Lord's Day Liturgy

Never Put to Shame

Peter pulls together three Scripture passages about Jesus Christ as the Living Stone, who either is the foundation of honor and fellowship or the source of tripping and resentment.

For it stands in Scripture (from Isaiah 28:16): “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, (from Psalm 118:22) “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”

and (from Isaiah 8:14) “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” (1 Peter 2:6–8 ESV)

Believers are being built up as a spiritual house on the Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:5), but unbelievers “stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Peter 2:8). “Destined” is assigned, “appointed” (KJV); they are “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (Romans 9:22). Many of these were the religious, those in Israel who did not pursue righteousness by faith (so Isaiah 8:14 and the “stone of stumbling” is also quoted in Romans 9:33).

All of us who believe have been destined for identity as God’s people. All of us who rest in and on Christ have received mercy. We are “His own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Christ is our Cornerstone. Take Him away and we fall apart. Built on Him we will never be put to shame. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes, so let us rejoice and be glad in Him (Psalm 118:23-24).

Lord's Day Liturgy

Tumors and Tedium

Of all the medical things I’ve learned, maybe the most surprising lesson is that 90% of your conversations will be consumed with a single topic as soon as you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is maybe the scariest word (that’s already in your vocabulary) that you can hear from your doctor, though it’s not always the most critical affliction. You don’t even have to have the worst kind. Let others know that you have cancer and you will be talking about it for months.

Nine years ago I had cutaneous leiomyosarcoma, a cancer in the arrector pili muscles, the layer of muscles connecting with hair follicles, with a tumor almost the size of a golf ball right in the middle of my chest. There are other kids of cancer—including subcutaneous leiomyosarcoma—that will metastasize all over your body and into your organs, the kind I had does not. My doctor initially thought it was just a cyst, so he jabbed me in the chest with novocaine 30-40 times and cut it out only to say afterward, “Hmmm, that doesn’t look like a cyst.” A week later he called with the lab results saying it was cancer. So I had to have a wider margin of tissue cut out in surgery. There were some post-op side effects, but then it was mostly done. A few years after that my younger sister had a massive brain tumor that couldn’t be cut out because it was wrapped around critical parts of her spinal cord. She lived less than six months from the day she was told what was wrong.

Many of you have had, or have, some type of cancer. How many types of treatments and medicines have they tried on Debbie? How many hours of travel, how many hours of dealing with side-effects, how many hours of explaining to others? It’s hard for it not to become an identity. Others ask because they care, but just giving updates can become a burden. Talking about it becomes almost as tedious as the tumors.

By analogy, all sins deserve death, and not all sins have the same consequences. Some sins are public, and some of the public sins sound more scandalous. The Scarlett Letter made adultery the most abhorrent in a 17th century community of Puritans in Massachusetts; that’s just an example. “The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later” (1 Timothy 5:24). Though the Bible doesn’t use the word cancer, we know some sins spread through the body, some sins become almost a part-time job dealing with them.

But when there is repentance there is rejoicing. When there is salvation, we sing aloud of His righteousness (Psalm 51:13-14). Recounting forgiveness and reconciliation is never tedious.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Communion Delight

I’ve heard some people say recently that they still really look forward to assembling for worship on the Lord’s Day. It’s more than a habit, it doesn’t feel like a have-to slog, but is a time they anticipate for sake of their progress and joy in the faith.

Add to that a number of baptism interviews I’ve conducted over the last couple weeks. Many of our young people want to participate with the rest of the church in communion. They aren’t being guilted into making a confession of faith, they are seeing what is good about faith in Christ. It’s not unrelated to some of the things I know the elders will be stressing at the parenting seminar later today: our kids should desire and delight in the culture of glad faith in Jesus Christ.

And what is most important in all this is that none of us have the anticipation of, or affection for, assembling before the Lord to the degree that the Lord Himself does. No matter how much you value it, He Himself has purposed and purchased our joyful communion with Himself.

