Climb Up and Lower Yourself

ZacchaeusA friend of mine wrote a devotional in which he spoke of Zacchaeus. Remember him? He’s the little guy who climbed up into a tree to get a better view of Jesus. The devotional pointed me to a hidden feature of this story.

Zacchaeus was a short guy. He was also a rich dude. Moreover, he was a hated man. Zacchaeus was a Jewish tax collector working for the occupying force—the Romans. He became rich (like all the other rich tax collectors) from overcharging his fellow countrymen. The Romans didn’t care how rich he became as long as they got theirs. As you can imagine, however, his fellow Jews cared. Thus the hatred…

Why did Zacchaeus risk his neck?

News spread one day that Jesus, a new teacher, was on his way through town. Zacchaeus, for whatever reason, wanted to see this man who was creating such a stir. Because he was so short, he climbed up into a tree close to the road so he could catch a glimpse as Jesus strode by.

If you know the narrative, you know that Jesus spotted him in his lofty perch, invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home, and the rest is history. And, I might add, Zacchaeus was a changed man.

zacchaeus2I know all that, and I’ve known it for many years—decades in fact. What my friend pointed out, and what I’d never considered, is Zacchaeus’ disposition in this whole matter. There were several things in this event that didn’t exactly add up.

First of all, he was wealthy. What did he care about an itinerant preacher who didn’t have two shekels to rub together? Secondly, why would he bother to venture into a crowd of folks who hated his guts? Thirdly, why would he further endanger himself by climbing a tree? This put him in a position of a treed raccoon surrounded by hunting dogs.

The simple answer we always assume is that he was too short to see over the crowd that had gathered. That, of course, is true. It’s a truism that still doesn’t answer the questions I just asked. Why would he even go near that throng of people?

“Just do it!”

The only thing Scripture tells us about his mindset that day was, “He wanted to see who Jesus was.” If it was simple curiosity that drove him, he could have ended up as one dead cat. We can’t go back in time and read his mind, but one thing is sure.

Zacchaeus006When he climbed up that tree, he was actually lowering himself. Someone of his age and means didn’t have to be climbing trees. Something drew him to Jesus that day. He could have easily resisted that urge. Yet, he lowered himself by climbing up. It was an act that changed his life.

Like Zacchaeus, we all have defining moments when we have opportunities to “put ourselves out there.” They can be very scary moments indeed. Yet the life changing rewards can be immense. As the Nike folks like to say, “Just do it!”

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

Can Life Be a Picnic?

A Jewish Rabbi and a Catholic Priest met at their town’s annual 4th of July picnic.  Old friends, they began their usual banter. “This baked ham is really delicious,” the priest teased the rabbi. “You really ought to try it. I know it’s against your religion, but I can’t understand why such a wonderful food should be forbidden! You don’t know what you’re missing. You just haven’t lived until you’ve tried Mrs. Hall’s prized Virginia Baked Ham. Tell me, Rabbi, when are you going to break down and try it?” The rabbi looked at the priest with a big grin, and said, “At your wedding.”

rabbi-priestI love this story. Not only are these two men old friends despite their differences, they can joke about it. Sometimes, it seems, we have nothing left to joke about. We’re all too serious about our own thing.

There are certainly times and places to be deadly serious—probably lots of them. It would seem to me, however, there are also plenty of times and places to loosen up a bit.

In the old Readers Digest publications, there used to be a section entitled, “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” My Mom was a subscriber, and I would grab it each month and turn directly to the “Laughter…” page. It was all too short, but sometimes it was the only thing I would read. I haven’t seen that publication in years, but if I ever ran across it again, I would immediately turn there once more.

Whatever happened to us?

I’m not exactly sure what happened to us. Why is it we can’t laugh at ourselves anymore? Everything is perceived as an affront to our sensibilities, and we become sober, sour people in our relationship to others. It’s a sad existence.

Life should be more of a picnic. We should have some fun, laugh with each other, and even poke fun at one another. In short, we should loosen up.

