Strategic Patience

A couple days ago, I hopped into my Jeep and headed toward the gym. As I made the short jaunt, my radio was broadcasting an early morning political show. In the few moments I had from my home to the health center, I heard a brief discussion of the term “strategic patience.”

That fleeting phrase caught my ear as I rolled to my workout. As I exercised and eventually hit the steam room, it bounced around my brain (there’s a lot of empty space there for bouncing). As my day progressed, it occasionally haunted my thoughts. Strategic patience…

“A fancy term for doing nothing.”

Finally, it occurred to me that strategic patience can be a fancy term for doing nothing. In my younger days, it used to be called a “wait-and-see attitude.” At its best, it really does employ a certain amount of patience. At its worst, it’s political correctness run amok. We don’t want to do anything, so we’re going to put you off with this handy dandy, little term—strategic patience. It does have a certain ring to it.

It reminds me of a Christian man I once knew. He was extremely knowledgeable in the area of Holy Scripture. The local church recognized his expertise and asked him to teach a Sunday School class. His immediate answer was, “I’ll pray about it.”

That sounded good to everyone, so they gave him space and time to pray about it. When it came down to the deadline, they needed to have an answer. So they asked him again. His direct retort was, “I’m still praying about it.” Of course, the time for prayer had run out. They had to go in another direction.

They didn’t give up on him, however. Every year, for several years, they asked him if he would teach a Sunday School class. Every year his answer was the same—“I’ll pray about it.” He never did teach a Sunday School class.

“I’d rather not.”

He was good at strategic patience. He apparently didn’t want to give them an out and out “no.” So he used the phrase, “I’ll pray about it.” It does have a certain ring to it, does it not? He didn’t want to do anything, but he didn’t want to say, “I would rather not.”

It’s not only the politicians who “kick the can down the road.” Most of us seem to be pretty good at that tactic. We don’t want to be responsible. We don’t want the hassle. We don’t care to put in the time, the effort, or the hard work. So, we’ll opt for strategic patience. We’ll “pray” about it.

The time comes, whether in politics or spiritual matters, when we need to take a stand. I believe in prayer. I also believe in having patience. But I also believe in action. After we’ve prayed and patiently waited to see what develops and to understand certain situations as best we can, it’s time for battle.

Gird up your loins. Now is the accepted time. (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)

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

I Will Make Better Mistakes Tomorrow

Every once in awhile, I like to peruse pix of various tattoos. The artistry can be amazing, and often I’ll stumble across a real gem. Yesterday was one of those times.

The tat to which I’m referring was a simple saying. It read as follows: “I will make better mistakes tomorrow.” Stuff like that really catches my eye.

This particular one reminds me that each day is fraught with error. Even at my best, I make all kinds of mistakes (every day). A good day is when I’m able to minimize them. A mistake-free day is non-existent.

“To err is human…”

It’s no secret that mistakes are a part of everyday life. As the old saying goes, “To err is human…” I’m sure most of us do our darndest to eliminate as many of them as possible. Still, we keep proving our humanity over and over again.

The thing I like about this simple statement is the optimism and the stick-to-it-iveness it portrays. Placing it on your body in the permanent form of a tattoo is commendable (if you’re into tattoos). It says (I think) that you own up to your mistakes, you’re going to try again, and you’re going to do better next time. In my book, you can’t ask for more than that.

I’ve heard it said many times that our God is a God of second chances. That, my friends, is a gross understatement. His forgiveness is inconceivable. It’s beyond the pale. It’s off the charts (and any other cliché you can think of).

Take King David, for example. The Bible calls him a man after God’s own heart. Yet, this is the guy (if you remember the story) who saw Bathsheba (another guy’s wife) and wanted her so badly he pretty much broke all the commandments.

Think about it. All in the same story, he lusts, lies, covets, commits adultery, and murders. Did I forget anything? He gets nailed by the prophet Nathan, confesses, and proceeds to write a large part of the biggest book of the Bible (Psalms).

“To forgive, divine.”

So why didn’t such a vile guy just fade away into the forgotten chapters of history? He served the God of second chances—that’s why. His mistakes (translate, sins) were mind-boggling. Still, the Lord picked him up, forgave him, and used him and his talents for the Kingdom of God. There’s hope for me yet.

That’s where the second part of that old saying comes in. “To err is human—to forgive, divine.” Sometimes our mistakes are simply mistakes. Other times they are downright sinful. We need the forgiveness of the Almighty or there won’t be any second chance.

