Terminally Nice

I recently ran across the phrase, “terminally nice.” The coiner of the phrase was making the point that we are not commanded to be nice to a fault. Unfortunately, because we are called to be loving, nice is the idea we often settle upon. Christians are supposed to be nice people—period.

Just to be sure, I looked up the definition of nice. The dictionary listed such synonyms as pleasant, agreeable, and delightful. You know…nice… We all like nice. We like people who are agreeable. Most of us, I’m sure, would like to be known as nice individuals. Christians, in general, are wildly guilty of that. I say, guilty because nice is not the goal. Yet, many of us have made it the objective of our existence.

Mr. Nice Guy

I am certainly no whopping exception to this.  I want to be known as Mr. Nice Guy as much as the next person. There is, however, a line that we cross along the way. That line is the demarcation between nice and terminally nice. There’s a point at which we become a little too agreeable or a tad too delicate in our dealings with those around us. When we cross that line, we’ve become terminally nice.

Please allow me to stop here to remind us of something. Jesus wasn’t always nice. In fact, there were distinct moments and events during which Jesus was anything but nice. You may recall many of his dealings with the Pharisees ended in name-calling. My mother always taught me that wasn’t very nice and should be avoided at all costs.

So, if Jesus is our greatest example, how is it that he could stoop to such demeaning behavior? Why would he take the chance of hurting someone else’s feelings or bruising their egos? Why would he go so far as to mess up someone else’s property (John 2:15)? What kind of Savior is that?

Tough Love

The short answer is he is the kind of Savior whose ultimate end wasn’t simply to be nice. I’m sure you’ve heard of tough love. Jesus was the master of tough love. If we can go by what he preached, he loved (and continues to love) everyone. And yet, he doesn’t continue to be nice ad nauseam. There’s a limit to nice. Nice ends when it clashes with the truth.

If there’s anything we Christians place a higher claim upon than nice, it’s truth. One of our basic tenets is found in the claim stated by none other than Jesus himself. “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). You may notice it doesn’t contain the phrase, “and the nicest guy on the planet.” If we are bearers of the truth, sharing that truth is the ultimate goal. If we can be nice along the way, that’s great—even preferable.

It would behoove us to pass along the truth of Christ without wrecking someone’s life. But if we have to upend a few tables in the process, so be it.

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

Try Not to Gasp

I was reading a news item when, suddenly, I started seeing ads for other articles that began with the words, “Try not to gasp…” Above each statement was a picture of a young celebrity whose popularity had come and gone. The hook lines were attempting to draw me in (as all hook lines do). They were doing so by showing a young and beautiful (or handsome) star and saying, “Try not to gasp when you see ________ as she (he) is now.

Basically, they were trying to get me to a different website to show me what people look like when they get older. Frankly, that might work on young folks, but it won’t work on me. All I have to do is look in the mirror. Give me a break. People grow old and they get wrinkled (or whatever). Gawking at pix of them in their more mature state isn’t my thing. I hope it’s not yours either. If it is, I’ll send you some before and after photos of me (for a very minimal fee).

Obsess

Of course, we in this country (as well as the western world in general) tend to obsess on old age. I suppose it’s not old age as much as elderly appearances, but the two generally go hand in hand. While aging well is a desirable progression for most of us, there seems to be at least a small segment of the population that rejects the idea of aging at all.

I’m always amazed by the folks who either don’t want to talk about it or, when they do, want to talk about ways to stay young. I don’t know a lot, but I’m pretty sure remaining in a nubile state is not an option. The idea of staying young is appealing, but fighting physical maturity tends to be a losing battle—at least from my perspective.

I remember when the great baseball slugger, Ted Williams, passed away. His family had his head removed and cryogenically preserved. The idea behind doing so was the hope that someday his head could be attached to a healthy body and he could live on. I’m not sure, but that might be a bridge too far in the quest for the fountain of youth. I love science fiction, but to my way of thinking, that effort is a tad beyond the pale. When I die, just bury me—please.

Besides all that, I kind of like growing old. Of course, I could do without all the aches and pains. However, having white hair and wrinkles definitely has its perks. There are still a lot of people left in this world who give old geezers like me preferential treatment. There are senior citizen discounts and early-bird specials (and we’re always early these days). Best of all, being “too old” is a great excuse for almost anything I don’t want to do.

So, if you ever see a photo of me in my younger days, try not to gasp.

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

Boris and Monty

A few days ago, I flipped on the TV just in time to see a live feed of Boris Johnson’s acceptance speech. In case you don’t follow such things, Boris is the newly elected Prime Minister of England. I don’t usually keep up with the politics of other countries either, but this one just fell into my lap.