When I entered pastoral ministry years ago, my motto quickly became, “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” I’ve tried to stick by that over the years. Frankly, it hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes it’s because others take me too seriously. Other times, however, it’s because I just can’t get over myself.

Get over yourself!

When I get like that, I try to schedule a weekend and go back home. I do that to spend a little time with my old high school buddies. The great thing about them is they don’t allow me to take myself too seriously. They know too much of my history to buy into the “gravity” of my existence.

I once heard Noel Stookey (of Peter, Paul & Mary fame) speak about his faith journey. At one point he asked Bob Dylan what he should do to reconnect with God. Dylan told him to read the yogi picnicScriptures and go back and visit his old high school.

That makes sense to me. We had a lot of picnics “back in the day.” Maybe we need to schedule a few more.

 

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

Pet Store Theology

A woman went to a pet store and purchased a parrot. She returned the next day complaining the parrot had not said a word.

“Does it have a mirror?” asked the storekeeper. “Parrots are more talkative when they can see themselves.” So, she bought a mirror.

The next day she was back, announcing the bird still wasn’t speaking. “What parrotabout a ladder?” the storekeeper asked. “Parrots like to walk up and down ladders.” She bought the bird a ladder and went home. The next day, she was back. Still nothing…

The storekeeper suggested a little swing for the cage. She bought one of those, but the parrot still didn’t utter a sound.

The following day she returned to the store to announce the bird had died. The storekeeper said, “I’m terribly sorry to hear that. Did the bird ever say anything before it died?”

“Yes,” replied the woman. “It said, ‘Don’t they sell any food down there at the pet store?”‘

Sometimes the answers to life’s problems are right before us, but we just can’t see them. This poor parrot had the misfortune of having a master with no basic understanding of pet ownership.

“Our calling as Christians is to walk in the ways of Christ.”

We in the church are often like that owner. The woman’s basic drive to buy the parrot seemed to be the novelty of owning a talking bird. She was so focused on making that happen, she ignored the most basic of answers to her dilemma.

Our calling as Christians is to walk in the ways of Christ. That calling is, in many ways, very basic. Yet we often do an end run around the obvious answers and try to come up with cooler, more unique ways of “being Christian.”

One of the basic calls of Christ in our lives is to feed the hungry (i.e., see Matthew 25—the parable of the sheep and goats). Jesus not only told us to do this, he prodded the disciples to act on it as well. Remember the feeding of the 5000?

The disciples saw that the people were hungry. They mentioned it to Jesus and urged him to send them away to get something to eat. We all remember this story because of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. What we often forget is what Jesus told the disciples prior to performing the miracle.

WorldHungerHis answer to their suggestion to send them away was basically, “You feed them.” Of course,  they argued they didn’t have enough, and the rest is history.

I’m always taken by the simplicity of his directive to them. Just feed them.

Do we wait until we have enough before we feed anyone? What is enough? This can’t be enough, can it? In the meantime, people are starving.

“What a novel way to begin.”

I often think of one of the early missions set up primarily to feed people. When asked how he was going to feed so many of the world’s hungry people, the founder simply said, “One at a time.”

What a novel way to begin.

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

Does Anyone Know for Sure?

A guy texted me the other day and asked, “What does IDK stand for?” So I texted back and said, “I don’t know.” He shot right back and exclaimed, “OMG! NOBODY DOES!”

I’m not exactly sure, but I’m thinking this is a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. It was quite funny when it happened, but I’ve been on the other end of these situations, and it can be rather embarrassing. TextingAbbreviations

It points up a problem that many of us have (at least I hope I’m not the only one—misery loves company, you know). I get so focused on some things that I can’t see any of the peripheral details. Being hyper-focused like that can be dangerous.

