In the Middle of Doubt

As sure as the sunrise, whenever I stumble, He reaches out to catch me.

Doubt has been flapping around me like vultures over a half-dead animal. Struggling with the high stress of caregiving and accompanying health problems, wrestling with disappointment and maybe even anger at God about how things have turned out in my life. The unhealed lacerations of past trauma making it hard to feel or receive anybody’s love, God’s love. Feeling that God’s love is conditional toward me. That I haven’t been able to get it right. I haven’t said or done the “correct” thing yet. My daily Word another disapproving censure. Out of yet another dark place I reached out to my sweet (and may I say oh-so-patient) sister. She had this to say: 

“God’s Spirit came to live in believers through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of love. We now live in Roman’s chapter 8 love. No condemnation love. No separation love.”  

And then she prayed: 

“Lord, we need revelation to sink down into our hearts! Change us! We can’t do it without you. We want to love you more truly and deeply. Amen.” 

Yes, I need revelation. That flash of Light in my darkness. And, let me say with deep thankfulness that whenever – always, as sure as the sunrise – whenever I stumble, He reaches out to catch me. Almost immediately. I am humbled and undone. 

In my daily reading the next morning were Paul’s writings about Jesus, who came as a priest in the order of Melchizedek, “not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life” (Hebrews 7:16). That word translated “indestructible” means no, not, or without (in other words it is impossible to) dissolve, disunite, destroy, demolish, overthrow, to render vain, to deprive of success, bring to naught, to render fruitless one’s desires or endeavors, to deprive of force, annul, abrogate.  

Jesus’ life is indestructible and our lives are hidden in His (Colossians 3:3). His plans and purposes, His desire and will, His power, His unity with me in the Spirit, are indestructible, cannot be destroyed, dissolved, rendered vain – not even by my weakness and wounds.  

And then I noticed that in the margin I had written, years ago, “Romans 8:38-39.” Nothing is able to separate us from the love of God. Soon after, in my inbox came this from a daily devotional1 I follow: 

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 

OK, I’m listening. When this happens, I always know that God has a message for me.  

Well, the very next blog2 I read had this to say (thank you Alan Kearns!): 

“So often in life we are left scratching our head at how things have turned out; despite our best plans or efforts the unexpected has happened. We are left with a handful of question marks … we are mystified by the circumstances we find ourselves in, praying for His light on the matter … Be assured if you know Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, His Father is in control of your puzzle – He knows what the final picture is!” 

And then a link to this beautiful song. (Remember how I told you that God uses song lyrics to speak to me.) 

God Jehovah, Jehovah Rapha 

You’re our healer 

You and You Alone … 

In the middle of doubt 

In the thick of sorrow 

You say look up 

To where our help comes from 

If everything around us 

Says there is no hope 

We’re never gonna let go 

Of the hem of Your robe … 

We’re leaning on your power 

You’ll do what can’t be done … 

All depression, every worry 

Every sickness Lord, You heal 

All addiction, every family 

Every heartbreak Lord, You heal … 

You and You Alone3 

I looked up what Jehovah-Rapha means and found this at Got Questions. “Jehovah-Rapha has the power to heal physically (2 Kings 5:10), emotionally (Psalm 34:18), mentally (Daniel 4:34), and spiritually (Psalm 103:2–3). Neither impurity of body nor impurity of soul can withstand the purifying, healing power of Jehovah-Rapha.”4  

Yes, I need healing in all those areas – physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. I need them all and I know He will do it. Because nothing can withstand His indestructible Life

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:35-37 

He opened the rock, and water gushed out; like a river it flowed in the desert. Psalm 105:41 

RAPHA – Stephen Mcwhirter & Jason Clayborn (ART Music & Video) 

1Henri J.M. Nouwen, Daily Meditation, November 5, 2022 

2https://devotionaltreasure.wordpress.com/2022/11/05/the-puzzles-of-life/  

3Jehovah Rapha by Stephen Mcwhirter and Jason Clayborn 

4https://www.gotquestions.org/Jehovah-Rapha.html 

Image, A shaft of sunlight pierces the threatening clouds, by Mark Levisay  https://flic.kr/p/J9cBSr   

I Am Certain of This

Well, when the first four blogs I read in a morning are saying the same thing it makes me sit up and take notice. What is the Spirit saying to me? Maybe He is saying something to us all (?) 

