The End of an Era?

For almost four decades, I have been in pastoral ministry. This morning, I led my final service in my current appointment, and it concluded another era of my life. After today, I will no longer be the pastor of a congregation. After all these years, it’s difficult to imagine what it will feel like to be a free agent. I guess I’ll know soon enough.

We all go through these sorts of transitional periods from time to time, of course. Retirement is one that many of us look forward to for a long time. For me, it’s finally arrived. Frankly, I think I’m going to enjoy it.

Happy in Retirement

I remember when my Dad was about to retire. He was such a workaholic during his life, I assumed he would be miserable in his retirement years. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He was happier in retirement than ever before. I should be so fortunate.

Being a preacher, however, places me in a slightly different category. My Dad worked in a factory all of his adult life. When he retired, he never went back—nor did he have a desire to do so. Factory life was not his calling. I, on the other hand, have worked in a calling that lasts a lifetime. I will leave the pastorate, but the calling will not leave me.

I’ve heard for years that preachers never really retire. I’m totally convinced of that. I can’t imagine a life devoid of sermon preparation and expounding upon the Word of God. As long as I have a voice and an invitation to fill a pulpit, I’m guessing I’ll continue to preach the Gospel. It’s become a part of me, and maybe it’s who I am.

I’m Down With It

I suppose the reason why we preachers never really retire has something to do with the Apostle Paul’s questions to the Romans. “And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Paul was a preacher, himself, so he may have been a bit biased. But he certainly had a high regard for the activity of orally transmitting the Word. Since there’s a strong Biblical admonition to do so, I’m down with it.

We should never forget, however, that preaching doesn’t require a pulpit. Nor does it require having the term, Reverend or Pastor, in front of your name. Knowing what Scripture says and passing it along to someone else is something any and all of us can do. Sometimes it’s called preaching, but it’s always called witnessing. Every Christian is called to be a witness to the love, grace, and salvation of Jesus. It’s definitely who we are.

Whether or not I ever stand behind a pulpit again, I will be cognizant of the fact that I am a witness to the saving work of Christ. Regardless of where we are or how old we get, our job is to give a good word to our fellow travelers.

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

Uranus, I Presume

Scientists have discovered that the planet, Uranus, stinks to high heaven. I could inject a lot of crude jokes, puns, and satirical comments here, but I’ll resist that temptation. I’m sure there will be plenty of that without me adding to the ruckus. Apparently, the clouds of the much-maligned planet contain massive amounts of hydrogen sulfide.

Every chemistry major out there (and a whole lot of us peons who took a modicum of chem in high school) knows that hydrogen sulfide is the perpetrator of the odoriferous smell emitted by rotten eggs. It is also contained in some unpleasant human emissions as well, but I’ll not mention those here.

We Have No Tolerance

If it’s one thing in the western world we detest, it’s a foul odor (or is that, fowl odor?). If you want to clear out a room, introduce something that reeks. It’s almost guaranteed to introduce an evacuation. We just have no real tolerance for malodorous air.

Apparently, this is not limited to the western world, however. There is evidence that other humans in other places and other times have had this predilection as well. There is, in fact, Biblical evidence that this is true.

Almost 2000 years ago, the disciples of Christ were adamant that the tomb of Lazarus not be opened as Jesus had commanded. I’m not sure they had any idea what He was about to do, but they strongly objected to His suggestion that the stone be rolled away from His friend’s place of interment. They left no question as to the source of their dismay. They distinctly stated their reasoning. “He stinketh!” (John 11:39, KJV)

If it had been up to the future apostles, Lazarus would never have been raised from the dead. Their disdain of the cruel stench that accompanies a decomposing corpse would have precluded the miracle that was about to occur. Their olfactory sensations were overriding their faith. I can’t say that I blame them.

Fortunately, Jesus wasn’t nearly as squeamish as His protégés. At His insistence, the grave was opened, Lazarus was called forth, and the rest is history (as we like to say). Lazarus, once again, walked the streets of Bethany, and all was well.

