Our kids get a vitamin supplement. It’s not that Mom doesn’t try to provide well-balanced meals. It’s just a wee bit of insurance in case they missed something. (Finicky kids are prone to do that.) But we know a family that totally trusts in the vitamin tablet. Their kids might receive snacks; however, vitamins are “in” and meals are “out.” Come chow time, there is no food on the table, only a little chewable tablet.
This is the typical Christian family. The vitamin supplement (upon which most hopes are cast) is the Sunday School. And the missing meal?
The Shema describes it:
And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you rise (Deu. 6).
Now, much makes up that well-balanced meal but the meat and potatoes of it smells of Scripture. (Do your kids feast on it? Do you?) The missing meal could well provide the fix’ns for a family-time joint venture.
Before we consider putting the food on the table, we need to sit down with a checklist: 1) Sit in house, 2) Walk by way, 3) “brush your teeth,” 4)”up and at em!” Aside from those spontaneous moments when we speak of the things of God, where does the disciplined instruction of precepts fit? Or, what takes its place?
Take for example, 1) Leisure in the home. How much time is sacrificed to the demon Television [or computer/phone screen]? Can we set aside time here to slip in a wholesome meal?
For starters, tell you kids, “Recite the Ten Commandments.” If the staples are missing, health suffers no matter how many vitamins you take. Knowing basic Scriptures gives true vitality to life.
It is noteworthy how this knowledge surfaces in the black of night. In Loving God, Charles Colson tells of POWs who struggled to recall Scriptures in the midst of torture and deprivation. At great risk, in solitary cells, they shared verses with one another by Morse Code tapped out on stone. Though starving, they hungered for God’s word.
But we take it for granted. If we do not teach our children key verses during those “golden years of memory,” we have missed the tide. We need to sound the trumpet for a Back To Basics movement in the Christian home.
So, try this radical proposal: Stop memorizing verse numbers. Then, whenever we turn to find a verse, we must scan the chapter until we are familiar with it.
Scripture stood for more than a millennium without verse or chapter number. Then, in the 13th Century A.D., someone (Cardinal Hugo de St. Caro or the Archbishop of Canterbury) put in the chapter numbers. The New Testament verse divisions we use were jotted down en route to Lyons when Robert Estienne (Stephanus) left Paris astride of a horse—that in the 16th Century.
Tools like these numbers serve us well until they distract us. John 3:16 will always be shorthand for this beloved verse. But after that, few verses are readily recognized by the numbers. Romans 8:28, one of the few, would contend for second place among memorable verses: “And we know that all things work for good to those who love God…”
If we teach our children just “Romans 8,” they might notice that the context of “all things” is the “sufferings” of verse eighteen. (We might do so, also!) We have heard Christian adults reason that if all things work for good then why not go ahead with a divorce, thus ignoring both the primary context and the larger one, that, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14). But keeping commandments presupposes knowing them.
Dropping the verse number from our memory will not only point to the importance of context, it will eliminate that troublesome transposing of numbers–”Was that Luke 4:8 or 8:4?”
As we teach our children key Scriptures, they need us to take the time to read the whole passage, and to explain the setting. We had better prepare first or we will bore them to death. (If our children applied themselves as diligently to school lessons as we do to our study of Scripture, they would all flunk out.) But we also must distinguish between hard work (discipline; being a disciple/learner) and boredom. Some things, the important ones, require effort. Life is not TV pablum passively received by the kid who plops down in a plush chair.
Whole meals in the home provide the basic food groups. Our children need to know key Scriptures and to know them clearly and in context. Included should be the Beatitudes; verses about both the way of Salvation and about our duties as Christians; parts of the Shema, and the Ten Commandments, which, as Ted Koppel noted in a commencement address, “were not the Ten Suggestions, they are commandments. Are, not were.”
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament makes a striking comment on the Ten Commandments: “No one has to spend a lifetime in search of them.” (This being the result of a gift—God’s revelation to us.) We must ensure that our children know them rather than search for them. Society’s immoral mess suggests that, in some respects, this generation seeks for these. Rebellion has progressed to ignorance. “My people perish for lack of knowledge” was on the lips of both Isaiah and Hosea. Filling the void, the erotic and exotic religions of today reap the darkness which they have sown: STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), suicides, and senselessness.
In contrast, Christ’s light (his people, his church) shines in the darkness. How brightly it shines depends on willing vessels. Christ “puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore…lest he come suddenly and find you asleep” (Mark 13).
A dying world needs us to display God’s word. Our first step is to learn it well. And few children in Christian homes know it well.
‘Reverence for God’s word stands out in those times marked by the bright light of Christ. In his sermons on the Catechism, Martin Luther pointed to the Ten Commandments and told fathers, “Exhort your households to learn them word for word, that they should obey God…For if you teach and urge your families, things will go forward.”
(Duet. 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Num. 15:37-41)
Shema comes from the first word, “Hear” which would be understood as “hear and do,” as in Jesus’ teaching that the wise man who builds upon the rock is the one who hears Jesus’ words and does them.
￼Birgir Gerhardsson notes that, like the Jews of that day, Jesus and his disciples likely began and ended each day with the Shema. Try that for just one month if you dare.
No Scripture more clearly spells out our primary duty toward our children and toward God.
The Ten Commandments
Here is an easy way to begin for young children (and for adults!).
The Ten Commandments in Verse
Above all else love God alone;
Bow down to neither wood nor stone.
God’s name refuse to take in vain;
The Sabbath rest with care maintain.
Respect your parents all your days;
Hold sacred human life always.
Be loyal to your chosen mate;
Steal nothing neither small nor great.
Report, with truth, your neighbor’s deed;
And rid your mind of selfish greed.
These became an integral part of our culture by appearing in verse form in one of McGuffey’s famous Readers. –D. Elton Trueblood