Is Your Child Being Bullied by Our Culture?

I was in an online Bible study the other day where we were discussing how culture is impacting Christianity. One woman spoke up. “Our culture is a bully. It bullies Christians for their beliefs.” While I am not in favor of developing a victim mentality, she is right. When you compare the tactics a bully uses and how Christians are often treated when they share their beliefs and God’s commands, the resemblance is striking.

If your kids believe in God and attempt to obey all of His commands, they will be different from their peers – even sadly many of their Christian peers. God calls His people to live a life so different from the surrounding culture that they stand out. In many cases, this will cause people unfamiliar with God’s culture to ask questions. Hopefully, some of these questioners will become Christians themselves.

Unfortunately, even churches and ministers have crumbled under the bullying. They have allowed the culture’s name calling and emotional reactions to influence how they read the Bible. They would rather find a way to reject God’s direct commands in order to better blend in with the culture and stop the bullying than stand up to it.

Your kids are going to make a choice to blend with the culture around them unless you prepare them to stand up to its bullying. What everyone seems to have forgotten is that a bully only has as much power over your choices as you give them. You can teach your kids how not to give culture’s bullies power over their lives and choices.

Here are a few ways to prepare your kids to stand up to culture’s bullying successfully.

  • Help them develop a confident faith. Young people who have really strong spiritual foundations are more confident in standing up to culture and being counter cultural. This will take a lot of work on your part. Your kids need to really know what’s in the Bible, who God wants them to be and how to do those things God wants them to do. They need training in apologetics and logical fallacies. They will be battling a cultural Goliath and just like David, they need to spend their younger years developing the skills they will need to be confident to follow God’s will for their lives.
  • They need strong connections to people of different ages in their church family. They need to find those one or two teens that are also being raised to defy culture. They need older Christians they love and trust enough to listen to their counsel or to be reassured by when being strong feels impossible. They need to be around examples of people really living their faith on a regular basis. They need godly friends when the loneliness of being different is painful. This goes beyond even regular church attendance. Bring that valuable hospitality in your home and regularly have people from your church family over post COVID so your kids really think of them as family.
  • Prepare your kids to speak up. Your kids need to be able to defend their faith with love and patience, but firmly enough that the culture’s bullies walk away when their only intent is to harass. Once again, this means knowing the Bible well, becoming familiar with effective apologetics and lots of practice conversations in your home. They also need to learn self control. Lashing back when bullied only strengthens the bully who is looking for an emotional response. Staying calm and clear will discourage many bullies from continuing to pursue.
  • Teach your kids when to disengage. Jesus told his disciples there are times when they needed to just dust off their sandals and move on. Your kids don’t need to waste their time and energy on debating people who are entrenched in their support of culture over God. There are plenty of people who are open to learning about a way of life that is fuller and richer than the shallow pleasures of culture. Your kids need to learn when to engage and when just to walk away from the ugly challenges culture likes to throw at Christians.
  • Teach your kids strategies for responding quickly and consistently to cultural challenges. Having predetermined strategies for handling common scenarios will help your children quickly and consistently handle temptations to join culture in ways that go against God. Helping them set limits of how they allow themselves to be exposed to culture can keep them from gradually being won over by it. Encouraging them to have a standard response to certain challenges will make it easier for them to think on their feet when confronted.
  • Teach your kids to STOP. When your kids are confronted by something in culture that confuses them, teach them to remember to stop. Stop is an acronym for stop, think about what culture is actually saying to them or asking them to do, consider all of their options, pray about it and then make a choice. Taking that extra time can help your kids remove themselves from the heat of the moment emotionally and lead them to make better choices.
  • Tell your kids it’s okay to ask for help. Young children are often told not to tattle. Teach your kids there is a huge difference from telling an adult something silly merely designed to cause trouble for someone else and asking for help from someone who can help them or someone else be more godly and avoid temptation. Your kids need to feel safe coming to you and expressing their emotions, experiences and more without fear of an over reaction from you. Often if they could come tell you when the bullying first starts, you can give them the help they need. If they don’t tell anyone who can help them navigate the bullying, they may give into the culture’s bullies like many of their peers have done.

