Guest Blog: The Elephant in the Room

Today is the memorial service for my Uncle Tim.

Every time I attend a memorial service or a funeral, and every time I officiate at one, I am faced with the fact that there is an elephant in the room, a fact that nobody wants to talk about. Here it is: Unless Jesus returns first, every one of us in attendance at the service will someday arrive at the day when the memorial service is for me. Or you. One day, it will be your or me in the casket; or it will be my ashes or your ashes in the urn. People will be talking about our lives, remembering the good and bad.

It’s unavoidable, it’s uncomfortable to talk about, and yet it’s absolutely vital that we face that fact.

Ignoring the fact that every one of us is terminal won’t change it at all.

Some people do try to ignore it, though. Some people do everything they can to avoid the subject, to keep from thinking about it. Some people throw themselves into every possible thing that they can to improve their health and to try to stave off the advance of age and the inevitable deterioration of their bodies.

Some people invest in wild schemes to try to conquer death – cryogenics, looking for ways to transfer their consciousness, and other things that sound more like the stuff of science fiction than of reality.

Some people fall prey to deep fear and end up consumed by the reality of their own mortality. These people let fear keep them from truly living and enjoying life.

There’s a better way.

Every time I’m confronted with death, I’m also reminded of Jesus standing outside of his friend Lazarus’ grave and declaring, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” (John 11:25-26, NLT)

This is the good news – for those of us who follow Jesus, death is not an end. It’s a doorway leading from one part of our journey to the next part of our journey.

When Jesus died on the cross and then rose from the dead, He didn’t just purchase our salvation. He didn’t just provide a way for us to escape hell or enter heaven. He defeated death. Destroyed it, actually.

Death’s days are numbered. Death is living on borrowed time, so to speak!

One day soon – we don’t know when, but we know that every day that passes, we are one day closer to that day – Jesus will return. On that day, those who have died trusting in Him will rise from their graves and be given new, glorified bodies. Those of us who are still alive at the time will experience our bodies being transformed.

Death’s reign will be ended. The greatest unknown, the greatest fear? Reduced to nothing.

Here is how the Apostle Paul explained it:

“But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-58, NLT)

So while I’m at the memorial service, I will be remembering, and I will be honoring my Uncle. I will be sobered by the thought that one day, someone will be having a service for me.

But I will also be rejoicing. Because I know that even though it looks like death has won, it hasn’t. Death is already defeated – and one day soon, Jesus will return and enforce His victory.

No more elephant in the room!

And what a day that will be!

[Don Hunter is a son, husband of Jewel, father of Bethany, and pastor of Awakening Alliance Church in Ridgway PA. Most importantly, he’s a follower of Jesus. You can read more of his blogposts at Donwhunter]

Wonder Woman: It’s the Pits!

Well, the trailer for the new Wonder Woman flick has been released. Like everything else in the world these days, it has produced controversy. Like many of the controversies of our time, it’s a bit ridiculous. Okay, it’s a lot ridiculous.

People are complaining because Wonder Woman has no hair in her armpits—she’s clean-shaven. Imagine that! Horror of horrors! What is this world coming to?

Really? I’m willing to stand with the feminist movement on equal pay, equal opportunity, and smashing glass ceilings. They’ve lost me at armpit hair, however. If Wonder Woman wants to shave her pits, so be it.

The fact of the matter is, Wonder Woman made her first appearance in 1941 (she has aged well). She appeared with no hair in her armpits. Over the past seventy-six years, she has never appeared in public with unshaven armpits. I’m not sure why it’s become a big deal at this late juncture.

The complaint seems to be that an Amazon out saving the world would not have time to be clean-shaven. It’s an insult to superhuman Amazons everywhere. Or at least, that’s what they seem to be saying.

“I’m not sure why feminists are getting so uptight.”

The point has been made that anyone who can toss around cars and fly, doesn’t have to answer to anyone about her personal hygiene. It may also be the case that Amazons do not grow hair in their armpits (or on their legs for that matter). Truth be told, I’m not even sure Wonder Woman is a real person. I can state unequivocally that I’ve never been in the same room with her.

Furthermore, I’m not sure why the feminists are getting so uptight about this movie trailer. The real news here is the movie was directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins). I would think that should be something to be celebrated. She’s actually a real woman with a prestigious position. I have not heard, however, whether she shaves her armpits (I’m betting, yes).

The amazing point about all this is the fuss people like to make over unimportant matters. What do we care about Wonder Woman’s underarm hollows? If she does grow some hair, is that going to advance the cause of women’s rights? I’m thinking the answer to that one is a big, fat “NO!” I may be wrong on that point, but I’m sure I’ll hear about it if I am.

