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Faith, Week 1

Faith Is....

Hebrews 11:1-12:3

You can know Jesus even though you've never seen Him.

Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being sure of what we do not see.

Have a little faith.
Keep the faith.
Take a leap of faith!

People toss around the word “faith” every day.

We say that you can break faith or that you should just take it all on blind faith.

But true faith isn’t blind. It’s way more than an inspiring word. True faith is all about believing in the things you can’t see because you start with what you can see.

We can’t see God with our physical eyes, but we can see the stories of people who came before us. These people lived in a broken world, just like we do. But they chose to follow God. They chose to trust His promise that He would one day send a Rescuer to make everything right again.

The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament reminds us about some of those men and women in God’s story. People like Noah. People like Abraham.

When God called Abraham, he was already getting old. He and his wife, Sarah, didn’t have kids. “Go from your country, your people and your father’s family,” God told Abraham. “Go to the land I will show you. . . . All nations on earth will be blessed because of you.”

God was planning to send His Rescuer as one of Abraham’s great-great- great-and-more-greats-grandkids. But though Abraham had God’s promise, he couldn’t see the One God would be sending. Still, he left home on a wild adventure, following God’s call.

Abraham’s descendants Isaac and Jacob and Joseph all chose faith in God.

Moses, too, was called by God . . . from the fiery heart of a burning bush! Though he had been raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, he chose to stand with his own people and face the Pharaoh’s anger to win freedom.

We hear about it like this in Hebrews: [Moses] suffered shame because of Christ. He thought it had great value.

When you check out Hebrews, you discover a huge list of people who followed God by faith—so many the writer stops trying to list them!

We can’t forget David, Israel’s greatest king. Even though God had promised David as a young man that he would be king, David spent years on the run from King Saul, fearing for his life. Still, he chose to trust God.

The Lord is my shepherd, wrote David in a famous song. He gives me everything I need.

None of these people from the Old Testament could see with their eyes how God was going to save His people. Instead, they saw the way God worked in their lives and met their needs—and they chose to believe His greater plan.

They chose faith.

In Hebrews we read that, Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being sure

of what we do not see. That is what the people of long ago were praised for.

Now here’s where the story turns, because we learn that none of those people in the Old Testament received what God had promised, here on earth. That’s because God had planned something better for us. So they would only be made perfect together with us.

God’s plan includes all of us, all the way back to Creation! At the right moment, the very perfect point of Time, God sent His Rescuer. The Hero— God’s very own Son, Jesus.

Jesus showed us how to live.
He showed us what God is like.
He told us the most important thing:
“If you love one another, everyone will know you are my disciples.”

Love God. Love others. It’s the heart of the whole Story.

But then . . . Jesus was killed.
His friends believed the Story was finished.

Period.
Dot.
The End.

Until God raised Jesus back to life! Jesus has defeated Death. Now those who follow Jesus can live with Him forever.

But how to do you follow Someone you can’t see? That brings us back to faith.

“Let us keep looking to Jesus,” says the writer of Hebrews. “He is the one who started this journey of faith. And he is the one who completes the journey of faith. He paid no attention to the shame of the cross. He suffered there because of the joy he was looking forward to. . . . So think about him. Then . . .you won’t lose hope.”

The early believers—Peter and John and other followers of Jesus—had seen Him teach and heal.

They saw Him after God raised Him to life.

But after Jesus returned to heaven, they continued to live by faith.

“We have to speak about the things we’ve seen and heard,” Peter declared.

Because of what the new Christians in the early church had seen, they believed in what they couldn’t yet see—the end of the story, where God will make everything right.

They kept the faith. And because they did, each of us can choose faith, too.

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Can you think of anything that you believe is real, even though you’ve never seen it?

