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

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).

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

I’m reading a great book right now by W. Phillip Keller called A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. It was recommended to me by a man who has served as a shepherd in the church. The author lived the life as a shepherd, a real shepherd, and he knows all about sheep. His brings his real-life experience as a shepherd to write about the 23rd Psalm. It is a powerful read.

I believe it is good for us as men to read this book for two reasons:

  1. We can draw closer to Jesus Christ as our Shepherd when we read the perspectives on shepherds and sheep.
  2. We can learn more about what it means to be a shepherd of people. God used this “shepherding” concept throughout the Bible to illustrate what God is looking for in those who would lead His children.

Here is the link to Amazon where you can buy this book. I have the paperback copy, but I really like the audio version!

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller

Psalms 23:1-6
(1) A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
(2) He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
(3) He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
(4) Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
(5) You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
(6) Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Knowing Your Flocks and Herds

Proverbs 27:23-27
Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations? When the grass is gone and the new growth appears and the vegetation of the mountains is gathered, the lambs will provide your clothing, and the goats the price of a field. There will be enough goats’ milk for your food, for the food of your household and maintenance for your girls.

You can’t manage effectively when you don’t have accurate information. This applies to goats and sheep, as the Proverb above says, but we can expand that to our finances, businesses, families, organizations and to our churches. Pay attention to your flock, and it will grow, and it will sustain you and others.

Shepherds live among the sheep. As Dr. Lynn Anderson put it, “They Smell Like Sheep.” Shepherds become intimately involved with each sheep, they learn each sheep’s personality. A shepherd knows the strengths and weaknesses of sheep. He can see when one is sick or needs special attention. He can look ahead and see the needs coming up, such as a need for green pastures with fresh grass or a better place for water. His eyes are always open for threats to the health and safety of his sheep. He takes this personally! It’s his life. The sheep are his life. Those sheep become comfortable and learn to be safe with that shepherd. As Jesus said, the sheep will learn to recognize the unique voice and call of their shepherd (John 10). That takes time, and a lot of patient consistent effort on the part of the shepherd.

I remember one time we had a really skiddish sheep. Snickers the sheep (see attached picture). He was young, and we had just brought him home. He would not come to anybody. My wife, Anna, took a chair out to his pen and sat there with animal crackers in her hand. She didn’t force him and she didn’t yell at him and command the sheep to come. She just sat there patiently and consistently with an animal cracker in her hand. This sheep would at first run around his shelter several times, then pause from behind the shelter and peek out to see Anna. Then he would step out a little closer to Anna as he felt safer. It wasn’t very long and he was eating out of her hand. And it wasn’t much longer after that when Anna was petting him and scratching behind his ears. He loved Anna, and was the most affectionate sheep. Anna knew her sheep and what he needed.

Can you imagine if Anna would have chased that sheep around with a stick, barking out orders to him? What about if she would have put a leash on him and forced him to come to her side? That would have changed the relationship, wouldn’t it? What if she would have quit in frustration, slammed the animal crackers box down on the ground and left before the sheep was really comfortable with her?

Question, why did so many “flock” to Jesus during His day (Luke 15:1-2)? Yes, many came for miracles or because they heard about the miracles, but there’s so much more to it than that. Let me ask another question, why were they not going to the Pharisees and Sadducees? You don’t see the people racing to their side for comfort, wisdom and direction, do you? Why not? They put heavy burdens on people, they were hard-nosed, they were distant and aloof, and they were very hypocritical.

Another question, do people feel safe coming to you? Sometimes we may look around and realize that people are not coming to us for wisdom. What do we do at that point? Do we blame everyone else? Do we throw rocks at the sheep who are not coming to us? Or do we look in the mirror and do some serious reflection? Maybe I don’t really know my sheep, and maybe I haven’t been truly invested in knowing the sheep. And even more than that, maybe I’m scary to the sheep. I walk in and they run for safety. If that’s the case, go get a chair and some animal crackers and learn to create a safe environment.