In his Sermon on the Mount (which I’ve been thinking a lot about as of late), Jesus said these words. “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27) I try to take his words seriously. In doing so, I feel the need to set aside all my worrying about Wonder Woman’s underarm coiffe (or lack thereof). Thus, this is the last time you’ll hear me mention it (maybe ever).

While it’s a fascinating subject, I think I’d rather hear a review of the actual movie. If it’s worth seeing, I might attend. I’ll just bring my own hair.

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

I’ve Been Hacked!

My Lovely Bride just called to inform me that my Instagram account had been hacked and that I should do something about it. I immediately checked, and sure enough, something wasn’t quite right.

My new profile pic was gorgeous—but it wasn’t me. I suppose I could have left it there as a joke, but I’m sure I would have taken some flak for it (too much cleavage). Besides, they changed my website address as well. I was a bit afraid to check out the new one.

I set this account up years ago. Consequently, I can’t remember the password. The kind folks at Instagram gave me a link to jump into the account and change everything back the way it should be. But because I don’t have a record of the old password, I can’t change it to a new one. How I can be in the account but not be able to change the password is beyond me, but such is my neo-technological life.

I was able to repost my old pic as well as my own website. Unfortunately, I still can’t log in. When I forwarded my problems to their Help Department, this is the answer I received:

Hi—Thanks for contacting us. Before we can help, we need you to confirm that you own this account. Please reply to this email and attach a photo of yourself holding a handwritten copy of the code 393861046. Please make sure that the photo you send:

-Includes the above code hand-written on a clean sheet of paper, followed by your full name and username

– Includes both your hand that’s holding the sheet of paper and your entire face

– Is well-lit, and is not too small, dark or blurry

– Is attached to your reply as a JPEG file

Keep in mind that even if this account doesn’t include any pictures of you or is used to represent someone or something else, we won’t be able to help until we receive a photo that meets these requirements.

Thanks—The Instagram Team

At first, I thought this was a joke, but it seems to be the real thing. My thoughts are they need to move to a retina scan for proof. It might be a bit easier.

So now, I’ve done what they asked (I think) and am awaiting further instructions. It’s not the best pic in the world, but it should suffice. I’ve posted it on this blog for your amusement, so I suppose it will lead to another hacking somehow. These things are really irritating.

I’d like to blame the Russians for all this, but I’m quite sure it’s due more to my technological ineptitude than any foreign power. What I would like to do, however, is make an appeal to whoever hacked me in the first place. Please don’t do it again.

I suppose I should feel blessed. After all, Jesus said there’d be days like this. (Matthew 5:11-12) As usual, he was right.

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

Destroy All the Evidence

Comedian Steven Wright once said, “If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.” He was being funny, of course, but this is something to which I can really relate. I hate failure. Even worse, I hate it when others know I’ve failed.

My fallback position is usually to keep the facts hidden. If I’ve bombed, I’m not interested in telling anyone. If I can, I attempt things when I’m alone. That way, if I fail, no one else will have to know. The bottom line to all this is very simple. I don’t like being vulnerable.

“I hate it.”

We Christians talk a lot about vulnerability. It’s one of the things I hate most about being a follower of Christ. I’d prefer no one mention the option of vulnerability at all—but they do—all the time—and I hate it.

Fred Rogers was an alumnus of the seminary I attended. You might know him better as Mister Rogers. He once said, “Confronting our feelings and giving them appropriate expression always takes strength, not weakness. It takes strength to acknowledge our anger, and sometimes more strength yet to curb the aggressive urges anger may bring and to channel them into nonviolent outlets. It takes strength to face our sadness and to grieve and to let our grief and our anger flow in tears when they need to. It takes strength to talk about our feelings and to reach out for help and comfort when we need it.” Don’t you just hate him? (…just kidding…)

I might be able to explain all this vulnerability away if it wasn’t for Jesus. He becomes God Incarnate—deity in the flesh. He doesn’t just show up one day, either. He comes by way of the normal process—pregnancy, birth, and childhood. What’s more vulnerable than a preborn child or a newborn infant?

He maintained an atmosphere of vulnerability during his adulthood—sharing his feelings, hurts, and joys with those around him. The worst of it came when he offered his life for us (talk about being exposed and vulnerable). How do you follow in those footsteps?

He had no subordinates.

