The One Dollar Offering: Talk Ain’t Cheap

On Sunday morning, the ushers took up the offering. Among the bills and checks, the money counters discovered an unusual one-dollar bill. A note was written on it in magic marker with big, bold letters. It said, “BURN IN HELL!” They saved the bill and showed it to the pastor on Monday.

The next Sunday, the pastor announced the following:

We are happy to consider any advice you may inscribe on your offerings. From now on, however, we will only read messages written on $100 denominations and higher.

Talk ain’t cheap.

In my view, a one-dollar message is expensive. A one hundred dollar message might be overkill. It’s particularly dear considering the fact that the money counters might not even notice (or pay attention) to the message. I don’t think I’d take the chance.

On the other hand, I’m not sure how many $100 bills find their way into an offering plate. Very few, I suspect. Those memorandums would probably be more easily detected. Not being one of the counters, I can’t say for sure.

I would surmise that anyone putting that much into the coffers would rather write a check. Not only is it safer, it’s easier to track for tax deductions. The IRS can be rather finicky about such things as large charitable deductions (particularly cash ones). It’s not that a one-time hundred-dollar contribution is huge. But if you do that every Sunday, you’d be donating $5000 over the course of a year. A lot of congregations would appreciate those sorts of notes. For the right price, we can take a considerable amount of abuse—the fires of hell not withstanding.

Giving your money away is such a touchy subject that it might be a good idea if the US Treasury would put a few blank lines on each one hundred dollar bill. It might boost charitable giving if people were encouraged to add their two cents (as it were) by way of a nasty note. They could write a positive note as well, but those kinds are normally delivered orally.

“How cheerful is that?”

There’s an old saying that “the Lord loves a cheerful giver.” As a matter of fact, it’s Biblical. The Apostle Paul passed that along to us in 1 Corinthians 9:6-7. Maybe that’s why many congregations sing lively, upbeat songs during the Sunday offering. If we can cheer ourselves up while we toss our money into the plates, maybe we’ll feel better. I remember one congregation that used to applaud the offering. How cheerful is that?

The interesting thing, however, is that Paul was taking up an offering for a group of poor folks in another city. When we in the church give today, an extremely high percentage stays in the local congregation (gotta pay those utilities and such). It’s a little easier to be cheerful when you’re giving to yourself.

I don’t know about you, but my giving has become so habitual, I’m not sure I’m very cheerful about it anymore. I think I need to re-evaluate…

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

Primo, Segundo, and Terzo: A Lesson in Simplicity

I remember my Dad telling me years ago about a family he knew. If I recall correctly, they were distant relatives of ours. Regardless, the interesting thing about them is that they had three sons. That fact was not unusual itself, but their names stood out. They christened their boys Primo, Segundo, and Terzo.

For those of you lacking in the knowledge of all things Italian, let me fill you in. Those names translate into English as First, Second, and Third. In case you haven’t immediately noticed, the Italian versions of those monikers flow much more sweetly than the English. Still, being called Segundo can’t be all good.

Primo is not all that unusual for an Italian male. Now, that’s a good name. Being called First is usually a wonderful thing. The major exception would be a call from the draft board.

Naming Your Kids Out of Order

My Dad didn’t say so, but I assume this family named the boys in the chronological order in which they were birthed. Unless they had a crystal ball, it pretty much stands to reason. Otherwise, they may have had a son named Fifth (or whatever the Italian version of that might be—Quinto, I presume). Plus, I would think naming your kids out of order could really be confusing—especially for the neighbors.

If there were an upside to naming your kids in numerical order, it would be the simplicity of it all. Your offspring would be prenamed for you. Once the pattern was set, it would be downhill from there. Think of the hours you spent looking through lists of baby names. You could spend that time picking out nursery furniture instead.

In case a baby girl sneaked in there, all you’d have to do is change the ending vowel to an “a” to be gender specific. The Romance languages are convenient like that.

