Popular author and pastor Mike Slaughter examines the two components of every miracle: divine action and human responsibility. For a real miracle to take place, we must act with God, using whatever gifts, talents, and abilities we have and directing them toward God's work. We need to follow the examples of Mary in the birth of Jesus, Jesus' followers when he healed them, and Jesus' disciples after he rose from the dead.
This Youth Study Book takes the ideas presented in Mike Slaughter’s book and interprets them for young people grades 6-12.
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You Were Made for a Miracle
Everybody loves a miracle. Stories of miracles are among the first stories told to young children learning about the Bible. Children in Sunday school and vacation Bible school learn about God parting the sea so the people of Israel can cross on dry land, about Daniel being thrown into a pen of hungry lions and walking out without a scratch, about Jesus feeding thousands of people with only a little bit of bread and fish, and about Jesus giving life to his friend Lazarus after Lazarus had been buried in a tomb. Miracle stories teach children that our God is loving and powerful and that we always have hope, even in times of despair.
But God's miracles are not just the subjects of old stories we tell to children. God continues to work miracles all around us, and invites us — God's people — to participate. To fully take part in God's miraculous work, we must understand who we are as God's children and followers of Christ, what gifts and abilities God has blessed us with, and what God has called us to do.
Called into a Bigger Story
Many of our culture's most beloved stories tell us about people who discover something about their identity and purpose. Movies, books, and comics have introduced us to a variety of characters from humble beginnings who learn that they are part of a much bigger story. Harry Potter, who'd grown up as an orphan with no knowledge of his magical abilities, discovers not only that he is a wizard but also that he is the wizard who must confront and defeat the ultimate evil in the magical world. Rey, an orphan on a lawless desert planet in the Star Wars series, discovers that she has a role to play in the ongoing struggle between the light and dark sides of the Force. Spider-Man, at a young age, ends up with extraordinary superpowers that he must learn to use with "great responsibility." Countless other heroes and heroines from fantasy epics, superhero stories, and fairy tales must come to terms with who they are and what responsibilities they have because of their abilities or identities.
Such stories may resonate so much with us because we all wrestle with questions such as "Who am I?" and "What is my purpose in life?" We are drawn to the idea that even the most ordinary person might end up being a wizard or a Jedi or a superhero. As Christians, we can relate to these stories because the Bible is full of examples of God selecting ordinary — and unexpected — people to carry out heroic tasks. We also know that God blesses each of us with unique gifts and abilities and calls us to do the work of building God's kingdom. The powers that God gives us may not seem as exciting as casting spells or shooting webs from our hands, and the work that God gives us may not seem as substantial as fighting crime or confronting evil villains. But our God-given abilities are as important as any superpower, and our God-given tasks are as significant as any hero's quest.
One reason stories about heroes are so compelling is because of the ways the characters change over the course of their journeys. As characters come to terms with the abilities and their purpose, they take on new identities. For many superheroes this means adopting a new name and a new look. But even if a character doesn't get a snappy nickname and high-tech outfit, the transformation shows in their attitudes, their actions, and their relationships.
In Scripture we encounter heroes who go through radical transformations. Moses was a fugitive who had been raised by Egyptian royalty; he overcame fear and a lack of confidence to defeat the Egyptian king and lead the Israelite slaves to freedom. Esther, through no will of her own, became the wife of a Persian king; she used her position and circumstances to save the Jewish people in Persia from extinction. Peter was a fisherman who ended up being one of Jesus' closest disciples. Despite denying Jesus when Jesus was on trial for his life, Peter found redemption and became an important leader of the early church. Another key church leader, Paul, had made a career of arresting and persecuting Christians; after an experience of the risen Christ he devoted his life to teaching and starting churches all over the Roman Empire.
We serve a God who works miracles and wants us to be part of those miracles. God created each of us, blessed us with unique gifts and abilities, and calls us to use those gifts and abilities in service to God and God's people. As we grow in relationship with God, we will grow in our understanding of who we are and what we are called to do.
The times listed beside each activity are approximations, and some activities are listed as optional. Select the activities that best fit your group and available time.
Opening: This Week in Miracles (10 minutes)
Supplies: Some way of recording the week's miracles
As your group gathers, discuss miracles that you've witnessed during the past week (or in recent weeks). These need not be miracles on the scale of healing lifelong ailments, raising people from the dead, or feeding a multitude. But they should be events that happened despite being unexpected and unlikely. These might include a basketball team pulling a big upset against an opponent, a student earning a high grade in a class in which he or she struggles, or a young person getting an unanticipated opportunity.
Have some way to keep track of weekly miracles throughout your time together in this study. Options include:
Select one person to be the recorder, and have this person write each person's miracles on a posterboard or sheet of butcher paper.
