Monthly Archives: November 2007

Bystander Apathy

In 1964, Kitty Genovese was murdered while 38 neighbors watched and/or listened but did nothing to help. No one even called the police. Most of the public were shocked when they read the report in the news. They couldn’t understand how so many could witness a brutal murder and do nothing to prevent it.

Researchers have since identified this phenomenon as “bystander apathy,” and it’s much more common than you might think. Several studies have been conducted to learn more.

In one experiment, a person is led into a room and left there (sometimes alone and sometimes with a stranger). A moment later, the experimenter plays a two-minute tape simulating a fall and subsequent moaning about a hurt leg. When the person in the experiment was alone, 70% reacted to help. However, when there was a passive stranger (someone who pretended not to notice or who noticed but remained calm and uninvolved) in the room, only 7% responded to the “accident.”

In another experiment, individual subjects were led into a room and asked to fill out a questionnaire. Sometimes, they were alone in the room, and sometimes there were others present. Smoke was then pumped into the room through a vent. When alone, 75% of the subjects left the room to report the situation, but when there were passive strangers present, only 10% took any action.

When people are in groups of two or more, their level of responsibility is reduced in an emergency situation. In effect, the more people present, the less responsibility the individual feels.

But what has an even stronger influence on the decision-making process in an emergency are the reactions of the people around the individual. If others respond with apathy, the individual is much less likely to act. Why? Because he might look foolish. Because he’s not sure he’s interpreting the situation correctly. Because he’s unsure what to do and so chooses to model the responses of those around him rather than make a mistake.

Researchers have concluded that five things need to happen in a very short period of time for a bystander to help in an emergency situation:

  1. He must notice the incident.

  2. He must interpret the incident as an emergency.

  3. He must assume responsibility.

  4. He must determine what response to use.

  5. He must implement his decision to help.

Makes me wonder… Which decision are we, as Christians, struggling with today?

  1. Is it that we don’t notice the condition of the world we live in?

  2. Is it that we don’t think it’s an emergency?

  3. Is it that we see so many Christians doing nothing that we assume that theirs is the appropriate response?

  4. Is it that we don’t know what to do?

  5. Is it that we know what to do but still fail to act for selfish reasons?

The more I travel, the more I’m convicted that the Church in much of the world is asleep. There is incredible Godlessness all around us and altars on every high hill, but we don’t notice it. Millions are starving or suffering from AIDS or being sold into brothels or being enslaved as child-soldiers, but we don’t interpret it as an emergency. In trying to look like we’ve got it all together, we are giving other Christians the impression that no action needs to be taken; this is normal; quit worrying.

The Enemy is selling us the drugs of ignorance and comfort, and we are groggy from too much complacency. We need to WAKE UP! THIS is why we’re here! God is calling us to act. The world is begging us to notice that they are under attack.

So what should we do? Something! Anything! It doesn’t have to be much; God will use it. Start by sponsoring a hungry child in another country or by serving at a soup kitchen. Give to a ministry that is where you can’t be. Babysit for a single parent who is at her wit’s end. Write to a youth in prison. Share your struggles with others so that they will know that they aren’t alone. Go online and learn about the injustice being done to those without a voice.

Above all, PRAY! Find the people group that God puts on your heart, and pray for them. Your prayers are more powerful than your dollars, more powerful than your talents and more powerful than your time. Your prayers will engage the Enemy in spiritual warfare and frustrate his progress.

Getting involved is scary. It puts us at risk. It involves sacrifice and discomfort. But without someone taking initiative, the rest of the Church just stands by and watches. No one wants to look foolish by over-reacting. Everyone assumes it’s someone else’s responsibility, but each of us is responsible for part of the solution. We are witnesses to a crime, and it’s time to act.

(S – Latane, B., & Darley, J. Bystander “Apathy”, American Scientist, 1969, 57, 244-268.)



Filed under Religion, Spirituality

The Pump Is Dry

A leader in the organization I work with tells the story of walking down a dusty road in Texas.  As he approached a hill, he could hear a terrible squealing and grinding coming from the other side.  When he reached the top of the hill, he saw where the noise was coming from.

