The New Pornographers

I subscribe to one of those services that sends e-mails concerning all the latest concerts in my area. I don’t have time to get to as many concerts as I’d like, so this helps me narrow things down to the ones I’m really anxious to see (and hear live). I received an update from them a few days ago and ran across a band I’d never heard of before.

The band’s name is The New Pornographers. Frankly, I haven’t quite gotten over the old pornographers as yet. I jumped on the Internet to see what kind of band they are. They’re listed as an indie (independent) band. That, of course, doesn’t tell you much, so I listened to a little of their music. They seemed to be good musicians, but their style didn’t do much for me. I’m not going to buy any of their stuff and won’t be headed to their concert (but don’t let that stop you—the reviews were good).

“It’s like a magnet.”

The point of all this is quite simple. I see a lot of bands advertised but seldom look them up. The name was intriguing, so I checked them out.

I’m guessing that at least a few of you are reading this article simply because the word, pornographers, is in the title. Like several other words in our English vocabulary, it’s like a magnet. People are drawn to it.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog entitled, Fifty More Shades of Gray. It was spurred by the violence following our presidential election last November. I got called on it for using a title that was an obvious play on the BDSM novel, “Fifty Shades of Gray.” The blog had nothing to do with the novel (or sex in general), but my readership tripled that day.

I guess the old adage, “sex sells,” is true. Unfortunately, my blogs are seldom (if ever) about sex. The occasional sexy title does boost my following, however. It certainly points to one of the things in which folks are interested. Sex definitely does sell. Unfortunately (or maybe, fortunately), I’m not selling anything (unless you want to buy my book (The Last Wedding). Sorry for the shameless plug.

“People are fascinated with mortality.”

The only other thing that seems to interest people even more than sex is death. Every time I lose a friend or relative to the Grim Reaper (so to speak), I write about it. My readership skyrockets during those times as well. I would never have guessed it.

People seem fascinated with mortality. It makes me wonder why the apostles seemed to ignore Jesus when he told them he was going to Jerusalem to die (as well as be raised up). He told them this at least three times that we know of. They never quite bought it. I suppose they were either in denial, or they just assumed he was being figurative. Maybe they thought he was just speaking forth some obscure parable.

Hmmm… Maybe he should have given it some sexy title.

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

Having Extra Kids

I’ve never actually had the privilege of seeing “Bill Nye the Science Guy” on TV. I’m told it was very popular with the kiddies, and aired from 1993 to 1998. It was billed as “Mr. Wizard meets Pee Wee Herman.” Having been a big fan of both Mr. Wizard and Pee Wee, I’m sorry I missed it (but not enough to watch YouTube reruns).

Mr. Nye is more famous in recent years for his debate with Ken Hamm over Creation Science. He’s also been doing a show for Netflix entitled “Bill Nye Saves the World.” I wish him luck on that endeavor (not for the show as much as for saving the world). It was on this show that he sparked a lively, new controversy.

In a panel discussion, Nye asked the question, “Should we have policies that penalize people for having extra kids in the developed world?” Asking questions is what scientists do. It is at the very heart of their work. Asking this particular question, however, caused a bit of a stir.

Bill Nye the Hitler Guy?

The question (and the conversation that ensued) drew immediate attention from all kinds of people. There were some rather quick retorts that attempted to make it clear that Nye was stepping across a line somewhere. He was referred to as “Bill Nye the Eugenics Guy” and “Bill Nye the Hitler Guy.”

Interestingly enough, Bill Nye is not really a science guy (unless we call mechanical engineers science guys). He does have several inventions to his credit as well as a keen interest in science education. On top of that, he has been awarded several honorary doctorates from various institutions of higher education. He seems to receive all this recognition as much for his ability to entertain as for his knowledge of science itself.

All in all, he’s quite accomplished. Skeptics, liberals, and children seem to love him, and he has parlayed all that into a substantial living. Now he’s saving the world.

