Ezra and the Big Soapbox

When I retired from my full-time day job, I assumed I would have more time on my soapboxhands. I could spend my days woodworking, learning a language, and visiting grandchildren.

That was not to be, however. Just before my so-called retirement, I began writing a book. I found that to be quite an enjoyable challenge—almost surprisingly so.

Before I was finished, another book began floating around in my head. It seemed like a no-brainer to move on and write it as well. I’m an old man with something to say. Why not say it.

So now I’m an author. It seems weird to say that after all these years of calling myself an accountant. Now when folks ask me what I do, the answer has changed. I say, “I’m an author and preacher.” It took awhile for the author thing to begin rolling off my tongue. Yet, writing is what I do every day.

I thought writing my first book would be the biggest challenge I would face. As it turned out, that came rather easily compared to what came next. I realized the book didn’t do much good sitting on my computer. So I went about the task of publishing. That was much more challenging (and a whole lot less fun) than writing. But even that wasn’t so bad compared to what was going to happen next.BookMouse

I wrote the book because I had something important to say. However, it would only reach its fulfillment if someone read it. It had to be promoted. No one prepared me for this little challenge. I’m an author and now a publisher. Unfortunately, I have to be a promoter too, or it’s all for naught.

I won’t go into all that’s involved with promoting a book. Volumes have been written on that subject (literally). But I will tell you it’s hard. It’s particularly hard when you’re a Christian.

It’s hard because there is a myriad of things you have to do that are simply mundane. They take time—time I’d rather spend writing. It’s doubly hard because, as a Christian, I feel uneasy about promoting myself.

I’d rather promote Jesus.

It’s tough enough to maintain a humble posture without having to somehow tell people you’ve got this great product they should read. Who am I to say that? But my writings are about the one I really want to promote—Jesus.

Then I was reminded of Ezra. Ezra was helping in the task of rebuilding the Jewish Temple. He was a teacher of the law. As such, his responsibility was to get the word out. So on one important occasion, a large platform was built so he could be seen and heard by all the people. Lives were changed that day.

lecternAs much as I dislike building the platform, I have an even greater desire to get the word out. So, like Ezra, I build the soapbox, stand on it, and proclaim Jesus. I pray someone will hear and lives will be changed. Thanks for listening.

Eleven Intense Excuses to Lie

A few years ago, I was at a daylong event for men. A well-known pastor got up to The-Truth-Has-the-Power-1024x1024say a few words and made a comment that caught most of our ears.

He was speaking about the relationships between husbands and wives. As he spoke, he began talking about his own marital relationship. He said, “My wife and I don’t argue or fight.”

My ears perked up on that one. Then he said, “We just have intense fellowship.” After everyone laughed, he went on to say that, following such times of intense fellowship, he often ended up sleeping on the couch.

So much for intense fellowship…

I think it was Shakespeare who said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” You can rename that rose. You can call it a skunk. It’s still going to smell pretty good.

When the politicians do it, we call it spin. There are people who actually make a living renaming, redirecting and revamping the truth. We call them spin-doctors. We’ve gotten pretty good at evading reality.

My Mother used to have a saying—“That guy could take you out at night and make you think it was daytime.” Some folks can make you think up is down and right is left. I’m not sure how they get away with it, but it happens a lot.handle-truth

“You can’t handle the truth!”

We have a lot of excuses for what we do when we bend the truth.

  1. It was just a little white lie. (Have any of you ever told an orange lie?)
  2. It was only a fib. (Fib is such an odd word—sounds like half a heart attack.)
  3. I was just joking (…and laughing on the inside).
  4. I didn’t mean it that way. (I’ll figure out what I meant in a minute.)
  5. You twisted my words! (Or maybe they just came out crooked.)
  6. You took me out of context. (If I can find a context, we’ll be fine.)
  7. I don’t recall ever saying that (…so I must not have…I hope).
  8. It was just a little exaggeration. (Maybe we can shrink it further.)
  9. I was overstating it for effect (and you’re overstating my effect).
  10. You don’t deserve the truth. (Especially since I didn’t want you to know it.)
  11. You can’t handle the truth! (Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men, 1992)

“That Pinocchio thing isn’t real.”

