Sin: Everyone’s Favorite Topic

I just heard a fascinating statistic recently that I would never have guessed on my own. The Bible was divided up into chapters and verses in the late 1500s (no, it wasn’t written that way). We now have a total of 1189 chapters in Scripture. I’m sure glad they did that. Finding stuff would be a little tough without them. That’s not the interesting stat, however. What’s intriguing is that only four of those chapters don’t mention sin—four.

I haven’t been able to cross check that as fact, but I’ll take the guy at his word for now. Snopes is, apparently, not big on sin. Up until now, I didn’t think anyone was big on sin. I was wrong. From the sounds of it, it was in the top ten list for the writers of Scripture. Now, I’d kind of like to know which four chapters avoided the topic.

Obviously, a knowledge of sin is important. If we don’t understand that we’re sinners, we don’t see the need for a Savior. If we don’t see the need for a Savior, we’re doomed. I guess that’s why the Biblical scribes fleshed it out for us so often. Ignorance is no excuse.

Psychology Has Replaced Scripture

We live in a time when large segments of the world’s population have explained sin away—or, at least, try to do so. Even preachers avoid the subject. They substitute things like positive thinking and practicing moral behavior. Psychology has replaced Scripture in many pulpits.

As I think about it, I guess it shouldn’t be so difficult to believe that the topic of sin is raised in almost every chapter. It’s tough to talk about anything in life without bringing up the subject. We all sin—a lot. It’s a hefty part of the human condition. An objective look at ourselves reveals that fact. The Bible simply (and clearly) points out what should be obvious to us all.

The Apostle Paul gave us the famous line that says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The “all” includes you and me. I don’t care who you are. Fortunately, he immediately points to the solution to our sin problem—Jesus. His grace and forgiveness are the antidotes to the malediction we have no other way of curing.

Earning Your Way

Jesus, himself, was quick to point out humanity’s shortcomings as well. He was once approached by a rich young man who wanted into Heaven in the worst way. He asked Jesus what good thing he had to do to gain eternal life. Jesus heard the word “good” and immediately informed him that no one is good except God. In other words, if you attempt to earn your way in, you’ll fail.

His alternative? Sell everything, give it away, and come, follow me (Jesus). The important part of that is the “follow me.” The man never even got close because his wealth got in the way. If only he had realized what was right in front of him.

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

Shut the Heck Up!

“Never miss a good chance to shut up.” ~Will Rogers~

Many of you probably don’t remember Will Rogers. In fact, unless you’re nearly a hundred years old, you can’t possibly remember him. He died in a plane crash in 1935—fifteen years before I was born. Rogers was a well-known humorist and respected by his peers.

I feel like I remember him, but in actuality, I remember his memory. I saw a biographical movie of his life once (one in which his son, Will Rogers, Jr., played him). My Mom used to talk about the things he said, and I think I read some of his stuff early on.

I’m pretty sure all this was emblazoned on my mind by the scene in the movie that depicts him boarding the airplane for his last ride. The camera zeroes in on his face as he peers out the tiny window of the passenger plane. The look on his face was haunting. He had a woefully sad look that made it seem like he knew he’d never see anyone again—and, of course, he didn’t. His son did a great job portraying that expression (whether it actually happened that way or not). I still remember that face. Although he was a humorist, I picture him as a melancholy figure because of that scene.

“You could have fooled me.”

There is some dispute about whether he actually said those words, but they seem to fit with many of the other things we know he said. It’s that kind of remark that made him famous. Even if he didn’t say it, you could have fooled me.

Anyway, just think about that maxim. “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” It has always struck me as a wise adage—regardless of who originally said it. In our day of social media, twenty-four-hour news commentary, and endless debate on just about everything, we seem to hold to a motto that reflects just the opposite sentiment. Our thought process seems to be based on a philosophy that could be summed up this way. “Never miss a good chance to shoot off your mouth.”

“Calmed and Quieted”

Although the Apostle Paul once told Timothy to “be prepared in season and out of season” to preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2), Scripture generally sides with the wisdom of Will Rogers. More than one verse spells out the virtues of keeping quiet. The psalmist of Psalm 131, for example, tells us that he has “calmed and quieted” himself (V 2). Several of the proverbs are laden with advice to keep one’s mouth shut. Proverbs 17:28 tells us that, “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent…”

As someone who has been paid much of my life to speak, it might seem out of place for me to even bring this up. Still, I find it wise to hold my tongue much of the time. I also find that when I do run into trouble, it often stems from shooting from the hip. Thank you, Will Rogers.