And there was that incredible moment the evening prior to his death. At Gethsemane he told Peter, James, and John, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch.” (Mark 14:34) He perspired drops of blood and asked the Lord to be relieved of the task at hand. His openness was showing. Most guys would not have admitted their anguish—especially to their subordinates.

  anyone his subordinate. He set aside his equality with God and became a servant. (Philippians 2:5-11) His willingness to be susceptible to the Roman Empire (and our sin) was unimaginable. The evidence is overwhelming. He left it everywhere.

I fail all the time. My worst failure is probably my failure to be vulnerable. Still, in my strongest moments, I refuse to destroy the evidence. If only I could always be that strong.

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

White Sands, Sunsets, and Drum Circles

Today, we flew home from a few days respite in Florida. Three of our four kids live there as well as all but one of our grandchildren. It wasn’t the warmest of trips, but seeing our entire tribe together was heartwarming enough to make the temperatures endurable.

While there, we visited the sands of Siesta Key Beach. They tell me it’s currently rated number one in the United States. I don’t know a lot about beaches, so I’ll take their word for it. It’s wide, white, and easy to trod. I suppose each of those traits figures into the equation.

Every Sunday evening, the beach is the site of an event called the “Drum Circle.” They’ve been doing this as long as I’ve been making the trek to the Sarasota area. If you’re ever there, check it out. It’s a sight to behold.

“The drums cut through the twilight air…”

As we pulled into the parking lot, we could hear the drums beating out a familiar, primitive beat. (Apparently they only know one song, and they’ve been playing it for years.) They were quite a distance from us, but the drums cut through the twilight air like a rocket through the thin atmosphere of space.

 
As we marched over the sand, we could see the massive throng of people surrounding the drummers. The closer we got, the more we could make out the unique individuals that made up the human conglomeration. There were belly dancers, baton twirlers, tightrope walkers, acrobats, hula-hoopers, and a couple of conga lines. There was also one scantily clad guy who appeared to be some sort of witch doctor doing his dance of healing. I didn’t see any sick people, but his gyrations continued.

We had come primarily to see the sunset (which was gorgeous as always), but as usual, the people stole the show (at least for me). I believe the Lord creates each sunset, but humanity is the pinnacle of his creation. People-watching is the best thing ever.

“For a couple of hours, the drumbeats of their lives were the same.”

Viewing this multitude of Homo Sapiens dancing, swaying, and performing to the same beat is always fascinating. We’re all from the same family, but we’re so different from each other. It never ceases to amaze me just how great the differences can be. Not only do we look different, we act differently and undoubtedly think differently as well. Seeing that mass of dissimilarities melding together in that one, peaceful place is almost hopeful.

I say hopeful, because most of these folks probably don’t even know each other. If they were in a different setting together, they might not even get along. Yet, here they were—together and harmonious. For a couple of hours, the drumbeats of their lives were the same

Despite our differences, the one thing that’s the same is that we’re all sinners. Still, the one who created us came and died that we might live. Now, that is a drumbeat that could bring us together—forever. That’s the one hope that reigns supreme in my differentiated heart.

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

Hidden Figures: The Math Adds Up

Like many of you, I went to see the award winning movie, Hidden Figures. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it to you. It’s one of the best flicks I’ve ever attended.

Its setting is NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) during the time of the first astronauts being launched into space. The story revolves around the epic ride of John H. Glenn and the contributions of three mathematically exceptional women. The women were black, and they were treated like a lot of black women were treated in Virginia in the early 1960’s (as well as a lot of other places).

“I vacillated between tears and anger…”

During the show, I vacillated between tears and anger as I watched the racist attitudes at work—even in a place like NASA. It was a script “based on a true story,” and I’ve always wondered how closely Hollywood holds to the truth. So I spoke with someone who worked at the same NASA facility. Her assessment was that it was largely true and the movie was faithful to the actual facts.

The show depicted an era that occurred when I was twelve years old. I fully remember the major historical events of those years. I never realized the struggles behind those events, however. The movie was entertaining. But far beyond that, it was enlightening and inspiring as well.

I think that’s what grabbed me the most. I was living during that time. I remember when all that happened. I lived only two states away. But I was ignorant of so much of it. I was a twelve-year-old white kid living in a lily-white world. The only black people I ever saw were on TV (and they were major league ball players).

As I grew up, I slowly learned of the struggles of those I had never met. My heart ached for them, but it was all so far away from my reality. It was only as I entered college that I began to gather firsthand knowledge of how cruel the world could really be.

“Each of us has a role to play.”

It was then that the Lord began to pull me into the intersection of life and faith. It was then that I began to realize I could make a difference—no matter how small. I had to do it. It didn’t seem like an option.

