Monday, April 12, 2010

Life's Sure Things

I bought a large Sonic drink the other day at the Sonic just across the bridge on Airport Road. It cost me two bucks. And I smiled because when I buy that same drink in town it costs me two bucks and ten cents. Why the difference? Tax. Hot Springs has this tourist and entertainment tax in the city limits. And what a tax! Ten cents difference against a two dollar drink. As I handed the car-hop my two bucks, guess what song was cranking on my mp3 player: Taxman by the Beatles. Well, not really—I made that part up. But I did think about that song. George Harrison wrote the lyrics. Here are some of the words:

Let me tell you how it will be:
There’s one for you, nineteen for me
‘Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

Should five percent appear too small,
Be thankful I don’t take it all,
‘Cause I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

If you drive a car I’ll tax the street.
If you try to sit I’ll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I’ll tax your heat.
If you take a walk I’ll tax your feet.

If you get a head I’ll tax your hat.
If you get a pet I’ll tax your cat.
If you wipe your feet I’ll tax your mat.
If you’re overweight I’ll tax your fat.

And you’re working for no one but me.
Yes, I’m the taxman,
Yeah, I’m the taxman.

It’s tax time. (Honestly, it’s always tax time in the USA, but you know what I mean.) Unless you file for an extension, the United States government is expecting an accounting of your finances for the year 2009 no later than April 15—just a couple of days from now. And even if you get an extension, sooner of later you still have to settle things with the taxman. Nobody much likes it. Everybody I know (who doesn’t work for the government) feels like we are taxed too much. And with the deluge of red ink on our government’s books in addition to billions of dollars in proposed new spending, it’s hard to imagine taxes not going up. Some wonder if it will finally get to the point where the old joke about the new simplified tax form will cease being a joke and start becoming reality. You remember that joke? The new simplified tax form has only two lines—Line 1: What did you make? Line 2: Send it in. “And you’re working for no one but me. Yeah, I’m the taxman.” Thank you, George Harrison—musician, composer, and prophet.

Taxes are nothing new, you know. Pretty much every society in history has had some form of taxation. The Bible doesn’t say a whole lot about taxes really. It just seems to assume that taxes are a reality of life in this world. Once some lawyers asked Jesus a question: “Master, is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” It was a trick question; it was like cheese in a mousetrap and Jesus was the mouse. Any way Jesus answered it He was going to offend somebody … well any way but the way He answered it. Jesus asked to see a coin. One of the lawyers reached in his pocket and produced one. “Whose picture is on the coin?” Jesus asked.

“Caesar’s,” the lawyer replied.

“Then what’s the problem?” asked Jesus. “Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give God what belongs to God.” Here was Jesus’ big chance to pontificate on the subject of taxation, and instead of doing that, He basically said, “Pay your taxes to Caesar because your money is stamped with Caesar’s image, but give God your whole life because your life is stamped with God’s image.” That’s Jesus’ take.

And Paul isn’t much help either for those who want to build some kind of Bible case against taxes. In Romans 13 he writes that if you owe taxes you need to pay up. The authorities in place are God’s servants whether you like them or not, agree with them or not. Gripe if you want. Try to change the system if that lights your fire. But here’s the bottom-line when it comes to the Bible’s take on taxes: pay up or face the consequences. It seems the old saying is spot on: taxes are one of life’s sure things.

And death is the other. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that in my life: “John, there are only two sure things in life: death and taxes.” What’s interesting is that some of us spend more time discussing and prepping for taxes than we do getting ready for death. Both are forms of accounting. Taxes are a kind of temporal accounting; death is an eternal accounting. And when it comes to this eternal accounting there are no refunds, no lawyers to plead your case, no chance of getting the ruling reversed. God does the judging and He has all the facts. God already knows where all your receipts are and what they say. God knows your deeds, your thoughts, your words. And God will hold you accountable for them too.

This would be discouraging and frightening if not for one thing: Jesus. Because God loves us and because He knows that death is one of life’s sure things, God has done something about our death problem. He sent His only Son Jesus. Jesus left the glories of heaven to become flesh. He lived a human life. He was tempted in all ways just as we are but He never sinned. And because He didn’t have any sin of His own, He could bear our sin in His body on the cross. So if you’ll trust that what Jesus did on the cross He did for you, God will put your sin on Jesus’ account, clear your account, and save you from sin’s penalty and power. As Paul put it to the Corinthians, “He who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God.” Sounds sort of like God was cooking the books in our favor, huh? Well, God loves us and is determined to save us if we’ll open our hearts to Him. That means we no longer have to fear death because it gives way to eternal life. We’ll still give an accounting of our lives, but hell is no longer in the balance. Our Advocate (dare I say Lawyer) Jesus has saved us from that fate through the mercies of God.

When you know Jesus has taken care of life’s sure thing called death, you can face your death with hope and confidence. I still remember telling Ed McWha, emaciated with cancer, what was in store for him in heaven, and do you know what he did? He raised his stick-arm and with what little strength he had left, said, “Wooohooo!” And when my Uncle Doc was told he probably had a few days unless he tried this special kind of treatment which may or may not help, he said, “I’m an old man. God has given me a good life. I know where I’m going and I intend to die with a smile on my face.” I don’t know if Uncle Doc ever smiled at tax time, but he sure did at death time. Why? Because He knew Jesus had made accounting for Him.

So there are two sure things in life: death and taxes. Neither one we look forward to but both we can be prepared for. So get a good accountant for your taxes. And trust the crucified, resurrected Jesus for your death. With April 15 just a couple of days away, I hope you’re prepared for tax day. And since you never know what day death is going to come for his accounting, I encourage you to get prepared for that day today.


  1. Well said my friend. Thank you for loving enough to tell the truth- and you do it with words that come alive and always point me to Christ

  2. This had special meaning for me pastor; but on a lighter note: Isn't it awesome that upon daily reconciliation: God is forgiving - but auditors are relentless !
    Love this - and finally read April fools this morning .....good one !

  3. Thanks, Mike and Lori, for reading and for your kind words.