Divine Interruptions

A while back, I read a news article about a young woman who was on her way to her own wedding. As she was making the jaunt to her nuptials that day, she came upon a car accident. The bride-to-be was a paramedic.

The circumstance that presented itself paramedic-bride-800gave her a choice. Stop and help—maybe saving a life or at least alleviating the situation—or continue on to the venue where her wedding was about to take place. It was basically a “do for myself vs. do for someone else” scenario. Putting myself in that predicament, I think I may have opted for, “Get me to the church on time.”

The young lady in question was not like me. She stopped to lend her expertise. As I think about it, I can only hope I would be that valiant in a similar situation.

“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” ~Yogi Berra~

It seems to me that life is full of moments like these. It’s full of choices that will either move us toward altruism or self-gratification. And while the end results might not be as stark and polar opposite as that, the ultimate road we choose will probably lead to one or the other in the end.

Yogi Berra once said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” As nonsensical as that seems, it appears to be our philosophy so much of the time. By that, I mean we don’t plan ahead of time to be unselfish. We don’t think far enough into the future to prepare ourselves to give if the occasion arises. Giving is an attitude.

Are you an impulse giver?

In life, we are often impulse buyers. We’ll shop for one thing and buy another. It doesn’t matter to us if it fits into our budget. We see something, we want it, and we buy it. We’re the same with our giving.

Way too often, we’re impulse givers. We don’t plan to give. Then once in awhile, God interrupts our lives with moments of choice. We either choose to give, or choose to walk away from the giving moment. If we have not planned ahead to be generous with our time, our money, or our possessions, we will often choose the road most followed—to be selfish, self-centered, or self-gratified.ParamedicWeddingRing

In early adulthood, my family and I used to participate in the Fresh Air Fund. We would host an inner city child for a few weeks so he or she could spend some time in a rural, open-air atmosphere. During one of those times, I ran into a guy who saw what I was doing and proclaimed, “I raised my own kids! They can raise theirs!”

Do you have a plan for giving?

His plan was not to give. I presume his life was like that in general. I suspect that in those times when God interrupted his daily routine with a choice similar to the one our paramedic bride faced, he opted for self.

God just might interrupt your life today. Please be prepared to give.

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

“You Must Accept or Reject the Story”

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “‘What are we to make of Christ?’ There is no question of what we can make of him, it is entirely a question of what he intends to make of us. You must accept or reject the story.” (From God in the Dock)

holy_spirit_fire_by_jpsmsu40Sometimes we Christians make a grievous error thinking we have a say in our salvation. Even worse, we occasionally think we have a say in someone else’s salvation. Other times we know better but still act like we’re the ones with the sway.

“God opens our eyes, we see.”

I know I’m treading into hot waters here, but even in the Calvinist/Wesleyan debate, there is common ground. That ground is God’s call upon our lives. Jesus calls, we react. God opens our eyes, we see. The winds of the Holy Spirit blow, we bend.

John Wesley explained this holy phenomenon with the term, “prevenient grace.” In other words, we can’t choose to follow Christ unless he first gives us permission to know him—grace to open our mind to his call—ears to hear his beckoning voice. God is the proactive one. We are merely the responders.

We humans don’t really like that arrangement. We like to have absolute power—especially we Americans. We are independent and free. We are in control of our own destiny (or so we like to think).

“Try to box him up and you’ll fail miserably every time.”

Even we in the church attempt to make what we want out of Jesus. For some he’s the Gentle Lamb. For others, he’s the Warrior King leading us to ultimate victory. In reality, he is who he is. Remember Exodus? “I AM who I AM!” Try to box him up and you’ll fail miserably every time.

fire_lionIn Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, the Christ-figure is a lion named Aslan. When asked about him, one of the characters exclaimed, “He’s no tame lion!” Lewis was right. When we try to tame him, make him what we want him to be, we are committing downright heresy. He is who he is.

“The Holy Spirit grabbed me by the throat.”

I had a friend in seminary who once said (when asked why she was there), “The Holy Spirit grabbed me by the throat.” I never forgot that description. I think it’s reasonably expressive of many of our faith journeys. Sometimes we come kicking and screaming.

I have another friend, a layman, who’s a good preacher in his own right. A visiting missionary once told him he ought to become a pastor. My friend related that he just didn’t have that call on his life. The missionary then knowingly answered, “Yes. If you can do anything else and be happy, do it.” These are definite words of wisdom. It’s God’s story, not ours.

Oh, to be sure, we have a part to play. We have the privilege of being a portion of what God is doing in this world. It’s when we take undue credit for the fruit of our labors that we get far afield.

