MAGA Mania

This morning was a lot like other mornings. I woke up, got dressed, made myself a cup of coffee, and checked the news. The news was similar to other mornings as well. Another person wearing a red, Make-America-Great-Again, baseball cap was assaulted. This incident was a tad different than most, however.

The latest victim of those-who-hate-all-things-Trump is eighty-one years old. Up until now, it seems the assaulted ones have been teenagers, middle-aged white guys, and peaceful bystanders. Since I don’t fit into any of those categories, I’ve been able to view these things passively from a distance.

I’m Getting Edgy

Today, however, is a different day. The eighty-one year old guy thing is beginning to hit a bit close to home. I’m not eighty-one yet, but I’m definitely pointed in that direction. I’m past middle-aged and am heading down the home stretch. This whole MAGA mania thing is starting to make me a tad nervous.

It’s not that I own a MAGA cap. I don’t have one, nor do I desire to obtain one. Still, there are days I feel like donning such headgear just to get a rise out of a few people. I probably won’t for a few reasons. Number one, I value my health (what there is left of it). Number two, red just isn’t my color. It clashes with my bloodshot eyes. If they ever come out with a blue or black one, I might consider it—but even that is highly unlikely.

I’m just not that political. For me, politics is a spectator sport. I never played football, but I enjoy watching it. I’ll never enter politics, but I get a kick out of the blood sport it’s become. It makes for great entertainment (or at least it would if the consequences weren’t so serious).

Living in the Shadows

Alongside the story of the elderly gentleman getting roughed up, there was a report of a gal getting deported by ICE for doing something similar to a MAGA cap wearer in a restaurant. So much for living in the shadows… I’m pretty sure, if I did something illegal, I’d lay low for a while. I guess the political tension got to be a tad more than she could handle.

It’s probably only a matter of time before congress steps in and enacts legislation that bans all red caps. That’s how they usually handle such things. Overkill is the word of the day. That, of course, would prove to be a problem for the World Series Champions (the Boston Red Sox)—not to mention the St. Louis Cardinals, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Cincinnati Reds.

I don’t mean to make light of all this (well, yes, I guess I do), but it seems to me that people are getting weirder than ever—or at least, more sensitive. It’s affecting me, too. I saw a guy in a blank baseball cap the other day (no slogan, no logo). I felt like going over and punching him as I shouted, “Don’t you stand for anything?!” (1 John 3:16-18)

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

Out for Blood

When I was a kid, my family and I played cards—a lot. We seldom played for money, but if we did, it was merely penny ante. What we usually played for, however, was blood. We were the quintessential illustration of the old phrase, “out for blood.” We were all about winning, and short of cheating, we did anything we could be victorious (at least I don’t remember anyone cheating—I could be wrong).

Then, I went to college. At school, I walked innocently into the same scenario. The guys in the dorm played the same way I was taught. Usually there was no money involved (unless it was the occasional penny ante stuff), but everyone was out for blood. No need to get homesick there. And since I played cards far more than I studied, it quickly and easily became my home away from home.

It’s Just a Game

A couple days ago, the latest iteration of my family (my lovely Bride, my oldest daughter, and I) decided to reinstitute the almost forgotten tradition of playing 500 Rummy. We quickly discovered that we all played by slightly differing rules. Just as quickly, we discovered that my tradition of card playing was vastly different as my spouse’s. I play for blood, while she plays for fun. As she aptly put it, “It’s just a game!”

This was a foreign phrase to me, so I looked it up. Sure enough, she was right. This changed everything, and we decided to stop keeping score. Wow! What a difference. It was much more fun than I had anticipated (although, playing for blood still runs deep in my veins—pardon the pun).

I also decided to look up the origin of the idiom, “Out for blood.” I couldn’t find it, but I ran across another idiom that seemed appropriate enough. It was, “Above board.” I had never thought about that one, but my impression was that it had something to do with sailing. Wrong…

Cardsharps

Above board has to do with card playing. This is what the all-knowing Internet had to say about it. “Cardsharps place their hands under the ‘board’ or table to stack the deck. If they keep their hands above the board, they can be presumed to be performing without trickery.” That made sense, but I had always thought that word to be “cardsharks,” not “cardsharps.” And, since my spellcheck is rejecting the “sharks” version, I suspect I have always been wrong. You learn something new every day.

Anyway, back to being “out for blood.” I had anticipated finding a connection between the saying and the cross of Christ. Since His blood was spilled on our behalf, I was hoping I could tie it in for today’s blog. Alas, there is no apparent correlation between the two. I could easily make one up, but intellectual honesty prevents me from doing so.

Suffice it to say, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). I suppose this applies to cards as well as sin.

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

Never Enough

As I write this, shortstop Manny Machado has reportedly agreed to a ten-year, $300 million dollar contract to play for the San Diego Padres. I’m no mathematical genius, but, if my calculations are correct, he is slated to make thirty million dollars per annum for the next ten years. Chump change it ain’t.

He is, by no means, the richest man in the world, but I wouldn’t mind being in his position—at least, money-wise. Machado is 26 years old (far less than half my age). I’ve never even bothered to dream of making that kind of money. I guess it pays to be talented—literally.

Highest Ever

To take it one step further, speculation has it that outfielder Bryce Harper will probably sign a contract worth $326 million making him the highest paid player ever. Harper, also, is a mere 26 years old. I remember when it was a huge deal for a major league baseball player to make $100,000 a year (and every contract was for only one year at a time).

Of course, if you think that’s a lot, check out the top actors of our era. Last year, George Clooney grossed $239 million while not even starring in a movie since 2016. The top ten actors collectively made almost $750 million for the year. I won’t even touch the subject of the business people who’ve been able to amass billions—I can’t even imagine. It’s no wonder the up-and-coming socialists in this country are talking about a 70% income tax rate.

The rising economic tide in this nation has provoked a cultural divide between the so-called haves and have-nots. Whether it’s jealousy or simple greed, a lot of folks are beginning to buy into the idea that the top one percent ought to be paying their “fair share.” Translation: We don’t think it’s right that you have all that money—we want it.

God Had it Right

Apparently, it’s not enough that the top one percent of Americans (who have an average income of more than $2.1 million) pay 43.6% of all the federal individual income tax. In addition to that little fact, MarketWatch reports that 45% of Americans pay no income tax whatsoever. For some, that’s not equitable enough.

I think the Lord had it right. The Old Testament Jews were required to give a tithe (ten percent) of their yearly harvest. There was no graduated income tax—no sliding scale. Everyone was at the same rate. Of course, the idea was not to be legalistic about it. It merely seemed to be God’s way of saying, “Here’s the standard. Be generous to each other.” On top of that, there was no Heavenly IRS or police presence to force the Israelites into giving up their hard-earned, capital grains.

Of course, comparing modern USA with an ancient, agrarian society is an apples and oranges scenario. The principle remains, however. “From the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Still, it’s God who should be doing the asking.

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

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.]