Tax Cheats, Tax Planning, and Taxmen in the Bible: Timeless Advice for Tax Day in USA Today

KNOXVILLE, TN (04-10-14) – “Feeling anxious about your tax liability and government’s ever-increasing share of your income?  The Bible has many references to taxes that will sound strangely relevant at this time of year … beginning with the story of David and Goliath,” observed Crown CEO Chuck Bentley in an op-ed piece titled “Even Jesus Had a Tax Man” at USA Today in advance of the April 15th IRS deadline for federal taxes.

“Many remember a teenage boy offended by insults thrown by a giant foe against his nation and God himself, who volunteers to go into battle with a slingshot. But did you know that a tax incentive was part of his prize? Visiting the battlefield, David learns: “The king will give great wealth to the man who kills (Goliath) … and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.” That’s a prize many in the military would enjoy.

Throughout the scripture, tax discussions mark many passages, as ancient men and women also worried about how they would pay. Bentley observed that while Jesus himself noted that while sometimes the authority to tax can be abused, paying taxes is part of life.

For people of faith, a healthy respect for reasonable taxes is part of faith-based culture. Writing in Romans 13, the Apostle Paul urged respect for government, because of the vital role leaders play in society, an admonition that goes beyond mere money.

“Such a standard requires civil interaction and mutual respect, important reminders for today’s toxic political culture,” noted Bentley. “And every IRS agent can take comfort in the fact that Jesus himself had a taxman (Matthew) as a disciple.”

Still, the growth in tax rates is cause for concern. While a 10% tithe to the church has been the standard for personal giving, today’s current tax bite can be about 50%, when taking into account Federal, social security, state, local property, corporate, excise, and other state and local taxes. Remember, Pharaoh only took 20% of the grain in Egypt as a form of taxation during their good years.

“It’s worth debating whether the state should take such a large bite out of families’ resources,” observed Bentley.

And for those fortunate enough to get a tax refund, Bentley says put the money to good use following these 7 tips making the most of your opportunity:

  1. Be charitable: Remember those in need. Yes, you’re getting ready with a tax deduction for next year, but people today could use your help.
  2. Give yourself some credit. Pay down debt and raise your credit rating!
  3. Build an emergency savings fund. Get ready for your next car emergency, health scare or home repair by preparing now.
  4. Go 50-50. If you can’t bring yourself to save it all, put half away and feel less guilty enjoying the rest.
  5. Consider the kids. If you haven’t started a fund for their college education, today is a good day
  6. Think Retirement. The average return of $3,183 is more than half the maximum yearly contribution of a Roth IRA ($6,000 if age 50 and over.)
  7. Treat yourself: Do something fun … with a clear conscience because you know that whatever good choice you made for your future, you made a good plan for your entertainment today.

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Crown, a non-profit, empowers people with biblical financial understanding that changes lives, businesses and the world. Theirs is a strong, international grassroots organization with offices in the U.S. and overseas. It is well known for its cutting edge materials first developed by its founder, the late Larry Burkett.  For more information, go to www.crown.org or call 800-722-1976800-722-1976. For interviews, e-mail: media@crown.org.

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Starting Your Own Business May Be The Key To Finding Your Dream Job in 2014

By: Robert Dickie III, President Crown Financial Ministries.

Published recently in FoxNews and Bloomberg Businessweek

In a sluggish economy, if your New Year’s resolution is to find a dream job, it may be time to consider whether it’s time to start your own business, noted Crown President, Robert Dickie III. In a national op-ed, Dickie noted that avoiding some pitfalls could make a difference between creating a successful start-up or becoming a statistic.

Chance of survival for a start-up offers an entrepreneur some hope, Dickie noted. While 25 percent fail in the first year, about 60 percent of start-ups make it three years while about 35 percent last to 10, according to studies by the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The rest can fail for as many reasons as there are people involved or break through the pack to long-term success.

“Three, often-ignored elements in that unique chemical equation that becomes a company can blow up entrepreneurs’ dreams for lack of serious consideration,” said Dickie, an experienced small-business entrepreneur. “Untrustworthy Partners, Delayed Launch and Mission Mishmash are corrosive to day-to day-operations and require strategic attention.”

Untrustworthy Partners Strong contracts cannot protect anyone from poor character in their partner. People too often ignore serious red flags in a potential partner, blinded by their contacts or a unique skill set, only to find that their business partner’s personal issues have become a corporate liability.

“Getting the right business partner is as important as choosing the right spouse,” observed Dickie. “No matter what business you’re in, all business revolves around relationships, from partners to customers.”

Delayed Launch Too many start-ups stay too long in the discussion, white-board, dreaming stage under the guise of “planning for success” with a failure to launch. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect to get to work. While this might seem counter-intuitive, the fact is if someone beats you to the market place, his or her sales become your loss.

Mission Mishmash Lack of strategic focus results in too many new businesses crushed under the weight of unmet expectations from customers. Trying to be all things to all people is a recipe for disaster. Far too often start-up entrepreneurs don’t know how to say NO.  Not every sale is a good sale and not every customer is a good customer.

“In this emerging economy, the endangered species of ‘company man’ cared for from hiring day to retirement has been replaced with life-style entrepreneurs who must consider all their skills and opportunities without that corporate safety net,” noted Dickie.  “While taking a leap of faith in starting a business might not suit everyone, it’s worth the risk when compatible people take a flexible plan and work to serve customers who find value in their service.”

