Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
In the neighborhood of Queens, New York City, 1964, a young 28 year-old woman named Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death right outside of the apartment building where she lived. The reason this criminal incident is so well known is not because of the murder itself—as shocking as it was. The murder of Kitty Genovese is infamous because of the failure of every single one of the thirty-eight or so bystanders to take action to either stop the murder or call for help. Thirty-eight. Thirty-eight people were reported to have either seen or heard the murder happen, and yet not one person stepped in to help—or even called the police. Thirty-eight bystanders watched or listened on as Kitty’s life was taken from her that day.
This incident later became the foundation for the Bystander Effect or the Genovese Syndrome. Social psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley, who popularized the Bystander Effect, attribute it to two factors: diffusion of responsibility and social influence. Diffusion of responsibility basically means that the more “bystanders” there are, the less personal responsibility an individual will take on. The reason teachers love small-groups is because it is harder for individual students to diffuse responsibility among a smaller group. It’s also the same reason students don’t like small-groups, because they can’t just hide in the crowd. They have to interact, answer questions, etc. Then there is the social influence, which basically means that you will do whatever the other bystanders are doing—or not doing. In the example of Kitty’s murder, those 38 bystanders saw no one else doing anything. Even though a murder was happening right in front of them, they failed to break the conformity of that immediate circle of thirty-eight people.
How many times have we done this in our faith life? How many times have we told ourselves that we can just hide in the crowd and not have to take action? How many times have we been so afraid of stepping out of line or going against the grain that we fail to live the way we are called to live? Let me ask you, how many times did Jesus step out of the social influence, the conformity of his religious peers, and the diffusion of responsibility among the crowd—to reach out and help those who are in need? He saw them as souls having value, rather than just another outcast of society. Jesus healed the sick and the blind. The blind man at Bethsaida (Mk. 8:22-26) and Bartimaeus outside of Jericho (Mk. 10:46-52). He treated women and children as if they were creations of God rather than some property or second class citizens. He healed them and welcomed them (Mk 5:21-43, Mt. 19:13-15, Lk. 7:11-17). He approached lepers, the ultimate example of social outcasts, and treated them with civility and mercy (Mk. 1:40-45, Mt. 8:1-4, Lk. 5:12-16; 17:11-19). He touched them and healed them, something not even the priests would have dared to do. Jesus subverts our expectations at every turn, and he breaks conformity at every opportunity. He is not paralyzed at the sight of someone in need; he springs into action, and continues to work even today. When we are helpless and in need, our cries do not fall on deaf ears—not as long as Jesus is alive. And he is alive and working today.
We are called to be like Christ, and part of that calling is to break free from conformity and social influence (Rom. 12:2). We are not called to hide in the crowd. Never should our personal responsibility of righteousness and good works be diffused among the crowd. We must not have a “someone else will take care of it” mentality…ever.
I wonder if there were any Christians among the thirty-eight bystanders who watched and listened as Kitty Genovese was killed. May we never just be another bystander. May we never let evil and falsehood prevail in our presence. I pray that we all will work to break free from the paralysis of the bystander effect, and take action, every one of us, for Christ and his Kingdom.
You know, there is a positive aspect of the Bystander Effect. Just as people are negatively affected by the diffusion of responsibility and social influence, even those can be flipped to have a positive effect. All it takes is a few people to break that social influence, and spring into action. Then the other bystanders will be pulled to spring into action themselves. It is contagious. When those few break out, it breaks the spell of the bystander effect.
Christ calls all of us to be those few who will break the paralysis. However, we cannot break the conformity while still being a part of the world. We must first break away from the world and become one with Christ through repentance and baptism. Even after that initial step, the job is not done. As a Christian, we cannot just return to standing in the crowd as a bystander. Do not be a bystander; an onlooker; just another body in the endless sea of spectators. Remember that Jesus never froze up at the sight of suffering or need. As Jesus first broke through to reach us while we were still in sin, let us also break free from the paralysis of the bystander, and spring once more into action.
For the past 18 months, there have been many changes that we have had to get accustomed to- new guidelines and restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic .There are a lot of political issues and differences, a lot of immoral activities you see on the news. These topics I have just mentioned has given me anxiety over the past 18 months and I’m sure you can agree with me.
We all deal with anxieties, stress and fear:
–Loss of a loved one, rather that be family member or friend. The toughest situation I have ever dealt with so far in my life is losing my dad almost seven years ago to liver cancer. It was very tough to see him battling liver cancer and the toil it took on his body.