For one thing, it causes me to assume (and you know what happens when we assume). I assume everyone else knows what I know, sees what I see, understands what I understand, and totally gets me. That’s otherwise known as thinking everyone can read my mind. It leads to a lack of communication. Since I think all around me are on the same page (MY page), I don’t shell out enough detail for the other folks to actually get on the same page with me.

“Introverted preachers are the worst kind.”

Add that to the fact that I don’t like to talk much (introverted preachers are the worst kind), and we have a recipe for disaster. I’ve gotten into a lot of trouble over the years for this kind of behavior (or should I say, non-behavior). At any rate, I’ve been known to make an ass-out-of-u-and-me.

There is no better example of this than what I do to my beloved bride. I always assume I’ve told her everything when, in fact, I’ve told her next to nothing. For some reason, my brain tells me, “Since I’ve thought it, I must have said it.” My poor wife has learned more personal things during my Sunday sermons than she has in our living room. It’s a truly embarrassing problem—and one I have never quite been able to overcome.

“Assume no one knows anything.”

The best way to overcome this malady, I’m sure, is to assume the exact opposite. That is to say, assume no one knows anything. That, of course, is dangerous as well; but it’s often called “erring on the side of caution.” Any caution I’ve ever had in this area has long been thrown to the wind. Heaven help me.

Interestingly enough, I’ve often been applauded for my brevity. People like that because it doesn’t take up too much of their time. While that seems like a good goal, it often falls far short of my unstated intentions.

mom-funnyI’ve said all this to say, “Leave no stone unturned.” As one who has oft worked in the rocky soil of Virginia, that old saying leaves me cold. But as one who finds himself in hot water, I must attempt to adopt it forthwith.

As it says in Holy Scripture, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.”

 

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

Don’t Hog All the Covers

Occasionally, I’ll wake up and realize most of the covers are on my side of the bed. I hate that because I know I’m in trouble when it happens. I’m not exactly sure what the cause of that sporadic faux pas might be. If I recall correctly, I used to be one that would go to bed in a certain position and wake up without having moved.

While hogging the covers is never my intention, I seem to do it more and more. I don’t know if it has anything to do with old age, but I would love to get over it. For oneEsther-in-Bed-750x563 thing, it would be good for marital relations. Being selfish with anything is not exactly coming from a position of strength.

I was reading Psalm 85 the other day and ran across a line that spoke of covers. Well… Actually, it was a reference to our sins being covered, but it’s the same principle (sort of). Here’s the reference just so we’re clear: “You, Lord, showed favor to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins.”

As Christians, we believe we’re the bearers of the truth. The truth, as Jesus said, will set you free. God’s forgiveness, according to the Psalmist, is what covers our sin. The Father sends the Son (Jesus) to be the sacrifice for our sin. We hear the call of God, approach the throne of grace, and are forgiven. The blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, washes away our sin, and we are covered.

As bearers of the truth that can set people free, we are called to share that Good News. When we fail to do so, we are (in essence) hogging the covers. (You were waiting for me to get back to that, weren’t you?)

Hogging the covers is never good. It certainly isn’t good when we’re commissioned to share the wealth, so to speak. The sad part about hogging the covers is that you can’t use the extras. If I pull all the covers off my wife, I’ll be in control of more of the blanket, but I’m not going to get any warmer.Hogging Covers

It’s the same with our salvation. We can hog the truth of the Gospel to ourselves, but it’s not going to get us more redemption. It’s only going to leave others out in the cold.

I know the Lord can do whatever he wants. If he’s going to save some poor soul, he can do it without me. The cool thing is this: He gives us the opportunity to be a part of what he’s doing—winning souls.

In essence, he hands us a few extra blankets and tells us to share them with those who might want and need them. We can stick them in the linen closet of our lives, or we can try to distribute them. It’s our choice.

Roll over, piglet. You’re beginning to snort.

