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An all-out call to my students and fellow teachers

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I remember sitting in the high school stadium bleachers, panting and mopping my face with a towel after completing a five mile run around the track.  I was exhausted and thirsty and pouring sweat.  In fact,  the sweat had so freely cascaded down me that my socks and shoes were soaked; I made an odd squishing sound when I climbed the steps and plopped myself down heavily on the aluminum bleachers.

I looked out at the field crowded with our varsity football players running obstacle courses, sprinting from yard marker to yard marker, and smashing into each other.   This was the practice period that most gridiron athletes hate the most: the one-two punch of daily hours-long practice times known universally as “two-a-days”.  Some were leaning their heads back, open-mouthed and panting.  A few fellows had their hands on their hips and were breathing so deeply that I could see their chests heaving from my far-off seat.  Others were leaning over, their hands on their knees, heads bowed in exhaustion.  Each one, I noticed, would take a furtive glance over at the bench and tables that were graced with large orange casks and stacks of cups.

When the whistle blew, they fairly flew to the sidelines.  That was my private signal as well.  I trotted down the steps and found a water hose near the end zone and turned on the spigot.  I drank as long as I was able.

We were all crazy for water, those students and I.  We were desperately thirsty.

As I approach the school campus this year, at the heels of this dreadfully hot and humid Tennessee summer, I wonder how many of us will have the same thirst, not for physical water but for something so much deeper.

This Jesus.

Why in the world have we come up with the idea that we Christians don’t need to go to the Well and drink?  We found it at salvation, didn’t we?  The Savior Himself emphasized the spiritual and eternal quenching only He can give.   In the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John He boldly told the woman at the well that “The water that I give you is eternal or living water.  Drink of this water, and you will never thirst again.”

He shocked the crowds – including the religious leaders – at the water ceremony at the end of the national Feast of Booths celebration. As the high priest dipped a golden pitcher and took water from the Pool of Siloam and carried it to an altar, the thousands sang praises to God for the delivery of water during the desert wanderings of generations back.  During a pause in the singing, someone shouted:

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come and drink.  Let him come to me.” 

The heads turned.  It was Jesus.

He was offering the answer to the thirst of the soul.  He interrupted the ceremony ritual for a truth encounter.  That’s shocking, yes.  But it’s only half of the story.

Would the crowd come to Him for their eternal relief?  How would they respond?  John writes of the reaction.  Some burst out “This is the Prophet!  This is the Messiah!”

Others argued with them:  “Oh, yeah, do you honestly think our spiritual leader will come out of the miserable hillbilly Galilee region?”

However, even the temple guards faced disciple when they refused to arrest Jesus at the order of the religious leaders.   “In all honesty, no man has ever spoken like this man,” they responded.

Everybody had to make a decision on what to do in response.

It reminds us of the question Pilate put before the crowd, and one that we need to answer today – whether we are student or teacher – as school starts:

Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”

Nobody in that crowd would find spiritual satisfaction or eternal reward by nodding ascent of the Christ and then continuing in their way.  Nobody would continue in their self-centered way and expect to get salvation.  Not one person like this would have any right to expect Jesus’ power to come to them.

Neither should we.

If we’re a campus that puts the name of Christ in the very center of our title then should we also put Christ in the very center of our campus, including activities, studies and daily life?

This is the year to make that happen.  This is the school year that defines who we really are.

It’s time we establish what is the very core of our academic existence here at Grace Christian Academy.  We must make a very, very serious decision  as to our being a deeply Christ-centered campus or a very nice private school that has a spiritual label.

What will we do with Jesus who is called Christ?

The Bible says he must be front and center.

All else is secondary.

“Seek first the kingdom of God and all these other things will be added to you.”

I repeat:  everything else is secondary.

That includes sports.

That includes theater arts.

That includes scholarships and academic achievement.

Don’t get upset;  I didn’t say they were bothersome.  I didn’t say they were unnecessary.  I said they needed to be secondary.

God’s pleasure and His glory will begin to shine on our school once again.