Did He Need a Good Bath?

I’ve always wondered about the stench on the body of Lazarus. As the disciples pointed out, he had been in the tomb four days. It couldn’t have been pretty. Did the Lord wipe out the smell while He was restoring life, or did Lazarus have to be marched down to the river for a good bath? Inquiring minds want to know. John apparently didn’t see the need to fill us in on that detail, so we’ll never know until we get to Heaven. That’s assuming we’ll even care about such minutiae in Glory.

Now that I think about it, John also tells us that everything was created through Jesus (John 1:3). Jesus already knew about the clouds of Uranus. He spoke them into existence—like everything else. After that, even Lazarus’ emanations were next to nothing.

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

0.0–Truth in Advertising

I presume you’ve seen cars with decals that simply read 26.2. In case you’ve never figured it out, these are folks who run marathons (or, at least, try to make us think they do). For the most part, you can find these on autos like the Prius. For some reason, people who run long distances are also fuel conscious. Hence the hybrid cars.

For those not so ambitious, you might see a bumper sticker sporting the number 13.1 (a half marathon for those of you who are mathematically impaired). These are often found on small cars that don’t use a lot of fuel but are strictly gasoline engines. I’m think detecting a pattern here.

In keeping with the trend, I decided to adorn my Jeep Wrangler with such a magnet for the tailgate. The Wrangler, like most sport vehicles, is not made for limited consumption of petrol. It sucks down gas like nobody’s business, and since my physical mobility is somewhat limited these days, my magnet says 0.0 (truth in advertising).

There was a time in my life when I actually ran a few miles during each turn of the earth. Those days are long gone, however. Therefore, 0.0 is the actual number of miles I get in before I go to work (as well as after I come home—not to mention while I’m on the job).

Believe it or not, I was a sprinter in high school and college. The body has since gone bad, and I doubt I’ll ever see those vigorous days again. One can dream, though. Glory days, and all that…

Some people are counting their steps these days. Well, their electronic bracelets count their steps. I don’t have one of those wrist thingies, and I didn’t want to spend my capital on that sort of contraption, so I tried totaling my own steps. I made it to twelve and lost count. It’s harder than one might think.

I’m Not Poking Fun (Well, Maybe a Little)

It might sound like I’m making fun, but I actually admire those diehards who run marathons. I also tip my hat to the fact that they like to ride around in tiny hybrids. There’s something very Biblical about running a race. The Apostle Paul often compared the Christian journey to a race itself. It was definitely not a sprint he was describing. A marathon probably doesn’t even come close either.

I once read a piece about s guy who was a whiz at running 100 mile races. I got tired merely reading the article. It seems inhuman to be able to do such a thing (or maybe I should say, superhuman). The idea of such a feat, however, is in keeping with the type of race a Christian needs to run. Endurance is the key word.

Jesus once said, “But he who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13) I’m hoping my spiritual and mental endurance far exceeds my physical stamina. I’m really keen on being saved. Maybe I’ll put a 26.2 sticker on my Bible.

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

Somebody Gotta Fight the Injured!

I was watching an old TV program recently when two of the show’s protagonists got into it with a small band of hoodlums. While the real fighter was occupied with most of the gang, his weaker partner punched one of the bad guys in the shoulder. The gang member immediately crumpled into a heap. As it turned out, the thug had a dislocated shoulder.

Later, as they were walking away from the alteration, the puncher began bragging to his stronger colleague about his knockout blow. His partner shot back, “He was injured!” The braggart immediately replied, “Somebody gotta fight the injured! It’s my niche!”

I laughed out loud at that. Then it got me thinking. Sadly, it sounds a bit like the church.

Laying on the Battlefield

Someone once said that the church is the only group of people that shoots its own wounded. The guy in the TV show wasn’t inflicting extra pain on one of his own, but (all too often) we in the church do exactly that. When someone in our midst stumbles and falls, rather than help, we tend to pile on. Either that, or we leave them laying on the battlefield, alone and defenseless.

