Fear 10.0

First published in GraceNotes of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church http://gracenotes-htlc.com/2019/11/20/fear-10-0

With more than a nod to C.S. Lewis and his Screwtape Letters, I offer this message I intercepted from the IT Department in Hell (you think you get weird stuff in your social media). If you know what the enemy is up to, it can help:

“To all demonic administrators and lowly minions of evil:

Please be advised that we are currently upgrading the anxiety/fear/terror software in your human subjects to version 10.0. (Frankly, we’ve been at this so long we don’t know what iteration this really is…). Added to the operating system are new applications related to the coming 2020 election. These improvements enhance the hate level for those with opposing views and the despair level regarding future outcomes. If we continue to make good progress dividing people into imaginary little binary groups (one of our greatest inventions) they will fall apart. We grudgingly must say “glorious evil work” to those who have so successfully turned their subjects in high places to replace any dangerous commitment to the common good and the rule of law with farcical attacks, conspiracy theories and childish conduct. Bravo.

Of course, this just builds on the underlying sub-routines that steer your subjects from thinking for the common good, replacing that creator-driven design flaw by aggrandizing the way the world revolves around their “individual” identity. The me-centric matrix has been a brilliant addition and we merely deepen its hold on the false reality algorithm built in the basic operating system where community is the basis of identity.

Remember, if we can effectively frame every decision around “the self,” civility, civil loyalty, and democracy itself will eventually collapse. (I think you will find that our master and lord of darkness is delighted at the progress on this front in recent events. We claim the credit, but must admit, sometimes the human species does our work for us). Our progress toward a system that completely negates all sense of concern about the subject’s neighbor is ongoing.

Some of you have pretended wisdom and dared to ask questions about what you see as growth of the human “community” surrounding the deliciously disastrous degradation of creation. You fail to see that the negation of any sense of neighbor extends to all creations and creatures of the Enemy. If your subject will not raise a finger to help the human next door, certainly, they will not care about a tree. Besides, because they are being reprogrammed to think only of themselves, they will be so overwhelmed by the scope of environmental damage they will retreat to watch TV about it, at most. They can only address the problems they face on a global scale communally. If you are doing your job as demons, that won’t happen! Just tell them its hopeless to recycle, or that the facts of the matter are a conspiracy. 

You need not worry (though by mentioning this, we revel in knowing you now are) about many of the foundational processes running in your patients. Replacing the divine enemy’s reality of abundance for all creation with the insidious lie about never having enough will continue to result in panic, poor choices, greed, heaps of fear and the delightful erosion of the soul to a bite size morsel. You will note we have expanded the anxiety and terror related to scarcity to time itself. You should be seeing increasing devotion of time in all manner of activities that fill the days of your subject beyond carrying capacity. The successful rejection of the sabbath nonsense provided by the creator, has led to the fear that your subjects are failures unless they are busy, productive, active, or whatever, every waking moment. In fact, success is now being seen at eroding sleep time with activity which overloads the subject’s ability to ward off our attacks. That subjects are able to pass this on to their spawn is gratifying. All for now. Keep up the evil work.

May you all burn in the fires that await the fearful,

Wormwood – Director of Human Sin Software

Fear is the opposite of faith. Not doubt. Not hate. Fear. It seems to me that with each passing day there is more and more that frightens us into lives full of despair and hate; that lack meaning and struggle to find peace. We have everything, but we’re empty.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in one of his marvelous sermons said this:

Fear is, somehow or other, the archen­emy itself. It crouches in people’s hearts. It hollows out their insides, until their resistance and strength are spent and they suddenly break down. Fear secretly gnaws and eats away at all the ties that bind a person to God and to others, and when in a time of need that person reaches for those ties and clings to them, they break and the individual sinks back into himself or herself, helpless and despairing, while hell rejoices… Fear takes away a person’s humanity. This is not what the creature made by God looks like—this per­son belongs to the devil, this enslaved, broken-down, sick creature. https://politicaltheology.com/overcoming-fear-sermon-dietrich-bonhoeffer/

The Bible tells us to not fear or not be afraid 655 times, by my count. The antidote to fear is the absolute declaration that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Fear is the soil in which sin and evil grow. The bully on the playground (or the halls of government) act out of fear. The narcissist acts out of fear that they don’t matter. The greedy are afraid the barns are not big enough. On it goes. When fear has stripped away our humanity, we lose empathy, compassion, and we lash out is hate. Our nation; our world; our city; our lives are filled with fear. And none of that has to be. Christ is the truth that sets us free from fear.

