Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

Sermons, Devotions, and News from Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iola, WI

Tag Archives: religion

St. Lucia & Hanukkah

On December 13th, the Church remembers St. Lucia, a virgin Christian martyr who was killed under the persecution of Roman Emperor Diocletian. She devoted her life to the faith, even though it meant that the pagan man who wished to marry her had her killed in anger and in shame. Like the blood of the other martyrs, St. Lucia provides an example of faith in the face of persecution.

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. In fact, that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Matthew 5:11-12 (EHV)

At sundown on December 12th, the Jewish festival of Hanukkah began. Over the next 8 days, the festival will be commemorated by food, family, games, and the lighting of the menorah (candelabra) or hanukkiah. This practice has its origin in the account of the Maccabees (from the apocryphal books of 1 & 2 Maccabees) who won a victory over their Greek oppressors and took back the temple, rededicating it for sacred use. According to this account, there was a miracle that first Hanukkah: the wicks of the temple’s menorah burned for eight straight days, despite there only being enough oil for one day. This was taken as a symbol of God’s great providence for his people even in the face of oppression.

What an intriguing occasion this year, that Hanukkah coincides with the Festival of St. Lucia – the Jewish festival of lights coincides with the day of the Christian saint whose name means “light.”

According to legend, St. Lucia had her eyes gouged out before her martyrdom. This imposed blindness was supposed to be a message to Christians, that they shouldn’t think about “seeing” or “knowing” anything negative about the Empire. St. Lucia, of course, like other Christian martyrs, chose to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29, EHV). Christians throughout the centuries have commemorated this specific martyr by lighting lights in honor of her name, and in confession of the truth of God that surpasses the darkness of this world: Jesus is the light who “is shining in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5, EHV). The Word of God testifies to him, that Word which is “a lamp for my feet and a light for my path” (Ps. 119:105, EHV), because Jesus is himself “the Way and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6, EHV).

This Hanukkah and Advent season, remember the light which has indeed won the victory against the oppressive darkness. This is God’s light and God’s victory against sin, death, and the devil, and so, “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor. 15:57, EHV).

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, Evangelical Heritage Version® (EHV®) ©2017 Wartburg Project, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Heresies in The Shack, Part 5 – Conclusion

The Shack proclaims a particularly insidious form of false doctrine, because in many respects it comes so near to true doctrine.  But the Devil can also quote Scripture (cf. Matt. 4:1-11).  The values of love and forgiveness among neighbors are worthy, but when this is put into the mouth of God, it must be either Scripturally sound or rejected.  “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:9).  I will not presume to judge the faith of the moviemakers or of William P. Young (who claims to be a Christian), but I will judge what they preach.  It is a gospel contrary to the one we have received.  It does not preach a Jesus who died to take our sins upon himself.  It does not preach that Jesus is the only way to life (John 14:6).  It gives strength to man himself to produce the faith that saves, to do the works of kindness and forgiveness.  The Shack is about our feelings, not about God.

That defense was given of the movie: “It’s only dangerous if you don’t know the Bible, because then you’ll think it’s real.”  If you know the Bible, however, you ought to know all those warnings given by Jesus, Peter, and Paul, such as: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Rom. 16:17).  While for some this movie may be feel-good, beware, for that is exactly what it seeks to do: by making you feel good, it preaches a doctrine of a God who wants only to make you feel good.  This movie is best avoided, as Paul said; and as Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15).  Don’t be deceived by the fuzzy sheep’s wool that covers this film.  It is a wolf: “be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Pet. 5:8-9).

Do not welcome this film into your life, into your home, into your heart.  That is all reserved by God for the truth.  He proclaims forgiveness, life, and salvation on account of Christ Jesus who took our place under his wrath, because God is both just (he must punish evil) and merciful (he is rich in steadfast love, forgiving us in Jesus’ name).  The God of The Shack is a sham, an idol, and a wimp.  The God of Scripture is almighty and merciful, who promises, “Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).  Believe in Jesus, as he is revealed in God’s true Word, not in this heretical trap.

Heresies in The Shack, Part 4 – Theodicy, Universalism (and Free Will)

At its core, the story is an exercise in Theodicy – the question which posits three contradictory statements and wonders how they can all be true: God is good, God is omnipotent, evil exists. Mack begins the story firmly believing that, if God exists, he is not good. The narrative arc then traces his “conversion” into a positive relationship with “Papa” (his wife’s nickname for God).

Does The Shack answer this question correctly? The answer given (or rather implied) is that evil exists because man is given free will to do evil. Scripturally speaking, free will is never part of the discussion, but is rather a philosophizing term invented by human beings to seek to understand the unfathomable. In fact, the story of the world begins with man created “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27). Then, “sin entered the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” so that “death reigned” (Rom. 5:12, 14), and “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:1-3). Scripture repeats frequently that human will since Adam is not free, but is trapped and cannot do otherwise than sin.

The two sides of the fight, therefore, are God (who is only good) and fallen creation, man, and the Devil (all of whom are only evil).  Papa states in the film that she is “working in the middle of” all the evil in the world, to make it work out for man’s good.  This is intended as an echo of Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  But as we discussed in the context of Justification, the “good” result that Papa wants is only emotional.  The God of The Shack is not working for redemption in any true sense, but working to save his children from feeling bad.

In this context, there is a thinly veiled streak of Universalism throughout the film: the teaching that all religions essentially have the same God, and all people are heading to the same place anyway, whether you call it heaven, nirvana, paradise, or any other name.  This is highlighted when Papa states that she has “many names.”  Before this, Mack tells his daughter the story of an Indian princess who sacrificed herself, and how the Great Spirit caused her sacrifice to be remembered in a waterfall.  His daughter asks if the Great Spirit is the same as God.  Mack brushes it off with, essentially, “Ask your mother,” but the question is never returned to.  In fact, the strong implication is that yes, God is the same as the Great Spirit, because he loves all his children and doesn’t care what they call themselves so long as they are kind.  Again, the Jesus of The Shack states that “Religion is too much work,” and claims that the word “Christian” is not something he likes.

There is a scene in the movie in which Mack is given the ability to see all the departed souls of God’s children in heaven walking in a field, pictured as light and color.  While it’s not made explicit that there are more than Christians present, the movie never tells how anyone gets to heaven, but instead throughout strongly implies that there’s no way for any human being not to get to heaven.  Instead, the goal that Papa is working towards (specifically with Mack) is to have a friendly relationship with his children while they are on earth.

Therefore the question of why evil exists is answered: because man doesn’t always keep a positive relationship with God while on earth, but instead, in free will, performs “sin,” whatever that means, and has pain.  God is a cosmic janitor, trying to clean up after the sin man performs, to keep creation clean, aligning all the evil in the world into good.  He doesn’t condemn evil, but pities it, sighs, and picks up his broom and dustpan to sweep it into place.

Scripture, however, proclaims a God who condemns sin and evil (Ex. 20:5; Rom. 6:23), and although he foreknew evil, for he knows all things, he was not its cause, but the devil and man caused evil (Rom. 5:12, 1 John 3:8), and God works both to condemn evil and to save mankind (Gen. 3:15).  While Scripture declares that it is in heaven where “God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Rev. 7:17), The Shack declares that God wants to wipe away our tears on earth: “When all you see is your pain, you lose sight of me,” states Papa.  In a sense this is true, if our pain is allowed to blind us to God; but the Jesus of the Bible says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24-25).  Christians see God in pain, not by forgetting and getting over pain.

