The Only Cure for Bullying

Awareness has been raised.  The hashtag campaign is in full force.  Celebrities and stars have enlisted in the fight.  Bullying, in many ways, has become one of the key issues of our day.  And for good reason.  Bullying poses a real threat to young people all across our country.  It has brought about trauma and tragedy.  It is an issue that really must be addressed.  However, can the pandemic of bullying be solved through celebrity shout outs and hashtags?  Although all these things might raise awareness, the ultimate answer to this question is ‘no.’  The primary reason for this is that the anti-bullying message becomes convoluted and confusing when it comes from a culture of bullying.  Consider the following.

1. Hypocrisy in pop culture.  Consider some of the titles of some of the most popular television shows currently: Pretty Little Liars, Scandal, Revenge, The Bachelor/Bachelorett, The Bad Girls Club, just to name a few.  These shows are insanely popular, especially among young ladies.  This leads to a ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ type of scenario that young people see right through, for the most part.

2. Actions speak louder than words.  Hollywood itself models elitism and bad behavior more than any place on the planet.  Most stars strut around with a do-whatever-I-want attitude, looking down on others and frequently even belittling anyone and everyone in their path.  This type of attitude can be clearly followed through news outlets like TMZ that celebrate this behavior as much as reporting on it.  Hollywood really serves as a How To manual for bullying more than a group of people serious about seeing it eradicated.

3.  Misplaced focus.  For years our culture has promoted self-esteem as one of its highest sought virtues.  What culture has failed to realize is that this promotion has not instilled confidence in the hearts of its young people, but rather self-centeredness.  When the chief goal in life is self-fulfillment and personal happiness, other people not only present the greatest obstacle to that, but also the most useful tool for self-promotion, which serves by-in-large as the greatest end game of bullying.

4. Demonization over thoughtful discourse.  Our culture has become inundated with lack of thought.  Instead, in order to get our point across and win a debate, we bully.  This is true in politics as much as anywhere else.  Instead of portraying true, truth-seeking, congenial dialogue for young eyes to consider, they see grown ups throwing temper tantrums and demonizing each other.  The only engagement they see consists of ugly caricatures and the vilification of one’s opponent.  Our young people, as a result, learn to simply squash any opposition that may arise to their own ideas or differences they have with others.

5. The devaluing of life.  Our abortion culture has led to the demeaning of life altogether.  As a result, we regard life only when that life proves itself useful to us.  When it does not, it simply can be cast aside and treated like trash.  Personal happiness has become our culture’s greatest goal.  When this is the case, people become tools of usefulness that can be trampled, manipulated and abused in order to justify that end.  People that are different have no inherent value, and the only way they can be useful is through degradation for one’s own purpose of self-promotion.  What else would we expect of a culture that has championed Darwinian evolution, which includes the idea of ‘survival of the fittest?’  Our young people are learning that their purpose is theirs to define, and they have taken that message to heart.

Hashtags aren’t going to solve the problem of bullying anymore than they will save kidnapped Christian schoolgirls from the hands of evil terrorists.

Jesus and his gospel offer the only true solution to bullying.  The very essence of bullying, as with all sinful actions, can be found in the heart, not in the action itself.  Calling people to somehow stand strong against bullying is like telling someone with addiction to simply stand strong and stop being addicted.  The symptom will not truly be treated until a person addresses the root of the issue, or the disease itself.  The Scriptures declare that, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Prov 17:9).  Bullying is not something we attain.  Bullying is in our very DNA.  Because of sin’s effects on the whole of creation, we were born into sin and are naturally bent toward sin.  One of the greatest effects of sin on our hearts includes selfishness.  We are naturally prone to think more highly of ourselves than we ought and others as useful to our own means.

Jesus, however, was born of a virgin, meaning that he was not born into sin as we all were.  After living a sinless life, fully honoring the Father and fulfilling the Law on our behalf, he willingly and sufficiently took our sin upon himself on the cross.  There God poured out his hatred and wrath upon Jesus as he bore our sin upon himself, thus fulfilling the legal demands that sin holds on our life, which is death and eternal separation from the blessed presence of our Creator.  When Jesus rose again it proved that the payment Jesus offered for our sin completely satisfied that legal demand, making a way for sinners like me to be reconciled with my Creator and restored in my relationship with him.  The gospel declares that this same rescue is available to anyone who would repent of their sin and trust in Jesus as their substitute and Lord.