We have a few other toned down descriptions we like to use—half-truths, inaccuracies, honest lies, minimizations, omissions, polite lies, and pufferies come to mind. All I can say is, “I’m happy that Pinocchio thing isn’t real.”

I know, I know. There are lies, and then there are damned lies. And I suppose there’s a difference. It’s really hard to know where to draw the line, however.

Then there’s the Bible. It continually says stuff like, “A false witness will not go ISawThatunpunished, and whoever pours out lies will not go free.” (Proverbs 19:5)

I wonder why God makes such a big deal out of such little things.

Slap Ya Mama!

Sometimes products sold on the market have really appropriate names. “Slap Ya Mama” comes to mind.

Slap Ya Mama is a Cajun seasoning Slap Ya Mamaproduced in…you guessed it…Louisiana. I’ve never actually tried it, but I have a picture of my youngest granddaughter holding a can of it. I’m guessing my son got a kick out of the name—hence the photo. (Can’t say as I blame him.)

If it’s anything like its name, you probably feel like you got slapped in the face when you eat some of it. I know if I’d ever slapped my Mama, I would have gotten my face smacked pretty hard and quickly thereafter.

Not everything has such a descriptive and appropriate name, however. Take the word “church” for example. That’s a really lousy name for the building you head off to every Sunday. I know I’ve talked about this before, but it definitely bears repeating.

The word we translate from the Greek into the English word “church” is ecclesia. Ecclesia was a general term used for a public gathering or assembly. It literally means the called out ones or called together ones.

“Instead of being the church, we went to church.”

Thus the church, Biblically speaking, was a group of people called together out of the world in the name of Jesus. Every time that word is used in Scripture, it is in reference to a group of people.

Somewhere along the way, we began to build buildings specifically as a place for the church to gather. They were places of sanctuary where the church would pray, worship and study the Bible together. That’s one of the reasons why we use the term, sanctuary, for the room in which we worship. It’s literally a sanctuary from the storms of life.

Eventually, local congregations began to be identified with their places of worship. Instead of the people being called the church, the building got that moniker. So instead of being the church, we went to the church.

Think about it. When you’re speaking to someone about your faith, it’s not uncommon to ask them where they “go to church.” We don’t use the term in an appropriate manner. If we did, we would ask them if they were part of a church. When’s the last time you heard that question posed?12183717_688150604618891_3317637174871909435_o

By this time, you may be rolling your eyes and asking, “so what?” It’s all just semantics, right? My answer to that one is a big, fat “NO!”

There are many reasons for this. One is (because we identify with buildings instead of people) we become spiritual commuters. We drive to the “church,” get spiritual for an hour, and commute back home. In many cases,  we don’t even get to know the actual church (the people). We just go to the building.

Instead of becoming part of the fellowship of believers, we roll in, do our thing, and roll out. I don’t want to get too personal here, but I’m going to say it. You may as well slap ya Mama!

Soldier Girl

My oldest granddaughter just arrived in Korea. She’s in the Army and will be gone about a year. Have you ever experienced this type of thing? I imagine you have to one degree or another.SoldierGirl

It’s a weird feeling knowing she will be so far away and won’t be coming home for so long. Even though we lived quite a distance from each other when she was in the States, at least I knew I could jump in the car and see her after a drive of a few hours.

I was a very proud “Papa” when I found out she was entering the military. I’m just as proud (even more so) now. We haven’t had a military member in our family since my Dad (our Soldier Girl’s great grandfather) was in the Navy shortly after WWII.

“I’m sure a year will fly by rather quickly.”

I’m sure a year will fly by rather quickly (especially for an old guy like me). They tend to do that anyway. Before we know it, she’ll be on our front doorstep again—flashing that big Zuchelli smile (squinty eyes and all).

With the way social media is these days, there will probably be times when it seems like she never left. Still the reality is stark. She’s halfway around the globe.

