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My pastor is a quadriplegic.

A7lmost two decades ago late in the evening, a senior seminary student was seated in his car at an intersection, idling in the left- hand turning lane and waiting for the traffic light turn-arrow on his way back to college campus.

The light was about to change.  From a far distance an oncoming pickup truck accelerated to a roar, trying to outrun the red light.

The pickup didn’t make it.

The truck smashed into a turning car, which spun violently across the intersection and slammed into the seminary student’s car on the driver’s side.  His car literally left the ground, the roof collapsing at the point of impact.  The lifting of the car and the caving-in of the roof smashed into the student’s body, breaking his neck.  As his head cleared, he reached to turn the car key.  His hand fluttered and dropped.  He couldn’t move. From that day until now, Bobby McCoy became a quadriplegic, unable to move his arms or legs as you and I can.

Bobby McCoy is my senior pastor.

Bobby will never throw a football with his son.  He will not be able to dance with his daughter at her wedding reception.  He cannot trot up the theater or stadium steps with his wife to their reserved seats when they are out on a date.

He cannot ride with his little ones on rides at the amusement park.

You know this must be hard on Bobby.

Each Sunday after our songleader completes the final chorus, Joe will gesture for the congregation to be seated while he reaches in and unlatches a mechanism on the front podium.  The podium lowers and clicks into place.  It is now the right height for Bobby to preach from his wheelchair.

Bobby moves forward and adjusts his notes with a partially paralyzed hand;  he is able to use a joystick control to move his wheelchair about and is able to half-grasp his notes.

You see his energy.  You can feel his love for the Lord and his love for us.  Each one.

He hasn’t said a word yet, and he is already speaking to us.  Bobby’s ministry is an ongoing one, showing us his dedication in the face of severe limitations.  The impression is with us at every meeting.

His countenance is always bright.  It is not artificial.  His joy in the Lord and His love for us is so obviously genuine that a person cannot but be drawn in by his compassion.

For the past five years I have had Bobby come to my high school classroom and speak to each of my classes about his accident and his reliance on the Lord – and yes, even rejoicing – in the face of such a personal loss.  He will show PowerPoint slides of his demolished car.  Every year I hear some small gasps from among the pupils when the mangled car is shown on the classroom screen.  Bobby then opens up about the Lord’s gentle guidance and goodness.  In this me-first world of narcissism and cynicism, Bobby’s words have a deep and profound effect.  Some students become emotional. Others, hardened by the self-will of the world’s influence, open up their hearts.  All come away moved.  Even years later when Bobby stops by the school, many students will go out of their way to trot down the hallway and greet him.

Bobby’s ministry is more than teaching.  He’s a minister in the Acts 13 sense of the word with the apostles.  If you look in the Greek, the word “minister”  is leitourgeō and means to serve as a priest would in a tabernacle ritual.  In other words, serving as a pastor is just like a worship service to God.  Bobby’s service to us is his showing glory to God.  He gives glory to God  – just as if he were a priest in the temple – when he pastors us.  I find that a powerful passage in learning about the heart that I should have in my teaching ministry.

My classroom service is a ministry, right?  And if I follow the teaching of the Scriptures, my leadership ministry is really a worship service to God.   I give glory to God when I serve in the role of teacher and lead my students in Biblical instruction and counseling.

Hosea 4:9 gives a strict truth concerning leadership:  “And what the priests do, the people also do.”   I have seen our congregation grow kinder and more gentle in the years that Bobby has pastored.  We have taken his lead without realizing it.

I also realize that this Hosea 4:9 principle is how my students will be affected in the days that I am with them.  If I show compassion, they will respond – whether they openly realize it or not.  If I am kind, they can emulate it.  I am not so brash as to say that each of my classes is a “little church”, but I think the principle applies to all Christian leaders.   Think of it:  I am carrying on the example given to me by Bobby’s Spirit-led example.

A very good quotation – some say it was from St. Francis of Assisi, but nobody is quite sure – says  “Preach the Gospel at all times … and if necessary use words.”  This is a dynamic truth that our congregation realizes each week.

Our pastor motors his wheelchair up the ramp and over to his podium and starts teaching us.

Even before he speaks.


While I walked, he shouted at me.

7I can recall the noise he made as we walked.  The more silent I became the louder he became…

I am often asked about my most precious memory in my years in the classroom.  There are many, but perhaps the most touching recollection I have was one that actually was outside of the classroom.

Chad was a senior but was not ready to graduate.  I don’t mean that in the sense of academics, for his grades were more than adequate.  It wasn’t a scholastic problem.  It was … well, a troubled spirit within him.  I noticed it, other teachers noticed it, students noticed it.  At the time, he was not a student in my class, but a number of compassionate students approached me about the problem they saw.

