Sweat Equity: Hotter Than Hell

MolechYesterday, I spent a few hours working in an attic. It was ninety degrees outside and about 500° where I was working (give or take). I was soaked with sweat when I was finished.

There’s something satisfying about sweating. I remember watching my Dad working when I was young and seeing him perspire. Sweat beads would trickle down his forehead and drip off the end of his nose. I wanted to be like him.

As it turns out, I inherited his propensity to perspire profusely when I work. I like it because it makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something (whether I have or not).

“Hotter than hell.”

I don’t actually know how hot it was in that attic, but it reminded me of the old saying, “It’s hotter than hell.” The Bible doesn’t give any good indication of how warm that might be, but it can’t be too comfortable. Maybe someone should do a study on that one.

Actually, there are varying views on the whole concept of hell. If you’ve ever read C.S Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce, you’ll quickly discover a view of hell to which most of us never are exposed. For him, it was a dull, gray, lifeless place—a place where there was a lot of meaninglessness. It sounds like hell to me.man in hell

I had a professor in seminary who subscribed to that view as well. From his perspective, it was more Biblically accurate than the one we most hear about.

That one we hear the most, of course, is the fiery inferno where Satan, his dominions, and all the not-so-nice folks are tossed in the end. That sounds like hell to me as well.

“Lots of nasty stuff took place in that valley.”

That view comes, at least in part, by Jesus’ use of the term “Gehenna.” Gehenna literally means the Valley of Hinnom which is located on the southern side of Jerusalem.

Long before Jesus made the scene, lots of nasty stuff took place in that valley. Babies were burned as sacrifices to the pagan god, Molech, for example. It was a gruesome business.

That valley swung around and merged with the Kidron Valley on the east side. One of the gates of the city (the Dung Gate) was there. By the time of Jesus, trash was hauled through this gate and dumped into the valley. Like a lot of dumps, it would catch fire and seem to burn endlessly. So when Jesus talked about burning in Gehenna, these were the images that people would see. It’s also why we think of hell as a place of eternal fire.

Whatever hell is, it’s not a place I’d like to be. One thing is for sure. Hell is a place where God is not. To be in hell is to be separated from our Creator. None of us can imagine itkidron because none of us has ever had to endure that scenario. We are constantly surrounded by God’s Spirit.

I think I’ll try to do as much sweating here as possible. Heaven is undoubtedly air-conditioned.

 

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]it

Primitive Worship: The Return of the Seventy-Two

choirSingingEvery once in a while, the discussion about worship reemerges. We are separated as Christians by our various worship styles (among other things). Everyone thinks they’re the ones who worship correctly.

Over the years, I’ve heard myriads of teachers expound upon the correct way to worship. That is to say, they try to tell us what the Bible says about the subject. They attempt to answer the question, “What is true Biblical worship?” You know; how does God want to be worshiped?

“Most people probably don’t care what the Bible has to say…”

Worship is one of those hills upon which I’m not willing to die. In other words, I don’t know who’s right. I tend to believe the last person I heard teach on the subject. Then, of course, another one comes along and I believe that one.

The funny thing about all this is that most people probably don’t care what the Bible has to say about the subject. They merely do what they’ve always done and that’s that. They don’t want anyone confusing them with Scripture.

Then there are those who are tied to the liturgy. Some of them don’t give two wits about how Scriptural your worship is as long as you don’t do anything liturgically incorrect.Jump-for-joy

I remember one Christmas while I was attending seminary, someone placed a wreath at the bottom of the large cross hanging in the front of the chapel. One would have thought it was a sign of the apocalypse. And some of the biggest stink was made by people who weren’t even sure if the Bible was the Word of God. The wreath, according to them, was to be placed at the top of the cross. Horror of horrors!

The joyous return of the seventy-two.

That is merely one of many stories I could relate to you. Suffice it to say, people want worship to be just as they want it to be—period. So, is there a right way, or are we all wrong?

