Tax Time

Tax Time

By Pat Knight

Soon we will be preoccupied calculating our annual Federal income tax returns, begrudgingly sending our sums to the IRS. Since most of us attempt to spend our personal funds wisely, it is baffling to accept that the big machinery of government may be using our funds inefficiently and with impunity.

Taxes have been demanded of workers for centuries. King “Solomon had twelve governors over all Israel, who supplied provisions for the king and his royal household. Each one had to provide supplies for one month in the year”(1 Kings 4:7) Lest you think that a small task, the following list provides the daily requirements for feeding King Solomon’s court, totaling  thousands of people:

185 bushels of flour
375 bushels of meal
10 head of stall-fed cattle
20 pasture-fed cattle
100 sheep
100 goats
Deer, gazelle, roebucks and choice fowl (1 Kings 4:22). 

In Nehemiah’s day there was a loud outcry from the people due to their astronomically high tax rates. The Jewish people were paying as much as one half of their harvest produce and a portion of their income in tithes to support the temple. Taxes placed such an extreme financial burden on some families, they were forced to mortgage their fertile fields to pay their assessment. Others in desperate situations sold their own sons and daughters into slavery. Bondservants were common during hard times when the poor, unable to pay their debts, sold themselves into slavery (Nehemiah 5:1-5). A slave could buy his freedom or another could do it for him. Such is the redemption of Christ, when He bought our sins by granting our freedom from slavery to sin.  

It is estimated that during Jesus’ time the Jews were paying thirty to forty percent of their income for taxes and temple dues. No wonder the position of tax collector was so despised and the official himself deplored for padding his pockets by collecting more taxes than were actually due.

One day the Pharisees, the religious, political leaders among the Israelite people, deliberately attempted to trap Jesus by asking Him an ambiguous question. It was a verbal snare designed to destroy Jesus’ credibility, no matter how He answered. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “‘is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’”(Matthew 22:17).

 Jesus responded, “‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax’” (Matthew 22:18). Jesus then asked the men to describe whose image and inscription was engraved on the coin. When the Pharisees replied to Jesus that both sides of the coin focused on Caesar, Jesus emphatically responded, “‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s’” (Matthew 22:21).  

Jesus instructed that all people have obligations to the government as long as those demands do not conflict with their allegiance to God. The Pharisees were amazed by Jesus’ answer and left in utter defeat. They failed to acknowledge that they were daily reaping the benefits of their taxes paid to Rome by gaining access to Caesar’s currency for monetary exchange, traveling on Rome’s government subsidized highways, and enjoying of a degree of military protection and peace.

In our current culture, there are many requirements of our government that do not conflict with our obligations to God. The apostle Paul taught that the people’s main priority is dedication to God: “‘everyone should 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. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted’” (Romans 13:1-3). 

Christians are instructed to obey laws and to respect elected officials, as a matter of civil obedience, but also for conscience’s sake (Romans 13:5). We are instructed to pay taxes and to show respect for authority, even if we are aware of corruption. Injustice and fraud likely exist in all governments, yet God rules over them all. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors (1 Peter 2:13).

Let us readily participate in any democratic process to lessen the bureaucratic burden of tax laws. Consistent prayer, in which we ask God to advocate for change, will unleash power and potential for revision beyond any strategy man can employ.

An old adage says that two absolutes in life are death and taxes. It may seem like taxes have existed forever, but a Christian defines forever as eternal life in heaven.

The imperfection of justice in this life is the strongest proof that in the next world justice and vengeance will be fulfilled to the utmost. —David Augsburger

Let us adopt Jesus’ attitude when He was apprehended at the temple at age twelve, instructing the teachers of religious law. When questioned about His educational endeavor, Jesus responded, “‘I must be about my Father’s business’” (Luke 2:49). Who among us has the time or energy to complain about tax rates if we prioritize our life’s activities to conform to our Savior’s objectives?

Understanding the Holy Spirit and His Role in the Trinity

Today I’m sharing from The NIV Bible blog.

Understanding the Holy Spirit
and His Role in the Trinity

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. — 1 John 3:19-24

What Is the Holy Spirit?

It is interesting that throughout Scripture the Holy Spirit is not given a personal name such as Yahweh or Emmanuel, but is described only in terms of His work. Perhaps that omission has led some to think of the Holy Spirit as a force, a power, or an influence—some entity less than a person.

