When we are sick, there is nothing we want more than to be restored to health. I can think of several times in my life when I was so sick (Lima, Peru and Cairo, Egypt) that I ashamedly admit I thought it would be better to die. That’s how “bad sick” it was. I can remember lying out in a field during pilot training after a bad parachute landing with my shoulder way out of joint. I thought I was going to die from the pain. I HOPED I would die from the pain!
But these are just physical ailments.
Much worse to be emotionally sick or spiritually sick and feel as if there is no way out. Increasingly, more people, especially young people, are seeking to “escape” life through suicide because they feel so emotionally sick (lonely, isolated, unloved, worthless) that death is the only way they think they can be “healed”. Others try to escape through alcohol or drugs or entertainment or any number of ways to attempt to numb the pain or mask the negative emotions that seem overwhelming at times, trying to pull us into a black hole.
Ah, but there is balm in Gilead. There is a great Physician… the God who heals.
If you were to tally up all of the miracles of Jesus and then classify them, by far the largest category would be His role of healing people. Here is one of the great understatements for which the Scripture is so famous:
“And Jesus was going about in all Galilee… healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people… and they brought to him all who were ill… and He healed them.” Matthew 4:23-24
Think about this: “every kind of disease and sickness … and He healed them”. Cancer? He healed it. Withered arms? Healed. Diabetes, hemorrhages, bad hearts, kidneys, gout, blindness, mute, deaf? All healed. Every kind of disease and sickness. Including the demoniacs… people who were physically, mentally and emotionally impaired due to a spiritual force. Healed by the Great Physician… Yahweh Rophe or Rapha, as it is more popularly known.
There are more than sixty references in the Scripture describing God as Yahweh-Rapha, the God who heals or restores. One of the early ones is in Exodus 15. Here is the back-story:
The children of Israel were in misery, slaves in Egypt until God intervened and restored them to freedom. God showed Himself mighty before their eyes, through the miracle of plagues, release from the captivity of a hard-hearted Pharaoh, crossing the Red Sea on dry ground, destroying Pharaoh’s army, and leading them with what must have been an eye-popping, jaw-dropping cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. No one has ever had more open, physical evidence of God’s miraculous desire and power to restore than did the Israelites.
But they soon started to grumble and complain.
They travelled through the desert of Shur for three days without water until finally coming to what was probably a set of springs, looking cold and delicious. But the water was bad, “bitter” as can be found in similar locations in Saudi Arabia today. And the hearts of the people then turned bitter too and they began to whine and complain, “grumbling against Moses”. So Moses went to the Lord and prayed and God gave Moses a medical “instrument”, a piece of wood, which he threw into the water and it was restored and became “sweet”. God then told them that if they would listen and follow Him, He would keep them from all the plagues He had brought upon the Egyptians, for He was their healer… literally, “for I am Yahweh-Rapha”, the first time this name of God is used. And it was Yahweh-Rapha who had Elisha use instruments of a jar and salt to purify the bad water in Jericho (2 Kings 2:21) and flour to cleanse the poisonous stew (2 Kings 4:41).
As I write this, we are praying that God will use the instruments of human physicians to heal our dear friend of cancer. We desire for this to happen now, but we know that all of those in Christ will be ultimately healed, in the day of restoration, when the God of Restoration, Yahweh-Rapha, will restore everything.
And, ultimately, the real healing that we need is not physical, for our deepest and most serious disease is spiritual. Jesus made this connection plain:
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Mark 2:17
Through Jeremiah, God spoke of how the Israelites had an “incurable” wound, that there was “no healing for their sore” and their “injury” was serious. But He wasn’t speaking of a physical wound or sore, He was talking about their spiritual state:
“… your iniquity is great and your sins are numerous.” Jeremiah 30:14
After speaking of Judah’s rebellion, sin and iniquity, calling them evildoers, sons who act corruptly, abandoning the Lord, despising the Holy One of Israel, God says of them:
“The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint.” Isaiah 1:5
David cried for healing from the Lord, but it wasn’t for physical ailments:
I said, “Have mercy on me, Lord; heal me, for I have sinned against you.” Psalm 41:4
In Psalm 147:3, it is Yahweh-Rapha who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
In one of the great passages concerning Christ’s work on our behalf, that He has healed us of our wounds… not physical wounds, but the spiritual sickness that would have separated us from God forever:
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5
Many, unfortunately, misunderstand this passage and make it apply to our physical ailments, when it is so clearly speaking of Christ healing us of our transgressions and our iniquities. Nowhere are we promised, in this fallen world, to be free from its ubiquitous pull toward decay. But much of our maladies are caused by spiritual rebellion. It is here that we can find rest for our souls, if we would let go of our hold on the world and what it offers, and turn to Him. Every one of our negative emotions are birthed in our belief in the lie that if we can just get our own personal script fulfilled, we will be happy and content and pleasured. But the world around us continues to step on our scripts and sometimes just downright trashes them. As long as we desperately fight for our own scripts, we will be doomed to anger, disappointment and the host of dark emotions that follow.
Are you brokenhearted? Is your soul downcast? Does a darkness pervade you from within?
There is a balm in Gilead.
Do you feel lost and alone, isolated? Are you filled with dread and fear? Does guilt or bitterness eat at your heart?
Does your past weigh upon you so heavily that you can barely take another step? Are you sick with sorrow or despair?
Behold! Yahweh-Rapha, the God who heals!
Draw near to Him… gaze upon His face.
Do not neglect the instruments of healing that He has decreed for us. Meditate upon His Word; call upon Him in prayer; and do not forsake the deep fellowship of the saints.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
To the volume of wonderful comments on President George H. W. Bush, I wish to add my very small two cents.
Indeed he was a noble man. When people have asked me over the years of my assessment of him, I have always responded with “He was a real gentleman, in every sense of the word.”
There is a reason why so many people, during these days of memorializing President Bush, have commented over and over again upon his character. Yes, they have rightly, now, pointed to his extraordinary ability of forging relationships with foreign dignitaries, his handling of the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, his command during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and a number of other noteworthy achievements that unfortunately during his lifetime didn’t get press in a blue journalistic world. There is a long list of commendable performances, I believe, as President. But the most frequent and compelling comments are with regard to his character and how he treated other people.
I offer my own small example.
Early on in my time at the White House, I was rushing somewhere in the West Wing when I rounded a corner, only to nearly bump into President Bush headed in the opposite direction. The hallway was not very wide there and so I immediately jumped to my left, mumbling a humble “excuse me, Mr. President”. But he had, at the same time, moved to the same side. I immediately mumbled another, more humble, “I’m sorry” and jumped to my right… just as he had moved back too. I was obviously embarrassed by all of this and was about to offer another deep apology for delaying him from no doubt some important task, when he just smiled, put his hands on his hips and did a short little jig to the right and then to the left. I don’t know why, but I quickly did the same and for two steps I danced with the President. We laughed and he went on his way and I mine.
I think of that interaction with him often over these past days, because it speaks of his humble and kind character. He could have just ignored me or he could have even been miffed at my being in his way. But instead, I believe he recognized my discomfort and sought to put me at ease. He paused in his busy day to have a brief moment of light heartedness with a lowly staff member who needed it.
Barbara was similar. I recall a Christmas event in the East Dining room. The party was in full swing awaiting the arrival of President and Mrs. Bush. A young marine was jiving to the live music in front of the band and was totally unaware that they had silently entered the room. While everyone parted to let them through, he continued to jive away. Barbara slipped up behind him and put her arms around him. When he turned around and saw her, I thought he was going to have a heart attack. She and the President just laughed and she gave him another big hug and continued on their way to greet other guests.
She and the President were two peas in a pod.
I suppose the other thing that will forever stick in my mind is what he said in his “farewell address”. He spoke of a value that must be forever cast in stone: decency and the moral courage to say what is right and condemn what is wrong. This requires even a greater measure of courage today than when he spoke it 26 years ago, for doing so will reap one a firestorm of hatred and scorn.
This is a walk for only the brave and the faithful.
Yet many, many have walked that difficult path in the past… some to their graves. Our call is to nothing less.
He also spoke against what he saw back then as the rising “tide of incivility”, a tide he believed America must strongly reject. He longed for a nation that was closer to “the Waltons” rather than “the Simpson’s”.
President Bush always believed that he had a responsibility to give back to this nation and to its people. This belief caused him to see others through the eyes of humility and kindness and an obligation to do what he could for the betterment of others.
He did that for me in an obscure little hallway in the White House.
We have lost a good man.
I just returned from a filming trip with Dr. Marcus Ross. We met at the 50-acre Discovery Park of America in Union City, Tennessee. If you ever find yourself near there, it would be worth visiting. Although there are exhibits in many different areas, our interest was in the natural history section with full skeletons of very diverse creatures from T-Rex to Apatosaurus, from Pterosaurs to the Woolly Mammoth and Saber-Toothed Tigers.
Dr. Ross is a paleontologist who has focused his research on dinosaurs. So our purpose for this part of the documentary (Is Genesis History?) was to learn more about that fascinating world…a world that no longer exists. Peter refers to the pre-flood earth as “the world that then existed perished” (2 Peter 3:6) and that God “did not spare the ancient world” (2 Peter 2:5). Clearly, the world that existed before the Flood was very different form the world we live in today. As Dr. Steve Austin and Dr. Kurt Wise explained in earlier filming segments, our common Christian understanding that the Flood simply soaked the earth is all wrong. The crust of the earth broke open and with enormous magma eruptions and tsunami forces of unimaginable size, God essentially remade the surface of the earth…and most probably the atmosphere as well.
The old world was filled with huge creatures; strange creatures. They swam in the ocean, walked the earth, and flew in the skies. The Megalodon shark had a jaw opening of nearly 100 square feet and teeth that were 7 inches long. The “Loch Ness” monster of that world was the Mauisaurus with a neck that was 49 feet long. On land, the Apatosaurus had a tail that was 50 feet long and was likely used as a defense mechanism, not physically threatening, but it could be “cracked” like a bullwhip and create a deafening boom like a cannon. In the air flew the Pterosaurs. This was the exhibit that fascinated me the most, I guess because of my love for flying. The Pterosaur could fold its wings, somewhat like the F-18 on a carrier, but the pterosaur had hands at this bend, so on the ground they were a quadruped, walking on four “legs”. The conventional paradigm would say that they evolved from land dwellers, somehow growing wings and taking flight. Dr. Ross explained how the pterosaur, like every flying creature, had to have a special hollow bone structure and body and organ design in order to fly. This isn’t a land creature that evolved wings; it was built to fly from the ground up (pun intended).
We talked about the fossil record, how each “layer” has been used to show the evolution of life, but it can just as well show the order of communities of creatures that were swept up in the catastrophe of the flood, beginning with the low-lying marine creatures, and subsequently deposited in the enormous sedimentary layers that we find all over the earth…some layers, like the Redwall Limestone, are up to 800 feet thick. All of these layers are filled with the remains of creatures that were destroyed in the Flood. We walk on top of a literal grave yard. Everywhere.
But, of all we talked about, the complexity of the creatures from the bottom to the top, the grand diversity of life throughout the layers, the lack of evidence for evolutionary development…it was the reason for the destruction of life that ended up being the focus of our interview.
Dr. Ross pointed out that the evidence we have from that world is that is was an extremely violent one. We often think of the violence that seems to be escalating in our current world, but it was nothing to what the ancient world experienced. I had mistakenly thought that God destroyed the world because of the evil of man, and that is true. But Dr. Ross pointed out something very important.
So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them. Genesis 6:7
God didn’t just destroy man, but animals as well. Why did He do that?
We know that the Fall dropped the entire universe into a world of decay, but we are most familiar with the sin and evil that infected the human race. Indeed, it appears to have been rife:
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5
But we also know that something happened to the animals. They were created herbivorous, but after the fall were carnivorous. The future hope is that the lion will lie down with the lamb and the cobra will not strike. This is a picture of the way animals were supposed to be. But just as the whole universe fell with Adam and is now groaning in its decay, so, too, did the animal kingdom. Ferocious creatures roamed the earth and swam in the oceans and flew in the skies. Dr. Ross talked about the teeth marks that are found on dinosaur bones.
It was a world and environment that allowed both plants and animals to live long and grow large, but they were infected with the savage disease of the Fall.
It was a world filled with abundant violence…both in man and beast.
And therefore God “wiped them all out”.
Understanding this is critical. Ignoring it is perilous. Peter refers to those who scoff at it, those who close their eyes to the evidence that is obvious...those who "willfully un-see". But he puts it in the context of judgment. If you ignore the judgment of God in the past, when He destroyed the world that then was, then you might think you can ignore the judgment that is coming. Peter mentions that the world was cleansed before with water and it will, in the future, be cleansed with fire.
In between, it was cleansed with blood…the blood of the Lamb.
If one ignores the judgments of God, one will not only ignore the notion of sin, but miss the entire “good news” of the Redemption and the Restoration.
All of this has been preserved for us in the bones...in the earth’s graveyard.
Look at them with wisdom and understanding.
In the new release “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” we will be treated with one of our culture’s common threads: vilify all things good.
In the movie, the delightful tradition of a “hero” is once again sacrificed in an attempt to destroy the notion that there is anything truly transcendent…all appearances of good are tainted with evil. We have a penchant for turning heroes into men of shame; sowing seeds of doubt about the righteous warrior; making us suspicious of the saint; dubious of the honorable knight.
This is the enemy’s playground. The world, the flesh, the enemy, and the gravitational pull of a fallen world will continually attempt to make us think that truth and good and honorable and righteous and faith and love and virtue and honor and valor and even male chivalry are to be suspect, to be doubted, to be viewed with skepticism, sensing some selfish and evil agenda hidden behind the veil.
The attack upon good is not new.
Satan convinced Eve that God was oppressive.
Elijah was charged with “troubling Israel”.
Stephen was stoned; Daniel was thrown to the lions; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were put in the furnace, Jeremiah in the stocks; John beheaded; David hunted; the Disciples martyred; the righteous tortured, mocked, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, put to the sword.
This is the lot of Right in a fallen world.
But never so much as when the Man of Righteousness was vilified. He was accused though He did no wrong; He was mocked though He was pure; He was scourged though He was perfect; He was crucified though He was blameless.
The world hates right; it hates good; it hates truth and true love; it hates purity and innocence; it hates the wonder of divine marriage; it hates the exclusivity of true sex and one God and absolute Truth.
We celebrate this day, not because we are sadistic, but because of the One who demonstrated true agape love for those who were His enemies. He did not revile, though He was reviled.
The hymn says “It was His love that kept Him there” and it was, for He could have called upon a legion of angels at least or He could have breathed out a word and wiped the entire universe out of existence.
But He didn’t.
And now His Remnant remain in a world that continues to hate what is right and good. It will continue to try to make Batman selfish and Superman vindictive. It will make us suspicious of cops and pastors and husbands and businessmen, not that they are without sin, but with the objective to destroy the design.
It will continually paint believers with all kinds of evil colors and charge us with increasing crimes of the cultural covenants.
But He was crucified and satisfied the wrath of God for us.
Yet the wrath of the world remains and we remain subject to it. But the wrath of the world is nothing compared to what we deserved.
So, we endure with perseverance, changing what can be changed, ever pursuing righteousness in all of life, yet recognizing that the wrath of man is not directed at us, but at Him and all things good.
“And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not grow weary.” Galatians 6:9
In 1936, a humble shepherd in Montana became ill and was taken to the hospital. His dog, Shep, refused to leave his side and remained at the hospital doors day and night. When the shepherd died and they put his coffin on a train, Shep was there at the depot, whining terribly as the train and his master departed without him. For the next five years, Shep remained faithfully at the tracks. He met every train, four times a day, running up and down the cars, examining every person who got off, looking for his master.
There are many stories about dogs being faithful to their masters. Maybe this is one reason God made dogs... to teach us.
It has been said that faithfulness is one of the most critical characteristics a human being can posess and yet, in an “all about me” culture, it is one that is unfortunately waning. It is in these times that we turn our attention to the One who is forever Faithful.
