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:

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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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Following God’s Calling: What does that even mean?

**To my readers: Please excuse my lack of any posts over the last few weeks, I intend to get back to my Sermon On The Mount series soon, though I realized that I needed to post something today so that I remain motivated to continue posting and to get back to a regular schedule. 

If you are new here, please take some time to read some of my other posts, including the start of My Sermon on Mount series, which you can read by clicking here.**

What is a “Calling”

A “calling” to me is where your passions or talents, and God’s will for the world, come together.  This is usually something that you do that causes you a lot of joy, and/or a sense of great purpose, even though it could be really challenging.  A calling can either be vocational, or non-vocational; therefore, a priest is following his calling just as much as the full time working woman who teaches softball in her spare time is following hers.  A person in business who has dreams of helping people, and helping his or her customers/clients is following their calling just as much as an international missionary.  As long as we are pursuing what we believe God wants us to do, or doing something that we feel advances the Kingdom of God, it does not matter if its related to our Job or not; your calling does not have to be your job, but it can be.

I am not trying to over-spiritualize things here because, as I stated before, a calling could simply be you doing what you feel most passionate about, and that thing happens to be something that can be used to show love to those affected, and perhaps even show them Jesus through you.

For me, my “calling” is helping people by encouraging them to be independently interested in matters of faith, family, community, and many other things.  I would like to do this through church ministry, bible studies, missions trips, financial budgeting, music, etc..  I have a degree in Business, many college courses in biblical studies, a lot of music experience, and a decent amount of ministry experience; therefore, my “calling” is taking what I can do, and using it for the betterment of others, and for the advancement of the good news of Jesus and his Kingdom through words, actions, and deeds.

I have recently accepted a full-time position as the “Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries” at a church in the town that I grew up in.  I am beyond excited to start this new venture in my life because the job description incorporates everything that I would like to do in order to help people, and in order to share the good news, which is transformative and wonderful (Read my blog post on a transformative Gospel here)

I will be afforded the opportunity to fulfill my calling within my vocation.  Before this ministry position, I was working a desk job within an international corporation, and I had little time to really invest in any other things besides my work and my new marriage to my lovely wife.  The workplace was negative, and I did not have a lot of time to talk to others, so I felt pretty burned out at the end of the day. However, I know of others who’s calling can be fulfilled in the workplace, and they do it well.  I know of others who may work a job they hate because they desire the betterment of their children and family; my dad is an incredible man for showing my own family an example of sacrifice in order to provide for us.

Follow Your Calling

Your calling may be, or is fulfilled in, teaching, finances, construction, music, art, full-time ministry, providing for your family, or a long list of other things.  The importance is that A) You follow it somehow in some way, and B) You use it for God’s glory.  Each Christian is called to be a light in the darkness, a city on a hill, and a lantern revealing the Hope that is present in Christ.  God Can and WILL use you for His purposes , and when you sense a direction that you should go: follow it!  Each one of us has spiritual and practical gifts, talents, and abilities, and not one of us is more qualified to be used by God than any other.

What is your calling?  Are you following it?

The Sermon On The Mount: Part Two – Matthew 5:17-48

**This post will is the second post of an exciting series on the Sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, as translated in the English Standard Version of the Bible.  You can read the passage online by Clicking Here so that you can gain the most value and context for these posts.  Please subscribe to this blog to receive updates on new posts! And if you have not already, read the first post in this series my Clicking Here!**

Welcome to Lambtheology.com!  I am excited to write again after not posting in several days!  Please join me in this second post in my series on The Sermon On The Mount, focusing on Matthew 5:17-48!

Recap – We left off of the first note on an idea that those who claim Christ as Savior are expected to Strive after him, and to be different from, and enrich the world.  We now continue in Matthew 5 to the end of the chapter; looking at some of the wild and challenging teachings of Jesus.  While going forward, please keep in mind the surrounding context of these three chapters in Matthew, which was stated in the first post.

Matthew 5:17-20 – The Law

In Matthew 5:17, Jesus sates that He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. When a lot of us come to this passage,  we either skim over it because we do not know what to think, or we get conflicted over whether or not we should have had those pieces of crispy bacon for breakfast.  In other words, is Jesus saying that all of the Old Testament laws apply still for today?  I would wager that if we take this interpretation we will miss the entire meaning of this passage, which is that some of the Old Testament laws are lasting, but some of the jewish religious leaders of the day had the wrong interpretations of those laws because they did not have the full revelation of Jesus.