In fact, I would normally have changed channels immediately upon seeing what it was. In this instance, however, I was drawn to the tube (well, I guess they aren’t tubes anymore, but I was drawn nonetheless). There’s just something about a British accent. I’ve always loved the way those folks speak.

No Exception, He

Boris was no exception to my rule of Celt, so I listened for a while. The while turned into his entire speech (which, as it so happened, wasn’t all that long for a politician). Not only did he sport a wonderful accent, but he was also given to humor—another unexpected aspect from a political type. I don’t know anything about him, but I immediately liked him.

Of course, it’s much easier to like politicians that don’t directly affect my own interests. I can actually enjoy them for the person they are rather than the political slant they spew. So (at least for the time being), Boris is a newfound fascination for me. I suppose that will quickly fade when his partisan colors are flown on the nightly news. For now, however, I’m a fan.

Because of his accent and humorous remarks, I got the feeling I was watching an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Since I was a young fan of that show (many moons ago), it was easy to transfer my interest. In my mind, he could have easily slipped into one of their inane, comedy sketches. I don’t know if he would appreciate my mental association of him and the farcical British act, but I just can’t help myself. It’s who I am.

A Russian Spy?

Then, of course, there’s his name—Boris Johnson. It’s about as unlikely a name as any politician I can conjure up. With a name like that, he’s bound to be accused of being a Russian spy (maybe even colluding with the Russian authorities to secure his election). In today’s atmosphere, who knows? I just hope his spouse’s name is not Natasha.

Now I’ve really gone and done it. I’ve not only put Boris into a comedic box, I’ve just inadvertently him paired with a cartoon—Rocky and Bullwinkle. Minds like mine should undoubtedly be locked away somewhere until we can get our thoughts untwisted—to someplace where we can’t infect the thought processes of the young and impressionable. Alas and alack, I live in a country so free that I can express these inanities without reprisal. Ain’t it grand?

So, for now, Boris and Monty will reside, side by side, on a pedestal in my mind’s eye. It’s a lofty perch, Boris, so don’t blow it. I need all the heroes I can get.

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

All Wet

A recent video has surfaced depicting citizens in New York City dousing NYPD cops with water. In two different incidents (one in the Bronx and the other in Harlem), police officers were not only pelted with water but had buckets of water thrown on them. In one case, the emptied bucket was tossed at an officer, striking him on the head.

No one was injured during either incident (as far as we can tell from the video), but most people look upon these incidents as highly disrespectful to the public servants. Fortunately, the drenching was done during a heatwave, so despite the disrespect, the police probably got a little relief for a few seconds. On the downside, walking around post-soaking had to be a tad miserable.

Responding in Kind

In both cases, the constables were in the process of carrying out their respective duties. Admirably, none of the officers responded in kind. In fact, they hardly reacted at all. Their restraint was incredible and almost unbelievable. I say unbelievable because each of these confrontations was punishable by law. We don’t often think about water as a weapon, but the actions were tantamount to assault and battery. No one was arrested, however, and it doesn’t appear as if the policemen even raised their voices to the perpetrators.

The public’s reaction (from what I’ve seen so far) has been one of outrage that these community protectors were accosted by the community itself. These insolent activities have been rightfully viewed as unacceptable, to say the least. I find that attitude to be refreshing as viewed against the backdrop of some of the vitriol shown our crime-fighting authorities over the past several years. Frankly, I am surprised and pleased by the widespread and across-the-board outpouring of support for our heroes in blue.

The Apostle Paul was pretty clear about how he felt about such things. The famous passage from Romans 13 states that if respect is due them, show them respect. If honor is due them, show them honor. He went so far as to say that those in authority are “God’s servants.” He felt that the Lord placed them in those positions for a reason. The implication is that, unless they prove otherwise, they are due any deference we give them. In current parlance, “Sounds like a plan.”

The Good Guys

It is true, of course, that not all cops deserve the honor we might give them. Still, from my experience, the good guys (and gals) among their ranks are far and away the vast majority of their number. It’s heartening to see the public rally around the blue knights this time around. Unfortunately, we seem to have a ways to go. As long as water is the worst thing we throw at our gendarmes, we might be able to dodge a bullet (no pun intended). Water isn’t where it ends, though. Buckets, rocks, ammo can’t be far behind when respect is laid aside.

P.S. He also suggested we pray for “those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:2).

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

Dying With Billions

Every once in a while, there’s something that surfaces on the Internet that contains a bit of wisdom. A friend of mine sent me the following story. It doesn’t appear as if there was ever a billionaire named Steve Gouves, but this fiction contains some poignant truth.