In the words of Henry Varley to D.L. Moody:  “The world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him.”  That resonates here, with us at GCA both now and int he coming weeks and months.   Full consecration means that God the Father gets first place in our decisions,
our attitudes,
our studies,
our conversations,
our leisure time…

Everything.

In the heat of this sweltering summer, let’s be reminded of the satisfying Source of the most important Water we can ever get.  Let’s go to Him and start seeing a wave of revival over our school.

Are we ready?  The go.

Let’s run to the Well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Blindness is making me think

1Yes that’s my eye – as far as I can open it this morning.  I woke at 5:30 a.m. unable to sleep.  My eye cannot stop watering, no matter what I do to dab and cleanse it.

Yesterday was my yardwork day here at the Zockoll homestead, and I spent the afternoon hours laboring diligently in cutting down the weedy shrubs, vines, thorns and branches from our miniature forest in the back of our property.

I was sawing, cutting and sweating quite happily throughout the heat of the afternoon when I reached up to grasp and cut away a long-dead pine branch from overhead.  As I yanked the yard-long branch away from the tree, a shower of gray pine needles and other debris rained down on me, coating my head and face.  Even though I was wearing my glasses, a small particle of the branch bark bounced past my lens and lodged in my eye.

I tried to blink it away.  No luck.

I tried to dab it out.  It stayed with me.

I continued to work in the yard while attempting to restore my sight.  It must have looked comical;  I was trying to shovel and saw while staggering and pawing at my eye like a boxer who got sucker-punched.  At one point I felt better, and thought I had finally rid myself of the offending mote.

However, as I taught the college class last night, I suddenly felt something sharp in my eye.  As the students worked in teams on an assignment, I stole over to the side of the room and wiped gently.  A nasty discharge came out from the corner of my eye, but I found no relief from the offending particle.  I blinked my way through the final hour of the class and when I got home, I had my daughter take a flashlight and do an inspection of my now-watering eyeball – and there it was:  a splinter of wood the size and shape of a pinky fingernail clipping.  I was able to remove it and finally rest.  I applied ointment and went to bed.

However, I am discovering that there might be more there.  I woke up early to a glued-down  eyelid and a dull ache.  As I write, it is still draining slowly.

Wow, if ever there was a real-life application of a spiritual truth, this is it.  My morning devotions made a real-life change over to Matthew 7:5:

“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

First of all, this makes physical sense.  Despite my best efforts at Boy Scout first aid, right now my eye is so infected that I don’t really think I would do anybody any good at trying to help their vision problems.  Secondly, it gives me a smack-in-the-face awareness of my walk with Christ.  This has caused me to reflect on my spiritual infection as well, in the light of Matthew 7:5.

Too many times I’ve made excuses for my impatient behavior.  Why,  just the other day I was sitting and listening impatiently to someone whom I considered “rambling” and waiting for them to take a breath so that I could interject my “pearls of wisdom.”  Get it?  They were rambling but I was instructing.  What a hypocrite!

How many times have I reprimanded a student on a pride issue when I knew full well that my self-satisfaction was a hindrance to my ministry?

How many times have I scolded someone on inattention when I know full well there have been times when I myself have snuck peeks at my phone or laptop as a diversion in the middle of a church service or teacher’s meeting?

How often have I taught about immersing oneself in the Word and prayer when I know full well that my Scripture study and prayer life have been woefully inadequate in building the bridge of understanding and worship with Jesus?

The Lord must be tapping His foot patiently waiting for me to recognize the spiritual beam in my eye.  I ignore it all too often, even though it is grating and fogging my spiritual steps.

I think an overall inspection of my walk with Jesus should be more than meets the eye.

Okay, it was a poor joke, but you get what I’m trying to say.

 

 

 

All the chocolate you would ever want

Hershey Chocolate Company - Making Chocolate Bars OakdaleDuring my upper elementary and middle school years our family resided in Hershey, Pennsylvania, which at the time was probably the best town in America.  I mean, think of it – you’re growing up in a town whose fortune is in making chocolate.  At least half of my classmates had parents who were fully employed by the Hershey Corporation.  Each year the school would hustle us little ones into a Hershey Elementary School bus to drive over to the factory for a tour (in those days, yes, you went through the factory itself – a luxury not afforded to the public anymore.  The factory itself, man. ).  On other elementary field trips, such as those to the Landis Valley Farms or the Hershey Rose Gardens, my sole intent as a second grader was to cavort with my little gang of deviant friends or flirt with that outrageously attractive classmate Kathy O’Brien (She never responded.  Sigh).

