One of the first of the "Christian" terms that I began to hear was "witnessing." It was also one of the most frequently used term that I heard, second only to "saved." I finally had to ask Dan what the term meant. He explained to me that when a life is changed by Christ, everything becomes new. When people see the changes that God has made in a person, and when Christians tell others about the changes that God has made, that Christian is a "witness" and a "testimony" to what God can do in a person's life. A Christian, thus, is one who has "witnessed" the power of God and is now "testifying" on behalf of God. When they talked about "going witnessing," they meant that they were going to tell someone about Jesus.
After hearing them talk again and again about "witnessing," I decided that I wanted to be a "witness" for Christ. Occasionally I would tell others, but it was hard for me to do. I began to feel guilty about the fact that I wasn't telling a lot of people about Jesus, so--in order to make myself feel better--I started to count the number of people I had "witnessed" to. If I failed to take a "witnessing" opportunity, I would tell myself something like, "Well, at least I've already witnessed to 40 people since I've been saved!" Sometimes this would form a prideful attitude. When the numbers got higher, I'd think, "Wow! Look what I'm doing! I'm really spiritual!"
I started handing out tracts (fliers) about Christ to my friends, my brother's friends and my two sisters' friends. I'd drop tracts off in the bathrooms at school. One day, I placed a tract in a school bathroom by putting it on a urinal, and someone found it. The guy that found it thought Don put it there, and he walked up to Don and said, "Did you leave this in the bathroom?" Don then witnessed to him and told me later that the guy said that he would think about receiving Christ.
One February day in my fifth hour class, I told Dan that I approved of a woman's choice to abort her baby, especially in cases where a woman was raped. I said that a woman had a right to do what she wanted to with her own body. He told me that abortion was murder. We got into a discussion over it that was somewhat emotional in nature. He told me what a fetus really was. I was shocked when he told me that it was an actual baby and not just simply a mass of undeveloped tissue! I had really believed that a fetus was nothing more than a blob inside of a woman's body. I really didn't know that it was an actual baby! The abortion issue, I quickly learned, wasn't simply about what a woman could or could not do to her own body because there was a separate and distinct life inside of her. Abortion was one person killing another person.
At first, I tried to deny the significance of this. I said to Dan, "Since they haven't reached the 'age of accountability,' they go to heaven anyways!"
Dan told me how babies were aborted: by acid, by tearing them apart by suction, and by other methods. He described what a fetus looked like. This one conversation had a dramatic impact on me. As I lay in bed over the next several nights, I thought extensively about what Dan had said. I wondered why nobody had ever told me what Dan told me. Why didn't I hear about this before? I felt grief, shock, and horror. I suddenly realized that abortion was actually legalized murder. I became "pro-life," and I have remained so to this day.
I continued to go to church on Wednesday nights at the youth meeting. Usually after church, Dan, Don, and I would go to Mr. Fables Restaurant to eat. We'd talk and have a good time. This was what I liked best about Wednesday nights.
Dan and Don soon started asking me to go to Sunday school. Finally, I went to a morning service. I dressed casually because I was turned off to the dressed-up formalism of many churches. Dressing up made me feel unnatural and uncomfortable. I didn't like Sunday church as much as Wednesday youth meetings, but I started going to church every Sunday. I even started to dress up in a suit and tie. My Sunday school teacher was named Jerry, and the pastor of the church was Dr. Walsh.
In April, Don asked me to go to a basketball marathon that was sponsored by Word of Life International, which was a youth centered organization that my church was heavily involved in. Don had a team with some "unsaved" people on it, and he needed one more player. The gospel would be preached at the marathon and Don wanted his team there so that they could hear the gospel message. I kept telling Don that I wouldn't play, but Don kept praying to God that he would get his final player to get a full team.
One of the requirements for the marathon was that all players had to have a number on their shirt. I didn't have one. On the night before the marathon, I coincidentally came into temporary possession of a numbered shirt, and at 11:00 P.M., nine hours before the marathon was to start, I finally agreed to go. (An answered prayer for Don.)
Near the end of the school year, my grades in Algebra 2 / Trigonometry plunged down. A girl from church offered to help me, but I never took her up on that offer. I failed the trigonometry portion of the class, which was the entire last nine weeks of the semester, and got a D- on the final exam. With a C on the first nine weeks, I came out with a D on the final overall grade. Grades like this were not unusual for me, however. My overall grade point average was less than 2.0!
Grades were not the only problem that I had. My behavior was sometimes a little outlandish. For example, there was the time that I "took on" Henry in the bathroom. Henry was a football player and was extremely big and muscular. Edward and I were in the bathroom when Henry and another football player came in. I was combing my hair in front of one of the mirrors.
Henry walked up to the mirror and, with a threatening tone of voice, said to me, "Move!"
I thought, "I ain't got to put up with this!"
"What are you going to do about it?" I shouted back. I was standing in front of him blocking his access to the mirror.
"You wouldn't want to find out!" he shouted.
I walked to the door, opened it, and said, "Why don't you come out and show me?"
Edward had pretty much gone into shock by this time. He became speechless. He could not believe what I was doing and saying. I'm sure he was thinking, "Bob! Do you want to die???"
Henry kicked the door shut. I reopened it. He kicked it shut again. I reopened it and sarcastically said, "Ooooh! Big tough dude!" and I walked out the door.
What I did was obviously very stupid. At lunch, Edward told everyone what happened. Edward said to me in a very serious tone of voice, "Bob, that was stupid!"
