Archive for August, 2011


Financial Freedom

As I read Ecclesiastes last week it occurred to me just how enslaved our society has become by their finances. This is so much the case that we use the term ‘financial freedom’ to indicate that we don’t have to work anymore to live the lifestyle we want. What we’re not free from, it seems, is having that lifestyle, with all its possessions and experiences. These possessions and experiences are dictated to us by advertising, whose very existence is to make us dissatisfied. So our couch is not leather enough, our TV not thin enough (or is lacking a dimension), our stereo is not surround enough, our holidays are not international enough, our ipad is not 2 enough, and so the list goes on. Never mind that these things were all fine just the other month when we bought them.

Genuine financial freedom is not being free from work, it’s having the freedom to do with our money what we want to, not having to do what they want us to. It’s the ability not to be enslaved to money, to possessions, to lifestyle, to comfort or any of the false status that goes with those things.

It’s interesting to note that when Jesus preached he never preached against the worshiping of statues by the Jews. Ever since the Exile, when they had returned from Babylon, they had ceased to worship statues. Does that mean that they had given up idolatry? Not at all. Jesus preached against idolatry, but the rival god was money. So in Matthew 6:24 he says, ‘You cannot serve both God and money.’ The same thing is true today. Very few Australians worship statues (although there are some). But boy do we worship money here. The pursuit of money governs our time, our thoughts, our effort and yes, even our money.

It’s only when we choose to stop worshiping money and to worship God instead that we can truly have financial freedom. Then we will be free to do with our money what we want. Not to put ourselves back under financial slavery, but to use our money to worship God.

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This is my latest sermon, from a series in Ecclesiastes. Have a listen to it by clicking on the picture.

Thomas the Utilitarian Patsy Engine

After years now of watching Thomas I feel I must speak out. Thomas the Tank Engine is Utilitarian propaganda. What do I mean?

Utilitarianism teaches that the most proper course of action is one that maximizes the greater good. It concentrates on the consequences of an action rather than the action itself. In a Utilitarian society your value comes from your usefulness. The more useful, the more valuable. Do you see where this is going yet?

What is the highest praise the fat (now thin ever since biggest loser) controller gives to one of his engines? ‘Thomas you are a really useful engine.’ What is his standard rebuke? ‘Thomas you are causing confusion and delay.’

Oh, it’s all fairly harmless isn’t it? Sure… unless your Bulstrode the Barge. Bulstrode is the only character so far to fall completely foul of the fat controller. He continues to cause confusion and delay. He is a very disagreeable old barge. He is always complaining. So what happens? He is scuttled on the beach. Thomas’ own version of the final solution.

Rev. Awdry, if he’d read his Bible, should have known that our value does not come from our usefulness. (Good news for the elderly and the disabled). It comes from the fact that every human is made in the image of God. (Gen 1:26) He would also know that God has loved all people in this way – by sending his own Son to die for us, so that whoever believes in him will not suffer judgement and death in hell, but will have eternal life in heaven.

I still let my kids watch the show. I just make sure I continue to demonstrate how useful I am, so I don’t find myself scuttled one day…

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about Oliver Cromwell. Fascinating guy. I’ve been really enjoying it, maybe because under the banner of church history I actually get to read military history. Cromwell lived in the early 17th century, dying in 1658. He never fought in a single battle until he was 46, and then discovered that he was a military genius. He remained undefeated in a decade of military campaigns. He rose from a cavalry commander to be the Lord Protector of England. His rise was extraordinary, and the significance of this was not lost on Cromwell. He came to believe that he was God’s appointed instrument for the reformation of England.

How do you come to that conclusion, though? Well, as far as I can tell, the reasoning goes like this. God is intimately involved in the affairs of this world. So far so good. God punishes the wicked and proud and exalts the humble. As a general statement in world affairs, still good. We can know God’s will by looking at what he is doing in history. Now this is where the train derails. Just to let you see where the train went from there: Cromwell took his unbroken run of victories as a sign of divine favour and commission to become an absolute dictator for the reform of England.

But herein lies the rub. When people look outside God’s word for direction from God they open themselves up to all kinds of error. Now Cromwell did so with his Bible open. He was by no means ignorant of its contents. But he read what he saw happening around him and to him into his Bible. This is a subtle dynamic.

If we are to avoid error (and this is a high and hard calling) we must read our Bibles first and then interpret the world in which we live in light of that. If we do it in the reverse order, starting with our experiences, traditions or our society’s values, and then go into the Bible we open ourselves up to all kinds of trouble. This is exceptionally hard to do. Pray that God will help us.