Once, Jesus was talking about forgiveness and Peter asked him how many times we should forgive someone, “Seven times?” Jesus said, “Seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22) I don’t think he meant for us to stop at 490. He meant for us to keep on forgiving, just like he does with us.

Thanks, Lord! I will make better mistakes tomorrow.

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

Party On, Garth: Do God’s Will

I just ran across a fascinating passage among the writings of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). There are a considerable number of laws in those books that cover everything from stoning adulterers to properly cooking beef. The book of Deuteronomy is one such book. It’s got more laws than you can shake a shepherd’s staff at. Moses wasn’t called the lawgiver for nothing.

Anyway, the passage to which I’m referring is Deuteronomy 14:22-27. It contains one of the ordinances for tithing. In case you’re not familiar with that term, it generally refers to giving ten percent of your harvest back to the Lord. A lot of people still carry on that practice, but they generally do it with money now. Not too many of us have harvests these days.

“Fermented drink, or anything you wish.”

In this particular portion of Scripture, Moses directs his people to set aside a tenth of the harvest (as well as the firstborn of the flocks and herds) for a specific reason. They are to gather at the Lord’s dwelling place and have a party. Like most good parties, this one includes eating and drinking (“cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish”). I find the “anything you wish” part to be rather freeing.

What I find fascinating about this passage is twofold. Number one, we never hear preachers expound upon this pericope (that’s a highfalutin theological term for “piece of Scripture”). There are probably several reasons for this. What preacher wants her flock drinking up all the profits (so to speak)? There might not be enough left over to pay her salary.

Another reason could be that this passage is a rather obscure one. It gets lost in the shuffle, because there are plenty of other tithing regulations that don’t include the directive to “Party on, Garth!” If we throw this one into the mix, what would the modern day church do? We’d have a lot of fun, but we might not get very much else accomplished.

How tight were these people?

The other really fascinating part of this directive is this. It seems like God has to basically command us to party. A lot of folks look upon God as some sort of heavenly killjoy. But here he’s telling his people to take the portion they’ve set aside for him and use it to boogie down. Were they so tight that they weren’t doing this on their own?

Actually, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that the heavenly Father wants his people to have a good time. One party is not going to kill us (even if it’s an expensive one). I can think of a plethora of good reasons why he’d want us to do that. Among them would be the fact that we can’t take it with us. Heaven is going to be so much better than a few parties anyway.

Scripture tells us that the angels in Heaven rejoice when a sinner repents. (Luke 15:10) As long as they’re celebrating, maybe we should too.

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

My First DWI

A few days ago, I published a blog entitled How I’d Like to Die. In that posting, I mentioned a funeral I was preparing to conduct later that morning. I never followed up on that day, so now might be a good time.

As I was driving to the funeral in the gloom of that blustery day, I was doing what I usually do when traveling to such an event. I was thinking very intentionally about the Scripture passages I was going to use and what I was going to say in a few short moments. I was also very intentional about getting to the funeral home on time.

“Something caught my attention.”

As I was approaching the mortuary, something in my rear view mirror caught my attention. As I focused on this new distraction, my finely honed instincts told me the flashing blue lights were atop the vehicle of one of our local gendarmes. With cat-like reflexes, I deftly found a place to pull off and let him by to chase after the unseen perpetrator of an undoubtedly vicious crime.

Lo and behold, he also pulled off (right behind me). At that point, I looked for the fire truck or some other emergency vehicle for which he felt it necessary to clear the roadway. Much to my surprise and curiosity, none were forthcoming.

Then it hit me. I was the subject of his traffic stop. Oh, the humanity! The only thing I could think of was getting to the funeral on time. It could have been the equivalent of being late for my own funeral.

“The road to Hell…”

As it turns out, he had clocked me going 50 mph in a 35 zone. My intentions had been good (to get to the facility in plenty of time). But I got busted. He had me dead to rights. My first DWI (Driving While Intentional)…

There’s an old saying that goes, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” I had been intent on Scripture, intent on the homily, and intent on getting to my destination in good time. If only I had been intent on paying attention to the speed limit. Apparently, the road to funerals is paved with good intentions as well.

Interestingly enough, the police provide escorts for funeral processionals in that town. When the funeral was over, I came out to my vehicle (which was positioned right behind the hearse). Wouldn’t you know it? The same cop who pulled me over was leading the processional. I attempted to avoid eye contact. It was a tad embarrassing.

I’m not sure I’ll ever learn. As they say, I’m old enough to know better (but apparently, I don’t). When I’m intent on something else, I tend to become oblivious to things like road signs.