However, I was proud of myself! Never once was I afraid. I sincerely believed that Henry was an idiot and I was going to prove that I was better than he was. I felt that he was "all mouth." I hated the football players. I thought that they were all a bunch of stupid morons. I sincerely believed that Henry was not going to do anything to me. The problem with my attitude was that I could have been wrong. In fact, it is truly amazing that he didn't do anything to me! Henry was more than capable of violence. In fact, most people in our school were afraid of him. I think that the only reason that he didn't do anything was because he was in just as much shock as Edward was. Had I given Henry enough time to get over his initial disbelief that I was actually challenging him, he would likely have smashed my puny little head against the wall. Putting this fact aside, it is even more important to note that I didn't handle the situation in the way Christ would have handled it. I was still relying far too much on my old ways and attitudes.
I later bragged to Dan about what I had done. I said with a laugh, "Edward thinks that what I did was stupid."
In a very serious tone of voice, Dan said to me, "I agree with Edward. What you did was stupid."
I shrugged my shoulders like I didn't care.
There were other incidents of me testing the limits of what I could get away with, but not all of them were as outlandish as the above story. Many incidents were fairly typical of teen-age behavior. In my 4th hour chemistry class, for example, Edward and I were standing by the door with the guy who sat behind me. Mr. White, the teacher, let us have some free time at the end of the hour. So, the three of us snuck out of the class early and went to lunch. But the next day, Mr. White told Edward and I to stay after class for the next three days. However, the guy who sat behind me didn't get caught.
I said to the guy behind me, "You snuck out, too, and didn't get caught!!"
"I know," he laughed.
I said this at the end of the hour, so Mr. White didn't hear it. Edward and I had no intention of getting him in trouble with us. We weren't "narks."
So we stayed after for five minutes. Mr. White angrily said to us, "I can't believe you guys would sneak out like that!"
Mr. White knew that we claimed to be Christians. We had talked to him about it recently. He was a Christian too, and he didn't believe in Darwin's theory of evolution. Edward and I both felt very ashamed about sneaking out because we felt that we had disappointed Mr. White. We had earlier told him that our trust was in Jesus, but then we acted otherwise. On the second day of our "sentence," Mr. White let us go after only a few minutes, and said that we didn't have to stay after the next day. So we left and went to lunch. I never apologized to Mr. White.
My lack of integrity in Mr. White's class didn't stop there, however. I cheated on his final exam. Edward finished the test before I did, and he whispered answers back to me because I didn't know the answers to most of the questions. After the test was over, I felt guilty about cheating. I decided to go back to Mr. White and tell him that I had cheated. However, when I talked to him, I found out that I had gotten a "C minus" on the test. Thus, my grade was below average; almost poor. I didn't want to tell him that I had cheated because I was afraid that he would take points off and drop me to a D or an E. I justified not telling him about my cheating by telling myself, "My cheating didn't work anyways, so it doesn't matter." Apparently, I didn't feel guilty enough!
Yet, in spite of these failings, I was still making an attempt to live out my faith. I tried to get a softball team for another Word of Life marathon. I was getting two teams of mainly non-Christians because I wanted them to hear the gospel at the marathon, but my plans fell apart because of graduating seniors' open houses.
In mid-May, I was baptized by immersion at the Baptist Church. Don talked me into it. I had been refusing to do it up until that time by telling myself that "it ain't necessary for 'salvation.'" I had also been baptized by sprinkling when I was an infant.
Dan started telling me that the Bible said in Romans 12:1 that Christians must present their bodies "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God." I began to realize that I wasn't doing this. I then told God that I would give my whole self to him, and that I belonged to him because he bought me with a price: Christ's life! It was time to start changing the ways that I dealt with situations! However, this was mainly an emotional decision. I wasn't yet at the point where I was letting Christ be at the center of my life.
My older sister graduated from high school that year. My parents had an "open house" for her in which all the friends and relatives came by to congratulate her and shower her with money and gifts. Her open house was on the same Saturday that the softball marathon was on, so I couldn't go to the softball marathon. She was done with school, but I had one more year to go.
By the end of the semester, I was beginning to have regrets about the way I treated Dan. Earlier in the semester, Dan had been absent from class a lot, so Mrs. Williams, the teacher of our 5th hour Composition I class, got sick of it and said, "Does anyone know what Dan's problem is?"
"He's got better things to do!" I shouted. The whole class burst into laughter. I later told Dan that I had said this, and he was upset. He started showing up for class every day, and even stood up in front of everyone on a Wednesday night church youth meeting and confessed to everyone that he was skipping school a lot. He said that he was wrong, and he urged every one not to skip school.
I began to learn about the problem of spiritual "legalism" (although I didn't call it that until many years later). People in my church had a problem with setting up false standards as signs for true spirituality. Many people would formulate their own opinions on issues that the Bible didn't address, and then they would declare that a disagreement with their belief was a sin. Thus they promoted their beliefs as a kind of "law," or in other words, "legalism." Don's condemnation of Christian rock music was an example of "legalism." I quickly learned, however, that there were many examples. One night at church I was talking with the girl who had offered to help me with my math. Both of my sisters had spent years in dance classes. I told the girl at church that I had gone to see my sisters' dance recitals at East Kentwood High School, which was the school that she attended. She laughed and said, "Boy, talk about sin!"
"What?" I thought in a puzzled manner. "What's wrong with dancing?" This was actually quite a small example of the problem, but more serious cases were on the way. "Legalism" would later produce significant conflicts between me and the people of my church.