Think of the 5-10 things you fear most. Write them down. Now ask yourself what Christ, through the power of the Spirit living in you has to say about these things. I think it will begin with the assurance of the savior – Do not fear.

“Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men. All preachers of the gospel will do well to recollect this saying daily.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Pax Christi – Pastor Tim Olson

Copyright 2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Disaster in Oklahoma and the Presence of God

So, I was thinking that not to speak in the face of the devastation of the most recent disaster in Oklahoma is well, unthinkable.  What I share here is in part, some of a letter shared with the congregation – so pardon any redundancy.

The pictures of the devastation wrought by the huge and protracted tornado are heart breaking and even beyond comprehension.  The fact that our own area has listened to sirens warning us of the possibility of similar threats over the last two days brings the destruction closer to home, even if only in our imaginations. “What if….?” What if I were the one trying to imagine where my house used to be.  What if this town was being featured on the news feed.  We might even utter “Thank God it was not here” knowing immediately that our thanks is not really gratitude, but relief.  The images and the possibility of such an event happening means that fear becomes a companion in times like this.

Reminds me of a story you may know:

One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out,  and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger.  They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm.  He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?” (Luke 8:22-25)
Who is this Jesus; this sleeping presence and stiller of storms?  None other than the God who over and over says to us, “Do not be afraid.” But letting go of the fear can be hard.  Especially when we wonder if it isn’t precisely this God who somehow allows, or even causes these disasters and storms.

I am thinking that soon, if not already, some morally upright, emotionally uptight, self-proclaimed proclaimer of “truth” will announce that this disaster was God’s punishment for something or another.  Listen: No matter what anyone tells you, the God revealed in Jesus Christ and worshiped as the Holy Trinity does NOT punish people with tornadoes — or disease, or earthquake, or any other such thing.  This God does not have a “plan” that called for a tornado to strike Oklahoma yesterday to serve some mysterious purpose.  It is true that tornadoes and earthquakes and such all happen within the order of creation, within the providence of the God who orders all things.  But that does not mean God points a divine magic wand to conjure up the tragedies of life.  They happen as part of the natural course of things. Tornadoes happen because rain falls; cancer happens because cells grow and sometimes, do so out of control. The God I have met in Jesus Christ does not inflict such things, but bears them instead.  You see?
So, where is God in this disaster?  Look at the cross — God is on the cross, suffering, bearing the brokenness and crying out for mercy. Look to the devastation itself to find God in Oklahoma. God is in the rubble, in the cries of the broken and grieving.  The God of the cross is present in the one who races into the rubble to find the person wailing for help and in that very wail.  God is already working to bring new life and resurrection from this disaster – and every other incidence of suffering, pain, grief that happens this day – even if it never makes the news.  God is with you as you tremble with fear and draw your kids close. God is with the people and working through the people.

God be with all who weep and mourn and clean-up today and in all the days ahead. God be with us as we battle fear and seek faith.

Pax Christi,

Pastor Tim Olson

Boston Bombings: What Do We Do?

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Grace and peace to you in the name of the blessed, Holy Trinity.

As you have likely heard, today the Boston Marathon was the target of two bombs that left two dead and quite a few injured.  While the story continues to unfold, there are few concrete details other than the knowledge that death and suffering have once again come as a result of the apparently intentional acts of humans bent on harming other humans.  Our first reactions are emotional, of course.  An event like this evokes fear, terror, grief and the memory of past events.  Certainly we all experience shock at yet another example of violence.

