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.

For Now We Live

For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord (1 Thessalonians 3:8).

When you read 1 Thessalonians 3, you can see the heart of Paul was anxious as he thought about the brethren in Thessalonica. He was really concerned about them and how they were doing spiritually, now that he was gone.

Two times in chapter 3 the phrase, “When we could bear it no longer” is used. They couldn’t take it anymore. Paul sent Timothy over to Thessalonica to see how they were doing and bring back a report.

You can read chapter 3 to see a noticeable change in tone. Once Timothy came back with good news, Paul’s whole demeanor changed.

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
(1 Thessalonians 3:6-10)

Paul was in the middle of being persecuted for preaching the gospel, but now he could endure the trials and afflictions? Why? Because he heard good news about how his brethren the Thessalonians were doing. It gave him some more gas in his tank. His statement says it all, “for now we live if you are standing fast in the Lord.”

Grown kids need to remember this. Your stand for faith will give life to your parents. College students, remember this. When you stand for Jesus, even when your parents are not there, you cause your parents to live! You put gas in their tank. It’s amazing what we can endure when we know that others we love dearly are living strong for Jesus.

The Apostles Listened and Didn’t Dismiss

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.
(Acts 6:1)

The horrible killing of George Floyd is just another reminder that hatred and racism is real in this country.

There was racial / ethic tension in the early church. It was real. Here is just one example.

Some widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. The Hebrew widows were doing just fine. They never missed a meal, and the Hebrews made sure their widows were well cared for. It was the Greek (Hellenist) Jews, whose widows were being overlooked.

The neglect, the favoritism, and the divide came to a head. The Hellenists cried out against the Hebrews because of the unfair treatment. “This isn’t right,” they said.

What did the apostles do? Did they dismiss the problem? Nope. Did they accuse the Hellenists of bad motives, of not being thankful, of creating a problem that doesn’t exist? Nope. Did they come back with “All Widows Matter.” Nope. Did they threaten and intimidate the Hellenists for speaking up? Nope.

What the apostles did first of all was listen. The leadership listened. They heard the cries of those who were being neglected and mistreated.

Secondly, they accepted that the problem was real and needed a godly solution. It was time to act.

Third they empowered the church, including those who were being mistreated to be part of the solution (Acts 6:3-6). Those who are in leadership and are reading this article, please, please, please see that it was the church, not the leadership, who selected the 7 men who would oversee the care of the widows. The apostles demonstrated confidence in the church to select who would take care of this issue. Notice that all 7 men had Greek names, not Hebrew ones (Acts 6:5). The group chose Greek (Hellenist) men to address the problem. Can you imagine us choosing an all-white panel to address racism in America?

These three basic things must be done today by our leaders, in churches, in business, and in America. Leaders have to listen, especially right now. Leaders cannot dismiss a problem that many people are consistently bringing up. Leaders have to empower people to be part of the solution.

Don’t get caught up in the reactions of some who are doing wrong and miss the hurt and pain of so many who are living what many of us have dismissed and don’t have to deal with on a daily basis.

Listen.

Don’t dismiss. Be part of the solution.

Empower others to be part of the solution.

Tomorrow, I’m going to post articles and videos from our sisters in Christ who are African American. Listen to them. Hear their pain and what they experience.

It was because of envy

Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?(Proverbs 27:4)

Who can stand before jealousy? Great question. Here are several examples of great strife and pain caused by jealousy and envy.

  • The Roman governor Pilate knew that the Jewish leaders were envious of Jesus and that is why they delivered Jesus up (Matthew 27:18).
  • Joseph’s brothers were jealous of Joseph and sold him into slavery (Acts 7:9).
  • It was because of jealousy that the Jews in Galatia opposed and contradicted everything Paul and Barnabas tried to preach (Acts 13:45).
  • Jealousy led the Jews in Thessalonica to take wicked men and stir up the crowd against Paul and his companions (Acts 17:5).

James wrote in his letter that if we see disorder and every vile practice, we will find jealousy behind it.

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
(James 3:14-16)

Family problems? Jealousy is somewhere close. Church problems? Look for jealousy. Problems at work. Envy is at work.

