TITLE: Everybody's Different
By Colin Woekel
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My first day of ninth grade was an exciting one. I woke up at 5:30 Am, a whole hour before I “had” to get up. Rummaging through my clothes I found the perfect outfit; brand new cargo shorts and a trendy t-shirt. I fixed myself an omelet for breakfast and tried to read the whole front page of the newspaper. In my mind I was ready for high-school and the new responsibilities that came with being a young adult.
Among the lessons I learned in the fall of my freshman year were the fact that math should never be taken in the morning, donuts and soda make a horrible pre-lunch snack, and that being a Christian as a young adult had an entirely different meaning than it did as a child.
During the second week of school I discovered Youth For Jesus (or YFJ), a lunch time Bible study on school grounds. For the first time I found myself in a room full of people from different churches and denominations. Some I knew from my church, but some I didn’t recognize at all. A few students sang louder than the rest during worship songs, and others interrupted more than others with bits of wisdom and bible reference; but all proclaimed a love for Jesus.
As the school year went on I made lots of new friends, but the core group of Christians at my public school was made up of people that went to my church. It was during a planning meeting for an upcoming outreach event involving lots of pizza that I began to learn the most important lesson of my life.
“Our most important goal for this event should be to separate ourselves from the chaff.” Tyler was the leader of our group. “We are real Christians, and we need to make sure everybody knows that there’s a difference.”
“Sounds good to me!” I echoed the group’s collective support, and Tyler continued.
“By offering free pizza we will draw a huge crowd, I’m sure, but that is not the point of our event. Jesus has told us to not only feed sinner’s physical hunger, but also to feed their spiritual hunger, and from what I’ve seen not everybody at YFJ wants to do that. Some of them don’t even bring their Bibles to school!”
What I heard made my heart sink, though I wasn’t sure why at the time. I didn’t want my new friends to think less of me, so I stayed quiet.
This conversation led me to do some research on my own. I knew Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists and Catholics. I had even made a few friends that went to church, real church, on Saturdays instead of Sundays. What I didn’t know was the difference in all of our beliefs. The whole time I had known these people, I had never noticed anything very different about the way they followed God, but according to my friend and Bible-study leader, there was a big difference.
Throughout my first year of high-school, I watched my Christian friends to see how each one worshiped God. Some kneeled and pressed their hands to the floor while worshiping through music, singing quietly and personally. Others stood with arms stretched wide, shouting and looking like they might cry. Still others sat in their desks, eyes closed, lips shut. Some prayed out loud every chance they got, while others never took their turn in popcorn prayer sessions. A few carried Bibles with them everywhere they went and told everybody they knew how much God loved them, but many only shared God to their close friends.
I tried very hard at first to figure out which method of following God was best. Personally, I liked to pray out loud, to stand up and raise my arms during worship songs, and to keep my Bible on top of the stack of books on my desk, but did that mean that my friends who worshipped and lived differently were worse Christians than I was? I found an answer that night in Gods Word.
“The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:3-4)
At first I didn’t really understand what this meant, but I had a feeling that God wanted me to understand. I highlighted the verses in my new leather bound Bible, closed it, and prayed. “God, please give me wisdom and tell me what this verse means. I want to live a life that is pleasing to you, and I want my friends to do the same thing. Please help me understand and guide me in everything that I do. Amen.”
The next morning I felt sick, so I went to work with my dad at our church and tried to sleep in an empty Sunday school room. As I tried to sleep, my mind drifted focused on the Bible verse I had read the night before. ‘It must be talking about vegetarians.’ I thought to myself. ‘But why would people care so much about what other people eat?’ I decided to find somebody who knew more about the Bible than I did, lucky for me I was at a church!
I walked across the courtyard to the office and found my dad working hard at his desk. “Hey there Colin, did you get any sleep?” My dad asked, still staring at the computer screen.
“No, I couldn’t fall asleep.”
“Does your stomach still hurt?”
“A little,” I replied “but that’s not it.”
“Is something bothering you?” My dad scooted his chair away from the desk and looked me in the eye.
I didn’t say anything at first. For some reason I always get nervous when I ask somebody a question about the Bible, but I knew that I had to ask if I wanted to become a strong Christian. “Dad,” I started, “how do you know that our church is the right church?”
My dad looked shocked. I think he expected a much simpler problem. “Well that is kind of trick question, Colin.”
It was now my turn to be shocked. “What do you mean, ‘trick question’?”
“Well you see, I don’t know that our church is any better or worse than other churches in our town. All I know is that this is where God has led our family, and this is where we belong.”
I thought hard for a few seconds, hoping he would continue. “What about all the other churches in our town? I mean, if this is the best place for us to be, then doesn’t that make the other churches worse?” I shared with him the verse I had read, and told him about the research I had done on different denominations.
He laughed in a way that seemed to say ‘you’ve been thinking too hard!’ and I felt embarrassed. “It’s okay, Colin.” My dad scooted closer to me and put his hand on my shoulder. “I get asked that same question at least once a week, usually by people my own age, and you picked out the same verse that I show them in response.”
My dad and I spent the next hour talking about my friends who follow God in a little bit different way than we did. We even discovered some big differences between the way my dad and I chose to worship and talk to God. He explained to me that people, even Christians, have always had a hard time accepting people who look different, act different, or worship God in a slightly different way.
“God sent his son to die for us to give us freedom,” He said, “but with freedom comes responsibility, something that you are starting to learn about. We are all free to worship God in the way we feel comfortable, but we also must be responsible and live our lives in a way that is pleasing to God. Many different people live good Christian lives in many different ways.” My dad and I talked for over an hour about all the things that had been going through my mind.
“You know, I still don’t think I get it.” I knew I had a lot to learn.
“The trick is to focus on yourself instead of on what other people are doing or what they might think about you.” My dad was wise, that was for sure, so I decided I’d take his advice.
When I went back to school the next day my tummy wasn’t the only thing that felt better. I looked at each of my friends in a new light. Instead of criticizing them for doing things a little bit differently than I did, I learned how to worship God alongside them, each of us in our own unique way.
I still have a lot to learn about living a Christ-like life, but I know I will learn it a lot quicker if I focus on my own relationship with God instead making fun of my friends for doing things a little bit differently.
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