The Tax Man Cometh



by Tom Wacaster

“The tax man cometh!” My exposure to those words dates back further than I can remember. I don’t know how many years it has been since I filled out my first tax return. Too much of the proverbial “water has passed under the bridge.” Evidently the words strike a cord with the American public because books have been written, movies produced, and television producers have used the IRS as a target for series plots. By the end of this month most businesses and banks are required to have all tax documents in the mail so the American tax payer can take care of his obligations to the government in general, and the Internal Revenue Service specifically.  Thus begins the long, drawn out process of gathering figures, crunching numbers, wearing out pencils, and doing all that is involved in preparing and posting  the tax return for the year. Thankfully the process lasts only 60 days or so; unless, of course, you are a proverbial late filer who seeks an extension for six months so you can stretch out the wonderful experience that comes with filling out your tax forms each year.  I say that jokingly, of course. Whether you chose to complete your returns by the deadline, or file an extension, there is a magical date that looms ever before us.  April 15th has long been highlighted on the calendar of most Americans, either literally or at least mentally. I am sure it ranks up there with one’s anniversary, birthday, graduation day, et al! Again, I jest!  With the age of the internet, E-filing, and on-line tax help and software, we have finally managed to see the “Reduction In Paper Act” become more of a reality in our lives. I quit doing my tax returns the old fashioned way more than two decades ago. When e-filing first became available I was one of those die-hard old-timers who refused to trust the internet for filing my tax forms.  But then, I'm not so sure that the Post Office is all that reliable either. But I found comfort in the realization that the Post Office takes special care of those packages mailed to the Internal Revenue Service if for no other reason than the fact that it is the IRS that collects the funds to pay the salaries of the Post Office; you might call it “self-survival.”  Since the scandal surrounding the IRS hit last year I’m not so sure that my feelings of security were that well founded.

Like a number of you, I plan to get my taxes done early and in the mail—by “hard copy” or “digital.”  Others are determined to procrastinate another six weeks or so, and some have already mailed in their return in hopes that they can get their “refund” check sooner (maybe even before the government runs out of money).  But whether early or late, last month or next month, electronically or snail mail,  it is only a matter of time until the IRS examines that return. The wheels of government may grind slowly at times, but they do grind. And while I have only been audited one time in my lifetime as a tax-payer, there remains in the back of my mind the realization that I may have to stand before a representative from the IRS and give an account of my actions for this, or any other tax year.  But you know what?  Such an “audit” will be nothing compared to that great “audit” that each and every one of us will face come Judgment Day. Oh, to be sure, none will escape. We will all give an account (2 Cor. 5:10). And while the wheels of Divine justice may seem to grind slowly (at least from our perspective), be assured that God’s judgment will be swift and sure when the time comes for our Lord to return to gather His own. The appointment has been set (Heb 9:27), the time and place stipulated by Almighty God Himself. We will not have to provide any records of “business expenses,” or “charitable contributions” because our omnipotent Judge will know the inner most thoughts of our heart (Heb.  4:12-13).  There will be no “earned income credit,” nor will there be any exemptions based on age or income. No one will be able to file jointly, for “each one of us shall give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). Great and small, rich and poor, black and white—all men will stand “before the judgment seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). While an “at random, computer selected” audit by the IRS is only a mild probability, our appearance before God is an inevitable reality.

Now let me ask you something.  Which event do you fear the most? The POSSIBLE audit by an IRS agent, or the INEVITABLE audit by God Almighty? Think about it!

First



By Tom Wacaster

I made my first trip into the former Soviet Russia in 1994. Accompanied by an elder at the congregation where I worked, we traveled to Barnaul in eastern Siberia, where we would meet up with two other Americans, and a Ukrainian born preacher who would be conducting the open meetings each evening, while we would be teaching English classes at the local university using the Bible as our text book. Six months previous, several Americans had conducted the first of many campaigns into that city, as well as other cities strategically located throughout Russia. Barnaul is located 2,200 miles and three time zones east of Moscow. We arrived into Moscow in the early morning, and our flight to Barnaul would not depart for more than 12 hours. Although both of us were tired and worn out from the long flight from Houston to Moscow, we decided to accept the offer from our host in Moscow to visit some of the sites in and around Moscow. We visited Red Square, the Kremlin, ate at McDonalds in downtown Moscow (the first and only one of its kind in Russia at the time), and around 5:00 we managed to get some rest at a prearranged location overlooking the Moskva River. The day’s activities were among the many ‘firsts’ we would experience on this three week trip into Russia. 

