“God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way. You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:10-16
We all try to shield our children from being bullied and from being a bully, and as well we should. No one likes to encounter the milk money monster who waits on the curb every school morning for that one intimidated child. And, while the clique of mean-spirited girls who pick on that one whose clothes and hair are not as nice as theirs may get some snickers of approval from other kids, they will carry the brand of a bully and a snob for the rest of their lives in the memory of that person whose life they made a living hell. Some things may be more called-out nowadays than they used to be; but all-in-all, not much has changed across the generations.
In this society where tolerance and acceptance are being talked about night and day, there’s a new form of soft persecution going on in the Christian faith: the pressure to avoid having to be recognized as the “outsider.” Believers have fundamental moral codes which come from the Word of God; and cultural relevance takes a backseat when it comes to truth. When truth is priority in a person’s life who walks among peers with only self-serving motivations, there’s bound to at some point be a dividing line. Children are hearing so much about tolerance and acceptance (and in some ways it’s a good thing) that they’re feeling a pressure to do whatever it takes to be tolerated and accepted–including compromise in the area of their faith. We will probably continue to see that dogma of inclusion being strengthened toward other belief systems and choked off on the side of evangelical Christianity. It’s an unusual time, the last days…where evil is called good, and if you embrace good, you’re considered evil, closed-minded, bigoted, prudish, and a reject.
As a parent, what you do need to teach your child early-on is that it is ok to be rejected for Christ’s sake…and the best way you can enforce that in your child’s life is for him or her to see you modeling it in yours. If you’re becoming increasingly tight-lipped about the Gospel–if you’re hiding or relaxing your faith in order to get promoted on the job or accepted in certain social circles–that’s the example your child sees and will probably follow. Just as we teach our children the beautiful truths of God’s Word, we must also be transparent with them about the reason why Jesus wound up being crucified. Though it was ultimately the plan of God to purchase our salvation, it was carried out at the hands of men who hated Christ’s teachings and wanted to silence Him at all costs. As our children get a little more mature, we shouldn’t conceal from them that there have been martyrs throughout the history of our faith who bravely gave their lives rather than deny Jesus. Don’t be afraid that your child is too young to “get” the message of the cross. I mean, look at the things you allow him or her to watch on tv! Even if you’re very protective about what you already low, children manage to be exposed to sex, violence, drugs, and the stark ugliness of life far sooner they should. They know much more than we did at their age! So in the matter of eternity? If they can handle the movies and video games available nowadays, I think they can more than handle the truth.
Have more than one heart-to-heart with your child about boldness in his or her Christian faith! Reassure your child that, if persecution, bullying, or exclusion should happen, he or she has nothing to be ashamed of. Certainly, we need to defend our children when someone’s treating them unfairly; but God does reward the tenacity of His children when they refuse to compromise for the sake of popularity. There are life lessons your child will be confronted with soon enough; and you need to have prepared him or her to trust in God for His protection and vindication.
Whenever you as a parent are pressured to allow your child to participate in events, parties, even holidays that go against your Christian conscience, please, hit your knees before you make foolish decisions. Your child may get teased for not being allowed to go to a seance, a sexually-explicit or contraversial movie, or a party where alcohol may be being served to minors; but I promise you, you’re not doing your child any justice by violating conscience to avoid peer pressure. If your children see you ashamed of the Gospel, they’ll have no hesitation in being ashamed of Jesus themselves. The subject of persecution is by no means a fun one to address, but remind your children, when they experience difficult times, of the story in Acts Chapter 5, where the apostles were arrested, publicly humiliated, commanded not to use the name of Jesus (sound familiar?), even beaten for their faith, then went away rejoicing that they’d been counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ. A very unpopular message in today’s world–but it’s at the heart of the very faith we embrace!
There are going to be hard times. There may even be times when your child messes up, or gives in to peer pressure, or does as Peter did–denies Jesus three times before the rooster crows. Strive to have an open enough relationship with him or her to talk about these things openly…and help your child quickly recover and move forward from stumblingblocks. If our children know they can come to us and openly confess their sins, and receive forgiveness not only from Jesus but from their parents, they’ll run to that place of sanctuary called “home.” When your child does encounter persecution for the sake of his or her faith, as a parent, be your child’s cheerleader! Be an encourager, a praiser, and quick to show your child you’re proud of him or her for being resolute in the faith. Reinforce that meekness isn’t weakness. Christians don’t storm around angrily demanding that people celebrate us, not as the world does. Teach by example. We can share Jesus without being obnoxious or overbearing. We can pray for others without constantly hounding them or looking down on them. It’s very important that we be salt and light in this lost world–something our children can see and emulate. We must remind our kids as well as ourselves that our calling is not merely to fly under the radar and escape this world undetected; we are called to shine a light to a very lost world.
We do need to teach our children the hard lessons of life concerning a bold witness, but not just so they’ll be a little tougher. In truth, if we can’t help them remain steadfast under the relatively benign persecutions of our American culture–the shunning, the exclusion, the teasing–how can we ever expect them to be bold enough, should a swordsman ever stand over them and demand a recantation of their faith or else suffer execution? I pray that we never see the same horrors as our Christian brothers and sisters on the other side of the globe; but that’s something we cannot guarantee we won’t encounter in our lifetimes. We should teach our kids that they can put their trust in God to keep them safe; but we also must gradually prepare them not to be jaded by the cruel reality of the world in which we live. There is an enemy who, 2000 years later, still vehemently opposes and despises the cross and all who call on the name of Jesus. May our children be taught by us to remain strong, unwavering; a next generation of the faithful who may very well be the last generation before the end of days!