Sunday Morning Greek Blog

November 5, 2015

Jesus, the Bible, Taxes, and Charity: Part 2

Filed under: Acts,Biblical Studies — Scott Stocking @ 8:58 pm
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In the previous post, we looked at how the greedy heir of Solomon wanted to impose even greater financial burden on the people of Israel, wealthy and poor alike. In fact, if Israel was working the way it was supposed to, there would be very few poor, if any in Israel. Deuteronomy 15 talks about the “year of cancelling debts,” which was to happen every seven years. Anyone who has ever felt the burden of great debt knows how that weighs on the soul and drains the livelihood out of life. Fortunately, our society has a mechanism to allow this freedom from debt: bankruptcy. Some Christians might say it’s a sin to not pay off your debts, but I believe God understood human nature well enough even in the days before MasterCard to establish a means for that kind of freedom.

Aiding the Poor, Old Testament Style

Care for the poor has always been the responsibility of the people of God. It was virtually unheard of that a government in biblical times would have considered the kind of wealth redistribution we practice in America today. As early as Leviticus 19, God was commanding the Israelite people, NOT the rulers, to make accommodations for the poor. “Do not reap the very edges of your field” (v. 9); “Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner” (v. 10); “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them…[They] must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (vv. 33–34). (“Foreigners in the land” is quite different from illegal aliens today, but that will have to wait for another post.)

The Psalms and Proverbs are full of blessings for the poor and warnings about oppressing or mistreating them. There are even verses about God defending the cause of the poor and the orphans. But never once in Scripture will you find God or the biblical writers ever encouraging political leaders to extract money from the rich to give to the poor. Meeting the needs of the poor is always a voluntary compassionate effort. Wealth redistribution, on the other hand, is neither voluntary nor compassionate, unless you consider those who could be working to be voluntarily unemployed!

Aiding the Poor, New Testament Style

When we get to Acts in the New Testament, we see almost immediately a community that voluntarily shares their possessions or sells them to meet the needs of their newfound family of faith. Acts 2:44–45 says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” No taxation, no big brother government taking from the rich, keeping their own cut, then redistributing to the poor. It was a self-sustained community. Acts 4 continues the theme. In fact, they took the voluntary nature of giving so seriously, that when Ananias and Sapphira sold a field and lied to God about having given the entire sale price, they were struck dead! Peter even asks Ananias the question he never got to answer: “Wasn’t the money at your disposal?” (Acts 5:4).

The seriousness with which the young church handled charity is further seen in Acts 6. There was a complaint that the Greek Jewish widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. (Widows were an especially vulnerable demographic group, because family, if they were nearby, were their only means of support otherwise.) The disciples recognized the Old Testament principles discussed above and chose seven men of character and integrity to oversee the distribution.

But as far as charity goes in the New Testament, freeloaders need not apply. Paul is very clear about his attitude toward those who can work but don’t, even to the point of implying that they are thieves. “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need” (Ephesians 4:28); “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10b; 3:6–14 is an extended warning about idleness). Even Paul himself worked at his own trade to pay his own way as he ministered across the northern Mediterranean region.

The Lesson for Today

Taking charity out of the hands of a bloated, corrupt government and reenergizing the church to fulfill its biblical calling to care for the poor is the absolute best thing we can do to fight poverty in our nation. The local church can do a much better job of weeding out frauds and phonies than the government ever will do. Here’s something to chew on: Medicare and Medicaid are number 1 and 3 when it comes to improper payments for government programs. Medicaid’s 2014 overpayments were $17.5 billion (that’s billion, with a b); NASA’s 2014 budget was $17.6 billion! And Medicare’s improper payments were beyond the reach of NASA: almost $46 billion.

