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Some things were lost and some things were found while we were in the Holy Land.

j49Dr. Hudson and I are sitting at the breakfast benches in the Wombat Hostel in Munich and I have fifteen minutes before the throng comes downstairs to feed.  Last night we landed in the airport and took the Metro for forty minutes to get here before hiking through town to find the hostel.  We threw our stuff down, went across the street to stuff a slice of pizza in our face and then came back and fell into bed.  The students are weary  – although happy – from the entire week’s events.  Ethan was asleep on the floor of the airport.  Morgan kept blinking slowly as we glided along in the Metro.  Brooke kept nodding off and Simon kept answering all my questions very slowly.  But then again, Simon usually does that in class as well.

I’m kidding, Simon.

Dr. Hudson is nursing a coffee while he types away at his laptop.  He is tired, I can see, but he has never slowed down on this trip.  His passion was to show us the Holy Land, and brother, did he ever give us a tour.  Down to the exact minute or the precise location, he has been leading us and directing us all the way though the week, to this final day of travel.

The students are now shuffling in, yawning, and helping themselves to a breakfast table that gives them a selection of anything from Swiss Cheese to yogurt to oranges.  The week has not been with some things missing:  a ticket to Herod’s estate, suntan lotion left in a hostel, toothpaste left at the last hotel, sunglasses mislaid, a room key gone.  We are all fallible people.

We are all readying ourselves for the long flight back to Charlotte.  Even though many of us smell from wearing clothes we have rotated throughout the week without washing, (One student admitted that they had not bathed since Monday.  I will not say who.) we are still enjoying fresh memories of the Holy Land’s many sites.  Some of the group members opened up about some of the more powerful discoveries of the trip.

Emma shared with me that Masada had an impact on her.   “It’s a place of sadness, of great cruelty by the Romans.  I also thought that the people who lived in Masada may have thought at one point that they were invincible.  I came away with a lesson about pride.”

Simon told me that he was deeply touched by the Wailing Wall.  “I looked around and saw many people seeking so hard for answers, but many seemed to be involved in just, well, rituals.  It was sad, to me. And another memory was when I was able to share my beliefs about Jesus Christ with a total stranger who was swimming alongside me in the Mediterranean Sea. He was open and actually very interested, asking me a bunch of questions.

Linda thought for a moment and nodded.  “It has to be Magdala.  Magdala was special.  Knowing that we saw the very temple that Jesus taught in, that was amazing.”

And I myself found a special memory  – not of a site, but of a flight – in the Lufthansa journey yesterday.

Last night’s plane ride was a fitting end to the day.  A group of German tourists – all in their twenties and thirties – ended up sitting in the seats in front and beside me.  We got to chatting whenever they noticed my Steeler T-shirt and grinned; some were familiar with the team and liked them.  They were, for some reason, impressed that I was born in Pittsburgh.  Immediately to my left was Justin, a twenty-five year-old  who is studying to become a teacher.  His hometown is Steele, so he was delighted with my shirt.  When he found out I was a teacher, he immediately initiated a quick friendship.  “You should come to Germany,” he said.  “Teachers make a lot of money here.”  It sounded intriguing, but I am sure that Germany is not exactly yearning to get the talents of a fifty-eight year-old Bible teacher who is fighting nasal congestion and cannot speak the language.  All the same, the administrators of Grace Christian Academy should be put on notice:  Germany has made me a pitch.  I’m bringing up this fact whenever my contract renewal comes up.

But back to our little gathering on the Lufthansa flight…

Justin warmed up to me and nudged his seatmate, a young lady named Rosa.  She leaned in to listen, and her intensity, along with his, took me aback. They drilled me with questions and filled me with conversation!  He asked about our government (“…it is three branches, isn’t it?”), our school system (“In Germany, the school testing is very disjointed between states…”) and our way of life (“… the American football sports league and basketball, I don’t quite understand…”)

He spent a good portion of our three hour Tel Aviv-to-Munich flight asking about gun control.  “Why do you have so many guns?  Why can people just own guns and there are shootings?”  I assured him that it was not the Wild West but that we are saddened by the Las Vegas shootings as much as we were distraught over the Aurora, Colorado violence years ago.  “But I live in a nice neighborhood in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  It is quiet and the neighbors all know each other.  We talk every evening as we stand in our yards, and some people across the street brought over cookies when we first moved in.  America has places like this all over.”

Two of his group leaned over from the front and listened to our conversation, facing us.  Justin nodded, but then tapped me on the arm.  “Then why not get rid of all the guns?  In Germany we have no National Guard, and the security forces do not have guns.   Get rid of the guns and you will have no more problems, so why not vote that in?  You see, we believe to get to the end of a problem you must go below the surface, and get to the root.”