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

The Storm Before the Calm

It was a good time to run a errands. Well… Normally, it would have been a good time. I jumped into my trusty Wrangler and headed out to Costco—everyone’s favorite gathering place. Friday mornings are usually smooth sailing (even at the big box stores), but the place was a beehive. I didn’t understand the big to-do until I was standing in a long checkout line. Then it hit me. There was some snow in the forecast.

As you may know, anytime any kind of storm is predicted, everyone and their sister has to raid the stores—even though, two hours after the snow hits, the roads will be clear. We all know the prudent thing is to stock up on bread, milk, and… Yes—toilet paper.

I’ve never quite understood the toilet paper thing. I’m positive I don’t use any extra toilet paper when it snows. Some people must, but I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because they use the workplace T.P. everyday. If they’re stranded at home, they’ll have to provide their own. That excuse is about as thin as the paper itself, but are we talking 2-ply here?

The Phenomenon

After years of watching this phenomenon, I have to say I’m no closer to understanding it than I ever was. It may be one of those mysteries that will live on long after I’m gone. Some people like to say they’ll have a lot of questions for the Lord when they get to Heaven. Personally, if I ask anything, it will be to get an explanation on the toilet paper rush of aught nine (or any other year for that matter).

Most years, as well as most storms, are quite mild where I live. Often, the actual storms are even enjoyable. What occurs in the hours and minutes prior to the snowfall is when the real action happens. It’s a veritable storm before the calm. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. It catches me by surprise every time.

Don’t TP My Tent

Now that I think of it, this may have been what Jesus was warning us about when he said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Still, they don’t have many snowstorms in Galilee, so He may have been referring to something else. Come to think of it, from what I understand, they didn’t have many grocery stores in Jesus’ time either. Actually, when you really get down to it, I’m not all that sure they even used toilet paper back then. Charmin would have gone out of business before it got started (no matter how soft it is). No wonder He wasn’t worried about tomorrow.

The modern day solution, of course, is for everyone to keep a stock of toilet paper laded at all times. It doesn’t take up much room, isn’t expensive, and will never go bad. You will not only have what you need, you’ll be in line with Scripture. 

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

On Being Forgotten

I just heard a thought-provoking quote from one Count Zinzendorf. It reads, “Preach the Gospel…die…be forgotten.” It’s purported by some to be a slight misquote and certainly out of context. Still, it’s attention grabbing and noteworthy.

Since he probably said (or wrote) this in German, it’s understandable that it might be somewhat askew—word wise. Still, the meaning is clear. The context was advice he was passing onto new missionaries. He was warning them that sharing the gospel could bring suffering with it. He wanted them to be wary of doing it for the wrong reason—pride. In other words, “You’re not building a legacy here. You’re glorifying God” (my extrapolation).

Zinzendorf was a leader in the Moravian Church in the 1700’s. He is credited with being a pioneer of Christian missions during that period.

Firsthand Knowledge

The Count certainly had a background that could have given him firsthand knowledge of the subject of pride. He was born into a rich Austrian family of noble descent. He was well educated, and his accomplishments added to a resume that could have produced a swelling pride within his own character. He knew whereof he spoke.

The advice is simple and straightforward. As followers of Christ, we’re not here to placate others or bring credit, fame, or praise to ourselves. We live to serve—at least, that’s what we attempt to do.

Obviously, Zinzendorf was not forgotten. People are printing t-shirts with his quote and name on them. He is a famous figure in the Protestant mission movement. We still know the names of some of the missionaries he supported as well. They preached the gospel, they died, but we still remember them. Of course, his words went well beyond their face value.

He was merely attempting to convey the thought that it’s easy to get sidetracked. We see this play out often in today’s church. Too often, instead of servants, we see superstars—people who have talent and fall into the trap of believing their own hype. Getting a pat on the back begins to supersede the real reason they began their work in the first place. Eventually, they seem to become addicted to the adoration heaped upon them by their groupies and sycophants.

Big Fish in Small Ponds

Beyond that, a lot of folks become big fish in small ponds. They build little kingdoms for themselves, and they call it ministry. Zinzendorf’s words peal loudly in our time—or should.

Fame and esteem can be alluring spices to someone who otherwise seems to be lost in the shuffle. Sometimes we can’t avoid those enticements, but we can still remain humble enough to forgo the easily taken prideful avenue.

I write this as someone who has several books on my shelf with my own name printed on them. I write books to help people, but I fully admit that a small part me wants to be able to pass on that legacy to my grandchildren. I find it good to be reminded of Zinzendorf’s words from time to time.

