The Life Verse

I read an article recently that reminded me of something I hadn’t heard or thought of for a long time—the life verse. For those who are unfamiliar with that term, it’s a reference to a practice that many Christians followed in years gone by. The idea behind it was to latch onto a Scriptural passage that jumped out at you—one upon which you would base your life (sensing, of course, that this was the Lord’s will for you).

Typically, these would often be verses that are referred to as the “promises of God.” They would be passages such as Romans 8:37 which states, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Another example of a typical life verse would be Philippians 4:19—“My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

Uplifting, Inspiring, and Superficial

It’s certainly no wonder that folks would choose verses such as these. They are positive, uplifting, and inspiring. The life verse was meant to shape your being in such a way as to guide you in the right direction along the pathway of your long pilgrimage. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but many folks would opt for a passage and never understand its context or full meaning. In other words, it was often quite superficial.

Upon hearing many of these life verses, it dawned on me that a lot of the Bible was being ignored. For example, I never heard anyone say their life verse was Hebrews 10:31 which avers, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Try living that one out for the rest of your life.

The guy who wrote the article revealed the fact that he grew up as a pastor’s kid (that would be a PK to all you insiders). He admitted that, during his childhood, he was something of a “smart aleck.” He decided to be a bit rebellious and sarcastic by choosing the verse from John 11:35 which simply says, “Jesus wept.” I’m sure his parents were a bit put off by his choice, but they probably loved him in spite of it.

The Private Life of Jesus

Interestingly enough, he went on in his article to explain that, in his later years, the verse actually became a comfort for him. If you look at it in context, you can see why. As it stood alone, it was a ridiculous choice for a so-called life verse. In its context, however, it shows a deep glimpse into the private life of Jesus—one seldom seen in the Gospels.

Jesus was standing at the graveside of his good friend, Lazarus. Even though he was about to raise him from the dead, his love for his friend moved him to tears. His onetime companion was lying in a tomb, stone cold dead. As he once stated, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” I guess it was a pretty good life verse after all.

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

Khaleesi

Sometimes it seems like the entire world is watching the Game of Thrones. Facebook memes, cinema parties, and myriads of entertainment articles are telltale signs that people are watching, reading, and celebrating this HBO phenomenon. This mania has even infiltrated the wedding business.

I perform a lot of wedding ceremonies and have noticed an uptick on the inclusion of the Celtic Knot or Handfasting ceremony (used in various wedding ceremonies on the Game of Thrones). One couple even used the theme song of the show as their recessional. It’s a great tune but not one you’d normally expect at a nuptial observance.

Queenie

I just ran across an article that referenced the statistics that a growing number of folks are naming their babies after some of the more popular characters in Thrones. Baby Names are for Girls highlighted the fact that the name Khaleesi has overtaken the ever popular Brittany or Britney. Khaleesi is a name that basically means “queen” in a fabricated language written into the scripts of Thrones. (An interesting sidelight to that is the fact that the gal who used the theme song as her recessional was named Britney.)

What really caught my eye was an observation by the author of the article. He noted that the Khaleesi character had heretofore seemed like the presumed savior of the Seven Kingdoms. She was the benevolent sort who wanted to turn the world into a peaceable realm. Not only was she kind, she was beautiful—exactly the sort of person you’d want your daughter to become. Now, with only one episode remaining, it appears as though she has gone mad—killing thousands all by herself (with the help of her fire-breathing dragon).

Consequently, there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of little girls out there who might be named after a maniacal, murdering despot. We’ll have to wait for the final episode to be sure, but it’s beginning to look as though their parents have jumped the gun. It’s tough to overlook a holocaust.

Gomer and Zipporah

Whatever happened to John and Mary? We used to name our kids after saints. That seems to be going by the wayside. Christians and Jews were adamant that their children are given names into which they could live—names like Jacob, Abraham, Paul, and Elizabeth. Even I named my boys to be unusual. I guess I got tired of being one of many guys named David wherever I went. At least I waited until I really knew the meaning of their names—no mad monarchs in the picture.

Still, there are a lot of great Biblical names I’m not anxious to see make a comeback. These would be names like Ebenezer, Gideon, Gomer, and Zipporah.

People used to bestow names not only because they liked the sound of them but also they wanted their children to become the kind of person their namesake had been. Things seem to have changed. There are a lot of girls out there who may want soon to change their names to Britney.

