Sinners Welcome!

I was checking out the website of a friend’s church recently and noticed an interesting statement. It merely said, “Sinners welcome…others tolerated.” I love that! It sounds quite simple, but there’s a lot of depth there.

It should be every congregation’s attitude that sinners are welcome. Since we’re all sinners, that should be a no-brainer.Unfortunately, that sentiment is often missing in our assemblages. We talk agood game, but when someone comes along and colors outside of our churchpractices (so to speak), sooner or later we give them the cold shoulder. Iftheir sin is not like ours, somehow it’s not acceptable.

Those Other Guys

 Of course, when we cop that kind of attitude, we begin to accept our own sin as okay. After all, we’re normal sinners. Those other guys are beyond the pale. There’s definitely something wrong with them. They need to become more like us.

If this attitude continues, we eventually don’tlook upon ourselves as sinners at all. We merely view ourselves as less thanperfect. We see “not perfect” as good and sinning as bad (as if there’s adifference). Any introspection at all reveals that this kind of rationale isfaulty at best. Avoiding that kind of introspection is imperative to maintainour holier-than-thou stance, so we don’t think about it.

 That’s where the second part of the website statement comes in. “Others tolerated…” If we’re all sinners (which we are), then there are no “others.” If you ARE one of the others, the rest of us sinners will stick around and put up with your high mindedness. This is such a great slogan! I wish I had thought of it.

Probably the one thing most nonbelievers hate about us is that we can be such hypocrites. They think we’re hypocrites because we think we’re better than sinners like them. The real problem is that, half the time, they’re right about us. We can be really good at self-deprecation until we begin comparing ourselves with people we think are below us. Then, all of a sudden, we’re looking pretty good (in our own eyes). What we keep forgetting is that, in God’s eyes, we’re still sinners. We may be saved by His grace, but we are sinners nonetheless.

The Room to be Self-Righteous

 The long and short of it is that we’ve got nothing on anyone else. Jesus tried to help us understand that in various ways. One occurred when He told Peter that forgiveness was something he (Peter)should be prepared to do without limit. When you forgive someone, you give up the right to hold their sin over their head. Living that humbly doesn’t give one the room to be self-righteous. Yet, self-righteousness seems to describe us far too often.

We should always keep in mind that Sinners welcome butted heads with the Pharisees. Why? Because they were hypocrites. They were sinners just like everyone else, but they couldn’t admit it—not even to themselves. Don’t look now, but they sound a bit like today’s church.

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

Donating the Leftovers

We just traversed an interesting series of days that come around each year. It’s a deadly and expensive time. Most famously, we recently celebrated Thanksgiving Day. It’s a wonderful American tradition with copious amounts of food, long hours watching the NFL, and (oh  yes) giving thanks. When I was a kid, this is where it all ended. We had a long weekend, visited a few relatives, and went back to school on Monday.

Things have changed significantly. These days, we don’t have time to allow our massive quantities of turkey to digest. The very next day is a new holiday. Immediately on the heels of Thanksgiving comes Black Friday. It is, indeed, black—as a black cloud on the horizon and black clouds over our wallets. I spend quite a bit just on Thanksgiving. I don’t need an immediate follow-up to double down on my cash outflow. Nonetheless, there it is.

Black Friday is, apparently, the mother ofall sales. It’s called “black” because the retailers go from red ink to blackon their ledgers (at least, that’s one theory). Having once been a retailer,that was definitely true for me. Regardless of the origin of the name, it’s undoubtedlytrue that scads of dollars change hands on that day. Some of them are mine.

Subsequently, we barely have enough time to watch a little more football until we rush headlong into Cyber Monday. This is the online equivalent of Black Friday. We tally up all the money we spent on Black Friday, subtract it from the original total we were going to spend, and ignore the small remainder. Once again, we double down and fritter away our hard earned paycheck (not to mention a few future paychecks) on who knows what. We run up our credit card bills and hope for a Christmas bonus from our employer to cover our sins.