The last ten days during that mission trip in the fall of 1994 took us to Omsk, Russia. Omsk has a population of more than 1.5 million, and is the largest city east of the Ural Mountains after Novosibirsk. We were the first Americans to enter that city in more than 75 years. We were greeted with great fan-fare. The local television station had a crew there to film our arrival, and along with city officials, we were escorted to the homes of our hosts. I must admit that we were treated with royalty while we were in that city, something that certainly was a first in my lifetime. Omsk was a military town, and so I had a large number of retired military personal attend my lectures at the University. Our class room was designed to hold approximately 75 students, but with the publicity, we were not able to accompany the large crowds that wanted to attend and hear the lessons. Literally, people stood at the door leaning in so as to catch a word or two that I was speaking. I even observed one young university student lying on the floor with his head poked into the room between the legs of those who crowded the doorway. Students, adults, and people from every walk of life actually stood outside the windows in freezing cold weather and, with the windows cracked open to let in some fresh air to help cool the room, they would listen with rapt attention at a message that many of them may very well have been hearing for the first time in their life! It was a thrill to them as much as it was to me. The ‘firsts’ kept mounting up. It was my first time to Omsk; my first time to speak to a crowd of non-Christians that large; my first to speak to such a large group of university students; and my first to actually visit in the home of a retired military general of any nation, much less a nation with which we almost went to war over what is now known as the 1962 Cuban crisis. I look back with fond memories on that first trip into Russia. I made several more trips to Russia over the years to preach the gospel: Nizhny Novgorod, Ukta, Pechora, Vorkuta, and Syktyvkar, to name just a few. But the unique thing about that trip into Barnaul and Omsk was that they were my first of many trips into Russia.

There is something special about doing a thing for the first time; or being the first to accomplish a task. Charles Lindberg, Neil Armstrong, the Wright brothers, John Glenn, Thomas Edison, Johannes Gutenberg, Christian Barnard, and Jonas Salk. They all have one thing in common. Each one of them was the ‘first’ to accomplish a memorable and significant task in world history. These men made their mark in history.

As I reflect upon the life of our Lord, there were many things that were no doubt a ‘first’ to Him. But I want us to concentrate for a moment on the multitudes of people with whom He came in contact. Imagine, if you will, the ‘firsts’ they experienced. Mary was the first to know about the incarnation and the role she would play in giving birth to the Savior. When Jesus was twelve He entered into the Temple and astounded the teachers with His understanding. Although they did not, yea could not, appreciate the full extent of what they heard that day, they were “amazed” none the less (Luke 2:46-47). John the Baptist was the first to herald the earthly ministry of the Lord. Following the Lord’s baptism and temptation in the wilderness, the citizens of Galilee were the first to hear the Lord as He taught in their synagogues (Luke 4:14). Someone heard the Lord’s first sermon; someone saw the Lord’s first miracle; someone was the first recipient of one of the Lord’s miraculous expressions of His compassion; someone saw the very first resurrection from the dead.

When the Lord comes again, I wonder who will be the first to arrive at the Lord’s side? Who will be the first to pass through one of the twelve gates into that heavenly home? Who will be the first to greet Paul, or Peter? Fanny J. Crosby once said, “If I were to stand at the beginning of my life with the privilege of making a single request of God, I think it would be this: ‘My Father, let me walk through the earth in physical darkness. With physical sight, you look into many a face, some of them touched with beauty, some of them lighted with joy; but the first face I would see is the face of Jesus.” What ecstasy and joy will be ours when we step across the threshold into heaven, and for the first time, enjoy the full fruit of our labors for the Lord here upon this earth. That will truly be a wonderful ’first.’  I’ll close with this beautiful poem by Floyd Cantwell:

Across the Threshold

Soon shall come the time of parting,
O how glorious it will be;
When I step across the threshold
Of the mansion built for me.
Free from earthly care and sorrow,
Safe at last in heaven's bourn!
When I step across the threshold
On that great triumphant morn.
 There to rest in peace forever,
There eternity to spend,
When I step across the threshold
And my journey here shall end.
Needless then all earthly treasures;
Riches there I'll find untold;
When I step across the threshold
Of that city paved with gold.
I shall wonder at His mercy,
At his gracious love and care,
When I step across the threshold
To that land so bright and fair.
There I'll hear the angel chorus
In praising voices blend;
When I step across the threshold
Where time shall never end.
And I'll meet departed loved ones
On yonder golden strand
When I step across the threshold
Into the promised land.
But to greet my loving Savior,
The greatest joy of all,
When I step across that threshold
In answer to His call.
~~~~~~~

My Sheep Hear My Voice



by Tom Wacaster

While working in India over the past decade or so, I have had opportunity to witness firsthand how small animals, even in large herds, respond to the call of the herdsman. The small village roads in India are ideal for driving goats from one grazing field to another. Even the National Highway (India’s equivalent to our Interstate Highway system) is used to get rather large herds to some other destination. When traveling the small back roads to some isolated village, we obviously have to travel much slower than on the super highway. When we encounter a herd of goats on the road they are usually spread across the road, blocking our passage, and we have to stop, and slowly make our way past the flock of goats and those attending to their safety. I have never asked Nehemiah to translate what a particular herdsman is saying, but I can hear the voice calling out to the goats. Occasionally it takes a little nudge with the herdsman’s rod, but usually the goats respond to the sound of the voice of the one leading and caring for those goats.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:  and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). Was Jesus speaking about literal sheep? Was He a herdsman keeping watch over a flock of sheep? I think not, and I think you know better. We are the sheep of His pasture, the “flock of God” over whom shepherds keep watch, with Jesus as the chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1-4). Here are some wonderful lessons we can draw from our Lord’s words in John 10:27-28.

First, we belong to Christ. “My sheep!” There is great comfort and consolation that comes with knowing we belong to God, and that He cares for us. Willing to leave the ninety and nine, He sought us out, paid the price for redemption, and gathered us into His flock. The compassion and love our Lord has for each one of us is summed up in those two words: “My sheep!” It was late one evening and Nehemiah Gootam and I were on our way home from a preaching appointment. We passed a herd of goats, now being led home in order to be bedded down for the night. One young man led the flock, and an older gentleman was following at the rear with staff in hand. Over his shoulder he cradled a small goat that had evidently grown weary with the journey. Although the goat was fast asleep, it lifted its head only briefly as we passed by. I thought to myself, “How much like our Lord who will carry us, protect us, feed us, and care for us,” all because we are His sheep! Beloved, don’t ever lose sight of the fact that we belong to Christ, that we “were bought with a price,” and that we are to “glorify God therefore in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20).

Second, we are God’s “sheep.” The metaphor is so fitting. Sheep are completely defenseless against the wolves that would seek to devour. Without the protection of our Lord, we are vulnerable to those things that would destroy us. If you doubt that for a moment, take a look at the multitudes of lost souls that have refused to draw near to God, whose lives have been ravaged by the wolves that are out there, “separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Drugs, alcohol, materialism, pride, lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, the vainglory of life, hedonism, and humanism. Though the words are spelled differently, the bottom line is that each one represents the dangers that lurk in the shadows of the dark places of a world without God. Unfortunately, sheep are ignorant and gullible. Not recognizing the dangers that exist, a sheep will keep his head to the ground, grazing on the grass, while ignoring the dangers about him. Humans are like that. We get so consumed with our daily activities, the cares of this life, the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, that we keep our heads to the grindstone, unaware of what dangers threaten, or exactly where it is we are headed; unaware, that is, until we suddenly lift up our head and notice our world is crashing in upon us.

Third, as God’s sheep, we “hear” the voice of our Lord; not “have heard,” and since ceased to listen; not “might hear” if we get the opportunity to squeeze in a few moments late at night to read a small portion of our Bible.  We are identified as Christ’s sheep because we heard the gospel, responded to it, and keep on hearing His voice. It does not come as some small, still voice in the night. Neither does it come as a bolt of lightning out of the sky. We hear Christ’s voice in His words; words revealed to the apostles and prophets, recorded for our reading and examination by divine inspiration, and laid up in the heart by practical application and holy living.

Fourth, as sheep, we “follow” the Lord. We follow in full expectation of receiving eternal life, “whom not having seen ye love; on whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice greatly with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Pet. 1:8). We follow Him submissively, obeying “from the heart that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered” (Rom. 6:17). We follow Him exclusively, realizing that He is “the way, and the truth, and the life,” and that “no man cometh unto the Father” but through Him (John 14:6). We following Him in “fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience: and having our body washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).

Finally, as His sheep, we “know” Him. I am not denying that He knows us! He does; in fact He knows us better than we know ourselves. But we cannot be known by Christ without our knowing Him in return. Paul put it this way: “For I know him whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12b). Knowledge of Christ goes much deeper than a superficial awareness of the facts surrounding the life, death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord. “Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death; if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:8-11).

Tom Moore shared the following story with his readers, and with which I will close this article:

I read of an American tourist who was traveling in the Middle East. He came upon several shepherds whose flocks had intermingled while drinking water from a brook. After an exchange of greetings, one of the shepherds turned toward the sheep and called out, “Manah. Manah. Manah.” (Manah means, “follow me” in Arabic). Immediately his sheep separated themselves from the rest and followed him. Then one of the two remaining shepherds called out, “Manah. Manah,” and his sheep left the common flock to follow him. The traveler then said to the third shepherd, “I would like to try that. Let me put on your cloak and turban and see if I can get the rest of the sheep to follow me.” The shepherd smiled knowingly as the traveler wrapped himself in the cloak, put the turban on his head and called out, “Manah. Manah.” The sheep did not respond to the stranger’s voice. Not one of them moved toward him. “Will the sheep ever follow someone other than you?” The traveler asked. “Oh yes,” the shepherd replied, “sometimes a sheep gets sick, and then it will follow anyone.”

The Lord is speaking. His voice is loud and clear. Are you listening?