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One of the few times in my life when I was left speechless.

imageI drove to work last week in the early morning in my 1992 Jeep Cherokee with the coughing engine and the gas tank lid that’s held shut with a wadded piece of paper.  I pulled up in the school parking lot at 6:05 a.m. and looked out over the quiet empty campus.   How long have I been getting up at 5 a.m.?

I came into the classroom in the silence, turned on the lights, and wiped down the desks with a cloth sanitizer – we’ve been battling the flu on the campus.  I emptied the trash cans and sat down to a pile of quiz papers and essays to grade and realized how how many years  I had been in this classroom routine – was it now almost three decades?

Was it a routine?  I sat there and pondered this. Lord, is this making any difference in these teenagers’ lives?

You know, you get to wondering about your abilities sometimes.  I think all teachers come to a time of self-inspection, especially Bible teachers.  Are we making any kind of an impact?  Are we properly teaching God’s Word and ways?  This was one of those times for me.

At 7:55 students started shuffling in quietly before the first period was to begin.  Some were blinking and yawning, some rubbing their eyes and others glancing at an assignment they hadn’t yet done.

Soft-spoken Stefanie sat down at her desk nearby and turned toward me.

“I want to thank you,” she said abruptly.

“Well, that’s very nice,” I replied, “but why?”

“I want to thank you,” she responded quietly, “for teaching my brother.”

Quickly in my mind I recall that I had taught her brother Carl about three years ago.

“Because,” Stefanie continued, “when I was growing up, he would never talk to me at home.  He wouldn’t share with me – nothing.  He stayed away from me.  He ignored me all through my childhood –  just sort of tolerated me, but mostly disregarded me altogether.”

She shifted in her chair.

“But then when he was in your class he was taught the Greek word agape – the word about self-sacrificing love, the ‘giving’ love,” she paused for emphasis, “…and that changed him.  He realized that he hadn’t been loving.  He realized a lot of things that day, and one of them was to love me and be close to me.”

“And from that day on he’s been my brother.  And I want to thank you for teaching him.”

Very few times in my life have I been speechless.  I choked a bit and thanked her.

And I thank you, Jesus.  Thank you for this privilege of instruction to these wonderful young people.

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

I love being a teacher.

Probably my favorite memory in the ministry.

I stepped up to1a1 speak before sixty middle school children at a fall retreat.

“I want to talk to you about Heaven tonight,” I said, picking up the PowerPoint remote.  I pushed the button and a picture of a gorgeous white beach with clear water and curved palm trees lit up the room.

“Hey,” said Charlie.  “That looks like Hawaii.”

“Heaven will look like that?” asked Camryn, raising her eyebrows. “I thought Heaven was like … well, you know…”

“Like clouds and boring stuff, right?” I replied.  Some of the kids nodded their heads.  I continued.  “Like you may have heard that we will all have to be in one big praise service for thousands and thousands of years?”

“Yeah,” someone called out.

“Well, let me show you another picture,” I said, clicking on a picturesque village tucked away in a green valley in Norway.  “And you tell me if it looks like it’ll be boring.”

“Ooooooh,” said Charlie and Mark.  “Lookit that.”

“Oh, Heaven will be better than that, “ I said.  “Man made that little village.  God will make our village.   It’ll look better than this –“ I clicked on a Grand Canyon picture – “and this” – an Alaskan mountain range – “or this” – the Danube River. I ran through other slides of an Italian street festival, a New Year’s celebration, and a Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

The little eyes were taking it all in.

“In the book of Revelation it says there will be no more sickness or death,” I continued.

Whaaaat?” I heard someone murmur in the back.  Clearly this was news to them.

“No more sorrow, either,” I said.  “Or pain.  You can play football and never get hurt.”

Steven laughed delightedly.  I clicked through some more pictures.

“And Matthew chapter 8 talks about a feast that we’ll have.  And oh, the grand food that we’ll be able to eat!”  I ran through a maddening display of pictures of steaks, chicken, french fries, souffles, cakes, pies, and mounds of ice cream.  Randy clapped his hands and laughed.  He was from a broken home and lived in a decrepit trailer park.

I showed them the grandest castles of Europe.  “And Jesus said that God the Father has a mansion – a mansion, ladies and gentlemen – that has room enough for all of His children.”

The room was absolutely still.

“Because that’s the best part, you know?  Christians have a special treat waiting for them.  We’re going home to be with our Father.  Home. We’re going to sit down for some home-cooked meals … and you know what?  I looked up Luke chapter 12 and found a shocking thing.  Our very best friend in the whole universe – the One who sacrificed everything to make our Home possible – will actually seat us and serve us.”

