A Spirit of Fear

letitgo

Have we created a spirit of fear, in our children and even our selves that is hindering our ability to share the gospel?

A few days ago, I read an article from Relevant Magazine, that has me camped out on this question.  The article, “3 Youth Group Lessons I’ve Had to Unlearn” was originally written for youth leaders, but it is entirely relevant to the body of believers.

I’m just going focusing on the first of these three lessons:

1. Your Classmates/Peers/Friends/Teachers are Going to Persecute You for Your Faith.

One of the recurrent themes in my Christian youth was the pressure to stay strong for God around peers and teachers who, I was told, would be antagonistic toward my beliefs. So many talks and sermons and rally-sessions wrapped tight around this topic, constricting my chest with the urgency of knowing how to accurately and compellingly disseminate the specifics of the Christian faith to others—even if they mocked me for it.

I spent the duration of junior high and high school braced against the entire student body, sure that they secretly mocked/hated/despised me. I wore Christian T-shirts like some kind of bullet-proof vest. I memorized all of the brilliant apologetic arguments in favor of Christianity in case any teacher or student ever cornered me in the hall and forced me to debate my faith.

But no one ever did.

What actually happened is that I distanced myself from everyone who didn’t believe like I did. It wasn’t that they didn’t like me—it was that I had barred my arms in an eternal defensive pose, and no one could even get close. So after a while, they stopped trying.

I understand that there are places in the world where persecution exists. And it’s  is not something to take lightly. But the American cultural climate, right now, is not violent toward Christians. And despite the popularity of Christian movies like God’s Not Dead, I’d argue that 99 percent of teachers are not in it to shatter students’ faith. And yes—kids can be cruel. But, in the land of first-world problems, it’s usually not about anything quite as noble as religious beliefs.

I’d love to see youth pastors and teachers who refuse to play into that “Us” and “Them” paradigm. Who encourage, instead, their students to understand that we are all so much the same—complicated and quirky and broken and beloved.

Instead of teaching kids that Jesus is something we have and they don’t, let’s teach them to look for the bright image of God in each person that crosses their paths.

Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/god-our-generation/3-youth-group-lessons-ive-had-unlearn#2MGvpCByqquj2QVU.99

We are called to be bold about our faith, we are supposed to encourage our children to stand firm in their faith… but then we negate that lesson by saying “and you are going to be picked on for it”.  Anyone who has raised a child knows that is not going to turn out well.  These are kids who are desperately trying to fit in, and we are telling them to do something that will hinder that.

No wonder they avoid it like the plague.

To date, however, I can not think of ONE SINGLE INSTANCE where my daughter came home with a story about the girls who wear hijabs being picked on, or that anyone gave the Jewish kid a hard time when he passed out his Bar Mitzvah invitations.  Please do not think me naive that discrimination doesn’t happen in these cases elsewhere in the world.  But, for our town, this has been a non issue.

So why then, are we telling our Christian teens that they will be made fun of for it?

Which then led me to additional thought…  if they are being made fun of, is it because we as a culture have said it’s ok to do it… because Christians expect it?  Have we taught a spirit of fear to our children vs. a expectation of respect that other religions demand?

When I was in high school, we had several different clubs/events that would happen that were “Christian” and I went to a public school.  I remember being intrigued by it, because it seemed like such a bad idea…. putting a target on their backs to be made fun of.  I watched from the side lines.  No one made any derogatory comments about the club, or showed up in protest about their on campus events.  If they didn’t like it, if they didn’t share those same beliefs, they just went on about their business as usual.

But, for those who did… and watched from the sidelines… it created a feeling of safety.   It is ok to claim this as your faith, no one here is going to hurt you for it.  In fact, they really couldn’t care less about it.

What if we said something different to our kids?  What if we said something like….