For some reason, of the three, I like Terzo the best. I’m not sure why. It just sounds good. Speaking from an Olympic standpoint, he would win the bronze. It’s certainly not as good as gold or silver, but at least he placed. There’s something earthy and humble about bronze as well. I just like it.

“I only have two sons…”

Since I only have two sons, I could nickname them Primo and Segundo. I could also nickname the girls Terza and Quarta, but I doubt the baby would go for that. Quarta just doesn’t seem as appealing as the others. I guess I could ask them.

I sometimes wonder if Segundo’s nickname was Avis (think about it). Sorry. I realize, as humor goes, that really Hertz. What can I say? That had to be the German in me. Sometimes it pops right out there. I’m half Italian, but you know how intrusive the Germanic can be.

This may all sound like so much drivel to you, but think how important it is to baby Decimo (Tenth). I suspect he doesn’t appreciate being snubbed by the likes of a John or Mary. Have some compassion for goodness sake.

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

A Time to Breathe

In the wake of the shooting of Representative Steve Scalise , the politicians (as always) had a lot to say. The media, of course, said even more. After receiving the facts (which isn’t always the easiest thing to do these days) I pretty much tuned out the news. It didn’t take me long to get sickened by the loving platitudes that (in my opinion) would last about a week, then fade away into oblivion.

All the lovey-dovey, let’s-tone-down-the-rhetoric speech will soon be a thing of the past. They will return to spewing their vile bombast in short order, and everything will go back to abnormal. I apologize for my skepticism, but I just can’t help myself.

“Breathe…!”

Before I tuned out, I heard one commentator blasting the political leaders. She vehemently called upon them to, “Get a life!” Then she said, “Breathe…!” As I turned off my TV set, I began to allow that comment to settle into my psyche.

I have to say, those four words laid out some of the best advice I think could be given to our august group of governmental leaders—not just at a time such as this, but anytime. A lot of people love to hear the sound of their own voices. As a preacher, I may even be one of them. But at least people aren’t rushing to stick a microphone in my face. If only that were equally true of our friends in high places.

Ecclesiastes 3 contains one of the most known and quoted portions of Scripture. That’s the one that tells us, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Then it goes on to list some of those activities. Among them are such things as “a time to be born and a time to die,” and “a time for war and a time for peace.”

Eating Away at the Fabric

If I were writing Ecclesiastes right now, I would include a line that said something like, “a time to breathe.” We don’t seem to take time to breathe anymore. We keep running at the mouth, posting on social media, getting out in front of the cameras, and going on the offense. That kind of a situation gets caustic very quickly. Without breathing deeply in between actions, the caustic turns intensely acidic and eats away at the very fabric of our society.

I have no illusions that my little blog is going to change anything dramatically. I’m hoping (if nothing else) it will change me. If I can be a small voice of reason in the sea of vehemence, that will be enough for now. If I can convince one other person to do the same, it will have been worth it.

I don’t know if that TV commentator knew how clearly she hit the nail on the head. Nor do I know if she’ll heed her own words. What I do know is this. She’s dead on.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to go breathe.

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

Disabling the Demons

There’s a great story in Luke 13:10-17 about a woman being incapacitated by a demon for a period of eighteen years. Versions like the New International and the New Revised Standard use the term, “crippled.” The old King James Version of the Bible uses the phrase, “spirit of infirmity.” The Living Bible says, “handicapped” (no spirit mentioned at all). The Message Bible says she had arthritis.

What brought all this to mind was the word, “crippled.” As you may (or may not) know, it’s no longer cool to use that term when referring to someone’s physical condition. It’s not politically correct. I remember (way back in seminary school) being informed that we should use the word “disability” or “disabled” when referring to such infirmities.

