When taxes point to God

Context:   Ever since January, I have attempted to use the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) as a basis for my youth lessons, and for any preaching that I was asked to do during that time.  The RCL is a set list of scripture passages that is used by churches throughout the world as a basis for their messages on Sunday mornings.  I liked the idea because I like the “bigger picture” that it paints; I have always liked the idea of learning, saying, and doing things with Christians throughout the world, and throughout time.  I record most of these messages, and I put them out as a Podcast, which you can listen to by subscribing to the “Uncommon Lectionary Podcast” on your favorite podcast application, or by clicking here.  The following is one of those lessons put into “blog” form. 

Let’s read the following passage together:

Tiberius1.jpg

Matthew 22:15-22 – Common English Bible (CEB)

15 Then the Pharisees met together to find a way to trap Jesus in his words. 16 They sent their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it really is. We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you don’t show favoritism. 17 So tell us what you think: Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

18 Knowing their evil motives, Jesus replied, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? 19  Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they brought him a denarion. 20 “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked.

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” 22 When they heard this they were astonished, and they departed.

A couple things to point out:

  • The Pharisees were strict adherents to the law of Moses, and they weren’t too keen on being ruled by the Romans who did not worship their God and charged high taxes.
  • The Supporters of Herod, called Herodians, were Jewish people who thought that being ruled by Rome wasn’t as bad as others thought, and they actively supported their local ruler (like a Governor) named Herod.
  • They went together to Jesus as two opposing opinions seeking to trap Jesus.  If he responds that people should pay their taxes, the Pharisees write him off as a heretic and his ministry is affected drastically.  If he responds that people should not pay their taxes, Jesus may be reported by the Herodians and be killed before his time.

And how does Jesus respond?

The empty-pocket celebrity asks to see a Denarion (a coin that equals a day’s wage) because he has none of his own.

He examines the coin and asks: “Who’s face is on here?”. The people respond that is it Caesar, and so Christ responds, “Okay, so give what is Caesar’s what is his, and give to God what is his”.

The people, confused and frustrated, walk away.

I have a hunch that Jesus responded this way to point out at least two things:

1) God is bigger than money, and money shouldn’t be something that distracts you from God (Speaking to the Pharisees).

2) God is greater and more powerful than any government on earth, even ones that demand complete allegiance from its citizens (Speaking to the Herodians).

And both of these two points relate to trusting in God: His rule, His provision, His truth.

Let’s take it a bit closer to home.  Let’s look at our US Dollar – think of a few things that stick out:

One-dollar-bill

We have George Washington’s face, 1, ONE, an odd Pyramid, the eagle, and of course we have “In God We Trust” written on our currency.

What does it mean to trust God?

What does it mean to trust and honor God with our money?

This dollar could be used for so many things that are not what we are called to do as Christians.  It could be used to buy drugs, buy CDs that degrade other people, and at a government level, it could be used to buy bombs and missiles, with no guarantee that those bombs would only kill “Bad people”.

So, while a dollar bill can never truly say “In God we trust” on it without being slightly ironic, you can, as individual Christians.

We trust in God when we use our dollars to help others who are needy, to go towards a church’s or other organization’s good deeds, or even to buy Christmas gifts for loved ones.

We trust in God when we start to see God as being more important than Money.

We trust in God we don’t let the pressures of this world…taxes, tension, war, heartache…cripple, or get in the way of, our belief in God. Sometimes, it may not make sense…but in those times, we still have to trust God.  Even in paying taxes, we are reminded that we, though we are citizens of our nation, are ultimately citizens of God.

