Money Matters: The eye is the lamp of the body?

•8 April 2011 • 1 Comment

In my very first blog on this site I talked about the sermon on the mount in Matthew 6 and said I hoped to revisit it in the future, especially verses 22 and 23:-

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

So I went away and looked into it, and found some really helpful stuff. You can read William Barclay’s take on it, or John Piper’s. If listening is more your thing, check out Tim Keller on Treasure vs Money and Jay Pathak from Mile High Vineyard (similar to Keller). If you’ve only got time to do one, it’s definitely the Keller podcast. I love that within just a few minutes of his talk, he jumps straight into the above verse with ‘Well what it means is very simple…’ ! Here’s what he says:

One of the curious things for interpreters, or anybody who’s reading and trying to understand the passage, is this illustration, this little saying about the eye… Now what that means is very simple. We’re in this room and there’s light in this room. And if your eye works, if it takes the light in, you will by the light be able to move your body through the room. You know, you’ll see where the aisle is, you’ll move that way and you know, you won’t stumble, you won’t fall. And all this saying is basically pointing out is if your eye isn’t working, even though there’s light all around the rest of your body, your whole body in a sense is in the darkness. If your eye’s not working, there’s no other part of your body that can see or take light in. So if your eye’s not working, your whole body’s in darkness, whether or not the whole room’s flooded with light, see?

So, you say “…and?” When you’re reading this you say ‘what’s that got to do with anything?!’ You look and you say, ok, well verses 19-21 is all about money.  And then verses 24 and following is about money. What’s this saying doing in here?

It’s a little easier to understand his point if you go to Luke 11 and 12. In Luke 11 and 12, Jesus uses the same illustration – the eye is the lamp of the body etc – and he also talks about money. Again, it’s connected. When you get into Luke 12, you see after he talks about the eye and the lamp he says “so watch out for greed! Watch out for all kinds of greed.”

Now, what is he saying? Very interesting. He’s saying that greed and materialism – materialism is an inordinate desire or dependence on money and material things – has the peculiar effect of blinding you spiritually, of distorting the way you see things. It has a power over the way you see everything. Now what do I mean by that? Let me give you some examples.

First of all, materialism has the power to blind you to materialism. So what Jesus is saying is very interesting. Let me cast it in this light:

Some years ago my wife Kathy noticed that I was doing a series of monthly men’s breakfasts. Once a month I was speaking on the seven deadly sins. And you know the seven deadly sins have lust, they have pride, they have envy, anger and so forth. And of course one of the seven deadly sins is greed. And Kathy says ‘now are they advertising these, are they saying here’s the subject, and people are bringing their friends’ I said ‘yeah’. She says ‘so they’ll know the month you’re speaking on greed?’ I said ‘right’. She said ‘watch – the attendance is going to drop. They’re not going to come out to hear about greed.’ And she was right! She was right. It was the worst attended of all of them.

And I thought about that – why? Well I’ll tell you why. It’s not that they were hostile, it’s not that people said ‘oh, that’s a terrible idea. I don’t want to talk about greed, I don’t want to hear about greed.’ No. Everybody was just so absolutely sure it’s not true of them! See this is different than any other kind of sin, this is why Jesus says this is an ‘eye’ sin. This darkens your eye spiritually. You don’t have to say to anybody – Jesus didn’t say to anybody – ‘Watch out! You might be committing adultery.’ I mean if you’re committing adultery, you know you’re committing adultery. You don’t say ‘oh! you’re not my wife!’ It doesn’t happen! But Jesus has to say watch out you might be greedy! You see, because greed hides itself. It blinds you, in a way that adultery doesn’t really. I mean you know if you’re committing adultery.

Over the years as a pastor I’ve had people come in and talk to me about sin, to confess sins. … They come in and they’ll talk about anger, they’ll talk about bitterness and lust, they’ll talk about pride and everything, but I don’t think I ever remember anyone ever coming to me to confess the sin of greed. I don’t think anyone ever came to me and said ‘pastor, I’m materialistic’. Never done it.

What this means is, Jesus is saying ‘you don’t ask’. You don’t consider the possibility that you’re greedy. You just don’t think you are. ‘Me? greedy?’. You think of rich people! The trouble is you’ve all got friends, in fact most of you even have a relative, who’s much more extravagant with money than you are. And that’s all it takes! All you’ve got to do is know somebody who’s really greedy and you don’t even think that you’re greedy. You wouldn’t even consider the possibility that you’re materialistic. That’s the reason why they didn’t come. They were bored! They figured ‘this doesn’t apply to me’.