Heresies in The Shack, Part 3 – Justification, Forgiveness (and Jesus)

Jesus is a character in the movie, depicted as one member of the Trinity whom Mack meets at the titular shack.  Through their conversation he evasively explains that he is indeed human and also God, perpetuating the theme of God’s unknowableness.  He is presented as the one who created the stars, the face of God’s revelation, and the focus of man’s faith.  There is even reference to his death on the cross.  But the question that every moviegoer should ask is, “Why did Jesus die?”  Our Lutheran Confessions pronounce the Scriptural doctrine of justification in these terms:

The first and chief article is this, that Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, ‘was put to death for our trespasses and raised again for our justification’ (Rom. 4:25).  He alone is ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). ‘God has laid upon him the iniquities of us all’ (Isa. 53:6). Moreover, ‘all have sinned,’ and ‘they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, by his blood’ (Rom. 3:23-25).[i]

As opposed to this, The Shack never gives a direct answer to the question.  Whereas Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus’ death was vicarious (in our place), meaning that he took on himself the wrath that God, in his justice, must exact against sin—“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by [Jesus’] blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:9-10); “Christ Jesus…gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 4:5-6)—Papa of The Shack responds to Mack’s mention of God’s wrath by saying, “You lost me there.”  The God of this film has no wrath over sin, but instead preaches, “Sin is its own punishment.”  This is demonstrated, too, in the way Papa brushes off Mack’s offense against the Second Commandment (when he proclaims “Oh, my God!” at the delicious food, then promptly apologizes).  Papa does not offer forgiveness, but instead implies that the outburst wasn’t a sin anyway.

Ultimately, according to the theology of The Shack, Jesus’ death is meaningless.  Whereas Scripture teaches that God took our “record of debt” and “set [it] aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:14), Papa of The Shack seems helpless to do anything about sin, refuses to be a just God (which means that he would punish sin), and instead propounds the “I love you anyway” theology of Gospel Reductionism.

Papa states clearly that he is pained by the sin and evil in the world, but implies that it is not because it goes contrary to his will or goodness.  Instead the pain Papa feels over sin is at seeing his creation suffer.  The prophet Nahum proclaimed: “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.  The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty” (Nah. 1:2-3).  Scripture is full of statements of God’s wrath against sin.  But here the God of The Shack is directly contradictory to the God of Scripture.

And if God’s wrath against sin is belittled, then the salvation Christ brought is also belittled.  Recall that occasion when Papa told Mack that he was suffering with Jesus on the cross, presenting scars on the Father that matched the scars on the Son.  Besides the heresy of Patripassianism, which teaches that the Father suffered and died as well as the Son (a heresy which has been condemned in the church since it arose in the 2nd century), this brief picture denies the Scriptural doctrine that God punished sin in Christ: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Gal. 3:13).

This, in turn, belittles forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a major theme in the movie, as through Mack’s journey he learns to forgive his daughter’s murderer, his abusive and drunkard father, and himself.  But forgiveness from what?  Papa makes the statement that, when kind deeds are done, “the universe changes for the better.”  The narrator, Mack’s friend and neighbor, states near the end of the film, “The great sadness is gone.”  Likewise, when Papa hears a confession of Mack’s sin, her response is, “It’s okay.  It’s in the past.”  Mack echoes this sentiment to his guilt-stricken daughter later on, telling her that they shouldn’t think about the past anymore.  Forgiveness is always spoken in terms of overlooking sin, or forgetting sin.  Sin and guilt eat away at the protagonist and his family, and forgiveness, ultimately, is an emotional release.  Forgiveness is not a removal of our guilt and sin “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12), but a removal of our bad feelings about sin.  Redemption, justification, and forgiveness in The Shack is all to do with this world and with our “Subjective Feelings.”

Take, for example, Jesus’ discussion in which he rejects “religion,” stating, “I don’t want slaves, but friends”: “I don’t care what you call them [my followers].  I just want to see people changed by knowing Papa, to know what it’s like to feel truly loved.”  The Jesus of The Shack doesn’t want to save people from sin, death, and hell.  He wants to save them from bad feelings.

[i] SA I.1-3, The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 292.

Heresies in The Shack, Part 2 – The Source of Religious Knowledge (and the Nature of God)

A great deal of the movie’s themes are wrapped up in the idea that man cannot know the mind of God.  This is truly Scriptural, as St. Paul writes, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11).  So in the film, Papa (the nickname for God) declares, “You have no idea how much I’m doing right now,” while appearing to the main character, Mack, to be sunbathing.  Likewise, the personification of Wisdom convinces Mack of this moral: God’s job is very, very difficult, so don’t act like you can do what he does.

