Taxes: Step Up and Help Those In Need

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Not sure where you may be reading this, but in my home province of Newfoundland, Canada, we are experiencing an unprecedented provincial budget full of new taxes.

taxes

The provincial debt has ballooned.

Taxes and fees have increased.

Services are continually being cut.

All economic classes are affected.

Tax-payers are backed into the corner of repayment.

Those seem to be the facts.  After that, everyone seems to bring their particular set of circumstances to the forefront.  No matter how difficult it may be, however, I’m constantly asking the question: as a follower of Jesus, how do I respond responsibly and effectively?

Christians have a responsibly to act humbly and selflessly, while respectfully making a difference.

Paying tax isn’t a new issue; neither are the problems and potential economic pain that can follow.  Yes, we see it in modern history.  But there are biblical examples as well.

The Jewish temple tax…

Long before Jesus’ ministry, the Jews were paying taxes to pay for their way of life, buildings, walls, and other projects.  Gifts were often used, but the regular form of income was the “annual half-shekel tax” paid by all adult Jews.1 This “temple tax” was a long-time observance and continued into Jesus’ ministry (Nehemiah 10:32-33; Matthew 17:24-27).

Paying taxes to Rome…

In Jesus’ day, the Romans had economic control over the Jews.  In terms of tax rates, there was very little difference between today and that of the first century Palestine.  The problem was that what Rome instated and what was collected was dramatically different.

Publicans (“tax collectors”) paid Rome the instated amount and in turn collected the tax from the taxpayer and pocketed the extra.  Ultimately the weight of the expenses fell on the poor.2

Jesus’ response to paying taxes…

One of the Roman taxes was known as a “Roman tribute,” which was one denarius (about a day’s wage).3  4

In order to trap Jesus they asked him whether or not it was lawful to pay tribute.  As many have noted, Jesus was between a rock and hard place.  If he said, “yes,” then the tax-payers would hear his support of the Romans.  If he said, “no,” then the Romans would charge him.  This was his response:

24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent. (Luke 20:24-26, ESV)

Knowing the two “tax systems” (Temple and Roman), this starts to make sense. Jesus wasn’t about to deny the system the Romans had put in place and he certainly wasn’t about to deny what God asks of his followers.  However, there was a problem with their focus.

The people were more concerned over the secular than that of the sacred.  Jesus’ main point, as he already stated in the gospel, “you can’t serve two masters…you can’t serve God and money.” (Luke 16:13)5  While they were trying to trap Jesus, Jesus was trying to show them their true responsibility.

Christians paying taxes today…

For the most part, when I’m in the middle of “Christian conversations” regarding taxes, I hear comments of how “it affects me.” I believe we, and I’m including myself, need to re-evaluate how we view our position on the economic scale.  We very seldom think we’re in a position of wealth – there’s always someone richer. Christianity is all about selflessness and helping the poor.  It’s the message of the gospel and one of the main purposes of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4:18).

Jesus simply stated, “Give back to Caesar what is already Caesar’s.”  The political system was created by them, so give it back to them.  After all, we are called to support and submit to governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7). But Jesus didn’t stop there.  He also simply stated, “Give to God the things that are God’s.”  We are also called to support and submit ourselves to the ministry of those around us (Acts 4:32-37).

The question isn’t if we pay tax or become upset with the amount we have to pay. That’s a given. The question is are we focused on the message of the gospel or worried about the state of our chequing account?

That’s where our re-evaluation needs to come into play.

What’s the real impact and how do we respond?

When taxes increase and services decrease, everyone is impacted in some way.  Everyone will have less money in their pockets and fewer services at their disposal.  But we need to ask: Am I in economic trouble or do I simply have to cut back spending?

There’s a difference, and a different response for both.

For some, the increased taxes will mean further economic trouble.  Just as the poor took the weight in the New Testament, the same is very possible today.  If I find myself needing financial help, I should have the confidence that God will work through fellow believers to provide the help that I need.

For others, that means finding ways to cut spending in other areas in order to fulfill our responsibility as believers.  Perhaps it means helping someone with an expense, offering a free service (ie. childcare), or sending respectful correspondence to your leaders in an effort to help the marginalized.  If we limit our help to things like complaining on social media, then we have already lost our impact.

In either case, we need to be honest, remain faithful with the resources we have, stand up for those who are truly impacted, and bring relief to those who need it.

Economic despair is no match for the hope of the gospel!

Economic despair is no match for the hope of the #gospel! #nlbudget2016 #taxes Click To Tweet

Let’s be the Church – pay our taxes and help those in need!

Your turn…

  1. Are you in a place of economic trouble or in a place of cutting back spending?
  2. Are you TRUSTING in God’s provision; how is God calling you to HELP?

References   [ + ]

How Do We Know If We Are Spending Our Money Wisely?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

#MoneyMatters is a Q&A category based on questions I have received on the topic of Christians and wealth, money & possessions.  If you have a question, email andrew@andrewholm.com , and I do my best in writing a response!

money matters

If there’s one thing everyone has to deal with, it’s money.  It’s impossible to live and raise a family in this world without dealing with money.  Unfortunately, money issues are frustrating and tend to cause problems.  In fact, among couples, it’s often the first thing to be ignored, resulting in pulling couples apart.  I want to offer three questions that will help all of us to discuss and decide how to use our financial resources more effectively.