However, the trip to the Hershey Factory was different.  This was the pinnacle, the zenith of all field trips.  Every outside influence was dead to me.  Nothing around me mattered – I zoned in.  That chocolate was my key obsession.  I was mesmerized.

It was all about chocolate.  How can I begin to adequately describe my excitement as we unloaded from the bus?  Arriving was equivalent to stepping into Shangi-La;  I wasn’t sure if we should pause in a moment of respect.  The whole atmosphere was Heaven to me, from the carpet to the cocoa bins.  So help me, the color schemes were even brown and tan.  The clean white-capped workers bustled around like happy Oompa Loompas.  It smelled like chocolate.  I kid you not – you could taste the chocolate in the air.

Man, I was a mess.

My senses began to overload.  I started growing dizzy when we walked past the bars being poured into molds.  I got glassy-eyed in seeing the “kiss machine” that dotted the conveyor belt with drops of chocolate in the dozens every second.

But it was the conching machine that got me weak in the knees.  Technically speaking, the conch machine is designed to keep swirling and stirring the liquid chocolate for hours and even days in order to eliminate any fraction of bitter taste that the cocoa bean crushing and roasting may have introduced.  I want you to imagine a vat over twenty feet long carrying melted chocolate at least four feet deep.  The conching machines were my favorite part of the tour; ah, they were celestial constructions.  With a vat of chocolate that would be waist-deep to a 2nd grader, these luxurious machines were billowing wave after wave of fluid Heaven, emanating a smell that drove me wild.

By the end of the tour I was a complete wreck.  I hulked about like a slobbering cave man, dragging my knuckles on the carpet, panting for sugar.   Only the free gift of a full size standard Hershey Chocolate bar kept me from gnawing the stairway’s wallpaper.  Classmates around me – especially the girls, curse them for their daintiness – would nibble at the ends of their bars and fold them away for a post-dinner snack.  Me?  I had the whole bar swallowed before we pushed the exit doors.  I was a grunting, cocoa-craved Neanderthal at that point.  I came close to taking the tour guide’s hand off as she handed the candy out.

It was way too soon over.  But man, it was great.

I recall the same excitement in my childhood – the all-too-brief weeks at Mt. Lou San Bible Camp outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  What a great place!  We were lifted from the hardscrabble days of living without a father and without money to a far-off retreat of swimming pools, hiking, campfires and rough-hewn cabins.  I loved the counselors and the camp food.  I loved the bedtime storytelling of “Aunt Jan” as she read another chapter of a Danny Orlis adventure over the all-camp intercom.  I loved the team sports, the craft shop and the snack stand.

I loved most of all the evening messages when a missionary or a camp speaker would talk about Heaven.  I hung on every word.  We all did.  Not rules.  Not attitudes.  Heaven.

The speaker would lovingly describe the reception by Jesus and the glory of God at His banquet table and it would explode my imagination.  We couldn’t get enough of it.  The wide rivers and high mountains and never-ending energy of Heaven; the joy of deep, deep friendships with Believers across the world and across time.  The food of Heaven.  The music of Heaven.  The incredibly satisfying joy of Heaven.

It was as if we took a tour through the divine place itself.  It was over way too soon.  But man, it was great.

Can we say that about our weekly gatherings in our churches?  You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant…”(Heb. 12:22–24)

On Sundays we’ve come to worship and experience the closeness of the Savior Jesus, to see a bit of the heavenly Jerusalem, to visit the city of the living God and even feel the closeness of angels in a festive gathering.  Isn’t that what worship is supposed to be? 

That’s my goal for this year in the classroom.  I pray to God that I can guide the students on a tour through Heaven so that they can see  – even if it’s a glimpse – of the celestial wonder and glory of God.  I pray that the Holy Spirit would give me the words and ways to allow us to say at the end of our study “Man, it was great.”