Each of us has a role to play in the redemptive history of individuals, society, and institutions. They are predominantly minor parts to be sure. Still, they are important as God weaves his tapestry of salvation and renewal.

As I embarked on a journey to answer the call to full-time ministry, it was in response to the God who loves all people—me included. My role as a preacher turned out to be only a portion of my calling. I learned that my life in its entirety was a call to love and care for my brothers and sisters—all of them.

Sometimes the figures are hidden, but the math always adds up. “Love one another.” (John 13:34)

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

The Madness that is March

 

I’ve never been a huge basketball fan. Since high school when I’d go watch my buddies play, my time as a spectator of that sport probably hasn’t amounted to more than a few hours. It’s just not my thing.

I suppose part of my problem is that I was lousy at the sport. Had I been better at it, I may have taken more interest in it. There’s something about investing our time that heightens our appreciation and awareness for almost anything.

As it is, the only basketball I’ll see this month will probably be by accident. If I walk into someone’s home and they have a game tuned in, I’ll undoubtedly see a few minutes. Otherwise, I’ll be tuned out. My bracket is empty, and so is my basketball acumen.

The Hunger Games

On the other hand, I’m a baseball guy. When I was a kid, I ate, drank, and slept baseball. I played the game every chance I got. If there was no one else around, I would throw a rubber-coated baseball against a cement block wall and play catch with myself.

My hunger for that sport was insatiable. When it was too dark outside to play, I was scouring the TV guide for an MLB game or a program about the players. To say the least, I was invested. Any leisure moment I had was all baseball, all the time. I even became an umpire in my early adult years.

Consequently, my March Madness was Spring Training baseball. It’s not nearly as mad as basketball in March. In fact, it’s quite laid back. Still, I was eager to see how my team was doing every day.

My passion for the game has since ebbed a bit. I still love it, but I’ve been able to place it into a much healthier perspective. The years of investing my time, however, will never allow me to give it up.

“We stand naked before our Creator.”

Investing time is an amazing phenomenon. If we don’t know anything about a subject, investing our time in it can easily turn us around. Before long, we can become experts, and our passion for it can swell to immense proportions.

 

Jesus understood this about us. He told us on more than one occasion that we should invest in the Kingdom of God. He knew if we would give of ourselves to his cause, we would become deeply devoted. It just makes sense.

I, like you, have many earthly investments—baseball, 401k, houses, cars, et.al. But as sure as death and taxes, we will soon have to divest from all these things. Someone else will inherit them (one way or another), and we will be face to face with the God who made us. Our investments will not follow us as we stand naked before our Creator.

It is then that the time we’ve devoted to the things of God will become most apparent. It’s then that the return on our investment will become clear. All the madness will be turned to pure joy.

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

Free: Our New Watchword and Song

Lately, it seems like the big push (seemingly led by politicians) is for free stuff. We want free healthcare, free education, free trade, free birth control, and free love (just to name a few). I have to say, I like free stuff also. It’s always great when someone else foots the bill.

But that, of course, is the problem. As has been said many times, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Someone somewhere will eventually have to pay the bill. It’s simply a fact of life.

Sometimes, however, it seems like we don’t really care about that. As long as we don’t have to pay, we’re good with it. We blind ourselves to the fact that some poor soul (or many poor souls) will have to pony up for us.

How Free is Free?

Occasionally, we salve our consciences with the hope that the payees will be wealthy beyond compare and won’t miss the funds they have to lay out. If it won’t put a dent in their chump change, we relish the idea. But mostly, we don’t really care one way or the other. Free is free…supposedly… As long as it’s not coming out of our pocket, we’re down with it.

I suppose blinding ourselves to reality is one way to get numb enough to feign happiness (at least in the short run). Unfortunately, the piper will have to be paid someday. Sooner or later, all this free stuff is going to come back around to bite us in our collective derrieres.

The only thing in life that I’ve discovered to be truly free is the grace of God. It’s a good thing, too. If we got charged for it, we could never afford it. We could never work off the debt, sacrifice enough, or scratch and claw our way to the break-even point. It’s just too great of an asset.

Even Grace Isn’t Free

Truth be told, that grace is not really free either. It’s free to us, but only because someone else has already paid the debt. That someone is Jesus.

Scripture is really clear about all this. The Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that we have all sinned and fallen short. He explains that Jesus came to be the sacrifice of atonement for those sins. Because God is just, someone had to pay the bill for what we have done (and have failed to do).

He said, as I alluded to earlier, we cannot come up with the capital to pay our own debt to God. Jesus came to pick up the tab. Our response is one of gratitude and the faith to follow him wherever he leads. It’s not always easy, but (as I see it) it’s the least I can do. The payment of my debt far outweighs any act of kindness or obedience I could ever render.

