Mar 23, 2009

40 day journey: auditing your faith

It's tax season, which means many people right now are wondering if they will get money or have to give money to the government. Many try to do this on their own, using TurboTax or some other manual method to calculate the situation. Others take it to an expert and watch the clock, waiting for that phone call or email with the news.

This tax matter has always been a tricky season for us as a family. Maybe that's a bit too personal, but it is what it is. Most people don't know that the average pastor often is categoried differently in terms of employment. If we lose our job for some reason, there is no unemployment fund we can draw from because working for a religious, non-profit organization creates a sticky relationship with the government.

I remember my first "full-time" ministry role (note the quotes, because there's no such thing as a "part-time" ministry role that a person puts "part-time" effort into, but that's a tangent point). When I was sitting down with that church accountant for the great new adventure I was about to embark on, he shared how I wouldn't be a standard employee but rather an "independent contractor."

That sounded cool... like I'd be hanging out in the local underground with Hannibal, Face, Murock, and B.A. Baracus.

What it meant, though, was that I would have to keep track of my own financial details. The church set up an account for me to put extra money aside, which we did. Unfortunately it ended up not being enough and so that year my wife and I got slammed with a $2000 tax bill.

I know, I know... crazy, right? The real fun was that I was hired in half way through the year and so the next full year it was double that. $4000. I should have seen that coming, but I didn't.

Good times... good times.

Over the years we've learned to prepare for this season better by ensuring there is some healthy system in place between us and the church. Most of that is thanks to God providing a rather fantastic accountant who blesses us with her services each year, allowing us to get out of that hole and into a better groove.

I've been thinking about how this is true for us in other ways. Tax time is when you have to face your choices from the past year and figure out where you came ahead and where you fell short. Sometimes the conclusion is positive, and sometimes it's negative.

But it's also more than that - it requires an actual action step.

Like I said in the previous post, it's one thing to acknowledge God's ideas as good ideas. But practicing them is where the real audit happens. Just like you can't tell the IRS you won't follow through on what is expected, we can't ignore God by saying, "I know I'm supposed to be responsible for _______, but I'd rather _________."

At times they even go together. I love listening to Christian radio shows where someone calls in and asks, "If I get a refund back to I need to tithe on it?"

Sometimes I wonder if God laughs or cries at the questions we ask.

So... does God want you to _______? Well, if He asked you to do it, then do it.

And don't do it as a checkmark. If you see it's a pattern that is causing you to fall short with Him on a regular basis, begin to allow new patterns and structures into your life so that the situation can turn around.

Like tax season can make us aware of our spending habits, so can the Holy Spirit of God and His Word show us what is happening (or isn't happening) between us and God.

Don't run from that audit... it will lead you straight to the cross, which reminds you that Jesus Himself has stepped in to pay that debt on your behalf.

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

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