RPM, Volume 15, Number 35, August 25 to August 31, 2013

The First Word

By John McWilliams

Proverbs 19:17
When you give to the poor, it is like lending to the Lord, and the Lord will pay you back.
I Timothy 6:17-18

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others.

Everything I'm going to say in this sermon is based on what we just read from Proverbs and I Timothy. I can guarantee you one thing for sure. If you put into practice the things I'm going to suggest in this sermon, it can greatly change your life and the lives of many others. Nothing I'm going to suggest that you do is mandatory. It's a choice you will have after you hear what I have to share. Yet if you choose to do it, I'm sure many, including you, will be blessed beyond what you may have ever dreamed.

Please take a moment and notice the title I've chosen for this sermon. I'm calling it "Downward Mobility." However, it's safe to say that from a young age most of us are taught about something called "Upward Mobility."

We are taught that our goal in life should be that of being upwardly mobile, that is, we are to strive to move up the ladder of success, gaining various positions and possessions along the way, which as we do, will make our life easier and will clearly identify us as being successful in this life.

One definition of "Upward Mobility" goes like this: "The ability or desire to move to a higher social class and acquire greater wealth, power, or status."

Most of us, including myself, have been a part of this way of life and let me make it clear at the very outset of this sermon that I'm not saying that working hard and moving up in the world and having nice things is wrong or unspiritual or unbiblical. It's not.

In fact, God tells us in The Bible that as long as we are giving Him back 10% of all He's blessed us with, we are allowed to keep the remaining 90%. Jesus actually gave us a 100%, even to the point of investing His own life for us and He's only asking for 10% in return. You have to admit, that's a really great deal!

So if we are tithing, we are fully compliant with what God calls us in Scripture to be giving and again, He gives us the right to keep 90% of everything He blesses us with in the way of our wealth. So like I said, it's not evil to have nice things and to improve your status in life, but sometimes our efforts to get to those different levels of upward mobility can get in the way of our faith. Sometimes we can become so consumed with being upwardly mobile that God has to get our values back on the right track. Sometimes our possessions can even begin to possess us.

Let me give you an example of how that happened to me some years ago. I'm a car guy. I like cars, especially classic cars, but back in 1981, in my early upward mobility years, there was a new car taking over this country that millions of people had to have and I just had to have one too.

It was the time when a Japanese car maker named Honda was boldly breaking into the U. S. market. After all the gas guzzling muscle cars of the 60's and the gas shortage crisis of the late 70's, a new age of car manufacturing had begun; the age of quality built smaller cars that offered both great gas mileage and the expectation that they would last at least 100,000 miles and I had to have one. It was the Honda Civic 4 door sedan.

They were so popular that they had sold out in the entire New England area where I lived. What's more, they were in such demand, that they were actually, regularly selling for above the sticker price, something unheard of today. People would actually offer the sticker price at a dealership and be turned down by the dealer because the next person in line was willing to pay more than the sticker price to get the car.

Since I was unable to find one in my area, I did my research and the closest one to New Hampshire where I lived at the time that was available was at a dealership down in Newark, New Jersey.

So, in an upwardly mobility type move, I hopped on a plane at Logan International Airport in Boston and flew down to beautiful Newark, New Jersey and I bought my first new car ever and drove it back to New England. I was now the proud owner of one of the most sought after cars in the country.

Upon returning to New Hampshire with the car, I proceeded to give everyone in the family the proper instructions regarding the car. As far as kids were concerned, they were to be taught to respect the car and I gave my wife special instructions to make sure that happened. I officially designated this a "no French fries car" and if I found a single French fry or other food item in the back seat of that car, somebody was going to be in big trouble.

As I said, it was my first new car ever. I'm a car guy and I loved that car and had worked hard to get it. Then to my surprise one day, after enjoying and driving it for a year or so, God made it clear to me that he would like me to sell it.

I didn't hear an audible voice from God, but nonetheless it was like a text from Heaven right into my soul. God made it clear to me that he would like me to sell the car I loved. I questioned Him on that to make sure he had it right.