To Our Shame

To our shame (and our never ending sense of irony), all this is followed up by “Giving Tuesday.” Yes, you read that correctly—Giving Tuesday. Some of you have probably never heard of that new invention. I can’t remember ever hearing about it until the last couple of days. Now the term is all over the place. Giving Tuesday… Really?

After spending all our money (and more), weare now urged to ease our consciences with a little giving. As cynical as thewhole thing sounds, I’m very happy we actually have a day with that moniker.Unfortunately, I think we have it misplaced on the calendar. Giving Tuesdayshould fall two days prior to Thanksgiving (or maybe, ON Thanksgiving). Ifwe’re really going to give thanks, maybe we should show it by giving a fewdollars as well. Waiting until our fortunes have been exhausted is a tad backward.

All the charity pleas are beginning to pop up on our phones. I can just hear it now. “I can’t afford to give anything.” This may be the very meaning of the old phrase, “Give until it hurts.”

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

Killed by a Donkey

There’s a statement that’s been floating around for a few decades now suggesting that more people are killed by donkeys than die in plane crashes. I don’t know if that is indeed true, but there are those who hold to this premise. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that anyone actually keeps track of such things as donkey-cides, so no one knows for sure. We seem to keep track of everything else, so I’m not sure why we don’t have anaccurate count on this phenomenon.

I saw a Tweet recently which stated, “Donkey’s kill more people annually than plane crashes. If you find yourself on a plane with a donkey, you’re screwed.” That may be–but finding myself on a plane with a donkey might be more unpleasant than death itself—screwed either way.

I’m sure the ADMS would have quite a differing view than mine (the American Donkey & Mule Society—yes, it’s actually a thing—check it out). They love these amazing critters and defend them to the hilt. Still, being killed by a donkey is a real possibility (if not all that common). I looked up an article from 2012 that chronicled the death of a south Texas mayor due to a donkey attack. Sounds implausible, but it seems to have happened nonetheless.

All Things Donkey

If you want to keep up on all things donkey, I recommend the mule-lovers magazine, The Brayer. I’m not sure if it’s still in print, but my guess is that one could, at least, obtain a few copies of some prime back issues.

Then, of course, there’s the ultimate in goodvibes for the Equus Africanus Asinus (ass for short)—the Bible. Scripture tendsto give these somewhat stubborn creatures decent press coverage. Take, forexample, the story of Balaam.The Bible tells us that his donkey saved his life. As the incident unfolded,his donkey actually spoke to him—quite argumentatively, I might add.Interestingly enough, Balaam calmly carried on an intelligent conversation withthe beast of burden. This unnamed animal was apparently the ancient precursorto the famous Mr. Ed (or more likely, Francis the Talking Mule of cinema fame).

An Air of Humility

A more popular Bible passage (particularly around the celebration of Palm Sunday) is the account of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (John 12:12-17). It is significant that the King of Glory would choose to be conveyed by a lowly Equidae rather than its more esteemed cousin, the horse. A noble steed of war would have given him more gravitas as he rode into town. The common donkey merely lent him an air of humility—apparently the preferred aura of the Savior at the time of His arrival.

Donkeys were considered so important in Scripture that they were occasionally included (and counted) alongside their owners when a census was being taken (Ezra 2:64-67). This Ezra account (along with its counterpart in Nehemiah 7:69) reported a total of 6,720 of them. I wonder if those folks subscribed to The Brayer.

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

The Most Expensive Book in the World

I recently released a new book (No Niños en la Canasta: 99 Weird Devotions for Uncommon Christians). The paperback will be arriving in another week, but I wanted to check to see if the e-book was up on Amazon. I was a bit surprised to see that it was already on sale there. If you’re one of those e-reader types, I encourage you to go to Amazon and buy it. Every time someone does that, the dog gets to eat for another day. But I digress.

