Render Unto Caesar… But Is That All Jesus Said?

Render Unto Caesar… But Is That All Jesus Said?

If you’ve read the Bible much, and you’ve been engaged in politics at all, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard of the encounter Jesus had with a group of Pharisees.  These religious elite hated Jesus and they were constantly looking for a way to trap the Son of God.  So they posed the following question to Jesus:

 

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus, understanding the evil in their hearts, responded:

“Why do you test me, you hypocrites?  Show me the tax money.”

As soon as they brought Jesus the money, He responded, “Whose image and inscription is this?”

And the Pharisees said, “Caesar’s.”

Then Jesus instructed them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

I’ve always marveled at the response from Jesus and have heard this passage used frequently regarding a citizen’s responsibility to be engaged in the political process.  While that’s certainly a possible conclusion, if we stop there, we are missing the greatest message that Jesus was communicating. 

I’ve read this verse dozens of times, but it dawned on me recently what the greater message was that Jesus was no doubt communicating.  To understand that message, we must go back to Jesus’ question to the Pharisees:  “Whose image is on the money?”  That was an easy response because they could look at it and see that Caesar’s image was emblazoned on the coin.

But have you ever wondered, what was left unsaid?  What was the greater message?

In the very first chapter of the Bible, we read this truth:  “Then God said, “Let us make man in Our image…”

God’s image is emblazoned on every human that has ever lived, including you and me.  We were created with the image of God stamped upon us.  

So if a coin bearing the image of Caesar was to be given to Caesar, what should should be done with a life that bears the image of God?  

Uncle Sam demands and always receives what is due him.  You and I don’t hesitate to honor that obligation.

But what about the obligation that Jesus informed us of, when He affirmed that we are to “Render to God the things that are God’s?”  If His image is stamped upon us, do we take our obligation to completely give our life back to Him, as seriously as we do “rendering unto the tax man” that which is due him?

So next time you hear this passage, I hope you’ll remember the greater message Jesus was communicating.  It wasn’t mainly about taxes, or even politics.  No, it was about offering back to God the life He gave to you, without reservation and with complete abandon.  

TVA: Deception, Theft & the Golden Rule

TVA: Deception, Theft & the Golden Rule

Oftentimes in life, the values we claim to hold are tested in ways that may not always be apparent.  But when those tests come, it may reveal that the values we lay claim to, are often not the ones we put into practice. (Sadly, I know this to be true in my life all too often, when I’m honest enough to acknowledge it.)

This truth has been playing out in our community for the last couple weeks in a way that perhaps you’ve never fully considered.  The issue at hand is an effort by TVA to “appropriate” private land for its “greater” use.  For those who are not familiar, TVA is a nearly 90 year old federal agency that provides electricity to nine million customers across seven states, and operates annually with a multi-billion dollar budget.  

Red Line is proposed path of TVA line across Mr. Vital’s property

The controversy involves TVA seeking to extend an electrical service line across the land of a personal friend and local businessman, Greg Vital.  Amongst Greg’s many business holdings is farmland in Georgetown Tennessee, which is home to his buffalo operation.  

What is unknown by many is the fact that TVA purchased a parcel of land over a year ago. Their plan at the time targeted Mr. Vital’s property as the route to extend their power lines across, to reach their newly purchased parcel.  But only in the last couple weeks did TVA finally inform the public, including Mr. Vital, of their plans to appropriate his land for their proposed project.  

If ever there was a David vs Goliath battle, this is it.

At a public meeting this last week, I had the opportunity to meet with several TVA representatives to ask questions as well as express my objections to the manner in which they had contrived their plans.  While the TVA reps were pleasant, it was clear that they were less than forthcoming with some of their answers.  

The concept of eminent domain is one that most Americans are familiar with, but it’s likely the majority of us have seldom been confronted with such a threat.  To have an entity that is all-powerful, both economically and politically, confront the little guy, simply because he owns something they want, is an intimidating and often overwhelming struggle.  But in such battles, Goliath is typically the victor and David more often than not walks away with a few stones in his pocket. 

Most of us know the Golden Rule, and we would likely claim it as a guiding force in our lives. 

“Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.”

But there is sadly another rule that involves gold as well.  It’s this one:

“He who has the gold, rules.”

These two “Golden Rules” are clashing head to head in the TVA controversy at hand.

Back to the meeting this last week though.  As I was pressing the TVA folks about their proposed project, the Golden Rule, as taught by Jesus, popped into my mind.  So I asked them a simple question:  “Are you a Christian?”

They replied “Yes.”

I then asked them if they believed in the Golden Rule as taught by Jesus, which teaches to treat others the way they wanted to be treated?

“Yes” was again their answer.

So I then asked, “Well, if you believe in the Golden Rule, does it only apply in your personal life?  Or do you also believe it is a principle we should practice in our professional lives as well?  Would you want someone to treat you the way you are proposing to treat Mr. Vital?”

Silence met my answer.  I don’t know if the silence was because they truly did not know the answer, or if it was the reality that the rule they claimed to embrace was being violated by the agency for whom they worked.

As I pressed them further, I asked them if they would ever consider going onto their neighbor’s land with the intent of taking a portion of his land for their own personal use, particularly if that neighbor objected?  Their answer was an obvious “NO” and it illustrated how at odds their personal beliefs were with the TVA plan they were supporting and leading.

It would be easy to blame this controversy on a multi-lettered government agency.  But the truth is government agencies are made up of individuals.  Each individual has his or her own set of values.  If our values are deeply rooted, then they should surface in every area of our lives.  So when we see the strategy of “appropriating” the property of others via eminent domain (another word for theft), and then that strategy is hidden for over a year (another word for deception), one must wonder what values drive the TVA employees who are overseeing and approving of such strategies?  Can they profess their personal dedication to the Golden Rule, integrity, and transparency, while ignoring or contradicting those values professionally?  

There’s a story in the Old Testament that deals with eminent domain and it involves King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.  This husband and wife pair were two evil peas-in-a-pod and they regularly defied God and His values throughout their lives.  One day Ahab wanted to purchase a plot of land from a local farmer.  But the man did not want to sell it.  So, Ahab’s wife used the most extreme kind of eminent domain. Jezebel had the farmer killed and then gave his land to her husband, King Ahab.  Ahab got what he wanted while the citizen not only lost his land but also his life.  But that very day God pronounced a fateful judgement on both Ahab and Jezebel.  (Read I Kings 21)

Of course, no one is accusing TVA of threatening an American citizen with loss of life.  But there is no question that TVA is conniving to take the personal property of an American citizen.  

America’s forefathers each pledged their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” to defend the values of liberty and personal property.  When a government agency uses eminent domain, secrecy, and deception to secure private land from an unwilling party, there is no greater threat to the values for which our founding fathers fought.

I’ve often heard it said by critics of biblical conservatives that they should check their values at the doors when they leave their church or personal residence. But this debacle at TVA should teach us otherwise.  If we claim certain values are deeply rooted convictions, then they should flow over into every area of our lives. Otherwise these values are merely preferences and have little affect in guiding our behavior in all scenarios. 

So time will tell which Golden Rule prevails in the “TVA vs Vital” matter.  Will it be the rule taught by Jesus, or the one too many of the elite of our world  love to impose on their neighbors, the power of force and intimidation to gain what the one with the gold desires?

If you want to remain informed or be a part of the solution, you can go to Facebook and Like the Page “Stop Destroying Tennessee Farms” to get regular updates on this ongoing battle.

30 Days to Live

30 Days to Live

“Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14)

God has been impressing on me for some time now of the need to always be prepared to meet Him, whether through death or His return. Even so, I struggle daily to keep that moment by moment focus which inevitably results in my 1) getting distracted with all manner of things (both good and bad, big and little), and 2) making choices that would render me woefully unprepared to meet the One I love and to leave the ones I love. 

