Of all the books our children will read in their lifetimes, none will prove more valuable than the Bible. But the Bible has been exiled from far too many Christian homes.
I love to read. Always have and probably always will. When I was in the third grade my older brother, Jud, introduced me to the book My Side of the Mountain. It chronicled the life of a boy who ran away from home and lived in a hollowed-out tree in the Catskill Mountains of New York. At the age of 9, I did not possess the cognitive capacity to differentiate between fiction and nonfiction, so the Prairie Meadows neighborhood in central Missouri became “my side of the mountain.” To me, Sam Gribley, the main character of the story, was real and I wanted my life to mirror his.
I couldn’t wait to get off the school bus each day! I ran inside long enough to say “hi” to my mom and put on my camouflage pants. Then I would disappear into the woods and fields with my buddies Jessie, Clint, and Tim. Armed with nothing but unbridled imagination, we were determined to live off the land. We built forts and dug holes to store our supply of spears and arrows and dirt-clod grenades, because back then you never knew when the Russians might attack! Or an even more forbidding foe . . . girls!
We were vigilant! And we ate berries and filled our canteens with water from Gans Creek, both of which led to numerous battles with Montezuma’s revenge! But we didn’t let that stop us. We had a hero to imitate! We had a story to live out! And if you were to visit the library at Rock Bridge Elementary School today, you would discover My Side of the Mountain was the only book I ever checked out over a two-year period.
My parents used a Bible to teach me how to read. Each night after feeding us bread to satisfy a physical hunger, my parents would feed us the Bread of Life to satisfy a spiritual hunger. I remember my mom pointing to words on the page and helping me pronounce them. I was the only kid in my kindergarten class to yell out “Mephibosheth” when my teacher held up a flashcard with “M” on it! And each morning before we boarded the bus, my dad would read us a Psalm and a chapter from Proverbs to prepare our hearts and minds for the secular influences that prowled around the hallways of school and threatened the vitality of our young faith.
More alarming than the ACLU’s desire to ban the Bible from every square inch of public space in this nation, is that the Bible has been exiled from most Christian homes. Like Ezra of old, we need to take it from the shelf, dust it off, and open it up. As Richard Ranesan once said, “The idea is not to get the word out, but to let the Word out!”
Parents, our children need to see us reading the Bible! Parents, our children need to hear us reading the Bible! I am convinced discipleship can be summed up in a word: exposure. Expose your children to God by reading the Word of God. Of all the books in the library our children will be exposed to and assigned to read in their lifetimes, none will prove more valuable than the Bible. My prayer is your children will read it over and over again, and in that reading may they desire to imitate its main character and live out his story in their lives.
Memorize the Bible
I loved facts when I was a kid. I had an insatiable appetite for useless trivia, thus my love affair with The Guinness Book of World Records. I didn’t just read that book, I memorized it! The tallest man, the biggest rubber band ball, the longest fingernail, the heaviest squid—you name it, I could tell you everything you ever wanted to know about it! On trips to my grandma’s house in Kansas, my poor siblings were subjected to hours of, “Hey, did you know that a man once did 1,940 push ups in an hour?”
And my older brothers were like, “Hey, did you know that no one your size has ever been thrown from a moving station wagon and lived to tell about it?”
My parents gave me money when I memorized Scripture. I remember memorizing the book of James—not just the sense of accomplishment that was mine for doing it, but also the feel of a $50 bill in my hand! I made $6 a yard in my lawn-mowing business, so the coffee tin that held my hard-earned money had never been graced by the presence of Ulysses S. Grant!
I moved from James to Philippians, and from Philippians to Ephesians. Unfortunately for me, there wasn’t a Financial Peace class being offered for fifth-graders at my home church, so I spent most of my hard-earned money on Jolly Ranchers and Big League Chew bubble gum! Where was Dave Ramsey when I needed him!
In the second grade our Sunday school teacher, Miss Helen, challenged our class to memorize Hebrews 11, and we did. She bought each of us a big bag of M&M’s! In the fourth grade I went to church camp and my dorm dad, a preacher named Glen Mitchell, challenged our cabin to memorize 1 Corinthians 13, and we did. He bought each of us a Coke! In middle school, our youth minister, Mark Sutherlin, challenged us to memorize the Sermon on the Mount, and we did. He took us to a water park!