Accept God’s story, and relish the fact that you have a role to perform. Accept the Story

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

Distracted From the Truth: Just Another Snake in the Grass

cottonmouthsnake3 A friend of mine went fishing early one day. He’s usually well prepared, but on this day, he ran out of bait early. Just as he realized this, he happened to glance down the riverbank and noticed a cottonmouth with a frog in its mouth.

Apparently, frogs are good bass bait. Being an avid fisherman, he just couldn’t help himself. He snuck up on the snake and grabbed it right behind the head. Deftly, he took the frog and put it in his bait bucket.

Of course, now, he had a slight problem. How would he get rid of the snake without getting bitten? Fortunately for him, he always carries a flask of whiskey when he fishes. He snatched the flask and began to pour some down the snake’s throat.

The snake came back.

The snake’s eyes rolled back, and it went limp. My friend released the reptile into the lake without incident. He then took the frog, baited his hook, and continued angling.

About half an hour later, he felt a nudge on his foot. He looked down and was a bit startled to see the snake there and jumped back. Then he saw it. The snake had come back with two frogs.

This is, of course, a fictional story. My friend never carries whiskey. But the snake… He’s the real story. He got sidetracked.

frog_snakeSnakes, like all animals, only have to concern themselves with very few things in life. They eat, reproduce, and… Well… I guess that’s all. This one, however, got distracted from the truth. He gave up three meals for a couple slugs of joy juice.

He stumbled (or slithered, I guess) across something that was new, exciting, and somewhat irresistible. It’s an all too familiar story.

We all get distracted from the truth.

You’ve heard a lot of stories like this in your life. Most of those stories are about human beings, though. Someone stumbles across something that entices them, and they’re off traipsing after the elusive dream, the temporary high, or the wild goose. In short, they get distracted from the truth.

As you probably know, there are many truths in life. Unfortunately, for every truth, there seem to be a hundred temptations to lure us away from the reality that keeps us grounded.

Jesus told us that we should get to know the truth, because “the truth will set you free.” He also told us that he, himself, is “The Truth.” In fact, he proclaimed that he is “the way, serpents_apple_bite_cider__37096.1440379697.480.480the truth, and the life.” Plenty of non-believers know that verse as well as believers. Still, people (believers and non-believers alike) get distracted from the truth of Christ.

Sometimes I’m right there with everyone else. Sometimes I just want to do my own thing. I get a taste for something I shouldn’t have and I do crazy things to quench that new thirst. Fortunately, after sixty-six years on this planet, I’ve discovered that it’s always better to get back to the truth—and that it’s much better to do it sooner than later.

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

We’re Just Little Boys Trying to Grow Up (Or Not)

Some of my old high school buddies and I try to get together at least once a year for a long weekend. We call it the “Big Chill” Weekend (quite original, don’t you think?). I believe we’re currently working on number eight (BCVIII). Each time we get gather, we can always count on a lot of yucks.IMG_1020

Almost every time we’re together, I think the same thing. Somewhere about half way through the weekend, I look around at these precious souls and say to myself, “We’re just little boys trying to grow up.”

I’m the baby of the group, and I’m currently sixty-six years old. We all graduated the same year from the same high school. When we get together, we tell a lot of the same stories (from our glory days), relish in our victories, and relive our defeats (sometimes). Either my memory is beginning to fade, or the stories are getting a bit embellished along the way.

I’ve always assumed this is a good thing. I’m not sure why. Living in the past is not considered healthy, but revisiting it from time to time seems to be therapeutic. The older I get, the more nostalgic I become. I suppose this is normal—or at least I like to think so (although I’ve never been accused of being particularly normal).

I think part of the therapeutic value lies in the forgiving of past transgressions. IMG_1013Like most other teenagers, we did a few things that were not quite kosher. As we matured, we probably began to realize how awful some of those things were. We weren’t criminals or anything, but we undoubtedly caused a little angst along the way if not some real hurt. Occurrences like BCVIII are as healing as they are fun.

I think this is very Biblical, in fact. Have you ever read about the night Jesus was betrayed? Peter was gathered around a charcoal fire with some people when they asked (or accused) him of being a follower of the prisoner, Jesus. He adamantly denied it—three times, in fact. That had to be a memory that left an extremely foul taste in Peter’s memory banks.

“The Creator understands his creation.”

After Jesus’ resurrection, he met the disciples on a shoreline in Galilee. He was cooking some fish over a charcoal fire. As that familiar charcoal fragrance wafted in the air, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. Peter answered in the affirmative.

Jesus didn’t let it lie there, however. He asked him two more times. In the presence of that charcoal smell, Peter answered three times that he loved Jesus. You don’t have to be a psychologist to see what was going on there. Peter was being healed of the horrible memories of that fateful night. The Creator understands his creation.Brothers

Nostalgic or not, we need events that allow us to revisit the old days. They’re restorative, and they’re necessary. My friends and I might never really grow up, but we will be healed. Thanks be to God!

