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

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).

I Will Dwell in the House of the Lord Forever

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

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

Going home. With the Lord forever.

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

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

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

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

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

Surely Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow Me

Psalm 23:6 – Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…

Today’s article is inspired by chapter 11 of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.

Two thoughts about “goodness and mercy” following us all the days of our life.

From one perspective, we can think of how God’s goodness and mercy as our Good Shepherd will always be with us. His vision, tender care and protection will always be with us. He is our “rear guard” (Isaiah 52:21; 58:8). He goes before us and follows us from behind. We are completely encircled by God’s goodness and mercy as His sheep.

Another perspective is that the trail God’s sheep leave behind is goodness and mercy. Under the management of a bad shepherd, a flock of sheep will completely destroy a pasture and leave it bare, full of parasites, and erosion will wash ruts left by sheep into a gulley. But under the disciplined and loving care of a good shepherd, the pasture is left in good shape, maybe even better than before.

Let’s take a moment today to thank God for being such a wonderful Shepherd, and for the fact that His goodness and mercy always follow us!

You Anoint My Head with Oil

Psalm 23:5 – …you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 

Today’s article is inspired by chapter 10 of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.

In this chapter, the experienced shepherd, Phillip Keller, talks about how he anointed his sheep and more importantly why. He spoke of all kinds of nasty bugs and critters that will absolutely drive a sheep crazy, or make them sick. Keller also spoke of “scab” that afflicts the sheep.

The cure for treating his sheep from certain parasites and flies was anointing their heads, faces, noses and ears with a combination of oils and other remedies. The shepherd was anointed the sheep’s head with oil to bring comfort and healing and peace. A ewe would bash its head against fences and walls because flies were driving her bonkers. But after her “anointing,” she was contented and at peace because the shepherd anointed her.

You can look throughout scripture to see God or His leaders “anointing” His people for various reasons. The anointing was sometimes for healing (John 9:11; James 5:14; Mark 6:13; Luke 10:34) . Other times it was a calling to a specific work like a priest or king (Psalm 2:2; 89:20-21). Those anointed by God were also under his protection (Psalm 28:8; 105:15). Sometimes it was to honor and show gratitude to someone, which happened to Jesus more than once (Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8). We also see that God’s anointing involved teaching and guiding His people (Psalm 132:17; 1 John 2:20-21,27). But above all that, God anoints His people to say, “You are mine!” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). Also remember that God’s anointing is an oil of gladness – it was true for Jesus and it is also true for us (Psalm 45:7; Isaiah 63:3)!

God is our shepherd. He anoints us to care for us, to teach us, to protect us, to heal us, and to reassure us. We are His sheep, and He loves us. And when He anoints us, our cup truly overflows.

You Prepare a Table Before Me

Psalm 23:5 – You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…

Today’s article is inspired by W. Phillip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.

Keller in his book describes his perspective on what it means for a shepherd to prepare a table for the sheep in the presence of enemies. He points out that the high meadows in the mountains where sheep are taken to graze are called “mesas” which means table. As a shepherd he would go before his sheep up to those meadows and make sure those summer grazing pastures were ready. He and his boys cleared the water holes and painstakingly removed the poisonous weeds from the pasture.

In those high summer pastures, there are wolves, and other predators that lurch in the shadows. When he brings his sheep there, he must always be on the lookout for the predator that will attempt to take one of his sheep. Because of the vigil eye of the shepherd, the wolves are kept at bay and the sheep can safely graze, even in the presence of their enemies.

Think of how God has gone before us to prepare a way for us (John 14:1-6). Jesus laid out the way, prepared the table, and we can sit and eat at God’s table today as His children, even in the presence of our enemies. God’s blessing, provision and protections are still right here with us, even while the Enemy (Satan) seeks to snatch us away. We can feast on Christ and His richest blessings, even as our enemy lurks in the shadows.

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

Your Rod and Your Staff, They Comfort Me.

Psalm 23:4 – 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.

Today’s article is inspired by chapter 8 of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.

Two essential pieces of equipment for the shepherd were the rod and the staff. We also know that David and many other shepherds carried a sling as well. Shepherds in the field traveled light, but the rod and the staff were always with the shepherd. And in this Psalm by David, those two pieces of wood were somehow a comfort to the sheep. But why?

Why is the sheep comforted by the rod and staff of his shepherd?

Rod

The rod was a shorter, club like device that the shepherd used for multiple purposes. Protection – A shepherd became deadly accurate in throwing this rod and used it effectively to protect the sheep from wolves and other predators. Discipline – sometimes a wayward sheep would wander away into danger and the shepherd whizzed this by the sheep to scare her back to the fold. Counting/Inspection – The Old Testament spoke of those who “passed under the rod,” and that referred to when a shepherd would have each sheep pass under his eye to inspect it and count it. He was not only making sure all sheep were present, but he was checking for any problems or diseases with His sheep.

