The Blame Game

I’m sure you’re aware of the horrific shooting rampage in New Zealand that left fifty people dead. In case you were hiding in a cave somewhere (which would be understandable), allow me to briefly explain that two mosques were targeted by at least one gunman. In addition to the fifty killed, it has been reported that over twenty more were seriously injured. Ironically, all this happened in a city named Christchurch.

These incidents seem to be occurring with increasing frequency—so much so that one man calling into a radio talk show sadly proclaimed, “I don’t even feel anything anymore.” It’s almost like we expect it and have numbed ourselves to the resulting casualties.

Paranoia

The victims of such crimes, of course, are not limited to those who sustain physical injuries as a result. Most of us are affected in some way, even if it’s merely emotional. Other side effects can also impact us. These can be felt through such things as new stringent laws, losses of freedom, and out-and-out paranoia, just to name a few.

One side effect I’ve noticed as these occurrences begin to mount is that of the blame game. For some reason, people feel the need to lay the responsibility for such atrocities at the feet of almost anyone but the perpetrators. In various newsfeeds this week, I’ve seen people point a finger at President Trump and (of all people) Chelsea Clinton.

I can (sort of) understand someone attempting to lay culpability at the feet of Mr. Trump. Presidents get blamed for all sorts of things—even when they occur half a world away. But Chelsea Clinton? The poor woman was confronted at a vigil for the people killed and wounded in the terrorist attack. She was accused of “stoking” the attack because of her denunciation of the anti-Semitic language of U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar. Apparently, denouncing hate speech has now become hate speech itself. Oy vey!

Accosted

More importantly, Chelsea Clinton was accosted for something she had nothing to do with. Even if she had been spewing anti-Muslim rhetoric (which she hadn’t), there would have been no blame to lay at her feet. I’m pretty sure the culprit was the person carrying the weapon. Does anyone remember him?

If you take a real good look at Chelsea these days, you might notice that she’s pregnant with her third child. Not only were the accusers out of line, they were ganging up on a young mother with child. Real nice…

Scripture has quite a bit to say about the blame game. Jesus talked about the log in our own eyes as we try to remove the speck out of someone else’s—quite a vivid visual. The Apostle Paul told folks in his letter to the Romans that “at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself…” (Romans 2:1). The reason he gave was the fact that we are usually guilty of the very same thing of which we’re accusing someone else. He was right, of course.

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

March Sadness

It is currently being estimated that businesses in the United States will lose $13 Billion in productivity during March Madness. Just in case you’re somehow oblivious to the term, March Madness, it’s related to college basketball. But even if you never paid attention to that world, the insanity has probably touched you in some way (sorry for the pun).

Since I, too, am somewhat insensible to the whole phenomenon, I pulled this description from the all-knowing Internet to help us out:

The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament is a single-elimination tournament of 68 teams that compete in seven rounds for the national championship. The penultimate round is known as the Final Four, when (you guessed it) only four teams are left.

That’s it in a nutshell, folks. Somehow, it doesn’t sound quite so exciting when it’s laid out in simple black and white. Green, yellow, and red uniforms help enliven the entire matter, however, and people go nuts (hence, the madness).

Are You Insane?

The first such tournament was held back in 1939. That date even precedes my birth (which was quite a while ago), but I can’t remember it getting so insane until quite recently (that’s, lately, in dog years). We’ve gotten to the point, as I implied before, that it’s affecting almost everyone.

If business owners lose productivity during the days of March Madness, it’s because their employees are distracted by watching, listening to, and/or jawing about their team(s). But it’s a lot worse than that. Everyone seems to have a bracket.

I, personally, don’t have a bracket. In fact, I’ve never had a bracket. Still, every year, people ask me who I have in my bracket. I’m pretty sure you’ve all been inundated with bracket talk, so you probably know what that is.

In case you don’t, it’s literally an empty bracket in which you write (or type) your picks in order to gamble your money away. Sixty-seven games are played during this lunacy soaked mini-season. Even the most avid round-ball fan doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance. A hoops doofus like myself should not even try—that, in itself, would be madness.