Here’s my point: a little incentive will make a big difference in the spiritual development of a child. I have a nephew whose entire college education is paid for because he has memorized the majority of the New Testament.
Moses challenged the parents of Israel with this timeless counsel,
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
Parents, did you catch the verbs in that passage? Impress. Talk. Tie. Bind. Write.
When it comes to the Bible, children won’t memorize it until parents post it. Write verses on a 3-by-5-inch card in a picture frame on your dining room table. Write verses on bathroom mirrors using an erasable marker. Post verses in your car, on the refrigerator, and on the walls of your home. Smuggle them in lunch boxes and hide them in coat pockets.
We gave students at Southland a sticker to put in their shoes that had “6:8” printed on it to remind them of Micah 6:8: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Before they put on their shoes and take a step, they’re reminded of God, who wants them to walk with him and who, in turn, wants to walk with them.
Robert Coleman has been a member of our church for the past two years. He is best known for his 50-year friendship with Billy Graham and for his book Master Plan of Evangelism, which has sold more than 7 million copies. He has taught in more countries than I can remember and in some of the world’s best institutions of higher learning.
He recently told me he grew up on a farm in western Texas and that the best thing his parents ever did for him was encourage him to memorize the Word of God. When I asked him what he is memorizing these days, he smiled and said, “Revelation,” specifically the hymns and throne room scenes. When I asked him why, his smile grew wider and he said, “I want to be prepared.”
That’s what I want for my children, too. I want them to be prepared to worship God—in this life and the next to come.
Share the Bible
When I was 14, my mom handed me a copy of Shadow of the Almighty, a biography that captured one young man’s passion for God and his tireless efforts at sharing the love of Jesus with people who had never heard such good news. Over the course of my teenage years, my formative years, my parents kept feeding me stories about real people who lived with real faith. People like Hudson Taylor, George Mueller, and Isabelle Dittemore, to name a few.
None of the books replaced the real-life stories of the people who dominate the spiritual landscape of the Scriptures, but they did provide a healthy supplement that helped me see it really is possible to follow Jesus! And following Jesus is the most exciting way to live!
But far better than any book my parents put in my hands was the story they lived out in front of me and with me. As author Anne Lamott put it, “A human life is like a single letter of the alphabet. It can be meaningless or it can be a part of the great meaning.” I was exposed to the “great meaning” at an early age because my parents didn’t just read and memorize the Bible, they lived it out—they shared it with others!
I was 4 years old when a Vietnamese family of eight moved in with our family of six. They were refugees from the war and they were the first of several families that took refuge with us over the next 15 years. I remember my parents picking up hitchhikers, and I remember sitting next to these complete strangers as my dad drove very slow, allowing himself enough time to share the love of Jesus with our newfound friend. I remember serving in the inner city and going on mission trips with my parents. I remember my parents opening up our home to homeless people, confused people, hurting people, and I remember my parents staying up late at night with them, crying with them, praying with them, giving money to them. I remember watching my parents serve in the prisons and in the nursing homes and hospitals. And I remember my parents living a simple life marked by joy, whether in the bleachers at ballgames, or while mowing the yard, or while interacting with waitresses in restaurants.
Any opportunity my parents had to serve others, they said “yes” and took my siblings and me along so we could learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I learned early on the Bible isn’t something we keep to ourselves but, rather, something we share with others. And Paul reminds us of this when he writes, “Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it—not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives—and we publish it” (2 Corinthians 3:2, The Message).
So parents, let your children see you picking up a basin of water and a towel and invite them to participate alongside of you. When you serve Communion, let them walk beside you. When you paint a house for a widow or babysit for a single mom, share the responsibility with your kids. When you grow a garden intending to feed the hungry in your community, let your children plant the seeds and pick the food off the vine. When you give to the next building campaign at your church, challenge your children to give a portion of their allowance each week. Whatever you do for the addict, the exotic dancer, the mentally/physically challenged, the orphan, the sick, and the dying, make it a point to invite your children into the great meaning, the narrative, the story that God has been writing since the beginning of time.
In the movie Dead Poet’s Society, Mr. Keating, the exuberant and inspiring literature teacher, is asked by one of his impressionable students, “Why do you read?” Keating’s curious response: “I read to know I am not alone.”
I love to read the Bible. Always have, and probably always will. And no matter how many times I read it, memorize it, or share it, I’m always reminded I am not alone. My life is better because of that reality.
Jon Weece ministers with Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky.