Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount? Just flipped open your Bible to Matthew 5-7 and read it start to finish in one sitting? Did you walk away from that sermon feeling overwhelmed, maybe scared, or confused? I know the first time I read it, I thought it was hard.
I wonder what it would have been like for the original audience. As people coming at this sermon so far in the future, and knowing the end of the story, I think it's hard to place ourselves in the crowd, what they would have taken from Jesus' sermon, what they would have thought about what he had to say. But even with the perspective we have now, I think it's still a hard sermon to just read once and understand fully.
In this sermon, Jesus makes statements such as;
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (5:17-20)
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (6:34)
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (7:7)
These verses, taken out of context, and given a quick read, may leave you confused, intimidated, or even scared, which is why context is always important when we're reading scripture. I like to tell our students that we are 2000 years too late to this conversation to glaze over it once and fully grasp it. The Bible requires, and deserves, more attention than that.
Well, a lot of this makes a whole lot more sense if we go back to the beginning. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus' first big public sermon. He has only called four of his twelve disciples by this time, and he's sitting them down to teach them about the kingdom of heaven. His first comment about it? Matthew 5:3 records it like this, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Or, as the NLT translates it, “Blessed are those who realize their need for him...”.
Right off the bat, Jesus says, Look, the kingdom is not for people who boast in themselves. The kingdom is for those who realize they need him, that they can't do this on their own.
We come before God, spiritually impoverished. We have nothing to offer and we come before Him as beggars in need of grace. When we view Jesus' sermon through this lens, it brings a lot of light to what he's saying. And for the past eight weeks in Student Ministries, we've been looking at Jesus' first big public sermon through this lens. It's an important lesson, because when we come across a teaching by Jesus, and we find it difficult, or maybe even impossible to understand, it's because we're trying to do it on our own strength, when Jesus has called us, from the very beginning of His ministry, to rely on him, and not ourselves.
I hope this encourages you this week, church.
Mike Sanders, Director of Student Ministries
There's something about a good shock that invigorates us. It perks us up and brings us focus. I had an Old Testament teacher in Bible College who was very kind, and very knowledgeable. He wasn't one to raise his voice, unless pronouncing how he thought YHWH, the Hebrew name for God, should be pronounced. But once when class hadn't officially started and people were still milling around and talking, this teacher raised his voice and bellowed in a frustrated tone, “WHAT, ARE YOUR EARS PAINTED ON?”
The class went from calm conversation to utter silence.
We stopped what we were doing, frantically found our seats, and did our best to be quiet for fear of more yelling. But after a moment, the teacher burst into laughter and the class quickly followed suit as we realized he was joking. What followed was a really engaging class. There's just something about a good shock that perks you up.
This past weekend, our Junior Highs went to BEDLAM where they had the opportunity to rock-climb and skateboard, spend time with kids their age from all over Ontario, listen to an awesome worship band and be taught the Word – all in a setting that is geared to their own age.
Our speaker spent the weekend on the story of creation. How and why we were created, and what humanity did with that creation. On Saturday night he brought out a baseball bat and mirror. First he talked about how God had created us in His image, how we were created to be a reflection of him. But because of our sinful actions we had broken that creation – we had broken that reflection. And it was at this point that he swung the bat into the mirror and shattered it to pieces.
Every little conversation was silenced.
Those who hadn’t been listening, or who had fallen asleep, instantly perked up. Something big, loud, and messy had just happened on stage, and suddenly everyone's attention was focused on the stage. And then our speaker used the shocked silence to share the Gospel.
Whenever I see Gospel presentations with this kind of wow factor, I think about the scene after Jesus’ crucifixion, when He appears appears to the disciples alive and well.
The Gospel of Luke puts it like this,
Luke 24: 36-37
...Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost!
I can just imagine the silence that overtook that room when Jesus appeared. The teacher they watched die, whom they buried on Friday, the one they were mourning, suddenly standing before them. For anyone doubting who Jesus was, this must have been an instant eye opener, an instant realization.