While I was looking to see what was happening with my new book, I noticed that the hard cover edition of my first book (The Last Wedding) was still on sale there. That surprised me even more than the new e-book, because (as far as I knew) they were all gone. Even I don’t have anymore hardcover copies of that baby. But the surprise didn’t stop there.

When I looked a little closer, I noticed that there were two copies left. These two copies were used. The real clincher is that they were on sale “from $892.98” (I rib you not—check it out here). I don’t know who’s selling these prized possessions, but I wish them good luck. If I recall correctly, the original hardcover releases were $23.99. Inflation is a beautiful thing. If anyone buys them at the new price, I hope they find a solid gold bookmarker within the pristine pages of that little tome.

Just in case any of you are anxious to get your hands on one of these collector’s items, there’s a bargain to be had. I noticed that someone else was selling the same edition for $244.95 (one new and one used). If I had known I could get away with such highway robbery, I may have kept all of my original copies and waited until now to put them on sale. I guess I’m just not that enterprising of an individual. I certainly don’t have that kind of foresight. Who knew? If these guys can pull this off, they’re going to make a killing.

As you may have noticed, I’ve entitled this blog, “The Most Expensive Book in the World.” That, of course, is a bit of an overstatement. There are plenty of books that pull in a much higher price than mine. I just read where Christie’s New York was auctioning off a copy of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America which has sold for $11.5 million back in 2010. If The Last Wedding ever rakes in over a million, I’m pretty sure I’ll throw up. (Sorry for the graphic description of my feelings, but these things can get rather personal.) I think my work is worth a few bucks, but c’mon!

The real kicker is this. If I understand correctly, soon you’ll be able to read The Last Wedding for free if you join Amazon’s “Free to Read” program. The moral of the story is clear. Have patience and you can save $892.98.

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

Stick-in-the-Mud

A few days ago, my lovely Bride leveled me with a barb that cut me to the quick.** She was going to be in a social setting with a group of younger adults and I asked if I should stop in. Her answer was a simple, “No, you’re a stick-in-the-mud.” Hmmm…

If I didn’t know my spouse so well, I would have been really offended by that. I’m not, though, and it’s probably safe to repeat that old twisted saying, “I resemble that remark.” I can’t get too angry with her because, to be honest, I AM a stick-in-the-mud.

That, of course, depends on your definition of stick-in-the-mud. I just looked it up, and as it turns out, I might not actually be one. A stick-in-the-mud is “a person who is dull and unadventurous and who resists change.” I’m not so sure I fit into that mold. Maybe sometimes… But I actually can be a change agent when the situation calls for it.

It gets a little gummy, however, when you look at some of the synonyms for the term. Here are a few: conservative, fossil, troglodyte, museum piece, fuddy-duddy, square, stuffed shirt, dinosaur, and throwback. I’ve been called almost every one of those things along the way—sometimes by myself. In actuality, I’ve never looked up the definition before this and was probably using it slightly wrong all these years (well, I don’t really use that term for the most part—but I’ve definitely misunderstood it).

It Gets a Little Gummy

I’ve always equated stick-in-the-mud with party pooper. I think that might be how my wife was using it, but I don’t want to put words in her mouth. It’s not unusual for me to be a wall flower of sorts when I’m with large numbers of people. Still, that has more to do with my introverted personality than it does with my attitude (I think).

Just to be safe, I looked up the term in another source. The definition they gave was, “A narrow-minded or unprogressive person; one who lacks initiative.” If that was ever applied to me, I would vehemently repudiate it. Furthermore, the origin of the phrase employed the imagery of someone whose feet were stuck in wet clay. “These were usually applied to people who remained in a difficult situation, either by choice or because they were stuck.”

After Checking the Sources

After checking all the sources, I’ve decided I’m not a stick-in-the-mud—no matter what my better half says.

The Lord once asked through the prophet Isaiah, “How can I let myself be defamed?” Since I’m not God, such a rhetorical question from my lips wouldn’t mean much. Still, I guess I should stand up for myself once in a while.

