Caleb Henry glanced up as Kristy Brown shut the door of her house. He knew that he didn’t have a chance with her; heck, she probably didn’t even know he existed much less what his name was. But he couldn’t help himself. Ever since second grade, he had had a crush on Kristy Brown, and that had only strengthened over the past eight years. Yes, he knew that it was pathetic that a sixteen year old like him was still clinging to this crush, but that didn’t change anything.
Caleb pulled a string of lights out of a box and began to untangle it. He would just do what he always did, bury himself in his work and hope that he never thought about her again, a hope that he knew was completely futile. Once again, Caleb wished that he were popular enough to ask out Kristy.
Caleb had been poised for popularity. He played on the football team, he knew everyone worth knowing, he got invited to all of the parties…but that all changed a year ago. It didn’t happen at a youth camp, a revival, or even at church as might be expected for this kind of change. No, Caleb accepted Jesus as his Savior at the age of 15 in a mall, of all places. The strange thing was, it wasn’t that he had never been to church, rather, his father made sure that they were at Sunday school and Church service every week. Instead, it was as if Caleb had built up an immunity to Christianity, an immunity called familiarity and apathy. Every week he had been to church and seen Christians praise and worship God. Then he had seen those same people leave and act like everyone else in the world even though they claimed to be different. The gospel had become too familiar to Caleb, and he didn’t see that it made a difference in anyone’s life, so he had coasted along through life, unsure of exactly what Christianity really was.
Then one night, almost a year ago, exactly three days before Christmas, he and his friends had been hanging out at the mall. Kristy had even been there, back when he was popular enough for her to notice. As the group of teens sat eating in the mall’s food court, they were approached by a man in his late 20’s or early 30’s. The man, Marcus was his name, tried to strike up a conversation, but the teenagers were not interested. They were about to leave when Marcus asked a question that grabbed Caleb’s attention:
“What do you think is on the other side after death?”
“Heaven,” Caleb answered immediately. This much had been hammered into his head since he was very young.
“Anything else?” Marcus asked.
“There’s also Hell,” Caleb answered, “but it’s for bad people.”
“And where will you be going when you die?” Marcus asked.
“Come on man, we don’t want to hear your drivel…” one of Caleb’s friends started to say, but Caleb cut him off by raising his hand. This was back when what he thought actually counted!
“If you don’t want to hear it, then bounce,” Caleb said. “I’m interested.” The rest of the group stayed for a while, probably out of respect for Caleb, but left as the conversation dragged on.
“So, do you know where you’re going to go when you die?” Marcus asked again.
“Heaven,” Caleb answered instantly.
“And why are you going to get to go there?” Marcus asked.
“Because I’m a good person,” Caleb said, more slowly this time.
“So you’re good enough to get into heaven,” Marcus said thoughtfully. “Have you ever heard of the ten commandments?”
“Of course,” Caleb answered.
“And you follow them?” Marcus asked. Caleb nodded, and Marcus continued, “Well, let’s see how you stack up. Have you ever told a lie?”
“Yes,” Caleb answered.
“What does that make you?” Marcus asked.
“A liar, I suppose,” Caleb admitted.
“Interesting,” Marcus said. “And have you ever stolen something?”
“Yes,” Caleb answered. “It wasn’t anything of consequence, though.”
“Nevertheless, what does stealing something make you?” Marcus asked.
“A thief,” Caleb answered.
“What about coveting?” Marcus asked. “Have you ever coveted something that someone else has?”
“Of course,” Caleb answered. “Who hasn’t?”
“And what about hatred? Jesus said that hating someone is the same as killing them. Have you ever hated someone?”
“Yes,” Caleb answered. “I suppose by your logic that makes me a murderer.”
“So according to you, you are a liar, a thief, a coveter, and a murderer,” Marcus said. He didn’t say it in a mean way, but Caleb’s soul crumpled within him. Minutes before he had been happy to consider himself a good person; now that righteousness had been stripped away like dirty rags and a ton of guilty now crushed his spirit.
“So, do you still think that you’re good enough to get into heaven?” Marcus asked.
“No,” Caleb answered flatly.
“And that means that you’ll go where when you die?” Marcus asked.
“Well, I have good news for you,” Marcus said.
No doubt you can guess how the rest of the conversation went. The man told Caleb how Jesus had come to die for sinners and save them from their evil ways. Caleb had heard the same message a hundred times in church, but it was different this time. Now that he had been made indisputably aware of his sin, this story had a new meaning to him. Before he left Marcus that night, he had given his life to Jesus.
One thing Caleb was certain of, he would not end up like all of the “Christians” in his church, praising Jesus with their lips and not with their actions. No, he would live for Christ and tell others about what had happened to him. But the message of Jesus is not a popular one, and so his popularity soon fell away.
So now Caleb stood on his lawn, setting up decorations for a holiday that most people didn’t understand, unable to associate with his old friends, and with a crush on a girl that didn’t know that he existed. And yet Caleb was filled with joy. Given his circumstances, it didn’t seem possible for this to be, but Caleb’s joy was not from an earthly source. If you have this joy you understand this, but if you do not nothing that I can say will make any sense to you.