I nodded.  “You have hit the exact point of America’s problem, Justin.  It is the root of the problem; the misuse of firearms is merely a symptom.  You see, we find it a puzzling problem that people want the safety and security of a nation protected by God but want nothing to do with living for Him or, really, with Him.  The principles of Christianity of peace, love, joy, sharing, caring are all want Americans want, but the thought of submitting to the God who can make all people come together is too much,”

“You teach Bible?” he asked.  I told him that I did.  He nodded and asked questions about our school and our direction as a private Christian Academy.  The others asked questions of how we faced the uncertain future in the face of so many challenges.  We became animated and energized but nobody became agitated.  It was a spirited conversation and I found it a great way to share my faith with some wonderful people who were taking everything in and incubating each thought with great gravity.  I found a renewed energy in sharing the blessed Gospel, something that I had hoped and prayed for at the beginning of this week.  It was a wonderful flight.  This has been a wonderful week.

Except that one of the hostels kept my driver’s license by mistake.

I hope I don’t get stopped on the way home from the airport.

 

 

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We are off-balance in the Holy Land.

IMG_4521I am sitting in a back courtyard of our Haifa hostel and it is a little before 8 in the morning.  On my breakfast plate are two hardboiled eggs, a handful of fresh olives, a small ball of Lebanese cheese, slices of tomato and a dollop of tahina sauce.  My luggage is next to me;  as soon as the group assembles, we head to Megiddo and then over to Joffa today.

The courtyard is nestled in the back of the hostel and is hidden from the alleyway by numerous plants including what looks like a lime or lemon plant over seven feet tall.  It is quiet even though we are near an extremely busy intersection.  I am sipping a maddeningly delicious Turkish coffee that is black as night and is more powerful than anything I have tasted in the States.  This is not to say that I don’t appreciate a good Weigel’s House Coffee now and again, but I have just discovered that when you finish your drink and the grounds cover the bottom of your cup, well then, brother, you’ve had a seriously strong cup of java.

We’re preparing to go back to Tennessee, and we fly our first leg on Sunday.  We will be in Germany for a spell, and I’ll let you know how that goes.

It seems as if we have been gone for a month or two.  I look at the photos of our first days in the airport and I wonder why it seems so far back down the timeline.

Masada was a wondrous visit that gave us a lesson on heroism and the brevity of life before eternity.

Bethlehem let us know that, in the midst of a mob of people, we can have a quiet and private moment in a church that celebrates Jesus’ birth.

The Dead Sea let us know that no matter how much we eat, we can still float.

The Galilee Boat gave us a great reflection of the historical reality of the small fishing type of boat that carried Jesus around the waters, and that we can appreciate the fears of the disciples in the storm (that boat was small, man) and the wonder-working power of the God-Man.

The Akko stronghold showed us the struggle of men in their religious differences. It also showed us how you can make a really nice big castle with a lot of cool hallways.

The Bahai Gardens showed us a beautiful landscape as well as how to pretend you understand the Hebrew-speaking tour guide when the English-speaking tour gets cancelled.  We didn’t understand a word, but then again the scenery filled with flowers, fountains, sculptures and pillared architecture made up for the lack of comprehensible narrative.

Caesarea reminded us that no matter how powerful man and his monuments may be in his own time, everything returns to dust.  Herod may have caused fear and grudging admiration with his iron-fisted rule and ingenious architecture, but we walk among his ruins today.  Such is life when limited to man’s simple abilities.

Joffa, Haifa, Jersusalem, Megiddo, Capernaum and all our other visited places taught me that there is one common phrase given to me by any other tongue I’ve encountered, whether it was this week’s Hebrew, Arabic, French or Greek. The common phrase that everyone used was whenever I was parting: bye bye.  It seemed that any time I talked with someone in a queue, in a store, in the street or at a park, they always felt most comfortable with their favorite parting phrase:  bye bye.  It’s pronounced in rapid staccato – a quick friendly way to greet an American in parting.

And most of all, we have learned a refreshing course in being off-balance.  We are unsure, and that’s a good thing.  We have been eating strange food. We are unsure of the exchange rate of dollars to shekels. We are uneasy with new rooms and beds. We are not used to the stifling heat of the desert.  We are constantly trying to understand these new languages and the cultures of the vast numbers around us.  We are off-balance, and as I said, that’s a good thing.  It’s caused us to re-adjust.  This means spiritually.

