Human Remains in Paradise

I was driving down the road in my Jeep, deep in thought. A newscaster was doing his job in the background, but I wasn’t paying much attention to him. I wasn’t, at least, until he uttered the phrase, “Human remains were found in Paradise.” That string of words jarred me away from whatever my other reflections happened to be at that moment.

Being who I am, my mind began to ask a seriesof questions. “Have they discovered the site of the Garden of Eden? Have theydiscovered bodies at that holy spot? Who could it possibly be—certainly notAdam and Eve?”

Those questions were brief and fleeting—only lasting a few seconds. Then I realized the anchorman was referring to lives that had been wasted in the recent wildfires of California. Paradise is the modern-day city, not the Garden of Eden. What had instantly flashed across my mind as an astounding discovery quickly gave way to the saddening reality that lives had been (and continue to be) lost in that tragic, natural disaster.

In this preacher’s mind, first thoughts were of Scripture. Adam and Eve had been banned from that original paradise, and anangel blocked the entrance to rebuff any attempt to return. As far as we cantell, they were never allowed back, and no one has seen it since. Finding itnow would be incredible to say the least.

Paradise Lost

The sobering fact is that it’s lost—at least for now. There’s nothing we can do to bring it back, find it, or restore it. We can only rely on the Lord to usher us back to that euphorious state one day.

As for tragedies like the California wildfire, we live with them day in and day out as a result of paradise lost. Sin came into the world, and everything got messed up. Curses were distributed like candy at Halloween, and nothing’s ever been the same since. We can only imagine what it must have been like before that occurred.

This, of course, begs the question that myriadsof people have asked over the years. How could a loving God do that to us?Folks have attempted to answer that question in hundreds of different ways.None of those answers are very satisfying, but we keep trying nonetheless.

He Owes Us Nothing

The truth of the matter is, the Lord doesn’t owe us anything. We’re the ones who screwed up (and continue to do so). We’re lucky He doesn’t just snuff us all out and save Himself the troubles we seem to heap on Him.

On the contrary, He comes in the form of a man, tells us about the cure for our human condition (sinfulness), and dies a horrible death to become our way out. His Resurrection put the seal on his salvific work and is the hallmark that gives us hope of one day returning to Eden under His care and watchful eye.

While He doesn’t owe us anything, He’s given us everything. Thanks be to God!

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

The Forever Election

The latest election seems to be dragging on forever. First, the campaign season was unendurable. I was so elated when election night rolled around and the last poll was closed. It meant everything would be tallied, and all the pontificating, speculation, and campaign punditry could come to an end. Silly me for thinking such a thing.

Here we are, nine days after Election Day, and we’re still counting ballots—again and again. It’s agonizing to say the least. While getting it right is a good thing, dragging the country through unnecessary anguish is unspeakable. We’ve been doing this for hundreds of years. You’d think we’d have it down to a science by now.

I had the privilege of working as an election officer in my state. At the precinct in which I served, the polls closed at 7pm. By eight or 8:30pm, we had the votes tabulated, the voting setup packed away, and the results safely recorded and sent off to the Department of Elections. It was a bit stressful at the end but certainly not rocket science.

Throughout the day, we checked the optical voting tabulator to make sure the number of ballots cast equaled the number of people who showed up to vote. The process left little or no room for error. By the end of the night, we knew the exact number of votes cast for each candidate and every ballot initiative.

Every Ballot Counted

I understand that our county is not as populated as some of the others across the country. I also understand that stuff happens. Still, nine days (and counting) is ridiculous. Recounts are sometimes necessary, but come on!

All this election business puts me in mind of the only balloting that is really valid. Scripture calls God’s people “the Elect.” We are called and elected by God, and the results are in. There’s only one vote. It belongs to the Lord. It’s been cast, tabulated, and secured with the only election official that counts. We win.

And though our earthly elections sometimes seem to go on forever, the real forever election is the one held by God. When God elects you, it’s forever. You develop your position among the elect, and (as the Apostle Peter says) begin participating “in the divine nature.” He goes on to say that we should “make every effort to confirm [our] calling and election” (2 Peter 13-1). In other words, follow Jesus as closely as you can, deepening your discipleship to Him.

Following Directions

As with the current situation with our earthly,midterm election, we are prone to screw things up. We don’t always followdirections well. We sometimes go about matters in an unseemly way. We oftenthink we know best and flagrantly dismiss the pathway God has chosen for us. Inshort, we refuse to participate in the divine nature.

Fortunately for us, there is no recount in the Kingdom of God. You are chosen, elected, and sealed. The election is over, and it’s time to get on with our Father’s business.