**I’ve never really understood that phrase. I’m not even sure I have a quick—whatever that is. This idiom is said to mean, “quick in the sense of a vital or a very sensitive part of the body, such as under the fingernails.” I guess I DO have a quick.

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

Human Remains in Paradise

I was driving down the road in my Jeep, deep in thought. A newscaster was doing his job in the background, but I wasn’t paying much attention to him. I wasn’t, at least, until he uttered the phrase, “Human remains were found in Paradise.” That string of words jarred me away from whatever my other reflections happened to be at that moment.

Being who I am, my mind began to ask a seriesof questions. “Have they discovered the site of the Garden of Eden? Have theydiscovered bodies at that holy spot? Who could it possibly be—certainly notAdam and Eve?”

Those questions were brief and fleeting—only lasting a few seconds. Then I realized the anchorman was referring to lives that had been wasted in the recent wildfires of California. Paradise is the modern-day city, not the Garden of Eden. What had instantly flashed across my mind as an astounding discovery quickly gave way to the saddening reality that lives had been (and continue to be) lost in that tragic, natural disaster.

In this preacher’s mind, first thoughts were of Scripture. Adam and Eve had been banned from that original paradise, and anangel blocked the entrance to rebuff any attempt to return. As far as we cantell, they were never allowed back, and no one has seen it since. Finding itnow would be incredible to say the least.

Paradise Lost

The sobering fact is that it’s lost—at least for now. There’s nothing we can do to bring it back, find it, or restore it. We can only rely on the Lord to usher us back to that euphorious state one day.

As for tragedies like the California wildfire, we live with them day in and day out as a result of paradise lost. Sin came into the world, and everything got messed up. Curses were distributed like candy at Halloween, and nothing’s ever been the same since. We can only imagine what it must have been like before that occurred.

This, of course, begs the question that myriadsof people have asked over the years. How could a loving God do that to us?Folks have attempted to answer that question in hundreds of different ways.None of those answers are very satisfying, but we keep trying nonetheless.

He Owes Us Nothing

The truth of the matter is, the Lord doesn’t owe us anything. We’re the ones who screwed up (and continue to do so). We’re lucky He doesn’t just snuff us all out and save Himself the troubles we seem to heap on Him.

On the contrary, He comes in the form of a man, tells us about the cure for our human condition (sinfulness), and dies a horrible death to become our way out. His Resurrection put the seal on his salvific work and is the hallmark that gives us hope of one day returning to Eden under His care and watchful eye.

While He doesn’t owe us anything, He’s given us everything. Thanks be to God!

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

The Forever Election

The latest election seems to be dragging on forever. First, the campaign season was unendurable. I was so elated when election night rolled around and the last poll was closed. It meant everything would be tallied, and all the pontificating, speculation, and campaign punditry could come to an end. Silly me for thinking such a thing.

Here we are, nine days after Election Day, and we’re still counting ballots—again and again. It’s agonizing to say the least. While getting it right is a good thing, dragging the country through unnecessary anguish is unspeakable. We’ve been doing this for hundreds of years. You’d think we’d have it down to a science by now.

I had the privilege of working as an election officer in my state. At the precinct in which I served, the polls closed at 7pm. By eight or 8:30pm, we had the votes tabulated, the voting setup packed away, and the results safely recorded and sent off to the Department of Elections. It was a bit stressful at the end but certainly not rocket science.

Throughout the day, we checked the optical voting tabulator to make sure the number of ballots cast equaled the number of people who showed up to vote. The process left little or no room for error. By the end of the night, we knew the exact number of votes cast for each candidate and every ballot initiative.

Every Ballot Counted

I understand that our county is not as populated as some of the others across the country. I also understand that stuff happens. Still, nine days (and counting) is ridiculous. Recounts are sometimes necessary, but come on!

All this election business puts me in mind of the only balloting that is really valid. Scripture calls God’s people “the Elect.” We are called and elected by God, and the results are in. There’s only one vote. It belongs to the Lord. It’s been cast, tabulated, and secured with the only election official that counts. We win.

