07-20-2020: Sixth Week after Trinity

   As always, I pray things are well with you. I hope you know that’s not just lip service. Truly, every single week, my routine is the same. Starting on Monday and ending the following Sunday morning before worship, I spend time making my way through the whole list of members here at our Savior, praying for each person by name. In addition to folks on our roster, I also pray for others who are close to us as a congregation, and close to me and my family, personally.

   There are enemies in that list, too.

   What do I pray for? Lots of different things. Mostly that God would calm fears, temper anger, soften hearts for repentance, give ears to hear the truth and the wisdom to discern it, and most importantly, grant trust by the Gospel for faith in Christ.

   Beyond this little bit of encouragement that a pastor is thinking of you and petitioning God on your behalf, I really don’t have any ideas on what to share with you this Monday morning. I guess I could stop right here. Although, having paused after that last sentence, I suppose a couple of memorable thoughts that drifted through my mind while at the Red Lobster in Troy last Friday might be of some interest. I stopped there to have a quiet lunch before making my way to Woodside Bible Church for a video shoot for Right to Life of Michigan. The first of the two thoughts has to do with something the hostess said as she led me to a table just around the corner from the front doors.

   I had a mask ready in my hand when I walked into the restaurant, you know, for obvious reasons. I think the fact that I wasn’t wearing it made the hostess feel a little more at ease for pulling hers down to chat. And so we did.

   Even at half past noon, the place was absolutely empty. From among the congenial things spoken between us as we traveled the restaurant’s lonely aisle ways together, I asked, “Where is everyone?”

   Her reply was something like, “I think going out to eat is a lot harder for folks than it used to be.”

   For the record, I try to listen carefully when people are speaking to me, no matter what they’re saying. Also for the record, I’ll confess to letting moments of small talk mist away without much thought. I would have expected this moment to be no different, but for some reason, what she said remained well into my pleasantly quiet meal.

   Indeed, with the mandates out there, certain things we use to do with relative ease have met at the delta where rest becomes toil, and with this, they’ve become too cumbersome. As a result, many are simply choosing not to do them. I, for one, make it a point not to go out much, anymore. In fact, if I can help it, I won’t step foot into a physical store at all. If I do, it’s only to dress up like Star Lord, Darth Vader, or a Stormtrooper in order to drift around the place pretending to shop, but really just doing what I can to make the droning sadness of our current days a little brighter for folks. Other than that, I pretty much do all my shopping online. As a family, we do our grocery shopping this way, too. To be clear, the only reason I stopped at Red Lobster that day was because I was running early and I had a gift card… and because the relatively empty parking lot promised a quiet meal free from distraction.

   I suppose while I’m still on this trajectory, another personal proof of the communal frustration I’m suspecting happened last week while Jen and the kids were away for the day. Knowing I’d be eating dinner alone, I drove over to the local grocery store in Linden intent on buying one of their deli-made salads. It wasn’t until I’d already pulled into the parking lot and hopped out of the Jeep that I realized I didn’t have a mask, which of course the store requires. So I drove home. But it wasn’t to get a mask and then return. I drove home to stay, frustrated by the prospect of wasting my time and fuel on two round-trips instead of one. I just didn’t want to do it. It had already been a long day, and the salad retrieval process—something that could’ve been easy—had become a part of the day’s trouble instead of its anticipated rest. I ended up eating a bowl of chicken noodle soup, a bowl of Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries, and watching “Predator.”

   “I ain’t got time to bleed.”

   That’s a great line. Just as great as, “Get to the choppaaa!” Anyway…

   In the end, my evening was restful. I even ate food fit for a man’s alone time. The local grocery store, however, lost one of the only sales I would’ve made there in a very long time. The hostess’ words at Red Lobster had me wondering how many others may be responding to things in the same way.

   I told you at the beginning I had two thoughts. The other one that nestled into my brain resulted from a passing interaction with a gentleman in the parking lot as I was leaving Red Lobster.

