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Determination, Week 1

Jesus' Final Orders to His Disciples / Ascension

Matthew 28:16-20, Luke 24:50-52, Acts 1:1-11

Keep going even when it seems impossible.

When Jesus returned to life, roller coasters hadn’t been invented yet. But as far as His friends were concerned, they might as well have been living on one wild coaster ride. Peter and Matthew might have gone over the whole story one more time as they walked the dusty road from Galilee back toward Jerusalem.

“Remember how it started?” Peter may have recalled. “Jesus did all these miracles. Thousands of people gathered to listen to Him!”

“And we heard God’s voice saying, ‘This is my Son, and I love him,’” added Matthew. “But then, He got all those threats from the religious leaders,” Peter said.

“And He ignored them all and raised Lazarus to life!” Matthew exclaimed.

“But that lousy Judas betrayed Him.”

“The religious leaders arrested Him.”

“And I ran away like a fool,” noted Peter.

“And . . . Jesus was killed,” said Matthew.

They walked in silence for a few moments, remembering the utter dark hopelessness of those few days.

Then Peter grinned. “But He came back to life!”

“And now we get to hang out with Him!” Matthew added.

“I think He’s got big plans,” said Peter. “Did you hear how He told me at the lake to take care of His followers?”

Matthew nodded. “And what He said to us all on the mountain in Galilee . . .”

“About making new disciples?” asked Peter.

“Yeah,” Matthew confirmed. “‘So you must go and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And you can be sure that I am always with you, to the very end.’”

They both walked in silence for a moment. “Big job!” Matthew added. “How do you remember all this stuff?” Peter wondered.

“I record it,” noted Matthew.

“You should write a book sometime,” Peter suggested.

Matthew nodded and frowned in concentration. “I’m still not sure about the Holy Spirit part? But Jesus is here with us now. We can do anything while He stays with us.”

Ahead, Peter and Matthew and the other disciples could see Jerusalem in the distance, the temple rising above the other buildings.

“He said to meet Him back in Jerusalem.” Peter pointed out. “For the Feast of Pentecost, probably,” said Matthew.

“That would be the perfect time for Him to do something big, wouldn’t it?” wondered Peter. “If He wants followers in all nations, that must mean we take over Israel, first, right?”

“I don’t know about the ‘take over’ part,” said Matthew. “That sounds more like you.”

After Jesus’ friends returned to Jerusalem, Jesus led them to a hill outside the city, near Bethany.

“Nice view of the city from here . . .” murmured Matthew.

“I bet He’s finally gonna give us all The Big Plan now,” said Peter.

“He already did,” Matthew pointed out. “‘Make disciples of all nations.’”

“Yeah, but how?” Peter wondered. “Is He going to gather 50,000 people at Pentecost?

Or maybe He’ll take us all with Him on an epic road trip!”

“He probably wouldn’t have brought us all up here if He didn’t have something big to say,” Matthew reminded him.

Sure enough, while they ate a meal on the side of the hill, Jesus spoke. “Do not leave Jerusalem,” he said. “Wait for the gift my Father promised . . . In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

“There’s the Holy Spirit talk again . . .” Matthew whispered.

Peter couldn’t take it anymore. He had to ask. “Lord . . . Are you going to give the kingdom

back to Israel now?”

Everyone stopped talking. They looked at Peter—and then to Jesus, who shook His head.

“You should not be concerned about times or dates,” Jesus told them. “The Father has set them by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. Then you will tell people about me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria. And you will even tell other people about me from one end of the earth to the other.”

The disciples exchanged glances. “Okay, You did say the all nations part already,” said Peter. “But . . . where will You be?”

“And please, can you explain what You’re going to do with the Holy Spirit?” asked Matthew.

Jesus smiled at His friends. Then He lifted His hands and spoke a blessing over them.

As Jesus was speaking, something incredible happened: Slowly, He began to rise into the air.

“He’s standing in the air,” exclaimed Matthew. “How is He standing in the air?”

