FAITH5 – Reading Scripture as a Family
Wednesdays in Lent we are exploring thefaith practice called FAITH5 – a nightly routine in which families gather to SHARE highs and lows, READ scripture, TALK about how scripture informs their lives, PRAY for one another, and BLESS each other.
"Reading Scripture as a Family" –
a Lenten message by Chuck Hershberger
I did not live in a Christian home during my early childhood. Neither my parents nor my grandparents attended or had membership in a church. How I began attending church and Sunday school is another story. During the summer between my fifth and sixth grades in school, a new pastor began his ministry in my church. I approached the pastor with a request to help me read the Bible. I had begun with Genesis 1:1 and wanted to read through Revelation 22:13, but had difficulty understanding some of the passages. He provided a daily reading schedule and met with me each Saturday to discuss the week’s readings. We didn’t realize when we started that he would be my foster father before the end of the school year. The experience became a march through the Bible with father and son side by side. I am eternally grateful that he took the time to lead me through the Bible when I was ready rather than waiting until it was convenient for him. Never again was the iron hot to strike for the two of us to complete this journey together.
During high school my interests turned from the scriptures and the Triune God to the triumvirate of sports, parties and girls. My parents were so fed up that they could hardly wait for the first day of college. They may have tossed me out on my ear if the day had been delayed. They always credited a 5 foot 5 inch blonde haired blue eyed college cheerleader with finding me and carrying me back into the fold.
Marla and I came from markedly different religious backgrounds; Marla was raised as a LCA Lutheran and I came with a Disciples of Christ training––a church founded by abolitionists prior to the Civil War that has remained at the forefront of social activism throughout its history. We approached marriage with serious discussions and agreed on our expectations for family life and especially religious involvement.
Choosing a church home, became an important consideration. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod was the only Lutheran church in our small community, but their religious conservatism was beyond acceptance with my progressive background. The local Disciples Church did not recognize infant baptism. Marla insisted that you are only baptized once and she would not renounce her infant baptism to be baptized by immersion. We turned to the Bible to resolve the impasse and established a precedent that we followed throughout our marriage.
Each individual’s view of the Bible significantly impacts how to study and interpret the scripture. I will summarize my major guiding principles to understanding the Bible. First the Bible is the inspired word of God not the literal word of God; therefore, it is necessary to use the world view, historical setting, and cultural context of the writer to understand the original meaning of the text. The Bible expresses great themes that recur throughout its content; therefore, individual passages should not be plucked out of context to support a particular viewpoint. Rather approach the Bible in broad context with an open mind to hear it speak. In other words, use scripture to interpret scripture. Finally, translate the original meaning into our time and my life.
Many different versions of the Bible are available today. The Revised Standard Version or RSV was my bedrock reference version since childhood. The Living Word was my favorite version for several years. It was written by a Wheaton College professor so that his children could more easily understand the Bible. The Book of God by Walter Wangerin, Jr., a professor at Valparaiso University, is especially easy reading. I highly recommend it if you ever decide to read the Bible from beginning to end. Joyce Gerwing introduced me to The Message, by Eugene Peterson, which is now my favorite version. It is necessary to compare different versions to gain a fuller understanding of the Bible.
After considerable study and prayer we concluded that scripture did not definitively distinguish the form or age for baptism so that different denominations established their own interpretations and traditions that were valid in the context of Christianity. Thus armed with a newfound understanding of baptism, we did the only sensible thing and joined the local Presbyterian Church instead of either the Lutheran or Disciples churches. We did not join a Lutheran Church until we found an ELC church in our neighborhood after moving to Madison, Wisconsin.
From the very first day of married life we vowed to sit down together as a family for the evening meal. This was an easy decision, because both of us came from families that did just that. The dinner hour stretched out as a time of sharing and devotions. Every family needs a designated and dedicated time to share and grow together spiritually. A daily family time centered on the dinner hour worked for us. We talked about each family member’s experiences during the day, prayed together and frequently shared a family devotion. The devotion books from the narthex sufficed during the early years, but we needed something more when the children were old enough to participate. Marla gathered age appropriate Bible stories for the children that she read or told in her own words.
Family devotion and sharing time became more difficult with the older children in high school. Still we succeeded in maintaining the family times that always included prayer with the meals and shared devotions with scripture as time permitted. Each family member shared what they liked and what upset them during the day. Marla and I continued the family dinner traditions after the older children left home for college and independence. Devotion booklets from the narthex and Guidepost became the standard for the scripture and devotions. Eventually Jaime withdrew so that the dinner hour included Marla and me just as it had started at the beginning of our marriage.
Both Marla and I taught Sunday school or similar studies most of the time while the children were still in school. Teaching at church and in small groups affords excellent opportunities to consistently study the Bible on a regular basis.
Grandchildren dramatically changed the landscape. Marla and I worked together to select advent calendars and stuff envelopes with activities and scripture references for Christmas stoles for the grandchildren. We shared the excitement as we envisioned the grandchildren carrying out the activities even though we could not be present to watch firsthand.
Daily face to face time is no longer possible, because the family is spread out in California, Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, and Florida; [however, I appreciate the times when I witness how our family faith practices continue to play out in my children’s’ families. For example,] we spent the day at Lego Land Amusement Park before dinning at a restaurant on the way back to our son’s home. After everyone ordered from the menu Doug asked Charlie and Joy: “What did you like best about Lego Land?” It was obvious from the eager replies and ensuing discussion that they were very used to this family sharing around the dinner table. I thought about a scripture reference that said the children will be punished for the father’s sins even to the third and fourth generations. I paraphrased the saying to: a father who neglects his children showers neglect even to the third and fourth generations, but a father who shares time, devotion, and spiritual growth with his children spreads the same even to the third and fourth generations.
My daughter, Mardi, and her family established daily family together time when they share events of the day, pray, and read scripture together. Their family time is not centered on the dinner hour, but occurs just before bedtime, which works well for them. Mardi sends frequent text messages to the family especially on days of big events such as a football games, concerts, tests, etc. Often she composes and texts a Morning Prayer to all of the family before she gets dressed for the day. I will close by reading one of her recent morning text prayers.
"First Corinthians 14:33 says 'God is not the author of confusion but of peace.' Precious father, we pray for your peace in our lives today and every day. We ask you to keep your Word in our minds at all times. Help us to be so filled with You and Your desires in our lives that nothing else can creep in. May we be renewed daily in the spirit of our minds (Ephesians 4:23) and always have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). I pray that we will so love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind that there will be no room in us for the lies of the enemy or the clamoring of the world. May the word of God take root in our hearts and fill our minds with things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). Please, dear Jesus, give us an understanding that what goes into our minds becomes part of us, so that we will weigh carefully what we see and hear. Amen."