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

Eating Our Way Toward Heaven

A kindergarten teacher gave her class a “show and tell” assignment.  Each student was instructed to bring an object that represented their faith to share with the class. One student got up in front of the class and said, “My name is Benjamin and I am Jewish and this is a Star of David.” A second student rose and said, “My name is Mary. I’m a Catholic and this is a Rosary.” A third student got in up front of the class and said, “My name is Tommy. I’m Methodist and this is a casserole.”

Did you ever wonder why eating plays such an important role in the gathering we call church? I’ve heard people complain about that practice, but there bad-eating-habbitare good reasons for it. First of all, we have to eat to live. It’s natural, necessary, and (if we do it right) healthy. If we’re going to spend time together, eating will eventually become a necessary and desirable thing.

Regardless of our reasoning, there’s one motivation that stands out for Christians to sup together. We don’t often think about it, but it should be the underlying intention behind every moment we sit at table together. That reason is Biblical theology.

Check out the Gospels sometime. Count the number of times they record Jesus eating with people. Some of the best lessons come out of these times.

When Jesus went to people’s homes and reclined at table with them, he was identifying with them. He was demonstrating that he was one of them. It’s not much different today.

“I will come in and eat with that person.”

Usually, when we ask someone to dinner (or accept a dinner invitation), it’s because we either identify with those folks or want to identify with them. They mean something to us. They are important to us in some way. If that’s not the case, we don’t make (or accept) those invitations.

It’s no accident that Jesus once said, “I will come in and eat with that person.” That statement is part of a passage in Revelation where Jesus gives a famous invitation. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”baby-girl-eating

Jesus depicts himself as standing in front of our house (or life) knocking on our door. He is not merely rapping, however. He must be speaking (or yelling), because he wants us to hear his voice through the walls of our house.

Eating is an intimate act.

The intent is not merely to get our attention. It’s to get us to open the door and let him in. But it doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t simply want to sit in our parlor. He wants to sit down at our kitchen table and eat with us.

Eating becomes an intimate act—one we don’t share with just anyone. Jesus wants to be an intimate part of our lives and for us to share that intimacy with others. I say, “It’s time to eat!”

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

 

Boycott, Gendercott, Louisa May Alcott

target-logo There is an organization commonly referred to as the HRC (the Human Rights Campaign). They are touted as “America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.” Apparently, each year they put out a survey that measures the support given to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) folks by large businesses. The results of the survey are published as the CEI (Corporate Equality Index).

I am told that, in 2015, four hundred seven businesses scored 100% on this survey. What that means is, these businesses favorably lined up with the HRC stance that LGBTs are worthy of special protection.

I only mention this because, in the current war over where one can take one’s potty breaks, this has become a huge hot-button issue. In the past few days, a firestorm has risen over a petition to boycott the Target Corporation for being transgender toilette friendly.

“Privacy writ large is my motto.”

I’m probably a bad one to ask about this simply because I don’t even like sharing Funny-Toilet-Paperpublic restrooms with other straight males. Privacy writ large is my motto. I’m all for the “one man, one restroom” rule (pardon the sexist language).

Be that as it may, Target is now more of a target than ever. But according to the aforementioned CEI, there are a whole slew of targets out there. If the HRC’s findings are accurate, the proposed boycott (or should I say, “gendercott”) of Target is only the beginning.

Say it ain’t so, Home Depot!

Included in the HRC’s list of trans-friendly companies are such stalwarts as Apple, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, Walgreens, CVS, United Airlines, Boeing, Ford, GM, Toyota, Chase Bank, Bank of America, Citi-Bank, Wells Fargo, Ikea, Sears, JC Penny, Nordstrom, Home Depot, DIRECTV, Sirius-XM Radio, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Sony, Universal, Warner Bros., Disney, Paramount, Comcast, AT&T, IKEA, General Mills, Kellogg, MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Nike. There are another 368 of them, and these are just the ones with a perfect score.

If all this is true (which apparently it is), the only way to really fight the war of the loo is to go off the grid. I’ve always wanted to do that (sort of), but I really like my creature comforts (private latrines included). I’m not sure I could hack it, so I’m pretty sure I won’t even try.