What is jealousy anyway? What is envy? Let’s look that tomorrow. If jealousy is such a source of strife, we ought to find out what it is, and how we can replace it in our hearts with godly qualities.

Saul was a King, David was a Leader

1 Chronicles 11:1-3 Then all Israel gathered together to David at Hebron and said, “Behold, we are your bone and flesh. In times past, even when Saul was king, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. And the LORD your God said to you, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over my people Israel.'” So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD. And they anointed David king over Israel, according to the word of the LORD by Samuel.

Look at what Israel said to David!

Even when Saul was king, it was you (David) who led out and brought in Israel.

Who was the king? Saul. Who was the real leader in Israel? David.

To whom did the people go to for leadership? David. Who was the person who understood the real enemy of Israel? David. Who was the one who had the courage to face the giant with God’s help? David. Who was the one who encouraged the hearts of Israel to trust God and take on the enemy? David. Who was the one who walked among the people and knew the people? David.

What was Saul doing? Hiding. Doubting. Cowering. His focus was his power, his image and keeping his throne. He was incredibly fearful and jealous of David and anyone who supported him. He devoted the rest of his life to chasing David all over Israel to eliminate him because he was a threat to Saul’s power. In fact, you can see that Saul lost focus of the real enemy, the Philistines, until they had completely surrounded him and it was too late.

You see, the people of Israel were smart enough to know who the real leader was. That is still true today. It is evident in churches, homes, businesses, sports teams, politics, etc. The people in charge are not necessarily the ones who are really leading. Sometimes it is a husband who likes to assert his authority all the time, while the wife and mother is the one really leading the kids. It might be in a sports team where the “captain” of the team is just bossy but another player is the one who inspires the team. We see it in businesses, where the CEO is a controlling, micro-managing type, and there are a few others who really make that business what it is.

So, what about you? Are you a boss, or a leader? Are you an elder, or a leader? Are you the “head of the home” or a leader? Leaders inspire, set examples, communicate and build relationships. There is an atmosphere of welcoming and safety around a leader. Leaders don’t have to go around asserting their authority all the time to do so. Look around, are people following you because they respect you or because you are in charge? Also take a look, are people continually going to someone else instead of you? It might be that you have asserted your authority way too much and they don’t feel safe coming to you. How do you respond when others get the praise and recognition, yet you are in charge? Do you encourage and welcome that or are you intimidated by that?

God’s encouragement for you today is to be a leader like David, not a king like Saul.

Called to Bless

We are called by God to bless others. Multiple passages in the Bible talk about how we are to bless others with our mouths. But what does that mean?

Psalm 20 – This is a Psalm of Blessing. Read this Psalm and consider David’s desire and prayer for those he is “blessing.” His desire is for the best things to happen to others. Notice verse 5, when David writes, “May we shout for joy over your salvation.” David’s blessing included the salvation of their souls.

This is the emphasis of God’s blessing that He brought through Abraham. He promised Abraham that through him all nations would be “blessed.” Peter’s commentary on this blessing tell us that God’s blessing was intended for us to “turn away from our sins” (Acts 3:25-26). We are only truly blessed when we are in a right relationship with God. And by by blessing others, including our enemies, our hope and prayer is for them to be turned away from their sins as well.

When the priesthood was set up by Moses, God through Moses gave the priests a blessing that they were to say to the people. Reading this blessing will help us to see what it means to bless people and what kinds of things we are hoping for those we are blessing.

Numbers 6:23-27
“Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, the LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

This “blessing” of others especially includes our enemies. Do we only wish good for those who are kind to us? Do we only speak well of those who speak well of us? Do we only want the people we like to go to heaven? Let’s read a few passages about blessing our enemies.

Romans 12:14 – Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

Luke 6:27-28
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

1 Peter 3:8-11
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it (Peter is quoting Psalm 34:12-16 here).”

1 Corinthians 4:11-14
To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.

In fact, God tells us that when blessings and curses come out of our mouths, we are living a contradiction.

James 3:7-12
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Today, let us use our mouths to bless others. That means in our hearts we are wishing the absolute best for them. If we are praying and wishing for the very best for others, that will be reflected in how we talk to them and about them.