If you want to know your sheep, then you have to create an environment where sheep are safe around you.

Isaiah 40:11
He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

Things That Are Lacking

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you–
(Titus 1:5)

Look at the various ways the phrase “put what remained into order” is translated:

“Set in order the things that are lacking” (NKJV)

“Set in order what remains” (NASU)

“Straighten out what was left unfinished” (NIV)

“Set in order the things that are wanting” (KJV)

“Amend what was defective” (RSV)

Considering these various phrases, we can see that Paul knew that something just wasn’t finished in the churches in Crete. There was something “defective, wanting, lacking, unfinished” in the churches.

What was lacking and unfinished? The churches were sheep without shepherds…they needed elders in every congregation. Without elders, the church is lacking, unfinished, defective, etc.

What is lacking when sheep are without shepherds?

  • Protection
  • Provision
  • Accountability
  • Direction

We should be able to see God’s wisdom in having men appointed as shepherds or elders to lead the local congregations. We are sheep, whether or not we like to admit it. Without a shepherd, I am in danger! When we have no shepherds, we wander and are in danger of being eaten by wolves!

God has designed His local congregations to have godly shepherds who will be after His heart (Jeremiah 3:15). These elders/shepherds are to think like God, to be on the same page as God. Because these elders think like God does, they can do for God’s sheep what God’s sheep need. We need direction, accountability, protection and provision.

Read Psalm 23 and John 10 and think about what shepherds do for sheep. This is what our elders in our congregations do for us. What a blessing! Thank God for godly elders!

The Heart of a Shepherd – Psalm 23

A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
(Psalm 23:1-6)

How does a good shepherd think, speak and behave? Let’s start by meditating on Psalm 23 as David through the Spirit tells us about the Lord our Shepherd.

Calm, Quiet, Stable, Peaceful, Restorative Provision

The good shepherd hears stormy waters ahead and steers the sheep another direction…to calm, quiet waters. As our good shepherd, the Lord sees green pastures and knows this is the best place for his sheep to have good food. He looks for the weak and injured sheep and works to restore that one back to health. His eyes are on the pathway, the best pathway for his sheep to follow.

Presence, Protection, Permanent Provision

There are times the shepherd has to lead the sheep through scary, dark valleys of death, but the good shepherd always reassures the sheep that he is there with them. The rod and staff of the shepherd are used for both discipline and protection. As the “sheep” in this passage, David saw the rod and staff of the shepherd as a comforting thing. Even when the wolves encompass the sheep, the shepherd is still providing for the sheep. Those blessings from the shepherd just keep overflowing. And for how long? Forever. “All the days of my life.” In the valleys of death and in the green pastures, God is always there. In the calm waters and in the presence of our enemies, God is always there. In the pathways of righteousness, and in the times of restoring us back to the pathway, God is always there.

Please God, help us as men to be shepherds like you.

All The Way My Savior Leads Me

The theme at our congregation this year is from a song by Fanny J Crosby, All The Way My Savior Leads Me.

Our focus this year here at our congregation is leadership:

Jesus’ leadership of us.

Our leadership of others.

Here are a few key passages on the leadership of Jesus:

  • Psalm 23 – This beloved and classic psalm tells us so much about the heart of God as our Shepherd and what His leadership/shepherdship is all about.
  • Ezekiel 34 – Because of the horribly selfish, domineering and aggressive leadership that existed at the time, God promised that one day He would be the shepherd. Specifically, the Son of David would come and be the One Shepherd over God’s people. He would seek the lost, bind up the wounded and feed the flock.
  • Isaiah 40:11 – The Messiah Jesus leads us like a gentle shepherd.
  • John 10 – Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He’s not for hire, He owns the sheep. Jesus the Good Shepherd has a close, intimate relationship with the sheep and they follow His voice. As the Good Shepherd, He lays down His life for the sheep. He doesn’t run when there is trouble, He protects the flock from thieves and wolves.
  • In several passages, Jesus is called the Great Shepherd, or the Chief Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25; 5:4; Hebrews 13:20). We are the flock of God, and Jesus is constantly watching out over our souls.