Preparing your kids to stand up to culture’s bullies is essential if you want them to become faithful, productive Christians. It is hard work, but it’s work you really must do to protect your kids.

Tips for Raising Resilient Christians

How resilient are your kids? If you aren’t sure, their reaction to the COVID situation may give you a clue – even for very young children. There’s a myth of sorts about resiliency…that all kids are naturally resilient and the things that may upset adults barely make an impression on our children.

In some ways it can be true, but resiliency is something that is a combination of the personality God gave your child and various environmental factors. It can also be a bit deceptive. You would think a child protected from all problems in life…who always gets his or her way…would be super resilient, because he or she has not built up a litany of disappointments.

Unfortunately, that environment can produce a less resilient child. The child living in a seemingly perfect world has never had to learn how to recover from setbacks and disappointments. They have developed few coping mechanisms…particularly godly ones. This often entitled child, may fall apart at the first sign of lack of perfection in life, instead of rising to meet its challenges.

We’re not saying you should invent difficulties for your kids to endure in order to “toughen them up”. Nor do we suggest sharing information with children that they are too young to process appropriately.

What we are saying is that there are things you can do as a parent to help your kids develop resiliency. This is especially important for Christian kids as they will have negative experiences when the godly choices they make don’t align in a culture that often rejects God’s commands.

Here are some ways to prepare your kids to be resilient when COVID or any other crisis or problem arises.

  • Teach them lots of Bible stories and discuss what God wants them to learn from each story. Ever wonder why God put so many stories in the Bible instead of just printing off a list of rules for us? It’s because stories help people better understand and more importantly remember important things. The more Bible stories and principles within them you teach your kids, the more helpful information they will have from God to help them navigate anything life throws at them.
  • Teach them the power of prayer. Prayer at its core is about having a conversation with God. Your kids need a lot of real life experience with how God answers prayers. They need to understand God can do anything that is in His will – regardless of how impossible it may seem to us. They also need to understand how much God loves them and wants to listen to them. If there is ever a situation where your kids feel isolated, knowing they have God there with them can change everything and make them much more resilient.
  • Have an openly loving relationship with your kids. Tell them you love them. Hug them. Listen to them – actively listen to what they have to say – especially if they are sharing their emotions or how they are processing the stressful event.
  • Teach them God has a plan for their lives and God’s timing is perfect and part of that plan. This is an abstract concept young children may have difficulty fully understanding. It’s important though to keep repeating the concepts. We can’t always understand God’s decisions or His timing – although many times looking back, we can clearly see what happened and why. The important thing is to help your kids learn to trust God has their best interests at heart. Of course, if you consistently model having your kids’ best interests at heart, it will be easier for them to trust God does.
  • Teach your kids their true hope lies with God and spending eternity with Him in Heaven. Read scriptures that talk about hope, faith and God’s promises. Tell them about times in your life when you leaned on God in tough times and how it helped. Show them how being a Christian in a stressful circumstance is so very different from not being a Christian when life is difficult.
  • Recognize each child may process stressful events in different ways and they should not be mocked for their reactions. Obviously, you want to correct any misbehavior that may be part of their reaction. It’s rarely if ever helpful though, to tell someone they are over or under reacting in a particular situation. Most of the time, those types of comments are just adding more pain to the situation.
  • Don’t let them get stuck in a negative emotional state for long periods of time. Obviously stressful situations can cause sadness, despair, anger and other negative emotions. Unfortunately, if our minds stay in one emotional state for too long, it can become very difficult for the brain to change to another emotional state. You don’t want to rush their mourning or keep them from crying the tears that will help them heal. You do, however, need to try and give them emotional breaks from time to time. You can even say something like, “Let’s take a worry break for a few minutes and go watch this funny movie”, or whatever your strategy is to temporarily change their emotional state. If your child seems unable to switch emotional states for a couple of weeks, it’s probably best to call the pediatrician for advice.
  • Have schedules, routines and boundaries that are enforced. Children are reassured by schedules, routines and even boundaries and rules that are consistently enforced. Now, they won’t admit they enjoy having a bedtime or a limit on screen time…but in their heart of hearts, those things give them a feeling that someone who cares about them has things under control and everything will be okay.
  • Give them meaningful things to do. Never ending free time sounds good, but it’s not in your kids’ best interest. They need productive things to do like school work, learning something fun, doing crafts, playing an instrument, doing chores and serving others. Give them a role to play that contributes to everyone successfully navigating the stressful event, helps kids feel useful and productive…which in turn helps them understand they can contribute to the solution of a problem in at least some way. Keeping them busy will also keep their minds engaged in something other than the stressful event.

Becoming truly resilient is a process. Some personality types will be naturally more resilient than others, but teaching your kids these strategies will help them develop the resiliency Christians need to have to not only survive but thrive and produce fruit for God.

At Home Family Easter Activity

Every year about this time, I like to share one of our Easter family traditions with other parents. Even though we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus every week, it doesn’t hurt to take advantage of an occasion like Easter to reinforce important Bible lessons. (Likewise, you can do this activity with your kids any time – not just on Easter.)

(Since most of us have limited access to stores at the moment, this is posting earlier than normal to give you time to find egg whites or other ingredients you may need.)

Resurrection Cookies are a great way to review the story of Jesus’ death with your children. I got the recipe from one of my neighbors years ago and suspect it is one of those that has been passed around all over the country. I would love to credit the creator, but have no idea who that would be.

You will need a Bible, preferably an NIrV version for younger children. Preheat the oven to 300* and make sure it has reached 300* before you start cooking. Your bowl and beaters need to be grease free for this to work well. We have used pasteurized eggs (or the boxed egg whites) and they work fine, although it is more difficult to keep the yolk out of the whites. It is best to do this right before the children go to bed, but aren’t so sleepy they won’t enjoy it. It can take up to thirty minutes at night and about five or ten minutes the next morning.

For ingredients you will need: 1 cup of whole pecans, 1 teaspoon of vinegar (apple cider vinegar), 2 egg whites, 1 cup sugar and a pinch of salt. I am numbering each step with its scripture to make the recipe easier to follow with your children.

1. Read John 19:1-3. Place the pecans in a large baggie and seal it. As your children beat the pecans with a rolling pin, discuss how Jesus was beaten by the soldiers after his arrest.

2. Read John 19:28-30. Allow the children to smell the vinegar and taste it if they are brave enough! As the vinegar is placed in the bowl explain that when Jesus got thirsty on the cross and asked for something to drink, he was given vinegar.

3. Read John 10:10-11. Add egg whites to the vinegar. Explain to your children that eggs represent life. Discuss how by Jesus giving his life up on the cross, he gave us the hope of eternal life.

4. Read Luke 23:27. Sprinkle a little salt in each child’s hand. Let them taste it. Put a pinch in the bowl. The salt represents the tears of those who loved Jesus when they realized he was dead.

5. Read Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16. Add the sugar. Tell your children that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because he loves us. He wants us to become Christians and spend eternity with him in Heaven.

6. Read John 3:1-3. Beat the mixture on high (stand mixers work best) for 12-15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed (when you turn off the mixer and lift the beaters it leaves stiff little mountain tops). Discuss with your children how the color white stands for purity. Jesus’ blood allows us the chance to be cleansed of our sins and be pure again.

7. Read Matthew 27:57-60. Fold in the pecans. (Optional ingredient, but still drop the mixture as indicated.) Drop the mixture by teaspoonfuls onto a parchment covered cookie sheet. Explain to your child that each mound represents the tomb where Jesus was laid.