After all this was a car I was sure I had to have and which I had a right to have since my giving was Biblical. I was tithing. I was giving God His 10% and a little more and I bought the car out of the 90% He said I could keep. I loved that car and treated it accordingly, but God was about to show me an important spiritual lesson about serving others by choosing to let go of something I had a perfect right to keep.

I have to admit that this was a directive from God which I hated to obey, but nonetheless, I felt it was what God was telling me to do, so I put the car up for sale. In the days before the Internet, I took out an ad in the paper and parked the car on my front lawn with a big "For Sale" sign on it right in a spot where hundreds of people passed by every day going to and from our town.

After a few weeks the number of inquiries I had on the car was amazing because the number of inquiries was zero! It was puzzling. God told me to sell the car, but not a single person was interested in buying it.

Then it came to me. I get it Lord. You were just testing me. You were just checking to see if I would really have the faith to obey you and give up the car and when You saw that I was willing to do so, You're now going to reward my obedience and faith by actually letting me keep the car after all, just like you allowed Abraham to keep his son Isaac.

That was my theological conclusion on the whole matter, but as it turned out that was totally wrong because God had a plan for my Honda that He was about to show me.

I left for a few days to go on a pastor's retreat in Maine. My roommate was a pastor from Maine who pastored two small poor congregations there that together, could hardly afford to pay him a decent salary. He was having a tough time financially and his ministry was in a poor section of Maine. We got to talking about our ministries and somehow the subject of what he really had to have in his ministry came up and he told me that the one thing he could really use in his ministry right now was a good dependable car to get around and do his work more effectively. The weather is tough on cars in that part of the country and getting around and doing visitation and various other things for ministry can be very difficult without a good vehicle.

So I told him that I just happened to have a car for sale and it was parked in the back parking lot if he'd like to see it. He said he would, so we went out to see the car. He loved it and felt it would be great for his ministry and family. He asked me how much I was asking and I told him.

Although he felt my asking price was very fair, he simply told me that even though the price was fair, he was unable to afford it. With his financial situation, he was unable to come up with the money to buy it, but I could see how much he would like the car and how much it would be a blessing for him to have it.

Then God made it clear to me that I should sell him the car for $1,000 down and allow him to pay me the rest at $100.00 a month until he paid it off without interest. He agreed and the deal was done. As a result, that pastor from Maine's life and ministry was very blessed and so was mine as I saw the difference my car had made for him, his family and his ministry.

God had given me the money and ability to have that new Honda and I sure enjoyed it for awhile and I did have a right to keep it. Yet God showed me that giving up that right would greatly bless and serve someone else. In this particular case, God showed me that I really didn't have to have a new car after all and that giving it up would be a blessing to someone else which they otherwise would never have had and that I could get along just fine driving a good used car.

As I said earlier, God gives us the right to keep 90% of all the wealth He blesses us with in this life, but to serve others, we can also choose to even give up some of that which we have the right to keep.

That was my first lesson in something I like to call "Downward Mobility" and there was more to come. Actually, better phrased, let's call it "Downward Mobility For Jesus." Downward mobility is one thing, but, " Downward Mobility For Jesus" is even better.

Here's a working definition of "Downward Mobility For Jesus." "Downward Mobility For Jesus" is a conscious choice on your part, to give up something God has given you the ability to have and that you have a perfect right to keep, so that others might have something they would never otherwise have.

The Apostle Paul speaks about certain rights he had in his life that he gave up in order to better minister to and serve others. Jesus gave up all that He had, all the glory of Heaven to come to this earth and go to The Cross so that you and I could go to Heaven.

As Christians who love Jesus, let me suggest to you this morning that "Downward Mobility For Jesus" is something you might like to try, because it can make a huge difference in the lives of many who are less fortunate than you.

For you it might be something very different than giving up a car, but whatever it is, giving it up could allow someone else to be blessed in ways you never dreamed.

One day while on a break from a training event for pastors at a seminary, I was browsing in the book store. I pulled out a large living room table type book to look at and the cover on the book really got my attention. The book had a split cover. On the left hand side of the cover was a picture of an amazingly rich and extravagant dining room set for a feast, a dining room with gold place settings and crystal chandeliers and a table that seemed like it was a mile long. It was a dining room that you might expect to see in one of the beautiful mansions on Ocean Drive in Newport, Rhode Island.