The Holy Spirit does not have a physical body, but rather describes qualities, characteristics, and actions. Here’s what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit —

• He thinks and feels (1 Corinthians 2:10-11)
• He decides (1 Corinthians 12:11)
• He speaks (John 15:26)
• He teaches (John 14:26)
• He intercedes for us (Romans 8:26)
• He helps to make our weaknesses become empowered strengths (2 Corinthians 12:9)
• He guides (1 Corinthians 2:13)
• He can be lied to (Acts 5:3), insulted (Hebrews 10:29), grieved (Ephesians 4:30), and resisted (Acts 7:51).

In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit comes to us in person to glorify Christ in every believer as He works to create God’s family on the earth—that is, the Church as God’s household. He is called the Spirit of truth (John 16:13) and our Advocate (John 14:26). When He indwells the life of the believer, He takes the truth of the words of Christ, and reveals their depth of meaning to that individual.

Jesus taught that attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to the devil was the worst sin a person could commit (Matthew 12:32). Indeed, what hope was there for one who rejected “the Spirit [who] gives life”? (John 6:63). Jesus Himself was “full of joy through the Holy Spirit” when He reflected upon God the Father’s purposes and activities (Luke 10:21). Furthermore, He gave His disciples reason to rejoice by telling them the Holy Spirit would be their divine helper in the years to come (see John 14:26). His words revealed the Holy Spirit’s role within the Trinity: In this instance, Jesus said that the Spirit would proceed from the Father, be sent by the Son, and bear witness about the Son (John 15:26–27).

What Does the Holy Spirit Do?

The work of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ and make Him real in the daily life of every believer. The Holy Spirit serves as God’s divine Administrator on earth and He desires and works to recreate the life of Christ in His people.

Read the rest here.

Distracted Allegiance

Distracted Allegiance

By Pat Knight

Some winters in the northeast are longer and harsher than others. At the beginning of April, we watch for signs of thinning ice. When there is a winter-long depth of more than three feet of solid ice, melting takes considerable time. One morning the sunrise illuminated the sky just enough to expose ripples on the lake water. Water? The previous night there was still ice jammed into the cove. Now, there were only a few slivers leisurely floating.  

Later that morning, I noticed the cove nearly filled with large, flat, chunks of floating ice. Earlier the lake was exposed and moving, like pieces of a shattered mirror. Now the impression was one of mini-icebergs. We were familiar with the phenomenon: ice in the larger part of the lake breaks up, and the wind blows it into the cove, where it is trapped. When I first noticed the cove devoid of ice, the timing was perfect. I had peered out the window a mere moment after the ice collapsed beneath the surface. Then later, more ice floated into the cove from the large, open lake.

Our relationship with our heavenly Father is comparable to the shattered ice floes that blow into the cove. Some days we walk closely by His side, and other days we withdraw, preferring self-reliance, slowly replacing dependence on our Lord. God never moves. It is His desire to be an integral part of our lives, guiding and directing. If anyone moves, God is not the one to depart. It is our spiritual wanderlust that pulls us away from a consistent walk with our Lord.

God created us for communion with Him. “And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Just imagine! The supreme God of the whole universe desires to walk and talk with us. We serve a loving, patient God, who “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9b).

If you have ever been in the presence of someone who has lost a contact lens, you know instinctively that all activity stops abruptly. Feet remain glued to the floor, as eyes scour the surrounding area for the tiny disc. With far more intensity, God searches for the soul distracted from His care. “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). God pours His love and strength into the person completely yielded to Him, who forsakes self-reliance to fully rely on God.

Historically and repeatedly, the children of God ignored Him. He punished His rebellious people who disobeyed covenantal laws by worshiping false gods in the form of idols. God is merciful. “The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:8). God loves us and extends mercy just as lavishly as He did the wandering, rebellious Israelites of centuries ago. 

We tend to blindly follow other people, whereas, we are commanded to imitate God, not man. He sets the standard. “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6). We are assured God’s promises will apply forever, perpetually affirming our importance to Him. “Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me, will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’” (John 14:23). God not only abides within our hearts, He knows us more completely than we are familiar with ourselves.

We are nothing apart from our status in God. He elevates us as His children, showering us with an eternal gift as joint heirs with Christ. “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now, if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17). All things belong to Jesus, but He graciously shares His inheritance with believers.