I’m in good stead…I think…

I’m not sure if the Science Guy thinks we should actually penalize first world parents for having too many kids. To me, however, the most curious word in his question is “extra.” My initial reaction was to think he meant “more than two.” Scientists and sociologists have often put forth the number two as the optimal maximum children per family.

This would put me in good stead since I’ve only been responsible for bringing two biological children into this world. Plus, I am the eldest of two siblings in my own family. After thinking about it, though, the “extra” child might be the second one (or even the first). It all depends on who is doing the deciding.

Another option might be one in which the authorities (whoever they may be) would decide who the extras are. In that case, the Science Guy might be deemed an “extra” himself. Maybe he should reconsider the extra thing. I’m sure I would. I don’t think he wants to be known as Bill Nye the Next Guy.

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

 

Don’t Eat the Tree

I led a leadership retreat this past weekend. It was awesome. I love retreats anyway, but when I get to lead them, I enjoy them even more.

To lay a quick foundation for what we were going to discuss, I had a conversation with some of the leaders concerning the Old Testament covenants. The first one, of course, is found in the opening pages of Genesis. This is the one theologians like to call the Adamic Covenant (theologians are clever like that). God enters into a covenant with Adam and Eve in which he gives them a couple of instructions—one positive and one negative. The first is to tend the garden. I suspect they handled that one rather well. The second didn’t go quite as intended, however.

“Don’t eat the tree.”

As the discussion progressed, I asked the group to tell me what Adam and Eve’s role in the covenant happened to be. The answer most would give would be something like, “They were not to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” The person who answered did so rather quickly and it came out as, “Don’t eat the tree.” I liked that answer so much, I went with it.

It’s not that it’s a literal interpretation, but it definitely rolls off the tongue with greater finesse than the correct answer. Besides, everyone knew what the person meant. I suppose one could eat the fruit without eating the tree, but we were hip to what she was saying. It was also a bit funny.

The more I think about that short command (“Don’t eat the tree), the more my mind conjures up images of our first set of parents sitting down to a dinner (actually, many dinners) of pomegranate, wood, and bark. That’s not what I like to think of as a good fruit salad, but I’m thinking they had much better teeth than we have today. I’m also thinking everything had a better taste that the stuff we grow these days. I’m pretty sure the ensuing curse eventually took its toll on both teeth and taste.

“It’s who we are…”

As far-fetched as all that sounds, there’s a possibility it could have gone that way. Think about it. What if the Lord had actually said, “Don’t eat the tree”? Sooner or later, they would have tested him. Why do I think that? It’s who we are, that’s why.

I’m not sure why that is, but there’s something within us that just won’t leave well enough alone. We’ve always got to push the envelope. We’ve always got to see what’s on the other side of the wall. We’ve always got to test authority to see if we can find a better way.

It must be in our DNA. Adam and Eve must have, unwittingly, passed it down (along with original sin). A quick look at my own life seems to prove it. I’ve always been something of a renegade in the spiritual arena. At least I come by it honestly.

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

For God’s Sake: The Pseudo-Reality of Mission Work

Every Friday morning, I publish an e-letter that gets mailed out to a couple thousand people. This past Friday, the title of the e-letter was “The Pseudo-Reality of Geraldo Rivera.” It was related to Geraldo’s big splash onto the investigative journalism/reality show scene. Like most of my e-letters, it elicited a few responses. The following is a response that was not only thought provoking, but merited a reprinting. I requested (and received) permission to do just that. So, here it is:

Pastor Dave,

I once heard something surprising about mission work from the recipient’s point of view. The locals put on a good face to receive them [people on short-term mission trips], but it is said that the busloads that come and go produce a regular, tiresome routine of welcoming them.

The reality is that, because the locals need all the charity they can receive, they welcome multiple exclusive sponsors to the point that a different welcome sign goes up for each group of foreign mission workers that show up.

It got dramatic for me when a young one expressed that it’s hard to truly love someone who is bound to come into your life just to see them go again.

