Overhearing the Curse

In our society, it’s not unusual to hear people cursing. Sometimes it’s a real curse. Other times it’s simply a habit and thrown out there subconsciously or as an adjective. Occasionally, it’s done in such a way that it even sounds funny.

Cursing, of course, was never meant to be something funny. When they were first instituted, they were deadly serious and to be avoided at all costs. The very first ones were levied by God Himself. You may remember them from Genesis chapter three. Everything got cursed—the man, the woman, the serpent, the earth—you name it, it was cursed. We still sing about it when we sing “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Remember the line, “far as the curse is found?” Yeah, that’s the same curse.

Don’t Pay Attention

Because cursing has become so prevalent in our society, we ignore it much of the time. As it turns out, disregarding it is the Biblical thing to do. Koheleth (the author of Ecclesiastes) had some sage advice concerning the tossing around of curses. He wrote, “Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you—for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others” (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22).

I doubt if anyone likes to be cursed by someone. It can be discouraging, disappointing, and demoralizing. At the very least, it’s annoying. Who needs it?

That’s particularly true if the person doing the afflicting is someone close to you. If it’s from an enemy of sorts, it’s a tad easier to take—not a lot, but some.

Koheleth’s wise words point out that there are a lot of spoken words to which we shouldn’t pay any attention. We should probably use some discretion when observing such an admonition, but that shouldn’t be all that tough. Life teaches us that certain statements are pretty important to take to heart.

True Wisdom

Be that as it may, allowing some of these things to roll off our backs is a response to true wisdom. This is especially true when we consider the reason for the teacher’s warning. He implies that one shouldn’t take those kinds of words too seriously when they come from someone we know (in this case, a servant). The reason seems to be tied into the concept of forgiveness.

He points out that we, too, have been guilty of cursing others. Even if it’s done in secret, entertaining the very thought of it is wrong. Even though you might not express it verbally, cursing someone is a violent act.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated that someone who is “angry with a brother or sister is subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:22). He tempered that, however, by also saying that we should forgive others as we have been forgiven (Matthew 6:12). He is in line with the writer of Ecclesiastes (and vice versa). Being a little less sensitive to the words of others and a little more forgiving seems to be in order.

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

A Legend in His Own Mind

There are a lot of fascinating figures in Scripture, but one of the guys who I always found to be most intriguing is the one we often refer to as the “rich, young ruler.” Interestingly enough, the Bible never uses that phrase, but each of the synoptic gospel accounts give little clues as to who he was, and rich, young ruler is the title he receives when we add them all up.

This young man was a lot like us. In fact, his attitude seems to be very prevalent in our own times. We could almost pick him up from the pages of Scripture and drop him into today’s setting. He would fit right in with us.

The Big Question

First of all, he approached Jesus with a big question. If, once again, we add up the synoptic passages about this event, his query would sound like this. “Good teacher, what good thing do I have to do to gain eternal life?” This is a common question, even among Christians. For some reason, we think there is some good work we can do to get into God’s good graces.

Jesus immediately cuts him to the quick by reminding him that no one is good except God Himself. After stating that, He essentially says, “If you really want to do something good, get rid of your wealth and come be my disciple.” It became painfully obvious that the young man couldn’t let go of the one thing that was most important to him—his money. The good thing Jesus wanted him to do was not in giving up his wealth (as many assume), but it was for him to follow the Christ. Had he done so, he would have discovered that there wasn’t any good deed or practice that would help him gain eternal life. Eternal life would have been a free gift bestowed on him as a follower of the Messiah.

Three Lessons

There are three lessons to be learned from this episode. First, no one can earn their ticket to Heaven. No one is that good. The only available goodness is that which comes from God—period. The only thing good enough to cover our sin is the sacrifice of the Savior.

Secondly, many of us have impediments to becoming a disciple of Christ. For the young man, it was his wealth. For us, it could be a myriad of other obstacles—things that are more important to us than Jesus himself. It could be anything—sports, sex, bodybuilding, career, family, status, politics—you name it.

The third and final thing is that we should read the Bible. Had the young man been studious, he would have read Ecclesiastes 7:20 which says, “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” Had he understood his Bible (the Old Testament), he would have known he couldn’t be good enough to gain eternal life. Instead, he was a legend in his own mind.

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

La Hora Loca

“Twenty-five years ago a Venezuelan couple rang in the New Year in Spain and were intrigued by the festivities, the costumes, the music and the happiness. They brought the appearance of the party back home in an attempt to create a new Venezuelan tradition. The pair decided to start a business aptly named “Hora Loca” in Caracas; it sells masks, noisemakers, costumes and anything else celebrants need to add their own crazy hour into a wedding reception or other celebration. Business boomed, and this store expanded to the United States. It now ships its supplies all over the world.” ~Classroom~

La Hora Loca literally means “the crazy hour.” When I first heard it, I assumed it would be loosely translated as “happy hour.” It was an honest mistake—maybe even an educated guess, albeit a wrong one.

