I work in a small ‘satelite’ office in Durham.
Our company’s headquarters is about 80 miles down the road, so someone made the excellent decision to lease our little corner of an office building in RTP for folks like me who would have to drive a couple hours every day without it.
A good 75 percent of our building is occupied by a branch of a federal government office, and apparently they do something worthy to merit a couple of Department of Homeland Security guards throughout the day.
The three guys who rotate the duty are all retired military dudes who are old enough to be my dad. This is kind of their retirement job.
They basically just sit at a desk in the lobby and sign off on mail deliveries and check people’s credentials before letting them onto the elevator…
Consequently, they’re usually REALLY bored, and they’ll talk to you as long as you let ’em if you happen to make eye contact.
This is a problem for me, since I have to walk by their desk every time I need to go use the restroom or the water fountain.
Seriously: this is a problem for me.
Sometimes I pretend to be talking on my phone while I walk past them, otherwise I can’t guarantee that I’ll make it back to my desk.
It’s not that I’m antisocial or that I don’t want to talk to people. But sometimes I have five minutes to kill, not 25, and I can’t afford to miss a call or an urgent email.
Ok. So that’s only barely relevant to the point of this post, but it was nice to vent. (Send me your hourly rate and I’ll put a check in the mail)
Oh, and just to prove my point, I got up to use the restroom about 2 sentences back and I got pinned down by a guard. He wanted to tell me about how someone had a panic attack yesterday that got him going about how he almost had a panic attack years ago when he spent his first day on the job as a fire-fighter.
Actually, I kind of like this particular guard. He’s the chattiest of all of them, but I honestly think that he believes that he has important advice he needs to impart to me any time he gets a chance.
Plus, his daughter and grandkids live with him, and he pretty much supports all of them, so he seems like a pretty stand-up dude.
But there are 2 other guards…
One is just a dirty old man. He cusses like a sailor, and loud enough to hear all the way in my office, and when neither of the other guards are around, he watches movies on his laptop while he’s on duty. Last time he did that, I hear four cuss words in the time it took to walk from the bathroom to the door.
I once walked past the desk and he had both feet up on the desk and was read a copy of “Hustler” while having a conversation with a female employee.
So there’s the grandpa, the dirty old man, and I guess the third one we could call the entrepreneur.
Below is the footnotes version of a 20-minute conversation we had yesterday (while he was on the clock):
Guard: Does your wife like to shop?
Me (stunned): Uh, not really…
Guard: Of course she does. All women love to shop. You love to shop too, right?
Guard: When you want to buy something, where do you usually shop?
Me: Well, I guess it…
Guard: Most people say ‘Walmart’ or ‘KMart’
Me: Ah, sure
Guard: When you shop at Walmart, do they usually give you money back?
Me: If I pay wi…
Guard: Besides change
Me: I mean, my credit card has a little cash back program.
Guard (handing me his ‘business’ card): Wouldn’t you like to get paid to do your shopping?
Me (just trying to roll with it so I can get back to work): sure
Guard: All you gotta do is go to my website and create an account, and then you earn money every time you shop. Or travel!
Guard: (goes into long spiel about this business and how I can have my own website and earn money whenever I shop OR when OTHER people shop)
Guard: (still spieling…)
Guard (at some point in his spiel): You know, I came into this business really critical, but the ONLY problem that I’ve found so far is that it LOOKS kind of like a pyramid scheme. (yes, he said that out loud)
Guard (eventually): But that’s not even the best part. See, it really doesn’t matter whether people use your website or whether you make any money.
Me: Oh. It doesn’t?
Guard: No. See, if you do this program, you become a BUSINESS OWNER. You know what that means? Tax writeoffs!
Me: I see…
Guard: For example, last month, I made 200 extra dollars, just by writing off my business expenses.
Guard: Yeah, like right now: me and you are talking. You know what this is? Lunch meeting. I get to write off my lunch today.
Me: Really? You’re buying me lunch?
Guard: No! But as long as I eat my lunch within like, an hour or something, I can write it off! See?
Me: Oh… yeah. Well you should be careful. I have to file my taxes as a business owner, and it can be tricky.
(Guard keeps interrupting me, but eventually:)
Me: For example, we have a home office where I do a lot of my work, but we also have a bed in there for guests, so it’s not a writeoff. There are some really strict rules…
Guard: Oh yeah. Yeah. I know. My wife wanted to put a couch in my office, I was like, “no way”. So we only put it in there when people come over, but if we ever get audited or something, ain’t gonna be no couch in the office.
