Zeph’s older brother, Michael Denton Payton, had always been a major influence on his life. In fact, the reason that Zeph had been so affluent about the hypocrisy within the Church was because his older brother was sure to tell of his own experience. Michael turned away from Christianity in December of 2007. That is when their younger brother had been run over by a mid-sized sports utility vehicle. The trauma later caused Isaiah Paul Payton to pass away.
Michael was devout in his atheism. He even pursued a career in journalism with the conception that the skills he learned along the way would aid his cause against the seemingly false religion of his parents.
When Zeph returned home, he saw his older brother talking with his parents. He had not seen his brother since he moved out two years prior to pursue his career in journalism. Last he new, Michael was a very successful writer for New York Times. He did not know how his brother would react to the fact that he was pursuing a relationship with God. He expected nothing less than a sharp word from the one, as far as he remembered, who so avidly spoke out against the Christian mechanism.
Zeph walked into the conversation only to learn that his older brother had just recently lost his job and was moving back home until he could secure another steady income. He was laid off because of the “Persisting weight of the digressing economic state of the country”, so he was told.
When Michael noticed that Zeph had been listening, he stopped talking and hugged his younger brother. Zeph figured that he would let Michael continue talking to their parents uninterrupted. He was sure that they had much to talk about. After his brother stopped hugging him, he walked back to his room and sat on his bed.
He wondered if he was making a mistake in the fact that he had given his life to an authority outside of himself. Zeph wanted, for the first time, to read the Bible. He had grown up listening to the stories of Moses and Abraham in church, but he had only seen the Bible as a set of fictional stories. He knew that God was real, and that he wanted to have God on his side, but could there be something to the words and the stories within the Bible?
He did not remember where the Bible that was given to him on his sixteenth birthday was. He had not misplaced it, but he did not recall where he did place it when he had not cared so much about the words therein. Zeph began to turn his head and search for it.
As Zeph tried to think back to where he might have placed it, he could hear the ambient voices talking in the central room of the house. He could not hear what was being said, but he did wonder how he would deal with the future criticisms of his brother.
In one moment, Zeph remembered where he had placed his Bible. It had become the dusty footstool for the once uneven desk that was so cluttered. Zeph lifted up the corner of his desk and retrieved the book, which he had never used. He had declared Jesus as the Lord of his life, and he wanted to learn more about this messiah, so he opened what was called God’s Word to the book of Matthew and began to read.
Before he could get through the first chapter, Zeph noticed that his older brother was standing at the door watching him, “You believe that stuff?” Michael said while holding in his laugh.
Zeph smiled, “I believe that there has to be a God.” Zeph expected much more criticism, but his brother simply looked at him and said, “Well, good luck with that.” Then, Michael turned and left Zeph’s doorway.
Zeph turned his attention back to the Bible that lay open in his lap. He had an unusual interest in reading this book that he had never experienced before. He did not know why, and he did not read much, but He felt what could most accurately be described as embrace.
Moments later, Zeph’s brother stepped back into his doorway, “Come on,” he said, “There is something that I want to show you.” Michael turned and walked toward the front door. Zeph wondered what his older brother could have been talking about. He looked like he was very serious about whatever it was that he wanted to share.
Zeph placed his Bible on his bed and followed his brother out of the front door and to his brother’s four-door Corolla. Michael backed out of the driveway and began to drive. Silence filled the car, and what was only a few moments seemed like hours as time passed.
This was an eerie Tuesday evening. A light fog seemed to rise in slow motion from the surface of the earth and a full moon rested ghostly in the distance. Zeph could tell that his brother was thinking about something. He could not help but wonder. Zeph had always looked up to Michael, but was now worried about what his brother would say about his newfound faith in Christ.
Michael brought the car to a stop, pulling it close to the curb on a city street no more than a block away from the local hospital. The car faced the hospital and Zeph saw a tear coming from his brother’s eye. Michael looked at Zeph, and began to tell a story.
“I saw it happen just over there. Isaac was only six years old. Mom brought dad to the hospital because he had a cough that he couldn’t get rid of. That was back when they still loved each other, when I was crazy enough to believe in a loving God. You were at home sleeping. When the doctor finished prescribing a list of drugs for dad, we came back out of that hospital to head home. Isaac, being as playful as he was, decided that he was going to race the rest of us back to the car. An SUV sped into the parking lot too fast to see Isaac. I tried to get Isaac’s attention, but I was too late and it hit him…
The lady that was driving the SUV slammed on her brakes and got out of the car yelling, ‘Oh my God,’ over and over again while two of the other people in her car raced inside carrying someone who already looked dead. Me and dad picked up Isaac and got him into the hospital as fast as we could.
His heart was beating, but he was unresponsive and had a major concussion. They rushed him to the emergency room and would not allow us to follow. We waited for hours in the waiting room. If I had been a better brother, I would have stopped Isaac from playing in the street. I asked God to forgive me and to allow Isaac to live. I even told Him that I would take Isaac’s place.
One of the nurses came through a set of doors and walked over to us. Her face was downcast. My heart began to beat faster. I felt like it just dropped out from under me. I knew what she was going to say but I hoped for better. I cried out to God within the secrecy of my own mind, ‘Please don’t take my brother.’ The nurse looked like she could not find the words. Finally, she looked at us and said, “I’m sorry.” Mom buried her face in dad’s chest and began to sob. Their relationship has not been the same since.
You are the same age now that I was when it all happened three years ago. We must have sat crying in the waiting room for at least two hours.
We drove slowly back home, woke you up and told you what had happened. Do you remember? If there is a God, how could He allow something like that to happen? If God is real and you have given your life to Him, you have given your life to a God that is not all good: A God that does not have the power to rid this world of evil.”
Zeph felt sick to his stomach as Michael put the car in gear and drove back toward the house. Neither of the two brothers spoke. When they arrived at home, they stepped out of the car. Zeph went to his room and Michael went to the guest room, where he was staying until he could find another job.
Zeph closed his door, and sat on his bed close to the Bible that he had left open. He closed his Bible and set it on top of the stand that was just to the side of his bed. He kicked off his shoes, and lay down. He placed his hands behind his head, stared at the ceiling and thought. He questioned why God would allow these types of things to happen. He thought about that event, three years before.
He had been woken from sleep by the slamming of the front door. All he could hear was his mother crying profusely. He wondered why, but did not get out of bed to see. His father came back to his room and shook him to wake him up. Zeph figured that his father did not notice he was already awake. Zeph remembered his father kneeling beside his bed to reveal the horrifying news about his younger brother.
Now that he thought about it, that was the moment when the entire family seemed to break. Zeph fell asleep while thinking about everything that had happened.
Zeph woke up the next day around ten-thirty in the morning, however; he did not get out of bed until around noon. He lay in bed, still thinking about what he had been thinking about the night before. It seemed like his brother had made a good point.
Zeph’s stomach is what ultimately got him out of bed. It made a sound that Zeph thought should shake the room that he was in. Zeph went into the kitchen, still wearing the cloths that he had on the day before. He looked, first in the refrigerator and then in the freezer, to see if he could find anything to eat. He noticed a frozen pizza in the bottom of the freezer and decided that it would satisfy his hunger more than anything else could at this moment. He placed the pizza on a plate and in the microwave. When it was hot enough, Zeph sat at the kitchen table and ate it.
While Zeph was eating, his older brother came into the kitchen also looking for something to eat. He too found a frozen pizza, warmed it up, and began to eat it. Instead of sitting at the table with Zeph, he stood at the kitchen counter. Silence still seemed to resonate between the two brothers. This was something that did not seem like it was about to change.
Zeph pulled his phone out of his pocket, and sent Paul a text to see if he was busy. He was finishing the last few bites of his pizza and did not want to stay in the house any longer. His phone beeped. It was a message from Paul saying, “Not too busy, just at the church getting ready for tonight.” It was five hours before church started. Zeph wondered what Zeph could have possibly been doing that early.