Odds Are…

In case you don’t agree, I checked the odds for you. There are nine quintillion different bracket combinations—literally. That’s a nine followed by eighteen zeroes. It’s no wonder people don’t have time to work. They have to fill out (and follow) a lot of brackets in the hope that they can recoup their hard-earned dollars.

Things have gotten so bad that some politicians are contemplating making March Madness a national holiday. That sounds nice, but the tournament begins in mid-March. It extends into the second week in April. I like long vacations, but this might be a tad over the top.

I don’t know what the solution to all this could be. The Bible says that the “worker deserves his wages” (1 Timothy 5:18). Still, March Madness might present us with a worthy exception to that. Maybe these workers should donate their brackets to the owners.

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

Marinate in the Truth

I’m frequently preaching in worship services other than the one we often attend as congregants. So when I get the opportunity to sit among the brethren, I really enjoy it.

The service we repeatedly attend as simple worshipers, gathers just down the street from where we live. It’s not only convenient, it’s a solid, Bible-teaching, local church. I relish my time there, in part, because the main pastor/teacher obviously does his due diligence in understanding Scripture before he attempts to expound upon it.

A Good Visual

One of the phrases I’ve heard him use from time to time is, “Let’s just marinate in the truth of this passage.” I like that phrase because it gives me a visual that I can understand. It also imparts with it the implication that knowing the Word of God isn’t an instantaneous thing.

Obviously, we usually associate the act of marinating with cooking meat. I’ve never done much marinating in preparation for a meal. There are two reasons for this. First of all, I don’t usually plan that far ahead. Secondly, I’m usually too impatient to wait that long. A good marinade often should be done overnight. When I see a prime piece of meat, I want to throw it on the grill—right now!

As I’m sure you know, the word, marinate, means to soak in a marinade. The pastor to which I’m referring is prompting us to soak in the truth of God’s Word. It’s a good visual for me, because I usually want to bite off a chunk of the Lord’s wisdom and move on in the hope that it will provide some nourishment on the run. Because of that, I’m quite sure I miss at least some of the flavor of what the Lord is providing.

Taste and See

There’s a passage of Scripture that says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalm 34:8). It’s kind of an isolated thought because it goes on to talk about taking refuge in God. If we take refuge, we’re seeking shelter—attempting to be surrounded in safety and security. When we are in Christ, we are soaking in his salvation and taking refuge from the storm. We are, in effect, marinating.

In this fast-paced world, we flit around like butterflies moving from one thing to another. We seldom take time to marinate in God or his Word. We seldom settle in to allow his Word to soak deep into the crevices of our lives and spirits. Consequently, we tend to remain very superficial in our understanding and in the ways we follow through. We don’t tarry long enough to savor each bite, and we move along—satisfied in our shallowness.

It’s a common malady among us Christians. Instead of growing in discipleship, we live lives that tend to be a mile wide and an inch deep (as some like to say). Along with my pastor friend, I would urge us all to take time to marinate in the truth. It will make life taste a lot better.

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

House Vs. Home

I was talking to an old buddy of mine yesterday who told me about a text he received from his adult son. The text came in the form of a question. It read, “Dad, do you know the difference between a house and a home?”

At that point, my pal began to feel pretty good about how he had raised his male progeny. As he swelled with pride and emotion, he began to phone his offspring. When he got through, he said, “Okay. What’s the difference between a house and a home?”

The Voice on the Other End

Naturally, he expected to hear the old saw, “A house is where you live…a home is where you love.” That, however, is not what the voice on the other end conveyed. The first line was there—A house is where you live. The second line had a slightly different ring to it. His son said, “A home is where my sister and I are going to put you when you’re old.”

He was kidding, of course (well, I think he was), but there may come a time when that actually might come to pass. These things are, on occasion, unavoidable. My lovely Bride often tells me that she has a home all picked out for me. If that time ever comes, I hope she can afford it.

We always kid around about getting old, but the whole subject is deadly serious. We’re all headed in the direction of old. Some of us are, in fact, already there. We do what we can and hope for the best. Eventually, the best we can hope for will be to die well.

