Something Real

“Zeph! Wake up! We are going to be late!”

Zephaniah Isaac Payton strained to open his eyes and looked toward his half-open bedroom door just in time to see his mother, Kassy Payton, turn and walk away.

He had not been to church with his parents since the summer of 2010. In fact, he had not been to church at all since then. That was the time when he finally passed his driver’s test. Once he gained the freedom that came along with his newfound ability to drive legally, he stayed as far away from the church as he possibly could. The people there seemed fake. They claimed to follow some sort of all-powerful God, but Zeph noticed that they only followed that God on Sundays and on Wednesdays. He did not want to be a part of that standardized hypocrisy. He did not understand how people could live two lives, and he refused to conform to the ensuing trend. He also refused to listen to anyone living that type of double-life because their actions proved that they did not truly care much about anyone other than themselves. He had already seen the insincerity of their faith. After all, how was it possible for someone to trust someone else if he or she chose to live in such a way that denied the other’s existence? These people claimed to follow God. Is this how that God commanded them to live? If so, Zeph not only wanted to stay away from the church, he wanted to stay away from the people associated with that church and with a God whose existence was questionable.

Zeph buried his face in his pillow, trying to get back to sleep. He found it very difficult as he thought about the relationship his family had with the church. His parents were the worst hypocrites of them all. His father, Curt Payton, was a drunk who would often abuse Zeph’s mother. Why were they still together? His parents spent most of their time chasing dollar bills. Zeph did not understand why because they already had more than enough to last several lifetimes. No matter how hard they tried or how much they had, Zeph’s family could not achieve the happiness that they longed for. Still, they went to church and acted like everything was fine. Zeph often wondered if everyone within the church acted the same way, putting on a mask in front of Jesus while claiming that He was the only one who could set them free.

Zeph pushed the overwhelming thoughts out of his head. He could not wait for summer to come to an end. He needed to get out of his house more often than he had been able to, and this was the first weekend all summer that he did not have plans. He picked up his phone, unlocked it to check the time, saw that it was only 9:01, and fell back to sleep.

Zeph awoke to the screaming voices of his parents as they returned from church. This was the first time that he had to endure the torment since summer started. They probably did not even realize he was still in the house. Zeph did not know what they were fighting about, but every other word came out as a curse. Zeph was tired of his parents slandering one another. He rolled out of bed, put on a pair of athletic shorts, reached for his wallet and his keys, and started toward the living room.

His parents stopped as they saw him approach the door that led out of the house. Zeph did not know why they tried to hide it. Their hatred toward one another was more than obvious to him. He looked them in the eye, and shook his head before walking out of the house and forcing the door to close behind him.

As Zeph walked beside the street in his neighborhood, he kept his head down. He was deep in thought. He had everything that everyone dreamed of having, but he felt as though life was nothing but an utter mess. If this life did come by pure chance, what was the point of enduring the hardships that it brought?

Zeph heard the horn of a mid-sized pickup truck behind him. He turned to realize that it was one of the people in the youth group at church. His name was Paul Andrews. Zeph ignored his effort and turned back to continue walking. One of the last things he wanted to do was talk to someone that claimed to know God. The horn continued to sound as Paul pulled up next to Zeph and talked to him as he was walking, “Hey man! Where you headed?”

Zeph looked at him as if to say, “Please do not bother me,” and continued to walk.

“I would be happy to give you a lift,” Paul said bringing his head out of the window.

Zeph stopped and said, “No thank you.”

Paul, shrugging his shoulders, replied, “Alright then, missed you in church this morning.”

Paul drove off and all Zeph could think about, once again, was the hypocrisy within the church. That was, however, the first time he had ever had anyone show him even the slightest version of true kindness. Could it have been real? As far as Zeph was concerned, God was a product of human imagination because humanity needed a crutch: something to believe in. He had seen no real evidence. He had seen no genuine faith.

Zeph walked two miles to another friend’s, house. He knocked on the front door hoping someone was home. Sure enough, Zac answered the door with a twelve ounce in his left hand. Immediately he looked at Zeph, held up the bottle in his right hand, and asked, “Beer?” Zeph smiled, took the beer, and walked into the house.