He loves to show His mercy. “He predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons” (Ephesians 1:5). “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). God’s own Spirit dwells in us and seals us for our inheritance (2 Timothy 1:14; Ephesians 1:13-14). And in Christ together we are being built into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22).

The Triune God calls us to commune with Him because He delights to.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Bloody Serious

Anemia is a deficiency in the oxygen-carrying component of the blood, or even more simply, a deficiency of blood in a living body (The Century Dictionary). The word anemia comes from the compound of two Greek words, an- meaning “without” and haima which means “blood.” Anemia results in loss of color, loss of energy, loss of strength, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats. Anemia is on a spectrum; you may be slightly or extremely anemic. It might be that your body is having a hard time producing red blood cells or it might happen that you have a serious incident of loss. Many moms are anemic for a while after the birthing process.

Seven years ago on February 4th I came home from teaching my classes feeling sluggish, but ran six miles on my treadmill anyway and then went to our elders lunch. I wasn’t feeling well—pale and sweaty and drained—and had to bail out to the car to lay down before the guys were finished meeting. Jonathan told Mo that afternoon that he thought something was really wrong because I had ordered the “girl-size” at MOD Pizza. I really thought I had a bad cold. Mo made an appointment for me with my family doctor that evening, and he called an aid car for me to ride to the hospital where I spent the next four days.

It turns out I had an internal bleed and had lost half of my blood.

There was no conclusion on the cause after a variety of tests and -oscopies. I was on the edge of getting a transfusion, but they decided to let me build back red blood cells on my own with iron supplements and such. At first I was so worn out that watching TV took too much energy. That was also the start of problems with my internal temperature system, and one of the reasons there’s a fan built into the pulpit; I’m often hot/cold when I should be the opposite.

How true when the Lord said, “the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life” (Leviticus 17:14). I had used anemia as an analogy for spiritual life before, little did I know how bloody serious it is. If you’re sinning, stop the bleed. It will drain the life right out of you.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Not New and Improved

Sometimes you hear people making an exaggerated difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. They’ll say the OT revelation is of a God severe and hard, the NT revelation is of a God tender and warm. We know that this isn’t true. The NT anticipates God’s judgment and wrath with an explicitness the OT prophets barely dreamed of.

A good reading of the OT also knows better than to call the Lord cold or cruel. He is holy, and He judges sin, but He loves to point out that His steadfast love endures forever.

It really stood out to me a number of years ago reading through some of the Omnibus curriculum. When I was a kid in school, I thought reading was dumb. I was dumb. By the time I got excited about reading in college, I gave myself to the Bible and theology books, which is good, but unnecessarily narrow. By God’s grace we don’t have to choose steak or butter, we can spoon butter all over the steak (which is an illustration that breaks down).

Anyway, Omnibus I and IV are focused on Ancient civilization, from creation up to about the time of the NT. The curriculum includes some Old Testament books, but also the Iliad and the Odyseey and The Epic of Gilgamesh. We read the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides. And in all those non-Bible books, we read about the gods of men. The gods of men are unpleasant at best, brutal and obscene at worst. They can’t control themselves, they can’t be trusted, they can’t give an account for their behavior.

Yahweh/Kurios, the Lord, is sovereign and good. Yahweh says, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19), and then He actually is gracious and merciful. The life and sacrifice of God’s Son demonstrated God’s love par excellence, but however different His character is from idols, it isn’t new and improved. Praise God!

How precious is Your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the
shadow of Your wings.
They feast on the abundance of Your house.
(Psalm 36:7-8)

Lord's Day Liturgy

Casting Off

In his final bundle of instructions to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

I want to focus on “help the weak.” What does that look like? Before the answer, add to the mix this exhortation in Hebrews:

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:12–13)

This context is a bit more narrow than Thessalonians. Here the knees are weak, not from being shy in front of a girl, but from being disciplined by our heavenly Father (Hebrews 12:7-11). Help the weak. Strengthen the weak.