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

No Brainer

I read this statistic following the recent election. “Over sixty-four percent of young people under the age of twenty-four supported left-wing candidates and policies.” This certainly comes as no surprise—at least not to me. When I was that age, I was definitely a lefty. Age, experience, and knowledge has tempered that philosophy quite a bit. In fact, people that know me are often shocked when they find out the truth about my past leanings. What can I say? Stuff happens, and things change.

Winston Churchill is purported to have said the following. “If you are not a liberal at twenty, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative at forty, you have no brain.” My experience in life refutes the absolute truth of his statement, of course. I know a lot of old, extremely intelligent liberals. Still, like most sayings, it’s very catchy. Plus, it seems to run concurrent with my life.

I Believe the Bible

Unlike a lot of folks, my conservative leanings are not necessarily political (although they often wash out that way). They are, in fact, to be found more on a theological level. In a nutshell, I believe the Bible. In most people’s eyes, this makes me a Biblical conservative. So be it. I can live with that.

When it comes to theology, Churchill’s quote doesn’t hold much water. People grow in all sorts of directions when it comes to their spiritual beliefs. One doesn’t necessarily grow into Biblical conservatism with age. It’s often quite the opposite. I’ve seen it over and over again. The more your friends study Scripture, the more likely you won’t be able to predict where they’ll come down on a Biblical issue.

That surprises many of us. It shouldn’t, but it does. The reason I say it shouldn’t is because of Jesus. No one could ever pin Him down or put Him into their theological box. Scripture leaves a lot of room for growth—in many directions. Trying to plot someone’s spiritual growth chart is a little like nailing Jell-O to the wall. We’re all on a journey, and yours will likely be much different than that of your friends—even your closest ones.

Where Is Jesus Leading?

The simple answer to all of this is to go where Jesus leads you. Don’t look to become either a liberal or a conservative. Look to follow the path the Lord lays out for you. It won’t necessarily look like someone else’s. It will, however, lead to the Savior’s will for your life. I can tell you what I think, but I’m not God—thank goodness!

Churchill also said something else that I find even more efficacious. “When you’re twenty you care what everyone thinks, when you’re forty you stop caring what everyone thinks, when you’re 60 you realize no one was ever thinking about you in the first place.” Keep that in mind when someone tries to label you. Chances are pretty good they don’t know what they’re talking about. Either that, or they’re just not thinking.

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

Lisa Called…Again

I wrote a blog a week or so ago entitled, “Lisa Called.” The long and short of it was that a gal named Lisa called with concerns for my chronic pain (which, by the way, is nonexistent). I was glad for her concern, but I hung up on her anyway—don’t worry, she was merely a recording.

Today, I received another phone call from Lisa. I knew it was she, because I recognized her voice (not to mention the fact that she began by saying, “Hello, this is Lisa”…a dead giveaway). She probably fools a lot of people, however, because of the change in topic.

She was no longer concerned about my protracted discomfort. She was, in fact, inquiring about my credit card. I hate to say this, but I hung up on her once again. But, as in previous calls, it was merely a recording of her voice. The actual Lisa is probably in Hawaii soaking up the sun, so she’s certainly not feeling the rejection.

I’m not exactly sure why Lisa is showing such a profound interest in my wellbeing, but I’m guessing she doesn’t care as much as she’s letting on. Still, caring is a valuable (and possibly rare) commodity these days, and any Lisa types in our lives are quickly treasured by us. Many folks tend to look at another’s problems and simply say, “That’s not my concern.”

Peculiar People

People like the Apostle Paul had (and continue to have) a different view. From their perspective, concern for others is to be urged and cultivated among the brethren. If we Christians lack concern for one another, we are no different than anyone else. Saint Peter referred to us as a “peculiar people,” not because we’re strange, but because we’re different—or, at least, we’re supposed to be (1 Peter 2:9–KJV).

Sadly, we’re often just like the rest of the culture around us. We’re so caught up in ourselves and our own little foibles that we couldn’t care less about our neighbors. When Jesus told us to love our enemies, I’m pretty sure He wasn’t limiting our sphere of concern to some far away government. His command to love extends to everyone everywhere. And if I understand it correctly, the effort to love someone will automatically include a concern for their welfare. It comes with the territory.

They Put Us to Shame

Over the years, I’ve noticed that there seem to be certain individuals who are caring people. They seem to have a propensity and a capacity for reaching out to others with care and concern. This virtuous characteristic is certainly not confined to the people who call themselves Christian. Some of the most caring people I know don’t even believe in God. They put us to shame.

