The Worship Quote of the Week for (01/25/2011):

"Why?" "What?" and "Where?"
There is a treatment update at the end of this message.

How does the Christian worship God boldly when his or her life is weighed down with sorrow and grief? Today's WORSHIP QUOTE is another from Lutheran theologian Marva Dawn. She writes boldly about how to embrace and apply Christ's Resurrection Hope and Joy in lives that are marked by suffering. This is one of those books where the title itself is worth the cost of the book: BEING WELL WHEN WE'RE ILL: WHOLENESS AND HOPE IN SPITE OF INFIRMITY. Today's excerpt also references Martin Luther and his thoughts on the kind of cross Jesus calls us to carry.

A first step toward finding intellectual, emotional, and spiritual well-being in spite of the absurdity of our physical circumstances is to change the questions from "Why?" to "What?" and "Where?" and to ask these with an open-minded commitment to look for answers. More completely, the new questions are "What is God doing in the midst of this?" and "Where do I catch glimpses of the Trinity's grace?"

The first question is crucial because it changes the axis of our lives. We move from making ourselves the center with a focus on our own intellectual discovery of meaning or emotional relief to restoring the prominence of God in our thinking. We also shift from demanding that God provide answers to our "Why?" queries to listening for what God might want to tell us about Himself and His provisions for us.

As a result we partake in several great finds—the gifts of letting God be God in our lives, of resting in God's mysterious purposes, of humility. . . .

In one of his reflections, Martin Luther said that it is indispensable that we be "destroyed and rendered formless" (he uses really strong language) so that "Christ may be formed within us, and Christ alone be in us." He even coins a word in Latin, CRUCIANUS, to say that true Christians necessarily bear a cross to be like Jesus.

But if Christ is to be formed in us, then we will trust Him even in the moments when we can't comprehend our suffering, even in the times when we bear what seem like useless crosses. I stress this because I know that my problem with the absurdity of afflictions is that there is still much too much of myself getting in the way of dependence on God and the mystery of Triune wisdom and sovereignty.

When I get so "inward turned," as Martin Luther called the sin of self-centeredness, I miss what God might be doing to bring me to that salutary humility that lets God be God in my life instead of me.

— Marva Dawn, BEING WELL WHEN WE'RE ILL: WHOLENESS AND HOPE IN SPITE OF INFIRMITY. Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2008, pp. 42-43. ISBN 978-0-8066-8038-5. Highly recommended.

Chip Stam
Director, Institute for Christian Worship
School of Church Ministries
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, Kentucky



January 29 Treatment Update, Back in the Hospital

Dear praying friends and family,

Doris and I are so appreciative of the huge number of people who are praying for us. Let's all remember that it is the faithfulness of the LORD that is on display during this cancer journey, not necessarily the faithfulness of the patient or the large number of those who want to see a great display of medical success. Nevertheless, we feel the INCREDIBLE support of hundreds of dear friends in prayer. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Wednesday, January 25, started out as a "routine" day at the cancer clinic. I showed up at 7:45am as usual, but about 10:30am the clinician announced to me that one of the blood cultures they had tested had revealed a rare bacterial infection in my blood that required a 7-10 day hospital stay for treatment. One of the antibiotics (IMIPENEM) has to be administered every eight hours EXACTLY. So here I am in Room 618 for at least a week. No fun at all! The name of the infection is campylobacter (They are still trying to figure out which strain it is.) Look it up on Google or Wikipedia.

The other antibiotic is GENTAMYAN. The rare thing about the bacterial infection is that it is in my blood. This morning, Thursday, I had a team of doctors in my room. They specialized in infectious diseases. I thought all doctors specialize in INFECTIOUS DISEASES. What am I missing? Anyway, they took photos of my GvH rash, my back, and my torso. I felt a little bit like a lab rat. "We'll be back tomorrow!" I heard as they left the room. Several of my medications have been temporarily modified. I am trying to keep up with what they are doing, but it is not always easy. I am taking more steroids and more immune suppressing medications for the present.

Thursday morning, my doctor came in at 6:00am to check me out. Some of the medicines I am getting require that they check my vital signs every fifteen minutes during the day (temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure). Because they are giving me new steroids, they have to check my blood sugar, and if that gets high, they have to give me insulin. That happened a couple of times during the day. The nurses are fantastic.

Two of the elders from our church came by to pray for me (James 5:13-16) as well as some dear Christian friends from Alabama whom we have known from the early 1980s from my years teaching at Notre Dame. What a joy! Clara and Martin were both here, too. Whew! What a day!

It would be wrong to say that we rejoiced in this medical "set-back." It was hard to hear that they were going to toss me in the hospital. I cried huge tears when I told Doris what the doctor had said. Who wants to hear that you have a rare bacterial infection? But honestly, it was not a crisis of faith for me, but rather a sweet reminder that the LORD is graciously giving me precious life on a day-to-day basis. As the apostle Paul says in the first chapter of Philippians, "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:20-21).

The laments from the Book of Psalms are pretty honest about hard times followed by expressions of deep hope in the Almighty. Here's a favorite example from Psalm 73.

Psalm 73:21-28
21 When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
27 Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.

Well, "God is great; God is good." And the LORD's deeds are both great and good. Don't forget to care for and pray for the cancer patients in your sphere of activity and influence. They are there; I promise you. Love to all.

Resting in Him; He is my Portion forever.

Chip Stam