April 30, 2012

Step Up: Shamgar No Longer a Bystander


There is an old cliche that says, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” When we are faced with a problem we find creative ways to fix it. Guys have found that you can fix about anything with duct tape and bailing wire. Thanks to Mythbusters, we know you can even build a boat using duct tape and bamboo to escape a deserted island and survive more than 6 hours on the open sea.

It is in the spirit of finding creative solutions to real-life problems that websites like There I fixed it... People like to jump in and solve problems...and fix stuff. It is always cool when people see a need and develop creative solutions to problems.

Today we continue in our series titled Step Up. We are looking at everyday people who stepped up, obeyed God, and made a difference for His Kingdom. Many of these people you probably haven’t even heard of...some you have. Today, we are looking at a guy named Shamgar. There are only two verses in the entire Bible about Shamgar. That is not a lot to go on, but in those few short verses we see someone not content to sit back and watch something happen...Shamgar had to get involved.

Judges 3:31,
“After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel.”
Judges 5:6-7
“In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned; travelers took to winding paths. Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back...”
Kitty Genovese was 28 years old when she was stabbed to death by a serial rapist and murderer on March 13, 1964. The attack lasted about a half hour...the attacker left and came back 10 minutes later to finish the assault. What makes this story more tragic is that neighbors watched from their windows or walked past unwilling to get involved, and only one person called the police.

When people heard about this they were outraged and confused. They wanted an explanation as to why so many people would callously walk past...unwilling to get involved.

This case led to many studies exploring why people didn’t get involved. Social psychologists call this phenomenon the Bystander Effect. They found that people will generally not get involved when faced with a situation; especially when other people are around. In fact, the more people around, the less likely someone is to help.

This effect has played out over and over and over again. In 2010 Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax was stabbed to death after he stepped in to defend a woman being assaulted...then 25 people walked past him while he bled to death on a sidewalk. One man even stopped to take a picture with his cellphone. 911 did not receive a call until almost 2 hours after the attack.

In 2011 two year old Wang Yue was struck then run over by a white van in Foshan, China. She lay dying in the street while 18 people walked past her.

People, when interviewed later, express a determination that they would have helped had they been there and express moral outrage at those who did not step in...but study after study demonstrates they would have done the same thing and kept walking.

There are two basic rules that our psychological selves work off of:
1. We ought to help.
2. We ought to do what everyone else is doing.
The problem is that often those around us do nothing. So when people see a problem, they are NOT likely to step in and do something about it, and the more people around the less likely they are to help.

As we read the book of Judges a pattern emerges. Israel serves God...after a time they fall into sin and idolatry...God allows another nation to enslave them...Israel eventually grows tired of it and cries out to the Lord...He raises up a judge and deliverer...Israel is freed from their oppressor...then it begins all over again. This pattern repeats itself ad nauseum throughout Israel’s history.

During the time of Shamgar Israel is in another time of enslavement. They have sinned, and the Philistines are regularly attacking and oppressing them. Their armies regularly invade the areas stealing crops, plundering the cities, raping the women, carrying off their children as slaves, and killing those who opposed them. Judges 5 tells us, “the highways were abandoned; travelers took to winding paths.” And true to the Bystander Effect, “Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back...”

They held back because they were afraid. What could they do? They were just a handful of unarmed, untrained villagers. They couldn’t stand up against an army of Philistines! But Shamgar couldn’t just sit back and watch. These were his people. This was his village. He had to get involved.

Everyday, you and I are faced with the decision of whether or not to get involved with all kinds of situations, and our involvement has eternal ramifications. Yet, we often don’t get involved when faced with a need...because we don’t see that it really affects me, my life, or the life of my family. But as humans...we are connected. And the situations that affect one person may one day affect all of us.

In November 1945 German Pastor Martin Niemöller visited the former Dachau concentration camp, where he had been imprisoned from 1941 to April 1945. That night he reflected in his journal what led to his captivity...
First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Edmund Burke articulated a very similar feeling, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Both Niemöller and Burke understand that not getting involved somehow makes us accomplices with the evil we despise.

Shamgar was not a soldier. He had not been trained to fight. He was a farmer. But he saw a need and stepped up to do something about it.

The challenge for us is to get involved...we live in a Bystander culture. We watch things happen. Reality shows have someone else live life on a great travel adventure or on an exotic island while we watch from middle of nowhere Ohio. Sports events have us watch someone else do sports while we eat wings and chips and drink soda and get fat.