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

I Think I’ve Become Methuselah

methuselah-oldmanA young couple invited their elderly pastor for Sunday dinner.  While they were in the kitchen preparing the meal, the minister asked their son what they were having. “Goat,” the little boy replied. “Goat?” replied the startled man of the cloth, “Are you sure about that?” “Yep,” said the youngster. “I heard Dad say to Mom, ‘Today is just as good as any to have the old goat for dinner.'”

“I’m the patriarch.”

I ran across this story recently and realized I’m now the “Old Goat.” It’s not that this ever happened to me, but the more I hang around, the more I know it to be true. Sometimes, I’m the old geezer. It’s not all that uncommon to look around and note that I’m the oldest guy in the room. This never really bothered me before, and it still doesn’t. It’s just different.

My Dad and Mom passed away several years ago. After they were gone, one of my sons got married, and we (my family and I) were all gathered together in one place. As I looked around, the revelation hit me. I was now the patriarch. I have to tell you, that was a weird feeling. Not only had I become the oldest, I was supposed to be the wisest as well. That’s a responsibility I grew into with age and experience (at least I hope I did).

I just saw a t-shirt that said, “I can’t adult today. Please don’t make me adult.” I Monty_Python_Methuselahsmiled. I can relate, because there are days when I don’t want to adult (although I never knew the word “adult” could be used as a verb). Then I frowned because I don’t have a choice anymore.

I don’t think patriarchs are allowed to be anything other than adult. There’s something about the gray hair I suppose. Maybe it’s the wrinkles or possibly just the momentary losses of memory. At any rate, we patriarch types are definitely supposed to be the adults in the room.

I haven’t kicked any kids out of my yard yet.

That realization took place a few years ago, and I’ve pretty much gotten used to my new role. I kind of like it, but my bride says I’m getting ornery in my old age. Maybe my newfound responsibility is wearing on me. I’ve never pictured myself as the crotchety old man type, but I suppose it’s finally happened. I haven’t yelled at any kids to get out of my yard yet, but I’ve felt like it a couple of times.

The great thing about getting older is that it can be used as an excuse for a lot of things. If there’s something I don’t want to do, I can always say I’m too old.

My perspective has changed as well. For example: I used to get bent out of shape if my hair got messed up. Now I don’t even bother to comb it half the time. I’m just happy to have some left.

If you’re chuckling as you read this, just remember… This will happen to you too.

methuselah-motivational

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

Building Our Earthly Kingdom

Many moons ago, before I became a pastor, I was asked to preach at a church located several miles from my home. When I got back from that responsibility, I spoke with my pastor about it. During the conversation, he made an interesting observation. He said to me, “That guy is building his own little kingdom over there.” The “guy” to whom he was referring, was the pastor of the congregation to which I spoke. Castle_Saumur_France

That was almost forty years ago. I’ve forgotten the rest of the conversation with my pastor that day, but I’ll never forget that line.

There is always a great temptation to do just that—to build our own little kingdom. It not only falls to pastors, but it’s a lure in many walks of life. Let’s be truthful here. There are many benefits to having one’s own kingdom.

“We want to call the shots…”

One thing that stands out is control. Who among us doesn’t like to be in control? Sometimes we say we don’t, and maybe in certain circumstances we like to hand the reins over to others. Yet the fact remains, in most instances, we want to be in control. We want to call the shots and have things go our way.

Another perk of having one’s own kingdom is a lack of accountability. If the kingdom is truly ours, we don’t have to answer to anyone. We have no equals, so the old “jury of peers” doesn’t come into play. It’s a dangerous position to be in. As the old saying goes, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Building our own kingdom is an invitation to disaster.

“This world is not my home…” ~Larry Norman~

Every Christian (according to Scripture) is a citizen of Heaven. Conversely, this earth is not our home. We’re just passing through. Still, we seem bent on amassing whatever we can as we traverse this life. This is in direct contradiction to the old truth we know from time immemorial—“You can’t take it with you.”

Jesus, himself, set the standard for earthly power when he told Pilot, “My Kingdom is not of this world!” If Jesus was not interested in setting up an earthly kingdom, why in the world should we?

A while back, a friend of mine published a devotional on this very subject. He said the following: “If Jesus had been interested in geopolitics, he would have taken over Israel. Calvary would have remained a nondescript hill on the edge of Jerusalem. I’m not sure what would have happened next, but no blood sacrifice = no forgiveness = no salvation. If his Kingdom had been of this world, things would be a lot different. We would be bowing and scraping and attempting to earn the King’s favor.” (Don Hunter–Awakening Alliance Church, Ridgway, PA)

As you know, we don’t have to earn the favor of King Jesus. His grace is ruined castle wallsufficient, and his forgiveness secures a place for us in his heart.