We lost our complacency the minute we stepped into the Tel Aviv airport.  The spiritual chance started almost immediately.  We started getting new energy in this new territory.  Our outdoor-patio devotional time was a running conversation of “why?” and “why not?” when it came to bold steps in the Bible and reaching out to Jesus.  It wasn’t a standard lecture-type of Bible time;  it got roaring with questions and exchange of ideas and truths among the whole group of students.  Our visit to the Jordan River resulted in seven students getting baptized and finding a new thirst for Jesus.  The dinner and bus conversations have touched on reaching the students of our school in new and dynamic ways.  One of our students had a chance to witness to a Joffa stranger.  Others have stepped into deep meditative spiritual talks with me and the other sponsors of our trips while on the bus, at a meal,  or walking down the streets of a town.  We are seeking balance in Jesus in new ways.  We like this off-kilter feeling; it is making us squirm.

Yet it’s not just moving forward for the sake of being busy.  It comes from a special intimacy that I – and I believe the students – have developed as the week has progressed.  This next story might help explain.

I recall walking through a tight corridor after leaving the Western Wall site, filing past the throngs of people.  The people were jostling and bumping us as we moved down the hallways and corners.  Coming toward us, I saw a little girl walking  a few feet behind her father and slowly losing  the pace.  She called out to him:  “Abba”.

Abba.

That’s the word for “daddy” that we can call our God!  Romans 8:15 came alive in a special way at that moment.  I heard that word spoken in a tender and pleading way, from the lips of a child who wanted to get back to the strong grip of her loving parent.  I looked around and raised my eyebrows at the student walking with me; he had heard it as well.  We heard the affectionate word that we Christians can use in our talk with God, and we heard that very special word right here in the blessedness of the Holy Land.

And I realized that it’s our special relationship with Jesus that is most cherished.  We want to get back into a better balance with Abba, God our dear Father..

What a day.  What a week.

Bye bye.

In the middle of a Holy Land spice warehouse, I learned a lesson

j10It is a wee bit past six in the morning and we are in Haifa.  We zipped in here late  yesterday after taking in yet another whirlwind of sites.  The momentum of the week is now showing on our students; more than one nodded off in the van and when we arrived at the hostel last night, and some could barely keep their eyes open as they had their passports checked and rooms assigned.   But what a day it was. 

Capernaum’s weather was hot but beautiful.  We walked through the ruins and sat next to the chunky Roman-style columns while Christian and Brooke both read passages from the Bible concerning this boyhood home of Jesus.  Could Jesus have walked on this particular pathway I’m stepping on?  Certainly He would have gazed on those same hills as He moved throughout His ministry here…  The mind boggles, as they say.  We moved into the remains of a second century synagogue that was built, Dr. Hudson informed us,  most assuredly over the foundation of the very same synagogue where Jesus and His disciples attended.  From the pillars to the threshold, you saw a Biblical timeline teasing your thoughts.  Could He have passed by this…?

Yesterday was a series of sites that threw us back to Jesus’ family life.  We trekked through Magdala, snapping photos like stereotypical tourists, yet not without asking and seeking to know as much as possible.  Is it true historians say Jesus would have assuredly walked down this narrow main street?  Funny thing about archaeological sites:  you can’t hurry past them.  You get an itch to re-route yourself at another angle, take another look, ask another question, take another picture, reach out and touch what you can.  It’s a great alternative activity to the average American manic/electronic pace.  You’re forced to slow down, and it’s a good thing, especially for a Christian.  We need time to incubate more of this great faith we follow.

We had a quiet time at the site of the Sermon on the Mount.  The setting is beautifully serene, with small plaques of the various teachings of Christ embedded at the side of the walkways among the fountains and flowers of the estate.  We looked over the hill and saw what probably was the very spot where Jesus stunned hundreds – thousands? – with the greatest sermon ever preached.  We moved quietly (there is an unwritten rule of silence) over to a small benched area and sat in the sunlight while Simon, Morgan and Ethan each read a selected passage from Jesus’ words found in the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of Matthew.  We reflected and discussed a bit before moving on. Our next stop was the church dedicated to the site of the Loaves and Fishes, where Jesus miraculously fed the thousands on the hillside.  We reminded ourselves that the fish served had never spent a moment swimming in the Sea of Galilee, nor had the bread been baked in any Hebrew oven.  This food came straight from the pantry of Heaven.  I wonder what the best food on earth would have tasted like?

We got an idea of the kind of fish it might have been.  We went to St. Peter’s restaurant and had a meal of the “Saint Peter’s fish” – yes, eyeballs and fins and tail and all right on our plate- in order to get an idea of the cuisine of the first century.  For the record, Ethan ate the eyeballs and Ron, not wanting to be outdone, swallowed them as well.  Simon informed us that the eyeballs had a rubbery/plastic taste to them, and proceeded to eat the fish’s brain.

