Winning the Lottery

I tend to do a lot of shopping at the big container stores. You know—places like Costco and Sam’s Club. These eclectic Pandora’s boxes can often be a simple answer for the one-stop-shopper (as many of you have, no doubt, already discovered).

Stores like this tend to have a lot of everything. Well, maybe not everything. But at least they tend to have a goodly amount of a wide variety of stuff. One thing they always seem to have is clothing. The selection is usually limited, but the prices are good.

There Are Drawbacks

Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks to using stores like Costco as your personal haberdashery is sizing. Recently, I was low on shorts for the upcoming summer season. I headed out to Costco, which is often my go-to place for such items. Sure enough, there were piles of men’s mini-pants just lying there for the asking (well, for the purchasing).

The sign above them said, “Men’s Calvin Klein Shorts—Sizes 30 to 68.” True to form, I could not find my size. Sifting through five hundred pairs of anything can be exasperating. It’s even more maddening when you’ve finished your search only to discover your size is nowhere to be found.

That’s exactly what happens to me about 95% of the time. So when I actually do find my size, I consider it about the same as if I had won the lottery. Then, of course, I have to take them home to try them on. (As you know, there are no fitting rooms in such places.) If they actually fit, I feel like I’ve won the Powerball sweepstakes. Can we say, “Jackpot,” boys and girls?

A Strategy to Win

I was at Sam’s Club recently and overheard a senior citizen describing his shopping strategy. He said the following. “When I find something I like, I pick up two or three different sizes and several colors. I take them home, try them on, and bring back the ones that don’t fit or I don’t like.” That’s a pretty solid strategy. Dollars to donuts, the one you’ll need or want won’t be there when you return, so take them all on the first run. (It’s like buying a block of lottery tickets hoping you might hit on one.)

My strategy is much simpler. When I’m standing over an entire lot of shorts (or other types of garb), I pray. Some people pray to win the State Lottery. I pray to win the Sam’s Club lottery.

This makes perfect sense to be sure. Check out the Scripture. We often see Jesus slipping away to a quiet place to pray. Only in a couple of those instances are we told what He was praying. In the Garden of Gethsemane for instance (Matthew 26:36-43) or His High Priestly Prayer (John 17:20-26)…

All the other times, we are left in the dark. Could it be He once prayed for the right sized Seder tunic at the Jerusalem Costco? Just conjecture, but I’ve heard God works in mysterious ways.

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

Swimming in the Shallow End

Twentieth Century theologian, William H. Vanstone once said, “Religion is like a swimming pool—all the noise is at the shallow end.” I love a good, clever saying. While a lot of adages are indeed clever, very few of them are actually good. This one is excellent and right on.

We in the church are prone to new things. In part, this is a wholesome thing. We certainly don’t want to stagnate in our faith, and it would behoove us to remain relevant to our cultures, neighborhoods, and friends. While even theology can be honed, we need to be extra careful when arriving at sensational, new concepts when it comes to Biblical interpretation. Holy Writ was accumulated over hundreds of years by some forty authors inspired by One God. Changing the meaning can result in dire consequences. This is exactly what occurs, however, when we play around in the shallow end of the theological pool.

“A mile wide and an inch deep…”

There’s an old, descriptive axiom about such things as being “a mile wide and an inch deep.” It’s very tempting to come up with something innovative. This is true no matter what your field of endeavor. Innovative theology is fraught with peril, however. When someone comes up with some novel and exciting (yet heretical) theological idea, we often describe them as having “gone off the deep end.” The truth is, however, they’ve been playing in the shallow water all along.

Superficial theology occurs when we refuse to carry the weight of deeper thinking. In other words, we’re too lazy to do the work. Understanding the Bible means, in part, to understand the context of the words. To whom were they written? When were they penned? Why were they inscribed? What were the prevailing circumstances when they were composed? What was the cultural backdrop to the writings themselves?

Many preachers fail to ask these questions and treat Holy Scripture like it was written last week to twenty-first century Americans. That approach is nonsensical as well as indolent. Although these things can be gleaned without a formal education, this is one of the prime reasons why many denominations require a seminary degree of their preachers. They don’t want to ordain someone who is inclined to play around in the shallow end of the pool.

Noisy Preachers

I hate picking on the TV preachers, but many of them are prime examples of what I’m talking about. They make a lot of noise and often cause quite a stir. They whip up a following for some great, “new” teaching upon which they like to expound. Lo and behold, heresy is born.

The real theologians, the ones who do the hard work and think deeply about the meaning of Scripture, go unobtrusively about their work. They seldom get noticed, and often are ignored. Yet, they are the ones whose teaching accurately reflects the orthodoxy of God’s Word.

My humble advice to you is simple. Find someone who’s swimming in the deep end. They don’t create much racket, but their understanding is sound.

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