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TRUST JESUS TODAY
This is written for a company that puts stories on CD for teens. The criteria is as follows: Aaron is 16, recently converted on a ski weekend. He is radical about his faith, but frustrated by his lack of success in witnessing. Must be between 2500 and 3500 words (this is 3462). Does it meed criteria?
I heard recently about a father and son who found a treasure while plowing their field somewhere in England. It was a huge discovery--Viking loot from some raiding expedition, or something. Nobody knew it was there until the plow unearthed it. That's how I feel--like I've discovered something incredible without even trying. Now all I have to do is figure out how to get my friends to realize how great my discovery really is.
When Paul invited me to go on the ski trip, I went to ski. I mean, it was a ski trip, right? The forecast was perfect--just the right kind of snow, the right amount, super-cool lodges and some pretty fine babes. Who could turn down an invite like that? Not me.
Not even an invite from a church geek. I mean, I didn't have anything against churches, except that they always seemed to butt into people's personal business. And Paul wasn't really a geek--just a little bit of a straight arrow for my taste. But I wasn't after church, or a friend to play Jiminy Cricket to my Pinnochio. I was after a good ski weekend, and maybe a chick. Southside was a church known for having lots of fine chichs. That's probably part of why I went.
I sure didn't go because I wanted to change my life, or anything like that. I had the perfect teen life. I mean, dude, I had everything. I had the best friends from the best crowd in the best high school in town. I drove the hottest car and dated the hottest girls. In the fall, I filled my time being quarterback for a state championship level football team, and in the spring I pitched for our not-as-good baseball team. My grades may not have set any record books on fire, but they were okay. And every weekend, I had more social invites than I could shake a stick at.
The parties were my life, and I didn't see anything weird about that. My motto was 'everybody who is anybody parties'. And I certainly was the king of the somebodies.
So along comes this ski trip.
"Aaron," Paul says one Friday, "I'm going skiing in two weeks. Want to come?"
I eyeballed him for a minute. Paul's pretty cool--he plays linebacker for the team and he's good. He can put the hurt on guys a lot bigger than him, he has the speed and the moves. And, like I said, he's a nice guy. But we'd never really hung out before, for obvious reasons. Straight arrows don't go to 'our kind' of parties.
"Skiing?" I weighed the thought of a weekend with Paul and his family against the idea of a weekend in the mountains. Football was over, Christmas was over, and a ski trip would break the monotony that was fixing to set in until spring break.
"My youth group's going up for a retreat," he said. "Lots of food, skiing, some singing and devotional time ..."
I didn't really get 'devotional time', but I played along. "Sounds all right," I said smoothly. "How about I let you know?"
Paul nodded. "Gotta know by Wednesday," he said, "because everything's due, then."
"What's it going to cost?" The money wasn't a big deal; I could come up with whatever I needed, but it seemed the thing to ask.
Paul shook his head. "Gotcha covered if you want to go. I'm more concerned about the forms my youth minister wants filled out before we leave."
I thought about that for a minute. "Got me covered?" Paul worked part time at a grocery store doing the bag boy thing, and he drove a piece-of-junk car--not at all like what my friends and I parked in our slots at school.
He nodded. "Yeah. I've been paying for two, and have it all set back."
I grinned. "Date fall through?"
"No." Paul laughed a little. "Just something I've been doing."
"You're not gay, are you, because--"
"No," Paul said.
In the end, I decided to go. I mean, who wouldn't? And I skied, ate lots of food, sang a little and found out that a devotional is time when you study spiritual stuff. And I did find a relationship, but not with a girl.
That weekend I discovered my treasure--Jesus Christ. I discovered that, for all the stuff I have, for all the success I have at sixteen, for all the cool friends that I never even thought about .... For all that, I was missing something. I was missing a relationship with the God that created me and cared for me long before I was even born. I saw in those kids an excitement and spirit that had nothing to do with sports or possessions. I saw them love each other in a way I'd never experienced love. And I realized that my heart ached for that. I know that sounds lame, but it's true. I hadn't even known it before that weekend, but my heart and soul felt so suddenly full, I realized that they'd been empty until then.