Thus Geraldo’s initial success is now being played out in real life everywhere we turn, and we do them up big. I am not afraid to say, it is not only in investigative reporting, but we find it pervasive everywhere—e.g., in reality shows, America’s Got Talent, Survivors, Game of Thrones, and if you search deep, there is a hint of it in Micky D’s, Wal-Mart, MBC* next door to us, (yes, MBC next door to us), and in every mission trip we take (along with our swimming trunks and sunglasses).

So then, who was Jesus? He came and went. It took only three years for him to establish his notoriety. He really went. The difference is, He died an innocent Man.

The other day, there was a news headline that an innocent man might have been executed. Another investigative reporting piece, I suppose. And so he shed his blood for us. That rings a bell I suppose—to die an innocent Man as a Ransom for others.

Yet, instead of shedding our blood for others, we go around as Christians being a remake of dear old Geraldo, doing it bigger and better, building wonderful edifices of our time, as church prisoners peering out the periscope of over-exaggerated mission works.

Richard K
Forgive us for we know not what we do, for sure.

I think Richard is making a pretty good point, here. We so often want to rush in, do our “good thing,” then rush back out. My guess is we do this just to make ourselves feel better—to feel like we’re following in the Lord’s footsteps. It might be a good thing for us to remember that the Lord came and lived among us and didn’t leave until the job was done. Tough sandals to fill…

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

*Mega Bible Church

 

Mere Relics

 Awhile back, I read a blog concerning the potential split of the Christian denomination in which I have served. It was written by Chris Ritter, a fellow United Methodist clergy. Ritter states in his blog, The Case for Covenant, “Denominations are mere relics of past moves of God.”

This sentence really caught my eye. It did so for any number of reasons. However, the fact that it was written about an organization of which I’ve been a part for the past thirty-seven years was foremost among them.

I certainly don’t have a crystal ball, but from my point of view, the denomination as we have known it is not long for this world. For those who are unaware of our situation, let me just say we are struggling with issues that could easily tear us apart. It has happened to other Christian denominations and could certainly befall us as well.

“I won’t be too alarmed.”

I view this with an attitude that is somewhat removed from the fray. I’ve always been a renegade of sorts, so the whole fracas we’re going through seems somewhat par for the course to me. Many of my colleagues and I have seen this coming for a long time, so it if it all comes crashing down around me, I won’t be too alarmed.

I keep going back to Ritter’s sentence, however. It has the haunting ring of reality to it. I once heard Leonard Sweet say, “The mainline denominations have become old line denominations and are about to become sideline denominations.” Unfortunately, he and Ritter are exactly right.

I say, “Unfortunately,” because there was once something about the mainline denominations that was (at the same time) majestic and yet humble. They are no longer majestic, and they certainly are not humble these days. It does appear, however, they are about to be humbled again.

“Relics can be really cool things.”

The sad part about all this is the second part of Ritter’s sentence—“past moves of God.” Denominations like ours arose out of mighty moves of our Lord—revivals and reformations that shook the ground and caught people’s souls by the throat. They arose by standing (and building) on that ground. Then they became entrenched, and now they are mostly in need of a new shaking.

Relics can be really cool things. The remains of a saint, for example, can be a fascinating piece of history that reminds us of our roots. The sad thing about relics, however, is that they often become the objects of worship rather than a marker that points us to the real aim of our affections—namely Jesus.

If we have really become a mere relic, it’s probably a good thing for us to move on from here. The history books will keep a record of what we used to be, and that can serve as an inspiration to the church of the future. Whether we rise from our own ashes or fall to our disagreements, I pray we’d be a stark warning sign to the faithful who surround us.

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

Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta

Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta… That moniker is quite a mouthful. Most wouldn’t recognize her by that name, but she’s a bit more famous as Lady Gaga. The first question that comes to mind is, “Where did she get Lady Gaga out of that?”

