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 – 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.

The Well From Which You Drink

In John 4, Jesus met with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. I’d encourage you to read through John 4 and meditate upon it. Jesus has a great discussion with her about living water. It started with a discussion about physical water, but led to living water. The woman begged for this living water! And then for some reason, Jesus brings up her marital situation.

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.
(John 4:10-19)

From what well had the Samaritan woman been drinking? I’m not talking about Jacob’s well. I’m talking about the relationship well. She had drawn from that well over and over (maybe for no fault of her own), but it had left her dehydrated. Those relationships hadn’t quenched any thirst at all, they had only left her empty and begging to be filled.

We drink things today that make us dehydrated. Pop. Coffee. Alcohol. Our well here at our house is really salty, we can’t drink from it; we had to buy a reverse osmosis system to deal with it. I’m sure you understand that you can drink things that leave you worse than before. Nothing really replaces good water, and nothing really replaces the living water Jesus offers.

Are you thirsty? Dehydrated? Have you become empty because you are drinking from the wrong well? Then Jesus is offering you living water!

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
(Isaiah 55:1-2)

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.

The Good Shepherd and His Sheep

Below is a video of a shepherd calling his sheep. It is powerful and illustrates what Jesus said in John 10. When the shepherd calls, the sheep come because they know his voice.

I heard once that the true test of leadership is to look around and see if anyone is following you.  That’s a pretty good test. Think about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. He says in John 10 that the shepherd knows the sheep, and that the sheep know the shepherd. When He calls, they come running. They know his voice.  To the sheep, the Shepherd’s voice means that they are running to safety and a rewarding environment. It is safe to run to the Shepherd.

John 10:3,8,14,16,27
To him (the shepherd of the sheep) the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them…I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd…My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

Think about why so many flocked to Jesus during his ministry? Look at Luke 15 and meditate on it. There were many religious leaders in Jesus’ day, but the people weren’t flocking to them. Why? Those leaders were bullies, arrogant, know-it-alls who placed heavy burdens on the people. They were hypocritical, self-indulgent and constantly sat in condescending judgment upon the people. The people knew it wasn’t safe to run to them. But they saw safety, compassion and acceptance in the heart of Jesus. When He called, they came.

Consider your own leadership as a man. Are people running to you or from you? Are you a bully or a loving shepherd? It’s worth your consideration – Do the sheep know your voice? Do they come running when you call?

 

The Good Shepherd and His Sheep

David’s Friends

After David killed Goliath, the people praised David, and his popularity soared even higher than the king himself, King Saul. Of course, King Saul didn’t take this too well, and was filled with paranoia, jealousy and rage. He made it his life’s work to eliminate David, because he was a threat to his power and popularity. So for most of the second half of 1 Samuel, David is on the run for his life. This was a time of great uncertainty and pain for David.

I want you to think about the position King Saul is putting others in because of his jealousy and lust for control! He is alienating himself from his family and from the best people in his land (Jonathan, Michal, Samuel, David, etc.). Our jealousy, fear, paranoia, desire to control and rage will drive great wedges between ourselves and the very people who can help us the most!

In Chapter 19 of 1 Samuel, we see at least four individuals who were true friends to David. There’s a country song that says, “You find out who your friends are.” That was especially true for David. But what does it mean to be a friend? At a practical level how did the following people show themselves to be a friend to David?

Jonathan spoke well of David.

1 Samuel 19:4 And Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you.

It’s easy to speak well of someone when you have a friendly audience. This wasn’t easy for Jonathan. Read verse 1 of chapter 19. ” And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David.” Jonathan had just received a direct order from his dad and king to kill David. Not very easy at this point to say something nice about David, is it? But Jonathan stood up to his dad and stood up for David and defended him. Jonathan reminded his father of the good that David had done and did not accept Saul’s premise that David was guilty and needed to die. It actually worked in chapter 19, King Saul listened to Jonathan. The next time this happens in chapter 20, Saul tries to kill Jonathan, his own son!

What about you and me? How do we respond when someone is talking bad about people? Do we stand up for those being gossiped about, or are we intimidated by the person who is gossiping to us? Do we consider that there are usually two sides to a story? “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17).

David had a friend in Jonathan because Jonathan risked his life and his relationship with his father in order to speak well of David.

Michal protected David.

1 Samuel 19:12 So Michal let David down through the window, and he fled away and escaped.

Michal was one of the daughters of King Saul. When David killed Goliath, one of the rewards was being able to marry the king’s daughter. King Saul wasn’t faithful in keeping that promise and gave his first daughter (Merab) away to another man. Then King Saul added another condition for David to meet before he could marry the next daughter, Michal. You see, King Saul noticed that Michal loved David, and was going to use her as a pawn to get David killed. David was required to go out and kill 100 Philistines and bring back evidence from their bodies that they were dead. So, David brought back twice the evidence! He killed 200 Philistines (1 Samuel 18:20-27)! Saul could not refuse him now, he gave Michal to David.