Steve Gouves died a billionaire, with a fortune of $ 7 billion, at the age of 56 from cancer, and here are some of his last words: 

In the eyes of others, my life is the essence of success, but aside from work, I have had little joy, and in the end, wealth is just a fact of life to which I am accustomed

At this moment, lying in bed, sick and remembering my life, I realize that all the recognition and wealth I have is meaningless in the face of imminent death.

You can hire someone to drive a car for you, make money for you – but you cannot rent someone to carry the disease for you. 

One can find material things, but there is one thing that cannot be found when it is lost–“life.” 

Treat yourself well, and cherish others. As we get older, we are smarter, and we slowly realize that the watch worth $30 or $300 both show the same time.

Whether we carry a purse worth $30 or $300, the amount of money in the wallets are the same. 

Whether we drive a car worth $150,000, or a car worth $30,000, the road and distance are the same, and we reach the same destination.

If we drink a bottle of wine worth $300 or $10—the “stroller” will be the same.

If the house we live in is 300 or 3000 square meters—the loneliness is the same.

Your true inner happiness does not come from the material things of this world. Whether you’re flying first class or economy class – if the plane crashes, you crash with it.

So, I hope you understand that when you have friends or someone to talk to – this is true happiness!

Five Undeniable Facts:

1. Do not educate your children to be rich. Educate them to be happy. So when they grow up they will know the value of things, not the price.

2. Eat your food as medicine; otherwise, you will need to eat your medicine as food.

3. Whoever loves you will never leave you, even if he has 100 reasons to give up. He will always find one reason to hold on.

4. There is a big difference between being human and human being.

5. If you want to go fast—go alone! But if you want to go far—go together!

And in conclusion:

The six best doctors in the world: 1. Sunlight, 2. Rest, 3. Exercise, 4. Diet, 5. Self-confidence, 6. Friends. Keep them in all stages of life and enjoy a healthy life. Love the people God sent you. One day he’ll need them back.\

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

ANTI-SEMITISM!

From the moment the Jewish nation came into being, there has been anti-Semitism. One doesn’t have to go back very far in history to find abhorrent examples of that. The Holocaust perpetrated by Adolf Hitler and his cronies wiped out the lives of six million Jews. Since then, Holocaust deniers have added to the agony of that memory by dismissing it out of hand as some sort of fable. 

One would think that, in light of our educated and sophisticated state in this world, anti-Semitism would be on the fast track to extinction. In recent years, however, there has been a rise in anti-Semitism across the world. It’s no big surprise to hear that some of the Arabic nations are guilty of such attitudes, but watching it spread across the globe is much more disturbing and incomprehensible. Take, for example, the rising tide of anti-Semitism across Europe these days.

“We Are Watching You”

A recent TIME magazine article chronicled a note left on a Jewish professor’s windshield in Sweden. The note read, “WE ARE WATCHING YOU, YOU JEWISH SWINE.” More notes followed, and finally, her home was set afire. She has withheld her name for fear of even worse reprisals. One might be tempted to simply pass that off as anecdotal information, but similar episodes have been playing out with alarming frequency. 

France has shown “a 74% spike in anti-Semitic acts between 2017 and 2018.” Germany’s anti-Semitism commissioner has warned Jewish citizens to avoid wearing their kippahs (the traditional skullcaps or yarmulkes) in public for fear of physical and verbal maltreatment. The European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency has come to the astounding conclusion that Europe’s Jewish population is being subjected to “a sustained stream of abuse.”

It would be easy to get the sense that those sorts of attitudes and actions just occur somewhere else. Unfortunately, they don’t stop at the water’s edge. Our own nation is not immune to such tragic goings-on. We’ve even elected people to Congress that openly maintain this sort of bile while little is done to curb their hate speech. In an era of heightened political correctness, it’s almost unfathomable that such public vitriol could go virtually unchecked. Yet, it’s happening before our very eyes and ears.

Beginning With Isaac & Ishmael

While all of this comes as a surprise and even a shock to me, it really shouldn’t. As a student of the Bible—particularly of the Old Testament (the Jewish Bible)—all of this is systematically and historically laid out before us. Beginning with Isaac and Ishmael, there has been a divergence and a predictable likelihood that our Jewish brothers and sisters would face great hardship at the hands of people who misunderstand and reject their history and lifestyle.