There, in a farmer’s field, was one of dozens of oil pumps that were common to the area.  But this one was different.  Being poorly maintained, it had run dry of the oil needed to lubricate its parts.

Isn’t that ironic?  An oil pump needing oil. 

And isn’t that convicting?  How many of us have been in the position of annointing others with the oil of the Holy Spirit while we ourselves are running dry?  How long can we go on like that?  How long before our spiritual gears and pumps grind to a halt?  We can’t continue to give to others what we ourselves no longer have.

I’m personally struggling with this, because it’s been months since I worshiped in my own home church.  With my travel schedule, I’m frequently gone on the weekend.  The one week I was home, I taught in children’s ministry.  While the people I work with frequently worship together, I’ve found that it’s not exactly the same.  The pump is feeling a little dry.

It’s not just worship that keeps the pump lubricated.  It’s all the spiritual disciplines working together.  Prayer, Bible-reading, fellowship, meditation, service and good works, fasting, devotions, tithing, obedience, singing…(just to name some of the most common ones). 

Don’t feel pressured to do them all.  Each one of us was created differently by God, and He takes joy from our different ways of growing closer to Him.  Focus on the spiritual disciplines that help you center on God, and keep trying new ones from time to time.  You might find you like them.

So, give yourself a little oil this week.  You’ll find a little goes a long way.


Filed under Religion, Spiritual Growth

What’s Stopping You?

  Martin Strel had a goal to swim the
Amazon River, but it wasn’t going to just let
  him conquer it without a fight…3,272 miles…
    man-eating aligators…venomnous and life-
     choking snakes…flesh-eating piranhas…
dreaded candiru (a.k.a. toothpick or vampire
  fish) that swim into body orifices to suck
    blood and eat tissue and that can prove
       fatal…menacing bull sharks…strength-
      stealing whirlpools and tidal bores…
    torrential rains…relentless ocean tides…
blistering second-degree sunburns…cramping
   muscles…spiking blood pressure…chronic insomnia…
      debilitating dehydration, nausea and diarrhea…
           wet suit abrasions…ten-percent weight loss…
                 mind-stealing delirium…sunblock-swollen eyes…
                irritating blisters…It was an impossible task.

  Martin Strel hadFOURTEEN a goal to swim the
Amazon River, butWEEKS OFit wasn’t going to just let
  him conquer it witSCOUTINGhout a fight…3,272 miles…
    man-eating aligatFROM STARTors…venomnous and life-
     choking snakes…fTO FINISHlesh-eating piranhas…
dreaded candiru (a.kCOUNSELED.a. toothpick or vampire
  fish) that swim intoWITH A PSYCHO- body orifices to suck
    blood and eat tissTHERAPISTue and that can prove
       fatal…menacing bTRAINED FORull sharks…strength-
      stealing whirlpooMONTHSls and tidal bores…
    torrential rains…reTOSSEDlentless ocean tides…
blistering second-deBUCKETS OFgree sunburns…cramping
   muscles…spiking blCHUM TO THEood pressure…chronic
insomnia…debilitaPIRANHASting dehydration, nausea 
          and diarrhea…weSUPPORTEDt suit abrasions…ten-
             percent weight loBY DOCTORSss…mind-stealingdelirium
                …sunblock-swolAND SCIENTISTSlen eyes…irritating
                     blisters…It w50 MILES PER DAYas an 
impossible task.
65 DAYS. 
                                        HE WAS

(S – Associated Press, “Slovenian Ends Amazon Swim After 65 Days,” 4/7/07)

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Filed under Challenges, Goals

Nightmare on the River Kwai

So, there I was, standing in my underwear in a room full of people, and I thought to myself, “This is not how I expected this evening to turn out.”

I know what you’re saying, “Been there.  Done that.  Got the under shirt,” but this was a new experience for me.  Well, not really.  I’ve had nightmares about it.  Chronically.  (I probably need counseling.)  But it was new in the sense that it was really happening this time.  So I had to ask myself, “How exactly did this happen?”