One of Crown Ministries’ goals is to equip and encourage entrepreneurs and support business leaders who are leading and developing their businesses for the Kingdom. Crown has been blessed to serve the global business community for many years with Larry Burkett’s best-selling Business by the Book and the associated seminars.

The ministry is expanding and building a robust outreach to business leaders. If you are serving the business community in a ministry capacity or are a professional or consultant in the business world, we invite you to join Crown’s upcoming free Webinar – “Serving the Business Community” which will be held on January 11th at 9:00 p.m. EST. 

If you have a friend or an associate you think would be interested in joining, please feel free to invite them. It is amazing how God is using business leaders across the world for His divine purposes. And, we are excited for you to hear more about this and the opportunities ahead as Crown unveils the business outreach for 2014 and beyond.

For more information on tools for business start-ups, go to: www.Crownbiz.com

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America cannot afford for Washington to continue its profligate spending

Over the last 12 years, the federal budget has doubled in size, from $1.9 trillion in 2001 to $3.8 trillion this year.

Over the last 12 years, the federal budget has doubled in size, from $1.9 trillion in 2001 to $3.8 trillion this year.

Published by Washington Examiner October 21, 2013

Leaders in Congress found a red line they would not cross in the budget deal just passed: a new Obama administration red line keeping the country mired in deficit spending.

Faced with the false choice of default on the nation’s debt or unchecked spending (fueled by a blank check from taxpayers), congressional leaders chose to raise the debt ceiling and postpone tough decisions.

The deal irresponsibly creates an extend-and-pretend policy that ignores market reality, setting up the next conflicted debate in January when the deal ends. But American taxpayers cannot continue to cover profligate spending indefinitely.

This budget crisis is not a Democratic problem or a Republican problem, it is a math problem. The numbers do not add up.

Over the last 12 years, the federal budget has doubled in size, from $1.9 trillion in 2001 to $3.8 trillion this year.

Federal spending grew 71 percent faster than inflation over the last 20 years, according to the Heritage Foundation.

Even today, interest on the debt is the fifth-largest federal spending category, partially camouflaged by artificially low interest rates courtesy of the Federal Reserve Board.

The national debt rose by 55 percent during the Obama Administration so far, now fueled by a higher credit card limit from the vote.

Erskine Bowles, a co-chairman of the president’s bipartisan Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission, describes the growing interest on debt as one of the nation’s biggest challenges.

“We’ll be spending over $1 trillion a year on interest by 2020. That’s $1 trillion we can’t spend to educate our kids or to replace our badly worn-out infrastructure,” said Bowles.

This simplified analysis of Uncle Sam’s spending and take-home pay paints a picture of the out-of-control nature of America’s current budget.

Some argue that comparing the finances of ordinary Americans with the resources of Uncle Sam ignores the broader number of tools held by the government.

But the 5-year flatlining economy marked by the endangered species of new full-time jobs indicates that even Uncle Sam will ultimately be accountable to market forces.

Consider a breakdown of Uncle Sam’s Budget in 2012:

– Dollars in (U.S tax revenue): $ $2.5 trillion

– Dollars out (Federal spending): $ 3.6 trillion

– Budget shortfall: $ 1.1 trillion

– National debt: $16.7 trillion

– 2012 budget cuts: Zero

– Wild card (Unfunded liabilities/contracts): $120 trillion

By adjusting the zeros, this translates into a family budget as follows:

– Dollars in (Your annual income): $25,000

– Dollars out (Your household spending): $ 36,000

– Budget shortfall: $11,000

– Your credit card debt: $167,000

– Budget cuts: Zero

– Wild Card (unfunded financial obligations): $ 1,200,000

No family and no nation can continue spending at such a pace. Bills come due. Creditors demand payment. Lenders ultimately refuse the borrowers.

Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, has weighed in his concerns in his new book, “The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature, and the Future of Forecasting.”

“The bias toward unconstrained deficit spending is our top domestic economic problem,” he writes.

The founding fathers would have agreed. Author of the Declaration of Independence and third U.S. president Thomas Jefferson may have put it best: “To preserve our independence, we must not let our leaders load us with perpetual debt … If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of caring for them, we will be wise.”

Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown, a 501c3 non-profit ministry and personal-finance organization, and author of “The S.A.L.T. Plan: How to Prepare for an Economic Crisis of Biblical Proportions” (Crown, 2012). The ministry is supported by financial gifts from our donors. I invite you to donate to the outreach of this ministry, please click here.

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Job hunt getting you down — how to build a full-time life in a part-time world – August 6, 2013

By Robert Dickie, President, Crown Financial Ministries
Published August 02, 2013 by FoxNews.com

Cultural shifts through industrial and technological advances have re-written maps and world histories as people responded to events, grasping for that which drives humankind: survival.

The Industrial age shaped cities, while famine and disease shift whole populations from one continent to another. These kinds of events fill our history books, but they’re not over.

We are confronting economic forces reshaping our economy today. Job seekers must face a paradigm shift: how can they build a full-time life in a part-time world.

The growing realities of finding and holding gainful employment means that new patterns must be developed to win in a game with new rules. It is not your grandparent’s economy anymore.

In light of the Labor Department’s jobs report out Friday revealing once again that fewer jobs had been created than expected, the time is now to take a hard look at what a jobless recovery means to those who want to work.