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

Most Valuable Mammal

Believe it or not, I taught biology for a year. I’m not really sure how I lasted an entire year, but I suppose it had something to do with the fact that school only lasted nine months. I can do almost anything for nine months.

Those fleeting moments taught me several things. Probably the best thing it instilled in me was an undying respect for teachers that stay in the game their entire lives. My hat is off to them. Kudos, my brothers and sisters.

Recently, I ran into an old student of mine. During my tenure, she was a senior in the Advanced Biology class that I taught (and I use the term, taught, rather loosely). After all these years, I not only remembered her, but I remembered her name. For me, that’s a major achievement. I have trouble remembering my own name let alone someone whose path I crossed over forty-five years ago.

Will Wonders Never Cease?

Another amazing thing was the fact that she seemed to like me and thought I was a good educator. Will wonders never crease? I was quite pleased to hear it, but good students tend to make for good teachers; and she was a good student.

She was such a good student, that she won an award in my class. I had totally forgotten that I had handed out little trophies for various acheivements. At the end of that Advanced Biology class, she was awarded the “Most Valuable Mammal” trophy. Not only did she remind me of that little tidbit, she told me she still had it. That’s good to know, because I probably dropped a hard-earned quarter on that baby. Sometimes, you just have to spare no expense.

If I recall correctly, the Most Valuable Mammal was the student with the highest comprehensive grade in the class for the entire year—a feat worth noting. I was not an excessively tough grader, but I failed my share of students. If she was awarded the coveted MVM, she earned it.

An Ego Booster

I was excited to have run into her (even though it was at a funeral). I don’t get back to that town all that much, so the odds were extremely low. Nevertheless, we crossed paths once again, and some good memories were shared (and my ego boosted a tad).

Sometimes in life, you just never know if you’ve done some good in any given situation. I can now say that I affected at least one student in a positive manner. It’s probably fortuitous that I didn’t last long in the teaching profession, but at least I made my mark in a small (but significant) way. That’s pretty gratifying.

In the Old Testament book of Esther, Esther’s uncle Mordecai, presented her with a dangerous challenge that, if it worked out, would possibly save their people. He told her that it may very well be that she was there “for such a time as this.” Maybe my time was the year I presented the Most Valuable Mammal Award.

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

Any Final Words?

On Mothers Day 2019, I had the privilege of worshiping with the local Manassas Biker Church. There are probably a lot of Christians who would hesitate to worship with a group of hard-core bikers. We tend to hang with people who look like us, talk like us, and do the same kinds of things we like to do. Bikers are no different, and that, in itself, makes THEM a bit different.

Many congregants gather in what we used to call their “Sunday best.” If you’re a biker, your Sunday best is often a leather vest and a dew rag. Biker churches are the quintessential “come as you are” people. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy worshiping with them so much.

Not Tailored for Bikers

My sermon was one that could be delivered to virtually any congregation. It was not tailored for bikers and was entitled, “Do Whatever He Tells You.” The title was a direct quote from Mother Mary (the mother of Jesus). It was specifically a Mothers Day sermon (easily done when you’re preaching about the Mother of God). The biker community has this in common with all other congregations—many of them are mothers, and each of them had a mother.

You may recognize the setting of Mary’s words. It’s in the context of the wedding at Cana. Jesus, his Mom, and his newly called disciples were invited. The reception was probably a few days into the event (wedding celebrations were a much bigger deal then) when they ran out of wine—a definite no-no.

When Mary discovered their plight, she turned to Jesus for help. He resisted, and told her his time had not yet come. Presumably, he was talking about going public with his ministry. If he helped them out (particularly in the way he was about to do so), he would not longer be a secret Messiah. Everything would be out in the open.

She Put Him on the Spot

Mary, being a typical Jewish mother, was having none of that—Savior or not. After all, he was still her son. She turned to the servants and uttered the historic words, “Do whatever he tells you.” I’m guessing she was pointing at Jesus when she spoke. His own mother put him on the spot. I presume some of you have had a similar experience along the way. He could either defy his Mom, or he could jump into the fray. I’m thinking that defying his Mom was not in his spiritual DNA.

Despite his belief that his time had not yet come, his Mother’s wishes took precedence. Chances are, like a lot of us, he heard his Heavenly Father speaking through his earthly Mother. The Bible doesn’t say that, but I’ve no doubt the Lord does that a lot—maybe even to his Incarnate Son.

One of the most interesting things about this passage is the fact that, “Do whatever he tells you,” are the last recorded words of Mary in Scripture. As it turns out, these are words we can all live by.

