We Are the Champions

The previously hapless Cleveland Browns had not won a game during the entire 2017 season. Their record—0 and 16—no wins, sixteen losses… While I’m not a fan of the Brownies (as people like to call them), I felt badly for them. No one should go winless for an entire season. It’s got to be excruciating. I played on a couple of bad teams in my lifetime, but I’ve never gone through anything like that.

During the prior season of 2016, the Cleveland NFL franchise won only one game. I got out my calculator and discovered that adds up to one victory over a two-year span. My guess is that it’s really tough being a follower of that team—at least over the past couple of years.

What brings this to mind is a video clip I saw this past Sunday. The Browns had finally won another game. They had beaten the New York Jets by the score of 21-17. The site of the video was a bar in downtown Cleveland. The fans were going wild, and they were singing the old Queen hit, “We Are the Champions.” You have to take the joy wherever you can find it.

I don’t think I’m revealing any secrets when I say that we really emphasize winning in our culture. No one wants to be a loser. In fact, few of us even want to be associated with a loser. Even in sports, I’ve seen a lot of die-hard fans ultimately reject their team after a few losing seasons. I’ve never been able to become that fickle, but it’s not uncommon these days. So when I see the Browns fans singing and celebrating, it makes me feel good.

Invite the Winner

Noel Paul Stookey (of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame) once wrote a song entitled, “The Winner.” It was an invitation to “invite the Winner into your heart.” The Winner for Stookey is Jesus. He basically describes some of the actions of people who make decisions that put them on the losing side of life. Then, Stookey offers us an alternative. He says, “You get to choose.” The choice is between the one who brings us together and the one who tears us apart. His choice is Jesus, the Winner. Having the Winner in our lives makes us winners as well. 

It’s interesting how, sometimes, having an MVP type player on your team will make all the difference. I’ve noticed how true this usually is in games like basketball, for instance. Having a Shaquille O’Neal, a Michael Jordan, or a LeBron James on your team puts you over the top. Every team needs a winning attitude as well as someone who knows how to win.

In that sense, Jesus is our MVP. Without him, we’re losers. With him, we are the champions of the world—make that the universe.

Along with the Apostle Paul, I urge you to “press on toward the goal to win the prize.” Just don’t try to do it without Jesus.

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

Wardrobe Change

I didn’t see any of it, but it’s my understanding that the Queen of Soul (Aretha Franklin) had a few postmortem wardrobe changes. I read a short article indicating that her family held three public viewings of her body. Apparently, she wanted nothing but the best.

For the first viewing, she was clad in red. The article indicated that this was a “nod to her honorary membership” in a sorority (Delta Sigma Theta). Delta Sig boasts such members as Halle Berry and does significant work to support various civil and social causes—particularly among women of color.

Her second outfit was powder blue. No one seems to know if there was any significance to that color, but members of her family chose it. There were no pictures authorized for her second viewing, so one might guess it was a favorite color (if not hers, then someone close to her).

The third and final choice of her funeral garb was colored gold—rose gold to be specific. That color would appear to be extremely appropriate for many reasons. Not the least of these is the fact that she was proficient at producing gold records. She had eighty-eight Billboard chart hits during her career. She was number one among female vocal artists. Regardless of what kind of music was your favorite, you liked Aretha. She was that kind of singer.

There was one wardrobe change that was not mentioned in the article. It was the biggest and best of all. It was the change where she put on Christ. Those robes were white (at least figuratively).

In the Old Testament (Isaiah 61:10), those robes were described in this manner. “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

Aretha was a professed Christian. Like a lot of singers, she got her start in the church. She sang gospel music as very few others could. I suppose that’s not surprising, but sometimes we forget those humble beginnings amid the gold records and the lofty accolades she received.

In the book of Revelation, there’s a scene which depicts a great multitude of people around the throne of God. They are people from various nations, tribes, and languages. The commonality among them is their garb. They’re all wearing white robes, waving palm branches, and shouting praises to the Lord. When John the Revelator inquires about who they are, he is told, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14)

I love that verse. Washing their robes in the blood of Jesus makes them white. Aretha’s new wardrobe change is bleached in the saving blood of Christ. His bloodstains are pure. Enjoy your new home, Aretha.

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

Hammering Home the Point

I was working on a project in my garage a few weeks ago when something startling occurred. Well, it won’t sound so alarming to you (especially if you know me personally), but it was disconcerting to me. As I was hammering a nail into a 2×4, the implement of destruction slipped off the head of the nail and smashed my thumb.