You get the idea.
OK. So why was it worth my time to type all of this out?
Am I just venting?
Well, I AM venting a bit. This guy is getting paid with MY tax dollars to protect the people upstairs — or possibly to protect the world from what they’re doing (should I be nervous that the Department of Homeland Security thinks they need extra protection?) — and he’s using his time to try and sell me on what appears to be a pyramid scheme.
But our little chat got me to thinking. That was only one of at least three conversations so far this week (it’s only Wednesday) where people hinted at stretching the rules when it comes to their taxes.
I say ‘stretching the rules’ because I think that each of these people would say that that’s all they’re doing. Or worse yet, I think they may even be in denial about whether they are breaking any law at all.
Have you ever done that? You have a very uneasy feeling about something and you’re pretty sure that if you think it through you’ll come to the conclusion that it’s wrong. So what do you do? You refuse to think it through. You hurry up and change the subject in your mind so that later you can convince yourself that you didn’t do anything wrong — you just didn’t realize it would cause trouble.
Psychology has a big term for this: cognitive dissonance
Lots of syllables, but really, it just means that you’re lying to yourself.
And my conversations this week reinforced what the Bible has been teaching me for a while now: “Little Sins” have devastating consequences.
That security guard is barely a grain of sand on the beach of our budget problems in America.
What’s the harm in one guy getting away with, say, an extra thousand bucks?
Well, how about if we ask a different question:
How might this country be different if everyone were completely honest on their taxes?
What if our government had a few extra BILLION dollars to work with this year?
I reject the objection that just came into your head: “Why should I worry about how much money I give my government if they never use it the way I want?“
You don’t get to say that.
1) That’s an over-simplification and you know it
2) Jesus didn’t leave that as an option
What did He say about taxes? “Render unto Caesar…“
Have you ever considered that He said this at a time when taxes were absolutely, BRUTALLY unreasonable? People lived in poverty because of the outrageously unfair tax rates. AND, that tax money was used for blatantly immoral causes, including brutal war and even idol worship. It was EVEN used as a form of worship to Caesar as god. It was EVEN used to torture accused criminals (think crucifixion).
And when Jesus sent Peter to pay his temple tax, He was paying the salaries of the men who were going to stop at nothing to KILL Him.
But when Jesus was asked the question, He didn’t say, “Well, it’s nuanced. It’s complicated. There are lots of details to consider….“
He said, “Pay it.”
Paul, in Romans 13, even goes so far as to say that every authority is given his authority by God, and that we should submit to the rule of our authorities as if submitting to God.
He wrote this to Christians who would be burned at the steak BY their authorities.
So, now that you don’t have your objection, I ask again: What if several billion dollars were available this year to deal with homelessness, child poverty, child obesity, teen pregnancy, Haiti, Chile…
What if it were available to setup a child mentoring program to keep kids from growing up and becoming criminals, and that caused our prisoner population to shrink, and that saved us even more money…
What if there were an exponential chain reaction?
What if this statement is true: People who cheat “a little” on their taxes CAUSE homelessness, drug abuse, crime, violence, and poverty.
Are you OK with that?
Are you OK with being casual about your level of honesty?
I’ll give you another example from this week. At our small group (a ‘small group’ is what our church calls the hundreds of Bible studies that meet in people’s homes across RDU) we have been studying through the book of Ephesians (as our pastor has been preaching through it).
A few weeks back we looked at Ephesians 4, where you’ll find this intense exhortation from Paul:
…do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…
All by itself, this seems kind of cryptic. How do you grieve a spirit?
But look at it on context:
V 29: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
V 30: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by Whom you were sealed for the day of redemption
V 31: Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
Do you see it?
‘Grieving The Holy Spirit’ has to do with what comes out of our mouths: bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice.
I think there are many of us who would say that we try not to commit any ‘big’ sins. We don’t kill, steal, or commit adultery.
Yeah? But what did you say about your least favorite politician or political party this week?
It does JUST as much damage.
It makes the Holy Spirit of God feel grief.
Recently, Paul Tripp came to speak at our church. He said that life is made up of ‘mundane moments’.
Similarly, I think our mark on the world is made by the ‘little’ decisions we make.
Every. Single. Day.