Apparently, while she was looking for a good stage name, she became fixated on the old Queen song, Radio Ga Ga. One day in a text from a guy she was dating, Radio Ga Ga came across as Lady Gaga. Gotta love those predictive text glitches! She liked it and kept it.

So the young lady (known by family and friends as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) is now known to the rest of us as Lady Gaga. It’s not her real name, but she’s Lady Gaga to us.

“Jesus is NOT a cosmic cowboy!”

For some reason, hearing of Lady Gaga’s renaming exploits reminds me of something that happened years ago. You may remember Barry McGuire of Eve of Destruction fame. After he professed faith in Jesus, he began to record Christian music. He did a narrative song entitled Cosmic Cowboy. In the song, Jesus was the cosmic cowboy.

I was a bit surprised when I discovered there were preachers railing against his composition. They were saying things like, “Jesus is NOT a cosmic cowboy!” They were offended that anyone, particularly a Christian, would call Jesus by that name.

Come to think of it, I was more than a bit surprised. I was shocked. I remember thinking, “C’mon folks. It’s just a metaphor—another way to describe and understand Jesus!” I remember hearing McGuire, himself, commenting after hearing the criticism, “Jesus is not a little lamb going ‘baaaaa’ or a flower out in a field somewhere, either.” Yet, we call him the Lamb of God and the Lily of the Valley.

The same thing has recurred in recent years with the popularity of the book, The Shack. After reading the book, I ran across another tome that was a refutation of the theology behind The Shack. I had much the same reaction to that as I did to the critics of Cosmic Cowboy.

“Being right is not a spiritual gift.”

In The Shack, God appears to the central figure as a matronly, black woman named Papa (and later as a Native American guide). The Holy Spirit appears to him as a young Asian woman. If you read too much into the dialog, you can infer traces of universalism (among other things).

With the release of the movie of the same name, it’s hitting the fan once again. Personally, I love both the book and the film. I led a class that examined the book over a period of several months. It was the springboard for a deep and fulfilling discussion that enriched everyone involved.

I heard a podcast interview with the author, Paul Young, recently. I think he may have said it best when he answered one of the interviewer’s queries by saying, “Questions are not our enemies, and being right is not a spiritual gift.” Amen to that!

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

Now That Sunday’s Over… Now That He Is Risen…

Sunday is over. Holy Week has passed. The Seder Suppers, the foot washings, the three-hour vigils, the Tenebrae, and the triumphant sunrise services have been commemorated and celebrated. We’ve eaten our big Easter dinners.

So what do we do now? He is risen! Do we tuck him away for another year (or at least until Christmas)? Some of us act like it.

There’s a lot to go back to. The hockey playoffs are in full swing. The baseball season is just getting started. We’ve got jobs and families to tend. Life goes on. After all, Holy Week 2018 will come around soon enough, won’t it?

The answer is, “No!”

I’m sure you’re already guessing my answer. You are correct, Sir! And you are correct Madam! The answer is an emphatic, “No!” And some of you are probably thinking, “He has to say that, he’s a preacher.”

Well yes, I’m a preacher; and I suppose I do have to say that. But I’m here to tell you I said that before I was a preacher and would keep saying it if I’d never become one. We can’t place Jesus on the shelf and call ourselves disciples, holy, or even Christian (well we can, but we’d just be fooling ourselves). Jesus is not a sometime thing. He’s a full-time Savior, Lord, and King.

The long and short of it is this. Easter is never over. Sunday’s over, but the Resurrection is not. The risen Christ is alive and lives forever. You can try to hide him away if you like, but it won’t work. Once he’s a part of your life, it’s tough to deny him for long.

The earliest believers in Jesus weren’t called Christians. They were Jewish believers, and they were looked upon as a peculiar sect of Judaism called “The Way.” They worshiped on Saturday, like all Jews, then they’d gather for worship again on Sunday to celebrate Resurrection Day. In fact, the book of Acts indicates they tended to meet at the Temple every day. (Acts 2:42-47) They were either crazy, or they understood how much Jesus really means to us.