In the writings of the Old Testament, there was a similar thing going on. The prophets were telling the Jews that Messiah was coming. He was on the way  12348143_10153738142789631_2818443013103882075_nbut never seemed to arrive. He was far off.

They kept plugging away, reminding everyone that God was faithful to his chosen people. Many of them grew weary as they waited.

Then one day, things got quiet. Deathly quiet. The word stopped coming. No one with the stature of a prophet spoke for God. After Malachi, four hundred years of silence ensued.

Did God change his mind? Was Messiah no longer coming? Why had the Lord abandoned them? What kind of cruel trick was this?

Then the guy we like to call “John the Baptist” showed up. He began announcing the coming Messiah once again. Not only that, he said he was near.

“The Messiah turned out to be his cousin Jesus.”

The Messiah turned out to be his cousin Jesus. Imagine that. He lived, taught, discipled, died, and rose again. Then he left this earth announcing he would be back.

And now, once again, we wait. It’s been almost two thousand years since he told us that. Some believe he’s not coming back. Many of us wait in faith.

12115689_10153787864849444_5455378025120161057_nI fully believe our Soldier Girl is coming home. I have no reason to doubt it. When she gets back, she will be more of a woman than ever (and we might have to quit calling her our little Soldier Girl–maybe).

I also believe Jesus is coming back. I believe he is true to his word. I don’t believe he’s forgotten us. In fact, to this day, he’s as close as a brother. It’s a short ride from there to here. He knows the way.

Please God, Send a Professional!

A lady hurried to the pharmacy to get medication, got back to her car and found that she had locked her keys inside.  The woman found an old rusty coat hanger left on the ground.  She looked at it and said, “I don’t know how to use this.”   She bowed her head and asked God to send her some HELP.  Within five minutes, a beat-up old motorcycle pulled up, driven by a bearded man who was wearing an old biker skull rag. He got off of his cycle and asked if he could help.
She said: “Yes, my daughter is sick.  I’ve locked my keys in my car.  I must get home. Please, can you use this hanger to unlock my car?”
He said, “Sure.”  He walked over to the car, and in less than a minute the car was open.  She hugged the man and through tears said, “Thank You God for sending me such a very nice man.”

The man heard her little prayer and replied, “Lady, I am NOT a nice man. I just got out of PRISON yesterday; I was in prison for car theft.”

The woman hugged the man again sobbing, “Oh, thank you, God!   You even sent me a Professional!”

I love that story. A friend of mine sent it to me business womanrecently and I knew I had to recycle it to you.

Imagine being that lady. Imagine being face to face with a rough looking biker and counting on him for help. Lot’s of people would have taken a pass and waited for God to send someone a little safer looking.

The woman in the story, however, wasn’t putting any parameters on what she would accept from the Lord. If he was going to help her through a “professional,” so be it. She was just grateful for the help.

So many times our prayers have parameters. We try to box God in with our requests. “I want this, but only in this way.” “I’ll serve you as long as I don’t have to leave home.” “Please give me someone to pray for, as long as it’s not my mother-in-law.”

Sometimes God will send a professional…

When Jesus said, “Come follow me,” he didn’t give us a multiple choice questionnaire to determine how we wanted to fit into the ministry. The rich, young ruler just walked away because he wasn’t interested in Jesus’ terms (Matthew 19:16-22). Others who wanted to follow were told they couldn’t go home, say goodbye, or bury their dead. Talk about a narrow-minded, my-way-or-the-highway mentality.

We love answers to prayer–as long as they’re comfortable answers. We love to help the poor, the down and out, the destitute–so long as we don’t have to interact with them. We love to say we’re followers of the living Christ–just so we mother-teresa-poor-childdon’t have to go where he leads us.

Sometimes God will send a professional (whether you like it or not). Sometimes YOU will be the professional he sends. Get over it!

Closet Confessions of a Hanger Snob

I guess it’s time to come out of the closet. Well… For this one, I’m actually going to have to go INTO the closet.

woodenhangerI don’t like wire clothes hangers—especially the puny ones that come from the dry cleaners. I like the thick plastic ones for my shirts and good wooden ones for my pants and jackets.

