Notches in belts

Stephen and I were in Escondido after I spoke at the leader's retreat and decided to stop at the mall. I was walking through the mall on my way to Pacific Sunwear because I was looking for a hat and passed a NOTW store. I had seen the logo around APU somewhere and thought that there might be some OneTruth clothing in there or Ezekiel or Jedediah hats or something that would be cool for a non-skater like me to get away with wearing. I turned into the store, which was empty except for three employees. I walked in and the thirtysomething employee at the corner yelled to me, "Hey man, what's going on?"

"Nothing much," I said.

"Cool. I'm Chad the Jesus Guy. Have you ever been in our store before?"


"Well our store is called C28. It's a verse in the book of Colossians that says we are not of this world. Colossians is in the Bible."


"Well just have a look around and let us know if we can help you. We have music over there, shirts, stickers, anything you can think of. And we have a clearance section in the back that has some great deals." (All the while he was saying this, he was taking my eyes on a tour around the room with rapid pointing. The tour was short because the room was only about as big as a garage. It wasn't like it was a Super WalMart or anything.)

A girl behind the counter spoke up. "What kind of music do you like?"

"Uhh, alternative, I guess."

"Cool. Have you ever heard of a group called Kutless?"

"Uhh, no."

"Well come here!" She probably would have grabbed my hand if I hadn't immediately started following her. I looked longingly over at the hats as we went past them. She took me to the back of the store next to a rack of CDs and underneath a half orb in front of a display with buttons and a screen on it. She punched in some buttons and from the orb came some music that was, indeed, alternative sounding, if there is a genre such as alternative that exists anymore. Just lots of guitars, basically.

"Do you like them?" she asked.

"I guess." I was kind of lying but didn't feel bad about it.

"We have all kinds of music here. If you can think of a secular band, we have a Christian band that's just like it. Like Eminem. We have a guy who raps and is white." And then she looked at me, kinda like I was supposed to be amazed.

I looked amazed and said, "Oh."

"Yeah. My name is Veronica and if you need anything, let me know!" Then she walked back towards the counter. I walked back that way to, but turned left toward the hats and finding none, turned to leave the store. Because the third employee (who I hadn't met) was counting inventory and blocking my immediate escape, I headed back towards the counter where Chad was messing with something and Veronica was standing ominously.

"Did you need help with anything?" Veronica asked.

"No, I'm cool."

"Oh. Well, we have Jedediah clothes too," she offered.

"Oh, yeah?" Which was kind of a lie because I had seen them earlier.

"Did you know it was started by Christians? The word comes from the Old Testament. And so does Ezekiel. That was started by Jews. The Jews follow the teaching in the Old Testament in the Bible. Do you have a Bible?" she asked.

"Yeah, but I haven't read it in awhile." Which was true.

"Oh, that's too bad. You should try to read it every morning. Even just 10 minutes in the morning makes such a big difference."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Do you go to church?"

"I haven't in a while." Which was also true. But I was kinda setting a trap. I just wanted to see what would happen next.

"That's too bad. Where do you live?"

"In Los Angeles."

"Oh, there are lots of good churches up there."

"Yeah, I know. I just haven't found a place that I feel like I fit."

"Well, be careful because there are a lot of bad churches too."

"Oh? How are they different?" This I knew was setting a trap but I was just too far into it now. I don't deliberately try to mislead people, but this Christian forced it out of me."

"Well, there are lots of churches that teach that any way to heaven is fine, but it's not. But there are some good ones, like Calvary Chapel . . ."

"Oh yeah?"

"Um-hmm. There is only one way to heaven. Jesus said that he was the way, the truth, and the life. And without him, you would go to hell. The Bible tells us a lot of different things, like about hell. Hell is just such a bad place. It's like eternal burning, like actual burning of flesh for all eternity! The other day I was tanning and I was like, 'It is getting so hot in here!' and then I realized that hell would be even hotter than that for all eternity! It is such a bad place I don't know why anyone would want to go there!"

"Yeah, that sounds pretty bad," I said. It really did. I haven't been in a tanning booth but I have been sunburnt and it's just hell trying to move when you are all crispy. "But what about people who don't have the chance to hear about Jesus, like there in another country or something."

