What Youth Should Know About Persecution

As usual, Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith go in their typical (and awesome) debates about Tim Tebow. If you watch ESPN at all you know that Skip is a big Tebow fan and always defends him, even if it might make him look silly in the end. The debate this time around was not on his throwing ability or whether or not Tebow will start for the Jets… It was about a controversial and some what blasphemous post from GQ entitled “Have You Accepted Tim Tebow as Your QB and Sunday Savior?” Besides the condescending title and article,  it has Tebow pictured with his shirt off and his arms stretched out wide dubbing it “Sexy Jesus”.

Skip Bayless, in this video, goes on to defend Tebow’s faith and claims that this is just another example of religious persecution from the media. This is not the first time Skip has gone serious about defending the Christian faith and Tebow’s faith. Skip is consistent in defending him and is quite the quasi-apologist, quoting Scripture and pretty on point with what the Christian world view and message is. His Wikipedia page says he is a Christian and, by what I see, I can support that.

Let’s be clear about something. I am a Gators fan and a Tebow fan. However, he is not making headlines because he is such a star athlete. His passing rating is not spectacular and the main thing he really has going for him is his heart and competitive nature. Second string QB’s don’t make the news because they are awesome. There has to be something else driving this attention. It is his character. His story. The fact that he is an out spoken Christian and lives out what he believes. If he gets scrutinized because he is a slightly below average QB, that is fine. However,  Tebow gets scrutinized about everything. It has to do with his faith. We shouldn’t be surprised by that because Jesus himself said it would happen:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18-19 ESV)

But what should youth know about persecution? When I was in youth group, I read some stories from the book “Jesus Freaks” and thought to myself  that realistically would never happen to me. I would say to myself,  “Just avoid going to China and any Muslim nation and I would be cool. That kind of stuff would never come to America.” Obviously, as I grew up, I saw that persecution takes on different shapes and forms and that even the slightest persecution can cause people to fall away from the faith. When I became a youth pastor I was determined, among many things, to make sure that our youth had a healthy perspective on what persecution is, what it means for us as believers, and how to handle persecution.

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America’s persecution is mild.

Four people in Turkmenistan got arrested and fined for possessing Bibles. In Indonesia, twenty-two churches were forced to close down by the Indonesian government. In Kenya, seventeen people were killed when men stormed their churches with grenades and assault rifles. In America, when we get persecuted we eat at Chick-Fil-A. I am not saying that America is not being persecuted but understand that our persecution is mild. Youth can see the silliness that the church is constantly trying to play the victim role  in the media’s eyes.  For them, it will be nothing more than just condescending memes and retweetable quotes on Twitter. Youth need to understand that though this is a form of persecution, what our brothers and sisters face in other countries are literally life and death situations. Are Christians in America seeing persecution? Yes. Is it even measurable to what is going on in other countries? Not by a long shot.

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The Christian Life is not easy.

I don’t think we stress this enough. If those crazy statistics are true, that only 1 in out of every 10 high school seniors will abandon their faith in college, then I attribute it less to “bad youth pastors” and more to “bad theology”. When we make youth groups seem like this blissful alternative universe where everything is awesome and there is nothing but unlimited pizza and Mountain Dew, we desensitize our youth from understanding that we live in a sinful world where sinful people do sinful things.  We leave them not understanding that, because we are Christians, the one thing we can have assurance of besides our salvation is that we will suffer.

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:29-30 ESV)

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11 ESV)

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:16-17 ESV)

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:16-17 ESV)

What seems more normative in the Christian life is hardships and suffering. Kids are going to hit real life when they go off to college. If we are not preparing them for that reality, we are doing them a disservice and are setting them up for failure. We have to tell them,    “Life is not going to be easy for you if you are really going hard for the Lord”.  Now I know this doesn’t sound awesome and it certainly isn’t going to be a seeker-sensitive message, but it is one that needs to be spoken to with the kids or they will be disillusioned in this Christian life. However, we don’t have to  leave them on that sour note. Like Paul, we need to explain to the youth that this suffering and persecution we will face is worth it! Because Christ is worth it!

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18 ESV)

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There are different levels of suffering.

There are basically 2 types of suffering Christians will deal with. There is the “Rich Young Man” suffering and the “Apostle Paul” suffering. We all know what the Apostle Paul type of suffering is. He was beaten, thrown in prison, mocked and eventually martyred. All the while, praising Jesus’s name and full of joy. We see that going on oversees and youth should know that is real and there can be joy in that kind of suffering (Read the entire book of Philippians to see how).

In Matthew 19:16ff, a rich man went to Jesus to ask how to receive eternal life. Jesus shares a few commandments and the rich young man claims he has kept the entire Law. Jesus goes on and tells him to give his possessions to the poor and follow Him. The rich man can’t do it. He can’t because he is not willing to sacrifice his stuff to follow Jesus. Youth need to understand that a real part of suffering might be to give up or sacrifice things they enjoy or even love: Deleting sinful music from their iTunes, break-up with a non-believing girlfriend or boyfriend, stops hanging out with certain friends that bring them down, or not going to a certain college of choice. These are all sacrifices that may seem like crazy for some youth, but are worth it for the sake of their holiness.

How do you talk about suffering/persecution in your youth group? What kind of persecution have you seen in your context?

If I can recommend a site for you and your youth group to keep up with and pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters, it is Persecution.com. They have a cool map that you can see all the countries that are being persecuted and how you can pray for them.

11 Comments

  1. Frank, thanks for bringing attention to theology in student ministry. Theology needs to be something that we intentionally teach students. The trick is teaching them not to be legalistic AND how to apply it to their worldview. Great stuff man!
  2. Frank, thanks for bringing attention to theology in student ministry. Theology needs to be something that we intentionally teach students. The trick is teaching them not to be legalistic AND how to apply it to their worldview. Great stuff man!
  3. This is a great post, but I struggle with the what now, like do I talk to my students about persecution? Because most of them would take one of two new mindsents, either "whoa is me, im persecuted" or "because im persecuted, I must really be doing good, so Im going to become obnoxious about how good I must be doing to be persecuted." Good points, Im just struggling with bringing them up with my students.
    • I know what you mean. Our students are probably very similar. I would address those two very ideas. I would show them that Paul never played the victim role but count every bit of persecution as joy and an opportunity to make him known. As for the whole "I must be doing really good" I like to always show student's good works up to those of the Bible. Especially Paul. In Philippians 3:12 he says, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own". Paul would never say "look at me I am doing awesome" he would say, I still have plenty of work to do. I haven't made it and wont make it until I am in the kingdom. I think doing a series in the book of Philippians is a great way to share about suffering and persecution and how to handle it properly.
  4. This is a great post, but I struggle with the what now, like do I talk to my students about persecution? Because most of them would take one of two new mindsents, either "whoa is me, im persecuted" or "because im persecuted, I must really be doing good, so Im going to become obnoxious about how good I must be doing to be persecuted." Good points, Im just struggling with bringing them up with my students.
    • I know what you mean. Our students are probably very similar. I would address those two very ideas. I would show them that Paul never played the victim role but count every bit of persecution as joy and an opportunity to make him known. As for the whole "I must be doing really good" I like to always show student's good works up to those of the Bible. Especially Paul. In Philippians 3:12 he says, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own". Paul would never say "look at me I am doing awesome" he would say, I still have plenty of work to do. I haven't made it and wont make it until I am in the kingdom. I think doing a series in the book of Philippians is a great way to share about suffering and persecution and how to handle it properly.

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