Christ came to explain God’s law in a way that could not be done before, to fulfill some of the law which is unneeded for to day, and to do away with faulty and harmful interpretations that put unnecessary constraints on those seeking to follow the Lord.

Matthew 5:21-30 – Anger & Lust

Based on what was said in verses 17-20, we come to Matthew 5:21-30, which would have been a profoundly complex and challenging message to the original audience, and has continued to be so throughout all of time.  In this passage, Christ takes what is known to be wrong, actions of anger ,and adultery, and he calls those who seek to follow God to not only refuse to actions of anger, or commit adultery, but to seek to sensor your thoughts because even they can condemn you of doing the actual act!

Anger – The first issue addressed in this passage is anger.  The text says that if you have anger in your heart for someone, than that is the same as committing an action of anger – murder, fighting, etc..  To be angry at someone means that you do not wish good to come upon them; in essence you want their quality of life, or perhaps even their literal one, to be diminished or stopped.

Jesus tells these people, and us today, that having anger towards someone, or insulting them, is worthy of the same punishment as killing them: separation from God. This is an extremely high calling for the Christian, and one that reminds us to keep our anger in check because Anger should never be a defining adjective of a Christian.

Lust – One of my favorite stories from the last youth group I led was when a 15 year old boy comes up to me after a lesson which included the passage on lust, and he asked me, “Jon, Jesus didn’t REALLY mean what he said for 15 year old boys, right?  We do that all the time!”.  After laughing a bit at his honestly, I simply said something like, “The thing is, Jesus didn’t tell this to a people that Didn’t deal with this issue – Its meant for all of us.”  All of us deal with lust, but the difference comes in how we respond to the temptation of lust.  When a lustful thought comes in our mind, do we try to do away with it right away, or do we let it sit there a while for us to mull over?  It is not something thats easy to do, but over time and intentional effort, lustful thoughts can become less frequent or fade.

When we think lustfully about someone, whether we are a man, or a woman, we disrespect their own worth as human beings – as being made in the image of God. So when we talk about lust, we have to remember to look inwardly first.  Lusting after anyone who is not our spouse, in action or thought, is not surrendering your life to following Jesus, and to Love others.

Matthew 5:31-32 – Divorce

The topic of divorce is touchy.  We all know someone, maybe it is ourselves, who has been affected by divorce.  This is one of those topics that Jesus speaks on in the Sermon on the Mount that some want to leave out because a stance like the one of Christ’s is hard for a lot of us to take.  I believe in and work for my own marriage, and I pass no judgement on those who have had a different story than my own.  With that being said, let us get back to the text at hand.

Christ begins this short teaching in verse 31 by restating a known writing of Moses which allowed for a certificate of divorce (reference), and then going seemingly against that teaching to take it further in saying that anyone who divorces their spouse, except for reasons of sexual immorality, will then make that person an adulterous.  Why would this be?  Because marriage was meant to be till death, and just because the legality of a marriage is gone does not mean that the substance of that marriage before God is gone. When the vows are exchanged, and the blessing of God is uttered, that marriage is a consecrated covenant between two people and God.

Matthew 5:33-37 – Oaths

In this passage, Christ tells the audience to not take any oaths, which was based on an Old Testament teaching that followers of God should not swear falsely.  Again, Jesus took it one step further.  He does not want His followers to swear by anything in heaven, or on earth because we would be swearing by things that are not ours, but are God’s: “But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,  or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King”(vv.34-35).  We are not even permitted to swear by our own body – for we do not have true ruling over our own bodies like God does.  Instead of swearing Oaths, Christ tells us to simply let our words be all the proof and backing that we need; for our words to be words of integrity that they would not need oaths to be spoken. 

Matthew 5:38-48 – Non-Retaliation & Enemy Love

It is in this passage that most of the argument revolve around in regards to the Sermon on the Mount.  Humans do not want to be told to do something that is drastically opposed to our nature; humans do not want to be told to “turn the other cheek” or to have any sort of love for any sort of enemy.