Happy Hour?

We’re all familiar with the term happy hour. I seldom stop in at an establishment primarily to take advantage of happy hour; but I have, many times, ended up in restaurants during moments that coincided with their advertised exultant time. When that happens, the waiter gleefully announces to us that drinks and appetizers are half off (or some such promo). If I wasn’t in a good mood prior to that announcement, said decree always makes me happier than I was when I came into the joint. So the term, happy hour, is appropriate.

But, as I recently discovered, happy hour is not synonymous with crazy hour. Crazy hour has now become a part of many wedding celebrations. I was ignorant of this despite the fact that I’ve been performing wedding ceremonies like mad over the past few years. I guess my ignorance lies in the fact that I usually leave the premises shortly after the “I wills” and don’t participate in the festivities thereafter. Thus, the crazy hour concept has eluded me up to this point.

On Steroids

When I recently heard the term (at a church communications seminar, no less), I became curious and did a little research. Much to my surprise, although it might be considered akin to happy hour, happy hour it ain’t. I won’t go into the details, but I suppose it could be considered a sort of happy hour on steroids. All the in-style wedding receptions seem to have them these days.

La Hora Loca puts me in mind of Jesus’ first recorded miracle. Yes, you nailed it. It was on the occasion of a wedding reception when the bride and groom ran out of vino. Mother Mary told the head caterer to, “Do what he (Jesus) tells you,” and the rest is history.

My research tells me that La Hora Loca is a twenty-five-year-old Argentinian tradition, but my gut tells me it dates back to the wedding in Cana some two thousand years ago. I’m not sure how crazy the disciples got that day, but I’m pretty positive the other wedding guests were loving it—some to the point of not remembering it the next day.

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

What Do You See?

There’s an old story about Sherlock Holmes that has made the rounds several times. In case you haven’t heard it, here it is.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go on a camping trip. After a good dinner, they retire for the night, and go to sleep.
Some hours later, Holmes wakes up and nudges his faithful friend. “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

“I see millions and millions of stars, Holmes” exclaims Watson.

“And what do you deduce from that?”

Watson ponders for a minute.

“Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful, and that we are a small and insignificant part of the universe. What does it tell you, Holmes?”

And Holmes said: “Watson, you idiot, it means that somebody stole our tent.”

I love that story. Some people like to state it more succinctly as in, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” I prefer this longer version, but to each his own.

True of Preacher Types, et. al.

The way Watson was reading the sky is often the way people like to read the Bible. We, so often, get caught up in the minutiae of things, we don’t see the basic principle that’s present. This is particularly true of us preacher types, but a lot of other folks get bogged down in this stuff too.

It’s not that the little details aren’t important—they are. Still, one can get so mired in the intricate realities behind the writings, we miss the point entirely. It’s a little like going to a ballgame and focusing so much on one or two players we lose sight of the game itself. You come away having to ask what pitcher won and who had the most hits. You were an eye witness. How could you miss these things?

Alistair Begg is one of my favorite preacher/teachers. When tackling a difficult passage, he’ll often say, “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” In other words, don’t get so hung up on the background details that you muddle what’s up front and clear.

Not the Sum and Total

The finer points are important because they can bring clarity and focus to the passage at hand. They can help us flesh out the direction of God in the midst of a meaning that could otherwise get lost on us. They can provide context and direction when we’re attempting to discern the will of God. They are not, however, the sum and total of the Gospel story.

Majoring in the minors is often a lot of fun. It’s interesting, and it stimulates the mind. But before we go on to those things, we might want to make sure the tent is still there.

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

The Living Dead

Jimmy Buffett once sang, “I’d rather die while I’m living than living while I’m dead.” I’m not totally sure what he meant by that, but I can guess. He was possibly implying that he’d rather live a lifestyle that was slowly killing him than live a lifestyle that might garner him eternal life. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. I’m not all that good at mind reading.

It probably will come as no surprise to you that I disagree with that mindset—at least as I understand it. Still, it’s his mindset and he’s entitled to it. But, if my Biblical understanding is correct, he’s been misinformed.

One Per Person

First of all, we’re all going to die. As the old saying goes, “The statistics on death have not changed. It’s still one per person.” Jimmy can (and should) enjoy this life as best he can. We, like Mr. Buffet, only have one, so we may as well make the best of it. Trying to live with a tad less hedonism and a little more love for God and neighbor isn’t going to take away from la vida loca all that much. In fact, it may even bring more joy than one might expect.

That isn’t the real problem with his philosophy, however. He seems to be implying that a lot of us refrain from many of the “fun things” so we can earn our way to Heaven. Anyone with a good grasp on theology knows that isn’t true. There’s not a blessed thing we can do to warrant salvation. It’s a gift, pure and simple. Any good thing we do is merely a response to the love of Christ.

I’m sure people like Jimmy reach their conclusions honestly. We in the church have given that false impression to people for years. We go around acting like we’re great because we’ve got it all together. We don’t, of course, but our attitudes don’t reveal that fact. I think the term for it is, “Holier than thou.”

