The Demonstration of God

The first words of the Bible are so well known that almost anyone can quote them. “In the beginning, God…” It’s interesting that the Scriptures never attempt to prove the reality of God. From the very onset, they assume the Deity’s existence. There is no questioning of that detail, no arguments put forth, or no waffling around the issue. God is… Period…

I suppose that’s as it should be. All arguments that God exists are futile—and there are many. If someone has not had their eyes opened to that possibility, they will never see the truth of it, nor will they understand who He is.

In his book, Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner wrote the following.

“It is as impossible for man to demonstrate the existence of God as it would be for even Sherlock Holmes to demonstrate the existence of Arthur Conan Doyle.

All-wise. All-powerful. All-loving. All-knowing. We bore to death both God and ourselves with our chatter. God cannot be expressed but only experienced.

In the last analysis, you cannot pontificate but only point. A Christian is one who points at Christ and says, “I can’t prove a thing, but there’s something about his eyes and his voice. There’s something about the way he carries his head, his hands, the way he carries his cross—the way he carries me.”

I don’t think I could express it any better.

In seminary, they taught us all forms of arguments for the existence of God. There is the teleological argument, the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, and (of course) the philosophical argument. There are arguments from experience, from design, and from morality. I saw a book advertised online recently called, “36 Arguments for the Existence of God,” but the subtitle is “A Work of Fiction.” I’m not sure what that’s all about.

The simple fact of the matter is that it’s all quite straightforward in the end. Either you believe in God or you don’t. Either you’ve heard His call or you haven’t. Either you bend the knee or you turn your back. Nothing I, nor anyone else, can say will ultimately change your position. That’s between you and the Lord.

Jesus used to use an interesting phrase. As He concluded a teaching, He would add, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” He didn’t argue with them. He didn’t hang around and attempt to convince the skeptics. He just laid out His tenets and let them speak for themselves.

Sometimes, as Christians, this is our big mistake. We think we have to argue, cajole, and convince everyone we’re right. We may want to check the Scriptures on that one. It’s the task of the Holy Spirit to convict and convince hearts of God’s love and presence—not ours. We certainly have the high privilege of being a part of what God is doing, but each of us is only a small spoke in a much larger wheel. We would do well to remember that and act accordingly.

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

Rediscovering the Gospel

We have this crazy notion that we can just pass the Gospel on from one generation to the next. I suppose that’s true in some respects. Still, we need to realize that merely handing someone a Bible or witnessing to God’s power and love doesn’t really do the trick.

Don’t get me wrong. Giving someone the written Word and telling them your own God-story is important. We need to do those things—early and often. But what WE do is not the end game—it’s only the beginning.

Once God calls, every individual has to, by some means, appropriate the Gospel for him or herself. Regardless of your theological bent, you will probably agree that, for each believer, there comes a time of awakening to God’s truth. Until that happens, you can give them all the Bibles in the world and present them with your best perceptions to no avail.

Down the Damascus Road

Sometimes that awakening is sudden and profound—often referred to as a “Damascus Road experience.” In many others, it comes along slowly, deftly, and almost imperceptibly until that person finally realizes his or her position and posture before the Lord. Like the proverbial snowflakes, no two experiences or journeys are alike.

I can’t remove all my knowledge of God, Scripture, and personal experience, duplicate it, and pour it into someone else. Even if I could, there still would be something lacking. Every generation needs to rediscover the Gospel for themselves. The Lord will speak to them differently than he does to me. He will reveal himself in vastly distinct ways, and they will have to listen with different ears than I can.

One of the big mistakes the church makes is to think every succeeding generation should be exactly like the last. If that were true, we could be very comfortable with trying to create carbon copies of ourselves. The big problem is the mere fact that God is much bigger than all of that. If he was limited to the way we do things, we wouldn’t need him any longer. But he’s not, and we do.

A Lot of Double-Talk

We, of course, need to do what we can to impart our knowledge, experience, and whatever insight we’ve collected to the next generation of believers. The Lord has entrusted us with that task. They, on the other hand, would do well to pay attention to our collective wisdom. In the end, however, they will have to rediscover the Gospel—on their own level, right where they are.

A lot of this might sound like double-talk to many of you, but it really isn’t. Tomorrow’s church is not going to look like today’s. Sure, there will be many similarities. But the little box we attempt to squeeze ourselves into just isn’t going to contain what the Lord has in store. When people discover the reality of the Gospel for themselves, they will answer Jesus’ call to “follow” him. He will take them in directions and to places we might never imagine. God is astounding!

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

The Tooth Fairy Rocks!