… for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Romans 14:8‭-‬9 (Blogged twice by Beholding Him Ministries) https://beholdinghimministries.org/  

“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you”. Matthew 5 11-12 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom.8.35-39 (Blogged by Eagle Sight) https://eaglesight.blog/2022/10/01/persecution/ 

And then this from Henri Nouwen: 

“We are fearful people. We are afraid of conflict, war, an uncertain future, illness, and, most of all, death. This fear takes away our freedom and gives our society the power to manipulate us with threats and promises. When we can reach beyond our fears to the One who loves us with a love that was there before we were born and will be there after we die, then oppression, persecution, and even death will be unable to take our freedom. Once we have come to the deep inner knowledge—a knowledge more of the heart than of the mind—that we are born out of love and will die into love, that every part of our being is deeply rooted in love, and that this love is our true Father and Mother, then all forms of evil, illness, and death lose their final power over us and become painful but hopeful reminders of our true divine childhood. The apostle Paul expressed this experience of the complete freedom of the children of God when he wrote, ‘I am certain of this: neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nothing already in existence and nothing still to come, nor any power, nor the heights nor the depths, nor any created thing whatever, will be able to come between us and the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:38–39).” — Henri J.M. Nouwen https://henrinouwen.org/meditation/  

Photo by Sheila Bair

Ever-Present (Psalm 46)

God is my refuge, my strength 

He is my ever-present help in trouble 

He is the Ever-Present one 

I am the holy place where He dwells 

where the Most High dwells 

God is within me, I will not fall 

God will help me 

The Lord Almighty is with me 

Ever-Present 

here 

with  

me 

On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. John 14:20 

Photo by Jack Bair

I Love You Lord

This kind of love comes from walking with Him in the dark places, from experiencing His deliverance when we are overwhelmed, from failing and falling and being lifted back up into His embrace.

For the director of music. Of David the servant of the LORD. He sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said: I love you, LORD, my strength. Psalm 18:1 

Here David declares his love for God after the Lord delivered him from his enemy. Did you know that this is the only time in the Old Testament that someone says to God, “I love you”? The Old Testament saints are commanded many times to love the Lord with all their hearts, and they praise and worship and exalt Him a lot, but this is the only time someone is recorded saying “I love you.” I found that sad.  

But the word translated love that David uses here in Psalm 18 is a different word than the commandment (Deut. 6:5). The word in Deuteronomy is ‘ahav from aheb, which means to have affection for, to like, love the beloved or a lover, love a friend. But the word David uses is ‘erachamka from racham, to have compassion on, to love, to have or show mercy on, have pity. The Pulpit Commentary notes that ‘erachamka “expresses the very tenderest affection, and is elsewhere never used to denote the love of man towards God, but only that of God towards man.” 

Did you ever think of having compassion or pity for God? Sometimes I have felt sorry for Him, for all that He has gone through with us. For all the rejection and hatred and rebellion and mangling of souls, brutal oppression of each other and destruction of His perfect world. But I know my compassion does not, cannot, come close to the compassion God has for me. When God has compassion on us it is intense and active love. Chaim Bentorah says this about racham: 

“The problem is that we have no good English word for racham. We use the word love, mercy, compassion but all fall short of the meaning of racham. The correct use of racham is the womb.  When expressing an emotion, it is the love that a mother feels for her baby while in the womb or just emerges from the womb … It is love that is natural, unmolested, unchallenged and almost perfect.  This is racham.  A few years later when that child rebels, causes problems, wounds and breaks the mother’s heart, that love becomes ‘ahav which is an unconditional love, but it is not that perfect love that was unchallenged. As a human creature we cannot achieve such a high standard of love except at the birth of a child and even then you would have to be racham in a simple Qal form.  It still falls short of racham in a Piel intensive [active] form. As much as you love God, with all your heart, soul and might you may reach the level of David to say ‘Erachamka na Adonai. But it still falls short of God’s racham for us.” — Chaim Bentorah1 

