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.

Daniel – The Way of Exile

Today’s post is a link to a video by the Bible Project on the Way of Exile. In this video is a fantastic point about the decision Daniel and his 3 friends made while living in a Babylonian culture. We today are still living in a Babylonian culture.

The Bible Project – The Way of the Exile


“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 5:13-16)

Daniel – My Reason Returned to Me

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
(Daniel 4:34-37)

Isn’t it fascinating that God allowed Nebuchadnezzar’s writings to be part of Scripture. Daniel 4 is the personal record of King Nebuchadnezzar and how he was humbled before Almighty God. Because of his arrogance, he was reduced to a dumb beast eating grass for seven periods of time. At the end of that period of time, his “reason returned to him.” He gave glory and honor to God instead of to himself.

I wander if ole King Neb knew his reasoning was gone during that time of eating grass in the pasture. A lot of times we don’t know that our reasoning is flawed, but when we actually begin to use reason we realize how poor our thinking process was before. There are tons of folks in our culture who think they have a lot of brains and are the smartest people on the block. Yet, their reasoning is so upside down and perverted. And they point fingers our way to criticize the Christian’s foundation for reasoning, saying we are leaning on a crutch of blind faith.

Paul was accused of being “insane” or “mad,” but in reality he was the one speaking words of truth and reason (Acts 26:24-25). Because his foundation was squarely on God and His word, Paul’s thoughts were sound and his conclusions were valid. When we leave God and take the glory and honor for ourselves, our reasoning is turned into madness (Romans 1:18-32; Ephesians 4:17-24). This is the story of our culture and of any culture that walks away from God. When we are lifted up in our own pride, our thoughts lead ourselves and others into total darkness and destruction.

However, when we humble ourselves before God, our thinking becomes clear and enlightened. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge, Proverbs teaches us (Proverbs 1:5). When your mind is set on God’s word, it doesn’t make you less intelligent. Being a believer in God doesn’t make you backward and stupid, it makes you the smartest guy in the room (don’t go around saying that, though).

Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.
(Psalm 119:98-100)

The apostle Paul was very concerned about the brethren in Colossae and Laodicea because they were being cheated by man’s philosophy. Here are two final passages for your encouragement. Man’s reasoning may seem smart at first, but when you come to the light of God’s word, your reasoning will return to you.

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.
(Colossians 2:1-4)

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
(Colossians 2:6-8)

Daniel – Men Who Didn’t Cower

Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.
(Daniel 3:28)

It’s not just a little kids’ story about 3 Jews and a Fiery Furnace. What we see here is the power of faith in God and the courage it gives men and women to stand in the face of overwhelming persecution.

What we see here is a King who was filled with rage and fury because people under him dared to stand and oppose his orders. He wasn’t used to that. Everyone cowered and whimpered and caved in to his every demand. That’s because everyone knew the penalty of going against the King. So when these three men stood and refused to bow down to the King’s golden image, he was furious. In fact the Bible tells us in Daniel 3 that he was so angry that he had the furnace heated 7 times its normal heat. His anger led to the death of the men who were commanded to throw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fiery furnace.

This is how those in love with themselves and their power react when others go against them. They can’t handle it. They are used to everyone bowing down and being “Yes-men.” When someone dares bring up an opposing idea, or stands up and says, “No,” then that power hungry man goes into a full out rage. The goal then becomes to simply destroy the opposition and stamp out any hint of disloyalty.

We see in this in college campuses, churches, board rooms, and in government. There are those who cannot “tolerate” someone with an opposing view, even while they may be making a claim to be tolerant and accepting. But how do they (we) respond when someone stands up and questions the dear leader? If you see a Nebuchadnezzar response then you can understand what kind of leader you are dealing with.

But be encouraged by men like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, because eventually (with God’s mighty hand of help) they gained the respect and admiration of King Nebuchadnezzar. He saw, as the above verse says, that they “yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.” Granted, not every time we make a stand will we gain the respect of those who oppose God’s ways, but many will see your courage and conviction and will marvel at such faith. Nebuchadnezzar did. He went from trying to execute them to promoting them!