Zac’s parents were never home, so they did not have to worry about being caught with alcohol. Zac was even convinced that his parents would not care if they had caught him. They sat on the couch in the living room and flipped on the television.

Zeph needed to vent. He wanted to talk to someone about the issues he had with his parents, but Zac would only say, “Dude, that’s life.” So, Zeph settled with just trying his best to forget about them in general. He wanted to live, but he refused to live the fake, religious life that Christians did. At least his friends were honest about who they were.

Zac looked over at Zeph with an idea in his mind. Zeph looked back and asked what he was thinking. “Why isn’t there a party this week?” Zac asked. Zeph chuckled, cussed, and said, “Heck if I know.”

“My parents just called me. They said they wouldn’t be home until Tuesday,” Zac said while he nudged Zeph with his elbow.

“I will make some calls,” Zeph agreed.

When Zeph said this, he meant that he would make one phone call, and that was to the young man who had all of the connections. He often hung around Joshua Fehring, who just happened to be the most popular guy in school.

Zeph pulled his phone out of his pocket, unlocked it, and shuffled through his contacts to find Josh’s number. Once he found it, he simply pushed the call button.

“Yo,” Josh’s voice came across the line. “Hey bro! What you up to?” Zeph asked.

“I am sittin at home bored, there’s need for a party.”

“I think you are right! Zac’s parents are gone. You wanna spread the word?”

Josh cussed profoundly, said, “Yeah!” Then, called Zeph a four-letter s-word. Zeph ended the call, looked at Zac, grinned, and heard his phone beep.

Facespace was the most prominent social networking site on the World Wide Web and it was rumored to be greater than the rest of the WWW combined.

When Zeph looked at his phone, he saw a message from facespace telling him that Josh had just updated his status. It read, “I am so bored,” followed by a string of profane words, “Party at Zac’s house tonight!!!” People would surely be there! Zeph figured that, since there were no other parties, most of the usual attendees would show.

Seven o’clock came rolling around, and Zeph heard a knock on the front door, “Heck yes!” Zac jumped over the back of the couch and rushed to the door, opened it, and saw Josh standing there with two six-packs in his hands and a smile on his face. He walked in, and went directly to the kitchen where he set the beer down on the island that separated the kitchen from the living room. People continued to arrive while the party thrived.

When it ended, around one in the morning, Zeph could not remember most of what happened. He was relieved, however, to have gotten a break from his crazy life, even if that break did not seem like it lasted long enough. He crashed in the guest room after everyone had left, and did not wake up until about two o’clock on Monday afternoon.

Zeph struggled to lift himself off of the mattress that had been laid on the floor for him beside Zac’s bed. He looked around only to see that his friend was still sleeping off the night before. He reached out his hand to nudge Zac, but he was as still as a mannequin. Zeph turned around and stumbled tiredly out of the bedroom door, through the hallway, and into the restroom to check his hair before he left.

He spent only a few seconds playing with his hair and splashing water in his face before leaving.

Zeph made it halfway to his parents’ house when he noticed Paul Andrews playing football with one of his younger brothers. He also noticed that Paul had noticed him. Paul shouted across the yard, “Hey! Zeph! Heads up!”

Zeph did not want to talk to or look at this ‘church boy’. He thought about picking up speed as he was walking, but just as he was about to start moving faster his peripheral vision caught a glimpse of pigskin on a trajectory towards his head.

In one swift motion, Zeph ducked and turned his head upward to watch the ball race passed him and hit the street. He began to laugh as he turned to pick up the football. He did not hesitate before throwing it back to Paul, who was holding his hands in the air waiting for it. “Want to stay a little longer?” Paul asked.

“Under one condition…. Don’t give me,” Zeph replied adding a four-letter s-word, “about church.”

“You got it,” Paul tossed him the football underhand and ran for a pass.

Zeph smiled as he threw the ball. Paul’s younger brother, who was still standing there, looked up in admiration and said, “Whoa! You look just like a pro quarterback.”

Zeph did not know what to think, but he heard Paul begin to laugh hysterically on the other side of the yard.

After they played for a while, Zeph told the other two boys that he really needed to head home. “You could join us for dinner,” Paul insisted, “I think we are ordering Chinese take-out.”