Zeph did not want to go to the church, but he wanted to stay home even less and did not want to spend too much time with the friends that he drank with. Zeph decided that he would go to the church. Hopefully Paul was the only one there. If things were the way that they had always been, he would be. He sent Paul another message to be sure that it was okay that he imposed. It was. Zeph stood up from his seat, placed his plate in the dishwasher, and drove his small ford pick-up to the church where his parents forced him to attend years before.
The church was a combination of three different buildings. One was the main building, one was the family center, and the other was the youth complex. One look and Zeph was reminded of the church’s wealth. It seemed to him that all of the money that the church spent on itself could be put to better use. He remembered stories of Jesus always helping others and accepting poverty for Himself. Should people who claim to follow Christ not do the same?
Zeph made his way to the front door of the youth complex, where he assumed Paul would be. The door was unlocked so he walked in. He heard an acoustic guitar being played to the tune a popular worship song. Zeph remembered that Paul occasionally led worship. He walked around the corner, where Paul could see him and sat down at one of the tables. Paul set his guitar down, left the stage, and joined Zeph. While he sat down, he asked Zeph about how his day had been.
Zeph shared about everything that had happened with his brother and asked why God would allow horrible things, like the death of his younger brother, happen in the world. Paul smiled, “You have some good questions. I am not sure I know that one. Follow me.” Paul stood up and motioned, with his hand, for Zeph to follow him. Zeph reluctantly stood and followed Paul.
Paul led Zeph out of the youth complex and into the main building. As they worked their way through the maze of hallways, Paul talked to Zeph about his question.
“I don’t know if anyone has ever been able to come up with an answer for this one. I also wonder why God allows these things to happen. I don’t think we will ever be able to understand everything either.”
Paul walked into what looked like an office while Zeph waited outside. Zeph did not remember this being an office. On the side of the door that faced away from the room, there was taped a piece of notebook paper. On the notebook paper were drawn some mountains and the words, “Wolff Den.” Despite the awkward feeling of being somewhere that he did not recognize, he managed to find a small ounce of humor because of the sign.
Zeph stepped into the office where Paul was already talking with the youth pastor. Mathew Wolff had become the youth pastor after Zeph left the church two years before. Zeph found even more humor in the sign when he realized that it was a pun using the last name of the youth pastor. He did not laugh out loud.
Mr. Wolff introduced himself as Matt, and Zeph shook his hand and also introduced himself. “Paul told me that you have a question,” Matt said while they shook hands, “I might be able to answer it.”
Zeph shared the entire story of what had happened the night that his younger brother passed away and asked again why God would allow something like that to happen. Matt sat back in his chair as if formulating the words within his head.
“People have asked this question for years. I can tell you that no matter how many answers are given; we will never be able to understand. The only thing that I can figure out is this: God loves us enough to give us the freedom of will. In fact, the only way we can truly love God is to choose Him. The problem of evil is, if I am right, a side effect of our ability to choose, and I may be completely wrong about that. Since God gave us free will, He will not intervene in our ability to choose. If He did, that would make Him inconsistent and not infinitely loving. The only reason I can figure that God would allow things like that to happen is that they are a result of human choice.”
Zeph interrupted with another question, “What about things like earthquakes?” Matt looked as if he was stumped at the question,
“I don’t know if I can even try and answer that one, but I do know that our idea of evil and God’s idea of evil are two different things. God’s idea of evil is anything other than Himself. God may not directly cause natural disasters, but He did design the earth in a way that they happen. I don’t know what purpose they have, but I am sure that God has some kind of purpose for creating them. I do think that God is less concerned with our physical life, and more concerned with our eternal relationship with Him and the work that we do for Him.”
Zeph did not seem satisfied with the answer but it would have to do. Matt did say that they would not understand everything, and Zeph still knew that his decision to give his life to God was the most important one that he could have made. Matt asked if the two boys would like to join him for dinner at four-thirty. Paul immediately said, “Yes!” Zeph hesitated, and then said that he would also join them.