Jesus’ friends stared, mouths open, as Jesus was taken up into the sky. Soon, a cloud hid Him from view . . . but they continued to gape.

“Men of Galilee!” called a strong, bright voice.

The disciples blinked and finally looked down to discover two tall men dressed in white standing right beside them. “Why do you stand here looking at the sky?” asked one of the men. “Jesus has been taken away from you into heaven. But he will come back in the same way you saw him go.”

“Come back? Come back when?!” demanded Peter.

But the men in white were gone.

For a long minute, no one could think of anything to say. At last, Matthew said, “Jesus did

say, ‘Don’t be concerned about times or dates.’”

“But He just gave us the biggest job ever!” protested Peter. “Tell everyone in the whole world about Him. There’s gotta be a plan.”

“The Holy Spirit,” said Matthew. “I think the Holy Spirit is the plan.” “But we don’t know how He’s going to do that!” Peter nearly shouted. “Jesus said to wait,” reminded Matthew. “In Jerusalem.”

“So . . . wait. That’s the plan?”

“That’s the plan for now.”

Jesus had given His followers what seemed to be an impossible job: Share the story of Jesus and His love in every nation across the entire world! But soon, He would give them exactly what they needed to not only start the job . . . but to keep going.

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Have you ever started something big and gotten so overwhelmed you wanted to quit?

Take a minute and share with each other. It might have been planting and caring for a garden. Or a five-mile hike. Or learning a new instrument or sport. Or helping your little sister read. Big tasks like that can seem impossible. But here’s the awesome thing—if God calls you to do something or gives you a deep love for learning something, He can give you the power to finish what you start. He can help you keep going, even when the job feels impossible. What’s something you’re in the middle of right now that feels too overwhelming to finish? Share with each other. Then pray for each other, that God will give you the power to take a few more steps toward the finish line this week.

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Determination, Week 2

The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost

Acts 2:1-41

God gives you what you need to keep going.

The room was crowded. More than 100 of Jesus’ followers knelt or sat on the floor, gathered together to pray. Peter, always quick to take charge, may have led them.

“Lord, You told us to wait in Jerusalem,” he prayed. “You promised to send Your Holy Spirit!”

Just days before, Jesus had gathered His closest friends on the Mount of Olives and instructed them to tell everyone about Him—from Jerusalem to every nation in the world. But then, before their eyes, He had been taken up to Heaven!

“You’ve given us a huge job,” Peter continued. “We don’t know how to do it when You’re not here with us. So, please . . . help us.”

The room stilled as everyone waited . . .

Slowly, softly at first, the sound of a rushing wind began to creep into the room. James and John may have been near a window.

“Getting windy out there,” James whispered. “I’ll just close the shutters.” But even with the windows shut, the sound of a wild wind grew louder.

“I don’t think the sound is outside,” said John. Other voices chimed in as the believers tried to figure out what was going on.

“Everyone, stay calm!” called Peter.

As the sound like wind rose even higher, a burst of light appeared in the center of the room. It flickered like a fireball, breaking into individual flames.

Everyone gasped. “What on Earth?” exclaimed James.

“I don’t think it’s from Earth,” said John.

As the group watched, transfixed, the flames separated and skimmed out until a single tongue like fire stood over the head of every believer in the room.

“God’s Holy Spirit!” marveled Peter.

As God’s Spirit filled the room and the heart of each believer, something even more incredible happened. As the men and women tried to figure out what was going on, they discovered they were actually speaking in different languages.

“God has given us the power to speak other languages!” exclaimed Peter.

Immediately, the believers went out to join the crowds who had arrived in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. These Jews had traveled from many different regions and countries, where a variety of languages were spoken. They were shocked to hear the believers talking about Jesus in words they could understand.

Each responded in their own language. “Aren’t these people from Galilee?” wondered a man from Egypt. “How can they be speaking our languages?”