I turned and looked at the picture on the screen – a huge country lodge dining hall loaded with smiling, laughing people of all colors, shapes and sizes.  They were happily passing plates of food along a long, candle-lit table.

“We’ll laugh and joke with Jesus.  We’ll thank Him and we’ll listen to Him.  And we won’t have to turn off the lights and go home.  We are home.  The fun will never stop.”

I turned around.  The kids were all standing.

Their eyes were shining.  They were grinning.

And they started cheering.

They started cheering.

That, my friends, is one of my favorite moments in the ministry.

TED talks? We had Mom’s DREAD talks.

1a1So I’m hearing all these people making comments about TED talks.  You’ve probably heard of these short speeches that convey ideas and wow an audience.  They’re supposed to be the most dynamic verbal presentations that mankind has ever encountered.

Phooey.  They’ve never heard my mom.

You have your TED talks.
We had Mom’s DREAD talks.

Hers weren’t onstage presentations, either.  They were in-the-kitchen orations that held us captive.  Truly captive.  And they weren’t short.

I’ve heard some TED talks, and I guess they have their place in promoting and directing the course of higher learning for the betterment of mankind and all that.  Mom’s DREAD talks, however, were superior.  Her deliveries were so much more powerful.  So much more dynamic.

So much more terrifying.

Allow me to illustrate the huge comparisons:

TED talks are scheduled according to the calendar, a tightly adhered-to schedule for each presentation.
Mom’s DREAD talks were spontaneous, mostly organized on the fly when we kids broke something or shamed the Zockoll family name somehow.

TED talks lean toward a positive shift of venturing into new horizons.
DREAD talks dealt with the negative shift of the penalty of us trespassing into the forbidden horizon of the McGlocklin’s fenced yard.

TED talks deal with the northward impact that technology can have in the distant future.
DREAD talks dealt with the southward impact our rear ends would get with a Fli-Back paddle in the immediate future.

TED talks are more conceptual, designed for the listener to walk away and ponder.
Nobody walked away during a DREAD talk and lived to tell about it.  And her talks weren’t conceptual either – hers usually ended with an impression that was far more than cerebral.

TED talks brags that they cover global issues — hey, Mom dealt with global issues as well.  She promised to knock us from here to Europe if we ever tried to pull a stunt like jumping off the porch roof again.

What an elementary school-age audience we were, the six of us.  Bruce, Gwen, Brent, Brad, Brian and Brock.  We stood in awe.  We stood in respect.  We stood because if we moved she’d go Godzilla on us.

Oh, don’t think we were innocent captives.  We brought on the DREAD talks with actions that invited dynamic rhetoric followed with bombastic conclusions.

  • Brent spitting out of the treehouse right on top of the head of neighbor Lorianne – that brought out the speech on Respect. And a paddling conclusion.
  • My attempt to make Pop Art by melting plastic remnants of our airplane models together, using kitchen matches. While lying on a wooden floor.  In probably the driest wood frame house in Pennsylvania.  That brought out a superb speech on Safety.  And the climax to the presentation was my reunion with the wooden spoon.  (Mom couldn’t find the Fli-Back paddle at the moment.)
  • Bruce’s experimentation into profanity introduced the message on Language. It also introduced Bruce to the taste of soap.
  • The full-house argument over which G.I. Joe won The Battle of the Front Stairs (which resulted in a shoving match and a round of excellent fisticuffs) brought on the DREAD talk on Fairness. And Sharing. And Go to Your Room and Think About It. For Four Hours.

 

My mother’s generation was not one for the social media and the glitter of the world stage, where people seek to register the response and popularity of their discourse. Mom couldn’t care less about how popular her speeches were.  No, Mom’s was more of the down-home straight-to-the-heart (i.e. jugular) message that portrayed a Life Lesson whether or not it was popular.  The message was more important than the messenger, and looking back, I liked that.

I also think we turned out okay.

I like the great Winston Churchill quote on public speaking:  If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”

Winston and my mom would have been very, very good friends.

 

 

 

 

 

Brad Zockoll

We Started an Underground Newspaper and Got Away with It

1a1To my students. I give the friendly notice that I am back in the classroom this morning, getting ready for your arrival on Monday as we start our second semester here at GCA.  The weather forecast calls for snow this morning, and as I glance out the window, I see that it is starting to come down.  They’re predicting up to three inches of snow this afternoon.  A regular blizzard, by Knoxville standards.

I’m in the classroom at this moment, taking a fifteen minute break from sweeping and pulling down any leftover Christmas ornaments.  I now realize how much we got into the holiday spirit here in Room 186 – at least fifteen strings of lights, two boxes of ornaments, three trees, a two-foot tall nutcracker, and even a plush Christmas Yoda.

I look forward to your arrival.  You’ve shown me a lot of creativity in your learning process, from your Bible essays to your New Testament speech presentations, and as we step into 2017, I am giving you some more opportunities to show your inventive ways.

As a middle schooler in Hershey, Pennsylvania, I remember when a teacher gave me a chance to express myself creatively.  For some reason I cannot remember, I approached the usually austere Mr. Byrd in our homeroom #236 class and asked him if I could start a classroom newspaper.  He raised an eyebrow at me, but then nodded and gave the go-ahead. Soon I was designing a one-page mimeographed copy of the newsletter with the wildly imaginative title of 236 News.  It contained just about everything but news about the room, however, because common sense tells you that if anything is news in a classroom of twenty-five kids, everybody knows about it.  This did not dissuade me in the least.  At first it started out as a pretty pedestrian affair – a few jokes here and there, a poem I looked up, maybe a quote from a classmate about a recent quiz or test – and it puttered along every week with no real excitement.  I clearly recall that none of it was typewritten, since I had no access to a typewriter.  It was a handwritten production, sloppy but reliable.

Yeah.  Reliably boring.  I seemed to be in a rut, but didn’t really have an incentive to take the next step, until…

I heard another homeroom was planning on creating their own newspaper.  I had to act fast, or I would get buried in mediocrity.

Ah.  I knew just where to go to find my artistic flair.

I collaborated with my older brothers Bruce and Brent – even though they had never stepped foot inside my classroom and had never met any of my classmates – and asked them to help me make the 236 News something different.

Man, did they make it different.

Fifteen year old Bruce had a growing artistic genius that was being recognized in the school system.  Emboldened by administrative recognition and numerous awards, he started branching out from pencil sketches of flower vases and pastoral settings to abstract art, including fantasy sci fi.

Brent started coming up with new ways to format the paper.  Expansion to a second page.  A survey on whether Batman could beat up Green Hornet.  A poll to decide how the Cookie Monster would stack up in an election against Nixon and Humphrey.

I let Bruce design and add drawings.  He went at it with a vengeance, draping the side columns with elaborate winged dragons and his own versions of Spiderman and Hulk racing across the masthead.  The new format shocked and delighted the kids.  Even Mr. Byrd – who for some reason never really liked me – had a grudging admiration for this off-the-wall production.

236 News was a hit.  We expanded to three pages. Then five.  Then six.  We were getting requests for copies from other classrooms, even teachers.  The rival classroom newspapers quietly folded.  Bruce, Brent and I would spend evenings at the kitchen table, inventing new ideas and weirder drawings.  Bruce even wrote a mini-novel and we serialized it.  Brent added a Scouting column that was greeted with enthusiasm; every one of our readers knew exactly what to do if attacked by a bear in the school parking lot.

When my family moved to Delaware in my junior high years, we brothers did it again.  It happened at an early-morning break time when I paid twenty-five cents for a dull-looking four-page newspaper.   I was reading the Delmar High School gazette ( I think it was called something like “The Wildcat News”) that featured stuff like the lunch menus, “Meet the Coach” and football schedules,when I realized that we could do it again.  One night, Brent and I pulled together a renegade newspaper and named it Cry From the Dungeon.  Bruce added his mind-boggling sketches.  We went right into underground news stuff like in-depth reports on which student had the most detentions, a cafeteria food fight first-person report, a freshman paper-airplane craze, and a study hall wastebasket-shooting Wadded Paperball League. We started a superhero comic strip called Captain Delmar (who battled his nemesis The Janitor).  We had a school-wide vote on the best professional ball players and the worst cafeteria food.

And we sold out every week.

For some unexplained reason, the school administration was okay with all of this.  The leadership allowed me to use an old funny-smelling mimeograph machine and even a ream of paper for us to keep Cry From the Dungeon going.  At my 25th class reunion one of my classmates brought out an old copy of CFTD and we all had a grand laugh.

I enjoyed the opportunity to push the creative bounds and I appreciated the encouragement I received to keep extending further.

Our little church youth group began giving us opportunities to do the same.  After I became a Christian, I realized that this abstract approach to things was even more exciting in the Christian realm!  From Bible studies to home prayer times, things were fun, fresh and unpredictable.  We were allowed to create ghost walks for Halloween, Sunday night teen presentations for the church, an outreach comedy team, and yes, a newsletter.  We decorated the hallways and bulletin boards. We wrote music.  We organized Sunday evening all-church “afterglows.” Each week the ideas were more imaginative and fun.  I will tell you more about these in future blogs.

I recall a narrative in the book of Exodus of a man named Bezalel.  He had been filled with “the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft.” Bezalel was given the joy and excitement of creativity to honor God in unique and artistic ways.  As a Christian, I would soon learn this Biblical truth.  I could use the innovative quirks and ideas in a way that wouldn’t express rebellion or individualism; it could bring glory to God!  The Father was the one who gave me the abstract creative ways of thinking, and I was given the freedom to express Him with these tools.  And you have that freedom as well.

I want you to think about that, students.  We have a whole ton of ways to learn – and show – God’s majesty, His book, His character and His love.  We’ll start exploring new ways of digging into those truths.  Lots of different ways.

And it starts on Monday.  See you then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brad Kent Zockoll
Copyright 2017

Dr. Brad Zockoll

My Reflections on 2016 in the Classroom: Foolish. Funny.

1a1

I was in a pie-eating contest last month.  Seriously.

I took on the students in an all-school pie eating contest at a student assembly here at Grace Christian Academy.  Five of us stood before a long table in the middle of the gymnasium, hands behind our backs, looking down at a full pie apiece.  To my right were the junior and senior representatives.  To my left were the freshman and sophomore representatives.  These were all teens.  I am fifty-seven years old.  They have youth and an incredible metabolic rate going for them.

But I have one thing they don’t have.

I am obsessed with pie.

They are young.  They have not reached this type of fascination.

I looked at both sides as I took off my glasses, flipped a baseball cap backwards on my head and stared down at the fresh pumpkin pie in front of me.  “You know I’m going to destroy you all, don’t you?”

And that’s what I did, brother.

I destroyed them.  I destroyed that pie, too.

There was just one little hitch I hadn’t planned on, and it quickly became a problem for me.  For those of you who have not indulged in a pie eating contest, allow me to explain the dilemma anyone would encounter in a contest like this.  When you eat pie like civilized people do, you use a utensil to bring it to your mouth.  Obviously, you don’t slam your face down into the middle of your dessert.  There are many good reasons for this, but one of the main things is that you’ll encounter an obstacle that slows down your eating speed.  It’s called your nose.  More specifically, your nostrils.

I’d like you to thoughtfully consider the angle of attack when you push your face into a pie, especially one with the consistency of a pumpkin pie.  Your face goes forward and down, and the pie can do nothing to escape.  But as you push forward, you have these two open-access entrances into your sinuses.  Consider them tunnels if you will, and when you push into something like a pie, the pie wants to enter into those dual little roadways into your face.

With the nose I have, it was like opening up L.A. traffic into a four lane freeway.

As I plowed down into the pie, I realized that part of the food was travelling up my schnozz at an alarmingly fast pace.  I felt a cool yet choking sensation moving toward my eye sockets.  Also, I couldn’t breathe.

But being the cantankerous sort and especially defiant of losing to students little more than one-third my age, I knew I couldn’t quit.  This created a dilemma, because I really do like to breathe.  So I leaned to one side in front of all of those students – if you are delicate, please skip these next few sentences – and I honked out as much of it as I could.  Yes, I blew my nose out, pumpkin and all.

Now, this got a strong reaction from the cheering audience, but I must admit, it wasn’t the sole reason, for at the very same time, the senior student Bethany leaned over to her right and barfed up all of her pumpkin on the gym floor.

(Oh, yes, we Christians are the delicate sort, aren’t we?)

But as soon as I cleared my nasal passageway, I was able to dive right back in.  And, my good friends, that’s the way I decided I could win this challenge, and so I got into a rhythm of eating and blowing, eating and blowing.  I won the contest.

Yes.  The old man won.

Only one small problem as they announced me as the winner.   I couldn’t breathe, because in my gustatorial fervor in the home stretch, I was chawing into the pie at a manic pace, with my nostril expulsion not able to keep up with my hyperactive intake.

As I worked my way off of the gymnasium floor (I had pie in my eyes, and neither was I wearing my glasses, so my exit was a challenge in itself), our math teacher Rachel approached me with a towel.  I could tell my face was a mess by her reaction.  “Here – this will help,” she said kindly.

“I can’t breathe,” I said.  In reality, though, since my sinuses were clogged, it came out like “uh kint breed.”  She nodded sweetly and gestured towards the school bathrooms.  “Perhaps you can clean up in there.”

I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, amazed at how much pumpkin I can actually hang on my face – especially the eyebrows! – and I went through half a dozen industrial-strength paper towels as I tried to clear my sinuses.  This helped a bit, but the coarse texture of the paper towels left me with half a nose.  I was not able to completely clean my nasal passage, either – my sinuses were clogged, making my eyes water for the rest of the day.  And I kid you not, I smelled nutmeg for about forty-eight more hours.

Within the month I was back on the gym floor at another school assembly, side by side with other teachers and coaches as we took on the students in a Dodge Ball game.  Shoulder to shoulder with Scott the algebra teacher and Lincoln the strength coach, I did fierce battle in my socks, skating across the floor while winging playground balls with an arm that hasn’t played organized baseball in over two decades.  I held on through the final stages, but C.J. caught my blazing missile with relative ease.  At least I didn’t get hit.

This is fun stuff, brother.

Fun.

The word “fun” can be traced to the late Middle English word fon “make a fool of, be a fool”.  But if you go back a bit more into the word’s history, you see it also meant “to become infatuated with,” from where we get the word fond.

Both those words connect with my past year here at Grace Christian Academy.  There are times when I played the fool, but it only served to build a deepening fondness for my students.  Make no mistake, we worked at our studies.  Did we hit the books hard?  Of course.  From soteriology to ouranology, we looked at the doctrines surrounding the Trinity.  We researched the ministry of Christ and studied His amazing attributes.  We gave speeches on subjects as diverse as Koine Greek phrases and the Ten Commandments.  It got hard sometimes, even anxious.

But oh, did we have some fun classroom moments this past semester.

We had distraction speeches.  While the speaker gave his delivery, we tried interruptions ranging from a stray dog running through the room to an ROTC officer doing push-ups.  Our speakers held their ground, directing and controlling the mishap.  Then after the grade was given, we would all laugh.

We had classroom competitions.  Each class time ended with a game where points could be earned.  This was a six-class competition, complete with revenges and intrigue.  The top three winners got to participate in a Christmas auction with their points used as currency.  The auction items were donated over the course of the month.  Students won TVs, stuffed animals, boxes of candy, board games, DVDs… you name it, we probably had it.

We had daily coffee and doughnuts in the classroom.  Students would donate their loose change on a honor basis, and we would have enough to cover the expense of coffee and some baked goods – a nice way to start the class time, especially before a quiz on the Koine Greek translation of John 1:1.

We also have some fond memories as well.  Adam shared his desire to go into full-time Christian mission work.  Jared told me about how he used his speech training to be able to give a message before his church.  Benji’s dad came in and sat in on a class to observe.  So did Brooke’s mom.  We had a dress-up day to sit and watch a film of Handel’s Messiah, as if we were in the concert hall itself.  Students were peppering me with questions about Christ during our weekly Q & A time on Fridays.

We would stop class and have a “quiet time” of simply reading the Scripture as individuals – anywhere you wanted to read in the Bible, you had the silence in order to do it.  It restored the joy of getting to know the Bible once again.  I can recall how Bob sat there, intensely reading the book of Luke while noisily crunching kettle-cooked potato chips.  He was unaware of how loud he was.  The other students smiled and ignored it as best they could.  Classes were opening up to seeing Jesus as more than a cliché; they were starting to understand and enjoy the Messiah.

I could continue to list the grand memories, but I’ll stop for now.

What has 2016 reminded me?  Simple.

The joy of the Lord is your strength. That powerful phrase is found in Nehemiah 8:10, and boy, does that ring true to me.  Being part of the Kingdom ministry is an honor.  It’s a blessing.

And.

It.

Is.

Fun.

Happy New Year!  2017 has more joys in store. I’ll try to remember to write about them as they happen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brad Zockoll
Dr. Brad Zockoll

Copyright 2017

My Christmas Card to My Students, The Nativity Bunch

1a1It is Christmas Eve morning and I am writing my online Christmas card to my students – and I will let you peek in on what I am saying.

To my students: I thank you for one of the most enjoyable semesters I have ever had, and I also want to wish you the deepest and most blessed Christmas of your life.  It’s an exchange, really.  You have given me the gift of the honor of being your teacher in the classroom, and I wish for you to enjoy this break from the classroom.

Oh, I love being a teacher.  Every class, every period here at Grace Christian Academy is a new adventure for me, and I say that with all sincerity.  I was not hired to lob chunks of knowledge around the room and hope somebody catches them; I’m here to share the experience of Scriptural discovery and the mystery of the Divine. If I don’t have the excitement and conviction of the Bible truths I’m sharing, then I have no business in the classroom.

We’ve had a great Yuletide season together.  We’ve studied the Star of Bethlehem, Handel’s Messiah, the birth prophecies, and the timeline of the Nativity.  I have enjoyed the excitement of the young scholars as we kept peeling back the pages of history and doctrine, revealing new truths every day. What a great time.

And it’s appropriate that today I send out a Christmas card to all of my students because they remind me so much of the Nativity story.  Let me explain.