We dined on arosa in Haifa and sipped mint lemonade in a plaza as the sun went down.  We reflected back on Nazareth, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee, the White Mosque, the impossibly intertwining traffic, the winding inner-city pathways with delicious aromas, and even the stray cats that took immediately to our group despite the fact that Brooke kept yelling that she didn’t like cats. But…

… what was my strongest memory of the day?  That’s easy.

Dr. Hudson had taken us down a side street in Nazareth that led to a nondescript bland building embedded within an alleyway.  We crouched and entered through a tiny doorway into a magical little warehouse filled with boxes, crates, bags and barrels.  This was Elbabour Galilee Mill, and the jovial owner Tony greeted us with a huge smile, open arms and a tiny cup of delicious Arabic coffee.  We moved about the bins of ginger, cinnamon, coffees, teas and dried fruits.  What a grand smell! There was a side room for candies – chocolates, dates, figs – and huge scoops and bags to get us started with our shopping.  The atmosphere was fascinating.  Tony kept up a waving-arm narrative as our students and sponsors brought sweets and spices to the counter for purchase.  His joy was genuine.  He waved off my purchase.  “You’re their teacher,” he said, shooing away my shekels.  “No charge.”

We gathered and sang for him.  He pulled out his phone and filmed us while he beamed.

And then he spoke.

“I welcome you any time; you are my friends.  But I also  ask you to pray for us Christians here.  We are a minority in this land, and we need your prayers.”  When we assured him we would, he continued.  “I find it my ministry to share Jesus every day here – right here – to everybody that comes in this shop.  My family for many years has owned this store and we serve the community in this 250 year-old building in the city of Jesus, and this is what I want to do:  to tell Jesus every day, every time I have the opportunity.  I want to reach out to all people, all kinds, and let them know of Jesus’ love.”

And that may have been the greatest part of this trip to me.

A simple man in love with Jesus and in love with the people around him.  A simple man with a simple message of Jesus, made easy because the love of Christ exuded from him.  A man who was in the minority of the beliefs of the land, yet so filled with a passion for outreach that his active ministry was in a 250 year-old spice warehouse while he worked.

He was blooming where he was planted.

I think I am taking a very, very big lesson from the Holy Land.

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The quiet noise of the Western Wall, the cold warmth of the Jordan

1011171240.jpgDr. Don Hudson approached me last year about taking our school students to the Holy Land.  I agreed.

I sit here, truly believing it was one of the best decisions of my teaching career.

Dr. Don Hudson has put together one of the most intensive, instructive, emotional and impactful trips I’ve ever taken.  King University should be proud to have this professor on their faculty.  The man has planned out a virtual college course in Biblical studies, and has been leading a private classroom for us at each stop.  At each stop, man.  It’s been an eye-opener at every new venue.  We have been piling in the van every morning at 8 and slipping back into the hotel at night at 7:30 p.m. for dinner.  Qumran Caves, Dead Sea, Jordan River, Masada, Gethsemane, Damascus Gate… I’m getting worn out just writing the list.

I mention to you that I am sitting here, because this is one of the few times this week that I have been able to rest.   We just got back to the hotel for a quick shower after bobbing like corks in the Dead Sea.  Lots of people have asked me about the Dead Sea experience, so I will give you a brief report: it’s warm and oily and strangely fun.  You walk down a long descent to the beach, past people who have slathered themselves with the seaside mineral-packed mud (Virtually all of them are over 40 years old – we all have an idea that it may have to do with an anti-aging, wrinkle-smoothing craving by the older set.  And please don’t ask me about the overweight octogenarian in the dirty white Speedo.  My eyeballs are still trembling.) and make your way to a grayish slow-moving shore.  You must be careful of the small sharp spikes of salt in the water – they could tear your foot open.  You wander out to waist-high water and you … well, you roll back.  Your feet will pop up like two corks and you can lean back.  Don’t get any of the Dead Sea saltwater in your eye;  Greg did and he was pretty much blinded in one eye for a spell.

After ten minutes you’ll feel like what our adult sponsor Linda accurately described as being “dipped in baby oil.”  It’s no longer fun; you really want to get the slimy feeling off of you.  Happily, there are outdoor showers where you can pull a chain and get a freshwater rinse.  And not have to look at Speedo Man anymore.

It’s been fun so far, but more importantly, it’s been a spiritual awakening to me.   Through the beginning of this school year I felt a fatigue, but even more than a physical fatigue;  I felt a hollowness.  I as afraid that things might become routine, and I would rather resign than become stale.  I prayed for the refreshing from the Christ to renew my Spirit during this week in this blessed land.  I needed to see the sacred things of the Lord once again, and experience the reality of Jesus.  I wanted solitude in a Scriptural walkabout study –  and in one of the busiest cities in the world, I started finding it.