“I’ve met people here from Parthia, Mesopotamia, Asia, Egypt, and Libya,” pointed out a woman from Rome. “But these Galileans are talking about God’s wonders in our languages.”

“I think they’re a little loopy!” scoffed the man from Egypt. “One fish short of a lunch, if you know what I mean.”

Peter heard what the doubters in the crowd were saying. So he gathered the other disciples and made his way to the very front.

“My fellow Jews!” he cried out. “Jesus of Nazareth was a man who had God’s approval. God did miracles, wonders and signs among you through Jesus. . . . Long ago God planned that Jesus would be handed over to you. . . . You nailed him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead.”

The crowd listened as the Holy Spirit gave Peter the words to say and helped the people understand.

“[Jesus] has received the Holy Spirit from the Father,” continued Peter. “This is what God had promised. It is Jesus who has poured out what you now see and hear. . . . God has made him both Lord and Messiah.”

Many people were deeply moved by the words Peter had spoken. “So . . . what do we do now?” they asked.

“All of you must turn away from your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ,” Peter told them. “Then your sins will be forgiven. You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

“I want to be baptized!” exclaimed one man. “Me too!” added another.

That day, 3,000 people believed in Jesus and were baptized. With the help of God’s Holy Spirit, Peter and the disciples had already begun the big job of telling every nation about Jesus . . . before they even left Jerusalem.

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Jesus had given His followers the huge job of telling people about Him all over the world.

But to tell someone about Jesus, you’ve got to speak their language! So how did God solve that problem for His followers? Take a minute and share. Yup! God sent His Holy Spirit to live in them. Their need at the moment was to be able to share the story of Jesus with people from other nations. So the Holy Spirit allowed them to speak in those different languages. Now, you’re probably involved in something big right now—whether it’s helping provide food to people in your community who are hungry—or maybe just getting through the rest of the school year! Take a minute and share with each other what you need from God to keep going right now. Then pray for each other, that God will give you the power to finish the things He has called you to do.

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Determination, Week 3

Peter and John Are Taken to the Sanhedrin

Acts 3:1-4:21

Keep going even when it gets tough.

John found himself nearly skipping as he and Peter made their way up toward the temple. “More than 3,000!” he exclaimed. “More than 3,000 people are following Jesus now!”

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” noted Peter. “The way people are sharing their homes, their food…”

“Every day more people believe!” added John.

“Yup, this tell-the-whole world gig is going more smoothly than I expected,” Peter agreed.

As Peter and John approached the temple gate, they saw a man lying on a mat.

“Please! Help me!” he called out.

We’ll call the man Ezra. For his entire life, he’d been unable to walk a single step. “Could I have a few coins?” pleaded Ezra. “For food?”

Peter and John looked directly at him. Peter could feel the power of God’s Spirit rising inside him.

“Look at us!” Peter said.

Ezra fixed his gaze on the disciples and held out his hand. “I don’t have any silver or gold,” Peter told him. “But I’ll give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk.”

Peter reached out and took Ezra’s hand. Instantly, his feet became strong. He leapt to his feet. In amazement, he took a step. A skip. A hop and a jump!

“Praise Jesus!” he shouted. Then he began to dance and spin around. He did the Floss. The Whip Nae Nae. The Church Clap!

And as you might guess, a big crowd gathered. “This guy couldn’t even walk ten minutes ago!” they said in wonder.

Peter called out loudly, “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? We didn’t make this man walk. God did it to bring glory to Jesus, who serves Him! You handed Jesus over to be killed, but God raised him from the dead. This man was made strong because of faith in Jesus’ name! So turn away from your sins. Turn to God. Then your sins will be wiped away!”

But while the crowd was wowed, the religious leaders were fuming. They sent the captain of the temple guard to arrest Peter and John and put them in prison.

“Preach it to the rats, boys!” snarled the guard as he slammed shut the jail door.

“What’s that you said about things going smoothly?” murmured John, staring at the damp, dirty stone walls of their cell.