“Chad’s deeply troubled,” they’d tell me.  “He wants to talk.  He said he wouldn’t mind meeting you about it.  Do you have any free time?”  I didn’t have any open hours, but both Chad and I shared the same lunch time.  I made contact with him and we agreed to meet.

At this particular school, lunch is carried on both indoors and outside.  The school borders a nice stand of trees and the scenery is great during the spring, so Chad met me on the side lawn, eschewing any lunch.  “I want to talk,” he said, frowning. “I have a real problem with the idea of a God.  I want to get it off my chest.”   I could tell the agitation was strong enough that he could barely sit.

“Let’s walk,” I suggested.  He nodded.  So we trudged a path around the perimeter of the school as he talked and I chewed on an apple.

He began to shout.  “People always want a label.  Okay, you want a label?  Call me an atheist,” he yelled.  “I just don’t get this God thing!  Atheism’s the only answer I have, what with all the problems of God in this world, in the face of all the evil and the deceit within man…”  He went off on a litany of arguments, flailing his arms in the air.  We circled the building, step by step.  Occasionally, he glanced at me. I could tell that he expected a blow-by-blow debate.

“Chad,” I finally said, “you’re half-expecting some cliches or well worn anecdotes in order to ease each concern.  I’m not going to do that.  I’m going to incubate these arguments and we’re going to take them one by one, until you are completely satisfied.  So keep talking. Or yelling.”  And so he did.  Yelled, I mean.

And I kept eating apples.

For days and weeks, we paced that yard – I’m surprised we didn’t wear a pathway into the grass – while the sympathetic students respectfully ate their lunch and kept a distance so that Chad could have his privacy.  He steamed, huffed, swore and ranted.  Each time, however, the agitation eased up a little bit.

I cannot tell you how many apples I ate during those walks.

After two weeks, his shouting toned down significantly.  He wanted to discourse now. I walked through the Scriptural answers that Chad could research and scrutinize.  Lap after lap we would walk the pathway, discussing each concern deep within his heart.  We went over the prophecies, cosmology, morality, Romans chapter 1, C.S. Lewis, Einstein…

“Ah,” he said, waving his hands one day.  “I’m not an atheist.  Agnostic is a better word for it.  I’m just not sure.”

“Well,” I said as we rounded a corner of the building, “let’s talk until you’re sure.”  He responded with another avalanche of questions, and yes, complaints.  Theology, theodicy, Darwin, Goethe, Pascal, John 3:16, immutability…

After two weeks, when we met, he glanced across the yard and shoved his hands in his pockets.  “I guess you could call me a theist,” he said with a set jaw.  “Argue as I might, there’s no reasonable way to think there’s not a God.  Can we walk?”  And so we did. And the discussions were just as passionate and deep.

A week later, he strolled over to me and we fell into a pace again.  “I’m seeing some light.  I’m … well , things are becoming clearer. ”  We talked. Eschatology, cults, missionary Nate Saint, salvation…

Then Chad didn’t want to walk anymore.  He didn’t show up at lunch time.  I didn’t see him for over a month.

Then on the last week of school, he stopped me in the main lobby of the school.

“I want you to know,” he said, looking directly into my eyes, “that I’ve put it all together.  Things fell into place after I sorted them out.  I became a Believer.  What I mean is, I accepted Jesus Christ.  I let Him take me over.”  He grabbed me and gave me a bear hug. We both cried.  “I’ll miss you,” he said.

It registered deep in my heart that day that a large part of a Bible teacher’s reach often extends beyond the classroom.

It could include a little stroll around the grass.

I actually had bloody eyeballs.

7Thank you for your prayers.  This is probably the first day in three weeks that I have had any desire to sit down and write anything on my blog.  The worst thing about this flu virus I contracted is that it has interfered with my thought process, even after I felt good enough to go back to school.  My brain was like an off-track roller coaster, with everything flying around in my head with no control whatsoever: kachunka chunka chunka.  Stuff was whizzing through my skull, blurry and confusing.  Things became fuzzy.  Thinking became labored.  Even a simple thing like taking classroom attendance or preparing the day’s PowerPoint seemed like the mental equivalent of trying to lift a kitchen refrigerator.

You know how, when you get sick, one single song or musical phrase keeps repeating itself?  In the depth of my fever my brain replayed Glen Campbell’s I Remember You about eight gazillion times. It only took time off to replay the old television commercial ditty for a tuna product:

“Ask any mermaid you happen to see:  What’s the best tuna?  Chicken of the Sea.”