Much of that is fraud and abuse, but even with program integrity efforts, it’s difficult to keep up with all the schemes perpetrated out there. But improper payments also reflect payments made that technically should not have been made because of honest human error, that is, someone didn’t dot their I’s and cross their T’s. Medicare and Medicaid regulations are about as thick as, if not thicker than, the tax code! So some providers who make an honest attempt help the poor and needy by accepting Medicare and Medicaid patients wind up losing money on the deal because it’s so hard to keep up with the ever-changing regulatory climate and the 55,000 new ICD-10 codes! Handling these things on the local level helps deal with fraud and abuse much more efficiently, because hopefully you know the people in your community.

Food banks, food pantries, and local shelters and “soup kitchens” run by the church or other charitable groups have the potential to be far more efficient than a government-run welfare program. I’ve seen many churches and religious groups get very creative in the things they do to help the poor and needy. You can find ministries that do everything from providing food and shelter to job training to medical care and legal services. And in some cases, big brother Government has stepped in and squelched their generosity by imposing a bunch of needless regulations and rules. The government that’s supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people has become a self-perpetuating behemoth swallowing up the people. It’s time for the church to rise up and reclaim the biblical principles of charity. Let’s show the world we’re not afraid of the politically correct bullies.

Scott Stocking

The views expressed in my blog are my own. Period.

November 2, 2015

Jesus, the Bible, Taxes, and Charity, Part 1

Filed under: Biblical Studies — Scott Stocking @ 8:55 pm
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The Pope’s September visit to America had the liberal media all a-buzz, focusing on such things as his appeal to address nonexistent global warming. So much for his infallibility. The media and liberal establishment try to justify the ever-burgeoning Welfare State of America by suggesting that those who work hard for their pay have to hand it over to those who don’t work but can. The ignorance about the Bible and what charity really means is really quite disgusting for those of us who’ve been educated on the matter, and even for those who paid attention to Sunday school growing up.

Rehoboam’s Rejection of Rationality

David and his son Solomon worked tirelessly to establish the new kingdom of Israel. David was the warrior who conquered the enemies of Israel. Solomon was the builder who established the infrastructure in Israel. Solomon put a heavy burden on Israel to build that infrastructure, but the people shared his vision, and willingly gave to see the Temple built as a “home” for their God.

But when Solomon died, his son Rehoboam had a decision to make. The Israelites came to him seeking relief from the heavy burden under Solomon, primarily because Solomon had amassed the most wealth of anyone before him from any place on the earth, and probably since, at least until American capitalism came on the scene. The message the people brought to Rehoboam is found in 1 Kings 12:4:

Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.

Rehoboam took three days to decide. The elders of Israel saw the wisdom of providing tax relief to the people, but Rehoboam listened to his young friends who had no clue what it took to run a country, and only saw the opportunity to try to make money by continuing the status quo under Solomon: heavy taxes and forced labor. His friends’ suggestion was to tell the Israelites:

My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist.

Yeah, thanks, Rehoboam. His response to the people three days later sounds like the liberal’s rant against the rich:

My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.

Now if you think this is a travesty, you’re right. The people who came to Rehoboam would have been those who had some degree of wealth and influence. If there were any poor in Israel at this time, given the wealth of the nation, there weren’t many. The modern welfare state that forcibly takes the people’s money (through taxes) and redistributes it to others would have been abhorrent to Israel. The idea of such heavy taxation, regardless of who the subjects were or how much wealth they had, was exactly the kind of problem God warned Israel about when they demanded a kingdom (1 Samuel 8). In other words, heavy taxation was and is a sin.

Rehoboam’s action earned the people’s disfavor. They killed Rehoboam’s man in charge of forced labor, and Rehoboam barely escaped with his life. Rehoboam’s desire to increase the tax burden on Israel caused a civil war as well. I sense a history lesson waiting to be ignored.

The Lesson for Today

Rehoboam continued to place a heavy tax burden on Israel so he and his cronies could prosper off the people. This really isn’t much different today, especially when the socialist, liberal left insist on taxing everything that lives and breathes in any way possible. The bailout in 2008 of companies “too big to fail” was a farce. GM got a huge chunk of change, then had to recall thousands of vehicles they had made at that time. Obviously there’s no accounting for quality there with the people’s money.

