Grave Sucking

After almost four decades as a Christian Pastor, I thought I had pretty much heard everything. As is often the case, I was wrong. I just heard of a practice called “grave sucking.” Yes, you read it correctly—grave sucking. It’s a thing!

Apparently, it’s also known by a couple less vulgar names like “grave soaking” and “mantle grabbing.” The practice, if I understand it correctly, is loosely based on Scripture such as the story of Elijah passing his mantle to Elisha. Passing the mantle was a symbol of the prophetic anointing of the Holy Spirit being passed on to the new generation of prophets. The general idea of grave sucking is to soak up the unused portion of the Holy Spirit that has been left in the bones of the deceased. I’ll pause here for a moment to allow you to soak up the entire idea.

Despite the fact that it’s supposedly based on the Scriptures, it’s decidedly unbiblical. If the Lord wants to fill you with His Holy Spirit, He will. He, in fact, urges us to ask Him for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). We don’t have to usurp it from our deceased brethren. The Lord is more than happy to touch all believers with His Spirit.

Can we say, Heresy?

These sorts of things pop up every once in a while. Someone gets a “new” slant on a Bible story, formulates a new teaching, gets a new following, and a new Christian sensation is born. Can we say, “Heresy?”

Some of these new teachings sound good. If the proposed results seem like something God would want for us, they can be made to sound even better. Get a few testimonies as to how good it is, and you’ve got the makings of a new movement—one that has no grounding in Scripture but has a lot of excited participants trying to make it work.

Grave sucking seems to be another one of those extra-Biblical revelations that somebody believed with all their heart and mind. One determined individual can change a lot of other hearts and minds as well. This can be especially true of young Christians who only know enough Bible to be dangerous. Apparently, it’s happening again.

The Agent’s Answer

I had a friend who worked in a marina that was the victim of a counterfeiter who was passing twenty-dollar bills. The FBI showed up and could spot the fake twenties at a glance. My friend commented that they must study a lot of counterfeits to be able to spot them that easily. The agent’s answer was simple. “We don’t study the counterfeits. We study the real thing so much that we know at a glance when something isn’t right.”

It should be the same with us as Christians. We should know God’s Word so well that when a counterfeit comes along (like grave sucking), we should be able to tell that something isn’t right. When things don’t line up with Scripture, we should see them as questionable. False teachers are everywhere.

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

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Church

Over Memorial Day Weekend, a couple of our relatives came to our home to enjoy a little R & R and frivolity. I must say, we were quite successful in doing both.

When Sunday morning rotated in, we kicked around the idea of attending a worship service. Before I retired from the pastorate, there was no choice. Back then, everyone simply piled into a vehicle and rolled to wherever I was preaching. Since that wasn’t the case anymore, we weren’t sure where we wanted to go. We weren’t locked into any particular worship venue and couldn’t make up our minds. Consequently, we ended up staying home.

I realize this isn’t the preeminent witness for a former pastor, but we made the best of it. We turned on the TV, tuned into YouTube, and watched two nonstop hours of Christian comedy. Some people view my sermons that way, so it wasn’t much of a departure from the norm for our guests. While I wouldn’t recommend this as a permanent replacement for worship, it certainly was a relaxing respite from the rigors of Memorial Day Weekend (you know, partying, parades, and the business of remembering our fallen heroes).

In case you’re unfamiliar with Christian comedy, there are really only two differences between that and secular comedy. Number one: You can assume the guy or gal telling the jokes is a Christian of one stripe or another. Number two: You can pretty much count on the fact that the jokes will be clean and devoid of vulgarity.

Overused Phrases

Currently, the funniest of all these Christian comedians (in my opinion) is Tim Hawkins. He’s been around for quite a while and never ceases to elicit some sidesplitting laughter from whoever is lending an ear. We watched one of his sketches on overused phrases, and I found it to not only be hilarious, but it was almost too true to be funny.

We love to exaggerate. We embellish our words, our phrases, and our circumstances. We always seem to make things sound worse (or better) than they really are. I’m not sure if that’s simply the human condition, or if it’s a byproduct of our culture. Either way, we’re certainly guilty of it.

Needier Than Thou

The fact of the matter is, however, we don’t have to inflate anything about ourselves. Jesus was quite clear that we already matter a great deal to God. He said, “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Luke 12:7) In the same paragraph, he reminded us that the Lord takes care of the sparrows and that we are worth a lot more than those birds to Him. We know all this, and still, we feel the need to puff ourselves up or make ourselves look needier than we really are.

One of the phrases Tim Hawkins emphasized was, “that’s the worst.” Why do we always think that what has happened to us is the worst? Try dying on a cross sometime. Maybe we need to rethink our situations.