Sometimes, when thinking about the nature of God, it is helpful to ponder what it would be like if God did not possess a particular attribute. This is one of those cases. We are quick to confess or even sing songs about the faithfulness of God, but rarely do we spend time meditating upon it or what it would mean if He were not faithful. Were we to sufficiently do so, I suppose it would bring us to our knees in thankfulness and deep gratitude.
The word “faithful” is somewhat unique, for it does not seem to follow the normal suffix pattern: meaning a “fullness” of something. “Joy-ful” means that someone is full of joy… so, too, “helpful” and “thankful”, “doubtful” and “sinful”, etc. As Christians, we are a “hopeful” people, meaning we are full of, and filled with, “hope”… or we should be.
But to say that God is full of “faith” because He is “faithful” doesn’t sound right. And it shouldn’t because the “faith” in “faithful” has a different meaning than we are normally used to. It is best illustrated in Deuternonomy 32:15, where God declared to Moses that he would not enter the Promised Land because of his actions before the people at the waters of Meribah-kadish. In speaking this, God said that Moses had “broken faith” with the Lord. Here the word “faith” is used to mean a commitment to a covenantal relationship. God had raised up Moses and put him in a special position of leadership. He was a representative, a messenger, an ambassador of God to the people. Moses was therefore in a “faith” relationship with God and he broke that faith when he acted in a way that did not, as God said, “treat Me as Holy in the midst of the sons of Israel”.
If we were honest, we would have to confess that we daily, if not more frequently, “break faith” with God, for we who are new creatures in Christ, sons of the living God, having God as our Father, are now witnesses, ambassadors, representatives of Christ to the world around us. When we, as sons and daughers, act in a way that is contrary to the nature of our Father, we “break faith” with Him. That is why we are in daily need of His forgiveness by the eternal sacrifice that cleanses us from all sin. This is, indeed, amazing grace!
But though we are not, God is fully faithful in everything that He does. He is true to His Word. He is true to His promises. He is true to His covenants and all of His purposes and plans.
This is why we are a people of hope. For if God were not faithful, we would be a most miserable lot. There would be nothing to trust in, nothing to hang on to, nothing to look forward to… for if God were not faithful, there would be no heavenly Jerusalem awaiting us nor a resurrection after death. There would be no hope of a time where sin will be no more, where tears are wiped away, where the lion does indeed lie down with the lamb and the viper does not strike. There would be no end of death, the grave would still sting and my constant sin would forever condemn me.
But God is faithful and always will be. To be otherwise would be to deny Himself and this He cannot do:
… if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself. 2 Timothy 2:13
Great is His faithfulness.
Amen and amen.
P.S. Shep remained faithful until the end. After years of greeting each train, fed by the depot staff, Shep grew old and began to lose his sight and his hearing. He was eventually struck by one of the trains and died. There is a statue honoring him at the Benton train station to this day.
To some extent, there is a parallel here. Our humble Shepherd also physically departed our world. May we be just as faithful awaiting Him.
Verses to contemplate throughout the week:
He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. Deuteronomy 32:4
In all that has happened to us, you have remained righteous; you have acted faithfully, while we acted wickedly. Nehemiah 9:33
For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. Psalm 33:4 Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Psalm 36:5
Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Psalm 86:11
But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Psalm 86:15
I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. Psalm 89:1
Who is like you, Lord God Almighty? You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you. Psalm 89:8
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:5
He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them— he remains faithful forever. Psalm 146:6
This is what the Lord says— the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel— to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” Isaiah 49:7
Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, Israel with deceit. And Judah is unruly against God, even against the faithful Holy One. Hosea 11:12
“See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright— but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness— Habakkuk 2:4
But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. 2 Thessalonians 3:3
… if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself. 2 Timothy 2:13
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. Revelation 19:11
 If you recall, this where God told Moses to “speak” to the rock and it would bring forth water. Moses got caught up in himself and his anger, saying “shall WE bring water out of this rock again for you!?!” and instead of speaking to the rock, he struck it, as he did earlier in the Desert of Zin (Exodus 17). Moses struck the rock twice, probably because it didn’t work the first time. Paul tells us in 1 Cor 10:4 that the Rock was Christ… a typology that Moses had obviously disrespected by his actions.