Under the shepherd’s rod, you were his. You belonged to him. He looked over you and made sure you were healthy. Your loving shepherd uses the rod not only to keep you in line, but to keep you safe. It is no wonder that the rod is a comfort to the sheep.

Staff

A shepherd’s staff is a long, slender piece of wood, usually with a crook or hook in one end. There are many images, both today and in the Scripture of a shepherd leaning on his staff (Hebrews 11:21). Keller points out three ways he would use the shepherd’s staff. Drawing the sheep close to him – This is a picture of intimacy. The shepherd is pulling that lamb or ewe close to his side for inspection or to get a baby lamb by its mama. Guiding sheep – Not by beating it, but by pressing the staff against the side of the sheep. Rescue – Sometimes a sheep is caught and needs rescued and pulled from danger. The loving shepherd would use his staff with the crook on one end and help pull the sheep to safety.

It is no doubt why David looked at those two pieces of shepherd’s equipment as a huge comfort to the sheep. But of course, he was talking about himself as a sheep with God. God’s rod and God’s staff were a comfort to David. It is a comfort to know that God knows we are His. We are comforted by God’s inspection and discipline, even though for a season it might be uncomfortable. It is a peace of mind to us to know that our Shepherd is protecting us from predators sent by Satan himself. And I love that the Shepherd draws me close to Him with His staff, just as the Holy Spirit draws us to the Father’s side.

Intimacy. Protection. Relationship. Training. Rescue. Jesus’ rod and staff are truly comforting.

Even though I walk through the valley…

Psalms 23:4 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.

Today’s article is inspired by chapter 7 of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.

In order to get to the mountain meadows, which might include the “table” or plateau above where the summer pasture is for the flock, the shepherd has to lead his sheep up the mountains. This includes going through ravines and dark valleys. Dangers can abound in such places, but the shepherd is there by their side.

In his book, Keller, talks about his reasons for taking sheep up through the winding valleys. One is that as mentioned, his goal is to take them up to the summer meadows to graze. A second is that those valleys were generally the gentlest grades up the mountain. Thirdly, he pointed out that valley is usually well watered. And a fourth reason is that there is usually good grazing along the way in those valleys.

To parallel this to our lives under the Gentle Shepherd, Jesus, we know that on the way to that higher ground with God, we have to walk through dark valleys. Death and danger are there. But in the valley as we face those trials, God is with us all the way. We are well fed and watered through those valleys. It is in some of the darkest valleys of our lives that we find the greatest refreshment from our loving Shepherd.

Keller also pointed out the phrase, “I walk through” this valley. We don’t stop there. That is not the end. The shepherd walks the sheep through this valley. And the sheep are secure, because of the presence of the loving shepherd. The dark valleys are temporary and even necessary to reach that higher meadow in the mountains. But they are just that, temporary. We walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Remember that Jesus as our Shepherd walked this valley for Himself, and He knows the terrain. He was a sheep, the lamb who was slain, and now He is risen to be our Good Shepherd. As you can see in our final verse below, Jesus was not alone in those valleys, because His Shepherd was always with Him.

John 16:32-33 – “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world”

He Leads Me in Paths of Righteousness

Psalms 23:3 – He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Today’s article is inspired by chapter 6 of “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” by W. Phillip Keller.

“…it is no mere whim on God’s part to call us sheep. Our behavior patterns and life habits are so much like that of sheep it is well nigh embarrassing.” – W. Phillip Keller

In this chapter, Keller observes a couple of things about sheep. First of all, sheep left to themselves will absolutely destroy a pasture. They will turn a lush green pasture into a useless piece of ground filled with parasites. The sheep need to be rotated onto different pastures, for the health of the pasture and for the health of the sheep. This takes a considerable amount of energy, knowledge and foresight on behalf of the shepherd.

Secondly, sheep are notorious creatures of habit. They will follow a path until that path becomes a rut, and that rut eventually erodes into a gully, according to Keller. Their stubborn, habitual ways leave a path of destruction behind them.

Aren’t we as human sheep the same way? You and I may not want to admit it, but doesn’t God have to keep us on the move and change our pasture regularly? Otherwise we get stuck in a rut spiritually. Also, just like sheep our habits and stubborn ways leave a wake of destruction behind us. We arrogantly assert that our ways are right and we try to justify them, but as the Proverb writer points out, the end of the path I choose is death (Proverbs 14:12).

I need a shepherd. You do too. That shepherd is Jesus. He is the Way (John 14:6), and as the Good Shepherd He leads down that pathway of His righteousness. He came to give us life and an abundant life at that (John 10), but that requires keeping us on the move down His pathway, not our own.