A man’s home might be his castle, but the drawbridge is really insecure. Don’t count on the fleeting things of this world to get you through.

 

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

How Soon We Forget: Nigeria Remembered

One of our sister congregations down the road is having a Fish Fry this coming Saturday. The notice for it caught my eye because I like fish fries. I like them now more than ever because guys my age should eat more fish (something about the oil, I think).

My first reaction was, “I’ve got to go support this. It’s going to be really good eating.” Then I saw the reason for the fry, and I have to admit I was a tad embarrassed. The reason listed for the fry was to benefit the “Nigerian Crisis.”

mothers-demonstrateI was embarrassed because I couldn’t remember which crisis belonged to Nigeria. There are one hundred and ninety-five or so countries in this world (depending on who’s doing the counting). They all seem to have their own crisis from time to time, so I have difficulty keeping track of them in my little pea of a brain. Hence, I did my due diligence and looked it up.

To my dismay, the Nigerian Crisis is one which (like many crises) is a heartbreaker. If you’re like me and don’t remember exactly what this is, allow me to refresh your memory. In April of 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped over 270 girls. Most of them were taken from a school built and supported by the Church of the Brethren. Most of us probably remember the placards on Facebook and such that read, “Bring Back Our Girls.” As it turns out, this mass kidnapping is only the tip of the iceberg.

I have many excuses for not remembering.

Obviously, this was over two years ago. Most of the girls are still missing, and people like me have (regrettably) forgotten about them. This is much to my shame and mortification. I have many excuses for this, of course. I have to do stuff like mow my lawn and paint my shutters (if this sounds like it’s dripping with sarcasm, it’s because IT IS—and I deserve being the target of it). I could have been praying for them the entire time I was mowing the lawn and painting my shutters. These things are not rocket science, and I can multitask (despite the fact that I’m a man).

As a Christian, I believe in the power of prayer. Like so many others (I assume), the hours I spend at it are precious and few. I try to be faithful in prayer, but my memory for these things is about as long as a New York minute. Without a reminder, two years is an eternity.

“This Saturday, I’m going to eat fish.”

This, of course, is a great argument for keeping a Kano-sanusi-bringbackprayer journal—something I’ve tried more than once over the years but have miserably failed at accomplishing. So, I’ve just written myself a sticky note. I’m going to try again. At my age, I should be a little more motivated and disciplined to actually be successful at it.

This Saturday I’m going to eat fish. Maybe the oil will anoint my memory of the girls I should be lifting in prayer.

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

Regret-Me-Not

I always find it interesting when people say they have no regrets. I have a ton of them. I have regrets from elementary school. IRegretn fact, I have regrets dating back almost as far as I can remember. I’m not sure if that’s because I’ve always made bad decisions, or if it’s because I’m just overly sensitive to my own mistakes.

Regardless, I regret having all these regrets. I just can’t help myself.

Allow me to give you an example. Did you ever know anyone that had a smart answer for everything? I don’t mean an intelligent answer. I mean a smart-mouthed, smart aleck type remark for everything (and I DO mean everything).

Did you ever regret not slapping someone in the face?

For example… If you called this person by their given name, their immediate comeback was, “That’s my name! Don’t wear it out!” Ask that person if they had a match, and their answer is, “Not since Superman.” The foulest part of their shtick was that they repeated these lines over and over again. Even worse, I always stepped into it (day after day).

I’ve had several people like that in my life. My big regret with them is never having slapped at least one of them in the face (one time would have sufficed). To show you what kind of guy I am, I regret having that regret. I really don’t want to slap anyone in the face (well, maybe in my dreams). What can you do with a guy like me?never_regret

Now that I think about it, I’m really jealous of you folks who don’t have any regrets. Now I regret that I’m jealous. See? It’s never ending.

Because of suffering this malady, I finally decided to check out the Bible to see if the Lord has anything to say about it. I figured a little Biblical wisdom was in order.

I went to a Bible program and typed in the word, “regret.” Lo and behold, it’s in there a bunch of times.

Biblical regrets…

And get this! The first time it’s in there is right at the beginning—the sixth chapter of Genesis. As soon as I saw it, I figured I was not alone. Even in the earliest of times, people had regrets. But it was even better than that.

Genesis 6:6 records these words—“The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” I’m now shining my fingernails on my shirt saying, “At least I’m in good company.” Not only did God have a regret, he was deeply troubled by it. I have to say, that makes me feel really good. Even better—I don’t regret feeling good.

I looked further and found that the first four regrets in the Bible belong to the RegretEverythingLord. You can’t see it, but I’m pausing right here to smile. I’m really enjoying this.

I’m sure some of you are regretting taking the time to read this, but I don’t care. Awww nuts! Now I regret feeling that way.

 

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

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.]