I’m not sure how that happens. Is it in their genetic make-up, or did they learn that along the way? I lean toward the latter. It gives me hope that I can learn to be that way as well. Thank you, Lisa, wherever you are.

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

It’s In My Will–Oh, Wait!

I have to tell you, I was a bit shocked to discover that the late, great Queen of Soul (Aretha Franklin) did not have a will. I had one years ago when I was young and poor—long before I had anything to bequeath. So finding out that someone who was undoubtedly worth millions didn’t have one… Well, let’s just say I was amazed.

Despite my astonishment, this is, apparently, nothing new for celebrities. I did a bit of research and found a boatload of the rich and famous who died without a will. Among them are people like Prince, Amy Winehouse, and Bob Marley. I suppose some of this has to do with the fact that many people think they’re invincible—particularly the young ones. This, of course, flies in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. From what I’ve heard, the death rate is still one per person. We’ll all meet our Maker someday. We’d like to forestall it as long as we can, but meet Him we will.

One of the ones who surprised me is Sonny Bono. If Sonny had simply been an artistic singer/songwriter, I guess I might have understood it (sort of). But he was a mayor and a congressman as well. One would think that a person with such political savvy would understand the importance of such matters, but his lack of a will belies that assumption.

Unsavvy Assumptions

Kurt Cobain was another star who died young—twenty-seven to be exact. Somehow, I wasn’t totally surprised that he didn’t have a will. At least, I wasn’t surprised until I found out he was worth $450 million. Oy vey! His spouse, Courtney Love, gave up the rights to his name and likeness in order to obtain a loan. A will may have been in order.

The list goes on—Martin Luther King, Jr., Tupac Shakur, Heath Ledger, John Denver, Steve McNair, Marvin Gaye, and Pablo Picasso, just to name a few. The kickers for me, though, were real lulus. The first of my two stunners was Abraham Lincoln.

So, how can an attorney turned politician and elected President of these United States not have a will? I’m not sure, but he didn’t have one. Fortunately for his family, presidents get the royal treatment and a Supreme Court Justice took care of the $85,000 estate.

The Beat Goes On

The one that really gets me, however, is Billionaire Howard Hughes. I just can’t…

Please allow me to remind you of the reality of your coming demise (whether untimely or not). The Bible clearly states, “Everyone will die someday.” (Ecclesiastes 9:2) There seem to be no exceptions. Do your family a favor and prepare a will. For Heaven’s sake, it’s the twenty-first century.

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

Think

I attended a luncheon recently where a friend of mine delivered a short devotional message. In it, he presented an acrostic for the word, THINK. He was talking about the way we tend to discharge our words without pondering their effect. It was certainly a timely message in our day and age of shooting from the hip. Many of us need that lesson.

The acrostic he used went like this. Before you speak, ask yourself these five questions.

Is it TRUE?

Is it HELPFUL?

Is it INSPIRING?

Is it NECESSARY?

Is it KIND?

I have these because I asked him to send them to me in an email. Upon receiving them, I looked them over carefully and quickly realized that much of my own personal conversation lacks a lot of these integral parts. I’m pretty good at the “truth” portion, but the rest are a tad questionable. Because I tend to be a joker, a lot of what I say is to get a laugh or two. Consequently, much of it is unhelpful, uninspiring, and unnecessary. I don’t think I’m unkind, but simply inducing a little laughter isn’t all that kind either (except maybe in the cases where “laughter is the best medicine”).

It occurred to me that we tend to use a slightly different acrostic in our daily lives. It goes something like this:

            TENUOUS at best…

            HURTFUL at times…

            INSIPID as in tasteless…

            NASTY way too often…

            KNOW-IT-ALL (we don’t know nearly as much as we presume)

In other words, we don’t think very much prior to spouting off. It seems to be a twenty-first century malady common to myriads of folks. This is especially true of our forays into social media, but we’re pretty good at it in everyday dialog as well.

The Apostle Peter once wrote this to the church. “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God” (1 Peter 4:11). This sounds like a pretty good standard to attempt to uphold. It loses a bit of its original meaning without its context, but it’s clear enough to provide a guidepost even as it stands alone. Maybe we should stop before we speak to ask ourselves, “Would Jesus say what I’m about to utter?” The answer is not always well-defined, but in some cases it’s quite apparent. It’s in those obvious instances that we often get ourselves into trouble or are hurtful toward others.

A few years ago, my lovely Bride and I went on a vacation trip to Italy with a few friends. During the trip, I was my usual self. In other words, I kept putting my foot in my mouth. My spouse (as she often does) would simply say to me, “Stop talking, Dave.” It happened so often, however, that (as the days went by) everyone else on the journey began to repeat the phrase. “Stop talking, Dave” became the byword of the tour. Lo and behold, I was forced to begin to THINK. Sheesh!

