A Legend in His Own Mind

There’s a famous Gospel incident about a young man who came to Jesus to ask an important question. The question had eternal consequences, but too often, we glean the wrong conclusions from Jesus’ answer.

The guy is often known as the “Rich, Young Ruler.” We call him that because it’s clear from the accounts that he had great wealth. About halfway through, Matthew’s version indicates that he was young. Luke’s version introduces him as a “certain ruler.” In this context, the term, ruler, implies that the young man was from the upper class.

A Clear Objective

The ruler’s objective was clear. He wanted some directive that would rubberstamp his good fortunes in the afterlife. If you conflate the gospel accounts, his questions could be restated as, “Good teacher, what good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” Unfortunately, (not unlike a lot of us) he seemed to be under the impression that he could earn his way into Heaven.

As He often did, Jesus (rather than give him an immediate, direct answer) asked him a question. In this case it was, “Why do you call me good?” He then informed the young man that only God is good and that he should follow God’s commands. The man informed Jesus that he had always followed the commandments of the Lord. In other words, “I’m good. Is there anything else I need to do to seal the deal?”

Anyone who thinks they’re that good is a legend in his own mind. I remember thinking similar thoughts when I was a very young man myself. I figured that, if I was better than half the world’s population, God would admit me to His paradise when I crossed over to the next life. Like the ruler in the Gospel story, I assumed I could be good enough to cover all the necessary bases. Along the way, however, I was rudely introduced to the truth of the Gospel. There was no thing I could do that would be good enough to merit such a reward. I was a lousy sinner, and there was nothing I could do to erase my past—even if I could become perfect from that day forward (which I obviously could not do).

Stumbling Blocks

When Jesus told the young man he should sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Him, it proved to be a bit much for this particular ruler. We often look at this as a call to be divested of our belongings. The important part, however, was the call to follow Christ. The man’s riches just happened to be his stumbling block. I suspect we all have a few of those.

What the man learned that day was he couldn’t earn, buy, or claw his way to Heaven. He had to rely on Jesus to take him there. Like many of us, it was too much to take. It’s a whole lot more fun when we can pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

Babies-Rn’t-Us

I was painfully reminded in a recent article that 800,000 babies are aborted each year in this country (that would be fetuses for the P.C. crowd). As a sidelight, the author pointed out that almost forty percent of them are black. I’m not exactly sure why it’s racist to imprison a disproportionate number of our black brothers and sisters, but it’s okay to disproportionately kill their babies. Fortunately for the political crowd, I’m not the one writing the rules of racism, or they would be on the outs (as we used to say).

If you watch or listen to the news, you probably know the following info. In the state where I reside, our governor was recently outed as racist for possibly appearing in blackface in his medical school yearbook. I say “possibly” because he may have been the other person in the infamous photo—you know, the one clad in KKK garb. He, of course, denies it all. His claims are rather dubious, but who can say for sure—not even him, apparently.

Health and Welfare

I point this out because, in his former life, he was a physician. Not just any physician, mind you—a pediatrician. He was lauded for his work with improving the health and welfare of little children. I’m not sure, but I would assume that included the health and welfare of black children as well.

A few days prior to the outing of his yearbook fiasco, he indicated that he would not stand in opposition to ending the life of a newborn child. Some are using the term “abortion” for such a procedure, but I have a hard time reconciling that term with such a practice. It seems to me there are more appropriate expressions for this—murder comes to mind. Some have called it infanticide, but that sounds a bit too antiseptic.

The governor’s post-birth abortion stance has been quickly swept under the rug by his yearbook revelations. Both are untenable, but I can’t help wondering if there is some connection between the two. Given the history of abortion in this country (does the name, Margaret Sanger, ring a bell?), the connection between racism and abortion has been an underlying thread through it all. We can camouflage it as women’s reproductive rights all we want. The history and the results alike tell a subtly different story (well, maybe it’s not so subtle after all).

Sheep to the Slaughter

I may be reaching a bit far with this train of thought. These two portions of the governor’s life may not be connected at all. But even if he is innocent of this kind of thinking, there are plenty of others who are following in Sanger’s footsteps. Some do it intentionally, while others, I suppose, merely fall into line like sheep.

Scripture tells us that God “knit us together” in our mothers’ wombs. The same Psalm adds that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” I can’t help but think that the Lord weeps over what we do to our children—color notwithstanding.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

Women in White

I dislike things like the annual State of the Union Address. They turn me off because of two things. 1) When the President says something I don’t like, it makes me angry. 2) When he says something I like, but a bunch of folks (congress people) sit on their hands instead of, at least, offering polite applause, it burns me up. Rather than get heartburn, I just forgo the entire thing. Besides, everyone and her sister continue to give it wall-to-wall coverage over the following days and weeks. I see and hear enough clips to know what was said.