Then on the right side of the cover was a picture of a child with a swollen belly from rickets. It really made a real impression on me. As I stood there looking at the picture it was as if God said to me, John, you actually can do something about this if you'd like to do so. It was another invitation to practice "Downward Mobility For Jesus."

So here's just one small example of what my wife and I did after I saw that book cover. Barb and I had planned to celebrate our 10th. wedding anniversary by going out to a really nice restaurant and having a fairly expensive meal together. As we were preparing to go, we just kind of agreed that perhaps we should do something for someone else. So, instead of spending the money on a fancy meal for ourselves, we chose to celebrate over a couple of slices of pizza and give the money we would have spent on the fancy meal to a Christian mission cause. That's Downward Mobility For Jesus in a small and simple way.

As Americans, we spend over a billion dollars a day eating out and there is nothing wrong with eating out. Barb and I eat out once a week and my son is an Executive Chef and my daughter also makes her living in the restaurant business, so I have nothing against eating out.

However, I ran some numbers and found out that if those who eat out regularly gave up eating out just 2 times a month, you would free up about a thousand dollars a year that could be given to a Christian mission cause to feed hungry people or to some other Christian cause you felt was worthy.

Perhaps you've heard of a man named R. G. Le Tourneau. He was clearly into "Downward Mobility For Jesus." He made a fortune inventing and selling large earth moving equipment. He started out with nothing and even was in serious debt at one point, but God honored his commitment to follow Jesus in some amazing ways. People came to call him "God's Businessman."

He was awarded nearly 300 patents on cutting edge inventions like the electric wheel, the crusher, the log picker and even the bulldozer. 70% of all earth moving equipment used in World War II by the Allied Forces was designed and manufactured by him. He literally made millions during a period when the country was going through difficult economic times. Although he agreed that giving 10% back to God was the right thing to do, he and his wife, at her suggestion, adopted a different policy which they determined would be their rule of life concerning the millions they were making. They determined that in thankfulness to God for all they had been given by Him, they would keep and live on just 10% of all they earned, and would give the remaining 90% to the work of Christ.

At one point they had given away ten million dollars of their own money, and even though ten million dollars is still a lot of money today, ten million dollars back then went a whole lot further than it does today.

They established the Le Tourneau Foundation and by 1959, even after giving away ten million dollars, the fund was still worth some 40 million dollars. Le Tourneau said that he couldn't give their money away fast enough. He said that in their giving, "I shovel it out, and God shovels it back, God has a bigger shovel." He claimed that God was The Chairman of the Board of his company.

They gave away millions to support mission and spread The Gospel throughout the U. S. and around the world. He himself traveled extensively sharing The Gospel with anyone who would listen. Their generosity also established Le Tourneau University, a quality Christian university located in Longview, Texas.

Later in my ministry, God showed me even more about "Downward Mobility For Jesus" in of all places, Moscow, Russia and He did it during a time that I felt it was impossible for Barb and me to be able to afford any more downward mobility projects. Yet God showed me once again that I was wrong.

In 1997, after serving two congregations as pastor and wife for 21 years, Barb and I felt we should leave the parish ministry and go into mission work full time. We became staff members with Campus Crusade for Christ and my main responsibilities focused on the training of pastors and Christian leaders in various foreign countries. From our base here in the U. S. I traveled many times to these different countries to teach and preach and to do other forms of ministry. Russia was a place I went to numerous times, but it was the very first time I went there that God taught me more about "Downward Mobility For Jesus."

Like most people who go into full time mission work, we had to raise all our own support. When we left the parish ministry we were doing very well financially, making over a hundred thousand dollars a year between my salary as a pastor and Barb's salary as a teacher. The day we left the parish ministry to go to our new job, we took a 2/3 cut in our salary and all of that had to be raised through friends and supporters of our work. Since it took time to raise enough support to fund even our new much smaller salary, we had to bridge the gap by dipping into our savings to make ends meet.

Bills were piling up and we had moved to Florida where we could live cheaper and easier than in New York where we had last ministered out on Long Island. In the midst of all this, I was asked by Trinity Presbyterian Church in Venice, Florida if I would come and preach one Sunday while their pastor was away. I went and preached two services for which I was given an honorarium of $300.00. I felt that was very generous and at the time that $300.00 looked like $3,000 to me and it could be used to pay down some of our mounting bills.

I should mention that for years as a pastor, I had adopted a personal policy that whenever I received an honorarium for preaching somewhere else or for doing a wedding etc., I would always give it to a mission cause.

Yet now, as I saw it, we were a mission cause, so it made sense that we could keep this honorarium for ourselves and pay down some bills. Yet when I ran that by God He said no. Instead of keeping that money for ourselves, I was to put it in the bank and wait for further instructions from Him with regard to what to do with it. I wish I could tell you I was happy obeying that directive, but like selling the Honda, I did it more out of obedience than joy.

Shortly thereafter I went on my first teaching trip to Russia. While there I met a Christian man who would become our dear friend. His name is Sergei Shevchenkov. Some of you met him recently when he was visiting here in the U. S. in May and worshiped with us one Sunday. Sergei grew up in the Soviet Union during the Soviet Union's most powerful times. He had a good job as an engineer and had been doing well.

Then with the fall of the Soviet Union, he lost his job and like so many others in Russia, found himself in the midst of a financial crisis. To support his family he took a job as a security guard and he also worked for the Moscow Bible College where I was going to teach.

We struck up a friendship fairly quickly and one day I offered to take Sergei out to lunch in Moscow. An American restaurant chain called Route 66 had opened a place in Moscow so I took him there so he could experience some typical American food. Even though my own funds were low, I just felt led to take him out to lunch. As it turned out God was going to give me another lesson in practicing "Downward Mobility For Jesus."

We both ordered the same thing. We each had a chicken sandwich, French fries and a drink. At the time, the Russian Ruble was weak and a dollar went a long way and so the price for both lunches came to around $7.50 U.S.

As we were eating, I asked Sergei what I felt was a simple question. I asked him how he liked the American food. I have to say that I was unprepared for his answer. He said, John, you have to see something. I don't get to eat food like this very often. To me this food is like a banquet! I was amazed. A chicken sandwich, some fries and a drink was like a banquet to my new friend.

We continued our lunch and shortly thereafter I received another Heavenly text from God. The Lord said, hey John, you know that $300.00 you were whining about being able to keep that I told you to put in the bank? Well, when you get back to the U. S. take that $300.00 out of the bank and send it to Sergei for him and his family and do the same for him every year until I tell you to stop. I'll make sure you have enough for yourself and enough to give that extra money to Sergei as well.

So that's what I did. At the time the average monthly income in Russia was about $50.00 a month so that gift translated to half a year's salary. I saw Sergei each time I traveled to Russia and over the years he wrote me beautiful letters telling us how much of a blessing those gifts had been and what he did with them for his family.

Then after a number of years he told me that he was doing well enough to do without that gift each year and he said we could stop sending it. I took that as a sign from The Lord and although the money has stopped, our friendship has grown wonderfully.

I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that virtually all of us at any given time, can choose to take part in some degree of "Downward Mobility For Jesus," thus being a blessing to someone else.

I once heard a prayer that went something like this, "Lord, please bless those who purposefully live on less, so that those with so much less, can have a little bit more."

Let me share just one more story about selfless giving that humbled me and left me speechless.

My work has taken me many times to various Latin American countries to teach, preach and minster. One of those countries has been Costa Rica.

If you are standing on a high spot overlooking the capital city of San Jose, things can look pretty beautiful and calm. However, when you take a closer look and travel down from the beautiful hills into the large ghettos of that city, things can get pretty rough. You'll see terrible living conditions with dogs walking the streets with their ribs showing due to lack of food. There are dirt roads and dilapidated housing that is very vulnerable to earthquakes and hurricanes. What we consider a small Category 1 hurricane in the U. S. can do tremendous damage to the poorly constructed buildings in many Latin American countries.