And though our earthly elections sometimes seem to go on forever, the real forever election is the one held by God. When God elects you, it’s forever. You develop your position among the elect, and (as the Apostle Peter says) begin participating “in the divine nature.” He goes on to say that we should “make every effort to confirm [our] calling and election” (2 Peter 13-1). In other words, follow Jesus as closely as you can, deepening your discipleship to Him.

Following Directions

As with the current situation with our earthly,midterm election, we are prone to screw things up. We don’t always followdirections well. We sometimes go about matters in an unseemly way. We oftenthink we know best and flagrantly dismiss the pathway God has chosen for us. Inshort, we refuse to participate in the divine nature.

Fortunately for us, there is no recount in the Kingdom of God. You are chosen, elected, and sealed. The election is over, and it’s time to get on with our Father’s business.

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

No Brainer

I read this statistic following the recent election. “Over sixty-four percent of young people under the age of twenty-four supported left-wing candidates and policies.” This certainly comes as no surprise—at least not to me. When I was that age, I was definitely a lefty. Age, experience, and knowledge has tempered that philosophy quite a bit. In fact, people that know me are often shocked when they find out the truth about my past leanings. What can I say? Stuff happens, and things change.

Winston Churchill is purported to have said the following. “If you are not a liberal at twenty, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative at forty, you have no brain.” My experience in life refutes the absolute truth of his statement, of course. I know a lot of old, extremely intelligent liberals. Still, like most sayings, it’s very catchy. Plus, it seems to run concurrent with my life.

I Believe the Bible

Unlike a lot of folks, my conservative leanings are not necessarily political (although they often wash out that way). They are, in fact, to be found more on a theological level. In a nutshell, I believe the Bible. In most people’s eyes, this makes me a Biblical conservative. So be it. I can live with that.

When it comes to theology, Churchill’s quote doesn’t hold much water. People grow in all sorts of directions when it comes to their spiritual beliefs. One doesn’t necessarily grow into Biblical conservatism with age. It’s often quite the opposite. I’ve seen it over and over again. The more your friends study Scripture, the more likely you won’t be able to predict where they’ll come down on a Biblical issue.

That surprises many of us. It shouldn’t, but it does. The reason I say it shouldn’t is because of Jesus. No one could ever pin Him down or put Him into their theological box. Scripture leaves a lot of room for growth—in many directions. Trying to plot someone’s spiritual growth chart is a little like nailing Jell-O to the wall. We’re all on a journey, and yours will likely be much different than that of your friends—even your closest ones.

Where Is Jesus Leading?

The simple answer to all of this is to go where Jesus leads you. Don’t look to become either a liberal or a conservative. Look to follow the path the Lord lays out for you. It won’t necessarily look like someone else’s. It will, however, lead to the Savior’s will for your life. I can tell you what I think, but I’m not God—thank goodness!

Churchill also said something else that I find even more efficacious. “When you’re twenty you care what everyone thinks, when you’re forty you stop caring what everyone thinks, when you’re 60 you realize no one was ever thinking about you in the first place.” Keep that in mind when someone tries to label you. Chances are pretty good they don’t know what they’re talking about. Either that, or they’re just not thinking.

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

Lisa Called…Again

I wrote a blog a week or so ago entitled, “Lisa Called.” The long and short of it was that a gal named Lisa called with concerns for my chronic pain (which, by the way, is nonexistent). I was glad for her concern, but I hung up on her anyway—don’t worry, she was merely a recording.

Today, I received another phone call from Lisa. I knew it was she, because I recognized her voice (not to mention the fact that she began by saying, “Hello, this is Lisa”…a dead giveaway). She probably fools a lot of people, however, because of the change in topic.

She was no longer concerned about my protracted discomfort. She was, in fact, inquiring about my credit card. I hate to say this, but I hung up on her once again. But, as in previous calls, it was merely a recording of her voice. The actual Lisa is probably in Hawaii soaking up the sun, so she’s certainly not feeling the rejection.

