Last Christmas, my husband and I bought a copy of The Action Bible, a collection of Bible stories presented comic book style, for our nine-year-old son. Unsurprisingly, he loved it and carried it with him everywhere. He would load up his school backpack and put The Action Bible in with his school supplies every day.
Religious intolerance hits home
Until one day when, after school, he told me that he'd gotten in trouble.
When I asked him what happened, he said that during free reading time he pulled out his Bible. His teacher approached him and quietly asked him not to bring that book to school again. I was surprised. Really? Here in the suburbs of the Bible Belt? Knowing his teacher, I didn't raise a fuss. I told Eli to be a little more careful about bringing it out during class to which he responded, “I don't care what they do to me! They can't keep me from worshiping Jesus!” His response elicited from me a sense of pride and alarm.
My husband and I have always known that we were going to need to prepare our children for resistance to the Christian faith, but we had wrongly assumed that it would be with regards to bold evangelizing when they were older. It never occurred to us that we'd need to talk to them about it where we are now. Such is the thinking of much of the church in America.
Many of us, myself included, have become so accustomed to freely worshiping Christ in public that to be opposed is taking us by surprise more than it should. The faithful apostle tells us pointedly in 1 Peter 4:12, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” Granted, The Action Bible incident was no fiery ordeal, but we were surprised. I'm thankful that the Lord used this episode to gently awaken us from our comfortable slumber.
As I wrote last time, religious liberty in America is increasingly being limited as those practicing their faith openly, particularly Christians, are being told keep faith out of the public sphere. And as the hostility is ramping up, we are forced to remember that this is not just a grown-up situation—our children will be involved as well. So how are we to think about raising our children in this growing hostility?
Raising eternal creatures
We are prone to forget in the chaos of team sports, report cards and doctors appointments that our children's lives are much more than the here and now. As Gloria Furman tells us in Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full, “Our children are so much more than just potential adults.” It is imperative that we bear this in mind. Our kids are eternal souls over whom we have been made stewards. We cannot simply fixate on making sure they know how to function politely in a world that is passing away.
As parents who love and follow Jesus, we have been given the responsibility of teaching our children who Christ is and what he's done. They are going to be asked to give an account for their lives, so we need to teach them the things of God. We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that our little and not-so-little ones know the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps this seems like Christian Parenting 101, but as a fallen, sinful parent I know that life gets busy and we end up taking for granted the overwhelming necessity of teaching eternal things to our eternal creatures.
Showing our children Christ’s glory
When my son's faith in Christ was opposed, his reaction was one of determined obedience. “I don't care what they do to me! They can't keep me from worshiping Jesus!” are the words that came from his little mouth as an overflow of his heart. This is not because my husband and I are perfect parents or because our son is an angelic little Christian, but rather because Eli has seen that Jesus Christ is valuable.
If we are to raise our children in a world that will only increase in its hatred for Christians, and we desire for our children to endure this hatred, then we must show them the glory of Christ and his worthiness. Jesus Christ is the fundamental truth who precedes all other reality, matchless in glory and worthy of all worship.
Do our children see this truth emanating from us? Do they learn from our words and deeds that Christ is our beloved King? Do they see us loving him and making hard choices for him? Are they witness to our praise of him and our singing songs and hymns that glorify him? Are we teaching them who he really is or are we teaching them that he's simply the “reason for the season” or the reason we have to wake up early on Sunday mornings? Are we begrudgingly worshiping him or are we joyfully heralding his majesty?
Much of what our children come to know about the value of Christ Jesus will undoubtedly come from us. Let us dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to the passionate praise of our King, not simply because we want our children to see us, but because we are enthralled with the glory of the gospel and what Christ has done to ransom our souls! Let’s be a generation who models the obedience of laying down our lives for the Lord to the next generation.
Felicitatis and her seven sons
When I think of raising children who would gladly lay down their lives for Christ, I am reminded of the story of Felicitatis and her seven sons in Foxe's Book of Martyrs:
Felicitatis, an illustrious Roman lady, of considerable family, and the most shining virtues, was a devout Christian. She had seven sons, whom she had educated with the most exemplary piety. Januarius, the eldest, was scourged, and pressed to death with weights; Felix and Philip, the two next had their brains dashed out with clubs; Silvanus, the fourth, was murdered by being thrown from a precipice; and the three younger sons, Alexander, Vitalis and Martial, were beheaded. The mother was beheaded with the same sword as the three latter.
I am not calling anyone to seek a violent death or elevate these saints above their station, but there is an important point here. Felicitatis endured the crushing heartache of witnessing the death of a beloved child whom she had raised and brought up in the admonition of the Lord seven times. What devastating heartache. I cannot begin to imagine what that must have felt like.
And yet as I ponder it, I cannot help but imagine that as Felicitatis and her seven sons passed from this world and into the presence of their Savior Christ, they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that enduring such hatred had been even more worth it than they had the capacity to imagine. Let us keep this in mind as we raise our own children to see and know and endure for the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ.