Can You Pay The Taxes Due?

(24) “When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax [the Temple tax; collected each year from every male over the age of 20**] came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” (25) He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” (26) When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt.” – Matthew 17:24‭-‬26 NASB

** “When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them.” – Exodus 30:12 NASB **

These verses tell us some incredible truths.

Jesus knows everything; He is Omniscient. He is the silent listener to every conversation. He spoke, before Peter had a chance to tell Him of the encounter. He already knew about it! He not only knows all, but He is in control of all, and He cares down to the tiniest details. In verse 25, He asks Peter for his opinion, just as He is always listening to ours.

Jesus is the Son of God, Ruler, King, and Head of the Church. He owns everything. Malachi 3:1b says “And the Lord, Whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the Messenger of the Covenant, in Whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts.” – Malachi 3:1 NASB

He already owns the Temple, so why should He pay this tax? He was exempt! Instead of arguing with the tax collectors, Jesus shows us His humility. He paid the tax to avoid offending the tax collectors. It is a wonderful example that He gives us, to forego His rights for the sake of others. The Jews paid ransom money (the Temple tax) as a substitute to going to Jerusalem and working in the Temple, and they paid the priests through their offerings to be sacrificed as the ransom for their sins. We’re exempt! Jesus pays the ransom for Peter here, just as He pays the ransom for us. We owe a ransom to God for our sin, but we are spiritually destitute. We can’t pay the taxes due – so Jesus paid it for us. JESUS pays all; He ransoms all, so we no longer need to!

“For there is ONE God, and ONE Mediator also between GOD and men, the man CHRIST JESUS, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.” – 1 Timothy 2:5‭-‬6 NASB

That’s the BEST News ever!

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Trust and Obey

I remember standing in church as a child and a youth, singing Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, than to Trust and Obey. I believed it; I knew, deep in my heart, the profound Truth in the words. I knew Solomon was right when he wrote this proverb:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5‭-‬6 NASB

Even then, knowing what I knew, I didn’t let myself completely trust God, especially once I hit the teen years. I began to believe the enemy’s lies. I viewed myself as unlovable – not pretty enough, or popular enough. My body didn’t look good enough. I wasn’t as smart as my older sister or good enough to be part of my brother’s life. My voice wasn’t as clear as I thought it should be, and my range was too limited. I wasn’t one of the ‘popular’ girls. I hated that I was so painfully, excruciatingly shy, and that I wasn’t strong enough to overcome it.

The enemy was winning that battle, and I gave up; surrendered to him for years. As in Ezekiel’s time, I became like the dry bones:

“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry.” – Ezekiel 37:1-2 NASB

My God is stronger than our enemy!

“Thus says the Lord God to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the Lord .'” – Ezekiel 37:5‭-‬6 NASB

“And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” – Isaiah 58:11 NASB

I learned over the years that Isaiah was right, too! The world we live in is like the velley Ezekiel was in, full of the dry bones of people who don’t know the goodness of the LORD; who haven’t received His Mercy and His Grace. Testify of the Goodness of the Lord! Expose the enemy for what he is: deceiver, manipulator, the Father of Lies. We may lose a skirmish, but the war has been won. The battle belongs to the LORD…… and the enemy knows it!

“….. for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands.” – 1 Samuel 17:47 NASB

AMEN!

Count It All Joy

This passage from James has never been one of my favorites.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the Word of Truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” – JAMES 1:2‭-‬3‭, ‬12‭-‬15‭, ‬17‭-‬18 NASB

I don’t want to hear that I can’t blame my sin on someone – or some thing – other than myself! Yet James said it clearly: “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.I can’t say “the devil made me do it”? I mean, he introduced sin into the world, right? He’s the reason Eve, and Adam, sinned! No, that is flawed. The devil – Satan, the Evil One – did bring in the idea of sin, but we are the ones who choose it over what we know is right. Here’s the thing. Even though we have free will and it is our choice to sin, the LORD in His wisdom gives us a way to circumvent our lack of judgement. Not our free will, but our lack of judgement, our lack of wisdom. The LORD never takes away our free will!

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” – JAMES 1:5 NASB

I almost think that James should have written it this way: “But as we all lack wisdom, let us all ask of God ….”

LORD, I ask for Your wisdom, because I know first-hand how flawed my own thinking is, having experienced the consequences of it. I ask for the faith to not doubt You and to wholly submit myself to Your desires over mine. Amen.