“God’s Holy Spirit is still with us,” insisted Peter. “Even here.”

The next day, a group of religious leaders, including the high priest Annas and his family, gathered together. They ordered the guards to bring Peter and John before them.

“By what power did you do this?” they demanded. “And through whose name?!”

Peter didn’t hesitate. “Rulers and elders of the people,” he began, “do you want to know why we were kind to a man who couldn’t walk? Are you asking how he was healed?”

Peter gestured to where Ezra was standing not far off, watching. Ezra did a little two-step. The religious leaders glared.

“You nailed Jesus Christ of Nazareth to the cross,” Peter said. “But God raised him from the dead. It is through Jesus’ name that this man stands healed. . . . You can’t be saved by believing in anyone else.”

If mics had been invented, Peter could have dropped one right there. The leaders glowered and Annas cleared his throat. “Leave now, and never come back! . . . Until we call for you.”

Once Peter and John had been taken out, the leaders grumbled to each other. “The nerve! These are common men. With no training!”

“I hate to say it,” ventured one leader, “but from the bold way they talk, you can tell they’ve been with Jesus.”

“But what can we do with them?” wondered Annas. “Everyone in Jerusalem knows they performed a miracle. We can’t say it didn’t happen.”

“This stops here. It stops now,” declared Caiaphas. “We give them a warning. Never speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again!”

Peter and John were brought to stand before the religious leaders again. “You must never speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again!” ordered the high priest. “Or—or—OR ELSE!”

Peter and John exchanged a glance. They knew these leaders had the power to lock them up, or even kill them.

“Which is right from God’s point of view?” asked Peter. “Should we listen to you? Or should we listen to God? You be the judges!”

“There’s nothing else we can do,” added John. “We have to speak about the things we’ve seen and heard.”

The leaders couldn’t find any reason to keep Peter and John in prison, so they finally let them go. Peter and John returned to their friends and shared everything God had done. Through the power of God’s Spirit, the number of believers had now grown to more than 5,000.

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Do you think that following Jesus means things will be easy?

Take a minute and share why or why not. It’s tempting to think that when you decide to follow Jesus, everything will be easy. But if you’ve been following Jesus for very long or watch people who are, you know that’s not true! Maybe you choose to sit at the lunch table with a boy other kids make fun of—and they start to make fun of you, too. Or you decide to run a 5K race to help raise money for people in your community who need homes—but you get totally worn out on practice runs before you even get to a mile. The reality is, when you’re trying to live the way Jesus taught us, things will get hard! But the awesome thing is that you don’t have to tough it out on your own. When you follow Jesus, God promises to give you the power of His Spirit to keep going. And since God is more powerful than anything, that means you can keep going to finish anything He’s called you to do. Pray for each other, that God will give you the power of His Spirit this week to keep going, even when things get tough.

Coming Soon

Determination, Week 4

Stephen

Acts 6:8-7:60

Keep going because God knows the end of the story.

Stephen was the kind of guy you’d like to have as a friend—someone you could always count on. He could tell epic true adventure stories from the Scriptures, and he was always ready to lend a hand or give a word of encouragement.

In fact, when help was needed, everyone thought of Stephen. The new church was growing quickly, and some people needed food and special care. Peter and the apostles made a plan.

“It wouldn’t be right for us to give up teaching God’s word . . . to wait on tables,” Peter explained. “Brothers and sisters, choose seven of your men. They must be known as men who are wise and full of the Holy Spirit. We will turn this important work over to them.”

Stephen was immediately chosen, along with six other men, to help care for the new believers. God filled Stephen with special grace and power to do this work.

But not everyone was impressed. Rather than choosing to be joyful at the work God was doing through Stephen, some Jews began to argue with him.

“No one does something for nothing,” grumbled one man. “What’s in all this goody-goody act for you?”

“My friend!” Stephen exclaimed. “Jesus said the most important thing is to love God and love others. That’s all I’m doing.”

