"Downward Mobility For Jesus!"
by Pastor John McWilliams
As I write this article, I am sure it will be very challenging to some who read it. Some may even become upset at what it suggests. If so, join the crowd, since I'm fairly sure that had I read an article like this 25 years ago, it would have likely ruffled my feathers a bit too. Yet getting our feathers ruffled spiritually, is downright Biblical. Just check out Deut. 32:11 where God compares Himself to an eagle that stirs up its nest to get the young eaglets to fly!
Over the years, my wife and I have come to personally see that what is suggested in this article is one of the most joyful things we've ever experienced in Christ. Please read the entire article before coming to any conclusions and perhaps the best test of what you read, is to ask whether what's being suggested, fits with what you see in Scripture and with what you feel would please The Lord. So hang on. Here we go!
In The United States, we Christians, like so many others, find ourselves buying lots of things we desire for our homes and families. Now, there is nothing wrong with having material goods, and certainly if a person is tithing and giving gifts and offerings above their tithe, one can be assured from Scripture that they are doing what God commands with regard to their giving. In fact they are, without doubt, pleasing Him with their commitment to giving according to His Word.
However, I'd like to suggest that there is another, voluntarily level of giving, beyond the tithe and extra offerings and gifts we can consider. This level of giving takes you on an adventure of Faith, that breaks out into a whole new realm of joy. It may sound strange, but I like to call it "Downward Mobility For Jesus." Let me try to explain what I mean.
Most of us who live in The United States, including most Christians, are taught early on to adopt as our own, the secular doctrine of "Upward Mobility." In short, what that means is that we are supposed to be "climbing the ladder of success" and working our way "upward" in the world financially, materialistically and in just about every other way. We strive to get better paying jobs, better and more expensive cars, bigger houses etc. Now again, there is nothing wrong with a good paying job and nice things. As long as the tithe is going to The Lord, along with extra gifts and offerings according to Scripture, most of us would agree that we are meeting Biblical requirements on giving. In fact, we hear clearly in Scripture, that we have the right given to us by God, to keep 90% of our income and God only requires we give back 10%. In other words, we have a right to keep 90% of all our income to spend as we see fit.
However, we also read in Scripture, that sometimes giving up our rights for the benefit of others, is something we are also called to consider as Christians.
For instance, Jesus certainly had the right to stay right where He was in Heaven. Nothing mandated that he come to this earth to save our souls. Yet in Philippians we read the following.
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, . . . " Phil. 2:5-7a.
Notice here that Jesus gave up all His rights to serve us! It's an example given throughout Scripture. The Apostle Paul speaks about giving up what is rightfully ours to benefit others in I Corinthians 8 and 9.
"But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this to secure any such provision. For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." I Cor. 9:15a, 19, 22b-23.
I once heard a prayer that went something like,
"Lord, please bless those who purposely live on less, so those with less, can have more."
What that implies, is that there is a level of giving, wherein a Christian purposefully gives up some of that which he or she, Biblically has a right to keep, to assist others who have so much less.
You'll notice here, that we are talking about making a sacrifice beyond the tithe, the extra gift and offering and going into giving up some of that which we have a perfect right to keep!
Let me give you an example that really hit home with me some years ago. Perhaps you've heard of R. G. LeTourneau. He was a Christian business man who made a fortune in inventing and selling large earthmoving machinery. He could have tithed and given extra gifts and offerings and would have met all the requirements set forth in Scripture for giving, but instead, determined in a Christ-like way to go further. He had the right to keep for himself, the millions of dollars in profits he could make through his inventions and through his business. However, he chose instead to use his wealth for Christ. Along with his wife, he founded what is now LeTourneau University in Texas which remains today a well respected Christian university in our nation. He personally financed numerous mission trips to various countries to spread The Gospel and to assist poor people in those lands. He himself went and preached and shared Christ with people in many nations. He could have kept it all for himself, but gave up that right purposefully so that so many with less could have more! That is "Downward Mobility For Jesus."
I first felt a call to venture out into this area of giving when I was in parish ministry full time. One of the first examples I recall God leading us in, was a relatively small thing, but something from which we could move to other things. My wife and I were planning to go out to a nice restaurant to celebrate our wedding anniversary. This was around 20 years ago now, and we had planned to spend about $40.00 on a meal together. However, we just felt led of God to go out together and get a couple slices of pizza instead, and give the money we would have spent on ourselves, to a mission cause, and that's what we did. It was really simple.
Opportunities like that are around us all the time. Some other examples include, buying a new car that is perhaps $5,000.00 less expensive than we'd planned to spend, and using the difference for mission. Some might even consider selling the car they have now, to purchase a less expensive car and using the difference for The Lord.
Many Christians go on more than one vacation a year. Perhaps you could consider staying in a Motel 6 on one vacation, instead of something more upscale and then send the money you saved to a mission cause or specific missionary family from your Church.
If you'd like to go even a bit further with the vacation theme, those who take more than one vacation a year might actually consider giving up one of those vacations during the year and just stay in town, and sending the money you would have spent on that one vacation, to a worthy mission cause.
Another source is right under our noses. We all have numerous things of value in our homes, that we virtually never use and which we could actually sell, thereby being able to give that money to a Christian mission cause somewhere in the world.
My current ministry of training pastors in various parts of the world, takes me into many Third World situations. I've lived in conditions far below what we would ever deem acceptable in The U. S., like drafty apartments in Russia in February, 17 stories up with elevators that work on an irregular basis. I've shared territory with snakes and bugs under a banana tree in the open jungle of Panama without buildings, clean water or electricity. These experiences have taught and humbled me very much.