But look what happens next. Is Saul happy that Michal and David love each other? No. It drives him mad! He can’t handle that his own daughter is in love with the man he hates! Michal’s love can’t be controlled by him, so he is having a fit.

1 Samuel 18:28-30 But when Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David, and that Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him, Saul was even more afraid of David. So Saul was David’s enemy continually. Then the commanders of the Philistines came out to battle, and as often as they came out David had more success than all the servants of Saul, so that his name was highly esteemed.

In chapter 19, we see Saul again going mad with jealousy, a lust for control and paranoia. His rage got the better of him and he tried to once again kill David with the spear. David escaped, so Saul sent people to David and Michal’s house to kill David. Michal is put into a position where she has to defy her father and protect David. She helps her husband escape out a window and puts a decoy in the bed!

Michal was a friend to David because she chose to stand up for her husband and protect him.

Samuel listened to David.

1 Samuel 19:18 Now David fled and escaped, and he came to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and lived at Naioth.

Remember Samuel? He’s the old prophet and judge that Israel cast to the side because they wanted a king. We haven’t heard much from Samuel since he anointed David in chapter 16. But apparently he’s still around, and when David needed to get away, Samuel is first on his mind. Samuel may have been put out to pasture by Israel, but he was still useful for God’s purpose!

Samuel provided a refuge for David. He gave David a listening ear. Samuel had his own run-ins with King Saul, didn’t he (1 Samuel 13,15)? David had a friend in Samuel because Samuel gave him a safe place.

A few questions here are appropriate. Who is that Samuel for you? When things are getting all turned upside down, who is the Samuel in your life who gives you a safe place and a listening ear? Also, are you a Samuel for others? Do people feel safe coming to you for refuge and a listening ear?

All three of these friends (Jonathan, Michal and Samuel) put themselves at risk because they stood up for David instead of turning him into King Saul.

God put a miraculous shield around David.

1 Samuel 19:20 Then Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied.

God saw what King Saul was doing. The Holy Spirit saw those men coming to arrest David, and he miraculously forced them to prophesy. The only words these men could say were God’s words. This happened two more times, and then King Saul himself came, and Holy Spirit forced Saul to prophesy. There was a Holy Spirit bubble around David. Like the Psalms, “He allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account, saying, “Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!” (Psalms 105:14-15).

Bad things would still happen to David, but we can see that God was there working for David to shelter him. God was the best friend to David.

Even later on when David had no friends, he always had God.

1 Samuel 30:6 – And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.

My mom would say to us that God is our best friend. I’ve forgotten that at times, but she was right. God was David’s best friend. David had some really good friends, but they could never be the great defender and protector that God is.

Word in Action

19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hearslow to speakslow to wrath20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:19-22; NKJV)

Perspective and process.  God gives us His perspective and is teaching us how to see our world from an heavenly perspective.  He also provides us process for our lives and the order does matter.  Here, we are to be swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath.  If we are swift in our hearing of His word then we will have a heart prepared to be swift to hear another while seeking to understand rather than be understood.  This requires us to listen first and not speak first.  It requires us to consider God’s Word, what another is saying, and then humbly respond.  In all of this, we need to remember that wrath comes last not first and that the wrath of man does not produce righteousness of God which should be our goal.

The focus really is us as individuals here and not others.   We are to lay aside filthiness and wickedness so that we can humbly receive His implanted word.  In elevating God and others in our lives, He will save our souls.  If that is the focus, then we can be Godly communicators and humbly maintain our cool.   If we leave evil behind and receive His word, then we will find salvation and share salvation.

All of this is active.  Though we receive and we react to God’s word, we do so deliberately and purposefully.  It might not be a lot each and every day but we focus on and we do what we can in in line with what God’s word says.  This changes us and changes our relationships.  We determine to listen…to God’s word and to others.  We determine to understand and apply it and allow it to work in our lives.  We purposefully turn away from evil and choose good.  In all of it, we are emboldened in our humility and God will work in our lives and our relationships.  Perspective and process do matter to God.  Reflect on His perspective through His word and work to maintain His process in your life.

 

Receive

17 If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. 18 But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. 20 Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. (Philemon 17-20; NKJV)

The good deed and importance is found in Philemon receiving Onesimus.  Before I start with Philemon, please recognize the Onesimus is returning.  He is determined to reconcile with Philemon though the worst outcome for him could be that Philemon doesn’t reconcile and he lose his life…a punishment that was given to slaves who were disobedient.  This was in the realm of possibility but Onesimus had a heart to go and to reconcile.  As much as Philemon had to receive him, Onesimus had to go.  This cannot be overstated.