Still Sinners

The real truth of the matter is that, without Jesus, we’re lost sinners. With him, we’re found—but still sinners. If we come across as do-gooders, it’s only because we owe the Lord a debt we cannot pay. On our best days, our response to His overwhelming love, grace, and generosity is to do what He desires for our lives. We can’t add a thing to our salvation (although we often try).

When the call of Christ is on your life, you are made spiritually alive. The Apostle Paul puts it this way. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). Later in the same letter he wrote, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). You may notice that he doesn’t say this happened because we were good. Christ’s work alone will make us live when we’re dead.

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

#Jesus

I was participating in a recent seminar when the leader said, “#Jesus.” That’s pronounced, hashtag Jesus, for all you digital immigrants. It was a seminar full of church workers, so we all laughed. It was much funnier in context, but the very idea to a Christian that you’d have to put a hashtag before Jesus’ name is a bit ridiculous.

The hashtag idea apparently started on Twitter. Placing the hashtag in front of a subject helps to facilitate a search for it. A room full of Christians would find it humorous to place one in front of Jesus’ name simply because we think everyone knows about him. Maybe that’s why the church is dying in many places. Frankly, there are slews of folks who don’t know about him. To many, his name is merely something you shout when you smash your thumb.

Sounds Great to Us

We Christians have been weaned on Scripture that proclaims that “every knee should bow” to the one with “the name that is above every name,” and that “every tongue” should admit that He is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11). That sounds great to us. To many others, however, it sounds like so much drivel. “Who is this Jesus that he’s so important?” they might ask—as well they should. A lot of people never bother asking, however.

It’s worse than that, though, because many Christians simply aren’t telling. Keeping Jesus a secret seems to be a lifelong activity for some. It begs the question, if we really believe He’s the Savior of the world, why in Heaven’s name aren’t we letting the secret out of the bag.

I remember early in my Christian walk hearing the following story related by my Pastor. He was in a service one evening when a young woman responded to a call to follow Jesus. The congregation prayed with her, and she went out into the world to live her new life in Christ.

No One Suspects!

The following week, she came back to worship with that same congregation. Everyone was curious to see how things were going for this new babe in Christ for whom they had been fervently praying. When asked about it, she replied with a smile saying, “It’s been great! No one else suspects yet.”

I’m pretty sure they set her straight on that as time went on, but some people live their entire lives that way. Either they’re afraid someone is going to find them out and think less of them, or they just don’t want to be bothered sharing the Good News. I suppose there are other reasons as well, but unless you live in a country where Christianity is outlawed, you may want to reconsider your stance.

There’s a famous passage that states, “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9:26). Maybe a hashtag is in order after all.

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

Lace ’em Up!

There’s an old saying I’m sure you have heard. It goes something like this. “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In other words, if we need it, someone will create it. It’s as American as apple pie. This is particularly true if it looks like there could be a profit in it.

On the other hand, some inventions avoid necessity and go right for the wallet. Case in point: Nike Unveils Self-Lacing Basketball Shoe. I ran across this news item this morning and was immediately sucked in. A self-lacing basketball shoe… There might be exceptions along the way for some folks, but I’m placing this one in the “unnecessary” category.

Bend Over

Even the name is an oxymoron. Why do we have basketball shoes in the first place? I’ll tell you why. Exercise! Why do we need a pair of sneakers that are self-lacing. If you’d rather not bend over to tie your shoes, you’re probably not going to have the inclination to actually work out either.

These handy-dandy toe-huggers are operated by an app on your phone. How twenty-first century is that? They’ve been labeled, “smart shoes.” I guess I can’t argue with that moniker—although, I’m smart enough to have been tying my own shoes since I was in single digits (or was that double digits?). Well, anyway, I’ve been tying my own shoes for several decades now. I don’t think I need shoes that are smarter than me.

I remember when they started putting Velcro on tennis shoes to make it easier and quicker to don them. I also remember hearing the laughter as people made fun of those who actually bought them (probably because the only ones who wore them at the time were the elderly and little kids). Then they went to sneakers with eyelets for lacing but no laces at all. No one snickered at them (probably because these were in style with the young folks).

A New Level

Nike has taken all this to an entirely different level, however. I’m guessing no one will make fun of these new shoes. In fact, people will probably clamor for them. The price tag alone ($350) will set them apart as THE shoe to own—elite footwear for the metro-sexual. The thought of them alone puts my twenty-dollar Costco specials to shame. As they say, “Only in America.”

When John the Baptist announced the coming of the Messiah, he turned an interesting phrase to describe his arrival. He said, “After me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry” (Matthew 3:11). Now I know how he felt. If you’re worthy enough to own a new pair of Nike smart shoes, I would be reticent to even carry them across the room. It would be tantamount to borrowing someone’s Mercedes Benz. I’d be a nervous wreck the whole time I drove it for fear of putting a scratch in the paint job.

If you purchase a pair of these, can I be your friend?

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

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.]