If you were notified by an estate attorney that you have been designated to inherit a glorious kingdom, what reaction would you display? I am assuming you would be excited and incredulous. And yet, as joint heirs with Christ, we are assured of an inheritance in heaven forever and ever. Now, those are the kind of riches about which we kick up our heels and celebrate. But, do we? What will it take to convince us, that in God’s eyes, we are so loved and our company so desired, that He plans to spend an eternity with us?

In view of our value to God, He sent His pure, sinless Son to earth to ultimately die for us. “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7). There have been isolated recorded instances in history where one person substituted his life for another, but “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One—is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). God’s forgiveness through Christ’s atoning sacrifice is impartial, with worldwide application for those who receive Him by faith. No sin or crime is too egregious for Him to forgive, substituting eternal death for life everlasting in heaven with Him.

Jesus was not only physically tortured during crucifixion, but He suffered an unprecedented emotional burden, carrying the sins of the entire world on His shoulders—past, present, and future. Jesus Christ substituted His perfect life for our sinful ones. You were redeemed with “the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). If crucifixion were required for each of us to atone for our personal sins, there would be few crosses dotting the horizon. Let us not minimize the gift of life bought with the blood of Jesus.

Can we exclaim with the psalmist, “‘the Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy’” (Psalm 126:3)? Because God loves us with immeasurable love and sacrifice, why do we, like the ice in the cove that moves on a whim, act so inconsistently in our relationship to our Lord? The cove ice is blown by the wind, producing an unsettled surface. “The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). Let us be reminded of the source of our power and saving grace. God craves our nearness, so why do we resist?  “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8, NKJV).

Rejoice Always

Today I’m sharing from the Ligonier blog.

Rejoice Always

From

Do you know what the shortest verse in the New Testament is? The obvious answer is John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” It is the shortest verse in our English translations of the Bible. But the shortest verse in the Greek New Testament is 1 Thessalonians 5:16: “Rejoice always.” It is a little verse with big implications.

The word “rejoice” is a call to joy. The term was a watchword among early Christians. More than a term of worship, it was a word of salutation. Jesus used it as a greeting (Matt. 28:9). Paul used it as a farewell (2 Cor. 13:11). We typically greet one another with “Hello” or “Goodbye.” But what an encouragement it would be if we entered and departed one another’s presence with a call to rejoice.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Paul exhorts the saints to rejoice. It is a command, which makes it clear that joy is more than happiness. Happiness is an emotional response to favorable, pleasant, or rewarding circumstances. You cannot compel a person to be happy. It’s based on what happens to a person. But Christians are commanded by God to rejoice. This command to rejoice is in the present tense. It means “keep on rejoicing.” This makes 1 Thessalonians 5:16 a hard command. This divine mandate would be easier to swallow if it simply directed us to rejoice. Indeed, there are many times, reasons, and occasions that call for rejoicing. But the command is to rejoice always, not only sometimes. How does the Christian rejoice always?

First Thessalonians 5:16–18 features what have been called “the standing orders of the gospel.” These exhortations apply to all Christians in every place and every situation. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” These commands may be familiar. But the justification for the commands is often overlooked: “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Do we want to know God’s will for us in any situation? It is God’s will that we rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. We are in spiritual rebellion if we are not joyful, prayerful, and thankful. God’s will for our lives is about more than the circumstances we face. It is about how we respond to those circumstances.

It is the will of God for us to rejoice always. But obedience to this command is not accomplished by an act of the will. It is only accomplished by faith in Christ. The believer’s unceasing rejoicing is the will of God for us “in Christ Jesus.” This is the key to the life of rejoicing. Unsaved people do not rejoice in God, pray to God, or give thanks to God. Religious people rejoice sometimes, pray when they feel like it, and give thanks when things are going well. But Christians rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. This is not the believer’s response because we are impervious to life’s dangers, toils, and snares. It is our response to life because we are in Christ Jesus.

Read the rest here.

Reflections on the Mystery of “Unanswered” Prayer

Today I’m sharing from The NIV Bible blog.

Reflections on the Mystery of “Unanswered” Prayer

By Dr. Bill Mounce

If you’re like most people, you are somewhat mystified with the whole topic of answered and unanswered prayer. That describes me too. When my infant daughter died (her name is Rachel), the next time I taught Sunday school I started by listing all the verses that unequivocally promise that God answers prayer. Of course, all my friends in the class jumped to God’s defense and basically tried to explain that these verses didn’t really mean what they said. At least that was my take on their response, and I understood why.