I would ask first and foremost that we all engage in prayer to the Lord of the Resurrection, the Prince of Peace. Pray for victims and their families; for first responders and ER nurses and doctors; for law enforcement officials and our government as they try to understand and discern what has happened. Pray also for your own sense of peace and for faith to drive out the fear that can grip us when we feel attacked. Our nation will likely show a lot of rage in the days ahead.  The “peace that passes all understanding” and comes through the power of the Holy Spirit will provide calm in the storm. Through the peace of Christ we will not feed the rage or the fear.  Also – and this is the hard part – pray for the people or person who set off the bombs. God calls us to pray for our enemies.  But, this is not an act of passive or pious works that gain us favor before God.  Praying for our enemies is the first, and very powerful act of bringing peace and redemption.  The judgement of those who do violence belongs to God.  We will not add to their violence with our own call for revenge or retribution. So, pray – please.

Perhaps you are wondering why God would let this happen. Know that God is not in the bombing business. When we look at God revealed to us in the Christ of the cross we see one who is suffering with us – with the victims and the dead and grieving. We also see one who overcomes evil, suffering and death not through violent response, but by redemptive suffering; by taking the evil on, unmasking it for what it is, and by overcoming it through new life and resurrection.  You don’t have to understand how that all works, just look to Jesus and see that it does!

Perhaps you feel fear because it seems like this could happen to any of us at anytime.  On the one hand, that may be true.  We are not as safe as we think each day.  However, it is also true that violence does not befall all of us.  Death however is real for each. In Christ we have nothing to fear of what he conquered by his resurrection.

Perhaps you don’t know what to tell you kids. Tell them the truth, answer their questions and witness to the hope and faith you know — even if you don’t have a good handle on it at the moment.

Remember what the angels say time and agin in scripture; remember what God tells Moses as the Egyptian Army closes on them; remember what Jesus tells the disciples when it seems the boat will sink -DO NOT BE AFRAID, I AM WITH YOU.  Perhaps the words of a song we used in Advent will be helpful. They are by David Haas, based on Isaiah 43 and used her with permission:

You Are Mine

I will come to you in the silence,
I will lift you from all your fear.
You will hear my voice,
I claim you as my choice.
Be still and know I am here.

I am hope for all who are hopeless
I am eyes for all who long to see.
In the shadows of the night,
I will be your light.
Come and rest in me. Refrain

Refrain
Do not be afraid, I am with you.
I have called you each by name.
Come and follow me,
I will bring you home;
I love you and you are mine.

I am the Word that leads all to freedom,
I am the peace the world cannot give.
I will call your name,
embracing all your pain.
Stand up, now walk and live!”  Refrain

Text: David Haas, b. 1957

Text 1991 GIA Publications, Inc., 7404 S. Mason Ave., Chicago, IL 60638. http://www.giamusic.com. 800.442.3358. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

The Church is Dead. Long Live the Church

So, I was thinking that the Church is dead. If not totally dead, it is as Miracle Max from The Princess Bride would say at least “mostly dead” or in very critical condition.  I know you probably don’t read a pastor’s blog expecting to hear this kind of thing.  You were perhaps hoping for something a little more uplifting. Sorry. The vital signs are, it seems weak.

When it comes to belonging to a church, the fastest growing group of people in our culture simply don’t.  5% of the population said they were “unaffiliated” in 1972.  Today it is 16%.  People are not choosing other churches, mega churches, new churches or old churches; they are not picking more conservative or more liberal churches, when they leave one church, they are not going to something “better” – they are choosing to do away with church completely. They are often called “nones” because they check “none” on surveys about religious affiliation   This is happening to every single segment of the Christian Church – Protestant, Evangelical, Roman Catholic — it across the board.

More facts: 70% of mainline Protestant households have no children; 91% of those same congregations are white (unlike our society).  The median age of people in church is steadily and quickly rising (averaging over 62 years).  Congregations are getting smaller and smaller on the whole. Only 27% of “members” actually worship each week.  Only 7% of Christians have actually read the whole Bible.