I was watching the TV news recently and saw an amazing exposé on the Tooth Fairy. First of all, I never knew the Tooth Fairy actually existed. I always thought she was a mythical character made up by parents to ameliorate their traumatized children. As it turns out, she’s real. I saw a video clip of her and everything. (She looks like a young Kirstie Alley—which ain’t all bad.)

Not only does she exist, she’s got to be some sort of heiress or something. The crux of the news item was the amount of money she gives away. According to the latest figures, the average tooth garners a cache of $5.72 on average. To give you a better perspective on that, she gave away a total of $290,600,000.00 in 2016. In case you have a tough time reading numbers with lots of zeroes, that’s almost three hundred million in one year alone.

She’s Worth Billions

Either this magical chick is worth billions, or she’s extremely well invested. She certainly would be a good catch for any guy looking to marry for money. On top of that, she has to be quite well traveled. Only Santa Claus seems to outdo her on that score.

The one big drawback might be her deftness. Anyone who can steal into someone’s bedroom, reach a hand under their pillow, remove a rotten tooth, and replace it with hard, cold cash before being noticed would be a handful.

I actually find this whole thing to be rather annoying. I understand inflationary trends and all that, but six bucks for a tooth? As I recall, I was lucky to get a quarter. Apparently, her coffers have been growing. I suppose it has something to do with the stock market rising above 20,000, but I have to say I’m a bit bitter. With the proper investments, I could have been sitting pretty right now. The only thing I could do with a quarter in those days was go to the movies (wish I could do that for a quarter now—talk about inflationary trends).

A Great Money Manager

There’s an old saying that goes, “You learn something new every day.” I don’t know if that’s true, but I learned a few new things from the newscast that day. The Tooth Fairy exists, she’s beautiful, she’s rich, and she got away with murder when it came to my extractions. I have to say that I’m really disappointed, but I’ve got to hand it to her. She really rocks! Anyone who can keep this up for so long is not only dedicated but a great money manager on top of it all.

I no longer put my hopes and dreams in the hands of the Tooth Fairy. She’s disappointed me enough to last me a lifetime. At this point, I’ll follow the words of the Prophet Isaiah who spoke for the Lord when he said, “Those who hope in me will not be disappointed” (Isaiah 49:23). Besides that, I don’t have many more teeth to spare.

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

Crackers Unchained

PETA strikes again. The wild fauna of Animal Cracker fame have been set free on the cover of their Nabisco boxes. Where once they were held captive in cages, depicting P.T. Barnum’s Circus, they now roam unfettered and unconfined. This obviously is a blow to zoo lovers everywhere.

If you look at the new containers, you may be put in mind of the Peaceable Kingdom painting of Edward Hicks. Lions, giraffes, and elephants wander shoulder to shoulder with harmony and purpose. Zebras and gorillas have been thrown in for good measure. I have to say, I wouldn’t want to run into this horde no matter how serene they appear to be.

Apparently, this victory was won at the behest of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Back in 2016, they sent a letter to Mondelez International (parent company of Nabisco) saying the following:

“Given the egregious cruelty inherent in circuses that use animals and the public’s swelling opposition to the exploitation of animals used for entertainment, we urge Nabisco to update its packaging in order to show animals who are free to roam in their natural habitats.”

Interestingly enough, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus folded their tents (literally) the next year in 2017. Now, all the cages are gone—both on the box and off.

One of PETA’s executives rejoiced over the victory by saying,

“The new box for Barnum’s Animals crackers perfectly reflects that our society no longer tolerates the caging and chaining of wild animals for circus shows.”

I’m not sure how accurate that statement happens to be, but the bars ARE gone. She could be right. At least Mondelez thinks so. They ditched a century-old tradition, and all is right with the world.

It just dawned on me that I buy my animal crackers in large, clear, plastic containers. They are packed together, laying on top of one another like sardines in a tin. I’m pretty sure that’s really inhumane. It’s a bit reminiscent of the mass graves in Nazi concentration camps. I wonder if PETA has issued a letter to Costco. If they have, it hasn’t taken effect as yet.

When it comes right down to it, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter how these delectable little morsels are packaged. People will be gnawing on them and biting their heads off however they’re depicted or revealed in the packaging.

And that little fact is probably the real crux of the matter. Pretty soon we’ll all be receiving letters from PETA urging us to become vegans. Animal crackers (at least in the form of beasts) will be banned, and some executive will announce that our society no longer tolerates the eating of animal flesh.

I guess we could blame Noah for all of this. The whole ark thing preserved all the four-legged creatures and such. Ultimately, we’ll have to blame God, however. He gave us the animals for food in the beginning of Genesis 9. What in the world was He thinking?