In the midst of all this unknowability of God’s mind and thoughts, Papa directs Mack (and the audience) to a faith-understanding, or trust, based on feelings.  When Mack asks questions, frequently he is directed to look inside himself and investigate how he feels about it.  Never is Mack directed to the Word of God to understand God’s will.  Instead, the Word is often dismissed and belittled.  For example, when Papa appears to Mack as a large, comforting woman, he asks her name.  Her response is, “I am known by many names.  One of my favorites is Elousia.”  Then, when “I AM” is brought up, Papa jokingly says, “I AM that I AM,” dismissing the Scripturally revealed name of God. The name God reveals of himself in Scripture is therefore dismissed in favor of a man-made name that Papa presumably cherishes because one of his children invented it for him (depicting God as a glorified loving parent who frames up the terrible mac-and-cheese art made by his children, not because it’s good, but because he loves them).

On another occasion, Mack interrogates Papa on why he abandoned his Son Jesus on the cross.  Mack even quotes Jesus’ words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).  Papa brushes this quotation off and says, “You don’t understand the mystery.”  She then shows Mack the nail scars that she has on her hands, seeking to prove that she (God the Father) was with Jesus in his death. (More on this specific event later.)

If this isn’t enough evidence to demonstrate that The Shack directs the audience away from Scripture for God’s revelation, Mack receives his communication from God via an unmarked envelope in his mailbox, not from God’s Word.  St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy: “[C]ontinue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:14-17).  The Shack at least implies that something else is needed to supplement Scripture – and if you’d like to put a name to what that other thing is, it’s “Subjective Feelings.”

Ash Wednesday 2017

ash-wednesday-2017-redeemer

 

Why place ashes on our foreheads?  It’s an old, old Church tradition that carries with it an important symbolism.  By placing ashes on our foreheads, we enter a visible state of repentance, knowing what God said after the Fall into sin: “for your are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).  The ashes signify our complete inability to save ourselves, and our faith that the death of one man, the Lord Jesus Christ, brought us the life we had lost.  Join us Wednesday, March 1st at 2 PM for the imposition of ashes.

The evening of March 1st, our regular schedule of Wednesday night Lenten Vespers begins with our service at 6:30.  We begin by looking back at that Garden where mankind fell, but always in light of the promise of One who would restore life in the fruit of his blood.

Love and St. Valentine

valentines
Cupid on a Vintage Valentine

For a little more than 1500 years, February 14th has been known as St. Valentine’s Day.  Pope St. Gelasius I (Pope from 492-496) is the likely founder of this day as the commemoration of St. Valentine, understanding February 14th as the day on which St. Valentine died.  However, there are possibly three different Ss. Valentine who died on this date in different years: St. Valentine of Terni, St. Valentine of Africa, and St. Valentine of Rome.  However, none of these three men have any reliable legends regarding love or marriage.  Somewhere between the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. there was an expansion made to the life of St. Valentine of Rome, assigning to him the miracle of healing the daughter of his jailer of her blindness.  However, this is not presented as a love story.

A number of other legends were recorded between A.D. 1260 and 1493, adding new ideas of one of the Ss. Valentine performing miracles or standing up against unjust rulers, all in the name of love or marriage.  Besides this, in the 1750s many secular critics began to have the idea that the choice of day for St. Valentine’s commemoration was due to the fact that the Romans had a number of festivals for their pagan gods around the same time, especially festivals for the dead or other obscure ideas.

The point is, there are a lot of ideas about what Valentine’s Day means, all invented and added sometime after A.D. 500.  Pope St. Gelasius I may be the only one remembered in history for having pure motives to observe St. Valentine’s Day.  Even today, the motives are hardly pure.  Valentine’s Day conjures in the mind every possible shade of pink and red, boxes of chocolate, flowers, and romantic exploits.  To put it bluntly, Valentine’s Day is, to the secular world at large, a festival to the Greek god Eros (Roman: Cupid).