Zeph thought about it for a few seconds. He had never really been around someone who would just be his friend, without expecting anything. Josh was his friend because they played various sports together. Zac was his friend because they partied together. Paul was just being a friend. Zeph did not understand, but he agreed to join Paul’s family for some Chinese take-out.

He followed Paul inside. Paul turned and said, “Make yourself at home.”

Zeph did not hesitate to sit on the couch and flip on the television.

“Want anything to drink?” He heard Paul ask from the kitchen.

Without thinking, he replied, “Have any bee…” He stopped.

Paul, not hearing clearly what Zeph was trying to say hollered back, “What was that?”

“Waters good,” Zeph said almost starting to laugh.

Paul’s parents pulled up into the driveway in their almost new Chevrolet Suburban. They walked through the front door with Chinese food in hand. When they noticed that Zeph was sitting in their living room with Paul, they smiled and said, “Paul, is your friend joining us for supper?” Paul smiled and introduced Zeph to his parents, Gerald and Rachelle Rich.

Paul’s younger sister took the food, which smelled heavenly, from her father, carried it into the kitchen, and began to open up all of the take-out boxes. She searched the kitchen cabinet for paper plates and set out plastic forks.

Paul twitched his head to the side as if telling Zeph that they were going into the kitchen. The family of seven joined hands, and Paul held his left hand out toward Zeph. Politely, Zeph took Paul’s hand and the hand of one of Paul’s younger brothers. Now he felt a small hint of awkwardness, but he bowed his head and Paul’s stepfather said a short prayer asking God to bless the food.

Zeph did not think anything of the prayer, but he did notice that this family, so far, seemed very sincere about what they believed. He admired them for that.

Paul motioned his hand telling Zeph to go first. Zeph did not hesitate. He picked up a plate and went through each box of food picking up what he wanted to eat. After making his selection, he travelled into the living room and found the seat that he had earlier. Paul joined him inside the living room along with his youngest brother while the rest of the family stayed in the kitchen.

Zeph stared blankly at the television while he ate the mountain of oriental food that was stacked on his plate. “So, what’s on your mind?” he heard Paul ask form the reclining chair adjacent to the couch that he was sitting on.

“What do you mean?” he replied.

“Well, you look like you are thinking about something pretty intense.”

“So…”

“If it is that serious, I will listen.”

Zeph paused, then slouched down and continued to watch the television. He wanted to tell someone about what was going on at home. Most people would not even care. Most people would not want to listen. He did not want Paul to tell everyone at church what his parents were really like.

He heard Paul start talking to him again, “Well man, whatever’s going on, I am sure you will get through it. If you want to talk about it I’m here.”

He turned back toward the television and finished eating what was in his plate. Paul stood up, grabbed Zeph’s plate and his own, and walked into the kitchen to throw them away.

Paul did not allow Zeph to leave without giving him his cell number, “Call me if you feel like talking.” Zeph turned without saying anything and walked out of the front door.

The rest of the way home, Zeph wondered whether Paul would really listen to him. He was not like most of the people in church. He seemed to be authentic.

As Zeph was walking up the sidewalk path that lead to his front door, he could hear the faint voices of his parents talking. Instead of going inside, he sat down by the door and tried to listen to what they were saying. He could not hear every word, but judging from what he could hear it sounded like his parents were apologizing to one another. He had never heard this before. If God was real, He was certainly at work.

Not wanting to ruin the moment, and really not wanting to see his parents, Zeph snuck around to the back of the house. He opened the screen that blocked his window, forced the window to open as silently as he could make it, and climbed into his room.

Zeph lay in bed, listening to his parents talking. It was nice not to hear them fighting. He became more intrigued by the conversation when he heard his name mentioned. He tried to listen more closely, but the only other word he recognized was “church”. Zeph turned his head and fell asleep.

The next morning rolled around and Zeph was awakened by the sunlight that came through his bedroom window. He expected to hear his parents yelling again, and he did. He knew that what he heard the night before was too good to be true. After the yelling stopped, Zeph heard his mother crying. She did her best to talk through her tears, “I thought you said that we could fix this?”