There are individuals in the church that perpetuate these things. They call themselves “fruit inspectors.” If one of their brethren doesn’t produce the kind of spiritual fruit these produce examiners deem to be adequate, these fruit police attack them. Heaven forbid they find a flaw in one of those weaker brethren. They swoop in like vultures. Believe it or not, they think it’s their niche.

The obvious byproduct of these actions is, in part, an exodus from today’s church. People are leaving in droves. There are many reasons for the migration, but the attitude of the fruit inspectors is one of them.

The overarching commandment of Jesus was, and is, to love. I realize there’s such a thing as tough love, but some of us get a bit ridiculous about it. For some reason, it seems easy for some folks to get carried away. Being tough doesn’t necessarily require meanness or hostility. These holier-than-thou attitudes are killers.

He was quoting Scripture

The church has enough antagonists without us joining

the battle against our own ranks. Abraham Lincoln once famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He was actually quoting Scripture when he said that (Mark 3:25). Love and unity are supposed to be watchwords and songs of the Christian gathering. Unfortunately, those central themes of Scripture seem to be lost on many of the fine folks in our congregations.

I’m not sure what it will take for us to learn our lesson. We cannot continue in our pathetic ways of trashing our own. It’s toxic and suicidal. We certainly have our differences, but (like it or not) we’re all sinners in constant need of God’s unending grace. Maybe we should act accordingly.

There’s an old Black spiritual that says, “I’m Gonna Stay on the Battlefield.” Maybe we should change it to, “I’ve been stranded on the battlefield.”

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

You Can Take the Boy Out of the Country

If you were to ask me what my favorite music happens to be, I’d probably never reply, “Country.” But truth-be-told, it’s in my blood. I was reminded of that once again this morning. I saw the news that Randy Scruggs had passed away, so I began pulling up some of his music on the Internet. It took about four notes of “Passin’ Thru” for it all to come rushing back.

My Dad’s side of the family listened to polkas, waltzes, and obereks. My Mom’s side was all country all the time. My maternal side won. Even though my parents bought an accordion for me and paid for four or five years of lessons, that’s not where my heart ended up. I could play a mean Beer Barrel Polka, much to my Dad’s enjoyment. But when I turned twenty-six, I bought myself a guitar.

Guitars on my Wall

Today, I have two guitars hanging on my study wall. The accordion is somewhere in a back room. I keep meaning to drag it out to brush up, but I haven’t gotten around to it for a couple of years now. I play the guitars a lot.

To be totally honest with you, if and when I re-polish my accordion skills, it will probably be to play a little Zydeco. Anybody out there have a washboard? We can get together and perform a some Cajun.

Recently, XM/Sirius Radio aired a temporary Southern Rock station called “Free Bird.” If you’re a music fan, you can guess it features the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd. When I’m in my Jeep, I find myself flipping back and forth from the Beatles channel to Free Bird. Even though the Beatles are probably my favorite band ever, I find myself spending more and more time on Free Bird. I’m pretty sure it’s the country influence pulling me like a magnet.

Hey Good Lookin’

My Mom talked a lot about her childhood days. She grew up in a small, Pennsylvania coal-mining town. Aside from listening to country music on the radio, they didn’t have much in the way of entertainment. In the summertime, they used to sit out on the front porch and sing to the neighbors. When they finished a song, one of the neighboring families would sing another song back to them. From what I hear, a lot of those songs were Hank Williams hits (senior, not junior). I wish I had a dollar for every time my Mom sang Hey Good Lookin’ to me while I was growing up.

I guess it’s true what the Bible says in Proverbs 22:6. “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” I don’t know if country music is the way to go, but I know I’m spending more and more time listening to it.

I’m sorry to hear of the death of Randy Scruggs, but I’m sure glad for the time he was passin’ thru. He brought me back to my roots once again.