Paul urges Philemon to receive him like he would receive Paul.  It seems they shared a close relationship so the picture here is of two dear friends reuniting.  That is what Paul is expecting for Onesimus despite the fact that he had caused Philemon harm.  This shows us what reconciliation looks like.  Forgiveness is not just a lack of retaliation but restoration.  It is about how we receive one another in all circumstances and how we build and develop relationships with one another.

This is how God receives us when we are forgiven.  We do not simply escape the wrath we deserve but He FULLY restores us into a relationship with Him.  Paul paints a clear picture of what this looks like for Philemon and we can glean what it needs to look like in our lives.  Receive one who has wronged you the same way that you would receive one of your closest and dearest brothers or sister.

Paul is a catalyst in this restoration and we can be too.  Philemon might have had a long list of grievances or wrongs and it might have caused him a great internal struggle with what Paul was asking.  But Paul steps in and offers himself to take that debt on.  He doesn’t stop there though.  He doesn’t want a list of wrongs from Philemon that are now a debt on Paul.  What Paul wants Philemon to remember is that we are all indebted to our Lord Jesus and in this case to the one who taught and led us to Him.  Paul simply wants to bring to mind how desperately Philemon needed salvation at one point in time and to return the same offering of grace and forgiveness and restoration to Onesimus which Paul offered to him.  Again, we all can understand what that looks like and at different points play our part as a Paul (catalyst for restoration), Onesimus (willing to go and restored), and Philemon (willing to receive and to restore).

We forgive because we are forgiven.  We erase other’s debts because we have a record of debts that others have against us and a debt we can never repay our God and Father.  We owe our eternal spiritual life to God.  We understand that, then it will be easier to forgive.  We forgive because we are forgiven and we work for restoration in whatever role or situation we find ourselves in.  We work because that is the action we must take in our faith and love for Jesus and each other.

 

Good Deed

Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ— 10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, 11 who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. 12 I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. 14 But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary. (Philemon 8-14; NKJV)

In considering this text, do you see the awesome and powerful demonstration of leadership by Paul and made possible by the tremendous followership of Philemon?

We have established this is a tough ask Paul is making of Philemon in receiving Onesimus…a slave of Philemon who has run away and is not profitable.  With that in mind, consider the fact that Paul does not command Philemon and he never uses the words “forgive” or “reconcile”.  What Paul does is “appeal” to Philemon’s character to “receive” Onesimus as a brother in Christ.  Paul knows that Philemon understands this is only possible if he forgives and they are reconciled.  Paul is encouraging Philemon to put his faith and love into action and to further refresh the hearts of the saints.

Why didn’t Paul command him?  I cannot say for certain but I understand the power and joy in others doing the right thing because they choose to rather than because they are told or command to.  I understand the tremendous catalyst of choice.  I have responsibility of leadership in my life whether it is with a colleague, an employee, a child, a spouse, a brother/sister…God has given me specific commands and responsibilities to lead.  Do you see that?  God has given me a work to do (responsibility) and I am accountable to the outcomes of that leadership work…and though the authority is implied…the focus is on the responsibility and the expectation is that I fulfill that responsibility as a Christian who emulates Christ Who is love!  Love in the case of Christ is “choice”!  The catalyst!

Leadership is a result of a cultivated relationship of trust, understanding, and mutual respect which provides the foundation for leading or influencing others towards a common purpose and work.  Paul cultivated this relationship with Philemon.  Philemon demonstrated his heart through his fruit.  Paul trusted the faith and love of Philemon and Philemon trusted Paul’s leadership.

This is what is so awesome in this scenario.  No barking orders.  No insecurity.  No resentment.  All of these are opportunities for Satan to place a wedge and start working a relationship apart.  The more people involved, the more opportunity and this is why leadership is so very important!  Choosing the assume the best of another provides the opportunity for them to exceed your expectations and reduces the opportunity for Satan to divide.

Paul’s letter is all about the need to forgive and how to go about forgiveness.  Paul’s approach is all about trust in Philemon’s character because of Philemon’s actions and fruit.  This is a pattern worth evaluating in our own lives.  If a brother or sister has demonstrated love and faith then we can assume the best of them and that they will demonstrate love and faith now and in the future.  This should provide us with a confidence in each other and relieve the need for “orders” or “commands” but rather open opportunity for encouragement, increased opportunity to serve, and growth.

Forgiveness and reconciliation is a hard work that has to be voluntary for everyone.  We can lead others through forgiveness and reconciliation if we first trust and provide opportunity for reconciliation rather than command that we forgive.  Jesus chose us.  Lets choose each other!