Statistics indicate that in The U. S., we spend 354 billion dollars(that's almost a trillion dollars) a year on eating out. That's almost a billion dollars a day spent by you and me eating out. Now again, there is nothing wrong or evil about eating out and the food industry employs a lot of people. Yet, perhaps you could consider reducing by just one, the amount of times you eat out in a given month and giving that money to a mission cause. On average, that would likely amount to about $300.00 a year which is half a year's salary for many Christian brothers and sisters today in Russia. I sometimes wonder how much money we could come up with if we filled our water bottles at home instead of buying designer water all the time. Trust me, the money you save, could actually allow Christians to have water in some countries.
Let me share a story that happened to me soon after I answered the call to go into mission work full time. We had determined that our time pastoring Churches had been fulfilled and that we were being called into full time mission work. What that meant at the time, was leaving a very comfortable lifestyle in suburban N. Y. It meant a move to another part of the country and it was at a time when our personal expenses were as high as they would ever be with kids in college etc. Between the two of us, my wife and I were making a salary package of over $100,000 a year. Taking this new position meant dropping down to a salary of only $35,000.00 a year. As missionaries we would also have to raise all of that $35,000.00 ourselves from people who would support our new ministry with International Leadership Academies. It was obviously a big change, yet it was what we felt called by God to do, and we trusted we would see His Hand in making sure we had all we had to have to survive.
Obviously things were very tight financially as we began our new ministry. Even taking a daily newspaper was too expensive. I can recall standing in the supermarket trying to determine which box of pasta was one penny cheaper than the other since now, every cent counted in a new way. It was quite some time before we could even put meat in the marinara sauce that went on top of the pasta.
Moreover, our savings was being eaten up as we struggled to get people to support us in our new ministry. To be honest it looked pretty scary at times.
During this time, I was invited to preach one Sunday at Trinity Presbyterian Church, which was about 80 miles from where we live. I went there and preached two Worship Services on a Sunday morning and they gave me $300.00 as an honorarium. In my 21 years of pastoring Churches, I had made a rule for myself, that said that whenever I preached or taught somewhere outside of our Church and was given an honorarium, that money would be given away to mission causes.
However, at this point, I was a mission cause. I now was a missionary and based on that fact, I felt it might be time to renegotiate that policy with God. With our bills, that $300.00 looked more like $3,000.00 to me. So I asked The Lord if I could change the policy and keep any honorariums now to pay our bills etc. He said absolutely not! He said to take that $300.00 and put it in the bank and He'd show me what to do with it later.
About three weeks later, I left for my first teaching mission to Russia and I met a wonderful Christian brother named Sergei. He had been a civil engineer in Moscow, but had lost his job in the economic downfall of Russia in 1998. He now was working two jobs as a security guard and tour guide to try and feed his family.
I invited him to lunch one day and took him to an American type restaurant in Moscow. We each had a simple chicken breast sandwich with fries and a soda. The bill came to about $7.50 in U. S. dollars. As we were eating, I asked him how he liked the American food. I was unprepared for his answer. He said, John, you must see something. For me, this food (which again was a simple chicken breast sandwich, some fries and a soda) is like a banquet. I rarely get to eat food like this.
We finished our lunch and over the years our friendship has grown in Christ. Yet, shortly after that lunch, I heard again from The Lord, as he said, You know that $300.00 you tried to convince me should be yours? When you get back to The U. S., arrange to have that money sent to Russia for Sergei and his family, and do that for him every year hereafter. I'll make sure you have enough to give Sergei $300.00 every year, in addition to what I provide for you and your family.
I related this story for one main reason. If God can find an extra $300.00 from our life under the financial situations we were in, and allow it to serve a family in Russia, chances are real good He might He be able to do something similar in your life today.
After each teaching mission is done, I get to come back to my home in The U. S. Yet, my dear Christian friends in those places have to live there full time. These friends are dealing with very challenging financial circumstances. I have friends in Russia trying to get by on about $1, 200.00 a year. Other friends in Latin America are doing their best to survive on less than $5,000.00 a year.
When I return from any Third World country, and walk into our modest condominium, compared to what I see in those countries, I feel like I'm walking into a palace.
I recently learned about a ministry in Guatemala City which I trust I'll get to visit in the coming months. We're currently in the process of setting up a pastor's training seminar in that city. The ministry I'm speaking about is a school that is situated on the edge of the city dump in Guatemala City. It's there because several hundred people actually live in the Guatemala City Dump. They live in boxes or whatever they can build in the dump. They compete with vultures for their food. They literally spend their entire lives in the dump, trying to find enough things to sell to make a living. They marry in the dump. They have children in the dump and the school is run by a woman who is called of God to try and educate and love these children of the dump to give them a chance at a better life through Christ.
In James we are told to make sure our Christian Faith has proper works attached to show our Christian Faith is real.
"If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit. James 2:15-16.
I guess the bottom line for me, is that as long as there are people living in Russia and Latin America and India among other places, that are so ill-clad and so hungry and living so far below the minimum standards by which we live here in The U. S., we Christians who live here in The U. S., should purposefully find more ways to do with less, so that these dear brothers and sisters who have so little, can have a little more.
"And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me. Matthew 25:40.
"Blessed is he who considers the poor!" Psalm 41:1
Well, there you have it. "Downward Mobility For Jesus". Maybe it's something you could pray about working toward in your life. It sure has been wonderful in ours. May The Lord Bless you as you consider purposefully doing with less, so that those with so much less, might have a little more, in Christ's Name.
About the Author
Pastor John McWilliams is a Presbyterian pastor and full time missionary with Campus Crusade: Russia. The ministry takes him to various parts of the world to train future pastors and Christian leaders. He is a graduate of Princeton Seminary and pastored two Churches in The Northeast for 21 years before going into mission work full time.
If you have questions or comments about this article, you are invited to contact Pastor John by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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