In the van on the way home, I talked to Paul. We sat in the back, surrounded by kids half-dead-asleep, snoring into pillows and van seats, talking in near-whispers about things I'd never even thought of before.
"But why do I need a savior?"
"Because without a savior, you can't get close to God. No relationship, no Heaven. Remember how we talked about stuff we do that separates us from Him because He's perfect?"
"But it's more than just Heaven, Aaron. It's what God offers you here. Life like you wouldn't even dream of having. Life that you can't give yourself, that you can't design for yourself. It has nothing to do with money,either. It has to do with finding your purpose and living it. He has the plan for each of us. If we'll follow that plan our lives are ... wonderful!" His voice rose a little as he got excited. A girl in the next row 'shhhhh'-ed him.
"But why Jesus?" I pushed. "Don't all good roads lead to ultimate truth?"
"What is good? 'Good' changes from culture to culture and from generation to generation. Think about it: in Nazi Germany being good meant being a good Nazi. And who decides what's good? You? The president? People like Hitler or Sadaam?"
I had to think about that for a minute. "So why can't I save myself?"
"I guess you can, if you can do all the things Jesus did."
I frowned. "Well, what did he do?"
"He was born the son of God, lived a perfect life and died as a sacrifice for us. After three days He rose from the grave. He's the only way to heaven because of those things. Can you do that?"
I shook my head. "Lost me at 'son of God'. You ever met my dad?" I meant it as a joke, but it fell flat.
"Here's the coolest part, Aaron." Paul leaned closer to me, trying to keep his voice down. "God lets you make your own choice. You can choose Him, or not. And, if you choose Him, you can choose to be involved in His stuff, or not. It's all up t us. That's how much He loves us."
I though about my dad and the coaches. I didn't have any choices with them. Don't get me wrong. I love sports, I love the games, but I knew that if I chose to quit any of it, I'd be out in the cold. My dad lived through my throws and runs every single game night. And the coaches wouldn't have time for me if I chose to quit. I sat quietly, thinking about the stuff I'd heard.
"What if I choose to do this? What's first?"
"You pray. You admit your mistakes and tell God you're sorry. And you have to mean it, too, Aaron; you can't just say the words."
"You ask Jesus to be your Savior, to be your boss and guide you in your life. And then you just start living."
"Do I have to be ..." I looked away from Paul, searching for words. I didn't want to hurt his feelings. Paul was cool, and I'd noticed that a lot more cool kids went to this church than I'd thought would be in any church. But none of my crowd was there, and some of the kids in the youth group were nothing short of lame.
"A geek? No, man. God made you who you are, just like He made everybody else who they are. He wants you to be the person He created, only living your life in harmony with Him."
"In harmony with Him, huh?"
"Yeah. Understanding that He loves you and wants the best for you and would never, ever lead you away from that."
I thought about it for 73 miles, all the way from the highway sign telling us the distance form that point to the next town.
"I want to do it," I said as we entered the city limits of a town whose name I don't remember. I thought Paul had probably fallen asleep by then, but he clapped me on the back and laughed out loud.
"All right!" he hooted. "All right, Aaron!"
I prayed right then, in that dark, packed church van, amidst snores and sleeping kids.
"You're new, Aaron," Paul told me when I said 'Amen'. "Brand new."
I smiled, feeling the love that I experienced in those devotional times fill me up like a gas tank overfilled until fuel spewed out onto the concrete.
Brand new--I didn't realize how true that was until the next Friday night. I'd like to say that when party time came I didn't go, but I'd never missed a party. I showed up at Shelby's house right on time. All went well until the keg came out. Then something inside me felt weird. I watched as the others grabbed plastic glasses and held them under the tap, laughing and cutting up. Shelby passed me a glass and shoved me toward the keg. "Get the party started," he yelled, and the whole crowd yelled with him.