Because of this, the wire hangers always accumulate at the far end of my closet. Every so often, I give them to my bride for recycling at the cleaners. For these reasons, she has labeled me a “hanger snob.”

“I must confess it’s true.”

I must confess it’s true. I should also quickly add I’ve never heard that term before and didn’t realize one could even BE a hanger snob. Guilty as charged.

I wondered—does this qualify as a guilty pleasure? Just to be sure, I looked it up on my Google Machine. A guilty pleasure, according to Wikipedia “is something, such as a movie, a television program or a piece of music, that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard.” It goes on to say, “Fashion, video games, music, theatre, television series, films, food and fetishes can be examples of guilty pleasures.“

“Hangers don’t seem to qualify.”

Hangers don’t seem to qualify. A fetish they are not. One might be able to classify them under the heading of “fashion” if they weren’t hidden away in my upstairs closet. I guess hangers aren’t a guilty pleasure.Closet

That little exercise got me thinking. Do I have any guilty pleasures? Maybe I’m a tad too close to my own situation to be objective, but I can’t pinpoint any. I guess I’m too much in the mainstream to have those things. The things I enjoy are generally held in high regard.

On the other hand, I’m a Christian. Christians (at least in this country) used to be mainstream. That seems to have changed—or is changing. Maybe the things I enjoy aren’t actually held in such high regard anymore.

Think about that for a second. If you’re a Christian, some of the things you relish are no longer in vogue. Things that were once generally accepted now make you appear less than cool.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Maybe you like Christian music. Maybe you enjoy worship. Possibly you appreciate hanging out with others to study the Scriptures. If we stack those up against the Wikipedia definition, all of them have become (or are quickly becoming) guilty pleasures.

Years ago when I entered pastoral ministry, it was not uncommon to be introduced as the “Reverend.” I tried to avoid that for several reasons, but when I couldn’t, it was often followed by a general atmosphere of respect and deference. That is no longer the case.

I don’t mourn the loss of that instant respect. Yet the change in attitude toward Christians in general is noticeable. It seems now that the ultimate guilty pleasure is Jesus, himself. Does that make me a “Jesus snob” too?MommyDearest

Share This Post!

SHARE THIS POST! Share it. Pin it. Post it. We see these directives over and over again. Sometimes we do it. Often we ignore them.

Social media sites like Facebook are full of these little commands and suggestions. They’re known as “calls to action”—CTA for short. And I always thought that meant Chicago Transit Authority. Who knew?

I’m sure you’ve seen them. Some are very obvious and purposeful. Others are more accidental and indecisive. All of them are instructions to do the deed (whatever the deed might be in that particular case).

I dare you to post this on your wall for two minutes!

A lot of them want you to agree with what they’re laying down. They have CTAs like, “share this post if you agree.” Others want you to help them get something around the cyber world and ask you to, “post this to your FB page.” Still others are a dare that bait you to, “post this on your wall for at least two minutes.”

As a Christian, the ones I like the least are the ones that suggest you’ll be blest if you share their post. God will give you 60 days of good luck if you do. Either that or you’ll prove you don’t really love God if you don’t repost. Please…TLW Stack

Of course the goal of these reposting requests are ultimately to get something to go “viral.” Going viral could turn our fifteen minutes of fame into a YouTube phenomenon. Sometimes these are good and other times they are embarrassing. But any publicity is good publicity, right?

Shared posts are like compound interest.

The big thing about sharing posts is this. It’s like compound interest. Compound interest is when you begin to earn interest on your interest. You invest the principle amount, it earns interest, and then the interest earns interest. You make money while doing nothing (in other words, your money works for you).

That’s how posts work. A “share” is like interest. A friend reposts your post. A friend of theirs (whom you don’t know) likes it and reposts it. A friend of theirs does the same, and all of a sudden, you have an audience bigger than you can imagine (compound interest).

Two things you can glean from this…

So you can glean two things from all of this. Number one is you shouldn’t share anything you’d rather not see go viral. You never know what you’re starting.

