The Culture of Jesus – Safe to Come Home

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

Today’s article is the last in the series about the Culture of Jesus. Our Lord established a culture and environment around him that was safe. It was safe to learn, to be wrong, to ask questions, to step out, to be different, to work, etc. The final thought is this:

In Jesus, it was safe to come home.

Read Luke 15 and meditate upon it today. Jesus loved every soul. Every single person is precious to him. That is the meaning of the parables of Luke 15. When a person comes back home, heaven rejoices. No matter how dirty and stinky the soul is that returns, heaven throws a party.

But I want you to read the parable of the prodigal son and consider the older brother who ended up outside of the house. He was not happy at all that his brother came home. He couldn’t even call him his brother. When he looked at his younger brother, all he saw was failure and disappointment. You can probably imagine the look of disgust upon the older brother’s face. I want you to picture the home and church being run by the older brother mentality from Luke 15. Would it be a safe place to which you could come home? Nope. But how many of us have been that older brother?

With Jesus, it is safe to come home. You and I have wrecked our lives with sin and brokenness, but once we come to our senses and start walking toward Jesus, He runs to greet us. Even when we stink of sin, and the pig mud of our lifestyle is all over our clothes and skin. He is not repulsed. He hugs us, kisses us, weeps, rejoices and throws a party in heaven.

One final thought, consider Peter. Can you put yourself in the shoes of Peter to consider how broken, depressed and miserable he was for betraying Jesus? Peter cussed and swore that he never knew Jesus, repeatedly! But what did Jesus do? After the resurrection, heaven singled Peter out by name. The angels sent the women specifically to Peter. Jesus wants to see you. Our Lord was betrayed and denied by Peter, but he reached out in grace, love and forgiveness to help Peter know he was safe to come home.

But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:7)

The Culture of Jesus – Safe to Work

But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Mark 14:6).

With Jesus it was safe:

  • Safe to work.
  • Safe to be different.

Mary wasn’t stealing a car or robbing a bank. She didn’t go out and kill 20 people. Nor was she trying to sell crack to school kids. She wasn’t attempting to lead people down some false doctrinal path. All she did was take some extremely valuable fragrant oil and dedicate it to Jesus for His burial. And how did the apostles and others respond? Negativity, criticism and judgment.

“Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” That was the advice Jesus gave His disciples. They had criticized Mary sharply, scolding her for wasting the fragrant oil by pouring it out on Jesus. The disciples had better ideas on how she could have used that oil to minister to the poor. But Jesus didn’t see it that way. He also added that wherever the gospel was preached, this woman’s act of sacrifice, honor and love would shared with the whole world (Mark 14; Matthew 26; John 12).

Think of the environment and culture the disciples had created by their judgmentalism. Without Jesus there to help, would it have been safe for Mary to step out and do what she did for Jesus? Not at all. They were “troubling her” instead of encouraging her. Jesus was helping the others learn, grow and change to see that this way of pouncing on people with criticism is not His way. This culture of criticism is alive and well in today’s churches, communities, families and businesses, and Jesus wants to transform us, too.

Was it safe for Mary to work and be different? Not at this point with the disciples. They were going to have to be transformed by Jesus. But with Jesus she was safe. With Jesus it was safe to step out and work for Him, even if it was different than how others would have served. This is not to say it is okay with Jesus to teach different doctrines – we’re talking about living within the realm of God’s word. Mary was clearly living within God’s word; she just did something in a way that others thought was a waste.

How about us? Are we like the disciples? Do we insult people, belittle others and make them feel dumb for having different ideas? Then we need a culture change, and that starts in the heart. Come to Jesus and ask Him to help you change how you approach others around you so that they feel safe to step out and work for Jesus.

The Culture of Jesus – Safe in Storms

And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
(Mat 14:32-33)

The disciples of Jesus learned some hard but valuable lessons. Jesus allowed them to be in some incredibly nasty storms, and they knew they were in grave danger. Through those storms, they eventually learned that they were safe in Jesus. When Jesus is in the boat, you are safe and eventually He will calm the storm.

Today’s focus is on the safety we have with Jesus in storms. With Jesus, it is safe:

  • Safe to heal
  • Safe in storms
  • Safe to step out

For you the storm may be relationships. It may be sickness or the death of loved ones. For others it is job loss and money issues. Some face incredible tragedy. All of us have at one point been in the storms of our sinfulness. When we are in the storms, we are helpless, hopeless and scared. We look for refuge, for safety and stability. That is what the disciples found in Jesus. Even in the midst of storms that would literally have cost their lives, Jesus was with them in the boat and through Jesus the storm was stilled.

Consider the sinful woman who was forgiven by Jesus (Luke 7:36-50). Her storm was the crashing waves of her sinful choices. How about the woman at Jacob’s well in Samaria (John 4)? She had drunk from the relationship well over and over, and was continually left thirsty. In Jesus, she had living water. Levi (Matthew) the tax collector was an outcast who recognized his sinfulness and brokenness. He saw the need for the Great Physician (Luke 5:31). All were broken, all were outcasts, and all were unsafe around the current Jewish leadership. Jesus was different. Jesus was a safe place to heal.