And I just stood there.
"Let's go, man!" Bruce yelled from the back. He and I had gotten drunk together the night before I left for the ski trip.
I just stood there.
Shel frowned and pulled me to one side, while the rest of the crowd laughed and made up jokes about my new faith.
"What's up, man?" Shel asked.
"I don't know ... " I shook my head. "I just think it'd be wrong to drink tonight."
"It'd be wrong ... What did you think we were going to do tonight, Aaron? Write poetry?"
"No," I said. "But I'm a Christian now, and I'm not sure about getting drunk like we do..." I trailed off. "And just because I don't want to drink doesn't mean you guys can't."
Shel frowned and I realized how judgmental that would have sounded to me two weeks before.
"Well, Bible boy, that's mighty nice of you." He raised his voice. "Hey, everybody! Bible boy here says it's wrong for him to drink, but it's okay if we want to!"
I'd never felt like the center of so much negative attention. I mean, man! The people I'd always considered my friends were jeering and laughing at me, calling me names ... It was awful. I left the party.
Saturday none of the gang called me, which was unusual. I knew they were still mad about the night before. About six o'clock Paul called to see if I was going to church. I told him yes.
Sunday was good, but all I could think about during church was how school would suck on Monday. I'd been on the dishing-out end of the hassle I would receive. I'd been one of the mob. 'Now I know how those Christians felt when they faced the lions,' I thought as the pastor talked about some ancient persecution.
I talked to Paul after church. He nodded his head. "It's tough sometimes," he admitted. "And it'll probably be really tough for you. It's like, because we're athletes we have this image to uphold--doesn't always jive with who we really are, though. And with you being a part of that crowd ..." He studied my face for a minute and flipped open his Bible. "Listen to this," he ordered. "I read this a lot. It's out of Psalm 118, verse 5. It says, 'In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and He answered by setting me free.'" He looked up at me. "Do you get it? They can't take anything away from you, Aaron. They can rib you and harass you, but that's about all. They can't take away anything God and Jesus gave you."
"Just my status," I said. I felt pretty sorry for myself.
"Your status with them, maybe. But not with God, and not with other believers. Read the first few verses in Psalm 118. Maybe it'll help."
"I guess I thought they'd understand ..." I muttered.
Paul laughed. "I think that's our job, Aaron--to make them understand."
"Good question. I saved up enough money to invite this jock I know on a ski trip." He grinned at me. "It's different for everyone. Start off by praying for them."
I felt my eyes widen. "You prayed for me?"
"I don't know. I guess God put you on my heart."
"I just kept thinking about you during my prayer times. When I saw you I knew I needed to find a way to reach you. I started praying for you during two-a-days."
I felt blown away. I'd always kind of written Paul off as a nerd who got lucky. But he was like some kind of Christian secret agent, or something.
"So I start by praying. Then what?"
Paul shrugged. "That's between you and God. It's different for everybody."
I went home and cracked open my new Bible. It took me a few minutes to find Psalms, but when I did it was like God was talking right to me. The verses after the one Paul read to me really hit home. 'The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.'
I thought about those words all day. I didn't have any enemies, but how would it feel when Shel and Bruce came to understand how much God loved them? Triumph! I started by praying for the two of them. After all, they were my best friends. If I could talk to anyone about Jesus, it would be them.
Monday morning came, and I decided my fears were unfounded. Most everybody acted like nothing strange had happened Friday night, which suited me just fine. I got a couple of strange looks from a girl I'd dated before, and felt a little uncomfortable, remembering the moves I'd tried to pull on her back then. I wasn't really sure, but something told me that my old dating practices, like my get-drunk-until-you-puke-and-pass-out partying, was something that would change.
At lunch time I slipped into the table beside Shel, and across from Bruce and a couple of the other guys I hung out with.
"So," I started, "skiing was awesome."