Through the Holy Spirit, Stephen had a wise answer for every question. At last, his enemies resorted to telling lies about him.

“We heard Stephen speak evil things against Moses and against God!” they claimed.

This stirred up the religious leaders. They arrested Stephen and brought him before their gathering: the Sanhedrin. Stephen remained calm. “I haven’t done anything wrong,” he told them firmly.

But the lies against Stephen continued. “[This fellow] speaks against the law,” one man announced. “We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place. He says Jesus will change the practices that Moses handed down to us,” asserted others.

Everyone looked straight at Stephen, even the high priest Caiaphas. They were surprised to see that Stephen wasn’t panicked or upset. In fact, his face seemed strong and bright like an angel’s.

“Is what these people are saying true?” demanded Caiaphas.

Stephen looked up at the angry, accusing faces that surrounded him. He knew these people could do anything they wanted—even kill him. But he knew that no matter what, God was with him.

“Brothers and fathers, listen to me!” Stephen cried out. He wanted these leaders to understand that Jesus wasn’t some small town rebel. No, Jesus was the fulfillment of a plan God had set in motion with Abraham so long ago.

“The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham,” Stephen began. “’Leave your country and your people,’ God said. ‘Go to the land I will show you.’”

Stephen continued the story of God’s people, through Jacob and Joseph and slavery in Egypt. The religious leaders listened, transfixed, as Stephen reminded them of God’s work through Moses to free the Israelites and bring them to the Promised Land. He spoke of David and Solomon and the building of God’s temple. Then he took a deep breath, and came to the heart of the story.

“You stubborn people!” Stephen said. “You won’t obey! You won’t listen! You are just like your people of long ago! . . . Was there ever a prophet your people didn’t try to hurt? And now you have handed [Jesus] over to his enemies. You have murdered him.”

“How dare you?!” shouted Caiaphas as angry rumbles swept through the crowd.

Stephen, filled with God’s Spirit, stood his ground. As he looked up, God gave him a vision of

heaven. “I see heaven open,” said Stephen. “Jesus is standing at God’s right hand!”

The religious leaders were so enraged they shoved their hands over their ears and yelled to keep from hearing another word. They rushed at Stephen. Rough hands grabbed him and hauled him out onto the dusty stone road.

A young man named Saul watched, fascinated, as the religious leaders dragged Stephen outside the city walls and begin to pick up heavy rocks under the scorching sun.

“Here, let me take care of your coats,” offered Saul.

Still filled with rage, the religious leaders left their coats with Saul. Then they began throwing stones at Stephen. Even through this, Stephen’s very last words were filled with love: “Lord! . . . Don’t hold this sin against them!”

Jesus had told His followers to live out His love everywhere. And through God’s power, Stephen continued to share God’s love . . . to his very last breath.

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How does Stephen’s story make you feel? Take a minute and share with each other.

Most of us don’t live in places where someone would try to hurt us for talking about Jesus. But the truth is, we never know exactly what’s going to happen to us or to the people we love. That can be a scary thought—except that while we don’t know the whole story, God does! He has promised that even if our stories are difficult, everything will be made right in the end for those who follow Jesus. Stephen was able to stay strong in the face of an angry mob because he knew that no matter what happened, God would make things right. And we can show courage and keep going when things get tough for us, because God knows the end of our story, too. (Spoiler alert: it’s better than you can imagine!) Pray for each other, that you can keep going this week in the middle of tough situations, knowing that God is in control of your story.

Coming Soon

Determination, Week 5

Philip and the Man from Ethiopia

Acts 8:26-40

Keep going even when you have questions.

Philip, like his friend Stephen, was a Jesus follower. Both men had been chosen to help new believers who needed food or special care. But after Stephen was killed, the Jewish religious leaders became even more bold in hunting down people who followed Jesus. They were led by a young man named Saul.

“Go house to house!” ordered Saul. “Find these Jesus people and toss them in jail!”