(https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Thinker-sculpture-by-Rodin)

Leading to the Cross

On the Tuesday before Easter Sunday, “Good” Friday looms and our focus is on the suffering of Jesus and the Cross. He has just entered into Jerusalem in triumph; the people welcoming Him with jubilation and celebration, thinking that He is going to take over the government of Judea and become their new king on earth. Such excitement runs among them! What thoughts must have been running through Jesus’ mind? I hope He was able to soak up the adoration and love, in preparation of the ordeal He knew He was facing. He knew His central purpose was to die as the sacrifice for our sins. He didn’t deserve to die – unlike the rest of humankind, Jesus never once in His life on earth committed any sin. Never once; not one. His death on the cross is, without doubt, the worst injustice ever done or to be done in all of earth’s history. This passage describes Jesus’ life beautifully.

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of GOD, for it is written, “vengeance is mine , I will repay,” says the LORD.” – ROMANS 12:17‭-‬19 NASB

Jesus could have easily retaliated against the soldiers who beat and mocked Him, and He could have punished the Jewish leaders for their unjust treatment of Him. Legions of angels – His Angel Army – were just waiting on a single word from Him to swoop in and rescue Him! Jesus knows His Father, and He trusted in GOD for ultimate justice and revenge. Peter reminds us of our calling as followers of Christ Jesus in this passage he wrote to followers living a far distance from Rome as they were being mocked and harassed for their faith (much as we are today).

“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth ; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” – 1 PETER 2:21‭-‬25 NASB

By His woundsall of His suffering was inflicted on the Son of GOD, endured by the only perfect, sinless man for the sin and the sickness of our souls. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of GOD in Him.” – 2 CORINTHIANS 5:21 NASB Jesus is our Guardian, our Overseer; He is watching over us constantly from heaven, and He left us with His Holy Spirit so that we are never alone.

Do I resemble Christ when I am mistreated? Have you accepted what Jesus did for you – and me – on the cross?

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” – 2 CORINTHIANS 5:20‭ NASB

“My fear doesn’t stand a chance when I’m standing in Your Love!” Thank you, Bethel Music, for this fabulous song, and K-LOVE Radio for playing it!!

A New Heart

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart [Hebrew a heart of flesh] And I will put My Spirit in you so that you will follow My Decrees and be careful to obey My Regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:26 NLT

GOD promised the Israelites a new heart and a new spirit, and that the Spirit would be in them to help them follow His decrees and regulations. Sound familiar? He promised this to His people, the people closest the His heart, hundreds of years before He sent His Son to earth to save all people.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” And again He says: “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” – John 3:3‭, ‬5‭-‬8 NLT

GOD showed Himself to the Israelites many times over the centuries. He started by walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden, and He appeared through signs and miracles such as the burning bush, and pillars of fire and cloud that led the Israelites through the wilderness. He was in His Tabernacle in His Shechinah Glory [literally, His Presence], but the people still wandered away from Him and moved to idols and other gods…..

“For we live by believing and not by seeing.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7 NLT

We will see Christ, the Living LORD, when our physical bodies die, but the Israelites had Him there; His physical presence in the Tabernacle, and still couldn’t see Him. Blinded by the enemy, just as so many of us are today.

“For God made Christ, Who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

LORD, grant me a new heart and a new spirit today. Grant me a tender, responsive heart and fill me with Your Spirit in order to follow Your Desires and Your Will. Amen.

WHY Is This Happening? Why Me?

Have you ever found yourself looking at someone who has had something bad happen to them, and thinking that it’s their fault; it’s because of their actions? I have, I’m guilty …. I have judged more than once, and I’m certain to do it again – and if you try to say you have never had that thought, I will call you out as a liar. Bad things happen to bad people, right? If we are “good,” somehow we will be spared? Try telling that to the elderly woman who was battered and raped and robbed. Tell it to the child who lost their family in a fire. Tell that to the hundreds of thousands who have been through devastating storms and fires and earthquakes; volcano eruptions and floods and tsunamis; tell it to people who have lost every material thing they own, along with family members who are killed. Sure, there are bad people among them, but many of those people were what we would consider ‘good.’

Do we, as the human race, deserve all the bad that happens to us and around us? Oh, friend, we absolutely deserve all of the bad! Are we the ‘better person(s)’ because we were spared? Not at all. JESUS answers the question of whether people who are ‘bad,’ the sinners and the offenders, are the only ones who suffer. We need to take heed of His Words:

“At that very time there were some present who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” ” – Luke 13:1‭-‬5 MRS

In fact, Satan (GOD’s nemesis, the enemy of mankind and all of the angelic beings) delights in tormenting the innocent and the defenseless; especially those who are at the mercy of others. He delights in torment, no matter how good or kind the person might be, and he especially takes pleasure in causing pain to all of GOD’s creation, maiming and disfiguring and hurting.

