One morning I came down to breakfast as he was writing that day’s note, and he asked me if I could tell him the reference for the New Testament verse that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I couldn’t, but I had my trusty iPad under my arm and would be happy to search for it in my Bible concordance. Now, the tricky thing about a Bible concordance is that if you know a verse in one translation, searching for it in a concordance that references a different translation can be a little frustrating and time-consuming. But after about 10 minutes of searching while eating my breakfast, I found it: Philippians 4:13.
A few minutes after passing out the lunches with the notes, one of the boys walked through the kitchen, pulled out the note, saw the reference, turned back around to the adult leader and said - “Hey! I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Great verse! Thanks!”
We both looked at each other and laughed. How was it possible that it took an adult with a degree from a Bible college and his pastor AND an iPad ten minutes to figure out something that this child knew instantaneously. Of course, I knew how. This child grumps about it all the time: he and his parents read the Bible at home together every day.
I will admit that I am not big on Bible memorization, mainly because I am a poor memorizer; but there is absolutely something to be said for reading the Bible frequently enough that things start to stick and become part of our psyche. I am also not very big on proof-texting, the practice of citing individual verses to prove a point without regard for the surrounding context or the message of scripture as a whole. But there is also something to be said for having small pieces of scripture that one can draw upon when a Bible (or an iPad) is not at hand.
Such is the case for the following five verses from the Gospels, which are a part of my list of the 100 things your child should know before they start Confirmation Class.
In them, while not exhaustive of the entire teaching of Jesus or the message of the Gospel, are provided the foundation of the message of Jesus Christ and a summary of the Christian faith. As I move through each one briefly I will explain the importance of bringing a knowledge of this “saying” to class, and how it might be expanded on in the Confirmation context.
56. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-11)
3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Almost all of these are going to be sayings that I never remember being taught…not in the sense that I never learned them, but in that they have been part of my understanding of scripture for as long as I can remember. In the Beatitudes we have a summary of the upside-down-ness of the kingdom of God - that those whom the world calls blessed or fortunate are different from those whom God blesses and to whom God gives preference. The beauty of this particular saying, which comes from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, is the poetry of it. There is no reason why this couldn’t be included in a child’s/family’s prayers at the table or at bedtime. The rhythm of it and the simplicity of it make it an ideal passage to recite with children.
When a student comes to class already familiar with this passage, we can spend time together looking beyond the poetry and the rhythm to explore the radicalness of Jesus’ teachings. What would the world look like if we also blessed and honored these types of people? What does it mean that the world’s preferences and God’s preferences are different? Why would God want us to be persecuted? Do you think you would ever be persecuted for your faith? Do you see yourself in this list? In our modern world, who are some of the people that this list includes?
57. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44)
The next four in this list deal with love and the way that Jesus described our call to love others. This first one might be the trickiest and the most difficult: the call to love our enemies. I think it is important as we teach children about the life of Jesus and the message of the Gospel that we emphasize Jesus’ love not just for the unfortunate and the outcast, but also for his enemies. That even unto death Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as having no animosity for those who would kill him. In a world where so many people are defined by who they call enemy, this is an essential tenet of the teachings of Christ.
In Confirmation class we can talk more deeply about the events of Holy Week and why is seems like Jesus is unwilling to fight back or to become embittered by his circumstances. Who are our personal enemies? Why do we identify them that way? How can we love those who intentionally hurt us? What if the world operated in this way? What would be missing in the world - war, political divisions, brokenness in families?
58. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matthew 7: 12)
I believe that most parents, even outside of a Christian context, teach their children the Golden Rule. It is just basic human decency. Don’t do something to someone else that you wouldn’t want to have done to you. Simple, and yet we all struggle with this every day. I am not a big fan of W.W.J.D. bracelets. They are often interpreted merely as a reminder to act with mercy and generosity and kindness. But sometimes Jesus did some pretty crazy things, some pretty dangerous things, and through his speech and actions he made a lot of people both angry and uncomfortable. I am pretty sure most parents do not give their children these bracelets in order to encourage them to start a revolution.
Instead, why not just give your child a bracelet inscribed with the Golden Rule? That is how I hope my own child will act every day - I will teach him to start a revolution when he is old enough to drive.
In Confirmation Class we can talk about the simplicity of the Golden Rule and the struggle to keep it. Why do we treat others badly, whether through gossip or lying, exclusion or even mean-spiritedness, when we would never want to be treated that way? Could you go a whole day only treating others as you would want to be treated? When is this easy and when is this harder? We might even look together at the other world religions and their very similar ethics of reciprocity.
59. “Love the Lord your God… and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
This law of love that Jesus quotes immediately before telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan is a reference to the Old Testament law often called the Shema -
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:4-7
Jesus adds to the Shema a summary of the rest of the law: that we are called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In putting these two commandments of love together, Jesus connects our willingness to love God and to follow God’s law - that by following the law and loving our neighbors we are also showing our love for God. They cannot be separated.Clearly the writer of the Gospel of Matthew had the mind of a child in mind when he put this chapter of the gospel together, because this commandment begs for a definition of neighbor. There was no better to way to answer it then or now than through the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
When a student comes to class already knowing this commandment to love God and neighbor we can spend time unpacking the deeper meaning of a neighbor. How do you treat your actual neighbors in your neighborhood? What does it mean to be a good neighbor? Can someone be a neighbor across geographic boundaries? How does loving other people around us show our love for God? What do you think God expects from us as far as how we treat other people, especially people who are not like us?
60. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only beloved son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
I actually went around and around before I included this verse in my list. In the end, I decided that since it was probably the only scripture reference a child/teenager might ever see on national television, it would probably be a good idea for them to know what it is referring to. Some folks believe that this verse sums up the entirety of the Gospel message, which is what makes it ideal for televised sports evangelism. It is pretty basic and is a good summary of the atonement - the theological understanding of salvation gained through the death of Jesus Christ. The key with a verse like this is not to think that this verse exhausts the complexities and fullness of Jesus’ life and death.
In Confirmation class we can dig deeper into the idea that Jesus died on our behalf and for our salvation. Most likely this is a concept that almost all students will come to class with, but together we can explore the strangeness of that and the act of love that it was. Is there something in your life that you would die for? Someone in your life you would die for? How can we honor the death of Jesus without glorifying his suffering and the violence of Good Friday? If Jesus died to give us eternal life, what does that mean for us today - do those who die in the faith immediately go to heaven? How does what Jesus taught during his life relate to the meaning of his death? What if my faith waivers? What if I sometimes struggle to believe? Does that mean that I am not saved? What does it mean that God loves the world - not just particular people?
What sayings of Jesus have you chosen to emphasize with your children? What seems missing from this list? What ways have you found to teach your children the essense of the teachings of Jesus?