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

Shot Gun Wedding

Since retiring from my “day job,” I’ve been doing a lot of wedding ceremonies. By “doing,” I mean performing, celebrating, or officiating them—take your pick. It’s been a real eye-opener for me.

I just checked my records, and I’ve done an average of about twenty per year. With all that’s involved with preparation and performance, it keeps me busy. The “eye-opener” is concerning popular wedding venues. I’ve done ceremonies in national forests, municipal and state parks, inns, vineyards, wineries, museums, backyards, family decks, harbors, private homes, restaurants, farm markets, antebellum mansions, hotels, farms, old historic buildings, botanical gardens, resorts, golf courses, bed and breakfasts, country clubs, community centers, and I’ve even done one a few in churches (imagine that).

Scheduled for a Prison

I’ve done them in gazebos, pavilions, log cabins, waterfronts, living rooms, courtyards, basements, historic chapels, in front of arbors and fireplaces, near airports, on riverbanks, beside swimming pools, on rooftops, atop battle site ruins, and recently did one next to a putting green. I also had one scheduled for a prison once, but it was cancelled—not sure why.

The garb has been varied as well. I’ve been asked to wear everything from jeans to a tux, from a clergy suit to a robe, but usually a regular suit and tie. I was even asked to wear my hair in a man-bun once. I acquiesced, but I’m thinking that will be the last time for such a spectacle. I almost forfeited my man-card that day.

I don’t mean to bore you with these longs lists and details, but I personally find them to be fascinating. It used to be that the crowd would gather in a house of worship, listen to the “I do’s,” and move to the place of revelry (the reception). These days, everything is in one place. Hence, it’s not totally uncommon to see a few of the congregants with a beer or glass of wine in their hands. I’m still trying to get over that one.

All Things Nuptial

Regardless of all these new variables, there’s one common thread that never changes. At some point, I’m handed a packet from the county courthouse. This packet usually contains the unsigned marriage license and a variety of other possible items. These can be such things as receipts for the license, applications for name changes and new social security cards, advice concerning babies and blood work, instructions for wedding officiants, and informational brochures on all things nuptial.

I usually take the packet and tell the happy couple I will return anything they might need along with their handy-dandy keepsake marriage certificate by way of the U.S. Mail. This was true of my last wedding as well with one new twist. Among the extras I needed to return were two blank applications for concealed handgun permits.

I must say, this gives new meaning to the term, shotgun wedding. I probably shouldn’t ask them about it. If they tell me, they may have to kill me. Living near D.C. has its drawbacks.

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

Deadrise

My lovely Bride and I were on a short vacation to the home of a couple of friends who live on the river (well, not ON the river, but you know what I mean). They have a boat, of course, so we spent a little time on the waterways of Virginia.

One day, we took a short excursion to an awesome, seafood restaurant (one of my fave things to do—it involves eating). As we were sitting around enjoying our drinks, the sunshine, and the view, my friend imparted a little info to me. He pointed to a grounded fishing boat and told me it was called a “deadrise.” I had never heard the term before and found it to be highly intriguing. I asked him why it was named that, but he wasn’t sure.

Highly Trained

Being a highly trained, technical, twenty-first-century man, I did the logical thing. I checked out one of the search engines on the web. There it was, picture and all.

As it turns out, the term deadrise refers to the hull of the boat. Wikipedia describes these traditional fishing boats like this: “The deadrise is characterized by a sharp bow that quickly becomes a flat V shape moving aft along the bottom of the hull. A small cabin structure lies forward and a large open cockpit and work area aft.” The popularity of these babies is due to the fact that they don’t capsize very easily and are also good for traversing the shallower waters as well. Fishermen, crabbers, and eelers all favor these worthy vessels, and they have been named “the official boat of the Commonwealth of Virginia.” Who knew?

As usual, however, my interest in the name of these crafts was piqued by the obvious link to Scripture. Well, it was obvious to me, at least. Any time someone mentions the words “dead” and “rise” together, theological types like myself tend to go in the direction of resurrection, miracles, and revival. I just can’t help it. I think I was a tad disappointed to find out that the term had no spiritual connotations whatsoever, but I guess the secular world has a place right alongside the transcendent. I suppose it would be a stretch to link the fact that they are fishing boats to Jesus’ call on our lives to be “fishers of men.” Still, deadrise is a cool and unique term. It’s one I will not soon forget.

Vindication!

