Category Archives: Government

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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What Happens In December Stays In December

chrsitmas boxesI asked in my last post why our culture celebrates the birth of Jesus when the rest of the year it is so threatened by His existence?

I believe the answer is simple.  We do this because we live compartmentalized lives.  We have separate boxes for all the areas of our lives.  “This is my box for work, my box for home, friends, hobbies, church, etc.  We can move in and out of our boxes without any thought as to whether they are congruent.  There doesn’t need to be consistency from one sphere of life to another.  In fact, one box doesn’t even have to effect another.  We keep our lives divided up, nice and neat.  Much like the apps on a smart phone.  We’ll just open one when we need it and close it when we don’t.  To go one step further, we’ll take what we like of one compartment, and leave what we don’t like.  

We do that with Jesus.  We take Him out of the box for December, but as soon as January comes around – back in the box He goes.  What happens in December stays in December.

Reminds me of NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby when he says, Dear baby Jesus“I like the baby Jesus.  You can pray to the bearded Jesus or the teenage Jesus if you want.  But I prefer the baby Jesus.”  Our culture prefers the baby Jesus.  We bring Him out once a year and place Him in the manger.  The baby Jesus is a good reminder that we need peace on earth and good will toward men.  We light a few candles, sing some familiar hymns, and then we put Jesus back in the box so we can get on with our lives.  We’ve visited our Jesus compartment for the year, now we can put Him away.  Yep, Away In A Manager: the little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.  And we like it that way.

The culture likes Jesus that way because the baby Jesus does not require anything from us except a few oohs and awhhs and perhaps 60 minutes in a crowded church service on Christmas Eve.

The prophet Isaiah is one of the first to see who the Messiah is and he doesn’t compartmentalize Him.    In 9:6-7 he writes, For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulders.  And He will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end,  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

We like to hear that a child is born and a son is given.  And we love the names that He will be called.  They have a nice ring to them.  Especially when Handel sets them to music.  This is the Jesus we celebrate. 

But what’s this stuff about the government being on His shoulders?  Isn’t mentioning Jesus and government in the same sentence a violation of the constitution?  What’s the deal about His government increasing without end?  He is going to rule and establish justice and righteousness forever.  That sounds oppressive.  

Isaiah is letting us know there is no compartment box that is left untouched by Jesus.  No part of your life, my life, all of life that Jesus will not order and establish.  His rule and reign will continue to increase and spread.  He is King over the whole world.  Everything will be under His government and peace.  Jesus will order and establish judgment and justice in this world forever, without end.  God is zealous to make it so.

But the world and individuals in it are not so zealous.  We want His peace to increase without end, but not His government.  The problem with that is it’s a CH100000package deal.  The peace is a result of His government.  But the world does not want Jesus in charge.  A baby Jesus, no problem.  It’s very Hallmark. Wrap it up, put a bow on it, we’ll take it.  But a King increasing his reign without end, I’m sorry but that’s not going to work for us.  We like being in charge.

Have you ever had this thought: “I don’t want Jesus to be in charge of all my compartments.  He can have a few, but not all.  This is my kingdom, not His.  If I take Jesus out of the box and allow His government to increase with no end in my life, I will have to live differently.  I will have to surrender control.  He wants to be King over all of me without end?  That’s asking too much.”  And so, back in the box Jesus goes.

However, there are big problems with putting Jesus away with the Christmas decorations.  What do you think some might be?

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Longing For a Better Country

People are fed up with the way the country is being run and they want out.  It is fascinating to watch as hundreds of thousands petition for their states to secede.  I doubt it will happen, (except maybe Texas – Don’t Mess With Texas!) but it does give us a chance to talk about following Jesus. 

What I see on the faces of so many people after this election is not hope, but despair.  They long for a better country.  They look to leaders and listen to their promises.  They see through the lies and know that if things remain on this course there won’t be a country left.  And they are trying to find the exits.  They long for a new country where justice, peace, truth, and righteousness are the rule.  Is there a place like that?  That is what our founding fathers envisioned for this country, but that vision no longer guides us.

If you have felt this despair and realize you want a better place to live, you are not alone.  In fact, this is a good and necessary step in order to follow Jesus.  Eugene Peterson writes about this in his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.  He says, “People submerged in a culture swarming with lies and malice feel as if they are drowning in it: they can trust nothing they hear, depend on no one they meet.  Such dissatisfaction with the world as it is is preparation for traveling in the way of Christian discipleship.  The dissatisfaction, coupled with a longing for peace and truth, can set us on a pilgrim path of wholeness in God.”