One place was at the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall.  This magnificent plaza was packed with Jewish Orthodox leaders, ladies with scarves, fathers with Bibles and children in tow, and a myriad of other blends of worshipers and celebrants. This is the annual holiday Week of Tabernacles (Sukkot), and as we approached the area we were amazed at the mass of humanity.   I knew I wanted to get to that Wall to pray.  Ethan, Christian, Ron and I made a decision to surge forward and get through the crowd.  As we passed a sea of people waving palm branches and holding up fruit in prayer, I spied a cart full of kippahs, the hats Jewish men wear.  We each donned one and made our way forward.  A kindly old man in a black hat spoke to me in Hebrew.  I nodded and he nodded back;  I realized that my white beard, black shirt, and determined walk toward the Wall gave him the impression that I was Jewish!

We each waited patiently for our turn. We knew the wall did not give us any special in-road to God; we just wanted to feel the history and enjoy the seriousness of those around us.  Each man stood shoulder to shoulder all the way down the wall.  I found a place and rested my head as I prayed.  I will not reveal all of my prayer, if you don’t mind, but I will freely admit that in that vast, quiet moment I asked the Father for a fresh new look at Him and to restore the joy of my salvation.

It was a sweet moment.

And my prayer was answered soon.  Very soon.

This morning we awoke and packed our gear for the Jordan River.  Six students:  Stacy, Brooke, Morgan, Simon, Emma, and Christian all wanted me to baptize them.  This was an honor that I cannot begin to describe.  The whole vanload emptied at the parking lot, and soon we were descending the wooden steps one at a time into the greenish waters of the Jordan.

May I state the greenish cold waters of the Jordan.  It took me a moment to speak because I lost my breath for a minute or so.  I didn’t need a second coffee this morning;  I was fully awake.

Ah, it was another sweet moment.  Each student gave their reason for being baptized.  Our group watched.  Other groups stopped and watched.  It was quiet, but there was a deep joy in the morning.

“… I baptize you as my sister in Christ in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…”  “I baptize you as my brother in Christ…”

Then Ethan decided that he wanted to be baptized as well.   Seven in all.  What a grand, perfect number.

And like yesterday, in the quietness of the morning hour, Ron stepped forward to lead us in singing.  Dozens of people stopped, turned, and listened – some filming us on their phones – as we all stood in the water and sang.

We sang gently. Very gently.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Oh, dear Lord above, it’s been a sweet day.

 

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Our Holy Land trip is changing us all

j8I am sitting here in Taybeh Golden Hotel on the Main Street in Taybeh-Ramallah, and I have thirty minutes in order to write my thoughts before I head downstairs and meet the students and sponsors for breakfast.  We’ll be heading to the Jordan River this morning and I will be baptizing about five of my students. This day will start out to be very special.

Where do I start?  These last few days have been a whirlwind of emotions for all of us.  I mean, we walked through the ancient and majestic trees of the Garden of Gethsemane and turned and gazed at the Eastern Gate within the same minute.  I need you to think about that last sentence.  I have been taught about these two sites since I was four years old.  I’ve read about them for years.  The Bible relates that Jesus was in the Garden.  This garden.

Jesus was in the Garden.

Jesus Himself.

I stood with Ethan as we pondered this.  I could tell that he was in the same state as I.  We blinked and we looked.  We looked again at the pathways and the low branches.  And we tried to drink it in.  He shook his head slightly.  “Amazing,” he said.  That’s a pretty good word to describe how we took in the scene.

Then there was our trek through the four quarters of the Old Jersusalem.  The winding narrow streets – you might want to call them stone pathways, they are so narrow.  The aroma of baked breads, spices and shawurma tease you as you walk by the various booths.  Old men raise their hands and try to get you to stop.  Silks scarves and golden trinkets fill the walls.  A cat passes us by and trots through the thickly populated passageways.  Everybody bumps and brushes by you.  There is a constant bumping and nudging as you move through the city. You get used to it by the second day.

The Church of the Nativity.  We saw the historical place where many believe Christ was born.  We went to the Wailing Wall.  I will share more about that in another blog.

We walked the Via Dolorosa and pondered that this was where Jesus Himself walked.

It rained on us.  We were completely caught off guard by a sudden downpour that followed us for the better part of three hours.  We were wet – and so were all of the stone walkways and stairs around the city.

Brooke wiped out at the tower overlooking the City of David.

Emma wiped out at the Dung Gate.

Trey wiped out at Station of the Cross Number 8.