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

A Billion Here, A Billion There

Historians have estimated that there were about 2500 Christians in the world shortly after the Apostle Paul met his demise (circa 64 AD). To my recollection, I had never heard this figure before I read it in a recent newspaper article. It seems drastically low to me, but I guess we had to start somewhere. I’d love to know how they figured that out.

When Jesus died and rose again, there were about 120 followers cowering in an upper room in Jerusalem. The Messiah had promised to send the Holy Spirit, and He did not disappoint. Without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, there would have, undoubtedly, never been a church at all. We would have messed it up for sure. Hiding in a secluded room will never be the best strategy for spreading the word. It wasn’t then, and it isn’t now.

Something Went Right

Those historians say that by the year 350 AD, the number of Christians had swelled to thirty-four million. Today, the figure is somewhere around 2.3 billion (over 30% of the world’s population). Something went right somewhere along the way. The something that went right (aside from the indwelling strength of the Holy Spirit) was the fact that those believers left the room and began to spread the word.

As far as I know, the strategy has never changed. Well, let me revise that statement. The Biblical directive has never changed. We have often tried to amend, tailor, and obfuscate it, but it’s still right there in Jesus’ last words before He ascended. “Go!” (Matthew 20:19)

“Go” is the operative word. The following phrase, “make disciples of all nations,” can only be done by going. The 120 believers were forced go by the spark lit through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. In a few years, most of them got comfortable with their lives in Jerusalem. Once again, they were forced to go. This time, it was through the persecution that was brought against the church. The Apostle Paul (known as Saul at the time) was part of the persecution (see Acts 7:57-58). When he converted to Christianity, he became part of the persecuted.

Saul Became Paul

Christians at that time fled the persecution in Jerusalem and relocated to all parts of the known world. Saul became Paul and made missionary trips, establishing Christian communities wherever he went. He left a trail of converts, believers, and followers along the way. He wasn’t the only one, but he was definitely the most famous. By the time Paul was done, there were only 2500 Christians in the world. Now there are 2.3 billion. Somebody did something right.

The strange thing is this. While Christianity is growing around the world, many congregations in this country are dying on the vine. They’re growing old, shrinking, and closing up shop. Some are just getting disgusted and leaving. The number of clergy is shrinking.

Maybe we need to get out of the room in which we’re hiding. Jesus’ final words were important. It’s time to go.

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

Analyzed to Death

As of this past Tuesday evening, Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox had swung at 94 fast balls this season. Amazingly, he had not missed one—not one. What I find to be even more amazing than that stat is the fact that someone kept track of it.

Major League Baseball used to document things like pitch speed. Now when someone hits a ball, they can tell you the exit velocity, the launch angle, and the exact distance it traveled. Those are just a few of the statistics they measure in our high-tech sports world. Baseball always was a game of statistics, but recently, analytics seem to have taken over. The entire game is getting analyzed to death.

I’m really not sure how much this analysis adds to the game. It certainly fits into our techie world, but I have the distinct feeling it actually diverts us from the simplistic beauty of the sport. Someone throws a round ball, and someone else with a round stick attempts to “square it up.” Even when we didn’t know the exact speed of the orb, we had a pretty good idea when it was moving at a high velocity. It’s a game of visuals.

Statistics in the Time of Christ

I’m glad they didn’t keep stats in the time of Jesus. If they had, Scripture would be bogged down with things like the exact amount of water that was turned into wine at Cana. We would know the number of seconds Peter walked on water before he fell into Jesus’ arms. It would be a matter of record as to how many lepers, blind men, and lame folks were healed by the Savior.

As it is, there’s one odd statistic that is recorded in the Gospel of John. After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples while they were out fishing. Why they were fishing instead of making disciples, I’m not sure. Apparently, they were bored. They were fishermen, so they decided to go fishing.