With fear and trepidation, may I refer you to a story in Scripture? Luke 10 tells of the return of the seventy-two. I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately. As you may recall, Jesus sent them out as a sort of advance ministry crew. When they came back, they were joyously sharing their stories of what God had done in the field. Jesus was “full of joy through the Holy Spirit,” praised the Father in Heaven, and shared a word with the seventy-two.

They had a wonderful time that sounds a bit like worship. Many people, in fact, point to this as a time of “primitive” worship. As I look over the passage, the word “worship” was not used. Still, I must agree it appears that’s exactly what they were doing together—corporate worship.jesus-laughing1

Interestingly enough, I think the only way the word primitive can be applied is if it’s compared it to our worship services today. Since we are obviously sophisticated, what Jesus and the gang did had to be considered as primitive.

Hmmm… So, who does it right?

 

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

Halfway Church

Years ago, I visited a young man who lived in a home called a halfway house. I’m guessing most of you are at least vaguely familiar with these sorts of places. According to Wikipedia, “A halfway house is a place that allows people with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities to learn the social and other skills necessary to integrate or reintegrate into society.”

half wayIts purpose is to help people complete the journey from wherever they were (incarcerated, emotionally unstable, drug addicted, etc.) to a firmer place in society. This, of course, is a noble and worthwhile venture if handled properly. People who stop at one of these for a season are halfway between who they were and who they wish to become.

With that definition in mind, it seems to me that the church should be somewhat of a halfway community. She is that, at her best. In fact, many congregations have established halfway houses in order to better minister to halfway people.

Unfortunately, that definition often doesn’t apply to many of our local congregations. Much of the time, we are more apt to say (whether out loud or under our collective breaths), “These people need to go somewhere else until they get help.” This, of course, is an impolite way of saying, “They’re not going to get any help from us.”

“We have been conditioned…”

In defense of congregations with this mindset, these thoughts come naturally. We have been taught by our culture and society that one needs special training for such things. We have also been conditioned to think that “these people” are not our problems. By adopting such attitudes, we shrink from becoming halfway communities.

The term also has a broader meaning (as in, “doing things halfway”). It often applies to congregations, not only in the circumstances discussed above halfdonkey but in many other circumstances as well. We often do things halfway or in haphazard manners. In other words, we do what we have to do to get by. My Dad used to call that, “getting through by the skin of your teeth.”

My Dad also would describe this condition with another idiom (widely used) that I will not quote here (for reasons of gentility). It began with the word, half, but ended with a somewhat crude term that referred to a posterior part of the human anatomy. This word is also commonly found in the King James Version of the Bible. It is the forerunner of another (more modern) word now used as the symbol of one of our major political parties (hint—not an elephant).

“It’s like fighting a war without the slightest intention of winning it.”

This halfway condition is not an enviable one. It’s like fighting a war without the slightest intention of winning it. It’s like teaching a class without caring if the students actually learn anything.

In short, today’s church often does things in a halfway manner. We do things just to say we do them. Why don’t we try this? Instead of doing lots of things in a halfway manner, let’s do less, but do them right.halfway

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

One Piece of Toilet Paper

tp I’m sure you’ve heard by now that each of us should only be using one sheet of toilet paper per sitting. If you haven’t, allow me to be the first to congratulate you on your newfound efficiency.

This philosophy is not one I espouse. I do not subscribe to it, nor do I think I could actually pull it off (no pun intended). It seems like it would be a rather messy business (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

As you may have guessed, this is a little habit advocated by the environmentalists among us. I can certainly understand the thinking behind it. I know I could probably save about seventeen trees/year by adopting this practice. Still, I can’t bring myself to attempt it. Old dog, new trick…

You may be asking yourself why a blogger about all things spiritual would write a post concerning toilet paper. Good question. I’m not exactly sure myself, but the whole thought intrigues me. (It also disgusts me, but that’s beside the point.)

“I love ice cream.”