   For context, please know it’s not out of the ordinary for people to go out of their way to make sure the man in the clerical collar knows they’re God-fearing church-goers, making every effort to offer a passing comment to prove some sort of theological prowess or a long list of good deeds. I get why they do it. In some ways I’m glad for it, because it reminds me that there are still people out there who care to engage in such ways, even if for the wrong reasons. Nowadays I just chalk it up to the same endurance needed during the repetitive “What was that you said?” hollered between patrons and clerks because neither can understand what the other is saying from behind masks and Plexiglass shields.

   By the way, an unfortunately true story describing the awkward theological reactions I sometimes get from folks can be enjoyed here: https://wp.me/p2nDyB-IS.

   In the meantime, the passing words from the man outside of Red Lobster, like the hostess’ words within, had me thinking.

   I was climbing into my car as he was exiting his. He called across the roof of his ruby red Cadillac, “Pray for me, Father, because I’m the kind of guy who keeps God real busy.”

   I didn’t carry the conversation any further. I simply said, “I’ll pray for you and you pray for me. God be with you.” And then I drove away.

   Steering through the lot and back onto Rochester Road, I remember whispering beneath Rush Limbaugh’s voice, “With everything going on in the world, with all of us keeping God so busy, the devil must be incredibly bored.”

   It may sound theologically shallow to my ever-growing list of clergy-critics, but I guess what I meant by that soft-spoken moment of private humor was the two-fold acknowledgment that the devil is definitely one to work overtime in bringing division, terror, and devastation to the world, and yet with so many people matching his efforts these days, he must be getting kind of bored. Not only does it seem as if everything is exactly as the devil would want it, but it would appear he has all the right people in all the right places doing his work for him. With that, I’m guessing he has plenty more time these days for vacationing at his private island—which, by the way, I’m suspecting is probably adjacent to the island that was owned/rented by his past (and likely present) tenant, Jeffrey Epstein.

   As far as I can tell, the English novelist Joseph Conrad believed in the existence of the devil. But I seem to remember him making a similar attempt at devil-describing humor when he said something about how a belief in a supernatural source of evil isn’t really necessary. Human beings alone, being more than capable of every wickedness, are plenty proof of his existence.

   Conrad was right. We are more than capable. And we are definitely proof. Just look around.

   Thankfully, even as we’re keeping God busy, just as the man in the Cadillac jokingly pointed out, I’d say God wants to be busy with us. He loves us. He doesn’t want to lose anyone, and so He’s continually laboring to keep the truth of His Gospel Word before us, which is the wonderfully potent message that actually has the power to instill what it communicates: forgiveness of Sin, and faith for eternal life with Christ!

   He’s keeping very busy snatching us from the devil’s kingdom through Word and Sacrament ministry.

   I’m not sure how the two thoughts I described above actually fit together completely, except maybe to say that as the days continue to lumber along with even the littlest occurrences becoming cumbersome instances that must be endured rather than enjoyed, remember God is keeping busy on your behalf. He’s never napping on the job (Psalm 121:4). Besides, He’s already more than proven He’s the kind of God to step up and do what needs to be done in the hour of our deepest need (Romans 5:8). Look to the cross and behold the death of His Son. That’s what I do—every single day! And why? Because it’s a visible reminder of the Gospel message’s glory—the Son of God taking my guilt and shame into Himself, and in exchange, giving to me His perfect righteousness for a new life lived out in this world until I meet with the next.

   That same Gospel has the power to convince and convert you for faith, and ultimately, eternal life.

   Okay, joking aside… Rest assured the devil knows the power of the Gospel, too. “Be vigilant, therefore,” Saint Peter says in 1 Peter 5. Know that the devil never vacations from his efforts to war against this saving truth. But again, take comfort in the fact that the God of all creation is on your side (Romans 8:31-29). Add to this comfort that others are praying for your endurance (Colossians 1:9, 4:3; James 5:16; Hebrews 4:16; and plenty others). I already assured you that I am. It certainly is a comfort to me personally knowing that many of you are praying for me, too.

   Okay, that’s enough rambling for today. I have a day filled with devils that need to be wrestled.