I think a lot about helping people know and follow Jesus. I would say with clarity that helping people know and follow Jesus is more than my general mission as a Christ-follower but a specific calling for which God has gifted me and generously offers me wisdom that comes from Him. I have learned to think vertically when it comes to the Kingdom of God meaning I consider the generations of disciples of Jesus that were before me and I think about the generations that will come after me. I learn from and am inspired by the disciples of the past, both near and far, who now look on as a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). I pray that God would give me the wisdom to be so intentional about making disciples in the present, that the youngest generation would be equipped to be faithful to Christ in the future, no matter their futuristic, cultural, or life circumstances.
I am burdened.
I am certain that we need to disciple the youngest generation in a way that gives them a grid for persecution.
I don’t say this because I watch CNN or Fox News too much or sit with the segment of the Christian population that always thinks the sky is falling or with those who constantly breed apocalyptic conspiracy theories out of fear. On the contrary I’m not concerned about the future necessarily believing that Christ is victorious already and God is sovereign over everything. I’m not afraid. I’m burdened.
This is a blog, not a book, so I don’t have the time or space to explain all the reasons for this burden except to say I believe it is from the Holy Spirit and it is based on the message of the Bible for the past, present, and future. To watch or listen to 50 minutes of my thoughts concerning this click here, open your Bible, and ask God to speak to you as you digest a sermon called “The Letter to the Church at Smyrna.”
So how can we disciple the youngest generation so that they will be faithful to Jesus no matter what level of persecution they may face? What do we do? How can we be intentional?
- Teach them what the Bible says about persecution.
John 15:20–21 “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.”
(Matthew 5:11, Matthew 5:44, John 15:20, John 16:33, Mark 14:13-20, Matthew 24:3-29, Acts 8:1, Romans 8:35, Romans 12:12-14, Revelation 2:8-11)
- Teach them about disciples who were persecuted in the past.
In the sermon referenced above I spent about 5 minutes talking about Polycarp. Many in our congregation had never heard of the martyred bishop of Smyrna who was discipled by John. We need to teach our children about the persecution and sacrifices made by men and women of the past who were faithful unto death. Hebrews 11:32-38 sheds light on this history of our faith.
Hebrews 11:32–38 “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
Easy access to the histories of persecuted and martyred disciples can be found in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.
- Teach them about persecution in the world today.
Open Doors Ministry, dedicated to tracking global persecution, says that in 2016 approximately 1 million Christians are being persecuted. In 2015, approximately 7000 disciples of Jesus were martyred. They also suggest that this is probably a gross underestimate because of the regular murder of Christians in Syria, Iraq, and North Korea that is almost impossible to track.
Ministries like Open Doors or Voice of the Martyrs will provide real time information and prayer guides. We can lead the next generation to understand global persecution and pray for brothers and sisters that are currently living and dying in faithfulness to Christ.
- When they are teenagers, take them to persecuted peoples so they can see, hear, and help.
As parents, we are involving our children as teenagers with people who have been or are being persecuted for their faith. As a family and as a church we are involved in ministry in the Middle East and we are taking our children with us one at a time to see, hear, and help. There is nothing that will give the next generation a grid for persecution like engaging with brothers and sisters that are living through it.
- Teach them that Jesus is the Victor making his disciples victorious, even over death.
Romans 8:31–39 “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Revelation 2:8–11 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. 9 “ ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.”
You may be thinking, “This will never happen to us, not here.” Why would we need to be intentional in this way? If you have lived for any length of time, ask yourself, “How is the world changing and how is America changing?” To disciple the youngest generation in a way that at least gives them a grid for persecution is to make disciples that are faithful when it is hard to be Christian. America doesn’t really have a grid for that. It’s the difference in the next generation standing for Christ if persecution comes or denying Christ in order to retain the comforts that we all so enjoy currently. Let’s equip them for the sake of the gospel throughout the generations.