As you can imagine, it was a little hurty. As the old saying goes, “It’s enough to make a preacher swear.” I immediately muttered the phrase, “Land o’ Goshen!” two or three times (or something to that effect). After the throbbing subsided somewhat, I looked at the damage and the thought crossed my mind, “How cliche!”

I Never Hammer My Thumb

Many times over the years, I’ve preached sermons in which I’ve used the illustration of hitting your thumb with a hammer (I know, I know… sounds boring). I couldn’t remember, however, of actually hitting my thumb with a hammer–until now. I suppose I have, but I’ve apparently blocked those evil memories from my mind.

As I viewed the bloody mess that, just a few seconds prior, had been my healthy thumb, I looked beyond it and noticed the blood on the wood of my project as well. It will be a constant reminder of the sacrifice I made to construct that project for our home (not that I really needed one). The real kicker to this whole fiasco is that I did it again a couple weeks later while working on an entirely different project at a different home in a different state. The original scab was not entirely gone from my poor thumb when I repeated my misadventure. Oy vey!

The wood, the hammer, the nail, and my bloody thumb (not to mention the pain) quickly put me in mind of what Jesus must have gone through on the day he was crucified. I have, from time to time, tried to picture myself in his place. I’ve always found it to be unimaginable. Hitting my thumb with a hammer hardly qualifies as comparable, but it is a small reminder that a heavy price was paid for my salvation.

I Can’t Conceive

Having the flesh torn from his back, three-inch thorns pounded into his cranium, spikes driven through his extremities, and experiencing the dislocation of every bone in his body are things of which my small mind can’t conceive. My little accident merely hammers home the point that life is painful and that my sin causes even more agony than I can envision.

The worst part is the fact that the physical torture of the cross was likely the least of it. On top of all that, Jesus suffered the weight of my sin (our sin) that was placed on him. His Father in Heaven forsook him at the worst possible time. Having God look away in my hour of need is something I’ve never experienced, but Jesus did.

There’s an old hymn that states, “There’s Power in the Blood.” I get the point.

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

Old, White Guy Disorder

I was born an old, white guy. Well, that’s not entirely true. I was young once, but those days are gone. The point is, I can’t help being an old, white guy. Frankly, I have no choice. I suppose I could do myself in, but then I would simply be an old, dead, white guy. I’m opting for the former as long as I can.

Being an OWG gives me a perspective on things that many other people don’t have. It’s not the white part that gives me my view on life as much as the old part. I have gathered a good deal of sagacity and perception in my seven decades of journeying on this orb. That’s not a boast, it’s just what happens when you hang in there long enough.

Any insight that I’ve accrued over lo these many years has perched me at a position to be a tad more objective about life. At least I think it has. As I view the landscape, this becomes more and more apparent to me.

A Bit of a Meltdown

Recently, one of the great tennis players of all time, Serena Williams, had a bit of a meltdown on the court. If you missed the reporting on that, you must have been in hibernation. This happens to athletes from time to time—especially to intense competitors such as Williams happens to be. Usually, we take note of an event like that and move on. This one, however, got blown way out of proportion.

There was wall-to-wall coverage and analysis of her flare-up. It was turned into a racist/sexist thing (partially by her own statements), and even the political commentators couldn’t help but jump into the fray. It was a mess. My feeling was simple. Just let it go. No one listened to me, however, and the rest of the world jumped in.

A talented cartoonist from Australia produced a drawing depicting Serena jumping up and down on her tennis racquet. There have been many caricatures done of her over the years, but the timing of this one caused quite a stir. The Aussie artist was accused of reviving an old stereotype of “the angry, black woman.”

A Simple Response

In response, he simply stated that he had watched the US Open final and saw “the world’s best tennis player have a tantrum.” He further stated, “The cartoon about Serena is about her poor behaviour on the day, not about race. The world has just gone crazy.” In short, Serena cannot help that she is a young, black woman any more than I can help being an old, white guy. Both of us, however, have a say in how we act. Pointing out that her actions were a bit over the top that day is neither racist or sexist. It’s just human.

I still love Serena. She’s entitled to blow her stack on occasion. Even us mellow old, white guys do that. Maybe we should make less of a deal about our human foibles and just love each other.

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

Love (and Faith and Hope)

The mother of a close friend of mine recently passed away. By a coincidental series of circumstances, I happened to be back in my hometown and was able to attend her memorial service. The priest conducting the celebration of this caring woman delivered a homily that I really appreciated. In particular, there was one thought that I had never considered before he said it. He spoke of her (and others) who now reside in Heaven and reminded us of one of the most famous verses in the New Testament.