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

Do Not Operate…

When we downsized at the end of last year and moved into a new home, the one thing we failed to reduce was the size of the yard. We, in fact, at least quadrupled the area of lawn I have to maintain. It was quite apparent that my little, lightweight, electric lawn utensils weren’t going to cut it (pun intended).

I knew my tiny, battery-powered lawn mower was grossly inadequate, so I actually gave that to my son-in-law even before the spring thaw. My new one? A red, gas-powered, 22 inch Toro. YES!

Black Max

As for my old trimmer/edger, I thought it would suffice—but no. So, I went out and bought myself another toy. It’s a humdinger (as the old folks used to say). It’s a 25.4cc, two cycle, gas powered, Black Max trimmer/edger (industrial strength, I might add). It has a commercial grade, full crank engine (whatever that is), and it apparently will go from zero to sixty in four seconds. 

I was afraid it might be a tad too much for an old guy like me, but then I noticed the notation that said it had a “padded ergonomic handle,” and I was sold. When I got it home, I also read that it is “attachment capable.” Gadzooks! I think I might invest in a snowplow for the front end.

When I bought it, I began to think of it as another toy for me. We guys like those sorts of playthings hanging in the garage. We’re unlike the women who don’t usually go in for such extravaganzas as the Black Max 18” Straight Shaft String Trimmer as I did. A closet full of shoes is more their speed—not to mention those $15,000 Tory Burch purses (well, maybe I’m exaggerating a tad on that one). We all seem to have our vices.

No Drugs or Alcohol

But back to my Black Max… I read the operator’s manual (yes, I actually read it—we have a lot of kids in our neighborhood and I didn’t want to wipe out one of the little tykes by accident). As I was perusing the do’s and don’ts, I ran across this little tidbit. “Do not operate the unit when you are tired, ill, upset, or under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medication.” Well… I may as well hire someone else to run my unit.

At the very least, I’m always upset when I have to do that much yardwork. Also, in my advanced stage of life, being tired is my new reality. I’m pretty sure I can handle the drug and alcohol part, but medication is a necessity these days. I’m just wondering if I need to go to the DMV and apply for a special dispensation to run this thing.

The Lord once told the Israelites, “I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.” (Deuteronomy 11:15) I don’t have cattle, but I do have grass. Thank God for the Black Max. Now I’m satisfied, too.

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

A Basket of CHUDs

You’ve probably heard by now of the freelance writer who took umbrage at President Trump’s labeling of MS-13 gang members as “animals.” He Tweeted, “I would rather my daughter dated a member of MS-13 than a member of the Republican Party.” That statement ignited a small Twitter war in which the author in question berated his opponents as “chuds” by tweeting, “The chuds are mad at me again.”

I didn’t think too much of it when I first read the slur. I just passed it off as some term the guy made up. It took a day or two before it finally hit me. Growing up as a big fan of science fiction, I’ve seen my fair share of Grade-Z sci-fi movies. Some of these things were obviously filmed with a budget of under $1.98. Still, I used to eat them up like they were Hollywood Oscar winners.

One such movie was entitled, “C.H.U.D.” I won’t go into the specifics of the well-worn plot, but the acronym, C.H.U.D., stands for cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers. Chuds were creatures who had once been people, but, after being exposed to too much radiation, became mutated beings that ate human flesh to survive. Sound familiar?

So here we have it. A guy berates the President for referring to violent gang members “animals” and then turns around to call his detractors “chuds.” Have you ever heard the phrase, “That’s like the pot calling the kettle black?” I’m pretty sure it applies here.

It’s really amazing how quickly we resort to name calling. Presidents do it, journalists do it, and many of us peons follow suit. Scripture is quite clear about how important a good name happens to be. It tells us that it’s more critical than silver or gold. So why do we stoop to something as low as verbal abuse—often as a first resort? We do it, I suppose, because it’s the easiest way to hurt and demean someone. Trash their name, their reputation, and you feel like the battle is half won. It’s also the easiest thing to do. Why work at attempting to actually win a debate?

Scripture indicates that the Apostle Paul used to debate those who held opposing religious and philosophical views. He was often quite unsuccessful. Still, he kept plugging away—sometimes to his detriment. In Acts 9:29 it says, “He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him.” At least they didn’t resort to name-calling.

All kidding aside, many of our leaders like to refer in a negative way to what they call “the politics of personal destruction.” Like the Tweeting freelance writer, they’re often the ones who will turn around and attempt to destroy the names and reputations of their political opponents. Their words and actions are decidedly transparent, yet we allow them to get away with it.