I’m No Moses

Moses was a good example of someone who died well. The Bible tells us he was 120 years old. His eyesight was still good, and he was still strong. The circumstances surrounding his actual death are clouded in mystery, but it’s apparent that the Lord, himself, buried him. Not too many folks get the Heavenly Father as a pall bearer, but Moses was a special guy.

I’d like to think of myself as a special guy as well, but I’m not looking to live for 120 years. I already need reading glasses and I’m certainly not as strong as I used to be. Dying well might not be in the cards for me. Still, one can hope. (Right in the midst of writing this piece, my lovely Bride asked me to move our recliner across the living room. Having done it, I can tell you right now that I’m no Moses.)

Scripture tells us that Moses died and was buried in Moab. I checked it out, and Moab is the mountainous region of modern-day Jordan. I quickly realized that I had been there a few years ago. I was still in pretty good shape at that time, so there was no thought of getting buried there. If I ever go back, however, it might be as good a place as any. If it was good enough for Moses…

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

Just the Two of Us

Ever since I’ve retired from pastoral ministry, I’ve been doing a lot of weddings. I use a couple of websites as clearing houses (so to speak) to put myself out there before the public. People who are in between pastors (or don’t care to have one at all) occasionally seek out my services.

Sometimes, the wedding descriptions people give are either hilarious, incredible, or just plain hard to swallow. Reading them makes me wonder why they’re going through the process at all. It also makes me wonder if some of them even consider it to be “holy matrimony.”

“There is no Wedding...”

Recently, one guy posted his desire for an officiant to do his ceremony by saying the following: “There is no wedding…just the two of us getting married.” That one definitely gave me pause. I think I know what he meant, but it seems to me that getting married IS a wedding.

Another memorable one came when I quoted my fee to a prospective groom. I would have had to travel quite a distance, perform the service, and (of course) take care of the legalities. Because it was a small wedding, he balked at my price and answered, “Gee! It’s really just a formality.” I didn’t bother pursuing it any further, but I felt like saying, “If it’s just a formality, you don’t want me.”

To me, wedding ceremonies are a big deal. They’re such a big deal to my way of thinking that I wrote an entire book about them (The Last Wedding). Weddings are Biblically important. Jesus is recorded in the Gospel of John as performing his first miracle at a wedding reception (changing water into wine). If he thought it was important enough to do that, I’m guessing it was more than a mere formality in his mind.

“I’m not the Caterer”

I’ve never kept track of all the wedding ceremonies I’ve celebrated over the years, but I’m pretty sure it’s in the hundreds. It doesn’t matter how many people are there. If it’s just the couple and me, or if it’s done in the presence of hundreds of people, it’s still the same to moi (and, I suspect, to the Lord). My part in the ceremony doesn’t change with the number of people in the congregation. I’m not the caterer.

If it sounds like I’m whining a bit, I suppose I am. It just kind of irks me that people don’t take their vows before the Lord a tad more seriously. The most common ceremony request is that it be “short and sweet” (as if they were paying me by the hour). Wedding ceremonies are typically quite short anyway, but people seem bent on getting right to the reception. (I know–now I’ve moved past the whining and have gone right to complaining.)

I suppose I could start charging more by the minute–but in reverse. The shorter the service, the higher the fee. I’m sure that would be counterproductive, but it’s quite tempting. I don’t think anyone would go for it, though.


Not a Village Idiot

Last year during hurricane season, the storm chasing reporters were right on it. They swarmed into the tiny, coastal villages and interviewed everyone on site. One particular guy stood out to me, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget him.

The wind was whipping around him and his wife as the reporter asked about the ensuing tempest. Most folks had already left town for safer climes, and the correspondent seemed to be a bit concerned. He asked if the guy and his spouse would hunker down or exit the premises.

The gentleman was trying to be patient as he answered the journalist’s queries. He offered that he’d be staying until it was apparent that the coming hurricane would make it too difficult to remain. At that point, he said, he and his wife would get on their boat and head to safer areas.

“I’m a Sailor!”

By that time, the broadcaster seemed to become a bit more anxious for the man and his better half. He anxiously asked if the man thought he would be safe on the ocean. In reply, the man abruptly announced, “I’m a sailor, not a village idiot!” And with that, the interview was over.