Interestingly, there is also only one place in the New Testament where someone says “I love you” to our Lord. In the famous exchange on the beach (John 21:15-17), the risen Christ asks Peter three times “do you love me?” Peter affirms his love for Jesus three times. And in this case, as with David, Peter uses a surprising word. 

Jesus asks Peter three times, “do you love me?” He uses the word agapao the first two times, but phileo the last time. All three times Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, I phileo you.” The difference between the two words is very similar to the difference between ahav and racham. 

“[Phileo is f]rom philos; to be a friend to (fond of (an individual or an object)), i.e. Have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling; while agapao is wider, embracing especially the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety: the two thus stand related … the former being chiefly of the heart and the latter of the head.” — Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible 

Kenneth Wuest2 calls agapao “the noblest word in the Greek language.” I always got the impression that Peter was shirking the highest love, that he was admitting to Jesus that he couldn’t achieve the purest and noblest love, that the best he could do was phileo love. And that Jesus finally gave in to Peter’s good-enough phileo-love in a “Ok, we’ll work on it” kind of relenting. But I think what Peter was really saying was this: Yes, I know and will obey the commandment to love You. But my love for you goes deeper, I love You as a dear friend, I delight in You, You are my only joy, I cherish You above all else.”  

“It [agapao] is an unselfish ‘love,’ ready to serve. The use of phileo in Peter’s answers and the Lord’s third question, conveys the thought of cherishing the Object above all else, of manifesting an affection characterized by constancy, from the motive of the highest veneration.” — W.E. Vine 

It seems to me that this kind of love is, in a way, above agapao love as it goes from head knowledge and assent to the heart. We cannot think that phileo love is less than agapao. Paul startles when he writes to the Corinthians, “If anyone does not love (phileo) the Lord, let him be accursed. Maranatha. (1 Corinthians 16:22) 

I think, yes, that our joy and delight and love for Our Lord will always fall short of His for us, as His love is pure and perfectly unselfish. Unlike us, He does not have to wrestle down the soul, the “me”, the ego every day to achieve this kind of love. It is His glory. It is His essence. It is Himself. But Jesus confirmed that it is possible for us, in Him, to phileo-love when He asked Peter the third time (I’m sure smiling with His own phileo-love sparkling in His eyes) if Peter loved Him. 

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love (phileo) me?” John 21:17  

It seems to me that both of these kinds of love come from the grace of God. But ahav and agapao seems to be connected to faith and decision and obedience to the word and the will of God. Racham and phileo grow out of relationship. They come from walking with Him in the dark places, from experiencing His deliverance when we are overwhelmed, from failing and falling and being lifted back up into His embrace. We can know that though we, like the children who break the mother’s heart, have broken His heart over and over, yet He still racham-loves us, He still phileo-delights and joys in us. And our hearts respond as Peter’s. 

“Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you.” John 21:16 

… the Father himself loves (phileo) you because you have loved (phileo) me and have believed that I came from God. John 16:27 

1https://www.chaimbentorah.com/2019/09/hebrew-word-study-i-indeed-love-you-lord/ 

2Golden Nuggets from the Greek New Testament by Kenneth Wuest 

Image, detail from Quiet Evening on the Georgian Bay by TranceMist https://flic.kr/p/ajQSCL  

You Loved Me Back

It seems He is always loving my soul back either from the edge of the pit, or pulling me out if I’m already down there stuck in the muck.

Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. Isaiah 38:17 

The word translated bitterness above is the Hebrew adjective mar or marah. It means angry, bitterly chafed, discontented, great (as in greatly or bitterly distressed), heavy (as in have a heavy or bitter heart).1 It comes from the same root as the name Mara, or bitter, which Naomi called herself after her sons and husband died, leaving her bereft in a foreign land. 

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.” Ruth 1:20 

We have all, or I’m betting at least many of us, have felt like Naomi. Life has not turned out as expected. We have been dealt a bitter blow. We have lost loved ones. We have been left alone. It can be easy to become angry at God, bitter, discontented.  

In the verse above from Isaiah, Hezekiah is recounting how very bitter he was when he was told that he had a terminal disease. He even repeats the word twice for emphasis in the Hebrew. He literally says “it was bitter, was bitter unto me,” or “I had such bitterness, such bitterness.”  

But then he declares the most wonderful thing: but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. 

Do you know what that says, literally, in the original Hebrew? “Thou hast loved me out of the pit of corruption,”2 or “thou hast loved my soul back from the pit of destruction – as if God’s love, beaming on the monarch’s soul, had drawn it back from the edge of the pit.3 

You have loved my soul back! Oh, yes! What amazing grace! How many times has He done that for me? It seems He is always loving my soul back either from the edge of the pit, or pulling me out if I’m already down there stuck in the muck. Loving me back from anger and discontent and bitterness. Pulling me up out of depression, fear, despair and hopelessness. He has loved my soul back. 

But the most wonderful thing is: for you have cast all my sins behind your back. Picture that – God throwing my sins behind His back “Where they could be no more seen, and therefore would be no more remembered.”3  

And what does Hezekiah say about why all this happened to him? It was for my welfare. Literally, it was for my shalom: my completeness, soundness, welfare, peace. 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 

It was for my completeness, soundness, welfare, peace that I had such bitterness, such bitterness. But you have loved me back from the brink – from the pit of destruction, corruption, failure, nothingness. For you have cast away, thrown, flung, hurled all my sins behind your back.  

“The worst-case scenario is that all the very worst things happen, and I am still loved.” — Ann Voskamp, excerpt from the WayMaker Study Guide 

Yes, we are still, always, loved, even when the worst-case scenario happens. And He is drawing us – me and you – always loving us back. Back to Him. Praise for His amazing grace! 

I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. Hosea 11:4 (ESV) 

I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. Psalm 40:1-2 

“Salvation means rescue from the pit of destruction, from the miry clay of ourselves.” — Elisabeth Elliot, A Path Through Suffering 

1Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance 

2Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers 

3Pulpit Commentary 

Image, Killer Cliffs! by Martin Cathrae https://flic.kr/p/jqrf5

Fix the Value

I can only set his value as precious beyond anything in the heavens and earth, if I know, know, know what he has done for me.

Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. John 5:22-23 

Jesus uses the word “honor” four times in this passage. The last time I read it the thought popped into my head: what does it really mean to honor? What does Jesus mean by “honor”? 

The word in the Greek is timaó (τιμάω), and the definition was surprising to me. It means “to fix the value or price of something.” It means properly to “assign value (give honor), as it reflects the personal esteem (value, preciousness) attached to it by the beholder.”1

The value and preciousness! Think of that and replace the word “honor” above. “… that all may value the preciousness of the Son just as they value the preciousness of the Father.”  

Now think about this. This is the same word used in Matthew 27 about the Pharisees giving Judas thirty pieces of silver to betray Jesus to them, and then using it to buy the potter’s field when Judas returned it: 

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price (timaó) of him on whom a price (timaó) had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” Matthew 27:9-10 (ESV) 

Zechariah also prophesied about this fixing of a value, saying: 

And the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—this magnificent sum at which they valued me! So I took the thirty coins and threw them to the potter in the Temple of the LORD. Zechariah 11:13 (NLT) 

Zechariah sarcastically called it a “magnificent sum” because thirty silver coins was the price or value of a slave set in Exodus 21:32. 