8. Read Matthew 27:65-66. Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF. Let each child place a piece of tape on the oven door (or roll a large rock in front of it!). Explain how the soldiers sealed the tomb of Jesus.

9. Read John 16:20 and 22. As you send your children to bed, explain you know they may feel sad about leaving the cookies in the oven over night. Ask them if they can imagine how sad the followers of Jesus must have been when Jesus was sealed in the tomb.

10. Read Matthew 28:1-9. When your children wake up the next morning, allow them to open the oven and take out the cookies. Have them break open the cookie and see the empty air pocket. Remind them how surprised and excited the followers of Jesus must have been on that first Sunday morning after the cross when they found the empty tomb and realized Jesus was alive.

This is a fun reminder of the resurrection for any time of the year or you can make it an annual tradition. The goal is to create a memorable experience that will place the story of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection firmly in the minds and hearts of your children.

Virtual Church and Your Family

Virtual church is becoming more and more popular. There are a fair number of people who no longer are members of a physical church family, but “attend” virtual church services on Sunday. I even saw an article recently that a church was allowing people to design their avatar and have it virtually baptized.

Virtual church gives you options you may not have in a “regular” church – including the ability to “attend” service at any time and in any place that provides live streaming and play back of services.

I am not sure how many families use virtual church to augment their attendance at a brick and mortar church or watch church virtually as their only family worship experience each week. As with any trend though, virtual church is becoming more popular and we need to think about how it impacts kids, teens and families before it becomes trendy.

I had never attended a virtual service before, so I felt like I needed to do so in a realistic fashion in order to write this post. My husband and I had a Sunday where we had an opportunity to do something that would have made us very late for the church we normally attend. We decided this would be the perfect opportunity to test a virtual worship service.

We chose to “attend” a church that was not our normal church home, but one in a church that we have visited many times in the past. The singing is always wonderful and their minister is one of our favorites. We chose this as I am not one who just sits and watches a screen for long periods of time, so I chose one I knew would be most likely to keep me from getting distracted.

It was an interesting experience. We noticed some things that impacted us both and others that impacted us differently because of our personalities. Below are our observations – some good, some bad. At the end I will share our conclusion about virtual church for families.

  • Singing worship songs is different. Our fellowship practices a cappella singing. The way this church was set up for sound, you could hear the song leaders well, but not the congregation. I missed experiencing hundreds of people singing their hearts out to God together. It did give me an appreciation for just how amazing the talent of the song leaders really is. I love to sing, so I still sang. My husband sings in church normally, but didn’t feel comfortable singing at home. I would image his reaction is more typical than mine.
  • There is no communion for you to take at home. The New Testament says the Christians had communion every first day of the week. We were able to pray and think about communion things, but didn’t have the bread and grape juice. This could be taken care of had we thought about it ahead of time.
  • It’s easier to do other things while worshipping. This is more of a personality thing I think. Because no one else is watching you though, it’s easier to pause and put clothes in the dryer or multi-task while watching. It probably interrupts the flow as much as day dreaming during the sermon in a physical church. On the plus side, if someone had to get up for some reason, you can pause it or rewind and not miss anything.
  • There’s no fellowship. One of the main reasons I believe God has placed us in community is because of the spiritual benefits being in the room with your brothers and sisters can provide. At home, there were no hugs, no one happy to see you, no one to give you emotional support or encouragement, no one to offer you help if you needed it.
  • There is no feeling of family for your kids or mentors. At home, your kids don’t get to interact with peers and adults like they do at church. There aren’t those relationships that become like extended family and give your kids emotional ties to the church. There are no relationships that develop into mentorships, giving your kids other adults who are encouraging them to grow spiritually. They also don’t have the opportunity to find peers who are trying to obey God – which is counter cultural – like they are. No way to feel a little less alone in that counter cultural journey which can be so tough when you are young.
  • There are no Bible classes. Done well, Bible classes give your kids chances to explore God’s word in ways that are most appropriate for them. It’s a place where they can ask questions and participate in activities that help them better understand what they are learning from the Bible. I’m not aware of any church that offers virtual Sunday School after their virtual worship service.
  • The opportunities to get involved in ministry with the church may be extremely limited. This particular congregation did a great job at keeping viewers informed of how they could participate in real activities with that church family. Others may not give that information on their live stream, or you may live so far away you couldn’t participate if you wanted to do so.
  • There is no way to be baptized to become a Christian or confess public sin to your brothers and sisters. Those things can happen, but you would have to be a lot more intentional about it.