I think the sailor stood out for me because I know I would have become impatient with the reporter’s incessant questioning as well. His retort was classic. I’d like to think I could have come up with such a quote in the heat of the moment. Those kinds of instances are really gratifying.

That’s not to say it’s a good thing to become impatient with people. As they say, patience is a virtue. In fact, the Apostle Paul told us that patience is part of the fruit grown in us by the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22). I’m guessing, however, that we have to be fertile ground for such a harvest to be reaped in our lives. Sometimes I’m all too happy to misplace my patience—it can be rather enjoyable cutting irritating people to the quick.

Sons of Thunder

Once, the Disciples were traveling through Samaria with Jesus. They came through a certain Samaritan village where the people were less than hospitable to them. The two brothers, James and John (the ones Jesus nicknamed, the “Sons of Thunder”) lost patience with the attitude of the entire village. The turned to the Savior and said, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Luke 9:54).

Even if you don’t know the story, you can probably guess what happened. Jesus reprimanded them, and he led his motley crew out of the unwelcoming village. My guess is that James and John were pretty quiet as they traveled on to the next town.

In life, there are times when we feel as though we’re surrounded by people who think we’re village idiots. The most satisfying reaction would be to call fire down on their heads. That doesn’t seem to be the way of Christ, however. Maybe I should ask for a bit more patience.

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

The Three Percenters

A recent study shows that if you are a “dedicated, Bible believing, church-going Christian” in the United States, you are among a group of about three percent of the population. I assumed that number would be low, but three percent surprised me. Translated to raw, people numbers, that’s just south of ten million individuals. That sounds better, but not much.

Part of that, I suppose, is due to the narrow scope of the study. If you were simply looking for “Bible believing” Christians, my guess is that the number would be significantly higher. Once you throw in the “church-going” parameter, you narrow it down considerably. There’s a growing number of Christians these days who have given up on attending worship. They offer lots of reasons for this, but it appears as though many of them are just, plain fed up. They don’t like the way things are going, and they’re done. In fact, some sociologists have labeled them as the “dones.” They still believe in Jesus, but they’re not too keen on his church. I’m not a member of that group, but (in all honesty) I can’t say as I blame them. The church has many ills, and it looks for all intents and purposes that it might get worse before it gets better.

Finally, the term, “dedicated,” really pares things down. A lot of people believe in the Bible and attend worship in some regular fashion, but aren’t dedicated to the cause. I realize it’s a relative term, but dedication these days seems to be tilted toward gaining wealth, raising twenty-first century kids, and enjoying one’s days to the fullest. Dedication to all-things-Jesus seems to be on the wane. The unspoken, attitudinal question is, “What’s in it for me?”

A Bit Too Jesus-Like

Indeed… What’s in it for you? Once you’ve attained salvation and eternal life, why bother, eh? The unvarnished truth is very simple. At that point, you’re asking the wrong question. It should no longer be what’s in it for you. It should be, “What can I do for my Lord and those around me?” That might sound a bit too Jesus-like for some of us, but that’s the Gospel my friend.

It reminds me a little of an old cartoon I once saw. It depicted a man sitting at his big desk that was adorned with a simple placard that read, “I’ve got mine.” In other words, “Time for you to go get yours.” Needless to say, this is not the Gospel message.

For those of you who remain in the pack of dedicated, Bible believing, church-going Christians, let me remind you of an old, Biblical concept. It’s that of the “remnant.” Beginning in the Book of Genesis and continuing down through the letters of Paul, we have been told that God would preserve a remnant—a collection of people who would endure to the end. You might get lonely on occasion, but just remember that you’re in a chosen group—chosen, not by you, but by our Lord himself.

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

Sounds Like a Plan

I’m sure you’ve heard this sentence in recent years—“Sounds like a plan.” Chances are, you may have implemented this expression yourself. I know I have. However, when I do, I feel a bit uncomfortable about it. Loosely translated, this phrase usually means, “Yeah, let’s do that; but let’s not talk about it right now.” The upshot of such conversations is that they usually produce zilch. What sounded like a plan was not a plan at all. It was, in effect, a way to avoid the whole thing altogether.