 

What I do when my wife is not at home

1Julie kissed me good-bye and loaded into the first van with her teen friends. My daughter was heading to camp in North Carolina, and the kids were chattering happily.  My wife Jill was going along as a sponsor;  she was in the third vehicle of the little caravan that would be heading off for the week-long adventure.

She gave me a hug and kiss.  “What will you do all week by yourself?” she said.  “I’m afraid you’ll be lonely.”

“Well,” I said, importantly, “I have some college essays to grade, and then I need to go over some other textbooks, you know, to get ready for the school year in the fall. Besides, I need some solitude for other studying.”

She nodded in a deeply understanding way.  “Well, we are probably out of cell phone range, so if you can’t get through to my phone, you’ll know why.”  She stepped into the van.  I nodded bravely.

“I’ll get by until Saturday.  The important thing is that you have a good time, ” I said, as she closed the door and blew me an innocent kiss.  I stood waving as the little band of vehicles slowly pulled out of the church parking lot.

I waved and waved to the caravan.  They waved back.  All the way to the edge of the horizon.

They were gone.

I leaped into my ’92 Jeep and floored it for all it was worth, heading to the house.  I careened down North Illinois, sliding the car around turns like Starsky and Hutch.  I zoomed down Tuskegee and into our neighborhood, screeching along our driveway and slamming on the brakes just short of the fence.

I dove into the house, cackling with glee.  I slammed the door and threw the deadbolt lock.  I have a week by myself.  A week by myself.

And I did what I am absolutely not allowed to do whenever my wife and daughter are in the house.

I leaped into the kitchen and broke out every imaginable form of garlic.  Yes, garlic.

My wife and daughter have an open revulsion to the taste and even smell of garlic. This is a deeply disturbing reality to me, coming from Eastern European stock.  I love garlic, onions and all the other smelly herbs and vegetables you can think of.  This does not make for a peaceable marriage.  I cannot cook garlic in the house.  In fact, I cannot even eat a restaurant plate of a garlic-laced chicken or pasta because I carry the odor home with me.  Even after three toothbrushings, a mouthwashing and hand scrubbing, I am hounded out of the household.

There were two Garlic Incidents that remain in the Zockoll lore to this day.  Once was when I unexpectedly feasted on a West Knoxville eatery’s specialty spaghetti.  It was delicious – and also permeated with the purest garlic you can buy.  That evening I was not allowed in the same room with the family.  I think I slept on the deck that night.

The second time was years later and both my sons were in their middle-school years.  We went to a Mongolian grill restaurant with some good friends and the father of the family made an ill-conceived comment that you can put as much garlic as you want on  your dish, because when they grill it, the smell is “cooked away”.  Naively, I accepted this as fact and heaped spoonfuls of garlic on my meal, handing it happily to them for grilling.

He did not speak the truth.

An hour later as the whole Zockoll clan strolled the walking trail around All Saints Church, I urped.  Small, but distinctive.  It hissed out of my teeth with a sound like a Greyhound bus pulling out of the station.  Hissssssuusshhhh

“Man, Dad, that really smells,” exclaimed Nicholas behind me, covering his nose.

I went to respond, but the second one came out as a clear burp.  I am usually more circumspect in open society, but this could not be helped.

Peter almost fell to his knees.  Jill swooned.  “Dad,” Peter cried.  “At least let us get in front of you, so we don’t get the smell.”

I grinned in wicked delight.  This was too good to pass up.  I broke out in a sprint as the rest of the family yelled, trying to get ahead of me.  As I ran I couldn’t help but keep burping garlic.  They were screaming behind me. The passing cars must have wondered why a middle-aged man was running happily open-mouthed ahead of an agitated wife and kids in a full-out sprint.  It would have made for a great photo.

I haven’t had the taste of garlic in years.

Until this week.

I am eating garlic on salads.

Garlic on cucumbers.

Garlic in my hummus.

Garlic on eggs.

Garlic on my popcorn.

