Paying The Tax You Do Not Owe

Taxes_DueI originally wrote this for and had it posted at LifeWay’s Pastors Today blog.

There is an interesting confrontation in the gospel of Matthew between Peter and the tax collectors at the temple. In Matthew 17:24, Peter is asked whether or not Jesus pays the temple tax. Peter, always willing to speak without thinking, replies in the affirmative, but is then engaged by Jesus in a conversation about taxes and family relationships. The gist of Jesus’s discussion with Peter is that the sons of kings do not owe taxes, thus as the Son of God, Jesus does not owe the temple tax.

Nevertheless, in verse 27 Jesus replies to Peter,

“However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

This account recorded by Matthew has become an important principle for me in ministry. Sometimes, so as not to give offense, we need to pay the tax that we do not owe.

Paying the tax we do not owe often means choosing to be the offended if it advances the gospel or helps to maintain unity within the church. Paying the tax may mean apologizing even when you do not feel that you were wrong (or that you were the only one wrong). Sometimes in ministry, paying the tax may mean keeping our mouths shut when we could share information that would make us to look better.

Of course this does not mean that a pastor (or anyone) should always be the victim.

Apologizing for something you did not do is not honest and … Continue reading

Follow Your Heart To Destruction

Just follow your heart. Are you in love? Follow your heart. Deciding on a job? Follow your heart. Moral decisions? Follow your heart. But, what if your heart is wrong? What if your heart isn’t even trustworthy? Of course Jeremiah 17:9 warns us that the heart is deceitful and wicked, but that’s not all. Romans 1:24 says that God, in his wrath, will give people up to the lusts of their hearts.

The reality of God’s wrath, in other words, is often God’s lack of intervention. The saddest state in which a human being may find himself is the place of God’s utter disregard. You’ve decided that you will follow you. Your greatest idol is not made of wood or precious metal, the idol in your life is your own comfort and desires. Your idol is your own heart and your own mind, you have put you on the throne of your life and you will satisfy you regardless of what anyone else may say. You are following your heart.

And God has given you exactly that which you want. Of course no one wants God’s wrath, but few people want God’s rules either. Like the parent that finally throws in the towel God says, “fine, I’ll give you what you want,” and in that moment you have become what you worshiped, a deity of sorts, a god who makes his or her own rules, and God is perfectly justified in giving you exactly what you want.

You want to live as an adulterer, God says OK. You desire to live in a constant state of covetousness and God allows it. You want your homosexual lifestyle and you want the blessing of the church, guess what, God gives it to you and … Continue reading

There Is No Christianity Without a Nativity

Logo - HeaderOur current sermon series at Malvern Hill, The Lights of Christmas, focuses on the good news that came with Jesus. As a part of the introduction to that series, I wrote, “Christianity rises and falls on the truth of the virgin birth.” Without the virgin birth, there can be no biblical Christianity. During this time of Christmas, it is important that we remember all of the details surrounding the birth of Christ. He was more than a good man who did good deeds in the world, he was the God-man who came to perform the greatest deed. Christ came to die so that we could live. Unless there is a virgin birth, Jesus could not be the person he claimed to be and he certainly could not have accomplished all that he or the other New Testament writers claim that he accomplished.

The Bible can be a book of morality or literature without the virgin birth, but it cannot be words of life. I’m thankful that Al Mohler has take time to write about the importance of the virgin birth this week. I hope that you will take time to read all that he has to say in his most recent article, The Only Intelligible Explanation for the Incarnation: A.T. Robertson on the Virgin Birth of Christ. Christ came to bring hope and salvation, but he can only do that if he is a God who is able to save us from the sin that ensnares us. He can only be God if he was divinely conceived. May God bless you this Christmas season as you reflect upon his wisdom and grace in sending his Son to die for our sins.

Making the Best of a School Morning

School mornings in our home can be an absolute nightmare. Our local elementary school begins the day at 7:30 (yes, in the morning) which means getting the kids up before 6:30 and out the door no later than 7:15 (so at least we live close). I take our kids to school most days; it is on my way to the church building and helps me to get to the office at a good time. I also love taking the kids to school. I am grateful for the 10-15 minutes in the truck every morning. It is quality time for me to spend with them, we laugh, sing, talk, and pray. Well, theoretically we do all of those things, on bad mornings we just try to be polite with one another and pray that we are not late to school after fighting to get out the door–but I digress.