Take a few minutes and brainstorm together. You believe the wind is real, because you see what it does. You believe that your body digests food to give you energy, because you experience how it works. Plus someone you trust has explained to you what happens inside your stomach, even though you can’t see it with your eyes. So when we say we believe in God and in His Son, Jesus, it’s not a strange or unusual thing. We can see the way God works in our lives and the lives of others who follow Him. We can read reliable, eye-witness accounts about the things Jesus said and did on earth, both before and after His death and resurrection. Even though you’ve never seen Jesus with your eyes, you can truly come to know Him as a Friend, here and now. You may not be sure what you think of Jesus yet. Or you may have believed in Jesus for as long as you can remember. But either way, take a minute to pray for each other, that Jesus would help you to know Him better this week.

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Faith, Week 2

Paul Becomes a Believer

Acts 9:1-9

Knowing Jesus changes the way you see everything.

If anyone was set up for the good life, it was Saul of Tarsus. Though Saul’s family was Jewish, he was also born a Roman citizen. Throughout his life, he was known at different times as Saul or Paul.

As a young man, Saul had been sent to Jerusalem to study with the famous rabbi Gamaliel. He became a Pharisee, like his father before him, and carefully studied God’s law and prayed three times a day.

Like other religious leaders in Jerusalem, though, Saul was caught off guard by the events that surrounded the life and death of Jesus. He was likely relieved to hear the news that Jesus had been killed.

“Good riddance! Now that Fool can’t try to overturn God’s laws anymore,” he might have vented to a fellow Pharisee.

“Haven’t you heard?” asked the Pharisee. “Jesus’ followers say He’s returned to life!”

“Ha!” scoffed Saul. “Those riff raff will slink away soon enough.”

But against all odds, the followers of Jesus didn’t fade away. In fact, the new believers grew to more than five thousand in number.

The religious leaders in Jerusalem did everything they could to squash the new movement. They even arrested a leader among the Jesus followers named Stephen. After telling lies about him, they dragged him outside the city.

“This man is a disgrace!” said Saul with a frown. He even stood by and held the coats of men who picked up stones and threw them at Stephen until they killed him.

“If Stephen had just let go of this Jesus nonsense, he wouldn’t have had to die!” Saul pointed out to anyone who would listen.

When he discovered that Jews in other cities were beginning to follow Jesus too, Saul was outraged. He quickly became known for hunting down people who believed in Jesus. When he learned that some Jews in Damascus were following Jesus, he went straight to the high priest.

“This Jesus thing is spreading everywhere!” Saul exclaimed. “They think He’s alive. Give me letters to the synagogues in Damascus so I can arrest all the believers and bring them back here!”

A short time later, Saul set off for Damascus with the blessing of the high priest. He traveled with a group of men to arrest the believers they found. After days on the road, they neared the city.

Suddenly, a light more brilliant than the midday sun blazed down around Saul. As the men around him shouted in surprise, Saul staggered and fell to the ground, squeezing his eyes shut against the glare.

“Saul! Saul!” called a voice. “Why are you opposing me?”

Saul gasped. It felt as though the whole earth had shifted beneath him.

“Who are you, Lord?” he asked.

“I am Jesus,” said the voice. “I am the one you are opposing.”

The men around Saul stared in horror and confusion, unable to speak. They could see no one, but heard a sound . . . perhaps like a roar of thunder.

“Now get up and go into the city,” Jesus told Saul. “There you will be told what you must do.”

Saul reeled. He struggled to his feet . . . and finally opened his eyes.

He saw nothing. Only darkness.

“What . . . what’s happened?” asked Saul, reaching out with his hands. “You fell and we heard this sound . . .” said the other men.

“I can’t see!” cried Saul. “I’ve been blinded!”

Saul grasped the hands of one of his fellow travelers and shuffled a few steps forward.

“Who were you talking to?” they asked him.

“I . . . I think . . . it was Jesus,” confessed Saul. “I heard Jesus.”

Those traveling with Saul must have been amazed and confused. They led him into Damascus, where he stayed at the home of a man named Judas on Straight Street. For three days, Saul neither ate nor drank as he wrestled with himself and God. He’d come face to face with a Man he knew was dead—and discovered that Jesus is very much alive. Now blind, Saul was forced to see everything in a brand-new light.