I’m pretty sure that’s not our intent—at least much of the time. Still, we say this knowing that the eventual result will probably be no result at all. Why do we do this?

There’s an old saying that goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” I don’t know if this fits our situation exactly, but it comes close. We toss these little phrases around so glibly, we rarely give them any further consideration. Consequently, all our “big plans” amount to nothing.

I’ll Pray About That

Christians are adept at these conversation closers. The biggie, of course, is, “I’ll pray about that.” Translation: “No, and don’t ask me again—at least for a long time.” I try not to use that one. It’s been tossed at me way too many times for me to be serious about employing it as a tactic of my own. Still, it sounds really spiritual and seems way more polite than giving an abrupt, “No!” It’s almost as though it’s considered un-Christ-like to say no.

The fact of the matter is, however, that Jesus was quite clear about our need to give a simple, “No” from time to time. He not only spoke about it, he did it. Once, he healed a bunch of people then left town to rest and pray. When the folks found him, they urged him to come back to town. They attempted to entice him with the argument that there were others who needed his touch. His answer was, “No.”

Check out the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:37, he says, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Wow! Does that make you feel a bit uneasy?

From the Pit of Hell

If we take that literally, phrases like, “Sounds like a plan,” arise from the pit of Hell. Hmm… I don’t know if he meant it quite like that, but that sure sounds like it. I assume he was telling us to be a bit more straightforward in the least. The context of this directive was a discussion of oathtaking, so we’d have to look at it a tad more closely to determine how this might apply to skirting the issue with quips like, “Let me pray about it.” Still, our “yes” should mean “yes,” and our “no” should mean “no.”

I hate writing about this subject because I abhor telling people, “No.” So, to your latest idea, I say, “Sounds like a plan.”

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

The Latest Dieting Trend

I just read an article entitled, “The Latest Dieting Trend is Not Dieting.” This awesome new discovery is called “intuitive eating.” I read it with great interest and felt the need to share it with my many readers (all three of you). It was a gratifying read—wonderfully revealing and full of insight and practicality. As I read it, I found myself both inspired and vindicated.

As it turns out, I have been on this diet for most of my existence. Intuitively not dieting is one of my best successes in life. After reading this marvelous piece, I’m convinced that the growing expanse around my midriff is merely some sort of mirage, and one day I will arise to find it miraculously gone (probably when I wake up in Heaven).

Amateur Psycologists

To be honest with you, I don’t really buy it. The whole idea is undoubtedly the result of some amateur psychologist attempting to make us all feel good about ourselves. That’s all well and good, but it’s probably not going to help me lose my extra poundage—just sayin’.

Let’s look at this logically. This is a bit like saying, “The next trend in avoiding speeding tickets is by not avoiding them.” Under that scenario, you hit the accelerator every time you see a cop parked alongside the highway. Yeah… I’m sure that would work. At the very least, it would quell my many urges to become more like Mario Andretti. There’s nothing quite like feeling good about yourself—even if you go broke doing it.

Amateur psychotherapy has become big business in this country. It’s everywhere you look. You find it in the newsrooms, the bars, and even in the church. Myriads of ex-pastors are becoming “life coaches.” That one has always amazed me. The thought of someone hiring another person to help them decide if they should apply for a job is mind boggling to me. I’m not putting these life coaches down, mind you. If they can get folks to part with their hard earned money, more power to them. Nevertheless, I prefer the old fashioned way of making up my own mind.

Line-Upon-Line

The part that really bothers me, however, is the fact that it’s made its way into today’s preaching. We used to hear sermons entitled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming.” Now you’re more likely to be fed stuff like, “Ten Ways to Improve Your Marriage” or “Three Steps to More Godly Parenting.” Self-help is good, but there’s nothing like a line-upon-line exposition of the Scripture to feed one’s soul.

A name has been given to this sort of preaching—Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. It contains a lot of good advice, but it’s missing the sovereignty of God—no authority, and even less salvation. The word, Gospel, means Good News. It doesn’t mean good advice. It’s great to pass along some good advice, but if that’s all you want to do, I suggest you become a life coach.

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