After Jesus had given them a miraculous catch of fish, they hauled their nets ashore to meet Him for breakfast. Scripture then mentions (almost in passing) that there were 153 large fish in their nets. So, why do we need to know the exact number. Why didn’t John simply say, “There were about 150 fish,” or “There were over one hundred fish.” Instead, he recorded the exact number.

Counting Fish

It’s been speculated that John wanted to make a point. If he did, the point may have been this. The disciples were taught by Christ Himself to go make disciples—to become “fishers of men.” Instead of doing what He had trained them to do, they quickly went back to their old habits. In this case, their old habits included counting fish.

John makes it clear that these faithful disciples didn’t start out as faithfully as we tend to think. They were analyzing dead fish. Fortunately, they soon got around to hitting home runs. (Please pardon the obvious baseball reference. I couldn’t help myself.)

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

The Snowman on Third Base

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a big baseball fan. I played a lot of ball when I was a kid, and (at one time) I pretty much ate, drank, and slept baseball. If my favorite team (the Pittsburgh Pirates) was on TV, I planned my day around the telecast.

I’m not quite that bad anymore, but I still enjoy the game immensely. Thus, I’ve watched a few games the past several days. Opening day wasn’t that long ago (April 1, I believe), and I had the fever in no time.

Even though my team has won a majority of their games so far, there’s been somewhat of a damper on the young season. The damper has come in the form of terrible weather. I saw one game that was played (at least in part) in a snowstorm.

White on White

As much as I loved playing the game when I was young, I really disliked playing in bad conditions. A cold, rainy day was a grievous situation as far as I was concerned. A snowstorm would have been unbearable. The major leaguers this season have been playing every night in freezing temperatures. I guess getting paid millions of dollars helps.

The groundskeepers are earning their money as well. Sometimes, they have to remove tons of snow to make the fields playable. In the game highlights, I’ve seen more than one snowman in various stadiums around the league. Where’s global warming when you need it?

The long and short of it is this; snow is out of place in baseball. Just like there’s no crying in baseball, there should be no snow in baseball. Actually, snow seems out of place almost everywhere (unless you’re a skier). Even in Scripture, snow seems out of place. Of course, the Bible was written in dry, arid lands, so I suppose that only makes sense. Still, snow was at least mentioned.

Onion Snow

In Proverbs 26:1, it says, “Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, honor is not fitting for a fool.” Even the sage understood the necessity of keeping snow in its proper season. If fools should not have honor, baseball should not have snow. I might be taking that a bit out of context, but not much. It definitely is saying that snow doesn’t belong in summer. I realize it’s still spring, but we all know that baseball is for the boys of summer.

I presume the snow we’re experiencing this late in the season is that stuff Pennsylvanians often referred to as “onion snow.” As much as I love onions, I can’t get into the white springtime precipitation that interferes with my ability to enjoy one of my favorite pastimes. They may as well call it “baseball snow.” Snowmen on third base (or anywhere else at the ball yard) just aren’t kosher.

I guess I shouldn’t complain, but I somehow feel violated. Maybe I’m one of those fools who doesn’t deserve honor, but I still like my baseball hot and sunny.

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

A Rose by Any Other Name…

An elderly couple had dinner at another couple’s house and, after eating, the wives left the table and went into the kitchen. The two gentlemen were talking, and one said, “Last night we went out to a new restaurant and it was really great. I would recommend it very highly.”

The other man said, “What is the name of the restaurant?”

The first man thought and thought and finally said, “What’s the name of that flower you give to someone you love? You know, the one that’s red and has thorns.”

“Do you mean a rose?”

“Yes, that’s the one,” replied the man. He then turned towards the kitchen and yelled, “Rose, what’s the name of that restaurant we went to last night?”

What’s your name again?

That story would be a lot funnier if I wasn’t so close to being in that situation. Not too long ago, I was introducing my daughter to an acquaintance, and I forgot her name—not the acquaintance’s name, my daughter’s name. Oh, the humanity!

