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.]

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.]