The truth is that things have changed in every aspect of our world – economic, political, cultural and yes, religious.  The Church that we all remember from our youth is dead, mostly. Think back to the way things used to be:

¨The Way Things Were
  • You were born into the faith and stayed in your tradition
  • Faith was a way of believing, so you learned beliefs first – memorized, understood.
  • Christian faith was expected of most everyone
  • Institutions played an important part in our lives
  • Authority was given to those who had studied – experts
  • Keeping the faith = Keeping the traditions
Look at how things have changed:
¨The Way Things Are
  • People seek spiritual connections and religious life on their own.
  • Faith is a way of living – doctrines and “truth” are understood to be negotiable or dialogic.  So, spirituality is about living daily
  • Christian faith is no longer a cultural norm
  • Institutions/Denominations have lost their power and are fading
  • Seminary training and official teachers are suspect
  • Keeping the faith = living with integrity
The Church, as we remember it, even as we long for it, is dead, mostly.  But that is not “bad news.”  God is faithful and the Spirit is always moving.  We have the challenge and blessing to be living in an age when the Spirit is rewriting, re-imaging what it means to be the Church.  To be part of that means we will need to wander in the wilderness (sounds familiar) we’ll have to change our attitudes (not the first time), We will have to live our faith in a way we have not for some time (likely a refreshing change).  We will have to adapt the way we engage in mission to the reality of our world.
The great news is that God gives life to the Church in every age.  The Church may suffer many deaths, but God is in the resurrection business.  So what do you think about the death, and the life of the Church today… and tomorrow?
Pax Christi,
Pastor Tim

Giving Thanks

So, I was thinking that giving thanks is harder than it sounds. Now that does not mean I don’t favor giving thanks.  With G.K. Chesterton, I am well aware that at the least “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”  It is too easy to live each day taking the “daily bread” God showers upon us for granted. Gratitude is the antidote for slipping into a sense of entitlement.

But, I maintain that giving thanks is hard. The difficulty is partly cultural. It is not lost on me that the day named for the practice of giving thanks has become but a prelude to the “Black Friday” that follows. We try to give thanks for a few hours, but by midnight we will have turned from gratitude to anxiety over what we need to get and what we do not yet possess. After all, there are only so many shopping days to find the things that will make everyone happy – for a day or two.

Black Friday rises from our preoccupation with tomorrow without remembrance of the past and attentiveness to the present. Worry about the future, anxiety over what is not yet, is the seed of sin and all matter of evil. As C.S. Lewis, has the demon Screwtape say in one of my favorite books,  The Screwtape Letters, “Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.”  If you can get us to fret over tomorrow, we are undone.  If we can give thanks, we have an antidote. Is it a coincidence that Madison Avenue wants us to zoom by the gratitude and love of the past and present so we can worry about Christmas as soon as possible?  I think not. 😉 

Giving thanks can also be hard because I find that saying, “Thanks be to God for the table full of food” is such a short distance from “Thank God I’m not starving like those who have nothing.”  Giving thanks for abundance when so many suffer scarcity tweaks my conscience.  It darkens my festive demeanor – and it should. Abundance, from a biblical perspective, is from God and for all, not just the privileged few. I’m not sure that gratitude means giving thanks for my personal affluence. Justice makes giving thanks hard.

But what makes giving thanks the hardest for me is that I have heard people throughout my life give thanks in circumstances I do not understand. When I heard someone say “I give thanks for my cancer” the first time, I was dumbstruck. Since then, I have come to understand a little more fully what they mean. The discipline (and yes it is this, not a feeling or a thought) of giving thanks is something we must apply to everything in life – even our pain and suffering.  This is hard. Henri Nouwen, one of the wisest spiritual teachers of the last century says: “Grateful people are those who can celebrate even the pains of life because they trust that when harvest time comes the fruit will show that the pruning was not punishment but purification.”  Can we say thank you for our pain and brokenness? Perhaps only by knowing that this is precisely where Christ meets us.  But it is still hard.

As difficult as it may be, gratitude is an absolute necessity in our world.  Without it, contentment is impossible and we are a very discontent lot. Gratitude that leads us to contentment makes us less afraid of the future. Gratitude that leads to contentment opens our hearts so we can share our bounty and help provide abundance for others. Gratitude that leads to contentment acknowledges the pain in our lives, giving God a chance to transform our teas to joy.  Gratitude that leads to contentment lasts more than a day and it changes the world.  Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Pastor Tim