The real point is the fact that so many of us just seem to go to extremes. Take me, for example. I love ice cream. Ice cream is good. If there’s a Heaven (and I believe there is), its freezers are loaded with ice cream.icecream

So if we have a carton of ice cream in our freezer at home, do I pull it out in the evening for a small bedtime snack? Nay, nay! If I go unchecked by my lovely bride, I eat the entire container. This, of course, is ice cream overkill. It’s tutti-frutti to the extreme.

Take a look around you. We seem to do this with everything. We even do this in the church. How do you think we ended up with things like buildings, pews, youth groups, and full-time paid clergy (just to name a few)?

“We’re such extremists.”

When the church began on the day of Pentecost, we didn’t have any of this stuff. Now we have it ad nauseam. My guess is the Apostle Paul would have a stroke if he saw our ice cream mentality.

Paul said in a letter, “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.” (1 Corinthians 14:26) Frankly, that sounds way too simple. I guess he forgot to mention the praise band, the coffee bar, and the PA system. We’re such extremists.extreme

By the way, there’s a video on YouTube that gives blow-by-blow instructions on using one piece of toilet paper per bathroom visit. They’ve got a video for everything else—why not this? It’s a bit crude, so don’t watch it if you’ve got a weak stomach. If you can handle the grossiosity, it’s rather informative. I don’t recommend it, but I know some of you are dying to know. Go there at your own risk (but don’t tell them I sent you). I’d give you the link, but I’d take too much ordure for it.

When Friends Go Home

HampsonHands As I was preparing for worship this morning, I jumped onto Facebook to see if there was anything I had missed over the past couple of days. The first bit of news that caught my eye was that an old friend had passed away.

It was not totally unexpected, but the moment we hear these things always seems to catch us by surprise. This one was no exception. I couldn’t find words to really describe how I felt. But now, the words of Obi Wan Kenobi come to mind. “I felt a great disturbance in the force.”

“Few have left the impression upon me that he did.”

When Dave Hampson departed from this earth, his exodus left a sizeable void to be filled. I have known many great men and women of God in my sixty-six years. Few have left the impression upon me that he did.

As I look back, the time we actually shared together was short. Yet, it seems much longer than it actually was—probably because of what we did together. What we did, primarily, was ministry.

“He was a diehard Christian and a resolute human being.”

I’ve never known anyone who expressed more faith in God, who had more of a heart for God’s people, or who so passionately and fervently prayed for God’s will. He was a diehard Christian, and a resolute human being.

We were like day and night. In fact, we were so different from each other I sometimes wonder how we got along at all. In reality, the only thing that bonded our relationship was Jesus. In this case, Jesus was more than enough.

DaveandKathyDave used to make me mad. Looking back on it, I wonder if it was what he did or said or if it was merely some of that Italian blood that runs through my veins. I’m sure I angered him a time or two as well (I’m pretty good at that). But come to think of it, I can’t remember ever seeing him lose his temper. He was as mild mannered as they come.

“Somehow, we seemed to make a good team.”

One of the things we did together was work at summer camps for young people. That’s probably where we were able to shine the most. He was on fire for them to come to Christ and be discipled. I was always the laid back one (so much for the Italian blood). Somehow, we seemed to make a good team. Go figure…

We were the two Dave’s. That’s how some people knew us. In those few short years working together, I like to think we impacted a few lives. I know for sure that he did.

And now, after a long bout with cancer, HampsonsDave has gone home to be with Jesus. Outside of Facebook, we never saw each other anymore. We both moved away from Pennsylvania—he to Texas and I to Virginia. I can’t even remember the last time we were in the same place.

Despite the long hiatus from each other, we were brothers. I feel like a piece of my life is gone. You are already missed, old friend.

Rookies

RookieA rookie policeman pulled a speeding biker over and asked to see his license. The biker said, “No license. I had it suspended when I got my fifth DUI.”

The officer then asked to see the owner’s card for the motorcycle. The biker replied, “It’s not my bike. I stole it.”

“This motorcycle is stolen,” queried the officer?

“That’s right. But come to think of it, I saw the owner’s card in the tool bag when I was putting my gun in there,” replied the biker. To which the officer asked, “There’s a gun in the tool bag?”