Can you imagine the response of those disciples? How energizing that must have been? How that must have shaped their lives, their ministry, and their resolve going forward? Is it any wonder that all of these Apostles maintained their belief in Jesus, even when 12 of the 13 (including Paul) were murdered for it? They had seen the risen Christ! The initial shock of Jesus’ return had silenced all their doubt, their wavering, their fear. Instead, they listened, they learned, and they got to work. And the Gospel needs to do the same to us.
What, are our ears painted on?
Mike Sanders, Director of Youth
I'm a big story kind of person. Not necessarily the small details, but the overall larger story.
One of the things you often hear when working in youth ministry, is the question “Where does God fit in to my life?” … or perhaps “Where does God fit in to my story?”. Well, this fall our Students are working through a lesson series from Compassion Canada that tries to shift that focus. Shift it away from ourselves, and instead on to how we get involved in God's story. But do you ask that question of yourself? Where does God fit in to your life, your story?
In my early days as a believer, I had a very me-centred focus on God and what it was to be a Christian. I thought it was all about what I had to gain, about how God fit in to my overall story arc. And as I mentioned, I'm a big story kind of guy, I like to look at how the thing unfolds. So, in my late teens, God was just becoming the supporting character in MY story arc. But it wasn't until a few helpful and loving people stepped in, to show me the error in that logic, that I began to see that I was, in fact, NOT the main character.
I think too often we view God in that lens, from our perspective, from our story line. We're the main characters in the story of our lives. Everyone else is a secondary or supporting character. But is that really how it is? When you read the Bible, who's the main character? Is it the people interacting with God? or is God the main character, and all the people in the Bible are the supporting cast? I'd argue that it's the latter, that we are the supporting characters in the far greater story of God. We are the characters who are part of the cast, some of us have speaking roles, some of us nod, shake our heads, or otherwise react to what's happening in the scene in front of us. We each have a role to play in this story of life, but ultimately this is a story of God. Of His almighty sovereignty, His everlasting grace, His big beautiful plan for redemption. And because of that, we don't need to ask where God fits in to our story, but rather where we fit in to God's story.
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
Secondary characters don't pull stunts like this. This is the work of one really big main character whose story is bigger and better than anything this world could come up with. And I'd like to know more about how I can get involved in His story.
Mike Sanders, Youth Director
This past weekend our Student Ministry leaders attended the annual Youth Summit in Cambridge, a training weekend hosted by FEB Youth. Together with churches from around our Region, we heard five different speakers training and encouraging youth leaders to stay the course and persevere even when if we feel like giving up.
Our Saturday afternoon speaker was Sid Koop. And Sid's encouragement to us was to pursue intimacy with the Father as a way of remaining steadfast and finishing well. Not only is this valuable in Student Ministry, there's also something to be gleaned for the church as a whole. Each of us has our own ministry field – our place of business, family, friends – and this concept of finishing well by pursuing intimacy with the Father applies to all.
We looked at the well-known Psalm 139. In the first 12 verses, we see David wrestling with a God who knows everything about him, a God who has gone before him, has searched him, who knows the words he will speak before he even speaks them. In verse 6 we see David saying “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” And this was our turning point. In the original language, this verse is really saying that “This is overwhelming.” David is unpacking the sheer presence of God in his life. God has gotten into everything, God IS in everything...and David is saying, “Where will I go that you are not?”
As 21st century people, we can certainly relate to David's feelings. We live in a world of self-security, self-preservation, and self-promotion. But God doesn't see any of those things. He doesn't see the brave faces we put on, or the filtered image of ourselves that we post to Instagram.
God breaks through that facade to see our innermost being. And that can be overwhelming to us. We like to be in control, we like to dictate our future. What if God doesn't like what he sees, or He comes in and wants to change something? But we need to remember that God doesn't see our facade, God sees us, the true us. And what's more? He sticks around. Despite our flaws, despite our sin, despite the ways we fail Him...He's. Still. Here.