A Crippling Discovery

After exploring the options, I finally ran across a version of the Scripture that uses that term. The “Tree of Life” version employs the phrase, “disabling spirit” in the above-mentioned passage. Had this version been available when I was a seminary student, I’m sure it would have been strongly suggested we use this particular translation (at least by the Disabilities Caucus if by no one else).

Nevertheless, the passage still remains politically incorrect if it makes reference to a demon (which it does). I checked the original language just to make sure. Indeed, the Greek word, pneuma, is used. This is clearly the word for spirit. There is no modifier, such as evil, used. I am assuming, however, that a good spirit would not disable a woman for eighteen years. Hence, the spirit we are dealing with in this instance is a demon (or evil spirit). Further evidence of this is the fact that Jesus casts it out of the woman (another assumption on my part).

It’s also not P.C. because it’s no longer cool to believe in demons either. So, this wonderful story gets stripped of two of its integral parts before we even begin to tell it. God bless the P.C. Police.

Fortunately, the crux of the story is that Jesus is accused of working on the Sabbath. The work, as you may already know, is the healing of the woman. Such things were not to be done on the Lord’s Day—the day of rest. Because of his compassion, the religious leaders nail Jesus as a sinner—a scofflaw.

A Jedi Mind Trick

Come to think of it, it’s no longer cool to believe in miracles such as physical healings. Jesus obviously must have done this with some sort of Jedi mind trick. Apparently, the Force was with him. The woman straightened up, Jesus got into hot water, and the religious leaders were ultimately embarrassed for their lack of compassion.

Having thought it through, it’s evident we should come up with a new version of the Scripture—the PCV (Politically Correct Version). In this version, Jesus would send encouraging thoughts to the woman with arthritis and her spine would respond to his positive energy by straightening up. I wonder if the religious leaders would object to that.

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

We Used to Die at Home

I attended a seminar where I heard someone say, “We used to die at home.” The statement struck me as strange and beautiful at the same time. It sounded strange because it seemed out of place. Who says such a thing?

It sounded beautiful because it harkened back to a day when home was the place we died. Actually, now that I think about it, it sounded strangely beautiful.

In those days, we were also born at home. Hospital visits were rare and long (unlike today when they are frequent and as short as possible). Most illnesses were ridden out at home just like most other crises in life. In those days, physicians made the rounds. The rounds were not so much in hospitals as they were to the homes of their patients. House calls—remember them?

There was something noble about doing all this at home. I’m not sure what it was, but I suppose it had something to do with the fact that we were surrounded by family (and our neighbors). That was also back in the day when neighbors actually neighbored.

“You can give me a good hospital anytime.”

I don’t mean to romanticize all of that. Nor do I want to demean hospitals and the current practice of physicians. I guess I’m just a little nostalgic about a simpler time (or at least they seemed simpler).

I realize many people probably died younger and sometimes unnecessarily because they were home. Frankly, you can give me a good hospital anytime. I’ve been there and appreciate the care.

Still, there was something about dying at home. It was more personal—not only for the one slipping away from this world, but for the family and friends as well. Visiting hours were never over, for example. Your kin didn’t leave your room and tell you they’d be back in two days.

Many people desire to die at home. For some, it’s their dying wish. Still, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be—especially for the families. Our current lifestyles just don’t accommodate such things well. In fact, The Caregiver Space.org had this to say:

Dying at home may be awesome for the dying. It’s hard to say, since none have bothered to fill out a customer satisfaction survey from the other side. For family caregivers, the home hospice experience is not always as rosy as it is portrayed. It can be a gut-wrenching, soul-draining nightmare that no amount of therapy will ever be able to rectify.

If you go online, you can find horror stories on both sides of the issue. There are a lot of factors that go into making it a good thing or a tragedy. Both my maternal grandparents died at home. My Mom spoke glowingly about sharing their final days. On the other hand, both my parents died in medical facilities. Their circumstances would have made it unthinkable to bring them home.

I suppose this is why hospitals attempt to accommodate families more and more. After all, there’s no place like home.