You see, they are the characters of the Nativity story, in a sense.

I’m not kidding you.

The gentlemen and ladies of Bible 10 remind me of the personalities of the Christmas story.  I’ll break it down into the various groups…

First, there are the wise men.  I have some students who remind me of the wizened scholars who intensely studied the charts and made the trip to see the Christ child.  These magi are whom I refer to as the “lean-forward” students.  Whenever we open the Scriptures, these are the pupils who will immediately start digging and reading, almost frantically at times.  They want to know.  Just as I imagine the Persian astronomers checked and double-checked their charts, studies and calculations, I have a group of students who give me a furrow-browed intensity in any Bible subject we talk about, from the End Times to the crucifixion event to the Sermon on the Mount.  These are the students who will flip through their Bible and double check my teaching, such as the Bereans did with Paul.

But note:  it’s not just the learning process; these students are going to apply it.

Olivia was writing at a ninety-five miles-per-hour pace.  After class I stopped her and chuckled.  “Liv, if you keep writing like that you’ll break your wrist.  I believe you even took notes about how I coughed.  Why the manic approach to note taking?”

She smiled but also gave me an intense stare.  “This holiday season my family is traveling to see my relatives in the Midwest, and there will be seventy of them.  Seventy, all in one meeting hall.  None of them are Christians, and when we arrive, you can see that they’re ready to do battle – and that’s pretty much what they end up doing.  After the main dinner, they sit back and start yelling at my parents about their faith.  Yelling!  And it’s seventy against two.  Now, to be fair, when my parents discuss the Bible, the group pauses.  They’re willing to listen to answers.”  She patted her notebook.  “This is the first year that I’ll get involved in the debate.  I want to get every Bible answer possible.”

Yes, the magi students come to class with a passion that I love.  It gives me an adrenaline rush every time we get into a new section of Scripture.  Thank you, wise men and women.

Then there are the Shepherds.  This is not to say that these scholars are less intelligent; they just have a different approach.  These students might be new to the Christian faith, or maybe they have just never really been exposed to an in-depth approach to God’s Word.  The Bible narrative reveals the emotion of the shepherds as they were given the news of the great discovery of the Messiah’s birth.  That same emotion comes through in my classroom at times.  What I like – I love about my classroom Shepherds is their surprise – no, their astonishment whenever something is revealed in the Scriptures. We teachers call this the “ah ha” moment and it’s what we live for, really.  Just like last week, whenever I took them through the Scriptural journey of Handel’s Messiah.  Jim was sitting there, shaking his head and writing notes – he was totally unaware of the multitude of prophecies about the coming Messiah.  Even after class he gave me a thumbs up on the way out the door.  “I’m sharing this with my family tonight at dinner.”

One of my favorite stories is of Jeremy’s reaction whenever I was teaching of God’s omnipotence.  “Remember,” I said.  “God not only created the universe, He created the ability to create.  In fact, God not only created something, He also created the nothing that existed before anything existed.

Jeremy put his head down on his desk and waggled a finger at me as he collapsed his head into his arm.  “Hang on for a minute, I need some time to get my brain back in order on that one.”

Brandon got so excited about the Nativity story and the alignment of the Star that he fell out of his chair.

Literally.

He fell out of his chair.

Thank you, shepherds.

Third, we have Simeons in the classroom.  Simeon waited patiently day after day, waiting for the Messiah to come into view.  He knew he wouldn’t die until he saw the Savior, the world-changer.

Well, I have Simeons in my classroom.  They are unsettled until they get to see Jesus.  You can tell in their eyes – they will not finish this school year in Bible class until they get a deeper understanding of this Christ.  Meredith hangs back and asks about Jesus’ reaction to Thomas.  Pat sees me in the hall and asks about the best way to understand Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness.  Tim is walking alongside me at the lunch salad bar and wanting to know about the day of the crucifixion, and how Judas’ bowels gushed out.  Not exactly something you want to think about when you’re going past the tomato hummus.

Bless you and thank you, Simeons.

Fourth, we have Annas.   You know the Nativity story of the widow Anna, who stayed in the temple and was a magnificent prayer warrior.  She had a sorrowful past in having lost a husband, and people would have understood if she had wallowed in grief and become a recluse.  That didn’t happen!  Rather than grow bitter, she opened her life to the love of God and dedicated herself to live a life to glorify the Father. Anna was so sensitive in her relationship to Yahweh that when Mary and Joseph came to the temple to present the baby Jesus, Anna recognized Jesus as the redemption of Jerusalem.