Have each person write his or her weekly miracle(s) on a strip of paper. Stick these strips to a wall in your meeting space using tape or poster tack.
Create a collage by having each person draw, cut out (from a magazine), or print out (from the Internet) a picture to represent his or her miracle(s).
Once you've had a chance to share and list your weekly miracles, discuss:
How do you think God was at work in these miracles?
Open the session with a prayer, such as:
God of miracles, bless our time together today and throughout this study. Open our hearts and minds to the message that you have for us today so that we may see you at work in the miracles we witness every day. Amen.
Word Study: "Miracle" (10 minutes)
Supplies: One slip of paper for each participant
Select a group leader for this activity. The group leader should write on a slip of paper (but not tell the group) this dictionary definition of miracle: "A surprising, but positive, event that cannot be explained by scientific laws." Every other participant should write on a slip of paper the best dictionary-style definition for miracle that he or she can come up with.
Each participant should hand the definition to the leader. The leader should shuffle all the slips of paper and read them aloud one at a time. The leader then should read aloud the definitions one more time; this time participants should vote on the definition they think is the official dictionary definition. See how many participants can select the correct dictionary definition. Also see how many people each person can fool. (If you'd like, make a game out of this activity, awarding each participant a point for guessing the correct definition and a point for each person fooled. You could add more rounds using words such as supernatural, divine, or transcendent.) Then ask:
What is a miracle?
What comes to mind when you think of "miracles"? What examples of miracles are you familiar with from Scripture?
What situations have you witnessed or been a part of that you would describe as miraculous?
Must an event defy the laws of nature to be considered a miracle? Why or why not?
Over the course of this study, you will explore all sorts of miracles. Some of these defy established laws of science; some do not. But all these miracles show us what God is capable of and what God can do through human beings.
"You Give Them Something to Eat" (10 minutes)
Read aloud Luke 9:10-17. These verses tell the story of one of Jesus' best-known miracles. But Jesus wasn't the only one who made this miracle happen. Discuss:
What did Jesus say to his disciples when they suggested sending the crowd away?
How did the disciples respond to Jesus' suggestion?
What resources did the disciples have available to them?
What instructions did Jesus give the disciples for feeding the crowd?
The disciples faced a problem that seemed impossible: they had to deal with thousands of hungry people. And Jesus wouldn't just let them send the people away; the disciples had to find a way to feed the crowd, but they had a very limited food supply. Discuss:
What role did the disciples play in this miracle?
What does this story tell us about how God uses human beings to work miracles?
What was Jesus able to do with the limited resources that the disciples had?
Jesus refused to accept that the situation was impossible; but he didn't just snap his fingers and make food appear in front of every person in the crowd. His disciples had a role to play and became participants in the miracle. As God's people, we are called to contribute our gifts and abilities to a larger effort and to play our part in God's miraculous work. Discuss:
When have you been a part of something amazing that was accomplished by a larger group (such as a team, school group, or church group)?
What role did you play? What did you contribute to this accomplishment?
Answering the Call (10-15 minutes, optional)
God has important work in store for each one of us, and God has many ways of calling us and inviting us to take part in this work. Determining how God is calling us and what God is asking us to do can be challenging. Fortunately, Scripture is full of examples we can look to.
Divide the group into teams of three or four and divide up the Scriptures below among the teams. Each team should spend five minutes reading its assigned Scriptures and be prepared to answer the following questions about each one:
Whom is God calling in this Scripture?
How does God reach out to this person?
What does God call this person to do?
Which, if any, of these stories do you relate to? Why?
What do these Scriptures tell us about whom God calls? What do they tell us about how God communicates with us?
Transformers (15 minutes, Optional)
List in the space below between five and ten of your favorite fictional heroes. These characters may come from literature, movies, comic books, or other sources.
After you've had about a minute to list these heroes, have each person in the group name aloud some of the heroes he or she listed. Then discuss:
Which of these heroes had experiences that completely changed their lives?
How were these characters' lives changed? (Focus not only on changes in name, appearance, and abilities but also changes in attitude and in how the characters related to others.)
The Bible is full of heroes whom God transforms. You will look at two examples of this transformation.
Divide your group into two teams. One team will read the Scriptures related to Peter; the other will read the Scriptures related to Paul. Each group will be responsible for answering the following questions about their assigned person and presenting their answers to the other team:
What was this person like before his or her life was transformed?
What experience(s) of Christ sparked this person's transformation?
How was this person transformed?
What can we learn from this person's story?
Peter (also known as Simon):
Matthew 4:18-20 (Jesus calls Simon Peter.)
Matthew 16:13-23 (Peter makes declarations about Jesus.)
John 18:15-18, 25-27 (Peter denies Jesus.)