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

Going Vs. Staying

There’s always been an area of tension in Christianity about where we should serve. Every Christian is called to serve—somehow, in some capacity, somewhere. If we don’t understand that concept, we need to get back to basics.

This area of tension is that of going vs. staying. You can make a good case from Scripture that we should be on the move. We should be going into the world to make disciples. We should be out in some sort of mission field.

The most obvious argument from that viewpoint can be made by pointing to Matthew 20:19 where Jesus gives us the Great Commission to “go” make disciples. We can’t make them by hiding out at home or even in some church building. Going is not always comfortable, but it’s certainly Biblical. I remember the late Keith Green saying we’re all called to go, and we should only stay if God specifically tells us to do so.

Would That Make Sense?

On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for staying as well. We can’t all go (at least, I don’t think we can). Someone’s got to hold down the fort. Besides, if we all head out into the hinterlands, who’s going to minister to our current neighborhood? A missionary from somewhere else would have to take our place. I’m not sure that would make much sense.

The arguments for staying are encapsulated by sayings such as “bloom where you’re planted” and “brighten the corner where you are.” One making this argument might actually point to the passage where Jesus tells the disciples they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea (Acts 1:8) as well as the rest of the world. Jerusalem and Judea was home to those folks. So, for them at least, ministry was to begin at home.

Consequently, we’re back where we started. We have the same old tension. Do we go because we’re sent, or do we stay because God put us here? There’s no easy answer except to seek out God’s wisdom and clarity.

Going While Staying

Not to attempt a stab at an easy way out, but I would suggest a third route is opening to us these days (and maybe a fourth). With the spread of the internet, our ministry can be much larger and deeper than it ever was before. We can reach people in places we’ll never be able to go. I understand there’s no substitute for face-to-face, hand-in-hand relationships, but electronic media can go a long way toward plugging the gaps.

There’s also this. The church as we know it is dying. Old, formerly burgeoning congregations are dwindling. The institutional church is capped by white hair. She is becoming less relevant by the day.

To avert a total demise, God seems to be raising up new, creative ministries to take the place of the old, dying ones. This means we can “go” into God’s new thing while we “stay” in the hood. I can’t wait to see how God puts it all together.

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

Let’s Sharpen Our Pencils

A friend of mine likes to use the old idiom, “Let’s sharpen our pencils.” Like many idioms, it doesn’t really mean what it’s saying. Literally, it might mean that your pencil is okay for drawing a rough sketch, but it will need to be sharpened when you’re getting into the finer work. This isn’t what my friend is suggesting.

When she uses this phrase, she’s referring to getting down into the details of a business deal to haggle over the figures, benefits, and offers that can sweeten the deal. When the general principle is agreed upon, then it’s time to sharpen our pencils and sort out the nitty-gritty.

I love it when she says this. In fact, I love idioms in general. I often wonder what they would sound like to a visitor from another planet (or another country for that matter). For example, what would someone picture in their mind if I told them I “hot-footed it over to their house?” It paints a graphic picture that has no basis in reality.

“None of these things mean what they say.”

Think about some of the idioms we use every day. “Turn a blind eye.” “It’s raining cats and dogs.” “Hit the nail on the head.” “This is a piece of cake.” “It costs an arm and a leg.” “He thinks you hung the moon.” The list is endless.

None of these things mean what they say. Still, we all know what the speaker intends when he or she utters them. It’s an amazing phenomenon (at least, in my mind it is).

Every language has idioms. Every culture has them. Most of them are peculiar to the language or culture from which they come. The Bible is no exception. Indeed, one of the barriers to understanding Scripture is the use of the idioms of Biblical times.

A more famous one (which many people have come to understand) is the term from Genesis where it says that Adam “knew” Eve. It sounds quite innocuous. However, it was an idiom referring to the fact that they had sexual relations. Now that’s getting to know someone.