It makes me think of when Cal broke both of his arms within nine months of each other (1/6/20 and 9/21/20). I’ve never broken an arm or leg, so there were new things to learn. When you break a limb it’s weak and needs extra support. This usually involves coming alongside with support; a cast helps to immobilize and protect and give the bone time to heal.

It turns out that the body also employs an internal, temporary scaffolding tactic. Between days 4-21 after the break, a soft callus forms around the broken bone, not strong enough to eliminate the need for a cast, but still providing support while new cells build new bone. Then in the last stage, “cells called osteoclasts do some fine-tuning. They break down any extra bone that formed during healing so your bones get back to their regular shape. When you reach this stage, returning to your normal activities actually helps you heal” (source).

To help the weak we provide strength through external support. To help the weak we provide strength so that eventually they don’t need external support. The goal is to get the cast off. Of course this depends on the kind of break, the other problems you have; it’s always a balance. But we confess our sins and we counsel others in order to be strong in the Lord.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Archetypal Deliverance

It would have been better to be an Israelite than an Egyptian. That said, it didn’t seem easy for Israel in Exodus. The taskmasters made them gather their own straw to make the same amount of bricks. Blood on their doorposts wasn’t normal. They were trapped by the water, with Pharaoh’s army pinning them in. There was nothing about being an Israelite that didn’t require faith.

But what a story for those with faith. The Lord was making a name for Himself in raising up Pharaoh (Exodus 9:16), “for this purpose I raised you up, to show my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” And in so doing was making the archetypal story of deliverance.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.” (Exodus 10:1–2 ESV)

Being delivered doesn’t always feel delightful. But the alternative is destruction.

The Exodus is one-of-a-kind. We are not Israel. But Yahweh, the LORD, is our Lord. Paul quotes the Exodus story for our benefit in Romans 9 (verses 15 and 17), and states explicitly in Romans 15:

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4 ESV)

There are hard parts about being a Christian in this state in these days, but He is giving us stories to tell to our sons and grandsons of His great power. As G. K. Chesterton wrote,

“The one perfectly divine thing, the one glimpse of God’s paradise given on earth, is to fight a losing battle – and not lose it.”

So we enjoy the Lord’s Table set in the presence of God’s enemies (Psalm 23:5), and we taste His delivering power by faith.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Bad All Over

I have often thought it would have been profitable for me to go to medical school. But I really have problems looking at (or smelling) blood, and I have a deep, bone-marrow level physical sort of empathy for seeing or hearing about kids who biff onto concrete, so I would be a horrible doctor. But, wow, a little more anatomy and pharmacology know-how would be helpful.

Last week I used an illustration of nerve pain, and that caused Mo to say, “Hey, you could do a whole series of confession exhortations riffing off medical problems.” And I thought, that sounds fun. So I’ll continue with one of her problems.

She has a genetic defect named after two late 19th century dermatologists who identified it, Edvard Ehlers and Henri-Alexandre Danlos, so Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, or EDS. It is a connective tissue disorder, affecting skin and joints and blood vessel walls. Depending on the type of EDS, you might be extra bendy (hypermobile), or your blood vessels could burst (vascular).

The symptoms can become debilitating and excruciating (while the vascular type is life-threatening), especially if there is a time of sickness or injury. While the muscles are strong enough they compensate for poor collagen in the ligaments, but if the muscles become weak, the joint ligaments can’t do their jobs, and things easily get out of place. Anywhere there is a joint, there’s a possible dislocation, or subluxation which is a slight misalignment of the vertebrae. Of course that causes numbness, tingling, swelling, debilitation, pain, headaches/migraines. EDS is not currently curable. It’s a managing game, and building up what can be strengthened.

Every time I read the following passages I think about the things we’ve learned about EDS.

[Christ], from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:16 ESV)

Christ, who is the Head, has joined us with joints, With His blessing they work properly. Sin weakens the connections and dislocates the members from one another. It’s bad all over when the joints aren’t doing their job.

This five-minute video from December gives some testimonies of what it’s like living with EDS. And here is a page with some more descriptions about EDS and the history of its diagnosis.