“Yes, sir. That’s where I put it after I shot and killed the dude who owns this bike and stuffed his dope in the saddlebags.

Officer: “There are drugs in the saddle bags too?!?!?”
Biker: “Yes, sir.”

Hearing this, the rookie immediately called his captain. They were quickly surrounded by police, and the captain approached the biker to handle the tense situation:
• Captain: “Sir, can I see your license?”
• Biker: “Sure. Here it is.” It was valid.
• Captain: “Whose motorcycle is this?”
• Biker: “It’s mine, officer. Here’s the registration.”
• Captain: “Could you slowly open your tool bag so I can see if there’s a gun in it?”
• Biker: “Yes, sir, but there’s no gun in it.” Sure enough, there was nothing in the tool bag.”
• Captain: “Would you mind opening your saddle bags? I was told you said there are drugs in them.”
• Biker: “No problem.” The saddle bags were opened; no drugs.
• Captain: “I don’t understand. The arresting officer said you didn’t have a license, stole this motorcycle, had a gun in the tool bag, and that there were drugs in the saddle bags.”
• Biker: “Yeah, I’ll bet he told you I was speeding, too.”

*   *   *

There’s an old saw that says there’s nothing like experience. I remember some of the lessons I learned as a rookie pastor. They were things that I sometimes learned the hard way. Most of them are things I’ll never forget.rookie pastor

One Sunday, after celebrating Holy Communion with one of the congregations I served, I was approached by a woman. She politely made the following suggestion: “On days we have communion, please make sure you wash the cologne from your hands before you leave the parsonage.” Apparently, cologne doesn’t taste all that good on communion bread.

“I would rather be in the coffin…”

Another time, I thought it would be a good idea to get more of the laity involved in the worship service. Without any forethought, I called on one of our more active folks to lead us in prayer. She haltingly did so, but not before staring a hole through me. This was prior to my learning that most people fear public speaking more than death itself. Jerry Seinfeld once remarked concerning this phenomenon that most people would rather be in the coffin than delivering the eulogy.

If you’re currently a rookie at anything, please rest assured. You will make a fool of yourself at some point. It’s okay. You’re gaining experience.Hello I Am New

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

Allergic to Church

Basic demographics (around the area in which I live) show that about eight percent of the people will head off to a worship service on any given Sunday. Eight percent… I heard someone say recently that people are allergic to church.  allergic-rhinitis1

I remember years ago living in an area where that figure was fifty-five percent, and I thought that was bad. The other side of that coin, however, was the fact that it presumably left a lot of room for new converts to the faith. As Scripture indicates, the fields are ripe for harvest.

“They always had at least one partner.”

When Jesus sent out his seventy-two advance men (Luke 10), he told them to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send workers into the field. The thing that strikes me about these seventy-two was the fact that he sent them in pairs. No one was left to fend for themselves. They always had at least one partner.

One of the problems we face in today’s church is the feeling that we’re all alone. Think about it. If ninety-two percent of your neighbors are non-church going folks (for whatever reason), it’s pretty easy to feel like the deck is stacked against you. Once that feeling strikes, it’s a short path to despair. Despair can be the crushing blow that makes us think, “What’s the use.”

Allergic to churchIf there’s no use in trying, we fall into some very apathetic habits. Some of us actually join the ninety-two percent.

If the church is supposed to be anything, it’s supposed to be a community. The early church demonstrated to the surrounding culture what a real community should look like, how it would act, and why they were like they were. The one striking feature of that early community was their love. Their neighbors were quoted as saying, “How they love one another.”

What gives credence to the words we say?

If we’ve lost anything in today’s church, it’s that tremendous sense of community. We’ve replaced it with a lot of things—programming, high-tech worship, and modern buildings to name a few. The problem is there’s no replacement for a close-knit, intimate group of folks. It’s what the Holy Spirit uses to bind us together. It’s what speaks to the world around us, giving credence to the words we say.