Case in point: The hardening sector of part-time employees (people unable to find full-time work) cannot be ignored any longer or written off as a temporary correction. The Wall Street Journal recently reported, “More people have left the workforce than got a new job during the recovery—by a factor of nearly three.”

Since the recession officially began in December 2007, 5.8 million fewer Americans hold a full-time job, while 2.8 million more are working part-time (defined as people working less than 35 hours a week.).

The impact of this kind of math on the moving target of the unemployment rate was recently noted in the New York Times, “If you include both part-time workers who want full-time work and people who have stopped looking for jobs but still want to work, the unemployment rate is actually 14.3 percent.”

Universally reported, the impact of ObamaCare on a growing part-time employment rate looms large. Employers will be required to pay fines or fund costly insurance plans for full-time employees, pushing them to create more part-time positions in response.

Most affected by the scarcity of full-time jobs are young people, college graduates, and those in mid-career transition.

Currently, there are about 40 percent of 20-somethings who are underemployed, according to the American Staffing Association.

In fact, almost half of recent college graduates are in jobs that require no degree, leaving many to question the value of their college education.

The American dream of employer and employee bound ‘til death do us part is passing away.  Today we must become “life-style entrepreneurs” and embrace mobility as we leverage our skills in creative ways. As with every economic shift, these changes can be daunting.

It’s widely believed that the average U.S. worker will have seven careers in a lifetime. To begin that process, here are seven tips to help find those different careers and have success during this transition:

1.     Plan Deliberately. It has often been said that failing to plan is planning to fail. Too many Americans avoid the hard work of simple budgeting or developing career and financial goals. Letting life happen sounds great in theory, but goals undeclared rarely materialize. Over the past decade Crown has helped more than one million people follow a simple life plan – in writing. Having a document that you can track and refer back to is critical for strategic advancement.

2.     Avoid Anchors. This is no time to buy a home or make long-term assumptions. Pockets of the country enjoying job growth may be your new frontier. Keep costs low. A study by Bankrate.com out this month shows that 76 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Work to save 10 % every month for that rainy day.

3.     Enlarge Networks. In a tight job market, employers are looking for more guarantees about the quality of the people they hire. Now is the time to create your own social network of references to find real opportunities. According to a job’s website Careerealism.com, 80 percent of the available jobs out there are not posted on job boards, but must be found through networking and word of mouth. Join local and national networks and spend a few minutes each day networking.

4.     Brand Yourself. Remember that every contact between you and the business world is an advertisement. Give your Facebook and other social sites a scrub, start a blog, or pick up a new skill set. Prepare to market a versatile you. Surveys indicate that about half of employers say they check out the social networks of applicants, while recruiters report that 3 out of 4 will trust by verify.  LinkedIn.com is a great place to start.

5.     Multiply Income Streams. One of the realities of being a company person is that when that job ends, so do your checks. A little discussed strength of this economy is that when people develop multiple income sources, they don’t need to rely on one job to survive. There are many home-based business opportunities to explore.  Check out the Direct Selling Association for a list of options.

6.     Get Inside. Getting your foot in the door of a company you want to impress can begin with internships or short-term contract work where you can serve with distinction and interview from the inside. Hiring a known entity offers employers greater peace of mind. A survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 60 percent of paid interns received a job offer, while 37 percent of unpaid interns earned work.

7.     Serve Others. Perhaps one of the lessons we can learn from this economy is how fragile life can be. Don’t forget about those who are less fortunate than you are. One of Crown’s goals is to help people get debt free through a financial plan, in part to equip them to play a larger role in their community. Over the last three years, people working with Crown increased their charitable giving by 71 percent. It doesn’t just look good on a resume to give to others and volunteer your time; it will also help you find perspective on the world in which you live.

Over a 50-year span, the average American spends about 100,000 hours working. No matter how many full or part-time jobs make up that math, a life well lived can be achieved by embracing new opportunities … wherever they may be found.


God has created you with a specific design, and we’re excited to help you understand it so that you’ll have more confidence in making occupational and educational choices!The new Career Direct GE consultant based career assessment tool is finally here for you! Our assessment takes a deep look at your Personality, Interests, Skills/Abilities, and Values, and a trained consultant will work through the assessment results with you to help you understand how your “wiring” is directly linked to the career field that would fit best.Please also visit us on crown.org.

If you haven’t already signed up to receive this column by email and would like to, you can subscribe here. And please forward to your family and friends.

Crown is a 501c3 non-profit ministry and is supported by financial gifts from our donors. I invite you to donate to the outreach of this ministry, please click here.

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The Founders’ fear of federal debt: Unlike today’s leaders, they considered overspending immoral – published in Washington Times – July 4, 2013

George Washington would roll over in his grave — bumping into his fellow Founding Fathers — if he knew the scope of America’s public debt. Among the values shared by America’s first leaders was an absolute fear of debt, given the pain and misery that followed it. As America celebrates another birthday, their convictions should be studied again.

John Adams, our nation’s second president, once observed: “There are two ways to enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.”

That conviction does not hold true today. Though the national debt is now $16.7 trillion — and growing — and though the United States borrows 46 cents of every dollar spent, our current leadership assures us that there is nothing to worry about.

“We don’t have an immediate crisis in terms of debt,” President Obama told ABC News recently. He went further: “In fact, for the next 10 years, it’s gonna be in a sustainable place.”

Notice the word, “immediate” in the president’s assessment of the current debt problem. He also revealed his view of debt by declaring himself to be comfortable with “sustainable” debt.