Sad to say, I’ve run into Christians who ignore the Old Testament in the belief that is doesn’t apply to us. Nothing could be further from the truth. If I’m not mistaken, Jesus was Jewish. As his followers, it would behoove us to understand our roots. Frankly, after the Jews, we’re next.

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

Don’t Bother to Pray

I usually avoid political stances in my writing. A major exception is when politics and faith conflict in ways that put them on a collision course. Then there are other times when politicians say things that are so outlandish I just can’t help myself.

Today, I can’t help myself. A member of the US House of Representatives recently said the following. “We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice. If you’re worried about being marginalized and stereotyped, please don’t even show up because we need you to represent that voice.” Are you kidding me?

Tantamount to Censorship

What this person said was tantamount to censorship. She may well have said, “If you don’t agree with us, just shut up!” Her attitude seems to be one of corralling people into marching lockstep with her. If you’re black, Muslim, or gay, there’s only one way to think. If you deviate from that, you’re somehow a lesser person and you’re not welcome.

Well, the last time I looked, this was still America—the land of the free. This Representative wants to herd everyone to a place where they are only free to think like her. Anything outside of that is apparently treason.

Why do some folks think everyone belongs in some thought block and have no business straying to another side of the ideological street? Are we a bunch of automatons who have to be encoded to a certain ideal? If we have varying opinions, are we to report to the master computer operator for reprogramming? This politician seems to think so.

What she said would be comparable to a Christian saying, “If you’re not a Baptist, don’t bother to pray. You won’t get it right.” Another comparison would go like this. “If your theology doesn’t line up with mine, don’t bother attending my church.” I could go on, but I think you get the point.

They Aren’t Cyborgs

People are people. They’re not pawns in a mass, monolithic thought process. They aren’t cyborgs being prepared to do someone else’s bidding. To think that black people, Muslims, or gays must toe the party line is about as anti-American as one can get. It’s antithetical to everything for which we stand.

The Christian church is (or at least, should be) a prime example of how wrong this woman happens to be. Jesus called us to follow him. He didn’t tell us what denomination we should gravitate toward. He didn’t give us a set of rules to follow. He didn’t give us an absolute prescription of how to worship, baptize, or preach. He simply told us to follow him where he takes us.

Consequently, the Body of Christ consists of red, yellow, black, brown and white disciples. They are conservative, liberal, and middle-of-the-road. They are vastly different and are all brothers and sisters in Christ. AND…they speak with many voices—not just one. 

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

God Had Fun

My lovely Bride and I (along with a couple of good friends) gathered at a nearby winery for a relaxing evening. I’m not much of a wine connoisseur, but I love the usually spectacular views these venues present to weary eyes. Just as importantly, the live music is often a treat.

This occasion did not disappoint. Not only did the Lord provide wonderful scenery, but the vineyard owners had also lined up a gifted young woman to play guitar and sing for our listening pleasure. When I listen to a talent like hers, it reminds me why I didn’t end up in the music industry. I could never compete (or even come close).

Classics From My Youth

Toward the end of her last set, she sang some classics from my youth which caused me to drop out of the conversation at our table and focus solely on her performance. I was captivated by her arrangements and lilting voice (not to mention the delightful guitar work). Interspersed among the classics, she did a few original compositions as well.

As she introduced one of her own songs, she used the following sentence. “God must have had fun making you.” Despite the good time, pleasant company, and enjoyable performance that comprised the evening, that single sentence alone was worth the trip to the vineyard that evening. It reminded me of something we seldom (if ever) mull over.

Have you ever considered the fact that God has fun…that he enjoys himself…that he might even find pleasure in us, his children? I don’t think of that possibility very often. I usually think about how we must disappoint him or make him angry. If that was all he experienced, this world might be washed away again. Thank God for rainbows (Genesis 9:14-15).

Making God Smile

In actuality, he probably has a lot more fun than we can imagine. I love the Gianna Jensen quote, “My whole intent in living here is to make God smile.” Once I read that statement several years ago, I immediately knew that’s what I wanted my life’s goal to be—making God smile.

Like most things, however, saying it and doing it are two vastly different things. In fact, if you think about it, it might present itself as a bit of a puzzle. How can we make God smile? So, just for the heck of it, I typed the phrase, “Making God Smile,” into my Google machine. As it turns out, someone wrote a study book with that title.

I haven’t purchased the book, but the descriptions tell me that it’s a study of the “fruit of the Spirit.” In case you’re not familiar with that phrase, Saint Paul wrote a list that included nine things that he labeled, the fruit of the Spirit. Unfortunately, it includes things like patience, kindness, and self-control. Some of us might be in a wee bit of trouble. The good news is, the Spirit can grow these things in any of us if we cooperate. Maybe there’s still hope for making God smile.