For me to boycott Target is merely symbolic since I never go there anymore (especially since my credit card info was compromised a couple of years ago—what a pain that was). I was considered a gendercott but decided on a Louisa May Alcott. I definitely don’t want any Little Women in my bathroom.Louisa-May-Alcott

If it sounds like I’m making light of this whole thing, it’s probably because I am. Some guy hanging around a women’s restroom is an absolute absurdity in my mind.

All that being said, there’s only one sure way to win the battle if some female tries to use my urinal. I’ll hold it until I get home. Hmmm… I wonder if Depends is on that list.

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

No More Halos For Me

“Everybody’s got it all wrong. Angels don’t wear halos anymore. I forget why, but scientists are working on it.” ~Olive, age 9~

raphael-angelsThat is another bit of wisdom about angels from a youngster. I love these things. Art Linkletter (anyone remember him?) used to collect these tidbits from a TV show he did many moons ago. He actually wrote a book entitled, “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” My Mother had a copy of it.

It was a great little read because it wasn’t a story. You could pick it up and start perusing anywhere. You didn’t have to read for long before you had a smile on your face. I used to grab it when I needed cheering up. I highly recommend it.

It was full of little quips similar to the one above. They were actual quotes from real, live children (and they were hilarious, precious, and outrageous). Angels always seemed to be a great topic.

“I’m not sure when they stopped.”

I love the one I quoted in the beginning of this blog because of its boldness. This nine-year-old makes no bones about it. We’ve all got it wrong. Not just a tad wrong, but ALL wrong. Any fool knows that angels no longer wear halos.

I’m not sure when they stopped (or if they ever started, for that matter). But, I’m sure Olive could fill us in.

I also love her honesty. She can’t remember why they don’t wear them anymore, but she’s not embarrassed to admit it. I suspect they just went out of heavenly style (you know how much these angels are into fashion).

On top of all that, she informs us “scientists are working on it.” I’d love to speak with one or two of those scientists. It must be a fascinating study. Celestial beings are hard to pin down (as far as I can tell), so they must have some new equipment I’ve never heard about. Still, if they can split an atom, the sky’s the limit (or maybe I should say, “Heaven’s the limit.”). Either way, it’s got to be a doozy of a laboratory they’ve put together. It would make a great Sunday School field trip.

Oh, that reminds me of something Jared (age 8) said. “Angels live in cloud houses made by God and his Son, who’s a very good carpenter.” Maybe that’s where the cloud houselaboratory is located—in one of those cloud houses. I think I spotted one the other day when I was on  a plane headed to Florida. At first, I didn’t realize what it was. Having heard Jared’s explanation, however, I’ve put two and two together. It might add up to five, but I’m about as sure of it as Olive is about the halo thing.

I’m glad a friend shared that quote with me. I was going to petition the Lord for a halo so it would be ready for me when I died. What a fashion faux pas that would have been…  

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

The Five Second Rule

5-second-rule-t-shirt-food-germs-pizza In second Timothy, Paul refers to someone named Demas. His statement is brief but rather damning. He says, “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me…”

I’ve always found this passage quite disturbing. I’ve done so because, in two other letters (Colossians and Philemon), he refers to Demas as a co-worker. These two letters were written while Paul was incarcerated. That means Demas stood by him through times of imprisonment. While I’ve never served a prison sentence (or even a night in jail), I think I would be forever grateful to such a cohort. It had to be a difficult time. Jesus doesn’t urge us to visit the imprisoned with no reason.

“Paul throws Demas under the bus…”

Yet in his letter to Timothy, Paul throws Demas under the bus (or chariot as it were). To be fair, it’s apparent Paul feels abandoned by Demas, so maybe turnabout is fair play—even when you’re writing the Bible. (I know. He didn’t realize he was writing the Bible. Still, it was written to a pastor. We all know how those guys can blab.)