You think of the food, I’m going to put garlic on it.  I am totally serious about this.  If you think I am kidding, take a look at the picture below.  That is my computer and that is my hand holding my recently-purchased treasures.

I think I might sprinkle garlic in the almond milk.

The way I figure it, I can overdose on garlic until Thursday.  That’ll give me a full day to get it out of my system and scrub the house down of any odors.

My wife will never know.  If any of you read this and contact her at camp, I will find you and hurt you.

I must go.  There is a whole universe of garlic I need to explore.

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I was choking; so were my students

1The doctors finally found out the answer to my illness. They are not sure if that “super flu” that hit me in January caused my breathing difficulties (can you believe that I carried that miserable sickness for over five months?) and caused swelling or an obstruction, but the conclusion was that I was suffering from a severe lack of sleep.  My particular condition was called hypnopnea – a form of sleep apnea that involves shallow and incomplete air breathing, resulting in a very low oxygen concentration in my blood.  I was waking up over five times an hour, unable to get any rest.  This caused me to stumble around the classroom at times, grunting like a Neanderthal while I tried to remember the outline of the book of 1 Peter.  Or the students’ names.  Or my own.

My speech would be slurred at times.  Each day seemed like another in-the-rut trudging through fatigue and fog.  I was desperate for a remedy; in fact, I literally begged my family doctor to find me some relief, any relief.

The answer was CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure).  It’s a machine to help me breathe and get the proper oxygen flow into my system.  I was told to put on an Air Force-type mask each night and the little computer next to my bed would regulate how much air pressure was needed, then continually puff a bit in through my nose as I would sleep in order to open the airways.

The first time I tried it I had dreams that someone was trying to pillow-smother me.  Imagine the feeling of having a plastic robotic hand covering your nose and mouth and you will understand the unnerving feeling I felt those first few days.  At various times of night I would rip off the mask and start gasping in panic.

But I had to get better.  I was tired.  I needed a remedy from the aching fatigue that dogged me in the classroom, at church services, while driving, in communication with people … everywhere.

And then, brother, it happened.

After the seventh day, I hit the Promised Land.  I slept a whole night without a waking incident.

I could sleep!

I could think!

I had energy!

I came into the kitchen, grinning like a Cheshire cat and gliding across the floor toward the coffee machine.  My eyes were bright and my voice was chipper as I greeted my now-unnerved wife and daughter.  Jill smiled and slowly edged toward the door as I leaped towards the toaster and hummed a Brandenberg concerto.  Julianne made an excuse about feeding the cat and disappeared into the garage.

No matter.  I was finally breathing again.  No more fog.

I am thinking clearly and enthusiastic about the hours of the day I can regain.

I am now eager to get things right.

And that includes my teaching ministry.

I have been greatly grieved since last September over the spiritual morass that I see my students slogging through.  Mind you, I noticed the problem months before I contracted the flu.  Since the beginning of the school year I would share with Jill the sorrow I felt for the hollowness of the many students in the classroom who knew how to write down notes in rote fashion but had no inclination to take any of the Bible training to heart.  It’s hard to put into words, but the best way I can put it is that there was a spiritual laziness that I had not witnessed in years.  Our school campus energies and excitement were channeled into sports, academic scholarships, musical talents and theatrical productions.  I witnessed Bible being slowly edged back into a very small corner of the campus.  Christianity wasn’t being rejected by the students; it was being seen as irrelevant.

I discovered that a huge chunk of students didn’t attend church at all.  I found numerous pupils admit that their parents gave no spiritual encouragement to their children, nor had they any inclination to follow Christ.  I saw that many families were obsessive with scholarships and grants – but little or no interest in the Christian faith.

It’s like the entire campus needs a spiritual CPAP machine.  It’s not that the high school is void of a desire for God’s direction and glory; it seems like the atmosphere is, well, shallow breathing.

I am spending the summer in deep prayer and fasting for the coming year.  I see the need for my classroom and –  if I am allowed –  my chapel speaking times to call for the Heavenly power from the Father to revive the hearts of the Believers and bring salvation to the lost students.