All students were in good shape afterward, although Trey had an impressive tear in his jeans.

I have six minutes left to tell you of  a great, deep memory that we will all hold dear for many many years to come.    It was when we all decided to put on swim gear and walk the length of Hezekiah’s Tunnel.  I don’t have much time to give you the whole history, but I beg you to look it up and see the pictures.  It’s a 1750-foot tunnel carved during the reign of Hezekiah to bring water from one side of the city to the other.

2 Kings 20:20 “As for the other events of Hezekiah’s reign, all his achievements and how he made the pool and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city…”

2 Chr 32:30 “It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channeled the water down to the west side of the City of David.”

We paid our fee and lined up. We all purchased little LED flashlights (5 shekels apiece) and I was given the honor of leading the group.  And we marched/splashed the whole route – winding, twisting, dripping – way, way underneath the city.  It was fascinating. And dark.

We saw a light coming out at the very end, and ascended the metal steps.  We were at the Pool of Siloam.  We were at the Pool of Siloam, wading in the ankle-deep waters.  It stopped us in our tracks for a moment.

Morgan smiled and Simon laughed.  Christian gazed around while Ron pondered and Trey shook his head.  We weren’t sure what to do next.  We were just taking it in.

I gathered the group.  “Let’s sing,” I said.  “Ron, please lead us.  Let’s sing ‘Amazing Grace.’

And so we did.  Slowly and reverently we circled up in a group in the water and sang.

Amazing Grace!  How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see.

We heard applause.  We turned to see a group of Jewish tourists behind us, the men wearing their kippahs, clapping.  We went over and met them. Right there, in the Pool of Siloam, we made new friends.

That will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Time for me to leave. I will write more later.

 

This was downright gross.

2I’ve been having a friend meet me every morning when I pull up to the school at 6 in the morning.  He’s a little fellow that has been regularly wandering around the lawn at the side of the school wing near my classroom.

He’s a skunk.

He’s a nice fellow, been meeting me since the beginning of the school year.  He seems to be accustomed to me pulling up in the teacher’s parking lot in the darkness (his eyes reflect nicely off my headlights), so he doesn’t seem bothered at all when I putter in and get my spot.  I say hello to him and he ambles away up the hill to find something more interesting than a fifty-eight year old man in a beat-up Jeep.  I stop and watch him every morning.

He’s serious enough, but I can’t get enough of the way he travels.  Sort of a wiggly little humorous gait.  He’s a bit of entertainment for me, though he is unaware of it.

Sort of reminds me of me.

There are times when I want to be as diligent as possible but things just end up, well, funny.

I’m going to re-post a part of a true experience back when I was a single fellow, traveling the countryside and speaking at small country churches and schools.  It was a great time of my life, getting to meet the grassroots people of this country, and the many stories I collected along the way were published in my book Gas Tank Chronicles.

It reminds me that I am often like the skunk.  This is one of my favorite stories:

I had been speaking and visiting prisons for about five days straight and I had a day’s break as I pulled into Hot Springs, South Dakota.  Some kind folks let me use a house during my travels and I sorely needed the break.  I felt that I may have picked up a bit of a cold while ministering at the jail and I headed to bed a bit weak.  I felt fairly certain that I had shook the flu-like symptoms by the next morning as I got up early, greeted the morning sun through the little trailer’s window, and wolfed down a huge omelet, some toast, bacon, and two cups of coffee while I had my devotions. I was famished, but I was also ready to do some serious exercising.

I pulled on some gym clothes, jumped into the car and headed to a gym in downtown Hot Springs. Within fifteen minutes I was running a circular track. After a five mile jog, I followed up with lap swimming in the club’s pool.

Spoiler alert: Some of this story might be a bit indelicate so I’m going to apologize ahead of time. If you are of a stiff constitution, you’ll get a good lesson from this anecdote, so please continue on.  If not, better find some more light reading somewhere else.

Okay, I warned you.

It was still early as I wandered back into the locker room. I had finished a half an hour of vigorous swimming.   

Oooooh, man.

It hit me, and quick, too. I plopped down and felt a feverish swoon coming over me.  I also belched and realized that I shouldn’t have had such a big breakfast.

A thin-haired middle-aged man wandered in, waved a hand, and opened the door of a locker.

“Morning,” he said.

“Morning…” I answered cheerily as possible while fighting a sour feeling way down in the pit of my stomach. I was wiping my forehead with a towel.  Things tasted funny in the back of my throat.

“Say, I recognize you, ” he said, pointing at me.  “You’re that guy who’s over at Boulder Creek Church speaking this week.  You’re also speaking at some of the Christian school chapels, aren’t you?”