Another one in Genesis 5:24 is “God took him away.” Sounds a bit like he’s going on vacation, doesn’t it? It really means that he died. Some vacation…

“Biting the Dust”

Genesis is rife with these babies. Here’s one. “He will wash his garments in wine” (Genesis 49:11). This simply means he’s going to own lots of vineyards.

Sometimes we take these ancient idioms and adopt them for our own. For example, “biting the dust” comes from Psalm 72:9. There, it uses the verb to “lick,” but it’s a short distance from licking to biting. One of the more famous (and oft used) of these is, “like a drop in the bucket” (Isaiah 40:15). A few more include, “I am nothing but skin and bones” (Job 19:20), “put word’s in one’s mouth” (2 Samuel 14:3), and “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52).

All I can say is, “There’s nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

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

Where Are We Now? The Pendulum Swingeth!

Do you ever just stop, look around, and wonder where we are? I don’t mean where we are physically. I mean, do you ever ask yourself where we are as a society, as a culture, and (for all you Christians out there) as a church? I ask myself that a lot.Life can become bewildering at times. That may be true now more than ever. I can’t imagine things being more confusing at any other time in history.

I know people always say that’s true of every age. Every generation thinks things couldn’t get any worse. Yet, things just seem to be absolutely nuts these days.

I suppose much of my perception stems from the fact that we know so much in our era. We have technology that feeds us information 24/7/365. We can travel like no other generation ever could. On top of all that, we seem to have more leisure time than ever before. Consequently, we’re bombarded from all sides with way more than we’d ever want to know or learn.

“A Paralyzing Force”

Too much information is a paralyzing force. At least, it is for my feeble brain. I can’t process everything that enters the portals of my eyes, ears, and brain (not to mention my other sensory organs). Because of that, I’m often held captive by the last thing I heard or saw.

As a result of all this, my thought life often feels like it’s on a pendulum. One day I think things are going to be okay. The next day I can’t imagine ever being able to surface from the quagmire we call life. Coming up for air can be a struggle.

It’s no wonder so many people take their own lives. Coping must seem like an impossible task for myriads of folks. Taking the next step must feel like stumbling off a cliff in the dark.

Take the church, for example. There are days when I feel we’re so irrelevant we could never recover. Sometimes I think we need to get back to first century Christianity. Their vitality and passion was off the charts.

“Join us in our morass.”

Then the pendulum swings back and I’m jolted into a cycle where I’m attempting to move into the twenty-first century. In those times I think most of our irrelevance is due to the fact that we’ve been stuck in the sixteenth century Reformation period. We’ve been there for so long, we think everyone should join us in our morass.

Sometimes I think I’m trying too hard. Other times I think I’m not doing nearly enough. Most of the time, I just hope I’m right where the Lord wants me to be.

Miriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia defines a pendulum as “a weight suspended from a pivot so that it can swing freely. Unfortunately, that seems to describe my life to a tee (all too often). I feel like a dead weight being pushed around by everything that’s happening around me.

 Swinging freely is not always a great feeling. Nevertheless, I’m enjoying the ride.

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

Brew Like a Monk

I just received a brochure from my old seminary. I don’t always pay much attention to these advertisements, but this one caught my eye. I live a bit too far away to take advantage of many of their programs, but I may have to make an exception for this one.

This particular brochure was announcing “a spiritual formation elective.” The names for such elective courses and seminars can be rather innocuous at times. One often sees titles such as “A Walk with Jesus,” or “Conversations with the Spirit of God.” This one seemed like an interesting departure from the “same old, same old.”

“Brew Like a Monk”

The title is “Brew Like a Monk: Fermentation as Spiritual Practice.” How can you pass up a class like that? It’s certainly not something you see every day. Pre-registration for this baby might go through the roof. One thing’s for sure. I need to beef up the titles of my retreats and seminars. They pale in comparison.