Number two is you can really help someone get their point, product, or cause out there if you want to. One thing can lead to another, and they’ve got a large audience, fan base, or clientele list.

The real reason for this post.    TLW Angled Cover

That brings me to the real reason for this post. I’ve written a book entitled “The Last Wedding.” I’d like you to help me get the word out by…you guessed it…sharing this post.

You’re not going to get 60 days of luck or prove you love God by doing it. You just might help my meager effort to touch souls, however.

Sorry for the crass commercialism, but you know how it is. Please share this post.

(Better yet–click here and order it!).

My Band of Brothers and the Advent Relived

Occasionally, I make the five-hour trek northward to my hometown. While there, I meet up with some of my high school buddies for breakfast.

It’s amazing how we can pick up where we left off. Sometimes it’s like we were never apart. We yuck it up, renew old acquaintances, and catch up on each other’s lives.Brothers II

Inevitably, we tell a few stories that never get old. These are stories we’ve been retelling for forty or fifty years. We still laugh just as hard as when we first told them (or we still shake our heads just as much). Either way, they are a reminder of the history we share.

“They told me the same stories over and over again.”

Those stories remind me of my first parish. I often visited the nursing homes in my area as many pastors do. There were a few lovely, elderly ladies that stand out in my mind from that era of my life. They each would tell me the same stories every time I visited them.

I would patiently listen to those stories, nod, and act surprised by the ending. Then I would politely ask clarifying questions as if I didn’t already know the answers. It was a ritual I grew to enjoy.

This past Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent. I was reminded that it is the first Sunday in the Christian calendar year. A new cycle has begun.

We do the same thing every year. During Advent, we look back to the coming of Jesus and look forward to his return. In the short term, we gear up for the celebration of his birth.

We tell many of the same stories. You Brothersknow the ones. Stories about John the Baptist, Mother Mary preparing for the babe, and Joseph trying to keep his family afloat. Along with that, we sing the same songs. Each of these things keeps a spark alive within us.

Some of it is nostalgic—harking back to childhood memories or more recent happenings. But all of it adds up to much more than nostalgia. Advent is the time for stories and songs and rituals that never get old.

“Advent means a coming into view or an arrival.”

The word “advent” means a coming into view or an arrival. While Jesus is always in view for a Christian, we use these four weeks leading into Christmas as a time to remind ourselves of how we got here. It’s a time of joyous anticipation as well as quiet hopefulness.

The Advent Season is really indispensible. If we didn’t tell these stories over and over again, we would soon lose sight of them. If we didn’t cherish the memories, we would undoubtedly become stale in our faith and in our daily walk.

We Christians are a band of brothers (and sisters) not unlike my old high school buddies and those nursing home beauties. So we retell the stories. In doing so, we help imbed the reality of the greatest occurrence in human history into our souls. God comes in the flesh, and our lives are never the same again.Band of Brothers

How Sikh is That?

A friend posted a placard on Facebook recently that displayed pictures of various people. Underneath the individual pictures were simple descriptions. These were those descriptions:

  1. This is not a Muslim; this is a Sikh.
  2. This is not a Muslim; this is a Hindu.
  3. This is not a Muslim; this is a Buddhist.
  4. These are not Muslims; these are Christians.
  5. This is not a Muslim; this is a fundamentalist nutjob terrorist!

Being the wise guy I am, I posted a NotaMuslimjpgquestion beneath his placard. I simply asked, “Do Muslims actually exist?” I was being facetious, but something about this placard really bothered me.

It wasn’t that I disagreed with his point. The thing that really bothered me was within myself. I looked at the picture of the Sikh and realized I always thought the Sikhs were a sect of Islam. Is my face red!

The placard forced me to actually do some research. I discovered that not only are the Sikhs not Muslims, they don’t get along with Muslims.

I’m not sure how I picked up this misinformation in the first place.

I’m not sure how I picked up this misinformation in the first place. I apparently misunderstood something along the way. Maybe someone misinformed me. Even worse, I may have just made some poor associative assumptions. As the kids like to say these days, “My bad!”