“Sustainable” debt is not justification for more borrowing. It’s a slippery slope as policy cycles from printing money to creative borrowing fueled by the assumption that a market will continue to exist for U.S. debt.

George Washington would not approve. “To contract new debts is not the way to pay old ones,” he cautioned.

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “To preserve our independence, we must not let our leaders load us with perpetual debt. If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of caring for them, we will be wise.”

The Jeffersonian principle for acquiring debt held that no generation should borrow more than it could pay back within about 20 years. “We shall all consider ourselves unauthorized to saddle posterity with our debts, and morally bound to pay them ourselves,” Jefferson said, and many agreed at that time.

To take on a public debt that would burden your children was considered taxation without representation. It was an immoral act for elders to consume more than they could pay for, and infringe on the choices and liberty of their children, who had no vote or choice in the matter.

“Before the Great Depression, balancing the budget and paying down the debt were considered second only to the defense of the country as an obligation of the federal government,” noted writer and historian John Steele Gordon.

Our 19th president, Rutherford B. Hayes, reflected that view, advising: “Let every man, every corporation, and especially let every village, town and city, every county and state, get out of debt and keep out of debt. It is the debtor that is ruined by hard times.” Still, only our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, achieved a debt-free America, although other presidents paid down some of the nation’s obligations.

“How gratifying,” Jackson wrote in 1829 as he began his presidency, “the effect of presenting to the world the sublime spectacle of a republic of more than 12 million happy people, in the 54th year of her existence free from debt and with all [her] immense resources unfettered!” By January 1835, he achieved his dream.

A controversial figure, Jackson made many enemies with his cut-the-budget programs and with his attack on a powerful central bank he considered too big to fail and too big to allow control of much of the nation’s wealth. Jackson distributed his budget surplus in banks across the growing country, a move that led many to speculate in land. National debt returned in the collapse of what may have been America’s first housing bubble.

Many of our nation’s Founders watched with horror as families were destroyed by debt, including Jefferson himself. While he reduced the national debt, he struggled with his own finances.

Nevertheless, he held firm to his ideals. “I place economy among the first and most important of virtues, and public debt as the greatest of dangers to be feared,” he wrote.

But for witty teaching instructions in economics, it’s hard to usurp Benjamin Franklin, whose timeless truths (such as “a penny saved is a penny earned”) found in Poor Richard’s Almanac and an essay, “The Way To Wealth,” continue to instruct our society.

Franklin warned: “Think what you do when you run in debt; you give to another power over your liberty.”

Freedom from debt is true liberty, as “the borrower is servant to the lender,” just as we learned in the Bible from Proverbs 22:7.

Today what Americans owe — and the interest we must pay — is accumulating at a record pace. In 2010, the United States accumulated more than $3.5 billion in new debt each and every day. That’s more than $2 million per minute. It’s a shopping spree almost impossible to imagine.

It’s time to fight for financial freedom of the next generation. Our children and grandchildren are being saddled with “unsustainable” debt that will surely lead to a crisis if we continue on this course.

We are fast becoming the generation that enslaved our children because of our own reckless addiction to spending and borrowing. As the 31st president, Herbert Hoover, observed, “Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt.” I say, rather than pass along our debts, let us bless our children by beginning to pay down the debt with a definite goal to achieve the vision of Andrew Jackson to “unfetter” our national resources.

America and her leaders should commit to reining in its spending and borrowing that would tyrannize the next generation. American families must show the way by doing in our personal lives that which we expect of our federal, state and local leaders.

Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown, a nonprofit business and personal-finance organization, and author of “The S.A.L.T. Plan: How to Prepare for an Economic Crisis of Biblical Proportions” (Crown, 2012).

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Apple’s tax ethics: Unpatriotic or shrewdness in action?

Apple Inc. recently “took a bite” out of its corporate tax liabilities and caused a public outcry. But the ethical issues raised by such a move do not begin or end with them alone.

The discovery that this innovative technology giant (that has successfully placed cutting edge tools in half of the homes in America) has legally avoided paying U.S. federal income tax on billions of dollars of net income has many outraged and questioning the ethics of their actions.

The company was called before a Senate committee to give an explanation under the suspicion that the company was involved in a scandalous – allegedly illegal — practice.

“During its investigations, the subcommittee found that Apple considers three key subsidiaries, all based in Ireland, to have no tax jurisdiction at all. One of those Irish affiliates, Apple Sales International (ASI), reported sales income of $74 billion over four years but paid hardly any tax. In 2011 ASI had pre-tax earnings of $22 billion but paid just $10 million in tax, a rate of 0.05%.”

In rebuttal, the company’s CEO, Tim Cook, gave a plainspoken response: “We pay all the taxes we owe, every single dollar,” said Cook, who also insisted that Apple doesn’t rely on tax “gimmicks” and doesn’t “stash money on some Caribbean island.”

For the record, other technology giants, Google and Facebook, have also found legitimate tax minimizing strategies that have spared them from forking over federal corporate taxes on profits. It is widely known that many other multi-national corporations are practicing similar tactics.

While some lawmakers decry these legitimate “loopholes” in the tax code as unfair or worse, unethical, I would argue that we are witnessing the a modern example of shrewdness in action.

Jesus himself observed that the “sons of this age are more shrewd” at working the system than the righteous. Certainly most people, in looking at their own taxes, may find themselves feeling foolish in comparison.

