FIRST-PERSON: In debt or free indeed?
DORA, Ala. (BP) -- Ambrose Bierce, a 19th/20th-century writer, defined "debt" as "an ingenious substitute for the chain and whip of the slavedriver."
For anyone who's ever been in a financial bind because of credit debt, Bierce's definition rings horribly true. Debt is indeed bondage. And for many Christians, bondage is what they live in every day.
The Barna Group reports that 79 percent of professing Christians are concerned over the personal debt that individual Christians carry and, indeed, for many it is a daily struggle.
There is such a tremendous freedom in living without financial debt that the devil works extremely hard to make sure as many Christians as possible never know this freedom. He wants us to believe that the way to feel good about ourselves is to have the biggest house, or the nicest car or the fanciest jewelry. And the list goes on.
My friend Andrew was once a victim of that thought line. Having landed his first job fresh out of college, he bought a loft apartment in the trendiest part of town. And of course, he had to have the "right" furnishings for such a cool pad, so he literally charged ahead, to the tune of over $20,000.
But a cool guy with a cool loft needed a cool car, so his old beater was traded in for a luxury sports car -- another $50,000 in credit debt. And a cool guy with a cool car had to have cool clothes, too, right? Andrew shopped the most prestigious stores in town and even made the occasional trip to the Big Apple just so he could throw into a conversation, "What, my jacket? I picked it up at Bloomingdale's."
All that coolness also meant getting in with the "right" crowd. Andrew dined and danced with the crème de la crème and ran up another $10,000 in credit debt. Within months of creating his new persona, Andrew's life began snowballing downhill.
"I still remember getting hit with that first late fee," Andrew recalls. "Money was so tight, I had to skip a different card payment to cover that extra charge. The next month the other card tacked on a late fee. I tried to make sure my mortgage payments went in on time no matter what else got behind, but between the late fees and the jacked-up interest rates because of my slow payments, it was like trying to swim with [a] sack full of boulders."
So what did Andrew do? He left work one day in his Armani suit and saw his beloved sports car being towed away by the repo guys. He walked the three miles home and emptied out a mailbox full of bills. He fell down on his knees inside his heavily mortgaged abode and begged the Lord to forgive him and help him get out of the hole he'd dug.
And God did. Andrew's next move required repentance.
"The next thing I did was swallow a whole lot of false pride," Andrew said. "I went to my parents and asked if I could move back home until I could get my finances straightened out. They acquiesced, but with the stipulation that I had one year to get my act together -- and I knew they meant it."
Andrew sold his loft and then its furnishings. The appreciation on the loft's value enabled him to recover his car, which he then sold at a loss, using the loft sales money to clear the rest of that debt. The furniture didn't bring half of what he owed for it, leaving him with a balance of over $10,000 for furniture other people were now enjoying. Transportation became an old clunker he bought for $1,000.
Andrew joined a group called Debtors Anonymous (www.DebtorsAnonymous.org) where he met a lot of people who had very similar stories to his own. He became more involved in his church.
"It was amazing how quickly I was welcomed at church," Andrew said, "while at the same time all my old friends started disappearing."
Even without the loft, car and related expenses, it took the full year for Andrew to pay off his debts. That year he eliminated eating out, new clothing purchases and all entertainment that wasn't free, and added two things: tithing and brown bag lunches.
Where's Andrew now? Living in a little fixer upper that will be paid off in less than six years.
"My dad and I made lemonade out of this lemon," Andrew said, waving a hand at his new cottage. "When I turned my life over to the Lord, my priorities changed. What's 'cool' to me now is good gas mileage, low utilities, and above all, my commitment to Christ. He's taught me what it means to be 'free indeed' [Jesus' words from John 8:36]."
Judy Woodward Bates is a speaker, TV personality and author of Bargainomics: Money Management by the Book. Visit her website at www.Bargainomics.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).