Calling Down Fire

A couple days ago, I posted a blog entitled “Burning Down the Village.” In it, I cited the Luke 9:51-55 passage in which James and John wanted to call down fire from on high to burn a Samaritan village that had rejected Jesus. Jesus, of course, would have none of it, reprimanded them, and they went on their way.

Thinking further about that passage, it donned on me that James and John may have been more concerned with their egos than the acceptance of their Master by some strangers. Calling down fire from heaven as retribution was obviously way out of Jesus’ wheelhouse. I can’t recall him doing anything remotely like that. If anyone should have understood that, it would have been his disciples. Yet here they were, ready for some vengeance when none was needed (or called for).

Jesus would often get into it with the Pharisees, but calling down fire wasn’t even a remote thought in his dialogue with them. James and John had been around for a lot of those heated discussions. Still, they were willing to do their own thing had Jesus allowed them.

“He was standing right there…”

Our two fiery disciples wanted to flex their muscles at someone else’s expense. They were willing to forego Jesus’ teaching to do it. They wanted to venture out into a new frontier of spirituality—judgment. Their real problem was the authentic judge. He was standing right there and gave them the dickens.

None of us has the right to do what our two friendly neighborhood apostles wanted to do. Like these Sons of Thunder, however, we are often more than willing. Calling down the fire is sometimes our first move. Get out the judgment stick and beat our adversaries silly.

Their attitude was nothing new. It wasn’t new then, and it’s certainly not new now. Despite the teachings of our Lord, we continue to follow in the footsteps of James and John rather than those of Jesus. Just read a history of the church and you’ll see what I mean.

“He even misused a verse…”

I recently read an article by a preacher who excoriated some of his fellow clergy for praying for our President. While I understand his argument, his article was reminiscent of the attitude we see in Luke 9. He even misused a verse of Scripture to attempt to prove his point.

This sort of thing has been going on forever. When are we going to learn that none of us has a corner on the truth? It’s one thing to discuss the meaning of various Biblical passages. It’s quite another to use them against someone to prop up our own viewpoint.

Jesus’ reaction to James and John in their moment of hutzpah speaks volumes. We, as Christians, disagree on a lot of things. Discussion, dialogue, and even flat-out arguments are going to occur. But when we dismiss the call for Christian unity by bashing each other, we’ve gone too far. We’ve got enough enemies already without turning on each other.

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

Burning Down the Village

There’s a wonderful passage of Scripture found in Luke (9:51-55) where the people residing in a Samaritan village rejected Jesus. Two of his disciples (James and John) took umbrage to those folks. Their knee-jerk reaction was to call fire from heaven to burn down the village.

This pericope reminds me of two things that still occur. One is a very simple truth—many people continue to reject Jesus. We all know that fact very well.

The second is not quite so simple, I’m afraid. Numero dos is the fact that many Christians are still happy to burn down the village. We’ve got too many would-be pyromaniacs running around the church.

Interestingly enough, when Jesus sent advance men out ahead of his preaching tours, he gave them specific instructions as to what actions to take in case of rejection. Those instructions were simply to shake the dust off their feet and move on (Luke 9:5). James and John either forgot those instructions or merely got carried away. It’s no wonder Jesus nicknamed them the “Sons of Thunder.”

If you look at the account of this event, you’ll notice Jesus quickly denied their request to burn down the village. The Bible tells us he rebuked them, and they then went on their not-so-merry way.

“They all had bad attitudes.”

In fact, as we read through the gospels, we find one of the things Jesus seemed to hate the most was when someone copped an attitude. I could site all manner of Scripture to back that statement. One could argue that was his big problem with people like the Pharisees. They all had bad attitudes. When James and John suggested the calling down of fire, I’m sure he was wholly displeased.

As I mentioned, there are a lot of Christians around to this day who are quick to do the same as the aforementioned disciples. They aren’t really keen on anyone who disagrees with them. When they run across someone like that, they call down the fire.

Usually, the fire is in the form of a tongue-lashing or a put down. It sometimes gets worse than that, but that’s bad enough. I can’t imagine Jesus being happy about any attitude that ends up in hatred or reputation bashing. Yet, that’s often what we see today.

Jesus was quick to point out that we shouldn’t take it personally. If someone disagrees with our Christianity, they are ultimately rejecting him (not us). In Luke 10:16 he said this: “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” He said this almost 2000 years ago. We still don’t seem to get it.

Shake Off the Dust

We’ve got to learn to shake the dust off our feet and move on. Walking around with a chip on our shoulders just doesn’t cut it. It’s certainly not Christ-like.

I suppose the hard part is deciding when to move on. We hate to be quitters. On the other hand, there’s no sense wearing out our welcome.