Because Adam and Eve chose to follow the guiles of the enemy, turning their backs on the ALMIGHTY GOD, simply to sample the forbidden fruit in the Garden…. the ONE tree they were to leave untouched out of all the bounty and beauty of the Garden. It lies in our perversity, our determination to do things our way rather than GOD’s way, that opens the door to let the enemy ceate havoc in our lives and in our world. Why does GOD allow it? I confess to not really understanding the ‘why’s’ and ‘wherefores,’ but I do know this:

Paul writes: “For many live as enemies of the Cross of CHRIST; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a SAVIOR, the LORD JESUS CHRIST. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of His Glory, by the Power that also enables Him to make all things subject to Himself.” – Philippians 3:18‭-‬21 NRSV

Paul’s words were true when he wrote them, and they are true 10x or 100x or 1000x today! Regardless of the damage that may be done to my body, or the loss of all my earthly goods, man – indeed, Satan himself, cannot destroy my soul. Jesus assures me of this:

“Who will separate us from the Love of CHRIST? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the LOVE of GOD in CHRIST JESUS our LORD.” – Romans 8:35‭, ‬38‭-‬39 NRSV

Man may hurt and kill my physical body, but I am not afraid. For I know that no one, nothing, can kill my soul. My LORD has my heart in His very capable Hands!

Image: “Heart or Hand” by Shamieka Dean http://www.shamiekadean.com/hand-or-heart/

‘Perfect’ Christians

Perfect Christians don’t exist, nor do perfect churches, and anyone who tries to say differently is a liar and possibly a fool.

But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to His [JESUS’] disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” JESUS answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:30‭-‬32 NIV

Do you find a sense of relief in this passage? I do! Knowing that JESUS came for me, the bruised and the broken, full of faults and cracks, it’s amazing, …. and unbelievable??? Why would the King of Heaven, Who created this amazing universe, care about an insignificant being like me? I say inappropriate things, I want to be the center of attention, I keep getting involved with men who just want to use me. I’m selfish and self centered. All these faults, and JESUS Loves me??? I used to be one of those people who thought that I had to be perfect for GOD to Love me. You know, wear the ‘right’ clothes, act the ‘right’ ways, don’t smoke or drink or curse or dance. Be in church for Sunday school and training union (Sunday evening classes) and services, and Wednesday prayer meetings. I was pretty self-righteous and judgemental, and it can still creep up on me at times – I have to be on guard against it.

There’s a song from Hilary Scott (of the group Lady Antebellum) called “Thy Will” that seems so appropriate for me – and probably many others – right now. Here’s the first verse:

I’m so confused
I know I heard you loud and clear
So, I followed through
Somehow I ended up here
I don’t wanna think
I may never understand
That my broken heart is a part of your plan
When I try to pray
All I’ve got is hurt and these four words

Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done

Sound like anything you’ve been through, like feelings you’ve felt, thoughts you’ve had? Then I follow it with this beautiful song by Lauren Dagle, who sings from her heart:

I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?
Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know

Taking all I have and now I’m laying it at Your feet
You have every failure God, and You’ll have every victory,

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh You say that I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
I believe

I think that sometimes we think, we believe we are following GOD’s Will, but maybe it becomes more what we want more than what He wills for us, and maybe, sometimes, it is His Will that we go through the hard time so that we remember that He is GOD, not me or you. I don’t like being told I’m wrong, or that what I’ve done wasn’t correct, and I’ve never liked being called out or disciplined. It makes me bristle and want to argue, to show that I was right, dadgummit, even when it’s the LORD GOD Who is doing the discipling! Really, do I honestly think the CREATOR is wrong? Yeah, oops. I think it’s pretty obvious that I am far, far from perfect! But, perfection – and perfectionism – aside, the GLORIOUS Truth is that our GOD, our LORD and KING of Heaven, LOVES me, Loves us, anyway! He Loves us through our imperfections and our brokenness, He Loves us regardless of our silliness and stubbornness – HALLELUJAH! Remember what JESUS said: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

I thank my GOD every day for the gift of His Salvation, even when I’m felling down because of the situation! Can you say the same? Oh, I pray that you can! All the brokenness, all the junk and bad times probably won’t meticulously change for the better, although our LORD can do anything, especially the things that we see as impossible.

This is what God says to us, and whispers in our ear: