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Those Offbeat Teachable Moments

March 1, 2014

On Friday we continued the study of John chapter 18 and the trial of Jesus, but I focused especially on the character of Pontius Pilate, the “middle man” in this volatile story.

“He was weak,” said Sherry.

“He was a bully,” added Mike.  “And corrupt.  His wife warned him not to mess with Jesus and the trial, but he was too concerned with politics.”

“Yes,” I agreed.  “He was pushing the envelope.  He had already been held under suspicion of corruption and even conspiracy, so he was on thin ice as it was.  The scourging was not enough.  His hand was forced.”

“But, I don’t get it,” said Jeremy.  “Why not just have Jesus confined to a cell, or maybe banished?  That way Pilate would get the relief from the mob.”

“The Pharisees were pushing for the crucifixion because of its deeper meaning,” I explained.  “The twenty-first chapter of Deuteronomy explains that anyone who dies by the punishment of hanging on a tree – the cross, you see – is considered cursed by God.  This way, the Pharisees believed that the people would be repulsed by realizing their hero would not be a martyr but be a curse.  That’s why the crucifixion method of death was an obsession with them.”

“Aaaah,” said Jeremy.

I glanced at the clock.  “Okay, we’ll take a break in the action, since it’s Friday.  As you know, I open the floor for a Q & A time.  Any questions?”

Marta raised her hand. “I have one.  When I get to college and I have those textbooks I need to buy, is it better to use a credit card or a debit card?”image

Each Bible class I teach is allowed a chunk of Friday class time for a Q & A time on any subject.  It’s no-holds-barred, and sometimes I get some pretty far-reaching questions.  Over the course of this year they’ve ranged from the Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate to questions on courtship and marriage.  It’s a split right down the line, with virtually half the questions dealing with a Biblical question and half of a secular nature.

It’s a great treat to be offbeat in teaching.  I found that some of my best teaching moments come when we step away from the lecture format and to seeking in an unorthodox way.

Christ gives numerous examples of this.  He taught while hiking on the road to Emmaus.  He showed His divinity by cursing a fig tree.  He spoke while standing in a boat.   He demonstrated His resurrection reality by eating fish.

He was at a well.

He was at a shoreline.

He was in a packed house where the roof had been torn open.

Offbeat, for sure.

One of my more memorable teaching moments was at a minor league baseball game in Central California.  I had discovered that the San Jose minor league was having a promotion, and what a promotion it was.  In a desperate attempt to fill their stadium, the team not only promised to give away $5,000 worth of prizes, they were literally giving away the admission tickets.  My whole high school class was going to an evening ball game for free.  I felt this would be a nice break from the routine of the classroom along with a chance to be able to sit and relax with the students and maybe chat.

Yes, we did have quite a few innings of chat.

No, it wasn’t the scenario I expected.

I must admit that the discussions we had weren’t that odd in themselves. During the first inning Daniel plopped down next to me and threw some Bible questions my way.  In the third inning Beth had a few questions about witnessing.  Steven came over in the sixth inning and had some private questions about dating.

As I said, it wasn’t the type of questions.  It was the scenario.

When we filed into the stadium, I was stunned to see that the place was virtually empty.  There were about a hundred people in the stands, total.  I had brought twenty or so teens.  “Hang onto your ticket stub,” I instructed them.  “The odds of some of you taking home prizes is probably the best you’ll ever get.”  Everyone sat and waited for the announcements between each half-inning.

Sure enough, the very first number called was a winning ticket in my group.  Tim stood up and crowed, then made a dash for the press box to claim his prize.  We were all breathless as he came back down, holding a box in his hand.  His face was oddly blank.

“You won, didn’t you?” asked Lisa.  “Well, what did you get?”

Tim held up the prize.  “I got kitchen drinking glasses. Cheap ones.” There, in the cardboard container he held, were six designed-work heavy-bottomed glasses that had a 1960s look.  They looked like you could have bought them from Big Lots for about two bucks.  I was stunned but didn’t say anything negative.  “Hey, they might be a nice gift for your mom,” I said.

Tim nodded and sat down, staring glumly at Lucy Ball-era drinking ware.

An inning later Larry won.  He came back with the cheapest flashlight I ever saw.  No batteries in it, either.  Chuck had to turn to keep from laughing.

And so it went the whole game.  Our kids were winning, but the gifts were so bad that we started cracking up.  A candy dish.  A poster of a waterfall. A pair of red-framed sunglasses.  The only thing of any value was a large stadium horn just like the vuvuzelas blown at the World Cup some years ago.  Our smallest and most hyper teen Lenny won this.  Great.  You could imagine that we would be treated to continual blasts next to our head all night.  That is exactly what happened.

As the innings wore on, the patience of my students wore thin, from a combination of poor baseball talent on the field, the cheap prizes from the press box, and Lenny’s stadium horn blasts in the stands.

“Teach, please make Lenny stop blowing the horn in my ears,” begged Calloway.  But I couldn’t find Lenny.  He would sneak up to a student, blast in their ear and then dash off across the stands.

“Um, Pastor Brad, Carl and Bill are being chased around the stands by another group of kids,” said Daniel.

“Why?” I asked.  “Is it a gang or something?”

“Well, no, not really,” explained Daniel slowly.  “Um, when the other kids were walking into the stadium, Carl and Bill leaned over the top of the stadium and poured Coke on them as they walked through the gates…”

Things were unraveling quickly.  It was the sixth inning and I was considering gathering the group and heading home when, as I said, Steven came over and sat next to me.  “Can … can I talk to you about something?”

“Sure, Steven, ” I said, looking away from the field.  “What do you want to talk about?”

He looked down.  “It’s about a girl… a girl in our class.” He was blushing furiously.  “I kind of like her… and I… well, what does the Bible say about dating?”

“Well, it doesn’t directly use the word,” I said, “but the examples are there.  It shows more the honor and joy of meeting the one you find very special.”

“Yes,” Steven nodded, watching a runner being thrown out at third.  “I was just reading about how Jacob loved Rachel and was willing to sacrifice years of his life in order to win her.  That’s a pretty deep emotion.”

“Do you remember Ruth and Boaz?” I asked.  “The man was kind.  Kindness is what rings true to me in that story.”

“So, if  I’m to talk to … this girl,” said Steven slowly, “you think I should…”


Lenny had snuck up and let loose a blast right in Steven’s ear.  It was so loud that  I  almost jumped out of my seat.

Within a split second Steven’s instinct set in.  In panic and anger, he lashed his arm straight back in the direction of the sound.  The back of his hand met with the bell of Lenny’s stadium horn before Lenny had time to withdraw.  I heard a crack and an “oof” behind me.  Steven had connected with a solid punch to the horn.  It was still up to Lenny’s lips, and the result to Lenny was the equivalent to getting hit in the mouth with a ball peen hammer smacked directly in the front two teeth.  Lenny dropped his horn and fell between the seats.

“Lenny, stop doing that!” yelled Steven.

“My mouf.  Yer hit my mouf,” Lenny was mumbling, clutching his face.  He pulled away his hand and I saw a perfect purple circle on his lips.  The horn’s mouthpiece made a circular indent that was already starting to swell.  I was amazed that there was no blood or no loss of teeth, but Lenny was staggering in the aisle.

“Pastor Brad, help!” I heard Carl and Bill yell as they darted into a tunnel while two Coke-soaked teenagers gave pursuit.

“Pastor Brad, I dropped my kitchen glasses and they all broke,” said Tim.

“He did it on purpose, I saw him, “said Lisa.

“Larry hit me with his stupid cheap flashlight,” whined Melody.

Offbeat Class time was over.

“Okay, ladies and gentlemen,” I said.  “Let’s load everyone up.  Meet me at Gate 3 in five minutes.  Gather everybody and tell them.”  I leaned over to Steven.  “We’ll have that talk later, okay?”

Steven managed a grin.  “Sure.  Back at school.” And we did later that week, while we strolled the back lawn during lunch break.

And that, my friend, is both the beauty and the mystery of a unprepared teachable moment to a Bible teacher.  They can be on a back lawn,  in a baseball stadium, in a camp kitchen or at a school desk.  The lesson I have learned is that the impact is greatest if you do not force it, but when you see an oddball moment coming, by all means take advantage of the opportunity.  God is giving you a classroom moment.

I used the ride home from the ball game for some other offbeat teaching moments.  I saw the result of them the next week.

Steven showed me that he could be kind, that he had learned to be a gentleman to his high school crush.

Carl and Bill showed me a more subdued spirit, that they had learned that if you agitate a situation, you had better be prepared for the consequences.

Lenny painfully showed me two large purple-blue lips, that he had learned that blowing a stadium horn in someone’s ear is not exactly a smart thing to do.

I love offbeat teachable moments.

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