The power of the gospel can be found in its ability to radically and supernaturally change sinful humans.  Once we embrace Jesus and rest in all he accomplished on our behalf, he places his Spirit within us, enabling us to experience true outward change as he transforms the root of all of our sinful behavior, our hearts.  Only he can bring about that kind of change at the very root of our being.  If something more powerful than our sinful nature does not truly deal with our sinfulness, then there can be no lasting change in our outward actions.  After all, as Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”  Whatever is in our hearts will make its way out.

How does the gospel offer the only viable cure for the evil of bullying?

1. The Gospel helps us understand who we are.  We are created in the image of God, our Creator.  That is what gives us our value, dignity and meaning.  We are not left to create or pursue those things on our own.  We are precious in his sight, created uniquely and with great care. Significance and purpose can be found in knowing him, not in competition and rivalry with others.  We attain deeper understanding of our created identity by pursuing and knowing Jesus, not by looking at and comparing ourselves to others.

2. The Gospel helps us understand who others are.  Not only have we been created in the image of God, but so has everyone else around us.  Therefore, we must view every person we come into contact with as such.  The gospel allows us to see that they are an eternal being, not a temporary tool.  They are precious and unique, which does not make them somehow less than me just because they are different than me.  They were created to know and worship God, not to vie for my attention or serve my means.  They are my neighbor, and my chief responsibility is to love them, serve them, encourage them, and regard them as more important than myself.  I am not to label others and see people in categories.  Sin divides; love overcomes.  I do not get to define their value; rather, God has assigned them their dignity and worth.  When I strip them of those things and devalue their image, I profane the One in whose image they have been created.

3. The Gospel commands and enables us to love our ‘neighbor.’  As Jesus makes clear in his parable of the Good Samaritan Neighbor, the gospel does not allow us the ability to define who our neighbor is and who it is not.  Instead, it compels us and enables us to love and serve all people…even our enemies.  Whereas sin has brought division (us seeing each other according to race, gender, socio-economic status, popularity, looks, etc.), the gospel reconciles and unifies.  Scripture clearly shows the heart of God even and especially toward ‘the least of these,’ or those who find themselves on the margins of society.  This group often endures the pain of bullying the most.  God commands his children, however, that although these have been outcast and chided by society, they are filled with dignity because they are created in his image and those for whom Christ died to save.  There are no such distinctions in the Gospel, and one day upon Jesus’ return, God’s Kingdom will be greatly diverse, filled with all sorts of people who have only one thing in common: grace.

4. The Gospel causes us to see others through the lens of eternal reality.  C. S. Lewis once said, “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.”  He said this out of an eternal understanding.  Every single person will spend eternity somewhere.  Those who have rested in what Christ has accomplished on their behalf, trusting him for salvation, will spend eternity in his presence in his eternal Kingdom.  Those outside of Christ will experience an eternal punishment in a place called Hell, having no substitute savior to spare them that horror.  That reality, which can only truly be understood with the help of God’s Spirit, will radically shape the way we treat others.  If brothers and sisters in Christ, we understand that we will spend eternity with them, compelling us to bear with them, love them, show them grace, and edify them.  If those outside of Christ, we will treat them out of dire compassion, seeking to point them to Christ and ultimately to salvation in him.  There exists no room for bullying or slander when looking at others through the lens of the gospel.

5. The Gospel causes us to see and understand the disease, instead of aimlessly dealing with symptoms.  This is the essence of sin; yet, it is also the essence of gospel change.  We must carefully define sin.  Sin is not so much the bad things we do, like bullying.  Sin is instead the reality of our hearts as fallen humanity.  We are born with sinful hearts, causing us to be bent toward sin.  Our bad behavior, like bullying, simply exist as manifestations of sin.  Therefore, if we try under our own strength to ‘fix’ our bad behavior, the greater disease remains.  We can call people to stand against bullying with all of our strength, but it neither offers a cure for the disease at the root of the behavior, nor provides them the ability or strength to truly change.  Only the gospel can both cure the essence of the problem, as well as sustain lasting change through the empowerment of the Spirit’s abiding presence.