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Have you ever experienced confusion in total darkness? Like when the power goes out after dark, or you wake up at night without a nightlight?

Or maybe you know what it’s like because you live with impaired vision. Share what it feels like when you can’t see at all, or when you can’t see clearly. Not being able to see what’s around you can be a scary feeling. You have to trust someone who can see or someone with a light. You have to use your ears and sense of touch. You see things . . . differently. When Saul lost his sight on the road to Damascus, he must have felt fear and panic. But God used Saul’s loss of physical sight to begin changing how he saw everything. Hearing from Jesus and knowing He is real changed Saul’s entire perspective. From this point, instead of trying to get rid of believers, Saul began putting his own life on the line to share about Jesus himself! When you know Jesus, you discover that the two most important things are to love God and to love others. That can change how you view every decision and relationship in your life! Share one thing in your life that might change if you asked Jesus to change how you see that situation. Then pray for each other, that Jesus will change your perspective this week.

Coming Soon

Faith, Week 3

Ananias Helps Paul

Acts 9:10-31

Knowing Jesus can help you face your fears.

Ananias, a believer who lived in the city of Damascus, paced the floor of his room. “What will we do, Lord?” he prayed.

Several days before, the group of Jesus followers in Damascus had received terrible news, “Saul of Tarsus is on his way!” a messenger warned them. “He has permission from the high priest to arrest anyone who follows Jesus and take them to Jerusalem!”

Ananias shivered and stared at his door. “Why haven’t we heard anything yet?” he wondered.

He knew that at any moment, guards could knock on his door. A voice could shout out his name.

And at that very moment, a voice did call out his name. “Ananias!”

Ananias nearly leapt out of his skin. But he quickly realized the voice hadn’t come

from outside—or inside, either. There was only person it could be. He took a deep breath. “Yes, Lord.”

Ananias knew this was a vision from God. He took a deep breath and waited for what the Lord would say.

“Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street,” God told him. “Ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul.”

Ananias gasped in shock. God wanted him to seek out his enemy?

“[Saul] is praying,” continued the Lord. “In a vision Saul has seen a man come and place his hands on him. That man’s name is Ananias. In the vision, Ananias placed his hands on Saul so he could see again.”

A million thoughts tumbled through Ananias’ head. At last, he found his voice. “I’ve heard many reports about this man,” he said. “They say he has done great harm to your holy people in Jerusalem. Now he has come here to arrest all those who worship you.”

It must have seemed like a homerun argument to Ananias. But God responded,

“Go! I have chosen this man to work for me. He will announce my name to the Gentiles and to their kings. He will also announce my name to the people of Israel.”

As soon as the vision ended, Ananias grabbed his cloak and hurried through the dusty city. But when he reached Straight Street, his steps slowed. He forced himself to breathe evenly as he approached the home of Judas.

“Help me, Jesus,” he prayed. “Give me the words to say.”

Ananias stood in front of the door for a long moment, gathering courage. Then—he knocked. When Judas answered, Ananias shared his vision.

As Judas led Ananias through the house, he explained, “Saul won’t eat or drink anything. Not since they led him here three days ago.”

Ananias peered into the back room. A man knelt on the floor, hands knotted in prayer. Though his eyes were open, they didn’t focus on anything. “Who’s there?” asked the man.

Before he could lose his nerve, Ananias went straight to Saul and placed his hands on Saul’s shoulders. “Brother Saul,” said Ananias. “You saw the Lord Jesus. He appeared to you on the road as you were coming here. He has sent me so that you will be able to see again. You will be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

As Saul blinked in surprise, something like scales dropped from his eyes. “I . . . I . . . my eyes! I can see!” he cried.

Saul leapt to his feet and faced Ananias. “I need to be baptized,” he said. “This instant!”

Saul, also known as Paul, had been relentless in his quest to wipe out the believers. But now that he himself had met Jesus, he was equally determined to share the good news. After being baptized, he began preaching in the Jewish synagogues.

“Jesus is the Son of God!” he told everyone.