Oh, I’ve become a veteran of these flu seasons.  War-wounded, you might call me.  I am not sure whether I should be proud of this or not, but the fact is, when flu season strikes every January or February, I am at a 50% chance, vaccination or not, of contracting the virus.  I might dodge it one year, but the next January, blammo, I’ve been hit by the influenza train.  I think over the twenty plus years of teaching I’ve been run over at least ten times.  And hey, I don’t just dabble my toes in the sickness, brother – I jump into the deep end of the flu pool.  Put it this way –  when it comes to sickness, I commit myself to the cause.  I get the whole shootin’ match from my eyebrows to my toenails.  I want you to know that I am a teacher to the core, even when it comes to the flu in my body:  I want every single blood cell to be able to study and take notes on the virus, so my whole blamed carcass’ population shares every available ounce of infection with each other.  And they take their time doing it, too. My body is like a bienniel Convention Hall for Influenza. Free admission.  Plenty of parking space.  Two lines, no waiting.

I recall about ten years ago I caught a flu so quickly that I actually knew the very moment it hit.  I was at a Super Bowl Party for teens in a gymnasium, with about seven or eight high schools represented.  It was about thirty degrees outside, and the kids coming into the gym were nursing colds from every school system in a twenty mile radius.  The host group was kind in offering the more than two hundred students the choice of watching the game on a giant screen on one end of the gym or of playing basketball on the other end.  Think of it:  masses of teens playing basketball and wheezing out their various colds into the air of an overheated gym –  the classic incubator.  At halftime a tremor ran right through me just as my two teens sons were asking if we could head home.  By the time I took three steps I was shivering violently, and I mean visibly trembling.  I could barely stand the outside cold as we ran to the car, and my boys can attest to the fact that my hands were literally shaking on the steering wheel.  That night I (pardon the graphic detail) vomited continuously and so hard that I actually broke blood vessels in my eyes.  By the time I went back to school later that week my eyeballs were still showing large blotches of red, and I was known as Vampire Zockoll for a few days.  Unknown students would come to visit me between classes just to view my Gothic eyeballs.  To be honest, it felt pretty cool to make middle school kids shiver just by looking at me.  I got an idea of how Cthulhu must feel.

I’ve been walking about during my lectures but found myself having to sit and regain my breath virtually every other class period this week.  I feel every bit of my age and even more these past few days.  The students have been understanding; in fact that is really why I wanted to write this particular blog.

Yesterday one of the shyest girls in any of my classes sidled up to my desk quietly and stood waiting until I finished sending an in-school email.  “Amy” then leaned forward and asked me:  “Dr. Zockoll, are you feeling better?  I’ve been praying for you.”  As I responded positively, she quietly laid a small package next to my keyboard and smiled.  “I bought something for you.”  Then she quickly darted away.

There on my desk was a small package of Cheez-It Sandwich Crackers – the kind of cellophane six-cracker units that have little yellow crackers with Cheez-It cheese squeezed between them.

I’m telling you, that was one of the nicest things I have received this year.

In fact, I have been seeing the same thing in many of my classes, and this was an example of it. 

You know, I have been teaching the facts and narration of the Bible –  from Jesus’ miracles to Solomon’s temple to Adonijah’s rebellion to the prophecies of Isaiah – and my deep desire is that the students take these important spiritual lessons to heart.  However, the one thing I cannot instill in them by quizzes or tests is the kindness of Jesus.  That in itself must be caught more than taught.  And here’s the great thing: I have been seeing an increasing number of students catching this, thank the Lord.

Students who were loud and abrasive in September are now quietly helping a fellow student prepare for a quiz.  Students who in autumn would not open their Bible except during a lecture are now in February showing up at lunchtime in my classroom for our daily Bible study time.  Students who were earlier stand-offish are now taking newcomers into their circle of friends and making incoming pupils feel welcome.

Students who used to show only emotion in their texting and Instagram are now literally weeping in sympathetic compassion when they hear of a loss in the family of a student or a teacher.

I haven’t graded them or forced them into this new heart attitude.  They have taken in this all-important Christlike compassion of their own accord.  I don’t know when or how or even why, but oh, do I love witnessing this.

On the first day back to school after my sickness I cannot tell you how many students stopped me in the hall to hug me and give me a “welcome back.”  They had no reason to do so other than the fact that they genuinely have learned compassion.  How many times students went out of their way to stop at my classroom desk and asked if I was feeling better … well again, I cannot count.

My students are growing up!  Let me explain:

When I look at the First Corinthian 13 definition of true Christian love I see that it is patient, kind and genuine… and a sign of maturity

Look at verse 11: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me…”

If I read this right, then this passage is stating that self-centeredness is a childish thing.  True compassion is the sign of Christian maturity and strength in the faith, right?