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

Getting Better

Sometimes we Christians seek to make converts because we want to make people better than they are. We think that, if they get to know Jesus, they will be better people and the world will be a better place. That’s a lot of betters, but that’s also a bit of a misconception.

Ravi Zacharias (a well-known Christian apologist) once said, “Jesus did not come to make bad people good or to make good people better, but to make dead people alive.” At first glance, that statement sounds like bumper sticker theology. However, there’s a lot more packed into that declaration than meets the eye.

Cooperating With God

First of all, there’s nothing in Scripture indicating that Jesus will make us better. That’s not to say a relationship with Him can’t improve your life. I’m living proof it can. Still, the getting better part is, to a large extent, up to us. The theologians call the betterment process “sanctification.” In laymen’s terms, as we cooperate with God’s will for us, we get better. That’s where free will enters, however. Even though the Lord resurrects our lost selves in salvation, we don’t have to cooperate with Him after that. Most of us try, but many of us are definitely deficient in that area.

We are so bad at it, in fact, that THE Apostle Paul called himself the most wretched of people because of his struggles with this very thing. Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but no one wants to get better at their own expense. Half of us, no doubt, pray to God to make us better. Unfortunately for us, we don’t get the answer we wish for, because the answer is something like, “Sure, but you have to help me out here.”We’d rather not help out. We’d rather have a quick miracle performed to—say it with me—“make us better (now, please).”

That doesn’t usually happen, of course. Usually we struggle the rest of our lives listening for God’s voice and challenging ourselves to actually walk in the direction he’s pointing us.

Key to Heaven

It’s a good thing that “getting better” isn’t the key to Heaven. If it was, none of us would get there. For one thing, better is relative. How much “better” is enough? We don’t know that because we simply can’t get better enough to earn our place in Paradise. It’s a gift—the gift of life—given by God. Our biggest disappointment is that we can’t seem to get as holy as we want to be in this life; while our biggest fear is that, somehow, we have to get way better or we won’t actually make it.

That, of course, is poppycock. We can’t and don’t make it on our own. God calls, and we do our best (or worst, or something in between) to answer. Even though we’re messed up, we’re in good company. The Apostle ends that passage about his wretchedness by declaring that he is delivered “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” That’s good to hear.

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

Lisa Called

I was just sitting here doing some work on my laptop when my cell phone rang. It was a call from Lisa who told me not to hang up. She said, “This is not a sales call.” Then she went on to explain that her reaching out was a response to recent information she had received suggesting I was having chronic pain. I hate to think of myself as a rude person, but I hung up.

This is not the first call I’ve received from Lisa. Furthermore, Lisa’s voice is a recording. I know this because she always says the exact same thing. And while I know a few Lisa’s, I’m reasonably sure this particular Lisa is none of the ones with whom I’m familiar (although I’m beginning to become quite acquainted with her). Maybe the next time she calls, I’ll invite her over for dinner. I’m sure my lovely Bride would love to meet her.

I’m glad she is concerned about my chronic pain, but I’m really curious as to who informed her that I was suffering in such debilitating agony. While I’m always complaining that there just isn’t enough compassion in this world, I don’t have the kind of persistent hurt that would warrant a half a dozen calls from the same person. In fact, I don’t have anything more than the usual aches and pains of your average senior citizen. I’m beginning to think I should get a check-up from our family doctor to make sure I’m okay.

Misplaced Compassion?

As I write this, it’s beginning to occur to me that maybe—just maybe—I should listen to Lisa’s message all the way to the end. After all, if it really isn’t a sales call, maybe she can help me with my phantom pain—for free. I’m a tad reticent to do so, however, because her message could be half an hour long for all I know. I’m not interested in investing thirty minutes in a recorded call—even one from a compassionate person.

So here I sit anticipating Lisa’s next call and wondering how I should handle it. It’s problematic, however, because I don’t need the stress. I just need to be left alone with my pain (if, indeed, it ever shows up).

The whole thing reminds me of the words of Jesus during his famous Sermon on the Mount. During the discourse, He said, “Don’t worry about your life” (Matthew 6:25). As always, Jesus is correct on this. Why should I worry about the pain I don’t have? Why should I fret over Lisa’s next phone call? According to Jesus, I can’t add a “single hour” to my life by doing so (V. 27).

