Monthly Archives: April 2014

Taxes: The Role of Family and Church

If it is idolatry to look to the government to provide life’s basics, then who is going to help the poor and homeless?  How are we to love our neighbor?  Whenever someone comes into the church looking for assistance (food, rent money, electric bill, gas) the first thing I ask them is “Do you have any family?” Why? Because just as the government is instituted by God to maintain justice in society, the family is instituted by God to care for individuals in society.

familyFamily is to provide for the basic needs of a person: food, clothing, shelter, etc. Look at what Paul writes in 1 Tim 5:4,8.

4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.

8 If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Family is the best institution for this kind of care because it is most able to adapt to the specific and individual needs of each person. I care for each of my children differently because they respond differently to discipline, attitudes, even food on the table. One size does not fit all.  But when government oversteps its bounds and begins to take on the role that God intended for other institutions, even with good intentions, bad things happen.

It does not take long to trace every social problem to the root. Pick one: poverty, poor education, crime, drug use. The root is simple: the breakdown of the family. Do you know what the #1 cause of childhood poverty in America is? Unwed motherhood.

And what do we do when we see these problems? We say, “the govt needs to….” Government has replaced fathers with a welfare check leaving men in many communities unwanted in the home. Do you know what the most common denominator of men in prison is? No fathers. An act of “compassion” ends up destroying families and locks people into dependency for life. The government has undermined the authority and role God gave to the family. We think we are being compassionate by giving people money, but putting our trust in government has brought more devastation than help.ebt-cards-300x206

I have found that in most cases, the people coming to the church have families but they can’t or won’t go back to them for help. They need reconciliation. Think about the prodigal son for a minute. (Luke 15:11-32)   Poor, hungry, homeless, destitute. He needs help. He could go to the welfare office and get an EBT card but does that bring transformation in his life? It hasn’t for millions of Americans. It can’t because there is no individual accountability, no care and nurture. His problem only continues.

How can we bring transformation to the prodigal son’s situation? What is his biggest need? Reconciliation with his father. His father is waiting for him to repent and come home. Not only are his material needs taken care of (finest robe, ring for his finger, shoes for his feet, and a beef brisket bbq) but, forgiveness and new life are found as well. That does not happen with a tax-funded government program. All he has to do is swallow his pride and go home. Do you think God is in the business of getting people to swallow their pride? Family keeps us humble. The family is instituted by God and is the most effective and efficient way to care for individuals in society.

But what if they have no family? The second question I ask someone who comes into the church looking for help is, “Where do you attend church?” Why? Because a church family is going to know you! It is still about RELATIONSHIPS.

churchGod also institutes the Church for the betterment of individuals and society. Through the church we have the sacraments to receive God’s grace, the Scriptures to preach salvation and the good news of Christ to society, and to know right and wrong. How is the family and the government to know what pleases the Lord, what is right and wrong if the church remains silent? The church is to be the conscious of the state. To put that in the vernacular, we must speak truth to power. The church is also instituted by God to be agents of mercy. But she has abdicated her role to the government.

James 2 14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

We have allowed the government to be the dispensers of mercy and charity. It requires faith on behalf of the church to be able to supply people with needs. The church must look to God to provide, especially when the need is bigger than it can handle. But since we have allowed the government to handle those needs, little faith is required by the church. No wonder the church is anemic and everyone ignores what she says.

So much so that society no longer prefers to use the word mercy. What do we call ministries that feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked? They are not mercy ministries, we now call them “social justice”. Do you know why? Because you cannot demand that people give mercy, but you can demand justice.

The church cannot seize your bank account or throw you in jail if you don’t tithe. But the government can if you don’t pay your taxes to support their mandated charity.

Mercy, in order to be mercy, must be freely given. When mercy and love are freely given they become redemptive and transformational in people’s lives. But if acts of love and charity are mandated, then they are no longer acts of love and charity. You cannot require people to be merciful. When mercy is mandated it ceases to be mercy and becomes tyranny.170px-Davy_Crockett_by_John_Gadsby_Chapman

Politicians are quick to promise other people’s money to demonstrate how much the care. And we are quick to say, “Look how compassionate they are.” If they were so compassionate they would give out of their own pocket and not take from the public’s money. I out gave the Vice President Biden in 2011 in charitable contributions 2 to 1. I’m not talking about percentage of income (it wouldn’t even be close!), I mean dollar for dollar. But he will go around and tell me that unless I pay more in taxes I’m not compassionate. I recommend you read Davy Crocket’s speech “It’s Not Yours To Give” in Bill Bennett’s The Book of Man, pg. 245. Or you can google it.

But, I have plenty of colleagues that think the Kingdom of God will come through a government program. I had a seminary professor say, “You’d better vote Jesus and not you wallets!” I don’t ever remember Jesus being on my ballot. But what he was saying essentially was I was being selfish and uncaring if I voted for candidates who wanted to cut taxes. He was suggesting that the government would be more compassionate and caring with my money than I would. Really? Think about this for a minute realistically. Who will be more effective with the money God has entrusted to me in bringing about the Kingdom of God in my community? Me or the US Federal Government? Who will bring God more glory with the resources I steward, me or the US Congress?

This is not a political problem it is a spiritual problem. We have put our trust in government and it has given us entire communities without families, a dead church and 17 trillion dollars in debt. My unborn grandchildren will be paying this debt off their entire lives. That is slavery.