And if we are not careful we treat our Christian faith as though it were a spectator sport. We sit in chairs while someone else does the worship and the ministry of the church. Someone else will step up to serve in this or that area. I know my friend needs someone to share Jesus with them...but I’m no evangelist.

This is not how God designed it. God designed the Christian life for us to get involved. Have you ever looked at a problem or just felt deep down inside, “Someone should do something about that!” Often that is God planting a seed for us to get involved.

But the problems can seem so big...and often we are not sure what to do about it.

For Shamgar it meant using what was at hand. He was a farmer plowing his field with a team of oxen...Judges 3 says Shamgar, “struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad.”

An oxgoad is nothing fancy. It is a long stick with a point at one end and flat spade at the other. The farmer would use the pointed end to poke the oxen and keep them moving, and use the spade end to dig the dirt from under the plow. It was a very useful tool for farming...but not something you would put in your arsenal in a military situation.

Have you noticed that action movies get a lot of distance from improvised weapons. Jason Bourne from the Bourne Spy Movies has used some very creative ways to kill or injure people.
Hardcover book, a ballpoint pen, a magazine, an electrical cord, Vodka. I mean we all know that vodka can hurt people...usually the morning after, but Jason Bourne used it to blind his enemy then kick his legs out from under him and punch him in the head. Then he used the rest of the vodka to ease the pain and treat his gunshot wound. Multiple uses.

When we see a problem, it is easy to look at all we don’t have rather than what we do have. We look at what we lack rather than what God has given us. We can see how Shamgar might say, “I want to help, but I don’t have a sword, or armor, or a shield.” He didn’t have the right equipment, but the need was so real, so urgent Shamgar had to do something. So he was willing to use what he had at hand.

Shamgar didn’t need a sword. God gave him all he needed to accomplish what he needed to do. God gives us everything we need to meet the need placed in front of us. It may not be the perfect weapon...we may want the sword, but we have the oxgoad. We have everything we need to get involved...we just need to use it.

When we are faced with someone’s financial need...we have the ability to help with something.
When faced with someone’s emotional pain over the loss of their loved one...we have the tools to help...we may not know what to say...but we don’t need to...we just have to be willing to care. When we are faced with someone’s need for Jesus...we have all we need to help them know him. We have everything we need, but let’s be honest...there are several reasons we won’t use our oxgoads...

The first and biggest is that we have no sense of personal responsibility. It is not my problem therefore I have no reason to get involved. We excuse ourselves from helping because we didn’t make that person homeless...that person’s loneliness isn’t my problem...I have things to do. I am responsible for my family and my home...not theirs. I have my own financial needs.

In Matthew 9:25-38 we see Jesus’ response as he sees the vast number of needs around him. It says, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

That word compassion means...moved in the gut. He had that ache in his stomach that pushed him to do something in response. What Jesus most needs is workers in the harvest with the same sense of compassion who make it their concern...make it their responsibility to do something about the hurt and pain they see in the world around them.

Another reason we don’t use our own oxgoad is fear. We are afraid. Afraid of what people will think of us. Afraid of how it will affect our families. Afraid that we won’t really make a difference. If I pray for this person, what if I don’t have the right words or they say no? What if nothing happens?

In the very next chapter of Judges, we find the story of Barak and Deborah. Deborah prophesies to Barak, Israel’s military commander, that Israel will win a mighty victory over Sisera and his army if Barak will just march out and fight against them. But Barak is fearful, and refuses to go unless Deborah goes with him. Because of his fear, the credit for the victory went to Deborah instead of him. She becomes the primary figure because of Barak fear.

Another reason we don’t use our oxgoad is we struggle with feelings of inferiority. My oxgoad is not as good as that person’s oxgoad. In fact, I am walking into battle with an oxgoad and they have a .50 caliber machine gun! I could do more if I just had more time, or money, or intelligence, or ability. We fail to see that our little oxgoad empowered by God is more powerful than someone else’s weapon without God.

In the New Testament, Jesus tells a parable about three men who receive bags of gold from their master. Each one receives the bag of gold in accordance with their ability. One receives 5 talents, one 2 talents, and the last receives 1 talent. The first two servants with the 5 and 2 talents go out and make a return of double what they were given. The last simply buries what he has received and returns it his master. The issue is not how much was given...the issue is whether they used what they were given.

