Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sunday Musings: Seek The Welfare Of The City

This is a mock cover for a future adaptation of the story of Daniel; click >HERE< for some excerpts!

"The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault."
 -Jim Butcher, "Blood Rites"

I saw the above quote yesterday, and felt it was profoundly applicable to this post and the state of my world just now.

I don't usually get political; I am profoundly laissez-faire when it comes to politics, mostly because I feel like both sides are screaming at each other--or, to continue the metaphor of the quote, one keeps throwing matches, and the other, gasoline. So my "building" is "on fire"--and it's not my fault. I reserve the right to function as effectively as I can in whatever situation comes my way. I don't feel comfortable being overly vocal about which side I agree with more.

This morning in church, though, I was presented with a situation that I could claim responsibility for: I may not have set the fire, I may not be tossing around accelerants with one side or the other--but I'm not running around looking for the fire extinguisher, either.

Today's passage was from Jeremiah 29, preparing to delve into the book of Daniel--which, if you know the Bible, Daniel was one of those smart, good-looking, "best and brightest" individuals forcibly drafted into the service of a pagan king who held none of the same moral or spiritual values, and in fact didn't value the Israelite/Jewish people as an individual nation at all. 

The Jewish people--God's people--have been taken over in the worst way, by the worst "administration" possible. Their only options are to "put up and shut up" or die. Of course, what else would they think but "This is not what God has planned for His people! This is the opposite of what He promised us! This is a temporary thing. Surely God would never leave us in the hands of the Babylonians, His enemies!"

In the midst of this, God sends Jeremiah with a message:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." (Jeremiah 29:4-7)

Morality In Exile

It's easy to believe that morality in America has officially gone into exile. Since the day the election came down to only two candidates, there have been dangerous allegations lobbed on both sides. Since the day President Trump was elected, there have been full-on riots and numerous protests, and even on a smaller scale, friendships ruined, property damaged, people injured over a difference of beliefs. And now, from the global Women's March on Inauguration Day, to the steady stream of extreme executive orders the President has issued in his first week in office... 

"This country has officially gone downhill," you might say. "Morality in America is dead. It's the Christians' fault for electing this man. He should not be in office. He should not have this much power. He is not my president! America is no longer following God, and now we're being punished for it!"

I would acknowledge that you have ample evidence to say such things. The Jewish people very likely had the exact same thoughts about the king of Babylon--

And yet God said that they were exactly where He wanted them to be. He didn't just tell them to "Stay put and wait for Me." He told them to settle in. He didn't say "Keep the infidel far from you, don't associate with the people who hate Me." He said, "Mingle with your neighbors, get involved with your community, put down roots, make long-term plans for improving the city."

WHAT??? Why???

Why would God want the captive Jews to interact with the very people who desecrated His Temple? Does this mean God actually wants the enemies of His people to succeed and to flourish? "I thought the point of choosing Israel as Your People was so that they would succeed and their enemies--i.e., Babylon--would fail!" 

What kind of message is God trying to send, here? "Take over and oppress the people who believe in God, and you'll get away with it! This God of theirs is weak, the people are weak, nothing can stop you!" Is that it???

The Greatest Nation  
“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:10-13)

Particularly in light of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict that just exploded recently (in spite of the fact that it was continuously happening before, and still going on to this day), it's easy to recognize and even identify with how the Israelite nation felt. What began with Assyria taking over Israel and Judea, led to Babylon, led to Persia, led to Greece, and finally, just before the time of Jesus, Rome took over the large majority of the known world. Since the time of the first exile, the Israelites desperately clung to their national identity. Surely God would let them return to their homes at some point! Surely God had not abandoned the land they had once owned. "Make Israel Great Again!" Could have been their rallying cry. "Jews Alone Deserve Shalom!" After all, what kind of message would it send, if God's people didn't have a kingdom greater than all the other kingdoms?

And yet here was God, telling them to "Seek Shalom (translated in the passage as "welfare, or well-being") for the city"--in other words, for Babylon. 
BABYLON GETS SHALOM?? Why? What would be the point? They wouldn't even know what to do with it!
Look back at verse 7, at the end of the last passage: "In its welfare you will find your welfare." In seeking Shalom for the city that despises you for your beliefs, you will find Shalom. 