Christ tells his audience that when someone would slap you on the cheek, to turn the other one to the attacker also.  Some cheapen the application of this passage down to simply mean that in light confrontations, be the better person, and don’t fight back.  But in taking that interpretation, the entire surrounding context of first century Israel is thrown out of the window because the main agitators of the day would not have been comparable to your angry neighbor, but were Roman soldiers who ruled by the Iron fist of caesar.  Followers of God are not to violently retaliate, even in the extreme instance of an oppressive military force.

Moving on to Christ speaking of loving your enemy, lets remember who the “enemy” was to first century Israel, and let us not reduce “enemy” to only be applied to the town gossip, or town drunk. Christ, again, takes an old teaching of loving your neighbor and hating your enemy, and takes it a step further by saying that a follower of God is to try to love their enemies, and to pray for those who persecuted them.  “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have”(v.46).

The question then comes down to how we view this passage and apply it to our lives.  We should not stand by interpretations that cheapen the contextual meaning of this passage by only trying to apply the word “enemy” to individuals in our communities and schools who pose no physical threat; the word “enemy” may apply to such individuals, but it is more aptly applied to physical and violent enemies.   What do we, as 21st century people, do with this teaching?  Can we reconcile the natural human urge to violently retaliate and to hate our enemies, with the words of Jesus?

I’ll leave you with that.  I am sure the topic will come up again in the existence of this blog.

Conclusion

Christ called the jewish people then to more than what they had previously thought was required of them, and he does the same for us.  It is not enough to merely say a prayer and go on with life; Christ calls us to FOLLOW after Him and His teachings and Actions REGARDLESS of how against those instructions are to our natural inclinations.

Are we willing to follow?

Holy God, we come before you to confess the errors in our ways of esteeming ourselves above you. We confess that we are not perfect; we need your love, and we need your continual redemption of our lives, and our minds.  Transform our hearts to reflect the desires of you to Love you with all we have, and to love others as much, or more, than we love ourselves. We pray these things in teh name of Jesus Christ, Amen.  

Fighting to Follow: A Transformative Gospel

The Gospel is commonly presented in first convincing an individual that they are guilty of wrongdoing against a Holy God, and goes on to share the solution to that, which is Jesus; his divinity, death, and resurrection.  The listener is then encouraged to repent of their wrongdoing, and to affirm a belief in God, including Jesus as Savior.  After such, a prayer may be had, and if the presenter of this Gospel is a local person in the community, they may invite them to their Church.

But I feel as though key information in that Good news is missing. And perhaps it is missing not just in the presentation of the Gospel to new believers, but also the presentation of the Gospel to established believers.

It is a common thought that “this world is not our home”, “this is not where we belong”, etc.. But is this true? For if it were to be true, it would imply that we are simply wasting our time here…we have no true purpose other than to attempt to tell others about this great place where we truly belong. If this was the train of thought, it would drastically impact the way that we care about our world, its people, and how there is no true hope in this world.

However, I believe that we are here for a purpose, and that we are right where we are meant to be.  The Gospel is transformative in its full application – in a spiritual sense, as well as a physical sense.  For if we understood the Gospel as Christ offering salvation to an unworthy people, and then calling us to follow after him and his teachings, then our very families, churches, communities, towns, and even some nations could be transformed by the work of the hands and feet of Jesus; not in a political sense, but in the way people care for one another.  Racism, prejudice, poverty, and violence could all lessen or cease because the followers of Jesus would refuse to tolerate them, and they would DO something to address the needs around them.  This love that would emanate from these followers of Jesus would not be able to be unseen, and many would flock to this kind of collected and united mission, and thereby being exposed to the truth; that Jesus Saves and Transforms us into His likeness.

The question is, are we, on an individual level, willing to fight our natural human inclinations of selfishness in order to follow after a King who calls us to deny ourselves, and live for Him – even to the point of death.  Are we, as individuals, willing to love when we desire to hate, to give when we only want to receive, to speak when we wish to be silent, to be silent when we shouldn’t speak? Are our churches willing to evangelize, not just in word, but in action? To feed the poor, clothe the naked, and care for our local communities?  For if we are willing to send our missionaries to other nations (a much needed thing), why is that same passion for the lost and broken seemingly lacking when it comes to our immediate local communities?

To follow Jesus means to fight against our own desires that go against His.  Are we willing to let the Gospel transform us?