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

The Tweet Stands

Arizona Governor, Doug Ducey, decided to stand by a recent Twitter post. In an Easter weekend Tweet, the Governor had posted, “He is risen,” while wishing his Christian constituents a “blessed and happy Easter.”

He then began receiving pressure from various secular groups to remove it and apologize. Ducey’s reply was, “We won’t be removing this post. Ever. Nor will we be removing our posts for Christmas, Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, Palm Sunday, Passover or any other religious holiday. We support the First Amendment, and are happy to provide copies of the Constitution to anyone who hasn’t read it.”

The First Amendment

The rejoinder was particularly interesting because one of the complaints contended that Ducey was in violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. This is the one, of course, that upholds freedom of speech as well as religion. It specifically reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It’s pretty obvious that the Governor didn’t breach the first amendment. He did torque off a few people who don’t like the mention of anything that smacks of religion. I’m not sure if this will aid him in his next election or hurt him. Either way, he stood by his convictions that it’s his right to wish someone a Happy Hanukkah or a delightful Kwanza.

It’s no secret that the separation of church and state in this country has taken on a whole new meaning. People like to use it as a club to get their own way these days. It is more than a shame that we have to guard our well-wishes tightly so as to not offend even those for whom the remarks are not intended—or are even indirectly affected. Somehow, I’m pretty sure this is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they drafted the constitution.

This is Where we Are

Nevertheless, this is where we are. Wishing someone well can now make for entertaining Twitter wars. I can just picture Obi-Wan Kenobi waving his hand saying, “These are not the Tweets you’re looking for.”

And that brings up my main point. Why are we bothering to glean Tweets that are not meant for us? When something is stated that does not pertain to us, can’t we just let them slide on through like so much water rushing by us in the local river? Do we have to dive in? Please don’t come in! The water’s not fine.

I guess that everything is so public these days, it’s hard not to notice—even when it doesn’t concern us. We seem to have so much time on our hands that everyone else’s business becomes our own. Heaven forbid we pass up an opportunity to post a commentary on another person’s activities. We might be viewed as uninformed. Get wrecked!

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

101, 102…Whatever it Takes

I was watching my favorite sports team last evening. They were leading the game 5-4 going into the ninth inning. This might be the place you’d possibly expect me to say, “They blew it.” Fortunately, that didn’t happen. The game ended in spectacular fashion with the score unchanged. It did so, in large part, to the relief pitching.

For both sides, the eighth and ninth inning hurlers were quite good. One guy, in particular, Felipe Vasquez, was magnificent. He pitched the top half of the last inning. It was, in a word, superb. In two words, he was “lights out!” He retired the side, 1-2-3, in a display of efficiency.

A Bit Different

For the final out, he had to face the opposition’s best hitter. As circumstances would have it, that same guy had gotten to him for a home run the last time they met. Things were a bit different this time.

Vasquez struck him out to end the game. He did it on three pitches—three sick pitches (as the young players like to say). The first was a breaking ball, but the final two were unvarnished fastballs. The first one registered 102 miles per hour on the stadium radar gun. The last pitch, a high hard one that had the batter flailing, was clocked at 101. It was a thing of beauty.

I watch these sorts of outings with a great deal of admiration—for several reasons. First of all, I spent a few seasons on the mound as a teenager. I was okay, but I only got guys out because of my control. I knew where to stick my 47 miles per hour pitches and generally put them where I wanted them to go. So, I can appreciate a guy who can heave it twice as fast as I ever could. (Full disclosure: We didn’t actually have radar guns in those days, so I’m estimating my fastball—if you can call it fast.)

Secondly, I’ve never had to stand in the batter’s box against a guy who could throw that hard. Frankly, you couldn’t pay me enough money to do so. It would be tantamount to suicide for a guy like me.

Superhuman

Finally, anyone who can throw that hard is almost superhuman. Those dudes are few and far between. Ones who can actually control those pitches are even more rare. They are precious commodities on any baseball team. It’s an extraordinary delight when your favorite team lands a guy like that.

Pitchers like Vasquez are as rare as the Word of the Lord in the days of Eli (1 Samuel 3:1). When you do see one, you relish the time you spend watching him. When the Word of the Lord came to Samuel, neither he nor Eli recognized what it was at first. Once they realized it was God, however, they paid attention.

Among major league closers, Vasquez is the real deal. He’s got my attention. His fastball isn’t as awesome as God’s Word, but it’s fun to watch.