He goes on, “A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way.  As long as we think the next election might eliminate crime and establish justice or another scientific breakthrough might save the environment or another pay raise might push us over the edge of anxiety into a life of tranquillity, we are not likely to risk the arduous uncertainties of the life of faith.  A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace.” (pg.25).

By the look of the desire for secession, people have an appetite for the world of grace.  I think of God calling Abraham out of Ur to a new land.  I remember Moses leading people out of slavery in Egypt towards the promised land.  David was on the run for many years waiting for his kingdom.  And for hundreds of years the Israelities were looking for God’s Messiah to deliver them from bondage and establish them in the land of their forefathers as free men and women.  It seems God’s people have always been looking for a new country.

“All of these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.  And they admitted they were aliens and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had the opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”  – Hebrews 11:13-16.

Are you done thinking we can make heaven on earth?  Are you ready to secede from the world’s ways and begin the pilgrim path of following Jesus?  He calls us to a life of faith.  When we follow Him, He tells us plainly, “My Kingdom is not of this world”  (John 18:36).  Our goal is a better country – a heavenly one.  Being a pilgrim is not easy.  Jesus is very clear, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33), and he couldn’t be more right about that.  “But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

When we follow Jesus we are in the world, but not of it.  “Our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ “ (Phil  3:20).  If you are longing for a better country, you won’t find it in secession.  I encourage you to get your hiking boots on and follow Jesus more closely.  Repentence is the first step.

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If My People

I try to tell myself that today is no different than any day in the last four years. No wonder I feel terrible. I turned off the tv last night about 10:30 and went to bed. I went to bed, but I didn’t get much sleep.

This morning and throughout the day I have received emails and texts from friends asking some hard questions. “I don’t understand how God would allow this leadership in government. Is this His will?” “How do I get past the anger and anxiety?” “What are Christians suppose to do now?” Reminds me of the Psalmist lament in 11:3, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous to do?” I wish I had an answer for the Psalmist.

One friend told me she could not remember an election so prayed over. I had made that same observation. I can’t recall more materials coming across my desk, more calls for prayer and fasting, and even prayer meetings for an election than this one. “Why didn’t God answer those prayers?” I don’t know that one either.

But I can say this with full confidence: Purity is on the other side of the refiner’s fire. God wants a holy people. And let’s be honest, the church is far from it. Oh, we’ll be decent and kind as long as it doesn’t inconvience us, but even in churches we don’t use the word “holy” anymore. We pretend the word is too offensive to others, but the reality is, it’s too offensive to us.

Our nation is in need of a Great Awakening. The foundations are being destroyed before our eyes and we are helpless to do anything about it. Or are we? I believe the cure begins with each one of us. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Did you notice who God requires to humble themselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from their wicked ways? Is it the entire country? Is it the government? No, it is His people. We must be the ones to pursue holiness in our lives. And when we do, God will heal our land.

The world will continue to act like the world. But judgement comes when God’s people act like the world. Or didn’t we read the Old Testament? How serious are you willing to get with the Lord about your sin and His holiness? Are you willing to turn from you wicked ways? Will you humble yourself before the the Lord? There is no more time for games with God. He is not one to be triffle with.

What we do now as Christians is to humble ourselves before God, confess our sin and turn from it, and seek to honor Him in all our ways. Then God will hear us and heal our land.

Psalm 139:23-24

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Tune in tomorrow to hear from Jonathan Witherspoon, a minister and signer of the Declaration of Independence, on his thoughts concerning this.

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Inheriting the Land

I have found myself reading Psalm 37 this past week. It has been very encouraging in the last week of the election. It begins by saying, “Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.” That in itself is worth a roll of Tums. But I have been drawn to the number of times this Psalm makes reference to inheriting the land. Five times in the NIV it uses this phrase. And I can’t help but think that is what is at stake in this election on November 6th. Someone is going to “inherit” the land and all that goes with it.

Listen to who will inherit the land: “Those who hope in the Lord” v.9. “The meek” v.11. “Those the Lord blesses” v.22. “The righteous” v.29. Those who “wait for the Lord and keep His way” v.34. It is clear that the wicked will be no more, their power will be broken, but the righteous will be delivered and saved.

We have a real hard time looking at the world in these terms. No one likes to refer to someone else as wicked. And honestly, apart from Jesus Christ, who can claim to be righteous? We just don’t talk like that and certainly don’t like to think we have to make choices between good and evil. We think that there is no black and white, just shades of grey. But the Bible doesn’t seem to have those hang ups. It has no problem calling things good or evil, black or white, righteous or wicked.