Before looking at the three questions, we have to realize we often live in complex and diverse family situations.  Here is a brief outline of where we may find ourselves:

Before a relationship…
As a single person without kids, there is one decision maker and one receiver.  It’s still possible to be in financial crisis; however, all decisions are made by one person and affect that same individual.  As a result, working through how to spend money is fairly simple and can often be decided by sticking to a personal budget.

In a relationship…
As a couple, the situation is completely different.  Instead of one decision maker and one receiver, there are two decision makers and two receivers.  Decisions are no longer one-sided, they take on the needs of two people and impact two people.   In a relationship, it’s very important to learn how to talk about money matters.

In a relationship with kids…
As a family, there is a new dynamic added.  There are still two decision makers; however, now, there is at least one more receiver (depending on how many kids).  Two people are making decisions which impact a number of other people.  As a result, it’s very important to make sure the family is on the same page as they discuss money matters.

Kids with no spouse…
As a single parent family, the situation is slightly different again.  Instead of two decision makers, there is one decision maker and a number of receivers.  While it may seem this is easier, the pressure is on one decision maker to ensure all receivers are taken care of.  Without a doubt, it’s vital to ask the right questions to make sure the budget is balanced and healthy for the family.

Mature relationship with grown-up kids…
As a mature family, the focus changes from direct receivers, to being supportive of many receivers.  Once the kids have grown up and start their own families, financial discussions and decisions directly impact the couple, but no longer have the same affect on their once dependent children.  Their financial decisions do, however, have the potential to help support the newly formed immediate families.

 

In either situation, the key is understanding that there is always at least one receiver, and in many cases, several receivers.  In other words, the financial decisions we all personally make, affect those around us.  Therefore, no matter where we find ourselves, the following three questions will help guide our financial discussions and decisions.

 

AKSING QUESTIONS:
Whether you think you ask questions or not, everyone asks questions when we discuss money matters.  The most common question we ask will focus on WHAT we, or our spouse, spend money on.  In other words, as soon as we see or talk about a purchase, we often focus on the product or service in question and immediately determine if it’s profitable for our desires.  We’ll ask, “what in the world have you bought now?” or “how many of those do we need?”  While we may have reasonable concerns, our focus needs to be on the receivers in our lives and not only ourselves.  To do this, we need to ask three important questions:

1. WHY are we spending money on this product or service?
In order to make healthy financial decisions, we need to make sure we know WHY.  We need to set goals and objectives that are profitable for the receivers in our lives.  We may never fully understand the WHAT, but if we can discuss the WHY, there is a better chance we’ll understand each other.

2. WHEN are we spending money on this product or service?
Some purchases are required immediately; however, others can be placed on a timeline according to the priority of the receivers in our family.  We can understand the WHY, and know it follows our goals and objectives, but if we don’t decide WHEN to purchase it, we may spend outside our means or avoid a purchase that is more important.

3. HOW are we going to make it happen?
If we know the WHY and the WHEN we have to figure out the HOW.  We have to ask ourselves, “how will we pay for this purchase?”  The answer to this question could be as simple as placing it in your personal budget; however, it could also be as complicated as adjusting the WHEN in order to save for the purchase.  The HOW could also be to chose to use our current savings, cashing in an investment, or as simple as using a gift-card.  In either case, a healthy financial decision will include an answer to this question.

 

Let’s look at a few examples…

Saving for retirement…
WHY: So we can afford to live without working after we retire.  This is profitable because it benefits all receivers in the household.

WHEN: The earlier we save, the less it will impact our daily lives and the greater our savings can grow with interest before retirement.  The exact timeline, however, may be determined by student loan payments and/or the costs of raising children.

HOW: By setting aside regular amounts from our income.  In some cases, our employer helps contribute to this investment as well. The amount may depend on the final decision on WHEN.

 

Another example…

Spending money on a hobby…
WHY: So we can relax and enjoy a favourite pass-time.  This is definitely profitable for the receivers who enjoy the hobby, but may not be profitable for those who do not.  Priority would be set based on the involvement and enjoyment of the receivers in the household.

WHEN: The hobby could be seasonal or all year long.  It could require an initial investment, or an ongoing expense.  Maybe the WHY has placed this on hold for a while and the WHEN could be after the kids have grown up, or another significant moment.

HOW: Depending on the cost, it could mean saving over a period of time, or placing it within the current month-to-month budget.

 

Final example…

Supporting a local church ministry…
WHY: Helping to support a church as they help support the community with their local ministry.  This is profitable for the whole family in that it practices generosity and local responsibility.  Priority may be set based on the importance of the local church among the receivers.  For example, a Christian would feel the responsibility of supporting their local church.

WHEN: Depending on the type of ministry, it could be helpful to make this a weekly, monthly or even an annual matter.

HOW: In its simplest form, supporting with our regular income would be most common; however, using an inheritance or investment could also be an option, especially for one-time projects.