I have been in such ghettos numerous times on my trips to Latin America and on one trip in particular I was invited to preach in a small Church in one of those very poor areas. You could look up at the ceiling and see the sky showing through due to the holes and cracks in the building. Yet the people were so loving and so alive in their faith in Christ.

Following worship I was outside waiting in the car for my friend to come out and take me back to where I was staying. He was a former student of mine who had become a pastor in San Jose. He came out, but was stopped by a woman who I recognized as one of the worship assistants in the service. She seemed to be asking him a number of questions and was writing down a bunch of things on a small pad. I wondered what it all meant. Perhaps she was trying to get some assistance for herself or someone else in the congregation.

When the conversation was over and my friend was in the car I asked him what it was all about. What he told me humbled me beyond anything I could have expected. He told me that the woman was so thankful for the message of The Gospel that I had preached and so thankful for what I had done there, that she was trying to find out my contact information so she could send me a gift to support my ministry.

Here was a very poor woman who was asking how she could give a gift to me. I was humbled beyond words! I can assure you that if you give "Downward Mobility For Jesus" a try, blessings will come to many, including yourself.

Let me close by showing you how God has recently blessed us in our efforts to continue practicing "Downward Mobility For Jesus." In His Word, God says, that he who honors Me, he also will I honor. Barb and I can attest to the fact that as we've tried to honor God through "Downward Mobility For Jesus" He has faithfully honored us. Like it says in Proverbs, "When you give to the poor, it is like lending to The Lord and The Lord will pay you back." It may be different for you, but this is our latest praise report.

In an effort to free up funds for other things, including giving to others, I stopped buying new cars after that Honda back in 1981. Instead, we simply seek God for good quality used cars. Two years ago it was time to replace Barb's car. For various reasons we are partial to the Buick Century. So we prayed and asked God to lead us to a good used Buick Century. We started the search and God came through big time. We found a beautiful Buick Century. Even though it was 16 years old, it only had 29,000 original miles on it and it was in great shape.

Then just a few weeks ago, it was time to replace my car. Perhaps you've seen my old Toyota Corolla on Sundays and wondered who abandoned their old car in our Church parking lot. Hands down it definitely was the worst looking car out there each Sunday.

However, as anyone in mission work will tell you, you have to do what you can to make all your support go as far as possible. Even though the paint had become very messy in spots and there were lots of rattles, it was running well and so I kept it to avoid having to spend money on another car.

Yet, the time came for another car and so we again asked The Lord to lead us to the right used car, another nice Buick Century, if possible. Once again The Lord came through. We found another beautiful Buick Century Limited with leather and loaded with options. It was 17 years old and only had 50,000 original miles on it. So it was only driven an average of 3,000 miles a year, had been garaged and looked like it was brand new. The best part was the price. We only paid $2,950.00 for it. God keeps His promises!

Let me ask you this morning to prayerfully consider giving "Downward Mobility For Jesus" a try and sending the money you free up to a worthy Christian mission cause. If you'd like a list of all the missionaries and mission organizations we support here at First Presbyterian Church that list is available in the racks in the Narthex just inside the main entry doors to the left. What works for you may be very different than what works for me or for others.

It may have nothing to do with a car. Then again, maybe you are about to buy a brand new car and if so, perhaps you might consider spending say a thousand dollars less than you were going to spend and then send that thousand dollars to a mission cause. Perhaps you are planning a nice vacation for the coming year and might consider staying in a hotel that was a little less expensive than one you might normally use. You just have to sort of try this concept on and see how it fits for you. For some people it might mean buying the exact same brand name product at Wal-Mart instead of Macy's and giving the difference to missions. In a year's time that could add up. Whatever the case, God can show us all how this best fits us and how we can grow in it.

If you do try it, we'd love to hear your story and have you share how it worked out for you. We'll keep your name confidential, but we'd love to share your story in our newsletter to encourage others. Just write up your story and send it to Trusha Barner, our Director of Missions. Her e-mail is: tbarner@fpcbonita.org.

"Downward Mobility For Jesus." Give it a try. You'll be amazed at what God can do through you for others. Amen.

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