So, the next time you see a Dollar, ask yourself….am I trusting in God? Or something else…

“There’s life after death…and taxes…” – Relient K (Link)

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On Josh Duggar – Again: Sacred Cow Celebrities, Grace, and Justice

It was not that long ago that I posted my response to Josh Duggar’s molestation of his little Sisters, and how people, especially Christians, responded to it.  To sum it up in one single quote, read the following:

“Saying “what he did was terrible, but he is a changed man” is not enough.  As Christians, we understand that the power and forgiveness of Jesus is powerful, but we also know that sin is crippling, addictive, and harmful to us, and those around us.”  (See that post Here)

Following that train of thought, it is with a heavy and perplexed heart that I write this blog post today. Yesterday, I read an article on Relevant Magazine‘s website about how Josh Duggar’s email address had been leaked by hackers who exposed all of the email addresses who signed up on the popular cheating-on-your-spouse website – Ashley Madison.   Josh was not delayed in his Apology for his actions, and to be fair, I will post that apology below:

“I have been the biggest hypocrite ever. While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly, over the last several years, been viewing pornography on the Internet. This became a secret addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife. I am so ashamed of the double life that I have been living and am grieved for the hurt, pain and disgrace my sin has caused my wife and family, and most of all Jesus and all those who profess faith in Him … I humbly ask for your forgiveness. Please pray for my precious wife Anna and our family during this time.” – Josh Duggar, as quoted on revelantmagazine.com.

In finding out what he had done, I was pretty frustrated at the sin, and if I am honest, I was pretty frustrated with Josh.  I saw the Revelant article in my facebook feed, so I decided to look through the comments that other people had left, and within the comments, many people said things similar to the following:

“He did something wrong, he apologized, lets move on…”

“Jesus forgives him, why can’t you guys…”

“Grace should be given to all…”

And people, I get the forgiveness and Grace of God – I really do.  If Josh really has repented to God, than by the marvelous Grace of Jesus, He is already forgiven.  BUT, and I say that with a heavy heart, he did do wrong, he did violate God’s design for Marriage, and he did it all while staying on a high horse.   So while I will stand with you when you say God’s Grace can cover him, I will depart from you when you do not have the courage to stand against pornography, adultery, and when you have a tendency to brush off the sin, in order to defend the example.

I will stand with you when you affirm the Grace and Love of Jesus…

I will stand with you when people speak hate against any person, including Josh Duggar…

I will depart from you when you make an idol out of Christian Celebrities (Sacred Cows), and when you are blinded to their wrongdoing…

I will depart from you when that same marvelous Grace you speak and preach about is limited to a certain demographic…

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Side Bar

That last point brings me to the following quote from a young woman named Megan who commented on the Relevant article on Facebook:

“I find it interesting that white evangelical Christians can muster up sympathy for Josh Duggar but not Michael Brown or Eric Garner. This thread is amazing. Rape culture and racism continally leave me in awe. Who we choose to extend grace to says so much about the culture.” – Megan

Do you HEAR her?  Do you hear her honest questions about how the loud voices of the evangelical Christian community can sympathize with Josh Duggar after hearing that he has apologized, when this same crowd, by and large, sided with the cops RIGHT AWAY in the cases of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others. 

Why do we jump so quickly to defend Josh Duggar, and the cops, while saying about Michael Brown and others.. “Well, they shouldn’t have run…”.  We show Grace to Josh without a second thought, and we show condemnation to Mike Brown, Eric Garner – and we assume that everyone raving about racism in america is out of their minds…

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Sacred Cows, Grace, and Justice

My Brothers and Sisters, we are called to follow Jesus each day, to preach Truth, to love others, and to reject false teachings and ways of living.

May I propose to you something controversial? 

When we, as Christians, elevate the status of a Christian celebrity in our minds, we have to be VERY careful.  We have to be careful because in some of these instances, we elevate the celebrity so much that we become blind to the wrong and hurtful things that they may say or do.  We essentially make idols out of them; making them our “Sacred Cows“.  If someone says one word against them – we are quick on the defense.

We do need to show Grace, but can we be consistent, and show Grace to all?

Finally, can we join together in the name of Justice in a fight against Christian Celebrity Idolatry, and adultery?

And as a Facebook user, Megan, observed, can we as a Church use our efforts of defense to defend those suffering racism and prejudice, corrupt police systems, etc.?

