HOMELESS FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Taking my cue from a pretty good TV commercial, the past few days I have been singing “Home for the Holidays” and then adding “but Jan and I will be homeless for the holidays.” I was trying to be funny because Jan and I have sold our house and are moving to Texas, but will not occupy our new home until March. We will hardly be homeless, however, as we will be with our daughter and two grandsons in their home for Christmas, New Years, and beyond.

A couple of days later it occurred to me that what I had been saying wasn’t funny. Jan and I will not be homeless, but there are many who are homeless and will be for the holidays. And I’m quite sure they would not think what I was singing and saying was humorous.

The next day I was having lunch with several friends, and the discussion turned to the homeless. Stories were exchanged about times when we had helped homeless people and one couple shared about their church’s outreach to the homeless in a major city. It was obvious everyone’s actions to help the homeless had been a blessing to them. Needless to say, the conviction I had come to the day before about my humor was cemented.

I don’t have any advice or suggestions with regard to what to do for the homeless, but I certainly think we should care. And I think it is far too simplistic to assume it is all their fault. I’d be willing to get involved in a bigger way, but for now I can give to some. I know there are scammers out there holding up signs and asking for money, but I can’t tell who is or who isn’t legitimate. I’m willing to risk being taken in order to give to someone who needs help. I know what I give won’t solve the problem of being homeless, but it may make a difference.

Since we are in the Christmas season I am reminded that the night Jesus was born His parents weren’t homeless, but they had no place to stay in Bethlehem. And during his ministry Jesus disclosed that He “had no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). Jesus understands what it is to be homeless; and not only does He understand, He cares about the homeless. Because He cares, as His followers, it seems to me that rather than belittle or despise the homeless, we too should care.

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WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE HOLIDAY?

Some readers know immediately what their favorite holiday is and others I’m sure would really struggle to choose just one. I hope no one is thinking of their birthday as I’m confident it isn’t a national holiday. (My birthday wouldn’t even be in consideration because at my age they come too often!)

I haven’t done any polling, but I would guess the majority would choose Christmas. And Christmas is no doubt a wonderful holiday and celebration. Easter would certainly be in consideration for some Christians,and not because of egg hunts and candy, but because of what Jesus’ resurrection means. Dedicated patriots might opt for July 4th or Veteran’s Day and a few romantics for Valentine’s Day. Some sentimentalists may lean towards Mother’s Day and I would hope a few might consider Father’s Day. New Year’s Eve and Day have a lot to offer and may be the choice of a few. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day or President’s Day may be in the running for some.  A lot of people enjoy it, but I doubt anyone would choose April Fools’ Day.

Because I haven’t mentioned it, and because it is this week, I’m sure you know I am going to say my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. More than any of the other holidays, the focus of Thanksgiving (expressing gratitude not the eating or football on TV!) is something we should do throughout the year. As John Stott observes, “Thankfulness ought always to characterize the people of God.”

Having a thankful heart is important to God and not having a thankful heart displeases Him. In Romans 1:21 Paul notes about some that “although they knew God [through creation], they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him.” In Luke 17:11-19 Jesus healed ten lepers and was disappointed only one returned to thank Him and give praise to God. The book of Psalms is filled with both calls to give thanks as well as expressions of thanksgiving.

My favorite passage dealing with this subject is I Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continuously, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” While all three charges are God’s will for us in Christ Jesus, it’s the third one that I want to underscore. Sometimes people misread verse 18 thinking it says “give thanks for all circumstances,” but that’s not what Paul is saying. We are called to “give thanks in all circumstance.” God doesn’t call us to give thanks for every circumstance we find ourselves in, but He does want us to find things in every circumstance for which we can be grateful.

Whether Thanksgiving is your favorite holiday or not, I hope you have a great day Thursday and use the occasion to express gratitude.

Father in Heaven,

Thank you for the holiday of Thanksgiving. We have a sense of how important it is for us to cultivate thankfulness; how good it is for those to whom we say thanks as well as how good it is for us do so. Help us to be aware of our blessings and help us grow in our desire to express gratitude. Draw us to yourself and fill us with your Spirit that we might walk with You. 

We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

If you have a favorite holiday reply below and feel free to share this post on Facebook.

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WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT?

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? And how or why it is asked is important.

For example, I’ve heard it asked by people with a “chip on their shoulder” who apparently didn’t like it when they thought someone was staring at them. And the reason they were being stared at, of course, was because of the way they looked. When I was much younger and less mature my inclination was to answer the question, “Obviously, not much.” I’m not proud of that and don’t recommend it.