In this year’s follow-up to the SOTU (using those letters makes me cool), I noticed that many folks were wearing white. I later discovered that it was the Democratic congresswomen who were regaled in such manner. I had to Google it to find out the deal on that one. As it turns out, their white outfits were a stab at solidarity and identifying with each other (in opposition to the President, I believe).

Being an ex U.S. History major, I found that whole thing to be a bit ironic. It was particularly so because they were calling them “white suffragette” suits. This, of course, dates back to the time in the early twentieth century when women were demonstrating for the right to vote. The ironic thing about it is the fact that, back in the 1900s, the suffragettes were Republicans.

Solidarity

This now puts the Democratic politicians (at least the female ones) in solidarity with women of all stripes (something they don’t always aspire to do). I applaud them for this, and hope they keep up the unifying trend. I won’t hold my breath, however.

As a humorous sidelight to all of this, I heard a radio commentator say something that actually made me laugh out loud as I was driving down the highway. He flippantly observed that the last time we saw so many Democrats in white was at a KKK meeting. I’m sure we all have history we’d rather forget, but I couldn’t help myself and chuckled anyway. I suppose the congresswomen had neither of these objectives in mind, but I suspect they never gave any of it much thought.

Can’t Tell the Donkeys from the Elephants

Of course, the Party of Lincoln doesn’t have all that much to brag about these days either. It’s often quite difficult to tell the Donkeys apart from the Elephants. They pretty much act the same and do what they can to give the electorate as many ulcers as possible. Maybe this is their way of promoting medical advancements in our country. The more ulcers, the better chance for a cure…

When Jesus burst on to the scene in His public ministry, His first words were, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17). He was announcing a different kind of kingdom than anyone else had ever promoted. Maybe we should all wear white and promote His kingdom. It has to be better than the one we’ve got.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

Our Brown Babies

A few days ago, celebrated newsman, Tom Brokaw, made some comments that torqued more than a few people off. He quickly apologized, of course, but his apology has been described as “tepid” at best. I listened with interest to what he said, and one of his assertions really caught my attention.

His comments were directed at our Hispanic population here in the good, ol’ US of A. In general, he said Hispanics should try harder to assimilate and that “they ought not be just codified in their own communities” (whatever that means). The inevitable accusations of racism were quickly hurled at him for such statements, and he attempted to cover his tracks just as rapidly.

The Big Uproar

I have to say, I can see why the big uproar ensued. I’m surrounded in life by a significant number of Hispanics, and they seem (in my experience) to be folks who make considerable efforts to be Americans. Naturally, first-generation immigrants often have accents and sometimes struggle with English; but more often than not, second-generation Hispanics are virtually indistinguishable from the rest of us. From what I can see, Brokaw is dead wrong on this point, and other journalists have quoted statistics to prove him erroneous.

But that leads to his statement that garnered the bulk of my attention. As he was discussing relationships between Hispanics and the rest of our culture, he said that some people tell him, “I don’t know whether I want brown grandbabies.” That declaration gave me great pause. I may be naïve, and I hate to disparage anyone by name, but I think Brokaw made that one up out of whole cloth. Who in the world would say that to him (even if they were actually thinking it)? I’m guessing that it supported his narrative, so he just thoughtlessly blurted it out.

The guy writing this (me) has a brown grandbaby. I didn’t realize she was a brown grandbaby until Brokaw pointed it out. (We also have a black one and a red one, too, but who’s counting—Brokaw, I guess.). We have a few white ones, also, but we don’t make those kinds of distinctions in our family. They’re all our grandbabies, we love them, and that’s that.

Go Ahead, Assimilate Me

To be honest, I never thought of our little grandchild as a “brown grandbaby” until Brokaw “codified” her on national TV. She’s our grandbaby, and it never occurred to me that there should (or could) be an extra adjective thrown in. Her father (my son-in-law) is a full-blooded, second-generation Hispanic who speaks better English than me and is as American as apple pie. In fact, he just might be more assimilated than I. I tend to emphasize my Italian roots quite a bit (although, I still can’t speak the language).

The point of my little tirade against people like Mr. Brokaw is that we already have enough going on in this country to tear us apart. We don’t need any help from pontificators of myths and fabrications like them.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

The Five Solas

I recently had the privilege of preaching a funeral in a nearby Lutheran Church building. We were there not because the deceased was a Lutheran—he wasn’t. But it was a large enough sanctuary to hold the expected crowd. As it turned out, there was standing room only as anticipated.