Church, I love you.   Lets take some time in thought and prayer, and let us ask God how we can make the world a better place.  Let us ponder how we can strengthen the bonds of our own marriages, and the marriages of those around us.  Let us ponder strategies to combat lust, pornography, adultery, racism, and rape culture.

This is a Call to Action.  Will you Join me in being a voice?

-Jon

Please tell me your thoughts and opinions!

Links:

Revelant Article

Relevant Facebook Page

Lamb Theology – On Josh Duggar (First Post)

Lamb Theology – Post on Racism

Lamb Theology – Post on Living the Love of Jesus

 

“There was not a Needy person among them…”

In my personal reading, I have been wading thoughtfully through the Book of Acts, and studying how the Early Church functioned.  After Christ’s ascension, a whole new faith existed; it was Judaism coupled with the revelation and teaching of Christ.   This new faith became known as “The Way”, and eventually, its adherents would be called  “Christians”.

Something that I have seen as a fundamentally good and Christ-like practice that they did in the early Church, and that is not necessarily a focus of the modern Church, is to sell your earthly possessions, and distribute the church’s communal wealth so that the needy would not be in need any longer. Two passages that communicate this practice are: Acts 2:43-47, and Acts 4:32-37.

I’m not saying we’re to become homeless and wear rags, but I am trying to suggest that for the Early Church, meeting the needs of the Poor among them was very important.

Church, Are we meeting the needs of our Poor?

Biblical Insight

Internal:

  • The church takes care of their own so that there is “not a Needy person among them” (Acts 4:34, NRSV).

External:

  • Luke 14:13 – “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” – Jesus
  • James 1:27:  “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

The early church in the book of Acts, as well as other writings from the Scriptures, clearly communicate that the CHURCH is commanded to aid the Poor.  The poor are in our communities, and the poor are within our Church doors. There is no Excuse why people should starve or freeze within a close distance from a Church of God.  And there is absolutely no excuse why any member, or regular attender, of a Church of God should ever be lacking in food, clean water, shelter, or warm clothing.

Stop for a moment . . .

Think about your own Church.

Is there any person, or family, within your own fold who is suffering financially – whether because of unforeseen life expenses, loss of a job, or even bad spending choices?

Sometimes, people in need will not make mention of it out of fear of judgement, or out of embarrassment.  Does your church have a system in place that allows them to discreetly tell you their needs, and a board or committee that discerns how to address these needs?  If your church has something in place to address the poor within their doors, they are doing well.

What does your church do to help the poor with your doors, and/or outside of it?  Please leave a comment.

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.” – The Prayer of St. Francis

**All Scripture passages are taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible**

Charleston Shooting, Racism in America, and the Christian Obligation to Action

My wife and I watched “The Butler” last night, which is a movie about one man’s job as a butler to the president of the united states through the terms of Eisenhower through Reagan.  The film tracked this one man’s experience and thoughts during the civil rights movement, and the struggle of thought between activism, and hoping your country will get it right soon.

As a white boy, growing up in the 90s in the northeast, I did not notice a lot of racism.  When people talked about racism, and white privilege, I assumed that was all done with by now.

In 2008, as a 16 year old, when I heard from fox news, or somewhere else that African-Americans voted for Obama just because he was black, I thought it was ridiculous that people would do such a thing…

Now? I don’t find it so ridiculous.  Not because I am a big Obama fan, but because it had taken WAY too long for there to be an African-American president; it had taken WAY too long for African-Americans to gain true, and protected equal rights.