When David realizes this, it blows his mind. And his response is to then press in to God. Verses 23 and 24 say “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” David finishes his Psalm by requesting that God get to know him even better. To search him for any grievous ways and lead him toward the everlasting. David is pressing in to God. He's amazed at how God has stuck around, and so David's response is to ask God to come even closer.
When you read through Psalm 139, you'll see how that comes full circle for David. You'll see how he realizes, that God knows everything about him, knows his thoughts and his actions, YET, God sticks with him. David cannot go anywhere that he'd be away from God. God stuck around for David, and he'll stick around for you. And our response should be to press into God. We need to pursue that intimacy with Him. When we do that, we'll see the difference He can make, so that we can finish well.
Mike Sanders, Director of Student Ministries
Love, Love, Love, and... Love
When you read those four “loves”, were you aware of what type of love I meant? Do you get the sense that I meant different things with each subsequent “love”? Did you think you were about to read the lyrics to a Beatles song? Or, are you a scholar, and immediately realized that I'm about to start talking about the four Greek words for love? If so, pat yourself on the back!
Chances are, if you grew up in the church or went to youth group, you've likely done a study, probably around Valentine's Day, on the four Greek words for love. It's an easy series you can run with youth during February to get students into the Bible and understanding the different ways we are called to love each other and God. Our students are going to get that chance this February, as each week we're going to look at one word to see how it is used in the Bible, and how each one teaches us about how we are called to love.
As I was working on this series for the students, I was reminded of just how important it is to study the Bible. This document that we all hold dear. That we proclaim speaks truth into our lives. We need to be reading it, regularly, and we need to study it. We live in a culture that doesn't teach the Bible in school, and many don't at home. Our exposure now is through Church, Sunday School, or, for those that don't attend a church, the vast ways it's misused and misinterpreted in our various medias. The book itself is relatively easy to read, and we can glean profound insights. But to truly understand the meaning of what's written requires patient contemplation, study, and prayer.
The English language is often more concise than some other languages, but it can also be too concise. And we see it in the example of love. In ancient Greek there are four words for love: Philia, Storge, Eros, and Agape. Each word carries with it a sense of love, but tied to a specific direction, or expression of the love we feel for others. English has streamlined this down to one word. But it's too simple. I love my wife, I love my son, I love having a car, I love living in Canada, I love worshiping in church, and not least of all, I love Jesus Christ. Certainly all the things that I “love” don't reflect the exact same idea, right? Of course not. As 21st century people we understand what kind of love I mean with each thing, based on what it is. But we certainly don't have that understanding when it comes to 1st century scripture authors. THAT's why knowing which ancient Greek word they used can help us better understand the type of love they are talking about in each instance. Does this mean we need to carry around a Greek New Testament and a Greek Lexicon, and all take Ancient Greek for the next four years? No, although it may give us a deeper appreciation for the text we all know and love...
My challenge for you all, with a possible prize...
Read Romans 5:8, then do some studying and figure out which “love” word is being used here. Once you have that, look up that Greek word to discover its meaning. Then email me and let me know what you found!
Mike Sanders, Director of Student Ministries
I want to be candid with all of you and say this: I love our Junior Highs. We just got back from an awesome weekend with our Juniors up at Bedlam, and I want to let you know that your prayers were certainly felt. I got to witness the fruits of your faithfulness to pray. Our trips to and from Muskoka Woods were safe and fun, nobody got sick, and everyone survived. Plus, I got to see our Juniors serve each other, make connections with other kids in similar ministries, and truly consider what it means to follow Jesus. I even witnessed one of our students going out of their way to help another student feel wanted and involved. It was amazing. I was encouraged seeing these same things from all the other kids up there; hearts seeking truth, with a willingness to learn and serve together.
