Virtual Reality: The New Savior?

If you watch much TV these days, you’ve probably seen commercials for products like the Samsung Gear VR. This little baby is a set of goggles that can immerse you in virtual reality games that make you feel like you’re in another world. I’ve not tried them, but the commercials are quite enticing.

I been on virtual reality rides at theme parks and find them to be every bit as enjoyable as the real thing—maybe more so. Having that capability in your own living room seems very tempting. It appears these things have taken gaming to a whole new level. Technology is an amazing thing.

“Don’t leave home without it.”

As we embark on the year 2017, the field of technology seems to become more and more invasive into our lives. It used to be we couldn’t leave home without our VISA cards. Now we can leave those at home as long as we have our cell phones. The VISA cards are on our phones along with everything else we need in order to survive the twenty-first century.

While virtual reality (VR) appears to be our next form of entertainment, it’s also fraught with spiritual danger. I don’t want to be one of those reactionaries who point to every new thing as a spawn of Hell. Christians in the past have done that with things like television and the Internet. Still, there seems to be something a little more insidious about the VR thing than might meet the eye.

The problem probably doesn’t lie in the current VR products on the market. It’s where these things are headed that might cause us to stumble. Think about how quickly technological advancements are made these days. What could be next?

I’ve heard talk of VR suits. How far into the future can these things be? If goggles can give us the perception of reality through our eyes, how encompassing might the new reality become if our bodies are encased in a suit that can touch each of our senses?

Think of it. If you’re some poor schmuck with no life to speak of, a dead-end job, and a bereft social life, a VR suit could seem like the answer to all your needs. You’re living in a small barren apartment, barely eking out the rent money. You save every extra dime you have (or use your credit card) to purchase your very own VR suit.

“You’ve entered your own Matrix.”

Each day after a dreary eight hours of toiling in a menial occupation,” you come home, quickly eat a Hot Pocket, and put on your suit. By doing so, you enter a new world—your own world…a world of your choosing. In it, you have a gorgeous mate (or harem), a myriad of entertainment choices, and you aren’t faced with the massive problems of reality. The possibilities are endless.

You’ve entered your own Matrix; and in it, you don’t need anyone or anything else. Your soul is satisfied. You don’t even need Jesus…until you die. Then it’s too late.

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

The Last of the Shakers

A friend of mine recently posted an article on Facebook that immediately caught my eye. It was entitled, “One of the Last Shakers Dies.” I have always found the Shakers to be a fascinating group. The name by which we know them is actually a nickname that has been shortened from “Shaking Quakers.” This came from their worship style that apparently included some sort of ecstatic bodily tremors. I’ve never seen them in action, and now I may never get the chance.

The deceased in question is Sister Frances Carr. She was 89 years of age and was one of three people still living in the Shaker community in Sabbathday Lake, NY. Among the group’s tenets are “pacifism, gender equality, communal ownership and celibacy.” The last of those beliefs undoubtedly contributed mightily to their ultimate demise. The two remaining members are sixty and seventy-eight years old. Time is not on their side.

Celibacy probably accelerated the process.

As I read the article, it caused me to think about the death and demise of an institution that had survived two and a half centuries. The whole celibacy thing probably accelerated the process, but the fatality of a spiritual establishment is a fascinating study in itself. Even if you’re having children, how do you maintain and grow the gathering as a healthy and viable expression of God’s love on this earth? Maybe the deeper question is, “Should we even try?”

Think about the typical local church. Where (and how) did it start? In many cases, a few enthusiastic Christians gathered in someone’s home for Bible study. The study turned into a fellowship and developed into a small community of believers. They got excited about the Lord, each other, and what they believed. They began to reach out into the surrounding community to meet perceived needs and minister to their neighbors.

Eventually, it became prudent to have a central location from which they could operate. They pooled their resources, saved some money, bought land, and erected a building. Before long, most of their money went into maintaining the building and hiring staff. The church, which started as a small group of vibrant Christian disciples, now becomes a corporation of like-minded people striving to maintain their traditions.

Churches close their doors every year.

It’s no secret that most of the church’s money is spent on herself. It’s not that money is the measuring stick, but it’s often an indicator of what we think to be most important. After the “glory days” of the congregation are over, the church begins to wane and eventually die. The number of churches that close their doors each year is staggering.

It sounds a bit sad, but it might not be a bad thing. If we spend most of our time protecting what we have, we are spending less and less time serving Jesus.

People live and die—so do congregations and denominations. The Christian communities planted by Paul are long gone. The Shakers are all but extinct. Despite all this, the church lives on. Long live good King Jesus!

