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Holy Land Trip 2018: Day 1

1Bonjour, mon ami.

It is 6 a.m. I am greeted this morning by a a group of quietly smiling elderly tourists in the dining area of the Couvent des Religieuses de Nazareth, a spartan but clean and well-run  hospice for travelers in the Holy Land.  I am nursing a coffee while trying to suppress a raging headache; the humidity change has wreaked havoc on my sinuses and I am praying this does not turn into a migraine before we step into the bus today; we have a full schedule today, starting with Megiddo.

It’s dry on that mound, brother.  Really dry.  Perhaps I can get some sinus relief.

But hey, this trip is fantastic.

This is my second visit to Israel and it is no less exciting – well, satisfying might be a better and deeper word.  Last year was a combination of delighted surprise and near-reverential awe at each stop; this year’s travels take me past from the first-look stammering.   As Dr. Hudson so aptly related last year:  “It’ll be like trying to drink out of a full-blasting fire hose.”  So true last year.  This week, I have a better ”map” idea of the region as well and a leg up on the fundamental historical facts of most of the sites. Things are connecting in their relationships to one another throughout history.

Caesarea was our main stop yesterday, a beautiful settlement along the Mediterranean Sea.  Caesarea Maritima – not to be confused with Caesarea Philippi – was the retreat for Herod as well as the timeshare for Pilate.  Paul took a ship from this very same bay.  The remains of the dock are a testimony to its former magnificence. What a way to start the week’s tour!  It’s almost like stepping into Disney World and getting immediate access to the Matterhorn – you’re jumping right into the excitement.  Dr. Don Hudson has the whole expedition down to a science, walking and explaining at every column, statue, archway and stairway.  This is the world of Herod the Great and his remarkable building achievements.  The glory of the past can be seen even today as you climb into the center of the 3500-seating-capacity Theater and view the remaining walls of the breakwater to the ancient docks.  I fully admit that Herod was a despicable character – and history rightfully portrays him as the ruthless killer that he was, even in trying to kill the infant Jesus – but within his scheming for power and glory was an eye for architecture and planning that still amazes today.

We walked along the Hippodrome and tried to imagine the spectator’s views in this stadium (hippo is the Greek word for “horse”.)  “I like the architecture,”  said Art.  “I have a relative who was a stone mason, and the creation of the design of these many buildings intrigues me.”  Chariot races were the rage, and sadly so, so were gladiator fighting between enslaved Jews.  There may have even been a slaughter of hundreds of Hebrews in this site after the Jewish revolt of 66 A.D.  Herod was a monster but he also knew how to please the aesthetic eye.  The various designs along the walkways and in the sides of the sarcophagi show an eye for intimate detail.  Yes, we actually saw sarcophagi (plural of “sarcophagus” – they are stone coffins) that were unearthed and put on display.  Each one bore an inscription of the deceased and a few were adorned with artwork of a deity.  One inscription actually finishes with the phrase that translates roughly to  ”… he died.  Such is life.”

Good way for us to view Caesarea.   I am reminded of the genealogy lists in the Scriptures.  Each phrase finishes with “…and he died.”   With all of the greatness or not-so-greatness of the individuals noted, each ends with the same reality:  “…and he died.”  We are all mortal.

We look at the impressive built-for-eternity sites of stone and note very clearly that there is a reason why we call them ruins.  Live forever?  They didn’t even make it past two thousand years.  Whether by erosion, earthquake or aggressive conquest, these magnificent structures had a very short shelf-life.  We are also reminded that the very powerful potentate Herod died miserably of a bubbling gastro-intestinal disease.  He also had gangrene on a part of him I’m not going to discuss.

“…and he died.”  Won’t we all?  Have we committed to any investment of the eternal future?

In addition to mortality, I am reminded of what a monument really is.

In America we don’t really have it down on monuments.  We create memorials that are recent and ready for renovation at any time.  If a structure is more than fifty years old, we raze it for a newer and better building.  This trip reminds us of the deeper time stamp of mankind. The first day told me that this Israel is a land for the ages but it ultimately reminds me of the King of the Ages, the Ancient of Days.  The Herods of history couldn’t stop him and the Neros of history could not halt His followers.  Our trek through the past gives me an even deeper appreciation of the future.  For me, traveling the Holy Land is viewing the past as history and as the future with hope.

You’ll see what I mean as you view our videos, pictures and blogs during the course of this week.

Day 27: He walked up to my desk, extremely upset…

1Luke 19: Tuesday of the final week of Jesus’ Earthly life.  He came to the Temple on Monday in the midst of great fanfare by the people, but Christ ignored the crowd enough to personally witness the corruption in the courtyard of this magnificent place of worship.   Corrupt money-changers, sneaky priests, business dealings within a stone’s throw of the Holy of Holies…

The next morning, Jesus came back, and He meant to deal with this.  Oh, and did He ever:

“He entered the temple and began to cast out those who were selling, saying to them, ‘It is written, “And My house shall be a house of prayer,” but you have made it a robber’s den.’ ” 

However, He then changed gears and did something we often overlook in this passage:

“He then began teaching daily in the temple, with … all the people hanging upon His words.”

Wait.  What?

Hanging on His words?”

Yes.  That’s not a trick choice of words to be artsy with the language.  In the Koine Greek it says exactly this:

ek-kre’-mä-mäi   Definition:  “To listen so closely so as to hang upon the lips of a speaker.”

Jesus was not telling enjoyable stories about His childhood or a funny thing that happened on the way to the synagogue when He was a teenager.  He was getting to the heart of the matter.  He was showing in His words that He was God’s true King and Son, the long-awaited Messiah.  

He did not arrive and try to whip up the crowd to fight the Roman army’s Fort Antonia, nor did He go after the house of Pilate.  He didn’t even mention the Romans at all. 

He openly condemned the religion of the day.  He totally dismantled the idea of following a pedantic liturgical walk; rather He pointed fervently to the true worship of the Lord God.

Stunning words.  Shocking words.

True words.

Just as He had said in John 4, as He spoke to the Samaritan woman: “God seeks true worshipers who worship Him in Spirit and in truth.”

The people were thrown.

And …

… they loved it.  They hung on every word.

Popular opinion?  Of course not.  It would foment the leaders of the day into violence.

Necessary words?  Of course.  The people needed to see the Light.

In class this week, we had talked about sin and the danger of Hell.  It was not a pleasant lesson, but we became very Scripture-intensive.

As class ended, the sophomore young man sitting in the back came up and cracked his knuckles on my desk.  He was not smiling.

“I’ve been needing to hear this,” he said.  “I have been wondering about this for some time and I …. well, I really needed to hear this.”  He promptly turned on his heel and headed out into the hallway.

It’s not the stories. It’s not the emotions.  It’s the true, powerful Scripture of the Truth.

May we get a spiritual grip and hang on every word of this sacred Book.

Day 26: “Would you just shut up!”



As soon as I walked in the door of the building, there was a young man – a former student – standing and waiting to talk with me in my classroom before school officially opened.  Alan is in college right now, but his life’s goal is to become a missionary.  He came in, sat down, and shared his heart on the various mission fields he is exploring.  “I am not sure,” Alan said.  “I have been to Honduras and I’ve seen a great work done there, but my heart seems to be turning me toward Russia or China …”

What a great way for a Bible teacher to start the day.

Two other young people piled in as soon as Alan had left.  Mind you, school had not started yet, but they bounded in the room grinning like Cheshire cats.  Kevin and Lori plopped down in nearby desks and gushed out how on Sunday their pastor had been teaching on angels – “The exact same stuff you were teaching in class last week!” exclaimed Kevin.  “The six-winged angels of the book of Isaiah -”

“- and he went a bit into the book of Ezekiel and those angels as well,” interrupted Lori.  “We were right on top of the whole subject.  I mean, we knew the stuff even before he was teaching it!”

Oh, yeah, I was having a great morning start.

Even better – later on, a parent sat in on one of my classes to observe.  She even brought in candy for the kids.

Oh, the days have been filled to the brim, and not just with busy-ness.   We have been in deep discussions about angels, Heaven, God the Father, Jesus’ dominion over demons…

… and debates.

I take on the whole class.

My former students who are reading this blog know that this has happened in my classroom over numerous years, and once again we had the same scenario in more than one class last week.  Each year as I debate my students, I play the part of an atheist, cult member or non-Believer while my students  – the whole collection of pupils in the room – will play the part of the Believer.  They may use their notes, their Bible and access to a computer in order to be knowledgeable in their discourse.

When I announced that we would have a debate later in the class, I had a young man boast to his colleagues.  “I’ve got this.  I know just how to beat him –  he won’t stand up,” he grinned.  I merely finished tapping on the keyboard, entering attendance and listening to his continual bragging. I wondered how he would hold up…

…it didn’t take long in the debate for me to realize that he couldn’t.  His idea was that a multiplicity of words would be good enough for a debate. In other words, if you just kept talking and didn’t breathe, you would win your point.  He soon discovered that a voluminous vocabulary doesn’t replace the value of each word put forth.

Choose your words.  Line up your thoughts.  Measure your communication, especially in such a serious subject as belief in Christ.  Arguing for argument’s sake is fruitless.

On Sunday in our church service, our pastor Bobby McCoy read about the very same problems from the tenth chapter of Ecclesiastes:

Yet the fool multiplies words. No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him? The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city.

I was never very good at math.  Oh, I get by, but you would never consider me an Archimedes or Fibonacci.   I did like multiplication, though; there is something about aligning those numbers in columns and getting a neat, precise answer that I enjoyed.

However, that Bible passage warns me about multiplying my words just to line them up.

I don’t simply want to gush words – I want each phrase and sentence to have deep Jesus-led meaning.

This brings to mind the memory of a parent, not a student, of over twenty years ago.

I was an interim pastor as well as a school chaplain in another school and had the good fortune to enjoy acquaintances with many families.  One particular father,  however, was a challenge at every meeting. And I mean every meeting, whether after school or in a fast food joint.

Simply put, the man did not know how to stop talking.

I am not going to bore you with details, but I will tell you with no fear of contradiction that “Barry” would talk for twenty minutes straight without taking a breath.

Well, he would take a breath but it was actually a phrase:  “But, uh…”

It was torturous in a group, as folks who were caught would quietly sigh and resign themselves to his monologue.  Someone in the group would try to say their good-byes but could not politely interject, because at the end of a sentence Barry would say “But, uh…” and launch quickly into another subject.

People would try to drop hints to him but he was clueless.  “But, uh…”

Families would hide when he would approach after church services:  they wanted to try to make Sunday afternoon restaurants before they closed.

I tried to talk with him about it but he could not see that he was a gush-talker.

He filled up every available second with his voice, and it didn’t take long before I realized that Barry was in a sincere panic that if he paused for even a second, someone else would step in an rip the conversation away, which he felt was his own to have and to hold.  The sad fact was that none of the conversations had any depth.

Even to the day that we moved away from that little town I was in danger of not leaving on time.  Barry had one more monologue to spill.

It has been a deep lesson burned into my memory.  I constantly watch for the danger of multiplying my words into a conversational mush that would be fruitless in the classroom.

In the debates, lectures and discussions, I remind myself of a little poem I heard years back:

fill my mouth with worthwhile stuff,

and nudge me when I’ve said enough.




Day 25: This amnesia led to disaster

1“Absent-minded” is a very good term that describes me.  I am not proud of it, but the description suits me well.  Last year I lost all of my keys.  Last week I left a twenty-dollar bill sitting in the Wal-Mart self-checkout machine right after I had requested it.  Years back at another school, I walked into the teacher’s lounge and started to eat my lunch, forgetting I had a class sitting in the room, waiting for me. Even in this past week – after years of teaching in this very same time/class schedule – in the middle of teaching I have asked the students to remind me when the class is over.

I am forgetful.

But you know, no matter how many pens I misplace or phone chargers I lose, I always seem to remember to eat lunch.  Or the directions to go home to see my family after school.


Because those things are essential.

Which brings me to a problem I’ve noticed as a teacher.  One of the greatest puzzles to me in these past months is the amnesiac parents and students I’ve run into.

A good example of this is “Vince”.

Just in this past week I was talking to Vince about a very serious spiritual step in his life. I asked him if he considered getting a spiritual mentor at his church.

“Well, I don’t go to church,” he told me.  “People really bother me so I just don’t go.”

Then there’s “Sandra”.

Sandra had come to me for Biblical guidance.  I asked her if her youth group was a help in her growth.

“Well,” she said, “I really don’t have a church that I go to.  My parents haven’t really found a church they like…”

“Oh, so you’re searching?” I asked.

“Yes, you could say that…”  she responded.

“You’ve all been going to different churches each week, kind of ‘testing them out’?” I asked.

“Well… we really haven’t even gone for a while…” Sandra responded.

I asked,” How long since you’ve gone?”

She shrugged.  “Almost two years now…”

Two years?

Two years?

I don’t get this.  Sandra’s family is a Christian family.  The folks are paying tuition for their child to get a Christian education.  They truly want to raise a solid Believer.  Yet Dad and Mom sit home on the weekends and refuse to get spiritual guidance so desperately needed in today’s world.

This is more than forgetting your keys, folks.  This is seriously wrong. I am talking to Christian families:  Getting into a church for spiritual guidance is essential.

And don’t give me the hackneyed line of not liking “organized religion”.  It’s a tired excuse that both you and I know is weak.  We’re talking about forging a family relationship with God, so stop juggling semantics; your children’s spiritual growth is at risk.

Students need to be fed from a spiritual authority and be in submission to God’s teaching – and that’s more than getting it from an old guy like me in a classroom setting.

The Bible backs this up, with the example of the Savior Himself.  Jesus said for spiritual leaders to “tend” (boskō), and that special word is best translated “to feed.”  Families need to be willing to sit under a learned spiritual authority and get spiritually fed – oh, man, have we run into serious Biblical anemia among Christian families due to an unwillingness to be fed!

The proper Bible church has leadership that is committed to shepherding the flock.  The word “shepherd” is poimainō and gives a pretty powerful illustration of the whole package of caring for the congregation’s members, each and every one. The shepherd will not stoop to telling only stories people want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3-4), but will follow the dictates of 2 Timothy 2 in helping his people understand the truth of the word and 2 Timothy 3 in correct living and even training in being righteous.

I had a friend who had to get a rebuilt engine in his car.  Seems he didn’t realize that you had to put oil in the motor.  I am not making this up – he never put oil in his brand new car.  It didn’t seem necessary to him … and the result was that his ignorance led to a disaster on the road.

The same holds true to the families that don’t feel that the sincere and submissive worship of a holy God is necessary.  The lack of worship and teaching is a road leading to disaster.  Just come and talk to me and I can tell you of many students whose Christian lives fell to ruin, mostly due to parents who relegated Godly worship and instruction to an unnecessary bother.

Christian parents and students, you might be absent-minded in some of life’s small things, but you cannot forget the essentials.

If you’ve truly given your life over to Christ and want God to direct your steps every day, why have you conveniently forgotten this important part of the Believer’s life?

Please don’t put all of the responsibility on Room 129.  You’re not being fair.



Day 24: Let me confess – I am being ignored

1“Wait – I don’t understand.  Am I a raccoon or a skunk?” asked an exasperated Trevor, throwing his hands in the air.  The rest of the class roared.  It was Friday and the winning class of the month – “Zeta Chi” is their name – beat out the other teams including Phi Beta and Omega Rho in academic and game competition in order to win the right for an in-class party.  There were chips and salsa and cake – and games.  We were playing “Animal Whomp” and the students were shouting, laughing and running across the room.  I was the “umpire” of the game, but in reality I introduced the game, explained the rules, and got out of the way. The result was hilarious and I truly wish I would have taken some pictures.  Some of the responses were priceless.  “Giraffe” forgot the rules and went into  brain freeze.  “Zebra” slipped and fell off his chair.  “Collie” kept tricking “Groundhog” into so many wrong answers that it seemed like we would never see him out of the penalty box.

The students were having a great time on their own.  I could have left the room completely and they would have had no idea.

I am being ignored.

Oh, that’s not the only time. It’s been happening all month.

Take, for example, just this week.  I had been teaching on Angelology.  “Now, how many wings are angels supposed to have?” I asked.

“Well, two, of course,” said Amy, shrugging.

“Okay, then,” I said, “then look up Ezekiel chapter one in the First Testament and tell me how many wings those heavenly creatures have.”  The students opened up their Bible apps and searched.

“Whoa,” said Nicholas, pointing and nodding to Alec.  “They have four wings … and, and and … four faces!”

“Get out of here,” said Alec.

“Look for yourself,” said Nicholas.

As they chattered among themselves I called above the din.  “Now look at Isaiah chapter six  and let me know how many wings the special angels called seraphim have.”

Heather found the passage first.  She shook her head.  “Six wings.”  There were more comments between the rows.

The students were shuffling pages or scrolling through their Bible apps, exclaiming to each other and raising eyebrows in response.  They forgot all about me.

I am totally okay with that.

I had learned years ago the principle of going anonymous.

In my early career when I was in radio broadcasting, I read On the Road,  a great book from veteran CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt.  In it, he spoke harshly of reporters who felt they had to squeeze their personality into a good story because they wanted to inflate their presence.  He mentioned situations where reporters would ride tricycles across the television screen or do other antics in order to “make a name for themselves.”

Let the story be the story,” he wrote.  “Report it and stay out of it.”

That’s really the way teaching should be.  The subject matter should carry itself.  Especially in Bible.

Yesterday in a school assembly we members of the Bible staff were put onstage to field questions that students had written to get answers to spiritual things puzzling them.  I glanced across the audience as various colleagues of mine gave Biblical responses.  I saw the eyes of the students taking in the Scripture.  It’s especially at this point that you realize that the students could care less of the personality of the teacher; they want to get an answer.  Well, the same goes in the daily Bible class.

The less the students notice me, the better the message.

Jesus is the center of the classroom, not Brad Zockoll. Ten, twenty, fifty years from now, the most important remembrance is not whether they recalled my personality, but whether they learned and embraced the Christ of the Bible in His glory.

Stephen, a junior, walked by me as I was shuffling papers at my desk.  “You may want to know,” he said, “that there was a table at lunch that was pretty loud.  They were arguing over the John 15 passage that you had taught in your class.  A pretty powerful debate going on, there.”

Not one mention of me.

I love it.


Day 23: When a student finally “gets it”


I must rush through this this morning.  I am grading over two dozen papers and must get ready for a Parents Night tonight while also transferring grades over to RenWeb from Moodle, all while organizing the Holy Land Trip’s last minute details and answering emails from students about upcoming assignments.

Treacherously busy time.

But, oh, believe me, I am not complaining.

I might be rushed, but I am a happy teacher today.

My student “Sarah” had a breakthrough yesterday.

Yes, she did.  She indeed, did, brothers and sisters.

For two years I have had a particular student deep in my heart and prayers.  From the first time she walked into my room, it was obvious that Sarah was hurting, and she showed in a most unusual way: by being loud, and I mean 18-wheeler-diesel-horn loud.  She blurted out every statement in a volume that was surprising – even her classmates would wince at the sheer loudness of it all.  As she talked (shouted) everything between class it was evident that she was thirsting for attention, whether positive or negative.  When class started, her eyes would flit about, looking for any distraction in the room, especially if she could gain the attention of another student – any student – for even a moment’s time.  Her inattentiveness had led her to more than one confrontation and even discipline from me for which she has been submissive.  She is physically in the class and is not openly disrespectful but – you teachers know what I mean – she mentally and especially spiritually just has not been getting it.   Not grasping the truths of the Bible.  Playing for the grade and not the purpose.  Not really realizing the impact of these doctrines.

Grade-wise, she’s been getting by with a low B and occasionally a B minus, but that’s not the point, you know.  I grieve when I realize that she’s been in Bible class for a second year – last year in First Testament Survey and this year in Bible Doctrines  – and has not come near the realization of the Spirit-led content nor of the joy of Christ or the glory of God.  She seemed, well, hollow all of these months.

But not yesterday, my friends.

“We are going to be heading to the mysterious and fascinating subject of Angelology,” I said.  “Let’s study angels, God’s messengers.”

I heard a squeal.

It was a squeal of delight.

It was Sarah.  I turned and saw her grinning from ear to ear.  “Oh, I love this,” she burst out.  She zoned in on the screen, chuckling to herself.  She opened up her Bible and raised her hand on every occasion to read Scripture aloud. Her eyes were fixed on the PowerPoint when there was a new fact or reference.  She was typing in notes at blazing speed.  She even pulled up notes from last year’s study of First Testament angel appearances…

…all the while grinning like a Cheshire cat.  Sarah was in her element; she really dug in and put down every word.  She was fully engaged.

I was trying my best to remain professional, but I must admit, I was as tickled as she was.  I headed to lunch grinning myself.

I saw her in the lunch line and patted her back.  “You really shone today, miss,” I said.  “All star performance, Sarah.”

She grinned.  “I am really loving this class.”


God;’s glory can be seen in so many different ways that we can see and appreciate.  Will you understand me and say that yesterday’s event with Sarah was a definite display of God’s glory and power right in Room 129?  He took a previously shell-hard young lady and melted away the exterior of indifference.  It was definitely a God-event.  I believe we’ll see more of His wonders today and in the coming days with Sarah.

He has caused his wonders to be remembered – Psalm 111:4


Day 22: “We are broadcasting live…”



We went on the air yesterday.  Some of you may have received a Facebook notice in the middle of your work day about what we were doing here in Room 129.

I had a special group of techie teens in my room in the afternoon to help work on the electronic hurdles of the Holy Land trip I will be taking in a little less than three weeks.  It’s hard to believe, but for the second year I’m going to be treading the historic land of Jesus for ten days.  I’m going to visit the regions of John the Baptist, Joshua, Abraham, David, and even Herod and Caiaphas.

This is the Bible in real-time.  I want to make this a living classroom experience, but I needed help in preparation.  My students came to the rescue.

The classroom was buzzing with energy. We had papers, laptops, and even a Go Pro camera spread across the classroom.  Six students bent over their work with the diligence of an Apollo moonshot; in fact, we even called the room our Houston Space Center for part of the afternoon when we launched the project.

I will be joining Dr. Don Hudson of King University in a teaching venture across Palestine.  Our flight is on September 28th, so starting on the 29th we will be broadcasting via Facebook Live up through October 9th as we enter sites like Bethlehem, Masada, Megiddo, and Capernaum.  If you tune in we will show you – live – all over the Holy Land; you’ll see the dinner of St. Peter’s fish while we are at a restaurant at the Sea of Galilee, the site of the Capernaum synagogue healing by Jesus, a trek through Hezekiah’s Tunnel… well, you’ll get to see numerous sites.

But back to the classroom…

Steve was sketching the hour-by-hour schedule across the whiteboard and calculating the time difference between Jerusalem and Knoxville so that the classes would know exactly up-to-the-minute where we were during the trip. Alec had spread the parts of a used Go Pro camera I had purchased across a table and was taking an inventory of the batteries, boxes and lens parts, patiently explaining each part to me. Susan was writing a report on Megiddo for a website column. Tanya and Mary were creating a Holy Land Facebook page exclusively for this trip – I will be sending out the location so that you might follow us if you wish.

In a sense, you will be able to take the trip in real time as we broadcast.  There is a seven-hour difference between Knoxville and Israel (ex: if it is noon here in Knoxville, it is 7 p.m. in Jerusalem – the whole nation is in one time zone).  We will be travelling to numerous places each day – I mean we will really be all over the place. If you take a look below, you can see how small Israel is compared to some of our states:1



This “compacted region” is a great advantage for our little tour/research group.  We are going to be motoring all over the country and filming numerous times during the day, saving much of our videos in an archive for future editing for textbook work.

“Okay, everybody put down your work,” I said.  “It’s time for a test broadcast.”  The techies all grabbed their phones.  “Nate, head to the football field and see if the broadcast comes in clear on your phone.  Susan, stay here at Mission Control and use your laptop.  Tanya, take the cafeteria area.  Alec, head to the Theater Room…”  We spread out across the campus, ready to start in T minus two minutes…

I walked through the corridors of the school.  “Good afternoon, this is Dr. Brad Zockoll and we are broadcasting live from the hallways of Grace Christian Academy…”

It went off without a hitch.  In fact, we received responses from some friends around the country, quite by mistake – I didn’t realize that everybody on my Facebook friends were being notified.   We received texts from across Knoxville, from eastern Texas, central California, and I believe Dr. Hudson, stationed in Israel, was viewing our practice run.

So now we are ready.

I invite you to view our Holy Land trip as I venture through Caesarea, across Capernaum, into Nazareth, and on the Mount of Olives.  Type in questions as we visit the Bethlehem birthplace of Jesus and the Garden of Gethsemane.  Text your queries – live – as we wade through the Dead Sea, walk through Jericho, and stand at the top of Megiddo and look across the Plain of Esdraelon.

We are trying to make this as much of a living textbook as possible.

I must run to my next class.  I will keep in touch on our progress.

Please pray about this project.  My desire is for my students to study the Bible lands in a whole new way.


Day 21: Random and exhausted thoughts from the middle of the week

I’1m pretty worn out today so I will just bullet-point my  random thoughts after a good, full day in the classroom.  They’re not deep, but you may find them entertaining:

  • I’m not saying I’m behind in my list of things to do including cleaning the car, but as I climbed out of my ’92 Jeep Wagoneer I noticed that the floor behind the passenger seat had a handful of Cheerios sprinkled on the mat.  I haven’t had anyone with Cheerios in the back seat of my car for at least three months.  Come to think of it, I can’t remember anyone with Cheerios entering my car within the last year.
  • Speaking of lagging in my to-do list: today brought to mind a phrase I remember from the old Amish Country up in Pennsylvania:  “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”  I think I will have that engraved on my thumbnail.
  • One of our teachers was taken seriously ill last week.  The continued burden and compassion of the student body leaves a deep impression on me.  Numerous students are grieved and praying for the recovery of their dear teacher and our cherished colleague.
  • Today’s discussion in the afternoon’s Bible class on Heaven was great, just great.  I received so many in-class questions about this subject that we had to skip a second part of the study and almost ran out of class time altogether.
  • I walked into my afternoon classroom to find our German foreign exchange student in a happy, swirling-hop-jump-spin giddy dance for the sheer enjoyment of it and the entertainment of her two quiet friends.  Greta’s face was priceless when she spun around and saw me enter the room;  “sheer embarrassment” would be the phrase.   Her two friends fell over laughing.
  • The after-school Teacher’s Training was on how to refresh our knowledge and ability on Moodle.  Moodle is a specialized tool for teachers that involves knowing more than how to put animated gifs on a Powerpoint, so I’m in trouble.  It must be hilarious to witness someone like me try to keep up with this technology.  It’s sort of the equivalent of trying to teach Mixed Martial Arts to Captain Kangaroo.
  • I heard Christmas music today.  I actually did.  It’s still 85 degrees here in Tennessee with 80 percent humidity and I heard a song with sleigh bells.  I am losing my mind.
  • I finished a personal study on the Pharisees.  I am amazed at the Mafia-type control they had over the religious world of their day.  To think – they started off as a sincere “back to the Bible” grassroots rebellion to the elite and snobbish arrogance of the hoity-toity Sadducees.  Power destroys.
  • One of the most intense questions today about Heaven was “will we be allowed to eat meat in Heaven?”  The subject quickly turned to BBQ.
  • When you get my age, hair grows everywhere but on the scalp.  It finds new places to grow, and it grows with a flourish and I mean thick.  You ought to hear whenever I used the battery-powered nose-hair trimmer this morning.  It sounded like I was edging my nostrils with an electric Weed Eater.
  •  One of my former students dropped me an email from her college and sent me an e-mail I will long remember.  In it she included a cherished line:  Thank you for investing in my life.

    Oh, my.

    Thank you, Camryn.

    And thank You, Lord.

Day 20: Snake handling and other classroom oddities

1I am spending the evenings preparing for my second Holy Land trip; we are less than a month away.  The school has graciously allowed me to take about five days off prior to our Fall Break  and I want to return the favor by making this a powerful in-the-classroom experience.  This year’s trip has a special bonus for my young scholars:  Dr. Don Hudson and I will be “broadcasting live” back to my classroom in order to show the students the Bible places in real time.  This is a pretty big project in figuring out time zones and the electronic technology needed but I think we may have it down.  It is hard for me to fathom the fact that I can actually be using a phone or camera to show my students sites like Masada, Megiddo and the Western “Wailing” Wall as I stand next to them.  Dr. Hudson of King University has the in-depth knowledge to make these places have a deeper meaning than if I were to merely show a wide-angle shot and wave to the crowd.  We want to be able to teach online all the way back to the screens in my homeroom.  There’s a seven-hour difference between Knoxville, Tennessee and Jerusalem, so we’re now doing a pretty detailed time-table dance so that each of my classes gets to be a part of this live international broadcast.

As for right now, though, I am in the class and as usual, things aren’t usual.

I am intrigued by one student who writes all of her notes – every line and subject – in different colors with special felt pens.  I mean, each paragraph is a different hue.  I can see the notes from across the room.  “Patti” claims it helps her study skills, and so, hey,  I am all for it.  I must admit that it’s a thing of beauty; I feel like we should be custom- framing her Ouranology notes and hanging them in an art gallery.

Then right before class starts I am entertained by another student  – “Jenny” – who gobbles down those little yellow marine crackers called “whales”.  I am not one to judge, due to my Cheez-It addiction, but I do find it quietly hilarious that this little petite girl wolfs – absolutely gorges –  them down between classes and barks madly at anyone who tries to take any of her precious whale cracker snack. Even one.  The girl’s a beast.

Another reason the week is unusual is because the juniors and seniors are off on a retreat in order to get some time away to concentrate on their walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.  The hallways are much quieter but this is a good thing, knowing what is going on at their camp. Many a year the group has returned and “been on fire” for a week or so before the temperature drops and things go back to a dull spiritual routine.  On campus, we are praying that this does not happen – we look for the older ones to be a strong spiritual guide throughout the rest of the school year, helping the younger and weaker in the faith.   It is odd, though, in some of my classes, because I am looking at one or two students, since the rest of the group is gone.  Sitting here in Psychology and staring across the room at a lone sophomore who is gulping nervously at the thought that I will lecture to him and him alone is a study in psychology itself.  Don’t be alarmed; I am making it a temporary study hall and allowing the student to work on homework.

My grading is unusual as well, as you see the picture above.  I am grading the students’ quizzes (this one on the doctrine of sin) which are on 3 by 5 inch cards.  That’s right; we’ve gone back to the stone age in my class.  I have found out that the problem of what universities are calling “fractured learning” is too much of a problem whenever the laptops are open.  “Fractured learning” means that a pupil is breaking down the learning process because of the lure of the screen:  texting messages, emails and other possibilities through surfing divide or “fracture” the learner’s attention.  I am being told that many colleges are not allowing laptop or phones in their classrooms due to this growing problem.  I am not sure how many universities align with this, but I know it is working for me.  Notes and quizzes are all relegated to 3 x 5′ cards, and the notes can be transferred at the final minutes of class.  The discussion and retention seems to be markedly better so far.

I just found out that one of my students is related to the Baseball Hall of Famer and current Minnesota Twins manager Paul Moliter.

But perhaps the most unusual thing I learned this week is from my sophomore Austin – and I have asked him permission to tell you this story.   Austin seated himself before the class started and quietly asked me a question with his unique Southern drawl:

“How do you feel about snake handling – you know, like in churches, during services?”

“You are talking about the practice based upon the passage in Mark 16, Austin?” I asked.

He shook his head.

I leaned against the desk and scratched my head.  “Well, let’s see.  If I have my history correct, that church practice in deep-woods Tennessee started in the early 1900s with a man I believe was called ‘Little George’ Hensley…”

Austin nodded and grinned slowly.

I stopped.  It was just the way Austin grinned at me.

“And George Hensley became one of the most famous Appalachian preachers of his day from carrying around timber rattlers and cottonmouths while speaking… and …  say, Austin.   Are you related to him?”

Austin’s smile widened.  “Yeah. He’s a great uncle or a great grandfather, but I don’t know which for sure, but yes, I am related to him, all right…”


You know this would be in my class.

The young man who is a relation to the Hall of Famer is nice enough.  The whale-eating girl is strange indeed but of all of these unusual ones I think I need to keep an eye on Austin.

…and let me tell you, when it comes time for our Bible speech presentations next months, if Austin brings in a rattler for extra credit, I’m personally and instantly going to make a new doorway exit from my classroom.  Right through the bricks, brother.




Day 19: Guess when the prize is given

1The juniors and seniors are off-campus at a retreat, so the GCA population is half of what it would usually be.  For some reason, this elicits more conversation among the sophomores in class; I believe it is because technically they are the oldest on campus and they seem to have more of a thoughtful way about them.  It’s good, because today we hit the post-Labor Day schedule pretty hard.  I am trying to get my students to zero in on some very important points in the area of Ouranology: the doctrine of Heaven.  We were talking about Christ’s discourse on Heaven today in Bible doctrines class.  Bill read aloud the “lunch passage” in Luke 14 where the Pharisees – while eating lunch – were being schooled by Jesus about who was really heading to Heaven.

Bill cleared his throat and read Luke 14, verses 15-24.

“When one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Him, ‘Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.’  But Jesus said to him, ‘A man was giving a feast and invited many.  And at the dinner hour he sent his slaves to say to those who had been invited, “Come for everything is ready now,” but they all alike began to make excuses.  

First one said to him, “I’ve bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it.  Please consider me excused.” 

Another one said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen and I’m going to try them out.  Please consider me excused.” 

Another one said, “I have married a wife and for that reason I cannot come.”  And the slave came back and reported this to his master.  

Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.”  Then the slave said, “Master, what you have commanded has been done and still there is room.”  

And the master said to the slave, “Go out into the highways and along the hedges and compel them to come in so that my house may be filled.  For I tell you none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.”’”

Anna chuckled at the thought that a man would use marriage as an excuse not to go to a huge feast.  Tom liked the idea of Jesus giving a story with a smack-in-the-mouth directness that left no stone unturned:  if you did not answer the invitation, you were totally left out.

“Note this,” I said, “that the feast was given no specific time to begin.  In those days, the event would not need an exact hour. In the slower-moving villages of those days the event was well-known in its eventual appearance.  People would be watching it grow in its creation and preparation.  They just had to be ready for it to be complete and obey the invitation.”

Before I continued with the next item of study I held up a bag of candy – along with a nice little sack of Cheez-Its.  “And now it is time for me to give away some goodies.   Look at my treasure here.”  Simon almost drooled; he was at a sugar low so late in the morning.

“Only the person or persons who can correctly guess at which time I will give this away will get the treats.  Write down the exact minute you think I will give this away.  If you are on the mark, you win.”  Everyone wrote down their guess.

Ten minutes later I held up the candy.  “It is 10:56 a.m.  and I am giving away the treasure.  Who had 10:56 a.m.?”   Carl and Meredith both tied, so I split the stash.

“You all took a guess at the reward time, but only two got it right,” I said.  “What is the parallel here?”

“That nobody really knows when the best treasure will occur,” said Andy.  “You know, when Jesus Christ comes back.  People will make excuses, but in the end, you gotta be ready.  Because nobody knows the time.”

He grinned.  I grinned back.

The message got through.



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