Unfortunately, many of us become deeply concerned about far more trivial matters than my dilemma with the faceless Lisa. Not only should we avoid the ulcers, but most of these things are caused by circumstances we cannot control. Maybe we should take a page out of Alfred E. Newman’s philosophy and say, “What? Me worry?”

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

Retirement Vertigo

The other day, I was minding my own business when I realized I didn’t know what day it was. I tried searching my mind for a marker of some kind to help me establish what part of the week I was in. As I did, I felt a bit dizzy and disoriented. This only lasted a few seconds until I was able to land on my chronological feet and realize that it was Tuesday.

The only reason I even remember this momentary experience is what popped into my mind as it happened. For some reason, the term, “retirement vertigo,” invaded my brain. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that phrase anywhere, so I’m guessing it’s original with me. There’s nothing like coining a phrase, I always say. I don’t know if it will ever catch on, but it sure described the moment for me.

Retirement is an odd thing. I keep pretty busy, but I do have a few free days here and there.  If I don’t have something on my calendar, I lose my bearings (and retirement vertigo sets in). Sometimes, it makes me wonder if retirement is even Biblical.

Biblical Retirement

As near as I can tell, retirement is only mentioned once in Scripture. In Numbers 8:25, the Levitical priests are told that “at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer.” So, the only retirement mentioned in the Bible is a forced retirement. From my perspective, that amounts to early vertigo. Forced retirement these days is usually at least sixty-five and usually more often seventy or seventy-two.

For much of my life, I worked two jobs—just crazy, I guess. I retired from one job when I was sixty-five. The other was a part time gig, so I hung in there with that one until I was sixty-eight. I’ve now been in full retirement mode for six months, and all is well—except for the occasional retirement vertigo.

I found that what most retirees say is true. “You have to do SOMETHING, or you’ll go crazy.” I had a backyard fence installed a couple months back by a guy who had retired a few years ago but returned to the business because he was bored out of his tree. Frankly, I can’t imagine that happening to me, but I’m lucky on that score because I write a lot.

Keeping Busy

I think the secret to a happy retirement is having just enough on your plate to keep you from becoming disinterested with your life. I always thought my Dad would hate retirement because he seemed like such a workaholic. It turns out that he enjoyed his last years immensely because he did just enough to keep himself busy.

So, I guess the rest of that Numbers passage is important, because it further instructs the priests that, “They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work” (V. 26). Sounds like a plan…

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

40 Million

We, in this country, toss around a lot of talk about racism, oppression, and the vestiges of slavery. Each of these topics is worthy of discussion and consideration—not to mention, action. Still, I’m afraid that they tend to overshadow (even obscure) the fact that there are more slaves across the earth today than at any time in the history of the planet.

I’m not speaking of spiritual slaves (as in slaves to our own sinfulness), child labor, or even sweat shops. I’m talking about literal slaves—people owning other people—people maintaining total control and power over others. In today’s world, there are 40 million slaves.

If you add up all the slave trade that brought people to the North American Continent over the 400 years it was legal to do so, you’d have to multiply that by four to equal the mass of human trafficking that is currently in existence. It’s bad enough that this condition exists—it’s worse that we (for the most part) ignore it or don’t even realize it still occurs.

$150 Billion Industry

Human trafficking currently generates $150 billion (yes, with a “b”) annually. It’s pervasive, insidious, and disgusting. Yet, we hear very little about it. We are tucked away in our own cozy cocoons of prosperity and comfort, so we give little thought to the fact that slavery could be as widespread as it is. After all, we outlawed that in this country over 150 years ago. We fought a war that resulted in its abolishment. It’s a thing of the past, so why worry about it?

Why indeed? When someone in the heart of America can request and direct a made-to-order, online sexual escapade between two slaves (often children) from another part of the world, we are complicit. Cyber-sex slavery is the fastest growing form of human bondage, and powerful western wealth can command a large seat at that table—and normally does.

The victims of this profuse enslavement are usually the poor and weak. Children make up a high percentage of them. The fact that many of us are either unaware, complacent, or even uncaring is a pathetic statement about our willingness to hide in our nests of luxury and well-being and avert our eyes from reality.

Supermaarko

If you’ve got enough courage to take a quick look at a brief story of a seven-year-old boy named Maarko and his little sister, I encourage you to click on this link (Supermaarko). If it doesn’t move you to some kind of action, you haven’t got a heart. The action could take the form of prayer, monetary support, or physical involvement. In any case, a little compassion can go a long way.

In Isaiah 58, God speaks through the prophet and says, “Loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, set the oppressed free and break every yoke.” We’ve been called by God to do this. We have the power to accomplish it. Do we have the will? I sincerely hope so.

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