You might say, “But Mike, this is too big a problem for broken families and an anemic church. The government has to have some role in providing for the welfare.” Remember the preamble to the Constitution? It says the government is to promote the general welfare. That happens best by allowing the family and church to do what God has instituted them to do and not replacing them.  The family and church can handle their God-given responsibility in society when the government doesn’t overstep its role.

Ps. 118:8-9 says, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.   It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.”

Looking to the government to provide for us instead of the Lord is idolatry and God hates it. It is a blatant violation of the 1st Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) We must repent and look to Him to be a our source and solution. We do that best in families and the church.

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Taxes: A Spiritual Issue

We are to pay taxes.  God has ordained government for certain functions.  What happens when government steps outside those functions for which it is ordained and established?  Are our tax dollars paying to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty? 

According to the Office of Management and Budget at the Heritage Foundation about 30cents of every tax dollar pays for those things. 70% of the federal budget goes to pay for welfare and dependency programs.  This is not as much a political issue as it is a spiritual issue.  Here is why:

lbj war on povertyA fundamental spiritual shift took place in our culture during the great depression. Our country began to look to government to provide and solve our problems instead of God. This spiritual problem accelerated with the Great Society plan in the 1960’s. All of these compassionate programs to help the needy, the underprivileged, those who are down and out began to be funded by the government. The war on poverty is now 50 years old and are there less poor people? Actually there are more people on food stamps now than ever before. In 2010 we spent almost $900 billion on welfare programs, more than we spent on the war in Iraq during all of G.W. Bush’s presidency.

Since the beginning of the war on poverty in 1964, the US has spent 15.9 Trillion dollars on welfare. The price tag for all the wars the US has fought is only 6.4 trillion. (Please don’t get me wrong. I am not in favor of war nor do I think, as some might accuse, that it is cheaper to kill people than help them. I am simply comparing numbers. Both Republicans and Democrats have suggested that fighting wars is the cause of such large spending and deficits. I am simply pointing out that this is not the case. These numbers come from the Heritage Foundation’s The Economy Hits Home: Poverty, pg.4.)

Having said all that let me emphasize that this is not a political problem. Both Republicans and Democrats have controlled the government and contributed to this. This is a spiritual problem. Why?

We have made an idol of the government and we worship it instead of God. I know our national motto is “In God We Trust.” But our actions are “In Govt we trust.”

uncle samWho do we look to for food, housing, jobs, education, child care, health care, and retirement? Whenever there is a problem or crisis the first thing out of people’s mouth is, “The govt should….   The govt needs to…” And politicians are quick to say, “We need a program that provides…..for all Americans.” Whenever a person looks to anything other than God to provide, that other becomes an idol. America is guilty of idolatry. We worship at the altar of big government. The only thing lacking is little wooden statues of Uncle Sam that we can bow before and pray.

Now I’ve heard many Christians, even Bishops say things like God judges nations on how they treat the poor and marginalized, the widows and orphans, the aliens and the unwanted. It is true. God will judge us on that scale. But God also sends nations into exile and slavery for idolatry. (See ancient history of Israel.)

We are to love our neighbor as our self, so how are we to care for the least of these if the government doesn’t do it?  What are your thoughts?  I’ll share a few of mine in the next post.

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Taxes

Taxes have always been a controversy for preachers. Some people get upset when you talk about money from the pulpit, how much more so if you talk about taxes? Which is exactly why the Pharisees ask Jesus this question. They want to get Him in trouble. It is a trap.

Julius-Caesar-coinMark 12:13-17, “Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial taxto Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

And they were amazed at him.”

 Jesus doesn’t do what most of us do (that’s avoid the issue), He answers the question. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Well, the Lord’s answer leaves us to ask a few follow up questions. “What is Caesar’s? And what is God’s?”

Let’s start with easiest question, “What is God’s?” The answer is obviously, “everything.” Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” It is all God’s. We are just stewards of His creation. All the things we possess – from materials, talents, to the breath in our lungs and the beat in our hearts –  are really His and we will give an account of how we used them on judgment day. Did we use all of our resources to glorify Him and expand His kingdom or not? (For further reading see Matthew 25:14-30, Parable of the Talents.)

So what does God require of us with these resources? Jesus summed it up nicely, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31.)  In the Old Testament, the prophet Micah put it this way, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)  Easy to answer, difficult to do.

Now, what is Caesar’s? What is owed to the government? I’m sure you’ve seen the bumper sticker, “If 10% good enough for God, good enough for the IRS.” This question is a bit trickier to answer.  In order to do so, we need to know what God has established government to do.

Romans 13:1-7. 1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.  6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

God establishes government for maintaining justice in society. Commend those who do what is right and punish those who do wrong. You see the Bible says that all of us are sinners. Left to ourselves we have a natural inclination to sin and do evil. We are not basically good. The Bible calls this condition of humanity original sin. (See Romans 7:14-25).

God gives us government for the benefit of society to bring order from chaos, provide the rule of law, and ensure justice is done among the people. We pay taxes to pay for the courts, police, prisons, salaries, maintain defense, roads, etc.   We must have structure to live together in peace and prosperity.  The preamble to the preamble constitutionUnited States Constitution gives us the reasons our founders established our government.  We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

God institutes government for these reasons and we owe Caesar for these services.  But that leaves me with this follow up question: Is that where our taxes are going?  In the next few posts I’m going to delve into the spiritual issue of taxes.  Jesus says to pay taxes, but what if our tax money is going for purposes that oppose God and limit liberty?  What if our tax money is going to things that are good, but God did not ordain government to do?  And more practically, what if some of those things just don’t work and bring harm rather than good?  Then what?

I’d love to hear your thoughts….

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