On those good mornings, there are songs, laughs, and prayers. I love that time. I love it because it is giving me an opportunity to be formative in the lives of my children. Angela and I are blessed for her to be able to work part-time and be home with our kids most afternoons. She does homework, serves snacks, reads, and plays with our kids. It is a thankless task that is often more stressful than my description suggests, but it is a valuable time of formation. She is so important in their formation and she gets to spend tons of time with them shaping and molding them. I work full time as a pastor and my one-on-one time with our kids is less than hers, so I have to make the most of it. That’s why I love driving our kids to school (and taking them hunting).

Our time with … Continue reading

Advent Buzzard

Advent BuzzardAngela and I love Christmas.  When I say we love Christmas, of course I mean the fact that it is the birth of Christ and the celebration that surrounds it, but I also mean that we love everthing that goes along with the Christan connotation. We love lights and trees, tinsel and ribbon, and we love hot coffee and family traditions. One new tradition in many homes is the Elf on the Shelf. Anxious for traditions and consumed as we often are by our own impulsiveness, we bought an elf several years ago and then cringed when we began to read about the elf. He is constantly watching you and taking reports back to Santa.

We don’t really do Santa in a big way at our house and the concept of someone always watching over my shoulder to discipline me does not seem very encouraging. We never took the elf out of the box and today it is happy on someone else’s shelf. However, in our search for a new Christmas tradition, we talked with our old friends, the Blanchard Family, and were introduced to the Advent Buzzard. I’ve copied the link to Carrie’s origninal blog post that deals with said buzzard, but suffice it to say, this is a tradition that we are excited to begin in our home. Here’s the way that Carrie explains the Advent Buzzard:

As the tale goes, once upon a time, some preacher person (likely fed up with secular holiday traditions) hung up a homemade buzzard (originally constructed from men’s dress socks) in a prominent place in their home. His purpose was to remind their family of sin, evil, and distractions that surround us every day that draw our attention away from … Continue reading

Is College Football Godly?

Last year I asked the question, Do Christians Have a Responsibility to Observe Halloween,  and I still stand behind everything in that article. I do believe that Halloween represents a unique opportunity for Christians to be on the offensive against the darkness of sin in our culture and to communicate the gospel with our lost and dying world. Today I came across a video of John Piper wrestling with the question of Halloween. I’ve posted it at the bottom because I think it is worth your time, but I also think that he made an important point by noting that many Christian traditions could be associated with paganism (Sunday worship, Christmas, Easter, etc…).

Now I’m not saying that all of those things ARE associated with Pagan worship and I believe that every good arguments exist to the contrary, but the point is worth exploring. If we look hard enough, we can find something ungodly or pagan behind many Christian practices and traditions. Halloween is not a Christian practice strictly speaking, but the lack of Christian roots does not make it wrong for Christians to participate. College football doesn’t have Christian roots so maybe we shouldn’t watch college football. UNLESS, we take a similar approach to those who connect Easter and Christmas with paganism. Many Colleges and universities in America were originally started to train preachers and pastors and to educate according to Christian principles. Colleges, thus, have a Christian background which gave root to college football, thus college football is godly.

My argument about college football is ridiculous. But tying Christian practices to paganism may be just as great of a stretch, but I digress. The point here is that we should think carefully about how we best honor God and engage our culture with the gospel. How you observe … Continue reading

Religious Naturalism

plantinga2Writing in the 40′s, C.S. Lewis found himself “constantly opposed not by the irreligion of our hearers but by their real religion.” The “real religion” of the popular world of Lewis’ time was one that he defined as Pantheism. Pantheism is the religious idea that the universe or nature is one with the divine. Pantheistic religions include Hinduism and New Age. Buddhism, though pantheistic, claims to be a philosophy rather than a religion because at core it is atheistic. Nevertheless, most would see Buddhism as a religion as well.

For Lewis to claim that most opponents of theistic belief were Pantheists is not to suggest, however, that most of his opponents were adherents of an Eastern religion. Instead, what Lewis was pointing to was the naturalism of his day that dismissed the idea of God and replaced him with the universe, or nature, or naturalistic evolution. MacArthur argues that Carl Sagan well represented this form of naturalistic pantheism with his motto, “the cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” According to Sagan’s description, the universe seems a great deal like a god. It is of YAHWEH that the angels proclaim in Revleation 4:7, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” MacArthur goes on to argue that in Sagan’s worldview (insert: religion), the cosmos is God and scientists are the new priesthood.

In this new religion, all moral and ethical accountability is erased in the name of naturalism, evolution, and survival of the fittest. It is common for those who oppose Christianity or any form of theism to claim that religion is bad for the world and that they are opposed to religion. In truth however, once one … Continue reading