I don’t want to spend my final years of teaching on a religious conveyor belt.  I refuse to shallow-breathe any more, nor will I allow my students to yawn through the class time.

These next months are in solitude for me to grow in Christ.

This is a summer of breathing fresh air – the air of me once again bring refreshed by the love of Christ and the glory of the Father.

And that is my prayer for the classroom this year – that we may all breathe the vibrancy and power of the Gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Ridiculous Parking Lot Incident I Ever Saw

This event is from y1ears ago, back when I was a youth pastor here in eastern Tennessee.  Our teen group had been at a camp retreat out of state and it was early evening when I pulled our church bus into a local restaurant to let the guys and gals enjoy a buffet-style feed.  It was a feast, to be sure, and after 45 minutes I paid for my meal and directed the teens to also take their tickets to the cashier, pay,  and head back out onto the bus.  As I was walking past the front dining area, I glanced outside through the wall-to-wall plate glass window.  Three of our girls had finished early and were chatting on the sidewalk right in front of the window.  Just as I was about to turn away, I saw one of the girls – let’s call her “Jenna” – abruptly break from the group and march toward a new car.  The back trunk lid was open.  Jenna purposely grabbed the lid and slammed it down.  I was thrown by this; this was obviously not Jenna’s car and not her business to go near anyone else’s property – what if the owner had stepped inside and was retrieving something to put in the trunk?

Now, Jenna was one of those headstrong teens you find in numerous youth groups.  She knew her way around and was not hesitant to instruct others about the error of their ways.  Some teens would label this a “busybody” or a “know-it-all.”

There was something odd about this situation, though.  Jenna was one of the brightest girls in our youth group.  She understood social rules.

I started toward the door, but as I did I saw that the trunk popped open again.  Jenna looked at it for a moment – and slammed it down again.  It popped open once more.  She once again slammed it into place.  As I was going through the outer doors I could see the other girls were uneasy with Jenna’s boldness and were timidly trying to stop her from this repeated action.  She ignored them and slammed the trunk down.  It popped open.

“Jenna,” I called as I walked toward her.  “That’s not your property.  Take your hands off of it.”  Jenna looked at me.  She looked at the trunk.  She slammed it down again.  It popped open again.

I was taken aback.  “Jenna, did you hear me?  Keep your hands off of someone else’s car!” Jenna looked at me; it was plain that she heard me.  She stared right at me, and put her hand on the trunk. She slammed it down again.  It popped open.

I was thrown by this defiance.  “Jenna, I’m serious.  Move away from that car!”  She looked at me quite seriously – and then slammed it down again.  It popped open.

I was about ten steps from her.  “Jenna…”

I noticed her face.  She was listening to me.  Jenna was not a rebellious teen.  Oh, she had her own mind, which occasionally got her into a fix, but she was never openly defiant.

Her face … she knew what I was saying … you could see she was agitated.

I realized then that she knew what to do.

She just couldn’t stop herself.

Her face was stricken as she looked at me and slammed it down again.

I saw something out of the corner of my eye in the front window of the restaurant.  There was a small group of people looking out the window, laughing.  A thirty-something-year-old man was chuckling and pushing a remote button.  Then it occurred to me.

That car was this man’s car.  He was popping open the trunk lid with his remote key.  If I got my observation correctly, the front dining hall people were counting how many times they could get Jenna to slam the lid.

I stopped and gestured to the front window.  “Jenna,” I nodded toward the dining room group.  “You’re their entertainment.  That man is hitting his remote key.”

It was obvious to all of us that Jenna realized she was being played for a fool in front of a crowd.  Her face dropped as she looked at the window.  The man looked at her full in the face and reached out his arm.  And pushed the key button.

The trunk lid popped open.

Jenna looked at the laughing crowd.

And she slammed the lid down again.

He hit the remote key, grinning ear to ear.  The trunk popped open.

She stared right at him.  Reached out.  And slammed the trunk lid down.

Before I walked next to her, he had pulled it on her three more times.  One of the other girls physically had to remove her from the car and walk her to the bus.