There’s no real background given, so it’s tough to tell exactly what’s transpiring. Yet, the tone of his remark almost makes it sound like Paul has written Demas off. I would love to see Demas’ reply in his ensuing Biblical Op-Ed. Unfortunately, there was no such thing. I’m guessing he had his reasons for leaving. Prison ministry burnout may have been one of them. The call of “the world” must have been very alluring at that point. Whatever the reason(s), in Paul’s mind, Demas was gone.

“We never hear of Demas again.”

In fairness to Paul, this was written toward the end of his life. Time was winding down, and he was trying to fulfill his final quest. Seeing a formerly willing assistant go off the reservation must have been disheartening. Consequently, we never hear of Demas again.

This morning, I was reminded of this story in an odd way. I cooked some scrambled eggs for breakfast. While pushing them onto my plate, one decent sized chunk hit the floor. I immediately thought to myself, “Five-second rule.” If I pick it up within five seconds, I can eat it. We all know that germs don’t attack food in the first five seconds. Presumably, after five seconds, all hell breaks loose and we’ll die of dysentery should we devour it. The fact that this reminded me of Demas might tell you something about how my mind works.5-second-rule

What I’m driving at is the sad reality that we Christians are often quick to throw our brethren to the lions (particularly if they don’t act in accordance with our wishes). We seem to have some sort of five-second rule that allows us to cast them off like fallen scrambled eggs.

Considering who Paul was, that puts us in good company. Still, even Paul knew he was “a wretched man.” In the future, maybe we should allow God do sainthood reductions. He’s got the facts. After all, he’s God and we’re not.

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

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness (Hezekiah 16:32)

king_hezekiah
King Hezekiah

A controversial Christian speaker was once fielding questions following a presentation when someone shouted out, “How do you reconcile that with with Matthew 16:5?” Since he had not memorized the entire Bible at that point in his life, he had no clue what that verse said. So, without missing a beat, he shouted back, “ With James 6:22!” Then he moved on to the next question.

There is, of course, no chapter six in the book of James. For some reason, however, it seemed to satisfy the shouter of the question. At least it shut him up.

“People who know Scripture can be a pain.”

People who know a little something about Scripture can really be a pain sometimes. In fact, they can be downright haughty. I have to give them this, though; they know a little something about the Bible.

It’s incredible to me how slight people’s knowledge of Scripture can be. I’m speaking here of people who have called themselves Christian for years. To hear them talk, you’d think they were experts in the canon—until they begin to quote verses.

I love it when someone says, “Well, you know…the Bible says that cleanliness is next to godliness.” I love it because I’ve come to the point that I have a stock follow-up prepared for these occasions. When I hear that stated, I immediately say, “Yeah. That’s Hezekiah 16:32 if I’m not mistaken.” If I’m in the right crowd (or maybe the wrong one), they all buy it.

Hezekiah 16:32 says…

As you may know (or at least have guessed), there is no Hezekiah 16:32. As a matter of fact, there is no book of Hezekiah in all of Scripture. You have to admit, though, it really sounds good. And sometimes that’s all we want. We just want to sound good.

I realize that, as a preacher of some forty years, I should probably have a better handle on the canon than most laity. I have to tell you, however, there are some lay folks that can run rings around me when it comes to their knowledge of Scripture. I applaud them for that and wonder why so many others are clueless when it comes to knowing and understanding the Bible.

hezekiah

And there’s another pet peeve of mine (and probably many others). There are a lot of people who have a real good handle on the Bible, but they use it in grossly unsuitable ways. They can quote you chapter and verse, but they can’t tell you who said it, why it was said, to whom it was said, (and most importantly) what it means for us in our day and setting. It can make for some really odd conversations and a slew of awkward moments. Inevitably, massive arguments ensue.

“We need to know the Word.”

It would behoove us to understand what we’re reading when we delve into Scripture. That’s why we have Bible studies. It’s not enough to know the words. We also need to know the Word. The truth can set you free. Please don’t play fast and loose with it.

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