"Figured it would be." Bruce put half a hamburger in his mouth, chewed twice and asked, "Get lucky?"
"No. It wasn't that kind of trip." I felt my face flush.
"I'll assume there was no drinking allowed with the good little church kids," Shel commented.
"No." I took a deep breath. "I want to talk to you guys about Jesus--"
"No." Shel cut me off.
"Bad topic," Bruce warned.
"But, guys ..." I was determined to plow on.
"I did the church thing, Aaron." Shel stared right at me. "My grandmother drug me with her every Sunday when I was a kid. I saw who those people were at church, and knew who they were when they weren't at church. And I hated it. Everybody playing like they're someone they're not. You'll find out, Aaron. You'll see."
I frowned. "I don't want to talk about church people. I want to talk about Je--"
"Same thing." Shel got up and walked away.
"Told you," Bruce said. "Sorry, dude." He grabbed his burger and followed Shel. Everybody else followed them, too, leaving me alone at our table. I heard a group of girls nearby laugh.
On Wednesday morning I met Shel at our lockers.
"Want to go to church with me tonight?"
He eyeballed me. "Are you getting stupid, Aaron? Too may blows to the head? I don't want to talk about this means I don't want to talk about this. Ever." He stomped off.
I hurried to catch him and bumped into Paul in the hall.
"How do you do this?"
"Do what?" Paul looked confused.
"Tell people about Jesus! This is impossible."
"I just thought that if I could get Shel to church with me, he could hear it the way I heard it and he'd understand! But, dude, he cut me off without even listening." I'd never failed at very much. I ran my hand through my hair, more frustrated than I could remember being in a long time.
Paul grinned. "Do you remember what you told me the first time I invited you to church?"
"Probably to drop dead."
"It wasn't that nice."
I leaned back against the wall. "What do I do, then?"
Bruce pushed between us, bumping into Paul and then into me. "Pardon me, padre," he said. He took about three steps and yelled, "Want to get high? Try Jesus!"
I could hear him laughing all the way down the hall. In a minute he'd catch up to Shel and they'd be trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I watched his retreating back and sighed.
"Words don't always work," Paul said. "In fact, they usually don't work right away."
"Well, what do I do, then?"
"That depends on the person, and your relationship with them. But remember, you start by praying for them."
"I've done that."
"I started during two-a-days, remember? I haven't stopped yet."
"I guess you still need help." He shrugged.
I nodded, thinking about Shel and Bruce.
"Look, Aaron; you know those guys better than anybody--probably better than their parents. If anyone can reach them, you can. And now that you're a believe, that's your job--to reach people for Christ."
I thought a lot about our conversation. I avoided Shel and Bruce the rest of the day, even at lunch, and spent that half hour praying. I knew that wasn't all the time I'd spend praying for them, but it seemed like a good start. And by the end of lunch, I had a plan.
I called Shel from my cell on the way home.
"Yeah." He sounded suspicious and defensive the minute he answered his phone.
"Still partying Friday night?"
"Yeah. You coming?"
"Thought I might."
"Naw, man, but that doesn't mean we're not friends anymore, does it? I mean, dude, we've been friends since the fourth grade--way before we started drinking, right? Why not now?"
Shel didn't answer right away. I wondered f he was going to. "Yeah," he finally said. "We were. What will you do?"
"Hang out with my friends, just like always. And I thought maybe some of you boneheads might need designated driver to get home."
I could almost visualize Shel nodding his head. "That'd work."
I smiled as I hung up and turned into my driveway. I had lots of homework to do, but not from school. I had to learn this Christian stuff so I could help my buddies find Christ. I hustled in, ready to start in the Book of John, like my new youth minister had suggested. And I had to read that Psalm again, I though as I bounded up the stairs.
I don't know if this is going to work or not--my guess is that I won't know for a while. But I do know I have to try something--something radical. After all, if I ever found a buried treasure while plowing my farm, these are the people I'd want to share it with.
They're the people I want to share Jesus with.
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