My students are showing me that they are indeed learning how to become Christian adults, growing in their walk with Christ.  He is leaving an indelible mark on them, and that is the mark of love that goes beyond the sit-in-the-classroom instruction.

I love it, I love it, I love it.

I am seeing students graduating, preparing for the life and ministry outside the campus.  Please pray for them.  They’ve been getting steeped in the faith and in the teachings of the Bible, but this is so much more important.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

This is the fifth day of my flu and something serious has changed


7I wanted to write at various times over the weekend, but to tell you the truth, my back could not hold me up. The pain at times has been excruciating; it feels as if someone has taken a Louisville Slugger to the muscles just underneath my shoulder blades.  I am good for about ten minutes at the most before I must either lie down on the living room floor and stare at the ceiling, or else just surrender and go back to bed.

This is Sunday and obviously I cannot go to church. I am in the fifth day of the flu.  It has attacked my head, my lungs, my stomach and even my hands and feet.   Yesterday I was slowly walking up the stairs and I had to stagger in and lean against the kitchen table, wheezing and trying to gather my wind back.  You must understand, I run 5 miles at least four times a week, and have been doing so for years.  This sickness is monstrous.

At other times it is hilarious, though.  Jill caught a tip of the bug and is over it for the most part, but during the past days when we shuffled past each other and talked, it was like someone had taken the film reel and slowed the movie down by half.  We talked in slow motion, as well as moved and gestured in marionette-sort-of-way.

I’ve consumed more soup this week than I have in the past calendar year.  I am not making this up. I am keeping Progresso in business.

At times I shiver like a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

My sinuses play a game of Dam Burst, and I end up gagging and coughing in bed all through the night.

At the beginning of the attacks I prayed for quick deliverance, but now I am going to tell you something very strange.  Are you ready?

I am thankful I’m going through it.

I’m serious.

I’ll share you a secret:  alternating between lying in bed and boiling in a scalding tub, I’ve been studying John chapter 11.

Just John chapter 11 – you know, Jesus and Lazarus.  The raising of the dead man.   This is a fantastic story.   I’ve read and re-read and I will keep re-reading it and studying. Oh, there are so many things I’ve learned from this passage.

Jesus weeps deeply.  He knows the Father’s plan to come, but listen now, He’s still got that human side and this is a deep grief.  People are amazed at His deep, deep compassion.  “Behold how He loved him!”

Then the Greek language gets explosive.  “He cried with a loud voice.”  It’s a double emphasis upon the volume of His voice.  It’s beyond a shout.  It’s like a roar.  Jesus booms out for Lazarus to leave the tomb.  People gasp.

Lazarus shuffles forward.  Crowd is stunned, and nobody moves, not even the Disciples.  Jesus instructs that Lazarus’ grave wrappings should be removed.

All right, who is Jesus talking to?  It doesn’t say who was supposed to removed the multi-yards-long strips of cloth.

What if you were present at this scene and Jesus called it out as a general instruction?  Would you have run over and started peeling away the funeral bandages of a man who has been dead for four days?  Remember, the Jews didn’t believe in embalming.

Would you have stayed back, afraid to uncover what you might fear to be stench-filled rotten flesh – or would you have run over to be the first to see a man’s skin that has been restored?

Consider this:  Jesus in His omnipotence raised the man from the dead (without even touching Lazarus), yet He lets regular folk be part of this event.  He allowed mortal man to be part of the miraculous scene;  regular people are removing the stone and removing the wrappings.  Man is allowed to be a part of God’s overall plan.

So many things I learned as I read and re-read!  Look, it’s not as if I had anything else I could have been doing.  And that’s the point.  God slowed me down – stopped me really – so that I could once again explore and enjoy Jesus.  I cannot believe I am saying this, but this flu is one of the best things that has happened to me in years.  It has caused me to concentrate on Christ with an intensity that is unfettered by the routine obligations or distractions of the regular day.

Look, we must admit, we have let our distractions crowd out the miraculous in Jesus.  In our culture that elevates fantasy and special effects, we Christians often join the crowd for the see-now baubles of flash-pan entertainment and, in doing so, miss the stunning real-world history and life-changing treasures of this Jesus we follow.   It’s a shame, and it took a knock-down drag-out flu to get me back into the secret place of the Most High to once again enjoy the Savior and Lord.

Wow, my back is really hurting so I am going to need to stop.  I invite you to join me in studying John 11.  I’m moving on to chapter 12 soon, but please let me know some treasures you find in this passage.