If you’re there tonight and you say ‘well this is not a problem of mine’ that’s a very bad sign. This is one of the sins that has the sign, a symptom is that i’m sure it’s just not true of me. And therefore Jesus is saying watch out, it’s a sin of your eye, it darkens your eye.

That’s ’til 8 minutes in. You can download the whole podcast (36 mins) on iTunes. I really recommend it, it’s fantastic and I’d transcribe it all if I had the time.

What do you think?

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Risk Redefined – Part Two: What Is Risk?

•2 March 2011 • Leave a Comment

Risk – it’s not a simple concept. You can study degrees based on it and its application. Continuing this ‘Redefining Risk’ series I want to look at definitions of risk, to investigate what it is, and if there is, or should be, any difference between ‘secular’ risk, ie risk in and for the world around us, and ‘kingdom risk’, ie risks we take because of and for God, or if they are the same thing.  I want to give this a whole blog post, and so I’ll be leaving the whole topic of attitudes to risk (including the much maligned ‘unhealthy appetite for risk’ in the banking sector) for another post.

Searching for definitions of ‘risk’ gives you countless results, including:

Risk is the potential that a chosen action or activity (including the choice of inaction) will lead to a loss (an undesirable outcome). The notion implies that a choice having an influence on the outcome exists (or existed). Potential losses themselves may also be called “risks”. Almost any human endeavour carries some risk, but some are much more risky than others.

Wikipedia

and from dictionary.com:

1. exposure to the chance of injury or loss; a hazard or dangerous chance: It’s not worth the risk.

2.Insurance.

a.the hazard or chance of loss.

b.the degree of probability of such loss.

c.the amount that the insurance company may lose.

d.a person or thing with reference to the hazard involved in insuring him, her, or it.

e.the type of loss, as life, fire, marine disaster, or earthquake, against which an insurance policy is drawn.

The point that I’m trying make is best borne out of definition c under insurance above, and this (specifically rating to risk in a financial context) from investorwords.com:

The quantifiable likelihood of loss or less-than-expected returns. Examples: currency risk, inflation risk, principal risk, country risk, economic risk, mortgage risk, liquidity risk, market risk, opportunity risk, income risk, interest rate risk, prepayment risk, credit risk, unsystematic risk, call risk, business risk, counterparty risk, purchasing-power risk, event risk.

I think the key words here are ‘quantifiable likelihood’, or from dictionary.com ‘degree of probability’. In our contexts of risk (mortgage lending, skydiving, whatever), risk is quantifiable – it is something you embark upon with some degree of knowledge as to the chance. For example a bank will only lend you money if they’re X% sure you’re going to repay it – you have to pass a credit score. You wouldn’t jump off a ledge without knowing how deep the drop was.

But that’s not the end of it in the bible and in the kingdom.  You can calculate the risk, but you can’t quantify God. In the space of a single breath God can transform the most hopeless situation and bring about the most unlikely outcome. A few loaves and a couple of fish isn’t enough to feed 5000 people. If you haven’t caught a single fish all night, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll catch some trying one last time in the morning (Luke 5).

The flip side

There is a weight to this though, an equal truth that Jesus was keen to talk about:

“Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’

“Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?

“Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.

Luke 14:28-33 (Message)

I think to fully grasp what Jesus is talking about it’s useful to see what Jesus is saying in the context of what’s going on around him. In the narrative, the feeding of the 5000 was just a few chapters earlier . In between then and now are more miracles – even just earlier in the same chapter he heals a man of physical illness. In short, if you were around Jesus at that time, you’d see him taking risks and them working out pretty well! Here though (much before his crucifixion) he is teaching that it will not always be this way, that pain and suffering would never be far away.’Counting the cost’ means losing everything:

You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me.

Luke 21 16-17

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.

John 15: 18-20

The big picture

But again, this is not the whole picture. Read on past that Luke 21 passage (‘they will put some of you to death’) and the very next verse is ‘But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.’  Is this a paradox? John Piper doesn’t think so, instead referring to the famous verse in Romans:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39 (ESV)

More than conquerors

In closing then, if that’s the big picture, are we missing the synthesis? It is easy to fall into the trap of basing expectations on circumstances – if we are seeing God move, lives transformed and his favour generally, it seems unnecessarily austere to be reminded of those verses in John 15. But equally in the midst of pain and desert, it seems almost offensive to be reminded of God’s goodness and promises. But ultimately isn’t this palpable tension, this beautiful mystery, at the very heart of what it means to risk?

Redefining Risk – Part One: The Illusion of Safety

•21 February 2011 • 10 Comments
Note: This is the first part of a series on risk coming over the next few weeks and months. 