So, maybe we should change our tune. Nothing is free, but it’s great to have a benefactor. That’s especially true when our benefactor is Almighty God.

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

Eight Days a Week: The Extra Mile

As I was growing up, my Dad worked in a manufacturing plant in our town. They produced pigment that was used as dye to color ink. I’m told their big customers were companies that printed magazines and the like.

One year (probably when I was about ten), business was great. As a consequence, my Dad worked eight days a week for the entire year. This is not a plug for the old Beatle tune (although I always liked that song). He actually worked the regular forty-hour week plus twenty-four hours of overtime every seven-day cycle.

As I recall, he got paid time and a half for overtime and double-time for Sundays and holidays. Just to give you an idea of how long ago this was, his gross pay that year was approximately $7000. I can remember thinking I would be rich if I could ever earn $10,000 a year. Inflation is a marvelous thing sometimes.

These days, a person can make the $10,000 I dreamed of in most part-time jobs. My Dad practically killed himself and still didn’t come close. Those were different times, to say the least.

“A stick of salami in the fridge”

We never had a lot, but we were certainly comfortable. We always had a roof over our head and a stick of salami in the fridge. What more could a growing boy ask for?

When it came to earning a living, my Dad always went the extra mile. As my Mom used to say, “He wasn’t afraid of work.” His work ethic was something to behold. It went far beyond his day job as well. But that, as they say, is a story for another day.

Going that extra mile was something that he and others modeled for me as I matured. It became a part of my understanding of life. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered where that extra mile came from.

The Extra Mile

During the time of Christ, the Roman army was the occupying force in the country of Israel. It was not uncommon for the soldiers to force the local citizenry to help them with any physical burden they had to carry. Because of that, Rome passed a law that limited the distance a citizen could be forced to tote the unwanted load. The limit was one mile.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made reference to this when he said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” (Matthew 5:41) As much as this concept probably annoys us, the extra mile has become a common part of our daily lexicon. We’re stuck with it now.

While I never thought of it during the days of my halcyon youth, my Dad was a living example of what Jesus was talking about. No one ever forced him to work all those hours. He did it for his family, and he did it of his own accord.

It would behoove us all to find ways to put in our eight days. It surely couldn’t hurt.

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

Belly Button to Spine: The Avenue of My Life

I had spent a year of my life away from the bowels of my neighborhood gym. It wasn’t overly intentional, but one thing led to another and there I was, twenty pounds overweight. Eating like a pig didn’t help. I kept telling myself I was going to turn it around “this coming week.” This coming week took a long time to arrive.

Early this year I noticed an ad for a two-month fitness class, so I girded up my loins, signed on, and jumped in. I figured this would be my jump start on a return to my boyish figure. Man, am I out of shape!

A Pleasant Experience

Because I signed up for the 8 am sessions, I assumed my class would be made up of young mothers and maybe a couple of retirees. For once, I was correct (almost). My workout team consisted of four mothers, a trainer named Susan, and one old geezer (me). This boded well for me for two reasons. One) they were gentle with me (sort of), and Two) they embraced me as one of their own. In short, they made it a pleasant experience (or as pleasant as these sorts of things can be).

I must say, however, I had a very rude awakening during the very first session. As we were in the midst of one of our grueling exercises, Susan barked out a rather distasteful command. She yelled, “Belly button to spine!”

Please take a moment to meditate on that directive. Picture it in your mind if you will. I had joined this class because my belly button had undertaken a long journey in the opposite direction of my spine. There are several extra inches between the two that had not been there when I was eighteen. I was thoroughly offended.

If one were to work out the math, the conjoining of my belly button and spine would be roughly the equivalent of the formula for launching a human being into outer space. These things don’t just happen (at least not without a modern day miracle).

She promptly ignored it.

I immediately put forward a strong suggestion that the phrase, “belly button to spine,” never be uttered in our hearing again. Susan acknowledged my complaint and promptly ignored it. In fact, I truly believe she used it during the final eight weeks merely to taunt me repeatedly. Such is life at the fitness center.

I realize that our belly buttons cannot touch our spines. Furthermore, I suspect Susan realizes this as well. Her proposed gyrations were undoubtedly an encouragement to simply head in the proper direction. It was merely another way of saying, “Do it right.”

During his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did the same thing. He urged us to do a lot of things he knew we’d never fully accomplish in this life. Still, he wanted us to try. He knew we’d all be better off if we did. It was his way of saying, “Belly button to spine!” Apparently, he and Susan have a lot in common.

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