Today, I had a phone conversation with one of my favorite people in the world. I won’t publicly identify him, but I will say this: Christianity needs far more believers like this man. I also won’t go into details about our chat, but I will say this: one of the topics of discussion was Christians and taxes. It brought to mind people I’ve heard of who’ve gone to prison because they’ve conscientiously decided not to give Uncle Sam his due.
As always, we’re left to wonder: WWJD?
As far as I can tell, Jesus mentioned taxes twice. In Matthew 17, the Jewish authorities asked if Jesus and His followers paid the “temple tax.” Jesus seemed to think this was actually unnecessary. However, to avoid offense, he had Peter pay it anyway using money from the mouth of a freshly-caught fish.
Then in Matthew 22, the Jewish authorities (who hated paying taxes to Rome), hoped to catch Jesus in a contradiction by asking him if tribute should be paid to Rome. The idea was if Jesus said not to pay taxes, word would get out and the Romans would possibly arrest him for advocating anarchy or not paying one’s fair shekel.* If Jesus said taxes should be paid, it would undoubtedly anger many of the Jews and possibly even those who liked Jesus.
Jesus, knowing that, asked to be shown a coin. After being told it was Caesar’s image on the coin, He said: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
I take these examples to mean simply this: while there might be some exceptions, pay your taxes. Unless you want the IRS to be able to travel to your house of place of business from memory, don’t protest by not paying.
* Yes, pun intended.
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In October, a famous, controversial Christian died. Anybody who’s familiar with Baptists and soulwinning and cartoons undoubtedly knows whom I’m talking about. My personal view: much of his theology was misguided, but God still used him to preach salvation and lead many to Christ. Others haven’t been very kind. It brings to mind what actress Bette Davis once said when her hated rival, Joan Crawford, died: “You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good . . . Joan Crawford is dead. Good.”
When this famous Christian died, I asked a dear friend, Howard, if he’d heard the news.
“Yes,” he said. “Yes. Did you hear about Anna M. passed? A lady in my church. Much more interested in home team where I know the players personally.”
To be fair, Howard isn’t the type who’s easily star struck. He’s probably the last person in the world I’d expect to run up to a famous Christian and ask them to sign his Bible.
When I read his comments, I thought, instead of focusing on people we know of, it’s better to focus on people we know personally.
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One of my favorite cartoons comes from Radio Free Babylon. It’s called “Coffee with Jesus.” Dressed in a modern-day suit and sipping a coffee while sporting shoulder-length hair and a beard, Jesus talks to various individuals–believers, ministers and even Satan himself.
I’ve seen many cartoon versions of Jesus, some of them not bad and some of them far too inaccurate in comparison to what the Bible says. CWJ stands out. Sure, I occasionally disagree with something, but for the most part I can imagine Jesus responding exactly as they have Him do in the comic.
They usually show the same two pictures of Jesus, calm and expressionless. It carries the message that Jesus always knows what’s going on, never panics and always knows what to do. He effortlessly parries even Satan’s most brutal accusations.
CWF can be found online here. Below is one of my favorite cartoons, regarding angst many have about the upcoming presidential election. (Some worry about a Trump presidency, others worry about a Clinton presidency).
There’s plenty of time to ponder when you attend a church with a relaxed, friendly Sunday school and in a comfortable auditorium where you don’t feel wrong with God because you don’t wear a suit. At church today, I noticed that maybe about 20 percent of the men in attendance wore suits.
As I sat in Sunday school and in church and continued my humble journey to rebuild my walk as I keep what works, discard what doesn’t and be flexible to new things, I wondered if perhaps churches should focus on the basics.
In the circles I’m from, it seems most of the messages–besides salvation–focused on modesty, TV, secular music, abortion and a certain three-letter G-word that rhymes with “Ray”.
I often wonder if perhaps more energy should be spent focusing on the basic issues, such as avoiding things like pride, arrogance, gluttony, impatience and rudeness.
I am very convinced that, on a few occasions, the disciples yelled, “Jesus!”
No, not to take His name in vain, and not to call out to him when in a storm, in quicksand or because they were trying to get his attention. Instead, here are two examples:
Peter, at a wedding, takes a drink of wine–only to discover that it’s turned back into water.
