America has two obesity problems. Along with our bellies, our billfolds are getting fat, flabby and out of shape.
Just as eating good food isn't bad, padding our pockets isn't necessarily a negative thing. But gorging ourselves leads to weight gain, causing health problems that could be avoided with exercise and a smart and disciplined diet.
Financially, it's the same principle. Hoarding our wealth is a symptom of selfishness, a stem that sprouts out of the roots of pride and selfishness. Building a fortune to serve ourselves, to prop up our comfortable lifestyles, causes clogs in the arteries that lead from our heart to God's and undue strain on the system that circulates his love and ideas throughout our lives.
Today I've been listening to the audiobook of "Revolution in World Missions," a semi-autobiography by the founder of a ministry I support called Gospel for Asia. The ministry seeks to mobilize native missionaries throughout Asia to bring the name of Jesus to their own people.
K.P. Yohannan, the author of the book and the founder and president of GFA, describes the vision as a cost-effective and timely way to reach the most unreached peoples of the world with culturally relevant Gospel teaching. He pits this idea against the paradigm of Western missions, sending "blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white people" to areas throughout the globe where their presence is often unwelcome or forbidden.
In these situations, Mr. Yohannan argues, it often takes years to learn language, secure the requisite immigrant status, build relationships, learn cultural mores, and finally, to plant churches. Gospel for Asia operates by cultivating trained native missionaries who are ready to go to their own people for a fraction of the cost of Western missionaries, if only someone will send them.
A native of the Indian state of Kerala, Mr. Yohannan didn't come to America until he was college-aged. He didn't speak English until he was 16. He'd always heard about American affluence but finally experienced it when he came to study on scholarship at a seminary in Dallas. To make a long story short, he was appalled by the way that U.S. citizens went about their days with little idea of how filthy rich they really were.
One day's meat for us was enough to feed an Asian family for a week, he said. A $3 latte at Starbucks is the equivalent of three days' wages for more than a billion people living in poverty. After meetings where he spoke about the lost and dying, he was shocked to note that the after-church meal he ate often cost more than what he had collected in his love offering for the support of native missionaries who were suffering for Christ.
In fairness, Mr. Yohannan isn't all self-congratulating. He grapples with these issues in the text, and he admits the failures when he fell into the same traps. But his message is clear and unabashed: The Church in the U.S. and other wealthy Western nations has been financially blessed so that it can help faithfully bankroll the work of reaching the lost for Christ in some of the most untouched places.
GFA has grown tremendously out of this vision. A turning point in the ministry was creating $30/month (about a dollar a day) sponsorship plan so that a believer here can support a believer there. That remains a cornerstone of GFA's fundraising efforts.
The problem is that it's hard to get Americans to sacrifice anything. If the current financial crisis tells us anything about ourselves, it's that we haven't yet begun to loosen the grip that materialism has not only on our culture, but on our hearts as Christians and our churches as well.
I propose a way to combat this, and in the process, waistlines will likely slim.
We spend tons of money going out to eat every week, some of us more than others. For many, getting a drink with a meal is second nature, nevermind the fact that it usually adds about $2 to the bill and hundreds of calories that our waistlines are fighting hopelessly against.
Maybe we should try to only drink water (offered free at most establishments) when we eat out and put the money that we saved away so that we can support GFA or ministries like it. I think we'd be surprised at the millions we could raise so quickly and easily. Jesus said that there would be untold blessings for anyone who gives a cup of cold water to nourish his disciples. With this plan, we can even drink the water ourselves and still reap the spiritual benefit. It's dying to self in a small way. Starting here, it's possible that we could begin to walk the path of true, sacrifical giving that invests in God's kingdom rather than our own.
What does anyone out there think?
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