It’s pretty amazing to a guy like me to see such a crowd at a service of death and resurrection. I’ve been preaching funerals for about forty years, now, and crowds like that are few and far between. It’s not unusual to find oneself in a small room with an even smaller group of mourners. That’s especially true these days—a time when so many tend to, almost blindly, deny death.

In this case, the departed was young, well-liked, and rather well-known. He had served his community, made many friends, and had a lot of acquaintances. They came out in droves to honor his memory and pay their final respects—and, hopefully, to worship the Lord.

Full Advantage

Not only is it a great privilege to be called upon to serve at such a time as that, but it’s a wonderful opportunity as well. Preaching the Gospel of Christ is one of those things I live for, and this was an extraordinary opportunity to do so. I sought to take full advantage of it.

A lot of things should happen in a service like that. The deceased should be remembered and honored; the family should be comforted with the hope that we’ve been given in Christ; and the Lord should be glorified. I think we were able to accomplish these things and give a dear Brother a beautiful good-bye.

Being in a building that carries the name of Martin Luther, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to mention the Five Solas— Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Christus, Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria. These are Latin terms which basically mean that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in the Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone.

Earning Our Salvation

The Five Solas are the backbone of the great heritage we’ve received from Luther and his fellow reformers. The reformed theologians like Jean Calvin helped to transform and renew the church with this understanding. Their theology helped us to take note that Scripture is clear—we cannot earn our salvation—it is wholly and purely a gift.

The Five Solas help us learn that we receive the grace of God and the gift of faith in order to be drawn to Christ (the sole sacrifice for our sins). They point us to Scripture which is the sole authority for this understanding, and to the fact that all the glory for this belongs to God—not to any man or woman—certainly not to ourselves.

Scripture tells us that “the righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17). Faith is an indescribable gift from God. Without His gift, we’re hopelessly lost. May we live by that faithfulness to His glory alone.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

No Longer Affiliated

A couple of weeks ago, an acquaintance passed away. He was younger than me, and when that happens, I take notice. I was asked to preach his funeral service and did so gladly. Jesus specifically said, “No one is good but God.” But if there was a good guy around at all, this guy was him.

After his death, my weekly e-letter went out as usual the following Friday morning. Later in the day, I checked my e-mail for any responses. There are usually a few. Some write to agree with what I said, some to disagree. Occasionally, someone will call me a jerk and unsubscribe. Sure enough, there were a few responses to my publication. One in particular caught my attention.

E-Mail From Beyond

I saw it right away, because it was from the guy who had died (before the e-letter came out, mind you). I’m pretty sure I’ve never received an e-mail from beyond the grave, so I was eager to check it out. The subject line announced, “Auto reply from John Doe.” (I’ve changed the name to protect the innocent.) The first line informed me that “John Doe is no longer affiliated with Company XYZ.” (Another name change…)

Before I went any further, I chuckled and thought to myself, “They’ve got that right.” As I read further, the memo informed me that, if I had any questions, I could e-mail Jack Sprat (another fictitious name). Then it presented me with a phone number if my preference was to call.

That line gave me pause. I felt an inordinate urge to call the number and ask them if they’d like to know with whom he was currently affiliated. I resisted the impulse, however, and it soon passed. Besides that, I figured someone from that company would be present at the service, and I could fill them in at that time. So I did.

SRO

As services of death and resurrection go, this one was one of the more celebrated and moving ones in which I had ever participated (or attended, for that matter). The music was powerful, the tributes and memories from the family were poignant, meaningful, and appropriately humorous; and the place was packed with family, friends, and well-wishers. It was a standing-room-only situation, and the Spirit of God was strongly felt.

I had the opportunity to share my e-mail from the great beyond, which was good for a laugh from the congregation. Then I told them of John’s current affiliation. It was one he made a long time ago, but it was an everlasting one. It was sealed in the blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and no e-mail was needed to confirm it.

Funerals can be very sad, or they can be glorious. This one was the latter. It celebrated the life of a saint, and, more importantly, it glorified the One with whom he now resides. I was surprised at how life-changing a service it was. Sometimes, this is just a job. Other times, like now, it’s mystical.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

The Great Emu War

I recently ran across an article describing what became known as the “Great Emu War of 1932.” It took place (as you might guess) in the country of Australia. Apparently, the emu population undertakes an annual migration from the drier inlands to the more temperate grasslands of the coastal areas.