As we focus on these passages, God’s word forms a portrait what you and I are to be as leaders/shepherds today. Jesus’ leadership style is to be our leadership style. His heart is to be our heart. How He shepherds is how we are to shepherd.

This will affect our church leadership, our parenting, our behavior and attitude in the workplace and community. As we begin to see our relationship with others as a shepherd, then our whole attitude and focus will change. May God the Chief Shepherd transform our hearts into true shepherd’s hearts.

Daniel – Stand Firm and Take Action

He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.
(Daniel 11:32)

Daniel chapter 11 can get pretty confusing for me, but when I come to this verse I get the main point. Whatever is going on here in chapter 11, there are people who are seduced and break God’s covenant. That is sad, and that is the way of the world. However we also see that there are those who know God, stand firm and take action.

I’m seeing so many connections between Daniel’s theme and the book of Revelation. In both books, God’s people are being oppressed by a beast, and in both books the Son of Man, Jesus overcomes that beast. Also in both books, those who are with the Son of Man, Jesus, can and will overcome and conquer the beast.

And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 
(Revelation 12:11)
This is our encouragement for today. We are in a war against Satan and any “beast” he sends our way to torture us. The Devil is, with all his might, seeking to destroy God’s work. But Jesus is on the throne, He has already conquered and He reigns supreme. Death, sin and the Devil have no power over Him. In Christ, the Devil has been disarmed and made powerless.
So stand firm today, men. Stand firm today in Christ. Fight the beast. Do not love your lives even unto death. You have a covenant with Christ to keep. You have His blood covering you. His word is always there to guide you. But standing firm means more than standing still. It means taking action.
Take action to say kind words and to forgive others. Take action to reach out to encourage someone else. Take action to say no to the Devil’s temptations. Take action to be honest when the pressure is extreme to be dishonest. Take action to speak up for God to your boss, your neighbor, your friends, etc.
Stand firm and take action.

 

Distorted Leadership Models – The Utility Player

This week we are going to focus on distorted leadership models. We got this concept from the book They Smell Like Sheep by Lynn Anderson.

Distorted Leadership Models – The Utility Player

The person who does it all and doesn’t delegate. He tries to play all the positions. He may be pretty good at a lot of jobs, but others need to be doing those jobs.

The utility player in sports is the jack of all trades. You can put him or her at any position and they can be pretty good anywhere. There are those 5 talent people (see Matthew 25), who can do just about anything. Sometimes those guys get caught in trap of trying to have their hands in every pot in the church.

There are many reasons this happens:

There is the man who had to be the utility person by necessity and now it is hard to give up. That person may have at one time been put in a position where he had to do the lion’s share of the work or it wouldn’t have gotten accomplished. It may be a small church where very few people are even available to work. In that case you have to do a large percentage of the work. But as the church grows, or if you are with a different group with lots of hands ready to work, you need to let them work. There are times when someone had planned on doing a task for the church, but someone (who meant well) jumped in front of them and did the job before he or she could get to it. That is not helpful to building relationships. I’m sure the apostles could have done a great job in taking care of the widows, but it wasn’t their job. God wanted someone else to oversee care for the widows (Acts 6:1-7).

There is the man who doesn’t really want to have the hard and uncomfortable conversations with those who are not doing their share. It is much easier just to do the job than to train, mentor, rebuke, coach, talk, ask, etc. Helping other guys learn, understand and appreciate the need to do these great works for Jesus is a challenging work. When we keep doing jobs that others in the church can be doing, we are crippling them and hindering their growth. We are also hamstringing ourselves, because we become very ineffective and inefficient in our own work God wants us to do.

