I tried to act casual as I slid the Bible across the kitchen counter to my son while he shoveled cereal into his mouth. Oblivious, he continued to stare at the tiny screen on his phone as he ate in silence. I waited for him to notice me, but he was totally transfixed by the game he was playing. Finally, I realized my subtle approach wasn’t going to work. When I couldn’t stand his unresponsiveness any longer, I cleared my throat and tried starting a conversation. “So buddy, how’s it going with reading the Bible every day?”
“Huh?” he answered, looking up with a Cheerio dangling from his lip
“Remember, one of our family goals this year is to read the Bible every day?” I answered, trying to sound lighthearted.
Without saying a word, he reached for the Bible, thumbed to a section in the New Testament, read silently, closed it with a thump and slid it back across the counter toward me. I had no idea what he read. Not wanting to push my luck, I held back from asking him to discuss the deep spiritual truths he’d just encountered. I had to trust that reading the words was at least a good start.
This breakfast “conversation” was prompted by a plan my husband and I implemented several years ago to set goals with our boys at the beginning of each new school year. Besides daily Bible reading, we established goals for household responsibilities, athletics, academics, relationships and spiritual growth. Ideally, they are supposed to prompt our boys to make important things a priority when lesser things vie for their time—which is why Bible reading and taking initiative are on the list, but playing video games isn’t.
On paper, the goals seem attainable, in reality, they are difficult to accomplish consistently. Still, having these goals lays a foundation and helps us to hold each other accountable when we veer off course. They help to set our family’s rhythm as we move through the seasons. Essentially, they are our way of saying “This is how our family is going to roll for the next year.”
Jesus does a similar thing for us through His teaching in the gospel of Matthew, chapters five through seven, usually known as The Sermon on the Mount. The sermon takes place early in Jesus’ ministry as people were beginning to follow Him so they could hear His compelling teaching. The opening lines of the chapter tell us that Jesus saw the crowds, went up on the mountain and sat down. His disciples came to Him and He started to teach them as a loving older brother explaining, “This is how we roll in the kingdom of heaven.” (Not an exact quote, obviously). His purpose was to teach them how to be part of His Father’s family, the royal family. Our purpose for studying His words is the same.
Learning how to be part of God’s family is a lifelong pursuit. It requires commitment and focus. And if you’ve read the text of Jesus’ sermon before, you know that much of the teaching isn’t easy to swallow. There are portions that will make you squirm, other parts that will convict you and others that might seem impossible to attain. Don’t let that stop you from pressing forward. Just like my family’s goals, we aren’t always going to be successful in following what He lays out in the sermon. He knows we aren’t perfect, but He’s there to guide us as we learn from Him. It’s not about trying harder, but about letting God teach us how to be part of His family. It’s about learning the rhythm of His grace and then getting in sync with it.*
For those who have accepted Jesus, we are eternally part of God’s royal family. We are already welcomed, loved and approved by Him because of Jesus. The teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is not intended to weigh us down with rules but to teach us how to mimic our Father in heaven. Every family has a way of operating, Jesus is teaching us how to do that in His family.*
Jesus ends the sermon explaining why listening to His words and putting them into practice is vital: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25, ESV) Keep that in mind so you can persevere even if the going gets tough during this study.
I am excited to climb up on the mountainside with you and to sit at the feet of Jesus as we learn from Jen Wilkin’s study Sermon on the Mount. Whether you are part of CPC’s Focused Living Bible study or reading this somewhere else on your own, I hope you’ll be inspired, encouraged and challenged by what you find here each week.
My prayer for us as we begin this study is from Third Day’s song “Your Words.” Click on the link below to enjoy the song and make it your prayer too.
*Ideas in these paragraphs were inspired by Bronwyn Lea’s teaching at CPC’s Focused Living on 9/10/15. To view her talk, click on the link:
Jen Wilkin, Sermon on the Mount, Lifeway, 2015.