It would behoove us to attain to a higher standard. Unfortunately, the only way we can do that is to begin with ourselves.

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

On a Roll

My eldest and I were working on remodeling a small home I own in Florida. Just doing all that manual labor was a reminder of how old I’ve gotten. But there were a couple of other things that accomplished that as well.

One day, we removed all the interior doors for painting. I usurped the job of removing the hardware and rolling two coats of white semi-gloss on them. It was a lot easier than what my son was doing—tearing tile walls out of the bathrooms. I’ve quickly discovered that I’m quite adept at finagling the easy tasks—particularly when there’s someone twenty-four years younger than me nearby.

“I was on a roll.”

With painting implement in hand, I merrily plowed through my undertaking. I was on a roll—literally. At one point, however, I took a short break to allow for a little drying time. As I stood to one side, my son happened to stroll by. He took a glance at one of the doors I had painted, picked up a roller, and gave it a couple of swipes. Then he placed the roller back in the pan and continued on his way.

Apparently, I had left a drip or run somewhere. I never did ask. But when he did that, I got a big smile on my face. I realized, maybe for the very first time, that the tables have been turned. Twenty or so years ago, I would have been the one smoothing over his errors. He would have been angry at me for looking over his shoulder and implying that his work was less than acceptable. For me, however, it brought joy—especially at this stage of the game.

I used to be the expert. I used to give the orders. Now, I’m the one asking the questions. I’m somewhat of a do-it-yourselfer, but he, on the other hand, does these things for other people—and gets paid. I yield to him in this arena every time. He’s the authority in this venue. I’m just the old preacher with the aching back and a little time on my hands.

“I never taught him.”

It’s gratifying to see your offspring taking the reins—particularly when they’re doing so well. It makes you feel like you did something right when they were growing up. I’m sure many of you know the feeling. Even though he’s doing something I never taught him, I like to think there’s something of me in what he does.

As an earthly father, I’m rather limited in what I can give my children. I can only teach them so much, because I only know a little. I, like the rest of the human race, have to rely on our Heavenly Father to fill in all the gaps we leave unattended. It’s comforting to know that He not only does that, He gives us more than we know to ask for. He fills us with his Spirit, and His heritage is in us. I sure can’t do that on my own.

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

Urinal Madness

I’m guessing none of my readers from the female persuasion will be able to relate to the following annoyance. You have many of your own which are undoubtedly far more irritating. So, please allow me a moment to vent from the male side of things.

I don’t know if the rest of you guy-types have noticed the trend in urinals the past few years, but I am finding that the urinal situation in Men’s Rooms is becoming peeving (no pun intended). Have you observed the height of these things lately?

“Aside from the ocassional splashing…”

In the old days, a urinal would extend from the floor to an elevation of four feet or so. In today’s parlance, one size fits all in that scenario. Aside from the occasional splashing of one’s shoes, everyone was happy (or, at least, satisfied). Not so these days.

In the modern restroom, urinals are only a couple of feet in length. That, in itself, is not a huge problem. The problem lies in the fact that, in order to accommodate differences in the height of individuals, they are arranged in varying altitudes on bathroom walls. If you encounter this arrangement in, say, a large airport, it poses no real problem. There are so many of them, finding one that fits your body type is rather easily done.

It’s when you enter the Men’s Room of a smaller establishment that you run into a dilemma. Let’s say there is only enough space for two urinals. Dollars to donuts, you’re going to find that the two urinals are placed in the extreme. In other words, one will be situated very low to accommodate the little boys. The other will be high enough that only a giant can comfortably reach it.

The Good Old Days

Not to give out too much personal information, but I’m five feet, seven inches tall. The later arrangement leaves me out. I can make due, but not without a little consternation. Usually, I despise one-size-fits-all products. Urinals are a major exception to my rule, however. I yearn for the good old days when I didn’t have to size up a urinal before I made my choice.

I don’t know if these things bother anyone else, but it’s evoked a major discontentment in me. I realize it probably takes twice as much porcelain to produce the old-style urinals, but can’t we err on the side of the ceramic manufacturers? I haven’t heard that there is a porcelain shortage in America. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

I realize the difficulty I’ve just outlined is a minor one. It’s what we like to refer to as a “first world problem.” The displeasure I’ve experienced over these bathroom fixtures is, I realize, quite superfluous. This is particularly true in light of Jesus’ injunction to not sweat the small stuff. You know…things like food and clothing (Matthew 6:25)… I guess I’d be better off making an adjustment in my attitude rather than lobbying for a change in the amount of porcelain in Men’s Rooms.