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

Abdicate Your Throne

In some surprising news, it has been revealed that Sultan Mohammad V, King of Malaysia, has abdicated his throne. Anytime any monarch steps down, it’s big news. In this case, it’s a first. No other Malaysian king has resigned since the country had received its independence from Great Britain in 1957. No reason was given, but speculation has it that it’s due to his love interests. That sort of thing doesn’t usually stop folks from anything, but that’s a story for another time.

Obviously, rulers don’t step aside every day. Who would want to give up all that power, prestige, and probable influence? I’m pretty sure I would have a problem doing it. It would have to be a pretty substantial reason for me to muster up the gumption to give it all away like that.

Good King Jesus

On the other hand, that’s exactly what Christian’s are required to do. We sit upon the thrones of our own lives, and then along comes King Jesus. He calls us to follow Him, we hear His voice, and we spend the rest of our lives attempting to give Him control. We’re not always overly successful, but that’s the idea.

Abdicating the throne of our lives, just like abdicating royal thrones, is not an easy thing to do. It’s scary, courageous, and costly. It makes us vulnerable and puts us in surrender mode.   It places us on a pathway to regions we might never have otherwise gone.

Giving up kingship means following another ruler. It means allowing someone else to chart the way. It means giving up the right to be in charge. It entails the invitation to help fight someone else’s battles. You gear down to discover a new way of life, and then it’s full speed ahead.

The cry to offer up your throne is called dying to self. Alternately, it’s referred to as discipleship—following someone else so closely that the mud from their shoes kicks up and splatters across your face. It comes with a cost, but simultaneously, it offers great rewards.

Renouncing Your Kingship

The only good reason to renounce your kingship is because the new King you’re about to follow is great than you. Furthermore, He is the only one who can offer you everything because He created it all. No other king has anything of lasting worth.

A lot of Christians prefer not to think about such things. After all, we’re called, chosen, elected, and sealed for salvation. Jesus, on the other hand, was very clear in these matters. On more than one occasion, he spoke at length about the cost of following Him. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it the Cost of Discipleship.

Jesus threw around phrases like bearing your cross and hating your own life. He told illustrative parables about constructing tall buildings and fighting wars. In essence, abdicating your own throne is tantamount to engaging in warfare against your own ego. It’s probably the hardest thing you’ll ever do—and the wisest. Trust your destiny to God—the true King.

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

Pinchbeck

I remember learning about alloys in junior high. As you may recall, these babies result from the combination of two or more metals to form a new, distinct entity. For example, bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. Recently, I learned of a new alloy. Well, let me correct that statement. I learned about an alloy of which I’d never heard. Its name is pinchbeck.

Pinchbeck is an alloy of copper and zinc. It’s often the prime ingredient in things like watches and costume jewelry.  It’s big claim-to-fame is the fact that it’s cheaper than gold. If someone wants to make an inexpensive version, they are likely to use pinchbeck.

To give you a better idea of this unseemly, metallic amalgam, here are a few other definitions given my Webster and a few of his cohorts—appearing valuable, but actually cheap or tawdry. Synonyms: poor-quality, second-rate, substandard, low-grade, inferior, common, vulgar, shoddy, trashy, tinny, and worthless… There are several more synonyms, but I’m guessing you get the picture by now. Apparently, it’s used to make the kind of jewelry that turns your skin green.

Pinchbeck was first named after the English watchmaker, Christopher Pinchbeck. He died in 1732, but his name infamously lives on in the tawdry jewelry that even I can afford. I wonder how he would have felt about that. In any case, the term pinchbeck has become an adjective describing not only second-rate jewelry, but low-grade anything. If “low-class” is your motto, pinchbeck is your theme.

Paul and Pinchbeck

This leads me (as many things do) to the Apostle Paul. While I’m sure he never heard the term, pinchbeck, I’m guessing he would have used it had it been around in his day. It could have been a part of his letters to the Corinthians, for example. He chided them for receiving a gospel other than the one he had originally preached to them (2 Corinthians 11:4). Pinchbeck would have fit quite nicely there, as in, “You’re listening to a pinchbeck gospel.” He would have been totally correct in his statement, because this is easily done. We know that, because we see it running rampant in our own time. People everywhere are easily snowed by a good-sounding but worthless gospel submitted to them by preachers whose last names may as well be Pinchbeck.

They replace the sacrifice of Jesus with high-sounding platitudes and discipleship with positive feelings. Their goals seem to be putting fannies in the pews and silver in their pockets. The results are followers who feel good but have little or no knowledge of the truth. While fannies in the pews could be a good thing, without hearts and minds that follow Christ, they are simply taking up space.