“Isn’t [this] the man who caused great trouble in Jerusalem? Didn’t he make trouble for those who worship Jesus?” wondered the Jews who heard him. “Hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?”

Though Saul now believed in Jesus, he had much to learn. He wanted to discover the answers for himself, with God’s help. So he spent several years studying the Scriptures. At the end of this time, Saul began preaching about Jesus again, fiery as ever. “Jesus is the Messiah. He fulfills every promise in Scripture!” Saul explained to anyone who would listen.

The Jews in Damascus and even the governor of the city were angry about the way Saul was upsetting things. They made plans to capture and kill Saul, watching every gate of the city.

But Saul and his friends discovered the plot. They led Saul to a home built into the city wall. Once it was dark, they lowered him out the window and down the wall in a large basket.

Once safely out of Damascus, Saul set out for Jerusalem. When he arrived, Saul immediately tried to join the group of believers there. But as soon as they discovered who he was, they refused to allow him in.

Saul was discouraged to discover that the believers still feared him. But one man, Barnabas, had already heard Saul’s story.

“Cheer up, man!” said Barnabas. “I know you’re the real deal. Let me take you to the apostles. I’ll get ’em to listen.”

Barnabas did exactly as he promised. He took Saul to visit Peter, James, and the other leaders of the early church, and told them the whole story. “He even preached about Jesus so much in Damascus they tried to arrest him!” added Barnabas.

“Wow,” acknowledged Peter. “Well . . . all I can say is. . . welcome to the Way!”*

Saul stayed with the believers in Jerusalem, and preached there just as boldly as

in Damascus. Once again, a group of Jews became upset with him. But once again, the believers helped Saul to escape. This time, he traveled back to his hometown of Tarsus to wait for God’s next directions.

And the group of believers across Judea and Samaria continued to grow, through the power of God’s Spirit.

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Imagine that you’re Ananias, standing at the door on Straight Street, ready to walk in and face your enemy—a man you know had plans to arrest and maybe even kill you.

What might you be thinking and feeling right now? It’s likely this was the scariest moment of Ananias’ entire life! He probably wanted to run away. But he knew that God had called him to do this. Because he followed Jesus, Ananias knew the end of the story would be good, no matter what happened when he knocked on that door. Saul, too, believed this when he chose to teach about Jesus, even though it put his life in danger. Knowing Jesus helped Ananias and Saul to be brave—and knowing Jesus can help you face your fears too. Share with each other something that makes you scared or worried right now. Pray for each other, that Jesus would give you peace and the strength to face your fear.

*The Way is what the early church—or the people who followed Jesus just after His death and resurrection—called themselves.

Coming Soon

Faith, Week 4

Peter Goes to the House of Cornelius

Acts 10

Knowing Jesus changes the way you see others.

As the early church grew, Peter traveled from town to town, sharing the good news about Jesus and healing sick people. In Joppa, he even raised a dead woman to life through the power of God’s Spirit!

Many people in Joppa became believers. So Peter stayed there for a while with a man named Simon, a leather worker who lived right beside the sea.

Peter often went up to the roof to pray. “Thank You, Lord, for all these fellow Jews believing in Jesus!” he said, gazing out over the lapping waters of the sea.

But God’s plan was bigger than Peter imagined. About 40 miles north, a Roman army commander named Cornelius was also talking to God.

“Lord, thank You for all You’ve given to me and my family,” Cornelius prayed.

Though Cornelius wasn’t Jewish, he and his family worshiped God and freely gave to anyone who needed help. As Cornelius prayed, God sent an angel in a vision.

“Cornelius!” The angel’s power and brilliance were so strong that Cornelius fell back in awe.

“What is it, Lord?” he asked.

“Your prayers and gifts to poor people are like an offering to God,” replied the angel. “So he has remembered you. Now send men to Joppa. Have them bring back a man named Simon. He is also called Peter. He is staying with another Simon, a man who works with leather. His house is by the sea.”

The angel vanished, and Cornelius leapt to his feet. He sent for two of his servants and a trusted soldier—and told them everything.