Should we meet in the Temple every day?

Now, I’m not suggesting we begin to meet in the Temple every day. The Temple is gone. Besides, it was in Jerusalem. That would be a rough commute. But the Bible indicates that WE are the temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) It’s pretty tough setting the Lord aside when he dwells within us.

We commemorate the events of Holy Week to remind us of who we are and why we do what we do. It was during the original Holy Week that Jesus led a Seder Meal with his disciples. It was during that meal that he broke bread and shared wine while saying, “Each time you do this together, remember me.” (Luke 22:19)

As Christians, we are members of Christ’s body. It seems to me that it’s a grand idea to remember Jesus every day—not just when we celebrate Communion. After all, he never forgets us.

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

Thank God for Sunday!

When I was forty, my doctor sent me to get a bone scan. Frankly, I can’t remember what the problem was, but I remember the scan. They injected me with some radioactive dye (I think I still glow in the dark). Then they put me on a table and lowered a huge machine onto my entire body. I felt like a human sandwich as I lay there spread-eagle between the two hard surfaces. It was like a giant mammogram (not that I’ve ever had one of those—I’ve just heard).

As I recall, they didn’t find anything conclusive about my malady. However, as I was leaving the torture chamber, the technician had these parting words for me. “You’ve got the beginnings of arthritis in your hands and feet.”

Fast forward twenty-seven years, and I can attest to the technician’s ability to read scans. I do, indeed, have arthritis. Now, however, it seems to be all over the place—hands, feet, hips, back, you-name-it. It doesn’t bother me all that much until I do something physical.

“Sixty-seven is the new ninety-two.”

Since spring has sprung, I spent a couple days doing the obligatory yard prep—tossing around bags of mulch, trimming greenery, and such. Man, was that technician correct! You know how people like to say fifty is the new forty? Today, I’m saying, “Sixty-seven is the new ninety-two.” Oh, my aching back (and hips, hands, and feet). Lord, have mercy. It’s on days like this that I actually feel old.

I don’t want you to think I’m complaining because I’m not (well…maybe a little). It could certainly be a lot worse. I’ve got a wonderful life, arthritis notwithstanding. Plus, the springtime aches and pains cause me to think about loftier things.

On approximately this day a little over two thousand years ago, Jesus went through a few things that make my little bout with arthritis seem like a day at Disney World. As a friend of mine euphemistically put it, “He had a bad weekend!” As he hung on the cross, he could have thought, “Thirty-three is the new one hundred forty-two.”

“We probably broke his heart.”

I don’t say these things to make light of what he did for us. Quite the contrary… His scourging and death on the cross are almost unthinkable. If you’ve never considered the things he went through, read a physician’s description of the physical agony of this passion. Then, add to that the psychological embarrassment, the physiological shock, and the weight of the world’s sin. Aside from all that, we probably broke his heart. These things are unbearable, but he bore them for us.

Because it’s over and done with, we seldom consider these things. We just figure he had to do it, and so he did. Actually, he didn’t have to do anything. He’s God. But fortunately for us, as the Apostle Paul said, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7)

So, at this point, every arthritic joint in my body is crying out, “Thank God for Sunday…literally!”

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

I Wasn’t Built for These Conditions

Occasionally, I look at some of the things I’ve done and think, “How could I screw up so badly?” Indeed, how could I? I’ve got everything going for me. I have enough money at my disposal to be comfortable. I have enough life experience under my belt to have gained at least a modicum of wisdom. I live in a country that affords me the freedom to think and do whatever I want (within reason). I know the Truth, and he has set me free from my own sin. So what’s the problem?

I think the problem is complicated, but one facet might be this. I wasn’t built for these conditions. I don’t think any of us were.

To explain what I mean, I would point you to the first few chapters of Genesis. In those few pages, we see the Biblical account of Creation. Many parts of the story are undoubtedly familiar to you (although I’ve discovered that most people don’t really know the actual story). I commend it to you for a re-read.

