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On Saturdays, I’m writing my thoughts that have rambled in my brain since hearing the sermon at my church. Today’s entry was inspired by Andy McQuitty’s sermon given at Irving Bible Church as we’re continuing in Mark. This sermon is titled “Taxes to Caesar.”

Yesterday, I had coffee with a former exile.

His homeland had been at war for over 50 years. As a very young man his parents had been told that, since public education was no longer available, a group could take their son and get him educated in nearby country. Turns out that wasn’t entirely true. The education he’d receive involved military readiness. He could brandish a weapon before most American boys join their middle school basketball team. He was walked as far as he could walk every day for three months between his village and this nearby country.

He fought in wars he couldn’t possibly understand. He came to know Christ. He grew in Christ. He then began serving in a Christian ministry. Later on, the wars in his home country fell to a cease-fire…and his home country split into two nations. The Republic of South Sudan became an independent nation on July 9, 2011.

Upon his return to his homeland, at the airport, he picked up the soil and tasted it because he was so happy to be there. During our coffee, we talked a great deal about what it takes to build a nation. Part of our discussion included a lawyer who was trying to recruit other lawyers to come and help as they craft the constitution by which they will be governed. It’s that new.

After being moved by the story of his past, I asked my new friend what he was looking forward to most. His answer: “That I will get to experience freedom in my homeland in my lifetime. There’s nothing more exciting than that.”

Wow.

My country has been independent & free for some 237 years. Some 12 generations of my heritage has been living in freedom. Rarely do I think about that. Unless of course, some visiting colleague happens to mention what it might mean to be in the infancy stage of, oh, I dunno, designing a government to keep people free.

Which is why Andy’s words from last week were bouncing around in my brain as I reflected on the afternoon coffee:

What Jesus does in this amazing statement, ‘render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s,’ basically points out that the Herodians and the Pharisees, those who made government an idol and those who made government an enemy, both of them are wrong. That is a false dichotomy to say that we must serve God or serve Caesar. What Jesus offers is not a middle-way, He offers a higher way. And what He says is, ‘pay Caesar, but serve God.’ Can I just say that again? It’s not serve serve God or serve Caesar, it’s pay Caesar but serve God. That, my friends, is the politics of Jesus.

It’s kind of easy to agree with Andy’s idea of serving God. I mean, who’s against being a good disciple? Sure, we may kind of ho-hum that statement, but the idea of being a good disciple is one we can get our arms around quickly and easily. The difficulty is in the detail, for sure, like when a politician says they’re for strong education. Who’s against that? It’s what we’re going to do to make that happen that’s the tricky part. But, generally speaking, as Christians we’re on-board with the idea of serving God and being a disciple of Christ.

But listening to my new friend I was convicted a little bit about what it means to pay Caesar.

Obey the laws I pretty much get. Like most everybody else, I’ll give myself a little leeway on precisely what it means to “stop” at a stop sign or abide by a general fudge-factor on the speed limit. But eat some grapes at the grocery store without paying for ’em? Not gonna happen. Jury duty? I’ll show up and serve if asked. I know I’ll get struck but I’ll sit there doing admin work until they tell us that the docket isn’t full and 80% of us go home. I’m not likely to loiter when signs are posted. I’ll get my car inspected and insured and such. I vote in every election. Have since I registered back when Reagan was about to hit the White House. I like wearing my “I voted” sticker. I rarely consider stealing or murder.

Paying the taxes is something I do, but find plenty of time to gripe about it. I didn’t think much about it after the first couple of years after moving into my old home. All my taxes are paid with the monthly mortgage so all I really know about his how much I pay every month. I don’t look much at the breakdown. Until last week when I saw how much I was paying for my actual house and how much went to the school district…

…and I drive by the best athletic stadiums and facilities and auditoriums I’ve ever seen for high school athletes…
…and I hear about the film festivals that take place after the state-sponsored tests are administered in the spring.

And, like all of you, in April, oh man. Let’s all read a paper and see how those folks are spending our cash, right? Government shut-downs and filibusters and healthcare and spying and pork in the projects and OH, MANALIVE.

But that’s low-hanging fruit, really. It’s easy to pick out and easy to complain about and such. I don’t think our generation invented that nor will be end it.

And then Andy asked the question of whether or not we were praying for our “city.” Our government. Were we engaged in it as we live in free country that let’s us all have our say at the ballot box and gives us the freedom to speak our minds on Facebook or in public demonstration and worship in peace and we are given the freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness and have a list of rights that enable us to do so?

I can’t even bother to learn from Jeremiah 29 where the exiles were informed to plant vineyards and houses and have families and such because they were going to be there a while. They were strangers in a strange land being told that there would be an end, but not in their lifetime. And while they were there, they should pray for the welfare of their city. To work for it. A harmonious city helps with a harmonious life.

Unfortunately, I’m much more likely to read the paper and go on a rant. I should be praying and working for my city. As it prospers, we prosper. Which is a good reminder for me as I tend to pick the low-hanging fruit…so when I have coffee with a guy that tastes the soil of his homeland because he loves it so much…

…well…

…I’m glad that my new friend was able to teach me so much during our 45 minutes together.