One final thought is this: In Jesus it was safe to step out. Peter, in the midst of a storm, was willing to step out of the boat and walk to Jesus. Read Matthew 14:22-33, and you will see that the disciples, several of them experienced fishermen and boaters, were in a nasty storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus walked by their boat, and at first they thought He was a ghost. But look at what Peter said once he realized it was Jesus.

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:27-28)

What? Peter was going step out of the boat? I’ve often thought about what this says about Peter. But what does this say about Jesus? What had Jesus shown to this point to create a culture where Peter could attempt such a thing? Peter said, “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Peter had some level of courage and trust to know that even in the storm, even stepping out of the boat, he would be safe. Yes, he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink, but please understand that even then he was safe. Jesus was there, and was within arm’s reach.

With Jesus you are safe to heal, safe in storms, and safe to step out and walk to Jesus, even in the storm.

The Culture of Jesus – Safe to Learn

If we want to learn and grow, what kind of environment would be best suited for that learning? In our businesses, do we want to encourage participation and collaboration? At home, are the people in your family safe to ask questions? Are they safe to make a mistake? What about at church? Is the culture present that invites people to question, offer alternative views, and even disagree? Have you ever asked a question or made a mistake and then had someone jump down your throat for it? Have we done that to others?

Let’s turn to the gospel accounts and look at the life of Jesus. What culture was present around Jesus, especially when it came to learning and growth?

With Jesus, it was safe:

  • Safe to learn
  • Safe to question
  • Safe to be wrong

You can see that the disciples (followers of Jesus) flocked to Jesus to be taught, and that’s what He did…He taught them (Matthew 5:1-2; Mark 2:1-2). But was this a one-way exchange? Meaning, was the culture of learning around Jesus such that only Jesus spoke and nobody else said anything?

Jesus established an environment around Himself where people were free to ask questions. His disciples did it all the time. They wanted to understand a parable, so they asked Him to explain it (Matthew 13:36). He spoke in parables and they didn’t understand why, so they asked Him about it (Matthew 13:10). When they wanted to grow in their prayer lives, they requested to be taught how to pray (Luke 11:1).

Even when they were hurt and did not understand why He did things a certain way, they challenged him. Martha and Mary did this when their brother Lazarus died. They had requested His presence days before, and He didn’t come. Now Lazarus was dead, and they didn’t understand. “If you would have been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21,32).

What about when they were wrong? How did Jesus treat them? Please understand that Jesus often corrected His disciples, and even at times asked them why they still didn’t get certain concepts. But please understand that they were safe. When Jesus was trying to tell His disciples that He was going to be crucified, they were arguing over who was the greatest. They were trying to get the best seats in His kingdom! How did Jesus respond?

“And Jesus called them to him and said to them…” (Mark 10:42).

He called them to Himself. He gathered them around Himself to teach them more. With Jesus, it was even safe to be wrong. He saw that they were still willing to grow and learn, so He kept working with them.

Let’s meditate today on the environment and culture around us in our homes, families and businesses. Are people safe to learn, to ask questions, and even to be wrong?

The Culture of Jesus – Safe

Why did so many flock to Jesus when they had so many other teachers to which they could turn?

The other teachers (Pharisees and Saduccees) were all about themselves and frankly they were not safe. Look at the “culture” (collective mindset and approach) they created. They were self-righteous, hyper-critical and did not see the hurting and outcasts as Jesus saw them.

With Jesus the people were safe:

  • Safe to learn
  • Safe to question
  • Safe to be wrong
  • Safe in storms
  • Safe to heal
  • Safe to be different
  • Safe to work
  • Safe to step out
  • Safe to come home

We will further explore the concepts above in the next few days. For today, meditate upon the safety we have in Jesus and how that safety should be felt by others around us if we are in Jesus.

“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).

The Culture of Jesus – It Matters

Culture. You hear this term a lot, especially lately. The culture of a country, a police department, a business, a church, a family, a sports team, etc.

I understand this term to mean the collective mindset, personality and approach of a particular group.

Here’s a great quote I found about church culture:

Culture is the most crucial component of the church. If a good steak is the vision, then the plate on which it is served is the culture. If the plate is dirty then the steak (vision) is devalued. From churchexecutive.com

Culture matters. Mindset matters. The approach a group takes to handling a problem matters. This is not just a buzz phrase found on the news cycle or in a business manual. Look in the Scripture to see how Jesus or Paul addressed the collective mindset of a congregation.

Culture matters to Jesus. Did the collective mindset and approach of a group matter to God? Look at Revelation 2-3. What was the general mindset in Ephesus? A lack of love. How about Laodicea? Arrogance, materialism and self-sufficiency. You can see how Paul spoke to churches at Corinth, Philippi and Thessalonica about the culture and personality of each congregation.