This began to occur in 1932 as usual, but it seems the government had given 90,000 hectares of land to 5000 WWI vets. (In case you’re not up on your metrics, one hectare is equal to 10,000 square meters or 2.47 acres. I only know this because I researched it.) The vets cultivated their new farmland, and, lo and behold, the emus discovered the feast as they journeyed.

As the article stated, “The bird giants descended upon the crops.” As you can imagine, the farmers were not pleased. They tried everything from rifles to machineguns to mobile, truck-mounted Lewis guns. Against all odds, the unarmed emus (20,000 strong) were able to minimize their casualties. All in all, the war lasted six days. In the end, the truck had crashed, 2500 rounds of expensive munitions were spent, and the emus suffered the loss of only 200 of their fine-feathered friends. A one percent dent in their population hardly made a difference (except, maybe, to the one percent).

I’m not exactly sure why, but this has put me in mind of Gideon (you knew it had to be coming). Gideon was the famous warrior of Judges fame (see Judges 6 & 7). He was tasked with waging war against the Midianites who were wrecking havoc on the crops, livestock, and people of Israel every year. The Lord told Gideon that it was time to put a stop to that annual incursion.

In an effort to be compliant with God’s wishes, Gideon amassed an army of thirty-two thousand fighting men. That army evened the odds somewhat, but Yahweh told Gideon his army was too large. He instructed Gideon to ask the soldiers if any of them were afraid. Twenty-two thousand of them answered in the affirmative, and Gideon sent them home.

This troop reduction was impressive but still not enough to satisfy the Lord. Through an interesting lap test (Judges 7:5-8), the army was reduced by another 9700 men. If I’ve done the math correctly, this left Gideon with an army of three hundred to assault the Midianites—estimated at 135,000 soldiers. Some would say the odds were in favor of the Midianites at this point, but Yahweh seemed to think this ratio was just about right. The reason He gave, of course, was that (with those odds) no one could mistakenly give Gideon and his army credit for the victory. The victory belonged to the Lord and no one else.

The long and short of it is that both the emus and Gideon won out despite tremendously negative odds. They each sent the enemy away in defeat in a fight over crops. Moral: Make sure you’re on God’s side (and the emus’).

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

Cis: Not to be Confused with Sis

Suddenly, we’re hearing innovative vocabulary in newscasts. Recently, I heard a guy refer to himself as cisnormative. It was clear from the monologue, he was referring to his sexuality. Among my many attempts at societal success, I was a collegiate biology major. I actually graduated with a degree in that field, so I was a bit embarrassed that I had no clue as to what he was talking about.

In my defense, I graduated in 1971 (yes, I’m old). As near as I can tell, terms like cisnormative and cisgender emerged in the mid to late 1990s—a period when I was thinking less and less about my preferred sexuality. Those sorts of things had long been established in my life.

It Kept Cropping Up

Consequently, I had to check this out. The terms kept cropping up, and I didn’t wish to remain in the dark. Some things can be allowed to slide in life, but human sexuality seems to be gaining importance as a topic to be mastered. I resisted for a while, but I finally succumbed.

As it turns out, there are a lot of folks out there who have a considerable amount of knowledge to share on the subject—newness not withstanding. I assume they know what they’re talking about. They are, after all, on the Internet. We all know what that means. Here is a definition that seems to encapsulate the meaning of the prefix, cis.

In Latin, the prefix “cis” means “on the same side” and “trans” means “on the other side”. So, a cis person is one whose assigned sex at birth is on the same side as the sex they are. Likewise, a trans person is one whose assigned sex at birth is on a different side from the sex they are.

If this doesn’t confuse you, you’re well on your way to understanding twenty-first century society—I think. I completed two years of Latin in High School, but the whole cis thing escaped me at the time. I’m guessing it was of little importance at that juncture. It has, obviously, become a big deal now.

Second Generation

All of this reminds me of what a deep desire we humans seem to have to label ourselves. We not only want labels, we want categories, groups, and classes as well. As Americans, we’re not satisfied with saying we are such. We need to break it down into nation of origin, state, and occupation. Merely to say, “I’m an American” just doesn’t seem like enough to us. (I’m an Italian-American, by the way—second generation if that matters.)

We come by this honestly, though. This practice began a long time ago. One day Jesus was sitting by a well and asked a woman for a drink. Before it was all over, it was established that she was a woman, a Samaritan, a divorcee, and a sinner. This was all done by Jesus, but only to establish that she needed a Savior. Once she knew Him, however, she became a mere Christian.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]