There’s enough bad blood floating around this planet without some well-meaning dolt like me adding to the ignorance. Fortunately, I don’t think I ever shared my errant knowledge with anyone else. But since I’m a preacher, the possibility had certainly existed.

I try not to badmouth anyone (including Muslims). I do, however, slip up now and again just like everyone else I know. One of the more embarrassing things in life is to accuse someone of something only to discover they’re innocent.

I don’t think it’s a secret that a lot of Muslims in general are getting a bad rap these days. I assume most of them don’t deserve it. If they actually did, the world would be in a lot worse shape than it is.

I neither recommend nor endorse trashing others. In fact, I strongly counsel against it. But if you’re bound and determined to do it, it would behoove you to at least know whom it is you’re trashing.

We tend to paint with very broad brushes.

This sort of behavior is certainly not relegated to faith battles. It branches out into lots of areas of our lives. We seem to have a great propensity for painting people with very broad brushes. In doing so, we crush the innocent along with the guilty.

I seem to recall Jesus saying something about pulling up weeds and inadvertently destroying the good wheat along with them. He advised against that.

Our problem seems to be an unwillingness to distinguish between the weeds and the wheat. We just randomly destroy what’s in front of us. A little discernment mixed with more knowledge of the facts might go a long way. If you’ve ever been on the wrong end of that attitude, you know what I mean.

I’m Full of It: Tryptophan and Our Thanksgiving Stupor

I’m full. I’m really full. I could stop right there, and almost everyone in America would understand exactly what I mean. But since I have to justify my existence, I’ll explain further.

WarningThe Thanksgiving meal is over, so I’m not only full, I’m sleepy. I’ve lain around watching football and the tryptophan has kicked in. At least that’s what they’ve told us for the last fifty years (whoever “they” are).

However, “they” are now telling us differently. It appears someone was wrong. I’m presently reading that we’ve been duped all these years.

“It’s a big fat lie.”

The Huffington Post says, “It’s a big fat lie.” Yes indeed…none other than the Huffington Post. And you know if the Huffington Post says it…well…

So to make sure, I’ve checked several other sources. Lo and behold, everyone seems to be in lock step on this one. Tryptophan is apparently not the kryptonite we once thought it was.

We are now told we’re sleepy simply because we’re all little piggies (or big ones). We’re sleepy because we overate. We’ve gorged ourselves. We were hungry enough to eat a horse, but we substituted a turkey, three yams, two pieces of pumpkin pie, and a partridge in a pear tree.

I have to say that I believe them (even TenPoundsthough I saw it on the internet first). The scary part for me is what happens after the meal is over and we’ve cleaned up the kitchen.

All the leftovers are packed away and stored in the refrigerator. I’ve sprawled out on the couch to watch the NFL marathon. After the first quarter of football (and sometimes sooner than that), I’ve got my nose in the fridge looking for some leftover stuffing. Why do I do that?

I do it because it’s really good. I do it because leftover stuffing is even better than first-over stuffing. I do it because I know if I don’t, I won’t get any (and that’s because everyone else in the house has the same idea). And to be totally honest, I do it because I have zero discipline (particularly on Thanksgiving Day). I can’t blame it on the Bossa Nova like Eydie Gorme (look it up, young people).

“Tryptophan was a great excuse.”

And so it goes. We overeat. It’s carbohydrate city. Melatonin galore. And what do we do? Go back for more. And until the leftovers are all gone, I’ll keep a path worn from the couch to the Amana. I’m my own worst enemy. So I’m full.

Tryptophan was a great excuse. I’m sleepy? It’s the tryptophan. I can’t help it. I’d better take a nap.

RetainingFoodNow the excuse has been unceremoniously jerked from my unsuspecting hands. It’s no longer God’s fault for putting that stuff in such a delicious bird. It’s now my fault for being a glutton. Oh the humanity!

I guess I’ll have to take a step or two toward personal responsibility. Hi—I’m Dave Zuchelli, and I’m an overeater.

More on that later… Right now I’m too sleepy.