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

Post Vacation Mode

I’ve been back from a week at the beach for three or four days now. It was a wonderful time away with the Zuchelli clan—one I wouldn’t trade for anything. Twenty of us gathered together for seven days of fun, frolic, and family. It was an amazing and tranquil time.

Now, of course, I’m back home. At least, my body is back home. I’m not sure where my brain has been, but I still seem to be in the midst of an attempt to retrieve it from wherever it’s been traveling. I keep seeing signs of it here and there, but it hasn’t fully shown itself for quite some time.

One bit of evidence that it’s been on hiatus is the fact that I’ve been doing this blog faithfully for almost two years. Each week I’ve posted three 500-word blogs during that time. I even accomplished that feat during this past vacation. Since I’ve gotten back home, however, this will be the first one. I’ve spent time looking at a computer screen as always, but nothing has come.

“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for…”

Some would point to this and quickly say, “You’ve got writer’s block.” That’s the first thing that came to my mind as well. Yet, I don’t think that’s the problem. I’m thinking I’ve entered “post vacation mode.” It’s a mode that says to my brain (what’s left of it), “You don’t want to do anything. Go play…” I feel like Obi Wan Kenobi is telling me, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for…”

Playing would be great except I’ve got stuff to do. So this morning, four days into my post vacation mode, I’m forcing myself to be an adult. I can actually feel the creative juices flowing once again, and (with a little therapy) I may even get something accomplished. Another four or five weeks of forcing myself, I might get back to my more productive ways once again.

Frittering Away the Hours

All this causes me to realize that it’s a good thing I never inherited a large fortune. Had I done that, the temptation to live the life of leisure may have been too much to overcome. My existence could well have become a life of debauchery (whatever that is) and turned me into an individual bent on frittering his hours away.

On the other hand, I do have a tremendous inheritance. Scripture tells us we already have been promised a great bequest (1 Peter 3:3-5). It’s one that can never “perish, spoil, or fade.” It’s being kept in a place we like to call heaven. The Creator of the universe is that promise maker. There are no better promises than that one—nor any from a more dependable source.

The fact that we have that inheritance often causes us to go into a spiritual post vacation mode. We have the promise, so we sit back and get lazy—counting on God to do it all for us. I guess, sometimes, we need to force ourselves to become spiritual adults once again.

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

The Broken T-Shirt

It was the Fourth of July so I wore a patriotic t-shirt. My five-year-old granddaughter looked at it and said, “Your shirt’s broken!” I had no idea what she was talking about until her mother pointed out that my worn out looking flag did have a broken appearance.

My granddaughter had a perspective on my shirt that no one else had. Now when I look at this shirt, I’ll always see it as “broken.” Through the eyes of a child…

I probably paid more attention to her remark because she’s my granddaughter. I still almost passed over what she said, but thanks to her mother, I paused to give her my due consideration. It immediately made me realize, however, how quickly I’m prone to dismiss other people’s perspectives.

Who cares? Right?

It’s really shameful, because I’m not the only one with legitimate opinions, perceptions, and viewpoints. Like me, many of us are very quick to dismiss the insights of others. If they don’t line up with ours, who cares? Right?

On a certain level, this is the crux of our problem as a society. We often summarily dismiss other people and their opinions simply because they don’t coincide with our own ideas. By doing so, we ultimately lose out on opportunities to enrich our own lives.

This whole subject leads to an overused (and misused) word in our common lectionary—tolerance. We seem to have a two-pronged approach to each other in our cultural attitudes. On one hand, we give no quarter to the opinions of others. Yet, we scream, “Tolerance!” to everyone else.

Tolerance!

Tolerance used to mean things like, “live and let live.” It used to mean we could exist side-by-side and respect each other’s worldviews (within reason). Somewhere along the way, the definition of that term changed.

Now when people cry, “Tolerance!” they mean something different. They strongly imply (if not flat out state) we must accept everyone’s opinions and practices as the truth. All these truths must be condoned and agreed to as equal to (or better) than our own. There can be no discussion, no civil discourse; just mere acceptance. If you don’t believe in someone else’s “truth,” you are now a bigot of some sort. Hence, you are intolerant.

Well… I have to say, I’m intolerant of that new definition.

Whatever happened to “let’s agree to disagree” or “I don’t like what you’re saying, but I’ll defend your right to say it”? Those sayings are still around, but the practice of such ideas is fading away fast. Like my t-shirt, these things seem to be broken. My hope is they are (also like my t-shirt) not really broken but simply have the appearance of being that way.