Eros is one of three Greek words for “Love.”  Eros is romantic or sexual love, the sort of love that is embodied exclusively in desire and want.  Compare this with the two other Greek words for “Love”: Philos, which is brotherly love or affection and care and friendship.  It is the sort of love that is motivated by the enjoyment one feels in another’s company.  And the last love is Agape, which we may briefly define as undeserved love.  Agape is the kind of love mentioned in John 3:16, love that is not motivated by anything someone feels or wants to gain.  Agape love is love offered because one simply wishes to give.

Keeping in mind the nature of one who is truly a Saint, that is, one who has been clothed in the robes of Christ, which of these three loves should be the focus of St. Valentine’s Day?  Evangelical Lutheran Synod  pastor Rev. Joseph Abrahamson notices, looking at the three Ss. Valentine: “As far as we have records these Sts. Valentine are examples of men who did not love their life unto death, but considered everything in this world, including their own lives as nothing compared to the gift of the resurrection in Jesus Christ.”

Ask yourself this question on Valentine’s Day: should we focus on romantic love, the love we feel for people we find attractive for one reason or another, or should the focus be selfless love, Agape love, undeserved love, which we have received from God, who loved us even though we were his bitterest enemies, loved us even so that he would die for us to save us, love which he asks us to embody and perpetuate to others?

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18)

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:4-7)

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another….  We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:7-11, 19)

Thou sacred Love, grace on us bestow,
Set our hearts with heav’nly fire aglow
That with hearts united we love each other,
Of one mind, in peace with ev’ry brother.
Lord, have mercy! (ELH #33:3)

-Rev. Michael G. Lilienthal

What on Earth Is a “Gesima”?

The Season of the “Gesimas”

You’ll notice, looking ahead at the church calendar, that two strangely named Sundays are coming up in 2017: on February 12th, “Septuagesima,” and on February 19th, “Sexagesima.” The next Sunday, February 26th, although it is called “Baptism of Jesus,” is also known as “Quinquagesima.” What we affectionately call the “Gesimas” is actually the season of Pre-Lent, the bridge between Epiphany and Lent.

The names of the days refer to about how far away the Sunday is from the celebration of Easter; thus, Septuagesima, Latin for “seventy,” is about 70 days before Easter, Sexagesima (“sixty”) is about 60 days before, and Quinquagesima (“fifty”) is about 50 days before Easter. Lent, as you may know, spans the 40 days leading up to Easter.

Nils Jakob Laache describes this season in his devotional Book of Family Prayer: “This period of the Church Year is our ‘narthex,’ our entrance, into the season of Lent, a time for us to pause before we begin our pilgrimage to Calvary and the empty tomb…. Each of the three Sundays focuses on one of the three Sola’s of Lutheranism. The first week we will hear how we are saved by Grace Alone (Sola Gratia), the next week of Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura), and finally we consider the importance of Baptism and how we are saved by Faith Alone (Sola Fide). With our eyes focused on how God works to save us, we are prepared to enter the penitential season of Lent” (Laache, Book of Family Prayer, 162).

So now you know what to look for. On February 12th, Jesus tells the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16), while in the Old Testament we hear of Jeremiah’s call, as one whom the Lord knew while he was still in the womb (Jer. 1:4-10), and St. Paul encourages his readers to run the race faithfully to receive the promised prize (1 Cor. 9:24-10:5). What does all this have to do with Sola Gratia?

On February 19th, Jesus tells the parable of the Sower and the Seed (Luke 8:4-15), as Isaiah compares God’s Word to rain and snow (Is. 55:10-13), and St. Paul boasts of his weaknesses and the revelations and grace of God (2 Cor. 11:19-12:9). Additionally, this year, the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, we will commemorate on this day the death of Martin Luther (February 18th, 1546), remembering him as a great preacher of the Word. What does all this have to do with Sola Scriptura?