May God give us the courage and conviction of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

Living Above Our Culture

Our culture seems to be changing at an alarming rate.  At best, God’s standards of morality are seen as “old fashioned” and treated like a joke and at worst, they are seen as racist, hateful, destructive ways of thinking.  I struggle with how I should respond to the world around me.  Should I speak up, speak out and get involved politically?  Maybe I should bombard Facebook and other forms of social media with articles and bible verses hoping someone will listen.  Most of the time I want to gather my family and close friends and go form a commune in the mountains in order to escape what is going on around me.

I’ve been reading through Daniel and noticed some things that have helped me.  In Daniel six, Daniel’s peers put a target on his back and devised a plan to bring him down.  They said in verse five, “We will not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God.”  Then they convinced King Darius to institute a ridiculous 40 day statute that forbid anyone to make a petition to any god except the king, knowing that this would set a trap for Daniel.

Verse ten records Daniel’s response and says, “Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously.” 

If you’re familiar with Daniel six, you know how the story ends.  Daniel’s enemies catch him praying and rat him out to the king.  Even though Darius is distressed and tries to find a way to rescue Daniel, he has no choice but to throw him in the lion’s den.  God delivers Daniel, his enemies are disposed of, and Darius writes a proclamation to his entire kingdom that everyone is to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel.

Let’s consider a few simple observations about Daniel that could be helpful.

No Ground of Accusation:

If my life was put under a microscope, what would my enemies find, what accusations could they make?  Would they find jealousy and lust and greed and anger?  Would they find pride and arrogance and self-righteousness?  Or would they see kindness and patience and self-control?  Would they see generosity and hope and love?  In other words, would my life look any different than the world around me?  I’m not talking about perfection; I’m talking about a course of life that strives to imitate Jesus Christ.  In the end, when all things fall apart, I pray that the only accusation that will stick is, “He’s a follower of Jesus!”

As He Had Been Doing Previously:

I’ve always been impressed that, in the face of the new statute, Daniel didn’t have to change his behavior.  He didn’t become aware of the attack by his peers and suddenly amp up his righteousness.  As Daniel’s environment became more hostile he simply continued in the pattern of godliness and faithfulness that he had previously been dedicated to.

What does my walk with God look like?  Do I have the pattern of faithfulness in the times of peace that will see me through the times of distress?  We must devote ourselves daily to God, cultivating a deeper relationship with Him, so that our foundation of faith is prepared for whatever lies ahead.  If I’m walking with my God daily then I have no need to worry about what might be coming next.  I will simply take each day as it comes and take the next step of faith.

Praying and Giving Thanks:

Daniel knew the document was signed when he went up to his roof chamber that day.  He knew what the likely consequences would be when he got down on his knees and prayed.  I’m amazed that verse ten highlights “giving thanks” as the focus of Daniel’s prayer.  I’ve got to be honest; I’m not sure how much “giving thanks” would have been taking place if I was in his situation.  There would have been a lot of, “save me” and, “this isn’t fair”, and “destroy my adversaries”, but I’m not sure about thanksgiving.

I believe the depth of Daniel’s relationship with God is seen in his focus on giving thanks in a time like this.  Despite his circumstances and the evil motives of the men around him, he could still clearly see God for who He is and His worthiness of our thanksgiving.  As I contemplate the world around me and watch my nation grow more hostile towards God, my kneejerk reaction to everything should be the giving of thanks.  The darkness that grows around us should make us appreciate the light of Jesus Christ more than ever.

Above all else, Daniel understood who he was.  He lived and worked in a foreign land, far from home and surrounded by ungodly people but he knew he was a descendant of Abraham, a child of God, and in a covenant relationship.  It would have been easy for him to look at his situation, focus on the temporary, and just blend in but he chose the harder, higher path.  He looked at the eternal and lived above his culture.  If we do the same, the God that delivered Daniel will also deliver us. Amen.