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

Trying to See Jesus

I was reading a passage of Scripture a couple days ago and ran across a sentence that never really struck me before. It was the passage in the beginning of Luke 9 where Jesus sent out The Twelve on a mission trip of sorts. The Bible relates to us that the Good News was being preached and people were being healed.

All this was causing a bit of a stir in the region of Galilee, and the word spread like wildfire. When the news of these events reached the ears of Herod (the governor, not the dead king), he was a bit confused. You may recall that he was the one who had put John the Baptist to death. There was a rumor going around that John had been raised from the dead. Herod, of course, didn’t buy that little number and was curious about who was doing the great things of which he was hearing.

Herod tried to see Jesus.

Sooner or later, word came through to him that the one responsible for all the fuss was Jesus of Nazareth. Anyone causing this much of an uproar would be a magnetic phenomenon for anyone, particularly the governor. Verse 9 contains a sentence averring that Herod tried to see Jesus.

Allow me to supply a little background for all this. Previously, John the Baptist had been badmouthing Herod for his sexual indiscretions, so Herod had him rounded up and imprisoned. Despite the fact that John was preaching against him, Herod protected him and often enjoyed listening to him preach (Mark 6:20). Finally, Herod’s wife (who couldn’t stand John) tricked the governor into having the Baptist beheaded. Nice lady…

So when Jesus emerged in a public way, Herod was fascinated. John was gone, but the phenomenon lived on. In fact, it was now bigger and better than ever. Herod wanted to see this new holy man about whom everyone was talking.

“He never got around to it…”

I guess governors are too busy to be bothered with seeking out the religious peasantry. Herod, although he was trying to see Jesus, never seemed to catch up with him until it was time to put him to death. If someone as important as the governor really had it as a priority to see Jesus, I’m sure he could have easily arranged it. He never got around to it, however.

Like Herod, there are a lot of people who’d like to see Jesus. A Messiah who can purportedly save them attracts their attention. Still, there are a lot of distractions out there. There are a lot of things that have to be done—important things. Who’s got time to chase after some holy-man preacher? What if it’s merely a wild goose chase? So they take their chances. Instead of looking for him, they hope he’ll find them instead. After all, it’s his job, isn’t it?

If you’re one of those people (and you’re reading this), let me suggest the possibility that he just found you. Now it’s your turn. Time to respond to him.

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

Sitting Next to Zacchaeus

The strategy of Jesus was clear—go out among them, touch their lives, and love them into the Kingdom. This, of course, does not address his death as a sacrifice for our sin and his Resurrection, which seals the deal for us. But we can take that up at another time.

He not only used this approach himself, he taught others to use it. In the Gospel of Luke, we see him first send out the twelve and then seventy-two disciples to be “advance men” of sorts. They were to go to the places Jesus was planning to go, live among the people, befriend and love them, and let them know the Kingdom was near. (See Luke 9 and Luke 10) Presumably, these mission trips were to prepare the way for Jesus to enter the hearts of the previously unschooled.

“It causes me to wonder…”

I don’t want to append things to Scripture, but I’m guessing these were not the only two times Jesus sent people ahead of his entourage. Even if they were, I take these as examples of our own mission here on the earth. Just as John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way, we too have such a calling.

It causes me to wonder if a guy like Zacchaeus (Luke 19) was enticed to get a glimpse of Jesus by such an advance man. If you will recall, Zacchaeus climbed a tree to view Jesus as he walked by. Why bother? Apparently, someone told him about the Messiah who was bringing about a new kingdom, and his curiosity was aroused.

An important part of this occurrence is Jesus’ reaction to Zacchaeus’ tree scaling exploits. When the Master reached the site of the tree, he looked up and engaged the little guy in conversation. He, essentially, invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ home. It sounds a bit forward to us, but in that culture it wasn’t quite as big of a deal as it would be in twenty-first century America. Still, it was a momentous event in the life of this reviled tax collector.

I suspect there are myriads of Zacchaeuses around us. They are people on the periphery of our lives. Some are just trying to get a glimpse of Jesus. Others haven’t even heard of him yet. We, as individuals, just might be the ones sent to tell them the Kingdom is near.

Who will climb the tree?

Because he was a tax collector, it’s likely that very few people associated with Zacchaeus. Jesus did, though. He called him down and went to his house (an unclean place according to the religious authorities of the day). Jesus cared more about the person than the person’s sin.

I’m convinced that we need to be ones who will climb the tree and sit beside a Zacchaeus in our lives. We need to invest a little time in people who want to (or need to) know. Sitting on a branch next to Zacchaeus might seem like a waste of time to some. For us, it’s a calling.

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