So, in an effort to bring better focus and to increase awareness of my need to continuously “be ready,” I’ve begun to work on what I’m calling my “30 Days to Live” Plan, or #30D2L.  It is not a complete or static plan, but rather it will be a growing and changing one, as: 1) I hopefully continue to mature and grow closer to God, 2) I better understand His plan for me and those I love, and 3) I continuously seek to maintain a relationship with God that is unhampered by sin in my life 

In essence, the #30D2L Plan is a list of priorities that I would likely have were I to visit my doctor someday and be told that I had 30 Days to Live. Sadly, such news comes to people everyday. But when it does, those receiving the dreaded news, in a sense, have the “benefit” of living out their final days with a knowledge that they are within their final days.

Because of this raised awareness of one’s imminent death, there is no doubt that the choices such individuals make are drastically different than the choices before they were confronted with their own mortality, as well as the choices I make everyday. 

So, it seems to me both logical and wise, to take a positive, deliberate and planned approach to living out each 30 Days as if they were to be my last.  I’ll confess though that while it may be logical and wise to maintain this mindset, it’s also very easy to stray from living this way each day and very hard to maintain this daily focus, much less hourly.  (I know this to be true as I have been attempting to live in this manner for several 30 day periods so far… and failing miserably at maintaining the proper focus.)

But here’s a truth that we should all consider: If the next 30 Days are not my final ones or yours, at some point you and I will wake up for the last 30 days of our life. When this happens in my life, I want to arrive at my last day with no regrets, no items left unchecked, and a clear conscience before God and man. 

With this in mind, I want to echo the Psalmist’s attitude when he wrote: “Teach us to number our days.” (Psalm 90:12)

So here’s an initial checklist that I’ve started. But as God continues to give me another 30 day period, I hope to continue to fine tune this list. I’d love to hear if you have other items that you would add to your list.

→ Relationships in order; reconcile any broken ones
→ Sins confessed
→ Maintain a clear conscience before God and man
→ To do list sorted, prioritized and the essentials completed.
→ Make sure that those closest to me know that I love them, every single day.
→ Life insurance in order
→ Finances in order
→ Will/Estate plans up to date
→ No “secrets” in my life
→ Make sure any comments that I want to make to folks are made
→ Spend daily time in God’s Word
→ Always seek to simplify and unclutter my life.
→ Seek opportunities to share God’s Truth in Love 

As I begin each new month, treating it as if it could be my final one, I am looking to these thoughts and verses to keep me grounded in the brevity of life.  I hope you will be challenged to consider a similar approach.  For God has this to say about those who regularly reflect on their own mortality:  

“A wise person thinks a lot about death.”  (Ecclesiastes 7:4)

May God help me to truly live til I die.  And may my outlook always be as Paul shared when he said:

“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  (Philippians 1:21)

Here are a few more relevant verses to maintaining the proper mindset about our final days:

“You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (Matthew 24:44)

 

“This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” (Romans 13:11)

 

“How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14)

 

“All of us must die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God does not just sweep life away; instead, he devises ways to bring us back when we have been separated from him.”  (2 Samuel 14:14)

 

“About that time Hezekiah became deathly ill, and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to visit him. He gave the king this message: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness.’”  (Isaiah 38:1)

#30D2L

The Silent Cry

The Silent Cry

There are deep divisions today in our nation that are seen in issue after issue. 

But perhaps there is no greater divide, with such irreversible consequences, than the Pro-Life/Pro-Abortion battle.  On one side are the voices of those who claim that the life in the womb is precious, of immeasurable value, and worthy of defending. On the other side are the shouts of those who claim the choice of the mother outweighs the right of her little one to simply live. And most recently the pro-abortion voices have embraced a new mantra: #shoutyourabortion.  So a tragic choice that ended a life, has now become a movement that pridefully celebrates ending the life they conceived.