Those that are Annas in my classroom have also suffered.  Much of it is in secret, but it is still as real.  So many students have broken homes, physical ailments, and deep disappointments in life! Yet I have not seen this type of student mope or grate at his or her hurtful circumstance.  Mostly they keep their grief a secret, and see each class as a way to come closer to the Jesus they love.  My heart breaks for the teens who endure hardships day in and day out, but it also amazes me of the joy they exhibit as they walk the path towards the Messiah, enjoying the newfound instruction of how He can mold their life.

Years ago, Tiffany came in and sat down before school.  “My mom is leaving my dad. This week.  And she’s trying to ‘buddy me’ so that we can just be two girls who shop and giggle all the time.  I’m actually having to be a parent to my mom.”

Bert came in a few days later.  “My parents are splitting up.  They’re so angry with one another I think they’d try to kill each other if they could get away with it.  And they keep coming to me for advice – and I’m sixteen!”

Linda is recovering from surgery that will keep her from every playing sports again.  Ben suffered an injury that, too, ended his playing days.  Lori is in remission from cancer.

This scenario happens every year.  Yet in each case I’ve seen the student dig deeper into the love of Christ and in the fellowship of other Believers and grow to a mature and powerful Christian.

God bless you deeply, Annas.

Magi, shepherds, Simeons and Annas … all in my classroom every day.

These are students of the Nativity.  These are students of epiphany – they want new discoveries every day.  I have the sometimes exhausting responsibility of making sure those new discoveries come.  And oh, how I love that.

Like with the Nativity characters, these students never give up seeking Christ for something more.

As I packed up my exam papers on one of the final days before Christmas break, Joe stepped into the room to say good-bye for the holidays.  He paused and confided to me.

“I wanted to tell you something.  You know, a number of students – myself included – really can’t stand those Bible speeches you make us do in class,” he said carefully.  I was about to respond, but held back; he hadn’t finished his thought. “But, well, we all got to talking about it at lunch.  We know we need it.”  He paused and grinned.  “I was so scared when I first got up that my hands were shaking.  But after a few times, I’m okay with it.  And guess what – my pastor asked me to share something in front of our church, and I could do it!”  He cocked his head to one side and nodded.  “I know that if I’m gonna share Jesus, I’d better learn how to speak.”

It reminded me of Clara, who stood in the hall before class with tears in her eyes. She was due to give a devotional on John chapter 3 that period.  She indeed was shaking.  “But I’m going to do this,” she said with clenched teeth.  “I am going to do this.”

And, God bless her, she did.

They all did.  And they still do.

They never give up. They want to conquer.  They want to discover.

That’s why I’m a teacher.

Merry Christmas to you all.  I love you dearly.

 

 

 

 

 

Brad Zockoll

Dr. Brad Zockoll
Copyright 2016

 

 

Brad Kent Zockoll

Kid Christmas 5: The Green Bean Banquet Disaster

1a1We were taking up quiz papers near the end of class and preparing to leave when one of my students raised his hand:  “What was one of the oddest Christmas memories you had as a child?”

I stopped for a moment.  This was a real test for me, you might imagine.  I can hardly remember a Christmas when something funny or strange didn’t happen – it was part and parcel of the Zockoll childhood.

A couple of examples came to mind:

In second grade at the Dallastown Elementary School, I started off the Yuletide season in serious trouble when Mom discovered that I had a little masquerade going on among my classmates.  I was desperately desiring to top the various stories the richer kids were sharing about their gaudy Christmas presents and lavish holiday trips, so I made up a fascinating story that won the day.

I told the class that my family was raising a chimpanzee in our basement.

I’m serious.

What possessed me to dream up this stupid story is lost in my memory.

Why I ever thought I could carry this off without Mom finding out, I’ll never know.  I was  so brash in my tale that I allowed a kid named Todd to come to our rickety old home and stand at the top of the basement stairs to view the marred and aged concrete walls below.

“See?” I lied.  “That’s where the monkey went wild and started scratching the walls.  It’s been hard to train him.”

“Can I go down and see him?” asked Todd, trying to peer into the downstairs darkness.

“Are you crazy?” I cried in astonishment, pulling him back.  “He doesn’t even know you.  He’d tear you up.” Todd nodded slowly and backed up across the linoleum.

The ruse lasted for a good solid week before Mom got wind from another parent, asking about the condition of the chimp.  Oh, yeah, she really wailed on me for that one.  Yes, the Fli-Back paddle again.

Then there was the time during an especially harsh Pennsylvania winter somewhere near my third grade years.  We were all sitting around in the twilight hours waiting to watch either the cartoon Flintstones or a good rousing adventure in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and we heard a stupendous CRASH above us on the second floor, in Brian’s room.  The explosion had a definite glass-shattering sound to it, and panic ensued.  Brian had been put to bed in his crib only twenty minutes before.  As a group we made a mad dash upstairs to his room.  Mom threw on the light.