–Dealing with health issues of our own, spouse, child or other family members.
–Moving to a new area – Unfamiliar community, people, tough on the whole family
–Jobs can be stressful or give us anxiety – A lot of time at work I don’t like change.
THAT’S ENOUGH GLOOM AND DOOM – LETS LOOK AT SOME GOOD NEWS!
Psalms 34:19 reads, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”
Consider three promises you can believe for anxiety. These are things that God tells us to do with our heart, mind, and eyes to combat our anxiety:
1. In Philippians, we learn what to do with our hearts when we are anxious. For you math lovers, like me, apostle Paul actually gives us a mathematical equation to tech us what to do with our hearts: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). Did you catch the equation? Prayer + Supplication=Peace! God wants to hear all about our anxieties because he cares for us. Supplication means asking for something humbly. That something is peace. Because of our pride, we want to be in control of our own lives. To receive true peace, we must humbly go to God and release the control to him. The result of the equation is peace – when we have true peace from God, he protects you against temptations to be anxious.
2. In Isaiah, we learn what to do with our minds to receive God’s perfect peace. “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). It is difficult to keep our minds on Christ when we are going through trials here on Earth. Our minds want to focus on what we are going through. Anxiety is not of the Lord but from the Devil as a distraction to the work of kingdom. We worry about our lives and are blinded from the opportunities God is giving us to serve him. “Bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). When you have anxious thoughts, surrender them to the only one who is ALWAYS in control of this ever-changing world.
3. We learn in Psalms what to do with our eyes when we are overwhelmed with our circumstances. “I will lift up my eyes to the hills-From where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved. He who keeps you will not slumber” (Psalms 121:1-3). By shifting your focus from your situation to the never changing promises of God, you begin to trust Him more. As you trust Him more, your anxiety begins to fade away because you realize how big God is in comparison to your troubles. God promises those who look to him that he will never forsake them and will never let them fall. You may stumble through struggles in life, but God will always be there to catch you if you keep your eyes on Him.
Always remember, whenever you are struggling with anxiety, align your heart, mind, and eyes with God. God promises to never leave you and he will provide you with peace-perfect peace.
“Discipline your thoughts to trust Me as I work my ways in your life. Pray about everything; then leave outcomes up to Me. Do not fear My will, for through it I accomplish what is best for you” (Jesus Calling – Enjoying Peace in His Presence , Sarah Young). We should always trust God and Jesus in whatever circumstance we are going through. Always go to him in prayer with what is on our hearts. God knows what is best for us and we should have nothing but absolute trust in Him!
Panic buying was in the news again following the Colonial Pipeline hack. People fearing a gasoline supply interruption bought up all the gasoline in many stations throughout the southeast and mid-Atlantic. You might also recall the panic buying of 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic inexplicably caused people to panic-buy toilet paper and paper towels. Why do people engage in this type of behavior? In a word, it is anxiety. Dr. Shahram Heshmat provides seven reasons people choose panic buying as the balm for uncertainty. I would like for us to consider those reasons in addition to the proper, Biblical response.
Panic buying is a peculiar problem of modern man. However, it ultimately stems from anxiety, a commodity of which Christians are to be in short supply. Not only did Jesus tell us not to worry (Matthew 6.25ff), but Paul reminds us that prayer brings incomprehensible peace (Philippians 4.6-7). Let us avail ourselves of the precious promises of our Lord and cast our anxiety upon Him (1 Peter 5.7).
Heshmat, Shahram. “7 Reasons for Panic-Buying Behavior.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 22 Mar. 2020, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-choice/202003/7-reasons-panic-buying-behavior.
For those not on social media and connected either with Kathy or any of our three sons, Carl, our youngest (and Thursday’s blog writer), was in a serious motorcycle accident a little over a week ago. A large pickup truck tried to turn left onto the highway and Carl hit it going highway speed. Our concern was for both his immediate safety and longterm health. Add this to two sons unofficially assisting police in breaking up a local theft ring, a son tackling a shoplifter attempting to flee a store and interrupting a gang initiation beating, broken bones, ER trips, ICU stints for health issues, and that’s not to mention innumerable “close calls,” “near misses,” “close shaves,” and “narrow escapes.” Of course, it’s not just health. What about their relationships? What about their jobs, careers, and financial futures? What about the country they are inheriting or the children God may bless them with? Most of all, what about their spiritual condition, their faith, and their relationship with Christ? With each new phase of life, we are left to numerous consider “what ifs.” For future empty-nesters, that does not decline or disappear when they leave home. If anything, it mounts. So, how does a Christian not worry about their children?