The description of the program reads as follows:

“For centuries, beer has been a means for spiritual growth—from monks embracing the contemplative process of brewing ‘liquid bread’ to the ways it has stimulated meaningful conversations when shared. Fermentation as well provides a rich metaphor for the transformation into which the Spirit invites us. Come explore the connections among beer, monastic practice, and spiritual ‘fermentation.’”

Take awhile to let that description soak in.

I particularly like the reference to beer as “liquid bread.” I guess I may have heard it put that way before, but it’s been awhile. It’s definitely catchy.

I Googled the phrase (isn’t that what we all do these days?) and discovered there’s a gastro pub in Campbell, California with that name. It’s not too far from San Jose in case you happen to get out that way.

There’s also a magazine with that title that publishes “beer news.” I know a few people that would love this mag. It, too, is based in California (where else?), centering in and around the bay area of San Francisco.

“Is Beer Actually Liquid Bread?”

In my research, I ran across an interesting article that asked the literary question, “Is Beer Actually Liquid Bread?” You may want to check it out. I won’t tell you the answer here. It was also published by a California concern.

There definitely seems to be a pattern emerging. I checked, however, and found that the leader of the seminary program seems to be from Pennsylvania. I guess California doesn’t have the liquid bread thing all locked up after all.

Actually, the history of beer is a long and storied one. Archaeological evidence for it dates back to 3000 BC (or thereabouts). There are many references to it in Scripture, although many of those don’t place its usage in such a good light. I guess that’s understandable considering how we human beings tend to abuse this noble beverage.

If I can find the time (and the money), I just may have to head back to seminary for a few days.

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

The F-Bomb

 It’s a four-letter word. It begins with the letter “F.” People drop it all the time like it’s harmless (which, of course, it’s not). I’m sick of it!

As you have probably guessed, I’m speaking of food. This habitual word has become the bane of my existence. I just wish I could stop thinking about it. Unfortunately, someone drops that bomb every time I turn around. If they would just stop reminding me of these costly calories, maybe I could make some headway in the wonderful world of dieting.

For much of my life, I was something of a skinny guy. I never had to worry about my waistline, and I certainly didn’t worry about what I ate. It was a beautiful existence.

Things have changed, and I’m not happy about it. There were a couple of times in my life when I gained considerable poundage. My face got chubby, and my overall appearance became a little roly-poly. I was able to deal with those issues in each case and got back down to fighting condition.

“Something weird happened…”

But, something weird happened when I turned sixty-five. I put on weight. In and of itself, this was not overly alarming. What was unusual about this time around was where I put it. My face remained thin, my legs skinny, and my butt is almost non-existent. Every last ounce seems to have been packed onto my midsection. In a phrase, I have a belly to beat the band. I hate it.

Apparently, I don’t hate it enough to lose it though. Every day, I keep stoking the fire. Even when I lose a few pounds, the belly protrudes. It’s just not fair. I’ve got what used to be known as “preacher’s disease,” and I’m not liking it.

I was hoping to find some theological reason for my current condition, but I can’t seem to dredge one up. It seems it’s not particularly Biblical to be overweight. There is one possibility I’m working on that does show some promise.

Eating With Sinners

If you read the Gospels (particularly the Gospel of Luke), you see Jesus eating with almost everyone. He eats with Pharisees, sinners, disciples, tax collectors, and rebellious women. There was something about breaking bread together that fed into (no pun intended) his understanding of community.

My guess is, a good number of those people had less than desirable eating habits. If we’re going to follow in the Lord’s footsteps, we too must eat with all these types of carnivores and pastaterians. I’ve been accused of having a sweet tooth, but it’s merely part of my ministry of consumption.

Still, Jesus is always pictured as being rather bony. While we don’t really know his body type, he did walk everywhere he went (something I’m not prone to do). He probably was on the slender side. On the other hand, I was really slim at thirty-three too.

I guess the Biblical argument for my belly fat is pretty thin (a condition to which I’d like to return).

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