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

Vilified

Well, our buddy, Joe Biden, is in the news again. Once again, he is being vilified by his own people. This time it’s because he said something nice about another former Vice President—namely, Dick Cheney. I’ve heard that some mothers eat their young, but this is ridiculous. In what twisted world is it wrong to say something nice about another human being (well—in ours I guess).

Jesus had something to say about that kind of attitude. During the Sermon on the Mount he said, But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36) I’m pretty sure political enemies are included in that statement.

The Opposing Party

Apparently, it’s not cool for a politician to compliment someone from the opposing party—even if that someone is long retired from public life. I not only find that to be incredible, it doesn’t even make sense. And it sure doesn’t say much for our current state of affairs.

Proverbs 16:24 tells us that, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Joe said something nice about another man. His words were gracious. Unfortunately, there are those who will give no quarter to someone whose views vary from their own.

I say to Joe Biden, and anyone else like him who chooses to say positive things about others, don’t worry about your critics. We’ve not been placed on this earth to please the naysayers. People who would jump down our throats simply because we’ve got something good to say about others are not worth the ulcers.

Student A

The more I think about it, the more the whole thing reminds me of middle school. Student A would get angry with Student B.  If you were friends with Student A, it was mandatory that you, too, would be upset with Student B. If you weren’t, your friendship with Student A was in immediate jeopardy.

The thing about middle schoolers is that they’re pre-adolescent. They’re immature. For the most part, they can’t seem to help the way they act. I know, because I used to be one of them. You probably were as well. Middle school can be a good experience as long as you grow up and chalk it up to…well, experience. Puberty ain’t all bad, but it’s not all good either.

Somewhere along the way, we have to grow up. Maybe the phrase, “have to,” is a tad strong though. It seems that some folks never really do mature well. Their bodies seem to come into adulthood, but their attitudes never quite catch up. I’m guessing that a good dose of Jesus might help.

Unfortunately, to a lot of today’s politicos, Jesus is just another tool to use during campaigns. Taking him at his word is a different matter.

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

A Couple of Whiles

Here’s a scenario to which many of you will be able to relate. One evening, my son-in-law was putting my youngest granddaughter to bed. As per normal, she didn’t want him to leave when the time came for her to get to sleep. She made a final plea by saying, “Daddy, can you lay with me for a couple whiles?”

If you’ve ever been a parent, you know that those are the kind of moments that stick with you for a long time—maybe for a lifetime. Kids say cute things when they don’t quite have the language down pat. Seeing that quote on Facebook tugged at my heartstrings. As a Dad and a Granddad, those sorts of events seem to make it all worthwhile.

Complicated Relationships

That tiny question not only evoked memories for me, it caused me to think about the various relationships that fathers (and parents in general) have with their children. Those relationships are extremely complicated (as well as unpredictable). But they tend to boil down to the simplest moments in time.

It also made me think about our relationship with the Heavenly Father. We glide along in this life assuming we’re growing, maturing, and often in control. Then, in our best moments, we realize we need our Lord, and we reach out to Him. As an earthly father, it causes me to wonder what our prayers sound like to the Creator.

Sometimes we say these grandiose, pompous, well-established prayers. We get out our prayer books and use someone else’s words to say what we want to say to the Almighty. I often refer to this as priming the pump. When my words don’t seem to cut it, I use the words of some long-gone saint to help me find thoughts of my own. That was especially true when I had to say a pastoral prayer week in and week out. Sometimes the well went dry. Prayer books came in handy when that happened.

Have Mercy

The best prayers, of course, are the ones that come from the heart of the human—when our soul cries out to the God who made us. It’s almost like the parable Jesus told of the Pharisee’s prayer as compared with that of a tax collector. The lowly and humbled collector bowed in repentance and asked for leniency. He knew the Lord of Life was the only real source of understanding. His prayer was simple. “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13)

The Pharisee’s prayer was much more confident and pompous. He was the professional pray-er, if you will. Occasionally, people would comment favorably on my pastoral prayer during morning worship. I used to tell them that I was paid to be good and that they had to be good for nothing (I loved using that line).

No matter how good my prayers came out, however, I sometimes wonder if, to the ears of God, they all sounded like, “Daddy, can you lay with me for a couple of whiles?” I’m guessing that’s good enough.  

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

Don’t Let Worry Kill You

Every once in a while, I run across an article (or an e-mail) that enumerates some church bulletin bloopers. You’ve undoubtedly seen these—glaring and often embarrassing mistakes found among the Sunday announcements. They’re often typos, but sometimes they’ve merely been stated in an awkward manner.