The verse is the climactic thought in what is known as the “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13.  After giving us what amounts to a Biblical definition of love, the Apostle Paul says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (Verse 13) A lot of folks have this verse memorized. It’s one of those ones you can often find embroidered on a pillow or painted on a wall plaque.

One Out of Three Ain’t Bad

What he said, and his thought to which I had never given much prior consideration, was the fact that, in Heaven, we will no longer need the first two of that trio that Paul said would remain. The priest’s words really struck me, because I hadn’t remembered ever thinking about them in that way. As far as we can tell, in eternity we will no longer need faith and hope.

Faith will be unnecessary because we’ll see the Lord, face to face. If faith is what the writer of the book of Hebrews contends it is (“confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”), it will no longer be a prerequisite. By then, we’ll have seen everything—including the Lord. Faith will have become a bridge linking our life on earth to our new life with God.

Likewise, all of our hopes will have been realized. They will have become fact, and hope will be primarily relegated to our past. Hope, as vitally important as it is to us today, will become almost passé—an all but obsolete reminder of a life well-lived.

Another Important Trio

Paul says the trio of faith, hope, and love will remain, but he also stresses that the greatest of the three is love. The first two might remain, but the one that will always be needed will be love. Faith and hope are absolute musts in this life, but love is eternally indispensable.

As far as I can tell, everyone I know is desirous of all three. You don’t have to be a Christian to be eager for faith, hope, and love. In fact, I suspect that having all three in tandem is the closest thing to Heaven we’ll experience on earth. We can place our faith in a lot of things, we can hope for much, and we can love with all our hearts. These are God-given. Realizing the completion and perfection of them in the presence of the Lord will be Heaven.

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

The Dog Whistler

No, this is not a blog about Cesar Millan. He’s the Dog Whisperer. I’m referring to a relatively new sensation that seems to have arisen. It’s amazing how often people are getting accused of it these days.

In case you hadn’t heard of it, I’ll give you an example. One of the contestants for the office of Governor of Florida used the phrase, “monkey this up.” He was suggesting to the voters that they not vote for his opponent who has been described as a socialist, and if they did, they would be monkeying up the election.

Unfortunately for him, his opponent is African-American. The press immediately jumped on him as being racist. Because he used the term, monkey, he was accused of using “dog whistle” tactics.

It’s More Insidious

Wikipedia defines dog whistle politics as “political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different, or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup.” In other words, to use a dog whistle is to say something that seems innocuous to the larger population but communicates something more insidious to a targeted group of insiders.

I have no clue if this particular politician was actually doing that, but I doubt it. Parts of the media have determined that such words as “Chicago” and “golf” are racist code words as well. Everyone and his brother are getting accused of it these days. For someone in such a key race to risk doing such a thing on national TV is highly unlikely.

The upshot of all this is that you really have to be careful about what you say. It occurred to me that if someone used the phrase, “not a day goes by,” I could construe that as a dog whistle about my Italian heritage (you may have to think about that, but if you say it out loud it may come to you). Fortunately, most of these dog whistler accusations are contained within the political arena. It’s sad that it’s come to that, however. Someone even wrote a book about the subject. I think I’ll pass on that one.

The Refreshing Side

On the other side of it all, there’s something refreshing about a person who says what she means or means what he says. Refreshing, yes—but dangerous. As a preacher, I’ve been accused of saying such things from the pulpit. I never actually dog-whistled, but that didn’t stop folks from taking things the worst possible way.

I suppose this is why Jesus warned us to simply say, “Yes or no; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37) We’re a little too prone to evil if we let our mouths run. There’s also a Biblical proverb that says, “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.” (Proverbs 17:28) I suppose this is a bit too much to expect from a politician, though.

Remember this, however. If you can hear the whistle, you’re a dog.

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

Cross Training

I’ve been publishing this blog for a tad over three years now. My goal—more like a discipline—is to write and post three blogs per week. I limit each mini-essay to five hundred words per posting—another feat of discipline for anyone with diarrhea of the pen (or keyboard, as it were). In addition to Local Church Prisoners, I produce an e-letter (Pulpit Man at Large) each Friday that I shoot out by e-mail to a couple thousand unsuspecting subscribers.

The reason I mention all of this is not specifically to bore you with minutia. It’s to say that, every week, I have to come up with at least four topics upon which to expound. That, in itself, might be the hardest part of my writing experience. I’m constantly asking myself, what do I explicate today?

No Politics

For that reason, I try not to limit my topics very much. When you start tossing out general areas of conversation and interest, you can come up dry quite often. If I’m going to produce four, somewhat original pieces of work each week (with an occasional sermon thrown in as well), I can’t set too many parameters—although I attempt to avoid politics as much as possible (a herculean task of its own).