John 21:15-19 (Jesus restores Peter.)
Acts 4:8-20 (Peter takes a stand.)
Paul (also known as Saul):
Acts 7:54 — 8:1 (Saul persecutes Christians.)
Acts 9:1-12, 17-20 (Saul encounters Christ.)
Acts 14:21-28 (Paul starts churches.)
Acts 28:11-14, 30-31 (Paul continues his ministry in Rome.)
What do these stories tell us about how God works through people and what God is capable of?
The Same Power (10 minutes)
Supplies: Bible, whiteboard or large sheet of paper, markers
God calls us to be participants in God's miraculous work and has blessed each of us with unique powers and abilities.
Divide a whiteboard or large sheet of paper into three columns. Brainstorm a list of fictional characters with superpowers. Write the character's name in the first column. In the second column write the character's power. In the third write the source of the character's power (for example, "bitten by a radioactive spider," "cosmic radiation," "belongs to an alien species," and so on). Then ask:
Of all the powers we listed, which would you most want to have? Why?
Look at the sources of these powers. Which source seems most realistic? Why?
Read aloud Ephesians 1:18-21. In these verses the apostle Paul discusses the source of our power.
What does Paul say in these verses about where our power comes from?
According to Paul, what is the most significant example of God's power?
Paul tells us that the power available to us is the same power that was at work in Christ and that raised Christ from the dead. Discuss:
What "powers" has God blessed you with?
On a whiteboard or large sheet of paper, make a list of the powers (gifts and talents) that members of your group possess. Then discuss:
How have you used these powers to do God's work? (In other words, how have you used these abilities in worship or to serve others.)
How can you use these powers to do God's work?
Closing (5 minutes)
Spend one minute reflecting on what you discussed and learned during this session. Then go around the room and have each person name one thing learned from this session.
As you prepare to close your session, make a commitment to reflect during the coming week on how God is calling you. Think about how (1) God asks you to use your gifts and abilities to serve God in others, (2) God has put you in a position to work with others as part of a community of faith, either through your church or through other groups that you are a part of, (3) God has put you and your faith community in a position to address needs in your community and throughout the world.
If you take this book with you, write your reflections in the space below. Otherwise keep track of your thoughts on scrap paper or on the "notes" application on your phone or other device. Be prepared to talk about your reflections during your next session.
Close in prayer:
Lord of miracles, thank you for this time we've had together today and for the opportunity to learn from Scripture and from one another. In the coming week, open our eyes, ears, and hearts to your Word so that we will be ready to answer your call and participate in your work. Amen.
Miracles Come with a Cost
Miracles demonstrate what God is capable of. The story of Jesus feeding thousands of people with only five loaves of bread and two fish shows that God can overcome a scarcity of resources. The story of the Israelites passing through the Red Sea on dry land demonstrates that God can control the forces of nature. And stories such as the raising of the widow's son (1 Kings 17), bringing Jairus's daughter back to life (Mark 5:21-43), and the raising of Lazarus (John 11) illustrate that God can overcome even death.
But miracles also tell us about God's priorities. They show us that God has an interest in hospitality and feeding those who are hungry, that God believes in freeing those who are oppressed, and that God's ultimate plan is to defeat death. In other words, miracles show us not only God's power but also God's character.
You've Got Work to Do, and Decisions to Make
Though God's miracles tell us a great deal about God, they aren't about God alone. God invites people to participate in the incredible things that God does. When God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land, God relied on human leaders and worked through those people to topple empires and establish freedom for God's people. When Jesus and his disciples were faced with a crowd of thousands that was getting hungry, Jesus told his disciples to give the people something to eat. Following Jesus' resurrection and ascension into heaven, the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus' disciples to spread the good news of Christ throughout the world, establishing a global movement that has endured for two thousand years.
Joining in God's miraculous work doesn't necessarily require special talents or qualifications, though we all have abilities and experiences that God calls on us to use. Rather, taking part in God's miracles requires that we listen and respond to God's call, that we share God's priorities, and that we be willing to make sacrifices. Early on in his ministry, Jesus sent out his disciples on a mission. He instructed them to travel light — to go without a bag or sandals or even any money. Later, when Jesus spoke to a rich young man who followed all the commandments and was eager to be a part of God's kingdom, Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. Jesus didn't necessarily have an issue with money or sandals or packing for a big journey. He did, however, want his followers to let go of anything that would stand between them and serving God.
Excerpted from "Made for a Miracle Youth Study Book"
Copyright © 2017 Abingdon Press.
Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. You Were Made for a Miracle,
2. Miracles Come with a Cost,
3. The Miracle of Love,
4. Activate the Power of Faith,
5. Activate the Power of Prayer,
6. Activate Health and Healing,