 

As we continue to make important financial decisions, I hope and pray these three strategic questions will help develop our final decisions.  While the examples used here show a particular rational, it is very important to use our own specific contexts as we discuss our financial decisions. These three simple questions of WHY, WHEN and HOW will help us do just that and make choices that help benefit the entire household.

In terms of a direct biblical response to this question, refer to Part 2 of the Money Matters series on Bethel’s podcast: http://podcast.bethelbr.com/?p=216

What Fire Can’t Destroy (Mk 10:17-31)

Reading Time: 5 minutes

This is Love, Part 1 – Mark 10:17-31

This is part 1 from YC This Is Love Series (thisisloveseries.com).  I’ve included some more info on this blog post.  Hopefully it is helpful.  If you have questions or want to comment with some more ideas, feel free to comment below!

 

Key Verse:

“‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man it is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God.‘” – Mark 10:25-27, ESV.

Description:

Teenagers have more disposable income than any other age group.  Unfortunately, the decisions teenagers make about obtaining possessions are life-impacting.  This lesson will explore Jesus’ response to a young man who wouldn’t give up his possessions to follow Him.

Opener:

Mark wrote around the time of Emperor Nero’s reign, and was, in part, responding to Nero’s persecution of Christians. In the summer of A.D. 64 Rome was devastated by a fire that destroyed 70% of the city, resulting in many becoming homeless and poor.  If your house was on fire and you could save 3 things, what would they be? (Remember answers or write them down)

Fire In Rome:

The fire in Rome in 64 was devastating.  To give a small picture, it damaged eleven of Rome’s fourteen regions. At first, Nero was blamed because he took much of the damage land and built his Golden House.  As time progressed, he tried to push the cause of the fire on the Christians in an effort to bring down the new growing group.  Fortunately it didn’t really work and many took pity on the Christians for the horrible tortures inflicted on them.  By 66 Nero regained public favour, and unknowingly gave Christianity fuel for growth as Christian martyrs (like Peter) gave the movement strength to propagate the gospel.[i]

Key Points:

1. We’re all on a journey – Mark sets up this story by first talking about a couple dealing with divorce (Mk 10:1-12), then about the importance of Kids (Mk 13:16), and now a young man concerning possessions.

Life brings all of us on so many journeys.  No matter what your age, you’re moving through these journeys.  Along the way, we make choices and decisions that impact the next journey ahead of us.  The question is, will we allow God to be at the centre or our human desires?

2. We naturally want stuff – The young man had lots of possessions, and they weighed more important than following Jesus (Mk 10:22). Even the disciples were double checking with Jesus on their actions (Mk 10:24, 26, 28).

If we have money, the first thing we think about is, “what am I’m I going to buy…how am I going to spend it…what am I saving up for?…”  It’s human nature to think this way.  Now, don’t get me wrong, having stuff isn’t necessarily the issue, but the question remains – what does God desire from us.

3. We are called to be like Jesus – Jesus came to serve, not to be served.  We not only obey, but serve those around us.  Possessions become a tool to serve, rather than to be served.  If Jesus is our priority, then possessions don’t rule our reality.

This is most counter-cultural concept in Christianity.  In our world, how much you make, how many cool toys you have, how many pairs of shoes you have, what kind of car you drive, all define who you are.  In eternity, our relationship with God defines us.  Will you allow yourself to be like Jesus.

4. It’s impossible without God – The young man couldn’t do it.  Jesus admits it’s impossible with man, but possible with God (Mk 10:25, 27). Transformation doesn’t come easy, but God can do anything.  It starts with us becoming less, and God’s eternal values becoming more.  How is it possible? (Mk 10:32-34).

Through the cross, what was impossible with us alone becomes possible with God.  How powerful is that?  Our human desires will stop us every time, but because of the cross, what defines us can change.  Will you let the transformation begin?

Application:

With God’s help, our human desire for material things can be transformed into eternal ministry. It’s a mind change that affects our heart.  When we put God first, then love will control how we use our possessions.  This change becomes what we value, and it will last forever.  Possessions will eventually be lost.  Early Christians knew their faith would continue, but Nero took everything else.  What do we value?

Small Group Guide:

The possessions controlled the Young Man.  God is calling us to control the possessions he has blessed us with.

  • Why do possessions control us?
  • Do possessions make you happy? Why or why not?
  • Think about the 3 items you said you would try to save from a fire.
    • Are these items controlling you?
    • What makes them special?

Activity:

Here are some activities you can do or encourage in your group (Make sure students chat with their parents before giving away things they own):

  • “Closet Clearout” – go through your closet/dresser, remove all the clothes you haven’t worn in a while and give them to a good-will charity.
  • “Gaming Give-a-Way” – go through gaming stuff/favorite pass-time, and select something to give to charity or someone who couldn’t afford it.
  • “Fast Food Friday” – every time you buy fast food on Friday, donate the same amount of money to your local food bank.
  • Do you have more ideas? Share them with us by commenting below!!

 


[i] Boatwright, Mary T., Daniel J. Gargola, and Richard J. A. Talbert. The Romans From Village to Empire. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 333-334, 349.