

Alta gaped in surprise.

“Thank you, Miss Robbins,” said Mr. Wyatt and turned back to Alta. “If you prefer, I will not contact your parents. Just let me see the same kind of work on the next test, all right?”

Alta hurried out of the room with only a brief glance at Irene. But that week, Irene didn’t hear anything mean from Alta. And the next Saturday, Alta showed up at the Main Street Market to help. Irene knew that she and Alta would probably never be best friends—but she was glad she’d made the choice to show love to her enemy.

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Who is it easy for you to love? Are there people it’s hard for you to love or get along with?

Take a few minutes and share with each other. Some people just seem harder to love than others. There will always be people who see things differently than you do, or who do things that are annoying or hurtful. But even that kid in your class who drives you nuts and the teacher who just doesn’t get you are made by God, in His image. He created every single person who has ever lived, and each one matters to Him. That means that we are called to love everyone. But the awesome news is, you don’t have to do it on your own. God can give you His love, even for those people in your life who are hard to get along with. Pray for each other, that God would help you to show love to the difficult people in your life.

Coming Soon

Love, Week 4

Mary Pours Perfume on Jesus at Bethany

Mark 14:1-9

Love God with everything you've got.

Just days before, Jesus and His friends had entered the city of Jerusalem to celebrate Passover week. Crowds of people gathered, shouting out, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

During the day, Jesus taught the crowds. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,’” he told them. “‘Love him with all your mind and with all your strength.’ And here is the second one. ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’”

The people were delighted with what Jesus had to say. But the religious leaders were not. “He just drove the money changers out of the temple!” they grumbled. “And all that talk of the temple being destroyed. It’s time to arrest Him. But we must do it secretly, or the people may cause trouble about it.”

It must have been a relief to Jesus to spend His evenings in the town of Bethany, outside of Jerusalem. Two nights before Passover, Jesus ate dinner at the home of a man named Simon.

“Welcome, welcome!” Simon exclaimed as Jesus entered his house. “Come, have a seat at the table.” Simon had once had a terrible skin disease, but was now well. It’s possible that Jesus had healed him.

Conversation died down as Jesus and His closest friends took their seats. Even the people who hadn’t been with Jesus in Jerusalem knew that He was drawing lots of attention this week—and not all of it good.

“Jesus, are You sure You want to go back to the city tomorrow?” one man may have wondered. “There’s a lot of talk. The religious leaders want to take You out.”

Judas, one of Jesus’ disciples, frowned. He was already making plans of his own to talk to the chief priests. “Jesus has never been careful,” he mumbled to himself.

As Jesus and the other guests ate and drank, a woman entered the room—Mary. Not long before, Mary had listened at Jesus’ feet as He taught. And just a few days before, Jesus had brought her brother Lazarus back to life!

“Hey!” Judas called. “Could you bring me some more of that quail?”

The dinner was a celebration of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. And Mary had a unique way to celebrate. She carried a beautiful jar with a sealed lid, and walked directly to Jesus. Carefully, she cracked the jar against the table, breaking off the lid.

Immediately, a sweet, earthy fragrance filled the room. “Is that perfume?” asked Judas, surprised.

Mary took the jar and spilled out the entire contents over Jesus’ head.

Everyone gasped.

Everyone but Jesus.

The others in the room began to whisper. “What is she doing?” “Seems like such a waste.”

Judas didn’t even bother to keep his voice down. “You know how much that perfume was worth?” he exclaimed. “An entire year’s pay!”

It was true. The jar of perfume, called nard, was likely Mary’s entire life savings. It was what she had to keep her safe in case something went wrong. But instead of hiding it away, she gave it freely to Jesus.

Judas could see no sense in that. “Just think about it. She could have sold that perfume and given the money to poor people who legit need it!” he pointed out.

While Judas sounded generous, the truth was that he was in charge of any money that Jesus and the disciples had—and he liked to use that money for himself.

“Jesus, you really ought to tell her how she’s messed up,” Judas grumbled.

Jesus looked at Mary, and then turned to the others. “Leave her alone,” He said firmly. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. You will always have poor people with you. You can help them any time you want to. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body to prepare me to be buried. . . . What she has done will be told anywhere the good news is preached all over the world.”

Jesus’ words silenced Judas and everyone else in the room. While others were looking out for themselves, Mary had freely given what she valued most to show her love for Jesus.

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What things in your life matter most to you? It might be a thing or activity or even friends.

Take a few minutes and share with each other. When Mary poured out her perfume on Jesus, she was giving up something worth a lot of money— all her security. By pouring it out on Jesus, she was saying, “You matter more than anything else.” Now, you can’t walk up to Jesus in person and hand Him your game player or dance shoes. But you can choose to use the things you love most to show love to God. If you love playing soccer, choose to encourage and be kind to the players on your team and on other teams. If you have a favorite video game you play all the time, be willing to share it with your sister. Or to set it aside to help your mom. Together, brainstorm how you could use the things that matter most to you to show love to God. Pray for each other, that you will discover ways to love God with everything you’ve got.