While waiting for some Indian friends to prepare a wonderful curry, I chatted with their eight-year old daughter. I discovered that although she goes to Sunday School, she had never been asked to learn a Bible verse. Somewhat rashly I asked, ‘Would you like me to send you some Bible verses for you to learn?’ I agreed that I would send her a Bible verse for a period of twelve weeks if she promised to learn the verses.
The next day I sat down to work out the verses she might learn. I did not find this easy, for many of the verses which came to mind are difficult for children to understand. What is more, I realised that it was not enough just to send a verse – I needed to send an explanatory ‘commentary’ on the verse for the week. I then decided that if I was going to all this effort, it would make sense to include seven grandchildren in the mailing, as well as other children too.
What has this exercise achieved? I know that some of the children have learnt a verse every week – but I am certain that not all have done so. Probably not every one of my ‘commentaries’ has hit the mark for every child. Yet hopefully all the children will have been helped to understand a little more of God’s love for them.
Here my list of verses (taken from the NRSV) – together with some of the accompanying commentary:
- John 3.16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”. This reminds me of my grandparents. Above the door that led to my grandfather’s library, these words were inscribed in bold black letters within a big black picture frame. My grandfather was a preacher – and I guess that this may have been his favourite text. Was this why he had these words framed? Or was this a way of my grandparents telling their many friends that Jesus was special to them? I don’t know – I wish now I had asked.
- Psalm 23,1: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. The Psalmist doesn’t say, “The Lord is our shepherd, we have everything we need” (GNB), but “The Lord is MY shepherd, I have everything I need”. When we are in trouble at school or wherever, we can turn to God and find the help we need –yes, in trouble dial ‘Mine, mine, mine’!
- Psalm 121.2 “My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth”. This is a psalm for travellers. Some people think that God is only for the weak – but just as it would be stupid to try to climb Everest without a rope and a pick-axe, it makes no sense to travel through life without God’s help.
- Matt 7.12: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you”. Or “here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behaviour: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them”. So, if you enjoy being loved, love others; if you like to receive things, give to others! This text is known as ‘the golden rule’ because a Roman emperor, Alexander Severus, was so impressed by Jesus’ words that he had them painted in gold on his bedroom wall.
- Matt 28.20: “Remember that I am with you always”. According to Matthew, these are the very last words of Jesus before he returned to heaven. What a wonderful promise. We may not actually see Jesus, but “closer is he than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet” (Alfred Tennyson). He is with us “always” –“every single day” – or as one translation puts it, “day after day after day”.
- Mark 10.43: “Whoever wishes to be great amongst you must be your servant”. Many think that success involves having other people work for you – cooking meals, ironing shirts, walking the dog, or even driving the car. Jesus said exactly the opposite: serving others is what life should be about. Even the leaders of a nation should be the servants of their people. So, we call the person in charge of our government ‘the prime minister’ – this is amazing, for the word ‘minister’ simply means a ‘servant’. Jesus turns our values upside-down.
- John 8.12: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life “. I remember once being deep underground in a cave, when our guide switched off the light and we were in total darkness – it was scary. There was no way we could have found our way out of the cave – we couldn’t see a thing. In a dark world where so many mess up their lives and the lives of others too, Jesus promises to lead us if we but follow him.
- John 13. 34: “I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”. Did you realise you do not have to like a person to love them? Jesus even told his followers to “love your enemies”. Love to be real needs to be love in action.
- 1 Cor 13.4: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boatsful or arrogant or rude”. Love here is an ongoing activity. Love is not just patient or kind once – it keeps on being patient and loving. Wow!
- Gal 2.20: “The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me”. At my church the Sunday morning service ends with the children going forward to receive a blessing, and the adults to receive bread and wine. As I eat the bread and drink the wine, I thank God that Jesus, his Son, loved me and died for me. I find it truly amazing that Jesus should love me so much that he gave himself for me.
- Phil6: “Do not worry about anything, but… let your requests be made known to God”. Or “Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need” (GNB). Just as when there is a fire, we deal with it by pouring on water, so when trouble arises in our lives, we deal with it by prayer. Or as somebody wrote on the walls of an air-raid shelter during the 2nd World War: “If your knees are knocking, kneel on them”.
- Hebs 13.8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”. While friends may come and friends may go, Jesus never changes: he can always be relied upon, he never goes back on his promises, and his love for us never wavers. He is the one person in this world who is totally dependable.