We can follow the world’s advice to “be nice” to one another, but being nice only provides makeup to temporarily cover the true ugliness of our sin-sick hearts.  I can be nice to someone, yet continue to harbor hatred for them within.  I can be nice to someone’s face, yet continue to slander them when their back is turned.  Eventually ‘nice’ wears off because it is not the fruit of lasting change.  I find it interesting that there are exactly zero commands in the Bible for us to be nice.  In fact, that word is foreign to Scriptures altogether.  Instead, the Scriptures tell us that the fruit of the Spirit includes kindness.  Kindness is motivated by the heart.  This means that kindness is genuine and authentic because it flows from a posture of a heart toward someone that regards them as more important than one’s self.  Kindness is also a fruit of the Spirit, meaning that we are truly incapable of such action without the Spirit’s empowerment.  Even despicable people can conjure up nice; kindness, however, flows only from a heart that has been transformed and a mind that has been renewed.  Only Jesus and his gospel can accomplish that.

Life Groups Are Not and Can Not Be the End for Spiritual Growth

growingAs pastor of discipleship at Westwood, I have been struggling with something for some time now.  I believe our Life Groups are vital to the health and growth of our church Body.  I have heard many testimonies about how they have strengthened individual believers.  My family has benefited from taking part in our own Life Group.  I know that most people at Westwood know just how important Life Groups are in my view.  However, I want to make something clear.  Life Groups are not and can not become the end for Spiritual Growth and discipleship.  Let me explain what I mean.

Although we focus on three very important values within our Life Groups–those being discipleship, ministry and mission–we simply cannot pursue all areas of discipleship within that one small group program.  Life Groups are wonderful for connecting families together, reflecting and applying what has been taught from the pulpit, intentionally ministering to each other’s needs, encouraging each other in the area of personal evangelism/mission, and occasionally going on mission together.  But there is so much more to discipleship!  I know of the frustration of some that would like to go deeper, more intimate, in Life Groups, but are hindered by the fact that our groups are ‘open’ and ‘multiplying.’  Well, let me clarify my answer to that frustration.

Life Groups are not designed for that level of intimacy. Continue reading

What Would Your Spiritual Flipagram Look Like?

A couple of days ago, as is often the case, I found myself having to delete some stuff off of my iPhone in order to make room for a new update. If you have an iPhone, surely you can understand that process! First, you open the ‘usage’ part of the settings to see if there are any space-hogging apps that you can part with. Second, you go ahead and start hacking away at all of the temporary stuff, like photos and videos. One thing that I have found out about myself is that I am a picture hoarder. I hate deleting photos…especially ones of my kids! But, you gotta do what you gotta do, so you spend what feels like an eternity scrolling and checking pictures that can go. The worst part about this process is that with each rep it seems like you delete almost everything on your phone only to find out you have only freed like .02 mb of space!! This leads to yet another round of space clearing. I hate this process.

Anyway, as I scrolled through my pictures, painfully checking the ones to delete, I came across a video I had made at the beginning of the year. This particular video included pictures that I had uploaded to Instagram throughout the year. In 30 seconds that video quickly navigated through my year via Instagram. After leaving that box unchecked and completing my current rep of deletes, I went back and re-watched the video for the first time since uploading it in January. I especially loved watching my children grow through the pictures and reliving special moments that had occurred during the months of 2013. I also realized just how much of those neat events that I had almost completely forgotten. I became thankful for the opportunity to remember and relish once again in those memories.