A friend just sent me a batch. A lot of these get recycled every few years—probably because they never seem to lose their oomph. Here are a few to refresh your memory:

“Up Yours”

“The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.” “The sermon this morning: Jesus Walks on the Water. The sermon tonight: Searching for Jesus.” “Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.” “For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.” And then, there’s one of my all-time favorites, “The Associate Minister unveiled the church’s new campaign slogan last Sunday: ‘I Upped My Pledge—Up Yours.’” 

This time around, there was one that especially caught my attention. It stated, “Don’t let worry kill you off—let the church help.” I guess the reason it jumped out at me… Well, I’m not really sure why it jumped out at me. But, it hit home (maybe that’s the reason).

I’ve never been one to do a lot of worrying. I’m not sure why that is, but I suppose it’s hidden in my DNA somewhere. I’ve always tended to be somewhat laid back. I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve lost sleep over anything.

As I look back over my life, however, the biggest worries seem to have occurred because of the church. This might not have been true had I not become a pastor. Alas and alack, I DID become a pastor, and then my real worries began.

Secure in Their Position

You would think that a person who believed their salvation had been secured would, in turn, feel rather secure in their position as a parson. Not so… Once I stepped into that position, I began to worry about perception. I became concerned over how I was perceived by the various members of my congregations.

I, like many of my ilk, started to become a tad paranoid. Sometimes I’d be writing a sermon and worry how people would take it. The fallback position was always, “Hey, this is what Jesus said. Don’t shoot the messenger.” Still, that doesn’t always cut it in the clergyperson’s psyche. (Or in the minds of the laity for that matter.)

Still, I fared much better than many of my peers in full-time ministry. Loads of them are on Zoloft and other anti-depressants. I escaped without an ulcer or a spike in my blood pressure.

Jesus told his disciples not to worry about what they would say (even if they were dragged before a court). Yet, we preachers still worry about the court of public opinion. Maybe we should listen more closely to the Boss.

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

Is Nothing Sacred?

Mr. Robert Mueller, the special attorney of Russian Collusion fame, submitted his report to his good friend, Attorney General Barr, and went on about his daily life (apparently). Last week, he took his family to a worship service. Since it was Resurrection Sunday, I suppose this was expected to be a part of the routine.

Mueller and his family were attending the service at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington DC on that particular Sunday. I’m not sure how often he worships there, but it’s been reported that Attorney Barr’s wife attends Bible study with Mueller’s spouse. It sounds like the Christian faith plays a part in their lives.

No Comment

I mention all this because of what occurred this past Resurrection Sunday. In case you didn’t see the clip, one of our stellar news outlets got the bright idea to intercept Mueller as he left the church. He tried to avoid them as best he could by saying, “No comment,” to their first question. The reporter continued to hound him, but he kept mum.

Later, all the news outlets got hold of the video clip of the reporter’s actions with Mueller and gave it some airplay. I had a chance to watch it shortly after it had been reported and it was accompanied by an old comment I hadn’t heard in a while. The commentator, after airing the clip, asked, “Is nothing sacred anymore?” Good question…

It’s common knowledge that public figures can no longer expect any real privacy. They get accosted whenever they go out into the community. It’s a wonder that anyone seeks to serve in an overt way these days. Consequently, the answer to the commentator’s question seems to be a resounding, “No!”

Just to be sure, I checked out the definition of the word, sacred. It means, as you probably already know, “connected with God or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration.” To take it a step further, veneration means “reverence, respect, or adoration.”

No More Oomph

With all that in mind, it seems that the reporter who accosted Mr. Mueller didn’t think the space or time the Mueller family occupied on their way from worship on Resurrection Sunday was anywhere near sacred. That’s a mouthful, but simply put, “sacred” seems to have lost its oomph.

A cursory reading of the book of Exodus will give you the opposite impression. Almost everything in that book seems to be sacred. Read the rest of the Old Testament, and you’ll be able to make a long list of sacred things—clothing, stones, territory, you name it. My favorite, however, is mentioned in the book of Hosea. The prophet is told that the Lord loves Israel even though the people have turned to other gods and “the sacred raisin cakes.”

So, we seem to have gone from everything being sacred to nothing being sacred. Maybe we need to bring back raisin cakes. It seems to me that something has to be sacred. Raisin cakes might be a good start.

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