Your school is made up of a lot of different kids.  They come from different countries, with different traditions.  They come from different religions, with different rules and celebrations.  Just like they have their beliefs, we have our beliefs.  Not everyone is going to agree with you, and not everyone is going to understand you.  That is ok.  You are not going to totally understand everything they do and celebrate either.  You just continue to be you, answer their questions, don’t get into arguments or debates.  It isn’t worth it, take the higher road.  Love them anyway, be kind to them regardless of what they say. 

WE SHOULDN’T HAVE TO, BUT WE DO…

cpiece

A very commonly reference scripture, that is thrown around for a myriad of reasons, is “be in the world, not of it”.   We use the scripture to explain why we are to behave differently, talk differently, act & react differently than non-believers.  For many it becomes a badge of honor, when ever they are living a “holy” life.  This holy life can be everything from not EVER using a curse word, drinking a drink, homeschooling their kids, dressing your kids in certain attire, not watching television, listening to only classic hymnals vs. contemporary praise music, Christian private schooling, demanding church attendance or service, etc.

So, if you have your daughters, dressed with their long hair in buns, no make up, dresses to their ankles, sleeves to their wrists and collars as high as their jaw line…. and someone of the faith says “hey, why do you do that?” — Your defense is “Duh, because we are to be in the world, not of it.”

And then, you (or I) will get offended that we even needed to say something to explain why we are so “different”.

Now before you get upset with me, just set that aside for a moment.

In the world of tattoos, it’s a common to hear complaints about being treated differently because you have a tattoo.  Same could be said of dying your hair a different color, or choosing to dress a certain way.  You’ll find this same mentality amongst anyone who chooses to be “different” than the status quo.

It’s an interesting paradox.  We act differently or look differently than the rest of society, yet we want to be treated the same way.  We purposefully go out of our way to be different, yet get offended when someone dares to ask us about it, comment about it (especially negatively), or even goes so far as to mock us for it.

As Christians, we make the conscious decision to be IN the world, not OF the world… and then take offense when that gets noticed & talked about.  And yes, I could agree that we shouldn’t HAVE to explain ourselves, but when you choose to be different you are choosing to defend that choice too.

Going a bit deeper, there are two reasons why we are not to be IN the world, that is behaving, acting, thinking, talking, spending, et’al like the rest of the world.

1)  It’s about our personally holiness.  If we do not allow ourselves to be put into places of temptation, we are actively working against sin.  No one will be sin free, Jesus was the only perfect person.  However, we can greatly diminish our sin capacity by removing ourselves from things “of this world”.

2)  It’s about reflecting Christ to others.  Others will take note of that difference in us, and thus are pointed to Christ.  Why, we do something becomes more important than the actual act itself.  When others notice that difference in us, it will cause conversation.  In those conversations, we are able to plant seeds.

Will we be mocked?  Certainly.  Jesus, himself, was mocked.   But, there will be those who are drawn to that difference & want to understand more.

So, when you choose to be “different”… be confident in that decision.  What ever you are doing (or not doing) is a conviction, laid upon you by the Holy Spirit.  There will be those who don’t understand… and some who don’t even want to understand.  And that, is ok.  You cannot expect the world at large to understand, accept or respect that difference.  It’s almost like you are speaking a different language.

It’s equally important to remember that how you respond to those critics is being watched too.  It not only blemishes us, but also the reflection of Christ in us.

We may hate having to explain ourselves, over and over again.   We need to examine the circumstances of our situation.  If it is a new person, then we have to remember that while we may have repeated this info a million times in our lifetime, it may be their first time hearing it (or attempting to understand it).  If this is someone we KEEP having this conversation with, yes it is frustrating, but if they are still asking… they care.   They are trying to understand, and yes… they may be even trying to convince you to change your mind.

We know that the things God asks of us as a group of believers, or individually, will be tested.  There will be those who speak against us.  How many called Noah a food for building an ark.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if they understand.  It only matters that we are obedient.   The choice to be angry, defensive, etc … that is your choice.  Instead of being surprised or upset by it, choose to anticipate the questions and reactions.  It takes the sting out & you are more likely to respond positively to the negative reactions of others.

“Obedience does not require understanding.” (The Matrix, Reloaded)