She knew she shouldn’t be doing it.  She knew she was being watched.  She knew she was being made fun of. yet she continued to do so.  Jenna couldn’t walk away.

Before you think I am getting a bit harsh here, I never brought it up to her afterwards.  Jenna’s name, obviously, was changed for this story.  I did notice, though, that her aggressive behavior changed from that day forward.  I think she was reflecting on her actions.

It made me reflective on mine as well.

How many times had I known the right course of action that a Christian should take, and did my own desire anyway?

I had fallen into the rut of putting the Christian life on auto pilot.  I knew the general direction of the Believer.

But I lost my focus on Christ.  And in doing so, I lost the need to correct my ways in order to keep my close friendship with Him.

I had dropped the word “repentance” from my daily life’s dictionary.  I was ignoring what the sacred Scriptures said in the example of David in Psalm 32:5:

“I acknowledged my sin to You, my sin I did not hide.  I said ‘I will confess my sins to the Lord, and You did forgive the guilt of my sin.

And again in Psalm 51:  “The sacrifices that please God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart.

In fact, if I remember the great scene in Heaven as narrated by Jesus Himself, I find the action of the mortal that causes Heaven to celebrate:

“I tell you in the same way there will be more joy in heaven … joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” 

For the unsaved, repentance leads to salvation.  For the Believer, repentance leads to restoration.

So how does it work for me?

Repentance is, first of all, realizing my sin.  Seeing how dirty and disgusting it is. Realizing that people are watching me … and maybe even laughing at my poor testimony of who Jesus is in my life.  Repentance is then seeing that trunk lid pop open again and truly wanting one more time – just one more time – to have my own way, but turning and walking away.

Simply turning and walking away.

Back to Jesus.

 

 

 

 

The Ramshackle Home and the torturous Tug of War

1The whole student body was cheering.  The gymnasium was filled with raucous, jovial shouting.  The senior class students had won every round of school-wide Tug Of War and stood triumphant.

Then the student emcee gestured towards the faculty.  “And now let’s see how the seniors do against the faculty…”  The place erupted.  The next thing I knew I had taken off my jacket, shoes and socks and grasped the rope.  I was fifty-seven years old, looking down the taut line at eighteen-year old football players.   Some people were pointing at us and chuckling.

I committed to the victory.  We are not going to lose this contest.

The whistle sounded and we teachers bowed to the task, straining, grunting and calling out a cadence so that we could pull in sudden spurts in order to throw off the seniors.  The place was screaming. I had planted my bare feet firmly on the wooden floor and was walking back with each strain.  I felt each muscle in my body lock.  I mean, every muscle was stretched.  My back.  My shoulders.  My thighs.  My calves.  Sweat was pouring down my neck as we inched out way backward. It felt like I was trying to pull a John Deere tractor uphill.  Yet, to the amazement of the crowd, we teachers were actually winning.

A whistle blasted.  To the shock and delight of the students, we teachers won the contest.  As the senior students released the rope in defeat, my body couldn’t respond quick enough.  I was so tight that I stumbled backwards and hit the gymnasium floor with a crash.  I was spent.  My back would be locked up for another half a day.

That’s the story I remembered whenever I continued my summertime study in the book of 1 Peter.  The one word that reminds me of that Tug of War:  fervent.

In chapter 1 verse 22 I read “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart.”

Peter is writing to us the truth of fellowship love:  If you understand what it is to be a Christian, then you realize the proof is that you love other believers. Isn’t Jesus the Messiah the example in love?  Of course He is.  Aren’t we to imitate Him?  Of course we are.  This raises the bar.  We certainly are to love everyone – there’s no doubt about that at all – but we are to strain every available resource in showing love for fellow Christians.

Your whole life as a Believer produces a love for other Christians that is to be fervent. Christian writer Robert Raymer says the definition of “fervent” (ektenos),  is “at full stretch” or “in an all-out manner, with an intense strain”.  This word doesn’t mess around; it’s a Greek word that means “stretched,” ektenes.  Lange’s Commentary says

Ektenos was an athletic term conveying the meaning of “striving with all of one’s energy” and was used to describe a runner who was moving at maximum output with taut muscles straining and stretching to the limit. This meaning presents the clear picture that love is not something that will just happen, but is something we have to work at like an Olympic athlete who strives to master his area of expertise with all his energy. We must make the choice and be earnest, resolute, even intense in our practice of agape love, always in complete dependence of God’s indwelling Spirit and His living and abiding Word.

