I’ve been thinking a lot about bullies lately, for multiple reasons. Nick Vujicic came to our state to speak on the topic in the public schools, and for the last month I’ve been reading a lot about bullies in the Bible. It’s got me thinking.
The bullies I’ve been reading about, they were recognized leaders of the Jewish faith. Pharisees, teachers of the law. Yet they used their position to bully the people, lording over them with their books of rules and their pious attitudes. They used their place of leadership to make themselves look better, and they gained and kept their positions of power by putting others down.
Into this mess walked Jesus.
Jesus, who was free of sin. Jesus, who was free of pride. Jesus, who was the absolute authority on the word of God because he was the Word made flesh. Jesus, who was the ultimate example of leadership because he was the Leader of the universe, God-made-flesh, the alpha and omega.
And do you know what? Those Pharisees, the Sadducees, the teachers of the law? They bullied Jesus.
They taunted him with their words, they belittled him with their actions. They put him down, they teased him. They gathered crowds around them and then pointed out every flaw they thought they saw in him, putting him down for everything from his hand-washing habits to his identity itself. They baited him and tried to get him in trouble with the Romans. They bragged about their extensive knowledge of the law and tried to use the word of the law against the Word himself, forgetting entirely the spirit of the law and thus shutting themselves out from the Spirit Itself.
What made them do this? What makes a bully act as he does? At the core, bullying is carried out by people whose identity is not secure, by those whose own leadership and character will not stand up by itself, but needs to be propped up by putting others beneath them. They exclude others and spread lies about them, they act in dark corners rather than stand in the light, they belittle the accomplishments and abilities of others while they exaggerate their own. And the difficult thing about it is, the more upstanding and impressive another person’s abilities….the harder the bullies fight to bring him down.
They killed Jesus.
But the bullies, they didn’t win. They were, in fact, being used by God to carry out his greater plan; the plan by which the God of the universe came to Earth to turn things upside down, to show us that it is the meek who inherit the Earth, the suffering who will be comforted, the poor in spirit to whom the Kingdom of God belongs. Jesus came to show us the perfect vision of leadership, the kind that operates out of kindness and gentleness, the kind that serves others rather than serves self, the kind that does not break a bruised reed or belittle a child. Oh, the bullies seemed to win for a moment there…but by their own words and deeds they will be condemned. And, I’ve read the Book…in the end, Jesus will ride through it all with his army of light, wash through all the darkness and expose every malicious act, every deceitful word. In the end? There will be no more bullies.
One instance in the book of John struck a chord. The bullies, in their drive to take down Jesus and show themselves as the true authority over the Jews, they caught a woman in the act of adultery. Sensing an opportunity, they waited until they saw Jesus surrounded by people at the temple. Seeing those people listening to Jesus, hungry for his words, it must have infuriated the Pharisees…and bullies love to put others down in front of a crowd. So out they came, the poor wretched woman dragging along behind, and they interrupted the conversation to bait Jesus with a problem. Here was a woman caught in adultery, the law of Moses said to stone her! What would Jesus say? They were thinking, their minds overcome with malice, that Jesus would now be in a bind. To say no to the stoning would be to go against Mosaic law! But to say yes, would be to go against Roman law. Either way, Jesus would be in trouble.
Never mind that the law stated that both the woman and the man caught in the act were to be stoned. Never mind that this law was almost never actually carried out. Never mind that they themselves were taking no responsibility for the problem.
We know what Jesus did here. They persisted in questioning him (and oh, aren’t all bullies persistent?) until he said, “Let he who has no sin cast the first stone”. And he stooped there, and wrote with his finger in the dust while the crowd uncomfortably shifted from one foot to the other, then slowly walked away. And Jesus, alone with the woman, looked up from the dust and told her that he, too did not condemn her (and Jesus was the only one there with the authority to do so!). “Go,” he said, “And sin no more.”
What hurts my heart, friends, is Christian bullies. How can we look at the example of Jesus, claim to know him, and then act like the Pharisees? Christian bullies give us all a bad name. They haul out people they catch in sin and brandish them in front of the crowds, calling for damnation even as their own sin hangs out for all to see. They put themselves first and ridicule those who they are meant to serve. They serve self before Christ, and certainly before others. They put others down to make themselves look better, trying to cover the red stains of their own sin with the crimson blood of those they deem weaker than they.
Jesus shows us what it is to lead: It is to die to self, to die if necessary, to put it all out on the line in order to serve those you have been trusted with. Jesus shows us how to treat others, to accept them, love them, and call them to be better. He does not condone the woman’s sin, nor does he ignore it or gloss over it. He simply says, go, and sin no more. It’s up to her to change, and I think the chances of her deciding to do so were much better because of how Jesus handled the situation than they would have been had she been ridiculed, judged, and finally stoned. There is no place for bullying in the body of Christ, for if we follow His example it should be clear that this is not the heart of Christianity, nor of Christ himself.
I’m blessed by examples of Christ-like leadership in my own life, and I have seen first hand how this changes lives and brings the joy of salvation into the lives of many. But I have seen also the damage that bullying does, from Christian leaders whose fame is built on the broken backs of others (and whose eventual downfall shames the church at large) down to bully behavior in young Christians who ought to know better. And it makes me sad, and also angry.
There has been much speculation as to what it was that Jesus wrote there in the dust, surrounded by the crowds who found they could cast no stone. There are many good theories but so far no solid answers, until the day we can ask him ourselves. Some people think that he wrote the names of the woman’s accusers, and their own sins. I wonder if among the words he traced there in the dirt may have been…The bullies do not win.