So… I derive my topics from a slew of places. These include (but are not limited to) human-interest stories, news items, fascinating phrases and sayings (fascinating to me, at least), and stuff that happens to my lovely Bride and me. Another thing that intermittently sparks a blog is the occasional picture. And that brings me to my topic today.

I just ran across a pic of a little girl attempting to help Jesus carry his cross. It’s an inspirational shot because it’s contemporary, and it’s real. She apparently saw Jesus (a statue) on his hands and knees, the cross on his back, and she wanted to help him with his burden.

I’m not sure of the context, but the statue looks like it might be a part of a 3-D Stations of the Cross depiction. Although they’re not in the photo, I would guess that her parents took her to the scene and may have been the ones who photographed the image.

The Heavy Lift

The old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” definitely applies to this snapshot. This little child—maybe four years old—simply wanted to help Jesus carry his burden. Words fail to describe the thoughts, emotions, and offshoots of this scene. It is indescribable in that it probably evokes different things in different people, depending upon their prior experiences. For me, it is a reminder of the awesome privilege we have of being a part of what Jesus continues to do in this world of ours.

He told us that his burden is light (Matthew 11:30). It’s only light, of course, because he carries the bulk of it. He invites us to help him if we desire. This precious little girl has rekindled that aspiration in me.

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

It Caught Me by Surprise

As I write this, it’s the anniversary of 9-11. I had totally forgotten about what day it is. Retirement can do that to you. I got up, turned on the TV, and saw on the news that President Trump was flying to Shanksville—the sight of the Flight 93 Memorial. My first thought was that he should save that trip for the anniversary of 9-11. Then it dawned on me—this IS September 11. It caught me totally by surprise.

To me, this was astonishing in itself because I often think about that day and its implications. Yet, I woke up this morning and never gave it a thought. Still, it didn’t take long for it all to come rushing back to the forefront of my mind.

As I watched a replay of the coverage that day, I went through many of the same emotions—anger, fear, bewilderment, and sadness. I remembered sitting at my desk at work in disbelief as the first tower fell. I remembered leading an evening prayer service on the Thursday of that week that was attended by many I had never seen in our house of worship prior to that day. The death and destruction on 9-11 were too close to home to tuck away into some distant corner of our minds. The only real place to turn was to God.

Until This Year

On the first anniversary of 9-11, my lovely Bride and I made the trek to New York City to participate in the memorial service and pay tribute to those who lost their lives and to the determination of a country to persevere in the wake of such hatred and pain. The event affected us deeply, and now forgetting what day it was simply stunned me. Every year since, as this day approached, my thoughts always drifted to the events of that day—every year, that is, until this year.

During our trip to New York, we sat and had a cup of coffee in a park along a major thorofare on the morning of September 11. All of a sudden, everything stopped. Traffic came to a halt. No horns beeped. Pedestrians halted their steps and silently turned toward the financial district. In that eerie silence, we realized it was 8:46 am—the time the first plane hit the North Tower.

Collective Memory

I watched this year’s ceremony on television and saw a man wearing a familiar t-shirt. The words printed on his shirt thundered in my mind. “Always Remember!” I had forgotten, if only momentarily. I realized that, though it had slipped my mind on this day, I will never forget. I will never forget because we have a collective memory in this country. There will always be those who will remind us.

It’s a day we would certainly like to forget. Yet, like the Holocaust, the Beaches of Normandy, and the blood-letting of Antietam, we choose to remember. Remember it well and thank God for your freedom.

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

Pizza: The Pie that Keeps on Giving

The figures are in. Last year, 2300 Americans went to emergency rooms all across the land to be treated for pizza-related injuries—2300. Let that sink in for a while. Pizza-related injuries… Not gunshot wounds, not boating accidents, not skydiving incidents… Pizza!

I must say I’ve had a number of moments over my sixty-eight years in which I’ve prematurely bitten into a hot piece of that delectable goo we call pizza pie. The roof of my mouth was scalded, and some skin would peel off, but I never made a trip to the ER. Regardless of my pain, I persevered each time. I ate my pie despite my discomfort, and I have the belly to prove it. I usually allowed it to cool after my initial burn, but not always. If you’re bound and determined to kill yourself with pizza, there’s no sense in merely going halfway.