With a breathtaking display of international structural maneuvers, Apple found a way to shield its income earned outside of the U.S borders. With today’s muddled tax code, a good tax adviser can make all the difference in the world. And any company knows that paying more taxes than legally required does not make their shareholders happy.

The current tax code and associated regulations, estimated to contain almost 5.6 million words (nine times as long as the Bible) allows for corporations and individuals alike to take advantage of clearly stated means to reduce their tax liabilities.

Some would argue that is wrong or unjust. But it is legal. Thus, it is neither unfair nor unethical nor unpatriotic to wisely plan to minimize your income tax. Conversely, it is not fair or ethical to break the law and defraud the government of what is rightfully owed.

The Bible makes it clear for Christians that we are ethically bound to “render unto Caesar what is Caesars” (Matthew 22:17).  We are also instructed in Romans13:7   “if you owe taxes, pay taxes”.  Paying taxes is a responsibility supported by scripture. But paying more than the law requires is not.

The Senators first reaction – “to close the loopholes” — is a misguided effort that will likely cause corporations and small business owners to seek to relocate their corporate entities and their corresponding jobs outside of the reach of the tax collector. Escaping the taxman is a corporate mandate that has and will continue to kill many jobs.

The case of Apple’s excessive success at legal tax avoidance should lead our legislators to examine the real unethical practices with our current system – sacred political cows allowed to opt out of taxes and political constituencies given a free pass. An estimated one-half of all Americans pay no federal income tax while the top  5 percent of wage earners pay nearly 50% of the revenues collected by the federal government.

I support a reform of both government spending and the tax code itself.  Corporations and individuals should pay fewer taxes not more while all Americans should pay their proportionate share.

Our elected representatives should see this as a wake-up call and present to the American people a convincing plan that they can operate within an efficient and effective budget that allocates resources for the common good as intended by the Constitution.

Punishing the most efficient stewards of resources to garner more for the most inefficient users who often redistribute it for political favors and special interests is not good public policy.  Partisan use and abuse of the IRS and the tax code is also an ethical issue.  Placing a contrived burden on political rivals and protecting political allies and their cash does not build confidence in the current system. This should be another focus of outrage.

We need a sweeping overhaul and simplification of the tax code. This has been long overdue and many good plans have been repeatedly rebuffed. Every citizen of America that drives our highways enjoys the peace provided by our public security and the benefits afforded by our freedom should pay the same proportion of taxes regardless of income.

A flat tax would be a tax code all could understand; or, disbanding the current income tax structure altogether to consider a national sales tax, for example, would ensure that all pay as they consume – which naturally would impact big spenders more than modest consumers.

As presidential candidate Herman Cain once famously quipped, “If 10% is good enough for God, it should be good enough for the government.” The old adage, “Only two things in life are certain, death and taxes” is now only true for half of us. How ethical is that?

Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown, a nonprofit business and personal finance policy and educational organization, and best-selling author of “The S.A.L.T. Plan: How to Prepare for an Economic Crisis of Biblical Proportions” as well host of the nationally syndicated radio feature, My MoneyLife™, follow him, @chuckbentley. For more information, go to www.crown.org.

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Forget the IRS and Benghazi! Here’s the Real Scandal: Profli-Gate, observes Crown’s Chuck Bentley in the Washington Post

Scandals in American government are nothing new.  As King Solomon noted, “There is nothing new under the sun.” In fact, most of us can recall a number of major government failures that have come and gone.

Forty years to the week (May 1973) of the Senate hearings of the Nixon administration’s Watergate scandal, we have Benghazi GateIRS Gate and theAssociated Press Gate all converging in the second term of President Obama.

  • Benghazi Gate. The government is accused of spinning the truth about what actually caused the tragic events at the American Embassy in Benghazi, Libya. Hearings will reveal more details in the days to come.
  • IRS Gate. The government acknowledges that hundreds of conservative groups were singled out for additional IRS screening in an effort to identify those that were politically active and therefore not eligible for tax exemptions.  Some of that private information was reportedly leaked to political operatives favorable to the White House.
  • Associated Press Gate. The government acknowledges that it tapped the private and business phone conversations of Associated Press reporters and one AP editor as part of a Justice Department leak investigation, placing a higher value on uncovering the source of the leak than the First Amendment rights to a free press.

The problems facing our President and his administration are formidable and troubling to all Americans.  We need to sincerely pray for all of our leaders and our nation.

Do I believe that this convergence of actual and suspected scandals will lead to the downfall of President Obama or any of his loyal staff and operatives? Not for a minute.

America is a different nation than it was 40 years ago.

All the scandals receiving intense media, legal and political scrutiny today are ethical in nature. While some will cry they are a violation of the sacred trust we place in those elected to provide good governance to our nation, moral relativism rules the day.

Without a moral compass, an absolute standard to determine right from wrong, one man’s ethics are quickly dismissed by another man’s counter argument.

“Spin” and outright propaganda are so prevalent that they are no longer considered a serious breech of trust. They are standard operating procedure in American political machinery.  Ethical deviations are dismissed as nuances, part and parcel of the political gamesmanship conducted by both sides.

Today, we also have an unprecedented level of government dependence. A record number of the American population receives some form of income from a government program, estimated to be as high as one-half. Many are unwilling “to bite the hand that feeds it.”

