The Aftermath


Perhaps you can relate. [i]

Do you feel battered and bruised? Perhaps splintered? Like you are dragging half of yourself behind you as you “will” the other half to slog forward? Do you feel smaller, weaker, clumsier, dumber, slower than you did 12 months ago? Out of 62 years of life, 2020 was easily my most difficult.

Many of us experienced irretrievable loss – death of family and friends.

Some of us suffered new physical difficulties: Losing two senses–taste and smell–for the first time ever, wondering if/when they might return.[ii] Also, aches and pains in the joints that last for months, and still not sure they are gone.

Then there are the inner battles, the mind, emotions, our inner “soul and spirit” battling discouragement, fatigue, doubts about ourselves and are abilities to cope going forward. Mental health issues are more real and immediate and consequential than perhaps we had seen before. Welcome to this side of life!

And the struggles are far from done. Battles rage on. So, calling this the “aftermath” is not so accurate. But we also need to trust, to believe, that we are moving toward the end of this storm.

Can I suggest that this is a good time to Hear Divine Words?

Quite the nice promise here:

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Trust in the LORD always, for the LORD GOD is the eternal Rock.” Isaiah 26:3-4 NLT.

Perhaps it is hard to picture solace or peace as a genuine possibility. Negative, debilitating thoughts have moved in and set up house. Dark questions, waves of doubt, have clamped down and are difficult to dispel. Mental fatigue has become the norm. What can be done?

If you haven’t learned this yet, it is time to learn it now: No human being can be healthy and well “in and of themselves.” We are not fashioned to be self-sufficient, to waltz happily “on our own.” Human beings are designed by our Masterful Creator to need one another and to need HIM. Dependance is not weakness. Needing others and being needed by them is the only way to thrive.[iii] It has taken me many decades to really see this.[iv] 

Jacob in the Bible is a case study on learning dependence. His encounter with God (Gen. 32) left him limping, but on the right trail.

Deity promises “perfect peace” to all who depend upon Him; to those who “fixate their thoughts” on Him.

Let’s encourage one another on this path and rejoice together with the results. “Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Phi. 4:6-7 NLT.

N.B. The picture is of the “farmers market” in our town of Wewak, Papua New Guinea. Come for a visit when travel opens up again!


[i] But aftermath is not the correct word here, because we are clearly still caught in the “math.”

[ii] If you don’t know what this is like, be thankful. Here you are, chewing your favorite food and “bang” the realization comes. You know what it should taste like, but your taste buds are mummified. The only sense left in your mouth is the sense of touch. Your tongue and cheeks can “feel” the food, but that is the only “enjoyment” you can grasp for. Texture and perhaps temperature is all you feel, meal after meal after meal.

[iii] In all the stories about Jesus, in the Bible he depended on other people to meet his needs for food, shelter, etc. See Luke 8:3.

[iv] There is a book with a strange sounding title that I would like to read but haven’t been able to afford it, the title is Jesus and John Wayne. It must deal with things like this.


.

With an Alert Mind

“Devote yourselves to prayer, with an alert mind and thankful heart.” Col. 4:2.

I have been praying for 60 years. I am told that the Lord already knows what I will pray for, and He already knows what He will do about it. This “knowledge” of God’s knowledge HINDERS my prayer life. Worship and praise and thanksgiving still make sense, but prayer requests? I honestly cannot get my head around asking an all-knowing Being for something that he already knows I will ask for, and has already decided what he will do in response.

In any other situation, I would call this a “farce!”

I DON’T GET IT!      I HONESTLY DON’T GET IT!

I am writing this essay today [Dec. 4,5,6,7,8,9, 2020] in an honest attempt to figure “it” out.

I am sorting through my theological brain. Sorting through the Scriptures that have led my pursuits for decades. The slogans I have come up with. The preaching and writing I have presented to others. I am shaking it all up like a penny jar and ready [I hope] to dump it out for the whole world to see.

Laugh if you will. Argue if you want. But at least give it some thought and get back to me.

First, lets take note of three things:

1. Human beings severely overestimate our ability to comprehend things beyond our reach. The eternal, infinite, holy BEING exists and behaves 1000 levels above our paygrade. Let’s get this into our thick skulls.

Evidence:

  • “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Isa. 55:9. (All quotations from NLT).
  • “God … is able … to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Eph. 3:20.

2. From cover to cover, the Bible portrays the eternal, infinite, holy BEING as genuinely interacting with his human creatures and responding to them. Never lose sight of this!

Evidence:

  • Gen. 18:17-33 – Abraham barters with God.
  • Exo. 33:12-23 – Moses bargains with God.
  • Lev. 26:3-46 – God lets his people determine much of their future.
  • Jer. 26:1-19 – God allows people to determine His response.
  • Mat. 7:6-11 – God’s children told to ask.
  • Acts 10:30-33 – An army officer told how to obtain the Lord’s blessing.
  • Acts 28:7-9; Jam. 5:14-15 – Prayers bring about healing.

Therefore, as a professor of mine stressed, the Bible shows that “God chooses to move through time with us.” (David Needham).  If God sets this parameter, us creature-lings should act accordingly. Don’t bring the doctrines of God’s omniscience and predestination into our prayer lives!

3. The eternal, infinite, holy BEING admits that he keeps secrets from us.

Evidence:

  • “The Lord has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them.” Deut. 29:29.
  • “Truly, O God of Israel, our Savior, you work in mysterious ways.” Isa. 45:15.

So then, where does this lead us?

Let’s stop pretending to be a colony of ants able to debate the merits of astrophysics! God’s eternal nature, God’s omniscience, is totally beyond our comprehension!

Here are 5 suggestions.

1. Learn to stay in our lane and Let God alone be God – the eternal, infinite, holy BEING!

  • He is eternal in nature and orientation, who chooses to invade our time-based life and world.
  • Life for us is sequential and spatial. One event follows after others, which will then be followed by more and more.
  • Therefore, pray in the “now” for changes and developments we desire to see in the future.

2. Let God have the right to reveal what He chooses to reveal when He chooses to reveal it.

  • Dive into, and hang on to, a relationship of trust, over just a knowledge-based trust. John 13:7.
  • We are alerted to spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10-18; 1 Thes. 5:8), but note that the armor is defensive, protective. We are told to “stand firm”, not to “march and attack.”  
  • “But we worship at your throne – eternal, high and glorious!” Jer. 17:12.

3. Live forever in the ever-developing “now”, not in some yet to be experienced future.

  • What did Jesus do at the funeral of a corpse he was about to resurrect? “Then Jesus wept.” John 11:35.
  • “That is why the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today when you hear his voice…’” Heb. 3:7.
  • “You must warn each other every day, while it is still ‘today,’ so that…” Heb. 3:13.

4. Pray for others 20 times more than you pray for yourself.

  • “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” Eph. 6:18.
  •  “I pray for you constantly.” Eph. 1:16. “We always pray for you.” Col. 1:3. “So we keep on praying for you.” 2 Thes. 1:11.
  • The love God has for you, he has equally towards everyone in your life. Rom. 5:8.

5. Let God embrace you. Let Him reassure you. He wants you to know, wants you to FEEL His solid heart-love for you.

  • David was caught in an absolutely horrible situation when he prayed and wrote Psalm 52. But, within that horror he could honestly say, “But I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God. I will always trust in God’s unfailing love.” Psa. 52:8. This is genuine relationship. It exceeds, overcomes, and outlasts any and all circumstances.
  • Live and breathe Psalm 23.

This article is incomplete. Input from you and others is most welcome. I myself have only begun this journey of learning to pray with integrity. May God bless us. 

Reggie Howard.

Jeremiah – Choose Your Zip Code

Introduction to Dialogue #10

Some may hesitate to call this passage a “dialogue”. But it is included here because God DID speak, Jeremiah DID answer, and the consequences were great. Jeremiah’s last prayer is also recorded. It was offered on behalf of other people. They were anxious and worried, forced to wait ten long days for their answer. These were unusual times.

Flow of Conversation

Easily the strangest “dialogue” of all, the two parties communicate indirectly. God’s “servant”, Emperor Nebuchadnezzar, finds and frees Jeremiah (39:11-14). The Lord speaks through another foreigner to say, “Chose where you will live out the rest of your days.” (40:1-5). Jeremiah remains silent but answers with his feet (40:6). People force the prophet to reengage with Supreme Commander (42:1-3). Who then delays His answer (42:7) but eventually speaks clearly (42:9-22). Which the people reject anyway (43:1-2). Yes, this is a strange dialogue.

We can’t imagine the feelings of loss, devastation, and helplessness as Jeremiah watched the city walls torn down, the palace buildings destroyed, and the Temple of the Lord demolished.
The Babylonian officer in charge of the demolition was Nebuzaradan, a VIP Captain of the army, who received orders directly from King Nebuchadnezzar. He arrived a month after the wall was breached and King Zedekiah was blinded and taken away. Nebuzaradan’s job was to level the city.
Nebuchadnezzar, the Great Emperor himself, was very aware of God’s spokesperson, Jeremiah, and was ready to protect and honor him. This is not so surprising and shows the broad and powerful influence God’s spokesperson had. The Babylonian emperor told his top deputy to find Jeremiah. “See that he isn’t hurt. Look after him well and give him everything he wants.” 39:12.
The text sidetracks a little to show how the Lord remembered the Ethiopian (who saved Jeremiah from the muddy cistern) and promised to keep him safe (Jer. 39:15-18).
Then comes this statement, “The LORD gave a message to Jeremiah after Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, had released him at Ramah.” (40:1). But this was not a direct message (as were all the preceding ones), the Lord used a human intermediary, the foreign Captain himself.
The captain of the guard called for Jeremiah and said, “The LORD your God has brought this disaster on this land, just as he said he would … But I am going to take off your chains and let you go. If you want to come with me to Babylon, you are welcome. I will see that you are well cared for. But if you don’t want to come, you may stay here. The whole land is before you – go wherever you like … it’s up to you; go wherever you like.” 40:2-5.
This was the Lord’s word to Jeremiah. He gives him complete freedom and impels him to make a decision. Will you choose to join the exiles in Babylon or will you choose to remain in the land? You must decide, no one will do it for you.
There is no verbal response recorded in the text. Jeremiah instead spoke with his feet.
So Jeremiah returned to Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah, and he lived in Judah with the few who were still left in the land. 40:6.

Jeremiah’s Decision
The text offers no comment on this decision.
Did he make the “right” (God honoring) decision or the “wrong” (self-serving) decision? What was his thinking and motives? For what reasons did he choose to stay? For selfish reasons? Self-pity? Or to avoid the attention that awaited him in Babylon? We can only speculate, but asking these honest questions brings us “into” the situation, and how the text addresses it.
It seems apparent, though, that he chose to stay among the “bad figs” in the land accursed by God. Perhaps this was motivated by bitterness. He had worked tirelessly, against great opposition for 40 years, motivated by the hope that the holy city and temple could be saved. He gave his all, and it was not enough.


The results
We learn that things turned out horribly for him. There was hope for peace while Gedaliah served as governor, but then he was murdered. Jeremiah was in the hands of this murderer and about to be taken to Ammon.
A rescue mission took place and now there was a diverse group of people under the leadership of the rescuer, Johanan. They felt they should flee to Egypt before the Babylonian armies brought vengeance for the murder of the appointed governor. But they decided to ask Jeremiah to check what God thought about their plans.
Then all the guerrilla leaders, including Johanan son of Kareah and Jezaniah son of Hoshaiah, and all the people, from the least to the greatest, approached Jeremiah the prophet. They said, “Please pray to the LORD your God for us. As you can see, we are only a tiny remnant compared to what we were before. Pray that the LORD your God will show us what to do and where to go.” 42:1-3.
Jeremiah agreed to enquire.
“All right,” Jeremiah replied. “I will pray to the LORD your God, as you have asked, and I will tell you everything he says. I will hide nothing from you.” 42:4.
They promised to do whatever the Lord said.
Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the LORD your God be a faithful witness against us if we refuse to obey whatever he tells us to do! Whether we like it or not, we will obey the LORD our God to whom we are sending you with our plea. For if we obey him, everything will turn out well for us.” 42:5-6.
But, the Lord did not answer quickly. Think of the times Jeremiah received almost immediately a “Word of the Lord.” But here a whole week went by without an answer. These are people living in fear; fear for their very lives. Eight days, no answer. Nine days, no answer.
The Lord’s spokesperson did not receive a word from him until the 10th day. Jeremiah was not in close fellowship with his God at this point of his life. Anger, bitterness, disappointment raged in this heart.
During this long wait the distraught seekers made up their own minds what to do. Jeremiah finally delivered a detailed, lengthy, well documented “word from the Lord” on the 10th day (42:7-22). But by now the people were prepared to go completely against the Lord’s instructions. They went to Egypt where God’s wrath awaited, and they forced Jeremiah and Baruch to go with them.
The Lord gave a few more messages to his spokesperson for the hearing of those in Egypt, but they were only messages of judgement that the people refused to hear. (43:8-13, 44:1-14, 44:20-30).