Once Jesus accused the Pharisees of not being able to interpret the signs of the times. (Matthew 16:3) I hope I’m a tad better at those. Signs can be important. Maybe I’ll be a little more intentional about checking those out.

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

Love and Respect: A Plea for Normalcy

Once when writing about marital relations, the Apostle Paul penned these words. “…each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33) While he was zeroing in on marriage at the time, his words carry great meaning far beyond the bounds of marital bliss.

Paul understood that, in order for human beings to survive with each other, it takes a bit of work. There has to be some give and take and at least a skosh of cooperation. He focuses on two words—love and respect.

Love is generally understood to be the preferred basis of all our human relationships (at least from a Biblical perspective). Jesus was as clear on this as on any topic. He left little room for doubt that love is the bottom line. When asked what the greatest commandment happened to be, he answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Then he quickly added, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-38) That pretty much sums it up.

“Respect is earned…”

As far as I can tell, that means we begin with a decision to love one another out of love for our Creator. From there, to form deeper relationships, we learn to respect one another as Paul indicated.

It is often said that respect is earned and cannot simply be demanded. That, of course, is true. It’s also true, however, that respect can be given without being earned. One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in my sixty-seven years inhabiting this planet is to respect people because they are the pinnacle of God’s creation. Regardless of who they are, what they believe, or how they act, they’ve been made in God’s image—just like me, I might add.

Any dictionary will tell us that respect can be as simple as showing deference to someone or something—giving them some esteem in our hierarchy of life. That action is not something we seem to be born into. It’s something we learn along the way. We begin our lives with the attitude that “the world is me.” Hopefully, we graduate at some point to the understanding that we are one of many. Furthermore, the “many” are just like me in multitudinous ways.

“How far we have fallen.”

It is incredible to me (and I’m sure to a lot of you) how far we have fallen. The lack of respect for other human beings in this world is astounding. There seems to be no more meeting of the minds, very little cursory politeness, and certainly no holding back from venomous hostility toward those who disagree with us.

I’m sure I don’t hold much sway with those who don’t hold to a Christian philosophy. If you’re not a follower of Jesus, my words probably mean nothing to you. But if you are such a follower, I implore you to return to a life that respects the humanity of others.

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

Another Dave-ism: Open Mouth, Insert Foot

I was with a group of people a few days ago who were kidding me about some of the stupid (or at least, unwise) things that come out of my mouth. I have this weird habit of occasionally saying things without thinking about how they’re going to sound to someone else. I laughed along with them and said, “When I die, I’ll be remembered for some of my Dave-isms.”

The funny thing about all that is I’m usually pretty quiet. For the most part, I let others do the speaking, and I listen. For some reason, however, I will sporadically get really passionate about something and speak out. I’ve discovered the hard way that being passionate doesn’t always translate to being right. Nor does it always translate to articulating things in the manner you meant to do so.

This also applies to attempts at humor. I’m not very good at telling full-blown jokes, so I often resort to one-liners. That practice is fraught with danger. One-liners can be very funny, but they can also be grossly misunderstood. Sometimes the best one can hope for is that they will fall flat.

Vocal Faux Pas

I think I come by this trait honestly. My Dad (whose name was Deno) was famous for what we in the family call his Deno-isms. When we get together, we still quote some of his vocal faux pas. As we do, we laugh hysterically and fondly remember the circumstances in which they were spoken (or yelled).

Last Friday in my weekly e-letter (Pulpit Man @ Large), I attempted to make a humorous statement against violent protest. In so doing, I inadvertently made it sound like I was opposed to any kind of protest and that current day protestors are merely doing it for the money. Another Dave-ism.

Those who know me well know that I participate in at least two peaceful protests every year. One is the March for Life—protesting the taking of innocent, preborn lives. The other is Rolling Thunder—protesting the government’s deficiency of action when it comes to finding our military POW’s and MIA’s.

My problem is not with those who peacefully protest to bring attention to whatever cause they are espousing. It’s with those few who insert themselves to wreak havoc, violence, and destruction (sometimes even ending in loss of life).

“He paid the ultimate price.”

Christians have a long history of non-violent protest. It stems back to Jesus himself. His very life was a peaceful protest against the status quo of his day. He paid the ultimate price for it. That history reaches into our own times with people like Martin Luther King and others.

There are, indeed, people who are mercenaries—who get paid to stir up crowds and incite aggression and hostility. These are few a far between, I believe. Still, it is they who give the rest of us a bad name.

So I urge you to march on for your cause. The more peaceful we are, the greater a statement we can make. Amen.

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

When Does the Comet Arrive?