I am battling the flu and it ain’t pretty

7This is a written excuse to the administration of my fine school as to why I cannot -for the third day – make it to the halls of academia. 

 I decided to slog my way over to the keyboard and poke out a few words before I shuffle my sorry blanket-draped carcass back to bed.

I am shivering and wearing so many blankets that when I stand and move about I look like a mobile teepee.  My head is peeking out above three feet of blankets.

For those of you who have emerged unscathed through this sickness season, I will now explain what it is like to get the flu:

Imagine you are located at a Baltimore train yard with your head strapped securely to one of the iron-metal rails, with a 125-ton 4-axle CSX EMD locomotive methodically running back and forth over your skull.  At the same time a pack of Oompa Loompas are beating you mercilessly across your back with frozen beach towels.   At the same time to Tolkienesque Orcs alternate between scalding your sinuses with a blowtorch and a fire extinguisher.

When you sit up to take a break you are force-fed bread that tastes like elementary-grade construction paper and drink liquid that taste like post-Thanksgiving dishwater.

Someone whitewashes your tongue with Sherwin-Williams primer paint. Then you are shoved back to the train rail.  Repeat this all day.

This is my third day battling this fever.  I really, really thought I could make it back to school on Friday.  I am not going to try to sound heroic; the first night was pure torture.  My sinuses were exploding like a successful Guy Fawkes Gunpowder plot.  The drainage – and I will be delicate here – rode down into my windpipe in steady globs, just enough so I couldn’t sleep.  I have been coughing so much that my back muscles feel like fried bacon.

My poor daughter and wife roam around the house wanting to assist me, but I am so afraid that they will catch this Mother of All Flus that – like the lepers of the first century – I croak out to them to keep their distance.  Jill has been disinfecting everything, spraying stuff and throwing everything else into the dishwasher.  Even the parakeets I believe.  They weren’t happy.

By day two I was dizzier than a French Quarter inebriate at Mardi Gras.  Walking forward was a virtual impossibility.  And extremely tiring.  Standing for more than a minute was exhausting.  I would find anywhere to sit if I had to move about.  I think one time the cat made a quick Ottoman.  He wasn’t happy.

The idea of food is disgusting.

Stomach-wise, the first day felt like I had the North Pole in my abdomen, and I literally shook with cold.  Yesterday and today it is like I swallowed a live porcupine.  A live one.

But I’ll make it, mind you. I’m a fighter.  The Zockolls are not quitters.   Nor will we allow something like a pandemic flu steal the gargantuan Russian appetite for which we are so famous.  I long to get back to barbecue and baked potatoes and heaps of vegetables.  Right now, though, even writing those words is making me queasy.

This time is humbling; it asserts once again the frailty of my body despite my best efforts to stay healthy and active.  Solomon’s writings in Ecclesiastes are very clear about the weakness of mankind, and James even reminds you that our life is like a vapor.    As I lay under three feet of blankets and stare at the ceiling with my mind dancing about in painful yelps, I am made aware of this.  I am not exaggerating.  The worst thing, to me, is that my mind is misfiring constantly during this ordeal.   I go between prayers to depression to exhaustion to gratefulness that this is not worse.  All these thoughts keep swirling.  My mind cannot rest;  it is like its backside is on fire and it is running around the barnyard like a cartoon chicken, looking for the well-water of relief.  Perhaps that will come today.

I hope the fever broke.  Last night my pillow was so wet – I am not making this up – that I had to throw it off of the bed.  Water was literally dripping off of my back onto the sheets.

May I stop right now and say that I am grateful for our fine school, Grace Christian Academy.  The administration and faculty are great, and I was able to get an immediate substitute teacher to fill in for me and take charge of the very responsible students.  I say this because I all love you so dearly.  I also say this so you won’t fire me for missing three straight days of school

I would like to gather my thoughts in a more coherent way, but I am mainly interested in a scalding hot bath.  So if you’ll excuse me, I have to slog my way down the hallway.

Jill will be following six feet behind, spraying my footsteps with a hospital disinfectant.

The time my students and I played a life-size game of Monopoly all over town

7The guys were all piled into my apartment and the food was heaped everywhere.  We were once again having our regular Taco Party, a tradition that started during the course of my teaching time in Hollister.  I am not sure exactly when the famed mini-banquet got started, but the gastronomic event kept growing in stature through the months and years of my ministry there.

I believe it was during my second year of teaching that this idea took root.  During my between-class breaks in teaching career as a single fellow in California, the young men would often sit with me on an outdoor bench and chat, even after school.  Somewhere in the course of casual conversation with my high school boys between classes, the fellows got to talking about  Friday night plans.  “Whatcha gonna do tonight, Pastor Brad?” asked Steven.