Since the beginning of time, the dominance of the stronger over the weaker has been a dreadful trait of mankind. We see the first example of this evil philosophy when Cain took the life of his brother, Abel. It’s worth rereading the short account of this story:

“One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him. Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?” “I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?” But the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!”  (Genesis 4:8-10)

Since that first murder, the strongest have sentenced to death millions of lives over thousands of years, with this culture of death continuing today.  But there truly is no greater example of the strong taking the lives of the weak than in the loss of our nation’s little ones in the womb.  These innocent lives, formed by their Creator, are tragically being silenced by their mothers.  No words can adequately describe the sorrow, loss and permanence that abortion does to its greatest victim.

But, for all the words that have been written and the voices that have been raised in decrying the curse of abortion, there is one voice that has never been heard.  And yet it is this voice that counts the most.  

When God reproached Cain over murdering his brother Abel, He convicted Cain with these words: “Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me…”

Were God to confront our nation today about the awful scourge of abortion, I believe He would say something similar: “Listen! Your childrens’ blood cries out to me…”

This is the missing voice:  The Silent Cry.  

We’ve all heard the cry of a little baby shortly after birth, as it simply longs for the cuddle, caress and love of her mother.  But have we stopped to hear the silent cry of the one that was snatched from the womb before she took her first breath?  Have we paused to consider her voice?  While her voice is silent, her message is loud, clear, and convicting, if we will be still and listen.

This matter of eternal consequence has divided our nation into three groups.

The first group is perhaps the most pressing one.  If you are carrying an unwanted pregnancy and considering an abortion even today, will you stop and listen?  Will you hear the silent cry of the little one in your womb, who longs to look in your eyes, to feel your embrace, to know your love, and to simply have the opportunity to live?

Before you add one more cry to the millions of silent cries that rise up across our nation, I pray you will stop and listen.  Listen to your child’s heartbeat.  Envision him or her in your arms.  Consider the beauty of her face.  Trace the outline of his features.  And embrace life today.  

The second group within our nation includes those women and men who have already chosen abortion.  You may be one who succumbed to the lie that your choice trumped the life in the womb.  If so, then you know your choice was irreversible.  But your guilt over that choice can be reversed.  God, the Author of life, is also the One who forgives.  There is no choice that you and I have made that God does not offer to forgive — even the one that ended the life of your little one.  Go to Him.  Confess your sin.  As you do, He promises to forgive you and to grant to you the peace that passes all understanding.

The final group within our nation is where most of us reside.  We are not pregnant.  We have not had an abortion.  But we have a choice to make.  Will we stop and listen?  Will we hear #thesilentcry?  Will that silent cry cause us to reevaluate our thoughts, our actions, and our choices?  As we listen to #thesilentcry, will we decide to make the following choice?

“Do to others what you would have them do to you.”  

As we apply the Golden Rule to the life in the womb, may our nation collectively and each of us individually do to the little one yet unborn, what was done to us by our mother and father.

Embrace life.  Reject death.

#thesilentcry

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!  Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”   Psalms 139:13-16

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death… Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your children might live!”  Deuteronomy 30:19

 

Lessons From Jonah.  Are You & I Like Him?

Lessons From Jonah. Are You & I Like Him?

Growing up you no doubt heard the story of Jonah and the whale. You may remember it as a cute little Bible story about a man who was swallowed by a big fish and after he prayed, the whale spewed Jonah out onto dry land. But there’s a whole lot more to the story, and perhaps a critical lesson or two for you and me as well. 

God Calls

In the opening verses of this story, we see God directly informing Jonah of the mission He has for the prophet. However, unlike the movie Mission Impossible, there is no, “your mission, should you chose to accept it…” option. Rather, if God is your Heavenly Father, then He has placed a distinct call upon your life. No child is exempted. And while there may be some common missions that we all share, we all have a unique mission or call from God Himself. 

Running from God

Notice though what Jonah did when God called him:

But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord… hoping to escape from the Lord…” (Jonah 1:3)

Have you ever done what Jonah did… run from God?  We may not physically board a boat, as Jonah did. But we may have a clear understanding as to what God’s mission for us is, yet we chose to set it aside, turn the other way, and we figuratively run from the God of the universe. 