If you go to a museum of natural history, you’re likely to see dinosaur bones of one sort or another. These hefty creatures are no longer with us, but no one really knows why. Lots of theories have been proposed, but there are solid arguments against each one (naturally).

One of the most popular theories (probably because it’s the easiest and most fun to say) is the comet theory. One day, as the theory goes, a large comet swung way too close to the earth and created some catastrophic change in the ecology of the planet. Having drastically invaded their space, it wiped out all the terrible lizards.

Going the Way of the Dinosaur

There are other theories of course (someone counted fifty-five). They include things like meteor showers, geological transmogrification, and the ever popular “disease killed them.” Since no one seems to have been around to witness these phenomena (at least, no one with a pen and paper), we don’t have a proper record to give us the straight scoop. So, for the meantime, let’s go with the comet.

Over the years, many things have gone the way of the dinosaur. In other words, they’ve become extinct. Because of various current circumstances, many people are predicting the same for the church. These predictions are on the rise, and it causes me to ask the question, “When does the comet arrive?”

I fully understand the reasoning for such predictions. The church has, in many cases, become top-heavy. She has been weighed down with passé tradition, political correctness, and tedious programming (just to name a few of her maladies). She has, in many ways, lost her relevance. In a dark world, she has often failed to shine the light she carries.

If you look at a church budget, it’s not uncommon to see that 90% of it is spent on the church herself. After all, we have buildings to maintain, creature comforts to secure, and staff salaries to pay. Financial support is on the wane, and some houses of worship would be abandoned if it weren’t for such things as endowments and trust funds.

The Shape-Shifting Church

When I was in seminary, I remember having dinner with a friend in a restaurant called “The Church.” Its name had a simple derivation. It was an old, abandoned church building. Great food—no worship… To tell you the truth, this may well have been the best use of an otherwise underused edifice. It’s not an uncommon occurrence these days.

It’s no wonder the prognosticators have us dead and buried and are looking to the skies for our fatal comet to arrive. But to them I say, “Not so fast.” While I agree the church as we know it is quickly facing its demise, I believe something better is on the horizon.

The healthiest of congregations are beginning to morph into new creatures. Like sci-fi shape-shifters, they are taking on new, relevant forms and performing needed ministries. I, for one, am excited to see how we adapt when the comet finally hits.

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

Baptizing 3000: Logistics of the Spirit

Shortly after Jesus bodily left this earth, the Jewish feast of Pentecost arrived. The church (what there was of it) was cowered in a room, praying, and waiting for something to happen. They weren’t sure what that something would be, and they may have gotten more than they expected.

With Jesus gone, they were more than a bit nervous. How were they to survive a hostile world? How were they going to carry on the cause of Christ? What tactics could they use? All they had left were his words.

He did tell them he was going to send the Comforter and that they would receive power to be his witnesses. Until it happened, however, those were mere words. For all they knew, these were empty promises. Even if they weren’t, who knew how long it would take before something occurred? What form would it take? Would it even be something they’d find acceptable?

Up to now, Jesus had never let them down. But he was gone. Plus, he hadn’t always done what they wanted. They sure didn’t want him to exit via crucifixion (or even ascension). They wanted him to stick around.

Then it happened. Wild and crazy things occurred. Tongues of fire appeared and the sound of rushing wind was heard. As the Spirit of God filled them, they were so excited they forgot their fear. They ran out into the streets, ignored the Roman soldiers, and shouted out the Good News to all who would listen. The miracle was, not everyone who heard that news was hearing it in the same language. People from all over the known world were hearing it in their own language from these uneducated Galileans. How could this be?

“It’s a fantastic piece of history.”

Peter got up to preach and three thousand souls were added to the tiny church that day. They were baptized, and the Gathering was never the same. We’ve all heard that story.

It’s a fantastic piece of history, but the Bible doesn’t cover everything. How did these people (about 120 of them) add and baptize three thousand more? The logistics must have been a bit daunting. They had never done much baptizing before. Where did they do it? How did they do it?

We don’t know, exactly. What we do know is they pulled it off. When the church was faced with something new, she did what she had to do.

God is doing a new thing…why not us?

That part of Pentecost has never changed. The church is constantly faced with new stuff—new tasks and new challenges. Our problem is we often try to tackle them with old ways, habits, and traditions. We are constantly trying to put new wine into old wineskins. It doesn’t work but we keep trying and the skins keep bursting.