Be that as it may, all this caused my mind to wander back to my trip to Israel a few years ago. As part of that trip, the group I joined took a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee. I was curious to see if it resembled the description of the deadrise. I pulled up a few pictures of the boats used for these tours and found one that looked like the one we had ridden. Aside from the cabin up front, it looked like a deadrise to me.

I’ve been vindicated!

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

My New Prayer Language

I’ve spent a good part of the summer traveling back and forth to Florida to help restore a home we’re about to put on the market. While I enjoy that kind of work, it can take its toll. Lately, as I’ve been working on the house, I’ve noticed that every time I kneel down, try to stand up, lift almost anything, or attempt something exertive at all, my body lets out with a pathetic, audible sound. It’s as if it’s crying out to God for redemption, relief, or restoration (the three “r’s” of salvation). It’s like a new prayer language.

I suppose when the Pentecostal or Charismatic brothers and sisters refer to a “prayer language,” they’re not meaning a groan. In my case, however, that’s exactly what it seems to be. But as much as I don’t like it, it appears to be Biblical.

Get Back, Loretta

Ever since we (the human race) got kicked out of the Garden of Eden, we’ve been trying in the worst way to get back. We do it with all sorts of things and in all kinds of ways—the occasional ballgame or concert, a new car or house, or events like family gatherings. Aside from these conscious efforts, however, our bodies apparently have an innate longing to be back where everything was perfect as well.

In his second letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul made mention of the fact that our earthly bodies “groan and are burdened” and desire to be back to their normal state (or maybe I should say, their ultimate one). On an even deeper level, he told the Roman church that “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). So, I guess I’m in good company. If the Holy Spirit (as well as my own body) keeps praying for me, I can’t really complain.

I suppose I need to learn to pace myself. I remember observing my Dad following his retirement. He was a real worker, but he seemed to understand his limitations. His philosophy and practice became his lifestyle—get up early, work until noon, and take the rest of the day off. It seemed to work well for him. Since I’m built in his mold, I should probably give it a shot.

On a Roll

I don’t know if his routine would work for me, but I suspect I could reshape it to adapt to my existence in some way. I don’t want to wear myself out prematurely, so I suppose some changes are in order. It’s not that I’m a workaholic, but I definitely tend to overdo it when I get on a roll.

Somewhere along the way, this old body will finally give out. If I understand Scripture correctly, I’ll receive a new, glorified, spiritual body in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). It sounds like there won’t be much moaning and groaning at that point. Plus, it will be forever. I guess I can put up with my new prayer language for a little while longer.

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

Between Heaven and Hell

During our earthly existence, we live between the concepts of Heaven and Hell. I once heard it said that this life is as close to Heaven as a non-believer will ever get and that it’s as close as a believer will ever get to Hell. I suppose that’s true. Nevertheless, I’ve observed that some days seem to be heavenly while others are like going through Hell itself.

One of our problems in all of this is perspective. While we have certain images floating around in our tiny brains about what Heaven and Hell are like, we really don’t know much about either. The Bible gives us little hints here and there, but there is no definitive description of the hereafter. Much of what it says on these subjects can be viewed as parabolic or analogous—mere indications as to the nature of these states of being.

Tossed Onto the Heap

Jesus compared Hell to the Valley of Ben Hinnom (or Gehenna). This was a place just outside of Jerusalem where garbage was thrown. Like all dumps, it had occasion to burst into flame through internal combustion. The idea of being set out to the curb with the morning trash is, at the very least, an unpleasant thought. We tend to think of our lives as being worth far more than that. If we throw them (our lives) away in non-belief, we are consigning ourselves to a rubbish heap existence. I’ve spent enough time setting out the refuse to know I don’t want to do that for eternity. The stench alone is worthy of the term, Hell.

Then there’s Heaven. The closest ideas we get of eternal glory are the fleeting descriptions and references to the Garden of Eden and the fascinating portrayal of the New Jerusalem coming down from the sky to the New Earth (Revelation 21). Interestingly enough, there is no mention of people floating around on clouds playing harps.

The best, and probably most informative, depiction of Heaven is not so much about the place of Heaven but more about the mindset of Heaven (Revelation 21:3-5). In it, John is told that God is remaking everything and that the new dwelling place will be a sanctuary from things like death, tears, mourning, and pain. The actual thing that makes it heavenly is that God will be living there with his people—undoubtedly in a way that he isn’t present with us now.

A No-Brainer

Whatever descriptions and ideas we have derived from all that (whether mythical or real), two things are for certain. Hell is an existence I’m more than willing to forego, and Heaven is my desired preference after a life of uncertainty here on earth. It sounds like a no-brainer to me.