He heard his father sigh in response, “I did. Can we keep workin’ on it?”

Zeph stumbled out of bed and peered discretely through the crack between his bedroom door and the frame. He saw his father embracing his mother, “I promise I will keep trying.”

Zeph’s mother dried her tears, and both left for work.

Zeph began to think about why Paul Andrew’s had been so nice to him. He could not help but to think that maybe there was something to the whole “church” thing after all. Still, even if it did cause people to be nice, there was really no proof of anything that Christian scripture said. Was there?

Zeph rushed into his living room and turned on the desktop computer that his parents had bought for him to use. He waited no longer than two minutes before he was able to open a web browser and click on his shortcut to YouTube. In the search bar, he typed in “Proof of God”. Several videos came up, so he just clicked on the first one. Zeph did not look at how long the video was before he clicked on it, but after he started watching it he did not want to stop. He sat in front of his computer watching this video for fifty-nine minutes and forty-five seconds.

The video1 featured a man named Lee Strobel. Lee Strobel was a “journalist in search of facts”. Strobel was absolutely convinced, at one point in his life, that there was no way that God could have existed because there was no evidence. Later in life, Strobel was amazed when his wife became a “Christian”. He saw a change in her life that was obviously affected by her decision. This caused Lee to really turn and investigate the issue. The evidence that Zeph saw within the video was undeniable. God absolutely had to exist if that evidence was reliable.

This did not mean that Jesus was God, like the people at church claimed. This still did not prove that everything in the Holy Bible was real. For all he knew, that entire book was a fictional story. Every religion that Zeph knew about worshipped some type of deity. Which religion proclaimed the truth? Were any of them right?

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ 1+Lee+Strobel,+Scientific+Proof+of+God+(YouTube,+2010)+{Also+ see+Case+for+a+Creator+by+Lee+Strobel}+

He reached for his phone, glad that Paul shared his number, and looked through his contacts. He found Paul’s number, pressed the call button, and held the phone up to his ear.

When Paul answered, Zeph told him about the video that he had just watched. He also told Paul that he had a few questions, some of which questioned the theology behind Christian doctrine. Paul offered to meet him somewhere and answer his questions as best as he could.

It was around noon, so the two met at the McDonald’s that was located just outside of the neighborhood. When Zeph arrived, he saw that Paul was already there, sitting at one of the tables. He walked in, ordered some food, and then joined Paul.

“Did you have a good night?” Paul asked almost immediately.

“It was surprisingly good,” Zeph said as he thought again about what he had heard from his parents the night before.

“Good.”

A loud voice came from behind the counter, “Forty-two!” Paul stood up and proceeded to claim the grilled mc-chicken value meal that he had purchased. Not long after that, the same voice came from behind the counter calling for number forty- four. Zeph stood to claim his food as well. After Zeph sat down, Paul asked him if it would be okay if he prayed over the meal. Zeph, about to take his first bite, looked up at Paul and said, “Sure…” Paul bowed his head, closed his eyes, and began to pray.

“Father, thank you so much for providing the money that we have to buy food. Please bless the food we are about to eat, even though it is fast food, and let it nourish our bodies so that we can better serve you. We love you, Lord.”

Paul lifted up his hands and began to eat his food.

“Why do people bow their heads and close their eyes when they pray?” Zeph asked, “It seems really weird.” Zeph had always done the same thing, but he did not understand why. It was simply the way he was taught to pray.

Paul looked at Zeph, and looked as if he thought about the answer for just a second, “The way I see it, bowing our head and closing our eyes are just actions that help us to minimize distractions. I don’t really know if there could be any other reasoning behind it. One thing’s for sure though, God hears us whenever we talk to Him; whether our eyes are closed or not.”

Zeph laughed and turned his attention toward his big-mac.

The two friends enjoyed their meal. When they both finished, Paul inquired about the questions that Zeph had. Zeph briefly recounted the day that he had thus far, focusing mainly on the pure evidence he had seen, which stated that God absolutely had to exist. It was astonishing to him how much modern science was just speculation, and how, even when clearly proven wrong, there were those who continued to believe in and teach previous speculation.