One of the main reasons we aren’t close to our church family (if we can call it that) is that we choose to be isolated. Many of us don’t even know our next-door neighbors. We’d rather be left alone. That attitude bleeds over into our relationships in the local congregation. We’re cordial enough, but we’d still prefaacer not to be bothered.

The result of all this is the sad fact that we’re not what we were created to be. The church in such a state is no longer the church. She becomes some sort of service club at best.

Relationships are at the heart of our existence. Ignore them, and we’re lost. Nurture them, and we’ve got a good chance of impacting the harvest.

 

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

Organic Dry Cleaning

MarchonMonsanto A couple years ago, my lovely bride jumped onto the “March Against Monsanto” bandwagon. This, of course, meant that I too jumped on the dray along with her. I was a tad more reticent than she, but who’s counting?

We slowly learned how to cut Monsanto out of our lives (sort of). The dreaded chemicals we always lived with have gradually (and sometimes painfully) faded into the sunset (or more aptly, into the rearview mirror) of our lives.

The biggest part of this new lifestyle has been the inclusion of organic foods into our diets. This can only be a good thing (if you don’t count the fact that our grocery bill is now three times what it once was). But don’t get me wrong. This new direction in culinary acquisitions suits me just fine.

“The word, conventional, has become anathema to me.”

I really like being fat and happy. Now I’m fat and happy AND healthy all at the same time. Maybe fat and healthy don’t actually fit together, but we’re working on that one.

Since I do most of the grocery shopping, my senses have become acutely in tuned to the word, organic. These days, every time I see that word, I’m drawn immediately toward the product that’s labeled as such. In turn, the word “conventional” has become anathema to me. (In case you’re not familiar with the current usage of the term, conventional, it’s now used to describe any veggie or other food product that doesn’t fit into the organic camp. Who knew?)GreenClean

Recently, I was driving by a shopping center and noticed a peculiar sign in one of the windows. The sign read, “Organic Dry Cleaning.” My non-conventional antennae went up, and I’ve been thinking about that ever since.

I totally understand organic foods. After all, who wants to put something into their body that’s going to preserve them like a pickle? However, the significance of organic dry cleaning somehow escapes me. I don’t lick my clothes when they return from the cleaners, so I’m not sure how this helps. Besides, we don’t want to run Monsanto totally out of business, do we?

“It can’t be that we’ll be using organic Bibles.”

I’m waiting for all of this to hit the church, and I’m wondering how it will impact us. It can’t be that we’ll be using organic Bibles. We’ve already gone digital on those. I don’t think it will affect the building materials we use to construct our sanctuaries. We’re pretty organic in that area already (think wood).

The only things that come to mind at this point are the candles. A lot of us still use those. I’m sure there must be some organic tapers out there somewhere. If we’re going to be carrying the light into the world, it would behoove us to do it in a non-conventional way.

This, of course, brings us to the ultimate question. What would Jesus do? I’m quite sure he would have used Mrs. Goldberg’s Organic Candles scented with natural essential oils. I’ll check the Scriptures and get back to you on that one.

bee-organic-beeswax-small-pillar-candle-psd

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

The Empire Strikes Back

Cool Roman Empire Sand Sculpture Art 11The Christian movement has always been subversive. As you may know, it began in an obscure place—a little dot amid the Roman Empire known as Palestine. A seemingly harmless, itinerant preacher traveling and teaching within a radius of only a few miles from his home in Nazareth spurred this movement. There were many of these types of teachers, so it was safe to assume this one would be as innocuous as the rest. Nevertheless, he and his credo changed everything.

“His ministry may have faded into the lost pages of history…”

This teacher, whom we call Jesus, was radical. His thoughts and actions were revolutionary. His strategies were unorthodox. His followers were, shall we say, a tad less than sophisticated.

His ministry may have faded into the lost pages of history had he not proclaimed the ushering in of a “Kingdom.” This was not a word the Roman Empire looked upon kindly. It was a revolt, albeit a peaceful one. They attempted to snuff out his life and his legacy along with it. Big mistake on their part… By doing so, they became an unwitting pawn in one of his unorthodox strategies—salvation through sacrifice.