The Nation That Prays Together, Stays Together

One week before the election, protesters in Portland marched against now-President Trump--and rioters took advantage of the mayhem, causing thousands of dollars in damage to property, and not affecting the outcome of the election one iota. Nearly every day since then, there has been at least one video or post about people getting kicked out of homes by their parents, based on who they supported, of supporters getting brutally beat by those in opposition. Millions of women marched in protest and blocked traffic on Inauguration Day, some of them even leaving a great big pile of lewd, angry signs for someone else to clean up after them--

In his first 20 days in office, President Trump has issued some very frightening policies with executive orders. Many of them seem targeted at specific people groups, efficiently alienating those groups from any interest in cooperation. The decisions made by the President have prompted a veritable firestorm of backlash all over the place. Sometimes, it does seem that the administration is advancing some kind of political cause in spite of the input of others, rather than in light of it. In some cases, it feels like the administration is trying to legislate a certain moral standard, in what amounts to "retaliation" for it being perceived as "legislated against" for so long. (Such as the areas of abortion and education, for example)


To the professed Christians (specifically them--and that includes me, so us!) on both sides of the issue who express threats or a desire to just move off the grid, isolate themselves, leave the country, and ultimately who deny President Trump's position (because "not my president" isn't just questioning his validity or legitimacy, it's flat-out denying the fact that the election and the inauguration both happened; legally, factually, and realistically, yes he is) because of the choices he's made and the orders he's given; to those who are choosing to just "check out for the next four years"...

Plans For Shalom, Declares The LORD

We dismiss it as a pithy "Someday" statement, a promise that "everything is going to be okay"--but I want to re-emphasize verse 11:

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."

Just as a refresher, what was the "welfare" referring to? "Welfare for Babylon, and for the Jews in Babylon." What "plans"? The exile, which would position the people exactly where God wanted them, with no choice but to be constantly looking for and looking to Him, longing for Him, seeking Him--

So many generations passed without any of those Jews seeing the fruition of God's plans, nor the fulfillment of His promise. Those who know your Bible know that during the Persian rule, at least one of the kings allowed a man called Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple--but Israel has not seen that former glory at any point since then. 

Does that mean it's over? Does that mean there is nothing left? Does that mean God has not kept His word? 
No; as a matter of fact, Christians today should understand that the "future and a hope" lies in the Kingdom of God, and has not nor will ever be an administration or "kingdom" that exists on earth.

In God We Trust

Yes, I voted for Trump. Yes, the decisions he's made scare me, too. Yes, I will be profoundly affected because guess what, I work in a public school in a very high-poverty area, so the district administration relies heavily on outside funding. Everybody I work with is scared of the current Secretary of Education. I've enjoyed four and a half good years of a job I really love--and who knows if I will see a fifth? Anything is possible at this point. It could also be that I am not affected at all and the whole thing just blows over.

But my God says I still need to seek Shalom for my city.

How can I do that? By bringing my best work ethic into the building every day. By welcoming every child who walks through those doors with open arms and validating whatever cultural background they come from. By treating everybody around me with dignity and respect. By not running away and hiding, nor pushing anyone away when things get tough. Most of all, I seek shalom when I recognize the One who is truly in charge, when I choose to honor whoever He has seen fit to place in authority over me, and when I keep focused on the sovereignty of God alone by praying to Him on behalf of the city, on behalf of the current administration. By standing tall and saying the Pledge of Allegiance every morning with the students, and meaning every word of it.

God knows the plans He has for the next four years. It may not look like anything from where we're standing--but our responsibility is not to make sure everything turns out okay, is it? There is not a one of us who has control over the future. President Trump may issue an executive order that gets stayed by the judiciary branch of the American government a few days later. This is exactly how the branches should function, by the way; optimally, each branch should consult the other before making a decision, but in the event of one branch (not just executive branch, but the legislative and the judiciary branch need to be accountable to this as well) wanting to exert too much power, it is up to the other two branches to initiate the checks and balances necessary to keep that branch from getting too long. 

Fellow Christians, I ask you to pray with me.

Fellow believers of other faiths, the word of God is not mandated for you, but I urge you also to pray to whom you will, and seek the welfare of your community as much as you are able.

How much better would it be if we did that instead of marching in the streets, and inviting anarchy, vitriol, and overall strife in this nation we are living in? How much more effective would our message be if we focused on actively benefiting the people around us, instead of passing harmful and negative (note that I do not say all of them are untrue) news bulletins on social media?
For myself, I think praying and seeking shalom are components of the "Upstream" kind of person I want to be. Will you join me?

Catch You Further Upstream!

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