It had started out as a semi-normal outing.  The group decided to ditch the tour of the Bangkok Night Bazaar and head to the infamous “Bridge on the River Kwai.”  (I know what you’re thinking, “Didn’t they blow that up?”  Yes, but it was put back together again by the Japanese after the war so that the Thai’s could blow it up themselves each night for sightseers.)  Ninety minutes later, we were doing the tourist thing with our cameras but without the shorts and the knee-high socks.  This was followed by dinner on a “floating” restaurant on the river.  Not bad so far.  Should have stopped there.

Then, someone says, “So-in-so (at the end of the table) is a Thai massage therapist.”  “Oh, really? That’s interesting.” (Conversation moves on…) 

“Hey! (same person who made the first comment – obviously has an agenda) We ought to go get a Thai massage.”  “Yeah, that would be funny (since we’re in Thailand).”  (Conversation moves on…)  

“So, who wants one?” (this person obviously can’t read body language or basic social signals)

Now, at this point, I’m thinking, “Not me.  I hate massages.  They hurt.  Besides, aren’t they a little seedy?  Nope.  Not interested.”

“I would do it.” (A new person has entered the conversation.)

“Yeah, me, too.”

“I’ll go.”

“Sure, I’ll do it.”  (That was me.  Don’t ask me why.  I felt this pressure to give in to my inner-lemming.)

The rest is a bit of a blur.  I remember a woman telling me to “take it off, take it all off,” and I remember me saying, “Really? …for a shoulder massage?”  Then some knowing laughter and, “the pants!  the pants, too!”  And me, looking at the guys I came with, “Weren’t we supposed to do some heavy drinking first?”

Then I was 7/8ths naked (briefs, not boxers) trying unsuccessfully to cover myself with a towel.  After that, about an hour of self-consciousness, whimpering and pain in-between giggling comments in Thai from the three massage therapists.  Our friend (the one who suggested this whole thing – the one who decided he, himself did not feel like a massage) came into the room every few minutes to laugh at us and share jokes in Thai with the staff.

“Are you asleep yet?” he kept asking.  Not a chance!  Even if I hadn’t been in pain, there’s something about getting a massage in your underwear one bed over from a pastor friend that keeps you alert for any inappropriate hanky-panky.  I was thinking survival, “I can do this!  Only 35 more…aaahh….minutes!”  (I might have missed the relaxing aspect of the massage that they promoted in the brochures.)

The hour over, my pants back on, we paid hurriedly and loaded up the van.  An uncomfortable silence fell over those assembled.

“Hey!  There’s a tattoo place!  We ought to get tattoos!”

“I would do it.”

“Yeah, me, too.”

“I’ll go…


Filed under Interpersonal, Relationships, Suffering

No Waiting

What are we waiting for?  Some Christians treat Earth like it’s a waiting room for Heaven.  Too many of us are sitting around waiting for our name to be called.  We take comfort in the knowledge that the Great Physician knows we are here.  We think we just need to mind our own business and keep our heads down in our magazines until it’s time for our appointment.  But Earth isn’t a waiting room; it’s a clinic.

We are supposed to be engaged in the care and healing of the soul sick.  When all we are doing is waiting to be called home, we are taking up useful space.  If God didn’t intend for us to help others, He could have just taken us straight to heaven as soon as we gave our hearts to Him.  But He didn’t.  So He must have work left for us to do.

Being unqualified is not an excuse.  Of course we don’t know what we are doing.  God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.  He gives us on-the-job training.  His strength is made perfect in our weakness, in our ignorance, in our inexperience…even in our mistakes.  Besides, we’re not responsible for the cure – only for the loving and unconditional care for the patient.  Some will respond, and some won’t.  The Doctor knows.

All we have to do is to show up ready to assist as the Great Physician prepares to do open heart surgery on a sick and hurting world.  We can’t help much from the waiting room, so let’s scrub up and join Him in His work.

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Filed under Religion, Spirituality

Shadow Mission

Beneath our mission for God lies our shadow mission. All Christians have one. Some give in to it, and some don’t, but it lurks beneath the surface nonetheless.

