On their way home from school, Brad and Tim stopped on the bridge, as they often did, hoping to spy a trout in the swirling water below.
"There's one!" Tim shouted, pointing to the base of a large rock, where the water eddied.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, right there by that big rock!"
"I can't see it," Brad said. "Let's sit and see if he'll rise."
They sat down on the edge of the bridge, with their feet swinging over the water. They threw pieces of stick into the water and watched them lazily ripple away under their feet.
After a few minutes, Tim said, "He isn't going to jump. Let's go. This is boring. We can stop at Jake's house to see what he's doing. He's always up to something."
"Yeah, he is," Brad agreed. "He's usually up to trouble."
"So what! At least he's never boring," Tim said. He threw his last bit of stick in the water and got up.
Brad stood, too. "My dad doesn't want me to be with guys like Jake who make trouble," he said. "Dad helped me memorize a Bible verse that says, 'Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character."'"*
"Well, I don't think Jake's bad company," Tim said. "What is your dad, anyway--a preacher?"
"Nope, he works in the post office," Brad said, starting down the street, "but he really loves God."
"So why doesn't he like Jake? Christians are supposed to love everybody."
"He just doesn't like the messes Jake gets into," Brad said. "He says that Jake makes poor decisions too often."
"I've done dumb things, too, but you're still friends with me." Tim shook his head. "What does your dad say about me?"
"We all make mistakes once in a while," Brad replied. "But Dad says if we choose good friends, then most of the time we are headed in the right direction. Our close friends help us make good decisions or bad ones."
"Yeah, you're always talking about what your dad says, but Jake is always having fun," Tim said. "I like to have fun."
"So do I," Brad replied, "but Jake's idea of 'having fun' is teasing some kid that's smaller than he is, or twisting girls' arms behind them. That's not real fun to me."
Brad and Tim turned the corner of their street. "There he is now!" Tim exclaimed. "He's teasing your sister!"
"Jake!" Brad yelled, starting to run. "Knock it off!"
Jake turned around as Tim and Brad skidded to a stop. "Make me!" he said. His chin jutted out, and his hands began curling into fists.
"I don't want to fight, Jake," Brad said, "but you leave my sister alone."
"Make me!" Jake said as he brought his fists up to his chest.
"Stop. One of us will get hurt," Brad said. "Just leave my sister alone, okay."
Tim put a hand on Jake's shoulder to caution him. Bam! Jake's fist crashed into Tim's chin, sending Tim flying to the ground. Jake grinned, rubbed his knuckles, and walked away.
Tim sat up, shook his head, and rubbed his chin. "Man! I only wanted to stop him from hitting you, and then he hits me!"
"Sorry!" Brad said, helping him up. "I thought he might hit me, but not you."
"Wow!" Tim said, brushing off his jeans. "I guess it's more important than I thought to be choosy about the company we keep."
By Sylvia Stewart
* 1 Corinthians 15:33; Proverbs 22:24–25 (NIV)