We are not judged on whether we have the abilities of this or that person, but on how we use what God has given us. Our ability to serve will not be compared to Mother Theresa. Our ability to tell others about Jesus will not be compared to Billy Graham. Our ability to tithe and give will not be compared with how much that person is able to give. I will not be judged on whether or not I can preach as well as a Tim Keller or Rich Nathan or Louie Giglio or whether I understand the Bible like N.T. Wright. I am responsible for doing what God has called me to do with what little I have been given. We will be judged by whether we use the 1 piece of gold we have to make a difference in the world or whether we keep making excuses for not helping because of how little we have received.

Shamgar made a difference because when he saw a problem he used what he had. Judges 3 says, “He too saved Israel.” He gets one verse in comparison to all the chapters about all the other people, and yet the Bible says, “He TOO saved Israel.” By other standards...600 Philistines is not that many, but his accomplishment was not to be looked down on...He was obedient. He got involved. He used his oxgoad...and He too saved Israel.

God doesn’t give us the option to be a bystander because we serve a God who is not content to be a bystander.

I have come to love this quote:
“The Christian gospel [Jesus’ death and resurrection] asserts that...God moves to fix messes he didn’t create, pay debts he didn’t incur, forgive the guilty for wrongs they couldn’t undo and bear burdens humanity piled onto itself.”
John 20:21, “Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Once we take on discipleship to Jesus...once we decide to follow Jesus...we are given the mission to extend the Kingdom of God into the world around us...and that happens in very practical ways.

That is why James, the brother of Jesus, writes, James 2:15-16, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

For us as a church it means we have a concern for poor, the broken, hurting, those who have been beaten up by the world and by the church. We care for those in need. We get involved. We welcome those who have shady pasts, those who are struggling, those who have addictions, those who need a word from God in their marriages...we welcome those who need Jesus.

But getting involved will cost us...it mean stepping up ourselves...seeing a need and using what we have to meet that need both as a church and as individuals.

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine led his church in a life changing experience. He and a group of men got involved in the fight against human sex trafficking. They went to Indianapolis the week before the Super Bowl and placed bars of soap in the local hotel rooms used for prostitution with a rescue number on it. Three girls were saved that weekend. They had run away from home, and been abducted and forced into prostitution.  They did the same here in Dayton before the NCAA playoffs.

After all this took place, he planned to preach about what had happened and why God calls us to get involved in these sorts of things...that morning 80plus people walked out of his congregation and left the church because they didn’t believe the church was supposed to do things like that...they should be focused on getting people saved spiritually. I have never been more proud of a friend than what I heard he said that day. He said something along these lines, “If you come here to have your ears tickled and think that being a Christian means sitting back and being uninvolved you are in the wrong place. We are going to get involved in helping people who are broken and hurting find their way into the Kingdom of God by loving them and speaking out about real evil.”

That day he lost 80 people...getting involved cost him something.

Making a difference always costs something. Difference making doesn’t happen with a cheap and easy click of the mouse as you like and share that Kony video. It doesn’t happen because you sign your name on the bottom of a check. A real difference is made when you and I pick pick up our oxgoad, get personally involved, and take out a few hundred Philistines.

I wish making a difference were as easy as writing a check or volunteering a few short hours at a shelter or handing out a few bags of groceries...But God has designed this so that I have to get my hands dirty in order for anything of value to really take place.

A real difference is made when we overcome our fear, and rather than offering the obligatory, “I’ll be praying for you.” We stop and say, “Can I pray for you now?” And then in two to three sentences we take them before God.

A difference is made when after being confronted with a need...clothing or food or money...we get involved and sacrifice to help instead of getting the church to help or finding that right organization...

A real difference is made when we take a Sunday or two out of our “spiritual growth” to invest in children and youth and help them hear and understand God better.

A difference is made when we mow the neighbor lady’s yard because she is sick...or visit someone in their nursing home...or bring dinner to someone...there are a million needs around us everyday...screaming for our help...for us to care...for us to get involved.

God’s Kingdom does not allow us to be bystanders. The Kingdom of God is the place where people, like you and me, who have been captured by God’s love and forgiveness and transformed by His Holy Spirit, reach out with God’s love to those around because of all that He has done for us.

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