I certainly understand the need to interpret Scripture in light of Scripture, but what so often happens is that we downplay the tremendous privilege the Lord has given his children to ask of him whatever we want. As a result our prayers tend to be anemic, which means we generally don’t have to face the issue of unanswered prayer. (I also understand that theologically there is no such thing as an unanswered prayer, but that’s a topic for another article.)

I am thinking of verses such as John 15:7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” And I am thinking of qualifications like Matthew 26:39, which is Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane: “if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

I have no answer for this dilemma, but I do have a few observations that have helped me.

How to Pray

1. Pray with boldness.

Jesus told us to ask. He wants us to ask. And he promises to hear us. That’s pretty amazing in and of itself. I know that when we experience what appears to be unanswered prayer time after time, we can give up. But re-read Matthew 7:7–11: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” These words have to mean something, and despite the Lucan parallel that says he gives the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), Matthew’s version is much more broad.

2. Pray expectantly.

What actually raised this topic for me was a sermon I just listened to by Alistair Begg through his ministry, Truth for Life. He said that we believe that God will answer because we know he can answer. That is a wonderful balance.

Read the rest here.

What It Means to Pray “Your Kingdom Come”

Sharing today from the True Woman Blog at Revive Our Hearts.

What It Means to Pray
“Your Kingdom Come”

By Stacey Salsbery

When I think of the word “kingdom,” I think of grandeur and royalty—a place where lords and ladies walk about. There is, of course, a castle and beautiful gardens. There are well-behaved children running around in pristine white clothing. There is a monarchy that loves both the people and the land in hopes of championing both. Oh, and there’s evil, but good always triumphs.

Okay, basically, when I think of the word kingdom, I think of my daughter’s favorite movie, The Princess Diaries, and Genovia, the fictional kingdom in that movie, is quite lovely. But is that what God intends for us to think when we read verses like “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33)? 

And is that what Jesus had in mind when He told the disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10)? Are we asking God to bring upon us His glorious kingdom where righteousness is the scepter (Ps. 45:6) and tears are gone forever and life is perfect and lovely all the time? Well actually, the answer is both yes and no. 

The Kingdom of God Is Both Now and Not Yet

The Scriptures tell us there is a physical, earthbound kingdom still to come in which Christ will rule as King. In John 14:2–3 Jesus tells the disciples, “If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” 

Therefore, with confidence we can say as Paul did in 2 Timothy 4:18, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.” An everlasting kingdom is coming where Christ reigns eternally—and righteousness and justice and peace are equal partners in a society forever set on bringing glory to God. 

And it will be amazing. Like nothing we can even fathom (1 Cor. 2:9). Though now we suffer for a little while, it’s “not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). So we wait with eager expectation, longing for the day Christ will make things right, praying with confidence in our faithful God, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). 

The Physical Kingdom of God Is Coming

So then Jesus encourages us to pray, “Your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10) that we might not lose hope. That our focus would stay on the eternal instead of the temporary, laying up treasure in heaven instead of filling our houses or closets or pocketbooks. 

But if we focus on only the future physical kingdom of God, we miss out on the present spiritual kingdom of God. 

In the gospels Jesus spoke often of the kingdom of heaven, declaring from the start of his ministry, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). It’s the same message John the Baptist declared. Paul lived in Rome two years, “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30–31). Because in Christ, the kingdom of God is also right now.

Read the rest here.

A Happy and Blessed 2020 to You!

This was our Christmas card for 2019. The pictures show some of the bright spots of our year. 

2019 passed much too quickly for us but it was a year of great joy in our family. Although Rick and I have considered ourselves grandparents to twins Austin and Alex since June 2016, their adoption became final on April 3, 2019. They will be 4 years old next February and are the light of our lives. Their cuteness and energy keep Alan and Denise very busy. It’s not easy keeping up with twins!

Although Rick and I are both dealing with health problems these days, we want to do more traveling and enjoyed a trip to Morro Bay last month. Morro Bay is a sweet town on the central California coast, one of our favorite places where we used to camp when we lived in California.

We have much to be joyful and thankful for this Christmas. In the busy-ness of our lives, let us never forget what the birth of Jesus means to us. Let us echo the angels in praising God.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”