A few times I have also witnessed the question being asked of someone who seemed to be staring at a person dressed in a way that was not easy to ignore. Sometimes it was the person being stared at who asked, and sometimes someone with her or him who asked. While I have witnessed such occasions, I don’t remember it ever happening to me. And I don’t foresee it happening in the future.

What got me to thinking about this matter was a return this past Sunday to the biblical account of the anointing of David. You may or may not remember that God had rejected the first king of Israel, Saul, who had been chosen by the people. God told the prophet Samuel to go to Jesse of Bethlehem to anoint one of his sons the LORD had chosen to be king.

When he saw Jesse’s first son, Eliab, Samuel was convinced he was God’s choice. But he wasn’t. Then Jesse called six more of his sons to appear before Samuel, but the LORD did not choose any of them. Finally Samuel asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” Samuel told Jesse to send for him and they would wait. As we know, it was David who was the youngest and was tending the sheep. When he arrived the Lord told Samuel, “Rise and anoint him, this is the one.” It’s one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament and there is so much for us to draw from it.

Let’s go back in the account to God’s response when Samuel first saw the eldest son Eliab and was convinced he was the one. In I Samuel 16:7 the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Of course we look at the outward appearance—that’s all we can see at first! And even though later we can tell more about a person by the way he or see talks and acts, we never have the ability to look at someone’s heart. Only God can do that. What can we make of all this?

Appearance is important, but isn’t what is most important. I think it would be a mistake to study this passage and conclude that it doesn’t make any difference how we dress or how we look. After all, people do look at the outward appearance. Nevertheless, it seems to me that we should be careful about our judgement of others solely based on the way they look. Not only that, even though we cannot look at a person’s heart as God does, it would be good for us to make the effort to try as best we can to discern another person’s heart.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves a couple of questions. One, what are we looking at? And two, when God looks at us and our hearts, what does He see?

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WHAT ABOUT OBEDIENCE?

Sometimes in our zeal to stress the Gospel message that we are saved by grace, we neglect Jesus’ call to obey His teaching. I think the reason this happens is because we are committed to making sure people know they are saved by grace through faith and not by what they do or don’t do. In his letters the Apostle Paul is uncompromising in his teaching that salvation is not by works but by faith. Two of his strongest statements are in Romans 3:21-31 and Galatians 3:1-14 if you would like to review them.

To believe and teach that salvation is by grace through faith, however, does not mean that obedience is unimportant or optional. No one is saved by “works of law” or obedience. Faith, repentance, and baptism are not works we do to earn, win, or deserve God’s forgiveness and acceptance. Yet in His teaching Jesus is clear that He wants and expects His followers to obey Him.

A window is opened for our understanding of the place of obedience in Jesus’ farewell instructions to the apostles in Matthew 28:18-20. After affirming that He has the authority to do so, Jesus instructs them to go and make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey everything He had commanded them. Wouldn’t it be an interesting study to go through the Gospels to note and study everything Jesus commanded His followers?

While we come to Christ for salvation by God’s grace through faith, we give ourselves to obeying Him because we have been accepted and forgiven. He tells us to teach those who become His disciples to obey the things He has commanded. Obedience to Jesus does not earn salvation, but flows from it. We are not saved because we obey Jesus, we obey Jesus because we are saved.

In addition to His farewell instructions, Jesus also underscored the importance of obedience during His ministry. One of my favorites is in His closing parable of two builders at the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:24-27. Both a wise as well as a foolish builder built houses: one on the rock and one on the sand. When the rain, streams, and winds came the house built on the rock stood while the one built on the sand fell. The difference between the two builders? Both heard Jesus’ words, but only the wise man put them into practice.

Another of my favorite examples of Jesus stressing the importance of obedience is in John 13 when He washed His disciples’ feet. During the evening meal Jesus removed His outer garment, wrapped a towel around His waist, and washed their feet. When He finished he put His clothes back on and returned to His place. He told them that He was their Lord and Teacher and that He had set an example for them to follow because no servant is greater than his master. What gets my attention is verse 17 when He told them: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Don’t miss the point that obeying Jesus blesses our lives.

Jesus’ strongest statement about obedience is in John 14:15: “If you love me, keep my commands.” So simple, and at the same time equally profound. Nothing is more important than loving Jesus. That’s why even though we often let Him down, because we love Him, and with His help, we make the effort to obey Him. We obey Him not to earn His love and forgiveness, but because we know He loves us and we love Him.

I’m interested in what you think about this subject. Feel free to leave a reply below or email me at bobmmink.com, and share this post on Social Media.