‘Faith is spelt R I S K’

John Wimber

I’ve often wondered about that quote. It’s easy to accept it as a truism, or even based on our own experiences to say ‘yes, faith is risky’. But I think we have lost the concept (art?) of risk, perhaps again because of our own experiences, or maybe as a result of the current groundswell of anger in the UK at the ‘casino banking’ widely reported to be brought on by an unhealthy appetite for risk.

And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.” You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”

James 4:13-15 (The Message)

In our current society, call it late-capitalist, pomo, whatever, I’d venture that the notional desires of security and stability are the foundations of greed and consumerism. The conventional common sense is that everything is ok, and in the event something goes wrong, you can protect yourself against it. Buy an extended warranty for your microwave. Get insurance for your Sky box (this actually exists). But the truth is that bad things happen everyday. One bad decision can lead to catastrophic consequences, and most of the time it’s not even your fault. Lachlan Cotter puts it this way:

You don’t know as much as you think you do, and you don’t control as much as you like to pretend. If you think life is just chance and chaos then that’s a pretty frightening realisation. So we seek stability. Predictability. We carve out a nice little niche in the turmoil and stay there as long as we can. It’s small, it’s kind of dull, but it’s predictable; and we like that. It gives us the illusion of control.

Why am I making this point aggressively? To put forward this idea-

We can’t avoid risk, even if we want to.

As John Piper says – ‘Risk is woven into the fabric of our finite lives. All of our plans for tomorrow’s activities can be shattered by a thousand unknowns whether we stay at home under the covers or ride the freeways.’ He goes on- “The tragic hypocrisy is that the enchantment of security lets us take risks every day for ourselves but paralyzes us from taking risks for others on the Calvary road of love. We are deluded and think that it may jeopardize a security that in fact does not even exist.”

I’ve been thinking about starting this series for months – it’s one of the main reasons I started this blog – but knew I had to get started on it when this Helen Keller popped up in the midst of the MORE series we’re currently pursuing at CV and then again on my blogroll:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

As I go into the series I want to look at whether the concept of risk is in itself negative, if and how we are supposed to approach it, and look at some killer examples in the Bible. But for now I’d love your comments on what first comes to mind when you think about risk?

Money Matters: Prepaid Debit Cards

•14 February 2011 • 7 Comments

File this one under ‘handy tip’ rather than life changing financial advice, but it’s something that’s really worked for me and Kat over the last few months.

Pre-paid debit cards do what you’d expect – you load money onto them and use them in lieu of a debit card linked to your bank account or a credit card. The benefits come in when you explore a little further. I’m going to be using an example from the one we use – the o2 ‘cash manager’ – but there is at least one alternative I know of.

So at the beginning of each month we load an amount of money onto the card, to cover a line item in our budget – for us it’s food shopping. Every time we go food shopping, we pay with the o2 card. Here’s the advantage – immediately after you spend any money on the card, it sends you a text with the details of how much you just spent, and how much is left on the card. This means we simultaneously know how much we’ve spent on food, and how much we’ve got left to play with for the rest of the month. Eg-

 

o2 text
 

Whilst we use this for food, it could be used for anything you want to track the spending of – for instance, how much petrol you’re using, how much money you’re spending when you go out, – or indeed your spending in general. This helps both with keeping tabs on how much you’re actually spending, and for future budgeting.

Some quick notes – the o2 card is free, but is only available to o2 customers. I’ve read that o2’s market share is 20-25%, but from a quick twitter survey it seems like it might be more than that – probably to do with a lot of people having iphones. So hopefully this is of use. If not, the alternative I’ve found is the Escape card. Unlike the o2 card though, it costs both to buy the card, and to withdraw money from an ATM. Also you have to request the text updates, rather than it being automatic. So, not as good, but still might be helpful if you’re tracking spending. Leave a comment if you know of any better alternatives.

What do you think? Useful, or just a gimmick?

Money Matters: An Introduction

•11 February 2011 • 7 Comments

I mentioned a while ago that I’d be blogging about some more practical stuff, particularly around the areas of debt and budgeting. I think debt is both more serious and more prevalent than we like to admit. It’s probably top of everyone’s ‘worry’ lists, and yet hardly anybody talks about it. If you want to get an idea of how prevalent and serious debt can be, head on over to MoneySavingExpert.com’s forums and read people’s stories of how debt has taken over their lives.