Brian was standing up in his crib, neither harmed nor especially frightened.  Glass was all over the floor, and in the midst of the mess was the biggest icicle I had ever seen.  It was a freak accident; a huge clump of ice broke off and bounced its way right through the second story bedroom window.  Couldn’t happen again to anyone in a hundred years, but then, consider the family you’re reading about.

But what came to my mind is what I am going to write to you about right now.

It’s about banquets.

Yes, Christmas banquets.  I remember two of them distinctly.  And both of them have stuck in my memory indelibly.

One was a Cub Scout Christmas pot-luck we were attending in a local school cafeteria.  It was to be a nice informal affair – a year-end recounting of the many manly deeds done by the boys in blue and gold.

The Scoutmaster (actually called a Cubmaster, if I recall correctly) had made a quick phone call to the parents of the groups.  “Just bring something to eat, make anything.  We’ll all share and have a great time.”  There was no effort to name the type of dishes to bring.

And it happened.

As all of the pans and plates were laid out, the room grew quiet at the sight.  Every dish – every dish – was either green beans or macaroni.

And not the good macaroni that people take and bake with real cheese and maybe a nice spicy ring to it.  No, this was the low-end cheese-powder rock-hard elbow noodle tripe that stuck in your throat and had you running for the garden hose to wash it down.  There was tons of the stuff.

And the green beans were the off-brand that had that tough leathery taste.  And you could fish out a few sticks out of them, too.

So help me, every Pyrex dish in the cafeteria was second-hand green beans or off-yellow macaroni.  No dessert.  No meats.  No pastas.  No nuthin’.

We all pushed our food around the plate, mumbled some Christmas cheer and went home to raid our home refrigerator.  The Cubmaster was beet red the whole evening.  What a night.

The other memory is not as disastrous socially but nevertheless remains with me as a sad recollection.

I was in middle school at the time.  Snow was falling outside.  We were all piled into the basement of our little Delmarva region country church after the Christmas program and were bellying up to a really good feed:  fried chicken, cakes, baked potatoes, fried chicken, pork chops, pies, fried chicken.

The tables were full and the chatter was loud and happy.  The food was excellent as usual – the Eastern Shore cooks were in top form.

I was sitting near the gaggle of mothers who had pulled the whole potluck meal together, and as I plowed through my third plate of mashed potatoes I overheard the ladies’ conversation.

“Well, we pulled this one off,” said one woman.  “I’m so glad it’s over.”

“Me, too,” said another.  “So now, what’s next – New Year’s dinner?  My goodness…”

“Mmm hmm,” said another.  “And we’ve got to get ready for Valentine’s Day banquet…”

I sat there, shamelessly overhearing their remarks, and I gathered that this was not a joyous event at all.  It was an assignment that had to be met in order to keep a tradition going.  The same with New Year’s. The same with Valentine’s…

It hit me right then and there.  I had heard them talking like this all through the summer at every dinner our church had.  They were never in the moment.  They were always glad the moment was coming to an end, and they were gritting their teeth in preparation for the next event.

And sitting at that basement table, I looked up at the crepe paper Christmas decorations and became depressed.  Is this how grown-ups view Christmas?  A ritual to endure?

I recall that same feeling years later when I visited a local Christian school here in Tennessee. As I was being escorted around, my host bumped into the youth pastor of the church.

“Say, Tim,” said my host, “Are you ready to emcee and direct that Christmas cantata?”

“Oh, Law, I’ll be glad when this is all over,” said the youth pastor, shaking his head and waving his hand. “I just want Christmas to be over.”

I looked at his wearied face and wondered.  Is it really worth it?  You want to bypass the greatest holiday of the year?  You want to rush and race past all this?

It caused me to take inventory, I told my class.  I wanted to know if I were doing the same thing – running through the rituals of the season and not enjoying Jesus Himself. I reminded myself of the verse in Psalm 77:12: I will meditate on all Your work And muse on Your deeds.”  That word meditate means to repetitively utter the reality of the Father – to take time and remind ourselves of God’s glory and His work in our lives.  The word muse is just as powerful and personal.  It means to talk to yourself and discuss with yourself the truths of the great God we enjoy.  Taking time to sit at the kitchen table in the early or late hours of the day.  Alone.

Spending some quiet time to enjoy the Lord.

Yes, we enjoy Him. Both His gift of the Messiah and His continual agape love to us.

And I committed myself from that time on to drop any Christmas activity that would push away my opportunity to “be still and know” that He is God.

I invite you to do the same.

Call it the Lesson of the Banquets.

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