“Leave at once for Joppa!” he commanded.

The trio left, marching at top speed. Around noon the next day, they neared Joppa.

Meanwhile, at Simon’s home, Peter had climbed up to the roof to pray as lunch was being prepared. “Lord, You’ve done amazing things here in Joppa,” he said, “What’s next?”

As Peter continued to pray, God sent him a vision—but not an angel. It appeared to Peter that something like a large sheet was being lowered down from heaven. The sheet contained a zoo of animals: pigs, camels, rabbits, birds, and reptiles.

“Get up, Peter,” the Lord told him. “Kill and eat.”

Peter stared in shock. Jews were forbidden to eat the meat of any of these animals, which were called “unclean.” “No, Lord!” he protested. “I will not! . . . I have never eaten anything that is not pure and ‘clean.’ ”

“Do not say anything is not pure that God has made ‘clean,’ ” replied the Lord. Two more times, the same thing happened. Then the sheet was taken back up to

heaven. Peter blinked and looked around. “What does it all mean?”

At that very moment, the men sent by Cornelius arrived at Simon’s front door and asked for Peter.

Up on the roof, God’s Spirit spoke to Peter: “Three men are looking for you. Get up and go downstairs. Don’t let anything keep you from going with them. I have sent them.”

Still overwhelmed by his vision, Peter hurried down the stairs and out the front door, where he found the men. “I’m the one you’re looking for,” he declared. “Why have you come?”

“Sir!” replied the soldier. “We have come from Cornelius, the Roman commander. He is a good man who worships God. All the Jewish people respect him. A holy angel told him to invite you to his house. Then Cornelius can hear what you have to say.”

“Go to his house?” asked Peter in shock and surprise.

Just like it was forbidden for Jews to eat certain foods, it was also forbidden for a Jew to enter the home of a non-Jew. But in that moment, Peter understood his vision. God was making new rules about what was “clean.” The story of Jesus was not just for Jewish people, but for everyone.

“Please! Come in,” Peter invited. “We’ll leave first thing in the morning.”

The next day, Peter and the three men set out, along with some of the believers from Joppa. By the following day, they arrived in Caesarea at the home of Cornelius.

Peter must have paused for a moment before he entered the house. Though he knew that God had told him to come, he had never once stepped inside the home of a non-Jewish person.

At last, Peter entered the home to discover that Cornelius had gathered all his relatives and friends to hear from Peter.

“Greetings, Peter!” Cornelius cried. “We are honored you have come!” The commander lowered himself to the ground before Peter as a sign of deep respect.

“Stand up!” Peter told him. “I am only a man myself.”

As Cornelius stood, Peter surveyed the group before him and took a deep breath. “You know that our law says that we can’t enter the home of someone who isn’t a Jew,” said Peter. “But God has shown me that I should not say anyone is not pure and ‘clean.’ ” May I ask why you sent for me?”

Cornelius explained everything the angel had told him. Then Peter shared how God had sent Jesus to share God’s love. How Jesus had taught and healed people through God’s power. How He had been killed—and then, how God had raised Him to life again!

“We ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead,” Peter exclaimed.
“He commanded us to preach to the people. . . . All who believe in him have their sins forgiven through his name.”

Before Peter even finished speaking, God sent his Holy Spirit to be with Cornelius and his family and friends. The Jewish believers who had come with Peter stared in amazement. It seemed impossible that God would give His Spirit to people who were not Jews.

“Surely no one can keep these people from being baptized with water,” Peter pointed out. “They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”

Peter baptized Cornelius and all his family and friends in the name of Jesus. He stayed with them for several days, overjoyed by the new perspective God had given him.

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Is there someone you have trouble getting along with?

It might be someone at school or your neighborhood or even in your own family. Take a minute and share. It’s true that not every relationship in your life will be easy. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone. But here’s what else is true: Every single person you will ever meet is made in the image of God and deeply loved by God. So even when someone thinks or acts differently than you do—you can still treat them with love and compassion. Pray for each other, that Jesus will help you see the people in your life the way He sees them this week.