Philippians 4:6. Paul urges us to “be anxious for nothing.” That word for anxious depicts apprehension, being unduly concerned about possible danger or misfortune. We can drive ourselves crazy thinking of all the scary scenarios. Paul says instead to pray (speak to God and petition His help), supplicate (urgently request God to meet the need, suggesting begging and pleading), and express gratitude. Specifically articulate the help you seek from God. Won’t this just make things worse? Not at all. Instead, “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (7).
Luke 12:25-26. Luke records Jesus’ voluminous teaching on various material concerns. In the middle of it, Jesus shares a principle that applies to any number of matters. He teaches, “And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?” What a practical, sensible truth. What do we change by endless fretting and worrying? Does it change outcomes? Does the exercise of worry keep the bad and scary things from occurring? Does it override the freewill choices of our children or others? We are at one place at a time. God knows everything (30). “He who keeps you will not slumber…nor sleep” (Psa. 121:3-4). Trust that!
Matthew 6:33. What Matthew records is close to parallel to the material in Luke 12, though the wording and setting are different. The counsel here is about prioritization. It’s hard to “let go and let God,” but that’s Jesus’ bottom-line guidance. Again, in context, He’s dealing with material things rather than our kids. But substituting the one concern for the other does not change the principle. We are well-served to practice “God-firstness” from as early as possible, before our children are born. We should strive to live by that principle throughout the years they are in our homes, trying to show it to them. Then, we must continue to live it out personally and exemplify it before them after they leave the home. God’s kingdom, His will, His righteousness, His goals, His Word comes first and foremost. Keeping focus on that, trust Him to take care of not only us but those whose lives we care about. Jesus sweetly consoles us, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (34).
1 Peter 5:7. I love how Peter acknowledges that we all have anxiety. We’re all tempted (and all of us at least occasionally succumb to the temptation) to worry. Peter’s words are practical. Humbling yourself under God’s all-powerful hand, throw all your anxieties on Him. He is strong enough to carry it. Do you know what’s the best part? Not only can He do it, He wants to. Why? He cares for you! He’s your Father. “Care” here means concern and anxiousness. Our lives matter to Him. His heart is involved. We may not stop to think that all of us are His children. The difference is that this Father can see the future, is fully in control, will never be startled or surprised, and never lacks for what to say, how to react, and what to do. How foolish not to give Him the things we would obsess over, be consumed with, and eaten up by.
I wish I could tell you I will never worry about Gary, Dale, and Carl again. Those who know them know what a tall task that is. I wish I could tell you that you will never worry about your precious children again. But, none of us should. We can make progress and get better if we’ll feed on the rich truths of passages like the ones we’ve visited briefly together today. Go back and read them again. Drink deeply of their comforting, helpful truths. They will help you trust Him more with whatever frightening prospects you face regarding your children’s lives. I don’t promise. He does!
In the first chapter of Genesis we read that God made man dominion over every creature He had made. Then in James 3:7 the inspired writer says, “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind.” When we think about the implications of that and then apply it to the world of the Old Testament it becomes even more impressive. The first humans lived with all kinds of beasts, including the dinosaurs. Whatever image comes to mind when you think of those extinct reptiles, it’s probably not that of a tame animal. God gives us a curious glimpse into the past where humans and dinosaurs not only coexisted, but we managed to tame them. In Ecclesiastes, the preacher concludes his sermon in chapter 12 by saying we must prepare ourselves for the day we meet our Creator. The spirit that He made will one day return back to Him. Solomon then says, “fear God.”
The correlation between “spirit” and “fear” is also seen in the New Testament. Paul writes to a fearful and wavering Timothy, “God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). The message in the Old and New Testament then is, “fear nothing but God.” When Adam and Eve were in the garden they feared nothing because that’s not the spirit that God gave them. He gave us one of power, because of the God we serve. He is our Father and He has all the power. He gave us a spirit of love. We aren’t animals. We aren’t lions who display great power but lack the ability to love. We were made in the image of God and that means we have both a spirit, which is our life force, and a soul— our eternal life force. On top of all this God gave us the spirit of a sound mind. The Greek word used there means a mind that is calm. Even in the face of calamity and craziness, we can be calm. Why? Because we are God’s children and God is in control. One day every faithful Christian will get back that perfect spirit given to His original creations. Spirits without fear.
When you’re reading the Bible or sitting in a Bible class do you ever secretly think you’re better in some ways than the characters you’re studying? Before that sounds terrible let me explain.