But in the midst of the present-day drama with both sides entrenched in a battle to discredit the other party, a bigger scandal is underway right under our noses: perpetual runaway federal spending. We are now a people governed by profligate spenders.

 Profligate means  .  Our tax dollars fall short of the annual expenses of the federal government by almost one third or more, year after year. Since World War II, we have overspent our national income in all but eight years. Worse, the money that is borrowed is consumed on inefficient, bureaucratic programs that accomplish little, but pile up debt seemingly impossible to be repaid.

This scandal shows no favoritism. It holds the potential to deliver the most devastating consequences to all Americans – those that receive government income and those that do not.  This scandal is not a judgment call based upon personal ethics. It is a mathematical fact measured by the gap between our nation’s income and expenses. It is measured in trillions of dollars and growing.

By attempting to borrow our way out of a debt problem, we are attempting to put out a fire with gasoline.

Forty years ago, we were the largest lending nation on Earth, today we are the largest debtor nation on Earth.  We lost our basis for common ethics and our prosperity will surely follow. Proverbs 22:7 warns: “The borrower is servant to the lender.”

God’s Word is the only source of absolute ethics. He told the Israelites that their collective prosperity would be conditional upon their personal obedience to His commands.  Deuteronomy 28 lays out His conditions in vivid terms:

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all His commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on Earth.” (v.1)

“However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all His commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and over take you:” (v.15)

Regardless of the outcome of this latest round of government misdeeds, theProfligate Scandal marches on. Neither Republicans nor Democrats nor the American voters have yet to muster the courage to call for it to end. We can’t even agree that it needs to end.

Americans somehow are blinded by the myth that it will magically disappear through economic growth, more federal debt, minuscule reductions in annual budget deficits or through the next promising politician.

Like a high stakes game of musical chairs, the music will stop and the charade will one day become painfully apparent. Profligate will be revealed as the greatest scandal ever perpetuated on the American people. The good faith and credit of America, once trusted the world over, will be gone.

Can it be averted? Only if we return our hearts to God and carefully obey His ethics.

That will come through a revival at the grassroots level, in the homes and churches across our land, not through the political process. But to end this cycle of scandal, even in Washington, D.C., personal character must be revived in all.

Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown, a nonprofit business and personal finance policy and educational organization and author of “The S.A.L.T. Plan: How to Prepare for an Economic Crisis of Biblical Proportions.” He is the host of the nationally syndicated radio feature, My MoneyLife™. Follow Bentley on Twitter @chuckbentley.

Posted in Handwriting on the Wall | 5 Comments

God’s Leaders Needed Now

The America I was raised in was saturated with the influence of evangelical Christians. While it is hard to define the meaning of the word “evangelical,” I view it as those followers of Christ who believe the Bible is true, who believe that they should share the “Good News” of Jesus Christ and who seek to live by its teachings in every area of their life.

But America is now in the midst of a rapid, cultural change. The very group of people who brought the salt and light of the gospel to this generation are now broadly considered a fading minority and for some, the source of the problems in our nation.

I grew up when it was normal to hear a Christian prayer over the public address system each morning before the opening bell to start the school day. It was normal for a man to marry a woman and a family to consist of a father, a mother and their children and to live together under one roof. It was normal in my childhood to witness people weeping in church as they were moved by a deep sense of conviction over their personal sin.

All of these occurrences and many others in the America I knew are diminishing.

I have been reading The Great Evangelical Recession, 6 Factors that Will Crash the American Church and How to Prepare by John S. Dickerson. It is a sobering wake up call supported by strong research and factual analysis. As my wife, Ann, said, “This is not good bedtime reading.”

Dickerson, a former award-winning journalist and now a pastor in Prescott, Arizona, makes the following conclusions:

  • The fuel of American evangelicalism – dollars – is disappearing and will dwindle over the next three decades.
  • The church is losing millions of our own people – about  2.6 million per decade.
  • The evangelical church is not winning new believers fast enough to keep pace with rapid population growth in the United States.
  • The external climate is turning against evangelicals. The fastest growing subcultures in the United States express militant antagonism against Christians who take the Bible seriously.
  • The cultural debates and theological differences among the church that remains are splintering and splitting the church.

Having just returned from my trip to Turkey where I gathered with Crown’s European leaders, I came away with the painful awareness that there is no “bottom” to how far we can fall. Europe, once the motherland of the great theologians and the birthplace of Bible translations and sweeping revivals that impacted the world, is today scornful of those who believe the Bible is God’s inspired Word and authoritative over human opinion and philosophies.

While Dickerson offers a number of very insightful and helpful solutions to reverse the trends facing the evangelicals in America, I have summarized his recommendations into a single call to action: God’s leaders are needed now.

My appeal to you, no matter your circumstances, is to recognize that you can make a profound difference by getting engaged in the process of making disciples within your spheres of influence whether that is in your home, church, place of work, community or mission field. In fact, you are needed everywhere God has placed you, right now.

The Church is designed to multiply through this very simple, yet highly effective model: faithful people passing on God’s truth to other faithful people. Paul expressed this relational strategy to his young disciple Timothy.

 “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”
II Timothy 2:2

On April 15th, Crown will release our new, in-depth MoneyLife™ Personal Finance Study. It is both Biblical and very practical.

We have worked for over a year to ensure that the financial tools, the visual stories and the Bible study work together to deliver a comprehensive solution to overcoming financial challenges and achieving God’s purposes for your life.