Sammy came over and plopped on a bench.  “We don’t have anything to do since the football season’s over,” he said.  “Are you staying in town tonight?”

I dearly love Hispanic food, today as much as back then.  My first days in central California introduced me to some fantastic homemade Mexican food, so my first response to the guys was “Well, the first thing I know I’m going to do is get my hands on about ten tacos and devour them.  Then I’ll go from there.”

Steven and Sammy glanced at each other.  Dan and Bret had moved over to the bench and listened in, with David walking over as well.  “There are no games in town tonight,” said Steven.  “Could we come over?”

“I could bring some cheese,” said Sammy.

“I could bring shells,” added Bret.  The other guys agreed to chip in. Word spread among the guys.  Hamburger, lettuce, tomatoes, even onions were all going to be donated that night.  Larry offered to bring tripas – animal intestines.  This was politely but quickly shot down.

And so began the regular Taco Parties at my Sunnyslope Road apartment.  I can still recall the guys in full chef mode all over the place:  shredding lettuce at my micro-sized kitchen table, grating blocks of cheese on the kitchen counter, and slicing tomatoes wherever there was room near the doorway.  I was cooking up hamburger by the pound.  We created and ate tacos by the dozens, drank Cokes by the score, and sat back and burped.

On one of those evenings we got an idea to play a game … once we digested everything, mind you.

“Let’s have a big game,” said Sammy.

“Something where we can run,” said Daniel.  He was one of our best runners, so this was an absolute must for him.

David looked out the window.  “Yeah, outside,” he said, “but something different.  Not the same old stuff.”  A light bulb went off in my head.

“Hey,” I said to Robert, “get some poster paper out of that closet and spread it out on the coffee table here.”  I grabbed a pencil and started sketching the Monopoly board.  “Here’s Park Place.  This will be Boardwalk.  Here’s Free Parking. ”  I laid out each sidewalk square as a space, but stretched the whole board to cover about three city blocks of Hollister.  Then I pointed to Daniel.  “You are the race car playing piece, and you, Bret, are the top hat…”  Each guy was named for a game piece and then we even made up others.  I think I was the Scottie Dog.

In order to accommodate the high energy of the teens, we invented Turbo Monopoly.  It was an insane idea that would really spice up the action.  The rules went something like this: When you are at the Home Base (my apartment) you roll the dice and land on a “Place” – a sidewalk square somewhere in town.  The next player then rolls dice.  If his number is higher than yours, he chases you and tries to catch you.  You must run the entire “board” – three blocks – and get back to Home Base before the other player catches you.  This was a game not for the non-athletic, especially after eating seven tacos.  I was twenty-two years old and probably in the best running shape of my life – even running in a few marathons – but I was sucking wind halfway through the game.

It quickly became a mess, as you can imagine.  Guys were screeching, yelling, diving for the property and falling into bushes, cutting across neighbors’ yards, dodging traffic.

The police cars started patrolling awfully close (I think they got a few calls) and I believe that once the blue lights flickered although the officer wasn’t exactly sure what to do.  The neighbors had enough, though, of seeing sweaty teens collapsing on their respective lawns, loudly burping up a seasoned-flavored belch that was killing their plants.  I had to close the Turbo Monopoly game after one night.

The boys came in and settled in to catch their breath.  We sat and chest-heaved for a while and then stared out the window.

“Wonder what Heaven’s gonna be like?” I heard a voice ask out of the blue.  I think it was Robert.

“Well,” I wheezed.  “Revelation’s twenty-first chapter gives a good idea of what is not going to be there…”

“Oh, yeah,” said Daniel.  “No more sickness. No more death…”

“Will we recognize our grandparents?” asked Robert.

“Are there clues to when Jesus will come back?” asked Bret.

And so the evening gently opened up into a discussion of Heaven.  It was a great time, having an open talk about the Bible without any formality or structure;  just a real open and honest back-and-forth about the things of God.

Oh, I live for those moments.  Those are my favorite teachable moments.

I love the style of Jesus’ teaching – such a radical and rousing type of instruction that threw everyone for a loop, and I mean that in a good way.

Jesus took on the pattern of a rabbi, for sure, in order to get folks comfortable with the accepted practice of learning of that era.

In those days, rabbis had a special type of classroom setting.  Beth Midrash (high school) students would ask permission to continue studies with a rabbi in order to get an intense training of the Scriptures.  The rabbi would teach and give his particular interpretation of the Scripture.  As the rabbi taught he would often quote other famous rabbis so that his teaching would not be accused of being invented; he had other sources to back up his teaching. Someone would ask where he got the right to interpret a particular Scripture in his own way, and he would cross-reference another famous rabbi.