“Yessir,”  I said, stifling a burp and blinking fast. “In fact, I’ll be speaking at a school assembly tonight. I…”

I faded off, weakly.  Man, I really wish I hadn’t eaten that breakfast. I swallowed gingerly.  “I…I’m surprised you would … urp… recognize me.”

“Oh, it’s a small town,” the man chuckled, fumbling with a wire hanger. “My wife went to the church to hear you Tuesday night. I couldn’t make it – overtime hours, you know.” He bent over to untie his shoes. “So you’re a minister? Or a preacher…or a parson, is that right?”

I could feel it coming.

My stomach was in kick-out mode. I darted for the bathroom stall and leaped inside, hovering expectantly over the toilet, my pounding head leaning down and my shaking legs trying to hold me up.

“Well,” I called haltingly over the top of the door, “Some people say a preacher, some say a speaker, or evangelist, but…”

Oooooh, I felt bad.

“… I just like to say that I’m a guy who travels and shares the Bible.”

“Yeah, okay.” I could hear him grunt that he understood. “So, can you tell me about the difference between a Baptist leader and a Catholic one?”

“Oh, ah… well,” I called from inside the stall, steadying my legs and feeling the starchy acidic feeling rising in my throat and into the sides of my cheeks. I gulped but I knew what was coming. “For one thing, Baptist churches have pastors – shepherds of the flock, you might say. Priests are in the Catholic realm. With the Catholic church you have confessionals, and you don’t with the Baptist, or Protestants…”

I was woozy.

“Well, okay, that’s what I had heard,” the man said agreeably. I could hear him unzip the sports bag. “Whatever you call yourself, I’ve had some questions that I’ve always wanted to ask a man of the cloth.”

And that is when I lost it.

I mean, everything came roaring up the tunnel, brother.

The green flag at the Indy 500, so to speak.  Niagara Falls was unleashed. Apollo 13 was launched.

To put it bluntly, I projectile vomited like I never had before. I believe I broke a bone in my ankle, I was shaking so hard.

“I’ve been thinking about dedication to God,” the man continued,  “And what would be a good chapter on talking about real, genuine – you know – Heavenly love?”

I tried to put my words together in time.  It didn’t make it.  “I would say 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen BLEEEEEAAAAAAAGH…”

He grunted again. “Hey, that’s something.  I’ll write it down.  What do you recommend for a good devotional time?”

So here I was, holding myself steady by clinging to both sides of the bathroom stall with legs that were shaking like Jello in an earthquake, vomiting in stupendous fashion while a man sat peacefully on the other side of the stall’s door, happily putting on his flip-flops and asking me for Biblical answers on various questions he had been pondering for many a year. He asked about prayer, Bible reading and the problem of sin.  I kept answering and throwing up.  For reasons beyond me he never picked up on the fact that I was violently ill, nor did he seem to care that I was calling out answers from inside a bathroom stall.

“So, you’re saying that Colossians is a good book to learn about Christian freedom?  Nice, very nice.”  I heard him slam the locker door.  “You’ve been very kind.  Well, time for me to hit the swimming pool.  See you, then.”

He whistled merrily and went out to take a dip.

Now, I really do understand that Paul’s second letter to Timothy contains an exhortation to be ready “in season or out of season” to preach God’s Word and give instruction.  I find that the Greek word for “ready” can be translated as “stand by,” just as a radio announcer would hold his script and look at the director, ready to speak at a moment’s notice.

This “stand by” means that we give Scriptural exhortation in any situation, whether it be at the library, the supermarket, the cubicle or the running track.

Any time, anywhere.  I felt I already knew that.

I just wasn’t aware that it might mean no matter how you felt.

Well, I got my first lesson in that as well.

And also a dose of learning to “be clothed with humility,” as Peter so aptly put it. But I also learned that if the Lord gives the opportunity to share His Word, then I’d like to be able to do what I can, even if I’m hovering over a flush toilet in a locker room in South Dakota. 

And I imagine God had a nice chuckle over that little scenario.

Since we’ve moved in, we’ve made friends and enemies.

0820171902a_resizedI shuffled into the classroom right before my Bible Doctrines class was to start.  

“Dr. Zockoll, are you okay?” asked Gina, frowning and noticing my belabored gait.  I struggled to put on my suitcoat.

“Yes, I’m just a little bit slow, sore from moving all of the furniture,” I said as I groaned and settled into my desk chair.  “We’re on the Second Wave.”

“‘Second Wave’?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, grunting like a Neanderthal as I tried to position my legs under the desk.  My knees cracked.  “The first assault was moving from the Tan Rara home and getting all necessary furniture across town before the closing. This was done successfully, though we packed the garage to within an inch of the doors, and scattered the remaining items across the back of our property so that we now look like an Appalachian yard sale.  That was the First Wave.”

