Saturday, June 7, 2008

Hard lessons to learn

Recently I've been receiving a series of phone calls from a debt collection agency. A couple of years ago I was trying to help a young man I had met and befriended. He had been coming to our church for awhile and we baptized him in the summer of 2006. He was making an honest effort to turn his life around; had obtained a decent job at a nearby hospital, started taking classes at a local community college, got an apartment, etc. He had applied for credit and was denied due to lack of credit and the fact that he had been homeless (no established place of residence) and his spotty employment history. So, when he asked me if I would co-sign for him so he could get a cell phone with a monthly payment plan I thought it would be a good way to help this young man establish some credit and help him move forward in life.

Well, for at least a year all was going well. Then he stopped coming to church; come to find out he got a job promotion that required him to work on Sunday mornings. He befriended a young lady whom he worked with, who had invited him to attend her church, which offered a Sunday evening service. I told him I was cool with was closer to where he lived and a good, evangelical church with a solid reputation for preaching the gospel.

We kept in touch fairly regularly for the past year. He had come to our home on several occasions, had dinner, spent the night, etc.

Then, all of a sudden, I stopped hearing from him. Many times I have called him. he would not return my phone calls. I learned, eventually, that his cell phone service had been discontinued. I went to his apartment a few times, only to find out he wasn't home.

Then the calls started coming from the above mentioned collection agency, informing me that he had not paid his cell phone bill and had let it slip into delinquency status, and because I co-signed for him they are now seeking payment from me.

Well, I was a bit upset at first (still am), but I began to understand why my young friend had distanced himself from me and my family. I have to admit that he became like a son to me--being half my age he is biologically young enough to be my son. He had messed up many times in his young life and this was probably one more thing to add to his list, and he could not face me.

I'm currently doing a sermon series entitled "It's time for a love revolution." For this series I have been studying and preaching through 1 John. This letter is all about a love revolution; loving God and our brethren in such a way that it brings sudden, radical change to our current generation. Today I came to the second half of 1 John 3. Verse 16 says, "We know what real love is because Jesus gave up His life for us. So we ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters."

Now I know that an incurred cell phone bill is not quite the same as people living in poverty. And I know the next verse (1John 3:17) emphasizes compassion for those among us who are lacking basic needs in life, and that a cell phone isn't really a basic need in life, unless you're a teenaged girl from the suburbs. However, as I was pouring through this passage in 1 John, preparing my Sunday sermon, I felt convicted. Will I let a cell phone bill cause me to become unkind and unfriendly toward my young brother in the Lord? Or will I use this as an opportunity to grow in the Lord, forgive this young man; even pay off his debt, which I did co-sign for, and move on? Then I remembered the checkered past God delivered me from, and the compassion he showed to this desparately needy man.

I may not like the idea of paying someone else's debt; especially when I have a family to support and other more desparate causes than his unpaid cell phone bill that vie for my financial support. However, when I compare it to the debt Jesus paid on my behalf, how can I complain? I can help my young brother in the Lord, even though it will hurt my pocketbook a little.

I consider this a hard lesson learned. Will I ever co-sign for a friend again? I might, although the Bible dose warn about that sort of thing. However, I will continue to seek my own "love revolution" as I live in Christ