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AGING AND RETIREMENT

Here is a review I wrote of a book about aging and retirement for Christian Century.
BOOKS

The work that begins at retirement

Many readers who are past middle age will disagree with R. Paul Stevens’s opening assertion that “we should work until we die.” That is, until they read on. Stevens’s foundational premise is that God calls us into meaningful work at every stage of our life. “We do not retire from our calling even if we have retired from a career” because “while one chooses a career, one is chosen for a calling.” In this way, Stevens reframes the concept of retirement from a Christian perspective.

To continue reading go to their website:
 http://www.christiancentury.org/reviews/2016-10/work-begins-retirement
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FRIEND OF SINNERS

Most people would agree that who you socialize with is important and says something about you. For instance, parents want their children to hang out with other kids who will have a good influence on them. But although we understand the potential pitfalls of being negatively influenced by others, as Christians we’re also taught to connect with others so we can make a positive impact on them by our words and actions.

During His ministry Jesus modeled the practice of interacting with others, primarily by eating with them. And because He regularly spent time with those who were not considered respectable by the Jewish religious establishment, He was criticized and questioned by the religious leaders. There were several groups of religious leaders, but those who criticized Jesus most often were the Pharisees.

The specific criticism and questioning of Jesus discussed in this chapter began with the calling of Matthew, a tax-collector, to be a follower of Jesus. In reading the account it is obvious that as a tax collector, Matthew (called Levi by Luke) would not be considered a good candidate to follow Jesus.

Tax collectors were looked down on and hated for a variety of reasons. They were considered traitors because they worked for the Romans who occupied the land. In addition, they were known to be dishonest and greedy, taking as much money as they could for themselves beyond what tax was required. A window into the system is opened in John the Baptist’s reply to tax collectors in response to their question about what they should do; he says,  “Don’t collect any more than you are required to” (Luke 3:13). Because of these first two factors, tax collectors did not pay much attention to the religious rules many of the Jewish people followed. We’ll say more about it later, but the pairing of “tax collectors and sinners” shows how despised they were.

For Jesus to call a man like Matthew to follow Him was totally out of the ordinary and a snub to conventional ideas of respectability. The fishermen He had called earlier (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) were not high on the social scale, but they were not as suspect and low-down as a tax collector.

Perhaps equally significant as the fact that Jesus called Matthew is that Matthew answered the call. We shouldn’t think of this as the first time Matthew had encountered Jesus. He undoubtedly knew who Jesus was and had heard Him teach before. When Jesus called he was ready. Luke tells us that Matthew “got up, left everything and followed him” (5:28). Matthew gave up a lot because tax collectors were in the upper class, but it was even more than that. One New Testament scholar notes, “We should not miss the quiet heroism involved in this. If following Jesus had not worked out for the fishermen, they could have returned to their trade without difficulty. But when Matthew walked out of his job he was through.”

After Matthew responded to Jesus’ call he hosted a dinner party for his friends, Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples. Luke’s Gospel reports, “Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them” (5:29). Matthew’s friends were tax collectors and sinners just like he was! Matthew’s Gospel phrases it, “many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him [Jesus] and his disciples” (9:10).

When Jesus ate with Matthew and his friends, it prompted the Pharisees to question Jesus about hanging out with the wrong kind of people. Matthew 9:11 tells us, “When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'” Luke 5:30 says they “complained to his disciples” asking the same question. Note the Pharisees did not ask Jesus Himself, but His disciples. It makes me think the Pharisees were somewhat cowardly–a lot of critics are. To their credit, however, on other occasions the Pharisees did question Jesus directly.

However, note that the Pharisees’ question to Jesus’ disciples really wasn’t a question, but a judgement on Him. They didn’t want to know why Jesus ate with those kind of people, they wanted His disciples to know they thought it was wrong. Associating with those kind of people was bad enough, but it was altogether something else for Jesus to eat with them. Far more than today, eating with someone in the ancient world suggested tolerance and acceptance. We’ll say more about it in chapter five, but for the Pharisees eating with such people would result in ritual defilement.

“Sinners” in the gospel accounts refer to common people who for a variety of reasons did not or could not follow the elaborate religious rituals the Pharisees followed. The Pharisees scorned those who did not follow their rules and wouldn’t have anything to do with them. In the eyes of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day they were disreputable people and undesirables; what we might call “the wrong kind of people.” The Pharisees were upset that Jesus would associate with people like Matthew and his friends. They viewed it as discrediting Him as a rabbi and making Him out to be a phony. In their view, really righteous people wouldn’t do such a thing.