Pizza Night

The American habit we call pizza night is obviously fraught with danger. According to scientific studies, the top three pizza related injuries were 1) lacerations from pizza cutters, 2) burns from pizza pans and ovens, and 3) falling while carrying a pizza. It appears that people preparing and cooking their own version of the scrumptious comfort food indirectly cause many of these injuries. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Don’t try this in your own home?” A retail pizza parlor will bake, cut, and deliver the radial fare right to front your door. Apparently, most of these injuries could be avoided if we weren’t so cheap. A generous tip to your friendly, neighborhood delivery guy is much less expensive than a trip to your less friendly emergency room (which in most cases is beyond your neighborhood).

Still, there are also hidden dangers in procuring retail pizza. Hungry patrons who tripped in pizza parlors incurred some of the reported mishaps. In our haste to transport these cheesy morsels into our gaping mouths, we seem to lose all caution.

Then there are accidents that happen regardless of where or how the pizza was obtained. For instance, one guy fell out of bed while attempting to reach for a slice that was perched on his nightstand. Eating pizza in bed late at night is faux pas enough. Failing to get out of bed to reach for it is beyond the pale. Some injuries are well deserved.


At this point, some of you may be asking the age-old question, “What would Jesus do?” Well, for starters, I’m pretty sure Jesus never even saw a pizza pie. That being said, we would have to scour the Scriptures with a fine-toothed comb to arrive at a reasonable answer to that one. The word, “pie,” is not to be found in either Testament. Still, some Biblical wisdom might be deduced for our consumption (see what I did there?).

Try this one on for size. “Go, eat your [pizza] with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.” (Ecclesiastes 9:7)

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

Floating Around the Internet

Every once in a while, one of those things that float around the Internet is worth taking the time to read. A friend of mine passed this one along, and I found it to be one of those worthwhile items. I did a bit of research and it seems to be an anonymous piece, but it can be found in a collection by Millicent Perry entitled, “Fe-mails.” Enjoy…

“Dear Ruth, I’m going to be in your neighborhood Saturday afternoon and I’d like to stop by for a visit.  Love Always, Jesus”

Her hands were shaking as she placed the letter on the table. “Why would the Lord want to visit me? I’m nobody special. I don’t have anything to offer.” With that thought, Ruth remembered her empty kitchen cabinets. “Oh my goodness, I really don’t have anything to offer. I’ll have to run down to the store and buy something for dinner.”  She reached for her purse and counted out its contents: $5.40. “Well, I can get some bread and cold cuts, at least.”

She threw on her coat and hurried out the door. A loaf of French bread, a half-pound of sliced turkey, and a carton of milk leaving Ruth with a grand total of twelve cents to last her until Monday.  Nonetheless, she felt as she headed home, her meager offerings tucked under her arm.

“Hey lady, can you help us, lady?” Ruth had been so absorbed in her dinner plans; she hadn’t even noticed two figures huddled in the alleyway.  A man and a woman, both of them dressed in little more than rags.   “Look lady, I ain’t got a job, ya know, and my wife and I have been living out here on the street, and, well, now it’s getting cold and we’re getting kinda hungry and, well, if you could help us, lady, we’d really appreciate it.”

Ruth looked at them both. They were dirty, they smelled bad and, frankly, she was certain that they could get some kind of work if they really wanted to. “Sir, I’d like to help you, but I’m a poor woman myself.  All I have is a few cold cuts and some bread, and I’m having an important guest for dinner tonight and I was planning on serving that to Him.”

“Yeah, well, OK lady, I understand.  Thanks anyway.”  The man put his arm around the woman’s shoulders, turned and headed back into the alley.  As she watched them leave, Ruth felt a familiar twinge in her heart.

“Sir, wait!” The couple stopped and turned as she ran down the alley after them. “Look, why don’t you take this food.  I’ll figure out something else to serve my guest.” She handed the man her grocery bag.  “Thank you, lady. Thank you very much!”

“Yes, thank you!” It was the man’s wife, and Ruth could see now that she was shivering.  “You know, I’ve got another coat at home.  Here, why don’t you take this one?” Ruth unbuttoned her jacket and slipped it over the woman’s shoulders.  Then smiling, she turned and walked back to the street–without her coat and with nothing to serve her guest. “Thank you, lady! Thank you very much!”

Ruth was chilled by the time she reached her front door and worried too. The Lord was coming to visit and she didn’t have anything to offer Him.  She fumbled through her purse for the door key.  But as she did, she noticed another envelope in her mailbox.  “That’s odd.  The mailman doesn’t usually come twice in one day.” She took the envelope out of the box and opened it. “Dear Ruth, It was so good to see you again.  Thank you for the lovely meal. And thank you, too, for the beautiful coat.  Love Always, Jesus.”

The air was still cold, but even without her coat, Ruth no longer noticed.

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