The Gospel preached by Paul was (and is) hard to swallow. It is so because there is a price to be paid for discipleship. It’s not an easy-peasy road upon which to meander through life. Look for the pure gold. Pinchbeck will leave you green around the gills.

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

Endorphin Junkies

You may not know this, but the average adult laughs seventeen times per day. When I first read that, I thought it was a bit overestimated. Frankly, I can’t envision myself laughing that many times in one twenty-four-hour period (unless I’m checking out my favorite comedian), but I suppose I do.

An interesting juxtaposition of that statistic is the accompanying stat about children. The little tykes laugh over three hundred times a day. That, I can imagine. When you don’t pay bills, work for a living, or drive in city traffic, there’s definitely more room for laughter.

The Giggle Theory

Laughing is a thing most of us enjoy, I suppose. I know I do. There’s something about a good chortle that makes me feel better. There’s actually scientific evidence that supports my giggle theory. I found this little missive on the internet (which, as we all know, makes it true).

Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.

These facts, of course, lead to the old saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” The old Reader’s Digest magazine used to have a monthly feature with that title. My Mom was a faithful subscriber to that mag, and I would grab it out of the mailbox simply to read that periodic article. I left the rest to my Mother. I was a kid, of course, so I had to use it to help me get my three hundred laughs. (By the way, it’s also Biblical—Proverbs 17:22.)

All this talk about laughter being a healthy business makes me wonder. How did we ever come up with the old phrase, “I laughed so hard I split a gut.” Nothing about that sounds healthy. Well, maybe the laughing hard part… Splitting a gut is definitely less than desirable. It reminds me of when my appendix burst—not fun. (But I digress…)

Dr. Feelgood

I’m really surprised that no one has come up with endorphins in pill form. On second thought, if they did, someone would start selling them on the black market. Everyone would want them, the government would regulate them, and the pushers would make out like bandits. I think that even I would seek out my local Dr. Feelgood to get my daily fix. Who wouldn’t?

The problem, of course, is there are two good ways to get the “feel-good” endorphin. One, as we’ve been saying, is by laughing a lot. But, since we’re adults and don’t laugh all that much, we’ve got to resort to the second way—exercise. Most of us are not interested in the latter, so we have to revert to finding things to make us laugh. Some of us watch videos of endless numbers of people falling down. I’m not sure why this makes us laugh, but the people in the videos certainly aren’t. They all need Dr. Feelgood.

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

Let’s Coddiwomple

Coddiwomple–“To travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.” I had never heard this word until I ran across it a couple of days ago. It’s one of those words that immediately attracts attention. It sounds like you should know what it is—like a creature out of Star Wars or something. As it turns out, it’s totally unfamiliar (at least it was to me). As we head into a new year, it’s a good term to learn and hang onto.

In a sense, most of us coddiwomple a lot. There are many things in life that seem to be a vague destination. Still, our journey toward them is often less than purposeful. If we get there, great; if we don’t, so be it…

In a day or two, we will head into a new year. 2019 holds challenges, pitfalls, and maybe (at least for most of us) promise. We don’t know what it will bring with it. We just know it’s here and we have to (at the very least) plod through.

Meeting it Head On

Plodding through, however, is not coddiwompling—at least, not as best I can understand it. If we’re going to coddiwomple, the description of our journey will necessarily be more like a march or a venture. We might not know exactly where we’re headed, but we can set goals, create plan B’s, and meet life’s trials head on.

One of the great coddiwomplers of all time was a guy by the name of Abram (later to become Abraham). Out of the blue, God called on him to leave his homeland and go to a place, “I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1-9) That’s a bit like jumping into your car and flipping a coin each time you get to a fork in the road. You don’t know where you’ll end up, but you anticipate that it will be a good place (or an interesting one, you hope).

It Sounded Bad on Paper

For Abram, this was a big deal. He was wealthy. He had servants, cattle, grazing land, and wells. He pulled up stakes and took everyone (including his nephew Lot and his family) to a place that became known as the Promised Land. When you live in an area where there are lots of arid deserts, rocky soil, and rugged terrain, life can be quite uncertain. As the old saying goes, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t…” On paper, it sounds like a foolish move.

Nonetheless, Abram followed the voice of God on a simple promise of something better. If I had been there, I would have tried to sell him this bridge I own in Brooklyn. He must have seemed like one of those suckers who happens to be born every minute.

Abram became even more successful, happier, and more fulfilled because he coddiwompled. He didn’t know exactly where he was going, but he went there with a purpose. He didn’t let anything stop him. We need to head into 2019 like that. It’s the only way to fly.