"Well, let me find a verse. You said you had a Bible right?" she asked.

"Yeah. I have one."

"Okay. Umm, I don't remember where it is, I think Romans. But those people, like, people always ask questions, like, 'What is our purpose here?' and if you ask those questions you'll be responsible. Like, retarded people and babies won't be because they don't ask those questions, but everyone else asks those things and is responsible for their answer. So are you a Christian?"

"Uhhh. I guess so."

"You guess so? So you don't really know?"

"Well, I was when I was a kid."

"Oh yeah? Well, would you be interested in maybe rededicating your life right now?"

"No. Not right now." I really was supposed to meet back up with my brother but I just couldn't tell her that.

"Okay." Then she moved from out behind the counter. I knew that meant something but still don't know what. She was flipping through the Bible she had in her hand.

"I knew when you came in, God told me that you had fallen away and needed to come back. I only became a Christian, like, just under a year ago and my life has gotten so much better. Not that Christianity is about happiness, but you have joy."


"A year ago, I was in abusive relationships and was very depressed and even had a gun held to my head." This depressed me and made me want to hold her and tell her I was very sorry to hear that. But she didn't stop talking and I didn't want to interrupt so nothing came of my pity. "If you read the Bible, it helps so much. I have to get up at 4:00 in the morning so I can read for an hour before I go to school and then work and this morning I could only read for ten minutes and I wish that I could have read more and I know that I'm supposed to but there are times when you are just so tired and you have to fight that because it is so good to read it. The Bible says the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. And that's how it is; we just have to fight our flesh. If we don't, hell is the option we have. And it is such a bad place. I almost cry for people who have to go there, not out of pity, but out of love. Because that's what Jesus gives us. Do you want to recommit?"


"Well this isn't a maybe decision. This is very important and will change the rest of your life. There will be times when your spirit is willing but the flesh will be weak. Here, let me get this card . . ." She went back behind the counter, pulled out a card and came back to in front of the counter. "If you want to pray this prayer," she said, pointing at the card, "well, you don't have to pray it word for word but in your heart. If you want, you can come back here and we'll pray with you or you can call or whatever. If you have any questions, just let me know!" She grabbed a pen and asked my name.

"Michael," I said.

She wrote my name in the front of the Bible and put the card in it and handed it to me. "Now, this Bible is only the New Testament, but it still has a lot of good stuff in it. Thank you so much and we hope to see you soon!"

"Thanks. I'll talk to you later." Which was the first true lie of the day for me. Then I left.

I walked next door to PacSun, found a hat, bought it and left. None of the three employees in there said anything to me. It was a successful trip.

Real good time

Two Saturdays ago my brother and I went to a leader's retreat weekend where I was invited to speak. The students in my office were the ones who were hosting it, so it wasn't like it was the chance of a lifetime, but I was still honored that they asked me to speak at it. Especially after the last time I spoke. It just didn't go well. But they still asked me back.

I was nervous about it, mostly because I had spent a lot of time thinking about it and getting resources ready and just worrying about it. And I prayed for it too. I really wanted to be relevant. And by that, I mean I wanted God to use me. It's rare that that happens for me, but when it does, it's a real treat. Not in the generic sense of the word treat, like a treat for a dog. Like it's a real pleasure to be used like that .

Anyway, I spoke about the church's lackadaisical approach to perfection, saying we should settle for excellence instead. I don't think that's right. God says to be perfect as he is perfect. Which is impossible, so we rely on grace. But once we accept that we are not perfect, we can accept that others are not perfect either, which forces us to forgive. And then, community, which is by nature made of imperfect people, can be messy. It's designed that way.

It went really well. It was probably the best I have ever done. And I know God can use me even if I don't think it went well, but I got the praises of man this time, and that was what I needed. Oddly enough, I think God used this chance to not only be glorified for His purposes, He built up my ego a little and gave me confidence to continue speaking in public. Which is nice.

All that to say, God is God. I am not. I am eternally grateful that those things are true. And since God is God, life has meaning.