A couple years before I moved to Atlanta, there was a young man named Harry who helped out at a youth group in Kansas. It was a little town and the youth group was small. The kids came from different backgrounds and they fit into different styles at school. But on Sundays and Wednesdays they would meet together at the church and Harry would try and teach them about God’s love.
Harry was a friendly guy. He was skinny, with thinning hair and a small voice. Everybody in the church knew him and trusted him. He really loved the teenagers in the youth group and would do anything to prove to them how much God loves them.
The youth group met in a little house that was close to the church. It wasn’t much, but it was comfortable. They had a few things there like a popcorn maker, a tv, and a pool table.
One Wednesday in the fall, a new kid wandered in in time for Bible study. The others knew who he was from school. The kids told Harry to watch out for the new kid though because he was kind of a rebel and listened to really hard music. But Harry told them that God loves all of us even when we are acting like rebels so they should all love the new kid. And the kids listened to Harry and really did love the new kid, even when it was hard and uncomfortable.
Then one day the new kid said he wanted to start a youth group band. Harry thought it was a great idea and he asked the other youth group kids if they wanted to do it. They thought it was a good idea and they also wanted to help the new kid with what he was excited about so Harry mentioned it to the head pastor. The head pastor told the people of the church. They found out that it would cost close to $5000 to get all the band equipment.
There was a big meeting among the church elders. And nobody thought they should spend all the money needed to buy the equipment but the head pastor stood up and addressed them. “Harry is a good kid, trying to give our children a future. I have worked with him for a whole year already and I trust him. I think we should help him invest in our children’s futures.”
After more discussion they all finally decided that they should help the youth group start a band. . . after all, maybe the youth group could lead worship for the church when they got good enough.
So they gritted their teeth, squinted their eyes and wrote a difficult check to Harry so he could go buy the band equipment.
A new excitement spread through the youth group. Everybody was excited to be a part of the new band.
One day Harry was staying late, cleaning up when he saw the new kid wandering around, taking pictures of all the equipment.
Harry went up to him. “Hey Clement, whatcha doin?”
Clement jumped. He didn’t know Harry was still there. He shoved the camera in his pocket, mumbled something unintelligible, and started to leave. Harry stopped him and said, “Hey man, are you doing ok? Are things going ok at home?”
Clement tried to talk about other things but Harry sat down, intent to listen until Clement ran out of superficial things to say. Clement said, “Well, I guess I better get going.”
Harry interrupted him and asked him again, “Clement, is everything ok at home, man?”
Clement looked up at Harry and finally said, ” My parents are kicking me out. I don’t know where I’m gonna stay.”
Harry nodded, thought for a minute and then said, “You know, man, you can stay with me. I have an extra room that you can stay in for a while.”
Clement was surprised and thanked him. Harry pulled his keys out of his pocket, slipped one of them off of the key chain and gave it to Clement. Harry said, “Clement, I want to share what I have with you because God has shared what he has with me. We’ll have to set some ground rules but that key should get you in tonight, whenever you decide to come home.”
Clement looked down at the key and mumbled a thank you. He looked back up at Harry one last time and said, “Ok. I’ll probably see ya there later tonight.”
Harry said, “I’ll have a bed ready for you.”
Clement left and Harry looked up. He prayed, “God, I hope this is the right thing to do. I don’t know if I can trust him, but I need to give him a chance because you have given me so many chances.”
That night Clement showed up at Harry’s house at 2 in the morning with a backpack and an extra pair of shoes in his hand. Harry set him up in the guest room and went to bed.
It went alright for a couple weeks until one day Harry got to the youth group house and was surprised to find the head pastor and several of the other elders looking at where the music equipment used to be.
“Harry, I’m glad you’re here. Do you know what happened to all the music equipment?” The pastor said, a little bit nervously.
Harry looked around. Everything was gone except for a few cables and a beat-up pair of drumsticks. He gasped. “No! I DON’T know where it is! Do you think it was stolen!?” He looked at the door and fumbled for his keys. He looked at the pastor and said, “Was it locked when you got here?”
The Pastor said, “Someone actually saw the back door slightly open and told us. So we came over here to check and this is what we found.”
That day word quickly spread through the town that the $5000 dollars of equipment had been stolen. The church was in an uproar. . . until one of the elders (who had been one of the strongest opponents against getting the equipment) went to Harry’s house with him so they could get some information they needed to file a police report.
They walked in and Harry went into his room to look through his files. The church elder looked around the little house and saw the door to the room where Clement had been staying open (but he didn’t know Clement had been staying there). He opened the door further, curiously, and his eyes got big.
“Harry?” The elder called to him. “Can you come here a minute?”
Harry came over and looked around in the room. His eyes got big. All of the music equipment was in Clement’s room.
“When were you planning on telling us this?” The elder said, accusingly.
Just then Clement walked in. He called out, “Hey Harry! Are you here?” Clement saw the door to his room open and he froze.
The church elder looked at Clement and said, “I think we found out who stole the equipment.”
Clement looked at Harry desperately and started to back up. Harry saw the desperation in Clement’s eyes and knew that this could send Clement to jail, and cause his life to start a downward spiral. Clement cried out, “I didn’t do it! it wasn’t me!”
“I did it.” Harry looked at Clement and said it again, “I did it. Clement you better stay out of this for a while. You are free to go. Make the most of your life, my friend. Remember everything I have tried to teach you. And remember God’s love is like this.” Clement looked confused for a moment and then realized what Harry was doing for him and ran out of the house.
Harry took the blame for taking the equipment, although most of it was still there. A couple things looked like they had already been sold- probably on ebay or something. But they returned the rest of the equipment to the youth house.
They had to fire Harry however because no one could trust him after that. They didn’t press charges because they got most of it back, but Harry could no longer live in the town either. Too many people thought he was a thief. He said his goodbyes to the kids in the youth group and told them he was proud of how far they had come, and he was sorry to let them down. Harry decided to move to Atlanta, where he had always wanted to live, and start a new life there.
And young clement started a new direction in his life the day Harry took Clement’s blame. He stopped going to that youth group (for fear that what he had done would be found out) but he started to live his life by being forgiving of people and trying to help them when they were in need, instead of taking from them. And when he was lonely or depressed he thought of what Harry had done for him and he remembered the last thing Harry had told him. “God’s love is like this.” And Clement realized God had forgiven him. He would look to the sky, like Harry used to always do, and would pray, “God, help me to love like you.”