What say we start finding new ways of doing things. The logistics of baptizing 3000 were never set in stone. Maybe we should quit recycling the same old formulas. If we actually follow the Spirit, we might find ourselves doing a new thing. Exciting…

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

How I’d Like to Die

This morning, I received an email from one of my weekly e-letter subscribers. It was a joke that got my day started with a good chuckle. Since I’m conducting a funeral later this morning, a smile on my face was a good way to begin my pre-funeral routine.

The joke reads as follows:

A preacher on his deathbed summoned his doctor and his lawyer. They came, and he asked them to sit on either side of his bed and hold his hands.

They sat thus for a long while until the doctor stirred and said, “You don’t have long on this earth, Reverend. Can you tell us why you asked us to come?”

The old preacher stirred himself wheezed and said, “Well, Jesus died between two thieves, and that’s the way I want to go too.”

.

With a deathbed joke behind me and a funeral in front of me, it was an easy segue to the subject of this blog. Where else could I go at this point?

I don’t know about you, but I occasionally think about how I’d like to die. I also give ponderings as to what the odds might be that I would die in a completely different way than I desire. I confess, however, I think about this option with far less frequency. It can be a very unpleasant train of thought.

“We don’t get to choose…”

My choice, unlike the dying preacher in the funny story, would be to go peacefully in my sleep. I’ve known that to be the end for several people, and it seems like the way to bow out of this world. Still, we don’t get to choose.

Some have told me their desire is to die for Christ. This offers up some really drastic imagery for me. My mind’s eye tends to conjure up visions of crusaders and sword battles. I realize dying for Christ is not limited to tenth-century knights, but it seems to be what comes to mind.

Once, when someone told me that he wanted to die for Christ, my immediate retort was that you can’t die for Christ unless you’re living for him. I don’t know if I was correct in that assessment, but it sounded good at the time.

“It seems to catch us by surprise.”

Death is such a weird phenomenon. Sometimes it’s welcomed, other times it’s tragic. Always, it’s a time of mourning for someone (I think). Even when we’re ready for it, it seems to catch us by surprise.

This morning’s funeral will be a celebration of the life of a saint. She lived to be ninety-six years of age and was more than ready to go. She intimated more than once, she wanted to go home to be with Jesus. Her death was not a surprise and it was the culmination of a life well lived.

I have always considered it to be a privilege to preside over such a funeral service. I relish the job of preaching the hope we have in Christ—even when there are no thieves around.

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

Professor Irwin Corey: Rest In Peace

I just heard that Professor Irwin Corey has died. I hadn’t thought of him for a long time, but he was one of my favorites during my younger years. If I heard he was going to be on TV, I would do my best to stop and watch. If you’re younger than forty or fifty years old, you might never have heard of him. He was 102 when he passed.

The Professor was actually a comedian and entertainer. By the time I first saw him, he was often billed as the “World’s Foremost Authority.” I think it was on the old Mike Douglas Show that I first discovered his routines.

He would come on the talk shows of the day and be interviewed. His answers were wild, wacky, and wonderful. The reason they were so enjoyable was the fact that he made fun of the intellectual elites by satirizing them (see video interview excerpt).

“Why do you wear tennis shoes?”

He would arrive, dressed as an absent-minded professor. His hair would be disheveled; his suit wrinkled and frumpy, his tie beyond description, and to top it all off, he’d be wearing sneakers. One of his standard routines was to answer the question, “Why do you wear tennis shoes?”

He would always answer that by saying it was a two-part question. The first part, he would say, was the age-old question of “why.” He would then go on a long rant about the quintessential problem of the ages, which caused men to ask why. When his pseudo-intellectual ramblings were over, he would move to the second part of the question (“Do you wear tennis shoes?”). His answer to that part was a resounding, “Yes!”

One of his more famous lines (one which I still use to this day) was, “Remember! Wherever you go, there you are!” It was typical of his adages and reminiscent of his never-failing logic. Doublespeak was his forte.

“However…”

In answering a question, he would often launch into a seemingly never-ending speech of gobbledygook, only to stop halfway through and ask, “What was the question again?” Occasionally, he would begin a soliloquy or routine with a long pause followed by the word, “However…”

By the time I began watching him, his routine was very repetitive and often predictable. Still, I never tired of seeing him in action. I think his appearance had something to do with that. He just looked funny.

Most importantly, however, was the way he mocked the intelligentsia. By referring to himself as the World’s Foremost Authority, he always reminded us of someone we knew. You know the type. They think they know everything, and to prove it, they can drone on without end. By the time they’ve finished, your eyes have rolled back into your head and you’ve missed most of it.

These people try to reverse the Scripture that says, “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” (Proverbs 17:28) Professor Corey showed us how fools look (and sound). R.I.P., Irwin.

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