Our conclusion? Virtual church works well if you are too ill to attend worship or are in a work situation that has caused you to miss service. It is not and probably should not replace attending a “regular” church and being an active part of that church family.

Yes, church families are filled with people who sin. It’s easy to want to avoid those “annoying” people, by attending church virtually. While we might miss being aggravated by someone, we are also missing the opportunity to grow spiritually by learning how to truly love that person. Virtual church as it is now, loses the accountability, encouragement and spiritual growth potential of a brick and mortar church family. For that reason alone, your family probably needs to spend almost all of your time worshipping in a “real” church.

Preparing Your Kids for Vocational Ministry

Vocational ministry is based on the idea that Christians should be ministering to those around them and sharing their faith in everything they do – including their occupation. Whether your children grow up to be stay at home parents, neurosurgeons, plumbers or anything in between, they can participate in vocational ministry.

Vocational ministry isn’t new. The Apostle Paul and his companions (Aquila and Priscilla among them) were tent makers. The Bible tells us they worked hard to earn the money for their expenses so they wouldn’t burden anyone. (See 2 Thessalonians 3:8, Acts 18:1-3, Acts 20:33-35 and Philippians 4:14-16)

It’s easy to imagine Paul working Jesus into conversations with his clients or asking them to hear him teach somewhere when he wasn’t working. Likewise, we can imagine Priscilla and Aquila answering their clients questions about Jesus or listening to them talk about their problems and finding ways to serve and teach them.

Your kids can do the same things, no matter which occupation they ultimately choose…if you prepare them. Some Christians have been unknowingly practicing vocational ministry for decades. Like Paul and his friends, they find ways to minister to others and share their faith while on the job. In some cases, it required creativity as they dealt with company restrictions, but somehow they managed.

Others have left Jesus in the church building, perhaps picking him up for an occasional conversation on their days off with someone, or participating on a short term mission trip or service activity with their church.

God means for us to be more like Paul, Priscilla, Aquila and ultimately Jesus himself. He wants you and your kids to minister to others and share your faith at every possible opportunity at school, work or during your free time.

Your kids will be more likely to have a personal vocational ministry if you have lots of discussions about it now. What careers interest them? How could they serve others and share their faith on the job? What restrictions does that career track place on talking about God at work? How can they still serve others and share their faith in spite of restrictions? (Note: Most companies just don’t want anyone spending work time teaching people about God or bothering people who aren’t interested. They have no restrictions on break times like lunch, after work, for voluntary participation or for conversations that don’t take place in company facilities. Others have no limitations at all.)

It’s also important you model vocational ministry to your children. Talk about the ways God gave you to serve people at work and/or share your faith when you get home each day. If you haven’t been doing those things, you can start now.

Finally, encourage your kids to start practicing vocational ministry now – at school and extra curricular activities. Talk about some things they can do or say. Make part of your end of day reflection talking about the ways each of you served others and shared your faith, as well as the opportunities you didn’t take advantage of. Why did you pass on the opportunity? What could you do differently next time?

It’s fine if you all learn about and begin practicing vocational ministry together. As you learn and grow, you will be reflecting God’s love, meeting the needs of those around you and sharing the Gospel message with others. And those are always great things for families to do together!