The mindset of an individual is important, but so is the group mindset. An individual can pile up good works, but lack love, so it profits nothing (1 Corinthians 13). A church can also pile up good works, like Ephesus, but not have the love as they should, and Jesus will not be among them (Revelation 2:5).

Culture matters to Jesus. How we think and approach things as a group is very important to Jesus.

God Rolled Away the Stone, Not the Scars

Matthew 28:2 – And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.”

I came across a powerful podcast today that really helped me. The title of the Podcast series is “The Bible Never Said That” by Clara Donahue. The episode I listened to was “God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle.”

Among the many profound points she made was one about how Jesus was raised from the dead and given life, but He still had the wounds and scars.

Please think about that, and meditate on it. Why did God raise Jesus from the dead, give him new blood and water, allow all His organs and internal functions to work, but still leave the wounds? The wounds were a testimony to the power of God. Jesus could say to His disciples, “Place your hands in the wounds and believe.” The wounds were a witness to what God did through Jesus.

Here is a quote from Clara Donahue in the podcast, “I feel some of my own scars pulling tight on the tender healing of my soul, and I wish they would just disappear.” Amen. But those scars, she explained, are used by God to show His power, grace and love to others.

Your wounds are not a badge to claim victim-hood through life. Those wounds are a witness to the power of God and His grace. What has God done through you? Look at the scars. Consider how God has led you through your own valleys of the shadow of death and brought you out on the other side.

John 20:20 – When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

John 20:27-28 – Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Extreme Ownership

I want to send out a book recommendation today. This is an awesome book on leadership written by two Navy Seals who led successful Seal operations in the battle of Ramadi in Iraq. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin developed some incredible insights on leadership of successful teams during some of the most bloody and intense combat situations in Iraq.

As I listened to this book on Audible, I saw so many parallels to Biblical concepts of leadership. It’s a must read in my opinion.

I’m on my second time through this book, and I highly recommend it.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals LEAD and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

 

Standing on a Platform of Wood

Nehemiah 8:4 – And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose.

We had an awesome study on Zoom last night with the people from our camp. Sadly, like many things, our camp was cancelled this year. Thankfully, our camp leaders are working to keep us all connected, even with the disappointment of not having camp.

Ryan Cummings led the study last night and talked about dealing with disappointments. He spoke of the people of Israel and Judah returning home from Babylonian captivity. They dealt with disappointment after disappointment. One of the things he brought up is something I never noticed before.

During the days of Nehemiah and Ezra, they set up a time where Ezra would read the Law of Moses to the people all day, and the priests would all teach and explain the Scriptures. It was a time of renewal and revival. But it was also a reminder of disappointments.

Ezra stood on a platform of wood. I’d never really thought about it, but Ryan pointed out that the previous platform upon which King Solomon prayed was a platform of Bronze.

Solomon had made a bronze platform five cubits long, five cubits wide, and three cubits high, and had set it in the court, and he stood on it. Then he knelt on his knees in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven, (2 Chronicles 6:13).

From bronze to wood. From millions of people to tens of thousands. From a giant magnificent temple to a more modest structure. From being owners of the land to being servants in the land. Disappointment after disappointment.

Yet, what do the people do? They worship! They praise! They sing! They read from the word! They repent and make commitments to follow God again! Even if the preaching and teaching of the word came from a wooden platform instead of a bronze one, the most important thing was that the word was still preached.

Life is full of disappointments. We can make our own lists of things that went wrong in life. It just didn’t go how we planned. But even when we stand on a platform of wood, we must praise God and worship Him. Make the best of what you have and the situation in which you find yourself. Nehemiah and Ezra didn’t have the ideal situation, but they still ensured that the people were taught and encouraged.

I Will Dwell in the House of the Lord Forever

Psalm 23:6 – and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. 

Today’s article is inspired by the last chapter of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.

Going home. With the Lord forever.

The sheep started out at the house, and he was guided to the still waters and green pastures. Then he was taken up to the summer grazing pasture in the high tablelands, and as he went he was led by the shepherd through the dark valleys. Now they are coming back home to spend the winter. They made the journey, they came through disease, friction, fear, threats from predators and dark valleys, etc., and now they are coming home to be at peaceful rest with the Good Shepherd.

The shepherd was always there. Always attentive. Always looking over the sheep and caring for their needs. Always looking out to see where they need to go next and keeping a vigilant eye for predators.

As a Christian, you journey with God as he leads you to green pastures and still waters. When you are diseased or pestered by the things of this world, He treats you and brings you to healing. As you are faced with fear and the threat of predators, God protects you with His rod and His staff. You travel with him through the valleys of the shadow of death. You don’t stay there, you travel through it. As you are surrounded by enemies, God feeds you and prepares a feast for you. He even anoints you to heal you and show you that you belong to Him.

One day, He will bring you home. His home. You will be at peace forever with Him. No one will take you from that home. There will be no more fear, friction or flies. Not another dark valley to tread. No more enemies lurking in dark places. Safety, rest, healing and contentment with the Shepherd in His house forever. That’s awesome.

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
(John 10:9-10)