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

Did You Get What You Wanted?

I’m guessing a lot of you received a present or two recently. Some of you probably got quite a few. I’m wondering, though, did you get what you wanted?

Gift giving can be such a chore. For the most part, we seldom know what to buy for someone else. For several years, my kids hounded me about what I wanted for Christmas. I never really knew what to tell them, because I didn’t really need anything.

Finally, I got the bright idea to search the web for unique gifts for men. When I found a few that I thought might be worth having, I created a list and emailed it to them (links and all). I did that for a few years, and lo and behold, I received some unique gifts. Now, I not only have everything I need, I have some extras as well.

Not Just Any Underwear

This year, I turned a new leaf. I didn’t make a list. Well, I take that back. I made a list, but it only had one thing on it—underwear. This was not just any underwear, mind you. This underwear is the cream of the crop—the top of the line—the best of the best. While Dad’s dainties are a rather unusual (and maybe awkward) gift to pass along to your Father, I knew this would be the gift that keeps on giving (at least until they wear out).

You may think this whole thing is a bit odd, but I’m really happy. I got what I wanted this year. It’s something I can use, it’s REALLY comfortable, and it won’t simply sit in a drawer all next year, unthought of and untried.

Right now, some of you who initially laughed at my underwear request are beginning to become jealous. The envy is rising in your psyche because you got another tie and a pack of golf tees (or something else you neither needed nor wanted). My underwear idea wasn’t so bad after all, was it? No returns for me this year.

Next Year’s List

I suggest you start thinking now about your list for next year. If you’re really successful (like me), you might end up with exactly what you want. It takes a bit of talent, but I’m sure you’re up to the task.

If you need a few suggestions, I can point you in the right direction. I ran across this gem recently that would make you the talk of your neighborhood. It’s the commemorative Pope Toaster. Every morning, your toast would pop out with the image of His Holiness right on it (the opposite side says, “Spread the love”). How cool is that? It’s not as good as expensive underwear, but it’s unique as all get out. You can get almost anything on Amazon—even a “Jesus shaves disappearing coffee mug” (seriously).

A few unique gifts like that and you’ll be ready for underwear. Not everyone gets gold, frankincense, and myrrh the first time around. Of course, not many of us have wise gift givers either.

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

The Lost Art of Treeing

When I was a kid, most of our family lived within a fifteen-mile radius. Almost all of my first cousins were a short ride away. On Christmas Day, my parents would pack us all into the car and head out to do some treeing (after the gifts were opened, of course).

Treeing, in case you’ve never heard the term, was simple. We would drop in on all my aunts and uncles to “see their tree.” Most of the time, we didn’t even call ahead. We just stopped in (and they seemed to expect us). Seeing their tree also involved eating their food, drinking their drinks, and visiting—mostly visiting. This also included the pleasantries of being shown all the gifts everyone in that household had received.

Our treeing usually lasted a couple of days and was then reciprocated by most of the relatives who would come over to our house to see our tree (and our presents). What it really amounted to was a great excuse for everyone to visit each other. Between Christmas day and New Years, we pretty much saw everybody we knew. (That might be an exaggeration, but not much of one.)

Getting Together

Treeing was something we looked forward to each year along with the Fourth of July family get togethers and the occasional ballgames. There’s nothing quite like family and nothing quite like treeing to bring them together. At least, that’s how it was in the old days.

Some of you may remember participating in the whole treeing thing. If you do, you probably grew up in a small town or a rural area. At least, that’s my guess. It’s also my guess that you don’t do it anymore. Our society is so mobile these days, many of us live in faraway places with wide spaces between our families and us. We don’t go treeing at our neighbors’ homes because we just don’t neighbor the way we used to either.

Facebook Treeing

Anymore, the only treeing we do is on Facebook. It’s just not the same as the real thing. Social media is good for a lot of things, but there’s no real substitute for face-to-face give-and-take when building relationships. Skype and Facetime are helpful, but they just can’t replace what we used to do. We honed the artform of treeing to perfection. Now, it seems to be a lost art.

I’m not sure if we’ll ever get back to that kind of practice again, but it would be a really good move in my opinion. Of course, the place this should be happening in absence of nearby kin is the church. In his first epistle, John flat out told us (the church) that “if we walk in the light” (which we’re supposed to be doing), we’ll be having “fellowship with one another.” (1 John 1:7) Unfortunately, treeing seems to be a lost art there as well.

I guess we’re too societally disjointed to make a good attempt at it. Once we’ve lost it in the church, we’ve got problems.

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