Matthew 9:12 notes, “On hearing this, Jesus said” and Luke 5:31 says “Jesus answered them.” And what an answer it was! He said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Luke 5:32 adds that Jesus told them He came to call sinners “to repentance.” And Matthew 9:13 adds a challenge from Jesus citing Hosea 6:6, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” This Old Testament challenge was about going beyond ceremonial obedience.

Please realize that Jesus did not deny the charge–He was eating with tax collectors and sinners. As I heard a preacher say in a Bible study many years ago, “But when you think about it, who else was there to eat with? If He ate with the Pharisees He would still be eating with sinners!” Nor did Jesus apologize; no apology was necessary. In His response Jesus used physical illness as a metaphor for spiritual need. What would be our response to a health care system where doctors would only see people who were healthy? It would be a strange system, wouldn’t it? But that is the analogy Jesus used to describe the Pharisees’ outlook on Him. They did not understand the purpose of Jesus’ coming: apparently they thought the Messiah would condemn the sinful and praise the righteous. But that is not why Jesus came. One of the reasons Jesus was so popular with sinners was that, in the words of Arron Chambers, “the judged found the Judge to be surprisingly nonjudgmental.”

In eating with these “sinners” Jesus was not approving of their sin. By His response He indicated the people He was eating with were “sick”–they were indeed “sinners.” Remember Luke’s account reports Jesus saying, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (5:32). Matthew’s account doesn’t have the same words, but they are implied and understood. From the beginning of both John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ preaching there was a call to repentance, and the point of calling sinners is not that they should remain the same, but that they may find true righteousness through faith in Jesus. Jesus accepted and welcomed sinners as they were, but He also challenged, encouraged, and empowered them to change.

Even though Jesus’ metaphor confirmed those He ate with were sinners, I do not think He was suggesting the Pharisees were righteous people who were not sick. Do you? I think rather Jesus was emphasizing that they were unaware of their condition. The Pharisees thought they had it all together and were better than everyone else. But they were not as healthy as they thought or as righteous as they appeared. And Jesus certainly was not approving of their blind self-righteousness that resulted in the harsh judgment of others.

Don’t forget the part of Jesus’ response recorded only in Matthew where He told the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” “Go and learn” was a phrase used by teachers to send students back to the Bible to study a passage further. Imagine how taken aback the Pharisees must have been to have Jesus imply they were like first year seminary students. The point of God’s Word through the prophet Hosea is that you cannot rely on ritual only and ignore God’s internal moral desire. The Pharisees were preoccupied with external ritual purity.

What does Jesus’ response to this questioning mean to us? For one thing, we are not to be like the Pharisees. In general we are not to focus on the external to the neglect of the internal heart attitude God wants. Specifically, we are not to stay away from or shun the very people Jesus came to heal and save. If just being around sinners was the way sin was transmitted, or it degraded one’s relationship with God, Jesus would have been one of the worst sinners of all and not very pleasing to God. The Pharisees could only see the failures of sinners, but Jesus saw their need and wanted to help them. We might ask ourselves if we have isolated ourselves from the people Jesus has called us to reach out to. Are we afraid of those who don’t believe as we do, or who hold a political opinion different from ours, or who don’t carry out their faith as we do? If we are, we have missed the point of Jesus’ coming.

We are not to be like the Pharisees; we are to be like Jesus. He did not look down on and separate Himself from those who weren’t religious. Just as Jesus came to call sinners, He sends Christians today to witness for Him. He gives us the same commission He gave His closest followers after His resurrection: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). In terms of His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus calls us to be both salt and light (Mathew 5:13-16). And we can only do what He has asked us to do by being in contact with those we are commissioned to influence. We have to be in the world so we can connect and build bridges of friendship with those who need a “doctor.” We cannot look down on those who need the Lord and come across as though we have it all together and are better than they are. The reason people like Matthew and his friends were attracted to Jesus is because of the way He saw them and treated them. He saw their potential.

You and I are sinners called by Jesus to follow Him. He can only help us if we acknowledge our need and admit we are sick and need a doctor. And admitting our need is not something that happens only at the beginning of the Christian life. Nor is repenting of our sin something that happens only at the beginning of our walk with Jesus. Since we will never reach perfection, we will always need Jesus and need to regularly repent of our sins.

Of all the designations given to Jesus, none is more attractive than the label His enemies gave Him—that He was “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:14). Aren’t you glad Jesus is a friend of sinners? Aren’t you glad He is your friend? Jesus is still calling people to follow Him today—unlikely candidates like Matthew and sinners like you and me. And people are still responding to follow Him. We call them Christians.

(This post is adapted from Chapter Three, How Can You Welcome those Kind of People?, of my book Questioning Jesus: Considering His Responses.)

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