MLPFS

It is easy to use and can be customized for any length from 4 to 10 weeks to meet the needs of your group.

This material has been carefully designed for leaders to use in their ministry to serve others regardless of their experience level or financial training.

You can preview the material here: www.crown.org.

When you lead the Crown MoneyLife Personal Finance Study, three very important outcomes occur:

The individual student has personal needs met.
Many of the students will become faithful stewards and invest their earthly treasure in building and expanding the Church.
Some students will faithfully multiple by leading others through the study in their sphere of influence.

All of these outcomes are direct needs according to the research in The Great Evangelical Recession. In other words, our partnership, our mutual efforts will serve the greatest need in the Church today, to see faithful disciples who are committed to the growth of the Church.

You are needed and you are needed now.

Please join us in this urgent and vital cause to be the salt and light needed in the world right now.

Chuck Bentley

If you decide to lead a group, please let me and the others who read my blog know by leaving a comment here.  It will be a great encouragement to all.

Posted in Handwriting on the Wall | 29 Comments

Faith in America’s Future: From Inauguration Day to November 2016

The second inauguration of President Barack Obama is now history. The theme of his next term was framed by New York Senator Charles Schumer, “Faith in America’s Future.” The president’s address gave us a glimpse of his goals for the next four years and why we should unite as “one people” to advance his administration’s agenda.

We should definitely prepare for the coming agenda. Here’s what I believe we can expect:

  1. Increased Federal Debt. The president’s party has yet to approve a budget in the Senate nor shown any willingness to rein in runaway federal spending. In fact, this president increased debt per household more than the first 42 presidents combined.
  2. Expansion of Welfare Programs. Government spending on food stamps alone increased 100% in President Obama’s first term and there is no end in sight. The president and others in his party believe this boosts the economy.
  3. Immigration Reform. Since the demographics of immigrating populations favor the Democratic Party, expect a strong push for amnesty and more relaxed rules for naturalization and citizenship.
  4. Increased Taxes. With bias against the wealthy, new initiatives will seek to increase federal revenue, but only with token reductions in spending. While the rhetoric will call for some to pay their “fair share,” half will continue to pay nothing.
  5. Climate Change Legislation. The president believes that man is responsible for global warming, thus we will see even more regulation of manufacturing and new taxes to reduce carbon emissions.
  6. Growing Polarization between Liberals and Conservatives. The administration is operating under the assumption it has a “mandate” to implement as much of its agenda as possible. With control of the Senate and a fawning media, opposition will be painted as “obstructionist” and skirted as often as possible.
  7. Contempt for Traditional Values. With a view that “tolerance” doesn’t allow for some Christians to offer the benediction at the Presidential Inauguration, we should not expect the president’s second term to advance social, moral or fiscal policy that reflects the traditional values Americans once held dear. Unity will be sought to the exclusion of those viewed as out of touch with “modern” values.
  8. Increased Efforts to Limit Gun Ownership. The administration knows it faces an uphill battle in Congress over new gun control laws. Nonetheless, it will try to weaken the Second Amendment that protects our right to bear arms any way it can. What the president can’t get through Congress, he will seek to implement through executive order, as he did 23 times last week.
  9. Increased Sanctions of Same Sex Marriage. Last year, Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to support gay marriage. Also, the States of Washington and Maryland became the first to approve gay marriage by referendum. The issue will receive increased pressure and attention in the next four years.
  10. Increased Tensions with Conservative States. A number of conservative states will attempt to resist the overreach of the federal government regarding health care, gun ownership and gay marriage.

The president’s re-election campaign motto was “Forward.” I tried to think of anything in the agenda behind the motto that warrants optimism. There are a few potential bright spots:

  1. Economic Growth. Although long-term prospects aren’t promising, expect to see the economy stabilize and even expand somewhat with continued massive federal spending and credit manipulation.
  2. Job Growth. As the economy stabilizes, private sector job growth will follow, grudgingly. The job market will improve, but experts doubt we’ll ever again see the low levels of unemployment enjoyed by past generations.
  3. Backlash. Essentially all of the president’s agenda items mentioned above have negative consequences that will result in moral, social and financial pain. When Americans begin to feel that pain in their homes and workplaces, there may be a great outcry against the foolish policies of our elected officials. Voters may begin to reject this agenda in 2014 or 2016. That is, if there’s an alternative at the polls.
  4. Revival. The personal trials created by these policies could spark a fire of revival—a Third Great Awakening. A restored faith in Christ will bring repentance for our personal and national sins and a cultural change at the grassroots level of our country. We should never abandon this hope.

Throughout the Bible, there are many accounts of God’s people living in hostile lands, navigating the challenges imposed by an unrighteous culture. We have the greatest guidebook on how to survive and influence the cultural changes we are witnessing in America. Two thousand years ago, Jude wrote about keeping faith in troubled times:

“Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” (Jude 1:3 NIV).

Faith in America’s future is misplaced if we depend on politicians to lead us. True faith is firmly placing our lives under the control and direction of the Lord Jesus Christ and trusting Him for our future.

On Monday, we also celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was through the power of his faith in God Almighty that he led a much needed cultural revolution at the cost of his own life. His “I Have a Dream” speech will continue to inspire us for generations. He made us a better people and we should never forget the example of his peaceful resistance and passionate pleas for freedom.