A shadow mission is something that is deeply important to us but that leads us away from God’s purposes for our lives. It’s typically just a few degrees off from His will, but those few degrees can lead us far from Him.

For example, if God’s purpose for you is to teach the Word, your shadow mission might be to impress people with your wisdom. If God’s purpose for you is to lead people to Christ, your shadow mission might be racking up the numbers of converts for your spiritual resume. If God’s purpose for you is to give charitably, your shadow mission might be to give more than anyone else you know.

Our shadow mission is Satan’s perversion of our true mission. Knowing how we respond to pleasure and pain, he pulls us away from our authentic mission using our pride and our hurts. The Enemy either:

  • takes our gifts and shows us how we can use them for our own selfish purposes instead of for God’s glory, or
  • uses emotional wounds we received in the past to keep us away from the center of God’s will

What makes the shadow mission so insidious is its connection to our true mission. If it comes from our pride, we risk feeding the beast each time we do the things God created us to do. If it comes from avoiding our wounds, we can be certain that those hurts surround God’s purpose for our lives.

Since the time I heard John Ortberg (Senior Pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, CA) teach on this, I’ve been thinking about what mine could be. He said that one way to know is that when our shadow mission is threatened, it provokes a deep and passionate reaction.

This morning, I received an email that made me so angry that it’s taken me several hours to cool off. When I think back on it, I had no reason to get upset. The message was a simple, tactfully delivered piece of feedback, but it threatened my shadow mission. The message poked a stick in an old wound, but in doing so, it helped me discover my shadow mission – I need approval.

I remember several vivid and painful experiences where someone in authority disapproved of me. Even the memory of these events hurts. They made a profound impression on me and taught me that I didn’t want to experience that type of pain again. As a result, I’ve developed a shadow mission to seek approval from those in authority around me.

I’m on to the Enemy now. I know what he’s done. He’s strategically placed those hurts directly around God’s authentic mission for me, and they serve as a threatening barrier. Because of my fear of the pain of disapproval, I retreat from many opportunities to participate with God in the work He is doing.

Each wound is based on a lie – the lie that my approval needs to come from anyone but God. My Creator knows my flaws and loves me anyway. He’s given me His seal of approval, and it’s not based on what I do but on who I am – His child. Nothing I do could ever change my relationship to Him, just like nothing my children do could ever make them someone else’s children.

Pray for me. These truths haven’t made it from my head to my heart yet. Though only eighteen inches separate the two, those inches comprise the longest distance in the universe.

What is your shadow mission? Is it born of pride or of pain? It’s time to examine it. Bring the shadow into the Light.

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Filed under Religion, Spiritual Growth

One-Up; One-Down

There is a game I hate to play.
It does my selfish heart betray
And leads me from my walk to stray
Along a mean and judging way.

“One-Up; One-Down” is the name
Of this universal game,
And it deserves to take the blame
For what should be the Christian’s shame.

It’s played when you first meet a man
And let your eyes his appearance scan
To compare him to you so you can
Answer the doubt, “More or less than?”

“Am I better, or am I worse?”
“Oh, I have got a better purse!”
“And she always speaks so terse!”
“Those kids of hers are such a curse!”

“That’s three for me and none for her.”
“I think I’ve won, but I’m not sure.”
“Her job I really do prefer.”
“And she owns an expensive fur.”

Who could ever win this sport?
One Referee lends strong support,
So players struggle to abort.
We’re playing on the Devil’s court.

He prefers we never win
But just play over and over again,
And to his face it brings a grin
To see us giving in to sin.

For God would have us love each other
And not assess our earthly brother,
For with our weighing we do smother
Our calling to selflessly serve another.

Repent, repent! And do it quick!
Don’t be deceived by Satan’s trick!
This game is evil, and if you pick
It only makes your spirit sick.

Choose for yourself not to compare,
But treat each person with such care
That they will think you very rare,
And you will answer your Lord’s prayer.

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Filed under Interpersonal, Relationships