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

Lawyers, Guns, and Money

Warren Zevon once wrote a song in which he asked his Dad to send “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.” It’s not exactly a love song, but I always enjoyed it (despite—or maybe because of—its unusual theme.

I was recently reminded in some twisted way of Zevon’s song by a news item. The clip reported that Oklahoma Police stopped a car because of expired plates. During this routine traffic stop, the officers noticed a large timber rattlesnake in the back seat of the car. The couple in possession of the vehicle then announced that the auto was stolen, and they had a firearm.

Radioactive Uranium

The story would have been odd enough at that point, but there’s more. When the car was thoroughly searched, the authorities discovered a yellow, powdery substance in a container that was labeled, “Uranium.” When the radioactive substance was revealed, the car thieves disclosed that they were attempting to create a “super snake.”

As an anti-climactic side component to the story, the cops also found an open bottle of Kentucky Deluxe whiskey. In light of all the other discoveries, the whiskey was almost superfluous to the strange tale. On the other hand, it might have been the root cause of all the other stuff that happened. That old “demon rum” has been known to be the catalyst of many folks running afoul of the law. Maybe we’ll never know for sure.

It’s for that reason (among a few others) that many Christians and non-Christians alike steer clear of alcohol altogether. There are entire denominations of folks who practice total abstinence from strong drink. When you hear stories like the one I just related, that practice begins to make perfect sense. I, myself, was a teetotaler for many moons. To this day, I can take it or leave it—as people like to say. I usually leave it, but I’m certainly not above taking a social nip now and again.

No Biblical Proscription

While there’s no Biblical proscription outlawing the imbibement of certain adult beverages, Scripture does warn against the overuse of such drinks. Take Proverbs 20:1 for example. It tells us that, “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.” In other words, it’s a bit stupid to get drunk. A lot of people feel that the best way to avoid inebriation is not to drink at all. I guess I can’t argue with that logic.

Of course, Christians who enjoy the fruit of the vine upon occasion are always quick to point out John 2. Contained therein is the encapsulation of Jesus’ first miracle. You may remember that one. It’s the time Jesus turned water into wine—fine wine at that. It was for a group of people who had probably already been drinking for several days. 

Actually, he did it so the bride and groom wouldn’t be embarrassed for running out of wine at their reception. Scripture doesn’t say, but I’m guessing a few people got stupid that day.

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

The Bug Under the Rug

First, Mad Magazine. Now, the VW Beetle. Oh, the horrors of it all. It seems the icons of my youth are either fading away or crashing and burning. What will be next? Bell bottom jeans? Oh, wait! Those are gone as well (maybe that’s a good thing).

I’m not exactly sure why, but those abbreviated cars were always considered cool when I was a kid. I have a friend who had one when we were seniors. She was the envy of everyone. There was nothing more exciting than stuffing as many of us in the bug as we could. It wasn’t always as safe as possible, but it was definitely fun.

Auf Wiedersehen

I never owned one, although I would have liked to do so. I came close, though. The first car I bought was a VW Bus. Just as cool, but not the same. At any rate, the Bug is done. No more will be produced, and it’s sayonara—or should I say, auf wiedersehen. Now that I think of it, they’ve been produced in Mexico as of late, so the word would be adios.

When I was a kid, some buddies of mine were walking around town one evening and spotted one of the famous Love Bugs sitting along the street. There were four of them, it was dark and late, and they conceived a fabulous idea. They picked up the Beetle and relocated it to a nearby sidewalk. I wish I had been there in the morning to see what happened when it was discovered by its owner. My guess is this event was replayed over more than a few times in small towns all over America—maybe all over the world.

The fact is, however, that even though the last Beetle has rolled off the production line, we’ll see them around for a long time to come. If you look closely and are observant enough, you’ll spot a few here and there from the fifties and sixties still. People just won’t let them go. Despite the fact that their heaters had a propensity for rusting out and their transmissions were a bit Mickey Mouse (as my mechanic buddies used to say), those autos are still loved by many. There are some things in life that we have a hard time setting loose.

The Good Old Days

There’s a great verse of Scripture in Ecclesiastes that says, “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” Still, we ask that question (or forms of it) all the time. I’m no exception. I yearn for the good old days and hate to see the Love Bug go the way of the dinosaur.

Still, it gives me great comfort to note that there are enough relics left of the dinosaur population to satisfy my longing for old animals. I’ve no doubt that Beetle relics will linger long enough to satisfy my antique vehicle nostalgia for an extended period of time (Lord willing).

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