Then there’s the whole debacle with Healthcare.gov, the system set up for people to enroll in a healthcare plan with a kickback. One recent report documents the lack of qualifications of CMS employees to serve as contracting officers and the lack of quality controls that give new meaning to the term “snafu.” I work for a Federal contractor, so I know all about our monthly status reports and providing deliverables on time and on budget. Yet neither the major contractor, CGI Federal (their contract was worth over $250 million), nor CMS could prove they’d delivered or received, respectively, the quality assurance surveillance plan. It’s not much of a leap to assume that the lack of such a plan was a major reason why Healthcare.gov had such a pathetic kickoff. The improprieties of the whole process are too numerous to list here, but the report makes for good, but disturbing, reading for those who think the government spends way too much of their money. For more disturbing reading, check out this report.

There’s no excuse for the poor quality Americans got for their money. The system may be working now, but there are other problems that I’ll delve into later, especially the questionable practice of offering kickbacks to folks who buy their insurance through the marketplace. More on that in Part II. The American tax system is so bloated that it’s an insult to the faith of millions to suggest we should be taxed more to continually prop up and expand the Welfare State, and then suggest that’s the “Christian” thing to do. The founding fathers are rolling over in their graves. I even hear Thomas Paine scratching on his coffin to remind people we’re close to coming full circle back to 1776.

The preamble to the U.S. Constitution says to “promote the general welfare” of this nation. But we’ve certainly turned that on its head. We’re promoting the specific welfare of Democrat cronies and those who refuse to work or have given up all hope of work and change for the better in the dreadful Obama economy.

Scott Stocking

May 12, 2015

Why SCOTUS Should Favor King in King v. Burwell

Filed under: Greek — Scott Stocking @ 5:40 am
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I feel very strongly that, as Christians, we need to take an active roll in our government. That’s why I’m going to hijack my own blog for political purposes.
If you’ve been watching the news at all, you have probably heard about King v. Burwell, the case before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) regarding whether the health insurance exchanges mandated by the Affordable Care Act can qualify for tax credits if they weren’t “established by the State” (42 USC 1396A(gg)).
At question is the definition of “State” in the law. The Affordable Care Act allows the Federal government (through the Secretary of HHS) to establish a State Exchange if States fail to do so themselves. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act allows a credit or refund of part of the premium for those who purchased insurance through the Exchanges, but only if the Exchange was  “established by the State.” The issue is that, in the 34 States that did not establish their own exchange, the Federal government issued these credits when they shouldn’t have. In its brief to the Supreme Court, the US government argues that, under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, they essentially acted as a surrogate of the State when they established federally run Exchanges. The Feds also argue that “established by the State” is a “term of art,” a construction that was intended to be understood as “by the Federal government for the State.”
The problem is that the Affordable Care Act throughout makes frequent distinctions between the role of the Feds vs. the role of the State. Add to that the fact that the Affordable Care Act itself directs readers to the definition of “State” intended for the law (sec 1551, codified at 42 USC 18111, which refers to 42 USC 300gg-91). At paragraph 14 of 42 USC 300gg-91, we find the following definition of “State”:

“The term ‘State’ means each of the several States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.”

So according to Law, “State” must be understood in the Affordable Care Act as referring to the individual States, and “established by the State” can NOT mean “established by the Federal government.”
Affordable Care Act supporters argue that taking away the credits from federally established exchanges would cause a death spiral for the Affordable Care Act. I think a death spiral is in the works, but that will happen to our entire legal system if SCOTUS defines “State” broadly to mean the Federal government. This would cause many of our laws that give States powers to be reexamined in light of this new definition. States that are struggling financially could dump their unfunded mandates back on the Feds! In my mind, such an expansion of the definition of State would be the beginning of the end for States’ rights.
This issue isn’t just about purportedly cheaper health care coverage. We’ve already seen it’s not cheaper. This issue represents a fundamental struggle between State autonomy and Federal coercion. I hope and pray that SCOTUS sides with King.
Scott Stocking

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