Lastly, on February 26th, we will hear the account of Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:13-17), while St. Peter tells of the great benefits of Baptism and the picture of the faithful of God in the Flood (1 Pet. 3:18-22), and Isaiah prophesies of the Chosen Servant of the Lord (Is. 42:1-9). What does all this have to do with Sola Fide?

Continue looking ahead to this season, and to all the upcoming seasons and Sundays of the Church Year. This year, a year in which we look back on our history and our heritage, we follow the readings of the Historic Lectionary. Look ahead each week in the Hymnary on pages 202-203 to see what lessons are coming up. May
your devotions be enriched by God’s grace for you in his Word, inspiring faith in the Savior from sin.

-Pastor Michael G. Lilienthal

feld_am_see_-_evangelische_kirche_-_lutherrose

Luther’s Rose

Christmas

All are invited to share in God’s love for us in His Son, our
Savior from sin!

Please join us for our Christmas services. O come, let us adore Him!

Christmas Eve – 4 PM    |   Christmas Morning – 8 AM

Christmas Redeemer 2016.png

Looking for some Christmas cheer?  Click here to check out the Christmas concert given by Bethany Lutheran College earlier this month.

Feasting with God #56 – “Drinking My Tears”

Feasting with God #56 – “Drinking My Tears”

Text: Psalm 42:3-6a

“My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.”

Life is hard.  Bills to pay; money to earn to pay the bills; hours to work to earn the money to pay the bills.  And that’s just the difficulty of material things.  What about the difficulties of emotional distress?  What about depression, anxiety, and everything in-between?  And what about the difficulties of interpersonal relationships?  What about friends who are distant and unable to help, and enemies who are near and seeking actively to harm?  Or what about those oblivious people who are even nearer that aren’t actively seeking to harm you, but by their ignorance do more damage than enemies?

Amid this life of pain and tears, of dullness and apparent meaninglessness, the question is asked, not just by your enemies, but by your own soul, “Where is your God?”  Where is God during trial and hardship?  Why does God allow suffering?  These questions have tormented people for millennia.

This song of Psalm 42 sings of a memory amid suffering:

These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.

The memory of the singer is a sweet one, when he would dance in front of the mass of thousands of worshipers coming into God’s house, singing songs of praise to God, all eager and excited to come and worship, to receive the spiritual blessings of God.  The memory’s sweetness serves to make the current situation—he is away from the festivals of praise, he is suffering, he is surrounded by enemies and tormented by them—all the more bitter.  But the memory also serves to encourage him:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

Remembering the worship, the hymns he sang, the singer who suffers now encourages himself that he “shall again praise” God.  He recognizes that the situation of suffering in which he finds himself now is temporary, fleeting.  He had a foretaste of the eternal joy and glory he would experience when he worshiped.  The hymns he had sung told his soul that he would sing hymns of praise to God in heavenly bliss.  “Even in this life, we as Christians will travel showing that our citizenship is in heaven, that we’re bound for the promised land.  The Bible pictures our earthly life like a camping trip.  We are just tenting here as Israel did for forty years.  We are waiting to be free from the vanity of this prison house.  Therefore our hope and confidence are not based on how large our tents are here but on the fact that heavenly mansions are waiting for us.”[1]

Remember your worship when you go home.  Remember the hymns we sing, and the joyful message of salvation that they sing to you, melodiously providing the hope of your eternal life when you will sing to your Lord in heavenly bliss.  Let the notes of song lift you above this terrible existence, this foul campground, and provide you a glimpse of heavenly bliss.  Your God has become your salvation in the person of Jesus Christ, who died, taking all our bitter tears into himself, and rose into life amid the joyous song of angels just as we will rise into eternal life to join that angel song.

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy pow’rful hand.
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, Be Thou still my Strength and Shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises I will ever give to thee. Amen. (ELH 262)

[1] Gaylin Schmeling, “Our Citizenship is in Heaven,” From Wilderness to Promised Land (Mankato, MN: Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary Press, 2012), 114.