Students were called talmidim (Hebrew: disciples) and did more than learn facts; they aspired to actually become who the teacher was. This involved intense devotion to their rabbi in virtually all he did and said. This rabbi-talmid relationship was intense and personal; after all, they were learning a lifestyle.

“Classes” were outdoors, on the streets, in the courtyard, through the marketplace, at the synagogue, next to a stream … anywhere.

As I said, Jesus took that pattern and then built on it.  The rabbis would quote Scripture and give it an interpretation to the specific event, and so did Jesus.  They would give intense attention to serious students (calling the student to “follow him” into education) and Jesus also made the invitation in like manner.

What I like best of all, though, is just as the rabbis would quote other sources for authority, Jesus answered skeptics by quoting His source.

Matthew Chapter 13:54 tells us of a question running about his hometown:  “He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom?‘”

“Is Jesus making this stuff up on His own?”

He replied by quoting his source:

John 7:16 – Jesus answered them and said, “My teaching is not Mine…”

“… It comes from the One who sent me.

This sets Him apart from being just a brilliant teacher. He has claimed His source as none other than God Himself.

John 5:19 –  Jesus says to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.”

Jesus does not teach of Himself.  He teaches from His instruction from the Jehovah of Heaven itself.  His disciples were learning to be exactly like Him:  one who was obsessed with God above.

We teachers would do well to remember there two precious things.

I constantly remind myself of both the opportunity to find teachable moments outside the classroom as well as within, be it the the cafeteria, the perimeter sidewalk, or even a chance meeting at Wal Mart.

I don’t want my students to be me, but I want them to follow my pattern – the thirsty pursuit of God above.

I also remind myself that it is not me that they want to study; it’s my Lord.  I cannot go wrong if I point them to the true Source.  That is effective teaching that will never fail.

And I don’t need to play Turbo Monopoly to do it, either.



The time I saw thousands of dollars go out the window.

7Decades back (prior to my teaching career) I was a program director for a local radio station here in Tennessee. It was a scene out of a 1940s comedy movie:  a businessman in the area sold a majority of the real estate that he owned and invested it in a radio station in downtown Knoxville.  The only problem was, he admitted, he had no idea how to run a radio station – I mean, none at all.  Through a few intermediates, he had contacted me and offered me the position to run the station, top to bottom with a nice salary and full creative rights to re-design the format. I had a background in radio broadcasting, and this seemed to be a dream come true. It seemed too good to be true.

It was too good to be true.

When I stepped into the studio on my first day, I was stunned.  Fully two-thirds of the staff had quit on the new owner, including announcers.  The sellers were less than scrupulous, and on the final night of the sale to George, before they turned over the keys they snuck into the station and quietly exchanged all of the new equipment for musty warehoused electronic gear that looked like it had come out of World War 2 surplus.

It was a mess.  I had to start from the ground up.  George and I ran the sunrise-to-sunset radio station WSKT of Knoxville by ourselves, and I mean by ourselves.  My on-air shift was approximately eight hours.  That was eight hours on the air, mind you, and that included a live talk show.  This is the truth:  sometimes we coerced George’s wife and my wife Jill to be on-air DJs for an hour or so in order for us to get a rest.

We were slaving away and fighting for a financial break.  George finally told me he had no money; he had sunk all of it in this station.  We had to get radical if we were to make it profitable.  One break finally came:  we were going to have a remote broadcast in downtown Knoxville during the Dogwood Arts Festival.  There were paying customers, an actual advertising potential that was interested in our remote set-up, where I would walk through the park and interview people during the festival.

The day came and I took our gear and hauled myself into the park.  Believe it or not, George – with no experience – would hold down the station and host the program while bringing my live broadcasts periodically between songs.  I had to practice with George for hours in order to train him what to do.  I checked and re-checked my gear and prepared for the day.  In one ear I wore a small bud that connected me back to the station where George would cue me on the commercial breaks.

The day’s broadcast began, and to tell the truth, things went well.  The transitions were good, I had some great interviews and we were getting a strong response.

Then at a commercial break things got silent.  “Brad, get back to the studio, quickly” barked George.  I loaded my stuff and dashed back to WSKT.

I entered the studio and it was evident that we were off the air completely.  All of the machines were dark.  George sat there, looking at me with a funny expression.

“What happened?” I asked, rushing over to the machinery to see what I could fix.  “Did the transmitter just quit?  Did you have a power failure?”

George sat there, sheepishly.  “Nope.”  He shrugged.  “You know the kind of person I am.  If it says ‘wet paint’ I’m going to touch it to make sure it really is.”