We may lose influence in the political arena, but we must never lose our faith in the Almighty One. We follow His agenda. Do not fear. Stand firm. Resist evil. Be patient. Submit to authority. Trust God when you suffer, and always seek to advance the kingdom of God.

Our future is securely in His hands.

Posted in Handwriting on the Wall | 8 Comments

The Sword or The Savior: The Only Two Constraints for Evil

On July 22, 2011, Norway was rocked by a heinous crime that remains an open wound. Anders Breivik, a 32-year-old terrorist armed with tactical gear, firearms and bombs, murdered a total of 77 innocent civilians, mostly teenagers enjoying their summer camp.

Breivik had long planned the massacre hoping to stir up sympathies for his political ideologies. His trial began on April 16, 2012 and lasted until June 19, 2012. He was found sane and guilty by a panel of five judges. This convicted mass murderer was sentenced to “preventative detention” for 21 years. The sentence can be repeatedly extended by 5 years as long as he is considered a “threat” to society. He received the maximum sentence allowed by Norwegian law.

Only weeks following the tragedy in Norway, the world once again looked on in stunned disbelief at mass barbarism in a “first world” nation—The United Kingdom.

On August 6, 2011, random acts of looting and rioting broke out in London and spread to cities and towns across England.  Pedestrians were attacked. Small businesses, homes, and even a double-decker bus were randomly burned or destroyed by flash mobs of predominately young people, some only nine or ten years old.

The so-called “Blackberry Riots” (because they were organized by cell phone texts and social media) lasted until August 10th and resulted in the arrests of 3,100 people. Some of England’s finest young leaders were later determined to have taken part in the senseless rampages of destruction.  Many were not driven by anger or rage as much as by boredom and the thrill of taking part in illicit activities along with their peers.

The riots shook the sensibilities of the once proud and proper nation and generated ongoing debate among political, social and academic figures about the causes and context in which they happened. Many blamed the rioters’ behavior on structural factors such as racism, classism, and economic decline, as well as cultural factors like criminality, hooliganism, the breakdown of social morality and gang culture.

In a nation that gave us a harvest of great teachers, missionaries and reformers such as Mueller, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Spurgeon, Taylor, Lewis and Stott, we now find only the dried husk of a once vibrant religious landscape hidden beneath crippling political correctness. Church attendance has almost vanished. Christianity is more a target for mockery and derision than a force of cultural influence.

Parallel to the decline of Christian faith, the judicial systems of both England and Norway have become so liberalized that they appear to slant in favor of criminals, not victims.

Which brings me to our own troubled shores.

The December14th massacre in Newtown, Connecticut was a horrifying display of evil inside an elementary school that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults. It was the eighteenth such shooting in the U.S. thus far in 2012. The senseless rampage caused the same shock and dismay to us as the mass shooting in Norway and the Blackberry Riots of England caused their countrymen. We have finally been shaken from our national slumber.

The “why” will be debated for years to come.  My guess is that every explanation except a biblical one will be given credence.  Sin and the solution to it will once again be ignored or viewed with contempt.

While it is not difficult for Christians to understand the cause of the moral, social and cultural decay that now rots Western nations, the world is blind to it. Man is sinful and therefore needs either a sword or a Savior to ensure a lawful, orderly and peaceful society. The sword may constrain man’s evil desires, but only the Savior can transform them.

Sin is the manifestation of the evil that resides in the heart of every man. When sin is unleashed, the resulting wickedness knows no bounds. Without the power of the sword or the transforming power of God Almighty, many laws are useless.

American malls, military bases, colleges, churches, high schools and now, elementary schools are no longer safe from cold-blooded killers who desire to go out in a blaze of horror by harming innocent people.  Dare we call that damnable sin? Do we call for government to wield the sword of punishment?

The Newtown murders will drive the well-intentioned but misguided to demand that lawmakers fix the problem. More gun control will be the balm of choice, but don’t be deceived. God cannot be mocked. Regardless of the laws upon laws passed to stop the violence, it will not end.

Return of the Sword

The government has a God-given role to be the bearer of the sword.

“For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).

Like Norway and England, we have liberalized our justice system to allow criminals to operate with little fear of consequences.  It has been reported that Anders Breivik has already registered a formal complaint regarding his uncomfortable prison conditions. Really? Numerous American mass murderers are sitting comfortably behind bars awaiting trial even though there are plenty of eyewitnesses to their crimes.

It is time for the sword to be drawn and used to punish the wrongdoer. It is time for those who conduct terrorist acts in our military bases, in our theatres, in our malls or in our schools to be afraid. In so doing, the sin of man will not cease, but it will be constrained.

Return to the Savior

The sinful heart of man needs to be transformed, made submissive to the laws of man and of God. The Church has a God-given role to lovingly preach the transforming power of the Good News.

The Church—that is, people like you and me—must return to evangelizing the lost, sharing both our guilt to sin and eternal judgment and the grace and redemption found only in Christ. We must be true salt and light in a culture darkened by evil.

As government relaxes our criminal justice system and culture rejects the Gospel, two significant constraints are gone: fear of earthly punishment from the State and fear of the eternal judgment of God for our sin.

Do we really expect more laws to be the answer?

As we approach the celebration of Christmas, may we humbly recognize our desperate need for the Christ Child. Without a revival—without people en masse submitting to God’s laws and receiving His grace—our nation will continue to suffer the consequences of societal sin, encountering the sort of unbridled evil we saw in Newtown.

Posted in Handwriting on the Wall | 17 Comments