I leaned forward and spoke in a low whisper.  “The Second Wave is the movement of said furniture from the garage within the far reaches of the property dwelling.  Moving desks downstairs.  Carrying recliners and end tables to the back rooms.  Shuffling box springs and sports equipment into storage rooms.  It was brutal, I tell you.  Brutal.

Gina edged away quietly and melted into the hallway crowd.

It has been a week of lugging furniture and boxes.  It’s been heavy labor but it’s also been good.

May I put in a totally unsolicited plug for our realtor Mark Faust of Realty Executives. This man has been incredible in assisting us all the way through our home sale and the resulting shopping for a new home; we saw a good number before we settled in Oak Ridge at 102 Tamara.  I believe the unofficial count was three hundred and twelve, but I might be exaggerating.  Mark would know.  Contact him if you want to sell or buy a house.  He even helped me move furniture.  How many realtors do that?  He is not paying me cash to say this.  Only a small percentage of his next sale.

No, I’m kidding.  I don’t take payola.  Mark is the best in town.  Call him.

One of the great surprises of the first week was the greeting we received.  The across-the-street neighbor Ty is a former professional baseball player and now the father of a nice big family who, on the second day we settled in, brought us a box of homemade cookies.  Sam, a retired engineer who lives to our right, came over on the hottest day of the year and insisted that he get out his John Deere tractor and mow our yard.

We were stunned. Jill and I remembered our last home when, on the second day of our arrival, the next door neighbors demanded that we get to fixing the disassembled trampoline in our back yard because it was bothering their view out their side window.  In our back yard.  On the second day.  I am not making this up.

These new neighbors became immediate friends.  We returned the goodness with some baked goods of our own.  They were happily gobbled up.  Then Don and Barb walked over from the cul-de-sac one evening and welcomed us to the neighborhood, making sure we felt at ease.  This kindly retired couple stood in the rain and chatted with us, refusing to come inside because they felt they were intruding.  These people are great.

So now you know how God has blessed us with some awesome neighbors.

But we also have had to deal with some enemies.  It’s true.

Oh, things started off okay last Saturday. As you can see from the picture at the beginning of this blog, our garage is getting cleared out.  On Friday I had Julie and Jill run off for some Wal-Mart needs so I could move about the house freely shoving and pushing furniture, and at 6 a.m. Saturday morning I decided to surprise them by moving Julie’s piano into the front living room.  It’s just a step up from the garage floor to the kitchen entryway, I thought.  It couldn’t be that hard for me to move by myself, I thought.0820171902_resized

But this piano is evil.  It purposely made itself heavier when it knew I wanted to move it.

It went from a manageable mobile instrument to the Mother of All Fat Inanimate Objects.  Its weight exceeded the gross tonnage of the Queen Mary.

I pushed and grunted that stupid thing across the garage floor.  The wheels had “suddenly” become rusty. My sweat drops (not kidding) dotted the cement.  I wrestled it into position at the bottom step of the kitchen entry and breathed in heavily.  And positioned myself and lifted.

And pop.  I felt something snap in my back.

And I heard the piano snicker.

So I kicked him right in his fortissimo.

He is now my enemy.  I shoved him into the front room after he started chewing up part of the utility room flooring.  I am still shunning him.  I walk through the living room and look out the window on purpose.  He knows I’m miffed.

We have another enemy lurking about.  Our cat Oliver came in one night and had a fuzzed-out tail and a strange growl that sounded like those ceremonial Celtic wailings on a creepy fall midnight.  He kept darting toward the window.  He was traumatized.  I peeped out and saw the Enemies in the darkness, lit by the back deck lighting.

Four of them.  They were menacing.  To him.

0820171900a_resizedThey were the deer family.  A buck, a doe and two fawns.  We have named them Fritz and Stella, and their kids Mookie and Blaylock. Our cat has named them sworn enemies.  He’s flipped out.

He’s lost focus on his regular routine and sits in the storage room, mumbling to himself.  He’s developed a nervous tic, and the other day when he came around the side of the garage we caught a faint whiff of nicotine.  I’m not saying he’s taken up cigarettes, but you can’t be too sure.  His shaking has finally subsided to the point that he can sit on the railing of the deck without falling off.

But just as I am recovering so too will Oliver.  This place is too much of a blessing for us to remain sore – physically and emotionally – for too long.

The joy of the Lord is our strength.  And right now we are feeling mighty strong.

 

 

 

 

Copyright Brad Zockoll @2017
Dr. Brad Kent Zockoll

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