The real question then becomes, “How do we get there?” Some folks think it’s from living a life of goodness—that we can earn it. To the contrary, the Bible says we are chosen. One thing seems certain. Jesus is the key. Our best bet is to answer his call.

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

In the Grand Scheme

In the grand scheme of things, I’m a nobody. That really doesn’t matter, however, because I don’t live in the grand scheme of things. I live, for all practical purposes, in my own mind. Put another way, I live in my own little world.

As I say that, I realize that will be taken the wrong way by some because it sounds a bit self-centered. And I suppose it is in a way. But what I’m driving at is the fact that each of us (for the most part) has a small circle of influence. We know a handful of people and have a series of acquaintances beyond that circle. The world around us ultimately amounts to a group of a few hundred folks—a few thousand for some of us, suppose.

Our Limited Spheres

There are obvious exceptions, of course. Presidents, movie stars, and major athletes are among those. Their personal worlds are much vaster and all-encompassing, But I suspect that even they have their limited spheres when it comes to actually knowing people on a more deeply personal level.

I’m certainly a citizen of the world, and I take an interest in it. I’m a citizen of the United States and take a deep interest in it as well. Bring it down to the level of the geographical community in which my home is located, and my interest rises even more. Narrow it to family and friends and I’m all ears.

Now, telescope it the other direction. The broader the scope, the fewer people are interested in me personally. As a matter of fact, get beyond my family and friends, almost no one cares about me (or even knows me as far as that goes). I may be a citizen of the world, but the world isn’t going to miss me when I drop off the face of it.

My Speck-ness Will Disappear

All this is not to say that I feel sorry for myself or that I wish I could be more famous (or famous at all). It’s to remind myself that I’m just a little speck on the planet earth and a finite one at that. Soon, my speck-ness will disappear, and I’ll melt away into the vagueness of personal histories. It kind of puts things into perspective.

The really amazing thing about our lives is that even the most famous and infamous of us all is or was a mere blip on the scene. Names might live on in history or in record books, but the humanity behind those names fades like the autumn leaves in winter.

Despite our smallness and insignificance, there’s a God who created us, loves and, and cares about us. The lowliest person on earth has the biggest fan in the universe—God himself. What it all amounts to is that—in the grand scheme of things—every believer is pretty grand in the eyes of the One who really counts. Maybe it’s time to broaden your base. I personally invite you to believe in him today.

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

Hey! Are You Famous?

I’m not sure if I’m alone in this, but when I walk through airports, I look for people I know. I’ve been doing it for years, but I’ve yet to spot a friend’s face. What are the chances anyway?

Interestingly enough, I have spotted a famous person or two on rare occasions, but they weren’t interested in speaking with me. Imagine that.

Some Young Guy

On the other end of that spectrum, I’ve been approached a couple of times by people who thought I was someone else. I guess I’m not the only one eager to see someone I’d recognize. One young guy came up to me and asked if I played guitar. I told him I knew a few chords only to discover that he thought I was the bassist for a famous rock band. I forget which band it was, now, but I didn’t have the heart to lie to him. Looking back on it, I suppose I could have made his day if I had done so.

What might be even weirder than looking for a familiar face, there are times I actually expect to run across an acquaintance. Don’t ask me why. I just do. Looking and expecting are two entirely different things in this scenario. One’s a hobby, the other is a tad insane. I suppose it’s good that this has never actually happened. I would undoubtedly miss my connecting flight. Rushing through airports doesn’t give one much time to catch up.

Expecting someone to pop up in this crowded world is a little unusual, I suppose. Still, a lot of us are expecting Jesus to show up one of these days. To those who aren’t, I’m sure we seem more than a bit foolish. After all, we’ve been talking about this for almost two thousand years now.

My Young Psyche

I remember when I first heard someone say that Jesus was coming back. It rocked my world. I was twenty years old and figured I’d make my peace with God somewhere along the way. I was young and had plenty of time. Hearing that his return could be imminent was a shocker. What if he showed up when I wasn’t ready? This posed a whole new dilemma for my young psyche. I can tell you this. That little tidbit of info caused me to begin taking life a smidge more seriously from that point on. I suppose that’s one reason he never told us when the Second Coming would actually occur. It keeps us on our toes.

To be honest with you, the more deeply I live in Christ, the more closely I follow him, the less I time I spend thinking about his return. The way I figure it, he’s given me a few things to take care of, so I should concentrate on the tasks before me. He’ll come when he’s good and ready, and nothing I do or say will change that.

I definitely expect to see him someday. It probably won’t be in an airport, though.

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