Paul smiled as Zeph asked his first question, “I know that God is real, but how do I know that the Bible is the correct description of who God really is and what He has done? How do I know that Christianity is the right path to take?”

Paul raised his left hand up to his ear and stretched his earlobe as if thinking for a brief moment.

“Well, when we take all sixty-six books, which were written over a two thousand year period of time, and later placed together as the Holy Bible, we see that all of the writing over that two thousand year period makes the same point. The first five books are history, recorded by Moses, of how the Israelite nation came to be. Joshua later took the place of recording the history of the Israelites. A number of prophets also recorded the things that they said to Israel. Anyway, everything in the New Testament mirrors what these prophets spoke of regarding a messiah, or someone who would save humanity. Nowhere else do we have such a comprehensive, and well-documented history of ancient people. Something else that is amazing, people did not start believing that the earth was round until around the year 1492. One of those prophets, Isaiah, records that the earth has a circular shape. Einstein thought he mistakenly discovered that the universe was expanding. Later he, and others with the use of telescopes, found out that the very idea was true. In 700 BC, Isaiah also refers to an expanding universe. We continue to find scientific and historical evidence that the Bible is far more accurate than we could ever be. It only makes sense that God can redeem us by coming, Himself, to pay our debt for sin. Sinful man cannot redeem sinful man.”

Zeph’s jaw would have dropped if he had shown what he was thinking. He would have let his guard down on the spot and given his life to God. What was eternal life all about? What did God expect from him? He looked back at Paul and asked another question, “What about all of the negative evidence against the Bible?”

Paul smiled and asked, “What negative evidence?” He knew that Satan’s sticky fingers were twisted into every arena of societal learning. That was why people seemed to think that there was so much evidence against God and against the Bible. He also knew that, when those same people put aside their misconceptions that they could not refute the existence of a God or the truth of His living Word.

Zeph did not know what to think. This had to be real. If he gave his life to Christ, he would have to go back to the hypocritical organization called the church. He did not want to go back to that place, but he did want a relationship with God. He looked at Paul and asked one last question, “What’s the catch?”

Paul looked into Zeph’s eyes and said,

“You have to give up your life. Giving your life to Christ means just that. You are submitting to that authority and punishment. You are metaphorically putting your old self to death, and you are becoming a new creation. This means striving to be the kind of person Christ was. Too many people want a relationship with God just to avoid Hell. If that is the only reason, you are not truly seeking a relationship with God. If you choose to make God your boss forever, you will have a love that never fails and a life that will last longer than time itself. You will have to go through a radical change. It’s worth it.”

Paul sat back in his chair, picked up his drink, and let Zeph think. Zeph had never heard this before. The message he always received was, “God will give you everything you ask for,” “You will always be happy if you have God,” “You can be the person you are and still have Jesus.” Paul was making much more sense than everyone else. Before speaking to Paul again, Zeph silently asked God to make him new and to be the boss of his life.

He did not know what the road from there on would have in store, but Zeph was willing to follow Christ wherever He would lead. He did not understand entirely what that meant. He confessed that Jesus was Lord, and that God raised Him from the dead.2 That is what it took to truly be saved. The young man sitting across the table from Zeph would become the greatest friend he could ever ask for. Zeph looked at Paul again, smiled, waited for Paul to start laughing, and said, “I’m in.”

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Something Real

Through the chaos and monotony of everyday life, we all long for something that holds some sort of substance. We long for something that embodies reality. We long for something that is not finite, inconstant, limited, temporary, or only momentarily satisfying. It is crazy to think that the only way to gain some sort of sense of this reality is to give ourselves over completely to an external, transcendent, eternal, constant, infinite, and completely satisfying force. People search their entire lives for such a bliss when all along, that bliss is standing behind them: trying to gain their attention. All it takes is for someone to stop pursuing that bliss so that they will feel it reaching out to them.

That bliss is not only a feeling; it is the ultimate joy of having a relationship with the only true and holy living God. Though the relationship is one to revel in, the walk is of the greatest challenge. We constantly lose ourselves because we

belong to the only higher being. We must remember one thing: The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who overcome sin and death, and the only way to do that is to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

_____Blueprint______

Romans 10:9

Revelation 21:1-8

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