Awhile back I wrote a piece about what’s happening in America from my perspective from across the globe (read here in case you missed it: https://www.kimcecil.me/post/observing-america-a-perspective-from-the-other-side). It was very well received, actually surprisingly so, and for that I am grateful. I didn’t really know if people would understand what I was saying or if I would offend many. Of course my goal is to write in a way that people will be uplifted and encouraged, and I want to be a signpost on their journey, pointing towards God. That may seem simple, but it is not. Especially now, as I choose once again to write to a nation divided.
Actually, I write to a Church divided. Which is the most alarming and frightening prospect of all.
So I pray once again that you—my friends and co-laborers, my sisters and brothers—will give me a few minutes of your attention to plead my case before you. As one from you, but not among you at this moment. It is because of that fact that I believe I have a gift to give if you have eyes to see and ears to hear. May you receive this as a gift, and may it create a sacred peace within you.
When Jesus walked this earth, he lived in one of the most brutal, dominating, and ruthless political systems the world has ever known—the Roman Empire. For a first century Jew, this empire was nothing but a loathsome curse, a regime straight from hell, one which no Jew in his or her right mind could see anything good and redeemable in. Any of you who have studied scripture and this period of history knows very well that the Jews who waited for Messiah were waiting for a King who would deliver them from the power of this empire. The problem was identified as a political force (notice, an outside source) and the deliverance they sought was also political—to have Rome overthrown and the rule of their tiny nation put back into their own hands. This surely was the only way they thought God could be given His rightful place once again at the head of their nation.
Jesus lived and ministered in this tense political climate all his days. As he grew in popularity as a miracle-worker and teacher, people also came to him for answers to every question, and what to do about Rome was of course one of their main concerns. I believe countless discussions must have taken place about this, not many of which are recorded for us in the gospels, but one does stand out to me as I think about the days we are in.
The scene: once again the Pharisees are determined to trap Jesus into making a politically provocative statement. “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” they ask, knowing the question isn’t really so much about taxes but about allegiance. You see, if he says, “Don’t pay taxes,” then he stands against Rome, and they can use that against him any time it becomes expedient to do so. If he says “Yes, we should pay our taxes,” then the vast majority of Jews who have been brutalized by this tax system will be offended and turn away from him. The Pharisees, probably inwardly gloating at their cleverness, wait his answer—not caring which one it is. Because either side he falls on, he will be wrong.
So what does Jesus do? Most of us know the rest of the story. “Give me a coin. Whose image is on this coin? Whose inscription?”
“Then give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and give to God that which is God’s.”[i]
What is Jesus saying here? What principle is he teaching us that is to endure for all ages, not just during the Roman empire but all the way up to this very day we live in?
Here is what I believe is one aspect of this that Jesus was trying to teach us: there is a space in our lives for human systems like governments, political issues, and the matters of this world, and then there are the sacred spaces where only God should dwell.
One of the most sacred of all spaces is what the Bible calls our innermost being. When the Holy Spirit comes into a believer, He infuses this innermost being with His very life. I could write not just blogs but books on this topic, for when you look up references in the Word of God about the innermost being (your heart, your soul, your core being) you will find that this is an incredibly important theme woven throughout the Bible. Jesus told us that when we believe in him, rivers of living water will flow out of this innermost being.[ii] Pretty incredible promise, don’t you think?
Knowing this, our enemy wants nothing more than to violate this sacred space within us. He is ruthless and will stop at nothing to disturb our inner peace, and to stop the flow of living water. So here is our first stopping point as we speak of the days we live in, and the intensity of this season of history, especially for Americans. Every single one of us would do well to pause and ask ourselves this question: In my innermost being, has “Caesar” been given what belongs only to God?
The gravity of this question cannot be overstated. I am truly alarmed when I talk to many friends in the US, and God help me, when I look at social media. I listen not to the words and opinions of people so much as the attitude they are said in. And what I hear (or read) is often stated with so much anger, bitterness, rage, blame, name-calling, and the like, that it seems we are literally losing our souls over this election. I’m not talking about eternal matters of heaven and hell, I’m talking about the flow of living water drying up to a trickle, if even that. The people of God, bearing His image—not Caesar’s image, God’s image—seem to have lost the ability to keep their innermost being a sacred place of peace, love, joy, and holiness. Instead a “Caesar”—call him Trump or Biden, it doesn’t matter which—has threatened to take over and cast many into absolute inner turmoil.
Don’t hear what I am not saying—I am not saying don’t vote, don’t participate in matters of conscience, don’t be political, don’t work for truth, justice, and righteousness in society. All of those are fine and true and good. That is part of the “give Caesar what is Caesar’s.” We must be in this world, we must fight the good fight of faith, we must seriously pray about these matters and then act according to what the Holy Spirit leads us to do. So I am NOT talking about who you are going to vote for on November 3! I cannot possibly emphasize this enough.
I am talking about the sacred inner space, your prayer closet, your deeply personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, your worship, and your allegiance. If for one moment your political stance has threatened to overtake that space, I counsel you to run, not walk, to your room, shut the door, fall on your face before God, and ask for His mercy and grace to help you keep these things in the right perspective. For God’s sake, the Church’s sake, America’s sake, please—if you’ve given it away, take back that sacred space!
Here’s a few signs you may have given your innermost being to Caesar:
· You are dealing with anger and rage on a consistent basis, specifically tied to American politics
· You have anxiety, sleeplessness, and other physical or emotional problems specifically tied to American politics
· You obsessively look at the news and social media, to a much greater degree than you give to God’s word or anything that uplifts your soul
· You have long conversations (even if only in your head) expounding your views to the other side, using up precious emotional energy that could be used to pray or do something useful for those around you
· You have lost the promise of a “peace that passes understanding,” and firmly believe you can only have internal peace if your candidate wins the election
These are just a few I have observed. There are many more I am sure. If it’s true of you, the best thing you can do is to stop blaming any human being or any political agenda for this loss and fight with everything in you to take it back. That place inside of you is sacred and belongs only to God!
In my next post, I want to talk about the second sacred space, which is the Body of Christ. But we can’t even begin to bring down those walls until we have done our own internal battles.
I end this with a benediction from Paul, and it is my prayer over your and my innermost being as we live and serve in these difficult days. “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole body, soul, and spirit be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”[iii] Amen!