One of the Two Certainties in Life

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Yep. That’s right. Taxes. By the way, in case you didn’t know or recall, the other certainty is death. But today I’ll talk only about taxes.

April 15 is the traditional deadline for filing Internal Revenue Service Federal Income Tax returns. This year it’s April 17. So if you haven’t done yours yet, it’s time to git ‘er done! Or file for an extension, which allows additional procrastination till October 15. But you can only delay filing your return till then. You’re still legally obligated to pay estimated taxes by April 17.

We often hear people complain about paying taxes. On the one hand, it’s not exactly my favorite duty either. On the other hand, notwithstanding imperfections and abuses, the taxes we pay support the life, safety, and freedom we enjoy in these United States. Compared with life in many other countries of the world, the blessings and benefits we enjoy make filing and payment of taxes worthwhile.

Some of the complaints most often heard have to do with the inefficiency and corruption of tax revenue distribution and expenditure. While some of those perceptions are reality, others are not well founded. The challenge is to discern which is which, a task not easily accomplished by the ordinary U.S. citizen. Accordingly, for example, some simply criticize government entitlement programs in general.

Even Winston Churchill is quoted as having said: “We contend that for a nation to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket trying to lift himself up by the handle.”

Be that as it may, at tax time I’m always reminded of the question asked of Jesus by certain scribes and chief priests in biblical times who were trying to discredit or destroy him: “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Their plot was this. If Jesus said no, he would be considered a rebel by Pontius Pilate, governor (also known as procurator or prefect) of the Roman province of Judaea. If Jesus said yes, he would be accused of supporting the foreign rule under which Jews lived.

The answer Jesus gave, while looking at a Roman coin with the image, most likely, of Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar, was: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

So as you prepare to pay your taxes every year, don’t forget about your duty, privilege, joy, and still tax deductible opportunity (if you itemize your deductions) to “give to God what is God’s.”

That’s the primary reason I’m still working past normal retirement age. Terry and I love to give, joyfully and generously! If you haven’t yet made that discovery, try it. You’ll like it! In a special way, discovering the blessing of joyful generosity prepares a person for both the certainties in life!

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Death and Taxes – Part Two

TaxesAs previously mentioned, it’s often said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. While not generally considered happy topics, a contrarian perspective on each is not to be overlooked. I touched on taxes last week. Here are a few encouraging thoughts about death.

Death is a necessary portal to cross in order to experience life in a much more glorious existence than most can imagine. Although impossible to confirm veracity beyond the shadow of a doubt, testimonies from people who have gone through what is called a “near death experience” (NDE) in a place appearing to be heaven give a glimpse of the eternal life awaiting believers in Christ.

These NDEs occurred when individuals were thought and even in many instances declared to be clinically dead, usually as a result of traumatic injury, drowning, choking, auto accident, etc. In most cases the out of body NDE person saw medical personnel attempting to resuscitate a lifeless body in a hospital or EMS setting. The body ended up being that of the NDE person.

The testimonies of what they saw, felt and experienced during their out of body journey, described in Imaging Heaven by John Burke, are not identical, yet many include these features:

  • Seeing a man with “shoulder-length hair, wearing a robe of brilliant white light down to his ankles, held together by a gold sash, with piercing eyes that see right into your soul, yet also draw you in with a magnetic warmth and love.”
  • People with whole, healthy bodies in place of incomplete or diseased or decrepit ones.
  • A sense of not wanting to leave this wonderful place but being compelled to return.
  • Bright light emanating from heavenly beings recognized as God and his angels.
  • Reunification with family members, both previously known and unknown.
  • Movement unfettered by time, space or obstacle.
  • Indescribably beautiful surroundings.

Adequate written description of these happy yet temporary experiences of life beyond death would be impossible to achieve. Suffice it to say that what these NDEs portray are most likely what St. Paul had in mind when he said “To live is Christ and to die is gain…My desire is to depart [this life] and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Phil. 1:21,23)

Also apropos is the description of St. John’s vision in Revelation 21. He saw a new heaven and a new earth where tears, death, mourning, crying and pain no longer exist, with the holy city of Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel…clear as crystal.” (Rev. 21: The city he saw was pure gold. Its foundations were adorned with every kind of jewel. It needs no sun or moon for the glory of God gives it light.

No wonder those who experienced NDEs truly wanted to stay, not just visit a while in heaven. Their descriptions of heaven make death an experience not to fear but joyfully to anticipate!

Death and Taxes – Part One

Tax ReturnIt is often said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. While not generally considered happy topics, a contrarian perspective on each is not to be overlooked. Since today is one day prior to the traditional deadline for filing U.S. Federal Income Tax returns, I thought it appropriate to touch first on this topic. Next week I’ll share some thoughts about death.

Most people are not happy to see April 15 approach. It’s not a lot of fun to face the responsibility of pulling together all the documents, records and receipts necessary for completing a tax return. Those include numerous forms familiar to most of us (1040, W-2, 1099, Schedules A and B) and a whole bunch of additional forms about which many folks never have to worry.

After compiling such documents, the next step is inserting in the proper space on the proper form the numbers contained therein. Some tackle that project themselves. Those who do so may use an electronic aid, such as Turbo Tax or a similar product. Others do it all by themselves.

The rest simply put in a box or bag all the documents they can find and take them to their friendly accountant, happily paying his/her fee to do the rest. Filing an extension (and paying the balance due) or signing the timely form completes that part of the process.

The final step is either enclosing a check for the balance of taxes due or looking forward to a refund from the United States Treasury of the amount in which estimated tax payments have exceeded the actual tax liability. The former is not a pleasant task. The latter is a happier one.

While many are also required to pay a state income tax, we who live in Texas and some other places are seemingly blessed by not having that requirement. Nevertheless, onerous real estate taxes in non-state-income tax states tend to suck away some of the joy of that privilege.

We in America are currently blessed to be able to deduct from our taxable income the amount of our contributions to church or charitable organizations and entities. Like many of you, Terry and I joyfully and generously make many such contributions, which accomplish the dual purpose of furthering the mission of worthy causes and of reducing our tax liability.

What’s the bottom line? For all its pain and pleasure, paying taxes is both a privilege and a responsibility. Jesus said: “Give to Caesar (the government) what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” (Matt. 22:21, NLT)

For what we give to Caesar, we receive the privileges of living in a country that provides and defends many freedoms and protects life, property and possessions. For what we give to God, we receive the joy of happily returning to him a portion of everything he provides for us.

Perhaps these thoughts will ease the pain of April 15 in your life! Call for additional suggestions.