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

My Kingdom for a Hot Dog

I recently read an article about some problems at PNC Park. In case you’re not aware, this is the home of the Pittsburgh Pirate Baseball Club. The problems have not arisen over baseball but over food. Actually, it’s over the wait-time for food.

Apparently, the lines for concessions are unbearably long. One customer said she waited in line for an hour. Another said he waited an inning and a half for a hot dog. Someone complained about the fact that the lines were impenetrable. People who weren’t in line for food couldn’t get through. This could be an even larger problem than being hungry. A trip to the nearest bathroom could be affected. An usher might walk by with some food, but no one is coming by with a restroom facility.

Working on the Problem

The Pirates say they’re working on the problem. I’m not sure how they’re going to tackle the long lines. They currently have a winning team, and winning teams attract large crowds.

This is nothing new, of course. Jesus had a similar problem. At one point in His ministry, He began drawing large crowds. I suppose He could have invited hot dog vendors to alleviate a situation involving a large number of hungry people, but I’m not sure kosher dogs had been invented as yet. Instead, He fed them Himself.

You may remember that He once fed four thousand men plus women and children (don’t ask me why they didn’t count the women and children). On another occasion, He fed five thousand men (plus…). He did so at each event by multiplying a few fish and loaves of bread. That meal doesn’t sound as exciting as hot dogs, but the miracle of providing so much sustenance for so many people with so few morsels trumps the blandness of the meal.

If I owned the Pirates, I’m pretty sure the first thing I would do would be to pray. If I remember correctly, that’s what Jesus did. Of course, the Pirates already have enough food. They just can’t get it to the proper people quickly enough. The logistics are different, but it’s still a matter of distribution.

Give Each Vendor a Hot Dog

Maybe if they gave each vendor a hot dog or two, they could move through the crowd and break off a piece of dog for every person who wanted one. If it works as well as it did for Jesus, they would return with a cart full of food that could, in turn, be resold. This, unfortunately, would cause a problem for the state of Pennsylvania. They wouldn’t be able to figure the sales tax correctly. Moreover, they would have a health problem with all the sharing of food among the thirty or so thousand patrons of PNC Park.

These were problems which Jesus did not face, of course. The Jerusalem Board of Health had not been convened in first century Judea (although the Romans had a pretty good handle on taxes). I’m just wondering if He passed out mustard packets with the fish.

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

Another Royal Pain

I hear there’s about to be another Royal Wedding. Have you heard anything about that? Of course, you have. We will be inundated with all things Royal in a matter of moments. As one who celebrates wedding ceremonies with regularity, I suppose I should be thrilled, but alas, I am not. I, in fact, am far less than thrilled.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I find it so boring and over the top. I’ve done so many weddings in my life, I guess I’m not overly exhilarated to watch another one on TV (particularly one that will not only last for hours, but one that will get days of commentary and replays following the actual event).

Self-Important and Pompous

Every wedding is important. I believe that to be true. That’s why I wrote “The Last Wedding.” But no wedding is THAT important (except the final one). There’s not a wedding around that merits the hours of spectatorship that the Royal Weddings garner. For my money, Royal Weddings are no more important than any other. In fact, I find them to be overly self-important, pompous, and presumptuous. I seem to be in the minority, however.

The Brits are in love with them, of course, but it’s their tradition. As far as I can tell, people all over the world go gaga for them as well. Frankly, it’s beyond me, but my lovely Bride is one of them (a viewer, not a Royal), so I can’t totally avoid the spectacle.

I’m not sure, but I’m guessing there are a lot of fathers out there who spend thousands of extra dollars on weddings because their daughters were infatuated with one Royal Wedding or another. Since all of our daughters and granddaughters are wannabe princesses, how can we say, “No.” We can only pray that they’ll be somewhat sensible as they seek to fulfill their need to be a Royal bride.

Love, Honor, and Cherish

Weddings are important rites of passage. They mark and publicize a covenant many single people make to pass into the ranks of the united—as in “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). It’s a critical moment in someone’s life when they answer, “I will” to the attending celebrant. That celebrant (officiant, pastor, justice of the peace, etc.) has just asked one of the most significant questions to which anyone will ever agree. “Will you take” this person to be your spouse? In so doing, do you agree to “love, honor, and cherish” that person “so long as you both shall live?” It’s a daunting question—one which many of us answer in the affirmative and yet fail to live up to its meaning. Even the Royals have problems living out those vows to the fullest.

Now that I think about it, maybe the well-publicized Royal Weddings are a good thing. If anyone actually listens to what goes on, it could be a good reminder of the gravity of the marriage vows. It could serve as a nudge toward rethinking our own. It surely couldn’t hurt.