Imagine trying to outrun Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world.  Attempting such would be absurd. Now consider how foolish it is to run from the God of the universe. Infinitely more foolish.  Futile is how we might describe such an effort. 

When Storms Roar

When Jonah ran, we see that God brought a hurricane-like storm into his life, to grab his attention and halt him in his journey to escape from God. 

Invariably when we resist God’s mission for our life, He will bring pressure to bear on us, whether physically, financially, emotionally or spiritually, in order to get our attention and “convince” us of the priority of His call on our life.  But how do we respond when God is clearly speaking to us through the storms of life?

Falling Asleep

Jonah was an interesting fellow. As the ship he was on was being battered about by the hurricane force winds, Jonah literally fell asleep. His apathy towards God, and the others on the ship, was so great that he could care less about the impending disaster that was facing him and his shipmates. 

What about you and me?  Are we so “asleep at the wheel” running from God that we no longer see the danger and threats that are posed towards us and our family, friends or even our fellow citizens?  If so, note what happened next to Jonah. 

Pagans Begging for Prayer

When Jonah’s shipmates were hopeless and feeling their lives were all but lost, they screamed out to Jonah, waking him and begging him to pray for them. They sensed calamity was near and they turned to the God who they themselves had yet to meet. 

There was a moment in our nation when this happened from coast to coast. It was the first few days after 9/11/01. Hundreds of millions of Americans sought for some sense in the midst of our national storm. They could not make sense of the tragedy and they sought out a sleeping church, begging for hope, prayer and understanding. But it did not last long. And sadly, I believe we as believers dropped the ball, going back to sleep as quickly as we were jolted awake. We missed our call, corporately and individually. 

Getting Thrown Overboard

When Jonah realized he was the reason the lives of his fellow travelers were threatened, he pleaded with them to simply throw him overboard. Jonah realized that unless he repented of his disobedience, not only would he die, but the lives of many others would possibly be lost as well. So the sailors, hoping to save themselves, literally threw Jonah overboard. 

And the Storm Stopped  

When we’re running from God, the storms He brings into our lives are meant to redirect us to the mission He has for us. And the storms will continue until we acknowledge to ourselves and possibly even those around us, that our rebellion is the cause of the storm.  Sadly, in order for the storm to stop, oftentimes it requires the threat of our own loss of life. And the unbelievers around us are often all to willing to send us to a murky death. 

The Big Fish

As soon as Jonah hit the water, the great fish swallowed him alive. And Jonah remained there for 3 days and 3 nights. 

If you were drowning in the ocean, the last thing you might expect to save you is a whale-sized fish bearing down on you. But God is mysterious. His ways, thoughts and plans are beyond ours. And so what we may see as a threat, may in fact be our savior. 

When we repent of our own rebellion, at times we may need a prolonged period of reflection, to reevaluate our past, reconsider our choices, and recommit our future to the mission God has for us. Like Jonah in the fish, God may place us in an obscure and even dark place in order to gain our undivided focus. 

Mission Impossible

Once Jonah was back on dry land, after his period of repentance, reflection and recommitment, his face turned toward the mission for which God had called him. The mission was a God-sized one. By himself, Jonah stood no chance in achieving what God had ordained. 

But God…

Whenever you combine those two words, there is no stopping what can happen next. Nineveh, a thriving but pagan metropolis, was facing imminent judgment from God for its utter rejection of God. But when Jonah simply obeyed God and imparted His message, the king of this wicked city repented and led his entire city to do the same. And God relented from destroying thousands. 

When you and I simply obey God and pursue His mission for our lives, there is no predicting the outcome. The potential exists that an entire city could be changed and saved; or a family member might be rescued from the clutches of the enemy; or some other mission. But regardless of the outcome, God will work in you and others His perfect will and plan.  Your purpose will have been fulfilled, and God will receive the glory. 

So, are you Jonah?  Or have you been?  If so, when you’ve exited your dark time of repentance, reflection and recommittment in your “big fish,” turn your face towards God and never turn back. The best is ahead and the worst is behind. And God will sustain you for whatever Impossible Mission He has for you. 

Are you ready?