Feb21WedFebruary 21, 2018
Benjamin Franklin is quoted to have said that the only two certainties in life are “death and taxes.” Even though he missed the certainly of God’s grace, he is right about those two elements. In fact, both death and taxes were the subject of an Everence Workshop that my wife and I attended, with Pastor Tom on Friday. The day was dedicated to articulate the unique tax laws for churches and for clergy. We were also encouraged to do some long-term, estate planning (retirement, wills, life insurance, etc.).
For my wife, who makes budgets in her spare time, this was an enthralling time. For me, who glazes over when I hear of concepts like dividends and 403b plans…well let’s just say that I was grateful that Janice was there! For even if I struggle to comprehend every financial concept, planning for the reality of annual taxes and the certainty of death are necessary conversations to have.
It can be very easy for people, including Christians, to shy away from conversations about taxes, finances or death for a variety of reasons. Yet Jesus invites his disciples to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21), to serve God over money (Luke 16:13), to manage our resources well (Luke 12:48) and not to fear the reality of death (John 11:25-26). None of this is possible without the work of the Holy Spirit within the believer. But that doesn’t mean that Christians automatically know how to manage wealth properly or aren’t uncomfortable thinking about death.
The fragility of life is something which the Bible encourages us to think about. Both the Apostle James and the Apostle Peter quoted from Isaiah 40:6 in their epistles – describing humans as grass which withers and fades. James adds the analogy that our physical lives are only “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14).
Although Anabaptists typically do not overemphasize ‘Ash Wednesday’ or ‘Lent,’ it is within this season of the calendar year that Christians around the world remember that “to the dust we shall return” (Genesis 3:19b). Among some Christian traditions, the spreading of ashes on the forehead last Wednesday communicated that message. Death is certain for me…and for you.
Not only are we in the season of Lent, but this week millions of Christians around the world are both grieving and celebrating the life and work of the Reverend Billy Graham. The unwavering witness and faithful integrity of this Christian man, husband, father, author and evangelist is a tremendous testimony to Kingdom of God. Throughout the course of his work, Billy Graham professed the need to be 'be ready' for death. "One of the primary goals in life...should be to prepare for death. Everything else should be secondary" ('Billy Graham in Quotes', Thomas Nelson Inc., 2011).
No religion in the world gives peace to the soul when facing the mirror of morality. Many hope that they have been good 'enough' to enter Heaven via good works. Others hope to have appealed to God’s mercy by rigorous self-denial. Others hope that there is simply nothing beyond this world.
However, Christians are set apart from the rest of humanity. For we approach this difficult subject by proclaiming that, “Jesus died for all who trust Him.” Subsequently,He rose from the grave “never to die again, for death no longer has dominion over him!” Therefore, “we believe that we will also live with him” (Romans 6:8-10). Death has been swallowed up in victory for those who are in Christ! (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).
Therefore, thinking about death is a way to focus on Christ! To this point, Billy Graham also said, "...the way we view death determines, to a surprising degree, the way we live our lives" ('Death and the Life After', Thomas Nelson Inc., 1994). That may sound backwards, but within this perspective one can receive great and Godly wisdom.
As we all orient ourselves towards Easter, remember that you also can celebrate the resurrection of Jesus every day! Yes, the sting of death is there temporarily, but death’s victory is gone. The living Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25).
So if you haven’t had conversations about your will or planned your estate, or considered the destination of your soul, I invite you to join my family as we journey there. I may still be intimidated about taxes and finances, but I am no longer intimidated about death. Neither was Billy Graham. How about you?