Conclusion
Jeremiah was forced to choose his own zip code. He could not blame God for that choice, the results that followed were entirely upon himself.
Jeremiah’s time in Judah and Egypt were, for all we can see, a waste. There is nothing good that came out of it.
The other place Jeremiah could have taken up residence had hundreds of thousands of the Lord’s “good figs.” The Lord’s heart, the Lord’s favor, and the Lord’s future plans were with those exiles. His seasoned spokesperson could have had (and I would say “should” have had) a strategic impact among those favored people.
But this was a choice Jeremiah had to make himself: To set aside his heart-pain and be willing to offer himself as a “living sacrifice” to the Lord, for the sake of his captive people.

Jeremiah was overcome by tragedy. But his amazing, longsuffering, relationship-driven God was not done with him. It would seem clear that God’s spokesperson, and the spokesperson’s scribe were in Egypt for some length of time. And as their hearts softened, as they allowed their loving God to renew their strength, they took the opportunity to work together in constructing this amazing, lengthy, full-disclosure scroll that we now know as The Book of Jeremiah.

My Hero Indeed

This man is my hero.

His name is Peter Haiya. He is a Huli, from Tiba, in Hela Province, Papua New Guinea. 35 years ago he single-handedly helped me avert disaster, spiritual disaster, and keep on the path of my destiny.

I was young and green and thought I could conquer the world. I was the lone foreigner among a group of local men, heading over a range of mountains, as requested by some super-remote people, the Sinali, Bogaya and Agala tribes [population perhaps 700]. Our goal was to make contact and lay a foundation for presenting the Gospel to them.

Early on the second day [of 4 or 5 days of rigorous – 10-hours – climbing up and down over huge, steep mountains] the following happened.

The witnesses there claim I was hit with a sudden, demonic attack. I was shaking, my eyes turned red, my memory sees things as an observer from outside rather than a participant.

The men surrounded me, prayed, and were deciding that we needed to turn back. “How can we take our missionary all the way there, what if he dies. We will never be able to bring him back [meaning, it would be difficult to carry my dead body all they way back, which they would have to do according to custom].”

In the middle of this stress and commotion, Peter raised his voice and spoke his mind. With firm conviction, and sure and steady voice, leaving little wiggle room for debate, he said: “We started this journey believing God is with us. Now that we have a slight problem, we are really giving up? Are we telling God that he is no longer with us?”

The rebuke took hold. The men took hold of me. They prayed bold and fervent prayers, all together, outloud. After some time, change clearly took place. My eyes cleared; the shaking stopped. I was no longer an observer. I joined in with their prayers. And without even discussing things there was a unanimity of spirit, heart and mind among us, that indeed we should proceed with the mission.

Without you, my brother Peter, my life would be a shell of itself. I would have failed my calling and probably never made it back. We made many trips back and forth over those mountains, you even went back last year. You are my hero.

The people not only heard the Gospel, they found transformation. They forgave their enemies. The fighting stopped. They learned of Jesus Christ and trusted Him. They learned to read and write. They got medical help. Life expectancy has doubled. Population has greatly increased. And people in nearly every hamlet worship the Living God.

Peter, I can’t wait to get to heaven and see what rewards our Lord will honor you with! You deserve much. You remain my hero.