Moses is walking along minding his own business and tending to his father in-law’s flock in Exodus three. As the chapter progresses we see that he has a supernatural encounter with God when God appears to him from a burning bush. The voice of The Angel of the Lord is speaking from a bush that isn’t consumed by this supernatural fire— incredible. Would that be enough to convince you to go and confront the most powerful and powerfully stubborn world leader of the day?
What about the disciples when Jesus calms the storm in Mark four then walks on the water in Mark six? After these encounters the disciples still respond, “Who is this Man?”
Maybe on occasion we find ourselves thinking that we would react and act more favorably in similar situations.
As Christians there are certainly times when we fall embarrassingly short, but the same God that spoke from a burning bush to Moses and calmed the seas is the very God that reaches out to pick us back up when we fall. It’s tragic that some, even in the church, have this image of God in their minds as a stern tyrant waiting for us to become hopelessly tangled in this messy world. Your Creator is just too perfect to act like that. If you find yourself struggling spiritually then may this be a friendly reminder to look up and grab the hand of our Savior. He understands how human we are and how desperately we needed the One He sent in the first place.
In the movie 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea there is a scene where one of the main characters finds himself on an island in the middle of the ocean. Suddenly he hears the faint sound of bongo drums in the distance and the sound becomes louder and closer. Out of the jungle a large group of cannibalistic natives appear, chasing this poor man across the beach. The hero escapes, but only by the skin of his teeth. That scene used to terrify me and an irrational fear of cannibals was instilled in me at a fragile age. In the 1830s when European explorers came to the Fiji islands they were horrified to discover the local practice of cannibalism. To me, the sake of exploration is not worth confronting that particular fear.
We all fear something! The one who claims to be fearless is afraid to admit or confront their fear. Fear isn’t wrong, it’s natural. We’re supposed to have a healthy fear of the Lord (Job 28:28). Facing our fears is a noble thing, but it really only matters in a spiritual sense.
A common phobia in our world today seems to be the fear of truth itself. Many Christians in the Lord’s church know family members and friends who have refused to listen to and act on the truth found in God’s Word. They’re afraid to give up the teachings taught to them by their families or the religious groups they grew up in. They’re afraid that the truth requires them to give up a sin they tightly hold on to and the sacrifice required to follow Christ.
The gospel of John is all about truth. In it we learn that Jesus is the only way to salvation and heaven; that’s the truth (John 14:6, 17:17). We must teach through our actions, daily lives, and yes, by inviting them to look at this great truth in Bible study. Though confronting that truth might make some fearful, we must show others that it has the power to free and cleanse us from the guilt of our sins.
(Photo: Creative Commons, Flickr, James Vaughn)
When it comes to sports, there are certain ways of playing. There are rules to follow, specific plays to make, and mistakes to avoid if a team wants to succeed. This same idea applies to our Christianity. In Joshua 1:5-9, we read of certain aspects needed in order to live life God’s way. By following these things we will reap the benefits that are found inside of Christ.
Joshua says that God’s way is conditional. In Joshua 1:7, we read, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.” God gave Israel conditions to His being their God: be strong and courageous, do all according to the law of Moses, and do not turn from the right or to the left.
Thinking about our personal relationship with God we can still apply these same commands to our spiritual lives today. For example, the blessings we are promised are received by being strong and courageous in the work place, doing all according to the law we are under (the new covenant), and not wavering in our faith. If we want to live our lives according to God’s will we must understand that our relationship to Him is conditional. Our relationship is based on our willingness to listen to His word.
We must also understand that God’s way is a command, not a suggestion (1:7-8). He is the creator. He has the authority to create the way, He has the authority to make what He says a command. If we want the blessings of following His way, we must practice the commands He has given each one of us.
Just as the Israelites were given certain commands, we also are commanded to follow certain laws. Love the Lord our God with ALL of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We are commanded to love God with every aspect of our lives (Matt. 22:36-40). When we think about our lives, every decision should be based on the will of God. We must recognize that God’s way of living is a command.
If we want to live our lives God’s way we must recognize that the blessings we are promised are conditional, and the things we read in scripture are a command. But we should find joy in knowing that God’s way is comforting. Joshua 1:9 reads, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
There is absolutely no reason for us to tremble when the Creator is on our side. There is never a reason to be dismayed when the defeater of sin is with us. We have a loving God with us wherever we go in life. God’s way of living is best, and if we will let Him control our everyday lives we can find comfort, hope, and joy in Him.