So, the value or preciousness of Jesus Messiah was set by the Pharisees as the price of a slave. The ironic thing, of course, is that Jesus agreed with their valuation, at least partly. He called himself a servant or slave. 

“… whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:44-45 

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he [Jesus] made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant (doulos = slave), being made in human likeness. Philippians 2:6-7 

Jesus said that he honored (timaó) his Father and that in doing that he was seeking to bring glory to the Father. 

“I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory (doxa) for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. John 8:49-50 

Interestingly, the Greek word doxa, translated here “glory,” also has a meaning of valuation. Doxa means having a good opinion in the New Testament. It means “exercising personal opinion which determines value.” According to Joseph Thayer2, it literally means “what evokes good opinion, i.e. that something has inherent, intrinsic worth.” 

Inherent, intrinsic worth. Jesus honored, valued as precious, his Father – and pointed us to that same good opinion – because of the Father’s inherent, intrinsic worth. Just because of who He is. Because He is our enduring-loving forever, faithful and unfailing Father. Always and forever through all generations. And Jesus came as a slave that we might know the precious heart of God – a heart that is for us and loves us – and in knowing, have life. 

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10b 

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. John 17:3 

This all made me think: what is his value to me? Is he precious to me? Does his value to me rest on his intrinsic worth, who he is? Or does it rest on what he can do for me? Like an insurance policy? A ticket to riches and success? A slave to fill my needs and obey my wishes and whims? A life preserver to be thrown out in case I get into trouble?  

For many, his value is less than even that. To them he is a well-meaning person who can be a good role model in some situations. Or he is of no value at all, like he was to those of his day who despised and scorned and rejected Him, walking by the cross shaking their heads. 

I can only set his value as precious beyond anything in the heavens and earth, if I know, know, know what he has done for me. If I have really understood and acknowledged and owned my sin and the ongoing, infectious horror of it. If I have fully comprehended from what dark pit his death on the cross has delivered me. Then I know his worth. Then I know he is worthy of all my honor, all my praise and gratitude, all my life. 

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 1 Peter 1:18-19 

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor (value, esteem of the highest degree, preciousness, price) and glory (because of inherent and intrinsic worth) and praise! Revelation 5:12  

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound 
That saved a wretch like me 
I once was lost, but now am found 
Was blind but now I see 

Was Grace that taught my heart to fear 
And Grace, my fears relieved 
How precious did that Grace appear 
The hour I first believed 

— John Newton 

1definitions from HELPS Word-studies by Discovery Bible, 2021 

2Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament 

Image in the Public Domain, Judas Returning the Thirty Silver Pieces by Rembrandt https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judas_Repentant,_Returning_the_Pieces_of_Silver#/media/File:Judas_Returning_the_Thirty_Silver_Pieces_-_Rembrandt.jpg  

Standing There

“He stands in my place, where I should stand and cannot.”

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Acts 7:55 

At this, [Mary Magdalene] turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. John 20:14 

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:26-27 

There for me the Savior stands,
shows His wounds and spreads His hands:
God is love! I know, I feel;
Jesus weeps, but loves me still! — Charles Wesley

“’Where does he stand?’ He stands pro me. He stands in my place, where I should stand and cannot … At this place I cannot stand alone. Here Christ stands in the centre, between me and myself, between the old existence and the new.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christ the Center (emphasis original) 

If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31 

When you’ve played out  
Your last chance  
And your directions  
Have all been lost  
When the roads that you look down  
Are all dead ends  
Look up  
You could see if you’d just look up  

You’re on the verge of a miracle  
Standing there  
You’re on the verge of a miracle  
Just waiting to be believed in  
Open your eyes and see  
You’re on the verge of a miraclei 

— Rich Mullins 

For He stands at the right hand of the needy, to save their lives from those who would condemn them. Psalm 109:31 

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:19-20 (ESV) 

You’re on the verge of a miracle … 

Salvation

i Richard Mullins, from Verge of a Miracle lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group 

Photo of door by Jack Bair

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