From the 1700s to the late 1800s, slavery was legal in the United States, and it was present in the Americas since its colonization.   From the late 1800s to 1965, African-Americans were legally told that there was a “white” side of a restaurant, and a “colored” side; a white water fountain, and a colored water fountain.  They were excluded from places, and even when they were oppressed against the law, the “Law” was a group of White policemen who regularly beat them, sprayed them with a fire hose, and some of these policeman were members of local white hate groups – KKK or otherwise.  These segregation laws, called Jim Crow laws, remained in effect until 1965 – just 55 years ago.  Going along with this government-driven racism, we have to think about what this did to the African-American community.  A quality and an equal Education was difficult to find, going to college was a rarity, and all of this, combined with the reality that equal pay was still not enforced, results in poverty and a lack of trust in the white man, and in police officers.  Can you imagine growing up and hearing stories from your mom, and your grandfather about how policemen would beat your people to death simply because of the color of your skin?  With this in mind, when an African-American talks about racism, they are not only talking about the slavery of long ago, but of the blatant racism that existed in the lives of themselves, their parents, or their grandparents.

Fast forward 55 years to 2015.

We have an African-American president, equal pay is enforced- for the most part, there is no more “colored” or “white-only” schools, restaurants, churches, etc..

BUT

  • When Trevon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman in 2012, MANY conservative news agencies and people took the side of Zimmerman.  Although an altercation may have taken place between the two people, not much was known about the situation at first, but many conservatives were quick to take the side of Zimmerman over Martin because Martin was a “suspicious” black guy in a black hoodie walking around a neighborhood in which he stayed.
  • 2014 – When Michael Brown was fatally shot in Ferguson, again, with not many details out, many conservatives took the side of the officer. I am not a Democrat, nor am I a Republican, I just know what I have observed.
  • 2014 – When Eric Garner was held to the ground and was audibly heard saying “I can’t breathe”, policeman kept him down, forcibly restraining him until he died, and there was an outcry against police brutality.
  • 2015 – When Freddie Gray sustained injuries within a police vehicle, there was an outcry against police brutality, there were riots, both violent and non-violent, and still…the conservative news agencies and people took the side of the officers, even though these officers were later found guilty of the brutality in which they were charged.  Conservative articles circulated about how Freddie Gray was a known criminal, and how he had multiple charges against him in the past…as if any of that mattered..as if any of that justifies the acts committed by the police…
  • 2015 – This Week on 6/17/15 – An early 20s White man walks into a historic African-American church in South Carolina, sits with them in prayer for an hour, and then kills 9 black men and women, leaving three survivors.
  • In 2015, the Confederate flag still waves high at the South Carolina State Capitol, and it is protected by State law to not be lowered or taken down because it is part of South Carolina’s history. 
    • Can you imagine, as a black person, seeing the same flag spoken of as waved by KKK members, being flown at your state’s capitol?  I realize that for some, the flag is more about country music and rebellion, but it nonetheless has extremely racist meanings to a lot of people, and should never be displayed by any American Government.

Racism is not dead; Racism exists in these instances, and racism exists in how people respond to these instances.  Regardless of our political party, combating racism and prejudice should Never be thought of as conflicting to our political views, and if they are, as a Christian, I submit to these folks that if Christ was their ruler, they wouldn’t be so quick to defend the subtle racism that exists around them.

When the Black community is united against racism that they have seen and noticed, white politicians, news anchors, and people do not have the right to brush away what they are saying.  Every instance should be examined.

If you are quick to defend the police before all facts are out..

If you are quick to point out that there are innocent White people attacked by black people too…

If you are quick to think that you can’t speak up because of how it may make you look..

You are part of the problem. 

If you are a Christian, and you honestly believe that you should follow Christ, then you should be at the forefront of people uniting against racism, in all of its forms.

If you are a Christian, and you hear of a White, Black, Asian, or Hispanic person being mistreated because of their race…You should be the first to defend them in Word, and in non-violent activism.

Jesus commands us to more, and to love all of those we come across.  Jesus broke racial prejudice when he told the parable of the good Samaritan who stopped to help a beaten man on the side of the road.  The Samaritans were a different race than the Israelites and there was a lot of conflict between the two; Jesus showed his followers that we are all people, and we can all show compassion.

Will you take a stand against the racism that is still alive and well in this country?  Will you take a stand against your own inclination to remain silent?

On Josh Duggar and Sexual Abuse: The Church needs to do more

Why does abuse prolong in Christian Churches and environments?