“Things were great.”

What you will see there, in short, is that our heroes (Adam and Eve) are placed in a marvelous environment. We know it as the Garden of Eden. Eden appears to be a utopia of sorts. It’s full of edibles, friendly animals, and topped off by a visit from the Lord, himself, every evening. Things were great.

The one part of the story everyone seems to know is that Adam and Eve screwed it up. Consequently, they were summarily ejected from the Garden, and things went south after that. Curses were placed on everything under the sun, and the whole enchilada got really messed up. We’ve been attempting to get back to the Garden ever since—quite unsuccessfully, I might add.

This brings me back to my original point. We live in a fallen world. It’s a world where sin and evil abound. It’s a world that has been darkened by people like me who continually mess up. It’s bad enough that I mess things up, but when everyone else is contributing to the mess… Well, you get the picture.

Who can we blame?

We’ve got no one to blame but ourselves, of course, but at least we’ve got one fallback position from which to argue our case. We weren’t built for these conditions.

Think about it. We (the human race) were built to live in utopia (Eden). We were supposed to live in a place where we’d have plenty to eat for everyone. This was supposed to be a place where the animals were our friends, not our lunch. Better still, we were supposed to get regular visits from the Lord.

How many times have you been in a discussion during which someone said, “I want to ask the Lord that question when I get to Heaven.” Frankly, it would be nice to have the information now.

Someday I’m hoping to get back to Eden. How about you?

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

A Stop Along the Way: Off Road With Jesus

Jesus did some amazing things when he set out to do them. I’m always intrigued, however, at the incidental things he did—things he didn’t set out to do.

Early on, we learn that Jesus “set his face” toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). This simply meant he was resolute on getting to the Holy City. We know, from Palm Sunday forward, what he did after he arrived there. We commemorate these events every year during Holy Week. But the off-road things that happened along the way were quite astounding as well.

Consider the story of Blind Bartimaeus. Jesus left Jericho, heading out toward Jerusalem. A blind man was sitting along side the road, begging for sustenance. When he heard Jesus was passing by, he began screaming for Jesus to help him. The crowd attempted to shut him up, but he just yelled all the more.

He Wanted a Healing Experience

When Jesus heard Bartimaeus, he stopped, called him over, and asked the man what he wanted. The man wanted to be healed of his blindness, of course, and Jesus did just that. Having been cured, Bartimaeus began following as Jesus continued his trek toward Jerusalem.

This is merely one of many such incidents that occurred as Jesus traveled from town to town, village to village, and city to city. People approached him with their problems and their curiosities. Some did so in a bold manner. Others were more timid. Still, others attempted to do so reluctantly or even secretly.

The great thing about Jesus is that he usually made time for all these interruptions. The reason seems to be that, to him, they were not mere interruptions in his daily routine. They were people…people who needed help…people who needed a Messiah.

Maybe Our Greatest Challenge

Jesus made no bones about why he was here. He flat-out stated he had to preach the good news saying emphatically, “That is why I was sent.” (Luke 4:42-44) His mission was not to physically heal people, cast out their demons, or raise them from the dead. Still, he did these things and more. He did them almost incidentally, out of compassion for the human condition. He was not some mechanical god who came, fulfilled his assignment, and headed back home. He personally touched lives along the way—many lives.

This just might be our greatest challenge as we endeavor to follow Jesus in this life. As we strive to be more Christ-like, the one thing we can readily do is touch lives along the way. Yet, it might be the one thing we most often fail to do.

Our life and pilgrimage is a journey. As we travel the highways and byways of our earthly existence, we are interrupted—often far more than we’d like. The question for us then becomes, do we see these interruptions as off road experiences with Jesus, or mere annoyances to be sloughed off or dismissed summarily.

Interruptions are often people who need us—people who need a Messiah. Will they find him in you and me? I certainly hope so.

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