Many of the new believers left Jerusalem and scattered. But everywhere they went, they shared the story of Jesus. Philip traveled to a town in Samaria, where he told everyone about Jesus and even made sick people well through God’s power. The new believers in the city were filled with joy.

But then, an angel of the Lord appeared to Philip and told him, “Go south to the desert road . . . It’s the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”

Philip probably had questions. “Wait, what?” he may have wondered. “Everything’s going so well here. What good can I do in the desert?”

Still, Philip set out immediately. He was about to discover that he wasn’t the only one with questions.

Far to the south, on that very desert road, a man from Ethiopia was speeding along in his chariot, reading from a scroll. The man was a high official in charge of everything owned by the Ethiopian Queen. He believed in God and had chosen to become a Jew, even traveling for days to worship God at the temple in Jerusalem. But still, he was filled with questions as he read from the Jewish Scriptures.

“This prophet . . . Isaiah,” he murmured. “I don’t understand what he’s saying.”

As Philip hiked along the road, he spotted the Ethiopian official’s chariot ahead. God’s Spirit spoke to Philip.

“Go to that chariot. Stay near it.”

Philip ran until he came alongside the chariot, where the official was still absorbed in the words of Isaiah. “Do you understand what you’re reading?” Philip called out.

The official’s eyebrows shot up and he nearly dropped the scroll as he spotted Philip running alongside. “Stop the chariot!” he called to the driver. As the chariot slowed, the official peered down at Philip. “How can I understand?” he asked. “I need someone to explain it to me.”

“I can help,” Philip offered.

“Then come sit up here with me,” the official said. Philip scrambled up beside the official, and the chariot began to move again.

“Show me where you’re reading,” he told the official.

“Right here,” explained the official, pointing to the scroll and reading. “‘He was led like a sheep to be killed. Just as lambs are silent while their wool is being cut off, he did not open his mouth . . .’”

Philip continued the verses: “‘. . . When he was treated badly, he was refused a fair trial. Who can say anything about his children? His life was cut off from the earth.’”

The official frowned in concentration. “Tell me, please. Who is the prophet talking about? Himself, or someone else?”

“He’s talking about the One God has sent to rescue all of us,” Philip explained. “His name is Jesus!”

As the two men traveled along the hot, dusty road, Philip shared the whole story of Jesus— how Jesus gave His life for each of us, and was raised to life again.

“This is amazing!” marveled the official. “This changes everything!”

Ahead, the men could see a few lone palm trees. As they approached, sunlight flared off a clear pool of water. “Look! Here is water!” exclaimed the official. “What can stop me from being baptized? Stop the chariot!”

Philip and the official climbed down from the chariot, and Philip led the man down into the water. “I baptize you in the name of Jesus!” cried Philip as he lowered the official under the water. The man came up coughing and beaming. “Yes. Yes! Praise God!” he laughed.

Dripping wet and filled with joy, the two men came up out of the water. “Philip, you’d love Ethiopia,” invited the official. “You should really . . . Philip? Philip!”

Philip had suddenly, completely disappeared. In fact, God’s Spirit had whisked him away. “He’s gone!” gasped the official. “Only God could have done that.”

The Ethiopian official went on his way, a changed man. And Philip found himself in the town of Azotus. Both Philip and the Ethiopian official had continued to be faithful and seek God—even when they couldn’t see the full picture. And the story of Jesus continued to spread.

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Sometimes life can feel pretty confusing—like there are way more questions than answers.

Take a minute and share with each other some of your questions about God or life. Do you ever feel stuck in your questions—like you can’t move on until you get some answers? The awesome thing is that God knows everything, and He wants to give you what you need to keep going, whether it’s wisdom for a decision or an answer to a tough question. But God works on a different schedule than we do. He calls us to keep going, even when we have questions, knowing that He will send the answers we need at the right time—just like He sent Philip to the Ethiopian out in the middle of the desert. Pray for each other, that God would give you peace and the power to keep going, even when you have a lot of questions.