His other strategies were unconventional as well—eating with sinners, touching the unclean, feeding the hungry, making peace and loving his enemies. No one did these things. They were extreme and Cookienonconforming. To top it all off, he was a threat to the cadre of gods worshiped by the surrounding pagan culture. As far as the empire was concerned, this was downright treasonous as his followers soon discovered.

It can be argued that his practice (often referred to in the early days a “The Way”) eventually overtook the empire and replaced it (or at least fundamentally changed it). The Way was not an empire, but it was a Kingdom within. The Way then became known as “the church,” and a lot of history (both good and bad) has flowed under the bridge. Today, we of The Way seem a little less subversive. I fear the empire is overtaking us, once again.

“We are becoming more like the surrounding pagan culture…”

Little by little, we are becoming more like the surrounding pagan culture instead of continuing in the unorthodoxy of Jesus’ strategies. We are adopting their ways instead of promulgating those of the Master.

Recently, one of the presidential candidates proclaimed in a major address that our “religious beliefs…have to be changed”. (Let’s take a short pause here to ponder that one.) Really? I wonder how many Christians heard that and didn’t think anything of it—just the meaningless words of a politician.

lukeyodaThe empire is striking back, folks. This time, it’s not the Romans. It’s the government of the United States (and probably a lot of other governments as well). Next, they’ll want to bring back crucifixion, the Coliseum, and a few lions.

The good news in all of this (if I may bring a more positive note to the table), they are, once again, setting themselves up to be pawns in another of Jesus’ unorthodox strategies. One can only hope, anyway.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

You Don’t Have Enough Bandwidth

businessenglishMy lovely bride works in the world of business and finance while I’m usually squirreled away in my study doing research and writing sermons, blogs, books, and curricula. Consequently, she picks up on all the latest jargon while I’m still locked into twentieth-century vocabulary.

One day I was attempting to do something I obviously couldn’t achieve. She looked at me and said, “You don’t have enough bandwidth to do that.”

I immediately burst out laughing. It’s not that she wasn’t correct because she was. It was her terminology that tickled my funny bone.

“Let’s run it up the flagpole…”

I know what bandwidth is (sort of), and it had nothing to do with what I was trying to accomplish. I immediately recognized the phrase as new, twenty-first century, business vernacular (I’m quite perceptive that way). For some reason, it struck me as funny.

You may remember some of the old phrases used by business types. Ones like, “Let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes it.” Those are now apparently passé. They now use ones like, “Let’s whiteboard that.” Okay. I think I have enough bandwidth to do that.

I’m pretty sure we will soon see a BVV Bible (Business Vernacular Version). We have a modern language version coming out every couple of years anyway. Why not have one for the commercial crowd as well? It would definitely be popular with the CEO types on Wall Street.bs cartoon

I’m sure it would have wonderful verses such as Jesus saying, “But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without forward planning.’” (John 15:25) Or this more famous one, “Jesus replied, “I tell you truly, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they experience a paradigm shift.”

I realize some of you are still stuck on the King James Version of the Bible. After all, it was good enough for Jesus (at least that’s what I’ve been told). Still, I don’t hear very many business people using any thee’s and thou’s. How are we going to reach them with Scripture written in Olde English? We’ve got to beef it up, take a high altitude view, and drill down on where the modern corporate person is coming from. After all, we wouldn’t want to wrongside the demographic.

“Live by the strategic staircase…”

As long as we can get the message out, what’s wrong with a little modern upgrade. Scripture is Scripture regardless of the lingo. As long as we hold to the truths of the Gospel, we’ll be okay. Like the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “The righteous shall live by the strategic staircase.” (Romans 1:17)

We have the Great Commission to fulfill after all. We can’t ignore Jesus’ parting words to us when he said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, incentivizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

If you don’t agree with me on any of this, feel free to give me a call. We can touch base about this offline.

business speak

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]