Why is sexual scandal so prevalent?

And whats worse….Why do some defend the Abuser, rather than the Victim?

Recently, Josh Duggar, now an adult, was exposed through many articles and news agencies for molesting several young girls (Including some of his sisters) when he was himself a minor.  His parents found out and sent Josh to counselling away from home for punishment. It took a few days for the articles to actually start giving some details about what happened, but almost immediately, Christians started defending Josh saying that he had repented, that his family handled it, and that he had changed.  This same rallying would more than likely not be done for someone of another faith, or an atheist if they committed the same; in fact, the rallying in these instances could be negative – all coming from the same group of people.

But Josh Duggar is not the only example of this.  From the world-known sexual abuse cases done by Catholic priests, to the instances of Protestant pastors and Youth Pastors doing the same, this issue is an issue, and Christians should NEVER by any means make light of it, or take the side of the accused, if found guilty.

Saying “what he did was terrible, but he is a changed man” is not enough.  As Christians, we understand that the power and forgiveness of Jesus is powerful, but we also know that sin is crippling, addictive, and harmful to us, and those around us.

In the case of Josh Duggar, it is too late to take legal action. But as an article on usatoday indicated, the Duggar family lied to the police officer they told, and even though they had lied, what they told the officer should have been followed up with an investigation. The family, and the police officer were at fault for not taking proper legal action.  After some counseling, the Abuser and the Victims still had to share a house together.

Christians should be disgusted, let down, and mournful over the Sin…not JUST supportive of Josh. The main focus should be on making sure the victims receive proper care and counseling, to make sure the law is upheld, and to see where it failed.

To make myself clear:  If Josh Duggar truly repented, I affirm his forgiveness in the name of Jesus, and I do not condemn him.  Though my main point thus far is this:  In his example, the sin is very grave, and effects of that sin are real, and we need to do a better job at addressing the issue instead of just defending a Christian celebrity.

Do we need more examples of how sexual abuse, and rape culture take place within the church?

  • A Youth Pastor who sexually abused several boys, and clear signs were shown that should have stopped him.  Read Here
  • A girls story of being sexually abused by her brother in a Christian home, and not being taken seriously… Read Here
  • An excellent article on one woman’s experience with Rape Culture (Warning: Graphic Language)…Read Here

The question, “what could have been done better” is an example of what Christians should be asking, in addition to “What are the signs”, and “What can we do now”.

Oftentimes, these sexual abusers are those who people trust, those that no one would suspect anything from, and they could also be a family member.  In these issues, when comments, concerns, or questions are spoken…we cannot view the accused through Rose-Colored glasses…we have to view them, and the situation through a very critical lens.

But we live in a sub-culture that has a tendency to esteem Men over Women, to put leaders of the church on pedestals, and to not question authority or speak up.

We live in a culture that governs what women are to wear and that lets the men wear whatever they want.  We focus on what the women can do for the men to “Keep them from stumbling”, while saying “Boys will be boys” instead of teaching our boys self-control and respect, and being men and women that respect and care for all people.

We need to be a people known for the safety of Children, not the molestation of them.  We need to have boundary training, set procedures to follow, have open door policies, and we need to encourage anyone to speak up if they suspect anything.

We can no longer be silent.  We can no longer turn a blind eye. We can no longer blindly support a person because of their status or religion, while diminishing their wrongful actions.

We need to be a people that is at the forefront of advocacy against rape culture, sexual abuse, and all other forms of abuse.  Imagine if the people in our church knew that EVERY Man or Woman in the church would stand up for them and with them in these instances? Imagine if our little girls and boys were protected by men and women who would protect them, and guard them against any pretitors because they were educated on what to look out for.

Jesus calls us to more.

The Church is called to more.

Stop being a part of the problem, and stand against abuse wherever it is found!  If you see or hear of anything that could be suspicious: Speak UP!

In the comments, let me know how your church protects both Children and Itself from these instances.