As the Independence Day holiday week rides off into the proverbial sunset, can we somehow find a way to reaffirm each other as humans? There’s only one being who embodies the truth. As the Apostle Paul once told us, “Let God be true, and every human being a liar.” (Romans 3:4)

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

The Bloody Headband

I was eating breakfast with one of my sons and his daughter (a five year-old). I was wearing a muscle shirt (shut up!) that was exposing my one-and-only-tattoo. My son pointed to the tattoo and asked my granddaughter, “What’s this?”

She immediately said, “Jesus’ cross.” I looked at her and asked, “How do you know it’s Jesus’?” She pointed to the crown of thorns and said, “Because this is his headband.” The dead giveaway might be the drop of crimson blood hanging from one of the thorns. A bloody crown of thorns hanging on an empty cross will point to Jesus every time—especially for a five year-old Sunday School attendee.

I got my tattoo a few years ago when I was still working in an office on a daily basis. My boss was not keen on tattoos, so I had the ink artist put it high enough on my shoulder that it wouldn’t be revealed when I wear a short-sleeved shirt. I’m such a coward.

The Visual Testimony

Usually, the only time I wear a muscle shirt (shut up!) is when I’m riding my Harley. So, my Jesus crown of thorns and cross is not open for public consumption most of the time. So much for my brave, visual testimony.

I suppose I’m in good company. The Apostle Peter was really a coward when it came to witnessing to his relationship with Jesus as well. You may remember Jesus telling him that he (Peter) would deny him three times before the rooster crowed in the morning. Peter vehemently told Jesus that would never happen. Of course, it did, and Peter became famous for turning his back on Jesus so fast it would make one’s head spin. Peter was obviously afraid he’d be fitted for his own bloody headband by the Romans.

The Fear of Man

And that’s where a lot of us end up. We’re afraid. The real tragedy is that our fear is not of the Romans (nor anything nearly as powerful). We’re usually afraid of looking less than cool. Our trepidation is over the possibility that someone will think we’re weird, we might lose a friend, or that our status might be diminished in some way. It’s almost never (as in the case of Peter) that we might lose our own lives in the process.

You would think our real fear would be of God. After all, Jesus was clear about denying him. He is quoted by Matthew as having said, “whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33) That’s not only eminently clear, it has its own punishment built into it. Who wants to be denied by the Christ? I know I don’t.

My only real consolation in all of this is that Jesus forgave Peter (John 21:15-19). If Peter is forgiven, my hope is strong that I can be forgiven as well. The real relief is that Jesus bore the bloody headband to demonstrate his love and forgiveness for puny deniers such as me.

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

On a Clear Day, You Can See November

A couple days ago, the Zuchelli Clan arrived in the Outer Banks for a week of R-and-R, bonding, and general all-around revelry. There are twenty of us (including a couple friends), and we range in age from a one year old to one hundred and seventeen years (actually I’m not that old, but I feel like it at the end of each day).

Last night, my boys and I were discussing a return engagement—maybe not to the sea but possibly to the mountains. Where we go wouldn’t be the important factor, of course. The matter of significance would be that we would all be together again for a while. We’re scattered across the eastern seaboard, and these events are few and far between.

As we briefly discussed the possibilities, it occurred to me that I might want to do this as often as feasible. I’m the old geezer of the band, and I suppose my days are numbered. I don’t say that with a sense of morbidity, it’s just a fact of life.

Establishing the Legacy

Not only do I want to see my family—and enjoy their interactions in one place—I want my grandchildren to remember who I am after I’m gone from their lives. I guess that’s what they call a legacy. One of the reasons I wrote my first book (The Last Wedding) was to leave some sort of heritage behind for them. Someday they can pull a copy of the book off their shelf, hand it to a friend, and say, “This is my grandfather. You would have liked him.”

I’m not exactly sure why, but my weird train of thought following this discussion led me to a Barbra Streisand movie released back in 1970 entitled “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.” As I recall, it had something to do with clairvoyance and looking back into the past. The more memorable part of the cinema was the theme song sung by Barbara herself (On a Clear Day). Barbra’s politics drive me crazy, but I love her voice. My thoughts were taking me in the opposite direction—the future.

As is probably the case with most of us, I often wonder what my future holds. Scripture contains an interesting verse that says, “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures.” (Psalm 90:10) It’s not to be taken literally, but it’s definitely a reminder that we are mortal. It’s also a reminder that my first seventy years is almost up.

The Patriarch

One of the things I find a bit unsettling as I surrounded myself with my tribe is that I’m the patriarch. As such, I’m supposed to be the one with some wisdom to pass along to the next generations. I’m not sure I have all that much to dispense, but I do my best.

Whatever the future holds, I’m going to do my darndest to leave some love behind if nothing else. That seems to be the best legacy of all.

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