I’m not exactly sure why Lisa is showing such a profound interest in my wellbeing, but I’m guessing she doesn’t care as much as she’s letting on. Still, caring is a valuable (and possibly rare) commodity these days, and any Lisa types in our lives are quickly treasured by us. Many folks tend to look at another’s problems and simply say, “That’s not my concern.”

Peculiar People

People like the Apostle Paul had (and continue to have) a different view. From their perspective, concern for others is to be urged and cultivated among the brethren. If we Christians lack concern for one another, we are no different than anyone else. Saint Peter referred to us as a “peculiar people,” not because we’re strange, but because we’re different—or, at least, we’re supposed to be (1 Peter 2:9–KJV).

Sadly, we’re often just like the rest of the culture around us. We’re so caught up in ourselves and our own little foibles that we couldn’t care less about our neighbors. When Jesus told us to love our enemies, I’m pretty sure He wasn’t limiting our sphere of concern to some far away government. His command to love extends to everyone everywhere. And if I understand it correctly, the effort to love someone will automatically include a concern for their welfare. It comes with the territory.

They Put Us to Shame

Over the years, I’ve noticed that there seem to be certain individuals who are caring people. They seem to have a propensity and a capacity for reaching out to others with care and concern. This virtuous characteristic is certainly not confined to the people who call themselves Christian. Some of the most caring people I know don’t even believe in God. They put us to shame.

I’m not sure how that happens. Is it in their genetic make-up, or did they learn that along the way? I lean toward the latter. It gives me hope that I can learn to be that way as well. Thank you, Lisa, wherever you are.

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

It’s In My Will–Oh, Wait!

I have to tell you, I was a bit shocked to discover that the late, great Queen of Soul (Aretha Franklin) did not have a will. I had one years ago when I was young and poor—long before I had anything to bequeath. So finding out that someone who was undoubtedly worth millions didn’t have one… Well, let’s just say I was amazed.

Despite my astonishment, this is, apparently, nothing new for celebrities. I did a bit of research and found a boatload of the rich and famous who died without a will. Among them are people like Prince, Amy Winehouse, and Bob Marley. I suppose some of this has to do with the fact that many people think they’re invincible—particularly the young ones. This, of course, flies in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. From what I’ve heard, the death rate is still one per person. We’ll all meet our Maker someday. We’d like to forestall it as long as we can, but meet Him we will.

One of the ones who surprised me is Sonny Bono. If Sonny had simply been an artistic singer/songwriter, I guess I might have understood it (sort of). But he was a mayor and a congressman as well. One would think that a person with such political savvy would understand the importance of such matters, but his lack of a will belies that assumption.

Unsavvy Assumptions

Kurt Cobain was another star who died young—twenty-seven to be exact. Somehow, I wasn’t totally surprised that he didn’t have a will. At least, I wasn’t surprised until I found out he was worth $450 million. Oy vey! His spouse, Courtney Love, gave up the rights to his name and likeness in order to obtain a loan. A will may have been in order.

The list goes on—Martin Luther King, Jr., Tupac Shakur, Heath Ledger, John Denver, Steve McNair, Marvin Gaye, and Pablo Picasso, just to name a few. The kickers for me, though, were real lulus. The first of my two stunners was Abraham Lincoln.

So, how can an attorney turned politician and elected President of these United States not have a will? I’m not sure, but he didn’t have one. Fortunately for his family, presidents get the royal treatment and a Supreme Court Justice took care of the $85,000 estate.

The Beat Goes On

The one that really gets me, however, is Billionaire Howard Hughes. I just can’t…

Please allow me to remind you of the reality of your coming demise (whether untimely or not). The Bible clearly states, “Everyone will die someday.” (Ecclesiastes 9:2) There seem to be no exceptions. Do your family a favor and prepare a will. For Heaven’s sake, it’s the twenty-first century.

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