Moreover, I think debt is a spiritual thing. There’s an oft quoted statistic that the bible talks about money and possessions more than most other things, be it prayer, healing, or heaven and hell. I tend to think that if you read that to mean God is obsessed with your finances and possessions then you’re missing the point. Rather, I think God is interested in you, and knows that one of the main things that you will be concerned with is money. For instance, check out these verses:

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Matthew 6:24 

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

1 Timothy 6 7-10 

Debt is an antithetical manifestation to freedom. It’s a blocker, a clot in our lives that can stop us from living in the fullness of God. Baker of the brilliant site Man Vs Debt (I love his tagline: Sell Your Crap…  Pay Off Your Debt…  Do What You Love…), puts it this way:

The first step to living a life of passion and purpose is to remove the barriers that hold you back.

From talking to those around me, in work, in church, in university, I know that most people are tackling finances on some level. I have very little training in personal finance, but over the last year or two Kat and I have learnt a lot of life lessons that hopefully will be of help to others. So from time to time I’ll be looking at everything from selling stuff on the internet to budgeting to furnishing your house on the cheap, under the ‘Money Matters’ topic. Hopefully it’ll be useful and of interest.

Back on the bandwagon

•27 January 2011 • 3 Comments

I’ve had a break from blogging for a few weeks. In that time I’ve been reading a ton of stuff, getting back into the swing of work, and planning the rest of 2011. Given that January’s almost over I thought it was time to start writing again. Here’s what I’m planning:

I’m aiming to write a couple of series between now and summer:

  • Spiritual Disciplines – an overview and a look at a few disciplines as me and a couple of guys work through them.
  • Redefining Risk – been wanting to do this one for a while. John Wimber said ‘Faith is spelt R I S K’. I think we’re missing out on what risk means and what it means to take risks.

In amongst that I’ll be looking at stuff prompted by what I’m reading and listening to, and I’m going to try and add some more practical stuff in too, for instance looking at debt, budgeting, value systems, and the advantages of getting rid of clutter. I’m also looking to run a series of workshops around those more practical topics.

I mentioned reading more – I’d love your thoughts on what I could add to my reading list? Currently it looks something like:

  • Rediscovering Values – Jim Wallis
  • The Reason for God and The Prodigal God – Tim Keller
  • Drops Like Stars – Rob Bell
  • Mere Christianity – C S Lewis
  • The Pursuit of God – Tozer
  • The Tipping Point and Blink – Gladwell
  • The Starfish and the Spider – Brafman and Beckstrom
  • Tribes – Seth Godin
  • Innovation and Entrepreneurship – Drucker

That gives you a flavour of the kind of stuff I’m into – what do you recommend?

Further thoughts on individualism and community

•3 January 2011 • 2 Comments

When we are completely immersed in a society of people who consider a particular idolatrous attachment normal, it becomes almost impossible to discern it for what it is.

Tim Keller in ‘Counterfeit Gods’

In the midst of a slight ramble in my last post, I touched on individualism, saying “individualism and selfishness can be prevalent even when behaviours change.” Primarily my thoughts were relating to my prediction of disillusionment and the looking to things such as minimalism and location independent living and working – what some authors are proud to describe as ‘radical individualism’. Having now got to the end of ‘Counterfeit Gods’ I reckon I can add a bit of clarity to my thoughts. The continuing issue as I see it is summed up by Keller here:

Today the need for transcendence and meaning has detached itself from anything more important than the individual self and its freedom to be what it chooses. … Now life is about creating a self through the maximization of individual freedom from the constraints of community.

He then goes on to the consequences of making an idol out of this cultural individualism:

Western, secular cultures make an idol out of individual freedom, and this leads to the breakdown of the family, rampant materialism, careerism, and the idolization of romantic love, physical beauty and profit.

I appreciate that, without context, that can seem an incredibly sharp assertion to make. However, I don’t think there is any doubt that today’s prevalent (western) culture is as Keller describes, individualist and pursuing happiness. Equally, there can be no doubt that the symptoms above exist – families are broken, materialism and consumerism are rampant. If both are true, there is a large amount of evidence for one leading to the other – and probably for each perpetuating the other.

Off the back of challenging us as Christians to check ourselves and the church to examine itself, I firmly believe that the church needs to engage further- as Keller says, “There is no way to challenge idols without doing cultural criticism, and there is no way to do cultural criticism without discerning and challenging idols”.  I am convinced that the primary outcome of this will be a deeper exploration of community as a family. I am further convinced that this is possibly the greatest challenge and opportunity for the church as a whole in 2011.

Coincidentally (or maybe not), family (community) is something we’re looking into at CV over the coming few weeks and something I hope to reflect on and write about.  Mike Saunders spoke yesterday about conflict and creating a culture of honour. The podcast will be up soon here – it’s well worth a listen.