This one was too good not to share. While sitting in the shop waiting for new tires to be put on the van, I had the opportunity to thumb through some Sunset magazines. I ran across this cake recipe, which I adjusted to make gluten and dairy free. It’s so good! The concept of eating orange peels is a little odd, but it turns out that the peel really adds something special to this cake. It’s moist, full of flavor, and you don’t notice the gluten/dairy free aspect at all! I added some orange zest to the glaze as well, because it didn’t taste orange-y enough for me. Here’s the recipe:
- 1 cup butter substitute, softened (I used Nucoa)
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 2 oranges (about 1 lb. total), ends trimmed, then cut into chunks and seeded
- 2 1/2 cups gluten free flour mix (I use Tom Sawyer brand, or King Arthur.)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (use 1/4 tsp. if you’re not making it gluten free)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder (use 1/2 tsp if you’re not making it gluten free)
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 tsp. orange juice
- 1 tsp. orange zest
- 1. Preheat oven to 325°. Coat a 10-cup Bundt pan with cooking-oil spray. In a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed, beat butter substitute and granulated sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs.
- 2. Whirl orange chunks in a food processor until mostly smooth but not puréed. You want some small chunks of peel still left. Add 1 1/2 cups orange mixture to batter and beat until blended (I added all of the oranges, which was closer to 2 cups and it turned out fine). Add gluten free flour substitute, salt, baking soda, and baking powder to bowl and beat until smooth. Spread batter in prepared pan.
- 3. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few crumbs clinging to it, about 55 minutes. Cool pan on a rack 10 minutes, then invert cake onto rack and let cool completely.
- 4. Whisk together powdered sugar and orange juice and zest in a small bowl. Drizzle over cooled cake. Let glaze set, then slice cake.
It is another of those busy days, a Sunday. Our friends suggest dinner and we decline, too many loose ends to tie up before the work-week begins and too few hours to find some rest. And then we pick the phone back up again a moment later and un-decline, because the soul of our family cried out that we just need fellowship right now, more than rest and carefully tied-up ends.
It is the night that she comes in, on a tide of small children, looking weary. And she comments again about how clean our house is and how her’s isn’t and I wince because I see how she judges herself, this beautiful God-graced woman measuring herself up against a hastily vacuumed floor and cursory dusting.
And I am suddenly done with looking perfect on the outside and having others break by measuring themselves against what the outside image projects. I am done with breaking myself over the same thing, constantly coming up short because everyone else looks so much like they have it all together. Done with hiding my imperfections behind closed doors.
The truth? I don’t have it all together.
So as the kids are throwing cornmeal-crusted disks of pizza dough (moon-white wheels hang in the oven-warm night of the kitchen) and as laughter is ringing through the house, I lead my friend upstairs and take her to the place that’s not clean, to the bedroom door that stays shut when guests come over. I show her the laundry, unfolded. the shoes on the floor. The trash in the bathroom, overflowing. I show her the mess. I brave the fear of embarrassment, of rejection, and I show her the ugly because I am choosing, at that moment, to stop hiding behind a barrier of perfect.
Because somewhere in each of our lives there is a mess, an area of chaos that we just haven’t gotten around to yet. And I have been so quick to protect that, to hide it away and project a careful image of order, beauty, strength. Because who wants to talk about the ugly? And so we each end up looking at each other’s clean surface and convincing ourselves that we are worse off than everyone else, that the mess in our closet is that much uglier, that much more un-cleanable than the one in everyone else’s. And it drives us to hide it all the more, and to try to be even more perfect on the outside, and to judge ourselves harshly.
It leads us to forget who we are, who we really are in Christ.
The truth? It doesn’t really matter if my closet is a mess or if the bathroom trash needs taking out. It doesn’t matter…the stretch marks, the way my body has changed over the pregnancies and over the years, the way the laugh-lines crinkle when I smile. It doesn’t matter, the pain of the past and the ugliness of grief and the millions of ways that I don’t add up yet to what I’d like to be. What matters is that all the scars, all the messiness, all the ways in which I’m broken…they are all God-ordained. He gave them to me, and he will use them to his glory if I am not afraid to let him.
Our wounds, our scars, our ugly messes? Those weaknesses we hide, the ones we build walls around? They are warrior-weapons in the hands of a broken, wounded savior…the scarred hands of One who turns grief into laughter, weakness into strength, even death into life. They are the arrows that can pierce darkness with light, that can speak to another’s life and say: Forgiven. Loved. Accepted. Not because of any sort of perfect that ever came from me, but because of the one and only Perfect One who lives in me now. Why do we still doubt that he can use even our most ugly scars to his glory? Do we not trust him enough to give him all of who we are?
The depth of life that God created us to experience can’t be fully appreciated if we don’t let the dark colors show, if we whitewash over our lives in matching, neutral beige. I will not glory in the ugly, the messy, the painful scars. But I will glory in the One who can use them to make something new, to do something beautiful. And if that means sharing what I’d rather hide, well…come on in, let me show you my whole house. The beautiful, and the ugly, and everything in between.
Linking up with Emily Wierenga today…
“Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family, and portions for her female servants. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.”
How many of you have done a study on the Proverbs 31 woman? And…honestly again…how many of you came out of that study still feeling like you weren’t good enough or maybe even feeling worse? Women are bad about comparing ourselves to others. We can get so caught up in ways to fulfill each of those verses that when we discuss them we end up mentally comparing ourselves to each other and feeling either smug because we think we’ve got that particular couple of verses down, or inferior because we realize that other women are doing great in an area that we are weak in.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.”
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.”
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
“You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.” Ezekiel 34:3-5
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”