Matthew, when looking for a lamb to slaughter for a meal for Jesus and the 12, stares in shock as the lamb says in perfect Aramaic: “PLEASE don’t eat me. I taste BAAAAAAAD!”
In both cases, the reaction was likely: “Jesus! Would you PLEASE stop doing that?!”
In both cases, I imagine our Lord doubled over, laughing.
Jesus probably also told His fair share of jokes. (“So the Rabbi tells the rest of the Sanhedrin, ‘That was no Samaritan woman! That was my WIFE!'”)
I see it this way: Jesus had a very busy schedule. There were no planes or cars, so He walked most places–save for riding on donkeys or other animals. He probably got very little sleep and had days where he had to: teach, teach and re-teach the disciples; deal with the Pharisees and other religious leaders who refused to see the obvious about Him; heal the sick, provide food for those needed; screen potential disciples; comfort the heartbroken, and on, and on, and on.
What better way to boost morale among His disciples and relieve stress by having a sense of humor?
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Years ago, a car show host told somebody they would need to have their engine rebuilt.
I never inherited my father’s mechanical skills, but I suspect that means this: take apart the engine, throw out the bad parts and replace them. Keep the good parts. Put the new parts and good parts all back together. Engine should work better.
Such is the case with my Christian walk.
I became a Christian in October 1981, when I prayed the sinner’s prayer with Pastor Jimmy Lilley of Kings Row Baptist Church in Alvin, Texas. I sincerely meant the prayer and wanted to do so, so I consider eight to be the age when I became a Christian.
Over the years, I attended very strict churches. No alcohol, no tobacco, no movies. Women, no wearing dresses. Don’t wear “fake-up” or “mas-scary” (I kid you not, those terms were REALLY used). Men, look like men. No long hair, no earrings, no flashy costumes, no necklaces. Wedding rings and class or college rings are OK, but, for heaven’s sake, don’t wear so many rings that you look like Liberace.
And speaking of the late Liberace (1919-1987), it was also taught that homosexuals will burn in hell.
While there are other believers in other denominations, we are the only ones who are really following Jesus’ teachings.
Some took things a step further and prohibited tea and other caffeinated products and no TV. One famous Baptist minister (you’d know his name if I said it) refused to carry life insurance, believing it showed a lack of faith in God. And across the board, the only acceptable Bible is the King James Bible.
Over the years I slowly began to wonder: why?
Which “rules” were truly Biblical and which ones were just the personal preferences of the leaders?
One person, who is no longer in my life, used to ask me where in the Bible it says you are to not do these things. More often than not, I had no answer for her, and that gave me a lot to ponder. I’ve also seen many such Christians have unsatisfactory responses when explaining why the same set of Mosaic Laws that prohibit homosexuality also a) Provide laws that governed slavery, b) Require some rapists to marry their victims, c) Prohibit the mixing of meat and dairy aren’t also applied today.
For me, my approach is take all the things I’ve learned, all the things I thought I knew, compare them with what the Bible truly says and then do two things: keep that which is true, discard which is not not God really wants for my life.
Our walk with God should be focused on a relationship, not simply following rules.
Richard Zowie lives in the Texas Hill Country and is a reporter for the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post. The views expressed in this blog posting do not necessarily reflect those of the Standard newspaper staff, editor or publisher. Post comments here or e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I can describe “how” in two words:
Those on the right who quote passages in Leviticus to condemn homosexuality should also be aware of passages that describe what we’d consider odd, inexplicable Mosaic laws dealing with slavery, sex and what animals were fit and unfit for food (if you love bacon, guess what–it would’ve been considered unclean).
Those on the left who quote passages in Acts to justify socialism or communism should also be aware of what the Bible says about not eating if you haven’t worked or those who take for themselves what others have earned.
I do believe the Bible is God’s Perfect Word, but I also believe that some rules God gave at various times were exclusively meant for those times and those particular circumstances.
For now, as I read, I consider the audience, the customs of the times and whether the command qualifies as an absolute from God or something He chose for that time.
Richard Zowie lives in the Texas Hill Country and is a reporter for the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post. The views expressed in this blog posting do not necessarily represent those of the Standard newspaper staff, editor or publisher. Post comments here or e-mail them to email@example.com.