A thought struck me as I watched the video through for the third time. If I were to make a spiritual recap video for 2013, what would that look like? What kind of snapshots would be included in that 30 second video? I became convicted on a number of levels as I pondered this thought. Continue reading

The Power of Grace

In his sermon this past Sunday our Pastor, Gerald, spoke of one of the deepest reasons that we fail to share the gospel with others.  He said that perhaps we have just come to believe that some people are simply too far gone.  He reminded us that salvation is a supernatural work of God that can open the eyes of any person, no matter how heinous, apathetic or hateful we believe them to be.  As he proclaimed this truth, a powerful portion of Les Miserable came into my mind.  It includes a soliloquy by Jean Valjean just after he has been shown incredible mercy and grace by a priest who took him in.  I was reminded of just how powerful demonstrations of grace can be in a rebellious life.  As I went back and watched that clip, especially ValJean’s struggle with the grace he had been shown, I was reminded that often God uses such demonstrations of grace through us to bring lost people to repentance and draw them to himself.  Instead of being pessimistic toward the lost state of others, may we be conduits of God’s grace, trusting him to draw even those whom we deem to be the most radically lost sinners to himself!
Here are the lyrics, as well as Hugh Jackman’s performance from the 2012 film, which I believe to be his most powerful of the whole movie. Continue reading

Gospel Transformation & Treasure

wordtolife copyOne of the most well known declarations of the Apostle Paul can be found in Philippians 1:21.  “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Upon reading these words Paul offers his readers an opportunity to see his great internal struggle as he nears the end of his life.  Although the work brings him great joy as he writes to what he considers to be the greatest fruit of his labor for the gospel, his body is worn and broken from the persecution and suffering for its sake.  He knows that both avenues mentioned will bring glory to his Savior, as he has just stated in the previous verse, but if the choice were left to him, he cannot be sure which he would ultimately choose.  The one thing he does, he continues to rest in the sovereignty of God, knowing that each breath provides him more time to complete ‘fruitful labor’ (v. 22).

As I read these words once again, I am struck that not only do these words paint a picture of this anguish that exists in Paul’s heart, but it also powerfully illustrates two great realities of the gospel.  For us, especially as American believers, it is nearly impossible to identify with Paul’s distress.  Most of us will never come close to experiencing that type of suffering for the sake of the gospel.  However, this declaration, because of the two gospel realities it conveys, should be the same cry of every believer’s heart!  So what are those two realities? Continue reading

Looking at Each Other with Gospel Confidence

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As in all of his letters, Paul begins his message to the Philippian church by giving thanks for them and offering prayer for them.  Verses 3-5 read, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”

I began a new study with our students this past week working through this beautiful letter.  As I read these initial words for what seems to be the thousandth time, I attempted to look past my own familiarity with these words and really seek to feel the emotions Paul expressed in writing to his brothers and sisters.  His love for this church is obvious through his thanksgiving, his prayer, his transparency, and his encouragement.

Paul continues in verse 6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  As I sought to feel what Paul expressed to his brothers and sisters in Philippi, I became quite convicted when reading this verse.  As I have had time to reflect on it, here are some thoughts that have captivated my mind.  Continue reading

Am I a Disciple Maker? How can I know?

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In the opening verses of 2 Timothy 3, Paul warns Timothy concerning godlessness in the last days.  The warning contains a sad list of the resulting realities of sin within a world filled with sin sick hearts.  The list includes love of self and money, pride, arrogance, heartlessness, slanderousness, treachery and reckless behavior, among others.  He encourages Timothy that the people he has described “will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all…” (v. 9).  Perhaps this should encourage us in a day that many believers feel incredible pressure to compromise the truth in order to be accepted.

In light of this dire forecast, Paul offers the following reminder to his young brother in the faith:

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings…But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it. (v. 10, 11, & 14, emphasis mine)

Notice the personal nature of Paul’s admonition to Timothy.  He doesn’t simply offer Timothy abstract ideas that he should have picked up along the way.  He points not only to the Scriptures, but more importantly, the demonstration of his life as he has lived out those principles before Timothy.  Paul is able to remind Timothy of a relationship that has been filled with intentionality in discipleship.  Paul’s lessons to Timothy include not only words spoken and read, but an example lived and practical lessons taught.  Continue reading