The two friends went back to the youth complex. Paul practiced so that he could lead worship later on that night. At four-thirty, they went with Matt to eat and returned to the church.
Paul asked Zeph if he was going to stay for service. Zeph was not sure. He still did not care to be anywhere else. He knew that his older brother was at home. His friends were most likely drunk, or becoming so. He thought about it for a few moments and told Zeph that he would stay.
They were back by five o’clock. That is when people began to arrive. Zeph was reminded of why he had previously held such contempt for the group. Everywhere he looked and listened, students who claimed that they were devout in their Christianity disowned community by forming cliques, failed to build up by spreading gossip, and failed to glorify God by talking about anything other what was wholesome3. Most of these students claimed to love Jesus but did not even follow His example in the church building.
Zeph wanted to leave. He left the church before because the people within proclaimed one thing with their mouths and lived something completely different with their lives. Why did he expect any different now? Did he expect anything to change simply because he gave his life to a God? Zeph slipped out of the church building unnoticed and drove home.
He walked through the front door, saw his parents and brother watching television, and turned into his own room. Zeph closed the door behind him as he walked straight to his bed and sat down. Why did people not live like Jesus did? Zeph simply could not figure out the answer to this question. Perhaps this is the question he should have thought to ask Matt. Zeph thought about the supposed Christian way of life. He resolved never to conform to the
Michael walked over to the television and flipped it on.
Zeph walked back to his room and realized that there was only one thing that he could do at the moment, since he did not want to be around his brother. He looked at his Bible, which was still sitting where he had placed it two days before. He could have decided to check for updates on facespace, but then he would have had to step out of his room and possibly be around his older brother.
Zeph sat on the side of his bed and picked up his Bible. He did not want to continue in Matthew. Those are the stories that he always remembered hearing in church. He flipped open to the table of contents and looked at the names of different books within. James was one of the books, which sounded familiar while not being too familiar. Zeph flipped over to the book of James and began to skim over it. After skimming, Zeph closed his Bible, lay down, and closed his eyes.
Zeph did not receive the satisfaction out of the party later that night that he would have expected. For some reason, drinking seemed like it was not at all profitable. He enjoyed it when it seemed to move him away from the problems he was facing at home, but as of right now, the only problem Zeph had at home was the person who planned the party. When he left, Zeph’s supposed friends, who were in the process of becoming drunk, cussed at him. He distinctly remembered his brother saying, “See what being a Christian is doing to you? You can’t even have a little fun.”
The rest of the summer seemed to go by much too slowly. Things did not change much for Zeph, though he did begin to endure the attitudes of the people who attended church so he could be there. His old friends new that he was a Christian and thought that he had left them for mere religion. Zeph still questioned if holding the belief would be worth it. His brother did not openly attack his faith, though he did make his obvious opinion on the subject known. Zeph read his Bible when he thought about it, and prayed when remembered to.
He knew that following Christ would be harder when school started. Hopefully Zeph would have the strength to endure. Hopefully the walk really was worth it.
Even after giving our lives to Christ, we tend to feel like He is not around. We still notice and acknowledge the old tendencies that we possessed before we were made new. Our sin seems to be in a never-ending cycle of returning after we seem to get over it. Even though we are made new creations in and through Jesus Christ, our Lord, our spirit still has to live in the physical body we were given at birth: the physical body that inherited sin from our earthly fathers.
This is the second stage of the rebellion, to wage war against our sinful nature: to revolutionize our way of living to be conformed to the likeness of Christ. The harder we choose to wage war against sin and death, the more work we will be able to do in the name of our God.
Furthermore, the Spirit that God caused to live within us is the very power that allows us to wage war against sin. It is time for the body of Christ to fight the war that it was designed to fight. Rest assured
that the rebellion begins with you: right were you are, just as you are. It is time to take the walk seriously. Run the race with perseverance, fight with correct motive, and keep moving forward and progressing the Kingdom of our God.
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