People on both sides of the issues agree that this election has starke contrasts. We are deciding between two completely different paths for the future of our land. Can I look at these paths and label one righteous and one wicked? Yes, I can. How can I? Is it based on my own preferences and opinions? Am I the final judge? No, not by a long shot. My opinions and preferences are simply mine and are not to be used to determine righteousness and wickedness. Then who gets to decide? What is the standard? Where is the scale to weigh these paths?

The Bible is the standard and the scale. And Jesus is the judge who gets to decide. So by looking into the Scriptures we should be able to determine which path is good and which path is wicked. But before we put these issues into the scale, we need to decide if we will abide by the outcome of God’s Word or rebel against it.

Facing us this election like never before are some clear cut issues. Your vote one way or the other will determine if people must violate their conscious and religious freedom and be forced to pay for abortions. Will marriage be redefined by the government? Will we continue to amass unstainable debt and pass it to our children and grandchildren? Will we continue to disregard the Lord in public life? To continue down this path is wicked. Not only is the future of our country at stake, this election will have eternal consequences.

There is a clear choice between good and evil this time around. I believe Mitt Romney is a choice for good. I’m not suggesting he is the “hope and change we need.” I don’t put my hope in a man and expect him to be my messiah. Jesus is all sufficient in that catagory. But what Romney stands for in this election is good in contrast to what our current president stands for. Never has the contrast been clearer. Which will you choose?

However the election turns out on November 6th, the truth remains: “The power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous.” (v.17) I don’t know if November 6th will be a foretaste of the final victory this Psalm talks about or not. I pray that it will be. Regardless, how you vote on that day will be a good indicator what you might be inheriting on the Day that really matters.

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The Pulpit and Politics

Should pastors preach on political issues? I have heard both yes and no. From my congregation I have heard people tell me, “I’m a big believer in separation of church and state.” I’ve also heard, “Why don’t we hear about these thing from the pulpit?” I believe that pastors have a responsibility to preach on political issues…..sometimes. Not all the time, but definitely some of the time.

I believe that because there is nothing outside the realm of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. As Christians we don’t get to compartmentalize our life and surrender only parts of it to Jesus. We do not have the option of saying, “Be Lord of my life here and here, but not here.” I also believe that the wisdom contained in the Scriptures can and should guide our lives, especially in how we live them out in society. The whole “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “You are the salt of the earth, light of the world” thing means we should be informed and active for His glory in the world around us.

Most pastors want to avoid controversy that preaching on a political issue is sure to bring. I certainly don’t want to cause rifts in the church. But if the Bible says something about a particular issue, don’t you want to know what it says? Don’t you want to know what God’s opinion is on the subject so that you can live in accordance with it? The Bible certainly doesn’t shy away from political issues. It is full of examples of preachers confronting, encouraging, and preaching to rulers, kings, judges, cities, and whole nations. And the topics range from adultery, extortion, private property, taxes, freedom, limits on power, role of governments, poverty, and the list goes on.

It has only been recently in American history that we expect preachers to remain silent on issues. During the Revolutionary War the British called the clergy, “The Black Robe Regiment” because of their preaching and influence in current affairs. Preachers did not shy away from preaching on God-given rights, limits of power, freedom, equality of all men and so on. And their legacy was passed on. What would have happened if preachers had remained silent on the issue of slavery? What would the civil-rights movement have been like if Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had decided not to preach on political issues?

As I stated earlier, I believe a preacher should preach on political issues. Not all of the time, but when it is needed. Take for instance the issue of marriage. Since when did marriage become a political issue? The church has been consistent about what marriage is and is not for two thousand years. Marriage is an institution established by God. The pastor who remains silent in the face of the government redefining it is not worthy of the calling and leads his or her people astray.

The Apostle Paul told the church at Ephesus, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” Acts 20:26-27. As a preacher, I know that I have a duty to proclaim, as best I can with love, the whole counsel of God. I am not looking to offend anyone by doing so. But I have found the truth contained in the Word of God is offensive all by itself. Perhaps the reason most people don’t want to hear about politics from the pulpit is because it would require some rethinking and possibly even – change.

Over the next month I am going to be addressing some political issues and exploring what the Bible says about them on my blog. On October 24th I am leading an Election Issues Forum at my church so this will be kind of a warm up. I have found Dr. Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible very helpful. You can hear Dr. Grudem speak about pastors preaching on political issues here.

I hope we will have some good discussions and gain insight into the wisdom God offers to us in the political arena. DISCLAIMER: I do not pretend to think that my opinions on these issues are from the mouth of God. I have tried to form my opinions based on His Word, but I am still quite falliable – just ask the Mrs.

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