There is the man whose expectations are too high, and those who want to do the work don’t measure up to his standards. In some cases there are those who want to work, but they feel pushed out and disregarded by those who are doing the work. Those utility players tend to micromanage. If you are going to delegate, this means you may have to wait a little longer for a job to get finished, because your schedule is not theirs. It also means that they may do the job differently that you would have, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong necessarily.

There is a great example of this in Moses’ leadership style. Moses was a man who wanted to do it all, and his motives were pure. However, as he was advised by his father-in-law, he was going to wear himself out. It wasn’t good for the Israelites, either.

Meditate on this final passage:

The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.” So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And they judged the people at all times. Any hard case they brought to Moses, but any small matter they decided themselves. Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went away to his own country.
(Exodus 18:13-27)

Distorted Leadership Models – The Sheriff

This week we are going to focus on distorted leadership models. We got this concept from the book They Smell Like Sheep by Lynn Anderson.

Distorted Leadership Models – The Sheriff

Flashing the badge, he’s the rule enforcer.

No offense meant at all to our fine men and women in law enforcement – I have to make sure I say this. Those men and women are the finest, and they put their lives on the line everyday for us – Thank you!

The focus of this article is the distorted view of leadership that comes when someone slaps on the “elder” badge in the church and begins to think he is the Judge, Jury and Executioner. Without regard for mercy and tenderness, he rains down condemnation and judgment to the law breakers. He would never accept treatment like this for himself, but he does it to others. He’s all about the rules and enforcing the law, but not much about the grace, mercy and relationships.

This model of leadership is seen in the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day. They were keen on the rules, down to the minutest detail. The Scribes and Pharisees crossed every T and dotted every I, but what did they lack? Jesus said they did not have mercy (Matthew 9:10-13;12:1-14). He called them self-righteous hypocrites that did not do what they asked others to do (Matthew 23:1-4). They did not care for the lost, helpless and outcast, in fact they took advantage of sinners and widows (Luke 15). The broken state of others became an opportunity for them to gain more power over people (Mark 12:40).

It also makes me think of the heart of Jonah. Anna and the kids were reading about him as I was writing this, and I thought, “Wow, here’s Sheriff Jonah who wanted to ride into town and call out the condemnation, blow the whistle, lasso them all up and throw the people of Nineveh into God’s eternal jail. Jonah cared more for plants than he did people (Jonah 4). I think Jonah serves as a good example of the “sheriff” mindset.

Don’t get me wrong, rules do matter. Doctrine is from God, not from man, so we must stand for it in our churches (Romans 16:17-18). The elders/shepherds are to be sound in doctrine. They must be able to teach that doctrine, and are to have the courage to stand and fight for that doctrine (Acts 20:17-38; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:1-14).

But what we want to see out of our elders/shepherds is the whole picture, men who stand strong on the Word, but also have the merciful heart of God. If God was all about the rules, where would you and I be? Remember Jonah and the city of Nineveh?

Here are some character qualities of the elder/shepherd that balance out the “sheriffs” in us. Yes, be about the rules but remember this:

  • Live by example, show others how to live as God wants them to live (Hebrews 13:7,17; 1 Peter 5:3).
  • Be gentle and patient, realizing that Satan has a hold on people. They need teaching and time, not death and destruction (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
  • Discern the needs of those you are leading. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Some need encouraged, others need their hands held, others need gentle correction, others need warnings. In order for a elder/shepherd to know the difference, he has to know the sheep. It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of response.
  • Not violent, but gentle, not quarrelsome (1 Timothy 3:3).
  • You must not be arrogant or quick-tempered (Titus 1:7).
  • Realize you have to give an account to the Chief Shepherd for their souls (Hebrews 13:7,17; 1 Peter 5:4).

As a final thought, why did the sinners come to Jesus and not to the Pharisees? Where did they find mercy and grace? Where did they find men who were only about enforcing the rules? Think about it? Are you a sheriff and a Jonah? Or are you more like Jesus offering mercy and grace? Who do people go to in your congregation for mercy, grace and acceptance?