This is more than emotion. This is the Believer with a readiness to show sacrificial service to that other person. This is always, and this is extreme.

When I was a sophomore college student, I joined two juniors in a trip to Clarksville, Georgia to help a small storefront church on the weekends.  We would fill in wherever the pastor would need us that week:  youth pastoring, leading singing, giving announcements, cleaning the church … you get the idea.  And may I say that this literally was a storefront church with an in-the-window air conditioning unit that chugged away bravely.  Just one, mind you.  The little congregation of thirty bore the heat well.

This little congregation was situated some three and a half hours away from campus so we would stay in the area on Sunday afternoons in order to be able to help with the services on Sunday night. I vividly remember my first Sunday at the church on a sweltering Georgia day.  The service finished and the folks were mopping their brows with handkerchiefs.  We shook hands with the pastor and stood in the front of the door, unsure of which restaurant we should visit, due to our limited funds as students.

A small, portly woman hobbled over to us. She was in her sixties, her hair in a bun.  She wore a faded sun dress and flat shoes. And a wide grin.

“You boys are coming home with us for lunch and a rest,” she said confidently.  “Papaw’s already home and gettin’ the food out of the oven.  We’re just around the corner.  Come on, then.  Get in your car and follow me.”

We followed her rickety pickup truck and pulled into a long gravel driveway to a house whose front lawn was littered with cars.  The house had peeling green paint flecking off under the hot sun and an elderly dog wandered by.  The barn in the back had a slight lean, and the fence was mostly chicken wire.  The front walkway and porch were red bricks that were deeply embedded in the soil.  We came in through the front room and noticed that the ceiling was sagging.  The sofa was worn to the point of being threadbare, and the curtains were faded.  These people were poor.

We stepped into the kitchen and paused … in shock.

Crammed in every available space in that kitchen – from counter tops to end tables to even the top of the refrigerator – was food.  Piles of food.

Ham.  Chicken.  Homemade bread.  Corn. Tomatoes.  Lettuce.  Beans. Grapes. Hamburger. Stew.  Soup.

Papaw could hardly say the prayer of blessing, he was so tickled.  As we ate, he regaled us with charming home-spun stories of farming and family and holidays and churchgoing.  We ate happily and listened contentedly.  I gazed around the room.  The ceiling bulb had no fixture.  The wallpaper was peeling.  Yet I could not remember when I felt so comfortable.

Then came the pies.

The pies.

Hokey smokes.  They were huge.  Each slice was equivalent to any three restaurant portions.  They were homemade works of art.  We were swooning.

Miss Ellie raised her hand before the farmer started another story.  “Papaw, that’s enough for now. The boys need to get a rest before tonight.” She nodded and walked us over to the bottom of the stairs as we trudged blearily from the table.  “You all go on up the stairs and get into that room. There’s three beds there, and you all get some sleep.  We’ll wake you up in a few hours.”

We reached the top of the stairs and opened the door and once again stood speechless.  The room was a new addition to their house.  It had brand-new beds, a clean and bright blue carpet and just-installed wooden paneling.

And a new air conditioning unit in full blast.  The room was a delightful 70 degrees.

The pastor later told us that this farming family sunk their savings into building a “Prophet’s Chamber” for the sole use of our little group of college students who came down to serve at their church.  They bought and built with the most loving care I had ever seen.  These dear, dear folks had sacrificed their own budget to help the Lord’s ministry by stretching and showing their love.

That hospitality by  Miss Ellie and Papaw were to bless me for the rest of the academic year.  I saw a couple who strained in sacrificial love in order to serve the Lord and show caring for fellow Believers.

It’s been a lesson in giving for me that has not gone away.

And it’s only fitting that I share it with you.

 

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A year's blog as a Bible teacher

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