I didn’t like the way that sounded.

“George, what did you do?”

He nodded his head toward a large switch.  “I turned that off to see what would happen.”

“That switch” was a kill switch which shut down the entire station.  Everything. But let me explain why this was so stunning to me:

Taped over the switch was a full sheet of paper with capital lettering saying DO NOT TURN OFF THIS SWITCH.

George shrugged again.  “I lifted the paper and turned it off, but even after I switched it back it won’t turn on again.  I figured you could help me.”

I was exasperated.  We were watching revenue flying out the window with each minute we were off the air.  We would have to refund advertisers’ dollars.  “George, you threw a switch that can only be reactivated by an engineer, and I am not a licensed engineer.  Even worse, he’s going to have to go all the way out to the radio tower miles away and hit the proper switch at the northern site on top of the mountain!”  I paused to gather my composure.  “Why did you do it, George?”

He shrugged again.  “That’s the kind of person I am.”  He laughed dryly and shook his head.  We lost thousands of dollars that day.

That was the final straw financially; we never recovered.  We closed up shop before the end of the summer.

It really came down to simple obedience.  Just follow the words and you’ll be okay.

In my teaching ministry I have encountered many a student who endures serious self-inflicted pain merely because they don’t listen to the rules of the school.  I know you have as well.

Even more so, many students fight spiritual battles because they don’t even care to follow the instruction of a loving God who wants to lead them through this life and beyond.  Oh, they enjoy the magnificence of Christ all right – His miracles and glory are stunning, they’ll readily admit.  They’ll sit leaning forward and take in every word.

But they leave it in the classroom.  They clearly see the Biblical instruction but they choose to go their own way.

My greatest grief lately is of seeing students – both secondary and college-age – who simply do not want to read or study the Bible.  It is almost as if there is a disease in the pages of the Word that repels these Christian students from lifting a finger to access God’s Word.  It brings to mind a very, very important passage that we as teachers should take to heart.

When we move into the sixth chapter of John we run into a mystery.  We see a story that had such a great beginning turn into a disastrous disappointment by the final paragraph.  Jesus opened the chapter by feeding five thousand and obviously the place went nuts  (“this is a Miracle Worker!”); yet the end of the chapter showed five hundred walking away, never to return (“Who can accept these words?”).

What happened?

The answer is in the final private exchange of the chapter.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Ah. The words.

The words were what drew the line in the sand between belief and rejection.

It wasn’t what He was doing, it was what He was saying.  Hey, people were okay with the miracles He performed – that’s a nice, easy, exciting thing that’s acceptable.  Who wouldn’t like to be fed Heavenly bread, or watch a decrepit old blind man get healed?

That’s not personal responsibility.  That’s spectatorial.

Yes, but those who stayed followed the words of Jesus.  No, a better word would be that they embraced His words.  They clung to the dearest part of Jesus’ ministry and outreach to mankind, and that would be not His works but His words.  They were willing to get His instruction, to get his correction, and to follow His guidance.

They were willing to obey His to-the-heart teaching, moving beyond the wild display of the miraculous.

The wonders were spectacular, and drew an immediate throng.  Everyone loves a party, and wouldn’t the magnificence of the supernatural attract them?  Of course it would, just like a Black Friday special draws crowds today; you get something exciting.

But the festival was over.  Time for classroom instruction that reached into a personal chasm known as the soul.  He began to speak.

That was crossing the line.

The words offended them, and they walked.

I like how you entertain me, just don’t tell me what to do. 

Jesus: “The world hates me because I testify of it that its deeds are evil.”  (John 7:7)

He begins to teach (7:14) and it is made known that they are gathering forces to kill him (7:19)

Jesus: “Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say… because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! … If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says.” (8:43,47)

Stefan came into my room early in the morning before class started.  “I am having a lot of doubts,” he said.  “I am really struggling.”

I asked him about his Bible reading.  “The only Bible reading I get is in class here,” he replied.

“You don’t get any training in your church?  Your pastor’s messages?” I asked.  Stefan shook his head.  “I help run the sound booth,” he said.  “I concentrate on the electronics so much, I don’t hear the message.”  He sat back.  “Our church uses me every Sunday.  Every Sunday.  I can’t remember when I have been able to sit and hear the Bible.”

And then he made a profound statement that hit me hard:

“I am so involved … that I’m not involved.”

Works over words.  I got his point.

We’ve started with a private Bible reading time.  He and I are now sharing a daily reading in the book of Mark, a chapter a day. Stefan is going from works back to the Word.

So should we all.

Let’s get back into the deep teaching of Jesus.  Let’s hear what He has to say.



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