The focus on the weekend was On The Move. Which, if you've ever seen a Junior High, you know that describes them perfectly. We were asked to move toward Jesus with actions. To lean in, to stand up in community, to move towards transformation, and to make the jump. We looked at the life of Paul when he was encountered by Jesus on the road to Damascus, and talked about how the circumstances with which Paul was transformed may be miraculous, but the transformation in his heart is the same for us as it was for him. We were invited to leave our 'garbage' at the foot of the cross as an act of our willingness to be transformed by Christ. But we were also open to not leave it at the cross, and encouraged to discuss that with someone we trusted. If you get a chance, ask our Junior Highs about the garbage they were invited to leave at the cross, and encourage them in their pursuit of God's mercy.
It is my hope and prayer that this message got through to our kids, and I would ask that you continue to pray for our Junior Highs as they continue their journey towards the truth of Christ.
In Student Ministries, we endeavour to change the lives of the students in our program. When I was a youth, and even a young adult, I often found that my best learning came from either hands-on experience, or from object lessons. There's something to be said about having something tangible that you interact with to help you recall information later in life.
I think of the experiment with beaker of water, a Jesus beaker (water mixed with bleach or ascorbic acid), and a sin beaker (filled with iodine). The demonstration is that you pour the sin beaker into the beaker of water, and it makes it all dark and cloudy. But you pour in the Jesus beaker and it gets clear. But then, to demonstrate the cleansing power of Jesus they pour the more of the sin beaker into the Jesus beaker, and it just stays clear. It's a demonstration of the saving power of Christ and His ability to cleanse beyond what we think is possible (click here for a video).
I like to use object lessons in my teaching, because of their lasting power. With our big fall kick-off, we got one of our youth to stand in the middle of a circle blindfolded, and then had the students, one at a time, clap their hands quietly around them. The person with the blindfold had to point to where the clap came from. Simple enough, until we packed the pinna of their ears with play-doh. And that caused the blindfolded person to point forwards, when the clap came between their legs, they had lost their ability to discern the vertical direction of the clapping. We then related that back to our ability to hear God's call, or to understand his will. When we are in tune with God, and using our ears as intended, we can see where he's calling us, we can hear his voice better. But when we pack our ears with things of this world, we lose our ability to discern the direction of his voice, and his will. How do we do that? We started with a focus on our love for God. To love the LORD our God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul, and with all our strength. If you can get your love of God in tune, it will be easier to hear his call.
Mike Sanders, Youth Ministries
In my experience I've found that you don't always get to see the things the people do for others. Whether it's something large, or something small, you know it's happening, but you don't always know the who or how. Well, last week I got to witness, first hand, that kind of background service. I had the privilege of assisting our youth with their roles in Forest Cliff Camp.
I watched our "Actors" set up the various activities each morning; they got covered in colourful dyes when they ran tie-dye and they got wet on the water days; they put elbow and knee pads on the campers for skateboarding and they reloaded Nerf guns relentlessly; they helped out campers who were struggling with laser tag and they climbed Spider Mountain to encourage the kids to get to the top; they stood guard on Gearbox to make sure everyone was safe, and after all of that, I saw them tear down each activity at the end of the long, hot, days.
I saw them cheer and clap the kids into camp every day. I saw them stand out in the heat of the sun to make sure everyone was having a good and safe time. I saw them having fun with the campers whenever they got the chance. And I saw them dancing along to the songs in the morning session.
I saw service
The kind of service that Christ has called us all to: without grumbling, without petition, without a selfish thought, they served. They served the campers, they served the counselors, and they served Jesus.
Watching the students' willingness to work warmed my heart, and encouraged me to continue to serve them. If you see one of our actors, make sure to thank them for their willingness to serve the Lord at Forest Cliff Camp, and encourage them to continue the good work they are doing.
Mike Sanders, Director of Youth
Each week we post about a range of things from the Christian life, faith and more.
In these posts we hope you'll catch a glimpse of ordinary people who serve an extraordinary God.