I’m not sure why us old geezers begin to lose our memories, but it can be a tad embarrassing at times. In fact, it can be a LOT embarrassing at times.

I’ve had considerable practice at this malady, however. I’ve been forgetful ever since I can remember. My Mom used to call me “the Professor.” She did so, not because I was smart or educated, but because I was absent-minded. I would walk into the next room to grab something and forget what I needed by the time I got there. I’ve been doing this since I was ten.

Memorizing Scripture

People like to encourage Christians to memorize Scripture. That sounds like a great idea until you try it. I’ve never been able to memorize anything. The possible exceptions to that are things like my Social Security Number, my birthdate, and my name—usually. Even those fall prey to occasional lapses of memory.

When I was young, I had a pretty fair voice. I never really sang much, however, because I couldn’t remember song lyrics. Some people have the lyrics to every song they’ve ever heard floating around in their brains. Me? Well, I’m lucky to remember a chorus here and there.

Just to give you a hint as to what this is like, I’m getting the feeling I’ve told you all this before in a recent blog. I can’t remember for sure, so I hope that’s just déjà vu kicking in. If not, I apologize to my regular readers for boring them with repetition.

The Jews had a great idea for avoiding this malady. Actually, it was God’s idea. The Lord instructed Moses to tell the Hebrew people to write His laws on their doorframes and gates as well as tie them on their hands and foreheads. That sounds a little strange, but it seems to have worked well. Many Jews still wear phylacteries to remind them of God’s law.

Maybe I need a phylactery to remember the names of my family members.

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

The Ultimate Thirst Quencher

I recently read that a study had been done which determined that milk is the ultimate thirst quencher. Frankly, that surprised me. I had always assumed it would be water (or in today’s high-tech world, something like Gatorade). Apparently, when someone drinks milk, they retain 75% of it after a two-hour recovery period. Only 60% of a sports drink is retained in a similar situation and only 50% of water. Who knew?

Despite all that, I believe that Jesus is really the ultimate thirst quencher. Just think about it. What was his first, recorded miracle? The Gospel of John says it was at a wedding in Cana. If you’ll recall that incident, Jesus changed water into wine. After all, who wants to drink water at a wedding reception? Certainly not the first century Jews.

Then there was the woman at the well (John 4). After asking her for water, he told her that He could supply her with living water. He added that, “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.” Now, that’s a thirst quencher!

“Satiating hunger is a close second…”

Of course, there was the feeding of the five thousand. While there was no liquid involved in that miracle, the sustenance provided that day was closely akin to life-giving hydration. Satiating hunger is a close second to quenching thirst. In fact, they pretty much go hand-in-hand.

At the Festival of Booths one year, Jesus told everyone listening to His instruction that, if they were thirsty, they should come to Him and drink. He was, of course, referring to that living water again. But drinking in deeply of the Holy Spirit is slaking a thirst that no one else can touch.

A final example would be the one in the last book of Scripture—Revelation. There we are told to, “Come! Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” (Rev. 22:17) That’s what I like—life! Jesus promises to bestow upon us the gift of life through his Spirit and the ultimate quenching of our thirst.

A Powerful Irony

This past Good Friday, some of my colleagues and I preached from the Gospel passages which reference the words of Jesus from the cross. One of them used the passage from John in which Jesus says, “I’m thirsty.” He made a point I had never heard mentioned prior to that sermon. He stated that Jesus’ declaration of His own thirst was one of the most “powerful ironies” of Scripture. How could the One who would quench the world’s thirst be thirsty Himself? One of the greatest metaphors in the Bible is Jesus’ ability to satisfy the thirst of humanity. How ironic that the Savior of the World, the Ultimate Thirst Quencher, would be thirsty Himself. The very process he used to alleviate our thirst made Him thirsty.

I was never a big milk drinker. In fact, I dislike it. It’s good to know the One who can supply the real milk of life.

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