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

Working on a Building

For the past several days I’ve been working on a building. We’re doing the Chip and Joanna Gaines thing and remodeling a second home we own in the state of Florida. If you’ve ever watched Fixer Upper, you know that Chip’s favorite day is “demolition day.” Well, I’ve basically had five demolition days in a row. It’s a destroyer’s dream.

My sons (who are basically my work crew) and I are about to turn the corner, however. We’ll begin to put it all back together today or tomorrow. It won’t be as much fun as tearing it apart, but it will look a whole lot better when it’s finished than it does now (I hope). It will take a lot longer to reassemble the pieces than it did to disassemble them, but I’m expecting that the finished product will be worth the effort.

A Strange Phenomenon

I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon occurring within my psyche over the past week. I find that every day when we leave the site of our property, I’ve become more attached to it than I was the day before. The more time and sweat equity I put into that place, the greater the pull to keep it and live there. Our current plans are to sell it when it’s completed, so that is unlikely to ever happen. But investing yourself in something like that tends to change you from the inside out.

Essentially what I’m doing is working on another person’s abode. I own the building, but it will soon be someone else’s home. As gratifying as it is to see the bungalow transformed before my very eyes, it’s even more satisfying to anticipate the enjoyment another individual (or individuals) will receive as they live in the space we’ve provided for them.

This all puts me in mind of Jesus’ words as he was preparing to depart planet earth for His heavenly home. He told His disciples that He was leaving in order to build them a house. His actual words were, “I go and prepare a place for you.” (John 14:3) He didn’t describe it in detail except to strongly imply that His Father’s home has a lot of floor space. I guess that’s why we often refer to our heavenly dwelling place as a mansion in the sky.

Oh, My Aching Back

My aching back causes me to wonder what means Jesus will use to erect our saintly domicile. If the creation account in Genesis is any indication, He will simply speak it into being. On the other hand, we often assume that Jesus was a carpenter during his physical life here on this earth (although it doesn’t really say that anywhere). He may actually be building our divine lodgings by using His muscle and sinew and the sweat of His brow.

However He chooses to do it, I’m sure He’s getting a lot of satisfaction from the fact that it will be there for someone else to enjoy. I look forward to being one of the providential residents.

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

The Parking Lot Committee

Now that I’m fully retired from pastoral ministry, I can sit back and take stock of the things I really miss as opposed to those things to which I will never give another passing thought. One of the latter happens to be administrative meetings. Some folks seem to live for these get-togethers, but I, on the other hand, have no such draw. Other than meeting for worship or fellowship, you can have your summits without me, and I will be none-the-wiser and just as happy. Administration is necessary, even in the church. None-the-less, it is a necessary evil for which I will not pine.

To tell you the truth, a lot of those church meetings were highly superfluous anyway. Whether you call them the Church Board, the Administrative Council, or the Panel of Deacons, there were other meetings that almost always superseded those official gatherings.

The Real Business of the Congregation

There are unofficial (but highly significant) assemblies that usually happen in the church parking lot. They are impromptu and far more honest than those that occur within the building. They transpire as the participants of the indoor meetings are headed to their cars. The real business of the congregation is handled there, and usually, people like the pastor are excluded. The Parking Lot Committee Meeting is where the conversation following the conversation takes place (if you get my drift).

Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to hold the Parking Lot Meeting until the official, indoor meeting has taken place. The preliminary discussion happens in the authorized meeting to lay the groundwork for the unauthorized one. Then the real business of the church is hashed out in the parking lot. As a pastor, I was never privy to these real meetings (the parking lot ones), but I’m sure my remarks in the earlier confabs were used as fodder to facilitate the later consultations (I hope that’s not too confusing for your understanding).

Who’s Who in My Church?

The Parking Lot Committee is the real mainstay of your congregation. They are not listed anywhere in the offices of the church. Make no mistake, however, they are every bit as influential and effective as any other official body listed on your paper of Who’s Who in My Church. Getting to know who these people are just may be a priority for you if you care about where your ecclesiastical body is headed. They, my friends, are your real movers and shakers.

Any pastor worth her salt will get to know these folks and will schmooze them as best she can. Ignoring them is highly unadvisable. Crossing them is fatal. Any ministry you thought you had will quickly exit the nearest window, and you will be left with nothing but your clerical collar and your shiny book of polity (neither of which will have any meaningful purpose anymore).

Pontius Pilate assumed he was in charge of the Roman province of Judea. He was merely the figurehead for the Parking Lot Committee who yelled, “Crucify him!” Wash your hands all you want. It doesn’t change a thing.

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